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Boyne Valley, Ireland - Surrender - 2nd June 2002

Posted by Edmond on Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Short visit of Fourknocks Passage Grave in County Meath. Tour of Mellifont Abbey, the birthplace for Christianity in Ireland, and Monasterboice - home of Muiredach''s Cross. Tour of Slane Abbey and the Hill of Slane where St Patrick lit the famous bonfire in defiance of the Pagan kings who were based at the Hill of Tara.

County Meath and Louth:
1. Fourknocks Passage Grave
2. Mellifont Abbey
3. Monasterboice and Muiredach''s Cross
4. Slane Abbey and the Hill of Slane
5. Hill of Tara
Info on the tombs of Fourknocks and Tara

Like many young tourists with a drivers license, I did not like the idea of sharing a tour van with other tourists, not to mention sticking to a set itinerary instead of having the freedom to do what I want when I wanted. But since we did not know the roads around and outside Dublin, we had no choice and had to stick with waiting for our tour bus that would guide us through the history of the Boyne Valley in the County of Meath and Louth.

Many people of different nationalities joined the tour, a few were from Japan and New Zealand, but the rest seemed to be from Australia, much to the dismay of our Irish tour guide. As we journeyed out of Dublin and through the main highway, we got a taste of the claustrophobic roads that led to the Fourknocks Passage Grave in County Meath, so it was quite a relief I did not try the self-drive route.

Unlike the much larger cousin at Newgrange, Fourknocks rivals in being one of the oldest Neolithic graves in existence being more than 5000 years old. The grave contains numerous carvings of jagged lines, something that depicts the seasons of the year to a strange smiley face near the entrance of the tomb, thus showing that these ancient people possessed a sophisticated culture that is still a mystery to the present day. After the guide gave a colourful explanation on the many carvings, we were allowed to take some photos of the strange carvings around the grave before heading off to Mellifont Abbey in County Louth.

Like many ancient ruins, the Mellifont Abbey provides a reminder of something that use to be quite grand. One of the first monasteries to be established, the abbey first started life around the mid 12th Century as a thriving monastic community headed by St Malachy, to take on the nearly impossible task of putting order into the teaching of Christian faith on behalf of the Pope in Rome. However, in 1539, the Abbey was supressed from operating and it fell into ruin. In later years, the site was well known for the surrender of Hugh O'Neill and his small army to the imperialist forces of Lord Mountjoy in 1603. Like the ruins before us, Mellifont Abbey seems to be more famous for sides surrendering against impregnable odds.

The main abbey sat about 50 metres inside the ruins of a large stone gate, the space now used as a parking lot for visitors. The main building was probably large as well, consisting of an octagonal Lavabo which the monks used as a washroom. To the east of the Lavabo were remains of the church and its pillars and the Crypt which was the only intact structure remaining while at the west were the storage and living chambers.

Monasterboice was fairly close from Mellifont Abbey, just a few minutes drive away. Although the medieval round tower was the most imposing structure, the Muiredach's Cross was the most significant. The Celtic cross contained depictions of significant events in the bible and (from listening to the explanation given by our guide) was used as a somewhat convoluted tool to convert the pagans into faithful christians by mapping the symbolism of the cross to the stories of the bible in the Old and New Testament. Also around the site are two smaller Celtic crosses.

After having lunch and catching up with the happenings of the World Cup in a pub in Slane, we headed for the Hill of Tara which would be our final stop. But before heading out to Tara, the guide kindly pointed out the location of Slane Castle, a popular venue for major events where the like of U2 have performed. It was even used as a recording studio for U2's Unforgettable Fire album until much of the castle was damaged by fire. Since then, the castle has now been closed the public.

For a while, the weather seemed to turn nasty as we passed through some rainy patches on our way towards the Hill of Tara. According to Irish Mythology and legend, this was where Earth and the Universe was first formed and was also a gateway to the kingdom of the gods, since it was the highest point, and was thus proclaimed the seat of power for the great Celtic cheiftans and kings of Ireland. On a clear day, visitors could see as far out to the sea from Tara. We just hoped that the gods will be on our side with regard to the weather.

Like Fourknocks and Newgrange, Tara also had a passage tomb (Mound of the Hostages), a mound used for the Royal Seat, and another mound with two stones that continue the theme of surrender introduced in Mellifont Abbey. One of the stones is known as the Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny), moved from the tomb to the present position to commemorate the deaths of those that died while fighting against the Imperialists forces at the hill. The other was recently erected to commemorate the death of a famous Irish Republican Army leader. Also near the parking lot, is the statue of St Patrick, who confronted the Pagan lord King Loghaire at the Hill of Tara after lighting the fire on the Hill of Slane to get the attention of the lords.

As we wrapped up the day at the Hill of Tara, the spirit of the Irish through the ages prevailed throughout our tour. Surrender is one important theme I took from the tour. There was the fighting spirit of the Irish that gave way to their surrender to the imperialists. Or St Patrick who nearly gave his own life to convert the Irish Pagans into Christians. Even the tombs symbolises surrender in the end of ones life - and perhaps the beginning of a new one. In the end, livelihoods are sacrificed, and only reminders of what might have been a great thing are left behind, or memorials built to commemorate those that lost their lives or won over adversity. And as usual, life goes on.

Edmond, 2002