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May 30, 2006: Ireland Trip - Clonmacnoise and Corlea Trackway

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We finally left Galway for good this morning, although not without a little bit of regret. Both Richard and I have discovered that we much prefer the West Coast of Ireland over other parts we've seen, and Galway especially. Our B&B there was really quite nice - comfortable room, and a breakfast that included a huge plate of fresh fruit every morning (since I'm not sure either of us can stomach yet another full Irish fry any time soon). The town is very much a university town, a bit sprawling from what we've seen as we've passed through it on our journeys here and there, but not too overwhelming.

This morning we headed east, toward the river Shannon, until we reached the site of the monastic settlement called Clonmacnoise. It was started by Saint Cieran and seven of his followers in (I think) the 4th century and grew to be quite a large and thriving community, with seven churches, lots of trade and learning, and so on. It was also pretty tenacious, since it went through 20-something attacks by the Irish, a handful by the Vikings, and I don't remember how many fires, and it was only when the English came in and sacked it completely (I suspect that was right around the time of the Reformation) that it was finally abandoned.

From the little video we saw, they've removed a significant number of the gravestones that used to surround the churches, in order to preserve them, so it wasn't nearly as crowded with them as I'd been expecting. They've also removed all four of the high crosses, placing them inside for protection and building replicas to stand outside where the originals used to be.

When we arrived the place was swarming with about three buses of German tourists. We managed to join a guided tour where the tour guide would speak in English for a short bit, then pause while another woman translated everything she said to English. They'd apparently requested a shortened tour, since once the 'official' tour was done and everyone was free to go off and roam on their own, the tour guide came over to us and took us to see a few more things,like the rather unassuming little hollow in a rock where water has collected, which is said to cure warts. After that, we were free to wander around, so we did. We tried out the Whispering Door in the main cathedral (if you whisper against one side of it, someone standing on the other side will hear your words clearly) and we went inside the tiny and rather tilted church of Saint Cieran. It is apparently tilted so much because legend has it that if you take dirt from either inside the church or from under the outer walls, and put it on all four corners of your fields, you will have good crops, so over time local farmers and luck seekers have undermined the walls enough that they've started tilting in on themselves. We also took a little walk through the older cemetery, then through the newer cemetery, out onto a tiny little country road, and then over a low stone wall to find the Nuns Church which was also part of the settlement. It was restored in the late 1800's, but was still in pretty bad shape.

After Clonmacnoise we drove north until we reached the Corlea Trackway, which is a center which was built directly over where an ancient bog road was discovered. Carbon dating puts it as having been built in about 148 BC, which got everyone excited, especially because it's the largest one of its kind in (I think) the world. Of course, it did sink about ten years after it was built, so it seems like it wasn't the most successful attempt at road-building (bogs, as I mentioned earlier, are extremely squishy), but it was enough to get all manner of archaeologists all aflutter.

Our tour guide was obviously enthusiastic about the road, and the preservation being done on the bogs, and the history of the ancient Celts, and sometimes she talked so fast it was hard to follow her. But it was all pretty fascinating. She showed us pictures of bodies that have been found in the bog and talked about how a lot of them were placed on old parish boundaries, which would have also been tribal boundaries stretching back thousands of years, and she talked about the sort of things the Celts did and made, and she took us around the bog and showed us all the different plants that grow out there.

After the bog road we continued on to Slane, our stop for the night. The B&B is in an absolutely gorgeous house, and the room is huge. But Slane itself is the sort of town that is nearly non-existant. For dinner we had exactly one choice, since nothing else was open, and this was at 6:30 on a Tuesday night. There is no internet access around Slane at all, so we drove into Droghedea to find an internet cafe there (which, amusingly, charges less per hour than any other place we've seen in the entire country), so we could at least upload pictures and check email.

I'm starting to notice all the little 'lasts', now that our trip is nearing its end. This is our last night in a B&B here in Ireland; tomorrow is the last day we'll have the car before we turn it in in Dublin. The days have all been swimming together lately and so it seems odd to think that in less than a week we'll be home.

Pictures are posted for Clonmacnoise and Corlea.

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