The Aer Lingus plane touched down just a few minutes before 7am in Dublin. Aboard, the Comptons and Bobbers were feeling a little bit tired and very much excited. It had been a very short night and we'd only slept for a couple of hours on the airplane, but here we were—ready to start out on an adventure that we had been talking about for 8 or 9 months.
The trip actually started around 14 hours earlier. Everyone had finally finished packing and we piled into Chris's car shortly before noon on Wednesday. (Noon in Virginia, that is.) After a small lunch at Panera Bread and a short errand at the post office, we were on the way to Dulles Airport in Washington, DC. We ran into no traffic and made excellent time, arriving at 3:15. Chris dropped us off at the terminal, along with all the luggage, and then went to put the car into long-term parking. We found our way to the Aer Lingus counter to discover that the agents weren't there yet. They opened up the check-in just a short while after Chris caught up to us. We got into the line and suddenly remembered that we hadn't taken any pictures, so we asked the guy in front of us to take a picture of all of us and our luggage. Checking in went very smoothly. The agent checked our passports and tagged our suitcases and then issued us boarding passes. After a short time standing in line to go through the security screening, we were sitting at gate B24, waiting for time to board the plane.
The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:30 pm from Dulles and arrive at 7:40 am in Dublin, and right at 7:30 we were backing away from the gate. Taxing out to the runway took about 15 minutes and at 7:45, the plane was roaring down the runway and we were on our way.
Jan had planned on going to sleep immediately after takeoff—which she did—but the airline had different plans. About 45 minutes after take-off, the crew turned on all the cabin lights and started bustling about. First they came through with drinks, then a second pass through the cabin to distribute the dinner meal. The choices were a beef stew with potatoes or chicken casserole with rice. This was accompanied by a green salad, some wonderfully crusty bread, and a small square of cheesecake. When the dinner trays had been removed, the crew came through the cabin with duty-free and at last the cabin lights were dowsed and every except me settled down to sleep. Before dinner I had started watching a movie—My Life in Ruins—so I watched it through to the end and then read a few chapters in The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. At last I turned the reading light off and tried to get some sleep.
After a couple of hours of sleep, we were awakened and served orange juice—and I presume coffee, but since I don't drink it, I didn't pay any attention, We landed and we were here in Ireland.
Immigration, luggage claim, customs, and then to the car rental counter. It took a little while, but finally we were given a Lexus hybrid minivan, and three of us were authorized drivers. We trekked over to the rental lot, loaded our luggage in the back of the van, and proceeded to try and find our hotel. Steven had brought his Garmin GPS unit, and it turned out to be much more useful than the one built into the car. Amazingly, the one in the car didn't know the names of most of the attractions—or maybe it just didn't know the English names. The only thing I could program into it seemed to be street addresses, and I didn't have that for most of the places we wanted to go.
But we found the hotel, got there safely, even through traffic, and pulled into the parking lot to check in. As expected, the room wasn't ready, but we took time to get a big breakfast at the hotel before we started out to find some interesting places to see.
By 11am, we had eaten, chatted, checked our e-mail, and were ready to go find Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre; which has a museum containing interpretive displays of the Neolithic monuments of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. Admission to Newgrange and Knowth is only available through the Visitor Centre—with visitors transported from the Visitor Centre to the monuments by shuttle bus. We decided to purchase admission just to the Centre and Newgrange, and it turned out that this was plenty to do in one visit. As we had arrived around 11:30, we purchased a tour of Newgrange starting at 11:45, so we had to hustle out to the area where the buses were loading for the 15 minute ride out to the site.
Driving up to Newgrange, the roadway offers a very good view of the entrance to the tomb. We unloaded and all filed through the fence to meet our guide, Frank. I captured most of his presentation on video and will post it later. Dividing the tour group into two, Frank escorted us into the narrow and low passage into the tomb. The main chamber is very small and they limit the number of visitors to a maximum of 24. Natural light only penetrates into the tomb at dawn on the Winter Solstice, so once the electrical lights were turned off, the chamber was in total darkness. Frank then demonstrated the way that the rising sun appears on the morning of the Winter Solstice. It was impressive enough with electric lights taking the place of the sun; and Frank says that the real thing with all the power of the sun cannot be believed until you've experienced it. The Office of Public Works which manages the monuments holds an annual lottery to select 100 people to visit Newgrange at the time of the Winter Solstice—20 on the Solstice and 20 each of the two days either side of it—the only time that sunlight penetrates into the main chamber.
Coming in from the site, I bought a couple of postcards and stamps. Then we settled down to a light snack of pastry and softdrinks in the restaurant. Next, we walked through the interpretive displays, but decided not to watch the video. Instead, we drove to visit two ancient monastic sites: Mellifont Abbey and Monasterboice.
Mellifont Abbey—now referred to as Old Mellifont Abbey after the reestablishment of an active monastery nearby—was established 1142 by St Malachy of Armagh. It was the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland, and its most unusual feature is the octagonal lavabo, where the monks would wash before meals.
Monasterboice, in contrast, was the home of an old Irish order. (In fact, Mellifont was established by the bishop of Armagh to counter the less austere lifestyle which had been adopted by the Irish monks.) Building began at Monasterboice in the 6th century, but by the 13th century, the site had been abandoned. One striking difference between the two sites is that the grounds of Monasterboice have been used as a cemetery up to today. A quick look at tombstones revealed some with dates from 1820 to 2006.