Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Home on the Grange

Earlier this week, in county Limerick, we detoured to see the Lough Gur settlement, which includes the roughly 4,000 year-old Grange stone circle, the largest stone circle in Ireland. It has 113 standing stones set in a diameter of 45 meters/ 150 feet, aligned with the summer solstice. Stonehenge, for comparison, is "only" 33 meters in diameter with 30 stones (17 still standing).

I can't honestly say Lough Gur is more impressive than England's Stonehenge, mind you. But this one has its own charms namely: that it is filled with grazing cows; and also that the person who mans the entrance lives across the street and saunters over once he sees us there. There are no tickets per se, so we give him a euro for a somewhat blurry summer solstice postcard to support the site. He proudly shows us a 30-year old book on the Children of Ireland, in which his own kids are featured playing in this very circle.

If you do play inside or near the stone circle, beware! Look carefully; one of these is not a stepping stone, but rather a squared-out cow patty.

From Grange to Newgrange which is, despite the name, not very new at all. We head about an hour north of Dublin in County Meath to see the Newgrange stone-age passage tomb. This one dates from around 3,200 BC which makes it over 5,000 years old and older than the Pyramids (Egyptian, Mayan, Aztec or other), Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and basically every other old man-made thing you can think of.

Newgrange is a burial mound, with a winter solstice phenomenon where the light passes through the upper window in a precise line to illuminate the interior. They still bring people in to see the solstice, if the weather cooperates (has to be sunny for the sun to shine...). But since there are about 2700 applications for 100 spots over the five days centered around the solstice, you're unlikely to see it then. But even on a random Tuesday, between the re-enacted solstice lighting and the stone construction itself (only the outside of which has had to be reconstructed), it's quite impressive -- much more impressive than expected.
The entire site is very mysterious, with lots of theories but very little actually known about the exact purpose or meaning of anything. What are the swirls carved into the giant boulders? Nobody knows for sure. But the theories, like the site itself -- and like my husband -- can be way out.

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