Newgrange and the Hill of Tara

I had been dying to go to Ireland for years.  I actually studied Celtic Studies at UofT because I was so interested in Celtic mythology. And so pretty well since I was a kid I wanted to go to the Hill of Tara and be stolen by faeries.  It didn’t quite turn out that way when I visited, but it was still amazing.

However, it made more sense to go to Newgrange first, so off to Newgrange I went. Newgrange is part of a huge neolithic necropolis built in the Boyne valley, and is one of the finest passage tombs in Ireland (and maybe even the world). It was built 5000 years ago, making it older than Stonehenge and the Pryamid of Giza.

Though it was the final resting place of a high-status family (the cremated remains of at least 5 people were recovered from the burial chambers), the tomb was built with a very specific purpose.

See the box above my head in the picture below? On the winter solstice, the rising sun will enter the roof box and light up the burial chamber and rest of the passage.  Each year 100 people are choosen by lottery out of 1000s to witness this event (20 people each day for 5 days around the solstice). Wouldn’t that be something to see!

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The view from Newgrange is pretty great too. Lots of green fields.

From Newgrange, we moved on to the Hill of Tara, which was the coronation site for the high-kings of Ireland. As a bonus you are able to see 25% of Ireland on a clear day. It was a but cloudy when I went, but honestly, it was still a dream come true.

Unfortunately (though of no surprise) I fell down one of the mounds on the hill and broke my camera.  I bought a new one the next day – I needed it just in case I came across anything brilliant – but I didn’t let it spoil my day.

Guinness Brewery

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Of course, no trip to Dublin is complete without a tour of the Guinness Brewery!  I’m not such a huge fan of the drink, but it’s still a fun outing.

I had a couple favourite parts. One was the great way they displayed information

I also loved the room with all their old marketing campaigns and merchandise

There were great opportunities to have pictures taken…

2011 Guinness (129)

…but best of all was the bar on top with a 360 degree view of Dublin

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However, for most people, I’m sure they will just remember the free pint at the end.

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Glendalough

Two weeks after I arrived in Dublin, a group of us decided to head outside of the city to Glendalough. This was my first time travelling with this particular bunch and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Here’s what I did know. Glendalough is home to a monastic settlement, is called “the valley of the two lakes”, and is located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park. So I figured we’d be doing lots of walking.

There’s a pretty cheap bus that goes there and back daily, as it’s actually only an hour and a half from Dublin. Unsurprisingly, the drive was stunning, even in January.

There was a short walk to our hostel from the bus stop, and that’s when I got my first glimpse of the monastic settlement and mountains. I also got a glimpse of snow!  I had thought I’d left that all behind in Toronto, but was sorely mistaken.

It was still early in the morning when we arrived at the hostel, so we had time to figure out our plans for the day.  That’s when I discover that these Canadian friends of mine are from Vancouver and enjoy climbing mountains in their free time.  Yeah, this was going to be an adjustment.

Before we started the hike, we decided to check out the monastery. Thetower that is prominently featured below is called the Round Tower.  However there are no doors, so it seemed appropriate to rename it Rapunzel’s Tower.

And after I had stalled as long as possible, the climb began. I keep calling it a climb instead of a hike, because the chosen path was a 9km hill walk that included 600 stairs over 2 mountains and was just a dirt path on the way down.

I as surprised to find it only took us 3 hours and that I only fell twice.  And as much as I’ve complained about it (before, during, and after), it provided some of the best views ever.  Completely worth it.

You’ll see a little white line in some of the photos below. That would be the snow-lined path we climbed.  Not bad for someone who considered their fitness level to be under beginner.

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The top!

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Celebrating!

And then we had the extra fun task of getting down.  At first there were wooden boards to follow, but eventually they stopped and we had to find the best path on our own.

We even found some little ruins, which provided a much needed rest.

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Eventually we made it all the way back to our hostel, only to discover there was no food.  And because it’s a small town in rural Ireland there were no streetlights on the road we had to use to walk into town. So by the time we left dinner, it was pitch black.  Let’s just say that trip back to the hostel ended up being a great adventure that I shall always remember fondly.

The next day I was SORE. There were 3 hikes planned, the first to St. Kevin’s Church and the surrounding cemetery, but the other 2 hikes were also on the easier side, so I did all 3. It’s definitely a beautiful place.

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Our first overnight trip together was a roaring success, and I’m so glad it happened at such a beautiful locale.

Dublin

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Over the next few weeks, I got to know Dublin a little better, and discovered I actually quite enjoy walking tours! It’s a great way to see the sites and orient yourself (especially helpful if you’re planning on being in any one place for an extended amount of time).

I went on a 2 hour walking tour that first week, thoughtfully arranged by UCD. Here’s a bit of what I saw.

St. Stephen’s Green
St. Stephen’s Green park is located in the centre of Dublin, and very close to the bus stop back to campus. It was in this neighbourhood that I spent most of my time in Dublin.

Of course, my favourite thing about St. Stephen’s Green has to be the mall.  I spend many a hours perusing new things in this lovely mall.

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Walking in Dublin
On our way to Trinity College we walked by Hughenot Cemetery (apparently one of the most poetic places in London), Parliament, and Merrion Square Park which houses a lovely statue of the one and only Oscar Wilde.

Trinity College
Trinity College was next, and oh was it lovely!  Trinity College is Ireland’s Oxford and the oldest university in Ireland. It’s right in the middle of Dublin and is a gorgeous mix of old and new.  One of my flatmates went to Trinity for a year, but because the campus is in the middle of the city, there is no room for any residences.  As a result, the residences are over an hour away! She decided to transferred to UCD, where we live within a 5 minute walk of all buildings.  But if Trinity had residences on campus, that’s the school I’d want to be at.

Dublin Castle
Our tour ended at Dublin Castle. For the history buffs out there, Dublin Castle was first founded as a major defensive work on the orders of King John of England in 1204, shortly after the Norman Invasion of Ireland in 1169. It was commanded that a castle be built with strong walls and good ditches for the defense of the city, the administration of justice, and the protection of the King’s treasure.

Through the Middle Ages the wooden buildings within the castle square evolved and changed, the most significant addition being the Great Hall built of stone and timber, variously used as Parliament house, court of law and banqueting hall. The building survived until 1673, when it was damaged by fire and demolished shortly afterwards.

The Castle served as the seat of English, then later British government of Ireland under the Lordship of Ireland (1171–1541), the Kingdom of Ireland (1541–1800), and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1800–1922).

It was great, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think I ever ended up going back there.  It was a bit out of the way, compared to all the other things to do in the city, and I think I just forgot about it.

And of course no tour is complete in Dublin without ending with a pint of Guinness!

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Dublin

One of my greatest adventure thus far happened back in 2011, when I moved to Dublin for a semester of school. The plan was that I’d be in school from January – May, travel for a bit by myself, then meet my mom in July and travel with her.

I was terrified.  I was 20 years old, had never traveled or lived alone ever, and had no idea what I was doing. The only time I had been out of Canada (or heck, even out of Ontario or Quebec) was to go to Malta with my family.  This was completely new, and utterly nerve-wracking.  But I was so excited.

I remember it hit me when I passed security at the airport, and had a literal barrier between my family and myself.  What was I doing?!  At the time, I had to walk through a glass corridor in which I could see my entire family waving from security, and I almost lost it. But I successfully navigated my way to my gate, and made it on the plane without an issue.

The flight wasn’t so bad, nor was getting a taxi to take me to school (University College Dublin). The problem was finding the right building once I got to campus! The cab driver had no idea where to go (but thank god I chose a country that spoke English) but by asking the students around lots and lots of questions we managed to find the right building.

And so I left the safety of the cab and entered the crowd of students waiting to register. The RAs offered to take my bags to my room later, which seemed nice at the time, but also meant that when I was escorted to my new room, I had absolutely nothing to do! No sheets to put on the bed, no computer to browse. That was a rough patch.

Eventually I figured I should leave my room and walk around campus until my bags arrived.  I happened to notice a sign for a campus tour and decided to join it. This moment literally changed my life. It’s not just where you go when you decide to travel, it’s who you go with.  And the people I met on this tour are, to this very day, some of my greatest friends.

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The campus lake and library

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From left to right: Ryan, Janetta, Cam, Aidan, Kate & Matt

It felt more like home when my bags arrived and I was able to unpack and get comfortable.

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I enjoyed this view for the entirety of my time at UCD.  Occasionally I’d even see small animals on the grass.

And so before my first week had even ended, I knew coming to Ireland was a decision I would never regret.