Monday, September 6, 2010

Hallowed Halls And Houses: Field Trips Part 2

The second field trip, last Thursday, was a lot less off-the-beaten-path than the first. We stopped first at the Labbacallee Wedge Tomb, which is from the end of the Neolithic. It is literally right on the side of the road. Like, we got off the bus and walked around it, me expecting to walk out into the field somewhere past the cows, and then bam! there it was. It’s not very impressive—probably no more than ten of us could fit inside it at a time—and as it’s the biggest wedge tomb in all of Ireland, that says a lot about the average size. It was still pretty neat, though. And I had a good laugh when the teacher was explaining something about the extent of the cairn that would have covered it originally (were that intact, the whole thing would be a reasonably impressive size), and someone in the class asked, “Why doesn’t that survive?” Dr. Ó Carragain looked at him, motioned to the low stone walls marking the boundaries of the fields (we were on someone’s farm again), and said “Look around you.”

He let us poke around for a while after he was done talking, and some people discovered that we could get inside the tomb. That really bothered me for some reason, although I can’t explain why and I’m not even sure if it’s rational to begin with. There just seems to me to be something really irreverent about playing in a tomb, even after the remains there are long gone. I don’t know. The people who posed for pictures at Drombeg on top of what may or may not be an altar bugged me, too. But in a different way, I think.

Anyway, we moved on soon after that, and the next stop of the day was “just for fun,” according to Dr. Ó Carragáin—not really archaeology-related at all. The Mitchelstown Caves are a series of pretty dramatic limestone caverns inside which it is apparently too cold for bats (which I thought was really weird—is 12º C really that much colder than your average cave in the U.S.?). Our tour was led by a very bored-sounding guide probably not much older than me. I was pretty bored, too. I’ve been to caves before. They’re neat but unless there’s something special about them, they’re kind of all alike, and this one wasn’t any more spectacular than any number of caverns in PA.

Admittedly, after Actun Tunichil Muknal I’m probably a little bit more jaded on the cave front than most of the people in this class. It will probably take a lot to make any future caving experience exciting by comparison.

But as things stand, I would have preferred even a relatively boring archaeological site to the hour we spent looking at damp rock formations. I appreciate the gesture of taking us to something fun and unrelated to our classwork, but as far as I’m concerned that time and money could have been better spent.

After we emerged from underground (the day did seem much warmer after that, so there’s a plus), we drove to the town (village?) of Cashel, where out afternoon was to be spent at the Rock of Cashel, which was in use as a church site throughout the Middle Ages and where people were buried in the cemetery right up to the twentieth century. Calling it “the Rock” of Cashel is not in any way symbolic. It’s really on top of a giant rock. A giant rock from which there are truly magnificent views of the surrounding countryside, may I add.

It’s dominated by a ruined Gothic cathedral (and by ruined I mean it’s missing its roof and that sort of thing, but most of the walls and a lot of the sculptures and such are still in quite good condition considering), which overshadows a very nice (and more damaged than the cathedral, although more complete in terms of structure) Romanesque chapel. There’s also a large round bell tower, which if I remember correctly was the first thing built there. And most of the grounds on two sides of the cathedral are full of graves with elaborate tombstones (you know, the classic Irish crosses and that sort of thing). It’s not like there’s a clearly delineated graveyard with a fence or anything, and they’re not really in neat rows either, just spread out all over the hill, from practically up against the cathedral walls right out to the wall at the edge of the rock. It’s quite a sight with the epic view beyond them.

And that was pretty much that. This week’s trip is overnight, leaving EARLY in the morning to get to Dublin at a reasonable hour and spend the day there, then heading somewhere in neighboring County Meath for the night to visit sites there the next day. This is the trip I’ve been most looking forward to. We’re going to the National Museum of Archaeology, and Christ Church Cathedral (I’m excited about this even though I saw it about 800 times while I was in Dublin before, because I’m hoping we’ll go inside and possibly even into the crypts, which I didn’t do on my own even though I really wanted to), and the biggest Norman castle in Ireland, and, most importantly: We are going to Newgrange!

At orientation, when Dr. Ó Carragáin had his turn to talk about his early start course and was running through a recitation of the sites we were going to be visiting, I was sitting there whispering, “Newgrange? Newgrange? Newgrange?” loud enough for people sitting close to me to hear. And I got a little bit ridiculously jubilant when he finally said it. I suppose a less dorky person would be embarrassed about that.

I almost did a day trip while I was staying in Dublin that would have gone to Newgrange and Tara, and decided against it on the chance that this class might be going to one or both of those places, which is partly why I was so eager. And I think we’re not going to Tara, but of the two that was the less important for me, and I might still see about trying to work it in when I go back to Dublin later.

If you don’t know what Newgrange is, you’ll just have to wait until I come back and write about it.

Or I guess you could Google it. That probably makes more sense. It’s just a lot less satisfying for me.

(By the way, did you know that Word’s spellchecker does not recognize “Google?” Behind the times, Microsoft. Of course, ironically enough, it also does not recognize “spellcheck,” although it does know “spellchecker” and “spellchecked.”

Today’s pointless computer fact brought to you by coffee at midnight.)

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