Wednesday, February 03, 2010

How Narrow is the Irish Sea!

Travelling round Ireland, I expected the stud farms but was amazed by all the golf courses. I'm glad we introduced the Irish to golf, since it seems that a worrying amount of Scottish culture first crossed the Irish Sea!

We went first to the Hill of Tara, home of Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland and eponymous ancestor of the O'Neill dynasty (and St Columba). Why he had nine hostages is a long story but I now understand better why the MacNeills, MacLachlans and others so proudly claim descent from him.

We then saw the High Cross at Kells (small town made famous by the eponymous Book). High crosses at Iona are more impressive.

But I couldn't fail to be impressed by the neolithic ceremonial site at Brú na Bóinne. It's similar in many ways to the later Clava Cairns near Inverness but the ambition in Ireland was greater and more lasting: the extraordinary 20 foot high chamber, built without mortar, has lasted for 5,000 years. The smaller chamber at Clava was unfortunately broken into in the 19th century.

Last stop was the Fort at Navan, sacred place of the Kings of Ulster and the Red Branch Knights, of whom Cu Chulainn is the best known. Cu Chulainn learned the arts of war from Queen Sgathach and became the lover of her sister Aoife; he then went on to save Ulster from Eire and Skye from 'The Small Dark Men'. Sgathach's name lives on at Dunscaith Castle on the west coast of Skye, a favourite walk of mine.

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