Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Place: West of Ireland Part 1

I've just got back from an amazing business trip to Ireland. It still feels a bit weird saying that I've even been on a business trip- especially when you consider I spent most of that time driving between and wandering around amazing archaeological sites. Business or pleasure? Definitely both. 

The trip started well with a chance to present my PhD research to a great audience of students at NUI Galway, thanks to the good graces of my colleague and friend Dr Eoin O'Donoghue (who has the most incredible office with views out over the Corrib. Lucky bastard). It was great fun to be able to talk about those ideas, talk about pots, jump around the little stage in the lecture theatre and remember exactly why I was so excited and passionate about my PhD results. To be taken out for dinner afterwards (epic seafood washed down with a tasty margarita) was a real bonus.

Earlier in the day though, I'd been here. Clonmacnoise Monastery. It's ridiculously beautiful, even without the fluffy clouds and the high waters of the Shannon lapping at the edge of the field.


Then here: Clonfert Cathedral. It looks like a tiny nondescript village church from outside the gates, which were adorned with these welcoming signs (a couple of high crosses were looking wobbly, hence the danger)

Then you go in, and there's this:

The most amazing Romanesque doorway, crowned by these glorious heads of saints. And the highlight?

Just the bloody grave of St Brendan. Casually laid out in front of the church door, distinctive for its "cat fooprints." As the product of generations of steadily lapsing Catholics, this was rather exciting- and such a contrast from Italian saintly tombs, all gilding and glass and grimly blackened relics. Just an ancient slab, surrounded by lush green grass. Beautiful. 

So, after carvings and cocktails, the natural thing to do was get out on a boat- to Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands. We of course went up to Dun Aengus, a famous massive hillfort that looks amazing from the air (Google it and gasp). From the ground it looks a bit like this:

It's still an incredible site, but it was largely reconstructed during the 19th century, and there are some very suspicious looking bastions. Yes, it's dramatically situated on the edge of a cliff, and yes, it's well worth a visit. But if you head across the island, you can go somewhere a lot more impressive- and there won't be any exhausted yet noisy tourists lugging their bodies up the hill. Dun Duchathair, another Iron Age fortress on the edge of a cliff, takes a bit more effort- at least 30 minutes walk over slippery limestone pavement. Then when you get there, you have to edge around this:

 It's about a 2m gap, with a near vertical drop on one side down to the sea, which pounds in from the Atlantic. Yeech. However, well worth it, because when you do wibble your way around the wall, clinging to the dry stone and taking tiny tiny steps, you get these:

Yeah, internal structrures. Ok, there has probably been some restoration here too, but the fact of their survival at all is pretty exciting. Circular structures with what seem to be elongated entranceways. Well worth a wobbly at the thought of the cliff edge.

I thought when I started this post I would pop up loads of pictures from the whole trip, but that is NOT looking feasible- will stop by and add another post another day. Time to get to work- back in the office, this time, fortified by looking again at the awesomeness of Iron Age Ireland.

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