Co. Meath and the Boyne Valley

A day of Boyne Valley history.

Boyne river valley

Part 2 of our trip wrap-up, again written with the help of B, but to be honest he was a bit worn out by my agenda by this time.  So, after exploring the Ancient East*, we traveled to Co. Meath.

Gate tower at Mellifont Abbey.

Our first stop was the Mellifont Abbey, the first Cistercian Abbey to be built in Ireland and the model for the other abbeys we had already seen.  Getting to the location was a bit tricky, as many of the roads are labeled and you really do think you are lost right before you arrive.  This is the place where I defaulted back to right side driving, since the roads were only a lane wide in the first place!  We drove in under the original gate tower, most of which is still standing, and that made finding the site worth it.  By this time we were a bit bored with abbeys, but it was neat to see other parts of the abbey layout that didn’t survive in some of the previous sets of ruins, like the “lavabo” (where the cleansing ritual took place).

Knowth burial mound.

The number one activity on my list was the prehistoric burial mounds: Newgrange and Knowth.  Heritage Ireland advised us to set aside 3 hours to see all the sites, and since they closed at 6:30pm, we planned to arrive at 3:30pm.  Travel on the motorway was quick, and our lunch was not at a pub (and therefore a bit quicker than the typical laid-back Irish pace), so we actually arrived right after 2pm.  Tours for Newgrange were already sold out.  Our friend (the Ireland expert) did recommend we arrive first thing in the morning, but my agenda didn’t allow for that, and I assumed it was a “it’s prettier in the morning” attraction.  Another strike in the poor planning department and I was disappointed in my agenda failure.  We did still go see Knowth and tour the exhibit, but I’m still a bit crushed about the missed opportunity of Newgrange.  From what I can gather, from both talking to folks and from the books/exhibit, Knowth is the “prettier”  site, since it’s on a higher hill and has stunning views of the Boyne River and valley.  Newgrange is the only mound that has access into the inner chamber.  It was absolutely still worth the trip, and I would go back and see both in a heartbeat.

High Cross

Our last stop in Co. Meath was Monasterboice.  It’s the site of a very well preserved 10th century Irish Cross and the ruins of a roundtower and a few churches.  By now we have figured out that there is a cemetery anywhere there is a roundtower, since consecrated ground and all.  The sun didn’t set until around 9:30pm while we were there in late May, but it still felt a bit odd for me to be in a cemetery in the evening.  B did not feel this way, and he thought the cemertary was wonderful.  Despite this, I kept finding cool new pictures to take (I tried and failed to get cool art student angels on these, but I’m too old for that shit).

We stayed in the guest room of a local with Air BnB this time, but neither of our brains adjusted to being a guest, but not a guest.  Sleeping in a stranger’s place is all well and good, but not OK for us when that stranger is there.  I booked a few different types of accommodations with AirBnB just to see where our line was, and we found it.  Guest house next door to hosts is A-OK, but not a spare room.  The host of the flat we stayed in during our evening in Waterford lived next door, but I don’t think I consciously realized this at the time.  I knew she lived close due to the things I subconsciously picked up on when we met for keys, but I didn’t comprehend until reviewing the stay that she was directly next door.  We have had friends rent guest houses and not be able to fully relax with their hosts in the adjacent house, though, so your comfort levels with accommodations will be a bit of trial and error.

DSC06797The next morning before we returned the rental, we stopped at Malahide Castle in north Dublin.  This wasn’t included in the Heritage Card, but it was well worth the entry fee.  Malahide is a Norman fort that was remodeled in the Victorian Era, similar to Kilkenny Castle.  Most of the Manor house was decorated in the late 19th and early 20th century furniture that was sold with the estate in the 1950s, including some painted leather wallpaper that was stunning.  Some of the history of the castle ties to the Battle of the Boyne, and the Talbots received the property after the battle.  This was one of the best gardens we saw on our trip, several generations of Talbots had devoted large amounts of money and time into traveling the world and collecting beautiful flower and plants along their travels.  We spent an extra few hours here walking the garden.

I didn’t begin my agenda in the North, and thus Newgrange in the morning, as Mellifont Abbey didn’t open for the season until a few days after we arrived, so flipping the agenda to end in the North allowed us to add the abbey to our visit.  For agenda planning in the future, I would recommend a car rental for a day trip and begin at Newgrange when it opens at 9am (less than an hour on the M1 from the car hire at the Dublin Airport).  Then you can visit Malahide Castle before returning the car that evening.

In the next entry, we’ll cover what we explored in Dublin city center.

*term adopted by the friend who helped with the agenda that I mentioned before we left.  He was certified as an Ireland Specialist by the Tourism Ireland right before we departed on our trip!  If you are planning a trip, check out his Facebook group for additional tips.

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