I followed the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland from the interpretive center across the fields and up the rise to one of several rolling peaks that fringed the river Boyne. This was Newgrange Ireland. Irish believe in faeries, and talk of faerie homes where rock has fallen in geometric suggestions where old formations once stood. In old times the admonition was to stay away, for faeries were to be respected for the harm they could cause if they weren’t.
Central to this particular rise had once been a mound of dirt, rubble and overgrowth. The farmer that owned it wanted it removed from the pasture. So he sent workmen up to clear it. They dug into the mound to haul away the dirt, but they hit a very large boulder. As they removed the dirt from the boulder, they saw distinct and strange symbols carved into the rock.
…and they promptly got the shit out of there!
The farmer dug around the boulder and found behind it the entranceway to a tunnel. What was a guy to do at this point who had already crossed the threshold of faerie realm but to invade further and be proper fekked? So he followed the tunnel. It continued deep into the mound, scaffolded securely by heavy stone slabs along each wall, supporting similar stones above. Deeper and deeper until the passage intentionally narrowed to breast width. Then it opened to a circular room, the apex of lithic dome above him higher than he could reach. He could see three alcoves in each direction, and more of the petroglyphs all around.
But no faeries.
What the farmer found and archaeologists uncovered was a spiritual site of prehistoric Irish, sacred for honoring the bones of their interned ancestors. And this is where I now stood, staring in adoration at the mound now restored to near authenticity by archaeologists. The mound the farmer wanted moved had been the collapsed earthen roof and white rock outside walls of this religious mound. But the intact tunnel and interior room has been standing since it was built before the Egyptian pyramids.
My heart was racing as I crossed the same boulder marked in spirals and glyphs then walked the down the same tunnel that people passed through 5000 years ago in the pre-twilight hours of the winter solstice. I turned sideways to pass through the narrowest end of the corridor, careful not to brush against the glyphs engraved on each side. And I stood, breathing in the room where those people so long ago would have heard each other breathing as the solstice sun rose outside this mound, out of site.
Then they would have watched the point of dawn’s light creep toward them through the same corridor they’d entered. Slowly moving deeper and deeper into this earthen body, passing between them until it lit the furthest alcove, penetrating life, perhaps, even momentarily into the ancestral bones beside us.
It was one of the most profound moments of my life. To stand in this place and among these spirits pulled at something subconscious and visceral within me. It’s difficult to explain unless you feel it.
But I thought in that moment and again since, here I am in this amazing moment, thinking about my ancestors who’ve been dead for millennia. And what about my ancestors still living? What about my mother, who complains that I don’t call her but once a month. And my dad, and my sisters, most of whom I deeply enjoy their company but only visit biannually. And what about our elders at whom we roll our eyes in regard to their being old, and “geez, get with it, for gawd’s sake.” And even in the face of our fantastic advances in technology and performance of late; what about all those who came before who pushed the margins of what was possible, creating the platform we now leap from?
It occurs to me that though we’ve accomplished so much, there’s no shame in reverence for those who’ve carried us so far. The brilliance of a belief and ritual that gave people opportunity to sit down on the coldest morning of the year, when everything seems so barren and empty, and to watch illumination dawn on that first morning of the new year, penetrating the darkness before us. And for a moment to have preceding generations revived in our collective presence.
That is a profound reassurance of our genetic memory.
These are the suggestions of Brú na Bóinne Newgrange Ireland.