Exploring Ireland – Tombs, Crosses and cat carvings

Exploring Ireland – Tombs, Crosses and cat carvings

This is slightly different to my normal posts as it only involves a teeny bit of walking. BUT if you ever find yourself in the boarder area between Northern Ireland and Ireland, I have some cool historical sites to share with you. You’ll need a car, or at least a bike and bundles of energy!Ancient Ireland - exploring tombs, crosses and finding cat carvings

At the start of September Marc and I zoomed back to Europe, to Ireland for an amaaaaazing wedding. One of Marc’s little brothers, Alex, married his soul mate, Louise, in a celebration that spanned two countries, and included both a cathedral and a castle. It was epic! But as Marc and I have both only just started our jobs in Canada, we didn’t feel like we could take a long holiday. So we rushed back for a couple of days before the wedding, and then used a Canadian bank holiday (and a weekend) to give us 5 days away.

My parents wanted to spend time with us while we were in Europe, so they kindly came over to Dublin to meet us. They then drove us around, so we didn’t even have to hire a car! Parents are the best! Although my mum likes seeing Marc and I, she also didn’t want to waste the opportunity to visit some ancient Irish historical sites. So Marc and I tagged along to some tombs, churches and standing stones as we drove around Northern Ireland and Ireland.

We began at Dowth, in County Meath where there is a megalithic mound which mum said is 600 years older than the pyramids in Egypt, and more than 1000 years older than Stonehenge! My photos flatten it a little, but it was actually quite high up. We were treated to some pretty views of the Irish countryside.

You can peek inside to some of the passageways, but there are gates so you can’t actually climb in and explore. There is also some ancient rock art showing wheels on some of the giant slabs of rock around the outside of the mound. Mum mentioned that the carvings normally face inwards, so you can’t actually see them on most neolithic mounds.

New  Grange:
Next, mum showed us what Dowth would have looked like originally by driving past a similar neolithic mound that has been restored at New Grange. If you want to visit this one, you have to go to the visitor center, and then take a bus for a guided tour around the site. This is a similar age to the mound at Dowth – from around 3200 BC.

It looks pretty impressive from the back. Although it sort of looks like those hills from the tellytubbies!  When we drove around to the front of the monument we could see the walls that create the mound. There is some amazing rock art on display as well, but we couldn’t get close enough for me to take photos.

This tomb is well looked after. While we were there there was even a remote-controlled lawn mower cutting the crass on the top of the tomb!

Mellifont Abbey:
Next we popped in to see the ruins of Mellifont abbey in County Louth. This was the first Cistercian abbey to be built in Ireland in 1142. The Abbey stopped being used in the 16th century, so it is looking a little worse for wear these days.

It looked like it would be an interesting place to explore. Marc and I were getting pretty sleepy with jet-lag by this point. Marc was so knackered that he didn’t even get of the car for this one!

This is the ruins of an early Christian settlement. Monasterboice was set up in the 5th century and was used until Mellifont abbey (above) was was established six hundred years later. The compound has a couple of churches, a really old, round tower, and two of the very best high crosses in Ireland, according to my mum.

There was a really friendly lady who gave mum information about the stories behind each of the carvings. To be honest, I was a little out of it by the time we reached Monasterboice; So I didn’t pay a huge amount of attention to the meaning behind all the gorgeous carvings on the high crosses. BUT I did notice that there were kitties carved all around the bottom of one of the posts. You can easily see their whiskers and curly tails. I approve of 10th Century Christians that are cat-fans.

After this we had some lunch. And then both Marc and I collapsed for a sleep in the car, while my parents found the way to our next adventure! We woke up just as dad parked the car by a field…

We’d moved over the boarder into County Armagh, and gone back in time again. This granite pillar is thought to be the earliest christian monuments in Ireland. It is dated at around 700 AD(ish). Mum said that the standing stone was pre-christian and had been reused. There are 11 crosses engraved onto the stone. Some plain ones on one side, and curly, decorated crosses on the back.

Killnasaggart wasn’t very easy to find! It has a sign post, but it is hidden by a bush! Mum and dad at explored on google street view before they left home, but we still had to ask two locals for help. Then we had to wander through several fields to find it!

So, that was our historical tour on the way to the wedding! On the morning after the wedding, we stopped off at one more amazing site on our drive back to Dublin. I’ll include that too!

Proleek Dolmen:
This amazing portal tomb is located on the edge of a golf course(!) on the grounds of Ballymascanlon House Hotel. It is a bit of a wander (especially in the rain)! First you walk past a wedge shaped grave, then you can see the amaaaazing portal tomb. There is a huuuge capstone balanced on top of two other massive stones. I couldn’t imagine how people ever managed to drag the stone up! Mum said originally the whole thing would have been covered by a mound. They must have lugged it up the mound!

Apparently if a visitor lands three stones atop the dolmen, they will be granted a wish, or will be married within the year! I didn’t know about the wishes. It is lucky that I didn’t know, as I would probably have spent a while attempting to add three more pebbles in the rain!

So, there are some historical larks in County Armagh, County Meath and County Louth. I wouldn’t have known about any of these if it wasn’t for mum; So I thought I should share her wealth of knowledge. I should give a shout out to dad as well, as he was the chauffeur for all of these adventures.

54 thoughts on “Exploring Ireland – Tombs, Crosses and cat carvings

        1. Yep, it is a long way to travel!
          You are so good though. I am still trying to persuade my parents and siblings to visit me in Canada.

    1. Thanks Patricia!
      If/when you do make it to Ireland, I hope you can go west! I LOVE Connemara. It’s one of the prettiest places in the whole world.

  1. Wow beautiful photos! The castles look so magical. Also that’s so great that you were able to make the most of your time off with the bank holidays! The photos from the wedding looked lovely too :).

    1. Thanks! I didn’t feel like I could blog about the actual wedding without asking everyone first if they mind being in photos! It was amazing though- so many epic hats!!

  2. This is so up my street. Love all of this, views, the history. Can’t believe I have never visited Ireland, the home of my father, too! Must change that soon. Lovely post.

    1. Oooh where in Ireland is your father from? One generation is pretty recent for someone to emigrate, so you must still have lots of relatives!?

  3. Enjoy your trip😊 I studied Art at school and part of the course was history of Art. We focused on dolmens and crosses quite a bit! I think you would enjoy Clonmacnoise in Offaly if you ever get that way.

    1. Oooh thank you!

      With your history of art, did you ever hear about sheela na gigs? It’s like medieval carved porn(!) My mum thinks they are really cool so we always go searching for them. I don’t know many other people that looks for them though!

    1. YES! It is so close!
      When I was younger I’d always catch the bus from Birmingham. It’s cheap as chips to get there that way…

  4. Ireland is so rich with history- to be able to see dolmens and ruins and ringforts is such a treat!! (Says the historian…) Being able to walk right up to the Poulnabrone Dolmen was absolutely amazing, and part of what I love is that people really still don’t really know what they are used for. Also, if you are looking for another tomb to visit (Newgrange is pretty much numero uno), Tara is also fantastic! It’s very cool to take a few moments to wander through where the saga heros ate and drank! Thank you for sharing this!!!!!! 😀 😀 😀

    1. I need to actually go inside Newgrange next time. Those carvings look awesome. We were just so jetlagged that I didn’t quite take it all in!

      I was hoping you’d like this post. I’m so glad that you saw it!!

    1. Oooh you’d love it then!

      Both the history and architecture are amazing. It’s all just so different from Jaipur, that you’d probably have great fun.

  5. I’ve often thought I should visit Ireland and have read a lot recently about County Kerry, which looks a nice area of the country too. Like your images, especially those Monasterboice ruins.

    1. You should totally visit! Ireland is stunning!
      Those crosses at Monasterboice were really impressive. I feel a little guilty that I was too sleepy to make the most of visiting them!

      If you visit Ireland do you think you’ll go to Co. Kerry first? Now you have read so much about it?

  6. I love Ireland! My hubs’s family lives there, so we try to visit every other year or so. I never cease to be amazed by how beautiful it is, and the amount of history so easily accessible is amazing. My husband’s aunt lives behind a golf course, and the last time we were there, we walked across a little creek to take a quick walk at sunset. As we walked, she showed us the remnants of a castle (I don’t remember the details), just hanging out on the golf course. How cool is that?!

    1. It’s funny how many amazing monuments end up in golf courses! Near my mums house in Connemara there were standing stones on one golf course!

      I loved your post about Ireland too. 😀

    1. Yay! I am really glad that you liked it!
      My recommendation is always Connemara first. But now I know the North is gorgeous too! 🙂

    1. Oooh you must have better piccies than me as we didn’t go inside properly. I think I need to go back!

      It’s pretty awesome that we’ve been to the same place though! 😀

    1. Yay! Do you have a super long list? Mine seems to keep getting longer as I see other bloggers amazing posts!

  7. Good ole Ma and Pa 🙂 Yes, Ireland is beautiful, the weather is not! Which is quite hard when you only have a few days. Well done for capturing so much with no rain. Love the rose photo, well all are great, I just a fondness for roses 🙂

    1. It was all good though, we didn’t rain on the day of the wedding – so it was pretty perfect weather.

      I don’t mind a bit of softness (what my Irish friends call rain) when it makes the world so pretty and green!

    1. Oops. Sorry. It was a lot to pack into one post!
      It was quite a lot of pack into a journey too…but it meant we slept really well on our first night. 🙂

    1. Thanks Rosie!
      You’ll have to borrow my mum for your trip! She just knows so much about Irish history! Hopefully she won’t mind me lending her out! 😉

  8. This makes me really want to go to Ireland. My mom’s family is from Armagh (from way back in the day), and my wife’s Aunt lives in Ireland right now. Your blog is contributing to my ever-expanding list of places I need to visit.

    1. Oooh you should definitely visit Armagh! It is so, so pretty. If I’m honest, the food wasn’t that impressive, but you can cope with that when it means you can see the gorgeous greenery and historical sites.

      I’m sorry and not sorry to add to your bucket list. I mean, I don’t want to make you poor from too many flights, but it’s always nice to have a good list of possible future holidays!

    1. Oooh Are you thinking of visiting? I hope you can go to Connemara too. That is the prettiest place in the world!

      p.s. Hanna mentioned you are at a wedding. Have fun!!

    1. Oooh are they similarly huge? It is really impressive that people managed to construct them so long ago. It must have been incredibly hard work!

      1. As far as I can tell, yeah, they’re about the same size. They’re down toward the tip of Cornwall, roughly between Penzance and St. Just. The area’s thick with ancient monuments.

        1. I have done some goooorgeous walks down there, but we were close to the coast, rather than exploring for ancient sites. I’ll have to come back!!

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