Cities / Towns Visited: 72
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 12,984
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,482,952
The adventure that was to be our road trip of Ireland was to begin, and thus we awoke bright and early, scurrying off with luggage in tow to catch the Skybus out to the airport, because as I’m sure many of you know, it’s notably cheaper to hire a car from the airport than anywhere else. Before long we were standing at the reception desk of the Enterprise car rental desk, filling in all the paperwork, before heading to the pick up point for the shuttle bus to take us out to the offside parking lot to collect our car. Now it should have been a sign that this was going to be a struggle when vans for all of the other companies came and went, even several from the same ones, before ours finally turned up.
As we arrived, my partner went off with one of the Enterprise employees to fill in the details for the pick up, and I waited as the bus driver unloaded our luggage. My partner’s suitcase was soon beside me, and that’s when it happened, the driver yanked out my bag, despite it being caught on the door hinge, and ripped a hole in it. To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement, and my partner came over just as I was pointing out what he’d done. His response; “Its not my fault, you saw me struggling!“, no sorry, nothing. He then turned on his heel, got back in the van and drove off. We immediately told the lady organising our car, who apologised and took us over to the manager. When she told him he just looked at her nonchalantly and didn’t respond. Only when my partner yelled at him, asking what he was going to do about it did he bother to flippantly blurt out, “Its just a suitcase, it can be replaced, buy a new one and bring us the receipt and we’ll refund you”. At this point we were livid, and running far behind schedule to get to our first sight for the day, and thus we angrily hurried off with the poor kind lady helping us. We asked if we could have any assurance of his seemingly half-hearted promise, and she said they’d put a note on our file. With no time to screw around with getting things in writing we hopped in the car and left.
Now I don’t want to have to spoil other blogs with the nonsense that ensued so I’ll give you the brief summary. I emailed a few days later to say that we wouldn’t have the time or money to source a new case before we returned the car, and asked if they could just refund the amount for my current case, as I had the receipt, so I could buy one when we had half a chance. The rest of the road trip was filled with back and forth emails with an admin lady from the branch who went from being vaguely helpful, to basically saying that she watched the CCTV and didn’t think it was ripped then (despite the fact I was there and saw and heard it, and the driver admitted it to me then and there), she then said she talked to the driver and he doesn’t remember and that there was no note on out file about the promise of a refund. Eventually she bothered to talk to the actual manager who had seen us, but all of a sudden they were saying that they couldn’t refund the value of the case because it was still usable; despite the fact it has a hole in it and is now not waterproof, and has a snag which will only get bigger. By the time we dropped the car back I was fuming and we had another unpleasant talk to the manager who tried to iron things out by again promising the same thing, but not apologising for the actions of his admin lady or himself, and the hugely negative effect it had on our enjoyment of our trip, and saying he’d hold our account open until we bought a new case and sent through the receipt. You’ll be unsurprised to find out that he closed the payment the next day. In short I had my bag ruined, I was called a liar, they made a handful of bullshit promises, and I left wanting to scream. You’ll be pleased to know that the pent up frustration fuelled a two month endeavour of contacting the head office in the US and chasing it up until we finally received a full refund for the price of my case. It wasn’t even about the case in the end, it was the principal of the thing, and the fact they were in no way apologetic or sympathetic about damage that was purely due to their employees negligence. My top tip for today, as I’m sure you can guess, is don’t use Enterprise car rentals at Dublin Airport; and also all Alamo rentals go through them too. Anyway, rant over and on to happier things.
As the fire of rage ebbed, albeit glacially slowly, we did our best to not let it spoil our trip as we made our way speedily to our first stop, as we had a pre-booked guided tour to link into. Parking the car and bolting to the reception, we made it to the ticket desk with eight minutes until the tour, despite the tickets request that we arrive twenty minutes prior. The lady kindly printed our ticket and quickly pointed us towards what we had been racing here to see; Malahide Castle.
A minute or two later and our guide was there, as we began out tour of this small but fascinating place. To be honest it’s more of a manor house. The land was granted to the Talbot family in 1185 after they helped Henry II conquer Ireland, and parts of the castle date from this time. In fact, the Talbot’s owned the land for 791 years, only losing it for a short time during the takeover by Oliver Cromwell; and I don’t know about you but that’s a pretty impressive legacy. It was only sold to the Irish state in 1975 when the last Talbot owner, Rose, sold it in order to pay off accumulating inheritance taxes. The family has some rather noteworthy stories, and it wasn’t all fun and games, with fifteen of the men of the family all sitting down for breakfast in the dining room of the castle before leaving for the Battle of the Boine; but by the end of the day 14 of their bodies were laying on the table, having lost their lives in the battle. They also managed to survive the strict Penal Laws after the introduction of Protestantism, despite remaining quietly Roman Catholic until the late 1700's.
The estate is laid out with Victorian style furniture, with the addition of a few much older pieces dotted about. The interior is everything you would expect from a stately home of that era, with a dainty drawing room for the ladies to sit and chat, complete with fire screens to prevent their wax based make up from melting off (hence the phrase ‘to save face’). Up in a rather elaborately decorated room located in the oldest part of the castle, which used to be used for entertaining guests, we were shown a rather fascinating feature; a rather non-descript door, well hidden in the wall. Now I know that sounds boring, but its what’s behind it that is of interest. The thing is though, you can’t see behind there as the government group which runs the estate does not have the key, nor do they know of anyone who does. As they are unable to force the door open due to its heritage nature, its secrets remain a mystery; although they do think that it may actually be a small hidden altar at which they could secretly pray, given their Catholic persecution, and it may also have been used to hide Catholic priests seeking refuge.
The final, and most impressive, room was the dining room I mentioned earlier. With its long wooden table and its family portraits dotting the walls, it’s almost too easy to imagine the poor Talbot men taking their last meal, before marching into battle together, never to return. With a few ghost stories thrown in, the castle was certainly worth the trip out, even if we just skated in.
At this point we had some time to wander the grounds of the estate, finally taking a chance to admire the equally beautiful exterior of the castle, as well as the lush manicured gardens, and the ruined abbey with surrounding graveyard which resides here also. The final attraction, which we were surprised to stumble upon, was a butterfly house. There was something soothing about taking a little time to slow down and drink in the gentle beauty of these delicate creatures, and yet they have a somewhat existential crisis inducing property to them. Their lives are so fleeting and they go through so much change in such little time that it is like seeing the entire human experience sped up. We are born, we grow and change almost beyond recognition, and then we wither. Regardless, it was a peaceful way to bring our stressful morning to a close. Grabbing a few quick sausage rolls from the cafe we were soon back in the car for the drive to our other sight for the day; Brú na Bóinne, and more specifically Newgrange Passage Tomb.
Arriving with a solid hour to spare before our tour, we spent a little time exploring the museum they have at the visitor centre. Now for those who have no idea what we were here to see, and who have only ever heard of the Boinne in regards to the Boyne Valley or the historic battle there, Brú na Bóinne, (or Palace of the Boyne) is a collection of megalithic passage tombs and other stone structures from the neolithic era some 5000 years ago. The museum is interesting and really helps set the scene of what life was like for the ancient inhabitants of this land long ago, back when they built these monuments.
That being said, nothing could prepare us for the truly incredible sight we were about to behold, and as we stepped off the shuttle bus and passed into the field at Newgrange, where one of the largest passage tombs lays, its hard to believe just how huge the mound is. The conservationists have done an incredible job of restoring the sight to its former glory all of those millennia ago, especially considering that for an incredibly long time it lay hidden beneath the safety blanket of nature until it was randomly stumbled upon when a quarry was set to be dug on the hill. Around the edge, forming a collar, sit giant stones carved by ancient hands with neolithic rock art; a collection of spirals and circles which we will never truly know the meaning behind. Dotted around the edge a few meters out sit large standing stones; a silent sentry of rock from time immemorial.
Our guide met with the group and ran us through the history of the tomb. Most of the mound is just that, a mound of dirt, but into the centre, from behind a huge stone, runs a rock lined passage into the centre, where three almost altar-like stones form the spots where ashes of important persons were thought to have been laid. Above the door is a square of rocks forming an opening known as a light box which allows sunlight into the tomb even if the door is sealed. Now, like many of these kinds of ancient rock tombs and structures, this one is lined up with a certain celestial event; the sunrise of the winter solstice. There are two other passage tombs similar to this one in the surrounding area, but they align with the rising and setting sun of the summer solstice.
At this point it was our turn to enter the tomb. Following our guide, and bobbing down to shuffle through the low and very narrow passage, designed quite clearly for a race of our ancestors much smaller than we, we finally reached the centre. It was breathtaking, not just in its beauty, but its impeccable construction which stands a testament to their ability to build domed rock structures without any mortar to cement the stones together. If you needed inspiration to improve your tetris skills, this would be the place to head. Our guide began placing us around the edges of the room, sorting us by height. It all seemed strange but it was all to become clear; he was making sure we could see what he was about to show us. He explained that every year they have a lottery for people to be able to come out and witness the sunrise shine through that perfectly aligned hatch as it peaks up over the horizon around the 8 days of the solstice. As that wasn’t possible to show us on this cloudy afternoon in late summer he had a light system to show us what it looks like. Although we had not really noticed, the walk into the centre had, in fact, taken us more than a metre higher than the entrance and thus the light would shine on the ground, hence the precise placement of us around the edge.
All of a sudden he switched out the light and we found ourselves in pure inky darkness. He paused a moment while our eyes adjusted, then he flicked a switch. A small dull beam of light shone in a line down the centre of the tomb, how it would appear at the very beginning of the solstice dawn. He then pressed the button again and the light grew brighter and warmer, as this was how it appears a little later; then one last click and the light shone brighter still; how it would appear at the climax of its entrance into this ancient house of the dead. In the dark, in the silence, there was something magical about it all, and it is by far one of the coolest experiences either of us had ever had the pleasure of being a part of, and one I would highly recommend. With that, the main lights were illuminated once more, and we were given a little time to carefully move around and view the interior before making our way back out. That interior included somewhat rage inducing graffiti on the stones, especially from back in the 1800’s when conservation wasn’t really a thing, and self absorbed tourists would enter the tomb and leave their mark, as if no one could possibly believe they went there without that. It was basically the Victorian era version of the selfie compulsion.
After a little extra time outside, admiring the mound, the art, and the general surrounding landscape, while the other half of our group filed into the tomb, it wasn’t long before we were back on the bus, then back in the car and heading off to our Airbnb. A quick meal at seemingly the only restaurant that was open in the tiny town of Carlow at that time of day, and much happy discussion about all we had seen, whilst simultaneously blocking out the debacle of the morning, and we were soon in bed.
As I attempted not to dwell on the quiet fire of rage burning in the pit of my stomach about the damage to my bag, and the atrocious customer service of the Enterprise staff, I let my mind drift back into that tomb. It was spine-tingling to realise that this is a sight very few have seen throughout the history of this special place, and that we had stood where our forebears had five millennia ago. Before we even understood why the stars align, or why the winter solstice occurs at all. Before any biblical prophets walked the earth, before any of the modern religions had spread across the planet; back when man worshipped nature, and aligned itself to the sun and the moon; back when we felt a connection to the land instead of just using and abusing it for our own personal gain, regardless of consequence. Although I do not follow a religion, I have always seen more sense in the more heathen and pagan ideologies. I can at least understand worshipping the intrinsic nature of the natural world, and at least worshipping the sun is worshipping something that undeniably exists and truly gives life to us all. The sun is the constant that has watched over all of creation on this planet, and had a hand in it all. The same sun that we stand beneath today lit that passage then, and it will continue to until its walls crumble and fall. Nature is life giving and nurturing; it is reliable and constant; it is forgiving of our trespasses against it, but holds within it great powers of destruction; it was here before us, and will be here after us; it watches over life and death both within that tomb and without; it is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end; it is the true God of life on this Earth.