Best of Ancient Ireland

After General Leia, Finn’s face, and those cute little floofy owl creatures, the star of The Last Jedi was surely Skellig Michael. Throughout the film, magnificent shots of the Irish island punctuated the intergalactic action.

While this little island is now famous worldwide as the hideout of Luke Skywalker, it has always been an important part of Irish history. The site of an ancient monastery, it is also well known as a conservation area for an array of seabirds such as puffins. Skellig Michael can only be visited from May to October because of the rough ferry route, and unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to explore it yet, but while I was in Ireland this fall Steve took me around the Ring of Kerry and we were able to see the Skelligs (Skellig Michael and its smaller companion) in the distance.

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I’m sure I’ll get the chance to explore Skellig Michael and its craggy, epic cliffs at some point in the next few years, but there’s no shortage of impressive historic sites in Ireland, and I have been lucky enough to visit a number of them. Here are a few of my favourites.

Brú na Bóinne / Newgrange

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Stonehenge may be the most famous example of a neolithic site in the British and Irish isles, but it’s also one of the most overrated. You have to drive nearly two hours from London to walk around a largely unimpressive circle of rocks—at a distance and on the other side of a cordon, mind. Newgrange, on the other hand, is a chance to get up close and personal with a way cooler instance of neolithic architecture and design. This site is located a mere 45 minutes from Dublin and consists of a circular mound with an underground passageway made of stone that you can actually enter.

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The most notable feature of this site is that the upper entrance of the mound aligns with the sun on the winter solstice so that a ray of light shines through into the inner chamber. To be inside the mound on this special day, you have to enter a lottery on your visit, and one of the reasons this site holds such a place in my heart is that I was actually lucky enough to win the lottery while I was living in Ireland. Unfortunately, the weather was too cloudy (in Ireland in December? You don’t say!) for any sun to make its way into the chamber, but it was still an incredible experience to know that we were standing in the same place, doing the same thing, as those who lived five thousand years before us.

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Ireland, 17-21 May

Despite living in Ireland for nine months now, I haven’t seen as much of the country as I would like. Unlike the semesters of undergrad when I studied in London, England and Sevilla, Spain, the MA has, understandably, taken up quite a bit of my time (and my finances) and so I haven’t spent my weekends travelling and exploring. When my family came to visit this past week, however, they wanted to see more than just Dublin and Galway, the two cities I’m most familiar with, so it was a good time to get the full tourist experience.