Friday, September 30, 2016


 I and five others had our full day drop-off in the town of Malahide located at the very end of the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) train line connecting the towns north and south of Dublin.

The day didn't start out very well. When we arrived at the DART station ready for our drop-off, we were dismayed to find the DART trains late due to someone getting sick on the train. Then when a DART bound for Malahide arrived, we climbed on only to find a few minutes later that its destination was now Howth. So we got off. However, the conductor was kind and asked us if we needed help. He suggested we get back on that train and take it to Bray, get off, then wait for one bound for Malahide. We did so and were finally off on our long ride to Malahide – only slightly more frazzled than before.

All this hassle happened after the issues the night before. Since the point of a drop-off is to explore a town that we haven't been to yet, Diana, the assistant director who organizes everything for us, planned for a lot of people to take a bus to a town that is not on the DART line since most of us have been to all the towns on the DART line. Unfortunately, we forgot that the Dublin bus services were on strike that day, so she had to rearrange us.

But in the end, we arrived in Malahide, got something to eat because we were starving, and set off to explore the town, talk to the locals, and observe the culture.

There were lovely stone churches like in most of Ireland's towns.

One feature that Malahide possessed was a castle. So we got to explore that. It cost to go inside, so we just explored the outside.

The trees here are amazing!

We had to stop at this weird tree to take pictures of each other.
Elizabeth and Kelly

So that was the extent of interesting pictures that I took during our drop-off. After the castle, we went down to the beach, and Meghann and I (mostly Meghann though) had a fantastic talk with a local for awhile.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Best Moment

This happened a long time ago during our trip to Achill Island in Northwest Ireland. However, I'm just now getting around to blogging about it.

Most of our plans for the Achill Islands were foiled because of severe fog. But as we were driving away from the one site we were able to see, we made a random stop to see a tower which the pirate queen, Gráinne Mhaol built. 

It was exciting enough for me to see, but as I tumbled over the low wall, I saw something far more exciting -- fresh horse manure. I stepped around the bend in the hedge fence and saw the best site ever -- Four Connemara greys. 

I hesitated, snatched a picture of the tower (after taking several of the horses) ran inside the tower took a few more rushed pictures which turned out blurry and ran back out to take more pictures of the Connemaras. Diana prompted me to pet them.

Despite, a certain someone's warning not to go up to any horses wandering on the moor, I didn't need to be told twice. 

Fortunately, they were happy to have some attention, and I spent the next few minutes with my arm over one's back scratching its withers. It was fantastic to have my hand dirty from grooming a horse again. 

I'm not sure I'd go as far to say that it was the best day here so far, but it is pretty close. It was probably my favorite moment so far, though. 

Okay, back to the more interesting subject at hand
 The horse in the following pictures is the one I petted.
What is that?

Food is definitely more interesting.

What is going on over there?!

I wasn't the only one interested in the horses.
Any landscape is made better with the presence of a horse.
Check back for new posts about every other day. There are a whole bunch to come! Cliffs, castles, bogs, horses, you name it!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Glendalough Hike

After we observed the remains of the monastery of Glendalough we hiked through the beautiful woods and beside the lakes which inspired St. Kevin to come there in the first place.

Unfortunately, all my pictures came out very washed out and do not do this stunning forest justice, but I've edited a few of them to give you a better idea of what it looked like, although it was far better in person.

Before the monks came, St. Kevin lived in this cave.

We were trying to get to that waterfall but we didn't have enough time.

The Upper Lake

The sun finally decided to peek out of the clouds.

Friday, September 23, 2016


This is our academic blog post on Newgrange. This blog contains the adventures of Brad, Meghann, Elizabeth, and Eva.

 Note: We were unable to take pictures of the inside of the tomb, so there is only footage of the outside.

The Newgrange tomb may not seem like much from the outside, but the history that this passage holds is truly ancient. The tomb itself is over five thousand years old and is located in the Boyne Valley. It is much older than Stonehenge and the great pyramids of Giza. 

The Boyne River

The Boyne Valley
At the top of the hill -- Newgrange.

We must remember that the only tools these farmers had at the time were made of stone, wood, or bone. Transporting stones would have been difficult and taken time to move. It often took four days for 80 men to bring a 4 ton stone from 3km away. About 2,000 of these stones were likely used to make the tomb. Most of these stones were greywacke, a grey-green sandstone. On the outside, the base of the tomb is lined with 97 large stones called the kerbstones. The entrance kerbstone is decorated with an ornate design. The decoration stops near the bottom of the stone in a horizontal line that represented the ground level at the time. This stone acts a physical and spiritual barrier. Before the stairs were built, you had to climb over the stones to enter the tomb. It also is thought to have acted as a barrier between the living and the dead.

This mound likely took around fifteen years to build depending on the number of people involved.
In order to build the tomb in the precise alignment with the sun that it is, measurements of the sun had to be taken for years before any stones were set in place. The passage was likely marked out with timber, then sockets for the stones were made in the ground. As the stones were set in place, artists decorated them. Smaller stones for decoration and rituals were brought from the Cooley peninsula, and quartz was brought from the Wicklow mountains. 

Quartz on the walls.

Inside is a short passageway with a large room in the center. It is thought to have held the remains of the inhabitant’s ancestors or to held a burial ritual. The walls of the passageway and chamber are decorated with ancient carvings. Sadly, they are also covered in "graffiti" (names and dates chiseled into the stone some of which is dated from the 1800's.) The grounds are now protected and kept up. The grass is always cleanly cut, litter picked up, and the monument rebuilt to its original glory.

Beautiful Carvings

One of the many other, much smaller passage tombs in the area around Newgrange

Newgrange, although the biggest burial site in Ireland, has a simple structure that can be seen in the 27 other burial sites also located in the Boyne Valley. Looking at the huge mound, you would think the chamber inside is large, but it is very small. Only twenty people can fit inside. The cross shape inside is created by having one long pathway, and three sections pointing north, south, and west. Within the structure, it is easy to see how the burial mound was built. By layering large slates of stone closer and closer together, a cone shape is formed until the top stone was placed to seal off light. This is called Corbelling. 

One many think that the tunnel into the tomb would cut off any light to illuminate the inside. However, the Neolithic builders were very smart. The window at the entrance of Newgrange is in exact level with the eastern horizon and the center of the tomb. This means that as you walk to the center of the mound, you are elevating yourself about 2 meters. The passage is facing toward where the sun rises during the winter solstice. During that time, the light shines through a window above the doorway called the roof box. It then travels down the passageway and lights up the chamber at the end. 

The effect is magical. It is recreated for tourists today with artificial light, but thousands enter for the drawing to be one of the few people who get to be inside the chamber during the five days around the winter solstice to see the real thing. Real sunlight creates a completely different effect because it seems to have a pulsing energy of its own. Below we'll try to describe what it felt like, however, it will not be as real as being there and we were only there for the artificial reenactment. 

The chamber is pitch black. So utterly dark it sticks to you like and inky coating, weighing down on you. You wave your hand in front of your face. You know you're doing it, but you cannot see it. It is so quiet you can hear your heartbeat. Goosebumps speckle your arms in anticipation, wondering if the Irish clouds will block out the sunlight. Nothing happens. Finally, a speck of golden light smacks the floor. It turns into a stripe, slicing down the center of the chamber. Suddenly you can see all around you and to the top of the chamber even with that little bit of light. The light seems to vibrate and move. It lasts for a few magical minutes before it shimmers and fades and you have left once again in the dark.

What just happened? Many have wondered what exactly the sun shining into the tomb for these few precious minutes meant to the people who took the time and effort to built this tomb. Some think it was to signify the triumph of light over darkness. Maybe the spirits of the ancestors were revived during these few moments, or perhaps they traveled up the stream of light into the heavens beyond. No one knows what the significance of these moments were to those people, but it is fun to wonder and amazing to see the same thing happen thousands of years later.

The reasons for this are argued. The people who built the tomb might have worshiped the sun. It was also a useful way for farmers to know when winter was coming to an end so they could plant their crops.

The people who built these tombs were very intelligent, but they probably lived very simple lives. Farming was the main source of nutrition, but food from the wild supplemented their diet. Therefore, knowing when to plant crops was vital. The passage tomb of Newgrange provided this "calendar." The Boyne river which wraps around Newgrange provided a wealth of salmon. Every part of the animal was used. They ate the meat and blood, skin and fur became clothes and shoes, and the bones could be used for any number of things, especially tools. The guts and sinew were used for sewing and binding. They ate many wild plants including “fat hen” which was like spinach or cabbage, but it provided a lot more iron, protein, and calcium. Berries and nuts were also a great source of food. Although mushrooms were gathered and eaten, they were also used for other things. The inner tissue of some mushrooms could be used to stop bleeding others were used as medicine.

They made longbows out of yew and arrows with flint points which were used for hunting and defense against bears. The arrowhead was likely bound to the shaft with sinew and cemented with resin. They made tools of wood and flint, stone, or bones.

It was awesome getting see this ancient tomb. It is a wonder it isn't listed among the wonders of the world. For the record, it is way cooler than Stonehedge. 

Here is Brad's video again with footage from our trip to Glendalough and Newgrange.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


This is our academic blog post on Glendalough. This blog contains the adventures of Brad, Meghann, Elizabeth, and Eva.


Glendalough means The valley of the two lakes and it is a very important monastic site. Glendalough is one of the most well-preserved historical sites in Ireland. The stone church looks to the valley where the sun sets and bathes the valley with its golden rays. Slightly up into the hills is the mining village and some spectacular waterfalls. After St Kevin started his Green martyrdom lifestyle in the mountains, followers soon came and built a monastery. The round tower located in the center of the village is still almost completely intact, one of few in Europe. It is believed that the tower was used as a bell tower, signaling the time of day or notifying the monks if it was time for their daily prayer. The doorway of round towers always faces the most important building -- usually the church. The church was built was a dontrey stone, which was very expensive and usually had to be transported from overseas. However, since there was a large quantity of stone up in the valley, the monks just transported it from there. Some of the monks built a village next to the stream and would haul large quantities of rock back down to the village to build the church, tower, St Mary’s church, and some of the homes as well.
It is said that the closer you are buried to a church, the closer you are to heaven, therefore, the church is now surrounded by a massive number of graves, some from only a few years ago. It is a wonderful site to see those who live around the Monastery are still connected to it to this day. Although the town of Glendalough does not follow the same lifestyle as the monks once did, they still show a great respect for their ancestors and the village they left behind. It is clear to see the grounds are well kept and the people are still very connected to the church that St Kevin built. 
The doorway to the round tower was 3 meters off the ground.

High crosses marked some of the graves.

Gateway to Glendalough

In 498, St. Kevin founded his monastery in Glendalough. In this valley, a whole village of monks lived together and this site has remained a huge part of Irish history. Although the cone roofing of the round tower was struck by lightning in the 1800s, the tower is in wonderful condition and is 110ft tall. This tower was built to, not only, keep the monks safe during an attack, but also to see far and wide when the Vikings were coming. The height of the tower helped to keep their treasures safe from attackers. Four windows face north, south, east, and west- another genius creation of the monks to keep time of day and location at the tip of their fingers. Another structure found in the valley at Glendalough is the Cathedral. This cathedral was not like you would imagine, you one you may have been in for a wedding. This cathedral was made of mica schist stones, which form most of the structure. Over the centuries different parts were added to the cathedral, but the earliest part is the nave which supports the wooden roof. Most of the churches at Glendalough do not have roofs because they were made of wood and usually rotted away as time passed. To be standing in the ruins of a monastery so old, it was hard to imagine what life was like back then.

The monks in Glendalough weren't the typical monk figures you think of. Nor was Glendalough the typical monastery. In the middle ages when Glendalough was built, Ireland didn't have any real towns so Glendalough became a “city” and a major stop on the trading route. Life at for the monks at this monastery was not quiet at all. They had the hustle and bustle of traders coming through, people wanting to learn from the monks and various other figures who stopped by. They also took in runaways. Just inside the gateway of the monastery, there is a cross engraved on the stone. When a fugitive came into the gateway they were offered protection from whoever was chasing them for ninety days. At this cross, they were said to “lay” their sins as they entered the holy monastery.

These medieval monks were not only scholars they also farmed, raised livestock, and were craftsmen. There were talented woodworkers and blacksmiths. The woodworkers fashioned plates, bowls, buckets, tool handles, and writing utensils along with various other things. The blacksmiths made knives, nails, and farming tools, some worked with bronze and precious metals to make chalices, brooches, or bells. There were leather workers who made shoes, belts, and harnesses. Animal skins were also used for bedding, bones were used to make combs, pins, and needles, and animal fat was used to make candles. The monks threaded their goods of leather, metal, and wood for wine, spices, fine textiles, and exotic dyes for their manuscripts.

The monks would have eaten bread, milk products, eggs, and meat. The forest, lakes, and rivers provided food and barley and oats were likely grown on near the monastery. Cows were the most valuable animal in Ireland and would have provided milk and meat for the monks. They also would have kept goats, sheep, pigs, cats, and dogs. Oxen were used to plough and small ponies were pack animals in the mountains. 

But the most important work that the Irish did at this monastery was learning and copying. They spent years studying not only the Bible but also the ancient texts of the Greeks and Romans which were left to them after the Romans fled from Europe. These monks copied these manuscripts and when they fled from Glendalough because of the Vikings, they took these works with them and founded monasteries all over Europe. They brought the teaching of the Greeks and Romans and played a huge role in bringing Europe out of the Dark Ages.

Brad made a video containing footage from our trips to Glendalough and Newgrange. More information on Newgrange will be given Friday.