Tuesday, 4 September 2018

The Elf-Mounds of Ireland... (1) by Katherine Langrish


Back in June this year we visited a friend in Ireland and since he lives way up in Co. Donegal we broke the journey by staying a couple of nights in the Boyne Valley, home to some of the most impressive Neolithic monuments anywhere in the world. Brug na Boinne, also known as Newgrange, and its companion mounds of Knowth and Dowth are stupendous megalithic passage graves dating to around 3,300 BC and hundreds of years older than the earliest Egyptian pyramid.


We struck lucky in the B&B which we’d found in anxious flurry at the last minute after discovering the one we thought we’d chosen had double-booked. For it turned out to be a beautiful old house with lovely views next door to the great mound of Dowth: and I mean right next door – the mound towered up over the garden fence; we could go out before breakfast or last thing in the evening with Polly and walk around it and over it and have it completely to ourselves. Dowth, or Dubad, is not a tourist site like its companion tombs, Knowth and Newgrange. No shuttle buses visit it. There’s a huge crater in the centre, the result of the local landlord blasting a hole in it with dynamite sometime in the 19th century. If he hoped to find treasure, he was disappointed. But the mound was so massive and so well built that even the explosion did not damage either of the two passage graves deep within. Here's one of the two entrances, with Polly nosing around to give it scale: in the foreground is one of the huge carved sill-stones which rim the perimeter of the mound. This one is carved in spirals.



Another view of the sill-stone:


You can't go in; there's a locked iron gate. I tried to take a picture through it, and maybe you can just  make out the passage running back into the mound towards the inner chamber.



We walked over and all around the mound. One of the great kerb-stones is carved with seven suns; the picture I took didn't come out too well, but there's a lovely Youtube timelapse of it taken during a winter sunrise by Anthony Murphy of the blog Mythical Ireland:




And of course there’s a legend about the place. The story goes like this. In the time of a king whose name was Bressal Bó-dibad a plague struck all the cattle of Ireland till there were only eight left, a bull and seven cows. (The second part of the king’s name means ‘lacking in cattle.) So Bressal Bó-dibad decided to build a tower ‘like the Tower of Nimrod’, so that he could pass into heaven. (What he intended to do there is unclear; perhaps challenge God to restore his cattle?) Men from all over Ireland came to help him build the tower - the mound – but only if the work could be completed in a single day. So the king’s sister “told him that she would stay the sun's course in the vault of heaven, so that they might have an endless day to accomplish their task”. She worked her magic and the sun halted in mid sky, as it did for Aaron and Moses. But Bressal Bó-dibad followed his sister and committed incest with her (the suggestion is that he forced her); her spell was undone, darkness fell and the men of Ireland abandoned their work. Then the king’s sister said: 'Dubad (darkness) shall be the name of this place for ever.' If that doesn’t give you a shiver, I don’t know what will. And then to find the stone with the seven suns, half buried in the grasses… well...


(Read more about the legend and the mound at Anthony Murphy’s blog Mythical Ireland, here: http://blog.mythicalireland.com/2016/06/dowth-and-story-of-hunger-ancient.html)



10 comments:

Susan Price said...

Thank you for this. Apart from enjoying the blog and the legend, it reminded me that I want to go and see Ireland's great passage graves. I've seen and wondered at Maeshowe: really should go and see Newgrange -- and Dowth!

Katherine Langrish said...

You so should, Sue! They are wonderful. More to come in future posts!

Kathleen Jones said...

Wow! This is wonderful. I would love to go there.

Ann Turnbull said...

Oh, this is wonderful, Katherine! I've always wanted to go there. And so apparently has my son (I sent him the link earlier). This could trigger a family expedition...

Katherine Langrish said...

You must go, Ann! Stay in Dowth...

Sue Bursztynski said...

I’m definitely building up reasons to visit Ireland!

carol drinkwater said...

I might add this to my next visit home. Thank you for this, Katherine.

Ann Turnbull said...

Dowth. Thanks, Katherine - I'll tell him. And will research the environment around the mound since I now have arthritis in my knees. I can go up slopes easily enough, but can't get down!

Twilark said...

Thanks for posting this, Katherine. It brings back memories. My father took us there when I was a child. That was a long time ago. Access was down a ladder into darkness. We explored by candlelight. I still feel the wonder of it.

Sheena Wilkinson said...

I remember you talking about this when we walked together at Charney, Kath -- great to see the post.