Day 4: Neolithic Passage Tombs in County Leitrim and Westport, County Mayo
We did have a very nice lunch at the tea room, as advertised, and then went on a search for neolithic passage tombs in Manorhamilton, County Leitrim…. Now, it was a wonder we’d heard about these tombs at all. I saw them listed on an attraction-side map somewhere in Duncliff and hoped their label (Tullyskeherney ) would lead us to them. Unfortunately, there were no road names to indicate how to reach them, just a green line extending out from a town labeled Manorhamilton. Our GPS, of course, had no idea, since passage tombs don’t exactly come with a street address…and yet when I said to my husband, “Let’s go. We’ll ask the locals,” he agreed instantly. Forty-five or so minutes later (I think, I didn’t note the time), we were at a petrol station in Manorhamilton asking the young man and woman behind the counter. They had no idea, but were very nice, which was true of all the people we encountered in Ireland, and the girl’s eyes lit up with an idea. “Wait, I know who might know!” She was off, and a minute later came back to wave us in the direction of two older men bent over their coffees like they were pints at the pub. The man were glad to see us interested and told us we couldn’t miss it. We were to take a right turn after the cattle market and go up and up the mountain, veer left when the road separates, and keep going. If we found ourselves coming back down again, we’d gone too far. Well, we all know “can’t miss it” is code for “good feckin’ luck!” but we were determined and excited. So, as instructed, we went up and up the mountain, searching all the while into the sheep pastures looking for the tombs and not seeing them. When we’d gone up as far as we could go and were in danger of heading back down the mountain, Pete’s eyes lit with mischief, and he stopped the car, pulling as far to the side as he could on the narrow, one-lane road. He rolled down the window and asked the sheep, who looked at him in utter amazement, then looked at each other to see whether they should answer. Once some sort of sheeply consensus had been reached, they turned and started heading even further up the mountain than was possible by car. Pete wondered whether we should follow the sheep, but I didn’t want to trespass on someone’s property and wasn’t so sure about letting ourselves into their pasture.
Instead, we went a bit further (now heading down the mountain) and found a house where no one seemed to be home. We got back into the car, headed the other direction down the mountain until we found another house with the world’s friendliest dog…and people too! The woman there assured us that the top of the mountain where we’d been was absolutely right, the sheep knew what they were talking about, and we should use a set of wooden steps someone had built and placed over the paddock fence to let ourselves in. Thus armed with permission and directions, we did just that. The sheep, since we hadn’t taken their direction now wanted nothing more to do with us, so we picked our way through sheep patties until we came upon not just one passage tomb, but an entire hillside of them! As you can see, this was very impressive, despite the fact that the tombs had clearly been raided for stone to build a now-abandoned shepherd’s cottage nearby (based on the similarity of stone not in evidence elsewhere on the mountain and the matching tool marks). Yet you can still see the basic configuration of the tombs and the ancient tool marks. It was amazing!
After communing and geeking out for awhile (I was an anthropology major as well as English/writing, so I eat this stuff up), we were own to our accommodations for the night—in Westport, County Mayo. I’d never even heard of Westport, which is a beautiful seaside resort town that many French but few American tourists visit apparently, based on our conversation with a couple of lovely locals on our stroll out to see the sunset.
Voracious from our hike, we received a recommendation on a place to go for dinner and were told unequivocally to visit The Helm. What a great recommendation. Pete and I both had the rack of lamb, which you could not quite have cut with a butter knife, but it was probably a near thing. It was so good and we were so full that we decided to take that aforementioned walk to see the sun set, which happened at about 10ish at that time of the year, to work up our appetite again.
The landscape was gorgeous, even before sunset, with Croagh Patrick (a sacred mountain on top of which Saint Patrick was rumored to have fasted for 40 days) in the background.
Clouds came in and hung around that kept it sunset from being as impressive as it could have been (and we were told had been the previous night), but it was still beautiful, and our stroll and talk with the nice Irish couple and their crazy-energetic dog was wonderful. We discovered that they were related to Aoife Beary, one of the students who’d survived the balcony collapse in Berkley ,CA where six students were killed and seven seriously injured. She was still unconscious, but as of yesterday, the update we saw said that she’d been moved off of the critical list. Prayers for healing for Aoife and the other students and families are still very welcome.