Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's Older than the Pyramids?

So when I arrived here, well over twenty-five years ago, I was walking through the small village of Navan where I called (and still call) home, soaked to the skin with Irish rain. Being an American, I had never been terribly interested in things of antiquity: in the States anything older than a Beatles LP is considered beyond redemption and immediately burned to the ground or - as the famous lyrics state - turned into a parking lot. Consequently, most Yanks think that the far side of 'old' might just be the age of their grandparents. But they're dead and gone, which proves that 'old' doesn't have much going for it.

Or so I thought. My first impressions of Ireland - back in 1982 - didn't exactly do much to change my opinion of 'old'. At that time, my small village was sadly in need of extensive repair. The entire town needed a fresh coat of paint, as well as a visit by any Road Repair Crew that needed a challenge, so poor were the potholed roadways.

Of course, being an ignorant newly arrived immigrant, I did what any fool would do. I opened my mouth and immediately put my foot in it.

'These buildings,' I said to a local, 'isn't somebody going to do something about them? Knock them down, perhaps, or at least put them out of their misery?'

'What's wrong with the buildings?' the local replied, doing his best not to lash out with both clenched fists, thereby putting one poor American out of his misery. 'Do you think they look poorly?'

'Sure,' I replied. 'It's just that they're so old!'

And he laughed. 'Lad, this is nothing. If you want to see old, and I mean very, very, very old, take your car to Newgrange. Now that's old.' And he turned on his heel and left.

The Truly Magnificent Old
Intrigued, I took the fellow's advice. I climbed into my car, drove about ten miles east of Navan, and beheld something almost beyond description.

Newgrange is a megalithic tomb, or so many describe it. But it is more...much, much more. Older than the Pyramids, it was built well over 5000 years ago. At the time, the engineers and builders in question didn't have the benefit of state of the art technologies. Nor did they have diggers with giant diesel engines in them. Instead, they had a vision of the spirtual and the astrological that is awesome to behold. And they had assorted people of the same mind who all had strong arms, and so they did what most people used to do: they got stuck in and built it. And what they acheived ranks right up there with the best examples of human endeavor.

Visit Newgrange and see for yourself: it's thousands of pearl white quartz stones cover one side of what looks like a Monty Python-esque image of a flying saucer. Intricate carvings cover many of the precisely placed stones that form the perimeter of the Monument. The alignment of the entire site is unusual in its links to the astral seasons: the Roof Box points precisely to the rising sun of the Winter Solstice; the welcoming rays of light - the light of the shortest day of the year - infiltrates down through the Roof Box, lighting an internal chamber, thereby signifying the hope of longer days to come.

It is old. Older than anything that I had ever laid eyes on. Certainly older than my grandparents.

If you're in Ireland, make certain that you put Newgrange - as well as the rest of the Boyne Valley - on your itinerary. The Irish have a different view of old. Just because it's old doesn't mean it has to be knocked down. Not yet, anyway. Which is one of the joys of living in Ireland:

Just because something is old, doesn't mean it's past its sell-buy date.

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