Ireland feels a little like Israel: every corner you turn you discover another piece of fascinating history. So poor Ruth had to endure another day of satisfying my habitual cravings for all things historical and archaeological. And County Meath has much to offer such an addict!
Newgrange is a massive passage tomb constructed over 5,000 years ago making it older than Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid of Giza! Nestled in a bend of the Boyne river in Ireland it is a UNESCO world heritage site and rightly so. The archaeologists tell us It is also a place that had astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance, much like the cathedrals of more recent years.
During our tour of this beautifully manicured site I could not help but reflect on the fact that our ancient ancestors were no primitives! The planning, teamwork, economic surplus, and social cohesion needed to construct three solar aligned monuments like this must have been phenomenal. At our core we are not as different from our ancient ancestors as we like to think! The same joys and fears and the same recognition that there is a life beyond the here and now that we can touch and feel. Thank God that he stepped in to space and time to reveal the one and only way, truth and life (John 14:6).
The highlight of our visit to Trim Castle was the guided tour of the keep by a local Trim man who had grown up breaking in to and climbing through what were then fenced off privately owned ruins.
Set in the center of the town, right on the banks of the River Boyne, this well preserved Norman castle reminded me very much of Orford Castle in my home county of Suffolk in England. However Trim Castle is of greater significance as the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland.
Despite the town’s subsequent centuries of development, the original beauty and strategic importance of the castle site is obvious as it sits on raised ground overlooking a critical fording point over the River Boyne. And while it is some 25 miles from the Irish Sea it was accessible in medieval times by boat, up the partly canalized River Boyne, to a wall-side harbor that is still visible to the keen eye.
However perhaps the most interesting aspect of this castle is the part it played in Hollywood’s development of the William Wallace myth through the 1995 movie Braveheart, staring Mel Gibson. The movie is probably more famous for its historical inaccuracies (eg a Scottish-Norman aristocracy dressing in kilts and anachronistic woad face-paints; a battle of Stirling bridge with no Stirling and no bridge, and dummy axes with rubbery wobbles) than anything else now, but it certainly struck a cord with Scots and wannabe Scots around the world when it was released.
While I realized that much of the film had been shot in Ireland – because of tax breaks and the availability of the army as extras for the battle scenes – I did not realize how Trim Castle had been transformed into the besieged gates of York, the kings chambers in London, and the death place of Wallace at Smithfield in London. It certainly added extra spice to the tour as we tried to match bit of the castle to movie scenes.
However the most interesting aspect of the castle was listening to the tour guide reminiscing with other Irish folk about how as recently as the 60’s and 70’s the teaching of anything to do with the “English” history of Ireland was ignored in the schools. This meant they had grown up ignorant of the historical importance of this castle and, rather than recognize its historical importance, the local authorities had even attempted to buy the ruin to demolish so the stones could be used for road building! I don’t think Ireland is the only state, nor will it be the last, where the political class selectively airbrush history for their own ends, and hence the nation is all the more in danger of drawing the wrong lessons from the experience of its forefathers.