Monday, June 29, 2015

Delightful Days in Drogheda

Drogheda riverside
We stayed in Drogheda* for a week.  Even Irish people asked why we chose to stay that long in Drogheda, because it's not a big tourist destination. That was part of the reason we stayed there. We wanted to settle into a town that was not highly touristed, though near tourist destinations.  Drogheda filled the bill, because it was near Newgrange, one of my must-sees, and it promised to have some nice walks from my web research. It was also close enough to Dublin that we could get there in about a half-hour by train, in case we got bored with the sights there.

We didn't get bored, and we were very lucky in our choice of accommodation, but there weren't as many walks in the area as we had hoped. Still, it was a good base for Newgrange, and everyone we encountered was very friendly.  More than one person must have talked to us for more than ten minutes, just from a chance encounter on the street, as soon as they heard our accents. 

We took a fascinating walking tour in Drogheda from a tour guide named Kevin.  He remarked that he was very glad we had come to the area, because "We need you to spend your lolly here." We said we were happy to do that, but we didn't have very much lolly [money]! He was working at the tourist office on an employment program because his business had declined significantly since the days when Ireland was called the Celtic Tiger for its economic power. But Ireland has still not recovered from the Great Recession, and the Celtic Tiger no longer has claws. 

This building in Drogheda has just been sitting since the economic collapase.
Kevin, our guide, was as knowledgeable as a university professor about the city, but he is a builder by profession. We can only hope that the Irish recovery continues to build and he can reclaim his old career. In the meantime, we learned a great deal from him.

Drogheda is a very old city. The Danes settled there in the 900s. Originally there were two towns on both sides of the River Boyne, but eventually they became one. The city still has remnants of its medieval walls and gates.

This remaining medieval gate tower is still in use.

Kevin told us the stories of several places in the city, including St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church, which contains the preserved head of St. Oliver Plunkett, convicted on a trumped up charge, but actually prosecuted because he founded a school that taught both Protestants and Catholics, and at the time, Catholics were not supposed to be educated.  St. Oliver was sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered, and he was beheaded, and the head was set on fire. But one of his followers rescued it.  (It actually doesn't look that bad, but I'll spare you the photo.) It is said that when people pray at his head, miracles happen. In addition to this relic, the church contains fragments said to be from the true cross.

But the part of the walking tour I liked the most was the guide's stories in the graveyard of nearby St. Peter's Church of Ireland. Although the cemetery there is part of the Protestant church, every important person in the town wanted to be buried there, Protestant or Catholic, and so they were.

Graveyard of St. Peter's Church of Ireland.

In the cemetery wall, is one of ten cadaver stones left in Ireland. It was the gravestone of Sir Edmond Golding and his wife Elizabeth Fleming. It dates from the early 1500s. If you've ever been to a funeral where the minister has urged people to find Christ or go to hell (personally, I think that's a bit off-putting at a funeral), then you will understand the significance of the cadaver stones.  They show the bodies of the deceased in an advanced state of rot, thus Elizabeth's body shows her womb eaten away (by worms?) and his figure and countenance fares not that much better. The point is to emphasize that even the bodies of the high and mighty dissolve into nothingness, and so yours will too.  It is a warning to get right with your maker, because all else is simply dust to dust.  I'm not sure I needed that reminder, but it's certainly effective.

Cadaver stone in the churchyard. Is this any way to remember mom and dad?
The other cemetery story that Kevin told sounds invented, but is apparently true.  I saw the woman's grave. Her name was Ann Hardman, and she was a wealthy woman whom her family buried in 1884. One of her servants decided it was truly a waste to have her expensive jewelry buried with her, so he decided to rob the grave.  Her ring, however, was stuck fast on her finger, so he took his knife and started to cut it off.  Suddenly, Ann sat up and shrieked--and the servant rang away, jumping onto a boat that was headed for Liverpool.  He was never seen again.  Ann somehow extricated herself from her tomb and crawled up the street to her house (now known as Hardman's Gardens).  It was said every member of the family had his or her own knock, and when Ann used her special knock on that door in the middle of the night, no one wanted to answer.  Eventually they did, astonished to find that she was not dead and not a ghost. She lived for many years after that, but today she is now interred in the same cemetery.  A great ghost story!

*I don't really know how to pronounce Drogheda, because even people who live there do not necessarily say it the same way. Padraig, our host, said, "Draw-HA-duh." A local we met at Newgrange said some thing more like "DRAW-duh." We simply said, "Draw-ha-duh" with a slightly longer accent on the first syllable and we got by.

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