Saturday, July 4, 2015

Of Tombs and Treasure Hunts

Countryside near Fourknocks Tomb

When we took the walking tour of Drogheda, our guide asked Kevin if he had been to Newgrange. “Oh, yes,” Kevin said.  “We really enjoyed it.”

“How would you like to go to a tomb you can visit all by yourself?,” the guide asked, with a hint of a smile.

That was how we found out about Fourknocks, a small megalithic tomb of about the same age as Newgrange and the procedure for visiting it. Although it is mentioned on a couple of websites, it’s not one that most tourists ever hear about.  Of course, we had to go!

Because we didn’t have a car while we were in Drogheda, we investigated every way we could think of to get to Fourknocks, which is in a farmer’s field about 11 kilometers from Newgrange. But there were no buses that traveled that area, and the only recourse would have been to hire a taxi, which was too expensive. So although we had a long drive ahead of us on the day we picked up our car at Dublin Airport, we decided we would find Fourknocks first.

We had a number for Mr. Finian Whyte who takes care of the key for the site. I called and talked to Mrs. Whyte who said she would be home all day Saturday, and we could come and get the key. But finding the Whyte place wasn’t easy.

Kevin input the coordinates of Fourknocks (so called because the Irish name for the site sounds like that in English), but following our GPS, we found ourselves far from the actual place. As we considered going back to a nearby village, the starting point of the directions that I had found online, a man and woman pulled up in a car, and seeing we seemed confused, asked what we were looking for.  When we replied, “Fourknocks,” the woman smiled and said, “Oh, you’re going completely in the wrong direction!” (Of course, we already knew that.) But with her directions, we made it to another nearby town and Kevin asked a gentleman sitting in a parked car there, who, as Kevin said, “Told me every landmark from here to there.”

We did find the path to Fourknocks with his directions, but the sign at the site, which told us how to find the Whytes, was only marginally helpful.  We made another other wrong turn before we turned up at the right door. At last our treasure hunt was over. We range the bell, and Mrs. Whyte, a thin woman with a lined face and graying hair, accepted our 20 euro deposit, and the key was ours. (We later gave her something for her trouble, which seemed only fair.)

We drove back to the path to the tomb and parked, a little nervous because another car was parked there. Mrs. Whyte said she had given another key to someone just before us, so we thought that might be the couple in the car, but they didn’t get out, so we hoped they were not there to steal from us. But it was only a momentary thought.

We soon forgot about them, walked in to the tomb, unlocked the door and went in.  The rock carvings in the tomb are very well preserved. I did not want to use a flash to take a photo inside, because I was afraid it would be hurt the pigments, but there was a skylight cut into the top, and I had a small flashlight that only emitted a dim light, which I hoped would not be too damaging. So I used that to take the pictures.

Carvings inside the tomb

I asked Kevin to shut me into the tomb.  (I guess he isn’t eager to collect my life insurance, because he did let me out.) I stood in the darkness, wondering about 5,000 year old ghosts.  Strangely, it was not scary, but actually comforting—or it was until Kevin made a noise outside to spook me.

Later, as we exited the field, we saw the gentleman from whom Kevin had asked directions. He got out of one car, while another pulled in behind him. And then, the couple we had worried about, who had been parked there ahead of us, also got out. “We haven’t been to the tomb in ages,” said the man who befriended us. “So we organized a group to come out here.” The couple in the car in front of us--who were not waiting to rob us after all--had secured the key for them.  Our inquiry had prompted the locals to make a visit there too. And so they should. Not many people have a 5,000 year old tomb right outside their town.

Rachel exiting the tomb of Fourknocks

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