On the first day of a 14 day road trip around the Emerald Isle, Ireland, and it has been one of the most rewarding travel days I have spent . . . and that’s a big claim.
Why? Because I visited two of the most important, yet relatively little known, historic sites. The Battle of the Boyne and Newgrange.
Why is the battle at Boyne so important? Had it gone the other way you would, very likely, be reading this in French.
And Newgrange? A vast construction built over 5000 years ago, which makes it older than Stonehenge or the Great Pyramids of Giza.
The Battle of the Boyne
This was a scrap for the very soul of Ireland and even for Europe, fought between William of Orange and James II.
King Billy, as he is often called in Northern Ireland, had wrested the British crown from James two years before.
James, a Catholic, rallied forces from Louis XIV of France, along with support from Irish Catholics. William was a Dutch Protestant, thus at the first level it was a sectarian battle between rival religions.
James saw it as a way to reclaim his crown by the backdoor – win Ireland as a base from which to bring war to Protestant Britain.
But at a wider perspective it was also an important battle in the War of the Grand Alliance in which the major European powers, with the backing of Pope Alexander VIII, sought to subdue France, at the time clearly the most powerful nation in Europe.
Had James won the battle it would have had a knock-on effect that could have seen France become the overlord of all Europe.
Instead, William’s forces, by virtue of superior numbers and poor Jacobite generalship, took the day.
James fled to France and though the war went on for a few more months with confrontations in other parts of Ireland, essentially it was all over for Jimmy boy and his French mates. The balance of power on the Continent was maintained.
The Telegraph newspaper has a very good article on the Battle of the Boyne, Read it here.
This is one of the most awe-inspiring edifices I have ever had the privilege to see – and yes, I use that term advisedly, for it is a privilege.
We know nothing of the builders except that they were farmers. Being Neolithic they had no metal equipment. They didn’t have the advanced technology of the wheel. What use a wheel in boggy Ireland?
Yet they moved enormous amounts of rock, including huge boulders, anything up to 70km to build a round “mountain” entirely of stone 83m in diameter, 13.5m high covering an area of about an acre.
It is not, you have to understand, a stone wall filled with a lot of earth. It is entirely made of rocks, so cleverly laid that despite 5000 years in the Irish weather it remains totally waterproof inside.
A tunnel leads to a central chamber where, it is theorised, the ashes of the dead were deposited. An alternative view is that it was a place of worship, a cathedral that in its time and available technology rivals any of the great churches of the world.
If you ever do a road trip in Ireland – which I heartily recommend – you must put these two sites on or near the top of the must-see list.
They are part of a the Bru na Boinne, the area within the bend of the River Boyne which contains not just one of the world’s most important prehistoric buildings, but three large “tumuli” and 37 smaller constructions as well as the Battle of the Boyne site.
It’s about 40km north of Dublin, about 30 minutes’ drive up the M1.
You can get more on Bru na Boinne at the website.
Handy hint for new players. Go to Newgrange first.
You can only visit it on a conducted tour and tours leave on the hour. You could find, as we did, that we had an hour to kill before the next tour left.
Go there first and you may be able to time things a lot more efficiently by visiting the Battle site before taking the next available Newgrange tour.