Shirley's 2013 Trip travel blog

A small Megalithic tomb at Carrowmore

Making the woven pottery baskets at Balleek

The finished product

Today I headed north again but this time straight up the N4 to Sligo, more particularly to Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery which is even older than Newgrange which we saw in 2011. It’s managed by OPW (Office of Public Works), the same people who look after Céide Fields so they kind of go together – one about the living, the other about the dead. When I got there I was told that today was free – on the first Wednesday of each month all OPW sites are free so I saved a whole €2.

There are about 30 passage tombs here in varying states of survival & they know that another 25 have been destroyed since 1800. They’ve been dated up to 4,000 BC, so they’re 6,000 years old whereas Newgrange is dated as between 3,400 & 2,900 BC.

Maybe because these tombs are earlier or maybe for other reasons, they’re generally much smaller in size & not nearly as spectacular as the ones in the Boyne Valley. They were interesting because there were so many of them but a quick walk around the area was enough, especially as it was trying to rain.

I didn’t realize it until I bought my lunch & the price was in pounds, but somewhere along the road I’d crossed into Northern Ireland. There’s definitely no border crossing these days. I’d gone to Beleek because I’ve always loved the beautiful, delicate woven pottery & thought a guided tour of Ireland’s oldest working pottery would be a good way to spend the afternoon.

The tour was great & I was most impressed with the friendliness of the crafts-people who were quite happy to slow down & show you exactly what they were doing. One lady was painting shamrocks on little vases & 2 quick flicks of her brush produced a beautiful little shamrock. Even when she slowed down for us it didn’t look any easier.

Everything’s done by hand, literally in some cases as the individual petals for the flowers that decorate so much of the pottery are formed in the palm of the hand & somehow all turn out exactly the same size. I was particularly interested in the woven dishes & was told that a skilled worked can make about 25 basic dishes a week. Then the flowers that usually decorate the edges have to be made & attached, then they’re all hand-painted so an incredible amount of skilled labour goes into the making of these pieces. They are so beautiful though.

It was a nice sunny afternoon when I got back to Carrick so I explored the town & found the Great Famine Commemoration Graveyard which is now a peaceful memorial garden in a valley behind the old hospital which was also the site of a famine workhouse. Obviously it was a very different place in the 1840’s. The attic workhouse is also open to the public but apparently you have to get the key from somewhere, John’s wife works in the building next door so she’s going to find out for me.

As you’re aware by now, I got the wi-fi working so have been busy since I got home getting this story up-to-date. It’s 8:00pm & time to quit even though it’s still bright daylight.

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