Ireland day 0289. Thursday 14 July 2022- Fourknocks2

Ireland day 0289. Thursday 14 July 2022- Fourknocks2
Today’s summary Returned to the Fourknocks passage tomb in Co Meath near Ardcath.  Managed to get the key to go inside from a local farmer and it was simply stunning.   Nobody else there apart from us.   Finished off the day with  a beach picnic at Laytown
Today’s weather Mild and dry.   Some sunny intervals in the afternoon.   Light westerly breeze.   About 20C
Today’s overview location
(The blue mark shows the location of our route)
Close-up location
(No GPX today)

Anyone who has been reading this blog from the beginning will remember that in October last year, while we were staying in temporary accommodation in Ardcath, we walked over to a nearby “passage tomb” at at Fourknocks.   In case it had slipped your memory, Fourknocks is like the passage tomb at Newgrange, but much smaller.   Although in many ways its actually much better.   It’s run by the OPW – like Newgrange – but unlike its bigger cousin, isn’t normally open to the public.

Rather, you have to do a bit of googling to discover that you can actually get a key to unlock the door to the tomb if you call a certain phone number and ask for “Mr White”.   I know this all sounds very James Bond-ish but yes, this really is what you do.

Last year the tomb was completely closed because of the pandemic so all we were able to do was walk over, have a look round the outside, and sit on the top to have our lunch.  Oh yes – and to admire a disgusting looking pool of what I now know to be Dog Sick Slime Mould – Mucilago crustacea – splattered on the grassy roof of the tomb.    (I didn’t know what it was at the time – it was only a chance comment from a botanist friend in Edinburgh that helped me to identify it).

So – much as yesterday’s trip to Ireland’s Eye had been an attempt to close off unfinished business from last year, so was today’s outing.   The purpose, of course, was to see if we could get hold of the key to the tomb and actually go and have a look inside.

So, once Val was back from her morning at work, and we had polished off a quick lunch, I made the all-important phone call, uttered the secret code-word (no I didn’t do that bit really, but I felt like perhaps I should) and determined that this time the key was actually available.   So we packed our things, pulled together the all-important picnic, and jumped in the trusty Yaris to head up the M1 in the general direction of Drogheda.

The advent of the motorway network in Ireland has made everywhere much closer to everywhere else than I think it used to be, so we were at the rendezvous spot where we were told to pick up the key – a lonely farm in the middle of nowhere – in less than 40 minutes.   We never actually met the elusive Mr White though we did meet a lady in a nearby farmhouse who purported to be his wife, and who lent us the key, on the promise that we would bring it straight back and not share it with anyone else.

It was a couple of km back up the road to Fourknocks itself, and there is nowhere to park other than a slight widening in the road opposite the pathway to the tomb.   But there was nobody about so parking wasn’t a problem.   (Although I was a bit concerned when a huge herd of Friesians came ambling down the road a few moments later, brushing within a few millimetres of the car.   But the friendly farmer who seemed to be in charge stood guard by the car to ensure none of the bovines became overly curious.  He also revealed that although he had lived just round the corner all his life, he had never actually been inside the tomb himself).

I can honestly say I have never felt more like Harrison Ford than I did this afternoon, as I approached the locked steel door guarding the entranceway to the tomb, brandishing the key to all the secrets that lay within.   Anyway the key fitted and the door swung open to reveal – nothing.

So we pushed ourselves into the blackness and then slowly, as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, it really did feel as if some sort of miraculous revelation was happening.   I’m sorry to sound like I am going all poetic, but that is really what it felt like.   Out of the gloom, and bathed in a ghostly glow of filtered daylight streaming through carefully positioned holes cut in the ceiling, you could begin to make out the details of the tomb.  Delicately carved lintel-stones, covered in mysterious patterns just as fresh as they had been when the long forgotten stonemason had carved them five millennia ago.

We pushed the steel door closed behold us (don’t worry – we took the key inside) and the effect was complete.   Total silence, almost complete darkness, yet surrounded by beautiful artefacts half as old as the last ice age, glowing eerily in the faint light from above.   As it is a largely private tomb, there are no restrictions on where you can go or what you can touch, which was liberating.  But the freedom hadn’t been abused.   The tomb was immaculately clean, quiet and reverential.   An absolutely mind-blowing experience.

We lingered in the tomb for a good half hour, soaking up an experience unlike anything we had ever had before – or will probably ever have again – before coming back out into the bright daylight and the reality of the 21st century.   But even from the outside, the tomb is lovely.   It’s in a peaceful spot om the top of a hill (the name “Fourknocks” probably comes from the Irish “Fuair Cnocs”, which means “Cold Hills“) with sublime panoramas as far as the Mournes in the distant north, and the Dublin Mountains in the even-more distant south.  We sat in the grass for a few moments (well more than a few actually as I fell asleep), just to absorb the views, the sunshine but more than anything else, the tranquillity.

By this stage, we were starting to feel in need of refreshment so we girded our loins, paid a return visit to Mr White’s letterbox to return the key, then headed back in the car to the coast at Laytown.   We’ve been there a few times before – most recently earlier this year to enjoy the horse racing on the beach.   It’s a nice spot – similar in many ways to the Velvet Strand at Portmarnock, but a bit less busy.

Eventually, it was time to go so we headed off back down the M1 and were back in the flat in next to no time.   As sublime day like to day deserved a sublime celebration so we treated ourselves to bacon sandwiches with gin and tonic.   A perfect way, in my view, to round off a day which was unexpectedly memorable – one in fact that I think will stay with me for the rest of my life.


Today’s photos (click to enlarge)

The passage tomb looks like something from the Teletubbies – a circular grassy hummock about 30 metres / 100 feet in diameter, and five metres / fifteen feet high.   What you see today is actually a bit of an artificial construct.  The original tomb probably had a wooden roof, which had long since collapsed and become covered in rubble and scrub.   The detritus was removed in the 1950s and the OPW, excellent as always, placed a dome shaped concrete roof over it to preserve the contents Inside it’s naturally – and beautifully – lit through portholes in the roof.   It takes a while for your eyes to get used to the gloom but once they do, the interior is sublime.   The five thousand year old mysterious carvings look as if they just left the stone mason’s hand that morning.
Here we are, bathed in an eerie light and wondering if we would actually be able to get out again On the top of the tomb, looking pensive.   It’s a great spot to go and leave the world behind.   Even today, in the height of summer, there was nobody there but us.
And through the round window…
This slightly imperfect but nevertheless interesting photo taken through one of the lenses of my binoculars reveals the a view of the distant Mourne mountains, away to the north.   Slieve Donard, highest summit in Northern Ireland, is the conical summit just visible on the horizon towards the right.
Having had a good look round Fourknocks, we returned they key and headed down to the beach at Laytown (of races fame) for a late afternoon picnic.   I love these east coast beaches.   So much space!
We successfully had our assignation with Mr White (or rather with his wife) and procured the key.   So here we are, Indiana Jones style, about to go in!
Interactive map

(No map today)

You can read earlier and later days’ blogs below

Previous day’s blog
Next day’s blog
Ireland home page