Thursday, 28 February 2013

Bathing Boxes & Sandcastles

Whilst staying on the Melbourne Peninsula we have visited the Peninsula Hot Springs. Natural thermal mineral waters flow into the pools providing the idyllic setting for relaxation and rejuvenation bathing in the naturally healing waters of mineral rich thermal waters.

Kevin relaxing in the Cave Pool
The Bath House has over 20 bathing experiences on offer including a Hilltop pool with 360 degree views, reflexology walk, Turkish steam room, sauna, cave pool, family bathing area and much more. A Bath House cafe offers healthy meals when you get hungry.

A view of the pools going up the mountain
The 50°C naturally hot mineral spring water flows from an underground aquifer 637 metres below the surface. The water runs untouched direct from the source to the pools, which range between 37°C and 43°C. Peninsula Hot Springs thermal mineral water contains a range of naturally occurring minerals including sulphur, calcium, magnesium, potassium and many others and is classified as a “Sodium Chloride Bicarbonate Spring” (Na-Cl.HCO3). The therapeutic benefits of the mineral springs are said to include the alleviation of neuralgia, bruising, articular rheumatism, stiffness of the shoulders, recovery from fatigue and muscular complaints and enhancing fertility.

The Silent Pool
It was a shame that it was raining as the views from the hilltop pool where not as magnificent as they can be according to a local I spoke with.

The Hilltop Pool with 360 degree views
We have also driven along the coastline from Rosebud, Dromana, Mt Martha, Mornington and Frankston. All these lovely beachside villages have the famous bathing boxes on the beach.

These boxes are on Mt Martha beach.
For over 100 years the Mornington Peninsula has been and remains one of Victoria’s favourite recreational destinations. Whether residents or visitors, generations of Greater Melbourne families have enjoyed growing up and holidaying on the Peninsula, thereby contributing to the Municipality’s heritage and cultural development.

A great idea to store canoes, chairs etc and somewhere shady to sit.
 The Mornington Peninsula has about 45 km or one sixth of Port Phillip’s coastline. 26 beaches between Mount Eliza and Portsea, home to over 1,300 bathing boxes, boatsheds and similar structures or approximately two thirds of Victoria’s 1,860 total beach boxes. The State Government (Department of Sustainability and Environment) permits occupancy of a beach box on Crown land reserves by delegating the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council and other appointed Foreshore Committees of Management to issue a conditional licence or permit for a statutory (three year) period. The responsible authorities apply revenue raised from beach boxes to maintain and enhance the beach environment for all communities and visitors.

Mt Martha Foreshore area.
 The term ‘beach box’ means bathing box, boatshed or similar structure. Beach boxes have been built by members of the community over the past century, and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes often reflecting the architectural style of the period in which they were constructed. Individually, each one is unique in its appearance and character; as a group they are a colourful cluster of historical icons. They are part of the Mornington Peninsula’s identity and Victoria’s cultural heritage.

Mills Beach Scenic Lookout
You can purchase a bathing box if you are a rate payer of the shire. The asking prices can range from $100,000 to $585,000 which was the record set in January 2011 a Portsea when five bidders fought for the property at RT Edgar auction.

Under The Sea Sandcastle Exhibition
 The went to Frankston to see the sand sculptures. After 5 spectacular seasons of sand sculptures on the Waterfront, Frankston is definitely the home of sand sculpting in Australia.

For 4 months from Boxing Day, Frankston Waterfront is transformed as 3,500 tonnes of sand is carved into spectacular sculptures. This year, Sand Sculpting Australia's team of talented International and Australian sculptors will bring to 'life' in meticulous detail "Under the Sea" - a submerged world of breathtaking beauty and foreboding.

This amazing work was the back of a tortoise.
A world where reality and fantasy combine in massive sand sculptures that will delight and enthrall visitors of all ages. Sculptures of Mermaids, Sea Witches, Poseidon and Atlantis will stand alongside Whales, Submarines, Sharks and a Coral Reef.

Atlantis above is said to be the lost city that sank beneath the sea. Believed by some to be the home of civilisation and an earthly paradise. To others, it's merely a fable invented by the Greek philosopher, Plato.

Large octopus in the background.
 The sand used to create the sculptures is Brickies sand and each grain is square in shape. This means that it sticks together better than beach sand which is smoother and rounder in shape. The finished sculptures are sprayed with a bio degradable environmentally friendly coating that gives the sculptures a water resistant coating.

View from a distance and still the detail is seen.
 At the end of the event the sand sculptures are knocked down by a bulldozer and the sand is taken away and stored for next years event. Apart from water nothing is added to the sand it is the hard compaction that gives it the ability to hold it's form. The sand is compacted into wooden structures before sculpting begins and is compacted with industrial machines giving the general size and shape of the piece intended to be created. Whilst these wooden forms are in place the sculptures climb on top and remove the wooden boxing and start creating the sculpture before climbing down to the next level etc so they are standing on the supported sand within the framework on the lower level. No scaffolding or ladders are used.

Sea life council meeting.
The framework is made and filled with sand and water by bulldozers and compacted layer by layer as the forms take shape. Once the top layer is carved and shaped it is sprayed with the coating before the next wooden box structure is removed on the lower level. Although the structures are strong they do require maintenance by the resident sculpture daily to keep them looking their best.

This sandcastle reminded us a lot of Mont St Michael we visited in France.
The finished display opened on Boxing Day and is available for viewing until the end of April. The creations of 22 sand sculptors, both Australian (7) and international ( Canada, England, Portugal, USA, Netherlands, Latvia, Belgium, Ireland and the Czech Republic) have utilized their considerable talents to transform 3,500 tonnes of heavy or brickies sand into 17 massive sand sculptures.

Mermaids or sirens from the underworld.
The solid sand sculptures are of the Octopus Garden, the Mechanical Whale, Battlefish, Feeding Frenzy and the "Bergs" as well as The Dead Sea, Seaport Village, Mermaids, Poseidon, Atlantis, the Dolphin Dance, the Shipwreck, The Sign of the Seahorse Cafe and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea themes.

Above mermaids legendary magical creatures with women's upper body and a fish tail. In Greek mythology, they were associated with sirens, said to have lured sailors onto the rocks to shipwreck them. This is what is depicted in this sculptors design.

In the cut out area viewing the cogs etc there are miniture people carrying out work just extraordinary that such small details can be achieved in the work

Above the whales are the giants of the sea and are mammals although shaped like fish. The exhibit displays many different types from the small harbour whales to large blue whales. The sea ports are usually locations on the coast where ships dock and people and goods are transferred. They often contain support and storage facilities and are sometimes used in a military role.

I was really taken with the roman like landscape sandcastle.
We also had to try the local produce and went and picked our own strawberries at Sunnyside Strawberry Farm only a few minutes from where we are staying.

Holding breakfast for tomorrow.
 Kevin went for a walk out on the Frankston pier on a very windy day whilst I took shelter behind the bushes.

Looking back onto Frankston beach from the pier.
We ended the day at Cape Schanck lighthouse as the sun was setting. We went for a small walk to Bushrangers Bay Lookout. This serene location is contrasted by dark and brooding headlands and wild waves that often crash onto jagged basalt cliffs guarding the entrance to the bay.

Cape Schanck Lighthouse.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Melbourne Escape

We have headed off to Melbourne for a little break away. It has been years since we have holidayed south from home. Our lunch break came at Goulburn a truly lovely town with real country atmosphere and charm.

Rotunda in Belmore Park Goulburn
Belmore Park is situated in the center of the city on the site of the original market place from 1833. It 
was the site where merchandise was exchanged, including livestock and garden produce. It is a prominent landmark and popular with residents and visitors alike. Featuring a number of beautiful monuments and ornaments including the Band Rotunda, gardens, fountain, glass house conservatory and war memorials. The band rotunda is a prominent structure in the Park and celebrates the record reign of Queen Victoria. It was constructed in 1897 at a cost of £80, and is evocative of the flamboyant High Victorian period and reflects popular entertainment and lifestyles of the period. The design is attributed to EC Manfred, a prominent local architect.

The Hollis Fountain on the right of the photo was built in 1898–99 to commemorate Dr L.T. Hollis, a parliamentary representative for Goulburn and is a duplicate of the Diamond Jubilee Fountain at St. Leonards Park, Sydney. Sculptured by Grant and Locke, it is a significant example of concrete civic statuary in a highly decorative Victorian style. The Hollis Fountain was restored in 2009, some sections being rebuilt. The Knowlman Memorial erected in 1910 to commemorate John Knowlman, a former Mayor and prominent Goulburn citizen is seen in the photo between the rotunda and fountain. The stone is believed to be Bowral “trachyte” (microsyneite). Originally there was a symbolic wreath on top made of brass that has been removed for safe keeping. Similar stone was used in the commencement column of the Federal parliament House (Canberra), and the Railway Square Post Office. The lights are supported by masonry beams and are now disconnected from the power supply due to safety regulations. The style of this monument
is very different to others within Belmore Park and appears to make a specific statement about John Knowlman’s character.

Goulburn's Big Merino
On leaving Goulburn we passed the famous Big Merino. The World's Biggest Merino is a 3 storey structure of concrete and steel measuring 15.2 metres high and 18 metres long. This monument built in 1985 as a monument to Goulburn and surrounding district's fine wool industry is an impressive life-like model of 'Rambo', a stud ram from a the local property 'Bullamallita'. In May 2007 this grand structure moved 800 metres to its current location. The move has given Rambo a new lease on life with the construction of a new gift shop and a permanent exhibition from Australian Wool Innovation. New legs and an underbelly have been constructed so Rambo now represents a more complete, free standing model than before. He has also gained a little weight and is estimated to now weigh in at about 100 tonnes. Standing proudly as a symbol of Goulburn - 'the Fine Wool Capital of the World'. The Big Merino houses an exhibition on the 200 year history of wool in Australia.

We passed many trucks on our drive however we fell in love with the precious cargo on this semi.
The highway was four lanes now all the way to Melbourne which made a very relaxing drive. We stopped overnight in Albury to break up the trip. Then continued our drive the next day to Nepean Country Club in Boneo on the Mornington Peninsula which is our home for the next week. Set in a very relaxing rural area surrounded by produce farms of all types, vineyards and ocean villages.

Views back towards the entrance of the resort.
Views of the area's produce farms from the resort.
Indorr and Outdorr Swimming Pool areas.
Yesterday we drove to Melbourne and went to the Famous Victoria Markets before going to our 1pm matinee performance of Ovo by Cirque de Soleil which was extraordinary. What some people can do with trampolines, rock climbing walls, trapeze and a few rocks leaves you wondering.

Of course I found the beautiful Christmas shop.
Meat, Fish, Diary and Baking markets are all inside this very nice produce market.
In its 130 years, Queen Victoria Market has had a colourful and sometimes controversial history. During that time, the site has been a cemetery, a livestock market and a wholesale fruit and vegetable market. Each of these operations has its own history and an element of controversy. The Queen Victoria Market was officially opened on 20 March 1878, a range of markets having operated from the site in varying forms prior to that date. Melbourne has always been a Market town. Its residents have always had a fascination with Markets, and this tradition continues even today. The Melbourne City Council was originally established in 1842 to manage the City's many markets, of which one was Queen Victoria Market. 

The Lower Market (bounded by Elizabeth, Victoria, Queen and Therry Streets) is the oldest part of the Market. It was originally set aside in 1857 for a fruit and vegetable market due to over-crowding and congestion at the Eastern Market but the location was unpopular and the market gardeners wouldn't use it. Instead, it was used as a livestock and hay market until it was permanently reserved as a Market in 1867. The following year, a substantial brick building was erected on Elizabeth Street and this became a Wholesale Meat Market. However, the wholesale meat trade soon became dissatisfied with the site and relocated to the Metropolitan Meat Market building in Courtney Street, North Melbourne. The building was then turned over to a Retail Meat and Fish Market and slaughterhouse. In 1878, the Market sheds G, H, I & J were built on the site and wholesaling and retailing of fruit and vegetables occurred for the first time. While H & I Sheds still stand, G Shed was removed to construct the current Meat Hall loading bay and a block of public toilets. The original J Shed burnt down and is now a public plaza. In 1880, the Elizabeth Street shops were constructed following the realignment of Elizabeth Street. This also allowed the Meat Hall to be extended, and the present facade to be constructed in 1884. The Dairy Produce Hall (also known as the Deli Hall) was the last of the buildings to be built on this part of the Market, and was constructed in 1929.
Surrounding the markets are historical building with lovely boutique shops inside.
The Upper Market (bounded by Queen, Victoria, Peel and Franklin Streets) was not originally reserved as a market but had a number of other uses including a school and drill hall. Its predominant use, however, was as Melbourne's first cemetery. Construction of A-F sheds began in 1877 at the northern-most edge of the Market. This site was chosen because it contained the school, drill hall and the least-used section of the cemetery.

By 1930, the remainder of the site had been built upon. Between 1903 and 1905 A-C Sheds were extended to Peel Street, while D-F Sheds were not extended until 1922. That same year, the Queen Street and Peel Street verandahs were also constructed. The roofing of the centreway occurred in 1927. In 1929-1930 the large K and L Sheds were constructed for growers.

In 1929-30, the City of Melbourne constructed 60 brick stores on the current car park to house the wholesale agents and merchants. However, allegations of corruption and racketeering and a Royal Commission in 1960 led to the decision to relocate the Wholesale Market to Footscray in 1969. A single row of the Agents stores along Franklin Street is all that remains of the Merchants section of the Market.

Walking to the dockside area to find the Big Top Tent for the Cirque De Soleil we passed a theatre restaurant which looks like it would be lots of fun.

Witches in Britches Theatre Resturant
Famous Melbourne Tram.
Melbourne's tram system began operations in 1885, when the first cable line operated by the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company opened for business. The cable tram system grew to be very comprehensive and operated successfully for 55 years.

Australia's first electric tram line, from Box Hill Station to Doncaster, was built by a group of land developers using equipment left over from the Great Exhibition of 1888. It opened in 1889. At this time the line must have been right out in the sticks, since Box Hill itself was many kilometres beyond the existing tram system. It had one or two problems, such as arguments with land owners who fenced over the line and pulled down the power lines, and poor reliability, since its owners knew nothing about running a tram system, and it died by 1896. The only hint now that there was ever a tram system in the Doncaster area is a road along the former route - Tram Road.

The first serious electric trams in Melbourne began in 1906 with the North Melbourne Electric Tramway and Lighting Company (NMETL) who built a line from the edge of the cable system out towards Essendon, and the Victorian Railways who built a line from St. Kilda to Brighton. The NMETL, a British concern, was interested in selling electricity to customers along the route. The company commenced operations with single bogie saloon cars and unpopular toastrack cars.

The Victorian Railways (VR) line came about when the well-named Thomas Bent became Premier of the state. He used the position to enhance the value of his property interests in Brighton by forcing the VR to build and operate a tram service in 1906. The reluctant Railways then insisted that the tram be called a "Street Railway"; built it using the 5 ft 3 inch VR railway gauge instead of the proposed tramway standard gauge of 4 ft 8.5 inches, and connected it with the St Kilda Railway station instead of the cable tram terminus.

Ready to enjoy the performance.
A marvelous idea began to take shape in the early 1980’s in Baie-Saint-Paul, a charming village nestled on the north shore of the St-Lawrence River, east of Quebec City. Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul (‘The Stiltwalkers of Baie-Saint-Paul’), a theatre troupe founded by Gilles Ste-Croix, walked on stilts, juggled, danced, breathed fire and played music. These young entertainers, among whom was Cirque du Soleil-founder Guy Laliberté, constantly impressed and intrigued Baie-Saint-Paul’s residents.

In 1984, during Quebec’s 450th anniversary celebrations of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada, the province sought an event which would bring the festivities to all Quebecers. Guy Laliberté convinced organisers the answer was a provincial tour of Cirque du Soleil performers and it hasn’t stopped since!

From then on, Cirque du Soleil tale is that of a remarkable bond between artists and spectators from around the world. And it is the latter who feed the sacred fire of Cirque du Soleil.

After the performance whilst Kevin walked to get the car I browsed around the Dockyard area.

Dockyard Waterfront

Dame Edna Bronze Statue

Melba Bronze Statue
View over dockyard into the CBD.
Modern Sculptures on foreshore.

Thursday, 21 February 2013


Newgrange was constructed over 5,000 years ago (about 3,200 B.C.), making it older than Stonehenge in England and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Newgrange was built during the Neolithic or New Stone Age by a farming community that prospered on the rich lands of the Boyne Valley. One of the oldest surviving buildings in the world.

Archaeologists classified Newgrange as a passage tomb, however Newgrange is now recognised to be much more than a passage tomb. Ancient Temple is a more fitting classification, a place of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance, much as present day cathedrals are places of prestige and worship where dignitaries may be laid to rest.

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Newgrange is a large kidney shaped mound covering an area of over one acre, retained at the base by 97 kerbstones, some of which are richly decorated with megalithic art. The 19 metre long inner passage leads to a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof. The amount of time and labour invested in construction of Newgrange suggests a well-organized society with specialised groups responsible for different aspects of construction.

Newgrange is part of a complex of monuments built along a bend of the River Boyne known collectively as Brú na Bóinne. The other two principal monuments are Knowth (the largest) and Dowth, but throughout the region there are as many as 35 smaller mounds.

Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun. Above the entrance to the passage at Newgrange there is a opening called a roof-box. This baffling orifice held a great surprise for those who unearthed it. Its purpose is to allow sunlight to penetrate the chamber on the shortest days of the year, around December 21, the winter solstice.

At dawn, from December 19th to 23rd, a narrow beam of light penetrates the roof-box and reaches the floor of the chamber, gradually extending to the rear of the chamber. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens within the chamber so that the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated. This event lasts for 17 minutes, beginning around 9am.

The accuracy of Newgrange as a time-telling device is remarkable when one considers that it was built 500 years before the Great Pyramids and more than 1,000 years before Stonehenge. The intent of its builders was undoubtedly to mark the beginning of the new year. In addition, it may have served as a powerful symbol of the victory of life over death.

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Each year the winter solstice event attracts much attention at Newgrange. Many gather at the ancient tomb to wait for dawn, as people did 5,000 years ago. So great is the demand to be one of the few inside the chamber during the solstice that there is a free annual lottery (application forms are available at the Visitor Centre). Unfortunately, as with many Irish events that depend upon sunshine, if the skies are overcast, there is not much to be seen. Yet all agree that it is an extraordinary feeling to wait in the darkness, as people did so long ago, for the longest night of the year to end.

As he spoke, he paused before a great mound grown over with trees, and around it silver clear in the moonlight were immense stones piled, the remains of an original circle, and there was a dark, low, narrow entrance leading within…‘This was my palace. In days past many a one plucked here the purple flower of magic and the fruit of the tree of life…but look: you will see it is the palace of a god.’
And even as he spoke, a light began to glow and to pervade the cave, and to obliterate the stone walls and the antique hieroglyphics engraved thereon, and to melt the earthen floor into itself like a fiery sun suddenly uprisen within the world, and there was everywhere a wandering ecstasy of sound: Light and sound were one; light had a voice, and the music hung glittering in the air…
‘I am Aengus…men call me the Young. I am the sunlight in the heart, the moonlight in the mind; I am the light at the end of every dream, the voice for ever calling to come away; I am the desire beyond joy or tears. Come with me, come with me: I will make you immortal; for my palace opens into the Gardens of the Sun, and there are the fire-fountains which quench the heart’s desire in rapture.’

Æ (George William Russell), “A Dream of Angus Oge,” 1897
On a hill above the bend of the River Boyne in the townland of New Grange there is a mysterious mound. When the new proprietor of the farmland, Scottish settler Charles Campbell, set about improving his holdings, he instructed his workmen in 1699 to use as a quarry the vast pile of stones under the scrub-covered mound on his land. Soon, a broad flat stone that covered the mouth of what they termed a “cave” was seen. Through this act of vandalism, the entrance to the ancient tomb was discovered. 

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Serendipitously, the discovery of Newgrange occurred just as the polymath Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, Edward Lhwyd, was traveling through Ireland. Lhwyd asked to be taken to New Grange and was given a tour of the newly discovered tomb. 

They came at last to a broad flat Stone, rudely Carved, and placed edgewise at the Bottom of the Mount. This they discover’d to be the Door of a Cave, which had a long Entry leading into it. At the first entering we were forced to creep; but still as we went on the Pillars on each side of us were higher and higher; and coming into the Cave we found it about 20 Foot high. In this Cave, on each hand of us, was a Cell or Apartment, and another went on straight forward opposite to the Entry. In those on each hand was a very broad shallow Bason of Stone, situated at the Edge.

Correctly deducing from the Roman coins found buried near the top of the mound that the later Viking invaders could not have constructed it, Lhwyd concluded, “it was some Place of Sacrifice or Burial of the ancient Irish.” We observed that Water dropped into the right-hand Bason, tho’ it had rained but little in many Days; and suspected that the lower Bason was intended to preserve the superfluous Liquor of the Upper (whether this Water were Sacred, or whether it was for Blood in Sacrifice), that none might come to the Ground.

Thomas Pownall in 1773 concluded that the engravings on the Newgrange stones were really Phoenician characters, and thus the stones must have originally been used by the seafaring Phoenicians for their own monuments at the mouth of the Boyne, and only later assembled at New Grange. In 1786 Charles Vallancey studied the engravings on the Newgrange stones and translated them to obtain proof that the monument was a “Mithratic cave,” with its name derived from the Chaldean “Grian Uaigh, the “Cave of the Sun.”

Such depredations for the most part ceased when finally all the monuments of Brú na Bóinne came under the protection of the state in 1882.

Early state efforts to investigate and preserve the monuments were often haphazard and poorly documented. When he began his own Newgrange excavations in 1962 Professor O’Kelly was forced to proceed without the missing records from the nineteenth-century Office of Public Works modifications. Thus began the first comprehensive scientific investigation of the tomb, which would consume 13 years of work by the archaeologist and his colleagues, students, and workers from National University of Ireland (NUI) Cork and the Irish Tourist Board. There would be a further seven years until the publication of the research in 1982. This epic archaeological project was ultimately to result in the preservation and the modern reconstruction of the monument, most evident in the brilliant white entrance facade that greets its many thousands of yearly visitors.

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When the investigations were completed and every stone put back into place, what resulted was a flat-topped heart-shaped mound some 11 m (36 ft) high and about 91.5 m (300 ft) in diameter, covering an area of nearly .4 ha (one acre). The base of the mound is held in place by 97 large kerbstones placed end-to-end horizontally. The mound itself was built from hand-sized rounded boulders, along with layers of sod for stability. The passage into the tomb, together with the corbelled-ceiling inner chamber, is 24 m (79 ft) long, penetrating only a third of the way into the mound. It was constructed, entirely without mortar, of large slabs, some up to 2 m (6.5 ft) tall. Many of these slabs were sumptuously decorated with spirals, concentric semi-circles, and lozenges (diamond-shapes). Similar decorations are to be found on many of the kerbstones.

At the end of the passage the large cruciform central chamber, with its high ceiling, opens into three smaller recesses, each of which held a large “basin stone,” which may have held the burnt bones of the dead. The “Great Circle” of 12 boulder-like standing stones, up to 2.5 m (8 ft) high, partially surrounds the monument. There may once have been a complete circle of some 35 to 38 stones. This feature was built more than a thousand years after the passage tomb itself, which was built in the Neolithic period, around 3200 BCE.

Excavation trenches into the adjacent landscape uncovered evidence of a smaller (destroyed) passage tomb, a later ritual monument known as a “woodhenge,” and a ceremonial pathway or “cursus.” There is evidence that the surrounding area may have once contained up to forty tombs. 

As archaeologist Michael Herity put it. Probably the most dynamic and accomplished people to settle in Ireland during the whole span of prehistory were the builders of the passage graves. In energy and creativity they are rivaled only by the Celts. Their spectacular tombs, the massive tumuli with which they are covered, and the carvings on the tomb walls are their best-known achievements; these are all the more remarkable when we consider that they were erected in the Stone Age.

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Excavation diagram of the Newgrange Passage (After O'Kelly)
Before the tomb could be reconstructed in its modern form, the archaeologists had to remove much of the covering cairn and the roofing stones of the passage in order to create a concrete dome protecting the chamber. Other stones were braced and stabilized in position. The heaviest stone removed, using a crane, weighed more than 9,000 kg (ten tons). Although most were lighter, Professor O’Kelly wondered how the Neolithic-era builders could lift such stones. As an experiment he had some of his men, experienced in the handling of large stones, move a 900 kg (one-ton) stone using only rollers on a ramp. With a length of rope, three men were able to move it a distance of 15 m (49 ft) and 4 m (13 ft) in elevation during twelve hours of labor.

Within the tomb there were some items that escaped the attentions of earlier generations of treasure-seekers. A large hammer-shaped pendant was found in the center of the main chamber; nearby were a serpentine marble and some flint flakes. In the west recess a pendant and pieces of bone tools were found mixed with the burnt human bones remains. The east recess was the largest, and was extravagantly decorated on its roof. Recovered from that recess were a bone chisel, marbles, beads, and a pendant.

Human remains, some found mixed into the earth on the floor of the tomb where they were discarded by the eighteenth-century visitors, represented at least five different persons, although there may have been many more. Three of the individuals were cremated; the other two were unburnt.

However many or few were contained in these tombs they must surely have been special in some way. The number of workers and their families who built Newgrange must have been considerable and yet they were not buried in or immediately around it. We have no way of knowing in what way the people who were put inside Newgrange were special; it does not necessarily follow that they were royal or priestly, they may have been special in some quite different way.

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1880 Photograph by R Welch the decorated edge of the roof bos lintel is sen above the entrance.
In their 1841 travel journal the Halls enthusiastically proclaimed Newgrange the spot where …the Druids offered sacrifice; or at least, where they held their solemn meetings; for of its origin there is no doubt, and almost; as little, that it was the ‘Inner Temple’ of their secret rites.

But the local farmers who guided the Halls and other early visitors to the tomb had their own legends of the gods who inhabited the site, gods far older than those of the Druids. In local tradition, Newgrange was the home of Aengus Óg and the Daghdha, the gods of the Tuatha Dé Danaan. The ancient name for Newgrange and the other nearby tombs, including Knowth and Dowth, was Brú na Bóinne, the Palace of the Boyne. From the top of any one of these three major passage tombs, the other two may be seen. Around 1830 a priest went to Newgrange to try to uncover evidence of its ancient name still being used. He found that local usage referred to the site as “Bro-Park,” and nearby were “Bro-Farm” and “Bro-Mill,” all using the modern derivation of the older Irish Brú. “Thus, the identical name An Brugh, (the Palace) by which the celebrated place is called in the Senchus-na-Relec (History of Cemeteries), though unobserved by the learned, still lingers around the monument of the Danaans.”

Professor Michael J. O’Kelly, who led the 1962-1975 excavation and reconstruction of the monument, was inspired by these legendary stories of the Palace of the Boyne. The gods and heros, while found in the Medieval manuscripts, likely date from earlier oral tradition. Professor O’Kelly, in fact, takes the oft-repeated claim that “the earliest Irish stories are a window on the Iron Age” and revises it:

One cannot help feeling that the richly accoutered warriors of the Irish Bronze Age are far more convincing prototypes for thedramatis personae of the Irish heroic cycle than the shadowy figures [of the Iron Age]. If this were the case it would bring [the stories] nearer in time to the people who built the Boyne tombs. Can it have been they who planted the first seeds of Irish oral literature and should one begin to think of this not as a window on the Iron Age but as one on the Late Neolithic?

The legendary resident of Brú na Bóinne, Aengus Óg, was the son of the Dagda, the “good god,” of the Irish. The Dagda had an affair with Aengus’ mother, Boann, who symbolized the river Boyne. To disguise the illicit union the Dagda ordered the sun to stand still for nine months. Thus Aengus was conceived, brought to term, and born all in one day. Aengus Óg, “Aengus the Young,” was also known as “Mac-an-Og,” the son of youth. He is similar to the Greek Eros, the god of youth and love.

According to the twelfth-century Book of Lecan, when he learned that he would inherit nothing from his father the Dagda, Aengus used his wiles to re-order time in his own way. He asked the Dagda if he could live in Brú na Bóinne for “a day and a night,” and his father agreed. Afterwards, however, Aengus insisted that “a day and a night” was equal to “all days and all nights.” Thus he took over possession of the Palace on the Boyne.

In another tale, Aengus fell in love with a girl named Caer Ibormeith whom he saw in a dream. Both his mother and his father searched Ireland for a year, but failed to find her. When finally Aengus found Caer, she was chained up with 150 other girls at the Lake of the Dragon’s Mouth. He discovered that on every other Samhain (November 1) all the girls would turn into swans for one year. Aengus was told he could have Caer if he could identify her as a swan.

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‘Who is calling me?’ said Caer. ‘Angus calls you,’ he said, ‘and if you come, I swear by my word, I will not hinder you from going into the loch again.’ ‘I will come,’ she said. So she came to him, and he laid his two hands on her, and then, to hold to his word, he took the shape of a swan on himself, and they went into the loch together, and they went around it three times. And then they spread their wings and rose up from the loch, and went in that shape till they were at Brugh na Boinne. And as they were going, the music they made was so sweet that all the people that heard it fell asleep for three days and three nights.

The epic significance of Brú na Bóinne was woven into the later tales of the Ulster Cycle. As Lady Gregory tells the story, the great Cuchulainn was conceived in the mound of Newgrange when his father Lugh of the Long Hand magically transported his mother Dectire there:

And he put on them the appearance of a flock of birds, and they went with him southward till they came to Brugh na Boinne, the dwelling-place of the Sidhe. And no one at Emain Macha could get tale or tidings of them, or know where they had gone, or what had happened to them.

The Palace on the Boyne also plays a role in the Fenian Cycle, the tales of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his band of warriors. In the story called “The Pursuit of Diamuid and Grainne” after Diarmuid was gored by a boar and left by Fionn Mac Cumhaill to die in agony, his lover Grainne found his body watched over by Aengus Óg, along with three hundred of his followers.

Oengus said: ‘[There has never been] one night since I took you with me to the Brugh over the Boyn , at the age of nine months, until tonight that I was not watching you and guarding you against your enemies, Diarmuid, and alas for the treachery that Fionn has done to you.’ He continued: ‘Horsemen of the fairy-mound without defilement, let Diarmuid of the fine shape be lifted by you to the Brugh, sweet, full of hosts, everlasting.’
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The early sanctity of Brú na Bóinne was invoked to enhance the legitimacy of those who were supposedly the later historical pagan kings of Ireland. In legend, the kings of Tara were originally buried in the royal cemetery at Rathcroghan (Crúachan) in Co. Roscommon. But when one of the kings married a woman from the Tuatha Dé Danaan, he and his descendants insisted on burial at the Palace of the Boyne.

Cormac mac Airt was the most celebrated of the pagan High Kings of Ireland. In legend reared by a she-wolf in Co. Sligo’s Caves of Kesh, he grew to be, according to some, an actual historical ruler of the Ui Neil in perhaps the third century CE. According to the story, after he became aware of Christianity he vowed that he would not be buried with his predecessors at Brú na Bóinne, as it was the “chief cemetery of the idolaters,” and instead wished to be interred across the river at Ros na Righ.

There may even be a connection between the Aengus Óg of Brú na Bóinne and the Aengus who gave his name to the spectacular Iron Age fort of Dun Aengus on the Aran Islands. Although in most accounts Dun Aengus was named after Aengus, King of the Clann Umoir, of the Fir Bolg, some think that this Aengus and Aengus Óg, son of the Dagda, are but two aspects of a single god, a Celtic Zeus.

The Neolithic peoples who occupied the rich fertile lands of the Boyne Valley created a community stable and cohesive enough to build structures destined to last more than 5,000 years. Powerful rulers, perhaps priest-kings, inspired the loyalty required for these achievements because they were believed to communicate with their ancestors in another plane of existence. To envision just how many members of the community may have been required to build Newgrange, Professor O’Kelly calculated that the 181,436,948 kg (200,000 tons) of earth and rock required would have taken a workforce of 400 people 16 years to carry to the spot and construct the mound.

It was clear to the excavator and others that all this effort was not solely to create a house of the dead. Newgrange was also seen as a residence of other-dimensional beings, a home of the spirits. The great care taken by the Neolithic builders, which included cutting rain channels on some of the roof stones to keep the interior dry, shows a respect for the structure that was remembered through all the succeeding generations. Respect came even from the invading Vikings of the ninth century, who never entered the tomb, and to those visitors who left golden coins in tribute. No such tribute was found elsewhere at the other nearby passage tombs.

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Perhaps the most complex fo the Bru' na Boinne sites is Knowth
The three great Boyne tombs must have been sources of awe, wonder and superstition from very early times, perhaps even from their very beginning; indeed the arousal of these emotions may have played no small part in the minds of their builders in the first place. Perhaps the tombs were built as much to commemorate and arouse respect for the gods or spirits as to provide resting places for the newly dead.

The veneration of Newgrange continued long after the liturgy of its builders was forever lost, even after the tomb had begun to collapse onto its kerbstones, and its entrance sealed by tons of rock and earth. In the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age, a thousand years after the construction of the Brú na Bóinne tombs, the new Beaker culture farmers of the Boyne built their own settlement, squatting right up against the side of Newgrange. It may have been these people who built the incomplete circle of stones around the monument. They also built, just 9 m (30 ft) away from the tomb, a large circular enclosure of timbers posts. In the center of this circle archaeologists discovered pits where small animals were cremated and buried. Nearby is the “cursus,” the surviving 100 m (328 ft) of the route of a ritual procession through the landscape.

The vista must have been very impressive, indicating that by the Late Neolithic religious ceremonies and processions were taking place across the landscape of Brú na Bóinne, with their organisers using the river valley to create their own theatre of ritual.

Such scenarios as these, imagined by archaeologists and anthropologists from clues left in the earth and observations of indigenous peoples, can never completely explain the belief systems of the ancient peoples of the Boyne Valley. In their desire to commune with the remote civilization that built and worshipped at Newgrange, some have today projected their own sincerely held spirituality onto the monument. Just as Vallencey and others saw Phoenician letterforms in the Brú na Bóinne spirals, there are authors today who combine their observations with their intuition to arrive at conclusions quite outside the realm of archaeology. Some have suggested that specific constellations, guide points for ancient astronomers, can be deciphered in the ornamented stones of Newgrange. One book, with information derived from “the ancient tradition of Freemasonry…rediscovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls,” postulates that Newgrange, “a large house built of crystals,” was actually a ” a machine for the reconstruction of a shattered world.” More soberly, Martin Brennan’s work in The Boyne Valley Vision and The Stones of Time has gained a wide following:

The ancient mounds in the Boyne Valley are a great feat of non-verbal communication. Their message comes to us through four millennia of time. By using universal and concrete symbols like the sun and the earth itself, this message transcends the barriers of language. These mounds are concrete realizations of the world view of ancient man in Ireland. In this great vision, the whole cosmos is symbolized.

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The neolithic Winter Solstice Ceremony as envisoned by Paul Francis
(copyright OPW)
We cannot know how the excavator of Newgrange might have responded to those seekers of the sacred who made their pilgrimages to Brú na Bóinne following its reconstruction. Professor O’Kelly, sadly, did not live to see the 1982 publication of the book documenting his work. But the academic archaeologist and the devotee of sacred sites may have more in common than is immediately evident. Carleton Jones, of NUI Galway, explains that for the Neolithic people “points in the landscape marked by the Boyne monuments were viewed as supernaturally powerful…” Dr. Jones suggests that the builders of Brú na Bóinne may have chosen the spots for their monuments in order to enhance the existing “power points” they perceived on the landscape. In their Powerful Places in Ireland guidebook, authors Elyn Aviva and Gary White write that Newgrange “continues to be a powerful place, drawing thousands of visitors throughout the year who bring a mixture of curiosity, awe, and reverence.”

Irish author, poet, and self-described clairvoyant Æ (George William Russell) wrote of the inspiration for his dialogue at Brú na Bóinne with Aengus Óg in which “a light began to glow and to pervade the cave…” Russell wrote those words 70 years before Professor O’Kelly became the first person in 5,000 years to see the light of the Winter Solstice enter the passage of Newgrange.

…one warm summer day lying idly on the [Newgrange] hillside, not then thinking of anything but the sunlight, and how sweet it was to drowse there, when, suddenly, I felt a fiery heart throb, and knew it was personal and intimate, and started with every sense dilated and intent, and turned inwards, and I heard first a music as of bells going away, away into that wondrous underland whither, as legend relates, the Danaan gods withdrew; and then the heart of the hills was opened to me, and I knew there was no hill for those who were there, and they were unconscious of the ponderous mountain piled above the palaces of light, and the winds were sparkling and diamond clear, yet full of colour as an opal, as they glittered through the valley, and I knew the Golden Age was all about me, and it was we who had been blind to it but that it had never passed away from the world.

Information sourced from &

Sunday, 17 February 2013


Photo source Carving of the
Goddess Dea Matrona with child. 
Modron (Mode-ron) is at heart a Mother Goddess. Variations of her name can be found across Europe and will be recognised by many as meaning Mother at a most primal level. Matron, Madron, Matronae, Matrona, Marne.

Modron can be found within the Mabinogion in Welsh literature. She is the Mother of Mabon, Mabon ap Modron, who was taken from her when he was 3 nights old. This is not the story of Modron so much as it is the story of Mabon, to be found within the story of Kilhwch and Olwen or the Twtch Trwyth.

The Mabinogion is a cycle of Welsh legends collected in the Red Book of Hergest, a manuscript which is in the library of Oxford University. From roughly the late eleventh centuary. Mabinogion means 'tales of youth'; although this appellation only applies to a few of the stories, and The Mabinogion is now used as the name of the entire collection. The stories are based on historical characters and incidents from the dark ages in Wales and environs, embellished with supernatural and folklore elements. Throughout there are echoes of primordial Celtic mythology and folklore, including the ancient gods and goddesses.

In Welsh literature, Modron is the daughter of Afallach, king of Avalon/ King of the Fair Folk (Tylwyth Teg). As such, she can also be connected with Welsh Goddess Rhiannon. Like Rhiannon as well, Modron had her son stolen from her when he was but a few days old.

Modron (Matrona) is a Cymric (Welsh), Gaulish and Brythonic goddess known from inscriptions and images in Gaul as well as the Welsh Triads, where she is the mother of the Divine Son, Mabon (Maponos). 
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Modron is known from an invocation at Belsme, Haute-Marne, France. This being in the territory of the Belgae. Indeed, the name of the river Marne itself is derived from the name Matrona. Matrona is an aspect of the Celtic mother goddesses, the Matres which are known from literally hundreds of votive altars scattered throughout the entirety of northen Europe such as the Aufunie. Though it should be noted that the Matres are always tripple goddesses and Modron is invariably represented singularly. Statues of the Matres have been found in such diverse lands as Italy, Germany, and Gaul.

Except for the matronymic little of the goddess' own attributes and tales have survived. One of the few of these is Triad 70 from the Trioedd Ynys Prydain which names Modron as the mother wife of Urien of Rheged and the mother of the twins Owein and his sister Morfudd. All except for an episode recorded in the manuscript known as Peniarth 147 which relates specifically to the Triad 70 poem. Here, a tale of the 'Washer at the Frod' type is told. The washer is Modron and the man who encounters her is Urien of Rheged. Like many of the old tales, the story has been re-located from Urien's origins in the old north to Llanferres in Clwyd at a place known as Rhyd y Cyfarthfa (The Ford of Barking) where every evening the local dogs gather to bark at some unknown fear. No man dares go near the place, save Urien himself who ventures out to seek the cause of the dogs' barking. But when he got there he saw nothing but a woman washing at the ford. Urien seized her and had his will of her. However, instead of berating him she blesses his arrival, saying that she had been cursed to wash at the ford until she conceived a child by a christian man. She names herself as the daughter of Afallach and tells Urien to return upon the year's end where she will present him with a son. This he did and received a boy, Owein and a girl, Morfudd.

From this is seems that Modron was known as a Faery Woman and what would be more natural than for such a supernatural being to be the daughter of the King of the Fair folk, Afallach himself.

Today there still exists a well in Cornwall, at Penzance, called St Madron’s Well. The well is located inside the ruins of a small chapel which was built over the well during the early Christian era. St. Madron’s has been called "one of the earliest sites of the Age of the Saints". During the English Civil War the chapel was destroyed by Puritan fanatics, however the well is still well preserved. The legends surrounding it link it back to either being dedicated to Maternus or to a priest from Brittany commemorated as Paternus – a suspicious change of “Mother” to “Father.” St Madron’s Well is famous for its healing, and many a modern pilgrim has left an offering in thanks or hope of health to come. As part of the healing ritual, pilgrims would leave a strip of cloth or ribbon on a nearby tree or bush so that the spirit of the well would perform a healing act upon it. 

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First, let us clarify that there was not a "St. Madron". Modron, is the goddess also referred to as The Mother of Fates, the Spinner of the Threads of Life, the Provider, the Creatrix. She is part of a triad of the Triple Goddess with sculptures of her in the Triple Goddess form found all over Britain, most always near wells. 

Although Modron’s name translates as “divine mother,” she is not the typical interpretation of the Mother. She is the dark Mother, the Earth Mother, associated with the underworld and death. She gives birth to the virgin or maiden. She is the dark, and Her child is the light. Together, they represent the dynamic, ever-changing balance. She teaches that all things whether joyful or sorrowful, are transitory and will pass.

Dea Matrona is mentioned by the Romans in their texts on the Celts living in Gaul though they frequently refer to her as Deae Matronae, triple Goddess figures seen carrying baskets of fruit, cornucopias, and babies. As such She is a Goddess of fertility, both animal and agricultural, and the "Great Mother". The Romans mention many sanctuaries at the source of Gallic rivers. One honouring Matrona is found at the source of the river Marne. She is probably depicted as the double-goddess on a stone carving from the Roman fort at Ribchester in Lancashire.

She is usually a triple-aspect goddess, referred to, by the Romans, as Deae Matres or the Matronae, and depicted as three seated ladies often holding their associated attributes. In Britain, these tend to be babies, fruit and loaves emphasising her role as a Goddess of Fertility in both the human and agricultural world. There was a cult centre in the Cotswolds, at Cirencester, and another somewhere in the Hadrian's Wall region of the North.

Photo source Terracotta relief of the Matres, from Bibracte, city of the Aedui in Gaul.
The goddess of peace and children, like other celtic goddesses, she is also a river goddess and is sometimes described as having a triple aspect like the Greek Fates.

Modron is a powerful goddess who lives inside us all. Whether we are male or female, mother through blood or mother through spirit, caretaker or healer, Modron resides in each one of us and in all aspects of nature. She is a deep well of knowledge, the hidden core or wisdom. She is the pervasive presence in our lives, on this earth, that needs no name. She is immanent, all encompassing, and without her, there would be nothing. We worship her every time we care for a sick member of the family, using healing, respecting nature and striving to preserve its beauty for future generations. Her healing mothering presence can be felt in every child's smile and heard in every babbling brook. Her character is mystifying and her story has long been lost. Her power remains as it pulses through each human being who walks on earth.