Title: My Celtic Journey
Author: Gerald Herter
Competing with the dashing heroes and dramatic settings conjured up in my wife’s mind seemed like an impossible task. That is, until I became the hero, by bringing her to the places and people that inspired the romantic fantasies in the novels she wrote.
Over recent decades, we have traveled numerous times to Celtic lands seeking out the mystique that emerges from these storied locales. From the evocative poetry of an old Irish melody sung by a beautiful tenor voice, to the haunting depths of Fingal’s Cave on Scotland’s remote Staffa Island, our quest traversed the historic, cultural, scenic and spiritual richness of the Celtic world.
Out of this ardent quest comes a collection of stories, recounting the memorable encounters with keepers of the celebrated folklore and countryside that make the British Isles so special. Join us as we travel the byways of these magical lands and beyond.
A ford at the crossroads of Ireland’s History
“William of Orange’s troops crossed the Boyne right over there,” Aisling Law observed, pointing left toward the riverbank, just below the sitting room window we peered from at Rossnaree. We were having a glass of wine with members of Aisling’s family before dinner at her home, named after the spot where a key ford helped win the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Gazing across the river in the fading sunlight, we watched as growing shadows set apart the megalithic green mounds of Newgrange and Knowth, overlooking lush fields where sheep and cattle grazed. “What an appealing way to take in the breadth of Irish history, all in one spot,” I thought. A first timer arriving at the airport in Dublin has only to drive a half hour north to reach this inviting and tranquil country house from where the whole essence of Ireland’s past can be absorbed.
Sites within view or just a few miles away present a veritable chronology of the Emerald Island’s heritage: prehistoric passage tombs; Tara, the seat of the High Kings from the early Iron Age to the twelfth century; Slane, the hill where St. Patrick challenged the High Kings in 433; the Williamite’s decisive Boyne battlefield; a resting place of fallen patriots in the failed 1798 fight for independence; and the Earl of Drogheda homestead at Rossnaree, originally built upon in 1720, added to in 1855, and acquired by the family of Aisling’s husband in 1925, not long after the Irish Free State was launched in nearby Dublin.
My wife, Lori, and I had arrived at Rossnaree late in the morning the day before, after a long flight from Los Angeles. Turning in at the gate, a couple miles from Slane, we drove past the old gatehouse cottage, and up the winding wooded drive to the mauve colored Italianate style manor house.
Our rental car glistened from scattered showers, reflecting the patchy May sunshine, as we stepped out to a rousing welcome from rambunctious Rocky, the resident Collie, and Dagda, the regal Irish Wolfhound. Their wagging tales signaled approval to Aisling, who was crossing the wide lawn from the walled gardens to greet us. “I remember you,” she smiled giving us warm hugs, recalling our visit eighteen months earlier. “The William Morris Room you reserved is not made up yet. You can have the Bird Room if you like.” The Bird Room was bright and airy, the walls adorned with colorful birds painted by her nephew, artist Sam Horler. However, the William Morris Room was spacious, with broad bay windows looking out over the historic grassy meadows. “There’s no hurry. We’ll drive over to Newgrange for lunch and a visit,” I suggested.
The Bru na Boinne (“Palace of the Boyne,” the Celtic name for Newgrange) Interpretative Center is just two miles from Rossnaree. But with jetlag starting to set in, we knew we would need to be extra cautious tackling the Irish roads. The drive from the airport had not been overly treacherous. Even though driving is on the left hand side of the road, most of the route is on a multilane Motorway with ample signs and ramps to ease the way. However, once off the Motorway, the rest of the Irish highway system can make for a harrowing experience for the unsuspecting visitor. Often the two lane roads are more like a lane and a half by American standards, while some country lanes are only wide enough for one vehicle with an occasional widening where two oncoming vehicles somehow squeeze by each other. That doesn’t stop the locals from driving at breakneck speeds, tailgating as they go. Large trucks and buses use the same roads and habits as well, such that a newcomer tends to cringe at each of the frequent curves, hoping a semi isn’t barreling along just around the bend.
Arriving without incident, we parked and proceeded along the atrium covered walkway that winds through a wooded area toward the Visitor Center. The Irish have done well in designing the Newgrange experience for visitors, retaining the ancient character of the surroundings, while catering to creature comforts in the modern Center. The actual sites of the Newgrange and Knowth passage tombs are a mile or two away across the Boyne, and accessible only by a special bus. Just past the Center entrance, guides stand ready to take signups for the tours. Then at the appointed time, they direct each group to a path out the back that takes them over a footbridge crossing the river and on to the waiting busses. The tour to each monument complex takes about 75 minutes including the bus ride.
Newgrange is the largest and best preserved of the many passage tombs that are scattered across Ireland. Built 500 years before the pyramids of Egypt, the circular structure is 250 feet in diameter and 40 feet tall, with a 60 foot tunnel leading to the 20 foot high waterproof burial chamber topped by a 6 ton capstone. Traversing the narrow passage, the modern day seeker walks the way of the ancient ones. The architectural soundness of the large interlaced slabs of rock amazes. But to experience a full sense of the intellect and spirituality of these mysterious people requires a winning lottery ticket for the right to be present at the winter solstice. Then, at the break of day, the sun’s rays penetrate precisely through the entire length of the long passage, illuminating the burial chamber with golden hues for a moment, uniquely on that one day of the year. Since only twenty visitors can fit in the chamber, the lucky few are an exclusive group.
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
My Celtic Journey, a Traveler’s Memoir, responds to a desire that lingers within many readers of romantic fiction, to know more about the realms and folk that form the backdrops of these books. Also, serious travelers seeking a deeper experience look for fresh discoveries like those found on the pages of this memoir.
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Gerald Herter grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, graduated from the University of Wisconsin with BBA and MBA degrees in accounting, and achieved the status of Certified Public Accountant. He served in the United States Army as a field artillery officer in Germany and Viet Nam, and then worked for several years at Arthur Andersen & Company in Chicago.
Gerald met and married his wife, Lori, in the Chicago area. They moved to Southern California several decades ago, where he became associated with what would become HMWC CPAs & Business Advisors. He served as Managing Partner for many years, as well as President of the Americas, Asia & Australia Region of Integra International, a world-wide association of accounting firms. He also wrote and edited Integra’s Audit & Accounting Alert newsletter for several years, and was a Contributing Editor for Accounting Technology magazine.
Gerald and Lori still live in Southern California. They are long time members of Tustin Presbyterian Church, where Gerald serves as an elder. He also served on the Boards of Directors of Family Promise of Orange County, a homeless shelter, and New Theological Seminary of the West, where he is Board Chair.
Gerald and Lori have traveled extensively in the U.S., Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and Tahiti. Gerald has had travel articles published in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Celtic Life International magazine.
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