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[caption id="attachment_2207" align="alignnone" width="448"] Newgrange tumulus entrance.[/caption] Over each winter solstice, dawn sunlight pierces into the long tunnel directly to the burial chamber itself, illuminating both the symbolic importance of the site’s position and the construction’s wonderfully precise alignment with the sunrise in conjunction with the shortest day of the year.A national lottery is conducted annually which allows a lucky twenty or so visitors access to the tumulus for three days: preceding the solstice, the solstice and the day after, each dawn (if weather permits) opening the tumulus’ greater purpose to the lottery winners. I’m crowded into it with fewer than fifteen other visitors while we take turns exploring the graves’ positions, wall carvings and the impressive architectural design. No water has ever leaked into the inner chamber, not bad for a roof built over 5,000 years ago by craftsmen using rudimentary tools, even more impressive considering Ireland’s wet weather and harsh climate.From Newgrange I head further north to Carlingford to dine at the Ghan House hotel’s fine restaurant, sampling some of Ireland’s better country cooking at a heritage hotel in this lovely out-of-the-way town on the border.The dining room is comfortably grand, 19 century furnishings, lots of candles, warm service and a dinner far better than I’m used to eating in rural Ireland.Oscar Wilde’s two half sisters lived near here too.' Placing a pot of her homemade jam in front of me she continues her summary, 'Clones is a wonderful town. Expecting to see ladies wearing bonnets and bustles emerge from behind shrubbery at any moment, gossiping dialogue from a Thackeray novel or reciting lines from one of Wilde’s plays, I wonder how this hidden gem has escaped attention for so long, despite ‘The Troubles’.You know the director, Neil Jordan of ‘The Crying Game’ among other films? Though my stay at Hilton Park is brief, it is memorable.Driven almost mad with frustration at the lack of signage, equipped with a GPS programmed with Irish roads that don’t appear to exist, all the while I’m thinking that if I continue to turn left, an entire circuit of the island nation will be complete, finally reaching my start point.
Extending his hand in greeting, he says, 'I’m Fred Madden. From one minute to the next, I’m never sure if I’m in Ulster, ‘The North’ or in the Republic, ‘The South’.Hilton Park has reached the 21st century in a relatively healthy position.[caption id="attachment_2221" align="alignnone" width="275"] My bedroom at Hilton Park.[/caption] Madden’s mother Lucy writes historical essays for the local newspapers and is something of an expert on all things Hilton Park and the nearby town of Clones. 'Tyrone Guthrie, the famous critic and theatrical impresario was born just near here.Should I abandon ship, ditch the car and get a bus back to Carlingford?
Not willing to admit defeat so early in the trip, I head for Clones again, doubling back the way I just came.
Hilton Park has been in Madden’s family since it was built in 1734.