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Welsh-Irish archaeologist, Frances Lynch Llewellyn, recounts memories of her field trips to Ireland, and the sea crossings from Holyhead to Dublin and Dun Laoighaire from the 1960s to the present day.

As my name suggests, I have crossed the Irish Sea many times. I first went to Ireland to pursue archaeology in 1960 when I was researching the North Wales megalithic tombs and needed to see the Irish ones as well.

My memory of that first visit to Brennanstown portal tomb, in south Dublin, was not so much its enormous capstone, but the old man I met in the lane pushing a bicycle with two buckets of water on the handlebars. In 2000, visiting Brennanstown with a group of undergraduate students, we gasped, not at the capstone, but at the enormous cost of the houses being built near Brennanstown now!

Over the years there have been a lot of changes at Brennanstown. In 1960 we walked from the lane across a couple of green fields. By the time I was bringing students on regular biannual tours a large bungalow had been built and a garden blocked the route. Ask at the door – go through, no problem. A few years later it was even better – an architect had bought the property and he had created a path and a stile. No need to ask even. Then it became the home of a Middle Eastern diplomat and was guarded by men with guns. Rather more tricky. Then it was the home of a notoriously ferocious dog; it growled, but we got to see the tomb.

In 1965 I was working at the Newgrange excavations and I had a car but there were no car ferries then, and it had to come on a merchant boat to North Wall. I well remember standing by the boat watching the car swaying on a crane to bump down beside me on the quay. On the way north I had a slight contretemps with a man in a van. He got out and rubbed my car where he’d scratched the paint, and said “That will be OK in the morning!”

One year, after a rough sea crossing from Dublin to Holyhead, I was feeling rather sea sick. Then I looked out of the window and saw Holyhead Mountain and immediately felt better. Who says magic mountains don’t exist! That mountain is certainly one! It has so much history on it. The leeward slope is covered with round stone houses occupied throughout prehistory; the summit is crowned with a late prehistoric fort and with a Roman signal station, alerting the fort below to the arrival of Irish raiders. It is sad, since ships became motorised, that there is no reason for travellers to be held up in Holyhead any more, with time to visit its fascinating church – founded by St Cybi in the 6th century inside the Roman fort below, whose walls still surround it.

Over the years that I have been travelling, the ferries have changed out of all recognition. I can’t honestly remember when I first took a group of students from Bangor University for a weekend’s fieldwork in Ireland in a minibus. We went every other year – an ideal interval to observe the changes and the growth of the Celtic Tiger from 1973 when both Ireland and the UK joined the EU.

For travelling alone, the High Speed Ships (the HSS) were really useful – leave Holyhead about 8.00am and be in the National Museum by 11.00am – home again by midnight. The first one I travelled on was not comfortable: it was a rough ride – every hard surface padded and lots of grab rails! But they quickly stabilised them. They were introduced in the mid-1990s but are now gone: like Concorde - wonderful, but too expensive to run.

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