I visited Tara on a quiet March morning. I spotted a shepherd across the fence in an adjoining pasture. I met a local woman walking her dogs. But as near as I could tell I was the only visitor on the hill. I had the mounds mostly to myself. The expanse of damp, spongy turf with a generous leavening of sheep droppings was devoid of tourists – well, of other tourists. It is easier to trigger the imagination in solitude. I could step freely through time, at least the sort of fictional time envisioned by those of us who read fantasy as voraciously as history. Over here I could see Cuchulainn, salmon leaping over the halls that now rose to top the mounds. Over there, stepping through centuries in only a few strides, I saw Saint Patrick giving a snake what for. It is my imagination: there is no shame in my picturing him with a pint of Guinness in one hand. I watched the crowning of Brian Boru. And then I moseyed back down the hill to my rental car, trying to retain the sense of temporal displacement I’d imposed upon myself.
I find travel especially rewarding when I can achieve those fleeting moments of vivid imagination. It can be difficult in crowds, trying to see the Roman Forum bustling with Senators and lectors when it is in fact bustling with two thousand tourists gabbling twenty different languages. But just a glimpse – an overlay comprised of all the ephemera accumulated in the memory: movie images, old encyclopedia illustrations, book cover paintings, the pictures conjured up from reading evocative passages – factual or fictional – can make the whole trip worthwhile. Consider the rest of the trip lagniappe.