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The Long, Lovely Drive Across Southern Ireland

This entry is part of a series, Ireland 2009»

Water Spout

Father’s Day began early enough, with cleaning up, packing and preparing to travel again. I was extra-excited as today we would see Kilkenny, Cashel and finish in Adare, my all-time favorite Irish hamlet. (I wonder why they call it a hamlet? Not big enough to be a ham? But I digress.) We met John downstairs and then we dragged our growing collection of bags and spoils to the car. It seemed to me that we’d soon outgrow that boot, even if it was on a Mercedes; yet another great reason to get to Adare soon!

Our first stop, naturally, was the Waterford Crystal Factory. Unfortunately, they’re closed. Not everything, but the factory’s not in production. Seems they’ve been bought out by some Russian conglomerate who’s thinking of moving all their production to Vietnam or someplace. Very sad. So we didn’t get to see the glass being worked, or etched, or get to break some seconds; another great tradition gone. We toured the Waterford Visitor’s Center, though, and to pull us out of our deep depression mark our visit we bought a couple of nice pieces of crystal: A small bowl and a Celtic cross. We had them shipped, of course.

Crystal Queen

We felt really unsatisfied after the Waterford Crystal visit, but if that’s the worst that happens on our trip we figure we’re well ahead. Nonetheless, we hurried out of Waterford, a mixed bag of memories in hand. The food was good; the hotel was, well, behind us; and the one great tourist trap was fairly melancholy.

We next headed northwest, to the special Irish city of Kilkenny. Home of the fighting cats.

Kilkenny has several sights worth visiting. We spent a few moments taking photos of St. Mary’s Cathedral, then we moved on. Just past the university is the imposing Castle of Kilkenny, currently undergoing major renovations. It’s a wonderful museum these days, but once it was a true fortress, protector of the region. After that it was converted to a massive manor house, and it was in that state when Queen Victoria visited. Many of the rooms in two of the wings have been lovingly reconstructed, down to the tapestries, wallpaper and furnishings. The tour was most interesting! It’s amazing how the gentry lived 150 years ago.

The manor house went fallow in the early 20th century, after the Irish won their independence and tossed the English out. It was eventually sold to the Republic for £50, land and all. What a steal! A true fixer-upper castle, with stables and everything. Unfortunately, if you don’t have about $20 million to spend on updating, you’d have a major problem with a property like this. Ireland’s government has done a fine job so far, though, and there’s only one wing left to complete repairs in and open to the public.

KilkennyCastleB.gif

After the lengthy tour of the castle we stopped in to the Design Center and did a bit of trinket shopping. We were all hungry, so we climbed upstairs to the cozy restaurant and had a fine lunch. Imagine my surprise when I saw chiles in the food serving area! I bought a Chicken Ciabatta Sandwich combo, because it came with “chilli sauce” on the side. Yum! Paula Jo and John both had Mushroom Soup, which smelled delightful. They said it tasted as good as it smelled (and looked). I washed my meal down with a Kilkenny’s Ale, of course. When in Rome shoot Roman candles and all that stuff, I always say.

To settle our meal we strolled through the Design Center workshops next door. This facility is part of the old castle grounds; in particular, the stables and workshops. Beautifully restored, these buildings now look fresh and new, and the stonework is amazingly sound. Short of an ice age wiping out the British Isles, these facilities should stand for thousands of years.Chile Alert!

Time to move along! Next stop: The Rock of Cashel. According to Irish myth, a flying demon took a bite out of the mountain chain near Cashel, and was subsequently attacked on his way home with his prize. He dropped the great stone, and that became the outcrop that is the Rock of Cashel. It’s a formidable dome of solid rock, sticking out of an otherwise nearly flat valley. There are no other big stone piles nearby. It’s something like Enchanted Rock in central Texas, although not as big overall. A novel geological feature that the locals made great use of over the centuries.

Cashel means castle in Irish. Naturally, anyplace that has the name “Castle Rock” should have a fortress on top. This one certainly does! The approaches aren’t quite as imposing as other forts in Ireland, but they’re high up. Plenty of time for defenders to deal out punishment to any attackers. Then there’s a massive wall. And then there are strong stone fortifications inside that ring.

Layer upon layer of deadly defenses. Necessary for the usual reasons, and for a few more than normal. You see, there’s a crackin’ big cathedral up there too, and a couple of other old chapels, one dating from the 8th century. Cashel wasn’t quite as big or important as Glendalough, but almost nearly. Cashel had the distinction of having the only bishop in Ireland that was also a local king. So there were extra defensive demands on the location. Cashel was attacked several times over the centuries, but mostly it remained unconquered.

One of the bishops, however, was a bit paranoid. There’s an old Dominican abbey down the hill, in sight of the grand cathedral. This bishop, at one point, emptied out the abbey and sent all the monks packing. He was afraid they were out to kill him, you see. The Cistercians later moved in. There’s also the story of a different bishop who converted (under political pressure) to Protestantism, then converted back before he died. Talk about confusing! Even with cue cards I couldn’t keep all the players clear in my head.

Cashel Cathedral

We left the cathedral behind and walked down the hill into the village of Cashel. We went in the back way, though; through an iron gate and stone arch that led to the bishop’s house. The more modern house, that is. That house is now a hotel, very posh and neat. Great old furnishings, and a lovely veranda where several folks were enjoying high tea. We also stolled through the business district, where shops old and new have been restored to previous elegance. A very pretty town!

The drive to Adare was a bit less than an hour, and quite pleasant in the warm, late afternoon. Paula Jo napped while John and I talked about politics, and horses, and the high cost of fuel. I don’t remember the other topics, but I do remember it was an enjoyable chat.

Long House

John dropped us at the Dunraven Arms and then headed home to his family. Meanwhile, we were greeted like family by the fine team that runs the hotel and food establishments. Check-in went very smoothly, and to our surprise, Mr. Murphy upgraded us to a Junior Suite at no extra charge. Awesome! Just what we deserved, of course, after such a grueling journey spanning days and days.

Ramparts of Cashel

We dropped our bags in the suite, oohed and ahhed at the furnishings and accoutrements, then we hurried down to the pub. We had to get there before they stopped serving pub grub! (I wasn’t worried about getting a Guinness; they serve that until they close, and sometimes for well after.) We grabbed a table in the busy but fairly quiet seating area, and looked over the snacks menu. Most of their snacks looked like full meals! We finally plumped for the vegetable soup (with two spoons) and a spicy burger to share. I got a pint of Guinness, but I had no intentions of sharing that; let PJ get her own stout! She settled for cola, though. Her loss…

Priest's House, Now a Hotel

I was just settling in to enjoy my pint when I noticed a fellow who’s a regular at the Dunraven pub. His name is Victor, and he’s a retired farmer. I got to know him slightly during my previous trips, and I waved at him. He didn’t say anything, the barman simply drew him a pint of the Good Stuff. He sipped and sat.

Moat StairsThen I noticed that somehow he was ahead of me on drinking! So I sipped a bit faster, and let Paula concentrate on the food. We chuntered on about the trip so far and such, but I regularly checked on Victor. He never seemed to move, but somehow his Guinness reached bottom fairly quickly. Just as quickly the barman replaced the empty with a ready replacement. Now I was really behind!

I decided to bear down and catch up with Victor. I took several deep breaths, then sipped quickly. I didn’t want to gulp, Guinness is too good for that; it deserves respect, after all. But no, I wasn’t even to the bottom of my first pint before Victor was polishing off his second and waving goodbye to the bar staff and to me.

I guess I can claim to be out of practice. Yeah, that’s it…

We retired in good order from the field of battle and decided to unpack our stuff. Since we were planning on staying for more than a week, there was no reason to live out of the suitcase! Not in a room THAT good, anyway. As we put our things in order I could feel the Guinness fatigue taking over, and I quickly laid down for a short nap. The sun was still up, after all! We could make the live music session down at Collins’ if we hurried; after my nap, that is.

The last thing I remember is Paula Jo mumbling about all the pictures to download to the computer, and how far behind she already was in organizing and rating them. I mumbled something (I’m sure) and turned over to nap the other side to perfection. I don’t have a clue what time it actually got dark…

Enjoy the (Irish Chiles) Heat!

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