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Our Return Begins: Birr Castle, Tullamore and Dublin

This entry is part of a series, Ireland 2009»

Round Tower

We enjoyed one last, full Irish breakfast in the Maigue Restaurant this morning, then came the hard part: Saying goodbye to everybody. We’ve only been here a bit over a week, but somehow it feels like leaving family or something. Maybe that’s because the Dunraven Arms has treated us as family. Not the “inlaws and outlaws” type either! The ones (rare though they may be) that you really don’t want to leave just now.

We were all settled a few minutes before nine, when John was due by to collect us and provide a final day of quality touring. I remembered we hadn’t purchased all the gifts we wanted, so I ran down to the Heritage Center and got there just as Black Abbey Crafts opened up. I knew exactly what I wanted, of course. However, I managed to purchase quite a collection of other things, and within a few quick moments I was jogging back up to the Dunraven. I knew PJ would ooh and ahh at my spoils, even though I hadn’t quite gotten what she sent me for; not exactly. They WERE all Irish, though, and useful for gifts. Close enough.

Countryside in Ireland

It’s only a bit more than two hours to Dublin from Adare, if you’re in a crashing hurry and don’t like the countryside, or something. We planned to take several more than that. So we headed out, waving goodbye au revoir to Adare behind us. The weather was fine, the air was mild, and we were ready to shoot about a thousand more photos.

We stopped to view all sorts of ruins. John and I found some more malting houses from distilleries, abandoned over the decades and gone to genteel ruin. One was used as a horse barn, and the equine occupants seemed well-pleased with their circumstances. Of course there were several churches to be photoed and admired.

Birr Castle

After a while we arrived at Birr, with its castle and more. William Parsons, the Third Earl of Ross, built a telescope there for his own pleasure. Not just any ol’ scope; the world’s largest at the time! He was a great inventor and engineer, and he built a tradition in the Ross family that carries on to this day.

Birr Castle is an impressive stone edifice, and one of the few old castles in Europe continuously occupied by the first ruling family. (The 7th Earl and his family are there these days.) There’s a wonderful museum, showing both the Ross family’s contributions to engineering, astronomy and photography, and the overall advancement of science and engineering that this great family was a part of in their day. Out on the grounds, there are beautiful gardens, lovingly managed; a scenic waterfall; and of course, the Parsonstown Leviathan.

Parsonstown Leviathan

William Parsons had to invent most of the techniques and parts for the scope, and with it he made ground-breaking observations. His mirror, however, tarnished readily; combined with Irish weather, he managed less than sixty nights a year viewing with this instrument. The scope was closed in 1925, and only recently has the site been restored. The mirror, however, is in London.

Ground-breaking photoastronomy was done here as well, by the Earl’s wife Mary. She was an inventor and early photo artist, and a fine gallery of her works are in the Birr Museum.

Sally Port

We dawdled around on the Demesne until we knew we were in danger of drifting behind schedule. This is one of the most pleasant places on earth, though, and if you are ever anywhere nearby, you’d be foolish to skip it.

Less than an hour on we found ourselves in Tullamore, on the banks of the Grand Canal. We simply had to stop, of course! I feigned extreme hunger, and that got the carriage stopped. But of course, my ulterior true motivation was the Tullamore Distillery. I enjoy Tullamore Dew, and I also know someone who grew up in this busy market village near the center of Ireland. We really did need some grub, however, and we were running low (once again) on Euros.

Getting spending cash from our useless dollars, however, turned out to be tough yet again. John had to intervene on our behalf, as before; I only hope this string of bank actions hasn’t gotten him in trouble with the Irish authorities! Given all the concerns globally about large bills and various scams, it’s a possibility. Slight, we hope…

Bridge to Birr

We next moved on to the serious business of acquiring calories. The Wolftrap Bar and Grill blocked our path found itself along our walk to the Distillery, so we naturally stepped in for some last pub grub. After all, it’d be impolite for us to turn away after all the effort the proprietors made to build their edifice in our path!

We dined on Tomato & Pepper Soup, a tasty Club Sandwich (with Irish Bacon), Stroganoff over Rice, and Roast Beef with Veggies. The stroganoff was most interesting, with little bits of gherkin pickles. I’d heard of stroganoff like that, but this was my first view of the species “up close and personal,” as it were. Paula enjoyed it immensely. Not more than I liked the soup, but it was a very close thing.

Storming the Castle

Replete from our sojourn in the pub, we waddled rolled strolled down to the Distillery. Sadly, Tullamore doesn’t make whiskky in Tullamore these days. A conglomerate bought them out and all that smooth goodness is now made in Cork County, at Midleton. Basically, though, Tullamore is still in business, and is one of the three remaining Irish whisky distillers operating today.

The old distillery is now a small museum and gift shop, right on the Grand Canal. Indeed, that canal made it possible for Tullamore to rise to a position of prominence in the mid-19th century, because access to cheap and fast transportation of raw materials and finished goods gave them a significant economic edge. The Grand Canal was one of the major engineering feats of its time; like all such canals, they produced significant prosperity for a while, then faded into history. The Irish canal, however, remained an important waterway linking east and west Ireland for many decades, even after the advent of the steam train. Seems it was just too important (and beloved) to ever quite disappear. It’s used nowadays by tourists and boating enthusiasts; all 21 locks still work, and you can make it from Dublin to Limerick in a few short days!

Malting House

We studied the exhibits at Tullamore with great interest. There were more things explained than mere distilling, as it turned out. The town of Tullamore was nearly wiped out by a fire, back when hot-air ballooning was in its infancy. Seems a couple of chaps decided to “go for a spin” about the town, but they were not in good shape for aviating. They set fire to the central business district when they bumped against a chimney on a thatched-roof building. Over 100 businesses were destroyed, and many houses too.

And that was just one of the interesting tidbits we picked up while visiting the Tullamore Distillery.

We finally gawked to our heart’s content. I’m sure we spent a bit longer there than we normally wouuld have, with the thought in the backs of our heads that this was the “last great place” we would be visiting on our trip. John didn’t seem to mind that we were dragging our heels a bit; he quite understood, I think. Eventually, though, we retired to the tasting room for a sample of the Dew.

Tullamore Dew got its name in an interesting way. It’s not because of Irish songs about “the old mountain dew” or anything. No, the manager of the Tullamore Distillery was named Daniel E. Williams, and he branded the top liquor from the factory with his initials. He also rediscovered the recipe for the whisky liqueur that became known as Irish Mist. Seems he knew how to brand and market things! He got rich while managing the ‘stillery for the absent owners by setting up companies in Tullamore and the region; these companies developed an oligarchy, basically, on the feedstocks for the whisky.

The afternoon was getting on, so we reluctantly walked to the limo and loaded our gear into the boot. The road from Tullamore to Dublin is quite nice and new, and we were soon zooming along at a pleasant 110 on our way to the Dublin Clarion at the airport. No, not 110 miles per hour! John’s not crazy! (Well, if he is, it’s probably because he had to hang around us for nearly two weeks. Sorry, John!) It’s 110 kilometers an hour, or about 70 mph. Smooth and pleasant in a Mercedes. We passed more beautiful fields full of fat cattle, and saw some mechanized peat harvesting. Then Dublin began to appear in front of us, and so did rush hour traffic.

Village Store

Fortunately, it wasn’t a very long time in tight traffic. We were quite close to the airport when we first had to slow down, so it was short work for John to deliver us to the Clarion. We unloaded, checked in and then sat with John and relaxed while we settled up our bill. I was so mellow I didn’t even fake fainting when we got the damages! Actually, John gave us a great rate, and thanked us for the great time. He really enjoys his work, provided the clients don’t cause too much trouble!

We said our goodbyes, and John headed out to return to Adare. He had plenty of work waiting for him in the west of Ireland; we wished him well, and we certainly thank him for his great service and friendship.

We had a quiet little room, down in the basement. Not a dank, dark place! We actually had a window onto a nice garden, with fat ducks grazing and swimming in the pond. Wrassling our bags down there was not easy, not with all the things we were carrying by now. I accused PJ of having stolen and stashed the Blarney Stone in her carryon, and she reminded me I was the one who bought not one, but two mugs. And assorted shirts, trinkets, hats and such. And a hurling stick. And a ball for that stick.

Window Planter Flowers

I retreated in good order to lick my wounds. I hate it, absolutely hate it, when she’s right like that. We unpacked the bare minimum we would need to prepare for our travels the next morning, then we moved upstairs for “one last drink for the road.” Sitting outside on the veranda was pleasant and cool, and we soaked up as much as we could of that. We knew it would be 105 when we got back to central Texas.

I tried to get PJ interested in dinner, but the restaurant just didn’t look that appealing to us. Not a bad place; we were just “full up” with Ireland memories and didn’t really feel like a last meal in a standard, American-looking eatery. Time enough for that sort of fare on the morrow!

We retired to our room and collapsed. Yes, we only intended to take a short nap and then go exploring. That didn’t work for a hoot…

Enjoy the (Final Touring Day) Heat!

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