Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ireland part 1

So we had arrived on Irelands shores, setting foot on the tarmac on Friday 25th of November after winging our way across the Irish Sea. As I said, I felt I had arrived in my spiritual home, the land of my forebears. To be honest I probably have more English and German in my blood than Irish, but I have always felt an affinity towards my Great Grandfather Michael Daniel Gladstone Mulcahy (Mick). He originated from Irish stock, his Father, my Great great Grandfather Patrick Mulcahy came from County Tipperary. So coming to Ireland is a bit like a pilgrimage for me, I only hope that I will not be disappointed by it.
Our night in Dublin was great, we had only travelled about 5 km from the Airport, but sleeping in a heated room with shower and flushing toilet and a queen sized bed was luxury after 7 weeks in the motorhome. The next morning we set out for our first cottage stay in County Laiose (pronounced Leash) stopping at Port Laiose on the way for groceries. We were both quite amazed at how busy it was in Dublin and then on the roads, but the traffic did decrease as we got further into the countryside. Our cottage was just outside the village of Clogh (Clough) down a one lane road next to a farm. Geoghegans Cottage was built in the 1600's and up until 2005 was owned by Tommie Geoghegan ( Gegan), it was built of local stone with walls 2ft thick and slab stone floors. The cast iron freestanding fire was built into the old fire nook, with the old crane still in place ( the crane being the cast iron arm that you hung pots over the fire with). With only two rooms plus a bathroom it was quaint and cosy. The best part for me was that the bedroom had a 4 poster bed of considerable proportions, and it was extremely comfortable. We settled in to our new home ready for a week of exploring the counties of Laiose, Kilkenny, Carlow and Tipperary. 

Geoghegans Cottage

Sunday the 27th November saw us heading for Kilkenny City, we wove our way across the green rolling landscape that very much reminded us of home. Kilkenny City is built on the River Nore and the town slopes up from the river, it is well known for its Gothic Cathedrals and Round Tower, and Castle Kilkenny. We did a historic walk through the city discovering 4 of its many churches and Cathedrals within spitting distance of each other. Lanes and alleys slip off to left and right leading to courtyards and other lanes, old buildings towering over you in the darkened lanes give it all a ghosty feel. We had a pint and lunch at Kyteler's Inn, once the home of the convicted witch Alice Kyteler who fled to the USA leaving her maid to be burned at the stake. The Kilkenny Design Centre had some lovely items, lots of Waterford Crystal and Silverware, knitted items and jewellery, all this is showcased in the Castles former stable block. We walked around Kilkenny Castle and then followed the river back into the centre of the City. We found our car and headed back to Abbeyleix (Abbeyleeks) for some essentials..toilet paper, then home to the cottage.

Saint Canices Cathedral, Kilkenny with the first of the many round towers we would see.

Winter is nearly here and the sun is getting later and later, it gets up at about 8.30 and goes down by 4.30 so our days are short. Trying to fit the touring around into a short day can be a bit limiting, but we manage to see plenty. The 28th saw us off to County Carlow to explore an Iron Age ring Fort near the town of Tullow. The country side is a patchwork of paddocks worked with hedges, rolling across as far as the eye can see, houses are stark intrusions on the fabric covering. Little lanes branch off from the main road leading to the innumerable cottages that are dotted everywhere. The large sweeps of farming land that we have in New Zealand are not as common here in Ireland, smaller, what we would call lifestyle blocks abound. 

Some of the Rathgall ring Fort 
We found the Iron Age ring Fort down one of the lanes, it was situated on a small hill with views all around. The original structure would have been very impressive back in the day. It was comprised of 2 outer ditches and mounds and then 2 inner stone walls approximately 2 metres thick. We walked around the  circle imagining the life led here by the people, and what had happened for it to end, no one knows. We continued on our way toward Carlow town for a walk around, we found Carlow Castle and The Museum, everything else was shops, so we left after finding a toilet. Public toilets are not thick on the ground in Ireland so we have discovered, finding one when the need arises can become a pretty desperate search. We drove back to Abbeyleix and stopped at the famous Morrissey's Pub for a pint. This pub was once a grocery store as well as a pub, apparently this was quite common in Ireland, we also saw the hardware store/pub mix, the perfect manshop. In the guide book Morrissey's was the quintessential Irish pub, but then we found another two pubs laying claim to the same thing. 

The Rock of Dunamaise.

View from Dunamaise

Tuesday 29th was a quiet day with just a visit to Rathdowney, a local village, and a walk round Grantstown lake. We collected Xavier from the bus at about 7pm, he was joining us for a week of our tour. Wednesday we explored the Rock of Dunamaise, a Castle built in the 12th century on the site of a 9th century Fort on an amazing craggy hill top. The Castle was "rendered harmless" by Cromwells forces in the 1600's, partially restored in the late 18th Century then left to diminish to its current state, an amazing ruin. We next visited Timahoe and its famous round tower built in the mid 12th Century, apparently one of the best examples in Ireland, then it was back to Abbeyleix for a walking tour of the town, visiting the Catholic Cathedral and admiring the old buildings.
Timahoe round tower.

The very grand Catholic Cathedral in Abbeyleix.

Thursday 1st December we decided to do a bit of bush walking in the Slieve Bloom Mountains and the Clamp Hole waterfall. We had woken up with a -1c frost, and when we arrived at the walks parking lot the ice was still on the ground, but intrepidly we set out. It was a beautiful walk through some lovely forest, the water fall was freezing cold and ice had formed on the rocks around the falls. The wooden walkway was iced over, but hundreds of nails driven into the wood kept them reasonably none skid, like kids we had a great time cracking the ice on the puddles. We got back to the car by 1pm and the ice was still there, it had warmed up to 4 C by then. We continued on in a loop around the Slieve Blooms Mountains, which in all honesty are only hills, but the locals are very proud of them. Friday was more of the same exploring the local area, seeing more castles and pubs than you could poke a stick at.
Slieve Bloom Mountains walk.

Birr town square and the Santa train.

Saturday the 3rd we left our little cottage and County Laiose setting a course for County Cork and our next cottage experience. The Mountain River view cottage had 4 bedrooms, so Xavier was able to have a bed instead of the sofa. The view from the house was of the Boggeragh Mountains and the Black River a beautiful sight, which was unfortunately shrouded most of the time by mist or cloud. Yes our weather had turned a bit on us, but this did not stop us exploring the surrounding district. 

Mountain river cottage at sunrise.

Sunday 4th Dec we headed to the Dingle Peninsula via Tralee, as we had quite a way to go and a short day we had to miss looking at Tralee. The drive over the backbone of the Dingle mountains was very scenic but no photos as the road was a bit narrow and windy with not a lot of pull off stops. We stopped briefly in Anascaul at the South Pole Inn, once owned by Tom Crean, a gentleman famous for serving with both Scott and Shackleton in Antartica, the pub was shut unfortunately so we continued on to Dingle town. We did a quick tour around Dingle town, and along the waterfront, then Paul decided he wanted to have lunch back at the South Pole Inn, so we quickly shot out to Slea Head to admire the rugged terrain of the coastline, then back to Anascaul and the pub. Our mission was thwarted though as the pub was not serving food due to a kitchen renovation, so after a quick look at the memorabilia We decided to continue on back to Killarney trying to find something for lunch on the way. Eventually we stopped in Castlemaine at a pub for chips and a pint, then on to Killarney for supplies at the Tesco's and then home to our cottage.

Amazing stone buildings at Slea Head.

Monday we spent the day in Killarney exploring Muckross Abbey a Franciscan Friary founded in circa 1445, the monks were established here on and off until Cromwells forces drove them out in 1652, this Cromwell dude wreaked havoc in Ireland and England. Unfortunately the rain had found us just as we set out for our walk to the Abbey, but it didn't spoil the visit in fact it added to the atmosphere of the ruin. The Cloisters surrounded a courtyard with a Yew tree majestically reaching up to the sky, a little Robin was hopping around under the tree obviously at home. The ruins themselves were surprisingly intact, with many rooms enclosed. I was expecting to find evidence of occupation by the homeless, but apparently this is not an issue in County Kerry, more on that later. Muckross Abbey was one of the best preserved Abbey ruins we had seen, and we had seen a few, it was a real pleasure to walk amongst the history of this place. 

Muckross Abbey

The Cloisters

The Yew tree in the Courtyard.

We left in the rain feeling slightly damp but happy with our discovery, our next stop was Muckross Castle and grounds. Luckily the rain had eased a bit and we were able to take a wander around the grounds of the Castle and have a look at the ubiquitous Castle shop selling local woollens and Irish tourist kitsch. Our next stop was the city of Killarney, known as the Lake District of Ireland, we were hoping that it was not the case as we had not had a great experience in the real Lake District in the U.K. We located a very central carpark and visited the Information Centre who gave us a walking tour guide of the central city, so off we set to have a gander. Killarney is a lovely city, but very touristy, loaded with enough Motels and Resort complexes to rival any major city. The streets were decorated for Christmas and there was a holiday feel about the place. Jaunting car rides were available from the city to the lakes area, these are gaily decorated carts pulled by forlorn looking horses, unfortunately I was not allowed a ride as it was a bit expensive, oh well. After an ice cream at Murphy's Icecream Parlour, a famous Dingle company, we headed back to the cottage for a good rest.
Tuesday the 6th, Xavier suggested we go to Blarney Castle the epitome of tourist traps, as we made our way there a misty drizzle was with us, but when we arrived in Blarney it cleared. We parked up next to the Castle Woollen Mill shop, wandered over to the Castle entry and paid our €30 entry fee, not expecting to get to much value for our money. The walk to the Castle itself was actually quite scenic, over a lovely stream and grassed meadows. As you come upon the Castle it rises above you, standing high and stark against the sky. Underneath are caves and earthworks used in the past for dungeons, storage and escape routes. 

Blarney Castle as you walk up the path.

You make your way past the Guard Tower and into the Castle entry navigating over the oubliette, a trapdoor set in the entrance that could be triggered if unwelcome visitors had arrived. We then began our ascent through the Castle, this was achieved by climbing a very narrow circular stone staircase, this took us up through about 4 levels to the ramparts. The Castle was actually quite fascinating in itself with enough of it remaining to be able to envisage the actual layout of the levels. 

At the top preparing to plant your kisser.

We arrived at the top and got set to do the most corniest thing in the world, Paul and I had said that it was probably the least likely thing we would do in Ireland and there we were puckering up to a stone like 50,000 other people do every year. You have to lie on your back and bend backward out over the side of the Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone, the attendant has a grip on your clothing so you can't slip and they snap your photo for you, we snapped our own hence they are a bit dodgy. You can ask for an antiseptic wipe if you desire, but on the day we were there the couple of other punters looked pretty healthy. 

That's me kissing the Blarney Stone, no blarney. 

After that rather awkward experience we went off to explore the rest of Blarney Castle and Gardens, it was a beautiful place, with lovely gardens that would be picturesque in the summer months. The boys were very daring and went off and explored the caves under the Castle, no treasure or Princesses to be found.

Blarney Castle built on a craggy outcrop.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Castle and felt it was well worth the entry fee, so we were glad Xavier convinced us to go. Back at the Blarney Castle Woollen Mill shop I broke down and purchased a piece of Irish Kitsch for myself, had to happen. 
Wednesday, Xavier had to head back to London, so we drove him to the Cork airport and again it was misty, drizzly and gusty. After dropping him off at the airport we did a tour around some of Cork County, visiting Macroom, Millstreet and Rathmore. This drive took us over the Boggeragh Mountains, beside the Black River and down towards the southern coast of Cork. Again beautiful scenery abounds, but always with houses in the mix and not a lot of emptiness. 

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