Location: County Tipperary, en route to the Kilkenny area
Random Fact: Though Kilkenny was our landing place of the day we spent most of the day in County Tipperary, interesting because it took very little time and effort for Zac and I to determine that his ancestors and mine lived in County Tipperary.
Accommodation: Lawcus Farm Guest House, Stoneyford (rural area just outside Kilkenny)
We woke up not the least bit hung over from our “quiet night in.” Or maybe it was that we were quite hung over and sweating through breakfast and trying not to keel over? I can’t remember now.
(I promise we aren’t always like this. The continual drinking was just an Ireland thing. Or perhaps it’s just a vacation thing. In any case the point is that it’s a rare event I consume this much alcohol. K? Good. Didn’t want anyone sending me meeting invites…)
We had another fine Irish breakfast and took our time gathering our things up. Throughout the trip we had only two stops that were one-night stands, our first night back in Doolin and this one in Kenmare. On this trip it was a great way to get where we wanted to be without traveling too far on any given day, but its also a bit tiring, so we were moving slow. One night stops are definitely not something I recommend if you’re planning a trip.
This was one of the few locations we stayed with a TV that got a proper news channel. Prior to this we’d only been able to watch cartoon channels. So we took a few minutes to watch CNN and catch a few of the 9/11 specials. Being the news junkie that I am, I was annoyed to be missing all the 10th anniversary specials and I’d forgotten to set the DVR to record them. When we were leaving for the trip, coverage and talk about the 10th anniversary was just starting to amp up and then it was like we were suddenly disconnected from it.
After a bit of depressing news coverage we loaded our stuff back into the Focus and set out to explore Kenmare by foot a bit more.
Our first destination was the Cromwellian Bridge, a tiny stone arch covered in moss spanning a small creek. It was adorable. And charming. And very Harry Potter-esque. And me, well, I was hung over. I’d survived the 4 block walk from our B&B to the bridge without a problem. Upon arriving at the bridge there was much shaking, sweating and head spinning. So mostly I just leaned against the bridge and tried not the throw up on it.
Something about 5 nights (and 5 days!) of drinking my body weight in Guinness and Bulmers was catching up with me. I seriously needed a break from alcohol. But I am weak. And I really like Guinness. We agreed not to step foot in a pub for the rest of the day. You know, just to avoid the temptations all together.
Once I’d recovered from my little spell we headed back to the main streets of Kenmare. Things were just coming alive. There was a bakery truck unloading fresh breads and rolls into a bakery shop. There was even a police man in a long yellow slicker standing on the corner. It was like Sesame Street, but with more pubs.
There was also a man setting up a few tables of crafty-like items. I wasn’t in the market for such items but he had a cool dog so we stopped to talk about his dog. The dog was awesome and as it would turn out, so were his crafty items! He had oodles of handmade clay thatched cottages. They were adorable, painted by hand to have flowers in the window boxes and everything. I loved them!! I told him we were going to shop around a bit and let him get set up and then we would be back to do business. He seemed skeptical : )
We shopped around Kenmare, picking up a few random things and just enjoying the beautiful weather and quiet morning.
Eventually we made our way back to the man with the cottages. His collection was much larger than I expected. There were cottages of every size, shape and color. And Celtic crosses too. I was in trouble.
“How much cash do we have left?” I whispered to Zac.
“I’m not telling you.” he whispered back. He knew he was in trouble too.
Funny thing about switching currency – I treated euros like monopoly money. It looked different, it was a different shape, it felt different. So obviously, it wasn’t money. I was more like a 3rd grader learning about Indian trading practices than an American shopping abroad.
“I’ll trade you 2 pieces of the orangish-colored papers and 1 bluish-colored paper for 2 little cottages.”
Anyway. As we browsed the cottages we chatted with the man. He was 60ish and a year or so back, like so many others, he’d lost his job. He said he’d looked and looked and hadn’t found work. He wasn’t the type to sit around idle and in a search for something to do with his time, he’d picked up some clay to play around with.
“I’d been good wit da clay in primary school so I taught itd fill me time.” He explained.
By now I wasn’t shopping, I was just listening. The global economy has been cruel in this country and has been even more cruel in Ireland. We’d talked to plenty of people who had plenty to say about the Irish economy and it’s staggering 14% unemployment. But talking with a 60 year old man who’d gone all the way back to something he’d liked in primary school to fill his time and maybe pay the bills…that was for real.
In filling his time, the man had found his next job – selling handmade cottages to tourists charmed by thatched roofs and intricate crosses. He talked about being in control of his own employment now and that even if business wasn’t booming at least it was his business. That was something I could relate to completely.
I passed him my handful of tiny cottages.
“You’re talking all of these?” He asked surprised.
“Yes but I’m not done looking I said.” He looked a bit surprised and then smiled big.
“You’re a salesman’s dream,” he said and laughed as we picked out cottages and crosses for our house, our offices and pretty much everyone we know. He charged us half of what I know we owed him. We talked a while longer about the economy, the evils of big business, and fickle tourists and then we headed off. I think we were all quite pleased to have crossed paths.
On the way back to the car we passed a small grocery store like place. (For our Streator readers…it was like an Irish Grant Street!) Having agreed not to step foot in any pubs, we decided to stop here for lunch supplies.
There was a tiny counter in the back with a few full-sized roasted turkeys in the case and amazing smelling rolls still resting on a baking sheet. An older Irish woman was behind the counter. We asked if she could make us sandwiches and she said she could. So we watched her shuffle around behind the counter, carving big slices of the turkey and blocks of cheese, slicing up fresh tomatoes and making us some fabulous sandwiches. I think they were 2 euros each.
Around here, we’d have to pay the $10.99/pound if we wanted actual turkey on a sandwich! The promise of a fresh, light lunch was pretty pleasing after 5 days of stews, steaks and fried seafood.
Back to the car we went, ready to head off for our day of exploring castles. Then, to our shock, an SUV came flying down the road, flanked in front and back by more SUVs carrying men in army-style camo with very, very large guns. We sat in the car, mouth agape. Had we been in Mexico, I would have expected this. I was unprepared.
The vehicles whipped over to the side of the road, just past the man selling little cottages. The Army Ranger looking guys jumped out and created a perimeter along the road and the sidewalk. People moved out of the way. We sat. Stunned. Staring.
“Should we, like, get the feck out of here or something?” I said.
“Shh. I’m watching.” Zac said.
So we watched in silence. Except for me. I wasn’t silent. I was spewing all kinds of theories. Terrorist threat. Hostage situation. Kidnapping for the purpose of extortion.
Turns out, that’s just how they deliver money to banks to Ireland. Like a really dramatic Brinks truck.
So off we went to find our first castle – in a town called Cahir. After a brief drive through more rural areas we found the highway – also known as the Motorway – and we’re thrilled to be on a big wide road with 4 lanes (4!!).
We arrived in Cahir right around lunch time. There were high school age students out and about for lunch, in their plaid skirts and knee socks. It reminded me of the tortured years I spent in the same get up. (Though admittedly I never wore knee socks with my pleated plaid.)
We drove down the main street, with more painted shop fronts and rounded a corner to find the castle just in front of us. It was right there in the middle of town, with everything built up around it. And it was a castle. Like a castle, castle. Like in a movie, or a book, or…history.
We were pretty pumped for our first real castle experience. But we were hungry so before heading in, we snagged a park bench behind the castle and sat down for our picnic. First a picnic outside an abbey and now outside a castle. Not too shabby for ole Maggie : )
After lunch we joined a guided tour of the castle – the first official tour we’d actually taken. The tour was brief but came with all sorts of interesting information about the history of the castle and most interestingly, what function different parts of the castle served. I for one had no idea why castle towers have those little openings around the top. Zac knew so that must be a boy thing. (I’m told its so you can shoot arrows without exposing yourself…)
We learned all about the castle’s inner workings from defensive traps to bathrooms. At the end of the tour we were free to explore on our own.
Those open arch ways are made so that you can drop things like hot lard on the enemy when they try to invade your castle.
Look midway down the column…the black ball is a canon ball still lodge in the stone!
Guess what my husband made a beeline for? The insanely steep, narrow spiral staircase. Seriously.
During the tour the guide had cautioned everyone to watch their step because the staircase had been built as a defensive strategy. Something about swinging swords in a small space? And the steps had been built unevenly in height and width, and they slopped down, and they were white washed. So basically they were made for people to fall down.
Up the damn stairs we went. Zac first, me behind him. He kept turning his head and asking if I was okay, probably worried I would give myself a panic attack before I had a chance to fall down the stairs. It was like this…
One set up.
Two sets up.
“Are you okay back there?”
“TURN AROUND! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!! DON’T LOOK AT ME! LOOK WHERE YOU ARE GOING!!!!”
“Okay, I’m watching, I’m being careful.”
Three steps up.
Four steps up.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“WHAT THE FECK!?! FECKING TURN AROUND AND WATCH THE STEPS!!!”
“I can’t go any higher. I can’t. I won’t. I refuse. I’m not moving. Come back and get me!!”
“I can’t, you won’t let me turn around.”
We made it up the staircase.
Would you like to know what was at the top?
An open room with an old wooden desk.
Totally worth the scare.
And here’s me peaking through a gun hole. I feel that while this gun hole is effective for shooting people, it’s not so effective in terms of energy efficiency. You’re going to loose a lot of heat out that gun hole in the winter.
Outside we did some more exploring. Including more stair climbing.
I powered through another narrow, open-sided stair case (right below where Zac’s standing, naturally) just so I could stand on the open ledge of the castle wall. I could have hung out on the open ledge all afternoon. It would have been way better than going down the stairs!!
A view of Cahir from atop the castle wall…
Zac standing under the portcullis. This portcullis (neat word, yes?) is special because its one of the few remaining working ones in the whole world. Because of this, it makes lots of appearances in movies. Portions of the Tudors were filmed using it and the surround corridor. When fake portcullises are shown in movies, a recording of this one is dubbed in. Watch Braveheart to hear it in action!
When we’d finished our castle exploration we hit the road for our next castle – the Rock of Cashel.
When we spotted the Rock of Cashel in the distance we gasped, we’d heard it was huge, but it was seriously, seriously huge. It was intimidating and breath taking even with the town that had popped up around it – I can’t imagine what it would have been like hundreds of years ago, when it was the only structure around.
When we made it to the entrance the last tour had just left and we were given the option of hurrying to catch up with it. We decided to pass and just explore on our own using the little guide book included in admission. Of all the places we explored these (the Rock and Cahir castle) were the only places with proper parking lots and an admission fee.
Our first stop was to view St. Patrick’s cross. As in the real and original St. Patrick’s cross.
It was neat. Then we made our way out into the Rock. It was towering. There is no way to explain how large it is. I’ll let the pictures do the talking – that’s far more interesting.
We explored and took lots of photos. Then we parked our butts on the grassy hill and just sat for quite a while. We were exhausted from the traveling and exploring (and drinking) and this was the perfect spot to catch our breath. It was one of the most beautiful days we had during the whole trip. The temperature was perfect, the sky was clear and bright blue and the sun was lighting up the miles and miles of rolling green hills. In the distance, the hills grew bigger, showing off that perfect patchwork of green and further beyond that, the mountains peaked up toward the clouds. It was awesome.
So glad Zac snapped that shot of me. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip and I had no idea it was being captured.
Ohmagosh its so hot when he wears my camera…
We sat a while and just enjoyed the view, then we did a bit more exploring, poked around the cemetery area and then we sat on a different hill and looked at a different view. Then we got up and went back around to were we were sitting before and we sat there again.
(You must be really thrilled to be reading this right now.)
We sat and looked around and soaked up the sun until it was closing time. Then we hit the road for our next destination – Stoneyford in County Kilkenny. It was about 4 in the afternoon. I’d gone 15 hours without alcohol. The longest – by far – since we’d walked into the Chili’s in Concourse C at O’Hare Airport 7 days prior.
Lets stop and talk about Irish Counties for a bit. We spent the majority of the day in County Tipperary. It was fun because we knew ancestors from both Zac’s family and mine were originally from this county. We didn’t know what towns or areas specifically but it was enough to know we were in the same general vicinity and to wonder out loud if maybe our families had crossed paths long before us.
The other neat thing about crossing through various counties was seeing all the team flags flying. Ireland participates in International sports – like soccer/football and rugby and those are popular but what seems to really drive the country crazy are the Gaelic games that are played within Ireland. We had to ask an Irishman for a lesson on this because I was totally clueless. So this is what I learned – there are two main Gaelic games, Gaelic Football and Hurling. Now I will share with you my vast knowledge of these two sports:
Gaelic Football looks kinda sorta like American football but the ball is round and you can only run it 4 steps before you have to pass it, kick it or do this little jig where you bounce it off your foot. The men are big and hunky and not covered in pads.
Hurling involves sticks. The men are big and hunky and not covered in pads.
You’re welcome for that enlightening introduction to Gaelic athletics.
(Any Irish readers can feel free to abandon this blog and curse my name if I completely jacked that up.)
Anyway…the teams are by county and each county of course has its team colors. And those colors are everywhere. As in, everywhere! If you think St. Louis during the World Series was the height of sports obsession, you should see what Kilkenny looked like after winning the All Ireland Hurling Finals. If it held still it was draped in the gold and black of the Kilkenny Cats. As we drove into County Tipperary, we only knew we’d arrived when the caution painting on the sides of small bridges switched from the standard yellow and white to Tipperary blue and gold.
While I couldn’t follow any of this sports business to save my life I did enjoy listening to other people chat about their home teams and go on about big games. It seems like a very awesome part of Irish life indeed.
So anywho…we were in the car trying to reach Stoneyford and County Kilkenny, lost as all get out, knowing only where we were by the color of flags flying in peoples yards. (I have no idea, by the way, how my husband picked up on the various team colors but I was glad when he yelled, “Gold and black!! At least we’re in the right county now!!”)
At one point we were so lost we just pulled over to sit and figure out where in God’s name we had gone wrong. As soon as we’d come to a stop, a farmer appeared from his field to help and point us in the right direction. Which was a very good thing because we’d gone every way but the right one!
Back on the road we cruised through a few tiny towns and past many, many sheep and many, many cows. We’d spent the better part of a week cruising around the edges of Ireland, looking up into the farm land, the cows distance specs in the green. Now we were in the farm land.
We pulled into Lawcus Farms around 6 p.m., down a long dirt lane with barely room for a single car, past a herd of cattle. We parked the car and hopped out, greeted instantly by a woman with wild, curly red hair. She introduced herself as Anne Marie, our host. The next thing I knew we were sitting in her kitchen, her husband Mark having joined us, watching her unpack groceries and random items from a shopping trip. They chatted with us about our day and theirs, teased each other about the shopping and in general made us feel instantly like we were home with our family.
The house was made of beautiful stone, but the kitchen was all glass windows – like a green house – and led to a beautiful deck with views of the perfect, bucolic landscape. Between the old farm house, the beautiful Irish hostess and her handsome farmer husband I was pretty sure we’d just stepped into a Nora Roberts novel.
Mark introduced us to the animals – two awesome dogs, pigs, cows, horses, even a pair of infant hedgehogs that he was nursing back to health after they’d been drug in by a neighbor’s dog. After some hot tea on the patio, we headed up to our room. We’d booked the Stone Room, which true to its name had beautiful stone walls. It was one of my favorite places of the whole trip.
A beautiful view out the Stone Room windows…
This guy showed up to drop off something farming related. We’re still wondering if he’s real, or if as part of the experience these B&B hosts hire the elderly to dress up the way we picture old Irish men and then have them pretend to deliver stuff in feed sacks…
While we’d found ourselves the perfect farm to serve as our home base, it was also only 15 minutes from the bustle of Kilkenny City so for dinner we cleaned up and headed for town. Kilkenny was a far departure from the towns we’d been in previously. It was much larger and much busier, with real parking garages and everything. We parked and walked around a few blocks looking for a place to eat. You’ll remember we’d promised we wouldn’t go near a pub today, so we were looking for a proper restaurant. And we found one.
We popped into a place with a name I recognized for reading Trip Advisor reviews. It was a lovely restaurant with people in nice clothes and candles on the tables and real legitimate menus and everything. Nothing like the pubs we’d been living in. We were seated and started to browse the menu, neither of us saying a word.
“It’s really hot in here.” I finally said. Which it was, kind of.
“Yeah, it is a bit hot.” Zac agreed.
“Want to go to that pub down the street instead?” I asked.
The next thing I knew we were out the door, back out into the cool Kilkenny rain, making our way to a pub we’d passed that promised Trad Music and delicious pub grub.
We sat on bar stools and ordered stew and fried fish and pints of Guinness and Bulmers and we lived happily ever after.