Live from Ireland: Day 7, Kilkenny

4 Jan

Location: Kilkenny, County Kilkenny, Ireland
Population: 7,000, inclusive of numerous nearby villages
Random Fact:
Accommodation: Lawcus Farm Guest House, Stoneyford (rural area outside Kilkenny)

We were really, really loving our time on an Irish farm. The weather was perfect, the dogs were friendly, all was well. Given our failure at not visiting a pub we agreed the best way to recover our ailing health was to sleep in a bit. We’d been up with the sun and out late every day, so we slept in a bit. When we finally did roll out of bed and head down for breakfast we were greeted with an amazing meal! The eggs were farm fresh, the bacon and sausage were decidedly not from the frozen food section, the huge bowl of fresh fruits and berries was to die for.

We happily ate and chatted with other American guests and our hosts and watched as Mark fed the tiny hedgehogs with a straw.

After breakfast we strolled around the farm, visited the animals a bit and took a walk along the river that ran through the back of the farm.

We even got a good chuckle out of watching Anne Marie – who’d just served us that amazing breakfast – leave the kitchen and head out to the fields to feed the animals, repair a broken fence and round up some escaped calves. All in a days work, I suppose?

After our walk we returned to the deck and sat down to hang out with the dogs and talk a bit more with the other guests. It was about then that I looked into the kitchen and saw our host walking about her kitchen with 2 bottles of Bacardi. A bit odd, I thought, at 10 in the morning. I watched as she rounded up shot glasses. What in the hell was she doing?

Out she came with her 2 bottles of booze and a stack of shot glasses.

Ready for a taste? She asked everyone cheerfully. My eyes widened. We’d been given Baileys in pretty much everything we’d been served everywhere we went – our coffee, hot chocolate, porridge, ice cream, cake, etc. Put this was the first time a host had offered us hard liquor at 10 a.m.

That’s when we were filled in on a little secret. It wasn’t Bacardi. It was Pocheen. It’s the Irish equivalent of Moon Shine. But stronger. It’s not exactly legal to have, or to distill. We’d joked about getting our hands on some but never for a second did I think we’d find any! And here it was, at 10 a.m.

Shots were poured. Shots were consumed.

I could only handle about half of my first shot. Zac finished his two, then mine.

And then we set off on our day’s adventures – me with a hole burning in the lining of my stomach, my husband drunk as a skunk.

Thankfully we didn’t have far to go, we were just down the road from the Kells Priory – a very large ruin full of sheep. We’d been warned that the sheep might follow us around, but that they wouldn’t bother us. Fair enough.

The Priory was really expansive with an outer wall and then another inner wall that concealed towers and the remains of a monastic settlement.

The sheep were everywhere. Which is to say, sheep poop was everywhere. We started out trying not to step on it. That lasted about 10 seconds and was declared impossible. So we were just browsing around, walking in poop, hanging out with sheep.

As promised the sheep started to follow us which made me very uncomfortable. They would walk towards us, then just stop and stare. I was convinced we were going to be sheep charged at any minute.

I was torn between wanting a nice close up photo of a sheep and not wanting to get stampeded. Zac tried to assure me that sheep don’t stampede and that if one charged us, he was sure he could fend it off and protect me. I wasn’t so sure. I mean who knows what a sheep is capable of. Especially when their ego is boosted. Look around, ya know, there are like 1500 sheep and 2 people. We were walled in by 800 years of stone, built to be defensive. No one was getting in and no one was getting out. It was like a sheep cage match.

But I wanted a picture, damn it. So I’d creep towards a docile looking sheep (and believe you me, some of them looked aggressive!!) and try to appear calm and soothing.

“Hi Sheep…How ya doing. Got some grass there to chew on. That’s good. Laying in a pile of sheep poop. Very alternative spa-like, I can dig that. Good sheep. Nice sheep.” click-click-click goes the shutter and I go running back towards Zac.

“Ahh!! Save me! I think its chasing me! It doesn’t like the camera! Save meeee!!”

Thankfully no one was harmed. Including the sheep.

We’d explored the outer ring of the ruins and now we needed to make our way across the field and down a steep hill to explore the interior. Past all the sheep.

We walked about 6 steps and one of the black-faced sheep came at us and I climbed up Zac like he was a fecking ladder and begged to be taken piggy back the rest of the way. But the point was raised that should he slip and fall I would land in all the sheep shit, so I just sucked it up, walked and tried not to make eye contact.

When we made it inside there were no sheep. But let’s just say…they’d been there.

This was one of the coolest ruins we visited. The whole thing spans about 3 acres and it’s excavation is one of the largest ever in Ireland.

Then we frolicked in the open green, like we had in Dingle. What can I say, I like to get my frolick on.

As we were poking about I decided that the whole thing reminded me of something from Super Mario Bros. So I get this bright idea that I should climb the wall, Mario style. You know – like when Mario jumps up onto a wall or a cage/fence thingy and then he can scurry across it? Yup. Just like that.

So up the wall I go, sticking my hands and feet into tiny gaps and scurrying across the wall, humming the tune from Mario Bros. Zac’s laughing and snapping pictures, I’m laughing, it’s all very funny. (You’ll keep in mind it’s just the 2 of us and the sheep. There were no other people in sight.) Then I’m ready to get down. But I can’t. Because I can’t see where to stick my foot and I’m too far up to jump down.

Zac comes to my aid. He reaches up towards me – and there’s nothing to grab onto but my ass – and as he reaches for me he says….

“Don’t…poop!”

Um. What?

“Don’t poop??!!” I yell. “Why would I poop?? Like I just randomly poop sometimes?!”

Zac can’t get any words out because he’s giggling like a school girl (or like Anderson Cooper, whichever). And now I’m giggling. So there we are – Zac with 2 handfuls of my ass, me still dangling from the wall by my hands – and we’re giggling ourselves silly, now too weak with the giggles to function. All of this over my known tendency to spontaneously poop, apparently.

Then it becomes apparent that we’re both going to fall and the poop won’t be so funny then. Zac regains enough composure and strength and pulls me by the ass off of the wall and sets me on my feet.

“Why would I poop?!” I demand to know.

“No!! Not you! I was going to tell you not to let go until I could get you on my shoulder but then I stepped in like a really really big pile of poop,” He explained as we both looked down at his poop covered shoe.

Fecking sheep.

As we walked on I determined that we needed to take a photo of each of us sitting in a window-like opening on the wall.

Zac went first. He just hopped right up into the window and I snapped the picture.

But my own hopping proved less effective.

“I need to be lifted in,” I holler to Zac. So he sets the camera down and runs over to me. With absolutely no grace he grabs me by the waist, lifts me, slams my ass down onto the stone ledge, then reaches up and with both hands on my ta tas pushes me back into the space

“What the feck!?!” I yell.

“What?” He asks, blankly.

“I’m your wife! Not a UPS package! You just slammed me down and shove me back in here like you were loading a truck!”

“Sorry. I guess I’ve just been hoisting you around ruins so much recently that its just all business now. Also, I’m still kind of drunk.”

Awesome. Do not drink and lift your wife. Cue another round of giggling. The absurdity of going all the way to Ireland so that we can get drunk at 10 a.m. and climb rocks and play in sheep shit is more than we can handle.

After a harrowing walk back through the sheep we head down the road were we’d heard about a round tower that was worth checking out. But we’d been warned about a bull. Sure enough when we reached the field we were supposed to cut through, there was a sign out that said “Beware Bull.” Our hosts had specifically referred to the bull as “a killer” so we decided to skip that little adventure.

We hit the for a quick stop at the Jer Point Glass studio, which is renowned for its blown glass.

As soon as we parked the car, a tiny but fat little dog came running up to us. He was shaped like a sausage. I was beginning to really love the amount of dog attention I was getting in Ireland. We both want a dog in a bad way, but it just isn’t in the cards right now. It seemed everywhere we went was another awesome dog. Each one we came across was off leash and perfectly trained. And they were just as friendly as the Irish people. (But not quite as friendly as that Spanish guy in Dingle.)

After wasting some time playing with the little sausage dog we shopped around the small studio/store debating taking some home with us, then headed out to the workshop where we were told we could watch the artists in action.

There was nothing fancy or touristy about it – it was just a legit workshop with a pair of lawn chairs. So, we pulled up a lawn chair and watched. Our “quick stop” turned into 30 minutes of marveling at the whole process. I was impressed. Plus there were  2 hot Irish guys helping the artists so that wasn’t too bad either… : )

We left with out any souvenirs, concerned that there was no convenient way to get the items home in one piece. But we took with us the awesome memories of the sausage dog and those 2 hot guys in the workshop. That second memory might belong to just me though…

Not far down the road was Jer Point Abbey – another set of ruins. We walked in, made a big circle, declared it neat and left. Apparently we’d seen enough ruins : ) It was lunch time anyway!

Back in the tiny village of Stoneyford (just 5 minutes from the farm we were staying at) we stopped for lunch at Knockdrinna Cheese Shop. It was a quaint shop with an impressive selection of cheese (we like cheese, nom nom nom), baked goods and lunch specials. We ordered half the food on the menu and grabbed a seat on the patio.

I was beginning to really like salads in Ireland! This was the 2nd or 3rd time we’d ordered a main dish that came with a selection of salads. It’s really an awesome way to do up a lunch – you get your main dish and then a small scoop of several different salads. Pasta salad, potato salad, something with shredded carrots…I rarely knew what I was eating but I almost always loved it.

After lunch we headed into Kilkenny City again to tour the Smithwick’s brewery.

Smithwicks is a red ale and I love it! While I loved Guinness in Ireland and drink it occasionally at home (where it tastes completely different) Smithwicks is one of my favorites – anywhere. We had reservations for the tour so once we arrived we signed in and then walked around checking out some of the nearby restaurants. The brewery – St. Francis Abbey – is located right in the heart of Kilkenny city.

When we returned for our tour a large group of American tourists had shown up. The kind you don’t want to be around. They were talking loudly and obnoxiously and I wanted to hide from them. But I also really like Smithwicks so I decided to just grit my teeth and bear it.

In case you aren’t a beer nerd – Smithwicks is pronounced “Smidd-icks” not “Smith-wicks.” Which is a fine error to make if you aren’t familiar with the beer. But despite our lovely tour guides kind guidance, our American tour mates couldn’t seem to contain themselves from yelling “Smith-wicks” every time they asked another obnoxious question, made fun of the tour guide, or blatantly disregarding any request not to take photos, to wear protective eye wear and so on.

At one point the guide was giving history of the brewery and asked, “Can anyone think of a year when our country faced political unrest that impacted the brewery?” The question was quickly answered by one of favorite new American friends…”Prohibition!!”

Wait. What did she just say?

Prohibition?

No, sorry, that was America. Honestly. Of all the places on God’s great Earth, Ireland would be about the last to enforce a prohibition of alcohol.

So my dear husband answers, “1916.” To which the guide happily replies, “Yes! 1916! Someone knows Irish history! Are you American??”

To which I replied, “Yes, we’re just not that kind of American.”

No of course I didn’t really say that. Americans, the guide commented, always seem to forget that their history isn’t everyone else’s history. Score 1 for the tour guide. She went on to connect political history to beer history and who doesn’t love that?!

On we went with the tour, which was great. Always sad though when you go on brewery tours (yeah…we go on a lot of them) to hear about the number of people employed 20 years ago vs the number employed today.

At the end of the tour we gathered in the tasting room. The room was built in the former cellar that held barrels of beer as they conditioned. We were then rewarded for putting up with the American tourists with a full pint of Smithwicks. Which the Americans actually made fun of. “Why is it that color??” “It’s so dark.” “Eww…I don’t know if I want one.”

Are you kidding me?! It was a good thing someone had put a pint of fresh Smithwicks in front of me because I was ready to tackle these people.

They proceeded to get drunk – or perhaps to act drunk – raise their volume a little higher, and mock everything the tour guide said. At one point the poor girl – who was being talked over – actually mumbled, “why am I even talking.” These were grown ass adults mind you – people in their 50s and 60s.

The brewery tour was one of my favorite parts of our time in Kilkenny but the folks on the tour were also one of the more eye opening experiences we had in Ireland. If this is the way that Americans behave when visiting another country then our reputation for being obnoxious, rude and arrogant is well deserved. It wasn’t the first example of this we’d seen. At a restaurant in Dingle, we listened to a neighboring American diner insist that his machiato be made a specific way. He was demanding and condescending to the waitress. He kept saying, “I don’t know how you’re going to make it but at home.…” She brought him his machiato, exactly the way the menu described it and not at all how he’d ordered it, set it in front of him and said frankly, “This is how we make a them in Ireland.” I wanted to stand up and cheer for her!

I don’t mean to sound unAmerican, and certainly the majority of American’s we met or encountered were lovely, but a lot of the behavior we saw was really disheartening. I won’t disagree that we live in one of the greatest countries on earth. But how the blessing of being American shifted from a place of pride and gratitude to one of elitism and entitlement I do not understand.

Forget being American even, maybe this is more about being human. How does anyone find this to be appropriate behavior? This isn’t the way you behave when you visit someone’s home. You don’t go into someone else’s home and make fun of it, ridicule it, disrespect it, use the phrase “eww”. Those rules don’t go out the window because your on vacation is a different country. That country is someone’s home for God’s sake! Put your manners on people!

But as I get older and the idea of having children isn’t that far off, I take comfort in knowing that as parents we’ll be able to do something about that. Because really what can I do, lecture the rude American’s on manners? Tell them to shove their ethnocentric bullshit up their asses? Ask them why they didn’t just go to the fecking zoo if they wanted to walk around mocking something that looked different?

No, I really can’t.

But I can damn well make sure I raise children who don’t even think about behaving that way. Who respect the people and country they’re visiting, can distinguish between right, wrong and just different, and count their blessings that they’re traveling at all. Who say, “Yes, I am American, thanks for asking. And where are you from?” when their nationality is questioned rather than responding, “Fuck yeah, I’m American!” while fist pumping or whooping they’re in a sports stadium.

(And yes, that last example is for real.)

This has kind of become my way of dealing with things that trouble  me in general – like people who are super rude in public. You know, like cashiers who make you feel like shit for no reason or customer service people who treat you like your an idiot. There’s not a whole hell of a lot I can do about those people. But I know I can raise children who don’t behave that way. Or at least I can try to : ) And that’s about the only comfort I can get from those situation, just like the rude Americans in Ireland. And hopefully, by the time our children are having their own adventures, new generations will have broken the “Rude American” mold for good anyway.

Sorry for the tangent…back to the trip…

After our tour we headed back to the B&B for the sad task of reorganizing our luggage and preparing for the last leg of our trip. We’d been stuffing all of our purchases into the trunk and now it was time to make them fit into our luggage. It was rough. The next afternoon we’d be dropping of our rental car and we’d hoped to condense everything down into the same number of bags we’d arrived with – one large suitcase and one large duffle bag – plus 2 small carry ons. The duffle bag arrived in Ireland with just 2 pairs of shoes and some socks in it. The whole point was to stuff it full of our dirty clothes (in space bags) and then cart our new belongings in the big suitcase.

We ended up with everything we came with plus 2 shopping bags that were busting at the seams. Sigh.

For dinner we headed back to Kilkenny where we ate at an Italian restaurant. The food was just okay. I was mostly amused to be eating Italian food in Ireland, served to me by an Armenian waitress.

After dinner we decided to head back and go to bed early. To be honest, we really weren’t feeling the vibe in Kilkenny. There wasn’t anything we disliked about it – we just didn’t seem to click with it the way we had with other towns.

So we drove back to Stoneyford in the only downpour we experienced in Ireland. Nothing like those narrow, windy Irish roads in the dark in a downpour. Such a peaceful journey…

We were both thankful to call it an early night. The next day we had some stops we were excited to make and then we were Dublin bound and very excited to explore the city!

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