The Iron Bridge
We travelled by train to Shrewsbury, on a long day that involved as much waiting as it did travel – waiting for a connection at Brussels, waiting for a connection at London Euston, waiting for a replacement train at Crewe when the rostered guard didn’t show up.
Shrewsbury is a nice quiet town, a bit historic and in a nice setting but for us it was good for some down time after all the cities we have been to. It does have some nearby attractions though. We visited Ironbridge, a UNESCO site and regarded as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
Ironbridge has numerous museums celebrating the various industrial activities that took place in the valley – iron-making, pottery, coal mining – as well as the famous (and appropriately-named) Iron Bridge, the first iron bridge in the world. With its picturesque location in the Severn River Valley it is a good way to spend a day or so.
The next day we split up – Sharon to the movies, Chris to the Royal Air Force Museum at nearby Cosford. I can’t speak for the movie, but did think the aircraft display was very good. Lots of planes of
the fifties and sixties, and a bit of cold war history and paraphernalia to set the scene.
And so on to Ireland. We caught the train to Chester, then, as it broke down there, another train to Holyhead and the ferry across to Dublin. Sharon’s luck with the ships continues, as the sea was very calm.
Dublin was a funny sort of place – full of history but not really an attractive city, lots of beggars but everybody really friendly. What would you expect from a city that only completed its Millenium Spire in 2003? Or one that calls its maternity hospital The Rotunda?
We saw the Book of Kells, and the fascinating Long Room at Trinity College which houses the old part of the library. We saw an exhibition of medical items and processes, including, painfully, patient’s accounts of amputations (and one of a mastectomy) performed without anaesthetic.
Then we saw the Guinness factory, and naturally just had to go in and visit. There are six floors of various displays about the history, the process and the marketing. We watched a video of a cooper making a cask entirely by hand – the only time
he used any sort of measuring instrument other than the naked eye was to mark out the circumference of the two end pieces.
Of course we had to have the “complimentary” pint in the Gravity Bar, jostling for the best views of the city with people juggling pints of Guinness a lot of them didn’t really want.
Probably the highlight of Dublin though was a visit to Kilmainham Prison, where numerous political prisoners were executed, in particular those connected with the 1916 uprising. It was these executions that turned the public tide strongly in favour of the republic and started Ireland on the path to where it is today (I mean an independent nation, not a bankrupt country full of happy drunks).
The prison building itself was interesting but the presentation, delivered with passion by a guy who not only knew his stuff but who could really sell a story, was fantastic. We walked out with a new appreciation of the place.
Temple Bar and its pubs was pretty good too.
Our next stop was in County Cork near the town of Kinsale. We stayed at the Blue Horizon, a well-named a pub right on
top of the cliffs and with absolutely spectacular 180 degree views of the coast. And the weather was fantastic – balmy and 24 degrees and enough to make us feel a bit sorry for you chilly Sydney-siders.
The scenery was exactly what we expected the Irish countryside to look like. We walked along the cliffs, we had a look at a couple of the local beaches and we had dinner at the Specked Door Hotel watching the kids feed the local horses and the sun go down over the green hills.
There is some history here as well; the Lusitania was torpedoed about 12 kilometres away and Kinsale has some old forts. But it’s more about the countryside and the ambience than anything else. And the contrast from anything we have seen so far.
On our second day here we did a day trip to Blarney Castle for a look around. We didn’t kiss the stone, although we did climb up and have a look at it – my Lucky Rabbit’s Foot told me to avoid superstitions on that day. It was a bit overrated actually.
So was the Cobh Heritage Centre, which tells the story
The family heading off for the new country - the girl was the first person processed through Ellis Island in NY
of the various immigrations from Ireland. Admittedly this is an extremely important aspect of Irish (and indeed, world) history, and Cobh was the main stop in Ireland for the transatlantic ships, but the exhibition was a bit sparse. There’s quite a bit made of the visit to Cobh of the Titanic on its maiden voyage, but actually it only picked up a few hundred passengers and some mail.
The lasting memory of Kinsale though, will be fish and chips and a couple of drinks in front of the most vivid blue and green coast we have ever seen.
Next stop Kenmare as we head around the south of the country.
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