Ireland tour Part 1

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September 8th 2017
Published: October 7th 2017
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Monday 4 September
About 50 km from Dublin is the Kildare area. The area is famous for patron saint of Ireland, St Brigid, and her messages of the interrelatedness of nature and spirituality dating back to the 5th century. It is known for the original monastery founded by St. Brigid on the site of an oak tree (Kildare meaning 'church of the oak'). This became one of the three most important Christian foundations in Celtic Ireland. Since mummy teaches at a school which is based on the principles of St. Brigid, we thought it would be a good place to visit.

Our first stop was the information centre. The lady there was very helpful and gave us a map showing where everything would be, showed us some reproductions from the book of Kildare, and told us that the sisters of St Brigid would be able to meet us at the Solas Bhride Centre, which was built as a place of religion and learning.

We didn't have time to find the oak tree, but we found St. Brigid's well, and then went to the Solas Bhride centre to meet Sister Phil and Ruth who showed us a piece of the original oak tree. The centre was designed with lots of sunshine and insulation so that no fuel was used. Even the candle that was kept lit day and night (the eternal flame of St Brigid) used locally collected bees wax. There were two big spaces with wooden floors where I played “sliding on my socks” with daddy. The part that daddy liked most was when Sister Phil showed us the central glass sun house garden and described St Brigid's philosophy as being at one with nature and ecology.

The St. Brigid's Cathedral had an interesting diorama depicting village life in the 5th century, and a few more stories of St. Brigid. It was very pretty, and when I 'talked', it echoed nicely. Around the back of the cathedral was the highest accessible round tower in Ireland, so of course we had to climb it. It was a bit squashy for daddy and I, but we managed to climb all the ladders up each floor and squeeze through the last hatch to emerge to see a panoramic view of houses and meadows. I don’t think I have seen the world from this angle before. Mummy looks pretty, even though she is rugged up against the wind and a bit of rain. There was a nice man sitting inside a shed at the bottom of the tower. He collects money from visitors. His name was “Paddy or Patrick” – a good Irish name, he said. Paddy talked with us about all sorts of things, and showed us a card he had received after a fair where people had dressed as vikings and climbed the tower. The card chided Paddy for letting a viking enter the tower after they had prevented them from entering for so many centuries! Mummy and daddy had a good laugh at that! He also had a hurler (the funny stick from the game in Dublin). He let us test its weight and see it we could hit a rock with it. It was heavier than mummy and daddy had expected, and I even have a photo 'holding' it! 😊

After our Kildare visit we drove on to Cashel, and saw the castle on the rocks, illuminated by the afternoon sun. We checked into a pretty B&B called Ladyswell. They even had a cot for me. The proprietor's daughter had two children - Daniel (2½ years old) and Beatrice (5 years old). They were both fun, and played gently with me before we went out to dinner. They showed me their keys and Daniel kissed and tickled me. I fell asleep on the walk to the Brian Boru pub, since I hadn't slept all day while we were in the car.

Tuesday 5 September
I had porridge for the first time this morning. It is very yummy. The proprietor (Beatrice) called me a "good little grubber", whatever that means. Daniel visited again, and gave me a goodbye hug. Beatrice even gave me one of his books to take with us - Diggers to the rescue - with three cool sounds when I press each button. It is now my favourite toy, especially on car journeys! The plan for the day was to explore the Cashel Cathedral, and in the afternoon, the Blarney stone.

The rock of Cashel was the seat of royal and priestly power in Ireland from the 4th and 5th century, and the home of the Kings of Munster up until the 12th century, which is when rebuilding and the creation of a magnificent cathedral commenced. In 1649, Oliver Cromwell forces were particularly vicious there, slaying 600 outside, and leaving 2000 in the cathedral for 3 days before deciding to go against religious sanctity - all inhabitants in the town were massacred in 3 hours and all valuables (including the bell) were ransacked. No wonder that cathedral lost favour for a century or more! Then in 1869, Cashel cathedral was given by the church to the state.

The only tomb in the Cathedral is rather Ironic. The inhabitant stole it from another, and this is even revealed in the epitaph! This Dutchman used his height (6'), handsome looks and cunning to first become the Protestant archbishop of Cashel, and then by appeal to Queen Elizabeth I simultaneously hold the Catholic archbishop title for 10 years, much to the displeasure of the pope! He was, needless to say, rather unscrupulous, and left behind a legacy of some 3 wives and 27 (known) children.

Cashel also has a round tower. According to the tour guide, these are the only indigenous Irish buildings, ignoring the two built in Scotland sine they were built by Irishmen! The unique features of Irish round towers are drystone construction with no mortar, and conical stone roofs. The retracting first stage (typically a 12 ft ladder) is a myth. Contrary to popular belief, the elevated door, rather than being a defence mechanism, was actually a structural feature as there were very little foundations for stone towers, so below the door was filled in to act as a foundation for the tower. When the village was attacked, residents and priests would hide away in the round towers, often successfully. But when they were targeted, the towers were death traps for those hiding within. Invaders would build a fire beneath the elevated wooden door. Once alight, the tower acted as a chimney to burn them alive.

Cormac McCarthy's chapel of 1127 (beside the gothic cathedral) is the greatest example of Highburno (Highburnia - another name for Ireland, the land of perpetual and eternal winter) Romanesque architecture in the world, however the sandstone roof does not stand up to Irish weather. The Southern tower houses the oldest spiral staircase in Ireland. Unusual features of this chapel included:
i) The nave of the chapel is off centre, which maybe because it was a Celtic chapel - Celtic chapels had a side aisle whereas roman chapels had a centre line.
ii) The 6 grotesque heads (Arab, African, European etc) representing the intent to unify people.
iii) A sarcophagus with Viking iconography (Infinity 8; Time keeper & dog) was used to dissolve corpses - covered and sealed with lime to eat away the flesh. The smell apparently wouldn't have been much different to unwashed Irishmen of the era.
The restoration that commenced in 2006 removed 180 000 litres of water from the rock and 12 inches of mould from the ceiling. Now constant waterproof membrane on rock, constant dehydration and annual ultraviolet radiation will keep damage at bay.

Cormac didn't live to enjoy his masterpiece since his brother murderered him, but his tomb stone epitaph is worthy of note. In fact, Ireland is only now phasing out graveyard burial within church grounds.

The caretakers lodgings had be restored early in the 19th century. Our guide reminded us of the key features of buildings in that era:
i) Leather skins were stretched over windows to seal in / out air depending on need.
ii) Oak roofing with slate or thatch for water movement above.
iii) Whitewashed walls, since this seemed to reduce cockroach and bug count. Clothes were washed in lime too.
iv) Tapestries were made with intentional errors, since only god was perfect e.g. in the tapestry of the Queen of Sheba being welcomed by the King of Jerusalem - the floating queen, a dog would never have been present etc.

All these notes are courtesy of the really good guide that we had. She had a delivery style that invited and made you smile every time she spoke - the 'gift of the gab' the Irish might call it.

I was hoping to gain some 'gift of the gab' at our next stop - Blarney castle. It felt very cold when we arrived, yet we still opted to have a picnic in the park outside the gardens. A huge ride-on mower and lots of black birds shared our spot. I was super rugged up in my Patagonia wear.

It was only mummy and daddy who ventured with me to the castle since grandma and grandpa have already been and kissed the famous Blarney stone. The castle had a lovely garden which was nice to walk in when we could feel sunshine. There was /a fern garden, some waterfalls, and even a few caves to explore. I didn't like the caves much since they were wet and dark.

Clambering the stairs of the castle, there were lots of surprised faces that daddy and I could fit up the stairwells, but this was easier than St. Brigids round tower. Mummy bent backwards and kissed the stone first, but nothing seemed to happen. Daddy put me down and started towards the stone, and I nearly fell out of my backpack before mummy could grab it! Luckily an American woman was there to help me! Daddy then kissed the stone and again, there was nothing different. He held me close to the stone, but I wasn't allowed to bend backwards else I might fall down. We heard that 6 months earlier someone had actually fallen taking a "selfie".

Near to the castle there was a poisons garden where mummy did lots of reading and taking of photos, then we we went on a walk in the woods and visited a bamboo grove and secret garden with witches dens. Then there was lots of talking. Had the Blarney stone worked?

Our day stopped in the quaint fishing village of Kinsale. This is apparently the gastronomical heartland of Ireland. After a few knock backs, we finally found a lovely B&B (the Anchorage), and dined in the White House, where I got a high chair which made noises when I moved 😊. There were lots of old style 12 meter boats on display, which daddy liked to look at.

Wednesday 6 September
I wasn't really interested in breakfast this morning - I just nibbled on some tomato and egg and mushroom. We had a little walk in town, so I go to be in the backpack again. Mummy found a lovely delicatessan and a street market. Later daddy and I found her in a "Bokstor" which had lots of humourous books. I still can't read, but mummy and daddy laughed a lot, and bought a lot.

Then we were driving again. I couldn't complain anymore since grandma was making galloping noises and playing finger games, so I just slept as we drove around the Crookhaven peninsula until we stopped for lunch at De Barra's in Bantry, another quaint little seaside fishing town, where I made many friends. Mummy enjoyed a big salad with fresh crab meat. And I had my own plate of ham and cucumber. It was fun - the lady behind me had a lovely colourful coat I couldn't stop looking at and the lady behind the counter played peekaboo with me. Then grandma took me to the end of the town (where James James Morrison Morrison was told not to go without his Mother) where we saw a waterfall rushing down the side of the road and beside it was a huge mill wheel turning. I really liked watching the wheel turn, splashing into the water and especially the water jumping down the hill over the stones.

It was time to go on the road again. I wasn't happy and tried to keep my legs straight so they couldn't put me in the car seat. I cried quite a bit and grandma fed me some grapes, which are quite tricky to hold and manoeuvre into my mouth. So much so that when putting one into my mouth I bit my finger and cried out in pain! Now I know why mummy screams sometimes when I accidentally bite her nipple!

Daddy almost stopped a couple of times, but Glengarriff was full with a group of walkers and grandma and grandpa wanted to go to Kenmare as they remembered it from the last time they were in Ireland 15 years ago! Daddy finally found a lovely B&B on a lake just before Kenmare, owned by a jovial German lady and her son. I liked her joke about the Blarney Stone - "They wouldn't let me kiss the Blarney Stone because then I'd never stop talking!!". We settled in and then took the five minute walk down the road into Kenmare town where we found a pub / restaurant (McCarthey's) with some musicians playing some Irish tunes on a mandolin and piano accordion. I was captivated! We had to wait 20 mins for a table but Mummy and I sat by the musicians and chatted a little to them between songs. We were given a table right in front of them and I sat backwards on a wooden chair with my legs in between the back slats so I could pull myself up straight and look over the top at the musicians. I could have sat and listened for hours, but daddy took me to taste a little of his fish, carrots and potato. I liked the potato so much that mummy ordered a plate of mashed potato all for me! It was yummy, but I couldn't eat it all - daddy had to help me!

It was such a fun evening that when we got back I fell back into a deep sleep... only to be woken by a splitting pain because my teeth are coming through! Mummy didn't know why I was crying. Luckily I fell off to sleep again rather quickly!

Thursday 7 September
This morning it was raining! The sheep outside our window didn't seem to mind though. We had a big sleep in before I tried cheese and porridge for breakfast. We got a mud map from Gustav (our host's son) regarding where we should visit, and then commenced our journey around the Ring of Beara. This peninsula is apparently a lot less touristy than the Iveragh peninsula where grandma and grandpa drove the Ring of Kerry last time they were here. It is also a lot smaller, so you can see it in a day rather than two!

The countryside, and vistas of the ocean are so different from what we have seen - Ireland has such a variety of vistas! It is amazing to see houses in the middle of nowhere, withstanding the power of the cold Atlantic ocean. There were quite a lot of abandoned stone buildings as well - maybe from viking times! Near Lauragh, there were many mussel and kelp farms.

When I had got fed up with sitting in the car seat, we got out and daddy took me in my backpack for a walk down the road while grandpa drove the car to meet us. There were spectacular views over the ocean and mummy fed me blackberries she had picked from the side of the road - yum!

Next was a quick stop in the pretty village of Eyeries for a coffee for grandma and grandpa- they like their coffee! There were pretty coloured houses, a post office, a store, a coffee shop, and that was the town!
The fog was closing in as we made our way through the rugged terrain across the peninsula to Castletownbere (by far the largest village on the peninsula with many colourful buildings). We had lunch in Fuchsia cafe - more special vegetables for me 😊. Grandpa couldn't get the car started, but daddy jumped in and had it working in a jiffy - releasing there was a steering lock, apparently.

We drove to the end of the peninsula to where the cable car goes across to Dursey Island. I was asleep when we arrived and awoke what must have been some time later as daddy arrived all wet from sweat and rain I think (he was puffing) and grandpa was sitting smiling beside me. I guessed daddy had been for a big run up the hills as he had a big wide grin on his face, the kind of grin he has after he has had fun doing some vigorous exercise. I played with grandpa and my noisy truck book (given to me by Daniel at the last B&B) and then was getting excited because daddy seemed to be preparing me for a walk too - he was putting on my jacket and beanie! But as we got out of the car, mummy and grandma arrived all wet and grinning too! Daddy put me on his shoulders and we went with mummy for a walk along the grassy ocean cliffs. I touched the funny grasses and saw the sheep up close as well as this funny big slimy thing called a slug! But before long, I was back in the dreaded car seat again!

I was getting tired and hungry (a bad combination) so was making maximum disruption. Feeding me banana and mandarins helped a little (especially the mandarin bag) but eventually it was too much and I had a feed from mummy and went to beddy heaven. Apparently we got back to Kenmare at 9.30pm, and everyone (except me) had dinner in the Horseshoe pub - the only place still serving at that hour!

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