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Published: December 26th 2019
8:30 start this morning. Happily, it looks like good weather today, although there is some low-lying fog on the roads as we leave the beautiful town of Kilkenny and head east for Kildare.
The land here is relatively flat, fertile and verdant. With the sun shining, we are reminded again why green is the national colour of Ireland. We pass through a series of small towns, each with their own requisite ruined castle.
We stop at the ruins of Moone Abbey, a small church that has been renovated and reinvented to house a remarkable artefact, a 1100-year-old Celtic high cross. This 17 1/2 ft high stone cross was only discovered in the 1800s. It was buried deliberately in the abbey graveyard sometime in the 10th century, probably to safeguard it from destruction by invaders. The three pieces have been remounted and cleaned to reveal the decorative carving on all four sides, consisting of scenes from the Bible.
We wander around, admiring the relic. There are placards on the walls to help us interpret the cross’s scenes and symbols. We also wander off to the graveyard at the back. A few stones are still decipherable, but most are not.
The air is heavy with antiquity.
Back on the road, the bus encounters a large peloton of brightly-coloured cyclists going the same direction as us. David fumes as he tries to figure out how to get around them. Oncoming cars have to swerve practically off the road but we are pretty much stuck. Finally we reach an intersection and the flock of cyclists swings the opposite way. David is still muttering under his breath.
We drive through the city of Kildare. The most famous structure here is the Cathedral of St. Brigid and its accompanying Tower. For some reason, the Irish like to build tall, narrow watch towers near their cathedrals. This one is apparently 33m tall.
Just outside Kildare, we stop to tour the Irish National Stud and Gardens. This is a race horse breeding and training facility, one of the most famous in the world. It was originally founded by William Hall Walker in 1896. Mr Hall was a firm believer in astrology and used the stars to predict which horses would win and which should be bred together. Apparently, he had an amazingly successful track record.
The weather, which was starting to look
disagreeable again, clears up for our walking tour. We are guided through the many pastures and building and are introduced to mares, foals and stallions (studs). Now, I don’t know much about horses, but these are extraordinarily beautiful animals. The vast majority are brown with touches of white. Each stud horse has his own separate pasture, and a sign lists his personal information, including parentage, history and stud fee. The highest stud fee is 120,000 €, although most are much lower. The stud fee is updated regularly according to the success on the race track of the horse’s progeny.
Mr. Walker, mentioned above, was also a fan of Far Eastern culture, which led him to create an extensive Japanese Garden. What a magical place! One could wander here for hours, getting lost and found again. There are burbling streams with exquisite bridges, artificial mountains with caves and climbing paths, and of course lots of flowers, trees and shrubbery. Everything meticulously cared for.
Back on the road, we drive through Corkagh Park, southwest of Dublin. This is a huge recreational and commercial area used for, among other things, horse racing and golf. Historically, it was a major gunpowder production
facility (well out of town in case of an industrial accident). Army barracks and other facilities are still maintained here by the Dept. of Defence. Tony tells us that most of the movie Braveheart was filmed in Corkagh Park, not in Scotland.
We are now on the western outskirts of Dublin, where we find Phoenix Park, the largest urban park in Europe, measuring 7k2 in area. Attractions within the park include the Dublin Zoo and the Wellington Monument, a towering obelisk ranked the tallest in Europe. We stop near the huge Papal Cross. It was constructed for the visit of Pope John Paul II in Sept. 1979, when 1 million people gathered in the park at the foot of the cross for mass. Pope Francis also said mass here on his visit in August 2018. There were 82,000 attendees on that occasion. Read into that what you will. I hike up to the base of the cross. I notice that there must be a dog-oriented event under way, as a large number of people are here with their best friends. When I return to the bus, everyone is wolfing down ice cream from a truck vendor. Yes, that does
hit the spot.
We arrive in Dublin, completing our counter-clockwise pilgrimage around the island of Ireland. Right on cue, it starts to rain quite heavily. We spend about 45 minutes touring the main sights of Dublin, narrated by Tony. Downtown Dublin is delineated by the River Liffey, flowing eastward to the Irish Sea, and its many bridges. The most famous of these is the Ha’penny Bridge, which as its name suggests, was once a toll bridge. Among the sights we glimpse through the bus’s rain-splattered windows are Trinity College, Christ Church Cathedral and nearby St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, and Kilmainham Goal (prison). Extensive greenery and parks are visible through the rain. Dublin, of course, has a long tradition of beer brewing and whisky making. We stop but do not descend at the huge Guinness warehouse. This is the country’s main distribution centre for the famous beer, once but no longer brewed in Dublin.
Tony talks a bit about James Joyce, the celebrated writer intimately associated with Dublin. Tony explains that the relationship between Joyce and his home town is complicated. Although Joyce’s most famous work Ulysses and many others are set in Dublin, the author spent most
of his life abroad, unable to live in the city he so loved. Even a recent proposal to repatriate his remains from Switzerland to Dublin has bogged down in controversy.
The tour winding down, we enter O'Connell St. Here stands the Daniel O’Connell Monument. Unveiled in 1882, it celebrates the life of the Irish political leader of the early 19th century also known as the Emancipator or the Liberator. A little further down the street is a weird stainless steel obelisk called the Spire of Dublin. Only 3m across at the base, it gently tampers to a point 120m high.
We disembark at the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell St., a beautiful and spacious building. After checking in and refreshing a bit, Vi and I strike out for supper. O'Connell St. is a main tourist and shopping area with broad sidewalks, and there are lots of people and quite a few buskers. At George St. we stop to admire the amazing work of a sidewalk artist. Using a variety of materials, he painstakingly creates intricate renaissance-inspired paintings on the concrete. Heading back tired, we pick a pub that looks promising. A good feed of Irish food (I do love
those pub-style pies) and Guinness puts us right. Ok, now we're ready for bed.
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