Off to Kilkenny

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Europe » Ireland » County Kilkenny » Kilkenny
July 3rd 2008
Published: July 7th 2008
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First thing I said this morning: I feel so much better! Ain’t drugs—and shots—grand? Thank you Dr. Fergus Brady and your sparkling eyes!
Today we’re off to Kilkenny! Mark looked out the window this morning (as is his Irish habit, it seems) and said, “Oh, look, it’s raining!” like it was a surprise. What he didn't say is it wasn't just raining, it was POURING down rain. I mean POURING!!! We got packed up, went down for breakfast and checked out of the hotel. The front desk called us a taxi which took about 10 minutes to arrive. It continued to pour rain. The taxi arrived and the driver took one look at me and said, “Not to worry, missus, it’s just a little rain.” He asked us where we were from and how long we were in Ireland. We told him we had been in Dublin and were off to puck up our rental car. “Rental car?” he said. “Brave ones, aren’t you?” We told him we had lived in Japan and I jokingly said, “We’re used to driving on the wrong side of the road.” “Watch yourself, missus,” he said. “Could be we’ve got it right and the rest of you lot are wrong.” We told him we were on our way to pick up our rental car and he kept saying, “7 Terenure Road? I’m familiar with that road but I don’t remember a car rental there.” We got to the right place and we saw number 3, 5 then 11 but no 7. Hmmm. He turned around and took a slow cruise back and just above a very narrow doorway was a mimeographed sign that said, “Irish Rental Car”. Hmmm. Not having any other real options (the taxi driver had already scheduled another job, him being busy and it being POURING down rain outside) we dragged our luggage and ourselves into the narrow doorway where another family had already taken most of the luggage space. We piled our and Mark followed another mimeographed sign that said “Reception” with an arrow up the stairs. Being that the other family was standing there, and I was pretty much toxic, we did not engage in any long goodbyes but I was wondering if I would see him again. In a few moments, a woman came downstairs (the mom of the group, I imagine) and she said, “They seem okay once you get upstairs.” A man who looked something like a shaved-bald Lurch came down the stairs, picked up one piece of their luggage and we jockeyed all the luggage around so they could get theirs out. He beckoned them to come with him and they all headed out into the POURING rain. I pulled our luggage back from the door as another family of refugees stumbled in. Feeling smug because my luggage was no longer being rained on, I took the small case and headed upstairs to see if Mark was getting on okay. The upstairs really was fine, with a professional looking desk and signs on it that said, “National/Alamo”. It really WAS okay once you got upstairs. The man at the desk asked us where we were heading and showed us on the large map of Dublin how to get there. We headed downstairs and the Bald Lurch showed up again, took one bag and started r-u-n-n-i-n-g down the street at a long-legged clip in the POURING rain. He yelled back, “Sorry about this, the rental place used to be down the street. It’s only two minutes.” So we jogged after him and off we all trotted. Two minutes later he arrived at the car lot, and we arrived within 45 seconds of him, him having Lurch legs and us not.
Our car is a little (!!!) black Opel, 5 doors with a stick shift. Mark spent a few minutes getting familiar with the operation, the first job being how to turn on the windshield wipers, and off we set, in the POURING rain. It was really coming down and had not let up for one second since we had gotten up in the morning. Luckily the way out of town was quite easy (hope we remember it for the way back!) and in no time we were on the N10 towards Wicklow. Today’s journey would take us through the Wicklow mountains, to Glendalough, where there is a finely preserved round tower among a monastic ruin, and then into Kilkenny. What we realized quite quickly about driving in Ireland is that the Irish government had not spent over amounts of money on road signs. But with only a few turn arounds, we found Glendalough. We saw a sign that said, “Gleadalough Visitor’s Center” and we intended to stop in there and ask directions but it turned out that was the entry to the monastic ruin. This visit (covered by the Irish Heritage Card ) started with a short film about monastic life from the time of St. Patrick (about 450 AD) through the building and eventual desertion of the monastery at Glendalough. Apparently, when Ireland first began to convert to Christianity, men who decided to become monks would find a completely secluded place to pray and meditate. Not exactly outreach oriented. St. Kevin, apparently, chose his place as the place where two lakes meet. As luck would have it, other people liked that spot too and decided to join him so a monastery began. Eventually it was quite something with a round tower, cathedral, a chapel and lots of other buildings. We took a tour which was very informative. The young man leading the tour was a student doing this job on his summer holidays. Glendalough was, apparently, quite the center of worship and monastic life in its day. Eventually the Dominicans and Franciscans showed up, offering a more organized religious life with undoubtedly more power, and the individual monasteries were deserted and fell into ruin. I guess it’s hard to find loyal help even among the monks.
The rain had slowed a bit (not stopped, mind you) and we set off for Kilkenny. We got a sandwich to go at a gas station (corn in the tuna salad—interesting!) and pressed on. We noticed that every now and again a large town would come up (not many, mind you) and the traffic would really slow down, mostly because there were cars parked on both sides of the road and that only left room for one lane of traffic on a two way street. One side would stop and let the oncoming cars go and then the moving side would stop and let the other side go. Very civil, all things considered. We got to the outskirts of Kilkenny and the cars were at a complete standstill. Kilkenny is purported to be Ireland’s Medieval Town, and I guess we weren’t the first to hear of it. We made our way through. Mark was doing a masterful job driving but the funny thing was that I would say, “Make a left turn here,” and he would try and go right. I would say, “No, left!” and he would switch and go left. The bizarre part of this, truly, is anyone who knows me knows that I completely don’t know my right from my left. Really, 99% of the time, I don’t have a clue which hand is left and which is right, seriously. Over here, I seem to be having no difficulty. Mark, whose sense of direction is without error, seems totally discombobulated. Strange.
We took one wrong turn, drove by the castle (Hi, castle!), found a round about at the end of that road that seemed to lead to all points from Kilkenny, circled back into town, found a road towards the center that was just wide enough at most points for our car well greased, and popped out onto a main street. We turned right towards the town centre and what do we see to our right but The Butler Court Guest Lodgings, our B and B. God, I said, watches out for fools and children. We found the parking (quite by lucky chance) and wheeled our bags in the now dripping rain towards the Butler Court. We rang the bell at the gate and this absolutely effervescent woman came trundling out from the back with her hand out. “I’m Yvonne. Welcome. You are?” We introduced ourselves and she took us into the office. She had an envelope with our name on it and she took about 5 to 10 minutes to tell us about attractions in Kilkenny and the surrounding area and pointing out good places to eat and hear music. She even gave us some menus of local places so we could have a look ahead of time. She said the castle was right outside the back door and if we go to the next hotel, in their front door and out their back, through their garden we would be right across the street from the castle. She was as friendly and helpful as she could be. She took us to our room, a large room with a king sized bed and a good sized bathroom, very clean. There is a refrigerator in the room containing milk, butter and yogurt and breakfast fruits, scones, jams and cereals are on the desk. She suggested we hop to the castle quick as can be to see if we could make it in today which we did but all their tours were filled for the day. We went into the Kilkenny Design Centre across the street in a building that must have used to be associated with the castle. We browsed through there for a bit and then went back to the room. It was after 5 by this time and the gate to the garden behind the next door hotel was locked so we had to walk around but it still wasn’t far. We looked at dinner options, picked up the map Yvonne had given us and set off into town. The rain was only dripping at times now. Yvonne had said that yesterday and today were two of the worst days of rain she remembered. That’s a relief. We walked through town, saw St. Canices’s Cathedral which is where the town gets its name (St. Canice—Kilkenny, um, can’t really tell you) and then up to the Black Abbey, so named because the Dominicans who run it wore black cloaks over their white robes or because 8 priests died during the plague. St. Canice’s was closed for the day but the Black Abbey was open so we sent in for a look. It was about 6:00 and two monks were just beginning to chant vespers. It was really interesting walking around this old abbey with the candles and the stained glass and authentic chanting as the sound track.
We had dinner at Kytler’s Inn, a place steeped in stories, tradition and witchcraft. Dinner was pretty much pub food. We had some plans to go find some Irish music but, though I am feeling a lot better today, my energy was beginning to wane so we went back to the hotel. But here’s the current situation: I am awake typing and Mark is sound asleep, proving that Irish driving is more tiring than a vacation sinus infection!


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