Really Old Church Day (Part 2)

 Day 11 / Friday, 21 September 2012

Finally we arrived in Cashel, a town of approximately 4,000 in Co. Tipperary. (This is the town’s website; have a look at the slideshow of photos at the top.) We were there to visit the magnificent Rock of Cashel, once the seat of the kings of Munster (in fact it’s also known as Cashel of the Kings). In 1101—about the time the first stone structure was built (the round tower; everything else would have been wooden)—the King of Munster, Muirchertach Ua Briain, decided to consolidate his power by donating his fortress to the Catholic Church. Of course, he became the archbishop. 🙂

Standing in the parking lot, looking up at the Rock.

Yes, that’s scaffolding. When Gerry and I were here in 2003, the scaffolding was on another part of the site. You can see historic sites swathed in scaffolding all over Ireland, but, frankly, I’m thrilled they take such good care of these things. From here we’ll have to walk down (you can see the way the angle is trending) about a block, then turn right and walk up that hill. It’s not an insignificant hike. 🙂

Now we’re closer, and you can get a sense of the scale. We’ve just rounded the corner and are starting back up. (Margaret’s photo.)

I have no idea of the precise upward angle here, but I assure you, when you have walking pneumonia, it feels like you’re going straight up. 🙂 If you’ve been here before, you may note that this approach near the bottom of the hill has been prettified; nine years ago, there were no bricked sidewalks, just a little asphalt walk, and the road was gravel.

About halfway up the hill. You’re looking at the dormitory where the vicars choral (the singers!) slept. (Margaret’s photo.)

Now turn around and look back. (Margaret’s photo.)

At last! Nearly there—and a pretty view. (Margaret’s photo.)

Jill and Alli were waiting for as at the top of the hill, but decided not to go in, so Margaret and I didn’t waste any time getting inside. I’d bought a beautiful guidebook here in 2003, and realized there were things I’d missed seeing the first time, so I was delighted to have another chance at this beautiful ecclesiastical site.

The Rock seems a hodgepodge of buildings but is really one very large cathedral (built between 1235–1290, with the tower added in the fifteenth century) with a smaller structure—Cormac’s Chapel—nestled in an outside corner of the cruciform cathedral. Actually, though, the chapel was built first, around 1127–1134, and is a spectacular (and unique) Romanesque structure.

The west end of the cathedral. That’s the south transept on the far right; the decayed bit on the left was a residential tower. (Margaret’s photo.)

Looking west beyond the walls of the fortress, you can see the ruins of Hore Abbey, a Cistercian monastery built around 1272. I’ve never walked out there, but I’d like to someday.

Looking north from the Rock of Cashel. Take a closer look—can you see the wind farm? I can see fourteen wind turbines; there may be more on the other side of the hill. Remember, you can click on this photo to enlarge it, and click again to zoom in.

Looking northeast from the Rock of Cashel to the Wicklow Mountains in the far distance.

It’s really beautiful up there. Definitely worth the hike and the six euro. 🙂

These are the sorts of things that fascinate me. Zoom in so you can see the faces on these capitals.

The north transept and the round tower.

The round tower is on the extreme right, almost cut out of the photograph. You’re looking east, at what’s called the choir. The altar would have been up near the end of this room. Early morning services would have been so lovely with the sun streaming in.

It’s just all so beautiful. The sort of place you want to sit down and just … open your eyes. Looking north, northwestish.

Now I’m at the east end of the choir, looking back the way I’ve just come. There’s the round tower, and two small chapels off the north transept.

I really liked the twin chapels. You can’t see the twin chapels on the south transept—from the outside—because that’s where Cormac’s Chapel sits.

I believe this is the north side of the vicars choral hall and dormitory. We looked at the south side of it when we were walking up the hill. The little “steps” under the square holes and along the roofline are interesting. Margaret speculated that perhaps they really were steps, used by workmen during construction. Sounds good to me! (Margaret’s photo.)

Then we walked around to the south side of the building so we could enter Cormac’s Chapel. This is what’s shrouded in scaffolding. So I’m going to do something I wouldn’t normally do, and scan this postcard (below) so you can see this lovely chapel. The stone is a different color, as you can see, and there are many fine architectural details. And you’re seeing it from the side.

Cormac’s Chapel, the Rock of Cashel. Photo © Dept. of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

It’s really something. I’m glad they’re working on it. You see, the building is built of sandstone, which is very absorbent; after centuries of Ireland’s wet climate it’s become waterlogged, which is damaging the interior.

And oh, what an interior! There are two rooms: the nave and the chancel. (You can see them in the photo above; the nave is the larger bit on the left, with the door. The chancel is smaller, and has that one tiny window.) The nave is very plain. The chancel has frescoes.

The nave has a steep barrel-ribbed ceiling. The black is mold resulting from the damp. (Margaret took this one.)

There is that lovely tympanum, decorated with heads of people and animals. The lighter-colored room is the chancel beyond. See the one small window open to the outside? (Margaret’s photo.)

More of the arched doorway. I tried very hard to not use the flash (because I like the color of natural light) but here, in the center of the rooms, it was very dark.

More heads. Just … so beautiful. This guy looks Etruscan to me. 🙂

Looking up into the arched ceiling of the chancel. Imagine what this must have looked like nearly nine hundred years ago when it was freshly painted! OMG. Notice the heads again.

It doesn’t look like much, really; you have to think about it. This has a central arch with what looks like a queen standing in it. Behind, rising above the arch is a castle tower. To the right of her is an unclothed person, holding … a scepter? To the left, down in the corner, someone else standing in an arched doorway. I would love to see an artist’s rendition of what it might have looked like.

More heads, with several styles of facial hair (including clean-shaven). I’m not sure that that one on the far left is human.

I say that because … look at the head on the left here. Looks like a wild-eyed horse. Or a dragon?

Even the ribs in the chancel were painted. How magnificent this must have been! And very expensive to produce.

This partly damaged stone sarcophagus isn’t original to the chapel, though it is to the site. The official guidebook tells us this is the Scandanavian Urnes style and, like the chapel itself, is unique in all of Ireland. (Margaret’s photo.)

We also visited the vicars choral hall and dormitory (the plain buildings on the outer edge of the site; we passed them walking up the hill). These have been restored to what they might have looked like in medieval times—complete with kitchen angels.

Now I ask you, with half a dozen smiling angels in this room, how could I resist Cranky Agnes?

Jill and Alli were waiting for us when we emerged from the Rock. It was late afternoon, we hadn’t had lunch, and Alli was a little peckish. (Well, so was I!) So we drove into the town of Cashel—which was getting ready to roll up the sidewalks, it seemed. All the tourists had moved on, and we just wanted a place to eat.

And we found it! It was nearly closing time at Ryan’s Daughter, a little café, but they welcomed us right in. We sat in the window.

Alli and Ryan’s Daughter. Good food served all day … until 5:30pm. 🙂

Delightful! Just the sort of place we were looking for!

Alli, tired. Isn’t she lovely? She looks so much like my mother it’s astonishing.

There were a couple of groups of older men at their dinner when we came in, but the place was winding down. While we ate, our server’s son arrived from school, and she settled him at a table to do his homework.

The food was luscious. I had the roast pork, which came piled with mashed vegetables: cauliflower, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, and peas (which weren’t mashed, of course). Also a very tart applesauce—the combination of brown gravy, applesauce, and pork was heaven. Very hearty meal. Afterward, we looked at their dessert case, and Alli and I shared a serving of apple pie with custard and ice cream. I loved that there was little sugar used in the pie—the fruit carried it.

Ryan’s Daughter roast pork plate. Clockwise from the pork: applesauce, parsnips, potatoes, peas, cauliflower, carrots. Yum.

Now it was time to get on down the road to Cork, about an hour away. At last we had a major highway (the M8), which took us all the way in. We knew our B&B was close to the city center, just a couple blocks north of the River Lee, which bisects the city. We figured Emily would get us there.

Well, we still had one more adventure left in the day. 🙂

If you know Cork (say it like a Corkman: KARK), you know that north side is very hilly. It’s San Francisco hilly, y’all. And Emily took us, as is her wont, the direct route, which meant we were on tiny back streets, very narrow, twisting and turning, climbing up and up, higher on the Cork hillside. Much of it was only wide enough for one car (because of parked cars, everywhere) and you couldn’t always see around the curve due to walls and bushes. It was crazy and nerve-wracking, and my traveling companions were having conniptions. Frankly, I was having conniptions; it was the single most difficult driving I did on the whole trip.

Have a look at the map. We came in on the M8, junctioned with the N8, then exited onto Lover’s Walk. Go ahead, look it up; I’ll wait. Put that little yellow man right on that street. Have a look. Lover’s Walk runs roughly parallel to, but not in sight of, the river. It’s got a rock wall on one side when you start; then it has rock wall on both sides, like an alley. God help me, it is an alley. The neighborhoods seem very nice; I believe this is a fashionable part of town. (I’m only now seeing it, thanks to Google Maps and this little video with the very unpleasant music; I was driving, before, and a little nervous.) The locals know it is a tight fit; there is a lot of pulling over and waiting for the other guys to come through. And they deal with us Americans who are freaking out relatively patiently, it seems, though perhaps they are cursing under their breath. 🙂

Finally we got to a split and didn’t know which way to go; Alli had been navigating with Emily (very well, I should add), and it wasn’t clear. We were at Montenotte Road; have a look at the street view there. Lover’s Walk continues up and around a blind corner. I stopped right there; there was enough room for people to get around us on both sides. “Call the B&B,” I said.

So Alli called and we got good directions. Alli was so friendly and sweet and handled the call so well! I’m so proud of who she is: brave and fearless and calmly pulling it together exactly when it’s needed. Astonishingly, we were on the right way. Just another block and we merged with and were on Middle Glanmire Road, which, though still alley-ish, has room for two cars to pass without scraping. (Imagine that!) And then Middle Glanmire connected with (became) Wellington Road and—hey presto!—we were on a real street and it was the one we needed to be on.

The Auburn House B&B, Cork City, Co. Cork, Ireland. Heaven! (Margaret’s photo.)

They were waiting for us with ’bated breath when we finally pulled up in front of the Auburn House B&B. Proprietor Olive greeted us with a hurried “Let’s get your bags unloaded and your car parked and get you out on the town!” You see, it was Culture Night all over Ireland, a Friday night of free cultural events, from concerts and performances to museums and talks and galleries and … well, you get the idea. Everything stays open ’til midnight. Once a year.

So we got the bags upstairs—and thank goodness Olive carried mine; I don’t know that I would have been able to do it myself. Margaret has noted that this townhouse was probably built sometime in the nineteenth century; the parlor and dining room became the breakfast (dining) room, and bedrooms are stacked up at various levels. The stairs in the place literally went in several directions: as she said, “upstairs and downstairs and to milady’s chamber”!

Margaret took this picture standing halfway down the flight of stairs leading to our room. You could get lost in this maze!

Jill and Alli had taken off into town armed with a map by the time I straggled back downstairs. But the car still had to be moved, as there was no street parking. However, the B&B has made arrangements for their guests to park in a little gated car park around the corner, just off York Street. (Actually, it’s the parking lot of a little church that has become completely surrounded by other buildings.) Olive’s middle-school-age son (and his buddy) went down to open the gate while I drove around the block to come up the one-way street to enter the parking lot. Then I walked back up York Street, which was, no joke, the same steep incline as we’d climbed at Rock of Cashel.

Corner of Wellington Road and York Street. The grey building is the same building as the Auburn House, though I don’t know if the rooms on this side belong to the B&B.

Looking down York Street. See the pink building on the far right of this photo? There’s an alley just past it, in between the pink and the yellow.

This is the alley to the car park. You can barely see the pink house on the left and the yellow on the right. That’s a church on the other side of the gate.

I don’t mind telling you it took me a few minutes to climb back up the street, me with my one lung. Olive—who should be hired by the Cork Chamber of Commerce, if there is such a thing—sat down with Margaret and I and told us all about the town and gave us maps. She is lovely, really. When I explained I’d been diagnosed with pneumonia the previous day and didn’t think I could go out on the town, she jumped right up and brought us a pot of tea (the cure for anything, really) and cookies and fruit. “Here’s some to take up to your room too,” she said.

We did go out—just down Wellington Street about a half block to an open-air market with street food. Just to see. They had live music and some crafts. We didn’t eat, after having had tea and cookies, but it smelled wonderful. Still it was getting on to nine o’clock, and I was truly exhausted. Margaret’s cold was improving, but I was just getting started on the antibiotics and “improvement” was yet to come.

Today’s Image

That group of four men who were eating at Ryan’s Daughter finished before us and left. And then I looked up … and there they were, standing in “our” window, taking a photograph! Who knows what the occasion was? It was still quite touching.

I grabbed my camera as quickly as I could, but they’d already started to move off. This was a sweet moment.