So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 8): Finding the Magic

This series started with an introduction, and here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

In every long-awaited trip, there is a moment in which you open your eyes a little wider and think, Oh my. This was so worth it. Or you open your mouth and say it to your traveling companion. Sometimes it happens at the end of the day and one of your party says, “I think [insert activity here] was my favorite thing so far.”

When that happens, you’ve had a magic moment.

On my first trip to Ireland in 2003, Gerry and I were driving from one point to another on a Sunday morning and happened to pass Jerpoint Abbey. It hadn’t been on our itinerary, but there it was. Was it open? We walked in. The place was deserted. I took some stunning photos (back in the days when you had to send film off and hope you’d gotten good shots), taking my time to look at every single rock and blade of grass. The morning was silent but for the blackbirds flying above our heads. I can still remember everything like it was yesterday—it was magic.

The altar at Jerpoint Abbey.

The altar at Jerpoint Abbey.

Most of these moments are completely unplanned—what else could they be?—but there are two things you can do to invite the magic to show up.

1. Accept the fact that you’re going to be out of your comfort zone. Relax.
2. Allow plenty of time, both in days and hours. Cut, don’t cram.

Both of these things seem self-evident, but you’d be surprised how many American travelers I’ve run into who aren’t really enjoying a long-awaited vacation, and it can almost always be tracked back to these two things. So let’s review.

Remember, this isn’t the United States—you will be out of your comfort zone. That’s a guarantee. So adjust your attitude now. Unlock your preconceived notions and set those puppies loose, friends. It always astonishes me when folks whine about some little thing that is “different.” Because I say, YAY! I’ll be home soon enough. These differences will make your memories. These differences will engage your mind. These differences are things you’ll be thinking about years later. Embrace them.

Americans also have a tendency to try to cram as much as they can into their vacation time—but let’s rethink that too. If you’re looking at the map you may think, Oh, it’s only fifty miles. But if you’re driving that fifty miles in second gear—and I’ve done that, due to road conditions (that is, mountain-y roads)—it’s going to take awhile. You think this is a small country, but the roads are narrow and you don’t know how to drive on them. (Trust me on this.)

So cut your itinerary, don’t cram it. You don’t want to be running from one must-see venue to the next, zigzagging all over the country, driving, driving, driving. You won’t enjoy any of it. And you’ll drive right past the magic.

Some of this crammed-itinerary phenomenon has to do with the difference between abundance thinking and scarcity thinking. That’s another post for another time, but in this context it simply means you should assume not that this is the only time you’ll ever take a trip to a foreign land, but that life is long and abundant, and you’ll be back to see those things you left off your itinerary this time. Slow it down. Your experience will be richer if you take the time to fully savor your adventure.

This can be said about life in general, of course, but that, too, is another post for another time. 🙂

Make sure you build enough unstructured time into each day for dawdling. Gerry and I stopped for lunch at a pub in a small village (Leap). The back door was open, and we could hear water running; when we looked, there was a picnic table next to a little brook. We sat and ate there. Then we lingered over a fresh pot of tea, reading the newspaper we’d pulled from the rack out front. Doesn’t sound like much to you, maybe, but I remember that as a magic moment.

Stop frequently, for no reason than to stretch your legs. If you see something you’d like to photograph, pull over. Found a beach? Take a walk. Say hello; talk to the people you meet. Turn off the main road if you see an interesting sign; 2 kilometers is barely more than a mile, so check it out. Go on.

I’ve learned to keep a loosey-goosey schedule, so there’s always a plan B, in case we find a venue closed or too crowded. I’ve also learned to simply let things go, quickly, if they’re not working out. Flat tire? Put the spare on and drive to the next town. Don’t stew. You’ve paid too much for this vacation in money, energy, and time to spoil it by fretting over things you can’t control. I once took some fantastic photographs of a thunderstorm from the garage of a tire shop near Kenmare. Magic. 🙂

A sudden shower, over in five minutes!

A sudden shower, over in five minutes! See the tires?

Look for the magic, and you’ll find it. My friend Margaret and I were at St. Fin Barre’s cathedral in Cork when lunchtime arrived. “Is there a good restaurant good close by?” we asked a docent we’d been chatting with earlier. “Would a vegetarian place be OK?” She referred us to Café Paradiso. “I wouldn’t say it’s close, but you can walk there,” she said. So we did. It was packed at three o’clock in the afternoon, and in spite of our not having a reservation (!), they fit us in. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life. The ambience was electric, there was a couple at the table next to us who were relishing the meal and each other, and … well, it was magic. (Later, back home, I learned the restaurant is famous. Who knew!)

We had another magic meal on that trip—pears we’d picked up at a grocery store a week earlier and let ripen to perfection (juicy and sweet), eaten with a hunk of Cashel Blue we’d purchased earlier that day. Much less fussy than eating at a world-famous café, but just as memorable.

Remember the stealth sheep? I count that a magic moment. I count as magic the time we stopped by the side of the road so I could call my college-age son to get some important news; I woke him up. The sun was sparkling on the sea far below, and the news was very, very good.

Somewhere in County Donegal.

Stopping to make a phone call, somewhere in County Donegal.

I could go on and on. (And I will post other “magic moments” later.) The point I’m trying to make is this: Dawdling is allowed. There will be no tests on this vacation, no prizes awarded for Most Things Seen. Instead, look for your beauty, look for your delight … and you will find it. Magic.

A Sunday Drive

Day 13 / Sunday, 23 September 2012

We were up and in Olive’s capable breakfast hands by nine o’clock. We were leaving Cork—we’d all loved it—but had a delightful day ahead of us yet.

Olive is a hoot. So personable, so generous, always smiling—and it’s clear she truly enjoys people.

I can’t tell you enough how much we all loved our stay at the Auburn House. It’s exactly what you look for in a B&B: comfy, quiet, reasonably priced. And Olive and her husband are just swell. I walked down to the car park to bring the car around and realized—go ahead, laugh—I didn’t have the car keys. So I huffed and puffed back up the hill and Olive took one look at me and sent Kieran off to do it.

Did I mention they’re good sports too? Margaret and I stayed in this room.

Everything was ready and waiting at the curb when he got there with the car. (Margaret’s photo.)

By this time I thought I was familiar enough with Cork—and the map of Cork—that I could get us to the highway but … I was not. We got a little lost. (It seemed so simple!) So finally we relied on GPS Emily, who did get us out of town. We were going to take a leisurely drive along the N71, a repeat of the route Gerry and I had taken, also on a Sunday, back in 2003. As then, our destination was Kenmare, taking the much-less-direct scenic route; I remembered this as a leisurely day, with plenty of time to stop, take pictures, and so on. Go ahead and pull it up on Google Maps—you’ll see.

And we hit the road, first heading due south out of Cork, with gradual tweaks to the west … through Bandon (pop. 6,640) … Clonakilty (pop. 4,150) … Rosscarbery (pop. 936). We were headed toward Glandore, and the Drombeg stone circle; right around Rosscarbery we left the N71 for the R597, thinking we were on our way.

But we weren’t, actually. I have searched and searched and searched Google Maps, trying to figure out where we ended up—but no joy. (I’m not kidding when I say I spent at least an hour looking at Google street photos, “driving” up and down the coast trying to determine the location. Something has changed, I guess.)

We ended up here, at a little beach. There was an empty lot, we pulled into it, got out, and crossed the road to this.

There were a couple people there with their dogs, but otherwise it was just us. And the rocks.

Most of the beach was this: round-ish, flat-ish rocks. (Margaret’s photo.)

Gosh, it was lovely. Misty, quiet. There were houses scattered around, but there didn’t seem to be a town, per se. We spent quite a bit of time there, taking pictures and picking up rocks (the two I picked up are sitting on the bookcase in the living room).

A few houses scattered around … and this is their private beach. (Margaret’s photo.)

It was pretty scenic. Lots of photos being taken. 🙂

Did I mention the rocks?

This is the sort of thing I never get tired of.

I’m always fascinated by shapes and lines. This is the dune grass. Don’t forget you can click on these photos to enlarge them.

I was intrigued by the gulls, floating on the water in a small flock. Waves were coming in at a good little clip, and they’d ride one until it was about to crest, then flutter up into the air—and settle back down again once it was past. Over and over. I walked back to the car to get the long lens and took several shots.

The seagulls: float, fly, settle, float, fly, settle, float, fly, settle.

Finally I asked one of the dog-walkers if we were on the road to Glandore. Nope! But he gave us directions and off we went, taking pictures along the way.

It’s pretty country. That’s the sea in the distance on the left.

We backtracked and followed the signs and all was well. Gerry and I just happened on the stone circle back in 2003; it wasn’t a plan. So I was a bit shocked to read in Wikipedia that this site is “one of the most visited megalithic sites in Ireland.” It is a one-lane road that takes you to Drombeg, and on that sunny day in 2003, we drove the last two or three hundred yards or so on a cart track, with the fuchsias lining the lane brushing the car on both sides. Let me tell you, I am genuinely glad we didn’t meet someone coming the opposite direction from this most-visited site.

Which is why, apparently, they’ve installed a little car park, right where the road goes from one lane to cart track.

This is the little cart track. I don’t remember the stone wall, only walls of fuchsias. (Margaret’s photo.)

Fuchsias—they’re everywhere in Ireland. And they come in a rainbow of colors.

So we parked, and walked up the lane. It’s a nice little stroll, listening to the bees buzz in the fuchsia. As always, Jill and Alli were long out of sight up the lane, but then I looked around and I was alone. Margaret wasn’t with me. Margaret? I called. Margaret? I walked back. Margaret? Then there she was, coming around the curve looking very self-satisfied, with a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin—she’s been picking and eating wild blackberries. 🙂

And then there we were—step through a hedge, and there is a Bronze Age circle.

Drombeg stone circle. It’s right there. Here the two prominent stones in the foreground are the portal stones; on the right-hand side of the photo toward the back is the recumbent altar stone.

The recumbent stone, known as Druid’s Altar, can be glimpsed on the left, just to the right of the leaning stone. (Margaret’s photo.)

I kept trying to show you the altar stone, which I’d failed to get a good shot of. But here it is in all its glory! (Jill’s photo.)

I kept trying to show you the altar stone, which I’d failed to get a good shot of. But here it is in all its glory! (Jill’s photo.)

This is the stone in the center of the circle. Some little offerings had been recently left.

Just west of the circle are the remains of two prehistoric huts and their cooking pit, called a fulacht fiadh. This is how the ancients cooked: the pit was filled with water, perhaps diverted from a stream. A fire was built next to the pit; stones were heated in the fire, then dropped into the water, which then came to a boil—and cooked the meat placed in the water.

The cooking pit. (Margaret’s photo.)

When cooking was finished, the water was allowed to run out of the pit.

What’s left of the two huts, which were conjoined.

Back in the car, we continued on the R597 to rejoin the N71. This would take us through the village of Glandore. We stopped along the way, of course, to take photos! Lots of photos!

On the R597 headed toward Glandore, which is arranged along the right side of this bay, mostly out of view here. But look for the grey church (steeple on the left), down near the water. (Margaret’s photo.)

Looking the other way, this is the mouth of Glandore Harbour. (Margaret’s photo.)

Now we’re in Glandore. See the mouth of the harbor? Those two islands are called Adam and Eve (although I don’t know which is which). Instructions given to sailors are “Avoid Adam and hug Eve”! (Margaret’s photo.)

Same spot, looking the other direction. The church I mentioned earlier is just out of frame on the far right.

As we came through Glandore, we realized Alli needed her morning coffee and it was noon and we were all ready for something to eat. And there was a pub … so we stopped. I don’t mind saying we would have a very memorable lunch here. 🙂

I’ve always been in Ireland during the off-season, so I only hear about things like the regatta held here every August. Glandore Harbour is large, long and narrow—perfect for such sailing events. The village itself has a population of less than a thousand, but several nice restaurants and pubs (although there are no shops).

This is the main street in Glandore. I don’t even like to think about what this tiny street is like in the summer months!

It’s a pub. (Margaret’s photo.)

The Glandore Inn looked nice and we went inside. And even though you’ll have noticed how overcast it was, even though there was a considerable amount of mist in the air, we decided to sit outside. Because all in all it was a very nice day—and there was that spectacular view of the bay.

Deciding what we’ll have for lunch, but it was hard with that view distracting me.

Here’s that church again, just a little way down the road from where we sat.

We had a really, really nice lunch. I chose parsnip and blue cheese soup (it was wonderful) and Margaret is still raving about the fish chowder she had. It even rained on us once, but such was the charm of the day that no one panicked, no one rose to take cover. This was Ireland, after all; we just carried on. And the rain passed after a few minutes. We lingered and enjoyed the moment. There was a little dog that belonged to the owners of the B&B down the road … but who was apparently a regular at the pub, as she had her own bowl just outside the door—although her preference was for treats from the patrons (Jill slipped her a few goodies).

Parsnip and blue cheese soup. It was MAH-velous.

But Kenmare was waiting, so we followed the road back up to Leap (locals pronounce it Lep; the population is fewer than one thousand) then turned west onto the N71. Through Skibbereen (pop. 2,000) … and then we spent a little time trying to find the Baltimore Beacon, although we eventually had to turn back without success. Those tiny roads can get confusing, and the afternoon was wearing on, and we still had a way to go to get to Kenmare. And that way isn’t always easy driving.

So … onward, N71. Turned sharply north at Ballydehob (pop. 810) and headed toward Bantry (pop. 3,309), which has a spectacular bay. The road drives right alongside the water, and has many places to pull over to admire the natural beauty.

An early look at Bantry Bay.

Just before you get into Bantry town, there is a bayside cemetery that really grabs your attention. Gerry and I had stopped here in 2003—before they turned it into a tourist attraction. Bantry Bay is quite large, and has been the site of more than one maritime disaster—now memorialized in a small park just next to the cemetery (which seems to house local residents, not disaster victims). This turned out to be a theme on this trip: things have been “improved” … but I mostly don’t care much for the improvements.

It’s quite crowded, this cemetery just outside Bantry.

But then … this. I know it’s intended to be all beautiful and hopeful (see next photo) but honestly, it spooked me.

In remembrance of those who lost their lives in Bantry Bay.

Perhaps you see it as the spirit of love? Looks too much like drowning people to me. (I should add that drowning is a personal freak-out fear of mine.)

And then back in the car! We must keep going! Except, of course, when nature calls in Glengarriff (population 800). We popped into a gas station to use the facilities. Next door, a massive hotel. Across the street, still, the bay.

This is the Glengarriff Eccles Hotel.

Walked across the street to look at the beautiful bay. See those mountains? We’re about to drive through them.

As we drove through the shopping district in Glengarriff, some shops piqued our interest, so we stopped again. The most interesting thing (although one shop had some nice sweaters, with a good selection and prices—and if you’re in Ireland, a sweater is a good souvenir to buy) turned out to be the garda (police) station!

It’s pink! And look at those magnificent hydrangeas! They were were fading, nearing the end of their season, but still lovely, I thought. (Margaret’s photo.)

When Gerry and I were making our way to Kenmare nine years ago, he warned me that those last twenty miles into the town are … exciting (even with the pause!), and I did try to warn my traveling companions how wildly beautiful it is, the pass through the Caha Mountains … in the late afternoon … in the rain … through the tunnels. I have tons of photos of this stretch of the road from that trip. I have no photos from this trip, as the mountain road was a little too exciting for some members of the party. So we just didn’t stop. 🙂 However, I want you to see this—so here’s a little video that I am thrilled to have located. And it was made on a pretty, sunny day.

At last we arrived in Kenmare (pop. 2,175). In the pouring rain (although it did stop, finally). Both times I’ve been here it’s been late in the day without any time left on the schedule to explore … and what was on the schedule today was dinner at Tom Crean’s, a locally celebrated restaurant. (We also lodged here for the night; there are a few rooms upstairs, though it is not a B&B, as no breakfast is offered.) It’s named for Kerryman Tom Crean, who enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen and in 1901 volunteered to join Robert Scott’s Antarctic expedition. He participated in four major British expeditions to Antarctica, including the one led by Ernest Shackleton.

A view of Tom Crean’s restaurant and accommodations, on the corner. Parking must be found on the street. You check in inside, but then must come back outside and walk around the corner to go up to the rooms. Interesting. Our room was on the corner. (Margaret’s photo.)

View (to the left) from our window—yes! And Margaret actually got to visit. (Margaret’s photo.)

View straight out of our window. We had breakfast here the next morning. (Margaret’s photo.)

Beautiful downtown Kenmare! I love how wide the street is, actually. (Margaret’s photo.)

As noted, Tom Crean’s has quite a word of mouth reputation for fine dining, and we were looking forward to it—even more so because Gerry knows the owner/chef. He had called and made these reservations especially for us. And as it turns out, this may have set the bar for our expectations too high.

I’m sure the restaurant is very nice. Lots of folks have left glowing reviews on TripAdvisor and such. But it wasn’t good for us. Jill and Alli declined to eat there, and they may have been right to do so. Again, the service was very, very slow. We’d had slow service at the Shelbourne for tea, it was slowish at the Pearl Brasserie in Dublin, it was very slow at Paradiso Café, the vegetarian restaurant in Cork. And it was extremely slow at Tom Crean’s.

Again, I think this is must be an Irish thing. I was checking the review of Tom Crean’s and found this, from the owner/chef: “As regards the bill, I have warned the staff to allow guests to relax and enjoy their evening and not present the bill until requested.” So clearly this is a cultural difference from the States; we are brought a bill, usually with a cheerful “don’t rush!” and we sit there until we are ready to get up. No one feels pressure just because the bill is lying there, nor do we feel pressured if the bill’s been paid and we’re still sitting there chatting. So that’s an illumination, for sure, about how to dine out in Ireland.

But get this: we were seated at 6:30, and the restaurant wasn’t busy, just a couple people in the dining room. It had been a long day, and we were ready to eat. Bread was brought, which we devoured, but the water didn’t come with it; we weren’t brought water until after 7:00. The starters arrived at 7:30. (Mine was French onion soup, but thickened, and not all that special; I’ve had better out of a can, honestly.) Again, the dining room was quiet; this was Sunday evening. The menu is predominantly fish and seafood, which is not good for me; I ordered the one chicken item on the menu, and it was unmemorable. Although I did eat it, because it didn’t arrive until after 8:00. That’s ninety minutes before the entrée arrived. And yes, we waited and waited and waited for the check; it was 9:30 before we were released from this award-winning (and expensive!) restaurant.

I should note that not all the service was this slow: the man at the next table came in long after us and was served before us. He was eating his dessert by the time our entrees arrived. So not only did we not get any sort of acknowledgment (“Oh, you’re the Yanks Gerry called us about!”), we actually got worse service than others in the room. I really hate to give a bad review, especially to a place I’d really anticipated with excitement. I hate to say it, also, because I checked the reviews online as I wrote this, and while most are enthusiastic, a few folks had the same sort of experience we had—slow service, so-so food, and high prices—and in every case, the owner responded very defensively (at least to these American eyes).

I won’t recommend this as a place to stay either. There’s no parking; you park on the street (good luck with that) and then roll your luggage up the hill. And you enter the accommodations from outside the restaurant. The wi-fi didn’t work; I called and asked what I was doing wrong but got no sympathy other than “It’s slow for us too.” Our room was freezing, with three single beds squished into it; the light in the hall was on all night; the rooms had ridiculous antique keys that were difficult to use every time. There was also a sharp point (the end of a nail, hammered up from the bottom) sticking up on the tabletop; I became aware of it pretty quickly but a person could hurt herself on that. The tiny cheap duvet cover barely covered the top of the bed; I had to tuck myself in like a sleeping bag to stay covered. I don’t think they’re particularly interested in the lodging part of the business, frankly. Which is fine; I don’t think I’ll ever go there again. Good night!

Today’s Image

The man seated at the table next to us in Tom Crean’s seemed to get a meal from a different chef in a different kitchen. He relished every bite. Then he chose the cheese tray from the dessert menu—and I truly lusted after it. There were four different cheeses, with fruit, artfully arranged. I could have easily made a meal from it! Yum!

The Republic of Cork

Day 12 / Saturday, 22 September 2012

I had been trying to stay on top of work; I’d had to bring one edit with me on the trip. But, you know, I was on vacation! I really wanted to not work. After everyone went bed last night, I sat up past eleven o’clock, trying to work a little; I’d found it was best to work late at night or in the early morning when the others were sleeping—quieter, easier to focus.

Then I got in bed … and tried to get comfortable. I wished! This was my third night in a hard, narrow twin bed—I do realize I’ve become very spoiled to my thick, king-sized bed back home, and I am always prepared to be out of my comfort zone—but these thin mattresses and lack of box springs were a whole new brand of uncomfortable. And even though I was up late, I was also up early—because my body clock just goes off.

So I took photos! This was one view from our window. Note the bike.

And the rest of it. I’m quite charmed by the window boxes.

Out the door of our room, down four steps, and halfway up a different set of stairs, there was a window on the opposite side of the building, and a view—sort of—of the church where the car was parked. It’s completely surrounded on all sides by buildings, except for that small alley. Sundays must be interesting. 🙂

I love the steeple. Wonder how far up in it you can go … and whether or not I’d get claustrophobic.

Just as I was contemplating the view, a flock of birds startled up; I snapped a couple quick shots before they were gone.

We met Jill and Alli in the dining room at nine o’clock; that seemed to be a time that worked for all of us. I had my usual: muesli mixed with yogurt as an appetizer before the fry-up. I loved tasting the different variations of black and white pudding—my favorite part of the full Irish. The black pudding Olive served Auburn House was delish. Then Jill and Alli set off and Margaret and I did, too; we agreed to meet back at the little food garden that evening for a street food supper.

We’d been told about a little flea market right around the corner, but when we passed at 10:15, we saw it wouldn’t open until 11:00. But a fortuitous meeting: the proprietor (a young man, mid-twenties, and what I would call a hippie, though perhaps his generation has another term) had just been let out of a van to unlock the building. He was rough-looking (rough as if he were poor) and quite a talker. He let us in early, and then it turns out the place filled up right away. Most seemed to be vendors, but I could have sworn the street had been empty, so where did these folks come from? All were “hippies”—fond memories for me—I love that free-spirited look, that attitude, and loved that they just materialized seemingly out of nowhere.

The flea market on York Street. (Actually, it’s called Mother Jones Flea Market.)

We browsed around—you never know what you’re going to find in these places—but the hippies were much more entertaining than the merchandise. (As we went on through our day in Cork, we noticed lots and lots of young folks with that funky street-people look.) In the end, we didn’t buy anything at the flea market, but the young man had a self-made “magazine” that I bought to be supportive. I am sure I overpaid, but perhaps he had a pint on me later. 🙂

Our intention was to go down a couple blocks and to the hop-on-hop-off bus stop Olive had marked on the map for us … to tour Cork (like tourists! Ha!). But we were just standing there by the river getting chilly and realized we could be waiting awhile.

The River Lee from St. Patrick’s Quay, Cork. That’s St. Patrick’s Bridge; this incarnation of it was built in 1859.

So we starting walking further—crossing St. Patrick’s Bridge—to make our way to the tourist office and the main terminal for the hop-on-hop-off … and we stumbled into Oliver Plunkett Street.

Oliver Plunkett Street … in Irish.

Oh, hello, really delightful shopping district! Oliver Plunkett Street is closed to all but pedestrian traffic, and was filled with little shops interspersed with designer boutiques, and so on. If you can’t find it on Oliver Plunkett Street, you don’t need it. 🙂

Shall we shop? Why yes! I think we shall! (Margaret’s photo.)

We kept working our way toward our destination, but shopped all along the route. We stopped in a music instrument shop (I bought CDs), then a cooking shop (I bought a tea cozy), a little touristy Irish trinket shop, a chemist’s to buy Kleenex … and then we found Mr. Simms Olde Sweet Shop (punctuation is Mr. Simms’s, not mine).

I told you the Irish know how to do candy right. (Margaret’s photo.)

I wish I’d bought more Simpkins Travel Sweets.

This was a high-end candy shop where I bought Simpkins Travel Sweets—hard candies in orange, lemon, and grapefruit, probably my fave flavors. I was using them to keep myself from coughing so much.

The English Market, Oliver Plunkett Street entrance, Cork City. (Margaret’s photo.)

And then we happened on the English Market. There’s been a market on this site since 1788. And oh my goodness. If I lived in Cork, I would only shop for groceries there. Fresh everything—fish right off the boat, chicken, aged beef, deli meats, breads, sweets. It was incredible. Too bad we’d recently had breakfast!

I’ll have a little of everything, please. That Crozier Blue in the lower left is made with sheep’s milk. (Margaret’s photo.)

Fresh salmon at the English Market.

This was the fresh fish aisle, I think. All sorts!

A yummy-looking deli selection. (Margaret’s photo.)

English Market bakery. (Margaret’s photo.)

Jill and Alli were there, too, just a little earlier. :)

Jill and Alli were there, too, just a little earlier. 🙂

When we left the English Market we were just a block away from the HOHO terminus, but when we arrived—slow walkers, we—we still had a thirty-minute wait for the next bus. We whiled a little time away enjoying the way the light was striking this memorial on the Grand Parade, just across from the Tourist Information Office. Unveiled on St. Patrick’s Day in 1906, this Irish Gothic–style monument commemorates Irish patriots and the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, and 1867. It’s called the National Monument of Cork.

It’s quite large. The National Monument, Cork City.

This is “Mother Erin.” The National Monument, Cork City. Note the lovely marble columns.

Don’t forget you can click on these photos, then click again to zoom in. The National Monument.

So … a conference: what do we want to see, really? Answer: St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral. And that was in walking distance. Why wait for the bus?

It’s just right over there, really. At the National Monument, Cork City. (Margaret’s photo.)

And we just started walking and made our way slowly there. I have a lung problem and Margaret has fragile feet. We are a matched set in terms of getting around. 🙂

See? That’s St. Fin Barre’s in the distance. We’re standing on the Nano Nagle Bridge (I just report these things, kids) just off the Grand Parade, crossing to Sullivan’s Quay. (You know this is pronounced KEE, don’t you?)

Let’s zoom in. That’s the South Gate Bridge; it was built in 1713.

As is always the case, the journey is just a little further than you think. 🙂 I remember looking at the Eiffel Tower from atop the Arc de Triomphe and thinking it wasn’t all that far. Uh-huh. Still, the walk itself was interesting.

A good part of our walk was along the south channel of the River Lee (I don’t know if “south channel” what they call it). I was fascinated by the flora along the river wall. This was taken right at French’s Quay.

A close-up: loved the flowers.

And then … there it was.

Well, we’re almost there!

We were both intrigued by those stairs on the left. Where did they lead? (Margaret’s photo.)

This is the back gate to St. Fin Barre’s.

St. Fin Barre—Fionnbarra in Irish—founded a monastery on this site in the seventh century. And as it was consecrated land, a succession of churches rose and fell here. During medieval times there was a Catholic cathedral (from which a carved doorway survives) but during the Protestant Reformation (around 1536), that cathedral became part of the Established Church (what we know now as the Church of Ireland).

There would be one more cathedral built here before the present structure, which began in 1864 and was consecrated in 1870. This building is a Victorian interpretation of a thirteenth-century French Gothic cathedral … and is still unfinished.

It’s quite lovely, I think. (Margaret’s photo.)

It was a delightful walk through the graveyard to the front of the church, which faces Bishop Street—away from the center of town. (Margaret’s photo.)

It was sunny and pretty as we made our way forward. (Margaret’s photo.)

It’s really something up close! St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

I loved this piggy gargoyle.

And then we walked around front. St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

It’s a lot to take in. St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

We were greeted by a grey-haired docent and encouraged to enjoy the cathedral. “Don’t forget to light a candle,” she said, and handed one to each of us. After my prayer, I sat down near the front on the center aisle and just … looked. As I say, it’s a lot to take in, outside and inside. (Also, of course, I needed to catch my breath.)

The apse and ceiling, St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

Looking straight up, St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

Now looking straight behind: the pipes and rose window.

Everywhere you looked, so much detail—and with local Irish stone. I loved this image of the Green Man.

Margaret got a nice shot of some of the stained glass windows, which were exquisite.

Margaret asked where this door led—and was told it goes nowhere! An organ loft was planned, the door built, but the loft was never built. The carving above the door is the Old Testament King David … playing an Irish harp, of course. (Margaret’s photo.)

Fin Barre’s was beautiful. We sat in the sanctuary for a long time. The lovely lady in the gift shop came forward to chat with us as we sat there—folks hear the accent, I guess—and we asked her about a place to eat; it was past lunchtime. After some discussion—the places that were close were just so-so, but we didn’t want to have to go too far—she directed us to a vegetarian restaurant, Café Paradiso. She even drew us a map. And off we went. (Well, after pausing outside: the bells began ringing, joyously. Check the link: you can hear them too. What a finale to our visit!)

It was an interesting walk, along an area of town that was once the site of a Dominican friary, which had been named St. Mary’s of the Isle (the original Cork City sits on a series of islands large and small in the River Lee); you can read that story here. Of course, the Dissolution of the Monasteries did them in, and the monastery is long gone, although the name remains. Now the Sisters of Mercy have a convent on the site.

Convent of Mercy, St. Marie’s of the Isle, Cork.

Once past the convent, you reach Wandesford Quay, which crosses the Lee to Washington Street (also known as Lancaster Quay). The pale blue building, fourth from the right, is Café Paradiso. (Margaret’s photo.)

We were headed to the Café Paradiso and arrived at three o’clock in the afternoon; the place was packed. “Do you have a reservation?” we were asked. Ummm, no. (Check the online review sites: Reservations essential they say. I imagine this is absolutely true for the evening hours.) Fortunately a spot was found for us and we would soon understand why it was so busy: the food is astonishingly good (even for a committed meat-eater like myself). I mean, it was so good, I wanted to lick the plates.

We truly had no idea that it’s famous, for heaven’s sake, but it is. Like, celebrity-famous. It’s a chef-owned restaurant, has garnered many awards, and thus has spawned four best-selling cookbooks. I am kicking myself, now, for not purchasing one; they were all available there in the restaurant.

My first plate untouched. I’ve checked the website and this is no longer on the menu (it changes seasonally). I had ordered off the summer tapas menu.

Now opened: it’s arancini (that is, a fried rice ball) with a Mossfield cheese center, sitting on what the restaurant tells me is salsa verde. (It is not what I’d call salsa verde, but …) And it was way yummy!

My second plate: potato quiche-like thing (actually, sort of like scalloped potatoes, only drier) sitting on a rosemary aioli sauce, with a spicy sweet pepper jam. It was a wonderful taste combination!

Dessert: lemon tart (you may notice a trend—if it’s lemon, I’ll usually order it) and vanilla/blackberry ice cream, sitting on blackberry sauce.

Café Paradiso opened in 1993 and it’s still in business, which says a lot about the food, I think. And for a place that’s been open this long, it has a young, hip vibe; the ambience is fantastic. Tables were set very close together (it’s a small room) and, as we’d discovered elsewhere, service was leisurely (read: long and drawn out, which was fine when we were eating but when we were ready to go I finally approached the desk and asked if we could pay). We spent more than two hours there.

There was one thing we both really loved though: we’d entered the restaurant right behind a tall slim man, early forties, whose girlfriend was waiting for him. She leapt up, smiling hugely, they embraced. As it turned out, they were at the table tightly next to us, and they were really, really into each other (like something out of a movie). The rest of us might as well have not been there. It was lovely to see, and, of course, I imagined a million different stories for them. I tried to take a surreptitious photo, but it doesn’t do either of them justice.

He really *is* that into you! Not a great picture but, you know, I was trying not to be obvious. 🙂 She’s a lucky gal … and he’s a lucky guy.

We were tired and I still had an edit to work on, so we’d promised ourselves a cab ride back to the B&B. Frankly, neither of us was going to be able to walk back uphill. Still, we thought we’d have to walk closer to the city centre to catch a cab but we stumbled on an old gentleman taxi driver very close to the restaurant. His accent was incredible—oh, you could just swim in it!—and he was quite a conversationalist. The Cork accent is very musical, lilting (Gerry says they don’t talk, they sing).

When we got back to the room, we’d just had time to relax when we heard Jill and Alli come in. They’d also had a late lunch, so none of us wanted to go out for street food. We ended up standing in the little hall talking, comparing their day with ours—and all agreed that Cork had been delightful. I would’ve liked to’ve seen more, but my energy/air level precluded that. Ah, well—I’ll be back!

Home again, home again, jiggity jig: comparing notes w/Jill and Alli.

Today’s Observation

I’d added Cork City to the itinerary because I had never been there, and since this was my third trip to Ireland, I wanted to see some new things, in addition to revisiting places I’d really loved. But—“What do you want to do in Cork?” Gerry had asked early on.

This question—and the tone of it—later made a little more sense. During our first week—spent entirely in Dublin, with Dubliners (ah, except Maureen; I simply must consult with her about this!)—everyone asked, “What are you going to do during the rest of your stay? Where are you going?” The Irish are lovely that way; they’re interested.

“Two nights in Kilkenny,” I’d say.

“Ah! Luvly.” Big smiles. Kilkenny is relatively close to Dublin. And it’s undeniably cool.

“Two nights in Cork—”

“Oh, Cork”—eyes rolling—“the capital of Ireland.” (Alternately: “Oh yes, the republic of Cork,” again with the rolling of eyes and shaking of the head.)

It’s a thing, apparently. 🙂

And I think I get it. Cork is so very different from Dublin, just a completely different vibe. I felt very comfortable there with the hippies and the street people—because in my head I am still a twenty-five-year-old California girl, you know, even if my current look screams “chubby middle-aged woman”—but Dublin is the capital, full stop. It has everything a capital city should have. It’s more formal, more buttoned-up, and I find it pretty sexy. I’ll go back to Cork, but my heart belongs to Dublin. 🙂

UPDATE: I’ve just been reading something that sheds some light on this: David Monagan’s Ireland Unhinged: Encounters with a wildly changing country. An American who moved his family to Cork (first for a year, then to stay), Monagan has this to say about his adopted city: it’s a “mad, party-loving town—the Irish equivalent of New Orleans.” I see. I’ve been to NOLA. I’ve lived very near it, one miserable winter long ago (long story).

Cork is a New Orleans in more ways than one, a party town awash in festivals for just about everything under the moon. … Now [Cork] was being instructed to make a statement of itself [the European Capital of Culture 2005] in an evening grand finale by the river. The crime was that you needed tickets.


The one thing that Corkonians—like Irish people in general—most despise is being told what to do. At important sporting events they wave American Confederate flags—not from any love of slavery, since numeroud Irish were once sold themselves as slaves by the Vikings—but as icons of the self-styled Rebel County’s defiance against outside forces, including Dublin. In the middle of any avenue they saunter into traffic, sometimes with a baby in a pram. There they pause to take a call on their mobile phones. Payment for almost any building, cleaning, or maintenance job is demanded in cash to that no central authority can track it. The People’s Republic of Cork, they call it.

Oooooh. I get it now.

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.