“My” Ireland

I’ve been four times in ten years now. I am trying to make it mine.

I know there are people who take “big” trips every year, but I’m not one of them; when I was a young married we didn’t have the money for such things, and then I was a single mom and really didn’t have the money for such things. So four visits to Eire in a decade seems miraculous to me, and I have wrung every possible thrill from them. 🙂

Already more trips are in the planning stages. And I’m thinking about what I want to see. Because things are always changing and evolving.

Recent changes were a bit of a surprise:

• At Brú na Bóinne, Dowth isn’t on the Knowth tour anymore. You can drive to it, if you desire (and can find it on your own; I always seem to get lost over in Meath). I don’t know what to make of this; is Dowth unimportant now?

• The National Gallery has been completely rearranged and modernized (since I saw it in 2006). Actually, the reburbishment is still ongoing, and as a result, there are certain key works that may not be available—like Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ. Missing it last September was a huge disappointment. Also, to be frank, I loved the old-fashioned creaky floors.

• The Rock of Cashel has a fancy brickwork sidewalk and a paved road now; in 2003 it was much more rustic. I didn’t mind the old rough path; it felt authentic. However, I also didn’t mind that nice new bench at the halfway mark. 🙂

• There is a little car park at the Drombeg stone circle now. It used to be that you simply drove to the end of the lane, parked, and slipped through a break in the hedgerow—and there they were, the stones. These days you park a hundred yards or so further out, and walk. It’s nice, I guess, but just more evidence of modernization where none is needed. I mean, it’s from the Bronze Age, y’all.

• The bayside cemetery just outside Bantry town has a memorial now, with that spooky sculpture of drowning people. I didn’t like it much, and that has nothing to do with my resistance to change.

• When I stepped outside the graveyard at the cathedral at Kilfenora—to see the West Cross out in the field—I was shocked to see that some farm buildings had been built to the south and the field itself bisected into several cattle pens. The farmer can do what he wants with his land, of course, but it was still a bit of a disappointment.

• I’ve seen the Cliffs of Moher go through three iterations. In 2003, we parked in a field on the same side of the highway as the cliffs and walked about fifty yards out to the edge and looked over. Seriously, there was barely a handrail. The gift shop was a tiny shack. In 2006, they’d started the renovations, including moving the car park to the other side of the road; it’s a bit of a hike now (though in 2006 and 2012 I had pneumonia, so it would feel like a hike, I guess). O’Brien’s Tower was closed in 2006. Now, good Lord, the whole complex is like Disneyland—all bricked and curbed and gift-shopped to death. Forgive my lack of enthusiasm; I know it makes me sound like an old fart. 🙂

Glendalough has been subjected to the same Disneyland treatment, I’m sorry to say. The entrance is completely different; you no longer walk through the sanctuary gates first. In fact, I felt like we were coming in through the back door and was very, very cranky about it.

All of this changing and renovation is inevitable, I guess. And it won’t deter me from revisiting places (or seeing new sights). For example:

• I’d love to go back to Cork when I don’t have pneumonia. There’s a lot there I haven’t seen. I particularly want to go to the English Market and, you know, eat my way through it. 🙂

• Glandore village is calling my name. I want to check in to one of these places during the off season when it’s nice and quiet, and take all my meals in the pub so I can watch the water while I eat.

• I’ve grown to love Kilkenny and the surrounding area. I’d love to visit the farm shops around Mileeven Honey in Pilltown, and I definitely want to stop in at Nicholas Mosse again, maybe take the tour this time.

• Farm shops in general are something I’d like to make a tour of. There’s the Red Stables farmer’s market, Saturdays in St. Anne’s Park in Dublin, for example. And Sonairte, on the Laytown Road in between Julianstown and Laytown. And of course there are specialty food shops all over Dublin. OMG, now I’m thinking about cheese.

• I’d like to have a quiet vacation on one of the eastern beaches. Portmarnock, maybe, or someplace in Wicklow.

• I’m also very fond of Lahinch. It’s both small enough and big enough and I love everybody at Kenny’s Bar. I prefer the off-season, frankly, when things are down to a low roar. Late fall, say.

• I want to go back to the National Botanic Garden in Glasnevin, Dublin. I only had sixty minutes to spend there, which means a lot went unseen. There are plenty of parks and gardens in Dublin I haven’t seen, in fact.

• There’s still a lot I’d like to do in Dublin. The Temple Bar Book Market, for example. Marsh’s Library. The James Joyce Centre and the Dublin Writers Museum. I’d like to revisit the Chester Beatty Library at Dublin Castle.

• Finally, I have yet to see the Aran Islands, and I’d like to spend more time in Co. Donegal. Last time we sort of rushed through.

It’s a worthy list, don’t you think?

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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.

Two Very Old Churches

Sunday, 14 September 2003
Kilkenny town, Co. Kilkenny – Kinsale, Co. Cork

The weather remained fantastic: in the mid-70s and breezy, brilliant blue skies with stunning cloud formations. The windows of every place we stopped had been open to catch the breeze (and thus I’d been surprised a time or two by spiders—and I didn’t care if they were Irish spiders, I’d still squish ’em).

The dining room of our Kilkenny B&B was filled with groups of sports fans on their way to Dublin for the big hurling championship. Luckily for us, we were headed away from the capital, so while the oncoming traffic was bumper to bumper—like being on I-40 headed to Knoxville on a Saturday morning in the fall, right down to the team flags fluttering from the car windows—we had only an open road ahead of us. We were glad we weren’t in Dublin that weekend!

Hurling is Ireland’s national sport—and it’s wild. A little bit like hockey, a little bit like baseball: the ball is batted with hurling sticks. The players wear no padding (although some do now wear helmets), and they emerge from these games bloodied and bruised. And this is not professional, they are not getting paid; it’s strictly amateur, strictly for the pride of the county.

Our first stop that morning was Jerpoint Abbey, just nineteen kilometers down the road near Thomastown, and, it being Sunday, the place was nearly deserted (which was a nice change of pace from Glendalough).

Early morning sunlight made these weeds growing on the edge ot the wall look a little like flames.

Early morning sunlight made these weeds growing on the edge ot the wall look a little like flames.

The official brochure says Jerpoint is one of the most interesting Cistercian ruins in Ireland, and I have to agree. Founded in 1160, and built—and rebuilt—over the next three hundred years (following the traditional layout with a cruciform—cross-shaped—church as the central building), it is filled with tombs and compelling carvings, many of them along the cloister walk.

A door for tourists was added in the side of the cathedral wall.

A door for tourists was added in the side of the cathedral wall.

This is where the altar would have been; to the left is is a smaller chapel. There are two carved tombs.

This is where the altar would have been; to the left is is a smaller chapel. There are two carved tombs.

This is the chapel on the right side of the altar. Note the slab carvings on both sides.

This is the chapel on the right side of the altar. Note the slab carvings on both sides.

This is one of those slab carvings. It may be Felix O’Dulany, who was a bishop of Ossory (the diocese); you can see his crozier. It dates from 1202.

This is one of those slab carvings. It may be Felix O’Dulany, who was a bishop of Ossory (the diocese); you can see his crozier. It dates from 1202.

While walking from the tourist gate to the Abbey itself, a bird <ahem> pooped on me! Well, mostly on the camera … and while Gerry tried to console me by saying that the Irish believe that being pooped on by a bird is good luck (nice try, Ger), I still think that bird poop is bad luck, albeit fleeting. Still, I’d rather be pooped on in Ireland than in Nashville, I guess. 🙂

We strolled quietly, soaking up the peace and spirituality of the place.

This is opposite the altar, so it would have been the back of the cathedral.

This is opposite the altar, so it would have been the back of the cathedral.

The abbey is a bit off the beaten path (the town of Jerpoint having quietly died a couple hundred years earlier), now inhabited only by blackbirds and the shades of those buried under the high crosses in the graveyard. There is much fine detail left, even though the place is open to the elements; you have to look in every nook and cranny, or you’ll miss something delightful. I took loads of photos at Jerpoint; I just found it amazing that these ancient craftsmen, with their humble tools, created work of such delicacy and humanity. It was very personal.

The cloister walk was lined with carving after carving. Look above the monk in the foreground: is that another head looking down on him?

The cloister walk was lined with carving after carving. Look above the monk in the foreground: is that another head looking down on him?

This one is St. John the Baptist.

This one is St. John the Baptist.

From there we were off to Cashel (pronounce this CASHel with the same emphasis as you would use in the word castle). I was finally starting to get the hang of driving on the left, and, more importantly, the hang of reading Irish roadsigns. As I’ve explained, they are a variety of colors and styles, and are all askew in a myriad directions … so one approaches and quickly scans the plaques for the needed information, prepared to react at a split second, left or right. “He who hesitates is lost” is never more true than on a driving trip in Ireland!

But we drove right there with nary a wrong turn, Gerry merrily taking photos from the car as I drove.

Jamie’s Seventh Travel Tip: When I returned from England with ten rolls of film, it took a considerable amount of thought to reconstruct what each photo actually was, days and weeks after the fact. This time, I brought a tiny notebook (and a Sharpie, to number the film canisters), and kept track, frame by frame, of each photo. This may sound time-consuming, but it actually went very quickly, and was well worth the effort. The notebook was also handy for jotting down things heard on the radio and other notes for my journal, which remained packed during the day. (UPDATE: Now, of course, you’re using digital cameras. But it’s still a good idea to jot notes as you snap. Even if you download them every night, as I do, it’s probably been a long day of unfamiliar sights, so a few notes might help.)

The Rock of Cashel is a cathedral set on a tall hill in the center of the town of Cashel. We saw it from miles away, sitting up there like a fortress. In fact, it is a fort, and the word cashel means “stone fort.” The sight of it is, not to put too fine a point on it, astonishing. Its origins as a seat of power go back to about the fourth century (although no structure remains from that time), and it was as a seat of political power that it first rose to prominence, being the home of the Kings of Munster, who ruled over the southern half of the island from the fourth to the twelfth centuries, as the O’Neills ruled over the northern half, from Tara.

The Rock of Cashel, 2003. It’s really something.

The Rock of Cashel, 2003. It’s really something.

However, woven into the history of the Rock is an impressive ecclesiastical fabric that spans the Middle Ages. In the fifth century St. Patrick converted the king of the time, and made Cashel a bishopric; later, in 1101 a different king granted the Rock to the Church. In 1127, the bishop Cormac MacCarthy (actually, Cormac Mac Carthaigh) started work on a chapel that survives to this day and is the most remarkable Romanesque church in the country; a round tower was added about this time, too. The largest building on the Rock is the thirteenth-century cathedral, and all in all, the complex represents the most impressive medieval collection of buildings in Ireland.

Taken inside the cathedral; I suspect those are tombs, though I’m not sure why they’re so high up.

Taken inside the cathedral; I suspect those are tombs, though I’m not sure why they’re so high up.

The round tower. Note the scaffolding: maintenance work at these ancient sites is ongoing.

The round tower. Note the scaffolding: maintenance work at these ancient sites is ongoing.

All my walking at 4:30am started to pay off on this day, because that was one heck of a hill that had to be climbed in order to enter the site! The view from the top, however, was worth it, stunning. I took a lot of photographs, of course, though the postcards I bought give a better overview.

A view of the valley from the churchyard at the Rock of Cashel, 2003.

A view of the valley from the churchyard at the Rock of Cashel, 2003.

Gerry and I skipped the guided tour: we’d found that walking around with large groups of people was just not our cup of tea, so instead we’d purchase a small guide book and do it ourselves. Neither of us had the patience for trooping from spot to spot and standing docile-y, listening to a docent who might or might not be amusing or interesting.

Thus we found ourselves exploring on our own, lingering where the spirit moved—and being outraged by some of our fellow tourists. You see, in these ancient cemeteries, gravestones are often coffin-sized, and laid flat on the ground … and we were shocked (and yes, outraged) to see people walk right across these stones, heedless of what lay beneath their feet. Aside from the sheer disrespect—someone is buried there, after all—do they not realize that the only reason that we can still read 500-year-old headstones is that for the previous 499 years other sightseers had the sense and the courtesy to walk around them, rather than over them?

This still makes me mad when I think about it.

The churchyard at the Rock of Cashel, late afternoon. Note that “monument” at the back would have been a cross at some point.

The churchyard at the Rock of Cashel, late afternoon. Note that “monument” at the back would have been a cross at some point.

From Cashel, we struck out for our evening’s destination, Kinsale, passing through Cork. My journal entry says “I’ve decided that the reason I’ve been so exhausted at the end of the day is that this type of driving is hard work. I’m constantly downshifting, constantly turning, upping and downing and curving—much more demanding than rush hour on I-24!” In retrospect, I would add that we did plenty of walking, hill walking in particular, and that might also have had something to do with it! Ha!

The traffic on the road to Cork (to pronounce this like a native, say “kark”!) was quite light, as many people were either in Dublin for the hurling match, or in a pub to watch it on TV. (Cork is the second-largest city in Ireland, so light traffic was a blessing.) In fact, we arrived at our B&B around 3:30, only to learn that our hostess was sitting in the stadium in Dublin (we called, when no one came to the door). However, she had arranged for a friend to come by and check us in later, so we drove back to town and wandered around.

It’s pretty! But the streets are very, very narrow.

It’s pretty! But the streets are very, very narrow.

Situated right on the coast, Kinsale is considered one of the prettiest towns in Ireland; it is known for its many restaurants, and foodies come from all over to dine here. (Pronounce it “kinSALE.”) The town dates from the sixth century, when it was a monastic settlement; its position on the estuary of the Bandon River also gave it great importance, as the river is tidal as far inland as Innishannon (about twelve miles) and, of course, water transport was dominant until the eighteenth century.

The Bandon River just outside Inishannon.

The Bandon River just outside Inishannon.

And this is what the river looks like at low tide.

And this is what the river looks like at low tide.

Its long history is reflected in the names of local businesses (The Spaniard restaurant, The Armada pub), and even in the looks of the locals, many of whom are quite olive-skinned and Spanish-looking. You see, as part of the European conflict raging between Catholic Spain and Protestant England, the Battle of Kinsale, fought in late December of 1601, and lost through tactical blunder, permanently destroyed Ireland’s hopes of independence during that time … and also destroyed, as it happens, the Spanish Armada. In Kinsale, it’s obvious that some of those Spanish sailors made it to shore safely.

We shopped a bit (I found a corner store selling stamps, so I was able to mail my postcards), although some stores were closed because it was Sunday. Still, I had a blast walking in the narrow streets, filling my eyes up with the brightly colored stores and curious little alleys. Finding your way through these very old towns has to be by instinct; you can’t just walk, or drive, “around the block”—because blocks don’t exist the way we Americans think of them. Neither do street signs! “Go past the garda station and then look for the third turn on the right” was a perfectly valid direction.

After we checked in at the B&B and had a leisurely cup of tea, we went back to town armed with the directions above and a couple of recommended restaurants. We ended up at Jim Edwards’ Pub & Restaurant, which was as good as we’d been led to believe. Later we strolled around town in the late dusk (the sun seemed to set late in Ireland … it was probably 9pm when the last rays of sunlight finally disappeared into twilight) before finding our way “home.”