I was up and at ’em, sort of, this morning. I’ll admit to hitting the snooze button once. Breakfast was at 8:00 and I thought it was earlier, but that’s okay because it meant I got to fight with that hotel’s wifi for half an hour before I went to have my “vegetarian Irish breakfast” which ended up being two fried eggs in a puddle of oil (canola? Light olive oil?) and half a plate of beans (assuming tomato based because I didn’t see any pork pieces – shush) and two pieces of dry white toast. Thankfully, when I stay there at the end of my time here in Ireland, I won’t make it to breakfast because I’ll need to be at the ferry before 8:00. There is a restaurant on board, I will eat there. The girls in the kitchen were very nice, and I felt badly for them because a lady came in and bullied them to get extra help wherever she works and took one of the girls from the breakfast service with a smile of “what are you going to do about it? You need this job”. Ick.
Also, apparently Cmdr Chris Hadfield posted today a picture from space of the storm with gale force winds that I was ferrying through yesterday afternoon. It’s quite impressive.
So I went and picked up my car at the Dublin Airport and did one of two things that scared me today. I turned the key in its ignition and pressed the gas. And my cabbie (who I think ripped me off) was right – it’s not brain surgery. And I have almost 20 years experience driving. Seriously. So I went on the M50 ring road around Dublin and took the exit to N7 to Kildare. (Note: the one guide book that I’m referencing characterized the N7/M7 as “harrowing” – I found it fine, though it’s a four lane highway like the 417 or 401 with a “speed limit” of 120 kph.) Sure, I cut someone off in a roundabout, but I waved my sheepish sorry and kept going. And then I was in Kildare. I drove around town, and found myself a safe little parking spot, emptied my change purse of meaningful change (which I would come to regret later) so I’d have two hours of parking. And then I walked. And saw familiar names on the buildings, like Michael Joyce, an accountant, and J.J. Mahon & Sons. Folks I passed on the street said hi, it was quite friendly. :) I wandered, tracking my quarry on the skyline and probably wandering through traffic areas (though it looked like a parking lot) and I arrived at St Brigid’s Cathedral.
I walked the grounds first, looking at the weather beaten old gravestones and then approaching the 10th century round tower. I paid my admission of 4 euros and I climbed it. Now, I should have listened better to the tower keeper and left my bags with him, because you get to the top of the tower by climbing a ladder, squeezing through the trapdoor, shuffling a few steps on a landing and then repeating that, about five times. This was the second thing that scared me today. I made it to the top, said hello to all of Ireland, felt the wind (not quite like the gale on the ferry but powerful), took a few photos, marvelled at the countryside and then contemplated the way down.
I should say, the climbing up was fine, except for when I got stuck in a trapdoor and had to readjust my bags (why didn’t you leave them on one of the landings, you ask? Um, I just wanted to get to the top of the tower, okay…). The way down, however… That involved stepping into each trapdoor onto the top of the ladder. And while I got used to the right hand approach, right at the end, they switched to the left hand side. Wobbly, I reached over the trapdoor to brace myself and lowered myself down. I broke a nail (which is quite something because I wear my nails short – as only becomes a tomboy) on the rock wall on the way down. I used a climbing hold shown to me by my boyfriend for that (I’d wager my hold was far superior than the ones he gets to face while bouldering but still). And then I was down.
Before I’d gone up, the tower keeper had asked me where I was from and I said Canada, and he said that the record for the fastest climb was held by a Canadian – Malo Bourgon, who did it in 49.4 seconds. I have no idea why he would do that, but there you go. I admitted, when I got back to his little house at the bottom of the tower, that I should have left my bags with him. He’s a good natured gent and we chatted a bit, as he has had a great fascination with the story of the Titanic. It all started when he was 10 years old (and he’s 70 now) and he met a young fellow who told him that he was supposed to be on the Titanic, but was late to get to the Cove and missed it. Luckiest day if his life. He apparently lived until he was over 100, and only died about 20 years ago. It began to rain a bit (my friend J was accurate in that – it’s been sunny and then suddenly raining ever since I got here), and the fine sir invited me into his little house and we chatted some more (coincidentally, my fascination with the Titanic story started when I was about ten as well) until the rain had gone. And then I thanked him and headed along the back wall if the cathedral to continue looking at the gravestones.
It was back here that I was able to see the reconstructed foundation of the fire temple to Brigid, where the sacred flame had once been housed. I didn’t descend into it, because there wasn’t much to do in there. I was able to contemplate it from afar. Also, it was traditionally virgins who tended the flame. Um… Anyways…
I went around to the front again and went inside. They did a wonderful job with mixing the pagan and Christian information in there, and the church was quite simple and understated. Lovely. I think I found the sheela-na-gig on the bishop’s tomb, but I didn’t get down on the floor to check. I was done that tour quickly (I left a larger donation than requested) and headed outside again. Out on the pea gravel driveway there was a little old man, walking stiffly, knock-kneed and uncertainly with his cane, very slowly towards the church. I asked him if he needed an arm and came to give him support, holding his right forearm and hand on my left forearm and hand, walking him slowly. He thanked me – I can only imagine what a struggle it was for him, and I hope he was okay leaving the church grounds. He wanted to speak with the lady inside to arrange a tour. Maybe she would have walked him out.
I knew I was running out of time on my car parking, so I popped in to the information booth to inquire on how to get to St Brigid’s holy well, and the fellow helped with that but also introduced me to the lovely Sister Mary of the Brigidine Sisters, and the keeper of the newly reignited sacred flame of Brigid. He gave her a call and sent me down to see her.
What a lovely lady and so kind and happy to meet a kindred soul. And I was in the presence of the flame that has been burning again now for 21 years (I think that’s what she said). We chatted for a bit and I will admit, I was completely happy for this fortuitous meeting – they are building a hermitage and centre to house the sacred flame just outside Kildare, quite near to the holy well. I’m hoping to do some networking in Ottawa for her, as they’re still looking to raise money towards the building of Solas Bhride (885,000 euros left to go…) (translation: Light of Brigid).
After a hug, an offer of a cup of tea, listening to a chant-song to Brigid, me donating some money and buying their pilgrimage pamphlet for 5 euros, and a mutual exchange of blessings, I was on my way to the holy well. Or so I thought.
I backtracked to my car (and saw a lady walking an energetic young black and white husky across the street :) ) and headed out of town towards the Irish Stud and Japanese Gardens (with the help of someone who kindly gave me the right of way in the intersection), took a right and travelled down the road looking for St Brigid’s Well, a sign, a distinctive gateway, anything. I turned around and went back, pulling into the Irish Stud and checked my map (and got my nail clippers out to deal with my broken nail because it was really annoying). I tried again, and ended up turning up a distinctive driveway that I knew almost immediately wasn’t the place, but there was nowhere to turn around so I drove up to the house, setting off the (small terrier) dog. A lady peered inquisitively out the door so I rolled down the window (also the opposite button, FYI) and asked for directions. She was very helpful and I didn’t run over her dog (though she was running behind my car and not listening to the lady call her) and I got back on my way.
I followed her instructions (except for missing the turn and pulling a completely North American style u-turn in the gate of the Irish Stud) and found it quite handily. I had been turning off one turn too far, evidently. She wasn’t wrong that the lane way was only big enough for one car, but luckily no one was driving to the well today. I got there and only one lady was there, ecstatically praising Brigid (at least I think that’s why she raised her arms in the air and spun about – I can’t blame her, I was feeling quite the same). I took my time so that she would have her alone time with the well, and when she had sat down in quiet contemplation, I approached the site. I left another donation for the upkeep of the well, and knelt by the spring stream across from the statue of St Brigid, depicted as a lithe, short haired (think chin length bob) girl in a simple dress, holding a torch and a shepherd’s crook. I then followed the prayer stones back to the well itself and knelt there, dipping my fingers in that water as well. There were two trees with prayer ribbons on them – a way to entreat Brigid to hear your plea. I didn’t take pictures of them, but I did get some lovely photos of the site. There was a pheasant in a field next door and he made a strange honking noise and then strutted about. When I tried to take his picture had ducked behind the other fence. I think that he was a farmed pheasant.
After that, I muddled and wended my way towards Duncannon, eventually jumping on the M9 until the New Ross exit and then winding my way through the countryside. I was really getting the hang of it by the time I rolled through Arthurstown, and then I questioned myself again, but then I found the turn for Duncannon. Which, may I say, is a delightful hidden gem. I ate at Roches Bar and had a pint and a half of Guinness and some veggie food (and sticky toffee pudding for dessert). I went for a walk on the beach which was blustery in a oh-god-I-have-sand-in-my-eyes sort of way. I thought I’d found some sea glass for my friend C but unfortunately, it was still a little underdone. ;) I threw it back. This side of the Atlantic is just as blustery and wild as the other side, by the way.
It’s raining here now, shockingly. The sun didn’t go down until after 9 pm I think. And some big container ships went by, presumably from Waterford. I’m reconsidering my plan of Wicklow Mountains in favour of exploring Duncannon Fort, the ridiculously awesome castle ruins I passed on my way here and maybe going to the lighthouse on the head here. And maybe taking it a bit easy tomorrow on my vacation? ;)
(St. Brigid’s Cathedral as I left.)