So I set out from my lovely Duncannon B&B, trying to be methodical about getting to, basically, the other side of Ireland. Now Ireland is comparable in size to, say, New Brunswick in Canada, which is not insignificant, but you can at least get to the other side of it in less than a week. Which is infinitely more practical when one has chosen to drive. Or maybe it’s the other way around…
Anyway, the car ferry at Ballyhack was an exceedingly good call. It cut a whack of driving off, was interesting, and I got to be the “slightly awkward but really sweet girl muddling her way” to two local men chatting while leaning on the seawall this morning when I asked, “Um, hi there. How does the car ferry work? Where do I line up?” And they had a bit if fun, “How does it work? You drive on and they float you across.” And then they helped, pointing to where I should stop and wait for the ferry to come back.
So I sat there with the end of my car hanging out into traffic (which means I couldn’t find an extra six inches to pull over… I’m just too used to a 17 foot car), with the window down and listening to an Irish Gaelic radio show – just Irish Gaelic being spoken. I was recognizing words! I don’t know what they were saying, but I could hear some of the words that I sing when I’m doing the Sean Nos songs I learned. A pack of cyclists pulled up waiting too. Then the boat arrived and I was in the middle. Two cars pulled on ahead of me and then a motorcycle and another car behind. The cyclists were first. I paid for a one way trip, but it would have been a better deal if I’d been coming back (could have saved a couple euro – 7 euro one way, 12 return). We disembarked and the cyclists went first. Apparently Irish drivers have very little patience for cyclists because they all quickly passed, even on blind corners, which I thought was ill advised (hence why I wasn’t). Indeed, one car had to swerve back amongst the cyclists because another car came whipping around a corner, honking at the car that was in his lane (i.e. the right one). ;) I waited until we hit a longer clear stretch and then passed the pack. Apparently Sunday cycling is big around Waterford.
I didn’t spend any time in Waterford. It was a very cute town and I would have enjoyed myself, I’m sure. Maybe next time.
I made it to the Rock of Cashel with 7 minutes to spare before the tour started. What an amazing site. Granted Cormac’s Chapel smells like someone’s mouldy, damp basement but they’re fighting that, because the mould is destroying the newly uncovered 12th century original frescos. They were apparently painted over with lime during the Reformation because they were considered idolatrous. And the lime didn’t help them either.
The graveyard had some spectacular Celtic crosses and is still an active burial site, and has been since the 1100s! There was one grave site which was for a young lad, a pilot, who died in a crash during one of the World Wars. Another mausoleum had a ginormous Celtic cross… Until it got topped in a bad storm in maybe the 1990s or something. Now it looks like they have an obelisk or a chimney, from afar. They left the pieces that broke off beside the mausoleum though. Really neat.
The cathedral was amazing and sad all at once. Essentially, one archbishop said, “Alright, folks. Let’s take this party elsewhere.” And he called for the abandonment of the site, I think, in the 1700s or 1800s. The cathedral is nothing but the bones anymore – just the stonework – all the timber, plaster, everything rotted away. The stonework is amazing – one part of the archbishop’s “house” (*cough castle cough*) had broken apart in a bad storm and it lets us see the cross section of the building – so much rock! The walls are a metre thick! The ceiling between the first “floor” and the second looks like it shouldn’t even stay up, there’s so much stone overlaying stone. And a lot of the carvings are still holding up, despite years of weathering. But it is limestone so it’s vulnerable.
Lastly, we went into the choir’s “apartments” which have been completely restored. They even built a new wooden roof in the appropriate style and using the appropriate building methods – no wood screws or nails here, no glue – this is all doweling and wood joining. Super cool. I thought my friend R would appreciate that. :)
I had lunch at Rock House, which was delightful. Veggie quiche. I overheard the one really animated server guy enthusiastically serving some folks in German. That’s one thing about hitting the tourist sites – you’re hanging out with other tourists. Several Eastern Europeans, Germans and at least one American today (who was behind me while we waited for the tour to start and suddenly there was a flood of folks from upstairs so I was craning my neck around to see where the door was, made eye contact with him and smiled and said, “I’m just wondering where all the people are coming from…” And he drawled, “I’ve been wonderin’ that my whole life.”)
Then I set out for Cahir, which wasn’t that far of a drive, really. And I was able to slip in to the tour for Cahir Castle very quickly and only missed the explanation of the first outer courtyard and dry moat looking thing (obviously could have benefitted from that interpretation, clearly). He showed us the Norman influence in the design and how it was set up to always provide the defensive advantage, even to the way the stone spiral staircases turned (to give the advantage to the upper defender – right hand freer). Apparently the portcullis is one of three working ones in Ireland, and it was featured in several movies, including Braveheart. It also has made an appearance in The Tudors. And I got the tour guide’s beer tester question right. Apparently, back in the day, if you were the beer tester, you would come to the banquet hall and pour some beer on the table (very ceremoniously, I’m sure) and then sit on the puddle in a special pair of leather pants (…). After half an hour you would try to get up, and if your pants were sticking to the table, the beer wasn’t fit to drink. And the tour guide asked why. I said, “It’s the sugar.” If there’s still enough sugar left in the beer to make the pants stick, then fermentation hasn’t happened adequately and the beer isn’t good. This was all discussed in the restored (but abbreviated) banquet hall under the enormous skull of a giant Irish deer. Amazing.
Then I began my rainy drive across the rest of Ireland. I stopped in a parking lot of a Catholic church in Kerry to take some amazing landscape shots and a fellow heading in to the church stopped by for a chat. He’d been a tour guide for a time so he was able to give me some helpful hints. He also thinks I need to come back because I’m missing out on a number of really interesting things. ;) It was a good chat, and we shook hands at the end – he said blessings upon me, and we exchanged names. And I jumped back in my car and continued to Tralee.
Now I’m safely ensconced in my B&B and I just heard some rain beating on the window. I am almost done my celebratory cider and will soon close my eyes.
But one last thing, the view of the Rock of Cashel from the parking lot.