May 062011

Day 12 (May 2, 2011)

Itinerary: Rock of Cashel, lunch at Ryan’s Daughter Restaurant, history of Cashel at Tourist Information, drive to Kilkenny, tour Kilkenny Castle, walk the town, drive south of Kilkenny to Kells Priory, dinner in Kilkenny with music

I’ve become hopelessly behind in my journal entries and I’m tying this several days later. Somehow there just never seems to be that extra hour every night I need to type and look at photos. I guess we are just having too much fun on vacation.

Today started out cold, cloudy, and threatening rain. Oh, and windy too. It was just an ugly day overall. However, today was the day we had to tour the Rock of Cashel. Breakfast at Joy’s Rockside B&B was the traditional Irish breakfast we are used to by now. Luckily I was able to get a fruit and yogurt breakfast instead. The Rock was literally on the doorstep of the B&B, so before long we were a the Rock of Cashel at opening time at 9am.

The Rock of Cashel is full of history dating back to the 4th century. First off, the main thing to note is that the Rock of Cashel refers to the limestone base that sits above the surrounding landscape and all the buildings are built on. Many tourists apparently come in and try to find the rock. From the 4th to 11th centuries, the Kings of cashel lived here in wooden houses that do not survive any more. They ruled all the land they could see from here as there is a great view. In the 11th century, the last king decided that he wanted an easy pass to heaven and decided to give the Rock of Cashel over to the church rather than let it be taken over by any neighboring kings. The buildings that we see today have roots back to the 11th century, when the church started building onsite. First was built a traditional Irish round tower. The door to towers like these were typically about 12 feet off the ground and the monks would use a wooden rope ladder to ascend. They did this as a security measure so no one could follow after the pulled the ladder back up after them.

The other main part of history is the baptism of the king by St. Patrick. St. Patrick first visited Ireland around this time in the 11th century to spread Christianity. He stood on the Rock of Cashel and baptized the king. However, legend (myth or truth?) states that St. Patrick accidentally pierced the foot of the king, pinning him to the ground. The king thought this was just part of the ceremony of becoming a Christian and suffered in silence. St. Patrick then had to assure the people that converting was not a painful process of being pierced in the foot, but only the water was part of the ceremony. Anyway, Christianity stuck with the people as we all know and the Rock of Cashel stayed a religious site for many more hundred years. To commemorate St. Patrick’s visit, a deteriorated cross placed on a stone used by the early kings can still be viewed in the museum. A replica stands outside, but the original is inside in the museum room.

We arrived with time to tour the Rock on our own for about an hour before the first tour. Our first impression of course was that it was cold and windy. What a blustery and chilly day. The remains of the cathedral, chapel, round tower, and graveyard are all here for the viewing. The buildings were built at different times and mostly out of the hard limestone rock that could take the weathering of this normally cold, wet, and windy location up high on the rock. However, Cormac’s Chapel was build out of sandstone from 12 miles away. It was said that they hand carried all the sandstone blocks to this location. Well, sandstone does not hold up very well in the cold and wet, and at our visit a conservation effort was in place to save the Chapel from further deterioration. Most important was the very rare and only frescoes in all of Ireland here in the chapel. Frescoes do not withstand humid weather, so they are rare for Ireland and just barely survive at the Rock of Cashel. The conservation effort is a 4 year plan. The first 2 years is just drying out the place. So scaffolding, a roof, and material has been placed around the chapel (making for some unsightly photos, oh well) so it would not get wet anymore and a dehumidifier has been running to dry it out. I can’t remember the exact amount, but a huge amount of water has already drained off the sandstone in the past 15 months. The tour guides say they can really tell the difference because on humid days in the past, the walls inside would literally weep and now feel dry to the touch.

Our tour lasted about 45 minutes. We were happy to have had the time before to explore on our own before all the tourists arrive, because by now the place was becoming inundated with people. I’m sure it’s still much less than in high season, but we had to wait in line to get into several areas. The tour helped us understand what we had just seen and gave us a chance to see it again. Overall we were very happy with our visit to the Rock of Cashel and would certainly recommend this site to anyone visiting Ireland. The depth of history dating back to this one place is almost overwhelming.

At the end of our tour the rain had started, the cold wind was blowing and the temps were in the 40s. We decided now was a good time to go back to our room to warm up and play on the internet. When we got hungry we walked to town and found lunch at a place called Ryan’s Daughter Restaurant. If you haven’t heard of it, the movie Ryan’s daughter was filmed in Ireland, though I don’t think at this location. The place was tiny with tiny tables, but with awesome food. After our mediocre dinner last night, it was good to have yummy Irish food again.

With a warm lunch in our bellies, we visited the tourist information center in town that boasted a history of Cashel exhibit. The exhibit was quite good and the history of the area was reiterated to us. This reiteration helps me remember most of it.

We’ve had enough of Cashel by now as it’s a tiny tourist town mostly open during the day, so we hopped in the car and drove to Kilkenny, about an hour away. Kilkenny has a lot going for it with places from Kilkenny Castle to a Craft Museum. We decided to tour the castle first. This castle was heavily remodeled in the 17th and 18th centuries so that none of the original medieval gems remain. Instead this castle is more of a magnificent house with a gardens in front, and a huge park in the back. Hundreds of people were out playing in the park when we went in to tour the castle. The tour was self-guided and we strolled room to room to see the period furniture and paintings. I wouldn’t recommend this castle on your trip through Ireland. It was okay, but I think our time would have been better spent somewhere else. My favorite part was a series of old and new photographs of various parts of the outside of the castle in a long hallway down t o the restrooms.

Outside the castle it was now about 5pm and things were shutting down. Our goal for this town was to find a Kilkenny shirt for Mark’s brother, Alan. We walked the entire city center looking for an open souvenir shop, but we really only found one shop and it was closed. I don’t know where the tourists do their shopping, but it wasn’t here.

With time to spare before dinner, we went back to the car and took a short drive to Kells Priory just south of Kilkenny. This was a great place to visit. This huge ruins located in a sheep yard is open to anyone to come and explore. We had to scare a few sheep to get to the ruins. We were the only ones here and the experience was similar to an archaeologist finding a site for the first time. There were gates and restricted areas so we didn’t go climbing in any of the existing towers, but just walking around the area gave a sense of wonder. Behind the priory a little stream with a bridge crossing created a neat little setting and we could have jumped into a fantasy movie.

As we were driving around in this general area of Ireland, we’ve been seeing these flower farms full of acres of yellow flowers. I thought they might be tulip farms similar to in Amsterdam. Today we were able to get close to one and they were not tulips, but another yellow flower. I don’t know what the market is for these types of flowers, but the expanses of yellow we see on the landscape are a sight to behold.

We were driving along and one of the first times we saw one of these yellow flower farms, I yelled and pointed out the window. The most amusing part was that for some reason I yelled, “BLUE!!” as I pointed. Mark and I have been laughing for days now about this slip of the tongue. Apparently yellow and blue go together in my head.

We had dinner in Kilkenny at a hotel and bar serving food and Irish music. The food was great, the chairs were oh so comfortable, and the music was upbeat. I could have fallen asleep in the leather armchair I sat in, even. The musicians here included a group of 4 guys with a banjo, several guitars, and a bodhran. One of the guys switched to the flute or Irish whistle occasionaly as well.

Dinner in Kilkenny was so much better than dinner in the tiny town of Cashel and on the drive back we were greeted by a well-lit Rock of Cashel. What a great end to a good day.

Tomorrow we leave the area and continue east to the Wicklow Mountains.

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