Ireland '99: Day Four

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Country Driving
Kilkenny Castle
Kells Priory

Day Four -- August 30th

Monday morning’s conclusion from the previous day’s questions: heated towel racks are not the norm (data sampling of 2). But the wonderfully positionable shower heads appear to be a favorite standby of the Irish culture (equal data sampling). Breakfast consisted of bacon (again) and eggs. As for the bacon, the Irish use the name for something in between American bacon and ham. Much to the laughter of my fellow B&B’ers, I asked our host to show me what the bacon looked like before it was cooked. She told us that what Americans call bacon is called locally to be “skerzy” (or something like that). She said it was much too fatty and reserved only for basting turkeys.

I also asked her about some of the strange road signs we have observed over the past day. She relayed a story in which she and her new husband (fresh from Canada) were out driving and they came upon a road sign he did not understand. Upon asking, she told him it meant “The road narrows up ahead, you see”. His response was (and you really need to add the Irish accent here) “Jesus Christ! The road can’t get any narrower than this!”. We all had a good laugh; we definitely could sympathize.

As we headed out of the B&B, we stopped to admire the Crocosmia’s that were growing in the garden. Our hostess came out after us (I was worried I had committed an act of international treason by holding one of the flowers in my hand). She said (again, use the strongest Irish accent you can muster:) “You like those, do you? They grow like weeds around here.” With that, she pulled several of flowers plump out of the ground and offered the bulbs to us to keep! She ran back in the house and got a wet paper towel and some scissors. With bulbs in our hands we left for Avoca.

In Avoca, we stopped for a quick visit of the woolen mill in the town (which we later found out during the rest of the trip was quite famous across the land, as we repeatedly saw shops advertising Avoca Wool), where we watched numerous hand and machine looms weaving beautiful wool blankets. Also in Avoca, a film crew was filming one of the British sitcoms (which has been located in Avoca for some years now – people come to the town just to see them film). The town is literally three blocks long.

Tig and I at the Mystery Ruins

Just outside of Avoca, we saw a small castle being overtaken completely by wild currant bushes. Not finding it mentioned anywhere in any of the guide books, I concluded that it must be quite recent – 16th century or later :-) If it were any earlier, they would have mentioned it. How warped my sense of history has become!

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent driving at breakneck speeds over the smallest country roads that we could find (including a few that dead ended into farmer’s fields). As we told our B&B host this morning, the country roads are very narrow. Jenn and I joked that the 5-6 foot wall of bushes that line the road never need cutting because the cars passing by at 50+ mph every day did a nice job at controlling the growth. Wherever trees overhanged the road, you could see a distinctive natural arch forming over the road (Proof that the tall trucks drive only in the dead center, causing great difficulties when meeting a car from the other direction). But traveling along the country roads is definitely also one of the best parts of the trip so far for me. Many of the roads are bordered with these tall 6 foot stone walls that encroach right to the edge of the road, making the ride exhilarating! A least for me, Jenn seems to be pale in the face about it. My only comfort to her is “But Jenn, there are always people behind me wishing I was going faster”. She has been a great sport – even refraining when I went airborne over a cresting hill.

Jenn's Dreamhouse
Alas! Sheep! In a green field! My photographic quest has been fulfilled!
Jenn and the Opel
Dreaming of sheep

While driving in the countryside, I continued my search for the ultimate sheep picture, finally getting a small dose of contentment in a field alongside the River Slaney. I even jumped the fence and laid down in the field, to which, I would continue to smell the bounty of my impetuosity wafting from the bottom of my shoes for the rest of the day (if there are sheep in a field, then there are plenty of things to step in on that same field).

One last look at the sheep

Also while country driving, I noticed how the oldest building in every village seemed to be the church. And upon stopping or reading in the guidebook, we would find out that the church was built many centuries ago. It made me realize just how integral the church and religion has been to western culture. In America, we tend to de-emphasize the church. After all, churches (at the most) are just as old as the Constitution, with a few east coast exceptions. The government, in terms of ancientness, precedes the church – in some way undermining it a bit psychologically. Here in Ireland, however, it is clear the Church has been the driving force historically. If it is ancient, it is likely related to the Church. Kings and Government are modern inventions. This was a new perspective to me; it is clear why the religious conflicts in this region of the world are steeped in such unwavering solidness – it all has the inertia of time to maintain itself.

Continuing on, we stopped in another quaint town that I quite enjoyed and grabbed some home cooked pastries and bread. We then drove on to Kilkenny.

Kilkenny Castle in bloom
Matt the Millers stocking up the kegs of Guinness

Kilkenny is rich with heritage and has gain some touristiness to it. We went ahead a made the tour of the Kilkenny castle and the neighboring craft stores. I had a good chat with some older ladies having a luncheon snack on a bench admiring the view (many days later, I seem to remember that as being one of the more vivid parts of the day). We had dinner at an Italian restaurant, where we had pasta. Myself, I had Fettucini Carbornara – to see which type of bacon they would use. After 5 of the last 7 meals having bacon, though, I have decided to boycott it from here on out. On the way back to the car, we turned and saw the castle from the River Nore. I took a number of pictures along the way.

Looking down the River Nore
Typical street shot
One last look back at Kilkenny Castle

From Kilkenny, we drove to our B&B for the night, and were greeted with a wonderful surprise. Our B&B had a horse and her foal, a collie named “George” and a very Victorian theme inside. Our bed even has a circlet above it holding heavy draperies from the ceiling. The hostess who talked a mile a minute topped it off.

Today's B&B... nice, eh?
One of the outer walls of the Kells Priory

Setting our bags down, we then drove out to Kells Priory, a few miles away, to watch the sunset (or the best we could do with cloudy skies). The Priory is a monastic ruins from the 12th century that included a well fortified wall nearly completely intact around what used to be an entire medieval city. The ruins are just outside of the town of Kells, and sit simply in a cow/sheep pasture. Most of the books (and our B&B hostess) mention that you have to brave the sheep in order to see the ruins.

The Priory is huge, and simply awesome – by far the best stop in our visit so far. The walls just continued on and on, with heavily fortified towers. Inside were various structures, including some very impressive churches dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. This place, unlike Glendalough, was entirely real. When looking at the ruins, you did not have to wonder how much of it was added on in the last century or two in the name of preservation – the ruins still stand as ruins. The coming dusk also seemed to emphasize its gloominess. I could not help but to wonder how many bodies have been strewn about the entrance, how many people over the centuries had hid behind the same wall, but hid instead for the dear life. It was amazing, and finally a piece of history that seemed to imprint itself into me as being something real, rather than a place to visit. Just as darkness was to gain complete hold over the ruins, the clouds thinned out and seemed to emanate darkly from the horizon above one of the Priory’s back lit towers: breathtaking! This was Ireland, at last!

Absorbing The Priory

Finally, we headed back to our B&B where we had tea (its integral to our lives now) and I stayed up and wrote the last two day’s of events.



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