Cashel, Kilkenny and Rathmore 10/22/04
Our morning began with a high spirited conversation with a gentleman from Boston, traveling with his brother to visit distant relatives in County Antrim. I swear he resembled Walter Matthau in looks and mannerisms and had indeed lived in the Bronx of NYC. What an interesting man. As a former military career man, he had traveled to every state in the U.S., every continent on the planet and lost several New York friends in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We admired his bright green cable knit sweater which he bought while souvenir shopping earlier in the week. The color of his garment touched off an exchange with the proprietress of our B & B who claimed Ireland boasts 75 shades of green, not the conservative count of 45 – 60 most guidebooks declare. I felt both blessed and grateful talking with this fellow traveler, charmed by his storytelling and intrigued by his unique life lessons. I knew that at that moment I, too, was creating my own stories to be retold again and again.
Packing up to leave Tir Na Nog, we glanced out our back window and witnessed a Momma cat and her hungry kittens lapping up some milk and canned food. This is a home after all, with children and their pets amidst the other guests, busy kitchens and even busier parents. This scene reinforced my preference for bed and breakfasts for their cozy, homey ambiance.
Driving up to the Rock of Cashel, we understood why it is called one of Ireland’s most historical, provocative and majestic sights. It overlooks the Plains of Tipperary surrounded by fields of (you guessed it) pristine, green grass. Built in the early 400’s, it was once the seat of ancient kings, later becoming an ecclesiastical center after Cashel was taken over by the church.
We took the tour which I highly recommend for the historical value and the wonderful accent of the guide! The round tower was built in the 12th century as was the small Romanesque Chapel. Our guide informed us that the members of the choir were considered higher status than the patrons of the church and thus allowed to sit near the archbishop during the Gothic Cathedral services. Overcast skies and misty rain made the Celtic-cross graveyard that much more eerie. We were told the lights illuminate the Rock at night which I am sure must be quite a sight.
But cheerio, no waiting around for nightfall for these two adventurers. We set off in the direction of the town and castle of Kilkenny. The raindrops were the size of nickels and the sky matched the gray in my sweater. We dashed between drops to a local Christmas ornament shop to purchase a disc parking pass. It looked more like a lottery ticket than a parking pass to me but hey, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Kilkenny Castle grounds were expansive with flourishing green fields and leaves of yellow and orange gracing the trees. The tour of the castle was guided by a knowledgeable English gal. I could be wrong but I think the English accent makes them appear more learned or intellectual. Raallllly dahling as my sister would say.
The powerful Butler family owned the castle for nearly 600 years and the descendants eventually sold most of the furniture at auctions and the fortress itself to the city for a mere 50 pounds! What a steal. We strolled through the long gallery which featured an abundance of artwork including portraits of the founding family. After our tour ended we walked through the town of once medieval establishments that are now colorful modern shops, churches and residential buildings.
This was our last night before heading to Dublin and we considered a novel tip from a fellow traveler with respect to choosing our final accommodation. He suggested bringing the standard Bed and Breakfast Guide anyone can secure at a TI (tourist information)booth. Go to a local well-attended pub. Open the page to the area you wish to stay in and ask the bartender for his recommendation. Figuring his connections are fairly high-status in Guinness Country, he wouldn’t steer you wrong!
As reasonable as this idea sounded, I had my own standards to uphold. My criteria could be called unconventional but by now I longed to surround myself with sheep. Yup, just bring on the bah, bah, bah. Blame it on my new merino wool sweater, attribute it to my old petsitter days but I yearned to throw suburb life to the wind (at least for the night) and sleep with the sheep.
On our nearly 1000 mile trip across and back this grand Ireland Republic, we did encounter herds of cows and flocks of sheep. Each sighting caused spontaneous cries of “Sheep!!...Cows!!!...Sheep!...More Sheep!....” along with an irrepressible giggle or two. Maybe that Little Bo Peep costume from my teaching days was a hint of things to come after all. Ask Steve but I wouldn’t doubt I talked in my sleep with a bah thrown in as part of my dreamy conversation!
A brief peruse of the B&B guide, an even shorter phone call and we were led to the town of Rathmore, a village truly off the beaten path yet only 30 miles from Dublin. Though the rain and darkness made it challenging to appreciate the rural scenery, we did catch glimpses of blossoming trees framing the roads and meadows dotted with few and far between homes.
Springfield B & B proved to be my favorite of all the stays. Margaret, our gracious hostess, informed us that we had the house to ourselves as late October typically signals the beginning of their slower tourist season. Steve was distracted and drawn to a photo hanging in the hall corridor. Not wanting to disappoint me but curious nonetheless, he quietly surveyed the picture of an aerial shot of a large flock of sheep grazing in an even larger meadow. No caption or year on the picture could confirm his suspicions that my dream was at last coming true.
Margaret had retired for the night so we followed her lead with our curiosity tucked in bed along with our sleepy heads. And no, I didn’t count sheep to help me fall asleep though that would have been a hilarious addition to this story!