30 July, 2015

The Rain Begins in Killarney...

Ever since we arrived in Ireland, the weather forecasters have predicted rain. It's probably safer that way, but we hadn't seen any precipitation until we reached County Kerry. That all changed for our 4 days here. Every day has been a mixture of brief but heavy rain squalls, a lot of light drizzle, generally overcast conditions, and occasional short flashes of bright sunshine. Coats or umbrellas are an absolute necessity, but the everyone seems to take the fluctuating conditions in their stride.
Downpour in the forest of Killarney National Park.

Some friendly locals (they're everywhere!) told us that last summer was much better, that this one has been cold and wet generally. We told them that the temperatures here (10-15C) are colder than back home in winter, but in truth (we read in the online news), Sydney has had a record cold spell!

Killarney was the base for our soggy stay in County Kerry. It's a relatively modern town by the standards of this ancient land. Medieval and Norman artifacts are here, but they are not so in your face as they are in, say, Kilkenny. Killarney is home, however, to the magnificent Killarney National Park (some of the first real bush we have seen so far in Ireland), and nearby, is the fabulous Kerry coast, of which more in subsequent posts.

We entered the National Park from the inner suburbs of Killarney, it's that close. That also makes it crowded, and a popular way for tourists to get there was via horse and sulky from downtown. Driving there, we discovered by the horse transports are effective traffic-calming devices.

Many people hired bikes and rode around fine tracks through the bush here, and you can also take boat trips on the huge lakes. We opted to walk. The flora was sufficiently thick to protect us from the occasional heavy squalls that blew in, but we still managed to get pretty wet.

We encountered the remnants of an old copper mine. Read very old here! This was an underground bronze age endeavour operating thousands of years BC. The interpretative sketches were amazingly evocative, and showed us how they refined the copper from the ore using what looked like no more than bush fires circled by stones. Metallurgy was obviously coming along fine even that long ago!
The telltale colour of the "Blue Hole" at an ancient copper mine.
Entrance to a 4000 year old underground copper mine.

Ross Castle is a keep and tower house within the boundaries of the National Park and adjacent to a large lake, Lough Leane. This is no ruin. It is in exemplary condition and probably has been restored and renovated extensively. It was first built in the 1500's by the O'Donoghue family who ruled Killarney at the time, and occasionally changed hands between clans in various rebellions. Ross Castle resisted Oliver Cromwell's English invaders in the 1640's but surrendered eventually when attacked from the lake in warships.
Ross Castle in the Killarney National Park, a prime tourist attraction.
Fishermen on the hunt in the squally waters of Lough Leane.
Nice place for a picnic on the banks of Lough Leane in the Killarney National Park.

On a very modest hill overlooking Killarney is Aghadoe. Apart from a misty view over the lakes and mountains of the National Park, there are some fine ruins up here, including the 13th Century Parkavonear Castle. For a Norman keep, this one is apparently unusual in that it is circular in the more medieval tower style. Nearby is an old graveyard, and the ruins of an 1158 church. A monastery here was mentioned in annals as far back as 939AD.
Norman keep on Aghadoe overlooking Lough Leane.
The township of Killarney and the spire of Saint Mary's Cathedral as seen from the Aghadoe graveyard.

Back in town, we found that dining is quite pleasurable in Killarney. Traditional Irish food in pubs is always tasty and hearty, but a bit of research and serendipity enabled us to up the quality ante a bit. At Gaby's Restaurant we were able to sample a wide variety of fresh local seafoods (they called it a Mozaic) including local specialty fish Turbot. At the bright and modern Cucina Italiana, which we stumbled across in a back lane, we had superb meal of fresh pasta with prawns and pancetta.
Pretty tame wildlife encountered on our walk near Ross Castle.

Mike has also been sampling various Irish whiskeys. Jamesons is the most common, of course, and is easily obtainable world-wide. One legendary superior brand is Red Breast, Midleton is exquisite but way too expensive, but Mike's favourite has become Yellow Spot. This whiskey apparently derives a unique flavour by being aged in Spanish Malaga casks. Clare has discovered Dingle Vodka, and declares it to be a good drop!

In yesterday's local newspaper, no less than 18 pages in the Sports section were headed GAA, but the articles appeared to cover both hurling and Gaelic football. A knowledgeable bar hostess called Denise put us straight, by explaining that the GAA organisation manages both sports and also handball, but the last is the least popular. Different regions prefer one to the other.
Pretty as a picture - rowboat pulled up to a tiny cabin.

Walking around, we encountered the Killarney railway station, and were lucky enough to see the train to Cork arrive. It was a modern 4 carraige diesel electric set, and the station had a good number of travellers, including a lot of young backpackers, to get on board. The old terminal, now next door to the current station, has been converted to a factory outlet store.
Tralee express leaving Killarney.

Our hotel in this town is Scotts, which fronts Scott St, now a pedestrian mall. It has a modern facade but seems to extend its tentacles into older surrounding buildings. Our room on the 1st fllor, extremely spacious with a gigantic bathroom, overlooks extremely busy College St. We seem destined in Ireland to attract noisy rooms. Opposite, a pub has its live music speakers blaring into the street, and in the mornings the garbage trucks, street maintenance vehicles and delivery vans arrive in force. Luckily, the room has sound-proofing windows, but again, no air-conditioning to circulate the air in the shut up room. But we slept very well here - ear plugs are a great invention. The car park is underneath the hotel and mall and must have been designed by the devil. The columns are so close together that it's really difficult to manoevre our Volvo, and there's no way you can open the doors, once in a spot. The hotel is very popular with bus tours - it's very busy. It's fascinating to watch the tour groups getting read for their morning departures.

29 July, 2015

Kilkenny to Killarney...

It's about 100km as the crow flies from Kilkenny to Killarney, and we set our Garmin to shortest distance so that it would take us the interesting back roads rather than go an extra distance looking for faster main roads. This was a good strategy, and we had an interesting drive which, with stops, took us almost all day.
Flower pots made from used tyres seem to be a thing along the road out of Kilkenny.
The Rock of Cachel gives its name to the nearby town. The Rock is a hill of stratified limestone, and the stunning ruins built atop it date to 1100AD (the tower) and 1270 (the Cathedral).
A beautiful ruin on the Golden Vale below the Rock of Cachel.

The largest town we went through was Tipperary. But several other interesting places attracted our attention on the way included Cashel (which means ringfort) whose strongest feature is a spectacular tower and cathedral atop a huge limestone rock. Half a millenium before these were constructed, in pagan times, Saint Patrick preached on the rock. The Queen visited here on her only ever State visit to Ireland in 2011.
Our rented Volvo parked in the tiny and very cute hamlet of Emly.
Where else but Emly could you buy a cuppa from a pub that looks like this?

Other distractions for us on this drive were Emly (a cute little town that we chose for a break) and Kanturk (where a splendid unexpected castle with an interesting history appeared out of the blue).
The R515 passes through this arch in Kilmallock on our drive to Killarney.
Kanturk Castle is a strongly fortfied residence built in 1601 to ward off English settlers, but it was never finished when the Privy Council in London heard of it.

Our Garmin couldn't avoid the N72 as the shortest way into Killarney for the last 20km or so of the journey.

South of Kilkenny...

We used Kilkenny as our base for two full day trips to the south which at last took us off the tourist trail. We had done research beforehand on where to go, but our Garmin sat-nav (actually bought in America for previous road trips there, but now equipped with a Europe map added as an SD card) was essential for finding our way around. Whatever did we do before satellite navigation and GPS? Below are the highlights of two very full days on the road, not many miles, but lots of stops and diversions...
Without our sat-nav, we would not have been able to find our way around.
With our Garmin sat-nav set to "shortest route" sometimes we were led up the garden path.

The back roads we took were the Irish classics - narrow, windy and hemmed in tightly by high stone walls or hedges typically blooming with bright red fucias. Frequently, there is no side view from a road for miles.
Bicycling is popular (but hazardous) for recreation and transport, all over the Ireland we have seen.
Neat thatching on this house near Kells.

Kells (not the bigger one north-west of Dublin) is a cute and quiet little town with an ancient priory nearby whose ruins have been made safe for the public to roam around. There is an old mill nearby (the locals have hopes of resurrecting it), and the Kings River is crossed by a benchmark beautiful multiple arched stone bridge. What a picturesque town!
Multi-arched bridge over the Kings River, and mill sluice gate, in Kells (Kilkeny Co).
Partially restored ruins of Augustine Kells Priory and Abbey, 12-15C, built like a fort signifying troubled times.

Inistioge is another picture perfect village we visited, as is Thomastown which was said to be serene but was having its streets dug up en-masse when we were there. Nevertheless (thanks to the Lonely Planet), we found and had a delightful break at the Blackberry Cafe. We went looking for Clonegal but weren't sure that we actually found it. All villages are pretty in County Kilkenny!
Colorful flowers are everywhere in Ireland, and someone has to maintain them.
Arched bridge over the River Nore at pretty village Inistioge
Tractors, like this one in Inistioge, and often with long trailers, ply the narrow roads everywhere we have been.
Wind turbines for electricity generation dot the Irish countryside, some offshore, but "No More Turbines" posters suggest some community opposition. Near Dungarvan.

One of our day trips took us as far south as Ardmore in County Waterford. In this neat-as-a-pin seaside village, there were lots of visitors, but they were mostly Irish, not tourists from other parts of Europe, the USA or Australia. And the local children were alive and well and apparent in this town, with lots of fun being had in the harbour and on the beach. It's good to see such a lively village which is said (by Wikipedia) to be the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland. Saint Declan lived here in 350–450 AD and converted the inhabitants long before Saint Patrick's arrival on the island.
This plain brick wall at Ardmore has been decorated to look like thatched beach cottages.
At Ardmore, St Declan's stone has restorative properties if you crawl underneath it on Pattern Day.
The breakwater at Ardmore was being used for childrens water sports.
Youngsters practicing their hurling on Ardmore beach.
The 12th Century tower overlooking Ardmore.
The outskirts of Admore as seen from the ruins of the Oratory.

Our journey back towards Kilkenny from Ardmore was via a beautiful coast through Dungarvan (a big vibrant seaside town) and then through tiny places like Annestown. This section of the seaside was signposted the Copper Coast, and we could see ruins of copper mines, really close to the waterline - the landscape was totally reminiscent of BBC's Poldark (albeit set in Cornwall). Then we reached Tramore which reminds you of Brighton in England. A big Luna Park type carnival, an uninspiring but interesting beach, and very very crowded with cars, families and holiday accommodation.
Green fields and cliffs characterise much of the Irish coastline. This scene near Dunbrattin Head in Waterford Co. on the "Copper Coast" includes ruined copper mines.
Remains of a limekiln used for making fertilizer, at the beach at Annestown.
Not quite Bondi, the beach at Tramore is very popular at low tide on a grey day.

Waterford is, of course, the home of Waterford Crystal. It's also a significant port, and a decent sized city. Like many we have seen so far. Waterford is steeped with history, but clogged with cars. These places were never designed with traffic in mind. It took us a long time to get into and out of this town, but it was worth it to see its Medieval Triangle and the Waterford Crystal hanging in the cathedrals. Luckily, we have no room to buy anything here.
Reginald's Tower (1003AD) at the quay in Waterford is the oldest civic building in Ireland. Now hemmed in by other buildings and an obstacle for traffic.
Ten Waterford Crystal chandeliers enhance the interior of the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

27 July, 2015

Cooling it in Kilkenny...

Built by the Normans in 1213, Kilkenny Castle had held by the Butler Family for almost 600 years before they abandoned it to the city in 1960 to prevent further deterioration.

Kilkenny is an amazing city in the southern half of Ireland. It has been officially classified as a city for more than 400 years, a town since 1609, and the first known settlement there was as far back as the 500'sAD. With the Norman invasions around 1169, Kilkenny became a Norman town, with its centrepiece being Kilkenny Castle. This history, and the city's ancientness, is evident everywhere in awe-inspiring buildings and relics.
St. Mary's Cathedral, possibly the most beautiful we have seen, ready for a wedding.
The Dominican Black Abbey has a magnificent stained glass window.
Coach Road house decoration typical of colorful approaches to beautify Kilkenny residences.

Kilkenny's religious history is manifestly obvious in magnificent cathedrals such as the Roman Catholic St. Mary's Cathedral and St. Canice's Cathedral (apparently, it's very rare to be a two cathedral town) and the Dominican Black Abbey. Other stunning buildings include the Town Hall, the Tourist Office (an old Almshouse), some very old taverns, but there are many more in the so-called Medieval Mile of downtown streets, lanes and tiny cut-throughs which pass up and down the city hill.
Kilkenny Castle and the John's Bridge seen from the River Nore.
St. Canice's Cathedral dates to 1202 and has been restored twice after catastrophes involving withcraft and Oliver Cromwell. The tower is hundreds of years older.

Accordlingly, Kilkenny is a tourist hotspot, and simply walking around town (with a map in your hand) is so popular that the narrow footpaths are often clogged with pedestrians. The River Nore flows through Kilknenny - its waters are dark but it's twisty and the banks are quite scenic. The city's pedestrian inventory is enhanced by some really nice river walks.
Kilkenny is a hilly city, and steep narrow lanes like Butterslip join the adjacent levels.
We encountered a swimming event in the River Nore with many participants.

That Ireland thrives on tourism has now been evident to us in Dublin and Kilkenny. We remain quite surprised at the sheer numbers of foreign visitors here. All European languages can be heard, and also American accents. We suppose that many Americans come to Ireland to retrace their ancestors, and the USA is pretty close!

It's been easy for us (so far) to get good coffee here. Pub food, touted as traditional Irish is nice but wears thin after a while, and we find ourselves looking for other dining opportunities. The pubs do their best to attract customers by putting on live entertainment - in one place, The Field, it starts as early as 3:30pm, but we found that it was very hard to get in. We always looked for live traditional music when looking for a venue for an afternoon or pre-dinner drink.
Live music is a common way of attracting customers, but the best and rarest are the fiddlers.
Tiny pub The Field has live music from 3pm every day. After not being able to get in, we arrived at 3:30pm this day.
Kytelers Inn (1224) attracts the punters with live Irish music and dancing.

Our base in Kilkenny was on the edge of the Medieval Mile. The Ormonde Hotel was a good choice, with a large and comfortable room, but we found it was missing amenities that we regard as important, such as an in-room safe and refrigerator. It's summer, and we noted the lack of an air conditioner too - worse, we had to keep the excellent windows shut to try to exclude the noise from a wedding in the hotel one night which was still going when the sun came up at 5am.
Detail at the 1582 Hole in the Wall tavern, recently "restored" and open to the public.
A mechanics workshop in St Johns Priory (1200) no doubt helps to pay for expensive restorations. The priory was destroyed by Cromwell.
Leaden skies across the River Nore to the County Council offices.