Al and Marsha's Journal
A caution: Throughout this journal I have been, and will continue to make, references to historical events, mainly around the somewhat chaotic history of Ireland. I have discovered while reading a variety of books on the subject throughout the trip and after, that the facts quoted in these books don't always agree with each other. So.... what I say about the history, as you read through this is what I got at the time. In general terms it is accurate, but may stray here and there as to dates, etc. One thing is certain, the Celts have had one hell of a time over the last 1200 or so years. It amazes me that they held on all this time without disappearing altogether.
Today we decided to take a day trip and make a circular route through the Wicklow mountains just South of us to visit three historical sites Marsha was interested in. We entered these locations into the GPS and off we went.
The first place is called Powerscourt, located just a few miles south, near Enniskerry (don't you just love those names! I will be mentioning some names during our descriptions just because they sound so neat).
The original castle was built in the 1300 by the Le Poer (Power) family. In 1603 the land was granted to an Englishman named Richard Wingfield, whose descendents remain there for over 350 years. The current Estate was built between 1731 and 1740 by the Wingfield family. The place covers 64 sq. kms. The family lived in the estate before selling it to its current owners, the Slazenger family in the 1950s. By that time the estate was very run down, and the current owners decided to totally refurbish the house ("house" doesn't begin to describe it as the pictures will show) to its original condition. It took 20 years and much financial stress to complete the renovation.
Here comes the hard part.... in 1974 on the actual night before the estate was to be opened to the public after twenty years of expensive refurbishment and renovation, the whole building was destroyed by fire. There is a picture in the images of this place (a picture of a picture) of what it looked like after the fire.
The interior has been rebuilt, but with an entirely un-Estate like purpose. It is mostly shops selling expensive wares, a nice teashop (great homemade baked goods, salads, etc.) which we took advantage of.
Some of the rooms in the original building have been redone as they might have been before the fire, but they are without furnishing.
The real grandeur of this place is really clear only from the outside. At the rear of the house (?) is a 20 hectare garden which was built in the 19th century. I have many pictures of this garden, which is enormous, and has several different features, such as the lake, a formal, terraced grass area with statues and gardens, a Japanese garden, a pet cemetery (yes, you read that right) and a walled garden with many different kinds of flowering perennials.
It is a most spectacular place, and should be included in any tour of Ireland. It is best not to think about how the cost of this place, and the cost of running it was obtained by the Power and Wingfield families.
To see pictures of Powerscourt click here.
We spent quite a bit of time at Powerscourt but eventually headed off to Russborough House another large estate known for its art collection (boring!!!). Our GPS, being resolute in finding the fastest way, took us a way we didn't want to go, via the M1 motorway (read freeway). We had hoped to stay on the "R" roads, which are the one to one and half lane roads which crisscross Ireland in all directions. I stopped where I could and changed the setting on the GPS to the shortest route and soon found ourselves back in the countryside heading for Blessington near Russborough House. We found our way there with no further ado.
This estate is not in anywhere the same condition as the Powerscourt estate, and not much to look at. The reason for its existence these days is its art collection, The house was built by and remained in the hands of the Leeson family until 1931. In 1952 it was sold to Sir Alfred Beit who had inherited his fortune from his uncle who was a partner of de Beers in South Africa. Again, it wouldn't pay to think too much on whose back this place was bought and maintained, and which funded the major art collection that the uncle had collected in his lifetime and now hanging in Russborough House and the National Gallery in Dublin.
In 1974 and again in 1986 a significant number of valuable paintings were stolen from the house to fund IRA activity. Some of these have been recovered. Because of this in 1988 Beit decided to hand over the most valuable paintings to the Irish National Gallery in Dublin. This didn't stop the thievery though and in 2001 a pair of thieves drove a jeep through the front doors and took off with 4 million Euros worth of paintings, including a Gainsborough which had already been stolen, and recovered - twice. None of this last group of paintings has been recovered.
We went on the guided tour of the house, which included all of the normal rooms used from day to day by the families. This was mildly interesting, but mainly boring (!!!) as the tour guide described in minute detail every item in the rooms, including a description of each painting and its painter. I was glad when it was over.
One thing though always makes me wonder about the living style in these places. The rooms are enormous, and, given their size, sparsely furnished. And consider this, there was no central heat, each room had its own ornate fireplace, and the only light in the evening was the fire, lanterns and candles. It seems always to have been a gloomy existence. The guide made one interesting comment on this subject. She said that when the Beit family decided to open the house to the public they moved into one of the two wings of the estate, which had been redone for them to live in and "where they were very much more comfortable". Amen to that.
As cameras were not allowed, there are no pictures of this house.
Next we headed off to the last of the places we wanted to see today, Glendalough.
Glendalough is an ancient monastic settlement tucked away beside two lakes and at the bottom of a steep valley. An early Christian bishop, St. Kevin established a monastery here in the 6th century. Most of the buildings (ruins) which remain are from the 10th and 12th centuries. This place has had a bit of a rough history. The original monastery was sacked by the Vikings at least four times between 775 and 1071. Finally, in 1398 the English forces from Dublin almost completely destroyed it. Efforts to rebuild failed and what is there now is the result.
Actually, the Glendalough ruins are now a small part of a very large National Park including miles of walking paths, remote camp sites, a couple of places to hold retreats far from the crowds, family picnic areas, etc. It is a very pretty place, and there is no charge to use it!
We were interested in the ruins of the monastery and the round tower originally built by St. Kevin, over 1,400 years ago. The round towers exist in a number of places around Ireland. They were all built by the earliest monks, but no one knows what they are intended for.
So we took the path to the ruins. We were surprised at the number of graves surrounding the ruined buildings, with markers as simple as a smallish rock, to major tombstones with names and dates engraved. Unfortunately the oldest are not readable. The oldest one we could read was from the 18th century. More amazing was the fact that a significant number were 20th century, and even a few after 2000.
We spent some time exploring all of this, along with many other tourists, and then climbed back into the care for the last step, home.
For pictures of Glendalough click here.
After attending to some domestic matters, we left Dublin again. This time it was the start of a four day jaunt South and West. We wanted to go to the Dingle Peninsula as our first stop.
The drive to Dingle is quite direct, passing by the major towns of Limerick and Tralee, for a total distance of about 360 kms. Needless to say, we did not plan to dawdle on this stage, but to make a beeline, subject to bathroom and food breaks. So off we went.
We did just that, stopping at a very pretty town just past Limerick called Adare. This town is obviously set up to attract tourists, and succeeds at that. The road into Adare passes a half dozen cottages with thatched roofs housing the usual tourist goods, clothes (read T-shirts), and souvenirs. We found a parking spot right in the centre of the main business area and stopped to have lunch and do a little exploring to stretch our legs. After lunch, as we wandered the streets we saw the local public library where Marsha headed as if being drawn by a string. She only spent a few minutes and then we climbed back into the car for the rest of the drive to Dingle.
We had decided earlier in the day to give the voice on our GPS a name. The voice is American, but we decided, after discussion to name her Molly. We were actually starting to be irritated by Molly's voice. It was quite strident in its instructions, but worse, when we reached where were going each time she would announce our arrival with glee and excitement.
It was beginning to be a pain. At one of our stops I changed the voice to the British one, and we immediately loved her. She is very British and has none of the strident character we disliked so much in Molly. We decided to stick with her and named her Elizabeth. BIG improvement.
Actually, we were going to pass right through Dingle as when we called last night we could not find a B&B with rooms available. We did find one outside of Dingle in a town further along the peninsula which was highly rated, in a small place called Ventry (or so we thought- read on).
When we passed Tralee it immediately became obvious why people who have been to the Dingle peninsula rave so much about it. A glance at a map of Ireland will disclose that this small (compared to the others nearby) peninsula juts right out into the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean came into view as we rode closer, surrounded by the very typical Irish countryside of rolling green hills, farmers' fields in green rectangles and bordered (in this area) by low rock walls. The road at this point was another "N" road, meaning maximum width of two lanes, sometimes narrower, with no shoulder, and sometimes almost wide enough to feel totally comfortable about oncoming traffic. On the peninsula it was all narrow, windy road skirting the North coast, and then turning South and climbing up into the hills before heading down again on the other side to Dingle.
Dingle is a pretty little typical Irish town with the same style as the dozens of others we have passed through, but right on the edge of the ocean. The place was crawling with tourists and packed with tourist busses. I thought that if this was less touristy than the more commonly visited Ring Of Kerry peninsula to the South, then I sure wouldn't want to be there.
We passed directly through Dingle toward our destination B&B in Ventry. As we proceeded past Dingle the road became one of the one and one half lane variety - the "R" road type, with the added touch of a solid rock wall on the right, and the ocean on the left. Zero room to pull over as we went along.
We got to Ventry and passed right through without seeing our B&B. A kilometer or so past Ventry we pulled over and phoned the B&B. The owner took our call. Marsha had told me from her phone call the night before that he was an "elderly" gentleman. I had the same impression.
I told him where we were and he instructed us how to get to his place. Having thought that we had missed it, we didn't really get what direction he was sending us on. He said we could go the short way, or drive all the way around. I assumed he meant that we could drive all the way around the peninsula, through Dingle again, and back to Ventry. It turned out that is not what he meant at all. More about that later.
He directed us to go on the way we were headed and to watch for a place with a Cherch (yes, Cherch... that's how it is pronounced here) and a Public House called Murphy's on a corner.
Factoid: actually a guessoid: Would it be reasonable to guess that the term "Pub" is a shortening of the older, and now much less commonly used term "Public House"? I think so.
We found the corner without any trouble and turned onto the road he had specified. This turned into one of the roads without a number (that was a good indicator of what was coming). It was a one lane road with hedges up to the edge on either side. If you recall from my description of Irish roads, this is a Third Class road that requires one vehicle to back up to a driveway or wide spot if one encounters a vehicle coming the other way, which we did twice. He told us to go three miles or so and turn right at a "T" intersection and he was right there.
We drove gingerly on and came across a "T" intersection and dutifully turned right. This was a mistake... the road was even narrower, had grass growing down the center of it and seemed to be leading nowhere. We turned back, had to back up for one car which came careening around a bend, and resumed our ride along no number road. I glanced at my GPS and it actually showed the road we were on and where we were on it. It was clear that we had about a mile to go and then would reach the "R" road again. And we did, and as promised, there was the B&B and our host, who was indeed elderly, standing in the doorway waiting for us in a suit, tie and hat.
It had been quite a day, long, tiring, but worth every minute.
This B&B is, in our view, more like what we would call a motel. There is a main building housing the dining room and other facilities and then two or three other buildings housing the bedrooms. Our host, after giving us a bit of a speech, led us to our room and described how to use everything, then off he went after enquiring what time we would like dinner.
There were very few people there and it turned out that owner was trying to wind down for health reasons and was not advertising. He is just taking what ever comes in the door or over the phone. I think there were only three rooms occupied this night.
After unpacking and some organizing we went for a walk to see what was what. There was not much here except the ocean, beautiful hillsides, the Blasket Islands a couple of miles offshore, and of course, a pub. The pub's sign on the road advertised that it is the last pub till Boston. We walked to the pub and had a cool drink and spent a half hour or so talking to the young bar owner.
After that we returned to our room to rest and wait for dinner. At the appointed time we appeared in the dining room for a very nice dinner, prepared by the owner's son.
Because we were in the middle of nowhere, it follows that there was nothing to do in the evening, so I read and Marsha went for a walk. This was to be an early to bed night.
To see pictures of the trip to Dingle click here.
The next morning we had decided to skip breakfast at the An Patan B&B and head to Dingle to look around and have breakfast. It was during our discussion about this, and where we would go next, that I finally figured out that we were nowhere near Ventry, but several miles further on around Slea Head and part way up the West Coast. The no number road we took the day before to find the place had taken us further West rather than back toward Ventry which what we had assumed. That is what he meant by going all the way around, not the whole peninsula and back to Ventry, just a couple of miles further along the coast. The no number road he sent us on just bypassed going around the point at Slea Head. Strange what assumptions can do.
The decision to forgo the breakfast included in the price of the B&B almost became a serious lapse in thinking. We headed for Dingle, along the part of the coast we had missed yesterday, fairly early and once again were faced with incredible views of the shoreline on one side, and where it was not rock wall, the hills of the peninsula on the other. A few miles toward Dingle, in a tight curve, the road disappeared and we forded a creek. No kidding, a running creek where the road should be!
We reached Dingle and found it quiet and parked in a public parking lot along the waterfront. We then began to look for a place for breakfast. There are apparently no restaurants open for breakfast, except one that said it was, but wasn't. It had not occurred to us till this that having a restaurant open for breakfast in a tourist town is a bit of an oxymoron as throughout Ireland hotels and B&Bs all serve breakfast as part of the price. Eventually we found a health food store/cafe open and had what we had been looking for, coffee and a scone.
This breakfast quest had taken us away from the main street, and also some time. When we got back to the main street it was packed with tour busses and tourists of all shapes and sizes.
On the way back to the car we passed a street entertainer who had been setting up when we arrived. He had about a dozen large puppet like figures each with a musical instrument. When got back he had a large audience and this "orchestra" was playing a little ditty. We watched for a while as he worked the crowd. I think he probably makes a very good living from this.
To see pictures back to Dingle click here.
Our plan for today was to visit two coastal towns near Cork, and then drive to a town in Tipperary called Clonmel which would put us in easy driving distance to our stop the next day in Kilkenny.
We headed off toward the first stop in Kinsale. This small town is located in an area South of Cork which we reached via an "N" road which while some stretches were a good two lanes wide, most of it was of the no shoulder narrow lane type. Near Cork we turned South onto the "R" roads which took us to Kinsale.
Kinsale is another of the very Irish small towns with twisty narrow streets and typical Irish village architecture. It is one of Ireland's three most picturesque postcard towns listed in our guidebook. Dingle was another, and the third is a small town just a couple of miles from our base in Dublin.
We explored the main part of Kinsale, and then looked for the restaurant most recommended in the guide book, Fishy Fishy Cafe. We found it after a bit, and after a short wait, got a great table on the terrace. Lunch was first class (and priced accordingly). After that we wandered back toward our car, stopping in a couple of shops along the way.
Our next port of call was Cobh (pronounced Cobe), also on the coast South of Cork, but a few kilometers East. We were entirely on "R" roads for this drive and it was very pleasant.
A few miles along the road, and around a sharp bend, right in front of us was a very old castle, and on it was a sign: "For Sale - 800 Hundred Year Old Castle". I'm not making this up. I remarked to Marsha that it would be good fixer-upper for the right person.
As we approached Cobh Marsha, was studying the map on her lap and wondered aloud how were going to get across the bay where Cobh was as there was no bridge on the map, or in sight. Good question. As we drove down the last hill toward the bay Elizabeth told us "In .1 miles turn right and board ferry". I guess that answered that question. Sure enough we turned right into a parking lot where there were a couple of cars already waiting. Just as we parked in the line up Elizabeth reminded us to "board ferry". Across the bay I could see the small ferry just leaving the other side. In just a few minutes it had arrived and we drove on for our short hop across.
We drove the last couple of miles along the waterfront and around a last corner to find Cobh in front of us. There are more Georgian houses in Cobh than we had seen outside of the larger cities. The reason for this is likely that, though we had never heard of it, Cobh has been for a very long time the last departure point and the center of the passenger ship business in the British Isles.
It is from here that hundreds and hundreds of sailing ships transported almost a million Irish to America and Australia during and after the famine. This port was also used to load criminals for shipment to Australia and virtual slavery until they had served their sentences.
Invariably the conditions on these ships was very harsh and unpleasant and many died of disease or injury during the voyages. There was a fairly high level of thievery amongst the ship's captains as well which made things even worse. Can you imagine being stuck in the bottom level of a ship with no air, no natural light, little food, with sick people all around in the middle of a mid-atlantic storm? Gruesome is much to tame a word for this situation.
Cobh continued to be the departing point for trans Atlantic passenger traffic (and mail) right up to the present day where cruise ships to and from Europe stop to drop and pick up passengers.
In the days of the glamorous trans-Atlantic ships, from sail to modern ships thousands of passengers came here to board their ships. One of these was the Titanic, which made its last stop here before departing for New York.
Another ship which was on its way here was the Lusitania which shortly before arriving from New York near the beginning of the WWI was sunk by a German submarine.
There were 1,700 people aboard, travellers and crew, and 1,100 did not survive. The Germans tried to claim that the ship was carrying guns and ammunition, which of course was totally false. They wanted to justify the killing of 1,100 innocent men women and children. I will not tell you what my thoughts were while I was reading about this in the Cobh Heritage Center.
All of the survivors of the Lusitania sinking were brought to Cobh by a variety of vessels both civilian and military, and were cared for in local homes, hotels and hospitals.
We took a couple of hours in the heritage center and walked in the main area of the town before departing for the last leg of the day, our drive to Clonmel in County Tipperary.
This was going to be a fairly long drive the sole purpose of which was to get us half way to Kilkenny where we were to stop the next day. We wanted as much time as we could in Kilkenny as everything we read about it suggested that it is a gem.
We drove the first part of the way on "R" roads, and were soon on the more relaxing "N" roads. Within a short time we came across a long line-up ahead of us creeping along at a snail's pace. After quite a few minutes it became clear that we were going through the middle of a village. The trouble was that, even though it was a small village it had a traffic light! This being "rush hour", Irish style we had to creep along with the rest. After about ten minutes or so of this we were back out on the "N" road at full speed.... for about ten minutes... then another rush hour line-up and another two bit town with a traffic light.
Once we were past that nonsense there were no further obstacles to our trip except that our route to Clonmell soon had us on R671, the narrow twisty, scary kind. This was the longest stretch of our drive today. I soon realized that given the distance we still had to go on this "R" road, it was indeed going to be a long, long way toTipperary.....
For those readers who got my little pun just now... a factoid: The young British soldier who wrote that song had never set foot in Ireland and chose Tipperary because it sounded good with his music.
In due course we arrived in Clonmel. Did I mention that I let Marsha talk me into going to Clonmel without a reservation. Will I did. Big Mistake. Ok... as it turned out it was a medium mistake. After we arrived I parked the car on a side street so that we could look at the travel guide. The best B&B was listed as being on a major street. We had no idea where that was, but when I consulted the GPS, there was the street just a half block away.... another ace... trouble was the B&B no longer exists....sigh!!
We drove around a bit and ended up turning onto a pretty street called "New Quay West" which runs along a pretty little river with a park on the other side. Just as we turned the corner there was the first B&B sign we had seen since getting here. Marsha went to inquire, but they were full. The proprietor pulled out a list of B&Bs in Clonmel and started phoning them. She found one very quickly and before I could tell her about the GPS she had arranged for the owner of the B&B to drive over and lead us to his place!
Sometimes people behave in a way that makes you have a little more optimism for our world. This was one of those times.
In a few minutes he arrived and led us back to his B&B which turned out to be on the edge of town right on the route we were to take to Kilkenny tomorrow. After meeting with the owners Lily and Martin, we put our bags down and walked a few blocks to a new hotel nearby and had dinner in their fancy dining room. (remember... fancy = expensive). We hit the sack early as were both tired out from our adventures of the day.
To see pictures of Kinsale, Cobh and Clonmel click here.
The full Irish breakfast (standard B&B and hotel term) we were served the next morning was excellent and we had a nice chat with Lilly. We talked about grandchildren of which she seems to have about ten. She commented that it is always lovely to see them and even more lovely when they leave.
As mentioned we were on a short drive to Kilkenny about 60kms further North. We arrived there very quickly and found our hotel, with Elizabeth's help. The Hibernian (Hibernia is what this island was called before it became Ireland. I don't know who changed it or why) hotel is converted from an old government building, and is located right in the centre of the town within a stone's throw of everything. This hotel was recently rated the best boutique hotel in Ireland. After a bit of fuss figuring out where to park so that we could check in Marsha jumped out while I parked in a place which have gotten me one or more tickets at home. Shortly she arrived with some help and they took the luggage, while I parked in a parking lot just up the block. We settled in to our delightful room and immediately headed out to do our touristing.
Kilkenny has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful cities in Ireland given its setting, the river, and the fact that it has managed, probably with great determination, to keep as much of its old character as possible. Marsha noticed that there was not a single high rise building in sight.
We walked along the main street a while and came across another historic house, right on the main street, which we went through. As we continued we came across one of the major Cherches in town and spent some time exploring the grounds, and then back to the tourist packed center of town. We took a slightly different road back which was full of lovely old buildings. We came across a farmers' market and explored it a bit, then found a small cafe to have something cool This is first really hot day since we got to Ireland.
After cooling off we walked a couple of blocks further to Kilkenny Castle, the main attraction here. The grounds of the place are enormous, and the main part of the land stretches South as far as one can see. Off in the distance is the outline of some low mountains. Apparently when the Butler family, who built this castle few hundred years ago, and occupied it right up to the 1920s at one time owned 27,000 hectares around the castle and ending at these mountains.
Across the street from the castle is a large building and grounds which were the stables for the castle. The stalls now are filled with shops instead of horses.
The Castle itself is very imposing, and very large. It was not all built at once, but in three stages over several centuries. Once again no cameras are allowed inside so I have no pictures of the great rooms we were shown through. All of the rooms are gradually being restored to original condition. In the century or so before he sold the castle to the government for 50 pounds the owner had let the castle deteriorate, probably because of cost. As the family had been for centuries a symbol, and probably leaders of British and Protestant rule, the owners moved to England as soon as the Irish became independent.
We spent a couple of hours in the castle and then walked back toward the center of town, across a bridge and into a hotel on the opposite side of the river with a terrace bar and had another cold drink and took in the wonderful sight.
After that we returned to the hotel for some rest, before going to dinner. We went quite late to an Italian restaurant across the street from the Castle entrance and had another fine meal. After that we walked along the street looking for a pub which is famous for its music. We found it and were disappointed to see that the music, at least tonight, was American Western. Off we went looking for traditional Irish music and within a few feet found a wonderful pub which advertised traditional Irish music which would be starting soon.
We went in and were advised to sit at the bar to get the best view, so we did. Marsha nursed a couple of Irish coffees and I had a Baileys. At the appointed time three musicians came in and set up a few feet from us. Soon they began playing and it was everything we had expected. They were wonderful to listen to. One thing I noticed is that they never smile when they are playing.... I wonder why. After a couple of numbers one of them started singing and he had a great and powerful voice.
About a half hour into the music a lady sitting with her husband got up and approached the musicians. She asked them if they knew a particular song, to which they said no. Suddenly she just started to sing.... a beautiful voice... after about two verses and choruses the musicians picked up the melody and all three began playing. This to me is pure magic.
They continued to play various songs, some with singing, some without. Later the lady came back and sang another song.
We stayed for quite a while, and then walked slowly back to our hotel for sleep.
To see pictures of Kilkenny click here.
We were up fairly early and after a great breakfast headed South for a little detour to a town called Kells. This place is known for its ancient abbey, another "round tower" and monastery and Marsha wanted to see it. It was only about eight miles away so we decided to go. This was not the Kells where the famous book Kells was created, that was another place.
It was raining hard, but we took the time to have a look at both ruins before turning North and our base.
To see pictures of Kells click here.
It was a fairly short drive to home and we arrived without any fuss. During the evening after a home cooked meal, Marsha was reading the newspaper, and fate dealt us another ace.... this time it was the ace of spades.
There was an ad for a concert tomorrow night in Dun Loaghaire (pronounced Dun Leary for reasons lost in the mist of time) which is a small town just a couple of miles South from where we are staying. It is the place we will leave from by ferry to England in a week or so. The concert was to be given in the community theatre by the Three Tenors (the Irish version) which Marsha and I have seen on PBS a few times (always during pledge week) and which Marsha loves. In a flash Marsha had gotten onto the internet and purchased tickets. We ended up in the nosebleed section in the second last row, but it is a small theatre so it was not a big deal. We then made a dinner reservation at a nearby restaurant, and were very pleased with the situation.
To top it off this would be our first shot at using the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) to go anywhere. We will be using it a lot during the coming week going to and from points South on the system, and into Dublin. In addition we would be able to scout out the DART as a way to get from the house to the ferry terminal next week.
Altogether a very good deal.
This was a day of recovery after our four frenetic days of driving (we have now put 1,400 miles on the car), and being eager tourists. We covered a lot of ground in this last excursion and saw many interesting and beautiful places. Going somewhat off the usual tourist paths leads to some fascinating places each full of history and charm. We are very glad we took the route we did.
Marsha spent the day relaxing (including doing laundry - small washing machine, no drier. Clothes are dried in the "hanging room" which is in fact a small closet. For some reason clothes hung in there after washing dry very quickly). The room is quite warm, possibly due to a hot water pipe running along one wall. It worked quite well as it turns out.
I spent considerable time bringing this journal up to date, and doing preliminary work on the photos taken during the last few days.
At about 5:30 we headed for the nearest DART station which was a five minute walk, and after figuring out the ticketing system, boarded the very smooth and efficient train for the two station trip to Dun Loaghaire.
The restaurant we had chosen was actually on top of the ferry terminal building and had been advertised as having a great view of the harbour. We had some time so we went for a short walk along the well preserved old streets and shops, before returning to the restaurant for dinner.
The first reaction I had when entering the restaurant was that it was very hot and stifling.... The Irish do not have a use for, nor do they appear to understand, air conditioning. The result is that many places, on mildly warm days, are very warm, and the air stale and unpleasant. This was one of those places. It is a very chic, stylish restaurant, but except for one table, and a private room upstairs there was zero view of the harbour. In fact the seating was all at the back of the place, off the street, and the view would have been where the kitchen is located. We both found that exceedingly strange. Marsha was irated (our invented word - meaning obvious) at the false advertising and the stupidity of how the place was built. The harbour is actually very pretty and a nice view from a restaurant high over the bay would have seemed a natural....
After a rather unsatisfying meal (we both were not thrilled with the food) we walked to the theatre a block away and enjoyed the view from the plaza in front until it was time to go in. As it turned out we probably got two of the last available seats as by the time we got there it was sold out. These guys are very popular in Ireland. We watched the arriving crowd and it soon became apparent that the vast majority of the audience were of the silver and blue hair variety.... hardly anyone as young as us there!
The show started with the Three Tenors, accompanied by a superb violinist and pianist doing several operatic pieces. They then introduced a local soprano (whose name I did not get) with a marvellous voice who sang a couple of operatic pieces on her own. For the rest of the show all six of these performers sang (or played) in various combinations, although the majority was just the tenors.
They sang opera, Irish folk songs, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley (out of their mouths Presley's songs actually sounded like music), Rogers and Hammerstein, Frank Sinatra and others. These folks have amazing voices and we enjoyed the evening thoroughly.
After two hours of great entertainment we walked to the DART station a block away and in less than fifteen minutes were back to our base. It was a most satisfying evening, except for the restaurant.
We had plans for today to take the DART a couple of stations South to a small town which is much recommended called Dalky. Marsha got to reading the guide book and soon decided that rather than going to Dalky, and considering we had one more driving day with insurance that we should go instead to Newgrange. This is the place where a number of very ancient pre-Celtic burial mounds called Passage Mounds are located and where the largest is open to the public with guided tours.
So, off we went North again, with Elizabeth as our trusty guide and about 45 miles later arrived at the Visitors' Center. This center is actually the starting point for various ancient places in and around the neighbourhood but we were only interested in the Passage Mound. After paying for our tour, and waiting one and one half hours for it to start (this is a VERY popular place!) we got on the bus which took us about 2 kilometers away to the site of five Passage Mounds.... one very large one, which we were to visit, and four smaller ones in a long line, all of which, except the large one are in the middle of farmer's fields. The four smaller ones have never been excavated by archaeologists, and may never be.
The one we were to see is very large and imposing indeed. These burial mounds were made over 5,000 years ago, predating the pyramids by 500 years, and Stonehenge by 1,000 years. The folks that built these places here (there are hundreds throughout Europe, and over forty in Ireland.) had very advanced societies. Most of what has been gleaned about them has been by interpolating from the meagre artefacts which have survived all these centuries. The homes were made of wood, none of which remains, but evidence of post holes and fire pits provide the clues.
No one knows for sure why, or even how, these were built. The one we were to see has hundreds of large (over two tons) stones around the base. That should provide some idea of its size. It is built on a natural hill overlooking the banks of the River Boyne. The experts assume that the village was on the river banks, which provided protection and food, with the burial mounds on the hill behind.
The most startling fact about the large mound we went into, which is exactly as it was when built 5,000 years ago, is that on December 21st each year the rising sun shines through an opening over the entrance door, and shines directly onto the main burial chamber 19 meters into the mound. By the way, they are called Passage Mounds because of the passage way they have leading from the outside to the burial chamber. Others of the mounds have entrances facing in different directions to catch the sun at different key times, spring and summer.
The dead found in the large mound had all been cremated and then brought into the chamber for final burial. The remains of only five bodies were found in this one because during the 17th and 18th centuries the place, which had been discovered in the 16th century by a local estate owner looking for stones for his house, was left totally open to anyone. Needless to say this resulted in some damage, and graffiti on the walls. While it is a shame that this happened, seeing graffiti that old still totally readable was also interesting.
The engineering which went into building the whole place, and particularly the passage and burial chamber is astounding considering when it was built. The main vault, at the end of the passage where there are three burial chambers has a huge vaulted interior ceiling over 15 feet high, which has not only withstood all of these years, not a single drop of rain water has ever leaked into the place. The vaulted ceiling is designed in such a way that the weight of 250,000 tons of stone and earth above it is spread over to the side, and prevents collapse. Obviously this design works. When taken over in modern times for research only two support posts were needed to ensure stability. Not another thing has been done to the passage or the burial chamber (with the exception of electric lights).
We enjoyed this experience a great deal, and after returning by bus to our starting point we decided to head for another nearby historical site, the place where the Battle of the Boyne happened in 1690. This battle was one of the, if not the, most critical battle in the long history of Ireland. The Boyne river runs into Ireland from the Irish sea about 50 miles North of Dublin.
In 1688 the King of England, James II was deposed by his son-in-law, William of Orange. William III was a Protestant, and James II a Catholic. That difference plus the fact that Jimmy II wanted his throne back led directly the the Battle of the Boyne.
So in 1690 James II and his army, some of which had been provided by a sympathizer Louis XIV of France landed in Kinsale (the charming little town we visited several days ago, South of Cork) and proceeded North to take on William III and his army which were already ensconced in Ulster (now Northern Ireland).
A glance of a map of Ireland would make it pretty clear that James II had to march a huge distance from Kinsale to the Boyne River with all their equipment, while Willy III had a pretty easy hike.
William arrived at the Boyne River on June 14th of that fateful year, and Jimmy II arrived two weeks later. Apparently Jimmy II, being pretty sure of himself said that he would "Chance a battle". Big mistake.....
On July 1, 1690 William III and his forces won the battle and set the stage for several hundred years of Protestant rule over the majority of the population, the Catholics. Ultimately this led to the creation of the Republic of Ireland in the1920s, and Northern Ireland and its "Troubles" which lasted until the end of the 20th century. Now Northern Ireland is run by the Protestant majority (over two thirds of the population) with Catholics not only in the minority, but pretty much put upon until very recently. The Republic of Ireland, on the other hand is about 93% Catholic, 4% Protestant, and the remainder spread around everyone else.
The annual parade and holiday in Northern Ireland to celebrate this great Protestant victory are held on July 12th each year (the eleven missing days are because of the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar). The Orange Order (Orange because William III was also known as William of Orange. I have no idea why) marches through Catholic parts of Belfast and Derry (and probably other places as well). These parades have in the past resulted in extremely violent reactions from the Catholic community and the IRA. When Marsha and I were in Ireland in 2003 we were strongly advised not to be in Northern Ireland on July 12th. The Castle Grove hotel in Donegal where we were staying has a full house of folks from Northern Ireland every year on the weekend nearest July 12th.
So... another history lesson, one of many fascinating stories of religious intolerance, and political and economic intrigue, all mixed together to create Ireland as she is today.
One thing we have discovered in our previous trips to Ireland, and during this one, is that the whole history from Viking times up to 1944 is filled with invasions, uprisings, clan infighting, Irish gains, Irish losses (sometimes both at the same time in different parts of the country). The Vikings pillaged and looted, then settled and assimilated and became part of the landscape as did the Normans. The early British were not quite assimilated, but as one British politician once observed, "They are more Irish than the Irish themselves". Many of the "Old British" as they came to be known were allied with and sympathised with the plight of the Irish, but often for personal self interest reasons.
Throughout all of this the Irish farming and merchant classes suffered great hardships one way or another.
When Ulster (Northern Ireland) was first considered as a different kettle of fish from the rest of Ireland, it was the Scottish who were the problem.
The only time which I can identify with being the clear cut start of major oppression was when the issues changed from political/economic to religious/economic. The was the time of King Henry VIII who was a prolific beheader and marrier.
His fight with the Pope regarding getting a divorce so he could marry Anne Boleyn led to a split and the creation of the Church of England, the Protestant movement. Henry decided that Ireland would be totally run as Protestant country and that those who were Catholic had to convert or lose all privileges. This very quickly left the vast majority of native Irish with no rights. Henry quickly began populating the country, starting with Ulster, with rich English who were given vast estates of land once belonging to the occupant tenant Irish who now were required to lease their own land in order to continue to farm. Many of these "plantations" as they were called were less the reputable types. The reputable ones in England already had all of the privilege they needed.
The Irish Catholics were not allowed to own any land, nor practice any profession. Catholic teaching was outlawed, but in fact continued in the countryside in clandestine local schools called "hedge schools" because they were operated in the countryside in the fields near the hedge boundaries. Ironically, because of these hedge schools, although all British thought that the Irish were ignorant peasants, the fact is that most Irish had a much better and broader education than had the British in Ireland.
Uprising after uprising happened over the following centuries, sometimes aided by others such as the French after the French Revolution. All of these failed to unseat British power until the 20th century. Some of the events leading up to the establishment in the 1920s of a sort of self governed Irish country are outlined later.
After the Boyne river we headed straight home and spent a quiet evening.
To see pictures of Newgrange click here.
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