The Rock of Cashel, Republic of Ireland

The Rock of Cashel, Republic of Ireland

On a high limestone hill, ancient headstones overlook pastures below the noble Rock of Cashel.

The medieval fortress towers above wide, verdant plains, dotted with grazing cattle. One of Ireland’s most spectacular archeological sites, this stone fort, or “Caiseal,” was originally a great Celtic cathedral. During the 4th century, the Rock was chosen as a base by a Welsh clan, the Eoghanachta, who conquered the land and made themselves the ruling kings. It remained one of the two power centers in Ireland for four centuries. In 1101, hoping to gain favor with the powerful bishops, Muirchertach O’Briain, king of Munster, made a gift of the Rock of Cashel, also known as St. Patrick’s Rock, to the Church. The cathedral continued as a place of worship until the 1700’s.

The day of our visit, heavy clouds drifted low over pasturelands, with occasional sunbreaks that lit up the land like a golden spotlight. The hill is bare of any natural windbreak, so the cathedral-fortress and headstones braved the chilly wind and damp air, just as we did. 

But no matter. The iconic Ireland views fairly took my breath away. A collection of fields lay out across the valley like some crazy, mixed-up plaid, their colors varied from emerald to apple to yellow-green in more shades than my eyes could comprehend. Cattle, their heads bowed as if worshipping the lush grass, were mere dots in the distance.

The structure looks big from the outside. From the inside, somehow it seems even bigger. 

 

 

Settled among the fields and pastures below us, the ruins of Hore Abbey, also known as St. Mary’s, lay. Formerly a Benedictine abbey, it was given to the Cistercians in 1270 by Archbishop David MacCeaarbhaill, who later entered the monastery. The archbishop imprudently bequeathed much of the village of Cashel’s lands, mills, and other property to the Cistercians once the Benedictines had been successfully “removed.”

A popular local tale is that MacCeaarbhaill evicted the former Order from the land after having a dream in which the monks plotted his death. True or not, he was in great disfavor with the townsfolk following the recommission of their assets to the abbey.

According to historical accounts, thirty-eight local brewers were levied two flagons from each brewing, which they surely saw as a continuation of the wealthy Church brazenly stealing from the poor locals. The tax may well have been a contributing factor to two of the bishop’s monks being murdered while visiting the town.  

Lesson for the Day: Don’t steal somebody else’s beer. If you do, stay clear of the ‘hood.

It’s a fascinating place, so if you’re into history, architecture, or just beautiful places, make sure to put The Rock of Cashel on your “Be There” list.

The Dark Hedges of Northern Ireland

The Dark Hedges of Northern Ireland

In the late 18th century, James and Grace Lynd Stuart planted over 150 beech trees leading to their Georgian estate, Gracehill House, hoping to impress approaching visitors.

Today, people worldwide are attracted and fascinated by the natural, ethereal beauty of the Dark Hedges.

What a morning! It was one of the few sunny, blue-sky mornings of our Ireland road trip adventure. My friend and travel companion, M, and I thoroughly enjoyed the short drive from our lovely B & B to this immensely popular site out in the middle of rural Northern Ireland near the village of Balleymoney.

Earlier, while refilling our coffee cups at breakfast, our host strongly urged us to “get there as early as you can, ‘cuz it fills up real fast with the tourists.” Excellent advice, that, as it turned out.

We arrived at the sparsely-marked neck of the woods about 8:30 and were pleasantly surprised to find only two cars parked on the side of the road near the entrance to the lane. A quick thinker as usual, M suggested, “You jump out with your camera and I’ll drive up the road and park. I’ll walk back down and meet you.” She didn’t have to tell me twice.

As luck would have it, her words were heaven-sent. Scrambling out of the car, I ran the short distance in front of the previously parked cars, and quickly clicked off about three shots. I could only hope that the camera’s settings were right.

… tourist-laden cars and selfie sticks …

 

Not three minutes later, a bevy of vehicles, large and even larger, filled the little road’s shoulders. Doors opened, spewing people out in all directions in every imaginable color, size, attitude, and interest level.

The comparative quiet and mystery of the place dissolved as quickly as wind-driven smoke. Selfie sticks cropped up in bunches, while those who only wanted a picture of the stunning tunnel of trees sans clueless sightseers sadly waited for them to move on. But by that point, capturing a non-people’d image that morning was impossible.

M and I remarked how extremely grateful we were of our host’s excellent advice as we exited the stately tunnel of trees and yakkety tourists, and away from the crowded hubbub behind us.

 … wise and a knowing presence …

The Dark Hedges is an extraordinary place with an almost palpable presence of age and wisdom about the comings and goings of men.

I’m sure in the quiet of a moonlit night, one might almost hear the clip-clopping of horses’ hooves as they pull fine coaches headed for the brightly lit grand home at the end of the lane. I imagine ladies riding down that mysteriously stunning avenue in their voluminous satin gowns, with feathers and jewels in their coiffed hair, while chatting quietly with their gentlemen companions who wear black top hats and hold canes at their side for no reason other than to give off a distinguished air….

….

Returning to the present, a contemporary note for those who may not be aware: this natural phenomenon of twisting, interlocking branches took stage in the popular HBO series, “The Game of Thrones,” in 2011. The literary series of the same title was written by New Jersey, USA born author, George R.R. Martin.

A Reminder Unexpected

A Reminder Unexpected

It’s our last full day in Ireland – a beautiful, non-rainy, morning and we are determined to spend it soaking up as much of old Dublin as we can.

Our first stop of the day: the Book of Kells exhibition and the Long Room of the Old Library at Trinity College. Sounds doable, since it’s not far from our hotel. We’re anxious to arrive early to beat the crowds.

So – wearing our good walking shoes, and with maps, cameras, and phones at the ready, we start off.

I head off in the wrong direction. M calls me back, explaining that the route she chose will take us through a slightly quieter, less busy area of the city – away from sidewalks teeming with Dubliners, students, clueless photog-travelers, and the noisy, torn-up city streets from the day before. Good plan.

Our pace is brisk but not overly so. M has quite long legs. I don’t. From the beginning of our Irish Adventure, she was very good to keep that in mind and did an exemplary job of slowing her pace in the hope that I could keep up.

I’m determined not to hold us back this morning; we have much to see on this, our last full day in the Land of Eire. My trusty Oly remains in the camera bag. But you know, Dublin has all these grand, old DOORS – lovely doors, built mostly in the popular, 18th century Georgian style. Yesterday afternoon, we both enjoyed taking pictures of them. So you’d probably think I’d gotten my fill. Um … no.

Our first Dublin door of the day

… And so it begins …

Less than five minutes into our walk, I spy a door. Red. A lovingly maintained house front and yard. Out comes the camera. (I’m not as fast as Annie Oakley, but I keep trying.) M stops and patiently waits, probably thinking to herself, “and so it begins.”

A few minutes later, we continue towards one of Dublin’s famous, historic parks – St. Stephen’s Green(A wee bit of trivia: In 1887, Sir A.E. Guinness, of Guinness Beer fame, initiated an act passed by Parliament to open the 22-acre plot of land to the public. He paid for the design of the Green in 1880, which remains approximately the same today. Sir Guinness then gave it to the city. Today, Irish and travelers alike enjoy St. Stephen’s gardens, statues, ponds, and surprisingly quiet spots in the midst of metropolitan Dublin.)

A crisp and breezy early morning walk

The Grand Canal near Mespil Road

My friend and I enjoy this lovely morning in warm sunlight, stopping occasionally to take pictures and check the map. Street and pedestrian traffic remains light at this time of the morning. M’s plans for a quiet, uncrowded walk is spot on. 

We turn down the south side of St. Stephen’s Green Park and cross the Grand Canal, which runs through much of the south side of the city.

You know how things work out for the best, even when you’re not aware that there even WAS a “best” or “not best?” Well, this is one of those times. Coming to a large intersection, the map appears in M’s hand once more.

Straight, or turn right?

We choose right, taking us along the west side of the park – and find ourselves looking up at this symmetrically perfect, Georgian building, glowing in the east light. I stop because of the doors and that fine, turquoise clock above them. We appreciate the stately “elder statesman” grandeur of the place. I gawk in my American, touristy fashion, most likely annoying the locals who hurried around me, wondering of its historical significance.

… a whisper from history …

Unwittingly, we stand before an important player in Ireland’s fight for freedom – and I would be reminded of a truth that we would all do well not to forget. 

While waiting for passersby to … well, pass by, before taking another photo, I have a moment to study the stately columns on the second floor. There appear to be odd marks and depressions in the surface of the columns.

Bullet holes still visible

 My not-quite-awake-yet lizard brain stirs.

Are those bullet holes? 

Wind back several months. Before our arrival in Ireland, I did some research about the country and its history.

Exactly 100 years and several months ago, a small collection of Irish men and women attempted to take on British forces to gain independence. Sadly, the Easter Uprising of 1916 was doomed almost before it began. One of the main characters on the Irish side was the Countess Constance Markievicz, a woman before her time and an uncompromising hero.

But at this moment, I know nothing of where any of that took place. I could only seethe with curiosity as I stare up at the scars marring the building’s facade.  

Commemorating the building’s place in history

We are standing where others a century before were fighting for their rights. 

Turning aside towards Trinity College, I notice a small plaque on the building’s face. This unpretentious, yet long-lived, majestic building served as headquarters for the Countess and several members of the Citizen Army during the Uprising, receiving sprays of  bullets from the British while doing so. 

We continue on our way, stopping several times to admire the town surrounding us, review the map again, and yes, take more photos. I spend no more time considering the bullet holes in the elegant, wizened edifice.

Now that I’m back home …

I’ve had time to learn more of Irish history, gaining a better understanding of the The Troubles of 1916 and a bit about its heroes and non-heroes. A century following that bold and dangerous attempt, I am saddened by what transpired there for the sake of freedom, dignity, and the rights of men and women.

The Reminder that I received that day?

May we never forget what others have bravely given, for their history helped to make our present and will continue to the end of all days.

The Kerry Cliffs of Iveragh Peninsula

The Kerry Cliffs of Iveragh Peninsula

The Kerry Cliffs on the Iveragh Peninsula is not your usual tourist stop.

It’s a bit off the beaten, well-known Ring of Kerry path. But oh, it’s so worth the extra bit of driving!

We arrived on a day that was typically overcast and cool for September, but not terribly windy. Gearing up for the 10-minute walk up the hill towards the cliffs, I noticed a couple horses grazing on the hillside. These lovely creatures were kind enough to allow a few pictures. Losing interest, they calmly returned to enjoying the sweet, moist grasses at their feet.   (more…)