Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ireland day eight: the Rock of Cashel

Thanks to the M8 super speedway, we make it from Castlemartyr to Cashel in surprising time, and we are at Cashel by 10:00; this will be our only time in County Tipperary.

Then I get lost.

But Donna gets us found again: "patience," she says, as we spot that the sign is actually pointing us down a tiny road that I had taken for a pedestrian walkway the first time through town, so narrow was it.

But just 100 feet down that little lane is the car park, and we are settled, just as three massive tour buses arrive. Well, this is the most-well-known tourist site in all of Ireland, so it is surely no surprise to see them. Let us just say that, when the circumstances require, the good people of Ireland can find room at the loo for all.

We have a nice tour guide, if a little harried (Cashel is simply mobbed, even though we are reasonable early), and he does his best to show us about.

Appealingly, he ends our tour in Cormac's Chapel, perhaps the most spectacular medieval site in Ireland, still holding up quite well even after all the events of the previous 1,000 years.

We pause on the way out to view the pictures from Queen Elizabeth II's visit in 2011, the first visit to Cashel by an English Monarch since King Henry II presided over the Synod of Cashel in 1172.

We walk down into Cashel town center, which is very nice itself, and Donna finds a small cafe which packs us a picnic lunch. We walk about 1 km down the hill with our lunch to Hore Abbey, the last Cistercian Abbey to be founded in Ireland, in 1266.

We are happy: we have finally managed to have our picnic lunch in Ireland (for some reason, this had been eluding us up to this point), and at a place of indescribable history and beauty.

We pop back onto the super speedway and in just minutes we are in Cahir, at the superb Cahir Castle.

Cahir Castle is your perfect dream of a medieval castle; it is hard to imagine any castle that could be better.

It is remarkably well preserved (the portcullis still works, and can be lowered to bar the entrance into the inner keep!), and we get to go everywhere: climb stairs, explore keeps, climb ramparts, descend into dungeons, etc.

A nifty room-size model shows the famous Siege of 1599; cannonballs from that siege are still embedded in the castle walls!.

A seemingly hidden staircase starts by descending toward the river, then ascends sharply and emerges at an outer tower with a commanding view.

It is, bar none, the best castle we have visited in Ireland, and I am happy beyond describing that we managed to include it on our visit.

The super speedway delivers us back to East Cork. We drive down to the oceanside, to Garryvoe Beach, where we walk along a beautiful beach and Donna plays in the waves. If we hadn't stayed at all those other wonderful places on our trip, I would have loved to stay here.

A few kilometers down the road is Shannagarry, home of the world-famous Ballymaloe Cooking School. We tour the school's shop, then walk through the beautiful gardens for 40 minutes or so, seeing barely a quarter of the gardens, focusing on the sections where the students gather fresh herbs and vegetables each day for their classes.

Her recipes are a bit intimidating, though: stinging nettle soup?

The Shannagarry Design Centre has a very nice William Penn museum in its basement; it turns out there is actually quite a bit about William Penn I hadn't known.

We drive down to the end of the road: Ballycotton, with its postcard-perfect lighthouse on an island just offshore. Dozens of people are fishing from the pier: Ballycotton is famous for its seafood. We walk along the cliffs and Donna gathers shells and we watch the fish swim about in the shallow tidal waters.

Then back to Castlemartyr, to rest and unwind.

Each day seems better than the one before, which seems hardly possible.

Perhaps we are getting the hang of this whole traveling thing?

Or perhaps Ireland is simply as magical as everyone has always said.

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