Category Archives: Ireland

The Cornucopia List: June 4

Sometimes it’s hard to think of just five things to appreciate in the week, whereas we can always think of a long list of ills, disasters and problems. But by concentrating on this it does take me away from the more dire thoughts. This week’s Cornucopia List includes:

  1. Mushrooms–Some people hate shrooms and consider them slimy, or get all squeamish about them being grown

    Irish shroom outside a Benedictine abbey

    in manure but the truth is that many of the vegetables that we eat are grown in some form of fertilizer made from cow, horse or fish excretions. That’s a lot of what earth is made of: decomposing waste in the form of leaves, bark, animals bones and wastes, and ground down rock. But mushrooms are just amazing in their variety of shapes and colors, are deadly poisonous or delicious, and can be found in many places.  They have flat caps or little pointy gnome hats, red spots, yellow stems, brown, grey blue. They grow round like puffballs (which I have yet to try) and ruffled like the chicken of the woods which grows on trees. And yeah, they are a fungus, unique in and of itself and reproduce through spores. There have been enough horrors stories spawned from this form of reproduction. And they do have a certain alien lifeform to them. But I like ‘em, with garlic, in sauces or soups, or on their own, cooked or raw.

  2. Red Wine–Thankfully there are many brands to explore, some out of my price range for now. And of course there are different wines. I like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and if at all possible, a Bordeaux though they’re hard to get. Wine is a bit of an odd duck in flavors. Not particularly sweet, usually slightly bitter or tannic, and made of rotted grapes, yet I do appreciate the subtleties of the flavor.
  3. Salt–We may be made mostly of water but we are of many degrees salt too and it’s essential to a diet to maintain aspects of health that I can’t even explain; electrolytes are one. When we’re dehydrated we need to take in salt and water, what all those horrid Gatorade drinks have in them (yes I find them gross.) But salt, on popcorn, or corn, or eggs, or turkey is a very yummy thing and sometimes it’s salt we seem to want more than the other flavors. My family used to abuse salt (my mother still salts pizzas) and when I hit my late teens I cut down and stopped salting cheddar cheese. But without salt many of our dishes would be a lot blander.
  4. That some people appreciate me–We can’t all be liked universally, nor even hated the same. Some personalities mesh, some people change and some people blame everyone else for their problems. Even if just doing part of my job, it’s nice to know that some people think I’m doing it well. A simple thanks can make a big difference. A word of appreciation to a stranger on their coat, or hat, or shoes, can just add an extra smile to the day. And it doesn’t to do it. I appreciate that people sometimes appreciate me. It lightens the day.
  5. Sleep–Seriously, I love sleep. Of course, we’d be zombies without it but I love drifting away in a restful world and then ending up in all sorts of worlds. I love waking up slowly, though my bothersome cat doesn’t always let me. Slowly coming awake (as opposed to the obnoxious eeeee of the alarm), registering the sound of people talking, dogs barking, birds chirping, cars moving, and then feeling the shift from darkness to a lighter gray behind the eyes is great and languorous. I wouldn’t want to sleep all the time but I do like sleeping.

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Facial Types

When I went to Ireland, I began to recognize typical Irish faces. My friend Sam’s father was Irish and I didn’t know how Irish Sam looked until I was in the airport and saw a guy that could have been his brother.

As I travelled through Ireland I noticed this one face that I would call the quintessential Irish man’s face. The men were not really wizened but had broad brows, often creased with a line or two even at a young age. I saw eighteen-year-olds with this look. The eyes not large but big and bright, and the chin narrower, giving a triangular shape to the face. The guy we met in Donegal, that I called a leprechaun had this look. It was hard to tell his age because he looked both young and old at the same time.

There were other facial shapes that would be more Irish than not but this is the one I remember the best. With women, it was a rounder face, with high cheekbones and a bit of a ruddy complexion, or rosy cheeks and pale skin. Darker hair is more common and these people could be ancestrally related to the black Irish, those who descended more from the Picts than the Celts.

I took a university course once with a woman whose last name was Kelly. She had white white skin, rosy red limits and hair as black as midnight. She was a living example of Snow White and could not help but attract the eye with the vividness of her coloring.

When we got to Glasgow I noticed the rounder, broader faces with the fuller cheeks (puddin’ face). In some cases, it might be Scottish or English ancestry but seeing the people in Scotland I thought of my friend Chris and knew he had roots in England or Scotland.

Facial shapes are a general thing and of course the same type of face might be a characteristic of a another country’s indigenous peoples as well. Well known speculative fiction editor Ellen Datlow has very curly black hair, distinctive eyes and cheekbones. Her chin is pointed and her face broad. A couple of months go I was at a local restaurant with a group of people. A friend of a friend came in and she looked a lot like Ellen. She had the black curly hair, the same shape of eyes and cheekbones, the same chin.

She was young enough to be Ellen’s daughter but I’m pretty sure Ellen Datlow doesn’t have children. So I asked this woman if she had relatives in New York. She said yes but when I said the name Datlow, she said no. And she was El Salvadorean. Maybe Ellen has some Spanish ancestry in there.

Nature’s canvas is our faces. Each painting is different. There may be a series Nature does before moving on to try something new. My family is Italian and Danish. My brothers tend to take on the Italian coloring more whereas my sister and I are fairer hair and skinned, like the Danish side. We also look more like that side of the family, but it’s a combination. Nature doesn’t just work in paint but in mosaics as well, and that’s what we all are; pieces rearranged each generation into new and unique works of art.

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Glasgow and the End of the Journey

Today is Canada Day and I’m off travelling out of town. So here is the last of my journey to Ireland and Scotland from Fall 2007.

Our last day in Glasgow started with the museum and then we went off to St. Mungo’s religious museum. Housed in the oldest standing building in Glasgow, it was a fairly bland exhibition and the building wasn’t that interesting. So we walked up the street and over to the Glasgow Cathedral, but it was late in the day and it turned out it closed at 4:00. The guy was really just locking up so he said you have five minutes.

I zoomed around taking pictures, without actually really looking at the place. The Cathedral is supposed to be one of the few gothic cathedrals in Scotland, especially one that is whole and still used. It was built in 1471 and really is a fine example of gothic architecture. I wished I’d had more time to actually look.

Ireland 2007–Glasgow

After that we tried to find our way back to Will and Erin’s. Unfortunately I’d forgotten their phone number. We also got lost because a helpful lady had told us what bus to catch back but it turned out there were two buses with the same name and a different ending, thus splitting and going varying routes. Which meant backtracking.

My sister was done. We had to walk about three blocks to catch another bus, after doing a partial return route. She thought we’d been walking for hours when it was less than ten minutes. :) A very drunk Scotsman chatted with us (we had to catch a bus outside a pub, of course) and it turned out it was the other bus stop across the street from the pub. So he was a very drunk, yet helpful Scotsman.

So we finally made it back, with Will and Erin wondering what had happened to us. The next morning we flew out on Air Transat but not without issues. My sister had called them several times before she’d left and confirmed how many bags she could take on the plane, and on carry-on. She confirmed with the person on the phone and asked about leaving from Scotland. He confirmed with his supervisor that yes, she could take a bag and her camera bag as well.

Well, it turns out they have their own rules. My sister ended up paying overweight baggage because of it and was rightfully furious because she had to pack one bag into everything else. My recommendations: don’t fly Air Transat if you’re flying more than two hours. The seats are small even for someone 5’4″. If you need a special diet, they’ll lose it or muck it up badly. And someone travelling with you will probably get a special diet they didn’t order, as I did. They’ll tell you one thing and do another and not be the least helpful or apologetic for it. The seat selection (if you want to sit with the person you’re flying with) cost extra so that super cheap flight turns out not that cheap in the end.

Europe and Great Britain especially have tighter baggage allowances and the airline won’t always know what it is or get the info confused. The attendants on Air Transat were very nice and helpful but everything else convinced me I won’t be flying with them again.

At least the return trip was more pleasant. The plane wasn’t completely full so I went and chatted with this Scotsman, Ian MacIntosh who lived in Calgary. That way, my sister and I both had extra room.

Over all, Ireland was a great trip. The trip was from Sept. 26-Oct. 16. I want to go back and explore more of western Ireland and some of the south. I think I’d fly into Wales and then from Wales to the west of Ireland. Of course I’ll have to buy a camera again, but that’s a tale for tomorrow…

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Dublin and Keating’s Bar

This is the last day in Ireland, before we flew back to Glasgow, in October 2007.

Sunday October 14, nearing the end of our trip and our last night in Ireland. We had come back to Dublin a day earlier hoping to have some time to see a few more sights but what with getting lost over and over again, we really had time only to pack, drop off the car and get something to eat. Driving into Dublin after two weeks of driving, you think would be easier. But there were multiple lanes, the signs were unclear and once we got off the highway, we proceeded to meander with the streets.

I think we stopped twice to ask for directions and finally found the same B&B where we had stayed before, the Charleville. Whereas this place had very nice rooms when we arrived we were given one in the basement this time. It smelled moldy in the corridor, the light didn’t work right, the door knob was loose and the water cool. It wasn’t as impressive but we were only there for the one night. (So if you’re planning on staying there, don’t let them put you in the basement.)

So after wasting part of the day getting into Dublin we decided it was wise to drop of the car first, knowing how signage just doesn’t match reality. We got lost, typical by now, went the wrong direction, finally got directions that took us to the Liffey (river) where the dropoff for the car was. The guy who gave us the best directions said, take the last road before the Liffey and turn left, then go one block and turn up. Not only were the names of the streets wrong but we couldn’t turn left on the street he said we could, nor go up the street that was next (because it was one way the other direction). It seems even the Irish don’t know their city that well.

After driving in large circles for about an hour, we finally found the entrance, not marked in any discernible way to say it was the right place. And then we were hungry. We were downtown on a Sunday and couldn’t find much. Many things were closed, or looked very cheesy. So we ate at a diner with unremarkable food.

We then caught a taxi to Keating’s Bar because my friend Will in Glasgow had said check it out. We could have walked as it was only a few blocks away but we didn’t know that after our long adventures in Dublin. It turns out to be an old church that fell into disrepair. Eventually it was bought by a local restaurateur and restored, keeping both the history of the place preserved. Part of the deal was to keep in in good repair and it has more parishioners of food than anything else. The crypt in the basement (with tombs in the floor) is the wine bar, which was closed that night. The large open-space bathrooms are on that level, where you walk in and go right if you’re a man and left if you’re a woman. When you’re at the sinks you can see men and women equally. Very Euro trendy.

The main floor has a long oval bar down the middle, and the top floor, overlooking the main floor is the dining area. If we had known there’d be food we would have eaten there and had a better meal. There are plaques and tombs in the walls to different personages. I wonder if people from two hundred years ago would roll in their graves to know a church had been turned into a bar, but then I thought, it’s the Irish. They tend to be more relaxed about drinking as part of life and religion.

We had an early flight the next day so we caught a taxi back to the B&B (not risking getting lost again) and that was that. Although there were a few things I didn’t see in Dublin I would probably skip it the next time. At the least I wouldn’t rent a car in the city and would the very least take a bus to a neighboring town and rent there to save on the confusion.

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Waterford, Ireland

Ireland 2007–Waterford Crystal

This is nearing the end of the pictures from my Ireland trip in the fall of 2007.

Waterford was one of the last stops on the Irish trip, and on a Saturday. We didn’t know if the crystal factory was open as some guidebooks and maps said no while others said yes. It turned out it was so we zipped in after the Lismore adventures and a short stop at Carrick on Suir to see the disappointing and locked (and fenced) supposed Castle Ormonde. This wasn’t a castle at all but a manor house, very plain and maybe three stories high. Previous incarnations were probably a real castle but no evidence was left of this. Booo! I highly recommend not bothering to see it.

So we made it to Waterford with enough time to browse the shops and go on the hour tour. I have a fair number of friends who are glass artists so it was quite amazing to see a glassblowing factory of this size. There were several buildings and although it was a Saturday there was at least one or more people working in each section.

There was the special section for one-of-a-kind molds. Some molds are made of wood and used to shape the glass. The molds may only be used a few times (the wooden ones) before the high heat of soft glass starts to burn into the wood, but wood is still better than using metal which will expand with heat and change the size. It’s used for more specific and high-end pieces. A technique used for hundreds of years and not changed much.

In another building was an assembly line of blowers blowing into molds. These molds were smaller, for glasses and such and often of metal. There was a conveyor belt where the finished pieces were put before moving on to the annealer (where glass is cooled at specific temperatures so that it doesn’t crack and break). And people lined up with each blower to change the molds. Other areas held  row on row of cutters, because we’re talking crystal and that means cutting it, and another smaller room for engravers. The engravers are the only workers in the factory who aren’t paid by the piece because it could take months to engrave one piece. As well, there was a quality inspection area. Every single piece is inspected and must pass high standards.

All the pieces are hand blown or molded, and hand cut or engraved. Then these pieces of crystal are put through a hydrochloric acid bath that takes off the sharp edges and white brushed look to the glass. I remember some older pieces of crystal goblets my mother had which had sharp edges. Obviously the acid baths are of a newer era. To me, I kept thinking they weren’t crystal because of the soft edges but I was wrong on that.

I ran into a glass artist here in Vancouver who said that their local studio did an order for Waterford (Waterford has factories in various countries). Waterford Crystal’s Q&A (quality and assurance) team came over and the studio only had a 50% acceptance rate, the controls were so stringent. It was quite amazing to watch the cutting and engraving and the sheer size of the factory. I was curious how they got the rounded edges on the cuts. Now I know but I still don’t find crystal that appealing. Meh.

We drove on that evening to Kilkenny, home of the beer, of course. We almost lost our luck for B&Bs. We tried two pubs, asking if they knew of anything and were told everything was full. It was always better to ask where there were older people serving as the younger ones weren’t that friendly or helpful. We drove to three B&Bs that were all full and finally found a nice little house with a very friendly couple. Turns out Kilkenny is a college town where everyone comes on the weekend to party. And yes, it was the weekend.

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Dungarvin, Lismore & the Benedictine Abbey, Ireland

Ireland 2007–Dungarvin, Lismore & the Benedictine Abbey

After Cashel, we went on to Dungarvin, a cute little coastal town in the south of Ireland. It was warm here and the accents on some people, like one fisherman, were very thick. We drove up to Bridie Dees (gaelic=Brighd ni Dige), with its colourful front of black and red and had a drink. There was a little fireplace at the back with a pot of coal and a shovel to take the chill off. I don’t even know if this place had any other type of heat but it was pleasant at this time of year. I believe we were on to Friday night by now, though I’ve lost track in this journey.

We asked the bartender if there were any B&Bs and he suggested a place two doors down. We called around a few places but they seemed to be a little more expensive and 40 Euros each was about our top limit. I couldn’t find the place (because he’d given me the name of another one) so when I went back in and asked he said he’d show me. As we exited the pub he held out his elbow for me to take and said he would be in trouble with his wife. It was very cute as all the bartender did was walk me down two doors to the next pub, which had rooms upstairs. There were many many stairs as this was more like a small hotel above a pub. I found that any place that has a pub underneath with a hotel above is less personal and more hotelly overall.

I carted my sister’s suitcase up the many stairs of the Tudor Arms so that it would minimize how many times her now sore knee would have to deal with them. I think we went back to Bridies and had another drink. I don’t remember at all where we ate but we went to another pub for a drink. There was this older farmer fellow (tweed jacket and cap, baggy worn corduroy trousers and wellies), pretty much the classic image of an Irish farmer. He  was barely decipherable because his accent was so thick and rolling. He bought us a drink and talked about Irish hospitality, which was about all we could understand. His name was Dan so we labelled him Dungarvin Dan.

We then went to another pub that had live music and listened to a group called the Rogues. They were rather good and played some fast paced music, so that I couldn’t stand it anymore and just got up and danced, by myself. They smiled and probably thought, look at the kooky foreign woman. I enjoyed it. Unfortunately they were out of CDs or I would have bought one. I toasted my friend in the US whose birthday it was by having a shot of Jamesons, which took they ciders I’d had and multiplied the alcohol content by three. I was a bit tipsy but still coherent.

The next day, Saturday we scooted out of Dungarvin, then went to Lismore but the castle is still occupied (and very spiff, overlooking the river) so we couldn’t go in. I walked up to the gates and peered in the keyhole where I saw this surreal image of four children. It was almost as if they were posed, at least one in a uniform, an old-fashioned pram, sitting or standing in tableau. That and the view from the river was all we saw since we were there in the off-season.

There was supposed to be an ancient abbey but either the lads thought it closed or they thought we meant the Benedictine abbey which was down a winding road but not in Lismore. It was all right but not particularly old but had the most amazing wizened monk who told us about St. Benedict and a few jokes besides. The little winding roads can take a long while at times and we meandered up and down the roads.

It was a pleasant and warm drive. Our next stop, Waterford.

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Blarney Castle, Ireland

From the fall of 2007.
 
It turns out my pictures got a bit out of order. There was the day that included Limerick and King John’s castle (getting there in the nick of time) and then driving to Blarney and finding we just had enough time to get to the castle. So Blarney was the end of our day and  then  we did Cashel the next day. I think.

The weather was so warm this day and we got there just before the sun was setting. They said, you have about a half hour for the castle but the grounds are open longer. (The castle is privately owned.) The grounds were very peaceful and evocative. The castle itself was impressive for its height (destroyed in 1446 and reconstructed by Cormac MacCarthy but must have been abandoned for a long time by the looks of it.) It was originally constructed before 1200 AD and I would suspect that the towers are the oldest parts as they were throughout Ireland. It was here that the Blarney Stone kissed me when I was snooping in dark and narrow passageways.

There was a long, dark, narrowing tunnel at the base of the castle. There were three doorways and one was purported to have been a dungeon. Some of the dungeons in these places were small crawlspaces (or in Bunratty, a space twenty feet below the door which would have required a ladder). I walked up the five steps and tried to peer in. I didn’t have a flashlight so I kept setting off my flash, hoping to get a split second view into mystery. I took a few pictures, then turned around to leave and noticed a bit of light illuminating another set of steps to my right. I put my hand on the wall and moved slowly to see where they lead. And ran into a bridging of stone, right at my nose level. I whacked my nose, hard enough that I saw stars and my eyes water. Had I even been walking at a normal pace I would have broken it. I stood there for a few moments waiting for the pain to subside.

After the stars stopped spinning about me I left the narrow passage and went down and around into the castle. There were only a couple of other people and at one point this guy yelled down, Are you going up or down? I said up and he said, hurry because I’m closing. So up and up and up and up I went. My sister had wandered off, having both a bum knee and a fear of heights, she couldn’t have done Blarney. It was definitely the highest of the castles we saw.

The castle itself wasn’t as interesting because it was just a shell, the walls rough and mold, the floors so uneven that they must once have had floorboards or rushes on them. All castle ruins tend to be open to the elements as most roofs were of wood and would have been the first things to decompose or burn in a razing. Such was also a case for Blarney and I wouldn’t doubt if it had burned in 1446. The groove in the main floor with the hearth was interesting and I believe it would have been for the juices from the spitted animals to drain off and through a sluice in the side walls.

I have to say the view was spectacular and the grounds exquisiste. I love some of the pictures from the top, and they are some of  my faves of Ireland (one decorates the top of my blog page). I didn’t kiss the stone at the top, where you lay over this open grate to the grounds hundreds of feet below. I said to the guy, I hear the local lads do other things on the stone (like pissing). He said not since he’d been there and since the grounds (and later the castle) were locked I could see that it’s probably not done anymore. Though a friend, whose dad was Irish, did say that his dad had done this: pissed and kissed or maybe it was the other way around.

The history of the Blarney Stone is a bit murky and no one knows truly where it comes from. It’s supposed to give one the gift of eloquence (a fancy way of saying BS) and the ritual may not be older than the 1700s. It looked like every other stone in that castle wall to me and since the castle had already kissed me I felt no reason to repeat the experience. A couple of women completed the ritual as I wandered and took pictures and started down. I didn’t realize it but everyone had left except for the Blarney guy and me. He accidentally found me on the way down and said, you better hurry, I almost locked you in. So I trundled down and spent another 20 minutes on the grounds.

It was starting to get cold and dark and it was time to go. My sister might have thought I’d been locked in but I eventually found her outside the property gates. As we walked back to the car the Blarney guy drove by and beeped his horn, then turned around and went back the other way, beeping his horn at me again. Friendly fellow. We then drove on to Cashel and found a place to stay.

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Limerick, Ireland

From my trip to Ireland in fall 2007.

We actually went to Limerick (in southwestern Ireland) before Cashel and near the end of the day. Which means we hit some rush hour traffic. Times for viewing castles, museums and other heritage sites change in October and we had brochures that gave different closure times. So we raced to King John’s castle in Limerick and then found out we were good and had an extra hour.

This was indeed an actual military castle (as opposed to Cashel’s ecclesiastical nature).  King John did use it for some of his wars and though it was very castle like, (like a fantasy or Disney version) it was also very sterile in looks and overall not as interesting to me as the gothic castles with their sculptural aspects and arches.

Because the castle was an English stronghold for a king, it was known as English town with Irish town being across the water of the River Shannon. The castle itself was completed in 1200, making it a medieval fortification that was kept upgraded from many centuries. It was on King’s Island and the fortification was  undermined in the 1700s in one of five battles.

There was a museum part to the castle below but I don’t remember much about it and like I said, overall the castle was so cleanly laid out as a rectangle that it was boring on some levels. The walls of course were extremely thick, some two feet or so. It took us an hour to stroll leisurely through the grounds and that was enough for King John’s castle. We left Limerick and moved on as that seemed to be the town’s highlight.

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The Rock of Cashel, Ireland

From  my fall 2007 trip to Ireland.
It’s a long way to Tipperary but if you go to Cashel, then you have in fact made it. Cashel (with the accent on the first syllable) was a lovely town (I’ve now officially lost track of the days). It’s small, a mix of medieval and modern and winds slowly up to the mound where the Rock of Cashel is. The castle was built at the highest point. It’s suffered some weather damage over the years from wind (parts blown down, such as the high cross and some crenellations) and rain. The castle is a sprawling place, containing several buildings, and cold. It was a windy enough day there but we could see from all sides, overlooking the town.
I didn’t do as well a job of editing these photos so there are a lot of pictures of fresco details and pillars.

The oldest part of Cashel is more than a thousand years old. We did the site tour , which had a very entertaining guy who gave great insights into the place’s very long history. Viewing over the cemetery, the distant hills show a dip. The tale goes that one day the devil was walking along, in a foul mood and took a big bite out of the hills. That dip is called the Devil’s Bite and when the devil spit out the chomp he took, it made the Rock of Cashel.
 
The oldest part was probably the tower as these are evident in all of the oldest monasteries (as lookouts for the Vikings). Then there was a smallish chapel, made I believe of limestone as that is the composition of the mount as well. The walls and ceiling had been painted in frescoes. Some of the design is still visible with red, blue, yellow and white colors. That was amazing to see, and religious figures and diapering designs were still discernible. This chapel was also unique in its crookedness. When looking through the arched entry it was obvious that it wasn’t in the center of that wall, nor was the arch geometrically even. I bet it was built by unskilled monks and laborers with no architect or only directions passed down the line from one guy to another.
 
There are the little sculpted heads there were also on the Dysert O’Dea doorway. The remains of a broken stone casket was inside. The front has and Urnes style beast on it, which helps date this part of Cashel to 900-1000 CE. Urnes style resembles the famous carved stave churches of Norway, indicating the influence of the time.
 
Ireland is working hard to preserve its heritage and history. Many of the castles are owned by county or country tourism. It’s a long and expensive process but there was evidence of work on Cashel, especially in spots that needed to preserve the building’s integrity.

Brian Boru, and his grandson were some of the early Munster kings that ruled from here. But his grandson gave the castle over to the Bishop of Limerick. This began the long ecclesiastical history of the castle. There was an enclosed museum, which had some religious artifacts, pennannular brooches, and stonework that had been moved in to preserve them.

Another chapel (I don’t know the actual religious names for these different buildings) was redone with a wooden roof (no nails) and plant made pigments painted on the gothic arches and angels that decorated the room. Most castles and churches had wooden roofs as the technique for making the corbelled (or other) stone roofs was complicated and put a lot of weight on the walls. Throughout these buildings there are many square holes in the walls. These are post holes, for floors and stairs. It makes one realize how drafty these stone places would have been.

The town itself was fairly small and we were hardpressed to find a place to eat that night, but ate at the Town Hall, a higher end and very good restaurant. It is so named because it is in the old town hall. We’d had a drink in one of local pub earlier and many of the pubs in this area of Ireland have little hearths and some that burn coal still. We spent several hours at Cashel and then moved on to Limerick.

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Bunratty Castle, Ireland

After we left Ennis we made our way to Bunratty Castle, a huge tourist attraction in the town of Bunratty. It is owned by Shannon Heritage (the county I believe) and is in County Clare. Bunratty means at the bottom (or end) of the Ratty or Raite river.

To this point we had seen many castles, husks and shells of their former glory. Bunrattycastle was set up as a theme park with 19th century cottages outside the castle walls. Some  were little merchant areas and had food and other items that you could buy. We  could wander in and out of all the cottages. Bunratty also makes a mead but I didn’t get a chance to buy any. The park was quite large and we actually didn’t get through all of it as we were trying to make our way to Limerick afterwards.

Ireland 2007–Bunratty Castle

The castle itself was impressive for the work that’s been done in restoring it. It was the most interesting of all the castles in Ireland for various rooms and being able to finally visualize what a medieval castle would have looked like occupied. I’m used to I guess Hollywood movies where the castles look gigantic with long halls and wide spaces. In reality, none of these were gigantic. Donegal castle and Kinbane were probably the smallest.

With Bunratty there were four towers. Each tower held several rooms but you couldn’t necessarily get to all of them from the same floor. I believe this was part of the plan, should there be an attack. The marauders would have to run up and down a lot of narrow stairs (necessitating fighting one on one) to find the rooms. After we left the castle, I looked at a map again and realized I’d missed a few rooms, although I was sure I’d gone through all four towers and the staircases, but it was a maze.

The cottages were also interesting to venture into, each being set as if people still lived in them. They showed a sample of various trades with different styles in size and rooms. Usually they were one and two room cottages. One, I believe had a loft with beds for children. The castles as well as the cottages were whitewashed through time. The white washing, made from slaked lime and chalk, served several purposes. It gave a more appealing look to places, helped preserve the stone against the elements and add light where only torches and candles were used and expensive for many.  

One cottage was being re-thatched and the thatcher talked with us about what he was doing. A thatched roof can last 15-20 years depending on the weather. The dried straw is held down in place with reeds bent to make staples. The thatching is begun at the apex of the roof on boards and worked towards the bottom.

Next time I’d take a lot more time to see Bunratty castle and the rest of the village.

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