Tag Archives: Irish castles

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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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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Travel: Monasterboice, Land of High Crosses

Ireland 2007–Monasterboice

Just click on the pictures to go to the album and each picture has more information in the caption.

Monasterboice is now just a cemetery but it has a long history. Founded first in the 4th century by St Buite who died in 521, it has seen many incarnations. It laso had significance to Mellifont Abbey. The tower and the High Crosses date from the tenth century though the tower might be even older. The original abbey is long gone but there are remains of two 14th century abbeys. Over a thousand years of use here, and there is still significant detail left. I can only imagine how majestic these crosses were in their virgin state. I did not know before that the reason there is the round circle on the crosses is that the versions made of gold and jewels would start to bend under the weight of the design and the circle was a support structure to hold up the arms of the cross.

The day was wettish, trying to rain and leaden. The skies in the pictures appear missing for this reason. The moisture did bring out the text of the stone and add rich colors. There might have been on or to other people in the cemetery but really we had it to ourselves, which was nice for exploring. The crosses hold great detail, in stories and early Celtic/Irish design.

The tower, it is believed, was used for protection when the Vikings came by. It is still over 100 feet high and no longer complete. As well, over time, dirt has built up around the base and the once elevated doorway is now about 6-8 feet above ground. Of course this would have been used for storage and for a lookout as well.

Monasterboice was our last stop around the Newgrange area. It wasn’t far from the towns of Drogheda, (Pronounced Droda but you’d hear different pronunciations depending on whether the person was saying the Gaelic or the English version.) Tara or Slaine.

We never did get any pictures of Slaine (two weddings booked in the castle and there after dark for dinner the second night), and though we drove through Kells the night before it was too late for the tourist center. As it was now Sunday we would have had to hang around till 2 pm to get in and as it turns out, there are two Kells in Ireland. The other is in the southwest and neither house the Book of Kells, which I regret not seeing.

By this time we were getting a better sense of driving about and learning to just stop and ask directions, especially when we’d be at a corner that had signs pointing east and south at the same time. Signs for touristy things (landmarks, historic sites, beaches) were in brown and helped a lot in finding places. Towns were in white (w/black lettering) or green (w/white lettering). It seems the secondary routes were the white signs. The roundabouts, on the other hand, never really did get easy.

Next, Belfast to Ballycastle.

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