Tag Archives: Kilkenny

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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Belfast to Ballycastle

 

Ireland 2007–Belfast to Ballycastle

In honor of St. Patty’s day tomorrow, here is another excerpt from my trip to Ireland in the fall of 2007.

Here we are still on Sunday Sept. 30, going from the Newgrange area to Belfast. We gassed up before Northern Ireland (as opposed to the republic) as they use pounds and that’s even more expensive (at least $2 CDN to the pound). It was the first time gassing up and we couldn’t get the gas flap open on the VW Polo or whatever that piece of crap was. No levers, no buttons and the gas jockey was stymied too. Finally he asked one of the other guys and it turns out you just give it a good push and it pops open. Duh.

The only difference crossing the border, which was indiscernible, was that the speed limits changed from kilometers to miles, much like driving from Canada to the US. However, the speedometer did not show miles, not that it mattered. If it said 60, people went 120, no matter whether km/h. I just flowed with the flow.

There are fairly major highways between Dublin and Belfast so it was smooth sailing and little getting lost though my sister would laugh her head off every time we saw a sign that said Heavy Plant Crossing. This usually wasn’t on the main highways but we later found out it meant lumber trucks crossing, so in a sense, heavy plants. Our three maps of Ireland were deficient in different ways. The one from CAA only showed major routes and everything is a minor route in Ireland. The best map had roads going where they didn’t, roads missing, and sites not exactly where they really were. You cannot have too detailed of a map for Ireland, even if it is a small country.

So, we drove into Belfast with no city map, a scary prospect after the maze of Dublin. But we found downtown (reminded me of Edmonton with the type of streets and construction going on), drove in circles for a bit and then parked, by sheer luck, across from the tourist information center (a large “i”) so we did some internet posting, then got a map and yes, you guessed it, it was not accurate for Belfast. The woman drew lines to the Crown Liquor Saloon, the only place we were going to see as we were now shy of hanging around in the big cities. But of course she said go this way on a street that turned out to be a one way the other way. And you know what one ways are like when you’re lost. You’re always going the wrong direction. And we drove around and around and around and couldn’t find this world famous Victorian saloon.

Finally I stopped by a taxi and told my sister to ask him. He was so nice that he actually just led us there and then pointed. And still we drove back and forth, because the saloon was under renovations and we couldn’t see it for the scaffolding. Arrrghh! But we found it and it was truly beautiful, with warm wood booths and pillars. The pillars had little carved lions and griffins holding shields and in all, there were only about six booths with lovely wooden doors and stained glass. Each booth had a metal plate that said Matches. We were talking to this man and woman and he said that at the turn of the century that was where people struck their matches when smoking. Ireland (both republic and north) are smoke free environments inside establishments, just like BC.

This guy also regaled us with politics and told us the only reason Dublin was considered dirty was because the tourists litter, not the locals. I kept my mouth shut but later saw what the Irish college crowd is like in Kilkenny and the streets were littered. Belfast itself was very modern in the downtown core. We got lost (of course) getting out and the area we were in was a little rougher, but no sign at all of all the chaos of recent years gone by.

We then drove through to Ballycastle. Bally means “bay,” so we passed many a place name Bally this and Bally that. It is a resort town and we did the usual, park and go into a pub for a drink. This was very much a sports bar and rugby is on every screen (or is it soccer–I mix them up). There was a man at the bar could have been my friend Terri Fleming’s brother; similar hair and skin color, and looks. The Flemings (once Flemish of course) ended up in Ireland by way of many routes and the Scots.

On the outskirts of the town, right beside a golf course are the ruins of Bonamargy Friary. Built around the early 1500s it houses many graves of the MacDonnells, the past chieftains of Ulster and Antrim and is still in the same family to this day. The most famous was Sorley Boy (an Anglicization) and his brothers who ruled and repelled the English. The MacDonnells married the MacQuillans to quell the past Lords of the Route. Turns out the one headstone I took a picture of is rumoured to be the Black Nun of Bonamargy’s resting place, Julie MacQuillan who was said to have made seven prophesies.

From the pictures you can tell it was dusk and we weren’t having any luck with finding the B&B the pub recommended. We went back and tried to call three places but duh, you dial first, then stick the money in and if you’re not fast enough, it cuts you off. And then you have to keep adding coins to keep talking. We goofed so bad the pub owner helped us, and one B&B just called back because we got cut off. Eventually in full darkness we found Clare house, after having to knock on someone’s door and scare them in the dark. We unpacked and went back to town for dinner. Some pubs have restaurants upstairs and I don’t know the name of the place we ate at but it was very modern in design and high end. It was a Sunday so there weren’t a lot of places open. A bit pricey but very good.

It was late and we were tired so we drove back after eating and hit the sack.

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Things Irish

First posted in Oct. 9, 2007
Blarney–we heard many a tall tale in Ireland and the gift of the gab runs through many, it seems. Now that we’re nearly on the home-front we’ve checked the internet and if Liam’s fish whacking is a record it’s only in Killybegs or Donegal as there is no listing. But somehow we’re not surprised by this in the least.

Almost all the toilet bowls in Ireland are quite roundish, kinda cute…as toilet bowls go. The handles are on the right instead of the left in Canadian/US toilets. Why one side or the other, who knows?

Latches on almost every bathroom door are slide latches. It seems to be the latch style of choice. Door knobs on exterior doors are often in the middle of the door.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a face cloth at any B&B or guesthouse. I hate water in my face so I always use one. Luckily I brought my own.

About 80% of the places we stayed didn’t have hairdryers.

Everything from toothbrushes (equiv. of $8-13) to hair mousse (equiv. of $10) is really expensive.

I’ve been called love or lass but no other form, besides “girls.” So my friends who think chicken (never heard this one even the first time around Eng. and Scotland many years ago) must be remembering a local idiom from somewhere.

I was told that no matter where you are there pretty much would be the friendly Irish and you wouldn’t be sitting alone for long or they would start buying you drinks. This friendliness was apparent in the towns but by no means universal. The resort areas and modern cities were as friendly…or as unfriendly as every big, trendy place. Kilkenny would have been the same except for the lads from the North.

Food was generally of high quality and in large quantities. I had a traditional cod (I think) and cabbage dish in a creamy sauce. The cabbage is more the savoy cabbage and it wasn’t bad. In the pubs the drinks all have their name brand glasses so you’ll get Bulmer’s cider in a Bulmer glass, Carlsberg, or Guinness in their glasses with the name on them. Some of the pubs in the west and the south still have the small coal fireplaces, and they are indeed stoked with coal. Oh and at least in Donegal, pub night is a Monday, perhaps to celebrate getting through the first day of work.

Every town or village goes back centuries so the streets are narrow and winding, the buildings tall and joined together as row houses. As you get farther out from the town center you encounter newer row houses, or individual dwellings. These seem to be quite large and have at least four bedrooms. That’s why there are so many B&B’s in Ireland.

Traffic circles and few lights. They’re insane and you’ll get honked at for doing it wrong but then find in the next town that it’s different. Speed limits are for decoration. If you see a sign for 60 km, people will easily be going 120. The small roads are usually 60-80 km and the highways 100-120 km. Often you’re getting up to 80 then having to drop down to 30 two blocks later for a traffic circle (roundabout) and this goes on.

We only saw one farmer with a horse and buggy but saw some country fellows in the typical cap, jacket, baggy pants with shiny bottom, and wellies.

Ireland is green and after a few millennia of deforestation, there are border trees and groves, a few protected forests. It was a stunning thing to see flying over the country. However, we did see areas of reforestation. When flying I couldn’t figure out why the trees looked as if they were combed. It was because they had been planted at some point.

Irish roads are almost all bordered by hedgerows or stone fences. There may also be trees that have been growing there for a long while that form tunnels as the branches reach above and leave space enough for car and lorries to go through. It definitely gave a different feel to the countryside. The hedgerows and stone walls are everywhere. We were told by one B&B owner that they recycle everything, so if an old wall is pulled down, those stones are used again to build something new. Makes sense when you consider that a country with 5,000 years of habitation needs to re-use what is there.

It was also interesting seeing the Irish looking face. I never realized how Irish my friend Sam looked. His dad was Irish, and Sam would blend right in in Ireland. Many men have triangular faces with wide brows that may be lined or more wizened then their years. There is the white skin and rosy cheeks of an Irish complexion too. It made me realize where some of my friends’ ancestry began.

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Dublin or Bust!

Here’s another Ireland installment, first written on Oct. 7, 2007 while I was in Ireland. I’ll be soon posting some of the blog pieces with pictures or you can go over to my blogspot blog, link listed on the sidebar.
We’re in Kilkenny, which turns out to be a hopping college town, or at least where all the young people gather to party. Yeegods, we almost didn’t get a B&B but lucked out on try 3 with a very nice place and very nice people.

There’s been so much and not enough time to even find internet cafes which some of the small towns don’t have. We got into the habit of sometimes eating the breakfast–a full breakfast will come with two cooked tomatoes, sausages, ham (bacon but it’s like back bacon), toast, eggs, cereal and fruit, maybe potatoes and black and white pudding. Who could eat all that? We were down to ham and toast and tomato and skipping it some days as it’s too much and eggs over more than 2 days don’t sit well with me.

We would skip lunch as we were always running about trying to fit in the most by the end of the day. Some castles and sites close at the beginning of Oct. Boo! Most disappointing site–Ormonde Castle, a mostly Victorian manor house, closed off completely. Not exciting by architectural standards and why it was in the guide book, I don’t know. Nicest castles–Bunratty, and errr…another I can’t remember right now.

We’ve been eating dinners that are around 15-20€ and a pint of cider and a rum and coke have cost lowest at 7€ for both in Dungarvan, to 15€ in Dublin. Not cheap but the food portions have been substantial and quality mostly very good. My celiac sister hasn’t had any problem getting food adapted and it turns out Ireland is only second to Italy in number of celiacs.

We stopped at Blarney castle, which is mostly a shell but I didn’t kiss the stone. Rather, while snooping down some dark, tunnelly passage, I saw light and stairs to my left, and went to cautiously look down. I ran my nose right into a ridge of stone and nearly broke it. It’s still bruised but feels okay. Reminds me of Lorna’s year of the broken nose.

I have many many photos and I’m always into architectural details and the small stuff. I’ve taken pictures of some very old tiles from some cathedrals and castles as well as some gothic and earlier carvings. Much in stonework, not as much in wood, of course.

We’ve come to want to avoid the bigger cities like Limerick (though we went to the castle there) and Cork where we spent an hour going a few blocks. We’ve just done Kilkenny castle, restored by the Irish gov’t and once owned by the very rich Butlers for over 500 years. No photos inside were allowed and most of it is done now in 18th century style as it went through several changes over the centuries.

I also realize that I’ve been trying to live up to being Irish and I’ve drank cider every day since I’ve been here. This could be a personal record. Last night we met some gents from the North who had been down for the races. One was a Belfast cop and we ended up drinking more than we would have. Then got lost in the fog going back to our B&B.

We’re about to head up to Dublin and flight out godawful early tomorrow to Glasgow. Then it’s, sob** home on Wednesday. We’ve lucked into great weather except for one rainy day in Carrowmore and when driving out of Dublin. That’s made it much nicer. Ireland is truly beautiful and kinda laid back about driving even if the speed limit is 100km on winding country roads built for carriages originally. I’ve come to love the inherent use of and living with stone of the Irish. Stone plots in cemeteries, stone castles and homes, the wonderful stone walls everywhere and the megalith tombs and dolmens. Oddly enough it’s the stones I will miss most.

And now it’s time to drive off to Dublin.

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