Ireland 1 – Waterford Area

June 13th, 2010

After my quick stay in Wales, see the previous post on this subject, I made a dash across the Irish Sea to Ireland – actually a ferry crossing from Fishguard in Wales to Rosslarein Ireland, a 4 hour crossing which gave me plenty of time to relax.  As before, I will include practical details for this portion of the trip at the end of the post.

The first sight of Irish Land, was the lone lighthouse on Tuskar Rock, an isolated islet about 50 km from the coast.  Rosslare Harbour is visible in the ditance, especially its windmill farm, but hard to see on the photo unless you zoom in.

I did not arrive in Rosslare until 18:30 and had about a 1 hour drive to the guest house I had booked.  Fortunately, I could depend on the GPS in my car to steer me in the right direction.  Well, I thought I could until I discovered that there were new roads, not on my GPS and that other roads had changed number.  Right at the entrance to Waterford, there is a new by-pass that avoids the center of town and a bridge across the River Suir which is always a bottleneck with significant traffic jams.  I did not take the by-pass but since this was a Sunday, I had no problems at the bridge and arrived at the Coach House at ButtlerstownCastle just before 8PM.  It is a little out of town, but well worth the extra effort.

Des warned me that it might be difficult to find a place to eat as many restaurants close on Sunday evening.  I stopped at a ‘retro diner’, a throwback to the American Diners of the 50’s and 60′, complete with the individual jukebox on each table (I did not test to see if they worked) and the soda fountain.  Food was not great, but it was open.  After that, I went into Waterford just to orient myself and look around.  To say that the town was quite at 9 PM is an understatement!

I hardly ran into anybody while walking around in the center of the town…

After a good night sleep, I decided to explore the region around Kilkenny, for no other reason than that is the name of my favourite Irish Beer.

By looking at the guide, I decided to first stop at the Priory of Kells.  There seem to be important ruins like this one a little everywhere in Ireland, a constant reminder of both the religious spirit that has symbolised the country, and the violent history that it experienced in the Middle Ages.  This particular priory was fortified with a very strong wall and moat – the wall is still intact in many places.

The priory and the attached abbey were first established in the 12th century but most buildings date from the 14th and 15th centuries.  It was fought over several times, burned down and destroyed and finally abandoned in the 16th century.  There was no one there while I was visiting and I was free to go where I wanted amongst the ruins – very unusual to still be able to do this anywhere in the world…

Just upstream from the priory, a water mill was established in the 19th century – typical early industrial design but for it to be still standing intact, it must have still been in use well into the 20th century.  I could not go inside, but from the outside, I could see the remains of the belt system that must have driven the machinery – not sure what machinery that was.

Two km outside Kells, there is a ’round tower and high cross’. I had no idea what to expect driving towards the site, following the signs …  The tower is on the side of an ancient cemetery, with the remains of a small chapel and surrounded by trees.  You have to cross a field with a dangerous looking bull to get there!

I have not been able to find information as to the purpose of these towers – they were not intended as bell towers, and most of the time were built long before the church or chapel that stands near them.  In a field not too far from the small cemetery, I also found an ancient High Cross made of sandstone.  It is believed that it dates from the 9th century and marks the burial place of King Nial Caille who drowned in the nearby river while trying to save a servant.  He was buried outside the cemetery as he was not christian!  I noticed that there was a small plaque next to the cross.  Hoping to find out more about it, I went for a closer look, while still watching my back as the bull was not too far.  When I git there, all the plaque said was a warning that I would be prosecuted by the Government of Ireland should I in any way deface this important national treasure.  It is a very sad reflection of our society today that it seems more important to threaten people against vandalism than to educate them on the significance of a monument.

I made it to Kilkenny and started with a visit to the Castle.  A very impressive building first established in 1172 by Strongbow, or Richard de Clare, a name that comes up again and again in this region.  He was a member of the Pembroke family (Yes, from Wales) but was actually of Anglo-Norman descent and in 1170 conquered this part of Ireland.  The best part of the castle is the Long Gallery, a beautiful building (the whole right wing on the picture below, that was built especially to display the art collection of the owners and is richly decorated in local motifs.  The paintings that are still there now are very impressive and I spent quite some time looking at both the building architecture, decoration and displayed art.

Not far from the Kilkenny Castle is the Butler House and gardens.  No, the Lords of the Castle did not pay their butlers an exorbitant amount of money.  Butler House is the Dower House of Kilkenny Castle and has always been associated with the Butler Family, Dukes & Earls of Ormonde who resided at Kilkenny Castle for 500 years. It is now a boutique hotel, but the gardens are open to the public.

There were several statues by the same artist, and made with the same technique.  The block of wood is first ‘turned’ to get the outside and inside shapes and later carved to get the design and details.  I particularly liked this one of a couple hugging.

Kilkenny has several significant churches.  This is a relatively recent one, St. Mary’s Cathedral, which was built in the 19th century.  It is still an imposing structure and has a beautiful interior.

However, the best, and largest cathedral in Kilkenny is St. Canice, built in early 1200 and still one of the largest medieval cathedrals in Ireland after St Patrick’s in Dublin.  The round tower next to the church actually dates back to 700 and was there long before the first christian building was erected on this site.  It is clear that the new techniques in building large churches such as Notre Dame in Paris and Salisbury Cathedral have not made their way to this part of Ireland yet – this is still a solid, squat building typical of earlier constructions.

However, inside the ceiling already shows some signs of modern times – the vaulted ceiling increased the impression of height and gave a lighter feeling to the whole construction once inside.  This is a particularly beautiful ceiling (compare to the flat ceiling of St David’s Cathedral in Wales which I showed earlier…)

For a minor fee, you can climb the round tower next to the Cathedral.  I did it – it is quite a climb at about 12 stories (30 meters high); the most difficult was to climb with my backpack (I do carry a significant kit with me to take all the pictures you have been enjoying) – I actually had to take it off and carry it in my hand, some times over my head, in order to fit in the very tight stairs.

The view from the top is worth the effort.  The highlight for me, and the reason for my being here, is the brewery, not the Kilkenny Brewery, but the Smithwick Brewery.  actually, you cannot find Kilkenny beer in Ireland.  It is only brewed for export.  The local beer, very similar to Kilkenny, is the Smithwick and to be correct, you cannot pronounce the ‘w’!  In the middle of the brewery are the ruins of St. Francis Abbey – the abbey was already abandoned when the brewery was established – no Trappist monks here.

It started to rain so I decided to drive to New Ross.  On the way there, I decided to take back roads, and just as the rain stopped and a timid sun came out, I happened upon this typical corner of Ireland – I had to stop and take a picture or two.

The road crosses the river over what could have been a roman bridge (I do not think the Romans came this far…)

New Ross was one of the main harbours for departing emigrants during the Irish Potato Famine in the mid 1800’s.  It is also in the New Ross area that the Kennedy family originally came from.  The link is important as it is the JFK Trust, established in 1988 in memory of John F Kennedy, which sponsored the re-construction of the Dunbrody Heritage Ship which can be toured in New Ross.

It is a copy of an actual ship used by emigrants leaving Ireland and going to the United States of America during the potato famine.  It was built in early 2000 but is a fully functional ship and has taken part in several gatherings of tall ships in the past.

When I sail with friends,  they often ask me why each rope on a sail boat has a specific name.  In a modern sailing yacht, there are only 6-8 ropes that are routinely used for adjusting sails and therefore it seems unnecessary to have ‘technical’ names for each of these.  However, in the past, when these names were developed, the situation was quite different. “Uuuuh! crew, can you please pull on the third rope that comes down from the left hand side of the second mast there in front of me?  No, not that one, the one to the left, … my left .. further left  … Noooo! the one that comes down from the mast, not goes up to it!  OK, I’ll show you myself!”

Inside, these are the quarters for the third class passengers.  It does not look too bad, until you are told that each section of  bunks (between two posts), above and below, are designed for up to eight people and passengers were only allowed to spend one hour on deck per day, and only if the weather was good enough. Typically, less than 50% of third class passengers survived the trip.  However, the Dunbrody had a much better record than other ships, because the captain and crew were much more humane to their passengers than most.

On the way back to the Coach House, I had dinner in Waterford at a fusion restaurant called Bodega! which I really enjoyed.

Day two and I am off to Hook Head.  In order to get there, I have to go back across the Suir River.  I can do that either in Waterford, or, a short cut, take the ferry from Passage East to Ballyhack.  Here is a view of Ballyhack from Passage East.

Even though we are several km from the sea, this is still a tidal river.  Since tides can by up to three meters, it is essential to know when high tide is if you want to get out of the harbour for a little cruise around the river.

Wellington Bridge is not far from Ballyhack – the bridge is not very impressive and neither is the river it goes across, so I am not sure where the name came from … There was a silver mine not too far from town and only a few ruins remain from the church and the main buildings.

On the way to see the ruins, I had beautiful views of the estuary of the Wellington River (?? anyway, the river over which Wellington Bridge goes).

This is turning out to be a day for nature walks as opposed to the city day yesterday.

My next stop is the Tintern Abbey.  The most famous one is located in Wales near the River Wye.  The one in Ireland is also Cistercian and was founded by monks from the original abbey in the 12th century sponsored by the Earl of Pembroke (Yes, them again) who was a descendant of the founders of the Welsh Abbey in 1131.

Up the road from this entrance is the monk’s cemetery, with the remains of a small chappel

The whole area is calm and peaceful – I am sure that in July and August, it can be quite different, but I had the whole place nearly to myself.

Near the end of Hook Head is a small town called Churchtown and beyond that is the oldest working lighthouse in the World.  Monks are believed to have kept fires burning on the head as early as the 5th century.  The first structure was built in the 13thcentury and the outside of the building has remained essentially unchanged since.

Hook Head is where Strongbow, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke arrived when he invaded Ireland.  He had told his men to land “by Hook or by Crook” – there is also a small town called Crook not too far, but they chose to follow the light of Hook Head Lighthouse.  Now you know where that expression comes from.

In the 20th century, there was a whole community living near the lighthouse to keep it working.  The lighthouse itself was occupied until 1996 but is now fully automated.

Not far from the lighthouse is an abandoned mansion, reputedly haunted.  Des, the host at the Coach House had told me to look out for it.  It is isolated and the surrounds look rather desolate so one can see where rumors can start.  The fact that one of he children living there claimed to see the devil probably had something to do with it too…

I had dinner in Dunmore East, after going back across the Suir on the ferry.  Des had recommended a good pub-restaurant called the Spinnaker Bar and so I walked around town in search of it.  My search was in the end vain (I had to als to find the restaurant) but I did discover a typical cottage with thatched roof.

This has been a resort for many years.  The Haven Hotel has the grand style of late 19th/early 20th century tourism which is so hard to find these days.

In the end, I did manage to get to the Spinnaker and had an excellent dinner there before returning to the Coach House.

PRACTICAL  INFORMATION

You can find out a lot more about Irish Round Towers on this site:  http://www.roundtowers.org/

I used the Stena Line Ferryfrom Fishguard to Rosslare.  They have two sailings per day, one at night and one in the afternoon.  The crossing takes about 4 hours and once again, I had decided to upgrade to VIP class and had an excellent crossing.

I stayed at the Coach House near Butlerstown Castle.  A gorgeous Bed and Breakfast witha very friendly host Des.  It is very quiet, down a one lane road just 10 km outside of Waterford.  Breakfast is a real treat!

The web site for the Coach House:  http://www.butlerstowncastle.com/  for info:  coachhse@iol.ie

As I mentioned in the post, I found that many roads around Waterford had changed from what my GPS was telling me.  In fact, some had changed as late as a week or two before I arrived.  Other than confusing the nice lady who gives me directions, it was not a major problem as long as I remained aware of what was going on.  I usually found my way without long detours.

I had two very nice meals.  The first was at La Bodega! Restaurant and Wine Bar in Waterford.  They are located at 54 John Street; a nice place with great atmosphere, and very good food.  The second was at the Spinnaker Barin Dunmore East.  They are located in Lower Dunmore, near the Strand Hotel.  Typical pub with much better than typical pub food.  I sat by the fire which was roaring even though the temperature was quite decent – it adds character to a pub!

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One Response to “Ireland 1 – Waterford Area”

  1. David Ingon 25 Jun 2010 at 00:11

    #pierreo I chuckled at the quiet of Waterford on a Sunday 9 p.m., but can’t say that I’m surprised. You show the experience as a travel by opting for food when you could find it!

    You’ve now got me wondering what all the names for those ropes are.

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