Wednesday 17th May 2006
Today was a cold and miserable day that deteriorated as it went on, with wild winds that didn’t bode well for tomorrow’s ferry trip. We did however want to visit Glenluce Abbey, one of those that I failed to get into on my last trip, and if at all possible, the highly recommended Logan Botanic Garden.
Glenluce Abbey was founded about 1192 by Cistercian monks who most probably came from nearby Dundrennan Abbey. All too little survives, and what does – perhaps as much because of the bitter cold in which it was viewed as the ruins themselves – didn’t appeal as much as had Dundrennan or Sweetheart. Having said that, the remnants of the Abbey’s water-supply system consisting of runs of clay pipes interspersed at intervals with round inspection chambers were of more than passing interest.
Our visit to Logan Botanic Garden was similarly coloured by the conditions under which we viewed them and in the end forced us to make a tactical withdrawal to LRC’s warmth for the drive back to Creebridge, but the following of Carol’s photographs will give you some idea of the beauty to be seen there:
Thursday 18th May 2006
Though the weather was still wild, it was dry and warm (?) enough for us to visit Castle Kennedy Gardens on our way to Cairnryan where we were to catch the ferry to Larne. What a find this was!
The drive in was spectacular on its own, but the informally laid-out lawns and gardens were an absolute delight. We were perhaps a week or so early for the rhododendrons to be at their best but we were more than happy to settle for what we saw as we made our leisurely – and sheltered – way around the grounds.
Given the wild weather of the past couple of days, the ferry trip was not surprisingly “bumpy” – but bearable. To escape the stuffiness of the forward lounge area where we were sitting, we ventured on deck for some fresh air, but soon retreated salt-sprayed but exhilarated having taken not a lot of convincing that this wasn’t the safest expedition we’d shared.
Our accommodation was at Dunadry on the outskirts of Belfast where we again enjoyed the rural setting of a very large but also very comfortable country-house hotel.
Friday 19th May 2006
Today was an understandably important day for Carol as she acted as my tour guide for our exploration of the area where she grew up as a child – and especially to view the home that her parents built in the 1950s on the street that leads up through Cave Hill Country Park to Belfast Castle.
Saturday 20th May 2006
Our main stop for the day on our run from Belfast to Ceanannus Mór (one of at least three towns that share the name Kells) was at Brú na Bóinne, near Slane, where we visited both the Newgrange and Knowth burial sites. Constructed during the Neolithic age, these passage tombs are about 5,000 years old. The people who built these monuments belonged to a thriving farming community which used simple tools of wood and stone, but had nevertheless expertise in engineering, geology, art and astronomy.
The sheer size of Newgrange impresses, covering as it does a relatively small burial chamber under the 200,000 tonnes or so of material above it; as does the fact that the structure is still waterproof after all that time.
Knowth differs in that it comprises a group of mounds one of which is larger than Newgrange and contains two separate passage tombs. Unlike Newgrange, none of the burial chambers is accessible but the site boasts, in addition to a cross-section display of the layers that make up the mounds, more examples of the inhabitants’ symbolic art. We could not help but be moved by the achievements of the generations of people for whom these are lasting memorials. Our visits to both sites were enhanced by the quality of the guides, both informative – and in the case of Knowth in particular – enthusiastic.
Sunday 21st May 2006
A driving day from Kells to Cashel – and, given that it started at 5° and didn’t ever get above 9°, that was probably the best way of filling in the day. Our accommodation was a most attractive B&B “Hill House”, formerly the magnificent Georgian home for what can only have been a very well-to-do clergyman, the Reverend Dean James McDonnell. He is said to have fought a relentless campaign against heartless landlordism and injustice, but did so from a “posh” base! In any event, we found it sufficiently comfortable for us “colonials”.
Monday 22nd May 2006
It was with some reluctance that we ventured forth from the warmth of our “Hill House” refuge to brave a cold and miserable morning for our visit to the Rock of Cashel. With perhaps less respect for the site we were visiting than it certainly deserved, it was not only too cold to take photographs – it was too cold to be there other than on the run – and we ran!
Tuesday 23rd May 2006
Still cold but not quite as cold as yesterday. We drove to Cahir, just 11 miles from Cashel, to visit The Swiss Cottage. For me, it was a return visit, but I’m sure I’d be correct in saying that Carol was as much enchanted by it as I was.
I’m less sure the enchantment lasted for our visit to Cahir Castle, but Carol’s appreciation of it was somewhat more sympathetic than my “praising with faint damns” had been following my earlier visit. One thing that did appeal to us both – and one that I’d not given too much attention to before – was the very detailed model of the castle’s siege by the Earl of Essex which certainly put into perspective the importance of the castle in Irish history.
Wednesday 24th May 2006
Off to Kilkenny this morning via Waterford, where I had an appointment to pick up any information Michael O’Connor had found in his search for further information on great great grandfather James Butler. He had found some additional information which looks promising but which Norm will leave to delve into until we get home. We found our Kilkenny Hotel, only with the help of a couple of Road Surveyors, whose clear instructions – perhaps not surprisingly – made what had been an impossible navigational challenge just too easy. “Newpark Hotel” distinguished itself with, perhaps, the most elegant bathroom we have encountered – all marble, glass and under-floor heating – what luxury!
Thursday 25th May 2006
Today we visited Butler House and Kilkenny Castle. Norm had previously visited both, so rather than “bore you to sobs” all we’ll show here just a couple of photos from that visit:
Friday 26th May 2006
En route to Roscommon (where we were to spend the next two nights) we visited Clonmacnoise – a “must see” in County Offaly. As you enter the site, the first image that stops you in your tracks is “The Pilgrim”. Standing nearly 7 foot high and sculpted by Jackie McKenna out of a single piece of wood, it depicts (according to the plaque nearby) “Aedh, the son of the chief of Oriel who died on a pilgrimage, 606 AD”. It would be difficult for anyone not to be moved.
As the burial place of St Ciarán, Clonmacnoise has attracted pilgrims for nearly 1500 years. The site contains a number of churches, varying in date from 10th to the 17th century, but for us, and I suspect most visitors, the “Cross of the Scriptures” which is one of Ireland’s finest surviving High Crosses, had most appeal. The shaft and ringed head was carved from one piece of sandstone around 900 AD. The cross is 13 feet high and its surface is divided into panels with figured scenes, the carving of which is still surprisingly clear. It is housed inside the Visitors’ Centre and whether viewed from above or below is quite stunning.
Saturday 27th May 2006
A longish drive today up into North Mayo. Beneath the wild boglands there lies Céide Fields, the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world comprising field systems, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs of 5,000 years ago. In addition, the wild flora of the bog is of international importance and is bounded by some of the most spectacular rock formations and cliffs in Ireland. An outstanding feature of the stunning Visitors’ Centre is the massive trunk of a tree found in the peat at Céide Fields.
Our next stop was at Cruachan Ai Heritage Centre in the village of Tulsk, just north of Roscommon. Cruachan is one of the most important and best preserved Celtic Royal Sites in Europe. An array of some sixty archaeological remains is located within a four mile radius of the Centre, dating from the Stone Age. These are interpreted in the Centre’s bright, modern exhibition rooms using myths and legends as well as historic and scientific data. We found the Heritage Centre slightly disappointing as the focus seemed to us to be more on the myths and legends than the archaeological findings and factual information on which these were based.
Sunday 28th May 2006
Today was our last day in Ireland and we drove north to Carrickfergus so that we would have only a short drive to catch the first ferry from Larne to Cairnryan in the morning. Before checking into our hotel we visited Carrickfergus Castle, a place from Carol’s childhood that she was keen to share with me. Carrickfergus is a striking feature of the landscape from land, sea and air. It is steeped in over 800 years of military history. In fact, there are few buildings in Ireland with such well chronicled and fascinating history. It appears first in the official English records in 1210 when the notorious King John laid siege to it and took control of what was then Ulster’s premier strategic garrison. Besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English and French, the castle saw action right up to the Second World War.