Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Five

Friday 8th September 2017

It will come as no surprise to learn that most of today has been spent writing up what I’ve been up to over the past three days and getting Episode Four away. This wasn’t too much of a hardship, however, as today was even greyer and rainier than yesterday. Tempted by an apparent lift in the weather mid-morning I ventured out for a leg-stretch break into the centre of the city to hit an ATM but unwisely failed to take an umbrella or even a rain jacket. And, of course, the skies opened up again and guess who got quite wet.

So back to writing up…

Given that I have been able to track down James to where he and his family lived from at least 1812 until 1834 (when their last child was born), I appear to have progressed as far as I can here on the ground in Waterford. As the time of their apparent disappearance is not long before the beginning of the famine, the abandonment of properties by bankrupt landlords and the beginnings of civil unrest, perhaps Stephen lost his position as a Land Steward and had to move on.  It’s nothing more than a theory at this stage and only wormed its way into my brain after reading this article, “An Overview of the Famine in Waterford”.  Maybe it will provide you with as telling a context as it did me:

In any event, finding out what happened to the family from say 1840 on will, I suspect, require a lot more ferreting online – and that’s better done at home.

The important thing for me was to be able to establish that this James really was my great great grandfather – and that I’ve done, with the added value of knowing exactly where they lived and worked.

So, with that sorted I can go to dinner happy and plan some sightseeing for the morrow. And the dinner was even more happy-making – Pan-seared Supreme of Chicken on a bed of garlic and lemon tossed green beans, crispy bacon and a sweet red wine jus and a just yummy side of stir-fried root vegetables.

Saturday 9th September 2017

Having forecast showers I could not have been more pleased to see a relatively clear sky and a day that boded well to be just right for seeing the sights. What I didn’t bank on was the cold and gusty wind that buffeted me as I left the hotel – and didn’t let up all day. But spoil my first real tourist-type day – not a chance!

After my usual fortifying breakfast I headed about 40 km south to Dungarvan where the Castle there was on my OPW Visitors Card. Guess who was there just as it opened, again?

Dungarvan Town Map Sign near Dungarvan Castle, Waterford
9 September 2017
Dungarvan Castle, Waterford
9 September 2017

My first impression was that there wasn’t going to be a lot to see, but a pre-exploration video gave all three of us early-birds an excellent timeline-based history of the castle. Some of that history I’ve added below, courtesy Dungarvan Tourism:

“Dungarvan Castle is an Anglo-Norman fortification founded in 1185. It was built in a very strategic location at the mouth of the River Colligan. From here ships could be anchored, and soldiers could command the narrow strip of land to the south of the Comeragh Mountains, which linked East and West Waterford. It is one of the few royal castles built in Ireland in the 1200s. During the Irish Civil War the barracks were taken by the IRA forces who set fire to it before leaving in August 1922. With the foundation of the Garda Siochana in 1922 the building was restored and used as the local Garda Station until 1987.”

Not mentioned here but part of the video coverage was the fact that the castle was one of the properties over which the Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond fought the Butler Earl of Ormond in the Battle of Affane in 1585. Now you knew I’d have to get a Butler reference in there somewhere, didn’t’ you?

As for the castle itself, my Tourism source provided this:

“The castle consists of a polygonal shell keep with an enclosing curtain wall, a corner tower and a gate tower. The shell keep is the earliest structure, dating from the 12th century. Inside the curtain wall is a two storey military barracks, which dates from the first half of the 18th century. The barracks is now restored and houses an informative exhibition on the history of the castle.”

From this you’ll gather that there was, as I had suspected, not a lot to see but I did explore the barracks and one of the towers – and have the following Photographic evidence:

Barracks Room Recreated – Dungarvan Castle, Waterford
9 September 2017
View of Harbour from Dungarvan Castle, Waterford
9 September 2017

Still heading South, my next stop was at Ardmore to visit St Declan’s – the ruins of which are said to be of Ireland’s earliest Christian settlement.
The present site comprises a 30m high round tower – a significant landmark on the settlement’s hilltop site – the roofless shell of Ardmore Cathedral, an 8th century Oratory and an extensive graveyard.
Two features of the cathedral were the Romanesque arcading decorated with carved-stone biblical scenes, and inside, among a number of grave slabs of seemingly different ages two Ogham stones one of which has been erected in a niche in the wall. All were to varying degrees, photogenic, but the results of the best appear here:

Round Tower at St Declan’s, Waterford
9 September 2017
Romanesque Arcading with what are believed to be 12th Century stone-carved Biblical Scenes – St Declan’s, Waterford
9 September 2017
…and, finally, a scene from the Graveyard – St Declan’s, Waterford
9 September 2017

One of the must-do activities in County Waterford is what is known as the Comeragh Drive and, would you believe it, it just happened to be on my way home to Waterford.

I have no reason now to doubt why it’s so high on the list of tourist attractions.  At the expense of appearing to go overboard, it was just a visual smorgasbord of the greenest of green agricultural land, deep green natural forests, heather-covered hillsides and a huge sky variously cloudless blue to threateningly storm-clouded. The round trip is some 150 kms long but it didn’t seem so as, with only minimal traffic I was able to just meander along – if you can meanderingly drive – to soak it up.

While, for once, I believe these photos may do justice to what I saw, however good I may think some of them are, they’ll never capture the beauty or sense of space and peace that I felt.

Scenes from Comeragh Drive, County Waterford
9 September 2017

And to end a tiring but very rewarding day I went fishing again, this time savouring a “Trio of Fish” Linguini which the menu described as salmon, prawns and smoked haddock cooked in a creamy spiced sauce and finished with Parmesan cheese and fresh rocket leaves. It was a huge serving – as they all have been – and very rich and I have to admit it beat me in the end. That’s not a criticism of the meal but an admission of defeat from a weary wanderer.

Sunday 10th September 2017

Breakfast is not served until 8:00 am on Sundays, so I had a good excuse for a Sunday morning sleep-in and as the rain had returned what better excuse did I need? None at all.

As I haven’t made very good use on OPW card – and after yesterday’s success – I felt I should find another of their properties. As luck would have it, Ormond Castle which has only recently re-opened after a two and a half year renovation break was one I had not seen before and more enticingly was within half an hour’s drive. And, the rain seemed to be easing, said he optimistically.

With every intention of beating the crowds, I was first there again, and the guided tour started 10 minutes or so later when the rest of the crowd arrived – all two of them!
The guide was excellent, spending close to an hour providing us with the sort of relaxed but empathetic commentary covering the history, architecture and decoration of the castle that only comes from long experience as a guide and a real feeling for the property.

Ormond Castle, Tipperary
10 September 2017

The most important thing about the castle is of course that the Elizabethan manor house that fronts the earlier 14th century walled castle complex was built by a Butler – Thomas Butler, the 10th Earl of Ormond, no less, around 1560.  That there was any doubt that the original castle was old this photo will quash that.  Walking through the manor to this seemed to me to be an unusual and not too sympathetic conjunction of the two buildings.

The ruins of the earlier castle – Ormond Castle, Tipperary
10 September 2017

But back to the manor house,.  According to the guide, it is the best example of an Elizabethan manor house in Ireland. That this is so he believes was a natural outcome of the fact that Thomas, being a minor and ward of the court, spent much of his youth at Elizabeth I’s court.

Apart from a magnificent long gallery, the feature I found most appealing was the decorative plasterwork much of it original, although now painted white rather than being highly coloured as we were assured it once was. Also impressive was the structural timberwork throughout and, in particular, that in the attic roof space. Much of this too was original oak and secured with wooden pegs rather than nails.

Then it was off home again to continue the writing-up – and a little “downtime”. After all a Sunday morning sleep-in deserves a matching Sunday afternoon nap.  Well, doesn’t it?

Eschewing fish for once, I weakened and finally had a steak.  On this occasion it was a 10oz Sirloin rested on a bed of sautéed onions and mushrooms and chunky chips and, thoughtfully, with a large dollop of garlic butter in a dish on the side.  It was delicious, although the size of the serving beat me again. Tony would have been horrified.

Monday 11th September 2017

This is my last day in Waterford before heading off for Dublin and then London tomorrow.  As such it has, apart from outings to return the rental car and reserve a seat on the train, been a repacking and housekeeping sort of day.

The return of the car was relatively painless but because Enterprise Rental Car’s office is 6 km out of town I was very grateful for the ride back they gave me.

I was less enthused with Irish Rail.  Having made a special trip across the bridge to the station to organise a reserved seat, I was more than somewhat surprised that reservations can only be made online and the reservation slip is only then able to be collected from the ticket dispenser at the station.  Still, I did get a stretch of the legs even if the howling near-gale nearly blew me into the River Suir on the way over and onto the roadway on the way back.  While I was out and about I also rode the wind into Waterford to visit the Library and see if they had any suggestions as to how I might continue my quest.

Regrettably, their genealogy specialist, Etta Cowman, only works on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the Library assistant encouraged me to leave a note for her and she felt sure she would email any suggestions she might have – particularly in respect of sources like estate records.  Haven’t the folk here been just wonderful?

Well, apart from finishing my Fitzwilton gastronomic exploration on a high but healthy note with, would you believe, Seafood Chowder, it’s off to finish the packing and bed.

So, it’s a farewell from Ireland to, in a couple of days time, a hello to the Channel Islands, from where I hope to continue the “beyond” bit of “Britain and beyond”.

But how could I say farewell to Ireland without saying “thanks” for so much friendly and freely-given support – and I do so now.