I am in full on post-vacation crash, as is B, and it’s a week after we’ve returned! I figure it’s time for the updates to put me in a better mood. B gave me his notes to include in this blog, as well, so this post is co-written. So here’s the good and the bad, but it was mostly good. 🙂
We arrived in Dublin late in the evening and stayed at a B&B across from the car rental park. I figured my insurance card would be enough to decline the extra insurance, but apparently, I was wrong. Ireland requires a special letter from your insurance company that states they cover you in Ireland. My insurance company excludes Ireland, sadly. I found out after I got home that my American Airlines credit card would have covered me and has a form letter ready to be emailed, if I would have only called them before leaving for my trip. A very expensive lesson for me folks – if you plan to rent a car, call both your insurance and your credit card company before you leave to check for coverage and get a letter of coverage to bring with you!
Driving on the “wrong” side of the road never did end up clicking for B. He would flinch every time he saw a car coming (to be fair, I visibly flinched a few times the first afternoon, but I’d twitch away from the oncoming car; not back to the side of the road I normally drive). By the 2nd day, I was in full “I love roundabouts” driving mode, and B only drove for about 20 mins total on the motorways (interstates). We didn’t run into any road-blocking sheep obstacles and only a few roads were too narrow to drive on. Verizon has a great international option that lets you use your own data, text and voice for just $10/day of use. B and I will always joke about google maps voice directions, “In 400 meters, at the roundabout, take the 2nd exit.”
We began our journey at Glendalough (pronounced Glen-da-lock, in the Irish way), which is a lovely pre-Norman roundtower. B was fascinated by the roundtowers on paper, so this was first on our list (it also happened to be first geographically, so nice coincidence there). The ruins in the cemetery were nice, but the stroll around the lake and the “Technicolor” sheep were the best part. The Irish countryside in spring was amazing.
Our next stop was Ferns castle which was B’s favorite. I think it was the tour guide, who was really amazing, and the history of the Normans in Ireland was great knowledge for all future planned stops. The setting of the fort on the high point of town really did drive home the importance of such fortification in period, we could picture the village around the fort. The tour is short but well worth it since you are give access to the one remaining intact corner tower. Only the minimal work has been done to restore or repair the fort.
Tintern Abbey was the first monastic ruins we visited (pic used as header). It has a special point of history, as this was the bay in which William Marshal originally landed from England. It is said that he dedicated the land to the church to fulfill his promise to God for safe passage. Despite continued occupation into the 20th century, the majority of the abbey is still original construction. There are several great examples of architecture of the time. The cathedral is still intact, but the majority of the original sculpted columns are missing, and there are better examples to be found at other abbeys, but the grounds are amazing. Take the time to walk to the old well house and river bridge, over to the cemetery and around to the cottage gardens.
We stayed the night in a lovely loft apartment from Air BnB in Waterford and while it is a lovely town, it was the low light of the trip. We visited Reginald’s Tower in the morning, which is a good example of a surviving Norman wall tower, which did have a few 14th century modifications but they are relatively minor and interesting, like being made in to a prison. There was also a decent display of local Viking artifacts from a newly unearthed unknown village nearby. The tour guides are well worth it if you are in Waterford for other reasons. We also visited the Waterford Medieval Museum, but only reason to visit here would be for the Great Charter Roll or other examples of artwork in legal documents from the 14th to 19th centuries. I did get to appease my consumer whorism with trinkets from Waterford Crystal before we left, though.
Something important to note about most old European buildings, is that they are continually renovated over the centuries. A few hundred years isn’t a long enough time to make something historic like it is here in the States, and there isn’t a desire to make the renovation “match” the older construction style. In fact, quite the opposite, contrasting construction is preferred to set apart different phases. Jerpoint Abbey was continually updated over the centuries and B thinks some of the 16th century artist were trying to make things that complemented the original work. If you are just looking for the beauty and not a specific time period this abbey has the second best surviving architecture we saw in our trip. The art is amazing, with a large percentage of the main abbey still standing and the cathedral nearly intact it is a true price of Catholic and Benedictine art second only to the Rock of Cashel.
Kilkenny was a lovely city and I wish we would have had more time to explore it. The castle was renovated in the 18th Century in the Gothic Revival style and all the Victorian furniture and styling remain today. The great room ceiling is worth seeing: beautiful Gothic revival beam ceiling with amazing guiding and paint. Across the road from the castle was a fantastic local art shop. They sold many of the typical Irish items (wool, marble, etc.) but also Waterford crystal. It was the same price as at the flagship store, but obviously a lessor selection.
The one true B&B we stayed at was Aulber House in Cashel. The house was lovely, although modern B points out, the bed was soft and comfortable and the breakfast spread was de-lish-ous! We went to visit Hore Abbey in the wee morning hours before breakfast and walking out in the morning mist was amazing. Wear boots to this one though – it’s in the middle of a cow pasture. Once the mist cleared and we could see up to the rock it was very spiritual. Then, later at the Rock looking down on the abbey was very enlightening as to how much land was in one such medieval estate.
The Rock of Cashel was the highlight of the trip. The entire site is on a plateau, and consists of a roundtower, a cathedral, the ruins of a castle and a living hall for the Vicars. Many folks have a misconception that living in the middle ages to be dreary and drab, but the 14th Century restoration work in the Hall shows what would be closer to the reality. The stone is white washed, and tapestries are mounted throughout the Hall, the wooden ceiling is painted and decorations in the form of arms and carvings are prominent. Stained glass is also used to add color to the living arrangements. King Cormack’s Cathedral has some of the original fresco and nearly all of the sculpted columns! The detail and colors are amazing. Also, the town has promotions that if you spend €25 you can get a free ticket to see the Rock. Both our B&B and the pub we had dinner tried to give us tickets, but our Heritage Cards covered our entrance fee. We both agree that this was the favorite and should definitely be a not to miss! Also, take a few to check out the ruins of the Dominic’s Abbey just down the street while you are in town.
There were so many other sites in the East that we wanted to see, but for time limitations we removed them from the agenda. Knowing what I know now, I would have skipped Waterford (even though that’s the first landing of William Marshall) and added Trim Castle and the Hill of Tara.