A Day Trip to Kilkenny and then on to Doolin after a night at the Pal.
01.11.2007 - 14.11.2007
On our third day in Ireland we woke rather early and were back down in the dining area of the Dolmen Hall Guest house for another full Irish breakfast – only this time we skipped the appetizer. Afterwards, Mrs. Toner ordered us a cab to take us to the Carlow train station for our day trip to Kilkenny and while waiting she introduced us to her Husband, Vincent, a really cool guy. We visited for a few minutes and then we were off to the station where we purchased our round trip tickets and shortly thereafter were cruising along the steel ribbon that is Irish Rail. After about a half hour’s travel, we arrived at our destination and set out to wander the streets of the medieval town of Cill Cahinnigh.
After familiarizing ourselves with the town we headed over for a tour of Kilkenny Castle, a 12th century building owned by the Butler family, AKA the Marquises and Dukes of Ormonde who ruled over the area for roughly 500 years. Over the years the castle has seen much in the way of conflict, having its east wall destroyed by Oliver Cromwell as well as having sustained much damage during the Irish Civil War in 1922. Having been abandoned by the Butler family, who moved to England in the 1930’s, it fell into disrepair and was finally sold to the Castle Restoration Committee for £50 in 1967 by Arthur Butler, the 6th Marquis and 24th Earl of Ormonde and restored back to its Victorian Grandeur. Tour times vary on the time of year and last about an hour. The fee is €5.30 but is covered by the Heritage Card. There is a 15-minute video on the history of the castle prior to the guided tour. Cameras and video are not allowed but they do provide a secure bag check free of charge.
When we got to the castle we were informed that we had just missed a tour but we could sign up for the next one, which we did. Since we had about an hour to kill we walked across the street to the Kilkenny Design Center and Castle Yard Complex, a group of artisan shops that now occupy what were once the stables and coach houses to the castle. We browsed through a few shops, checking out some very beautiful handcrafted items such as Waterford Crystal, ceramics, pottery and clothing. Something that caught our eyes was a couple of jewelry shops. We were getting married in just under a year and wanted to get our rings somewhere here in Ireland. We saw a really cool design on a couple of rings in a window display and went inside to inquire about them.
The silver workshop was that of Desmond A. Byrne, a kind and accommodating gentleman with white hair. He informed us that the design on the rings was of intertwined serpents and a Celtic cross and could be found in the Book of Kells. We thought they were beautiful and decided to buy a pair. Amy’s fit her right off the display shelf but mine needed to be custom made. We settled on a size (not too tight) and he told us it’d be ready by the time we were finished with our tour. After the tour, we headed back over to the silversmith and, as promised, my ring was completed. After a few minor adjustments to ensure a good fit, we happily paid for our new jewelry and headed over to the fountain in front of the Castle to put them on (we had been together for just over 10 years at this point so we thought: What the hell).
After that, we figured it was time to celebrate so we headed down the main drag that connects Kilkenny Castle to St. Canice’s Cathedral in search of a pub, settling on one not far from the Smithwick’s Brewery. We bellied up to the bar on a couple of stools and ordered a couple of pints of Smithy’s. Irish football was on the TV and people were just hanging out and drinking on this beautiful autumn day. A group of about four guys were standing not too far from us, yucking it up, just having a good ‘ol time when one of them turned to us out of the blue and said “What’re ya drinkin’ that swill for?”
“It’s not too bad. Why, what do you recommend?” I replied.
“Don’t pay him no mind. He’s drunk.” One of his buddies said.
Ignoring his friend he pointed to the Bemish tap.
“What’s that taste like?”
“Kinda like Guinness, only a better flavor. Smoother.”
I was a little skeptical but thought I’d go with it none the less. “All right.” I said, “Our next pints will be Bemish.”
He wasn’t wrong. It was a smooth, creamy stout, not unlike Guinness in appearance. The night before, in Carlow, we tasted our first Guinness outside of the States and it was by far better. For some reason it just doesn’t travel well and by the time it reaches the U.S., it has a bit of a bitter aftertaste. But this stuff, this Bemish, it was just as good if not a tad better.
We sat there drinking Bemish for a while as the sunny afternoon drifted into dark and before too long it was time to head back to the train station for our trip back to Carlow. Luckily we had allotted ourselves a little time for dinner, so we stopped at a fish-n-chips shop that was on the way to the station. For about 5 or 6 Euros apiece we got a couple of filets and a good helping of fries complete with the optional salt and vinegar. Sitting on the platform waiting on the train and enjoying our dinner we struck up a conversation with a girl from the States who was headed back to Dublin where she was studying abroad; one of the few American accents we’d hear on this trip.
Once back in Carlow we hailed a cab just outside the train station and headed for the Palatine Pub. As I wrote in the last post, the Palatine (or Pal) is also owned by the Toners in the little berg that shares its name only a few short miles to the Northeast of Carlow. Mr. Toner was there when we arrived and within minutes we were treated as regulars. We met so many nice people in so short of time that I couldn’t keep track of names. One fellow’s name was Mick and another was named Kevin. The reason I remember Kevin all too well is because I kept buying him pints of Guinness. The reason for that is because I kept losing to him in pool. Now, I’m no Willie Mosconi, this much is true, but I can generally hold my own when playing a fun game of pool. The table was a tad smaller than the 6-footers you find in bars here in the states and the billiard balls were much smaller as well. It totally threw my whole game off. I know, excuses, excuses. But hey, I had fun.
We sat and drank, conversed and cavorted, socialized and had the time of our lives until it was time to call a taxi to come pick us up. Once he arrived, the driver came into the pub to let us know he was there. We bade our new friends goodbye for now and headed back for one last night in the world’s most comfortable beds.
The next morning we arose rather late and headed down for another full Irish breakfast. I gotta tell you, they are soooo good, but probably not good for you. I’m sure my cholesterol shot up into the stratosphere for the whole trip because it’s about all I had for breakfast every morning save three or four. Nevertheless I ate with gusto, washing down my fried eggs and salted pork treats with some pretty flavorful instant coffee. After breakfast we headed back to our room to pack, shower and then absorb the world’s most comfortable mattress one last time because we didn’t know when we would be back. And back we will be because we had a nice, relaxing time at Dolmen Hall. If you’re looking to get just far enough away, to a location that’s either a short drive or quick train ride from some pretty cool sights, then this is it.
We settled our bill with Mrs. Toner, bade her a fond farewell and shortly after, we were on the R430 west out of Carlow to connect with the N8 heading south out of Abbeyleix and on to Cashel. Looming over the town of Cashel is the Rock of Cashel, a must see even if you’re just passing through County Tipperary and it’s covered by the Heritage Card. The grounds are dominated by the Gothic Cathedral, built in the 13th century and accented by the 12th century Round Tower. After parking our car below, we walked up to the grounds and entered through the Vicars Choral, which was built in the early 15th century making it the newest building of the whole compound. Centuries old graves encircle the Cathedral with a gravel path winding through, providing a great view of the outlying land around, including the Golden Vale, said to be the best land in Ireland for dairy farming.
We were there for a good hour or so, me snapping pictures, Amy doing the same plus sketching, but it was getting darker and time to move on to Doolin. We headed southwest out of Cashel for a few miles and then northwest out of Tipperary, the only direct route to our destination with out traversing the country lanes. On through Limerick we trucked, skirting Shannon and stopping in Ennis for gas, some road snacks and coffee. Before too long we were in Lehinch, where I made the proverbial wrong turn at Albuquerque. Actually, I didn’t turn. That’s what the problem was, but I corrected myself before we wound up in the nocturnal abyss that is the Western Irish night. Doubling back I got on the right road towards Liscannor and it wasn’t too long before we were driving alongside the Cliffs of Moher. The only problem was we couldn’t see them because it was so dark out.
It was only about 7:30 – 8:00pm when we entered McGann’s Pub and B&B. We ordered a couple of pints and inquired about a room. “€27.00 per person a night, not including breakfast.” The fellow behind the bar informed us. It sounded good to us so we signed on and then ordered a couple of beef & vegetable stews for dinner before heading up to our room and unpacking. I gotta tell ya, it was some of the best stew I’ve ever had. A good helping consisting of beef, potatoes and veggies in a flavorful gravy with bread to dip, dunk and sop. I wasn’t disappointed. After washing down the last of it with our pints, we paid our tab, got our key and retrieved our packs from the car. The rooms are upstairs from the pub and are accessed via stairs on the side of the building. There are a total of 6 rooms, all en suite; no frills yet cozy.
We were a little tired from spending a good portion of the day on the road, which was compounded by the filling dinner we just had, so we deemed it justified that the only thing we wanted to do was relax and get some shut eye because we were planning on going to Inishmore in the morning… then the music started. A fiddle was clearly heard as well as a guitar. We continued to lie in bed, I staring at the ceiling and Amy reading a book. Not more than 5 minutes had passed when I turned my head to Amy and said: “Y’know, we are on vacation. Whatta ya say we go check out the jams.” And in another not-more-than-5 minutes we were dressed and downstairs waiting on a couple of pints.
It was just the two of them but together they cranked out some wonderful traditional Irish music to no end, one of them doubling on fiddle and banjo, the other sticking primarily to his guitar. Doolin is internationally known for its music and trad sessions, drawing tourists from all over the world especially in the summer. I’m told it gets pretty crowded and to see the size of this seaside hamlet – divided into an upper and lower section that sit about a mile apart – you can’t help but wonder how it accommodates all the people. I guess I’ll see first hand when one of my best friends gets married on the Cliffs of Moher in August of ’09.
The crowd was sparse but lively. There was a group of about 4 older ladies on vacation from the States, a nice couple named Harry and Bridgette form further inland, a girl from Boston, a very spastic Irish plumber and his buddy, who was passed out at the bar. We struck up a conversation with the girl from Boston first. It turns out that she was over to see the guy passed out, whom she met on a previous trip. We kind of felt bad for her coming all this way for this, but she seemed to make the best of it. Her cheery disposition wasn’t too wavered. How could it be? She was in Ireland, a place where good beer flows as freely as the craic and festive music.
We sat and talked with Harry and Bridge for a good while, just your friendly get-to-know type of banter. The music played on with little breaks and Bridgette told us about Irish fairies; pretty interesting stuff as, according to Irish folklore, fairies are more like imps – devilish creatures who are apt to terrorize more than they are to offer you three wishes. One popular belief of their origin is that they’re fallen angels, not good enough for Heaven and not evil enough for the bowels of Hell, so they’re destined to walk the earth in limbo. Some are seen to be helpful like the Goroch, others, like the Dullahan, can be rather terrifying. Whatever the case, your best bet is to avoid them at all costs and by all means, “Stay out of the Fairy Rings” we were warned by Bridgette.
It was getting on towards midnight when the bartender announced last call. We settled our tab and said goodbye to Harry and Bridgette and went outside, where the girl from Boston was talking to the guy she came to see. Apparently he had come out of his coma and looked semi-normal standing on his own two feet. We said goodnight to people we may never see again and got to our room, readied for bed and within minutes Amy was crashed out, both of us happy with our decision to join the party hours earlier.