Saturday, 8 September.
We took our leave of Wicklow today, after a visit that was really much to short. Naturally, we delayed our departure as long as possible, but given the distance we had to travel and the place we wanted to see, eventually we had to go. The main objective for today was to visit Kilkenny Castle. We would have liked to also go to Waterford, but time is a remorseless enemy and that will have to wait for a future visit.
Because of our late departure, we didn't arrive in Kilkenny until after lunch, which meant that we only had a couple of hours. We felt a bit like the dozen or so coach tours that were in town at the same time, with their strict timetables, but at least we could vary our schedule if we wanted to. We had lunch in a small café that turned out to be run by an Irish-Australian lady, so we had a bit of a chat as well. After that, it was off to storm (another) castle.
Kilkenny Castle has a well-deserved reputation for being one of Ireland's best-preserved castles. It has had a long and varied career and has served time as fortress, chateau, country home and ruin. Restoration began in the 1960s and two of the three remaining wings have been returned to their 19th century splendour. The history of Kilkenny Castle is closely bound to the fortunes of the Butler family which, in recent times, has been a significant benefactor to the custodians of the castle through the long-term loan of many pieces of furniture and artwork. The restoration is very well done and the tour is highly informative. My personal favourite rooms were the library and the Long Room, where fifty or more paintings are hung in what was once the family art gallery.
One thing we discovered just as we were leaving the castle, was that the State Heritage Authority (or whatever it is called - sorry, can't remember) has an annual pass that, for the princely sum of €21, gives free access for a year to all the heritage sites around Ireland. At €5.30 per single entry, that would have been good to know before we set off on our tour.... I pass it on as a tip for future visitors to Ireland!
The main objective for the rest of the day was to return to Angela's mum in Newcastle West at a decent hour. However, we couldn't pass up the opportunity for a quick look at the Rock of Cashel. If Kilkenny Castle is Ireland's best preserved historical site, then surely the Rock of Cashel must be one of the most spectacular. Originally the seat for the kings on Munster and later a Cathedral, the Rock is a sprawling, imposing building, perched on a hill just at the edge of Cashel and with commanding views in every direction. It was sacked by Cromwellian troops in 1647. Because of time constraints (again), not to mention another €5.30 entry fee, we didn't take a tour this time but it will certainly be on the agenda for our next visit.
Our route back to Newcastle West took us along country roads, where we had to run the gauntlet of harvest and milking time. On several occasions, or progress was delayed by farmers taking the opportunity presented by the good weather to bring in the hay or other crops or herding their cattle along the road to the milking shed, Once, while we were stopped to admire a particularly beautiful shrine, near Emly, I think, we watched a couple of future hurlers practicing in the road - until they put the ball through a car window! We also passed through a lovely little town called Kilmallock, which has several interesting looking ruins. Unfortunately, time was now very much against us, so we just added it to the list.
We finally made it "home" around seven and contemplated a couple of easy days before leaving Ireland on Tuesday.
Until next time, "slán abhaile". Marie, Angela and Ray.