My initial plan was the catch the 8:28 train from Kilkenny to Dublin, but it occurred to me that this initial plan involved me getting to Dublin four hours before I could check in to Kilronan house. So, I decided to sleep in a bit, have a leisurely breakfast, and take the 11:41 train.
Train travel in Ireland is very nice. The coaches are large, the seats are comfortable, there’s wifi on the train, and it’s just a very relaxing way to travel. What it isn’t is punctual. I don’t think I’ve been on a train that arrived or left on time. They’re never very late – only train that was more than ten minutes late was the one that broke down before leaving the station.
So, I got in to Heuston Station around 1:201, got a cab in to Kilronan House, and checked in a few minutes before 2:00.
I dropped my luggage in my room, cleaned up a bit, then went waling for a few hours. My goal was to get a little exercise, scope out where I have to meet the tours I’ve got scheduled, and refamiliarize myself with the city centre.
Last time, I got a picture of swans in the water here. This time, there were one or two ducks, and they were being crowded out by the dozens of gulls in the park.
Anyway, I grabbed some food, and came back to my room, up the 59 steps, and am going to bed soon. I’ve got to be up before 7:00 in the morning to make it to my tour on time.
According to the Triads, the three darkest places in Ireland are Knowth Tomb, Newgrange, and Dearc Fheanna – Dunmore Caves. Until relatively recently1, Dunmore Caves were the only known cave system in Ireland. Some 3500 years ago, a field in what is now Co. Kilkenny collapsed, opening up the system. According to archaeologists, it looks as if it may have been used by local people as a sort of refrigerator – there was evidence of animals being butchered near the entrance, and stored deeper in the caves, where the temperature holds at 9 C.
But in 928, the Dublin Vikings marched an army into the area as part of their ongoing feud with the Waterford Vikings, and attacked the three hill forts in the area. Once the men were slaughtered, it was found that the women and children had retreated into the nearby cave and hidden. The Vikings built huge fires at the opening of the cave mouth, intending to smoke out the villagers from their hiding spots. The fires filled the caves with smoke, used up all the oxygen, and suffocated the inhabitants.
According to the Annals, a thousand people were killed in the cave. That number seems kind of high, but there’s no way to be sure – over the centuries, many skeletons were removed, many by locals, who carried them to a nearby churchyard and reburied, but also by less altruistic folks. In the 1970s, when a more organized exploration and cataloguing of the cave began, a total of 44 bodies were found hidden in the narrowest, most secret parts of the caves. Most of the bodies were children and women, none of them showing any weapon damage.
Also discovered near the mouth of the cave were some silver coins, two of them struck in York, which city the Dublin Vikings had close ties with. In 1999, a guide in the cave picking up some litter, found a silver bracelet, which led to the discovery of a small treasure trove containing coins, jewelry, and a piece of purple-dyed silk. Dating on the coins show that the trove was hidden about fifty years after the massacre, so there’s a theory that it was a Viking’s sacrifice to the dead.
Anyway. Since the massacre – and the resulting skeleton-filled cave – the cave has had an evil reputation, being scene as a portal to the land of the dead. It was also said to be a gathering place for the fair folk, and the home of Luchtigern, king of the mice, who was slain by the giant Kilkenny cat, Banghaisgidheach2.
The gentleman driving the cab that took me out to the cave and back told me stories of when he and his friends would bike out to the cave after school to go crawling through it before all the safety measures and interpretive centre were put in place. Doolin Cave and Marble Arch Cave are bigger, but Dunmore Cave has a more interesting history.
So, yeah. Guess where I went this morning.
All the cave staff seem totally pumped to tell you how many steps you’ll have to climb – 152 to climb out of Marble Arch Cave, 125 to climb out of Doolin Cave, 706 steps in total (up and down) in Dunmore Cave. I’d think it was a friendly warning, but they always seem smug about it.
So, I dragged myself up out of the cave, called a taxi, and made my way back to Kilkenny city. I grabbed a hot dog3 and coke near the castle, and sat in the shade to eat my lunch and let the time get closer to 2:00.
That was the time St. Canice’s Cathedral opened to the public on Sundays.
By that time, it was about 4:00, which meant it was a little too late for me to take a trip out to Kells Priory. I guess I’ll have to save that for my next trip. I went and had a shower, cleaned up, and went to dinner at Kyteler’s again.
Tomorrow, I leave Kilkenny for Dublin. I have to say that Kilkenny has been the best surprise of my trip. I hadn’t expected so much cool stuff to see and do here, and such a laid-back, friendly attitude. I need to come back.
But Dublin next. I love Dublin.
I’ve had a couple of changes to my plans in Dublin over the last few days – one good change, one less good change. The less good change is that my tour for Tara and Newgrange on Wednesday has been canceled. Apparently, I was the only one who signed up, and that makes me sad. I’m sure I can find something fun to do instead on Wednesday.
The good change is that my brother, my sister-in-law, my nephew, and my niece have decided to come to Ireland to see my sister-in-law’s grandmother. We’re going to meet up in Dublin and do some sightseeing together. And that’ll definitely be fun.
But tomorrow is all about the train.
Well, until 1895, when the Marble Arch Cave was officially discovered and explored. [↩]
Wow. It was hot today. Looking at a local weather site, it seems this was the hottest day of the year so far. I’ve been regretting I didn’t pack any shorts1. I spent the day walking all over the city until I was about ready to drop, then finding a place to sit for a cool drink. Then doing it again.
The hills don’t help, either.
But I have to say that Kilkenny is an amazing city. There’s a lot of very interesting history here, and most of it is crammed into a fairly small space, making it easily2 walkable. My plan was to see how the walking tour this morning went, and then if there wasn’t much more in the city I wanted to see, I would take a trip to Dunmore Cave or Kells Priory, but there was just too much stuff in the city I wanted a closer, longer look at.
So, what did I do today? I started things with breakfast. Breakfast at Butler house is a bit of a productions.
See, Butler House is named after the Butler family, hereditary Earls of Ormond. They held Kilkenny Castle, and built the buildings that are now the Design Centre and Butler House. So there’s an arrangement between Butler House and the Design Centre for providing breakfast.
After breakfast, I wandered down to the Shee Alms House, which is the tourist information office, to join up with my walking tour.
I came back here after wandering around all afternoon and asked for something cool and refreshing. They served me this amazingly delicious and cooling lemongrass ginger fizzy lemonade. It was great, and the folks there were very friendly and welcoming. Also, very cool to be having a drink in an Elizabethan tavern.
So, here’s the story. It’s not very nice. Alice Kyteler was the sheltered daughter of a wealthy moneylender. She inherited this building, and lived in it her whole life. She married four times, poisoning at least her first three husbands with arsenic, and maneuvering the rest of her family to make sure that all her money and possessions would go to her eldest son, William Outlaw. When her fourth husband became ill, he sent for a bishop and accused her of witchcraft.
Alice had money and connections, which allowed her to arrest the bishop when he arrived. She was able to hold him for seventeen days, before the bishop’s own friends managed to win his freedom. Alice, her son William, and her maid Petronella were all accused of witchcraft and other crimes and brought to trial.
Alice managed to escape to England, completely evading her sentence. William paid to have the cathedral re-roofed, a costly endeavour, and was deemed to have repented. Petronella, with no money and no powerful friends, was whipped up the High Street and burned alive.
As I said, it’s not a very nice story. But interesting.
This was about the end of the tour. Our guide3 did tell us a story about the Cats of Kilkenny. See, folks in Kilkenny are called Cats. This may or may not date back to the time when the city was besieged by Oliver Cromwell. One of the things the locals did to keep themselves amused during the long, boring stretches between the terrifying assaults, was bet on cat fights4 : they’d tie two cats together by their tales and let them go at it.
Now, this was against regulations, so one night an officer wandered by where one of these matches was taking place. To hide things, one of the soldiers drew his sword and slashed the cats’ tails off. When the officer saw the tails, he allegedly thought the cats had eaten each other down to their tails. Hence the little nursery rhyme.
There once were two cats of Kilkenny
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they fought and they fit
And they scratched and they bit
‘Til (excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails)
Instead of two cats there weren’t any!
After the tour, I sat and had a cold drink, then went to check out Kilkenny Castle.
Photography is not allowed inside the castle. This is understandable, but regrettable, because the restored and reconstructed interior is absolutely amazing. I wish I could have taken a few pictures.
That was about the end of my endurance today. I went back to my rooms to have a shower and cool off before going back to Kyteler’s Inn for dinner and more music. It was excellent again.
Now, that’s enough blather. I’ve got a busy day tomorrow if I want to see the rest of the things I want to see in Kilkenny.
But seriously, folks. Come visit this city. It’s amazing.
I could buy some here, of course, but I have the unshakeable conviction that would bring on torrential rain. [↩]
Today was another travel day, so again, not many pictures. I got a nice send-off from Toni and Danny at Larkinley Lodge – seriously, guys, that is THE place to stay in Killarney. Wonderful rooms, great food, and the warmest, friendliest, most helpful hosts you could wish for. Danny even drove me to the train station this morning.
The train ride was suitably boring; the only thing of interest was, after scrambling to get my ticket and onto the connecting train in Dublin, there was a problem with that train’s signals1 and we all had to troop off that train and over to another train, which meant we were delayed about twenty or thirty minutes.
But I made it to Kilkenny and, after one2 wrong turn, I managed to find Butler House, where I’m staying.
After dropping my stuff off, I took the advice of Helen, the lady who checked me in, and wandered up to Kyteler’s Inn for dinner, where they had a music session going.
There’s a whole story behind Kyteler’s Inn, but I don’t want to ruin it for folks. I’m sure I’ll get a more detailed3 version of the tale on my walking tour tomorrow, and I’ll be sure to share it with you.
Tonight, I’m going to be taking the rest of the evening easy.
Or something. I don’t know. It coulda been signals. [↩]