On and Below the Burren

Today was the last of my bus tours out of Galway, down to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. It was another really nice day, weather-wise, though there was a little bit of rain at our last photo stop. I’d been to the Cliffs before, and to the Burren, but the weather was much better this time.

The last tour I’d been on was from a different company1, so the stops were a little different. I was a little said that we didn’t get to the Poulnabrone Dolmen, this time, but instead we did get to see the Aillwee Cave.

The Aillwee Cave is on the side of Aillwee Mountain, and it’s got a pretty good view of the Burren. How gorgeous is that sky?
Inside the cave, it was very dark. Yeah, I know, that’s the way it goes with caves, but this one was less lavishly lit than any other cave I’ve been in. While it was very cool, I got nervous about my footing at some points. Anyway, here’s a shot of some stalactites, stalagmites, and a full column way at the back that looks orange in this picture.

After Aillwee Cave, we went to the Cliffs of Moher, which was the main stop of the day.

The Cliffs of Moher are about 200m above the sea. They were used as the Cliffs of Insanity in the movie The Princess Bride.
Waaaaaayyy down at the end of the Cliffs is Hag’s Head, an outcropping that has a small tower (called Moher Tower). It was too far to walk in the time we had there.

I also completed one of my vacation objectives here: I found a nice ring at a little jewellery shop dug into the side of the hills.

Lunch was in Doolin, and it was nice to go back there, where I had had such a good stay last time. We came in from an unfamiliar direction, so it took me a little thinking to orient myself, but it was cool to realize I recognized where I was, and where McGann’s was from there.

We stopped along the coast road on the way back to Galway at the Blackhead Lighthouse, which was right in the midst of a lot of the interesting rock formations of the Burren.

This is the sort of landscape that makes the Burren the Burren. Weathered limestone with lots of plants growing in the gaps between the slabs.
It being spring, there are a fair number of wildflowers cropping up.

Last photo stop was at Dunguaire Castle. Apparently, I’ve been pronouncing it wrong since I read about it. I was calling it “Dun-gwayr,” but apparently it’s “Doon-gory.”

Still very picturesque. They were getting ready for one of the medieval feasts they hold there, so we couldn’t really go in to look at the inside.

And then it was back to Galway.

Tomorrow, I’ve got a ticket for the hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city of Galway. That’ll make it easy to get around to places like the cathedral. Depending on how things go, I also want to get some more pictures of Shop Street, the main street through the medieval section of the city, and get to the museum across the street.

But now, doing a little laundry, and relaxing.

  1. One that doesn’t seem to exist, anymore. []

Inis Mór

Today was my trip out to Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands. The tour involved an hour-long bus ride to the ferry, and a 45-minute ferry ride out to the island.

On the ferry ride, I sat beside a 10-year-old boy named Andrew, and we had a nice conversation about colonialism in Africa, the roots of the first World War, the failures of the League of Nations, whether Stalin counts as a war criminal or just a genocidal mad man, and LEGO1. He was a really bright, entertaining kid.

At the island, I got into a tour bus to see the island2. The main thing I wanted to see here was Dun Aengus, a bronze age hill fort. And that was our first stop.

The walk up to Dun Aengus was longer and steeper than I expected. You can just see it on the hilltop in the distance.
This is looking down the long, long way back to the visitor centre. As you can see, it was a pretty busy site today, what with the nice weather.
This is inside the outer ring of Dun Aengus, looking at the inner ring. Those of you familiar with the Burren probably recognize this type of terrain – the Aran Islands are basically continuations of the limestone formations that make up the Burren.
This is inside the inner walls of Dun Aengus, looking down the coastline. The cliffs at the fort are about 100m high.

Hiking up, taking the pictures, and hiking down took about 90 minutes, because I am old and arthritic. It was a tough round trip, but I’m glad I did it. I’m even more glad that I don’t have to do it again.

After Dun Aengus and a bite of lunch, we headed off to the Seven Churches.

This is only one of the Seven Churches. They stand in a cemetery, and are all ruined, and this was the coolest looking of the five I could identify.

Our guide also took us to his goat farm, where he raises goats3 and makes goat cheese. Besides meeting the goats4, I got to take a peek at his cheesemaking setup, and now I want to start another batch of cheese when I get home.

Then it was back to Kilronan, the main village on the island, to wait for the ferry.

I found this plaque near the Kilronan harbour, across the bay from the quays. It seems to show the history of Inis Mór.

And then it was back on the ferry, and back on the bus, and back to Galway.

As I sit here writing this blog post, I have come to realize that I might have got a bit too much sun today. Because of course I forgot sunscreen this morning.

Tomorrow, it’s off into the Burren and to the Cliffs of Moher. That should be fun.

  1. He also told me that I seemed nice, and I told him that I appreciate that, because I work hard to seem nice. []
  2. Actually, I got into the first bus, then the driver asked me to move to the second bus because he had four people that wanted to go together. I felt so used. []
  3. Because that couldn’t be inferred from the phrase “goat farm.” []
  4. And I have never met calmer, friendlier goats in my life. []

Connemara Day

Today was my bus tour up into Connemara. I took a similar tour1 seven years ago, and that tour was on a cold, misty day, with some rain, at the beginning of October. A spring tour, on a bright sunny day2, was a bit different.

Here’s the sort of terrain you get in Connemara. Peatlands, small mountains, scattered rocks, lots of sheep, and small lakes and streams. It reminded me a fair bit of the Scottish Highlands. But look at that gorgeous sky!
This is one of my favourite things – it’s called a crannog. It’s an artificial island built in the middle of the lake as a defense for local bronze-age clans. Some times, they would have special paths under water built up so those who knew the secret could get to the island quickly and safely, while outsiders would fall into the water.
This is the head of Killary Fjord, in the village of Leenane. Killary Fjord is the only fjord in Ireland.
A little further down Killary Fjord, they farm mussels. Apparently, they went to Norway to learn how to properly farm the fjord.
As with the last tour, Kylemore Abbey was the main stop. I took a lot of pictures last time; this is what it looks like when it actually sees the sun.
The walled Victorian Garden at Kylemore looks substantially better in the spring than it did in the fall.
Kylemore Abbey is beautiful, and one of the best things about it are the views. This is the view from the tea shop up near the garden.
I took a few pictures inside the abbey last tour, but I must have missed this thing, which is very cool. It’s a tabernacle and polyptych that the Benedictine nuns brought from the destroyed Ypres abbey.
This is a little stream going over a waterfall as it runs into Lough Scrib. I just think it looks neat, with the gorse and stuff.

So, that was my return to Connemara. Tomorrow, I go to Inismor, and have to get up early for that. And that means I’m going to bed, now.

  1. With a different tour company. []
  2. Which is what I had today. []

I Took a Stroll on the Old Long Walk…

Actually, I didn’t. But I was walking around Galway, and I heard Galway Girl coming out of one of the pubs, and the tune got stuck in my head.

Before I get to talking about Galway, though, I found a picture I forgot about from Killarney that I wanted to share:

This is a view across Lough Leane from the shore near Ross Castle. It was a really nice day.

Anyway, I got up this morning, and it was raining. I had planned to take the walking tour, and I waffled back and forth on it, but finally decided to give it a go, because sitting in the apartment looking at the rain would just be kind of pathetic.

So, I got all kitted up in my rain gear, and went to find the tourist office where the tour starts. By the time I made it down there, I was pretty sure that I should have brought my gloves, and was rethinking the whole tour. Still, I was there, so no point in wimping out at that point.

About five minutes late, the guide showed up in a mad dash on his bicycle. He popped his head into the tourist office, said, “Walking tour?” and about a dozen of us nodded. “Jaysus,” he said, “Give us a moment.” He ducked back outside to lock his bike up.

Apparently, he was having a bad morning. The chain had fallen off his bike on the ride over in the rain, so he was running late. And, as the rain intensified on the tour, he pulled out an umbrella which turned out to not open.

But he was a great guide, with lots of knowledge of the history of the city, and insight into the economics and art scene of Galway. The tour was supposed to run about 90 minutes, but it lasted about two and a half hours.

Because it was raining, I didn’t take any pictures. After the tour, which ended literally right across the street from where I’m staying, I grabbed some lunch to eat at the apartment. It had stopped raining by the time I was done, so I grabbed the camera and went out to get some pictures.

This is Wooden Heart, a toy store run by a German family, named after the Elvis Presley Song. It’s interesting because it’s essentially a 1580 building that was rebuilt in 1980. See, after Oliver Cromwell’s visit to the city, the place basically became a post-apocalyptic wasteland. So much of the city was rebuilt from scavenged ruins right up until the 1970s.
This bank is one of the few buildings surviving intact from pre-Cromwell. They call it Lynch Castle, even though it wasn’t a castle, per se. More of a town house. See that weird little carving below the coat of arms by the flag? I have a story to tell about it when I manage to get a better picture of it.
Down a little alley there’s an archaeological dig called the Red Earl’s Hall. It’s a 13th-century ruin that was discovered in 1997 when they were digging a new foundation for the custom house. That cross-shaped thing in the floor is the seat for an anvil that was added in the 16th century.
This is one of the central columns of the Red Earl’s Hall.
The buttresses along the wall.
Okay. So, the Red Earl’s Hall was a used by the de Burgo family to control the shipping in Galway as it was coming into it’s strength as a post-Viking trade port. It was a combination of feast hall and administration centre. It had a bunch (hundreds, according to the guide) potsherds. This thing on the wall is a giant replica of a piece of a wine bottle.

There are still some spots that I need to get pictures of: St. Nicholas church, for example, and the museum that is literally right across the street from where I’m staying1. I’m on bus tours for the next few days, but I’ve got a couple of free days at the end of the week to catch up on this stuff.

I will say that this AirBnB thing is working nicely. It’s pretty relaxing to have the place all to myself, not have to get up at a specific time for breakfast, not worry about coming back during the day for a rest, stuff like that. I took some time to pick up some groceries this afternoon, too, and it’s nice to have some non-restaurant food, including fresh fruit, ready and available while traveling.

  1. I chose well for this location. []

Train Adventures!

I left Larkinley Lodge this morning, and it was a little bit hard. Toni and Danny have treated me so well both times I’ve stayed there, that I kind of hated to leave. I mean, they even gave me an extra piece of bacon at breakfast this morning1!

Seriously, folks, if you go to Killarney, stay at Larkinley Lodge. Tell them I sent you. You will not regret it.

Anyway, I walked down to the train station, several hours before the train left. There was no one at the ticket counter, yet, but I found someone there who let me check my backpack, then I went wandering around town.

These statues of Irish red deer are in the town centre of Killarney. They’re about life sized, the size of small horses, so bigger than the normal white-tail deer around home in Manitoba.

That’s the only picture I took today. The rest of the day, I was on the trains. It was a bit of a challenge to get on the train – the ticket office didn’t open until half an hour before the train left, and I was getting a little panicked, because the automatic ticket machine didn’t have an option for Killarney to Galway, and the option for Portarlington2 was about 30% more than the online price for the whole trip.

But, as I said, a ticket agent showed up, I got the ticket3. The first leg of the trip was the train to Heuston Station in Dublin, and so it was really crowded, and it took some doing to find someplace to sit.

And then a hen party got on the train about half an hour into the trip. And they were already pretty drunk4, and very loud. It made the majority of the trip less than restful.

I managed to change trains successfully at Portarlington, and this leg of the journey was much less crowded. And, of course, it was raining when I got to Galway. I found my way to the AirBnB place I’d booked, and met the owner, and got settled, then went out in the rain to get some groceries. Not entirely successful, as it’s a rainy Sunday evening. But I managed to get a sandwich for dinner, and I can do some proper shopping tomorrow.

Tomorrow, it’s supposed to be rainy again, but then it’s supposed to clear up for a few days. So, guess what day I have the walking tour booked.

  1. Gotta say, I really love Irish bacon. []
  2. Where I’d have to change trains, anyway. []
  3. Cheaper than the price quoted online. []
  4. So drunk, in fact, one of them pinched my butt as I walked past them to get off the train. []

Killarney Wandering Redux

This is kind of a boring post, I suspect.

Today was a free day for me, with nothing scheduled. So, I decided to go and do some of the stuff from Thursday that I didn’t find time to do. Specifically, I wanted to see the insides of Ross Castle and Muckross House.

And that’s what I did.

I got the shuttle bus again in the morning to Ross Castle, and looked around a bit before finding the entry to the castle itself. They were just starting a guided tour, so I was really happy to get in on that. I was less happy that they had a no photography policy, but that’s the way it goes.

Ross Castle was built in the 15th century, a tower house and keep for the local Celtic chieftain. It was pretty unassailable, as long as food stores were reliable1. There was even a Macbeth-like prophecy:

Ross may all assault disdain
Till on Lough Lein strange ship shall sail.

Lough Lein2 didn’t have any ships on it – there were boats, but the waterways in the area just didn’t support actual ships that could be useful in attacking from the water. So, of course, those mad bastards under Oliver Cromwell built ships in Kinsale, sailed them to Kilorglin3, and carted them by oxen to Lough Lein to unnerve the inhabitants of the castle and hasten their surrender4.

Well, after being used as a garrison by the British for many years, the castle was abandoned, and fell into disrepair. Notably, the stone roof collapsed, water got into the stone floor of the top level, and that eventually collapsed down through all the lower floors5, leaving the castle an empty, ruined shell. It was only around 19706 that restoration work began.

And they restored the castle beautifully. On the tour, you can go right up to the great hall on the top floor, and each level has period furniture. The guide was really good at explaining what it was actually like to live in a 15th-century castle7, and really entertaining to listen to.

We even got to see the garderobe.

After that, I got back on the bus to Muckross House and took the tour there, where – guess what – they didn’t allow photographs8.

Muckross House is a Victorian country house, never really fell into ruin, and has been beautifully restored. It’s HUGE. Like, 25 bedrooms huge. 16000 square feet huge. Large enough to support a staff of 22 looking after the place.

I didn’t find the history of the house nearly as amusing as Ross Castle, but there were a couple of things that I found interesting:

  • So very many hunting trophies on the walls – various deer, birds, goats, fish, and another rack of giant Irish elk antlers, even bigger than the ones I saw in Kilkenny.
  • The heads of the red deer were almost as big as horse heads. Not quite, but pretty big.
  • Before taxidermy was really a thing, the deer heads would be stripped to the bone and the initials of the hunter, the size of the deer, and the date would be etched into the bare skull, and that mounted on the wall. They look like props for a horror film.
  • Queen Victoria stayed here for two days in August of 1861. They papered the billiard room9 with lovely hand-painted silk wall coverings in deep blue with birds and flowers. She used it as a private breakfast room, and they never changed the wall coverings back to something more masculine.
  • Queen Victoria was apparently very afraid of fire, so insisted on sleeping on the ground floor. They even built a cast-iron, four-foot tall fire escape to make it easy for her to exit her room in an emergency.
  • I saw evidence of my spiritual ancestors: this lovely wood inlaid gaming table was on display.

Then it was back to Killarney. This evening, I went out for some dinner and looked for some entertainment. Most of the interesting stuff was starting much later, so I decided to go see a movie, which was fun. And walking back to Larkinley Lodge, I again was awash in traditional music coming out of pretty much every pub10.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Galway. Another day of train travel.

  1. Though that’s pretty true of most castles. []
  2. Or Lough Leane, to give it the modern spelling. []
  3. Home of the Puck Fair, remember? []
  4. The 4000 foot soldiers and 200 horse probably helped, but let’s not ruin the story, right? []
  5. Which were mainly timber. []
  6. I think. I can’t remember precisely, and can’t find an accurate date online. []
  7. Spoiler: not nice, but better than some other alternatives. []
  8. And that’s why there are no pictures in this post. []
  9. Normally, a space for men only. []
  10. One of the songs I’m hearing everywhere is Green Fields of France. It’s not a new song. It didn’t used to be so popular, but it’s everywhere this trip. []

Back to the Ring of Kerry

Today was much less walking, as I took a bus tour around the Ring of Kerry. Now, I had done this before – on my first trip to Ireland – but I kinda wanted to do it again. I went with a different company1, this time, and the tour had a slightly more relaxed pace, as we were going and coming from Killarney, and not Cork.

Ray, our driver and guide, reminded me again of one of my favourite things out of Ireland: King Puck. He did a masterful job reeling us all in on how Killorglin every year catches a wild goat, crowns it king for three days, “marrys” it to a young lady who wins the honour by writing an essay, keeps the bars open extended hours, parades King Puck and his queen through the village, and then gives the queen a sword to cut open the king’s throat.

Everyone listened intently, and oohed and aahed. Then Ray says, “That’s not what we do at all! We’re not savages! After the party, we return the king to the mountains, and give him a special mark so that he’s never captured to be king again.” And everyone laughed2 sheepishly.

We drove past the statue of King Puck, and I managed to snap a picture, but it’s a phone picture from the wrong side of a moving tour bus through tinted glass, so never mind.

Our first stop was the Kerry Bog Village Museum3.

This is not the statue of King Puck. It’s just a goat statue at the Kerry Bog Village Museum. I took a picture of it last time, too, but this time, it had be painted.
There was also a freshly-thatched roof at the Museum. The decorative peak is apparently kind of a signature for some traditional thatchers.

From there, we entered the rugged terrain of the Iveragh Peninsula.

Here’s a nice little view of a river and the mountains in the background.

One of the nice things about this tour was that, because we weren’t so rushed, we got to stop a little more frequently for photo opportunities. Only got a couple more that are different from my last trip, but here they are:

This is the mouth of Dingle Bay.
These are the Scariff Islands. It’s the view from the place we stopped for lunch.
The stop above Waterville was the same as last time, but on this tour, we could see the ring fort down in the valley, and that’s pretty cool.
Looking down on the Upper Lake from Ladies View.
And we stopped in Sneem, which is good, because I was able to take another picture of The Stone Outside Dan Murphy’s Door.

We made it back into Killarney around 5:30, so I walked around and found the Laurels, where I had a good meal last time in Killarney. It was pretty crowded, but I sat at the bar and had a glass of cider, and a nice chat with some people I met on yesterday’s ramblings. Then I found a restaurant for dinner, and came back for the blogging.

Tomorrow is an unscheduled day. I think I’ll head back to Ross Castle and Muckross House and actually see the insides of them.


I almost forgot. One of the things we did that was really cool was a demonstration by a sheep farmer and his border collies.

He had two dogs, and it was pretty amazing to watch. I remember my parents’ dog, Bo, who always liked to herd the sheep on the farm, even though that wasn’t his job, and he had no idea where he was herding them.
  1. Deros Tours, who had taken me on two great tours the last time I was in Killarney []
  2. I’m gonna say it! []
  3. As it was last time. []

Killarney Wandering

I remembered that I had loved Larkinley Lodge last time I stayed in Killarney. In fact, it was one of the reasons that I decided to spend some time in Killarney again this trip. But man, wonderful as that first stay was, it’s nothing compared to how great it is this time. Last time was a flawless B&B experience; this time, it’s like I’m a favourite family member come to visit for a few days1. Toni and Danny have been so friendly, welcoming, and helpful it makes me want to move here.

So, if you’re coming to Killarney, and you don’t stay at Larkinley Lodge, I just don’t think we can be friends anymore.


This morning, I went down to the tourist office to catch the shuttle bus out to some of the places near Killarney I had wanted to see last time but didn’t really get the chance. First stop was Ross Castle.

Here’s a picture of Ross Castle, with the lake and the mountains in the background. I’ve been here before and, just like last time, I didn’t actually take the tour of the castle. I had other things on my mind.
Here’s another picture of the castle to make up for it.
And around the front of the castle, there was this truck parked, and I was feeling whimsical, so I tweeted “Fully restored 15th-century siege truck.” And, of course, one of my friends replied, “Not a period shade of blue, and the sleeper cab dates from no earlier than the 16th century.”2

While I would have liked to have toured the castle, my main goal at this stop was the island of Innishfallen. This started with a small abbey founded in the 6th century that grew into a famous site of learning and scholarship for close to a thousand years. The lake became known as Lough Leane, the Lake of Learning, and it is said that the High King Brian Boru was educated there. It is also where the Annals of Innisfallen were written, documenting almost a thousand years of local history.

The original abbey buildings were timber, so they’re all gone, but the stone buildings that replaced them in the 10th century are still there.

It’s not a huge abbey, nowhere near the size of Jerpoint, for example, but still looks pretty cool.
I thought this archway with the wildflowers growing in the stone was kind of neat. The purple of the flowers doesn’t show up as well in this picture, but I still like the colours of the stone.
This church is up on a little promontory some distance from the abbey.
It’s roofless and empty, except for this small Celtic cross. This was, apparently, found by some local fishermen, and dates to about the 14th or 15th century, if I remember correctly.

So, the trip out to Innisfallen was nice for another reason. I had to wait around for a while at the pier for one of the boatmen to take me over – taking a single passenger is not ideal for them, as they charge by the passenger. They were happy to take me, but hoped for a couple more people to join the trip.

No takers showed up, and finally one of the boatmen, Charlie, I guess got bored of sitting around and ran me over to the island. He had a dog with him – it seems like about half the boatmen had dogs with them – so when I climbed into the boat, I let the little fluff ball sniff my hand and scratched her ears to say hello3. She then ignored me for the entire trip across to the island.

On the way back, when I climbed in the boat, she looked at me, climbed across to my side, snuggled up against me, and began nudging my hand to pat her. She kept nosing at me whenever I stopped patting her.

Her name was Bella. I love dogs.

Anyway, I caught the shuttle bus again, and went off to the Torc Waterfall. The driver gave me directions on how to walk from there back to Muckross Abbey where he’d pick me up in a couple of hours, and I went to find the waterfall.

Okay, it’s about a 200m walk from the car park to the waterfall itself. It never occurred to me – but it should have – that hiking to a forest waterfall at the edge of the mountains would require negotiating hills. I stopped a couple of times along the way to take pictures, and not at all to catch my breath.
The actual waterfall was very pretty, and worth the effort.

The walk back down from the waterfall was easier, and then I found out it was about a 2km walk to Muckross House and Gardens. That was a little farther than I had expected, but so be it.

A lengthy portion of the walk was along the shore of Muckross Lake, and I noticed that the fence on the side of the path had only single strands of wire mounted on plastic pegs nailed to the post, “Hmmm,” I thought, “that looks an awful lot like an electrified fence. But surely there would be signage!” It was another half a kilometre or so before there was, indeed a sign that the fence was electrified. I was very pleased that I hadn’t given in to my experimental urges earlier to find out if the fence was hot4.

I figured the fence was there to keep cattle in the field, but a ways along, I saw the actual occupants.

These are Irish Red Deer, a large species native to Ireland. They’ve almost gone extinct a couple of times, and the Killarney National Park is one of the sites where there is a breeding project to revive the species.

I made it to Muckross Gardens, first.

It’s a pretty, formal garden. The weather was clearing up by then, so there were lots of people wandering about.
Next came Muckross House, but I was running out of time. If I didn’t make it to the pick-up point at the abbey by 2:30, I’d have to wait for 5:00 for the next bus. So, I didn’t go in. Maybe on Saturday.

And then it was another 1.5km through the woods and over hills to Muckross Abbey.

I only had a short time to look at Muckross Abbey if I wanted to make my pick-up time – it was still almost a kilometre to the bus stop. But it was pretty cool.

I caught the shuttle bus back to town, and ran a couple of errands. Most importantly, I wanted to find where my Ring of Kerry tour leaves from tomorrow so I’m not wandering around or rushing in the morning. And, while I was there, I figured I might as well pay for it5.

And then I had some dinner, and came back to Larkinley Lodge to do up this post.

Which is now done.

  1. My actual family members may be asking themselves how I could possibly know what it feels like to be someone’s favourite. First, shut up. Second, I read a lot. []
  3. As all my friends know, I’m a big softy when it comes to dogs. []
  4. There was a lengthy internal debate on the subject. It was close. []
  5. They take a credit card to reserve a spot for you, but you need to come into the office and pay to actually get your ticket. []

Travel Day

Not much of a post today, as I spent the bulk of the day either waiting for or riding on a train. This means that not much interesting happened.

One thing I noticed was that I was dreading putting on my full backpack to haul around all day. It made me start rethinking my luggage choices – or my travel style. I didn’t weigh my fully packed luggage before I left, and maybe I should have, because I spent most of my first day wondering exactly how heavy it was.

It felt very heavy. But I think a lot of that is the fact that I was pretty tired after the overnight flight, and also I had walked a long, long way carrying it through three airports and far more of Dublin than I needed to.

Today, when I put it on, and fastened the belly band, it didn’t feel that bad. The walk from the hotel to the train station was still pretty taxing, but it didn’t wipe me out as badly as I had feared. So, maybe I’m getting used to all the walking.

The whole day wasn’t nearly as much of a strain as I had built it up in my mind. There was a lot of waiting on metal benches at train stations, where I didn’t have to carry the pack. And train station sandwiches over here are so much better than the kind of sandwich you’d get in a similar place back in Canada. I got a lot of reading done and, when I arrived in Killarney, I was especially pleased that I was able to find my way from the train station to Larkinley Lodge without any problem.

And now I’m settled in for the evening, and actually looking forward to getting to bed before midnight.

Yeah. I am old and pathetic. Even on holiday, I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow, I’m off to see Ross Castle, Innisfillen Island, and a few other sites around town. I’ll have more pictures for you tomorrow, I expect.

It’s the Vikings’ Fault

This morning, I took the train a half-hour towards the coast, to the city of Waterford. Waterford’s got an interesting history, and a really huge footprint on Irish history in general, especially in what they call the Ancient East.

Here’s a quick and dirty synopsis of things.

So, Ireland is a land with a small population of semi-nomadic bronze-age tribes. And the Vikings show up and start raiding them, because Vikings.  Then, in 914 CE, a band of 50-60 Vikings came and settled here. Now, they were all men, so they started… let’s use the word “intermarrying” with the local population. Remember, Vikings.

This worked because Waterford1 had a nice, sheltered harbour, good weather, and lots of stuff for the Vikings to take. The Vikings continued settling other cities around the Irish coasts, including Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Galway.

But Vikings are not a united nation. The various Viking cities war against each other, with the Irish people trapped between them. So, the King of Leinster2 sent to England for help. England sent Richard de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke to help out. de Clare is popularly known as Strongbow3, and he and Leinster raise an army and set about kicking the Vikings out of Ireland.

Which they do. But they do it with an Anglo-Norman army, and this is the point at which Ireland begins counting the 800 years of British occupation.

So, yeah, it’s the Vikings’ fault, I guess.

Anyway, Waterford got heavily fortified after that, and was a very important and busy industrial port right up to very recently – like, the 1990s.

Here’s a model of the Viking Triangle, as they call the part of the city that was the original Viking settlement, later walled in by King John. There were a couple of these models around the area, on pedestals on street corners. This one was outside the tourist office where my walking tour started.

Apropos of nothing, I went into a pub beside the tourist office to wait for the tour to start. The windows called it The American Bar, in both English and Irish, and that kind of tickled me. Inside, it was solid Irish pub, without any trace of Americanism. Here’s their Facebook page.

Anyway, our tour started. Our guide, Michael, was great. I was more interested in the great stories he told of about Thomas Meagher and John Roberts.

Quick versions: Thomas Meagher debated Daniel O’Connell, designed the modern Irish flag, led a failed rebellion, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land4, escaped to the US, became a lawyer and newspaper publisher, established the Irish Brigades5 to aid the Union in the Civil War, got to be friends with Abraham Lincoln, was made acting governor of Montana, and may have faked his own death on a riverboat. He was 43 years old when he (probably) died. 43 years old!6

John Roberts wasn’t quite as active7, but still built both cathedrals in Waterford, including the first new Catholic cathedral to be built in Ireland after the repeal of the Penal Laws8. He died at the age of 82, finishing the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Now, we saw both cathedrals on our tour, but I didn’t get any pictures of the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Our guide, Michael9 kept getting shushed by a woman in the cathedral as he was pointing out some of the cool bits. She would glare at him, with her finger on her lips, and waggle her head. And Michael had no idea who she was, or what she was doing, because he was speaking very softly. So, anyway, we didn’t linger there10, and I didn’t get any pictures of the weird tilted columns, the gorgeous carved pulpit, or the rippled and buckled floor.

See, with the repeal of the Penal Laws, Waterford was given permission to build a Catholic cathedral, but there were… conditions. For one thing, the exterior could not look like a church – it resembles a courthouse or bank. And it was built on the boggiest, softest tract of land in the city. So, it’s been subsiding for a while.

But at the Church of Ireland cathedral, Christ Church, I did get some pictures.

This is Christ Church. Note that it’s two words, rather than one, like it is in Dublin. Those chandeliers are, of course, Waterford crystal, and there are over 2000 individual pieces of crystal in each one. Originally, there were no stained glass windows here, but one was added in 1930 or so.
This I found really interesting. Above the altar is this sunburst design. In the middle of it is the Tetragrammaton – YHVH – the Hebrew letters used to represent God in the Torah. John Roberts, the architect, was renowned in Waterford for hiring folks regardless of religion, and this was his way of saying that the root of the Christian faith lies in the Judaic tradition.
You know what I haven’t shown you in a while? A pipe organ! This one is about 200 years old.

Couple of other items of interest I saw before the rain started:

This is Reginald’s Tower. It’s the oldest still-standing complete building in Ireland, built by King John after the Viking problem was taken care of. It stood at the point of the walled Viking Triangle, with a commanding view of the River Suir.
This is a replica of a Viking ship found in Roskilde in Denmark. The ship they found did, indeed, have the name Vardrarfjordr carved in it, so they know it was built in Waterford. The weird thing is that it’s a smaller boat, made for river travel, so finding in in Denmark was unusual.
This is just awesome. It’s the longest Viking sword in the world, carved from a 200-year-old fallen Douglas Fir. The fellow who carved it worked in art and design from throughout Viking history and mythology. It’s a little over 21m long, so getting it all in the shot wasn’t gonna happen – I standing near the “hilt”, and there’s about 3m of roots stretching behind me, which were left attached to prove the tree fell over and was not cut down. I think the red gem thing might be the sun, getting eaten by Fenrir, but what do I know? Still, super cool.

And the rain made me walk back to the train station, and wait there for two hours for my ride back to Kilkenny.

This is my last night in Kilkenny. Tomorrow, I pack up and take the train to Killarney. Apparently, the most direct, least number of changes involves taking the train back to Dublin and then taking a train out to Killarney. Gonna be a long train day, probably with very few pictures or interesting stories.

Still, we’ll see.

  1. Vardrarfjordr, originally, which I’m told means Ram’s Fjord. []
  2. From what I can tell, Leinster has allied himself with the local Waterford Vikings, really wants help trying to get rid of the Dublin Vikings, and incidentally maybe take over Dublin. []
  3. Yes, the cider guy. []
  4. Tasmania, today. []
  5. Including the Fighting 69th. []
  6. And I’m turning 50 in a couple of weeks, and haven’t led a single armed rebellion. []
  7. Honestly, who is? []
  8. Which effectively made Catholicism illegal. []
  9. Who works at Christ Church Cathedral and, through that job and his guiding job, knows everyone in the city, it seems. []
  10. I mean, it is a working place of worship, but this was between services. Fair enough, though, if she was a woman of faith and we were disturbing her. []