was late morning when our plane landed at Shannon Airport, and
close to noon by the time my friend Jineen and I were in our
rental car and heading for County Tipperary.
Having flown all night, with just a quick plane change at
Heathrow that involved running to the gate, we were feeling
somewhat bleary-eyed - but we were really excited to be visiting
Ireland again. In past
years we had come often on horse-buying trips, but changes in
economic factors had made that less practical, so we had not been
to Ireland in half a dozen years.
But this time we weren’t shopping for horses - we were
just on holiday. Or at
least that was the official story . . .
made our way as far as Limerick, where we stopped at the Tesco
(the closest thing Ireland has to Wal-Mart) to shop for Happy Hour
supplies and a cell phone. Having
read online that it is a cheaper option than renting one, for
about 25 euros ($32) we bought an inexpensive phone and enough
minutes to last the trip - this turned out to be a very worthwhile
We wanted to buy enough wine for
the whole trip (the Chablis was on sale for half price!), as well
as groceries for three or four days.
When we got to the checkout counter we realized that in
Ireland you are expected to bring your own grocery bags when you
shop, so therefore none were supplied.
While we applaud this environmentally sound policy, we had
not come prepared for it. I
suspect that if we had been sharper there would have been an
opportunity to purchase grocery bags, but somehow this chance
passed us by - thus we ended up making our way across the parking
lot with our arms overflowing with bread, cheese, ginger nuts and
bottles of cheap Chablis. Soon
we had our groceries spread out all over the tarmac as we
contemplated how to pack it in the car in an organized fashion.
Perhaps we could steal a box.
arrived in Cahir, passing the huge castle that sits right in the
town. This grand
fortress has been there for a thousand years, and the town was
built up around it. We
went to our friend Clare’s house, where we had tea with her and
her husband Vinnie in their beautiful new glassed-in sunroom.
Clare is my horse agent in Ireland, and she gave me some
good leads on some promising young horses.
I love the Irish Sport Horses, and
in past years I have often travelled to Ireland on horse-buying
with the increase in prices and the rising cost of shipping horses
home, over the last ten years this has become much less
financially viable. But
with the current economy, perhaps a bargain could be found.
This trip was planned as a vacation not a horse shopping
trip, but it couldn’t hurt to just take a look . . .
stopped just north of Cashel at the Horse and Jockey, and had an
excellent fish and chips dinner in the pub.
Then we headed to the Derrynaflan House, our lodging for
the night. This
bed-and-breakfast is in a grand old house on a working farm, run
by Sheila O’Sullivan. We
have often stayed there in the past, and Sheila always makes us
feel like family. Jet
lag was catching up with us by this point, so we were asleep as
soon as we hit the pillows.
We woke up rested and ready to go.
Sheila gave us an exceptional Irish breakfast; the bread,
butter, yogurt, cheese, and fruit preserves are all made right
there on the farm.
With Clare’s help, we had made
appointments to see some horses.
First we drove southwest, down near Mallow; as we passed
Buttevant Jineen and I reminisced about the time we had gone to
the gypsy fair in that town. We
stopped in at Evan O’Connor’s yard where we looked at several
nice horses, including a four-year-old by Master Imp, one of my
favorite Irish sires.
Driving back toward Cashel, we
stopped at the Ballybeg Abbey for a brief tour of this lovely old
ruin. Then we headed up to Ballycahill, to meet up with a farmer
and see his horses. The
signpost system in Ireland is quite different from home, but we
have visited often enough to have become quite good at finding our
way around the little back roads and farm lanes.
But the farmer, not trusting our ability to navigate the
Irish roadways, met us at the pub and led us to his stable.
He showed us a nice big rangy bay gelding that seemed to
have good potential.
our newly acquired cell phone to contact our last appointment of
the day, we met up with Martin Coffey near Ballycahill and
followed him to his stable. He
showed us an attractive four-year-old by King’s Master, a son of
Master Imp. I love
this breeding, and it was obvious that Martin had done an
excellent job with this promising young horse.
He had been turned away on holiday for six weeks so he was
quite fresh when we saw him, but Martin got on him in the stable
and then hacked him up the road.
We definitely felt that this young horse was of good
We headed back toward
Cashel, and as we neared town the Rock of Cashel came into view.
This amazing castle stands majestically on a hill
overlooking the town. The
religious stronghold was built in 1100, but the site is said to
have been inhabited by Saint Patrick around the year 430.
Every time I visit Cashel I am awestruck by this amazing
cathedral. It is like
something straight out of a fairy tale.
We parked in a farm gateway where
we had a great view of the castle.
We watched as rain showers danced across the fields, and
then the clouds parted and great shafts of sunlight illuminated
the Rock of Cashel. A
rainbow arched across the sky, heralding good luck for our trip.
The Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary
also is another castle near Cashel, a small one, standing in a
wheat field not far from the motorway.
There are hundreds of these ancient towerhouses scattered
around Ireland, built a millennium ago.
You would think they would be protected as national
monuments, but instead you see them in farmer’s fields, used as
run-in sheds for livestock. Jineen
and I are fascinated by these ancient relics wherever we see them,
but this one, the Chalice Castle, is particularly special to
decades ago a local man was metal-detecting in a bog not far from
Cashel, and he discovered an eighth-century archaeological site.
Among the treasures he found a fabulous silver chalice - it
became known as the Derrynaflan Chalice, and is worth millions.
Apparently there was a great deal of controversy over
whether the chalice should belong to the finder, the landowner or
the government. (While
I tend to think finders keepers is a good policy, I believe the
government won out in the end.)
Our friend Clare knew the man who found this treasure, and
we had met him once at a dinner party.
But he was not the
only chalice finder around! On
a previous trip Jineen and I, along with my sister Patty, had done
a bit of exploring and treasure hunting ourselves.
After a visit to the Cahir castle and a couple of pints at
the pub, we had dubbed ourselves the Knights of the Drop-leaf
Table, and set out one night to explore that small castle by the
had parked by the road (the motorway was not yet built in those
days) and crossed a wide field to reach the castle by the light of
the moon. Finding the
main door barred and locked, we had gone around to the back and
managed to enter the castle keep by crawling through an opening at
the base of the four-foot-thick wall.
Once inside, we had explored by the light of our torches
(Irish for flashlights). Amazingly,
Jineen found a chalice. Its
value and exquisite beauty may not have been as obvious as that of
the Derrynaflan Chalice, and in fact some of the less informed may
have mistaken it for an old galvanized feed scoop, but to our eyes
it was evident that it was a priceless treasure.
And in fact, when you compare our chalice to the
Derrynaflan Chalice, the likeness is remarkable.
The Derrynaflan Chalice (left) and our own
priceless Chalice (right). So alike.
So now Jineen and I
were happy to return to the Chalice Castle.
We parked the car in a farm gateway near the motorway,
climbed the fence, and crossed the field.
Stormy skies formed the backdrop as we approached the stone
towerhouse. We knew we
wouldn’t be able to go inside, having stopped by on a subsequent
trip and found the opening securely blocked up, but just to walk
around the outside of the ancient stronghold seemed good enough.
But amazingly, inexplicably, we
found that hole at the base of the thick outer wall open again,
and wriggling on our bellies, we were able to once again crawl
into the castle. Wishing
we had brought our torches, we crossed the dark chamber, stumbling
over rocks and beams on the floor.
We climbed over the barricade at the bottom of the steps,
and treading carefully we ascended the narrow spiral staircase.
We stopped to examine each floor, looking into every nook
and cranny, and peering out through the arrow-slot windows.
Jineen enters the castle through the hole
in the wall, and the spiral staircase in the Chalice
imagined what the castle must have been like when it was first
built, nearly a thousand years ago, bustling with people and
activity. Now the dank
stone rooms house only a lone pair of pigeons.
The roof is long gone, leaving the top story open to the
air. A deep soil
formed by the weight of ages covers that highest floor, and in it
trees, shrubs and tall grasses grow.
We peeked out over the top of the parapet, looking down
over the fields and hedges. What
would it have been like to stand sentinel on top of this tower in
medieval times, watching for the approach of enemies across the
The Chalice Castle
storm clouds moved in closer as we crawled back out of the opening
in the castle wall. We
crossed the field and returned to our car, having a tricky time
climbing back over the fence as the wire was on the inside.
We returned to the Rock of Cashel and stopped by the ruins
of Hore Abbey, situated near the foot of the hill.
Cows grazed in the verdant pasture surrounding it, and a
light rain started to fall.
Jineen and I have a
custom when we travel of looking for the most beautiful spot we
can find at the end of the day, and sitting there with a glass of
wine and some snacks to watch the sun go down.
We call this Happy Hour, and as often as not we make it our
dinner. We returned to
the gateway with the view of the Rock of Cashel, and as the light
faded we had Happy Hour, dining on bread and cheese with pate and
chutney, fortified by a bottle of white wine.
It was fully dark by the time we returned to our B&B at
Derrynaflan. It had
been a great day, and a super start to the trip.
The Rock of Cashel
We had another great breakfast at
the Derrynaflan House, and Sheila packed us a bag lunch of
homemade bread and farm cheese.
We were glad to have the excellent food, but also the sack
that held it; the bagless Tesco groceries were still strewn all
over the back seat of the car.
Our plan for the day was to drive
up to Connemara on the west coast of Ireland, but we had
appointments to look at a few more horses on the way.
headed north to the town of Nenagh.
We stopped to visit the Nenagh castle, a round tower-house
castle, totally restored, right in town.
Nearby was a large kiosk on the sidewalk that was a pay
toilet, emblazoned with the words “Happier Hour.”
was not easy to navigate; we had a hard time finding our way into
town to the castle, and an even harder time finding our way out
old Willie McDonald’s farm, where Jineen had found her horse
Aiden years ago. Willie
was busy with the farrier, but his son Bryan free-schooled a
number of young horses for us.
We also went by the yard of Willie’s other son, William,
a show jumper.
daughter, a little girl of about nine, was carrying around a
darling striped kitten named Tiger.
After a while she put him in a cage, presumably to protect
him from the naughty little Jack Russell terrier that was nipping
at his toes through the slats.
The little girl said to her father, “If he eats Tiger,
you have to buy me a new one!”
We thought this was rather cold of her.
We finished horse shopping, and
drove northwest. Jineen
and I had been to Connemara before and had really loved it, so we
were looking forward to having more time to explore this beautiful
we entered County Galway, we started seeing its signature stone
walls delineating the fields instead of hedges.
We passed Galway City, and headed out onto the Connemara
Peninsula. When we
reached the town of Oughterard we tried to phone ahead to
book a room for the night, but the tourist office was closed and
we had no B&B guide, so we realized we would have to just take
We drove back and forth through
town several times before we found the little unmarked lane that
would take us over the highlands and down to the southern coast of
Connemara. We followed
it past occasional houses and farms, and up into the hills through
a dense forest of evergreens.
Then the roadway came out onto the open treeless moors and
narrowed even more, winding among the peat bogs and rock
outcroppings. A small
stream, brown from the peat, tumbled down the rocky slope, forming
an impromptu waterfall. This
lonely countryside seemed wild and desolate even in summer; we
could only imagine what it must be like in winter.
It felt like we were leaving time behind.