The Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland.

     The Rock of Cashel is an ancient castle that sits high on the hill above the town of Cashel, near where we stayed.   This site has been fortified since at least the sixth century, when legend has it that Saint Patrick visited this location.   The hilltop was subsequently called St. Patrick's Rock.   The existing castle, known as The Rock of Cashel started construction in 1101.  It belonged to the church, and was a stronghold for religion.   It was one of many castles we explored on our trip.

    I went on an awesome trip to Ireland in early January 2001.   Jineen (friend and Windchase trainer) and my sister Patty went with me.  We spent a week looking at horses, castles, and the beautiful Irish countryside. It was part horse buying trip and part vacation.  We had a chance to sight-see, explore castles, and of course visit the pubs, as well as driving all over the south of Ireland looking at lovely horses.  Jineen had come along to help me choose horses to import for resale, and Patty, who had never been to Ireland before, had come along just for fun, as her husband had expressly warned her NOT to buy a horse!  We had a successful trip all around, as we found some really nice horses, and had a chance to see bits of Ireland that I had not had time to see on previous trips.  And the weather was perfect for our trip, it didn't rain on us at all!

     One of my favorite things about Ireland is the castles.  There are many huge old castles that are absolutely magnificent, like something out of a fairy tale.  There are also thousands of small 'everyday' castles, dotting the countryside everywhere you look.  In the time period when they were built, which ranged from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, every minor lord had a castle with a fortified 'keep', built of stone with incredibly thick walls and only small arrow slots for windows. This is where the people went for protection when attacked by their enemies.  These 'keeps' were built to endure, so most of them still stand today, often you see them out in the middle of some farmer's field.

     My friend Clare, who took us around to look at the horses, told us a story about a friend of hers, who was exploring a field with a metal detector looking for artifacts,   when he found an ancient and priceless chalice.  Then he was involved in years of litigation over who actually owned it, as he felt finders keepers, but the Irish government and the farmer who owned the field he found it in both disagreed.

An Everyday Castle in a pasture, where we found the Chalice.

     The second night we were there, we stopped on the way back to The Horse and Jockey, where we were staying, and explored one of the everyday castles, which we had noticed in a field near the road.  It was made more exciting by the fact that it was dark, we did not have permission, and that we had imbibed several pints of Guinness at the pub.  We found that the doorway was barred, but discovered a hole through the wall near ground level that we could crawl through to get inside.  We made Jineen go first, as we discovered that it was pitch dark inside, as the roof was intact.  Once inside, we were groping around in the dark, wishing for a flashlight (or 'torch', as they are called over there), when suddenly Jineen stumbled across a treasure.   Now some people, with less of an eye for ancient artifacts and history than us may have thought her prize was a beat up old tin bucket or grain scoop, but the three of us immediately recognized it's true worth.  Jineen held it up and said triumphantly, 'Look, a Chalice!'.  We immediately named it 'The Holy Pail'.  We decided not to tell the Irish government.

Cahir Castle, in County Tipperary.

     One of the coolest places we saw was Cahir Castle.  It was built in the 1300s, and was really well restored, and you could go through and explore.  We followed many little narrow hallways, steep staircases and secret passages.  In places, the walls of these strongholds are up to 18 feet thick.  The windows are very small, usually just slits that the archers shot arrows through, and there were places expressly for the purpose of pouring boiling oil on the attackers below.  
     There was a Great Hall, where the banquets and meetings took place, with a lovely old carved wooden table in the center.  The whole setting of the castle was like a King Arthur legend, you kept expecting to see the Knights of the Round Table.  In fact, we were saying that the table in the Great Hall should be round instead of rectangular, when we noticed an oval table in the corner.  Then we realized it was a modern table with ends that drop down, put there for clerical purposes.  So the three of us immediately dubbed ourselves 'The Knights of the Drop-Leaf Table'!  

Jineen and Patty at the Rock of Cashel.  

The Knights of the Drop Leaf Table.

     We stayed near Cashel, so the grand castle on the hill, The Rock of Cashel, loomed over us whenever we were in town.  We first explored it at night.  Again, after a bit of pubbing, we climbed the narrow sheep trail around the outside of the castle.  We could not get inside the wall, but we traversed around the entire castle on the high steep trail over the rocks in the moonlight.  On one side, you overlook the town, and when you get around to the other side, it is absolutely dark and silent, like it must have been centuries ago.  
     We went back in the morning, when the castle was open to the public, and went through it.  It is the most incredible feeling to stand in an ancient place like that and realize that it was built about 400 years before Columbus discovered America!

The Rock of Cashel in the early morning light.

     There was also an old Abbey that was associated with the Rock of Cashel.  We did not have time to see it when we went through the castle, as we were on a fairly busy schedule and time was tight.   Once again we had a solution, we explored the Abbey at night, after fortifying ourselves against ghosts with Guinness and Smithwicks at the local pub.
     The Abbey was less restored that the castle, so after climbing the wall and traipsing across a muddy sheep field to get in, we could wander from room to room in the moonlight, as the roof was long gone.  Seeing this ancient place of worship in the nighttime was truly magical.

The Hore Abbey, near the Rock of Cashel.

     On Sunday, we went to the races.  There was a Point-to-Point racing meet at Lisgoold, so we decided on a change of scenery.  First we had a beautiful drive over the mountain pass called the 'Vee', with breathtaking views from the top.  After several misguided attempts to find the race meet, we finally located it.  We had to park on a little back road and walk a fair distance, since it was too muddy to park in the field, but it was well worth it once we got there, watching the racing close up was amazing!  

The Lisgoold Point-to-Point Races.

     A friend of Clare's had a mare running in one of the races, but unfortunately she fell and did not complete the race, though she was thankfully unharmed.  We did get to go out on the course and stand near the fences as the horses raced.  It was a beautiful scene, with the lovely countryside and the horses running, and after a storm passed by not far off and just missed raining on us, a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky, a fabulous backdrop for the Thoroughbred racers and the jockeys in their bright silks.  Patty said she felt like she was living in a Dick Francis novel!

A magical day at the Lisgoold Races.

     We went to Blarney Castle on our last day in Ireland.  We kissed the Blarney Stone, which is a special stone incorporated into the wall of the castle, up at the top, that is reported to have been brought from the Holy Land when the castle was built.  Legend has it that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you will receive the gift of eloquence.  We went up many flights of incredibly steep and narrow spiral staircases to reach the top of the castle.  To kiss the stone, you have to lay on your back, and a man there holds your feet and lowers you down to where you can reach it.  Heights make me extremely nervous, so I was not going to do it, but Patty and Jineen made me.  It was fairly gross.  I immediately felt more eloquent.

The famous Blarney Castle.

     We also explored the dungeons at the Blarney Castle.  They were dark and wet, with little narrow stone tunnels between them.  I could imagine the inhabitants of the dungeons in centuries gone by passing the remainder of their lives alone in these dark cold cells.  It was enough to give you the shivers!   

     Of course, reading this account, you might think that we spent most of our time sight-seeing, but in actual fact, we spent most of the days traveling around the countryside seeing horses.  We visited a number of farms and stables trying to find the right horses to bring home.  Some were grand fancy places and some were modest farmer's yards, but we saw many really fine young horses for sale.   Our Irish friend Clare, who had spent weeks scouting them out and setting up the schedule, had done her work well.   We looked at over 50 nice horses, seriously tried out 33, narrowed the list to 12 really good ones, and then picked the five that I just couldn't leave behind.   One of these is already promised to a client when it arrives, so the other four should arrive at Windchase in mid February.   I think they have enormous talent and potential, and am looking forward very much to their arrival.  

Cahir, one of the new young horses from Ireland.

     I am also looking forward to the next time that I get to go back to Ireland!

Phyllis Dawson
Phone: (540) 668-6024 stable

(540) 668-6548 home

(540) 668-7210 fax
Address: 36502 Kidwell Road
Purcellville, VA 20132
E-mail: PWindchase@aol.com