OUR IRELAND VACATION
We were quite excited about the prospect of staying in an
old castle/prison, because all three of us are absolutely in love
with the castles of Ireland.
Mrs. Butler greeted us on arrival, and immediately made
rather disparaging remarks about the size of our suitcases,
informing us that they were way too big (probably true), and that
we would never get them up the stairs (this proved untrue).
Carrigeen Castle itself was really lovely.
It was a true castle, complete with round turrets,
arrow-slit shaped windows, and a narrow stone spiral staircase up
to the second floor. Mrs.
Butler managed things efficiently.
In fact, a bit too efficiently!
She had pretty strong opinions about how everything should
be done, from how one should go about buying horses to how one
should sit at the table. In
fact, when one rather lanky gentleman bumped his knee while trying
to fit his long legs under the breakfast table the next morning,
Mrs. Butler actually climbed under the table and rearranged his
legs to her liking, chiding him the whole time about not knowing
how to sit properly. And
woe to his friend, who accidentally spilled some tea on the
tablecloth! We were a little mystified by Mrs. Butler at first, but then
we realized, after all, she did come from a long line of Prison
We visited a nearby farm to look at several horses in Cahir
that evening, had dinner at a pub, and went to bed early to
recover from the overnight flight with no sleep.
As the trip was to be partly horse hunting business and
partly vacation, we had decided to spend the first three days
looking at horses for sale and the rest of the trip sightseeing.
Of course, that didn’t preclude our finding interesting
places to explore along the way during our horse shopping days!
As two out of the three “Knights of the Drop Leaf
Table” were reunited (see Ireland,
January 2001), Patty and I set out to do as many Castles
and Churches by night as we could.
(There is always the possibility of finding another
fish and chips and a few pints at Hannigans Pub, we dropped Mom
off at the B&B, and then went to explore St. Mary’s Church.
This is the old ruin of a church built in the 1200’s,
right on the edge of the town of Cahir. It was one of the first churches built with a ‘curtain
wall’ down the center to allow both Protestants and Catholics to
worship at the same time.
There is a walled cemetery all around it, with gravestones
- some as recent as 1960 and others so old that all engraving on
them has entirely worn away.
Determined to enter the church, we spent about 15 minutes
alternately trying to climb the eight foot stone wall and hiding
in the shadows whenever a car passed by; until we realized there
was an open gate and stairway at the other end of the cemetery
wall! There is
something special about the atmosphere of going into these places
in the dark, often without even a torch (flashlight), to explore
them. A little spooky
at times, but that makes it all the more fun!
Next we visited Askeaton Castle.
It is thought to have been built in the late eleven
hundreds. It is a
beautiful old ruin of a castle, surrounded by a small river.
We parked alongside the river and ate our picnic lunch
there. Very cozy,
just Mom, Patty, myself, and the purple humvee!
There is a large Abbey in the town of Askeaton just down
the road from the castle. We
walked around in it, quite a beautiful and impressive ruin.
The sense of history that you get is amazing when you stand
in a building like this built in the 1100’s.
You think about all the people who have lived or worked or
worshipped there, all the centuries that have passed.
There was a large cemetery in front of the Abbey, and a
pinto gypsy pony with her foal was grazing right alongside the
In the afternoon, we visited several more
farms, including that of our friend Gerard.
He had several really nice youngsters there, and as they
were not yet under saddle, he free-schooled them over fences in
the arena for us. This is a very different way of trying horses than we
typically see here at home, and an interesting way to assess the
talents of an unbroken youngster.
Mom and I had wanted to see some greyhounds or lurchers while
we were in Ireland. Lurchers
are greyhound crosses, and they are very popular in Ireland and
England. The gypsies
originally bred them to poach game in the royal forests; now they
are used mostly for coursing competitions.
We passed a man walking three greyhounds along the road,
and we stopped and asked him where we might find puppies.
He told us about some gypsies that might have some, so we
took a detour to look for the gypsies!
Sadly, we couldn’t find them.
Staying near the town of Cashel is always a treat.
It is a beautiful area, with the mountains in the
background, but the thing that makes it so special is The Rock of
Cashel. This is a
huge castle, built in 1100, that sits on a high hill overlooking
the town. It was a
religious stronghold, and it is said that Saint Patrick visited
this holy site, long before the castle was built there.
From whatever direction you enter Cashel, you have a
fabulous view of this incredible castle sitting proudly above the
town. As often as I
have seen it, I can never ever drive by without being awed.
It is a truly magical place, like something out of a fairy
We went to visit Shane, one of the top Open Jumper riders
in Ireland, to see a gray horse he had told us about.
Shane had said the horse was a good jumper, and he did not
exaggerate. As he was
riding the horse for us, and jumping some good size fences, I
noticed that they had previously partitioned off part of the arena
for free schooling, using some standards and a single plank,
almost five feet high, with nothing underneath it.
Jokingly, I asked Shane if the horse would jump that high
plank, and sure enough, he turned and jumped over it, without ever
touching it. We were
quite impressed, and even more so when he then told us it was the
first time he had ever ridden the horse himself!
But don’t forget, Shane is the fellow who holds the
record for jumping a 7’3” wall, bareback!
We went to dinner at Hannigans again, and then to a show at
the Bru Boru Cultural Center. This was really super; it was traditional Irish music and
dance, sort of along the lines of a mini Riverdance, but with
equal emphasis on the dancers and the musicians.
It is actually harder than you might expect to find live
Irish music, so this was a real treat!
After dinner, it was time for Patty and I to go castling
again. We set off in
the dark to explore some little back roads; we were planning to
visit the castle where Jineen had found the Chalice (see
Ireland, January 2001).
Suddenly Patty told me to stop, she had spotted a castle!
We got out of the car, and there it was, this incredible
presence, looming above us in the dark.
We were a little apprehensive about going in, as it was
right beside a house and we weren’t sure if we would get caught
trespassing on private property.
Also, we only had one torch between us.
Patty kept watch at the gate (she volunteered for the
chicken job, as usual), and I took the torch, sneaked over to the
castle, and went in the doorway through an iron gate, which was
unlocked. I found
that I had entered a small stone chamber that didn’t lead
anywhere, so I was searching for another entrance, when Patty
called out that she had heard something growling!
We decided at that point that retreat was indicated; we
would come back in the morning.
It was incredible! Looking
back, if I had to pick one high point of the whole trip, I think
it would be Grallagh Castle.
In case you haven’t noticed, I am just wild about the
castles, and so are Patty and Mom.
In Ireland, you see castles everywhere.
There are many that are huge and grand and famous, like the
Rock of Cashel, or Cahir Castle, or Blarney.
But there are also what I call ‘everyday castles’
everywhere. You often
find them sitting out in the middle of a farmer’s pasture, or
right beside a small country road.
The people in Ireland take them for granted; they are a
part of the everyday scenery.
But I find them absolutely amazing!
Most of these everyday castles were built in the 1400s and
1500s, and they were the protection and safe haven for the
landowners of that time. All
minor lords had a castle, and if attacked or endangered, they
would retreat to the castle ‘keep’ with their families, their
servants and their villagers.
These castles had walls of stone, up to eight feet thick,
and thin vertical windows designed to be poor targets for arrows.
They had chutes by the stairways where the defenders could
drop rocks down on their attackers (called ‘murder holes’),
and dungeons for imprisoning the enemies that managed to get
inside. They are
small compared to many of the grand famous castles, but they are
still imposing when you walk up to them, often five or six stories
high, and built to withstand wars, as well as the ravages of time.
It is incredible to think of what it took to build these
fortresses, with only the tools and technology available at the
Grallagh Castle proved to be an absolute delight.
We first entered the ground floor through an arched doorway
to which a gateway had been added, designed to keep the cows out.
We were then in a chamber with a stone floor and a vaulted
ceiling. This in itself would have been a really fun outing, even if
that had been as far as we could go.
But then we found that we could go up to the next level! There was a narrow stone staircase, with steps of uneven
height, which spiraled up to the second floor.
I started to go up the steps to scout out what was up
there, and when I turned around, Mom was right behind me!
Patty and I were worried that the steep stone staircase
would be too difficult for her, but she was not about to miss out
on going up in this castle!
We found it amazing that there are so many places in
Ireland, like Grallagh Castle, that are open to the public, but
nobody knows about them. They
are not in any of the guidebooks, they don’t show up on any of
the maps, and the only people who even know that they are there at
all are the locals, or those of us who just happen to drive by
them on some little back road.
But we found that the challenge of finding places like this
was half of the fun!
We set out across country to head for County Kerry.
Our valiant little rental car proved to be as smooth to
drive as it was attractive; in other words, we felt every bump in
the road. The scenery
was quite lovely as we were passing by the Galtee Mountains.
We saw a sign that said Wexford Strawberries; they were
selling them by the side of the road.
We stopped and bought some; they were out of this world.
The flavor was incredible; you just don’t taste
strawberries like that here anymore!
When we arrived in Kenmare, right at the base of the
Iveragh Peninsula (better known as the Ring of Kerry), we went
directly down to the pier where we were booked on the Seafari.
This was a two-hour boat ride that took us up the Kenmare
River, near where it joins with the Atlantic.
Even though there was a light drizzle, the scenery was
lovely. As we made
our way up the huge wide river, we were delighted to be joined by
a group of dolphins, which swam with us and frolicked in the wake
of the boat! We then
went out to a rocky little shoal in the middle of the river, where
a colony of seals live. We
watched the seals swimming and sunning (misting?) themselves on
the rocks. It was
really cool to see the seals in their natural habitat, something none of us had ever seen before.
As we went along the shoreline, we also enjoyed looking at
the houses we passed. Some
of them were quite grand. We
tried to pick out which one we thought might be the B&B we
were booked in for the night, which was difficult, as we had no
idea what it looked like. We
also saw a really impressive castle at a distance from the boat.
It was high up on a hill overlooking the river, and looked
like it had been renovated quite extensively.
Our boat Captain told us that it was a privately owned
residence; therefore we could not visit it.
This presented a challenge for us dedicated castle hunters,
so of course we decided to try and find it when we set out the
After the Seafari, we found our B&B, the Oakfield
House, which proved to not be any of the ones we speculated about
from the water. After
a dinner of Irish lamb stew at the local pub, on the way back to
our lodging we saw a sign for a stone circle.
We went out in the gathering darkness to check it out, and
ended up following a road so small that it soon turned into just
two paved tracks with grass growing up in the middle, and the
weeds brushing both sides of the car.
After missing it the first time, we finally found the
poorly marked start of the trail to the stone circle; but by then
it was too dark to follow the path, so we decided to leave it for
the morning. We went back into Kenmare to check out the remains of an old
church and cemetery we had noticed earlier, then off to bed.