Sunday, December 06, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

GAELIC GETAWAY, Chapter 6:  

Day 6:  Waterford, Kilkenny and Cashel
With yesterday's rain and car issues to deal with, we saw nothing of Kilkenny, one of Ireland's best preserved medieval towns.  But it was only 32 miles away, mostly on the M9 motorway, so we knew we could correct that deficiency today.  The weather even cooperated, offering up some blue skies this morning.

Our first stop was Kilkenny Castle built in the first decade of the 13th century on a strategic height commanding a crossing point on the River Nore.  Bought by James Butler in 1391, the castle was the primary residence of the Butler family for almost 600 years.  In 1661, another James Butler remodeled and enlarged the castle to its current size.  By the 1930s, family interests led the then owner to sell the castle's contents and move to London.

Kilkenny Castle from Rose Garden
For more than thirty years, the castle sat empty.  In 1967, Arthur Butler sold the deteriorating castle to the local government for a token payment of £50 with the stipulation that it not be allowed to become another Irish ruin.   Since 1969, the building and grounds have been in the care of the national Office of Public Works, which has completed extensive restoration.

Rose Garden from Kilkenny Castle
The castle grounds cover an area of 50 acres with a formal rose garden on the city side and, on the opposite side, an expansive parade, a playground, picnic areas, and a wooded parkland with walking trails.  On the riverside trail, we found the perfect spot to hide a small letterbox in a a crack in the old wall.

Kilkenny Castle
As we were leaving the castle, our attention was drawn to a cafe located across the street in the previous stable and coach house of the castle.  The Foodhall is part of the Kilkenny Design Centre, an artistic venue which is home to the National Crafts Gallery and shops selling an array of Irish crafts.  The artisinal influence was evident in the foodhall as we enjoyed a light lunch of vegetarian quiche and salads.

Thus fortified, we set off for the opposite end of town to check out St. Canice's Cathedral and search for a letterbox there.  Because today was Sunday, the church was closed to visitors until 2 p.m., so in the time before we could enter, we explored the surrounding churchyard and became first finders on a letterbox hidden there last month by a U.S. letterboxer visiting Ireland.

St. Canice's Cathedral and round tower
The site of the cathedral was established as a place of Christian worship in the sixth century and named after St. Canice.  Like other such spots in Ireland, subsequent churches were built on the spot, with the current cathedral dating from 1285.  Beside the cathedral stands a 100-ft. round tower.  This type of structure is particular to Ireland and was quite popular in the early medieval age.  Usually the towers were built next to churches or monasteries, though there is no certainty about their purpose.  Archaeologists and historians speculate that such a tower would have served as a belfry, a place of refuge, or both.

St. Canice's Cathedral interior
Mourners for the 3 p.m. funeral of a former bishop began arriving shortly after we entered the cathedral, so our visit was cut short, giving us time to drive 40 miles southwest to Cashel, in County Tipperary, before calling it a day.

Rock of Cashel (photo by Rick Neal)
As we approached the town, the Rock of Cashel, the object of our visit, dramatically came into view, dominating the town from its position high on a limestone outcrop.  In the tenth century, Brian Boru, who later became High King of Ireland, was crowned King of Munster at this commanding location, and later his grandson gave the land to the Church.  In the thirteenth century, a massive cathedral was built on the rock with an attached castle and fortress to serve as the bishop's residence.

Ruins of the Cashel cathedral
After a steep walk up from the car park, we reached the visitor center near the top of the plateau, all of which is still walled. Cormac's Chapel, one of the best preserved areas of the site, was closed for restoration, so we explored the towering shell of the cathedral and the sizeable graveyard surrounding it.

View from the top of Rock of Cashel testifies to its strategic importance.
On the way down from the top of the rock, we located a gate which was the starting point for a letterbox.  Alas, this time of year the gate was locked, so we missed out on that one.  But consolation came quickly as we drove a mile over to the ruins of Hore Abbey, a 13th century monastery, where another letterbox was awaiting.

Hore Abbey
The sun had slipped below the horizon by the time we left Cashel around 4:30, and it took us an hour and a half to drive the 48 miles back to our hotel in Waterford.  Much of the trip was on the typical narrow local roads where it's difficult to go much faster than 30 miles an hour, especially when deer warning signs pop up.

A very dark night
By the time we arrived, darkness was deep and we were grateful to be stationary and inside.  The hotel where we have stayed the last two nights is outside of Waterford.  Tomorrow we'll move into town where we can walk to visit some of the sites in the city.
Daily Stats:
  • Started in Waterford, ended in Waterford
  • Mileage - 128    (Trip total: 5,268 )
  • Weather - 44° to 52°- partly cloudy to light rain
  • Sunrise - 8:22, Sunset - 4:17
  • Letterboxes - found 2, planted 1
Kilkenny town
Museum in the restored Hall of Vicars Choral at the Rock of Cashel 
St. Canice's Cathedral