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The view beyond the back yard of the Airbnb place in Cashel.

We woke up to storybook fog. Our hosts wished us a wonderful day touring castles. Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel, only 7 minutes from where we spent the night.

On our last full day in Ireland it was time for us to see some castles. We had been seeing ruins of fortifications and towers for days, but the two well-maintained and managed places we decided to see up close were in Cashel and Cahir.

View of the Rock of Cashel as we approached.

The city of Cashel disappears into the fog below us, as we stood at the top.

Wonderful foggy views surrounded us from the Rock of Cashel.

Ubiquitous Celtic Crosses stand clear in the foreground of the misty day.

The cemetery at Cashel is at the base of the fabulous round tower.

A lone sheep sentinel stood bleating in the fog.

The Rock of Cashel is not the name of the structure on top, but the name of the whole prominence, and all the structures on it. The Rock of Cashel, also known as St. Patrick’s Rock, was the seat of the kings of Munster from the 4th century until 1101 when it was presented to the Church in a political move. Structures include Cormac’s Chapel, finished in 1134, the Round Tower, also built in the 12th century, St. Patricks Cathedral, built in the 13th century and used till the 18th century, and The Hall of the Vicars Choral, built in the 15th century. There is also a castle, which was the bishop’s residence.

Our admission fee included a tour of the whole site except the Chapel. We purchased tickets to tour the Chapel as well, which is locked to visitors unless they are attended by a guide. The Chapel shows multiple global influences in its architecture, with the message of unification. A Chapel for worship was meant for all people, in other words. It is remarkable inside and worth the extra Euros.

Tara explores the inside of the Chapel.

This sarcophagus was moved inside because its outside location subjected it to detrimental effects of the weather. One corner was not protected by a roof, and you can see the damage done by rain to the soft limestone.

Roof of the Chapel shows remains of murals.

Much of the stonework inside contained detailed faces that our guide explained were all symbolic of either saints or wicked spirits.

On the tour of the whole site, we began in the Hall of the Choral, and it was explained to us that the Vicars Choral was lavished with luxury. This beautiful building was built for the singers to live and practice their skills in assisting with chanting the cathedral services. They received the best accommodation and food, in hopes of attracting the most talented choral members. Hopes were that God would be most glorified by the most talented choral, and if it became well-known that they had the best choral, Cashel would gain prestige, power, and wealth.

Inside the main common room in the Hall of the Vicars Choral.

In an idea that reminded me of the Muslim belief that it is a sin to create art of living things and therefore presume to copy God’s creation, this tapestry was woven with intentional flaws. It shows that humans are not perfect and cannot mimick God’s creation. Look closely to see a one-legged man whose right leg has a left foot. The boy next to him has a hoof instead of a foot.

There is a small museum in the entrance building. Here different Coats of Arms are displayed.

Here there be dragons!

Standing inside the ruined cathedral, looking to the tower outside.

It was a cold visit, up there on top of the hill where breezes were stiff and it rained the whole time in the fog. We found a small theatre showing a film in German. The theatre was heated. Tara took a seat but I hovered over the radiator through the rest of the German film, and then through the English version that followed. Finally warm and dry again, we went down the hill and found a lovely restaurant to have a hot lunch.

Fortified, we moved on to Cahir. Tara deftly used the navigator software called Copilot they had downloaded a few days previous. We did not have cell service, but were fully functional in areas with Wifi. While we had Wifi, Tara downloaded the Copilot app, and then a map of Ireland. Phone GPS continues to work even when you don’t have cell service. So outside of Wifi access, Tara had a fully functional navigational tool to plot or replot our path, and constantly gave me updates on speed limit and upcoming traffic circles.

Good heavens there are a lot of traffic circles in Ireland! Also – note to the driver in other countries – when you enter a traffic circle in Ireland, you turn LEFT!

Also note: Wifi was available, and free to visitors EVERYWHERE. Every train station, convenience store, point of interest, coffee shop, or gift shop had free wifi. Menus at restaurants had their wifi passwords on them. It was super fast and reliable at all times. We went to the most incredibly remote spot I can imagine finding in Ireland, on the tippy tip of the Dingle Peninsula, and boom – reliable wifi from our host. Um….America? Can we fix our obvious failure in this category?

We drove just 20 minutes to the town of Cahir, and quickly found the carpark for Cahir Castle. There are signs posted at the carpark that list all the movies in which Cahir Castle has made an appearance. One look explained why: it’s picture perfect.

Movie-worthy scene with geese, a swan, and a rook at Cahir Castle.

Our guess at how to approach the castle was incorrect, but serendipitous, as it led us through the grounds in a wide circle behind the castle. It was still raining and foggy, but had warmed up, and we were in good spirits as we walked the grounds and got soaked again.

Walking in the wide lawn behind Cahir Castle.

Cahir Castle from the grounds.

Cahir Castle up close, with a cathedral spire in the background.

We made a big loop and never found an entrance, so we ended up back at the carpark. Luckily for us, this time we noticed the signs for how to pay, as well as a parking security car moving along the other side of the lot. Ooops. I sent Tara on ahead and paid the 2 Euro fee before the security car got there, and ran to catch up. Our entrance into Cahir Castle was free that day because they were in the middle of uploading a software fix, and couldn’t run the computers to take our money. “Enjoy!” the man at the desk told us. We did.

This rook greeted us at the official entrance.

Inside the grounds of Cahir Castle.

Cannon displays inside Cahir Castle.

During the whole trip we had been noticing the attractive flowers and ferns growing from old stone walls.

We had so much fun exploring Cahir Castle, situated on the River Suir. The grounds are huge, and there is so much to see. And then there is more to see, if you keep looking! We found delicious dungeons, and tower overlooks. We followed one spiral staircase up, up, and still up, and kept finding new rooms not previously explored. We found museum displays and mock rooms set up to look like they would have when the castle was lived in.

Cahir Castle is in excellent condition, well cared-for, and very interesting. What luck for us to add this one to our list, when we know practically nothing about Irish castles.

A room in the castle.

Fabulous rack mounted on the wall in one of the castle rooms.

Peering at the city of Cahir through panes of glass.

Looking onto an overlook point from the highest room in the tallest tower.

Tara stands at the overlook and gazes at Cahir and the River Suir.

One museum display had a large and beautiful mock battle of the seige of the castle by Oliver Cromwell in 1650. The lord of the castle surrendered without a shot being fired, despite cannons being at the ready, inside and out. This lack of cannon fire may be responsible in part for the intact walls today.

After hours of happy exploration, we returned to the front desk to ask questions about some arrow slits we had found that fanned open on the outside of the castle, which didn’t make sense to us. If you’ve ever seen arrow slits before, you know that they are tall skinny windows in V-shaped windowsills, to allow the shooter a wide field of view, and ability to shoot from multiple angles while remaining protected. Tara and I found those V-shapes on the outside of the castle walls, which was not intuitive, and seemed like a mistake. The docent explained that these are actually fanned both inside and out, and are partially with a thought to retaking the castle should it ever be captured. I had never heard of that idea! We headed back to the car, still admiring the beautiful place.

River surrounds the castle like a moat. You can see one of the “backward” arrowslits.

Looking toward the front entrance of the Cahir Castle.

The swan posed for me, as though he knew he was helping to create the scene.

The scariest part of my drive was ahead: back into Dublin! Only we were fortunate to be heading to the airport car rental, and that is well outside of the city. We were able to take a circular highway around the outside of Dublin, and thus never had to brave the city itself. Totally unsure of what to expect, we fumbled our way into the parking lot and were treated immediately with calm assurance and tons of help. They took our car, checked it over quickly, asked if we had any problems (we didn’t), then called us a cab. While we waited for the cab, we posted photos to Instagram using – yeah, free Wifi.

That evening we found a nearby restaurant and had our last Guinness in Ireland.

The next morning we had an easy 7am wake up, and got to the airport in plenty of time so we shopped the duty free and bought Ireland mugs and some Slane Whiskey to honor our visit to the Slane distillery. We went through pre-flight customs that allowed us to skip customs when we arrived later that day in Newark. Woo Hoo! Going through US Customs is a pain in the ass and it takes forever. In Ireland it was friendly and quick. By midnight we were home and in our beds in Oregon.

This scene made me laugh because it reminded me of all the traffic circles I had been through recently. There’s a real roundabout in the bottom left of the photo.

Lovely Irish countryside, with a circle in a subdivision, and a quarry too.

Ireland finally dropped so far below me that I realized it was time to say goodbye.

Our names at our seats on Irish Rail.

We didn’t plan our time well and gave ourselves 3 minutes to eat the buffet breakfast we had each paid €13 ($15) for. Instead of eating, we collected food into take-home containers we had saved from the day before and ran out of the hotel with rollerbags and shoulder bags, and paper bags of breakfast and coats tied around our waists.

It was only a couple blocks away, over a bridge, and into the station. I had already purchased the tickets, but needed to figure out how to get them, and of course I chose a machine that wasn’t working, but since I didn’t know what it was supposed to do, I stood there, poking buttons until the intercom said our train was boarding and my stress level ramped up.

We ran to an information booth and no one was there, but when a man showed up, he directed us to use the kiosks we had just left. I was about to say I had already tried that, but I spotted a different kiosk and the screen was different, so we tried that, and realized the first one had been broken. With our tickets we ran toward the trains.  At the entrance gate Tara’s ticket worked to open the bars, but mine didn’t. I stood there frustrated again, until a woman on the other side of me couldn’t get hers to work either, and asked the agent nearby if she could just walk through the path for people with disabilities. Without looking up he said “yeah,” and she ran through. So I did too. Then I saw that our platform was at the very very end, past another whole train, so we ran the length of the train. The whole time the intercom is announcing that the train for Cork is boarding, please get on the train. We finally get to our train, but we have “E” seats, and we’re at “A” car. So we run past A, then B, etc. Finally, finally get onto our car, drag all the luggage in, and collapse into our seats.

Our seats displayed our names at them, which was cool. We were not cool, but hot, from having run so much. It was not a good start to the day. By noon when the train stopped, we had eaten, chatted, listened to the group of chattering ladies who got off the train at Mallow to go to a wedding, and finally relaxed. We were ready to take on a new city.

The River Lee flows through Cork.

Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church is right on the riverbank.

It was a short walk to our hotel, and we were too early to check in, so we ditched our bags behind the counter and took off walking West, along the River Lee. We were later to find out that Cork is built upon several rivers, and some run in tunnels under the streets. We went first to Elizabeth Fort, in the oldest part of the city, on Barracks Street.

The current fort was completed around 1626 and named after Queen Elizabeth I, of course. It has played a key role during significant historical events, including Cromwell’s occupation, the famine, the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. We were in time for the 1pm tour, and got to walk the ramparts of a fort and look out over the city of Cork. It was a great first stop. Our tour guide, Steven, not only told us about the different key moments in the history of the fort, but also had us look out across the city while pointed out the landmarks to note the boundaries of the original city. He explained that the old city wall is now gone, and only a tiny piece remains, which is in one of the city parks.

Walking the ramparts of the “star-shaped” fort with the city of Cork surrounding it.

View of St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral from the fort.

Tara was really engaging with the exhibits on display in the Fort.

Tara peers over the edge at a view of heads on pikes.

Steven explains that he wanted one of the heads to be modeled after his own, but they wouldn’t do it. #makestevenshead

From the fort we had great views of nearby St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral. We took our time walking along the perimeter inside, peeking into gardens and admiring the neighborhood now grown up around the fort. When the tour was over, we chatted with Steven a bit more and he told us about the oldest pub in Cork, and one of the oldest in Ireland. He also told us about a place to get whiskey. Tara wanted to circle the fort, so we made our way out and around and found some fun graffiti along the way. We had been noticing a ton of graffiti in Cork, and between the two of us collected a ton of photos. I think I’m going to do a blog post of only Cork street art.

We walked into what was the original Cork city, then we found the park with the wall, and went to see it. Elizabeth Market was across the street from there, so we next went to the big market. I bought snap peas and Tara bought a pomegranate, and we finally headed back to the hotel in hopes that they would now have a room for us to check into.

Street art in Cork.

The original city wall surrounding the city of Cork actually drops below street level. The plaque under the pigeons says “Remains of 13th Century City Wall.”

Elizabeth Market in Cork. Named after…uhhh… guess who.

After checking in to the hotel, we headed directly back the way we had come, since the city along the river is so inviting. We stopped at a National Monument from 1906 with an inscription on it that says: “To perpetuate the memory of the gallant men of 1798, 1803, ’48, and ’67, who fought and died in the Wars Of Ireland to recover her sovereign independence and to inspire the youth of our country to follow in their patriotic footsteps and imitate their heroic example and righteous men will make our land A NATION ONCE AGAIN.” Prior to the trip I had been studying the key points of Irish history. I had noted a couple of battles and events that seemed relevant – all being the same to me. But arriving here, I find this history is still alive. Every single tour guide tells the stories, and every common person at some point refers to England, and Cromwell, and Bloody Sunday if you talk to them long enough. Every monument you look at tells the stories once again. In the Cahir Castle (we went there several days later) there was a whole room dedicated to biographies of the 14 men who were killed after the 1916 Easter Uprising. I have a much better sense of the feelings behind the ache for Irish independence and the complications that have prevented it.

Monument to Irish independence.

Peter O’Neill Crowley

Library in Cork has this engraving of the city seal, which shows a ship sailing into the city between two towers. This suggests a history of a city straddling a river, as we learned from our tour guide.

Close up of the stonework showing the imagery of the Cork city seal.

We headed for St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral, completed in 1879. However, it was too late in the day to admit the public, and the gates were locked. So we circled the enormous gorgeous cathedral, glittering in the setting sun, and took sunset photos through the gates. Then we tried to find the oldest pub in Cork but were never sure which one it was so we settled on Forde’s Bar. A man there chatted us up and told us he had lived in Massachusetts for 20 years, which was fun because we also have lived in Massachusetts. The man left, but when I paid our bill, I paid for a couple of pints for that gentlemen whenever he returned. We had a Beamish stout, which apparently is what you drink when you’re in Cork, rather than Guinness. We had only been in Cork a few hours, but already we had detected a sharp criticism of Dublin. Rejection of Guinness was part of that criticism. More graffiti echoed the sentiment.

St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral sparkles in the setting sun.

Close up of  Cathedral entryway.

Gargoyle on St. Fin Barre’s

Beamish stout from Cork

Forde’s (in the corner, to the left) is a very old, and very comfortable bar.

St. Fin Barre’s reflects off the river. Look closely and you can see a tunnel where one of the underground rivers flows beneath the city of Cork.

Narrow Cork city streets.

Cork at night.

Inside Frisky Whiskey

I don’t know who the musicians were, but they were entertaining.

We walked once more down Oliver Plunkett Street and found ourselves in front of Frisky Whiskey, that Steven had mentioned. So we went on up to the second floor where there was live music. We drank Teeling, a new Irish whiskey we had just heard of, and enjoyed the music till we were tired enough to sleep.

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