Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ireland Revisited: Back to Kilkenny

Day 14 of 35: Tuesday, August 17, 2010

This was another clear morning of brilliant sideways sunshine. We were blessed with much more in the way of sun on this trip than we were on our first in 2006. Days typically start like this (or with soft ground fog), followed by rapid buildup of puffy cumulus clouds as the sun’s heat raises moisture from the ground. Frequently there are showers from the cumuli in the afternoons, well-scattered, short, and enjoyable. It has made for absolutely fabulous light and dramatic skies for photography.

The Carroll Oak in early morning.

Birr Castle's eastern face in early morning. The four-pane window near bottom-center of this image is one of the windows in the room that houses the Birr Castle Archives, where I would spend many hours during the duration of this trip, starting the next day.

Most of this day was taken with a return to Kilkenny and a tour of the castle there. Our short drive down to Kilkenny was via our favored backroads through rich Tipperary farmland under skies that Fáilte Ireland might have ordered.

Tipperary corn, Tipperary cows, chamber of commerce weather.

The Butler family no longer lives in Kilkenny Castle, having given up on the place after several centuries, and Ireland's Office of Public Works administers the buildings and grounds, as they do many, many other sites of historical interest in the Republic. They are doing a fine job, it appears, of maintaining, renovating, and restoring the castle as a museum.

Kilkenny Castle, front.

I later said to Lady Rosse that the Kilkenny castle has an “OPW shine on everything, and seems well-embalmed,” and she smiled and nodded. That’s the fate that the Parsons family has worked so hard to avoid for Birr Castle, and so far they have been one of the very few 1600’s “Ascendancy” families that have been savvy and industrious and multi-generationally perseverant enough to keep their Demesne alive, not simply preserved. It takes a lot – a lot – of hard work and expense to keep the gentle and expert embalmers at bay for just one more generation.

Kilkenny Castle, courtyard.

Diane did well on the many stairs of the Castle self-guided tour, despite being only five days separated from an accident that we thought at the time would essentially be the end of our mobility. She was healing rapidly, and possesses a great deal of determination.


We drove back in a roundabout way, wandering up through Carlow and taking the new M7 motorway from Portlaois to Roscrea. It was fast and scenic, but we worry about what the Americanization of Irish motor transport will mean for little towns like Mountrath, Borris-in-Ossory, and Roscrea, now bypassed by the superhighway.

The Thatch.

We had dinner in the Thatch pub and restaurant in Crinkle (Crinkill), a hamlet that abuts Birr. The food and the ambience was wonderful, but one thing was a little peculiar: how patrons' food orders are taken. When restaurant customers first enter, they are seated in kind of a waiting room near the kitchen with chairs backed up against the walls and given menus. After a short wait, the evening’s restaurant manager takes the food orders, and, after another short wait, leads the patrons to their table in the dining room. From there on, the experience was a very pleasant and tasty one -- with one little caveat: Like essentially everyplace else on the island, the Thatch is very child-friendly by American standards for a modestly upscale restaurant. If you're bothered by children -- many of them, usually -- running loose while you dine, then the Thatch probably isn't for you.

In fact, if that sort of thing bothers you, then Ireland probably isn't for you!

More images from August 17th can be seen here.

Next: August 18, 2010 -- Back to the 19th Century
Previous: August 16, 2010 -- In the Demesne
Beginning of the series: Prologue, August 2

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