I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Ireland (15)


Drip drip drip




And so ended our last few hours in Dublin.  To think, we’d hardly used our umbrellas and raincoats throughout the last fifteen days – how lucky were we?




We wanted to get some fresh air this morning before setting off home though, so got all that hardly-used wet weather gear on and set off to explore a corner of the city we’d not visited previously.  This former market area had been regenerated, but sadly, progress has halted and what remains is a half hearted development awaiting new energy and presumably, new investment.




To one side was the Jameson’s distillery, which drew us in to use the facilities but on this rainy Sunday morning was of little interest to us.




We returned to the hotel through the Temple Bar, mostly quiet but with some brave souls starting the day early (or maybe finishing the night late?) 




We bade Daniel O’Connell farewell thinking we’d get a coffee somewhere nearby, but with the football supporters arriving for the match things were getting pretty busy.




Still, we walked up as far as the Post Office




took a look up the Spire before returning to pack up, jump in the car and head towards the airport.


Our flight is supposed to leave at 3.20pm, but currently there’s a delay of at least an hour and we’re sitting in the lounge watching the match.  The rain hasn’t stopped since it started and we think that it’s time to go home.

What a great trip, though!




We’d really had it with the hotel here in Enniskerry, especially after a disappointing supper last night followed by late night entertainment from the people running up and down the corridors, slamming doors.  So we were there bright and early for breakfast and a swift departure.  No point in hanging around.




We were soon on the road to Kilkenny, then.




It wasn’t the brightest of mornings but the town was waking up by the time we arrived and outside the castle, the traffic bollards were decorated in an interesting fashion which provoked us to get our cameras out and start snapping!




The castle itself was an absolute gem.  From the outside it appears dour and rather forbidding, but inside, the recent restorations have resulted in a colourful and lavishly decorated interior of just the right size.  No photographs allowed and from a quick peruse of the website it appears there are none to be found there either.  So, let me just say that each room was a delight and the picture gallery the highlight of our morning with a wonderful painted ceiling (rather like that of Windsor Castle).  What’s more, it was another venue which accepted our English Heritage membership. 




We mooched around the town centre for a while afterwards, eyeing those darkening clouds and hoping we’d stay dry.  We’ve really enjoyed exploring some of these Irish towns with their rich selection of local, individual shops and characteristic atmosphere.




Kilkenny has quite a few narrow passages such as this one, the Butter Slip.




We couldn’t leave without visiting the cathedral though.  St Mary’s stands to the edge of the town centre and a steady stream of visitors was passing through the doors.




Inside, a plain and simple structure was the perfect foil for the richly adorned altar.  Only later did we learn that the overall design had been inspired by Gloucester Cathedral.  Fascinating.




We managed to stay dry, though as we drove out on our way to Dublin, the sky didn’t look so promising.  Our plans for an afternoon out might have been compromised as the rain came in, but we were so pleased we’d decided to change our plans and head back to the city.

Happier still then, when arriving at the hotel we were greeted by the charming concierge team who welcomed us back like long lost family.  “Hey, we didn’t think we’d see you again!” Well, neither did we of course, but it sure felt good to be back.


Nearing the finishing line




That old Irish blessing about the road rising up to meet you was uppermost in my mind as we set out from Waterford this morning.  It was overcast and slightly drizzly and we hoped it would dry up soon.




Our journey took us directly past the village of Avoca, which Lesley will recognise, I’m sure!  We thought we’d take a break there and maybe take a look around the factory.




Sadly, we timed our arrival at the same time as several coach parties – aaaagh!




We sweet talked a member of staff to take us around though and she did a great job at giving us a personal tour.  Oh, the colour!




She showed us the range of different fibres used in the mill, plus a couple which are no longer in production.




Next came the weaving shed.  This chap was weaving nine scarves at once, the warp separated by a plain thread which could be removed later.




This huge roll of warping thread was being taken to the power looms, which was our next stop.




Oh….I was hoping for something colourful.  Brown?




Well, this was better…




Aha…that was best of all!  Oooh, love that waste coming off the edges Winking smile




Throughout the tour, we spotted small cards on the walls – we love the spirit; the design ethos here.




Someone here has a great eye and a sense of humour!

We’ve visited several Avoca locations already of course, so the shop wasn’t our main focus, but we took a quick look before moving on and leaving all those coach party people in the queue for the loo.




Our next stop was the Powerscourt Estate, where we looked forward to visiting the gardens.  By lunchtime, the sun had come out and we had a glorious blue-sky afternoon.  Perfect.




The house is nothing special but the gardens are remarkable.  What’s more, although there were many people here, there was still space to lose them all!




I really liked the Japanese garden, which was reminiscent of the garden Jane and Allan took us to in Florida last year, though this was definitely an “English” Japanese Garden.




Some creatures were buzzier than others.




I also loved the wet and drippy moss garden, where the water just dripped through the plants in a cool, shady corner.




There was a rather more energetic flow of water at the Powerscourt Falls, just up the road, where some were picnicking and others simply seeing how near the water they could get.




Feeling a little weary by now, we decided it was time to find what was to be the last hotel of our trip; to go and settle in and put our feet up for an hour so so before dinner.  Sadly, rather than the comfortable country house hotel we’d expected, we found ourselves at a rather faded wedding venue, with a view of what looks like a housing project rather than the lush green scenery we’d imagined.  I won’t identify it now – we are still here – but suffice to say we have cancelled tomorrow night and will head back into Dublin for the last night of our trip, where we can look forward to a last evening of craic and a fully functional bathroom.

Not only that, we read in tonight’s paper that Avoca will be sold to a US food giant.  We feel rather sad about that.


Waterford Treasures




We chose to have a car free day today and planned to explore the historic part of Waterford and the three museums which are so highly recommended.




We began at Reginalds Tower where the story of Waterford begins.  Here, we received a warm welcome and the same happy news we’ve heard here and there throughout our trip – English Heritage cards allow for free admission.  What a bargain!  Except that for some reason, the reciprocal arrangement doesn’t work – the Irish Heritage members have to pay as normal when visiting English Heritage properties, which doesn’t seem right somehow.  Perhaps I need to write a letter…




Anyway, here, we climbed another steep spiral staircase to the top, where we watched a good, clearly told video story of the beginnings of the city.  A few remaining Viking treasures are displayed here in a really well crafted display.




One of the most important is this Kite Brooch from the twelfth century.  Not much more than an inch or so across, I’d have liked to have taken a closer look at the construction – I’m wondering if it’s hinged in some way, to operate like a clasp?  Or perhaps there’s just some kind of pin on the underside.




All three of the Museums are within a small triangle of the city so it was only  short walk from the tower to our next stop in the chronology, the Medieval Museum.




Here, a guided tour was available on the hour, so we joined half a dozen others and set off with Teresa, who gave us a great overview of the main exhibits in this modern structure.




We started in the cellar and worked our way up, learning a little about the most treasured items in the collection as we went.  Here, amidst the stories of Kings and Queens lay the long Waterford Charter Roll.  I was struck by the way in which the pictures and text “pages” were sewn together in a kind of free form way and thought it really creative to combine so many pieces in this way.  Nothing new under the sun, eh?




Glass surfaces and bright spotlights don’t make for the best photos, but it’s better than nothing!




The other lovely thing here was this ring, a 13th century piece of gold with four glass stones set in it, to be worn as a brooch and said to be the oldest such piece in Europe.




Actually, I almost forgot another of the treasures (what a good thing I take pictures!)  This was Henry VIII’s hat!  Embroidered with Marguerite daisies, it’s beautifully preserved if a little faded (it was red) and a really great shape for wearing with a crown (as you do). 




Perhaps the greatest of the treasures were downstairs, however.  A set of cloth of gold embroidered vestments donated to the church in the late 15th century and the only full surviving set, we were told.   Remarkably well preserved, they had been hidden during a time of disturbance, each one placed carefully in a metal chest and buried underneath the cathedral.  Only found over a hundred years later when the church was reconstructed, the air and water tight chests had preserved the vestments perfectly.




The colours were still surprisingly bright.




The detail upon each one incredible.  I was also pleased to see them so well displayed, well lit and able to be seen from all directions.  What treasures.




Close by was the chest in which one had been found.  Having completed the tour, we returned to our favourite things to take photos before noticing that it was raining pretty hard outside.  A good job we’d brought our raincoats and umbrellas, then.  We looked forward to visiting the last of the three museums, but even though we had enjoyed a terrific Irish breakfast this morning, complete with porridge served with a slug of Muldoon’s and a pouring of cream over it (!) we were getting a little peckish and in need of a sit down. 




So we went over to the Bishops Palace and enjoyed a spot of lunch before the first afternoon tour began.




We were greeted by Mr Whatwhy in the hall of the palace.  A charming man with a distinct Irish twinkle in his voice, he gave us some of the background to the building before introducing us to Mrs Rickard, the housekeeper.  What a delightful pair they were!




I think I’ve said before how awkward I find interacting with re-enactors, but these two were incredible.  Between them, they told the story of the house and the contents in lovely lilting Irish voices. 




Of course, there was plenty of Waterford Crystal to be seen, including a full dinner service set out on the dining table.




Leaning casually on the case containing the world’s oldest surviving piece, Mr Whatwhy entertained us all with his stories and a wealth of information.




My favourite piece had been the front door lock, which is a work of art in itself, don’t you think?

So that just about wraps it up for the city of Waterford.  It has proved to be the surprise of the trip – we had no idea there were quite so many riches to be found in such a small area and have loved finding out about them all.  Tomorrow, we’ll drive to our last stop of the trip and hope the weather will improve for us to enjoy the countryside and small towns of Wicklow.

Keep your fingers crossed for us please.


I think it’s Wednesday




But really, I’m not quite sure.

We set out from Cork this morning to drive the short distance to Blarney Castle.




We were there in no time at all and as we parked the car, we spotted the first of several coaches coming through the gates.  We lost no time in getting to the ticket office then, aiming to reach the entrance before the hordes.  Whilst we stood in the queue however, they all sailed through a different gate and our hearts sank as we imagined the wait…




I’m sure you’ll already have guessed where we were headed?

High up on the ramparts of the castle was the Blarney Stone, accessed by means of the narrowest of spiral staircases, from where the queue started for a chance to kiss it.




We hurried through the gardens to the castle, spotting the very first “no drones” sign along the way.  Interesting, that! We climbed the steep stone steps, realising as we went that most of the coach party wouldn’t have been able to make it up there, to the least accessible of places.  Sure enough, when we reached the top, there were just twenty people in front of us. It wasn’t that we were in a rush, simply that we didn’t want to waste our whole morning standing in a line.




At least it gave us a chance to see what was what, how it worked and what one needed to do.  More to the point, we could see how much help was offered – or not.




A set of rubber car mats were laid out by the hole in the wall and the potential kisser needed to lie down upon them and allow the chap in the red anorak to push them backwards and under the stone, to enable them to do a kind of sit up and kiss the stone above them.  Having done so, Mr Red Anorak would pull them forwards again to get up quickly so the next person could take their turn.  All rather physical, not desperately comfortable and heaven knows what infections are shared in the process!

I decided to keep my lurgy to myself.  I didn’t fancy being pulled and shoved backwards through a hole in the wall high above the ground and my Hero had promised at least one friend that he wouldn’t do anything which might make him still more talkative.  But our two friends had come half way around the world to do this, so we supported, photographed and congratulated them before returning the way we’d come and reflecting what a rip off it is.  We stood and watched those in the queue behind us and discussed what they might have done differently had they but known…




On the way back down, we imagined we’d look at other parts of the castle…except there were none.  Basically, it’s simply a tower with a few empty “rooms”. So, we made our way back to the car park and over to the Blarney Woollen Mill which came highly recommended by the staff at our hotel a couple of nights ago.




Now, we’ve perused one or two “Irish” shops and are beginning to feel familiar with the kinds of items we’re likely to find there.




Sure enough, here were the woollen blankets.




Errrmmmm, the leprechauns…




The aran sweaters…and so on.  Exactly the same as we’ve seen everywhere else, just in greater quantity!  We decided we needed nothing more than a cup of coffee and having satisfied that need, we jumped in the car and headed off to our next destination.




We were heading to Waterford, about an hour and a half away.  A police roadblock aroused our curiosity but thankfully we sailed through that one and continued on our merry way.




If there’s anything we’ll remember from driving around this part of Ireland it will be the glorious views of distant hills.  Layer upon layer of hills in this case.




Oh, and wide stretches of water which we can never be sure are sea or lough.  And yes, those skies.  The skies with clouds.  Plenty of clouds at times!




Shortly after lunchtime we were there in Waterford.  Having checked into our hotel, it was time to take a look around.




The Medieval city centre is quite compact and our immediate impressions were good.  Here was a city with life and spirit, in better shape than we’d found Cork to be and with an instant charm and kerb appeal.




We walked a while, spotting interesting things on walls.  Who knew?




Fancy, Frederick Douglass came here too!  He was one of the ongoing themes of our Road Trip last year and has continued to pop up here and there in all kinds of surprising places.




We were heading across the road, hoping to get there before that big black cloud deposited a rain shower upon us.




It’s the Waterford Crystal Centre and though we’d read that production was no longer focused here in Ireland, there is still a strong presence here and we looked forward to taking a look around.




We spent half an hour or so in the showroom whilst waiting for our tour to begin, admiring some of the displays, confirming to ourselves that some of the things were simply not our style and making a small purchase!




I took a few photographs of cut glass patterns, imagining them as quilting designs.




Our tour began at the start of the manufacturing process, with the wooden moulds created for the one-off, special pieces.  These would be soaked in water before what is likely to be the one single use, because most were for commemorative pieces, trophies or awards and it’s these special pieces which appear to be the main product of the Waterford base.  So, we spotted the mould from the Irish Open Golf amongst others.




I always love the design process and the sight of drawings on the desk drew me over.  This design is for an American football trophy.




Every cut is calculated and drawn out on these one off, complex pieces and a custom made mould constucted.




Next, we were in the factory, watching craftsmen blow the glass into the mould to create the piece.




This piece is being moulded in a standard shape, so a metal mould is used.  It will then go into a temperature controlled oven and be cooled very slowly indeed to prevent it breaking.




Once cooled, it goes into the finishing process and the quality carefully checked.




This man is finishing the rim of the glass, inside and out.  It’s a slow and labour intensive process.




Anything with an air bubble or slight inconsistency is rejected.




The rest goes to be marked up.  Some of the more complex patterns are drawn freehand and the one off pieces have every single cut marked.




The cutters serve a long apprenticeship and are very skilled in cutting the patterns.  Working on a glass appeared intricate, but not as difficult as…




cutting a larger piece! 




Other pieces were cut by a computer controlled cutter, in a cabinet.




Finally, we were able to see some examples of the finished work, following engraving, sandblasting and polishing.




It was really interesting and with one last look at the craftsman putting the finishing touches to the Barclays golf trophy, we gathered our things and took one last look around the showroom.  (Hope the trophy holds together this year Winking smile)




Just across the road we found the Church of Ireland cathedral so popped our heads around the door for a look around.  It was a beautiful space with a lovely, peaceful atmosphere and sure enough, a set of exquisite Waterford Crystal chandeliers.




From there, we wandered back to the hotel, spotting another interesting wall plaque along the way.




Finally, we popped into the Catholic cathedral, the roof of which we can see from our room.  Another lovely, peaceful space.




Sure enough, there too was a fine set of chandeliers to admire.

We plan to explore a little more of Waterford tomorrow, when I anticipate sight of a few more bits of crystal.  For now, we’ll make the most of our last few days in Ireland and hope the sunshine will hold out.

Oíche Mhaith!