Ireland, days 5-6: Kilkenny and surroundings

I know I’ve blogged once already today, but if I don’t get a move on I’ll spend longer writing about our trip to Ireland than the time we were actually away, so have a bonus post…

Having been to Dublin before, I was really looking forward to Kilknenny – my first new Irish city – and it did not disappoint. I loved it there! On Wednesday morning, after a breakfast of Weetabix, toast and tea (all provided by the hostel) we set off to explore. Our first stop was St Canice’s Cathedral, which was just along the road from our hostel. And the first creature we met there was this guy:

Pussy cat... with apologies for the quality of the picture!
Pussy cat… with apologies for the quality of the picture!

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not really a cat person, but this one was just adorable… and so utterly soft!

After a while the kitten got bored of us and wandered off, so we turned our attention to the Cathedral. It’s the second largest cathedral in Ireland and the round tower that stands beside it is one of only two in Ireland that can still be climbed to the top, so up we went…

St Canice's Tower
St Canice’s Tower
Kilkenny from above
Kilkenny from above

Once we were back down, we went for a look at the inside of the cathedral and then headed on to Black Abbey. It got its name from the fact that it’s a Dominican abbey  and the Dominicans were often referred to as black friars due to the black cloaks that they wore over their habits.

Inside St Canice's Cathedral
Inside St Canice’s Cathedral
Stained glass in the Black Abbey
Stained glass in the Black Abbey

The photo from inside Black Abbey isn’t great because there were actually people praying in there, so I literally pointed, clicked and ran so as not to disturb anyone!

Continuing on our tour of the city (I got in trouble for referring to it as a town!), we passed by a number of cute houses and a second cathedral – St Mary’s – before reaching the centre.

I love the red front door!
I love the red front door!
St Mary's Cathedral
St Mary’s Cathedral

St Mary’s is the Catholic cathedral while St Canice’s is Church of Ireland.

From the shopping area, it was just a short walk to Kilkenny’s main attraction… the castle.

Kilkenny Castle from behind
Kilkenny Castle from behind

As it wasn’t raining, we decided to start with a walk around the grounds. We found the National Monument to Missing People, which is a sculpture made up entirely of metal hands. Each hand on the sculpture was cast from the actual hand of a missing person’s relative. Unfortunately I can’t show you a photo because all the ones I took have people on them…

After our walk and some fun with Charlie (we did “horse riding”), we decided to go into the Butler Gallery as the admission was free, but it was closed for installation of the next exhibition, so instead we headed round to the front of the castle to see the rose garden. We spent aaages there while the guys took what felt like a billion photos!

Part of the front of the castle and roses
Part of the front of the castle and roses
The rose garden... not sure why this photo is so dark! It seems to be the only one I took that has  people on though
The rose garden… not sure why this photo is so dark! It seems to be the only one I took that has people on though

The next stop was lunch! We originally wanted to find a café that our Lonely Planet recommended, but it turned out to have closed down, so we headed to Blaa Blaa Blaa Sandwiches instead. An excellent decision! I had the Christmas dinner sandwich, which is basically turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. It was so, so, so good!!And also cheap, especially after the prices we had been paying in Dublin.

Tiny shop, but the sandwiches are delicious!
Tiny shop, but the sandwiches are delicious!

Blaa Blaa Blaa is right next to the river, so we sat on some benches there to eat. Sandwiches done, we headed into the sweet shop, where I found Jedward chocolate bars and also purchased delicious cherry sweets. Then it was off to the car to explore some of the area surrounding Kilkenny.

A lantern on the bridge right next to the sandwich shop
A lantern on the bridge right next to the sandwich shop

Our first stop was Thomastown, where we went to Jerpoint Abbey, a ruined Cistercian abbey from the 12th century. The abbey is notable for its unique stone carvings. We briefly listened in to someone else’s tour and found out that at one point all these carvings had been coloured in!

The sun came out for a bit while we were at the abbey!
The sun came out for a bit while we were at the abbey!
There are carvings all along here...
There are carvings all along here…
A carving of a soldior
A carving of a soldior

Next up was Kells Priory, which was just amazing! You have to cross a field of sheep to get to it, and the amount of droppings is unreal! But if you manage to make it across, the ruins that await you are sheer awesomeness! From the top it doesn’t look like much, but then you get past the first wall and see a huge ruin! I can’t even imagine how big it was when it was in one piece. Also, out the back is a small ancient graveyard, which is incredibly cool… and also slightly creepy.

Doesn't look like much from here...
Doesn’t look like much from here…
... but from here, sheer awesomeness!!
… but from here, sheer awesomeness!!

The priory is free of charge… you just walk across the sheep field and head right in. And there’s nobody around to stop you from climbing on the ruins. So. Much. Fun!

After we’d climbed around for a while, it started to rain so we headed back to the car and drove back to Kilkenny to look for a supermarket. After a brief argument about what to do (the guys wanted to park the car and walk into town while us girls preferred to use the car to locate a supermarket then park elsewhere and walk in if necessary, but not just wander around aimlessly in the rain hoping to find somewhere to shop!) we finally found a place and purchased our groceries, then it was back to the hostel to cook for the first time. We had spaghetti bolognese… with carrots in. While we were cooking, one of the grls who volunteers at the hostel came in and invited us to go out with her that night to watch a band she knew. Three of us decided to go, while the others preferred to catch up on sleep/have some alone time, so after eating we met up with 2 volunteers from the hostel and an American from Utah who was travelling around Ireland with his brother (the brother had chosen not to come along). Unfortunately, when we arrived at the bar it turned out the band had called and cancelled, so instead we went to a place called The Field where a soloist was playing modern rock/pop music (stuff like Of Monsters and Men and Jason Mraz). The good thing about the bar was that it seemed to be mostly local people rather than tourists. The girl who had originally invited us out suggested playing a game, which is how we all ended up playing “I have never”. At around midnight, we all headed back to the hostel and to bed.

The next morning our group decided to pay a visit to the farmer’s market after breakfast. We were hoping to get something for lunch, but ended up not buying anything (although the samosas smelled good and the Baileys fudge was really tempting!). Instead we went back to Blaa Blaa Blaa and bought sandwich to take along. This time I had the Chicken Tikka Deluxe – the deluxe part being the addition of sundried tomatoes and cheese to my chicken tikka filling. DE-LIC-IOUS!!

Our first stop of the day was the Dunmore Cave in Ballyfoyle. It’s a fairly small cave, but the tour we had was extremely interesting… and we were given a tip for remembering the difference between stalagtites and stalagmites. Stalagtites cling tight to the roof, while stalagmites might grow up! Clever, no? Well, I thought so…

In the cave
In the cave

We had out tour together with a group of school children who were incredibly well behaved! One of the girls even thanked me when I let her pass… that would so not have happened on any of the trips I took with school!

The stairs we came down to get into the cave
The stairs we came down to get into the cave

By the time we’d finished viewing the cave, it was lunch time, so we went back to the car to eat our sandwiches. After a grey start to the day, the sun had decided to come out so we drove to the village of Leighlinbridge to take a walk along the River Barrow, Ireland’s second longest river (the longest is the Shannon). I’ve already posted a photo of the adorable bridge over the river, but I took loads so have another one!

Old bridge and castle
Old bridge and castle

Also, behold the blue sky! I was prepared for much worse weather than this. The castle on the photo above is known as Black Castle, but I can’t remember why.
The walk along the river was lovely and really peaceful – the only other people we met were a couple walking their dog when we were already on our way back to the car. Here are some pictures:

The River Barrow
The River Barrow
Looking back the way we had come
Looking back the way we had come

After our walk, we drove back to Kilkenny with the aim of going inside the castle. We had purchased Ireland Heritage cards at the cave, and Kilkenny Castle was included on them. Unfortunately, the book the man at the cave had given us was out of date and it turned out the castle was already closed, so instead we went for a walk along the river and saw some of the local teenagers swimming in it!

Next up was another trip to the supermarket, then we returned to the hostel to make what our Scottish friend referred to as Stovies and what I would have called mince and tetties (mince and potatoes). Basically it was mince, carrots, onions and mashed potatoes… and to try something new we used lamb mince! After dinner, some of us went to spend time on their own while the others quickly packed then headed down to the TV room where the girls from the hostel had invited us to join them again, this time for a film. We watched Driving Miss Daisy, which I had never seen before.

And that was the end of our Kilkenny adventure. Join me tomorrow for the journey to our next destination, Killarney.

And since I didn’t post one above, here’s a photo of Kilkenny’s town city centre.

Kilkenny centre

Ireland, day 4: Dublin to Kilkenny

After the long weekend in Dublin, Tuesday, 11 June marked the first day of the Ireland road trip proper. Our two drivers (of whom Jan was one) got up stupidly early to go and pick the car up while the rest of us had a slightly more leisurely start. After one final full Irish breakfast, we packed up the last few bits then waited for our vehicle. One game of suitcase Tetris later, it was time to check out and say goodbye to one member of the group – he had only been able to get the long weekend off work and was heading back to Germany while the remaining 5 of us went on a tour of Ireland.

Our first stop was Bray, where the owner of our local Irish pub is from. The boys had planned to try and recreate a photo he has on his wall of Bray Head and I had promised him a postcard from one Bray to another (the Irish pub is called Bray Head). It was raining a little when we set off, but by the time we arrived in Bray it was dry again, if a little cloudy, so we parked the car and headed down to the beach, where we met an adorable dog with an incredibly slimy ball!

How adorable?
How adorable?

His owners told us this was the highlight of his week!
Bray Head was partly hidden in the clouds, but we pointed our cameras in its general direction anyway.

Bray Head... somewhere up there
Bray Head… somewhere up there

Then it was off the icecream/sweet shop to buy some postcards before sitting down at The Strand Hotel – formerly a house called Elsinore owned by Oscar Wilde’s father- to write them. We all indulged in some tea and scones, which were delicious but bizarrely came on dirty plates. The carvery looked (and smelled) really good too, but we didn’t have time for that… the time we had left on the car was ticking away! So postcard written and scones eaten, we headed back towards town, stopping on the way to buy stamps and post said card.

Stop number two was Enniskerry, where we had been tasked with going to the local pub and delivering a glass from our Irish pub to a guy named Keith who had misspent his youth with our local pub’s owner.

Mission accomplished! (Spot the glass)
Mission accomplished! (Spot the glass)

The pub seemed like a bit of a local pub for local people, but we all had a quick drink there anyway. And from what I saw of Enniskerry it looked like a cute little village – I especially liked this interesting phonebox.

How cool?
How cool?

After taking a wrong turn and driving round twice, we came to our next stop: The Powerscourt Waterfall. It’s the highest waterfall in Ireland…

Powerscourt Waterfall
Powerscourt Waterfall

By the time we’d taken some photos of the waterfall and of each other posing with the waterfall it had started to rain, so instead of hitting the nature trails we made a run for the car and drove on to our next destination, Glendalough. Pronounced Glen-da-lock, Glendalough is a glacial valley that’s famous for its medieval monastic settlement, founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin. There are also two lakes – the Lower Lake and the Upper Lake – and various walking trails.

Saint Kevin's Church at Glendalough
Saint Kevin’s Church at Glendalough
Upper Lake, Glendalough
Upper Lake, Glendalough

Luckily it had stopped raining again, so we didn’t get wet… but all the moisture in the air meant tonnes and tonnes of midgees! Yuk!! The senery was beautiful though, as you can see. And the Obamas went there a few days later while on a trip to Ireland. We saw it first, Obamas!!

It was approaching 7 pm by the time we’d finished walking around, so back to the car we went and headed straight for Kilkenny with no more breaks. By the time we’d found our hostel, checked in and discovered a place to put the car it was after 9 and we were starving! So off we went into town in search of somewhere that would still feed us at that time! Our first stop was Kyteler’s Inn, which seemed like a really cool place and had live music on, but the kitchen there had closed at 9, so off we went to the place across the way – The Marble City Bar (it seems downstairs there is a tearooms as well). The food there was slightly more expensive than what we had been looking for, but worth every single cent! Our waiter went out of his way to be helpful, even offering my friend chips instead of mashed potato after hearing that she’s lactose intolerant! Again, no food photo because I was too busy nomming it.

By the time we’d eaten it was even later and we were all tired, so back to the hostel we went to get some sleep before moving on to day 5 of our Irish adventure..

Ireland – My Favourite Things

I will be providing you with a map of the route we took in Ireland as soon as I figure out how, but for now here are some of my personal favourite things from the trip.

1. Irish friendliness. Anything you’ve heard about how friendly Irish people are is 100% true!! In fact, we only encountered one unfriendly Irish person throughout our entire two-week stay (at the Cliffs of Moher, in case you were wondering). Just to give one example of the extreme friendliness and determination to help: On the final day of our initial stay in Dublin, I went with Jan and another member of the group to Kilmainham Gaol (very interesting by the way, and well worth a visit). The bus driver not only announced our stop (Irish – and UK – buses don’t do this automatically), but asked us to wait a few minutes before getting off so he could direct us to the jail. Another passenger who was waiting to get off then interrupted to say he works just opposite and would be happy to show us the way. Not only did he then deliver us right to the entrance, but he also pointed out a park opposite (actually the grounds of an art gallery) where we might like to go for a walk after our tour. All together now: Awwww!

The "New" east wing of KIlmainham Gaol - we were told it's been used in various films/TV series so some of you may recognise it
The “New” east wing of KIlmainham Gaol – we were told it’s been used in various films/TV series so some of you may recognise it

2. Being able to order a cup of tea with milk without either being looked at like I’ve just grown an extra head or – even worse – being brought coffee creamer instead!

3. Buying a horse head on our very first day in Dublin, naming it Charlie (because that way it could be either male or female) and proceeding to take photos of each other wearing it all over Ireland.

Charlie in a field
Charlie in a field

4. The full Irish breakfast at the B&B we stayed at in Dublin (Waterloo Lodge… highly recommended!). And bumping into the butcher on our way out on the first day! No Tesco Everyday Value sausages at that place…

5. The amazing carvery meal we ate at a place called O’Neill’s in Dublin. I have no photo to share with you because I had inhaled it before the idea of photos even occurred to me…

6. Kilkenny. All of it. The highlights being: i) The cute kitty we discovered hanging around the graveyard of St. Canice’s Cathedral. I’m not usually a cat person, but this kitten was soo soft! ii) Blaa Blaa Blaa sandwiches… and the lovely ladies who worked there. iii) The sweet shop next door to the sandwich place, where I discovered Jedward chocolate bars and also bought a bag of the most delicious cherry boiled sweets. iv) Going for a few drinks with an English girl who worked at the hostel we stayed in and playing “I have never”. Fun!

Blaa Blaa Blaa

7. The ruins of Kells Priory, located just outside the village of Kells in County Kilkenny. Basically a giant adventure playground for adults! You have to brave a lot of sheep droppings to get there, but once you do it’s well worth it. My photos do not do it justice at all… this thing must have been absolutely huge when it was in one piece!!

Part of Kells Priory
Part of Kells Priory
More of Kells Priory
More of Kells Priory

8. This bridge over the River Barrow in the village of Leighlinbridge. I took sooo many photos of it! The walk along the river was pretty nice as well.

Google tells me this is a valerian stone bridge, and Wikipedia adds that it's from the 14th century and thought to be one of the oldest functioning bridges in Europe
Google tells me this is a valerian stone bridge, and Wikipedia adds that it’s from the 14th century and thought to be one of the oldest functioning bridges in Europe

9. The tour we took of the Rock of Cashel – our guide was so enthusiastic and informative! I can’t remember half of what he said now, but at the time it was very interesting! I do remember that the reason the monks who lived there eventually abandoned the rock was the weather… and I can well believe it given the wind on the day we were there!

Part of the Rock of Cashel (can anyone else see the face on the left-hand side?)
Part of the Rock of Cashel (can anyone else see the face on the left-hand side?)

10. Taking photos of the sunset at Ladies View on the Ring of Kerry. Although the part where we got eaten alive by midgees was much less fun!

My friend admiring the sunset at Ladies View
My friend admiring the sunset at Ladies View

11. The adorable thatched cottages in Adare.

One of the thatched cottages in the village of Adare
One of the thatched cottages in the village of Adare

12. Seeing a puffin at the Cliffs of Moher. Unfortunately it was too fast to photograph, so here’s a picture of the cliffs themselves. Also, we were told The Princess Bride was filmed there, so I now need to watch that film again and see if I recognise anything!

Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher

13. The pies we ate in Galway! If you ever find yourself there, you must go to a place called The Pie Maker!! I was able to try three savoury pies (pork sausage in veal gravy pie, roast beef pie and chorizo, mozzerella and pesto pie) as well as one sweet one – the rubarb and ginger. All four were delicious! And at only €9 for a savoury pie, gravy and mushy peas (or pie, salad and wedges) it’s an absolute bargain, too! A photo will follow once I request it from my friend (my camera’s battery had run out at this point). **Edited to add: PIE!!**

Pie, glorious pie!
Pie, glorious pie!

14. This adorable puppy who we met at the top of Diamond Hill in the Connemara National Park.

Gorgeous puppy!
Gorgeous puppy!

15. The cute little cafe in Dublin that Jan and I stopped at to write postcards shortly before we left for our flight home. The cake I ate there was nice enough, but nothing special, but the cafe itself was adorable… and also cheap!

Cafe Oya... I loved the wall decorations!
Cafe Oya… I loved the wall decorations!

And there you have it… my 15 favourite things from our trip. More Ireland posts will follow shortly…

I’m going to Ireland!

So, now that I’ve finished boring you with ten million posts about Berlin, let me tell you about my next trip…

At the pub quiz two weeks ago, my team came second. Usually, the prize for second place is a pitcher filled with whichever draught drink you desire, but this time was different. The prize was a voucher for a “Lonely Planet” travel guide of your choice. Somebody had the brilliant idea that we could claim our Lonely Planet and then use it for a quiz team holiday. So we left the quiz on Tuesday agreeing that everyone would think about where they would like to go.

Irish flag
Irish flag (Photo credit: RedKoala1)

Two days later, after a couple of discussions with Jan, I had a brain wave. We’d one the pub quiz in an Irish pub, so why not go to… Ireland! I’ve been wanting to go there for a while anyway, to see something more than just Dublin, and it seemed appropriate. Jan thought some people might have already been, but I decided to suggest it to the group anyway. It turned out that nobody had been to Ireland (other than Jan and I, and we’ve only done Dublin… plus I lived in Northern Ireland for 2 years) and everybody thought it was a brilliant idea. I, my friends, am a genius! (Well, not really… I just had the voice of Simba from the Lion King in my head when I typed that…)

We will be going in June, if we ever manage to get everyone to agree on flights! And it’s looking like our main destinations will be Dublin, Kilkenny, Galway and possibly Belfast (Dublin is a must… we have to fly there). Those are just bases for sleeping and storing luggage… there will also be daytrips of course. So now I need your help. Would should we definitely, 100% do in Ireland? Any suggestions for good (and cheap!) places to eat/drink/sleep in any of the four places metioned? Anything that doesn’t appear in any tourist guide but is worth visiting? Our quizmaster is from Kilkenny, so we’re hoping he’ll be able to help with that, but I’m sure some of my readers must have been to Ireland (Tina.. I know you have!)

Here, have a photo I took the last time I was in Dublin… in 2007:

Dublin Cathedral

And now it’s over to you. The comments box is open. GO!!