The jewels of the Emerald Isle

In Dublin’s fair city – Day 2 – a trip to Kilkenny, Wicklow Mountains, and Glendalough 

We were in Dublin for a day when we had a side-trip planned – this time out to Kilkenny, Wicklow, and the ancient monastery at Glendalough.

At Kilkenny, we piled out of the bus at the castle – where all the coaches were piling out, it seemed – and took a quick look around before I went off on a walking excursion of the town centre. Our guide took us through town, past many of the historic areas including the Kytelers Inn from 1263. What’s so interesting about it? Well, history says that a woman owned the Inn way back in the day when every time a woman did something like, say, be independent, she was labeled a witch.

Legend has it that the female owner had a few husbands. A few husbands who … died. Sort of one after another. After the fourth husband, she was clearly a witch because her inn was successful and she was quite rich. And her husbands kept dying. Considering this was the 13th century, it wasn’t like it was all that rare anyway. I think you were lucky to make it to twenty back then.

However, she may have turned one of them into a newt. He obviously didn’t get better.

Therefore, she’s a witch!

She went through the usual trials, of course, but before she could be killed in the usual manner befitting a convicted witch, the people whom she was connected to – I imagine, the powerful locals with titles and such – made sure she was out of the area before the powers that be could come after her.

From Kytelers Inn, we ended up further away by the Smithwick’s Ale Experience, then parted ways near the Black Abbey, so named for the friars there who used to wear all black robes. It was our chance now to explore the city on our own.

I took a longer wander around toward St. Canice’s Cathedral, the oldest church in Kilkenny with an Anglo-Norman round tower. There’s been some kind of religious house there since the 6th century, and some of the artifacts show the beauty of its history. I enjoyed walking around the quiet interior, alone with my camera and my thoughts. It’s impossible to get your head around something that old which has stood the test of time. So many temples and walls I have walked through and stood on – and this is our history and why it should be guarded so carefully.

Inside the cathedral, I marveled at the many and well-carved graves and floor stones. I particularly liked the headdress on the woman below – very haute Middle Age fashion! The adorable black cat popped up on the altar and just chillaxed there for a bit, cleaning off his paws. He had probably enjoyed a lovely day mousing around the church, as I’m sure there’s plenty of prey-ing to be had.

I had to hoof it double time back to Kilkenny Castle to meet my family and the bus before it took off on me. I dashed inside a local restaurant to grab a chicken sandwich and a slice of chocolate biscuit cake because I knew I’d be hungry later as we forged on. Thankfully, just about everyone from the bus was inside the restaurant, so I had no fear of being left behind. Not that being stuck in Kilkenny would’ve been all that terrible – I rather liked the city and would have enjoyed exploring it more.

From Kilkenny, we pulled out of town and ended up in the Wicklow Mountains at the overlook for the mountain pass. The mountains were awash with purple heather and beautiful greenery. The sun came and went, passing behind clouds that might’ve been threatening rain. It didn’t matter that much – the scenery was too beautiful to worry about getting rained on. Finally, it decided to clear up to a pristine blue colour with white fluffy clouds – perfect!

After a few moments looking off into the distance contemplatively – I supposed that is what one was meant to do at a mountain overlook – we continued onto Glendalough (Valley of Two Lakes).

Glendalough unfolded like a hidden jewel between the folded emerald green of hills and sapphire blue of lakes. The monastery of St. Kevin, established in the 6th century as an early religious settlement, laid in ruins now, with graves as old as time itself dotting the thick grass, ivy, and flowers which threatened to take over the old stones completely.

As I entered the monastic site, there was a beautiful double archway that once had a roof on it (ages ago!). Inside the archway was a barely visible cross inscribed on the wall. The ruined buildings were put up sometime in the 10th – 12th centuries, and now there were no roofs left on them for the most part. Broken stone arches reached out toward the blue skies. Moss and lichen crept over the stones, with some snake-like ivy pushing insistently between the rooms and doorways. There were several buildings left, including many smaller churches and houses for the former monastery priests.

The round tower was an interesting feature I saw at St. Canice’s in Kilkenny and also here. It was constructed sometime in the 900s or 1000s, and in this case, it was used for look-outs, a bell tower, and storage. It was also said to be a place of safety during an attack, as the door was off the ground (12 feet up) and should protect the people reasonably inside.

I could see issues with this though – with all the pillaging that was sure to go on during a raid, wouldn’t the raiders just burn down the door … and burn up everything inside a round tower? In my mind, this wouldn’t be very safe with all the wood around and no fire extinguishers as required by insurance companies today.

I could see these towers serving as a notice of sorts to people coming to visit the monastery – the pilgrims of yesteryear. I’m sure there was an assortment of people worthy of The Canterbury Tales coming to visit on a regular basis. Use as a bell tower would seem much more likely rather than as a shelter from Viking hordes. Meh. However it was used, it still stands today, the cornice top having been replaced after being struck by lightning.

The cemetery was a worthy walk through. Spend time in there. A lot of time. It was beautiful on its own – the names, the carvings, the lives of people who came and went. I remembered visiting the Catacombs in Paris and thinking how crazy it was that we spend all of our lives primping and pruning our appearances … only to just look the same for eternity in death.

Alright, after processing these morbid (albeit true) thoughts, I walked part of the way to one of the lakes, but I didn’t have enough time to make it there and back before having to head out on the bus. That was a limit to being on the tour bus – you didn’t always get to spend as much time in certain places as you’d like!

Instead, I sat at the cafe with my mum and aunt, enjoying a cappuccino and a bowl of Eton Mess. Nothing like cream, strawberries, and broken meringue to set the day to rights! As it was, Glendalough turned out to be my favourite stop on this tour, even before the caffeine of the cappuccino worked its magic on my flagging energy.

After leaving the gorgeous greenery of Glendalough, we made one more stop – to a sheep farm to watch the sheep-herding demonstration with the beautiful border collies. I love border collies. My dog growing up was a blue merle – a dog that looked like a border collie with the markings and colouring of a Sheltie. She was a breed of herding dog. The border collies at the sheep farm looked and acted just like her, and it brought back all the memories of her beautiful spirit.

The farmer demonstrated the various whistles and calls he makes to help the dog herd in the sheep. He was in the process of training up a puppy as well, and the puppy definitely stole the show with his antics. The herding was instinctual – as was his rolling about and hamming it up to the crowds of people watching.

It had been a long day, and I nearly fell asleep on the bus on the way back to Dublin. However, given the chance, I’d definitely spend more time in these places. Glendalough alone should be a day and Kilkenny a few days.

My favourite picture from Glendalough – a raven settled on a cross as I walked through the grounds. With a bit of black & white magic, it looks a bit like a scene from a suspenseful film.

Ireland is a country to enjoy slowly, I feel. Time there isn’t about rushing around. It’s about quality. It’s about savoring, like a long, slow pour of Guinness. It’s nothing that should be rushed, and it needs time to settle on you before enjoying it to its fullest potential.

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