And yes, we also ate food

It’s a little misleading that I’ve gone on this long without mentioning food, since the subject is pretty much always first in my mind, on vacation or at any other time.

Our very first meal in Ireland was at Govinda’s, a vegetarian Indian minichain with an outlet near where we were staying. The Hare Krishna Muzak drifting over the steam table was disconcerting but the potatoes were abundant.

Thereafter we had a few good restaurant experiences — at the Winding Stair (as R mentioned) in Dublin, Cafe Sol in Kilkenny, Ard Bia in Galway, and especially Out of the Blue in Dingle — but in my opinion our best eating overall consisted of various configurations of CHEESE. Durrus, Gubbeen, Ardrahan, many others enjoyed and their names forgotten. The happily ubiquitous brown bread is a perfect delivery system for these delights (when it’s not busy with large amounts of butter).

In Dublin our room had a wee kitchenette and a tiny table on which to spread things procured from Sheridan’s and Fallon & Byrne, but in Kenmare we had a real kitchen. This meant we could do laundry and spend days wondering whether it would ever dry; it (and the local SuperValu and the bakery and Truffle Pig and the Jam takeaway case) also allowed for happy scenes such as this:

Preparing cheesy meals meant there were dishes to do, but guess what? There really are fairies in Ireland, and they help with the washing up.

Bishops and rooks

We (meaning R.) reluctantly unparked the car on Sunday morning and drove out to Jerpoint Abbey, which I was fixated on visiting based on having seen a picture of some carving or other. I think it might have been this one:

Something about the faint thin-lipped smiles attracted me. The whole place is very picturesque and is also incidentally a populous rookery. The birds seem to like all the little niches.

The cloister looked like it had been recently rototilled.

This reminds me of how much weeding is waiting for me at home. It gives me a stomachache.

From Jerpoint we (again meaning R.) drove on to Kells Priory (a different Kells from Book Of). This I had not seen pictures of, only read about, and I was infatuated the minute I saw it. It’s larger than I expected, really its own little walled town, and for at least 45 minutes there was nobody else around except some sheep.

I was so delighted I drove us back to Kilkenny without once thinking we were going to die. We celebrated not being dead at Tynan’s Bridge House Bar.

Butlers and butlers

Castle fetishism is an aspect of the Irish tourist experience I don’t really understand, but since we were staying a block away from Kilkenny Castle, we figured we might as well pay it a visit. The surrounding park is huge and lovely, even in the rain:

The interior was mostly interesting as a demonstration of the randomness and inconvenience of living in a building that has endured a series of partial and not always improving renovations over the course of centuries. You could see why the Butler descendants were ready to unload the place by the 1930s, ostentatious family portraits and all. I wish photography had been allowed so I could have recorded the basement display of 1980s department-store mannequins dressed in chain mail and vaguely monastic robes and painted-on facial hair.

Even more museologically challenged is the Rothe House, a 17th-century townhouse that has been converted into a repository of Kilkenny-related memorabilia and textbook-style paintings of Scenes from Olden Times. I did enjoy one display about a local gentleman who patented a totally implausible flying machine and induced his butler to attempt the first flight, which of course ended poorly for all concerned. The story had a certain P. G. Wodehouse comic flavor, except for the part where the butler actually has to do what the master tells him. Here’s another sample exhibit (apologies for the shadow):

Artist Rendering?

All in all my favorite Official Kilkenny Tourist Attraction was St. Canice’s Cathedral. From the medieval Office of St. Canice, which we heard very nicely performed by the Schola Hyberniae, I know that Canice was the patron saint of Kilkenny and that he put out a fire somewhere in Italy, and this is the full extent of my expertise. For some reason the musical performance was held not at St. Canice’s but at the Black Abbey, a smaller more active church plastered with Dominican recruiting posters. But back to St. Canice’s:

The place is crowded with monuments to assorted Butlers. This isn’t one of them, but I like her:

I was too cowardly to climb the round tower, and felt justified when a local lady told us a story about how as a girl she went up it with her boyfriend and he feinted at pushing her off but she married him anyway but never went up there again.

So here’s a random picture of Irishtown.

False advertising

We took the bus to the airport and another bus to the rental car lot and then we were off on the Road to Kilkenny, as Bob and Bing would have sung if there had been such a movie. What the journey lacked in Dorothy Lamour it made up in Hopeish quantities of nervous sweat. Thanks to R’s heroic suspension of disbelief at being on the wrong side of the car and the road we arrived damp but intact.

According to the guidebooks Kilkenny is traditionally associated with cats. Apparently “fighting like Kilkenny cats” is a stock phrase (of disputed derivation), and the local hurling team is called the Cats. However, we saw no actual cats in Kilkenny. (Also no hurling, although judging by the some of the stumbling youth on the streets on Saturday night, I suspect some hurling did take place nearby.) I had to settle for representations, such as these on the door of St. Canice’s Cathedral:

Come to think of it, it makes sense that there were no live cats around, since the cats of legend “fought and they fit,” like Itchy and Scratchy, until there was nothing left of them except some scattered claws and tufts of tail. And the lack of felines does create an opening for lots of birds. We greatly enjoyed a particular blackbird that sang on the chimney outside our room on a rainy evening. I attempted a video; the camera is as unsteady as a Kilkenny pubgoer on a Saturday night, but R wanted me to post it anyway. You might want to close your eyes.