Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Emerald Isle: Crystal and Castles

After a full Irish breakfast at our hotel we set out early for the town of Waterford to visit the Waterford crystal factory. It is a coastal town about 2 hours south of Limerick. It was a beautiful drive through the Irish countryside with ancient rock walls creeping with ivy outlining the fields as far as the eye could see. The fields contained small flocks of sheep or herds of cattle. The trees even created a beautiful tunnel over the road in some spots!
The trees reaching over the roadway.
The sign for Waterford and Carrick-On-Suir, another place I wanted to visit.
Note the signs. ACTUAL signs. We found out these are a rare thing in Ireland :)
A castle ruin that we saw on the way to Waterford
The garmin. There are really not roadsigns in Ireland. Ever. The ones pictured above were a total fluke! This baby was a lifesaver! I think it saved us a lot of fighting about getting lost! So glad we rented one with our car. I want one now :)
When we got to the Waterford crystal factory we were very disappointed to discover that the factory had been closed in January. Apparently it was bought out and the new owners are moving operations overseas to where labor is cheaper. So Waterford crystal won't be made in Ireland anymore:( We were so looking forward to seeing them make the crystal too. I guess we are going to have to go to the Tacoma museum of glass for that. Anyway, the visitors center is still there, so we were able to see some fine examples of Waterford Crystal and browse the shop. They had some beautiful Christmas ornaments. Most of the crystal was traditional clear crystal, but we ended up buying a beautiful blue crystal bowl in a retired pattern.
We had it engraved:
Mike & Sarah
To commemorate our trip. The engraver did it freehand and he did a beautiful job!

The engraving.

A crystal grandfather clock
A crystal mail box
We took these pictures in the lobby, but we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the gallery because they don't want people copying their designs. I wish we could have taken pictures inside though, because the crystal was beautiful!
Next we went to Reginald's Tower in downtown Waterford right across from the water. The tower was really interesting. It was the first line of defense for a medieval town that used to be there. The tower was three stores tall with winding stone steps to the upper floors. I can't imagine carrying cannon balls up to the top during a battle with a ship!
While we were on the street taking pictures an elderly man came up to us and started telling us some of the history of the area. He walked us down the street a little way to the American Bar and told us that this was where people used to buy their tickets for ships heading to America during the potato famine, and that is how it got it's name.
The American Bar
After a quick bite of lunch at a local pub we headed to Carrick-on-Suir and Ormond Castle, built by the Butler family and inhabited by them in 1309. The extensive manor built by Thomas Butler the Earl of Ormond joined the towers and extended the castle on the front, creating a beautiful courtyard between the old and new castles. I loved walking in the courtyard and immagining the people who lived there and the ladies walking the courtyard in their beautiful gowns. Now the older castle in the back of the manor is a ruin with the roof and most of the interior walls long since crumbled. One of the towers is still intact while the other was compramised by a direct hat from a cannon ball when the castle was under attalk. It stood for about 100 years after the attalk before part of the tower and the stairs collapsed. Thomas Butler and his family lived here until they had Kilkenny Castle built and moved in in 1392.
Ormond Castle. The manor built in 1309 is in the front and in the background you can see the remains of the two towers of the origional castle, one intact, and one as a ruin.
The remaining tower
Part of the origional castle.
The remains of the ruined tower. The stairs, all three floors, and one wall are missing.
The remains of the origional castle.
The walled front garden with a cute door.
The Butlers continued to live in Kilkenny Castle for nearly 600 years until the 2nd Duke of Ormond supported a plan to help the exiled King Stuart regain the throne by invading England with Spanish troops. He lost his Earldom and was held for treason. It took nearly a century for royal memory to fade enough for the Butlers to resume their titles.
The back side of Kilkenny Castle.

Front of Kilkenny with a fountain.

Unfortunately the castle was closed when we got there so we didn't get to go inside to take the tour, but we had a great time walking the grounds through the beautiful gardens, terraces, and walks by the river. We stopped at a sweet shop on the way in, so we walked the grounds eating European chocolate bars. The crunchie and wispa candy bars were by far the best in my book! While we were walking around the grounds I spotted some spires on the horizen that looked like they were from Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland. Mike is so cool that he searched the city of Kilkenny for me and found them!
The spires
It turned out to be St. Mary's Cathedral. Beautiful.
The spires
If I lived in Kilkenny I would go to this park across the street from St. Marys all the time. The pictures really don't do it justice. It is so beautiful! It is such a peaceful spot.
Before heading off to Tipperary to see the Rock of Cashel we took a walk through Kilkenny. The storefronts were really charming.

Some beautiful countryside and rock walls on the way to see The Rock of Cashel
Clomantagh Castle, a ruin we passed in the countryside.
The ruin
A cool shot of the ruined castle and graveyard.
There was a tower in the background not very far behind the ruined castle. I wondered who lived there or if it was for defence or something for the castle.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Rock of Cashel, witch was also closed to tours because it was after 5:30 pm. It was an impressive sight driving into Tipperary with Chashel dominating the view with it's turrets, towers and spires situated on top of a great hill. Unfortunately we were not able to see the castle up close because it is surrounded by an ancient rock wall, so it is not accessible after closing. We did take a short drive out of town to get some nice shots of the beautiful castle!
Rock of Cashel
View from afar.

View from the bottom of the hill
Us at the top of the hill where Cashel is with the countryside view in the background. The building you can see is a ruined abby.
The Abby was really pretty especially with the greenery growing on the stones softening all of the edges, but had a very unfortunate name (Hore Abby) I am thinking that must mean something different in Gaelic...
The Abby with beautiful rock walls and countryside.
Us with the castle waaay waaaay in the background.
Mike and the Rock of Cashel
A shot with the castle and the Abby.
The castle
The Abby
The cows that were watching us take all of these pictures of the castle and the Abby.
This guy liked being petted, but I got stinging nettles on my arm while petting him :(
We finally started heading back to Limerick as the sun set and got back to our hotel at around 10pm. We asked at the front desk for directions for a place we had heard about that we couldn't find in the garmin. And got amazingly lost. And finally ended up finding a pub around 10:30pm. I sat down and a nice table and Mike went to the bar to get us some menus. They looked at him as if he was from another planet and said they stopped serving food at 9pm. We found that pretty much every resteraunt in Ireland closes at 9pm. They told us that the only thing we would find open at that hour would be McDonalds and Chinese take out. We opted for Chinese take away and finally got back to our room with our food half starved by 11:30 pm :)

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