Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kyla and Kevin and Kilkenny

About a week or so ago, I was fortunate to have my arrival in Ireland coincide with Kyla's family vacation to Ireland. They were kind enough to include me on some of their touristing, including a day trip to Glendalough and Kilkenny. Glendalough is a valley in County Wicklow housing the ruins of a 6th century monastery (the English sacked the place in 1398). The monastery was founded by Saint Kevin - if you remember from the Kono Kastle in St. Kevin's post, Kevin happens to be the patron saint of my apartment. How thrilling!

The first building you notice when pulling into Glendalough is the Round Tower. Back in the day, villages and monasteries often had towers like these. There's no door or entrance until you're about 10 or 12 feet up. Inside there are 6 stories, separated by ladders. The idea was that when the Vikings showed up to invade, the whole village would crowd into the towers as high as they could go and pull up the ladders, hiding there until the Vikings were done pillaging and left. I guess the Vikings never thought to pack their own ladders - or they just didn't care much.

View of the Round Tower on the Approach
The Tower, as well as all of the ruins on the site, are surrounded by an expansive graveyard. The graveyard is still in use by families from the surrounding towns, so visitors can see graves dating from 600 to 2012. Some of the family plots have uninterrupted lines going back centuries.

Tower with graves, old and new.
A few yards from the Tower is the cathedral, the largest building on the site.

Cathedral from the Outside

Cathedral from the Inside
Just behind the cathedral is a building known as the Priest's House. It was probably a tomb shrine, at one point housing the relics of St. Kevin.
Priest's House

Down a slope from the Priest's House and the Cathedral, and nestled right next to a stream in the cleft of the valley, is a building called St. Kevin's Church, but more commonly known as St. Kevin's Kitchen (because apparently the tower looks like a chimney).

St. Kevin's Church/Kitchen
Saint Kevin originally chose the site because it was at the confluence of two rivers, just downstream from two gorgeous glacial lakes were he would go to meditate. I only had time to hike up to the lower lake (about 3 kilometers away - the other one was 4 or 5, and we were only able to stop for about an hour and a half). The visitors center built a boardwalk trail, and it was just me and sheep who decided to make the trek. I guess most tourists don't have the time.

Boardwalk to the Lakes

Sheep and the lower lake draining into the river that leads to the monastery
Our next stop was the Brownshill Dolmen in County Carlow. A dolmen is a megalithic tomb. These can be found all over Europe, as well as Asia and some of the Middle East. The one in Brownshill is the largest in Europe, with a capstone that weighs 150 tons. It was built somewhere between 4000 and 3000 BC. Now it sits in the middle of a field - it looks like a farmer just works around it. Though it's designated as a National Monument, there are no facilities beyond a footpath around the farmer's crops and a small plaque. No one knows how that massive stone got to the middle of the field. Its "stone DNA" - or whatever the correct term is, I didn't take a picture of the plaque, sorry geologists - matches that of the granite in some rather far away hills, and there are no other large rocks about to suggest glacial movement. But, even if it was just sitting there all along, no one knows how anyone managed to get 150 tons propped up like that. Cue mystical druid theories.

Dolmen all on it's lonesome in the field
The field in the photo above was fully plowed, but I might do a post later on the the number of fields that cannot be harvested this year. Ireland has gotten so much rain this summer, that the fields are too wet to support the weight of the machines that do the reaping. I would make a grass is always greener joke at the poor US midwest, but that would probably be awfully poor taste.

Dolmen up close, people for scale
Then it was off to our final stop of the day: Kilkenny. First we stopped for lunch, where obviously I had a Kilkenny in Kilkenny. Delightful. Then we hit the main event in town - Kilkenny Castle. It was built in 1195 for the Earls of Pembroke and was used as a defense fort until the Butler family bought it in 1391. The Butler family (Earls, Marquesses and Dukes of Ormonde) lived there until the Irish Civil War when they were somewhat forcefully moved to more humble housing across the street. Unfortunately, a bunch of unpleasantries happened to the interior during that move, and then the castle sat abandoned until the city of Kilkenny bought it from the Butlers in 1967 for £50 (bargain! Although, I guess it was one of those as-is deals, a real fixer-upper). It's since been restored and decked out in Victorian furniture. Almost everything inside was replicated based on photos, personal remembrances, and other evidence. Most fascinating to me, the Butler family managed to produce a receipt for the original carpets from the 1790s. The carpet company - which is still in existance! - then used their records to match the receipt, and recreate the exact carpets which were installed before the castle fell into disrepair. Some people are really, really good at balancing their checkbooks. The Butlers must be ace at doing their taxes.

Kilkenny Castle from the Courtyard

Kilkenny Castle from the Front
I didn't take any pictures of them that I liked, but know that the castle grounds are extensive, well manicured, gorgeous, and could suck away several hours.

Throughout the day we drove through the Wicklow Mountains. You can see in the photo below that they're mostly quite bare, but if you look on the right you can see some of the new forest that's being built. These hills used to be all forest, but the originals were cut down years and years ago. I've heard that the trees in these parts were used mostly to create beer barrels, but I haven't had a chance to research the veracity of that yet. What's important though, is that there is a real active, and visible, effort to reforest the area, starting with high-erosion-risk hillside areas and working throughout the hills.

I'm so glad Kyla's family let me tag along on some of their vacation. If you're ever in town (or really, anywhere in Ireland - you can drive the long way across the darn thing in 3 hours), do get in touch, and I will happily be a barnacle to your vacation too!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Kono Kastle

I sent some housing possibilities out to a few of you two weeks ago soliciting advice, but turns out I didn’t go with any of those (more tricks!). I did not send out photos/info on the one I ended up in, because I didn’t think I would get it – as there were several people interested and my bid was 140 euro/month less than the posted price. BUT, I did get it, and that’s where I am now.

First let’s look at my adorable neighborhood. I live in Portobello. The neighborhood originally housed lower to middle class workers, and then became home to artists and politicians. In the early 1900s the neighborhood turned again, and became the center of the Jewish community in Ireland, after so many refugees settled there (I live 2 blocks from the Irish Jewish Museum). The 6th president of Israel grew up 2 doors down. A nice holdover from this time is the Bretzel Bakery – a Kosher bakery – about 3 blocks from my house. Many of the Jewish residents emigrated to the States during and after WWII.

Most importantly, I’ve moved from Shaw, DC to just around the corner from the birthplace of George Bernard Shaw – which all just feels full circle and nice. Other famous former neighborhood residents include Jack B. Yeats, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, William Mulholland (of Mulholland Drive), James Joyce’s parents (in childhood, and in marriage pre-James), and of course, the fictional Leopold Bloom.

AND – my house sits on one of the sites where Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite! once took place!

Here is a typical house on my street, replete with greenery and adorable old car:

The ones that don’t have front yards look like this:

And the cute little cottages look like this:

Here are all the styles in one photo:

I live near the Grand Canal, which is a nice place to sit with a book. It’s also very multimodal: there is a pedestrian-only path along the canal, and then a separated bike lane, and then the car lane. All of these are separated by curbs or trees. Also, as it’s a canal and I see operable locks, I assume my multimodal list could potentially include boats – but I haven’t seen one of those yet.
I don’t know what the submerged cone is cautioning against.

To the main event! I’ve mentioned that I live in a castle, and that’s certainly what it feels like. However, in all honesty, it is a renovated church. St. Kevin’s Church, to be exact. According to the plaque in the lobby (which is the middle of the nave of the church), it was built in the 1800s courtesy of a bequest from Miss Jane Shannon of Rathmines (the next neighborhood south). In the 1990s it was renovated into apartments courtesy of some rich person who lives in the Dublin area (supposition – I have no idea, really, aside from the mid-90s bit).

Anyway, St. Kevins/Kono Kastle looks like this on the outside:
In real life, the steeple is not bendy. I just couldn’t get far enough away to get it all in one shot (the house across the street was very much in my way) so I stitched two together. Also, you can’t see my window in this shot – I live on the other side of the building in the clerestory above the chancel. But, on that side there is a house, and a bike parking lot, and trees, and all this stuff that makes for bad church photography, but for nice things to look at out my window.

Anyway, you go in that side door that says St. Kevin’s and up the stairs. I’m on the 2nd (US) or 1st (EU) floor, depending on your nationality.

To complete the castle theme, my key looks like this:
The other keys open up the building and the bike parking lot. (Yes, protected bike parking. What a civilized country!).

You walk in to a little hallway and pass a bathroom to your right. No photos because it’s not exciting. Straight ahead is the living room. You’ll notice I’ve already got my colors hung, and a basil plant – so I’m basically nested.

If you walk towards that glorious window and turn around, you’ll see my kitchen, framed by fun church/castle archway:

Also featured in that photo is the ugly cardboard box. Inside the ugly cardboard box is the previous tenant’s full guitar hero set. Includes a guitar, a drum set, and the CD. Since I don’t have a TV, or a playstation (or whatever it runs on), I haven’t decided what to do with it.

Turning right, around the big couch, is the entrance to my bedroom. The bedroom has a sloping exposed beam roof with a skylight. The skylight can be opened, which is quite nice. It’s east facing, so I suspect I’ll be grateful for that come winter when the sun is rising as I do, but during these freakishly long summer days (I am so much further north that I realized – the sun sets at 10:30!), I’m going to have to figure out some sort of skylight curtain.

Here’s another angle where I squeezed into the corner in an attempt to show both the skylight and the church/castle arches:
And here’s the view from the bed back towards the living/dining room:

Absolutely the best part of the apartment, and the part that makes it most castley, are the windows. Here they are in all their glory.

Don’t mind the rain you’re seeing through those panes. It is Dublin after all. I took all the photos in this post on the same day. You’ll notice that when I was walking around outside there was nary a cloud to be seen, however, the second I entered the apartment there was a massive drenching downpour. The weather here is fickle.

So, now you’ve seen my place! Kono Kastle is open to visitors at any time. Please come! Also, keep checking back for future posts. I’ll likely be posting about Dublin, struggles with Irish bureaucracy, biking, my obscenely small shower, Trinity, where to get the best Guinness, the trials and tribulations of getting internet access, eating local, the hoards of Italians in Dublin, and my old-man pub friends next.

I’ll be sending out the email with my change of address soon. Let me know if you want to make sure you’re on that list.