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!

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