Tuesday, June 27, 2023

On to Kilkenny

 (Day six second half recap of my late April Ireland trip.)

After a most excellent morning, touring of the Rock of Cashel (if you missed my post, catch it here) it was time to get on the road once again. We had a visit to Kilkenny Castle scheduled for later that afternoon, and our guide Pascal was all about keeping us on time.

One of the things I wanted to see while in Ireland was a proper medieval castle.  So you can image my excitement when I saw Kilkenny Castle on the day's agenda.

Beautiful flowers outside a stone cottage

It was about an hour's drive between Cashel and Kilkenny.  Our bus sped through more fertile, green countryside.  We were traveling through the famous Plains of Tipperary, one of the best places to grow crops in all of Ireland.  Not only crops, we passed pastures full of sheep and black and white cows, who looked very content.  But Tipperary was most famous for horse breeding, producing many championship thoroughbreds.  

Kilkenny Castle entrance

As we traveled, Pascal provided more of his enjoyable Irish stories.  This time he spoke about daily life in Ireland.  Pascal said that in Ireland everyone who owns a TV set is taxed a set amount every year.  This tax is the mechanism that funds the two national television networks.  He also mentioned that if one owns a dog, you pay a yearly licensing fee.  He then told the story of being stopped by the local "Garda" (Irish police) one day.  His son was sitting in the back seat of his car with their dog.  The Garda peeked inside the car, and upon seeing the dog asked "Does your dog have a license?"  His son immediately responded: "Yes, but he's not the one who's driving!"  (Don't you just love Irish humor?)

Excited to tour a castle!

Entertained by Pascal's excellent storytelling, the miles passed quickly and in no time at all we were driving into Kilkenny.  A larger town than either Dingle or Ennis, it was interesting to watch the countryside transform into city buildings.  Upon reaching our hotel, we had just enough time to get our room keys and drop our bags before returning to the bus for the short transport to nearby Kilkenny Castle.

Each room was elaborately decorated

The streets of Kilkenny were narrow and filled with traffic.  Our driver did an amazing job of navigating our large bus through all the chaos.  We got our first glimpse of the famous castle as we drove over a bridge spanning the River Nore.  I could see the castle, river, and two brilliant pink blooming cherry trees lining its banks.  Such a lovely scene, I made a mental note to return here after our tour to get some photographs.

Even the staircases were embellished

Kilkenny Castle was enormous.  It took up several city blocks.  We all disembarked from the bus and gathered underneath the large gate leading to the castle grounds.  Pascal led us to the tour entrance.  There a very grumpy lady told him that backpacks (or any large bags) were not allowed inside the castle.  This was news to Pascal - had he known in advance he could've told us to leave our bags at the hotel.  But rules are rules and that lady wasn't budging.  The castle provided lockers for visitors to secure their bags and the lady told us we had to use them.  None of us were real thrilled about leaving our stuff in the lockers, but we all wanted to see the castle, so in the end that's what we all did.

This room had two huge tapestries

Built in 1260 to control a fording point on the River Nore and the junction of several routes, Kilkenny Castle was a symbol of Norman occupation.  The castle became the seat of a very powerful family, the Butlers of Ormonde.  This family controlled Kilkenny Castle until the 18th century, when family fortunes took a downturn and the castle fell into disrepair.  In the 19th century, the Butler family attempted to restore the structure.  The castle withstood the Irish civil war in the 1920s, but it was abandoned again soon after.  Finally in 1967, Lord Ormonde sold Kilkenny Castle to the Castle Restoration Committee for a ceremonial 50 pounds.  He wished to have the castle preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Old piano

Our self-guided tour began on the castle's first floor.  Inside, we found the rooms elaborately decorated.  The restoration committee tried to use period furniture and decor.  The first room Kim and I walked into was a dining room.  It had red drapes, red patterned carpet, and stained glass windows.  Glass chandeliers were suspended from the ceiling.  Large portraits hung on the walls.

View of the garden out an upper-story window

One room had two large tapestries hanging on opposite walls.  It was quite remarkable to think about how much hand work had gone into the creation of just one of these unique works of art.

Kilkenny skyline from an upper story window

Looking out the window in one room, I was treated to a most excellent view of the meticulously landscaped garden.  A large fountain was centered in the middle.  Above the garden, Kilkenny's skyline rose above the trees, spires of two gothic cathedrals the most prominent buildings. 

Interesting window decor

Even the stairwells were decorated!  Several of them had large portraits hanging on the walls, and intricately patterned carpets on the steps.

Loved this staircase

The rooms all had different themes.  Some were bedrooms, others sitting rooms, (one had an old piano lovingly restored) one appeared to be a nursery.  After walking through several of these rooms, they all began to look the same. 

The final room of our tour was full of artwork

The final room was a huge hall full of art.  Portraits and tapestries hung from the walls.  A few sculptures were prominently placed.

Even the ceiling was a work of art

The wooden roof was a work of art in itself.  The intricate designs on each beam were hand painted.  Gilded animal and bird heads decorated the cross beams.

The paintings were amazing

I'm always amazed by the skill of painters from centuries ago.  The portraits in this gallery room looked so life-like.  It's hard to imagine a world where photographs didn't yet exist, but for people in the 18th century, these painters were their photographers.

Outside view of the castle

The castle's interior was interesting enough, but all through the tour I was itching to get outside and take photos of the exterior.  Finally after checking out the paintings in the gallery room, the halls led back to the lockers where Kim and I were able to retrieve our bags.

Another view of the outer castle

We stepped outside into the high overcast light.  Although the day was cloudy, thankfully it was dry.  

Cell phone panorama

I immediately went to work trying to capture the castle from all angles.  It was so large, I couldn't fit the entire thing in my camera's frame.  Instead, I had to enlist the wide-angle feature on my phone.

Walking around the castle

Kim and I wandered around the grounds.  Beyond the "front" portion was a huge grassy field with paths leading into a wooded park.  A group of teen aged boys had gathered, and it appeared they were about to play some sort of sporting match.

Nice view of the River Nore 

We followed a paved path around one side of the castle.  At one point the trees opened up for nice views of Kilkenny and the River Nore below.

The garden side of Kilkenny Castle

The portion of the castle that faced the garden was impressive.  A elaborate tiered staircase led visitors up to the front door.

Can't quite fit it all in the frame!

This side of Kilkenny Castle was anchored by two large, round towers.  They looked like something straight out of a fairy tale.

Another pano-view of the castle

Again, the castle was so amazing, I took way too many photos.  Here's another photo dump for your enjoyment.

Quite the staircase!

Front entrance view inside

One of three surviving towers

We couldn't stop taking pictures

This stone carving is missing his nose

All through the tour I couldn't stop thinking about the beautiful view of the River Nore and the blooming trees that I'd seen from the roadway bridge on the way to the castle.  Once Kim and I had explored everything on Kilkenny Castle's exterior, I suggested we walk over to check it out.

Castle view from the roadway bridge

Luckily, the place was easy to find.  Just a few short blocks from the castle down a main roadway took us to the bridge and magnificent view.  

Wonderful view of the castle from River Nore

And it was lovely!  Not only the river, castle, and blooming trees, a restaurant on the opposite shore had two bright red canoes tied up outside its outdoor seating area.  A scene worthy of a painting!

Kilkenny Castle close-up

The path looked to follow the river downstream past the roadway bridge.  With some time to kill before dinner, Kim suggested we take a short walk.

This young man wanted me to take his picture - so I did

A green park paralleled the river on one side.  As we strolled by I noticed a group of boys and young men gathered around a picnic table.  The youngest boy, seeing my camera, began shouting "Hey, take a picture of me, love!"  He was so cute I couldn't resist.  After snapping a shot, the boy rushed over to have a look at himself on the back of my camera screen.

Colorful buildings along the River Nore

Kim and I walked a few blocks to a pedestrian bridge spanning the river.  We sauntered across, stopping to capture the amazing views from this vantage point.  Several brightly-colored buildings stood on the river's opposite side.  

Auto bridge and castle

And directly across the water was the vehicle bridge, castle, and blooming trees.  Another stunning view!  I was glad Kim had suggested coming over here.

Local pub

We closed the walking loop by crossing the pedestrian bridge and walking by the buildings on the other side of the river.  One was a local pub.

Loved this bright red door

Another sported a bright red door upon which was painted an advertisement for Smithwick's Irish Ale.  Yes, there are other beers in Ireland besides Guinness! 

Kilkenny was a charming town

Kilkenny was such an adorable town.  It too had its own business districts of brightly-colored buildings, cobblestone sidewalks, and narrow streets.

Lots of little alleys to duck down

Kilkenny also had lots of tiny alleys.  They were fun to duck down - you never knew what kind of charming business you would find!

Kilkenny street scene

There was something a bit medieval about this cute little berg.  I wish we could've stayed here another day, there appeared to be lots to see and do!

Dinner was amazing - I had roast duckling

But our time for exploring was short.  Kim and I were due to join our fellow tour-mates for another group dinner.  Tonight's gathering was at a local restaurant named Langdon's.  Of all the places we ate while in Ireland, I think Langdon's was my most favorite.  It was a very fancy restaurant and the food and service were top-notch.

Dessert was also delicious

We were given three choices for dinner.  I really wanted to try new food while in Ireland, so I chose "roast duckling," the most unusual of the three.  When my meal arrived, I tried to block the image of a cute little duck out of my mind.  It didn't take long - the entrée was absolutely delicious!  I finished the meal with a mixed berry cobbler, complete with real cream on top.  Yummy!

I'm not usually the type of person who takes photos of their food.  But while in Ireland some of the main courses were prepared so beautifully (and I wanted to remember what I ate) that Kim and I began the practice of snapping phone pics before digging in.

Finished the evening listening to live music in a nearby pub

It had been another long, action-packed day.  After dinner Kim and I really wanted to go back to our hotel room and chill.  But Pascal mentioned that one of the nearby pubs had a great local band playing Irish music and he encouraged us all to check it out.  I was nursing a bit of FOMO after missing out on the Irish dancing in Dingle.  So I convinced Kim that we really ought to go for a little while.  

Kim enjoying the music

Nothing starts early in Ireland.  Pascal said the band wouldn't begin playing until around 9:00.  Timing our arrival for then, Kim and I were surprised when we stepped into the pub and the band was already in full-on music mode.  The place was absolutely packed.  Noticing several of our tour-mates gathered around two tables, we made our way over to where they were seated.  At first we had to stand, but slowly people left and before long both of us had found places to sit.

The band was a lot of fun

The band was great!  They consisted of a guitar, fiddle, and flute.  The lead singer had a good voice, and lots of that all-important Irish humor.  Pascal told us that the musical acts in the Kilkenny area encourage pub patrons to sing along to their songs.  These guys definitely loved it when the audience interacted.  At one point, the lead singer asked everyone in the pub to shout out where they were from.  Nearly everyone in the bar was from the US, causing him to ask: "Is anyone left in your country?"  One couple was from West Virginia so the band broke into a rousing chorus of Country Roads and asked us all to sing alongKind of funny to be in an Irish bar singing John Denver tunes!

The flute player was good, but boy was he loud!  The guy definitely didn't need his microphone.  I could this was bothering Kim, so I promised her "one more song and then we'll leave."  The song ended and several of us got up to go, when the band launched into a chorus of The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel.  Well of course we had to stay for that!

Bidding "goodnight" to the musical pub

It was nearly 11 pm by the time we finally got back to our hotel.  Kim and I were both plumb tuckered out.  Tomorrow we'd pack up and be off to our final destination, the busting metropolis of Dublin.

Stick around for day seven recaps in my next posts!

Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Rock of Cashel

 (Day six recap of my late April Ireland trip.)

Day 6 - time to leave the awesome village of Dingle and head back into Ireland's interior.  I awoke that morning to cloudy skies.  We'd been spoiled by all the nice weather thus far, so it was kind of a shock at first.  But then I remembered, this is Ireland after all.  At least it wasn't raining - yet!

Scenery on the Dingle Peninsula

We bid this colorful seaside town a fond farewell as our bus retraced its route back through the mountains of the Dingle Peninsula.  Low clouds hung over the hills, making more fantastic scenery for me to try and capture out a moving bus window.

South Pole Inn in Annascaul

Passing through the village of Annascaul, our guide Pascal pointed out the South Pole Inn.  The pub was a creation of legendary Antarctic explorer Tom Crean.  Hailing from this tiny town, Crean was a member of three Antarctic expeditions, including Robert Falcon Scott's failed Terra Nova Expedition to the South Pole and Ernest Shackelton's voyage on the Endurance, which sank in pack ice, forcing the crew to suffer 492 days stranded before some of the crew (including Crean) formed a small rescue party to South Georgia Island.

Fairy Fort

Pascal was such a wealth of local information.  As we drove through the countryside, he pointed out a "fairy fort" in an adjacent field.  Pascal explained that fairy forts are thought to be the foundations of ancient structures and are found throughout Ireland.  These "forts" typically appear as raised circular shapes in the land indented by low bushes or trees.  Irish folklore passed down through the ages has kept alive the belief that fairy forts are places where all sorts of mysterious happenings take place.  Fairies, leprechauns, and spirits from the “other world” are said to reside in these forts.  

If someone is foolish enough to disturb a fairy fort, legend is the fairies will seek revenge upon the perpetrator.  Many people are said to have died mysteriously after having bulldozed the places into the ground, others are said to have encountered years of bad luck.  These forts have the power to stop roadwork, keep people from building houses, and from partaking in a whole host of other activities.

More lovely countryside

One benefit of having these myths spread about fairy forts is that farmers are reluctant to destroy the structures for fear of being on the receiving end of the fairy’s wrath. And with the belief alive and well in modern Ireland this results in a huge amount of archaeology being preserved that would otherwise have been destroyed.

Pascal ended his talk with my favorite of his witticisms about the Irish people: "We're not superstitious - we're just not taking any chances."

Sheep pastures

Traveling through the Dingle Peninsula's lush pastures full of grazing sheep, someone on the bus noted all the sheep had paint spots on their backs.  The spots ranged in color, most commonly red or blue.  Inquiring of Pascal what the sheep colors indicated, he deadpanned: "The red ones are for red sweaters and the blue ones make blue sweaters."  After everyone had a good laugh, he explained that many farmers put their sheep together on the same pastures, and the color indicates ownership.  Each farmer uses a unique color for their flock - kind of like cattle brands in the American west.

Approaching the Tralee Bay side of the Peninsula

Our tour had another full schedule for the day.  After driving over the Dingle Peninsula our path pointed towards the island's interior.  The first planned stop was at the charming village of Adare.  Known for its large number of preserved thatch roof cottages, this berg had the reputation as one of Ireland's prettiest places.

Trinitarian Abbey

Pulling into Adare's large visitor center parking area, Pascal said in order to keep on schedule, we had only 45 minutes to explore the town.  So off the bus our tour group rushed - straight to the restrooms (after two hours we all had to go!)  Unfortunately a bus full of teenagers had just unloaded a few minutes before us and the ladies room line was astronomically long.  All of us joked we'd spend the entire 45 minute allotment standing in the bathroom line.

A very beautiful church

Luckily the restroom attendant saw the long line and took pity on us ladies.  She opened up the handicap restroom and said we could use it, which sped up things significantly.  Five minutes later, now with empty bladders, Kim and I set out for a very quick tour of Adare.

I just loved the red doors!

Just outside the visitor center, we noticed a huge church.  Called the Trinitarian Abbey, this lovely gray stone building looked to be well taken care of.  The grounds were immaculately landscaped.  But my favorite part of this grand cathedral was its bright red doors.  A nice pop of color in an otherwise somber exterior.

The famous thatched roof buildings of Adare

The thatched cottages were located across the street from the Trinitarian Abbey.  There were about a dozen cute bungalows in a three-block stretch of the main street.  The buildings were trimmed with bright hues and colorful flowers filled their front yards.  With rounded thatched roofs, these little houses looked like something straight out of a fairy tale.

Thatched roof close-up

The idea for Adare's beauty makeover came from a rich Anglo lord, the 3rd Earl of Dunraven, in the 1820s and 30s.  He wanted to create "the perfect rustic village," and won the locals goodwill by restoring many of the villagers homes.  The Earl also restored many of the town's historic sights, including two 13th-century abbeys, a 15th-century friary, and the keep of a 13th-century castle.

A cute little restaurant

Once common in Ireland, thatched roofs have steadily declined through the years.  High maintenance costs and lack of skilled craftspeople to do the work are the main reasons.  The thatch, commonly made from what and flax, must be carefully cut and threaded.  It takes as many as 5,000 handfuls of straw to complete a roof.  Thatchers use traditional craft skills, materials and tools to replace and repair thatched roofs. It can take up to five years to learn the skills and be considered a qualified thatcher. Some thatchers also grow and harvest their own thatching materials.

Loved all the beautiful flowers blooming

I enjoyed our quick walk up Adare's main street, admiring the lovely cottages.  These cute buildings with colorfully landscaped yards were a photographer's paradise.  It appeared that the thatched cottages housed businesses; charming boutiques, restaurants and one was a coffee shop.  I wasn't sure if any were actual residences, although a couple looked like they could be.

Flowers growing out of a rock wall

Kim and I each grabbed lattes at a nearby coffee shop and then, realizing we were running out of time, rushed back to where the bus was parked.  It was then we remembered George didn't allow any food or drink, except water, on his brand new bus.  So we had to chug our hot lattes before boarding.  

Fairy tale houses

Even though it had been a whirlwind tour, I'm glad we stopped to visit charming Adare.  Such a cute village!  It was a good break as now we had another hour of travel to reach our next destination - the Rock of Cashel.

Selfie with the red doored church!

As our bus sped down the motorway, we passed by occasional ruins.  Most of them were just sitting out in the middle of a field.  Pascal said that laws forbid farmers from tearing down these ancient structures.  However, the farmers aren't given funds to preserve them either, so these pieces of history are left to rot.  I really wish we could've stopped at a few - they all looked to be great photo subjects.  But our tour had a schedule to keep, so I had to be content with catching an occasional photo from the bus window.

Ancient ruin photographed out the bus window

As we approached the town of Cashel, everyone noticed large fields of a bright yellow crop.  The farmers were growing canola, or "rapeseed" as it's known in Ireland.  The rapeseed fields were a stunning contrast to the otherwise green landscape.

Canola (rapeseed) field

Finally we arrived in Cashel.  Winding through the local streets, I caught a glimpse of the famous monastery ruins situated upon the highest point in town.  Arriving in the parking lot, the round stone tower and cathedral walls rose prominently from the hilltop.

First glimpse of the Rock of Cashel

Perched on a limestone outcrop, the Rock of Cashel has one of the most impressive collections of medieval buildings in Ireland.  This rock existed first as a fortress and then became an important religious site for centuries.  It's said that this is where St. Patrick baptized King Aengus in about AD 450, bringing Christianity to Ireland.

Visitors had to walk up a long, steep road

According to local legends the Rock of Cashel originated from the Devil's Bit, a mountain 20 miles north.  Satan had holed up in this mountain and St. Patrick came to expel him.  A huge battle erupted between the two, and the devil finally escaped by blowing a huge hole in the mountain.  As the story goes, a piece of the mountain that was blown away landed on the present day site of Cashel.

Pretty countryside views from the top

After exiting our bus and navigating yet another crowded ladies room, my tour-mates and I started up the steep road leading to the monastery buildings.  The higher I climbed, the better the views of the surrounding countryside became.  (A few scenery shots may have been taken!)

Site map from Rick Steves guidebook

To give you an idea of the layout of the place, I've included a site map straight from the pages of my Rick Steves guidebook.

Oh, the ruins were impressive!

My first view of the ruins did not disappoint.  Oh my were they impressive!  The buildings consisted of a round tower, huge stone cathedral, chapel building, and smaller Vicar Hall.  Towering high above the ground, the crumbling cathedral was an amazing sight.  Functioning as a religious site and monastery between 1100 and 1700 AD these structures had stood for centuries.  One of the things I'd hoped to see while in Ireland were ancient buildings like these.  Back in the US, we don't really have any structures that are centuries old (except for maybe prehistoric Native American dwellings in the southwest.)

Close up of the monastery walls

While waiting for our tour to begin, I ran around the immediate area like a madwoman furiously snapping photos of everything.  So many interesting sights to distract me - I felt like a dog surrounded by a dozen squirrels!

Many people were buried on the grounds

Below the cathedral was the Vicar's Hall, a small building that had housed the vicars when this area was a monastery.  The youngest building on the hill, it was built in the early 1400s.  We began our tour in here, admiring the rebuilt wooden roof and intricate tapestry that hung on one wall.  (I took photos in here but the light was so terrible they weren't very good.)  After viewing a short movie in the adjacent room, we were led back out onto the grounds.

I can't believe these walls have stood for centuries

The lawn between the Vicar's Hall and the main cathedral was almost entirely covered with gravestones.  Tall Celtic crosses rose from many of the monuments.  I tried to snap as many images as I could as our tour walked by.

The cemetery was full of Celtic crosses

Our guide stopped by a very worn-down stone monolith.  This was a replica of St. Patrick's cross.  The original, carved in the 12th century to celebrate the handing over of the Rock of Cashel to the Church 650 years after St. Patrick's visit, currently resided in the Vicar's Hall.  

Replica of St. Patrick's cross

This particular cross is unique because of its Latin design, using a vertical beam on each side of the shaft to support the arms of the cross (although over time one side has crumbled away).  Most crosses in Ireland are Celtic, featuring a circular rim where the two members come together, both to support the horizontal arms and symbolize the sun.

A large chunk of masonry that fell from the cathedral

After learning all about St. Patrick's cross, our guide led us across the lawn and into the Cathedral building itself.  Near the doorway lay a huge chunk of masonry wall debris.  In 1848 a massive storm, known as the "Night of the Big Wind" in Irish lore blew this large block of stone from the ruin's walls.  That must have made quite a crash!

Time to go inside!

Speaking of wind, it was windy and cold outside, so I was more than ready for some shelter inside the Cathedral's walls.

Even without a roof, the place was impressive

The Cathedral's interior was incredible.  Although lacking a roof (the original wooden roof had rotted away long ago) the carved archways and stone columns were simply breathtaking.  The walls soared high into the sky, far over our heads.  This grand structure was built in the 12th century, without any modern construction tools or methods.  How did they do it?

High arched ceiling

The stone walls, covered with dirt and moss from the ages, were still quite impressive.  I tried to imagine how majestic this cathedral must've looked when it was new.

Views were amazing!

To think this place was built nearly 10 centuries ago and it is still (mostly) standing!  The stone walls were obviously deemed safe enough for thousands of people to visit each year.

Original 13th-century arches

Enjoy my photo dump from the Cathedral's interior.

I couldn't stop taking photographs

Viewing a fresco that is being restored

In one wing of the Cathedral was a wooden structure against a wall.  This little wooden box protected a 15th-century fresco that was discovered during a recent renovation.  Apparently there are several frescos in the adjacent Cormac's Chapel (which we weren't able to tour).  All the frescos were whitewashed over during the Reformation, when England was trying to convert all the Catholics in Ireland to the Church of England.

The fresco emerging from underneath layers of whitewash

This fresco is being painstakingly restored, hopefully someday to its original grandeur.  

Our group listening to the guide

We exited out a door on the opposite side, and came out near the tall round tower that rose over the ruined buildings.

Many rock carvings have survived

The round stone tower was the oldest structure built on the site that is still standing today.  Constructed in 1100, it rose to a height of 92 feet.  (Again - how in the world did they build this?)  

Graveyard near the tower

Round towers at monasteries are unique to Ireland.  The common belief is these towers were intended as places to hide during invasions.  However, the primary uses were as bell towers and lookout posts.  

Lots of crosses out here

The doorways for these towers were built higher up, not only for security but also because having an open space at ground level would have weakened the foundation of this top-heavy structure.  Although the tower's walls are 3-feet thick, its foundation is only five feet below the present ground level.  Considering the tower's age, the fact that it is still standing after storms and years of decay is mighty impressive!

Remains of O'Scully's Cross

The cemetery between the Cathedral and Vicar's Hall extended around to the opposite side.  There were even more tombstones and intricate Celtic crosses here.  The largest of these crosses was known as O'Scully's Cross.  It was erected in 1860 to sit atop the O'Scully family crypt.  This elaborately carved Irish cross was sadly destroyed in 1976 when a lightning bolt hit the metal rod that ran the length of the cross.  Now only the ruined top 20 feet remain. 

Looking out to the beautiful countryside

The graveyard was so picturesque!  The weathered, moss-covered tombstones and crosses were interesting photo subjects.  And the sweeping green fields of the Plain of Tipperary stretched in every direction, making the perfect backdrop.  Sadly, the place was swarming with people, so getting photographs was a challenge.

Graves right up to the cathedral walls

The Rock of Cashel is a wildly popular destination for visitors to Ireland.  I'm told the place is continually busy from open to close.  There had to be at least four other tours walking through the graveyard at the same time as our group.

Large Celtic cross

Still with a bit of patience, I was able to wait for the crowd to clear in a few places and did manage to get a couple quick people-less snaps.  (And where I couldn't I was able to do a bit of "creative cropping" on some of these images.) 

Hard to get the tower and cathedral in the same frame

Our guide had a wireless mic and everyone in our group wore a tiny headphone, so we didn't miss any of the commentary.  But this system had a very small range, and sometimes if I lingered too long behind the group for a photo op, the guide's voice would start fading.  Losing the audio was my signal to get moving!

Round tower, the oldest surviving building

Sprinting to catch up with the group, I rounded the last corner of the chapel.  Here were many more graves.  We paused beside the walls of Cormac's Chapel.  Constructed before the main Cathedral, King Cormac McCarthy had this fine stone structure built in 1134.  Composed of tan sandstone, this chapel stands out against the Cathedral's crumbling gray stone walls.

Cormac's Chapel, built of tan sandstone

Visiting this chapel's interior required separate tickets.  Evidentially our Rick Steves tour didn't include this add-on, because we didn't get to go inside. 

Cormac's Chapel

No matter, Cormac's Chapel was impressive from the outside.  It was built in a "Romanesque" style, after churches in Germany of that period.  It had thick walls, few windows, and two large, square towers.

Large Celtic cross with carvings

In front of Cormac's chapel sat a large Celtic cross.  In the 1100 and 1200's, many of the population was illiterate.  In order to teach these people the word of God, images depicting Bible stories would be elaborately carved into Celtic crosses.

The cross carvings taught Christianity to the illiterate

I was setting up to photograph this beautiful Celtic cross quickly before anyone walked in my shot.  I clicked away, capturing several people-free images.  Thinking I'd gotten lucky, I then looked up and noticed a large group of people standing a few feet away, patiently waiting for me to finish.  

One final view of these amazing ancient ruins

I had a very short hour to experience this fascinating collection of Medieval buildings.  It wasn't nearly enough time!  Our tour now over, I bid this hilltop a wistful goodbye.  Kim and I both agreed we'd definitely have to come back here again.  (Our list of things to revisit in Ireland was already growing long.)

A happy traveler

It was time for lunch, and then on to Kilkenny, our day's final destination.  For my next post, I'll cover my experiences exploring Ireland's finest Medieval town.