Cahir Castle

Breakfast at the Shandon Bell
B&B was served in a beautiful solarium with a flower-filled deck
overlooking the River Lee. Unfortunately, today it was raining so hard we had
no desire to even open the door to the deck, let alone eat there, but it would
have been a beautiful experience on a different day. While we were at
breakfast, the window in our room upstairs unfortunately blew open, allowing
rain into the hiking boots Michael had left standing underneath. We had to ask
for an extra towel to dry them off and then use a hair dryer on the inside
before he could put them on.

Cahir Castle

He needed the sturdy boots
because this morning’s itinerary was likely to take us up some wet, muddy
inclines. We found plenty of mud around our first stop, Cahir Castle (pronounced care), located on a small island in the River Suir. Unfortunately, the castle was closed for repairs. (Lots of misfortunes today
already!) We were able to get a few good photographs of the picturesque exterior,
but because there wasn’t anything else to do there, we drove on.

The original name of Cahir meant
“place of abundant fish”

The rain had subsided and the sky
was starting to clear by the time we reached the Rock of Cashel, but the wind was still blowing cold and fierce. The Rock is a
geological phenomenon, a huge chunk of solid limestone that rises nearly a
hundred meters above the floor of the wide Golden Vale in County Tipperary. Such
an outcropping formed a natural citadel, so of course it has been the site of
various strategic fortifications for millennia.

Cashel. Note the soaring ravens
St. Patrick’s Stone

Remember Cormac McCarthy, King of
Munster, who built Blarney Castle? His family ruled most of southern Ireland from the Rock of Cashel for over seven hundred years. St. Patrick came to
Cashel in the fifth century and baptized King Aengus, one of Cormac’s powerful
ancestors, and subsequently the whole country began converting to Christianity.
During the tenth century, control of the Rock was wrested from the McCarthys by
Brian Boru, who became the first native-Irish High King, but the McCarthys spent the
next 150 years trying to win Cashel back from the O’Briens (Brian Boru’s clan).
To put an end to the fighting, the O’Briens gave the Rock to the Church,
dedicating it to St. Patrick. Stymied by that unexpected move, Cormac McCarthy
retreated to Cork and built Blarney Castle as his new seat of power, but to
assure the clergy (and the O’Briens) that he had no hard feelings, he also erected
a lovely Romanesque-style church atop the Rock of Cashel. In addition to that
twelfth-century structure, the Rock also features the Cathedral of St. Patrick,
a larger, gothic-style church that was built a few hundred years later.

Rock of Cashel
Tower of Cashel

As we approached the Rock from
the Golden Vale and saw extensive scaffolding and heavy equipment around both
Cormac’s Chapel and the cathedral, we were afraid that we wouldn’t be able to
go inside, but since they’re just building a protective covering to help
conserve the roof, the construction work didn’t interfere with our visit. 

Inside the Cathedral of St. Patrick

included on the tour (led by a rather cold guide who seemed bored by his own
presentation) was the fully restored and furnished Hall of the Vicars Choral,
where the cathedral musicians once lived. The colorfully painted wood carvings
in the hall reminded us that all the old stone ruins we’ve been seeing used to
wear more cheerful decorations.

View from the Rock of Cashel
Carved recess in Cormac’s Chapel

Providing the soundtrack for our
visit to the Rock of Cashel was a flock of huge, noisy ravens. Nancy found this
curious, remembering that when their daughter and son-in-law had decided to name
their son Cormac, she had looked up the meaning of the Irish name and learned
that the mac part of course meant son, but the derivation of the cor part was less clear. Some people
believe it came from the old Irish corb, a
wheel; others say it is the old Irish
term for raven. Now, having seen the
ravens circling over Cashel and hearing their raspy caws echo through Cormac’s
Chapel, she has no doubt that the latter group has the better claim.

Cormac’s Chapel

“Cormac’s Chapel” in Irish

Carved heads in Cormac’s Chapel
(We thought they looked like something
 our grandson Cormac would appreciate) 
Carved heads in Cormac’s Chapel

Remains of early frescos in Cormac’s Chapel

Cashel High Cross
View from the Rock of Cashel

Cemetery on the Rock of Cashel

Carved wood detail in Vicars Hall
Ceiling of the Hall of the Vicars Choral in Cashel

Kitchen in the Hall of the Vicars Choral in Cashel

This monument to Irish music and dance
is between the event ground and
the car park at the Rock of Cashel 

Hans Café, located at the bottom
of the road leading to the Rock, was crowded—probably because it was the only
eatery around that was open. We had to wait about twenty minutes for a table,
which made us a little nervous because we wanted to get to Waterford in time to
tour the crystal factory, and we still had more than an hour’s drive to get
there.  We wished we hadn’t been in such a
rush, because our potato-leek soup and chicken Caesar salad were excellent, and
the desserts we saw being served to other diners looked very tempting—but we
stuck to our schedule and hurried on.

Waterford Crystal Visitor Center

Though Waterford is renowned as
the home of the world’s most famous crystal, the history of the brand is surprisingly
troubled. The first crystal produced in the town came from the Penrose
brothers, who had established a well-regarded glass factory there in the late
1700s. Ireland’s repeated famines led to the closing of the Penrose operation
in 1851, and after that, no more fine crystal came out of Waterford for nearly
a century. Following World War II, a couple of Czech refugees who had worked in
the glass trade and remembered the Penroses’ outstanding reputation chose
Waterford as the place to set up a new glassworks. Ironically, they couldn’t
find anyone in Waterford who remembered how to create fine crystal, so they had
to import skilled workers from the continent. The company they called Waterford
began producing quality crystal again, but as a purveyor of luxury goods, it was
dependent upon a robust economy to stay afloat—and we all know that the world’s
economy has not been very strong in the last decade. In 2005, the company shut
down one of its factories near Waterford; four years later, it went into
receivership and announced that the flagship plant was to be closed as well.
Employees protested, American investors were found, and a deal was worked out.
The old Waterford plant was shuttered, but in 2010 it was replaced by a
gleaming new building clearly designed to attract tourists rather than produce a
lot of crystal. Indeed, these days, the exquisite stemware Waterford is known
for is actually made in Eastern Europe; the only crystal now produced in Waterford
are specialty items such as trophies and commemorative gifts.

Initial shaping of the molten glass
Blowing a glass bowl
Cooling the blown glass and removing the blow tube
Cutting patterns into the glass



Shaping the edges

Racing along the mercifully wide,
well-paved roads between Cashel and Waterford, Michael and Nancy arrived at the
crystal factory with ten minutes to spare before the last tour of the day. As
we’ve learned, “crystal factory” is something of a misnomer; what Waterford has
to offer is more just a visitor center where a handful of skilled craftsmen
demonstrate the process of turning a lump of molten glass into a dazzling work
of art. (Well, some of what they make are works of art; we’re not sure we’d
call a slightly oversize, cut-crystal football an aesthetic masterpiece.) Sean,
the retired glassworker who guided our tour, was very excited that he could
show us a trophy for the upcoming Barclay’s Cup golf tournament in the
beginning stages of its development.  Click here to watch a video of the trophy being blown.

Shaping the Barclay’s Cup trophy
Wooden mold for a Kentucky
basketball tournament trophy
Blown Barclay’s Cup trophy

More shaping
Waterford crystal gramophone
Waterford couldn’t just settle for creating Cinderella’s glass slippers;
they had to go for the whole coach and four

During practically every
conversation we’ve had with a native of Ireland in the past few weeks, the term
“Celtic Tiger” has inevitably come up. The Irish are proud of what they were
able to accomplish during their brief economic boom at the end of the last
century, but they seem to have become resigned to the fact that it ended, and to
the idea that such prosperity isn’t likely to return any time soon. Evidence of
the bounteous Celtic Tiger years is widespread: scores of modern commercial
buildings, beautiful bridges and highways built to handle lots of traffic, and
tract after tract of new housing developments—but many of these structures look
empty, or unfinished. We have frequently seen signs encouraging tourists to “Rent
an Irish holiday home!” posted outside rows of attractive modern townhouses in little
villages where tourism seems to be the only industry other than sheepherding.

In Waterford, the demise of the
Celtic Tiger is even more apparent than elsewhere. Other places in Ireland seem
to be recovering; businesses are open and bustling, people are shopping and
eating out, old buildings continue to be renovated. Not so much in Waterford. Here
we saw countless empty buildings with “To purchase” or “To let” (rent)
signs posted on their storefronts. After dark, the downtown area went dead—so eerily
deserted that we were kind of afraid to keep walking around after we finished
our dinner.

Adel B&B

But before dinner, we had to find
our B&B and check in. Generally, our GPS has been pretty good about
directing us safely to our accommodations. This afternoon, however, Google Maps
led us away from the center of town, off the main highway, and into a residential
area (which in itself wasn’t unusual), and then to our purported destination: a
regular-looking house at the end of a cul de sac. There were no “Bed &
Breakfast” or “Guesthouse” signs anywhere in the neighborhood.  Nevertheless, Michael went up to the door and
knocked. It was opened by an older gentleman who soon made it clear that his
home was not the Adel B&B. Although
he seemed a bit put out, he spoke politely as gave Michael explicit directions to
the real Adel B&B, located back on the main road directly behind his home.
Obviously, we were not the first travelers to have been led to the wrong place
by an electronically generated voice.

Ann, our hostess at the Adel, showed
us to what amounted to a private suite with its own entrance at the side of the
house. The hallway between our bedroom and the bathroom was decorated with wedding
photos of Ann’s son and daughter; we figured that we were staying in the rooms
they occupied when they came to visit.

Again relying on a combination of
endorsements from Fodor and our host to choose a restaurant, we drove back
downtown to find Bodega, which had been described as an inexpensive,
“casual modern-Irish eatery” and “the fun place to eat in town.” We
shared a salad and a plate of grilled artichoke hearts to start. For main
plates, Michael had monkfish in garlic sauce with spinach and potatoes; Nancy
had pollock with a lovely velouté sauce, mashed potatoes, and roasted carrots
and parsnips. For dessert, Michael had chocolate soufflé topped with pistachio
crumble and raspberry swirl ice cream; Nancy had chocolate-peanut butter
brownies with a scoop of yummy salted-popcorn ice cream. We hoped to explore
more of central Waterford after dinner, but as we said before, so many stores
were dark and so few people were on the streets that after walking for about
fifteen minutes, we decided it would be best to get back to the safety of our
car and return to the B&B.

Despite its private entrance, our
suite at the Adel shared a wall with the common living room, and the television
in that room was located right behind our bed. 
The day that had begun with a series of unfortunate events could have ended
just as badly—but it didn’t. Fortunately, the TV went off at about 11:00, and
we were able to enjoy a peaceful night’s rest.