Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 8
Apologies for alack of links at the lower half of this Post. We had a major broadband problem on Friday/ Saturday, although it seemed to be sorted I had the same problems again Saturday night into Sunday and most of the G**gle searches I made for links seem to have been hacked. Anything linked here was working when I checked.
Today moving inland we cover the five counties of Tipperary, Kilkenny Carlow Kildare and Laois.
Tipperary town is surrounded by a broad plain of rich farmland and is bordered by mountains to the north and south. Hunting, fishing and walking are popular activities in the region. Tipperary town is an important dairy farming centre and today is a thriving market town. The major point of interest in the town is St Michael’s Church, Gothic in design and noteworthy for its fine lancet windows and west door.
Last week we finished our journey at Lismore in County Waterford. Travelling in a northerly direction the road from Lismore to Cahir, County Tipperary, climbs and twists through the Knockmealdown Mountains through a pass called The Vee (I mentioned it last week). The Vee provides stunning and extensive views of the Golden Vale of Tipperary. A stone cairn marks the burial spot of Samuel Grubb.
The road then descends to Clogheen, continuing on to Cahir.
In Cahir you will find one of Ireland’s best preserved castles, with its massive great hall, grim dungeon, and thick protective walls, it is a superb restoration of the 1142 castle set on a rocky islet in the River Suir. Furnishings in the residential apartments are authentic reproductions of the period. The Articles ending the long Cromwellian wars were signed in the castle in 1652, and in modern times it has served as a setting for the films Excalibur and Barry Lyndon.
Swiss Cottage, a delightful cottage orné built in the early 1800s by Richard Butler, 1st Earl of Glengall to a design by the famous Regency architect John Nash. Its interior contains a graceful spiral staircase and some elegantly decorated rooms. The wallpaper in the Salon manufactured by the Dufour factory is one of the first commercially produced Parisian wallpapers. Situated on an elevated site with access by stone steps. Please note that this is a very busy site and visitors may experience a delay during the Summer months.
A few miles north on the road to Tipperary town is the road to The Glen of Aherlow, now a secluded place that was once a major route between Tipperary and Limerick.
12 miles due north of Cahir is Cashel. Dominating the landscape for miles around is a limestone mound topped by the awe-inspiring Rock of Cashel which soars 60m above the surrounding plains. The 2-acre summit site has since ancient Celtic times been connected with royalty and mysticism. Cormac’s Chapel. The Round Tower (30M high) , St Patrick’s Cathedral, and a replica St Patrick’s Cross ( whose base may actually have been a pre-Christian sacrificial alter), are among the impressive ruins. At the foot of the Rock, a visitors’ centre of stylised Celtic design presents traditional Irish entertainment.
15 miles southeast once more is Clonmel, the main town of County Tipperary where the world’s first public transport system was established by Charles Bianconi in 1815, based at Hearn’s Hotel in Parnell Street.
The Hayes Hotel in the Anglo-Norman town of Thurles was the setting for the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1884. This makes it virtually akin to a religious site in the eyes of many Irish sports fans. Today it is a busy, well laid out marketing centre for the surrounding agricultural area.
From Cashel the R692 passes through Fethard, Co Tipperary, and Callan to Kilkenny. It is a thriving, prosperous town with much of its history still housed in original structures and one of the most highly regarded craft centres in Ireland. Kilkenny Castle, built in 1391, is set on high ground above the river Nore. It retains the lines of a medieval fortress with three of its four original corner towers intact. It was once the principal seat of the Butler family, Earls and Dukes of Ormonde.
The Rothe House in Parliament Street was built in 1594 as a home for a prosperous Tudor merchant, It now houses the Kilkenny Archaeological Society Museum and Library which displays fascinating relics of historical and cultural significance.
Other fine buildings include Shee’s Almshouse in Rose Street and The Tholsel in High Street. Kilkenny Design Centre, located in old stables and coach houses across from the castle, is home to designers and craftspeople who produce outstanding contemporary and classical designs in textiles, ceramics, glass-ware, jewellery and metals.
Kilkenny was the home of Ireland’s most famous witches In 1324 Dame Alice Kyteler was the owner of Kyteler’s Inn in St Kieran’s Street. A beautiful woman who had become wealthy following the successive deaths of her four husbands, she was accused of witchcraft and condemned to a public whipping, followed by burning at the stake. She escaped, leaving her maid to be burnt in her place and was never seen again. She is said to haunt the house still.
Travelling south towards the market town of Thomastown, on the banks of the river Nore, follow the signpost to Mount Juliet It was once one of Ireland’s largest private estates covering 1,411 acres of woodlands, pastures and landscaped lawns. Now a luxury hotel, the grounds provide an exceptionally beautiful drive off the main roads, and its public rooms are open to non guests.
3km south of Thomastown is Jerpoint Cistercian Abbey, founded in 12th century it is one of Ireland’s finest monastic ruins. The extensive remains are awe-inspiring with the original Romanesque pillars, a fine chancel and the most decorative cloister arcade of any Irish church. The detailed secular and religious carved figures are an accurate portrayal of the armour and clothing of 15th and 16th century Ireland. A Visitor Centre provides information on the abbey’s long history.
The minor R703 road takes leads to the little village of Graiguenamanagh. It provides tremendous views of the River Barrow and the long ridge of the Blackstairs Mountains and the 516m Brandon Hill to the south. Graiguenamanagh was once a place of great ecclesiastical importance.
The Abbey of Duiske built between 1207 and 1240, it was suppressed in 1536, but some determined monks stayed on for many years. It was abandoned by 1774 it stood in ruins and the tower collapsed. A large part of the church was reroofed in 1813 and Catholic services were resumed in 1970s. Today the abbey is completely restored and serves as the parish church.
Moving northward we come to Carlow, Ireland’s second smallest county. The west wall and the two flanking towers of the 13th century Carlow Castle can be seen near the bridge across the river Barrow. The Norman castle was destroyed by a Dr Middleton in 1814 when he tried to convert it into an insane asylum, he tried to reduce the thickness of the walls with explosives, leaving it a dangerous shell, most of which had to be demolished for safety reasons.
There is a pleasant walk in town along the banks of the River Barrow to the junction with the Burrin tributary. The meeting of the two rivers forms an attractive four- angled lake.
At Browne’s Hill Demesne 3km east of the town, is one of the largest Cromlechs or ancient dolmen dating from 2000BC. The giant capstone, the largest in Ireland, weighs 101 tonnes.
In the heart of Ireland’s horse breeding and training industry, Kildare sits on the edge of the vast Curragh plain. East of the town, horse racing has reigned supreme for centuries at the Curragh, headquarters for the sport in Ireland, and home to the Irish Derby in June each year.
The Curragh Camp, handed over to the Irish army in 1922, has been an important military station for a century, and there you can see the famous 1920 armoured car ‘Slievenamon’ that carried Michael Collins to the fatal ambush in 1922.
2km east of Kildare off the N7 is the National Stud at Tully. NO! Mayo, not that kind of Stud!! Some of the world’s most renowned racehorses have been bred and trained on these grounds. You can also visit the stables and watch thoroughbreds being exercised and groomed. It is an important centre for equine research and there is a museum depicting the history of the horse in Ireland.
Port Laois for many years at the centre of the junction of the Dublin/Limerick and Dublin/Cork main roads, is now relieved with a by pass. The town is home to Ireland’s national prison. A brighter note to the town is the collection of antique cars and other forms of transport in the veteran Car Museum.
Emo Court gardens, are probably the premier attraction of County Laois. The grand house was designed by the celebrated architect James Gandon. It is open only to special interest groups, but the grounds are open to all and contain an imposing lake and hundreds of specimen trees, shrubs and flowering plants.
Abbeyleix is an attractive town with tree lined streets. The de Vesci Demesne, known as Abbeyleix House dates from 1773. The house is not open to the public, but the grounds which include formal terrace gardens to the west of the house, a ‘wild garden’ (called the Paradise Garden) that is carpeted with bluebells in spring, an American garden with magnolia trees, and a magnificent avenue of lime trees.