The Journal of a Journey,
UK and Ireland 1999
Day 7Wednesday, October 6 - Cashel
On our way back to the hostel I'd seen a taxi office at the foot of our street so after a free "continental breakfast" (for TomI'd lost my ticket and so had to settle for nothing) of dry toast and coffee, we set out for it. Open the night before, it was now closed, so we continued until we found another, dragging our rolling luggage behind us. It didn't take long, and the driver offered to take us to Heuston Station for four pounds each. I thought at first we were being taken for a metaphorical ride as well as a literal one, as I thought I'd seen an ad for taxi rides to the station across town for four pounds total. However, the ride was long enough that I had to conclude the price was probably fair.
At the station we boarded our first cross-country Irish train for Thurles (pronounced Tur-less), where we'd been told we could catch a bus to Cashel. Despite several mixups about where to catch the bus, we managed to get what is apparently the only public transport of the day between the two towns. The bus, named Mac Kavanaugh, appeared to be strictly a local business, which Tom compared to the Johnstown Traction Company which used to run one bus a day roundtrip between our hometown of Vintondale and the nearest city, Johnstown.
The bus fare seemed reasonable (though I forget the amount) and it was probably only about 10 miles from Thurles to Cashel. Though the town is still small, Cashel is one of the oldest historic sites in Ireland. A large outcropping of granite towers over the valley, which is surrounded by lush Irish fields, waters, and, in the distance, mountains. About midway between Waterford and Limerick, it is off the beaten path of modern Irish commerce, though well developed for tourists. Having read the Irish tourbooks, I'd concluded that Cashel was the most important site in the Republic that I hadn't yet visited.
Situated on the granite mesa are structures dating to the eleventh century, including an excellently preserved stone chapel with a stone roof that still keeps out the rain although no mortar was used in its construction. On the mount, St. Patrick is reputed to have baptized an important clan king who then turned his fortress over to the church for reconstruction as a cathedral. Unlike Clonmacnoise and Glendalough, there's little information about Cashel during Ireland's premedieval period of monastic flowering. Later bishops (from about the eleventh centuryPatrick having been here in the fifth) invited then new orders of monks, starting with Cistercians, to develop abbeys from which they could advise the politically appointed bishops about how to govern. Several of these monastic abbeys stand in ruins in the valley and are visitble from the mount, as in Cashel's "new cathedral," only 250 years old, in the town below.
The 12th-century cathedral on the mount is also in ruins, having been gutted by Cromwell's army during that British Puritan ruler's attempt to Protestantize the Irish in the seventeenth century.
Cashel is one of the most scenic sites in Ireland, but I was somewhat disappointed that the history of the ancient monastic period has been lost, with only a few legends of Padraic (Patrick) remaining. An interesting sight here is the grave of a man who lived to be a hundred and led two completely separate lives. Here, under the Anglicans, he was a Protestant bishop and in Ulster he was a Catholic bishop under the pope. He even maintained two marriages and families but it wasn't until his will was read upon his death, when he left his goods to his families, that his duplicity became known. I really should write a film script about him!
Our evening bus back to Thurles deposited us directly at the train station (whereas we'd run from the station all over the sizeable town's main street to find the bus stop that morning). We continued on the same train line south, to Killarney, which was Tom's favorite place in Ireland the year before. The Irish trains were old and dirty with more smoking cars compared with the British ones, and this train broke down a long way short of Killarney. A conductor took a survey of destinations in consideration of making the rest of the trip by bus, but eventually a "new" engine was added in front of the broken one to take us on in. I believe passengers to Tralee, the next and last stop after Killarney, had to go on from there by bus.
Tom had the phone number of our B&B from last year with him, and tried calling it, but got no answer. The Travel Bureau recommended another, which was listed as "close in," and we booked a twin en suite at Cedar House for £20 each. It was one of the nicest rooms we had on our whole trip but wasn't close in at all but at least three miles out, a £4 taxi ride away. I was very disappointed in this, as I much wanted to do some roaming after dinner. The owner of the B&B, a home construction business owner named Dennis Carroll, drove us back to town and strongly recommended Freck's restaurant. It was crowded, and seems to cater to American tourists, with signs from American Legion posts decorating the walls. Mr. Carroll had spoken of the bountiful portions, but our entrees seemed lacking. We saw other tables getting bread, for one thing, but we got none and our service was poor to almost nonexistent. (We did ask for ice water on being seated, however, and got some with actual ice in it, which made us more grateful than the rest of the dinner warranted.)
Next station: The Ring of Kerry
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