October 05, 2004
We planned our overnight to the south with an eye to the weather. Remnants of Frances had crossed the Atlantic, bringing mostly wind and a bit more rain. We wanted to be able to tromp through fields without getting soaked. Indeed, we were lucky and were met with mostly sun and a bit of what the Irish call soft weather, showers, light and heavy, that pass on through.
Over the last four years the motorway has reached out a few more miles so we had a divided highway for a bit when we left Dublin. Then we were back on our old favorite N roads, two-lane roads that carry cars, trucks, buses, and, Mark’s personal favorite, tractors towing loads of hay; these are the major highways between cities. Traffic lights and sharp turns in the intervening villages bring traffic to a standstill as do roadworks. But we were not in a hurry as we took in the lush green countryside, the shorn, brown fields with enormous spools of hay ready to be carried out, herds of cows or sheep and the Wicklow Mountains in the background. We were headed for Moone, a little village on the N9, south of Naas, where the Carneys, Fairleigh and I had come across the ruins of a high cross, through a field, behind a farmer’s barns, four years ago. Mark had never seen it, and I was excited to share it with him. We had more trouble finding the cross than when David was driving, David with the eagle eyes and quick reactions. The landscape had changed recently – there was an overpass (a rarity, really) at Moone. As we wandered around the village streets, we stumbled on road signs, some old, some new, indicating the way to Moone high cross. We pulled off to what verge there was on the narrow back lane by the familiar stone wall and climbed through the V in the wall.
It was not as I had left it four years ago. The Heritage Society had been there and left their mark – gravel pathway, plantings along the side, signage posted on the walls of the crumbling church walls, stone pedestals on which cross remnants were displayed and a plastic roof over that portion of the ruin.
Fortunately, the slender high cross itself stood undisturbed – some 5 ½ meters tall, carved on all four sides with images from Bible stories and fantastic monster heads and bodies intertwined in a Celtic knot.
The Christian images are among my favorites here in Ireland – simple, close to identical outlines of the Apostles arrayed 3x4, loaves and fish - a pair of facing fish float on five circles.
Mark certainly enjoyed seeing the high cross and walking through the graveyard and ruins, but I learned that perennial lesson. You can’t go home again. Nothing stays the same. My first trip with the Carneys and Fairleigh was a magical discovery, an experience not to be repeated.
From there we headed further south stopping in Bennetsbridge, a village where several craftspeople and businesses work in clay, wood, fiber and leather.
We spent some time at The Bridge Pottery and Mark chatted up Mary O’Gorman, an energetic, very redhead, who paints surface designs on her partner’s pots. >
A downpour drove us off the street, then, into Chesnau leather, a Frenchman’s high-end business, somewhat more delicate work than Coach bags. Dyed in the Wool no longer has a retail store, but Nicholas Mosse’s business was open to the public. There was even a seconds room, but prices for seconds were not much different from the firsts, all of which were expensive, especially since we Americans have to think in euros. There seem to be two categories of craft production – successful businesses that produce in quantity and market internationally to high end stores and struggling individual/partnered craftspeople who do not have ready outlets for their work. They sell from their studios, which have to be out of the way due to zoning issues and the high cost of property. Many have websites, but, as far as I can tell, they do not use advertising, and the few city stores that carry crafts seem to carry the same, few national names. It is clear from wandering through towns and villages that there are plenty of makers, and it is too bad their work isn’t out there for more people to enjoy – and it is more than too bad that they struggle economically. Mark and I did what we could to support them. Isn’t it nice to have Christmas and birthdays as an excuse?
Mary O’Gorman sent us on to Kells Priory (no connection to the Book of Kells), where she loves to run their dogs. I had read about the site, the perfect ruin – always open and often empty. We wandered south and west on the lanes and stumbled upon the highpoint overlooking the monastery ruins.
Sheep were keeping the grass clipped, and there wasn’t a person in sight. We walked the high field, the sheep scurrying away from us when we got too near, and went and peeked through the arrow slots – to see more sheep inside the ruin.
We drove around to the far side of the ruin, walked past the old mill, along the river and approached through the untended graveyard – to see some kind of fabric blowing in the wind, suspended from the aged, overhanging trees.
Rags? In fact, dress silhouettes of net, top-stitched, areas painted in mossy green… Kells’s ghosts… We clambered through the ruins for some time. The emptiness, the sheep, the wind, the ghosts – my memories.
At this point, the end of the day, the no-gas light on in the car (few villages have gas stations) and no place to sleep for the night, it was time to reach for our mobile (read, cell phone). We called a place in Kilkenny, our ultimate destination, but they were full – and kindly warned us that the streets were being shut down in half an hour anyway, for the celebration, and we had best hurry. What celebration? Well, the All-Ireland hurling championship had been played against Cork the day before (in Dublin), and County Kilkenny wanted to welcome home their heroes, who had lost, but are nonetheless heroes.
We decided to skip the celebration and found a room at the B&B over the pub in Inistoig, the picturesque village in which Circle of Friends was filmed. It is a gem, along a hillside and the banks of the river Nore.
We found one place open for supper, run by an English couple who had moved here a dozen years ago. We were the only customers so they kept us company as we ate, and we chatted about the IRA, schools, round-abouts in Ireland and England, and Bush. Fortunately, people do not make the assumption that all Americans support Bush; the Irish can’t stand him – anyhow, his opponent’s name is after the Irish county, Kerry. After dinner we headed across the empty street to our spare but clean B&B.
Really, everyone WAS in Kilkenny welcoming home their hurlers.
The next day we walked the river
and then drove up the steep, winding village road to Woodstock Park for breathtaking views of the Nore River valley.
From there we had an easy drive north to Kilkenny where we took a tour of the Butlers’ Anglo-Irish- Norman castle and then across the street to what was the mews and now houses Ireland’s contemporary craft exhibit, Kilkenny Design Center and several craft workshops. Once again we did what we could to support the Irish craft community before having to hustle back up to Dublin for Mark’s afternoon meetings at UCD.
It was wonderful to get out of the city for that overnight, to see again what a beautiful country Ireland is, to meet people and to explore. We are making a good, long list of great places to share with our visitors. Come on over!
Posted by gretchen at October 5, 2004 04:56 PM
thanks gretchen - loved revisiting - tho, like you, quite shocked at the enclosing of the high cross at moone! just as well to protect it i guess - but glad we discovered it wild!
and your river shots - ahh goRgeous! a great account highlighted by your grand photographs
Posted by: jenny de g at October 12, 2004 06:56 PM
Hi Gretchen - what lovely photos and commentary on your adventure in the south of Ireland. Thank you so much. I wish I could have experienced Ireland the way you and Mark are - but it brought back good memories of my trip. I too supported as many craftspeople as I could in the Kilkenny crafts center! - and nearly everyone I spoke with on the trip ended the conversation with some anti-Bush comment! L
Posted by: Linda Kollett at October 13, 2004 01:10 AM
Gretchen and Mark,
You have taken your Irish journal to a new level with the beautiful photos. Very enjoyable reading.
It's such a lovely country with more shades of green than one can count, courious names of towns and pubs on every corner, plus some in between, all packed full every night. And the people give you a warm greeting with a ready smile.
Posted by: Fairleigh at October 13, 2004 02:42 AM
Gretchen, this is wonderful. The words plus the pictures put me right there. Please keep it up.
Do you think you'll take in a bit of hurling?
Posted by: Dorothy Crane at October 13, 2004 09:13 PM
Hi Gretch - oh my keep these travelogues coming. I can hardly wait to see all of this for myself. The photos are amazing and isn't your future son in law clever to have set all this up so you can do it! Hurrah. Danny we owe you a debt of gratitude. Much love
Posted by: barb maple at October 14, 2004 10:15 PM
What wonderful pictures! Bob and I are going to put Ireland high on our list. Thanks for sharing your voyages with us all.
Posted by: Stewart Lussky at October 17, 2004 04:11 AM
Dear Gretchen and Mark, The photographs are spectacular! What an incredible experience. Thanks for sharing.
Posted by: Ethel Berger at October 18, 2004 04:34 PM
Gretchen, you've transported me from the picturesque Hudson Valley to a magical world of green, ancient stones and rainbows! I feellike I'm sharing the sunshine & the soft weather with you.
Meri from Julia & Isabella
Posted by: meripuccio at November 22, 2004 08:34 PM