Waterford to Kilkenny where our next o/niter is, a three night one in the imagined luxury of Kilkenny’s Hibernian Hotel, can be driven on the relatively straight, sweeping bends super highway M9 at a 120kph. Its tiny winding, twisting brother whose designation begins with an ‘N’, means that you are sometimes able to travel on this road at 100kph and where you will find many ‘Traffic Calming Areas’ which are sometimes associated with inns. These are required as one needs to regain their mojo and confirm that your partner and or wife has not died of a heart attack due to cars and tractors appearing out of the ground and hurtling towards you on ‘N’ roads. Or you may foolishly motor along their baby brother road whose designation begins with an ‘R’ standing for rollicking, rambling, roundabout narrow come squishy hedged both sides road. This variety of Irish road has been converted from an ancient, heritage listed goat track where stretches are able to be travelled at either 100 kph in short 100 metre bursts, or 80kph in 200 metre bursts or at 50kph as that is what these roads are suited for. This all depending on whether you need to have frequent toilet stops due to cars and tractors appearing suddenly out of the ground and/or hedges, and travelling towards you at enormous speed. On the ‘N’ and ‘R’ roads, both lined across their three feet width with high hedges having bodywork scratching branches, there are many right angle, obtuse and isosceles triangle bends of which you are not aware until you are into them and heading for Patrick sitting up tall in his John Deere tractor listening to Molly Malone singing ‘I’ll take you home again Kathleen’ whilst towing a dual wheel trailer loaded with shit and sillage. For some reason, Irish people including farmers, all travel on the ‘R’ roads at 100kph in large killer tractors or small but fast bumper cars. To test our commitment to each other, my bride Susan and I choose the ‘R’ roads as we enjoy a challenge, enjoy having our hearts in our mouths, enjoy the thought of being impaled into a John Deere tractor, enjoy the cut and thrust of shouting at each other and because we are stupid. Well, I am. We depart lovely Waterford on the N24 thru Mooncom then onto the R698 and Piltown, which has a population of 1,187. Its quirky claim to fame is that in 1462 it was the only place in Ireland where there was a battle involving the English Civil War, the War of the Roses. Why it happened here I do not know apart from the fact that the Irish are slightly odd just like Aussies. But I do know that good old Tom Fitzgerald, 7th Earl of Desmond, go Desmond, defeated the Butlers of Kilkenny. So ferocious was the battle that the Pil River ‘ran with blood’. Us House of Desmond’s have quietened down a lot since 1462.
We motor on winding our way on hedged roads passing houses, fields, hills about, rolling green Irish countryside thru the villages of Owning, Windgap and into Callan where we meet the N 76 into Kilkenny. Officially Kilkenny has a population of 26,512 but on these school holidays, swelled by rich yanks, poms, croats, chinese and relatively poor Ozzies, us, you can double that figure. One needs a roo bar to get thru the foot traffic. Its a fine historic town settled oinks and oinks ago in the 6th century no doubt because the River Nore was just there flowing clean with fish to catch. Along came Canice who liked the look of the place, settled, became a saint such that in the 13th century they had a fine Cathedral and very tall narrow Bell Tower built in Canice’s sainthood honour. Tourists can pay a fee to climb the Bell Tower after their heart is checked, their mind analysed and they realised that it leans two feet, 60cm, out of alignment. I don’t like heights, my heart is not that good and anything out of alignment like Bell Towers and Irish ‘N’ and ‘R’ roads, is risky.
We had been to Kilkenny before and much loved it as it reeks of historical antiquity with its narrow streets, fine old wonky buildings with some more recent Georgian? structures, a castle, rows of pubs down the low end of High Street where theres five or six all cheek by jowel. A bit further on around the corner into Parliament Street, theres a fine sourdough cafe called Cakeface. But this time we intend to catch up with Irish nationals Wes and Carol who bravely spent near four years at Warroora Station in West Oz’s Gascoyne. Eventually they felt homesick missing the rain, snow, wind chill factor of minus ten, the need to travel at hair raising speed on narrow goat tracks, drink Smithwicks, Guinness on tap, eat black or white pudding for brekky, use words without vowels and have a decent ‘Knees Up’ by doing the Riverdance in the local hall. They came back with Murphy a True Blue Ozzie dog now resident in Ireland and who undoubtably misses being thrown a bit of Roo Guts for dins. Back in time, we met them, Wes, Carol and Murphy, at Warroora Station mainly at shearing time, when there was a readily available supply of sheep and roo guts for Murphy to dine on. To celebrate our catch up, Murphys family had organised an outdoor Ozzie style BBQ on Wes/Carols U Bewt flash BBQ but this being Ireland, it started to drizzle. So everything is carried inside including me, my Glenmorangie, two long tables as the family has multiplied to some twelve or so Irish people and three Ozzies, that includes Murphy. A fine BBQ, great conversation revolving around world and Irish ‘affairs’ of the political kind, the rising cost of ‘sillage’, bottles of beer, wine, my Glenmorangie, dessert and no doubt much later, singing and dancing. We unfortunately, I’m oldish, had to depart at 11pm via Carols VW Golf rocket ship taxi onto an ‘R’ road. Hmm. Love Kilkenny, go there, meet Murphy, Wes and Carols families, their Dada’s Tommy who speaks my language, Billy who needs a linguist to understand, and thats before the first beer and after that its ‘effin’ this and ‘effin’ that which I understood and nodded along with, and their friend the wise articulate Liam and his grandson Ryan. Get Liam and or Carol to show you the marvellous ruins of Kilcooley Abbey and its nearby Dovecot which provided much needed Dove pies, eggs, sticky dove legs and manure for the monks and those peasants who snuck across to the Dovecot at night, blessed themselves and stole dove’s and eggs. Those caught stealing, were transported to Australia to become bushrangers and establish breweries. Inside the partly falling down abbey, theres a metre high engraved tomb called the Butler Tomb with lying down on top, an engraving of a knight his feet resting on his favourite dog. The dog looks very peaceful and apparently enjoyed transportation to heaven with his master. The sides are engraved with ten apostles and all throughout the ‘ruins’, there are intricate and unusual engravings. Its in better condition and more worthy of a visit than that church/monastery perched on the ‘Rock of Cashel’. But keep your visit a secret otherwise hoons, vandals and nere-de-well’s will be there with their McDonalds boxes, Mars Bars wrappers and toilet paper confetti.
On our last day in Kilkenny, we make a day sortie thru Roscrea to the village of Birr as Des just had to check out the Giant Telescope there as Michael Portilo of the Railway TV program said it was a must. So we did. Dont. Go Kilcooley Abbey instead. Leaving the Hibernian Posh Hotel on Wednesday morn, we headed south for an o/niter at Clonakilty a long long way south west as we find, due to the school holiday traffic. Kilkennys Hibernian Hotel albeit well located, is in a sad decline. Its petticoat is dragging in the dust, it needs a pedicure, manicure, attention at the beauty saloon and a tad of good quality lippy. I could be a smarty pants there, and say I know these things after 52 years in a profession that dealt in those matters. Then I’m old and also dragging my bits and pieces closer to the dust. Our route south is dictated by a need to see and travel across the weirdly named ‘Knockmealdown Mountains’ a name only the Irish could come up with. To do that we head to Clonmel a large town of population 17,140 which bravely resisted Cromwells attack on the town in 1650, but later fell after ‘stout resistance’. The name means ‘honey due’ and thats what happened in year 2015 when it became the first town in Ireland to legally witness the marriage of two men. Oliver Cromwell would have torn his hair out. I rate the town 4/10 as it just did not grab us but remember, that 17,140 consider that theres something nice here. A short drive to Cahir and this is more to our liking with its small town square featuring 4 large trees, shops all around, vibrant and busy as cars, tractors and horse floats circuit about as we sit at the window of the ‘Lazy Bean Cafe’ where waitress ‘Afioe’ serves us. She cannot speak English and we cannot understand her Gaelic so we communicate via pointing and a credit card. Theres a grand castle here, a flowing river you can fish in, has the famous Swiss Cottage which has nort to do with Switzerland and at this time, thousands of tourists. Back in time to 1788, the title Baron Cahir passed to Richard Butler a 12 year old boy who was born out of a bit of ‘hanky panky’ by the Baron. He, the boy, lived in poverty in Cahir unaware he was going to rise up to the top of the Cahir social ladder. According to knowledgeable historians, the boys jealous relatives moved the boy and his sister to France in an attempt to deny the boy his inheritance. It all came unstuck and the boy became the Earl and married his sweetheart and lived happily. We rated Cahir 7/10 because of its ambience, castle, river with weirs, the Swiss Cottage and Sue liking her cup of coffee. This despite us getting divorced, twice, whilst trying to locate the Swiss Cottage which was only 2k’s that way from Cahir’s town square.
In the distance we could see the Knockmealdown Mountains looming all gloomy and awesome in the distant with drizzling rain. The R668 takes one up and up on narrow twisting roads captive to hedges both sides with in places tree growth forming a tunnel canopy. Its bloody marvellous as we motor slowly thru Clogheen population 509 and we saw three of them. The road continues to twist and turn as we climb up the mountains they all bare of trees, a few walkers about all rugged up as theres a chilly wind blowing. We pause on a parking area on the flank of Sugarloaf Hill where there is a grotto with a fine statue of the ‘Lady of Knock’ adjoining an odd small bunker with just inside a sacrificial type solid concrete altar. The statue has something to do with a late evening apparition in the town of ‘Knock’ witnessed by fifteen people in August 1879 and was recognised by those wise men in the Vatican, as a real life visit by Mary. Being a cynic, I wonder if those fifteen people had been at a party and one of their mates gave them a fright dressed in a woman’s dress. Shame on you Des. Hand in your Rosary Beads, Gladly. I do not know why the Lady of Knock statue is here as its a fair way from the town of Knock. I resisted the temptation to play ‘knock knock who’s there’ with Sue as we were receiving counselling from above. The Lord works in mysterious ways as Father Portly would have said back in the late 1940’s as us Catholic kids fought off attacks by Protto boys.
The views as we motored slowly down the ‘Knockmealdown Mountains’ is spectacular but it pays to be a passenger and not a driver as the very narrow road somersaults, twists, turns, does the Limbo Rock and if it were not for the timber fencing protecting us from sheer mountainside drop offs, I may have been worried. Into Lismore a delightful obviously well loved down we rated 8/10. Brightly painted colourful buildings of the narrow tall ancient kind, happy people including once upon a time, many visits by the Hollywood Movie Star Fred Astaire, the all dancing, singing, acting super star all due to his sister Adele getting hitched to Lord Cavendish whose family had a long association with Lismore. Fred’s all dancing, singing, acting career given a boost by his on-screen partner Ginger Rogers who was immensely better looking than Fred. Just about everybody in America was better looking than Fred but none of them could dance properly apart from doing Square Dancing whilst acting like Rednecks and being full of Budweiser. Theres a lot of interesting history in this small town but its time for us to motor on the R627 into and thru Ballynoe, Dungourney and into Middleton where we do a right hander onto the N25. Here we can speed up a bit to make up time spent in dodging small bumper cars full of screaming children, large John Deere Tractors and being worried about going over timber fences down a steep precipice. But not for long as we divert onto the busy road into Cobh the last port of call in 1912 for the Titanic before it lost its joust with an iceberg. Its not a happy place in so far as ships go as just nearby, RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U Boat in May 2015 with the loss of 1,198 lives. Cobh has a town population of 12,100 most of them hiding as the place is flooded with holiday makers holding fairy floss, ice creams and Dada’s sticky hand. Interesting town set down a steep hillside allowing some clever architect to design a row of twelve stacked houses referred to as the ‘House of Cards’ as they flow gracefully, soldier upright, down the slope. A medieval Cathedral looms over the harbour and town it hunkered into a hillside when usually they are on top of a hill. We thank the cathedral for letting us use their carpark and donate 50cents for a pamphlet. When Queen Victoria visited Cobh in 1849, the populace wet themselves with excitement such that the British re-named the town ‘Queenstown’. But the Irish, God bless them for having the guts to re-name and re-claim their heritage, re-named the town Cobh again after they kicked the British out around 1920. We found a seat in Kellys Bar where She had a coffee and Moi a Jamesons. Theres one way in and one way out of Cobh both being the same road so once again we are on the N25.
The large city of Cork approaches and we want to avoid that, its got a population of 125,622, so my lovely wife navigator smoothly guides us onto the N40 then the N27 to avoid all those people and traffic which undoubtably Cork has. Cork reckons it has one of the largest natural harbours in the known world. They clarify this statement by adding, ‘by navigational area’. This of course, all depends on what measure of depth one uses!!! Thru the villages of Riverstick, Belgooley on the crowded R600 and into delightful Kinsale, population 5,281, rating 8/10 by Moi, would be a bonzar town if only it was’nt school holiday time. Its crowded as is its harbour crammed with expensive floating toys and chandlery items but we manage to find a free park and a cafe with space where we can sit in the window and gape. Rating 8/10, go there when the fairy floss stalls are banned. The R600 from Kinsale to our o/niter at the Tudor Lodge in Clonakilty, follows the coast us passing thru the cute village of Ballinspittle which has a population of 224 interesting and clever people. The town name means, and surely somebody is pulling somebodies leg, ‘ford mouth of the hospital’. Back in 1985, Ballinspittle was famous world wide and people of a religious bent, catholics particularly, poured into town after the inhabitants claimed to have witnessed a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary moving spontaneously. Mary was in the pub when we went thru moving her arms voluntarily to drink from a glass of Holy Water. Trundling on, we cross several longish causeways, the scenery pleasant as we motor into Clonakilty and my navigator the lovely Susan, finds our lodgings for the night. Clonakilty has a population of 4,562 generally happy people who do not see apparitions moving spontaneously unless they are married. In 2017, Clonakilty was voted ‘Best place of the Year’, by the ‘Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland’. How people who drive BMW’s, Audis and Merc’s, wear Tommy Hifiger shirts and Jimmy Choo shoes, can determine that, apart from being full of Penfolds Bin 78, is beyond me. We dine at the Ostan Imperial Hotel and revert to carnivores, temporarily, as we hoe into a full set of lamb loin cops, Moi, and a scrumptiously sizzling turkey over ham roast straight of a gabbling turkey via the oven. All bloody marvellously bonzar dripping saturated fat, streaks of happy red stuff and iron. I expect my digest tract and plumbing washers, which at age 75 are a tad worn, to react in the morning. Sorry. Ooroo from Des as I’m weary, its late and I’m getting snaky 🙂