I walked into the Black Abbey in Kilkinney (Cill Chainnigh, meaning “church of Cainnech”) evading a lunchtime rainstorm. Originally built in the 14th century, the Abbey has a fascinating history; one that doesn’t really sink in when you’ve run in from the rain and find yourself at either side of these amazing windows (there are several additional stained glass windows and sets of pews to the upper right), at once hurrying to take a picture (because they “just don’t have this in America“) and trying to find at least some remaining reverence to take it all in. This is a church, after all. It’s also a tourist attraction though and several groups huddled just outside, near the entrances, or wandered around like I did – likely making it near impossible to achieve any kind of peace. I didn’t realize until later there was a woman sitting in the pew in front of me here. She sat still the entire time we visited and though I don’t know her story, or if she was a fellow traveller herself, it’s nice to imagine this is a place she, and others, still go to worship.
A day later, we travelled to Cahir Castle (Cathair Dhuin Iascaigh “Fortress of the Dun Abounding in Fish”) in County Tipperary. It was, by far, one of the more preserved castles we toured – replete with trap chambers, steep, deliberate inconsistently sized spiral stairs (“tumble stairs”) literally built to trip up enemies; a spiked gate; and a legitimate cannonball still wedged high into the stone. It’s beautiful inside with a miniature version of the castle and soldiers in the midst of a battle. It’s hard not to walk up those spiral stairs and around the upper edges of the stone and not imagine what it must’ve been like under siege – that and, due to its preservation, Cahir is commonly featured in TV shows and films like Braveheart, Excalibur and The Tudors, among others.
Monuments like castles, rocks and stone circles felt like places we just stumbled upon in our more present task of hiking. Trekking through Killarney National Park (Páirc Náisiúnta Chill Airne) in County Kerry started out as a paved road, that lead to gravel that lead to the elevated wooden walkway (three long boards w/ a staples or a stapled metal film for traction) over marsh/bog, that lead to a legitimate climb over large, slippery rocks and finally to natural/gravel path again. As I mentioned in the last post, it’s hard to put in words what it’s like to be traveling through spots like this. It’s chilly, it’s rainy, then it’s warm and the sun is out and I’m reaching for a snack in front of an indescribably beautiful waterfall. Moments later, I’m walking on the narrow part of a peat bog, as the tour guide warns of the quicksand-like quality of the bog and the many artifacts and bodies that have been found deep within it, forever preserved.
When I look at the shots above, I always want to say (or rather, for the last month of “always”) that they were my favorite part of the trip. I’m quickly reminded in my last post of equally beautiful cliffs and water color gradations and cool breezes in the middle of long hikes that probably nothing will beat the Glendalough hike in County Wicklow (for me). Admittedly, these are probably the most scenic of our hikes – the ones people most associate with what Ireland looks like outside of a pint-filled pub. The top two pictures are actually opposite each other – we climbed down that hill (the people in the photo are hiking back up) to see this gorgeous cliff on the other side. The first part, Slea Head (Ceann Sléibhe) we hiked in the morning, then onto Louis Mulcahy‘s in Clogher, Ballyferriter in County Kerry for a latte and chocolate (well, that’s what I got because, let’s be real, it was our last day). The second part, a hike up Ballydavid Head (Baile na nGall) – one of 388 Marilyns in Ireland, was another of those really fantastic hikes that left me both out of breath and words. I’ll post a few additional pictures of the last hike – the result of which is a picture of me celebratory, though exhausted, at the former 19th century signal tower atop the Head.
Our last stop on the trip was in Dingle (An Daingean or Daingean Uí Chúis, meaning “Ó Cúis’ fort”), a lovely town on the far west coast of Ireland. It was the one place we went where I felt surrounded by fellow Americans. We spent two nights there walking around town, eating fish and chips, drinking fantastic local beers and, for me, remembering at the last-minute to buy a few postcards and Irish postage to send home. Aside from surviving the hiking trip with 17 strangers, my three personal goals for the trip were to 1) Drink local beer, 2) Buy a copy of Joyce’s Dubliners, and 3) Buy/Send postcards. Buying postcards is typically not an issue when traveling, but finding postage and a place to mail said postcards typically means they’re mailed from my U.S. address upon my return. I am beyond fortunate to have had really brilliant guides who more than helped with my first goal and gave me the confidence and enough knowledge about the towns we stayed in to go out on my own to complete the last two.
It’s impossible to write one of these posts and not immediately be taken back to those places in your mind. That’s probably the best part about traveling – whether it’s across the world or to your own backyard, you have those memories for a lot longer than the duration of the trip. I was just telling a friend that after writing these posts I feel like I need a pint of Guinness and a mountain to climb. Do you feel that way about places you’ve travelled?