Monday, 11 August 2008

On castles, charters and counties.

August 10th and 11th, Days Eleven and Twelve.
The day dawned on our last full day in Ireland to find us all fast asleep. However, this condition didn’t last very long and we were soon packing the car to head down the N24 away from Limerick. The day began quite showery but this cleared up after a while, only for us to experience showers again. This pattern covered the entire day. As always, some of the names of the towns and villages continued to amuse, with our particular favourite today being Oola, which reminded us of both the movie ‘The Producers’ and the disastrous year that David Lettermen hosted the Academy Awards and kept trying a joke introducing Uma (Thurman) and Oprah (Winfrey). Fortunately, we also had some disco music to play in the car and must have made quite a sight as we drove singing along to ‘Play that Funky Music’ and ‘Blame It on the Boogie’.

The other aspect of Ireland which we will no doubt miss will be the opportunity to spot old ruined castles just appearing by the side of the road. While we have commented on many of the ruins that we have explored, there have been many more that have not been mentioned, simply because they are just so numerous. There are many reasons behind this, one of which is to do with the impact of Oliver Cromwell on Ireland, and the destruction wreaked during that period. The Williamite invasion also played a part in seeing some of the defensive fortifications about the country being ruined. A third is the tax placed on the English who held property in Ireland. Because part of that tax was based on the number of inhabitable dwellings on a property, and the definition that an inhabitable dwelling meant one with a roof, the owners deliberately removed them, or allowed them to fall into disuse. Is it any wonder many of the Irish don’t like the English very much.

Kilduff Castle was built in 1550 and originally associated with the MacBrien’s, who were descendants of Brian Boru (the king of all Ireland). From 1617 it was inhabited by the Hurley family but during the Cromwellian settlement they were moved to Connaught and dispossessed of this estate. In 1667 it was given to the trustees of Erasmus Smith’s Charity Schools, however it was destroyed during the Williamite invasion and remained uninhabitable since that time. What is nice is that the government are still concerned to preserve these elements of their heritage, and so the ruins are looked after and there are signs explaining the history of the site.

Our first stop for the morning was the fabulous village of Tipperary, possibly well known to many of our readers because of a song which mentions the name. We had been warned beforehand, however, that we should not sing ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ while visiting the town. While part of this was no doubt because of the fact that it is an old joke that has worn thin with the town’s inhabitants, the main reason is the association of the song. It was adopted as a virtual anthem by the Black and Tans, the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force, who were sent to Ireland in 1920 to try and quell the uprising which would eventually result in Home Rule for Ireland. Because of this, Irish Republican viewed them as virtually an occupying army, and they were treated as such. To this day Black and Tan, or even Tan, is a term of abuse for many in the south.

Like Donegal, despite being part of a County with which it shares a name, Tipperary is not the county seat of County Tipperary. The county is divided into a North and South, with administrative centres in Nenagh and Clonmel respectively. However, the town has been around since medieval times and became a centre of population during the reign of King John. As you enter the town from the south along Main Street, you come across a statue to the ‘Maid of Erin’ celebrating the traditional picture of Ireland as a woman. Slightly oddly, this statue was erected to commemorate the actions of a group of 3 men, known as the ‘Manchester Martyrs’, Allen, Larkin and O’Brien, who were part of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. On September 18, 1867 they participated in the rescue of two other members of the Brotherhood in Manchester, England, and a policeman was killed. They were publicly hanged on November 23rd, 1867, before an enormous crowd. Their execution raised an enormous amount of indignation around the world and inspired many people to join the fight for Irish independence. Consequently, as well as the monument in Tipperary there are others in Limerick, Kilrush, Clonmel, Birr, Ennis, Dublin and in Manchester itself.

The rest of Main Street is also very picturesque and particularly colourful on this day as the Hurling and Gaelic Football finals were taking place in Dublin this afternoon. Indeed, even though it was still fairly early in the morning there were already a good collection of men standing outside the pubs and betting shops, no doubt ready to settle down and enjoy an afternoons viewing. Because we were driving in the direction of Dublin ourselves we encountered numerous vehicles prior to lunch time which were obviously headed to Croke Park as part of the crowd. Unlike many of the towns we had previously travelled through, Main Street, Tipperary, was wide enough to pull over and park, so we were able to wander up and down taking photos.

From Tipperary we journeyed further North East to another lovely named town, that of Golden. The river that passes through Golden is the River Suir and we were able to see some of the consequences of the rain that had fallen in the previous 24 hours. Indeed, on the South East coast of the country there had been considerable flooding with a couple of towns evacuated, which was not entirely surprising given what we had experienced the previous day in the South West. As you might see from the photographs we took, the River was right up to the limit of its banks and flowing very quickly. The bridge at Golden, was the scene of an historical event in 1690, when King William II renewed, by means of a letter he wrote himself, the Royal Charter of the city of Cashel. This was in gratitude for the hospitality received by his followers from the people of Cashel following his attack on Limerick. Situated on the island in the centre of the Suir is a medieval castle, now in a ruinous state, but impressive nonetheless. Among the castle ruins is a memorial to Thomas MacDonagh,(1878-1916) Tipperary-born poet and leader of the Easter Rising in 1916.

Next stop up the road was the town of Cashel (where the aforementioned letter is still preserved), perhaps best known for the Rock of Cashel, another ruined castle (but this time much more extensive and better preserved than many of the others that we had seen) which stands on the summit of a hill in the centre of the town. Carraig Phadraig was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster (one of the four provinces in Ireland) for several hundred years before the Norman invasion. However, it has been built and rebuilt upon so that today the majority of buildings date from the 12th and 13th centuries. Cashel is also supposed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century A.D. Cashel is dominated by the rock, which isn’t surprising when you know that its Irish name, Caiseal Mumhan means ‘Stone Fortress of Munster’.

Another interesting fact about Cashel is that Robert Peel (the founder of the British Police force, which is why they have been called both ‘Bobbies’ and ‘Peelers’ during their history) began his parliamentary career as Member of Parliament for Cashel. Sadly, although he was concerned to stop crimes such as robbery that hasn’t necessarily translated across to today. While the Stone of Cashel is one of the most popular tourist attractions in modern Ireland (owing in part, no doubt, to its proximity to Dublin) it is also one of the most expensive places we came across during our time in the country. Even walking up (cars were not allowed) without entering the site cost money. Given that we had many other places to visit during the day we decided to leave Cashel without visiting the Rock, which in many ways is a great shame because it is meant to be as extensive and well preserved as any similar site in Europe.

We are getting used to pubs in England with combined names, like the ‘Crown and Anchor’ or ‘The Fox and Hounds’, what we hadn’t expected was a town with such a name. However, not long after leaving Cashel that is exactly what we came across in the form of Horse and Jockey. There is not much there, indeed the town is dominated by a ‘Hotel with Function Rooms’ but it must make for interesting reading on signs pointing to the town and make the naming of businesses quite complex. It is part of the Golden Valley which surrounds the town of Cashel and which is particularly good for the breeding of livestock, which goes in part to explain the name.

By this time we were all starting to think of lunch, so a decision was made to continue on to Port Laoise to buy some food. Unlike Tipperary, Port Laoise is the county town of Laois and used to go by the name Maryborough. Although it has the name Port, it is closer to the centre of Ireland and the reason for this vague confusion is that, in Irish, the name actually means ‘Fort of Leix’ or ‘Fort Protector’ and you can still see the remains of the old fort in the centre of the town. In 1557 Queen Mary granted the town’s charter and the town changed name (as did the county to Queen’s County). It was only in 1922, following the Irish War of Independence that the town reverted to its older, Irish name. A number of people with Australian connections originated in Laois, these include; Charles Beale (1850-1930), founding president of the Federated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia; James A. Graves (1827-1910), Australian commissioner of trade and customs, 1881-1883; and perhaps the best known, Peter Lalor, who led the Eureka Stockade at Ballarat.

Because parking was, shall we say, interesting in Port Laoise we took our food (purchased from the main shopping centre) back to the car and drove in to Kildare to look for a space in which to stop and eat. Kildare also has Australian connections with Damian Leith (who won Australian Idol having come from there) and it seems like quite a nice town, although getting close enough to Dublin that it seems to be a bit like a suburb. Certainly, many of the people who live there commute to Dublin for work because the wages in Dublin are higher but the cost of living (for the moment) in Kildare is comparatively less. As we were meandering around the back streets of the town we came across a cycle race in progress and ended up in the middle of a group of riders which somewhat limited our speed. Spotting a park ahead we turned in and found a spot to stop where we could eat. Meg and Wayne stayed in the car (the wind was a little chilly for Meg’s liking) while Brock and Quinn decided to go for a bit of a ramble.

Little did we know at the time that what we had ended up chancing upon was the Curragh. The Curragh (Irish: An Currach) is a flat open plain of almost 5,000 acres (20 km²) of common. It is the home to the Irish National stud and the famous Japanese Gardens. Also located here is Pollardstown Fen, the largest fen in Ireland. This area is of particular interest to botanists and ecologists because of the numerous bird species that nest and visit here. Many rare plants also grow here. It is composed of a sandy soil formed after an esker (a long, winding ridge of stratified sand and gravel, examples of which occur in glaciated and formerly glaciated regions of Europe and North America and which, because of their peculiar uniform shape, somewhat resemble railroad embankments) deposited a sand load and as a result it has excellent drainage characteristics. This makes it a popular location for training racehorses.

During pre-Christian times the Curragh was used as meeting site and consequently is shrouded in a mist of mythology. The hill north of the Curragh is called the Hill of Allen (Almhain) and is the meeting place of the mythical Fianna. Legend has it that in about 480 AD, when St Brigid wished to found a monastery in Kildare, she asked the High King of Leinster for the land on which to build it. The king laughed at her request and told her that she could have as much land as her cloak would cover. St Brigid then placed her cloak on the ground which miraculously covered the entire Curragh plain. It has also been a common site for mustering armies. During the 1798 Rebellion there was a massacre in the Curragh at Gibbet Rath. The Curragh Camp (where the Irish Defence Forces undergo training) is now located there so sections of it are off limits to members of the public. It is such a useful place for military exercises that it was chosen as the site for the shooting of the battle sequences in ‘Braveheart’.

Almost next to where we parked Kylie is a natural bowl-shaped amphitheatre known locally as Donnelly's Hollow because, in 1815, the Irish champion boxer Dan Donnelly defeated the English champion George Cooper, before a large crowd. Donnelly reach was famous and (grotesquely) the remains of his arm were on show until recently in the Hideout Pub in the nearby town of Kilcullen. To our surprise what emerged from it on this day was a great flock of sheep, pursued by a shepherd and couple of sheep dogs. They surrounded the car and ventured up on to the road, causing more disruption for the poor cyclists, one of whom had to come to a complete halt while sheep manouevred around him. It gave the boys, who had wandered over in that direction, something to take photographs of (although Brock was more intent in taking a picture of his name, which he had scratched in some gravel).

Pulling away from our carpark we still had a couple of (obviously slower) cyclists to negotiate as we travelled around the rest of the Curragh back out toward the N7. Just before the main road was the Curragh Racecourse which is the most important of the thoroughbred race tracks in Ireland. The first recorded race at the site dates back to 1727, although there were almost certainly races held there before that. In 1868 it was declared by an act of Parliament to be a horse racing and training facility. It hosts the Irish Derby Stakes, the Irish Oaks, the Irish 1,000 Guineas, the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the St. Leger which are the five most prestigious events on the Irish racing calendar and the course has a train station which opens during the racing season. Being a Saturday there had obviously been something on at the track because there were still a large number of people in attendance, although our suspicion is that it might have also been a site where people could gather to watch the Gaelic Football and Hurling broadcast on a big screen.

As we continued on the road past Newbridge and Naas toward Dublin we started to come across roadsigns warning us of problems on the M50 (which is the ring road which goes around the city). There had been substantially more rain on the northern side of Dublin and the tunnel, which the road passes through before the airport and port turnoffs, had been badly flooded, banking traffic up for miles. The traffic authority advice was to avoid the road at all costs, however, because we didn’t have any really detailed maps of the area and we were going to be turning off the M50 before the tunnel, Wayne decided to risk it. This proved to be a better decision than some of his other navigational ones during the trip as, although the traffic was heavy, very little of it was turning up the N3 and we were not really delayed as we headed up to our next stop.

The Hill of Tara is an archaeological complex north of Dublin near the town of Navan. Legend has it that it was the seat of Árd Rí na hÉireann, or the High King of Ireland and it certainly contains a number of ancient monuments. It has also featured in a lot of fiction, being a key landmark in Eoin Colfer’s ‘Artemis Fowl’ series as well as the place after which the family plantation in ‘Gone With The Wind’ was named. Because it had begun to rain again we tarried in the gift shop, looking at postcards, pottery and woollen products before venturing up the hill itself. Partway up was an old church (which now operates as a tourist information centre) and a large statue of Saint Patrick. To enter the church yard there was a gate but Quinn, in his excitement to keep moving, decided to climb the fence and had some difficulty getting over as a result (this was not to be the last of his adventures in this place).

At the summit of the hill is an oval Iron Age hilltop enclosure, measuring 318 metres (1,043 ft) north-south by 264 metres (866 ft) east-west and enclosed by an internal ditch and external bank, known as Ráith na Ríogh (the Fort of the Kings, also known as the Royal Enclosure). The most prominent earthworks within are the two linked enclosures, a bivallate (two ringed) ring fort and a bivallete ring barrow known as Teach Chormaic (Cormac's House) and the Forradh or Royal Seat. In the middle of the Forradh is a standing stone, which is believed to be the Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny) at which the High Kings were crowned. According to legend, the stone would scream if a series of challenges were met by the would-be king. At his touch the stone would let out a screech that could be heard all over Ireland. Sadly, there was no screeching when Meg, Wayne, Brock and Quinn touched the stone, however there was some to come.

While Meg and Wayne were busy taking photographs, Brock and Quinn were busy playing ‘I’m The King of the Castle’ up the ridges of Cormac’s House. Because of the rain this proved to be easier said than done as the mud was quite slippery. There were also a flock of sheep grazing not far away and, despite Meg’s pleas to leave them alone, the boys decided to chase them (partially to keep warm because, despite the sunshine, it was quite chilly). Brock leapt after one sheep and caused not only his own family but lots of other people to laugh at him because the sheep turned back toward him and he let loose a squeal not unlike the one we imagine the stone might have made. Quinn fared even more unhappily as, coming back from chasing a couple of sheep, he slipped onto his rear right in the middle of a patch of sheep droppings. By the time we returned to the car he needed to remove his trousers, so we all stood with our backs to him, to discourage other people from looking while this action was performed.

From Tara we made our way up to Navan and then followed the Boyne River across toward Drogheda. In places the river has carved a deep gorge through the valley, a feature which we had noticed on our drive between Dublin and Belfast, many days earlier. We were searching for another site which had been highly recommended to us by our friend Julie while we were staying at Moneyrea, the location of the Battle of the Boyne. After an interesting drive along some roads which at times were just wide enough for one car and across more than one bridge over the Boyne river itself we found ourselves at what was an impressively large site (and discovered there had been a much easier but less scenic route to the place).

The Battle of the Boyne is one of those significant moments in the history of England and Ireland that had much wider impact than just the battle itself. In 1688 King James II of England and Ireland (James VII of Scotland, and a Catholic) was deposed by parliament and replaced by his nephew and son-in-law William III (a Protestant). James wasn’t best pleased about that and set about gathering armies to try and take the throne back by force. On July 12, 1690, their armies met outside of Drogheda in Ireland and the battle was decisively won by William and his supporters. Even though the armies themselves were a mixture of religious sympathies this battle entrenched the position of protestants in Ireland (originally placed there by Elizabeth I and Oliver Cromwell) and played some part in the sectarian conflicts that racked Ireland on and off for the next 300 odd years.

Julie was absolutely right in that the site is really well set out and has obviously had a lot of money spent on it. The main building contains audio-visual and other displays which really did a good job of explaining everything from the background, to the battle itself, and to the impact that it has had on Irish history. There are beautifully restored armaments and other machinery, as well as replicas of the clothing that was worn. Out on the fields in front of the buildings there were reenactments of the key elements of the battle and illustrations of just what it would have been like to be a soldier in the army. In the old stables at the back of the house there was information on the role that cavalry played in the battle as well. All in all it was an amazing experience which did a lot to put together many of the things that we had seen over the previous ten days.

From the Battle of the Boyne we drove the 6 kilometres to Drogheda so that we could have a look around before heading into Dublin. Drogheda was the town that Pierce Brosnan (a former James Bond) was born in, although he grew up in nearby Navan. Another interesting things about the town is its crest which features, among other things, a star and crescent moon. Apparently these are there as a gesture of gratitude to Sultan Abdul Mecid who donated three ship loads of food to the people of Drogheda during the Great Famine. We got to see the St Lawrence gate, which also features on the coat of arms, and some of the bridges which characterise this port town but it had started to rain once more and we were all hungry so, rather than stopping, we decided to drive back down to Dublin.

Our ferry was due to leave early the next morning so the plan was to have dinner and then catch a movie or something similar. Sadly this plan was slightly derailed by the end of the Gaelic Football and Hurling finals, the traffic from which was still causing congestion in the northern suburbs of Dublin as we were driving in. Eventually we made it in to the Dublin City Centre and found a good parking spot. This enabled us to look one more time around Dublin’s fair city as we took newspapers and laptops to McDonalds for an evening meal. This was opposite a Nightclub/Restaurant called 'The Church’ which also gave an opportunity for people watching for a few hours. Various circumstances related to finance and accomodation meant that when McDonalds closed we drove across to the Port where we could park Kylie and rest before the ferry arrived.

It was an interesting night, made memorable by Meg saying to Brock and Quinn, at about 3am, “for God’s sake go to sleep” (a phrase which they still use to draw a laugh). In the morning we had another good ferry ride back to Holyhead in Wales, before driving up to Wrexham for lunch. The rest of the trip back to Hoddesdon was only eventful by the misdirection which saw us driving around Liverpool for a little while before eventually finding our way back to the M1. It had been a big 12 days, we had travelled through 27 of the 32 counties in Ireland and Northern Ireland and seen some of the amazing places that those countries contain. We had met lots of fabulous people and had experiences that we will never forget.

For the next ten days after our return Brock and Quinn were sleeping in one of the dorms at Hailey Hall School, while Wayne and Meg had a mattress on the floor of Wayne’s English classroom. At the end of that time we were able to move in to the house that has been provided for us at Hailey Hall and our travelling life has settled back down (for at least a little while). Brock and Quinn are able to walk to their school and are both much closer to friends from there, while Wayne and Meg are onsite and, consequently, able to do much more at work and make better use of the facilities that the school provides.

On pecks, parking and pouring

August 9th , Day Ten
There was some discontent at our having to wake quite early this morning. However, it was important to get going early for a number of reasons and these would be gradually revealed during the day. We headed south down the N20 toward Cork. This is one of the best stretches of road in the country and we made very good time so that we pulled into the town of Blarney quite close to 9am. Meg and Wayne, however, both despaired that neither Brock nor Quinn had ever heard of Blarney Castle or the Blarney Stone and the ritual associated with it. However, if you were to ask either boy about totally fictional realms in the computer game World of Warcraft they could bore you to death on the topic. Honestly, if they weren’t both teachers they would be questioning what it is that the schools of today do actually teach.

Surprisingly, the ticket box at Blarney Castle only accepted cash! However, at this stage the car park was still relatively empty, so the whole family went for a wander across to the Woollen Mills and other shops nearby where we had been informed that there would be a cash machine. This proved to be true and gave Meg, Brock and Quinn an opportunity to browse through the variety of woollen products while Wayne got to wait in the queue behind a horde of German, English and American university students. Soon enough we had the requisite cash and headed back through the gate and into the gates of this beautiful castle.

The castle which we see today is just the keep of the third building which has stood on the site. In the 10th century the first building was a wooden one. This was demolished and replaced by a stone structure in 1210 which was itself knocked down to be used for the foundations of the current building, erected in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster. It was his ancestor, Cormac McCarthy, who is said to have assisted Robert the Bruce in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. It was in gratitude for his assistance that half of the Stone of Scone was given to McCarthy, which half is reputedly the Blarney Stone which has become famous even till today.

There have been millions of visitors to Blarney Castle over the centuries, many of whom have kissed the stone. Some of the more famous ones include; Winston Churchill (in 1912), Laurel and Hardy (a few years earlier), Mick Jagger, Billy Connelly, Sir Walter Scott (in 1826), Tom Horan (who played in the first Test Match between England and Australia in 1877 and went on to captain his country), Nellie Bly (journalist who went around the world in 72 days, made sure she stopped at Blarney along the way), and Milton S Hershey (the American founder of the chocolate company that bears his name). More recently, the men from American Choppers visited in 2005 and Michael Madsen (an actor, famous for ‘Reservoir Dogs’ among other films) who has been this year.

Kissing the Blarney Stone is much more difficult than it sounds. After a delightful walk through the gardens which form part of the grounds there is quite a steep incline up to the castle itself. Once there, you have to navigate your way through the castle and up numerous flights of stairs. The stairwells are very narrow and quite steep, although there are some iron and rope railings to help you pull yourself up. Meg, in particular, found this to be quite a challenge, but she was determined that she was going to make it to the top. Once at the summit of the castle, you then have to negotiate your way around the battlement, lie down on your back, grab hold of two iron bars to steady yourself, then lean backwards and down (with an attendant holding your feet) in order to kiss the stone. While Brock and Meg had done fabulously well just to get to the top of the castle, the act of kissing the stone proved to be beyond them. However, Wayne and Quinn both managed it and have photos to prove it.

As it turned out, navigating our way back down was almost more difficult than making our way up the castle. The steepness of the stairs made moving down particularly tricky, and this was added to by the combination of a number of other visitors who (having successfully kissed the stone) wanted to get back down quickly, while others found the going much tougher. Meg sympathised with another lady who had twisted her ankle earlier in the week and who was finding the going particularly difficult and well as with some elderly tourists who had not expected the journey to be quite so challenging. Fortunately, it was compensated for by some quite magnificent views of the surrounding countryside.

As we made our way down from the castle through the grounds and back to the car one of the reasons for leaving Limerick early became very very clear. By now there were hundreds of tourists pouring through the gates into the castle. When we reached the carpark (after a couple of toilet stops) we found that it was full and there were a load of coaches which had not been there earlier. Another hint, just in case you ever come here, not only is it worth arriving early but it is also worth bringing your own camera and someone to take your photo while kissing the stone. There is a photographer at the top who takes photos of the moment, but of course the charge for the ‘official photo’ is quite substantial. In fact all of the souvenirs at the castle were on the expensive side compared to other places we had encountered in Ireland. So we jumped into Kylie and drove the last part of the journey to Cork.

Cork is another fabulous port city on the south coast of Ireland and (like Waterford before it, which is only 119 kilometres away) we loved it immediately. The city centre is on an island in the middle of the River Lee which runs into Lough Mahon and Cork Harbour, and the bridges crossing this give fabulous views of the water and the town. Cork Harbour is, apparently, the second largest naturally occurring harbour in the world (after Sydney Harbour, so we have visited the two largest harbours within 9 months of one another). Cork is also the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland (after Dublin) and the third largest on the island of Ireland (after Belfast). It is also one of the oldest cities, having been established as a monastic settlement by St Finbarr in the 6th Century. Like many of the other coastal places in Ireland that we have visited, it also boasts a connection to the Viking traders that operated in the area in the 10th Century. The city was also once fully walled, and there are still some remnants of the wall remaining today.

We had a phenomenal time driving around the city, admiring the architecture and going backwards and forwards across the bridges. Cork is particularly strong in hurling, so there was an enormous Cork Hurling team shirt hanging from a building, ready for the final of the hurling championships which was going to be taking place that weekend. There was an extraordinary amount of public art as well (even by Irish standards) so it was hard for the boys in the back to know where to look in order to take photos. Quinn however managed to find something called the Naked Bus on the other side of the river at one point and did succeed in taking photos of it. We had initially thought of having lunch in Cork (we had purchased supplies the evening before in Limerick) however, the distance which we still had to drive and the size of the place saw us put this thought to one side so that we might instead stop somewhere smaller in the next part of the route.

We left Cork headed west with the intention of doing a loop around the south-western corner of Ireland heading back up to Limerick where we were to stay a second night. Of all the west coast of Ireland, many of our contacts had told us that this was the most naturally beautiful part. This is largely true, although it is particularly so if the weather is fine. One of the things that we had learned (and another of the reasons for leaving early) was that if there was to be any good weather, it would be in the morning with rain tending to develop as the day progressed. Sadly, particularly after some glorious weather down to Blarney and then into Cork, as we drove out of the city we saw clouds ahead, which would (quite literally) put a bit of a dampener on the second part of our day.

Despite the impending rain, we made it down to Clonakilty in relatively good time (although it was noticeable that the traffic in this part of Ireland was considerably heavier than in most of the rest of the country). Clonakilty is another in a long line of beautiful Irish towns in which we wish we had had more time. Among other things, it is the home of Michael Collins (about whom a movie, starring Liam Neeson, was made) one of the leaders of the movement for Irish independence in the first quarter of the20th Century. It is well situated on a lovely river and brightly coloured, with the shops fronts in the city centre being particularly looked after in this way. Traffic actually within and around the town was extraordinarily congested, partly because of some roadworks, so once again we decided to skip having lunch here and to head for Skibbereen instead.

At this time we began to feel the unfortunate effects of another decision that we had made previously. Meg and Wayne had purchased large bottles of drink for the boys to have in the back with them in order to save having to constantly stop and spend money on buying drink. What they hadn’t counted on was that both Brock and Quinn, rather than limiting their fluid intake and conserving some for later in the day, would drink virtually all of their bottles before we even reached Blarney. As already mentioned, this led to more than one toilet stop at Blarney Castle alone, and the rest of the day saw both boys (but Quinn in particular) frequently asking to stop so that they could use the bathroom. At one point later in the trip, having only stopped 45 minutes previously so that Quinn could use the amenities, he was heard to ask once more if we could stop, and when his brother challenged him as to why, he stated that he had been holding on for over an hour!!

Much to our dismay, by the time that we reached Skibbereen the rain was bucketing down, so we are unable to give you much information as to how that town looked (other than that the toilets in the services were quite clean). It seemed like a nice place, and it certainly has a fabulous name which features in a traditional Irish song about both the famine and the impact of British rule upon Ireland. Once again we could not stop for lunch (we were beginning to regret having put the food in Kylie’s boot by this point) because of the heavy traffic which we experienced around the town and the amount of water falling from the sky. A few miles further on, after we had passed Aghadown but before we reached Ballydehob, we turned off the N71 on to a side road headed down to Roaringwater Bay. Among some farms, on an old dirt road, we found a place to stop under a bit of cover from some trees so that we could jump out, get the picnic we had prepared, and then jump back into the car to eat.

Brock and Quinn also took the opportunity for (yet another) chance to urinate by walking down the road away and finding some bushes. It was not long after they had got back that we noticed one of the mangiest dogs any of us had ever seen coming back up the road toward us. For those of you who have read Harper Lee’s novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ you might remember the scene where Atticus Finch is persuaded to shoot a rabid dog (and where the meaning of the novel’s title is properly explained). Both Meg and Wayne were reminded of that description by this old mutt as he shambled toward us. Despite his rather desperate look (and some fear expressed by Brock) he meant us no harm and Wayne was even able to get out of the car and feed him some biscuits before we went on our way.

Heading up the coast toward Killarney and Tralee presented us with a challenge. Part of the beauty of this area is the hilliness of the region, which gives way to breathtaking views down canyons into the bays and Loughs, filled with tiny islands, which constitute the coastline. As a result, the roads are quite steep and, at times, narrow and windy which is not conducive to travel at any sort of speed. However, it seemed that more local (we imagined) drivers were a bit more relaxed about the conditions and prepared to take more risks than we were. Wayne found himself (not for the first time) hoping for what Brock and Quinn call a ‘Wayne Lane’; a piece of road which we could drive along at any speed we felt comfortable with without drivers tailgating us and flashing their lights because we are sticking under the speed limit. That the weather was intermittently bucketing us with heavy rain was also not as fun as it might otherwise have been.

Despite all of the conditions, some of the views were absolutely astonishing. At times it felt like we were hanging directly over a valley or a bay which majestically appeared in front of us and was truly magnificent, even through a very wet windscreen. On another of Quinn’s comfort stops we were next to a large wooden statue of a druid overlooking a breathtaking valley which seemed to continue for miles in front of us, and which we were going to have to negotiate our way down into. While we cannot give you as much of a description of Killarney and Tralee as we would like (for much the same reasons we had for not describing Skibbereen) we can tell you that the scenery in this part of Ireland is stupendous and well worth visiting, especially if you can conjure up a sunny day. Wayne would also like to emphasise that there are still fingermarks in his leg from where Meg would clutch at it whenever she felt we were travelling too fast or where the land seemed to drop away from the side of the road at too precipitate a rate.

Because of the weather, the traffic and the roads, the trip around took us much longer than we had originally intended, so we consequently had to jettison a few of the possible destinations (such as Dingle, which is out near the westernmost point of Ireland) that we had wanted to explore. After an impressive drive but a slightly long and tedious one because of the inability to stop and walk around, we found ourselves heading back into Limerick. Brock and Quinn had slept quite a bit in the final few hours, so by the time we arrived back at the hotel they were full of beans, whereas Wayne and Meg wanted nothing more than to have some dinner then climb into bed. With that in mind, after we had eaten, Brock and Quinn were given the opportunity to do a little exploring around the hotel, possibly to find the reputed Playstation 2 which was supposedly part of the Games Room.

While the boys were out exploring, Wayne and Meg quickly checked emails and then, both being extraordinarily tired, climbed into bed at around 9:15pm. Meg thinks that Wayne fell asleep first, while Wayne is not so sure. What is apparent is that at 2am they were woken by the return of Brock and Quinn to inform us that they would be not sleeping in our room that night, but that they were going off to spend the night in the rooms of some girls that they had met as they explored. It seems that the people participating in the International Baton Twirling Championships tended to be aged in their mid teens and the boys had spent the previous few hours meeting up with, getting to know, and exchanging phone numbers and email addresses with a number of young people from different parts of the globe.

Among other things, Wayne and Meg were also informed that the next International Baton Twirling Championships were going to be held in Australia, possibly on the Gold Coast in Queensland. However, they were soon disabused of the notion that they were going to be sleeping in the rooms of girls that we had never met, without any parental supervision (we imagine that the parents of these baton twirlers were as tired as we were after a week of driving their cherubs to and from the championships). Instead, Brock and Quinn were ordered to say ‘goodbye’ to their new best friends and come to bed immediately. With muttered phrases to do with the unfairness of parents who were condemning them to lives of boredom, both boys complied and soon made it to bed as we all prepared ourselves for the penultimate day of our trip.