Abbeys & Rocks & Castles, Oh My!

We drove through some great countryside in the Glendalough area on our way home from Dublin. It’s rocky in a different way than the west coast is. I’m often struck by the how noticeably the landscape changes by the region, especially considering the entire country is just the size of Indiana.

We happened upon the beautiful old Baltinglass Abbey to go along with a beautiful weathered day. This abbey was founded by the King of Leinster for Cistercian monks in 1148. We read about Henry VIII and how he ordered this and many other abbeys shut down in 1536 as part of his so-called reformation.

Another happy accident was spotting this huge field of rapeseed with its magnificent yellow flowers in Carlow. We followed a path through the flowers and arrived at a gigantic rock (the capstone) resting on top of the smaller (but still considerably huge) portal stones. It was the Brownshill Dolmen, a portal tomb built between 4000 and 3000 B.C. (yes, B.C.!), and the perfect spot for our picnic lunch. Apparently those large stones weigh more than two tons and are likely the heaviest in all of Europe. It’s also one of the few tombs in Ireland that has never been excavated. Thrilling to think what (and who) could be buried there.

Next on our journey was Kilkenny Castle, a huge estate built in 1195. Back then it was a sign of Norman occupation but in 1967 it was sold for 50 pounds to the people of Kilkenny, making it the public space it is today. The gardens out back weren’t at their prime this time of year without anything blooming, but the ground’s walking paths through wooded areas as well as vast green space where friends threw frisbee and families munched on picnics was charming and took me back to those first warm days of May term at Goshen College when everyone was out and about on the lawn.

When we had our fill we drove on to Tipperary and navigated our way toward the Rock of Cashel. I looked up from the map to see this majestic building on the hill in the distance. I remember Isaiah saying in hushed awe, “Whoa, that looks kinda cool.” We never know if some of these landmarks will be as great as they’re made out to be but the sight of this one quickly validated our stop.

Then in a great moment of fate we missed the left turn for the Rock of Cashel and noticed another great structure, this one obviously not as well maintained. It was the Hore Abbey and just a giant’s stone throw downhill from the main attraction, Cashel. Something about the raw nature of the abbey made it possibly more appealing to me than Cashel. Or at least as much so. I explored the many rooms guessing at their long gone purposes.

We journeyed the short distance to the reason for our stop and cast our admiration all over the Rock of Cashel. It was too late for admittance inside so we soaked up the beauty of the outside (even with the necessary but not aesthetically pleasing scaffolding assembled on the right side for maintenance).

We topped off the evening with some red and green curry take-out from a local Thai restaurant, which secured its place as #2 on Isaiah’s all time favorite Thai restaurant mental list. Whoa! (This ranked list is mostly my brainchild since Isaiah would normally say something like, “They’re just different. And all good.”)

From our bench at the base of Rock of Cashel we gazed up at the impressive stone structure between bites of spicy curry. Then, with full bellies and one last glance over our shoulder, we were on the road again watching the pink and purple sunset from our little red Skoda as we headed home.

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