Oct 8, 2012

Kerry, Part I: lime trees and turrets

That's right - they added a door at Bunratty Castle just for me.
I'm back in Galway again, friends, after another weekend trip.  Pardon my absence, if you would; there were many moments this past week when I wanted to write, but sensed that what I needed was to be still.  Indeed, I've been wondering lately whether, in fact, I should be spending these months (i.e. this time away from friends and family) learning how to be still...how to be silent...how to rest.  I am easily overwhelmed by the loudness in silence, but press on nonetheless.

This past weekend, I saw the Ireland I've been seeking for weeks.  Kerry was breathtaking.  It was nature, friends - nature, wild and untamed.  I saw rolling hills and mountains crowned by foggy clouds.  I saw fields bordered by shrubbery and dotted with cattle.  I saw quiet, simple lives spent in dependence on the land.  This was all on the Dingle Peninsula, by the way.  Is it very obvious that this was my favorite part of the trip?  But then, I'm getting a little ahead of myself...

An hour’s drive along the coast of Galway Bay on Friday morning brought us to Coole Park.

Coole was once the high-society home of Irish dramatist and folklorist Lady Augusta Gregory.  (Together with William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory also co-founded Dublin's Abbey Theatre.)  In the early 1900s, Coole Park was the center of an Irish literary revival and was frequented by the likes of Yeats and George Bernard Shaw.  In the latter half of that century, though, the estate was transformed into a nature reserve, replete with trails and woods and wild swans that return from Iceland every autumn.

The lime tree's distinguishing feature is this heart-shaped, bright green leaf.  Lady Gregory was fond of planting trees; even to my untrained eye, there were clearly many different types of trees all over the estate.
I never was one for botany, but the sheer size of these trees gave me pause.  Huge.
One of the many walking paths surrounding the largest garden on the estate.
Apparently, these are "female" yew trees.  Who knew trees could be male and female?
The "autograph tree" was the highlight of the estate.  This copper beech bears the initials of many a famous writer (i.e. Shaw, Yeats, O'Clancy,  Mansfield) who carved his/her name into the bark for posterity.
I wish I could point out individual initials to you, but I could barely make them out myself!
For anyone who knows Union's campus, this reminded me of the walkway in front of Sorum and Green...which, in the fall, is framed by trees just so.  I love my campus!
That walkway led to a modest lake which disappears and reappears with the seasons.   The tablet's inscription reads, "But now they drift on the still water/Mysterious, beautiful."
360-degree beauty.
When I hopped up onto the wall after taking this photo, I noticed that the air smelled like honeysuckle.
I would have been content to spend another hour or two at Coole.  It was pervaded by a powerful beauty that settled my breath and drew me into quiet.  It's no wonder that people went there to write...

Sadly, though, it was soon time to board the coach again so we could visit Bunratty Castle (in Co. Clare.  Here's a map, if you'd like to have a sense of Ireland's basic geography.)

Medieval cannons.  Who could want for more, I wonder...

See those chains?  This is a drawbridge.  A drawbridge.  I had half a mind to look for a moat, too.
This castle changed hands an awful lot during medieval times, thanks to the many Irish clans that were constantly at war with one another.  In the 1400s, Bunratty was won by the O'Briens, the largest and most powerful clan in County Munster at the time.
A dining room of epic proportions.  Some of these tables were over five hundred years old, and carved from a single piece of wood.  (If you're a Harry Potter fan, you'll appreciate that when Teresa entered this room, she remarked excitedly that it reminded her of the Great Hall at Hogwarts.)
It looks like there are steps there, and it's true - there are.  But there's also a five-meter drop a bit further along, and no way to get out.  Clearly, one didn't mess with the O'Briens...
The main hall, where "official" royal business was discussed (by the men of the family, of course).

A fire pit...indoors, no less.  The child in me would like to think that the O'Briens must have really loved their s'mores.
A not-so-secret spy hole through which a sniper listened in on "official" conversations.  He was in charge of ensuring that no one was speaking ill of the royal family.
This photo would have been better with a flash, but I wasn't allowed to turn mine on as that kind of light exposure was liable to damage relics like the tapestries (one of which is pictured above).
This stucco work above the window was all done by hand.  Amazing!
Each set of these Irish elk antlers measured five to six feet, end to end.  Think that's impressive? Check this out - they're estimated to be ten to fifteen thousand years old.  How on earth are they still intact, you ask?  Peat bogs.  The lack of oxygen in this kind of Irish soil prevents "normal" decay and deterioration, leaving us with specimens that have been perfectly preserved.
This is a wall beside another stained-glass window.  Let me call your attention to that misshapen depiction of a woman at the bottom of the photo, who is, believe it or not, pictured giving birth.  This woman symbolized a pagan god of fertility at the time.  It was said that if you touched (or, if you were really brazen, kissed) the idol, the gods would grant you as many babies as you wanted.
Whew - all of that alone was in the main hall.  At this point, I set about exploring the rest of the castle.  I found various chambers that were once used by the O'Brien family, as well as narrow spiral staircases that led to turrets and towers..
A pretty well-stocked kitchen, by medieval standards.
A private chapel.
As a kid, I dreamed of having a four-poster princess bed like this.  (Actually, let's be honest here - I still want a four-poster princess bed like this.  The curtains are non-negotiable.)
Servants' quarters, I presumed.

Each of those steps barely accommodated one of my feet...
...but I managed.
I wonder what this view was like in the 1400s.
The staircase seemed even more treacherous on the way down, but I delighted in pretending I was a princess flying down from her tower (of course, availing myself of the handrail the entire time).
I somehow ended up exiting the castle from the back...
...and found myself this thatched cottage, which was one of many erected to show visitors how the Irish fared in the castle village, back in the day.  Apparently, they were all my size. 
From Bunratty, it was a short ride to the hostel in Dingle...but that will have to wait until tomorrow.  Stay tuned...


  1. Sonika - very fun to read your post. Your photos were fantastic - made me feel like part of the tour. Glad to see that you are enjoying exploring Ireland - I wonder how you are doing in the studies and campus portion? Were you able to connect with the CU there? Feel free to chat back on email - I just thought I would post to your blog to let you know I enjoyed it! Take care

  2. Thanks for visiting, Tom - that's a kind compliment. I am enjoying these trips; if you hang in, there are even better photos to come in the second half of this bit about Kerry. I'll write to you soon!