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Shrines

June 1, 2008
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Rag Fence

corey says…Report from 30May… Today started with a great breakfast with an even better view of Carlingford Lough. Then we were off for another day with no particular destination in mind. Our first task was to find a route over the mountain. The road we wanted wasn’t signposted, so we zigzagged around the slope for a while before getting directions. The pass was a very nice trip, but it would be even more impressive to hike than to drive.

We then found our way to the area around Fougher where we followed a sign up Fougher Hill. At the top, a cemetery, holy well and ruined church associated with Saint Brigid who was born in the area. Liam led his mother down the stairs to the holy well. They poked their heads into the wee shrine and Liam took the mug-on-a-stick from its hook and sunk it into the pool of greenish holy water (this well was a bit stagnate which is unusual). A quick prayer and blessing…and Liam pretending to kick his mother into the well…and we were exploring the rest of the cemetery.

SAINT BRIGID’S SHRINE
There was a man strimming (weed-whacking), and he pointed us in the direction of Saint Brigid’s Shrine down the road. This turned out to be a significant pilgrimage site and an unexpected find. We started at the car park and made our way passed the fence with various pieces of cloth tied to it (much like the fairy trees and prayer trees found elsewhere)…then across the tiny stream to the set of life size statues.

There was a man painting the platform that held the statues. His name was Tony, and he stopped his work to chat with us. Ends up the statues were replaced earlier this year and the entire shrine is dotted with ancient healing stones. He showed us how the “hip” stone was perfectly shaped as a seat with a conveniently placed handle. As he balanced him on the low stone, he pointed out the back stone and the knee stone and a few others. We made sure Liam’s mother took to the hip stone and prayed that it did it’s job on her artificial hip.

Tony went on to explain that the stones and the clothes being hung on the fence were actually pre-Christian traditions that have been adopted. In addition to the shrine and Saint Brigid history, he also filled us in all kinds of other local tidbits.

These included King Edward Bruce who declared himself king of Ireland and was at war in the valley nearby when he had his head smashed in by a man posing as a jester dressed in straw in 1318. There was nearby Moyry Castle, a tower house with unique rounded corers, a railway bridge that was a frequent bombing target during the troubles and the hills in the area that were known as bandit country right until the 1970s when it was a hideout for renegade IRA members.

We paid a visit to each of the spots Tony suggested and felt as if we had had a personal tour simply by talking with him.

LOUTH
Then we headed to the village of Louth to find Saint Mochta’s House…an old stone chapel with living quarters above. It’s believed that building on the site began shortly after Saint Patrick visited Mochta. The house pops out of the middle of a field behind the ruins of Saint Mary’s Abbey. The abbey includes a great old cemetery with a very high wall and the remains of the church with an outline of what were likely to have been some spectacular windows.

Liam, being quite captivated by the really old cemeteries stuck his head into one of the vaults. Inside this one, he could see the remains of an old coffin and several bones…including several skulls scattered behind the caged door.

When I had inquired about finding Saint Mochta’s House, the shopkeeper also recommended Knockabbey Castle and Gardens. “Now, that’ll be a bit harder to find,” he said. But his directions of travel out of town to the pub at the cross and turn right…then travel what is hardly a road until it comes to an end…turn left and you’ll see it signposted once you cross the stone bridge.

Unfortunately, when we reached the gates, they were locked up tight. I tried the intercom system, but there was no answer. We then called the number and found out that they are only open on weekends and start their weekday schedule next week (June and July). All three of us were disappointed. Liam tried to sound a pathetic as possible on the phone, but the woman was not about to suggest us stopping by 😦

I then looked at the map…there was one garden that I had driven by once, but never managed to see. It was near the Loughcrew Megolithic tombs, and not only was the main passage tomb fantastic (think Newgrange without the crowds), but I remember the region being quite beautiful.

It was main roads for over half the trip there, so we figured it wouldn’t take long. Our timing was a bit optimistic…the N52 appears to be a major trucking route, so traffic was very heavy and the vehicles were driving waaaay too fast. Fortunately, once we got through the bustling village of Kells, we were back on quiet, beautiful roads.


LOUGHCREW GARDENS & COFFEE SHOP

The coffee shop at Loughcrew Gardens is very nice with tasty desserts, super clean bathrooms and according to Liam’s mother great coffee. Liam and I toured the garden. It was very nice…more of a glimpse into history than a show garden. On the site was Saint Oliver Plunkett’s family church.

One thing I loved was the reconstructed facade of the old house that was visible in the distance. It looks a bit like a follie set out in the middle of a field. The gardens are sprinkled with a collection of mediocre sculpture…most of it human figures.

At €8 ( $12.40 ), this garden was waaaay to expensive for what was there. I realize it’s not a government-owed site, but compared to the other gardens I had been to, even just this year, there are much more interesting gardens out there for a lot less. The coffee shop however was a great spot…and the outdoor seating has a great view of the old house facade.

VIRGINIA
After the garden, we found a place to stay in the village of Virginia. Our hostess is a charming character. She insisted she show us the room before she would tell us the price. So, through the house and up the steep, steep stairs we went to the family room. It was very large with a huge shower and even a walk-in closet.

The price would be €100 ( $155 ) for the three of us (about same price we paid for Hope Castle). It was a good price for such a nice room. We told her wed take the room, yet she continued to sell it. “And look at the views from the windows. From this one you can see the lake…and from this one you can see the hillside.”

We looked out at the wash of housing estates just in front of the lake and the hillside. Liam said, “I’ll bet this was all green fields a few years ago.”

“You know, when I came here it twas.”

We went downstairs and collected our luggage and Liam’s mom. When returned our hostess greeted us with our breakfast menu choices. We all cheered NOT to be offered another fry. Her breakfast options were simple combinations of pancakes and maple syrup, french toast and bannanas, ham/cheese/cranberry sauce (not sure what that would be like) and four other choices. We’ll see how breakfast goes in the morning.

Upon her recommendations we ate at Loughgrey House down the road. When we drove up, we weren’t impressed…it was a purpose-built, modern structure that could have been dropped in Anywhere, USA. The menu prices were standard dinner €14-22 ( $22-32 ) with no early bird prices.

It didn’t seem like the kind of place that would have spectacular food, but to our delight, it was all very tasty. Whew! We liked it enough to trust their dessert selection as well…sticky toffee pudding. Mmmmm.

Then it was back to the B&B just in time for Britain’s got talent. Some of the acts were especially bad this evening, so we got to see Simon Cowell’s nasty side…good to know he isn’t all flowers and teddy bears on British TV.

This Week’s Photo Album

My Ireland Expense Report

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2008 9:58 PM

    Corey,

    I am enjoying your blog. Tried to post a few comments previously but they would not go through. I just downloaded Apple QuickTime and will see if that does the trick.

    Would you recommend Harwood Heights? Their website does not show photos of the rooms. Why don’t some B&B websites show the rooms? I can never understand that. It is the most important thing to include.

    Stickey Toffee Pudding…ummmm. I can never get enough. Good thing I don’t live in Ireland year round.

    Your photos are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    Michele

  2. June 4, 2008 2:19 PM

    Harwood Heights gets good marks from all of us. Our family room was huge, bathroom was good-sized and very clean, beds were comfy…Liam’s bed had just been replaced a day earlier.

    The place was built in the 80s and they have clearly been continuously updating it, so it is in very good shape. Our hostess was wonderful and the view at breakfast was spectacular…I’d say this was the best B&B we had on our trip.

    Breakfast photo at http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3033/2543970519_bec460abb3.jpg?v=0

    Second runner up was Bellsgrove in Virginia, Co Meath. The stairs to the family room were a bit steep and I heard some noise coiming from downstairs during the evening (Liam an dhis mom are heavier sleepers and they didn’t notice a thing). The hostess was among the best I’ve met in Irealnd…she loved what she was doing and she paid attention to a lot of little details that added a little extra to what could have been a very average experience.

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