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Loais

June 2, 2008
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Rock of Dunamase

corey says…It is with weary finger that I type this. We made it home from our travels north and climbing into my own bed will be refreshing.

Before we met up with Gaeney and Fiona at 11am mass at the Cathedral in Armagh, we drove around the city eying up several sites we missed yesterday. These included the Planetarium, the Bishop’s Palace, the friary ruins and many of the Georgian homes in the city. We all wished we could spend a little more time in Armagh to visit many of these sites properly, but it was almost time for mass.

At the cathedral, the choir was phenomenal and, as Fiona put it, the priest was a bit cheeky. He was quite insistent that the collection envelopes be thick and not heavy…meaning he wanted the bigger paper bills and not the heavier coins…quite a change from Glenstal where they don’t even take up a collection. He might have thought he was being funny, but no one was laughing.

Afterwards, we walked around the church before going to Fiona’s house for tea, sandwiches and a delicious toffee meringue roulade with vanilla ice cream… mmmmmm. We caught up on Gaeney’s adventures…more than nine people from the Christian Brother’s came to a little party they had at a hotel; plus, she had a few days with old friends and was even taken a behind-the-scenes tour of the theatre in town by a former student before seeing a performance by a string quartet. Gaeny said the student was just as cute as he was when he was in her class…except most of his red hair was gone now.

At about 2:30, we hit the road. Since it was bank holiday Sunday, and we hit virtually no traffic all the way to Drogheda (outside Dublin), we decided to try keeping on the motorways for, hopefully, the fasted route home. Our plan could have backfired terribly if we hit any Dublin traffic.

We were in luck, the traffic, although heavy, was steady-moving, and we were making good time. However, even with these favorable-as-can-get conditions, the M-50 that encircles Dublin was still a mess to maneuver. There’s a toll and roundabout with stoplights and a diversion for those trying to get on the Limerick road. Liam kept spotting landmarks he recognized and would say things like, “I remember when there was just one little roundabout in front of that hotel, and then it was straight into Dublin.”

Overall, it wasn’t too bad, but on any other day, it could have been a nightmare. It also helped that Liam had me navigating…the signs for the diversion were very hard to read and understand….especially because they were electronic and the message kept changing…if you missed the words, there was only one more chance to read them before you passed the sign – very annoying!

EMO COURT
Outside of Portloaise, we started our County Loais tour. Liam and I have been to many of these spots multiple times, but they are all great destinations that don’t get heavy tourist traffic, so we couldn’t resist stopping. Plus, we needed to get out and walk around a bit.

First stop, Emo Court. The grounds were loaded with people enjoying picnics over the bank holiday weekend. We were both surprised at the number of cars in the park because we rarely see that many people there. I’m sure Mr. Harrison, the man who handed the estate to the Irish government is pleased to see it enjoyed by so many people. He turns 100 this September, but his health is failing, so you might want to say a little prayer in his honor.

When we reached the house, the last tour was already in progress, but the staff ushered us in to catch up with it…and they insisted that we enjoy it with their compliments (since, they said, we missed the front of the tour). Gaeney and Pat were astounded by the beautifully restored home, and I was reminded just how well-preserved and beautiful the place is.

When the tour was over, the tour guide took us into the rooms we missed and gave us a private tour of that part of the house. It was absolutely wonderful, and I knew why I keep coming to this site again and again.

ROCK OF DUNAMASE & THE CHURCH RUIN
We then made our way toward Stradbally/Carlow to climb the impressive Rock of Dunamase. Liam was diligent about taking mental pictures of the route, because they have changed the road layout twice in the last three years, and he wanted to make sure he had the most efficient route memorized for when he brings his guests.

The climb to the top is a bit strenuous, but Pat and Gaeney made it to the second gate. From there, they were able to take in many of the views. Liam and I went on ahead and took in the whole experience.

At the top, there was an out-of-the-way ledge that I stepped up to, and there below me was a couple sunbathing…NUDE. I’ve seen plenty of nude sunbathers in my travels of the world, but in Ireland…that was a completely shocking sight. The idea of people showing flesh in this country is completely unexpected…even if the couple did stay on their bellies the entire time…as I they were when I saw them.

I quickly stepped away to, well, I guess, give them their privacy, but something tells me they might not have minded an audience.

On the way down, Gaeney admired the cute church at the base of the Rock. We then drove through Stradbally to the church ruin there. The ladies enjoyed looking in the vault under the church and then climbing up the back to what was once the inside of the church. Then there were all the old and new tombs scattered around the graveyard.

TIMAHOE & HEYWOOD GARDENS
We still weren’t done with the stops yet. We made our way to the gorgeous roundtower in Timahoe. Gaeney was tickled that the old church there was converted into a library. The door at Timahoe roundtower is quite unusual and impressive…as is the view from the little bridge leading up to it.

We then took winding backroads over some wonderful stone bridges to get to Heywood Gardens. This spot is among my favorites. The big house on the site burned down and a school now occupies the grounds, but the garden is still there.

One area of the garden has been closed off because it is starting to deteriorate, but based on the work the Office of Public Works are doing on two nearby sites… an old chapel and a tea house… I suspect the garden will be repaired.

We wandered around and took special delight in the magnificent Lime tree walk…one of the best in Europe…which leads to the fountain garden. The garden was designed by Ainsley, and his mastery is evident.

There, we started chatting with a family that was enjoying the garden Sean and Jo (or was it Joan) Malone (or was it Maloney – can you tell my ability to remember names isn’t the best). I do remember their son’s name was John Kevin. Well, they gave us even more insight into the place. The metal turtles that surround the fountain were originally made of copper, but were stolen. Fortunately, one survived, and they were able to make copies.

They were apologetic that the garden wasn’t in top form this year beause many of the resources have been diverted to the restoration project nearby. Even still, the gardens were very beautiful.

They told us about some manmade lakes and the graves of the family that built the house just across the field from where we were. Plus, they let us know about a nearby mining museum and work house museum. There was even a little detail about an estate nearby that some British royalty are staying in for the summer, but it’s all being kept very low-key (so promise me you won’t tell anyone ;).

Somehow the conversation turned to Sean knowing a Michael Hughes who owns a pub near the Four Courts in Dublin. Ends up, Michael is a relation of Liam’s. Which led him to talk about an American he knows named Tim Reilly from Florida. Low and behold, another close relative of Liam’s. Ends up Tim stayed at Sean’s mother’s B&B in the 1970s, and they kept in touch, and Sean even toured Tim around Ireland for a bit…and Sean stayed with Tim in Florida.

What were the chances of us all being one degree of separation from each other (even I know the Reilly’s)?

In the garden, we enjoyed some cheese and crackers…this is my favorite cheese and cracker stop in Ireland…it might even be better with wine. Then it was definitely time to go home. We were at Knockahopple enjoying a Bailey’s by 10:30, and by midnight we were all tucked in our beds.

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