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Wild Church, Chinese Feast and Fairyland

June 26, 2009
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liam says… I woke up like a child on Christmas last Sunday. No, not expecting a toy under the tree, but I was going to the Jasmine Palace for their Sunday Chinese buffet. I know it may be hard for you to imagine such excitement over dinner, but the Jasmine Palace in Limerick is the best Chinese restaurant I have ever eaten in.

They’ve got it down. The food is made fresh… it’s displayed beautifully and the taste… well… you are just going to have to go there yourself. Plus, they remodel the joint every few years, so I never know what changes they’ve added. It is on O’Connell St… just about in city center.

My friend Tony and his visitors, Mike and Jenny, invited me to spend the day with them. I drove over the hill from my valley to his at 9am and Tony had a cuppa waiting for me. His guests were in their bedroom getting ready and Tony and I had a chance to chat. He was learning just how exhausting it can be to juggle tour guide duties and B&B hosting.

All in all, he’s handling it pretty well. He has, however, lost a good deal of weight, and I told him he had to start eating again. I happen to be an expert on the eating part and feel fully qualified to speak on the medicinal properties of glutTONY (that is the art of force-feeding Tony in order to put on a stone or two worth of weight). Prescription number one… Jasmine Palace for sure!

Glenstal

Driving through the imposing gates of Barrington Castle… now Glenstal Abbey… is always a dramatic effect for first time visitors. I think Jenny and Mike enjoyed the experience through the gates and up the winding road with cows on each side.

We were twenty minutes early for mass… Perfect! Plenty of time to wander around. I love the look on the faces of fellow Yanks when they see the interior of the church at Glenstal. Everyone expects a medieval structure with old flags hanging in the side aisle and a dark mysterious atmosphere. Not at Glenstal… the interior looks more like a stage set for an Austin Powers movie. Bright red and green swirls cover the ceiling and are accented with a garish teal color. All this color is set against the flat white walls of the altar. The white almost makes the red, green and teal light up as if electrified.

As we walked in I watched Michael and Jenny’s reactions… eyes got wider and wider. Of course, then comes the question, “Can we take a picture?”

“Sure. After Mass,” I whisper.

Americans love taking pictures of this church to go back and show their friends, “Check this out!… Yeah, it was a church… an abbey.”

And the conversation usually includes, “Whose idea was this?” “Does the Pope know?”

Michael and Jenny’s curious looks stopped the very moment mass began, and a prayerful atmosphere took over. That’s when the incense started… and continued… and more was added to the smoking bowl… and then more… and then a little more… then they blessed the monks with smoke and smell… and then added a little more incense to bless the congregation… By this time, we were all choking and their was a haze over the entire church… however, still not enough to dull the colors on the ceiling. So they added another blast at the Consecration.

I wondered why monks didn’t just buy a smoke machine. It would eliminate all of the refilling of the incense burner, and I’m sure it would be less expensive.

After mass, we returned to the fresh air and stopped at the visitor centre for the little shop and the tea and muffins put out by the Benedictines. One bite and I was reminded that the muffins never taste quite as good as they look here, but I always take one anyway… it makes the tea taste all the better.

The Palace

From Glenstall we headed into Limerick city to eat at the Jasmine Palace. The buffet tables were set with salads, barbecued sliced pork, shrimp and chicken egg rolls. The list of just appetizers, or starters as the Irish call them, went on and on.

Michael and Jenny were the first in line and they let out a series of oooooos and ahhhhhhs. They hadn’t even seen the dessert table yet.

By the time we were on to our dessert, the restaurant was chockerblocked (packed). While new trays of delicious food were being brought out, we knew that after an hour of overeating, we had reached our limit. On our way out, we ran into our friends Jim and Betty from Phoenix. Their entire group of children and grandchildren were enjoying the feast before they flew home the following day. How perfect to know I passed the Jasmine Palace tradition on to them, and they passed it on to their entire family.

We then went for a walk around Limerick. This is necessary after eating at the Jasmine Palace. Eating that meal and then climbing into the car for several hours is NOT recommended. That, my friends, is a recipe for constipation. Yes, another topic I am an expert on. But enough about bodily functions.

Jenny and Mike

Jenny and Mike

Off to the Glen

On the way home, we stopped off at Clare Glens. It’s a wonderful, little-known spot in Ireland. Only the locals really know about it, and many of them have never taken the time to stop there. It’s located in the glen formed by the river that marks the Limerick and Tipperary county border. It’s a beautiful woodland walk that follows the river up one side to a bridge and then down the other.

There’s something very Hansel and Gretel about place… especially when you are lucky enough to have dappled sunlight shine through the trees. The dancing light creates a fairy tale quality in a place like Clare Glens with its waterfalls, winding paths, large pine trees and carpets of wild shamrocks..

It was once a garden of the Barrington family who built the castle that is now Glenstal. They were the ones who planted the rhododendron bushes that have grown into significant trees along the path. When they are in bloom, they create a canopy of purple and pink above, and as the petals fall, they create a brilliant carpet below. Astounding!

Our only downfall was the recent rain. It had left the path a little muddy in spots. Michael had worn his dress shoes because of Mass, and Jennie had open-toed hiking sandals. We started the circular walk, but at one point had to turn around and head back when a 20 x 15 food mud hole blocked our way. We returned along the Tipperary side of the river, which, as a Tipp man, is my favorite anyway.

When we returned to the car, we were all surprised the time was going on five o’clock. We headed back to Tony’s cottage for a couple of whiskeys and a chat… it was just the kind of chat I love… good whiskey and good company.

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