Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Ireland Day Eleven -- Cashel, The National Stud, and Glendalough

After having a few drinks and a few laughs with Desi and Sharon lasting until midnight, Becky and I were greatly upset when Eddie and Luke decided to set up a tea service at 5:13 the next morning. Through the fog of sleep, we half-heard them stomping around in the hotel suite, but when I heard the chink of china cups, I got out of bed furious! I yelled and yelled (in that whisper-threatening-yell that you do at five in the morning).

The boys had set up a complete tea service on a towel on the floor of their room. They had saucers, plates, sugar packets, spoons. They even had tea bags steeping in warm tap water, because they knew they weren't allowed to use the electric kettle.

I picked up all the stuff, and hissed at them:

"You are not to leave this bed for TWO HOURS! DO YOU HEAR ME?!"

It took me a long while to cool off. I was far from sleep, so I showered, dressed and got packed as quietly as I could without disturbing Becky.

Finally cooling off, I settled back onto the bed, dressed in my clothes for the day, and was able to get another hour of sleep before rising for good.

Much restored, we ate a sumptuous breakfast at the Actons Hotel restaurant, and then said goodbye to Sharon and Desi and family. They departed for "Mamie" and "Pappy" Whelan, while our family had a long drive to Glendalough.

We were to travel from the extreme south of Kinsale almost to the edge of Dublin, where Glendalough National Park lies in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains.

We had three routes mapped out, not yet deciding which road to take:

The southern coastal route would take us through Wexford and Waterford, with stops at the Waterford Crystal factory, Jameson, and the Irish National Heritage Park.

Becky wasn't keen to see Waterford. We had seen the distillery at Bushmills, and had our fill of heritage at Muckross and Bunratty, and seen plenty of coastal road, so we decided to skip the southern route.

The middle route would take us through Lismore, Carlow and Kilkenny, but again, we were all castled and large-manor-housed out. So, no good, the middle route.

We finally settled on the northern route, direct for Dublin on the N8/M8. This route had the advantage that it was mostly dual carriageway, with top speeds of 120 km/hr, shaving 30 minutes off the four hour trip. It also featured the Rock of Cashel, the National Stud, and the rear entrance to Glendalough National Park (allowing us to see the park in its entirety).

So, the northern route it was. I very much enjoyed opening the car up on the big motorways, especially after the many rural and bumpy back roads from days past. Oliver performed with reckless abandon, and we passed lorry after lorry with glee, chewing off the miles from south to north.

Our first stop came at Cashel, where we stopped to see the beautiful St. Patrick's Castle on the Rock of Cashel.

As with much of Ireland, there is a legend that tells the story of Cashel. So the story goes that about 100 km north of Cashel is a range of mountains. In one of these mountains, long, long ago, the devil himself lived in a cave, taking the form of a large snake. St. Patrick had heard of the devil terrorizing the local populace, eating cows, stealing horses, kidnapping children, and generally making a nuisance of himself.

So St. Patrick was enlisted to rid the mountain of the devil. He ascended the mountain, entered the cave, and had a grueling battle with the devil-snake, the end result being that St. Patrick flung the snake far into the air, and indeed, clean out of the country of Ireland.

However, as the devil flew away, he took an enormous bite from the mountain, and this gouge from the mountain is called "The Devil's Bit." As the snake flew over the country to the south, the bit fell from his mouth, and landed in Cashel. They say that if you measure the size and shape of the Rock of Cashel, it is a perfect fit for the Devil's Bit.

This is the wonderful stuff of Ireland: rich folklore and everywhere a legend to be told.

We stopped only briefly at Cashel, to view the rock from below, and to buy some lunch at the local grocery. We've been lunching on hard rolls, ham, sliced cheese and mustard, apples, and crisps. This has proven to be a reasonable way to feed ourselves the noontime meal--about €16 for four people.

After Cashel, we drove into Kildare to see the National Stud. No, this is not Ireland's equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The National Stud is Ireland's (and indeed the world's) premier horse breeding stud farm.

Before our guided tour started, we walked through the Japanese gardens, and I was thrilled at the variety of plants and the performance of my portrait telephoto lens. (All photos at f1.4, ISO100, aperture priority, untouched by Photoshop.)

At two thirty, our tour guide was ready to take us on a tour of the farm. The National Stud is a fully working stud farm, with tours permitted only providing they don't interfere with the business of studding.

To give you an idea how much business: They have around ten thoroughbred studs that they hire out for their "services." The fee for a single "cover" with a mare ranges from €7,000 to €75,000, depending on the stallion--more for the more race-winning stallions.

Their prize stallion, a beautiful Bay named Invincible Spirit, fetches the top price, and breeds 190 times in a breeding year. Do the math and it's close to €15,000,000 for this one horse in a single year. (And they have many, many horses!)

Our guide told us that an Arab sheik had offered €66 million for the bay, but they had refused it. But they immediately raised the insurance rates on the animal after this offer. I do believe it's the most expensive animal I've ever set eyes upon.

After the National Stud, we drove for several miles on rural routes through the Irish equivalent of Middleburg, Virginia back home: acre after acre of private stud farms, horse ranches, and BIG MONEY homes. It was clear that there is a lot of wealth involved in the business of horse breeding. The National Stud is indeed one of Ireland's prizes.

Finding our way finally into the western entrance to Glendalough, we came immediately upon the scenic view of the Wicklow Gap and a bunch of monastic ruins piled upon the hillside. The climate changed from the warm green pastures of Kildare, back into the scraggy heather and cotton-grass mountains reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. Fiercely cold wind whipped through the valley.

Finally, very close to the eastern entrance to the park, we arrived at The Glendalough Hotel, an hundred and fifty year-old hotel nestled in the bottom of the picturesque valley. Again, Irish Tourism had set us up nicely in the family suite, providing two twin beds, a queen bed, and a very clean bathroom with heated towel bars.

This trip is really coming to an end soon, and I shall miss this country. We'll find our way to Dublin tomorrow, spending two days there before leaving for lovely Purcellville on Friday.

Until then, I'm off to the bar to enjoy another glass of Jameson!


© Copyright 2005-2014, Scott E. Harris. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not reproduce or copy without the permission of the author.