Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Irish Midlands

Continuing with the regional theme of my Ireland posts, The Irish Midlands comprises Counties Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Offaly, Roscommon, Tipperary, and Westmeath. In this case, we only spent one day & night in Cashel, which is in South Tipperary. As far as I know, we did not even cross the boundaries of the other counties in this region as they pretty much are in the middle of the country and we mostly drove a clockwise circle around the perimeter of the island.
County map of Ireland from Joyce's Walking Tours
After leaving Kilkenny we drove west on the R691 towards Cashel. As we quickly discovered, the R (regional) roads vary greatly in condition and use. Sometimes they are completely unmarked (ie. no lines), are very narrow to the point where you have to pull off on a non-existent shoulder (ie. with shrubbery scraping your doors) to let another vehicle pass you going the opposite direction, have blind curves, and are heavily used by trucks and tractors thus making it slow going. Amazingly, the speed limit on these roads is 80kph/50mph but I often was far more comfortable driving 50kph or about 31mph.
a view of the scaffolding-covered Rock of Cashel as we walked up from our B&B
Upon our arrival in the cozy town of Cashel, we checked into Wattie's B&B where we would be the only guests for the night. As we had just enough time to walk up to the Rock of Cashel before it closed for the day and the weather was pretty clear, we went ahead as you never know when it will be rainy & dreary once again.
Greg reads the Rick Steves guidebook to find out about more about Cormac's Chapel and its Romanesque wall paintings (c1134)
We used our Heritage Cards to gain free entrance to the site, then watched a brief video before using our Rick Steves' guidebook to conduct our own self-guided tour. The "Rock" is currently undergoing some much-needed restoration work as the damp and blustery conditions are taking their toll on the almost 900-year-old buildings. After a thorough exploration of the site, we were the last visitors to leave at closing time.
the Rock of Cashel sits high above the Plains of Tipperary
We walked back downhill and after having a brief look around town, settled in for dinner at Fahy's, recommended by Maria, the owner of our B&B. Wanting to eat some "local" food, I ordered the Tipperary Bacon & Cabbage which turned out to be three huge slices of 1/4' thick ham on top of dark green cabbage, served with carrots, spaghetti squash, mashed potatoes & peas -- more than enough for two people! Ditto for Greg's All Irish Tipperary mixed grill which featured a pork chop, two sausages, two slices of grilled ham, fried eggs, blood sausage and a side of chips (fries). We washed it all down with a pint of Guinness and a pint of Smithwick's for a grand total of 30EUR or about $42. We vowed to start ordering one entree and sharing it after seeing the huge portion sizes!
a Tipperary meal at Fahy's
After returning to the B&B, we did some trip planning in our room and then hiked up to the Rock again once it got dark to take some photos of it illuminated at night. Unfortunately with all the construction scaffolding surrounding the site the pictures aren't perfect, but it was still nice to get some exercise and fresh air after our heavy meal!
Rock of Cashel at night
We got a good night's sleep and Maria fixed us a cooked-to-order breakfast of omelets, toast, cereal, juice, coffee, tea, etc. That is one of the big advantages of staying at B&B's; a full breakfast is included in the nightly rate and it is always filling enough that you can skip lunch and just eat dinner, which also saves money.
I borrowed this photo of the Swiss Cottage from Greg, as I didn't take my camera (you couldn't take photos inside)
After leaving Cashel, we stopped in Caher, also on Maria's recommendation, to tour the Swiss Cottage. Again, this is a place we never would have visited (ie. paid extra to see) but with our Heritage Cards we got in free. It was peaceful and scenic and different, and since it was not out of our way, we were glad we stopped.

The link to all of my photos from Cashel is embedded in this post's title.

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