On the road again....And bloody early! 6 a.m. came too soon! The day's activities include a stop in Kildare at the Irish National Stud, then a stop to "view" the Rock of Cashel (that means a photo stop), and a drive west to Ennis, where we stay for two nights.
The National Stud is on the site of old Black Abbey, where the monks bred horses for the Crusades, huge, muscled beasts. Horse breeding in this area of the country is an old tradition and Irish thoroughbreds command some of the highest stud fees in the world. The Irish National Stud is run by the government though there are lots of private farms around as well. There are an enormous amount of regulations to the breeding of horses. Artificial insemination is banned and they even test the foals for DNA to prove their parentage to potential buyers.
We had one of the staff walk us around the barns and grounds to see the horses while he explained the history, traditions, and technical aspects of horse breeding. It really was interesting. We saw a couple of foals just born hours before. One mare allowed the door to be open and us to watch as her baby nursed. Another mare, though the door was closed, stood on guard over the foal with a glint in her eye when we peeked through the caged window. Nobody was getting close to that baby! We saw the stallion stables and paddocks and as large as the mares were, the stallions were massive! The neck on the top priced one, was so large and solid that I doubt very much I could get my arms around it, and I don't have short arms.
There is a Japanese garden and another one dedicated to a monk, St. Fiachra and we had time to have a walk around and a coffee or a browse in the gift shop.
We drove for another hour south into County Tipperary to the center of Ireland, all rolling hills to Cashel. The Rock of Cashel was originally a fortress built in the 4c on a 200 foot limestone mound that juts up out of a low flat valley. It was originally a seat of Irish Kings and continually a military establishment but St. Patrick preached from there and created a bishopric in the 5c. We stopped on the highway overlooking the plain and the rock but unless you crossed the busy road, you ended up with the road in your photos. Not a great choice for a photo stop.
Just the same, we were having our lunch stop in the town of Cashel. We scattered to try out several of the different pubs and restaurants that Bill pointed out. Carole and I ended up at Mikey Ryan's, in a building built about 1750-ish. It had several small rooms, brightly painted in yellow. The room we sat in had a huge black iron stove and a basket of peat and wood beside it. The soup urn was on the stove and a hutch full of old china and the dining room cutlery stood against the yellow wall upon which were hung old framed photos and softly glowing copper items. We had soup and a sandwich that were delicious!
After lunch we found the PO for stamps then walked out and around the road that leads out of town. We got a good view of the ruins of the Rock and a good photo from up the footpath.
Back on the bus we traveled north west through Limerick City. There are a lot of poor "travelers" that live in trailers (caravans) on the outskirts of Limerick, and elsewhere around the country but apparently this is a popular stopping point. The part of the city we drove through didn't seem to have anything particularly nice about it, but it's hard to tell just passing through. We stopped across the Shannon river for a photo of King John's Castle which was built around 1210. We also passed St. Mary's Cathedral from around the same era. Can't really say much more about Limerick as we didn't see any more of it that that.
We arrived at the hotel, the Temple Bar Hotel in Ennis. It's a lovely hotel that used to be a nunnery though has been extensively renovated. The bar and bistro serves very good food. The courtyard of the hotel faces the tourist information center. Ennis doesn't seem to be a really old town but that's only relative. It's probably still three-four hundred years old. There are a lot of newer homes and subdivision developments and it's a popular area to live for commuters to Shannon and Limerick.
We are seeing houses painted more pastel and warm hues of greens, blues, yellows and terra cottas dotted with an occasional bright yellow or deep red. A lot of the shop fronts and bar fronts are still painted lively colours in the traditional Irish pub style. There is very little neon that we have noticed even in the cities, where the shops have floodlights over the storefronts instead of glowing signs blinking at you.
We had a drink in the bar and then changed. Our optional (you pay extra) excursion for the evening is a medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle. There has been a castle here since the Norman era but as it's in a very strategic spot, it's been destroyed and rebuilt on 8 or 9 occasions after battles. The Folk Park that's been constructed here is a recreation of an Irish village from about 100 years ago, with cottages, shops and farmhouses and is a working museum with staff in period costume and working using the old traditional methods. The castle has antique furniture from the medieval period and is one of those large square towers seen all over the country. They do banquets as a dinner theatre experience as well.