Today was our first field trip–to Woodstock Manor and Kilkenny–and along the way we discovered that Ireland has everything: sheep (SO many sheep), sourdough bread, greenery, castles, cathedrals, sweaters, ice cream, pillows . . . and that’s all in just one county!
I took a lot of pictures at our first stop (Woodstock Manor) because it’s gorgeous, a few at our second stop (St. Canice’s Cathedral), and exactly one at our final stop (Kilkenny Castle). It’s possible that I was a little tired by then. But it was an ideal first field trip: a crash introduction to Irish history in all its variety as well as a day-long parade of Irish weather. We woke up to what the Irish call a “soft day”–cool, overcast, misty–and were all a little damp by the time we were standing bravely on the Woodstock Manor grounds listening to Jonathan and hoping we didn’t look too discouraged.
The 18th- and 19th-century owners of Woodstock Manor–the Tighe family–were aristocrats and thus not much beloved by the townspeople who were their tenants. That their house would be first occupied by a brutal anti-independence force and then burned down to prevent such a thing from ever happening again is about as close to “Irish history in a nutshell” as it’s possible to get. At the same time, the Tighe family’s resources made it possible for them to collect plant specimens from all over the world and turn their estate grounds into a beautiful series of gardens. Although the entire property was left to decay for decades after the house was burned in 1922, it now belongs to the Kilkenny County Council which is maintaining and restoring the gardens. The eventual fate of the house is less certain. It may be beyond repair.
From Woodstock we went on to Kilkenny, where we parked at one end of the “Medieval Mile” (Kilkenny Castle) and walked to the other (St. Canice’s Cathedral). St. Canice’s isn’t enormous, but it is beautiful. It dates from the 13th century; the 100-foot round tower next to it is 400 years older. As a medieval city, Kilkenny isn’t unique in Ireland–there are others, including Waterford, that have been settled for many centuries–but it is special because it retains some medieval features that others no longer have. The round tower is one of those. It’s one of only 3 in Ireland that you can climb to the top of. (I did not climb it–went to eat lunch instead!)
I ducked out while some of the students were still waiting to climb the round tower and went to get lunch with another colleague. We walked part of the way back up the Medieval Mile and ended up at a restaurant called Marble City Bar. Apparently it is a “sleek, dimly lit saloon” (according to a review I just ran across online). We ate upstairs where it was very pleasant to be up off the street in a tranquil setting. I had a beetroot, feta, and pecan salad and stumped our waiter by asking if he knew where the pecans came from. When I explained that I was asking because we were from Georgia where lots of pecans are grown, his best guess was that maybe theirs are shipped over from us!
After lunch we just walked around window-shopping for a while before finding an ice cream shop called Murphy’s that I highly recommend. At 4.50 for a small cone they’re not giving it away–except that they are very generous with the samples. I tried 3-4 flavors (including “Dingle gin”) before setting on “Dingle sea salt” (the company is based in Dingle and obviously prides itself on a hyper-local approach) which was a milder version of a salted caramel flavor. Very delicious! Nearly all of our students ended up at Murphy’s before we left. Don’t tell anyone, but one of my favorite things about leading study abroad is that students are always eager to get ice cream.
A coffee and some chatting on a bench later, it was time to head back to our meeting point on the Kilkenny Castle grounds and get ready to get on the buses. For the second consecutive year I did not tour Kilkenny Castle. Oops. With any luck it will still be here at this time next year and so will I. (“God willin,'” as they say here)Classes tomorrow and then we set out for the Ring of Kerry on Thursday. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather.