Cahir & Clonmel, Ireland
While we enjoyed the dramatic west coast with its cliffs and surging Atlantic, County Tipperary in the heart of Ireland feels more like home. The area features verdant farmland and small villages plus friendly, down-to-earth Irish who don’t see as many tourists.
After the heavy rain and wild gale yesterday evening, today dawned bright and calm. It felt like the perfect fall day as we hit the road and headed south. Ultimately, we made a large circuit drive beginning at the town of Cahir (pronounced “care”), then headed east to Clonmel before following the twisty farm roads back north to Horse & Jockey.
We liked Cahir immediately as we drove through the town square. It was clean and prosperous-looking with brightly colored shops and pennants draped high above the streets. Folks were sitting outside at the cafes with their obligatory breakfast pots of coffee and tea.
After parking, we decided to make the pleasant two-kilometer walk along the River Suir to visit an attraction called the Swiss cottage. As we strolled through the Tipperary forest, the leaves on the massive chestnut trees were just beginning to show a tinge of gold. Fall is approaching in Ireland.
The Swiss cottage isn’t really Swiss. It’s just what people here thought a Swiss cottage would look like so that’s what they called it. This was a leisure home for the aristocratic Butler family whose crest you see throughout County Tipperary.
Evidently it was fashionable in the early 1800s for the rich to sample a simpler life from time-to-time. The family, shedding their regal clothes, would entertain guests in a rustic cottage to be closer to nature. Of course, they didn’t actually experience what life was like for the lower class (servants still waited on them hand and foot). But it served as a respite from their royal obligations. Yes, life was tough.
The irregular shape of the house was meant to mimic nature. No two windows or doors were alike. The thatch roof was built up several feet thick with dried reeds. Rose bushes climbed wild along the tree-trunk posts. An ancient yew tree, thought to be a thousand years old, shaded one side of the cottage.
Hiking back to town, we decided Cahir boasts arguably the most complete castle in all of Ireland. If you drew a castle as a child, it probably looked somewhat like the one here in Cahir complete with moat, massive gate, turrets and dungeon.
Of course I climbed around everything: up to the top floor of the massive keep and down into the deepest hole in the dungeon. In the bottom cell, the darkness wrapped around you, damp and heavy. I shivered and made my way quickly back up the metal stairs, thankful to live in the year 2016.
Heading east, we next explored Clonmel, the largest town in County Tipperary. More people and more cars meant it took longer to find a parking spot. There’s no pressure like trying to parallel park while you back up traffic. Especially doing everything backwards from the right side of the car.
We didn’t want a big lunch and, while walking through the market area, we stumbled across a Subway. Even though we’d rather eat somewhere unique to Ireland, sometimes you just have to go with what’s quick and easy.
I’ve used the fancy Coke machines back home but this was the first interactive Pepsi dispenser I’d encountered. You don’t really get re-fills here so it was nice to fill your cup up yourself when you wanted and take one for the road. Yes America, you’re already great.
I’d researched a Franciscan friary in town that featured a burial effigy of a knight and his lady. We walked through the door of the church and I was dismayed to see construction equipment and collection boxes haphazardly piled on top of this ancient treasure. Without asking anyone, I quickly cleared it off. This medieval couple deserved more respect.
After strolling around town, we jumped back in the car and headed into the countryside. One of the most striking things about Ireland is that you can travel through any nondescript village and there’s always something to see. Sometimes, you are the attraction…
While driving down a narrow lane, we rounded a curve and the ruins of an impressive castle and church came into view. I slammed on the brakes, Mom grabbed the dash and I eventually found a small gravel shoulder I could fit the car.
These particular ruins must not attract many visitors. There was no walkway to the entry gate along the narrow road so I dodged traffic by climbing into a thorny hedge when a car or lorry came into view. The old church was worth it.
When I peered inside the nearby tower house, I realized it DIDN’T have a heavy iron gate blocking access to its crumbly stairs. Only a few sections had fallen to earth over the centuries so there was no extreme danger (or so I explained later to Mom, waiting back in the car). I felt like Indiana Jones again eventually making it to the top…
Speaking of that feeling, I had to return to the remarkable ruins at Kilcooley to see my friend Knight Pierce Fitz Og Butler one more time. It wasn’t raining so I wanted to experience the abbey and its treasures in the waning sunlight. It’s specifically a place here in Ireland I won’t forget.
Thanks again for following along. If you have questions or suggestions, just tweet @JasonRMatheson. Missed an entry? Click the link below.