Kilmainham Gaol

A suitably gloomy Dublin day accompanied our visit to Kilmainham Gaol, a prison built in 1796 and remembered for the incarceration and executions of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. Decommissioned in 1924, the property was left deserted and neglected until 1960 when volunteers set about restoring the site to preserve it as a museum.

1.Kilmainham Gaol entrance

Above the entrance, a carving of five serpents in chains represents the five most heinous crimes: rape, murder, theft, piracy and treason.

2.Five serpents in chains above entrance

The restoration was completed in 1971 with the re-opening of the chapel after reconstruction of the altar. One of the leaders of the Easter Rising, Joseph Plunkett, married his fiancé Grace Gifford in the chapel just hours before he was executed.

3.Chapel

The West Wing is the oldest part of the gaol, the corridors are long, dark and cold.

4.West Wing5.West Wing

The limestone walls gave no insulation and the windows had no panes, an attempt to reduce the incidence of disease with the flow of fresh air.

Poor health and hygiene was inevitable with five prisoners sharing a cell built for one. There was no segregation between men, women and children and a single candle provided the only light and had to last two weeks.

9.cell

An inscription has been scratched by a former prisoner over a doorway , “beware of the risen people that have harried and held, Ye that have bullied and bribed”. The quote is from the poem, The Rebel by Patrick Pearse, one of the authors of the Irish Proclamation of Freedom and a leader of the Easter Rising.

10.Padraig Pearse quote

The Great Famine contributed immensely to the problem of overcrowding in the West Wing with more people found guilty of stealing food and those committing crimes deliberately so they would at least be fed regularly. Adding to the numbers were convicts awaiting transportation to Australia and people with mental illnesses.

11.West Wing

The situation was alleviated somewhat in 1862 with the opening of an additional ninety six cells in the new East Wing. The Victorian era brought different ideas on the reform of inmates and the new addition was more open and much lighter.

12.East Wing Main Hall13.East Wing16.East Wing

The cells didn’t seem to be any bigger but definitely less draughty, a bonus for the men who were moved to the East Wing. The women stayed behind in the dark, cold cells of the West.

With the new wing came exercise yards where the prisoners spent one hour a day, silently walking in a circle. Another hour was spent in church and the remaining 22 hours confined to their cells.

19.exercise yard East Wing20.exercise yard East Wing21.exercise yard East Wing

The Stonebreakers’ Yard was stunningly silent, a palpable ominosity hung in the air. Between May 3rd and May 12th 1916, fourteen men, leaders of the Easter Rising, were executed by a British firing squad. The first was Patrick Pearse, a cross marks the ground where he and the next twelve died.

22.Cross marking the place of execution of the leaders of the 1916 Rising

James Connolly was the last. He had been badly wounded in the uprising and, even though he only had a day or two to live, was brought to the courtyard on a stretcher, through the gate.

23.Stonebreakers' Yard gate where ambulance brought James Connolly

Unable to stand, instead of being marched to the other end of the yard for execution, he was tied to a chair and shot. A second cross marks the spot where he died.

24.Cross marking the place of execution of James Connolly

It seems fitting that the Irish tricolour flies between these two crosses, a symbol of the independence these men fought so hard for.

25.Irish tricolour between crosses in Stonebreakers' Yard

Dublin

It was a very good decision of ours to return to Dublin and revise our initial  impression from our previous visit. Although the sky wasn’t exactly clear, the Liffey River offered stunning reflections of the Ha’penny Bridge

1.Ha'penny Bridge

and O’Connell Bridge.

2.O'Connell Bridge

We opted for a Hop On Hop Off bus experience to make the most of our limited time.

3.Hop On Hop Off bus

We hopped off at Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed public park in any European capital city. The 11 km perimeter wall encloses 1,752 acres, twice the size of Central Park in New York and bigger than all the parks in London put together.

4.Phoenix Park entrance

The name of the park is not related to the mythical bird but the Gaelic expression Fionn Uisce, meaning clear water. The park was originally formed in the 1660s for royal hunting and was opened to the public in 1747.

5.Phoenix Park

We had intended visiting Dublin Zoo which is also within the grounds but we didn’t really have the time to do it justice. We did discover the Wellington Monument, commemorating the victories of the Duke of Wellington. The 62 metre tall obelisk is the largest in Europe and would have been even higher if funding hadn’t run out. The four bronze plaques around the base were cast from cannons captured at the Battle of Waterloo.

6.Wellington Monument

Instead of hopping back on the bus, we walked in the direction of the city centre, stumbling across Old Jameson Distillery on the way. Founded in 1780 as the Bow Street Distillery, the building is now a Heritage Centre displaying the various steps that produce Jameson Irish Whiskey.

7.Old Jameson Distillery

We ventured far enough to admire the magnificent derelict still in the entrance courtyard.

10.derelict still

Continuing on foot, we reached the northern end of O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare. A bronze statue of Charles Stewart Parnell stands at the base of an imposing granite obelisk, a memorial to the founder and leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the late 1800s.

11.Charles Stewart Parnell memorial

Having worked up a bit of a thirst, we couldn’t possibly pass Brannigan’s without closer inspection. The pub was named in the late nineties after local policeman James Brannigan, otherwise known as ‘Lugs’. As well as serving in the force for over forty years, he was a distinguished boxer and was known for dispensing his own form of justice.

12.Brannigans

The Nescafé jar was an absurdly incongruous adjunct to the commercial coffee machine.

13.Irish Coffee Machine

We hopped back on the bus to appreciate O’Connell Street from the top deck. The huge Christmas tree was a new addition but apparently Dubliners weren’t too happy about it. The 18 metre structure cost the city €300,000 and would supposedly remain for ten years, thereby saving money that was usually spent each year on multiple trees around the city. Designed by the French firm that created the lighting for the Eiffel Tower, the 100,000 bulbs would look spectacular at night.

14.O'Connell St

With winter upon us, the leafless trees allowed an uninterrupted view of the gorgeous façades along the street. Many of the original buildings were destroyed during the Easter rising of May 1916 but have been beautifully resurrected.

15.O'Connell St

As we made our way back to our hotel, we detoured through Merrion Square where a new memorial had just been unveiled. The pyramid-shaped granite structure is dedicated to the members of the Irish Defence Forces who died while serving with the United Nations. Four bronze figures, representing the Army, Navy, Air Corps and Reserve, stand guard over an eternal flame that emanates from the Defence Forces badge.

16.Merrion Square

The manicured gardens are at the centre of the square and the lovely Georgian houses that surround it have been home to many famous folk including literary notables Oscar Wilde and W.B.Yeats.

17.Merrion Square

I know the Irish are often, unfairly, the subject of ridicule but I can’t help sharing this. I have to question the logic of the placement of the toilet roll holder.

18.Irish toilet roll holder

Guinness is good for you

I was never really keen on Guinness before our trip to Ireland but I certainly developed a taste for the dark brew while I was there. To consolidate my learning experience, our first port of call in Dublin was the Guinness Storehouse. There was no shortage of signage to help us find the door.

The building was constructed in 1902 as a fermentation plant for the St. James’s Gate Brewery and was used for this purpose until 1988 when a new fermentation plant was completed.

2.nearly there

Converted to the Guinness Storehouse in 1997, there are now seven floors to explore surrounding a glass atrium in the shape of a pint glass. It is the largest beer glass in the world and would take 14.3 million pints to fill.

4.made it

Starting the self-guided tour on the ground floor, we were introduced to the four ingredients in beer; water, barley, hops and yeast. Contrary to popular belief, Guinness is not made from Liffey water even though the brewery is right there on the banks of the river. The crystal clear water is pumped from the Wicklow mountains to the south.

5.Wicklow waterfall6.Wicklow waterfall

Roasted malted barley gives Guinness its dark colour and unique flavours, along with a generous helping of hops.

7.hops

The extra ingredient in Guinness, the fifth, is the most important. In 1752, Arthur Guinness inherited £100 from his godfather and set up his own ale brewery in County Kildare. Seven years later, he moved to Dublin to try his luck, signed a 9,000 year lease on a property at St. James’s Gate and the rest is, as they say, history.

8.to Arthur

As our tour continued through the other floors, we passed copper fermenting tanks

9.Copper

and an old copper lid that was installed in the Guinness Park Royal Brewery when it opened in 1936.

10.Copper lid

Kegs travelled past on a conveyor belt

11.kegs on conveyer belt

and barrels were stacked, full of the famous brew.

12.barrels

A whole floor was dedicated to the world of advertising.

13.advertising

The Guinness harp was adopted in 1862 and is modelled on the 15th century Gaelic harp displayed at Trinity College in Dublin. It faces right instead of left to differentiate from the Irish coat of arms.

14.harp

We reached Nirvana on the seventh floor, the Gravity Bar, with fabulous views of Dublin and a free pint of nectar. We had heard that Guinness tastes better in Ireland, particularly in Dublin. Why is this so? One theory is that it is always fresh, the tap flows all day and it hasn’t sat in the pipes for long. Another is that the locals know how to serve it at the right temperature, in the right glass and with the right head. They have perfected the two-stage ‘double pour’ which should take exactly 119.5 seconds. So, what is the secret behind that creamy head? In 1959, Guinness began using nitrogen instead of CO2 which produced smaller bubbles and therefore, a smoother consistency. Whatever they have done, they have done it right. Cheers!

15.Gravity Bar

Nire Valley Drive

Our time in Ireland was rapidly coming to an end and we had decided to give Dublin another try after being disappointed with our initial, albeit brief, visit. We had booked accommodation at Curracloe on the southeast coast for our last night before returning to Dublin. Leaving Blarney, we set the satnav, Holly, who again seemed to have problems identifying a highway.

1.Holly

Ignoring her instructions, we followed signs to the Nire Valley scenic drive and, as long as we were heading east, we couldn’t go wrong. The scenery was spectacular with the Knockmealdown Mountains running east and west along the border of counties Tipperary and Waterford.

2.Scenic Drive3.Knockmealdown

Knockmealdown is the highest peak in the range, with other peaks named Knocknagnauv, Knockmeal, Knocknafallia, Knocknanask, Knockshane and Knocknasculloge. I can’t help thinking of the knockwurst sausage containing the painting of ‘The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies’ in TV series ‘Allo ‘Allo! I digress. I don’t know why anyone would want to drive along a motorway when they can be surrounded by such magnificent countryside.

4.Knockmealdown5.Nire Valley Drive6.Nire Valley Drive7.Nire Valley Drive8.Nire Valley Drive9.Nire Valley Drive10.Nire Valley Drive

The road may be a little more narrow and winding but so much more rewarding

11.Nire Valley Drive

and from the high points, there were breathtaking views across forty shades of green.

12.Comeragh Mts13.Comeragh Mts

Further east, we followed the mist shrouded Comeragh Mountains

14.Comeragh Mts15.Comeragh Mts

to Waterford where we encountered a monumental traffic jam, it took an hour to travel 24 kilometres. We arrived in Curracloe after dark, our only ambition a beverage, meal and bed. The next morning, we wandered down to Curracloe Beach, eleven majestic kilometres of Blue Flag bathing.

16.Curracloe Beach17.Curracloe Beach

We savoured our last taste of salty air before returning to the car for our final destination – Dublin.

Blarney Castle

After spending the night in Cork, we fortified ourselves with a substantial breakfast and headed for Blarney Castle.

1.Blarney Castle

The walk from the car park, crossing the River Martin, warmed us up a bit.

2.Blarney Castle

The castle presented a stunning backdrop for the burnished autumn foliage.

3.Blarney Castle

Across a bridge over the river,

4.Blarney Castle5.Blarney Castle

we stood looking up at the north wall. The original Blarney Castle, a timber hunting lodge, was built in the 10th century and replaced by a stone construction in 1210. The existing castle, built on the edge of a cliff, was completed in 1446 by the King of Munster, Dermot McCarthy. The castle changed hands over the centuries, to Oliver Cromwell in 1646, back to the McCarthys fifteen years later before they lost it again in 1690, then sold to the Governor of Cork in 1703.

6.North Wall,Blarney Castle

The rather elaborate windows, halfway up the wall on the right, are not the romantic bedchamber embellishments one might imagine. They are, in fact, garderobes, the medieval answer to the ensuite.

7.garderobes

We followed the path past the guard tower

8.guard tower

and well-worn steps that led to the dungeons

9.dungeon stairs

before starting our climb to the top of the castle. Our ascent was frequently interrupted to take in the spectacular panorama through the windows.

10.Blarney Castle

13.view

There wasn’t a lot of breathing space in the passages, I can’t imagine running along them dressed in a suit of armour.

14.Blarney Castle

The narrow, spiral stone steps finally ended at the top of the castle. Looking down, we could see where the three floors would have been in the main living area.

15.standing over the main room

The pigeons are the only ones on lookout these days.

17.pigeon lookout

At the top of the tower is the infamous Blarney Stone, believed to give anyone that kisses it the gift of eloquence. At one time, anyone wishing to kiss the stone would be at risk of plunging from a great height but there are now railings to hold on to and some underneath to break the fall.

18.Blarney Stone

Even so, we didn’t join the queue to bend over backwards from the parapet, there is only so much blarney one needs in life. Besides, the Blarney Stone has been named the most unhygienic tourist attraction in the world.

19.Blarney Stone

The magnificent view from the battlements was well worth the climb.

20.view from the battlements

Once back on terra firma, we discovered Rock Close, a garden landscaped in the 18th century around existing stone monuments.

21.Rock Close22.Rock Close

It’s easy to believe the tales of Druids and Fairies in this mystical place, the senior Druid Priest was reputed to have lived in the Druid’s Cave.

23.Druid's Cave Rock Close

We would have liked to spend more time in this enchanted garden but time was ticking on.

Legend has it that there is a witch who will grant wishes to those who can walk up and back down the wishing steps with eyes closed (I didn’t get a photo of the steps, nor did I try this). In exchange for this gift, she is provided with firewood for her kitchen. I didn’t get a photo of the kitchen either, but we did see the witch stone. Some believe it was the Blarney Witch who told McCarthy about the power of the Blarney Stone but it remains a mystery how she became entrapped in the rock.

27.The Witch Stone