Saturday, January 26, 2013

My Big Fat Irish Vacation Day 8: Cashel to Kilkenny

Tom and I headed out of Cashel with an idea of  spending the day in Kilkenny - I wanted to see the Design Center and National Craft Center there. But under as clear and blue an autumn sky as you could wish, we were in no hurry to get anywhere in particular. We were enjoying the ride and the sheer pleasure of being in Ireland on a fine fall day. Here, in this valley between two mountain ranges, we really felt like we had come home. It reminded me of where I grew up in Tennessee; it reminded Tom of southwest Wisconsin. Even when we got a bit tangled up and had to backtrack, we didn't care. We were just happy to be there.

Kilkenny Side Street
 When I think about our time in Ireland, our day in Kilkenny was far and away my favorite. We ambled in around lunch-time, located the local shopping center, and prowled a bookstore for a bit, had a bite to eat, then strolled around the city streets. We watched the street musicians, and got thoroughly turned around looking for the Tourist Information office. When we asked a young lady where it might be, she didn't know, but instead of suggesting we ask somebody else, she ran across the street, asked the lady running the shop there, then came back across the street to tell us. It made me sad she was selling ice cream and it was really too cold and windy to buy her wares. She was charming.
Kilkenny Castle
 We walked up to Kilkenny Castle. Once the home base of the Butlers, an Anglo-Irish family, the grounds stretching down to the River Nore are now a public park, and the side Cromwell did not blow up is the backdrop to a lovely rose garden that seems as popular with the locals as with the tourists. With our usual aversion to the the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Tom and I watched a video about the history of the place, then crossed the street to the Kilkenny Design Center, and through it, the National Craft Gallery.

Butler House and Gardens behind Craft Gallery
  The Gallery  was closed for lunch, but some of the workshops beyond were open, so we did get to see some silver and goldsmiths at work, and I could at least fantasize about what it would be like to be able to take some classes in the workshops in the renovated stable area. When they did open, the Galleries proved to be well worth the wait. The Modified Expressions Show was amazing. It featured artists from Europe and America working in paper - books, maps, calligraphy, even cardboard, if you can imagine such a thing. Amazing stuff. I'm going to try to put a link to their web site so you can look at a slide show of some of the work. You've got to see some of this stuff to believe it.

 The Design Center was a mixed bag. What as good was very, very good, (and unfortunately but understandably way beyond my budget) but there was also a goodly part devoted to factory-made goods. Now I know that things like Waterford Crystal and the china with the shamrocks on it are part of Ireland's tradition - and I am good with the crystal, I really am - but I have a problem with them being in a "craft" gallery. That may be snobbish on my part, but then I come from the craft tradition and definition of the Southern Highlands Crafts Guild, and when you about literally cut your teeth watching people like Virginia Dare Strother and Going Back Chiltosky, you do tend to cop a bit of attitude.

Club House Hotel: Your back is to the Check In Desk, now you get to find your room.

The Tourist Information Office had no B&B for us, but instead sent us to the Clubhouse Hotel. That was quite an experience. First we had to find it. While walking Kilkenny was no problem, finding where to leave the car in the lot behind the hotel was an adventure. Directions included going down an alley; we went down the wrong one to find ourselves in a situation where I thought we were going to mess up yet another rental car. Luckily the Golf had a very tight turning radius and we managed to get out without messing up ours or anybody else's vehicle, though some of the shrubbery suffered. We finally found the right very narrow alley, though we had doubts even as we saw signs saying it did belong to hotel. The hotel itself was, well, different. It started life as a Hunt Club back in the 1700s, then morphed into a hotel. It's like of like Topsy, it "jest growed," and if I thought the hotel in Dublin was a bit confusing with all the doors that looked like fire doors but weren't really, that was nothing compared to the Clubhouse. What with all the different levels and hallways going off at odd angles, I considered putting down a trail of breadcrumbs but was pretty sure they'd have been swept up. The room was on the order of an American hotel room, except colder water and one of those irritating shower heads that just didn't go far enough from the wall to be much good that the Irish hotels have but the B&Bs do not. Oh well, I wasn't there for the ablutions.

Street Musician
 The fine folk at the check-in desk had assured us both of good food and good music were easy to find in Kilkenny, so we set out. It was a bit of a walk, but like Galway, Kilkenny is an excellent place just to walk around in. We crossed the river and set out for Langtons, recommended to us by both the folks at the hotel and Rick Steves' book. I had doubts going in, simply because it was so lovely and elegant. They didn't seem the least but put off by as scruffy a pair as we, so we settled in. We'd had lunch and tea and were going to be drinking Guinness when the band played, so we decided we'd better get appetizers. When Tom's arrived, it wasn't what he expected, but it was tasty, so he dug in. He was almost done when the waitress arrived in great distress and explained that they'd brought him the wrong dish. Tom tried to explain that was alright, he was very happy with what he had gotten, but nothing would do but that they bring him what he had ordered - at no charge of course. The problem was that I was quite full with what I had eaten, which had been delicious, Tom had had quite enough with what he had eaten - and now we had what really was another meal on our hands and the waitress and manager standing at the table so apologetic, waiting for us to tuck in. In the meantime, there was no sign of any musicians - and we found out that the band had had to cancel. Yet another reason for the staff to get itself into a swivet of apologies. And we are sitting there not really wanting to eat another bite but feeling terribly obliged...  We managed to mess up the third appetizer enough to calm the staff down before we made our escape.

Matt the Miller's Pub on the River Nore

There was a small group at another table who had also been waiting for the No-Show Band. Turned out it was being lead by a professional tour guide. He had talked to the staff and found out that another pub a few blocks away was sure to have a very good local band. So we pried the perpetually apologizing staff off our arms and set off to find Matt the Millers. The walk was long enough for the extra food to settle down and make some room for the Guinness we knew we be having. The band was just finishing setting up - and I have go give the Irish pub bands credit. Mountain bands can drive you crazy with their constant tuning. They are obsessed with tuning; they'll dang nigh stop in the middle of a song to re-tune. Irish bands get in and get to work. This bunch got right down to it, and it was a hit parade right off my play list - they opened with "Mary Ellen Carter," and two tunes later it was "Ballad of Saint Anne's Reel." (Yes, I know I mis-spelled it on this blog title, but I can't figure out how to correct it without the computer deciding I'm starting a whole new blog, which is way too much work for 1 letter.) No Johnny Cash, but lots of Stan Rogers and Liam Clancy and I was one happy Yank.

Unfortunately, I am a night owl - my mother has long sworn I was born to be a night watchman - married to a lark of the most extreme sort. Tom was pumpkinizing in the worst way. I gave serious thought to letting him go his way. I had every confidence I could find my way back to the hotel just fine. It was finding my way back to the room once I got to the hotel that gave me pause and made me leave long before I wanted to. If I'd had my way, I'd have probably been there till the sun came up. It so would have not be a problem for me. We passed several other pubs oh the way back to the hotel with music, though none as appealing to me was what I'd been listening to. But the hotel room wasn't as appealing as any of them, even the pub with the weird off-key guy with the badly tuned guitar and no sense of rhythmn. I sat on the bed in a fine snit and contemplated bread crumb trail substitutes while Tom went to sleep.

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