Thursday, September 22, 2011

Where the Grass is Greener 1 - Arrival and Kilkenny

The Ireland Diaries

We arrived to a rain-whipped Dublin, sleepless but otherwise whole. From the timidity of our bite-size car, the highways were a left-sided streak of terror. A gray, heavy rain crashed against our windshield as I tried to stifle my panic while M took on stickshift driving with the eagerness of a Boy Scout. Within minutes of leaving the airport, we had our first sighting of a Guinness truck. The first puffs of white sticking out of green green grass made us shriek. Sheep! Woolly, grass-munching, butt-in-the-air sheep! M immediately made the solemn promise that he would pet one of those creatures or so God help him.

The Rock of Cashel opened up to postcard blue skies. The limestone castle looked as if it had been gnawed on by a giant with a penchant for rooftops.  One of the first things I noticed were the birds. Pigeons, sparrows and other small flying things dotted the spaces between wall and sky. Throughout the building were small holes left behind by the wood scaffolding used during its construction. Over time, the wood rotted away and left these perfect nesting places for feathered beings.

Legend has it the Devil took a bite out of the limestone mountain across the fields and spat it out to create the present tourist spot. Our tour guide wore polka dot and proved to have as much air in her head as the castle ruins. She stammered through many insightful tidbits like “and here they had various rooms where they did various things.” It wasn’t until we caught a few minutes of another guide’s explanations that we realized just how wrong her “facts” had been. Surrounding the church were tombstones dating from the 15th century to two years ago. Even now there is a waiting list to be laid to rest at this historical center of tribal power and the Catholic church. Did lying beneath the Rock of Cashel mean a fast pass to heaven, I wondered. A few years ago, a powerful hurricane had wrenched away the head of a great Gaelic tombstone and the engraved pieces lay at the base, sinking into grass.

From the Rock of Cashel’s crowded graveyard, we caught a glimpse of another ruin nearby. This was Hoar Abbey, the subject of many giggles and dirty jokes. But Hoar was in reference to hoarfrost, which is the morning ice that clings to blades of grass. The monks at the abbey wore gray robes that reminded people of the little icicles. I followed a grassy path through the fields as M sauntered forward. The abbey is more modest than Cashel and guarded by a large tree with its arms spilling with white blossoms. Moss and vines freely roamed its stones. There is something about old cemeteries that really captivates the imagination. I guess it’s because they’re the only traces left of individual lives. We can find out their names, their familial roles, calculate their age and try to glean personality traits from the styles of their tombstones. One of my favorites was a small, gnawed one with a timid skull. I think it belonged to a child. As we left the abbey, M took a side trip to try and pet a cow. He ran away when their gargantuan size became evident as they began circling him ominously... More >>