An 800 Year Old Lighthouse

Near the place where I am staying this summer in County Wexford, Ireland, is a small peninsula called “Hook Head.” Abandoned old homes and churches are found often along the narrow roads that lead to the end of the peninsula and Hook lighthouse. The lighthouse is the second oldest functioning light in the world. It was built around the year 1200 on the orders of William Marshall, a member of the English royal family whose name is connected often with the history of this region.

Here are a few of the many photos I’ve taken on the Hood peninsula. I hope they will tempt you to visit southeast Ireland.

The coastline of the peninsula is rugged, cut deeply. It’s a popular area for biking, hiking, and kayaking.

Just a mile or so before the end of the peninsula and the lighthouse is a tiny village comprised of the remnants of very old houses and some lovely new homes. The road is narrow and lined with flowers, some naturally occurring wild flowers and some planted by people whose homes are along this road.

This house is slowing being taken back by nature. It’s next to the house shown above and directly across the road from the church ruin in the next picture.

This church is likely the ruin of a very old monastery, known to have been created here ca. 500 AD. The Knights Templar were in this area in that era and are believed to have installed a monastery here. The site noted below provides a simplified history of this region that explains this in more detail.

A mile or two from the lighthouse is a tiny village called Slane which is the site of this medieval castle. It is not the only castle on the peninsula but it is the most complete.

Just in front of the castle in Slane is this small protected harbor.

Loftus Hall is a bit farther up the peninsula. It’s been abandoned for a long time. The current owners are slowly working on restoring it. Today the grounds are being used as hay fields. All over Ireland in July these huge rolls of hay are harvested and piled up on slow-moving tractors for removal to winter storage places. (Wish you’d seen the piles on the tractor wagon I saw yesterday!)

Libbie

P.S.  Tintern Abbey and Colclough Gardens (which I wrote about here very recently) are also on the Hook Peninsula. In New Ross, the nearest large town, a project of depicting the history of this region and William Marshall in original tapestries has been ongoing for more than ten years. Read about it in this post I wrote last year:

This is a simplified but good site for learning about the history of this area.  Read more about this area here and here (this site has a video)

This is NOT a picture of your friendly photographer:

Tintern Abbey Chapter 3: Colclough Walled Garden

In the early 1800s the Colcoough family (pronounced Coke-Lee), residents of Tintern Abbey for centuries, created a large walled garden about a kilometer away from their home. Little remained but the brick walls and 30 giant Sitka spruce trees which had been growing for a couple of hundred years. In 2010 the Hook Tourism Council began recovering the garden. Today a magnificent garden delights visitors throughout the year.

Led by professional horticulturalist Alan Ryan, a team comprised of staff and volunteers has made this 200-year-old garden spectacular. Divided by a brick wall, the front half of the garden has deep perennial borders on three sides.

Recently historical surveys uncovered footprints of diamond-shaped flower beds in the center of the space which have been restored and filled with red, yellow and blue annuals.

In 2016 I discovered this garden during a visit to the abbey in May. Although the weather was cool, many plants were large and blooming.

Apple trees and other fruit trees grow on or near the walls all around the garden. They were in bloom in May.

When I returned to the garden in early June this year I was really surprised by how advanced the plants were so early in Ireland’s cool summer. I asked what type of fertilizer was used.  Mr. Ryan explained that the garden is entirely organic, that the soil is very rich as a result of being abandoned for so long, and that now all dead plant material is left in the garden as mulch. He also pointed out that the brick garden walls soak up the heat of the sun and raise the temperature in the garden by several degrees.

By mid-July the garden was in full bloom, bursting with color.

This spectacular acanthus plant was a new discovery for me.

The garden is divided by a brick wall. The back half is a kitchen garden, as it was in the 19th century. A tall man made of wicker stands guard at the entrance. An enormous variety of edibles is grown here, ranging from apples to artichokes.

Everything flourishes in this garden.  Irish weather, famous for being damp and cool, irrigates the garden naturally.  Everything, including herbs, grows well here.

I try to return every week or two, watching the changes in Colclough Garden. It’s been a delightful learning experience.

http://www.colcloughwalledgarden.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tintern Abbey Chapter 2: A Springtime Walk in the Woods

Acres of woods surround Tintern Abbey. In 2016 my friend Bee and I discovered a walking trail that is one section of a long-distance walk in County Wexford, Ireland. The walk begins at this old stone bridge protected by a tower. We were there in May, when it seemed everything was in bloom and when the brook was rushing by. A mild aroma of garlic filled the air because the land was covered in blooming wild garlic. We were even welcomed by a fairy!

Our “fairy.” A young girl in white came running toward us just as we arrived. She was celebrating her first communion with her family by having a picnic in the woods.

We found an ancient “castle” as these common old stone tower-houses are called. This one has been extended by several rooms on the ground but it’s all a ruin now.

A fine path lined by blue and white flowers runs alongside a rushing stream.

Blue English bluebells bloom abundantly all over Ireland in late spring, and in this woods they are surrounded by the white flowers of wild garlic.

The woods are dense with the freshness of spring.

A walk here feeds all the senses: the newness of spring is a treat for the eyes, the aroma of the woods in spring for the nose, the sound of the stream rushing by, the touch of fresh green leaves and flowers, and the taste of a bit of wild garlic taken home for a salad.

 

This year I returned in early June to the place I love in County Wexford and to Tintern Abbey. I walked in the woods again and I discovered something entirely new to share with you.  That’s coming up in Part 3. I hope you’ll come back in a few days to see it.

Libbie

 

Tintern Abbey – Chapter 1

Ireland has a great many abbey ruins that date from the 12th and 13th centuries. At one time the monks living there were very wealthy, very pious, very close to Rome. When Henry the 8th dissolved the abbeys and persecuted the monks, the great estates and the monastery buildings were given to important Englishmen who had been loyal to the king. Tintern Abbey in County Wexford, Ireland, was one of the richest and largest of the abbeys. Today much of the original building survives.

You may have heard of Tintern Abbey because of the famous poem by William Wordsworth, and if so you may be confused because you think it’s in Wales. There are, in fact, two Tintern Abbeys. The Welsh abbey is older and larger and much better known.

A view of Tintern Abbey as it stands today, after much restoration work by County Wexford. The large window space filled by wood painted gray would be much nicer filled with glass.

There’s a very good history of this place on a site called Megalithic Ireland dot com. Because I think the creator of that site likes to share Ireland’s history liberally, I’m going to quote liberally from that site which tells the story of Ireland’s Tintern Abbey much better than I can.

“The first Cistercian abbey in Ireland was established at Mellifont in 1142, but it was not until the early part of the 13th century that the abbey at Tintern was founded. The Anglo-Norman Knight William Marshall, first Earl of Pembroke, was the patron of Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire, Wales. On his return to Ireland, with a new title, Lord of Leinster, his ship ran into a storm. Marshall vowed to establish a monastery wherever he landed safely. After landing at Bannow Bay in Wexford he bequeathed 3,500 hectares of land for the foundation of a Cistercian abbey. The abbey was named after the one in Wales and also colonised by monks from there. To distinguish them from each other, the abbey in Wales was known as Tintern Major and the Irish one, Tintern de Voto-‘Tintern of the vow’.

“The abbey was built to the usual plan for Cistercian monasteries. The church was originally cruciform in shape with small chapels in the transepts for private prayer. What we see today are the central aisle of the nave, the crossing tower, the chancel and the Lady Chapel, which was part of the south transept. The rib-vaulted chapel was originally divided into three separate chapels by screen walls. All these structures date to the 13th century when most of the original buildings were replaced. Like most monasteries very little remains of the cloister or the domestic buildings. There is a corbel table on the the north and south walls of the chancel. This table features 18 grotesque head carvings, some of the heads that appear on the south side of the table are pictured below.

“Shortly after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 the abbey and it’s lands were granted to Anthony Colclough, an officer in Henry VIII’s army. The Colclough family converted the tower into a family residence. One of the upper rooms was divided up using a heavy oak framework that was infilled with panels of wattle (Woven sticks)and daub (Mud). Oak panelling or wainscotting, popular in the 16th century, was also discovered during conservation work.”

At the abbey there’s a display of drawings that illustrate how the abbey changed over the centuries. This one shows what a grand home the Colclough family made of the abbey.

Tintern Abbey became a very grand home. Members of the  Colclough (prounced Coke-lee) family lived here until 1959. There are excellent photos of the abbey on the website being quoted here. The photos on this blog are mine.

There are two other good reasons to visit Tintern Abbey in Ireland. I’ll tell you about them in my next two posts.

Return to Fruit Hill

My delightful summer in Ireland has begun!  I arrived on Sunday morning, managed to collect a rental car and drive it safely for 2+ hours to the farm near the town of New Ross, Ireland that I consider my second home. On the way I spent more than a week in my old home town of Scituate Massachusetts. (I’ll tell you about that in my next post.) Most of my week in Scituate was spent in unseasonably cold, wet weather and I seem to have brought it with me.  This morning the sun is shining but I’ve been very chilled during my first two days in Ireland.

I have rented a small cottage for the summer. This building, which may date to the 1600s, was the kitchen on the old farm. The highlight is the chimney wall. As is the entire building, the wall is made of local stone but it’s the enormous chimney that is so remarkable. I can literally stand in the fireplace. To the left I’ve found the remains of the ancient bread oven. When the present owners restored this building and made it a rental cottage they had a loft built over the kitchen which is where I sleep. I climb a steep staircase to a room where even I (at 5’ tall) can stand only in the center. I crawl into a very comfortable queen size bed and there I’ve been sleeping very well.  I’ll post pictures of the cottage below.

Last year I spent six weeks on this ancient farm. While I was here I made three new friends. Susan, the mistress of Fruit Hill, has always been kind and accommodating to me. We have emailed often, beginning before we’d ever met. Susan works very hard to maintain her three rental cottages and an enormous, ancient house which is her family’s home.

My other Irish friends are Mary, a horticulturalist who is on the staff at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum, and her colleague Jerry, also on the staff at JFK. They were much more than helpful to me last year when I spent many days at JFK Arboretum. I was delighted to find Mary there yesterday and to quickly catch up with her. I’d lost her email address after I left last summer and the letter I wrote to her never reached her so we have plenty of catching up to do. I was happy to find Jerry there today. All three of my Irish friends are a fine examples of the friendliness of the Irish people.

There are many reasons why I love Ireland: the beauty of the landscape, all rolling green hills here in the Southeast; nature’s care for this cool northern island, shown by the lush plants, both wild and domesticated, which grow and bloom everywhere; the mildness of the weather – no 97 degree days for me this summer!  But most of all I come here for the kindness of the Irish people, from clerks in the supermarket to the guides at every tourist site to my new friends who became my friends almost instantly. I am very happy to return to Ireland.

Now, some news: last week while in Scituate I was able to spend time with my grandsons who are now young men in their mid-20s, and with two of my step-sons who live in Maine and Rhode Island. I rarely see my family because I’ve moved south so I really enjoyed being with them. While I was there my grandson, Chris, proposed to his lady, Amanda, and she accepted! There’ll be a wedding to work into my plans for next year. And yesterday, my step-daughter, Patti, became a grandmother for the second time, when her son’s wife, Jenna, gave birth to a baby girl literally in their Honda in the parking lot of the hospital. I’ve already seen a photo of beautiful baby Clare. She’s going to be just a gorgeous as her big brother Aaron, who is just now turning two.

My plan for connecting to the Internet is being foiled by the two foot thick stone walls of my cottage. One project for today is finding a way to make my hot-spot work here. I’m able to receive email on my phone, so I hope you will write to me while I solve this problem.

Please travel with me (vicariously) through the next three months in emerald Ireland. It’s going to be fun!

Libbie

Some photos of my little ancient cottage, my home for the summer ahead.

The main room of my cottage with the enormous ancient chimney wall.

A view of the kitchen and the stairs to the loft.

Even I (only 5′ tall) can barely stand in this attic loft.

 

The view from the kitchen window

 

Ireland This Summer

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I’m returning to Ireland for the summer if all goes as planned. I will be there for three months staying at Fruit Hill, the old farm with rental cottages that I enjoyed so much last year. It was so hot in New Bern last year that in August I wrote to Susan, the owner of Fruit Hill, asking to book the smallest cottage for three months in 2017. Ireland’s weather is much the same throughout the year: neither too hot nor too cold – often “just right.”

Springtime is Sheep Season in Ireland

Several people have asked me about trips to Ireland recently. More have said, “I’ve never been to Ireland but I’ve always wanted to go there.” This is a great year to go and spring is the perfect season. The euro has fallen against the dollar, down to about $1.06 this morning. Airfare is much lower to Europe for the coming summer. I plan to fly from Boston (I have family in New England) to Dublin on a new airline called WOW and my summer round trip fare is only $609! Wow!

Thousands of daffodils bloom in the JFK Gardens and Arboretum.

Both the beauty of the green isle and the friendliness of the Irish people call me back to Ireland. This will be the third time I’ve gone there for a months-long stay. There is an old-fashioned comfort that makes it very easy to just be there. The narrow roads in the countryside are surrounded by low green hills. The network of newer highways make it easy to visit distant parts of Ireland. Last year I drove from the southeast corner to visit our cousins at the top of Northern Ireland in just four or five hours – it’s a small island.

Wide beds of narcissus bloom in the beds in front of the old mansion house at Altamont Gardens, now owned by the Republic of Ireland.

The combination of history and good growing weather have endowed Ireland with many ancient gardens. For centuries the British made Ireland a colony. A few wealthy men controlled the island and built grand estates. They benefited from the exploration of the world in the 18th and 19th centuries financially and also by arranging to receive seeds and saplings from around the world for their formal gardens. Today you’ll find 160 foot tall California redwood trees and “monkey puzzle” trees from Chile as well as 50 foot wide rhododendrons from China. The cool, damp weather of the north Atlantic is perfect for nurturing many species of plants. Irish people plant daffodils in every available spot and from late January through late spring they bloom everywhere.

Huge, ancient rhododendrons blooming at Woodstock, an old estate garden in the village of Inistioge.

I am particularly fond of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum near New Ross. You can read the blog posts I wrote last year about it, about Fruit Hill, and about the Irish gardens I love here:

Fruit Hill            JFK Garden & Arboretum               Some Gardens in Ireland

Resources:

Click “Ireland” in the contents cloud at the top right corner of this blog to find all my posts about Ireland.

Fruit Hill’s website

JFK Garden and Arboretum on Facebook

Discover Ireland’s History here

The photo at the top of this post was taken beside Ireland’s Tintern Abbey on a walk in the woods on a spring day. The path leads past an ancient Irish castle along a stream lined with millions of bluebells and wild garlic flowers.

Having Fun in Kinsale!

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Kinsale is an ancient town and one that’s popular with tourists today. It’s located on the bottom edge of Ireland, on a place where a wide river meets the ocean. It’s famous for its excellent restaurants. It’s filled with pubs, B&Bs and shops yet it doesn’t feel “touristy” because its historical buildings are still working hard, hosting the town’s 21st century businesses. The weather this week is a perfect 75 degrees (fahrenheit) and the sun is going to smile on Ireland all week. I’ve definitely seen all four seasons during the seven weeks I’ve been in Ireland but this week is the best!

Kinsale is the beginning point of the “Wild Atlantic Way,” a 2500-kilometer route that stretches from West Cork to Donegal. Lined with cliffs, lighthouses, ancient villages and much more, this is the route for exploring western Ireland by car, bike or on foot. Learn much more by clicking on the blue link above.

Here are a few images of Kinsale that I captured this morning. I hope they will give you a “taste” of this charming old town.

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The streets of KInsale are filled with colorful shops and cafés located in 17th and 18th century buildings. In centuries past Kinsale was an important departure port for ships to North America which results in a town filled with durable ancient buildings, now “re-purposed.”

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This charming cottage with window boxes like ship hulls is at the end of five cottages in the heart of the town. The other four have beautiful front gardens at their front doors.

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Two of the old buildings that have seen history made for centuries from their location at the water’s edge. Today pleasure craft fill a marina, taking the place of the hundreds of trans-oceanic ships that stopped in this active port town during the 16th to the 19th centuries.

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When I asked this passing gent if I could take a picture of him and his shirt he quickly assured me that I’d see many more shirts like his in the next couple of days. Ireland’s in the playoffs of a world-class championship series.

The Causeway Coast

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Earlier this week I went to the top of Ireland, to the northeast corner known for the Giant’s Causeway. Molten lava from an extinct volcano many millennia old has formed columns of stone in (usually) hexagonal shapes. Because this corner of Ireland is just 16 miles from Scotland, it is sometimes said that the “causeway” is nearly a bridge to Great Britain.

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Tourists love to climb the rocks by the sea that comprise the Giant’s Causeway and to have their pictures taken there.

Tourists arrive by the busload to visit this area, drawn by the Giant’s Causeway and the charming villages near the coast and the great, wide beaches. Having seen these places previously I went there to visit our cousins who live nearby. Mary and Eddie have welcomed me with generosity and grace each time I’ve turned up. They are the first people I think of when I tell someone that the Irish are the nicest people on earth.

Here are a few photos of the northeast corner of Ireland. This country is small, only 300 miles from top to bottom, so it’s easy to plan a drive around the whole island that includes a visit to the Causeway Coast.

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This is part of the Ballycastle Marina, located on the eastern side of Causeway Coast. The drive from the town above down to this spot involves five or six hairpin turns.

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Mussenden Temple has overlooked a wide beach on the northern edge of Ireland since 1785.

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Another view of Mussenden Temple with the beach on the eastern (County Antrim) side of northern Ireland coast. The beach is very fine but the water is cold and the skies are often gray. Nevertheless, the Causeway Coast is a natural wonder that’s well worth the drive.

Libbie

The Most Beautiful View in the World

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The beautiful view.

Killarney is a joyful place once more! Probably second only to Dublin in number of visitors, five years ago Killarney was a victim of the Great Recession in America and the Irish debt crisis. Now visitors have returned. Many large tour buses bring people to the hotels, restaurants and shops of the city.

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The band we enjoyed hearing and watching on in Killarney.

Buskers are on the streets making people happy with their cheerful music. We found a four-piece band playing Irish jigs that drew a large crowd and inspired people to dance in the street. We also enjoyed listening to and conversing with an excellent singer called “Scottie” — especially when he played his Donald Trump song! Traditional Irish music is played in many Killarney pubs and on the streets seven nights a week.

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The castle remains behind The Lake Hotel in early morning light.

Bee and I stayed at The Lake Hotel, a classic hostelry more than 100 years old. This very large hotel bills itself as “the hotel with the most beautiful view in the world.” I agree. I love staying here. The rooms are large and overlook the lakes of the Killarney National Park and the mountains of Kerry. The remains of an old castle on the lake’s shoreline creates a magnetic focal point for visitors and photographers.

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Agi Risko shot this beautiful picture of Ladies View when we were in Killarney together in 2005.

We spent most of one day touring the Ring of Kerry on a bus from Deros Tours. Our driver, Michael, was excellent. He drove carefully. He was knowledgeable about the many interesting places we passed, and good at keeping us entertained with jokes and history. He made sure not to leave anyone behind. At €22 per person for a seven hour ride, it’s a great deal. Our tour bus with 55 seats was almost full. The tour ends with a stop at Ladies View, made famous by Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting in the mid-1800s. (See gorgeous pictures and learn more here.)

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One of the collies herded the sheep down the hill.

Our favorite stop on the tour was at Kells Sheep Dog Trial where we watched border collies perform their duties. Incredibly well trained, the dogs respond from 100 yards away to very low commands and short blasts from a high-pitched whistle. They manage herds of sheep better than people can. It was fun to watch them. I think most people agree that this is the best part of the tour. Someone has put a video on YouTube of the same place we visited.

Now is a great time to visit County Kerry!

Libbie

Two New Resources for Those Who Love to Travel

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As you probably have guessed, my favorite part of Ireland is the southeastern corner. This area is called the “Sunny Southeast.” The weather is a bit better here than in other parts of Ireland. The hills are the amazing green that Ireland is famous for. This is where the gardens are most plentiful, where Irish history is about Vikings and monks, where castles and round towers pop up everywhere. (The picture above shows the Hook lighthouse which has been standing tall and warning sailors for 800 years.)

The Irish Tourist Board has begun to promote the eastern side of Ireland with a new marketing campaign entitled “Ireland’s Ancient East.” They’ve created an excellent website that begins with a video and extends through a number presentations featuring important periods of Irish history. I think anyone would enjoy this site but particularly for those planning to travel to Ireland, this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity for learning about this country before you arrive. Click here to when you have some time to explore historic Ireland: http://www.irelandsancienteast.com/

Islands Everywhere

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One of my favorite islands: Mykonos in Greece. I hope to return there one day to stay a while!

There’s something special about islands. Something about being cut off from the world appeals to me, at least briefly. Often the landscape is both wild and beautiful. The coast of Maine is famous for its fir-covered islands. Caribbean beaches and relaxed way of life appeal to many people. Every island seems to charm its visitors.

This weekend’s New York Times Travel section features island destinations including several in the United States. Click here for a good introductory article to American islands and then explore the Travel section for stories about islands in other places. (You can read up to ten articles a month on the Times website for free: NYTimes.com.)

Libbie