Our Last Days in Ireland

Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel originally began as a wooden castle built upon a solid rock foundation with the primary function of protecting the Irish Kings of Munster.  It is believed to be the location where St. Patrick converted the King of Munster, King Aengus, to Christianity.  In fact, legend has it that during the baptism, St. Patrick stabbed King Aengus through the foot with his crozier. The king did not react to the pain, thinking the stabbing was just part of the rite of becoming a Christian.

After the Norman Invasion of then 11th century, the Kings of Munster no longer felt the rock provided adequate protection and donated the land to the church, who  immediately began building an abbey and stone fortress. Building continued on the site between the 12th and 16th centuries when it was over taken by English troops in 1647 (though most of the buildings on the site are from the 12th and 13 centuries).

These ruins gave us a taste of medieval architecture with its turrets, extensive graveyard with its beautiful high crosses and ornate abbey.

The tower was the first structure on the site, having been built in the early 12 century.

The tower was the first structure on the site, built in the early 12 century.

Romanesque arches of the cathedral.

The Romanesque arches of the cathedral.

Presently the ruins are in the process of restoration for safety reasons.

Presently the ruins are in the process of restoration for safety purposes.

Visible from the west side of the Rock are the desolate ruins of  an

Visible from the west side of the Rock are the desolate ruins of an undisturbed abbey.

Dakota waiting for our return.

Dakota waiting for our return.

 

Blarney castle,

Where tourists come to kiss the Blarney Stone and gain the gift of gab or blarney. No we didn’t, Steve’s stories are already long enough.

Blarney castle in the distance.

Blarney castle in the distance.

 

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University College Dublin

We were sad to have to contemplate leaving the breathtaking island of Ireland. We booked our return ferry ticket to Holyhead, Wales, UK. Our last stop in Ireland was a tour of the University of Dublin.We met up with a wonderful instructor of agriculture at this college,one of Europe’s top research intensive universities, who explained that this beautiful, friendly campus is home to an agriculture department that specializes in forestry, environmental science, agriculture science, and veterinary medicine.  We toured the agriculture school and the rest of the campus including a large new science building.

Entrance to University College Dublin

Entrance to University College Dublin

 

Agriculture Building

Agriculture Building

 

Jeanette enjoying the sunshine in the college square

Jeanette enjoying the sunshine in the college square

Central Ireland Sights

After Dublin, we headed west across Ireland’s interior and came across some amazing sites.

Bru Na Boinne – these massive, grass covered mounds with interesting stone inscriptions were mysterious and thought-provoking. We were told that they are 5000 years old.  We were allowed inside one of them and it was amazing.  Although these ancient people only used simple tools of wood and stone, the expertise they showed in architecture, engineering, art, and astronomy is beyond belief.  It is not known exactly who or how these structures were built. Dating about 3200 B.C., these mounds were built about 1000 years before Stonehenge and 600 years before the Pyramids at Giza in Egypt! The hill at Newgrange is 250 feet across and 40 feet high. It’s almost unbelievable that five-ton rocks were brought 12.5 miles, rolled up a hill to make this structure that weighs 200,000 tones total, and it still stands,waterproof and complete to this day.

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All the mounds were used as possible burial chambers,  the larger ones as possible ceremonial places of worship as well as being utilized for storage and hiding places when necessary..

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They have recorded 40 mounds in total ,covering an area of almost 2000 acres

 

Entrance to

Entrance to the Knowth Mound.  The most interesting aspect is that during the winter solstice sunrise, the sunlight shines directly in the front door, down the entrance hall and onto the alter in the center in the mound

Trim Castle – this hauntingly beautiful castle ruin is the biggest Norman castle in Ireland. It was completed in 1220 and was meant as a powerful reminder to the Irish natives of the power of the Norman domination.

Interior of Trim Castle

Interior of Trim Castle

Trim Castle was once used as backdrop for the movie Braveheart

Trim Castle was once used as backdrop for the movie Braveheart.

 

Clonmacnoise – This impressive site contained seven churches varying in date from the 10th century to the 17th century. It is the home of a beautiful High Cross; the ringed head was carved from one piece of sandstone around 900 A.D.  The cross stands 13 feet high and is ornately carved. There were many grave-slabs with different inscriptions and different forms of crosses. The largest church on site, the cathedral, was originally built in 909, and was greatly embellished in the 1400’s. with vaulted ceilings and carved archways. One of the archways over the doorways was especially beautifully carved with three saints: Dominic, Patrick, and Francis.

Aerial photo (from Google images) to better appreciate the size and structures.. Notice the   two towers.  The one in the foreground was  struck by lightning. We were told that the monks took that as a sign from God that they needed to keep the height of their towers  to shorter heights;.  they then used the fallen bricks to construct the second tower.

Carved grave stones

Carved grave stones

Center of one of the 7 alters/churches.

Center of one of the 7 alters/churches.

One of 4 large markers that have been moved inside and replicas put in their place out side

One of 4 large markers that have been moved inside and replicas put in their place outside to protect the originals from the elements.  (see photo section for additional pictures)

 

Discovery of Crossraguel Abbey

We happened across one of Scotland’s most complete medieval monasteries. It was founded around 1250 and occupied for about 400 years. It conveyed to us, a sincere sense of peace and spirituality. The craftsmanship of this abbey was impressive as well, with carved stonework decorating each building.

As it was the middle of the week, we wandered alone through the ruins, allowing us a glimpse into what monastic life may have been like.

We entered through the imposing gatehouse and into the cloister, from there we marveled at the still intact chapter house with its incredible vaulted ceiling and canopied chair for the abbot. The windows were impressive with intricately carved Gothic arches. The floor was also carved and inlaid with crosses and designs. We followed along the back gardens to the cookhouse, individual living quarters (each with private latrines), a warming room, and barns.

The church itself still stands to its full height and exudes a sense of respect and spirituality.  The choir was a masterpiece!  The sacristy chamber’s ornamentation gave us a glimpse of the kind of carved stonework that must have once there, but now vanished. This vaulted room had ribs decorated with flowers, animal and human faces.  The windows themselves were inspiring with their ornamentation.

The gate house was still standing and we were able to climb through the dark spiral stone stairwell all the way to the fourth floor and then to the rooftop outlook.

Our visit was definitely awe-inspiring with a new appreciation for the expert craftsmanship of the times, and the complexity of a large medieval religious house.
It is amazing as you think that this was built over 300 years before Columbus even set sail for the Americas.

 

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Sacred ruins overview taken from the roof top of the gatehouse.   Amazing!

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The Abbot’s  residence.

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The imposing gatehouse

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Abbey wall taken from inside the main courtyard. It is amazing that the windows are still intact.

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Looking out the window of the chapter house, that included the office of the abbot and is the location where church business was conducted. Amazing stonework still in place.

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Watch your step, its a long way down. No wonder the average life expectancy during medieval times was rather short.

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Arrrgh

The English Countryside – Stonehenge – Avebury

Touring the English countryside, taking in the sites, enjoying the day, and meeting new people. The weather is uncharacteristically lovely (English adjective).  We have found the English people very helpful and friendly.

 

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The iconic Stonehenge instills a sense of awe and maintains its air of mystery. (Weekly challenge offers further exploration)

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Free range pigs?