on the road back to dublin – thurles, kilkenny and kildare

Our stay in Killarney was too short by far – arriving Saturday night and leaving Monday morning. So only one full day in the very southwest of Ireland, but well spent doing a tour of Dingle Peninsula. Hilary knows Dingle like the back of her hand and she took us to all the nooks and crannies of the island, and our tour was replete with the history and geography of the island. There was the fascinating story of St Brendan, who sailed to America (predating Columbus) in a boat no bigger than the size of your bathroom – the things our history books don’t tell us – and this is one I must read up on; and Tom Crean, an Irish seaman from co. Kerry and Antarctic explorer, who later returned home and opened a pub in Dingle town.

We said goodbye to Hilary long after the sun went down, and Bridget and I headed back to Killarney for a night’s sleep at Woodlawn House, in advance of an early rise to get on the road. Destination Kilkenny – a three-hour drive on the road to Dublin. We were off before sunup and arrived in Kilkenny before lunch – too early to check in to our hostel. I left Bridget to her own devices (busking in Kilkenny) while I made a short drive over to Thurles to spend as much of the day as was left to me to do some research on the history of co. Tipperary in the late 1840s, specifically the details surrounding an insurrection in the town of Ballingarry in 1848. I have to thank Mary Guinan Darmody at The Source for all her help in finding just the right books for me to pore over. After a few hours of reading, I finally hit upon the town I was looking for, one that had all the necessary ingredients for the background of my Irish story to be – Callan, in co. Kilkenny. I knew what I needed to do: go to the Kilkenny Library (In Ireland, if you’re looking for information, you go to the main county library, which will have the info on that county). But first, I wanted to get a feel for the land – so leaving The Source in Thurles, I took a meandering and somewhat convoluted drive through southwestern co. Tipperary on the way back to Kilkenny, just to see what I could see. Which amounted to not much, given the late hour of the day.

Our good fortune in being in Kilkenny on a Monday night is the traditional music session at Cleere’s Pub on Parliament Street. We were both tired before we even stepped into the pub, so one Guinness apiece and it was off to the hostel for some much-needed sleep. For Tuesday was going to be all business: Bridget busking on the streets of Kilkenny, while I went to the library to see what I could find.

And oh, did I hit the jackpot. More information than I could possibly digest. The short of it is that I will simply have to make a return visit to Kilkenny next week, so I can dig further into their books. The ladies at the library – Kathleen, Mary and Anita – were bend-over backward helpful (I love the Irish!). I could spend days and days there, but will have to make do with a day and a half when I return. While digging down into the history of 1848 Callan, I came across some information from a book published in 1905 about a holy well in the townland of Newtown – it was St Brigid’s holy well and apparently was located a little southeast of a castle out in the boonies of Callan. Our one day in Kilkenny was January 31, the day before the official St Brigid’s day, and without going into a lot of detail of why this was at all relevant, I hustled back into town to collect Bridget, who I found in the coffee shop counting all her dubloons. She was game to go hunting for this holy well.

And off we went, over hill and dale – first to Callan to find someone who could give us directions to Newtown. A patron at the post office there was able to get us on the right road, and a meandering drive later, we arrived in the townland of Newtown (a townland is just that – land associated with a name, but there is no town, just a collection of houses scattered about). We could see an abandoned castle and we decided this must be the one – I mean, how many castles can there be in a place the size of nothing.

We asked around as to what direction would be southeast, but no one had a clue what direction was up, let alone southeast. But we found a Catholic cemetery within an old (very old) abbey nearby, and surely this must be it. We parked the car in the layby and went in on foot.

I was absolutely delighted to find some gravestones from the 1800s (as well as more recent), but hunt as we did, no trace of the holy well. I don’t suppose I was expecting a big neon sign to direct us, but without one, it was impossible to know where it could be, or even if we were in the right place. As we were leaving the cemetery, a farmer passing by on his tractor suggested the well might actually be near the village of Kells just up the road. So off on a wild goose chase, looking for where he had said “the big dip in the road just before you come to the bridge into town.” Kells is, or was, a mill town on the river, and we found the river and a mill, but no holy well; no dip either.

But already we were way beyond schedule if we were going to make it to Kildare, the home of St Brigid’s Cathedral before dark. The guidebook told us that the cathedral was not open in the off-season, but what with St Bridget’s day coming up tomorrow, we were hoping something would be happening. Kildare is off the beaten track, so some winding roads and sharp corners is what it takes to get there. We were so disappointed to arrive at five minutes past 5, to find that the tourist office closed at 5. The cathedral had in fact been open earlier in the day, and had we arrived before 3, we could have seen it.

Even more disappointing was that Kildare does not have a bookstore, but if it had, we would have purchased up their supply of Brigid books. But alas, not to be. So, all in all, a letdown in Kildare. But no matter. On to Dublin to drop the rental car off at Budget before joining the Van Roots Tour on the train tomorrow.

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