May 2nd, 2014


London and Ireland Trip, October 1: Kilkenny

Breakfast at Lawcus Farm was a three-course affair. We started out with fruit and juice (and optional granola, which we declined.)
Lawcus Farm

Next was rich, tasty porridge. Instead of sweetening it with honey, Ann Marie suggested Orchard Syrup, an Irish syrup made from boiling down apples. It was tasty enough that we brought home a bottle as a souvenir.
Porridge at Lawcus Farm
Orchard Syrup

As we were finishing our porridge, we noticed Robin the farmhand walk in with a bowl of eggs. These eggs were fried up and served to us only a few minutes after they were laid. At this point in the narration, I feel I’m supposed to rhapsodize about what a difference it makes to have such super-fresh eggs - but my palate is coarse enough that I did not notice a difference between this super-fresh egg and a nicely fried supermarket egg. Even so, it was well cooked and it tasted very nice.
We were told that the bacon might or might not have come from Lawcus Farm pigs; they serve more bacon than their own pigs provide, so they have to make up the difference with bacon from other farmers in the village. So there’s some question of whether the bacon is super-local or merely very local, but it was very tasty and savory. This was a great Irish fry.
Irish Fry at Lawcus Farm

Lori chose pancakes instead. As I look at this picture, I’m surprised to see sautéed mushrooms on the plate; I suspect Lori handed them to me.
Pancakes at Lawcus Farm

While Lori got ready, I overheard Mark giving other guests a tour of Lawcus Farm, and I tagged along.
Lawcus Farm
Lawcus Farm
Lawcus Farm

Mark said that everything in the place came from “picking” - pieces and scraps he’d picked up from other buildings. For example, the flagstones in the floor in the large dining room had come from another house, whose owner had had to take up the stones to bring the construction up to code. And the windows of our room (the upper floor on the left) had come from an old church that had been torn down.
Lawcus Farm

A panorama of Lawcus Farm:
Lawcus Farm Panorama

In the bar, Mark gave us each a shot of poitín, an Irish spirit (distilled from barley, potatoes, or whatnot) that occupies the same cultural niche and former historic illegal status as moonshine in the US.(For further reading: Mark said that this was the good stuff; this is what the police would drink. I don’t remember much of the taste; it was potent and pretty smooth.

We set off to a Farm and Folk Museum that Mark had told us about in nearby Bennettsbridge. This museum is run by one man, Seamus Lawlor, in a barn or large shed behind his house.
Farm and Folk Museum

This picture of monuments outside the museum is interesting to me for two reasons. The monuments for the evictions during the Great Famine and for the invasion by Oliver Cromwell suggest to me an anger about those cruelties that persists to the present day. And the monument in the middle begins “In proud and loving memory of James Lawlor who was founder, member, and chairman of the first Irish Transport and General Workers Union branch in Co Kilkenny in 1917”, and I suspect that James Lawlor was an ancestor of Seamus Lawlor who runs the museum.
Farm and Folk Museum
Farm and Folk Museum

In retrospect, I think we may have overestimated how strongly Mark was recommending the Farm and Folk Museum. Here’s the thing: there is a fine line between “museum” and “barn full of junk”, and this place only stayed on the “museum” side of that line because of a smattering of handwritten labels. (We have visited places that were on the wrong side of that line, particularly the Tower Museum in Colorado.)
Farm and Folk Museum
Farm and Folk Museum Farm and Folk Museum
Farm and Folk Museum Farm and Folk Museum
Farm and Folk Museum Farm and Folk Museum

But as we looked around, we saw a story of affection for the life of farmers of the 19th and 20th centuries. We read some nice tales and poems of threshing day, when a community’s threshing machine would visit one farmer’s fields and there would be a party of harvesting and gathering.
Farm and Folk Museum Farm and Folk Museum

And there were clear signs that Seamus Lawlor still holds a grudge over the famine times. That was more interesting to me than the Famine itself; I know about the Famine, but I was not expecting it to be still aflame in the hearts of Irish.
Farm and Folk Museum

We got a nice view of the bridge that gave Bennettsbridge its name:

From the museum, it was just around the corner to Nicholas Mosse pottery, a ceramic factory whose work has appeared in tourist stores. We watched people work, shopped for pottery, and got a little snack: local apple juice for me, Diet Coke with a local marketing campaign for Lori.
Drinks at Mosse Pottery

The drive back to Stoneyford gave us a moment when we weren’t using my phone as a GPS, so Lori had a chance to take a few pictures of the road. I may not have yet ranted about how narrow Ireland roads are. So many of the roads are about one and a half car widths… and the speed limits are high; the speed limit on a road like this might be 80 km/h (50 mph). Look for the car visible in one of the pictures to show just how narrow these roads are - and remember that these are two-way roads.
Road to Kilkenny Road near Kilkenny
Untitled Untitled

I’m particularly fond of this picture.
Road near Kilkenny

We ate lunch at Knockdrinna Farm Shop, an award-winning cheesemaker in Stoneyford
Knockdrinna Farm Shop

We had a couple of interesting juices:
Juices at Knockdrinna

We ordered a plate of their cheeses - but unfortunately, I don’t remember them. I know that there were two cow’s milk cheeses, two goat’s milk cheeses, and one sheep’s milk cheese.
Knockdrinna Cheese sampler

For an entree, we shared a chicken and ham pie. It was tasty, but it had barely any ham.
Chicken and Leek Pie at Knockdrinna

From there we drove into Kilkenny to see the sights. We parked downtown and walked several blocks through soft rain to Kilkenny Castle.

Butter Slip is a narrow covered alley that got its name because that was where butter was sold in medieval times.
Buttter Slip, Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle was our first encounter with a Downton Abbey-like estate, with doughty walls and beautiful gardens. It was occupied until 1935, but then everything in the castle was auctioned off and it was left vacant. It was sold to the city in 1957 for 50 pounds.
Kilkenny Castle Kilkenny Castle Gardens Kilkenny Castle Gardens
Kilkenny Castle Gardens

There was work being done on the crest at the main entrance, which yielded an entertaining juxtaposition of old and new.
Kilkenny Castle

The east wall that would have been the original entrance when the castle was built in 1195 has been torn down centuries ago.
Kilkenny Castle

One little curiosity of the restored castle: they had a gizmo for enclosing your wet umbrella in a plastic bag for the protection of the antiquities.

Kilkenny Castle didn’t allow pictures of the interior. It was pretty (mostly in a turn-of-the-century style matching the last inhabitants) and fancy enough that we bought a book on the castle to get some pictures.

The River Nore as viewed from the castle.
From Kilkenny Castle

A pub sign worth commemorating from our walk back into Kilkenny:

A few miscellaneous photos of Kilkenny city streets:
Kilkenny Kilkenny Kilkenny

Lori’s aunt Helen had particularly recommended that we visit the Black Abbey in Kilkenny. We climbed up to the top of the hill, only to discover that the building we were heading to was not actually the Black Abbey - it was St. Canice Cathedral of the Church of Ireland. The round tower is one of the two round towers in Ireland that tourists are allowed to climb. I climbed up the stairs, but the door inside was closed.
St. Canice Cathedral

We found the Black Abbey on our second try. I expected it to be more black. It turns out that it’s called the Black Abbey because it’s a Dominican abbey, and black is the traditional color of the Dominicans.
Black Abbey

Another picture from our walk downhill. This was just a canal running through the town, but I think this is one of the prettiest pictures I got.
St. Mary's Cathedral

The Black Abbey was open to tourists, so were able to go in. The stained glass was particularly beautiful. As we were looking at the windows, a group of monks came in for evening vespers. We worried that we were intruding on their prayers and tried to leave quietly. As we left, one elderly monk caught our eye and gave us a blessing with a gesture and a smile. He did this with no break in the prayers he was singing. Lori said he just had this aura of kindness.
Black Abbey Black Abbey

Another picture about the sometimes-difficult interactions between traditional medieval streets and modern cars. This particular street was one-way, at least - but cars of many different colors had left paint on the edges of this arch.
Narrow Arch on a Street

We ate dinner at a pub called Kyteler’s Inn, founded in 1324. Alice Kyteler, the mistress of the tavern, apparently outlived four husbands, but she was convicted for witchcraft (Kyteler’s material claims she was framed) and had to flee to England.
Kyteler's Inn Kyteler's Inn

Dinner was pretty touristy and disappointing. I had a fairly sad ham toastie, Lori had some chewy Irish stew.
Sad Ham Toastie Chewy Lamb Stew

The reason that we came to Kyteler’s: Mark at Lawcus Farm had suggested it as a place for Irish music. It turned out that they did not actually have music on Tuesday nights; instead they had bodhran sessions. It was extremely touristy, but I gladly took the chance to try to learn a little bodhran. It may be fairly said that I was not any good at playing the bodhran; I was slower to pick up the techniques than most, and I felt I was continually trying to catch up. But I think that I was a very good sport about it, even when the leader was razzing me about my difficulties.