Sunday, September 11, 2016

Ancient Castle to Oldest Lighthouse. 24 Hours in Wexford.

Ancient Castle to Oldest Lighthouse
24 Hours in Wexford.
Castle window

Our 24 hour break in County Wexford begins with check-in at Killiane Castle. The welcome is warm and soon we are in a cosy room, just off the beautiful entrance hall, reviving with a cuppa and freshly made cookies. We are staying in the 17th century farmhouse which itself is built into the 15h century castle. There are also apartments in the yard.

This is a working farm and soon we are on a walkabout, past the gardens, the orchards and down through an archway of trees before turning right through the fields and completing the circle, with the river alongside, cattle, sheep and a horse or two grazing. And oh yes, we climbed the castle, being restored gradually.

Anyone for croquet this morning?
And the farm is family friendly - you can see the cows being milked. There is croquet on the lawn, tennis on hard courts, pitch and putt, a driving range, a place for the children to play with some big toys scattered around. And this is only three miles from Wexford and close to the car ferry port of Rosslare.

Armed with the best of local knowledge and a taxi called for us, we head for the town that evening. Unfortunately, the rain pelts down as we arrive, curtailing a planned walkabout but we do get to see the statue, on Crescent Quay, of Wexfordman General John Barry, widely credited as The Father of the American Navy.
John Barry
Our main purpose for the evening was dinner in Cistín Eile. This had been recommended, a recommendation that we can now heartily pass on. We enjoyed a couple of bottles of the local Cleverman beer there too.

Our taxi driver had earlier pointed out a “good pub” to us and we headed there. Little did I realise that Simon Lambert is the home of the very popular Yellow Belly craft beer. But, with some twelve craft beer taps along the counter, including four of their own, I soon realised I was in a micro-brewery. Loved their Pale Ale and also enjoyed Amberella by Cork brewery Eight Degrees link.
The following day started with a splendid breakfast in Killiane. I passed on the Full Irish and was delighted with their Baked Eggs with Wexford Cheddar Cheese, Cream, Chorizo and Mushrooms.

Then it was time to say goodbye to this lovely house and lovely friendly helpful family and head for the Hook peninsula. Our first visit here was to Tintern Abbey link built around the start of the 13th century by Welsh knight William Marshal in thanks for having been saved after a dodgy crossing from Wales. He populated his new abbey with monks from the original Tintern Abbey. The impressive tour costs a few euro, and is self-guided. There is also a cafe here.
Tintern Abbey details

And you might well need sustenance, as there are many walks (no charge) in the land and woods around. One such walk takes you to Colclough Gardens. The Colclough swere the family that later became associated with Tintern. Their gardens though fell into ruin but have recently been restored by a voluntary effort.

Again there is a small charge to see the 2.5 acre walled garden, which has a dividing wall. The first part is surrounded by a huge flower border, with fruit trees in the open spaces in the middle; the second part is largely given over to growing fruit and vegetables. The fruit and veg is available; you take what you want and payment is by donation.

Tinter Abbey, the Wexford one!

Our main visit was to the nearby Hook Lighthouse and that is described here. It was not our first time here but the visit, with digital aids and lively guides, is much more interesting nowadays. You may also have lunch here, as we did. See full report here.

Loftus Hall, Ireland’s “most haunted house”, is nearby but we were running out of time (or courage!) and gave it a skip. Anyhow, as I've read somewhere, if you like a place, it is wise to leave something unvisited so that you’ll return.

In the gardens.

We had entered Wexford by taking the motorway bridge over the river but now we would return by ferry link. There is a very frequent service - it costs eight euro one way and takes about twenty cars - between Ballyhack (on the Wexford side) and Passage East. Back in Waterford, we were soon on the internal ring road and heading, via Kilmeaden, for the N25 back to Cork, very happy with our 24 hours in Wexford.

See also:

Ferry home.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Hook Lighthouse. Ireland’s Ancient East

The Hook Lighthouse
Ireland’s Ancient East
If these walls could talk. You say to yourself as you enter the 800 year tower that houses the Hook Lighthouse on the tip of Waterford’s Hook Peninsula.

You soon find out, they do talk. In the first room, with its ribbed vault structure just like the two rooms above, a monk, a digital one, appears and talks about when he came here in the 6th century (maybe!). He was Welsh and called Dubhain. Having founded a small monastery, he and his fellow monks noticed the many shipwrecks in the area and set up an open fire to warn mariners.
An old lamp, now on the ground floor
 Good, but not good enough for the next person you meet, on the next floor. This is William Marshal, another Welshman and a powerful knight, who was very influential in the south east of Ireland at the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th century. He built the nearby Tintern Abbey and the town of New Ross and more, including this lighthouse (sometime between 1210 and 1230). Monks were again in charge, living here, keeping the faith, keeping the flame.

As you climb the solid building, you see where the monks cooked, lived and slept. Many changes then during the centuries, before, in 1996, the lighthouse was automated and the light keepers (no longer monks!) departed after almost 800 years. And the modern keepers are commemorated on the third floor, projected onto the wall to tell their story.

Ribbed vault roof
Out then onto the windy balcony to take in the fabulous views over the seas, over the land. The famous bird sanctuary of the Saltee Islands is visible to the east and to the west you can see The Metalman, another landmark for mariners, this on a cliff near Tramore in County Waterford.

As well as the light a fog signal was operated at the lighthouse. For centuries a cannon gun was fired off the edge of the cliff during fog. This was replaced by a hooter, which in turn was replaced by rockets. In 1972 a foghorn worked by compressed air was installed.

An old fog horn gets a turn
 That foghorn, about six foot high and with two “speakers”, can still be viewed in another room at ground level. Decommissioned in 2011, it still looks impressive. And then, Jason, our excellent guide, showed us another object. It looked like some kind of wooden box, except for the lever on its side. We didn't guess but it is an early form of foghorn, with nothing like the range of the big one, but still noisy enough when that lever is turned! Quite a few other ship related items here too, including a compass and morse code machine.

If you feel like a bite to eat after climbing and descending those 115 steps, well just head into the building next door where there is a cafe and bakery with soups and sandwiches and a selection of lunch plates available and plenty of space to sit and eat. And if the kids finish up before you do, they can wander out to the large grass area where there are quite a few big sturdy toys to keep them engaged. Watch out too for art classes and special events.

Quite a few walks too in the lighthouse area but be careful. Not all tragedies here have happened to people in boats.

Our guided tour was in English and it is also available in French, German, Spanish, Irish and Italian. Whales and dolphins can be observed from the shoreline around Hook Head with a good pair of binoculars. It is a great visit, to what is believed to be the oldest operational lighthouse in the world, and you can find out much more, even see a video visit, see the web cams too, on the website here.