David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Writers' Week in Ireland, June 2011

Adare (Ath Dara)

Our group: Ann and Frank Little, Marie, us

Gallarus Oratory, 800 AD

South Pole Pub

At Staigue Fort

Our favorite hotel: Cashel Palace Hotel

A favorite site: Brownshill Portal Tomb

Gardens at Powerscourt Manor

We arrived early at Shannon Airport, after a dismal Continental flight with terrible food and freezing temperatures. We picked up the car and got on our way. We headed to Tipperary, but missed the turn and spent a couple of hours on country roads. When we finally arrived, we were disappointed: there really wasn't much to see. But it was a long, long way! We drove on to Adare (Ath Dara) and realized that we had visited this charming town on our first visit. This time we were booked into Dunraven Hotel which turned out to be a real find. It was a lot less expensive than Adare Manor and we found it to be very welcoming. We checked into our large room with a big king-sized bed plus a single bed and a nice sitting area with couch and chairs, large modern bathroom, and a view to the gardens. We had lunch at the Blue Door, housed in a quaint thatched cottage across the road: Caesar salad with bacon, tomatoes, and olives for me and pasta with salmon and smoked salmon for David. We walked around the town and discovered the Trinitarian Abbey, founded in 1230, which is now the Catholic Church; it was destroyed in 1539 under Henry VIII, and then restored in 1811. We walked down to the Maigue River and found the Augustinian Priory, founded in 1315; it is now mostly in ruins but houses a school. Across the river were the ruins of Desmond Castle, thought to have been built before 1226 by the Normans.
We had an early night and a good, long night's sleep. Wednesday morning we enjoyed our first full Irish breakfast, with eggs, bacon, fruit, scones and jam, in the nice breakfast room at the hotel. Then we started off to Listowel where the Writers' Week would take place. We drove into town but didn't immediately find where we were to go. We happened into the John B. Keane Pub, which just happens to be a gathering spot for the Week; there, a couple of American visitors and the publican Billy Keane, son of John B. Keane (a well-known playwright, novelist, and essayist who was born here and sied in 2002), helped us contact Paddy Walsh who would show us our "digs" for the week. We had a quick lunch, stopped at the Listowel Arms to check in with the Writers' Week group, and then met him back at the pub at 3:00 PM. He showed us over to the house, gave us the keys, and insisted on supplying us with milk and other items.

That evening at 6:30 we went to the opening session of the Writers' Week in the Listowel Arms. There were the usual speeches and some entertainment by The Listowel Singers and a televised welcome by the author Colm Toibin, President of the Committee. By the end Marie had arrived and we all went for a bite to eat in the restaurant in the Arms. Her friends Ann and Frank Little and Denis showed up later in the week and we all chipped in for food and drink at the rented place. Marie insisted on paying for the rental herself.

We spent Wednesday through Sunday at the Writers' Week, seeing many interesting, inspiring, informative, and amusing speakers. The highlight of the week for me was an interview with Richard Dawkins in a standing-room-only session in a circus tent. He was so calm and reasonable with the (few) religious people who questioned him. David and Marie had gone back to the house for a nap and never showed up for the session. Other sessions included David Sedaris, Alice Sebold (whom I didn't bother to see), Michael Holroyd (whom I'd never heard of but fell in love with; he's married to Margaret Drabble, lucky her!), John Lynch (who lives in Nice), Kevin Barry and Gerry Stembridge (both very funny), and more.

On Friday night David and I drove over to Ballybunion where Noel Nash was singing. We had discovered Noel in New Orleans in the 1980's and followed him for years but we hadn't seen him in about 15 years. We were a little nervous to see and hear him again, hoping he hadn't lost anything in the intervening years - he hadn't lost a thing. He was wonderful. We had a light supper at the Cliff House Pub in Bally bunion and then stayed to hear him sing and didn't get home until 2 AM!

On Sunday we drove to Ballyheigh to visit more friends of Marie's. WE took a long walk on the beach, watched a bit of the French Open, and just visited with Paedar (pronouced Pother), his wife Althea, Eugene and Marcella. Then back to the Listowel Arms for the final event, a storytelling contest.

On Monday, everyone else left and we took a 2 hour drive through Tralee to the Dingle Peninsula. David had decided that he couldn't drive at all, so it was up to me. I drove very slowly, 20-30 kph under the limit - I'm sure infuriating to all those driving around me but also infuriating to David who thought I was still going too fast ("I thought I was going to die!"). In all, we drove 1440 kilometers. The views on the Dingle Peninsula were beautiful, even on a somewhat dreary day. We drove over the Conor Pass with its very narrow, one lane roads, hampered by the fog. Our first major stop was at the poorly marked Gallarus Oratory, a small stone chapel built without mortar, using corbeling (stones overlapping to finally form an arch) in about 800 AD. There was no entrance fee and there was even a docent to explain the purpose and the building method.

Afterwards we stopped for lunch at the Smerwick Harbour Hotel along the way. We had the ubiquitous vegetable soup and brown bread and then grilled plaice with vegetables. Then we went on to the equally difficult to find Kilmalkedar Church, built in the early 12th century. We were amused by some of the signs along the roads - GO MALL, meaning "slow down", and "Traffic Calming" meaning also to slow down.

Our last stop of the day was at the South Pole Inn, started by Tom Crean who survived three explorations of the Antarctic, the last one on "The Endurance" with Shackleton in 1914-1917. He returned home to Kerry and started this inn with his wife. He died in 1938. We had seen a one-man show by Aidan Dooley who portrayed Crean and the scarcely believeable dangers encountered.

On Tuesday we left the rental house in Listowel and headed to Killarney. There we found a place for lunch, The Caragh. Again vegetable soup and brown bread for me and Brussels pate with Cumberland sauce for David; then roast pork with stuffing, potatoes, and salad for both. Then we found the Victorian House Hotel and checked in for two nights. That evening we just had drinks in the bar and headed to bed.

The next day we were up early for the big Irish breakfast and then off for our day touring the Ring of Kerry. Our first stop was the Ross Castle ruins, right in Killarney. It was built in the 15th century by O'Donoghue Ross clan, and it was one of the last castles to surrender to Cromwell in 1652. Then we headed west to the Ring of Kerry. One of the first charming villages was Glenbeigh, passing by McGillycuddy Reeks, a mountain range meaning "black stacks". We continued on to Cahersiveen where The Barracks stand, an old RIC Barracks burnt down in 1922 but restored.

A major focus for us was to visit several of the Iron Age stone forts, built in about the 9th - 10th century. They were built in rings with small houses enclosed within and perhaps space for animals, as protection for wealthy landowners of the time. We also saw castle ruins.

We drove out to Portmagee, an old fishing village at the westernmost tip of the Ring. There we found the recommended Fisherman's Bar and ordered vegetable soup and brown bread and a plate of brown crab to share, with beer. The crab were out of this world! Then back over high hills to the main part of the Ring with sea views, standing stones along the way, quaint villages. We stopped in Waterville at a craft shop to find something for Julie and Andrea and found a rosy red Irish cardigan for me.

Then on to Staigue Fort, up a very narrow dirt road where it was difficult when we met another car. It's another stone fort, but this one is thought to be from 500 BC or even earlier; it is quite similar to the later ones.

We stopped in Kenmare and found the stone circle there, an unusual egg-shaped "circle" consisting of 15 stones with a large center stone of approximately 7 tons. It is from 2200-500 BC. Then back to Killarney for the evening where we had dessert in our room and hit the sack.

The next day we drove to Blarney Castle. We'd been there before and wanted to revisit the gardens; we have yet to kiss the Blarney Stone. The grounds are lovely although a bit hokey with the labeled "Witch's Kitchen" and the like. Then we drove up to Cashel where we had decided we would have lunch. There was a sign in the parking lot to the Guinness Bar in a hotel in town and we opted for that. It was terrific! The hotel was gorgeous and we headed downstairs to the Bar where we ordered Guinness beef stew for DAvid and bangers and mash for me. David of course had Guinness, which apparently was started here.

The hotel was Cashel Palace Hotel, built in 1730 as the bishop's palace, in a red-brick Queen Anne and Early Georgian building. The bishop had an agent, Richart Guinis, who grew hops with which he brewed the first "wine of Ireland". He and his son Arthur went to Dublin where they founded the Guinness Brewery. We loved having lunch here and decided we would have to stay for the night. We checked in - 140 E for night including breakfast - and they upgraded our room. It was gorgeous, with 15 foot ceilings, a fireplace, two floor-to-ceiling windows, a sitting area and huge king-size bed with lovely fabrics and antiques (an armoire, a dresser, dressing table), and a fabulous bathroom with a tub on a marble pedestal and a separate shower, and another window with views of the gardens from the tub. In the garden there are 300 year old mulberry trees. The public rooms are gracious and comfortable with a couple of sitting rooms and a large and elegant dining room.

We walked around the town and viewed The Rock of Cashel, built mostly in the 12th and 13th centuries, which was the seat of the kings of Munster. We didn't go inside - which was probably a mistake, but we were tired. We walked a bit more and then just relaxed in our beautiful room.

The next morning, after a marvelous breakfast, we headed on to Powerscourt. We got a bit lost but it ended up being a blessing as we saw a sign for a dolmen. We turned in and parked and walked into a field where there stood the Brownshill Portal Tomb, an amazing dolmen from about 4000-3000 BC. The major stone is estimated at 150 tons! We're sure it is the biggest one we've seen.

Then on to Powerscourt where we were booked in the Powerscourt Arms, which turned out to be pretty basic. Oh, well. We slept there and had breakfast the next morning. We had plenty of time so drove over to Bray and visited an internet cafe to see if there was anything important.

We had a reservation at the Gordon Ramsay Restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the grounds of Powerscourt. We were still early, so headed to Powerscourt Manor Gardens. We were amazed to find that the house, which was a shell when we were last here, is now filled with a cafe and shops. We visited the gardens but were disappointed to find that the rows of Monkey Puzzle trees is no longer in the area where visitors can go.

Then back to the restaurant for a wonderful meal, starting with a glass of champagne. David had a "log" of chicken livers for starters with apple in several forms - can't even remember what I had; then we both had fish with asparagus. It was excellent but nothing like the Gordon Ramsay Restaurant we went to in London.

After lunch we drove up to Dublin Airport and found our Hilton Hotel - not an upscale Hilton at all. We turned in the car and got back to it. We didn't need any dinner. We had a good night's sleep and then took the shuttle to the airport, had breakfast, and boarded. Home to Evanston.


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