The Irish National Stud & Gardens

In which I fall foul – again – of the ‘law of Irish distance and directions’ and indulge my love of horses…
Chatting to the two guys in the shed at the bottom of Kildare tower I asked if it was possible to walk from there to the Irish National Stud. I thought it was but I wanted to be sure and they confirmed that yes, I could walk there, it was only a mile – if I took the road opposite the market square, followed it past the Grey Abbey, over the motorway, turned left at the end, next left and the second right would bring me to it. It sounded simple enough but by now being rather dubious about Irish directions and distances I decided to seek confirmation (or otherwise) from the information centre in the market square and a very nice lady in there gave me the exact same directions, telling me it would take me about half an hour.
Now at the speed I walk it does not  take me half an hour to cover just a mile so it sounded like this place was a bit more than that. Also it seemed like I would be doubling back on myself, however off I went and after what felt like forever – 29 minutes to be exact – I reached the entrance to the National Stud. On paying my entrance fee in the visitor centre I was given a couple of information leaflets, one of which had a map showing how to get there, and when I looked at it I realised that instead of following the directions I’d been given and going a long way round I could have walked down a different road which would have taken me straight there. Also there’s a regular free shuttle bus from the shopping village so I needn’t have walked there at all, but no-one had told me that!
Scan_20191019
Blue : the way I went  –  Yellow : the way I could have gone
The Irish National Stud was originally founded in 1900 by Colonel William Hall-Walker, a horse-loving Scottish-born businessman from a famous brewing family. After purchasing a farm and other land at Tully on the outskirts of Kildare town he set up a thoroughbred horse breeding facility and quickly became the most successful breeder of his time, enjoying his finest hour when his favourite Tully-bred colt, leased to King Edward Vll, carried the royal colours into the winners enclosure after a famous victory in the 1909 Epsom Derby.
The world-renowned Japanese Gardens were devised by Colonel Hall-Walker and created between 1906 and 1910, being laid out by Japanese master horticulturalist Tassa Eida and his son Minoru. Planned to symbolise the ‘Life of Man’ through trees, plants, rocks, lawns and water the gardens trace the journey of a soul at it goes along the various paths of life from birth to death. The name Minoru means ‘the favourite one’ and this was chosen by the Colonel for his favourite horse, the one which won the 1909 Derby.
In 1915 Colonel Hall-Walker moved to England and gifted the entire Tully property and land to the Crown ; it then became the British National Stud and its success continued under the leadership of Sir Henry Greer, though the Japanese Gardens fell into a period of relative obscurity. In 1943 the newly formed Irish Government took over the land and buildings and in 1945 the Irish National Stud Company was formed, taking over the running of the stud in 1946 ; also that year the Japanese Gardens got a horticultural supervisor to return the gardens to their original splendour. Fast forward to the present day and in 1999, to celebrate the forthcoming Millennium, St. Fiachra’s Garden was designed by an award winning landscape architect to commemorate St. Fiachra, the patron saint of gardeners.
Turning left out of the visitor centre the first thing I came to was a very ‘flower power’ life-sized sculpture of Minoru, the horse which won the 1909 Epsom Derby. This was part of Under stARTers Orders (the capital letters aren’t a typing mistake) an arts charity initiative celebrating the redevelopment of the iconic Curragh Racecourse and raising funds for two charities local to Kildare, the Irish Injured Jockeys and Sensational Kids. A total of 21 resin sculptures were exclusively painted by some of Ireland’s leading equine and contemporary artists and were put on public display at various locations in and around the county, with the opportunity to buy either online or at a live auction in June.
The cost of the admission included a guided tour of the stud and its various facilities and though at first I’d intended just wandering about on my own I realised that there was a tour starting at 2pm so I decided to join it, having just enough time to snatch a handful of photos before going to the meeting point near the Minoru sculpture.
DSCF2849 - Copy
‘Minoru’ by Liza Kavanagh
DSCF2851 - Copy
DSCF2853 - Copy
DSCF2852 - Copy
DSCF2855 - Copy
DSCF2861 - Copy
The tour guide was a very friendly and knowledgeable young lady called Sarah and as she walked the group round she gave out lots of really interesting information about the workings of the stud, interspersed with a few amusing comments here and there. Past a sculpture of Invincible Spirit, the current top stallion, and the entrance to the Sun Chariot Yard foaling unit was the museum with the skeleton of the legendary Arkle displayed in the window. Arkle, owned by the then Duchess of Westminster and named after a mountain in Scotland, won 27 of his 35 races including three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cup wins, and had the highest Timeform rating ever given to a steeplechaser ; he remains the greatest steeplechaser to have lived anywhere and at any time.
DSCF2858 - Copy
Sculpture of Invincible Spirit
DSCF2863 - Copy
Entrance to the Sun Chariot Yard
DSCF2862 - Copy
Skeleton of Arkle (1957-1970) – the genuine article, not a plastic replica
Past the stallion boxes were the stallion paddocks where I was able to see at close range some of the world’s current best stallions. Depending on popularity a stallion’s breeding fees can range anywhere between the price of a car and the price of a house ; the top stallion is currently Invincible Spirit with stud fees of £120,000 per time, he is father to many champion racehorses and his foals can sell at auction for several hundred thousand pounds each. Past the nursery paddocks were the Living Legends paddocks where previously great racehorses can live out their retirement years, with five horses – Hurricane Fly, Hardy Eustace, Kicking King, Beef Or Salmon and Rite Of Passage – currently in residence.
DSCF2866 - Copy
DSCF2868 - Copy
Invincible Spirit
DSCF2879 - Copy
DSCF2882 - Copy
DSCF2881 - Copy
Decorated Knight
DSCF2884 - Copy
DSCF2885 - Copy
DSCF2887 - Copy
Dragon Pulse
DSCF2893 - Copy
DSCF2907 - Copy
Living Legends, L-R Hurricane Fly, Rite Of Passage, Kicking King, Beef Or Salmon
Across from the Living Legends paddocks was the extensive St. Fiachra’s Garden and once the tour ended I went back to take a couple of photos before going to the café for a much-needed coffee and a cake treat. With a good selection of cakes and other calorie-laden stuff I was spoilt for choice but eventually decided on a slice of Banoffee Pie, which was highly delicious and also very filling.
DSCF2897 - Copy
Path through St. Fiachra’s Garden
DSCF2901 - Copy
DSCF2902 - Copy
DSCF2900 - Copy
DSCF2915 - Copy
A look round the Japanese Gardens was a must and as the café was right next door I didn’t have far to go to get there. To be honest I don’t really subscribe to the Japanese ‘story of life told through a garden’ concept, I like to look round a garden for the garden itself, but all the features were numbered so I followed most of them – although not all in sequence – without referring to the story, the end of which is actually quite sad.
DSCF2916 - Copy
DSCF2917 - Copy
DSCF2919 - Copy
DSCF2924 - Copy
DSCF2933 - Copy
The Bridge of Life
DSCF2942 - Copy
DSCF2943 - Copy
DSCF2946 - Copy
The Tea House
DSCF2949 - Copy
DSCF2954 - Copy
DSCF2956 - Copy
DSCF2957 - Copy
With or without the story the Japanese Gardens were lovely ; it was a shame it was such a grey day as with sunshine and blue sky they would be really stunning. Checking the time when I came out of the gardens I was hoping I would be able to go back to St. Fiachra’s Garden but there was a courtesy bus leaving the car park at 4.15 and I didn’t want to miss it (getting that would save me the walk back into town) so reluctantly I gave up on that idea.
The courtesy bus put me off just inside the shopping village and from there it was only a short walk across a car park to the bus stop for the coach to Roscrea. I arrived back at 6pm to another of Nellie’s lovely meals then later on I went round to Laura’s to spend a final hour with her before tackling the unwanted, although relatively easy, task of packing my things ready for the following day’s journey home. Apart from the needlessly long walk to get to the National Stud my day had been very interesting and successful, and not having had time to see all that the Stud has to offer means I’ll be making a return visit as soon as I get the opportunity.
Advertisements

Kildare round tower and St. Brigid’s Cathedral

In which I climb six near-vertical ladders and look round another church…
After the lovely sunshine and blue sky of the previous couple of days the last full day of the holiday arrived very cloudy and grey but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from going out. My destination this time was Kildare with a couple of places to visit in mind, and I got the 10.15am coach – when it finally came – from Roscrea. It put me off at Kildare shopping village so I thought I may as well have a quick look round while I was there, although the designer shops are all so expensive I would have needed to take out a mortgage if I wanted to buy something.
DSCF2963 - Copy
DSCF2969 - Copy
The first place I really wanted to visit was Kildare round tower, specifically to climb up the inside to the top. I’d first discovered it on a visit to Kildare a couple of years ago but it was early December then and it was closed for the winter months so I’d put it on my list of places to go back to when I had the opportunity. Walking through the town from the shopping village I came across a building which looked like it had once been three cottages but was now just one place with painted windows and doors at the front. There was nothing to say what it was, and in spite of much Googling I still haven’t found out, but round the side was a colourful enclosed space with a handmade plaque on the wall saying that bit was St. Brigid’s evergreen garden.
DSCF2794 - Copy
Kildare street art?
DSCF2795 - Copy
Kildare round tower is situated in the grounds of St. Brigid’s Cathedral ; built in the 12th century on the site of a previous much older tower the walls are over 2ft thick and at 108ft in height it’s Ireland’s second tallest tower and one of only two which can be climbed. The Romanesque doorway, which  is situated 13ft above the ground, is constructed of ornately carved dark red sandstone receding in four ‘steps’, while the original conical cap was replaced by castellations in the 18th century. These castellations have crumbled in places over time so there’s now a steel cage round the tower roof to stop anyone falling off.
At the bottom of the steps leading up to the door was a small shed with two very genial Irish guys taking payment for doing the climb and after handing over my 4 euros I set off on my adventure. Now in the last few years I’ve climbed quite a variety of steep staircases, usually spiral ones, but this wasn’t even a staircase ; a series of six almost vertical ladders took me up through the floors, and though four of the ladders seemed to be fairly modern in construction ladders three and five have been in place since 1874. The tower narrowed in width as I got higher up and the bottom of each ladder was almost touching the wall, meaning there was only just enough space for me to squeeze onto the first step. Added to that was the fact that the top two ladders only had a handrail on one side – this definitely wasn’t a climb for anyone with claustrophobia or a fear of heights.
Ireland - dec 2017 024
Photo from 2017 showing the position of the doorway

Kildare Round Tower doorway

DSCF2812 - Copy
Looking down from the doorway
DSCF2797 - Copy
Ladder 1
DSCF2798 - Copy
Ladder 2
DSCF2799 - Copy
Ladder 3
DSCF2800 - Copy
Ladder 4
DSCF2801 - Copy
Ladder 5 with only one handrail
DSCF2802 - Copy
Ladder 6 – still only one handrail
Eventually I reached the top of the last ladder and emerged onto the roof ; it was a shame it was such a cloudy grey day as the views over Kildare and the surrounding area were excellent and I got several shots as I walked round. I had to watch where I was putting my feet though as there was no guard rail round the top of the ladder ; one wrong step and I could have fallen through the hole to the platform below. The custodians of the tower mustn’t have heard of health and safety! I took my photos without mishap though then set off on the slow and careful climb back down the six ladders.
Kildare tower top
The top of ladder 6 and the tower roof
DSCF2805 - Copy
Views of  Kildare town from the tower
DSCF2806 - Copy
DSCF2808 - Copy
DSCF2810 - Copy
DSCF2811 - Copy
Rear of the cathedral from the tower doorway
Back at ground level I had a quick chat to the two guys in the shed then went to have a look in the cathedral. In the entrance was a small collection of medieval sculptural monuments, including the tomb of Bishop Wellesley who died in 1539, and there were many more historical features in the cathedral itself but I was more interested in the stained glass windows. They were all very lovely, as most stained glass windows are, but I particularly liked the modern design dedicated to St. Luke and installed in 1974.
DSCF2814 - Copy
The High Altar
DSCF2834 - Copy
DSCF2841 - Copy
Carving on the side of the pulpit steps
DSCF2845 - Copy
The Bishop’s Throne
DSCF2832 - Copy
DSCF2827 - Copy
A section of the beautifully tiled floor
DSCF2848 - Copy
The front of the church
For some strange reason the cathedral closed for lunch at 1pm and as it was getting close to that and it looked very much like I was the only person in the place I thought I’d better go before I got locked in. My next port of call was within walking distance and this was one I was really looking forward to.
To be continued…

A lovely day out, Part 2 – Dromineer

In which I explore a lovely little lakeside village and get thrown out of a quarry for trespassing…
After our visit to Leap Castle Laura drove us 30 miles west to the small village of Dromineer, six miles from Nenagh and on the east shore of Lough Derg. While in Roscrea a couple of years back I’d picked up an information leaflet about Lough Derg ; it was the nearest lake to Roscrea and finding out that Dromineer wasn’t too far from Nenagh I’d explored the possibility of going there last December. It’s not on a bus route though and the only way I could do it without my own transport would be to take a taxi from Nenagh, so that idea was put on hold for sometime in the future. Previous to the start of this holiday though, Michael had mentioned to Laura my wish to go to Dromineer and she said she was quite willing to take me, so a drive out there formed the second part of my day out.
Lough Derg is the third biggest lake in Ireland and the southernmost of the three lakes on the Shannon river, and in the 19th century it was in important artery of the waterways between Dublin port and Limerick. Navigable over its full 24-mile length it’s very popular with cruisers and other pleasure craft as well as for fishing, general sailing and other water sports. Dromineer itself is home to the RNLI’s Lough Derg lifeboat, its station being the first inland lifeboat station in the Republic of Ireland. It’s also home to Nenagh Boat Club, Shannon Sailing Club and the Lough Derg Yacht Club which was founded in 1835 ; Dromineer Quay and Canal Store both date from around 1845.
Overlooking the public marina is the ruined Dromineer Castle which started life in the 13th century as a two-storey hall house built by followers of Thomas Butler Esq, the 7th Earl of Ormond, and tenanted by the Cantwell family. In the late 15th century the building fell into the hands of the O’Kennedys, also of Ormond, and was remodelled into a four-storey tower house/castle, then in the late 16th century it was re-captured by the Butlers and the Cantwell family returned as tenants until the mid 17th century. In 1650 the castle was seized by Cromwell but was eventually returned to the 12th Earl of Ormond, James Butler, and it was occupied until 1688 after which it fell into ruin, finally being sold by the then Earl of Ormond in the late 19th century.
The road through Dromineer village headed towards the lakeside and when I saw the view I had one of those ‘wow’ moments. On the left, a handful of nice-looking bungalows with well-kept gardens while on the right was a white-walled thatched cottage, well-kept grassy areas, a small playground, a marina with several boats moored up and at the bottom of the road the lake itself with a shingle beach – this little place looked beautiful and I couldn’t wait to explore. The lakeside road ended in a large car park close to the private marina of Shannon Sailing Club and that’s where we left the car, so join me on my Monday walk as I stroll round and take in the delights of Dromineer.
DSCF2592 - Copy
A backwater close to Shannon Sailing Club
DSCF2593 - Copy
DSCF2595 - Copy
DSCF2596 - Copy
DSCF2598 - Copy
DSCF2599 - Copy
DSCF2603 - Copy
DSCF2607 - Copy
DSCF2609 - Copy
View of Dromineer Castle
DSCF2610 - Copy
DSCF2616 - Copy
The public marina and Canal Store
DSCF2614 - Copy
DSCF2619 - Copy
DSCF2620 - Copy
Lough Derg Yacht Club marina
DSCF2624 - Copy
Of course time spent in a lovely little place like this just wouldn’t be right without having coffee and cake so we made our way round to the Lake Café, sitting at an outside table as we had Laura’s two little dogs with us. The cake we had (with cream) was delicious, and after sitting for a while in the sun we continued our wander. Just along the lane from the café was the little thatched-roof cottage ; approaching from the back I thought at first it was just someone’s home but it turned out to be the studio-cum-craft shop of an Italian/Irish ceramic artist called Marina – a very apt name as the cottage isn’t far from the water. She said we were welcome to look round and during our conversation told us that apart from the plastic garden chairs everything in the garden had been recycled, reused or repainted, which I thought was a great idea. She seemed to be a bit eccentric and the studio was a complete jumble of all sorts of things but looking round there and the garden was a pleasant way to pass a bit of time.
DSCF2626 - Copy
The Lake Café – the Death By Chocolate with whipped cream was totally divine
DSCF2625 - Copy
DSCF2629 - Copy
Neddy’s Cottage, artist’s studio
DSCF2639 - Copy
DSCF2638 - Copy
DSCF2630 - Copy
DSCF2631 - Copy
DSCF2635 - Copy
DSCF2634 - Copy
Organised chaos?
Back at the lakeside we sat for a while on one of the benches, just taking in the view and enjoying the warm sunshine. Further along the grass it looked like a family were having a picnic – I couldn’t see them properly as there was a bush in my line of vision but I did see their cute little dog. It was looking my way so I zoomed in a bit and got a quick shot of it to show my friend Lin as it looked very much like her little dog Oscar.
DSCF2641 - Copy
DSCF2642 - Copy
DSCF2644 - Copy
With the exploration of Dromineer over we made our way back to the car but it was still only early afternoon, too early to go straight back to Roscrea when we could enjoy more of the good weather, so Laura suggested driving to a quarry where people went scuba diving and which she had been told was good for photo taking. That sounded okay to me so off we went round the country lanes and half an hour later pulled up at the bottom of the rough track leading to the quarry.
We hadn’t walked far when we came to a high steel fence and big double gates with a notice which said NO TRESPASSING ; the gates were open though so I figured out that we may as well take a look as we had gone far enough to get there. The track went up a slope for a couple of hundred yards then levelled out ; there was a large parking area on the right with a couple of portacabins and straight ahead was another sloping track leading a short distance down to the quarry.
The view from the bottom of the track looked great but just as I was about to take the first photo there was a shout from the top of the track and a guy in a wetsuit was standing there, telling us in no uncertain terms that this was PRIVATE PROPERTY and we had to LEAVE NOW! I did shout back that we were only taking photos but he insisted that we leave so I just snatched one shot and we made our way back up the track and headed back to the car ; it was a shame I couldn’t have got any more photos as it really did look nice.
DSCF2645 - Copy
My only photo of Portroe quarry
DSCF2646 - Copy
Back at the car we had a few minutes to take in the view over the countryside then we set off back to Roscrea ; Laura had invited me round to hers for a meal so she dropped me at Nellie’s first and I went round an hour or so later. Her friend Nicole had arrived too and as there was a Chinese takeaway right across the road we all decided to get something from there. It was a lovely meal, although there was far more than I could eat, and after spending a very pleasant couple of hours with Laura and Nicole I took myself off back to Nellie’s for a reasonably early night. Thanks to Laura I’d had a really lovely day and my visit to Dromineer had whetted my appetite for seeing more of Lough Derg – hopefully that will be something I can do in the not-too-distant future.

A lovely day out, Part 1 – Leap Castle

In which Laura takes me for a day out and we start by exploring a haunted castle…
Leap Castle (pronounced Lep) is situated deep in the countryside just over six miles or so from Roscrea and over the border from Co. Tipperary into Co. Offaly. Back in December 2016, from a shop in Roscrea, I’d picked up a hand drawn map with written directions to the castle ; some of my regular readers may remember the post I wrote about my long walk to get there and my failure to find the place at the time. It was further away than the directions said and I came to the conclusion that Irish miles are longer than English miles. Following that walk I realised that if I were ever to visit this castle at all then I would have to somehow drive myself there, however Michael’s girlfriend Laura had recently said she was willing to take me there and also to another place I’d previously said I’d like to go to so I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity.
Leap Castle has a very violent and bloody history and is said to be the most haunted castle in Ireland, possibly even Europe. Built sometime between the 13th and 15th centuries by the O’Bannon clan it was eventually taken over by the ruling O’Carroll clan but it was a clan divided by bitter leadership struggles throughout most of the 16th century, with one brother against another. The chapel above the Great Hall became known as the Bloody Chapel after one O’Carroll killed his brother, a priest who was conducting a mass at the time – he died on the altar in front of his family. In one corner of the chapel was a small chamber with a trapdoor in the floor ; prisoners and unfortunates were thrown down there into the dungeon, often landing on sharp spikes, and if that didn’t kill them they were literally forgotten about and left there to die of starvation and their injuries. When the dungeon was cleaned out by much later owners it was reported that three cartloads of skeletons were removed.
In the mid 17th century the castle came into the possession of the Darby family. It had originally been a tower house but in the 18th century was extended by the Darbys who added the north and south wings and gave it a Gothic restyling ; it stayed in the Darby family through the years until 1922 when it was set on fire during the Irish Civil War after which it was left dormant for many years. In 1974 the castle was bought by Australian historian Peter Bartlett, a descendant of the O’Bannons, who undertook extensive repairs and renovations until his death in 1989 ; in 1991 the place was bought by musician Sean Ryan and his wife Anne to be their own private residence and they have continued Peter Bartlett’s restoration work over the years since then.
Of course a place can’t be said to be haunted unless it has a ghost or two and Leap Castle is supposed to have several. Emily and Charlotte were two little girls said to have lived on the estate during the 17th century ; Emily died after falling from the tower and it’s said that there are still sightings of a little girl falling from its great height only to disappear before hitting the ground. The ghost of a woman murdered by the O’Carrolls in the 16th century wanders about wearing very little clothing ; she screams twice before disappearing into thin air. The Governess, also known as the nanny, is often seen alongside Emily and Charlotte, and an old man has been spotted sitting in a comfy chair by the side of the main hall’s grand fireplace.
The Red Lady is tall and slim with long brown hair, she wears a red dress and is always seen carrying a dagger in her raised hand. The story says that she was captured by the O’Carrolls and raped ; she fell pregnant and when the baby was born it was taken from her and killed with a dagger. She was so distraught that she killed herself with the same dagger used to murder her infant, and the one her spirit holds is the very one which killed her baby. The Elemental, otherwise known as ‘it’, is described as being about the size of a sheep with a shadowy half-human face and sunken eyes ; it gives off the smell of a decomposing corpse though its menacing and sinister presence only makes itself known to those who provoke it.
The castle is said to allow visitors from 10am until 5pm and various sources of information, including the written directions I got back in 2016, all said that it was advisable to phone or email to arrange a visit, but even though Laura tried several times to ring there was no answer so we decided to go there anyway on the off-chance that we would be able to go in. At first knocking on the door produced no response and we were about to give up and leave when I suggested trying once more and this time the owner, Sean Ryan, came to the door – and in typical contrary Irish fashion, when I mentioned that we had tried to phone ahead as advised he said he didn’t know why I would have been given that information as we only needed to knock! However, he welcomed us in and led us over to a huge fireplace, which he’d built himself, and we sat in front of a lovely fire while he told us all about the history of the castle and the spirits (he doesn’t call them ghosts) which live there.
DSCF2589 - Copy
Leap Castle with the unrestored part and ruins on the left
DSCF2588 - Copy
The main hall where we sat to hear the castle’s story
After our ‘history lesson’ Sean took us through to the back of the hall and showed us the conservatory, a long narrow room looking out over the land below and beyond the castle and filled with a hotchpotch of plants, garden ornaments and various things hanging in various places, then he gave us a torch, showed us where the stairs were, and we were free to explore the upper rooms at our leisure.
Halfway up the first spiral staircase was a cubby hole with a small wooden door set in the wall then at the top of the stairs was the Great Hall with its collection of furniture, artefacts and various objects, some very old, others not so much, which Sean had collected while on his travels. On the floor in a window recess I found a sweet little surprise, though it was Laura who noticed it first – behind the leg of a dining chair was a tiny little bat. Knowing that they are nocturnal I thought it must be asleep, although if it was then it had chosen a very odd place for a snooze, but unfortunately this poor little creature was dead – maybe it had flown in somewhere and couldn’t get out again. Never having seen a bat at close quarters before I picked it up gently and put it on the chair to take a photo then laid it back where we found it ; it was tiny, barely two inches long, and its fur was incredibly soft.
DSCF2558 - Copy
The conservatory
DSCF2562 - Copy
Front lawn and drive from first floor landing window
DSCF2563 - Copy
The Great Hall
DSCF2571 - Copy
DSCF2565 - Copy
DSCF2564 - Copy
DSCF2572 - Copy
Carving on a dark oak dresser
DSCF2570 - Copy
DSCF2568 - Copy
The sweet little bat we found
Above the Great Hall was a small mezzanine level and the next flight of stairs had a door leading into it, with four steps down onto the mezzanine itself. Most of the space was taken up by a double bed which I thought was rather odd but Sean told us later that it’s where he puts any family or friends when they come to stay. The spiral staircase, which got narrower as we went further up, took us to the Bloody Chapel, a vast space with a rough floor and which, apart from a tin roof to keep out the worst of the elements, was still unrestored. There was a doorway in one corner with a staircase going down but it was dark so not knowing what I was getting myself into I didn’t risk it. With no windows in the chapel taking photos of the landscape was easy though it would have been a long way to fall if I’d leaned out too far.
DSCF2574 - Copy
The bed on the mezzanine
DSCF2575 - Copy
Looking down from the mezzanine
Leap castle stairs 2
Stairs to the Bloody Chapel with the door to the mezzanine
DSCF2579 - Copy
The unrestored Bloody Chapel
DSCF2585 - Copy
Looking down on the ruins
DSCF2584 - Copy
View beyond the ruins
DSCF2582 - Copy
DSCF2581 - Copy
On the way back down the stairs we revisited the Great Hall to see if there was anything we’d missed then continued back to ground level where we handed the torch back to Sean. After another chat, during which he told us that everything in the castle had either been restored, recycled or built by him and his wife, we thanked him for letting us look round, said our goodbyes and left just as some other visitors were arriving. Sean plays the fiddle and the Irish whistle and if we’d asked he would have given us a tune or two but to be honest I’m not really a lover of traditional Irish music.
DSCF2590 - Copy
Leap Castle was a strange place. Compared to the castle at Limerick which has been professionally restored with each room set out as it would have been in the period, Leap was what I would describe as ‘raw’ – with mis-matched furniture from different periods, artefacts and objects from different countries, it was a restoration which didn’t really reflect any one particular period but strangely it worked. The place was unique, even more so because it was actually someone’s home – and to quote Sean’s words “If we’d wanted to live in a modern bungalow we would have bought a modern bungalow”. I’d really enjoyed my visit to the castle, it was certainly different – and as for any ghosts, I didn’t see, hear or feel anything remotely spooky of all the time I was there, but then I don’t believe in ghosts anyway.

Limerick street art

In my recent wanderings around Limerick, and just after I’d come out of the castle, I spotted a couple of small murals painted on the wall of an empty shop. Photographing street art wasn’t something I’d been thinking about on this particular occasion but these were quite sweet in an amateurish way so I snapped a couple of shots and thought no more about it. However not far from St. Mary’s church I saw another mural, a huge one painted on a gable end wall, so having seen that one I decided to see if I could find some more while on my perambulations around the city.
DSCF2436 - Copy
DSCF2437 - Copy
A shame someone scrawled a black mark on this one
The first large mural I saw was on the gable end wall of a house not far from St. Mary’s Church, with the second one on the side wall of an empty shop premises opposite the main entrance gates to the cathedral – I hadn’t noticed that one earlier as I’d been walking in the opposite direction. The main road past the cathedral gates took me into the town centre and quite by chance I found a large mural of geometric shapes on a wall down an alley off one of the side streets. Presumably whoever did it must have overloaded the paintbrush as there were paint runs down the wall in several places.
DSCF2531 - Copy
DSCF2532 - Copy
DSCF2535 - Copy
The next one I found covered the whole length of the side wall of a building off one of the main shopping streets. It wasn’t easy to tell at first but in among all the geometric shapes and pink splodges were actually two faces looking in opposite directions. I found the last mural just after I’d seen the Terry Wogan statue on Harvey’s Quay, it was on the door and shutter of a premises which didn’t seem to have a name.
DSCF2538 - Copy
DSCF2541 - Copy
DSCF2542 - Copy
DSCF2543 - Copy
DSCF2537 - Copy
Mural by Irish artist Maser and New Zealander Askew One
DSCF2555 - Copy
And so to the brightly painted cottages I’d seen from the far side of the river earlier in the day. Although from a distance they did look like proper cottages they were anything but – yes, they were cottages but they were derelict ones, last inhabited over 40 years ago and left to the elements since then. Back in 2014, as part of a Limerick regeneration programme, 15 volunteers from the King’s Island area where the cottages are situated stripped, cleaned and painted the cottage fronts over the course of a week. It would certainly have brightened up what had previously been an eyesore but now, five years later and obviously lacking attention, the cottages are looking a bit worse for wear – a shame really as they look quite attractive, especially from a distance.
DSCF2365 - Copy
DSCF2359 - Copy
DSCF2363 - Copy
DSCF2362 - Copy
DSCF2361 - Copy
DSCF2360 - Copy
DSCF2364 - Copy
So there you have it, just a few examples of Limerick’s street art found by chance on my day out in the city. I’ve no doubt there are probably several more murals dotted about the place so my mission now is to do a bit of research to see if I can find out the locations of any more – and hopefully a future visit to the city will produce some more street art photography.

St. Mary’s Cathedral & St. Mary’s Church, Limerick

While on my recent walk around Limerick I visited both St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Mary’s Church which are only a short distance away from each other ; very confusing to have two St. Mary’s in close proximity but the Cathedral is Church of Ireland (Anglican) while the other church is a Catholic one.
St. Mary’s Cathedral, or to give it its full title The Cathedral Church of St. Mary the Virgin, was founded in 1168 and built on the site of a palace belonging to the last King of Munster ; it’s the oldest building in Limerick still in continuous daily use. The west door is said to have once been the original main entrance to the palace though it’s now only used on ceremonial occasions ; a centuries-old tradition decrees that the bishops of Limerick knock and enter the Cathedral by that door as part of their installation ceremony. The Cathedral tower wasn’t added to the original building until the 14th century ; at 120ft high it contains a peal of eight bells and a stationary service bell which can be rung from the ground floor.
DSCF2448 - Copy
St. Mary’s Cathedral
St Mary's catherdral west door
The Romanesque west door
DSCF2490 - Copy
One of the features in the cathedral was a small opening known as the ‘leper’s squint’ in one of the walls of the north transept. In medieval times leprosy was common and believed to be highly contagious so lepers weren’t allowed into churches ; the ‘leper’s squint’ allowed them to see and hear services and receive Communion through the opening without coming into contact with other worshipers. There were so many interesting features in the cathedral that it would have been impossible to photograph them all and read all the information about them in the time I had so as I wandered round I just photographed the ones which intrigued me the most.
DSCF2456 - Copy
DSCF2458 - Copy
DSCF2459 - Copy
DSCF2467 - Copy
DSCF2465 - Copy
The ‘leper’s squint’
DSCF2495 - Copy
DSCF2485 - Copy

xstmaryschoirstalls.jpg.pagespeed.ic.pnpzwUjzv4[1]
This cute woodcarving was in the choir stalls

DSCF2480 - Copy
DSCF2471 - Copy
My final shot, and what I think is the nicest of all the windows
In contrast to the age of the Cathedral St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church is less than 90 years old, having been built between 1930 and 1932 on the site of a previously demolished church built in 1749 ; all that remains of the original church is a font and a plaque at the rear of the present church. While I’d found the interior of the Cathedral to be quite dark and a bit oppressive in many places the interior of this church was a complete contrast ; it was light and bright and had a much more airy feel to it.
DSCF2527 - Copy
St. Mary’s Catholic Church
DSCF2499 - Copy
DSCF2522 - Copy
DSCF2501 - Copy
DSCF2504 - Copy
DSCF2512 - Copy
DSCF2511 - Copy
Behind the high altar were six Venetian mosaics, each depicting an unnamed angel and with a verse of the hymn ‘Te Deum’ underneath. Above the mosaics were three stained glass windows depicting the Visitation, the Assumption, and the Annunciation, while on the ground the beautiful designs of the marble floor tiles were certainly worthy of a couple of photos.
DSCF2505 - Copy
DSCF2502 - Copy
DSCF2517 - Copy
DSCF2513 - Copy
DSCF2515 - Copy
DSCF2514 - Copy
Back outside in the bright sunshine I pondered on the two churches I’d just been in, and while the cathedral had much more historical interest it was the bright and airy church I much preferred. And who knows, I may well pay another visit the next time I go to Limerick.

A day in Limerick

In which I meet a sweet little pony, explore an old castle and encounter a couple of bus drivers with only half a brain between them…
It was another early start for me that day with the 8.40am coach to Limerick at the head of the Shannon estuary. Never having been there before I wasn’t sure where to get off the coach when I got there but ‘Arthur’s Quay’ was named on the timetable as the last stop so I figured out that anything with ‘quay’ in its name had to be near water and I was right. The coach pulled in at one of several stops next to a small and pleasant riverside park and at the far side of the park I got my first view of the River Shannon.
Turning to the left I walked a short distance past what looked like a very short section of a canal and a canal basin and up some steps to a road bridge over the river. Looking across to the far side of the bridge I could see what appeared to be a riverside walk ; there was another road bridge further along the river leading in the direction of the castle so I decided to work my way round in a square. The tide must have been coming in and advancing up the estuary as at one point the river seemed to be flowing back on itself and was a seething mass of white-topped waves.
DSCF2341 - Copy
View north west from Arthur’s Quay Park
DSCF2343 - Copy
Shannon Rowing Club premises on the left
DSCF2344 - Copy
View west towards Riverpoint with Limerick Boat Club on the right
DSCF2349 - Copy
Riverside walk along Clancy’s Strand
DSCF2350 - Copy
DSCF2351 - Copy
DSCF2352 - Copy
Looking across to the far end of the next bridge I could see a row of brightly painted cottages, good subjects for a photo or two so I went along to check them out. What I found wasn’t what I thought it was but I’ll save that for another post. A narrow road ran between the cottages and the river so I decided to walk along a short distance to see if there was anything of interest ; the road curved round to the right with a footpath to the left which I followed and came across an area of ‘almost countryside’. A vast green space was bordered on one side by the river and riverside path and across the far side by a pleasant-looking small housing estate while on the grass itself a few tethered ponies were grazing peacefully, presumably owned by someone who lived nearby. Away from the main roads it was very quiet and with the hills in the distance I could really have been right in the countryside.
A distance along the path I came across another tethered pony, a bright chestnut-coloured Shetland who seemed to want to follow me though he could only go as far as the length of his rope. Eventually the path turned to the right and there was another bridge up ahead so not knowing where I would end up I turned round there and retraced my steps. The little pony was still there, he’d knocked his bucket of food over and was snuffling along the path with his nose. He was very friendly and again he wanted to follow me so I stopped to stroke him and noticed part of one of the hedgerow plants stuck in his fringe and in danger of going in his eye – so I spent a good five minutes picking it all out while he stood there patiently and let me. He was such a little sweetheart and I would have loved to bring him home.
DSCF2358 - Copy
View from the road to the bridge at Thomond Weir
DSCF2367 - Copy
DSCF2372 - Copy
DSCF2371 - Copy
DSCF2368 - Copy
DSCF2374 - Copy
All the time I’d been walking the weather had been getting better and better ; the clouds were clearing, the sky was becoming a much deeper blue and the warm sunshine was even warmer. By the time I’d got back to the main road I was feeling quite peckish – my early breakfast had worn off so I went back across the bridge to Jack Monday’s Coffee House where I had a nice early lunch on the terrace overlooking the river then retraced my steps again to the castle at the other end of the bridge.
DSCF2376 - Copy
King John’s Castle, next to the River Shannon, was built at the beginning of the 13th century on the orders of King John, brother of Richard the Lionheart, and is one of the best preserved castles in Europe. Between 2011 and 2013 it underwent a massive redevelopment to improve the visitor facilities and now has a new visitor centre and shop, interactive exhibitions and a café with views of the courtyard and river, with a self-guided tour leading through a modern exhibition to the castle itself.
DSCF2397 - Copy
The castle courtyard
DSCF2415 - Copy
DSCF2419 - Copy
St. Munchin’s Church (Church of Ireland) from one of the towers
DSCF2410 - Copy
River Shannon and Thomond Bridge
DSCF2418 - Copy
DSCF2408 - Copy
DSCF2434 - Copy
Outside the castle visitor centre, showing Katie Daly’s Heritage Pub
From the castle I had no clear idea of where I was going so I just followed the narrow street from the visitor centre and eventually came to St. Mary’s Cathedral. A short distance from there along a main road was St. Mary’s Catholic Church (very confusing) and these two churches will feature in a following post. Round the corner from the cathedral was a pleasant pedestrianised area leading to the riverside where I found Limerick’s 1916 Commemorative Garden and fountain, then a little way from there I came to Merchants Quay where a handful of colourful dinghies were pulled up on a little beach set back off the river.
DSCF2438 - Copy
DSCF2444 - Copy
Dinghies at Merchants quay
DSCF2445 - Copy
From Merchants Quay the main road took me across the River Abbey close to where it joined the Shannon. I was heading into the city centre there and though I wasn’t interested in looking round any shops I thought I’d have a wander round a few of the streets, eventually arriving back at the riverside at the far side of the road bridge where I’d started my walk. Set back in a cobblestone circle was the statue of a man perched on a chair but there didn’t seem to be any indication as to who it was supposed to be ; it was only once I’d got back home that a quick bit of research told me it was a statue of Limerick-born tv and radio presenter Terry Wogan, unveiled in 2017. Well I don’t know who the sculptor was but to my mind it didn’t look much like Terry Wogan at all.
DSCF2534 - Copy
River Abbey across from George’s Quay
DSCF2552 - Copy
The Shannon at Harvey’s Quay
DSCF2546 - Copy
Terry Wogan statue at Harvey’s Quay
DSCF2548 - Copy
Honan’s Quay and Sarsfield Bridge
Back at the other side of the bridge, and close to Arthur’s Quay Park, I took my final shot of the Shannon. The tide had crept in further in the five hours I’d been exploring and the river was now calm and level with no sign of the turbulent waves I’d seen before. Through the park I went back to the bus stop where I’d got off the coach that morning – and that’s where the fun began, with two bus drivers who didn’t seem to have much of a clue, however it’s a long story so I’ll save that for another post.
DSCF2545 - Copy
The Shannon with calm water
Eventually I arrived back in Roscrea and to a lovely meal which Nellie had made for me. Apart from the coach journey back, which I’d actually found quite amusing, my day out to Limerick had proved to be very interesting ; it was a nice place, and since being back home I’ve found out there are lots more places there which I can explore so no doubt it will be somewhere else I return to in the future when the opportunity arises.