Ireland: Presidential Sa-weeeeet!

Sorry to leave our little castle with the delicious food and the medieval village ambiance, we began our journey to the next stop.  We decided to check out the city of Wexford, since it was so steeped in Irish History.  We saw an abbey founded by a broken-hearted woman who became a nun because she thought she had lost her lover in the Crusades.  He had not died after all, but when he returned and found she had become a nun, he joined the monastery.  

The monastery he joined was built by a Franciscan monk.  The monk worked hard to raise the money to make it happen, but he wasn’t quite as skilled at fundraising as his brother, who built TWO churches during this time period.  He used all kinds of unconventional methods to build his churches:  He charged chapel rent of a penny or so per family per week, above and beyond regular offerings and donations. He promised a personal blessing from the pope for anyone who made further donations.  He went to other churches and to people who weren’t Catholics at all.  He even went to sailing vessels and asked for donations from any sailors wishing to visit the town.  They couldn’t refuse and risk losing favor with a town they very much wanted to visit!

Finally, we decided we should move on, and it didn’t take long, especially with Bill being an English driving expert by now, to get to Enniscorthy. The castle in this town was the first castle from which we were allowed access to the roof.  I don’t know why, but I really wanted to look over a city from its castle’s turret.  What we discovered was a long history of ups and downs for this 12th century castle.  The Enniscorthy Castle was built in 1190 by a Norman knight.  His family and descendants lived there until 1370, when an Irish man, Art MacMurrough Kavanagh, attacked it to regain control of the land the Normans had taken.  His descendants held the castle until they surrendered it to the English in ruined condition in 1536. It was later repaired and renovated, but in the 1600s became a barracks of sorts for Cromwell’s forces.  Then during the Irish rebellion in 1798, it became a prison for rebels.  It later became a private home that was occupied until 1951, when it became the property of Wexford County Museum.  They closed it to create displays and then opened it to the public in 2011.  

The exhibits inside Enniscorthy Castle represent some of the old, some of what it looked like when the Roche family lived there in the first half of the 20th century, and some of the legacy of the area, such as a before-her-time architect who came from there and a movie we want to see, Brooklyn, about Irish immigrants to America.  It would be fun to see this castle with children, as they had a costume room with tunics, shields and swords they could try on.  We did eventually get to the roof, and as we gazed over the surrounding city and country, saw St. Aidan’s Cathedral and St. Mary’s Church of Ireland.  We also imagined the Battle of Vinegar Hill, where Irish rebels lost 400-1200 people (based on which eyewitness reports you want to believe), including women and children, many of them when the British set fire to their casualty station.  The rebels, however, were able to take down about 100 British soldiers and hold the bridge to stop the British from getting to Wexford over the Slaney River.  

After the Castle, we headed down the coast to the Hook Peninsula to see one of the world’s oldest lighthouses, Hook Lighthouse.  It was built in the 1200s and is still fully intact!  Interestingly, monks from the St. Dubhán Monastery had actually begun lighting a fire on the coast each night back in the fifth century.  Why?  Because as they walked along the coast, they found many remains of shipwrecks and were distressed by the danger the peninsula obviously caused travelers in the area.  The peninsula was named after the founder of this monastery, St. Dubhán, and when Strongbow’s son-in-law, William Marshal came along, he built the tower for the beacon.  Unfortunately, he thought the Peninsula was called Duán, which translates to fishhook, so he named it the Hook Lighthouse. The monks, however, continued to keep this beacon lit for centuries by doing two things routinely:  First, they carried coal up the 115 steps to roof to keep the fire, and eventually the lantern, going.  Second, they would wind a wench every 25 minutes and then let its weight unwind it, causing the reflecting light to rotate.  The monks continued to run the lighthouse for hundreds of years, including shooting a cannon of warning during foggy times.  Then, in the 17th century, the monks were replaced by lighthouse keepers, the coal was replaced by paraffin, and the cannon was replaced by a foghorn that sounded every four minutes during foggy times (once for four days straight).  The lighthouse is now fully automated, but the original building from the 12th century, and the original purpose from the 5th century, still live on.

Once we had toured the lighthouse and crawled around on the rocks below to our heart’s content, it was time to make our way to our next lodging down in Waterford.  Waterford is known for its crystal, but we chose not to stop at the crystal factory.  Bill seemed so anxious to get where we were going and get checked in that his excitement became contagious, and I wanted to be there too.  Bill said it would be our grand finale, but what we encountered upon arrival was so much more than either of us anticipated.  Following Google Maps, we arrived in the city of Waterford without delay.  We stopped for a quick bite to eat at a pub there.  We ordered our last Guinness pie and fish and chips, probably for a very long time.  We’ll miss them, but our bathroom scales will not!  Once we were done eating, we continued following Google Maps, which led us to the water’s edge and onto a ferry.  I’ve never been on a ferry in a car, so I was pretty excited, taking pictures, as usual.  Our next lodging was on an island, and it turned out the ferry was the only way to get to it.  It was called Waterford Castle, but we couldn’t see it from the ferry because of all the trees on the island.  I thought it must be pretty small if trees could hide it.  Boy, was I wrong!

We drove off the ferry and followed the signs to the castle.  It was as big as any we’ve seen, and the island was completely dedicated to its guests.  We hadn’t been able to see it because it was so far, and the trees were so thick.  In awe, we snapped a few pictures and then walked up the steps, unable to believe we were going to actually stay the night in this palace!  We checked in, and our host called for the porter.  We both chuckled, as the only bags we had were the backpacks on our backs!  We waited for the porter for a few minutes, and then I said, “You know, this is all we have.  If you want, you can just give us our room number.”  She smiled politely and said, “I’ll take you there myself.”  We followed her up the sweeping staircase… one flight, but it seemed like two with the grand ceilings so high.  At the top of the stairs, she stopped.  As she fiddled with our door, I read the words Residential Suite.  I think I had seen on the receipt that Bill had reserved a suite for this special occasion of our last night of vacation.  I wondered what a suite in a castle would have in it.

I didn’t wonder for long.  She finally got the door open and it led…to a hallway…that led…to what looked like a dining room.  “You got a slight upgrade,” she said from the door, smiling.  I turned back and realized her body had been blocking a letter of the sign.  The sign on the door said Presidential Suite.  Before we could even ask what had happened to bring us such a blessing, she had closed the door behind her and was gone.  We were left to explore our home for the night.  The sitting room had a dining table that would probably seat six, as well as a fireplace, bookcases, a desk, and a sofa, all antique and classically arranged.  This led to a bedroom almost as big as our whole cabin when we first moved into it.  The kingsize four-poster bed would have been lost in the room if it hadn’t been for two more sofas, a desk, a dressing table, a huge wardrobe equipped with thick terry robes and slippers, and more.  Finally, we checked out the bathroom, which was as big as many of the whole hotel rooms we had rented so far.  It had a sink for each of us, a claw foot tub, and a toilet with the classic overhead tank and wooden seat.  Everything was exquisitely decorated, from the wallpaper to the tiles to the draperies to the beddings to even the little trinkets and lamps set tastefully around the room.  Never have we felt quite so spoiled!

We didn’t sit and wonder why we were so blessed too long.  We had to begin enjoying this island we had been given for the night!  We began by taking one of the hiking trails away from the castle and around the island itself.  It took us into thick forests, grassy areas, and marshlands.  It led us around an 18-hole golf course and onto a peninsula to the lighthouse that warned ships that there was an island in the middle of this otherwise navigable river.  We saw deer and blue herons and heard evidence of unseen wildlife scurrying away in the brush around us.  It was a beautiful walk in the cool of the evening that brought us, in the end, to the back of the castle, through a beautifully groomed garden, to a bench on a terrace, right under the four windows I had left open so I could identify our room from the outside.  

We finally retired inside, enjoyed our luxurious bed, woke up relaxed in the morning, hanging on to the last few details of our trip of a lifetime.  We finally headed down to the dining room for a full breakfast of omelette, pancakes, yogurt, fruit, various other delights we could have chosen but didn’t, and of course a delicious English tea.

What an ending to a great trip.  What a grand finale.  Bill had done all the planning for this trip, and he had shared many details with me, but I had no idea how he would spoil us on our last night in Ireland.  And it turns out, neither did he!  

When we finally pulled ourselves away from Waterford Castle, we headed to the Dublin airport, flew to London, and stayed the night in a typical airport hotel.  It was… clean.  It was… acceptable.  It was… the needed beginning of our transition into “normal” life again.  When we got up in the morning, we headed to the London airport for our flight to Denver.  We’ll fly all day and and all evening, but we’ll land in Denver at 2:30 in the afternoon.  Savanna and Jason will pick us up, and we will head back to Estes Park.  We’ll resume our normal life doing our normal jobs, and it will be up to us to hold on to the memories of this amazing trip and continue to make every moment we live back “in the real world” extraordinary. 

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