Monday, August 7, 2017
Ireland Day of the 1000 Bends
We planned our trip for months, and today we started the first day of our 5-day Ireland motorcycle tour with Celtic Rider. Mike and I toured with Paul and Liam 5 years ago, and it was lovely to see them again and visit the shop, right next-door to Paul's 492-year old home.
After a safety orientation and packing up the bikes, 5 of us followed Paul for a shake-down ride: Wayne, Colleen, Maureen - a rider from Canada - and us. Everyone kept reminding themselves to "look right and stay left", and after about an hour felt more comfortable going through roundabouts 'the wrong way' and navigating narrow Irish lanes.
Even though I wore my raingear, I never needed it because even though the skies were dark and we felt a few random raindrops, it never really rained. We rode through 4 counties in the province of Leinster: Kildare, Wicklow, Carlow and Kilkenny, passing bored-looking cows, sheep and goats enjoying the abundant grass, a couple of horses looking over a stone fence, and beautifully-kept houses surrounded by trim fields. Paul calls this first day of the trip the "Day of the 1000 bends" because there is rarely a straight stretch of road as we wound our way around the countryside.
We pulled over to the side of the road across the river from Baltinglass Abbey so Paul could make sure each rider was comfortable with their bike.
The Abbey was founded in 1148 by Cistercian monks and was one of the richest abbeys in the 1600's until Henry VIII ran into marital trouble, left the Catholic church, and founded the Church of England.
Paul explained that local children learn to canoe in the River Slaney, and in fact that all Irish children learn to swim because they live on an island covered in numerous lakes, rivers and streams.
We continued winding our way around the countryside, stopping for a late lunch at The Forge restaurant in Tullow, County Carlow.
The restaurant is housed in a 120-year old granite building that once was the home of a forge. We sat outside enjoying the day and the fabulous food - carrot and root vegetable soup, delicious brown Irish bread and butter, and ham, cheese and tomato toasties. Paul kept us laughing with stories about his motorcycle adventures and local history.
Paul stayed with us for a few more miles, then pointed us toward Kilkenny and turned off toward home. We rode on winding narrow roads through more bright green fields and small towns with stone houses, and finally into Kilkenny, our stop for the evening.
We're staying at the River Court Hotel on the bank of the Nore River, across the river from Kilkenny Castle. After checking into our rooms we walked across the stone bridge over the river to the castle, with 1 hour before closing time to take a tour of the castle.
Originally the Anglo-Norman stone castle was built during the early 1200's, and over the centuries it was remodeled by the Butler family who purchased the castle in 1391. The family owned the castle until 1967 when they sold it to the town of Kilkenny for a token payment.
The Office of Public Works undertook a massive renovation and rebuilding, and today we were able to walk around the inside of the castle decorated as it would have looked during Victorian times.
Kilkenny, or in Irish Cill Chainnigh, meaning "church of Cainnech" was founded in the early 6th century by St. Canice, and later became a thriving market town surrounded by tall stone walls. The winding narrow streets, colorful old stone houses, and parts of the original wall attract tourists, artists, and craftspeople. Since today is a Bank holiday, the streets were full of people on holiday. We walked across the street from the hotel to Matt the Miller's for dinner and a pint, enjoying the traditional Irish music and friendly waitstaff who traded jokes and information about life in Ireland vs the US.
We managed to avoid the rain all day until we parked the BMWs, and dashed in and out of the rain on our way home from the castle and again later on our way back from dinner. We're all looking forward to a full day on the motorcycle tomorrow, heading south to the seaside town of Kinsale.
We're loving our time in Ireland and thank Paul for a brilliant first day.