My Love Affair with Cahir, County Tipperary

Summer at Cahir Castle
The River Suir

The River Suir

Cahir, County Tipperary, is one of my favorite places in Ireland.  Traveling to Ireland without stopping in Chair for a few hours seems … well, wrong.  In fact, in December 2014, while basing in County Wicklow, I heard Cahir’s ‘call’ loud and clear.  Enough that I drove more than two hours and stayed the night, just so that I could spend the afternoon wandering around.

There is a certain level of intimacy to Cahir that is lost in other high-traffic tourist areas.  While you may see a bus or two, you can wander the area around the castle (or town) and find more locals out and about.  I have found that I am simply comfortable in Cahir.  I attribute that to the people.  I once based three weeks just a few kilometers from Cahir and stopped most days.  As a solo traveler, I am always greated with a smile, whether it was in a cafe, a pub or a market.  If I had a question, people were always kind and spared a couple of moments to help.

Cahir Castle is my favorite castle (to date) … and there are plenty of them in Ireland.  I wasn’t expecting this type of castle.  Okay, I wasn’t expecting any castles.  Somewhere in my history lessons I jumped from Celtic to modern times. I completely missed the whole Norman-castle-building era.  But there it was, still intact.  It has great towers, a barbican, a great hall and even a working gate.  I was completely mesmerized during the tour.  I also remember thinking … what else have I missed?  So, I keep returning.

Castle Gate

Castle Gate

More importantly for me are the images that I have been able to capture while in Cahir.  I can, and have, taken hundreds of images. Here are my top four favorite images from Cahir:

  1. Cahir Castle on a December Afternoon.  I drove through some heavy rain on my way to Cahir in December 2014.  But as I arrived, it was as if they knew I was coming and the clouds parted.  I spent about an hour around the castle.  A new storm front was rolling in and it was getting dark.  As I was heading out, I noticed a small break in the clouds and thought wait for it. I waited and nothing.  Wait for it.  Nothing.  Wait for it.  And twenty minutes later the  clouds let the afternoon sun let peek through.  I took about 10 images and it was gone.
  2. Friends.  This is from June 2014.  My first couple trips I kept forgetting to walk to the back of the castle.  (Okay, I didn’t know you could walk to the back.)  This time, it was my primary goal.  I turned around and I saw two girls strolling ahead of their moms. Both dressed in pink.  I love that one of the girls has her hands in her pockets and is stretching out her shorts.  You can almost imagine what they were talking about.  I wonder if they will be good friends twenty years from now.
  3. Stormy.  One of the first images that I captured on my first trip in June 2012. How could I not fall in love with this place?
  4. Swiss Cottage.  A warm, sunny September (2013) day, made a perfect backdrop for the architectural find.  Autumn was settling in and along with it, new golden tones.
Cahir Castle on a December Afternoon

Cahir Castle on a December Afternoon

Friends

Friends

Stormy

Stormy

Swiss Cottage

Swiss Cottage

The Coastal Cottage Ruin

The Cottage Ruin, Wicklow, County Wicklow
The Irish Sea, Wicklow, County Wicklow

The Irish Sea, Wicklow, County Wicklow

Black Castle in Wicklow, County Wicklow, is a great ruin. I almost missed it. As I was heading out of Wicklow, I decided to pull into a golf course. The green land and the deep blue of the Irish Sea was calling to me. As I took some photographs, I noticed a castle ruin in the distance. So, I packed up and headed back towards town.

As I stood within the ruins of Black Castle and looking back towards the golf course, I noticed a new gem … a cottage in ruin. It looked perfect with white washed walls and bushes growing out of what would have been the roof. And, if you are new to my photographs, let me share a tidbit. I love taking images of plants growing on stone and ruins. This would be a perfect subject.

A Distant 'Cottage', Wicklow, County Wicklow

A Distant ‘Cottage’, Wicklow, County Wicklow

I considered following an earthen trail along the coastline to get closer to the the cottage. But my time was limited as I wanted to drive the East Coast Scenic Route. So, I took some photos and thought … if I have time another day.

A week later, I found myself heading south from Enniskerry with some daylight still available. There was a lot of cloud cover and rain in the area, but the sun was peeking through in places. I thought … please rain, just wait a bit. That cottage ruin was still floating in my mind, so I turned towards Wicklow.

Parked near Black Castle, I began the trek. With the rain clouds still holding in the distance, I decided to take my time. I started following the narrow and winding trail. It was slow since it was skirting the edge of cliffs. A couple of times I caught myself thinking … you won’t survive that fall.

Black Castle, Wicklow, County Wicklow

Black Castle, Wicklow, County Wicklow

Along the way, I found some great vantage points for images of the rugged coastline. In the meantime, there was a dip in the trail and I lost sight of the ‘cottage’. But, I continued to move forward while doing my best to avoid slipping and sliding in the muddy trail. There were times I found myself stepping even closer to the edge as I navigated around rocks while the waves crashed below. I was focused. My target, while still hidden, was getting closer. Those rain clouds … still holding.

I was glad that I had returned. There is something about plants on ruins. While I understand they can be destructive, I love how it reflects Ireland’s tenacity and strength. The trail finally crested and … Well, hell. Really? I mean … really?

There I stood with the ‘cottage ruin’ a few hundred feet in front of me. Ha! Instead of a beautiful coastal cottage ruin, I was looking at a white, ugly, wooden windbreak with trees on one side. I am sure it was built to help keep the wind from destroying someone’s golf game.

So, after standing there for a couple of minutes shaking my head, I turned around and made my way back; slipping and sliding. I kept telling myself, it wasn’t a complete loss.  I did get plenty of coastline photos.  Well, hell ….

December Blues & Greens, Wicklow, County Wicklow

December Blues & Greens, Wicklow, County Wicklow

Fishing, Wicklow, County Wicklow

Fishing, Wicklow, County Wicklow

The Jagged Coastline, Wicklow, County Wicklow

The Jagged Coastline, Wicklow, County Wicklow

So Close … Charleville Castle, Tullamore, County Offaly

Charleville Castle, Tullamore
Charleville Castle, Tullamore

Charleville Castle, Tullamore

You know the old saying about not seeing the ‘sights’ in the town you live in …. Well, it is the same as using a home base on vacation. It happened in 2012 while we stayed in Cashel. We almost did not tour the Rock of Cashel. It happened again Tullamore, except this time I really missed it. And, I didn’t know what I missed until I was home.

My base for the second portion of the trip was Tullamore. I had some informational brochures about Tullamore and even bought one. They mentioned Chareville Castle, but I wasn’t seeing any signs or any high traffic patterns.  Nothing really screamed ‘Charleville Castle – see me.’  So, I went elsewhere.

My first limited view was out of the corner of my eye on my way to Birr via N52.  There was a pasture full of sheep and then I saw a couple of flags.  I did try to see if I could track down information via a website.  However, the information that I found was dated and it appeared that it was not open to the public.  So, I put it on the back burner.

Charleville Sheep

Charleville Sheep

Near the end of my stay, I decided to take advantage of a sunny day and the pasture of sheep.  I found a roundabout (N52) that led me to a gravel road and I parked the car.  We had sun that day and I took a number of photos.  There was also some cattle out, including one that was standing in the gravel road.  It kept looking at me as if to ask … how do I get back to the other side of the fence?

It made for a few good images with the castle in the background.  I did return to take some more photos, but the road was now blocked.  I don’t know if that was a message for me or others … but I wasn’t the one who left that cow out. It looked like it had jumped the fence.

So, the moral to the story … dig deeper.  Once I returned home I started to investigate a bit deeper.  There appears to be a trail that is open to the public on the castle grounds.  You can drive back to the castle, but it may not be open.  As a note … Charleville Castle has been used within the films industry, as well as being reported as haunted, making its way to Ghost Hunters International and Scariest Places on Earth.

Out and About

Out and about … and how do I get back in?

One last thing, construction finished in the early 1800’s and it has under restoration since the 1970’s.

Kinnitty High Cross, County Offaly

Kinnitty Hight Cross
Kinnitty Hight Cross

Kinnitty Hight Cross

Tt took two attempts to find this one … Kinnitty High Cross. Driving to Birr, I saw the signs for Kinnitty and made a note. On the way home, I found myself on a local road; winding towards the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Once in Kinnitty, I located the primary church.

After spending twenty minutes combing a cemetery (where most high crosses can be found), I was out of luck. I did find a descriptive panel describing the cross and I looked some more … but the cemetery wasn’t that big! It wasn’t there!

I saw signs for Kinnitty Castle and decided to check it out. After a couple of photos, I moved on … a bit disappointed.

Back at the B&B, I did some research. The cross had been moved. Guess where? A terrace at the castle! You have to be kidding. Now this became a challenge!

Later in the week, I swung back to Kinnitty. This time with a single purpose. When I arrived at the castle, the car park was full … a wedding! As I headed for the terrace, I realized I had a big problem.  The wedding party and guests were occupying the terrace for the reception.  I wasn’t quite dressed appropriately to blend in, but I wasn’t leaving without a photo. The problem?

So, I started to do some reconnaissance; trying to figure out how I could get in. Walking around the castle, I discovered that there are two terraces. The one in the front was people free! And off to the side, almost into the tree line was the cross! As I was taking photos, all I could think … You have to do a better job at seeking out all corners of a destination!

This is the Kinnitty High Cross! It’s craftsmanship is beautiful and was well worth the second trip!

Birr Castle Demesne, Birr, County Offaly

Birr Castle, Birr, County Offaly
Birr Castle, Birr, County Offaly

Birr Castle, Birr, County Offaly

Always remember the umbrella.  You would think that by now, I wouldn’t forget.  I can tell you that after my morning at Birr Castle, my umbrella found its way permanently into the camera bag.

My first full day in County Offaly and I decided to take is a bit slow.  My first week was a ‘runner’, and while thoroughly enjoyed, it is a pace that I do not want to continue for another two weeks.  This is going to be my time to better explore the Midlands; check out what is around the corner and down the side road.

My single goal was Birr Castle in Birr, County Offaly.  Actually, Birr Castle Demesne (or castle grounds) is the agenda.  Birr Castle is still an active residence and only open for a

few months in the summer.  It was an easy drive from Tullamore, along N52.  Once to Birr, it was easy to follow the signs to a car park (paid), located outside of the castle walls.

Rusty Bench Inviting

Rusty Bench :: Inviting

As I approached the entrance courtyard, it was very obvious that I was in a different part of the country and that fall was settling in.  Okay … my real thought … where are all the people?  While I hope for economic success for Ireland’s tourism industry, a day or two off from the crowds is a treat.  My time at Birr Castle was peaceful and allowed for some time to ‘catch my breath.’

  • Ireland’s Historical Science Centre – Located in the restored stables, a science centre allows you to step back in time to the 1800’s when the Birr Castle was an important part of the scientific discovery.  A large portion of the centre focuses on the creation of a large telescope.
  • The Great Telescope – Built in the 1840’s, this telescope is located on the castle grounds.  It is a ‘reflecting’ telescope; the world’s largest when it was built and still operates today.
  • Gardens – There are a variety of gardens located throughout the castle grounds. The formal gardens were beginning to experience fall’s transformation, but were still enjoyable to walk through.  The terrace gardens  framed the castle nicely.  The boxed hedges are 300 years old.
  • Birr Castle – While a castle has been located on these grounds since the 12th, the current structure dates to the early 1600’s.  Renovations in the early 1880’s gave Birr Castle its gothic appearance that is evident today.

Back to the gardens and the umbrella.  I had been watching the weather.  It was wavering between a ‘chance of rain’ and a ‘chance of sun’ all morning.  I was being hopeful by leaving my umbrella in the car.  As I started to take photos by the castle, it was looking more like rain than sun.  Before I could get a couple of photos in, it began to sprinkle.  No umbrella and a bit of a walk to the entrance, I was hoping it was going to pass.  When sprinkles turned into a soft rain, I decided I needed to do something.  Off to the side was a large pine tree with a bench around its trunk … I headed that direction.

What followed was one of the most peaceful and enjoyable 40 minutes of my trip.  The pine was heavy enough that it kept most of the rain away.  With nowhere to go, I simply sat there and enjoyed the moment.  When I started to get impatient it was only a few minutes before the sun came out.

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