Our last day in Ireland was spent driving from Cork to Dublin with our trusty driver Liam. Now I haven’t spent much time describing Liam, but suffice is to say, we could not have ordered a better driver and guide if we had a menu of options to choose from. Liam LOVED his country and seemed to spend all his waking hours either looking after us or thinking up unique things to do with us around Ireland. For example, it was Liam who suggested we do the Belfast walk with Eamonn and it was at Liam’s suggestion that we visit Joe with his amazing sheep dogs. But beyond those suggestions, Liam was always coming up with fantastic lunch and dinner options as well as entertainment suggestions. He kept us out of the tourist traps and off the beaten path. Liam was in a word “FANTASTIC”. And Liam and Donnie had bonded over a shared enjoyment for beer and a bit of adventure. They were, after all, the two guys who went exploring a boarded up, deserted old mansion on the Beara Peninsula.
In addition, Liam kept us laughing. He was a typical Irishman with an endless supply of sayings. If we were doddering along, Liam would tell us we were “slow as a feckin’ boat”. If there was something that Liam thought we just HAD to see, he would tell us it was “O.M.f’ging G”. When we found somewhere we wanted to go, but weren’t sure if we could access a site, Liam would remind us “It’s better to ask forgiveness than seek permission in advance”. When Liam wanted to know what Donnie had to drink the night before, Liam would ask Donnie if he “had murdered a few pints”. When we asked Liam if he liked whiskey he told us “Hell no. Whiskey will make a mouse stand up and beat a cat.” A couple other sayings we heard were “rare as hen’s teeth” and “rough as a bear’s arse”.
However, the biggest laughs we got from listening to Liam talk was when he was described the children of an acquaintance who operates his own business. Apparently the man’s many children are on the payroll and are “good for nutin”. One son is “only good for makin’ babies” and a daughter “sits on a chair like a cat in a window” (although Liam modified his opinion somewhat when Cheryl advised him she had been really nice in the store … “oh good, she has a pulse”. Unfortunately, the running ten minute monologue from Liam should have been captured on video because we were all laughing so hard, I failed to write all the colourful descriptions Liam used, but take it from me, the man could be a comedian.
So it was a bit poignant as we packed up and left Cork for our final day with Liam. However, Liam promised to make it another good day. First up was a trip to Cahir (pronounced “care”) Castle, which is one of the few Irish castles that was never destroyed by Cromwell and remains one of the finest in Ireland.
Now as we drove, Liam would periodically put on a CD with some Irish music that was appropriate for the area we were driving through. For example, when we first left Dublin, Liam played Tura Lura Lura and when we were in Dingle we heard songs about the peninsula. So Cahir Castle is in the county of Tipperary and as we passed the sign that said “Welcome to County Tipperary”, Liam right on cue turned on “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”. And of course, Cheryl and I had to immediately join in singing at the top of our lungs. I am quite certain no one has ever “murdered” that song they way we did with Cheryl ending on a high note …. Tura Lura Lura!
After the song fest, it was only about another ten minutes before we were driving into the little village of Cahir all aglow in the magnificent late summer sunshine. Now the land on which Cahir Castle is built has been occupied since the third century. However, the original walls of the castle were not constructed until 1142. The castle subsequently passed to the Butler family in 1375 and remained in the family until 1961 when the last Butler passed away.
Anyway, Liam parked the van and we walked the short block to the castle. The castle sits on a little island in the middle of the river surrounded by a “moat like waterway” (although it was never a true moat) and is constructed of stone walls. The castle had turrets and a keep, a myriad of protective barriers to keep invaders out, including a portcullis (an iron gate with long tines that could slice you in half if you failed to make it through in time), tiny windows and even a dungeon.
We took a quick walk around the castle and beautiful exterior grounds, including the lovely little river moat surround by gorgeous landscaping before joining a brief 30 minute tour. We learned that In 1599 the Earl of Essex attempted to take the castle by force, and two cannon balls from the attack remain embedded in the walls. In addition, the reason the castle is in such pristine condition is that the castle was surrendered to Cromwell in 1650 without a struggle. Because Cromwell thought the castle might be useful to him in the future, the castle was never destroyed by Cromwell and his marauders (unlike most castles in Ireland). Twelve years later, the castle was returned to the Butlers after Cromwell was put to death.
As we wandered around the castle we entered a massive dining room where a huge set of antlers from an Irish deer are affixed to the wall. The Irish deer has been extinct for 8,000 years and it is estimated that the antlers are 10,000 years old. Mon deux!
We climbed a number of narrow staircases and saw the huge iron chains for the port cullis that controlled the raising and lowering of the gate and the “tower” where prisoners were kept. We climbed out onto terraces where residents could keep a watch out of invaders. We also climbed down into the lower levels of the castle and saw the water well in addition to what I think was a dungeon.
One of the incredibly interesting facets of the castle was the various protective measures built into the walls. In addition to the portcullis, there were small window like holes built into the walls where arrows could be shot from and there were large bowl like structures on the top of the walls from where hot sand and boiling water could be tossed onto invaders. We also saw a tiny doors built into the castle, which would slow invaders down. All in all, it was a fascinating look at history.
After the visit to the castle, we stopped for some lunch at a local pub before continuing on to the Rock of Cashel. The Rock of Cashel (Cashel is similar to the Irish word for fortress) sits up on a massive limestone hill smack in the middle of rolling farmlands. It looks as if someone took a bite out of a mountain and spit it out in the middle of farmland. (And legend has it that the big dip in the distance Galtee Mountains is the result of the massive Rock on which Cashel sits being removed and dropped on the farmland.)
I have no idea how the “Rock” came about, but it certainly looks out of place. However, what I can tell you is that the “Rock” was a prime location for building a fortress, and as a result, the Rock of Cashel became the Catholic base of power from the 4th century to the 10th century. However, in the 10th century, the Protestants took control of the Rock of Cashel and this resulted in subsequent fighting between the religious factions for control of the strategic location. As a result, in 1101, King Muircheartach O’Brien presented the Rock to the Church to obtain an “in” with the powerful bishops and to end the secular fighting over the Rock.
Once we paid the entrance fee, we opted to avoid the next tour, (and what appeared to be a mammoth group of people waiting), and have Liam gave us a tour around the site. We began with the 12th-century cross in the middle of the courtyard depicting a crucifixion scene on one face and animals on the other. When then went around the outside of the building to the 11th or 12th century round tower, we then took in the 11th century Cormac Chapel before wandering back through to the interior to see the 16th century Gothic cathedral (which was actually my favourite section of the building). We ended the tour by wandering around the exterior to see the many high crosses, including a massive high cross that had been partially destroyed in the 1990s when it was hit by lightening.
Now why all the different ages for the buildings yoy may ask? It is because after the fortress became a religious building, the bishops added on to the building over the years. Hence the reason for all the various ages of the buildings.
Anyway, after Liam’s tour, Cheryl, Donnie and I wandered around the grounds and the buildings taking a closer look at the massive stone walls, the cathedral and the Archbishop’s residence and some interesting artifacts. We also took in the massive views on one side of the site, which overlooked the gorgeous rolling valleys of the Tipperary.
We left the Rock of Cashel and began the two hour drive to Dublin. However, Liam wasn’t finished with us yet. He suggested that once we reached Kildare we take a side trip to the Irish National Stud and Garden, breeding grounds for some of Irelands most famous race horses. (Something I should mention is that Liam trained to be a jockey from the age of 15 to 19 and road thoroughbreds for a time before moving to the U.S. to be an exercise rider for 4 years at some of the top racetracks in the country. He was good friends with Angel Cordero, and is passionate about horses and horse racing.)
Anyway, we quickly agreed and the side trip proved to be simply fantastic. Liam showed us around the foaling unit (where the babies are born), the stud barns and what I like to refer to as the “action” barn where he explained in great detail how thoroughbreds mate. As Liam described it, once the mare is in the barn they have to get her in the mood. Apparently, they use a decoy horse to get her raring to go, and then when she is ready, they bring in Robert Redford, aka Invincible Spirt to finish the job. This was another one of those, damn we should have had the video recorder going because Liam’s description and body language as he described the events was absolutely hysterical.
Now who is Invincible Spirt? Invincible Sprit is one of Ireland’s most famous “studs” whose stud fee is 120,000 euros a pop. Uh you read that right. And when it’s breeding season Invincible Spirt may see action 6 times per day 7 days per week. (Calculate THAT profit!) And what was really surprising is that Invincible Spirt only earned 384,982 Euro as a race horse.
So once our tour of the barns was done, Liam took us out to the large pasture areas where each of the resident studs was enjoying the sunlight. We immediately found Invincible Spirit, who occupies the front grounds (as he should). However, nearby was a sire of Invincible Spirt, National Defense, who was apparently horse of the year and was recently retired to stud with a stud fee of 12,000 euro per date. Liam said that there was a lot of anticipation around National Defense and there is hope that he too will become a champion stud.
So we stood and watched Invincible Sprit and National Defense for a bit and then we wandered around to see some of the other the beautiful pasture areas with gorgeous horses that seemed to be watching us as we watched them.
We then walked through some beautiful gardens that separate the stud pastures from the mare and foal areas to see if we could see some babies. Unfortunately, it was very hard to see the momma and babies who were for the most part over the crest of a hill on the opposite site of the pasture from where we stood. As we continued to walk, Liam began to tell us how you show horse for the thoroughbred auctions and what buyers look for in young horses. And of course, we could count on Liam to put it succinctly: the best horses had “a head like a princess, walked like a prostitute and an ass the size of a washing machine.” We laughed our butts off.
We continued to laugh as wandered through the gorgeous garden paths as well as a lovely Japanese Garden that make up the Stud Farm. By this time, we were all pretty much done in so we decided it was really time to end our trip around Ireland. Liam loaded us all back in the van (but not before we all bought one more ice cream cone … this had become a habit at the many stops we made throughout our 11 day driving trip with Liam, as well as the multiple coke and coffee breaks when Donnie would ask “Liam do you need a coffee because I could use a Diet Coke?”)
After the ice cream break, we hit the freeway (it was odd to be off the narrow lane roads) and continued the drive towards Dublin. As we drove, we passed a number of thoroughbred racetracks, which brought us to our final Liamism. Donnie – “I don’t think we can bet on Irish races in the U.S.”. Liam – “Hell you can bet on any race in the world Ireland. You can bet on two flies going up a wall if you want.” I thought Donnie was going to lose it.
Anyway, we arrived back in Dublin by 6:30. Liam helped us with our luggage as we once again climbed the stairs to our lovely B&B, the Ariel House. And then it was time to say goodbye. As Liam noted to the people checking us in, “this is going to be emotional, I kind of like these people”. And it was equally tough for us. We had come to adore our lovely leprechaun with the amazing memory, the gift for gab, the wonderful sense of humour and the absolute passion he had for ensuring we were enjoying ourselves. Liam Bourke, we will miss you my friend. Cheers!