exploring the Emerald Isle
S left Moldova without much fanfare, silently slipping out on a night flight to Dublin with Munchkin. It was the wee hours of the morning when they laid their heads down and not long after that they were up again to start the family road-trip.
With S’s dad behind the wheel, they headed to Kilkenny. Like many of Ireland’s small towns, it has a tangle of passageways, rows of colorful, old-fashioned shop fronts, and centuries-old pubs abutting contemporary restaurants. S did not find the riverside medieval castle overly majestic but ambling around the city was enjoyable.
Many Irish towns showcase the colors of their hurling teams, but nowhere is Ireland’s national sport taken more seriously than in Kilkenny, which boasts the country’s most successful team. Several Kilkenny shopfronts were dedicated exclusively to hurling, and the town’s many bars were festooned with the team’s orange and black colors. There was even a large balloon cat with a hurling club — the team’s mascot — perched atop one of the riverside houses.
After a quick lunch at a café popular with the locals, S and her family piled back into the car to head to the Rock of Cashel, an ancient fortification on a prominent green hill rising from the edge of town. The stone walls encircle a round tower, a Gothic cathedral with its graveyard, and a Romanesque chapel with painted walls.
Munchkin was content to loll around in the grass and play with the pebbles lining the grounds of the cathedral, while S and her father and sister went on the tour. The Rock of Cashel is impressive, with some of the structures dating back a millennium and containing some of Ireland’s best preserved Celtic and medieval art.
Before the construction of Cashel’s massive cathedral, the Rock served as the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several centuries. The ancient monarchs chose their position well. The Rock towers over the surrounding landscape, which contains various other ruins among a sea of green.
From Cashel, S and her family drove to Killarney. It is Ireland’s most frequented tourist destination, and with good reason. Despite the crowds, it proved to be S’s favorite place in the southern part of the country. The unseasonably gorgeous weather certainly helped in this respect, even if the 50-degree temperatures were a bit of a shock after the hot Moldovan summer.
S and and her family spent an entire day in Killarney National Park, the first protected park established in Ireland. The gravel paths make Killarney stroller accessible, but there are also plenty of opportunities to lose oneself in the woods.
S and her family visited the ruins of the 15th-century Muckross abbey, walked to a waterfall, and spent some time at a model working farm. The latter proved a big hit with Munchkin, who was in heaven with all the animals, but the adults enjoyed the visit too. The Muckross farm churns out homemade butter and delicious bread, as well as offering visitors a glimpse of medieval Irish living.