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Entries about kilkenny

Day 4: A Castle, A Pub, and Finding The Craic in Dublin!

in which your author describes watergate, finds a long lost pub, gets treated like a celebrity director, and welcomes his brother and a new friend in the irish capital

rain 40 °F

I woke up on Day 4 feeling much better – there’s some sort of magic craic in Corey’s hot whiskey – and we make our way downstairs for a wonderful breakfast and lively conversation with Corey and Nadia. These guys are utterly pleasant human beings, natural talkers who endearingly finish each other’s sentences. They've gone out of their way to do up a breakfast for weary travelers; we sample some local orange marmalade, Corey’s sweetened porridge (recipe closely guarded), and of course, tea. We’re there chatting for at least an hour, and they’re excited to show up a photo of themselves a with Barack Obama cutout. We get on talking about American politics and out of the blue Corey says “Jaaayson – his Irish “a’s” are delightfully long – “I have a random question. What was the story behind Watergaayate?” Amy goes back for a nap (what she later called “one of the best naps she’s ever had in Europe”) as I write my second blog post. I should note that it’s even more challenging than it normally is to keep this blog together while traveling with others – I have to grab little pockets of anti-social time whenever they present themselves.

Corey is on his way out but before he leaves treats us to a marvelous solo rendition of a Christy Moore song.


We walk toward Kilkenny Castle and see a bit of the very charming, typically Irish town.


I had seen the Castle in 2008, but didn’t remember anything about it until I walked in the side gate. It was closing so we didn’t stay for long, but we still take some photos; it reminds me (on a smaller scale) of the medieval castle I visited at Carcassonne in the South of France in 2011.


We grab some take away food (potato & leek soup) at a small cafe by the castle and sit and eat – I realize later that I took the exact same shot out a window that I took in 2008!


There’s one last pub Corey had mentioned which might be a match for the one I was seeking but had yet to find. It’s called Cleere’s, and it’s on High Street, quite a bit further away than the others we had peered into the night before. We stop in a pharmacy to stock up on sick meds and Amy has a pretty hilarious conversation about the morning-after pill with the local pharmacist (called a chemist here). Kilkenny is one of the prettiest towns in Ireland – it’s big enough to contain interesting shops and a festive atmosphere but at the same time feels like a traditional small Irish town.


When we make it to the end of High Street my heart skips a beat as I recognize my surroundings – this was definitely the place I had heard that great music over five years ago! It looks exactly how I remembered it, though far less crowded. I explain to the bartenders and the handful of patrons at the bar about how I had been there and recorded video that I played for probably 40 semesters worth of classes and everyone seems to get a kick out of it. I ask about whether Jimmy Rattigan, the singer who performed the Stephen Foster songs that night, was still coming around; “oh yes, he’s still here, sings every Monday night!” “Please tell him the American music teacher says hello?” "Oh yeah, he’ll definitely remember!” We sit by the fire and have a nice pint.


Amy takes a nice shot of me by the fire:


In the back of the pub there’s a room which I hadn’t remembered from my last visit – all sorts of laughing and shenanigans seem to be coming from that direction. I open the door and there are about a dozen high-school-aged kids rehearsing for a play. I tell one of them that I’ve worked as an actor with an Irish Arts organization interested in what’s going on in contemporary Irish theater, and they swiftly invite Amy and I to come and watch their rehearsal. I grab another pint from the bar and when we walk into the back room, the director immediately tries to free up some space for us to sit – we try to make ourselves invisible in the back.


We start laughing fairly quickly, however, as what we’ve happened upon is a rehearsal of some broad comedy sketches, mostly set in a prison. Everything is played for laughs and it’s fun to be a supportive audience. It’s really the first unusual and creative experience which that we’ve found via serendipity. After about 30 minutes, the rehearsal ends and we exchange information and ask them about their fledgling group, called Dramatic Irony. They explain that they’re all about to enter college and forming a theater group seemed to be the best way to have some fun. Very inspired by the pluck of these talented young thespians!


As I exit the main pub I wonder if I’ll be back within another 5 years? Amy notices a Watergate Theatre directly across the pub – did that prompt Corey’s inquiry? We pop into a convenience store and I grab some Guinness chocolate:


We say a very fond farewell to Kilkenny – a city we entered with a fair amount of organizational frustration and leave with satisfying smiles – and start toward Dublin, where we will meet brother Dan and new friend Graci in Dublin.

The drive is much more straight-forward (in more ways than one) than the backroads roller coaster of the previous night, and we pull into Dublin at around 9pm, far later than we had originally intended but with plenty of time to find some craic. It takes us over 45 minutes to find a parking spot along the River Liffey, and we gather our bags and walk up toward Temple Bar where Dan and Graci were hitting up the pubs.

We finally meet them on the street outside the original Temple Bar, and they take us back to the Airbnb flat, conveniently right over the Ha’Penny Bridge.


We unpack and relax and head out as a new 4-piece unit. We stop into the Lebanese place where Amy and I grabbed late night food on New Years and I get the same delicious, garlicky baba ganoush I had that night. What does this sign mean?!


I figure Brogan’s Bar would be a nice place to kick off the night given that we know where it is and it tends to have a relaxed energy. I pick up a round and show my brother where my Facebook picture was taken.


Dan and Graci had already made two friends the prior night – a young Dublin girl named Jessie and her boyfriend Dan from Birmingham – and they join us at Brogan’s. (Apparently Dan got off the plane in Dublin and said "Everyone here looks like Dad!")

A woman stands at the bar near us with an unfortunate remnant hanging from her jeans – Graci names this #TPSmoochfest2014.


We head back toward the busier part of Temple Bar and go into a place where a local guitarist Cormac whom Dan and Graci had met the night before was playing.


I find a scarf outside the pub and I claim it as my own; I've already lost a much-beloved scarf on this trip, a long blue one I'm fairly sure I left on the plane to Dublin.


We enjoy some pints (a fellow from Finland buys me a Caol Ila scotch, which tastes rare and delicious) and we dance and have a blast.


After that place closes, the guitarist leads us into a posh subterranean speakeasy cocktail bar where I order a delicious drink called a Shoe Shine. It's a gorgeous old speakeasy-type bar and I walk around and take some shots of the interesting layout:


We link up with a bunch of locals and I talk about Keith Jarrett’s work with a local pianist named Tom who’s a big fan of Sun Ra. Amy sketches him:


We close that place down and find ourselves standing on the sidewalk at 5am and it’s raining and I’m ready for bed.


Graci and Amy depart with some new friends and Dan and I walk back to the Airbnb. The introduction of the two new folks has definitely changed the energy but we’re all looking forward to the jam-packed week we have ahead of us! (I really want to note for the record that although I typically don't like to skip ahead, I’m finishing this entry – now about four days behind – in the Elephant House in Edinburgh in the very same room where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. I could use some wizardry – or a flight back to the US and some good rest – to kick this cold which neither my brother nor I has been successful in kicking this week!)

Posted by coolmcjazz 03:55 Archived in Ireland Tagged dublin kilkenny Comments (2)

Day 3: Corked, Uncorked, and Who Kilkennied?!

in which your author gives a 100+ year-old item a visit to its former domain, eats delicious things, hears mahler in an irish pub, has amazing old and new friends, and almost dies of plague, again

rain 40 °F

“I love waking up to rainbows…”


…said Amy as we stepped formerly dank, dark Cork into the bright new morning. The sunswept sky seemed to contain fissures from which pockets of rain emptied themselves politely, and we’re immediately graced with a full rainbow extending itself majestically in the very direction of the center of town. Cameras are grabbed, oohs are ahhed. What does it mean?!


Let me backtrack slightly. By the time of the rainbow, it’s around 11am and it’s already the earliest Irish morning we’ve seen so far. I woke at around 9:45am, quite proud I’ve both arisen fairly early only one day into the five-hour time difference, AND quite happy to have seemingly (though quite falsely) kicked The Plague Bug From My Brother.

We had a loose idea of plans in Cork to meet with a friend – let me call her "@freckledpast," a knitter, baker, and sewer with DC roots whom I knew only from Twitter. (Brief footnote: many people, almost none of them on Twitter themselves, give me guff for what they see as the pointlessness of social media. The story which follows is one of many I’ve experienced which prove the lie to that canard!) Yet since our lovely Cork hostess had no steady internet connection, I couldn’t get in touch with @freckledpast – henceforth known by her actual name Evin – and thus we needed to get into Cork as soon as possible to establish contact. So we started walking, in search of free wifi under the end of that rainbow.


I snapped some shots on the twenty-minute walk into Cork – the first time I’d actually used my real camera and not my iPhone. (Technology has certainly improved since my first Ireland trip. And/or I am far too lazy to worry much about photo quality.) The streets are rugged, time-worn, residential units tightly squeezed together. Dormer windows.

Things get more picturesque when we make the turn into city center: pub signs in reds and yellows, old, crumbling establishments, brightly screaming billboards.


We walk along the lovely canal and are beginning to get a feel for the outskirts of downtown Cork.


Amy claims a hunch on a vegetarian café, and scampers up a set of stairs to find out if they have wifi.


We get the thumbs up and are subsequently treated to an enormous spread of scrumptious veggie options, probably the best food we’ve had on the trip so far – Amy is entranced by an Irish take on samosas, me with a bulging raspberry scone, and we add full breakfast plates of other veggie-friendly goodies on top of that. (This particular restaurant has been open thirty years in what our kindly waitress describes as an extremely vegetarian-friendly city.) With our first steady wifi connection in what feels like days I scramble to publish my first blog post of the trip, knowing that skipping the first would lead me to possibly abandon the whole works!


Evin, already demonstrating great patience, tells us to meet her at the Cork Central Library which is just over a footbridge with a large Ferris Wheel in front. She notices our confused tourist gait straight away and we meet not only her but her devastatingly precious 2-year old Liam. I run into the library to procure sleeping arrangements for us in Kilkenny where we’d be off to that night, and Amy and Evin chat while Liam grins his way through a much-desired carousel ride.


As I alluded to in my last post, there’s an element of reconnaissance adjoined to the Cork side of this trip. About three years ago, I came across a brown paper sleeve which would originally have housed a 78 rpm record, of the variety found ca. 1905-1910 or so, in a bin of dusty old records in a Salvation Army in Brockton, MA. (I remember at first passing on it then going back to find it again a few days later.) I don’t believe I even paid anything for it at all. God knows how long it had been in the US, but it had originated from a record shop found at 34 Grand Parade, Cork, a place where one could not only purchase records (the brand new American-invented tech fad sweeping Europe) but also send telegrams, and even participate in something called “oxygen.” For years I’ve displayed it holding a 78rpm record of my partial namesake James McCool, an Irish tenor from Philadelphia recording around 1905. Knowing I was visiting Cork for the first time, I decided to bring it along and stop into whatever became of 34 Grand Parade…


…which as it turned out was very close to the library, about a 2 minute walk across the street. As we approached what was now an Adecco Temp Agency (ironically, a place I once did some work for when I lived in NYC) at 34 Grand Parade, a pretty, vivacious blonde woman was locking the door. I approached her: “So, this is a reallllly strange thing but I thought you might be interested in this – I’ve brought it all the way from America.” Any worry I had that this curio may have been more interesting to me than anyone else was erased as her face scrunched up with disbelief. “This is so amazing! Please, come in!” “Did you have any idea this used to be a music shop?” “None at all!” We spend a minute inside she gives me her card, and I promise to send a copy. It’s really a special and very unusual moment. I wonder what the sleeve itself thought?


We continue walking and enter the English Market, which our hostess Caitriona had mentioned was an essential visit. Inside, we’re overwhelmed with the sights and scents of fresh meat and fish and other produce. I pick up some “award-winning” brown bread crackers and raspberry vanilla jam for the folks. Evin and Amy are chatting like old friends, Liam is tumbling around and seems a natural explorer of spaces, and since I’m still feeling significantly under the weather it’s nice to not have to worry about being so “on” with a new friend.


It’s chilly and starting to drizzle so we stop at a local chocolatier Evin recommends for a hot drink, and we all nestle into an upstairs lounge area for some mochas and caramel flapjacks. (I remember how delicious these were from Edinburgh.) Liam takes an apparently new liking to chocolate and given the quality of the stuff I don’t blame him.


We carry on and the rain is stronger, and while she heads home to get Liam some fresh clothes, Evin directs us to a pub called Hi-B Bar on the second floor of an old building around the corner. We’re warned (for the first time) that the owner was one of the most famous creatures in all of Cork, a cantankerous crank notorious for both his much sought-after pub (rated as the #2 “must see” pub in all of Ireland, we’re told) and for his, shall we say, old fashioned approach to customer service.


I enter the pub alone and am greeted with a warm smile from the barmaid, a thin, early-30-something brunette with a sweet face and demeanor, prepping the bar, playing Sinatra. We chat pleasantly for a bit and then my eyes boggle upon seeing the framed photo of Gustav Mahler which sits in front of one of the stacks of hundreds of CDs. An Irish pub open since 1926 with an ornery owner whose father opened the place and who loves Mahler? Could this be any more my scene?


I brazenly disobey the “no mobiles allowed in the bar” sign (sorry, couldn't help it) and snap a few shots and my companions show up. Within 15 minutes, the pub fills and conversations effortlessly spread, generally centered on the uniqueness of the pub itself, which one patron describes as “your great-grandfather’s sitting room,” also known for mixing in what the barmaid calls “famous politicians and crazy alcoholic Dave who may be homeless.” Overheard at the bar #1: “I’ll have a whiskey, thanks be to God.” The major topic of discussion, however, is "THE OWNER" – who isn’t in the pub but who lives upstairs and may or may not be watching all of us on closed circuit camera – and his unorthodox take on customer service: a woman orders a Heineken and he will only serve her a red wine. When he doesn’t appreciate a businessman’s conversation, the owner marches over and cuts off the fella’s tie! Overheard at the bar #2: “How old is he?” “84.” “Oh crikey, he was that age ten years ago!”


At one point Liam bumps his head, starts a two-year old wail and jokes are passed about how many adults have cried in the pub for less cause. The barmaid offers to heat up his milk bottle. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that on a cocktail list.

This pub vibe was exactly what I needed: friendly, warm, packed with stories and even a dose of classical music: the barmaid heeds my suggestions on Mahler and we depart only after the end of the Adagietto from the 5th Symphony. Imagine that?

We say our goodbyes to our lovely and helpful new friend Evin (and our tumbling wonder Liam) – who swiftly complies THIS lovely melange of illicit photos from the pub...


...then really hears it from her Cork friends about her own photo-taking (thanks for putting your social life on the limb for us, Evin!) – and we hop in a cab to defend against what is now a full-on rain beating down on Cork.


Our driver is as colorful as most Irish cab drivers seem to be, and asks us if “yer man was at the High B? he’s a crazy one!” He gives us a bit of Cork history on the way back to our place, delivered in the unmistable thick Cork dialect. We grab our bags just as Catriona arrives so we quickly tell her about our day, say a proper goodbye and hop in the car, departing for Kilkenny. (Who killed Kenny?!)

Sadly, given the craic of Cork we hadn’t left quite enough time – and then proceeded to make a wrong turn out of the city costing us 25 minutes – and had issues with the GPS giving us directions to the wrong place – AND had no cell or wifi service – AND AND it’s absolutely teeming rain and poor Amy is driving ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD on some of the windiest country roads imaginable with seemingly oblivious drivers whizzing by in the opposite direction… and thus by the time we got to the Kilkenny area ostensibly for dinner with a friend’s brother, we were not only behind schedule but horribly lost, and our dinner plans fell apart. Glumly, we drive to the Airbnb we had reserved in Kilkenny, greeting our cheerful hosts Corey, a 40-something Kilkenny native and Nadia, a 30-something Bulgarian native, far earlier than they had expected us. They set out some tea and biscuits and it’s lovely to be in another cozy home. (More on these guys tomorrow.)

Corey is driving to see his granny and we hitch a ride the half a mile or so into downtown Kilkenny, a town I visited for just one night on my first trip to Ireland in August, 2008. One goal of mine is to find a pub where I visited with an ex in August 2008 in which I heard some brilliant trad music, and where I also shot some video that I ended up using in my American Popular Music classes for seven years. Problem is, my fever is rapidly increasing and I know I’m not well at all. We enter Langford’s Hotel, a stunningly gorgeous, massive structure with multiple glistening function rooms, designed by the same local architect who designed Madonna’s house. We sit and have some food at the bar (my mashed potatoes are disappointingly clumpy and not as good as my Dad’s; then again few versions are) and I have a half pint of local Kilkenny Ale and I sink further and further down into the depths of this nasty sickness. I barely have the energy to stand, never mind make small talk with my poor travel companion. After what feels like hours we leave and walk in the direction of Corey and Nadia’s, with the hope of locating the mystery 2008 bar along the way. We try every place Corey had mentioned, but no luck. Even with luck, I’m not sure I would have been able to do much beyond collapse into a heap anyway. We get back to the Airbnb and I do in fact collapse into a heap, with a forehead that feels like a stove. Amy asks them for cold medicine (which they are generous to provide) and they make me the most glorious hot toddy (called a “hot whiskey” around here) I’ve had since my mother made me one so as to ward off laryngitis the night before my high school musical opened. I drink it all and eventually fall asleep. A long, complex day peppered with heavy cold rain, but also warm and wonderful people to lighten the burden.

Posted by coolmcjazz 16:53 Archived in Ireland Tagged cork kilkenny Comments (1)

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