Having Fun Storming the Castle
I wake today refreshed and ready to explore Limerick. I stop at a café and order a coffee and a traditional Irish breakfast, which consists of a sunny-side up egg, sausage link, bacon, baked tomato, beans, toast, and black and white pudding.
“What is this?” I ask the owner.
“It’s not like a sweet American pudding,” he replies. “It’s made with pig’s blood.”
I’m a bit shocked at first but when I think it through, I realize it’s no different than eating the sausage or bacon, and actually puts to use much of the pig so less goes to waste. Still, my vegetarian friends might want to skip this part. He tells me that his black and white pudding looks a bit different than the traditional kind as he gets his from Tipperary and, as we know, it’s a long way to Tipperary (sorry, it had to be said).
I scarf down my breakfast and head over to the bus station where I check out my options for the next few days. After speaking with many locals I’ve decided to use Limerick as my base and take some day trips to other nearby locations. I speak to the lady at the bus office and the man at the train office to discuss options and I now understand the public transportation a bit better.
From here, I begin walking through Limerick with the goal of visiting some of Peadar’s recommendations; King John’s Castle, St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Hunt Museum. They’re all pretty close to each other and I decide to begin with the Cathedral. As I enter I’m struck by both the size and the beauty. Honestly, I’ve seen a lot of churches, cathedrals, minsters, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship in my travels and, while I love them and will go out of my way to visit them, they do begin to look alike after a bit. The stained glass windows are just beautiful as are the chandeliers which are only lit on special occasions (I’d hoped they’d have them lit to celebrate my visit, but I might just have an inflated sense of self). There are a few statues, mostly dedicated to dead people, some sarcophagi, also dedicated to dead people, and about a million plaques which, you guessed it, are dedicated to dead people. In my head I’ve nicknamed this place “The Church of the Dead.” Still, the many dedications are beautifully written; “He was a good son, a fond brother and a sincere friend,” says one. “This memorial is placed in remembrance of our dear brother in arms. He was respected by all who knew him,” says another. “To those we hold most dear” is inscribed on one pretty statue of an angel. And then there’s the lovely dedication on the plaque for the Venerable Charles Hare, the Rector of the Parish and Arch Deacon of Limerick which reads in part:
“He was just and yet considerate – Religious without being intolerant – His gracious nature won for him the affection of all with whom he had intercourse.”
Well, there’s that.
As I stroll out, I take a walk through the graveyard (I love graveyards) and head down the street to the Castle. The building of King John’s Castle began in 1212 and continued for decades. The castle has survived three sieges; the Siege of 1642 in which 800 people were trapped within the castle walls, The Siege of Limerick in 1651 and The Siege of 1690/1691 (apparently the 1600’s were a tough time to be a castle owner in Limerick). The beginning of the walk through the castle is a museum with interactive displays which lead me through the history of Ireland beginning in medieval Ireland and takes me through the sieges. It’s very well done and gives me a feel of how tough living was and what Ireland has survived (I get irritated when my cable goes out).
Once through the museum area I exit into an archaeological site with wooden walkways to view the site without disturbing it, and signs and drawings explaining what I’m seeing.
From there I head outside to the courtyard which, 800 years ago, was a bustling center of activity where people visited the blacksmith, the mason and the chapel amongst other businesses involved in daily life. They now have people playing the part of some of the characters you might have met back in the day. I stop by the blacksmith who tells some tales of life back then. Apparently, as coins were made of real silver, people would shave off the sides and collect some of the extra silver. After a year or so, they would take it to the blacksmith – who made swords and such, and also doubled a whitesmith, making jewelry and decorative items – to get their silver melted down and sculpted into jewelry. It was all well and good unless you were caught, in which case your hand would be cut off (and then where would you wear those rings you just had made from your stolen silver?). He also explains that the soldiers could only be right handed. You see, the round-staircases in castles always go up clockwise. It’s difficult to go up these staircases with your sword in your right hand and still see around the corner. It’s also easier to defend your castle coming down from the top with your sword in your right hand. Why nobody thought of hiring an all left-handed army in order to easily storm others’ castles nobody knows.
I climb up staircases throughout the castle and stop at interactive video displays with actors playing the parts of people you might meet there. I take in spectacular views of Limerick from the walkways and turrets and, after a couple of hours, find myself exiting through the gift shop, a la Disney. King John’s Castle is well worth the visit and I come away with a much greater understanding of the history of Ireland (honestly, I had zero understanding prior to my visit) and it was quite entertaining.
I decide to put off my visit to the Hunt Museum and head over to the Milk Market, a farmers market type place to grab a coffee and a scone. I’m still in search of the elusive clotted cream I found in England a few years ago. If you’ve had it then you’ll understand.
After a quick stop at my hotel I run over to Dolan’s Pub, where I’m now a regular, for some tasty fish and chips and a Guinness. I meet a band from Michigan (my original home state) who’s touring Ireland and is playing a gig in the Warehouse, one of the concert venues within Dolan’s. Apparently this band, The Olllam (yes, three “l’s”) is a fairly big deal. My favorite pub staff sneaks me in the back, avoiding a €12 so I can hear a song or two of their unique Irish-American fusion before heading off to bed after a long day of exploring. The music is impressive and I might have appreciated it more if I weren’t so tired. I’m so tired, of course, that I walk out and forget to pay for my fish and chips and my pint (honest). As I’m now a regular, I’m sure they’ll understand if I return tomorrow to pay.
Tomorrow – The Galway Arts Festival and, of course, returning to Dolan’s to pay my tab.