The Fight for the Best Castle in Ireland; a Limerick; Adare’s Pony

Every castle in Ireland claims to be the ‘most,’ or the ‘most important,’ or the ‘best at’ something. The sites, too. The Battle of the Boyne site, Bru Na Boinne, claims that ‘everything important in Ireland that ever happened, happened here,’ says Butters – but I didn’t see that sign. Dunguair Castle claims to be ‘the Most Picturesque Castle in Ireland,’ and while it is pretty, I think it’s about the photographer and the angle, rather than the castle. Bunratty Castle claims to be the biggest and best preserved medieval castle, and to be honest with you, it probably is.

The highway side isn’t its best angle. We accidentally drove past it near the M20 because although it’s tall, it looks like a wall – something you get used to driving past in Ireland, and some of them are just… walls. Better than any walls in Australia, sure, and structural masterpieces when you think of how long they’ve been standing, sans fellow walls. Driving to the Barren, for example, crossing a sea bridge when the tide is out, casting a dank and dirty pallor over the banks of the river, a three storey tall stone piece of someone’s empire, fallen years ago and the inhabitants forgotten, might be sitting a little back from the road. You can imagine how long it’s been lonely, having lost its friends years ago, the wind whipping at it without ceasing. It can probably recall its fellow walls, and the way they used to cling to each other through wars and strife, winning together and keeping their people safe, until the one time they didn’t. Now, the last of its kind, not even the wind can defeat it. But Bunratty makes up for its lack of regard for the infrastructure of modern life on the other side. The castle is maintained and has been restored to its former glory, complete with a surrounding village, in which are displayed houses as they would have been in older times. Not sure that they were medieval – the plaques seemed consistently devoid of dates – but I might not have been paying enough attention. As we all know, now, I am a humbug when it comes to walking around and looking at things that were – even, ‘things as they would have been’, as it turns out – and I maintained an interested detachment while wishing I had bought a notebook at Lidl (for those who don’t know, read: Aldi, but not only do they not supply plastic bags in which to put your shopping, and expect you to go really fast through the checkout – they also provide alarms on the entry and exit doors, which are not so much doors as airlock passages, which go off when you try to go back out, at the same side of the shop you just came in at, and, having looked for a shopping basket and found none, making you head back out to find a trolley. They go off, and actually audibly tell you to ‘please exit through the checkout’, which is at the other side of the shop. Being stubborn, you of course wait ten seconds for someone to come in, and go out the entry. Ha! When I – I mean, you – have done your shopping, you are waiting in a long line, and another assistant with a grey, sallow face comes and nods at me in the line to come over. You go to move, and everyone else moves in before you. A young, laughing Irish boy, of about twelve, asks you if you want to go in before him. You smile and said, yes, thank you. His mother then tells him off for the next two minutes for letting you in. He says, still smiling and unloading the groceries, ‘I was just being nice, Mum,’ with that look that Andrew sometimes gives me – I mean, your husband sometimes gives you – that says, ‘I am happy with life, and I like you, and I don’t mind that you’re irritable and embarrassing.’ I have high hopes for that kid. That is – you do). That says something about my tolerance, I know, but the thing is – I don’t want to see Ireland, I want to be in Ireland. And I am happy, because there are a lot of times when I get to do that. Andrew is a wonderful travel companion, very tolerant and always thinking of me, and my happiness.

Bunratty (the least elegant name for a castle ever, says Butters, and I agree; the Irish name, Bun na Raite, or ‘Bottom of the Ratty River,’ is much better.) Everything that is named, here, is named in both English and Irish. Even the exits on the highway. I like saying it in Irish, and hearing how it became English.

We drove yesterday from Doolin, and The Barren area, past the Cliffs of Mohar, through Ennis and into Limerick. We passed a bit beyond to Adare, and a bit past that to the Adare Caravan and Camping Park. Limerick is fifteen minutes from Adare, planning to look around today, after having that all-important shower.

I like caravan park showers, because they represent a relief that you would not otherwise have, and a chance for an (I suspect) OCD person like myself to be ‘clean,’ in mind, as well as body. But I like a clean shower, as we all do. Do we all? I assume so. This caravan park was run by a Christian, I see by the fish on the reception door. An interesting thing to come across, and I guess it’s a slight weight off the mind – not that there was really a weight to begin with. The grounds are nice – and they have a pony. Score! Walking into the shower, the building, about twenty meters by ten, is heated, which is great. The stalls were generous – a meter square for the shower itself, and two by one for the door-ed changing area. I looked at the showers and picked what I thought looked the most clean cubicle. There was a little blue and green coloured stand for your things. To shower, you put 50c (Euro) into the little locked box, and the water is available for ten minutes. I knew that the showers weren’t Iikely to be the most clean when I saw that the laminex on the sink area was that dark grey speckled with white. That means, to me, that you can never tell how clean they are. It’s a sixth ‘clean’ sense for me, I guess. And yes, on the floor of the showers, which were white matt tiled, were various discoloured areas with dark grout, still wet, and with various hairs and dirts across them. When you’re having your shower, it’s fine – at least there’s the façade of running water over where you are standing to make you think, ‘this is clean’. It’s when the water stops that you have issues. How do you get your clean feet (without thongs, I didn’t even think of them before the trip), into dry socks without getting them dirty?

I turned on the shower, and hopped in. Glorious, hot water. I thought fleetingly about how those people, in those houses ‘as they would have lived’, dealt without having running hot water, and how I live in a privileged time. Then I realised I’d forgotten the soap. I was already in the shower, so I didn’t go back. Then I realised that, when we’d stopped to get groceries in Adare, we’d spent so much time looking for shampoo and conditioner that didn’t have parabens, propylene glycol, trisodium EDTA, phthalates and BPA, realising that of course there weren’t any, and weren’t ever going to be, so just getting the smallest (plastic) bottle (we use Indian soap nut and other powders, which are much better for your hair, and make it nicer – but I keep it in a glass jar, which I dropped in Rowan and Mel’s shower the other day, smashing it to smithereens on the floor at my feet in a twenty centimeter diameter shower while the water was on and we were rushing for check out in someone else’s room), that we had ended up getting conditioner and conditioner. My fault. Again – already in the shower. Quite ill-clothed, and not wanting to get back into the sweaty running clothes and hop back to the car. I considered yelling for butters, and quickly reconsidered it. But aha! I know! I can use the toothpaste – just bi carb soda and salt. That will be good. I check – it’s not in the bathroom bag. I think. My hair hasn’t seen bad shampoo for weeks, so it will be fine with just conditioner. I use it. I’m coming to the bit of the shower I don’t love.

The waster didn’t wait for me to be finished, but stopped on its own. I thanked my brain for remembering to wash out the conditioner before that happened. I looked at the floor and, picking the best foot-sized area, stepped from the shower into my sneakers. At this moment, the bathroom building door opens, and someone stamps in and turns on the shower with the speed of a hefty elk of some kind. (Darn, I think: her shower sounds more powerful than mine. Of course! The better showers are much more likely to be more used, and therefore, the cleaner showers are not as good!) Before I got into my underwear, the phantom elk had turned the water off. Good Lord, I thought, as I realised that I had left my clothes at the basins, and was wearing a towel on my head, underwear, long socks and sneakers. In a twist of mental brilliance, I jogged out of the cubicle and grabbed my clothes, taking them into the stall. Phew. Two minutes and I’m dressed, feeling great and off to change our car from a bed into a drivable vehicle. In the bustle, I forgot to go and pat the pony. Where are my priorities? Must I make sure that I don’t get my feet dirty in the shower, must I tackle and overcome and defeat the threat of dirt under my feet, then make sure the car’s clean, and forget to pat – or even see, the pony?! I think I need to relax a little.

Today, Andrew has gone to see King John Castle, Limerick, and I have decided to stay at a café and write. I would like to see the castle, but I need this more. It’s probably because I’m an introvert/extrovert cusp sitter that if I don’t get to sit down in a place and write, if I don’t get to for a few days, I go off the rails a little bit. I couldn’t tell you whether it’s the writing, or the sitting without talking, but it’s something I need. Andrew’s just texted me on Viber (wouldn’t be overseas without it, or without the 3 Network’s all you can eat data). It turns out that King John’s Castle is closed Until July. July! Poor Piggie.

To be honest, Andrew, who we would say is the introvert, likes to spend most of his time chatting to people and organising them to play sport, and I, who would probably be the one more likely to talk to a person I didn’t know, needs to have more time alone. Andrew is probably dealing with the long term in-each-other’s-faces thing that comes with travelling together. At the moment, I am feeling drained, a little tired, and achey. But loving Ireland. And there is still a remnant, or a memory, of the relief of warm flowing water on my skin.

Because I know you are trying to think of one, here are some limericks – one I think is relevant to me, and one I will now attempt to write:

The Delinquent

A delinquent who lived on his own

Attempted to take out a loan.

When the banker said “no,”

The man asked with great woe

How his library fees had been known.

The Cyclist (by Bec)

A cyclist she flew down the street

with a basket of pastries and sweets

As the rain tumbled down

she left all over town

a trail of wet tasties to eat.

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