Saturday, November 14, 2009

Day 3: Is This Island Rocking or Is It Just Me?

Apparently, it's just me...

With a fond farewell to our friendly Wicklow hostess and a stolen moment to repair my shaky alliance with a number of the county's more irritable, invisible residents, Nathan and I hit the road in search of Kilkenny City, in county Kilkenny. I chose to stop at Kilkenny City for three main reasons: Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny Craft Center and Kyteler's Inn Pub. I would only return for one of those, the pub.

Kilkenny City is a good 2.5 hour drive from the village of Laragh, where we stayed in Wicklow county; longer, if you're still adjusting to driving on the right-hand side of the car on the left-hand side of the road. Particularly if that "road" is a foot wide half-paved rollercoaster romp through the hills of Ireland, buffeted on either side by a densely overgrown wall of hedge, or even better, a twenty story drop to one's eternal glory. We were beginning to understand why we kept getting the familiar response from the locals, "You didn't drive, did ya?"

I'd say about an hour into that drive I was struck with the sudden sensation that not only was the car moving, but the ground beneath it was as well and not in the same direction. A good half hour after that Nathan found himself waiting patiently by the side of the road while I attempted to keep down my black pudding. With a few more breaks to stop the world from spinning, we finally found ourselves in Kilkenny City. I mistakenly thought that once out of the car, all would be well again. Apparently vertigo doesn't care whether you're walking, riding, sitting or sleeping, it keeps on rockin' just the same. The walk from our hotel to Kilkenny Castle was like a three block long fun house.

The castle was lovely, though I would have liked it more if it would have sat still. Note to self: winding 700 year old stone staircases constructed for Irish midgets are not conducive to alleviating vertigo. The craft center was fabulous, if we were about 2,000 euros wealthier. I discovered later that there is a store in Dublin named "Kilkenny" which is essentially a larger, better stocked version of the Kilkenny Craft Center, making our shopping detour superfluous. The only truly redeeming quality about the city, I decided, was its selection of fine Irish pubs.

I came to Kilkenny for one pub, the medieval and purportedly haunted Kyteler's Inn, former establishment of Dame Kyteler who was found guilty of witchcraft after being married four times and allegedly poisoning her husbands. She was sentenced to burn at the stake but seems to have escaped her fate and fled the country. As one Kilkenny barman put it, "She was what we call 'cute'." I believe 'cute' is Irish for 'sneaky'. The pub now boats a kitschy, witchy themed atmosphere, replete with a black-clad, many-moled mannequin stoking her cauldron fire. It was wonderful! Trust me, nowhere does the medieval witch trial victim angle work better than in a stone constructed pub established in 1324. It was very convincing.

Kyteler's Inn would have alone made our Kilkenny detour worth it, but we also bumped into a good two to three more cozy centers for good ole Irish craic, stout and traditional music. One was named Paris, Texas and was modeled after the movie which the owner apparently fell in love with sometime in the early eighties. Having had the unfortunate experience of passing through Paris, Texas, it is hard for me to imagine anyone naming anything after it, least of all anything of value. But who was I to burst this poor, deluded Irishman's bubble?

While Irish roads and Irish castles do not a cure for vertigo make, Irish beer is another story. Here's the secret. You have to have enough. It seems, and I can say this based on my wholly scientific impromptu experiment carried out all in the name of selfless medical research, that a pint or two may not stop the world from spinning, but six will take that island by its hills and nail it firmly to the earth where it belongs. So this is my advice to any and all who find themselves trying to hold on to their Irish breakfast after a nine hour plane ride and three day excursion through the country's back roads, find yourself a good pub, sidle up to the bar and down a steady six pints of Guinness, doctor's orders. That'll knock things straight again.

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