Friday, July 8–Limerick City, Co Limerick & Bunratty, Co Clare

Looking for Clare Abbey in Ennis; Craggaunowen; cab to Bunratty and back for a pint at Durty Nellie's before the gift shop and the medieval banquet at the Castle

Absolute Hotel

Black VW Passat sedan



Not only am I typing the notes up for today in two parts, this is the earliest I've started on them by far.

Today was full of misadventures, misdirections, and mistakes.

It all started with the shower for my room at Glen Cove back in Ennis, which was another of the telephone booth size ones with an opening so narrow I had trouble literally squeezing in. I had a nice Irish breakfast afterwards and left around 10 AM.

I had planned on first going to the ruins of Clare Abbey which I'd seen on the way to the B&B, on the way into town yesterday evening, and on the cab ride back to the B&B. The Garmin didn't list it, and although Google Maps did the directions got me to a small, three-space car park in a very nice housing development that was probably adjacent to the Abbey but there wasn't a sign indicating a path through the wall of trees there and I didn't see any signs for it anywhere in the neighborhood.

I decided to head into town and go to the Clare Museum and the Friary which is not far from it, but instead of telling the Garmin to find the hotel where I was dropped off and picked up last night, where there was a nice parking lot, I told the Garmin to direct me to the museum itself which resulted in driving on the usual narrow city streets with people parked in both directions on both sides of the street so I just gave up. I found the first place I could pull out of traffic, which was into the lot of a very busy gas station/convenience store, and had Google Maps find Craggaunowen instead–and then it took almost five minutes just to get out of the lot and back on to the road because it was busy and no one would let me back into traffic.

The route to Cragg, as locals sometimes apparently call it, was through and across country again, largely on barely improved single lane roads. It was worth it, though. Craggaunowen is basically an archaeological theme park, in the best sense of the concept. There's an old castle on the site, and I actually went all the way up the stairs to the top, which were less scary than the ones at Dysart O'Dea because the stairwell was the same the old stone steps had been replaced by concrete ones. There's also reproductions of Bronze and Iron Age dwellings, and the actual curragh Tim Severin and his crew used to duplicate the possible voyages of the Irish saint Brendan the Navigator. All in all, I thought Cragg was very well done, and I certainly got my exercise walking in for the day, walking on all the paths and climbing up to the top of the castle and back.

I had intended on going from there to the Brian Boru center over in Killaloe, but the route the Garmin sent me on was over more single lane, windy, poorly paved country roads. At one point I just gave up, found a place where I could pull over and someone could very carefully pass me, and changed the Garmin to find my hotel here in Limerick instead–and that route sent me on kilometers and kilometers of the same crappy roads before I got to two lanes again.

My hotel, the Absolute, was quite easy to get to but I was driving past it before I noticed a sign pointing towards its parking, so I had to go up and around the block on the one way streets before I got back to the turn off for the hotel, and this time I only found a very small lot across the street and somewhere on the street I could park for two hours. I went across the street and into reception and the nice guy working the desk told me I had actually driven right past the entrance to the hotel's own underground parking lot. After I checked in, he even came outside with me to show me where the entrance is. Once again, I had to go around the block on the one way streets and this time found the entrance to the lot.

The hotel's underground lot is a lot less narrow and scary than the last parking structures I've had to park in, and that's in keeping with the hotel itself. This is the nicest room and place I've stayed in, not only on this trip but for a long time, even nicer than where I usually stay in St Augustine, which I like very much. It's a sleek, clean, newer hotel with a bar & restaurant and facilities for working out which I would use if I hadn't done all the walking at Cragg and wasn't going to be heading into wander around Bunratty for a while before my 8:45 seating for the last castle banquet of the night.

My room is up on the fifth floor, with a lovely view out the window of the surrounding countryside and the river below, the River Abbey which flows into the Shannon not far from here. I can see several of the city's landmarks from here, which look like a couple of very nice looking older churches.

Describing the view from my window reminded me that I had better find out which direction it faces, since the sun comes up tomorrow before 5:30 AM and I'd like to sleep later than that if I can, so I downloaded a compass app for my Irish Android smart phone and yes, my room does face almost straight east so I'll have to actually close the curtains before I go to bed.

That's about it for now. I had planned on going to Bunratty early enough to wander through the Folk Park as well but it closes at 5 PM and the banquet's not until 8:45. I'll head on over shortly after 6, though, and have a wander around and maybe have a pint somewhere as well. They serve their own mead at the medieval banquet, and I picked up a couple of small bottles at the gift shop at the Cliffs of Moher when I was there, as well as an extra large sweatshirt that fits without the arms being too long.

It's now quarter past midnight and I got home only a little while ago. It was a wonderful evening.

I had planned on driving down to Bunratty and back but when I went downstairs and checked the underground parking lot the only empty spaces there were all handicapped parking so I was worried that there might not be any spaces available when I got back and when I looked outside the weather had turned rainy again. I really didn't feel like driving down and back in the rain, especially since the trip back wouldn't be until after 11, so I had the reception desk call a cab for me. It wasn't cheap but it was worth it to me to have someone else do the driving.

I got to Bunratty about 7 PM and the only places in the area still open were the new visitors center/ticket booth/gift shop at Bunratty and Durty Nelly's, still in its original location, so I picked up my ticket for the banquet, wandered around the very nice gift shop, and went over to Durty Nellie's for a pint. Anyone who had a ticket for the banquet could also wander around the Folk Park as well although none of the costumed interpreters were still around.

We all started gathering for the banquet around 8:30 and at 8:45 were allowed into one of the rooms of the castle for the greeting with a cup of mead all around, accompanied by music from a harpist and violinist who were both quite good and then we proceeded down one level to the banquet hall.

I was quite impressed with the castle itself. Each of the two rooms we were in had very high ceilings, at least twenty feet or so in height.

The banquet was a lot of fun with the servers doubling as singers and there was some very nice ensemble singing and lots of harp music in the background and she got to do a solo number as part of the musical entertainment. All the singers were very good and so were their arrangements and many of the women were quite attractive. The food was pretty good–a vegetable soup, spare ribs, a piece of some small poultry with lots of root vegetables and very good dessert that had pears and some other things.

People are seated with the group they booked their ticket with. Since I was by myself I got to sit at the end of a table closest to the singers and musicians and facing them. This was also handy so I could flex my knees when I needed to and not kick the person sitting across from me.

Earlier I had bought a large bottle of the mead to take with me and had looked for any CDs from either show, the medieval banquet in the castle or the traditional Irish evening in the Corn Barn which is the show we went to on the CIE tour ten years ago but hadn't seen any. There was a CD from the banquet available afterwards, though, so I bought one. I picked these up when I asked security to call a cab for me on the way out after the banquet

The weather had improved quite a bit while we were inside for the banquet and was actually rather nice.

While I was waiting for the cab I saw a bus labeled CIE Tours pull out and thought "That would have been me ten years ago".

There are three main sights to see and places to go here in Limerick City and all three are within walking distance from the hotel–King John's castle, the Hunt museum (named after someone, not about hunting), and St Mary's cathedral.

I also want to go back to two of the places we went on the the tour ten years ago, the lovely little town of Adare and Foynes and its Flying Boat Museum, the birthplace of the Irish coffee and the first stop where early trans-Atlantic could refuel. Both are sort of on the way to Dingle, my next destination, from here. It's 2.5 hours from Limerick directly to Dingle, and .5 hours from here to Adare, .5 hours from Adare to Foynes, and 2 hours from Foynes on to Dingle, so making a couple of stops will still only add half an hour of driving time and I'll get to revisit two places I enjoyed last time.

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