Saturday was wedding day. The wedding would take place in the small town of Kinnitty located about 75 miles west of Dublin. Since I did not want to deal with the stress of driving in Ireland where you must drive on the opposite side of the street in a car in which the steering wheel is on what we in the U.S. would consider the passenger side, we did not rent a car. Our plan was to catch the train out to the town of Tullamore and then take a taxi to Kinnitty.
Traci and I checked out of the Academy Plaza Hotel in Dublin early that morning and rolled our luggage three blocks to Abbey Street where we caught the LUAS tram to Dublin's Heuston Train Station. One thing that surprised me in Ireland is that all public signs are in Irish (Gaelic) and English. This was surprising to me because very few people in Ireland still speak Irish as their first language. Students are required to study the language from 4th grade to 12th grade. They must even pass an Irish language section of the college entrance exams. Despite this, people we met told us that the language is not taught very well in their schools. Consequently, there are not many people who are proficient in it. Nevertheless, the announcements on the trams and trains are in Irish followed by the English translations.
At Heuston Station, we purchased tickets for the 9:25 AM train that makes a stop in Tullamore. While waiting to board, we grabbed a quick breakfast in the station at a fast food place called Supermac's. Traci and I normally ate breakfast on-the-go during our time in Ireland instead of the hotel breakfast buffet. I ordered the bacon, egg, and cheese roll not realizing that it is served on a foot-long roll. Traci helped me eat it.
The train was very nice. It had comfortable seats, electrical outlets (adapters needed to plug in U.S. appliances), and free Wi-Fi. We sat at a table where Traci was able to charge her iPad while doing some social networking.
The train left on-time. Within just a few minutes, the urban scenery had changed to green pastures with sheep and cattle. We reached Tullamore in a little less than an hour. The town had a smoky smell almost like burning wood. The friendly man at the ticket counter of the small Tullamore train stop called a taxi for us.
It was approximately a 25-minute ride on winding country roads to get to our destination. Our driver had to drive around slow-moving tractors more than once during the ride. Like most of the Irish we met, he has relatives in the U.S. that he visits occasionally. We conversed about many subjects - everything from Ireland's recession to the crowds that showed up to hear President Obama speak in the next county over a few years ago.
Kinnitty is a small town where the people all seem to know each other. Our taxi driver knew the groom. In fact, he told us they had been chatting earlier that morning.
We were dropped off at our destination - Corrigan's Castle View Bed & Breakfast. It is located across the road from the entrance of Kinnitty Castle where the wedding reception would take place. We had wanted to stay overnight in the castle but there were no more vacancies by the time we decided we were coming to Ireland. Traci was kicking herself because she did not check to see if there were any last-minute cancellations on the castle accommodations. We met another couple who said they were able to take advantage of one of the cancellations. As for us, Corrigan's Castle View B&B became our lodging for the evening.
This was the first time Traci and I stayed in a B&B. We arrived there at 11 AM only to see a note behind the sliding glass door indicating the owner will return around noon. What do we do now? After about 15 minutes of sitting outside the house, it was starting to get chilly. Traci suggested I see if maybe they left the door open for us. I tried and what do you know? The sliding door was unlocked. We moved our luggage inside and decided we'd sit in the warmth of the sunroom until the owner returns. Wait. What's that beeping sound? Suddenly...alarms!!! The house burglar alarm began sounding. Oh no! How embarrassing. The owner, Theresa, showed up and had a laugh. All was good. No need to bail us out of jail. Whew!
Theresa prepared tea and biscuits (cookies) for us. The warm beverage felt good because the house temperature was maintained at a temperature lower than what Traci and I are used to. In fact, we encountered the same situation at most of the places we visited in Ireland.
We were shown to our upstairs bedroom and given a key to the house and to the bedroom. I was happy to see the room had a full bathroom. Traci and I got dressed for the 2 PM wedding and Theresa kindly drove us to the church.
"We were not trying to break in! Honest!"
We were welcomed with tea and biscuits (cookies).
Traci enjoying a "spot of tea".
We arrived at the church around 1:50 PM. The guests were socializing outside. I assumed maybe the church was not open yet but it was. There was just no one inside. Therefore, Traci and I stood outside also and tried to break out of our introvert tendencies in mingling situations such as this. This was not difficult to do. A lady saw us and said, "Don't look so lost you two. You're at an Irish wedding. You're family now."
We found this warm, welcoming spirit of the people to be typical during our time in Ireland. We felt at ease and were soon meeting many guests. It seemed everyone was commenting on how lucky Roxanne and Paul were to have sunshine on their wedding day. Inside the church, the priest actually took time to personally greet all the attendees before starting the ceremony.
The wedding was a beautiful Catholic mass. I was truly impressed by the musicians. One lady played the keyboard while the other alternated between flute and guitar. In addition to being skilled instrumentalists, their vocal harmony was impeccable. The mass lasted almost two hours. There were about 150 guests in attendance. Approximately 50 of us had traveled from the U.S..
wedding guests have arrived in the town of Kinnitty
newlyweds chauffeured in style
Afterwards, we carpooled down the road to the reception at Kinnitty Castle. The castle has a history of construction and destruction as far back as 350 AD. The latest reconstruction occurred in 1927. Today, the castle is a luxury hotel containing 37 rooms but it still contains elements of its old castle charm. It is a popular wedding venue. We were told that one of Ozzy Osbourne's sons got married there.
Entering the castle was quite an experience. We walked along a red carpet and up the steps where a harpist was strumming next to two knight armors and a canon. We were welcomed into a room where tea, coffee, biscuits (cookies), and champagne were available. The wait staff walked around with hors d'oeuvres. We enjoyed mingling with the other guests. I ended up getting an unexpected treat when I met a couple from Belgium. Their first language is French. When I mentioned I've been learning to speak French as one of my side projects, the wife asked me if I wanted to practice with her. Absolutely! I certainly wasn't going to miss out on this rare opportunity. We conversed in French on a variety of topics for about 20 minutes. I am happy to say that all the years of adult education French classes, meetup groups, page-a-day calendars, and podcasts are finally starting to click. I had no problems understanding her. Interestingly, this would not be the last time I spoke French on this trip. I translated a question a tour guide was attempting to ask a French family. During our flight home, I ended up sitting next to a French woman. These instances boosted my confidence with the language and invigorated my efforts to become multi-lingual when I returned home.
The dinner bell rang. We were all directed down the stairs and outside to cross the courtyard. From there, we went inside again to get to the beautifully decorated dining hall. Traci and I were seated at one of the tables in the loft area with other American guests and our new friends from Belgium. We had good food and good conversation. It was a well-traveled group. Traci and I enjoyed hearing about their travel experiences.
entering Kinnitty Castle
loft area of the dining hall
After dinner, everyone was directed to the castle's Dungeon Bar for more socializing while the band set up in the dining hall. Traci and I used part of the time to explore the castle. There was not much we could actually see because most of the rooms have been converted to hotel rooms but I liked the old creeky stairs. As with many old buildings, Kinnitty Castle has acquired a rumor that it is haunted. We asked one of the hotel staff about the rumor. He told us they occasionally get a guest that claims to have heard a strange noise or saw a strange light but most instances were explainable. He said he had never personally experienced any paranormal activity.
They say this castle is haunted.
The festivities continued in the dining hall where an outstanding band kept the party going. These guys played everything from country music to R&B. We all had a good time dancing. We're told the party went on until about 3 AM. Traci and I did not stay that long. We needed to make sure we could get a ride back to the B&B. Even though the B&B was only a half mile from the castle, we would run the risk of being hit by a car if we attempted to walk the dark, narrow, curvy road at night. Therefore, around midnight, Traci and I hung out at the castle entrance in hopes of getting a ride from one of the wedding guests that were leaving. We ended up getting a ride from one of the receptionists at the castle whose shift was ending.
We slept comfortably that night. In the morning, Theresa prepared us a full Irish breakfast consisting of cereal, bread, yogurt, fruit, eggs, bacon (ham), sausage, and pudding. In this part of the world, pudding is not always a sweet dessert. In this case, the pudding was pork. We were served white pudding and black pudding. Black pudding (a.k.a blood pudding) is made from thickened pig's blood. I've never had a desire to try it but the funny thing about being on vacation is that we are more likely to step out of our comfort zones. Yes, I tried the black pudding (Traci did not). It was actually okay. I finished all that was on my plate. Those of you from the U.S. mid-Atlantic states will probably know what I mean when I describe the black pudding as tasting like over-cooked scrapple.
tried the black pudding for breakfast
road to Kinnitty Castle
After breakfast, we chatted with Theresa and her husband Mark for a short while. Traci and I walked off our breakfast by walking the winding road through the forest up to Kinnitty Castle. One of the other wedding guests described the scenery best when he said he felt like Robin Hood was going to appear from behind one of the trees at any moment. At the castle, we saw Roxanne and Paul in addition to several wedding guests. We didn't hang around for long since Theresa had arranged for a taxi to pick us up at the B&B at 11:30 AM to take us to the Tullamore train stop.
We said goodbye to Theresa and Mark and thanked them for their hospitality. Our taxi driver was a nice lady who had her teenage daughter in the car with her. During the ride, our driver told us about how the recession and Euro crisis has been destroying communities all around Ireland. Like the recession from which the U.S. is recovering, Ireland is facing high unemployment, shuttered businesses, and upside-down mortgages. But what seemed to hurt the driver most were the college graduates that are leaving the country to find work abroad. This scenario leaves her with little hope that she will ever see the thriving Irish communities she has known and loved. Despite the depressing topic, we enjoyed our conversation with our driver. She dropped us off at the train stop and wished us a joyous vacation. She would not accept a tip. Traci and I never quite figured out tipping in Ireland. Some taxi drivers accepted tips but others did not. Some credit card receipts in restaurants had a line for a gratuity and others did not. continue...