[Technically it’s Saturday and not Friday, but I got a new iPhone yesterday and so the day disappeared while I figured it out. So far, the only drawback to it that I see is that it’s becoming apparent I might need reading glasses. Anyhow, I’m continuing the Irish sojourn with Belle here.]
This morning I woke to the sound of Belle scratching at my door, singing Morning Has Broken and saying that the musical wake up call is just another of the services offered here. I had a train to catch for my solo adventure to Kilkenny and she’d been given orders from the Artist to leave forty minutes early ‘just in case.’ She rolled her eyes at his caution, but it was harmless. Both of us were secretly pleased to have someone Irish clucking after us, I suspect.
My reasons for wanting to go were three-fold: 1) my need to go places alone periodically so I feel adventurous 2) Rick Steves’s (my former travel god) recommendation that it is the most beautiful inland medieval city in Ireland 3) a song of the same name that I love to torture myself with.
In terms of adventure, I’m more like a toddler who is just learning to walk, being shunted across a narrow living room between parents. I like the independence of mini-solo travel when I know at the end of the day someone is going to be waiting on me and will know if I’ve been hit on the head with a piece of Connemara marble and left for dead in a bog. I KNOW adventurous people. I am not one. But this affords me the illusion.
My mother thinks I have amazing traveling acumen because I can navigate the Dayton International Airport without studying signs overlong. She finds this ability akin to a sixth sense or messages from the Holy Spirit, but the reality is that everything I know about getting from one place to another I learned at amusement parks. I think parents who don’t take their children to Disney World or Six Flags or even Kennywood should be brought up on child-endangerment charges because of the life-coping skills that can be learned there. When I go somewhere new, the first thing I do is look for the ‘park’ map, find the key things I want to do and make a plan of attack (to avoid lines, excess walking, or midday sun), and then search for a landmark by which I can navigate. ‘Tram’ service of some sort is operational most places. ‘Concession stands’ (most here selling pub grub instead of corn dogs, admittedly) are every two feet, where you can also find restroom facilities. Souvenirs can be purchased anywhere, though balloon animals in this location tend to make you look a bit touched in the head.
So this morning when I got off the train in Kilkenny (population 10,000), I immediately searched for castle turrets and got my bearings. Irish Frontierland. It was about a ten minute walk and on the way a car pulled up beside me and asked how to get to the castle. I said, ‘Straight ahead and turn left. You can’t miss it.’ I didn’t KNOW this for a fact (I’d left the guidebook back in Waterford, even) but the truth is these are basically always the directions you get in Ireland anyhow, so why not give them like a native? Sure enough several minutes later, I was standing behind the folks I’d given directions to, waiting to get my ticket for the Kilkenny Castle tour. They thanked me; I smiled, secretly pleased with my own navigational brilliance.
Kilkenny Castle is nice. I’m not a fan of Irish castles because I always think of oppression and audacity instead of the romance and adventure. In England, it is easier to buy into the whole chivalry thing without worrying too much about serfs and thralls. Maybe a beheaded wife will intrude on your Arthurian fantasies. Here, you can smell it for what it was–imperialism with a helping of genocide. Rich people (living richly) on the backs of the poor. But I digress. The castle is lovely. It’s 800 years old, has beautiful grounds, and has been refurbished impeccably in Victorian decor, the last era it was used before falling into ruin. The town was beautiful too. Bustling. Narrow, cobbled streets. Brightly colored store fronts. Just what you expect to find.
I ate lunch at the Irish equivalent of Subway, and when I was finished asked for directions to the cathedral. Which cathedral, the sandwich guy wanted to know. I don’t know–the cathedral you’re supposed to see when you are here, I said. He chewed his lip, consulted with the sandwich girl, and they decided it must be St. Mary’s I was after. I asked how I got there and they said in unison, Straight up the street, turn left, you can’t miss it.
I walked to the cathedral, humming ‘Kilkenny.’ It’s a song that you listen to when you feel you need to cry but can’t quite get yourself over the hump. Three lines from it and you’ll be wiping your nose on your sleeve. After the first round of the chorus, you’ll be belting out great hiccuping sobs. It’s like an old-timey Irish version of ‘Cats in the Cradle.’ So I sang it, walked to the cathedral, peered in the door and felt generally unmoved. I like Catholic churches when they aren’t in session. I like the smell of incense, the candles flickering, the sounds of the kneelers creaking under the weight of the devout. But this church didn’t feel like the one I was supposed to see. I shrugged and headed back toward the train station. On the walk I started thinking that ‘Kilkenny’ didn’t sound right either. It didn’t sound right at all. I hum-sang a few more bars and realized it WASN’T ‘Kilkenny.’ It was KILKELLY. ‘Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 60, my dear and loving son John/Your good friend the schoolmaster Pat McNamara’s so good as to write these words down.’
So, while I had managed to get myself and a family of four I’d never met to the castle, I had basically gone to the wrong town in the first place and while in the wrong town I had hummed and fantasized about a song that was, apparently, inappropriate, seen a church that was not recommended by Rick Steves, Esq. Still, it was a good day. I’d seen some things, I had people waiting on me when I got home, and in my fake-out amusement park world, no humans in giant furry animal suits tried to hug me as I departed the magic kingdom of Kilkenny.