There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Adare, Listowel and on to Tralee: Part 5 of The West of Ireland

We left Ennis, found our way back to the motorway and retraced our steps until the M18 became the N18 and led us into the outskirts of Limerick. We will visit Limerick later but on this occasion we stayed long enough only to turn southwest on the M21 then N21 to Adare.

Today's journey, Ennis to Tralee
The village of Adare may have only just over 1,000 residents but three abbeys/priories, in various states of repair, a manor house (now an upmarket hotel) and a major medieval castle mark it out as a place with some history.

Tourists flow into Adare in a steady stream and we were lucky to find a parking space beside a row of thatched cottages of the type that earned the village the reputation of being one of Ireland’s prettiest. The Manor was owned by the Earls of Dunraven and the cottages were built by the Dunraven Estate in the mid-19th century. We had parked outside one that is now a café, and as it was coffee time we ground a bean before strolling down to the visitor centre.

Thatched Cottages, Adare
Our Irish Heritage Cards had worked hard and we extracted more value by signing up for the next guided tour of the castle. We had little time to wait and could easily have spent more time looking round the historical exhibition.

Adare lies south of the Maigue River near a ford, hence its strategic importance. A shuttle bus took the tour party up to the bridge which replaced the ford in 1390, and the obvious place to build a castle.

The Bridge on the Maigue River, Desmond Castle, Adare
The first castle was a ring fort of the O’Donovans who ruled the region until the Norman Invasion in the late 12th century. Educated in England, as I was, I know all about 1066, William the Conqueror and the Norman Invasion of England but I had not known that a century later they carried on into Ireland. In the South West the Norman Invasion arrived in 1169 in the person of Maurice FitzGerald. He was a half-Norman Marcher Lord, the son of Gerald FitzWalter of Windsor and Nest ferch Rhys of the Welsh Royal House of Dinefwr. Her father was Rhys ap Tewdwr, so the subsequent FitzGerald Dynasty and the Tudors who, a few centuries later, would rule England were cousins.

Outer Castle and Moat, Desmond Castle, Adare
The FitzGeralds became the Barons and later Earls of Desmond, an area covering much of the modern counties of Limerick, Cork, and Tipperary. The castle they built beside the Maigue is known locally as Desmond Castle, but so are several of their other castles so the name must be used carefully.

Inner Castle and moat, Desmond Castle, Adare
The Normans assimilated quickly, becoming, in the words of The Annals of the Four Masters ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves.’ A number of common Irish surnames are of Norman origin including Fitzgerald (obviously), Burke and Walshe, a reminder that many of those accompanying the first FitzGerald were Welsh.

In the Inner castle the guide tells us about Norman surnames
Desmond Castle, Adare 
All went well until their Tudor cousins gained the English throne. Ireland had remained largely medieval and Elizabeth I wanted to take control and make changes; she was also a protestant. The Desmonds mounted two rebellions against the queen, the first 1569-1573 and the second 1579-83. Neither ended well for the Desmonds, nor for the people of their Earldom.

From Adare we could have followed the N21 straight to Tralee, but instead struck out on minor roads towards Listowel, a small town with a castle - and we wanted to work those Heritage Cards.

At some point County Limerick became County Kerry and then we were on the N69 queueing into Listowel. We squeezed into the last available parking space in the square.

Listowel Square
The town grew up beside a ford on the River Feale and Listowel Castle sits on a bank above the river. Most of the existing stonework is 15th century, though building started 200 year earlier. A stronghold of the FitzMaurices (a branch of the FitzGeralds) it had four towers of which two survive linked by a wall and an arch. Listowel held out long after the Desmond Rebellions were put down but was taken in 1600 when it was undermined during a short siege. The Castle then progressively fell further into disrepair until restoration in 2005.

Listowel Castle
A pleasant and enthusiastic young woman gave us a guided tour and had another go at explaining the complexities of Munster’s medieval history. The narrow stairs and small rooms mean Irish Heritage limit tour parties to 12 and warn that in the summer visitors may have to wait. On a damp Thursday at the height of the season we had the place to ourselves.

There is little inside the castle but there is a good view across the River Feale to Listowel Racecourse.

The River Feale and Listowel Racecourse
I confess we were ignorant of Listowel’s claim to be the literary capital of Ireland (though given the number of Irish writers ‘one of the literary capitals’ might be more accurate) but beside the castle and the square is The Seanchaí Kerry Writer’s Museum (a seanchaí is a traditional storyteller). I also know little of playwright and novelist John B. Keane, and I am sure that is my loss, who lived most of his life in Listowel. He wrote…

"Beautiful Listowel, serenaded night and day by the gentle waters of the River Feale.
Listowel where it is easier to write than not to write,
Where first love never dies, and the tall streets hide the loveliness…”

I have little idea how Listowel looked when Keane died in 2002, and even less about the town in his youth in the 1940s and 50s, but today it is blighted by traffic. Driving through is a frustrating stop/start business, and traffic dominated our photographs. It could again be the town of Keane’s encomium – but not until it has a by-pass.

Listowel Traffic
Leaving Listowel we drove the last 26km to Tralee, Kerry’s county town. Irish place names are a constant delight, and Tralee is among the best. Sadly it does not always follow that a charmingly named town is itself charming. Tralee is not unpleasant and the people are welcoming, but it is a working town marooned in a tourist area, like Stroud in the Cotswolds. It is, though well placed for visiting the rest of Kerry.

That evening we walked to an Italian restaurant recommended by our hotel's receptionist. It was full, about a 90 minute wait they said. We left but soon stumbled on Il Pomodoro, another Italian restaurant closer to the hotel with a single empty table. The young woman waiting on that table sounded genuinely Italian, and we learned as the evening went on, that she was the owner, or at least the manager. She waited on table, organised the other staff, gave instructions in the kitchen and kept up a breathless work rate yet managed to be smiling and pleasant. Our fettucine, Lynne’s with goat’s cheese mine with chicken, was good when it eventually arrived. Everybody was working flat out so we did not complain about the wait and anyway we had a bottle of Umbrian white to amuse us.

From our experiences in Ennis and Tralee it appears there are opportunities for anyone wishing to open a restaurant in the west of Ireland; there are more people wishing to eat out than places to accommodate them.

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