Monday, August 6, 2012

Research Trip/Road Trip in Ireland

As most of you read in my last post, Branden and I headed off for 3 days and 2 nights on a road trip research trip for Branden's studies. I was asked the question, "What is he studying?". He is studying the development of devotion to Mary in late medieval Ireland (1350-1550) through texts and images. I'll answer 2 questions that we commonly get asked when we say what he's studying:
1. No, we are not Catholic.
2. No, there is surprisingly not much studied on this. (which surprised me as I thought that Mary would have been studied in great detail in Ireland)
This trip took us to about 15 sites, including graveyards, ruins, and churches. Most of the images of Mary that he's looking at are carved on tombs and are either depictions of Mary holding Jesus as a child or Mary at the cross. 

On our first day, we picked up our rental car up and headed off. We drove through a bit of Tipperary and the scenery was like something out of a film! At one point, we were climbing though some small "mountains" (where I come from, these are foothills), which had sheep clambering about everywhere, and they broke through to a gorgeous view of the farmlands below and a lovely little lake.

Actually, we drove through gorgeous scenery mostly all that day, and on this entire trip we took over 700 photos! Most of our photos were the images Branden has been studying. Here are some to give you an idea of what he's looking at.

This is a pretty simple image, as it is just on a gravestone, but it's one that both of us really like. I think Mary looks a bit like the Starbucks mermaid with her hair like that. Most of the images are on large tombs like the image below:

This was at the head end of a large tomb in a church in Kilkenny. Even though Branden is studying the image of Mary, he also has to look at what else is carved on the tomb. To get a good idea of how elaborately carved most of the bombs were, see below:

This is why we took over 700 photos. I had to capture each individual figure that was carved, as style and identity of the figures are important. Most of the figures are saints and you can identify them based on what they are holding. One very interesting tomb that Branden was looking at, had all female saints carved onto it. There were no images of Mary, but since all female saints are styled after Mary, it's an interesting tomb for his studies.

The last official stop on our first day was not a place with any carved figures, but just a very interesting site that was built in the time Branden is studying: Kells Priory. This is not where the famed Book of Kells was found but it is very big and impressive. I expected it to be swarming with tourists but we were surprised to find that it was just us and hundreds of sheep! I should actually introduce you to our rental car as well which we dubbed "the snail". The thing was gutless and had a very tough time getting up hills but here it is as we parked at the Kells site.

Kells was a massive site and was well worth the trip! Across from the parking area was a small road that had a sign pointing to a round tower and high cross just 2km up the road. We decided to check it out, but when we arrived I took one look at this and told Branden to forget it!

He finally coaxed me into going in, so we climbed the fence and went into the walled off grove of trees in the background which had a small church in ruins, some graves and a tomb, and the high tower. On the back side of this, you climbed another wall where the high cross was. This made for some great photo ops!

And there wasn't a bull in the field, at least that we saw! ...just a few curious dairy cows. On our second day, we headed from Kilkenny to Dublin, making stops all along the way. Our last stop was just outside of Dublin and we were looking for a St. Mary's Church. Branden said that he had a hard time getting any information about it let alone directions to it. Once we drove into the town, we saw a sign and came across this church.

It was a very pretty little church but we tried the front door and found it to be locked. Having run across this type of thing before, Branden tried a side door and found it unlocked so he popped in to see if he could find anyone...and he managed to set an alarm off! Apparently this church was closed for the day, alarm set, but someone didn't lock the side door. We phoned the person listed on the church sign and she came down, not too happy, to take care of it. We asked her about a medieval tomb inside but she had no clue so we figured that it wasn't even the right St. Mary's! She said there was another St. Mary's up the road so we drove there and found no tomb there either. There were some ruins nearby so Branden ran to them, as it was late and we didn't know if anything would be open, and found that it was the actual St. Mary's but was locked up. He got some distance shots but we were both very frustrated after the whole ordeal.

By the time we got to our B&B, it was time to change and get ready to see Phantom of the Opera. Our hostess showed us our room...made up of 2 single beds! Both of us highly considering not saying anything and just going with it, especially since we were already on edge with each other from the day's fiasco, but I finally spoke up and made her change it while we were away. We changed for Phantom, attempted to not kill each other, and headed off to find some food before the show. The production was absolutely incredible! I have been waiting since I was a little girl to see the Phantom of the Opera on stage, so even just thinking about the opening scene was giving me goosebumps. When the opening scene finally did come, I was already having to hold back tears as the story played out in my mind. The whole thing was brilliant, and I managed to not cry but it was also a great way to get Branden and I on better terms with each other and actually happy to have a double bed for the night.

The next day, I spent about 3 hours in a courtyard outside of the entrance to see the Book of Kells, reading, while Branden was in Trinity's library looking at some books that he needed. For those of you who may be new, this was the part of the trip I had been dreading most as I have social anxiety and being in a new place, by myself, with tons of people around, is practically my worst nightmare. Thus why I sat on a bench for 3 hours and didn't go explore the city...that would have been a bigger nightmare! Once Branden got done, we headed to 2 churches nearby to view some tombs. This isn't one of the tombs, but it was in one of the churches and I thought it was so impressive.

Library visited, churches viewed, photos taken, we got out of Dublin as quickly as we could! We both decided that Dublin is not a place we like at all, and are going to start praying now that Branden doesn't get a job there when he's done at University! I hate big cities anyway, but the roads were just a nightmare, parking was expensive, people were swarming everywhere (mostly loud, obnoxious, American tourists...which I hid from behind my book a lot!), and it just didn't seem to look like the Ireland we've come to know and see through the smaller city we live in and the towns we have visited.

Once out of Dublin, we had 2 stops until we reached Cashel, which has the famed Rock of Cashel that the Queen of England visited. We knew it would be a tight squeeze on time to make it, but we headed off in hot pursuit. One stop we had to make was a bit tough to find, but when we did come across the ruined Abbey in the middle of a hay field, it was a sight to behold! There were a few tombs here (one of which was the photo of the side profile tomb I gave at the beginning) and some carvings around a doorway. It was also completely void of any tourists whatsoever.

When we arrived in Cashel, we found that we were too late to get in. It was another disappointment but our last site made up for it. It was another large Abbey, in the middle of nowhere and completely empty of life except for the cows. Climbing yet another cow fence (thank goodness I brought my wellies!), we walked through the field to the magnificent ruins.

It was so peaceful and gorgeous, so after a good explore, we drug ourselves away to find some food. We ended up eating cold chicken wings with our hands in the parking lot of Tesco...with the Rock of Cashel mocking us from a distance.

Oh well, so we missed a few places, but in reality we saw a ton of sites, found some amazing locations, got held up on the road by sheep and cows, set off a church alarm, and decided from driving on countless tiny roads with blind corners that we are still happy to not have a car! That sounds like a pretty successful road trip to me! Especially since we didn't kill each other!


  1. Considering the road trip we made last week to Virginia and back in 4 days I can totally understand you considering your trip a success for the fact that you didn't kill each other. Congratulations.

    Some of those carvings were so intricate I have a real hard time grasping just how anyone could do them,especially without modern tools.

    BTW- Just how do you catalog 700 photos that all look so alike?

  2. I love road trips, and Ireland is simply beautiful. Thanks for the heads up on Dublin, I tell you these American tourists are the same everywhere you One day you'll look back on this trip with fondness, happy you didn't kill each other. :)

  3. Thank you for taking us along on this wonderful trip--I thoroughly enjoyed it!!

  4. Quite a trip. I could spend months wandering about Ireland and Great Britain.

  5. Dublin does take some getting used to. Until I began visiting regularly for research, I was no great fan of the Big Smoke myself either - it grows on you with time! :)

    For a slightly different take on Mary in the twentieth century in Ireland - here's a wee piece on Marian devotional statues in Dublin:

  6. Dublin does take some getting used to. I only learned to love it in the past 18 months, with every extra-research trip - it's a grower

    Here's something on Marian statues in the city, you might've spotted a few of these around Cork too :)

  7. I LOVE your top two photos! Me and Noelle did a considerable amount of driving through county Tipperary and also stopped to check out the lake at the very top as well as the overlook in the 2nd photo down...that day was quintessentially Irish to us, and will likely be the most memorable. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Oh, that drive through the mountains is aptly named "The Vee" If I remember. P.S. Don't take any side roads on your way to Cashell through the'll be lost for hours...

  9. I had to laugh at a typo. Sorry. My blog is full of them, too, but there's something about "To get a good idea of how elaborately carved most of the bombs were" that made me laugh. How nerve-racking it would be to elaborately carve a a bomb?

  10. Why did you want a double bed? I don't understand. Please explain this marriage thing to me.


  11. How fascinating and beautiful! I hope we'll make it over there some day ;)

  12. You're happy you don't have a car? Girl we have to talk, alright. Great pics. Green and grey is always a beautiful combination. But back to the car thing: you're happy you don't have a car?

  13. Well it certainly sounds like you had quite the enlightening trip! And it goes to show what you can just find lying around in fields here if you go for a bit of an explore! The blog was great though, good work.

  14. The Priory is Athassal. Did you get to see the up stairs.
    Kells is being done-up And I don't think it's as impressive anyway. The Cross at Kilree is very good. But you can easily miss the thing.
    I've encountered loads of people at those sites looking for little plastic boxes. Geocache I believer they said it was.
    Information is very thin at those places isn't it.

    1. Oh, I forgot earlier. The field with the bull is called Brid's field or meadow. CloonBride.
      But the name Kilree contradicts that somewhat. The 'kings' church.


Does this straitjacket make my butt look big?