Day 41 – Tuesday, 30th May, 2006

Today is a big day of sightseeing. We actually don’t move much forward on the map, but take a 100 mile drive around the Ring of Kerry before going on to Limerick. The weather is beautiful. Admittedly there is a bit of a breeze, but we get a good look at the scenery, a fact which was repeatedly emphasised throughout the day. Most of the tours of this area are accompanied by lots of misty rain and very poor visibility. The photos are superb.

This area of Ireland was the hardest hit when the potato famine struck in the early 1800’s. Many of the farmers had to simply walk away from their tiny patches of land in order to find food and work for their families. Thousands of people left the country at this time on what was termed as Death Ships because 3 out of 4 people died whilst on their voyage to the new land – be it USA, Canada or Australia.

We went past the ruins of one village which was decimated in this fashion. No-one has re-built on this land and so the bare stone walls are left in the fields to be slowly covered and eroded by nature over time. Potatoes now come from Scotland.

This trip drives around the south western tip of Ireland. We had many an opportunity to take photos which are spectacular. We also stopped for a photo shoot at the Lakes of Killarney. We returned to Killarney in time for lunch and a short respite from travel, before we again boarded the coach to continue our trip to Limerick.

We had some time to freshen up at the Clarion Hotel before all but one couple again boarded the coach and we went off to make our acquaintance with Medieval Ireland at Bunratty Castle.

We made our way through the sample village in the grounds of the Castle and took plenty of photos. These small cottages have been set up as they would have appeared in the Middle Ages, with the peat fires and four poster beds (thatched roofs) and small windows and doors.

Then we wandered up to the castle to be welcomed by the staff in medieval costumes and invited to enter for the night’s entertainment and meal. We were given a glass (clay, hand made mug) of mead, which is a mixture of wine and honey. It will never replace Irish coffee as a traditional drink.

We were entertained to singing, and a madrigal, by the costumed staff, plus music played by a violinist and harpist, while we were encouraged to view the period furniture and structure of the greeting hall of the castle. We were able to look through the Perspex at the Castle chapel, the castle kitchen and the solar room, and then invited to go down a level (small winding staircase with a metal rail (I’m not sure the rail was there during the period the castle itself was fully inhabited) and enter the Banquet Hall.

They introduced us to the honorary Earl and Countess of Bunratty for the night, who just happened to be Dudley and Heather from Hervey Bay, and a couple on our tour. They were presented with their crowns and they were asked to lead the way for the rest of us.

All the staff descended with us and we were seated at the long trestle tables and benches. It was explained to us that the wooden board in front of each person was their plate for the evening. We also had a knife and a finger bowl.

The first part of the meal was a broth – heavy on the pepper and herbs – and we drank it from the bowls. Then we were served pork spare ribs (interrupted by the claiming of a prisoner from the crowd who was summarily sent to the dungeons. This was commuted to singing for his supper by the mercy of the Earl and his good lady, which meant he ended up singing Happy Birthday to the person celebrating his birthday today.)

The bones were placed into a wooden bowl specifically for this purpose, and then fed to the prisoners when the meal had concluded. The main course was chicken and vegetables, and then dessert was a small individual cheesecake.

During the interval between these courses Lady Colleen was invited to raise a toast to the Earl and Countess. This had been organised by Colleen earlier who had readied the Australian contingent on our coach. She did the original Aussie, Aussie, Aussie to which there was an amazing response of Oi, Oi, Oi. This included the Americans with us who asked if anyone could join in the reply. We were quite surprised at the number of Australians who were on the other coaches present.

Once the meal had been completed we were entertained to more singing and tom-foolery by the staff. The singing was very good, and their traditional rendition of Danny Boy was lovely to hear.

After this was over the Earl and his Countess were presented with a scroll commemorating the occasion, they were de-crowned, and we were invited to leave the Banquet Hall for the Lower Assembly area where we were served tea and coffee. In the meantime, the staff took a break and made ready for the late show.

Once back at the Hotel we went off to bed and waited for the next development of the bug. At the moment we have a sore throat and a dry cough. It is not pleasant.