Thursday, June 11, 2009

An Abbey, a Castle, and the Living Past

Well fed with another of Mary's delicious full Irish breakfasts and happy to have a working vehicle, we set out for an area to the southeast of Ennis, a place rich in history. We are still in County Clare and to the west of the Slieve Bernagh mountains (perhaps redundant since I think Slieve means 'mountains' in Potomac River means 'river river' near Washington D.C.).

This is day 3 in Ireland for us. Although one of our stops gets lots of tour groups attending Medieval style dinners

and another gets lots of school groups, in general our choices for today were not the usual tourist destinations.

Our first stop was at Quin Abbey, founded by the Franciscans in 1402.

There is a peacefulness to Quin Abbey.

After we wandered around the remains of cloister, tower and monastic building, again being taken with the beauty of the Irish crosses,

we went in to the newer church (on the right in the photo below)

and had a wonderful chat with a parishioner who does the flowers for the altars. Even though it is a modern church, it still has the classic rectangular, simple shape of an Irish farmhouse, and the slate roof, too.

A note in one of the guidebooks mentioned that a famous duelist is buried at Quin Abbey...he had the wonderful name of Fireballs MacNamara.

Continuing in a southeasterly direction, our next stop was Knappogue Castle. It had one of the classic four floor towers built in the 15th century

so we enjoyed climbing the circular staircase

and seeing the views of the walled gardens

and surrounding countryside, but also quite extensive halls for eating and telling tales in the dark of winter in Medieval times. Since Medieval dinners are held here it looks very appropriate with long trestle tables and benches, tapestries and leaded stained glass windows.

The Butlers, owned Knappogue during the 19th century, had taken two rooms for a drawing room and dining room and updated them with neoclassic ceilings and Waterford crystal chandeliers

and marble fireplaces. The gardens had some nice rhododendrons blooming, but much of the borders were waiting for warmer weather and true spring. I was quite taken with the way they placed the stones in the courtyard in circular patterns.

I came to appreciate rock in many ways during our visit the Eire.

One of the things that really impressed me here was that the MacNamara clan owned this castle and many others and was in power for over 500 years. There was an eleven year period during Cromwell's time when it was confiscated, but the MacNamaras again owned it after the Monarchy was restored in 1670.

Lunchtime was at hand but we were still no really hungry because of the robust breakfast. At the next stop, Craggaunowen, in Kilmurry, we had some tea and a little soup...sort of a cream of chicken was delicious, then followed the handout through the Living Past exhibits.

The first stop was a castle, very similar in many ways to Knappogue, although with a much smaller footprint. Another narrow circular stair took us up and up. Here is the room in the upper part of the tower.

This one looked authentic, but if you really looked you could see that it was made of treads that were cast concrete and much thinner than the solid rock at Knappogue.

Nice view of a lily pond from the parapet.

Next we walked to the Crannog, a reconstruction of a lake-dwelling of a type found in Ireland during the Iron Age (c. 600 B.C. - 400 A.D.). Crannogs were artificial islands on which people built houses, kept animals and lived in relative security. Because they were constucted by layering stone on the lakebed, they reminded me of Nan Madol in Micronesia where stacked basalt 'logs' were used to construct many artificial islands for living on. Here is a detail of the thatched roof construction.

At Craggaunowen a bridge was used to connect the island to the surrounding land, but sometimes dug-out canoes would be the only way to get to the islands. They were protected with a timber fence and had thatched houses. Planting ws done on the surrounding land. It was often too wet for crops, so they developed the practice of planting in ridges of land pushed up in long hills...a method still used for potato planting. Typical crops were barley and Emmer and Spelt wheat, plus vegetables. Hunting and gathering were still a major source of food.

Near the entrance to the bridge, there was a storage place for peat. We had smelled burning peat fires (they smell sort of like Scotch tastes) but this was our first opportunity to see what peat actually looks like.

Peat is still used for heating.

The Ringfort was probably my favorite part of Craggaunowen. They were not a military fort, but rather a farmstead during the 5th to 12th centuries A.D. So many were built in Ireland that it seems almost impossibe to build a new road without coming across remnants of a ring fort.

I was fascinated by the repeat rings of stone walls with the interior one topped by sharpened logs...imagine the labor involved in making those rings! This was also the time when the Irish people were creating beautiful jewelry, pottery, turned vessels and the Book of Kells.

As we walked on through a forest full of ferns, we passed a replica of a standing stone tomb, with angled walls.
Of interest to history buffs and sailors, The Brendan is the actual boat

that Tim Severin built in 1976 based on the vessel described in a 9th century manuscript that claimed that St Brendan the Navigator (c. 583 A.D.)was the first man to discover the 'Promised Land' across the Atlantic.

Made of oak-tanned hides sewn together and stretched over a flexible ash framesd,The Brendan made the journey proving that St. Brendan could have made the voyage to America in such a craft.

Before leaving this lovely living museum, we passed the boars who were enjoying the hillside where they live although it looked pretty boring.

After all that history we headed back to Ennis for some more tea and a bit of reading. That evening we had some very good seafood at a small but delightful restaurant off an alley. It was called the Sicilian Restaurant, Parnell Street, Ennis - The general style is Mediterranean Cuisine.

Tomorrow we hear some music and ride a ferry to meet some family...

One of the nice things about the Sicilian was that they had some yeasted brown bread. I enjoyed the soda bread type brown bread that came with breakfast, soup, and many meals, but the yeasted brown bread was delicious! Once back in the States, I made a version found in the Ballymaloe Bread Book. It is basically a yeasted batter bread. It would have been better if I had removed the plastic over the batter before it rose to the top of the pan. As it was, I lost some of the air bubbles on the top of the loaf, but there was still plenty of spring and it was quite good with some good cheese. It had a great texture and nice crust.

Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread
Based on a recipe from the Ballymaloe Bread Book by Tim Allen

Makes 1 loaf

Get out your scale for this recipe:
14 oz brown flour (I used King Arthur wholemeal flour)
2 oz unbleached all purpose flour
1 package dry yeast - Rapid Rise is great
15 oz warm water
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon salt

In a large, wide mixing bowl, combine the brown and white flours. Add the dalt and combine.

Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water and stir in along with the molasses. Let sit in a warm place for about 5 minutes to let the yeast become active.

Pour the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a clean open hand, drawing the flour from the sides of the bowl.

Mix to a wettish dough, too wet to knead. Pour into a lightly oiled bread loaf pan (2 lb size). Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let sit 35-45 minutes to rise. Remove the covering before the bread reaches it! The bread will have risen to about twice its original size and will be just peeping oer the rim of the pan.

Bake in a preheated 450 degree F. oven for 45-50 minutes, or until the bread looks nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped.

Cool before slicing.


  1. Must be quite a trip and sounds like you are having a good time.

  2. Oh my the bread looks so good! but my goodness the castle and the Abbey and all the places you saw ... loving the tour here!

  3. Very fluffy bread, considering it's mostly made from wholemeal flour.

    I've actually read the book describing The Brendan Voyage project by Tim Severin and enjoyed it.

  4. Everything looks so green and nice (even the mean looking boar!).
    This bread looks delish.

  5. Wonderful description, and an awesome series of pictures!

  6. Cynthia, It was a lot of fun and fun to write about now.

    Tanna, Imagine if we had gotten to more places...but perhaps after a while all the castles would have looked the same :)

    Andreas, the fluffy part is because of it being a batter bread...lots of bubbles from the yeast. There is some all purpose flour, too for the extra gluten. The Brendan excursion is mind blowing when you see how small the boat actually is. How brave to go out on the north Atlantic in it!

    Peabody, That boar looks mean, but mostly is remembered because of the stink...all that mud wss very smelly. The bread is yummy and smell really nice.

    Davimack, Thanks! There will be a lot about the trip for another few posts, but it is my way of getting it all down...the memory just isn't what it used to be. Hope it isn't too much.