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From Dublin to Waterford the journey is fairly long and not really blessed with enough by way of landscape or monuments to keep the group excited, so you have some work to do. This is the time to play some Irish music, tell stories from Celtic mythology, delve into some aspect or other of the history of Ireland, or put on a video of something appropriate. Beyond Waterford the journey becomes rather lovely.
The Pale In the Middle Ages the English, despairing of taming the Irish, imposed a policy of apartheid on Ireland, with long-term results. By the Statutes of Kilkenny they forbade the native Irish to marry English people, to speak Gaelic or to wear traditional Irish dress. Ireland was divided into two areas: the part that was wholly under English control, and the rest of the country where the wild Irish roamed. The boundary between these areas was known as the Pale, hence the term 'beyond the pale' meaning beyond civilising, beyond redemption. The lands within the Pale consisted of a crescent extending about 30 miles out from Dublin, as far as Kildare, for example, to the west and Carlow to the south.
Rathcoole This is a sleeper town for Dublin of no particular interest, but the group may recognise the name of its most famous resident, the swimmer Michelle Smith. She was the woman who came from nowhere in the world rankings to win three gold medals in the Atlanta Olympics. Controversy surrounded her success with regard to the possibility of drug abuse, an issue which, at the time of writing, is still going on.
Kill This is an unprepossessing name for an unprepossessing town. Arthur Guinness, founder of the drink that bears his name, is buried around here. Apart from that, the most interesting thing about this town is the sign at the town line reading 'Welcome to Kill.' The word 'kill' means church in Gaelic.
You will bypass Naas, skirting the Curragh plain, to join the N9 just below Kilcullen. As you head south you see the outline of the Wicklow Mountains to your left.
The first place of interest that you come to is the village of Moone. This is another of these places where life is made much easier if you have a minibus and if your driver knows where he's going. Then you can take the very short detour (1 mile) to a field where there is a stile through which you climb to reach a beautiful old Celtic High Cross surrounded by a ruined church. It isn't well signposted, which adds to the lovely surprise when you first see it. The ruined church is what remains of a C6 monastery founded by St. Columba. The cross is about 18 ft high. It is decorated with 51 sculpted groups in naive style depicting biblical scenes and the twelve apostles (in three tiers of four). It was restored in the last century.
The next few towns, Castledermot, Carlow and Leighlinbridge, are all fairly attractive with remains of Norman castles, but offer nothing of surpassing interest. Any of them would make a suitable place to find a pub and stop for the loos for half an hour. Castledermot and Carlow were both frontier towns at the southern edge of the Pale. Between Carlow and Leighlinbridge you follow the rather beautiful path of the river Barrow. The amin crop in this area is sugar beet.
Jerpoint Abbey This appears on the left hand side of the road a couple of miles south of the elegant town of Thomastown. It is the loveliest of all Ireland's medieval monastic ruins, and in a fairly decent state of preservation. (You probably won't be stopping so you will have no chance to see the carving on the columns and in the cloisters for which it is famous.) This was a Cistercian foundation dating from 1180 to 1200. It was dissolved under Henry VIII in 1540. The cemetery is still in use.
This may seem a little ironic, particularly for any groups from Florida or thereabouts, but as you leave Co. Kilkenny and come into Co. Waterford you are now entering the touristic region known as the 'Sunny South East.'
Waterford Population 40,000, on the river Suir, chief city and port of southeastern Ireland. 'Wadrefjord' in Old Norse meant 'haven from the weather.' Like Limerick this was a Viking foundation, but unusually Waterford remained a Viking stronghold for about 300 years from the 850s until the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in 1169 under the leadership of Richard de Clare, Strongbow himself. This was the crucial event in the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland.
You probably won't stop in the city itself but will drive along the attractive quays on the banks of the Suir. As you turn on to the Cork road at the end of the quays you pass the most famous landmark of Waterford town, Reginald's Tower. This fortified tower on the old city walls was built by the Viking leader Reginald in 1003. It was also reputedly the venue for the wedding of Strongbow to the daughter of the King of Leinster. Nowadays it houses the town museum. (Unless you make a stop in the city you will not see the rest of the city walls and the attractive network of medieval lanes behind.)
The focus of your time in Waterford is the visit to the Crystal factory outside the town on the road to Cork. This is certainly Ireland's most famous product and for many people, principally adult groups, a perceived highlight of the tour. It is the biggest such factory in the world. Leave as much time as possible. If it's too much, you can always go earlier. You need a reservation. When you arrive have the group stay on the bus for a minute while you go inside to check in. Factory guides may accompany you round on your bus to the plant or you may be asked to get out and take their own minibuses round. It's only two minutes away. There are loos at the beginning and end of the factory tour. The tour lasts about an hour (too long really), taking you through every aspect of the manufacturing process, before they let you go into the shop. There is also a little exhibition about the history of Waterford Crystal. You will not find any discounted prices (or commissions) to be had here. Make sure the group knows this in advance. (If they are looking for bargains they are better off shopping for crystal in the Blarney Woollen Mills or at the Duty Free in the airport when they leave.) There is also a good self-service cafe with tea and coffee, sandwiches and cakes.
Kilmacthomas Between Waterford and Dungarvan. Again this is a town of no particular interest except for the fact that it had a soup kitchen at the time of the Great Famine. This allows you to lead into the story of the potato famine, especially if you are intending to stop at the Seanachie above Dungarvan, with the famine grave in the next-door field.
Dungarvan You bypass the town proper but are rewarded with fine views on to Dungarvan harbour, flanked by hills, and the south coast. The beautiful views on to the bay continue as you drive up the hill. There is an excellent possible stop at the Seanachie Pub at the top of the hill. This is a restored farm building which has won national awards. It is gorgeous, with turf fires etc. A seanachie is a storyteller who sits by the fire delighting his audience with tales from Irish myth and legend. In a field close by the pub is an unmarked mass grave for local victims of the famine. There are a couple of monuments in the field that are very moving. It is worth walking over there. It's only 100 yards away across the field.
Youghal Pop. 5,500. This town occupies a lovely site on the estuary of the river Blackwater. It is a popular seaside resort with an attractive, late medieval centre whose gates and town walls are still extant. The road, however, takes you along the waterfront past the C19 bandstand and offering lovely views on to the bay. In 1558-9 Sir Walter Raleigh was granted the mayoralty here by Queen Elizabeth I. He lived in a mansion named Myrtle Grove. (There may be some truth in the nice story that this is how the potato first came to Ireland.) The film Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck was filmed in Youghal.
(Incidentally, there is an endless lists of Hollywood movies filmed in Ireland. Here are some other examples: Braveheart was filmed on the Curragh plain and in the Wicklow Mountains; The Quiet Man was filmed in Cong, Co. Galway; Ryan's Daughter was filmed at Banna Strand on the Kerry coast near Tralee; The Field with Richard Harris at Leenane in Connemara; Saving Private Ryan was also filmed in Ireland. Far and Away starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman was filmed near Dingle and in Dublin Temple Bar is transformed into C19 Boston.)
You are now in Co. Cork, the Rebel County. This is the largest county in Ireland. It gets its nickname from the fierce spirit of independence that has characterised its political stance from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Between Castlemartyr and Midleton there is a small fishing lake that you will see on your left. It has a charming story attached. In the early days of Celtic Christianity this lake was just a field lying fallow. St. Bridget wished to build a chapel in the field and applied for permission to the local landowner. He, in a less than generous spirit, refused her that permission. The following day the field was gone and in its place stood the lake that you see today.
Midleton This is the home of the central Irish whisky distilleries (Paddy's, Jameson's and Power's). You can see the chimneys in the distance to your right from the road.
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