Bicycling in Kilkenny

Bicycling in Kilkenny

Flying for Free: Part VII

One of the philosophies of the space-a traveler is to make the most of every time and place they are in. There is no need to waste the mone...

Friday, July 7, 2017

Kilkenny, Ireland: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1

We sailed into the Dunmore Cave parking lot with delight at the thought of giving our weary legs and bottoms a much deserved rest before heading into the cozy museum.

“Is there a place we can get water?” my husband asked, sweat dripping from his cheeks.

The very kind lady behind the counter apologized that the on-site cafe was currently closed but after hearing we had biked all the way from the castle, she quickly disappeared down the stairs before returning with a fresh glass of ice cold water. “You just let me know if you would like some more,” she insisted as we made our way to the tour waiting area adorned with captivating images, artifacts.documents, and a brief televised documentary about the origins of the cave and its historical significance. Within moments, our professional tour guide beckoned us to follow him down into the cave.

Our group obediently filed out across an eclectic patio and staircase made from the many different rock types indigenous to the country of Ireland. As we walked towards the cave, we were inspired by the stunning views surrounding us. Just a few more steps brought us to the cement staircase leading down to the actual cave which was something I hadn’t considered. After riding the bike all that way, I was now going to be descending stairs that led to more stairs that eluded my current range of sight. Thankfully my fear of embarrassment overtook my desire to rest. I had already come this far. Surely I couldn’t make a fool of myself by quitting now. We continued to follow behind the tour group as I slowly and carefully placed each foot on the step below it while grasping firmly onto the metal handrail.

We made it to the first stop of the tour which was just inside the one and only entrance to the cave. I tried not to think about the trip back up the stairs while simultaneously attempting to restrain the unintentional jiggling of my legs. At one point while the tour guide talked about the cave and its many uses over the past 2 or 3 millenia, I had to grab onto my husband’s arm to keep myself from falling.

As we descended further down into another area of the cave, I reveled in its shelter from the blaring sun outside. I considered how the numerous civilizations that came before must have also used its rocky interior for the very same thing, although I’m sure it was used much more often as a refuge from the unrelenting chill of rain rather than the highly uncommon heatwave we were blessed with that day.  

Our guide continued on with information about the stalactites and stalagmites and how they meet to form columns after many thousands of years of development. He showed us how the different formations had grown to assimilate things like a mug of beer and a buffalo. I was surprised that no one had considered that one particular structure looked very much like the head of a dinosaur.

The deepest part of the cave was the most unsettling. Apparently, the bones of women, children, and the elderly had been found piled there, and no one really knows why. Some theories consider that during the slave trading days, the cave was used as a hideaway, but when the Vikings discovered it, they tried filling the cave with smoke in hopes that all its inhabitants would come running out. Instead, the terrified natives remained until the carbon monoxide overcame the space and killed them all. Another less sobering theory suggests that the cave was once used as a ceremonial burial ground. In any case, the truth is destined to remain a mystery as the bones quickly disappeared from the university in charge of researching them.

As the tour came to a close, we took our time hiking back up the stairs leading away from the shaded subterranean oasis of cool air before strategically plopping down on a cement bench under an inviting willow tree. It was there that we briefly spoke with a fellow American who was apparently touring the country on her own. Despite my curiosity about the circumstances motivating her solo journey, I refrained from asking. She seemed more interested in discussing our newly acquired information about Irish history than discussing her own life story. We chatted for a bit, but as it became clear that neither of us were very educated in the discipline of historical facts, the conversation swiftly waned, so we said our goodbyes and exited the museum with plans for an immediate picnic snack. I needed more time and more energy before embarking on the long journey back to the center of town.

While John went searching for a place to fill our water bottles, I found a grassy shaded area next to the parking lot and sat right down in the grass. I really wanted to take a nap but wasn’t sure if I could be cited for loitering or something, so I set my sights on the scrumptious Irish cheese and authentic Spanish jamon waiting in my backpack. Wanting to wait for John before tearing into the really good stuff, I opted to start with the eclectic bag of crisps purchased mostly out of curiosity at the store where we had bought the water that morning. They had a tart vinegar flavor, but all in all, tasted quite delicious.

Not soon after I began enjoying the salty goodness inside that beautifully green bag, I was approached by an incredibly friendly and adorable somewhat yorkie/terrier mix dog. Not wanting to seem too bold, she disguised her desire for my food by rolling over onto her back and inviting me to rub her belly. I obliged her wishes before providing a thorough petting on her head and neck before a sweet young gal of about six years walked up and asked the dog’s name. Realizing that the breadth of my sudden familiarity with this lovely creature was showing, I sheepishly admitted that I had no idea and that she actually was not my dog at all.

After providing the dog with a few pats, the little girl and her dad walked away, but the dog remained there with me. I think she really wanted the ham inside my backpack, but someone must have trained her well because she never did try to steal it from me.

Finally, John appeared through the museum doors and laid the filled bottles next to me. I immediately chugged one while thinking about opening the other. We talked about the briny crisps as we discovered they were in fact produced with real ‘shamrock extract’ while taking pictures of the interesting ingredients to share with the folks back home before finally digging into the yummy jamon, cheese, and bread that I had been longing for.

Before we knew it, the jamon was gone and there were just a few stray crumbs sticking to the bag that had once been filled with the magic of shamrock crisps and the accompanying extract. John filled the bottles up once more, and we were on our way.

Our new four-legged friend ran right alongside us as we flew down the hill. I started to wonder how far this dog was going to chase us in hopes for a lick of our empty jamon package until she finally ran through an open gate leading to what was probably her family’s home. We bid the dog a fond farewell as our bikes continued down the shaded hills.

There were a few climbs along the way, but their accompanying downhill stretches were well worth the effort.  As the wind whipped through the light cardigan protecting my shoulders from the threat of sunburn, we looked forward to our well-earned pints of Guinness waiting for us at our choice of pubs in the center of town.

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