08.04.2013 - 08.04.2013 8 °C
After a long, wonderful night’s sleep under warm duvets, we rise late, put on the coffee (for Ben), slather the Welsh cakes with Irish butter and enjoy a relaxed morning. Welsh cakes are a lightly spiced, raisin-filled scone-like snack. I guess every country in these parts has their own variation of the scone. Some of us want to hang out at home while others are itching to see some of Ireland. And still others sleep till noon so we don’t have a ‘what to do today’ confab till fairly late. It ends with the girls electing to stay put in our cozy cottage while Ben and I decide to circumnavigate the nearby Hook Peninsula (the ‘Ring of Hook’).
For the next four hours, we explore Irish country lanes, beautiful beaches, interesting ruins of abbeys and historical graveyards, and take in some quick views of a military fort and small castle. It is a grand way to spend an afternoon. While still not terribly warm, the sunshine is a nice change and does a lot to counter the strong winds we encounter on the beaches. There are a few tourists (maybe five) at the more popular, crowded spots but, in general, we have the views to ourselves. The first stop is Duncannon Fort; we don’t go in the fort but do enjoy a brief walk on the large sandy beach and views of the inlet. Nearby, we notice what appears to be a suburb of some sort; it reminds us of the Stepford Wives community in that the homes are all exactly the same, save for different colours of trim. They are very neat, there are hardly any trees about and it is eerily quiet. We envision the women inside baking bread and caring diligently for their children. It contrasts starkly with other, more lived in homes in the area (as well as with my own).
On our way south along the ‘ring,’ we notice the stone walls of a small church by the side of the road. Once the seat of the Knights Templar in Ireland in the thirteenth century, it is now a vestige of its formal self. However, we still find it moving to walk through the few stone rooms and to meander among the weathered stones in the graveyard, noting with surprise that there are some fairly recent residents.
As we make our way to the Hook, we pass rolling fields, newly plowed but awaiting planting, and several herds of sheep and dairy cows. The lone lighthouse at the end of the peninsula beckons, and provides a flat, windswept place to stop. The black slate rocks are sharp and menacing and the waves show us within minutes why there is a light house here. It is the oldest one in Ireland and is still operating. In fact, there has been some sort of signalling device at this locale since the fifth century, when a fire beacon was initially used and then continued for six hundred years. Hook Head is said to be the still-debated origin of the phrase "by hook or by crook,” which is attributed to Oliver Cromwell. During the civil war, it is claimed that Cromwell said nearby Waterford Channel would be conquered by a landing of his army at either Hook Head or at Crooke, a village on the other side of the channel. We contemplate the history of this place as we picnic on camembert and our host’s homemade bread, the waves continuing to pound the rocks below.
Nearby is Slade, a sleepy fishing village seemingly abandoned. We take a quick look around and head north, having rounded the peninsula. The last stop of the day is Tintern Abbey and it is the best of all. Circa twelfth century, it is the result of a vow made by a Welsh earl who pledged to build an abbey if God would save him from a shipwreck; he washed up on the shore nearby and the rest is history. Unfortunately, it is closed due to repairs following a fire and vandalism; however, we still marvel at the exterior walls, the beautiful green grounds and stone bridge, knowing that it will be even more stunning in summer when the foliage is more pronounced. We head home, having enjoyed our first day touring the Emerald Isle and look forward to the next two weeks here.