Saturday, 24 May 2008

"It's a long way to..."

It turns out it was only 86 miles.

We’re actually camped in a delightful site about 15 miles from Tipperary. It’s a working apple farm called, prosaically, “The Apple," with about 15 pitches nestled between the trees. The welcome was one of the warmest we have received, and a free bottle of their home-pressed, award winning apple juice was a nice touch. And probably the best apple juice I have ever tasted!

The journey here was interesting. Despite all the things which make Ireland so similar to the UK, there are a world of differences, and we feel that we are most definitely in a foreign country. Take driving, for instance. The roads were, for the most part, fairly deserted. The first section of main road we traveled on was in excellent condition – much better than most British A roads. There is, however, a curious yellow dotted line running along the outside of the lane, creating something similar to a hard shoulder. Sometimes it was as wide as the main carriageway, at others it was barely wide enough for a cycle lane. The thing is, we never came across any directions about what is was actually for. It seems that there is an unspoken rule that slow vehicles (like us) plonk themselves in this lane so that everything else can get past them. We saw tractors and lorries happily scooting along, straddling this dotted line, so we joined in when we could. It seemed like a good choice, since almost everyone who passed us (and there weren’t that many since the roads were empty anyway) waved or flashed a thank-you. At least I think that’s what it was. There were a startling number of drivers who thought it was OK to pull out directly in front of us and accelerate very slowly. I don’t think they realized how close they came to having 5 tonnes of us (and 23 tonnes of the truck behind us) up their backside. Still, we know that the over-run brakes on the trailer work!

The language is much more of a barrier than we expected. It’s not that people don’t speak English – everybody does. It’s just that it’s difficult to place ones self in the world when you can’t pronounce the name of it. Take where we are now, for instance. The welcome sign says it calls itself Cahir. All road signs in Ireland are bilingual, so it also has the name An Cathair. Add to this that the Ordnance Survey of Ireland map has different spellings for almost every town (in this case Caher) and you can see our problem. In fact it is actually pronounced “Care,” and thus we’re on a hiding-to-nothing.

Still, here we are, however it’s pronounced, and once we were set up and had had a quick lunch, we headed straight out again to take in a local sight. This is where we found some roads that weren’t quite so good, in fact they were barely more than a collection of pot-holes held together by tarmac. Still, we made it to the Swiss Cottage, a delightful 19th century Cottage Orme – a folly built by John Nash for the local landowners, the Butler family, to pretend to be peasants in. It is a beautifully restored, thatched, two-up-and-two-down cottage. Despite the upstairs being reasonably normal (two quite large bedrooms) downstairs differs from the normal idea of a cottage in that the two-down were a Tea Room and a Music Room. No kitchen, of course, because there is a hidden basement where the servants rustled up the champagne and strawberries. Completely self-indulgent, but apparently quite popular among the landed gentry of the time, and a very pretty thing it is. It has been lovingly restored by the imaginatively titled Office of Public Works at the cost of half a million Euros. The job has been done so well that it looks like it was only built a couple of years ago. Sadly, no cameras area allowed, but there’s a link here ( for anyone interested.

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