Posted by: mdmusingsie | September 1, 2018

Queens (or at least Princesses) for a Day

I can’t believe I forgot the pièce de résistance.  We spent the night in a fabulous castle in Tralee!  Ballyseede Castle is located just outside of the town of Tralee in County Kerry.  This is what a proper castle stay should be – all the ambiance of a castle with the right amount of mod-cons (i.e. a proper bathroom and not a garderobe) and no royalty-only prices.

The outside is a fabulous 16th century structure and they have kept the inside tastefully decorated; reminiscent of bygone eras.  This is in contrast to some castle hotels where the castle look and feel, disappear as soon as you cross the threshold.

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We each had our own room and they ranged from the single (double bed, shower only), to the standard (I thought it well above standard), and the deluxe (four poster bed).  While maybe not quite fit for a queen, the standard room that I had certainly appealed to my princess tastes.  The room was good sized with views over the garden.  They actually had top sheets on the bed (a real rarity in Ireland) and face cloths in the bathroom (another near rarity).   We were on the 2nd floor (3rd floor if you’re from the US), and although there isn’t an elevator, the staff will happily schlep your bag up the stairs (and back down again).

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Between floors there’s a nice sitting area to have a chat and a view over the gardens.  It also has two lounge areas – one with free tea and biscuits.  There is a formal dining room that doubles as the breakfast room, as well as a small pub that serves food.

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Most castles probably have ghosts, whether the staff admit to it or not.  Ballyseede is said to have several, however, you best chance to glimpse one is on March 24th when Hilda, the last of the Blennerhssett family who once owned the castle, appears in the Crosby Room.  We didn’t see any ghosts, but we were there in July.

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Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 12, 2018

Waterford Reborn

Our last adventure was a tour of the Waterford Crystal Factory.  We had hoped to stop at least one other place, but the recalcitrant GPS kept ignoring the motorways. (One interesting anecdote to the GPS challenge was that often when I brought up a route on Google maps on my phone it had me going back roads, but when my friend Googled the same destination on her US phone it had her on the main roads.  This confirmed my suspicion that because I had an Irish cell phone, Google Maps thought I should be familiar with every little back lane across the entire country.  A word to Google – you know what they say about ass-umptions.)

I had visited the Waterford Crystal factory on one or two bus tours back in the 1990’s – what I call the real Waterford Crystal – all made in Ireland.  In 2009, the factory I knew closed.  Today’s visitor’s center and factory is at a new location, closer to the location of the original glass works.

Most of the pieces us common folk would buy are made in places live Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany.  The Irish Waterford factory primarily produces high profile pieces such as sporting trophies, specialty pieces, and the triangular crystals for the New Year’s Eve ball that drops in Times Square.

The tour is quite interesting, though smaller than I remember.  Some pieces are blown into wooden molds that have been designed for the occasion.  At least three of every commissioned piece is made – almost like an heir and a couple of spares.  All three travel at least part way through the process, though if the first or second are considered perfect enough the remaining are left in their unfinished states.

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Waterford Molds for certain trophies or commissioned pieces

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Waterford glass blower

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Waterford glass blower

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Waterford Crystal

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Waterford Crystal Nutcracker

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Waterford Crystal 9-11 commemoration piece

I have great admiration, in particular, for the glass cutters who work in the tourist part of the factory.  It can’t be easy doing your job, concentrating on getting the lines cut in the right place at the right thickness on the piece while hundreds of tourists wander past, chatting and snapping photos.

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Is glass cutting by artisans a dying art?  They had two machines that were programmed to cut a glass pattern onto a piece.  From what the tour guide said, the machines hadn’t quite perfected the cutting process, but I suspect it won’t be long before yet another craft goes the way of automation – stamped out like cookie cutters.  At least I can say I remember when…

Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 11, 2018

A Jaunt Around Muckross

After driving past the jaunty-car car-park for several days, we had planned to go for a ride before we left Kerry.  A damp morning had us wondering if we’d have to forgo this adventure.  When we drove by, however, we noticed that the carriages had snap-on plastic “windows” – the ride was on!

We had a lovely driver who took us meandering through Killarney National Park, pointing out many of the native as well as imported species of plants and trees.  He also had quite an extensive knowledge of the history of the area.

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Jaunty Car – Muckross

Our ride took us all the way to Muckross House and back.  Because it was drizzling on the way out, we postponed our exploration of Muckross Abbey for the return journey and were rewarded with dry weather.

Although the 15th century abbey is a ruin, quite a bit of it is still intact.  I particularly liked the courtyard with the gorgeous yew tree growing in the centre.

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Muckross Abbey

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Muckross Abbey

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Muckross Abbey

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Muckross Abbey – Yew tree in courtyard

I’m glad we went on this ride; it’s a relaxing way to spend a few hours enjoying lovely scenery.

 

Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 5, 2018

Damp in Dingle

The drought was bound to ease at some point, and it started while we were taking a tour around the Dingle peninsula (this was back in mid-July, I’m a little behind in my posts). Unfortunately, we didn’t book early enough to get a small bus tour that takes you to places the larger buses can’t maneuver, but we were treated to some beautiful scenery.

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Our first stop was Inch beach.  Definitely a surfers’ haven as they had surfboard rentals set up along the beach.  Plenty of cars driving on the beach as well.  That can be risky business.  The bus driver said there’s a farmer that will come and pull you out with his tractor if you get stuck – for somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-50 Euro!

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Inch Beach, Kerry

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Inch Beach, Kerry

Along the drive we came across a number of bee-hive huts or clochán as they’re known in Irish.  They’re dry stone structures, similar to the dry stone walls you see all around Ireland.  Many associate them with monks and monasteries, but no one is entirely sure what or how they were used.  Were they mini-homes (they look more like solitary confinement), storage places, animal shelters, or all of the above.

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Bee-hive hut – Dingle, Co Kerry

Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 5, 2018

L Roads to Lovely Loch Lein

Heading south, we wound our way down to Killarney in County Kerry.

Now, I’m not saying that modern GPS navigation is a bad thing, but we had some interesting experiences with the navigations systems after leaving Galway.  First, my Garmin hadn’t a clue about the new M18 motorway, even though I had applied updates less than a month earlier.  When I say new motorway, I’m not talking about it being finished merely a month or less ago – it’s over a year old; and longer if you count the building of it.

For a good 20-30 minutes, the Garmin screen looked as if my car was plowing through fields as it actually sped down the motorway.  Eventually it caught up and placed a road under my graphically-depicted wheels.

As we headed further south, so did the ability of GPS to get us to our destinations in something other than a white-knuckled, round-about manner.  I had switched navigation systems at this point, hoping Google Maps was more up to date.  However, for some reason, Google Maps seems to think the fastest way anywhere is on L roads in Ireland.  L actually stands for little, local, back-roads, barely enough room for two cars to inch past each other.  They are roads where I frequently see my life flash before me as I round a narrow curve, expecting either car or truck to be barreling towards me.  Listen up Google – L roads are NOT faster, unless you’ve lived there your entire life and know the ins and outs.  They are not for tourists or the faint at heart.

We did eventually make it to the cottage just outside of Killarney we were renting, though I must say my nerves were quite frayed.  We also made it into town for dinner, but trying to find the Tesco was a Google Maps nightmare.  I spotted a Lidl store after several mis-turns and called it good.

Before heading to Muckross house, we decided on lunch at the Lake Hotel.  It’s right on Loch Lein, which is quite lovely.  There’s a castle ruin on the edge of the lake, worth exploring.  A nice ‘aah’ moment after the adventures of modern travel.

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Loch Lein, Co Kerry

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Loch Lein, Co Kerry

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Reed Beds, Loch Lein, Co Kerry

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Reed Beds, Loch Lein, Co Kerry

Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 4, 2018

Ireland’s Ancient West

A few years ago, Ireland’s tourism board came up with slogans and travel routes to explore different parts of the country. There’s the Wild Atlantic Way from Kerry to Donegal, Ancient East from Cork, through Waterford, Wexford and up to the Northern Ireland border, and now there’s the Hidden Heartlands in the middle.

We were exploring parts of the Wild Atlantic Way but stumbled upon a hidden gem depicting ancient history in the west at Craggaunowen.

Wooden structures don’t survive thousands of years, so to get an idea of what life was like back in those days, they have to re-construct them based on oral, written, and pictorial accounts.  They have done just that at Craggaunowen.   Located in lovely woodland between Galway and Limerick, it contains a treasure trove of ancient dwellings and artifacts depicting the way people lived back in the Bronze Age.

There is a crannog – a set of dwellings built on an man-made island or stilts in a lake with a wooden walkway connecting it to the mainland.  People as well as animals lived in the crannog so if it came under attack, they could still survive if the bridge was destroyed.

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Another common dwelling place in Ireland was the ring fort.  An earthen bank surrounded the round houses, made of wattle and daub.  There were structures for animals as well as people.  Privacy was at a premium – most places where communal.

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They even had a souterrain, an underground passage used not only to store and preserve food, but could also be used as hidden entrances and exits.

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Souterrain storage as seen from inside the ring fort

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Souterrain outer entry/exit

Bronze Age hunters constructed Fulacht Fia – in-ground cooking pots, by digging a hole, lining it with wood, and filling it with water (or allowing it to fill with rain water).  Heated stones from the fire were dropped into the hole to boil the water and whatever meats or stews they wanted boiled along with it.

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Fulacht Fia – hunters cooking pot

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Hunter’s dwelling

Ogham writing was carved into stone or dangled from wooden blocks in the trees, marking routes and pathways through the once heavy woodlands.

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Look close to see the Ogham runes hanging from the tree

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Ogham markings on the right side of the stone

Portal tombs were the graveyards of the time.

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They even have a re-construction of Saint Brendan’s boat – similar to what he used to sail the Atlantic and discover the Americas – centuries before Columbus.  This one was actually used to re-enact the voyage in 1976.

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Newest of the structures in dating order is Craggaunowen castle – a 16th century tower house.  Even centuries after the crannog, personal spaces were small, but communal spaces large, as that’s where people gathered after the hunt or forage to meet with travelers and tell the tales of the day.

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Wild boars still roam the forest (enclosed in an electric fence).  Along with brown soay sheep.  I’d never seen a brown sheep before.  They look a bit more like goats.  No razors required for these sheep, they shed their wool naturally; you just have to pick it up off the ground.

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Craggaunowen boar

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Craggaunowen soay sheep

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Craggaunowen soay sheep shedding

What an amazing place to visit and explore life from the Bronze Age up to medieval times.  They have re-enactors on site to answer questions and provide demonstrations.  Well worth a visit.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: mdmusingsie | July 22, 2018

Kylemore Castle and Gardens

Another place I’ve visited several times is Kylemore Castle/Abbey.  Since it has always been on a bus tour and our time limited, I’ve always chosen the castle over the gardens.  However, knowing that it’s only the same five rooms to visit (nothing new had been opened), I decided to visit the gardens.

However, when researching previous blog posts, it seems I never posted pictures (or they’ve been removed).  So here’s a few photos of the castle and the rooms that are open to the public.

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The gardens had become an overgrown ruin, but were re-discovered and restoration began in 1995.  They have been open to the public since 2000.

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Metal and rope sheep outside the tea room at the gardens

Laid out in Victorian style, the gardens are certainly impressive.  They had the floral gardens on one side, and the ‘common’ garden, where the food and herbs were grown, on the other side of trees, hedges and a mountain stream.  It would not have been proper to mix the two. Both gardens are enclosed by a stone wall.

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Size alone would make these gardens remarkable; however, what I found more impressive was their overall ‘V’ shape.  The gardens slope down both sides of two hills into a valley walkway.

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Once I’ve finished admiring the beauty of something, I tend to turn it around and look at things from a practical point of view.  This meant wondering how they mowed the grass up and down those hills.

On the far side of the formal garden and up the second hill are a greenhouse and fountain that was under repair.

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The kitchen garden does not have the same dramatic slope of the formal garden.

To get to the gardens you need to take a 10 minute shuttle bus ride through lovely woodlands.  That practical side of me began to wonder how they brought the vegetables from the kitchen garden to the castle.  I suspect there was some kind of horse or donkey and cart, or maybe even a bicycle pulling a cart in the times before the engine.

There’s also a little fair glade for the wee folk.

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While the tourist trade does a lot to keep the place running, there has been speculation over the years about what will happen to the estate. The girls’ school closed eight years ago, and the Benedictine nuns are aging. I found out that the nuns who own/run the estate have entered into a partnership with Notre Dame University in Indiana. They have opened a center of excellence and hold workshops and courses of study of varying lengths.

I’m certain that anyone who sees the pictures of the place would be thrilled to be able to visit; however, from what the bus driver said, they don’t exactly tell the students that after a transatlantic flight they have to drive an hour plus to Galway then another 2-ish hours out to Kylemore.  Maybe the Notre Dame influence will help improve the roadways out to Kylemore.  Or the government could get wise and charge a 1 Euro road supplement to each bus passenger (there are dozens of buses that visit the site each day).  While I’m not proposing a motorway, it would be nice to have roads where two buses can easily pass each other without inching by.  Just a thought…

Posted by: mdmusingsie | July 21, 2018

The Cliffs and More

I’ve visited the Cliffs of Moher at least 7 times, but I still feel in awe every time I see them.  This most recent trip, however, we were able to see it from the top as well as the bottom.

You can either drive down to Doolin (or Rossaveal) yourself or book a bus tour from Galway that takes you on a cruise around the base of the Cliffs of Moher.

Weather can make or break this type of tour. In this instance, we were traveling during the warmest summer in 40 years in Ireland.  The bright sun may be good for tourism, but isn’t always the best for photographs; neither is bouncing about on a boat – have that high speed shutter ready.  Despite the hazy photos, it’s a great way to see the cliffs.

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Part two of our trip had the ferry take us out to Inis Oirr (pronounced Inisheer) – the smallest of the Aran Islands (only 3 km x 2 km in size).  My only other trip to the Islands was to Inis Mór, the big island, so I was looking forward to a new glimpse of these charming islands.

Tourism is now a large part of the economy on the island as farming the rocky land is not easy, and fishing isn’t much easier.  There are approximately 260 residents of the island – this can swell not only with tourists, but with students coming for months at a time to learn the Irish language.

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Eco-friendly school – Inis Oirr

If you have the time you can walk around the island, or rent a bike and peddle around yourself. However, if you’re on a bus/ferry trip your time is likely limited and you may want to take one of the pony and trap or tractor tours offered by local islanders.  When I say locals, that means someone living on the island, but not necessarily a native born islander.  Our guide happened to be an Australian (or New Zealander – I should have written it down!) who married an island gal.  It gave a new perspective to island life.

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The terrain is very much like the Burren; not surprising given its proximity.  Thus, you’ll find plenty of stone walls that weren’t built to divide but to survive.  The walls allowed sand and seaweed to be contained and turned into soil to grow some of the necessary food.  They also kept the animals, and probably small children, safe.

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Inis Oirr boasts quite a few attractions for such a small island.  There’s a ship wreck on the south side of the island.  The Plassey was driven against the rocks more than 50 years ago.  Fans of Father Ted will recognize it from the opening credits.

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O’Brien’s castle ruin sits atop the highest spot on the island.  It is estimated it was built in the 14th century.  St. Caomhán’s sunken church is nearby, built 400 years before the castle. Of course it wasn’t sunken in its day.  Blowing sand built up around the church, but it’s now kept in check by the islanders.

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Oh, and don’t forget the gorgeous sandy beach!

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People laugh when I tell them how warm the summer has been – particularly in July.  When standing on the asphalt/tarmac on the island, I noticed you couldn’t stand in one place for long or you’d get stuck as it was melting.  Our guide said it was much worse a week or so earlier when the heat was at its peak.

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Asphalt/tarmac melting in the sun

We had a fabulous guide on this tour – the best I’ve ever had.  Tom was at home as an islander on the island, helping serve food at the restaurant to ensure everyone had the maximum sightseeing time, helping board, disembark, and cast-off the ferry; that was when he wasn’t driving the bus.  He’s a real asset to the Galway Tour Company and I hope he’s around the next time I get out that way.

Sometimes you wonder about the tales told by tour guides, but I’m inclined to believe the one he told about a group of Italians who didn’t make it back to the ferry in time and were stranded on the island for the night.  When Tom came back the next day with another tour group, the Italian lads told him it was the best time they’d ever had!  There’s plenty of music and dance, and definitely a pint or two (or twelve).

Posted by: mdmusingsie | July 15, 2018

Dark Hedges – in Bloom

Just because you’ve done a bus tour before doesn’t mean it will be the same next time.  Sometimes all it takes is a different driver/guide to change the experience. However, occasionally the tour companies mix up the tour as well.

That’s what happened on my recent Belfast trip.  A few years back I took the tour with friends visiting from the US.  This year I had another set of friends visiting and there is a new stop on the tour – the Dark Hedges, near Ballymoney.  Fans of Game of Thrones will recognize this particular road.

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Bregagh Road is flanked on both sides with beech trees planted in the 18th century, which were designed to impress visitors to Gracehill House.  They continue to impress today, though slightly less ominous in daylight and in full bloom.  At dusk or after dark, watch out for the ghost!

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Due to the popularity given the road by the Game of Thrones series, traffic, especially to tour buses is limited.  However, it’s less than a 10 minute walk from one end to the other, and it’s definitely worth the trip.

Other highlights of the tour are your choice of the Black Taxi Tour of Belfast or the Titanic Museum. Since I’d taken the Black Taxi tour last time, I chose the Titanic Museum this time.  We all agreed it was well done, covering all aspects of the fated cruise ship from how it was constructed to the glimpse into the cabins, stories of the crew as well as survivors, all the way through its demise.

A visit to the north isn’t complete without a visit to the Giant’s Causeway.  There’s a new visitors’ center as well as audio sticks you can rent that give the geologic as well as mythological history of the awe inspiring phenomena.  More info on my previous post.

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Posted by: mdmusingsie | July 7, 2018

Ardgillan Castle – Revisited

My first visit to Ardgillan Castle October 2016 had me restricted to the outside.  I finally made it back to get a view of the inside.

There weren’t any formal tours today, but we were given a map with some history and there were information signs in the rooms.

As this facility is used for many different events, the lounge/drawing room was somewhat sparsely furnished.  There was quite a bit of furniture crammed into the sunroom, however.

Looking at the door frames that separate the rooms you can see that the inner walls are at least two feet thick.  Since there are outer doors and inner doors to the main rooms, there’s enough room for someone to spy on a conversation without being seen from either side.

 

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Ardgillan – Lounge to sunroom view

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Ardgillan – Coffee urn – see the intricate castings on the handle

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Ardgillan – thick walls, double set of doors

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Ardgillan – entry facing out

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Ardgillan – archway

The dining room was quite impressive with the intricately carved doors and paneling.  It also featured a hidden door, to the left of the mirror, which led to the Butler’s Pantry.

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Ardgillan – Dining room fireplace

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Ardgillan – Carved wood paneling

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Ardgillan – Carved wood inner doors

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Ardgillan – Carved sideboard and mirror

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Ardgillan – hidden door from dining room to butler’s pantry

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Ardgillan – butler’s pantry

Two more hidden doors led into and out of the library and were quite cleverly designed to look like bookshelves.  The latch to open the doors was carefully concealed in the woodwork.

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Ardgillan – hidden door on right…

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Ardgillan – Library hidden door on left

I did ask about the hallway to nowhere and was told there had been plans at one time to have that lead to gardens in the back, but it was never completed.

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Stairway to hallway to nowhere?

In the walled garden, the fruit trees are trained to grow against wire fencing to make it easier to pick the fruit.

Despite the drought Ireland was suffering (high temperatures and no rain for over 30 days at this point), the rose garden was beautifully in bloom. Ardgillan_117_sm

Ardgillan – rose garden

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Ardgillan – walled garden

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