01 October 2011

Its a long way. Apparently. Yup, a long way, erm, to go.

Behold! Mighty Tipperary in all its resplendent majesty!
(Tipperary is the one on the right)
And so on to Ballyporeen...

After the hustle, bustel and omnipresent faded grandeur of Venice, and knowing that I was capable of handling 30C temperatures, long days, strange food and dehydrating-flights without ending up back in hospital, I felt ready to take on possibly my toughest challenge to date, a weekend trip to rural Ireland. Yes, my friends, last weekend I felt ready to risk it all and face thirty-six of the most arduous hours of my life in possibly the most inhospitable environment known to vegetarians, Tipperary.

The cause for this jaunt into Real Ireland (as Sarah Palin might call it, if she knew where it, or Ireland, actually was) was a surprise birthday dinner for a good friend normally resident a great deal further afield (and last seen on the pages of this blog heartless forcing me to work in near-slavery for the nutritious amusement of others), but originally from Tipperary (South Riding as it was until 2002 and will always remain so in our hearts), and thus with transportation provided by the exceedingly-understanding-in-this-instance Very Understanding Girlfriend and accommodation sourced through the wonder that is TripAdvisor, we set off into the wild green yonder in search of fame, fortune or a reasonable approximation of neither.

After an enjoyable lunchtime visit to Cashel and it's Rock (actually a castle/abbey/metaphor), we arrived in Mitchelstown, Co Cork, the location for this most festive of occasions, formerly home to a bacon factory and a cheese extrusion plant, and now home to only the latter, and while I suggested to the V.U.G. that a Willy-Wonka-esque tour of the cheese plant might be on the cards, the horror that appeared in her eyes brought to mind trauma victims or school teachers, a haunted far-away glaze that tries but never seems to find the horizon.

"Don't. Call. That. 'Cheese'." she said.

We quickly moved on.

Our accommodation for the weekend was, somewhat surprisingly, a venison farm. A venison farm with wild boar. The V.U.G. found a book of local history on a table in our room, wherein the farm was referenced. "Look", she said, "the farm was frequented quite often by Charles J. Haughey and Ray MacSharry".

"Oh. My. God!" I cried, as in my eyes there arose a haunted far-away glaze that tried but never seemed to find the horizon, "It's a FIANNA FAIL venison farm! Aaaaaaaaaaarghhhhhhhhhhhh!"

"and wild boar", she added helpfully.

Raw venison. Raw Fianna Fail venison.
Despite this, the stay was very pleasant, the accommodation excellent, and a tour of the facilities the following day left me feeling that, while they were alive at least, the animals didn't have it too bad. Pity about the whole slaughtering them for our own consumption thing, though. Also, anybody that goes antler to shoulder with raw venison on a regular basis is a far, far tougher man than I will ever be.

The birthday dinner turned out to be a genuine surprise, it was great to catch up with my friend (whom I had not seen in the flesh in almost a year), and even more amazing to take a walk with him through his childhood home of Ballyporeen, Co Tipperary, population 304 and the ancestral home of one Ronald Walter Reagan. While the success of the Celtic Tiger may have bypassed this place, it still lashed out with its tail to wreak destruction in its death-throes, the only supermarket shuttered and closed, the only businesses left open the Post Office and three pubs (and one of those isn't even sure if its open or not), the foundations of an unfinished ghost estate flanking unsold houses built for an imaginary population already fleeing to the cities, and the local GAA team remains the only beating heart the village has left.

No bucolic idyll this, Peig Sayers would find life tough here.

Ballyporeen, Co Tipperary.
Sadly, The Reagan Centre was closed. Its always closed.
On the way home we stopped off at Mitchelstown Cave, where we discovered that hell exists and it is being trapped deep underground with a tour group of 13-year old schoolgirls and their criminally disinterested teachers (even in the darkest pitch you could still see their haunted far-away glazes that try but never seem to find the horizon. This image is burned onto my mind's eye and terrorizes me in my sleep). Nice caves though.

An early-evening drive saw us pass through Cahir with its own 12th-century castle perched atop the River Suir and possibly the worst attempt at vegetarian food I have ever had the misfortune to encounter (in a pub, not the castle. The castle was closed, I cannot comment on the nature of its food, vegetarian or otherwise) and one of the most amazing sunsets I have seen in this country lighted the way home for us back to Dublin and all the comforts of modern civilization (like Episode One of Season Three of Community, huzzah!).

Thirty-six hours in Tipperary. We visited two castles and a cave, saw some breathtaking hilltop views and were awoken by the rutting bellows of raw venison. And wild boar.

You could do worse of a weekend.

More photos (how can you even contain your excitement?) can be found here.

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