I am remembering my friend Bernie in Ireland and wondering what she is doing right at this moment. It is nearly 1pm over there, so I suspect she is being the diligent artist that she is, and is in her studio painting, or perhaps she is out photographing what nature has to offer around Thomastown in frozen December.
I was home in Ireland for the entire summer (hence my “Chronicles”) and another beautiful day to recount was the day I spent with Bernie, at her house and studio, and taking a long walk through a beautiful country estate called Mount Juliet in County Kilkenny.
The thing that is so great about Ireland is that deciding last-minute to spend the afternoon some place beautiful does not pose any problems. The choices are endless and immediate. It was no different on the day I jumped into my car to visit my friend in Thomastown, a town situated on the lovely Nore River, a stone’s throw from Kilkenny City. It is the town where I first met Bernie almost three decades earlier, and where I lived when studying metalsmithing. It is an idyllic place which I want to write about, but am still at a loss as to where to begin that saga.
The summer in Ireland this year can best be described as WET. The rain came down with great regularity, even managing to irritate the hardiest irish men and women! However, on the days that I planned weekend excursions, or picnics, or day long walking tours of Dublin, the sun miraculously shone, and my day in Thomastown was no different.
I arrived around lunch time so Bernie and I made grilled cheese sandwiches and ate them from our laps in her sunny front porch. I will never cease to be amazed (and grateful) at how strong the connection is between old friends. It seems when you are young and entrenched in the same place for years, the people you hang out with leave a mark so indelible it is with you for life. In other words, even though I hadn’t seen Bernie in ages, she and I never lost the thread that prompted us to chat in the intimate way only close friends are privy to.
After lunch we popped into her painting studio to see the latest work. Bernie’s studio is a converted ball alley where years earlier we messed around hitting tennis balls. She was getting ready for a solo exhibit titled The River for the Kilkenny Arts Festival. Her work for this show concentrated on a stretch of the River Nore and she was so excited because a big airy tent was built at the show’s location especially for the exhibit. In fact she said “why don’t we go see it!”
A few miles away we parked our car at the Mount Juliet Estate. In the 1700’s The Earl of Carrick built a Georgian Manor on a hill surrounded by 1,500 acres of land, and through which the river Nore meandered. He named the estate after his wife Juliet.
When I lived in Thomastown in the 1980’s this place was not open to the public but since 1989 it has been operating as a luxury hotel (spa, golf course, all the good stuff) and anyone who wants to can walk the expansive grounds.
We decided to do just that and spent the rest of the afternoon walking the fields and gardens close to the house and stables. Like any good walk, we worked up an appetite for food and drink. Next stop; The President’s Bar for a little wine and a smakeral of something!
We were in the mood for comforting fries and onions rings. Sometimes there is nothing better than good old bar food, ( we ordered a little greenery out of guilt). We sat munching away and enjoying a drink while golfers worked on improving their handicap and the sun beamed down.
I could have sat there until dinnertime but of course I had to get back home in case my children thought I was kidnapped (kids worry too!). We took our time getting back to the car and drove very slowly to the entrance gate, marvelling at the horses, the lush green fields, woods, flowers, and reedy banks of the river.
I saw Bernie for the last time before leaving Ireland at the opening of her exhibit. I was completely transfixed by the work and longed to buy a whole wall-full.
If you ever get to Ireland (or live there!) and feel the need to walk some place fabulous, it is 1 hour from Dublin, 30 minutes from Waterford and 20 minutes from Kilkenny, (by Mount Juliet’s calculations anyway). I say it is well worth the trip!