This Summer, which I am spending at home in Ireland, has been amazing so far. I literally have 2 months to hang out with my family, cook, and travel wherever the wind takes me. This wind has often been accompanied by driving rain, but it hasn’t dampened our spirit of adventure.
While my sisters have been at work (poor them!) I have been taking my kids on day trips to places I love as well as to places I have always wanted to go but never taken the time to do so. This trip always includes the essential component to making these excursions a success, and that is, a robust picnic. There is nothing more annoying than being in a gorgeous place, only to leave because someone’s tummy is rumbling.
The place I choose to take them on this particular day was The Rock of Dunamase, which sits on a hill just outside the town of Stradbally in county Laois Ireland. This is the county where I am from, and when I say “I” it includes all of my ancestors on both sides of my family for literally centuries. Growing up, as my parents did, in the 1940’s and 50’s, pretty much guaranteed that most marriages occurred between individuals who lived within miles of each other. My mother and father were no different, their family homes being only 12 miles apart.
This however was my mother’s part of the country and this historical site was a place she often visited as a young girl. She could stand at the top of the castle outcrop, and with a turn of her head, name every family who lived in each house and which bit of land was theirs’ We would sit around on giant bits of crumbling walls that had fallen, that were now over-grown with soft tufted grass, and listen to her stories prompted by being back in a familiar place.
Now here I was with my children, talking to them about the history of The Rock and trying to give them a sense of what it must have been like when it was a thriving community, and what the various battles to take control of it by one important family or another must have been like. We tried to make out what each building could have been used for and walked the parts of the curtain walls that were still partly in tact.
There is much less known about the Rock of Dunamase than other historical landmarks in Ireland. The first official reference to Dunamace castle was in 843 AD when it was said to be invaded, and significantly damaged by the Vikings. It was inhabited, invaded, and added to, by the various important rulers and families of the province of Leinster over the following centuries, until it was abandoned and slowly declined to the state of ruin it is today in the middle of the 17th century.
When we got there, we walked through the still-in-tact Barbican gate and walked the vertical slope to the main gate and the lower ward of the castle grounds. This castle was cleverly built on a peak of land giving the illusion that everything, including the castle itself, draped dangerously downward: magnificent.
We looked ahead of us in search of a good place to spread out our picnic. We were all starving, and thought the best plan was to eat, then explore. My son spotted a rock that slanted upward, but was wide enough for us all to fit comfortably. When we sat down I was overcome by my breathtaking 360* view of the countryside surrounding me. I can’t begin to describe how spectacular the patchwork of fields in every color of green, imagined and unimagined, spread itself like a vision of heaven below my feet.
The thought of food, and eating it in this setting made me even hungrier, so I hurriedly laid what I had prepared on a grassy bit of rock between us. The most important thing about a picnic is to pack a really good sandwich, which I have become an expert at. This day it was a fresh cheddar roll with strong mustard, greens, olives, field greens, chicken and smoky bacon. The other essential component is lots of tasty snack foods, like grapes, berries, peanuts, raw carrot sticks and perhaps potato chips or popcorn. Of course a little bottle of wine along with a glass didn’t go astray either!
After lunch it was time to wander through every crack and crevice of Dunamase, and that we did. We walked the perimeter, scaled walls for better views, gingerly climbed into a huge grassy hollow, hopped onto window frames, and all the while marveling at how a place like this could have been built well over a thousand years ago. I loved how primitive and yet oddly modern it all was. The people who lived on this lonely rock had my utmost respect.
We stayed so much longer than I would have thought possible, given a child’s attention span, and as we left, we seriously discussed returning for a picnic the very next day, even picking out another good spot to lay our blanket on our way down the winding path to the car.
Of course that did not happen. There are so many other place I am determined to take my children before we leave that are dear to my heart, and I can’t wait.