Rock of Dunamase

The Rock of Dunamase, or what’s left of it, sits on top of a hill 6km from the town of Portlaoise in the Irish midlands. The limestone outcrop on which the fortress is built dominates the surrounding plains of the Great Heath. Standing over 45m high, the Rock of Dunamase has been a site of strategic importance for over 1,000 years. It must have been a very impressive spectacle in its day. Alas, these days it something that has been savaged by a Rottweiler 😦

Ptolemy's Hibernia, showing
Ptolemy’s Hibernia, showing “Dunum” in the Midlands

Nobody is quite sure how long the Rock of Dunamase has been used as a fortress. Although the Greek geographer Ptolemy makes reference to a place called “Dunum” on his 2nd century map of Ireland, there is no evidence to suggest this site is what he meant. It’s a nice idea though. Archaeological digs and records from the time suggest that the rock was originally a 9th century fort called Dún Masc. Easy to see how its English name Dunamase came from. In the “Annals of the Four Masters” which chronicle Irish history, it is recorded that Dún Masc was raided by Vikings in 944AD. It would’ve been more unusual if the site hadn’t been raided by the Nordic invaders, such was their fondness for raiding and pillaging. No doubt the hapless abbot of Terryglass agreed – he happened to be here when they came a-knocking and was killed as a result of this raid.

Things get a bit woolly after this. Nobody seems to know or agree on when the site became a fortress it is today. It came into the ownership of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century and was fortified. It appears to have been owned by the wonderfully named Meiler Fitzhenry at one stage and then by William Marshall. The latter is a significant Norman figure in Irish history.  It became an important centre of strategic and military importance in the region. Looking at the Office of Public Works’ recreation of the site, one can get a sense of the layout of the place.

In the 14th century, the last Anglo-Norman owner of the castle was executed by King Edward III for treason. It then came into the ownership of the Irish O’More family who didn’t handle it with care. Instead, the site was badly damaged and abandoned. Making doubly sure it wouldn’t be much use for anything, it was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in the mid 17th century. Yet another addition to the long list of reason why he’s one of the most unpopular people in Ireland’s history.

The Barbican Gate
The Barbican Gate

In the late 18th century, an attempt was made to partially restore the fragmented remains. The great-grandfather of the legendary 19th-century politician Charles Stewart Parnell attempted to turn the Great Hall into a banqueting hall. Some doors and windows from other sites were added to the building and they remain to this day. It was a short-lived experiment though. Soon the castle returned to its current ruinous state, overlooking the surrounding countryside.

What’s there now?

The Rock of Dunamase is easily accessed, so no lengthy journeys along winding country boreens are needed here. There’s also plenty of parking along the road that runs past it, more than can be said for some of these places.

The first feature of note on the rock is the Barbican Gate which would have been the entrance to the complex. The murder hole above the entrance can still be seen and still works, should anyone have some boiling oil to hand 😉 Still to be seen along the wall attached to this gate are narrow defensive windows through which arrows could be shot at wannabe attackers.

Looking back down at the gatehouse
Looking back down at the gatehouse

Beyond the Barbican Gate lie the remnants of the gatehouse, a defensive curtain wall and a deep ditch. Elements of the rock itself were used as a defensive feature. Even in its current ruinous state, it’s easy to get a sense of how tricky it would have been to attack the place. Originally there would have been wooden buildings here too but they have long since vanished.

At the top of the hill are the remains of the 12th-century keep/great hall. Even though it is ruined and is surrounded by large chunks of mangled buildings, one can still get a sense of how impressive a structure it must have been. Thanks to the failed attempt to turn it into a banqueting hall, it has been altered somewhat.

The Great Hall

The great hall
The great hall

It is a pity that this place was so badly damaged all those years ago. In recent years conservation work was carried out by the Office of Public Works so it’s about as safe as these sorts of places can be. It is still well worth visiting, not just to look at the remains of the fortress itself but to admire the views from the top. The lush greenery of The Heath is very beautiful too and apparently can be seen from outer space!

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Retropie (or how to get yourself a retro games console that won’t break the bank)

 

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The Raspberry Pi is a small, cheap and cheerful computer which was originally created to teach schoolchildren to learn how to write programming code. It is roughly the size of a pack of cards and has no hard disk or moving parts. Instead, it boots straight from a micro SD card on which software has been installed. Happily for those of us who are no longer at school and don’t want to do sensible things, it can be turned into a retro games console within a relatively short space of time. The success of the NES Classic Mini, which Nintendo never made enough copies of, shows that there is a lot of interest out there in retro gaming. Seeing as I spotted one of NES Classic Minis for sale the other day for €250, a “home made” version is a nice work-around. Not to mention it being a way to avoid rewarding the greedy gougers who bought those rare little consoles, simply to sell them on at grossly inflated prices. Grrr. Rant over.

Retropie is the software I will be using. For want of a better description, it’s a collection of emulators for various retro computers and consoles, all bundled into one user friendly system. The list of systems it emulates is quite extensive I’m not going to paste the whole lot into here or this page will go on forever. Let’s just say that if you can remember the panic over the Millennium Bug, the computer/console of your youth is likely to be included in Retropie. In theory, the older versions of the Pi (Models 1 & 2) will work with this but really, the newest model is the only game in town. It is much faster than its predecessors and comes with built-in wi-fi, bluetooth and four USB ports. For most people who’ve done any sort of messing around with computers at all, they will have most of the peripherals at home anyway. I set mine up on a computer running Windows 10 and it was a pretty straightforward process.

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What you will need (hardware)

  • Raspberry Pi3, Model B. They can be bought in some shops (e.g. Maplin) but I rarely see them anywhere else. I bought mine online
  • Micro SD card. Minimum 4gb but but the bigger, the better. Yeah yeah, size matters and all that.
  • USB Keyboard
  • HDMI cable
  • Monitor or TV with HDMI port
  • USB joystick/gamepad
  • A Wi-Fi connection and your Wi-Fi password

What you will need (software)
(All of these are free downloads)

*Ahem. This is where you move into that grey/illegal territory. All I’ll say is only download the games you originally owned back in the day. Or better still, make images of your original games which you still own.

Getting Started

  • Install the Win32 Disk Imager and the SD Card Formatter on your PC.
  • Unzip the Retropie file
  • Insert your Micro SD card into your computer.
  • Unplug any external USB storage devices from the computer (a precaution)

Formatting the SD card

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When it comes to formatting the SD card, you can of course use the standard Windows formatting tool. However, it’s better practice to use the free SD formatting tool as supplied by the enigmatic sounding SD Association. It will give the memory card a more thorough formatting and will remove any partitions and modifications other devices may have made to it.
Installing Retropie on the Micro SD Card

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  • Open up the Win32 Disk Imager program. Select the unzipped Retropie disk image (it should have a .img extension)
  • Click the “Write” button. You will be given a warning which is nothing to worry about unless you’ve got something else apart from the memory card plugged into the computer… After a few minutes, the Win32 Disk Imager will finish installing Retropie onto the memory card. It is now bootable and ready to be popped into the Raspberry Pi.
  • Connect the Raspberry Pi’s power supply, keyboard, joypad and HDMI cable. Turn on Raspberry Pi and the TV/Monitor.

I’ve turned it on. What now?

Retropie menu
Retropie menu
  • On boot-up, Retropie will ask to configure the buttons on your joystick/joypad. It’s fairly straightforward and if you mess it up, just plug out the power and restart it 😉 For this, I used an old joypad I’ve had for years and it worked fine. If you’ve got a spare Playstation, X-Box or Nintendo controller lying around, they will work too.
  • A configuration screen will appear next. Using the joypad, navigate to the very last item on the page – Wi-Fi. Select your Wi-Fi network, type in the password and reboot the Raspberry Pi.

Once the Raspberry Pi has been rebooted, bring up Windows Explorer. Type \retropie into the address bar. All going well, a screen like the one above will appear.

  • Open the Roms folder and you will see a long list of folders named after old computer systems contained within it. Simply copy the rom files for the games you wish to play into the folder of the computer/consoles they belonged to.
  • Restart the Raspberry Pi.
Failing miserably at Top Gear on the SNES
Failing miserably at Top Gear on the SNES
  • What you will notice when you reboot into RetroPie is that you can now see the system(s) which now have roms. You an easily choose the game you wish to play from the menu.
  • To exit from a game, press the Select and Start buttons simultaneously.
  • Depending on the size of the memory card you used for this, you could potentially load on a lot of retro games.  I have not got around to testing them all out yet but to date it has been mostly good. The only console it has struggled to emulate has been the N64. Goldeneye runs with the speed of an arthritic snail on it. Other games were fine.

Some observations/notes (as much for myself as anyone else 😉 )

Where’s the sound?

I don’t know if this is an issue for other people but I could get no sound from my Raspberry Pi. To resolve it, I put the Micro SD card into the computer, opened up config.txt in Notepad and removed the # from in front of the hdmi_drive#2 text

Why aren’t all the supported computers and consoles on the main menu?

In order to keep the size of the original Retropie download down to a mere 600mb, it doesn’t bundle all of the systems on the original install file. The additional ones can be added later

I’m going to use a different emulator for the Amiga

I love the Commodore Amiga. I wrote my B.A. Thesis on an A600 back in the day – no wonder my eyesight’s gone to pot! My favourite Amiga emulator is Amibian so it merits a memory card all of its own 🙂

Adventures in bad food #1: The Tayto cheese and onion chocolate bar

In Ireland, Tayto crisps are something of an institution. Indeed, the company which makes Tayto crisps to this day was the first to bring the humble cheese and onion crisp to the market. These days the Tayto empire extends far beyond fancy hipster Crushed Sea Salt & Aged Vinegar crisps. They have a theme park and this is usually the only place to buy the Tayto crisp and chocolate bar. Yep, you read that correctly. A chocolate bar that’s a mixture of cheese and onion potato crisps and chocolate.

Back in 2013 the bar was sold for a while in shops around Ireland and of course, they initially sold out because of their rareness. Think of it as a chocolate version of the infamously scarce Nintendo NES Classic. After the initial run sold out, they didn’t appear to sell so well. One theory is that the world wasn’t ready for a crisp and chocolate bar. Another might just be that the chocolate they used in the bar wasn’t up to scratch and let the side down.

Anyway, being the owner of a chocolate silicone mould, I thought I would have a go at recreating this with better chocolate. So here goes…

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The ingredients for this couldn’t be simpler. A bag of Tayto crisps and a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate. I melted the chocolate and used some of the crisps from the bag.  Unlike a video on YouTube which I’ve seen, I didn’t use a fire extinguisher to break up the crisps 😀

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I then put the mixture into my silicone mould, stuck it in the fridge and left it there overnight. Here is the end result.

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And there you have it… The idea of a chocolate crisp bar continues to horrify and fascinate people in equal measures. I think my bar tastes better with the Cadbury’s chocolate (other brands are available as the BBC likes to point out) but it’s still something I can’t make up my mind about.

Smeaton’s Tower

Former offshore lighthouse, now relocated on the mainland

Lighthouses by their very nature can be tricky things to get to. So when one which was originally out at sea – perched on a dangerous windswept reef for good measure – moves to the mainland, why not? The lighthouse in question is called Smeaton’s Tower these days and has been standing in a park in Plymouth for well over a century at this stage. Originally it was known as the (third) Eddystone Lighthouse and was built on rocks which bear the same name. The name Eddystone Rocks is a little misleading because they’re not just a few random rocks 19km off the English coast but a large, dangerous reef. Needless to say, many a seagoing craft met a watery end on the reef and there is still a lighthouse out there. Even though this lighthouse is no longer serving the purpose for which it was built, it is still more than just an oversized garden ornament in a public park.

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The ill-fated first and second Eddystone lighthouses

The first lighthouse to be built on the reef was a tower designed by a man named Henry Winstanley. It was completed in 1698 but lasted just 5 years. It was swept away during the great Storm of 1703, killing 6 people including Winstanley himself who had been making modifications to the tower at the time. The second one designed by John Rudyard was completed in 1709 and remained in situ until 1755 when it was destroyed by fire. Its unfortunate 94 year old lighthouse keeper died several days later after swallowing molten lead which was falling from the burning lantern room at the top of the tower. Somewhat bizarrely, the piece of lead which killed him survives to this day.

When it came to building a third lighthouse, engineer John Smeaton was entrusted with the task.  He based the shape of it on that of an oak tree, a structure from nature which had proved to be rather good at withstanding the elements. He went back to Roman times for the type of mortar he used – hydraulic lime is what was used in the Pantheon in Rome and we know how long that has lasted. Crucially, hydraulic lime sets underwater which made it ideal for the job in hand. The lighthouse itself was built from dovetailed blocks of granite, precision cut and interlocking once they were assembled. The blocks were worked on in Plymouth, not very far from where the tower now stands. They were shipped out to sea and the lighthouse built on the reef. After over 3 years of work, the lighthouse finally came into operation in 1759.

The stump of Smeaton's tower, with its replacement lighthouse in the background
The stump of Smeaton’s Tower at sea, just in front of the lighthouse that was built to replace it

The lighthouse operated successfully out at sea until the rocks on which it was built began to succumb to erosion. It was noted in 1877 that any time large waves hit, the lighthouse would shake. A replacement lighthouse was commissioned and built close by and it survives to this day. When that was completed in 1879, Smeaton’s lighthouse fell into darkness.

Thankfully the original plan to blow up the lighthouse didn’t come to fruition. It was dismantled and brought back to Plymouth, where it was reassembled on Plymouth Hoe. In 1884 the rebuilt tower was renamed as Smeaton’s Tower in honour its creator. It has remained open to the public since then. The remnants of the lighthouse’s foundations can still be seen at sea, close to the tower which replaced it. Interestingly, the design of the replacement lighthouse wasn’t a million miles away from Smeaton’s tower. While it was still in operation, a Scottish engineer called Robert Stevenson visited it. He tweaked Smeaton’s ideas when designing the Bell Rock lighthouse off the Scottish coast. When the time came to build the 4th Eddystone lighthouse, engineer James Douglass used Stevenson’s specifications. If the Stevenson name sounds familiar, it’s probably because his grandson Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island. The Stevensons were something of a lighthouse building dynasty and there have been books and documentaries made about them.

What’s inside?

The bottom part of the tower isn’t original, of course, and has some spiral steps up to the first floor. After that though, it’s all ladders. Unlike the two other lighthouses I’ve been in which had spiral staircases along the walls, this one has floors with the same shape as Polo Mints. The different rooms in the tower are furnished with a mixture of genuine and replica furniture. There is a table which was in the actual lighthouse. Perhaps the most startling piece of furniture in the place was the bed. Living on an off-shore lighthouse was not the job for you if you were a tall person who didn’t like sleeping in cupboards.

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This, believe it or not, is a bed!

One of the notices on the wall reminds visitors that this is an 18th-century building that was designed for 3 people. Looking around the building, it’s hard not to wonder how tough life must have been for the 3 people living and working there at any time. Cramped is one word to describe the conditions. On the other hand, these guys were probably the nimblest ladder climbers around.

Looking downstairs into the bedroom
Looking downstairs into the bedroom

At the top of the lighthouse is the lantern room, complete with a replica of the candle holder which would’ve been there at the start. These days it offers a nice view over Plymouth and out to sea. On a good day it is possible to see out as far as the Eddystone rocks and where the story began. Plymouth itself was bombed extensively during World War II, destroying a lot of the city. It’s a miracle this wonderful building didn’t bite the dust too.

The lantern room at the top of the lighthouse
The lantern room at the top of the lighthouse

Date of visit: 5th October 2013

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Loop Head Lighthouse

Loop Head lighthouse, now open to the public

Loop Head peninsula is situated on Ireland’s south-western coast, on the north side of the Shannon Estuary. The peninsula itself is a beautiful place to visit but as anyone who knows me will confirm, it was the lighthouse that drew me here. In recent years, the Commissioner for Irish lights (the body who run the lighthouses in Ireland) has been marketing a small number of lighthouses around the country as tourist destinations. Some as places for the public to visit, some as self-catering accommodation for tourists. Loop Head lighthouse straddles both camps, though I visited as a mere day-tripper looking for an opportunity to climb a tower 😀 The lighthouse keeper’s house on the site isn’t open to the public but photographs of the interior can be seen here 

Like many lighthouses around Ireland, the building on site now isn’t the only one which has stood there over time. Originally it was a 17th century stone cottage, replaced in 1802 by a regular lighthouse. Because of ongoing problems with the light signals coming from this lighthouse, it was decided to replace it with the present tower. Work began on it in 1844 and finished a decade later. The original lighthouse was eventually dismantled and the stone recycled. Or upcycled as they call it these days.

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The visitor’s centre is straight ahead

What’s on site?

The lighthouse itself is worth a visit if only to admire the handiwork of the men who built the tower. The interlocking stairs which run along the walls between the floors are stunning in themselves. It is still a working lighthouse to this day so I got a fleeting glimpse of the lantern in operation as we moved between floors. We were “whooshed” up and down the lighthouse rather quickly so I didn’t have a chance to take many photos. It was a shame it was a dull, overcast day because it reduced visibility a bit. Still, it wasn’t a wasted journey by any means.

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The only pic I got of the interior of the lighthouse. The stairs is wonderful though

The visitor’s centre is basic enough, with the usual multimedia displays, interactive screens, memorabilia etc. I was surprised to see there wasn’t some sort of coffee shop on site. The two vending machines which sell drinks and snacks were broken. Hmm…this is starting to turn into a TripAdvisor review 😀 I hope that over time they will develop the visitor’s centre further and add more facilities. Unlike the similar (better) visitor’s centre at Hook Head, they’re not over-burdened with existing buildings. Indeed, the toilets are in a portacabin outside. Not that I’m going to fault them for that – I’ve been in far far worse water closets 😀

While we were at the top of the lighthouse, the tour guide pointed out an area a little further down the headland with a connection to World War II. Ireland remained neutral during the war but over 80 navigation signs with the word EIRE were set into the ground along the coast. These were for American pilots to identify where they were flying. There was one of these signs at Loop Head, along with a hut which now lies in ruins. It is a shame that this hut has been left there like a pile of rubble. It is part of our history and would be an interesting addition to the area.

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The ruined remnants of the lookout hut

The headland is a lovely place to walk around, even on an overcast day. Someone said to me that they’d spotted dolphins further back up along the headland. By the time I got there though, there wasn’t a flipper to be seen. Oh well….

Lough Boora Parklands

Lough Boora Parklands, former Bord Na Móna works re-purposed as a nature park

The Irish Midlands, where I hail from, are well known for their extensive boglands. Indeed, that’s where this site got its name…after a fashion. I may blog about them in the future once I get all the turf mould out of my hair and recover from the insect bites 😀 Anyway, this post is about an interesting use for a bog once it has been stripped of its peat.

The Background
The original peat bog at Lough Boora was harvested extensively by Bord na Móna, a government agency set up in the 1940s to develop Ireland’s peat bogs. This mostly meant them cutting lots and lots of turf for several decades. At its peak, Boora Bog yielded 100 tonnes of peat per year. This would help explain why there wasn’t a lot left by the end of the 1970s. Cutaway bog by its very nature isn’t land that’s much use for anything. This is what’s nice about this park. The wheels were set in motion back in 1994 when Bord na Móna management and locals decided to turn it into an amenity area.

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What’s there

What’s great about the Lough Boora parklands is that visitors can do and see things at their own place. There’s a nice little visitor’s centre where you can get maps, get useful information and grab something to eat and drink. Outside you can hire all sorts of bicycles if you fancy cycling around the park. Tandems, bikes with trailers, mountain bikes etc. There are marked routes around the area, ranging in length from 3km to 22km.

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60 Degrees by Kevin O’Dwyer

What mostly caught my eye, though, were the sculptures. Some are there since the park’s establishment in 2002 and have lasted well despite the wonderful Irish climate. Being a Pink Floyd nut, my favourite one is probably 60 Degrees (see above) because it reminds me of the cover of Dark Side of the Moon. Also very striking are the original bog trains which are near the visitor’s centre. They’re a reminder of the work that was done on the bog.

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Sky Train by Michael Bulfin

As well as the sculptures, all of which are worth having a look at, there is an eco-theme running through the park. Boora Lake itself is within the confines of the park but there are other lakes and wetlands close by. There is even a bird hide just outside the park for those who like to watch 😀 The park was quite busy the day I was there, probably thanks to it being a sunny Saturday. Despite this, I didn’t have to wander far to find peace and solitude. It is the sort of place where there is something for everyone. Families with children of all ages, people who want to walk, people who want to look at wildlife, weirdos with cameras trying to photograph sculptures 😀 … Like James Bond, I shall return.

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Dún na Sí

A visit to Dún na Sí Heritage Park, Moate, Co. Westmeath

One in an occasional series of places I visit for the first time, even though they’re no distance from my house.

Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park is situated just outside Moate, Co. Westmeath. It’s a park of two halves. One part is free for anyone to visit and is chock-full of sculptures, paths and fun things that make small children run around very fast. The other is what could loosely be described as a miniature Bunratty Folk village crossed with a pet farm. The day I visited, the tour guide was off so there was a reduced entry charge into the heritage park. The pleasant lady at the front desk furnished me with a leaflet containing a map so off I went.

The heritage park has replicas of the sorts of houses our ancestors would have lived in over the centuries. They were modest dwellings but none were as basic as the one-roomed mud hut. It’s sobering to think that entire families lived in such structures once upon a time. Because they were built from mud (as indeed the one here appears to be), very few of them have survived to the present day.

The rural museum has an extensive collection of farm machinery, all brightly painted and in far better condition than anything I’ve ever seen on a farm! Some of the machines don’t look like they’d pass modern day health & safety regulations, what with the many spikes and sharp edges they had.

I was also delighted to see a penny farthing bicycle leaning against a wall. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in real life before. It’s easy to see why this particular style of bike went out of fashion and never came back again.

The main sculpture in the park is Lugh’s Spear. Lugh was an Irish god who seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to Christopher Lambert in Highlander. Set into a hill, it looks like Lugh and his spear are about to emerge at any moment. Unfortunately the sun was in the wrong part of the sky when I was taking photos so they didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped. It’s still pretty cool though.

Some parts of the exhibition weren’t open. Perhaps this was because the tour guide wasn’t there. So I didn’t get to see the Scéal or Science parts

On the other side of the car park was the free section of the park. Unlike the heritage park which was fairly quiet, it was filled with families enjoying the spring sunshine. There are all sorts of interesting sculptures dotted around the place. It’s an ongoing project and the pieces are the brainchildren of secondary school students. On the edge of the park is something all geography students will have learned about – a Turlough. These are a type of lake which fill with water during the winter, then disappear again (sometimes in a matter of hours) when the weather improves. The Turlough was still there but I intend to check up on it over the coming months to see has someone pulled the plug on it yet 😉

All in all, I was very impressed with Dún na Sí and would recommend it to anyone. Having said that, I thought the entry fee into the heritage park was on the steep side and I thought the reduced €5 was enough to be paying for what it was.

The Long Man of Kilfane

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The Long Man has been leaning against a wall in this church for rather a long time

Hidden at the end of a peaceful country lane in south Co. Kilkenny is a ruined 14th-century church. The church itself is quite interesting in its own right but standing inside its walls is something quite unusual. Carved out of limestone and standing against one of its walls is a 13th century effigy of a Norman knight. The Long Man of Kifane or Long Cantwell. It’s thought that this effigy was once the lid of a sarcophagus but it has been propped against the wall of Kilfane Church for as long as anyone can remember. Just over 2m in height, it’s the tallest effigy of its type in the British Isles. What exactly effigy “of its type” means I’m not sure. He cuts a fine dash though.

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One look at the knight and you can see he is armed to the teeth and ready for battle. A surprising number of clues can be picked up about him, just by looking at what he’s wearing and carrying. The main one is the coat of arms on his shield. It’s the coat of arms of the Cantwell family who were lords in the area at the time. It is believed this is Thomas de Cantwell who died in 1319, though chances are he was nowhere nearly as tall as his limestone likeness. He’s also wearing combat gear – a skullcap, chainmail and spurs on his feet. The spurs mean he fought on horseback. His legs are crossed in a similar fashion to effigies elsewhere, meaning that he probably fought in The Crusades. Usefully for a knight about to head into battle, he’s also carrying a sword.

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As for the church itself, it dates back to the 14th century. It has a priest’s seat which is thought to belong to an older church. According to the internet which is always right, there is medieval paint to be seen. I didn’t notice any but maybe it was just too subtle for my eyes. There is also a tower attached to the church which is where the incumbent priest would’ve lived. Although the church is ruined and in the middle of nowhere, it’s a really lovely site to visit. I visited it one summer’s evening and even though the crows were making a racket overhead, it wasn’t creepy but beautiful and restful. It would appear that the graveyard is still occasionally used, judging by the modern headstones on the site.

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Taking baby steps with Linux

Dell Inspiron 1545
Dell Inspiron 1545

I am in the lucky position of having a spare laptop to play around with. It cost me 0c so I can’t quibble with the price. But I might as well give out about it anyway. Nothing screams “I will struggle to run Windows” like a laptop from 2010 (under)powered by a Celeron processor and 2GB of RAM. Having briefly dabbled with a version of Ubuntu running off a DVD a few years ago, I was curious to find out how it’d work installed properly on a computer. So I got downloading.

Which Version?

My Desktop
My desktop

This is where the fun starts. There seems to be an endless selection of Linux distributions (distros) out there. I don’t think I have enough years left on this planet to try them all so I tested a handful of the more popular ones. Even though all the Linux distros are quite alike, they have their own quirks. In the end I settled on Linux Mint. It runs very nicely on my creaking old laptop and has almost fooled me into thinking it’s a half decent machine. Also, because it is such a popular distro, there is plenty of help online for users. More on this later…

The Good

Linux Mint desktop
My Linux Mint desktop

On a superficial level, Linux Mint operates a lot like Windows. There’s still a Start button, menus, windows and plenty of familiar software. Skype, VLC Player, Firefox, Libre Office, Dropbox,  Steam and Spotify are just a few. It also comes with quite a lot of open source and paid software written especially for the platform.  There is also the option of installing and running some Windows programs using Wine . It works very successfully with some programs but can be problematic with others.

The enigmatically named Synaptic Package manager is Linux’s equivalent of the App Store familiar to smartphone users. It’s the simplest, most straightforward way of installing software.

The Bad

Sad Penguin
Just when everything seemed to be going so well.

Installing Linux Mint was painless but I ran into problems straight away because of the wireless card in the laptop. Of all the laptops in all the world, I had to own the model that had a card Linux doesn’t recognise 😦 It worked fine when connected to the router by an ethernet cable but who wants that when you have a laptop? To cut a long story short, I bought an inexpensive little USB Wi-Fi adaptor made by Plugable. I went with Plugable because they make devices which are compatible with Linux. Not all devices are. Once the adapter arrived, it plugged and played like a regular device.

The Ugly

The Terminal
The Terminal

I’ve done well to get this far without mentioning The Terminal. When I need to open this up, I know there is a chance my braincells will start to hurt. I’m still sorry I tried to install the Tunnelbear VPN on this. Basically, if you want to keep your sanity and enjoy using your perfectly nice, functioning new operating system, don’t try anything out of the ordinary. The Linux people on internet forums speak geek and it will melt your brain cells.

I mentioned at the top of this piece that I’d plumped for Linux Mint because it’s so popular. It’s easier to find answers to questions tailored to this operating system.

From my limited experimenting with it so far, peripherals such as printers and scanners may be troublesome. I shall update this post should I try to install any of these.

The conclusion….so far

I’ve no regrets about installing it on this laptop. If you have an old computer or laptop which isn’t being used, then, by all means, give it a go. Many distros of Linux, including Mint, come with the option of trying it without installing. I like Linux but I don’t love it. 20+ years of Windows has done the damage.

And finally

I stumbled across this very useful web page not long after I installed Linux Mint and followed the instructions.

The other Kilkenny castle

Kilkenny Castle at night
Kilkenny Castle at night (obviously)

Kilkenny City’s most famous tourist attraction is Kilkenny Castle. It’s large, it has been lovingly restored both inside and out, it overlooks the River Nore on one side (every tourist who has visited Kilkenny has taken a photo like the one above) and has a wide-open street leading up to it on the other. It has a long and interesting history, some nice grounds and gardens which are can be accessed by anyone for free. In short, it’s worth visiting, even if some people on TripAdvisor have complained that you can’t park right outside the door and walk in. Perhaps at some stage, I’ll write something about the castle. For now, though, I thought I’d write something about the castle nobody travels to Kilkenny to see 🙂

Maudlin Castle
Maudlin Castle

A 10 minute walk from the famous castle will take you back across the river and on to Maudlin Street. Today it’s a narrow, one-way residential area with houses of all shapes and sizes scattered around the place. Halfway up the street, mostly ignored and locked up, stands a 25m tall 15th-century tower house. The castle formed part of a medieval hospital in the area and it is believed it stands on the site of an older building. The hospital was originally established sometime in the 13th/14th century to treat leprosy. At the time, it was believed that leprosy was connected with sexually transmitted diseases. And so, the hospital was named after Mary Magdalene, a woman whose name has been attached to a lot of undesirable things. Despite the spelling of the modern day street/castle as maudlin, it’s pronounced locally as “Mad-Lin”. Not so different to Magdalene when you say it out loud.

The old cemetery
The old cemetery

The rest of the hospital complex has long since vanished but it’s believed there were gardens and orchards in the area. There are still a few remnants from the hospital on the street. There’s what appears to be a partial tower which might have formed part of the city walls at some stage. Off the street is an old cemetery which surely must have been used to bury the dead when the hospital was still open. There once was a church here too but it’s largely gone. The castle itself became a retirement home of sorts for members of wealthy local families. Archaeological digs carried out in the area suggest that beef, lamb, bacon and wildfowl were on the menu.

The castle still retains its garderobe (a.k.a. the toilet!)
The castle still retains its garderobe (a.k.a. the toilet!)

Today the castle is locked up and mostly ignored. As an article in the local newspaper pointed out a few years ago, nobody knows what’s in the castle because it’s always locked up. It may or may not have a roof at this stage. There appear to be stone steps inside but as to how far they go…again it’s a mystery. So it just stands there unheralded at the side of a little street, mostly unnoticed by passing motorists and pedestrians. Perhaps the newly launched Medieval Mile  will give this castle a little more attention than it has had to date.

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