The glo­ri­ously sunny south east

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - PLACES -

IN ev­ery walk with na­ture one re­ceives far more than he seeks. So it was last Au­gust, when we set off in our walk­ing boots, with the weather a lot bet­ter than it is now, along the Water­ford/dun­gar­van Green­way. It is the long­est off-road walk­ing and bi­cy­cling trail in Ire­land at 46km length and at a cost of €15m to con­struct. My wife and two-and-a-half-year-old daugh­ter and I trekked as much as we could in four hours. It was an en­joy­able trek, too, which I would highly rec­om­mend. Great ex­er­cise, great views (three viaducts, a 400m tun­nel, 11 bridges), out in the fresh air and the sun­shine for most of the morn­ing.

Please note: the day be­fore we had been pad­dling on the Blue Flag beach at the pic­turesque — and par­tic­u­larly posh — Dun­more East. (If I had a few quid, which I clearly don’t, I would love to live in this bolt­hole of a cer­tain bling with its al­lur­ing sand­stone cliffs.) So we were try­ing to make this hol­i­day as much geared around the out­doors and fresh air as pos­si­ble.

When the wee bairn got tired on the Green­way, she got into her buggy and I pushed her along the for­mer Mal­low/water­ford rail­way line (and now a prom­i­nent part of Ire­land’s An­cient East tourism pack­age). A lo­cal told us that the last pas­sen­ger train, ap­par­ently be­tween Water­ford and Dun­gar­van, ran 50 years ago.

Water­ford City (to which we re­paired for a well-earned post-walk lunch) goes back a lit­tle fur­ther than 50 years. Sit­ting on the River Suir at the head of Water­ford Har­bour, which is beau­ti­ful when lit-up in the night, Water­ford is Ire­land’s old­est city. The Vik­ings built a set­tle­ment near Water­ford as far back as 853. When you walk down its nar­row streets you can sense the remnants of Water­ford’s Vik­ing past. In­deed when you look out on Water­ford har­bour, you can imag­ine the Vik­ings here in 914 or King Henry II of Eng­land land­ing his fleet in 1171.

There is his­tory ev­ery­where you look here: Regi­nald’s Tower was built by Vik­ings in the 10th cen­tury; dat­ing back to 1741, the Bishop’s Palace pos­sesses a de­canter from 1789, al­legedly the world’s old­est sur­viv­ing piece of Water­ford crys­tal, in the orig­i­nal din­ing room of the man­sion.

We were based for our three days in an­other man­sion of some note, Faith­legg House Ho­tel, an 18th-cen­tury build­ing re­stored to its for­mer glory at no lit­tle ex­pense, six miles out­side the city in the loveli­est coun­try­side imag­in­able on 200 acres. (On the way back in the car to Faith­legg Ho­tel, we stopped at a field by the side of the road where some horses were pok­ing their heads over the fences. I held our mes­merised daugh­ter in my arms as she pet­ted the horses and ner­vously gave them a bite of her ap­ple.)

The site of the ho­tel has a re­mark­able his­tory in it­self. Look­ing out the win­dow, en­joy­ing a lovely din­ner pre­pared by head chef Jenny Flynn, I was lost in my imag­i­na­tion about all that hap­pened here, in what was once the seat of the Ayl­ward Fam­ily for 500 years at Faith­legg Cas­tle. In 1177 King Henry II granted it to the fam­ily who held the cas­tle un­til 1654 when a fella by the name of Cromwell took it off them and gave it to Wil­liam Bolton. In 1783 Cor­nelius Bolton built the mag­nif­i­cent house; he went bank­rupt 49 years later and sold the house and its es­tate to Ni­cholas Power and Margaret Ma­hon. Their youngest daugh­ter Ade­laide is pos­si­bly the sad­dest story of all. Sit­ting in the Ade­laide, the ho­tel’s mag­nif­i­cent large meet­ing room, is an ex­pe­ri­ence in it­self.

Born in 1834, Ade­laide fell in love with John A Blake, the mayor of Water­ford, after meet­ing him at a so­ci­ety ball at Faith­legg. But these were Vic­to­rian times with a Vic­to­rian moral con­duct to match. (Ade­laide was schooled in the very din­ing room where my wife and daugh­ter and I had our sump­tu­ous meals ev­ery night at Faith­legg.) Ni­cholas Power told his daugh­ter that mar­riage to such a man was out of the ques­tion.

It was only when Ni­cholas died that Ade­laide, then prac­ti­cally el­derly for the times at 40-years-of-age, was able to marry Blake, with the per­mis­sion of her brother. Sadly, they were only to en­joy a rel­a­tively short mar­riage as Blake died 13 years later in 1877. Ade­laide, who died aged 77, com­mem­o­rated him (and their hard fought love) with a stained glass win­dow in Faith­legg Church. The man­sion was con­sid­er­able en­larged in 1873. But per­haps they mightn’t have imag­ined the splen­dour it is to­day with its swim­ming pool, award-win­ning spa, gym, 18-hole golf course, ten­nis courts, kids play­ground, beau­ti­ful din­ing rooms and wed­dings ev­ery week­end (per­haps the ghost of Ade­laide Power looks down won­der­ing that she had to wait un­til so late in life to marry the man she loved?)

On our fi­nal day, I took my child for a swim in the ho­tel’s 17m pool while my wife went for a mas­sage and a holis­tic treat­ment at the Es­tu­ary Spa. At noon, we took the car on the Pas­sage East Ferry (a cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence in it­self ) across the River Suir to have a lit­tle nose around Bal­ly­hack Cas­tle, built in and around 1450 by the Knights Hospi­tallers of St John.

The views along the road as we drove along, look­ing down on the teem­ing river, were re­ally some­thing spe­cial. Such was the beauty of it all — this spec­tac­u­lar river val­ley with its breath­tak­ing panoramic views — that we could have been in Switzer­land or Nor­way.

Later that af­ter­noon, we took the Pas­sage East Ferry back to Water­ford once more (the river was fu­ri­ous and the short jour­ney was bumpy and ex­cit­ing this time) to visit the equally scenic beach at Tramore. Our daugh­ter loved play­ing in the rock pools al­most as much as she did eat­ing the ice-cream we bought her lo­cally.

To tire her out fur­ther, we took the lit­tle an­gel for a walk to meet the horses again en route back to Faith­legg.

To quote Barack Obama, if you’re walk­ing down the right path and you’re will­ing to keep walk­ing, even­tu­ally you’ll make progress.

And we did.

Barry Egan

Barry ready to cross the River Suir

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