The gloriously sunny south east
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 ready to cross the River Suir