Inside a Small Box of Chocolates

Farran Village, County Cork, Ireland-

In September of 2006, George and I decided to experience the Land of the Irish on our own without the aid of a touring company. We did this because we had a full two weeks to explore a place we had never been, and hey, it appeared on the map to be simply a small island. We would be free to roam with plenty of time to see everything by accommodating ourselves without the baggage (sorry, can’t help myself) another couple might bring along. We have learned in our travels that with each addition of another couple, the time spent on waiting and decision making seems to advance at a logarithmic rate with each new couple.  To our dismay, we were only able to see HALF of this incredible history-laden island (Ahem; take note, fellow travelers).

Ireland seems to pride itself on it’s ability to be hospitable in that almost every other house has a B & B sign out in front of it. We did not know this prior to going to Ireland.  We had paid a rather-ish small fee here in America to assure that we would have a place to rest our souls each evening just in case we’d find ourselves lost in the Land of the Plenty-of-Celts. This seemed to work out fine for us most of the time, but we spent way too much time looking for our reservations that could have been spent in a local pub listening to that cheerful Irish music and making International friendships. In addition, I’d like to say there was a vast array of styles of living in these pre-arranged accommodations. But, like they say, it’s like a box of chocolates. Had we just walked up to a home of our choice, we probably would have been more comfortable some of the nights.

In our adventures throughout the southern part of the country we saw several billboards advertising a Ballyseede Castle in County Kerry, an authentic and refurbished one, open to the public for the staying and what they thought might be rich Americans. We had arranged to stay one night in a castle when we were planning our trip; We were hoping this was the one. When we arrived, we were welcomed with a short tour and were told our room was not yet ready.  We opted to have a drink in the library. The bar library: dark, enchanting, friendly.  This castle was elegantly appointed with satin and brocades, replete with knight’s armor, dining hall, side-room bar library, moat, resident ghost (Hannah) and two live Irish Wolfhounds at the entrance (very asleep, apparently not bothered in the least by apparitions). All this on acres of green… just green… front and back, forests to follow in the distance.  We were prepared to sell our dated car back home if need be to be able to spend just one night in this wondrous abode. As it was, that was not necessary.

After a night in amazing luxury, the next day we seemed to have gone from riches to rags in our accommodations for the evening. However, we were later to discover that our host , Oliver O’Callaghan, was a treasure trove of local history, and was more than willing to join us while we partook in Irish oatmeal in the morning.  He was quite outspoken, making sure we were aware that the world-famous Blarney Castle (think Blarney Stone) was historically “full of crap and the English.” Hmmm. Well, after all, we WERE in Ireland and if you’ve ever read any books about Irish/English history, you’d understand. At that, he recounted a story about a different castle, one somewhat close in proximity to the very B & B we were breakfasting in.  He went on to describe how we should check it out on our way to Kinsale that day if we wanted to see a REAL castle, giving us directions AND a book of B & B’s in that area and others.

Standing up and clearing the dishes, he returned from the kitchen and added, “I’m going that way.  I’ll take you there!”

We packed up our bags and did indeed follow Oliver down several country roads we would never have found on our own. Soon we arrived at Kilcrea Franciscan Friary (est. 1465 A.D.), sitting quietly by itself in a bit of historical ruination. Oliver got out of his car, and to our amazement, walked up to the locked iron gate, took out a key and opened it! He then began to share stories about the place as he invited us to climb the tower (which we did… scary, considering the on-going natural destruction of the place). Apparently this was the place the local people would hide in from the Vikings when they were in town centuries ago. He continued to give us a personalized tour and discourse of the abbey as we walked the grounds.  When we came to the main part of the church (now roofless), he went on to explain that when the English (there they are again) took over Ireland, they did not let the Irish Catholics bury their dead on “English” land.  So, the Irish would bury their dead INSIDE the Friary because it “belonged to God.”  He also related a story about a young Irish Roman Catholic, a Captain in the Hungarian Hussars Regiment of Austria (1746-1773) by the name of Art O’Leary.  He was hot-tempered and became involved in a feud with a Protestant land owner and magistrate, Abraham Morris, when he returned home from Austria. Morris was also Sheriff of County Cork at the time and  laid charges against Art following Art’s alleged attack on himself and the wounding his servant.  The feud continued. Morris demanded that Art sell him the fine steed that O’Leary had brought back from Austria for 5 Pounds. The law of that age was that no Catholic could own a horse worth more than 5 Pounds and could be forced to sell a more valuable one on demand of any Protestant. Art refused and challenged Morris to a duel, which Morris declined.  Morris then proclaimed Art could be shot on sight because he was now considered  an outlaw. Morris led a contingent of soldiers that tracked Art and was killed with the first shot. Later, Morris was killed by Art’s brother while Morris was in a window of a place he was staying in Cork. To this day O’Leary’s tomb rests in the Kilcrea Friary with his epitaph which we saw and photographed. On our way out of the abbey, Oliver walked to his car, opened the trunk, and showed us a beautiful picture book he had written and published about the history of the Friary.  It was his only copy and he had no more. We were not surprised when we saw it; After all, we were now rich with personal information about the area and its people given to us by our Oliver. However we WERE indeed impressed with his study and knowledge.  Above all, we were grateful for his gift of sharing his time and this place of history with us.  If there really is any truth in the Box of Chocolates theory, we found a sweet Irish Creme in this one man.  Thank you, Oliver O’Callahaghan.




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