A Kildare tourist attraction like no other

An Irishwoman’s Diary: Two tourists shout at us from the top of tower

Kildare, Mario informs me, is packed with all sorts of history. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Kildare, Mario informs me, is packed with all sorts of history. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

 

Did you ever get the feeling that someone is watching you? Like spying on you? I’m driving through the Curragh on my way to Kildare, because ever since the town was granted its heritage status 10 years ago, I’ve been promising myself a proper guided tour and that’s my mission today.

The feeling of being watched persists but I shake off my shivers, reminding myself that I’m on military ground and there must be a sentry or two on duty. So I continue on to the gates of the cathedral in Kildare to meet a friend, Mario, a local history expert.

On his advice we decide to keep the best wine, the cathedral itself, until last and we begin our walking tour of the town.

As we make our way down the narrow back streets of Kildare that feeling of being watched niggles me again. And no wonder. Mario points to the top of the round tower where two people are waving and shouting. “Tourists,” he mutters and together we laughingly recite the old catchphrase , “Good for the business but lower the tone.” And we walk on, aware now, that we are indeed, being watched.

Kildare, Mario informs me, is packed with all sorts of history and in fact, there’s evidence to suggest the Book of Kells may not be the Book of Kells at all but the Book of Kildare. Another masterpiece, The Book of Leinster is said to have been created in Kildare Abbey and the first words of English ever written in Ireland are contained in it. Would you believe it was commissioned in the 12th century by Diarmuid Mach Murchú, King of Leinster, who invited the Normans to Ireland

The Book of Leinster is preserved in Trinity College and is renowned, not for colourful illuminations, but the perfection of its calligraphy.

Three abbeys

We’re walking through an area that was once called Claymore Street because it followed the circle of the town’s defensive wall – An Claoi Mór. I’m getting the lowdown on the real Kildare and when we turn a corner I see them again – the tourists on top of the tower waving down at us from that great height. Oh yes, we’re being watched alright.

On making our way back towards the square I see an unusual plaque on a wall. It recalls the pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem in 1822 of Fr Broughall, who battled severe ill health all the way to complete his journey. He died at the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy and is buried there.

Into the sunset

At the gates of the cathedral we meet St Peter himself, the man with the keys, and he’s rattling them. Could it really be closing time? We stand there dismayed – no cathedral for us today – there would have to be, not just another day, but several more to see everything of this heritage town.

Hallooooooooooow!

The two tourists at the top of the round tower roar at us with much waving of arms.

Then the penny drops. I look at St Peter. I look at his bunch of keys and point upwards asking – “Did you by any chance lock up the Round Tower?”

“Yes, ages ago.”

Mario and I pause, mouths wide open in astonishment. The tourists on top of the tower?

When they are finally released these two very flustered tourists from Hungary sort-of growl at us. They had been locked up in the tower for a couple of hours. St Peter is very apologetic but the Hungarians don’t seem to understand a word of English. Maybe they do but they can’t find enough to vent their anger on the three of us. They growl again, then cycle off into the sunset.

Now we can allow ourselves to burst into laughter. “What if we hadn’t come back?” Mario asks. We laugh some more. St Peter doesn’t see the funny side. Now he growls at us, pulls the gates shut and locks us outside the Pearly Gates of Kildare cathedral and he follows the tourists into a magnificent Kildare sunset.

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