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Home was an Irish castle for Chapman travelers

August 19, 2010

Photos by Mary Platt

For two Chapman staff members and a congenial group of their friends, home was a castle in County Tipperary, Ireland, for about ten days this summer as they based themselves in Castle Lisheen, near the pretty country town of Thurles.  Kris Olsen, vice president of campus planning and operations, his wife Lori Olsen, and Mary Platt, director of communications and media relations, shared the castle accommodations with a gathering of eleven other pals who had met on previous trips, including Judy and Jack Schroeder of Orange, who own Schroeder Studio Gallery on Maple Avenue.  Kris and Lori planned the trip, chose the castle and invited the friends.  “When you have that many people in a castle, the cost of accommodation is actually a lot less than a hotel would be,” said Mary. 

Lisheen Castle is not actually a medieval castle – it’s an 19th-century neo-medieval edifice that was originally built around a Georgian country house.  Gutted by an IRA bomb in 1921 (the IRA feared the large building would be used as a British barracks; ironically, the truce in Ireland’s War of Independence was declared just two weeks after the bombing…), the castle stood derelict until the 1990s, when a local family bought it, rebuilt the entire interior, and converted it into its present luxury self-catering capacity.

“It was very relaxing to just live in one place and use it as a base for touring the surrounding countryside,” says Mary, whose previous visits to Ireland “have always been long drives from B&B to B&B across the emerald hills!”  The group rented cars and would decide day to day what they would do: either gather in small groups and drive to various sights, or relax at the castle.  The long evenings (the sun would set around 10 p.m.) were usually reserved for self-catered dinners at the castle or for trips into town to hear the local traditional-music bands. 

Mary’s particular interest is in ancient Irish folklore and traditions, and although County Tipperary is usually considered “drive-through” country by most tourists — “It’s like the Iowa of Ireland,” Mary says, “with beautiful countryside but not many ‘touristy’ attractions” — she found a wealth of things to see there.  And she got many of the others in the group intrigued with her search for one particular thing — ancient Irish holy wells

“Holy wells are natural springs that were revered in pre-Christian Ireland — because what could be holier than the gift of water springing out of the earth?” Mary explains.  “Most of the wells were Christianized after the time of St. Patrick, and most of them now have saint’s names and traditions attached to them. Many are believed to have curative or healing powers.”  Of course, in rapidly modernizing Ireland, even many of the Irish have forgotten about these ancient places, but with a good map and a lot of research, the group was able to locate several holy wells during their visit, including one fairly near the castle that Judy Schroeder happened to notice an old signpost pointing to.   “We haven’t been able to find mention of it in any research that’s been done, so it may be a new one on the books!” says Mary.

Mary, Kris and Lori embarked on a very interesting drive south from the castle to two remote groupings of 8th- and 9th-century Irish high crosses, in Ahenny and Kilkieran.  “And wouldn’t you know it, in addition to the beautiful high crosses,  there was also a holy well associated with the Kilkieran site,” says Mary, “which included not only a saint’s well but also a small well used just to cure headaches!”

Other sights the group took in included the Rock of Cashel (an important grouping of medieval buildings atop a rocky hill), the historic city of Kilkenny, Birr Castle, Cahir Castle, the Swiss Cottage in Cahir, Holy Cross Abbey, and much more.  A highlight of the trip was getting to know a wonderful group of traditional Irish musicians, known as the Monk’s Band, who performed at various pubs in the Thurles area.  One of the members of Kris and Mary’s group, Christine Flowers, is a fiddler who now lives in Orange County (after spending 20 years as a member of Andy Williams’ orchestra) and performs in the OC area with local Celtic bands.  She got to sit in with the Monks, with all her friends from the castle group cheering her on! 

“The music was incredible,” said Mary, who along with Kris and Lori is a self-described Celtic music fanatic.  “These are people who grew up together and have played together all their lives, in many cases growing up in a long family tradition of Celtic music-making.  Hearing the real music of Ireland in Thurles from these astonishing session bands was truly one of the highlights of this trip.  It was really the trip of a lifetime, with people who I hope will all be friends for a lifetime.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2010 4:44 pm

    Mary, you lucky ducky, you.

    I hope you didn’t get any malarkey stuck to your shoes while you were there.


    PS: Did you post on Facebook that pic of your hair as promised or am I coming after you with a camera as promised? I’m on campus tomorrow. If your pic isn’t up I’ll be over.

  2. August 19, 2010 6:04 pm

    No malarkey, but we brought home plenty of blarney! — Mary

    P.S. I swear to you, the hair looks just the same – it’s not a change you would notice! We’re closed tomorrow for our retreat, so alas!

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