Firstly, as I haven't yet mentioned this in a blog post, I should probably introduce the topic:
The OPW Heritage Card Series!
While Carl and I were walking we would come across castles, manors, ancient Irish sites - and gradually we started to notice that all these sites were being run by the same organisation: the Office of Public Works, or the OPW. Their responsibility is the protection and conservation of Ireland's built heritage. The OPW acquires places of rich heritage and sets about preserving it. Nearly all heritage sites have a small entry fee that goes towards this restoration and upkeep. Another option is to buy a OPW Heritage Card, which gives you access to all the heritage sites for a year. What better way for us to keep exploring while I was recovering from my injury than this!
Location: In Boyle town, Co. Roscommon
Boyle Abbey was one of the heritage sites that inspired the Heritage Card Series idea. Only a short trip down the road from Carl's family home, we visited the abbey a few weeks after the Dingle Way (as I could by then very slowly hobble around).
It's an impressive and well preserved Cistercian Monastery which was founded in the 12th century under the patronage of the local ruling family, the MacDermotts. It was converted into a castle/barracks during the 17th and 18th centuries, but restoration has focused on preserving it's longer life as an Abbey.
When you enter the grounds you walk down to a small cabin and buy your ticket. The guides give a quick overview of the site, and then give you laminated sheets full of information on different aspects of the buildings in front of you.
As this was our first Heritage Site I was blown away as I learnt of the different preservation techniques used in the restoration of places like this: A long row of arches had been filled in while the Abbey was being used as a Military Barracks, and when the OPW went to return the arches to their original state they realised that that side of the building no longer had proper foundations. Each brick of the arches was then given a unique letter/number combination, mapped out, and then taken down. New foundations were laid, and each block was put back exactly where it was taken from. The arches are now clear and line the side of what I can only assume was an amazing church.
As Carl and I sat on a wall and just enjoyed being somewhere quiet and beautiful, we talked about how few of these places we'd been to, how easy they were to visit, and just how much heritage was out there for us to share with people. We'd past heritage sites while walking, so this could even be a project that we continue on once we were back on the road again.