Syndia and I have hired a car for the next week. Syndia has the week off and, since I don't yet have a contract, we're going exploring.

Our first stop for the day was Knappogue Castle, which is on the way to Quin. It's quite a well-preserved castle (unlike many in the area) because Cromwell, rather than razing it to the ground, actually used it as a headquarters for some time. The castle is also well-known in current times for hosting stage-Irish medieval banquets, although, unlike its main competitor in that area, Bunratty Castle, the guests are actually provided with cutlery rather than having to use their fingers.

Unfortunately, the fine print in Lonely Planet was a little too fine, and Syndia (our illustrious navigator and tour guide, given that I was happily concentrating on rocketing down tiny little country lanes at [surprisingly] almost the speed limit) failed to notice that the castle isn't actually open to the public until April. Oops We did, however, get a good look at the castle gates, which were quite impressive, rather forbidding and very closed.

Onwards via Kilmurry to Quin, the town of (surprise!) Quin Abbey. The abbey is (was) a Franciscan Friary, founded in 1433. The last friar passed away in 1820 or thereabouts, although the abbey had apparently been in decline for a few hundred years beforehand.

One disconcerting thing about Quin Abbey was that there were just so many graves - and not just in the attached cemetery, but in the abbey itself! There were so many that in some parts of the abbey's surroundings, there was no access other than via walking over some poor unfortunate's grave. Some of the tombstones had actually had their inscriptions worn away by countless footsteps over the hundreds of years that they'd been in situ.

Our next stop was Kilkee via Ennis and Kilrush. Kilkee looks like the Irish equivalent of Brighton (both the English Brighton, which I haven't yet seen, and the Melburnian Brighton, which is, again, about the same as the English version from all I've heard) in that it's a holiday town for the affluent in Summer and a ghost town in the cooler seasons, except for the odd Scandanavian bathing in the frigid waters and exclaiming about how beautifully warm they are. Whew. You can take a breath now.

We stopped for lunch at Myle's Creek pub. Syndia had a seafood chowder that had more seafood in it than she could poke a stick at, and I had a piece of an excellent shepherd's pie. (Should that be "shepherds' pie"? It certainly served more than one person...)

Incidental memo to self: when in Ireland, if one is cold and doesn't know what to order, the soup of the day is always good. It's almost always served with a crusty bread called "soda bread", whose distinguishing feature is that it's made with baking soda instead of yeast. It's a heavy, brown, whole-grain bread that I'm sure my mother would love - and, surprisingly enough, I actually like it myself.

The buildings in Kilkee are a bit faded and the "exhilarating" and "fine, sheltered" beach (according to Lonely Planet) looks like a narrow, barren, arctic crescent of pale sand. To be fair, in Summer it's probably better than St Kilda Beach, in that at least the sand doesn't feel like gravel.

The view from the cliffs, however, is spectacular. Bleak and forbidding and with a biting wind, they're reminiscent of Victoria's Great Ocean Road on a very angry day.

There are some ruins on a rocky outcrop that was once part of the coast before the sea wore away its connecting bridge to the mainland. I can't imagine wanting to live in a stone hut in such an unforgiving, barren place.