People come to Cashel to see the Rock, the venerable citadel of the kings of Munster. But we found the old seat under re-construction, half obscured by scaffolding and tarps. We never went in. From the hilltop we caught sight of another stony relic in a field below that flared our imagination even more. Hore Abbey (funny name) is like so many secondary sights on the island: neglected, beautiful, lonely and worth the walk.
Golden is like so many Irish small towns affected by the recession. There were more closed storefronts than open - of the three pubs, only two seemed in good working order and a little butcher's was the most lively spot among the blank windows. There was a steady stream of traffic on the road, but nobody was stopping. A woman at the Spar grocery (which seemed to have replaced an older grocer's) told us we should continue on to Athassel Priory.
The abbey is reached by a low medieval bridge over brackish water. Goat willows and reeds were sunk in the muck, and cow patties are littered here and there in the field, but once inside the ground was firm and dry and close-mown. A few birds were still in the chinks and holes where they'd built their nests, high up on the soaring walls.
In the massive nave are a collection of headstones - some were placed back to the 14th and 15th century, some are as recently dated as the 1980's. Faceless statues stand along the walls and waterspout gargoyles jut from the crumbling crenelations. We could see our own footsteps in the grass, and the marks of one car in the soft earth, but otherwise there was no sign of recent humanity. If you want to feel great solitude, standing in the shadow of antiquity can deepen the sensation.
And, just as we were getting ourselves worked up, we spotted this tumbledown tower house across the water. We could never figure out what it was called, or anything about it. Just another pile of stone, surrounded by fences and bracken, sitting quietly in the autumn sunshine.
In the countryside around, the hidden "towers" are legendary - everyone wanted to know if we'd been or were planning on going. "They paved the river with cobblestones, they put up huge towers and planted dozens of oaks," we were told by one woman. "And then, before they could get started on the real castle, the money ran out."
Today, there's a very atmospheric walk up along a stream, past the first gates - which serve as a bridge - and up to the second, gothic revival structure. Weeds grow from cracks in the stone, the old iron gates are rusted and swing loosely on their hinges, the forest around is creeping ever closer to the walls.