Friday, May 2, 2014


By Luke Johannessen

The next day of the trip was one of my favorites of the week, as we visited Cahir Castle and Fota Wildlife Park, and drove to stay in Blarney for the night. Located on a small island, surrounded by a strong and deep running river, Cahir was the epitome of defense. The upper battlements had arrow and musket slots to return fire, multiple cannons, and the more Murder Holes than really seemed necessary. The staircase inside the castle itself, like many others was built with careful strategy in mind. Each step was a different height, width, and length and twisted extremely tightly up in a clockwise fashion. From this clockwise position knights would be forced to carry their swords in their left hands giving the defending army coming down the stairs the advantage as it was believed that being left-handed was against nature and religion. From the battlements you could see a thick forest and the river to one side, with a bustling Irish town on the other. Cahir castle has been the sight for the taping of several different movies and television shows as well, including Braveheart, Excalibur, and the Tudors. As much as I enjoyed the castle, it would have been much more fun if they had kept all the doors unlocked and let you really get to all the nooks and crannies of the place. Everywhere I turned there was a chain across the stairwell, or a locked door. What’s the point of finding a secret trapdoor if you can’t go through it?! Even at the top of the chained off stairs there was a locked door (not that I’d know that for sure...) and the dungeons were locked, it was quite disappointing indeed.

The Wildlife Park is definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far. The park was designed as not to have any “obvious barriers” between the visitors and the animals so they would be more easily visible and to allow us to get closer to many of the animals. I was completely unprepared for the animals that I’d be seeing while there, because I didn’t think that the Irish cold would allow for so many exotic animals to live outside in one area. Zebras, Bison, Kangaroos, an incredible variety of species of monkey, giraffes, ducks, cheetahs, you name it they had it! I had never seen most of these animals before and hadn’t ever dreamed that I’d see them in Ireland. I’m still vexed by how they survive in this climate, terribly vexed. One of the first animals we saw were emus, and they are uniquely unsettling birds. Towering above us stepping right up to the electric wire separating us from them, the emus followed us as we walked along the path. Being terrified of birds, I was very nervous to have this large, fast, aggressive one following us. After awhile though it got bored and we continued down the path to the cheetah exhibit, where it was feeding time.

Watching a cheetah eat was equal parts terrifying, marvelous, and disgusting. There was a motorized yellow wire suspended across the length of the pen, from which they hung dead birds and rabbits from and zip them from one end to the other so the cheetahs would run for their dinner. After a short chase, the leader of the pack jumped high into the air and ripped a small bird off the line and trundled off to sit and eat in peace. The second feeding pitted the beta male against the baby of the family, and it was the single largest dead bird I’ve ever seen dangling from that wire. It looked like the turkey the pilgrims ate on the first Thanksgiving. The little guy had a chance to eat a rabbit, but it got stuck on the wire, and the leader stole it from him. But it ended okay, mostly. He got to eat but never got the thing off the wire, but it sounded like the bird was satisfyingly crunchy so there’s that.

After that awful and amazing experience we continued down the path to the other exhibits. While most of the class had quite a pleasant walk mine was horrifying. Birds. Everywhere. I hate birds. Particularly the ravens that covered the path in black and purple feathers, the a literal murder of them. The fact that they’re called a murder definitely plays into my being scared of them as well. It wasn’t just ravens either. Ducks, pigeons, peacocks, pelicans, just walking around the path! It was madness! Pure lunacy! The worst part was that they weren’t scared of us. They ignored us even. It was awful. I had to put my head down and aggressively charged through the path saying to myself “I’m a big strong man and I’m not afraid of birds! I’m a big strong man and I’m not afraid of birds!!”

That walk was more than worth it though, because the monkeys were on the other side of....murderers row! A classmate and I saw a group of small black-furred monkeys in a little tree house at about eye level and they were playfully wrestling. The larger monkey threw the smaller one against the wall and bit his neck, and my classmate shouted “oh man he just bit that guy! that’s what’s up!!” and I swear the monkey looked right at us, and smiled. The unquestioned high point of the day was when we passed the lemur fence though. There was roughly 15 lemurs just hanging out right on the side of the path on a wooden fence and they were watching us coming for a long time. Luckily I had a banana in my pocket and I thought I’d see if they were hungry, and they were! I can’t even begin to explain through words how excited I was, THE LEMUS ACTUALLY CLIMBED ME TO GET THE BANANA. I HAD A LITERAL MONKEY ON MY ACTUAL BACK! At one point there were three monkeys climbing my legs and reaching for pieces of the banana and I was just so happy.

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