Journey to the Emerald Isle
Whew - the first day of a trip to Europe is always a looooooong day! We hopped out of bed at 3:15 a.m. early Saturday morning, June 18, and were on the road by 3:40. The drive to L.A. was extremely easy - being both early and a Saturday. There was already a long line checking in for our flight - and another slight delay at the ticket booth, when the young lady again had to make a phone call to determine that Rob was, in fact, not a terrorist.
The flight to Atlanta went very smoothly and relatively quickly. I listened to Rick Steves' radio program on my new MP3 machine and it really helped to pass the time. Lunch in Atlanta airport and another two hour wait in the international terminal (where flights were leaving for Paris, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona - and Seattle!) The time was spent in conversation with a lovely older Irish couple who had been in the states to visit their son.
The flight from Atlanta to Dublin was a little tougher. Seven hours - trying unsuccessfully to sleep - feeling cramped in tiny little airplane seats - yadda yadda - but we were finally touching down in Dublin.
Okay, now I know intellectually that Ireland gets fog...but the image in my head had us flying through blue skies over an emerald green isle. The reality did not fit the mind-image! This was NOT a fun landing. Ireland was shrouded in thick clouds. As we descended, I kept waiting to break through the cloud cover to see the land far below...but we never did! It was thick fog all the way to the ground...so, with Rob exclaiming, "Wow! This is a cat. 3 landing!" and me with a pillow over my face, we finally arrived.
It was now Sunday morning, so we'd been traveling for about 21 hours - and still a day to get through before bedtime - but we were feeling happy to have the flight behind us and were looking forward to the day. After another long, slow line through passport control, we found the bus into Dublin and got off on O'Connell Street just around the corner from our hotel.
First impressions of Dublin were not especially impressive. It was a gloomy Sunday morning with very few people out and about. The buildings looked a bit shabby and there was quite a lot of litter on the ground. We found the Arlington Hotel with no trouble, and it is a great location...along the River Liffey and just a few buildings down from the O'Connell Street Bridge right in the heart of the city. Like many of the other building, the outside of the hotel looked a bit worn and I had a momentary worry that I'd made a mistake in selecting this hotel. We were too early to check in, but they took our bags and we set out to explore a little.
We walked around the Temple Bar region just across the river. It is renowned as a "happening" neighborhood, full of restaurants and pubs, but we saw it at its most quiet and deserted - on an early Sunday. We had a cup of tea and a scone, but mostly we were just anxious to get into our room and have a nap. We went back to the hotel around noon, and Rob charmed the clerk into getting us into our room early. The room was just fine...not shabby at all - nice, cheerful Tuscan gold walls, a good firm king-size bed, desk, TV, hairdryer - all the amenities.
Rob fell asleep almost instantly and I just rested and relaxed a bit, then went out and took the HO-HO (hop-on, hop-off) bus for a tour of the city. I didn't hop off the bus at all, though, but just sat back to enjoy the narration and the sights. As I had just finished reading The Princes of Ireland, which chronicles the rise and history of Dublin, I was able to put many of the sights into some context. We passed Trinity College, Dublin Castle, Christ Church, St. Patrick's Church - all part of medieval Dublin - the beautiful 18th Century Georgian neighborhoods with their ornate doors and windows, and the newer sights of the Guiness Brewery (huge!), Kilmainham Gaol, the Wellington Obelisk in Phoenix Park, the Post Office (famous as the site of the Easter Rebellion), and other sites like the variety of interesting bridges over the River: Ha'Penny Bridge, the Millenium Bridge, one dedicated to James Joyce, etc. The guide on the bus was very good. She sang a song about Joseph Plunkett, one of the Easter Rebellion leaders, who married his love, Grace Gifford, in the Kilmainham Gaol the day before his execution. (I've learned a lot about modern Irish history in the first three days!)
After my bus tour (under gorgeous blue skies, by the way - the weather had cleared up beautifully), I returned to the Arlington Hotel to get Rob. I told him we would be walking into a transformed city...and we DID! The blue skies took away much of the dinginess, and the crowds were out in droves.
We walked up to Grafton Street, which is one of those wonderful pedestrian streets found in so many European cities, and had dinner at Cornocopia, a vegetarian restaurant recommended by Rick Steves. Great choice! Delicious, nutritious vegetarian dishes with side salads, fruit - yummy!
After dinner, we walked around a bit and visited the amusing statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square, which was special to me, as one of the first things I ever knew about Rob was that he liked Wilde's quote, "Life is too important to be taken seriously!" Although it was getting late, the sun was still up and bright because we are near the longest day of the year, but we were exhausted, so we returned to the hotel to try to get a good night's sleep and get our bodies turned around. So we were finally at the end of our first very long day. We had awakened early on Saturday morning in California and were finally on our way to bed on Sunday evening in Ireland!
Monday, June 20, 2005
I woke up to find Rob already returning from his breakfast. After my own good Irish breakfast buffet (included with our hotel stay), we headed to Trinity College, just a few blocks away, for the student-led tour and the Book of Kells. Seeing this famous document was especially meaningful, as I was in the middle of reading How the Irish Saved Civilization. The book was beautiful - its colors still vivid and bright - but mostly, it stirred the imagination - picturing the scribes who labored so lovingly and painstakingly to produce the gorgeous artwork and script.
The student tour of Trinity College was also enjoyable - lots of anecdotes about the ghosts, traditions, former famous students (Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, and on and on).
We returned to Cornocopia for lunch (why mess with a good thing?), then took the tour of Dublin Castle. Again, because of reading The Princes of Dublin, this was especially interesting. The castle is built right at the spot where the Poddle River flowed into the River Liffey, forming the Dubh Lin, or Black Pool, from which Dublin gets its name. The castle itself is not particularly impressive when compared with some of the grander palaces of Europe, but our guide was very good (a very young blond kid), and I learned more about Irish history. (Earl Grey, for whom one of my favorite teas was names, was one of the viceroys of Dublin. His portrait hangs in the castle.) We were told a very interesting story about the statue of Justice over the entrance to the castle. She faces the courtyard of the castle which was, of course, filled with English royalty most of the time, and thus she represented a "justice" that turned its back on the Irish people.
After the castle tour, Rob was ready for another nap, so I headed off on my own to Kilmainham Gaol - an excellent tour and lots more information about 20th Century Irish history. The gaol itself was used in the filming of several movies about Ireland, such as Michael Collins.
We went out for a good dinner (Bewleys Cafe) then went down to St. Stephen's Green, a lovely park at the end of Grafton Street. It was another great sunny evening and we relaxed and enjoyed watching the ducks in the pond busily establishing their pecking order and people-watching to the sounds of a little Irish band playing in the park.
Tuesday, June 21
We spent the morning exploring the excellent National Museum. I truly understood for the first time the incredible allure of gold...the museum holds the most incredible collection of gold jewelry, neck rings, brooches (including the famous Tara brooch) dating back to the early kings of Ireland. Many of the pieces were found just buried out in peat bogs and farmers' fields, but the gold remained lustrous and undimmed by the passage of time. The entire display room gleamed with the most beautiful golden glow.
We had lunch at Wagamama Noodles...a place popular with the young Dublin crowd...Ireland is no longer limited to potatoes and porridge! Then we returned to Trinity College to join the Historic Walk of Dublin. Our guide was a very knowledgeable young woman who took us to the Town Hall, to the site of Viking settlement behind Christ Church, and various other sites.
Dinner was back at Cornocopia (we know a good thing when we find it!) followed by our usual evening stroll to St. Stephen's Green.
Powerscourt and Glendalough
Navigating a rental car through the narrow, confusing streets of a European city...on the WRONG side of the road...is a daunting task, but Rob did a wonderful job getting us out of Dublin, around the "ring road" that circles the city, and out to explore Ireland. My navigating got us lost only once, and soon we were out of the traffic and into the lovelygreen countryside. As in Scotland, there is relatively little traffic once you are out of the city, so...while you must always stay alert, the driving is not too nerve-wracking.
Today was a gorgeous, warm and sunny day...the best so far. Our first stop was at Powerscourt. The great house itself was badly burned in 1974 and the interior of the house has been turned into a museum. The real attraction are the beautiful grounds with the fabulous view of Sugarloaf Mountain in the background. We spent a leisurely morning strolling around the grounds, past the pond with its statue of Triton and the Winged Horses, through the touching little pet cemetery, into the formal gardens filled with June flowers.
Then we set off across the Sally Gap through mountains that reminded us a great deal of the Highlands of Scotland...rather bare and windswept...with a drive punctuated by occasional herds of sheep wandering across the road!
We paused to look at the beautiful view down into Glendalough...a gorgeous wooded glen between two lakes. Glendalough was a monastery started by Kevin the Hermit. It dates all the way back to the 6th century, although the buildings still standing there date to the 10th to 12th centuries. They are amazingly well-preserved. Barring the presence of the tourists, it honestly was like stepping back in time. The cemetery was filled with Celtic crosses. The round tower...so typical of the religious settlements in Ireland...was completely intact and, while the cathedral was in ruins, one of the other little churches still had its stone roof in place! This was one of my favorite stops on the entire trip... definitely stirred the imagination!
Rob and I walked along the trail that leads to the two lakes. I could easily see why people say that Ireland has 30 shades of green. The countryside was lush with water plants, rushes, trees, grasses. The weather remained perfect...it was almost too warm.
We had a nice lunch in the Glendalough restaurant, then set off for Kilkenny. It was quite a slow drive with narrow winding country roads most of the way there. We got lost one more time at a very confusing roundabout, but with help from a taxi driver, we finally found our way to the Auburndale B & B. The owner, Terry Holden, greeted us pleasantly and offered us tea in the living room. The Auburndale was very nice and comfortable, although we were a bit disappointment to find that it was about two kilometers out of the town center. But it gave us a chance for a nice walk into the town for dinner. Rob was in fine spirits on the walk home, cracking jokes and making me double up with laughter all the way.
Thursday, June 23
Rob's good spirits didn't hold up so well when he woke at 5:30 a.m., went to shower, and discovered that there was no hot water available until 7! We had heard of this economical device before, but had never encountered it. He walked to town for some coffee then returned (feeling much revived) for our full Irish breakfast. Over breakfast, we had a nice chat with Pat Holden, Terry's husband. He had served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam.
Kilkenny is dominated by Kilkenny Castle, a beautifully restored Norman castle. The rugs in the castle were exact duplicates of the rugs that laid on those floors in the 1700s, made by the same company which still had the original 1700s work orders!
And, as it must have been in the middle ages, there is still a Farmer's Market lining the street outside the castle. We love the European outdoor markets! We found homemade cheeses, various meat pies, fresh fruits and veggies, along with an assortment of crafts and linens. We settled on a veggie quiche, duck pie, fresh strawberries and apricots...and the best chocolate/orange truffle I've ever had! We took our picnic into the huge park standing behind the castle. The wall behind this side of the castle had been destroyed by Cromwell's army, but this was a happy misfortune for us modern visitors, as it afforded a lovely view.
We strolled around the park and through the woods lining the river for awhile...finding another small pet cemetery tucked into a lonely corner...then walked through the town to the cathedral. Kilkenny is an interesting mix of modern and medieval...cute little colorful shops with big grey granite buildings popping up unexpectedly. We toured the Rothe house, the home of a medieval merchant, and climbed the narrow wooden winding staircase to the top of the round tower at the cathedral. The climb was a bit scary...the steps appear to be almost as ancient as the tower, but it was worth it for the wonderful views from the top of the town and surrounding countryside.
Dinner was at the old Kyteler's Inn, followed by some rousing "trad"...traditional Irish music...and a cup of tea.
Friday, June 24
Rock of Cashel and Kinsale
After another hearty Irish breakfast at the Auburndale House, (one of the BEST parts of Bed and Breakfast accomodations!), we set off for Kinsale on the southern coast of the island. It was no longer "a long way to Tipperary" as we first drove through the plains of Tipperary Country to the amazing site of the Rock of Cashel. The first view from the highway was truly awesome...an ancient monastery, still almost complete, perched on a huge rock rising out of the plains. We arrived before the tourist crowds, which really added to the feeling of stepping back in time, as we wandered around the huge ruins alone. The site is wonderfully preserved, with beautiful Celtic crosses...including the bottom half of the largest Celtic cross in Ireland. Sadly, the top half was destroyed by lightning in the 1970's after standing there for centuries! We also saw the very ancient "Cross of St. Patrick" (which is actually a replica of the original one...kept in the museum for safe-keeping.) The view from the top was wonderful, looking down onto another large abbey (Hore Abbey) below and miles out over the green meadows.
Lunch was cottage pie at Granny's Kitchen and a look at the beautiful Irish gardens in the little village, then we set off for Kinsale again. For a change, we were on the N8, a major highway, all the way to the large city of Cork, so it was a fairly easy drive. Once again, I got us a little lost in Cork, but - with the help of a nice man in the car next to us as we entered the roundabout - we found the right exit and once again found ourselves on the narrow little country roads that made us most of our Ireland travels.
We arrived in the little town of Kinsale in the late afternoon and found the "Olde Bakery Bed and Breakfast" with no trouble - but there was no parking anywhere in sight. Apparently, there ws a big sailing regatta that weekend, and the town was packed! Rob found a spot in the "disk parking" (you pay for a disk to put on the windshield) along the waterfront, and we walked up the hill to the B & B. Chrissy Quigley, our hostess, seemed surprised to see us...somehow our names had been crossed out of their reservations book! (Travel Tip: Always call a few days ahead to confirm!) But Chrissie was wonderful...she immediately moved one of the sailors out of our room into another with his buddies. It was a darling room - very homey, with quilted bedspread, little dressing table, and huge boxes of flowers outside the window.
I'd been looking forward to staying in the Old Bakery ever since having a fun chat with Tom Quigley a year before when I'd phoned in the reservation, but never expected the happy surprise of two little shih-tzus just like our own Max and Wallace! Scamp and Lily made themselves quite at home in Rob's lap, and he was happy for the chance to have a little dog cuddle.
After afternoon tea in town, Rob took a nap while I repacked and organized. I hate living out of a suitcase - I'm not good at it and always end up with a mess - so any time we spend more than one night, I like to unpack and use the drawers and wardrobes in our rooms. Kinsale is noted for being a gourmet capitol in Ireland, so Tom had several restaurant recommendations for us. Before dinner, we strolled around the town for awhile. I love the little medieval towns of Europe...the narrow streets don't have any discernible pattern, but wind higgledy-piggledy along the natural contours of the town. It was a little confusing, but the town is so small that we eventually stumbled onto most of the recommended restaurants and finally settled on The Little Skillet. Tom has said to tell them he sent us...and sure enough, the waitress became noticably friendlier when I told her. We were seated next to a nice young couple, Chris and Jill, from Florida. They had just arrived in Ireland and we chatted away all through our very good dinner.
We had our usual after dinner walk and found a great little hike around the top of Compass Hill above the town. Kinsale is a tiny little town nestled at the base of some hills around a wonderful little natural bay and harbor. From the top of the hill, we had great views of the two forts guarding the entrance to the harbor and the surrounding countryside. There was another ruined tower off in the distance...I love the glimpses of medieval life that pop up unexpectedly everywhere! We ended our walk with a visit to and An Sechenai Pub for some great trad music with a duo on banjo and guitar.
Saturday, June 25
Once in awhile on long trips, it's a good idea to schedule a quiet day with no agenda at all...just a day to relax and wander as the mood takes you. Today was one of those days. We woke up well rested and started witha great breakfast in the Olde Bakery's big homey kitchen...Macroon porridge and Chrissy's specialty scrambled eggs...yum! Chrissy and Tom were just darling, a dear grandparenty pair who made us feel right at home.
After breakfast, Rob set out for a good hard hike around the hills while I wandered around town window shopping and taking photos. At 11:00, we met at the Tourist Office for Don Herlihy's Historic Stroll through Kinsale. We had learned of Don from Rick Steves' travel show on PBS. Rick calls Don one of the treasures of Kinsale...and he really was a treasure trove of information.
Due to the geography of the region - especially the good protected harbor - Kinsale was a major port in earlier centuries. Much of the modern town is actually now built on reclaimed land and those narrow winding streets above were once docks leading down to the sea. The Olde Bakery is in an area just outside the old city walls which can still be seen. This area was called "End of the World" as west of Kinsale lies nothing but the Atlantic Ocean.
Kinsale was the unhappy site of the 1601 battle in which England defeated the Spanish Armada and the Irish clans that had previously successfully held on to this area of Ireland. Their losses at this battle led to the "Flight of the Earls" in which the clan leaders fled Ireland for France and other parts, and the "planting" of English nobles by Queen Elizabeth I....and to 400 years of English domination over Ireland. (I was quite ignorant of Irish history before this trip. We have learned a tremendous amount already...and the little bits I did know are falling into place.)
Following our walk, we had a good seafood lunch at the Fishy Fishy Cafe - salmon sandwich and crab salad on good hearty brown Irish bread. The weather at lunch was sunny and warm, but upon waking from a post-lunch nap (we are still suffering from a little jet lag), we found cool overcast skies, perfect for a long way around the bay to the Spanish Inn, a restaurant with great views from the other side of the harbor. We took the little footpath that edges the water, passing under overhanging trees. The harbor at low tide became a big mudflat with little boats sitting cock-eyed on the mud waiting for the water to return.
In the evening, we sat in the Olde Bakery living room, playing with Scamp and Lily and visiting with Chrissy and her daughter, Adine, talking politics and travel. Adine was very interesting. She had lived for five years in Saudia Arabia as a dental hygienist and had all sorts of insights into the royal family there.
We went to bed to the sounds of people returning home from the pubs, but slept very well.
Sunday, June 26
Kinsale and Charles Fort and a LOT of History
Another "lovely day" in Kinsale. (Rob teases me for quickly picking up the use of the word lovely, which is in common usage here. ) The day started with another great breakfast in the Quigley kitchen, then a short drive to the Old Head of Kinsale, a small peninsula just south of town. The drive was easy with NO other cars in sight, but the weather was the coldest we have had so far and quite grey and gloomy, so it wasn't as pretty as it might have been in the sunshine, so instead of wandering on the beaches, we returned for another walk along the water to the Charles Fort.
Happily, the weather began clearing and we arrived at the fort just in time to join a tour. It was an excellent tour...the best yet! Our young guide, Patrick, was very knowledgeable and made the confusing history very entertaining and understandable. Parts of the fort are remarkably well-preserved while other sections are in ruins. I was surprised to learn that the fort was actually used until the 1920s when it was set ablaze by Irish Republicans who did not wish it to be used during the Irish Civil War. Before that time, it had been a working fort since first being built in the mid-1600s.
We learned a lot about the construction...the thick walls of the star-shaped fort were filled with sod between the stone walls to absorb the cannon fire. The brick interior of the powder chambers would keep the powder dry AND absorb the blow if it exploded. The fake slate roof on the powder magazine was to fool the enemy...and the narrower arch in the wall would blast out first and cause the wall to collapse instead of exploding outward.
Patrick also did a wonderful job of sorting out English monarchy succession for me...and who knew that Irish history figured so strongly into that succession!? Okay, here goes...a brief summary just to help me remember:
Elizabeth I dies childless. James I of England (also James VI of Scotland - son of Mary, Queen of Scots) succeeds her. Charles I, his son, is beheaded. The Commonwealth, led by Cromwell, takes over, but the people want the monarchy back, so they put Charles II back on the throne. When he dies, his brother, James II is on the throne. He is hated by the people because he is Catholic, and is a despot, believing in the divine right of kings. He goes to France to get support from Louis IVX, and the government in England takes advantage of his absence to invite his brother-in-law (and nephew) William of Orange, who is married to James' sister, Mary, to come take the throne.
William of Orange fought James II's supporters at the Battle of the Boyne, at which time James fled back to France, and they fought again at Fort Charles, with William defeating James' supporters utterly. William was succeeded by Anne, James and Mary's sister. When Ann died without an heir, the English - not wanting to restore the Catholic Stuarts to the throne - invited a distant relative of James I -George I of the House of Hanovers - to become king.
In the meantime, Louis IVX was growing tired of supporting James II, his son James (the Pretender), and grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie, so he gave Charlie some troops and money and sent him to Scotland to rouse the highlanders to help him regain the English throne...and we all know where THAT led! (See trip to Scotland when it gets posted for more on that great story!)
The tour also cemented some of what we have learned this week about the more modern history of Ireland. The Free Staters, led by Michael Collins, supported the compromise of an Irish Free State, still loyal to England but with some self-rule and with the partition of six counties of the Northeast remaining under full British rule. The Republicans fought the Free Staters in the Irish Civil War in the early 1920's because they believed in a completely sovereign Ireland - throughout the entire island. The Orangemen, or Unionists, supported the Northern Ireland union with England.
Rob and I digested all this history, along with a very good lunch, upstairs at the old Bulman Pub, sitting at an open window looking out over the harbor. Then he returned to the Olde Bakery for a nap while I went to explore a bit more of the town...the little Desmond Castle, which is little more than a couple of rooms now devoted to the history of the clan leaders who fled Ireland following their defeat. Many of them went on to become very successful vintners in France and America. In fact, they are known as the "wine geese, " as they left together in a big flock.
Rob joined me again and we finished this very pleasant day with tea in a little Kinsale coffee house.
Monday, June 27
The Road to Dingle
We bid a fond farewell to Tom and Chrissy and the puppies and were on the road by 8:45 a.m. We drove along the south coast to the very pretty wooded town of Glenvarin where we stopped for tea and petrol. As we turned up the west side of the country, there was a noticeable change of terrain, with the coastal plains turning to low mountains running along the ridge of the Beara Peninsula.
There was little traffic, but the drive was nonetheless a bit harrowing. The roads are very narrow with tiny little shoulders. At times, the tall shrubs were actually brushing the side of the car. The posted speed limit was often 100 km (62 miles) per hour - crazy!!! To be honest, I saw very few people who actually drove that fast, but occasionally a driver would zip right around us on these little narrow roads. Rob did a great job, but I often found myself leaning in to the center of the car as it felt uncomfortable to be so close to the bushes and trees on the side of the road. More gorgeous weather for our drive, with blue skies and lush green scenery.
We arrived in the town of Kenmare at lunch. Kenmare is a cute little town, with a main street lined with very colorful shops and hotels. However, it marks the start of the popular Ring of Kerry drive around the Kerry Peninsula and was packed with tourists. We got some cash at an ATM (or, at least, I did...Rob's card came back with no money, but he was assured by bank personnel that no transaction had been completed. The ATMs are the best way to get cash in Europe, with the best exchange rates, but it is unnerving when something goes wrong!) and had some lunch. Then we walked out to one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. It was rather small and unimpressive after the huge standing stones of the Orkney Isles, but it was still remarkable to think that they were placed in that very spot so long ago.
The next leg of our trip was a beautiful drive over the mountains, where we stopped for photos of the gorgeous views of the lakes below, and down into Killarney National Park. (Don't you love the names in Ireland...Killarney, Tipperary, Kilkenny? They are just so...Irish!) We stopped for a tour of Muckross House, an old manor house in the park. The huge mansion was grand...decorated just as if the family were still living there and surrounded by a beautiful estate above the lake. Our tour guide was a brisk, rather serious, woman who gave us a litany of every piece of furniture in the house. She told an interesting story of Queen Victoria, who came to visit with her family, 100 servants, and her own favorite furniture! The hosts spent six years getting ready for her visit, including the building of aa special bed made just for her, and she wrote the month before her trip and said "Oh, don't go to any expense or trouble over my visit," and then slept in her own four-poster!
The day became quite warm, so we sat awhile in the shade on the pretty lawn, looking out at the lake and view of the Killarney countryside below the house, then set out on the last leg of the trip into Dingle. We drove along the southern rim of the Dingle Peninsula, past the huge crescent beach at Inch where "Ryan's Daughter" was filmed, and finally arrived at about 3:30 in the afternoon.
As usual, we got a little muddled on our directions through the town, but Rick Steves' town map got me through the maze of streets to the Coastline Bed and Breakfast. Our hostess, Vivienne O'Shea, was a young, slender Irish woman who greeted us politely, though without the twinkling charm of the Quigleys, and our room was very modern and nice. It had a bathtub (all the others had been only showers), and a large patio door opening out to an ocean view and a flowery garden.
After a rest, we went into town and walked up the hill to the Global Café. It was very good. I had a mild curry and Rob had fish. Then, we checked our email at the Internet Café. We really enjoyed this Internet Café! It was upstairs over a little restaurant – only a few computers, but no problem getting right on – AND it had a little reading nook where you could sit on comfy couches and read the books and maps. I started re-reading Bill Bryson’s Australia book (here called “Down Under”), and as always, he made me laugh out loud. He has such a wonderful, droll way of looking at the world.
In the evening, we took a great little walk along the shore out to the mouth of the harbor where Dingle’s famous dolphin, Fungie, is supposed to frolic. No Fungie in sight, but we did see a group of farmers herding their cows along with the help of their border collies. There actually was no path…we were walking right through the pastures with the cows and sheep. (The Dingle Peninsula has 10,000 people and 50,000 sheep!)
Rob was in great spirits, joking and laughing all along the way – and managed to make me screech by tickling my neck with a long piece of grass just after I had been dive-bombed by a big bug.
We ended up in Murphy’s Pub for some “trad” music and ran into Chris and Jill, the Florida couple we’d met in the Kinsale restaurant! A very nice evening!
Today we drove the Dingle Peninsula loop, (the Slea Head Road), which winds around the tip of the peninsula and is filled with interesting sights. The weather was quite overcast and cool, although the sun peeked through from time to time. We stopped first at an ancient Ring Fort of the type that dots the western Irish coast in great profusion. It included a village of very well preserved “beehive” huts (likewise common, but mostly in ruins in most places). I would think it would be a bit unnerving to sleep with so much weight over your head – and no mortar! – but the fact that some huts have lasted so long attests to their stability.
The coastline was beautiful with great views of Michal Skellig sitting along off the tip of the Ring of Kerr across the bay, and the Blasket Islands just off of Dunnett Head, the westernmost tip of Europe. (The next parish over is Boston, Mass.) Up on the hills were miles and miles of the Irish stone walls surrounding fields of soil literally created by the farmers on top of the rock with seaweed and dirt.
We had a good hot soup lunch in a dark cozy little pub and walked out to the site of another little monastic village – interesting standing stones that were carved with ancient Celtic designs and then overlaid with Christian symbols – DME – domine. But the most interesting stop was the Gallarus Observatory, which looks like a tent made out of stone. It is incredibly well-preserved – over 700 years old, built with no mortar, and still watertight!
Our last intended stop, Kilmarkin Church, was missed as we got completely turned around on directions and ended up on the road back to Dingle. The drive had taken most of the day – we returned to our B & B at around 3. After a rest, we walked into town for our reservation at “Out of the Blue” which had been recommended by several people on the Rick Steves website. I had the seafood chowder and the langoustine tail appetizer, which were both delicious and more than adequate for a full meal. We were both feeling a bit worn out after dinner, so after another visit to the Internet Café, we just wandered around the town a while then headed home and went to bed.
Wednesday, June 29
We woke up feeling much refreshed. Today was just a leisurely “enjoy Dingle” day. We walked down to the harbor and reserved a spot on the 11:30 a.m. boat to go out and see Fungie, Dingle Bay’s resident dolphin. After walking around town and checking email again, we returned to the pier to wait for our boat and had a nice visit with an Irish dad who was there with his two children. His daughter Maeve enjoyed riding on the sculpture of Fungie.
The boat ride was short – just out past the mouth of the bay. The day was overcast, but no rain. Right on cue, Fungie met us – surfacing in various places around the bay. The boat – and eventually several boats – actively pursued him. Quite a change from American policy which has you shut down engines and let the animals approach you. I had mixed feelings about it, especially as I was worried about the little rubber boat running circles around him with its propeller in the water, but Fungie began swimming right along side of our boat, apparently enjoying the “race” and the interaction. My camera batteries died just at that time, so I missed getting a close up shot, but it was exciting to look down into the water and see him racing along beside us.
After a nice lunch in the restaurant below the Internet Café, we walked around the town again and bought our anniversary present to ourselves, a pretty pottery vase made by a local artist for our growing international pottery collection.
In the afternoon, we took a long nap. Both of us fell sound asleep. I’m sleeping pretty well at night, but still get pooped out by all the walking. In the evening, we went to St. John’s church for a great little concert of traditional music – a good female vocalist named Pauline Scanlon, accompanied by guitar, banjo, fiddle, and celtic harp players. The concert lasted two hours and the time just flew by. We sat next to a pleasant woman from New Hampshire. We are meeting lots of nice American travelers, but not interacting as much as I’d like with the Irish people. Of course, we are going to tourist destinations – and are usually too tired at night to stay up for the “pub scene.”
As we walked home that evening, the sun finally broke through and Dingle was transformed! The hills just glowed with green and the water turned blue instead of grey. The days are already noticeably shorter than when we arrived (just before the longest day of the year), but it is still light well past 10:00 p.m. We walked home in a gorgeous sunset and went to bed.
Thursday, June 30
Our Fourth Anniversary
On the Road to Galway Bay
We got up early and packed. Our hostess had very graciously met our request to set out cereal and fruit in the breakfast room, so we fixed ourselves a nice breakfast and were on the road by 8:30. The first leg of our drive took us through Tralee and on to Tarbert where we caught the ferry across the Shannon River. We had one funny experience on the way. We stopped in a little town for coffee and a restroom break. There was a small farmers’ market in the town square (where Rob bought some very good homemade aged cheddar), and we weren’t sure if we could park there. We asked a woman passing by if we could park there and she said, “Well, I’m not really sure – but what’s the worst that could happen? They give you a ticket. You go back to America and say ‘Fock it!’” I burst out laughing – she was a nice looking, well dressed woman and it was so unexpected! The Irish do seem to treat the language a bit more casually than we do.
Anyway, following our short ferry ride (on which Rob had to fold in the side mirror on the car because the truck next to us was only inches away), the drive became a bit slower as we wended our way up the west coast to the Cliffs of Moher.
The arrival was a bit of a let-down, as they are building a big new visitors’ center, and there was a lot of construction going on at the base of the cliffs. We parked at the current visitors’ center and walked up the steep hill to look out on the cliffs. It was quite dramatic, as the cliffs drop straight down into the sea far below. The best part of all was stepping over the big sheets of shale that form a barrier wall and lying face down on the grass peering over the edge to the water crashing below. I would not have wanted to stand that close, but lying down, I felt quite safe – and it was truly awesome to look down on hundreds of tiny sea birds whirling around below us, the waves crashing off the little pillar of rock just off shore, and the sound of the wind and sea.
Next, it was on to Kilfonara and the little museum at the Burren Center. They had a little film and an exhibit explaining the formation of the Burren (literally, “a rocky place”), which is an ancient limestone seabed laid down by tropical seas when Ireland was near the equator, then lifted up and scoured bare by the glaciers of the ice age. The whole area is dotted by hundreds of ancient stone circle forts, stone age burial sites, and other evidence of ancient cultures – and it is also filled with miles and miles of rock walls. The hours of labor involved are mind-boggling!
Once again, we were lucky with the weather and had some beautiful blue skies which made for better pictures. We didn’t stop at many sites, as Rob had had a long day of driving and was beginning to fade, but we did stop at Poulnabrone, an ancient tomb made up of a huge flat slab of rock atop standing pillars. We wandered around for a bit, peering into the crevices between the limestone rocks which were filled with a large variety of wildflowers that bloom here is June and July. (Another unique feature of the Burren – it has alpine flowers side by side with almost tropical plants.)
As we dropped down out of the Burren, we had beautiful sweeping views of Galway Bay. We got into the city okay, but got confused at the roundabout and had to stop at a hotel to ask for directions to our bed and breakfast. Happily, we were only a few minutes away. We arrived at College Crest B & B by 3:00 and settled in fine. The room was smaller and not as pleasant as our last two, and we don’t have the great view that we had in Dingle, but the lounge and dining room were very nice, and we were conveniently located for walking into town.
While Rob napped, I walked to the Tourist Information center to ask about ferries to the Aran Islands and discovered that there is a theater here with a “Riverdance” type show. We walked out to the theater to see about tickets. The box office wasn’t open yet, but we talked with a nice young Irish kid who turned out to be one of the dancers in the show. He assured me that we could get tickets and let us know that seating was first-come, first-served, which was very helpful. He was from Belfast and had the thickest Irish accent I’ve heard yet on our trip. It was almost like listening to another language! But he was very sweet.
I had heard that the Irish were friendly, and our experience proves it to be true! Almost everyone we have talked to – from waitresses to people on the street from whom we have asked directions – have been genuinely warm. Not just helpful, but smiling and friendly. A very nice experience!
We had a nice anniversary dinner at the GBC (Galway Bakery Company) – vegetable curry and vegetarian lasagna – and walked back to the Black Box Theatre for the “Dance of Desire” show, which told the legend of the children of Lir who were turned into swans by their evil stepmother. I’d heard of this legend several times on this trip, so it was fun to be a bit familiar with the story.
The dancing was very good – and our young friend did a great job. Rob and I both enjoyed it immensely. We walked home at around 10:30 (still light!) and fell into bed. Another very good day!
Friday, July 1
Our first day of rain! It was very grey, gloomy, and drizzly all day. We didn’t really have much planned for today other than exploring the town, so this was probably our longest and most “boring” day of the whole trip. Rob took advantage of the quiet morning to get a haircut, which he was very happy with. He loves the experience of taking part in “regular” life when we are traveling and has had haircuts in several countries. I spent the time in a little café catching up in my journal.
As with many European cities, Galway has a pedestrian street lined with shops and street performers, so we walked the town down to the old St. Nicholas Church where Columbus is said to have visited in around 1477. Then we walked along the river (which would have been a beautiful walk in the sunshine!) to the very impressive St. Nicholas Cathedral which was finished in 1965.
We didn’t feel like hanging around in our room, so we spent the rest of the day just wandering around, having an occasional cup of tea. We ended the day with a good Guiness lamb stew at the Kirby Restaurant. We chatted with our two waitresses – one from Australia and one from New Jersey! Rob and I have noticed that “The New Jersey Factor” holds true, even in Ireland! (The New Jersey Factor means that we hear or read some reference to New Jersey every single day…Check it out! It’s true!)
Saturday, July 2
A much more interesting day! The College Crest didn’t serve breakfast until 9 a.m. on weekends, but the nice worker, a young lady from Latvia, let us in to the dining room early so we could eat and get down to the shuttle bus to the ferry to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands.
The shuttle bus ride was a pretty one along the coast. It was rather nice to see the countryside from high up (on the top of a double-decker bus) and not to have to think about traffic or watching for every turn. (This trip has brought back memories of our driving trip through Scotland – Rob focusing on driving on the left and me with a map always in my lap tracking every mile and trying to be prepared with my “Turn Here!” – and trying, not always successfully – to say left when I actually meant left. I seem to be dyslexic on remembering my left from my right!)
As we left the mainland, the weather remained quite grey and gloomy, but as we approached Inishmore and its little town, Kilronan, the sun broke through and it looked as if we were in for a pretty nice day. We learned on the ferry that, not only did they have mini-bus tours of the island, but you could also rent bicycles and ride all over. Naturally, Rob thought that was a great idea, so we joined the other throngs of tourists setting off up the hill.
Our primary destination was Dun Aenghus – a huge stone ring fort built in around 500 A.D. (Recent studies date it to the Bronze Age.) We took the “high road” along the ridge of the hills in the center of the island. It wasn’t a tough ride (although it would have been much easier if I had noticed that my bike had low gears before I tried pedaling up the first few hills!) The views were spectacular…the island spread out below us – a rather barren, wind-swept island with limestone outcroppings and more miles of hand-stacked rock walls.
The weather was still fine as we set off, but as we approached the fort, the cloud cover began rolling in again. We parked our bikes in the “bike park” (well, that figures) and hiked through the rocky fields up a steep path to the fort at the top. The wildflowers were blooming everywhere (as they had been all over Ireland) and the wind was really blowing, so it felt quite dramatic.
The fort itself, while very large and imposing, was basically just the stone shell - the walls of what once stood here. What was more impressive was the setting. It is perched right on the edge of cliffs that plunge 300 feet straight down into the sea. It was “down on the belly” time again as we peered over the edge. The cliffs were not as high as the Cliffs of Moher, but it was actually a bit scarier as the wind was gusting hard enough that I actually had trouble holding still enough to take a picture.
After a time of exploring the fort, Rob pointed out that it looked as if big black rainclouds were moving in, so we hurried down the long, rocky path to our bikes, enjoying more gorgeous views below us as we went. Sure enough, just as we got to our bikes, the skies opened up and the rain started pouring down. Rob got quite a bit ahead of me and missed the turn to the “low road,” the shore road back to Kilorcan, the town. I didn’t feel up to tackling the big hill in the rain, so I rode back along the shore road. In spite of the rain, I really enjoyed the ride! The only disadvantage of the rain was that my glasses got so wet that I couldn’t see through them and had to perch them way down my nose and peer over them. Most of the trip, I was entirely alone and the rain and wind and waves crashing on the low cliffs, rock walls and old ruins everywhere made for another very dramatic experience. The wind continued to be very strong, but I didn’t feel at all cold because of the exertion of the ride.
As I rode into town, there was Rob waiting for me outside a little café. We went in – totally drenched – for a cup of tea. Then we walked down the street to the Aran sweater market where I watched a very interesting little video about spinning and weaving in Ireland. Finally we were able to board the ferry. My jeans were still pretty wet, but at least we were sheltered!
Our ferry ride turned out to be one of the best little adventures of the trip! Three young Irish lads, college age, were sitting next to us playing cards. They asked Rob is he knew how to play poker, and they invited him to play with them. It was hilarious. First of all, they shuffled cards the European way and, just like the Norwegians, were quite impressed that we could shuffle cards “like the dealers in Las Vegas.” They weren’t playing for money and immediately got into the spirit of things when Rob bet a million Euros. (David: “I’ll see your million and raise you a half.”)
I was eventually invited to join the game as well – and then Patrick volunteered to teach us to play “25.” The first confusion came when he told us we were playing for pints.
"Pints?" said Rob. "You mean we're playing for drinks?"
"No, no," protested Patrick. "Pints."
"Pints?" repeated a confused Rob.
"Rob," I chimed in, the light suddenly going on..."We're playing for points!"
More hilarity followed. I’m sure that 25 had rules, but it was hard to determine because the boys kept remembering new rules as we tried to play the game. A 5 was the best card, but “oh, I forgot, the jack is the next best card.” We also learned that the Irish call the club suit – what else? – shamrocks.
Anyway, by the time we got back to the mainland, we were all good friends, and the three boys – Patrick, Daniel, and Thomas (who had all just finished their first year of college) offered us a ride back to Galway. We had a great talk all the way back. They were very curious about our opinions on politics, Bush, the death penalty, etc. A very fun experience!
Dinner again at the Kirby, then we strolled around a bit. We tried to see an Irish play at the Druid Theatre, but it turned out they were just in rehearsal for the upcoming season, so we headed off to bed.
Sunday, July 3
Galway to Westport
Up early to pack, had breakfast, and said good-bye to Galway and College Crest B&B. We spent the morning wandering through the Connemara region of Ireland – beautiful green hills and lakes dotted with tree covered islands.
Our first stop was the little village of Cong, where the movie “The Quiet Man” was filmed. The best part of the stop was the walk we took behind the beautiful ruins of the old abbey. At the bridge over the river we found the remains of the Monks’ Fishing Cottage built right over the water. A hole in the floor allowed the monks to fish in comfort, and a bell attached to the abbey could be rung from the cottage to announce that there was fresh fish for dinner! We took a nice walk along the river, then visited the replica of John Wayne's character's cottage, and stopped for tea and scones in the Hungry Monk Cafe, where we had a nice chat with the owner and his wife. Her sister dances in the U.S. troop of Lord of the Dance, which we saw last year in Bakersfield.
We continued on through the beautiful, mountainous countryside of Connemara, along the banks of Killary Harbor (Ireland's only fjord), and over the Doo Lough (Black Lake) Pass, which is the site of one of the saddest stories of the Irish famine. In 1845, 600 starving men, women, and children marched over this pass from Louriburgh to the home of their landlord in Delphi. He turned them away with no help and about 400 of them died along the road on their walk home.
The mountains dropped away to the coastline of Clew Bay, with Croagh Patrick towering over us on our right, and we found our way to Westport Harbour and the Creel Restaurant, which had been recommended by our host at the Hungry Monk Cafe. It was a fine recommendation! We had a very good lunch (panini with brie and chutney and a salad - yum!).
We got a little mixed up trying to find our lodgings. We got directions to the Knockranny House, which was a large and stately hotel. I had a feeling something was amiss, as our quoted price was quite reasonable, and sure enough, they sent us to the Knockranny Lodge around the corner. Happily, it was also very lovely, although much smaller and more homey...and a great improvement over the College Crest - with king size bed, the best pillow of the entire trip, and a big tub to soak in. We walked into town and explored a bit, but returned for an early bedtime after a long day of driving.
Monday, July 4
Happy Independence Day! (Although it didn't feel like it at all!) We had planned on spending the day climbing Croagh Patrick, the mountain where St. Patrick is reputed to have fasted for forty days praying for the conversion of the pagan Irish - and the spot where he banished the snakes from Ireland. In memory of these acts, 50,000 pilgrims climb to the mountain's peak on the last Sunday of each July.
But, although the weather was very fine - the nicest in several days - the trip was beginning to wear on us and we decided that we just didn't feel that ambitious, so we just walked down to the harbor again. The harbor is small and industrial, and the tide was very low, leaving rather "fragrant" mudflats, but the surrounding countryside was very pretty - low green hills dotted with the ever-present sheep, little ducks to make friends with, and Craogh Patrick looming up across the bay.
At the entrance to the bay was the road to Westport House, the local Victorian manor house. We walked down the lovely, tree-lined road and discovered an entire family-oriented complex around it with a little zoo, the house, a small golf course. We didn't pay the entry fee, but just looked around from outside the fence, then returned to the Creel Restaurant for another good lunch.
After a nap back at the Knockranny House, we returned to town for the evening on what turned out to be an unexpected adventure. We had planned to go to the town cinema to see Spielberg's new version of "War of the Worlds." Just as the movie started, some town ruffians at the back started throwing candy. Some of the audience, including Rob, stood up and reprimanded them. The elderly man behind us got particularly upset..."Stop the focking throwing...bloody hell.." etc. etc. The boys jeered back and someone went out to get the security man. Just as we settled in to try to catch up on what was happening in the movie, the security man went up to kick the boys out, but their dad? chaperone? defended them loudly - refused to leave - and the security man keeled over with a major heart attack! So now the rude defender of the boys is yelling, "Call for an ambulance!" and starting CPR on the old guy! Naturally we were all sent out of the theater (although they were very nice, offering us tea and refunding our money), so Rob and I wandered into town instead, feeling very distressed about the whole thing.
In spite of the unhappy incident, we found Westport to be a charming little town with colorful shops and hotels covered with flowers. We ended up in Matt Molloy's Pub. He is the flautist for the famous Celtic band, The Chieftans. I was hoping to learn the words to "The Star of the County Down," which is sung by both the Chieftans and our friend Kevin Briley's group, Whiskey Galore, but Matt himself was not there that evening, so I asked the young lady minding the bar if she knew the words.
She didn't know the words, although she knew which song I meant, but she and the other barmaids suddendly started scurrying around looking up phone numbers, and before we knew it, a nice looking Irish fellow, Norman, showed up and joined us for a drink and offered to write out all the words for me! We ended up spending the entire evening with him, just talking a mile a minute. He was a lawyer, but a singer and songwriter, too. He was also an accomplished Irish drinker...got a bit more bleery as the evening went by...and I got a bit tipsy myself as I went through two Bulmer ciders instead of my usual 1/2...but it was a very enjoyable evening, and I walked away with the lyrics to "The Star of the County Down" in my hand.
Tuesday, July 5
Westport to Dublin
Woke to a dreary, rainy day...but no matter, as the only agenda today was to drive back to Dublin. It was actually our easiest drive of the entire trip as we were on "major" highways pretty much all the way back. The only stress occured when we wanted to fill up the car with petrol before returning it to the rental car place. The last forty miles of the trip, we didn't see a single gas station! We finally found a Texaco station just two blocks from the rental car office - Hurray!
We turned in the car with no problems and took a bus back to the Arlington Hotel (just around the corner from this statue of Daniel McConnell). We had a very nice room this time...king bed, tub, deck...overlooking an inner courtyard and thus avoiding the pub-goers yelling and singing at 3 im the morning! Rob rested while I went out to explore buses to Trim, then we headed to Cornocopia for another good meal - and that was pretty much it for the day!
Wednesday, July 6
Rob said he'd had enough old stone forts, castles, and abbeys, so he spent the day exploring around Dublin while I set off on a solo adventure to Trim, a little town along the Boyne River which is pretty much ALL stone castles and abbeys! It was another chilly and rather gloomy day, but it was nice just sitting on the bus not having to follow the map preparing to tell Rob where to turn.
Trim is the site of the largest Norman castle in Ireland - built in the late 1100's by Hugh de Lacy (or deLancy?), who ruled Ireland on behalf of Henry II. The castle keep is in remarkably good shape - it has been excavated quite recently and we were able to climb the old winding staircase all the way to the top - which provided beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. The castle stands right on the Boyne River, which serves as part of the moat. This castle was actually so well preserved that it was used as two major locations in the film, "Braveheart." It stood in for both York Castle and the walls of London where William Wallace was executed.
After the tour of the castle, I walked about a mile or so down the road to wander around the ruins of St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, which was once the largest Gothic cathedral in Ireland. It is nowhere near its former grandeur, but I enjoyed the visit. I was absolutely the only person on the grounds, and walking through the ancient (and crowded) graveyard was honestly a bit eerie and spooky - and sad. The cemetery is still used and there was a recent and well-maintained gravesite of a 26 year old woman and a little baby with the same name (Brona Catherine) who was born and died on the same day. It brought tears to my eyes as I thought of the family left behind who had covered the site with piles of flowers.
I met Rob back at the Arlington around 4:00. We ate at Gallegher's Restaurant - lamb boxty, a potato pancake filled with meat - then made our usual trek to St. Stephen's Green to feed the ducks. Headed for bed quite early, resting up for our trip home.
Thurday, July 7
Newgrange and Hill of Tara
Our last day in Ireland - and a special pilgrimage to the heart of Ireland. Rob didn't feel well today, so I went off on a guided bus tour while he rested and visited the National Gallery. Sadly, our bus tour started with the news that several buses in London had been the target of terrorist attacks this morning. Our guide got the news on her cell phone just as we were entering the bus.
Today, I returned to the Boyne Valley - but this time venturing further back in time - with a visit to Newgrange, one of the huge passage tombs dating from neolithic times that dot this valley. Newgrange was similar to Maes Howe, which we had visited in the Orkney Isles of Scotland, but Newgrange is larger and more ornate, with its elaborate pre-Celtic carvings covering the walls. I felt quite awestruck standing in the inner chamber looking up at the rings of massive rock overhead. The guide turned off the light and demonstrated what happens in the tomb during the five days surrounding the winter solstice when a beam of light travels down the narrow entry passage and illuminates the inner chamber.
Our guide, Mary Gibbon, was an amazing wealth of information during the bus ride. Much of what she told us was, by now, quite familiar, but she added to some of the gaps in my knowledge of Irish history, and added brand new information, as well.
We drove from Newgrange to the Visitor's Center, passing the other large tomb at Knowth and several smaller mounds as well. There are literally dozens of still unexcavated ancient sites in this region. A major new highway had to be abandoned because forty new sites were discovered when planning the route!
Then it was on to the Hill of Tara, seat of the high kings of Celtic Ireland. The Vikings had pretty much destroyed whatever was left of the wooden dwellings (which wouldn't have survived to the present day anyway), but the rounds mounds of the kings' dwellings and "seat" were clearly visible. We visitors could walk all over them, surrounded by bleating sheep who seemed a bit put out to have all these tourists disturbing their grazing.
The hill does not seem very high, but the view was gorgeous (and would have been even more amazing in the sunshine). It is said that on a clear day, you can see 3/4 of Ireland from the top. I suspect that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you certainly could see great distances! Near the top of the hill were a statue of St. Patrick, who converted the pagan kings of Ireland...and in the Seat of the Kings stands the Stone of Destiny.
At the end of the interesting day, I returned to the Arlington and Rob and I set out to find a good restaurant for our last dinner. We found a nice little Italian restaurant for pasta and risotto, then returned to the hotel to watch the sad news from London. Finally, we packed carefully for our long return trip tomorrow, set the alarm for early morning, and went to bed.
I love our travels, but it is always nice to be home!