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Driving southern Ireland

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Driving southern Ireland


Driving in Ireland this summer, I kept track of my driving statistics. I drove over two curbs making left turns, clipped only one side view mirror, knocked down one sandwich sign, backed into two piles of rocks when turning around, and only once turned into a street on the wrong side! I thought that was excellent! I had not driven on the left side of the street since a vacation to New Zealand about 15 years ago. We thought that we would save money with our rental car in Ireland by having only one driver and opting for a stick shift. I volunteered to do the driving as I am more comfortable with shifting gears, and at least I had some experience on the left side.

Driving on the left side of the street, sitting on the right side of the car, shifting gears with my left hand, doing turn indicators with the same left hand, and negotiating traffic on strange roads and the novel round-a-bouts was challenging. The directional signs were a tangle of signs hanging from a post like a cartoon drawing. There were no approach signs indicating any approaching turns. There were little symbols indicating an intersection or turn was ahead, but no indication of where it would be going.

We did challenge ourselves to travel to the ends of the roads, which often was a one-lane road. Neither side ever provided a shoulder to the road. When an oncoming vehicle approached, there was a quick negation of blinking headlights as to who had access to the closest pullout. People were kind, however, and always seemed to want to be the first to take the dive into a pullout.

The driving did require alertness. Many roads are only wide enough for 2 cars to pass with relative close contact, but not always. There are hedge rows or stone walls that rise 4 or 5 feet on either side of the road so that there is no margin for error. They wind around and when you enter a turn you never know if someone will be walking, cycling or moving their cattle in the lane or lanes ahead.

Preparing for our trip to Ireland, I bought three guidebooks and the largest Irish road map I could possibly find. D-K’s Ireland book was our favorite. The National Geographic Traveler for Ireland contained things, however, that D-K did not have, especially related to the unusual geography, parks, and nature walks. Frommer’s Ireland was helpful in finding recommendations for restaurants and places to stay. I also picked up Lonely Planet’s Dublin City Guide for when we got to Dublin. I found them all worthy of the purchase.

Our only definite plans were to arrive in Dublin and pick up a rental car from Dan Dooley Rentals (our friends did the research that the Dooley Rental was the best value for the euro). We had made a three-day reservation in Dublin for the last days of our trip. The rest of the trip unfolded as we drove along and received recommendations from people we talked to. With no reservations or plans, it was a great way to go! It was a great country to travel in this manner, as everyone had a travel tip to share and a willingness to help. Of course, everyone spoke English, which was relieved us of the usual language challenge we have in our travels.

Here, then, is a diary of our trip and the directions we traveled. We hope you will gain by some of our mistakes and benefit by the fun we had!

Monday, May 25, 2009

TRAVEL: Dublin Airport, around Dublin, to Enniskerry using M50.

Neither of us slept much on the flight, although it was quick and quiet. We located the cut rate Don Dooley Car Rental that was recommended, as it was around the corner from the Avis and Hertz big boys. We ended up with a slight upgrade and drove a Fiat Punta. Norman and I had a few challenges of our navigation and driving the first few hours out, but seemed to adapt quickly. People always recommend where to go. It is almost too easy.

A guy at the car rental recommended we stay overnight in Enniskerry, then another person recommended a B&B in Enniskerry called “Ferndale.” It was an old Victorian run by Josie and Noel Corcoran that reminded me of one in Ferndale, CA. Noel was fabulous, as he sat with us for almost an hour going over our map of Ireland highlighting the best places to see and the places to avoid. We ended up following all of his advice, which was well worth it. His email is Ferndale@tinet.ie.

Noel, the B&B proprietor, recommended that we push ourselves that first day to stay awake until the usual time. Following his advice, we walked over to POWERSCOURT which was one of the most highly rated majestic homes in Ireland.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

TRAVEL: Enniskerry surroundings and Wicklow Mountains

The breakfast this morning was served either “cooked” or “uncooked.” We opted for the latter and had cold cereal, juice, homemade bread/toast. Others at the table had the traditional “cooked” breakfast of bacon (a slab of ham), two kinds of sausages, and greasy fried eggs. This was the norm for the Irish complete breakfast everywhere. We were much happier with our choice. Breakfast with the other lodgers was served at a long dining table set with silver serviette rings, silver toast holders, and silver topped jam containers.

I slid behind the wheel and confidently drove out of town. We spent the day driving through the Wicklow Mountains most likely using some of the military roads that once protected Dublin from invaders. We struggled with the signage, but finally found Sally Gap, then over the hill to the RUSSBOROUGH HOUSE which is another of Ireland’s finest houses. The gardens were nice, but not as nice as yesterday’s visit to Powerscourt. The tour of the house, however, was great. The ceilings were all hand molded with carpets designed to reflect the designs on the ceilings.

We drove through sheep lands with high hedge rows of a bright yellow flowered plant with small thorns. It was beautiful from a distance, but must be wicked to go through on foot. We drove around the lake area and bumbled our way to GLENDALOUGH. There were ruins of an old monastery there. A 30-foot round tower, a couple of stone buildings, and hundreds of gravestones provided lots of exploring.

We attempted to locate the factory outlet store for woolen clothing that was well advertised along the road, but it was a real tourist trap loaded with junk. We returned to Enniskerry, and the innkeeper recommended we go out to Johnny Fox’s pub which has been a pub since 1798. It was great! It reminded me of Fannie Ann’s Saloon in Sacramento with all the goodies on the walls. The food was spectacular!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

TRAVEL: to Kilkenny via back roads (Aughrim, Tinahely, Shillelagh, Bunclody, Borris, Gowran, then Kilkenny).

We followed Noel’s advice to go to Kilkenny instead of Waterford crystal factory. He said unless we wanted to buy crystal, there was no reason to go there.

The Avondale Forest Park was difficult to locate until we realized we need to follow the signs for Avondale House. Who knew? It sounded like a name for a B&B. There was a light mist, but we walked through the woods and down along the river. The house and café were closed up, so we drove on to Aughum where we were advised to lunch at The Green Bean, an organic grocery and café with excellent items.

Driving on we stopped in Graiguenamanagh to explore the old Duiske Abbey. The abbey is the largest Cistercian church in Ireland. Founded in 1207, it has been extensively restored and now acts as the parish church. The oak roof was quite impressive.

Driving on the left with the little roads is challenging, but becoming slightly easier. We stopped in Gowran as the structure of an old abbey or church caught our eye. It was half restored for use as a church and the rest is a skeleton for the memory of time.

At one point we were confused as to which way to go, so we pulled over under a bird’s nest of directional signs with our map open. A man stopped his car, knocked on our window, and asked to be of help. He then led us across to the turnoff we wanted! Twice, older men walking along the road practically risked their lives helping us with directions. The people here are incredibly helpful and friendly.

Entering Kilkenny was our first attempt at driving in a city with traffic. The small country roads were effective training grounds, but city traffic was another level of challenge. Attempting a right turn requires intense concentration. I will never again be rude to any driver at home. What if they were some poor Irish person attempting to negotiate our roads! When trying to locate the Butler House Hotel that we read about, we actually drove into the castle grounds. It was quite embarrassing, but no one seemed to mind. I am sure it has happened before.

Thursday, May 28

TRAVEL: Kilkenny surroundings to Kells and Stonyford

Kilkenny was touted as being Ireland’s loveliest inland city, and it was true. It rose to prominence in the 13th century and became the medieval capital of Ireland. The Butler family came to power in the 1390s and maintain its status over the city for 500 years. We stayed in the actual Butler House which was an amazing place to stay. It is actually an extension of the Kilkenny Castle, as it was truly the house of the King’s cousin who was established as a royal butler. They never actually worked as butlers, but just took the title, which later became their surname – Butler. The breakfast was served across the garden upstairs over the old Horse Stable As we attempted to locate the site of the hotel’s breakfast area, however, we walked through most of the Kilkenny Design Center.

The Butler House: The rooms (we had two as we did not reserve ahead of time, so we had to change rooms) were large, spacious, modern, and very clean. The bathrooms had modern fixtures with a huge soaking tub and nice shower. Be sure to ask for a room away from the front street unless you wear earplugs, as I do. The breakfast was luxurious, after we eventually found it! There was a large array of the usual food – both “cold” and “hot.” We opted for “porridge” or cooked oatmeal. The scones, muffins, and toast are all homemade. This is a great place to stay!

The innkeeper Richard liked us! He helped to plan our day, he let me use his personal computer to access the internet, and he gave us a bottle of wine! We lunched at Zuni’s (recommended by Richard), and it was excellent.

We walked over to the Kilkenny Castle which was built in the 1190s and occupied right up until 1935. We walked the streets of Kilkenny, under the Tholsel arcade, which stuck out over the street with a great restaurant Fleva’s where we ate dinner later on. We spotted the ROTHE HOUSE and walked all through it. The Rothe House is a Tudor merchant’s house, built around two courtyards, and is fronted by arcades once typical of Kilkenny’s main streets.

Later we walked from St. Canice’s Cathedral with the 101 foot high round tower, which we crawled up inside using several ladders. It was built in 700 A.D. We were glad that we went inside the tower, as this was one of many such towers, but the only one that we found that had access inside to the very top! It gave us a sense of how all of them were.

From there we went to the Black Abbey. Norman kept asking the locals why it was called the “Black Abbey,” and no one seemed to know. We ended up buying a little booklet that explained it was named thusly because the good monks were well respected and well established in the area and recognized by the black robes they wore.

After a rest, we impulsively decided to take on the outing suggested by Richard. We raced as fast as possible to Stonyford to get there by the 6 p.m. closing of the Jerpoint Glassworks, which was noted to be the second best glass place in Ireland to Waterford. That was a long stretch! The glass made by Jerpoint was nice, but nothing of the quality of Waterford. The glass factories of Benecia here in California have spoiled us, I am afraid.

We then drove to the Kells Priory, which was a wonderful place to walk about. This was (according to Richard) the best preserved and largest priories in Ireland. We then returned to Kilkenny and walked over to Fleva’s for an excellent meal!

Friday, May 29, 2009

TRAVEL: Kilkenny to Cashel, Clonmel, Knockmealdown Mountain pass, Lismore, Youghal, then Cobh on Great Island

Our delightful breakfast this morning included porridge, which was perfect Irish oatmeal!

We drove on to Cashel, learning more every day how to read the directional signs which (1) point in every direction, (2) are given only at the actual intersection without any warnings, (3) are half in Gaelic, (4) have no road numbers to match the map, and (5) are in kilometers when all the Irish folks speak in mileage references.

The Rock of Cashel was fabulous! From the 4th or 5th century it was the seat of the Kings of Munster, whose kingdom extended over much of southern Ireland. In 1101, they handed Cashel over to the Church, and it was the religious center until Cromwel invaded in 1647 killing 3,000 occupants. The cathedral was abandoned in the late 18th century. We walked down a trail to the Hore Abbey, from the 13th century, not far away, which was again a beautiful memorial to time.

Our previous innkeeper’s advice was to drive the back roads of Mt. Melleray to the monastery there. The roads were filled with 20 to 30 foot high rhododendrons growing wild and naturally in the woods. We got to the top of the working monastery, but found it a bit disappointing. The mysteries of the past definitely have more allure than the conditions of the present. There was a tea room where we had coffee and an apple tart (locally grown apples and homemade tart). The view would have been nice, as it was very high in elevation, but it was all socked in with fog, so we could not appreciate it.

We labored along the road and motor ways finally to the coastal road toward Cork. The sun came out as we reached the coast. We found COBH and after a couple of attempts settled at the Bella Vista Hotel. We walked to town for dinner at the recommended Trade Winds. We hesitated at first until we realized there was a second floor of dining upstairs with table clothes and nice silver service.

Cobh (pronounced “cove”) lies on Great Island, one of the three islands in Cork harbor which are now linked by causeways. Cobh was also the last stop for the TITANIC before its doomed Atlantic crossing in 1912. Three years later the LUSITANIA was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine southwest of Cobh. A memorial on the promenade is dedicated to all those who died in the attack.

The sun set over the harbor while I was writing. The earlier cruise ship left with all the German tourists. There were a couple of freighters in the harbor and some industrial plants far across on the mainland. This was a beautiful place to be.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

TRAVEL: Cobh surroundings

We headed out for the old train station (where the train rarely comes), but has been completely restored to include an Irish Emigration Museum telling about the 6 million Irish who left Ireland. About 2.5 million of them left through Cobh. Along with that was the story of the SS Lithuanian that was hit by a German submarine torpedo just 35 miles off Cork. Most everyone onboard died.

We lunched downtown and walked around window shopping. We walked around and through the elegant St. Colman’s Cathedra, which is a Gothic Revival cathedral and possibly the most beautiful one we’ve seen so far. Its stately silhouette dominates the skyline of Cobh city.

In the afternoon, we drove out to the FOTA HOUSE AND GARDENS just north of town, which is an old mansion surrounded by beautiful and exotic rare plants from around the world. Also on the island is the FOTA Wildlife Park concentrating on breeding and reintroducing animals to their natural habitat. The park boasts over 70 species, including giraffe, flamingo, and zebra. It was arranged so that people could walk around on trails and look at the animals in a natural environment and not in cages.

We dined a second night at the Trade Winds, which seems to be the only place in town that people recommend.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

TRAVEL: Cobh to Kinsale, then Rosscanberry

We remembered to ask for porridge made of water not milk, and it was delicious. We missed the street parade, kilt competitions, and other festivities, as we concentrated on filling the car with gas and washing the windows. Unfortunately, they laughed at me when I asked if they had something to wash the windows with. There was a choice of the little car wash or the radiator water hose! Having a clean windshield does not seem to be a priority here.

We drove down to the little ferry that we spotted yesterday. It took us across the inlet to the road giving us a straight shot across the coast to Kinsale – our morning destination.

Driving the roads continues to amuse us, as the hedgerows on both sides totally prevent any views of the gorgeous hillsides, even on designated scenic roads! Every time there is a break in the bushes, we look quickly with a jerk of our heads, and then I have to quickly correct my steering. It is laughable.

Kinsale was said to be a sweet seaside village, and it was! We grabbed a place to park on the street and did not realize we had just beat about 2,000 people who would soon be looking for parking. We walked round the town, had coffee, then walked up to the St. Multose Church which was old, but active. Being Sunday, there was a service in progress, so we decided against going in.

We found the Desmond Castle which was nicely restored. It had been used as a trading site for wine and Hennessey Cognac. In the 1700s the place was used as a cell to hold American prisoners. The conditions were awful. There is a great effort to preserve the history and old buildings.

We located the highly recommended Fishy Fishy Café, on Pier Road in Kinsale, and it was worth the 20 minute wait! It is a good thing we Americans eat early. Coming out later, there was a huge crowd waiting to go in.

We gave up our precious parking spot to a line of vultures waiting in overheated cars. This was the first sunshine, the beginning of a three-day weekend, and the beginning of a school summer vacation for some students. Also, this is a perfect weekend get-a-way for folks in the city of Cork who want a nice drive to the coast. The locals were active.

We drove up the coast a bit to CHARLES FORT which was huge. There were all kinds of areas to explore and views to see. We enjoyed seeing so many locals enjoying the warm sun and picnicking at famous landmarks.

We then drove along the coast which was highlighted on the map and was worth going out of our way. People keep telling us repeatedly to skip Cork and not to kiss the Blarney stone! Rumors are that the locals pee on the stone during the night as a joke. We have now passed up this famous Irish landmark. The thought of kissing a stone that has been kissed and slobbered on by millions was not even less tempting, realizing that perhaps hundreds have peed on it during the night.

As we drove into Rosscanberry, there was a sign saying “Welcome to the Music Festival.” We were worried as this was our spot to stay overnight, and there may have been a shortage of places to stay.

A couple of men wearing day-glo vests were directing traffic to the overflow parking lot. Norman rolled down the window and said, “But we are looking for a B&B, not a parking place.” The guy stuck his head in the window, smiled, looked us over, and said, “Follow me.” He backed up a van, placed a blinking light on the roof, and led us through the traffic barricades across town. He then pulled up to a modern family home used as a B&B on weekends. At first there were just some young teenage girls at home, but Mom came home soon. We decided to stay, and day-glo “Steve” left. We unpacked and mother Mary Jo helped us do our washing in her washing machines. We hung things out to dry on their line and walked to town.

Norman found the O’Callaghan Walshe fish food restaurant, which was excellent. The music group playing in the outdoor theatre was supposedly a famous R&B band from the 70s that never made it to the U.S. We stayed to listen to them and walked back in the beautiful evening sun set (which didn’t actually happen until after 10 p.m.). The bay was beautiful with a few fishermen trying their luck in the later hours, and exotic birds shyly hanging around for any leftovers. Their silhouette against the evening’s sun was striking.

Monday, June 1, 2009

TRAVEL: Castletownshend, Baltimore, Mizen Head, to Bantry

The entire red headed family at the B&B (mom, dad, and three girls) helped us on our way. The littlest girl was still rubbing sleep out of her eyes as she insisted on bringing us our toast and juice. Mother Mary Jo asked to do any ironing for us. Father Frank washed the windshield and filled the water reservoir in the car. Off we went then to the Drombeg Stone Circle (about 150 B.C.).

The concept is similar to that of Stone Henge in England, but on a smaller scale. The pagan ritual of recognizing the sun rays of the longest and shortest days had religious significance as well as practical knowledge of the seasons. The rays of the winter solstice sunset go exactly through two rocks across a flat stone.

We stopped in a cute town of Glendora for coffee and a potty break. Driving along the coast offers a total different landscape.

We stopped at a cute town of Baltimore and had a pizza lunch. We drove through the town of Castletownshend, which I could not remember why I marked it on the map. I think the reason was that there is a VERY cool castle there in which rooms are for rent! I wish I had remembered this.

Driving out to the end of MIZEN HEAD we walked out to the end of an old lighthouse which is the most south-westerly tip of Ireland. I believe there was a sign there that said “Closest spot in Ireland to New York City.” The cliffs were magnificent and equal to Grand Canyon in awesomeness. While driving along a back road, we came across a man riding a bicycle totally nude. I think Norman was in shock for quite some time.

The town of Dough had a wide and shallow beach that was different from any I had ever seen. Did I mention the sun has been shining for two days? People are ecstatic! The beach was full of sun bathers and swimmers.

Near Skibbereen in County Cork, we wanted to visit the Ceim Hill Museum which was in the D-K book. It is an old woman’s house. We drove all the way out, located the house, and talked to old Mrs. O’Mahoney, but she had a hip replacement and has closed down the museum for a year now! No need to go there!

We drove into the town of Bantry, which we plan to use as a base for two nights. At first we considered staying a night at the beautiful and elegant restored Bantry House as there are eight rooms there. The price was 200 euro per night, however, and a room was available for only one night. The combination of the two factors put us off. We wanted to stay in the same bed for at least two nights, as we were becoming road weary. We settled on the Maretime Hotel and ate a free dinner as part of the stay.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

TRAVEL: Sheep’s Head Peninsula from Bantry

We ate breakfast in the hotel. Although it is a typical hotel, with loads of tourists, we find the accommodations nice: bigger bed, flat bed (not sinking in the middle), coffee in the room, hairdryer, good shower, light, and roomy. We decided to stay a third night.

We drove out the Goat’s Path again. First we locate the B&B that was too far to locate the first night, and we were glad we did not make the effort, as we were much happier in town. We did a lot of unnecessary exploring, although it was fun. We got lost a couple of times and had to turn around in people’s private property.

We made it out to the end of Sheep’s Head Peninsula and did a 1.5 hour walk. It was warm, beautiful, and majestic. After yesterday’s light house, this one was disappointing, however, as the lighthouse was active and not accessible to visitors. We located a hard-to-find “Ring fort” which required a walk up a charming trail over two bridges. This was another mini version of the Stonehenge of England.

Coming back to Bantry, we walked through the historical Bantry museum and around the gardens. The workers were very well informed, and Norman enjoyed talking to them about the various plants.

The Internet Café – FastNet – provided us with access to quick email. We shopped, and Norman finally found an electrical converter that will keep our camera charged. This was a real challenge to find one that converts from US to British electricity. We had forgotten that it was totally different from the continental Europe electricity.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

TRAVEL: Beara Peninsula, Healy Pass, Dursey Head, and Glengarriff

The hotel restaurant has been most kind every day in making porridge with water rather than milk. I felt much better today. Yesterday I overdosed with scones and had horrible stomach cramps. This seems to be my typical reaction to dairy products.

Today was a driving day of the Beara Peninsula. We headed out in the recommended figure eight from East to West (Adrigole over Healy Pass to Lauragh). This direction provided the best views when descending the mountain.

We went to the Derreen Gardens which probably was today’s highlight. The walk around the peninsula garden was another aristocrat’s way of showing off his travels and wealth, yet sharing with others. We did meet a young woman who was setting up the family mansion for a big party. Her party boyfriends were bringing in cases of Guinness beer.

We then drove all the way out to the end of the Beare Peninsula for the cable car ride over to Dursey Island, but it was down for construction (an estimated 8 to 10 weeks). Darn. We did take time to walk around the rocks looking at sea life, however. Be sure to check if the cable car is working before driving all the way out!

We came back along the easterly road through Castletownberry, but because of the road construction, we missed the turn to the castle, which was another disappointment today. By the time we realized our error, we were too far, and a bit road weary.

Before returning to Bantry, we went to Glengariff for the boat ride over to Garinish Island to visit the fabulous gardens there. This was recommended to us, and it was very much worth the visit!

In the cute little town of Glengariff, there was a store with Aran knit sweaters, and I bought one. Aran sweaters are the famous Irish cable knit sweaters typically worn by the fisherman. It is all wool and nicely designed. I just hope I can wear it someday in warm California.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

TRAVEL: Ring of Kerry, Hog Head, to Portmagee

This was another long day of driving, and I got a bit cranky. Norman did not want to stop, as he wanted to make good time. I wanted to visit too many of the local historical Druid ruins uncovered by farmers over the years. This was the only day that we were of opposing thoughts.

We drove all the way out to the end of Hog’s Head and later Bolus Head, saw lovely spectacular views, but there was no place to take a walk as was recommended to us to do. We felt uncomfortable going over farmland that had “no trespassing” signs posted. Driving back toward Portmagee, we saw a sign to look at a nice view, and it ended up being private property with a fee to pay. The guy was quite an entrepreneur, and a fun person. He ran a B&B and was able to book passage to the Great Skellig Island for us the next day, as well as provide us with room and breakfast. We went into the town of Portmagee for dinner, but the vegetarian pasta was disgusting: canned tomato sauce with canned olives over pasta. Yuk. I should know better than expect good Italian food in Ireland!

Friday, June 5, 2009

TRAVEL: Portmagee and Great Skellig Island

Our very kind B&B owner arranged for us to take one of the seven working fishing boats over to Great Skellig Island. Because of the good weather, the seven boats have been a sellout attraction. We were on standby status, but we made it. The old fishermen have made a new and easier life taking tourists out to Skellig Island. Their little fishing boats were limited to 12 people, which was a way of controlling the visitors to the islands. Our old fisherman was Dermot J. Walsh who was a jolly guy with lots of warmth in his smile!

Great Skellig and Little Skellig are towering rocks in the Atlantic that are seabird sanctuaries, but until the 12th century monks inhabited Great Skellig.

Monks lived on Great Skellig from the 4th to the 12th century in these stone huts. It took them over four hours of rowing to go to the mainland for supplies, and that was when the weather was good. We climbed up the 600 plus stone steps to the top where the old huts still remained intact. This was an extremely meager existence, and the monks were well admired.

We had left for the island about 11 a.m. In the boat, we made a circle around Little Skellig Island which is forbidden for humans to land. The noise of the screeching birds was in surround sound! The old fisherman dropped us off on Great Skellig and told us to be ready at the dock at 3 p.m. for the return. I was thinking since it was such a tourist attraction, there should be something to eat, but no, there was nothing. Norman and I shared a Cliff bar we found at the bottom of his day pack.

The island was 10 miles off the end of the Kerry Peninsula. The site is under the jurisdiction of the Dept of Public Works. They had built a concrete pier for us to land. Then we walked up a long serpentine ramp to a stone stairway of 625 steps by my count to the stone buildings. There was an outer windbreak wall and the buildings were low domes that you bent to enter that could accommodate maybe 5 people. No mortar was used and the buildings are their original condition. Just incredible. The return trip was extremely rough, and most everyone was soaked from the spray of the waves crashing on the little boat. [Thinking back later, this probably was a highlight of the trip.]

We at a quick early dinner of fish and chips and went back to last night’s B&B to get the clothes we had washed and left to dry on the line. Then we headed off to Tralee which looked to be a good base camp for the Dingle Peninsula. By the way, I found that the local fish and chips meal (when in doubt) was probably the best option for food. I scraped off the deep fried coating and always found a delicious moist fish inside.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

TRAVEL: Dingle Peninsula, then Trallee

We walked around town getting a fuse for the electric converter than Norman blew using a hairdryer. We used the Internet and visited the tourist center for guidance on the Dingle Peninsula.

We drove over the Connor Pass which had lovely views of the hillsides. The most unusual thing on the rolling hills were the patchwork of odd shapes divided by serious rock walls. There were some lovely sandy beaches, but few people were using them in this brisk cool weather. Yes, it has cooled off today and returned to the Irish norm of cloudy with occasional showers.

The Dinberg Fort was interesting, but more fascinating was the collection of Potato Famine Emigrant Housing across the street.

We kept driving until we found the Gallarus Oratory, which was built of stones around 600 B.C. and was still standing. Because of the way the stones were shaped, the four-foot thick walls never leaked, were never blown away, and never burned down. The one window brought in the eastern sun, and the one door let in the western afternoon sun. These relics were definitely worth the collective visit.

We drove back to Trallee, which did end up being a good central place to be. Our hotel innkeeper is certainly odd, but the price is right – 50 euro per night for both of us. This place is not to be recommended, however. There are three beds in our room, so we really have spread out our belongs.

We found quite by accident a great restaurant called Bella Bia at ½ Ivy Terrace, Tralee, in County Kerry. They made the first excellent Italian food that I have tasted here in Ireland.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

TRAVEL: Ferry, Loop Head, Cliffs of Moher, then Galway

The main street of town Denny Street, where our hotel is located, was very quiet this morning with actual available parking spaces. This was a contrast to the usual parking space contest I have had. Last night I really was challenged by a wicked driver, but never underestimate the skills of a former California college student trying to find parking spaces – even decades later!

Today was a driving day. I decided Ireland is best appreciated from a car. Driving does continue to be a challenge, however. The roads wander to surprising and delightful directions. Locating the LOOP HEAD Peninsula was only possible after some serious navigating by Norman and yet one more rock pile rendezvous with my driving. The Loop Head lighthouse was at the end of the road. An informal trail wrapped around the lighthouse property providing serious and scary access to tremendous cliffs, bird nests, and views. We were the only ones walking in this desolate and strange place. The lonely walk was thrilling and something I will never forget. This was definitely a highlight of the trip, I am sure!

Later in the day we made it to the “not to be missed” Cliffs of Moher, but it was anti-climatic after the Loop Head. Moher cliffs had a Disneyland feel to it with all the tour buses, guided and guarded walks, gift shops, and hundreds of visitors. The views were probably comparable to the LOOP, but not nearly as enjoyable.

We drove on to Galway and found the four-star Park House Hotel, which the price included one dinner as well as breakfast. We welcomed the mindless decision to have dinner right there in the hotel. We have pretty much done everything we planned to do on this trip so far. We could go on north, but we decided to enjoy Galway for awhile.

Monday, June 8, 2009

TRAVEL: Galway

Today was very relaxing as we did not even look at our car! The Park House Hotel is excellent with a lovely décor. Breakfast this morning was great. Hanging on our door knob in a black recycle bag were two newspapers mostly filled with local election news. The Green Party won with an overwhelming margin of votes.

We started the day with an hour bus ride on the top of a double-decker tour bus. This gave us a nice feeling of the city, and we saw the million-dollar home section of town as well as the bay area.

We walked the downtown streets seeing the Spanish arches and finally located the museum. There was a touching display about J. F. Kennedy when he visited Ireland in 1963. He said, “I took 119 years, 6,000 miles, and 3 generations, but I have finally come home.” The people loved him and dedicated a park in town in this honor.

We walked to a recommended pub called Taaff’s for a beer and listened to impromptu traditional Irish music. I loved it! Norman thought it was awful.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

TRAVEL: Galway across Midlands, Clonmacnoise, to Athlone

We are well into our countdown to the end of our trip. Only one more day of driving after today.

This morning we retraced about an hour of driving to see the Burren Mountains which were awesome. The first time I saw the huge white bulge in the middle of the greenery of land, it looked like a snow-covered bluff. The hills are a strange phenomena of time. Originally they were the bottom of the ocean, compacted with years of sea life, raised up by force, then were scraped clean and smooth by the ice age glaciers.

Driving around, we located the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a portal tomb from 2500 to 2000 B.C. from the ceremonial burials. Then we drove a long way across the Midlands using the speedy motorway, choosing to do half the trip today so we can still enjoy some sightseeing tomorrow.

We located the Clonmacnoise medieval Monastery ruins, which were nicely preserved by the River Shannon, and was active from the 7th to the 12th century. There is a “whispering door” with carvings of saints Francis, Patrick, and Dominic. The acoustics of the doorway are such that a person can stand on one side and whisper to someone on the other side. This was said to be a way for confessions to be made of the lepers or very ill persons without the monk coming in direct contact with them.

We decided to head to the nearest city Athlone and located a B&B. We ended up in a nice B&B called THE BEECH TREE run by Marie Keegan. She recommended dinner at the Olive Grove on the Shannon River’s edge, which was nice. Athlone was not highlighted in the books, which was too bad. The downtown was a delight with a beautiful walk where Norman talked to a fly fisherman, and we chatted with other visitors along the river’s edge.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

TRAVEL: Kilbeggan, Trim, (Newgrange) to Dublin

Today was a disappointment, and truly one to test the character of our relationship. At the end of the day, however, we were already laughing at the errors we made.

We left the B&B with the old lady on the front porch waving goodbye. We drove straight out to the highway to the Locke’s Whisky Distillery. This was a good touch of Irish culture and history to learn about the making of whisky and the recent struggles of the last century with American prohibition, etc.

After a tasting of the whisky, we went on to the town of TRIM. The castle “keep” was extremely well fortified from invaders. There were layers upon layers of protection to guard against invaders. This was the site for filming Mel Gibson’s Brave Heart, and they were quite proud of that. To visit the castle required a guided tour guide. The guide was very informative about the defensive attributes of the castle and how people lived in those years. Tough living!

There was only one entry on the opposite side of the castle that was 10 feet above the ground. The king and his immediate family lived in the farthest part of the castle for protection with lots of narrow stairways to reach it. Their toilet was a hole on one of the window sills. The waste dropped four stories through a chute to a little room that a farmer would stir each day so that the fumes would rise to their room through this chute. Since they only washed twice a year they as well as their clothes would have parasites. So they would hang their clothes over the chute and the ammonia fumes would make the parasites leave their clothing. (This apparently was the first form of dry cleaning.) Interesting is that the castle guarded a river where they charged a toll to the merchants for its use. One would think that washing would be more frequent.

We attempted to locate the Newgrange burial site, which was to have pre-dated Egyptian pyramids, but the signing was outrageous. It kept saying “Newgrange to be entered through Visitor Centre,” but never said where the visitor center was. We followed the signs to Newberge, and they would then not let us in. They said we needed to drive miles back to the visitor center and come back in a bus. What madness! We were both disgusted.

We decided to drive to Dublin and check in the car. Driving got more and more challenging and dangerous as we got closer to the city. Before returning the vehicle, we remembered we should fill the tank. There was a gas station right down the street. We turned left out of the gas station forgetting to LOOK RIGHT and almost got in a wreck right in front of the car rental place! We turned in the car, and they said “no damage.” Yahoo! I guess the little scratches are just part of general wear and tear.

Later we ate at the Unicorn Restaurant, which was excellent. Norman was able to sample some excellent wines. What a strange and confusing afternoon! The morning was fun, but the afternoon got a bit dicey.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

TRAVEL: Dublin

Our modest accommodations did not include breakfast, so we found a restaurant that served freshly squeezed orange juice and my standard porridge cooked with water. Norman’s French toast, however, smelled of last night’s fish. Yuk. We walked the streets going over to the Temple Bar area walking the Ha’Penny walker’s bridge. There used to be a toll of half a penny for pedestrians; hence, the name.

Carroll’s was the name of the Irish tourist shop that has all kinds of green Irish things, rugby shirts, etc. We ate lunch in a pub in the Temple Bar area, although it was marginal. The food here is not up to our usual expectations.

We walked over to Christ Church and next door to the Abbey which housed the Dublinia exhibit. This was a rather nicely done visual and interactive historical presentation of Dublin that began with the Viking invaders establishing a settlement. The name “Dublin” comes from that time. We caught the jump-on, jump-off bus and took a tour of the city looking from the second story of the bus. Fun.

We came back, cleaned up, and set out for a lovely dinner at Bang Restaurant. Our dinner was excellent. We have found our best meals when following the recommendations of Frommer’s tour book.

Just as we were leaving I made a quick comment to two couples sitting next to us. “You two have got to be sisters,” I said. This simple comment led to an evening of fun drinking and conversation with the four of them. Cahel (his Irish name) or “Charles” Crimmins was an architect, and George was a dentist.

Friday, June 12, 2009

TRAVEL: Dublin

We started the day at the same restaurant with freshly squeezed orange juice and porridge with honey and fresh strawberries on top. Yummy.

We hopped back on the bus taking advantage of our 24-hour ticket and went out to the jail – Kilmainham Gaol. Although it was highly recommended, it did not hold a candle to the Alcatraz tour here in San Francisco.

Taking the bus back to the City Center, we headed for Trinity College founded in 1592 (Gees, was that before America was even settled?). It was lovely walking on a college campus with all the nice landscaping and no cars.

We viewed the Book of Kells exhibit and saw the four volumes. This exhibit was probably will get my award for being one of the most exciting things I have seen here in Ireland. The books were hand scribed by monks in the 800s and are beautifully embellished with interlacing drawings. Upon exiting that display, we made a turn and were in the awesome Old Library Collection with thousands of old original books. It was fabulous. The Long Room is 210 feet in length and contains over 200,000 very old books.

After dinner, we went out for the evening to a theatre production at the famous Abbey Theatre. Although modern, it was very well designed and acoustically well done. We saw “Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant,” which was a bit trying to watch. We wondered why the theatre was recommended, and later it was explained that the Theatre was a prime spot for revolutionaries to meet when Ireland received its independence. The building architecturally, however, was fairly ordinary.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

TRAVEL: Dublin

Today is the last day of our Irish holiday. Looking over the many choices still left here in Dublin, we opted for a visit to the National Museum, which was truly a highlight. There were several well preserved pre-historic bodies that had been “pickled” in the acidic bogs.

We had lunch at Peploe’s Restaurant at 16 St. Stephen’s Green, another recommended from Frommer’s, which was excellent!

We pushed ourselves to walk over to the Dublin Castle, but decided against waiting for a tour of the inside. We then walked over and through St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is the largest in Ireland. The cathedral suffered over the centuries from desecration, fire, and neglect, but thanks to the generosity of Sir. Benjamin Guinness, it underwent extensive restoration during the 1860s.

We walked back to our room going through the St. Stephen Green, which was being well used on a warm sunny Saturday afternoon. It was a beautiful walk. After packing for our trip home, we walked down to O’Donnahough’s Pub for a beer (and a Shandy for me, which is a mix of beer and “lemonade” or 7-Up). We sat for quite a while watching the Irish singers.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

TRAVEL: Dublin to San Francisco

At 7 a.m. the taxi was pleasantly and efficiently waiting for us. In 20 minutes we were at the airport, took care of our VAT (value added tax) returns, had a breakfast, and got on our direct flight home.

What were some of the highlights of the trip? What were things that we would say to definitely NOT miss? I asked Norman, and we agreed upon the following:

• Dublin Trinity College and the Book of Kells

• Dublin National Museum

• Powerscourt in Enniskerry

• Glendalough

• Johnny Fox’s pub

• Kilkenny town and castle

• Tower at St. Canice’s in Kilkenny

• Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey

• Cobh

• Drombeg Stone Circle

• Derreen Gardens

• Garinish Island

• Portmagee to Great Skellig Island

• Loop Head

• Burren Mountains and Poulnabrone Dolmen

• Clonmacnoise ruins

• Trim castle keep

By the way, the car rental agencies do not allow anyone 25 or younger to drive, nor anyone 70 years or over to drive. My husband Norman had just turned 70! It was a good thing I had volunteered to do the driving. I suppose we will not be able to do this trip again, as it will not be long before I am 70. What a pity.

Hook Lighthouse
Historic Sites, Lighthouses, Visitor Centres, Speciality Museums
Rathcroghan Royal Site
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Manchester, United...
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1. Re: Driving southern Ireland

What a facinating and well written read - many thanks for posting it :-)

If you do make it over again before your 70th you should consider filling in the gaps and head to the North (NI) and North-West (Mayo, Sligo, Donegal) - there's a wealth of Yeats related attractions that would possibly interest you in County Sligo as well as some of the best megaltihic sites in Europe that don't have the confusing Visitor Centre element but are merely 'there' for you to explore of your own free will...


Co. Kildare
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2. Re: Driving southern Ireland

ProfCB, thank you very much for your very informative and entertaining trip report!

By the way, the "bright yellow flowered plant with small thorns" is called gorse or furze.

Manchester, United...
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3. Re: Driving southern Ireland

FaScinating even!!!

(do wish that there was an edit facility for mid-morning typos on TA)



Dublin, Ireland
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4. Re: Driving southern Ireland

ProfCB, I think you have set the definitive standard for future trip reports; well observed details on where you travelled combined with sensible advice to other travellers. Job well done, and I'm glad you had such a good time in Ireland.

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5. Re: Driving southern Ireland

Well if it was ever said that it takes an outsider and I mean that in the kindest way, to pick out the little things that we ourselves don't notice I think that you have done that very well with this report. If I may comment on a couple of well observed points:

"Of course everyone spoke English, which relieved us of the usual language challenge", perhaps you had noticed that many of the place and street signs here are in Irish language, that even the locals have difficulty with.

Trim castle, "extremely well fortified from invaders". So just who were the invaders at Trim......answer: the Irish.

'Poor signage for Newgrange Visitor Centre', this seems to be a common complaint.......Wake up Meath County Council.

Thank you so much for making your visit to Ireland so interesting for us readers.

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6. Re: Driving southern Ireland

Thank you for the name of the plant! I was thrilled with the landscape in Ireland with all the wild rhododendrums (sp?), as they are such special flowers to us here in California. In contrast, the old bottle brush growing here as "freeway flowers" were seen in some of the exotic gardens of Ireland. Fun!

Waterford, Ireland
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7. Re: Driving southern Ireland

Amazing report, I enjoyed reading it and loads of good tips and points in it.

The gorse you saw is actually regarded as a 'pernicious weed'. Farmers are supposed to root it out and you can be fined for having it on your land. Thats the theory anyway!

I think the same applies to ragweed, which is harder to spot as it is yet another of the yellow flowers that are everywhere, it is poisonous to cattle.

And there are voluntary work camps to dig the large purple rhododendrons out of national park areas as they destroy everything in their path. They are pretty in flower though!

8. Re: Driving southern Ireland

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