Here is a write up describing our experience for a short week. Hope you enjoy!
Today, I would make with Sheri my second attempt to go to Ireland. Unlike last time, winter weather would not be a threat to cancelling the big flight. However, that one hour connection in Newark could be a bit unsettling. We got to DFW and checked in. The flight to Newark showed to be on time. We even boarded fairly quickly despite the fact there were people keeping the aisle congested while trying to fit their large carry on bags in the bin. We then left the gate, almost reached the runway, and then the pilot shut down the engines. My thought was “Oh, no….” The pilot explained that we were on a weather hold due to bad weather in the East Coast. We took off about a half hour later, and I wondered how this would impact things. After landing in Newark, we waited for the people ahead of us to get off quickly. We had just enough time to use the restroom before boarding the flight to Shannon. Note to self: no more quick connections in Newark. We took off on time and began the journey to the Emerald Isle.
June 11, 2014
Big and Little Island
The night was short as the plane flew to the northeast. As morning came, nothing but clouds could be seen over the ocean below. We descended through the clouds, and I was able to catch glimpses of the green landscape before finally coming out of the cloud layer. There were pastures, lakes, towns, and even a tower house visible before landing. We disembarked and went to rent the car. This would be the first car rental in a foreign country. Added to that, driving is on the left side of the road here. Although it was cloudy, there did not seem to be any rain looming. I decided that we would drive to Doolin and see about taking a ferry ride to the Aran Islands. We drove through some nice scenery in County Clare before approaching the coast. At the end of the road in Doolin was the pier for the ferries. We bought the combination ticket of a round trip to Inisheer and the Cliffs of Moher. Inisheer was the smallest as well as the closest island, making a day trip far easier since we did not get much rest and would later be jet lagged. A small boat took us to a larger boat off the Doolin Pier. Then, the ferry ride was 30 minutes to reach Inisheer. The weather gradually turned better as we docked. Some people hired a horse drawn carriage while others rented a bicycle. There were others like us who walked. We explored the cemetery that contained the ruins of an old church. On top of the island was a castle ruin. We made our way through the maze of rock wall borders to the castle. While the castle was not large, it did hold a commanding position on the island. The views from there were great, especially of the landscape of Inisheer. There was lots of livestock on the island. Sheep and cows were in various places. On the way down, we noticed that a café was open for lunch. This also doubled as a bed and breakfast which would likely be a great experience. The friendly host served a great selection of seafood chowder, Pollack, and crab claws. This would be a favorite among meals in Ireland. The weather was nice enough to eat out on picnic tables, and soon other hikers decided to eat here as well. The owner had a friendly dog, which always watched for guests in addition to watching over the sheep. The rock walls in this area were interesting, and I noted how stones seemed to fill in every available space like pieces in a puzzle. We gradually walked down back towards the pier. The island was quiet, and everyone who came to tour seemed to be fairly spread out. Most of the houses were in the area near the pier, while the other side of the island had very little development apart from the old rock walls. I looked at the nice sandy beach. It would be good enough for swimming if the water were not so cold. There was a dolphin in the water, and one of the islanders was attracting it with seaweed. It was soon time to take the busy ferry by the Cliffs of Moher before returning to Doolin. The cliffs were amazing, and there were a lot of birds in the rocky areas. Puffins were among the type of birds found here. The birds as well as the look of the cliffs made this worth the effort. Later, we reached Doolin and began driving back towards the Cliffs of Moher. We looked at a roadside gift shop before finally reaching the cliffs from above. Certainly, this was well on the beaten path, however the cliffs were certainly majestic. I chose not to go to the tower at the visitor center, since a few more feet of elevation did not seem to matter much to me. We walked a short distance on the path to take in the views. Both of us tried some ice cream as well. We then eventually decided to begin heading to Limerick to call it a day. This was a busy first day for us, but the cooperative weather convinced me to go ahead and see the Cliffs and Inisheer. The nice thing about renting a car was that we could decide at any time where we wanted to go. For the most part, we were not on a schedule, therefore it made things easier. We checked into the Travelodge on the Ennis Road in Limerick. It was very spartan, and did not seem to have a lot of amenities. Also, there were some noisy people staying there in the coming days. For dinner, we simply ate at the on site restaurant at the motel. It was based on a 1950’s American diner and was called “Rockin’ Joes”. While it was not authentic Irish food, there would be a chance later to eat something other than a greasy hamburger and fries. We went to bed fairly tired from jet lag and the long day, however going to Inisheer and the Cliffs of Moher was by far a memorable time.
June 12, 2014
The Top O’ Ireland
One thing I had really hoped to do this trip was go hiking and attempt the summit of the highest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohil. We woke up in the morning, and noticed that the weather would probably be decent today. While I had not planned on trying the hike the first full day, I told Sheri that the temptation to try it certainly existed. She did not have anywhere in particular she wanted to be today, so she offered the choice to go ahead to Killarney. While I would try the hike, she could shop, eat, and maybe see the attractions of Killarney. I would sacrifice the chance to see the Gap of Dunloe or drive the Ring of Kerry for a chance to make it up the mountain. As we drove the road south through the pretty village of Adare and beyond, the mountains appeared. It did not take long to recognize which one was Carrountoohil, because I had studied many photos of it. Macgillycuddy’s Reeks were striking in their profile, and it made me excited to get a chance to be among them. The navigation was a little tricky as we entered the road for the Ring of Kerry. The next thing was to take the Gap of Dunloe road without taking that final exit for the gap itself. The mountain loomed closer, and the feature of the “Devil’s Ladder” appeared. My guess was that this would be the main challenge in the hike. Then, the turnoff to Cronin’s yard was before us. This was hair raising, because the road was meant for travel in both directions, however we were fairly convinced only one car could fit in many spots. Thankfully, nobody was coming down the hill as it was still morning. At Cronin’s yard, a single hiker began his walk toward the mountain while I quickly got out of the car and told Sheri it would probably take six hours. I also told her she could take longer if needed. After all, it could be possible I would need longer as well. The path in to the hills was very scenic. There were some nice bridges to facilitate the stream crossings. Sheep grazed in various areas, even high up in the mountains themselves. As the path climbed higher, a wind appeared. It was quite strong in the partly cloudy skies. Above the hills, the clouds were moving very fast, indicating it must be blowing like a gale up there. This was a little bit discouraging, but the decision was to push on as far as reasonable and see what happens. There came a point where the two lakes appeared. The path went between them, and soon the feature of the “Devil’s Ladder” was before me. Many of the warnings about Carrauntoohil were based on this feature. After seeing it, I knew it would have a challenge to it, however far worse had been encountered in Colorado and Idaho. It was actually difficult to tell where the trail stopped and the ladder began. The ladder was easy as long as I walked in a zigzag fashion up the gully. There were a few wet spots and a couple of areas which required using hands as well as feet. It did not seem too exposed, however accidents could certainly be possible. I saw the hiker ahead disappear near the top of the ladder. As the elevation increased, the gully narrowed until it was several feet across. At the top, there was a lot of trail erosion. The path could certainly benefit from some trail repair, although I have no idea who owns or administers the land here. It is not part of Killarney National Park. Yet, the area is basically undeveloped and is only used for recreation as well as sheep grazing. As I reached the top of the ladder and exited to less steeper ground, I met the other guy and talked a little bit about the rest of the hike. He wanted to rest up before pushing to the summit. The cross at the top of the mountain was visible here as it had also been lower down at various points. The wind was not quite as strong at the saddle, but I kept my windshell on as the expectation was that it would pick up as the summit got closer. The path was much more gentle than the Devil’s Ladder with some switchbacks. As the climb continued, the world seemed to drop away, although the cross was once again invisible. The Irish sky remained partly cloudy. Now that feeling that this could be a possible success arrived. You get that feeling when there does not seem to be a lot of high ground ahead, and you look like you are fairly far up. Also, you notice that the other mountains no longer loom above you. When climbing a high point, the thought is there in the back of your mind that you must get higher than every bit of land that you can see around you. At the top of the ridge, a stone cairn appeared. Right behind it less than a minute away was the cross. The top of all Ireland. Three people were there. Two were in a roofless stone shelter because the wind was present. The windshell and wool cap were very helpful here. I touched the cross, took a bunch of photos, asked someone to take my photo, and then ate some snack food and drank some water. The view was spectacular with mountains all around. There were lakes as well as the patchwork of green farmland. In the distance, I think I saw the Dingle Peninsula . There was an inlet that must have been part of the Atlantic Ocean. Another larger party was coming up yet another route to the summit. Everyone seemed very happy about the weather and making it all of the way up. Yes, it was windy, but it was manageable. I wondered what Sheri was doing down there. Shopping? Eating? Maybe at the Muckross House? In a few hours, I would hear her tale, but wow, did I have a story for her! After resting up, it was time to descend from Ireland’s summit. The descent back to the saddle was easy and quick. A nice gentleman had pointed out an easy descent route known as the “Zig Zags”. It did look easier, however some upclimbing was required in order to reach it. Since the Devil’s Ladder now had some familiarity to it, I chose to use it on the descent. There was once again use of hands and legs to ensure a fall would not happen. Also, I had to be careful to not kick any rocks downhill since there were people ahead of me. It took a while to descend with caution, but it helped to get to the bottom of the hill without any problems. Ahead was an easier path. A stream flowed along the path, and there were a couple of crossings using rocks or very shallow water. Before long, the turnoff to Cronin’s Yard appeared, and soon the familiar bridges were encountered again. Finally, I could see the parking lot. Sheri was there. It turned out she was there for two hours, but did not mind waiting. I actually was “on time”, having used six hours for the round trip. She did some shopping and eating in Killarney, although not really much in the way of sightseeing. We began the drive back to Limerick. Once we reached the motel, we did not feel like driving around looking for a place to eat, so we had yet another meal at the Rockin’ Joes diner. After the greasy dinner of burger and fries, I was ready for the shower and bed. As tired as I was, I knew this would be a memory to be treasured. I fell asleep while thinking about those green mountains in County Kerry.
June 13, 2014
A Castle and Cobh
Today, we decided to make the drive south into County Cork. Although Blarney Castle is considered by many to be a tourist trap, we wanted to see it anyway. My research revealed that it was more than just a castle, as the site was on a large property that could be explored. The weather continued to cooperate, therefore an outdoor adventure seemed appropriate. The drive was fairly straight forward as we took a major road all of the way to the Blarney exit. Signs were everywhere to guide us to the car park for the castle. Already, some tour buses were there. Once admitted, the strategy was to go to the castle first, because that would receive most of the attention from visitors. It seems like the earlier you visit the “big stuff”, the less crowded it will be. A line had formed at the bottom of the 100+ steps on the interior of the castle. It moved somewhat slow, and I knew the reason why. Some people wanted to kiss the Blarney Stone. I was not interested in doing that, but was curious to give it a glance. The castle itself was very interesting and photogenic in many other ways than just one of its stones worn smooth by so many lips (yuck). I wondered if it could be possible for one to “unkiss” the Blarney Stone and have this result in them being far quieter. Now that would be something! There were some nice views along the top, and it was interesting to watch the other people as they responded to the stone. Sheri and I walked around the property, which included a lot to see. The poison garden immediately adjacent to the castle had some nice blooms. The attraction seemed to be more like a castle surrounded by a botanic garden. The Blarney House estate was nice, although we decided not to wait for the tour. The Rock Close was another nice feature to the property with an ancient Dolmen, interesting plants, waterfalls, and quirky spots like the Witch’s Kitchen. We took lots of photos and enjoyed the visit to Blarney Castle. We then decided to eat lunch that involved some Irish pub food. There would be no Rockin’ Joes today. We parked in Blarney town and Sheri first visited the chocolate place. After a purchase there, we went to Muskerry Arms to have lunch. I had a nice salmon plate and Sheri tried some roast pork. Both were very good. After that, we visited the gift shop next door, Morgans of Blarney, to get some gifts for the people back home. We still had plenty of time to visit another location in County Cork. I suggested Cobh, because it too seemed like a pretty spot, and it was a historic port city. On the way in, we did hit some traffic on the outskirts of Cork City, however it was not as bad as the traffic in DFW on some days. After making some key turns, we crossed a nice bridge, passed an old tower house, and were closing in on Cobh. We found the car park behind the big cathedral. The first thing to do was look at the cathedral itself. It was very nice, and had a very commanding presence over the old town. To get to the shore, we had to walk downhill. There were lots of colorful houses and businesses here. We got some ice cream from one of the stands and looked around. There was a Titanic museum there, which was housed in a restored White Star Line ticket office. I skipped the inside and instead decided to walk around a little bit. There was also a memorial to the Lusitania, which in my mind was at least as historic a vessel as the Titanic. Cobh is of course known as the last port of call for the ship. The town itself is very nice, and easily walkable. It is hilly, and that allows some nice views of the channel from the cathedral. We then drove back to Limerick. Next to the motel was a Tesco grocery store, therefore we decided to buy sandwiches, cheese, drinks, and snacks for dinner to take back to the room. County Cork was a nice place to explore. Blarney was certainly geared for tourists, but it seemed to be worth the visit. Cobh was also nice. It would possible be an ideal place for an overnight stay in that particular area. So, we showered and went to bed deciding to make the decision tomorrow where we would explore.
June 14, 2014
Castles and Cottages
After sleeping in a little bit, we did not have too far to drive to the next attraction. The Bunratty Castle and Folk Park was just minutes away. This castle would be different, because it was furnished inside and completely restored. Instead of large gardens, the castle would include a “folk park” of houses and structures brought in from other parts of Ireland. It was a little bit more expensive than Blarney Castle, however there was a lot to do inside the park as well. The thatched roof houses were nice, and the interiors of most of them could be explored. There were lots of photo moments with the cottages, windowsills, and gardens in some of the houses. The castle was interesting as well. It had several chambers to visit, and they were furnished. The views from the top were not bad, although I thought Blarney Castle offered some better views. Bunratty was not as crowded, and there was not a wait to go up the stairs to higher levels. We did spend a lot of time walking around the cottages and seeing what life was like before very modern things appeared. Some of the cottages had fires in the fireplaces, and the smell helped create the mood. There was a village made up of commercial buildings. Some of them had shops, and some could be explored such as the schoolhouse and the Doctor’s House. There was a pub that served some authentic Irish cuisine. We decided to eat there for lunch. I had the fish and chips while Sheri had the meat pie. By the early afternoon, we had visited both the castle and the Folk Park extensively. We then drove to Adare, which was not too far out of Limerick. Sheri would take some time to visit the shops while I walked around the town. There were some nice thatch roof houses in town. I walked back to the River Maigue despite the heavy traffic on the road and no sidewalk. There was a view of a nice castle along the river, and also an old Augustinian Friary was nearby. This was once called the “Black Abbey”, and when I entered, no one else was around. A school was also attached to the building. I walked back to the heart of town and saw a wedding party at the Holy Trinity Abbey Church. Later, I explored inside this church as well. It also appeared to be very old like the Black Abbey. I continued walking up the main street looking at the different buildings. Before it was time to meet up with Sheri, I also explored the city park. It was a good place for a walk. Before exiting the park, I saw Sheri on one of the benches. She had been feeding a group of rooks with some snack food. We had both done plenty of walking today, therefore were ready to drive back to Limerick. We went to Tesco to get the sandwich, cheese, and snack food before going back to the motel room. Adare was a nice town to visit. Perhaps one day we could stay at the Adare Manor. The only regret about the trip to Ireland is the choice of accommodation, although we did have to keep the price down to make it affordable to come here. Next time, I would rather make use of local B&B’s rather than use a chain motel. This would also allow us to spend the night in some of these really nice locations such as County Kerry or Adare. There would be one more full day. I had not completely decided how the last day would go, but would be able to make the decision by the next morning.
Ruins and Ruins
The weather looked promising for the last day, ensuring that we had nice weather all of the days of our trip. We chose to make the drive to Cashel and see the famous “Rock of Cashel.” This took us through the town and county of Tipperary before arriving at the rock. This large ruin of a round tower, cathedral, and a chapel stood on the hill. The chapel was completely covered in scaffolding. I tried to avoid this feature in most of my photos and would later proceed to use Photoshop to edit out as much scaffolding as possible. The views were nice from the hill, as I could see the Hore Abbey ruins in addition to Cashel town and the surrounding countryside. There was also a cemetery with some of the high Irish crosses. The ruins were interesting to explore, and there was also an interior exhibit that included the original St. Patrick’s cross. Also present was Queen Elizabeth’s autograph when she visited the rock. We were fortunate that the site was not very crowded. The tour bus groups had yet to arrive, so this was a nice experience. Despite the scaffolding, many features of the gothic architecture were ready to be discovered. Before returning to the car park, we stopped in the Cashel Woolen Store. Sheri went in first, while I took some more photos outside. When I went in, the nice young lady there mentioned some possible things to see in the area. She talked about a historic site even older than the Rock of Cashel that was in Golden just a few miles away. It was off the beaten path. The only thing we had to do was drive to the site, try and find a parking spot, and explore on public land. For now, we would drive to Holycross Abbey, however I was thinking about the site she mentioned. North of Cashel was Holycross, where a completely restored abbey was having Sunday mass. I looked around the outside of this historic church. Before long, mass let out, and I was able to stick my head in. By then, it was completely empty, and I had this building to myself. The design was fairly simple, but it had an interesting relic that is believed to contain a splinter of wood from the True Cross. How someone determines that the wood comes from the cross of Jesus is beyond me, but it is interesting to ponder. We then drove back south to Cashel and stopped in the town for lunch. There was a nice tower house and some attractive buildings within town. The Cashel Palace Hotel looked like a nice place to stay. We ate at the Cellar Bar, which was attached to Bailey’s Hotel Cashel. Sheri had fish and chips, while I had a haddock pancake. Both were very good. We now drove back towards Tipperary. While going through Golden, I saw a sign indicating the way to Athassel Abbey, which was the ruin that the lady at the gift shop told us about. We made the turn and began looking for the ruin. Soon, it was visible, but there did not seem to be clear access to it. Gates that would lead in the direction of the abbey were locked. We ended droving a big loop in the countryside which led us back to Golden. When confronted with the sign again, we drove and simply parked in the one place we could where we were not blocking the road. Two other cars were there, so we did not feel so bad. I then noticed that there was a stile going over the wall that led to the abbey. Once over this, a bridge led to the ruin, and we made it onto the grounds. It was very quiet, and the ruins stood there in the middle of a pasture. There were many nice gothic features, and lots of places to look around at the details of the ruin. We took a lot of photos here, and only a few other people were exploring and doing the same thing we were. There would be no tour buses, scaffolding, pay car parks, and crowds. It was just us and these historic ruins. This is the Ireland many people hope to see and probably visualize in their mind. Seeing the abbey certainly makes me want to research its story and try to imagine what it was like at its peak. This would be our last stop before going back to Limerick and Tesco to buy some dinner. Our first trip to Ireland was nearly complete, and I feel like we did the best we could in a relatively short time.
June 16, 2014
There are many people who miss home and look forward to going back on that last day. I do miss the boys. Had it not been for that, I could have stayed longer. After all, we would be returning to a hot summer, a featureless landscape, lots of traffic, cookie cutter house neighborhoods, no mountains, and no sea. Had the flight been full and they offered a voluntary bump, I would have certainly taken one for the team. The weather was nice as we drove back to Shannon airport. We fueled the car and then turned it in. We checked in, went through preclearance for the US, and then boarded the plane. I had the window seat and noted the route seemed to go off in the direction on the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands before continuing across the Atlantic. It turned out that those places would be visible one last time. All in all, a great trip!