Touring the Burren

“It is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.” So said Englishman Edmund Ludlow in 1651 while in the Burren on a campaign to subdue the rebellious Irish. Covering an area of nearly a hundred square miles in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland, the limestone rock that comprises the Burren was formed over 350 million years ago, then polished by glaciers in the last Ice Age. The result is a stark, desolate landscape that looks almost lunar. It’s a karst landscape which is limestone terrain characterized by fissures, caves, and sinkholes caused by water eroding the soft rock. So, while the land appears arid and parched without surface lakes or rivers, rain and underground water actually carved the Burren.

The Burren

The Burren

The cenotes in the Yucatán of Mexico are another example of karst landscape. (You can check out my post about cenotes here.)

The map below on the left shows our tour route of the Burren (enlarged) and the one on the right shows all of Ireland with the Burren marked in pink on the west coast.

Our first stop was the Burren Smokehouse at Lisdoonvarna (A on the map above), where we saw a video that explained the difference between hot smoked and cold smoked salmon. Traditional Irish smoked salmon is cold smoked (35 degrees centigrade or 95 degrees fahrenheit) but they offer both products at the Burren Smokehouse. After sampling the two, my favorite was the hot smoked. We decided to buy the sampler package that contained smoked mackerel and trout in addition to both hot and cold smoked salmon.  You can find this product and others on their website here.

Burren Smokehouse

Burren Smokehouse

The sales staff in the shop recommended we first explore the coast drive along the Atlantic in the Burren so off we went in search of R477 (up to point B).

R477 in the Burren

R477 in the Burren

In spite of the rocky bareness, we were delighted to discover flora that maintained a tenuous hold providing an added element of beauty to the landscape.

The Burren flora

The Burren flora

When we reached the coast and saw the Burren with the backdrop of the Atlantic, it was positively breathtaking. We stopped at every opportunity to enjoy one captivating view after another.

The Burren

The Burren

The Burren

The Burren with the Atlantic Ocean

The Burren

The Burren

The Burren

The Burren

The Burren along the Wild Atlantic Way

The Burren along the Wild Atlantic Way

The Burren

The Burren

We even spotted rock climbers scaling the walls of the Burren, although we didn’t see any of the wild mountain goats that also inhabit the area.

The Burren

The Burren

At the ring fort at Caherconnell (point D), we spotted a number of rats scurrying about the fields among the cattle (which frankly, kind of freaked me out. ) They also advertise sheepdog demonstrations onsite but we passed on that.

Caherconnell Ring Fort

Caherconnell Ring Fort

Caherconnell Ring Fort

Caherconnell Fort

Our final stop in the Burren was at Poulnabrone Dolmen (point E), a portal tomb over 5000 years old that contained the remains of over 30 people when excavation began in 1986. A dolmen, or portal tomb, is a burial site marked by a capstone supported by surrounding stone columns. There are over 100 such burial chambers mostly in the northern part of Ireland but this, I believe, is the best known and most thoroughly excavated.

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone Dolmen

If you visit the western coast of Ireland, check out the Burren. It’s less than a half hour drive from the Cliffs of Moher and less than an hour from Galway. We found it was a memorable experience.

Based on events from April, 2015.

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Craic Was Ninety in Doolin

People that know me well may be surprised by this post. I’m about to gush over a small, and I mean a really small town. As a rule, I’m not a big fan of small towns and my worst nightmare would be to live in one. So, what’s so great about the village of Doolin, in County Clare, Ireland, with a population of less than 500? It was the craic (pronounced crack), of course, among other things.

First of all, it’s along the Wild Atlantic Way and perfectly situated to visit the Cliffs of Moher, covered in my last post, and the Burren, which will be the subject of my next post. We could have stayed at least a week and found plenty to see and do to keep us busy.

Our B&B, the Roadford House, owned and run by Frank and Marian Sheedy, was a gem. Our party of four stayed in a suite which was really two bedrooms separated by a hallway with a full bath and another half bath downstairs. It was comfortable but not fancy and cost €140 per night. But the best part was the restaurant. We enjoyed some of the finest food of our entire trip at the Roadford House Restaurant in this small village. With locally sourced, organic ingredients, the dishes were delicious and beautifully presented in a bright modern setting.

Pre-dinner bread

Pre-dinner bread selection

Salad

Salad

Monkfish

Monkfish

Aged Irish sirloin

Aged Irish sirloin

The Roadford House

The Roadford House Restaurant

Breakfast the following morning was just as pleasing to the eye and palate. But the pièce de résistance was the gourmet egg dish with salmon, beet root, brie, and basil pesto. Without a doubt, it was the loveliest, most colorful egg dish I’ve ever seen and it was delicious, too.

Scrambled eggs with salmon

Scrambled eggs with salmon

Traditional Irish breakfast

Traditional Irish breakfast

Gourmet breakfast with eggs, salmon, brie, beet root and basil

Gourmet breakfast with eggs, salmon, brie, beet root and basil

If you haven’t already assumed as much, this is a hearty endorsement for the Roadford House (with no remuneration). I know they’ve appeared on lots of lists and received plenty of impressive awards but I’ll just add my two cents worth. Frank and Marian are lovely local people who are knowledgeable about the hospitality industry with experience working in Europe and the U.S. They returned to their home area to put their talents to good use building their own business with hard work and top-notch skills. If you visit this area, be sure to at least eat here if not stay and eat.  By the way, they also have a lovely dog named Beans and a neighbor cow whose name we didn’t get but it might be Hamburger.

Cow next door to Roadford House

Brian and Abi with the cow next door to Roadford House

Doolin calls itself the traditional music capital of Ireland so a visit wouldn’t be complete without checking out the pubs featuring live trad music. Here’s where the craic really got started. Craic is an Gaelic word that means fun and there’s a lot of craic to be had in the pubs in Doolin. After dinner we went first to McDermott’s where we shared a table with German tourists who I was told arrive by the busload to Doolin.

McDermott's Pub with German tourists

McDermott’s Pub with German tourists

They spoke very little English and we speak no German but in a pub with live music and Guinness flowing, that didn’t matter. Then it was on to McGann’s Pub for another round and more live music.

McGann's Pub

McGann’s Pub

McGann's Pub

McGann’s Pub

The village of Doolin taught me the meaning of the song “The Craic was Ninety in the Isle of Man.” I have listened to that song for over 30 years and never understood what it meant until now. The craic (fun) was mighty in the Isle of Man (an island between Ireland and Great Britain). Have a listen to it as sung by the Dubliners. It’s grand.

The craic was ninety in Doolin of the Emerald Isle.

Based on events in April, 2015.

Categories: Food, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Cliffs of Moher and More

Travel requires making choices based on time constraints (among other things). You simply can’t do it all. I was looking for a shortcut from the Dingle Peninsula to the Cliffs of Moher when my younger son suggested I check ferries. Shannon Ferries crosses the Shannon Estuary every hour on the half hour from Tarbert to Killimer which would save us several hours driving through Limerick. A 20 minute trip for the four of us plus the car for just €18 sounded like a bargain. That meant postponing a visit to King John’s Castle in Limerick until our next trip to Ireland but a ferry ride would be a new experience to add to our itinerary.

Map Dingle to Cliffs of Moher

Map to get from Dingle to Cliffs of Moher by way of Tarbert Ferry

Ferry from Tarbert to Killimer

Ferry from Tarbert to Killimer

Ferry across the Shannon Estuary

Ferry across the Shannon Estuary

I’ve taken ferries before but not with a vehicle. We were fascinated watching the workers cram cars, trucks, and buses bumper to bumper onto the ship. We enjoyed the ride and I would recommend the experience. Although we didn’t see any dolphins as I had hoped and often occurs in this area, I was delighted to spot a lighthouse. I adore lighthouses and I love to photograph them.

Lighthouse view from the ferry

Lighthouse view from the ferry

We were only an hour’s drive from the Cliffs of Moher when we got off the ferry and arriving early in the day was a definite advantage. The Cliffs of Moher are the number one tourist attraction in Ireland attracting up to a million visitors each year. We beat most of the tour buses delivering hordes of tourists, paid our €6 admission fee, and looked around the visitor center at a leisurely pace. Then we walked up to view the Cliffs in sunshine.  Many tourists report fog and rain obscuring their view so we were keenly aware of our good fortune to be there on a sunny day. The wind was fierce, however, which I understand is normal. Locals told us it’s always windy.

To give you a little perspective, the Cliffs are 700 feet tall which is the height of the ice wall on Game of Thrones. Seven hundred feet is equivalent to about a 70 story building; the St Louis Gateway Arch is 630 feet and the Eiffel Tower is 986 feet tall. The views of the Cliffs from every vantage point were breathtaking as I’m sure you’ll agree.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher looking south from the Main Platform

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher from the North Platform

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher looking north

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher looking north

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher from the North Platform

Built in 1835, O’Brien’s Tower stands on a headland at the north end and reportedly provides the best photo opportunities of the cliffs to the south. We decided not to pay the extra €2 to climb it but did take pictures from that area. I also took the photo below that shows the tower perched atop the headland.

Cliffs of Moher

O’Brien’s Tower on the headland at the Cliffs of Moher

In addition, I took a short video to capture the scene with an Irish melody in the background played by a busker. Busking is allowed and the music varies from day-to-day including harp, concertina, guitar, tin whistle, and flute. The roaring wind on the video will also give you a feel for our experience.

Today, there are railings and warnings to provide a measure of safety for visitors to the Cliffs of Moher. Visitors can and do go beyond the railings at their peril, however. We saw many tourists posing for photos near the edge which is very dangerous considering the powerful wind gusts that come up unexpectedly. Sadly, a number of deaths have occurred here due to either accident or suicide. While I didn’t see any reports of the number of deaths, we did see signs offering suicide prevention messages and a memorial which is a stark reminder. It says, “In memory of those who have lost their lives at the Cliffs of Moher.”

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher Memorial

As we headed back to the parking lot, we noticed it was rapidly filling with tour buses. To avoid the crowds I suggest you arrive as early in the day as possible or late in the day. The Cliffs open at 9 am daily but closing time varies by season from 5 pm in the winter to 9 pm in the summer. Plan to spend 2-3 hours to see the visitor center and the Cliffs and longer if you walk the cliff trails. (We did not.) Also keep in mind photos are affected by the time of day and time of year you visit. On the April morning we were there, the sun was more behind the South Cliffs so the detail on the face of the Cliffs is harder to see. But whenever you go, plan to be inspired and amazed by the Cliffs of Moher.

Based on events from April, 2015

Categories: Ireland, Travel | Tags: , | 9 Comments

Doing the Dingle, Peninsula That Is

If you, like me, fell in love with the Dingle Peninsula when you saw the movie, Leap Year, with Amy Adams, I have a bit of bad news for you. None of it was filmed there. If you’re old enough to have seen Ryan’s Daughter from 1970, however, it was filmed on the Dingle and today many of the movie locations are still identified with signs. Regardless of the movie representations, the Dingle Peninsula is incredibly beautiful.

Our first stop on the peninsula was Inch Beach. I’m not sure why it’s called Inch Beach because I think a better name would be Mile Beach.  It’s about the widest beach I’ve seen and the views across Dingle Bay to McGillicuddy’s Reeks are spectacular.

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Then it was on to the town of Dingle to find our B&B for that evening, Heaton’s Guest House. I found Heaton’s on the internet when searching Dingle accommodations and chose it based on reviews, price, and location. We arrived before noon and our rooms weren’t ready that early so we parked the car there and walked about a mile (1.6 km) to the center of town to explore. I had read about the Little Cheese Shop in Dingle and we were keen to check it out.

Little Cheese Shop, Dingle

Little Cheese Shop, Dingle

A locked door greeted us with a note that said, “Back in 15 minutes.” We should have known right then but we waited about 30 minutes before finally heading off to check out the other recommendation in Dingle— ice cream at Murphy’s. IMG_1476 Fortunately, Murphy’s didn’t disappoint. For me, their handmade ice cream scored a 10 on a five point scale.

Brian and Abi at Murphy's

Brian and Abi at Murphy’s

After our respite at Murphy’s we checked back at the Little Cheese Shop to find it still closed so we walked back to Heaton’s, retrieved the car, and headed out to Slea Head Drive, the clockwise tour around the Dingle Peninsula on the Wild Atlantic Way. Rick Steves has a self guided tour in his Ireland book with stops and distances listed. If you use it, be sure to start at Oceanworld as all distances are measured from there. Because our B&B was beyond the starting point, we had some difficulties that we could have avoided.

We stopped at many points around this loop but I’ll mention just a few. The first stop was to get a photo of a currach which is a traditional Irish fishing boat made from a wood frame covered in animal hides or canvas and “painted” with tar.  They are lightweight and maneuverable but somewhat fragile (Steves, 2014).

Currach on the Dingle

Currach on the Dingle

We explored an archeological site of beehive huts or clochans overseen by an elderly woman named Mary who collects the couple of euros for admission to this national monument. Beehive huts were constructed by stacking the stones without use of mortar in a form called corbelling. There is little known about the people who inhabited these abodes or, indeed, when they built the beehive huts, but it is generally agreed they are really old.

Fahan Beehive Huts

Fahan Beehive Huts

Fahan Beehive Huts

Fahan Beehive Huts

View from Bee Hive Huts

View of Dingle Bay from Bee Hive Huts

We stopped at various lookout areas along the loop to enjoy spectacular views and try to capture some of the beauty digitally.

Slea Head

Slea Head

Slea Head

Slea Head, Dingle Peninsula

Clogher Head

Clogher Head, Dingle Peninsula

Back to the town of Dingle, we made one more attempt at the Little Cheese Shop. It was finally open but proved a disappointment.  The owner was the least friendly person we met in all of Ireland but in fairness, her accent was definitely not Irish so she’s no reflection on the warm and friendly locals. Samples weren’t freely provided although she did offer one to prove we wouldn’t care for a very aged cheddar. We can’t help it; we’re Iowa nice so we bought a board of several cheeses anyway. As a former cheesehead from Wisconsin, however, I’ve tasted as good or better elsewhere.

Little Cheese Shop, Dingle

Little Cheese Shop, Dingle

Cheese board from Little Cheese Shop in Dingle

Cheese board from Little Cheese Shop in Dingle

Armed with a bottle of wine purchased at a nearby shop to wash down the cheese before dinner, we headed back to Heaton’s Guest House where we were delighted with our accommodations. Our rooms and the common areas were welcoming and comfortable with a delicious chocolate cake offered for guests who didn’t mind spoiling their dinner.

Our room at Heaton's Guest House in Dingle

Our room at Heaton’s Guest House in Dingle

Heaton's Guest House

Abi and Brian playing a game of chess at Heaton’s Guest House

View from Heaton's Guest House, Dingle

View from Heaton’s Guest House, Dingle

We decided on the Chart House for dinner in Dingle. With plenty of awards and grand reviews to recommend it, we knew we’d find good food but we found a healthy dose of Irish charm in the atmosphere of the restaurant, too.

The Chart House, Dingle

The Chart House, Dingle

The Chart House, Dingle

The Chart House, Dingle

Lamb Shanks at the Chart House, Dingle

Lamb Shanks at the Chart House, Dingle

The Chart House, Dingle

Root Vegetables at the Chart House, Dingle

A walk following dinner allowed us some additional views and photos of darling, delightful Dingle with an amazing sunset.

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Sunset at Dingle Bay

Sunset at Dingle Bay

Sunset at Dingle

Sunset at Dingle

The following morning, one more surprise awaited us. The breakfast at Heaton’s was gourmet and scrumptious, prepared by the owner, David Heaton, who happens to be a chef.

It was hard to leave such a special, beautiful, delightful place but we had many more sights yet to see in Ireland but, without a doubt, I plan to return.

References:

Steves, R. & O’Connor, P. (2014). Rick Steves’ Ireland. 

Based on events from April, 2015

Categories: Food, History, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ireland’s Best Day Out in Killarney National Park

On June 27, 2015, the Irish Times in partnership with Discover Ireland awarded “Ireland’s Best Day Out” to Killarney National Park and I can see why. Our first stop on N-71 approaching the park from Kenmare was at Ladies View, named for Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting who fell in love with the view while on a visit back in 1861. Views of the lakes and bogs with MacGillycuddy’s Reeks in the background still delight visitors today and we joined their ranks.

Ladies View, Killarney National Park

Ladies View, Killarney National Park

Ladies View, Killarney National Park

Ladies View, Killarney National Park

Nearby Torq Waterfall is just one of many waterfalls in the park. The trail was an easy walk through the woods with beautiful scenery including the emerald-green moss covering the ground and trees that defied capture by my camera. I expected to see a leprechaun or at least a fairy in this magical place but alas, saw neither.

Moss covered terrain on the trail to Torq Waterfall

Moss covered terrain on the trail to Torq Waterfall

Torq Waterfall, Killarney National Park

Torq Waterfall, Killarney National Park

But by far the most pleasant and memorable tour of Killarney National Park has to be by jaunting car. A jaunting car is a horse-drawn cart with a driver who is called a jarvey. For 40€, the four of us enjoyed a uniquely Irish experience that provided one of the highlights of our trip to Ireland.

Jaunting Car

Jaunting Car

For a sample of our ride, check out my YouTube video: http://youtu.be/iIjbPPH3BJk. (Just click on it; it will take you directly there.) Our driver, Con, was lively and informative giving us details about the lakes, fishing, wildlife, vegetation and more. For example, I commented on the beautiful rhododendron just starting to bloom throughout the park and learned that it’s actually an invasive species that needs to be controlled if not eradicated. The park is also home to the only remaining herd of Irish red deer. The population was at one time reduced to about 100 head but today has grown to around 600.

Invasive rhododendran in Killarney National Park

Invasive rhododendran in Killarney National Park

After several stops for lake views and photos, we arrived at Muckross House where we spent an hour exploring the grounds and gardens while our driver waited. This beautiful Victorian mansion was completed in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his famous watercolorist wife, Mary Balfour Herbert. You can check out her beautiful watercolors here: Mary Balfour Herbert watercolors. The gardens are renowned and although April is early for gardens, we were impressed with what we saw.

Killarney National Park

View of Middle Lake, Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park

Lower Lake, Killarney National Park

Muckross House

Muckross House

Muckross House

Muckross House

Muckross House

Gardens at Muckross House

Muckross House

View from Muckross House

Jaunting car ride in Killarney National Park

Jaunting car ride in Killarney National Park

Established in 1932, Killarney became the first national park in Ireland when Muckross House and the 25,000 acre estate was gifted to the nation upon the death of the owner’s wife. I would bet at the time, a visit to the park was considered Ireland’s Best Day Out. Eighty-three years later, if you’re looking for Ireland’s Best Day Out, you can still visit Killarney National Park.

Based on events from April, 2015.

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Ring of Kerry on the Wild Atlantic Way

Traveling from the south, it may have been simpler to spend the night in Kenmare and head clockwise around the Ring of Kerry ending at Killarney National Park. That’s how American travel guru, Rick Steves, and others recommend you tackle it. Irish tourist organizations, however, strongly recommend you drive counter-clockwise with the flow of traffic to reduce traffic issues. After several days on narrow Irish roads, we decided we would rather follow tour buses than face them. We opted to comply with local wisdom and circle the ring counter-clockwise or anti-clockwise, as they say in Ireland. After spending the night in Glenbeigh (marked on the map below), we left early the following morning to stay well ahead of the parade of tour buses leaving Killarney. This plan worked well for us.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 8.04.30 AM

Although none of the guide books listed any accommodations in Glenbeigh, I found the Towers Hotel on the internet and booked it. Honestly, this hotel was a little long in the tooth but check out the sunset view from our room. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Sunset view from Tower Hotel in Glenbeigh

Sunset view from Tower Hotel in Glenbeigh

The pub in the hotel served good pub grub for dinner and the following morning we had a traditional full Irish breakfast composed of fried eggs, bangers (sausages), rashers (thick bacon), tomatoes, black pudding (blood pudding with pork and fillers) and white pudding (without the blood) which was excellent.

Full Irish Breakfast

Full Irish Breakfast

Fortunately, we didn’t meet much traffic all day and if you love scenic views, the Ring of Kerry has plenty to offer along N70, the main road.

Cliffs of Kerry

View from the Ring of Kerry looking across to the Dingle Peninsula

Cliffs of Kerry

Ring of Kerry View toward Dingle Peninsula

We left the main road to explore the Skellig loop for some extra outstanding views. In fact, I would say that the views from the Cliffs of Kerry were among the very best we saw in Ireland. I’ve read plenty of complaints about the 4 Euro admission fee but I’m glad we paid it. Also keep in mind you won’t see the Cliffs of Kerry on a big tour bus because the roads are too narrow for them.

Cliffs of Kerry

Cliffs of Kerry with view of Puffin Island, Little Skellig, and Skellig Michael (Great Skellig)

Cliffs of Kerry

Cliffs of Kerry

Cliffs of Kerry

Cliffs of Kerry

View of the bog opposite the Cliffs of Kerry

View of the bog opposite the Cliffs of Kerry

Many other areas along the Skellig Loop offered more incredible scenery worthy of a stop and a photo.
Ring of Kerry

IMG_1264

IMG_1268

When we returned to the main road and stopped at yet another vantage point, we discovered a man with these sweet little mountain sheep lambs. For a small donation, we each got a photo.

Located 2.5 miles off N70 along a narrow one lane track, we explored Staigue Fort, dating from around the first century, AD. One of the largest and finest ring forts in Ireland, it was well worth a look. There are three such forts on the Ring of Kerry which provided protection to local chieftains, family, guards, and servants. The fort was constructed by stacking the stones with no mortar whatsoever.

IMG_1302

Staigue Fort

IMG_1305

Inside wall of Staigue Fort

IMG_1307

Commanding view from the wall of Staigue Fort

We finally arrived in Kenmare, where we had a reservation for the night at the Brook Lane Hotel. Although it was undergoing some renovation while we were there, it was nonetheless an outstanding accommodation. Even the restaurant, No. 35, won us over with its organic, locally sourced menu items.

Kenmare, Ireland

Kenmare, Ireland

Salmon

Pan fried Fillet of Salmon with Horseradish & Garden Herb Crumb, Spring Onion & Rooster Mashed Potato, Mini Caper & Lemon Cream Sauce

Chicken

Roast Irish Chicken Breast, Mashed potato

Burger

Grilled Hereford Beef Burger, with Smoked Gubeen Cheese & Bacon, Salad Leaves, Onion Rings, Chips & Sweet Chilli Mayo

We barely scratched the surface seeing the sights offered on the Ring of Kerry. This is definitely an Irish gem that warrants more time and attention than we were able to devote this time around. After this taste, I would love to return and savor the sights on the Ring of Kerry at a slower, more relaxed pace.

Based on events from April, 2015

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Touring Kinsale with Barry

Kinsale is a delightful town in the south of Ireland with a lot going for it.  First, it is known as the foodie capital of Ireland. When I read that, I knew my son and daughter-in-law would want to go. Second, it’s along the Wild Atlantic Way, “the world’s longest defined coastal touring route” (www.wildatlanticway) which I was keen to travel. Third, it’s steeped in history from the Spanish Armada to the sinking of the Lusitania. I call that a travel trifecta.

We stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast by the name of the Old Presbytery which I thought sounded perfect for a couple of Presbyterians. The proprietor later explained the presbytery was where the Roman Catholic parish priest lived. Oh well. The location was perfect with parking provided and our breakfast the next morning of salmon and eggs was worthy of the foodie capital.

The nice thing about staying in a central location in a small town is everything is within walking distance. That evening we strolled through town to Fishy Fishy for dinner. We didn’t have a reservation so we had to wait a bit for a table but it was well worth it. The food was outstanding. They were short-staffed later in the evening so, in all honesty, our service was a bit slow,  but the staff in the kitchen prepared excellent food that was fresh and locally sourced.

As I was writing this post, I saw Fishy Fishy recently won the Best Seafood Experience at the 2015 Irish Restaurant Awards. That probably means more than any recommendation I can give.

After dinner we stopped by the Blue Haven for some live music. The place was packed but the music was more folk than traditional Irish so we didn’t stay long. Nevertheless, it was a nice way to end the day.

The Blus Haven, Kinsale

The Blus Haven, Kinsale

The following morning after our delicious breakfast at the Old Presbytery, we explored Kinsale on our way to check out Don and Barry’s Historic Stroll. It was farmer’s market day in Kinsale with lots of options for scrumptious products.

Farmers' Market, Kinsale, Ireland

Farmers’ Market, Kinsale, Ireland

Food stand at the Farmer's Market, Kinsale

Food stand at the Farmer’s Market, Kinsale

Farmer's Market, Kinsale

Farmer’s Market, Kinsale

We were the first to arrive at the Tourist Office where we were to meet our tour guide for Don & Barry’s Historic Stroll. Rick Steves says, “This walk is Kinsale’s single best attraction,” (Don & Barry’s Historic Stroll brochure) so we had high expectations. We met Barry and as we stood there chatting, he asked whether we planned to go to Dingle and explained that Rick Steves had an excellent self-guided tour of the Dingle Peninsula in his Ireland guide book. When we said Dingle was on our itinerary, he went off somewhere and returned shortly with the Rick Steves 2014 guide book in hand. He insisted we take it. When we discovered he works as a guide for Rick Steves, we figured he probably gets a new book each year but we were happy to receive last year’s edition.

Barry

Barry

By the time the tour started, our ranks had swelled to around 20 tourists and one local. We began at the waterfront where we learned that, historically, the Kinsale harbor enjoyed great naval significance due to its sheltered location and the changing tide levels which moved wind powered ships in and out even without wind.

Kinsale Harbor

Kinsale Harbor

Several important historical events occurred here. In 1601, the last Spanish Armada entered the harbor to wrest Ireland from the English with the help of the rebellious Irish in the Battle of Kinsale.  In the end, the English prevailed leading to the “Plantation of Ulster,” a plan to permanently subjugate the Irish by seizing their land and granting it to colonists arriving from England and Scotland.

The Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Kinsale in 1915 during WW1. This event turned American public opinion against the Germans and eventually led to U.S. entry into the war. Germany suspected munitions were onboard to be delivered to the British and posted notices in New York that the ship might be sunk. To this day, there is disagreement over whether the sinking of the Lusitania was justifiable. The local that joined our tour added to the discussion from his viewpoint as a member of the committee for the centenary observance of the sinking of the Lusitania.

Customs House where the inquest was held for the sinking of the Lusitania

Customs House where the inquest was held for the sinking of the Lusitania

Barry regaled us with plenty of other intriguing tales about Kinsale.  For example, Alexander Selkirk, the buccaneer whose survival on an uninhabited island became the basis of the novel, Robinson Crusoe, actually set sail from Kinsale in 1703. A year later he was put ashore in the San Fernandez archipelago where he managed to survive until 1709 when he was rescued. Then there was the story about the Kinsale Giant, Patrick Cotter, who was born in Kinsale in 1760 and grew to over 8 feet tall. He died at the age of 46 and his boots are on display at the Kinsale Museum.

Home of the Kinsale Giant, Patrick Cotter

Home of the Kinsale Giant, Patrick Cotter

The last suggestion Barry left us with was to take a trip out to the Charles Fort, just outside of town. It’s a star fort built in 1767. Due to the design enabling the defenders to catch invaders in a crossfire, Kinsale was never the sight of another attack.

 

Taken from events of April, 2015

References:

http://www.wildatlanticway.com

Brochure and Tour from Don & Barry’s Hisoric Stroll

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Ireland Beyond the Pale

If you’ve heard the phrase “beyond the pale,” you likely know it means outside the boundaries. For example, if someone’s behavior is beyond the pale, it is outside what is acceptable.

You may not know, however, where the phrase originated. The Irish will tell you it comes from the time period in Irish history when the English colonized Ireland.  The Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland in 1169 and established English control but the further one got from Dublin, the seat of English power, the less control they could exert. By the 14th century, a perimeter surrounding Dublin was fenced or ditched for protection. The word pale comes from the Latin palus meaning stake and the pale was a term to describe a region with a staked or paled fence surrounding it for protection (www.worldwidewords.org).   Anything outside that area was “beyond the pale,” meaning outside the boundaries of English dominion.

So, let’s go beyond the pale and explore outside Dublin (but not outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior.)

Our first stop was the iconic Rock of Cashel, a Heritage Site in County Tipperary, located just a two-hour road trip southwest of Dublin. The medieval buildings atop a limestone outcropping are visible from miles away. I also spied lots of scaffolding which intruded on my imagining of life during that time period but ancient buildings need upkeep so I tried to ignore that.

View from the road approaching the Rock of Cashel

View from the road approaching the Rock of Cashel

Somehow we missed the turn in town for the parking lot so instead we parked along the road and walked up from the back side which actually turned out to be an advantage. It was closer to the abbey we visited afterward and a lovely walk with gorgeous views of the Rock.

Jim walking up the back path to the Rock of Cashel

Jim walking up the back path to the Rock of Cashel

Historically, the Rock of Cashel had obvious strategic importance. You could view and defend a wide area from this location as you can tell from the photo below.

View of the countryside from the Rock of Cashel

View of the countryside from the Rock of Cashel

In the fourth or fifth century AD, there was a fortress on this site under the kingship of Conall Corc. Legend has it Saint Patrick baptised Conall Corc’s grandsons at this location, too. In 978 AD, Brian Boru became King of Cashel and if you’ve followed my blog, you’re familiar with him. If not,check out the earlier posts about Clontarf Castle and the National Museum of Ireland.

The Rock of Cashel became church property in 1101 by a gift from Muircheartach Ua Briain, who was then King of Cashel. The church or cathedral that would have been built at that time no longer stands but Cormac’s Chapel was consecrated in 1134. Built in the Romanesque style, it is one of the earliest churches in Ireland and is truly a treasure.

Cormac's Chapel, Rock of Cashel, Ireland

Cormac’s Chapel, Rock of Cashel, Ireland

Notice the stone heads looking down from the top of the chapel. The guide asked us who we thought they were. Some guessed kings or other royalty. He told us these heads were self sculptures of the workmen who built the chapel, their autographs, if you will. What a creative and interesting way to seek immortality.  There’s a close up below.

Decoration on Cormac's Chapel

Decoration on Cormac’s Chapel

The chapel originally contained colorful murals covering the walls but they were painted over many years ago. Small areas have been painstakingly cleaned to reveal hints of the early exquisite beauty.

Remaining fragments of frescoes in Cormac's Chapel, Rock of Cashel

Remaining fragments of murals in Cormac’s Chapel, Rock of Cashel

The oldest remaining structure on the Rock of Cashel is the round tower, or bell tower, which dates to around 1101. Amazingly, it is still intact which our guide explained is due, in large part, to the design. The doorway to Irish round towers is typically 6-10 feet above ground level requiring a ladder to access the tower. Previously, historians conjectured this feature was for security so that the ladder could be pulled up and access denied to invaders. Our guide explained, however, the  wooden door could be easily breached by burning or chopping it open. The real reason for the elevated doorway was to provide stability to the structure.

Round Tower seen from inside the Cathedral at Rock of Cashel

Round Tower seen from inside the Cathedral at Rock of Cashel

Round Tower and Cathedral at Rock of Cashel

Round Tower and Cathedral at Rock of Cashel

Another Cathedral was built in the 1200’s to fit into the space not occupied by the chapel and the round tower.

The Cathedral, Rock of Cashel

The Cathedral, Rock of Cashel

I’ve mentioned our tour guide several times throughout this post. He was knowledgeable and informative and my son noticed that his name tag said Lawlor, which is a variation of Lalor, my husband and children’s surname. Of course.

Our tour guide in front of the statue of St. Patrick at the Rock of Cashel

Our tour guide in front of the statue of St. Patrick at the Rock of Cashel

Just down the road from the Rock of Cashel, we visited Hore Abbey, built in 1266 by Benedictine monks. Not long after, however, the Benedictines were expelled and the monastery was given to the Cistercians. The abbey was in ruins but it was a pleasant walk on a beautiful day.

View of Hore Abbey from Rock of Cashel

View of Hore Abbey from Rock of Cashel

Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey looking back at the Rock of Cashel

After wandering around the abbey ruins, we drove to nearby Cahir Castle on the Suir River just 12 miles down the road.  Another Heritage site, this castle is one of the largest and best preserved in Ireland, and in its day was considered impregnable. Erected in the 13th century, it is thought to have been built by Anglo-Normans as a defensive structure and show of power to warn the Irish that they now controlled the land. The current structures date from the 16th century. It was closed for renovations and reopened just in time for our visit. We thought we wouldn’t have enough time to do it justice after spending so much time at the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey but when we heard admission was free that day, we decided to have a look and we were so glad we did.

Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle, Cahir, Ireland

When we visited Ireland 10 years ago, we noticed a definite lack of restriction on exploring somewhat dangerous sites. We are respectful visitors who don’t take unnecessary risks so we appreciated that freedom. This time, it seemed more areas were off-limits but, fortunately, we were allowed to walk the walls at Cahir Castle. I doubt this would be allowed in the U.S.

Cahir Castle

Brian and Jim on the ramparts of Cahir Castle

The purpose of the portcullis, or gate, was to close the castle off from attack. It is still operational today and can be seen in the photo below.

Cahir Castle

Portcullis or gate at Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle Tower

Inside the keep we found an extensive exhibit about the role of women during medieval times. Often, the history presented about castles is mostly military and I prefer social history so this was particularly welcome to me. Although there were not a lot of noblewomen in the castle, the areas they inhabited were more comfortably furnished with inner courtyards and gardens to ensure the women were secluded from the garrison.

Inside the Keep at Cahir Castle

Inside the Keep at Cahir Castle

The charming small town of Cahir was visible from the ramparts of the castle. Although we didn’t have time to explore this town, I would love to go back.

View of the town of Cahir from the castle

View of the idyllic town of Cahir from the castle

Swans on the River Suir in Cahir, Ireland

Young family viewing swans on the River Suir outside Cahir Castle, Cahir, Ireland

Next time we’ll continue beyond the pale as we begin our adventure on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Based on events from April, 2015

References:

http://www.worldwidewords.org

Guide at Rock of Cashel

http://www.cahircastle.com

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Dublin Hit or Miss

Although we spent only two and a half days in Dublin, we covered most of the main sights. In earlier posts I told you about the Book of Kells, the Long Room at Trinity College Library, and the National Museum. These were all a hit with us and I recommend taking the time to visit each. There were lots of other hits with us, too. Here is a summary of some of the other sights we visited in no particular order.

The Guiness Storehouse was a hit and frankly, I was surprised. We didn’t tour it last time we were in Dublin but after reading its the number one tourist attraction in all Ireland, I thought we should take a look. I’m glad we did because this was a fascinating museum. In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease to pay 45 pounds a year for St. James Gate Brewery. You can see the lease encased in glass in the floor of the lobby. Plenty of educational materials displayed on seven levels explained the history and the beer-making process. I’m not a beer drinker, in fact I’m normally gluten-free, but I made an exception in this case to taste a pint at the end of the tour. I was impressed.

Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Storehouse

This says it all.

This says it all.

The Cooperage Exhibit showed Jim's favorite video explaining the barrel making process

The Cooperage Exhibit showed Jim’s favorite video explaining the barrel making process

Brian and Abi tasting a pint in the Gravity Bar at the top of the Guinness Storehouse

Brian and Abi tasting a pint in the Gravity Bar at the top of the Guinness Storehouse

Tasting our pint in the Gravity Bar at the end of the tour of the Guinness Storehouse

Tasting our pint in the Gravity Bar at the end of the tour of the Guinness Storehouse

The Dublin Castle was definitely a hit. We took the guided tour and found it interesting and helpful even though Rick Steves called it boring.  In fact, it seemed like three separate tours, and visits to two of the areas, the undercroft below the castle and the State Apartments, are allowed only by guided tour. First, we toured the level under the castle (undercroft) where the original Viking fortress was located at the juncture of the Liffey River and its tributary, the Poddle, in a black pool, or dubh linn in Irish (Dublin). This level was excavated in 1986 revealing archeological evidence from around 930 AD Viking Dublin and Norman remains from the 12th century.

Dublin Castle

Archeological dig under Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

The Irish dubh linn (Dublin) which means black pool under Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle was the symbol and center of British colonial rule in Ireland. The Chapel Royal displays the coats of arms of all the  British officials assigned to rule Ireland from 1172 until the last space was filled in 1922, coincidentally, the same year  the Republic of Ireland gained independence from Britain.

The Royal Chapel at Dublin Castle

The Royal Chapel at Dublin Castle

The coats of arms surrounding the perimeter of the Royal Chaple at Dublin Castle

The coats of arms around the perimeter of the Royal Chapel at Dublin Castle

Pipe Organ given to the Royal Chapel by Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Phillip

Pipe Organ given to the Royal Chapel by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert

The last stop on the tour was at the State Apartments where official state functions are held to this day. During the colonial period, the Viceroy lived there and on occasion the King or Queen would visit. The throne that was built for King George IV’s visit in 1821 was so large, the diminutive Queen Victoria subsequently had a step added.

Throne with Step for Queen Victoria in the Throne Room, Dublin Castle

Throne with Step for Queen Victoria in the Throne Room, Dublin Castle

The Drawing Room was the scene of many glittering extravaganzas during Dublin’s social season which culminated in the Grand Ball on St. Patrick’s Day. Debutantes would line up from the most wealthy to the least with the width of their ball gowns as an indication of wealth and status.

The Drawing Room, Dublin Castle

The Drawing Room, Dublin Castle

The Chester Beatty Library was a delightful hit. Chester Beatty, born in 1875, was an American who moved to England in 1911, then to Ireland in 1950 where he established a library to house his priceless collection of rare books, manuscripts, paintings, and objets d’art from around the world. This museum strikes the right note allowing a leisurely visit that impresses without overwhelming the visitor. While photography is not allowed, the museum is free. Thanks to my friend, Sheryl, for recommending a delight we would have otherwise missed.

Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

A walk through St Stephen’s Green was a welcome hit. The day was warm and sunny, drawing swarms of people to enjoy a perfect day lounging on the green enjoying the colorful flowers and wildlife.

Lounging in St. Stephen's Green

Lounging in St. Stephen’s Green

St Stephen's Green

St Stephen’s Green

Fountain at St Stephen's Green

Fountain at St Stephen’s Green

Swan in St. Stephen's Green

Swan in St. Stephen’s Green

St Patrick’s Cathedral was a sacred hit. Much of what is known of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, consists of legend rather than fact. One of the legends is that he baptized new converts to Christianity at a well in the cathedral environs. In 1901, six gravestones were unearthed and one of them covered what appeared to be a well, more “proof” that St. Patrick had indeed baptized converts there in the fifth century.

Jonathan Swift, the satirist who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, was the Dean of the Cathedral from 1713-1745 and is buried here.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

Grave slab from St. Patrick's Cathedral

Grave Slab that covered an old well where St. Patrick was reputed to have baptized converts

The Temple Bar area was a hit both day and night. Temple Bar is both a pub and an area of Dublin. Whether you are seeking a pint of Guinness, authentic traditional music, or pub grub, you’ll find it in Temple Bar.

Iconic Temple Bar, Dublin

Iconic Temple Bar, Dublin

 

Temple Bar

Temple Bar

Temple Bar

Temple Bar

Unfortunately, Dublinia was a miss. This is an experiential museum about Viking and Medieval Ireland and the information was interesting but the museum is a series of re-creations with no authentic artifacts. Photography is not allowed, possibly because no one would visit if they saw what’s there… or not there. Admission is 8.5 Euro which seems expensive compared to the National Museum which was free. To be fair, I read reviews on TripAdvisor and plenty of others (including my husband) think it’s great.

Two more iconic sights in Dublin absolutely have to get a mention here. The statue of Molly Malone was gifted to the city in 1988 and to be sure, it was a challenge to find her this time around. She’d been moved because of a construction project.

Molly Malone

Molly Malone

The Ha’penny Bridge over the Liffey is as Irish as a pint of Guinness. Officially named the Liffey Bridge, it’s always been called the Ha’penny Bridge after the toll of a half penny that was originally charged to cross it.

The Ha'penny Bridge over the River Liffey

The Ha’penny Bridge over the River Liffey

Be sure to stop by again next week when we will finally venture beyond the pale. I’ll also explain what that means for those who don’t know.

Based on events from April, 2015

   

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Synchronicity in Dublin

Have you ever heard of synchronicity? It’s a term coined by Carl Jung which means “the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.” (Google)  For example, I recently phoned my husband when I was out-of-town watching my niece and nephew and told him we were having brat patties, baked potatoes, and baked beans that evening for dinner. He laughed and told me he, too, was having brats, baked potato, and baked beans for dinner. We eat brats about once a year; not a frequent occurrence, by any means. Honestly, this type of coincidence happens fairly often to me. Another example is when you say you haven’t seen so and so in a long time and they show up right afterward.

That’s the kind of situation that occurred recently while we were in Dublin. My son and daughter-in-law decided to check out a book store of rare and antiquarian books called Ulysses Rare Books and invited my husband and me along. Many years ago we lost an obscure book of writings by an Irish ancestor of my husband’s from the early 1800’s and we thought we’d inquire about it just on the off-chance this shop had the book.

When we walked in, I addressed the woman at the desk and said, “We’re looking for a book entitled James Fintan Lalor. He was an obscure agrarian reformer from the 1800’s.” The look on her face was incredulous. She said, “I can’t believe it, but I’m at this very moment cataloguing a book by that name.” She showed me her computer screen and indeed it had the name James Fintan Lalor on it. What do you think the odds are that a man named James Lalor (my husband) would walk into a book store when his name is on the computer screen in that shop? I can tell you, the shop keeper and we were totally shocked by this synchronicity. Although the book she held was not the particular one we sought, we had quite a discussion about it and we ended up buying a first edition of another book about James Fintan Lalor.

Proprietress at Ulysses Rare Books

Proprietress at Ulysses Rare Books

Ulysses Rare Books

Brian and James at Ulysses Rare Books

If you travel to Dublin and you’re a book lover, stop by this delightful shop at 10 Duke Street. The proprietors are brother and sister and their father had the shop before them. Specializing in 20th century Irish literature, they have many rare editions and although I’m not a book collector, I loved perusing the stacks here.

What kind of synchronistic experiences have you had?

Based on events from April, 2015.

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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