Prehistoric Ireland: The Hill of Tara and Brú na Bóinne

Several significant prehistoric sites are close enough to Dublin to definitely warrant a visit. Even if you’re not particularly interested in history, the trip is still worthwhile for the scenery alone.

The Hill of Tara in County Meath, just 50 km northwest of Dublin, is a peaceful verdant landscape with some of the best views in Ireland from atop the hill.

Hill of Tara, County Meath, Ireland

Hill of Tara, County Meath, Ireland

View from the Hill of Tara

View from atop the Hill of Tara

I was so impressed that I took a 360 degree video which you can see here.

The many and seemingly disparate monuments found at the Hill of Tara made it somewhat difficult for me to understand, much less explain their meaning succinctly. The oldest archeological evidence at Tara is a passage tomb that dates as far back as 3350 BC. It’s called the Mound of Hostages, but the name itself has nothing whatsoever to do with the passage tomb which was a communal burial site. When excavated in the 1950’s, it yielded the remains of over 300 men, women, and children along with many artifacts that are now housed by the National Museum of Ireland. The name, however, instead refers to the custom of taking and exchanging hostages between clans which apparently took place later.

Mound of Hostages

Mound of Hostages

Probably the best known purpose of the Hill of Tara was its use as the sacred site where 452 of the high kings of Ireland were inaugurated until around 600 AD. The date this tradition began is unknown, however.  The coronations took place at the Stone of Destiny, which incidentally, was moved from its original location nearby.  This monument definitely looked phallic to me and I was relieved to read the sign that confirmed my suspicions. Apparently, it was a symbol of fertility. (No kidding.)

The Stone of Destiny at the Hill of Tara

The Stone of Destiny at the Hill of Tara

Then there is the statue of St Patrick who reportedly used this site in 433 AD to confront the high king in an effort to convert him to Christianity. St Patrick’s Church is also here which houses the visitor center but it was closed for renovations the day we were there.

St. Patrick at Hill of Tara

St. Patrick at Hill of Tara

We visited the Hill of Tara later in the day and there were very few other visitors. The next morning, however, we were at Brú na Bóinne when it opened because it’s a very busy place with limited numbers allowed on tour at a time.

Brú na Bóinne, which means palace or mansion of the Boyne, is a World Heritage Site composed of three passage tombs, Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth that are around 5000 years old.  We saw signs all over Ireland that announced these tombs are older than the pyramids.

The guided tour begins at the visitor center. Tickets are €6 for Newgrange and €5 for Knowth.  We elected to visit Newgrange only as we had toured Knowth on our last visit.

Bru na Boinne Visitor Center

Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center

Visitor Center at Bru na Boinne

Visitor Center at Brú na Bóinne

After a short walk across a pedestrian bridge over the River Boyne, we boarded a bus to transport us to the tomb at Newgrange. Each group is limited to 14 persons and your tour time is set when you purchase your ticket on a first come first served basis.

Bridge over the River Boyne

Bridge over the River Boyne

Newgrange

Newgrange

Newgrange

Newgrange

Passage Tomb at Newgrange

Passage Tomb at Newgrange–Note the roof box above the entrance and the scroll artwork

Photography isn’t allowed inside the tomb but is allowed in the visitor center where there was a picture of the inside of Newgrange. I took a photo of the picture to give an idea of what it’s like inside.

Picture inside Newgrange

Picture of the inside of Newgrange

The chamber is quite large with three recesses and a corbelled roof of overlapping layers of rock with a capstone, then covered with tons of soil and grass. The roof is still waterproof after 5000 years. There are many theories regarding the artwork both inside and outside the tomb but we can’t know with any certainty what it means. Many clues might also have been removed because, unfortunately, the tombs were pillaged for years before official excavation began.

The most remarkable and famous feature of Newgrange is the roof box through which the sun enters at dawn for several days surrounding the winter solstice on December 21. As the sun rises, the passage and chamber are gradually illuminated. At the end of September each year local school children draw the names of 50 persons who receive 2 tickets each for entrance to the chamber for one of the 5 days of illumination. In 2014, over 30,000 entries were submitted for the lottery.  The drawing this year is on September 25. Wouldn’t it be grand to have your name drawn and be there on a sunny day, too?

References: Informational materials at the Hill of Tara and Visitor Center at Brú na Bóinne.

Based on events in April 2015.

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Warning: Castle Ahead

Castles stimulate my imagination with visions of knights in armor and dreams of medieval pageantry. Ireland is full of castles in various states of ruin and restoration which is one reason I adore this country. The Irish also allow tourists to clamber over their ruins although it seemed to me more restrictions were in place this time than 10 years ago.

Trim Castle, on the River Boyne in County Meath, is the largest Norman castle in Ireland. For those of you thinking, “What’s a Norman?” here’s a little historical context in a simplified version: The Normans were originally Vikings that invaded and settled in Normandy, France around 900 AD. They invaded England in 1066 and the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, ascended to the throne of England.  The Normans soon assimilated into England and participated in English colonization efforts in other countries including Ireland. So in 1171, when King Henry II of England invaded Ireland with the aid of an Anglo-Norman noble, Hugh de Lacy, the king rewarded him for his service with the lordship of Meath. De Lacy built a castle there in 1173, but the wooden structure was destroyed by fire, then subsequently rebuilt in stone and added to several times resulting in the castle that remains today. The poster below for sale on site shows an artist’s rendering of how the castle and grounds would have looked after various additions and renovations.

Artist rendering of Trim Castle

Artist rendering poster of Trim Castle

You may or may not know Trim Castle was one of the film locations for the 1995 movie, Braveheart, the story of William Wallace and the epic Scottish struggle against English domination. Ironically, Trim Castle “played” the  English town of York where the Scots took the fight to England.  According to Wikipedia, the last castle owners, the Dunsanys, sold the castle to the state in 1993 (Wikipedia).  Filming of Braveheart took place in 1994 so I assume it was an opportune time to make use of the castle ruins prior to excavation and restoration work that occurred before the castle opened to the public in 2000.  When we visited in 2005 I didn’t realize it had only been open to the public for 5 years.

The entrance fee for adults is only €4 which included a guided tour of the keep. While we waited for our tour, we wandered around the grounds reading all the signs and taking photos. The setting is idyllic with walking trails along the river and a bridge across the Boyne where the trail continues up the hill to the site where St Mary’s Abbey once stood.

Trim Castle from outside the gate

Trim Castle from outside the gate

The Trim Gate

The Trim Gate

The Keep

The Keep

The Keep

The Keep

The River Boyne at Trim Castle

The River Boyne at Trim Castle

Today all that remains of St Mary’s Abbey from the 14th century is the ruin of the bell tower called the Yellow Steeple.

Yellow Tower at St Mary's Abbey

Yellow Steeple at St Mary’s Abbey

View of Trim Castle from across the River Boyne near St Mary's Abbey

View of Trim Castle from across the River Boyne near St Mary’s Abbey

The tour of the keep was worth the time and money so pay the extra €2 and take it. That said, while our tour guide was engaging and interesting, he seemed to still hold a grudge against the English for their colonization of Ireland. When he told my husband his family, the Lalors, were of French (Norman) descent, Jim had to bite his tongue because the O’Lalor clan was one of the seven septs (clans) of Laois and is strictly 100% Irish. We did, nevertheless, learn interesting details about the history of the castle and, as I’ve said before, we are, after all, history nerds.

inside the keep at Trim Castle

Inside the keep at Trim Castle

View from the top of the keep at Trim Castle

View of the River Boyne and the Yellow Steeple from the top of the keep at Trim Castle

View of Barbican Gate at Trim Castle

View of Barbican Gate at Trim Castle

Incidentally, if you read my earlier post, Ireland Beyond the Pale, you may be interested to know that Trim Castle was at the boundary of the Pale.  Any areas north or west of Trim were considered beyond the Pale, that is, outside of English control.  We were headed back to the Pale, aka Dublin, just 30 miles away (48 km) with our final stops in Ireland at the Hill of Tara and Newgrange.

Based on events of April 2015.

References:

Trim Castle. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 10, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trim_Castle

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Galway Next Time

The next time I visit Galway, I’ll fly into Shannon Airport. The next time I visit, I’ll also take a ferry to the Aran Islands. And next time I’ll tour Connemara. As you can tell, I’m already planning my next trip to Ireland and next time I’ll begin in Galway to do all the things we missed this time. We spent only one day and one night in Galway toward the end of our trip and it definitely wasn’t enough.

Since we didn’t have enough time for the Aran Islands or Connemara, we wandered around the Latin Quarter, the old town of Galway, at a leisurely pace taking in the vibe and the culture. Starting at Eyre Square where we stayed at the Meyrick Hotel, our first stop was to view the banners of the 14 tribes. Galway is called the City of Tribes after the 14 merchant families that controlled commerce and ruled Galway during the Middle Ages and beyond.

Banners of the 14 Tribes

Banners of the 14 Tribes

The most influential of the 14 was the Lynch family and their mansion, Lynch’s Castle, is the only townhouse that remains today. It was pretty much gutted and now houses AIB Bank, however.

Lynch's Castle

Lynch’s Castle

Very few buildings of historical significance remain today, but the Spanish Arch and the Blind Arch next to it, constructed in 1584 as part of the city walls, are still standing. The Blind Arch is so-called because it’s actually an archway to a storage room rather than a passage.

Spanish Arch and Blind Arch

Spanish Arch and Blind Arch

Galway

Beyond the Arch, along the River Corrib, Galway

Despite a dearth of historic buildings and monuments, several interesting current day cultural issues attracted my attention. Galway, is after all, a university town so current events demand student attention.

Political sign in Galway

Political sign in Galway

Atheist Ireland

Atheist Ireland Information Table

The narrow winding streets were clogged with tourists like us exploring the city. But the shops were colorful and welcoming and we did manage to shop a little for souvenirs.

Galway

Galway Latin Quarter

Galway

Galway Latin Quarter

One of the most interesting shops in Galway was Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold, home of the original Claddagh ring and the oldest jewelers in Ireland, established in 1750.  There are several versions of the story of the Claddagh symbol, but it is said to have originated in a nearby fishing village named Claddagh on the River Corrib. If you’re not familiar with the Claddagh, it’s two hands (representing friendship) clasping a heart (representing love) with a crown (representing loyalty) above the heart.  You can see it on the photo below. The ring is worn with the point of the heart facing outward if the wearer is available and inward if in a relationship. We ventured inside the shop and had a delightful experience witnessing an older couple buy an engagement ring to fulfill a long-held dream. Outside in front of the shop, I took several photos of them with their camera to help them commemorate the occasion.

Claddaugh

Thomas Dillon Claddagh Gold

Then it was time for a break at Sonny’s for an Irish coffee while we watched other shoppers pass by on High Street.

People watching at a local pub

Jim, Abi, and Brian: People watching at a local pub

Dinner that night was at Brasserie on the Corner to take advantage of our last chance to enjoy fresh locally-sourced seafood  on the Wild Atlantic Way. Or at least some of us did. Jim is usually lured more by beef and the beef was locally-sourced, too.  The meal was outstanding as you can see.

Brasserie

Brasserie on the Corner

Although the nightlife in Galway is highly touted, following dinner it was back to the historic Meyrick Hotel on Eyre Square for us. The oldest hotel in Galway, the Meyrick opened its doors in 1852 as the Railway Hotel. I found a super bed and breakfast rate of €115 on Sundays only which happened to be the day of our arrival. The hotel has an old world charm and elegance that I found particularly pleasing.

The sunset view from our room that evening was extra-special.

Sunset View from Meyrick Hotel April 19, 2015

Sunset View from Meyrick Hotel April 19, 2015

And the next time I visit Galway, all these experiences are definitely worth repeating.

Based on events from April 2015.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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Staigue Fort

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Inside wall of Staigue Fort

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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

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