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

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

   

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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.

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Sláinte

When you raise your pint of Guinness for a toast in Ireland, you say Sláinte, meaning good health. Click below to learn to say it properly.  

I have several pub stories from our trip to Ireland but this one merits singular treatment. Based on outstanding reviews by Anthony Bourdain, we decided to eat at John Kavanagh’s Pub. Kavanagh’s is referred to locally as the Gravedigger’s due to its proximity to the Glasnevin Cemetery, where Irish heroes such as Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, and Michael Collins are buried. As we approached the door, a gentleman outside inquired whether we were there to eat or drink. We said, “Both,” to which he responded, “If you want food, go in that door. If you want history, go in this one.” We opted for the food door but once inside, the waitress told us there was no food on Mondays. So, back outside and in through the history door we went. We love both food and history so if one isn’t available, the other will do.

This pub was first licensed in 1833 and continues to be a local institution to this day. Although not the oldest pub in Ireland, (that distinction belongs to The Brazen Head), John Kavanagh’s has been in the same family for six generations. It didn’t take long for the friendly locals inside to engage us in conversation. These guys are a garrulous group with many tall tales to tell. The most memorable was when they heard we were from Iowa, one of the chaps asked, “Which is closer, Iowa or the moon?” Providing the punchline, he exclaimed, “The moon. You can see the f_ _ _ _ _’ moon! You can’t see Iowa from here.”

These fellows are also very proud to show off a book kept on the premises that contains information about the pub including the many movies in which the pub has appeared such as “The Woman Who Loved Clark Gable,” “No One Would Save Her,” “Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin in the Bronx,” and “Strumpet City.” Honestly, I hadn’t heard of any of these movies, but maybe you have. The pub even has its own friendly ghost, reputed to enjoy a pint of Guinness as much as other loyal customers. I didn’t get the name of the book but if you visit, I’m sure they’d be proud and happy to share it with you.

John Kavanaugh's Pub, Dublin

John Kavanagh’s Pub, Dublin

Kavanaugh's Pub

Kavanagh’s Pub

Kavanaugh's Pub

Kavanagh’s Pub

Friendly customers at Kavanaugh's

Friendly locals at Kavanagh’s

Friendly customers at Kavanaugh's

Friendly locals at Kavanagh’s regaling Jim with stories

Friendly customers at Kavanaugh's

Friendly local at Kavanagh’s with Abi and Brian

Swinging Doors that locals told us are famous from movie appearnaces (Photo provided by Abi)

Swinging Doors that locals told us are famous from movie appearances (Photo provided by Abi)

We went to other pubs in Dublin and throughout Ireland but this pub was the only place where we didn’t rub shoulders with other tourists seeking an authentic Irish pub experience. This was the real thing.

I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t go back to tell you about the food that originally brought us there. Click on this youtube video to see what they’re doing with tapas at Kavanagh’s. We’ll be back to check it out—but not on a Monday.

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Bog Bodies and More at the National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland – Archeology has an amazing collection of over 2 million artifacts, they allow photography, and it’s free. What more could a history nerd ask for? This is an outstanding museum, in a beautiful facility with good explanations and well presented displays. The museum is closed on Mondays but fortunately for us, we were there on Sunday when they are open from 2-5.

National Museum of Ireland - Archeology

National Museum of Ireland – Archeology

I was especially interested in the Clontarf 1014 exhibit about Brian Boru and the Battle for Dublin because our son, Brian, is named for the high king and we were staying at the Clontarf Castle. For more on that, read my earlier post here. The exhibit debunked the legendary version of the Battle at Clontarf with well-researched and compelling information. While no archeological evidence from the battle has yet been found and there are no first hand accounts, a number of secondary sources prove the battle was for economic domination of Dublin and not to expel the Vikings from Ireland. Nevertheless, Brian Boru is still regarded as the high king who united Ireland and remains a hero today.

Clontarf 1014 Exhibit, National Museum of Ireland

Clontarf 1014 Exhibit, National Museum of Ireland

After exploring the Clontarf exhibit, I moved on to see what else this museum had to offer. First of all, as I said before, it’s a beautiful facility. Built in the Victorian Palladian style with neo-classical influences, the museum opened its doors in 1890. Note on the photo below the intricately decorated cast iron columns supporting the balcony above.

IMG_0535Then on the next photo, notice the beautiful mosaic tile floor. To me, the facility is a noteworthy exhibit, in and of itself.IMG_0516

Even the ceiling is impressive.

Rotunda Ceiling in the National Museum--Archeology, Ireland

Rotunda Ceiling in the National Museum of Ireland–Archeology

The exhibits are far more ancient, however, than the building. In fact, the Archeology Museum is the repository for all archeological objects found in Ireland dating from prehistoric times through the end of the medieval period. Following are a few of my favorites just to whet your appetite.

The goldwork exhibit spanning 2200 BC to 500 BC is one of the most extensive and impressive in Europe. These gold collars from the Bronze Age are called lunulae.   IMG_0538

The 4500 year old Lurgan Logboat was discovered in 1901 in County Galway. Over 45 feet long, it is the largest artifact on display in the museum. For more information on the fascinating discovery and its transport to the museum check out this article.

Lurgan Logboat in National Museum of Ireland

Lurgan Logboat in National Museum of Ireland

The bog bodies were fascinating to me. Found in peat bogs, they have been remarkably well-preserved because of the unique conditions that existed within the bog. As I understand it, acidic conditions and a lack of oxygen within the cold watery environment prevented the microorganisms that cause decay from growing and thus, the bodies were preserved and very dark in color.  (My simple version of complex science.) In Ireland, around one hundred bog bodies have been discovered with the earliest discovery in 1780. Today, because peat cutting is mechanized, discoveries are rare but in 2011, Cashel Man was discovered in County Laois, Ireland. (My husband’s people are from County Laois so I like to think he might be a relative.) Cashel Man is the oldest bog body found in Ireland and was radiocarbon dated to around 2000 BC. He is not on display at the museum but you can view several Iron Age bog bodies dating from as old as 400 BC. Current theory holds that the Iron Age bog bodies were ritually sacrificed and placed in the bogs along tribal boundaries.

Gallagh Man, 400-200 BC, National Museum of Ireland

Gallagh Man, 400-200 BC, National Museum of Ireland

Clonycavan Man

Clonycavan Man, 392-201 BC, National Museum of Ireland

Oldcroghan Man

Oldcroghan Man, 362-175 BC, National Museum of Ireland

Oldcroghan Man

Closeup of the Hand of Oldcroghan Man, 362-175 BC, National Museum of Ireland

Early Christian artifacts include reliquaries which are containers that hold relics, believed to bring good fortune to the owner, and crucifixes and crosses.  IMG_0545IMG_0546

This is just a fraction of the exhibits you’ll find at the National Museum of Ireland. If you visit Dublin, stop into my number 1 pick for some Irish history. I think you’ll be glad you did.

References:

National Museum of Ireland

Based on events from Aril, 2015

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

Baile Átha Cliath, aka Dublin, Day 1

I always say make a plan but be open to changes. We scheduled a free walking tour for our first morning in Dublin to orient us to the city and provide background information on the sights. As luck would have it, it was raining that first morning so a walking tour was thoroughly unappealing. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend this activity when the weather cooperates. You can check the website for Sandemans New Europe Dublin free walking tours here.

We opted instead to do the Hop On Hop Off bus tour. Tickets cost $22.50 for adults but only $20.50 for seniors over 60 and for about $10 more, you can get a combination ticket that includes admission to the Guinness Storehouse. The ticket was good for 2 consecutive days and accomplished our purpose, plus we stayed dry and it was more relaxing in our jet-lagged state. The narrated bus ride identified and provided details about all the main tourist attractions and we could get off at any of 28 stops. Buses came along about every 15 minutes so we could re-board.

Hop On Hop Off Bus Dublin

Hop On Hop Off Bus Dublin

Inside the Hop On Hop Off Bus Dublin

Inside the Hop On Hop Off Bus Dublin

In addition, our ticket entitled us to a free Irish coffee at O’Sullivan’s Pub which was just the thing to warm us up on a chilly wet day.

O'Sullivan's Pub

O’Sullivan’s Pub

Irish Coffee at O'Sullivan's Pub

Irish Coffee at O’Sullivan’s Pub

Remains of the Day at O'Sullivan's Pub

Remains of the Day at O’Sullivan’s Pub

O'Sullivan's Pub

Abi, Brian, and Jim at O’Sullivan’s Pub

We had planned to visit the Book of Kells first thing the following morning to beat the crowd, but when we saw the ticket line was short, probably due to the rain, we decided to alter our plan again. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript in Latin of the four gospels from the New Testament created by monks during the early middle ages (circa 800 A.D.) and housed in the old library at Trinity College. Photography is not allowed in the exhibit but you can now view the manuscript online for free here. (When you click the link, be patient and wait a minute for the images to load. I promise it’s worth the wait.) Ireland’s most precious and famous artistic and religious treasure was definitely on my must-see list even though I saw it 10 years ago when we were last in Dublin. The exhibit consists of 2 of the 4 volumes on display, one to a double page or folio of text and the other to a decorated page.  The displayed pages change periodically but I’m unsure of the frequency. The room is dimly lit with special lighting on the manuscript to prevent fading.

A substantial amount of informational material about the history of the manuscript is also displayed from which I learned several interesting facts. The pages of the manuscript are made of vellum, that is calfskin, and some of the pages have holes because the skin actually contained flaws in some places. Three artists and 4 scribes probably completed the manuscript and while words appeared more than once, no design was repeated. Although the subject of much scholarly debate, current opinion holds that the book was created on Iona, an island off western Scotland but possibly completed at Kells in Ireland where the monastery was relocated after a Viking raid. Some reviews I’ve seen called the exhibit disappointing but to me it is incredibly beautiful and fascinating.

Trinity College

Trinity College

Book of Kells Exhibit at Trinity College, Dublin

Book of Kells Exhibit at Trinity College, Dublin

Queue for the Book of Kells Exhibit

Brian and Abi in Queue for the Book of Kells Exhibit

The Book of Kells

The Old Library at Trinity College, Dublin

The Long Room is located upstairs directly above the Book of Kells exhibit in the Old Library. For book lovers like myself, this repository is how we imagine heaven. Books line the walls in each alcove, 2 stories high. It has a somewhat musty library odor, with that old paper and binding scent that evokes memories of many other libraries for me. The Copyright Act of 1801 established Trinity College as the official repository entitled to a copy of every book published in Ireland and Britain to this day. Two hundred thousand of the oldest books are held here.

The Long Room, Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin

The Long Room, Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin

You may have also noticed the marble busts lining the Long Room in the photo. The 48 busts are of great western philosophers and writers such as Socrates, Plato, Shakespeare, and Jonathan Swift along with men (alas, no women) associated with Trinity College.

The Brian Boru harp, made of oak and willow in the 15th century, is the oldest of its kind and was used as the model for the emblem of Ireland. It is also on display in the Long Room.

Son Brian with the Brian Boru Harp

Son Brian with the Brian Boru Harp

The historic front gate at Trinity College was damaged a year ago when a 68 year old driver plowed into it, for reasons unknown. The new refurbished gate is what you see here.

The Front Gate at Trinity College

The Front Gate at Trinity College

The other major attraction that we visited that day was the National Museum of Ireland which is my number 1 favorite sight in Dublin. I’ll tell you more about it and other sights including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Dublin Castle, and the Guinness Storehouse in upcoming posts.

References:

The Book of Kells Exhibit, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

The Long Room, the Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Based on events of April, 2015.

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

“Bends Ahead” in Ireland

Driving in Ireland is not for the faint of heart. For that matter, riding in cars is not for the faint hearted either. First of all, you drive on the left side of the road, the opposite of what we do in the U.S. The driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. The stick shift is to the left of the driver’s seat so you have to shift with your left hand but the shift pattern is the same as when you drive on the right. The foot pedals are also set up as they are at home so the gas pedal is on the right, the brake in the middle, and the clutch on the left. Are you totally confused yet? After an early morning flight out of Des Moines, Iowa, and an overnight flight to Dublin, Ireland, we were.

We left the airport in Dublin around 6 am on a Sunday morning to drive to our nearby hotel. It was a perfect time to get accustomed to the car while driving on the left because there was very little traffic although it was still dark and there was somewhat of a drizzle. Every block or two found us at a roundabout which the U.S. has recently caught on to so we weren’t totally outside our comfort zone except that, of course, you go to the left rather than the right in Ireland. Fortunately, we arrived at our hotel without mishap and the car sat in the parking lot for the next two days while we visited Dublin.

It was when we left Dublin that the fun began. Jim drove and Brian navigated while Abi and I sat in the backseat of our Renault Captur. Although billed as a compact, it seemed almost mid-sized, especially on narrow roads with “bends ahead” as the signs say in Ireland.

The best feature of the car was the wifi. What an amazing invention! Ten years ago map reading, lack of detail on the map, and too few road signs to forewarn us of upcoming turns were among our biggest challenges. With wifi those issues were pretty much eliminated with Siri providing voice direction while the gps map application showed our route at all times. And you know how you get into Internet dead spots in the U.S. at the most inopportune time? That  happened rarely in even the most remote areas of Ireland. As long as we had previously mapped it, the gps continued to function.

Through Cashel, Cahir, and Cork, Jim managed fairly well. When we got close to Kinsale, however, the road got narrower, more winding, and the hedgerows were closer to the side of the  road. There was a center line only to give you a false sense of security thinking there were two lanes. It’s really one lane with a line in the middle of it.

Road to Kinsale

That was nothing, however, compared to the next morning. Barry, our walking-tour guide, strongly recommended we drive up to the Charles Fort for a view of the harbor so I, of course, was adamant that we go. That was when the  trouble began. The road was narrow, winding, uphill, with cars parked willynilly on either side  providing one too many obstacles for Jim. Trying to avoid an oncoming car, we went over a stone step jutting into the roadway and the dashboard said STOP. We couldn’t just stop in the middle of the road and had to continue briefly to get out of the way. As we pulled into a parking spot at the fort, we felt the tire deflate and the dashboard read PUNCTURE.
While we had wifi in the car, we didn’t have phone service. Abi said the people in the vehicle next to us had uniforms and maybe they had a phone. I went over and asked if they were law enforcement, to which they responded, “Customs.” I explained our predicament, they loaned us a phone, Jim called the car rental who said get it fixed and bring the bill for reimbursement. Thank goodness we had added the extra tire coverage at the last minute!

And then, the most remarkable thing happened. The customs agents insisted they change the tire for us.

Customs agents changing our car tire

 

Customs agents changing our tire

The Irish are the finest, kindest people in the world and, in our experience, the customs agents are topnotch among the Irish.  When they finished, they directed us to the nearest tyre shop to get the tire fixed. Luckily, the tyre shop got us right in and although the tire couldn’t be repaired and had to be replaced, we got a new one immediately and we were soon on our way. The visit with the proprietor, Dan Dempsey, while he worked was lively and entertaining, too.

Dan Dempsey Tool Hire

 

Dan Dempsey Tyre Shop

We had a brief discussion at this point about whether Brian should take over the driving. Since we had managed pretty well with Jim driving and Brian navigating, in spite of the flat tire, the men decided to continue that plan for the moment.

The following day, however, on the Ring of Kerry, it was time for Brian to get a taste of the driving experience in Ireland. We left Glenbeigh by 9 am to stay ahead of the tour buses and drove counter clock-wise around the Ring. Rick Steves advises that you go the opposite way toward the tour buses but we were glad we didn’t follow his advice in this instance. Meeting a bus on these roads is a terrifying experience and if you can avoid it, by all means, do. The best part was when we got to the one lane roads off the Ring that the buses couldn’t get to.


 The views were definitely worth the effort. You can’t get these views from a tour bus because they can’t get here.

View from the Cliffs of Kerry of Skellig Michael and Little Skellig Islands

There were plenty of other obstacles on the road to avoid. This view of hay being unloaded while traffic waited was a first for us.

Unloading hay

Sheep grazing on the side of the road was not unusual but it was somewhat disconcerting. They must know to avoid traffic because we saw no dead sheep.

We also encountered many bicyclists throughout the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Penninsula. I asked a local whether there were many accidents and he assured me that no one had ever been killed, mostly because the traffic moves pretty slowly. The only fatalities he cited were deer that bounded onto the road unexpectedly.
On our way to Tarbert from Dingle, we encountered runners on the road in a local race and then the Tidy Town Clean Up Days crews picking up litter along the roadways. When you add in the ever present tour buses and an occasional tractor, it seemed as if driving on these roads was more like an obstacle course than anything else.

I will add that  the motorways in Ireland are four lane like our interstates in the U.S. and they are wide and pleasant to navigate. We just didn’t travel on them much as our trip was more rural and along the Wild Atlantic Way.

We survived the challenge of driving on many different roadways throughout the country and if you take it easy, I’m sure you’ll survive the experience, too. And it’s so worth it. But get the full coverage insurance and the extra tire coverage.
Based on travel in April, 2015

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

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