Ireland: Dublin

We only spent a day and a half in Dublin but we did a bunch of stuff!

We stayed at a pub/hostel that was a bit grotty but the location was great.

We visited the National Portrait Gallery.

Luke met an American lady who’d come to Dublin just to see this Caravaggio.

Jess went on a Viking bus/boat tour and a walking tour while Luke and I walked around town and then sat in a pub (just for something different). We did see the statue of Molly Malone.

Guess which bit you rub for luck?

Dublin has some shops with funny names. Also people in Ireland really love knitwear.

We also went to a comedy night – there is so much comedy in Dublin! If we’d known we might’ve booked tickets to something decent. As it was we saw three guys in a basement and they were ok. In the same pub there was a ukulele jam happening. People brought ukuleles and were given music books and all played along together. It was funny to watch.

Hrm… actually, we didn’t actually do all that much as there wasn’t much time. We enjoyed Dublin though and were looking forward to another fun ride on the ferry back. We ended up with the same kitchen crew as the way over and they remembered Jess was a vegetarian, which was pretty impressive. We slept a lot better as the sea was not as rough.

Next: driving through the Cotswolds and staying at Makeney Hall.

Ireland: Dingle

Dingle was definitely the highlight of our time in Ireland. It’s a little town on the west coast of Ireland in County Kerry and it’s the capital of traditional music. We had three nights booked at John Benny’s pub in the middle of town and stayed in an apartment out the back.

The first night in town we had a walk around and stopped in a few venues. The first had traditional music, the second had a guy with a guitar who played covers and used a loop machine. The third place was the hotel we were staying at and had a duo comprising of a young woman who sang and a man playing the guitar. They mainly sang covers and their own songs, not Irish songs. I’d expected every place to be doing trad music but the variety we encountered was good.

On the second night Jess booked us tickets for a concert in the local music shop, only a few doors down from where we were staying.

The show was mainly the man who’d played guitar at our hotel the night before (he was very good, he also sang) and a woman who sang and played the accordion. They explained a bit about trad music and the show was great plus it included half-time Irish coffees!

Luke and Jess went to another concert the next night which they said was even better. I stayed by the fire and read my kindle.

We didn’t just listen to music though. We took a drive around the Dingle Peninsula and were lucky to get great weather.

The views were absolutely spectacular. There were also lots of hills that looked like great walking and made me wish we had more time to explore.

We took at look at some ‘famine cottages’. While the layout was basic there was a lot of information displayed about the history of the area and the inhabitants of the cottages and what happened to them as a result of the potato famine.

Of course we also spent time in Dingle shopping and eating. I looked longingly at several pairs of Hunter boots but in the end decided I could order them online rather than lug them around Thailand.

As we left Dingle we stopped off at a very scenic little lough where took a bunch of photos and enjoyed the serenity.

Next: Dublin!

Ireland: Sligo and Galway

Luke, Jess and I caught the overnight ferry from Liverpool to Dublin and slept from about 10:30pm until 4:30am. It was a rough crossing, which made it more fun (for me anyhow), feeling the boat crashing up and down, but it also meant less sleep. Luke had a room to himself and somehow managed to sleep through all of it, lucky him!

Getting our stuff out of the boot after driving onto the ferry.

We drove off the ferry at about 5:30am, which meant very little traffic to contend with around Dublin. I felt the most awake so I drove up to Sligo. Here’s a map I have prepared to show our trip around Ireland. Please admire my use of lines and arrows and the star to denote our start and end point. Pretty good, huh?

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We stayed in Galway, Dingle and Wexford.

We’d decided on a stop in Sligo as Jess will be performing in an historical musical set in Sligo so she wanted to have a look. Also we had an enormous number of hours to kill before we could check into our accommodation in Galway.

Sligo is a medium sized town and it’s pronounced SLY-go, not Slee-go as I’d first thought and which, if I could make a suggestion to the local people, sounds nicer. Sligo sounds a bit like something you’d find if you hadn’t cleaned your drains for a while.

Anyhow, Sligo the town was actually quite nice. It didn’t feel too touristy and didn’t give us any indication of the startling numbers of American tourists we’d encounter everywhere else. I mean, there were still lots but not impenetrable scrums blocking every doorway.

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We signed up for a walking tour (actually Jess did almost all the Ireland booking and organising of everything, partially because she was the one who’d wanted to go there and partially because Luke and I were reaching booking-fatigue after months of travel). The tour started in the Information Office and the guy taking the tour had a pleasingly loud and deep voice and looked rather like the BFG.

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A statue of Yeats and our tour group in which I managed to photograph one hand of our very knowledgeable host.

The tour went for about 3 hours, which was on the long side for a walking tour, but I can honestly say that, when it finished, that I had learned a lot about Sligo and it turns out that Sligo has had quite a few interesting things happen in its history.

Sligo’s (and perhaps Ireland’s) favourite son was WB Yeats. Neither Luke, Jess nor myself are particularly into poetry and even though I’d heard of Yeats previously I knew almost nothing about him. Throughout our stay in Ireland his name came up over and over again and nearly everywhere we went there were exhibitions and memorials to his life, everyone and everywhere claiming to have had something significant to do with him. I almost wished I’d read up on him beforehand because he was such a recurring theme.

Sligo has a tiny museum that doesn’t have much in it. Currently there’s an exhibition on a woman who led the suffragettes, which was interesting, but the thing I liked most was a huge brown lump with a placard that said ‘BOG BUTTER’.

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Apparently people used to store huge (the size of a decent foot stool) chunks of butter in bogs. Bogs have a highly acidic, cool, oxygen-free environment that perfectly preserves all kinds of things. We’ve all heard of ancient people being exhumed from bogs but butter? It made me wonder whether they had forgotten where they put it or left town without it. The butter that has been found can be hundreds of years old and modern people have been experimenting and found that peat bogs can preserve food just as well as a modern freezer for periods of up to two years! Fascinating, I say.

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Because I’ve left my blog updates for over a week I now can’t remember a huge amount of what we did in Sligo (obviously the bog butter stuck in my mind) but I assure you it was a nice town. We spent our afternoon taking a drive up the coast (the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’) looking at the scenery, which was lovely, and then our last stop was the huge Glen Car waterfall. We caught a bit of rain that day but were all equiped with decent raincoats and the sun did come out here and there.

We left late afternoon to head to our Airbnb accommodation just outside Galway near the tiny village of Gort. Another terrible name for place that looked fairly inoffensive.

The next day we headed into Galway, after hiding in our Airbnb all morning watching the gale force winds of Storm Ali. The winds were so strong that they blew an unfortunate woman off the side of a cliff while she was in her caravan.

Galway is a pretty town. Many Irish towns are very pretty and colourful because of a government initiative in the 1050’s called ‘TidyTowns’. We have something similar in Australia but ours is mostly focused on reducing litter. In Ireland it is much more broad and encourages people to keep their towns appealing on every level. Part of the initiative was to encourage people to paint their towns bright colours.

While in Galway we did a number of things and if you go to Galway I recommend you do them too!

Shopping

We had  a walk around and Jess bought a tin whistle. Also we noticed how very many book shops there are in Galway – an impressive number!

Music

We spent a few hours in various pubs listening to trad music and also watching buskers deal with drunk people who then came into the pub and got told off by the bar tender.

The Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher

Early on our last day we drove to Doolin, where the ferries to the Aran Islands leave. There are three main Aran Islands and we chose to go to the furthest, which is also the largest. It took two ferries to get there. The first looked like a normal ferry and the second one looked like a a fishing trawler. The weather wasn’t great, which meant sitting inside the stinky ship rather than out in the breeze.

On Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands we took a bus tour to see the sights. Our bus was small and there were only five of us on it. Our driver was a local who spoke Irish first and learned English at school. He had obviously had issues with people not understanding his astonishingly thick accent because he repeated everything four or more times. Also there wasn’t actually all that much to see. There were lots and lots and lots of stone walls surrounding tiny fields. Any areas that hadn’t been laboriously cleared of rocks were knee-deep in them. It was truly astonishing that anyone continued to live there, it was such a harsh and barren place.

After returning to the mainland we took a quick boat ride along the coast to see the towering cliffs of Moher. I had not realised they were the ‘cliffs of insanity’ from The Princess Bride. What with the rain and spray we didn’t end up with much of a view or any decent photos, I think I’d prefer to do the walk along the top on a sunny day.

Bunratty Castle

On our last night we attended medieval banquet and performance at Bunratty Castle. We went to the late sitting at 8:45, making it quite a long day but the show was great and the food was plentiful. Lovely singing and music with humorous interludes in a genuinely ancient castle.

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Next: Dingle!

Belfast Bits and Pieces

Belfast is certainly a different city to the place I visited in 2003. Admittedly the amazing weather and longer time I’ve had to see it have played apart, but it can’t be denied that there is a much more cosmopolitan vibe to the place now.

On our last day of driving around we kept things low key and stuck to Belfast, seeing Danny’s new house and a few tourist attractions, starting with a ‘Melbourne breakfast’. Obviously it was avocado with fancy bits on sourdough but also a smidge of vegemite too. Very nice!

Ulster Museum was on my to-do list after I’d seen it online and it was a great place to get a feel for Northern Ireland’s history, from prehistoric times to the current day.

They used to have dragons!

On the very top floor of the museum is a display dedicated to Ireland’s current #1 tourism drawcard – you guessed it – Game of Thrones.

An enormous tapestry (currently 84 metres and growing) tells the story in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry. Having seen all but the most recent season, it was interesting walking along and picking out the plot points.

The signs warning people not to touch the cloth were also in keeping with the theme.

The Museum also has a partially-unwrapped mummy. Danny said it gave him nightmares as a child. I can’t think why.

The Belfast Botanical Gardens are worth a visit if you like that sort of thing, and if you’re there on a cold day I’d definitely recommend a stroll through the heated Ravine building, which contained tropical plants from around the world.

There’s also a Victorian glasshouse with some very interesting specimens.

We took a stroll around the gardens of the big building (um… parliament? Danny, help!) in the very first photo and also drove up to Belfast Castle. It was built in the Scottish Baronial Style in 1862 by the Marquis of Donegal.

A little bit Hogwarts?

It is always nice to see historical buildings being in regular use and this castle is now a function hall and restaurant. The gardens contain sculptures, topiaries and mosaics of cats. We walked around and found a few after having a drink and a sit in the sun.

A post about the sights of Belfast would be incomplete without some photos of the murals that can still be found in various places around the city. Since my knowledge of NI history is far from complete I won’t comment on the political situation except to say that many of the more violent murals we saw years ago have been replaced but there are still a few giant paintings of men in balaclavas with machine guns in hand.

In the city centre there is plenty of (what I think of as) Melbourne-style street art. Beautiful and quirky images that go well with the new bars and restaurants.

The last bar we had a drink in was The Sunflower. Years ago people had been shot in this bar, hence the gate at the door. Now it’s a gay friendly meeting place with ukulele jam nights.

How things change!

I was sorry to leave Belfast but felt certain I’d be back.

Thanks so much to Danny and Peter for their outstanding hospitality and I look forward to repaying you in Australia!

Next stop: Carlisle and finishing off The Cumbria Way. But just before I go, a last Ulster Fry…

Here Comes The Planet 26 – Ireland 01

Part one of our Ireland episodes sees Amanda’s mother join us on our travels as we make our way through Wales, on the ferry and over to Ireland. We take a ghost tour in a converted bus, an excellent walking tour through Dublin and visit the Waterford Crystal factory to see how the famous products are made.

Also, SCARY RAINBOW!

Clonakilty

My computer is having a heart attack, so the long and detailed post I’ve written on Dublin will have to wait, along with the long and detailed post about our weekend in London with Rowan and Kerry. Instead, here’s our adventures in Clonakilty and a few photos.

Look at that weather!

Our plans for Ireland had been pretty loose. I’d wanted to see what Mum wanted to do before putting too much work into research and so we left Dublin with a idea of seeing some gardens and the Waterford Crystal factory on the south coast.

We left Dublin Thursday morning, stopping only to fill up with petrol and let a pigeon poo on Luke’s head (tee hee!). I wish I had photos but you’ll just have to imagine his look of dismay.

The drive south was pretty dull – the view from motorways is rarely good and I wished we’d had time for some shunpiking (my new favourite word – it means avoiding major roads) as our drive through Wales had already proven that back roads get the best views.

We found the Waterford factory pretty easily and had lunch in their sparkly-chandeliered cafe. Probably the best chandeliers in any cafe in Ireland, unsurprisingly. The showroom, where you wait for the tour, was like an art gallery of glass. Lots of pretty things but I couldn’t help thinking that, much like sea shells, when you take these things out of their natural environment (in this case a dazzling black and white room) they just look tacky and accumulate dust.

The tour was pretty good – definitely worth doing if you’re in that part of the world. They take you through the actual factory and you get to peer at the workmen close up, like gorillas at the zoo.

Mum, looking like she’s accepting an award.

We saw the moulding, glass blowing, cutting and etching and some incredible examples of what can be done with glass. We got to hold some huuuuuge trophies and one guy even got to smash a large imperfect bowl – the glass all goes back into the melting pot. One of the other guides ran up and said ‘not that one!’ just as it smashed, which was quite funny. Even the guides seemed to find it funny and they probably heard it 20 times a day. Although causing people to look momentarily terrified would be the highlight of my day too, if I had the power. Which I do because I’m a teacher. Hrm.

Me, actually accepting an award. For writing this blog, obviously. No idea how they found out, but I’m not one to turn down several kilos of lead crystal. Thanks Waterford!

Anyhoo, we then headed along the coast. We’d though to go to Blarney but the day was getting on and we wanted to get out of the car so we headed to our accommodation in Clonakilty, a cute-as-a-postcard seaside town. I’d booked a night at An Sugan guesthouse, which had a bar and seafood restaurant. The rooms were unexpectedly delightful and so was the hobbit-esque bartender who had the most theatrical way of talking I’ve ever come across. He was extremely entertaining to watch and listen to. In fact we liked the place so much we decided to stay two nights.

The next morning we enjoyed the best breakfast I’ve had since Bangkok (why have I not thought to put smoked salmon in scrambled eggs before?) and then headed to Garinish Island, which is accessible only by boat. No one mentioned that we’d see dozens of seals sunning themselves on rocks on the way out – so adorable! We rushed to the sides of the boat to take photos. Speaking of photos, we’ve been extremely lucky with the weather here and we had some brilliant blue skies and sunshine on this day.

I look like I’m freezing but I wasn’t. Much.

Garinish Island enjoys a warm, almost mediterranean micro-climate due to the gulf stream and so they grow plants there that would not survive in the rest of Ireland. The gardens are about one hundred years old and they are lovely but slightly overgrown. The views from the island are gorgeous but I think the boat ride was my favourite part.

About as cute as something can get when it’s shaped like a slug.

Next we stopped at Bantry House, a grand building in which we saw rooms preserved as they had been a long time ago. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside but some of the rooms were quite incredible… and in some cases incredibly garish. Follow this link to see what I mean. Check out the painting frames at the back of the room.

We drove back to Clonakilty and had a drink in An Sugan but decided we couldn’t stand the music being played and walked up the street to look for somewhere more lively. Luke had read about another pub in town that looked interesting so we headed there. De Barra is actually a very well-known pub as it not only has quite outstanding decor (walls covered in music memorabilia and a hall full of masks from around the world) but links to, of all people, Jimi Hendrix, as one of his guitarists was from Clonakilty.

Mum got chatting to a guy at the bar and got some tips on places to visit the next day and then we headed back for dinner at An Sugan. I tell you, Ireland has been good for my tastebuds but not my thighs. The food has been fantastic everywhere. The last couple of days we’ve been good – eating two meals a day instead of three to make up for the enormous breakfasts we’ve been having. Hopefully it’s helping!

Our guesthouse.

We’ve traveled back to Dublin today. We’d originally thought to travel around the south and circle back through the middle of the country but there’s not been enough time. We did stop in Cashel on the recommendation of The Man In The Pub. There’s a castle/religious ruin there in the midst of being rebuilt. It’s a lovely site with great views and we arrived in time for the tour. We stuck with the tour until Mum started to lose feeling in her fingers due to the cold. As long as you’re in the sun and out of the wind it’s beautiful here but the castle was just too exposed. Even the people who lived there centuries ago often moved into town after a while.

Back in Dublin we checked into our accommodation (same place as last time) and walked down the road to the Guiness Storehouse, a temple devoted to beer.

Old on the outside but almost distressingly modern within, most of the building is a multiple level display about every facet of beer manufacture you can imagine. Models of the ships that transported Guiness, old footage of the barrels being made, even a 3 metre high wooden sculpture of a pint of Guiness that had symbology carved into and screens behind it playing a short film on how the sculpture was created. You could pour your own pint, which Luke did. I used to work in a pub in Birmingham so I didn’t feel the need. You got a free pint with your ticket but Mum and I gave ours away. The bar at the top of the 7 floor building had a great view of Dublin but then we were done and headed to a much quieter pub for a couple of drinks and some dinner.

The pub we ended up at is the oldest in Ireland – built in 1198. dates like that confuse my antipodean brain. How can any functioning building be that old? And serve such good food? We had Guiness and steak stew in a giant yorkshire pudding.

Well played, Ireland. Well played.

Tomorrow it’s an epic journey back to Cambridge, which wasn’t terribly well planned since it’s also Mum’s 69th birthday. We’ll find something nice to do during the week… maybe back for some more chicken and camembert pie at the Golden Ball!