Our flight leaving Toronto Canada was over 2 hours late so we started our journey at 2:30 am Sept 1st. We Arrived in Dublin 7 hours later and had an enjoyable ride to our hotel, thanks to our taxi driver, who had great humor on all issues. He mentioned that Trump was visiting next month and would "like to hav' a talk with the one who invited him". We also discussed sports and he said he could not help me with my understanding of rugby. He wished me best of luck on that and then we talked food, and all left the cab hungry. After dropping our stuff at the hotel, we felt 2 hours was plenty of sleep so we started a walking exploration of Trinity Collage which we will visit tomorrow. We toured the Temple bar area and enjoyed music and pubs and the first of what should be many Guinness beers. We strolled around town and had a wonderful dinner at an old pub named Parnell's. We passed out at 8:30 am Ireland time, (3:30 am Pennsylvania time). I woke at 2:00 am. - my sleeping schedule is messed up.
Day 2. Sep 02,2018. Our first full day in Ireland.
We started late today choosing to regain sleep. Toured Trinity college and it's library, home of the famous book of Kells. After that we walked around the town park and the city and of course visiting a few pubs. Tomorrow we leave Dublin and start our tour of the countryside.
Day 3. Sep 03,2018. Dublin, to Belfast, To Cushendum.
We left Dublin early this morning, eager to escape the big city. Unfortunately the next stop was another big city, Belfast. First we took a side trip to climb Slieve Gullion. At it's summit, lies the highest surviving passage tomb in Ireland. The tomb consists of a huge circular cairn. The tomb is estimated to be over 5,500 years old. The climb is rather aggressive and involves near vertical sections, but the view is stunning and worth the climb. Say hello to the local sheep on the hike up and avoid their frequent fertilization of the rocky trail.
After our 2 hour hike, we continued to Belfast where we took a black taxi tour highlighting the 70 year history of tensions between Catholic and Protestant Ireland. Our driver took us to significant places in the conflict and we learned, though there is a peace treaty that has been in place for the past 18 years, tensions remain. My pictures show the walls and gates in the city where Catholic and Protestant sections still close each night and all day Sunday, and billboards that show evidence of the hostilities.
Since we have no hostilities we finished our tour of Belfast with a pint in a pub near the Titanic experience, (which we had no interest in), and then left Belfast at 5.
We continued to Carrickfergus Castle, built by conquering Normans in 1177 and still in use up to WW2. Proof that there is always something interesting just around the corner, near the castle we witnessed a boat that was nearly sunk and being towed in. Not one to enjoy others suffering, I expressed my sadness to the locals and then clicked away with my camera. The locals explained that the fisherman hit a rock and it had taken 3 days to return to it's harbor. We were there in time to see the boat being towed to land and a rope dangerously snapping in the process.
We finished in the port city of Cushendum, at the Londonderry Arms hotel. This was once owned by Winston Churchill's grandmother, and for a short time, by Winston himself. The hotel is charming, old and has exceptional food. I have not slept well since arriving 3 days earlier, so tonight I hope to sleep well. If there are ghosts here, and there likely are, I doubt they have a chance to waken me.
The unfortunate part of writing a travel blog is it is done at the end of the day. So to be honest, I have had my fill of Irish whisky, which has made my memory of the day somewhat distilled.
Speaking of distilled, we visited Bushmills distillery, which King James the 1st licensed in 1608. It stands as the oldest licensed whiskey distellery in the world. It is also the only triple distilled whiskey. I have no idea what any of that shit means. I do know that it was smooth and I drank way too much. But what the hell. It's Ireland. Did I mention the 12 year old whiskey was quite smooth. Irish call it "the water of life". Anyway it's quite smooth.
Before all this whiskey we enjoyed a walk to the rope bridge at Carrick-a-rede. Make a bad move and you plummet 100 feet to meet your maker. Fortunately for me, my maker was not ready to meet me and I survived. so I pressed on to the 6 mile cliff walk leading to the "causeway of giants". The giants are the rock formations caused by volcanos and that sort. Irish legend say these formations were caused by giants arguing. As for the walk I absolutely hate and fear heights. So the distillery after that was a welcome change of the day. Which takes us back to where we started.....
Bushmills distillery: Someone in our group got the bright idea to buy some extra bottles and we drank those on the ride to our hotel. All went to hell from there but I suppose that is the real Irish experience. One of the guys in our group face planted exiting the van upon entering the hotel. He took out a flower pot. We were laughing to hard to help him up. Unfortunately for us the hotel is pretty fancy.
Tomorrow we are looking forward to hiking, eating and drinking some more.
I have included some pics of Dunluce castle. (Blah blah blah castles). This Mid-evil castle is featured in many films, but since it was abandoned and no whiskey was served there, our group had no interest in it.
We are staying at Beech Hiil Inn. Bill Clinton and John F Kennedy stayed here. They probably had some whiskey here. Surprisingly our group was kicked out of the restaurant here by some stuffy English travelers who said we were being too loud. The staff seemed not to mind us so we moved to the bar. I have found the Brit's are a bit stuffy and the Irish are fun. It's time for the Brits to leave Ireland,(Brexit).
Our hotel last night is named Beech Hill Inn. Built in 1700 it has a room honoring US Marines who were stationed at the inn here during WW2. A signed picture on the wall includes all 3 Kennedy brothers John, Bobby, and Teddy. Will Ferrell spent a week here along with other famous folks.
Most of group has sworn off whiskey, and I doubt we will be drink anymore until dinner tonight.
Derry or London-Derry: We took a walking tour of the walled city, learning Ireland's greatest export is her people. Exported due to wars, famines, economic strife and those looking for opportunity. The USA has 45 million people of Irish ancestry, nearly 20% of our population.
The walls of Derry were built in 1613. Derry was called by this name for over a 1000 years. It was changed to London-Derry in 1662. The "Troubles", (as the Irish call them), have taken place since as the Catholic Irish and protestants, (England), have clashed. violence continued until 1998 when a peace was called by both sides.
On our walk we checked out some nice churches and walked inside the walled city. Monastery's were founded here in the 6th century and many of the local church's are built on these same sites.
The city is located on the boarder of Northern Ireland and Ireland. We will switch back from the British Pound to the Euro once we cross the "border". In these cities there are banners and paintings on the side of the buildings reminding us of continuing tensions. A statue shows two boys reaching out and almost touching hands, reminding the people that peace is close ,(a handshake away), and the future is optimistic.
Throughout Ireland their is a feeling of optimism in the economy and their future. Business is improving and their educational institutions are first class. The Irish are fiercely proud of their country and regardless where they go, they take that pride with them.
Grianan of Aileach: Stone fortress built around 8th or 9th centuries and these are found throughout Ireland. Usually on hilltops.
Glenveigh national park and castle: we walked this park to the castle. We enjoyed typical weather with on and off rain most of the way. Glenveigh is a 47000 acre national park with amazing scenery.
Tonight we are staying in Ardera town and put all our efforts into eating and drinking at the best local pubs, and then enjoying local music at the pub. (It's all about the pubs). We ate at Nancy's pub and after met the owner. He told us he was born upstairs and was the 7th generation in the family. After we enjoyed a small local pub. The music was traditional ands one of the locals sang to us many songs. Pure magic and pure ireland. Tonight I found the ireland I came for.
Day 6. Sep 06,2018. Ardera town to Carrowhubbick (Sligo Coast)
We left our hotel the Nesbitt Arms, early for a long drive through the countryside through Granny Pass towards Donegal.
A boat excursion took us out on the ocean for a sea level view of the Sliver League, the highest cliffs in Ireland. Standing at 2000 feet vertical.
The seas were not too rough so Sharon managed not to puke and we both enjoyed the view. I would recommend the boat ride if you have to choose between boat and cliff walk, as long as there are other opportunities for cliff walks. High above us we could see the warning towers that were used as a network of towers built by the British Army in the early 1800’s, around the entire island. A warning could travel around the entire country in less than 45 minutes by way of these tower systems. It was an efficient method of protection against the Spanish and French.
After lunch in Donegal we stopped at Deumcliff cemetery where you will find the grave of WB Yeats and his famous epitaph and a fine depiction of the Celtic cross.
We forged on to a good hike up to Queen Maeve’s tomb at the top Knocknarea. Here the view of the surrounding countryside and Sligo coastline is stunning.
At Knocknarea the large cairn passage tomb dates back 6000 years or 3500 to 4000 BC. The ancient site has amazing views at top, but the climb up is entertaining with grazing sheep around you and the dogs at work entertaining us as well. If you are there in early September, eat your fill of raspberries growing along side the path.
Tonight staying at the Waterfront House at on the ocean.
We began our day with a visit to the National Museum of Ireland. The museum highlights the history of the Irish, their agriculture, struggles ...It was quite interesting. I passed on lunch and instead sought out a pharmacy for a nasty head cold and ear infection. The pharmacist told me to drink lots of liquids. As there are many pubs in Ireland I will be able to comply.
Croagh Patrick is Ireland’s holy mountain and the location of the oldest place of pilgrimage in Ireland. St. Patrick learned of this place as a site of ritual climbs for the pagan gods, and he climbed the mountain, and remained there for 40 days to fast. This is where he was said to drive the snakes, (evil), from Ireland. Today each year on the last Sunday of July, upwards of 30000 people climb to the top.
Some of our group made the climb, which we were allotted 90 minutes. A full climb is a days journey. I made good distance making it nearly halfway up. The terrain is very rough and extremely steep, but once again those that make the journey are treated with spectacular views. Those of the group that stayed at the bottom including Sharon, were treated with wine and spirits at the pub, next to the shrine of the Virgin Mary.
We visited Killary Sheep Farm and were given a demonstration on how the farmer steers the dog to move the sheep. Three simple commands will steer the border Collie in any direction including large circles. Check out the video. It’s quite remarkable that the collie can hear commands spoken from nearly 1 mile away. Sharon loved the litter of 4 baby collies.
Our hotel tonight is the castle, Abbeyglenn, In the town of Clifden. We are eating and drinking, and enjoying a warm glow of food and new friends.
We started our day touring Castle Aughnanure, built in 1500 by the O’Flaherty family to protect their trade interests and land. It is a fine example of a tower house.
Galway city, known as the cultural capital of Ireland was our lunch atop. Eating is probably our favorite part of travel as we enjoy the local foods where ever we go. It’s all about the food, culture and history. Maybe in that order.
Sharon is enjoying the shops of wool items. Perhaps some family members reading this may find one of these items under the Christmas tree this year?
We visited Poll Na Bron, a portal tomb in a karst limestone plateau. The tomb is nearly 6000 years old. The limestone features in the ground are called Clint’s and Grikes. The grikes are spaces formed between the limestone blocks caused by water dissolving minerals around the stone, (Clint’s). Stepping in the Grikes could cause a broken leg as some of these can take you 5 feet underground or more. This area is unique as the only in Ireland with these features, and also there are species of flowers that are found in the Arctic, Mediterranean and European landscapes - all in this one small region. People come from all over to gather the flowers in bloom.
We did a 5k hike along the cliffs of Moher and as always the views are stunning, but I hate heights. Only a few of our group did the hike due to the rain and slick mud along the walk.
Tonight we are staying in the quiet town of Spanish Point. Our hotel is quite nice on the coast and our room ohverlooks the ocean. We are at the Spanish Point House, probably our favorite inn of the trip so far. Spanish point is named for the Spanish ships that broke up ashore after an attempt to invade the British isles in 1588. This was the very beginning if Britain’s naval empire.
From yesterday’s tour - Here are the commands that sheep farmers use to steer the sheep dogs...
Walk up = straight
Away = right
Come by = left
Whistle sound = stop
Check out the video from day 7 to see how the dog follows these commands.
After taking a picture of my breakfast, (and eating), of fresh fruit, salmon poached eggs along with homemade brown bread we left Spanish Point determined to return. We Crossed the Shannon estuary on the Shannon ferry.
We entered the Dingle peninsula today where we will spend the next two days.
We hiked up Annascaul Gap past Lough, (lake), Annascaul. This is a glacial valley and there we were treated with waterfalls, rugged terrain and a sheep farmer herding his ship. This same farmer later caused us a slight delay on the narrow road exiting the valley.
In Dingle we enjoyed a brief demonstration of crystal carving and design at Dingle Crystal. Apparently the owner creates crystal art for clients world wide. Red solo cups suit me just find so I passed on the expensive crystal.
After checking into our hotel we embarked on a 3 hour sea kayaking adventure. It was a workout. We had to fight the tide going out and then fight it again going in. We travelled 5 miles and explored caves in the ocean. The day ended like all good days should, with a pint and desert.
This morning I was able to find a local barber and around me the men were speaking Irish, (Gaelic), and the barber after finding out I was from northern Pennsylvania asked about the flooding in our area. Apparently everyone in the world knows about Erie’s bad weather!
The rain is intense and sideways all day but that did not stop Sharon and I from a horseback ride along the beach. The outfitter was Longs Horse Riding Centre. Our guide wore a Pittsburgh Steelers hat, (Lord Help us all), and we rode Clydesdale’s through paths and along the ocean English style.
After the ride we drove around for a bit, soaking wet and covered with horse hair, until returning to the hotel to dry out and clean our clothes.
When it rains all day in Ireland you drink. Dingle distillery makes fine Irish whiskey so we toured it and did a tasting. I don’t usually drink strong stuff but have made an exception in Ireland.
We pub hopped in the evening and chanced upon a pub that had a great band, including the tap dancer David Gleaney, a 5 time world champion. A great end to our day.
We left Dingle in the morning heading through the Iveragh Peninsula, following the famous Ring of Kerry.
Fortunately the rain ended today as we entered Killarney National Park. The park is 25000 acres and named a UNESCO World Heritage Biosphere. This is due to the unique climate that has preserved many rare species of plants.
We used a bicycling trail guide company called Trail Flow, which guided around the park. The guide stopped frequently to talk about the flora, fauna and history of this region and even explore a cave. We had a nice 3 1/2 hour bike tour.
The word Kill is Irish for Church, and that is why many towns in Ireland begin with the name “kill”. So Killarney is named for a type of plant and berry that grows in this region. It’s complicated so take my word for it, or fact check me on Google.
After our ride we were feeling a bit peckish , (phrase for wanting snacks), so we picked up some food and had a picnic on top of a mountain. We were sworn to secrecy about its location so I will only say it is quite an amazing mountain top to view the Ring of Kerry, very remote and very difficult to get to.
We ended our day in the town of Port Magee. We hope to tour the Skellig islands tomorrow but a landing on these islands is difficult unless the seas are fairly calm. To see what the skelligs look like, watch the two most recent Star War episodes. This island is where Luke Skywalker was holed up in, and where he was handed his light saber. The following Star Wars had its first 20 minutes or so of scenes filmed there.
If we don’t make it that is ok. We will enjoy a hike. The area reminds me of Maine’s quiet coastal fishing villages.
In earlier posts I have mentioned that Irish whiskey is very smooth. Especially the good stuff. 12 year old or older is exceptional. The problem is, it kills your brain cells. Another problem is that it kills your brain cells. Why do people drink on St Patricks Day? Here’s why....
During lent long ago in Ireland the Irish swore off for 40 days the thing they loved the most. That was alcohol. So for 40 days they suffered as no others to show devotion to God. But an Irishman can only take that sort of sacrifice so long, and along comes the religious holiday of St Patrick’s Day. Since it is a church holiday, that fact cancels out the lent abstinence. So for St Patrick’s day you drink in honor of the Saint, and drink well because come the end of the day, it’s back to lent and you have another few weeks of suffering. That is why people drink on St Patties day. Eventually some stopped bothering to give up anything for lent, or maybe they gave up smoking, or weeding the garden. The day became synonymous with celebration and drinking. Often times dipping a shamrock in a pint and tossing it over the shoulder for good luck.
So despite March in Pennsylvania being quite dreary, we have the Irish to thank to break it up and bring joy and celebration to our lives.
Back to our vacation blog....
Skellig Michael is the larger of twin crags located off the coast of Port Magee. On it is a Gaelic monastery dating back to between the 6th to 8th centuries. We were to land on the island but due to high seas we were unable to do the landing. So we took the 3 hour cruise out to the islands to view close up instead. When we stepped on the boat I was handed a soaking wet life preserver with a not so faint smell of vomit. That should have tipped us off on what we would be up against. I don’t get motion sickness. Sharon does. Sharon had Dramamine, so we were all set. Unfortunately the ocean was determined to prove that no oral medicine could outweigh its 10 foot swells and soon Sharon’s complexion was a nice shade of green. This made the ocean happy and paid a nice tribute to Ireland. Despite the 10 feet swells Sharon kept breakfast out of the bucket. We were able to take fabulous pictures of the islands but did not see any Jedi.
On little Skellig there are estimated over 70,000 gannets, which is the 2nd largest population in the world. You could smell their poop from a mile and we were tossing around in the seas at about 100 yards. Once again despite that, Sharon kept it in. Quite remarkable. All in all it was a spectacular journey.
The Skelligs are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were lucky to experience two UNESCO sites in corresponding days
Next we did a quick tasting at Skelligs Chocolate factory, (yum). They actually export their chocolate to TJ Max during the Christmas holiday. That is the only place on the USA you can find their chocolate.
We journeyed on, picnicking on the ocean looking out on the Ring of Kerry. Our day ended in Kenmare with shopping and music in a local pub.
We travelled along the famine road today called Tim Healy Pass, heading towards County Cork and the Beara Peninsula.
About the famine: Ireland has been remembered for its great famine in 1845 to 1851, but in their past there have been 27 famines. These occurred from 1771 to 1851. The diet of the average man would be 15 pounds of potato’s a day. They would eat potato’s for breakfast lunch and dinner. A woman would eat approximately 10 pounds a day. Potato’s are the perfect food. They have all the carbs and protein needed for survival. The Irish had large families and were healthy due to their diet of potato’s. They were noted to be taller, stronger and healthier than their European counterparts. This was attributed to the potato.
When the blight came, (an airborne fungus), potato’s would be killed in hours. This was a disaster for the Irish people who had little else to supplement their diet. The potato was life. Without it they starved.
Today when the blight happens there are warnings to spray the crops. But in 1845, 75% of the crops failed. The famine continued In 1846 and 1847 but it became worse in 1847 because there was little seed for new crops. 1848 was a disaster. 10’s of thousands died of starvation. There was some famine relief and the beginning of the soup kitchen, but the aid was not enough. Mass immigration started and the Irish people left primarily to the US. The famine ended in 1851 when a cure was found to prevent the blight which is still used today.
In many ways, the famine was genicide because the British govt did nothing about it. They were the overlords of Ireland, and they turned their backs on the people. The British government sent little aid, while aid poured in from all over the world. The population fell from 8 million to 4 million in the 4 years of famine, due to death and exodus. Those that stayed behind were those who could not afford to leave. The population of Irish in the US exploded. It took well over a hundred years for the British government to concede their lack of action was cruel, but an apology was never delivered. The younger generation of the Irish people have moved on though and few harbor resentment.
The Irish were treated poorly where they immigrated, which is why there are a close knit community and still remain so today.
The winding road that we travelled on today is one of the many famine projects that put people to work during these times. It brought income to those workers.
We drove this winding road into county cork and as usual were treated to beautiful views. We stopped for walks along the way that eventually lead us to our beautiful hotel, The Gougane Barr’s Hotel, nestled in a glacial valley next to a lake.
Day 14. Sep 14,2018. Gougane Berra National park to Dublin
There are over 1000 bacteria found on human lips. Among these bacteria are potentially harmful germs and diseases that are ripe to infect you and those around you. We do our best to protect ourselves from the spread of germs, but of course there are always exceptions. With one of those exceptions in mind I joined over 900 fellow humans today in kissing the Blarney Stone.
Blarney Castle is the largest example of a tower house in Ireland. Included here are beautiful gardens and even a poison garden, highlighting poisonous plants found in Ireland. Also on the grounds are the Blarney manor.
Climbing to the top of the tower to get to the Blarney stone requires walking or tripping up a narrow passage on a winding staircase. How narrow? In some spots you need to turn sideways. How steep? If you fall you may die. These steps are intentionally narrow and steep for soldiers to fight if the castle is breached.
There are always crowds here as this is one of the most popular tourist spots in Ireland and today a cruise ship with 3500 passengers arrived.
To climb the tower and kiss the Blarney Stone we had a 90 minute slow moving line to the top. To kiss it you lay down on your back, hold the bar so you don’t fall through and plunge 100 feet to your death ,and pull your self to the rock and pucker up. What you get in return is the gift of gab or eloquence. After our kids we walked the grounds before departing.
With my new found eloquence we continued on to the Rock of Cashel also known as St. Patrick’s Rock. This castle rises above the plains of Tipperary County. It was a stronghold of Christian faith built and fortified to protect the church within and its leaders, along with relics including a piece of wood from the cross of Jesus. Built in the early 1100’s it is equally impressive inside and out. There is an extensive graveyard inside the walls with many high crosses.
After Cashel we continued to Dublin, sadly ending our journey. We said goodby to our new friends. We are ready to go home, but have many fond memories. We made one more memory. Dinner at Murphy’s pub in Dublin.