In February 2008, Bill Margeson & Shay Clarke, the hosts of Blarney on the Air (WBCB, Mondays 7:00-9:00 CST, listen online), were discussing a guided coach tour of Ireland scheduled to happen in November. Bill, a renowned expert in Irish music, was going to led the traditional Irish music based tour. As I've always wanted to go to Ireland and this was a once in a lifetime chance, I decided to go. Fast forward to July 24 (25?), and I get a phone call from Bev of CFS Tours, informing me that the tour had been canceled. I was given several options, including the Ireland Through the Ages tour less than a month away. After weighing options, I decided to take the August tour. August worked much better for me for a lot of reasons. And I have to say it was one of my best choices. Great people, wonderful and unexpected stops, and simply a whole lot of craic! Ok enough rambling, on to the trip, corresponding pictures of which can be found here or by clicking the dates below.
August 23, 2008
O'Hare requires that passengers departing on international flights arrive three hours early. As traffic getting to O'Hare is usually horrible, my brother Michael picked me up early. However, the traffic is actually good for once so we get there about a half an hour to an hour before everyone else does. Lets just say that after checking baggage, getting boarding passes, and making it through security, there isn't much else you can do in an airport besides walking up and down the terminal a couple times. Tough speed walking the moving walkways is loads of fun. Just make sure you do a little jump at the end, or you stumble. Once its time to board, I'm the third of the group to board.
I've flown a couple times before but they were all domestic flights so this was the first time on an international flight. I find my aisle seat and discover that no one is sitting in the two seats next to me so I can stretch out with the pillow and blanket that was in the seat. The back of each seat is equipped with a personal mini LCD monitor that, with the retractable remote control, allows for the choice of watching movies, various television shows, listening to music, or playing video games. After watching the safety video with the freaky man with no mouth, I explored the options until the dinner came. I was impressed with the dinner, chicken and rice, cheese slice, piece of bread, salad, cheesecake, water, and tea. Being unable to sleep due to the lights from the aisle in front, I watched Made of Honor (for the scenes of Scotland, really :), half of Deception, and played Reversi, Sudoku, and Battleship. About four hours after dinner was breakfast, ham and cheese croissant, orange juice, and tea. It was a bit odd but I guess it was to put our systems onto Ireland time. So we landed, went through immigration, got our luggage, Gina had a brief encounter with an ATM machine and lost, I got a lottery ticket and we were on our way. As we were heading to the bus, the first thing I noticed was the air and sky is different over there. Purer air and less haze, worth taking some deep breathes for to cleanse your system of all the yucky American air.
First on the itinerary was a whirlwind bus tour of Dublin. Took pictures of the famous doors of Dublin, St. Stephen's Green, River Liffey, Dawson Lounge - smallest pub in Dublin with a max of 24 person capacity, Court Building, etc. After a stop by the bank to get some money, we were on our way to Newgrange.
Built in 3200BC, Newgrange is older than Stonehedge and the Pyramids in Giza. Protected by the mound it was built under (the sides slipped to cover the edge, protecting the insides) for thousands of year, it was discovered in the 17th century. To rebuild the mound, the archeologist mapped where all the stones were on the ground, stacked them up, knocked them down, wash, rinse, repeat until they fell down again in the places they were found. The only stones that are not original to the site are the black ones surrounding the door. Newgrange is famous because for the days surrounding the Winter Solstice, a shaft of light shines in the keyhole above the door, lighting the passage and floor for a total of 17 minutes in the morning as the sun rises.
After parking the coach, we head through the visitor's centre, out to the path that will take us to the buses that will take us to Newgrange. Along the path we cross the River Boyne, the first of many rivers I will run across in my meandering. When we get to the buses, there is some confusion after which of the sites of the Brú na Bóinne complex we are going to. They have us down for Knowth, but Bev clears it up and we are off to Newgrange. We get treated to a bit of history about the site and get to walk around as the first group goes in. Before our group of about twenty go in, we are told that there is no photography. Sorry folks. So we enter through the very narrow passage, some of us bending over half our size and walking sideways to get though. Being very packed, we get a further description of the interior of the site, and then we were plunged into darkness. They warned us. :) Through the use of modern technology we are shown how the chamber would be lit were we to come back on the solstice. There's something to be said about standing a structure over five thousand years old, wondering how they made it.
After that it was a short bus ride back, crossing the Boyne again, taking a group picture (one of the only two I am in) at the wicker chair, and we were back at the visitor's centre for lunch and exploration. Forgoing lunch I explored most of the centre and sat through the video. After that we loaded up on the bus and traveled to our hotel, Ballymascanlon House Hotel, stopping first at Monasterboice with our first exposure to Celtic High Crosses.
The hotel was great, it had a golf course and a river running beside it. A room as big as a studio apartment, with an excellent view, two sink bathroom, tub on one side and shower on the other. Very impressive. After writing up some postcards to send back home, I went down to get some stamps from the front desk. Now I know I'm hard to understand sometimes, but the only makings of an accent that I have is ya'll and pin and pen being the same. However, it took me about five minutes to convey that I needed stamps, ending with me saying that I needed them to send the postcards across the ocean. Not annoying, just really funny that I had to explain airmail stamps. Ok you had to have been there. So after that I explored the grounds looking for the Proleek Dolmen, an ancient site on the hotel's grounds. (More about Dolmens.) After wandering around a bit, I ran into Mike, Bev, and Deb. With them pointing the way, I went along the path and found this, which is, while impressive, wasn't what I expected. Heading back to the hotel, I joined some for an excursion to the Cooley Mountains, part of the site of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, and saw Carlingford Lough, part of the border with Northern Ireland.
Dinner was impressive. First you get your meal, mine was Roast Prime Sirloin, which came with boiled potatoes. Then they brought out a dish each of creamed potatoes, chips, carrots, and mixed veggies and dished them out on your plate. So your meal just doubled in size before your first bite. And that was after the appetizer and of course all the bread and desert after. This was by far the most food at a dinner, but by no means could the others for the rest of the week be considered skimpy. After dinner I led Deb & Chris, Lael, Ali, and two others I think out to view the Proleek Dolmen at night. Then was time for the first extended period of sleep in about thirty hours.
Monday we have a impressive spread for breakfast, then we are off to Belfast for a guided tour. As it was a soft day, we experienced our first of many traditional Irish misty days. Not hard rain, just a gentle mist. On the way to the Belfast we crossed from Ireland into Northern Ireland. but the only reason we knew was because our excellent guide and coach operator, Mike Hogan, told us. There was no difference, no signs, no Checkpoint Charlies, or anything else you might expect from two countries that once went through "the Troubles," just mountains. Before meeting up with our tour guide, we passed by the Europa Hotel, the most bombed hotel in Europe, and Spires Mall, a converted church. As Mike liked to say, they recycle their buildings. For the tour of Belfast, we see the City Hall, complete a Queen Victoria statue; the Jaffe Fountain, the wire Hoop of Thanksgiving, and a couple other sites before stopping at the Albert Memorial Clock, Belfast's Leaning Tower of Pisa. Across the street from the Tower was McHugh's Pub, famous for the body parts in the upper window. Sorry I can't remember why they are there. From there we headed over to Harland and Wolff docks, where the Titanic was built. It may have launched out of Cobh, Ireland, but it was built in Belfast. After an extended stay at the docks, it was back on the bus and we visited some of the murals of Belfast, with Mike explaining about the Troubles. Not a time of Catholics vs Protestants, but a time of republican vs loyalists, and a time of fighting for civil rights.
The next stop was Stormont Estate. This was when I finally believed I was in Ireland. Not having a window seat on the plane, I didn't see the ocean or the landing, so I still had some disbelief. However, as I have seen Stormont before while watching the RTÉ news broadcast section of Out of Ireland, seeing it in person clinched it for me. After Stormont was more murals and then we were on our way to Giant's Causeway.
The way up the Causeway Coastal Route held some of the best unscheduled spots. We stopped at Glenarm Beach, in County Antrim, and most got some fish and chips from the vendor for lunch. First encounter with Sterling land. The beach was great, good to see the Atlantic from the other side of the pond. Further up the coast we stopped along what seems like endless fields of heather. I knew heather was associated with Scotland, but there's a lot in Ireland. After the required ohs, ahs. and picture taking (I have about fifteen) we travel along the Route, coming across a detour causing us to take the couch on a route "unsuitable for couches and caravans." However, we make it through without issue. We passed through a town having a fair with a vendor claiming to have the "Best Burgers Outside of America." As cofounder of the now defunct IREM Burger Club, I wanted to get out and check that claim for myself, but alas it could not be. We make it to the Causeway.
Giant's Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, and with a distance of 12 miles is the closet point to Scotland. Forgoing the bus, I walked from the visitor's centre at the top to the bottom, missing the second group picture. Excellent place and some of the best weather of the week. Unfortunately, it too cloudy to see Scotland in the distance, something I was looking forward to. Ah well, I will get to Monarch Country someday. I can live with the DVDs until then...... What? Oh right, back to Ireland..... So once I made my way down and walked around a bit, I got as close to the water as I could, sat down, and just watched the water. I like water. Rivers, lakes, oceans, ponds, falls, rapids, give me water. I would recommend this place to anyone going over to Ireland, and I'd go again in a heartbeat.
After the Causeway, we drive through Bushmills. home of Old Bushmills Distillery. Much to the chagrin of many, there was no stopping for a taste. We then made it to hotel, Radisson SAS Roe Park Resort, where we stayed for two nights. The location was excellent, but more on that in the next day's entry. The night consisted of dinner, walking around in the dark exploring the golf course, finding the Roe River, and then some entertainment at the hotel bar before heading to bed.
Tuesday, we visited Derry, or Londonderry, depending on where your loyalties lie. Derry is a walled city, along the River Folye, that was hit hard by the Troubles, including Bloody Sunday. The first part of our visit was lead by Martin McCrossan. One of the first sites we saw on the tour was the statue Hands Across the Divide. From a distance it appears that the two men are holding hands. However, once you get close, you see that there is a gap between the two men. It is said that when the artist created the piece, he made it so that should Ireland and Northern Ireland reunite, the men could be moved together and joined. Next was the War Memorial, the only second hand war memorial in Ireland. Built for another city that thought it was too garish, Derry had no problems using it. The murals of Derry were after this, most of which were centered about the Troubles. The Petrol Bomber signifies Battle of the Bogside. Next were Bloody Sunday, Bernadette Devlin, and Death of Innocence. Death of Innocence shows Annette McGavigan who, according to our guide, was shot while gathering nature related objects for her teacher for a show and tell (the linked website states otherwise). While perhaps the saddest mural, at least from my former elementary school teacher perspective, it shows the progress toward reconciliation. In the linked article, the picture shows a stark unicolor butterfly and a fully assembled gun. However, within the last year, the butterfly has been colored and the gun disassembled.
After the murals, we took a walking tour of the walls, including the cannons, wall churches, and the George Walker Memorial. Currently there is nothing at the memorial besides the base. After standing 140 years, the memorial was blown up by the IRA in 1973. We ended with a brief tour of the pedestrian area and then went to the Tower Museum. I didn't stay in the museum that long as I wanted to get out and walk around the town, and I know enough about the Spanish Armada. While walking the town, I found a major score, a paperback version of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows for £4. (I tended to find bookstores with ease, there were five in Derry.) As the US version has been postponed until an undetermined date, I figured I should buy it while I had the chance. Now I get go back and read them in order, since I haven't read the last one as I had been waiting to buy it first. (No worries, between my ex-girlfriend and Wikipedia, I know most of the story anyway.) After touring both malls, yes they have Starbucks, and various streets, I decided to get something to eat. I checked out the River Inn, Derry's oldest sited bar, but alas the kitchen was closed for two months. So I went over to the Forte Inn. I had an excellent turkey and ham pie topped with Champ, though I do have to say I've never had a pie without some type of crust. Then I met back up with the bus and we headed back to the hotel.
As the afternoon was pretty much our own, I decided to explore Roe Valley Country Park. As this was the end of the hotel car park, it wasn't a far walk. The park pretty much parallels the Roe River with bridges crisscrossing back and forth. I started on one side, but soon found that it had been closed off due to the large amount of flooding that occurred in Ireland before our visit. The large amount of pictures that I took speak for the park, but I have two stories to relate. One of the features is the 80 ft tall O'Cahan's Cliff. According to legend, a horseman evading his pursuers jumped off the cliff, leaving an imprint of his hoof. Not knowing about this I didn't check it out, course that was about the time I decided to go off the path and climb the other side of the cliff to get a better view of the rapids. After getting back on the path, I found the visitor's centre so I decided to have a spot of tea and an ice cream cone. After the tea I asked if there was a faster way to get back to the hotel. The park ranger started giving me directions, took a phone call, and then gave me the rest my directions. Thinking I got them, when I should have asked for the whole set repeated, I set off. After walking for a long time, probably an hour and a half, "thinking where am I going?," I literally walk out of the park. Thankfully they were kind enough to put a sign out, otherwise with it being Ireland, I would have probably kept walking. I even took a picture of the sign. So turning around and heading back to the visitor's centre I found that it had closed an hour prior. Figuring I can trust my direction sense, and that the main roads would be quicker, I just started walking up the road. Coming to the first house that I see, I walk up the driveway and ask the people going to their car for directions to my hotel. Basically they say to go up to the fork, take a right, take the next right, and walk two miles. I look at my watch, notice its about fifteen minutes until I am supposed to be back for dinner, so I start walking. Luckily, after making it around the fork, the father pulls up and offers me a ride to the hotel. So I got to ride in a car on the wrong side traveling on the wrong side of the road. Cool.
Dinner was excellent: Salomon with mint hollandaise sauce over mashed potatoes. After dinner there was entertainment in the bar, hanging out with Deb & Chris, Bev, Deb D., Rose, Jannie, and Cindy. (Mike and Jo? I'm missing someone.)
Wednesday was the day with the most stops. The first stop was Grianan Ailligh. I have to say its amazing how these structures are just off main roads with no more security than a basic fence and they are in great condition. As Bev said several times, if this was in the States there was no way that it would be in the same condition. We spent some time climbing around and taking photographs. There was a passage that led into the wall ending at area where you were supposed to sit and reflect. However, as you literally had to crawl through the passage, it was a bit wet, and I was wearing shorts (all week!) I decided not to do it. However, Chris decided to be daring and went in. I didn't get a picture of him emerging from the earth, but Deb D. did. I have to admit this was one of my favorite stops. Also interesting, just down the road is the Church of Saint Aengus, which is modeled after the Grianan Ailligh. According to this article is it listed in the book 1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die.
Next spot on the tour was Donegal Castle. This was the least memorable spot on the tour. Now that's not a slight at all. I actually enjoyed it, especially the added turrets. Its just that when I was filling out the evaluation at the end of the tour, I completely forgot about it. I was very confuddled and didn't even remember it until I was looking through my pictures. Not sure why, but I guess something had to slip out. Anyway, Donegal Castle is a 15th century castle that later had a Jacobean manor house added to it. At the same time the bay window and the turrets with windows were added to give more light in the interior. (Couldn't help but thinking of Dorothy in Monarch of the Glen: "How charming, even the turrets have turrets." referring to Ardverikie Estate. I'm staying at the Gate Lodge when I get over to Scotland. Right! Back to Ireland.) The tour and exhibits were informative and I enjoyed seeing how the castle evolved over the years. After that I pretty much walked around town for a very short bit, seeing my first Garda cars.
After Donegal Castle was another site of stone remains, Creevykeel Court Cairn. No tunnels to climb into but we were still able to go into it. We then visited Drumcliffe home of a church, round tower, Celtic High Cross, and the burial site of WB Yeats. While some would consider me an expert in Irish music (still trying to figure that one out), I am severely lacking when it comes to the Irish authors. Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, haven't read a lick of them. I guess I should someday. Still it was impressive and I like his self written epitaph: Cast a cold Eye / On Life, on Death. / Horseman, pass by. Drumcliff was followed by a visit to Sligo. Sligo! I've heard about it a lot but wasn't expecting to visit it. Come on say it with me Sligo, it just sounds cool. After a failed attempt to wait for a pizza (I heard that it was excellent), I stopped off at McDonald's *yikes* to grab a €2 double cheeseburger *double yikes, a .99¢ double cheeseburger for $3.75* I walked around the town, checked out the bookstores, and played with the ducks.
After Sligo, we stopped to visit the swans, yes we actually stopped for swans, and then visited the Tobernalt Holy Well. Not being of a specific religion, this was still touching, and I know it meant a lot to others so I'm glad we stopped here. The first line of the welcome sign states "Pilgrim walk softly, this is holy ground," reminding all that visit, that while it may not be holy to you specifically, it is to someone and thus it needs to be respected. If we could only use this idea to encompass the earth in general, the world would be a better place. (Ok ending the world peace blurb.) Still it was peaceful and there was even a mini waterfall and swans there as well.
We ended up in Westpost at the Clew Bay Hotel in the heart of the city. Westpost is well know for its pubs and music. After dinner a group of us headed out to Matt Molloy's, with me separating long enough to ... wait for it.... check out a bookstore. I'm glad I did, because I found my bodhrán, pictured here. After getting Mike's approval, I bought it for €40, better than any price I saw for the rest of the week. As Molloy's had no music playing, we went up with the street to John J O'Malley where there was some excellent music, including Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond which the group seemed to enjoy. I stayed for a while and then feeling wanderlust spring upon me, headed out to take pictures of the statue of St. Patrick, and then had a short vigil by the river Carrow Beg. The river runs right near the hotel and you can literally walk up and sit right on it. Very peaceful.
I started out the day checking out the section of river that ran behind the hotel. I have to say I love the fact that rivers seem to run through all the towns of Ireland that we visited. Makes logistical and defensive sense. Most of the day was sent on Achill Island. I'll admit, I crashed on the bus so I'm not sure how we got there. We passed the remains of Grace O'Malley Castle, I saw my second rainbow of the week, and we stopped at a beach near Dumha Éige, for a bit. We sent a large amount of time at Doogort Beach. It was excellent, the Atlantic to the front, the village to the left, and Slievemore Mountain to the right. Even through I grew up three hours away from the Atlantic, it wasn't until I was twenty that I first made it there. So it meant a lot to be standing on the shore, looking off across the water, actually towards North America this time. So I can honestly say, I've been on both sides of the Atlantic. I could have stayed there all day. Oh yeah, I forgot to say how we got there. The leaky faucet club needed to stop and lo and behold but what do we see in front of us but a Need a Loo. So we stopped for the loo and found the beach. Everything works. :) While on Achill, we also learned about the origins of the word boycott.
The rest of the day was spent back in Westport. I walked around the city, shopped a bit, and bought a second lottery ticket, since the first one was a bust. Had a lunch of haddock at Cosy Joe's. Its been a while since I've had haddock. Not as good as the haddock we used to get when visiting the grandparents in Gouverneur, but its was good none the less. I decided to pick a random direction and start walking, so I walked to the end of Tober Hill road and took some pictures of the surrounding area. Then, wanting to have a specific location to go to, I decided to follow the road signs to Croagh Patrick. That didn't last long as I got a bit turned around, so I decided to look for the Quay and Clew Bay. So I walked a couple of miles to the end of Quay Road. After that I walked along the harbor and onto the grounds of Westport House Park. While I didn't find the actual house I did find the archery range and the cousin of the Need a Loo, the Super Loo. I was tempted to let off a few rounds, but as its been three years since I did archery, I gave it pass. I'll have to find somewhere to shoot sometime, the bow and arrows are collecting dust in my closet. Since I wanted to make sure I was back in time for dinner, I was responsible and left with enough time to get back. Of course, I then crashed and woke up with a dead arm since I had ended up sleeping on it, and was thirty minutes late for dinner. Go figure. :) At dinner we had three celebrations, Bill and Nancy's 40th, Ali's masters, and Jo's birthday.
After dinner we tried to find some music. After going to a couple places that I had scouted out during the day, only to find out no music was playing, we went back to the hotel bar. They ended up telling us the musician called in sick, so Bev, Deb, and I went over to JJ O'Malley to find Ali and Lael already there. The musician was the same as the day prior, but he switched off with another. The music was still excellent with only a brief disturbance over the song Tell Me Ma, otherwise know as Belle of Belfast City. You never touch a musician's microphone. Staying until the end, I walked with everyone back to the hotel and then went to visit the river for a bit before bed.
Friday started out with a quick jaunt around the area close to the hotel. Got to see the daily delivery of THE Guinness. First stop of the day was the National Famine Memorial just outside of Westport. When looking at the pictures, pay close attention to the sails. The memorial is located at the foot of Croagh Patrick, so I managed to see it despite my failed attempt the day prior, so that worked out. We then drove through the mountains of Mayo on the way to Aasleagh Falls. On the way there we have the preverbal Irish experience - a lone sheep stopped the bus by sitting in the middle of the road. Funny! Aasleagh Falls was wonderful. Found the house I am buying when I win the lottery. Couldn't be more perfect, next to a waterfall and river, with a mountain behind, and forest in the front. We continued through the Delphi Mountains and stopped at a little village named Leenane, the setting for the movie The Field. While some of the people visit the gift shop, a group of us off veered off to the town to stop at a little shop that Nancy had found about to get the gift for Bev. After acquiring the gift, we rejoined the group, mission accomplished. Leaving Leenane we traveled to Kylemore Abbey.
Kylemore Abbey is a Benedictine monastery with a girl's school. Although the first floor of the abbey is open to the public, for the nun's privacy, you couldn't walk around for the grounds. A group of us took the bus over to check out the Victorian Gardens. I have to say my favorite plant there would be the Spider Monkey Tree both for the name and the plant. Of course I also like the hydrangeas which seem to be everywhere in Ireland. There was also a church on site with stained glassed windows but I didn't go see it.
After Kylemore, we visited the two sites that manufacture products Ireland is known for - marble and crystal. At Connemara Marble we received a brief lecture about the origins and different types of marble and amethyst found in the quary. After that it was basically a shopping spree, I made my biggest purchases here. (Warning to family, I told you it would be an Irish Christmas.) Before we left I visited the little shop across the way and was treated to a peat fire. Excellent. ::said in a Burns voice:: We then visited Celtic Crystal and learned about the craftsmen and the various designs they are famous for including the Irish Rose, Celtic Knot, and Claddagh. We also were treated to a cutting demonstration. Its amazing how he did all three cutting styles freehand on the fly.
We headed to our hotel, The Ardilaun, on the outskirts of Galway, before Bev, Jim, Barb and I headed out to Galway city proper so they could check out a sale they had been emailed about and I could wander the city for thirty minutes. I saw a couple street buskers (reminded me of Once, a must see for all) and found the pub I would end up visiting that night. This trip was a first for me: first ride in a taxi (I'm not counting the time I took a cab with people for one interstate exit because there was no sidewalk). The guy who drove us over overcharged us by €2, but the guy on the way back undercharged us so it worked out. Oh and guess what the first song I heard when we went to Galway, our anthem for the trip:
At dinner Bev was given her gift, Gina said something she shouldn't have (tsk tsk tsk). We couldn't find Mike so we decided to wait until later. After dinner, with no other takers, Jannie and I walked over to the city center. Thankfully the locals were friendly or we would have kept walking in the wrong direction. We crossed the raging Corrib River, which was raging in the morning as well, and visited Taaffe Pub for some great music but left after a bit because the only open spot was by the bathroom. We saw some a street drumming group and a fire dancer, got some ice cream and candy (see my reviews below), saw the Irish version of McDonald's (didn't try the food), walked around a bit and came back to the hotel. After a brief visit with Deb, Bev. Mike, Gina, Mike, and Dave, I went to my small room with my small bed. Of the hotels I stayed in this week, this was by far the smallest room. But as all I did was sleep in it, it did its job.
Our last full day in Ireland, but yet in some senses, the best day. Saturday started out with a ride by Galway Bay. I missed my chance to visit it the day before so I was glad for this, even with the rain. We also passed by Dún Guaire near Kinvarra. We then traveled into the the Burrens a very rocky region of County Clare. On the way to Moher, the Leaky Faucet Club struck again. Five seconds after the need was announced, we ran across and stopped at Burren House, a gift shop in the middle of nowhere. With Mike giving us five minutes, we left about thirty five minutes later. What can I say, there was a sale, people wanted to shop. We also passed through Lisdoonvarna home of the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaker Festival. Its Europe's biggest singles festival for the entire month of September. Alas a week too early. Before arriving at the Cliffs of Moher, we passed near Doolin and saw the Aran Islands in the distance.
The Cliffs of Moher is a 400ft - 700ft cliff face along the Atlantic Ocean and was one of the places I was looking forward to visiting. As soon as the door was open, I zoomed on up and took a lot of pictures. I walked up to the top to O'Brien's Tower, the highest point. Then I walked to the lower part, climbed over the rocks and hung off the warning sign to make some pictures with a better viewpoint. I then walked back to the other side and did the same thing, but I wasn't as crazy as this guy as I stayed on the right side of the fence. I went to the gift shop after that and bought Galway Girl: The Best of Sharon Shannon, at an excellent price compared to Amazon.
After Moher, we stopped in Joseph McHugh Pub in Liscannor for lunch. I had some good Irish Stew with a lot of lamb. (I have to get more pub grub next trip.) Mike was given his gift, Cindy got a cool shot with her Smitchwick pint and sign, I checked out the used bookstore and we were on our way. We stopped off at the An Gorta Mór Memorial outside Ennistymon. It commemorates the Great Potato Famine and depicts an orphan that was locked out of the local workhorse one winter morning. (An Gorta Mór being one of two phrases of Gaelic that I know. Gradh Mo Chroide (if that's the right spelling) or greatest of my heart being the other.)
We then went to our hotel Bunratty Castle Hotel. Excellent location, right near the River Shannon, with Bunratty Castle in the front, Durty Nelly's pub next to that, and Blarney Wollen Mills across from that. The afternoon was spent at Blarney before getting ready for the visit to Bunratty. After hearing so much about Blarney I was expecting more than what was there, course I was also thinking with the typical American mall mentality. There was a variety of stores representing the traditional products of Ireland: crystal, china, Guinness products, music, and jewelry. The mall pretty much has a free flow open design so you can walk from one area to another without care.
Dinner was at Bunratty Castle. For three hours the entire week, I didn't wear shorts. I dressed up, well actually wore what I normally wear to work. I was halfway planning on wearing my SCA garb but I forgot to bring it. Oh well, have to wait until Halloween since that's the only time I tend to wear it nowadays. That's if we do Halloween at IREM this year. Anyway, we took the bus over to the castle, passed some Shetland ponies, and went up the main hall. We were given some mead and treated to some entertainment of minstrels and the harp. A choir came in and sang Now is the Month of Maying (found the title by searching for "fa la la," spring, and sadness, and later confirmed it with Erin). Mike and Jo got the honor of becoming the Lord and Lady of the castle for the night. No not this Irish Lord, this Irish Lord and Lady. We then went to the dining hall, sat at High Table, and were treated to more choral entertainment and the preverbal throwing of the peasant into the dungeons in between three removes. Excellent food, ribs, chicken, and something else I can't remember; ate in the way nature intended - with your hands. Could have used my dagger but managed without it. The last song that was sung was one I was waiting all week to hear - the Parting Glass. After dinner we exited to a bagpipe accompaniment, most of which I captured on the camera.
We went back over hotel, and I changed out of my work clothing. A little later a bunch of us went over to Durty Nelly's. It was crowded but we managed to find a space on the second floor. They made a killing with pretty much everyone in the group buying shirts. Yes my friends I have a pub shirt. I still go to pubs, even if I don't drink. I haven't been to Ballydoyle in Downers Grove in a while. I'll have to go next time I am visiting my brother, which admittingly doesn't happen that often, or when I am checking on the cat in November. Anyway, the night was interesting, everyone enjoying themselves as it was the last night. Evidently I was as well because Jo mentioned that I smiled more that night then she had seen me before. A live band played requests, including Galway Girl, lots of drinking, talking, Ali danced, and just general craic for all. I disappeared for a bit and came back to find people leaving. I walked with Ali and Lael back to the hotel, went to my room for all of five minutes, went back out for a walk around, had a Coke at the Creamery while listening to really bad rock, came back and slept for maybe three hours. Too excited to sleep I guess.
Waking up early, knowing that it was my last day, I went out to see the sunrise. I had wanted to see the sunset all week but it always happened during dinner, so I went to see the sunrise instead. I took some great photos. Went back for breakfast, went with Ali and Lael over to Blarney in a failed attempt to get CDs, came back, boarded the bus, got back off after Jim sent me to follow the girls to the spa and take pictures, and then we were on our way to the airport. We got there really early, I looked around the duty free shopping, didn't get anything, processed my VAT refund, exchanged my currency and wait for the plane.
I had a window seat this time with no one in the aisle so it was comfortable. We flew from Shannon to Dublin, debarked, went through customs while still on Irish soil, waited an hour and then got back on the same plane. Go figure. I watched 88 Minutes, the Secret, and the Dubliners Live, and played the same games that I did on the over. I also got a great compliment from Bev as she was checking on people. We landed in Chicago, did the assembly line of getting luggage, waited for the luggage crew to take two breaks (or at least it felt like that). After that I got some surprise hugs from Bev and Lael, had some more goodbyes and hugs, and we all went off toward the exit. Seeing my brother, I veered off without saying any final goodbyes, as my the shiny / task driven section of my brain took over. Michael took me home, I showed him the pictures and my drum, and told the stories. After he left I unpacked and I think I went to bed around ten or something like that.
View Ireland Through the Ages in a full screen map
I had the next two days off (one being Labor Day) so I caught on some work, sent out some emails to people, sent a request for a dedication for Galway Girl for the group and Steal Away (the only song that I didn't get to hear in Ireland) over to Blarney on the Air so they could play them on the following week's show. The next two weeks were pretty much spent going though my 1500 pictures, culling, cropping, and renaming the remaining 1200 pictures. I was sick for most of the next week, nothing major like Bev, just a cold and being too weak to really do anything after work (that's what I get for getting soaked repeatedly at the Celtic Fest), and I spent a week writing this up. Now I have had fun as well, I went to the lake a couple times as I live walking distance from it, seen a couple movies, went to the truncated Celtic Festival, and the Field, amongst other things.
So its been four weeks, The picture party has been postponed until mid October, so I am missing people. Would I go back? Just say when and where. I have to do the southern half and I'm not going to stop trying to convince Bev to do something based on Ballykissangel. There's a trip in May but I think fiances will play a major part in that. We shall see.
My Impressions and Ramblings
If you plan on visiting Ireland there are a number of basic differences between here and there. Hotel Rooms: There are no alarms in the room so if the phone doesn't usually wake you up, take a travel alarm clock. Also, the electricity is controlled by the door card. Once you enter your room, you turn the electricity on by leaving your card in the slot on the wall. I locked myself out twice during the week. Hairdryers are located in the desk drawer. Every lamp seemed to have a light switch on the wall so you never had to get up to turn one on. Bathrooms: The water in the showers tends to run hot before cooling down so watch yourself when turning it on. Most of the toilets only had the bowl and the handle is attached to the wall. The cistern is hidden in the wall which would seem to make plumbing fixes hard. There also seems to be a retractable clothing line that extends across the tub. Meals: Breakfasts tend to be large, the full Irish breakfast consists of black pudding, bangers, eggs, bacon (ham), mushrooms, potatoes, beans, cereal, toast, croissants, rolls, coffee, tea, etc. I tried the black pudding a couple of times, but never really acquired a taste for it. Make sure to try some pub grub while you are over there. Although we have great pub food over here, you have to try the authentic stuff. Also, every meal had Irish brown bread and every dinner had a coffee or tea option. I was drinking pots of Irish tea all week. Lastely, while it might have just been Mike, while we tend to use the fork as a spoon, pile food onto it with the rounded side down, over there they pile food onto the "back," or rounded side up, side of the fork. Driving: If you are driving over there, in addition to driving on the "wrong" side of the road, get used to roundabouts. I actually like them, keeps you from having to do the cloverleaf thing every time you want to take an exit.
Packing: I packed way too much. I didn't wear any jeans or the long sleeve shirts I bought. I only wore my dress clothes at the castle. That I ended up bringing two more books than I needed. I took my swimming suit but I spent so time walking around that I never made it to the pool.
Coach Tour: Before the trip as I talked to people about the trip, the question came up of whether I would prefer to take a trip on my own or have a guided tour. For this being my first international tour, it was a great balance. With a guided tour, you don't have to pay for gas or worry about directions or admission prices. You have the ability to make stops at locations you might not have known about like Grianan Ailligh or the Holy Well. And of course, you meet a lot of wonderful people. And yet each day had some personal time built in so I was able to visit places like Roe Valley Country Park, Clew Bay, and the trips into Galway. So it was a good balance and really the only way to see everything that I saw in one week. Plus its a way to find out more of a specific area and determine if you would want to go back for a more concentrated visit. I'd like to hit Galway for two days, Westport and surrounding area for a couple, hit the Causeway again, and make it out to the Aran Islands.
My favorite experiences in no particular order: Giant's Causeway: Even though I didn't get to see Scotland I still loved the experience. Next time I'll see if I can find the Carrick-A-Reed rope bridge and spend more time just watching the waves. Cliffs of Moher: Really enjoyed the waves crashing, next time I'll make it off the trail a bit and see if I can find a way to the bottom. Durty Nelly's: Best night all week, though the music in Westport was up there. The heather stop, Doogort Beach, Grianan Ailligh, and Roe Valley County Park are all up there as well. And of course the trip into Galway at night was great. Ok so a lot of favorites.
Candy: Since I was across the pond I decided to try some of the candy. I've run across them at fests and other events but its always been cost prohibitive to buy some just to try it so I figured it was time. Mint Areo - Interesting bar filled with bubbles of air. Odd taste and the bubbles kept falling out. Weird experience. Yorkie - Great chocolate bar. It's not for girls. Hey the wrapper says that not me. Chomp - Great for caramel lovers. Kinda like if someone took a rolling pin to a Rolo. Lion Bar - Crispy and caramely, a bit too sweet though. Double Decker - Kinda like a Snickers without nuts. I've had better nougat.Well that's it. Nothing more to read about the trip. No really. Check out the pictures.
Post Trip Gatherings
After several changes due to illness and other plans, most met up at Bev's place for a Picture Party on October 18th. Jerry, Mary, Patricia, Corrina, Cathy, Lael, and Ali were unable to make it. There was great food including fried chicken, taco dip, Toll House Pie, soda bread, potato salad, vegetarian pizza, baked beans and a whole bunch of other stuff that is too numerous to list. People started showing at 2:00 PM and the last left around ten after which Bev and I watched Michael Collins. Of course it wouldn't be normal if I didn't run and take a walk along Kankakee River which conveniently runs near Bev's. It was great to see everyone, even if I did disappear for a while.
On November 22, the group local to the Kankakee area, along with some travelers of former tours, met for dinner and a pub concert. Going down there was an experience. The interstate put me off in a the middle of nowhere. I got a bit lost and ended up backtracking, going back to the interstate, then went down what became a dead-in road due to construction. All because the text on the upcoming intersection signs was so small, I had to almost stop in the middle of the road to read them. But I managed to get there, partially thanks to Bev who was on the phone with me. Dinner was at the Homestead Restaurant in Kankakee. One might think it was a bit on the pricey side until you see the portion sizes and appetizers of veggies, crackers, and cheese, and bread. The broasted half chicken with twice baked potato was excellent, though I'm unsure how broasted is different from fried. (At least I was until I checked Wikipedia and found this.)
After dinner most of the group went over to Mac Amhlaoibh's to meet up with others and hear the local favorite, Brendan Loughrey, perform. The music was a mixture of some "traditional" stuff and his own music, mostly based on request. Memorable lines included How can I tell you I love you, if you are sitting on my face and Damn You, Kenny Chesney. The last one was based on the musician's personal experience, somewhat akin to The Night I Punched Russell Crowe by the Gods of Celtic Music, Gaelic Storm. Good music, good people, good craic, and shots of Potcheen. (Bunratty style, that is.)