Ireland So Far
Part of: Ireland Road Trip
Hello! This post comes to you from the village of Adare, just south of Limerick in western Ireland. But most of it was written in Kilkenny a couple days ago, where we stayed in a modern hotel with an excellent wireless connection. Unfortunately I didn't have time to finish it while we were there, and we are using a limited modem connection now, so this post is only half-illustrated. I'll try to fill it in more when we get home! But for now I wanted to briefly check in and say what we've been up to.
We have been having such a great time and have seen a lot already. First, a couple brief facts about Ireland, in case you were wondering. It is part of Europe, not the UK, and the currency here is Euros. However, they drive on the left as in the UK. The official second language is Gaelic (also called Irish), which some people still do speak - as evidenced by the fact we came across a Gaelic-language radio station - and which appears above English on all road signs.
The Irish accent is delightful, as everyone knows, and what is especially nice is that it is much closer to the American accent than the English accent. In fact, when I lived in Edinburgh, I was asked by taxi drivers on two different occasions if I was Irish! I was astonished then, but now I can sort of understand how it's possible. Practically speaking, that means Americans and Irish people understand each other better and David and I have slightly better luck trying to imitate the accent (only in private, of course, and still badly!). And of course, as with all accents, it varies a great deal in strength and form in various regions and classes, and not everyone sounds like Lucky the Leprechaun.
But to begin at the beginning - our drive from Oxford to the ferry port took over five hours and we met with a few very bad traffic jams that made us nervous of making it, but we ended up being well over an hour early. The drive was actually one of the highlights of the trip, as it was through some seriously gorgeous scenery - especially in Wales.
We were happy to discover our route took us right through the northern Welsh town of Betws-y-coed, which David's mom has visited and always raved about. Patti, it looks fantastic (although packed with people!) and we plan to try to stop there on our way back.
The car ferry from Holyhead to Dublin was very well organized and went smoothly.
David felt a little queasy at first and we hadn't had time to pick up Dramamine on our way to the port, but the ferry people recommended a thing called a "sea band" that puts pressure on the pressure points of your wrists. He bought one from the onboard shop and reported that whether it's the placebo effect or not, it worked great! It's supposed to help all kinds of nausea, not just motion sickness. Very interesting.
Dublin was lots of fun. We walked all around town the night we arrived and explored the following day too.
We toured and dutifully photographed two cathedrals (which were just okay but one had a cool crypt)...
We visited Trinity College but skipped the huge lines to see the Book of Kells...
And we enjoyed the Temple Bar scene, where we had the most delicious Italian meal.
We also had lunch in an American diner called Eddie Rockets! It is a chain of restaurants found all across Ireland and it was so much fun. David had a blue cheese burger and I had a hot dog and an Oreo milkshake, which was pretty darn exciting but sadly the shake wasn't up to genuine U.S. standards.
It immediately became painfully evident that we are way out of traveling shape, but we're getting there slowly! The main day in Dublin (Sunday), we walked all around the city until all we really wanted to do was see a movie, so we did! David wandered into a camera shop and asked the sales guy if he knew of a local cinema, and not only did he, he knew which one was playing the movie we wanted to see and gave us perfect directions! I imagine he might have known the showtimes if we'd asked. We saw the comedy Knocked Up, which was quite funny, and the cinema was great too. Those plush seats felt gooood on our weary bodies.
Yesterday (Monday) we took a day trip out of Dublin, first to check out Newgrange. It was even cooler than we expected. It's a "passage tomb" from 3000 BC and we got to go inside and see a simulation of the effect that happens at sunrise every winter solstice. Next we went to another ancient set of tombs at a site called Knowth, which was different but also very interesting. More details when I get back and post photos.
We spent the rest of the day driving around that area of County Meath, which is astoundingly full of interesting things to see. A major highlight was a ruined monastery site called Monasterboice, which had huge 9th-century Celtic crosses carved with biblical scenes (including the Crucifixion in which Jesus is fully dressed!).
There was also a lovely round tower, a feature of many Irish monasteries used for defense against Viking raiders. We had the place almost entirely to ourselves and the sun even came out briefly for many of our photos! Just as we were leaving, two tour buses unloaded at the site, so we felt mighty lucky.
We also visited Mellifont Abbey, which were ruins of a Cistercian abbey of the sort we've seen in England, and the ancient sacred burial mounds at the Hill of Slane and the Hill of Tara. The Hill of Slane was much more interesting than we expected, and also had ruins of a monastery, a church, great views, and some lazy cows to keep us company.
Tuesday our main stop was in Glendalough ("Valley of the Two Lakes"), which is only about an hour south of Dublin. It's a very scenic area with mountains (well, big hills) rising up on all sides above two lakes and a great national park with walking trails all over it. All of that would be worthwhile on its own, but it was also the chosen spot of a monk called Kevin who lived there as a hermit in c. 600 AD. He attracted a huge following and a monastic settlement grew up there over the centuries. So we got to visit the beautiful stone ruins of churches, cemeteries and another round tower, while also enjoying the pretty landscape (and building up those squishy leg muscles). It was so very cool and highly recommended.
We had a quick lunch at Glendalough, then set off for Kilkenny. The drive was very pretty and there wasn't a lot of traffic, but we kept getting stuck behind tractors the entire way! And we pulled off the road at one point to take a picture of a sheep. Along the way we spotted a ruin from the road so turned off to check it out, and it turned out to be a very nice ruined Cistercian abbey, with much of it still intact and featuring an odd-shaped mausoleum of some local VIP in its cemetery.
Over lunch in Glendalough we perused Lonely Planet's recommendations for hotels in Kilkenny and typed the address into our sat nav (which has continued to be indispensable and save us a world of grief) to head there first. We ran into another huge traffic jam coming into the city (really a large town), due this time to road works, but we finally fought our way through and thankfully our chosen place had a room available so we didn't have to try to drive anywhere else.
Tuesday evening we explored Kilkenny a bit, which is nice but heavily marred by all the construction. We tried to find the cathedral (which is said to be a good one) without a map and failed, then set about finding dinner. We started with a drink at a fancy hotel with a riverside cafe, which was very nice.
We each had a good, traditional Irish beverage: a Guinness for David and a Bulmer's cider for me. Both were delicious and it was an educational experience, too. After the barmaid filled our drinks and we'd paid, David went to grab his Guinness but was abruptly stopped in his tracks by the shocked-looking barmaid, who exclaimed, "It's not finished!" Since the glass was nearly full and foaming nicely, David inquired what needing finishing. She explained, only a little calmer, that she needed to wait until all the foam rose to the top, then top it off with a little more. She promised to bring it to our table when it was ready. So while I enjoyed my cold cider, David watched his Guinness sitting on the bar getting ready, for nearly 10 minutes. Great stuff.
We then headed back towards our hotel and had a nice dinner just a few doors down. David had salmon and I had chicken with lintels, both good. There was a young Irish couple at the table next to us, evidently on their second or third date. Very cute. Then I spent awhile getting started on this blog in our nice modern room.
Wednesday morning we made another attempt for Kilkenny Cathedral, this time successful. It was nice and old but not super exciting. Its best features were lots of medieval tombs and graves as well as a round tower, built around 1000. And this time we got to climb it! This was done via steep internal ladders that only had a hand rail on one side. I had to suck up all my fear of heights to do it, which was not easy nor very pleasant! But the views were very nice and it was fun to have climbed one of the round towers that are so quintessentially Irish. It may also be the oldest thing we've climbed.
We decided to ditch the Cork part of our itinerary, and instead headed straight for the west coast from Kilkenny. About an hour west of Kilkenny we stopped at the Rock of Cashel, a popular attraction that consists of a huge ruined castle and cathedral up on a big hill. It was really impressive and it had a little chapel with Romanesque carvings and fragments of murals - my favorite! Sadly we had bad luck with the weather during our visit, but we can't complain because the sun has made an appearance at nearly all other sights.
We got as far as the town of Tralee before we ran out of steam, which is right at the start of the Dingle Peninsula. We stayed in a B&B that was very roomy and comfortable and felt very much like staying in someone's regular home (which we were). And they had a cat who welcomed us with friendly mews when I opened my car door!
Today we drove the scenic loop around the Dingle Peninsula, which was absolutely gorgeous. It included mist-covered mountains with gentle grassy slopes, blue sea views and lots of stone fences and sheep. We also got to visit some of those famous beehive huts that were a feature of the people who lived here around 1-800 AD, including monks as well as farming families.
And that brings us tonight, where we've settled in our Adare B&B for the night after a nice dinner of salmon and chicken in town. In the morning we'll look around Adare a bit then hit the road again. We will either go to Galway for the night or end up back in Dublin tomorrow night to take the ferry a day early. We're seriously considering spending Saturday night in North Wales instead of Ireland, as it was just so pretty. But that will depend on whether an earlier ferry is available, which I will check after publishing this.
I'll post again next time I have internet access or once we're back home!