Last week I wrote about our trials and tribulations getting to and from Ireland. This week, I’m going into the more enjoyable parts of the vacation. And there were many.
In the Boyne Valley, we wanted to see Newgrange and Knowth, two ancient stone tombs. We had booked a tour in advance. Unfortunately, we got lost on the way there and missed our appointed time. Dan was able to get a picture of the Newgrange monument from the road. When we go back to Ireland (whenever that may be), we want to spend several days just in the Boyne Valley so we can see everything at our leisure. We could also take a bus into Dublin to see the Book of Kells and other historic sights and sites.
(We also never made it to the Giant’s Causeway for the same reason. We had a drive into Northern Ireland, though, where they take pounds and pence instead of euros. Someone told us it wasn’t all that great or interesting anyway. I would have liked to see for myself. The pictures of it are pretty spectacular. But I digress.)
After the Boyne Valley, we stayed at Brook Lodge in Donegal, probably my favorite of the hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that we were booked into by our travel company. It was a very homey place, where we could sit at the dining table and watch the host make us an Irish breakfast while she and Dan discussed gardening.
One of our excursions while we were staying in Donegal was to Arranmore Island. We drove to Burtonport and took the ferry over. Once we were on the island, I wanted to find a pub and get lunch, but Dan insisted that he wanted to see something, such as the lighthouse on the island. We got thoroughly lost again. What we saw were sheep, one of which ran ahead of our car down a one-lane, rocky road. (In addition to sheep and lambs, many of them apparently newborn, we saw cows and some horses in fields throughout the country. We also saw a lot of wind farms, which makes sense because Ireland is usually windy and rainy, though we had excellent weather for the first six days or so of our trip. Even the locals remarked on it. But I digress again.)
We never did find the lighthouse that allegedly existed on Arranmore Island, but we did find our way back to the landing in time to have a drink and a snack in a pub and catch the last ferry back to the mainland. I considered the jaunt a success for those reasons, lighthouse or no.
Our next stop, on the way to Galway, was in the small town of Cong. You may never have heard of it, but it was the place where the John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara movie The Quiet Man was filmed. That’s one of my husband’s favorite movies, so I made sure we would have time to see the place, and on his birthday too. Dan tramped around the town and took pictures of the commemorative statue. While I checked out a local inn, he went shopping. He had sworn that while in Ireland he was going to buy a walking stick and a clock.
(Dan has a history of buying clocks while abroad and managing to pack them well enough in dirty clothes to get them safely back to the States. He brought a clock back from England once. But I digress some more.) He found his walking stick in Cong, and a nice tweed Irish cap. (Getting the walking stick out of the country was another matter. It had to be inspected for insect life at the airport and stowed in the overhead compartments on the planes, which was a challenge. But I digress yet again.)
The Cliffs of Moher, about an hour from our b-n-b in Galway, was one of the scenic locations we didn’t get too lost to see. It’s a spectacular set of cliffs with a great view of the Atlantic Ocean. (It was a foggy day, so we didn’t get good pics. We bought t-shirts and mugs instead.) Being somewhat mobility-challenged, we were able to get a ride to the viewing area in a golf cart type of vehicle, cunningly called “The Lift of Moher.” Our guide told us that scenes from one of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies were filmed at a cave at the base of the Cliffs and that the Cliffs themselves were featured as the “Cliffs of Insanity” in The Princess Bride.
Next we stopped in Shannon, about half a mile from Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. We had booked the Medieval Banquet at the castle and saw part of the park while on our way to that. It featured replicas of thatched-roof cottages and other relics of Irish ways of life in the olden days.
I knew the banquet was sort of hokey and definitely touristy, but I had been to it on a previous trip to Ireland and also knew that it was a lot of fun. They welcome you with a cup of mead (honey wine) and present you with a lavish dinner that you have to eat with only a knife and your fingers. And one of the dishes was ribs. (They did let us have actual utensils for the dessert, but it was apple cobbler, so they kind of had to.)
Our visit to Ireland wouldn’t have been complete without a stay in Dingle, thought by many to be the most beautiful place in Ireland, or maybe in the world, according to National Geographic Traveler. Dingle is another seaside town and had some of the best seafood we had in Ireland. There was a little hole-in-the-wall looking place across from the plaza in this photo, but I had an enormous bowl of amazing mussels there. Actually, the seafood was terrific all through Ireland, which makes sense given that it’s an island. Fish and chips were served at nearly every restaurant and you could have smoked salmon every morning for breakfast if you wanted to (which we sometimes did).
We also went to see the Uragh Stone Circle, which we had high hopes for. But it turned out to be not nearly as impressive as Stonehenge, which we saw on our trip to England a number of years back. The stone circle was only eight feet in diameter and the standing stone only ten feet tall. Still, we had an enjoyable day tooling around the countryside and chatting with a couple who were collecting stones and shells in Dingle. We didn’t do the entire Ring of Kerry because it takes five hours, plus stops for photos, and by that time we weren’t enthusiastic about driving for five more hours, no matter how scenic the trip.
Then it was on to Athlone, not a well-known city, but one I remembered from a previous trip. We were put up there in another swanky hotel. The view out our window of Lough Ree was spectacular. There was a small island that contained a stone said to mark the exact center of Ireland. Athlone gave us access to some of the most beautiful ruins, one of my must-see stops, and one of the most historic establishments in all Ireland. It was a perfect way to round out our trip.
Clonmacnoise is one of those sites where churches, monasteries, and other sacred buildings were erected, attacked, destroyed, rebuilt, raided, destroyed again (and again). Because of that, there are a number of impressive ruins. There is also a great museum with examples of imposing Celtic crosses and stone carvings, and the history of Clonmacnoise. I waited there while Dan tramped around the site because the day was very cold and windy and I hadn’t worn enough warm or waterproof clothes. We also toured Athlone Castle, another historic site.
Near Athlone was one of the destinations I most wanted to visit – the town of Tullamore. It has historic connections with a canal that linked the town to the rest of Ireland in the 1700s. It was also the site of perhaps the first aviation disaster, when a hot air balloon crashed and started a fire that resulted in 130 houses burning down.
But what really made me want to go to Tullamore was the fact that it’s the location of the distillery of my favorite whiskey – Tullamore Dew. (Sorry, Jack Daniels. For some reason, Tully is the preferred spirit of many attendees at science fiction conventions, which is where I learned to appreciate it. Yet another digression.)
Of course we took the tasting tour. They welcomed us with an Irish coffee made with the local tipple, and then it was on to view the fermentation tanks and the aging barrels. Along the way, there were more tasting sessions, including one of the various styles of the whiskey that I never even knew existed. The gift shop was also impressive. I now have a Tullamore Dew t-shirt and a Tully shot glass. Dan bought a ceramic crock of Tully, which he also managed to pack and transport safely to the US, and which we’re saving for a special occasion, or maybe another science fiction convention.
Also in Athlone is Sean’s Bar, which bears the title of the oldest continuously operating pub in all of Ireland. I had a pint of lager while Dan went to the antiques shop next door. There he purchased his clock for the trip, a really lovely Art Deco piece which also made it home safely. (I was dragged over to the shop to see it and to help Dan bargain down the price.)
That was our last real stop in Ireland if you don’t count the Dublin airport and a Dublin airport hotel, which I don’t.
We’re already talking about saving up to go back.