It’s only been one week since Paris and we feel like it was a lifetime ago. We started our last day in France with a 5:30 am Uber ride to a parking lot for our 1 ½ hour shuttle bus ride to the Beauvais airport. Our 2-hour RyanAir flight dropped us off in Dublin. Thus begins our 2-week tour of Ireland.
Since we are doing 2-day-stays, we found single bedrooms in homes for this leg of the journey. It’s not as relaxing as staying for a full week in our own apartments, but this should give us the best overview of Ireland.
In Dublin, we took a tour of Trinity College from a recent grad. She informed us that on graduation day, the students are called up onto the platform to receive their diplomas in the order of their grades, not alphabetically. The top of the class is called first; the bottom is called last. So all the parents, family, and friends now know that Little Sean was not really applying himself at Trinity. These Irish are tough.
After the tour, we saw the Book of Kells, which was originally the four Gospels in one book but has been divided up into 4 separate books. The Latin calligraphy and beautiful illustrations are wonderfully preserved from 384AD. There is a move to send them back to the Kells monastery in the near future.
One of the more moving experiences we have encountered was visiting the Kilmainham Goal and museum. This was Ireland’s attempt at modernizing and humanizing prison. Before 1796 prison life was basically a very crowded, one-room dungeon for men and women of all ages (sadly this included very young children). Kilmainham was the last incarceration and place of execution for the British insurrectionists in 1916. Interestingly enough, the very first political prisoner of the Goal was Henry Joy McCracken. I may need to do some genealogy research to see what other mischief I am a part of.
We originally planned for three days in Dublin, but called an audible and cut it to two and added a one-night stop in Kilkenny. This began with the renting of the car. Once again, we were given a VW Polo, but this one was very different from the one we had in France. It was a stripped-down model with none of the safety and fun extras. And I’m guessing it was made on a Monday or Friday because a terrible mistake had happened; they installed the steering wheel on the right side (read “wrong side”). This meant I was driving on the left side of the road while shifting with my left hand. Let me try … without my screams of terror ringing in your ears … to describe this part of the adventure. While I am learning the new skill of left-handed shifting and hurling towards oncoming traffic that really shouldn’t be on “that side”, I encounter, unexpectedly, the following stimuli on very winding, narrow, often stonewall-lined, with many blind areas, and just plain scary Irish roads: big trucks, big tour buses, big farm machinery, cyclists that think they are alone on the road, walkers, and the occasional rogue sheep. All of this can happen at any time. On large sections of road, only wide enough for one normal-sized vehicle, you can encounter a runaway farm tractor driven by a drunk and angry sheep barreling down on me! Too much? Well, maybe only slightly.
We spent one night in a very old and charming hotel in Kilkenny. As usual, we just wandered the village and enjoyed whatever we ran across. I am a big fan of Francis of Assis and discovered his fellow monks were making a significant impact in this area. Because of the hazards of drinking the contaminated water, the monks started brewing beer, a much safer and enjoyable drink. Remember: safety 1st. This eventually led to the oldest brewery in Ireland, Smithwicks. As part of my continuing religious studies, we did the Smithwick Experience tour and enjoyed a pint. And we learned that Smithwick is pronounced without the ‘w.’
On our drive (with the steering wheel on the wrong side, in case I hadn’t mentioned this before) to Kinsale, we stopped to explore the Rock on Cashel, also known as Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on the Rock. Marsha and I are still impressed with how old structures have survived the years. Begun in 1127, this was the seat for the kings of Munster. Apparently, St Patrick was there to baptize one of the pagan kings and accidently pierced the king’s foot with the sharp end of his staff. The king, being pagan, thought this was all part of the baptism ritual and bore it bravely, but St Patrick had a difficult time baptizing the rest of the pagan community.
Kinsale was another walkable village with an amazing history. We took two tours in one day. In the morning, we learned the history of this colorful port from Barry of Don & Barry’s Historic Stroll in Old Kinsale.
Rick Steves writes that this tour is a must and the highlight of Kinsale. We agree. The 1601 battle here had far-reaching implications for Ireland, Spain, and England. When you understand how some events took place you realize there are a lot of ‘what ifs’ in history. After the tour, we had a better understanding of the delineation of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Our timing in Kinsale was great. On the first Wednesday of the month, their museums and sights are free. We walked through the Courthouse, the first building sailors would encounter as they left their ships. The first thing you see is a huge wall plaque listing the taxable items coming into port. Kinsale was going to get their money.
Later we hiked out to Charles Fort for a magnificent view of this protected port. Across from Charles is the smaller James Fort. Any ships entering this port would have to sail between these fortified structures.
Now, about that picture of me in the red wig. This came from our evening outing, Kinsale Ghost Tours. It was a fun and theatrical romp through town, spattered with some historical information. When we arrived at the cemetery, our guide (A Doc Brown look alike) grabbed me, put a red wig on my head, called me Sheila (at least it wasn’t Surely), and taught us all a song we sang to bring back a dead sailor from the grave.
On the way to Dingle (quit laughing), we drove the 100-mile Ring of Kerry. (Notice how I didn’t mention anything about driving on the wrong side of the road?) It was impressive to see some prehistoric sites, but we actually enjoyed the drive around the Dingle Peninsula more the next day. The hills were lush, it was a misty and cloudy day, and just the perfect picture of rural Ireland.
Before we took the peninsula drive, our host took us out to meet her pet sheep, Millie, and ‘the girls’ on her 4th generation sheep farm. Bridget has about 125 sheep roaming the green hills. She was a wonderful host. We enjoying talking with her about her family and Ireland’s history.
That evening we celebrated Marsha’s birthday at a family-owned restaurant right on the water. Crab claws were the choice and they were enormous. Even though we seldom have desserts, this was a special occasion. We enjoyed the scrumptious Irish Banoffee Pie. The evening ended perfectly as we were greeted with a warm peat fire in the sitting room. It felt so cozy and welcoming after coming in from the drizzle at night.
The Cliffs of Moher were on our way to Galway. These are some very impressive cliffs. Cliffs of Moher… What comes to mind is a cross between Hobbits and Princess Bride. As you can see from the image, some people are plain crazy. Rick Steves wrote that the Irish apparently believe in ‘natural selection’ versus putting up barriers.
Our next stop will be in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. An outdoor chalet with hot tub awaits us. We are REALLY looking forward to that. Belfast will conclude our Ireland tour and my driving the ‘car of death.’ Then on to Scotland. Maybe there will be some more family connects.
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Preston & Marsha
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