All of Ireland at a glance? No, it's just a little of the panorama available on
Lough Derg Drive near Garrykennedy. (Scroll right for entire vista.)
This tour diary includes twelve slide shows: Cliffs of Moher, Cong, Sligo-Athlone,
Clonmacnoise, Dublin, Wicklow,Glendalough, Cork-Blarney, Dingle Peninsula,
Adare, Lough Derg, and Bunratty. All can be seen at one sitting
by clicking the link to the next at the end of any one.
My brother Tom and I spent a week in Ireland, August 27 through September 2, driving on the wrong side of the road and left-hand shifting a stick-shift Ford Fiesta! Faith and begorrah, saints preserve us! It turned out that the driving was a challenge but not too stressful; the highways were more daunting than the left-lane/right seat arrangement!
As I had to do all the driving (Tom being past 70 his driving would have cost an additional $10 a day in insurance), he kept the diary of that journey for both of us. We booked our charter fly-drive package through Sceptre Tours, a New York-based operator. It came off without a major hitch (though our charter flights were delayed by over an hour taking off from New York's JFK airport and more than two hours from Ireland's Shannon).
Ireland is a thoroughly modern country, where you can use your ATM card to get cash the same as here. Highways near cities are modern, multi-lane "dual carriageways"; in scenic areas (though everything in Ireland is scenic) they are still too narrow, and route signage is often absent (as in California). It does take at least twice as long to travel distances on those roads as what we're used to; often you have to simply stop to let oncoming buses and semi-trailers go by.
My interest in visiting Ireland was born when I was about five years old. I was leafing through a magazine and discussing the pictures with my mother. She told me about traveling as something people often long to do, and about far-away countries. I asked her where she would like to go if she could go anywhere in the world. She said she would never be able to travel like that, but supposed that if she could, she would want to go to Ireland. As a child, that didn't strike me as the least bit strange; she was always singing songs from and about Ireland. But we thought for many years that Mother's own lineage was either Scottish or English, her maiden name being Smiley. When I was in my forties a shirt-tail relative did a genealogy of a family married to the Smileys, and in the course of it discovered that Mom's family had immigrated, before the beginning of the 19th Century, from Belfast. For years my goal was to get rich so I could afford to take Mother on a trip to Ireland, but, alas, she never got farther from home than Canada.
I wanted to go to Ireland because in a deep sense it was "home" to my ancestors (we always "knew" the Kennedys were Irish, though for all the documentation we have about our Protestant line they could just as well be Scottish Kennedys). And no doubt many, probably most, of Ireland's American tourists go there looking for at least a sense of roots if not their actual origins. On my first two short visits I saw a few highlights but still the main attraction was getting to know the place I'd considered my primordial home. It wasn't until this third visit, for which I read a half-dozen books and watched a dozen made-in-Ireland movies, that I came to appreciate Ireland as a tourist paradise no matter what your ancestry. It's highly competitively priced, with some amazing tour packages available. English is its first language. The people are probably the friendliest, on the whole, of any tourist destination. And best of all to me, historic and scenic sites are everywhere. Ireland has as many castles as Spain, an abundance of palm trees, but unlike the Mediterranean is lush and green with rivers, lakes, salmon, and shellfish everywhere. It's not really a country about famine and hardshipor alcoholismdespite Angela's Ashes and some noisy propaganda from stateside expatriates. And I've been pleased to find that many "non-Irish" agree with this assessment. But this is why my brother and I observed that the population of Ireland may be only about five million, but there must have been at least an equal number of tourists on the highways when we were there. The tour book that said the highways would often be deserted and we would see no evidence of road rage in Ireland was no doubt written before the isle's European statehood came into full flower!
We saw horse-drawn "wooden covered wagons" several times, but then you see Amish vehicles in numerous stateside places. "Tinkers" (known in this country as "Travelers," or "Irish gypsies") are encamped along the highways here and there, living out of their "caravans" (as "campers" are called in Ireland and the U.K.). Hitchhikers of both sexes are seen everywhere, which I suppose indicates a kinder, gentler civilization. But the hay is baled in plastic-wrapped cubes, and the only oxcarts we saw were ones painted up and put on display as artifacts of a life now gone. In Cork, home to Ford Motor Company's first factory outside the United States, we saw the most modern McDonald's restaurant we'd ever come across: in the men's room you put your hands over the sink and soap automatically drips down, followed by water, followed by drying forced air.
We asked readers of this department who had been to Ireland or gained some expertise on the old sod by studies or travelogues, to share suggestions of things to see. As mentioned, I had been in the old country before (click here for an online account of the second visit), but never this long, and never with my "own" wheels to take me anywhere the highways go. We received two letters relating experiences and offering suggestions, which can be read by clicking here. Tom's diary follows, with my comments interjected in yellow type.Jon Kennedy
A week in Ireland 1998
Jon mentioned to me when we were together in May that he had found a great deal on a trip to Ireland and asked if I'd be interested in going along. It was a more or less no-frills package that included airfare, a rental car, and bed and breakfast accommodations. We liked the idea of being able to make our own itinerary, and I jumped at the chance. We would have seven days in Ireland and a day over and one back.
Day one8/26/98 - Wednesday
I had decided to visit my friends Jim and Doris Focht in Altoona, Pa., prior to leaving on the trip, which flew out of JFK airport in New York (Altoona being much closer to JFK than my home in Ringgold, Ga.). So, I had a nice visit at the Fochts' and left there at 8:15 a.m. to travel to Kennedy airport. (I flew direct from San Jose to JFK the same day.) Some said the trip from Altoona would take five hours; others said seven. Our flight was to leave at 7 p.m. so I had a lot of time to kill, most of which was taken up by hunting for the ATA (American Trans Air) counter. The airport is being extensively remodeled and was quite a mess, but the ATA counter is tucked away in an obscure corner and very poorly marked anyway.
I worried about Jon's flight and wondered what I'd do if he didn't get in on time etc., but he got there in plenty of time and due to a bad electrical storm our flight didn't get off till about 9:30 instead of the scheduled 7 p.m. departure time.
Day two8/27/98 - Thursday
The flight to Shannon is supposed to be five-and-a-half hours with arrival time at 8 a.m., but we didn't get in until 9:30. We had a stop in Belfast first, which did not show on our tickets and was totally unexpected. The plane was an L1011 wide-body jet and we were fed dinner and a continental breakfast. I doubt if I slept more than one hour total so Thursday was a long day.
We decided the first thing we needed to do was find our B&B. This was the only one prearanged by our tour. It was listed as being in Newmarket on Fergus, a few miles from Shannon Airport. We must have gone back and forth through the town at least four times and could not locate it. The first place we inquired about it was a Shell station and the guy steered us right, but was not specific enough in his distances. I asked at a competitor B&B and a young lad was positive he knew right where it was, but was miles off. Finally, some ladies at a place with a cute little restaurant and a sign saying "Tourist Services" directed us right to it.
Were we surprised! What a beautiful place. The hostess was a very nice Irish lady and she said it would have done us no good to have been earlier anyway because we couldn't have checked in till noon. The room she gave us was very nice.
After checking in we set out for the Cliffs of Moher against the hostess' advice. She thought we should have gotten some sleep first (my theory is that the best way to fight jetlag is to go through the day according to the sun's timekeeping, not your body's). We then found out that many of Ireland's roads are absolutely awful! I'm sure two full-size American-made cars could not pass without having their sides seriously scraped. It was a nerve-wracking ride for me because Jon's depth perception from a right-side driver's seat to the left side of the road was very poor and he kept hitting curbs and scraping bushes, etc., on my side of the car. But we made it to the cliffs and enjoyed their beauty and got lots of pictures. An unexpected highlight of the afternoon, to me, was coming across Dun Guaire Castle, on Galway Bay, en route, which we got out to photograph from outside at some length.
Click the photo for a Cliffs of Moher-Galway Bay slide show.
From there we went to Galway. I was getting tired and was not greatly impressed with Galway, although I was glad I got to see it and did enjoy parts of it. I told Jon I sure would like to get back to our B&B before dark but there was no way we could do it. Fortunately the highway from Galway to Newmarket on Fergus was nearly standard width and though I was quite nervous, we had no problem except for one horrible jolt from hitting the curb in a town! Jon did very well driving a stick shift and on the left side of the road overall.
For most of my life I've dreamed of watching the sun go down on Galway Bay and the moon rise over Cladagh (a residential section of Galway). We never did find the Bay in Galway, so our visit there was probably the biggest disappointment of the trip to me, compounded by the fact that I discovered the next day that my film wasn't spooling in my camera so none of the pictures taken from my arrival in Ireland through this time actually existed.
We got back to our B&B about 9:30 p.m. (4:30 Pennsylvania time) which meant I had only an hour's sleep in about 33-1/2 hours. We both went straight to bed and I slept fairly well so that I felt quite good when I got up to face Friday's adventures.
One thing I forgot to mention was that when we got back to our B&B the hostess had moved us to a different room due to a mistake in booking. It was no problem except that I thought she had disconnected my battery charger before the camera battery got fully charged. That caused me considerable trouble on Friday. And my toothpaste got lost in the transition, causing me to get neuralgia in my right jaws for most of the following week.
Day three8/28/98 - Friday
We told our B&B hostess Mrs. Ryan that we would be down for breakfast at 8 a.m. That worked out great and what a breakfast these Irish B&B's servecereal, juice, and sweet breadthen an egg with bacon and sausage and three other meats I can't remember the names of (bangers and blood sausage) cooked tomato and toast and coffee. I had heard about this but couldn't believe it until experiencing it!
Our destinations today were to have been the village of Cong where the movie, The Quiet Man, was filmed and on to Dublin. When we told Mrs. Ryan that, she advised us to go to a tourist information center and have them call ahead to Dublin to make reservations for our B&B there. She was concerned because of a big football game to be played in Dublin on Saturday. So we went to Cong and had the center there call for us. But there was not a B&B to be had. We then had to change our plans completely.
We were both very pleased with Cong. It's a beautiful town an hour or so north of Galway and about three hours north of our first night's B&B in Newmarket on Fergus. There's lots to see in addition to the famous "Quiet Man cottage," which is a replica of the movie cottage John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara inhabited, with lots of reproductions of costumes and memorabilia from the movie. The town also has ruins of medieval churches and a relatively modern castle that's now a monastic abbey, as well as woods to hike in and a beautiful park. We both loved it.
Click the photo for a Cong slide show.
As we couldn't go to Dublin, Jon suggested visiting the remote town of Cliffden near the west coast, then returning northeast a three-and-a-half-hour drive to Sligo. The drive to Cliffden took much longer than expected because of the often nearly impassible roads. By the time we got there it was 3:30 and I suggested we visit the tourist center there to have them find us a B&B in Sligo. (We had decided to pay the Tourist Centers three pounds each time to find us B&B's rather than try to use the local telephones ourselves and encounter the frustrations of trying to have exact change for calls.) This we did, and for a while thought we might find ourselves shut out there, but they did locate one for us. It now being about 4:15, we didn't even take the time to explore Cliffden but started out for Sligo. Cliffden was a colorful town, but because of road work going on on several downtown streets, not as picturesque as the postcards made it out to be. The first hour or so of our journey to Sligo the road was terrible, but after that it was quite good and we arrived at out B&B before 8 p.m.
The scenery on that drive was, for the most part, breath-taking, but the battery for my camcorder had expired back in Cong, so I didn't get any video. Sadly, when we checked in at this evening's B&B and I plugged the charger in, I discovered that the spare battery had been charged after all and I could have been taking pictures all day! What a kick in the head!
Mrs. Conway, this night's B&B hostess, recommended "Yeats' Tavern," named in honor of local hero-poet William B. Yeats, for our dinner. It was a beautiful place with a terrific menu. (It was not a "bar," as we had feared, although it served drinksbut on the order of O'Charley's, but far nicer.) It surely capped off the otherwise somewhat disappointing day (because of the Dublin shutout).
Click the photo for a Sligo slide show.
Tomorrow we'll explore around Sligo and perhaps try to get closer to Dublin and see if we can get a B&B there for Sunday.
Our Sligo B&B was situated on a low hill overlooking a beautiful valley, with a breath-taking view of a mountain range that abruptly ended a few miles away, reminiscent, we thought, of El Capitan in Yosemite. After dinner at Yeats', I drove into Sligo to look for an Internet cafe. I enjoyed looking around this high-energy town on a Friday evening, but didn't find what I was looking for at the time, though I spotted such a cafe when we were driving out of town the next day. I didn't find it listed in the phone directory which I consulted in a hotel lobby the night before, and don't know if it would have been open when I needed it or not. We had found Internet access on Thursday night in Galway, a university town, but there was a wait to use it and we opted to move on.
Day four8/29/98 - Saturday
We had our breakfast set for 9 a.m. today and again had a hearty one. Both days thus far we practically skipped lunch so the big breakfast kept us going.
The view from this B&B was just beautiful and we spent some time taking pictures before leaving at about 10 a.m. We took a tour drive around Lough Gill (pronounced "Lock Gill" and meaning Lake Gill), just south of Sligo (our B&B being just north of town). There were interesting stops along the way including Dooney Rock and Hazelwood Sculpture Nature Trail. Dooney Rock also had a nature trail with gorgeous views across the lake. It was a very enjoyable tour.
Before embarking on the tour we had gone to the tourist center to again try for Dublin accommodations but were told it was hopeless, so we chose the town of Athlone, well on the way to Dublin, and made that our destination. We arrived at our B&B in Athlone about 4 p.m. It is just a short walk from beautiful Lough Ree, but I thought it not quite as nice as the two previous locations, though quite satisfactory.
After checking in we set out for a historic site nearby called Clonmacnoise. It was founded by St. Ciaran in 545 AD and became the center for the propagation of Christianity in medieval Europe for the next millennium, one of its monks even being a tutor to the Emporer Charlemagne. Now mostly ruins, some original buildings, including two bell towers, and many old-old tombstones with their Celtic crosses in tact still stand, and it is on a beautiful spot on the Shannon River, believed by historians to have represented the crossroads of the island of Ireland at the time. Taken over by the Church of Ireland (Anglican) under Henry VIII, it is now under the supervision of the Department of Public Works and interesting displays abound, with a historical film presented that recounts its history.
Click the photo for Clonmacnoise slide show.
En route to Clonmacnois we made a wrong turn on a country road, and after asking some pretty colleens for directions, turned around at a gate to a cattle field. When the cows saw us coming they all mosied over to the gate, some sticking their heads across it, wanting their supper. We later saw postcards of a very similar scene, to me one of the serendipitous highlights of our visit to Ireland.
After Clonmacnois we headed back toward Athlone, looking for a nice place to eat. We stopped for gas about 10 km out of Athlone and I asked a young lady if she could recommend a restaurant. She suggested the Prince of Wales Hotel in Athlone, so that's where we ended up. We found it very pricey (L18about $30for the specials on the menu) for us, but the food was delicious.
We got back to our B&B about 9:30 p.m. I'm writing this at 10:10 and will be settling down in a few minutes. We've decided to go into Dublin tomorrow to do some sightseeing, but we'll make no attempt to lodge there, and go on to Wicklow for tomorrow night.
Day five8/30/98 - Sunday
We arose at 7 for another big Irish breakfast and set out for Dublin. Highways across that part of the country (the Dublin to Galway corridor) are excellent and the towns we passed through were neat and pleasant. I guess we arrived in Dublin about 10:30 and parked near the area Jon was already familiar with (the Trinity College-Grafton Street area). We went to a place called Bewleys, famous for coffee and also a nice restaurant. We each had coffee and a scone seated in a mezzanine overlooking busy Grafton Street. It was very pleasant.
Click the photo for Dublin slide show.
After coffee, we went to the tourist info center and made arrangements for tonight's lodging in Wicklow. From there we went to an Internet cafe for Jon to check on messages and contribute something to his Nanty Glo Home Page. We also retrieved a message from Drew Stewart to me, giving his address and phone number etc., but it was too late and I couldn't take action on it. As explained previously, we could not have found lodging in Dublin anyway, so could not have been there in time Sunday morning to attend church with the Stewarts or the Mulvaines. This was very disappointing to me.
We decided to take a bus tour of the city at six pounds ($9.60) each. It was a double-decker bus with an open upper deck, which I wanted for picture taking. It toured mostly the historic areas and was interesting but not at all beautiful. The biggest industry in Dublin is the Guinness brewery, which I guess is the largest in the world, as well. The Irish are very pleasant people just as described in all the pre-tour info I read. But their main interest seems to be in bars and beer! Jon said he read that Ireland has a high percentage of alcoholics. (Like American Indians, the Irish were introduced to alcohol relatively late in human history and, the theory goes, therefore have a low tolerance for it. And although pub culture is big in Ireland, I don't concur that it's the main interest; Bewley's, for instance, was founded by Quakers to fight alcohol, and a favorite priest in Cork, Fr. Matthew, was famous for his temperance crusade.)
I enjoyed visiting Dublin!
Click the photo for some Wicklow-area slides.
We left the city about 5:30 and had a nice drive to Wicklow, arriving at our B&B at 6:45. (By the way, the outskirts of Dublin at least via highway N11 are very beautiful.) This B&B (again, to my annoyance, located miles from town so there's nothing to do, unless you drive, after dark but go to your room) is very nice and welcomed us with tea and cakes. They had menus from several of the nearby restaurants making it easy for us to choose one. We chose the Beehive and had a nice meal at the most reasonable price since we got to Ireland. There was just one flawour waitress was very pleasant taking our order and serving, but never came back once. We were both panting for a glass of water and finally flagged down a waiter for that. That is the first time, I think, that I ever declined to leave a tip!
We finished our meal about 7:30 and Jon wanted to take a drive around Wicklow to Newtownmountkennedy, but I'm not too crazy about night driving and was tired so I left him to go alone and came to our room to do my journal writing. Of course we have a full day planned for tomorrow!
It wasn't dark yet when I started out. I drove through colorful Wicklow to the far side of town and found a lovely beach park overlooking the Irish sea. The trail down to the beach is depressed below a golf course, and at the beach are dramatic (though for Ireland relatively low at about two or three stories height) cliffs. Wicklow had the most crowded streets yet, with parking on both sides and only one lane for two directions of traffic in between. But it seems to work for them! I then drove up the coast to Newtownmountkennedy and got a picture of the sign entering town, and drove around the little village just to see what a place named for Kennedys would be like. It wasn't as quaint as most Irish towns, and had no immediate coast access despite the fact that it appears to be on the coast on maps. I drove back to Wicklow and had a milkshake from a local eatery before turning in.
Our first stop today was Glendalough, and after losing our way and extending the half-hour trip to a full hour or more, we arrived there. The welcome center here is the first place we've encountered that rivals those in the States. It's a huge, beautiful stone building housing a theater for showing a video of Irish monasteries, beautiful rest rooms (toilets, as they say here), and historical artifact displays. Glendalough (pronounced Glendalock) means "between two lakes." It consists of ruins of a 12th Century monastery founded by St. Ciernan. (My sources say sixth Century, St. Kevin.) The film states that these monks founded such places for isolation from the secular world. They studied and copied the Scriptures, meditated and farmed the land.
Click the photo for Glendalough slides.
The film showed scenes of other monasteries like Clonmacnois, (and whose visitor center, on further reflection, I think matches that at Glendalough, except that it's not in a wooded setting like Glendalough) which we visited earlier, and the Aran Islands, which I wish we had visited. I took a lengthy walk to the "upper lake" and enjoyed the variety of trees and plants along the way. Jon and I got separated for quite a while and as he loves to walk so much, I assumed he was probably hiking the same trail, but he missed it altogether! From Glendalough we set out for Cork, knowing we had a long drive in store. Also, we were to experience our first day of "Irish weather." It rained all the way, sometimes quite hard, and the drive seemed quite long.
Arriving in Cork, we promptly became lost in very heavy traffic before finally finding our "in town" B&B which Jon had chosen so he could walk around "towne centre." It was a three-story building right on a busy streetso busy, in fact, that I didn't dare cross the street to get a picture of the B&B. I kidded Jon that it was actually the Rescue Mission, but he was a little touchy about it, thinking I guess that I wanted to have "my way." Actually, the room was fairly nice and it was the only place offering a "menu" for breakfast rather than the normal "Irish breakfast." I selected an omelet which was quite good. Unlike most of the B&B's this one seemed to be run mutually by the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Foley, rather than by the wife on her own. Mrs. Foley is a baker and though the house was not new like most of the others, the service was unparalleled.
Click the photo for Cork-Blarney area slides.
We took a walk toward the center of town and found a cafe where we had our evening meal (the most moderately priced evening meal, in a blue-collar-type establishment, that we had in Ireland). I then returned to the B&B while Jon went hunting an Internet cafe. I found an Internet cafe away across town over a bar, but it had closed 10 minutes before I found it, at 9 p.m. I also found Internet access in a video game arcade, with the computers operated by coin like videogames, but it cost two pounds ($3.20) for the first 15 minutes' use, with no price advertised for additional time, so I passed on use of that. The room had a TV, which was rare for the B&B's, and I watched some international news which did nothing but scare the wits out of me because of reportage on the worldwide money crisis.
Tomorrow should prove to be an interesting day. We plan on seeing a lot of nice areas including Blarney, Killarney, the Dingle Peninsula, and Tralee.
Day seven9/1/98 - Tuesday
After the aforementioned breakfast, we set out for Blarney and, of course, got lost again. This getting lost may make it seem that we must be a couple of dummies, but actually it is because of the very poor street and route markings in most areas. Cork, I think, was the worst of the worst for that.
But, eventually, we found our way and Blarney is a very beautiful place. The grounds are spectacular, with unusual trees and plants. The castle itself is just interesting to see and in pretty good shape for its age. I guess I am like that to a certain extent, myself. (We were told on my visit here four years ago that the castle was turned into a ruins by Oliver Cromwell's crusade to wipe out all strongholds of Catholicism in Ireland. Despite its "ruined" state it's still fairly representative of what it once was.) I climbed the winding, narrow stairs all the way to the top where the Blarney Stone itself is located. I was not interested in kissing the stone, but got some beautiful pictures (I hope), from up there. Though it was no longer raining like the day before, the woods next to the castle was still wet, but still worth visiting. We spent some time tramping around there, an area that either wasn't open or that I missed on my previous visit.
We spent a lot of time in the huge Blarney Woolen Mills store, shopping for folks back home. I managed to get all my female loved ones taken care of, but couldn't find a thing for any males. On my visit in 1994, our tourguides told us Blarney was the place to buy gifts and souvenirs, with the largest selection and best prices. But having nothing to compare it with at the time and knowing tourleaders get kickbacks from such outlets, I and I think most of those on the bus tour were skeptical. This time I had lots of opportunity to compare prices, and Blarney's were indeed better, and the selection much more complete, than any other gift shop we were in. For example, our Daytrips Ireland book mentions that crystal is no less expensive at the Waterford plant than at any other outlet in Ireland. What are they sayingit costs nothing to ship crystal around the country? Or those who buy it in Waterford are sharing the shipping costs of those who buy it elsewhere? Either way, the consumer is being victimized; even Guinness lets visitors to the plant drink at a discount.
I guess we left Blarney around noon, heading for Killarney. For a change, the highway was good and well marked, so we made good time and got there round 2 p.m. We checked in at our B&B which is the nicest room so far. Mrs. Burke is very nice and helped us plan our route to the Dingle Peninsula and Tralee. We set out for Dingle immediately.
I must say I had been nearly overwhelmed by the beauty of the coastal highway in California, but never have I seen anything as beautiful as the Dingle Peninsula. The road hugs the shore almost every mile of the way, showing fantastic cliffs, bays, and beaches, while on the other side of the road are fields with grazing sheep, rock formations, villages, and all kinds of flora. We had to cross a small mountain via "Conner's Pass," and although the road was frighteningly narrow most of the way, the scenery was breathtaking.
Click the photo for Dingle Peninsula slides.
We stopped to see some prehistoric fortifications at one remote spot, and even had to ford a stream on the highway without benefit of a bridge at another. Though very touristy, the town of Dingle itself looked like a place I'd love to stay a night or more some time. One bit of a disappointment for me was that I hoped to see the row on row of cliffs featured so prominently in Ryan's Daughter, which was filmed here. We could see one such outcropping of cliff into the ocean from our position on the highway, but apparently the scene in the film is so remote it's not accessible from anything even the Irish would call a highway.
We wended our way around the Peninsula to Tralee, which we found attractive and Gaelic-looking, but less crowded and quaint than most other towns. We walked along the streets and, as we were both "starving," one of the first things we looked for was a restaurant. We found one called The Skillet. They had "Roast of the Day" on the menu, which today was lamb. I do not recall ever eating lamb before, so I tried it and found it to be delicious. Jon had Irish stew, which he said was very good. This was the first menu on which we found even that much "ethnicity"; there was never a menu featuring cabbage anywhere, despite the stereotype that I find myself perpetrating. Carrots (along with other vegetables) and potatoes are everywhere, but cabbage and potatoes...no.
After dinner we strolled some more and found a nice variety store (an Eason's, made famous as one of the places Frank finds employment in Angela's Ashes), where I purchased some postcards and an anniversary card for the Capes. We left Tralee about 8 p.m. and got to our B&B in Killarney about 9. This was our most impressive day for beauty. From the time we left Cork to the time we settled down for the night, we were nearly awestruck by the beauty of this country.
Tomorrow is our final day in which we are to end up back at the Maple View B&B, where we started. We will be visiting Limerick and environs and I'm not sure what else is in store, but I know it will be fun!
Day eight9/1/98 - Wednesday
After the usual 8 a.m. Irish breakfast, we drove the few blocks from our B&B into downtown Killarney and walked around a bit. I sought the post office and mailed my cards.
We then set out for Limerick, which route took us through a charming town called Adare, which has a really outstanding visitor center with beautiful gift shops. I had not gotten any souvenir for myself, and became fascinated by a display of heraldic shields. The one for the Kennedy clan was quite appealing, so I succumbed to the temptation and spent the 32 pounds for it. I'm sure some of my heirs will enjoy displaying it!
Click the photo forI had not been more impressed with any place on my first visit than Adare, and subsequently saw scenes filmed in it in the movie, Widow's Peak. I'd wanted to visit it, and was pleasantly surprised that it was right on our route. It has the largest collectiona whole rowof thatched-roof houses, still in use, that I've seen, as well as a couple of historic churches, a castle on a golf course, and a nice downtown area.
an enlarged view.
Jon had read of a small harbor town northeast of Limerick named Garrykennedy, and because we had had a brother bearing that name we wanted to see it and have our pictures taken by its sign. Two of the most scenic points on our whole tour were the view of Killaloe on the River Shannon and an overlook above Lough Derg on the way to Garrykennedy.
Click the photo for a scenic slide show.
We also planned to have lunch there but found no suitable place (the two pubs having only dinner-priced items which we felt were beyond our budget for a mid-day meal or snack). The town is really tiny, but picturesque, with fishing harbor photo ops, and an adjacent woods with picnic tables and trails for hiking; located on Loch Derg. We found a nice sign saying "Garrykennedy Harbour" and snapped each other's pictures beside it.
From there we set out for Bunratty Castle, stopping for lunch at a little restaurant next to a gas station, going through Limerick once again. I didn't find Limerick to be very quaint or scenic (at least via the route we were on).
We arrived at the castle at 3:55 and the last entrance is at 4, so we just made it. Banquets are booked in the castle each evening, which is why the castle admission closes at 4.
Click the photo for a Bunratty Castle-folk museum slide show.
This castle has been restored to near its original state, unlike Blarney which is really a ruins. However, the grounds at Blarney are truly beautiful, making it a much more enjoyable visit to me. Life in the castle appeared to me (from the displays), to have been very austere, even for the lords. I'm glad I did not live in that day!
Along with Bunratty Castle is an interesting restoration of a folk village containing thatched-roof farm houses, laborer's house, barns, blacksmith shops, etc. I did not tour it all, mostly because I missed a path from one section to another, but I must admit I was tiring. My thighs were quite sore from climbing the long flight of stairs at Blarney.
To me, Bunratty was the most impressive site in Ireland, though Clonmacnois and Glendalough have a very strong appeal of their own, too. I was pleasantly surprised to find at Bunratty not only a full-fledged castle restoration, but a folk museum recreating Irish farm life as it existed until recently (and some places even still), a pretty and quaint village as fun to visit and shop in as any restored ghost town in Nevada, a woods and pond, and even a real Irish manor house. I went through almost everything, except the manor house, which was a farther walk away and I hadn't seen Tom for a while, so was beginning to worry a bit. Anyone who has a three- or four-hour layover at Shannon Airport would do well to consider visiting Bunratty; if you can't pay Ireland a real visit, this is the best synopsis you can get in an hour or two. It's more than a "Williamsburg" of Ireland as it represents not only Ireland's medieval past but its recent past and even contemporary landscape in one easy-to-traverse area, at one of the most reasonable prices (five pounds) of any attraction.
Bunratty is a short hop from our last B&B at Newmarket on Fergus, so we arrived there about 6 p.m. Mrs. Ryan again welcomed us with tea and cookies, which we enjoyed. Our tour instructions tell us to check in at the airport at 7 a.m., but the flight isn't scheduled to leave until 10:10. We have to turn in the rental car, however, so I guess we'll have to be early. We are supposed to be back at JFK in New York at 12:55 noon.
We skipped an evening meal on this last day, our lunch having been late and large. After checking in at Maple View I drove back into Limerick, while Tom opted to stay in the room and write, for a look around on foot. I was especially desirous of spending time here as I'd just finished reading Angela's Ashes on the trip, and it is mostly set in Limerick. I walked around much of the downtown area, which is urban rather than quaint smalltown. But Limerick does have some very attractive sites including St. John's Island, with a castle, and on the Shannon River there is an area of open-air restaurants and pubs under trees strung with lights; very nice atmosphere. I was down to just a few Irish coins and didn't want to use the ATM again and risk having a couple of loose pounds leftover before leaving, so even though I was lusting for some fried chicken from a fast-food place, I went "home" hungry.
It has been a truly memorable experience and one I never expected to be privileged to enjoy. I won't know the total cost until all my ATM and credit cards charges come in, but I'm sure it will be less than a seven-day escorted tour almost anywhere in the states, and just to say I've been to the Emerald Isle is, to me, something special.
Cybertour Ireland. The following sites give information on Irish culture, special events, maps and places of interest:
Ireland's Eye —culture and traditions
Irish Times —Ireland's major newspaper
Map of Ireland | Irish Insight—Killarney-based webcenter
Browse Ireland —city guides, arts and all things Irish
Local Ireland —local news, events and information on currency, and so on
Irish Tourist Board—Irish Tourist Board official web site
Northern Ireland Tourist Board—Northern Ireland Tourist Board's official web site
TV Travel Host Rick Steves' online guide to Ireland—Including his two-week guided tour itinerary.
Donna McSherry's Budget Travel Guide—A personal memoir of a three-week tour of Ireland; her Northern Ireland memoir is also linked to the site.
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