In Shadows and Sunshine

On this leg of the trip, we left Killarney and visited Muckross House, a beautiful stately home in Killarney National Park. The house has been restored to the way it was in the late 1800s when Queen Victoria stayed there. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but we have many pictures of the outside of the house and the beautiful grounds. At the time it remind me of the Breakers (in the US) – not so much in the architecture of the house, but in the grand style of the rooms and the extensive grounds.

Muckross House

View from the house

The gardens

After leaving there, we drove along the coast for a while and having lunch in Dingle (where I had my first “lamburger”) and then took a ferry to cut nearly 100 miles off of our trip as we headed toward the Cliffs of Moher.

Few places are as iconically Irish as the Cliffs of Moher. I have been fortunate to see them multiple times in my journeys to Ireland. Both in the “shadows” — or fog, and the sunshine. My first trip to the cliffs in July of 1997, they were shrouded in fog so dense you could barely make them out.
I was beyond disappointed, to say the least. I’d learned that an infamous scene of my favorite childhood movie, The Princess Bride, was partially based off of the Cliffs of Moher — in the movie they are called the Cliffs of Insanity. Consequently, I was so excited to see them in person. But as you can see from the pictures below, there were barely any cliffs to make out.

It was a rainy day, and the fog was incredibly dense. However, we did walk around a bit and took some pictures with the realization that the trip to the Emerald Isle was going to be hit or miss with fog. I was disappointed, however, that it had descended on that particular day.

Afterward, we drove to our bed and breakfast for the night – Berry Lodge, which (at least as of 2018) is still in operation, according to Trip Advisor. The accommodations were extremely comfortable, and view surrounding the house was stunning and remote.

The women who ran the bed and breakfast were sisters and were incredibly kind! We ate dinner there, and when they found out that this trip was a graduation gift for me (read more about that here if you are new to the blog), they baked me a cake in celebration of my graduation. It was incredibly touching. And though I don’t remember how it tasted, I remember how the women made me feel – loved and appreciated.

My mom, one of the sisters, and me

We told the ladies about our sadness having not truly been able to see the cliffs, and she mentioned that we should try again the next day because “everything could be different of a morning.” Well, we took their advice and went back the next morning, and they were right! The sun had cleared away the fog, and it was a beautiful, sunny, warm day.

We enjoyed walking along the trails (as far from the edge as humanly possible, for me).  Climbing on rocks, and posing for a zillion pictures, we spent a large portion of the day there when the day before we’d only spent a few hours. The biggest surprises for me were that there is almost no barrier between the trail and the cliffs and that it is incredibly windy. There were a few gusts that I worried would push me right over the edge!

My parents went up in one of the observation towers. I, of course, kept my feet firmly planted on the ground and walked around at the base of the tower instead.

As a self-proclaimed anti-touristy person, the cliffs are definitely worth seeing despite the crowds you will encounter. Just be careful on the trails and take care when being “daring.” Especially in today’s “selfie culture,” people often don’t pay close enough attention when attempting to get the perfect shot. I assure you, there are several places that are very safe and offer amazing pictures.

I was at the cliffs roughly a year ago, and I learned so much more about everything the cliffs have to offer, but you’ll have to come back when I do a series on that trip. As a teaser, I did run across a picture of me in 1997 that is in nearly the same spot where one of my co-workers took a picture of me in 2019.


The rest of the blog posts in this series: 

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Waterford: More than Crystal

Blarney: Everything but Kissing the Stone

Kenmare and the Ring of Beara

From the Disappointing to the Magnificent

 

A Social Distancing Walk around the Neighborhood

Today the first person that I knew personally died from Covid-19. His wife is now symptomatic and in isolation while grieving her lifelong companion. He was older. He had a lung condition. I hadn’t seen him in over a year (possibly more). But the news still struck hard.

And in a strange juxtaposition, today was the first truly gorgeous day since Indiana first encouraged social distancing. So today, after only having 823 steps on my fitness tracker, I decided to go on a walk. And what I found was beautiful and uplifting.

Despite the scary nature of the world right now, the neighborhoods around my house were a flurry of activity- all with social distancing, of course. I saw two teenagers long boarding down the middle of the street; five people cleaning out their garages; eight planting, weeding, or mowing; three cleaning out vehicles; nine dog walkers; a mom using sidewalk chalk with her small children, and five sets of neighbors talking to each other from their driveways.

Everyone was smiling. People were talking to people they normally might not have even looked at- including me. I am (sadly) one of those people who does the closed mouth smile when passing strangers. An introvert when it comes to conversation, I am constantly afraid of saying something stupid, so I don’t say anything at all. But today I found myself talking to people I’d never seen before – as I walked into the street to maintain the six feet rule.

And I smiled. I didn’t want to walk to end. So I kept walking. Normally I walk the same circle of the neighborhood, but today I just kept going and I found myself a little saddened when my feet led me back to my own home.

I am not the nature photographer that my blogger friend Jerry is, but I took a shot today that seemed fitting.

The start of new life despite being surrounded by the talk of contagion and death. New life.

I’m sure when we all emerge from this, and I hope that all of my readers do just that, life will continue. We will have learned some things (both fortunate and unfortunate) about each other and ourselves. I will learn that having more time doesn’t mean I’ll read more. I’ve learned that I don’t need iced mochas like I thought I did. And I’ve learned of the ugliness in humanity, even from people I know and love, that can come from situations like this.

However, most importantly I have learned that there are some immensely generous and selfless people are out there as well. And those people are the ones that I hope I’ll remember years from now when this has calmed down and is a distant memory. I choose to remember the beauty in humanity and strive to be more like them.

From the Disappointing to the Magnificent

In recent days the world has seemed to turn upside down, and it has been very steadying to look through wonderful memories of a simpler time when I was in Ireland shortly after graduating high school. So despite the unsettled nature of the world right now, I shall press on in my remembrances.


After leaving the beauty of Kenmare (read more about that here), we headed to Killarney despite the warnings from our host in Kenmare. She told my parents when we were talking about our next stop that Killarney was nothing but “tour busses and plastic leprechauns.” And though I don’t recall seeing any plastic leprechauns while we were there, she was right about the tour busses. However, that was pretty much everywhere in Ireland.

However, that was not where our disappointment came from in Killarney. We were scheduled to take a tour by horse cart and then have a boat ride. However, due to circumstances that I don’t remember, we were late getting to Killarney. A cart driver offered to take us to catch up with the group for an extra £10 (again remember this was several years before the Euro was introduced in Ireland). This frustrated my father beyond measure, and we decided to explore on our own.

We walked to Ross Castle ourselves (where the cart would have taken us), and it was a lovely walk. Though the carts are nice (I rode in one last year when I went to Ireland for the third time), the walk does allow you to stop and enjoy the beautiful views at your leisure. I highly advise walking instead of taking the horse carts.

Ross Castle was very nice – it’s beautifully situated on the water. The castle itself, according to my 1997 journal, was nothing to look at, so we didn’t spend the extra money to go inside.  However, the surrounding area (part of Killarney National Park) is beautiful, wooded, and filled with wildlife.

Image result for ross castle

After coming back from the castle, we found our bed and breakfast, Cleevaun Country House. From what I can see, this B&B is no longer open or at the very least does not advertise on the internet. I couldn’t remember anything about the accommodations there, but my mother said she clearly remembered the mattress being so bad that when she and my father laid down on it, they actually rolled to the middle in what she humorously called “a gully.”

We had dinner at a restaurant that was recommended to us by the host of the B&B.  It overlooked the bay and shore. Though I tried to look for it online, I couldn’t remember enough about it to find it. Shame on me for not realizing I would want to write about it over 22 years later.

After dinner we went adventuring and searched for a place that the owner of our Kenmare B&B, Sallyport House, told us about.  From what I remember, she thought was the most beautiful coast line in Ireland – Slea Head. And so we took her word for it, and went to find it.

It. Was. Magnificent.

This is a terrible picture I took of my parents on the beach. Ah the days of film cameras that didn’t show you the image when you took it! 🙂 

The cliffs were stunning and the sound of the water on the rocks is a sound that I can still hear in my mind today. Dramatic and beautiful. We were there at dusk, so many of the pictures didn’t turn out very well. However, the cliffs were truly stunning. We walked down to the small beach at the base of the cliffs, and walked around for as long as we could until it started to get dark.

I wrote this in my journal later that night:

“You look one way and there was the ocean, with waves crashing up against he cliffs. The water was so clear and clean – totally unmarked by humanity.  Then you look the other way and as far as you can see are little green squares covered in the white dots of sheep and cows. It is so green and so wonderful. I never wanted to leave.”

I have yet to go back to Slea Head in my subsequent adventures to Ireland, but I do hope to go back some day. I know we were close last year when we were in Killarney, but due to the news we got the morning we woke-up there, I was hardly in a position to pay attention to the roads we were passing. For those of you who haven’t been reading this blog long, you can read about my 2018 experience in Ireland here. The trip in general was wonderful, but the morning in Killarney was one of the most difficult days I’ve experienced.

Next week I’ll be writing about our trip to the Cliffs of Moher… both times. 😁


Other posts in this series

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Waterford: More than Crystal

Blarney: Everything but Kissing the Stone

Kenmare and the Ring of Beara

Kenmare and the Ring of Beara

For the past several weeks I’ve told you about the first grand adventure of my life — my first trip to Ireland in 1997.  This was not my first adventure, and not even my first trip abroad. It was, however, the first time where I was in utter awe of my surroundings for two weeks solid. If this is your first time to the blog, I’ve listed the earlier posts in this series for you there.

For the rest of you– let’s continue, shall we? After Blarney, we headed toward Kenmare, “the jewell of County Kerry” – and that’s not a phrase to be taken lightly, because County Kerry is a glorious county!

Kenmare’s name was originally Ceann Mara, which means “head of the sea” due to the fact that Kenmare is at the head of the Kenmare Bay between the Beara and Iveragh Peninsulas. It is no surprise that this town has beautiful views of the water and amazing cliffs and stunning shorelines.

Our stay in Kenmare was heightened by our accommodations at Sallyport House, and once again you are all in luck because Sallyport House is still in business! Click here to see their website and book your own stay here. I tell you the truth when I write that the owners here were incredibly inviting and provided us with some amazing “insider” information about the backroads of Ireland that shaped my memories of Ireland forever! I’ll tell you more about that later, though.

The postcard from the bed and breakfast – circa 1997

But let’s back up for a moment first…

When we got to Kenmare, we had just traversed a very stressful and gorgeous stretch of Irish roadway through a mountain pass. It was rainy and foggy, and those of you who have driven in Ireland know the narrowness of some of the more remote roads. They are barely one lane.  I’m not sure how drivers decide who has the “right of way” in situations like this, but there were several occasions where we had to back up for quite some distance until there was pull off that gave us enough space to get out of the way of the on coming traffic… some of which were giant tourist busses. To this day I don’t know how my father was able to maneuver on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car, in the fog and rain… mainly because my eyes were closed the entire time as I leaned away from whichever side of the car happened to be closer to the cliff-like drop-off. The drive was beautiful in many ways, but all I can remember was knowing that I was going to die in the smallest Ford I’d ever seen in my life as we dropped off the side of some Irish mountain.

So when we arrived at Sallyport House, we were (understandably) stressed out. Walking into Sallyport House… no, driving up the driveway… was calming in and of itself! The house is simply beautiful and painted a peaceful, calming pale yellow. I remember smiling when we got out of the car at how lovely it looked.

The grounds were gorgeous, too! (picture from Sallyport House website

When we got inside, there was a fire in the fireplace, tea ready for us, sweets to go with it, and other guests in the lobby. The atmosphere was so family like! Once we got settled, I pulled out my copy of Julius Caesar and read for a while, a sure fire way to calm me down (I have always been a Shakespeare nerd).   

After a while, we left the comfort of the bed and breakfast and went for a walk around Kenmare. We walked along the bay and over bridges into the main part of town. The buildings were painted in the colorful way that many buildings are in little villages in Ireland. We did some shopping while we were there, and I bought a novelty license plate that I still have today. For years it was in the back window of whatever car I was driving at the time. The only reason it’s not still there now is because I have a hatchback, and it won’t stay pushed up against the back window. 🙂

Sallyport House

 

The next morning we had a lovely breakfast, and my mom had her very first French press coffee. She approved! While we ate, the owner came and talked to us, and when we told her we were planning on going to the Ring of Kerry that day, she discouraged us from doing that. She insisted that it was a crowded tourist route and that the Ring of Beara was just as beautiful and much less known by tourists.

Now, having been to both places (last year I went on the Ring of Kerry), I don’t know that I would say they are equally beautiful… the Ring of Kerry definitely has some more breathtaking coastlines, but the Ring of Beara was beautiful, and we had a day full of driving, stopping, taking pictures, and marveling at the beauty of Ireland. Below are pictures of that drive.  Keep in mind that my 20+ years old pictures do not do the luscious greenery of Ireland any justice! Even though it was overcast, the green seemed to glow sometimes as sun would shine through the breaks in the clouds.

Look closely in the middle of the picture and you will see a “floating rainbow”

SHEEP!

Though Ireland has many areas that are beautiful, the Ring of Beara offered just enough seclusion, especially our stressful drive the day before. I highly recommend that drive especially during peak tourist season. You will find beauty without having to deal with all of the tourist busses and crazy American drivers who don’t know what they are doing. 🙂


My Ireland journey

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Waterford: More than Crystal

Blarney: Everything but Kissing the Stone

Blarney: Everything but Kissing the Stone

According to dictionary.com, the definition of “blarney” is “flattering or wheedling talk; cajolery. Also, deceptive or misleading talk; nonsense; hooey” (my personal favorite is ‘hooey’)

The village of Blarney, Ireland is so far from the definition, it is comical! Blarney is an adorable little village that has Blarney Castle at its focal point. The Castle is where the idea of kissing the Blarney Stone comes from… but more on that later.

Situated on the south west part of Ireland, Blarney is a stone’s throw (pun intended) from the major city of Cork. The main source of revenue in the village is the castle and its grounds, as well as the near by Woolen Mills and various hotels and bed and breakfasts. There really isn’t much to the non-castle part of Blarney, but nevertheless it is a massive tourist destination.

The lovely map we got at the tourism office

On our trip to Ireland, Blarney was an obvious stop because of the history of the castle as well as the mythos surrounding kissing the stone. We left Youghal and Cork and drove to Blarney and happened upon a wonderful little bed and breakfast that is still around today, Meadow Bank. I’m not sure if it is owned by he same wonderful lady, but if it is, you MUST stay here on your trip!

The grounds were gorgeous and our room looked out on the back garden lovely flowers and landscaping. Even now, nearly 23 years later,  I remember the comfy room, the beautiful common areas, and the sweetness of the proprietor. She was very kind and gave us all kind so advice on what to see and what to do in Blarney.

A picture with the owner of Meadowbank

After checking in we went to the Woolen Mills and shopped there. I was in heaven! I wrote in my journal that I wanted to buy all of the sweaters that would fit into my suitcase. However, I limited myself to one sweater. I kept that sweater until I had actually worn holes in the elbows (over ten years later), and even then I wore it! On my solo trip to Ireland, I took it with me to wear one last time, and then I left it in the “free bin” at the hostel for some poorly dressed tourist. It was difficult to let it go, if you can believe it– and when I was in Ireland last year I looked for a replacement, but I just couldn’t find one that spoke to me the way that one had. I also still have a gold celtic cross pendant I bought at the Woolen Mills that day in 1997, though I don’t wear it often.

I love this add for the Woolen Mills! I’m so happy my mom kept all these little things!

We ate at the Woolen Mills for dinner that night as well, and learned about the laid back way that the Irish (and much of Europe) likes to eat out… slowly. I remember being frustrated that we had to wait so long for the bill and for them to pick it up. We Americans do not relish the idea of eating out the way Europeans do, and it truly is a shame that we are so impatient.

Anyway… enough of my rant on impatient Americans (of whom I am one myself).

The following day we asked the owner where there was a church we could go to for Sunday services, and she mentioned the Catholic church next door.   However, we asked her if there was a protestant church nearby(we attended a Nazarene church back home), and at the time we did not understand the context that the Irish place on “protestant.”  Consequently, didn’t quite understand her bristling at the question until later. To the Irish, “protestant” means the Church of England… and all that drama with Northern Ireland, which was very much resurfacing in 1997. So we acquiesced and attended the Catholic church instead so as to not offend our very kind hostess.

After leaving the service, we went to go see the famous Blarney Castle, and to kiss the infamous stone. Blarney Castle was not everything I was expecting, but despite that, it was even better!  The castle was huge, you could see it from quite a distance towering over the trees. But what I didn’t realize is that it would be in ruins.

Even so, you can go up in the castle and even see a few rooms, but mostly it is broken down. That does not in any way detract from its beauty, though. There is something majestic in and of itself about ruins. From what I remember, the castle was built sometime in the 1400s, and at some point the Blarney Stone became known as a way, after one has kissed it, to give you the “gift of gab” or the ability to persuade through flattery.

In my mind, I imagined some rock that you kissed and went on your merry way. This is partially true. You do kiss the stone and move on; however, what I didn’t know is that you lay down on your back, hold on to a railing and bend over backward over a cavernous opening in the battlements while a little old Irishman holds your legs down so that you do not plummet to your untimely death.

My mother walking along the battlements

That was a no for me.

Here is a picture my father gloriously snapped when I realized what had to be done to kiss the stone. I am wearing my new sweater!

My parents did kiss the stone, and tried to persuade me to do so as well. Nevertheless, I did not, nor do I have any regrets about not kissing it! I find myself to be pretty naturally persuasive. 🙂

After I regained the use of my legs and my stomach stopped flipping around, we climbed down from the castle and explored the grounds for hours. Honestly, you could explore for several days all around Blarney Castle! It is fast and beautiful! Even in 1997 I was taken aback by the size and variety of the grounds. Today Blarney holds a different place in my heart. On my most recent trip to Ireland I got some heart-rending news just before heading to Blarney, and as I write here, walking around the grounds at Blarney helped mend my soul that day.

Musicians playing traditional music on the grounds near the castle

So many fun places to explore

Back in 1997, I was sad to leave Blarney, but there were many more adventures to be had on our two week trip! Check back next Tuesday to read about our time in Kenmare.

 

Other posts from my 1997 trip to Ireland:

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Waterford: More than Crystal

Waterford: More than Crystal

On our two week trek around Ireland, we found many interesting sites both planned, like Dublin, and unplanned, like Powerscourt. And after the “high” of Glendalough, I didn’t know if our trip could get much better, and we’d been in Ireland less than a week.

The 1997 tourism map for Waterford

The next stop on our trip was scheduled to be Waterford. We actually spent the night there the evening we left Glendalough. Our accommodations for the night were Diamond Hill Inn (now Diamond Hill Country House). I honestly remember nothing of this bed and breakfast, so I’m sure it was not terrible, but not as memorable as some of the other places we stayed.

That evening we didn’t get much of a chance to explore other than eating dinner. In my journal I wrote about how nice the restaurant was, but since the idea of public journaling (essentially what blogging is) was not even a glint in my eye in 1997, I didn’t anticipate ever wanting to know the name of the restaurant again. Consequently, though the food was amazing, all I know is that it was somewhere in Waterford.

The next morning we hopped over to the Waterford Crystal Factory.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Waterford Crystal is internationally famous for their plethora of famous additions to our culture. Probably the most notable item to the majority of people would be that Waterford Crystal makes the “ball” that drops in New York City on New Year’s Eve. However, they are also responsible for chandeliers in some amazing places like Windsor Castle (London, England) and the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.). Waterford Crystal also makes everything from paper weights and vases to the statues for the People’s Choice Award winners.

We spent about two hours at the factory going on a tour and then ogling the showroom where you can buy things for between (at the time) £4 to £10,000 — side note: Ireland didn’t change to the Euro for another four and a half years. We had a lovely time, and even teenage me didn’t mind touring the crystal factory where you get to see all kinds of methods for shaping and engraving the crystal. It was actually quite fascinating. I highly suggest taking a tour and checking out the showroom and all of the beautiful things you could never possibly afford, and then buying something a bit more modest.

Waterford has much to offer. For one, it is the oldest city in Ireland. According to Ireland’s tourism website, the Vikings developed a settlement there over a thousand years ago. However, my cousin Tom would insist here that I clarify the term. “Viking” was originally a verb – to travel or to be a part of a traveling expedition. The term was then applied as a noun meaning people from Scandinavia who went viking. (How’d I do, Tom?)

Nevertheless, Waterford got it’s name from Old Norse Veðrafjǫrðr, which means “ram fjord”. However, the native Irish eventually took the city back, and then eventually the British wanted to stake their claim as well. It is a beautiful place with a wonderful port that is well situated to defend, so it is no wonder it was a contested location.

After we left Waterford, we traveled south and west to Dungarvan, another beautiful costal city.

The wind and rain pelted us as we got out to look at the beautiful St. Mary’s Church of Ireland. The ocean was dark blue and incredibly intimidating as the waves crashed long the stone wall around the church. As I would later realize was a common theme in much of Ireland, Dungarvan was both beautiful and intimidating.

After a quick look at names on tombstones, we hopped back into the car and drove a bit further west to a town called Youghal. Also a port city, Youghal was also commandeered by the Scandinavians as a base when they would go on raids along the south coast of Ireland.

My favorite thing about Youghal was the pub where we ate. I checked online just before  writing this, the pub still exists – Moby Dick’s

Photo courtesy of Youghal’s tourism website

It was a cold and rainy day and we had quite a bit of fun there because the pub owner was trying to have a conversation with my father, and my dad simply could not understand his accent. Though, I’m sure time has rounded the edges of my memory, I remember a conversation something similar to this:

(something unintelligible from the owner)

Dad: I’m sorry, what was that again?

Owner: What language do ya speak?

Dad: English. American English.

Owner: (laughing) Well, ya haven’ a prayer of understandin’ me then, have ya!

We all laughed, and somehow conversation became a bit easier – perhaps the owner knew to talk slower and louder for our benefit. We had a glorious meal, and the sun came out for us for a while so that we could walk along the port and see the vessels in the harbor.

After leaving Youghal we continued to drive and came upon some very typical Ireland- beautiful vistas, sheep, and even peat marshes!

Since the road was completely blocked with sheep, we stopped and the sheep parted around us, jumping and baa-ing loudly. It was hilarious!

This was all-in-all a lovely day trip. It was only two hours of driving between Waterford and Blarney where we ended up staying that night– but you’ll have to wait until next week for the blarney on Blarney! 😁

 

Other posts for this trip:

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love