The End of Ireland… for now

The end of our trip was very sad for me – and probably a little for my parents as well. My biggest fear as an 18 year old was that I would never go back. Though we had traveled a good loop through Ireland (Dublin to Glendalough to Waterford to Cork to Blarney to Kenmare to Kilarney to the Cliffs of Moher to Sligo to Donegal to Carrick on Shannon and back to Dublin), I knew there was so much more to see– and so much more to see in the places we hadn’t stayed long… like Glendalough and St. John’s Point.

But our trip wasn’t over yet.

Leaving Carrick on Shannon we finally cut inland for the first time and headed back to Bellcamp Hutchinson. Though our trip around the coast of Ireland had held unimaginable joys for us, returning to Bellcamp was in many ways like returning home — to people we knew, beds we knew, and a few days of rest before the inevitable trip back to the airport.

We spent some time in Dublin again, but I have very little memory of those last few days. My mother reminded me that we went to a bookstore- a rather large one… two stories, I think. She wanted to find a book that was IRISH! So she asked a bookseller what she should get – if they had anything by an Irish author that would be good to get while in Ireland.

Coincidentally enough, they had just had an author signing there the week before and still had several copies of this man’s book, the first book he’d published. We’d never heard of the book or the author, but my mom bought it off the bookseller’s recommendation while I bought a book of Irish mythology.

On the flight home, my mom started to read the book, but she didn’t like the way it started and put it down. We didn’t think of it for months (or maybe even a year) until I heard the author’s name and title of the book again. I gasped and called my mom to see if she still had that signed copy of the book, and she did. And now on my bookshelf at school sits a signed copy of Frank McCourt’s book Angela’s Ashes with a unique cover that we didn’t get here in the States.

AngelasAshes

Unfortunately I will have to use this picture as a place holder until I can go back to school again and get a picture of the actual book with Frank McCourt’s signature in it.

At this point, I feel that I have to admit an error in my memory from of the earlier posts — I mentioned going to Malahide Castle on one of our first days in Dublin, but my parents corrected me tonight (they’re good about doing that). We went to Malahide on our return trip to the Dublin area and enjoyed the grounds. The weather took a rainy turn, and we found a pub close by to get something to eat. None of us could remember what time of day it was, but we were nearly the only people in the pub, so perhaps it was a bit early for the lunch or dinner hour, but it was cold and rainy and they served us the most amazing potato leek soup that I have ever had in my entire life! Years later when I had a home of my own, I tried to duplicate this soup but fell miserably short.  Though my (then) husband said it tasted divine and asked me to make it again, it just wasn’t right. Maybe you need the Irish air, or Irish produce, or maybe it is just my mind romanticizing the memory, but I long to someday have soup that magnificent again!

My father also reminded me of something that I hadn’t put together. On our last day we went to a “small little village north of Dublin to see a regatta.” When my father mentioned this to me today in our weekly talk about Ireland, my heart jumped a little bit. I asked him if he would recognize the name of the town if I said it, and he said he probably would.

regatta

“Howth?”

“Yeah! That’s it.”

On my My Take-Back Year (and a half) I traveled to Ireland on my own.  It was my first time back since I’d been in 1997. On the advice of a student, I traveled to the town that I thought I’d never heard of before.  Howth was the name of that town.  I spent the my birthday doing the cliff walk to the lighthouse and exploring the town. I loved Howth, and when (in my weaker moments) I start planning another trip, Howth is always on the list!

IMG_5913

Me on the cliff walk in 2016

The next day, we left for the United States, but I knew that I was leaving a part of me in Ireland that I didn’t quite understand. Ireland fed my soul. It spoke to parts of me that I didn’t know existed. I’d felt something tangible while in Ireland, a pull to go back, to find more.

I talked to my parents about their big take-aways from the trip, and my father talked about the magic of that night out on St. John’s Point. It was a place we just “happened upon” and had some of the most unique experiences there, like seeing the whales go out to sea. My mother talked about how much she enjoyed seeing the adventure through my eyes. It had been my graduation gift to go anywhere in the world, and she said it was fun to watch me experience Ireland. As an 18 year old, I wouldn’t have understood that, but now as a mom, I get it.

In fact, that has inspired me for my next blog series! I am going to talk about the trips that my son and I have gone on over the years and the joy of seeing things through his eyes. So, next week, we will start with our first big adventure as mom and son — St. Louis, Missouri! Stay tuned!

And if you missed any of the other posts from my 1997 journey around Ireland, you can click the links below.


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

In Shadows and Sunshine

Surprised by Kylemore Abbey

Happy Little Accidents – St. John’s Point

From the Highest Cliffs to the Famous River

Happy Little Accidents – St. John’s Point

On this very epic journey of Ireland, the first of many for me, my parents had planned the itinerary months in advance, booking bed and breakfasts along the route we planned to take around the coast of Ireland and finally crossing through the middle, back to Dublin. One night’s stay was left unplanned, though. According to the itinerary my mother typed up, our next evening was supposed to be in Letterkenny, Ireland (no affiliation to the Canadian sitcom that makes no sense to me at all).

When preparing for this blog series I looked at the itinerary and did a double take – a hostel? We most definitely did NOT stay in a hostel. In fact, as I was drafting the different posts for the series, I wrote on this page (it has since been deleted):

A hostel? There is no way we stayed in a hostel– I have zero memory of this. Must ask the parents.

I love my parents dearly, but they are not really the hostel staying kind of people.  And after consulting my journal, I found no reference to Letterkenny or a hostel.

So, as usual the Sunday before a blog post, I talked with my parents about the next leg of our journey in July of 1997. Nope. No hostel. They couldn’t remember why we didn’t go to Letterkenny, but when I read in my journal just before writing this, I remembered why we left. In the summer of 1997 (and July specifically) tensions were growing in Northern Ireland. Protests and riots were in the news, and Letterkenny was very near the border with Northern Ireland, so we decided not to go. Instead, we just decided to drive along the coast and see what we could find.

After leaving Ballina in County Mayo, we continued north up the western coast of Ireland – what I now know as the Wild Atantic Way – we encountered amazing little towns – like Sligo (for more information on the beauty of Sligo, read this blog!).

The most serendipitous part of our trip was happening upon Saint John’s Point in County Donegal. I’m not sure how we happened upon it, but I think we just saw a sign and were like Hey, let’s see what this is. And wow…

We stayed at a beautiful little bed and breakfast called Harbour Lights (no longer a bed and breakfast) – and from the front lawn you could see the water to the north and the south– that’s how narrow the peninsula was at that point. I wrote in my journal that night sitting on the stone fence looking out over the water.

The evening was magical. We decided to just get some groceries at a local store in Dunkineely and have a picnic out on the tip of the peninsula where there was a beautiful view of the ocean and lighthouse.

The evening at the lighthouse was phenomenal. We sat on our jackets and ate our sandwiches and talking. The weather was perfect. To top it off, as we were walking we saw whales jumping and playing just off the coast – probably a quarter of a mile from where were were standing. At first we couldn’t believe what we were seeing – but it was obvious, they were much too big to be fish or even dolphins — it was a pod of whales going out to sea. There were other people out on the point and we kind of looked at each other to see if we were seeing the same thing.

The coastline was breathtaking – watching the waves crash against the rock with the green of the grass and stark white of the walls around the lighthouse and the lighthouse itself.  We walked around for quite some time, and stayed around to watch the resplendent sunset well after 10pm. The colors were breathtaking.

As Bob Ross would have said, this adventure was a happy accident. And much like several of the other places we visited on this trip, I truly never wanted to leave that spot.


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

From the Disappointing to the Magnificent

In Shadows and Sunshine

Surprised by Kylemore Abbey

 

Surprised by Kylemore Abbey

Leaving County Clare was not easy. Seeing the beauty of the Cliffs of Moher and the phenomenal wildlife coupled with the raw beauty of the coast made it difficult to believe that Ireland could continue to amaze me in more intense ways than it already had.

Oh, how little did I understand Ireland.

As we drove north toward Ballina (County Mayo), we passed through some beautiful landscapes.

We stopped for lunch in Gallway, which I wasn’t very impressed with at the time. I described it in my journal as being “like most cities” with “chain restaurants with their own parking lots.” I’m sorry, Galway! My more recent trip hit me very differently and I enjoyed the scenery very much. However, as an 18 year old in 1997, I found Galway to be very tedious.

Excerpt from my journal about Galway

Our weather this day was beautiful – sunny and warm. The sun does just as much for the beauty of Ireland as the rain. The greens in contrasts with the deep blues of lakes in the valleys of hills and mountains dotted with white sheep seems to shine even brighter beneath the clear skies. We drove most of the day, but I didn’t mind because of the beauty of the scenery.

While we were driving we caught sight of something that made us literally stop in our tracks – Kylemore Abbey. We decided to investigate, knowing nothing about this beautiful castle in the middle of nowhere on the edge of a lake. We were surprised to find out that Kylemore Abbey is one of the more famous places in Ireland.

Originally the home of a wealthy family, the castle eventually became the home of nuns who were displaced during World War 1, and they’ve been there ever since. Indiana connection: The have a partnership with the University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana) for their study abroad program!

About a mile up the mountain behind the abbey is a giant statue of Christ with his arms outstretched, as if inviting people to the abbey. Unfortunately we couldn’t go up there because we needed to get to Ballina before dark, so we left fascinated by what we had happened upon.

In Ballina we stayed at Ashley House bed and breakfast which appears to still be operational, though it does not have it’s own website. TripAdvisor has a listing, though with very little information.

The host told us that Ballina was having a festival and that evening was “international night”, so we went into town. The center was blocked off to traffic and different sections were set off as different “countries.” The US section had classic cars from the 50s and a miniature Statue of Liberty. I don’t remember this, but my mother told me that they even had “hotdogs”– but they didn’t taste ANYTHING like actual hotdogs (which is probably a good thing in my opinion). France had an Eiffel Tower and can-can dancers. Germany had an oompah band and copious amounts of lederhosen. It was quite a night!

I checked online and Ballina still has the Salmon Festival– and as of April, it is still planned for the second week of July. Dear Ballina, I hope that you get to have your festival this year because I enjoyed my one night of it!


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

From the Disappointing to the Magnificent

In Shadows and Sunshine

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

 

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

Glendalough: My First Love

Ireland just kept getting better.

I saw Dublin and I liked it there quite a bit.

I saw the Powerscourt Estate and loved it.

And then we found Glendalough, and I can honestly say that it changed my life. Up until that point, Ireland had been a wonderful adventure, and after Glendalough, Ireland was a glorious adventure. But in Glendalough I felt something I don’t fully know how to explain. I suddenly, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was were I was supposed to be— like my soul belonged there. I wrote about that a little bit in a blog I did last year. called “I found my soul’s home in Glendalough.”

That day when we found Glendalough, we crossed a little wooden footbridge into the ruins of a graveyard and a church.

Mom and me standing on the footbridge looking into Glendalough

At the time we were searching for the unknowns of our family lineage, and my parents scoured graveyards looking for headstones with our surname.

While they did that, I walked a little ways away and found a large rock next to one of the lakes (or loughs) that gave Glendalough its name. I sat and wrote in my journal until I couldn’t stay any longer.

In my journal I wrote, “I hope someday I can come back here and sit and write as long as I want. Perhaps I will never go back home and I will find a place here, in the mountains, that will be my new home.”

The place is positively beautiful. There are woods and trails, lakes and streams, and so much green, I could not believe there were that many shades of a color I thought I knew. There is nothing particularly “touristy” about Glendalough, other than its beauty and possibly St. Kevin’s cross.

 

In front of Saint Kevin’s cross

There is some fascinating history surrounding the place, but when we were there in 1997, I didn’t know any of that. I didn’t have a tour guide or a brochure to tell me of the historical beauty of that space on the globe that suddenly had captivated me in a way I couldn’t express at the time.

The picture I would stare at endlessly to remember that day

The mountains and the lough

In my travels both domestic and abroad I have enjoyed my time and relished in the opportunities that I’ve had to be able to travel to interesting places. However, I have never felt such a strong pull to any place like I felt in Glendalough. Intrigued by my pull to that place specifically, I did some digging in recent years, as much as I could, into the genealogy of my family try to find out if there was some rationale… if truly I felt pulled there because my family was from there. Alas, in all my research the only ties to Ireland I found were in the north of Ireland, nowhere near Glendalough.

However, over the next 19 years I would think about that place often and recognize it in movies – you can’t mistake the glorious slope of the Wicklow Mountains over the wide, reflective lake. And I did go back in 2016 (My Take-Back Year (and a half)), and though I didn’t get to spend the amount of time I’d wanted to on the banks of the lough, it was enough to fuel my spirit on. On my most recent trip back to Ireland, we did not get to Glendalough, but I did find solace for a wounded spirit in Blarney, where next week’s post will take us.

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

For the next few months I am writing about my first trip to Ireland in the summer of 1997. You can read the first post here where I talk about my first encounter with Dublin, the city that would claim my heart.

I found this ticket tucked in my journal from the trip.

We were on our way from Dublin and making our way, slowly, to Waterford (with many wonderful stops along the way). Our first stop was at a very innocuous looking tourist attraction, Powerscourt Estate. It doesn’t look like much from the entrance, a great, old house, but nothing fancy.

This is the entrance but is the back of the house

The entrance to Powerscourt Gardens is actually the back of the house.

But once you’re through to the front of the house, you can understand why National Geographic has called this beautiful place one of the top gardens in the entire world. The back view of the house is stunning!

Ireland's Magnificent Powerscourt Gardens and Waterfall

Not only is it beautiful, but it is often used in movies! The one that really took me off guard came out a few years after my trip, in 2002. I was watching the amazing movie The Count of Monte Cristo, and there was something about the Count’s castle that I knew I’d seen before but just couldn’t put my finger on. I was in the movie theater thinking to myself, I know that place. How do I know that place? 

Image result for count of monte cristo movie

But then, I saw this scene, and I knew instantly how I knew where I had seen this “castle.”

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Forgive the poor quality of this photo that I snapped using my phone while watching the movie tonight.

I know it seems like strange thing to trigger a memory. This is the scene when the count lands during his first party at his new house. The camera pans down to his feet, and the stones form a very memorable pattern for me. Immediately after watching the movie, I went home and grabbed the photo album from Ireland and searched until I found this photo of my mother I’d taken at Powerscourt Gardens.

And sure enough – years later when I became more familiar with all the internet had to offer, I looked it up, and sure enough, Powerscourt Estate was used for the outdoor scenes of the count’s castle in the movie. If you’ve never seen the movie before, I strongly recommend it even though it is INCREDIBLY inaccurate from the book. It’s well done, and inspired me to read the book.

But anyway… back to Powerscourt.

The gardens go on forever! I believe it is well over 70 acres of land that has been meticulously kept up over several hundreds of years. Though the house was built in the 13 century, it underwent several renovations, even enduring a fire in the 1970s.  The gardens were constructed in the 1800s by the 7th Viscount Powerscourt.

My mother kept several keepsakes from the trip and gave them to me when she found out I was writing this blog series. In there was a map of Powerscourt Gardens.

Here are several pictures of the garden in bloom.

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A keep on the far end of the property afford an excellent view of the gardens and house. However, my fear of heights kept me firmly on the ground.

Near the gardens is the Powerscourt Waterfall, which is the tallest waterfall in all of Ireland. My parents and I enjoyed spending time climbing the rocks and hiking around the waterfall that day. It was truly a wonderful find.

It is truly a hidden gem in Ireland, and I fear it is often overlooked. I hope that if you go to Ireland, you will make your way to Powerscourt to see its beauty for yourself!

For more information about Powerscourt Estate, click here.