Posts Tagged ‘ireland’

Day 8: Muckross House, Muckross Abbey, Jaunting Car, Killarney National Park

I’ve been dragging my feet blogging about our last day, because I’m not ready for the reminiscing to be over! However, as anyone who follows me on Facebook may know already, I’m plotting a new book set in Ireland (historical, which is something new for me!) and so will just have to make another trip again soon. The new trip will be a lot less touristy, but a lot more intensive and will, I hope, steep me in the history and heart of the country. Can’t wait!

In the meantime…our last day in Ireland started with fairy flowers right outside our B&B.

Don’t they look like little fairies? Aren’t they amazing? I don’t know how I’ve hit my ripe old age without ever seeing fuschia (which is what I learned they were), but through the magic of Ireland (and Facebook friends), we are strangers no more.

Next we were off to Muckross House and a walk around the grounds. Again, we weren’t sure that we’d have time for the full tour, not with so much else on our agenda for the day, but… Well, where a mansion tour didn’t convince us to slow our pace, the idea of taking a jaunting car to see Muckross Abbey and the scenic Killarney National Park and Torc Waterfall did. The driver (coming up in a moment) called Muckross a “year house” — a window for every day, a chimney for every week.

A jaunting car is a horse and carriage. I missed our guide’s name, but he told us that our horse was named Pascal and that he was part Clydesdale. When I asked him about the other half, he told me he was “Irish draft” and that Pascal was a “typical Irish horse—works one day, drinks Guinness the next.” Our first stop was Muckross Abbey, which the “Kerry Gems” guidebook we’d picked up at our B&B called “Holy but haunted”. I don’t know about that. For me it was amazing and maybe even a little spiritual. I felt like we’d saved the best for last, at least in terms of abbeys. So much of this was still standing, and the peace and serenity could still be felt. According to the guide, it was built in 1448 as a friary for the Observantine Franciscans and contains the tombs of Gaelic chieftans. And where I felt tranquility, the writer of this blurb found “eerie chambers, gloomy staircases and a yew shaded cloister”. The yew tree, which grows right up through the center of the courtyard is said to be as old as the abbey. The story is that it was grown from a clipping taken from a yew at Innisfallen Abbey. Ciaran McHugh Photography has a great picture of the tree, and a note that Bram Stoker himself was a regular visitor to the area and was likely inspired by the abbey. The write-up there says, “An old local ghost story called ‘The Brown Man’ tells of a mysterious stranger who is found by his newlywed wife alongside a freshly dug grave at Muckross Abbey feeding on the corpse within – a story which bares some ghoulish similarities to Bram Stoker’s own epic vampire horror novel.” So, literary and historical and entirely worth seeing. Unfortunately, Cromwell’s soldiers did their best to destroy the friary in 1652, killing monks, looting and burning.

There are so many amazing stories centering around Muckross Abbey, like the secret wedding of Florence McCarthy and his cousin Lady Eileen McCarthy, and this Rip-van-Winkle-esque tale of a monk who never returned to his home monastery at Innisfallen after going to Muckross for an emergency supply of wine! When I come back, I’d love to spend more time in the Killarney area, which has SO much to see, and to go out to the ruins of Inisfallen.

We didn’t realized that we’d picked marathon day for our jaunt, and Pascal was a little disconcerted by the runners coming for him head on, especially the ones so in the zone they didn’t see our horse and carriage until we were practically on top of them, despite our driver’s shouted warning! We weren’t going quickly enough that anyone was likely to be hurt, but still…   One of the best moments of the jaunt came when we hit one of the checkpoints for the marathon and our driver called out to those picking up discarded water bottles, “Got any Guinness for me horse?” One of the men cocked an eyebrow and offered, “Whiskey?” to which our driver responded, “Nah, me horse is a Guinness drinker” and we moved on. Poor horse never did get his tipple!

Torc Waterfall was next and was seriously, seriously beautiful, as you can see from the pictures. We were saddened as our driver, who’d told us all about various trees and sites along our jaunt, pulled back into the lot in front of Muckross Abbey, but then, at least we had Blarney Castle to console us!

Ah ha, there’s so much here already, I can draw things out just a touch more by posting that part of our trip later today.

Day 7: Cliffs of Moher in high winds, the Rock Shop, Ross Castle, Druid’s Circle in Kenmare and Baileys’ Cheesecake!

The morning was bright and blustery with gale-force winds, as predicted. Still, we’d only walked along the Cliffs of Moher in one direction the evening before, so we wanted to start off in the other direction today. The crazy winds meant we did not try to overstep the lower, safer path and take the upper right along the cliffs with no barrier whatsoever (the better for taking pictures). We didn’t dare! My hat blew straight off my head at least twice, though luckily not to anywhere I couldn’t rescue it. And we were walking into the wind, which occasionally got up enough power to actually blow us back a step. We gave it up far sooner than I would have liked because the alternative just didn’t seem safe. Still, we got some amazing views, especially on our way back where suddenly it seemed as though small white birds were flying up from the depths of the cliffs…except the movement wasn’t quite right. When we got closer to where the objects had landed, we saw that it was sea foam. The power of the wind and the water were such that it tossed the foam over 200 meters to the top of the cliffs! Incredible!

I convinced Pete then that we had time to visit The Rock Shop. Because…Rock Shop! Yes, it is a store. No, it’s not an amazing natural formation or an incredible historical site. Still it was a high point for me. It merits blogging! I could easily have bought out the store if only I could have gotten it all back to the states. Gorgeous fairies and other ornaments (for the lawn and otherwise), fossils, really amazing jewelry…just about everything your heart could desire. I, um, ended up with just a few things. Presents, a stunning opal ring. Pete bought me an adorable little fairly named Sarah with dragonfly wings and a blue-patina. I got him a claddagh ring… It was over far too soon.

Our next lodgings were in Killarney, and we were lucky to discover that the ferry from Killimer to Killarney was still running despite the weather. I guess the weight of all the vehicles made it safe and steady enough even in the high winds. So, we sort of got our cruise, if not exactly the one we wanted.

In Killarney our bed and breakfast was right down the road from Ross Castle. I can tell you all about when Ross Castle was built and by who (and probably will in a minute, though I’ll have to look it up because they were out of their English guide books and I can’t remember off the top of my head!), but the really impressive thing about Ross Castle is that it’s been restored and provides the best glimpse I’ve had into how the tower forts were arranged and how people lived within them. The tour was wonderful and enlightening. For example, we learned more about murder holes, trip stairs at different heights and with slight tilts meant to trip up marauders unfamiliar with them, spiral staircases in a clockwise direction so that right-handed swordsmen (the majority) would have trouble swinging on their way up, but defenders coming down would have an easier time, and the reason beds were shorter than in modern day. I’d always thought this was because people were generally shorter, but apparently the reason is that the rooms were poorly ventilated and smoky. The poor air quality led to difficulty breathing, especially when laying down, so the nobility would sleep sitting up, propped against the bed’s backboard. Thus, furniture-makers began making the beds shorter to save on materials. The poor children and anyone else relegated to the floors would have to sleep on rushes (rarely changed) strewn on the hard floors and deal with the terrible conditions. I don’t generally refer people to Wiki, but the page on Ross Castle has a picture with a nice cross-section of the castle and a write-up with essentially what we learned on our tour. Oh, and Wiki says, “Ross Castle was built in the late 15th century by local ruling clan the O’Donoghues Mor (Ross)” so there you go.

While there is a ton to see and do in Killarney ( see Day 8 when it’s posted), we went from there to view the stone circle in Kenmare, which according to the flier is “the biggest example of over 100 circles that exist in the south west of Ireland.” As with all the stone circles, it’s believed to have held ritual and spiritual significance and were laid out according to the position of the sun. This one was interesting because the circle was complete, but not nearly as impressive as Stonehenge or Avebury, which you can see in the blog from our trip to England back in 2006. Avebury was my favorite. You just…felt something there. Well, I did anyway. Can’t speak for everyone. We’ve also been to and loved Scotland, and you can see that journal here.

Is it wrong that the high point of our evening was the Bailey’s cheesecake we had for desert at a pub in Kenmare? If I were ranking our Ireland deserts—and I am—this would have been second in line behind the chocolate Guinness cake and right before their whipped ice cream, which is Ireland’s answer to soft serve, but which has a wonderful consistency somewhere between marshmallow and whipped cream!

Day 6: Dunguaire Castle, Caherconnell Stone Fort, Poulnabrone Dolmen, Ailwee Caves and Birds of Prey Center, Cliffs of Moher, Medieval Feast at Bunratty Castle

We had another very full day ahead of us and so, sadly, couldn’t wait for Dunguaire Castle to open and only had the opportunity to view it externally, though this was certainly impressive. Dunguaire overlooks the beautiful Galway Bay. It was built in 1520 by the O’Hynes clan. In the 1920s it was bought by Oliver St. John Gogarty, who began restoration, and, according to Shannon Heritage, “It became the venue for meetings of the literary revivalists such as W.B. Yeats, his patron Lady Gregory, George Bernard Shaw, Edward Martin and J.M. Synge.” Impressive!

Then we were off to the Burren to see some considerably older sites. Our first stop was Caherconnell cashel, a drystone fort (otherwise known as a ring fort), which dates to the 10th century A.D. (ring forts themselves were generally built between 400 and 1200 A.D.) and which was occupied as late as the 17th Century! Radiocarbon dating of the remains of a woman and two children found in burial boxes (cists) right inside the walls shows that they date way back to 535 A.D., demonstrating that use of the site itself long predates the building of the fort and that the family’s ancestral remains were incorporated into the holding. A 7th century firepit quarried into the bedrock and other evidence also argue for earlier use of the site. Caherconnell means the caher of Connell, and based on the size of the stone fort (large for its kind), the Connell family was well off and had plenty of room to bring their animals inside the walls (as the lay-out indicates they did) during times of attack. Luxury items found at the site, like glass and amber beads from outside their territory, further demonstrate their wealth. Also found during excavations, cool things like bone combs, harp pegs, arrowheads, buckles, musket balls, needles, gaming pieces (again showing wealth as well as leisure-time activities). Excavations are still on-going and while it’s been a while since college and my dig days, I really wanted to roll up my sleeves and join in!

Next we were on to the Poulnabrone Dolmen, an impressive and scenic neolithic portal tomb that dates back to around 3,600 B.C.! I love the term “portal tomb”, since you can absolutely look at this and imagine the ancient people who’d built it thinking of this as the portal to another world…a.k.a. the afterlife. Poulnabrone itself means “hole of sorrows”. Excavations and analysis indicate that remains were taken elsewhere to decompose/skeletonize and then brought to their final resting place within the dolmen’s chamber. Remains here indicate the burial of a baby, six juveniles and sixteen to twenty-two adults, only one of whom had lived past the age of forty. You can find more information here.

It decided to rain while we were at the dolmen, which put to rest our thought that we might visit all the outdoor sites of the Burren. Instead, we decided to head for Ailwee Caves and Birds of Prey Center where there would be less precipitation dripping on our heads. I hadn’t been to caves since Howe Caverns (which I loved) as a kid. While not as extensive, the Ailwee caves were really interesting. They’d been found in 1944 by a farmer looking for his disappearing dog, though not revealed to anyone until thirty years later. According to the Clare County Library, “Aillwee Cave was originally an underground river fed by the melting snows of the ice age. The river dried up as the ice retreated leaving the cave as it is to be seen today.” Today any water entering the caves seeps away through the stone floor, leaving them mostly dry except for some current dripping, still adding to the stalactites and stalagmites…except during especially wet weather, which the caves will reflect. Glacial activity backfilled the caves somewhat, and the farmer was only able to go so far, but today much of the scree and stone has been removed (revealing a set of brown bear bones, demonstrating that they’d have called the cave home). There were some cool features like the “frozen waterfall” you can see in the pictures.

Apropos of nothing at all: the little cafe at Ailwee sold the best scones I had while I was in Ireland, though there wasn’t nearly enough jam! Yes, I love scones. Yes, I had them even though I’m allergic to wheat and yeast. Yes, it was worth the discomfort.

The Birds of Prey Center was great as well. Though it was drizzling, we got to see an owl, two vultures and a peregrine falcon fly…all very neat. We also saw and read about many other birds that they had on-site. It would be difficult to pick a favorite. I love owls, as you can probably tell by the number of pictures I took of them. However the peregrine falcon has always been a favorite, and the Bateleur Eagle (the bird with the black feathers with the brown saddle on his back, the gray wing accents and the red face and beak) was pretty darn cool.

We were staying that night in Liscannor at the Cliffs of Moher Hotel, where, unfortunately, there was no internet in the rooms and very slow/poor internet even in the lobby, which we were told was because we were in the Burren and that’s how it was. A bit tired (rainy days and Mondays will do that and this was the former), I took a small nap and awoke to the light streaming through the windows. With the weather cleared, Pete and I rushed off to the Cliffs of Moher, which were absolutely breathtaking, as you can see. So gorgeous we wanted to take a cruise the next day so that we can look up and see them from their bases and travel next to or even through some of the arches created, but the weather called for gale force winds, and no cruises were scheduled.

That night was the medieval feast at Bunratty Castle, for which we arrived a little bit late, because the lady at our hotel told us it was only half an hour away when it was actually more like fifty minutes. (We were so rushed, I didn’t even stop to get pictures!) But we only missed a little bit, like the choosing of the guests of honor for the evening. Personally, I think Pete would have made a wonderful king/chieftan and could totally have rocked the crown. It was a fun night. The singing was beautiful, our table companions nice and the meal (remarkably) not a problem given all my various food allergies. Especially tasty was the turnip soup. If you’d told me that in advance, I’d never have believed you.

It was a great end to an incredible day.

Day 4: Neolithic Passage Tombs in County Leitrim and Westport, County Mayo

We did have a very nice lunch at the tea room, as advertised, and then went on a search for neolithic passage tombs in Manorhamilton, County Leitrim…. Now, it was a wonder we’d heard about these tombs at all. I saw them listed on an attraction-side map somewhere in Duncliff and hoped their label (Tullyskeherney ) would lead us to them. Unfortunately, there were no road names to indicate how to reach them, just a green line extending out from a town labeled Manorhamilton. Our GPS, of course, had no idea, since passage tombs don’t exactly come with a street address…and yet when I said to my husband, “Let’s go. We’ll ask the locals,” he agreed instantly. Forty-five or so minutes later (I think, I didn’t note the time), we were at a petrol station in Manorhamilton asking the young man and woman behind the counter. They had no idea, but were very nice, which was true of all the people we encountered in Ireland, and the girl’s eyes lit up with an idea. “Wait, I know who might know!” She was off, and a minute later came back to wave us in the direction of two older men bent over their coffees like they were pints at the pub. The man were glad to see us interested and told us we couldn’t miss it. We were to take a right turn after the cattle market and go up and up the mountain, veer left when the road separates, and keep going. If we found ourselves coming back down again, we’d gone too far. Well, we all know “can’t miss it” is code for “good feckin’ luck!” but we were determined and excited. So, as instructed, we went up and up the mountain, searching all the while into the sheep pastures looking for the tombs and not seeing them. When we’d gone up as far as we could go and were in danger of heading back down the mountain, Pete’s eyes lit with mischief, and he stopped the car, pulling as far to the side as he could on the narrow, one-lane road. He rolled down the window and asked the sheep, who looked at him in utter amazement, then looked at each other to see whether they should answer. Once some sort of sheeply consensus had been reached, they turned and started heading even further up the mountain than was possible by car. Pete wondered whether we should follow the sheep, but I didn’t want to trespass on someone’s property and wasn’t so sure about letting ourselves into their pasture.

Instead, we went a bit further (now heading down the mountain) and found a house where no one seemed to be home. We got back into the car, headed the other direction down the mountain until we found another house with the world’s friendliest dog…and people too! The woman there assured us that the top of the mountain where we’d been was absolutely right, the sheep knew what they were talking about, and we should use a set of wooden steps someone had built and placed over the paddock fence to let ourselves in. Thus armed with permission and directions, we did just that. The sheep, since we hadn’t taken their direction now wanted nothing more to do with us, so we picked our way through sheep patties until we came upon not just one passage tomb, but an entire hillside of them! As you can see, this was very impressive, despite the fact that the tombs had clearly been raided for stone to build a now-abandoned shepherd’s cottage nearby (based on the similarity of stone not in evidence elsewhere on the mountain and the matching tool marks). Yet you can still see the basic configuration of the tombs and the ancient tool marks. It was amazing!

After communing and geeking out for awhile (I was an anthropology major as well as English/writing, so I eat this stuff up), we were own to our accommodations for the night—in Westport, County Mayo. I’d never even heard of Westport, which is a beautiful seaside resort town that many French but few American tourists visit apparently, based on our conversation with a couple of lovely locals on our stroll out to see the sunset.

Voracious from our hike, we received a recommendation on a place to go for dinner and were told unequivocally to visit The Helm. What a great recommendation. Pete and I both had the rack of lamb, which you could not quite have cut with a butter knife, but it was probably a near thing. It was so good and we were so full that we decided to take that aforementioned walk to see the sun set, which happened at about 10ish at that time of the year, to work up our appetite again.

The landscape was gorgeous, even before sunset, with Croagh Patrick (a sacred mountain on top of which Saint Patrick was rumored to have fasted for 40 days) in the background.

Clouds came in and hung around that kept it sunset from being as impressive as it could have been (and we were told had been the previous night), but it was still beautiful, and our stroll and talk with the nice Irish couple and their crazy-energetic dog was wonderful. We discovered that they were related to Aoife Beary, one of the students who’d survived the balcony collapse in Berkley ,CA where six students were killed and seven seriously injured. She was still unconscious, but as of yesterday, the update we saw said that she’d been moved off of the critical list. Prayers for healing for Aoife and the other students and families are still very welcome.

Day 4: Donegal Castle, The Dubliners (sadly not in person), Rossnowlagh Beach and Yeats’ Grave

We started today with a leisurely walk (and shopping!) around the town of Donegal, seat of the county of Donegal. When we’d killed enough time and spent enough money, we hared off to the castle there, which was built around 1494, but upon a site dating back much further at the very least to a Viking stronghold in 900. The first Red Hugh O’Donnell was an Gaelic chieftan who could trace his lineage all the way back to Niall of the Nine Hostages, who I had to look up once I was home and who had a very colorful history. Eventually, it was taken over by another Red Hugh, who burned it to the ground at the end of the Nine Years War to keep it from falling into English hands…which, of course, it did anyway. Thus Captain Basil Brooke and his family took over, rebuilt, and added a manor house, which they later left when they were granted larger holding in Ulster. I was amused that they took the roof with them to avoid England’s roof tax (as one does, apparently, because this wasn’t the only time we heard this story!)

We stopped at a music shop in Donegal before leaving to buy good Irish music, since the few radio stations seemed to have talk, country (the country seemed obsessed with country music) or weird pop-rap. Okay, I know “weird” is judgmental, but let’s just say not our cup of tea. We bought a three disk set of The Dubliners, and thank goodness for that! Perhaps our favorite song on the disks was “The Sick Note”. Trust me, it’s worth the listen.

Then we were off to Rossnowlagh Beach, which was recommended to us by a very nice woman at the hotel. It was, as you can see, beautiful, but also windy and a I couldn’t have imagined being in the water (chilly), but many people were, some learning to surf. Also, there were many cute dogs being walked. A beautiful seaside resort area.

Then, of course, we had to visit Yeats’ grave. We were warned that it wasn’t that the grave itself was so impressive as that, well, it was something that probably had to be done and that there was a lovely tea shop nearby. She was right that the grave was not impressive of itself. Yeats had died and was buried initially in France but he was later (per the wishes he’d expressed) moved and reburied in Drumcliff, Ireland at a church where a relative (grandfather or great grandfather, I forget) had been rector. There are rumors, though, that the body that made it back wasn’t Yeats’…or at least not his entirely!

If you’re not familiar with Yeats, you have to read A Dialogue of Self and Soul for a taste. Yes, have to. I’m bossy like that.

We did have a very nice lunch at the tea room, as advertised, and then went on a search for neolithic passage tombs in Manorhamilton, County Leitrim…. To be continued!

Interlude: evening of Day 3: Napoleonic anchor and Franciscan Abbey in Donegal Town

I realized in going over my pictures from the trip that I neglected to post about the end of day three, which involved the anchor from a Napoleonic ship and might…hypothetically…have involved us jumping a stone wall when we somehow missed the entrance (or even the road) leading to the old abbey in Donegal (despite the fact that you could see it from where we’d eaten dinner).

Yeah, I have no sense of direction. For those who know me, this comes as no surprise.

The anchor came off the Romaine, a frigate from a small fleet Napoleon sent to help the Irish against the British in 1798.  Unfortunately, the ships were spotted by watchers loyal to England and sunk or captured.  See how well my husband wears it on his arm and my pretty poor attempt to look like a pin-up girl.  Not to self: do not give up day job.

Anyway, the abbey was certainly worth seeing. According to sources, it was built in 1474 by Hugh O’Donnell (the Irish did like their Hughs) and Wiki says it “withstood ransacking, burning and ravaging before it was finally abandoned in the early part of the 17th century.” The cemetery, however, was not abandoned, and continued in use for many, many years. The abbey was apparently the place where the Annals of the Four Masters was written to preserve as much as possible of the Celtic culture and history of Ireland, which, it seemed, the English had tried pretty hard to stamp out.

I am now determined to get my hands on an edition.

Day 2: Giants Causeway, The Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, Bonamargy Friary

This was one of the great days, even though we got off to the wrong start. We programmed Ballymoney into the GPS to head toward the Dark Hedges (from Game of Thrones) and were pleased to see that our destination was only an hour away. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an hour in the wrong direction! It seems there are several Ballymoneys throughout Ireland, and unless you’re specific with the GPS about what county you’re in, it’s going to take you to the closest. Once we got ourselves figured out, we were back on the road, this time headed for Giant’s Causeway, since as Highlander would say, There can be only one.

It was a long drive, but so well worth it, as you can see for yourself. The beauty and the landscape were almost otherworldly, a result of volcanic and geological activity. The columns you see are basalt and, get this, made of interlocking hexagonal stones! The site encompassed three bays, each just as beautiful as the next. And the legends! Loved them. It seems that Fionn mac Cumhaill, the giant who lived at the causeway (evidenced by the remains of his pipe organ still seen on one of the peaks…or chimney stacks, depending on who you listened to) was in the habit of shouting back and forth to the giant he could see across the way in Scotland—the typical gianty “grind your bones to make my bread” sort of banter. One day Fionn (pronounced Finn) decided to take up the challenge and built a bridge of columns across the water. But on getting closer and seeing the size of his opponent, he decided to give it up and fled back across the bridge, losing one of his boots in the process. The Scottish giant, Benandonner, hot on his heels, Fionn retreated to his home, where he took to his baby’s cradle, bonnet and all. When Benandonner came calling, Fionn’s wife told him there was no one home but her and the baby. When Benandonner got a look at the giant child, he reasoned that the child’s da would be too big to challenge and fled back across the bridge, destroying it as he went. Thus ending the only story in Irish history that went off without a fight! There were other great stories. On another peak, you can see Fionn’s gran, who he turned to stone when she wouldn’t give up the drink (harsh!).

Next we were on to the impressive Carrick-a-Rede Bridge only seven miles away. I’d like to say that we were equally impressive and walked it, but we drove. It was walk enough from the visitor’s center at the bridge to the site itself! But a beautiful walk and good on our calves. Carrick-a-Rede, I learned from the brochure, means rock in the road and comes from Carraig-a-Rade in Gaelic. Fisherman strung the bridge (at first nothing more than three ropes—one to walk on and one to either side of it as handholds). Terrifying and incredible to think of these men braving the rope bridge across a deep ravine to get to the good fishing spots and then carrying their catches back across the uncertain footing…particularly when the winds blow. (As we found at the Cliffs of Moher, the winds of Ireland can be gale force, but maybe they stayed home those days!)

After a long, glorious day hiking up and down hills, cliffs, basalt columns, rope bridges and all, we came across a wonderful find on the way to our hotel, the ruin of Bonamargy Friary, founded around 1500 by Rory McQuillan, chief of the local family in control of the area at the time. (The plaque at the site said McQuillan, various online sites have it MacQuillan.) Beside being scenic, there was the wonderful story of The Black Nun, Julia McQuillan, who was a prophetess and recluse whose final resting place is marked by an unusual round stone at the chapel entrance. Legend has it that she haunts the chapel still, though the more religious would probably say “watches over it” instead.

Everywhere we went there were sheep, marked by patches of color on their rumps. We decided they’d all been in a massive paintball battle and still bore their war wounds with pride. (Yes, yes, we know it’s probably a way of distinguishing between flocks, but that’s not nearly as much fun now, is it?)

Every time my family and I do an international trip, I journal.  I can’t help myself.  Partly I do it because so many people ask, but mostly so that I can remember names and places years later and so that I’m encouraged to look things up and learn more.  I hope you enjoy! Day 1: Dublin

We arrived in Dublin excited but jetlagged, checked into our hotel and immediately hit the streets, intent on the reservation we’d made for a tour and tasting at the Jameson Distillery. (Or, as it turned out, the old Jameson Distillery, since all operations had since been moved to Cork.) We were pleased to pass the Oscar Wilde statue on the way to transportation! Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite literary figures of all times and certainly my favorite wit…next to my husband, of course! The distillery was interesting, though not entirely novel, since we’d been on others like it, but, of course, it had the bonus that we got to taste Jameson Whiskey alongside Johnny Walker Black (a double distilled choice from Scotland versus Jameson’s triple distillation) and America’s most popular whiskey, Jim Beam. Jameson Whiskey is made with a mixture of malted and unmalted barley, and isn’t heated with peat, so doesn’t have that peaty flavor that I sometimes find overwhelming in whiskey (but that others often look for). I have to admit that in this case, I enjoyed the peaty flavor of the Johnny Walker and would have had a difficult time choosing a favorite between that and the Jameson’s, which was rich with vanilla accents and very smooth. That said, I did find that my drink of choice for the rest of the time in Ireland was Jameson and ginger ale with lime. Yes, yes, I know, I’m a heathen for mixing my whiskey. Usually I don’t, but when you want something cool and refreshing, whiskey neat is not the way to go.

After that, we joined a Hop-on Hop-off bus to tour around the city, intending to complete a whole circuit before jumping off, but we never got that far, because there were too many things we couldn’t resist, the first of which was Trinity College and the Book of Kells. I don’t even know how to begin talking about this, except that seeing the illustrations blown up on the walls and then seeing the book itself, reading about the volume and its contemporary, the Book of Armagh…well, it was practically a spiritual thing. The word “practically” can probably even be removed from this sentence. It was amazing, from the making of the inks to the artwork to the binding. Stunning!

Our next stop was the National Museum of Archaeology for many reasons but, let’s face it, foremost among them to see the bog bodies from Meath. For those of you who don’t already know that I have a morbid fascination with such things…well, I do. I was an anthropology and English/writing double-major, so mummification, ancient practices and the like are fascinating to me, and these bodies, preserved by the lack of oxygen in the bog. Of course, there were also wonderful examples of torques and circlets and arm bands, oh my!

Next we went off to Dublin Castle, where we were too late to get a tour, but not too late for some amazing shots of the remaining medieval tower and the Royal Chapel, especially from the gorgeous Dubh Linn Gardens outside, which contain the Garda Síochána Memorial Garden that opened in 2010 to commemorate the lives of police officers who died in service to their country. Exhausted then from jetlag and our jaunts, we repaired to a pub where we enjoyed shepherd’s pie and became fascinated with the Irish sport of hurling, which seems to be all the most exciting parts of any sport you can think of (soccer, rugby, lacrosse, field hockey…) all rolled into one.