Mid-Term break found us on the road again. This time we left the island we live on for the island west of us, Ireland. Never been there before, and in talking with the British I have know most of them have not been there either. Not like no one wants to go there, but maybe it is like visiting Canada; the country is just north of Oregon but not everyone desires to make a visit there.
We drove there, taking a ferry from Wales. Turns out that to really see the country a car is very necessary. Everything is remote from itself. Our trip concentrated on County Cork, which is in the Southeast, and County Clare, in the Southwest. These two areas are heavily favoured by the guide books and we could see the reasoning firsthand. Green, rolling hillsides. Pocket towns dominated by towering structures of old. Dirt, gravel, and well worn roads interlinking the interior of the counties. Their highway system is robust with generous speed limits and toll booths to facilitate their upkeep. Some rain, some wind, and some sunshine. As one Irish told us, “You could see all four seasons in one day this time of year.” Luckily snow was avoided.
The county I teach in, Leicestershire, has their holiday breaks fall differently than the rest of England, meaning that we are always traveling on the off-holiday week. In Ireland we were the only Americans as far as we could tell in Cork and Clare. Sure there were other tourists, mostly Irish. We also found that, being winter, not everything was open. This included tourist centers! WiFi was nonexistent in either of the homes we rented, so finding a pub was not only important for our health, it also allowed us to check up on any emails (or especially send pictures out to our friends) and to see if something was open or available. Just because we brought two guide books does not mean that the information within was always correct.
Ireland is a romantic place. Lots of small villages with quaint stores, quays along the waterfront, tuck-in pubs with candlelight, sweeping vistas upon which to reflect upon your life or your lives with your loved ones…..
But we had our kids with us, so….
We were constantly on the move for a loo, or food, or something for them to get excited about. Annika loved any bookstore we came across, whilst Zachary loved any open space where he could run around and dance and be loud. So much for the romance!
We stayed six nights in the south, both in homes with coal burning fireplaces. Both also came with turf, which are blocks of peat. In one home the turf was finely compressed with a business stamp on the side. Burned slow and steady with the coals. At the other home their turf looked like it came out of the neighbor’s back garden, as it was misshaped and very organic. The latter gave off a pleasant scent that I could only describe as ‘medieval.’
Yes, we drank beer. Beamish is the stout one drinks in the south, whilst Guinness in the north. We also found two micro breweries: Franciscan Well in Cork, and Dingle Brewing in Dingle. At Dingle Brewing we found the brewery…closed. But, ingenious as I am, I just opened the door and we all walked in to find the brewer working. He was quite OK with us visiting and gave us a tour. The pub side was not open so we were unable to sample anything or purchase any gift items, but the tour and the conversation were priceless. He was British, not Irish!
Cliffs of Mohr. This was actually our only real crummy weather day, as the storm blowing in was the remnants of the one which had dumped snow on the East Coast of the USA the week prior. Wind gusts were at hurricane level and we were actually worried about our kids blowing over the cliffs.
We brought a Lonely Planet travel guide that we picked up from the library here. Lonely Planet is a good guide, but sometimes it reads as a ‘holier than thou’ guidebook. It does not recommend the really touristy stuff, rather it points one to go on a ’10K walk down to the lonely shoreline’, or ‘take the B6578 backroad to farmer John’s cottage and ask to sample his homemade mead.‘ Well, with the kids a tourist stop is what they need, so we made plans for Blarney Castle, NOT recommended by Lonely Planet.
We were very glad we visited. The weather was dry, there were NO crowds, and there was room to run, run, run. I can see that in the high season the place must be a mad house and probably unpleasant, but our trip there was very nice, very quiet, and very scenic. Plus the kids were very happy. A good call to make time to stop there.
Zachary, Annika, and Rebecca kissed the Blarney Stone. Dad was ‘too cool’ to do so.
Ireland’s history is also evident in their old tombs that are scattered across the county. We visited two of them. The first is a Dolmen, or a portal type tomb, and was easy to access. Rain was coming down and it was kind of spooky to be out poking around near this tomb, where about 16 bodies are buried. It is located in an area called The Burren, which should be called The Barren, since the land is literally littered with rocks for as far as one can see. A lonely but beautiful place unlike any we have ever witnessed.
The other tomb we visited is called Newgrange, just north of Dublin. Dublin is the city we drove to on our second to last day. This place was massive, creepy, and incredibly old. It has been dated to about 3,5000 BC! It is well cared for and you have to take a shuttle to visit it as they keep the foot traffic heavily monitored.
Dublin was the third large city we have visited since we arrived in England. London is very large, but acts very proper and everyone queues up accordingly. Edinburgh was very big, but it has a warm heart and the kids were welcomed. Dublin is like the rowdy brother of the family. Very crowded, very busy. Just because the light is red does not mean pedestrians wait patiently. Alcohol consumed out in the open. Panhandlers on the streets. The loud tourist omnipresent. And very expensive to go out into. I found it exciting and edgy and hope to go back to visit for a much more extended time. Maybe a trip for another year…
We went out to eat at a restaurant that not only had live Irish musicians playing, but also allows children to be in there past 8pm. Called Gogarty’s in the Temple Bar part of town. This is the live music, heavy drinking, screaming tourist part of Dublin (I presume). Food was good but expensive, music was great, and the scene was wild. Our kids were the only ones I could find in either the restaurant or the neighborhood for that matter.
Ireland has a music history that is centuries old. We visited two shrines to Irish rock and rollers who have passed away.
As Ireland is an island, and we drove over, we took a ferry. Being the off-season, the ferry company was upgrading its line and instead had us take a lower grade ferry on our journey West. We did not mind it at all, and they fed us for free as generous offer. On the way back we expected the same boat. But we did not get it. The boat broke down!
We were delayed about six hours until the next boat could take us out of the country. Now there are worse places in the world to be stuck, but the delay meant that we would be getting into Wales at 3am, with a 3 hour drive still ahead of us. There was no alternative, so we agreed to the new travel arrangements. Rebecca called the ship line and they gave us a free room for us to sleep in, which made the kids very excited. Having children along occasionally gives out fringe benefits.
With six hours left in Dublin we decided to….visit the Guinness Storehouse!
One either loves or hates Guinness Stout. I love it, Rebecca tolerates it. But it is one of the oldest and most successful breweries on the planet. Again it was not cheap to visit, but we found it worthwhile. Kids liked it as well as their interactive tour is very well put together and engaging for all ages, even if it is promoting alcohol. The gift shop found us buying trinkets for ourselves and our friends.
I was most impressed how Arthur Guinness, with 100 pounds given to him by his father, basically started a brewery that was successful early on and only became more popular worldwide as the years passed. At the end of the tour one gets a free pint. The kids got free sodas. The family pass gave us six tickets, so a couple extra pints were taken as no one was really checking the tickets to see if they said Child or Adult.
We got back to Wales as expected, around 3am, and drove back to the midlands. We found it much easier to drive across England when NO ONE was on the roads. Rebecca chose to drive and did a fantastic job. Zachary missed his football game, but otherwise we recovered and began our week revived and refreshed. Thank you Ireland for a real good time!