In July of 2005, my friend Linda and I went to Ireland for 9 fabulous days. This being her second trip, and us being "grown ups" (meaning with means and no desire to hostel and bus our way through the world), we rented a car and made no reservations, deciding our itinerary every day and just picking a B&B to stay in. The one exception was the night of the wedding that served as the reason for our trip. (Or Linda's trip - I just went to keep her out of trouble! HA!)

Anyway, I have oodles of pictures (some 300+) but here are a few choice ones from the trip. I was still trying to figure out my new camera too - so forgive the images.

First stop (after flying all night to Dublin - and Linda miraculously finding her way on the left hand side of the road!) was the Irish National Stud in Kildare.

Linda arranged a private tour through her veterinary connections and we were not disappointed!

We saw one foal (not this one) who was worth 2 million Euros the minute his feet hit the ground. Talk about fancy race horses!

Next stop - SOMEWHERE WITH A BED, PLEASE!!!

Lough Derg, River Shannon.

We took the back roads after I combed through the guide books and decided we should camp out in the lovely twin towns of Killaloe and Ballina on the south of Lough (Lock) Derg.

As navigator, I picked the routes and decided driving along the Lough would be pretty. As passenger, I realized that keeping my eyes closed due to the narrow roads and left hand driving was going to defeat the "scenic route" strategy.

It was a battle, I eventually prevailed. Thanks to Linda's driving. Did I mention she wouldn't let me drive much? Control freak. :)


@ The pull out for the view of the Lough

After grabbing a nap (thank goodness!) and showers, we ventured out into the Killaloe - Ballina area. It was a really nice evening for a walk along the Shannon River. Linda is standing just outside where we ate dinner on the Ballina side. Our B&B is in the background next to the white building.

Here I am (mmmm... naps GOOD! Showers better!) on the Ballina side. The bridge is pretty old and one of the historic things in the area. It really was a nice evening and a great ending to the first day in Ireland. We continued to walk around the area that night - it stayed light until almost 11 PM, so we just walked till we got tired enough to go back to bed.

OK - so here's my artsy shot. I got this new camera and was playing with it, but this is from the Catholic church at the top of the hill in Killaloe. Celtic Crosses everywhere, and the sun light on th hill was really neat.

The next AM, Linda had voted for a castle - Bunratty castle near the Shannon airport. Of course it was POURING down rain (that fabulous Irish sunshine!) and we took a wrong turn (bad navigator!) and went the long way through Limerick, which was interesting. We got stuck in a traffic jam there - a tour bus broke down on a teeny road that of course was a MAIN thorough fare. Wait - no. That was after Bunratty on the way to the Cliffs. Anyway, here's a picture of the castle - HUGE. At least 6 stories.

They also have this cool quaint little village that is all historic and stuff. Very interactive. Rained lots that day.

ALL the guide books said that the cliffs were spectacular, even in the rain. Well, THEY LIED. Here's our picture of the Cliffs in the mist and rain. Bleh. Met some nice kids from Georgia State University - college kids - not too bright - climbing walls and dangling over cliffs, in rain, on slick grass. Oh well.

OK - so  the goal for this day was Bunratty, Cliffs of Moher, and bed down in Galway.

 

Since we were denied, I thought I would steal a photo from the web to show you what we SHOULD have seen. Grumble.

 

We arrived in Galway, found a B&B to crash at and then went out for dinner along Quay ("key") Street (so named because Quay means "River" in Irish).

I had fajitas. Linda had steak. Serious protein cravings, man.

Then back to the B&B where our hostess, who was the sweetest lady, started talking to us about where to go pubbing (Quay street again) to meet all the "handsome lads."

So we put on our finest - actually, I tried, and Linda decided to overrule me and dress me in her clothes since I am not the fashion expert she is.

At any rate, We went out - to the Kings Pub, which had three floors and that was all "eh." And then to another irish pub that was great - with great music.

Here we are, stylin'.

Linda, being her outgoing self, managed to find the TALLEST man in the place (6'8", I kid you not!) who happened to be with his short friend (5'4" - so I took one for the team) visiting from Austria. Very interesting fellows. Bought us lots of drinks. I drank WAY WAY WAY too much. (Bad Linda!)

But we had a great evening and had fun.

Here is Linda, the next morning. Not hung over AT ALL. (Wench!) on the walk back into the city for the ho-hum market on Saturday morning.

 

 

Got booted from the B&B by people with reservations so we went down the road a ways to Spiddal and had lunch. Then we went to bed. At 2 in the afternoon. Dinner was a couple of grilled cheese sandwhiches at a very interesting pub west of town. We were the only women in there. Talk about a cultural experience!

Linda wanted to go to the Aran islands. (Are you sensing a theme? Linda wants to go to X, Susan is told she has a vote, but is pretty sure its not a democracy!)

So we ferried out to the largest island (Inish Mor) and went to Dun Aengus.


The view to the top of the cliff of Dun Aengus


Looking back from Dun Aengus - notice the absence of trees and the numerous stone (and stone fences!)

Dun Aengus is this great fort atop the cliffs here and aercheologists are in debate over the age. The stones are set with out masonry, but are clearly set as defensive measures. There is no water source at the fort, except the rain, which the farmer on Inish Mor actually use - they set a slab of stone up to drain off the rain fall into a basin, and that's probably how the earliest inhabitants got their water in the fort.

Here I am on the cliffs at the fort - the cliffs rise some 300+ feet above the ocean, and you can see there are no "safety walls" to prevent the unwary, clutzy or stupid from falling off. Apparently, the Irish are not as litigant happy as the Americans.

Met two nice girls from Salt Lake City taking pictures here.
NOTE: No pictures of Linda are included here because I refused to post pictures of her Clemson University hat. ha ha.

 

Just to illustrate how close you can get. Sitting down wasn't scary, but trying to stand back up with out wobbling off the cliff was a bit heart pounding!

 

Linda took great pleasure in calling me "Poco" this fine day in honor of my Pocahontas braids.

Another part of our tour of Inish Mor took us "Seven Churches" which are actually only 2 and associated buildings. This ruin dates from the 13th century. You can even faintly make out the mountains of Conemara across the bay.

This area of Ireland (Galway and westward) is dedicated to the preservation of the Irish language. It was pretty cool to hear it spoken and used - in fact, even the english was hard to understand from the native Irish speakers.  (As I was later informed its called "Irish" in Ireland, but the rest of us foreigners call it "Gaelic.")

 

 


Sky road from Cliften. Met nice family from Augusta at a look out point.

 We ferried back to the mainland and headed north into Conemara and planned to stop the night in Cliften. Cliften is pretty touristy - I consider it the Gatlinburg of Ireland - you know, all surface, no substance. Hence, no pictures.

But we did have Chinese food for dinner. Yum.

The next day, we took the sky road north of Cliften to see the sights. It was a GORGEOUS day for the drive and really neat to see the geography.

Interestingly, there are very little trees on this side of the island - I don't know if that's been a historical thing or the trees were plundered and never replanted. Most of the Irish live in stone / cinderblock housing and there is very little lumber used in the country. As an employee of a forest products company I found the whole thing fascinating. Linda, on the other hand was all "eh."

 

BUT ON TO CONEMARA!!!

Conemara National Park (where the famous wild Conemara ponies run free) was free that afternoon (which happened to be July 4th!) so we were excited....

Only to discover that all the main trails were closed due to the helicopter ferrying stone up the hill side for path repairs. Bummer!

Further down the road, we looked back and saw the abbey across the Lough. So we pulled off for a photo op. Linda (above) is on the road side bridge with the mountains (The Bens) behind her. I'm posed (obviously) in front of the Abbey.

So we ventured on to Kylemore Abbey instead. But when we arrived, admission was 15$ PER PERSON. WHAT? So I took pictures from the parking lot instead. Cheap, I know. But you don't even get to tour the Abbey - it is currently a girls school.

All in all, very pretty.

Conemara was great - the peat fields (I have a picture) where the peat logs are cut and then arranged in a pyramid to dry them are neat to see. There are literally sheep in the middle of the major road, and the country side is vast, and lonely - with very little sign of civilization and life. I kept wondering if this is how the wilds of Ireland looked thousands of years ago and if that's why no one settled here.


Linda, in Conemara, in front of one of the rare tree farms in the County.

 

So we drove on from Conemara - back through Galway, and the hours stretched on.... and on.... it apparently was a driving day. And Linda, trying to pacify her difficult passenger, suggested we stop in Athlone at one of the recommended nice restaurants.

After getting lost THREE times, we finally discovered the restaurant, only to see that it was closed on Mondays. ARGH!

So we made do with a little sandwich shop and pressed on to Trim. The above picture is Trim Castle, which was recently renovated for the movie "Braveheart."

Yes, Trim's claim to fame is Mel Gibson. Rock on.


 

 

After an AWESOME dinner in Trim, we wandered around, and I finally got to play with a Donkey. These two are right next to the castle.

I spent much of the trip annoying Linda by saying "Don-KAY" like they do in the Shrek movies. She made a rule - I was only allowed to say that when I see one, and then only once. Imagine my glee to discover these two fellows!!!

And while we were there, I got Linda back for the boys in Galway, because we happened to meet Kingsley - a handsome fellow (sales rep for a medical supply company) who was there with his fancy camera. His hobby is to take Castle pictures and sell them to the guys who make calendars. VERY cool. And cute too.

But Linda took me to task later for not even getting an email address. (sigh) I have so much to learn....

The next day was rainy and bleh. We did take a tour of the Trim / Braveheart castle (which, by the way, had graffitti in it from the 17th century - talk about OLD!) and then headed for my 1 request on the trip - the Hill of Tara. By the time we got there it was POURING. So even the gods were against me on that one.

So instead we headed on to Newgrange, a stone age burial chamber that is older than Stonehenge, and older than the Acropolis.

We scheduled a tour and had an hour to kill so we had lunch. Of course, the weather improved. Lunch was good - especially for a cafeteria.

There are standing stones everywhere in Ireland, and New Grange is no exception.

 

Newgrange was impressive. I can't even begin to describe it. It was almost as good for me as Stonehenge was in '97.

Seriously, it is this massive mound - almost 100 ft in diameter, with three burial chambers about 30 ft inside. Notice the stone in the entry and the cool symbols. Keep in mind this thing is dated to 5000 BC. That's BEFORE CHRIST, folks. And its over 30ft high, with no mortar, all stone, and IS WATER PROOF.

And the box above the doorway, you ask? Why that is set up so that on the winter solstice, when the sun rises, for about 5 minutes, a beam of light penetrates the tomb, illuminating the inside.

These people were from the STONE AGE. And I'm starting to think we've perhaps underestimated their intelligence.

From Newgrange, we ventured to Carlingford, the site of the rehearsal dinner, wedding and reception. Carlingford is a lovely little town on the eastern side of the coast, about an hour or so from Dublin and just across the bay from Northern Ireland.

We actually stayed here for more than one night and that was a nice treat. We also got out and spent more time in the town. I have oodles of pictures from Carlingford, and this one is from the church cemetery in town.

Carlingford is full of ruins through out the town, from King James' castle on the bay, to the Tower Mint, to this cool arch smack dab in the city.

We had a great dinner one night at a pub here (and just down the road we had two great lunches - it was worth a re-visit! at Fitzpatrick's pub.)

At this point the wedding pretty much took over, and the end of the trip was in site, but there are a few other noteworthy events.

The day of the wedding was grey (of course) and I got out to take some pictures before heading to the wedding - this is the Abbey ruins. Notice the huge mountain behind - that overlooks the city, with sheep grazing all along the hill sides. Very pretty.

The wedding was at Grange Church - a beautiful white and blue interior. Melissa arrived at the service pulled by 2 black percherons in a black and red carriage, a la Princess Dianna. I felt like I was in a movie!

Oh yeah - this is the rehearsal dinner - when my battery died. (Bummer!) Linda had such a good time (and enough alcohol) actually let me drive home - which, given the almost crash I had in Trim, was saying something considerable.

Anyway, the groom's family are Irish and were wonderful hosts and the bride's family was absolutely friendly to a fault. Derek and Melissa were so beautiful at their wedding, it was almost surreal.

And the reception was awesome - they even had a group of Irish dancers come in about 10 pm and do a show that was amazing.

 Linda shut down the bar the night of the wedding - seriously, didn't come back to the room till 4:30 AM. And we had to get on the road by noon to go to Castle Leslie for 2 hours of amazing cross country hacking.

Now, I'm not a big fan of jumping - I'm too lazy. But this was awesome - all of us girls, running down these forested lanes, popping 3, 3 1/2 foot fences on the grounds of this gorgeous castle (where, by the way, Paul McCartney married Heather Mills.)

The next day we left Slane and I got my morning in at the Hill of Tara - before the little Japanese tourists showed up. Given how much of a fan I am of Patricia Kennely Morrison, Tara has great significance for me, and that was my moment to reflect on history and our roles in the future.

I guess you never really know how the little acts you do will change the course of time. Call it the butterfly effect, or chaos theory or fate or what ever you want, but even the smallest thing can change the world. And as a country, we are very young and really should take a step back. Often its the little things that make the largest difference for the good.

Anyway, so there you go - my Ireland trip in a nutshell. Slainte!