Our Ireland Photo Travel Journal for 2007 Part I
Fraught with icy peril, chilling photos, cool travel tips, incredible adventures, and many, many more cows.
Gallery 2002 | Gallery 2004 | Gallery 2005 | Gallery 2007 | Gallery 2011
If we've given a link to a B&B, we recommend it. It should be easy to spot the ones we don't recommend.
Pricing given in either US dollars or Euros depending on our whim.
View Map of Route. Clicking on a number on the map will take you to that location in the journal.
View Gallery of the best images of our 2007-8 trip.
We started this trip with B&B reservations in Dublin for the
first few days, then headed down thru Avoca to Inchigeelagh. From there we
dropped down to the Sheep's Head for a night and then to Castletownbere to
stay with our friends the Harringtons. We spent Christmas and Wren's Day in
Ballyferriter and then spent a lovely night in Camp. Then off to Co. Clare
and Kilfenora. We planned to stay a week and then wander North, but weather
and Clare inspired us stay two weeks and then fly out of Shannon.
Wednesday 12/12 -Thursday 12/13
We wandered into Dublin airport at an early hour while it was still dark.
The flight from Chicago to Dublin was pretty uneventful and seemed to pass
quickly. We were prepared for a late sunrise and early sunset (approximately
8am and 4pm), as opposed to the 6am and 10pm we experienced in June of 2005.
The clutch and brake felt a bit out of sync in the general positioning we were used to but we adjusted throughout the trip. We launched ourselves into the traffic flow (and dark) and promptly ended up in the wrong lane and in a parking lot. After careful extrication we were back on the road and headed for Mellifont Abbey.
Lack of sleep, jet lag and stress at driving on the wrong
side of the road resulted in some tense marital moments, but we survived and
arrived safely at Mellifont. This being the off season, we didn't expect much
to be open, and we were not disappointed in that regard. The site was closed
for the season and we were too early in the day at any rate. We're not adverse
to hopping a fence or slipping under a turnstile if there isn't anyone about.
Why avoid an experience just because it doesn't appear to be open? Chances
are if you wait, no one will show up anyway. Don't be shy, apologize and/or
pay later. If the booth is open when you come back, offer to pay, chances
are they'll wave you away. There was no gate or turnstile (and no open restroom)
so we went down the stairs to the site. Parts of the site were undergoing
restoration and the scaffolding didn't do anything to improve the view. Restoration
work is pretty common, but rarely is the entire site obscured.
The next stop was Monasterboice. Just a short drive away from Mellifont Abbey. We found it with little problem and less marital issues. We're getting into travel mode now. The parking lot was well posted with warnings about leaving valuables in the car unattended. A suspicious looking caravan was parked nearby, but no signs of life. We had all our luggage with us, but as there wasn't anyone around and unlikely to be, and the site to the car was a very short distance, we didn't worry much. Monasterboice was little changed from our 2002 visit. A nicely laid out site, with high crosses, older gravestones and a round tower. We still had great light and took many pictures around the site. The main difference we noticed was the lack of foliage. Scott found a new lock to add to the image collection.
Our next stop was outside of Trim at the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral and Newtowntrim Cathedral in Co. Meath. We'd visited this site in 2005 and were looking forward to a recap. The site was little changed except being either better trimmed or just significant winter die back on the grass and weeds. We didn't find anything new and interesting, but took a lot of pictures anyway. There are some nice stone details at Newtowntrim higher up on the wall like the angel shown on the right. Well worth a visit. It is easy to find along the main road to Trim. Just cross the stone bridge and park along the road. There are ruins on both sides of the bridge.
We wandered along toward Dublin to the goal of getting
to our accommodations at Avoca House
B&B. We'd been there two times already and didn't anticipate any problems
finding it. We were so wrong. Technology didn't help either. The Blackberry
with GPS didn't work well. It couldn't find where we were, so that didn't
help. Somewhere North of Drumcondra we admitted defeat and phoned Jack at
Avoca House B&B. He gave complete
and rapid fire instructions, perceiving where we were from landmarks and gave
details of how to get to where we needed to be. Karen understood enough to
get us back on track. Well after dark, we arrived safe and sound. We enjoyed
the usual friendly welcome and settled into our ground floor room. We took
the obligatory excursion to Fagin's Pub for dinner and were pleased as usual
with the quality of the Guinness. The food is good but basic pub fare.
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More 'Round Dublin
We started up in a leisurely fashion. We arrived for breakfast a bit late,
anticipating a bit of abuse from Audrey, our hostess. We were not disappointed.
She served the usual
full Irish on request, lots of food, "rashers"
(bacon to us, but better) and
sausages were delicious as usual!, replete with stories and the full craic.
Hopefully she enjoyed our conversation as much as we enjoyed hers. We caught
her up with our family information and inquired as to hers. sounds like life
has been good to her and the family. Full to the gills with eggs, rashers,
sausage and accessories, we sallied forth towards Dublin. The card in the
hall refreshed our memory as to the bus routes to city centre.
Boarding the bus, it proceeded onward to Christ's Church Cathedral, Scott's first stop o' the day. This was a first visit and worth every Euro of the modest entry fee. There was some class of Christmas preparation in progress the caused some disruption of the main area. The rest of the cathedral was unaffected. The rear area and the lower level were the most interesting. It is a bit eerie to walk around under the cathedral with all that stone above. There was an interesting historical exhibit below that didn't allow photography, so no pictures of it. There was a lot of gold and silver plates and other pieces of memorabilia from the cathedral's past. The rest of the underbeneath was open to photo opportunities. When exiting the main entrance, go towards the East, the large door is attractive and there is a historical site of the original site of the cathedral. Further East, look up to to see the gargoyles on the upper wall.
St. Patrick's Cathedral is a short walk South from Christ's Church Cathedral. The modest price to enter is again, worth every Euro. The cathedral is photo friendly with tripods allowed. The real trick is how long to stay as there are photo opportunities at every glance. Fortunately I have a VR lens that provided image stabilization and removed the necessity for a tripod in most cases. I was able to get some good interior shots with very little light. I didn't use the flash as that would disrupt the other activity and people in the cathedral. One of these days I am going to have to be more disciplined about using a tripod. It is just a hassle to carry around and setup. After about an hour of happy wandering it was off for the next point of interest and my real goal for the day!
Back on the City Tour bus and along for a few stops. Past Kilmainham Gaol, no stops here this time, I had bigger fish in mind. Kilmainham Gaol is well worth a visit, especially if it is your first time 'round. The next stop was Heuston Station. Not so interesting. The building architecture is nice, but there were a fair amount of layabouts at the side entrance. The front had a lot more legitimate looking traffic, but overall it wasn't that interesting. I crossed the Island bridge and off towards the National Museum at Collin's Barracks.
I had it on good authority (their website) that the Sea Stallion, a replica Viking ship was on display at the National Museum at Collin's Barracks. In addition the museum was free. All good as far as I can see. I found the museum with little trouble and as soon as I went through the main arch, there was the Viking ship on the opposite side. I took a couple of pictures and headed into the museum. Photography wasn't allowed inside, but it is well worth a visit. I didn't spend long enough there, but longer than I should as we shall soon discover. The museum has clothing, furniture, jewelry and pretty much anything else you could imagine representing Irish history over the years. As you can see from the courtyard picture, there are four floors and it all surrounds the courtyard. Not only is it huge, but easy to get lost in. Floors are signed with some directions, but it is a bit overwhelming. I'd count on spending at least half a day here if this type of thing interests you. I also breezed past the information area, so you might check for a map or additional guidance. After a whirlwind tour of some of the floors, I head back out to the ship for a closer look. There is a platform you can climb to look down inside. Those Vikings were a hearty lot to head out to sea in something like this. Fair made my Scandinavian blood boil!
Now we get to the sad part of the tale, never fear, it has a happy ending. I headed for the Smithfield Viewing Chimney. This used to be some class of a smokestack, but has been fitted with an elevator and viewing platform. I thought that it might be a good view of the city and not crowed. On the way over a passed a largish enclosed skating rink with hundreds of heads whizzing by. Plywood obscured everything but the head. I couldn't tell if it was ice or roller skating, but the people seemed to be having a good time. Approaching the chimney I observed that it seemed to be uncrowded. No lines, in fact to people at all. A sign in front informed me that the Chimney was closed for renovations. So much for that idea. Nowhere online had I seen any notice of it being closed. Maybe next time.
The next stop was St. Michan's Church. Renowned for several things, first is the elaborate wood carving over the organ, second for Handel having played the organ, possibly composing parts of The Messiah as it's first performance was in the New Musick Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin. The third and most famous is the mummies in the vaults under the church. Evidently the conditions are perfect for preserving bodies and several coffins have broken open, exposing the contents. I had high hopes for a visit, but they were cruelly dashed when the iron gate was securely locked, and the hours on the sign read differently from the web site information. Looked like this wasn't going to happen this trip.
Do you see a mounting trend here of disparate information between the web and reality? I trudged back in the direction of the National Archive, with the realization of the time and needing to get back to rescue Karen from the bowels of the library. Along the way I passed a modern building with the reflection of older architecture reflected in its mirror surface. Pretty much an accurate representation of Dublin today.
I arrived intact, after negotiating carolers, traffic, buskers and shoppers, at the National Archive. No sign of Karen so I settled on an outside bench to contemplate the day's events and the construction scaffolding, tarps and renovation equipment strewn all around the front of the building. Across from me was a nice lamp with buildings silhouetted in the deepening evening light. I shot a few frames and then headed inside to see if Karen had escaped from the mountain of books.
Upon Karen's release from the National Archive and the return of all her material possessions, we discussed the next priority. It appeared to be food and Guinness, not necessarily in that order. We also wanted to try to get some images of the Ha'penny Bridge at night so we wandered off in that general direction. The pictures during the day had been pretty bland. Along the way and way back we encountered a large wall mural, Dublin Castle, more bridges and some interesting neon regarding tonsorial maintenance.
We wandered the streets of Dublin looking for food and interesting sights. We found plenty of the latter but the prices on the former were scary. we didn't want fine dining as we were in travel attire and not in the mood for white linen and fussy waiters. Even the more cafe oriented places were very expensive and the pubs were all packed. We finally settled on a Kebab place and it was OK for quantity and marginal on quality. Probably no better or worse than food you'd get in a US mall. A pile of rice with some meat mostly identifiable as chicken and beef in a puddle of sauce.
Dublin had a lot of Christmas lights up throughout the city, including some with Irish phrases. The streets were very active, and we had a good time wandering among the shoppers and holiday revelers. We wandered in and out of a few pubs looking for interesting activity, music or an empty table, not much luck in any front. It appeared that large quantities of beer was the order of the day with little time for musicians filling up valuable drinking space. It appears that weekends in Dublin start on Thursday night. We had better luck in the shops and picked up some small gift items for friends and family. It had been a long day so we made our way back to O'Connell street, and hopped on the bus for the short ride to Drumcondra.
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'Round and 'Round Dublin
Another day in Dublin and another full Irish to fortify ourselves. Karen was spending another day in the archives now that she'd got the system down. I was off for another day of buses and walking. This time I headed straight for St. Michan's, determined not to miss out on the mummies due to odd hours. I hopped on the bus and rode it to Christchurch. At the corner I saw a disconcerting sight. Some kind of large military vehicle. We also saw guards armed with automatic weapons during a bank transfer. No one batted an eye so we tried to be casual as we walked by. I headed down under the archway by Christchurch, and walked across the Liffey. A short walk brought me back to the entrance to St. Michan's. The gate was open this time! I entered the church and paid my minimal entrance fee. The tour started in a few minutes so I checked out the postcards and purchased a few, (I never saw them again, so either I left them somewhere or lost them along the way). A small group was gathered and we walked out to the side of the church and our guide opened the vault doors. A large black hole with steps down led under the church. We entered and along with the running commentary by our guide, we treated to equally large amounts of dust. No bad smells other than old wood and dirt. The alcoves were mostly shut, but some held coffins and we were told in detail of their owners. Eventually we made it to the back of the vault where the real attraction was. The alcove to the right in the back was open and lit. In it, several mummies reclined in their final bed. They looked dusty and deflated. No pictures were allowed, or maybe we didn't press it enough. (Follow this link and scroll to the bottom to see pictures) We were allowed to go in one at a time and touch the finger of the crusader's mummy. This was supposed to bring you luck, just like most other odd sites and relics in any tourist trap. The finger felt like polished bone or marble. It was shiny from all the touching over the years. An interesting experience, not one for the squeamish. Evidently something about the air in the vaults acts as drying agent and none of the bodies rotted. This is an interesting novelty as the rest of the country could do with some drying out in many terms of the word.
Inside the church there are some large display cases of interesting historic items. Handel was supposed to have put some time in on the organ, either practicing or composing The Messiah depending on which version you believe. The organ is quite elaborate with some very nice wood carving above. Evidently it was quite expensive at the time, around £850. It must of been worth the money as it is still in use today. The rest of the interior isn't that interesting. The real draw is the folks underneath.
Back on the street I wandered along looking for interesting sights. A metal plate in the sidewalk caught my eye with the Irish word for water "uisce". It must be some kind of drain or access to the water system. Further along a doorway with a Christmas wreath jumped out at me. Around this time Karen called and said she'd had enough so I headed off in her direction. Along the way I stopped and took a few pictures of the people and sights. A nice reflection of an older building in the glass of a new seemed a good representation of today's Dublin. A curious mix of old and new. The entrance to Trinity College was filled with people coming and going as usual. I made it safely across the intersection and headed up towards Grafton Street. Lush assaulted me again (in a olfactory way) as I passed. Before long I was back at the archive. I took a picture inside and one of the carved door while I waited for Karen to collect her stuff. She hadn't had much luck finding any more family history, but had had a good time looking.
Across the street was a Starbucks. The day was chilly and a cup of coffee would be warming and a good wake up for the rest of the day. We tried to open the door and it was locked. A bunch of people were inside. It was just then we noticed the small sign on the door that said "Opening Tomorrow". We slunk off trying not to look to stupid. I'm sure we were not the only victims of false hope. We wandered down Grafton street and tried to stay out of the path of shoppers. We wandered in and out of a few places, but nothing struck our fancy and the prices seemed pretty high. The city was well decorated with lights across many of the streets. We remembered that we'd found a pub in 2002 and had a very nice pint, the best that we could remember. We knew the approximate location and went in search of it. Shortly thereafter we found it, we hadn't remembered the name. It was Ross & Walpole Bar now, it used to be the Exchequer bar. It feels small when you walk in, but there is a larger area in back. It was pretty much the same as we remembered and we sat at the same table. The pint was good, not as good as we remembered, but what is?
We wandered around the Temple Bar area and picked up a few t-shirts and other small gift items. We were hungry and decided to put together a picnic lunch after poking around in a cheese shop. We found a small shop that sold meats, cheeses and bread. We chose a selection of meats and cheeses with a small loaf of bread. In another shop we found a couple of small meringue desserts. We wandered down near the Ha'penny Bridge and found a boardwalk with several benches. Warmly bundled, we spread out our small feast and with the help of a small knife, carved up the meat, cheese and bread and dived in. It probably would have been more comfortable in June, but how often to you get to have a picnic lunch along the rive Liffey in Dublin? We kept a wary eye on the various characters wandering about, but had no problems. Maybe the knife stuck into the bench was a warning. Either that or we'd gone a little strong on the cheese. We put the refuse in the nearest garbage can and strolled off towards O'Connell Street and the bus. We found a coffee shop along the way and a coffee each warmed us up a bit.
Back in Drumcondra we stopped in at Fagans for a pint and a bit of dinner. This is our regular place for food and a pint in Drumcondra. It is also Bertie Ahern's local as well. I believe his office is right across the street. We ordered dinner and a pint. I went for the curry again and asked them to make it hot, still not hot enough. It was still fairly early so we sat at the bar which put us in eyeshot of their whisky collection. There were a few new ones so we opted to try a couple. We each got something different and shared. We tried some interesting new Irish whiskeys, but other than Red Breast, none come to mind. Well warmed up, well fed and in search of something new, we headed back to the B&B to drop off our acquisitions of the day and see what else we might be able to do in the area.
We made another attempt at the Sean Kavanaghs aka The
Gravediggers pub. A successful one this time. (see
We managed to corner our host Jack at
Avoca House B&B. We explained to him how we wanted to visit the Gravediggers
and that our last attempt had resulted in endless circles around Glasnevin
Cemetery and adjoining neighborhoods with no success. We also pointed the
finger at his wife as the party who'd tried to provide us directions. He pretty
much gave us the same directions, but with the kind offer of driving us as
well. This seemed like a wise choice. We all piled into his
car and off he
went in the same direction and up and down the same streets we'd attempted
to negotiate in 2004. Arriving at a traffic light he said, just get out here,
go across the street, up the way and turn at the next major street. With some
trepidation we got out and he zipped off into the night. Crossing the street
wasn't a problem and up the lane we went. We passed a residential street almost
immediately on the right and we continued on looking for another light, stop
sign or some major intersection.
To the right was uninterrupted wall. We realized that on the other side of
the wall was the cemetery. The only street we'd seen was the residential one.
We retraced our steps and made a left down the street. After a short walk
the street opened into a big circular loop with some large gates and what
looked like a pub at the far end. Could it be? It was! The Gravediggers pub.
We whipped out the cameras to document it's existence. The next dilemma was
which entrance. The door to the left looked dark, the door to the right was
more brightly lit. We chose right. Inside the room was clean, bright and remarkably
void of people. Three people sat at the counter. We immediately violated our
own rules by sitting at a table. As you no doubt know by now if you've read
our Irish Travel Tips or other
Journals, this is a way to ensure
slow service and no interaction with anyone but the wait staff. We ordered
a pint and pondered our situation, this certainly wasn't living up to the
reputation we'd heard about with all the lively activity, odd characters and
overall great reputation of the place. Besides, it had been a busy day and
we were tired.
A little history about the Gravediggers is found
The Irish term jar in reference to drink may have originated here, and the
pub is mentioned in James Joyce's Ulysses.
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Dublin to Avoca, Co. Wicklow
We had the usual challenges leaving Dublin as we'd had entering. We tried to chart a direct course that would take us out of Dublin easily and get us to Glendalough via the back route. The directions we were following varied from the reality of the map and roads. We wandered about a bit on the outskirts of town looking for the right road. We stopped at a gas station/store to get some Club soda and figure out where we were. After asking directions, we finally got the right route and off we went through back country roads. We passed through some pretty bleak looking country and knew we were heading in the right direction, but didn't know when we'd arrive. We were trying to make Glendalough for a short visit and then to Avoca and back to the B&B we'd reserved online.
We arrived at the waterfall overlooking Glendalough and shot a few pictures at the top and on the way down. Glendalough was uncrowded, but very cold and windy. We hit the high points and then back to the car to warm up. Unfortunately Scott discovered his camera was still set to 6400 high ISO from the night before so all the Glendalough pictures were very noisy, not a good thing. Karen had better luck.
Avoca proved to be a disappointment. Avoca is the site of the popular TV show Ballykissangel. We didn't expect it to be exactly like the show, but there was hardly any sign of the show from a marketing or promotion standpoint. Some of it was probably the time of year as most places are closed, but this went beyond being closed. We were able to visit the church, which looked much the same, but the strong odor of mildew was overpowering. There were a couple of shops open, but almost no BallyK products except a few postcards and trinkets. Talk about a missed opportunity. They should have had DVDs of the show and books and pictures for sale. We visited the pub, the food was adequate and the service poor. We hopped in the car and drove up and down the road on either side hoping to see some other landmarks from the show, but no luck. We headed for the B&B.
Nest B&B is a nice B&B and restaurant at the Meeting of the Waters. The
rooms are plain but clean. The real action is below in the restaurant and
pub. The rooms are partially over the pub, but it wasn't overly noisy. Be
sure to walk around the area adjoining the building, especially across the
bridge and along the walkway out to where the rivers meet. The attached restaurant
has excellent food and we had a good dinner in a warm dining area with lots
of memorabilia on the walls. The pub was active until the wee hours and was
more or less beneath our room. It wasn't overly annoying.
We got up early as we had a good amount of road to cover. We had to be in Co. Cork to our next reservation by evening. The breakfast was good, the usual full Irish. The morning was cold with frost on the ground, cars and some trees. A mist was coming off the river. We packed up the car and then took a quick walk across the bridge and down to the meeting of the waters. There was a heavy mist on parts of the river with the sun beginning to shine through. The air was cold and it looked like a good day ahead.
We wanted to take a fairly direct route towards Inchigeelagh via Macroom. Along the way we wanted to pay a quick visit to Hore Abbey below the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary. We charted a route that kept to back roads as much as possible and took us through Carlow. We also wanted to visit Jerpoint Abbey near Thomastown in Co. Kilkenny. It was a short jaunt from Carlow to Jerpoint Abbey and we found it easily. We were the only car in the lot, but to our surprise the visitor's centre was open. A nice woman greeted us and provided us with a quick overview of the site and it's history. She loaded us up with printed material and warned us repeatedly about the dangers of walking backward at the site, especially while taking pictures as there were many stones and low walls to fall over. She also provided detailed information about how to get to Cashel the quickest way along with written instructions. We took a quick look through the graveyard between the visitor centre and the entrance to the abbey and then plunged in before anyone else arrived. The sky was blue with few clouds and while the air was brisk, if you were out of the wind the sun warmed you up nicely. The morning sun cast nice shadows in the abbey and along the remaining cloister walls. The interior was very well kept, a bit much so for our taste. There were several nice details on the remaining cloister columns and on several stone crypts. We spent about 45 minutes wandering and taking pictures before heading back to the car. We pulled a package of Oregon treats out to give to the lady in the visitor centre for all the help, and then off we went towards Cashel.
Cashel is a large town and easy to find. We knew right where we were going and found the side road with the walkway to Hore Abbey. The wind was quite stiff and cold and blew us around a bit along the unprotected walk to the ruins. The sky was still blue and clear, but it was getting later in the day. You could definitely feel it was December. We hadn't been able to visit Hore Abbey since our first visit in 2002. Last time we ventured out to Cashel the rain was coming in sideways and an excursion down the hill from Cashel would have been painful and pointless. Again, this time we were the only visitors and we wandered among the ruined walls and took many pictures of the ruins and the Rock of Cashel on the hill nearby. There was some scaffolding up on Cashel and detracted from the view as well as the occasional large truck along the road below. The best views were on the backside where a small graveyard presented a nice view with Cashel in the background. It was also partially sheltered from the wind. After an hour or so we were thoroughly chilled and starting to feel a bit pressed for time so we headed down the long walkway to the car and onward towards Macroom and then Inchigeelagh.
We called ahead to warn our host at
na Spideoga that we might be a bit late. After that is was a mad rush
down the Irish back roads to try and make it there before dark. It became
apparent that we wouldn't make it. We passed through Macroom in the deepening
dusk. It gets dark early in Ireland this time of year. By the time we made
the turnoff to Inchigeelagh
is was completely dark. There are no lights along the road and we had good
directions, but were afraid of missing the sign in the dark. Turns out that
we had nothing to fear. It showed up well in the headlights and we set off
along an even smaller lane climbing upwards. Many twists and turns later we
found the place and pulled in. Our host greeted us and showed us to our room
in the back.
na Spideoga Fishing Lodge is a rustic group of cottages and main house
with B&B rooms. We were kindly offered dinner (for a small additional fee
which we were glad to pay) to save a trip back into town. We accepted and
had dinner by candle light in a glass enclosed sun porch that was to be our
dinning spots for several meals to come. The food was good hearty Irish German
fare (fish, go figure) and we retired soon after to our room. The rooms are
in the old part of the house with very thick stone walls. The room had two
single beds with a thick futon like mattress and a pile of cozy blankets.
The room was adequate if a bit tight for two people and all the baggage, but
we managed. The worst part was getting up in the night to go to the bathroom
and leave the warmth of the bed. The stone floor was a bit of a shock to the
feet. It had been a long day and we slept well.
Today was the day for more hiking we'd decided. It would get the blood flowing after a day of driving and the weather looked acceptable. We had breakfast on the sun porch. The sun wasn't shining, but it wasn't raining either. We eyed the low hanging clouds while we finished breakfast and then packed up what we needed and headed for the Gougane Barra. The Gougane Barra is a located just out of Ballingeary on the road SW towards Bantry on the R584. There is a hotel and large forest park with numerous bike paths and trails. Everything is well signposted so finding it and finding your way around is easy. We parked near the hotel (closed for the season) and made our way out to St. Finbarr's Chapel on a small island in the lake. The island is connect to the mainland by a causeway. The chapel on the island was built at the end of the nineteenth century and very picturesque but locked tight. Evidently this is a popular wedding location in warmer months. Also on the island is the ruins of Fr. Denis O'Mahony's retreat where he became a hermit in the 17th century. His grave is just across the causeway in a small graveyard. Among the ruins we noticed a wish tree with numerous coins hammered into the bark. The tree had grown around many of them and they'd been there for many years. There was a mix of old Irish coins and newer foreign coins and a selection of Euros. There was also a sign requesting that no one stick coins into the tree, obviously ignored. The ruins had a large central area with a cross in the center, allegedly the site of St. Finbarr's cell. The other openings around were supposedly the cells of other monks. Not comfortable or spacious, but at least somewhere protected from the elements.
We returned back across the causeway and explored the small graveyard where Fr. Denis O'Mahony was buried. It was a mix of old and new stones as many of the graveyards in Ireland are. We got back into the car and drove a short distance to the start of a trailhead, marked with a sign. We took some water and the camera gear and headed up the trail. The trail was more of a narrow road that two people could easily walk side by side. Along the way, the occasional lane or path led off through a field. There was a good deal of wildlife along the way, mostly birds, an occasional rabbit and many sheep. We planned on walking for an hour or two and then turning around and coming back. There didn't appear to be a loop, or at least it wasn't well signed. Probably in warmer months there would be some information and perhaps maps at the hotel. We took several detours across fields to what appeared to be a ruin house or an interesting viewpoint. Overall it was a nice walk, not to taxing with nice views of the countryside. It could have been done on a bike just as easily and perhaps we could have explored some other side roads. We eventually turned back and retraced our steps to the car. It was now early afternoon and we were looking for some food, a warm place to sit and relax.
We drove slowly back to Ballingeary. Slowly because of the scenery and the roads are fairly narrow and well traveled. We didn't find any places open in Ballingeary that looked promising for food or rest. There was a shop were were interested in, but it was closed. We headed up a back road towards Ballyvourney. This was the site of the infamous tire blowout in 2005. We had not been able to spend much time in the town as a result, and wanted to go back. Cork is dotted with plaques and signposts marking sites of battles, skirmishes and memorials to fallen resistance heroes. We ran into a couple along the way and it inspired us to look for more and certainly stop at any we saw. This proved helpful later as we read or watched movies like "The Wind That Shakes the Barley " or "Michael Collins " (both excellent and highly recommended) in placing locations.
Further along the way we saw an old road with a ruined farmhouse. The road was so torn up the mud was almost thigh deep. Karen elected to stay in the car, and Scott carefully skirted the mud hole and made it over the barbed wire fence with only minor damage. Up the lane a ways was a ruined farmhouse and barn. Evidently someone still used the land as there was a newish tractor parked nearby. This explained the muddy torn up lane. Most of the slate had fallen off the roofs and there were many hand forged nails sticking out of the barn walls and beams. The barn smelled strongly of horses, so it was still in use on occasion. Most of the interior was to dark to see anything except for the occasional shaft of light through the roof or wall. Quite a bit of twine laying about and bits of rusted metal. Nothing very interesting, but a fun side adventure none the less.
Arriving in Ballyvourney, we managed to avoid tourists with blown tires and suffering any mishap ourselves. We found the Mills Inn open and a quick glance at the menu posted showed it to be affordable. There was also a touristy gift shop just off the car lot that we marked for a visit after lunch. Food was the top priority so in the back door we went. The place looked a bit high class for our muddy clothes and boots (especially Scott's), but they didn't throw us out and instead showed us to a comfortable corner table. We ordered a hot whiskey and food from the many options on the menu. I don't remember what we ordered but it seems there was shrimp and salmon involved. The food and drink were excellent and we did some people watching as we relaxed. There were a lot of people in for a late lunch or early supper. One old couple near us looked nervous and chatted awkwardly. We speculated that it was a blind date but couldn't tell for sure. After lunch we wandered over to the shop and found it an interesting mix of tourist and local goods. We found some interesting small gift items amongst the usual tourist fare.
We made our way back down through Macroom to Inchigeelagh.
Not as must haste this time as we knew the way and were not pressed for time.
Once in Inchigeelagh
we drove slowly as it was still light enough to see the town. It was an odd
mix of new and old. There was a nice old church and graveyard that we mentally
noted for a visit in the next day or so. We spotted several pubs and pulled
over to park as this is the best way to get to know a town. We found Creedons
Hotel in the small attached bar. Inside a coal fire was blazing, dispelling
the chill of the prior unpleasant pub and the approaching dusk. We pulled
up to a table near the fire and bar and ordered pints. The bar tender poured
them carefully and set them to settle. He and a gentleman at the bar were
engaged in a lively discussion ranging from politics to literature. We settled
in to get warm and absorb the ambiance. Shortly we were pulled into the conversation
in the usual Irish manner and before long we had fresh pints, were sitting
at the bar and debating world politics, literature and food. We heard some
local tales and general news about the area. The pub owner's wife wandered
in, was introduced and did some washing up before disappearing in the direction
of the kitchen and restaurant. Before long an interesting character wandered
in from the bathrooms. Evidently he had been there some time or there was
another entrance (there was). He was a interesting looking old gent with an
assortment of plastic bags. He hung around for awhile and then made his exist
back into the bathroom area. We then heard some stories about him, the most
memorable being his propensity for hitchhiking. Evidently he was fairly well
off, but preferred to use other's cars to get around. He carried miscellaneous
stuff in his bags including newspapers and candy to share with his prospective
taxi drivers. At some point he'd bummed a ride with a couple of young ladies
on their way to do some sunbathing or swimming. They'd been carrying their
bikini's in a bag and he'd hopped in the
car before he'd realized who his
travel companions were. He'd fumbled around and made an exist a little way
down the road, but not before accidentally exchanging one of his bags of newspaper
for their swimming attire. More stories ensued on both sides and American
Irish relations were improved. So much so that as we were preparing to go
we found a bag of scones and a jar of jam thrust upon us as a farewell gift.
They were delicious as a snacks over the next couple of days. We drove back
na Spideoga in enough time for dinner and then off for bed. Don't remember
what the dinner was, but it was good.
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Time for laundry. There is just no escaping some mundane chores on a long trip. We hadn't seen any laundry facilities in Inchigeelagh or Ballingeary so we thought we'd try Bantry for laundry as it is a larger town. The best option we found is to drop off your laundry and get it back clean and folder later in the day. This keeps you from having to spend time in a laundry shoving coins into a machine and waiting for things to dry. Off to Bantry we went. We passed through Ballingeary and didn't see any laundry, but didn't stop to do a through search. Along the way we stopped at viewpoints for some spectacular landscape scenes especially at the Pass of Keimaneigh. We also found the Battle of Keimaneigh memorial dedicated to the memory of those who died in 1822.
In Bantry we drove into town and did a loop around the main square (it is actually more oval). We first tried the tourist office to get some directions, it was closed. We headed up the main street and found a laundry towards the top of the hill. We got lucky with parking as the streets were very full. We turned over our dirty laundry and were told come back tomorrow. We went wandering in Bantry through the shops and around the town square. There wasn't a lot to see and the toilet facilities were very scarce. We read and took pictures of an Irish Brigade Memorial on the wall near the still unopened tourist center. I guess they don't expect many tourists in December.
We headed back toward Ballingeary. Along the way we ran across a graveyard with a holy well behind. To the best of our knowledge this is Kilmocomoge graveyard and Tobaireen Mhuire, (Mary's little well). Not ones to miss a good Irish graveyard, we pulled over in a large car park/dump and took a look about. It was nicer from a distance, but if we hadn't wandered we wouldn't have found the holy well behind it. It was slightly down the hill next to a small stream. It was well decorated and well kept up.
We saw signs to the Kealkill Stone Circle and off we went on winding roads in search of it. We began going up a steep road and near the top we saw a small sign near a gate. We turned around and parked and climbed over the turnstile and headed across the field. Other's have warned of a sign, beware of bull, but we didn't see the sign or bull. At the top of the hill and through another fence we saw the stone circle. The impressive circle overlooks Bantry Bay and Kealkill village and has five stones in a eight foot diameter circle. Twenty feet away are two standing stones. The countryside is beautiful and on a good day, you can see quite a distance. There are other similar stone circles in the vicinity, but this one is in the best shape. We wandered about and took quite a few pictures until the cold got to us and we headed back to the car.
We went in search of the Kilmichael Ambush Site. There is a memorial on the site that commemorates the ambush of British soldiers that helped lead to Irish independence. The movie The Wind That Shakes the Barley has a scene that is based on the ambush. There is a good deal of controversy about what really happened. A good account of it is here. The site is spread over a fairly large area and the different positions that the Irish Republican Army Volunteers of the West Cork Flying Column took are marked by large stones with more information. There is a large central memorial. It is a pretty lonely spot on a back road and one could see this being a good spot for an ambush. The hillside that many of the markers were on were slippery and we only visited a few. It is easy to visualize someone crouching in the different spots, waiting for the military convoy to come down the road. Very few cars did come by and we did no ambushing of our own.
We'd taken a large loop around the area that led us back to Inchigeelagh. Entering Inchigeelagh you see an old church and graveyard to the South. It has a very original name, the old Inchigeelagh Cemetary and Church. Karen stayed in the car as it was cold and we were running out of energy. The church is still in pretty good condition although roofless. Many of the headstones are worn smooth. Alongside the graveyard was a field with several cows. They came over when they saw me and I picked a few handfuls of grass from my side of the fence which they took with great appreciation.
We drove back to Ballingeary to see if a sweater shop was open. It was and we poked around and picked up a very soft and cute stuffed sheep that was perfect for some lucky child. We saw a sign to the Clapper Bridge right in Ballingeary, and figured we needed to see what it was. A Clapper Bridge is a very old style of bridge made of stones that spans a river or stream. They exist throughout Europe. The bridge is quite low and made of stone piers with large flat stones laid across them to form a path. Evidently this one is called the Bunsheelin Bridge and another one exists nearby. There is a long walk across a field that is somewhat marked with stones and a path. Through some trees is the Bunsheelin river with the bridge clearly visible. We walked across to the other side and took pictures on both sides. The bridge is quite sturdy and not to slippery although it could be if it was raining. Nearby we also saw the can be seen the cast-iron 'Famine Pot' from Coolmountain House. This was provided and used by the resident of the property at the time to provide soup for the starving victims of the Potato Famine. It was recently rediscovered being used as a hot tub, and donated to the village.
We'd decided to have dinner out on the town tonight. We headed back to Tir na Spideoga for a short nap and then changed to nicer cloths. We drove into Inchigeelagh, but nothing was open. We tried the Briar Rose. The lights were on, the door was open, but no one was inside. We could have helped ourselves to the bar, but what we really wanted was food. We decided against going back to Ballingeary, but to drive into Macroom. There were several options available in Macroom and we settled on the closest one that had reasonable prices and a good menu. The meal at Granvilles Bar and Grill was nice, salmon and seafood pie and we took advantage of their dessert option which was disappointing. The chocolate cake tasted of bleech. Back out in the night air we took a few pictures in the Macroom town square. There were quite a few Christmas decorations and lights. Back in the car we took the short drive back to Inchigeelagh. The town was mostly quite, Creedon's was closed. The road was fairly packed and we figured something must be going on. Sure enough there was some sort of Christmas play and parents and children were all heading for the school. We ducked into a small pub and had one of those unpleasant experiences that you wish were over sooner. Donovan's pub was a small affair with plastic laminate tables (in our memory at least) and a bar that looked like it was made 20 years ago of old lumber and plywood. Of course we noticed this to late to back out gracefully and so we had a whisky to warm up. The help was surly and the one or two patrons seemed focused on getting as much drink down their gobs as quickly as possible. We existed and walked back to the car and then off to bed.
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We had a day to kill and decided to try some unexplored territory. The Sheep's Head peninsula was supposed to be beautiful, untraveled (this time of year that certainly wasn't an issue) and mostly accessible. We did some research ahead of time, and found a B&B out on the furthest point of the peninsula. They were nice enough to accommodate us for a single night during an off season, lucky us!
We left Inchigeelagh at a reasonable hour and headed down for Bantry to pick
up our laundry. We took the main route, but made several stops along the way
as the scenery demanded. The sun was low on the horizon, making it look like
sunrise and there was some mist on the hills.
Leaving Bantry we found the turnoff to the Sheep's Head a short distance out of town. We took a long leisurely drive along the Goat's Path with many stops along the road to Kilcrohane. Across Bantry Bay you can see the Beara peninsula and Castletown where we were planning to stay the next few days. Along the way we took some drives down towards the water. There was a functioning pier that we poked around on. It was very slippery in spots, well used with some interesting old machinery nearby. It looked like some sort of winch to pull boats in.
Traveling back the way we came to the main road we found a number of ruined buildings. Mostly old farmhouses with rusting boats in the yards. Some were just shells with no roof while others still served as storage sheds. The grass around all of them was long and untrimmed and very little recent sign of activity was visible. The scythe certainly had seen little use.
Further down the road we came to the crest of the hill, mountain or whatever the highest point was called. Numerous signs pointed out the sites in each direction. The sun was shining and there were puffy white clouds in the sky. Beautiful scenery all around. We hopped out to take a look and hopped back into the car pretty quickly. The wind was blowing with a persistent unobstructed force that quickly made things feel like it really was December.
We needed to be at the B&B around 2pm to check in. We were a little early, but managed to find the driveway after a steep downhill road with many switchbacks. Ballyroon Mountain B&B is a lovely cottage separate from the main house. It is a single large room with a coal stove, comfortable chairs and views out onto Bantry Bay and across to Castletownbere and the Beara peninsula. The location is a bit remote, but worth the drive. There is a great selection of books and DVDs if you want to lounge inside. We'd recommend staying at least a week or more and exploring the Sheep's Head walks and local area in depth. The breakfast options and quality is excellent, and the owners are friendly and accommodating. We checked in, and got a recomendation from our host to take a walk out to the lighthouse if we had time. We did, and stretching the legs sounded like a great idea after all the driving. We were given good directions and a bit of history and handed the keys. We admired the cottage and view, unloaded and headed back out for a walk to the lighthouse.
We found parking at a visitor's center. It was closed as were most sites this time of year. The path went two ways and we took a walk up to a lookout/lighthouse to the North. The path isn't difficult but does have a good climb until you reach a building at the top. It provides some shelter from the wind, but has no windows, just openings. From here you have a good view towards Bantry Bay and the Beara and in the other direction towards Mizen Head. Many pictures later we walked back down to the visitor center (still closed).
This time we headed mostly West and a bit South along a track that supposedly led to the Lighthouse. The track varied between a semi road to a path but never entirely out of the wind. Many cows along the way looking at us skeptically. Cows are big critters with no fences separating you from them, but they didn't attack or show any inclination towards carnivorous activity so we passed them by. This is pretty long walk, we estimated about four miles or so. Beautiful rolling hills with views of the sea. We didn't walk along the (probably more accessible) ocean/cliff side. Just as we were giving up hope of finding the end of the peninsula when we found a big open area down a slope below us. It looked like the start of a clearing or potential stone circle with missing or shortened stones. On closer inspection turns out it was a helepad. Just down from that was the Lighthouse. More of a one person lighthouse with standing room only. We didn't walk all the way out to the lighthouse as we were tired and it was a long way back. We suddenly realized that it was getting late and as the sun set early, we both needed to find food before the town shut down and needed to get to the car before dark. We hoofed it back as quickly as we could with a few photo stops. We stuck closer to the ocean and made better time. This is probably the recommended route and is much more level. Very tired, hungry and wind blown we got back to the (still closed) visitor center.
We made a quick drive into Kilcrohane to see what there was to eat. We decided on the way to get food to take back to the cottage instead of finding a restaurant. The little store was cluttered with all matter of interesting things and fortunately was still open. We grabbed a loaf of local homemade bread, some sausage, cheese and a fruit tart. A bottle of wine rounded out the small feast and a few Euros lighter we hopped back into the car. We headed up the road to turn around and found ourselves facing Fitzpatrick's Pub. A place out of the wind, a fire, a pint and a nice sit down to review the pictures sounded in order so we parked and went in. A fire burned in a large fireplace cluttered with memorabilia and a small dog was stretched on the stone floor soaking in the heat. A couple of locals were chatting with the owner and we ordered pint and took a small table near the fire. We noticed a map of the Sheep's Head with all the walks marked on display for sale. A must have if for no other reason than to see where we'd been today. One pint led to a second and we had a chat with the proprietor. All in all it sounded like the Sheep's Head was a good place to come back to for a longer visit.
Back at the cottage we ate a dinner by the coal stove and then sipped wine and relaxed. Awhile later Karen pulled out the gifts for our friends in Castletown and the wrapping paper we'd purchased and did some magic with them. Wine gone, stomachs full and very tired we slid under the covers of the cozy bed and drifted off to sounds of crackling fire, wind and waves.
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We woke with anticipation of breakfast from our host's description of the various options (including kippers). We showered and did the various other things that one does to get ready to have breakfast served to you by total strangers. We made the short walk to the main house and had a seat in the sun porch. The air was chilly outside but nicely warmed inside. Some Christmas decorations and a small tree made you remember that it was December. The table was already laden with an assortment of fruit, juices and cereals. We placed our order for eggs and smoked salmon and kippers. It arrived quickly and we tucked in to the small breakfast feast. We were already regretting that we could only stay one day here. So much to see (and eat). We quizzed our hosts further about the area in anticipation of a return trip. After breakfast we went to pet the donkey noses before packing up. We could see the pig from a distance and didn't want to get closer in case we encountered him on our table on our next visit. We settled up and loaded quickly and with final goodbyes we headed up the hill and towards Castletownbere on the Beara peninsula.
We took the other road along the SE side of the Sheep's Head peninsula. There were wonderful views all along the way. Many small towns with small piers full of fishing boats. Quite a bit of wildlife as well from swans to herons. We didn't stop long in any one place as the sky was spitting rain on occasion and it was quite cold and windy. This route is more populated than the top road and definitely worth a revisit and a slower drive.
In Bantry it was Market Day, much more interesting than our prior visit, and we spent some time wandering around in the stalls. We purchased some wreaths to give as gifts, but nothing else struck our fancy or was something we wanted to cart around. It was the equivalent of a US garage sale, complete with paperbacks and knickknacks, except that it was concentrated in one area and had food. There were quite a few Christmas related booths and displays. All in all, a good way to kill an hour or so.
We made a stop in Glengarriff and visited the Quills Woolen Market, one of our frequent stops. We were hoping that because it was off season, we'd find some good deals on woolen goods, linen and crystal. We did find some more pieces of John Hinde Seanfhocal pottery (it has Irish proverbs in Irish and English), but are still looking for the teapot! There were some good deals in several of the shops in the town. Definitely a good time to shop.
The drive to Castletown was uneventful. The sky was still grey and the wind was blowing and there wasn't much to see along the way. Not that the views weren't nice, the light just wasn't good. There was a good deal of road construction along the way, or at least evidence of it that made the trip a bit slower. We arrived in the town with no incident and drove to the main square and found parking. We'd been here a few times and knew our way around, especially where to eat! Brookhaven is where we were going to stay, but we had a better offer! We stayed with the Harringtons in the apartment above the restaurant and butcher shop they own. They had rented out the house to someone associated with the Dunboy Castle restoration for an extended period, but we all managed just fine. We highly recommend their restaurant Jack Patrick's in town, just across from McCarthy's Bar near the town square. Say Karen and Scott sent you, but only if you're going to be well behaved. We walked into the butcher shop (not sure what it is now as John retired in late 2008) and said hi to John and he let us into the restaurant and chased down Cathy. We had a great reunion as it had been about a year and a half or more since we'd seen them. Julie and Conor wandered in soon and we got reacquainted upstairs. Later we sat down to a great steak dinner and further merriment involving Christmas crackers and paper crowns ensued. Our energy was flagging, but we let ourselves be dragged down the street to a pub to watch the set dancing. The place was lively. When we first arrived it looked like standing room only. A set had just ended and everyone was getting a refill. We found a spot at a table in the back and settled in to watch. It was to loud for much chatting, but Julie and Karen made a good attempt. We lasted for about two hours and called it a night and walked back along the dark main street. Back at the apartment we were shown to our room and quickly got into bed. We could still hear quite a bit of activity around town as we slowly faded out.
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We got up a little late (for us) and showered and headed downstairs. We had breakfast with John and Cathy, eggs, rashers and toast and lots of coffee. We were off for a tour of the peninsula with Julie as the driver. She had been driving a short time, but a month or two on Irish roads is like five years in the US. Cathy, Julie and the two Americans got in the car and off we went. We headed for Healy Pass. Along the way we were treated to family history, stories about Julie's school, stories about the area and jokes about Americans (to be fair, there were some about the Irish as well). Healy Pass was windy and pretty much the same as our prior visit. You could see miles in each direction. One one side is Co. Cork and the other is Co. Kerry.
As we headed down the other side into Co. Kerry the road narrowed and headed into woods. We wove around the corners at a good rate while hearing about nosebleeds, Irish history and the Hag of Beara. We didn't stop to see the Hag of Beara. It is a large rock somewhere between Eyeries and Ardgroom. It is said to look like the face of a woman looking out to sea as she waits for the return of her husband, Manannan the God of the Sea. Along the way we heard stories about a swimming hole and were taken to a small lane and piled out of the car for a walk across a field. All of a sudden the ground opened up to a rocky pond fed by a small waterfall. The weather wasn't conducive to swimming and at any rate we'd neglected to bring swimming apparel. Along the way Julie got a phone call from a friend and chatted away in Irish as we zipped along. By now we'd rounded the point of the peninsula and were heading back towards Castletown. We made a stop at a park that had been recently pretty much clear cut. Julie was very upset about the situation and it did look pretty horrible. We walked along a path that had a lot of trees dragged along it. We could see a lighthouse in the distance and if you looked in that direction, things were very scenic. We took a quick look at Dunboy Castle, still undergoing renovation, but didn't go to very far down the road or visit the ruins of the O'Sullivan castle.
Back in Castletown is was nearing dinner. We took a walk around town to stretch the legs and to see a bit more of the layout than we'd been able to in the past visits. We walked along the waterfront and looked at the fishing boats and then headed East towards the church. There was quite a bit of activity and even more as we came back towards the square. A lot of men from the town were erecting a Christmas tree in the center of the square. Like any good community effort it required two or three to do the work and five or more to supervise and offer advice. We watched for awhile and there was a lot of activity with a chainsaw that resolved without loss of limbs (except for the tree). We all gathered back in the restaurant for another excellent meal, but without as much festivities. Julie was heading off with friends for a night in Cork and Conor was meeting friends for more local activity later. We hung out at the table for awhile chatting and then went out for a walk and to see how the tree was faring.
There was now a lift of some kind and the tree was up. They were now attempting to string lights, decorate and get a star place atop. Again, it seemed to be a community effort with lots of stops for deep consideration. They were pretty diligent about the whole thing, and we didn't see any Guinness breaks although there could be some pints strategically placed out of site. I imagine that there was some consumed at the completion of the job. The light was fading quickly, and the town was lit by strings of lights on the street and by the tree in the square. We took a few night pictures of the street, McCarthy's Bar and the now fully lit tree before calling it a night. During the night we could hear voices singing as people moved between pubs. We figured Conor was probably out there somewhere, but didn't know his singing voice. (Side note: Conor stayed with us for a few months during the summer in 2008. I don't remember hearing his singing voice then either, but we did hear him say "what's the worst that could happen" a lot when faced with a new American experience.)
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Time to bid farewell to the Harringtons and Castletown and head for the dreaded Co. Kerry. We packed up, said our goodbyes and headed out early enough to arrive in Dingle for some food shopping. We were told everything shuts down from the 24th for a few days and we should stock up on food. We decided not to go over Healy Pass, but go back along the same route to Glengarriff and then to Co. Kerry via Kenmare. Along the way we made a few stops for pictures. One at an old stone cottage with a interestingly painted green mailbox. We'd do our best to avoid Killarney or at least stay on the main road and not get into the city. The day was pretty grey and cold and windy in any exposed area. Ladies view was pretty brown, but we still stopped as it is impressive at any time of year. We traveled over some very small roads and narrow passes in the Black Valley in the Killarney forest, and finally made it into Dingle.
In Dingle we pulled into the parking lot for the bigger market. It was packed both inside and out. We brought our own shopping bags to avoid being charged for bags (see travel tips). We had a good time wandering the aisles and getting reacquainted with Irish products. Shockingly Guinness is more expensive in Ireland than in the US. We found some nice pork chops, chicken, rashers, sausages and other breakfast items. The produce looked good and we added potatoes and carrots to the growing pile of groceries. Club soda and a variety of biscuits including McVities rounded out the purchases and we queued up for payment. Once through the line we carted everything to the car and piled in for the drive to Ballyferriter. Of course we took the long route around Slea Head. The weather was still grey and blustery, but we reveled in the familiar route and sites. Nothing had changed much and we soon we were passing Clougher Head and the Louis Mulcahy Pottery Studio and arrived at Suantra Cottages.
Cottages is our regular haunt when on the Dingle peninsula. It is located
near Ballyferriter and has a beautiful view of the ocean. If you're looking
for a small house with a kitchen to rent, you can't go wrong. There are three
separate cottages with three rooms in each. They are identical, so it doesn't
matter which one you get. You can easily sleep 5-6 people. Small fireplaces
provide a good opportunity to explore peat as fuel. It smells wonderful and
actually puts off a good amount of heat if you get it going well. There is
also a bookshelf with a selection of books and maps and information about
site seeing on the peninsula. There are several comfortable chairs for stretching
out in front of the fire and reading as well as a small couch. There is a
TV and small radio/cassette player. The TV reception isn't good and there
are only three or four stations, but you didn't come here to watch the telly,
now did you? The kitchen is well stocked and has a stove/oven and a small
refrigerator. The bathroom is large and has a bathtub and shower, something
you don't see often in rental cottages. There are radiators in each room for
heat and I believe a portable one is available for localized heat if necessary.
You do pay for your electricity, so don't get carried away and leave the heat
on all day. You shouldn't really need the heat during the spring, summer and
fall unless the temperature really drops. There are laundry facilities outside
in a detached shed. You can take a nice walk West to Clougher Strand or off
a nearby road through the fields and towards the ocean (see 12/24 below for
this location). This was our third visit, and it feels like home and is highly
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Christmas Eve day in Ireland! Things were open in Dingle, but we didn't do much shopping, mostly browsing. We asked about Wren's Day on the 26th and were assured that things were going on all day starting at 6 AM (not so much). We had apple cake, tiramisu and coffee in a small cafe, mostly to get warm. Shops were closing early so we headed back to Ballyferriter. Along the way we stopped at the gift shop on Slea Head. Strangely enough it was called Tig Slea Head. The car park and view point nearby is a must stop regardless of the weather. You can see the Great Blasket Island and the surf pounding below. Careful on the stairs as they are usually wet from the spray and very slippery as Karen found. They are particularly unyielding when you land on them. The weather had improved, still cold but the sun was out with interesting clouds. We found some good deals at Tig Slea Head including a lovely black and grey wool blanket. We also found a few more pieces of the John Hind Seanfhocal pottery. Still no teapot. If anyone has one to sell, let us know.
In the late afternoon we bundled up in warm clothes and headed out for one of our favorite spots on the peninsula. We walked West a short distance to a side road on the right. It is a narrow dirt lane between fences. It is a long walk out to the water. The roads bends a few times and then heads back towards the ocean. When you arrive there is an old pier with a boat ramp. It could still be in use, but is pretty battered. The light was starting to get really good, coming in low as the sun was sinking. We took a number of pictures in this area and went down into the area around the ramp. There was some interesting stuff washed up like old nets and plastic floats, but nothing worth carting home. We'd found some fossils in this area before and Karen immediately set out to find some more. Further along is an area that sticks out further into the ocean. It also has some large holes that go all the way down to the sea level and you can hear the water coming in and out with the waves and tide. These are not something you'd want fall into and they are hard to see until you're right on top of them, so proceed with caution. It also makes me a bit suspicious of the solidity of the rock beneath, and whether more holes might be ready to open up at a moments misstep.
Karen continued her semi successful search for interesting rocks and fossils while the light remained. Further North was a small waterfall and open area with a rocky beach. The waves were somewhat shielded by large rocks and came in more softly onto the rocks. This allowed for a longer exposure on a tripod rendering the water in a milky looking way. It also worked on the waterfall. The rocks here were harder and not the fossil time like on the other side where Karen was foraging.
The light began to drop off quickly and it became to dark for good pictures. As we turned back the sky really lit up with the setting sun. We shot a number of pictures on the way back of the changing colors and reflections of the sunset off the road and water. A full moon began its rise on the other side and began to cast its yellow orange light against the deep blue of the sky.
We returned back to the cottage a bit chilled and hungry. We fixed
dinner (good pork chops) and browsed through the TV channels while we waited
for 9 PM to roll around. We'd found a flyer for Midnight Mass at the Ballyferriter
church. The mass and Christmas carol singing were in Irish and we were looking
forward to the experience. We arrived shortly before nine, as it appeared
did everyone else. We found parking and went in. Standing room only. We hung
out in back with the other ne'er-do-wells, hoodlums and reprobates, most of
whom looked like they'd been rousted from the pub and were heading back as
soon as this was over. Song sheets were handed out and we knew enough Irish
to be able to pronounce the words and sort of sing along. The mass was short
and after a few more songs, the crowd rapidly dispersed to their respective
homes and pubs.
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Christmas day arrived. We had the tree and a few small gifts for each other, but basically being here was our present. We got up late, lounged around and finally got into the car and took a drive around Slea Head and up and down some back roads. We passed Rahanine Castle, went up on Clougher Head and wherever else we thought might be interesting. The roads were completely empty, no sign of life anywhere. We headed back to the cottage for some more relaxing. We cooked a roast chicken dinner with roasted veg, it was wonderful. Some more reading in front the fire and then TV browsing. We discovered Eastenders which we continued to watch on and off the rest of the trip.
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Got up early for St. Stephen's /
Wren's day activities.
Some breakfast and off to Dingle. The town was deserted, empty streets, pubs
and everything closed. After sitting on a bench and contemplating our situation,
we decided to pay a visit to Minard Castle. The castle
lies above a bay with scenic cliffs surrounding it.
While we were there in 2005, a German TV crew was shooting something or other to the East of the castle. They had taken most of the parking and were extremely rude. They appeared to have left by 2007.
A small stream runs down
along the hill and into the sea. The castle is picturesque from every angle.
In particular walk down along the rocks and take pictures back up towards
the castle. Be careful walking along the rocks as they are round, slippery
and tend to roll underfoot. It would be easy to sprain or break and ankle.
Keep your camera in a bag until you reach a spot you wish to take pictures
from. While you’re walking on the rock,
you’ll need both hands for stability. While there isn’t a lot to see
except the castle, the area is very beautiful and well worth the short drive
to see. We found the holy well that we'd heard about as well. It is just
a little West of the castle. A short walk leads to the well. We wandered near
the castle. Not enough to be in the range of falling rocks and certainly not
inside, but much closer than before.
We found the holy well that we'd heard about as well. It is just a little West of the castle. A short walk leads to the well. We wandered near the castle. Not enough to be in the range of falling rocks and certainly not inside, but much closer than before.
Raheenyhooig Burial Ground lies on the other side of Dingle bay from Dingle
town. The old graveyard at Raheenyhooig serves the detached portion of the
parish on the
Back in Dingle we wandered the streets some more looking for St. Stephen's Day / Wren's Day adventures. We found a possible dinner location, a Chinese restaurant that actually looked like it was good. The menu had authentic sounding names. We'd had other Chinese food in Ireland and only tried it once per visit. Our average hadn't been good. There were a few people about on the street, but they were shuffling along like something out of Night of the Living Dead. Had we missed it all, had it happened the night before? We found an open pub with McCarthy's over the door on Goat Street. Well if it worked for Peter McCarthy in his book McCarthy's Bar , it was good enough for us. We went in and looked around. Many of the chairs and stools were up and it was pretty dark. One gentleman sat at the bar and the bartender/owner was chatting away. We pulled up a stool at the bar and Karen had tea and while I went for a Guinness to get things started. We had the usual chat about weather, our travels, America, politics and then we were off. We got some local gossip, information about the events of the day. While we were chatting a couple came in dressed up. The first Wren's Day people we'd seen. They were collecting for some charity or other. After they left the bartender told us that was the custom. However many of the people collecting were their own charity, the two just out the door being among those. The bartender said to be at the bottom of the roundabout by O'Flaherty's Pub at 2 - 2:30 PM when things would really get started. A far cry from the 6 AM we'd heard earlier. We were more inclined to believe this report as it was now well after 1 PM. To kill time we wandered down to the waterfront and saw these characters prepping for mayhem.
We arrived a bit early at the roundabout and found a crowd gathering. There was a variety of costumes from the traditional straw to Big Bird and Santa Claus. Karen found a good spot on a wall to oversee the festivities while I got in close to the activity. People were prepping for a parade and getting banners rolled out and costumes assembled and instruments warmed up. Sometime around 2:30 PM things fired up and the music started. The group was preceded by a man in a horse costume, then the banner with the group name and then the miscellaneous characters in tow. Several of these groups paraded around town with the name of their street or area on the banner. There were frequent pub breaks for collection of money and assimilation of warming beverages, Guinness being the preferred.
We headed over a street and up and saw the first of many abandoned glasses on a wall. By evening there was a good deal of glassware on the street, intact and otherwise. We took up station in a new spot and soon another group came parading along. The crowd on the street was increasing and sticking our heads into a few pubs, so was the crowd inside. We alternated between pubs and streets to get the full flavor of the day. We spent some time in An Droichead Beag or the Small Bridge Bar, Dick Mack's, The Dingle Pub, O'Currains Pub, and a few others who's names escape us. O'Currrains or Currans depending on who you want to believe was almost invisible from the front, looking more like a shop than a pub. Inside we found a group of locals hiding out from the mayhem outside. We joined them for a few pints and heard a few good stories from several colorful characters. Everyone was full of good cheer and Guinness. All ages were welcome and people were rowdy but well behaved. Dick Mack's was especially lively. It is a combination store and pub with everything from shoes to toothpaste one the walls.
Somewhere along the line we thought that a little food might be good to settle the Guinness and get us out of the pints and mayhem. We headed back to the Chinese Restaurant and through the door. It must have been about 4 PM or so as that is when it said it opened. We were the only customers and were shown to a seat. We wanted hot food and wanted it hot. We asked for hot and sour soup to start and for them to make it hot. They did, it was one of the more spicy versions we'd had. The rest of the food was good, but not as spicy. A few other small groups wandered in, maybe we'd started a trend. Back on the street, the action was still hot and heavy. The Wrens were still marching, although the gaps between sessions seemed longer. It was getting colder and we either needed more Guinness or think about heading back. We visited another pub by the roundabout that was quieter and then headed back to the car. Along the way we shot some final pictures of the Wrens still marching in the dark. We admired their fortitude and liquid capacity, but we were not going to try and keep up. We took the long route back (of course) to see Slea Head by moonlight. By the time we got there it was so dark there was little to see. Back to the cottage and off to bed.
About Wren's Day
in Irish it is Lá an Dreoilín is celebrated on December 26, St. Stephen's
Day. The tradition was the hunting and killing of a wren, and putting it on
top of a decorated pole. Today artificial wren’s are used for a more PC world.
Then the crowds of mummers, guisers or straw boys celebrate the Wren by dressing
up in straw costumes and masks and pretty much any other costume that strikes
their fancy. These groups are organized by town locations (Quayside Wren,
Main Street Wren…) and are accompanied by drums and a variety of musical instruments
and parade around the town, led by a man in a horse costume. Usually large
banners accompany the group advertising the name of their group with the straw
costumes carrying and leading behind the horse and the rest of the crowd behind.
Money is solicited for charity, but also seems to be individually collected
for personal charity. The celebration could have druidic roots, and is practiced
in Ireland, Wales and the Isle of Man.
The Chieftains have a version of this song in their excellent live Christmas album The Bells of Dublin.
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We woke to a grey and stormy day. We leisurely got up, breakfasted and then looked out the window at the rain. Eventually we got in the car and took some back routes looking for interesting new sights. We found the Gallurus Castle. Not really much to see as you couldn't get in and the rain was pretty effective in discouraging much poking around. We followed roads until they ended around Ballydavid and in the North and NE part of the peninsula. In better weather we'd have walked some of the paths and trails we found, but ambition was low. Back at Clougher Strand the waves were turning the ocean to foam that the wind blew up onto the car park. Big clumps of yellowish white fluff was so thick we had to run the windshield wipers and you had to be quick when taking a picture. Near Dunquin we found the old graveyard and the grave to Tomas O'Crohan who wrote The Islandman. The book recounts life on the Great Blasket Island and is probably one of the best records of life on the island along with Peig Sayers autobiography Peig and Maurice O'Sullivan's Twenty Years A-Growing. The graveyard was overgrown with weeds, very lonely and quiet. It sits adjoining the Dunquin church, just off the main road. Peig Sayer's is buried in another graveyard near Dunquin with a beautiful view of the island. We picked up some snacks in a small store, our usual favorites. Some taytos, candy and soda. If the Irish can't make good potato chips, who can? Of course they do come up with some odd combinations. The bacon and cheese is a bit like pork rinds and cheez whiz, and the vinegar can be a bit overwhelming.
We drove into Dingle to do some grocery shopping. As always we were struck by the variety of some of the vegetables and the color and freshness. The cabbage especially struck us and Karen snapped the picture to the left. People probably thought we were weird, taking pictures of veg in the store, but we just smile at them. The town was pretty quiet after last night's festivities. A number of empty and semi empty pints still stood guard along walls and in doorways. We looked through some shops that were open, but didn't find any great deals or things we couldn't live without. We did find a child's sweater with our future granddaughter's name on the label. We were not sure if this was a sign to buy it or just be amused. We agreed to think about it and return on our way out of town if we decided to purchase. We drove back to the cottage to do some laundry and wait out the rain. It never let up, so we stayed inside the rest of the day and did some cleanup and recharged our selves and our camera batteries in anticipation of better weather tomorrow.
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The weather looks better today. High clouds with patches of blue sky and sun. Still very cold and windy in exposed spots, but not the grey skies and rain of yesterday. This looked like a good day to hit a couple of our favorite spots for some pictures and poking around. We finished up breakfast, muesli today, taking a break from the eggs and rashers. We're still ambiguous about Irish orange juice. It has an odd taste, it could be the oranges or perhaps the processing. It isn't bad, just different. Packing is much different here, much more sensible. The plastic bottles are easily crushed and just about everything recycles. There are large bins in every town that people drop their glass and plastic into.
Our first stop was on the way to Slea Head. Along the road a fence stretched off across a green field towards the ocean. Then off to what is probably our favorite spot on the peninsula. Just down from Tig Slea Head is a curve in the road. There are stone walls, the remains of a beehive hut and a roofless house or barn. In the background you can see Dunmore Head and the Great Blasket and the waves come in with lots of white caps. We started up at the viewpoint and worked our way down. We hopped the fence and walked out onto the hillside causing some concern to the sheep there. We also took a side road up the hill. The road is very steep and we wouldn't recommend this as it is hard to turn around or maneuver well. We got some dirty looks from one the the farmers living up there (sorry Sir) as we tried to turn around in his driveway and then realized it was the perfect photo spot. We were taking pictures out of the car window. If we'd had longer I would have gotten out and tried some different angles. If you're going to do this, walk up there and ask permission if anyone is around.
Variations on a theme. The photos below were taken of pretty much the same area at Cuminole North looking toward Dunmore Head with variations in camera placement. Some were on the main road and some were from above on a side road. The light was quite good at the time and often is at this location. We probably spent two to three hours here. All photos taken with a Nikon D80 with a Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED or a Nikon 8400.
Our next stop was the Kilmalkedar Monastic site. Kilmalkedar can be hard to find without a map. It is in the vicinity of the Gallarus Oratory, just a bit farther east. It has a short drive past a sheep pasture and minimal parking along the dirt road. There are several signs around the site telling about the buildings and history. The site contains a nice church with many fine carvings and stonework. The church has fairly intact walls, but no roof. You can enter the church through the front doorway and walk through the different rooms. Pay special attention to the stonework on the arches and windows. At certain times of day, the sun comes over the remaining arched roof supports in a very striking fashion. The church is surrounded by a graveyard that is fairly overgrown with trees, ivy, and tall grass. We walked around the graveyard and viewed the alphabet stone and sundial stone, stone cross, and ogham stone on the grounds. These are quite old and unique to the site. These are marked on one of the signs with a bit of history about their creation and use. The site was a real contrast with the overly pristine Gallarus Oratory. We preferred the wild look. There are a number of old stones, crypts, and other grave markers, some are still legible and some are quite new. Look for the black headstone near the pasture entrance with a rocket carved on it. This time out the ram in the field was particularly interesting as his horns had grown in a way that made him look like he was wearing spectacles. He was fairly compliant as a photo subject.
We drove into Dingle to do some more shopping as the stores were fully open. We also needed to check our email and bank balance. We find that Internet Cafe's are perfect for quickly checking email and doing some bookkeeping. Much better than lugging around a laptop and looking for a connection. We spent some time and money at An Cafe Liteartha on various Irish language and history books. This is a great bookstore, find it and poke around while you're in Dingle. We spent a pleasant hour in O'Flaherty's Pub where the Wren's day parade had started. Lots of great memorabilia from the area on the walls.
Back at Clougher Strand the waves had calmed considerably. The foam covering everything the day before had dispersed. The tide as out and we took a short walk on the beach and a few pictures. We headed back to the cottage and fixed dinner and settled in for the evening.
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Monday, June 28, 2010