Going to Ireland - Tips and Suggestions Welcomed

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To Westport, To Galway

Pictures for this part of the tale: Westport to Galway Sept 21-22 - a set on Flickr

September 21 - time to hit the road! I caught the shuttle back to the airport to pick up my rental car. I'd been told my multiple sources not to drive in Dublin: not only is it unnecessary with their great public transportation options, but it's an absolute nightmare. Plus, I was told, if you pick up your car on the way out of Dublin, then your first driving experience is on the motorway, and it's pretty hard to mess that up! Works for me.

Picked up my little blue Ford Fiesta and took my sweet time getting my directions and maps out of my bags, and familiarizing myself with the car. Get in on the right side. Shift with the left hand. I learned to drive on stick, and it comes back easily if I'm back home and driving my parents' cars ... would it come back as easily here?

Yes! Honestly, driving was a piece of cake. For the most part. Reverting back to stick was easy, and shifting with the left hand was second nature after five minutes. The hard part? Being aware of where the left edge of your car was. Any beatings my car took, it was all on the left side.

My biggest problem was keeping my left wheels on the road. I'd be tootling around down the motorway, when my left wheels would hit the shoulder. Easy to drive in the left lane .... harder to keep yourself from veering left.

Right turns were tricky as well, from the left lane. A few days later, I would make a right turn onto a very narrow bridge with stone walls, and SCRRRRRRRRRRRRAPE! Oops. I didn't see any marks on the car when I got out later to check, but I know I hit that bridge wall.

A few instances of my left wheels going up on a curb on turns through narrow village streets as well, but that was the worst of my "mishaps" ... although "mishaps" seems like a strong word. I kept all my mirrors, which, from what I've read from other travelers, is an accomplishment in and of itself.

The motorway was indeed easy, and a relatively straight shot across the country. I'd had plans of seeing a few sights along the way, including Moydrum Castle, the castle ruins on the cover of U2's "The Unforgettable Fire" album. But once I was on the road, I realized I just wanted to get straight to Westport. The directions to this place that I'd found online were kind of vague, and with my first day driving, I didn't want to be dealing with "vague."

I went into this trip as prepared as I could be, and that included directions from place to place via Google maps. It was a bit excessive, as the signs for the roadways were (most of the time) well-marked, and getting from city to city was not hard.

Getting around WITHIN a city? Not so much. I hit my first roundabout entering Westport, and looked for the street as marked on my directions. No match. The same thing happened on the way to Galway - my directions were useless. D'oh!

So I drove into Westport not really knowing where I was going, and unable to see anything resembling street signs. In Dublin, the street signs were up high, usually attached to buildings. In Galway, the signs I saw were low to the ground (when I saw them at all). In Westport? No idea.

Westport is small, but the streets were narrow, and there was a lot of traffic, so it was a bit nerve-wracking driving blindly through the streets, trying to look for street signs as well as trying to make sure I didn't bang the left side of the car into parked cars in the narrow streets and take out someone else's mirror.

But I lucked out, and after only a few pointless turns, I saw the hotel - relief! I parked, checked in, and went to find a pub to reward my first day of successful driving with my first Guinness.

Matt Malloy's was the pub where I'd been told was THE place to go in Westport. It's owned by a member of The Chieftains, and is known for great traditional music. So I popped in and ordered a half pint of Guinness.

Now, while I'd never been a big fan of the stuff, in recent months I'd decided that it wasn't so bad, and would occasionally have one if I was out with friends. But everyone had told me "Oh, you have to have one in Ireland! It tastes so much different there, so much better!" Apparently the stout does not travel well, which is why it supposedly tastes better in Ireland.

Call me a bad beer drinker, but I honestly couldn't tell the difference. It was just okay. I had one more half pint in Galway the next day, and still couldn't taste any difference, so from then on I switched to Bullmer's cider (which, for the record, is called Magner's everywhere else but in Ireland. It's delicious!).

I wanted to see if I could walk to the harbor, and was told it wasn't a long walk, and there was a path that would take me out that way. So I headed out. It took me through the grounds of a swanky hotel complex, then through some lovely woods, and then I could see the quay along the harbor, and the ocean in the distance. It was still quite a ways off though, and I'd been walking for over a half hour already. And I wasn't really wearing the right shoes to walk another 20 minutes or so before having to turn around. I turned back without getting all the way to the harbor, but it was a nice walk anyway.

Moseyed around town a bit, had the worst meal of my trip (pizza that was the weirdest pizza I'd ever had; I heard another table of people complaining about theirs as well). Hung out in my hotel for a while, killing time until 9:30, when the nightly session would start at Matt Molloy's.

The session was in a back room, and there was music already going when I got there, a woman playing guitar and singing. People crowded into that room and spilled out into the rest of the pub. After the woman was done, the regular session musicians arrived, and started playing the expected traditional music.

They didn't play songs that I knew, but almost everyone in the room seemed to know them, and sung along enthusiastically. In between songs, an old man would tell a story or a joke. I swear I missed a few punchlines due to his thick accent. I was wondering if he had thickened his accent on purpose for the benefit of us tourists in attendance.

I wasn't keen on spending just one night in a city, but there were some things near Westport (County Mayo) that I did really want to see, and it was just far enough outside of Galway that it made sense to do the one night in Westport.

So the next morning, I set out to head out of town .... and it only took me a few wrong turns to finally head in the right direction!

Just outside of town is Croagh Patrick, a 2,500 foot mountain. According to tradition, St Patrick went up the summit in 441 AD, fasted there for 40 days and then banished all the snakes and demons from Ireland. But even before Christian times, it was a sacred destination for the Celts as well.

Nowadays, on the last Sunday of each July, it's a site of pilgrimage, where climbers will take the long way up (the pilgrimage route), some of whom will walk barefoot! I had no intention of doing anything remotely like that, but had considered taking the "easy" way up, which I'd been told could take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, considering how good a hiker you are. I figured I could do it in less than four, for sure.

But faced with the mountain in the fog and mist, that plan quickly went by the wayside, so I just went up a little ways to take some pictures, and then headed back down, passing a class of teenaged boys and their teachers who were on their way up. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't climb, as it would have been pretty late by the time I'd gotten to Galway. Another thing to save for next time.

Across the street from the mountain is a famine memorial, a sculpture of a coffin ship symbolizing the mode of transport for the famine-stricken people fleeing the country.

There's some information at this site, if you want to read more: The History Place - Irish Potato Famine: Coffin Ships
During the Famine, an estimated half-million Irish were evicted from their cottages. Unscrupulous landlords used two methods to remove their penniless tenants. The first involved applying for a legal judgment against the male head of a family owing back-rent. After the local barrister pronounced judgment, the man would be thrown in jail and his wife and children dumped out on the streets. A 'notice to appear' was usually enough to cause most pauper families to flee and they were handed out by the hundreds.
The second method was for the landlord to simply pay to send pauper families overseas to British North America. Landlords would first make phony promises of money, food and clothing, then pack the half-naked people in overcrowded British sailing ships, poorly built and often unseaworthy, that became known as coffin ships.

From there, I was taking a detour on the way to Galway, rather than just taking the straight-shot down there. I'd read about the Doo Lough Valley and it sounded like it was gorgeous scenery to drive through. And it was. There were a few other cars that I passed, but for the most part, it was desolate and silent, the only other sound being the wind.

It was still a bit foggy, so the mountains were partially-covered, but that just added to the eerie stillness of the area. I encountered my first sheep in the road, and so far, this was the narrowest road I'd driven. But there are always lots of little pull-outs on both sides of the road, so when you meet an approaching car, one of you just pulls over into one and lets the other one pass, and then you give the little Irish finger wave to acknowledge the other. (I find myself doing it still here in the States, even two weeks later!) The pull-outs also make handy places to stop and take pictures, as every time you turned a new corner, there was something beautiful to take a picture of. And the sun that did filter through the clouds just added to the beauty, as the light played with the mountains and the fog and the colors.

(A note on the sheep: they were everywhere in the countryside, and they were dotted with color, like they'd been spray-painted. This was just to make sure the farmers knew whose sheep were whose. So you'd see sheep with blobs of pink or blue on their backs. I don't think I saw any sheep without these markings.)

The West was badly impacted by the Famine, and driving through this area, there's another marker to memorialize yet another horrible event from that time.

In March of 1849, hundreds of starving people walked the 10 miles from Louisburgh down to the Delphi Lodge hoping to get food for their families, or be declared destitute to gain entry to the workhouses. They were turned away (despite having been told to go do the lodge for assistance), and many died on the walk back to Louisburgh.

I hadn't planned on stopping in Cong, just wanting to get down to Galway to my B&B, but, as per usual with me, I had to pee, so I stopped to walk around and find a pub to slip into for the restrooms. I ended up visiting Cong Abbey, which was just lovely. It was founded in the 7th century, but after being attacked in 1203, it was rebuilt in the early 13th century. The ruins seen there today date back to that reconstruction.

Made it to Galway ... and once again, my Google directions were useless. I circled the roundabout a few times trying to decide which way to go, and after two false starts and backtracking, I decided to follow the signs to the city center, as I knew the neighborhood I was staying in (Salthill) was west, along the Bay, and I had to go through the city to get there.

Sure enough, I started seeing signs for Salthill. The traffic was awful, though, the worst I encountered in Ireland. picture rush hour traffic in a mid-size US city. The plop that traffic into an Irish city full of old, narrow streets. Ugh!

Finally made it to my B&B (after having to stop and ask for directions, as I could not, again, find any street signs). Lovely B&B, right by the Bay. Settled myself in and set out for a walk down the promenade. Tons of people out and about, walking, jogging, playing with their dogs on the beach, swimming ... yeah, swimming. I have no idea how cold that water was, but the B&B owner assured me it wasn't anything resembling "warm." There was even a little pier with a diving board at the end of the promenade where the brave (or crazy) souls entered the water.

Had dinner at a cozy restaurant/pub, beef and Guinness stew - yum! This place had the best brown bread I had anywhere in Ireland. It was like candy to me. Bliss.
A few pics:




View from Croagh Patrick:


Cong Abbey:



Galway Bay:

Great travelogue and photos too!

Was it really cold? From some of your photos it almost looks like you were in winter gear...makes me re-think my idea of going this time of year.
You're never really too far from the sea especially since most places in Ireland are coastal, and everything is quite exposed so it can get fairly chilly at this time of year quite quickly and there is always the rain.

Anyway some really amazing photos there, the sunset over the Liffey one was spectacular.
Thanks! :) More to come! I'm already behind on compiling the next posts. *sigh*

I felt cold my entire time in Dublin, and I was surprised, because I'd looked at the forecast and figured "oh, it's like early fall in Seattle, no problem."

As I went west, it felt warmer, but I don't know if I had just adjusted, or if it was actually warmer.

The hat was usually on my head only to avoid my hair from becoming so horribly tangled in the wind (not that it did much good - in Dingle, my scalp hurt from unsnarling my hair every time I came inside).

I had a hard time finding a happy medium between being protected against the cold wind and being too warm, because it wasn't that cold, and sometimes humid.
Just wanted to pop in to tell you that I am enjoying your travel notes and your photos. You did a great job capturing the cities, towns you were in.

Gotta say when I came across the Milwaukee Irish Fest picture I got the biggest smile on my face. Just outstanding. Love the Irish Fest.

Can't wait to read/see more from your trip :)
I enjoyed reading your journal and looking at the photos. Glad to hear you got the medical issues sorted before leaving Dublin.
Thanks! And yes, I'm glad I got it sorted as well. Still sorry it got in the way of dinner. :(

Next tale! Galway area (Aran Islands, Connemara).

Link to pics:

Inis Mor: Inis Mor (Aran Islands) Sept 23 - a set on Flickr

Connemara and Galway: Connemara and Galway Sept 24 - 25 - a set on Flickr

September 23 - Breakfast at the B&B was pretty great. Mary (the proprietor) had a buffet with juice, coffee, yogurt, some fruit and cereal, and then a menu with the hot food. I ordered porridge, toast and tea.

"That's it? That's all you're having?" was her constant refrain for all guests the whole time I was there. Most of her clientele were Americans, and even if they ordered 4 things from the menu (one man ordered French toast, porridge, scrambled eggs and something else), and she still said "You sure you don't want anything else? Americans are always on a diet!" Uh, no. This American can't eat ten pounds of food at eight o'clock in the morning, thank you very much. My toast, porridge and tea was delicious. And was plenty.

I could never be European - I like breakfast, lunch and dinner, not having a ginormous breakfast and then not eating until three in the afternoon, and then dinner at eight. I don't do well eating dinner any later than seven, either. Even going to dinner at six, I felt like I was early, still getting the "early bird" specials and eating in fairly empty restaurants. By my last few days in Dingle, I'd actually settled into a mid-afternoon light lunch in the pub and then a dinner at 7 or so ... which is late for me!

Anyway. Today, I was off to the Aran Islands, more specifically Inis Mor, the largest of them. I drove to the ferry in Rossaveal, about a 40-minute drive from Salthill. The ferry ride was only about 20-30 minutes and seemed pretty smooth.

My intent was to rent a bike to get around the island. I hadn't been on a bike in years, but from what I'd read, it seemed pretty doable, and the island is small, and hey - what's that they say about riding a bike? "It's like riding a bike."

But standing there on the island and feeling the wind, I waffled and instead let one of the many mini-bus tour guides talk me into going with him. Ten Euros ended up being a bargain, seeing the whole island and getting a ton of information about everything we saw, as opposed to me huffing and puffing up and down the hilly island, watching out for cars on the narrow roads, and probably only seeing one or two things on the island.

I was in the rickety old van with three Japanese tourists and their own guide - a Japanese girl who lived in Galway. She had an interesting Japanese-Irish accent. Tomas was our tour guide, and he would say something from the driver's seat, and the other guide would translate into Japanese for the others.

I wish I'd taken a picture of a bank we'd passed twice. It was a branch of the Bank of Ireland, and is apparently the smallest bank in all of Europe. It was ridiculously tiny. Also seen (but documented on film!), a clump of trees Tomas called "their forest," as they were the only trees on the whole island.

The island is just filled and covered with stone walls, and by the end of the day, seeing them go by from the moving van was giving me a weird headache. Tomas said they are running out of stones on the island, so if they need to build a new wall, or build a new house, they have to bring stones over from the mainland. It doesn't surprise me - all the stones are in all those walls!

There are about 850 people on Inis Mor ... and about twice as many livestock! We did see some cattle within the stone walls. You might live on one end of the island, and your cattle might be on the other. But as the island is only 31 square kilometers, that's not such a big deal. I didn't see a lot of sheep, and Tomas confirmed that all those famous, beautiful Aran sweaters ... they have to bring in a lot of the wool from the mainland.

As it's part of the Gaeltacht, I heard a lot of Irish, particularly when we'd come back to the van and find Tomas talking to another guide in the language. We passed a school where students from the mainland came to study Irish and immerse themselves in the language.

Tomas let us off at a tower that was the highest point on the island, and it was open, so up we went. There was a ring fort nearby, so we explored that as well. No one else was around and there weren't any signs telling us any information about the fort, but someone later told us it was about 2,000 years old. We went inside, wandered around it, climbed on top of it ... it was pretty amazing. It's a little mind-boggling to be near (or on) something that old. Particularly when you're from America, and most of the historical stuff you'll find is not all that old. Going to Europe just reminds you of how young America is. In case you needed reminding!

Next stop was Dun Aengus, the prime attraction on Inis Mor. Tomas let us off in the tiny village at the bottom of the hill, where we had two hours to have some lunch and then walk up to the fort to explore.

It was about a 15-minute walk up to Dun Aengus, but there was a lot to see along the way: more and more stone walls, fossils in the stones, cliffs and the ocean as we climbed higher and higher. Those were gorgeous - Tomas had said he thought they were better than the Cliffs of Moher despite being shorter, and I had to agree. They were more dramatic with the crashing waves below, and, unlike the Cliffs of Moher, no fence erected, so you had the thrill of windy danger as well.

Dun Aengus is a ring fort on the edge of these cliffs, and it's thought to date back to the Iron Age, although apparently they aren't exactly sure. One of the things we saw was part of a stone structure within the fort that pre-dated the fort itself, likely a home.

There were signs saying not to climb on the fort, and then I realized that maybe we shouldn't have been tromping around on top of the other one earlier. Oops. Sorry, Ireland!

But the first thing we saw when we entered the fort was a handful of girls lying down on the edge of the cliff. As we got closer, we realized why they were lying down - the wind was incredibly strong. Like, blow-you-right-off-the-edge-and-into-the-Atlantic strong.

But if you crawled the twenty feet or so to the edge, lay down and peered over, you're unlikely to meet your untimely death, so we dropped our bags and crawled to the edge with the others. EEEEEEEEE! Camera strap wrapped around my wrist twice, I snapped a couple of pictures and scooted back to a distance where I could safely stand up again. Then we found another precarious spot and took pictures of each other sitting near the edge with the cliffs in the background. Good times.

We walked back down and found Tomas again, and the next stop was the church ruins known as the Seven Churches. Fascinating and beautiful to walk amongst the ruins and the very old headstones ... again interspersed with newer. There are three cemeteries on the island .... and apparently (and unsurprisingly) they are running out of room. The earliest dates on the headstones I could make out were from the early 1900s, but no idea what the oldest are. The original church dates back to the 13th century.

We kept driving, Tomas pointing out things like one of the few remaining thatched roof cottages, tiny houses people built for the leprechauns (no, really!), the cottage from the old documentary "Man of Aran" (now a B&B). We stopped by a beach used by fishermen (a cart full of lobster traps was nearby), and then swung by a seal colony, but alas, did not see any seals.

I bought a sweater at the Aran Sweater Market (you can buy them all over Ireland, but I'm happy to say I have an Aran sweater FROM the Aran Islands), and then it was back on the ferry. I sat on top this time, and bundled up in every layer I had, but it was not nearly as cold and windy as I'd thought it would be.

September 24 -

In all my research and reading for my trip, I think I was most excited to see the Connemara region, since everything I read just went on and on about the stunning scenery. Sign me up!

There are a few popular routes to take through the region, but there were a few things I wanted to see not on the usual route, so I had my drive plotted. Wasn't exactly sure how long it would take me, because I wasn't sure how often I'd want to stop and bum around a place.

As I headed into the region, the landscape was kind of barren and reminded me of ranchland in the middle of Wyoming or somewhere like that - some rolling hills, but rocky and empty. The further I went, the greener it became, and the rolling hills gave way to mountains (the mountains in this region are called the Twelve Bens).

I went through a few small towns, stopped at a gift shop that had some funny signs (see the pictures about the Giant of Connemara). Then I headed off the usual route to visit Roundstone, a small fishing town I'd read about that sounded nice.

I had lunch there at a pub, and spent some time wandering around. I saw a sign for a bodhran shop, and had an epiphany: as a musician, wouldn't it be great to bring home a musical instrument as my "big" souvenir? An Irish drum would be great. But alas, the store was closed, and I didn't see a sign showing what time it might be open.

From there, I turned down a narrow, one-way road to go to the beach at Dog Bay, one of those random places I'd read about online that sounded like it was a nice beach, and there was supposed to be a trail to take you to a point that might have been the westernmost bit in Ireland or something, so you could stand there and say "Next stop - Boston!" But while the beach was nice, I didn't see where this trail was supposed to be. Oh well.

Next stop, Clifden, which is the "capital" of Connemara. Made my way through the little windy streets and headed to the Sky Road, one of those "must see" scenic drives with the teeny little roads and hairpin turns.

I wanted to also find the ruins of Clifden Castle, and had heard that they were accessible through the grounds of a hotel. So I stopped there, where I was told at the front desk "Oh yes, go up the road, path is on the left." Great! So I start walking up the road, but don't see any signs. I go up one random path, that leads nowhere. I find another, but that just took me through some muck to get to a little monument to the town's founder. Lovely view, so I took some pictures, and looked around at the surrounding area - nothing that looked even remotely like castle ruins. I never did find it, and looking at pictures of it online now, I'm kind of peeved. I should have gone back and asked again. Oh well. Another reason to go back!

So I continued on the Sky Road, followed the high road per recommendations, and the road got a little hairy as it went up higher and higher. As with many rural Irish roads, there was no shoulder, and here there was just a barbed wire fence - two strands of the barbed wire, mind you - between the road and a cliff. It didn't seem so bad from my seat. Had I been in the passenger seat and mere inches away, however, I might have been full of terror. Not that I was going fast, but that barbed wire wasn't going to provide me much protection if the car veered that way. But it was fine, of course. I met one or two cars coming the other way, but we squeezed past each other.

I reached the view point, and holy cow, was it amazing. The ocean, patchwork green of the fields below, just stunning, postcard-perfect views. Worth the drive!

Then I took a bypass to Cleggan because I heard the beaches there were quiet and beautiful. Yup, beautiful. Hung out there for a while, then continued on.

The scenery now was just glorious - something to gasp at with every turn. Lakes, mountains, sunlight and mist playing with the colors. I drove by the entrance for the Connemara National Park, but it was already mid-afternoon, and I knew I could easily spend hours there. Next time!

Next up was Kylemore Abbey. One of those places I hadn't necessarily planned on visiting, but it was right there, so I had to go. I parked and walked around the area, and got some lovely views without having to pay the fee to actually visit the abbey itself. It's beautiful - picturesque and nestled right into the side of a lush, green mountain. Nearby is a gothic church, and you can see its spires poking out from the trees.

From there, I drove by Lough Inagh, and that was just beautiful as well. Mountains, the lake, sheep, I hated to leave it, as I could have just sat by one of the pullouts for hours. And then it was back down the road I'd started on, back to Salthill.

Just gorgeous scenery the entire day. Connemara was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip. Would do it again in a heartbeat - still more to see.

September 25 -

Finally, the day to finally explore Galway itself. As it was Sunday, I had to kill a lot of time, as most of the shops and whatnot wouldn't be open until noon. The waiter at dinner the night before had told me it was about a 20 minute walk from Salthill to the city center. It was more than twice that - and I'm a fast walker! Oh well. At least it was pretty, and it wasn't raining.

Mary at the B&B had told me about a pub that was having an all-day session for a fundraiser. Tig Coili was the name - pronounced Chee Cole-ly. So I popped in there, ordered a cider, struck up conversations with the people around me. This ended up being the day when I talked to multiple Irish people, instead of tourists. Finally! It was packed the whole afternoon - apparently Sundays are usually hopping days at the pubs anyway, but throw music into the mix, and then you've REALLY got a party.

I ended up being there for several hours, and yes, after I had ordered my first drink, other drinks kept magically piling up in front of me, thanks to my new friends (and one from the bartender). Oof. Needless to say (for those who know me), I was not able to keep up. But it was lovely. Talked to a man who was a farmer on Inis Mor and in town for the day, a man who worked for Aramark, a construction worker, and an old man named Joe Kane who said he was "trouble." I told him I had a friend in California with the last name of Kane, and his eyes lit up: "Is she trouble?" "Oh yes," I reassured him.

I did spend some time wandering through the city center. The Latin Quarter is a pedestrian area, a few blocks of shops and pubs. I bought myself a new claddagh, as even though my current one was actually from Ireland (the shop owner confirmed it after examining my ring; she said that even though it said "made in Ireland," it wasn't always the case; only certain shops are apparently able to say they truly have authentic claddagh rings ... or something like that). It's been the only piece of jewelry I wear consistently, so it seemed like another good souvenir to buy.

Walking back was tough, as I was fighting a strong wind the entire way, and along the promenade I started getting sand in my eyes. I declined getting a cab, as after my day at the pub, I needed the fresh air and exercise! When I started getting sand in my eyes, I started looking around for a cab, but then realized I was almost back at the B&B.

The cliffs at Dun Aengus:


Morning sun over Galway Bay:




Sky Road:


Lough Inagh:


My home on Sunday afternoon:

The end. :(

Glad you guys have been enjoying my extensive yammering. Thanks for reading! :)


The Burren, Cliffs of Moher, driving to Dingle: The Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Dingle - Sept 26 - a set on Flickr

Dingle and nearby: Dingle Sept 27 - a set on Flickr

Dingle and the Slea Head Drive: Dingle, Slea Head Drive Sept 28 - a set on Flickr

Dingle ... to Shannon ... to home: Dingle to Shannon to home, Sept 29 -30 - a set on Flickr

September 26 - This was my longest day of driving, getting from Galway down to Dingle. My directions said three and a half hours, but by this point, I knew better. Got an early enough start that there was barely any traffic, which made getting out of Galway so much easier! Only one wrong turn at a roundabout - easily fixed.

When making my plans, I figured I had time to see some stuff in The Burren or the Cliffs of Moher, but not both, as I wanted to get to Dingle well before it even started to think about getting dark. The drive to The Burren was quick, quiet and lovely. I loved watching the scenery change from the rolling green hills to the more stark, rocky landscape that is The Burren.

I stopped by one of those great church/graveyard ruins that I couldn't resist, and then a few minutes later I had arrived at the one thing I wanted to see in The Burren: the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a portal tomb that dates back to 4200 BC to 2900 BC. Excavations under the monument found that there were between 16 and 22 adults and 6 children buried beneath it, and some other tools and pottery from the Bronze Age. Coooooool!

There was absolutely no one around, which was great. I parked my car and walked to it, and spent some time just staring at the thing in the silence. There was a rope around it, and like a good girl I obeyed the rope and did not go up and touch it, although it was sure tempting, since I was the only one in sight.

The limestones in the field were really cool to look at up close - all sorts of holes, nooks and crannies are all over the stones, with plant life growing abundantly within.

I went back on my way, and saw a sign that the Cliffs of Moher were only 12 kilometers away. Heck yeah, I had time for them! It was a nice side trip through a few small villages, but I have to say, I was underwhelmed. Of course, they're beautiful, but once you've seen them, you've seen them. Not much to do but look at them for a few minutes, or at least stare at them long enough to feel like you've gotten your money's worth. I climbed O'Brien's tower, but even at just 2 Euros it felt like a rip-off, as your view from the top is obstructed by bits of the tower.

I got a little lost getting to the town where I needed to go to take the car ferry across the Shannon. For something as major as a car ferry (even a small one), there weren't that many signs pointing the way. But I finally got there ten minutes before the next departure, and then I was on the smallish ferry across the river.

On the other side, now in County Kerry, the landscape opened up again, and now I was really seeing some of those rolling green hills. As I entered the peninsula itself, things really started getting gorgeous. I stopped multiple times to gawk and take pictures of the patchwork green hills, the cows, the water behind me from where I'd come ... it just got more and more gorgeous.

There are two ways into Dingle - you can take the main road, or you can take the Conor Pass. I'd heard a lot about this road, and what I'd heard included things like "white-knuckle," "scary," "don't go if it's foggy," "stunningly beautiful." The weather was fine, but as I'd been driving all day and wasn't at my freshest, I decided I wasn't up for the challenge. Which was fine - the main road was stunning in its own right. Stopped at almost every pullout and took a ton of pictures.

Found my B&B fairly easily, and it was right across from the harbor, which was lovely. My room had a view! Huzzah. (It was mostly tide water in that part of the harbor, so it looked quite different in the mornings.)

The town itself was small and very charming, lots of little shops and restaurants. From the harbor, you could take boat trips to see Fungie the dolphin (he lives in the harbor and comes out to play whenever a boat comes by - he's quite the Dingle institution), or boat trips to the Blasket Islands.

Had some lunch at a pub, talked with another woman traveling alone ... from the Seattle area! I ran into so many people from Seattle on this trip; it was pretty ridiculous. Did some shopping, as I realized I was in my last port of call and had better get off my butt and get serious about souvenirs and gifts.

Popped into the Dingle Music Shop and told the lady there I was interested in buying a bodhran, so we chatted for a bit, and she told me to pop back in tomorrow, and the owner would be there - he'd show me how to play it, and I could decide if I wanted to buy one or not. (They were a bit pricier than I'd anticipated, but seeing as it's a real and true musical instrument, I shouldn't have been so surprised. I definitely didn't want one of the little 30 Euro souvenir bodhrans. If I was going to buy one, I was going to Buy One.) She also recommended a few pubs where they had nightly sessions.

Went to An Droichead Beag (A Small Bridge) for music, and it was lovely. Chatted with some people from Minneapolis ... and one of them was originally from Wausau! Ha.

One of the Irish gentlemen I was talking to was trying to get me to go up and sing, but it did not feel right to just start singing if there was a lull. Despite what the locals told me about how that's how it worked, it was fine, just do it, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It felt too weird. But time was running out, and I'd worked so hard on memorizing the words to this one song I'd learned! (Only two verses, but it took a while for them to stick in my brain.) Maybe the next night .... ?

September 27 -

Cloudy, misty, drizzly morning. I'd set aside the day for seeing the town, but I'd already explored most of it the day before, so that just left a few places in and around the town that I'd read about and wanted to see.

I stumbled across some random person's blog about their time in Dingle, and how they'd made their way to an old famine cemetery that not many people knew about. If you wanted to find it, he said, don't ask anyone under 50, as they wouldn't know what you were talking about. And the way he'd described it, it sounded like I'd be crawling through barbed wire fences and trampling through private land! But, it was worth a shot.

The B&B owner (Vivian) had given me a city map, and lo and behold, there was a small white cross marked near the hospital where I knew I needed to start my search. It wasn't labeled, but the cross told me it was indeed a cemetery. It had to be it.

So I walked through town, found the road that turned into a rugged path, and went into a field. I spotted the white cross I knew I was supposed to look for; it was easy to see from the road below. So at least I knew where I was going. I saw the barbed wire fence I somehow had to get around, and started looking for a gap big enough to crawl through (it was only two strands of wire) .... but there was a gate.

I rolled up my pant legs (which were already wet) and started walking through the field, up into the hills, criss-crossed (as they all seem to be) with the stone walls. Soon I came to another set of gates, and they said RIP. Well, clearly this cemetery was easier to find than I had suspected.

Within the gates, all that is there other than the grass, is the white cross I saw from below and one very old headstone (when I looked closely, I saw it was from the early 1900s, so it was in use for at least some time after the years of the famine). Below my feet, the ground was very uneven, and I knew that I was walking on what had been mass graves from the famine years. I stood there for a while, looking at the town below in the mist and just contemplating the kinds of things one contemplates when standing on an old mass grave. It was sobering, but also beautiful.

By the time I got back down to the main street, I was pretty wet - I was high enough up in the hills to be right in the mist. My pant legs were soaked, and even with my waterproof hiking shoes, my socks were wet. And I was wondering why I'd bothered straightening my hair that morning. So I tromped back down to the B&B and changed my pants and socks so I could go back out in relative comfort.

It was still pretty foggy, but as I drove around to other parts of the peninsula, I was starting to see the sun peak through a bit, which made for some lovely scenery. I stopped at Inch Beach and spent a while there, as it was just gorgeous. There were some teenagers playing in the surf, and I thought about taking off my shoes and socks to at least say I dipped my feet into the Atlantic in Ireland, but the thought of having sandy and/or wet feet was too unappealing.

Most of the beach was deserted, though, and the wet sand looked like glass from the sky above. I took a ton of pictures because it looked so cool, and they ended up being some of my favorite shots that I took on the whole trip. You had a long stretch of sand/water in one direction, and the beautiful rocky bluffs topped with the green land on the other, and then the rolling waves - just gorgeous. Tons of tiny little shells all along the sand.

Next on the list was Minard Castle, but I only had a vague idea of where it was, thanks to Rick Steves book and a map I'd found of the peninsula that highlighted things of interest. It was unclear where to turn off the main road, and it took me a few wrong turns (hey, farmer on your tractor .... why are you looking at me like that? I meant to turn down your road!), but I finally found it. And it was super cool.

The castle was severely damaged by Cromwell's army in or around 1650. It's sitting right near someone's house, and there's a sign that says it's private property. Sure enough, from one angle you can see someone's backyard, where there sat a soccer ball and goal netting. Can you imagine playing outside with castle ruins as your backdrop? It was right on the water, and the rocky bluffs on the coastline were just gorgeous. I stayed there a while, just admiring the scenery and gawking at the castle.

Back to town, and I set off on a hike out to the mouth of the harbor, which was marked by a random stone tower. It was a really nice walk along the water, through a cow pasture (although one had to watch one's step through the mud and ... well, you know). A few tight squeezes through fences, but as it was a definite path on the other side, I figured it was okay to go through those fences.

(Side note: I saw very few "private property" or "no trespassing" signs on the trip - I figure I could have just parked my car and set off walking through the fields through any of the valleys or lake areas I drove through. Getting over the stone walls might be an issue, but I don't know that anyone would have chased me off.)

Did catch a glimpse of Fungie the dolphin near the mouth of the harbor, as he predictably jumped around in the wake of one of the tour boats.

Back to town, popped into the Dingle Music Shop again. There I met Michael, the owner, and sure enough, he handed me a bodhran, took one for himself, and then sat me down to teach me how to play it. It took a while for me to really get the hang of it (I kept holding the beater wrong), but once I got it, I think I got a good handle on it.

Another American couple came in, and sure enough, the husband had a hankering to buy a bodhran as well, so he sat down and joined our little drum circle. Michael asked if we wanted any tea. No? How about some whiskey? So we had a round of whiskey, and then he got his accordion and he started playing, encouraging us to play along.

Then his friend Willie came in with his banjo, and he sat down and played, and we had a little session right there in the shop. How cool is that?

I did buy one, and while I had seen their sign that they'd ship it wherever, they strongly encouraged me to pack it in my suitcase. "You have a big suitcase? Surely it will fit! Look, you can pack things inside of the drum!" I knew it would have been expensive, but I was concerned about having enough room for the trip back, even with the spare duffel bag I'd brought (spoiler alert: everything fit just fine).

Michael said he was playing at An Droichean Beag that night with another man who played guitar, and I said I would be there. "Bring your bodhran," he said. I laughed and said "Nooooo. But I can sing instead!" His eyes lit up at that. "Wonderful! You'll sing tonight."

So sure enough, that night at the pub, they called me up, I hummed a bit of the song to the guitarist, and he was able to play along. Huzzah! Then he said to me, "Sing another one!" Uh-oh. I'd only learned one song. I know bits and pieces of a ton of other Irish songs, but couldn't sing them even halfway through. "It doesn't have to be Irish," they said, and thankfully, my choir had done Shenandoah the previous year, and I could sing two verses of that. So I sang that, with both of them playing along. Huzzah!

(This is the Irish song I sang, if you're curious: Celtic Woman Presents: Órla Fallon - The Gartan's Mother Lullaby - YouTube )

September 28 -

Today I was heading out to take the scenic drive around the area, the Slea Head Drive. If you visit the next peninsula over, you do the Ring of Kerry. So the Slea Head Drive is the Dingle equivalent, but with less (if any - I didn't see any) tour buses on the narrow little roads.

Again, alas, it was foggy and misty. But rather than wait to see if it would clear up, I decided I might as well go, as there would likely be less traffic on those narrow little roads. So I headed out, stopped at a few little sites (an example of an old famine village, complete with really creepy mannequins in the cottages; beehive huts), and was slightly on the miserable side. Here I was, my last full day in Dingle, taking the drive I'd really been looking forward to, and the scenery was ... well, certainly not ugly by any stretch, but disappointing because of the fog. And I was getting rained on. And it was windy. Boo!

Made the stops at the pullouts, took pictures half-heartedly. Did really love Dunquin Beach, which was just gorgeous. Drove to the other side and got out to take pictures from there ... and the wind took my breath away. Holy crud, I wondered if this was what it felt like to be in a hurricane. It blew my little pink cap right off my head, and the car shook when I was inside it. I could barely keep my camera steady to take pictures.

Kept going along the drive, and it was still lovely, but frustratingly misty. I could barely see the Blasket Islands just off the coast, and everything just felt dim and blurry. Got to one of the big sites in the area, the Gallarus Oratory, an early Christian church that was either built between the 6th and 9th centuries, or the 12th, depending on various sources. That was pretty nifty, and standing inside it you could almost imagine monks sitting inside with candles.

I popped into the visitor's center and watched a brief video about the various ancient Christian sites on the peninsula, and it mentioned some church ruins nearby that had some relics that sounded really freaking amazing, so I set off to find it.

Kilmalkedar Church was built in the 12th century and had the expected combination of very old and newer gravestones, but what it also had was an Ogham Stone, which is a kind of relic that contains some of the earliest form of writing in Ireland. check out the pictures in the link - just hatch marks on the side of the stone. It's believed that the markings spelled out a name, and these were grave markers. SO COOL. Also in the yard was a sun dial, and inside the ruins, a stone inscribed with the Latin alphabet (this dates back to the 6th century, apparently).

There's some cool information about the stones and the language here: Ogham - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Learning is fun! Whee!

One last stop on the way back to Dingle - Rahinnane Castle. This one was easier to find than Minard Castle, and was lovely, although I was bummed to find out after I'd gotten home that I could have parked up the road and actually walked up to it ... and inside it! Alas, I missed out.

By the time I got back to Dingle, it was only early afternoon, and the sun was out. So I kept going and did the drive all over again, to see it all without the fog. There was a little more traffic, but I'm SO glad I did - everything looked crisper, the Blasket Islands were visible, the water was so blue. I tried getting out of the car by Dunquin Beach again, but the wind was no better .... and this time I was getting sand in my eyes, so I didn't make it down to the beach like some other people had. Oh well.

The road was about the same width as the Sky Road I'd driven in Connemara, and I did meet some cars coming the other way, but it still wasn't so bad. A few tight turns with stone walls on one side of you and a mountain on the other, but nothing I'd call white-knuckle.

I got back to Dingle and popped in to say hello to my new friend Michael at the music shop. We chatted a bit, and I said I was going to drive out to Conor Pass to see what the fuss was about, since the weather seemed okay. He said "Oh, just go up to the car park at the view point and then come back - no need to make the whole drive. Although there IS a nice waterfall not far from the car park." He warned me to go very slow, and be careful, and I was on my way.

It only took about 10 minutes to get to the view point, and while I'd seen several large signs warning any cars bigger than such-and-such height and width to TURN BACK NOW, it really wasn't a big deal. I took some pictures, although it had gotten a bit foggy again, so it seemed like a bit of a let down.

I figured I'd keep going to see the waterfall, got about another 100 meters down the road and .... I saw what the fuss was about. A completely blind turn, tight against the mountain, narrower than any of the roads I'd seen. You wouldn't see if anyone was coming the other way until you were at the turn. A line of cars on each side of the curve were sitting and waiting for their turn. Waiting blindly, I guess. It's not like someone was there waving them through one at a time. I figured most of those cars were probably driven by tourists. And I didn't trust them. So I did a quick Y-turn and hurried off in the other direction. And then it started to rain, so I didn't feel so bad about that decision.

So it was my last night in Dingle, and while part of me was sad my trip was ending, the other part of me was really ready to go home. I was tired of living out of a suitcase. I missed my friends. I was happy to have brought my iPad, so I could "talk" somewhat to friends on Facebook or email, but not easily, thanks to the time difference.

It's interesting - I was happy to take the trip alone, as I didn't want to compromise on what we did or where we went, if I'd gone with a friend. I didn't want the uncertainty of "what if we find out we don't travel well together"? And I'm certainly glad I didn't have to share a room with someone while I was going through anxiety hell in Dublin - feeling bad about keeping someone up all night would have just made me feel worse.

At the same time, there were times where I really missed not having someone I knew to talk to. I enjoyed talking to Irish people, and was happy to talk to fellow tourists, but talking to no one but strangers for two weeks is pretty strange. I do very well on my own and am always happy to pull out a book to stave off boredom, but I admit - I felt lonely sometimes. Still not sure that I'd want to take such a big trip with someone else, but I think I'd be willing to give it a try. (For my next European excursion, I think I want to go to France, I think. Who's in???)

Anyway. So not only was my general feeling of being "done" making me not want to go out that night, but it had been super windy for two straight days, and I was exhausted from walking back and forth to the B&B, fighting that wind the whole time. And the thought of going back out, for that 10-minute walk back to town .... oof. I felt a little guilty for not going out to the pub and hearing music for my last night, but I just couldn't. I was done.

September 29 - last day in Ireland (a little bit of "boo hoo" and a little bit of "whoo hoo")

Time to drive to Shannon. I was in no hurry, and it was only a 3 hour drive or so, so I slept in and took my sweet time packing up all my stuff. I did have to use the spare bag I brought, and I did need to sit on my suitcase to zip it, but it all fit.

I took some farewell pictures of Dingle as I drove out of town and off the peninsula, and got a little sad as I headed north and the scenery got a little less pretty. Shannon and Limerick, while still Ireland and therefore pretty by default, is not as pretty as the other places I'd seen.

I stopped in Adare for lunch but didn't even really feel like poking around the little town, so I got back to the car and drove the last 30 minutes or so to Shannon. I'd heard the one big thing to do in Shannon is to see the Bunratty castle and folk park. I knew it was going to be kind of a touristy thing (Yes, I know that makes me sound like a snob - like I wasn't a tourist myself?), as it's the place that has big medieval dinners with people dressed as knights and wenches and all that. But whatever, I had time to kill and didn't want to spend ALL day at my last hotel.

So I paid the 10 Euros (the most expensive attraction I'd seen on my whole trips) and wandered around. The little fake village was cute, but not all that interesting to me (although I sympathized with the tourists wandering around - they were on tour groups and were pretty much fresh off the plane, and they looked a little dazed). The castle was kind of neat, as you get to walk through it and look at the different rooms with the furniture, suits of armors and tapestries. The winding stairwells were really, really narrow, and I honestly wondered how many people weren't able to walk up and down them.

And then that felt like enough, so I went to the hotel. Which I found, after a good number of wrong turns off of roundabouts. But, like all the other hotels and B&Bs, I found it eventually. Checked in, and I could tell I was D-O-N-E with my trip by how I almost broke into tears while dragging my heavy bags through the endless hallways, trying to find my room. I couldn't find any other doors in, and never did find the elevator they told me was down there somewhere.

I settled in at the pub in the restaurant (which was nice and cozy) with a cider, my iPad and my Kindle, and spent a nice few hours just relaxing. Then the WORST THING EVER happened - they were out of brown bread. My last meal in Ireland, and there's no brown bread! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! That was heartbreaking.

Goodbye, Ireland! You were lovely. I would love to go back and see everything else I missed. Well, maybe not the Blarney Stone. I'm not putting my mouth on that thing.


Poulnabrone Dolmen:


Not even in Dingle yet, and already in love:


Inch Beach:


Minard Castle:


Famine cemetery:


Me and my drum:


Kilmalkedar Church:


Slea Head drive:

Two more pictures, since I ran out of space in the last post:

Dunquin Beach:


Slea Head drive:


Rahinnane Castle:

Heading to Dublin now. I hear Ed is unable to do the much loved cab tour of spots. Anybody know of anyone else who drives/ cabs/tours to the same spots (Cedarwood, mount Temple?)
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