Category: Ireland

The Western Shores

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After conquering the castles of south central Ireland, we continued working our way southwest. We arrived in Killarney just in time to get the last call on dinner at this fabulous hotel/B&B:

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It’s called the Loch Lein Country House. Very elegant and cozy place to stay. They have their own restaurant, and the food was exquisite. We stayed two nights and ate dinners and breakfast there.

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And the view fromthe back (see above) was OMG. Unfortunately, the setting sun in the picture was the last we would see of it for the next couple of days. We had, up until this point, been blessed with unusually fantastic weather for this time of year. But of course we didn’t let that stop us from getting out there and enjoying ourselves!

 

After breakfast the following day, we headed out to a small peninsula on the western coast known as the Ring of Kerry. The circle all the way to the west is where we caught the ferry to Valentia Island. Despite the wet weather, we were able to capture some of the magnificent beauty of the area:

 

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The locals told us there are two different types of weather here this time of year: light rain, and heavy rain. We sure got a taste of it today, but even in the rain, the countryside here is just breathtaking.

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After working our way around the south side of the peninsula, we headed north and then back to our cozy country house for a hot meal, some good wine, and great company.

The next morning we packed up and headed north. Our plan was to loop around another coastal peninsula called Dingle.

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The rain was still sputtering a bit, but not as bad as yesterday.

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And some of you should recognize this pic (above), it’s where one of the scenes from The Last Jedi was shot. It was a hell of a climb up there. I can only imagine those film crews with all that equipment!

We stopped by a place called The Cliffs of Moher. Spectacular views here, and we were lucky the rain had stopped for the time being.

 

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That evening, we rolled into a town called Bunratty. Funny name, but check out the place we stayed at:

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And that was pretty much it folks! That was the final leg of our wonderful Irish Road Trip. Thanks for following along with us. And thank you to our friend, Brandie, for coming with us. And also for being the brave one behind the wheel all this time! Look forward to seeing you again on the Budapest river cruise. OOPS, I said too much! Bye y’all!

Castles of Ireland

The morning after the Waterford factory visit, we set out in a south/south-westerly direction as we headed towards Killarney. I know, what is up with the “kill” city names? There are actually quite a few of them. They have Killusty, Killaloe, Killoscully, even a Kilbrittain! I kept looking for a Killbill, but I never saw one.

Anyway, on our way to Killarney, we stopped by a few castles. Ireland has seen its fair share of war and hard times. Especially during medieval times and extending well into the 18th century, castles were a fundamental underpinning of Irish survival and culture. You could literally spend a lifetime studying the castles of just Ireland.

While an exact count is unknown, there are an estimated 30,000 castles and castle ruins in Ireland.

During our vacation in Ireland, we saw quite a few castles. I will spare you the 100’s of photos I took of them and share with you a few photos from three of the castles we went to as we worked our way southwest toward Killarney.

As The Travelin’ Man, I have probably reviewed at least a dozen or so castles with you, so I hope you aren’t burned out on them! Nonetheless, I’ll keep it brief and try to highlight the most noteworthy aspects.

The Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel is the name of this castle. They had to be creative with the name. I mean, they couldn’t name it Castle of Cashel… or Castle Cashel. Think of all the embarrassing tongue twisters the nobles would have had, especially after a goblet or two of wine!

It’s all just as well since it really isn’t a ‘castle’ anymore. In a highly political maneuver, the King of Munster donated the fortress to the church in 1101. Most of the buildings that remain were built after that. The round tower, shown above, is probably part of the original castle, but the temple was from about forty years after the land was donated to the church (finished in 1137).

Check out the picture at the top of this article. That is the Rock of Cashel, from the peasant’s viewpoint. Absolutely breathtaking and one of the most visited attractions in Ireland.

That statue behind me is the famous Scully’s Cross, built in 1867. But where’s the cross, you ask…. an extremely powerful bolt of lightning struck it in 1976, knocking the cross completely off. Can you just imagine if you could have captured a picture of that! Wow!

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The remnants are still where they fell on the ground at the base of the statue. You can also see the statue rising above the wall in the picture at the top of this article (it’s on the left).

Cahir Castle

Classic European 13th century battle castle. Strategically placed right on the river. Embroiled in battle, warfare, politics, and scandals well into the 17th century.

Location, location, location! Roomy castle with bird’s eye view of the beautiful Suir river.

It was built on an earlier native fortification known as ‘cathair’, which translates to stone fort, which is where the name ‘cahir’ comes from.

It was used as the location for a battle scene in the 1981 move Excalibur (the entire movie was filmed on location in Ireland).

Blarney Castle

More of a keep, really, than a castle. Although it did see it’s fair share of wars and sieges throughout the years. Poor ole Blarney has been torn down, blown up, burned up and rebuilt so many times over the last 800 or so years that it’s hard to say when it actually became a fortress. But most of the remaining buildings date back to the 15th century.

Ah, the Blarney Stone. What is the magic of this stone that draws millions of people thousands of miles just to risk their necks to kiss it? Before answering that, do you know what blarney means? The word blarney refers to pleasant flattery or charm, especially as related to persuasion.

You can see in the picture, above, I have circled the location of the stone from the outside. You have to climb the tower, lay down flat and lean out over the battlement while someone holds you by the ankles.

Now the Irish are great storytellers, and great whiskey makers. So depending on who you ask and what time of day you ask, you will get an assortment of colorful, imaginative stories that explain the stone. But I can’t leave you with that, can I? My favorite story involves the builder of the keep. Here it is quoted from Wikipedia:

An early story involves the goddess Clíodhna. Cormac Laidir McCarthy, the builder of Blarney Castle, being involved in a lawsuit in the 15th century, appealed to Clíodhna for her assistance. She told McCarthy to kiss the first stone he found in the morning on his way to court, and he did so, with the result that he pleaded his case with great eloquence and won. Thus the Blarney Stone is said to impart “the ability to deceive without offending”. MacCarthy then incorporated it into the parapet of the castle.

So yes, of course we climbed the tower and kissed the stone. Who wouldn’t want the power of blarney in their personal toolbox?

Waterford (Factory), Ireland

When we arrived in Ireland and met up with our friend, Brandie, we puttered around a little in Dublin, which you can read about by clicking here. Then we rented a car and ventured a little south of Dublin where we saw the amazing gardens and waterfall of Powerscourt. We stopped of at the ancient, mysterious ruins of the Glendalough Monastic City. You can review that story by clicking here.

We stayed that night in Kilkenny, then did a day trip out to the Waterford crystal factory, which oddly enough, is near the town of Waterford.

I always knew that certain select pieces of crystal were labor intensive, but we learned during our tour that almost all of the Waterford crystal pieces are hand cut and crafted.

Is that the award for BEST WIFE EVER? Well it should be. 🙂 Actually it’s the very prestigious Solheim Cup (women’s golf championship). Made by Waterford right there in that factory.

They also do a lot of other famous sporting event trophies and high profile political and acting awards. But get this, when they do a high profile award or trophy, they always have to do TWO of them in case one gets broken.

If you saw what went to making just one of these amazing pieces, you would understand why that’s such a big deal. Note that none of this is on public display. You have to get the behind-the-scenes factory tour to see it all. Definitely worth it. Oh yeah, and the Man with Golden Gun has nothing on the Cat with the Crystal Revolver!

After touring the factory, we visited the showroom, where we spent our life savings on beautiful crystal glasses, vases, and decanters that will find a nice, lonely home on the top shelf of our glasses cabinet…. never to be seen again.

Ugh, it’s just so pretty I want to eat it! On the return trip to Kilkenny, we swung by the Walsh distillery. It’s one of the newer Irish whiskies on the market.

We did the tour and the tasting. Their specialty is The Irishman, which they have been making since 2006.

The property is absolutely beautiful. More along the lines of what I would have expected at a wine vineyard.

They also make a whiskey called Writers Tears. They were both exceptional, and some variations of them are only available in Ireland. But they do have a large distribution for their most popular products, which are available where we live, in Stockholm.

A note on the whiskey tastings on this trip. Our friend Brandie is a “whiskey collector”. And while she will give a humble smile and deny that she is an expert on whiskey, she actually is. This made the trip in Ireland all the more enjoyable. We drank only the best on this trip, and we actually knew what we were drinking! Needless to say, it was very fun and educational.

Kilkenny, Ireland

I know what you’re thinking. “OMG, they killed Kenny!” Haha, I thought the same thing but there is no correlation of the name of this town to South Park. It didn’t stop me from suddenly shouting it out on several occasions, though…

The morning of our second day, we had a nice breakfast at the hotel in Dublin, then took a taxi over to the car rental agency. Brandie and I approached the desk while Jana stood watch over our luggage. When the guy tells us our car is a VW Golf, I look over at our mountain of luggage, then at Brandie, who then looks at our luggage and back at me. We both look at the clerk with raised eyebrows. The clerk looks at us looking at the luggage, then he looks at me with a look that says ‘seriously dude?’ Jana looks over at us and wonders why everyone is looking at her. Needless to say, we upgraded to a compact SUV, which is actually a big car by European standards. When we see how all the luggage barely fits into the SUV, we knew we made a good choice over the tiny car.

They drive on the left side of the road over here, like in the U.K. Being a democracy and all, we voted that Brandie would be our driver since she had the most experience driving on the left side of the road. Eager to begin the “Great Irish Road Trip”, we pile into the car and hit the road! Note that our course for the day would take us south of Dublin, then break inland to the west in route route to Kilkenny.

Powerscourt Gardens And Waterfall

Our first stop is the Powerscourt Gardens, which is only about a thirty minute ride south of Dublin. It’s a 47 acre 150 year old garden situated at the foot of the great Sugarloaf mountain. In addition to the amazing gardens, it has a resort hotel, spa, and golf course.

These pictures are better appreciated when viewed on a pad or PC.

The grounds here are meticulously crafted and maintained. You can see faint traces of the drought that has plagued Europe this year. I am so thankful that it ended for Ireland a couple of weeks before we came out. Note Sugarloaf mountain there in the background.

The mansion was originally a 13th century castle. It was gutted by a devastating fire in 1974. It sat abandoned and empty for over twenty years until it was renovated in 1996.

Here are some more pictures of this amazing park:

If you read the article on Dublin, you know what a great town that is and what a good time we had. But I must admit that Dublin is not the showcase of the legendary beauty of the Irish landscape that I had heard so much about. But during our trip out to these magnificent gardens, the beauty of Ireland really started to show itself and I began to understand what all the fuss was about:

Who would have thought ten years ago that you would be able to take photos like that with your cell phone?

There is also a Powerscourt waterfall, but it requires a small drive and charges an additional fee:

It wasn’t the most spectacular waterfall I ever saw, but it was a short drive and it is actually the tallest waterfall in the country. It is also where King Arthur fought Sir Lancelot in the 1981 movie Excalibur.

Glendalough Monastic City

This ancient settlement was founded in the 6th century. Some of the building here date back to the 10th and 11th centuries.

Although the cemetery is the most dominating aspect now, back in the day, this monastery included workshops, areas for manuscript writing and copying, guest houses, an infirmary, farm buildings and dwellings for both the monks and general population.

The large, round towers were popular during this time. They were primarily used as bell towers to call meetings, bring in the monks, or warn of viking attacks. One thing I have noticed about Ireland is they present many of their ancient ruins essentially “as-is”. Even though it is rougher around the edges than a place that has been commercialized and enhanced, the as-is approach maintains the ancient aura of the area.

Once we finished up there, we continued through the beautiful countryside in route to Kilkenny.

Kilkenny is a great little town with some very dramatic beauty. It is very laid back and is definitely off the beaten path. Kind of a relief after the crowds of Dublin.

As evening sets in an we are once again at that magical time where we get to seek out a great Irish pub for dinner and drinks. Grabbed this shot, above, as we crossed the bridge and headed to Matt the Millers.

We sampled some legendary Irish whiskies while reflecting on our day and sharing pictures with a live Irish band playing in the background. A great ending to our first day out in the wilds of Ireland!

Dublin, Ireland

This is the beginning of our Great Irish Road Trip! We will be spending a day in Dublin, then we’ll rent a care and head out into the wilds of Ireland covering nearly a thousand miles! So watch for more updates from the backroads of the Irish countryside!

And before we begin, there is one note I would like to mention. More like an advance apology. The Travelin’ Man is published on my own private server, but I use WordPress as a content manager. I am writing the Ireland series on a new and radically different tool. This should allow me to write the articles even while offline, and it should be transparent to you. But you know how these things usually go, so if there is any weirdness, etc, thanks in advance for being patient.

Without further ado, Jana and I arrived in Dublin and met our friend, Brandie, at the hotel. Brandie hails from Atlanta, Georgia in the US. Last summer, she came out and visited us in Sweden, where we had a rockin’ time!

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Dublin but we did manage to hit a couple of good spots before moving on to see the rest of Ireland.

As we approached the river, we saw there was a large gathering of people all blobbed up on the bridge. I was pretty sure they weren’t there to see The Travelin’ Man since I hadn’t called ahead to let the authorities know I would be in town.

We muscled our way into the throng of people and saw it was an Iron Man contest in progress. Which was a relief, because I hadn’t brought a pen with me to sign autographs.

It would be a sin to come to Dublin and NOT see Saint Patrick’s cathedral. You know, the guy that makes everyone wear green once a year…yeah THAT Saint Patrick.

We spent some time exploring the archives of the Book of Kells at Trinity college. Fascinating how far back these documents go, and that they were able to preserve them through the ages. Makes me wonder, in our modern age where so much documentation is digital, how are we preserving this for the ages to come? If apocalypse hit and the power grid is destroyed, how will people a hundred years later know about The Travelin’ Man?

We went by the capital. You know, after the scare at the bridge, I thought we should check in and let them know we were here. But it was Saturday and they didn’t seem to motivated to call anyone up.

But that’s okay, evening was setting in, and we would be leaving in the morning anyway. So now we find ourselves scouting out a good pub. We went by the famous Temple Bar and, OMG, I never saw so many people crammed in and around a bar in all my life.

The world renowned pubs of Ireland did not disappoint. Places like this, above, are everywhere! We ended up at a really cool place called The Lotts. These guys have a whole new angle on cooking and eating a steak.

They heat up this special black stone, I mean it is really hot. The steak is put onto the fiery hot stone and brought out to you as it sizzles. You continue to cook it while also eating it! Literally eating it right off the grill. Yup, that’s two thumbs up from the Travelin’ Man! And great pic Brandie! It was a fabulous meal – if you like steaks, do not miss this this place while you’re in Dublin.

Dublin is a fast moving, modern city loaded with culture, beauty, history, shopping, and of course those marvelous Irish pubs! We had a great time there.