April 19, 2007
Our month-o-visitors continued with my sister Kathy, her husband Tim and my two nieces Caitlin and Brianna coming to Ireland. Our timing was just about as good as you could get it. I dropped the Peltons off on the departures level of Dublin Airport, went downstairs to the arrivals level and met the new arrivals just a few minutes later, while Kathleen scurried home to Tramore to ready the guest rooms. We picked up the Murphy’s rental car, squeezed the luggage and all five of us in, then rushed out onto the M50 to sit in late-morning Dublin rush-hour for a while.
After slogging our way across Dublin, we took the scenic route home, stopping for a short hike at Glendalough. We wandered the rest of the way home to Tramore while the gang all caught some catnaps along the way. After dinner with Kathleen, Tim and I headed out to Dunhill for Julian Walton’s weekly history lesson, while everyone else headed off to an early bedtime. Friday we spent the day with a tour around the Copper Coast and up to the Comeragh Mountains for a hike to Mahon Falls.
Saturday morning we were out the door early for a drive to Connemara. Tim and Kathy had been to Ireland a few years ago when Tim was stationed in Germany with the army. They had done a loop of the island, and Kathy had the same fondness for Connemara that Kathleen and I have developed, so we thought it would be a good way to spend the weekend. We arrived in Galway and hit the tourist office to check on accomodations, but there were none to be had. So, we made reservations for Limerick for Saturday night, then continued on our drive to Connemara. We stopped in Clifden for lunch and a wander around, then headed down the road through Letterfrack, stopping at the Connemara National Park Visitor Centre. The weather was foggy and rainy, as it has been for every one of our trips to Connemara, but that weather seems to suit the landscape there. It’s incredibly rugged, but quite beautiful, and has become one of our favorite parts of Ireland.
A little further down the road we found Kylemore Abbey, a set of beautiful old buildings along the shore of a lake, home to the Benedictine Nuns in Ireland. The Abbey is home to a girls’ boarding school, but we couldn’t convince Caitlin and Brianna to stay. We toured the Abbey and the Gothic Church and enjoyed the quiet scenery - with such crummy weather, there weren’t many other tourists to deal with!
With the day fading and a long drive to Limerick, we turned back to the east and headed across the bogs of Connemara. We stopped along the way so Tim could get some pictures of bogs where peat had been harvested for burning, something I got to read about in detail in Tim Robinson’s great book Connemara. We got to Limerick in time for a late dinner. We definitely felt like we’re settling into Ireland when Kath and I looked at the menu, looked at each other and said “Uh oh, this has an American menu, this place caters to tour buses.” Nonetheless, the food was pretty tasty, and I enjoyed one of the better burgers I’ve had here (since the beef here is all grass-fed, it tends to taste different than what we’re used to in the States).
Sunday morning we headed to downtown Limerick and toured King John’s Castle, built in the 13th century. It was a great tour, and while we’ve now toured quite a number of castles, they still seem pretty amazing. This one, right in the heart of downtown Limerick, offers some great views of the downtown frontage on the River Shannon. After wandering downtown Limerick a bit and grabbing some lunch, Kath and I headed home for Tramore while the Murphys continued their journey down the west coast of Ireland. Over the next couple of days they would make it to Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher before returning to Tramore.
With Murphys back in the sunny southeast by mid-week, I took them for a ferry ride across the River Suir to visit Hook Head Lighthouse, at 800 years old one of the oldest lighthouses in the world. The story is that the expression “By Hook or by Crook” comes from here. When Oliver Cromwell was coming to invade Ireland, legend has it he sent a message saying he would come by “Hook or by Crook”, Hook Head or Crook Head, two prominent locations on the southeast Ireland coast. We toured the lighthouse, which includes a climb nearly to the top for an incredible view of the area coastline.
From Hook, we headed up the road to Wexford for a little exploring and shopping, then back down the road to New Ross, where the Murphys took in a tour of the Dunbrody famine ship. While they did the tour, I searched the Dunbrody’s database of Irish emigrants, trying to track down some of our ancestors (I did find some possibilities!). With perfectly beautiful weather, we headed up the road to visit the ancestral home of the Kennedy family, which is just outside New Ross. We even managed to squeeze in a short visit to the Kennedy Arboretum before closing time, and saw lots of incredible flowers in bloom.
Friday morning, the day before St. Patrick’s Day, we headed for Dublin - yes, we might be a little crazy. Our first stop was the Guinness Storehouse for a brewery tour, which as you could imagine was a popular idea this weekend. We managed to get in with only a half-hour or so wait. Guiness had a great celebration going on, with all kinds of tasting stations and food giveaways, so we grazed our way through the entire tour. While I’m hesitant to say this because some of our Irish friends will read it, I’m afraid I’ve never really developed a taste for Guiness, so I skipped most of the sampling. We did go up to the Gravity Bar though, the Brewery’s 7th floor bar with a 360-degree view of Dublin city. When we came out of the brewery, the line waiting to get in was more than a city-block long. We headed to downtown Dublin for just a taste of the kind of crowds we’d see the next day.
Saturday was the day of the big St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin. We headed downtown a couple hours ahead of the parade to nail down a place to stand, trying to get there a little ahead of the 500,000 other people that were expected (no exaggeration!). We got a great spot almost next to the Dublin Spire, right next to the General Post Office, a major site in Irish history. The crowd was something to see, with plenty of drunkenness to be found even a couple of hours before the parade. Overall though the crowd was fairly well-behaved. The parade was really quite something to see. It was incredibly multi-cultural, which is a reflection of the amount of immigration Ireland has seen in the last few years. There were really no floats as we’re used to in the States, it was all mostly costumed marchers and decorated bikes and such. There was all kinds of great music and everybody seemed to be having a great time, despite less-than-stellar weather.
After the parade, we wandered downtown a bit, fighting the mob scene. We finally grabbed a bus headed out of city centre, and found a pub where we could actually get some seats to get some lunch. Things were pretty quiet here, with most of the crowd engrossed in a rugby game. After lunch, Kathleen challenged Caitlin and Brianna to stand up at the front of the bar and shout “I love the Irish”. Knowing it was her last day in Ireland, Brianna took Kathleen up on the challenge and did just that on our way out of the bar, causing the entire bar to crack up laughing. With that cap on the day, we headed back to the hotel so the Murphys could get a good night’s sleep before leaving for the airport ahead of the sun. Kathleen and I saw them off, then crawled back into bed for a luxurious few hours before hitting the road for home.