The first two days in Ireland had been spent running around Dublin, Ireland’s largest city. But it was Waterford that gave us a totally different perspective of Ireland. A perspective that went way back to when the Vikings and Regnall, a grandson of Ivar the Boneless, established a base in Ireland. (I promise, I did not make up Ivar the Boneless!)
Who knew that the Vikings had a base in Ireland? Or that Waterford would turn out to be much more of a village then a city.
Tuesday, Day 6
Certainly though, that would not be our last surprise. Actually, our next surprises would come on Tuesday when we would catch yet another early morning train all the way across Ireland to Galway Bay and Connemara on Irelands west coast. Connemara, where Casey’s great grandparents were from.
Like England and Wales, our train would take us through village after village, each with its own stunning cathedral, castle ruins and more sheep than we thought existed. One of those villages would be Curragh, home to numerous stud farms and the Irish Derby.
From there we would follow the Shannon River for a bit then enter the midlands, with its miles and miles of peat bogs, as our guide explained how the bogs were harvested.
(Wow. Real Peat Bogs? They’re not just something they made up for Sherlock Holmes and monster movies? Hey Casey, we need to work these into one of our books! Yip, a vampire story is definitely up next! I even have the title: “Fangs in the bogs!” Why is everyone laughing?)
(Sorry, In keeping with tradition, my bog pictures look like a big bog blur.)
We arrived at the Galway train station and transferred to a small tour bus, all eight of us. From there it was off through the peat bogs to the village of Oughterard then, into miles and miles of stunning rolling hills with their mix of vivid greens, breathtaking blues and a host of other rich colors. In many ways, as breathtaking as the lochs region in northern Scotland but much more colorful. Once again seemingly with castles everywhere.
Our first rest stop was at Mann Cross, where “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was filmed. A short distance from there off in the distance was “The Wall” from Game of Thrones.
Next up was the rugged coastline of Connemara, looking off across the dark green Atlantic Ocean where one could easily envision the Titanic sailing off toward New York, on the other side of the ocean.
Lunch found us at Kylemore Abbey, a sprawling 18th century castle with wonderful gardens, a restaurant and gift shop.
After lunch our van wound its way back through the wonderful rolling hills, bogs, along a different part of the coast and into Galway.
For me, Galway was a total surprise. I don’t know why but I’d expected a small inland village. What I got was Galway Bay, a seaport and Ireland’s sixth largest city. But, having said that, Like San Diego, it didn’t feel like a city. Also like San Diego, it felt welcoming with an air of warmth and comfort. So much so that we passed on a walking tour of the shopping area and quickly found a pub to kill the hour and a half before our train left. Of course, by the time we walked back to the train station we’d made friends with just about everyone in the pub.
As soon as we boarded the train, our guides broke out the bottles of Irish Whiskey. One of the first things you’ll learn in Ireland is that Ireland and whiskey go together like peanut butter and jelly. You’ll also find that making friends, anywhere in Ireland, requires next to no effort. Thus, within minutes our little group of eight had expanded to over fifteen as other nearby passengers joined in and we all did whiskey shooters. Yip. We’ll all be sleeping well tonight!
Well, we’d all sleep well except for Casey. Why you ask? And it’s here that I need to tell a little story. You see, Casey’s room was haunted! All of the rooms at our hotel had been wired so that things like the TV, lights, air conditioning, and even the curtains were controlled by the TV remote. However, in Casey’s room everything had a mind of its own. In the middle of the night, she would be woken to a bone chilling room, the curtains sliding open, then the lights coming on. Minutes later, the curtains would close, and the TV would come on. Finally, everything would turn itself off, just in time for her to fall back to sleep, only to have things cycle back on.
Wednesday, Day 7.
We met a very bleary eyed Casey in the lobby of the hotel then headed for the “Parlor” for breakfast smoothies, and a good laugh about her night with the ghosts. (No more Irish Whiskey shooters for Casey!)
Luckily, no long train rides today. This would be another day to explore Dublin and we had reservations for an 11 am tour of the Kilmainham Gaol Museum, Dublin’s prison dating back to 1797 that replaced the old dungeons and set the modern standard for most of western prisons.
After almost freezing to death during the gaol tour of the exercise and execution yards (It had turned bitter cold and the wind just cut right through whatever you had on.) it was time for lunch. We decided to catch a taxi to the Gibson Hotel and have lunch overlooking the dockyards and 3 Arena, where U2, Ed Sherran and other performers hold their concerts.
By the end of our two hour lunch, we were all overly tired and had slipped into a giddy mood. So, we caught the tram back to Aimiens Street, walked the short two blocks to our hotel and yip, right into McGettigans for Irish Coffees and hot chocolate with Sara and then an early to bed night.
Thursday, Day 8
Another early wake up, check out of the hotel and walk across the street to Connolly Station so we could catch the train to Belfast, Northern Ireland. At 9:45 we arrived at Belfast’s Central Station and transferred to a coach for our ride up the coast road to the Giants Causeway.
Ah, more surprises. Looking across the northern Irish Sea we could see Scotland off in the distance. In many ways, this part of Ireland mimicked the topography of the Scottish coast. Rugged, rocky with an extremely cold wind blowing off the Irish Sea. Very different than southern Ireland and, only one of the differences, we would soon learn.
The Giants Causeway is a series of surreal volcanic rock formations that look like they were carved elsewhere and placed there. The near perfect hexagon tubes vary in size and height and are stacked next to one another like the pieces of a giant puzzle.
If anyone has ever been to the Devils Post Pile in central California, the Giants Causeway is very similar and results from the same type of volcanic activity.
The name, Giants Causeway. comes from the story of an Irish giant named Finn McCool who is having trouble with someone across the water in Scotland. Namely a Scottish giant named Benandonner, who is threatening Ireland. Finn grabs chunks of rocks and throws them into the water to form a path so he can go teach Benandonner a lesson.
Bad idea – Benandonner is terrifyingly massive so, Finn beats a hasty retreat back to Ireland, followed by the Scottish giant. Finns’ quick thinking wife disguises him as a baby. The angry Scot sees the baby and decides if the baby is that big, the daddy must truly be huge and heads back to Scotland, leaving the pathway Finn created.
After roaming over the fascinating rock formations, we did a quick trip through the gift shop and museum, we ignored the recommendation for the Crowne Mourne for seafood, and headed instead to Kelly’s Bar for some good old Irish Pub food. (Yip, we be just plain old pub food people.)
From there, our coach took the inland road back toward Belfast with photo stops at Dunluce Castle and the Bushmills Distillery. Once we were checked into The Europa Hotel, we wandered down to the second floor lounge and feasted on a variety of small dish plates for dinner.
While we munched and stared out at Belfast, we couldn’t help but discuss the differences between northern and southern Ireland. A much different topography in general. More harsh, rugged and certainly less colorful or inviting.
The accents in Belfast were also much heavier and closer to a Scottish or Welsh brogue. This made it easy to spot someone from southern Ireland who had migrated north to work.
Without implying that we liked southern Ireland over Northern Ireland, we also found Belfast’s architecture to be more English like and less welcoming. Finally, the friendliness we’d found in southern Ireland seemed to be toned down in Northern Ireland. It wasn’t that the people weren’t friendly, just that they weren’t as openly friendly; in Belfast it was up to us to draw them into a conversation, where in Dublin only a smile and friendly hello was needed.
By our second day in Belfast, Sheryl’s and my colds were roaring and we decided to simply curl up in the lounge and rest while Casey found the hop-on hop-off bus and explored. She took in the city and Titanic Visitors Center (The Titanic was built here.) before returning to join us in the Lounge. From there, a quick taxi ride took us back to Central Station for our trip back to Dublin.
Exhausted from all our travels and our roaring colds, which we so graciously had now passed on to Casey, we checked back into the North Star, (Requesting non-haunted rooms this time.) had a quick dinner in McGettigans and turned in early.
Tomorrow, we would wave goodbye to Ireland then be off on the ferry to England and a day of changing trains to get to Alnwick in northern England.
Good Night Everyone!
If I might add a note or two.
First you may have noticed that all the signs in Ireland are in English and Irish (Gaelic). Also, you’ll find the history of the Titanic followed us throughout Ireland and England, which I’ll explain in part IV.
Thanks for following my blog and our fantastic trip so far.