Monthly Archives: April 2015

Baile Átha Cliath, aka Dublin, Day 1

I always say make a plan but be open to changes. We scheduled a free walking tour for our first morning in Dublin to orient us to the city and provide background information on the sights. As luck would have it, it was raining that first morning so a walking tour was thoroughly unappealing. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend this activity when the weather cooperates. You can check the website for Sandemans New Europe Dublin free walking tours here.

We opted instead to do the Hop On Hop Off bus tour. Tickets cost $22.50 for adults but only $20.50 for seniors over 60 and for about $10 more, you can get a combination ticket that includes admission to the Guinness Storehouse. The ticket was good for 2 consecutive days and accomplished our purpose, plus we stayed dry and it was more relaxing in our jet-lagged state. The narrated bus ride identified and provided details about all the main tourist attractions and we could get off at any of 28 stops. Buses came along about every 15 minutes so we could re-board.

Hop On Hop Off Bus Dublin

Hop On Hop Off Bus Dublin

Inside the Hop On Hop Off Bus Dublin

Inside the Hop On Hop Off Bus Dublin

In addition, our ticket entitled us to a free Irish coffee at O’Sullivan’s Pub which was just the thing to warm us up on a chilly wet day.

O'Sullivan's Pub

O’Sullivan’s Pub

Irish Coffee at O'Sullivan's Pub

Irish Coffee at O’Sullivan’s Pub

Remains of the Day at O'Sullivan's Pub

Remains of the Day at O’Sullivan’s Pub

O'Sullivan's Pub

Abi, Brian, and Jim at O’Sullivan’s Pub

We had planned to visit the Book of Kells first thing the following morning to beat the crowd, but when we saw the ticket line was short, probably due to the rain, we decided to alter our plan again. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript in Latin of the four gospels from the New Testament created by monks during the early middle ages (circa 800 A.D.) and housed in the old library at Trinity College. Photography is not allowed in the exhibit but you can now view the manuscript online for free here. (When you click the link, be patient and wait a minute for the images to load. I promise it’s worth the wait.) Ireland’s most precious and famous artistic and religious treasure was definitely on my must-see list even though I saw it 10 years ago when we were last in Dublin. The exhibit consists of 2 of the 4 volumes on display, one to a double page or folio of text and the other to a decorated page.  The displayed pages change periodically but I’m unsure of the frequency. The room is dimly lit with special lighting on the manuscript to prevent fading.

A substantial amount of informational material about the history of the manuscript is also displayed from which I learned several interesting facts. The pages of the manuscript are made of vellum, that is calfskin, and some of the pages have holes because the skin actually contained flaws in some places. Three artists and 4 scribes probably completed the manuscript and while words appeared more than once, no design was repeated. Although the subject of much scholarly debate, current opinion holds that the book was created on Iona, an island off western Scotland but possibly completed at Kells in Ireland where the monastery was relocated after a Viking raid. Some reviews I’ve seen called the exhibit disappointing but to me it is incredibly beautiful and fascinating.

Trinity College

Trinity College

Book of Kells Exhibit at Trinity College, Dublin

Book of Kells Exhibit at Trinity College, Dublin

Queue for the Book of Kells Exhibit

Brian and Abi in Queue for the Book of Kells Exhibit

The Book of Kells

The Old Library at Trinity College, Dublin

The Long Room is located upstairs directly above the Book of Kells exhibit in the Old Library. For book lovers like myself, this repository is how we imagine heaven. Books line the walls in each alcove, 2 stories high. It has a somewhat musty library odor, with that old paper and binding scent that evokes memories of many other libraries for me. The Copyright Act of 1801 established Trinity College as the official repository entitled to a copy of every book published in Ireland and Britain to this day. Two hundred thousand of the oldest books are held here.

The Long Room, Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin

The Long Room, Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin

You may have also noticed the marble busts lining the Long Room in the photo. The 48 busts are of great western philosophers and writers such as Socrates, Plato, Shakespeare, and Jonathan Swift along with men (alas, no women) associated with Trinity College.

The Brian Boru harp, made of oak and willow in the 15th century, is the oldest of its kind and was used as the model for the emblem of Ireland. It is also on display in the Long Room.

Son Brian with the Brian Boru Harp

Son Brian with the Brian Boru Harp

The historic front gate at Trinity College was damaged a year ago when a 68 year old driver plowed into it, for reasons unknown. The new refurbished gate is what you see here.

The Front Gate at Trinity College

The Front Gate at Trinity College

The other major attraction that we visited that day was the National Museum of Ireland which is my number 1 favorite sight in Dublin. I’ll tell you more about it and other sights including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Dublin Castle, and the Guinness Storehouse in upcoming posts.

References:

The Book of Kells Exhibit, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

The Long Room, the Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Based on events of April, 2015.

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Bends Ahead” in Ireland

Driving in Ireland is not for the faint of heart. For that matter, riding in cars is not for the faint hearted either. First of all, you drive on the left side of the road, the opposite of what we do in the U.S. The driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. The stick shift is to the left of the driver’s seat so you have to shift with your left hand but the shift pattern is the same as when you drive on the right. The foot pedals are also set up as they are at home so the gas pedal is on the right, the brake in the middle, and the clutch on the left. Are you totally confused yet? After an early morning flight out of Des Moines, Iowa, and an overnight flight to Dublin, Ireland, we were.

We left the airport in Dublin around 6 am on a Sunday morning to drive to our nearby hotel. It was a perfect time to get accustomed to the car while driving on the left because there was very little traffic although it was still dark and there was somewhat of a drizzle. Every block or two found us at a roundabout which the U.S. has recently caught on to so we weren’t totally outside our comfort zone except that, of course, you go to the left rather than the right in Ireland. Fortunately, we arrived at our hotel without mishap and the car sat in the parking lot for the next two days while we visited Dublin.

It was when we left Dublin that the fun began. Jim drove and Brian navigated while Abi and I sat in the backseat of our Renault Captur. Although billed as a compact, it seemed almost mid-sized, especially on narrow roads with “bends ahead” as the signs say in Ireland.

The best feature of the car was the wifi. What an amazing invention! Ten years ago map reading, lack of detail on the map, and too few road signs to forewarn us of upcoming turns were among our biggest challenges. With wifi those issues were pretty much eliminated with Siri providing voice direction while the gps map application showed our route at all times. And you know how you get into Internet dead spots in the U.S. at the most inopportune time? That  happened rarely in even the most remote areas of Ireland. As long as we had previously mapped it, the gps continued to function.

Through Cashel, Cahir, and Cork, Jim managed fairly well. When we got close to Kinsale, however, the road got narrower, more winding, and the hedgerows were closer to the side of the  road. There was a center line only to give you a false sense of security thinking there were two lanes. It’s really one lane with a line in the middle of it.

Road to Kinsale

That was nothing, however, compared to the next morning. Barry, our walking-tour guide, strongly recommended we drive up to the Charles Fort for a view of the harbor so I, of course, was adamant that we go. That was when the  trouble began. The road was narrow, winding, uphill, with cars parked willynilly on either side  providing one too many obstacles for Jim. Trying to avoid an oncoming car, we went over a stone step jutting into the roadway and the dashboard said STOP. We couldn’t just stop in the middle of the road and had to continue briefly to get out of the way. As we pulled into a parking spot at the fort, we felt the tire deflate and the dashboard read PUNCTURE.
While we had wifi in the car, we didn’t have phone service. Abi said the people in the vehicle next to us had uniforms and maybe they had a phone. I went over and asked if they were law enforcement, to which they responded, “Customs.” I explained our predicament, they loaned us a phone, Jim called the car rental who said get it fixed and bring the bill for reimbursement. Thank goodness we had added the extra tire coverage at the last minute!

And then, the most remarkable thing happened. The customs agents insisted they change the tire for us.

Customs agents changing our car tire

 

Customs agents changing our tire

The Irish are the finest, kindest people in the world and, in our experience, the customs agents are topnotch among the Irish.  When they finished, they directed us to the nearest tyre shop to get the tire fixed. Luckily, the tyre shop got us right in and although the tire couldn’t be repaired and had to be replaced, we got a new one immediately and we were soon on our way. The visit with the proprietor, Dan Dempsey, while he worked was lively and entertaining, too.

Dan Dempsey Tool Hire

 

Dan Dempsey Tyre Shop

We had a brief discussion at this point about whether Brian should take over the driving. Since we had managed pretty well with Jim driving and Brian navigating, in spite of the flat tire, the men decided to continue that plan for the moment.

The following day, however, on the Ring of Kerry, it was time for Brian to get a taste of the driving experience in Ireland. We left Glenbeigh by 9 am to stay ahead of the tour buses and drove counter clock-wise around the Ring. Rick Steves advises that you go the opposite way toward the tour buses but we were glad we didn’t follow his advice in this instance. Meeting a bus on these roads is a terrifying experience and if you can avoid it, by all means, do. The best part was when we got to the one lane roads off the Ring that the buses couldn’t get to.


 The views were definitely worth the effort. You can’t get these views from a tour bus because they can’t get here.

View from the Cliffs of Kerry of Skellig Michael and Little Skellig Islands

There were plenty of other obstacles on the road to avoid. This view of hay being unloaded while traffic waited was a first for us.

Unloading hay

Sheep grazing on the side of the road was not unusual but it was somewhat disconcerting. They must know to avoid traffic because we saw no dead sheep.

We also encountered many bicyclists throughout the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Penninsula. I asked a local whether there were many accidents and he assured me that no one had ever been killed, mostly because the traffic moves pretty slowly. The only fatalities he cited were deer that bounded onto the road unexpectedly.
On our way to Tarbert from Dingle, we encountered runners on the road in a local race and then the Tidy Town Clean Up Days crews picking up litter along the roadways. When you add in the ever present tour buses and an occasional tractor, it seemed as if driving on these roads was more like an obstacle course than anything else.

I will add that  the motorways in Ireland are four lane like our interstates in the U.S. and they are wide and pleasant to navigate. We just didn’t travel on them much as our trip was more rural and along the Wild Atlantic Way.

We survived the challenge of driving on many different roadways throughout the country and if you take it easy, I’m sure you’ll survive the experience, too. And it’s so worth it. But get the full coverage insurance and the extra tire coverage.
Based on travel in April, 2015

Categories: Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Clontarf Castle

As a history nerd, I’ve secretly yearned to stay in a castle but honestly thought it would be way too expensive. I also believed it was contrary to my budget travel label and I would justifiably be called a hypocrite. My budget label is based on necessity as much as choice so spending $300+ for a night’s lodging would reduce the length of my trips and the number of my trips significantly. I was researching castles in Ireland and I saw the best rate for Ashford Castle was $330 per night. Not worth it to me. But then I saw this.

Screenshot from search for castle hotel prices

Screenshot from search for castle hotel prices

Do you see $110 for Clontarf Castle Hotel? That intrigued me. I checked out their website and immediately knew this was meant to be. Clontarf is a suburb in the north of Dublin where the Battle of Clontarf took place in 1014. The simple story is that High King Brian Boru (after whom my son Brian is named) defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf ending the Viking domination of Ireland. This sounded like the perfect combination of historical significance and price for a Lalor family stay.

 It’s always more complicated than the legend, however. In actuality, the Vikings had been in Ireland for a couple hundred years and were very well integrated into Irish culture by that time. In addition, there were Irish and Vikings as well as Brian Boru’s family members on both sides of the battle and the fight was really for economic domination of Dublin. Brian Boru was 72 years old and didn’t actually fight in the battle and unfortunately, he died that day. As one of our tour guides told it, they weren’t sure where he was beheaded but it was quite likely just below his chin. 

The castle was not in existence when this battle took place. The first castle on the site was actually built in 1172 by Hugh de Lacy as part of an inner circle of defense for Dublin. The original structure stood until 1835 when it was demolished because of a sinking foundation and the current structure was completed in 1837. The  castle was continuously occupied until the 1950’s when then owner, J.G.Oulton, died there. It stood vacant until the 1960’s when it was reopened for catering and cabaret events. Then it closed again in 1997 for major reburbishment, reopening in June, 1998, as a four star hotel. In 2007, another major renovation was completed to bring the castle up to today’s standards.

 

  

  

Brian, Abi, Jim at the entrance to Clontarf Castle

  

Inner courtyard at Clontarf Castle Hotel

  

Reception at Clontarf Castle Hotel

  

My Knight in Shining Armour

  

Original Tower of Castle

  

Facade of Clontarf Castle Hotel

  

The original castle with Jim’s tshirt to tell you where we are

The service at the hotel was outstanding. The staff are knowledgeable, helpful, and professional. We arrived prior to 7 am after an overnight flight and they allowed us to check in early because the rooms were ready. We were able to sleep for a couple hours which refreshed us for the heavy sightseeing schedule ahead of us. The following day, we arrived at the front desk for a 9:30 rendezvous with the Hop on Hop off bus to learn that we had just missed it due to a misunderstanding about the departure time. The staff person called the bus company and asked them to return for us. When they didn’t arrive, he sent us to city center by cab at the hotel’s expense. As we pulled away, we saw the red bus pull up to the hotel to pick us up. I call this amazing customer service on everyone’s part.

Stay tuned for more adventures in Dublin, Ireland and the countryside.  

References:

National Museum, Clontarf 1014 exhibit 

Clontarf Castle History handout at Clontarf Castle Hotel

Categories: Ireland, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Planning with the Luck O’ the Irish

I was feverishly planning our upcoming trip to Ireland and wondered whether my itinerary was too ambitious when I saw a post on the Facebook page for our local Social Media Breakfast Club. The speaker that week was Jody Halsted from Ireland Family Vacations. Coincidence? Serendipity? Divine intervention? I call it simply the luck of the Irish. Check out Jody’s website at http://irelandfamilyvacations.com. Although her presentation that day was not about Ireland, I introduced myself before she spoke and asked if she had a few minutes after the meeting to look at my itinerary. She graciously agreed.

Jody spent over half an hour with me discussing Ireland and offering suggestions. She commented that the schedule was ambitious but doable at least until we got to Galway where she expressed the same concern I had. Planning to drive from Galway to Connemara then to the Dublin area so that we could be at Newgrange the following morning was too much driving in one day. I feared as much. I couldn’t bear cutting Connemara so I finally decided we’ll take a “wait and see” approach. It’s at the end of the trip and if we’re tired of riding in the car, we’ll save it for the next trip. On the other hand, if we’re feeling fresh and raring to go, we’ll attempt it.

When she saw Dan Dooley Car Rentals on my itinerary, Jody mentioned that she especially liked that company. Renting a car is risky business in Ireland because it’s one of a few countries where the collision damage waiver (CDW) benefit on your credit card won’t cover. I even called my credit card company just to make sure and yup, I’m right. No coverage in Ireland. That makes renting a car in Ireland more expensive (and less attractive) but if you have limited time and an ambitious schedule, it’s still the most efficient way to get around albeit driving on the left side of the road. My research led me to Dan Dooley and I found they had the best rates including insurance. It’s still nearly $700 for 10 days but I feel confident about my choice after Jody’s endorsement. They also offered wi-fi in the car for an extra $10 per day. I hope this feature keeps us from getting lost and allows some tweets and instagrams en route.

The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2500 km (approx.1550 mi.) route along the western coast of Ireland from County Donegal to County Cork. This is the itinerary I wish we could follow. Wild Atlantic Way Map Below, however, is the itinerary we hope to complete in 10 days. We’ll start in Dublin, head south to Cork and Kinsale, west to County Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula, then north to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway, and finally back east to Newgrange and Trim ending in Dublin. The entire route covers half the distance of the Wild Atlantic Way at nearly 1250 km or 800 miles. Driving on the left on narrow Irish roads promises to hold adventure with a dash of challenge.   Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 11.59.20 AM Ten years ago we explored Dublin and the area southeast to Kilkenny and Waterford with our son, Michael. We especially enjoyed County Laois because the Lalor family, my husband’s people, are from this area. This trip, we’re looking forward to seeing an even larger area to the south and west with our son, Brian, and daughter-in-law, Abi. I’d love to have the time to stay in one place and explore an area fully but this itinerary requires that we stay in a different town each night. I’ve reserved B&B’s, guesthouses, and hotels in advance which means we have to keep to the schedule every day. I hope you’ll follow my future posts as I explore and tell you about the geography, history, and culture of this magical island.

If you’ve been to Ireland and have suggestions along our route, I’d love to hear from you. I’m especially interested in points of interest, historical sites, and restaurant recommendations.

Categories: Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

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