Monthly Archives: July 2015

Touring the Burren

“It is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.” So said Englishman Edmund Ludlow in 1651 while in the Burren on a campaign to subdue the rebellious Irish. Covering an area of nearly a hundred square miles in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland, the limestone rock that comprises the Burren was formed over 350 million years ago, then polished by glaciers in the last Ice Age. The result is a stark, desolate landscape that looks almost lunar. It’s a karst landscape which is limestone terrain characterized by fissures, caves, and sinkholes caused by water eroding the soft rock. So, while the land appears arid and parched without surface lakes or rivers, rain and underground water actually carved the Burren.

The Burren

The Burren

The cenotes in the Yucatán of Mexico are another example of karst landscape. (You can check out my post about cenotes here.)

The map below on the left shows our tour route of the Burren (enlarged) and the one on the right shows all of Ireland with the Burren marked in pink on the west coast.

Our first stop was the Burren Smokehouse at Lisdoonvarna (A on the map above), where we saw a video that explained the difference between hot smoked and cold smoked salmon. Traditional Irish smoked salmon is cold smoked (35 degrees centigrade or 95 degrees fahrenheit) but they offer both products at the Burren Smokehouse. After sampling the two, my favorite was the hot smoked. We decided to buy the sampler package that contained smoked mackerel and trout in addition to both hot and cold smoked salmon.  You can find this product and others on their website here.

Burren Smokehouse

Burren Smokehouse

The sales staff in the shop recommended we first explore the coast drive along the Atlantic in the Burren so off we went in search of R477 (up to point B).

R477 in the Burren

R477 in the Burren

In spite of the rocky bareness, we were delighted to discover flora that maintained a tenuous hold providing an added element of beauty to the landscape.

The Burren flora

The Burren flora

When we reached the coast and saw the Burren with the backdrop of the Atlantic, it was positively breathtaking. We stopped at every opportunity to enjoy one captivating view after another.

The Burren

The Burren

The Burren

The Burren with the Atlantic Ocean

The Burren

The Burren

The Burren

The Burren

The Burren along the Wild Atlantic Way

The Burren along the Wild Atlantic Way

The Burren

The Burren

We even spotted rock climbers scaling the walls of the Burren, although we didn’t see any of the wild mountain goats that also inhabit the area.

The Burren

The Burren

At the ring fort at Caherconnell (point D), we spotted a number of rats scurrying about the fields among the cattle (which frankly, kind of freaked me out. ) They also advertise sheepdog demonstrations onsite but we passed on that.

Caherconnell Ring Fort

Caherconnell Ring Fort

Caherconnell Ring Fort

Caherconnell Fort

Our final stop in the Burren was at Poulnabrone Dolmen (point E), a portal tomb over 5000 years old that contained the remains of over 30 people when excavation began in 1986. A dolmen, or portal tomb, is a burial site marked by a capstone supported by surrounding stone columns. There are over 100 such burial chambers mostly in the northern part of Ireland but this, I believe, is the best known and most thoroughly excavated.

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone Dolmen

If you visit the western coast of Ireland, check out the Burren. It’s less than a half hour drive from the Cliffs of Moher and less than an hour from Galway. We found it was a memorable experience.

Based on events from April, 2015.

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Craic Was Ninety in Doolin

People that know me well may be surprised by this post. I’m about to gush over a small, and I mean a really small town. As a rule, I’m not a big fan of small towns and my worst nightmare would be to live in one. So, what’s so great about the village of Doolin, in County Clare, Ireland, with a population of less than 500? It was the craic (pronounced crack), of course, among other things.

First of all, it’s along the Wild Atlantic Way and perfectly situated to visit the Cliffs of Moher, covered in my last post, and the Burren, which will be the subject of my next post. We could have stayed at least a week and found plenty to see and do to keep us busy.

Our B&B, the Roadford House, owned and run by Frank and Marian Sheedy, was a gem. Our party of four stayed in a suite which was really two bedrooms separated by a hallway with a full bath and another half bath downstairs. It was comfortable but not fancy and cost €140 per night. But the best part was the restaurant. We enjoyed some of the finest food of our entire trip at the Roadford House Restaurant in this small village. With locally sourced, organic ingredients, the dishes were delicious and beautifully presented in a bright modern setting.

Pre-dinner bread

Pre-dinner bread selection

Salad

Salad

Monkfish

Monkfish

Aged Irish sirloin

Aged Irish sirloin

The Roadford House

The Roadford House Restaurant

Breakfast the following morning was just as pleasing to the eye and palate. But the pièce de résistance was the gourmet egg dish with salmon, beet root, brie, and basil pesto. Without a doubt, it was the loveliest, most colorful egg dish I’ve ever seen and it was delicious, too.

Scrambled eggs with salmon

Scrambled eggs with salmon

Traditional Irish breakfast

Traditional Irish breakfast

Gourmet breakfast with eggs, salmon, brie, beet root and basil

Gourmet breakfast with eggs, salmon, brie, beet root and basil

If you haven’t already assumed as much, this is a hearty endorsement for the Roadford House (with no remuneration). I know they’ve appeared on lots of lists and received plenty of impressive awards but I’ll just add my two cents worth. Frank and Marian are lovely local people who are knowledgeable about the hospitality industry with experience working in Europe and the U.S. They returned to their home area to put their talents to good use building their own business with hard work and top-notch skills. If you visit this area, be sure to at least eat here if not stay and eat.  By the way, they also have a lovely dog named Beans and a neighbor cow whose name we didn’t get but it might be Hamburger.

Cow next door to Roadford House

Brian and Abi with the cow next door to Roadford House

Doolin calls itself the traditional music capital of Ireland so a visit wouldn’t be complete without checking out the pubs featuring live trad music. Here’s where the craic really got started. Craic is an Gaelic word that means fun and there’s a lot of craic to be had in the pubs in Doolin. After dinner we went first to McDermott’s where we shared a table with German tourists who I was told arrive by the busload to Doolin.

McDermott's Pub with German tourists

McDermott’s Pub with German tourists

They spoke very little English and we speak no German but in a pub with live music and Guinness flowing, that didn’t matter. Then it was on to McGann’s Pub for another round and more live music.

McGann's Pub

McGann’s Pub

McGann's Pub

McGann’s Pub

The village of Doolin taught me the meaning of the song “The Craic was Ninety in the Isle of Man.” I have listened to that song for over 30 years and never understood what it meant until now. The craic (fun) was mighty in the Isle of Man (an island between Ireland and Great Britain). Have a listen to it as sung by the Dubliners. It’s grand.

The craic was ninety in Doolin of the Emerald Isle.

Based on events in April, 2015.

Categories: Food, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Cliffs of Moher and More

Travel requires making choices based on time constraints (among other things). You simply can’t do it all. I was looking for a shortcut from the Dingle Peninsula to the Cliffs of Moher when my younger son suggested I check ferries. Shannon Ferries crosses the Shannon Estuary every hour on the half hour from Tarbert to Killimer which would save us several hours driving through Limerick. A 20 minute trip for the four of us plus the car for just €18 sounded like a bargain. That meant postponing a visit to King John’s Castle in Limerick until our next trip to Ireland but a ferry ride would be a new experience to add to our itinerary.

Map Dingle to Cliffs of Moher

Map to get from Dingle to Cliffs of Moher by way of Tarbert Ferry

Ferry from Tarbert to Killimer

Ferry from Tarbert to Killimer

Ferry across the Shannon Estuary

Ferry across the Shannon Estuary

I’ve taken ferries before but not with a vehicle. We were fascinated watching the workers cram cars, trucks, and buses bumper to bumper onto the ship. We enjoyed the ride and I would recommend the experience. Although we didn’t see any dolphins as I had hoped and often occurs in this area, I was delighted to spot a lighthouse. I adore lighthouses and I love to photograph them.

Lighthouse view from the ferry

Lighthouse view from the ferry

We were only an hour’s drive from the Cliffs of Moher when we got off the ferry and arriving early in the day was a definite advantage. The Cliffs of Moher are the number one tourist attraction in Ireland attracting up to a million visitors each year. We beat most of the tour buses delivering hordes of tourists, paid our €6 admission fee, and looked around the visitor center at a leisurely pace. Then we walked up to view the Cliffs in sunshine.  Many tourists report fog and rain obscuring their view so we were keenly aware of our good fortune to be there on a sunny day. The wind was fierce, however, which I understand is normal. Locals told us it’s always windy.

To give you a little perspective, the Cliffs are 700 feet tall which is the height of the ice wall on Game of Thrones. Seven hundred feet is equivalent to about a 70 story building; the St Louis Gateway Arch is 630 feet and the Eiffel Tower is 986 feet tall. The views of the Cliffs from every vantage point were breathtaking as I’m sure you’ll agree.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher looking south from the Main Platform

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher from the North Platform

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher looking north

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher looking north

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher from the North Platform

Built in 1835, O’Brien’s Tower stands on a headland at the north end and reportedly provides the best photo opportunities of the cliffs to the south. We decided not to pay the extra €2 to climb it but did take pictures from that area. I also took the photo below that shows the tower perched atop the headland.

Cliffs of Moher

O’Brien’s Tower on the headland at the Cliffs of Moher

In addition, I took a short video to capture the scene with an Irish melody in the background played by a busker. Busking is allowed and the music varies from day-to-day including harp, concertina, guitar, tin whistle, and flute. The roaring wind on the video will also give you a feel for our experience.

Today, there are railings and warnings to provide a measure of safety for visitors to the Cliffs of Moher. Visitors can and do go beyond the railings at their peril, however. We saw many tourists posing for photos near the edge which is very dangerous considering the powerful wind gusts that come up unexpectedly. Sadly, a number of deaths have occurred here due to either accident or suicide. While I didn’t see any reports of the number of deaths, we did see signs offering suicide prevention messages and a memorial which is a stark reminder. It says, “In memory of those who have lost their lives at the Cliffs of Moher.”

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher Memorial

As we headed back to the parking lot, we noticed it was rapidly filling with tour buses. To avoid the crowds I suggest you arrive as early in the day as possible or late in the day. The Cliffs open at 9 am daily but closing time varies by season from 5 pm in the winter to 9 pm in the summer. Plan to spend 2-3 hours to see the visitor center and the Cliffs and longer if you walk the cliff trails. (We did not.) Also keep in mind photos are affected by the time of day and time of year you visit. On the April morning we were there, the sun was more behind the South Cliffs so the detail on the face of the Cliffs is harder to see. But whenever you go, plan to be inspired and amazed by the Cliffs of Moher.

Based on events from April, 2015

Categories: Ireland, Travel | Tags: , | 9 Comments

Doing the Dingle, Peninsula That Is

If you, like me, fell in love with the Dingle Peninsula when you saw the movie, Leap Year, with Amy Adams, I have a bit of bad news for you. None of it was filmed there. If you’re old enough to have seen Ryan’s Daughter from 1970, however, it was filmed on the Dingle and today many of the movie locations are still identified with signs. Regardless of the movie representations, the Dingle Peninsula is incredibly beautiful.

Our first stop on the peninsula was Inch Beach. I’m not sure why it’s called Inch Beach because I think a better name would be Mile Beach.  It’s about the widest beach I’ve seen and the views across Dingle Bay to McGillicuddy’s Reeks are spectacular.

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula

Then it was on to the town of Dingle to find our B&B for that evening, Heaton’s Guest House. I found Heaton’s on the internet when searching Dingle accommodations and chose it based on reviews, price, and location. We arrived before noon and our rooms weren’t ready that early so we parked the car there and walked about a mile (1.6 km) to the center of town to explore. I had read about the Little Cheese Shop in Dingle and we were keen to check it out.

Little Cheese Shop, Dingle

Little Cheese Shop, Dingle

A locked door greeted us with a note that said, “Back in 15 minutes.” We should have known right then but we waited about 30 minutes before finally heading off to check out the other recommendation in Dingle— ice cream at Murphy’s. IMG_1476 Fortunately, Murphy’s didn’t disappoint. For me, their handmade ice cream scored a 10 on a five point scale.

Brian and Abi at Murphy's

Brian and Abi at Murphy’s

After our respite at Murphy’s we checked back at the Little Cheese Shop to find it still closed so we walked back to Heaton’s, retrieved the car, and headed out to Slea Head Drive, the clockwise tour around the Dingle Peninsula on the Wild Atlantic Way. Rick Steves has a self guided tour in his Ireland book with stops and distances listed. If you use it, be sure to start at Oceanworld as all distances are measured from there. Because our B&B was beyond the starting point, we had some difficulties that we could have avoided.

We stopped at many points around this loop but I’ll mention just a few. The first stop was to get a photo of a currach which is a traditional Irish fishing boat made from a wood frame covered in animal hides or canvas and “painted” with tar.  They are lightweight and maneuverable but somewhat fragile (Steves, 2014).

Currach on the Dingle

Currach on the Dingle

We explored an archeological site of beehive huts or clochans overseen by an elderly woman named Mary who collects the couple of euros for admission to this national monument. Beehive huts were constructed by stacking the stones without use of mortar in a form called corbelling. There is little known about the people who inhabited these abodes or, indeed, when they built the beehive huts, but it is generally agreed they are really old.

Fahan Beehive Huts

Fahan Beehive Huts

Fahan Beehive Huts

Fahan Beehive Huts

View from Bee Hive Huts

View of Dingle Bay from Bee Hive Huts

We stopped at various lookout areas along the loop to enjoy spectacular views and try to capture some of the beauty digitally.

Slea Head

Slea Head

Slea Head

Slea Head, Dingle Peninsula

Clogher Head

Clogher Head, Dingle Peninsula

Back to the town of Dingle, we made one more attempt at the Little Cheese Shop. It was finally open but proved a disappointment.  The owner was the least friendly person we met in all of Ireland but in fairness, her accent was definitely not Irish so she’s no reflection on the warm and friendly locals. Samples weren’t freely provided although she did offer one to prove we wouldn’t care for a very aged cheddar. We can’t help it; we’re Iowa nice so we bought a board of several cheeses anyway. As a former cheesehead from Wisconsin, however, I’ve tasted as good or better elsewhere.

Little Cheese Shop, Dingle

Little Cheese Shop, Dingle

Cheese board from Little Cheese Shop in Dingle

Cheese board from Little Cheese Shop in Dingle

Armed with a bottle of wine purchased at a nearby shop to wash down the cheese before dinner, we headed back to Heaton’s Guest House where we were delighted with our accommodations. Our rooms and the common areas were welcoming and comfortable with a delicious chocolate cake offered for guests who didn’t mind spoiling their dinner.

Our room at Heaton's Guest House in Dingle

Our room at Heaton’s Guest House in Dingle

Heaton's Guest House

Abi and Brian playing a game of chess at Heaton’s Guest House

View from Heaton's Guest House, Dingle

View from Heaton’s Guest House, Dingle

We decided on the Chart House for dinner in Dingle. With plenty of awards and grand reviews to recommend it, we knew we’d find good food but we found a healthy dose of Irish charm in the atmosphere of the restaurant, too.

The Chart House, Dingle

The Chart House, Dingle

The Chart House, Dingle

The Chart House, Dingle

Lamb Shanks at the Chart House, Dingle

Lamb Shanks at the Chart House, Dingle

The Chart House, Dingle

Root Vegetables at the Chart House, Dingle

A walk following dinner allowed us some additional views and photos of darling, delightful Dingle with an amazing sunset.

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Sunset at Dingle Bay

Sunset at Dingle Bay

Sunset at Dingle

Sunset at Dingle

The following morning, one more surprise awaited us. The breakfast at Heaton’s was gourmet and scrumptious, prepared by the owner, David Heaton, who happens to be a chef.

It was hard to leave such a special, beautiful, delightful place but we had many more sights yet to see in Ireland but, without a doubt, I plan to return.

References:

Steves, R. & O’Connor, P. (2014). Rick Steves’ Ireland. 

Based on events from April, 2015

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

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