Micha in Ireland 2003
With Mark and Jenny's visit to Europe this year, we decided to spend a few days in lovely Ireland. This is a short account of the trip, broken down into the four days we were there. The first day, Sunday, was spent in Dublin and the remaining 3 days were spent on a guided bus tour, the Western Rocker Shamrocker tour.
Day 1 - Sunday 2003.06.29 - Pics
Had to get up very early to catch my plane. Being Sunday, the tubes didn't run early enough and I had to catch a taxi out to Heathrow. Will have to remember this when booking flights in future! The flight itself was short and sweet, just time for a cuppa.
I arrived quite a bit before Mark and Jenny who are travelling from Manchester after visiting Scott. Deciding not to wait around for them at the airport after all, I made my way to the Kinley House hostel in Dublin on the 16a bus. A helpful local lent me the 10 cents fare I was short of since you need exact change on the busses here and I didn't have much in the way of shrapnel on me. The hostel is right next to the Christchurch on Saint Edward street, and this turned out to be where the tour left from as well.
After checking into the hostel and leaving my bags with them (the luggage room opens on the hour every hour) I had breakfast in a cafe across the road from the hostel. Not long after Mark and Jenny turned up and after getting them settled into the hostel we wandered about Dublin for a bit.
First port of call was to find the address from where the tour would leave from in the morning. Finding the alleyway which the brochure gave as an address, we found the premises to be disturbingly abandoned-looking. No forwarding details were to be found on the boarded up windows and asking around confirmed that we had the right place. With a sinking feeling in our stomachs that we might have been taken for a ride, we decided nevertheless to enjoy ourselves, and did so with a nice big ice-cream.
From there we headed to Trinity College and signed up for the guided tour which looked strangely familiar! I had been in Dublin 4 years earlier, but couldn't really remember anything. I refute the claim that Guiness has anything to do with this! In any case, my memory got jogged, and from this point on I was a little bit of help in navigating around and showing Mark and Jenny some of the places worth looking at in the one day we had in the capital.
After Trinity College and the Book of Kells we headed to Dublin Castle and followed the guided tour in that as well. It was much as I remembered it after seeing it again. From Dublin Castle we wandered off to find one of the cathedrals, but got side-tracked in the Castle Inn, a delightful pub near the Christchurch, after finding the Christchurch closed for business already. A few pints are a wonderful way to console oneself!
Coming back to the hostel, Mark decided to take a closer look at one of the Shamrocker brochures they had available there, and found a new address on the back. Coincidentally, this happened to be the very hostel we were staying at, so that gave us an extra half-hour snooze in the morning!
Day 2 - Monday 2003.06.30 - Pics
We had an early start and a simple breakfast in the hostel before we embarked on the tour - in true irish style it was pouring down with rain! All up we had about 23 people aboard (mostly aussies) and Mick the tour-guide and Catherine the driver (who apparently hadn't had an accident in a claimed 22 days or so - a record we were to put an end to on this trip!).
The first part of the day was a longish drive to our first destination. The time was spent with everybody giving introductions and playing a couple of games the first of which was the matchstick-and-life-savers-relay-race. Picture matchstick in mouth and having to pass the lifesaver between people, hands not allowed. Mick and Catherin also kept us entertained throughout the tour with relevant stories and legends from Ireland.
Our first destination was the Rock of Cashel, a ruined castle built on top of a rocky outcrop. The rain was considerate enough to have abated by now so we had a nice dryish wander around. Some of the buildings dated back to 1101, not a bad investment for the original property developer!
Back in the bus, our next stop was Blarney Castle with the famous Blarney Stone, kissing of which is said to bestow the Gift of the Gab and the Luck of the Irish. It's interesting to be leaning backwards over a stone-wall 10 stories up in order to reach a rock which countless others have smooched. We were reassured by our tour guides that the locals relieving themselves on the stone is an urban legend. How very reassuring, since the guides were irish... Unfortunately time was a little short, so I was unable to explore all the grounds of the castle nor the little cave leading from the castle a few hundred meters into the forest.
Back on the bus, yayy! Having had great luck with the weather so far, Mick arranged a horse cart ride in Killarney before dinner. Killarney was our first stop, and by the time we arrived it was pouring down with rain. That, however, did little to dissuade us from the cart ride, which wound its way through the picturesque Killarney National Park with beautiful views over Loch Lein. Dinner followed the ride, after which Mick had a full agenda of live entertainment planned in a pub and then a nightclub. Mark, Jenny, and myself decided instead to wander through Killarney for a bit instead and meet up with the group later. Much later, as it turned out... we ended up walking all the way to Ross Castle in the middle of the park, and from there along the shore of Loch Lein back to Killarney and St. Mary's Cathedral. Since it was too late to join up with everyone we just went to the hostel and to bed.
Day 3 - Tuesday 2003.07.01 - Pics
This day was largely spent in the bus around the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland. Very picturesque with lots of old ruins everywhere. Apparently this area of Ireland was fairly hard-hit during the great famine. We did have a couple of stops before lunch. Originally the plan was to have a picnic lunch somewhere on the way, but the weather was too changeable to risk it. So we just stretched our legs at the stops which included a few scenic spots along the, Coumeenole Beach for a good long stretch of the legs although no-one seemed terribly keen to jump into the water to go for a swim, and finally Dingle Village for lunch.
After lunch was another drive to the Shannon river which we crossed on the Tarbert Ferry. Unfortunately the dolphins which live there didn't come out to play despite waving our cameras around. From there our next stop were the Cliffs of Moher, very impressive drop into the oceaon which reminded me a little of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. The weather had turned beautiful again by now so we got some great views.
From there we headed to Doolin village, a tiny out-of-the-way collection of houses which is renowned for traditional irish music. We also discovered an awesome irish stew - best I've ever had - and of course the Guiness was quite good too *grin*. After dinner we headed to the beach which was quite impressive. The entire area sits on a limestone base which erodes in quite interesting ways. Running parallel to the water are long straight cracks in the rock, almost like an oversized cattle-grid, perfectly designed to break ankles. Closer to the beach is a huge jumble of rocks before a final comparatively flat and even stone ledge leads into the water. There we found more people from the group and settled down to watch the sun go down.
With about quarter of an hour to go, everyone decided it would get too dark and dangerous to stay, so they all headed back to the village and the pub. I stayed and took some nice sunset pictures before running back up to the country lane leading to the village - where I discovered that I had dropped my phone! I retraced my tracks and zig-zagged across the couple of hundred meters of rough ground between the lane and the beach, but couldn't find it. Somewhat miffed I headed back once it really did get too dark to safely keep clambering aorund the rocks, consoled myself with a Bailey's and headed to bed after Mark agreed to come out early the next morning to help me look for it. The plan was to call it on Mark's mobile and listen for it ringing...
Day 4 - Wednesday 2003.07.02 - Pics
The alarm went off at 5:30 and rather reluctantly we got up and headed off to the beach. Based on the terrain, I was very pessimistic as to the outcome of this search. Pessimism pays off: I was hence nicely surprised to hear the phone ringing on the first attempt not 10 meters from the end of the lane where I had noticed it missing the night before...
So, with phone newly attached to my belt, Mark and I made a detour to the ruins of an old church on the way back to the village and said hi to the cows which were already awake as well. Not often that I get to see a consecutive sunset and sunrise!!
Back in the bus, our first stop was on the Burren Plateau near the Pol na Brone dolmen. The entire region is a very thin layer of vegetation and soil on limestone rocks, with large areas of bare stone. The dolmen itself consists of a couple of vertical rock slabs atop of which is balanced an 11 tonne stone slab. The exact use of these is not known, although several legends exist to explain them.
Our next stop was the Clonmacnoise monastery site on the trade cross-roads of ancient Ireland. We stayed there long enough to enjoy a picnic lunch perched atop a tomb after a guided tour of the site.
Our last stop of the day, and of the tour, was the Lockes Distillery. This distillery is the oldest licensed pot distillery in the world, although they no longer actually distill whiskey there anymore. The weather had turned to rain again, but since most of the tour was indoors this time it mattered little, and the warming whiskey at the end made it even more inconsequential! We were shown the various stages of whiskey production and learned why only irish whiskey is spelled whiskey and scottish whisky is spelled without the 'e' - the irish whiskey is triple-distilled whereas scottish whisky is only double-distilled.
Back in Dublin we thanked our most excellent hosts of the tour, and headed our own ways. Mark and Jenny had another night in Dublin whereas I had to head for home in order to work the next day - yayy! Finding the right bus stop for the 16a, I had to admit that the graffiti scrawled on top of the time table was quite accurate when the quarterly bus failed to show up for over 50 minutes. The graffiti read: 'does not exist'... just as well I had left myself plenty of time! All's well that ends well, and I was quite glad to collapse in my own bed after a most excellent short break away in Ireland, with many a great memory!
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Last updated: 2003.07.07