One Final Note

To Mike McGraw, my own Wild Colonial Boy, I owe a never-ending debt of gratitude for your courageous driving, bottomless patience, unflagging good spirits, and unflappable calm under the most trying of travel experiences. 

Is breá liom tú dearly. Go raibh maith agat.

Kate

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Shores of Our Heart

As many dazzling natural vistas, museums, ancient monuments, castles, and cathedrals that can be found in Ireland, and there are so many, the real treasure of Ireland is her people. We have said this in other posts but after a month-long journey that has taken us north to south and east to west it has become even more apparent. 

The easy smiles, the quick laughter, the witty, wry sense of humor (never mean-spirited), the ability to stay in the moment and enjoy life to the fullest, the pride in culture and heritage, and open- heartedness has infused us with a much-needed belief in the goodness the future holds and can bring. We cling to this belief as we head home into the uncertainty of what direction America is taking.

For centuries the Irish were brutally treated. They were forbidden their own language, religion, education, and land ownership. Yet they survived and eventually thrived. For each of us with even a wee drop of Irish blood – we are the inheritors of a proud, brave and enduring legacy. 

Centuries of struggle have made the Irish politically aware and on-guard to preserve their hard-fought independence and their Republic. They are voting for a new president on Friday. We vote November 6. 

It is our duty to vote to defend our liberty and to ensure social justice. Vote. Do your part.

Our hearts are left on the shores as we cross the Atlantic. Millions of Irish over the last centuries and particularly during The Great Hunger have done the same. They said their good byes to their beloved country carrying Ireland with them. We are more fortunate. We say only good bye for now – we will see you again in the future. We also will carry Ireland home with us. 

Killarney, Co Kerry

Continuing our southward journey we headed to Killarney. We had no specific expectations or preconceptions of Killarney other than basing ourselves there seemed a good idea to put us in position to see Killarney National Park and the Dingle Peninsula.

Perusing Booking.com we picked a hotel – Earl’s Court – as it looked appealing in the photos and had two essential qualifications: 1. An offstreet parking lot and 2. A location within easy walking distance to town center.

Earl’s Court turned out to be the best and luckiest choice of our month-long journey. It is a family-run hotel with the friendliest and most helpful staff we have encountered. Smiles and good cheer were found in abundance.

The hotel itself is beautiful. We were welcomed in a cozy lobby with a cheery fire burning. Filled with antiques and paintings we felt like guests in a great home from a couple of centuries past with one big exception – jeans are suitable – no Jane Austen or Downton Abbey attire required.

Our room was spacious and tucked away in a quiet corner in the back of the house. We were overjoyed to have a comfortable sofa to relax on after full days of walking. What was intended to be a two-night stay ended up being a four-night stay. We would have stayed longer but our trip was rapidly winding to an end. 

Killarney was bigger than we expected. It is easy to walk around with broad sidewalks and is packed with restaurants, pubs, and interesting shops. Outside of Dublin it was the most international city/town we visited. Tourists from all over the world, including Irish, flock in to see the many nearby attractions, the natural beauty of the region, and to enjoy a lively nightly music scene. 

We spent one sunny afternoon in the enormous garden of Killarney House watching the clouds sweep across the mountain tops and flow like waterfalls down the face of the mountains. Stunning. 

Always the highlight of any place in Ireland that we find ourselves is the music. At Murphy’s Pub in Killarney we lucked into a brilliant (favorite Irish adjective) trio – guitar, concertina, and banjo. The guitarist had a fantastic voice and the jam-packed pub joined in clapping and singing along with any of the songs familiar to them. Halfway through the evening the band was joined by a fiddler and a feadóg (tin whistle) player. Quite a high-energy evening with everyone reluctant to call it a night.

The night’s session was a great finale to our stay in Killarney. With only two days remaining in our month-long travels we must now make our way back to Dublin for a Thursday morning return home.

Slainte. Slan go foill.


To the Manor Born

Leaving Westport we headed south to Clifden in Connemara. Our destination was the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel. A friend from work had told me about her experience there in glowing terms. We discovered they had a room available for two nights so off we went. The drive was  scenic and not nearly as nail-biting as we have come to expect.  

We wound our way uphill to the town of Clifden and cresting the hill we saw the castle. Flags fluttering in the wind from the top parapet. Very impressive and imposing.

We descended the driveway and saw the full glory of Abbeyglen Castle. The first sight was a fountain on the terrace overlooking a verdant green lawn lined with trees and a brook splashing down stones on its way to the small beach below. Mike spotted two helipads. Could they be for real? Yes. As we were sitting outside taking in the view in the late afternoon sun a copter came whirring in. 


Turns out a few guests do arrive by helicopter but the pads are generally used by crews that fly in and out each day from the hotel to work on the offshore islands. Landings at 4pm, takeoffs at 8am. Since our room overlooked the front garden we had the best view in the house of the comings and goings from our 2nd floor room.

They real beauty of Abbeyglen is not the physical setting but the atmosphere and fellow guests. The place is so convivial. There are no strangers just friends you have yet to meet. Conversations were struck-up anywhere you happened to be – taking in the view, burrowed in a comfy chair in front of the fire, having afternoon tea and scones, enjoying a drink in the bar, at dinner or gathered around the piano in the evening for entertainment and group sing alongs. Several guests added their talents by playing instruments, singing, or reciting stories. We never made it to bed before 1am. Great fun, loads of laughter.

And we have to mention the Abbeyglen food. Fresh ingredients, beautifully presented. Every meal was a delight. The dessert buffet offerings were sumptuous. All pastries are made on the premises. 

So many of the guests we talked to were return visitors. We certainly understand why. We too would be delighted to visit again. Perhaps to cross paths with old friends Brendan and Ann, Jamie and Carol, Sean and May and certainly to make some new friends. 

Slainte. Slan go foill.

An Spideal – Spiddal

For me there is nothing like the wild, majestic beauty of Connemara. Stark mountains, loughs, open meadows, miles of bogland, and the immense Atlantic Ocean. In the sun Connemara is utterly breathtaking. Gray, damp and rainy it is mystical and powerful. We have seen both aspects and are awed by both.  

We chose to stay in the small coastal town of Spidéal in the heart of the Gaeltacht, the Irish speaking area of Ireland. It would be a chance for Mike to be exposed to Irish spoken daily not just in class at the House of Ireland in Balboa Park. 

Our couple of days in Spiddal would be spent sitting on rocks on the coastline that goes in both directions for as far as the eye can see. We sat and soaked in the beauty, peace and tranquility. Our alone time was punctuated by the occasional child accompanied by a parent or grandparent running along the shore laughing, digging in the sand or pawing through piles of seaweed. Treasures to be uncovered. In the evening hours we observed owners walking the beach tossing sticks into the ocean and dogs gleefully plunging into the very chilly water to retrieve them. 

Spidéal also has a lovely craft “village” – a collection of small cottages that house a weaver, silversmith, painters, printmakers, glass artists, potter, basket maker, an Irish book and music shop, photographers, and other artisans. We visited each cottage and enjoyed looking at all the art and wares. Of course, we bought a few pieces too!

In the evening the smell of peat fires burning was intoxicating. How can I get some peat back home?

We spent a snug night in Tigh Giblin, a lovely pub, across from our hotel. On our last night in Spidéal we were treated to a session of local musicians playing fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and concertina. Two of the musicians had gorgeous voices. Needless to say, we stayed until the midnight closing.

One of the names in my family tree is Bodkin. This is a familiar name in Galway and this area. I know I have Connemara in my genetic make-up. It is magical here.

My second home.

Sláinte. Slán go fóill!

Are you enjoying these posts? — Go here to see more pictures and read our blog posts from two previous visits to Ireland and Scotland, in 2013 and 2016. (http://kandmindublin.blogspot.com/) 

Coral Beach Laundrette

Thursday, 18 October

Recovering from our big day yesterday (October 17 was our 37th wedding anniversary) we decided that we needed clean clothes for the last leg of this journey.

Asking at the front desk of our Spiddal B&B, An Cruiscin Lan, we found that the nearest place to do laundry was in Carraroe, about 20 km north. Two big coin-op washers and one dryer are set up there in the parking lot of the Centra store. How convenient! 😲👎🏽

We were told of a coral beach not too far down the road from the laundry facilities so we decided after our wash and dry to take a long walk on the coral beach.

First order of business – get coins. Second step – buy laundry detergent. Cancel second step – washer comes preloaded with detergent. New second step – figure out how the pay station for the machines work. After some fumbling we got the washer humming away. We grabbed some hot chocolate from the convenience store and retreated to Sal (our car) to get out of the wind.

Having set the phone timer we emerged from the shelter of the car and transferred the clothes to the dryer. Back to the car.

Bing! Dryer time up. With laundry bag ready we reached into the dryer to find our clothes still sodden. Hmm, let’s turn up the heat level on the dryer (and hopefully not turn our clothes into doll clothes) and climbed back into the car.

Bing! Back to the dryer. Clothes still pretty wet. After debating the pros and cons we upped the heat and fed in more coins.

Bing! Clothes still not even remotely dry enough to take back to our room to spread out to dry. Mike found a service number on the machine and called for help. Sinead, who answered the phone, was cheerful and sympathetic but the bottom line was a tech would not be available for a couple of weeks.

We looked at each other and decided to go for broke. Every stitch of clothing we had with us other than what we were wearing was in that dryer – wet. We cranked the heat to the highest level possible and fed in more coins. In spite of the cold we stayed in front of the dryer and stared transfixed as though watching the most thrilling, engrossing TV show ever. We were willing heat through immense concentration.

Bing! Hurrah! Clothes actually felt warm. More coins deposited. However, the light was fading rapidly and it would be dark soon. We had never driven in the darkness that is rural Ireland at night.

Bing! The clothes were dry enough to take out. We could touch the damp spots with a hair dryer once back in our room.

Taking deep breaths we got into the car for the 25 minute absolutely terrifying and nerve-wracking trip back to Spiddal in the dark. Bravo Mike for his superb skill in getting us back safely.

What a lovely afternoon at the coral beach!

Slainte. Slan go foill.

Backward

(Monday, 8 October)

We all had been looking forward to today’s adventure. The itinerary was a visit to the Giant’s Causeway and to the Bushmill Distillery, both on the northernmost edge of Northern Ireland, the “Antrim Coast.”

Our first decision of the day was choosing to take a cab rather than to drive ourselves the 50 kilometers to the coast and back, I’m sure every Irish driver on the road was grateful. And what’s more, a visit to Bushmills certainly would not be complete without a couple of samples of some fine Irish whiskey. So, no designated driver would be needed.

Our host at Oranmore House secured the agreement of a local taxi service to drive us there and to pick us up later. We decided to make Bushmills our first stop. Stepping out of the cab we were slapped with a very cold and stiff wind. It turned out we had arrived too early. Needing to get out of the wind we walked into town to find a cafe and to get hot tea.

Warmed and fortified we walked back to Bushmills for the tour. For 7-10 euros, groups of 20 or so take a 45-minute tour and are rewarded with two “free” shots of Bushmills whiskey. Since the tour involved walking thru some pretty hot and humid areas, Kate decided to just meet us in the gift shop. Sensible, that one. Photographs aren’t allowed on the tour so we learned many Bushmill secrets that we can’t reveal on pain of death. Suffice it to say that they add corn liquor to their less expensive whiskeys. But free is free so who’s complaining?

Thus fortified we ambled out into the stiffening breeze and eventually caught the free (for real this time) city bus to the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Center. It turned out that because we’d forgotten to bring a car we weren’t allowed in…or at least not allowed into the Visitor Center. The young woman on the front desk just couldn’t figure out how to sell us passes even when we asked her to just pretend that we had a car out in the car park. So we got in by simply walking *around* the Visitor Center.

With the wind continuing to blow we rode the 2 euro bus down to the causeway. There, surrounded by what seemed like several busloads of Chinese tourists, we snapped a few photos of the wet rocks and stamped our feet to stay warm. Several young security-jacket-clad folks were busy keeping tourists off the slippery rocks and out of the frigid North Sea.

After an hour…or ten…the photographer in our group finally grew tired of taking pics of rocks and tourists and we returned to the topside. There we struggled to re-call our taxi driver, a task made difficult because we  had all bought Vodaphone SIM cards in the Republic and didn’t have the secret code needed to dial numbers in Northern Ireland. After many tries we finally reached the taxi service which promised their driver would arrive in 45 minutes. Two frozen hours later our ride finally appeared, more than an hour and a half after the park had closed.
Mike had fortunately called ahead to the Oranmore so the kind folks there had hot soup and sandwiches waiting and a nice fire lit in their small bar. Slurping our soup we realized that we’d done the day backward—we should have done the rocks first and had a nice warm whiskey to keep us company at the back end.
Slainte. Slan go foill.