Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin

We took it easy today with a short trip south to a small town called Bray. After exploring the beach for a bit, we took the opportunity to dip our toes in this side of the Atlantic.



After returning to Dublin, I managed to find a bus that took us directly to our hotel at the airport, which brought me joy on numerous levels. In addition to making my feet happy, I successfully demonstrated my serious map skills and got to experience the pleasure of not having to pay for a cab. It’s the little things.

In honor of our last day in Ireland, we have composed a list of things we will miss about traveling on the Emerald Isle (spoiler: there’s a lot of food involved) and a list of things we will not.

Things we will miss about traveling in Ireland

  • People who are always friendly, happy, and welcoming to tourists
  • Beautiful scenery every time you turn your head
  • Sausage
  • Pain au chocolat (or whatever they call it in Ireland)
  • The history
  • Hop House 13 beer
  • Amazing local music
  • Blue raspberry bon bons (I am so addicted)
  • Trains that are efficient, clean, and go everywhere
  • Having someone knowledgeable and fun organize every detail of your daily activities for you (we love you Dara!)
  • Having good conversation with fellow travelers
  • The accent (especially when they don’t pronounce the letter h in th – there’s no way you can keep a straight face when listening to an Irish person say 33 and 1/3)
  • The 40 shades of green (and tour guides who repeat this phrase over and over) and all the beautiful flowers

Things we will not miss about traveling in Ireland

  • Getting rained on at least once a day (yes, we realize you couldn’t have the 40 shades of green without all that rain, but still!)
  • Individual faucets for hot and cold water
  • Having to leave your hotel key card in a slot by the door to make the lights work
  • Diet Coke that is half the size but costs more than a beer
  • Having to wear the same clothes over and over

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Ireland and hello to family and friends, showers that we know how to work, doors we know how to lock and unlock, the best pup ever, Papa Johns pizza, and a closet full of clothes.

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Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, and a rope bridge

We’re nearing the end of the trip now but instead of taking it easy we decided to maximize our time and take a 13+ hour day trip to northern Ireland. We had to meet the bus a few blocks away from our hotel in Dublin at 7 a.m. Worth it!

Our first stop after crossing into northern Ireland was the city of Belfast. There were two options but we decided to do a black taxi historic tour of the city. What stuck with us the most is how divided the city still is after having a cease fire for almost 20 years. I say a cease fire, because several of the locals call it that instead of peace. With all the memories of violence, with all the tall “peace” walls separating the nationalist catholic communities and the loyalist protestant communities, it’s still an unfinished peace. But considering that during the peak of the Troubles there were an average of six bombs going off per day, it’s a vast improvement. The whole city is filled with memorial murals commemorating those lost on both sides of the conflict.




After we got underway again and headed north, we got a glimpse of the ruins of Dunluce Castle, which was used to film the House of Greyjoy from Game of Thrones.

Then we went to Giant’s Causeway. Before we got there we had absolutely no idea what it was and after we got there we still didn’t know. Local myth says that Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) built the causeway because he didn’t want to get his feet wet traveling to Scotland, which is only a dozen or so miles away. We later found it was caused by an ancient volcanic eruption. All we really knew at the time was that it was so uniquely beautiful.


Our last stop was at Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Mom decided to opt out of this walk and it was probably a good thing because Rick Steves would definitely have classified it as quite strenuous. By the time I got back to the coffee shop where Mom was waiting for me, the phone I carried said I had walked 23 flights of stairs in the last hour. The funny thing is my phone’s memory was full and I was carrying Mom’s to take photos, so she gets the credit!

The views were definitely worth the hike though:




Tomorrow is our last full day in Ireland so we’re planning on taking it pretty easy, starting with sleeping in.

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Graves, a great guide, and goodbyes

Somehow we managed to have a lovely day today surrounded by death. Mom just told me I shouldn’t start with that because people will be worried that she died, but I’m confident you all know that I probably wouldn’t be blogging at that point. Probably.

We started by touring the most ancient structure either one of us has ever seen. This site predates the pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge. It is called Brú na Bóinne and was a passage grave built during the Neolithic period around 3,000 BC. The passage of one side is aligned with the sunrise on the spring equinox and the other side is aligned with the sunset on the fall equinox.


It was so impressive to peer down that passage and know that it was built by people living 5,000 years ago. We know they took honoring their dead very seriously, if only because it would have taken them three generations just to build it. This was before the invention of the wheel or any iron tools, but their design has stood the test of time.

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Nobody has any idea how to interpret all the artwork carved on the stones lining the mound, but I’m a fan of squiggly lines in any form.

At this point I have to stop and compliment our Rick Steve’s tour guide, Dara. He has been amazing with every detail this whole trip and has really gone above and beyond. In addition to being our tour guide, at one time or another he has been our waiter, bartender, crossing guard, historian, travel agent, busboy, and anything else we needed him to be.

Today Dara really took one for the team. The way the Brú na Bóinne site works is you go to their little visitor center and then are bussed to the site. The buses only hold 24 people and that is the exact number of people in our group. So today as we were all taking our sweet time getting back from the site, he was standing in line for us to catch the return bus. Our schedule was a bit tight so we needed to get back there as soon as possible so that we could all get a quick bite to eat and get back to our coach. When the bus got there a few of us got on and then a group of Asians who had been milling around tried to get on as well. He very politely told them the next bus would be there in a few minutes but this bus was for his group. The bus driver backed him up because everyone in the entire country, but especially those in the tourism industry, know Dara (most seem to be related to him in one way or another). What I have described doesn’t seem that heroic until you consider that once we all got on there wasn’t room for him on the bus so he had to wait for the next one and ride it with all the people that he had just prevented from boarding! Now that’s a tour guide you want in your corner.

After lunch we headed to Glasnevin Cemetery, the burial site for some of Ireland’s most famous people of more modern times. It was founded in 1832 by Daniel O’Connell, who is a big hero to the Irish people for his peaceful work to abolish the penal laws that prevented Irish Catholics from getting an education, owning land, voting, practicing their religion, being buried with a Catholic ceremony, and much more. Also buried there is Michael Collins, who many know from the movie was a key figure in the Irish struggle for independence during the early 20th century.

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One small section of the cemetery, with the tall monument over Daniel O’Connell’s grave in the center.

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The tomb of Daniel O’Connell. There are small peepholes on the sides and apparently it is good luck to touch his casket.

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Much of Daniel O’Connell’s family is buried with him but because the caskets are lead-lined, they are too heavy for most shelving. The only thing possible would be to take out one of the caskets to make room for heavy-duty shelving, so instead they chose to simply stack the caskets on top of one another.

After another delicious shared meal, we were sad to say goodbye to our Rick Steve’s group. They were a great group of people to share this amazing experience with.

Tomorrow we are in for a very long and hopefully very enjoyable day trip up to northern Ireland. Everyone cross your fingers that we can sleep through the sounds of Dublin tonight because it’s going to be an early start tomorrow!

 

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The library, the gaol, and the gelato

It was an 18,985 step day for me today as we spent it exploring all over Dublin. First we had a walking tour that took us from our hotel, down the main street of O’Connell, to Trinity College, through the Temple Bar district, over to City Hall, to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and finally to Dublin Castle. And that was just the morning.





I really enjoyed our local tour guide and several of the stories he had to tell about the history of the city and its people, but my favorite stop was most definitely the Trinity Library. The Book of Kells was cool, but the Long Room upstairs…wow. It reminded me a lot of the Library of Congress, one of my favorite places in DC, but even more rich with history.

Having a library with a rolling ladder just like this one is a big life goal for me.

Next we took a taxi over to Kilmainham Gaol, a historic prison on the outskirts of the city. It was built in 1796 and designed to be a new sort of prison, where prisoners were no longer held in large rooms with little to no supervision. Still, the conditions were designed to make the prisoners want to reform their ways so they would never have to come back. That meant being locked in a room by yourself in complete silence with nothing besides a candle, a blanket, and a bucket. Those times were interspersed with hard labor. They had no special allowances for children during this time period – a 5-year-old boy served several months in the prison for theft.

These deterrents became less effective during the potato famine in the 1840s, when people would commit a crime just so they could get sent to prison and have the promise of two meals a day. Later on they built this more modern addition:


Then after the Easter Rising in 1916, 14 of the Irish rebel leaders were taken to the prison and executed, including James Connolly who was already dying of gangrene from a bullet wound in the leg and had to be tied to a chair before he was shot by the firing squad. Before this the Irish people had generally not supported the rebellion, but after this brutal response by the British, that changed. Many people have told us that this was one of the key moments in recent Irish history and it was what ultimately lead to Irish independence. Our tour guide for the prison was so good – full of gravitas and always pausing for reflection.

This is where James Connolly was tied to a chair and killed.


On a completely unrelated side note, I wanted to give all of you a demonstration of Irish water conservation efforts. Everywhere we go, in one form or another, there are two options for how to flush the toilet. This is an example from Kilmainham Gaol:


Sometimes they symbolize it with a number 1 and number 2, sometimes it is big and little circle, but they always get their message across quite clearly.

After the prison tour, we took the bus back downtown and Mom elected to take a break at the hotel. I decided to venture over to a few museums, including the National Museum – Archeology, the National Library, and the National Gallery. The highlights for me were an exhibit on the Irish poet W.B. Yeats and a Monet painting I hadn’t seen before.

I also walked by this random piece of street art. I have no idea what it represents or signifies, but I thought it was pretty cool.


Finally we ended the evening with some ridiculously good gelato that is just down the street from our hotel.

I may actually go to bed early tonight!

 

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Historic Rocks, wet socks, and unlockable locks

We were sad to say goodbye to Dingle but excited to see what awaited us in Dublin. The day was mostly spent driving with one noteworthy stop at the Rock of Cashel. This medieval landmark was first the seat of power for kings for hundreds of years. Then when the Normans came, the kings donated the Rock to the church in 1101. We were getting rained on during most of our tour so I might not have all the details right, but I did get some cool photos at least. I like this first one because it has a very ominous feel.

Then of course the rain disappeared in an instant and there were blue skies all around (only for it to start raining five minutes later).



One other moment of note during the coach ride was when we asked our tour guide Dara what a good Irish name for a cow would be. He gave us a funny look and sad they didn’t traditionally name cows before they ate them, but suggested Róisín (ROH-sheen) as a beautiful Irish name for a girl. He then added that Róisín is the name of his baby nieceSo now Mom’s cow artwork has a name.

She looks like a Róisín, doesn’t she?

We had another fantastic group meal once we arrived in Dublin and then continued to try and dry out all our clothing that has been continually soaked the last few days. We also struggled to lock our door, which has become traditional at this point. Every hotel room we have been in the last week we have had a lot of issues either locking or unlocking it. For the last two days we put a chair under the door, but I think tonight we’re just going to live dangerously. On that note, good night! Oh and you have my half-asleep mother to thank for the title of this post – she’s very poetic when barely conscious!

 

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Liquid sunshine, Fungie the dolphin, and music to stir the soul

We’ve heard a lot about Ireland’s abundance of liquid sunshine but today was the first time we experienced its full glory. First we took a walking tour of the town in the rain, then we went on a boat trip to meet a dolphin in the rain, then we did some shopping in the rain. It was a true Ireland experience and while we spent most of the day soggy from head to foot, there were many great moments.

Tim the walking tour guide had tons of interesting stories of Dingle. My favorite was of St. Brendan from County Kerry, who lived in the 6th century. Over 300 years after his death, manuscripts began popping up all over Europe about a sea journey he supposedly took. It is a tale full of magic and wondrous happenings but some claim he made it as far as Newfoundland and therefore the Irish were actually the ones to discover America hundreds of years before anyone else.

What’s most interesting is that this journey was reproduced in the 1970s by a British explorer named Tim Severin. He used the same exact boat (the descriptions were very detailed in the manuscript) and made it to Newfoundland in a little over a year. He also identified many things that could be the basis for some of the legendary elements of St. Brendan’s story: “mountains that hurled rocks at voyagers” were volcanoes, “pillars of ice crystal” were glaciers, and many others. I loved this melding of myth and fact to find a new truth.

If that bores you though, here’s a lovely photo of Fungie the dolphin!


Fungie came into Dingle bay in the early 1980s and liked it so much he never left. Over 30 years later he continues to seek out the boats and people of the bay. We got a bit drenched in our expedition to find him, but in the end we were successful! 

Once we made it back to dry wet land, we went to Dara’s music shop to relax by a warm fire. Along the way someone got to playing some music and before we knew it, we were dancing! Dara’s first spin did not go so well and someone ended up on the floor. Luckily there were no injuries and a lot of laughter. ​



This afternoon we finally got a peek at some gorgeous stained glass that we had been hearing about. They were worth the 3 euros and the walk in the rain. Here’s the first of  six we saw:

We ended the day with a concert at the local church. We have heard a lot of music over the last few days, but this was the most incredible. There was incredible music made with a guitar, some sort of bass mandolin, Irish bag pipes, an Irish flute, and some beautiful vocals. It truly proved just what a traditional Irish music hub the Dingle peninsula is. Only a few thousand people live here but so many are so talented. We couldn’t record any snippets, but we will definitely carry it with us wherever we go (and on the CD Mom bought).

Tomorrow we head to Dublin!

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God, groceries, and Guinness

“That blows my mind” was my catchphrase today as we saw several things so impressive that they were hard for me to comprehend.

The first was the ease in which Master Craftsman Sean Daly hand carved the crystal glass in the first photo into the one in the second photo in less than 60 seconds.

He did it right in front of my eyes and I still could hardly believe it. Sean learned his trade working for Waterford Crystal back when they still did everything by hand and he has kept this art alive with his company Dingle Crystal.

​He is living proof that sometimes they do make things like they used to.

Next we took a driving tour of some of the most photographed places in Ireland and we quickly discovered why. But before we get to that, let me just mention that the tour guide was quick to point out a well known street corner where there was a beautiful old church, a grocery story, and a pub. He said it was well known because you could get all the essentials of life on one street corner: God, groceries, and Guinness. That pretty much sums up the Irish people right there. But anyway, the Slea Head Drive was gorgeous from start to finish.

This landscape below was apparently used in the filming of the next Star Wars movie, so we’ll all have to check back here next December.

I asked Mom to take a pano with me in it because a pano is really the only way to capture even a fraction of that kind of nature. She did very well and we ended up with the lovely shot below. After intense scrutiny, I’m still not sure if it’s a distortion from the pano or just my hair being its normal ridiculous self.

Then we were on to the Blasket Islands, a group of islands that was inhabited until the 1950s. Starting in the early 1900s, there was a great effort by scholars to preserve the culture of these people because they had lived there for generations mostly undisturbed by the outside world. Many people came over the years to learn the Irish language from these people. Many of the islanders were encouraged to write books about their experiences and a few became international best sellers, including The Island Man, which I have added to my rather long reading list. In the interpretive center there was a lot of information about their history, oral storytelling tradition, and way of life, as well as this stunning stained glass art titled “The Journey.”

Our last stop was one of the most mind-blowing for me. I’ve traveled a bit in Europe and seen a lot of old structures. Most were more aesthetically pleasing than the Gallarus Oratory, but none impressed me quite as much from an engineering perspective (words I never thought I would say!).

It might not seem overly impressive at first glance, but this oratory was built by monks in in the 700s (yes, over 1,300 years ago) with 1. only the most basic of tools, 2. the rocks that they could dig out of the ground around them, and 3. absolutely no mortar. Just look at those perfectly curved lines! There wasn’t even an anchor stone in the middle, so I literally have no idea how the roof didn’t cave in the first day, much less remain standing for well over a thousand years.

After returning to our home away from home in Dingle, we did a little shopping. I finally caved and bought a wool sweater in Irish green. I’m not sure how I will be able to get it home in my carry-on suitcase much less wear it indoors once I get home, but I sure am enjoying it while walking around in the brisk Ireland summer.

Those are the highlights of our day and I’m going to try to get to sleep before midnight for once so good night!

 

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