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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The Cliffs of Moher, Irish music, and a man named Timmy

Today was definitely a highlight of the trip so far and a great first full day of our Rick Steve’s tour. That is saying something considering we spent about 4 hours on a bus and we both had motion sickness for most of that.

Our first stop was the Cliffs of Moher. Happily we went pretty early in the morning so we were able to appreciate the full majesty of it all without a crowd. It was one of those places where you feel the need to stop and take a photo after every step because the view just keeps getting more gorgeous.

During our stop for lunch in a small town we happened upon a wedding full of Irish travelers (the polite term for Irish gypsies). We all had to stop and stare at the fantastical nature of the dresses those women were wearing (and wonder how they were managing to defy gravity to such a degree). Unfortunately I didn’t get a great photo, but I will try to get one from someone else and share it tomorrow.

After that it was straight on to Dingle, the hometown of our tour guide. We have heard a lot about this place from Dara – including its rich musical life, its prominence of Irish/Gaelic speakers, and a few of its unique characters, all of whom seem to be related in one way or another to Dara. We got to meet a few of those characters today, including Dara’s father who regaled us with Irish sayings and accordion renditions of the Tennessee Waltz.

After another delicious dinner we went into town to spend some time at a Dingle institution: Currans Pub.

At the pub we heard some excellent Irish music from some famous Dingle musicians:

And also from the infamous Timmy. This gentlemen is over 90 and still coming to the pub every night to socialize – and sing by request!

As we returned home to our hotel, we had to remind ourselves once again that it can look like this outside and still be 10 p.m.:

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Does this mean I’m a vampire?

We started the day with a full Irish breakfast including bacon, sausage, fried egg, white pudding, and tomato. I also opted to give the black pudding a try, while Mom was a firm no after she heard what it was made of. I liked it, although I will admit that knowing what was in it did make me a bit more squeamish than I ever have been about finishing any other food while traveling.

Only a few short hours later we stuffed ourselves with a light lunch and then met up with our Rick Steve’s group. We stood out a bit from the group – me because I’m 30-40 years younger than most of the people and Mom because she said the thing she wanted to get out of the trip was to still be getting along with me by the end of it.
Our first activity as a group was to go on a walking tour of Ennis led by a local who I had heard about the day before. She was really good and offered us some interesting stories about the history of the town, from the exploits of famous healing woman Biddy Early to the origin of the word boycott to the way nagging wives were punished by the courts in the 18th century.

We then saw the ruins of a local friary that was originally built in the 1200s. The highlight of it for me was the carving on this tomb:


All you good people that now stand by / As you are now so once was I / As I am now so shall you be / Remember death and pray for me

We had a fantastic dinner both because of the food and the company – mix together a couple from Texas, a couple from Colorado Springs, and us and you have a pretty good time. We even learned an Irish toast, because one should never say cheers in Ireland for obvious reasons. Then the bill came and I realized that my little diet coke cost more than Mom’s beer. Ireland is trying even harder than some of my college friends to convince me to like beer!

Tomorrow we leave Ennis and head to the Dingle peninsula, home of our tour guide, who has promised to show us a very good time.

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It was a cow kind of day

Today we took the train from Dublin to a little town called Ennis. Along the way we got lots of views of the Irish countryside:

One of the funniest parts of the train ride was a lady sitting near us and facing our direction. Every time either one of us looked over at her, she was emphatically telling the people around her something that seemed quite urgent. This went on for quite some time. I was surprised she wasn’t working up a sweat with all of the arm swinging and finger pointing. Later we realized she didn’t even know the people sitting by her and when they left, she did the same to another unsuspecting couple. Luckily we escaped her notice.

Once we arrived in Ennis, we checked into a little bed and breakfast and walked to the historic downtown area, not expecting much. We were pleasantly surprised by all the cute shops, winding streets, and friendly people.

Mom and I both found prints by local artists to hang on our respective travel art walls at home. Mom’s probably wins the day though:

 For dinner Mom finally got the bangers and mash she has been waiting for and I proved once again that I am a carnivore by ordering a platter of four different kinds of meat.

We ended the night at a local pub with some traditional Irish music.​

​Tomorrow we will meet the rest of group and start the official tour. Until then!

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Two jet-lagged zombies hit Ireland

Mom and I have talked about going to Ireland for only about 15 years – now we are finally making it happen! My Chromebook says 3:26 a.m. as I write this, but it is actually 9:26 a.m. Dublin time. I had planned to write my first post last night before we finally went to bed, but I think if I would have made the attempt it would have been completely indecipherable gibberish.

I remember being tired when I flew into Madrid and London, but this was a whole new level of jet lag for me. I didn’t get nearly the sleep I wanted to on the plane, mostly because everyone and everything on the plane seemed determined to keep that from happening.

We arrived in Dublin with no real problems besides sleep deprivation and I was immediately determined to find a way to get to the hotel without taking a cab. Enter Gruff Tourist Information Man who managed to supply me with all the information and maps I needed while maintaining a snarky demeanor throughout.

The Dublin native sitting in front of us on the bus got us in the Irish spirit by telling stories interspersed with great sayings in the perfect Irish accent. He recalled being sent to his grandparents in the countryside every summer because his parents wanted to “send the devil to the farm where he’ll do no harm” and later he described his 15-year-old son as “fit as a butcher’s dog.” To any of my students still reading this blog, I expect you to be able to identify what figure of speech he used in that last one.

We dropped our bags at the hotel and then staggered around Phoenix Park for a while. I say staggered for one because we had absolutely no idea where we were going and two because we were so tired that we never quite managed to walk in a straight line.

Eventually we made it on to one of those hop on hop off bus tours of the city. We elected to hop on and stay on, hoping the wind from the top level of the bus would perk us up a bit. We were only marginally successful. I remember several 10-second bursts of history and then things go fuzzy for a bit until the next time Mom poked me out of my jet lag haze. One of those 10-second facts I was awake for was that on December 31, 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease at 45 pounds per year for the unused brewery in downtown Dublin that would later become world famous.

Here are some of the other highlights I was awake enough to photo:

This Spire of Dublin is 390 feet high and was part of a renovation of O’Connell Street in downtown Dublin:

When I saw this, I knew it was there specifically for jet-lagged Americans like myself:

We ended the day at a pub for pizza and the beer Mom had been looking forward to all day. She was very satisfied. I was less satisfied with the size of my Diet Coke, which, although you cannot tell from the angle of this photo, could have been accurately described as a thimble.

We crashed around 7:30 and slept somewhat successfully until 8 this morning. Mom had a bit of trouble with people making noise outside the room and I had a bit of trouble with Mom’s snoring. I have discovered that if I say “Mom” in my sternest inside voice, she will usually not wake up but will stop snoring for approximately 5.2 minutes. As long as I can fall back asleep in that amount of time, all is well.

This morning we had a nice breakfast at our hotel and Mom got to do some people-watching from the window, so that is the highlight of the trip for her so far. Today we take the train to Ennis to join our Rick Steve’s tour group. They have no idea what is about to hit them.

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