Aillwee Cave and Poulnabrone Dolmen

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Today was a drive up to The Burren, a magnificent karst landscape stretching almost as far as you can see, crisscrossed with un-mortared stone walls that have stood for 1000 years.

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In the center is Poulnabrone, a dolmen built in the Neolithic Era.

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During a restorative excavation in 1985, the grave was found to contain 22 adults and 6 children.

I think this was the most memorable man-made thing I saw on the trip, with Loop Head being the best natural feature.

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We also stopped at Ailwee Cave to see the underground waterfall.

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Dún Aonghasa

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We spent the day on a trip out to Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands, to see Dún Aonghasa.

This is a fort from about 200 B.C. that was built on the edge of a cliff.  Parts of the cliff have collapsed into the ocean so the seaward side is now just a drop.

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Julie and Laurie take a peek…

There obviously little in the way of safety precautions.   There were a bunch of young boys playing soccer inside the fort and their ball sailed off the cliff.

...what they were peaking at

…what they were peeking at

Loop Head

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They may not be as high as the Cliffs of Moher, but the fact that we were the only four people anywhere in sight and they hadn’t been turned into a theme park attraction made the cliffs at Loop Head winners in my book.

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We hadn’t even heard of Loop Head but, hearing we were headed up for the Cliffs of Moher, the locals told us this would be better.

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They also gave us quite a spiel on the Church of the Little Ark…touching which would “change our lives.”  You can Google the story about this portable church used to skirt rules about Roman Catholic services held in Kilbaha.  Again, we were struck by the fact that we could just walk in and touch this artifact with no one around.

Frank's life is clearly about to change...

Frank’s life is clearly about to change…

The Cliffs of Moher were higher.

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However, they also had the feel of a Disney theme park.  There were hundreds of tourists.  There were sound systems broadcasting information.  There were vendors all over the place.  There was a wall keeping you from the cliffs!

Of course, quite few folks just ignored the “do not go here” signs and went out to the cliffs anyway.

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I preferred Loop Head.

We stayed in Galway, sampling Galway Hookers — not what you think…a truly wretched beer — at The Quay and The Spanish Arch, two great places to listen to Irish music.

Beehive huts

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The day was overcast and misty.  Nonetheless, we had a beautiful drive up the coast.

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We stopped at some of the prehistoric beehive huts along the way.  Many of these are now sitting atop tall spires out in the ocean, the joining land having been washed away through the centuries.

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We spent the night in Kilkee in a B&B located above a pub. There seemed to be very few tourists in town; perhaps they all head on to Galway immediately.

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Sheep herding and Tad bought a whistle

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Not really much in the way of pictures from this day.  We headed out on a Ring of Kerry tour.  There was no point in using The Beast since the roads in Kerry are bordered by high hedges.  You need to be up high in a bus to see out.

Except that it was pouring and we couldn’t see out.

Lunch was part of the tour and was godforsaken.

The only thing interesting was that the tour stopped at a farm and watched a man herd sheep using two border collies.  When the dogs were close, he used verbal commands.  As they got too far away to hear his normal speaking voice, he used a whistle.  He had a different set of tone combinations for each dog.  From the distance of about a football field, he had the pair round up the sheep and then cut out a single one and bring it down the hill to him.  It was amazing to watch!

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O’Connors Pub in the evening for some good Guinness and good music.  We met Paddy the Groper, an ancient fellow with a bloody nose from face planting on the bar.  As his name suggests, he was a…ummm…friendly fellow.  One of the highlights of the evening was watching a German woman brandish a stool above her head threatening to brain him.

Blarney Castle, another Plan B

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I have a bit of acrophobia.  Not really bad; I’m not my father who became paralytic on the second step of a ladder.  Still, hanging upside down, backwards, 7 stories up in the air, through a hole in a parapet walkway to kiss a stone that is underneath the parapet wall, 3 feet out over the open space ain’t my cup of tea.  I don’t care if some septuagenarian says he’ll reach out and catch all several hundred pounds of me if I slip.

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But the byotch…err, my good friend, Laurie…made me do it.

On our way to Killarney, I mentioned, “there’re seals in the harbor of this town called Glengariff.”  Left turn; excellent detour.  We took a boat ride through the harbor to see the seals.

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Then we stopped in at the local pub and had a great time being entertained by John, who was obviously a fixture there.  He regaled us with stories about meeting Maureen O’Hara (who lives in the town) and explained that all of Ireland’s woes at the moment were due to the fookin’ volcano in fookin’ Reykjavik.  He was also quite taken with Laurie’s camera and spent a lot of time trying to take videos with a still camera.

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Back on the road to Killarney, we had harrowing but breathtaking drive up through the mountains of Beara Peninsula and on to Killarney.

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Waterford (not!) and Rock of Cashel

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Plan A was to visit the Waterford factory and, maybe, get a piece or two for home.  We arrive in Waterford and drive to the what we think is the address.  Hmmm.  Drive around.  More hmmm.  Stop to ask directions.

“Well, now,” says the local, “that you can’t do.”

“Why not?”

“The factory closed and moved to Slovenia last month.”

The Rock of Cashel sticks up out of the rolling hills in a rather spectacular fashion, supposedly dropped there by Satan as he fled Ireland ahead of the wrath of St. Patrick.  When we were young and traveling around Europe, my mother used to speculate that there was a crew of professional Scaffold Erectors whose job was to travel ahead of us and perform their job on any major site we wanted to see.  Clearly this continues into my generation.

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However, despite that, there are some wonderful ruins from the early 12th century

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plus some stunning views across the counties.

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We had a late lunch at a pub in Cove with some Irish football fans—that’s fans of Irish football, not Irishmen who like the gridiron—watching a game.  Cove has a quaint harbor but there wasn’t much else we wanted to see and we headed down to Kinsale for the night.

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We weren’t certain how to get to our B&B in Kinsale.  We stopped at a pub (of course!) and Laurie got direction scrawled on a bar napkin by a very drunk fellow.  Those directions said, “go up the hill to the green and then turn right.”  So we headed up the hill.  We didn’t see the green.

We went back down the hill and headed back up.  We saw a 10′ × 10′ patch of grass, but the only road to the right was clearly marked, “No Right Turn”.

We started back down the hill, passing a fellow who had seen us the last time around.  I’m pretty sure he was shaking his head at the stupid tourists.  We come around for Round 3 and still don’t see a right turn.  So, we stop and ask the gentlemen.

He confirms that the 10′ × 10′ was, in fact, the green and that we should turn right.  When we mention the sign, he replies, “Oh, don’t mind the sign, it’s fooked.”

Powerscourt, Glendalough, lemon meringue pie & Plan B

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At the time, a beautiful day of driving south out of Dublin with some nice sites.  Looking back—since pretty much everywhere we went in Ireland was stunningly beautiful—I’d have to amend that to say an average day with fair sights.

We packed and left Dublin for Powerscourt.  We didn’t tour the manor house but, instead, walked down in the the fields below to see the famous 397′ waterfall, the highest in Ireland.  What amazed me the most was that it was just a waterfall you could walk up to in somebody’s (admittedly nice) back yard.  In the U.S. it would have been fenced in and guarded by the National Forestry Service with notices everywhere about deportation to Guantanamo if you even thought about getting near it.  There, we could have climbed it if we had wanted to.

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After Powerscourt we moved on to Glendalough to see the remains of a 6th century monastic community.  We’ve all read the stories about how the Irish monks saved civilization by preserving books and manuscripts during the Middle Ages.  This was one of those places before its destruction by the English in the 14th century.  However, it wasn’t all work and no play for the good brethren; the annals of the era talk about “riotous assembly” on the feast days, particularly the Feast of St. Kevin, the community’s founder.

The “postcard” view from outside the community:

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There were a few too many other people there that day for my taste; it seemed like everywhere I looked there were people standing in my way.  Of course, I was standing in theirs…

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A totally unexpected bit of lagniappe came as we were leaving.  Starving, we stopped at the Wicklow Inn for some seafood chowder.  On a whim, I ordered some lemon meringue pie for dessert…and who expects good lemon meringue pie in Ireland?  It was the best.  Even Frank, who doesn’t particularly care for it, thought it was insanely good.

A note on seafood chowder: before we left the U.S., I had told Laurie that there was no way I was eating seafood chowder for the entire trip, no matter what she said.  I mean, I like it…I even like it a lot, but a week of it?  No way! I’d be sick of it in three days.

Well, now I’m eating crow on that one.  Every place we went had its own, particular variety.  Different creaminess; different seafood; different spices.  All were great, although I think Wicklow Inn remains my favorite.  I have to say, despite the dire warnings about food in Ireland from know-nothing friends here, I think we had only one bad meal the entire trip.

While driving down to Dunmore East for the night, Julie noticed a town on the map named Graiguenamanagh.  “I wonder how you pronounce that?” she said.

“Well, let’s go find out,” replied Laurie.  Hard right turn.  Off we go; our first Plan B.  It turned out to be a rather boring town, but we did have a Guinness and find out the proper pronunciation before resuming our original path.

We spent the night in a B&B in Dunmore East.

Newgrange

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Julie and I have traveled with other couples before but this was a our first time traveling with the Harveys.  So, even though we’d been friends for years, there’s always that uncertainty of how you’ll all get along in the close confines of a rental car (hereinafter referred to as The Beast).  By mid-morning—at least for our side of it—we knew there would be no problem.  In fact, it was going to be a lot of fun.  Amidst shouts of, “Stay left!” and “Curb!” (just about the time the tires thumped up over it) we set off for a day trip up to the Newgrange, the passage grave built circa 3200 B.C.

Amazing and totally my cup of tea.  If you think about it, the pyramids in Egypt are old enough to be the only remaining Ancient Wonder of the World and, yet, Newgrange is some 700 years older than they are.  You enter through a small doorway, suck in your gut to get through the tiny space around a massive boulder and find yourself in the beehive-shaped chamber. This is the entrance with one of the many stone carvings in front.

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About the only thing better would be to come at dawn on the solstice when the the first rays of the morning sun reach through the roof-box above the entrance and illuminate just the burial chamber while all else is in darkness.wtp-newgrange-01

 

A quick trip into Navan for lunch at a pub (shocker!) and back to Dublin.

Dublin

A Pee and a Pint:  When nature calls, the public bathrooms are in pubs.  Then, of course, to be polite, you need to purchase something.  The cycle repeats itself. Guinness in Ireland is nothing like Guinness in the U.S.  It’s rich and chewy and altogether a Good Thing.

Dublin is a nice enough city but largely just a city.  I did find Trinity interesting, especially the Book of Kells.  However, there’s something pretty amazing about visiting a pub that has been in business since before Columbus arrived on our shores…about 300 years before his arrival, in fact.  The Brazen Head, established 1198.

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Lots of jet lag for me.  Frank and Laurie were able to suck it up and hit Temple Bar for a night of beer and music, but I was early to bed, I’m afraid.  I’m glad I did as the garbage men were banging away early in the a.m. and the next day’s activities were much more my speed.