10 Reasons I Will Go Back to Ireland

Sitting in Costello's Travel Caffe, I thought it only seemed right to compose a travel-themed blog.  Seriously.  Why have I never been here before?  I have lived in Portland a long time.  This is almost  inexcusable.  But, I found it now.  Wrap-around canvas prints of photos from around the world grace the walls, there is a "travel special" running via tvs around the space and delicious coffee and food.  I even scored a gluten-free donut!  Trust me, that is not easy to find.  And it was tasty.  So I digress.  Back to why I am going to Ireland, sooner than later, ranked in no particular order:

1. Love. I think about Ireland.  A lot.  I am always trying to figure out when I can go back.  I would probably book a flight in a month or two and just go.  But, that might not be the best financial choice.  Or maybe it would be!  Who knows.  When you love something, or usually someone, you want to see them again and will do whatever it takes.  This is how I feel about Ireland.  I have never felt so connected to another place, not even Portland.  I must go back, and sooner, rather than later.

2. Vikings. Not the real Vikings, but the tv show "Vikings" on the History Channel.  After watching the most recent episode, I decided to find out where it was filmed, because it did not look like Norway to me.  And the majority of the outdoor scenes are filmed in the Wicklow Mountains.  Of course they are!  Somehow it escaped me this is an Irish show.

3. Weather.  I experienced every kind of weather you could imagine.  We had more than one windstorm, lots of rain, sun, sleet, snow and hail.  And I still loved it.  It simply invigorated me and I loved being out in it.  And it was January!  If I loved it this much then, how much more would I love it in the Spring or the Fall?  I intend to find out.

4. Music.  What can I say about this?  The music is just as you expect it to be, wild and raucous.  I found one of my most favorite bands ever, the Eskies, at the Shannonside Winter Music Festival in Sixmiledbridge and Bunratty Castle. That was an unexpected treat, and the Eskies now have a lifelong fan.  When I go back to Ireland, I intend to take in more trad sessions and find out where the Eskies are playing, because I am going.  

5. People. The people in Ireland are wonderful.  First, the accents.  I never tire of them.  Full of joy, used to working hard, very wonderful people.  Every where I went, even though technically I was alone, I felt made welcome by shopkeepers, farmers, servers, bartenders....let alone my host Steph and her friends.  They were so hospitable.  I cannot wait to go back and make some more friends.

6. Scenery. Ireland has it all.  Lakes, the sea, beaches, mountains, rolling hills, rocks and so much more.  If you like to fish, go to Ireland.  If you like to golf, go to Ireland.  If you like to hike, go to Ireland.  I think you get the picture.  I intend to go back and explore Connemara and the various peninsulas, Dingle being first and foremost.  And I intend to drive and explore as much of the Wild Atlantic Way as I can.  I picked it up here and there, but I intend to drive all of it. 

7. Alcohol. I definitely did not drink enough whiskey or beer.  I was driving so much, and I wanted to keep my wits about me.  This next trip I intend to settle into some villages for the night where I can walk to a pub and still make my way home without a car.  Be a little more adventurous at night. 

8. Castles. Almost every single castle across the whole of Ireland was closed for the season, except for Bunratty.  I am grateful I was able to spend an afternoon exploring it and an evening at the Medieval Banquet, but there are so many more I did not get into!  Dunluce Castle in the north, Trim Castle, Slane Castle...I don't know, you get the picture.  I want to go when things are open, not closed.

9. Giant's Causeway. I am still pissed I did not get to see the Causeway.  And the Antrim Coast.  The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, one of the harbors where they filmed "Game of Thrones".  The weather was scary windy.  But, this time, I will go up North via Donegal, rather heading up the Eastern side of Ireland.

10. Daylight. If I would have had even 2 more hours of daylight, I could have got around a lot more.  So, I intend to return when I at least might have a full 12 hours of daylight.  I knew going in January I would only get about 8 hours a day, but I intend to go back when I can explore to my heart's content and still have light well into the evening.

 

 

Driving on the left

I can proudly say I learned another skill today.  Because today was the day.  I would finally get my car!  I was excited and nervous all at the same time.  Really, picking up the car was no issue, and I adjusted to driving on the other side of the road on the other side of the car pretty well.  Steph took me back to the airport this morning to get the car and away she went and away I went.  She suggested I stop at Bunratty Castle, since I had been there before, to have a bite to eat at Durty Nelly's and let the nerves out before continuing on, and so I did.  

 I managed to get myself from the Shannon Airport to the Castle, only having one mishap where I drove too far and had to get off the motorway about 5km down and come back around.  No harm done.  I decided if I ended up in Limerick, it would be fine.  But I didn't.  I made my way back, got to Durty Nelly's, and had a "glass" of Guinness, or a half-pint, and some beef stew for lunch.  Quite delicious!  Durty Nelly's has been around since 1620, and it's just right across the street from Bunratty Castle.  Tomorrow night I'm going back to Bunratty for the medieval dinner.  

So now, I will have been to Bunratty Castle three times.  I think that's enough.  Before I left home, I purchased a ticket for the Castle & Folk Village, so I decided to go today since it was a nice afternoon.  It was awesome because I had the castle mostly to myself!!  I had seen a little bit of it on Saturday, but wanted to come back and explore and get photos.  

If you want a good work out, try going up and down several sets of steep, stone castle stairs, at almost a straight up vertical angle.  There were a few times where I tripped, or my foot didn't quite catch the whole stair.  Thousands of feet have trod those stone steps.  I had visions of missing a step and ending up with some broken bones so I proceeded very, very carefully. Luckily, no injuries here.

 

I took loads and load and loads of pictures today!  Not just the castle, but all over the village.  There's a small town you can tour around and cottages as well.  Mostly everything in the town was closed, but many of the buildings were open for viewing.  I ended up going all the way to the furthest end and found a church and a paddock near Bunratty House where I came face to face with a stag!  A small one, but he looked at me, and I looked at him, both in equal surprise!  He was gorgeous.  

 

I have learned something about myself.  If there is a place I am not supposed to go but the door is open, I'll go, just to see what I can see.  I went around to the front of Bunratty House, even though the sign was posted and said the house was closed.  In the church, because no one was there, I went beyond the rope and actually stood at the altar and in the preacher's "box", for lack of a better word.  Of course I opened the piano and then saw the note that said, "please don't touch".  I don't generally obey rules very well if there's something I want more.

 

 I toured around for 2-3 hours, just enjoying the sunshine.  High point of my day was when someone asked me if I was with the "students abroad" group.  Ha!  I still look like a college student.  Luckily I wasn't, because as soon as I got done touring the castle 2 busloads showed up!  I was lucky to have the castle mostly to myself, with only a few other people.  Perfect timing.  

I saw so many great rooms at the castle.  The South Solar was my favorite.  Beautiful design on the ceiling, long table facing the afternoon sun.  It felt like a library to me.  There was the North Solar, Captain's Quarters, Castle Basement, the Dungeon, Earl's Pantry, Earl's Private Chapel, the Great Hall...I loved every minute of it and felt so at home!  I've got tons of pictures I'll be posting, so be sure to check them out.  


Yesterday was fairly quiet, except for Steph took me on a walk and showed me a stone circle some of her neighbors erected on their land.  There was something sacred about it.  I guess someone came in and divined ley lines and told them how to lay it out.  I am sure in times past there had been one there as well.  It was cool because they did it the old way, by hand.  They used no machinery to erect the stones.  Only a bunch of guys with ropes.  Incredible!!  


Tomorrow I'm going back over to Feakle and Tulla, the nearest towns to me, in the morning.  And then on my way to dinner, I'm going to stop at Quin, they've got an Abbey there.  Steph is always giving me good recommendations on how to spend my time.  I think on Friday I'm going to take a trip to the Cliffs of Moher and maybe see the Burren.  It depends on how much time I want to spend where.  The days are getting ever so slightly longer, so that's good.

Over the weekend, I may go to Galway for a day, or drive over to Tullamore and take a tour of the whiskey distillery there.  On Monday I think I'm going to head East over to Newgrange in County Meath, and then up to the Giant's Causeway and the Bushmills Distillery on Tuesday.  I'm fairly tempted to spring for it and stay the night here in Bushmills (www.bushmillsinn.com).  The inn is very luxurious.  The other plus is it's only a 10-min walk to the distillery.  I'm doing my best not to do too many overnight trips because I already have such a great place to stay.  But, the trip to Northern Ireland can't be helped, especially on limited daylight.

I wish I could put you all in my pocket and have you here with me.  I love Ireland.  It is magical and mysterious and wild and tame all at the same time.  The people are hearty and vibrant, very kind.  I feel completely safe traveling around on my own, and quite honestly never feel lonely.  It's been such a great trip so far.  Now if I can just figure out how to open the gas tank door on the car....

Shannonside Winter Music Day

This afternoon Steph took me over to Shannonside Winter Music Day.  From noon- 5pm, they had several groups playing in several different venues around Bunratty Castle (http://www.shannonheritage.com/BunrattyCastleAndFolkPark/).  My first trip to a real castle.  I got only a very few photos, and those with my phone.  I will be going back on Thursday night for the medieval dinner, and then the next morning to the Folk Park.  

Steph's friend Rob played in The Boat Band (UK) first, so we went and listened in on them.  They played in the castle basement.  We wandered up and through the great hall, and then up and up and up these tight, tiny circular stone staircases and came out on one of the turrets.  After a few photos, we headed back down to hear some progressive trad music from Cross Harbour UK. They were very good too!

We caught a little bit of the Flamenco duo, Cintron Bros Flamenco USA.  There were musicians from Ireland, the UK and the US.  I took a few shots of The Golden Star Morris Dancers UK, dancing outside the main entrance of the castle.  The last band we listened to, JigJam, is a Celtrgrass band.  Yes, Celtic bluegrass.  Playing guitars, banjos, fiddles (large and small) they were my fave of the day!  I wanted to get their CD, but Steph wanted to beat the traffic so we headed out.  Good news - I can get them online (https://www.facebook.com/jigjamlive) and get their album via iTunes.

Steph and I talked about heading back into Sixmilebridge tonight to catch some more music, but, it is a fair drive, so we decided to wait and go back to listen tomorrow.  So, here I am eating pork chops, potatoes and having a pint of Guinness by the fire.  

After talking to some locals today, and Steph, about weather and plans with the car, I decided to cancel any and all reservations I had, and take the pressure off myself.  I want to get to Norther Ireland, but, weather could be a factor.  And there is so much to do here, in and around County Clare.  I cannot wait to get back to the castle an take more photos, when it's maybe a little quieter.  I want to explore the village of Sixmilebridge.  Get to the Cliffs of Moher, and the Burren.  Maybe spend a night in Galway.  I've got two full weeks with the car, so I am excited about that.  More adventures await!