• Kathy Stockbridge

A Virtual Tour of Ireland - Part I The Wild Atlantic Way

Updated: Apr 27, 2020



This has been a personal journey for me. I’ve written about it several times but I feel like it must be mentioned again. I cannot thank The Elders enough for allowing me to grow as an artist myself over the last eleven years beside them. As a photographer, they always welcomed me and my camera no matter where they were playing. I look at photos I took early on and I look at shots today, and I see the growth, both personally and professionally.


So here I am, Day One. Up early, showered, and packed. I checked my list at least a million times not wanting to forget anything. Stressing on packing for weeks now, I was 2 pounds over on the 50 pound limit...hoping now that my bag doesn’t end up costing me an arm or leg or extra on the next leg of my flight. Fingers crossed. Once that’s checked and I’m at the gate for my Aer Lingus flight...I think I’ll finally relax. Are any of you the same? Am I neurotic or are there others out that that worry needlessly about the small stuff? Boy do I need this vacation!!!




Prelude

As I begin this blog I know it will be quite lengthy, so I will be splitting it up into parts so that I can focus on areas in greater detail. I will be combining both my 2016 and my 2018 trips to highlight the places that made a lasting impression on me, and emphasizing things I feel may be of interest to you in the event you would like to visit Ireland. As we all are confined to our homes during these uncertain times (Covid-19), perhaps a virtual trip is just what we need lift our spirits. Can't wait to share some highlights with you. And we're off.....

I began this blog on my way out to Ireland in October of 2018, as you can tell from the paragraph and photo above. However, once I began my adventure, jotting down anything was all but forgotten. That also happened in 2016 when I first went over to Ireland with The Elders. I made a conscious effort at the time to live in the moment, and that was exactly what I did on both trips. I was virtually social media free other than to post a few pics in the mornings or on the bus rides to our next stop when wifi was available. I kept my phone on airplane mode the whole time with wifi turned on to keep international rates from kicking in. The occasional facebook chat with family back home kept me in touch with how things were going with my loved ones. Oh what fun those trips were being unplugged. It was empowering and truly relaxing. I highly recommend it for your next vacation. It made all the difference in my mental state and the fun and freedom I felt. I do however suggest that you keep a small notebook to jot down the names of little villages along the way, the restaurants you ate at, and little details that may slip away as it's so much to take in all at once. My phone had an gps option to keep track of the photos I took (a little invasive, but handy), my friends were also helpful to piece back a few of the stops we made along the way, so yes definitely take a little notebook along. You'll be happy you did.


Travel Details

First let me address your pressing question of the baggage fees from the original post. What? You weren't wondering about if they charge you for 2 lbs over on Aer Lingus? Haha, well, they didn't charge me. Yippee!!! However I would soon learn that less is more for certain, and to lift with your legs when you have a suitcase over 50 lbs. So what does that tell you? When traveling anywhere, learn how to use pieces together to create new outfits. You do not need ten different outfits for each day on a ten day trip. I am no pro at packing so I won't even attempt to do a blog on that, however my friend Diana Ladio is a pro so visit her blog on how to pack lightly. Will link it HERE for you. She is my travel hero. In fact, she has many blogs featuring tips and tricks for those that travel so please subscribe and read them. You will enjoy immensely.

For those of you who have never taken an international flight, let me tell you this, they aren't too bad. We flew over night so you board late evening in NYC and then land early morning in Dublin. You eat well on board. They served us a dinner upon take off and then right before landing a small breakfast. I highly recommend you get a few winks as well because it helps with jet lag. When you land...splash some cold water on your face, brush your teeth, spritz some deodorant and/or cologne, and by all means, grab yourself an Irish coffee, as you will hit the road running. Another tip I highly suggest, do not use the lavatories on board the plane if you do not have to. I think the sign on the door should read, petri dish. I have learned that all bathroom breaks should be done before and after boarding. Will explain a little further on in the blog, but trust me on this. In the future I will be bringing disinfectant spray/wipes and a cover for my seat. I'll link a good article I found on how to disinfect your area upon boarding for you....is worth the read to stay healthy for the trip.

Before I get into the trip, I want to let you know that our trip was a group tour through Hammond Tours. I have taken two Hammond Tour excursions, and I highly recommend you utilize them if you can. Especially if this is the first time you've gone to Ireland. They book the best hotels, have ins at all the sights, and have the most comfortable and safe means of travel. Will share details on the hotels we stayed at throughout the blog for you. But I highly recommend them because their staff is the BEST. They are knowledgeable and witty and you will end up becoming fast friends with them throughout your trip. The history and knowledge they share with you along the way is nothing you will get on your own. If you choose to explore the country afterwards on your next trip, by all means. But for your first trip, book through them as you will have a wonderful time. They will offer an option to book airfare through them or book your own airfare. With large groups, such as the one I was on, the prices may end up being cheaper for airfare, but for those smaller ones, you may be able to get a better rate on your own. Just try to fly into Dublin for the best service. There were several that flew into Shannon and the flights were cancelled last minute. That seems to be a typical problem. So definitely fly into Dublin and meet up with the group there. For those of you interested in perhaps using Hammond for your next trip, my friends at Hammond Tours have graciously extended a 10% discount to anyone interested in a discount on private/custom travel!!! That's huge!! Just mention you read my blog and let Susan know and she'll take care of you! Thank you so much Hammond Tours!!! See, I told you they are the best!!!

After making my way through customs, I met up with our tour, had a wonderful Irish coffee, and found our bus. Come along with me as I take you today through what is known as The Wild Atlantic Way.

A few stops we'll take this Blog - Let's Go!!!

Longford, Ireland

After we arrived and began the trip, our first stop was in Longford, a small town along the way to Donegal.  We stopped here in this quaint town to grab a bite to eat and a pint, but I was more interested in the castle the driver had mentioned, so up the hill I went to find this castle and take a few photos. I must have gone the wrong direction and found something even more special; St. Mel’s Cathedral.  This Roman Catholic church is a landmark with a history in the area. Named for Saint Mel who came to Ireland with Saint Patrick, its' story is one of rebirth.  Built and consecrated May 19, 1893, this building was destroyed on December 25, 2009 by a fire that ravaged the building.  It was rebuilt and and in 2014, reopened for a Christmas eve mass. It stands as the heart of the community and county.

As I entered the building I found a memory board of photos and articles pertaining to the fire and reconstruction of the church. I entered down the main isle and noted a few parishioners within saying their prayers and perhaps going to confession. I began taking photos panning left to right on continuous shot to capture the beauty of this magnificent church for a later panoramic photo. As I walked down the center isle towards the alter, out of nowhere appeared a little ole woman who introduced herself, took my hands, and asked where I was from. I explained I was visiting from America and asked her about herself and her beautiful church. Normally I have rules about personal space, but as I stood there holding her hands, it felt peaceful, not awkward in the least for some reason. She stated she lived outside Longford in a small town that began with an "A" which I can't recall, and that this wasn't her normal church but explained she often visits. She wished me a wonderful and safe trip and we parted. I took one more photo of the small area to the right of the alter and decided to exit and see which way she went, because when I turned around what was less than 10 seconds ago, she had vanished. I ran outside to see which direction she went and she wasn't on any of the streets surrounding the church or in the parking lot area. She was gone. This struck me as curious but not unsettling. Our meeting gave me such a peaceful feeling, especially as I recalled the feeling of her holding my hands. I couldn't help feel as though this was a sign from God that my trip was meant to be. Later while editing photos I scoured the panoramic ones I took just moments before the meeting, and nowhere within the shots was the woman that spoke to me. She wasn't in any of the ones I took upon entering, or the pano taken. She was just nowhere to be found. I don't know if you are a believer...but I am. I felt that God had sent this little old lady to welcome me to Ireland and tell me that the strife and struggles I had endured throughout my life were gone and that it was okay for me to think of myself and enjoy wholeheartedly this trip I had waited a lifetime to experience.

As I made my way back to the pub to join my group I couldn't help but feel like something really special had just happened. A quick pint with my friends again and off I wandered again to explore some more of this little town. This is what I found...for those of you that know me, one of my passions besides lighthouses is street art!!!! Feel like I hit the jackpot in this little town.

Drumcliffe

Another favorite spot to stop and meander around is Drumcliffe. It is here that the Nobel Prize winning famous poet and writer, William Butler Yeats is buried. Known as one of Ireland's most cherished and revered poets/writers, thousands flock annually to see this graveyard. Originally home to a monastery in the 6th century, only a few crosses and portion of the round tower still stand today. With a church onsite and small gift shop, this quaint area is a must see if you venture to Ireland.


It would be here that I found myself in my first situation of wandering off away from the group (the second I will feature in Blog #2). As I crossed the road to photograph the Round Tower, I noticed a sign that lead down a little path. Of course I had to take this path to see where it lead to. As I made my way down the little path I felt immersed in the landscape. Passing under a canopy of trees I made my way towards the sounds of water. A little stream flanked my pathway as I meandered down past little farms and homes along the way. Off in the distance I noticed Benbulben Mountain and realized that the church was getting farther in the distance thinking to myself I better return to the bus. Upon returning I found myself the final person to board the bus to an ovation of cheering and clapping. My tour mates explained to me that the fine for keeping the bus and riders waiting was a pint for each and every one!! After apologizing profusely, I wondered how I would buy them all a pint on my limited budget!! Good thing they were all great sports and forgave and forgot quickly. However I must add here, it is good practice to always buy a round in Ireland. (Irish etiquette)



Mullaghmore - Classiebawn Castle

Making our way to each day's final destination, our driver, John, would often veer off on to a side road to show us something quite extraordinary. One unforgettable moment was Mullaghmore's Classiebawn Castle in 2016. Off in a far away distance, sits the most picturesque castle surrounded by waves crashing in from the Atlantic from the front, and surrounded in land littered with sheep on the remained sides. Making my way through what I would learn to be bogs, my feet sank into the wet mossy area as I attempted to be closer to this scene and capture it. It was so worth the wet feet for the duration of the day. Thought to myself, this was what it must be like to gather peet for drying and storing.


The history of Classiebawn Castle is quite sullen but yet important. County Sligo was at one time the home of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl of Burma and uncle to Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband to Queen Elizabeth II. On August 27, 1979, Mountbatten was assassinated aboard his boat Shadow V by IRA member Thomas McMahon when McMahon detonated a bomb aboard the boat. Onboard with Mountbatten was his daughter, son in law, grandchildren, and son in law's mother. Sadly there were no survivors. Classiebawn is privately owned now and not open to the public. However it can be seen and photographed from a side road that is the perfect view for the ocean, castle, and Benbulben Mountain in the background, which how I was first introduced to it.

Donegal, Ireland - County Donegal

Donegal, was one of my favorite stops on both trips. Just a quick stop the first time in 2016 to the Donegal Woolen Mill shop, it was here I was introduced to the most delicious Irish coffee I've ever had and purchased my first Irish woven scarf.

It was the second visit however that solidified my love of Donegal. How can you not love this little town with its' quaint little shops, historic buildings, and wonderful eateries and pubs. Checking in at our hotel, The Abbey Hotel, it didn't take us long to jaunt across the street to McCafferty's Bar where we met up with locals and enjoyed some amazing live music and a great pint of Guinness!!! This place has to be one of my favorite pubs of all in Ireland. The ambiance, the homeyness, and the authenticity of it resonates to my soul. Pubs in Ireland tend to feature collections of vintage objects which absolutely fascinates me. It's like having a pint in an antique shop. Don't know about you, but that must be what heaven is like!! This one did not disappoint either. Stocked full of things to peruse, take a peek below at a tour of the place and a wee bit of the music we enjoyed. And give McCafferty's a follow on Facebook as they often share live feeds of their entertainment, which I join in often to take me back to the stool in which I sat enjoying the traditional sounds.

The Abbey Hotel Lobby

The Usual (or unusual) Suspects




On my trip in 2016 I faithful rose early in each city to take a quick run. I wanted to see the cities when everyone else was sleeping, and this was the best way to do so. I can proudly say I saw each and every city around sunrise that trip, no matter how late I stayed out the night before. The second trip didn't include runs due to an injury, but morning walks sufficed for this tired ole body, and garnered some amazing sites to see. This is the time of day I enjoy the most. The peacefulness, the alone time, and the fresh air always begins my day like no other. The morning in Donegal was extra special as I traveled a little path my friend Diana (yep the one mentioned above) had found the day before. As I made my way along the bay area, I passed several fairy homes hiding in the trees and other local walkers, until the trail became a dirt road that passed by homes and farm land. Saying hello to the gals having breakfast nearby, it was an amazing morning jaunt and I was so glad I woke early to go explore.

After a quick Irish breakfast the group would meet out front each day to either visit local attractions in the area, or pack up to make our way to our next destination (also stopping along the way at local attractions). The morning in Donegal was a quick jaunt as it was right within walking distance; Donegal Castle. Beginning the tour on foot to bright blue skies, we would soon notice from inside the castle the fickleness of Irish weather as the skies opened up and dumped rain on all those not luck enough to take cover. What a spectacular place to take cover too. Donegal Castle believed to be built in two parts; one from the 15th century and the other which has been restored was believed to be from the 17th century. Exploring within was like stepping back into a medieval times.


Donegal is known for its' tweed and weavers. As previously mentioned, Triona Weavers has a small shop in the town of Donegal we visited in 2016, but in the outlying area of Ardara, the Donegal Weavers Visitors Center welcomes guests from around the world sharing their history of the Mulhern family's five generations of weavers and in 2018 we took the trip to that location. In addition to the history and demonstrations, the store is full of the most spectacular creations. Whether it's a blazer, sweater, cape, scarf, or specially designed piece of jewelry, the quality is superb and it's like bringing a piece of Ireland home with you. I know..I've made a few special purchases there.

As we depart Donegal to head south along the Wild Atlantic Way (an area that extends along the Atlantic ocean on the western side of Ireland), we pass through the rocky and sometimes barren landscape. Ever changing, it's scattered with cattle and sheep farms contained in rocky edged fields of stones, built centuries ago. We sometimes are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the farmers as they tend their flocks and do their daily chores.

Glimpses of the Atlantic are seen along the way, enjoying the view of the waves as they crash along the shoreline. With little villages sitting down by the water, it's interesting to learn that this area is known for its' amazing surfing. Continuing through little villages and towns dotted with little shops and pubs and points of interest, each are reflective of their history and traditions. These little towns and picturesque snapshots we pass are too numerous to include and/or recall exactly chronologically so I've decided to give these neat little memories their very own section called "From the Bus" below.


Sligo - County Sligo

The town of Sligo was our first night to stay over on our 2016 trip. We stayed at the Sligo Park Hotel, a magnificent hotel. On the itinerary was a Meet and Greet with the band, a complimentary dinner at the hotel, and an opportunity to get a few pints and some much needed sleep and recover from the jetlag. I managed to stay awake at the hotel pub the hotel to a respectable hour, however I do believe there was some singing late into the night I may have missed. Kudos to those bar keepers that evening. We were in rare form!


Up early the next morning I began my run down the street towards the town, not too picturesque, it was a just a run, but city number one was down. A quick shower and amazing Irish breakfast, and I was ready to meet my gang at the bus to head out for our day of adventures. First stop, Lissadell House.


Lissadell House

Our first outing while in Sligo was at a very special historic home, one that I have often shared on my Instagram and Twitter accounts because it made a lasting impression on me. The Lissadell House was the home to Countess Markievicz and her sister Eva Gore Booth and their family during the turn of the century. Famed poet William Butler Yeats and his brother, Jack, were often guests at the house, and these experiences often appear and are mentioned throughout W.B. Yeats writings. Currently owned by Edward Walsh and wife, Constance Cassidy and their seven children, they reside within the home. After renovating the majestic home, they decided to graciously opened it up to the general public to share the story of the home and its' prior owners.

As our visit was outside the normal months that the residence is open to the public, Constance made an exception for our group and greeted us personally when we arrived to show us around and give us a tour. She was amazingly welcoming and down to earth, as though we were old friends that came to visit. The artifacts within the home were interspersed with personal photos of the family, and the belongings gave a warmth to the dwelling in all its' grandeur. It gave us a glimpse into what it may have been like to live in such a grand residence.

As we entered under the portico that overlooks Benbulben Mountain, we passed the shoes of the children who had kicked them off as they entered. Neatly lined up Wellies gave a humanity to this granite museum of sorts. We paused in the grand entry-way where at one time Prince Charles and Camilla stood to greet it's inhabitants on their visit. Constance shared the history of her lovely home, and room by room all I could do is gawk as I was in awe of the wall papers, the colors of each room, the original chandeliers and light fixtures, the furniture and it's upholstery, the carved woodwork, the books that lined the shelves, the patterns of china on the table, and even the peat burning in the fireplaces. It took us back to the day in which the sisters lived there. It was as though we stepped back in time.




We were left our own druthers after the brief tour to meander around the home. Making my way to the cellar area, you found rooms that housed items that once had a place in the home, just waiting their turn to be returned. There was furniture that was now just being stored, dolls and toys once played with by the Gore family as children, a kitchen area with hooks from the ceiling that held perhaps meat as it dried or baskets.




There was a wine cellar with crocks labeled for the libations that once sat on the shelves, and at the end of the hall was a huge library room that I can only imagine being used as a room for important meetings. Perhaps meetings regarding the 1916 Easter Rising even. Known as key players within the movement, one can only imagine what goings on occurred in these rooms around perhaps that very table and hearth. As the smell of the crackling fire of peet wafted throughout the library room, I made my way outside where I found myself in what would have been an inner courtyard area where carriages were brought in and out from the barn.


This courtyard lead to a tunnel in which they traveled and then out towards the garden areas. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time to explore the gardens on this trip, but I did make my way over to the Tea Room and Exhibition Hall area to see original artifacts from the family and Rising. It gave me a great understanding of what suffering the residents endured over the years the English dominated power over them, and how their bravery was more than admirable. Grabbing a cup of tea and delicious scone with currants, off we went to board the bus once again. Promising Constance I would email her the photos I took that day, I hope she forgives me as I misplaced her email in my travels. I can only hope she reads this and knows how appreciative we all were for opening up her home to us, and how we talk of that visit often, as it stills ranks as one of favorite places in Ireland.

Back to the hotel we made our way to town to grab a bite at Hargadons Pub and get ready for our first show. The pub was a local restaurant, and by the number of patrons sitting within the little cubbies, typical of Irish pubs, it was the first of many delicious bowls of seafood chowder and brown bread that would become my meal of choice. I couldn't get enough of it. The show was at 5th on Teeling, a tiny little pub in the heart of the village. As The Elders played, patrons unfamiliar with their music would hear them from the street and make their way inside where it would become standing room only. This would become the norm on both trips.


Knock

August 21, 1879, more than 15 people witnessed an apparition of Mary, Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist outside the chapel at Knock. Now known as an international Marian Shrine, people flock to this area to experience it’s healing powers. I am a lady of faith, and in my opinion, I am torn on how I feel about this site. I do believe that there is a special feeling within the confines of Knock. I do believe in the apparition. I feel the peacefulness within its' boundaries. On both occasions I participated in the sacrament of reconciliation at the Chapel of Reconciliation, which I highly recommend. The building is beautiful and gives you a moment to reflect and give thanks. I even had the priest bless my Celtic cross I purchased in Donegal while there. We had a nice chat and I left feeling so blessed, both literally and figuratively. Along one wall on the site sits receptacles or fountains to collect holy water that runs freely. There are a few churches and buildings for meetings and masses, and along the back area you will find the graveyard where witnesses to the apparition are buried. The site itself is worth visiting, however what I have a problem with is just beyond its' boundaries. There you see what I can only describe as "the Atlantic City boardwalk" of Knock. Cheesy gift shops sell viles to collect holy water, keychains, and little souvenirs that just belittle everything I feel this place embodies. Only thing missing is hot dog vendors, a ferris wheel, and salt water taffy. I understand the need for those who visit to want to collect and bring back the holy water, in fact I did, however it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. There have to be other ways they can offer these items without the neon light feel they invoke. Also worth mentioning, there are very few restaurants within walking distance to purchase food in the little village, so plan accordingly if this is one of your stops. A definite visit, but once is enough for anyone.




Galway

Galway is one of my absolute favorite cities within Ireland. If I had to choose a city to live within, it would be Galway. A college town, I love the vibe you get from this town, the proximity to so many wonderful excursions, the wonderful trad music and shopping, and the bay area with its' history and views. For those planning a visit you must make this a priority. We visited both trips and there was so much to see and do, both trips were packed full of fun. We stayed the first time at the Imperial Hotel and the second time at The Galmont Hotel & Spa. Both were gorgeous hotels with first class amenities. The Imperial is located in the heart of the city within a stones throw to Eyre Park. The Galmont Hotel is still within walking distance to shops in the Latin Quarter, but moreso towards the bay area. Loved both hotels so either would be great choices.


Eyre Square

Eyre Square is in the heart of Galway and is best known as the John F. Kennedy Memorial Park. Once the market area in medieval times, it's now known more for a place to take in the sun, bring the kids to play at the playground, and as an artistic expression of memorial to John F. Kennedy, who stood and spoke to Galway residents just prior to his assassination in 1963. Also featured in the park is the Browne family mansion doorway (1627) and the Quincentennial fountain (1984) which gives nod to the Galway Hooker, a boat unique to the Galway area, and unique artistic points like the playground. This center point is surrounded by hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, and is a must see when in Galway.