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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
The Latin Quarter is my favorite area for shopping, pubs, and restaurants in all of Ireland. Yes, more than Grafton Street, although that's pretty cool too. The Latin Quarter is the heart of the city and is bustling any time of day with buskers and shoppers along its stone lined streets. Whether it's traditional music, a bite to eat, or a few trinkets to bring home, there is something for everyone. One thing I highly recommend getting while in Galway would be a claddagh ring. Originating here back in the 17th century, the stories surrounding it's creation are anyone's guess. Myth has that the ring was given as a token of coming of age for mothers to daughters, or as a sign of love given to those as an engagement ring or wedding band. The two clasp hands, represent friendship, while the crown represents loyalty, and the heart...you guessed it, love. This symbol epitomizes everything important in life in my opinion, so as a treat to myself, I did buy one of these rings while in Galway and absolutely love it. I purchased mine right on Mainguard Street at the Claddagh Jewelers. It was economical and well made. I wear it daily and it's still as nice as the day I purchased it two years ago.
On both occasions I visited Galway, I was able to see a show. The first show was at The Quays Bar and Restaurant. This bar has been around for more than 400 years serving libations and food. This night though we would enjoy our favorite bands, The Moxie Strings and The Elders as they played on this suspended stage with organ pipes as a background. Remarkable night would be an understatement to describe this show and venue.
The second show we were able to see was at the popular Monroes. Just a hop, skip, and a jump from our hotel, Monroe's offers meals as well as live entertainment seven days a week. With two floors to view the stage, there's not a bad seat in the house!
Restaurants and Pubs
Restaurants and pubs are plentiful in and around Galway. In fact the choices are sometimes too plentiful so let me give you a few of my favorites. The Quays,
that I mentioned above, not only offers great live entertainment, it is also a very hot spot to eat. I suggest you call ahead and reserve a table if you have a large party. It was here, that I had my first raw oyster. Known for their Galway Bay oysters, I thought it the perfect place to try it.
If you are in the mood for a great pint and a trad session, my favorite stop is Tig Choili. For those unfamiliar with what a trad session is, it's a random gathering of musicians that come to play and have a pint. They play by ear and just join in when they arrive. It is one of my most favorite Irish customs and Tig Choili is a favorite of locals and tourists, so it will be standing room only.
Some other really cool places to stop in for a pint would be a The Kings Head; a building that is believed to be more than 800 years old, and was once home to the Mayor of Galway as depicted in a drawn map of 1615. The Fireplace within not only offers a cozy atmosphere to enjoy a pint, it also is more than 400 years old!!! The Skeff Bar is literally a few paces from the Imperial Hotel and is the perfect whiskey bar for a Jameson. With solid wood carvings throughout the building, the ambiance of a gentleman's library ensues. Au Pucan is a little gem we found as we walked around Galway. This is the greatest little pub for a pint, to cheer along with the locals as they watch the rugby game, and the outdoor area is just so charming with it's garden-like feel and interesting epoxied tables with fruit and different bottles within. Just as charming is O'Connell's Bar Galway. Decorated vignets outside were still decorated for Halloween, and was a thrill for us holiday decor fans. Gave me some great ideas for my own home!
These are just a few of the many, many restaurants and pubs within the city. Each I mentioned were amazing and ones I would happily revisit. If I only had one place I could go though while in Galway, it would be Butlers. Just imagine drinking a cup of the sweetest and smoothest warm chocolate ever. Yes, I could not get enough of this decadent treat. Although their main factory is located in Dublin, they have shops throughout Ireland, one being in the Latin Quarter in Galway.
About an hour and a half outside Galway, three islands known as the Aran Islands lie within the Atlantic Ocean just off of Doolin in County Clare. The largest island, Inis Mòr was our destination. With the bluest skies and a light breeze, the sea was kind to us as we made the way out to the island by ferry ride this October day. Passing the smaller islands, Inis Oìrr (the smallest island of the three, known for it's great waves for surfers) and the middle island, known as Inis Meàin (which is the most authentically cultural of the islands also boasting clear views of the Cliffs of Moher) we enjoyed the sounds of the waves behind us and seagulls above us as we chugged along.
As we docked, cab drivers signaled to all disembarking to join them to view the island. For those wishing to take a nice bike ride, bikes were available for rent. Most excursions were pre-booked and those on board were able to find their drivers quickly. Due to a bit of a miscommunication, there were a few of us that had to arrange our own way to and around the island. With the help of Hammond Tours, it wasn't a big deal though. We did the same things our tour mates were doing, we just were riding in a different van to and from the excursions. Taking a double decker bus to the ferry was quite a cold and bumpy memory, but we made it to the ferry and boarded along with our friends. Once on the island we found our driver, and off we went to our first stop, Dùn Aonghasa.
Arriving at the visitor center at Dùn Aonghasa we made a quick trip inside before making the hike up the rocky hill. The landscape is lined with rock walls all along the land. Whether it's to outline a farm or pasture or to line a path up a hill to a fort. I highly suggest good walking/hiking shoes as it gets steep in some areas and is quite rocky. Oh and 50 pounds of camera equipment isn't suggested unless you are used to such hikes. This will totally count as your steps for the day.
Once you enter the fort, the walls surrounding the site are 13 feet high and 10 feet thick. This semi-circle has stood for more than 2,000 years and the true use is not known, but it is thought to have been either a defensive fort, or a religious area, or both. On this day, it was the site of an engagement. As a surprise, one of our tour-mates was planning to propose to his girlfriend. Following him around till he popped the question, it was a remarkable moment and one I was so thankful to capture for them.
Once we wiped our tears away from the emotional moment, the sights were breathtaking. Overlooking the sea, the waves crashed more than 500 feet down below. Terrified of heights, I kept my distance, but still forced myself close enough for a photo. What I saw down below were the most amazingly turquoise waters. The rugged coastline went on for miles, and I sat mesmerized by the crashing waves until I had to make my way back down the hill.
Once we made our way back down the hill, off we went to explore the island. Dotted throughout the island were shells of homes and churches that once stood. Residents made their way around in horse drawn carts, wishing our driver a good day in Gaelic as they passed. Tourists on bikes shared the roadway as they too explored, and as we hugged the shoreline our driver pointed out areas of interest, seals out sunbathing, and shared stories of the island and its' history. Stopping at a local restaurant on the island, Joe Watty's, a quick pint and bowl of chowder hit the spot before we made our way back to the village of Kilronan.
One of my favorite finds on the islands was The Aran Sweater Market. This little shop features handwoven shawls, sweaters, capes, and a number of other handmade wares along with skeins of yarn should you wish to try you hand at knitting one. It is here I found my absolute favorite shawl for a fraction of the cost I had seen elsewhere. I highly recommend buying sweaters here. I have worn mine constantly and it's so well made it still looks brand new.
Exploring Galway at Sunrise
Keeping with my plan to run and/or walk in every city, this one was my all time favorite morning jaunts while in Ireland. As I left my hotel, I headed straight for the bay and the row of colorful houses to see the sun rise. As the sun peeked over the bay, it cast the most amazing glow over everything. Like a ball of fire in the sky, it's beauty was burned into my memories forever in technicolor. Watching boats heading out for their day to fish, the quietness was soothing to my soul and the perfect way to start a day. Making my way back to the hotel through the Latin Quarter, workers busily unloaded and loaded empty barrels of libations consumed. Normally populated with pedestrians on foot, the morning these roadways were full of trucks with deliveries abound.
In 2018 I ventured a little farther over towards the Salthill area. Again watching the sunrise, this time I followed a trail that lead me to a one of my most coveted subjects to capture! Out in the bay at the end of the dock sits Mutton Island Lighthouse. I didn't have enough time to walk out to the end of the dock where it sat, so I admired from afar on this trip. One day I'll return and say a proper hello!
Making my way back to the hotel to get ready for our day's next adventure, I passed by the bay area in which the Spanish Arch and the Mariners Memorial sits. Once a vibrant sea area, it now houses the Galway City Museum.
As you leave Galway you must make a stop at the Connemara Marble Visitor's Center in Moycullen, County Galway. On one side of the street sits the museum with it's timeless pieces, and across the street on the other side is where they make the jewelry and wares, and their gift shop. Giving a small demonstration and history of the magnificent Connemara Marble, you learn that this stone is only found in Ireland and is very rare. Watching a craftsman cut and polish pieces, this family run business is a must see while in Galway.
If it's step back in time you wish, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is a must see. When you think of Ireland, you automatically think of old castles and homes with thatched roofs. Here, you will see both and so much more.
Making your way through the storefront and cafeteria area, you purchase your ticket and have a bite before heading in. Once inside, it's as though you have step through a time machine.
The main street in Bunratty is called the Village Street lined with shops that would have been there during the 19th century. Shops typical of that day may have included a school, doctor’s house, pawnbrokers, pub, drapery, printworks, grocery, hardware shop, pottery and a Post Office.
Bunratty Castle was perhaps one of 50 structures of it's sort built around 1425-1475 by the MacNamara Clan on the property. Still standing and offering a tour and medieval dinner, tourists can have a true medieval experience of the castle and homes that were within its' boundaries.
Along the Wild Atlantic Way
As we made our way along the Wild Atlantic Way, we hugged the coastline stopping along little areas of interest. As the beautiful blue skies shone down on us, we saw the waves crashing along the coastline just begging for us to stop and take it all in.
One of our first stops was Kinvara, a tiny fishing village located outside Galway adjacent to The Burren. Kinvara was picturesque and exactly what you would expect a small fishing village to look like. With Dunguaire Castle in the distance, we snapped a few photos and then made our way through The Burren, a National Park leading us to our ultimate destination, The Cliffs of Moher.
The Burren has to be the most desolate looking landscape in all of Ireland. However this area has a unique ecosystem full of wildlife, flora, and farming believe it or not. More than 350 million years ago the bed of limestone was formed as the glaciers receded leaving a barren looking landscape. It's unique crevices harbor spots perfect for the growth of orchids. The vegetation that does thrive here is offset by the cattle that graze throughout the year. In the winter they graze up in the higher levels and the summer they come down and graze in the lower lying areas allowing the ecosystem to regenerate and flourish. Animals such as badgers, feral goats, Irish hares, red fox, squirrels, bats, minks, otters, and numerous birds, amphibians, and reptiles call this area home.
In 1651 a Cromwellian Army Officer named Ludlow remarked: “of this barony it is said that it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury them. This last is so scarce that the inhabitants steal it from one another and yet their cattle are very fat. The grass grows in tufts of earth of two or three foot square which lies between the limestone rocks and is very sweet and nourishing.” It reminds you that things are often more than they appear.
Still hugging the coastline of the Atlantic, it would be here that we stopped to gaze at the amazing body of water. As we made our way across the rocky Burren towards the ocean cliff, here rock and water meet in a tumultuous clashing down below. It's beauty and sound I will never tire of. I can only imagine what it would be like for those in boats trying to make their way through this water in rough conditions.
One of the most visited and favorite sites in Ireland; the Cliffs of Moher are located in County Clare along the Wild Atlantic Way. This breathtaking edge of Ireland has been in existence for more than 350 million years. Five miles long, this border plummets to more than 700 feet below to the ocean.
O'Brien's Tower can be seen to the right of the cliffs. Used as an observation area now, this tower was erected in 1835 by the landlord of the locality, Cornelius O’Brien, a descendant of the first High King of Ireland, Brian Boru and a member of the O’Brien clan. Under renovation when I visited in 2018, I was unable to go inside. However I could only imagine for those that lived on this land once, what a morning view they would have with their coffee.
On a clear day you can see straight over to the Aran Islands. The morning we were there it was a bit cloudy and then as the clouds began to dissipate, the sun opened up and through a haze we could see the line of limestone that, similar to the Burren, is an unique geosystem to protected vegetation and wildlife that make their home around the cliffs. Grabbing a cup of tea at the gift shop, I sat and gawked together with a few ravens as we awaited our group to once again collect to move on to the next stop. We (the ravens and I - who were the biggest I've ever seen I might add) were in agreement that the cliffs should be included in the natural wonders of the world.
Along the coastline you see some pretty remarkable sites. One such site is Lahinch Golf Course. Around since 1892, this extremely remarkable course is one of the ultimate challanges for professional and ameteur golfers alike. After picking my jaw up, and contemplating how many balls I would loose on this course, I silently applauded all who attempt to play this magnificent course!
Killarney & Dingle
Catching a few winks on the way to Killarney, I awoke to the most beautiful sunset. I know we have beautiful sunrises and sunsets here in America, but here I am too busy to stop and appreciate them. In Ireland, I could truly stop and appreciate.
Checking in to the 5 star hotel, The Great Southern Hotel, we quickly dropped our bags and met downstairs to hit the town and grab a bite to eat. Finding Murphy's Bar we enjoyed a bite to eat, a trad session and a few pints before turning in for the night. The next day we had plans to head to Dingle after a jaunting car tour.
This would be the final time everyone saw me for the next 24 hours. Remember how I told you about being careful on the plane, well I wasn't and a bug found me. Passing out that night in the bathroom, I learned that the marble was extremely beautiful, it was also extremely hard. I passed out hitting my throat on the sink as I went forward, and I came to on the floor weak and sore. It's a blessing I hit my throat and not my mouth or my head, as I have no clue how long I lay there. Once after that, I again fainted on my way to the bathroom, and for the next 24 hours, I would not be able to join my fellow friends as I fought off whatever this was. My roommate, Heather, and one friend, Jane, who is a doctor, took such good care of me. And over the course of the next few days, Jane would take care of several others who had to have contracted this bug on the plane as well. They were not on my bus, nor did I know them, so through process of elimination, that's what we decided we all had in common. What did I learn from this ordeal of being sick away from home while traveling? Two things...never use the bathroom on a plane/disinfect your area and always bring bouillon cubes with you in your suitcase. Do you think one place had a soup with a broth base anywhere in Ireland? Nope!! Crackers such as saltines were non existent also, and their tea and porridge was the best cure for all that ails ya!!! Needless to say, my diet changed immensely for the remainder of trip. Fewer cream based soups and pints of Guinness unfortunately as they were traded for ginger ales and a simpler diet. The upside of this? I had so much fun making up stories about the other guy I had the scuffle with!
A little bug wasn't about to get me down, so after a day off I was back on the road again with my group and off to Blarney Castle we went! There would be no kissing of any stones for me on this visit, as I already have the gift of gab, and I had no intention of sharing anything else with anyone else at this point. I did however scale the tower to the top to see the views and stone everyone flocks to. What a magnificent view it was also! I must forewarn you, once you begin the accent to the top, there is no way to turn back. So if you are deathly afraid of heights, this may not be for you. I am afraid of heights however I felt safe with the walls that surrounded the top, as they were significantly high enough to where I didn't feel as though I would fall over.
From the top you could see the gardens that surrounded the castle. I highly recommend spending some time here. Not so much to kiss a stone everyone and their brother has kissed, but to explore the extensive gardens that are on site.
Once you have explored the castle and gardens, take a trip across the street to the Blarney Woolen Mills to shop till you drop. A little pricey, I loved everything in that store and did end up with a pair of knee socks that are so awesome and hold their shape well, and a Christmas ornament!
Cork, located in County Cork, was another really cool and bustling city we stayed at on our 2016 trip. Staying overnight at The Kingsley Hotel, this hotel was one of my favorites. Sitting along the River Lee, the view up and down the river boasted some amazing scenery, the hotel was grand, and the food superb.
On our arrival, we took a quick jaunt into downtown Cork where the city was alive with activity. With amazing street art, colorful buildings, plentiful pubs, and the English Market bustling with shoppers getting their fresh meats and produce to take home for dinner, I came to the conclusion I could live here in this city.
Ducking into The Long Valley Bar (aka An Gleann Fada) established in 1842 and still run by the Monihan family now for more than 3 generations, it's the perfect spot for a quick pint in Cork. This little pub/sandwhich shop was busy this particular afternoon. Families sat enjoying a pint alongside their children who played with little matchbox like cars, while mum and dad visited with friends and watched the local game on the tv. I was enthralled watching the folks in this particular pub. At the bar area there was a couple on a date, and the number of families enjoying their day together made up the majority of patrons. It made me long that our customs here in America could be the same. Any parent that brought their children to a bar in America would be ostrasized...however here the folks aren't so uptight and by being so, makes for a nice family afternoon out.
After a quick pint we headed across the street for a bite to eat at The Oliver Plunkett restaurant. Taking a table upstairs in the Whiskey Bar, the food and drinks were some of the best this trip, and although we couldn't stay, they offer live entertainment nightly there.
The first night we were in Cork we had a show at the Cyprus Avenue downtown. It was a small and dark venue as I recall. However the one thing I remember most of all about this show, that after playing the gig they were rushing us out of there for the next gig to begin, so we each grabbed a piece of equipment, and load out literally took us about 10 minutes! So much fun, and such great memories and friends!!
The following morning I took what would be a stellar run. Running alongside The Kingsley was Lee Fields Trail. Taking this trail I was able to capture some amazing architecture along the River Lee. On the west side of the hotel was the abandoned St. Kevin's Asylum and Old Cork Waterworks Museum. To the east was what is known as Old Pope's Quay; where a street lined with colorful residences make for the perfect background. I'm glad I was able to capture these photos as I now learn that St. Kevin's Asylum was destroyed by fire a few years ago.
Kinsale - Charles Fort - and Ringfinnan Garden of Remembrance
After my run and an amazing Irish Breakfast off we went to a very memorable day of exploring. First stop, the Ringfinnan Garden of Remembrance.
We all recall where we were on that fateful day of 9/11/01. Kathleen Murphy, a Kinsale native, was a nurse in NYC at the time, and when she returned to Kinsale she established the Ringfinnan Garden of Remembrance in honor of Father Mychal Judge, a Chaplain for the NYC Fire Department, and the 343 firemen that lost their lives that day. Honoring each and every firefighter, a tree was planted in their memory. As our bus pulled up I was immediately moved by the enormity of this project. Emotionally moved, I scoured the trees for the one firefighter I was familiar with, Stephen Siller. It only took me a few moments to locate him. Stephen Siller was a firefighter out of Station 1, and had just finished his shift when he heard the call for help. Unable to get through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, he grabbed his gear and ran all the way back. He was last seen going into the World Trade Center. Since his death, his family established a non-profit foundation to help families of firefighters, burn victims, and victims of other causes such as Hurricane Sandy and more recently Covid-19 ($4.5 million to frontline workers). Each year they hold a 5K race to raise money, called The Tunnel to Towers and I participated in it a few years ago. It was life changing for me. The day I walked through the Ringfinnan Garden, this too made a lasting impression.
Our second stop for the day was one of the coolest forts I have ever seen, the Charles Fort.
This star shaped fortress was designed to withstand canon fire while being able to attack enemies simultaneously. Built some time between 1677-1682, the fortress was named after Charles II. With their focus on protecting the sea, the one thing it did not take into account was the higher land above them and were taken over in a battle in 1690.
The lighthouse in Charles Fort was built in the 17th century and still stands today. The fort was occupied by the English army until 1921 at which time they gave it back to the Irish. In 1922 the fort was destroyed during the uprising and stood unoccupied until 1971 when it was listed as a Historic Monument and restoration began to make it a tourist attraction. The shell of this fort is grand, and reminds me somewhat of the style of Fort Stanwix here in Rome. Great minds think alike!
Final stop on this day, Kinsale, County Cork. This little fishing village is one of my all time favorites along the Wild Atlantic Way. This once thriving port was famous for its' fishing and trade during medieval times. Over the years, it lost its' luster though and in the 1960's the community began an effort to make it a destination once again by featuring it's fine dining, artisans, and leisurely activities such as yachting. Now once again a favorite of everyone that visits, Kinsale is back on the map.
The marina area was quite picturesque, but Kinsale is known for its' restaurants and pubs. The favorite of most that visit Kinsale is Fishy Fishy, however they were closed the day we were there so we made our way to Kitty O'Se's for a pint and a fish and chips with mushy peas. The sign said the best fish fry in town, and although I didn't try any others in town, this one has set the bar high for the next visit to Kinsale!
Now that we got some lunch in us, we were raring to go. This village has the most colorful shops and restaurants and pubs. The quaintness and cosiness of this little town draws you in as though it's giving you a hug. With many festivals held here throughout the year, it's understandable why it's one of the busiest seaside towns along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Making our way in and out of the shops, it was a colorful experience and brought smiles to our faces. In fact I was so inspired I came home and painted my own front door.
If you have to choose a small town to spend an afternoon, I highly recommend Kinsale for the win!
Things You See From the Bus
As I wrap up the tour along The Wild Atlantic way, I feel there is so much I still need to share about the western seaside of Ireland. In fact, the bus ride in itself is an expedition of sorts. It's a fun time, as you make new friends, see amazing sites, and relax in between stops. As you drive along the narrow roads leading throughout this magnificent country, you realize a few things about what you see from the bus:
These roads are mighty narrow with little to no guard rails, as you brush up alongside trees, miss pedestrians walking along the side of the roads, and dodge cars as they seemingly are coming directly towards you only to miss by inches. I wonder how they don't have heart attacks driving here. I think it's as stressful as NYC driving. At times, it's only a one lane road and when you come upon a curve with a large tour bus, yep that's a bit harried!!! But our driver, John, managed like the pro he is, and we were in good hands at all times. Throw in his wit and knowledge of everything, he points out things you would otherwise miss as you pass by. After two times over there....I feel I may be okay to try it on my next excursion. Wish me luck...or wish them luck...either way luck is needed!
The countryside is absolutely stunning no matter where you are in the country. It's also ever changing within just hours of each other. The rocky northern area at times are barren with little to no vegetation, to only drive a little ways south to see the most green pastures strew with sheep painted in multiple colors; a way of identifying who belongs to what farm. Driving even further south the towns become more coastal, and as you make your way back up towards the eastern side of the country and inland it's mountainous and lush like a northern forest. The ever changing landscape is one of the most charming parts of Ireland in my opinion. I highly suggest taking a bus or train to truly appreciate the trip, as it flashes by within seconds. In my next blog you will see the diversity as I head easterly towards County Wicklow. Wow, just wait till you see that!!!
History still stands in ruins upon lands. With fields of rocks boarding farm lands throughout, the pointy edges face upward as safeguards for cattle and kin and they have been there for centuries! Boy they don't make things like they used to. I digress, looking for flocks of sheep causing a traffic jam or thatched roof homes, I was surprised that you don't see as many thatched roof cottages as you expect, as it's not very energy efficient. And all the sheep? Well they are securely in their fenced in pastures being all cute and not causing any traffic jams, well at least on the roads we traveled. What you do see though is colors. Brightly painted colors on doors and buildings all over the country. You see parts of old castles just sitting in a field or buildings and old pubs that have stood for years and years still hosting next generations coming in for the perfect pint. Then right when you find yourself inside the movie The Holiday, you see a modern Aldi's or Kentucky Fried Chicken and you are jolted back to modern times again. What?!!! Yep, once I saw Aldi's I knew I could live there forever!! It's a wonderful mix of yesterday and today. Just have to get the metric system down pat first.
Maybe it's me, but as I mentioned earlier, you also see the most spectacular sunsets and rainbows; and often. I don't know what it is about Ireland but it's about a rainbow a day, and there are double ones too.
The people are the friendliest in the world. No matter where you stop for a pint, the folks within the pub chat you up as though you are a local. And every single last one of them know how to pour a damn great Guinness!
As I conclude this windy blog, I have to say there is no place like the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland. With so many little seaside villages to visit, I could go back over multiple times and have a new experience each and every time. Although plans have been put on hold for my next trip over that was scheduled for May 2020, I hope to revisit a few of these places when I can and add a few more new stops along the way with a sprinkle of a lighthouse or two or twenty!
I know this isn't the same as being there in person, but somehow I hope this little virtual tour has piqued your interest in the Emerald Isle. I hope you plan to take a little trip when we are allowed back out together, as this is truly a together type of place to experience! Whether it's Donegal, Galway, Cork, or the little village of Kinsale, there is so much to do and see with a wide scope of knowledge to ingest! It's truly the most remarkable and life changing experience to travel to Ireland.
As I close here, I feel I need to add a few tips I may have forgotten to mention before.
Purchase yourself a travel adapter for your chargers and electronics. Don't go cheap, get a good one so that you don't fry your items. Don't bring a hairdryer. Every hotel offers one in the room. You may have to do a scavenger hunt to find it, and once found it may resemble your first ever bought in 1975, it's still a hairdryer and one less thing you need to pack.
Everyone has a different take on currency. I actually convert my cash to Euro here at my bank prior to my trip. Not sure if it's the best exchange rate, but I've heard that you can get money at the airport upon arrival (but feel like the rates would be higher on the exchange) ,or you can go to local bank or ATM to take money off your card upon arrival. Keep in mind though you will not always have access to ATM's and banks and their hours may not be convenient. That's why I exchange ahead of time.
I call my credit card companies and my bank to inform them I'll be traveling and take necessary holds off my cards so that I can make purchases. A few credit card companies already allow you to charge overseas without penalties such as Capital One, so look into your cards to make sure you will not incur additional fees.
Make sure your passport is current and not requiring an update within 6 months, or you may have issues.
Pickpockets are a thing in large cities such as Dublin, but I didn't really have issues anywhere. Wouldn't invest in a money belt, but a secure crossover bag would be good. Just don't set your purse down anywhere without a strong hold on it; just in case. Crime didn't seem to be a thing anywhere for me. I'm a pretty brave soul, but at no times on either of my trips did I feel that we were in a sketchy area. So this would be a great solo trip if you are so adventurous!
Clothing - Less is more!!! Wash your things in the sink if you can and air dry in the bathroom. Who cares if you wore those pants two or three times. Roll your clothes or buy travel cubes; the greatest invention ever IMO!!!
Unplug folks! Don't buy international plans unless you HAVE to work while there. By placing your phone on airplane mode and wifi, you can pick up a signal at local eateries occasionally and the hotel at night time. And you can Facetime or FB Chat when you need to reach someone in the US. Enjoy your time there. Don't get all caught up in what stresses you out normally.
Most importantly, I hope you have fun folks. Thank you for coming along with me on this leg of our trip together. Sorry it was such a long read, but I promise you this was a condensed version! Till our next virtual trip along the eastern side of the Emerald Isle.
Slàinte My Friends