Ireland 2013

The Road Trip Is Formed

Brian has been advocating the idea of a road trip throughout Ireland for a number of years now, and we decided to implement that plan in November 2013. It was our first time renting a car in Europe, and basically expected something along the lines of “a really small car with a manual transmission.” This was doubly fun when realized that Ireland is one of the few remaining countries that drives on the left side of the road. This was going to be fun.

Arrival and Dublin

We took off from Seattle at 8am, and didn’t land in Dublin until 9am the following day. Sleep was lacking, and we were working on our second full day of being awake, with the only sleep gained that being the very unsatisfactory airplane sleep. Pretty drained, we stumbled into our hotel at around 10am and were immediately greeted with “oh yeah welcome! Come have some Irish breakfast!” This deal was taken up, and then we went to a few nearby sights before realizing that despite the large amounts of coffee we had consumed, energy levels were fading fast. Coming back to the hotel, we passed out in one of the lobbies until the room was ready. How was Dublin? Well, the city is pretty dead when in the off-season, and we didn’t get a whole lot of pubbing in. Sadly.

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Newgrange and Hill of Tara

For a day trip, and a rare tour, we took a bus to the Newgrange passage tomb and the Hill of Tara. Our guide was the brother of the tour operator, and he was a curmudgeonly archaeologist who often worked in the field doing excavations and research during the Spring and Summer. After lots of history and bitching about “Leprechaun Finance,” we disembarked at a mostly abandoned Hill of Tara. It was rainy. It was low visibility. It was green and surrounded by fields and sheep. If you could imagine your stereotypical Ireland, this was it.

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Tara is the ceremonial hill of Ireland, where kings were crowned and many ring forts (also known as fairy forts) existed. Besides the low berms of the old ring forts, there isn’t much on the hill besides its history. However, there was still the Stone of Destiny, which wasn’t very impressive really. At least, not for the name it had. But the Tara was fun and a cool place to visit.

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Piling back on the bus, we soon arrived through winding roads to the Newgrange historic site. Newgrange is one of a very many passage tombs in the area, and was impressively large for the time period in which it was constructed; estimated at 3000BC or so. Perhaps most fascinating about Newgrange is that it was only 50% excavated in the 1970s, and the remaining half was left for future generations with better technology to pry the depths of the hill. Surrounded in the lower fields, many other much smaller examples of passage tombs existed, and almost all of them remained un-excavated and in their original state. The Irish have so many historic sites, they simply don’t have the time or resources to research them all, and many are just left for future generations to explore.

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An unexcavated passage tomb is in the lower righthand corner of this image.

Newgrange itself was found with a large amount of white rock, and the archeologist who excavated it figured that they were actually supposed to be on the outside walls of the tomb. Our guide disagreed with this, and said that the walls looked very 1970s like and it was much more likely that the white rock was on the ground around the tomb, as they had found other more intact (and smaller) passage tombs like.

The Driving Begins

Back in Dublin, we left early the next day to pick up our rental car. A small Opal Corsa appeared, and we piled in as Brian figured out the whole shifting-with-the-left-hand thing and I plugged in my phone to get some navigation up and running.

Now it’s a good time to have a brief interlude about Ireland, and Irish roads. A “road” is mostly a “1.8 lane strip with rock walls on both sides, and absolutely no shoulders.” Their speed limits are also impossibly fast. A winding road with blind corners and barely wide enough for two cars to pass without losing their rearview mirrors? 100km/hr. Is that road more like 1.5 lanes? 80km/hr. Minimum. They also drive on the left, love roundabouts, and go fast. All the time. Roads are rarely marked, and signs were often ambiguous as highways may have three or four names, and most signs will only refer to it as one of those names. Seemingly at random. Brian did a magnificent job of driving rally style throughout the trip, and we would have been absolutely sunk without cellular service and Google Maps.

Anyway, Brian pulls out into the left lane (as I’m constantly reminding him “left lane, left lane”), and we make a turn (“take a right into the left lane”), and run into a roundabout, which he had to turn left on. This is where instinct took over and we ended up in the middle of the roundabout driving in the wrong direction. Luckily nobody else saw. We eventually get to the main ring highway surrounding Dublin, and things went smoothly, as it was a large highway.

One thing we noticed is that although we were in the righthand lane, everyone and their mother was just blowing by us, and we were going the speed limit. And I mean they were easily going 20-30km/h faster than us on a 120km/h freeway. After a good 10 minutes of both Brian and I commenting on this, it eventually dawns on me: “Brian, we’re in the fast lane.” Whoops. We were so used to the right lane being the slow one, it didn’t even occur to us that it was the fast lane in a left-sided system.

Cashel

Arriving at the Rock of Cashel right before sunset, we explored this amazing castle and historic site, and in the process got some awesome pictures.

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The Barn

Our stop for the night was at a location we referred to as “The Barn,” as it was a renovated barn at a dairy farm in Southern Ireland. After some more sketchy, narrow, and winding roads at speeds far too fast to be safe, we end up where we think the barn is. I attempt to call the owners, and it failed as nobody knew how to call an Irish number. It was a dark night, and all we could hear was this MOOOOO.  MOOOO  MOOOOOOO. We were pretty sure we were going to die. Terribly. Brian and I were elected to go find the owners while Amber and Tracey stayed in the car in case the cows attacked. Luckily, Mike the owner saw us and we all had a great time getting let into the barn and settled in. There were some freshly-baked scones on the counter, fresh whole milk in the fridge, and even a fire laid for us. Then we realized we were hungry, and that there weren’t any stores near us. At all. So we didn’t eat a whole lot that night except granola bars and whatever else we had stashed away.

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Then suddenly, a very large and angry Yellow Jacket (or the European version of a Yellow Jacket, I guess) appeared in the living room. Presented with the chance to be stung, it was quickly decided that Brian and I would use the only available weapons to us in an effort to kill it. And by available weapons, I mean wooden spoons. Brian found a large and heavy spoon, whereas I had a somewhat smaller spoon that wasn’t very effective. I mostly made the bee mad so that it would fly, and then Brian hit it really hard with a resounding thud. Tracey and Amber were mostly laughing at us. Bee eliminated, we settled down for a half hour or so until another bee showed up. It was dispatched mostly the same way as the first one.

Kinsale and Charles Fort

The following morning we packed up and went off to Kinsale, a coastal town along the Southern coast. It was clearly a tourist hive in the summer, and didn’t have much going on for it in late Autumn. Despite the walking tour we wanted to go on not running, and the restaurant we wanted to eat at closed, it was a fun stop and we soon found ourselves walking a couple of miles to Charles Fort, one of two facilities designed to protect the harbor. The fort was sprawling, impressive, and nearly empty of visitors.

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Our stop the next two nights was the town of Killarney at a five star hotel and spa. I’m not cut out for the super fancy lifestyle, it was learned.

Dingle Peninsula

The full-day plan was a driving tour of the Dingle Peninsula, which is a small landmass that was soaked in history and ruins.

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There was some sort of famous beach that we stopped at, but it mostly featured a never-ending supply of ginger cats from beneath a building.

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An old stone fortress along the side of a cliff was visited.

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The roads featured “reverse bridges” where the streams went over the roadway…

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A typical Irish road. Yes, this is two lanes.

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At a few stops, we noticed these odd signposts. Turns out they were a hike one could take over the peninsula. We tried to go on a portion of it, but quickly got lost in a field of sheep.

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Another two lane road.

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On the way to a small castle, we were stopped by a herd of cattle being moved.

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And then found a pretty sweet castle.

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As with most castles, it was sacked and destroyed by Cromwellian forces.

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There was word of some cool burial cairns nearby, but every guidebook gave very vague information about finding them. We gave it a good try, but not before running into a very large truck on a “two lane” road (hint: it wasn’t two lanes) and had to back up downhill on a blind corner to let him pass.

Cliffs of Insanity

We spent that evening in Killarney, and then the following day took off for a drive to Galway via the Cliffs of Moher. You may know of them as the Cliffs of Insanity.

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The cliffs had a very smart system going, and while access was technically free, the only parking available was charged. Per person. We were pretty def mad about this, especially since we had very little interest in going inside the visitor’s center.

You can walk along the cliffs, and soon can get off the main “visitors path” and onto a more rough trail along the edge that doesn’t have guardrails and featured great views and slippery rocks.

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Uh, don’t slip.

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Galway

Arriving in Galway on a rainy night, I figured out how to use my phone and called our AirBnb host, who set us up in a cool apartment with a spiral staircase and a comfortable layout. We were there for three nights, and spent the next day in Galway.

There ain’t goin’ on in Galway. After seeing the church with JFK and some walks, we were done. At around 3pm. Whoops.

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Connemara

The following day was spent Northwest of Galway in the Connemara area, which is a rugged place. Along the way we stopped at the sleepy town of Cong, which had a large parking lot of which we were the only car.

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They also had a statue commemorating a John Wayne movie that was filmed nearby.

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There were waterfalls.

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Abbeys (see the small white figure of Jesus on the hill?)

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And desolate landscapes.

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The following day we left early and made the drive to Dublin, dropped off the car, and flew home while reading about The Troubles.

Conclusion

Southern Ireland was a fun place to visit, even in November. The roads were harrowing, navigation was tough, and after a while all of the sheep, ruins, and grass kind of run together into a blur of quintessential Ireland. Next up? Northern Ireland.

I’ve always had a slight desire to be a rally car navigator, and after this experience, I think it’s something that’s growing on me. All I need to do now is secure financing and a driver.

After spending many trips in Europe without smartphone data access via cellular networks, I’m not going back. It was absolutely invaluable to have, even if the access was 2G-speeds.

The full album of photos can be found on my flickr set.

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