Friday, December 19, 2014

To Blarney and Back

I recently returned from a wonderful holiday to Ireland.  As an American, the Irish way of life may seem somewhat bewildering, at times, but if you step back and fully examine your surroundings you can really begin to appreciate its beauty.
My friend, Johnny, and I visited many towns, cities, and villages on our journey.  From Galway to Kinsale, with many stops in between, we were treated to surprising landscapes, friendly and fun people, and of course a good bit of Guinness as well.
After learning how to drive on the left hand side of the road, in a manual shift car with the steering wheel on the opposite side, and narrowly avoiding hitting a bus, our first stop of the trip was the Bunratty Castle.  It was about 7 am, and still very dark, so after a quick gander, we were back on the narrow roads, headed up the coast.
We stopped in the small town of Lahinch to take some pictures and appreciate its beauty. The winds howled, the rain fell in buckets, and the waves of the North Atlantic crashed against the rocks.  It was magnificent.
We then continued to proceed up the west coast of Ireland, driving through the stunning Cliffs of Moher, a place of true beauty.  Mere pictures cannot do this place justice.
Afterward, we spent the first afternoon in Galway.

Our first stop was at a pub named Murphy's Bar. A simple, old, typical Irish pub, we sat down and ordered our first pint of Guinness.  As with most places the atmosphere was warm and inviting, and the people were friendly and welcoming.  We hit a few more stops along the way that day before returning to the hotel, fairly early (we were still trying to adjust to the time change).  Murphy's Bar, McSwiggan's, Barr An Chaladh, The King's Head, and The Quays.
Murphy's - Galway
The next day, in Donegal, we attended a wedding at St. Patrick's, followed by a reception at Harvey's Point , situated on Lough Eske.
St. Patrick's
Lough Eske

A good Irish wedding with laughter, drink, food, and dance.  The Irish may not be known for their food, but the portions of the five courses were overwhelming, and we experienced some very tasty treats.  Once dinner was over, the band began to play, and the bride and groom took to the dance floor.  At some point, everyone in attendance was up dancing and having a good time.  One of the last songs that the DJ played was New York, New York. We all danced and had a good laugh.
We spent some time in Donegal, that morning, visiting the local shops and the Donegal Castle.  We then departed for Sligo.  On the way, we stopped at the gravesite of W. B. Yeats.  We took some pictures and purchased a book of poetry.
Donegal Castle

High Cross in Sligo

If the 16 hour wedding weren't enough, we got our fill that night at another wedding party at Shenanigans .  The Irish definitely know how to celebrate, and we spent the night laughing, dancing, and drinking more pints of Guinness. It was nice to be able to spend some more time with the bride and groom, and their family and friends.  We all had some good craic.
Day four started off at an old large cafe in Sligo, the Lyons Cafe.  We indulged in a full Irish Breakfast with farm fresh eggs, homemade bread, and white pudding.  After a delicious meal we ventured off towards the east coast.  The winter months in Ireland only enjoy about eight hours of daylight, from approximately 8 am 'til 4 pm.  After a quick visit to the Knock Shrine, we decided to stop for the night in Limerick.
Knock Shrine

Limerick was not on our original itinerary, but a very welcome stop.  That evening we spent most of our time at another old Irish pub, Dolan's, complete with a roaring fire, friendly staff and patrons, and some beautiful, traditional, live Irish music.  I was also able to try some lamb stew.  The musicians were friendly, very talented, and even asked if we would like to sit with them and sing a song, to which my friend and I politely declined.
Dolan's - Limerick

The first stop of day five was the beautifully landscaped grounds of the Blarney Castle. With rolling hills in the distance, and garden paths to walk through, our hike ended atop the castle with a kiss of the lips on the Blarney Stone.  Kissing the Blarney Stone is said to bring you the gift of gab, or eloquent speech, and also a bit of good luck.  The stone is built into one wall of the castle, at the castle's peak. In order to kiss the stone, you must extend your body upside-down and backwards, and lean out over the castle wall.  Luckily, there are safety irons in place and also someone to hold and assist you.
Blarney Castle

Blarney Stone
Our next stop, Kinsale.  Other than the Cliffs of Moher, Kinsale offered some of the most beautiful scenery we encountered. A quaint fishing village, Kinsale is set on the mouth of the River Bandon.
After taking in lunch, fish and chips and a few pints, at The Lord Kingsale Pub and Guesthouse, we walked around town and took in the scenery.  That afternoon, we set sail, not literally, for Cork City.

Lord Kingsale Pub
Cork was by far the biggest city of our trip.  After checking into the hotel, we ventured out to do some shopping, eat, and consume a few more pints.  The streets of city centre Cork were filled with Christmas lights and decorations.  After some shopping, we hit a few pubs, watched some soccer, or football as is it is referred to there, and ended the night at the Jurys Inn hotel bar with a Murphy's Stout and a shot of Jameson.
Cork City Centre
In the morning we proceeded back to Shannon Airport.  We had one last chance to take in the picturesque landscape and enjoy driving on the wrong side of the road (the wrong side to us anyway). We made it to the airport with enough time to shop at the duty free shop, but before we knew it, we were back on the plane, headed home to America.
My trip to Ireland was a whimsical whirlwind that left me wishing for more.  A rich cultural experience that should be enjoyed by everyone, when you get the chance.  Not only did I get to experience a beautiful country, meet some exceptional people, and enjoy the trip of a lifetime, but I was also privy to great company, good Guinness, and the craic.
This blog post only scratches the surface of my amazing experience, there are probably a thousand more small tales I could tell, but I suppose it would not be wise to waste all of the gift of gab I received, from the Blarney Stone, in one sitting.
Happy Christmas

Cliffs of Moher

Cottage in Co. Clare

Public Drinking Water Shed - Co. Clare




Ireland - West Coast

Ireland - West Coast

Ireland - West Coast



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