© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
As with previous installments in this series, I'll borrow from my diaries. I'll also add other commentary. I've deliberately chosen to not include any photos, as you can see pictures (and plenty of other information) by following the on-line links.
Official Name: Republic of Ireland (Éire); Capital: Dublin (Baile Átha Cliath); Language: English and Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge); Country Code: IE; Currency: Euro (previously, the Irish pound [punt])
My first trip to Ireland was in 2001 and started with a flight from the US to the Shannon Airport outside Limerick. After two nights there, we spent two weeks driving around the southwest counties of Kerry and Cork, staying with host families and Farmhouse Bed & Breakfasts. [Speaking of limerick, "There was a young man from the sticks; Who took to writing limericks; But he gave up the sport; Because he made them too short."]
[Diary] At Foynes we toured the Flying Boat Museum. (Foynes was the eastern terminal of the Trans-Atlantic flying boat services of the 1930s and 1940s.) Then we wandered along the Shannon estuary. We pulled into a picnic area and noticed a metal arch at each end of the pullout that we decided was to let cars in, but to keep out gypsies and their wagons. Travelers (the more polite term for gypsies) had quite a presence in Ireland.
[Diary] Contrary to our guidebook, our host suggested we explore the Dingle Peninsula by going over the Conor Pass first rather than at the end of the day. We stopped many times to shoot video. What a picturesque drive it was. At one point we climbed the rocks to a mountain lake. Dingle, a busy port town, was at the end of the pass. A bottle-nosed dolphin, Fungie, had taken up residence in the harbor and provided hours of amusement for tourists and locals. We decided to continue our tour and explore the town later. Of particular interest were the 5,000-year-old beehive dwellings made of stone and used by the early Christians.
[Diary] After dinner, we drove south on the Ring of Kerry, turning off to a beach overlooking the Inch Peninsula. The wind whipped up the waves in the ocean, but the more sheltered marshy area was quite calm. Many of the fields in which crops were grown were protected by two-to-three-foot hedges/fences. Watching the gale force wind that day showed us how practical this idea was. A house under construction had partially collapsed due to the wind.
[Diary] Next stop was Muckross House, built in 1843, visited by Queen Victoria in 1861, and given to the Irish Government by an American, Senator Vincent. We strolled around the stately home, through the vast gardens and into the craft center. Ladies View, so named because Queen Victoria and her ladies visited this spot, offered a spectacular look back up the Killarney Valley. We stopped in the town of Kenmore and walked to a ring of stones which supposedly had ties to the Druids. Quite a few sites have been excavated in different parts of Ireland.
[Diary] In June 1985, an Air India jumbo jet blew up off this Irish coast. Near the town of Ahakista, the Irish people created a memorial garden with flowers, a sundial and a wall on which the names of all the victims are inscribed.
[Diary] We donned hiking boots and coats and set off to see the stone circle that was part of the walking trails on the Sheep's Head Peninsula. This part of the trail had been opened the previous year by the U.S. ambassador to Ireland. We traipsed across tundra-like terrain, through the prickly heather, furze, and ferns. After about 25 minutes, we came to a stone stile and back onto a road that eventually lead to our farm.
[Diary] At 10 am, we left for Blarney and the famous castle. We decided to try lesser roads, and were surprised to find the best road of our trip so far. With only a few minor hitches, we pulled into the castle parking lot at 11 am. The entrance fee was reasonable at £3.50. The grounds were quite extensive, and the castle rather imposing up on the hill. The line to climb to the top to see/kiss the Blarney Stone was quite long, but it kept moving, and we chatted with others in line. Many of these folk were on organized tours, seeing the UK and Ireland in 10 days. (We were glad we chose to take our time.) We were inside the castle as the first rain of the day descended upon us. By the time we came outside at the top, it had stopped. Some of the stones were quite slippery and required extra care. The myth suggests that kissing the stone gives one the gift of the gab. I passed, as the Jaeschkes don't need any help in that department!
Cobh (pronounced Cove) was our next destination. We circled around Cork, and, again, despite some confusing road signs, we found the N25 and Great Island on which the port town of Cobh can be found. This was the last port of call for the Titanic, and many of the 2,000 victims of the Lusitania (sunk during WWI) were buried there. Many Irish immigrants left their homeland from this port.
[Diary] Our next B&B was Killmuckey House, an impressive old home on a beef and dairy farm. We were the only guests, and so had the pick of the three rooms. We chose the brightest one. After cups of tea, we read and relaxed, a perfect way to spend part of a vacation. The weather continued to alternate between warm, sunny periods and showers. It was truly a charming, peaceful setting. At about 7 pm we drove into Castlematyr to find that the only pub serving food had closed its kitchen early. We drove to the shore at Garryvoe and, from a mobile kitchen, enjoyed sausages, fish and chips and a burger by the beach.
In December 2009, as one does, I met a Dublin-based couple at the Tourist Office in Caen, Normandy, France. We'd gone there to get information only to find it closed on Mondays, so we got talking and exchanged contact information. A year later, when I was making plans to go to Belfast, I decided to add on a week of play in and around Dublin, so I sent them mail to see about meeting up with them for a meal. They responded and invited me to stay two nights, and I accepted.
[Diary] At noon, we dressed warmly and ventured out. Although it was quite cold, the sun was shining and the wind was not blowing. We drove to some scenic overlooks and then to Howth, a suburb with a large harbor for fishing and recreational boats. It was quite busy there with people eating brunch/lunch and shopping at the open-air market. We walked out on the sea wall to the small lighthouse and then around the town a bit. At the market, we ate bratwursts at the German food stall and then stopped at a nearby café for coffee, chai latte, and pastries. I had a very nice buttered scone with jam.
[Diary] I'd made a plan to tour some cultural sites, and the first stop was the famous Trinity College Library, home of the equally famous Book of Kells, perhaps the finest illustrated book of the four Christian Gospels: Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. For €5, I got an audio guide, which made the visit much more interesting. The self-guided tour ended in the Long Room, which housed some 200,000 of the library's books shelved between two long rows of busts of famous Irish scholars. The oldest harp in Ireland was also on exhibit. It's the one featured on Irish Euro coins.
[Diary] Next, it was on to Dublin Castle and Christchurch to have a look, and then to St. Patrick's Cathedral (or should I say St. Padraig's Catedral?) where Jonathon Swift was buried. Next up was the National Museum (Anthropology). The good news was that admission was free; the bad news was that it too was closed on Mondays. Nearby was the National Gallery. The good news was that it too was free; the bad news was that it was open! I tried very hard to appreciate the paintings, but failed to get excited. Across the street was a statue of Oscar Wilde, so I went to pay my respects only to find the area cordoned off for repairs. However, I did manage to get a glimpse of his head through the trees. It was not my day, apparently.
[Diary] At 8:15 am at my Bed & Breakfast, I went down for breakfast where two young Egyptian men were eating. I ordered a cooked breakfast half of which I packed for Ron (as in "later on"). I had noticed a set of framed quotes from famous Irish literary people, mounted on the wall. The one that most amused me was from George Bernard Shaw, "Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire". Hmm.
I walked to the River Liffey and along one bank looking at some interesting architecture both old and new. What caught my eye was the new Samuel Beckett Bridge that looked like a huge harp hanging over the river with the cables being the strings. I came to O'Connell Bridge, which has the distinction of being wider than it is long. I strolled up the very busy O'Connell Street passed the stainless steel millennium Spire to the Garden of Remembrance, which honors those who helped win Irish independence in 1921. Opposite was another gallery, so I decided once again to try to increase my art-appreciation quotient. The best I can say was that the gallery had seats in every hall, so a weary traveler with bad knees could sit and rest and look at the paintings. The coffee shop was wonderful. I spent a whole hour there keeping warm, sipping very strong coffee, and working on some Sudoku puzzles.
I wandered through the main shopping streets to the river and back to Dublin Castle and the Beatty Library. Mr. Beatty was an American who had made his fortune in mining, and had lived much of his life in London and Dublin. Along the way, he collected a variety of things including very rare and ancient manuscripts most of which had some religious significance. He donated that collection to Ireland and the Library was built to house it. I was impressed with the man and the small collection that was on display.
[Diary] It had rained during the night and the leaf-covered sidewalks were a bit slippery. I walked to a rather swank hotel nearby, which was my closest tour pick-up point. The coach arrived at 9:30 and set off to pick up 25-odd others at various hotels and meeting places before heading out of town at 10:30. First stop was the Hill of Tara, at one-time the home of a large complex of wooden buildings from which the whole country was ruled. There is not much to see there now apart from old markers and mounds, however. From there, we drove down into the Boyne Valley where in 1690 the Protestant William of Orange (husband of Queen Mary) defeated his Catholic father-in-law, deposed King James, at the Battle of the Boyne.
At New Grange, we stopped for three hours. From the visitor's center, we rode a small bus to the huge earthen mound that had been excavated only 50 years earlier, perfectly preserved from when it was constructed 1,000 years before Egypt's pyramids were built. We went inside the narrow passageway and saw a simulation of sunlight coming in through a shaft above the entrance at noon on the midwinter's solstice. (To experience that on the actual day, one must be a winner of a national lottery for that purpose.)
[Diary] I rode the light rail to the seaside town of Bray, where I found a B&B for two nights. Next morning, I headed south along the boardwalk to Bray Head. It was a steady climb up a paved road and the view back over the town and its bay were great. The cliff-top walk south to Greystones was 6 km, and having nothing better to do I set out. There had been rain a few days earlier, so the path had mud in places, but it was not too bad. The path was 50+ feet above the train line, which in turn was 50+ feet above the Irish Sea. The hillside kept most of the wind away until the 4-km mark where the trail topped the cliffs and was completely exposed to the elements. There were only a few people out and I met up with two women from Belfast, a German family, and four young women from Slovakia. Near Greystones, the path had collapsed into the sea and a detour with tall fences on either side had been built across a farmer's field.
[Diary] Breakfast was a big affair with two sausages, three rashers of bacon, an egg, toast, tea, and juice. As was my usual practice, I ate half and packed the rest into my emergency ration kit. Back in my room, I packed my bag and finished my novel. I spent quality time with the resident dog, an aging Labrador who bonded with me in seconds. Then I bid farewell and stepped out into a glorious day, especially for November. The sun was streaming down and there was no wind. I had plenty of time, so I walked along the boardwalk watching people with dogs playing in and near the water. At the marina, a flock of gulls, geese, and swans fought for the bread people were feeding them. I walked out to the end of the seawall that protected the marina, and chatted with a retired woman who was very friendly. After a while, three of her friends joined us and we sat and chatted in the sun, lamenting the fact that no one had brought tea and scones!
Official Name: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Capital: London; Language: English; Country Code: GB (although UK is used as an Internet address suffix); Currency: Pound sterling. Great Britain is the island containing England, Scotland, and Wales.
Well now, where to begin? I've been to England and London many times. From the dozens of diary pages I've come up with the following handful of extracts:
[Diary from Bath] I rode a taxi to my very swank hotel, the Bath Priory, a member of a small luxury hotel chain. The normal rate was about £250 pounds (US$400) per night, but we had some sort of corporate deal that made it halfway decent. We had very special individual service, the whole nine yards; it was a bit posh, in fact. I expected I'd have to say "Please" when I ask them "I say old bean. Could you please pass the bloody potatoes?'" All the rooms were named for flowers; I was assigned "Marigold".
That night, a company hosted a reception for 25 people. It was a rather nice affair. Being in a private dining room, and most of us being your typical technical computer nerds, we didn't wear ties or jackets, apparently, a rule inviolate in the main dining room at dinnertime. (In fact, I'm sure that some didn't even wear socks, although I don't remember that being a requirement in the posted dress code.) Well it was a typical up-scale restaurant: the more expensive the dish, the bigger the plate, the smaller the serving, and the more artistic. In fact, I'd say that the appetizer and dessert looked more artistic than most art I'd seen, but, then, I'd been known to have my taste in my mouth!
Off the entrance hall there was a medium-sized parlor/reading room, with comfortable chairs, paintings and books. They had a collection of Robert Louis Stevenson's work, a set of 1910 11th edition Encyclopedia Britannica, Diaries of The French Revolution, lots of English classics, and so forth. Just the sort of thing a country squire would have. (I made notes for my dream house plan.)
The adjacent larger parlor was, how shall I say, overrun with large deep comfortable chairs and cushions, many oil paintings (of people paying polo, cricket and rugby, of military officers, and numerous other topics), objects of art, and other quaint stuff. From here, one could exit onto the patio that overlooked the croquet lawn, fountains, and large garden. As the sun shone down, I must say that it did look rather impressive, what! (I made more notes for my dream house.)
[Diary from Oxford] We arrived in a slight drizzle, but that stopped as we left the station. We boarded a double-decker bus for an orientation tour of this university city. We were the only passengers, so we sat upstairs in the open, next to the guide. After the tour we started a walking tour at Christ Church, the best known of the many colleges there. While there is one big university, and all the students mix in for classes, they live and dine in their own colleges, some of which date back many hundreds of years. Christ Church has the big cathedral built by Cardinal Wolsey, who then fell out of favor with Henry VIII, who then suggested to Wolsey that it would be good for his health to give it to the King, who made it his own design. (Oh it's good to be King!) Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland) was a math tutor there, and numerous references to his characters are embodied in stain glass in the dining hall.
Back in Australia, my first car was a Morris Minor, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that William Morris had started out in Oxford with a bicycle shop and then built his first cars in a factory on the edge of town. This lead to the world-famous Mini, which BMW had taken over and launched a new model. (Shagadelic Baby! as Austin Powers might say.) The MG (Morris Garage) sports car was also well known.
[Diary from London] We set off for Abbey Road to see the studios made famous by the Beatles, although, it turned out, those studios were already quite well known for other reasons. We walked on the famous Zebra crossing that is featured on the Beatles' album "Abbey Road". … Then it was on to King's Cross station, and Saint Pancras, the wonderful church/train station next door. After a short walk we were at the British Library, opened only two years earlier. It houses the Magna Carta, an original Shakespeare folio, some very fancy Korans, numerous other literary treasures, and, last but by no means least, Beatles lyrics written on airline napkins and scrap paper. In the multimedia room we looked over some rare books that have been digitized, including Da Vinci's notebook. He wrote his Italian backwards (right-to-left), so you needed a mirror to read it. Of course, the computer reversed it for us.
[Diary from County Kent] From Hastings we took a 15-minute ride to the town of Battle, some six miles to the north. The Battle of Hastings actually took place there in 1066 resulting in William the Conqueror's whipping Harold, but only just. Apparently, after killing all those Saxons, William decided to build an abbey on the site as part of his penance. In the years that followed, the town of Battle grew up around Battle Abbey. At the battlefield tour office we bought our tickets, got our audio wand, and headed out around the grounds, museum, and battlefield for a narrated tour. The audio wand allowed us to get commentary from the point of view of a Saxon soldier, a Norman knight, and Harold's wife who was part of his medical support team. Of course, the two sides had different versions of the story.
In May and June of 2005, I hiked the Thames Path (184 miles/294 km) along the Thames River. For details, see my essay.
My family and I spent a week there using a Brit-Rail pass. We started out in Edinburgh were we spent two nice days playing tourist (visiting the castle and its Mons Meg cannon, Holy Rood Palace, and so on) and eating pub food. Next was Aberdeen, the center for North Sea oil activities. In the north, we spent half a day in Inverness where I bought a beautiful woolen sweater hand-made by a craftswoman from the remote islands. [As I write this, it's snowing and tonight's temperatures are forecast to be below zero Fahrenheit, so that sweater might come in handy, especially if the power goes out!]
We had a delightful and low-key weekend in Kyle of Lochalsh staying in a private home. From there, we took the short ferry ride across to the Isle of Skye and a bus down to Armidale, and the ferry back to the mainland and Fort William.
We'd been making up our plan as we traveled, but once we discovered that Glasgow was hosting an international garden festival, we found it impossible to find any accommodations in that area. As such, we looked at the map of the area 50+ miles to the northwest of Glasgow, and picked a place where we'd get off the train and try to find a place to stay there. As the train pulled out of the station we found ourselves the only ones who got off, and that the station was unmanned. There were signs to two neighboring villages: Tarbet and Arrochar. Although both were within a short walking distance, we chose the closer one, Tarbet. On the edge of town we found a B&B with a nice room, so we signed up for two nights. Although our choice of train station had been purely arbitrary, we found ourselves in the town that tourists use to visit the famed Loch Lomond, whose banks were "just down the hill from the pub". We did the obligatory boat tour of the loch, only to be "attacked" by two Royal Air Force jets that were practicing a bombing run on the dam nearby. To have jets come at you upwind at only hundreds of feet over your head, and then have a sonic boom hit you after they were well passed is quite an experience, not to mention cause for an underwear change!
On the final day of our rail pass, we spent the afternoon walking around Glasgow.
Our visit here started in Bangor, where we stayed two nights in a B&B. Next up, we were hosted by a 40-something single man who lived in a converted country chapel. One novel feature was that the front door was a typical heavy wooden church-door affair, and the key for it was "hidden" under a stone on top of the wall, in plain view! On our final morning, we helped our host repair bicycles in his bike-rental shop in town. After that, we had a rest day while staying at a country pub. We were the only guests and the publican was happy to have the company. We enjoyed walking on rights-of-way across fields, and eating lunch in front of a roaring fire.
We stayed with a second host family where the wife worked while the inventor-husband ran the house. We were introduced to several different kinds of tandem bicycles, wild-berry picking, and sleeping in a tent in the garden. The final host was a country doctor husband and wife, who were out on their rounds each day. He was a Quaker and she was an atheist, an interesting combination. This was not long after the Chernobyl disaster, and the people of this Welsh village were hosting 20–30 children from the affected area, to give them a psychological as well as medical respite. The last night of the trip was spent in Cardiff. [This was our first time as a family staying with hosts from Servas International.]
I've been to Northern Ireland only once, for a business conference in 2010. To get there, I flew into Dublin and took a bus to Belfast. I departed by train back to Dublin. Although it rained hard much of the week I was there, I was able to visit some of the countryside and to sample some great food and hospitality.
[Diary] … The Europa Hotel was a rather posh place with a grand lobby complete with open fireplace radiating quite some heat. The staff was ever so happy to have me as a guest for seven nights at the paltry cost of £90 per night, taxes and full breakfast included. However, internet access was not. I rode the lift to the 9th floor and opened the door to my room. As soon as I saw the bed, I thought there must be some mistake. Although it was a double, it was designed for two leprechauns! And the writing table certainly had character; that is, either the legs had different lengths or the floor was uneven. Tea- and coffee-making facilities were provided, as is the typical British Commonwealth custom. I unpacked and settled in. I'd been "on the road" 17½ hours.
Now I'm sure some readers will be interested in knowing whether it really is safe these days in Northern Ireland. I must say that I had been wondering that myself, so I picked up a daily paper in the hotel lobby and here's the stories splashed across the front page: "Officers injured in bomb ambush" (police officers were bombed as they responded to a burglary call); "Hunt on for kidnap gang"; and "Dentist trial to start later this month" (a dentist and his lover were to go on trial for murdering their previous partners). There was one bit of good news, however. The Farming Life insert proclaimed, "Beef producers look to happy new year." Well, that was a relief; just when I was starting to think this might be a dangerous place. [One factoid I learned that day was that my hotel, The Europa, had been bombed or threatened more than 35 times during The Troubles, which ended in the late 90's.]
[Diary] … On our free day, a colleague and I rented a car. After a long drive, we came to the main natural attraction of Northern Ireland—Giant's Causeway—an extensive basalt rock collection of 4-, 5-, and 6-sided vertical columns of rock formed after a huge volcanic eruption some 60 million years ago. We hiked down to the water's edge and climbed all over the formations along with other tourists. Then we climbed a trail and hiked a ways to see a huge amphitheater containing some of the tallest and best column sets. Then we hiked up to the top of the cliffs and into the teeth of a strong and cold wind back to the visitor center. After all that exercise and the cold, we were well and truly ready for a hot meal, and we settled into the hotel nearby for a great lunch.
[Diary] … I walked with a group of fellow conference delegates to the town hall where some 50 of us were given a guided tour. The rest of the delegates joined us afterwards and we all had drinks and appetizers to the sounds of a string quartet. From there, we moved into a large dining room and sat at circular tables of 7–8 people. The deputy Lord Mayor gave us a rousing welcome in a very good speech, and then the food was served. To start with there was hot pan-seared salmon with herbed potato bread and dulse (seaweed) cream. The main course was braised Northern Ireland lamb shank with champ (mashed potatoes with herbs), spring greens (beans), and baby carrots and caramelized shallots, served in Bushmills (local whiskey) and red currant jus. Dessert was Irish rhubarb and champagne crème Brule with Grenadine (liquor), roasted rhubarb and Irish butter shortbread. That was followed by tea and coffee. Throughout the meal, waiters served red wine from France, white wine from Chile, and bottled water from England's Blenheim Palace grounds (Churchill's ancestral home near Oxford).
Some speeches followed, a man played traditional tunes on different flutes, and four colleens danced some traditional steps accompanied by recorded music. I sat next to a retired Irish couple and we spent the evening discussing all kinds of topics relating to the Republic and Northern Ireland. It was quite an interesting history lesson.
[Diary] … The skies turned dark soon after we departed Belfast and rain fell. Several Irish Republic delegates and I talked most of the 2:20-hour train journey to Dublin comparing all sorts of things in our respective countries, and getting an Irish history lesson as we crossed the famous River Boyne.
Although I'd be happy to visit or revisit numerous places in Ireland and the UK, I have only one major thing on my bucket list for that part of the world. And that is a visit to Yorkshire. Yes, I might have a romantic notion of it from James Heriot's books and TV series, "All Creatures Great and Small", but I'd like to go anyway. I must admit, however, that I have also thought about hiking the Hadrian's Wall
path. Yet deep in my heart I know that truly is a crazy idea.
I'll end with the following anecdote: A Scotsman and an Englishman were talking about the relative merits of their heritage, and the Englishman said, "By God, I was born an Englishman, I've lived as an Englishman, and I'll die as an Englishman!" To which the Scotsman replied, "Have ye no ambition?"