June 12, 2005
Mark and I have bid farewell to our last visitors here in Ireland, and we are now confronting the inevitable - preparations for going home. We leave on Tuesday, June 14, and there are lots of loose ends to deal with – packing, shipping, changing addresses, canceling services, arranging for the removal of the entire contents of the flat (as Mary and Martin are selling it), entertaining, being entertained, saying good-byes, returning borrowed items, etc., etc. Not all of this is fun – so I come and go from the hard tasks. I take mental health breaks from the packing, and I go through the photos of our last month here when we traveled around Ireland with our guests. It is such a beautiful country. It begs to be shared.
Jane Ferguson was our first guest in May, and she and I spent some time in Dublin. One day we took the local double-decker bus south to Powerscourt and hiked up from the village of Enniskerry, catching views of Sugar Loaf Mountain, which changes colors through the seasons. At this time of year the sharp yellow of the gorse stands out from rich, green pastures.
The Japanese gardens, which I have visited all year long, had rhododendrun of all kinds abloom, and this astounding beauty caught my eye.
We also made a day trip down south and west to visit the Ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula, during which time we had remarkably good weather. As we headed out the peninsula, we stopped first for views of the Dingle Peninsula across the bay.
As we looked south along the Ring, we could see the road carved into the slope and knew we had an exciting ride ahead of us.
Our good weather day meant some sun, heavy winds and only passing showers. But the passing showers blew in on us fast at Waterville.
It cleared by the time we stopped for a view to the east.
Our coach, along with all the other tour buses on the Ring, stopped in the tidy town of Sneem, where the buildings in the center of the village presented a rainbow of color, including a deep pink pub across from an electric green shop. Turning around towards the river running through town, the natural landscape was a welcome relief.
Our tour ended by winding its way down through Killarney National Park. We stopped to enjoy Ladies' View, so-named by Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting who had previewed the vista for her.
On the weekend Mark chauffeured us up north out of Dublin, stopping at Mellifont Abbey in its beautiful setting
as well as Monasterboice with its round tower, high crosses and graveyard surrounded by farms.
Our destination was Carlingford, a lovely, little medieval town/village across the lough from Northern Ireland. We arrived at low tide, which reduced the harbor to mud flats.
Up on the rise by King John's Castle we had a beautiful view across to Northern Ireland and the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne.
What a pleasure it is to travel at this time of year when the sun comes up at 5AM and doesn't go down until 10 PM. We feel very energetic during these long days.
On our way back to Dublin, we drove across the Cooley Peninsula, stopping to find the magnetic hill near Long Woman Grave where your vehicle will get pulled uphill for you. No luck on either account, but we did have a nice walk.
Jane had to head back to the States for work, and Kate and Danny arrived a few days later in Dublin along with their fun and pub-loving buddies, Nicole and Jimmy. The following morning our nephew Steve arrived. Now we are seven!
After some time in Dublin we hit the road, in various combinations. When Mark had to work at UCD, Danny, Kate, Steve and I took the bus to Glendalough – through downpours in both directions. We were lucky to have it let up, as it typically does, and most of our day we hiked around in fair weather. It is a beautiful spot with the River Glenealo (and our own little happy couple),
the 10th century round tower,
ever so green woods,
the still waters of Upper Lake,
and shallow Lower Lake.
The next day we picked up a rental car that almost held the five of us comfortably, and Mark drove us to the Boyne River valley where we visited the amazing 5000 year old passage tombs –
Knowth has 17 satellite graves surrounding the main mound, and there are some 300 carved slabs, some more intricate than others.
The central kerbstone at Newgrange is highly adorned with symbols that we can only guess the meaning of.
It used to be that grazing sheep took care of the grass-covered mounds...
After touring both Newgrange and Knowth, we drove over to the medieval town of Trim to see its Anglo-Norman castle. Trim Castle was founded first in 1173 and then immortalized for us 21st centurians by Mel Gibson in Braveheart. It is such a lovely time of year to travel in Ireland, and swamp iris caught my eye as much as the castle itself.
And gorse is everywhere!
Our big trip west started the next day, and we headed south out of Dublin, stopping for a look back up north over the city from the northern edge of the Wicklow Mountains.
We drove south on the Military Road, the roadway the English built so that they could more easily pursue rampaging Irish. The bogs and moors are almost lunar in nature though there is more color at this time of year.
The Rock of Cashel was our destination for the first night, and we arrived just in time to explore the ruins of the cathedral, Cormac’s Chapel, the hall of vicars, the round tower, the archbishops, the gravesites, the monuments...
Just to the west are the ruins of Hore Abbey, easily reached by a lovely trail down the rock.
The next morning our B&B hostess put together the next leg of our drive towards Dingle. We made our way along the Glen of Aherlow
and then south, up and over the gap via the Vee Drive in the Knockmealdown Mountains where rhododendron run wild is taking over land from indigenous species. It is quite a beautiful interloper.
It rained off and on, quite heavily at times, but once again we were lucky when it cleared as we approached our next stop, the 6 km beach at Inch on eastern edge of the Dingle Peninsula. There were no surfers that day.
We met back up with Jimmy and Nicole in Dingle at the end of the day and shared our Irish tales. The next morning we drove around Slea Head stopping first at Dunbeg Fort, situated on the edge of a precipitous cliff over the Atlantic
and beehive huts further up the slope.
We hopped out again at the south and western parts of the peninsula for glimpses of the Blasket Islands and the Dingle beaches.
Mark and I loved our return trip to the Gallarus Oratory, sitting there like an up-turned boat.
We wagontrained over the Conor Pass, the highest in Ireland at 456m.
This route took us from the town of Dingle (now only called An Daingean, a reversion to its Irish name – in fact, all the signs down there are in Irish only – thank heaven some of the shapes of the signs speak an international language) over to the west. We then headed north up the coast to Tarbert where we caught a ferry across the Shannon to County Clare. The rain let up, again!, as we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher.
And somehow, the next day, we led a charmed life again and dodged raindrops to visit a church ruin in the middle of a cow pasture,
a cairn atop a hill
set off by Burren walls,
the Poulnabrone dolmen, a portal tomb some 5000+ years old,
as well as countless stops around the limestone Burren – on the coast where waves crashed into the limestone cliffs,
and flowers, both tropical and alpine, flourish in the cracks.
Fanore is the site of the one safe beach in the Burren, and people in wetsuits rode the waves.
Erratics deposited by glaciers sit as if scattered by some large hand.
Pasturelands of sorts are separated by stone walls that rise up the hillsides,
and somehow cows find plenty to eat.
We bid our kids and their friends farewell at the Shannon airport and picked up Audrey and Bill Koester last Sunday. We scared them to death with their first hours on the R and lesser Irish roads as we twisted and turned on our way to Clonmacnoise, perhaps the most peaceful and majestic monastic site in Ireland on its perch overlooking the Shannon River.
The next day we took them to the passage tombs and Trim Castle north of Dublin, where we were treated to a rare sunny, Irish day.
Many people were out walking on that bright bank holiday.
The Koesters headed back to the States on Wednesday, and we stopped along the way at Howth, the head of Dublin’s huge harbor, for one last look south.
The sun has returned these final days of ours in Dublin. Yesterday we took a break and went out for a walk along the Dodder, the river that runs by our apartment. The trees and shrubs are lush along the riverbanks,
and the fuschia out front was brilliant in the bright sun.
As you might imagine, Ireland is more beautiful than pictures capture. You must make a trip yourselves. While we won’t be here when you are, we can send you off with lots of advice – and even some good directions – though much of the fun happens when you just get lost. If you want personal guides, perhaps we could be convinced to accompany you. In the mean time, we look forward to seeing you all when we return home.