Friday, October 11, 2013

Ireland: the land of abandoned castles and churches

The top of the Cliffs of Moher & O'Brien's Tower on the far right

Top 5 Observations of Ireland:
  1. Donkey's are a part of the landscape, and are commonly kept as pets (not used for labor).
  2. The people are SO friendly and helpful!
  3. Gluten free bread (Coeliac bread) is everywhere, literally every single restaurant had gluten free options and bread!
  4. All the sheep have what appears to be different color paint across their back, and I could not get a straight answer from anyone as to the purpose of this.
  5. Abandoned castles and churches are as common as McDonald's and Starbucks are in the states.

Following my jam-packed week in Italy, my family and I headed to Ireland via a layover in London Heathrow Airport (which I have a bitter-sweet relationship with, bitter due to the night I spent there after missing my flight to Kiev and my Uncle's wedding in 2009) and we landed in Shannon. Upon arrival there was some confusion at the airport because one of my cousin Dolores' bags was lost. I really felt for her, since this has been me on more than one occasion, which is why I now travel with only carry on luggage. Fortunately they found her suitcase a few days later. Anyway, the eight of us left the airport in a lovely 9 seater van. I immediately volunteered my mom to drive, and we proceeded to pile into the rental, equipped with a faulty GPS system. Our accommodation was about a 45 minute drive from the airport, it was nighttime, we were driving on the opposite side of the road, and we had 7 backseat drivers. Need less to say it was quite the adventure, and if it wasn't for a drunk Irishman on the side of the road who successfully slurred the correct directions "You're going to take a left, then huh, you'll see another left take that, then let me think, then take a left" we may have never found the place. After several lefts we arrived at a cute cottage in Bodyke, a quaint town in County Clare.

On day one we mostly became acquainted with Bodyke but we did venture to Mountshannon where we saw a beautiful view across the water, a swan couple, and a cute old man talking to his dog. In the evening we went to a place called Pepper's Pub for dinner, drinks, and some traditional live Irish music.   Pepper's was also the first place on our Ireland pub crawl where my Aunt Ina spread my cousin Trenton's ashes.

View from the top of King John's Castle in Limerick

On day two we journeyed over to Limerick where we roamed the corridors of King John's castle (whom you may be familiar with as Prince John the villain of Robin hood), admired the stained glass windows inside St. John's Cathedral and St. Mary's Cathedral. In St. Mary's Cathedral there is a hole in the wall for Lepers called a Leper's squint, which during medieval times allowed lepers to peek in and "be a part of mass" without infecting others. They could even receive communion through the squint.

Day three we took a day tour to the Burren region where we saw the astonishing views from atop the cliffs Moher (pronounced "more"). I could have spent the entire day there just staring off into the horizon with views 700 feet above the ocean at their highest point. On top of the cliff's is O'Brien's Tower. O'Brien was a wealthy politician in the early 1800's who built the tower to impress a woman and as an observation deck for tourists of the time. My mom and I also walked through the Aillwee Cave where we saw stalactites, stalagmites, and the remains of an ancient bear (the cave is rumored to be the last bear den in Ireland). Calcite formations in the recesses of the cave are dated to be 350,000 years old! We stopped for a brief photo at the Doonagore castle. During the tour we also passed by several wedge tombs, which our ancient burial structures older than the pyramids in Egypt!

Doonagore Castle

Day four we headed to Cobh (pronounced "cove") where we stumbled across the Titanic museum in the place where the Titatnic's last port of call was at Cork Harbour. The museum still houses the ticket office where the passengers of the Titanic collected their tickets before boarding on the original pier. It's  crazy to imagine what  people were thinking as they boarded the ship to begin their journey to a new life unaware of what the future held.

Kylemore Abbey

Day five we ventured over to Galway where we visited Connemara, where the unique Connemara marble is mined and to Kylemore Abbey. A stunning and historical monastery within the Kylemore castle that Mitchell Henry had built for his family in the late 1800s. He also had a Mausoleum built as the final resting place for his beloved wife. We also stopped for a photo op at a remote bridge which was featured in the movie the Quiet Man starring John Wayne, which I have yet to see.

Quin Abbey

Day six we walked across the graves of past Irishmen and women at Quin Abbey. Then we toured Bunratty Castle and folk park, a 15th century building that you can climb to the top of and still houses several ancient artifacts. The folk park was quite fun and features several old style homes with traditional furniture and people in traditional costume.

Day seven we drove to Dublin but unfortunately arrived just as everything was closing. We did get to see a few historical sites from the outside such as the Dublin castle and St. Patrick's Cathedral. We also walked through Stephen Green's park covered in ponds, swans, and a memorial for those who lost their lives during the potato famine.

Day eight I embarked on a 32 hour journey home with layovers in Dubai and Perth. Overall Ireland was a very lovely experience and I thoroughly enjoyed touring the rolling green hills covered with cows, sheep and donkeys. The cliffs of Moher were definitely the highlight of my trip and they are a must see for anyone visiting Ireland! I can definitely see myself back in Ireland someday, but if I go back I'd like to be more mobile and possibly rent a bike and ride across the countryside.

One of the many abandoned churches alongside the road
Photo credit: Felicia French (my mom).

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