Wednesday, July 25, 2012


It's time to wrap up our trip to Ireland! We took the highway to Dublin from Kilkenny and it wasn't an incredibly scenic route but we were very anxious to drop off Paddy O'Hyundai and spend the last day-and-a-half exploring Dublin. We were making excellent time when suddenly my husband realized that we had passed the airport and were driving away from it.

We consulted the information sheet given to us by the rental agency. Irish addresses are ambiguous in general. For example, the address of our first bed and breakfast was simply: Lough Gur, County Limerick, Ireland. No street numbers or zip codes. Once we established that we weren't anywhere close to the rental place, we stopped at a gas station to fuel up and figure out what we were doing wrong.

I studied the GPS, "address" of the place, and the map the agency provided. It was a crudely-drawn roundabout that they called "Airport Roundabout," with an "X" marking their spot just down from the traffic circle. It made no sense on its own, and especially not in relation to wherever we were.

After much contemplation and throwing the GPS around a little, I deduced that the rental agency wasn't actually in Dublin. It was in a small place called Cloghran. Once we input the new destination into the GPS, we were back on the road and things were beginning to look familiar again. Eventually we entered a large roundabout and we assumed this was the "Airport Roundabout." Once we exited the traffic circle, another roundabout loomed in front of us. We searched in vain for a large sign calling it "Airport Roundabout." We drove in circles (literally) and ended up on a one-lane road somewhere close to the airport. By now, the GPS wasn't helping and I was reading off perplexing directions from the agency's map.

"Okay, here we go," I said, as we entered another roundabout. "From the M8, take the first road on your left, go through the roundabout, and ride parallel to the airplanes."
"What does that even mean?" asked my husband. "How do we even know we came from the M8?"
"Hmmm.. well, coming from the R433, drive past the first road on the left and then take the next road on the right. Go through a roundabout."
My husband glanced over at me as we entered another roundabout and said, "We have no idea where the hell we are. This is ridiculous."
I sheepishly read off more directions that might as well have said, "Take a roundabout, drive past a pub, then drive to McCarthy's and have a Guinness. Get back in the car, take another roundabout and turn on the road in front of Mrs. O'Leary's cottage. You have reached your destination."

By this point we had been driving around the perimeter of Dublin for almost 2 hours. I'm not sure how or when it happened because I succumbed to the dizziness of our circular driving and my only contribution for the final half hour was to cry out, "Look! There's a plane landing/taking off! We are definitely close to the airport." This didn't illicit any response from my husband. He only gripped the wheel tighter, knuckles white and sweat beading on his forehead as he tackled another roundabout. But eventually he began to get his bearings and finally exclaimed, "I RECOGNIZE THIS!!! The rental place is on this road!!" Fortunately, he was correct. We stopped to fill up the gas tank one more time since our adventure had caused us to burn off so much fuel.

We practically threw the keys at the agent's face, tossed our luggage out of the car and into the waiting shuttle bus, and never looked back. Traumatic.

The shuttle took us back to the airport and from there we hopped aboard an Airlink Express Coach. We stayed at the Morrison Hotel. It's in the O'Connell Street area and close to Temple Bar. It was almost 6pm by the time the coach dropped us off and we walked several blocks to the hotel. We were starving so we made quick reservations for dinner at a place down the street.

Winding Stair was our culinary highlight of Dublin. The building's front is small. You could easily walk right by it if you weren't searching for it. It's named after a Yeats poem and has been a popular spot for artists of all kinds. When the door is opened, you ascend to the top via winding staircase (clever) and once you reach the top, you're greeted by a cheerful, cozy, and bright dining room. Dinner was absolutely delicious and all of the items on the menu are locally-sourced. We sipped wine and looked out at the River Liffey while we enjoyed our meal. The prices are reasonable and the ambience is relaxed. Reservations are a must-- we were able to get ours at the last-minute only because we were willing to eat very early. But you should definitely have one meal- or two- at Winding Stair if you are ever in Dublin.

Trinity College
Trinity College

After dinner we walked through the city, taking advantage of the late sunset. We strolled through the campus of Trinity College and then find ourselves in Merrion Square, a beautiful city park. It began to get dark so we started back toward the hotel, passing through Temple Bar. The district is as advertised: chock-full with tourists, overpriced restaurants, and souvenir shops featuring leprechauns and Guinness refrigerator magnets. The vibe was reminiscent of Bourbon Street and we had no desire to linger on the cobblestone streets littered with debris and puddled with urine.

We woke early the next morning. It was our only full day in Dublin since our flight was very early the next day. We enjoyed a nice breakfast and then sloshed our way through rainy streets on the way to St. Patrick's Cathedral. I loved walking around the cathedral, reading about its fascinating and extensive history. The interior is breathtaking, from the ceiling all the way down to the floor. We spent almost two hours absorbing the beauty of St. Patrick's Cathedral. It's a must-see.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Casks at St. James Gate Brewery
From there, we went to the Guinness Storehouse for a brewery tour. The St. James Gate Brewery is massive but the tour route is thoughtful and interesting, even to someone (like myself) who is not a Guinness-aficionada. The production of Guinness is an integral part of Dublin's history and you really get a sense of that walking through the brewery and learning about all that goes into making the perfect pint. The highlight of the tour is the Gravity Bar, where visitors are treated to a panoramic view of Dublin as they enjoy a complimentary pint of Guinness.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat for lunch after the Guinness tour and then decided to stop off at a pub. As you'd imagine, the choices are infinite when it comes to Dublin pubs. Wisely, we chose a place called Stag's Head near Trinity College. The site has been around since 1770 and the interior is ornately decorated in the Victorian Style. The bartender was exactly what we hoped for: colorful and slightly gruff. After we'd settled in with our pints, a woman approached and asked for a hot chocolate.
"Where do ye think ye are, a feckin' Starbucks?" he asked.
She shrugged and walked back to her table as he shook his head and set to work making a very delicious-looking cup of hot chocolate topped with a dollop of cream.

He gave us, and another tourist couple, suggestions of things to do and places to see while we were in his beloved city. We also struck up a conversation with a nice local who seemed as if he occupied a permanent spot at the corner of the bar. I wish we could have stayed longer but we only had a few more hours before the day was done.

Continuing our beverage-fueled day, the next place on our agenda was the Jameson Distillery. The tour began with a short, but clever video. Then our spirited guide took us through different rooms, explaining the whiskey-making process. At the end of the tour we were rewarded with complimentary glasses of Jameson. I took a few sips of mine and decided that was enough for me. The tour was interesting but it didn't transform me into a whiskey-lover, unfortunately.

It was dinnertime once we finished and we ate at a trendy little place near our hotel. We went to one more pub and it wasn't nearly as fun as Stag's Head. It was cramped and stuffy and had a distinctly seedy air about it. The man seated next to me at the bar mumbled to himself and looked around crazily at other patrons. Eventually he ordered a Sprite and then poured the contents of the bottle into the remainder of his pint of Guinness, guzzling it thirstily and wiping his dripping mouth on the sleeve of his coat as he leered at everyone. It was time for us to go.

Ireland was amazing. The people were gregarious, helpful, and kind. It was comforting to be around English-speakers again. I would have liked one more day in Dublin to take some tours and see some more of the sights we missed. We certainly made a good go of it but there's only so much you can do with a day-and-a-half.

My favorite part of the trip is a toss-up. I absolutely loved our first bed and breakfast (Desmond Lodge) and Lough Gur. The area was steeped in history and I think it would be fun to be around for a summer or winter solstice viewing at The Grange Stone Circle.

I can't say enough about the Ring of Kerry. We were only able to drive halfway around and I can't wait to return so we can see the rest of it. I loved Ireland's coast. The scenery was ever-changing because of the weather. When the sun shone, the hilltops over the water sparkled. And when it was foggy, the mist rising from the sea gave the landscape a mysterious, beautiful aura.

Nothing about Ireland was disappointing. I loved everything about it and can't wait to return to the 'land of saints and scholars.'

Thursday, July 19, 2012


We stayed at another out-of-the-way bed and breakfast in Kilkenny. Newlands Country House was a 7-minute ride outside of town. Our room was large, comfortable, and clean and we received some great suggestions for dinner and nightlife in Kilkenny.

All that was left of the Atlantic chowder.
Kilkenny is beautiful and charming. Women dress fashionably and men scream, "I feckin' told ya no!" into their cell phones as they walk along the sidewalks. Dinner was at Langton's 67 Bar. The atmosphere was upbeat and it was obvious this is a place to find the locals. The food was amazing! My husband had decadent lamb and I enjoyed buttery salmon. But the best part of the meal was my starter, the Atlantic Seafood Chowder. Please, if you ever go to Kilkenny, stop at 67 Bar and order the chowder. It was indescribably scrumptious.


Our next recommended stop was Kyteler's Inn. It was everything you'd expect and hope for in a traditional Irish pub. Packed to overflowing by people drinking Bulmer's cider and whiskey, it was the perfect place to experience a trad session. I wish we had known the words so we could have joined in on the singing and swaying. We stayed for a couple hours and I have to say that this pub was better than most we found in Dublin.

Kilkenny Castle
We rested peacefully that night, with the soundtrack to our dreams provided by the Irish ballads we heard at Kyteler's. Breakfast was early the next morning and then we set off to explore Kilkenny in the daylight. It was still charming but definitely quieter on a Sunday morning. We walked through a lush park on the way to Kilkenny Castle. Structures on the site have been around since 1172. The castle has been modified several times throughout its history and many impressive restorations have taken place. It was interesting to see before-and-after photos as we walked through the castle.

View of River Nore from Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle Grounds

After a quick snack we were back on the road and driving toward Dublin, our final destination. Before we made it there, we had to drop off our rental car and that became an adventure all by itself. But we'll talk about that next time.

Rainbow over Kilkenny Castle

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Blarney Castle (and some kissing)

The destination for our third day in Ireland was Kilkenny. The drive, once again, was visually stunning. Untethered sheep grazed alongside narrow roads. Swift-flowing creeks rushed through the forest and we stopped at several lookouts along the way to absorb the views.

We didn't have time to stop in both Killarney and Blarney so we made a quick decision to go to Blarney to see the infamous stone. We followed signs to the castle and pulled into a parking lot crowded with huge buses and lots of tourists wearing color-coordinated t-shirts. We bought our tickets before a long line could form and then entered the grounds, passing coffee stands and souvenir shops. We quickly broke away from all of the magnets, shot glasses, and clothing emblazoned with "I Kissed the Blarney Stone!" 

The grounds at Blarney Castle are extensive and beautifully-manicured. I can't imagine all of the upkeep it requires. I didn't realize there was so much to see and do at Blarney Castle. I thought the visit would consist only of walking up some stairs and kissing a stone. We followed a gurgling brook to the castle. The water was clear and perfect, flowing over stones and under wooden bridges. 

The remnants of Blarney Castle that tourists see today exist from1446 but the site for the castle dates back to the tenth century. Visitors have been kissing the Blarney Stone for over 200 years. I observed the long line and decided I didn't want to do it. Admittedly, some of my reluctance was also due to my fear of heights. My husband decided to go for it and I browsed the Poison Garden while he waited for his turn to receive the "gift of eloquence."

People kissing the Blarney Stone!

The weather was typically Irish. In the span of a few moments it went from partially cloudy to wind-swept rain, then to sunny and humid to bone-chilling cold. After my walk in the garden, I sat down on some benches right under the Blarney Stone and watched the kissers dangle above me. It was amusing to listen to everyone's differing reactions as they emerged from the castle. One man, clutching a 'certificate' said, "Well, I guess that was worth it... right?" His companion looked down at her certificate, shrugged, and replied, "I guess so." 

Others were more enthusiastic. One group came out practically high-fiving and patting each other on the back. "That was so cool!! We kissed the Blarney Stone, man!! Awesome!"

Some people simply read the information panel stating, "The Blarney Stone is directly above you." Then they looked up, regarded the stone, and continued on to the gardens.

My favorite reaction came from an older Irish couple. After they read the panel, the man looked up at the stone and said to his wife, "I just don't get it. Isn't the whole bloody thing the Blarney Stone? Ye might as well just walk up to the castle and kiss the wall and then tell all yer friends, 'Hey lads, I kissed the Blarney Stone!'"

My husband emerged triumphantly a few moments later and he seemed glad to have done it. We continued our walk through the grounds and eventually came upon Blarney House. Built in 1874, it overlooks Blarney Lake and an expanse of perfectly-trimmed green lawns and lush gardens. Amazingly, it's a private residence.

Blarney House

We spent the last few minutes walking around the gardens and peeking into dungeons. All in all, it was a perfectly nice way to spend an afternoon in Ireland.

Bar at The Bodega in Cork
We decided to stop in Cork for lunch. Cork was easily-navigable by foot and bustling with activity. Lunch was delicious at The Bodega. We tried some interesting beers and shared a generous meat and cheese platter. Then it was off to the Mutton Lane Inn, a cozy pub nestled deep into a side street. Our pit-stop in Cork was over too soon because we had to make it to Kilkenny to check into our next bed and breakfast.

More adventures abound in the Emerald Isle!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Stunning Ring of Kerry

We took a scenic route to Kenmare, passing by bucolic regions with sheep and cows grazing, and rustic farmhouses dotting the green landscape.

Kenmare is a little town filled with pubs, restaurants, and lots of places to purchase Irish souvenirs. Although it's very obviously catered to tourists, Kenmare is still charming because of its friendly residents and enviable views of rolling hills and rivers. The major draw to Kenmare is that it's the perfect place to start a drive around the Ring of Kerry.

After filling up on some fresh mussels and Smithwick's ale at a little pub, we drove about 5 minutes outside of town to our bed and breakfast, Muxnaw Lodge. The house was huge and loomed in front of us as we passed through iron gates. It was imposing, but in a beautiful sort of way. It was originally built as the summer residence for a well-to-do family. Oddly, it reminded me of the hotel in The Witches. There were endless stairwells leading to heavily-carpeted corridors and all of the rooms were wallpapered and filled with antique furniture.

View from our bedroom window.
We set ourselves up in the room and then debated about how we should spend the next few hours. We knew we had a long drive ahead the next day and we began to worry that we wouldn't be able to see as much of the Ring of Kerry as we hoped. After consulting the map for several minutes, we decided we should take advantage of the long daylight hours and see as much of the Ring as we could before it got dark. We hopped back in Paddy O'Hyundai and headed out of town. 

Roadside Ruins

Driving along the Ring of Kerry was amazing. There aren't enough adjectives to describe how enchanting it was. The scenery was unlike anything I've ever seen: craggy rocks, flowing water, gigantic hills, waterfalls, thick trees, and interesting ruins. It was incredible. We stopped at lots of lookouts along the way to snap photos. The picture was ever-changing because of the weather. One minute would be foggy and misty and the next the sun would come out and shine on the tops of the hills, making them green and golden.

Below is an example of how fast the weather changes and affects the colors of the scenery. Both of these photos were taken while we were having dinner (out of two separate windows). They were minutes apart but in one the sky is dark and cloudy and the hilltops are hunter green. In the other, the sky is cloudy but bright and the hilltops are sparkling green.

Scarriff Inn-- American flag!
We ate dinner at a place called Scarriff Inn in Caherdaniel. We sat alongside a wall of windows overlooking several bays and islands. Caherdaniel is exactly halfway around the Ring and also has a Blue Flag beach.

Beach at Caherdaniel

The sun began to set as we drove back to Kenmare. I can't wait to return to Ireland so we can drive the entire length of the Ring of Kerry and visit Dingle Peninsula. The coastline is unique and stunning and I feel slightly cheated that we could only spend a few hours gazing upon it.

We had a good night's rest at Muxnaw Lodge and were greeted by the bed and breakfast host in the morning. She had been out when we arrived the day before and we were looking forward to meeting her. She was friendly and distinctively Irish. Her hair was jet black, tinged only slightly by gray, and her eyes were dark but kind.

She inquired about where we had been and where we were planning to go. We received lots of suggestions about things to do and places to add to our itinerary. She asked if we were in Ireland searching for our heritage and when my husband told her that there were some Lynches in his family, she smiled broadly and said, "Ahhh, Lynch! Now that's a good Irish name!"

Breakfast was delicious. Again we were served the full Irish breakfast with sausage, bacon, black pudding, eggs, and half a tomato. We were also treated to homemade scones and preserves again-- a luxury I can certainly appreciate more than once. We discovered we were the only guests and breakfast was quiet other than the Irish version of NPR playing softly in the background. This is an interesting aside I have to mention... The day's headlines were being read and I was only half-paying attention when I heard, "And big, big news: Katie is divorcing Tom! Well, that does it for the top headlines."

I looked at my husband and exclaimed, "Did you just hear that? I think they just said Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise are divorcing. But why would that be news in Ireland? They must have meant someone else, someone Irish."

Of course now I know that they were, in fact, referring to the celebrities. I thought it was very interesting how something so American and tabloid-ish made its way across the ocean and onto Ireland's morning radio broadcast. I must say the "big news" sounded much more interesting coming from a woman with a polished Irish accent rather than from a commentator on E! News.

We hit the road again with full bellies. Our final destination for the day was Kilkenny. On our host's advice, we took the scenic route through Killarney and stopped at Blarney Castle to do some stone-kissing. But I'll save those adventures for the next entry. In the meantime, enjoy some more photos of the Ring of Kerry!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lough Gur, Ireland

From start to finish, Ireland was absolutely amazing. Our flight from Eindhoven on Thursday ran about 25 minutes behind but we didn't let that dampen our spirits. We touched down in Dublin at around 7pm. Our plan was to try and make it to our bed and breakfast by 9:30. Renting the car took longer than expected because there was a computer failure at the end of the process. Then we had to wait another 15 minutes for a shuttle to take us to a location 20 minutes outside of the airport. By the time we got into the car and on the road, we had wasted at least an hour and a half at the Dublin airport.

The drive from Dublin to Lough Gur (outside Limerick City) was about two and a half hours-- our longest drive of the entire trip. It was our first time on the other side of the car and road. My husband did a great job and I think we both became accustomed to it much faster than we anticipated. The roundabouts weren't even as bad as we imagined. I think this was mostly due to our newly-acquired experience with roundabouts. Also, everything was written in English and that was a welcome advantage for us.

We were excited when we entered Limerick County because the drive didn't take as long as we expected. Up until this point Blanche (my GPS) had been giving us accurate directions. A few minutes into Limerick County we realized she was trying to send us to Limerick City instead of Lough Gur. On a whim, we saw a sign for Lough Gur and decided to exit. We found ourselves on a tiny two-lane road, nothing but grass and trees in the sweeping fields ahead.

"Well," I said confidently. "This B&B is off the beaten path. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about."

We drove for a few kilometers, becoming more uneasy with every passing cow. Finally Blanche told us we'd reached our destination. We stopped Paddy O'Hyundai (this was the name of our rental) and stared into the abyss. Blanche said our location was "on left." The only thing "on left" was an open field dotted with more cows. We turned off the GPS and decided to depend on the tiny signs directing us toward Lough Gur.

We finally ended up at the Lough Gur Visitor Centre. We were at our wit's end and it was time to start asking people for directions. We parked beside a car overlooking the lough (lake) and I said, "Okay. I'm just going to ask these people where the B&B is," I said.

"Well, I don't want you to get out of the car alone," replied my husband.
"It's two teenagers. They probably just came here to make out. Here I go."

I stepped out of the car and the young man turned to me as I over-enthusiastically shouted, "Hallo!"

"Hi," he replied.

Oh right... they speak English too. I cleared my throat and said, "Sorry to bother you, but we're looking for Desmond Lodge. It's a bed and breakfast."
"No bother! But ya see, I'm from the city. I dunno where the lodgings are!" he cheerfully replied.
"No, I don't know neither," said his girlfriend. "But ya might oughta try the big house up the road there! That'll be it for sure! Enjoy your holiday!"
"Thanks so much!" I said. And off I went back to the car. "Geez, they were so nice," I said to my husband.
"Yeah, but they don't know where the place is."
"Oh yeah... well, we'll just have to ask someone else I guess."

We started back down the road. The "big house" they suggested was closed and didn't have any signage so we knew that wasn't it. I was sure Desmond Lodge overlooked the lake and I knew it was within walking distance to the visitor center so I directed him to keep driving, hopeful that a sign would lead us there.

After another ten minutes of driving around aimlessly, my husband suddenly jerked Paddy O'Hyundai into a spot in front of a barn and declared, "This is ridiculous! You don't know where it is! I'm going to Limerick City!"

Calmly I replied, "Okay. Good luck finding Limerick City."

We sat in stony silence for a few beats and he backed out of the spot and started down the road in the opposite direction. We came upon a tiny church with a full parking lot. I suggested we park and ask someone there. As we approached the building a woman was outside talking on her cell phone. We stood a comfortable distance away, staring at the ground, shuffling our feet and waiting for her to finish her conversation. As soon as she did, we said, "Hello! Sorry to bother you. We're looking for Desmond Lodge."

"Ah! Desmond Lodge! Right. Well, ya just drive back down this road and come to a stop. Then you'll take a left outta there and drive past the barn and it'll be on your left a little ways up that road. Wait... did I say left? I meant take a right! Then it'll be up that road past a field. You're just only three kilometers away, lads!"

We clarified the directions a few more times and were sent on our way with, "Come back and join us if ye like! We're just having a little theater play!"

We got back into Paddy and retraced our steps. We turned back down the road we'd stopped at right before the church. Desmond Lodge was just another minute up that road, on the left. We must have been circling it for the past 30 minutes.

With a deep sigh of relief, we pulled into the driveway a little after 10:30. We were greeted at the door by the Geraldine, the owner's sister. She waved away our profuse apologies for the late arrival and showed us to our room. It was lovely and comfortable, with a large window overlooking the lake. She immediately insisted upon making us some tea.

As we made our way to the dining room, the other couple staying in the house arrived back from their night out. They joined us for tea and we finally began to relax after our flight and long, confusing drive.

Geraldine and the couple (from Wales) regaled us with stories about themselves and the village. The couple were in Lough Gur to reconnect with their family roots. They had just attended the launch of a book written about the history of the area. It was so interesting to hear them all talk. The couple would mention someone they met at the launch.
"Oh, we met Peter O'Flaherty tonight!" exclaimed the wife.
"Oh! Peter O'Flaherty!" Geraldine would reply. "Now that's a fine chap. I have a good tale about him. Back in 1842, when his father's father was the priest here...."
And it went like this for several hours. The woman from Wales had a charming habit about her. She would say something declarative and then follow it with, "Doesn't it?!" or "Isn't it?!" and then immediately answer herself by saying, "It does!" or "It is!"

For example:
"Oh, the lake is lovely here, isn't it?! It is!" or "It rains here a lot, doesn't it? It does!" I loved her immediately and wanted to follow them back to Wales so we could have tea together every day.

We finally fell into bed after midnight and woke up the next morning to Bridget, the owner of the bed and breakfast. She was as gregarious as her sister.
"Now, tell me all about yourselves, you two!" she said, as she sat us down and brought us coffee and the most delicious homemade scones and preserves.

The Wales couple and another family joined us and breakfast lasted over two hours as we chatted. It was the quintessential Irish bed and breakfast experience. We were sad to only spend one night at Desmond Lodge.

After breakfast we walked a few kilometers from the house to see the ruins of a church and graveyard. It's amazing that these things are still standing centuries later.

We went back to Desmond Lodge to say a sad farewell to Bridget, Geraldine, and the couple from Wales.

Our next stop was the Lough Gur Heritage Centre. We walked to the top of a cliff overlooking Lough Gur. It was breathtaking. In the time it took, the weather changed from gloomy and rainy to sunny, and then back again several times. Irish weather is extremely unpredictable. I never knew which shoes to wear.

The settlement of Lough Gur was around before the pyramids. It's almost impossible to imagine humans walking around and constructing things that long ago. Local legend is that there is an Atlantis beneath the waters of Lough Gur. Some have claimed to be able to see ancient stone foundations when the water is calm. We didn't go out on a boat that day so I guess we'll never know.

After the heritage centre, we went to The Grange Stone Circle. It's the largest stone circle in Ireland and site of summer and winter solstice celebrations every year. We stood in the center and walked around the edges imagining ancient gatherings and ceremonies. And how did people back then, with no machines to assist them, manage to bring these stones (the largest weighs 60 tons) to that location and arrange them so meticulously? Ah, the mysteries of the world.

We were sad to leave Lough Gur. There are still some ruins and sights we'd like to see. Honestly, I would return just to stay again at Desmond Lodge!

The beginning of our first full day in Ireland was off to a great start. We hopped back into Paddy O'Hyundai and began the drive to Kenmare, our starting point for the Ring of Kerry.