Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

Our last stop in Ireland was Dublin. We stayed at our favorite hotel, the Jurys Inn Christchurch. You can look out your window directly onto Christ Church Cathedral. The view seems less special when the bells begin ringing.

The Jurys Inn is just around the corner from Temple Bar. We took the long way to Temple Bar and went by Dublin Castle and Ha'penny Bridge.

When it started raining we ducked into the Hard Rock for ice cream.

We were getting hungry and we came across The Old Storehouse with live Irish music. When the musicians asked where people were from we replied that we were from Memphis. They immediately broke into "From Galway to Graceland."

That was the perfect end to our Ireland vacation.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Moneygall, Tipperary, Ireland

On the drive from the Shores Country House to Dublin we needed a lunch stop. As we whizzed along the M7 (on the wrong side of the road) we came across this road sign.

Well, that was our MUST stop.

We didn't go into town. The Barack Obama Plaza was plenty of entertainment. There was a variety of fast food along with the Barack Obama souvenirs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Castlegregory, Cappatigue, Kerry, Ireland

After we arrived at Shores Country House and got settled in we started thinking about dinner.

In 2007 we went to Tomasin's in Stradbally for dinner. This visit Annette advised us that it had changed ownership and she had gotten mixed reviews. She gave us two alternatives in the village of Castlegregory that was about 2.5 miles away.

Castlegregory is a quaint village on a tiny peninsula. The roads are like a maze and of course there are no road signs.

We finally stopped an old man and asked him where the restaurants were that Annette had recommended.

It turned out one was right in front of us. But as he old man explained that to us he opined that he wouldn't go to either of those two places. Of course we had to ask him what he recommended.

He recommended Spillane's at the very end of the peninsula. The food and service was great and afterwards our granddaughter walked across the parking lot to the shore and played in the sand and surf. While you're on the Dingle peninsula, be sure to try the locally brewed Crean's beer.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Shores Country House, Cappatigue, Kerry, Ireland

We had visited Shores Country House in 2007 and it was the one place that my son-in-law wanted to visit again, even above his family home place.

Shores Country House was incredible as before. Now it has free Wi-Fi but its speed was modest. Even the hostess Annette complained. But consider where you are. Get out and walk around.

Room 3 has a queen bed. Room 4 has a queen and a twin. Annette asked for our breakfast order before bedtime so she would be sure to have what we requested. Breakfast was served from 8:30 to 9:45 in the dining room. For our group of 5 the meals came out one at a time as Annette was preparing them individually. Wonderful food.

It is one of those places where you're worried that your suitcase is going to scratch the doors or furniture. Every piece is an antique.

Shores Country House doesn't take credit cards so be prepared with euros. The prices are very reasonable, the least expensive of our entire trip.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Old Cloghane Burial Ground, Cloghane, Kerry, Ireland

When we were researching our trip my wife came across this photograph and wanted to go there, wherever that was.

It took a little searching to find where it was, first on a map and then actually on the ground. It turns out that is between Conor Pass and where we were spending the night.

This is a much better map of the cemetery than I could get from Google. I plugged the lat=52.235389 lon=-10.183296 into my GPS and we were off.

Until we got there. Then we couldn't find it as it isn't on the road. It's up a little path with a small sign at the road.

As we walked up there we encountered an old man working in the cemetery. He told us the story. According to him it's one of the only cemeteries in Ireland where both Catholics and Protestants are buried. Of course they're buried on opposite ends.

When we were leaving Cloghane we spoke to another local who told us the tale of a WW II German fighter crashing nearby. The engine is still revered as a trophy.

Stop and talk to the locals. Don't miss this place.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Conor Pass, Kerry, Ireland

Conor Pass is one of the highest passes in Ireland. It's on the road between Dingle Town and Cappatigue.
A twisty one-lane asphalted road leads to the pass. The drive, inadvisable in bad weather, is considered one of the most beautiful of Ireland. The scenic road leading to the pass weaves its way around the sharp cliff faces and past high corrie lakes. Vehicles over two tonnes in weight are prohibited from using the road in order to avoid difficulties in passing.
When we told Rory Brosnan that we were going to drive over Conor Pass that afternoon he told us about Pedlers Lake above the waterfall that is just north of the Pass. We had stopped at the waterfall before but not realized that Pedlers Lake was above us.

Pedlers Lake was created at the top of Conor Pass by a glacier as it slid down the mountain. It drains into the waterfall that we had seen before.

Pedlers Lake was a perfect place to let a 6-year old unwind.

The one lane, blind, hairpin turns weren't quite as scary the second time around!

The Irish Tourism site is here and the wikipedia article is here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Slea Head Drive, Kerry, Ireland

We had driven Slea Head Drive before but as the driver I didn't see much except one lane roads!

This time we arranged a Slea Head Drive tour with Rory Brosnan. On this trip all of us got to enjoy the scenery and Rory took us to places we would have never found. Rory lives just off Slea Head Drive and his wife is a professor of Gaelic. Her family was evacuated by the government from the Blasket Islands in 1953. Every local we encountered spoke to Rory by name.

We stopped at the Beehive huts. While the parking for these is on Slea Head Drive we had just driven past them on our last trip. They are privately operated and a short hike up a hill. The operator was very friendly and rounded down the price of admission for the 4 of us to €10. My granddaughter was free.

Rory took us to several beaches, one of which is where he swims every night right next to the "No Swimming" sign. He says it's safe if you swim in a group of 4. Yeah, right.

The Gallarus Oratory was on our list for Rory to take us to. When we got there he drove right past the brown tourist sign. He continued on up the road to a second parking area which was not crowded and much closer. That's just the kind of service you get from Rory.

He took us shopping at Louis Mulcahy's and to lunch at Bar an Bhuailtin, which had large and modern amenities. Rory had a new VW van that was comfortable for the 5 of us. The logistics were easy as he picked us up at our hotel right on time.

Rory doesn't take credit cards so come prepared with euros.

Their web site is here and the TripAdvisors are here.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Dingle, Kerry, Ireland

After an eventful drive from Drombeg we arrived in the town of Dingle. Dingle has a population of around 2,000 making it the largest town on the Dingle Peninsula.

We had passed through Dingle on our previous trip and had lunch there. We enjoyed it so much that it was on our MUST list for this trip.

We stayed the Dingle Bay Hotel. You can't miss it with its bright red paint. The hotel is just across the street from the harbor and 1/4 mile east of the Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium. We ate dinner in Paudie's Bar where there's Irish folk music every night. It was supposed to start at 8:00PM but they were just tuning up as we left at 8:40PM. There is a free parking in small lot with 4-5 places accessed by an alley between the hotel and Murphy's B&B to the east. There is an overflow lot accessed by another alley to the east of Murphy's Pub. That is actually on the same level as the 2nd floor (European counting) rooms so we moved our car up there to make loading easier.

The hotel has free Wi-Fi but the clerk at registration acknowledged that it was very spotty. She gave us a password but we couldn't get signal in room 206. Room 206 has a queen bed. Room 214 has a queen and a twin.

Payment is via credit card at checkin. Beware that the room doors don't lock automatically. You need to lock them with the room key.

Just across the street is the marina. We looked for Fungie the Dolphin but the statue is all we could find.

Their website is here and the TripAdvisor reviews are here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Drombeg Stone Circle, Cork, Ireland

The last time we were at Drombeg Stone Circle we had to stop a man in a horse-drawn buggy to ask directions. This time there was a traffic jam in the parking lot. I attribute much of that to the STARZ series "Outlander."

It's still worth a stop. Where Stonehenge is behind a chain link fence, Drombeg, like Avebury, is freely accessible to the public.

There's also an amazing view of the Atlantic from the site.

Their web site is here and the TripAdvisor reviews are here. Their wikipedia site is here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Clonakilty, Cork, Ireland

The nearest town to the Galley Head Lighthouse is Clonakilty. It's a pretty town of just under 5,000 and has a number of nice restaurants and shops that we took advantage of while we were staying at the lighthouse.

Michael Collins, who was the Director of Intelligence for the IRA, lived in Clonakilty and attended the local boys' national school. He is widely regarded as one of Ireland's leading historical figures. He gave many an oration from O'Donovan's Hotel on the Main Street of Clonakilty.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception (Catholic) is a large building in Early French Gothic style, designed by George Ashlin and completed in 1880. There is also an old Presbyterian Church, built in 1861, taken over and used since 1924 as a local Post Office, but still fully retaining its former outward appearance as a church, The local lore is that a pastor of the Presbyterian Church liked the Catholic community so much that he converted to Catholicism and the Presbyterian Church closed. This is, after all, NOT Northern Ireland.

Their web site is here and the TripAdvisor reviews are here. Their wikipedia site is here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Red Strand Beach, Clonakilty, Cork, Ireland

We needed some time for our granddaughter to unwind so we found Red Strand Beach just across from the Galley Head Lighthouse.

It's a nice sandy beach with mostly family bathers. Well, in May only the younger children were actually in the water.

Their web site is here. There is more information here and here.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Galley Head Lighthouse, Clonakilty, Cork, Ireland

We had visited the Galley Head Lighthouse previously. When I got home and researched it I discovered that the lightkeeper's house could be rented from the Irish Landmark Trust (ILT). Although their web site said that the minimum rental is 3 nights they did let me rent for 2 nights. Their web site said that they would only allow as many residents as there were beds, i.e. 4 for each of the 2 units. Since there were 5 of us traveling we rented both units. When we arrived the manager said that he could have gotten us a cot but I'm glad we rented both units.

The e-mailed documentation from the ILT was comprehensive and accurate. Payment is via credit card over the web in advance. There are separate managers for each unit. You are required to contact the respective manager 4 days before arrival to arrange for checkin. e-mail and phone numbers were provided. I e-mailed them and both promptly responded. Both had the surname of Butler but the contact information was different.

When I heard back from them, Ger Butler, the manager for Unit 2, responded that he would handle the checkin for both units and to just call him when we arrived in Clonakilty. We were 15 minutes later than we expected but he was there to welcome us.

It turns out that the other manager is Ger's sister-in-law so combining the checkin was no problem. Ger just lives about 5 minutes away.

On our first trip we just drove up to the lighthouse. Now there are 2 locked gates on the road to the lighthouse. The isolation and views are incredible.

We were ALONE on the headlands.

My son-in-law's family is from the immediate area and he still has relatives there. Ger knows my son-in-law's relatives. Due to that "connection" the manager gave us a tour of the actual lighthouse. That was a once in a lifetime experience.

His father was the lightkeeper and Ger and his 14 siblings grew up there! He said that as they slept 4 to the bed, cold was never a problem. I asked him which room had been his and he said he had slept everywhere.

At that time the structure was divided into several areas. The westernmost room is now the kitchen for Unit 2. Previously it was an oil room. The breakfast table in this kitchen has the best view in the houses. The 2 units were separated and the principal lightkeeper lived in what is now Unit 2 and the assistant lived in Unit 1. When Ger's father was promoted, they had to move from Unit 1 to Unit 2. Eventually with automation there was only one lightkeeper and there was a door cut between the units and his family had access to both units.

There is an enclosed corridor from the houses to the lighthouse. Today it has the electronics for the cellular towers. When we asked Ger what it had been used for previously he said that it provided a protected walkway from the houses to the lighthouse for safety in the winter winds. He showed us the worn marks on the stair posts where they wedged a board to keep the door from being blown open by the winter winds. He ought to write a book.

Each unit has 2 bedrooms, one with a double bed and the other with 2 twins. Each unit has a large den and a large kitchen. Unit 1's kitchen is slightly bigger and has a larger breakfast table. Both have complete appliances including oven, stove, small refrigerator/freezer, dishwasher, microwave, cooking utensils and china and flatware. Ger said there was a washer and dryer in a house outside but we didn't use these.

The feeling of the interior is like a nicely refinished farm house filled with antique furniture and games for the whole family. The floors are wide boards and freshly painted. I had read on the Internet other visitors' stories about having to learn how to operate the heating. During our visit the heating was by radiator and programmed automatically. We never had to operate or change the heating.

Don't worry about the light from the lighthouse keeping you awake. There are heavy solid shutters on every window. But the beam of light is substantially above the house so the light is not a problem.

I had also read that there was no cellular service at the lighthouse. That demonstrates the construction of the structure. There are numerous cell towers nearby including several ON the lighthouse proper. The problem with cellular service is that the outside walls of the structure are 30" thick effectively blocking the cellular signals when inside. Even if you stand at a window you need to try several windows to get one that has exposure to the cellular carrier you need to use. Standing by the window in the bathroom on the north side of Unit 1 I only got EDGE signal and actually couldn't make a phone call. I walked out of the bathroom and stood by the window at the top of the stairs facing south towards the lighthouse and got HSPA+.

Similarly the inside walls block Wi-Fi signal. I had rented a Vodafone hotspot from Hertz. Even when I placed it near a window where it could see the appropriate cellular tower the Wi-Fi signal wouldn't penetrate the house. It was in Unit 2's foyer and I couldn't see it from Unit 1's bedroom.

Remember that the units are "self catering" and come prepared. Assume that you need to bring everything. We rented both units and found 1 hair dryer in Unit 2. We went into Clonakilty and grocery shopped. Ross Carberry is about the same distance. Beware that the roads are NARROW. On the road up to the lighthouse ignore the "Private Property" sign. There are 2 locked gates that the keys to the units will open. Be sure to lock them behind you to keep out the sightseers. Even with them locked we had a group of tourists walk up. They weren't any trouble and I didn't blame them for seeking that view.

The drive into either Clonakilty or Ross Carberry is about 10 miles of mostly one lane roads. The last mile into the lighthouse is full of potholes. I found a GPS indispensable although it generated different routes going into Clonakilty as opposed to coming from Clonakilty to the lighthouse.

Be sure and let Ger share his incredible knowledge about the history and operation of the Galley Head lighthouse and the other lighthouses in the area. That won't take much prodding. Ger himself worked for the Commission of Irish Lights for 21 years.

I had seen information on the Internet that said that the Galley Head lighthouse was going to be turned off. Ger said that that wasn't true. At some point in the future it will be converted to an LED light source. This will greatly simplify the operation as the LEDs won't have to rotate, just blink. When I asked him when this would happen he said that it would happen when he ran out of bulbs! He said he had 6 spares now. He said that due to the fees from the cellular towers that the lighthouse is actually a money maker.

The light on Galley Head blinks 5 times every 20 seconds. It is painted white with a black ring just under the lights. This is the signature of the Galley Head lighthouse. The black ring was added some years ago to hide the discoloration running down from the catwalk around the lights. When this was done the Commission of Irish Lights had to notify all seamen.

Their web site is here and the TripAdvisor reviews are here. Their wikipedia site is here.

The drive up to the lighthouse is quite an experience.

Here is the tour of the lighthouse.

The sign says stay off the cliff wall. There's a reason for that.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

The first time we were at Blarney Castle it was a monsoon. I actually threw away my shoes. On this visit the weather couldn't have been nicer.

Their web site is here and the TripAdvisor reviews are here. Their wikipedia site is here.

The line to kiss the Blarney Stone was too long but we enjoyed the caves and gardens on the grounds.

There is a fascinating legend regarding the actual Blarney Stone. A wikipedia article suggests that Robert the Bruce of Scotland gave a portion of the Stone of Scone to the king of Ireland who then put it into Blarney Castle.
Another tradition holds that, in gratitude for Irish support at the battle of Bannockburn (1314), Robert the Bruce gave a portion of the stone to Cormac McCarthy, king of Munster. Installed at McCarthy's stronghold, Blarney Castle, it became the Blarney Stone.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Friary of Ross, Galway, Ireland

On our way into The Lodge at Ashford Castle we noticed some ruins just off the road. We asked the staff about it and was told that it was Friary of Ross. On our way out we visited the friary. It's address is "Ellagh, Ross, Co. Galway, Ireland". You and I wouldn't call that a street.

The wikipedia article is here and the TripAdvisor reviews are here.

Legend says that the friary was build in the mid-1300s and went back and forth between the monks and the conquering British for centuries.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Cong Village, Mayo, Ireland

A short walk (or drive) from Ashford Castle is the quaint little village of Cong, home of Cong Abbey and "The Quiet Man" museum. There has been a church on the site of Cong Abbey since the 7th century.

Their web site is here and the TripAdvisor reviews are here. Their wikipedia site is here

There is a tourist information center here if you need maps or directions.

We picked Crowe's Nest Bistro for dinner by the number of empty kegs on the curb. We weren't disappointed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ashford Castle, Cong, Mayo, Ireland

Ashford Castle is set in 350 acres on the shores of Lough Corrib. The castle dates back to 1228. The castle re-opened in April 2015 after a €47m restoration. It shows.

Their web site is here and the TripAdvisor reviews are here. Their wikipedia site is here.

We engaged in a number of activities on the estate including a carriage ride, a falconry walk and a pony ride.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Lodge at Ashford Castle, Cong, Mayo, Ireland

The Lodge at Ashford Castle is just over the hill from Ashford Castle. It was originally the house of the groundkeeper of the estate. While the rates are a fraction of those at Ashford Castle you certainly don't give up luxury or service. Their web site is here and the TripAdvisor reviews are here.

I had worked with the staff prior to our arrival to arrange several activities on the grounds of the estate. They had been wonderful and even arranged for a birthday cake and ice cream in the drawing room of the Castle for our granddaughter's sixth birthday. After we arrived, I went back down to registration to ask for an additional key. I gave the receptionist my surname and she looked up at me and called me by my first name! She had been the person who had made all the arrangements for me. That's the kind of service we got everywhere on the estate. When we arrived at any activity on the grounds the staff knew who we were and why we were there. We had a birthday lunch in the Castle and they brought the cake in with lit candles singing "Happy Birthday!"

We also took advantage of several of other activities. We took a carriage ride through the forest and had a "pony" trail ride for my granddaughter. The two drivers were full of information about the estate and the area's history.

We arranged the falconry activity with 2 birds. They actually use Harris Hawks but there are falcons and owls there to see. The walk was about 45 minutes long through nearby open areas and dense woods. The hawks would fly into the trees and watch for the handler to put meat in our gloves. Then the hawks would SWOOP down from the trees and land on our gloves to get the meat. On a couple of occasions the hawks spotted some wildlife and the handler would have to coax them back with chick heads (tasty). Our entire party participated in the walk and the (newly) six year old got to hold one of the hawks on a glove. She is still walking around launching hawks from her hand.

We stayed in rooms 120 and 121. 120 has a queen bed. 121 is a 2-story suite with a queen bed upstairs and a pullout couch downstairs. Both are beautifully decorated. An example of the attention to detail is that the bathroom mirrors are non-fogging. Nice.

The Lodge has an exercise room, sauna and spa services. They have free Wi-Fi but it is relatively slow uploading.

Staying in the Lodge gave us the same privileges as guests in the castle. Just ignore the sign about admission fees as you cross the bridge at the Castle. The concierge Padraig was always at the ready to chauffeur us to whatever activity we needed or to offer advice on shopping or dining.

Breakfast is included with each room and it is served in Wilde's restaurant upstairs. Breakfast included both a continental buffet and a cooked to order menu. We ate in a backroom that you got to through the kitchen! It is Europe after all. That backroom has an outstanding view of the lake below. We had excellent pub food in the Quay Bar.

We were able to have the charges for the activities at the Equestrian Centre and Falconry Centre billed back to our account at the Lodge. We had to settle the lunch in the Castle directly with the Castle. Payment to the Lodge was via credit card at checkout. There were some improper charges on our folio when we checked out and they were removed without discussion.

The distance between the Castle and the Lodge is a 5 minute walk, uphill from the Castle to the Lodge but very pleasant. We also walked from the Castle to the Equestrian Centre and from the Falconry Centre to the Castle. This walk took us through amazing gardens.

You can also walk to Cong village from the Castle as it is a very short walk but we returned to the Lodge and drove to Cong. We explored Cong Abbey and dined in one of the local pubs. We chose The Crowe's Nest because of the empty kegs out front. There is a Tourist Information office there if you need one.

Overall the Lodge at Ashford Castle had the most attention to detail that I have ever seen.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Wineport Lodge, Athlone, Glasson, Ireland

After an overnight flight to Dublin and driving on the wrong side of the road for a couple of hours we were ready to STOP. Just off the M6 in Athlone was Wineport Lodge. Their web site is here and the TripAdvisor reviews are here.

There was a wedding going on and we tried to stay out of the photos.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ireland 2015

We had visited Ireland in 2007 and now with a new Toohig we thought we needed to go back. We wanted to revisit some places and see some new places.

We flew into Dublin and rented a VolksWagen Caddy.

And we filled it up.

We lunched at Wineport as we drove across Ireland to The Lodge at Ashford Castle.

We explored Ashford Castle and the nearby Cong village.

We stopped at Friary of Ross as we drove to Blarney Castle.

Our next overnight destination was Galley Head Lighthouse just outside Clonakilty.

We took a break on Red Strand Beach.

We stopped at Drombeg Stone Circle on the way to Dingle.

We drove Slea Head Drive and then crossed Conor Pass and stopped at Cloghane on the way to Shores Country House.

We got lost on Castlegregory and discovered Obama's ancestral home at Moneygall.

Our last night was in Dublin.

Don't think we've made our last trip to Ireland.