Our AerLingus flight from JFK-NY arrived at Shannon Airport about 7
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Our AerLingus flight from JFK-NY arrived at Shannon Airport about 7:30 a.m. It was cool as we knew it would be in Ireland. We picked up our Hertz rent-a-car before 9:00. It was a brand new, never-before-rented, dark blue, 05 Mazda with only 141 kilometers on it. In the next two weeks we would drive it over two thousand kilometers. Our first stop was Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, only seven miles from Shannon Airport, just the right distance for me to begin to adjust to driving in Ireland. Before heading south to Cork, we stopped at Bridgetown, Co. Clare, just north of Limerick City, to visit Cooney’s bar. At Bridgetown, which was somewhat difficult to find, we took photos and chatted with the publican, a Cooney, about the Cooneys in North Carolina. We arrived at Findus farm in Co. Cork about 8:00 p.m. On arrival, our hostess, Mary O’Sullivan, served us tea and warm scones with custard and fresh strawberries. The sun did not set until nearly 11:00 p.m. At the Bunratty gift shop we found the traditional Irish music CD “Happy to Meet” of James and Carol Cullinan who would be our hosts at their seafood restaurant and beautiful guest house in Doolin, Co. Clare during our final days in Ireland. We listened to it often on the excellent CD player in “our” new Mazda. The woman at the gift shop recommended the CD as the best traditional Irish music CD she knew. James plays fiddle and Carol piano; they are accompanied by their friend Peter Crotty who died last January, and was according to some the greatest Irish flute player of all time. We listened to the CD almost continuously for the next two weeks as it was the only one we had. On the advice of the O’Sullivans, we drove to Kilarney Town, then on to Muckross House and Abbey in the Kilarney National Park, and finally over the mountain pass to Kenmare where we had dinner in a pub. In Kilarney I bought a wool cap at Quills. At Muckross House we bought Irish Heritage Cards which entitled us, and encouraged us, to free admittance to dozens of Irish Abbeys and Castles and other sites of interest.
After the requisite visit to Blarney Castle (and stone) and some shopping at the Blarney Woollen Mills, we returned to Findus House Farm where we had asked Mary O’Sullivan to prepare us a lamb dinner which turned out to be both delicious and enormous. At Blarney Castle, Heather kissed the “stone of eloquence” but claims that I “missed” in my attempt to do same.
Today we traveled over 250 kilometers, from Macroom, Co. Cork to Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow where we had rented a “self-catering” cottage for the week (Sat.-Sat.). Along the way, we stopped at Cahir and Kilkenny Castles. We also stopped to buy provisions at a beautiful and huge Dunnes Stores supermarket in Kilkenny. We arrived at Dunlavin about 8:00 p.m. The “cottage” turned out to have a large and amply equipped kitchen, three full bathrooms, fireplace, cable TV, tennis courts, and many other unnecessary but welcome comforts.
Although it was our first full day in the cottage we decided to go in to Dublin as it was a Sunday and we figured the big city would be more manageable without the usual weekday commuters. On the advice and directions of our host, John Lawler, we drove our car to the park-n-ride at Red Cow and took the LUAS, Dublin’s new electric street car. First we went to Trinity College where we had a student-guided tour and a look at the Book of Kells. We found, with some difficulty, Dublin Castle, St. Stephens Green, and Buswells hotel where we had lunch and took photos for our friend Jean who had spent time there years ago. We also spent time in the shops, and the huge new St. Stephens Green enclosed shopping mall. Today we drove to Kildare Town, Co. Kildare, Irish “Horse Country” and also to Portlaoise, Co. Laois where we bought some “Portlaoise” souvenirs and sent a postcard to my nephew Eric whose mother was born here. Heather bought me a “Prince William” shirt and tie at Pennys (no relation to J.C. I don’t think) Another “lite” day. We drove to Castletown, Co. Kildare to visit Castletown House.
Today was a full day. We drove from Dunlavin to Avoca stopping at Glendalough both going and coming. At Glendalough we toured the ruins of St. Kevin’s medieval monastery and shopped at the Glendalough Woollen [sic] Mills where Heather bought a sweater she had been looking for. Avoca was a highlight of the trip for Heather and me who were both great fans of the BBC television series “Ballykissangel” which was filmed here. The throngs of tourists I had heard once plagued the town when the series was popular have dwindled and the town has gone back to being just another small village in the Wicklow Mountains. This made the adventure more fun as we walked the familiar streets alone. Heather took a picture of me in front of “Asumpta” Fitzgerald’s Pub, and I took her picture in front of “Kathleen” Hendley’s store. I think we half expected Brian Quigley, the wheeler-dealer character played by actor Tony Doyle, to come across the bridge in his Land Rover at any moment. We also stopped at the Meeting of the Waters outside of town and the home site of Avoca Handweavers where we had an excellent lunch of smoked salmon salad in their cafeteria.
The gardens at Powerscourt House are among the finest in Ireland and the world.
Friday was our day of rest, the only day we did not drive anywhere but spent the whole day in the tiny village of Dunlavin. The stone domed building housed the public library which provided Internet access. The black painted restaurant is Burke’s pub where we enjoyed several excellent meals during our stay in Dunlavin. The town monument to the 30 Irish patriots massacred in 1798 was hit by a car during our stay, not our car I’m happy to say.
Another long car trip today, we drove from Dunlavin in Co. Wicklow to Drumcliff in Co. Sligo. Along the way we stopped at Boyle to visit the Abbey, and Sligo Town where we toured Sligo Abbey. Two Abbeys back-to-back – yikes. We arrived about 7:00 at Benbulben Farm, Drumcliff, Co. Sligo where we are spending two nights. The views from this farmhouse are awesome, the front looks out on the Atlantic Ocean and Benbulben Mountain looms behind the house. Our hostess, Ann Hennigan, made us tea at what was 10:00 p.m. but felt like 8:00. It’s hard to get used to these days of endless sunlight. The one-lane road that leads to the house is lined on both sides and at a height of ten feet with flowering fuchsia hedge.
Today we drove up to Donegal town, stopping along the way at the seaside resort of Bonduran and the tiny town of Belleek which is just over the border in Northern Ireland. At Belleek we bought the “delicate teacup with painted Shamrocks” that had been requested by our friend and neighbor Judi. Crossing into Northern Ireland is a complete non-issue; there is not even a sign to indicate that you have left the Republic of Ireland and entered the UK. On our return to Drumcliff we went to visit the grave of William Butler Yeats at Drumcliff Churchyard where his father was rector. We had dinner at the nearby and very popular Yeats Tavern which is on the main highway from Sligo to Donegal.
We drove down to Doolin, Co. Clare, today, another longish road trip. We stopped at Galway for shopping. Heather found the gold ingot pendant with Irish hallmark-like symbols that she’s been looking for, and we bought some Galway Irish crystal that we had shipped home. We arrived about 8:00 p.m. at Cullinan’s Guest House in Doolin where we are spending two nights. Our room at Cullinans was elegant and spacious with every comfort of home. The weather has turned summery. At 9:30 p.m. we went to McGann’s pub for the traditional Irish music and some Guinness, an excellent and unbeatable combination. Best of all we could walk to McGann’s from Cullinan’s. Up till now, we’ve been wandering around Ireland wondering where all the other tourists were. Not so in Doolin; here we are not alone. The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre is crowded daily, and developers are building “holiday condos” at the rate of about five new blocks per year. I worry about the future of Doolin as it seems fast on its way to becoming another Torremolinos or Myrtle Beach! Poor Doolin.
Summer is here, warm bright sunshiny days that never end. We took the Doolin Ferry to Inisheer, the smallest and nearest, but some say the most charming of the Aran Islands. We walked the island for over four hours and ended with serious sunburns. We never thought to bring sun block to Ireland. We got back at 5:30 p.m. just in time to take a shower before our early bird dinner reservations at Cullinan’s. The dinner was excellent. James is a not only a great fiddle player but a great cook as well. Before leaving we had the Cullinans sign our copy of their CD.
We left the Cullinans about 10:30 this morning and went into Doolin and then on to the Cliffs of Moher Visitors’ Centre. We arrived early at Doonagore Farmhouse where we are spending our last night in Ireland. Our hostess, Mary Sweeny, suggested a long walk around the back of their farmhouse to view Doonagore Castle. We stopped at Doolin Pottery and bought a couple of coffee mugs. We had an excellent dinner at The Stone Cutters, a restaurant on the highway not far from the farmhouse. We got up at 6:00 Thursday morning so that we could return our rent-a-car at Shannon before the prepaid two weeks’ rental lapsed.