Ireland: Days 3 & 4

So this post changes a bit as you read through- I shared that I’ve been struggling with my writing and thus avoiding it altogether, and last week I called a friend in Canada who gave me great advice.  She said, if I can’t capture it the way I want to, don’t try! Accept that the experience was perfect for us, and that recapturing the feeling of it isn’t always possible.  So, I agonized for weeks over parts of this post, trying to add research and facts and such, and then decided to share my notes with you.  I figure, you’re all here because you want to see what T and I get up to on this adventure abroad, so better to get on with it than torture myself! xoxo

On Monday, we started the day taking in the dense fog along the coast, and then breakfast just across the street at Coco cafe. 

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We drove south this time, heading down the Wild Atlantic Way.  We emerged from the fog, revealing another day of shocking blue skies.  Again, we stopped whenever something caught our eye, but today we were giggling because we saw lots of other cars pulling over after us- we felt like we’d started something!

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We ended up at Dunguaire Castle, the most photographed castle in Ireland.  

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Not compelled to go in, we carried on toward The Burren, down quaint and sometimes tree-covered country roads, past rock-covered mountains, past ruins of towers, to Dromolond Castle (we’ll come back to Dromoland).  

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At first, we thought The Burren was a park with set trails or something, but we realized it was the name of the region of County Clare we were driving through!  Stunning bedrock and limestone filled the landscape, and we were amazed time and again when we saw large patches of cleared land, thinking of the manual labour that was involved in building the countless kilometres of cairns!

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At one point, we took a turn into the foothills toward Hazel Mountain Chocolate, near the boundary between County Clare and County Galway.  Unfortunately, it was closed- but it brought us up to a great vantage point.  We enjoyed another day of letting the landscape drive our journey – no pun intended! 

One of the turnoffs that caught our eye was a sign for Dromoland Castle.  When we found the sign, we were surprised to see a uniformed gentleman at the gates.  We learned from him that the castle had been converted to a hotel and golf resort!  And the horse-drawn carriage we passed on our way to the parking area set the stage for opulence.

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It’s definitely worth checking out the full history here, but here’s a summary: it was home to the O’Brien family, Barons of Inchiquin, direct descendants of Ireland’s 11th century High King (they also controlled Bunratty castle – see Ireland: Day 1– at the time).  From what I can gather, it was originally a defensive site.  According to records quoted in a few places, the castle was rebuilt in the mid 1500s, but I haven’t been able to confirm the original build details.  A turret and second castle were added between 1700 and 1730, and the current building was rebuilt between 1800 and 1836.

Dromoland Castle was almost destroyed in the early 1920s on order from the leaders of the IRA in Dublin, but was saved when IRA leaders in County Clare argued that the family had been fair to their tenant farmers during the famine years.  It continued to be owned by family members, despite a major loss of wealth by this time, though much of the land was eventually sold to an American who had Irish roots.  Thomond House, part of the estate, is still owned and farmed by an O’Brien, but extensive renovations in the 1960s saw the main home converted into a luxury hotel.  We were able to drive through the grounds, and to walk through the lobby and main floor, including the comfortable-looking yet decadent sitting room, and the dining room with its extravagant fabric-panelled walls.

By this time we were hungry, so we decided to take the first turnoff we found, and ended up at the Dark Horse pub in Patrickswell.  It was quiet inside and we had to decide whether we’d sit at a table, or take the couple of empty stools at the bar with the locals.  Well, the stools were the right choice.  There, we met Joe, Patrick and John.  We talked and laughed until our cheeks hurt, and came to the guys asking about our afternoon plans.  We were heading to Killarney, but they told us, and I quote (imagine this in its proper Irish accent: “Dingle, Doolin, and Galway are the only 3 places in Ireland that you really need to see.”   So we changed our plans, and headed to Doolin!  Pictured, its us with Patrick, John and Barry.  Joe isn’t one for photos, and so Barry stood in.  Barry is Patrick’s “star witness” and they have a great story about a thing with a car, but it’s not my story to tell!

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We drove to Doolin and stopped on the hill to take in the view. What you can’t see in these pictures is the waves crashing up against the cliffs and then cascading down, waterfall-like.  It was so majestic, we had to stop and take it in.

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From there, we carried on to the pier, walked along the water, and sat on the rocks.  For a good hour we just sat there, listening to the waves, watching the glint of sun on the water, and enjoying the Cliffs of Moher slightly cloaked by fine mist in the distance.  While I was taking pictures of the rocks, I took this accidental picture of a family who had walked into my frame!  We introduced ourselves, and offered to email the picture to them.  They were really lovely, and mentioned that they don’t often have any pictures taken of them together so we did a mini-photo shoot (but as those are close up and show the face of their child, I won’t share those here). 

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Ready for dinner, we started back in the direction of Galway and stopped in Lisdoonverna (home to the annual Matchmaking Festival) where I danced with an Irishman.  Okay, so he was about 80, and married, but Troy is still lucky that I left with him instead of the good dancer with the lovely accent. 😉  We weren’t feeling the atmosphere for dinner though, so we drove back to Galway as the sunset cast purple reflections on the sea. We stopped at Dunguaire castle for a second time, marvelling at the changing light and water surrounding it.  Take a moment and look back at the first picture of this castle in this post- it’s stunningly different when the tide comes in!

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Dinner was at Dough Bros. Their Bros’chetta was everything.  We ordered it, then had pizza, and then ordered ANOTHER Bros’chetta because it was that good.  Then it was a mild enough evening for a wee walk through the city before returning to the B&B to tuck in around 10.

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Sorry about that missing bite- we didn’t even manage to get a picture of the first one! It was that tasty!

Tuesday

We woke up this morning to discover that we had run out of money. Having moved the day before we left for Ireland, and with paydays a week away, we found ourselves in this strange in-between place halfway through the trip! On the upside, we got to pretend that we’re doing this world travelling in our 20s like everybody else does, and eat like broke college students for four days in Dublin. Here we are eating our homemade sandwiches in the car after leaving the grocery store on a budget of about 8 euros! Also, Irish soda bread is maybe the best thing ever. It’s been many years since we’ve needed to debate the merits of the more pricey guacamole versus the much more budget-friendly grainy mustard.  The mustard won.

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Taking a flexible route as usual, instead of heading east straight onto Dublin, we took a bit of a detour south to the lakeside community of Portumna, where we saw, and decided to tour, the Irish Workhouse Centre. It’s located on St. Brigid’s Road, Portumna, Co. Galway, and is definitely worth a visit!

We toured the workhouse, one of 30 built after the famine in the 1800s and one of 163 built in Ireland after an Englishman visited and decided that it was the answer to the poverty and famine here. It closed in 1922, meaning that most people in this and the surrounding communities have had family members here.  Women, men, boys and girls were all separated by both age and gender. When a family was accepted in the workhouse, they were typically never to see each other ever again despite being housed only 50 feet apart. High walls separate the four separate buildings and their yards.  One central hall was used for meals, but meals were also served separately and no speaking was allowed.  Try to imagine: even during meal breaks from their 11-hour workdays, socializing was expressly forbidden.  While on the grounds, neither T nor I felt like taking photos.  They were allowed, but there’s a heaviness and sanctity of the history there, and taking pictures just didn’t feel right.  Once we left, I took a photo from the road to try to offer a sense of the physical layout.  Although the atrocities are different, this experience helped me to gain more empathy for those who were in any kind of workhouse, concentration camp, residential school, or anywhere that people are forced apart from their loved ones and treated as less than human.  I left with a heavy heart, and yet so much gratitude.  

We drove past the ruins of the old Church that had been destroyed under former rule, a reminder of why the workhouse system came to be.  Historically, churches provided safe havens for those in need, as well as food, shelter, and countless other forms of support.  Without the churches, the destitute had nowhere to turn and became completely desperate. 

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We crossed over the river Shannon into the county Tipperary, and continued on our way to Birr Castle.  We can now officially tell you that yes, it is a long way to Tipperary! Ha- couldn’t resist!  The castle is massive, and surrounded by a high wall.  When we arrived around 3:30, we were shocked at the traffic and Garda (police) by the dozens directing traffic through town.  We discovered that a major ploughing event had about 250,000 people coming through this area over the next 3 days.  With a population of only 5818 people, that’s a 4300% increase!  It is the largest outdoor event in Europe and fills 700 acres! And it’s televised!  What is it you ask? Exactly what it sounds like: ploughing. Competitive ploughing, on fields.

We got to Dublin just in time (with 2 minutes to spare) to return the rental car so we wouldn’t have to pay for parking overnight.  After a quick cab ride we arrived at our air BnB and it was a perfect little studio apartment where we settled in to watch the ploughing.  Dinner: a burrito from Boojum- really fresh, tasted great, and cheap (a perfect fit for our new budget!)

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