There are more than a few people that are always encouraging me to go to Ireland’s west coast. When they discover that I create a ‘home base’ in the southeast, east, Midlands and south central Ireland … well, they look confused. You can see their minds racing, almost thinking, how could someone go to Ireland and not spend all of their time on the west coast?
It is simple … I am an “Ireland’s Ancient East” girl.
I grew up in north-central Wisconsin. It was dairy country (although, I was raised on a small beef farm). It meant rolling farmlands of cattle, alfalfa and corn. The area also bordered on the recreational area of the north. So, we didn’t have to drive far to see bluffs, lakes and state forests. I grew up ‘land-locked’ and didn’t know any better. And, as an adult, I find that it translated into loving the rolling agriculture countryside, forests and mountains. It is where my soul finds peace.
Don’t interpret that I don’t like the west. I have been a few times. There is a certain rawness to the coastal landscape. I know that one of these trips, I will base in the west; experience the Atlantic’s beauty and fury. (Achill Island is first on my list.) But I have this small problem. When I begin planning my next vacation/holiday, I start by looking at the west and then I slowly drift east. There is this ‘pull’ (maybe there is something to genetic DNA.) I think to myself … I am not finished there, yet.
I do have to thank Fáilte Ireland for creating Ireland’s Ancient East. I can now use three words to reference the area that keeps calling me ‘home’. You see, for the past couple of years, I feel like I have become a one-person-US-ambassador for this area through my social media sites. People might be aware of a few tourist pockets, such as Glendalough, Cashel or Newgrange, but the area is so much more. It’s rich in history, architecture, agriculture, mountains and seas. So …
- Do you want deep Celtic history?
- On a treasure hunt for ‘saints and scholars’ sites?
- Interested in ancient ruins of passage tombs, dolmens and stone circles?
- Want to hike a few mountains for breathtaking scenery?
- Meander along the Celtic or Irish seas?
- Do you have an interest in the arts?
Then Ireland’s Ancient East is for you, too. What I really love about the vast area is that as I drive to from one place to another, the richness of sites continue along with way. It’s why I go without an itinerary. I pick one place to start my day and then meander off the beaten path on my way back home. Every excursion manages to deliver an experience that simply stops me in my tracks. And I stand there. I stare and think … how can I ever capture all of this in my photographs? Then, I stand a little longer.
I would like to encourage anyone looking at Ireland to take some time and explore Ireland’s Ancient East. Don’t just drive through it, stop at a couple of places, and then hop back in the car as you head west. Take a few days and be, well, simply amazed!!
Oh, and the people … pretty of amazing, too!
If you are traveling to Ireland, there is one ‘must have’ in that suitcase … an umbrella. If you want to be really savvy; pack a raincoat, too. There are times you can use both. For December 2015, an ark would have been a good addition. If only it would have fit in my carry-on.
Actually, it became kind of comical. There was a common occurrence as I met people this last December. After an introduction and the discovery that I was on vacation/holiday, I started to notice a similar reaction. There would be a pause, a faint look of pity and a slight shake of the head. It would be followed by a sincere apology … I am sorry about the weather or all this rain and you’re on holiday.
If I may, please let me send a quick note to the people of Ireland … there is no need to apologize for the rain. After all …
It is Ireland.
I have learned that you …
- Never trust the forecast; the best forecast is the one that you see when you look out the window or to the horizon.
- Plan on some type of rain every day, which may range from five minutes to a couple of hours. Smile when you have sunlight.
- Use an archway or a doorway of a ruin during a downpour, especially if the ruin no longer has a roof.
- Never leave the umbrella in the car … ever. (Although, I always manage to do it once a trip and get caught in a shower. I’m hopeful.)
- Always take one pair of weather-proofed shoes.
- Plan to get a little wet at least once. If you are really lucky, a good soak will be a great story to tell for years.
- Always carry a cloth in your pocket to wipe off your lens. They even make a rain jacket for cameras.
- Need a little patience. It can go a long way … and is often rewarded by clearing skies.
Even more important, don’t change your plans. It is Ireland and it’s going to rain. In reality, I have been rewarded with more sun on my trips than rain. (I have actually experienced 15 days of ‘no rain’ in a row and an abundance of sunlight … and sunburn).
But, believe it or not … even the Irish can’t control the weather.
So, what do you do when you arrive on the tail of Storm Desmond and depart the day after Storm Frank? You take advantage of those fleeting moments of clouds and sun. You ‘go with the flow.’
Okay, I will admit, December 2015 meant day-long rains and some gale force winds. Even I gave up after ‘slip-sliding’ across a lawn one day. But here is reminder … Ireland isn’t just about what is outside. It also has wonderful activity inside. I would encourage you to slow down on those really rainy days and linger over your lunch at the local pub or cafe. Wander around some great historic buildings that do have a roof. Shop. Find an opportunity to engage people in conversation over a tea, coffee or Guinness. Experience Ireland, instead of just ‘seeing’ it.
December 2015 will go down in history for record flooding in Ireland. And, while I did spend more time ‘in’ than ‘out’, I will also say that my vacation was amazing! Thanks to some brief moments of sun, I was able to get out with the camera. But in reality, I have to credit some amazing people that have become friends along the way. They were kind enough to look out for me and made sure I wasn’t staring out a rain-drenched window the entire time. Thanks to them, I had some truly amazing experiences. If I had been out and about, I would have missed them.
I am getting ready to head back to Ireland. So, it’s that time for the top, pre-vacation question. You are going back to Ireland … again? It is then followed by … why?
There are some funs answers (50 Reasons Why I Return to Ireland), but the ones that really matter are still difficult to articulate. Thankfully, over time, one has finally percolated to the top. Simply ….
Ireland still surprises me.
It truly seems that every day that I am in Ireland I manage a ‘unexpected experience.’ Sometimes, they can be small. And, interestingly enough, I will often return to see if a place goes stale. You know … time to move on to another place. But, my return trips still hand me at least one surprise and so, I keep returning.
I will be stopping at Powerscourt for the sixth time next month. Each time I manage to discover a nook or cranny that yields an unbelievable image. For example, there is this little pine tree by Pepperpot Tower that just lit up by an early morning sun last December. Simple and it stopped me in my tracks. I am kind of hoping to see that one again. Kilkenny? It only took five return trips to discover the side alleys. And then there is the Newgrange Passage Tomb … to stand in this structure that is older than the pyramids and knowing that it has stood the a test of time; it never get’s old. Even Glendalough can lend its hand at healing one’s soul. There is a reason that St. Kevin put up a tent there, so to speak. I find that I can just ‘be’ for hours.
And don’t always listen to the tour books. For example, I actually like Blarney Castle. Most tour books will suggest you avoid it due to long lines for the Blarney stone. True. What I didn’t expect was the grounds or the Blarney House. I was there for my third time in May and after four hours of walking the grounds, we finally headed to the car.
Oh, and those long lines … many tour busses only stop for an hour or so. That means, if they want to kiss the Blarney Stone, it will be the only thing that they have time for. The rest of the grounds can actually be quiet.
And, if you can go off the beaten path, a whole new host of opportunities await you. Have you every been to Lahinch, County Clare? It is a beach/surfing town on the West coast. Who knew? Fethard … we were returning to the B&B on the back roads, drove around a curve and, wow! Here is this small town still encased in a Medieval stone wall. Glenmalure and it’s waterfall? It took me two attempts to find it. The waterfall is nice, but the cottage at its base creates a one-of-a-kind picture. Copper Coast? No buses allowed and it is a wonderful, leisurely, drive along the south cost. I can go on ….
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about the people. I have been very fortunate to meet a few people along the way that have become friends. There is something genuine in the connections. There seems to be slower pace (at least outside of the cities) and you can actually have a conversation. I still feel community spirit in most places and it is healthy to see people watching out for their neighbors. Family is still important … and if you want to question that, spend a few hours in the Dublin Airport … the Irish have made welcoming family home an art.
I know that Ireland is far from perfect. Ireland has many of the same problems we see here in the US. I listen to Irish radio and read Irish news sites every day. There have been economic hard times, high unemployment, a health care crisis, crime, etc. But as an outsider looking in, I see people banding and trying together to make a difference; they don’t shy from pushing back when they see ‘wrongs’. They still care. That can surprise even the most cynical around.
So, I am at 30 days until I board that plane. I have a very long list of possibilities and no itinerary. I will be lucky if I make it to a handful, but that’s okay. There is always another trip. All I know is that when I return, I will have a very long list of unexpected experiences that will fortify me until my next trip.
In the end, I am still betting on Ireland … and that she will continue to surprise me.
December is fast approaching. Are you thinking about Ireland, but you’re not sure where to go or what it might be like? Let me help with some options. The first … December Gardens in County Wicklow.
I am heading back to Ireland in December. I am going to base in County Wicklow for a significant amount of time. This is primarily due to the number of gardens still available to wander. I was not prepared last year; so I want to slow it down, return to a few places and explore some new ones.
Gardens can still be in bloom.
Well … sort of. Ireland experiences seasons and December is firmly entrenched in winter. Many plants, such as ferns and delicate annuals will have lost their autumn battle with mother nature. From past experience, I knew that I would find green grass, moss and some ivy growing. But it was the hardy annuals and perennials still in bloom that caught me unaware. Gardens are not overflowing, but finding the odd rose in bloom was like a treasure hunt.
Let me guess, you have been doing some research and you are finding that many are closed over winter. Again, I discovered something interesting last year. Some of the houses that are associated with gardens are open in December; more than what I expected. Many of these sites now host Christmas activities. While tours may not be available, the grounds and gardens are open.
To begin with, the tourist numbers are low and I can get great photographs clear of red jackets and orange shirts. I am not rushed. But the best part, the grounds have families attending these holiday activities. Yes … families. I love finding a seat off to the side and just watching. It can be pure enjoyment as children, young and old, are laughing, chatting and full of awe as they get ready to meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Many of these gardens are have beautiful backdrops. December brings a very unique sky; a rich blue that blends into a white on the horizon since the sun doesn’t climb very high. I also found that sun bounced off of clouds differently and brought out new dimensions. What I really found myself enjoying is that the landscape is open. As the leaves had fallen, I now had a good view of mountains and valleys, including the iconic ones..
Let’s be real.
It is still December. If you are wanting the ‘forty shades of green’ … well, you are probably only going to get about twenty. It will be balanced with some new tones of copper and gold. If you check out my Flickr site, I do have two Travel journals from December 2012 and 2014 to give you a better idea of scenery during this time. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcgiveron/albums).
And full disclosure, winter is one of my favorite seasons. I have learned to look past the bleak and see the richness that winter can bring. Winter in Ireland is one of my favorite times to visit.
I recently posted an image of Crab Island on my social media sites. I thought … a Doolin post! I have been twice and each time it doesn’t disappoint. This last time … well, it was a bit of a doozy!
If you are unfamiliar with Doolin, it is just a few miles north of the Cliffs of Moher. It is best known for the Doolin Pier where you can catch a boat and view the Cliffs from the Atlantic Ocean. If you are heading that way, and in the word’s of a friend … get on the boat!
Is it worth it the time? You are probably thinking … by the time I get there, buy tickets, wait, go out, etc., it will take an entire afternoon. But, it is absolutely worth it!
First, if you like ‘people watching’ grab a seat at the back of the boat; sit back and observe. You will see newly purchased wool sweaters, excited kids, nervous parents (watching those excited kids), resigned spouses (only there because he/she made me), and camera’s everywhere.
Unless you venture inside the cabin, be prepared to get a bit wet. There is the ever changing weather and you can find yourself standing in a shower. You are also going to be on the Atlantic Ocean. It can get a bit ‘choppy’. This last trip, we were dipping enough that the spray was coming over the top and the waves were pushing water over the bow. If you are there for the photos … consider a camera rain sleeve and a cloth to wipe the lens. (Since you are dealing with salty sea water, it was easy to toss the $3 rain sleeve and lens cloth afterwards.)
Before we talk about the images, let’s talk about the excursion. I have never been motion sick. In fact, I sailed on the Gulf two days after a hurricane and had a blast. Understand that you are going to get on a small boat and sail into the Atlantic. Now, they will never put anyone’s life in danger. But, it can get choppy depending on the weather and many are not prepared for it. If it is a very windy day, it may not be the right time for you. My first trip was pretty calm. This last one … not so much. In fact, we took a couple of swells and most people panicked. They actually took a vote and there were only five us eager to get closer … it was a sunny day and we had our cameras ready. Everyone else wanted to head back … most were indisposed while the crew handed out plastic bags. So, heading back was probably the right thing to do.
Here is my suggestion … if you know you get motion sickness, it may not be the best choice unless it is a very calm day. Most days, you will probably get some pitch like my first trip, but it isn’t bad. If it is windy or stormy, the water will probably be ‘choppy’. If you are concerned about the weather and/or sailing conditions, ask. I really respected the gentleman at the counter (as the wind was picking up even more) who strongly suggested another day when a couple showed up to purchase tickets. They also had a baby stroller in tow.
So, back to the images … is it worth it? Absolutely. You can get some really good images of the Atlantic, Crab Island and the Cliffs, themselves. More importantly, if you really want to get a feel for the scale of the Cliffs, taking the boat tour is the best way to do this. If at all possible, you definitely want to get on that boat!!
If I may do a ‘kindness of strangers’ shout out. Thanks to the crew (on shore and on the boat) for locating my iphone. We were ‘rocking and rolling’ so much that as I steadied myself against the bow, I also pushed my phone out of my back pocket. The boat loaded quickly, so we weren’t able to catch it before it headed back out. But the guys on shore were kind enough to call the boat. The crew located the phone and once they returned, we were reunited. (They also seemed to appreciated the fudge that I bought them as a ‘thank you.’)
And kudos to Apple’s “Find an iPhone” app. We were able to confirm that the phone was on the boat and still working. So, my iPhone has been to the Aran Islands. I, however, still have it on my list for another day.