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.
Powerscourt Estate, in Enniskerry, County Wicklow, offers photo walks throughout the year with landscape photographer Fran Bryne (Fran Byrne Photography). I was fortunate to participate in one of those walks in June 2014. It was during this time that I borrowed this special moment.
As we began to wander around the grounds, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Was this like a guided tour with cameras clicking along the way? Or, with my thirst for knowledge, would I be able to tap into Fran’s expertise and learn something? So, I asked and the answer … a walk through the grounds and pointers. What more could a girl with a camera want?
What started out as an opportunity soon turned into a mission. It is here that I need to give credit where it is due. Here was some crazy American with a stuffed sheep (another day, another story) hanging from her camera bag asking quirky questions. Fran was nothing but very patient.
My social media news feeds are populated primary by all things Ireland and photography. I study those images. While I love sweeping landscapes, I find my self drawn to ‘standing in the forest’ images of paths, trees, etc. But when I try to take that image, it looks like … I am standing in the forest trying to take a image. As I explained this, Fran rose to the challenge. And, did I mention patient?
I have a many images from that day that I am happy with. Some, well, let’s just say that I learned from them. But, this featured image is one that I have been holding onto to post on Valentine’s Day.
💚 💚 💚
It was a typical, overcast day. As we began to head down a gravel path, I stopped and asked … How do you take a photograph of this? I wanted an image of the path, but with no sunlight, it looked dismal. I normally would have passed on it. Instead, Fran had me set up the tripod and camera. The tripod is critical for steady, long exposures. The key … take multiple exposures. And, it is all about the light even on a cloudy day.
So, we are standing in the middle of the path with tripods. It is evident that we are taking photos when this couple walks around us. I look up and think … really? I also start to grumble … couldn’t they wait for a couple of minutes?
There stands Fran with a smile and he simply says … look. Okay, I see two people that are in my way. He says … look again. Notice that her pink sweater matches the flowering bush. The white in her skirt matches the white clover. Take the picture.
It was a lesson learned. I was able to take three photos before they were gone. I have considered posting these image sooner than today. Every time I look at them I think of ‘Ireland & Romance.’ Wait for Valentine’s Day. It does look like it was a special day for the both of them. Oh, we did see them again a bit later. The were sitting on a bench by Dolphin pond. Definitely a special day for them.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Black Castle in Wicklow, County Wicklow, is a great ruin. I almost missed it. As I was heading out of Wicklow, I decided to pull into a golf course. The green land and the deep blue of the Irish Sea was calling to me. As I took some photographs, I noticed a castle ruin in the distance. So, I packed up and headed back towards town.
As I stood within the ruins of Black Castle and looking back towards the golf course, I noticed a new gem … a cottage in ruin. It looked perfect with white washed walls and bushes growing out of what would have been the roof. And, if you are new to my photographs, let me share a tidbit. I love taking images of plants growing on stone and ruins. This would be a perfect subject.
I considered following an earthen trail along the coastline to get closer to the the cottage. But my time was limited as I wanted to drive the East Coast Scenic Route. So, I took some photos and thought … if I have time another day.
A week later, I found myself heading south from Enniskerry with some daylight still available. There was a lot of cloud cover and rain in the area, but the sun was peeking through in places. I thought … please rain, just wait a bit. That cottage ruin was still floating in my mind, so I turned towards Wicklow.
Parked near Black Castle, I began the trek. With the rain clouds still holding in the distance, I decided to take my time. I started following the narrow and winding trail. It was slow since it was skirting the edge of cliffs. A couple of times I caught myself thinking … you won’t survive that fall.
Along the way, I found some great vantage points for images of the rugged coastline. In the meantime, there was a dip in the trail and I lost sight of the ‘cottage’. But, I continued to move forward while doing my best to avoid slipping and sliding in the muddy trail. There were times I found myself stepping even closer to the edge as I navigated around rocks while the waves crashed below. I was focused. My target, while still hidden, was getting closer. Those rain clouds … still holding.
I was glad that I had returned. There is something about plants on ruins. While I understand they can be destructive, I love how it reflects Ireland’s tenacity and strength. The trail finally crested and … Well, hell. Really? I mean … really?
There I stood with the ‘cottage ruin’ a few hundred feet in front of me. Ha! Instead of a beautiful coastal cottage ruin, I was looking at a white, ugly, wooden windbreak with trees on one side. I am sure it was built to help keep the wind from destroying someone’s golf game.
So, after standing there for a couple of minutes shaking my head, I turned around and made my way back; slipping and sliding. I kept telling myself, it wasn’t a complete loss. I did get plenty of coastline photos. Well, hell ….
‘Green thumb’ is not an adjective that would describe me. In fact, the reason that plants flourish in my house is because they are artificial. So, until recently, I would simply drive by places that had ‘garden’ in its name.
September 2013 changed that. A friend accompanying me wanted to see two things – architecture and gardens. Since we were flying into Dublin, we stopped the first day at Powerscourt Estate located in Enniskerry, County Wicklow. Jet lagged and under a time constraint, we went through the grounds pretty fast. But when we left, I knew that I would return.
If you like architecture, there is the large estate house. While it is home to Avoca (speciality shopping and cafes), it outside facade is picturesque. Don’t forget Pepperpot Tower. It is a short walk from the house. Standing by itself, it is surrounded by trees that probably could tell a story or two.
There are two primary ponds, Triton Lake and Dolphin Pond. Lily pads are plentiful, the ducks are quite happy, and the water fountains provide a hypnotic atmosphere.
The statues and wrought iron are a favorite of mine. While many are drawn to the winged horses, I prefer the Triton statues that are nestled closer to … Triton Lake. With their backs to you as you walk down the grand stairs, a strength seems to radiate from them. It is as if they are ignoring you. So, I always like to take up the challenge and stand ‘level’ with them. But when you do, not only see that they are keeping watch over the lake, but also the Great Sugar Loaf.
If you are looking for gardens, you will find a Japanese garden that has a water theme to it. Bridges and earthen stairs let you leisurely wind through the flora. Next to the house are the formal gardens. If you love roses, this one is for you. Every color seemed to be represented.
But what captures my attention and draws me back is the contradiction in the landscape … simple and breathtaking. I suggest walking a bit off the trails, especially towards the back of the property. The Great Sugar Loaf makes a grand statement. Many days it can be shrouded in haze, but it doesn’t take away from its majestic stand. In the foreground, you might even be able to catch a horse or two grazing.
Needless to say, I will be back. While it can be busy, there is enough open space to find more than a few peaceful moments. I personally suggest one of the benches by Dolphin’s Pond. Even in a soft rain, there is something magical about the area.