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.
‘Landlocked’ is a good adjective for me. I am from the Midwest; raised in Wisconsin and currently calling Indiana my home. The Great Lakes have always been a relatively short drive, but they don’t see to draw me. Instead, I find that I am relaxed by rolling farmland and in awe of rugged mountains.
In my travels, I have been to the Cliffs of Moher which allows you to look over the Atlantic Ocean towards the States. It was also a wonderful time slowly wandering the Copper Coast along the Celtic Sea. But it was Malahide Harbour at dusk that made me pause.
Malahide, located on the north side of Dublin, is a bit of an Irish anomaly. After spending days among ruins, traipsing across fields, and hiking paths, Malahide makes you do a double take. I find that it has a modern, urban ‘feel’ to it. It has energy. But like many places in Ireland, I find that it also has a contradiction. There is something very calming about its harbour area just a block or two from the town centre.
While I will spend a day or two in Malahide throughout a trip (e.g., Malahide Castle, Avoca, etc.), it has become my last stop before I head home. I find that my mind moves from historic to present day. I can recharge with its energy to tackle the airports, planes and congestion as I return home. It also gives me a spot where I can also take a moment or two and become reflective; thinking about where I am on my journey and moving forward. The photo opportunities are pretty good, too.
The first time I heard of the Knockmealdown Mountains was the first morning in Ireland at breakfast. We were sitting next to an English couple and they were discussing the previous day’s tour. We must have had that ‘where do we start’ (a.k.a., deer in the headlight) look and took pity on us. One thing that they mentioned a drive they took through the Knockmealdown’s and the rhododendrons.
Let’s make sure everyone understands a basic premise here … I am not a gardener. I have a black thumb and would rather do a million other things that spend time in flower beds or gardens. I do, however, enjoy macro photography, so I can occasionally be found in a garden. However, my tool of choice is a camera.
Our B&B hosts were patient and explained more than once the draw of the Knockmealdowns and the Vee scenic. I was still ignoring, but my friend had her curiosity piqued. So, we decided to head that direction on one of our ‘slow’ days. Located between Cahir and Lismore, the Knockmealdown’s are a great transition between counties Tipperary and Waterford. The landscape … simply breathtaking!
Since that day, I have driven through the Knockmealdown’s five times; four of those via R668 which is known as the Vee scenic route. (The Vee is a switchback that when looking at a map it is very noticeable as it looks like the letter ‘V’.) The other time I took the ‘road less traveled.’ Together, those drives also covered three seasons.
June 2012 … We missed the blooming season by just a few days. There was only a remnant of purple across the landscape, however, the lush foliage made for beautiful, landscape images. We were so drawn in, we went back a second time.
December 2012 … Taking ‘road less traveled’ through the Knockmealdown’s provided a very rugged backdrop to the winter weather.
September 2013 … There are a lot of pines, so the green color was still prevalent. But autumn was creeping in and the landscape was beginning to take on a golden tone.
June 2014 … We hit the tail end of the blooming season. While the rhododendrons were beginning to create ground cover with their petals, the mountain was, thankfully, still carpeted with purple flowers. I remember driving up the mountain and thinking – okay, I see more purple than before. But right before the ‘Vee’ there is a bridge and a carpark. As we entered this area, I knew at that moment was the fuss was about. Wow! We drove two and a half hours hoping to catch the sight and it was worth every mile. (Note: If you scroll lot the end of the post, there is a video that will give you a 365 degree view of the rhododendrons.
What is interesting about the Knockmealdown Mountains, is that as you drive from Cahir to Waterford you will go through three different type of landscapes. The first, green and purple of the Vee; second, a rugged stone and heather mountain top; and three, a heavy foliage area that receives plentiful rains from the south.
Oh … and keep your eye out for the sheep. They can be found napping on the side of the road, strolling along mountain paths or climbing the stone walls.
Regardless, don’t forget your camera. It is an area filled with photographic opportunities.
I have spent as much time exploring Ireland as a ‘solo’ traveler as I have with someone joining in on the fun. I have never had problems asking for directions, but I find I am hesitant to ask for additional help, such as navigating public transportation. I don’t want to be a bother; I should be able to figure some of this out. But things are different, and if you don’t know … you don’t know.
I had decided to take the train from Tullamore to Dublin. I wasn’t quite sure on buying tickets (e.g., no means to print things off). I needed to get to Merriam Square and determined I would stop at Heuston Station. From there, I would need to transfer to Luas. But how does it really work? Since I didn’t know, I finally decided to ‘ask’.
This is a shout out to a gentleman that works for Irish Rail. Two days before the event, I stopped by the Tullamore train station. He was a very patient and met my ‘I need some help’ with a smile. First, I shared my objective and then what I understood; he confirmed and corrected. Then my questions started. He took each question and answered it, including where I could ask for help once I arrived at Hueston Station. He provided excellent customer service and represented not only Irish Rail, but Ireland, in a very positive, courteous manner to a confused tourist.
It wasn’t a perfect public transportation excursion; the missteps were mine. But his statement to ‘ask, people will help’ gave me the extra nudge to do just that with success. My one regret … I didn’t write down his name to provide that personal shout out. He really made my day a successful one.
Recently, I read the following phrase … Mo Anam An Bhaile*. Translated from Irish to English means My Soul’s Home. It resonated with me as a way to explain my continued desire to return to Ireland. I find that as I arrive an internal compass kicks in; flickering in all directions and trying to point me towards that elusive ‘place.’
With each destination that I visit a part of me whispers ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ There have been some places that have called me back, such as Cahir and Kilkenny. Many have been nice, but I leave thinking … not here. But there is more to Ireland than I have explored, hence the reason to spend the second part of this trip in the Midlands.
So far, my focus has been primarily in the center of the country or the western side of the Midlands. I have visited some high tourist areas, such as Clonmacnoise and Birr. I hopped over to Galway, and skirted the eastern area of the Midlands by stopping at Kells and Trim. Yesterday, as I reflected on the past week, I thought … it isn’t the Midlands.
Today was a new day. I travelled to the heart of the Boyne Valley which is the eastern side of the Midlands; close to the coast. My goal was the ancient passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowth, along with the Hill of Tara, the political/spiritual center of Celtic Ireland. As I crossed the River Blackwater and followed the River Boyne from Navan through Slane my internal compass seemed to settle.
I spent five and a half hours at the Newgrange/Knowth complex and then another two hours at Tara, which also included time with a flock of sheep. Both places seemed to blend into the countryside. My focus was as much on my surroundings as it was on the monuments. I stayed until the sun started to set.
Yes, sun. It was another perfect, sunny day. And … now I know where to focus my energies.
*Mythical, Magical, Mystical: A Guide to Hidden Ireland by Christy Nicholas.