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.
Cahir, County Tipperary, is one of my favorite places in Ireland. Traveling to Ireland without stopping in Chair for a few hours seems … well, wrong. In fact, in December 2014, while basing in County Wicklow, I heard Cahir’s ‘call’ loud and clear. Enough that I drove more than two hours and stayed the night, just so that I could spend the afternoon wandering around.
There is a certain level of intimacy to Cahir that is lost in other high-traffic tourist areas. While you may see a bus or two, you can wander the area around the castle (or town) and find more locals out and about. I have found that I am simply comfortable in Cahir. I attribute that to the people. I once based three weeks just a few kilometers from Cahir and stopped most days. As a solo traveler, I am always greated with a smile, whether it was in a cafe, a pub or a market. If I had a question, people were always kind and spared a couple of moments to help.
Cahir Castle is my favorite castle (to date) … and there are plenty of them in Ireland. I wasn’t expecting this type of castle. Okay, I wasn’t expecting any castles. Somewhere in my history lessons I jumped from Celtic to modern times. I completely missed the whole Norman-castle-building era. But there it was, still intact. It has great towers, a barbican, a great hall and even a working gate. I was completely mesmerized during the tour. I also remember thinking … what else have I missed? So, I keep returning.
More importantly for me are the images that I have been able to capture while in Cahir. I can, and have, taken hundreds of images. Here are my top four favorite images from Cahir:
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 ….
After our tour of the Cahir Castle, we drove over to the Swiss Cottage. The two are linked through ownership. It was built in the early 1800’s and is considered an ornamental cottage. It is one of the only cottages like this left in Europe.
It was only used for entertaining and has a whimsical feel to it. What held my interest was the thatched roof … Good for twenty years! Also, the flowers growing around the cottage were gorgeous!