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.
It has been almost a year and I am still trying to best articulate the Dark Hedges. I find that they are a bit of a contradiction.
They do make a great image. I believe it is due to the way the hedges allow light to filter in. Unique shadows draw photographers, from amateur to professional to this small section of road in Antrim, Northern Ireland. Add seasonal colors and the opportunities for the ‘shot’ multiply.
The contradiction is that there is something very simplistic to them. They are, in fact, overgrow hedges that are treelike in their stature. They are … well, ordinary. Yet, it is in this simplicity that when you add the light, it creates an image that looks very complicated; something extraordinary.
The afternoon that we stopped was dreary. As I grabbed the tripod, it began to rain. Not a soft rain, but a steady, need-to-protect-the-camera rain. Two umbrellas and a few prayers (please be in focus) was all that needed. I took a variety of images in different apertures and focal lengths. After thirty minutes, the skies seemed to open up and keeping the lens dry was becoming impossible, so we packed up. In the back of my mind I thought … I just need one.
If you have the opportunity, it is worth the trip. You will either need GPS coordinates or good directions. We received our directions from the tourist office in Portrush, County Atrim. Patience is needed, but don’t give up. We turned around, backed up and even picked a point to start over. With a little Irish tenacity … we found it.
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.