Ireland Still Surprises Me

Derrybawn Bridge, Laragh, County Wicklow
Poulnass Waterfall, Glendalough, County Wicklow

Poulnass Waterfall, Glendalough, County Wicklow

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.

Single Tree, Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Single Tree, Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, County Wicklow

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.

Blarney Castle, Blarney, County Cord

Blarney Castle, Blarney, County Cord

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 ….

Blarney Castle, Blarney, County Cord

Glenmalure Cottage, Glenmalure, Count Wicklow

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.

Follow the Path, Mounty Usher Gardens, Ashford, County Wicklow

Follow the Path, Mounty Usher Gardens, Ashford, County Wicklow

the Edge, Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

the Edge, Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

Triton Lake, Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Triton Lake, Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Take Flight, Cobh, County Cork

Take Flight, Cobh, County Cork

Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny, County Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny, County Kilkenny

Get on the Boat … Doolin, County Clare

Waiting at Doolin Pier, County Clare
Arrivals, Doolin Pier, County Clare

Arrivals, Doolin Pier, County Clare

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!

Sea Stack, Cliffs of Moher

Sea Stack, Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

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!!

Find My iPhone

Find My iPhone … On the Way to Aran Islands

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.

Crab Island, Doolin, County Clare

Crab Island, Doolin, County Clare

North Side, Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

North Side, Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

Cliffs of Moher & Sea Stack, County Clare

Cliffs of Moher & Sea Stack, County Clare

Arrivals, Doolin Pier, County Clare

Arrivals, Doolin Pier, County Clare

Summer Solstice at Newgrange

Summer Solstice Sunrise at Newgrange, County Meath

When traveling, I suggest utilizing the ‘tools’ that have been made available to you.  Many are free! The one that I have learned to embrace, or at least when I want to, is jet lag.  I am very fortunate.  I have been able to tune into my sleep cycle and can usually make the five hour time zone switch the first night.  But, if I don’t pay attention I can find myself wide awake at 3am.  But I do call on it every once and awhile  …..

Clouds moving in to block the Summer Solstice sunrise

Clouds moving in to block the Summer Solstice sunrise

It was June 21, 2014 and I had three key ingredients – summer solstice, a sunrise, and the Newgrange Passage Tomb less than a mile away.  I applied that jet lag and let it simmer.

There I was …. driving around County Meath at 3:45am.  While Newgrange was less than a mile away from my B&B, the Boyne River was in the way.  So, I had to take the long way which included a few local roads in the middle of the night and by myself.  The best part, I was trying to do this by Google Maps; offline mode.  We had tried the day before to find it, but we were unsuccessful.  So after studying the map, I was going to try this once again.  I did mention that is was in the middle of the night, correct?  Ireland does not have street lights at every turn, so this meant in the black of night.

At one point, I could have gone straight; actually, should have.  But, not me!  I turned right at the sign that said: no buses or RV’s.  It was now 4am. I am on a road so narrow that the weeds are swiping the car on BOTH sides.  New thought … Please let me be the only one crazy enough to be on this road. 

Summer Soltice Sunrise Direction

Summer Soltice Sunrise Direction

Winter Soltice Sunrise Direction

Winter Soltice Sunrise Direction

After creeping along … success!  While Newgrange is famous for the Winter Solstice, I thought there would be people here for the  Summer  Solstice.  Nope, just me.  So, there I was, standing on a mound outside of the property, camera on the tripod, and … in drifts the cloud as daybreak was beginning to approach.  Really?

For the next 75 minutes I stood on that mound.  I would take a few photos, watch the clouds, and gauge the breeze.  As the sun started its ascent, I realized … I missed this one.  I was thinking that since it was summer, the sunrise would be 180 degrees from the winter solstice.  Wouldn’t it be great to see the sun rise behind the tomb?  But due to my lack of research, I discovered that it is was off to the side. To make this more comical, the clouds begin to blanket the sky.

You have to be patient in Ireland because if you wait long enough, the weather will change.  Sometimes the weather will work with you.  And that morning … it did.  One image I was able to capture  was a beautiful red-orange that briefly touched the tomb. Nine images later and the clouds had moved back in.

But for me, the real winner was a bit later. I love the golden time of the day which is about 45-60 minutes after sunrise or before sunset.  There is a deep, golden color to the sun.  I find that when it combines with dark storm clouds, you can get a pretty spectacular image.  As I waited, I was given about 2 minutes of that golden sun.  The quartz that covers the front of the passage tomb seemed to reflect the light.  It was breathtaking.

So, while I was completely wrong with the direction of the sunrise, the images that I took that morning have become some of my favorite.

The Red-orange Sunrise

The Red-orange Sunrise

Initial Golden Sun

Initial Golden Sun

Newbridge Silverware, Newbridge, County Kildare

Three days left and I am back to this summer’s dilemma … No gifts. In fact, I was planning on completing some Christmas shopping. As of this moment, I have my sweater and socks. I also bought three skeins of yarn; it allowed me to buy something to bring home.

Newbridge Silverware :: Welcome Elves

Newbridge Silverware :: Welcome Elves

So which direction? South to Blarney Woolen Stores in Blarney, County Cork or north to Newbridge, County Kildare. Since I had spotted a watch on the Newbridge Silverware website last fall … I decided to go North. It was also a damp, rainy day. Stuck in a car for four to five hours wouldn’t be a sacrifice.

Staying with my theme, I had another stop a further northwest of Newbridge. I was still looking for Irish linen on a bolt. But with my continued luck with shopping, they were closed. I was hopeful for Newbridge.

Finally, a shop is open! And, it is busy! My luck is changing. There is one parking space next to the front door and it has my name written all over it.

Oh, what a store it is! Every piece of jewelry available from Newbridge is on display. But the service! I was met by an staff member … Can I help you? Yes … I am looking for this watch. (I had a product number.). She wrote it down and said she would be back. A couple of minutes later, she was back with the watch, nicely packaged in a Newbridge box.

Newbridge Silverware :: Showroom

Newbridge Silverware :: Showroom

Needless to say, I spent a little bit more time there then anticipated. I mean, with the long drive, I might as well make my time in the car worth it! Plus, I managed to do a little bit of Christmas shopping while I was there.

You can buy Newbridge jewerly throughout the country in shops. However, this place was the pinnacle! I would highly suggest a stop; even if for only a half an hour. For those that want to stay longer, they do have a museum on site, as well as a cafeteria. This is definitely on my ‘must return to’ list.

Adare, County Limerick

Adare :: Park

Adare :: Park

New Year’s Day was spent with a drive through the country to Adare. When we were here in June, we drove through Adare on our way to Dingle Peninsula. We were fighting the time, so we only stopped long enough to gas up.

Adare draws tourists and is one of the top places to visit when you look at tour books. It is known as the most ‘picturesque’ village in Ireland.

My first stop was wandering though the Adare Town Park. While January 1st is a national or bank holiday in Ireland, people out walking around; many parents with children playing the park.

Adare :: Thatched Houses

Adare :: Thatched Houses

Next, along the main drive there is a series of thatched cottages. Most are occupied by merchants, but there are a few vacant … Although I did not see a ‘For Sale’ sign anywhere. Although, one shop was open. I felt that I hit the lottery many gift shops have been closed.

Across from the cottages is the Trinitarian Abbey. Very well taken care of and a large church. There were additional buildings to back.

Finally, I walked through the downtown area. Since it was getting close to 1pm, foot traffic was picking up. It was a perfect opportunity to photograph some unique doors. What I really enjoyed was seeing the stacks of kegs/barrels. Every pub had a stack … Or two. They are set outside for pickup by they suppliers. Bottom line … They did some serious celebrating on New Year’s Eve!

Photos of the day ….

Adare :: Wishing Pool

Adare :: Wishing Pool

Adare :: Wishing Pool

Adare :: Wishing Pool

Adare :: Thatched Shops

Adare :: Thatched Shops

Adare :: Trinitarian Church

Adare :: Trinitarian Church

Adare :: Trinitarian Abbey

Adare :: Trinitarian Abbey

Adare :: Trinitarian Abbey Complex

Adare :: Trinitarian Abbey Complex

Adare :: Pub's New Year's Eve Leftovers

Adare :: Pub’s New Year’s Eve Leftovers

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