Poppies and Ireland are two things that I would not have paired. Yet, I started to notice images of poppies in my news feeds a couple of years ago. Not a lot, but enough to catch my attention. I would find myself thinking … how could I miss poppies? The idea was tucked away and forgotten.
Fast forward to June 2014 and a conversation over lunch with Fran Bryne of Fran Bryne Photography. I had just spent the morning participating in one of his photo walks at Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, County Wicklow. Fran had a wealth of information, including some great landscape locations in the county. Somewhere along the way, poppies were mentioned.
There was some good news and some bad news. The good … poppies are found in Ireland and County Carlow is known to have some fields. County Carlow would be a reasonable drive during my June stay. The bad … poppies weren’t very prevalent that summer. However, there might be some opportunities.
Once again, fast forward toward the end of the trip. It was decided that since we had a free day we would go in search of poppies. After following up with Fran, he had mentioned one place off of N81 that, while a rye field, had a number of poppies. An exact location … nope. Not a problem; we would wander.
As we entered the county, we stopped the first time we saw poppies around a barn and in the ditch. Not many, but there were poppies. A few images and we then began to wander around the Carlow area. Not all was lost as we found a park. Once parked, I followed a path that opened up to a rye field. There a few poppies, but not enough to call it a poppy field.
Back to the car. Somehow we managed to drive in circles a couple of times. We found more poppies in a couple of fields, but, again, not what I was hoping for. One thing that we did stumble across were beautiful rapeseed fields. (Rapeseed is used in making cooking oil.) More images and back in the car.
And, believe it or not, we gave up. An idea … let’s continue onto Kilkenny. Why not? We were already sort of in the area and with long hours of daylight, we could make a ‘quick’ detour.
Well, a funny thing happened as we were cruising down N81 south of Carlow. Out of the corner of my eye in a quick flash, I see red. Huh? So, I stopped, turned around and … no luck. After a couple of miles, I turned around again, picked of speed, and there was that quick flash. This time, I stopped sooner, turned around and kept my speed low. And there is was … yeah! I quickly parked and off we go. Before we know it, we are among the poppies.
I am told that it was still not a ‘great’ field. There was a lot of rye present. But, there were lots of poppies and for me, it was enough. The rain was holding to the north, so it meant we had a great sky. So, if you are ever in Ireland in June, keep a lookout for poppies. You will see an errant one along the road. But a field of them, well, is pretty incredible. And now that I have experienced that, I hear there are lavender fields in that area. Hmmmm … In search of lavender? It’s on the list.
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 …..
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.
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.
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.
I have been back two more times. Once in the summer and now, in the winter. Powerscourt delivers in all seasons.
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.
Thinking about traveling to Ireland in December? Wondering what it is really like? While I am not an expert, I can share what I have found from my two trips in south County Tipperary (2012) and County Wicklow (2014).
The Weather. The published average temperature is 48F. I have found that it is relatively accurate. But don’t be surprised if you see the upper-fifties or even freezing temperatures. Rain is a given, but the sun will also shine … sometime in tandem. Simply plan on dressing in layers. Oh, and wool socks are a must!
Twenty Shades of Green. The countryside goes from forty shades to about twenty. The areas that I have traveled in December (south-central to southeast) still have green grass. There are plenty of pine trees and moss begins to cover everything. There are deep browns and the yellows can light up like fire under sunlight. They blend together giving the colors a deep, earthy tone.
Driving. There are less people on the roads … Yeah! Irish drivers still zip around those sharp bends. There are two things I noticed this trip. First, the sun stays lower on the horizon. Therefore, when you are driving south, the sun can be blinding. Even more so if the roads are wet and creating a glare. It is easy to fix … sunglasses. The second, if the temperature does go below zero, frost may form in the road. It creates black ice. I found listening to the radio for road warnings helped.
Attractions. This can be a bit of an obstacle. Many places close in October. The large attractions can be open. I did experience a new trend in 2014. Many places that would normally be closed were actually open for Christmas activities. While tours may not be available, the grounds are open for wandering. I suggest using the Internet to confirm which places are open; tour books may be inaccurate.
Attractions II. The one thing I love about December is that it there are plenty of ruins that are open twenty-four hours. Take advantage of them. They are part of Ireland’s history. And it is real fun to traipse across a field or two.
The Coastline. I discovered the southeast coastline. It can be a bit breezy, but the colors are fantastic. There are often trails to follow and I found myself mesmerized by the fishing boats.
Less Tourists. It can get a bit claustrophobic in the summer with all the tourists. Trying to take that iconic picture? It can be difficult with the twenty people trying to do the same thing. In December, you can show up and the place is yours. I had Glendalough to myself for an hour. When people did arrive, it was a small fraction of the summer months.
Christmas Decorations. Do not expect to see every town decked out. You will find wreaths on doors and some towns hang lights. The larger cities have Christmas markets and they can be a great way to taste a variety of foods and find local artisian wares. The larger attractions do decorate a bit more for the tourists, but in December, I believe the country decorates for the locals.
Ireland in December is definitely more than ‘doable’. I will admit that I was a bit unprepared in 2012. It took a few days to adjust. I packed the wrong clothes and I expected more activities in the rural areas. I adjusted and it turned into a great vacation. This 2014 vacation has been wonderful. I bit of rest along the way, many great landscapes, a few fields and ruins … and I am already thinking ahead to my next winter trip.