Blog: Céad Míle Fáilte

12/1/12 - Céad Míle Fáilte - Memories of Ireland

Julia and I just returned from a nine-day trip to Ireland where we stayed in Dublin, Limerick, and Killarney. It was a multi-faceted trip serving as a delayed honeymoon, general holiday, and a way for her to connect with her family history in the country. The following is a (very) detailed description of our trip with pictures galore and a bit of music.

Day 1 - Wednesday
We booked our trip package through the Irish airline Aer Lingus, getting a great deal on the accomodations. Our flight left the day before Thanksgiving in order for me to miss as few classes as possible. Neither of us had been across the Atlantic before, and it was also a first for us to drive to New York and fly out of JFK. The holiday traffic was excruciating from the start - 196 miles took approximately 5 hours. (Side note: the $13 toll to cross one bridge is really stupid. Thanks for nothing, New York!) Getting through security was a breeze and the international terminal was actually quite quiet; not many Americans travelling abroad due to the holiday.

Our flight left at 8:45pm and I was not disappointed to see that the Airbus A330 was entirely green, as were the flight attendant uniforms. The plane was so large that it really did not feel like flying at all. This effect helped calm my nerves that are usually frayed at the prospect of flying anywhere, much less across the ocean. A few perks about this flight included free checked bags (!), several drink services and a meal (!!), and free in-flight entertainment (!!!). I watched Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and listened to Eric Whitacre's "Light and Gold" album in between approximately 30 minutes of sleep.

Day 2 - Thursday (Dublin)
We arrived in a rainy Dublin at 8:00am after a 6-hour flight. Ireland is +5 hours from Eastern time in the USA and this travel schedule should have helped us avoid jet lag. The only snag in the plan was that we were supposed to be sleeping on the plane during our normal sleep schedule, but that did not happen. Neither of us could get comfortable and we were both pretty excited about the trip. Getting through customs was a breeze for her, but they asked me quite a few questions even though I shaved my "No-Shave November" beard to match my passport photo. Finally through the line, we collected our bags and found the rental car station. Ireland is one of the worst countries in the world for driving due to their road system and their notoriously reckless drivers. This means that your credit card or car insurance probably does not cover rental insurance in Ireland. Thankfully we planned ahead and got the CDW insurance when booking the trip. The guy next to me was ADAMANT that he was covered, and the lovely lass behind the counter was calmly explaining to him how bad the drivers were in their country. We stand in the rain for a bit getting in and out of the shuttle, and have to tip the guy €5 because I didn't have any smaller bills (damnit!).

I am going to talk a lot about driving in Ireland, because I spent an ample amount of time worrying about driving in Ireland. As you probably know, they drive on the left side of the road and the cars are right-hand drives. (Side note: Julia tried to get in the wrong door when we got to the car the first time. Rookie mistake.) To save money we opted to go without GPS and did not have our smart phones since Sprint uses some archaic network designed for the telegraph. Never fear - I dutifully printed out Google Maps directions for all of our major stops! Here's a sample:

It is not hyperbole to tell you that those first few minutes behind the wheel were sheer terror. Doing something for 15 years results in taking certain things for granted, such as spacial orientation and the ability to drive in a straight line. Did I mention it was raining and the windows were foggy and we had been travelling for 14 hours and had gotten no sleep? This was a white-knuckled wheel-gripping car trip into a green hell where the road signs are in two languages and they drive in circles rather than use stoplights at major intersections. Did I mention no sleep? Anyway, the first roundabout was no big deal - yield to the right and drive left - and we follow the first Google Maps direction dutifully. However, we soon discover a main theme of this trip when we cannot find the road for the next direction. My friends let me share with you my first lesson of driving in Ireland: you take those Google Maps that you lovingly printed out and put in your binder, you take those directions and you wipe your feckin' arse with them in case you get caught short. We drove south for 30 minutes before deciding to turn around. Post-trip retcon shows me that we were in Sandyford. Lovely little town, what I saw of it turning around.

We follow signs back to Dublin and then try to follow the Google directions again. Big mistake! We end up in the beating green heart of the black beast known once to the Vikings as "Dyflin" - I wonder if they had to drive their boats on the left, too? Anyway, we were feckin' lost. Hopelessly lost. Another thing that I had researched about driving in Ireland was that street signs are generally non-existant. This is true, and here's what they look like if they do show up:

Tiny and up on the side of a building rather than on the street level! Turns out that street names change quite often - block to block in many cases - and the Irish tend to navigate by general landmark rather than the American system of strict intersections. We got used to their system quickly, but it was horribly confusing at this young point in our trip. We drive around Dublin in a near-panic, ending up at various national embassies (the US building is the ugliest one, go figure.) I would describe our level of lost as "Blair Witch Project" at this point. We end up across a toll bridge and I confess to the lady that we are lost. "Ballsbridge y'say? You're headed the right direction, just go to the o' the bridge and ..." Julia catches these directions and we head out, FINALLY finding our hotel at 11:40am. Thankfully the room is ready and we check in early, leading to our next embarrassing episode.

When we get into the room we discover that we cannot figure out how to turn on the lights. I try every switch in many combinations and come to the conclusion that the fuse has blown in our room since we are the only occupants of our wing. Julia says "What's this thing on the wall?" and I say "Oh yeah, that's the air freshener." I call down to the front desk:

Me: Yes, hello, we just checked in and think there is a problem with our room. You see, we cannot get the lights to turn on.
Her: Oh, uh-huh. You need to put your keycard into the wall slot and then just flip the switch. (her, silently; "Damn Americans...")
Me: Oh, got it! Thank you! (me, silently; "Damn Americans...")

I confess to Julia that the air freshener is indeed the power switch. Très embarrassing, friends! We showered and took naps until about 6:00pm. Here's what that keycard switch looks like when you do it correctly:

Two of Julia's Twitter friends randomly happen to be in Ireland at the same time, and we meet them for dinner at The Cliff Town House. We both had the fish and chips, and some Irish craft beers (O'Hara's Irish Pale Ale and Copper Coast Red Ale, both good):

[Music for this section: The Dubliners: "Whiskey in the Jar"]

After dinner we went to Foley's Pub down the street and I ordered the first of many Guinness pints:

Two weird things happened in this pub. A sign that said "Live traditional music tonight!" outside was very promising for me - I had been looking forward to the music scene in the pubs for some time. We walk in and the first thing we hear is "Stand By Me" - hmmm! He did play some trad songs in his set, which was cool. Second - the four of us must have been doing something obviously American, because a guy came over and started yelling "Yeah, America! Ya damn Yankees!" He was obviously hammered, but we humored him and everybody was having a good time. I jokingly told him I wanted to hear some real music and to get his buddy to play "Sweet Home Alabama." He says okay and walks away - three minutes later we hear the singer say "This one goes out to the Americans in the corner" and he busts out a killer version of the song. We called it a night after that and went back to the hotel to watch some British game shows on the BBC.

Day 3 - Friday (Dublin)
[Music for this section: this is the garden]

We woke up and walked in the same direction as the previous night to explore the area further. I took a picture of the pub next to the hotel before we left:

I snapped a few street shots on our way to getting some coffee at Insomnia and browsing a local bookstore:

We walked to Stephen's Green, a park near the city center funded in its current layout by Arthur E. Guinness in the 1880's:

During the 1916 uprising a cease fire was called to feed the ducks:

Statues in the park:

A few other shots:

Thanks, Arthur!

The park is adjacent to a major shopping area on Grafton Street. We walked around inside the big mall and discovered that you pay ¢20 to use the toilets in the large shopping areas. Good thing we had change from getting coffee earlier that morning! We also walked around the side streets:

The sun was quickly setting so we had a nice brisk walk up the street to Dublin Castle. There weren't many signs where we walked in, so we just wandered around trying to find an entrance. Turns out the castle was closed due to official state business that day, but we did get a free tour of the undercroft ruins:

The statue of justice with working scales - after taking control of the castle from the British, Michael Collins had holes drilled in the scales so they would not become unbalanced in the rain:

After the tour it was dark and we were sore and hungry, so we made our way back to the hotel. We were right next to the Temple Bar area in the city center and stopped in The Auld Dubliner for a pint. Something interesting about Ireland is that there is free public wi-fi available in the pubs and shopping areas. This was the first time I can remember checking my phone; it was very refreshing not constantly being connected to the internet:

Christmas lights in Irish: Nollaig Shona Duit (Merry Christmas to you)

Boxty is a fried potato pancake dish - perhaps one of Julia's third cousins owns this one?

There was a two-man band playing American rock and country music at The Dubliner when we sat down for dinner. We managed to fly 3,000 miles and hear "Sweet Home Alabama" twice in two days - crazy! I wanted to try as many unique Irish dishes as possible and ordered the Shepherd's Pie (lamb and vegetable casserole with mashed potatoes ["aka mash"]) and it was amazing:

Day 4 - Saturday (Limerick)
[Music for this section: Samuel Barber: "At St. Patrick's Purgatory"]

After dinner we went to Foley's Pub down the street and I ordered the first of many Guinness pints:

Saturday morning we woke up at a decent hour and drove to Limerick for the second leg of our trip. I was nervous about driving again, but was feeling a bit better about having two good nights of sleep. We were still foolishly trying to follow the Google Maps directions but only managed to be lost for less than 10 minutes. We decided to just follow the signs posted to the major highways (M roads and N roads) and it worked perfectly. We stopped at a pub in Kildare for lunch where I ate a delicious fried duck wrap:

We lucked out and managed to spot the hotel in Limerick off of the main highway, so we drove down the main streets to see the town before checking in. Here's the view waiting for the lift down to the lobby:

After unpacking we walked down to St. Mary's Cathedral, which was built in 1188 and is still a functioning church. It was dark and I only had my phone, but this still made a cool background!

I was surprised to find this street sign for Lough Derg on our walk - Barber's Hermit Songs have a special place in my heart as the beginning of my love for vocal music. My favorite movement opens with the lines "Pity me on my pilgrimage to Loch Derg!" and I felt a special kind of connection being so close to the actual place in Ireland:

We looked up going to the actual lake, but it was 20-30km away and seemed like a tourist trap so I settled for the street sign on this trip. We found ourselves in a little pub a bit off of the main drag, not an American in sight. Rugby was on so the locals paid little attention to the strangers in their midst, and we had two great Irish coffees. It was dark and we were hungry, so we walked back to The Locke Bar near our hotel and had an excellent fish and chips dinner with Smithwick's Pale Ale. That beer is not available in the USA and was pretty darn good for a pale ale.
Day 5 - Sunday (Limerick)
[Music for this section: Nautilus (1. buoy)]

On Sunday we got up and had breakfast provided for us in the hotel. It was the full Irish breakfast with a ton of delicious food and some oddities. Their version of bacon is what we call ham, the breakfast sausage has a different but delicious texture, and the black and white pudding is not what we call pudding - it was more like a bread cake and made with blood. Julia wouldn't try it (and noone else in the place seemed to get any, either) but I ate two pieces and it was pretty tasty. We then drove 60km northwest to the Cliffs of Moher. This was our first significant excursion to the coast and although it was cloudy with a bit of rain, it was a lot of fun. My little camera doesn't compare to Julia's expensive equipment, but I think the pictures turned out pretty well:

Julia said this tower was built by a guy trying to impress the ladies - hope it worked:

Don't fall over the edge!

On the way back to Limerick I decided to fill up the car for the first time. Gas is measured in liters (3.8/gal) and was crazy expensive - about €55 for a half tank! Thankfully our little car got great mileage. We walked around downtown Limerick and looked at the lights for a while before going back to the hotel for dinner. I had an AMAZING burger - Irish beef tastes different than American due to the cow's diet:

Day 6 - Monday (Killarney)
Monday breakfast was not a buffet because most people had checked out of the hotel. We ordered the sausage again and I ate a ton of the natural yogurt. It was finally sunny so we walked around Limerick and took some pictures accompanied by some SERIOUS wind:

King John's Castle - closed for the season but we walked around the outside:

Thomond Bridge:

The gate house across the street from the castle:

One of several gated doors and windows nearby:

Curve down Nicholas Street:

We drove down to the mall area at Arthur's Quay to check out the Irish Handcraft shop. The couple running the store were really nice and explained some of the traditional patterns on knit wool sweaters. They also knew a good deal about Kenmare where half of Julia's family lived. We bought some scarves and a Hanley hat (my most desired souvenir!) before driving to Killarney.

At this point we are getting savvy to not using the Google directions and just following the major road signs. Getting to the hotel was very easy for the first time! We ended up over-paying for parking because I did not have the right change (GRRRR!) and make a mad dash across a busy road with heavy suitcases. With the Aer Lingus package we were not able to choose each individual hotel, and it seemed like the rooms were getting smaller every time we moved! Our only real complaint about this room was the wonky shower - it had this weird half door that did nothing to stop the water from getting all over the bathroom floor. Killarney is smaller than what we had seen so far, and we stayed very close to the city center. We walked around and found a great little pub to have an Irish coffee:

St. Mary's Church of Ireland right by the hotel:

Kenmare street sign and post down the street:

Guinness is good for you!

Crummy picture of the main street lit up at night:

We met up with Julia's friends again and we met a publican who lived in St. Louis! I was apparently the only one drinking beer that night, as the rest of the group was ordering wine from France or something. I finally got to try the traditional Irish stew (delicious as expected) at the next pub. There was a great live band at this pub with a banjo, guitar, and accordion - Rob would have loved it! Our group ended up at the Killarney Grand for one more round before calling it a night:

Click here for part two of this entry