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Published: December 19th 2013
Ring Of Kerry
Stunning vista over the Atlantic Ocean just outside Waterville along the Ring Of Kerry.
First of all, some life developments.
Remember how I said I was moving to Amsterdam
? Yeah well, that isn't happening any more. In fact, I now don't even have a job - I'm currently a man of leisure! How it all happened is a long story but I'm appreciating the break from working life which was probably what I needed.
What it all means is that major travelling plans are afoot
. What exactly they are, I will keep to myself for now until they are more concrete - one thing for certain is that they are not likely to take place until the middle of next year while I wait for my British citizenship to be granted. I've waited six years for it so I am not about to give it up now.
Whether I was moving to Amsterdam or planning to travel the rest of the world, one thing that was always certain is that my time in London is soon coming to an end - and therefore there are some places that I have to visit before I leave. With the Peak District, Liverpool
, The Cotswolds
, and Cornwall
ticked off the list, it was now finally time to visit a place
Seaport town that was the last stop for the Titanic on its one and only journey. St Colman's Cathedral looks down on the town at the top of the picture. To avoid the monotony of white buildings, facades in Ireland are often painted in bright contrasting colours such as the green building in this picture.
I have been putting off for quite awhile now - Ireland.
Most people can't believe that I've never been over before but when one considers that it is close, easy to get to, and perhaps lacks the exotic appeal of other travel destinations in Europe, one kind of gets why. Living in the UK, you know that Ireland is just over the water and always will be - so your attention is captured by places further afield.
It was fitting that I should fly Ryanair to its home country on a Friday night. The flight came complete with a young Irishman sipping whiskey in the seat next to me who couldn't stop talking. So far, so Ireland.
Once in Dublin's city centre (a convenient 20 min bus ride from the airport unlike the journey from other Ryanair airports in Europe), I then made my way to Paddy's Palace, the hostel I was staying in that night.
"Paddy", who was running the show when I arrived, was completely overworked trying to tend to a multitude of guests including me. Once I had checked myself in, it is fair to say unfortunately that the place was anything but a palace -
Bridge Near Killarney
I came across this scene while walking near the Torc Waterfall and am quite happy with how the picture has turned out.
it was a tired old building, not the cleanest, and my dorm absolutely stunk. One of my fellow dorm occupants was one of those staples that you sometimes get in hostels - the travel-weary Australian surfer dude in his mid-forties who has probably been doing this for a bit too long now. Ironically, the way things are going and looking ahead at the things I want to do, I could well end up like him myself although I really hope I don't.
Now I've stayed in a few hostels in my time and it never ceases to amaze me the things that you hear go bump in the night. Snorers, sleepwalkers, sleeptalkers, screams and squeals - I've heard it all and on this particular occasion I heard the whole lot in one night. Although it was probably no reflection on the hostel itself, I was nevertheless thankful I wasn't returning here.
Years ago my sister did the brilliantly named "Paddywagon Tour" of Ireland and had a hoot. Six years later, it was my turn.
Joining me on the six day minibus tour of Ireland's sights and sounds were Australians Vanessa, Bree, Chris, Justine and Jamie; fellow Kiwi Chandra; and
Legend has it that if you walk around the castle anti-clockwise (or clockwise - Bazza couldn't remember) you will get good luck for the rest of the day. Walk the other way however, and the opposite will happen. We weren't sure if Bazza was trying to trick us but we walked around it (anti-clockwise) anyway.
American couple Sean and Christine. With just nine of us, it was a good-sized group as it was nice and intimate (not like that) and everyone got to know each other relatively well. There were no bad apples either (unless you consider Aussies bad apples).
Leading the tour was local guide and driver Barry (Bazza/Baz).
As well as being an easy-going, all-round good guy, Bazza gave us some excellent insights into the history and culture of his home country. As well as telling us about key events in Ireland's history such as the Great Famine
and Irish independence from Britain, like most Irish people I have met Bazza was a great storyteller as he regaled us in old Irish tales such as the one of King Puck
and the legend of the Blarney Stone.
He also provided real insights into Irish culture and society. Examples include his explanation of Irish travellers
, his overview of Irish sports (Gaelic football and hurling) and their immense popularity in Ireland, his waxing lyrical of certain Irish food products (like Hunky Dory crisps), and his introduction to us of Irish colloquialisms (such as a "langer"
By far the most amusing and the most used Irish word that we
We came at great time of year where the beautiful autumn colours further enhanced the already scenic landscapes.
learnt from Barry was the term craic
. Pronounced "crack", the word can be literally translated into "fun" but is also used as a term for news, gossip, entertainment, and good conversation. So it is quite normal for people in Ireland to ask you "what's the craic?" or "where's the craic?", as well as telling you that someone, somewhere or something is "good craic". Before we knew it, the word had become jokingly but firmly embedded in our vocabulary, knowing full well the dark and dirty connotations of the word's pronunciation. Our tour became week-long search for good craic and the best craic Ireland had to offer - in any other country, you would have thought we were a bus-load of drug or porn addicts.
Having lived in New Zealand and Korea, Baz was also well-travelled which allowed him to tell some cool stories and make some interesting comparisons - all told through the bus's microphone where his stories often turned into a conversation with the whole bus, which gave the tour an informal, relaxed vibe.
Our group bonded pretty quickly, due in part to the first stop on our tour - the Guinness factory in Dublin.
As Barry explained,
Waterfall we visited just outside Killarney.
there are two ways to do the tour - the traditional way where you make your way through the the factory museum floor-by-floor culminating in your free pint of Guinness on the top floor; or the Irish way, where you just go straight to the top. Perhaps setting the tone for the rest of the trip, it was 10am in the morning and most of us went straight to the top. As we're the only ones up there at that time of the morning, we got chatting to the barman who was good craic
and gave us a second free pint each - what a champion. Bree and Vanessa didn't really like Guinness so Chris got another two free pints! Four pints before lunchtime, Jesus.
Jamie and Justine had never tried Guinness before and perhaps surprised themselves by really taking to it.
I was already a fan however and it is true what they say - the pint you have on the top floor of the Guinness factory is the best tasting pint of Guinness you'll ever have. The Guinness in Ireland tastes so much fresher, fuller and richer than the Guinness in other countries - it doesn't travel well
Public Gardens, Adare
Adare was the first stop on tour after Dublin.
and tastes like soy sauce by the time it gets to New Zealand.
I didn't actually see any of the museum that morning as I knew I would be back in a week's time - so I just enjoyed the Guinness, the conversation and the view.
We then hit the road, stopping in the picturesque town of Adare before stopping in Annascaul for the night, literally a one street town in the middle of nowhere.
Settling ourselves into the fantastically-named Randy Leprechaun pub, we then watched the Aussies comfortably put Ireland away in the rugby over yet some more Guinnesses before immersing ourselves in a bit of Irish culture.
Now forget about the Jaegerbombs - the Irish have their own typically hardcore version; the Irish Car Bomb.
Think of a Jaegerbomb but replace the Jaegermeifter with half a shot of whiskey and half a shot of Baileys, and replace the Red Bull with half a pint
of Guinness. Jamie, Chandra and Justine were the only ones brave enough to give it a go - I figured that Annascaul probably wouldn't be the nerve centre of Irish nightlife tonight and the car bomb sounded pretty grim, so I passed on
The best pub I went to in Cork, and probably the whole of Ireland. Folk musicians play their tunes sat at a corner booth at the back of the pub.
it this time.
I did not pass on the highlight of the night though - traditional Irish set dancing.
It was a lot more complicated than you might think and was quite a workout. Our instructor was good craic
too and the whole thing was a laugh and a half as we all kept getting the moves wrong and crashing into each other. There are two rules you have follow in Irish set dancing; i) have fun and; ii) get out of the way. Well, we managed to follow the first one - the second not so much.
We spent the next day driving around the Dingle Peninsula. The area is a designated Gaeltacht
area, meaning that Irish is the primary language spoken here and everything from education to road signs are all in Irish. This causes a problem for tourists trying to get to the town of Dingle however, since all the signs in Dingle read as "An Daingean"
and tourists inevitably get lost. Locals would rather the tourists don't get lost obviously but as a Gaeltacht region the signs have to be in Irish only. Bazza tells us that you can't hold the folks down in these
The most scenic beach on the Dingle Peninsula - Bazza's favourite.
parts and this is reflected by the fact that locals to this day continue to spray paint the English name on all of the Irish road signs.
As for Dingle itself, there were two highlights.
The first were the crazy grocery and hardware stores that doubled up as pubs. So you could literally go to the hardware store to get a hammer and nails while getting hammered and nailed at the same time.
The second was the statue of Fungie The Dolphin, commissioned in honour of the legendary dolphin that lives in the bay here. Since his arrival in 1984, Fungie has always interacted with most of the boats that go out into the harbour - so much so that there are official tour boats that take tourists out to meet him. Dolphins have a normal life expectancy of about 25 years so Baz tells us that there are a few sceptics who wonder whether Fungie is indeed the same Fungie that came into the harbour all those years ago, or if in fact it is Fungie Mk II.
Also on the peninsula are two beaches that we visited - the extremely scenic Dunquin, and Inch Beach where Vanessa, Bree
Long Walks Along The Beach
The crew walk along Dunquin Beach on the Dingle Peninsula.
and Chris showed just how hard (some might say crazy) Aussies are by going for a late autumn dip in the Atlantic Ocean. Having done an ice swim in Lapland last year
I had nothing to prove.
We stopped for the night in Killarney, which Bazza talked up as being one of the big nights out on the tour.
After a siesta and a pizza, it was off to The Grand where some of the group were already watching some live traditional music.
Everyone was up for a good night and the alcohol flowed freely, thanks in part to an Irish cocktail called a "Fat Frog". It is basically made up of ice, one part Smirnoff Ice, one part orange Bacardi Breezer, and one part WKD Original Vodka Blue. The resulting concoction turns luminous green which looks and tastes just like a Fat Frog - an ice block (a lolly if you're British or Irish) that used to be sold in Ireland. The stuff is dangerous as it doesn't taste of any alcohol whatsoever and tastes literally like cordial - which explains Christine's, Justine's, Chandra's and Jamie's hilariously enthusiastic Irish jig dancing with unsuspecting local patrons of The Grand.
The most awesome part of
Experimenting with my camera's shutter speed.
the night however had to be the band - and more specifically, the drummer. Bazza had told us that this guy was 75 years old, yet still the most amazing drummer you'll ever see. Well, amazing was an understatement. At first he seemed like any old (no pun intended) competent drummer which is already pretty good for a 75 year old. Then came the drum solo - that went on for ten minutes
. At one stage, he got Vanessa to hold up her pint glass as he used it as a cymbal while still in full-on drum solo mode. His band mates even dropped their instruments and went for a pint at the bar! Then while still drumming his solo, his band mates returned and he seamlessly transitioned from his solo into the start of the next song. He must've have drummed vigorously and continuously for at least fifteen minutes. Remember, the guy is 75. 75!
Hands down the most incredible drummer I have ever seen.
The Grand also has a "nite club" out the back so once the band finished, Justine, Chandra, Jamie, Sean and I busted some moves in there. Well, when Jamie wasn't dragging every single guy
Ladies View, Ring Of Kerry
Apparently this was a favoured view of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting during a visit to Ireland in the 1860s. Not hard to see why.
inside onto the middle of the dance floor, or stealing my mojo beanie that is.
On the way home, we had to run a few errands - y'know stuff like dropping Justine home, buying some chicken and picking up Sean's laundry (which he'd got done at 24-hour reception hostel). Normal things that you do at 3.30am on a Sunday morning. Life after all, is pretty hectic these days.
The next morning we were picked up by a jarvey
for a horse and carriage ride through Killarney National Park. Pulled along by the jarvey's trusted steed Bob, I think everyone appreciated the cool, crisp air after a big night out. The scenery wasn't half bad either, as the beautiful late-autumn colours lit the place up.
We spent the rest of the day driving around the Ring Of Kerry which was spectacularly scenic. A lot of the scenery was quite different to what I was expecting - I had always associated green rolling hills and craggy rock fences with the Emerald Isle and while there is a lot of this, there is also a lot of rugged territory more in keeping with the Scottish Highlands than Ireland. There was one particular
Castle inside Killarney National Park.
viewpoint where Jamie, Sean, Chris and I climbed to the stop of a steep hill for the
most breathtaking panorama of the entire trip. It almost made slipping on the way back down and landing my hand on a thorn bush worth it. Almost.
We also stopped by in the tidy Kerry towns of Waterville and Sneem on the way back to Killarney that night.
Everyone had an early one that night - some were even in bed and asleep by 7.30pm!
After visiting the beautiful Torc Waterfall just outside Killarney the next day, we ticked off one of the major tourist boxes by visiting Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone. The legend has it that anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone gets the "gift of the gab" - in other words, you will be able to talk eloquently for seven years.
Blarney Castle is a bit of a shell these days, far from the imperious residence it was during medieval times. The stone itself is built onto the underside of an overhang on the very top of the castle and to kiss the stone you need to lie down, hold two railings above you, and then arch
Blarney Castle Gardens
There is actually quite a lot to see in the gardens which were invigorated by the autumn colours when we visited. There are caves, lakes, waterfalls and tunnels - it was a shame we didn't longer to look around. The building on the left is not the castle itself but an adjacent tower.
your back to get your lips in a position to kiss the stone underneath the overhang while the top half of your body dangles over the side of the castle. But don't worry, there is a cheerful old man holding you in case you go too far over the edge who gets a 1€ tip from every single person kissing the stone, which taking into account the number of people a day kissing the stone, must mean he is making a killing by stopping you from killing yourself.
The gardens of the castle are quite vast and well kept - it was a shame we didn't have a bit longer to look around.
County Cork is known as the "Rebel County" and everything has to be different and done their own way here. It is called as such due to the locals' support of Richard Duke of York against the King of England at the time, Henry VII. In keeping with the rebel tradition of the county, Irish patriot Michael Collins was a notable native, and it is of no surprise to discover that firebrand ex-Manchester United captain Roy Keane also hails from the Rebel County.
We stopped for
Just before sunset on Cobh's waterfront.
the night in Keane's home town of Cork, after a short stop in the charming port town of Cobh, famous as the Titanic's final stop on its tragic maiden voyage. We probably stayed a bit too long in Cobh to be honest as there isn't much there.
In contrast, we probably didn't stay long enough in Cork which has been positively spoken of by a few friends of mine. Walking around the city, the place gave me a cultured, bohemian impression.
After joining in with the rest of the restaurant in singing Happy Birthday to an highly embarrassed girl at dinner, Justine, Chandra, Chris, Sean and I all headed to what was hands down, the best pub I went to in Ireland.
Sin É was a cosy, dimly lit pub, with friendly staff, chatty locals, a great eclectic soundtrack and a fascinating range of memorabilia pinned to its walls and ceilings. The best thing though was the live traditional music played by a band sitting down in a corner booth at the back of the pub. While relatively empty when we arrived, the place was soon rammed when the band started. It was also here that I completed the "stout
challange". In Cork there are two local stouts in addition to Guinness that are available (because in Cork, they have to be different); Beamish and Murphy's. Murphy's is quite well-known and I have had it before in both the UK and New Zealand; Beamish was uncharted territory. The challenge is to have a pint of each before ranking them and having another pint of the one you like the best. For me, Beamish was a distant third as it was horrible, Guinness second and perhaps surprisingly, Murphy's first. I find it richer, fuller and tastier than Guinness, as much as I am a huge fan of Guinness. If I have the choice of a Murphy's in future I will definitely have it - though I'll happily settle for the more readily available Guinness.
And so came the last day of the tour where our first stop was the Cliffs Of Moher.
The cliffs sure are dramatic - a row of three cliffs that plunge straight down into the Atlantic Ocean, Bazza warned us not to get too close to the edge. This was because it's extremely gusty on the top of the cliffs and there are some crazy wind
South Cliffs, Cliffs Of Moher
A little underwhelming in my opinon.
channels up there that are strong enough to blow you over.
Overall though, I have to say that I think that the Cliffs Of Moher are perhaps a tad over-hyped because as I was telling Vanessa, at the end of the day...they're kinda just cliffs.
We then drove through the rocky scenery of the Burren which again provided a surprisingly Mars-like landscape a lot like rural Iceland
The last night of the tour was to be spent in Galway, which has received a lot of hype from everyone I know who as been there - even Lonely Planet regards Galway as Ireland's coolest city, with the best nightlife in the country. With only one night here, I made use of the three hours before dinner by doing a solo exploration of the city.
Supposedly a hub for arts and music, Galway seemed to have a really cool vibe with lots of students and buskers everywhere. Of two students I got talking to here, one was studying fine arts, the other theatre. The place felt youthful and energetic. The highlight of the town is the pedestrianised medieval old town full of pubs, cafes, shops and restaurants. I checked out the main
Galway Old Town
Galway also has a pedestrianised old town, probably a little more characterful than Cork's.
sights, namely the Church of St Nicholas, Lynch's Castle (now a bank) and Eyre Square, which was being set up for a Christmas market.
Galway is pretty small, so I pretty much saw everything I wanted to in two hours.
As the last night that all of us would be together, it was going to be another big one - it was pub crawl night!
We start off with dinner and a free shot at The Skeff which is a cavernous, multi-storey pub. The maze-like interior reminded me a lot of The Porterhouse in London.
Next up was the rather ropey sports bar Fibber Magees. A bit like a Yates's (British version of a Walkabout), there were flashing lights, loud dance music, but few people apart from some dodgy looking male patrons. We weren't there to hang out with said dodgy looking male patrons however, as we all went upstairs to play drinking games - namely, beer pong and flip cups. I'm generally one of the slowest drinkers on the planet so you generally don't want me on your team in a boat race
. However when playing flip cups
, I make up for my lack of drinking speed with my deft
There's plenty of it.
touch when flipping cups. It only takes me one or two go's max to flip my cup - others were taking up to twenty. It goes without saying that my team were comfortably series winners. It meant though that each pint was lasting less than ten minutes...
The third pub on the crawl was probably the coolest place we went to - dark, laid back, and with an acoustic duo playing on stage. Chris won the Galway Hooker competition - it's not what it sounds like - by being the one who drank his pint of Galway Hooker ale the closest to a predetermined amount in one gulp, while I attempted to chat up our cute pub crawl leader.
The fourth pub on the crawl was Coyotes, which wasn't as bad as it sounds. There was another live band playing here who got my thumbs up by playing Weezer's "Say It Ain't So".
We finally ended up at Karma, the night club we were supposed to spend the rest of the night at. The club was a bit shit though - just like everywhere else we had been to that night, the place was pretty empty and devoid of any
One of many stunning landscapes to be found in the Ring Of Kerry.
energy. We wanted to go back to The King's Head but it was closed, so we went back to Coyote's which was also pretty dead. Ironically, the Supermac's (a local fast food chain) that we stopped at for a post pub-crawl feed was rammed.
So I wouldn't say it was a huge final night - I think most of us were pretty travel-fatigued.
The tour was pretty whirlwind and Killarney was the only place where we stayed more than a night. Apart from perhaps spending more time in some places (Cork, Galway) and less in others (Cobh, Waterville), and the bumps in the roads that lifted all of us off our seats on several occasions, the tour was definitely worthwhile. It is a great way to see the country and make friends, and Bazza was always on hand to provide a local perspective on everything we were seeing. Overall, it was good craic
From here unfortunately, our group split in two. Justine, Bree, Chris and I were now heading back to Dublin; the rest were heading on to Northern Ireland with Bazza - a place of course, that I visited last year
My time in Ireland isn't finished yet though.
View From Corkscrew Hill
View from Corkscrew Hill in The Burren, named as such because of the extremely winding road coming down the hill.
While saying goodbye to some new friends, I was now staying in Dublin for the long weekend to meet up with some old friends. No less than 11 of them were coming over from London (and Zurich) for a weekend culminating in the All Blacks vs Ireland game at the Aviva Stadium.
Slán go fóill!
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