Family Vacation in Ireland and England - February 2017

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March 12th 2017
Published: March 13th 2017
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Dear friends and family,

Our jaunt over the Atlantic Ocean took us to the edges of the island of Ireland, then to visit family in Altrincham and finally to the Temple Bar district of Dublin. We wasted no time by picking up our car from the airport at 9am and heading south to Powerscourt House and the Powerscourt Waterfall. We took the road to Sally’s Gap so I could revisit Guinness Lake where Carl and I had ventured over 10 years ago. We were not expecting the snowfall that turned many cars around, but we powered on. We came back down from the Wicklow Mountains into the monastic retreat at Glendalough where we walked past the lower lake to the upper lake (in the rain). We stayed in Kilkenny the first night and had a brief look at Kilkenny Castle in the morning. We missed our early start but arrived at the Rock of Cashel to find it under significant repairs. I think we enjoyed visiting the ruins of Hore Abbey just as much. We continued on to Blarney Castle in the late afternoon. We were excited to hang upside down from the battlements and kiss the Blarney Stone. I was also impressed at the number of passages and rooms still accessible in the castle. After a walk in the gardens and some challenges parking in Cork, we headed out on the town for a fish and chips dinner.

The next morning we drove down to Kinsale to visit Fort Charles. We had great weather and the whole place to ourselves. We adjusted our route slightly to reduce the driving time for Riley. We had a picnic lunch at the ruins of Timoleague Abbey and made it as far as Dromberg Stone Circle along the coast road. We arrived early in Killarney and had time to visit Ross Castle in Killarney National Park. I gave Ann an Irish necklace for St. Valentine’s Day. After visiting Tore Waterfall, we took a detour to Kenmare as Molly’s Gap was closed for construction. We found the Kenmare Stone Circle tucked away with not a sign in sight. We started along the famous Ring of Kerry route, stopping at the Staigue stone fort, Ballinskelligs Beach (where I jumped across a river to visit the outpost ruins), the Kerry Cliffs, Valentia Island and Ballycarbey Castle. We could climb right up into the ruins of the castle and see for miles across the bay (but watch your step for it’s a long way down). We arrived late at Dingle Harbour and had a meal at the last local pub open which the pretty hotel receptionist sent us to.

We drove back along the Dingle Peninsula the next morning and stopped at Ballybunnion beach where Riley played in the playground and we visited the remains of the castle. We caught the Tarbert ferry to Killimer with minutes to spare. We had a picnic lunch at the church in Quilty where I climbed down the bank to explore the rocky beach. We had a blustery time at the Cliffs of Moher where they have really set up the tourist barricades to spend money at the shops and restaurants. It was the first time we saw a significant amount of other visitors and I could only imagine the thousands that must arrive each day in the summer months. We had a challenging time finding many of the historic spots in the Burren as there are no signs. So we settled for the Poulnabrone Dolmen, then arrived for sunset at Dunguaire Castle. We had some great mussels in Galway that night.

The next day was our most traditional Gaelic day of the trip, almost like stepping back in time visiting Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. I rented a bike and buggy to tow Riley around. Ann sorted out her own transportation. Our first stop was Dun Eochla where we walked around horses to visit the stone fort. Riley fell asleep on the way downhill to Kilmurvey beach so I left him with Ann while I went to visit the seven churches. I had a short ride back and the three of us made the hike up to Dun Aengus (Aonghasa). We barely saw another person as we breached the walls of one of the oldest forts in Europe to gaze over the karst landscape and the sudden plummeting cliffs. I completed one more ride out to the east side of the island to see the waves crash on the black cliffs of Inishmaan then we were back on the ferry to the mainland. We had a bit of time to explore Galway in the morning and Riley loved the buskers and stopped to put money in each hat. Usually closed at this time of year, one of the neighbours let me in to Aughnanure Castle built on top of an underground stream where unwanted guest could be dropped into the river through a trap door (nice feature to have in your house). We took the Sky Road Loop on the way to Connemara National Park. We walked the shortest hiking trail before continuing on to Swinford.

We arrived at the Carrowkeel Megalithic Passage Tomb road and stopped at the first turnaround point. Lucky that we did as we would not have made it through the holes in the road ahead. Riley was asleep so I hiked out to see the passage tombs. I even crawled inside one of them. Ann went after me. We couldn’t see Lough Arrow due to the low clouds. We drove to Carrowmore only to find someone had set up shop to make some bucks off tourists and then decided to close for the winter. Fortunately we could see most of it from the road and jumped over a fence to see the best dolmen but had to ‘beware of ram’. Riley was awake for Donegal Castle that even had a kids friendly activity sheet for him to find all the photos. They had rebuilt a large portion of the castle and brought in furniture so you got a feel for how it would have looked, One more stop at Grianan of Alieach stone fort. Unfortunately someone had locked the gate so we and a half dozen people had to trek up to see it. We were rewarded with a spectacular 360o view from the top. We arrived in Londonderry (Derry) as it was getting dark. We decided to go for a swim in the pool only to find that there are mandatory skullcaps in Ireland. We all looked quite silly. Riley swam all by himself for the first time (with arm floaties to keep him up). Together we polished off a large pizza and when Riley went to bed, I got to explore the town. I walked the city walls of Derry and made it through the gates just before they were locked up for the night. I crossed the Peace Bridge over the River Foyle, then came back for a pint in one of the local pubs, Travis’s Bar. It was hopping and there was standing room only. I had a Guinness, watched some snooker and called it a night.

The next day we were heading through Northern Ireland on the Giant’s Causeway Scenic Drive. Our first stop was at Dunluce Castle where we crossed over to the ancient fortress and could look up and down the cost, next up was the National Trust visitor centre for the Giant’s Causeway where Riley watched a video on Finn McCool and we learned the geological history. We all walked down to the Giant’s Causeway and stood on the hexagonal stone columns. We stopped for a picnic lunch at Ballintoy Harbour and Ann had some food from Rourke’s Kitchen. Riley and I explored the giant caves. Our next stop was a long hike in the wind and wet to reach the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. We all made the death defying crossing on the rickety bridge with no losses. We were running short of time so only had minimal stops in the Glens of Atrium and one more stop at Carrickfergus Castle and the neighbouring playground before we arrived in Belfast. We only had the one night in Belfast but stayed near the heart of the city so saw the City Hall and main shopping area. We headed south the next day and visited the high crosses at Monasterboice, navigated the complicated visitation system at Newgrange and visited the Hill of Slane at dusk. A quick stop at the hill of Tara the next day and we were flying out to Manchester to visit family, the Lake District and Dunham Massey.

We still had a couple more days in Dublin at the end of the trip. We stayed at the fancy Hilton Customs House that was a deal because it was under renovation. We mostly just walked around Trinity College, took the pedestrian streets to St. Stephens Green and visited the Dublin Castle. Riley particularly enjoyed the Captain America Bar. I went out on the backpackers pub crawl that night and visited half a dozen pubs from the Temple Bar district to Whelan’s in the south. It was an epic night and I made new friends from all over the world, tried a silent disco and drank many Irish beers and shots. Fortunately I had a day to rest up at the Dublin Zoo before we were on our flight back home to Canada.

And so another journey to a distant part of the world comes to a close. Riley, Ann and I had a fabulous trip and recommend going to Ireland off-season to anyone. Cheers, Richard

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