We’d dreamed of visiting Ireland for years, with its green rolling hills and charming old castles. We booked a one way ticket in case we decided to stay a while, but ten days ended up being plenty for us, mostly because of the weather, which was colder and cloudier than we preferred. There was a light drizzle of rain almost daily, and we kept our jackets on most of the time.
Our entry into Ireland was made a bit hectic by a flight through the London Heathrow airport, where extreme security policies bordering on the ridiculous resulted in having every inch of each of our bags searched, including inside the bag lining. Every pocket and item was opened, every piece of clothing unfolded, and every book flipped through — all because we had a few “liquid items” such as deodorant which weren’t separated out into 1 liter sized bags. In most airports, after taking out the offensive items, bags are put through the scanner again to see if there is anything else suspicious. But not at Heathrow. Everything must be thoroughly hand-searched.
This process took close to 45 minutes. The security officials were certainly not in a hurry to help a family who was about to miss a flight, and offered no sympathy. They would also do nothing to contact the gate for us about our connecting flight. So, as soon as some of the bags were searched, I ran ahead to the next security checkpoint (a 15 minute run with half our bags) only to discover no one there would contact the gate for me either, to let them know we were coming. So I ran back with the bags, then back to the gate again with the family, only to finally find out that we did in fact miss our flight (actually, we think it hadn’t taken off yet, but no one was there to let us on).
So we walked back to the terminal — slowly this time, catching our breath — and were able to get on another flight to Ireland later that night, and even received some food vouchers for the delay from British Airways, for which we were grateful. In all our travels, I’ve never seen a security screening so strict as in the London Heathrow airport, and it’s enough to make me want to boycott the airport altogether. I’m all for keeping airports and planes safe, but when common sense and efficient use of technology are discarded for mindless red tape and inhumane policies, I think it’s gone too far. I did fill out their customer service questionnaire, just in case someone’s listening.
Dublin, at Last!
We did finally arrive in Dublin, though, and drove safely to the downtown apartment we rented for the next two nights. We awoke with a bit of jet lag and rested most of the next day, but took a walk around Dublin at night. It doesn’t get dark until 10pm in the summer in Ireland, so during this trip, we found ourselves staying up quite late most nights.
Dublin is a lovely city. We found it very clean, safe, and it seems to have retained much of its old world charm. Large displays of colorful potted flowers adorn many buildings, and the wide sidewalks make it easy to get around by foot. We had dinner in the Temple Bar district, where mostly pedestrian cobblestone streets, and the occasional busker (street performer) create a lively atmosphere outside the many pubs and restaurants. One day, we visited a Medieval museum called Dublinia where we learned about what life was like in Dublin throughout history and especially during the middle ages. We learned that Vikings didn’t actually wear horned helmets, but that this belief probably started in the 1800’s when artists and costume designers confused the pre-Viking ceremonial headdress of some Scandinavians with Viking attire. We learned about Medieval ways of living, clothing, sanitation, The Black Death, and so much more. It was a good history lesson for us, but the kids’ favorite part was playing dress-up. We enjoyed the Irish food, from the stews to the seafood. It all felt very hearty, though, and we found ourselves filled up quickly by sharing most meals, and only really needed two meals per day, which was good because the prices were a lot more than we were used to paying for food. For breakfast most mornings, we had eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, and sometimes other types of meat or breads (cereal, fruit, and yogurt were sometimes available, too). My favorites were the bacon (delicious!) and the brown soda bread. It was extremely filling, and I’m glad I wasn’t vegetarian for this trip, or there would have been very little to eat. Oh, we also found some delicious traditional blue raspberry candy that’s got a great texture and tangy flavor. Not sure if we’ll find it elsewhere in Europe. We stayed in many bed & breakfasts (most of which we didn’t book beforehand, and just drove around to find) on this trip, including the homes of some lovely Irish grandmothers who I couldn’t help but compare to Mrs. Doubtfire. Most of these places cost around 130 euro per night for the five of us. It was difficult to find anything cheaper than that for a family our size, even with negotiating. It may have been different if we booked in advance to get deals online. We lucked out with our first place in Dublin, where we paid only 70 pounds for a 2 bedroom apartment with breakfast — a last minute deal on booking.com like no other we found.
Irish bathrooms all seemed to have some similar idiosyncrasies, including sinks that had separate hot and cold faucets (so you could not get warm water running on your hands or face — I think you’re supposed to mix the hot and cold water in the basin before washing), lights with a pull chain rather than a switch, small showers with very low water pressure, and large toilet handles requiring just the right amount of pressure and speed in order to flush. Even newer places seemed to have these same quirks. I don’t know yet whether this is distinctly Irish or common in other parts of the UK or Europe, but I guess we’ll find out. After Dublin, we drove west toward Gallway, and the spent the next week or so driving several hours every day, which completely wore us out, especially after driving so much in the US the week before, but we’re recuperating in London now. Anyway, here are the highlights of our Ireland road trip.
This is a beautiful castle originally built as a private residence, and was given, sold, and then lost due to gambling, and later purchased by Benedictine Nuns who turned it into a boarding school. We were able to tour around inside, as well as the nearby chapel and gardens. It’s a lovely setting, with lots of beautiful scenery on the drive up as well. That drive is where we ran into these donkeys.
You may recognize these as The Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride, which we were sure to watch with our kids so they could fully appreciate their pop cultural significance. It’s also one of my favorite movies. So many classic lines and great humor. The cliffs were certainly striking, and they had a nice visitor’s center with some interactive displays about the geology that caused the cliffs, and how they’ve changed over time. Driving around the countryside in this area was among the most beautiful scenery we saw in Ireland, often with colorful wildflowers lining the road, and sheep or cows grazing between stone fences.
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park
This was probably my favorite attraction we visited in Ireland because we got to tour a castle filled with period furniture to get more of a glimpse into what it was like to live there, although it turns out these castles weren’t usually lived in by royalty except during times of war. They were basically used as forts, which is why so many fell into disrepair after the Renaissance. Next to the castle was a folk park with traditional houses, and actors showing us the lifestyles of how people lived hundreds of years ago, how they farmed and cooked and built their houses. It was fun and educational, and there we found the only playground in Ireland we saw on the entire trip. The kids soaked it up until it started raining.
Blarney castle is probably the most famous castle in Ireland, as it’s home to the Blarney stone, which is supposed to give you the gift of eloquence when you kiss it, which we didn’t. Why not? Take your pick from the following reasons: We’re boring, we get dizzy hanging upside down, we don’t like germs, we prefer to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing, we’re expected to pay an extra tip, we were tired of waiting in line, we’re already eloquent enough.
The castle was extremely crowded that day, and I was more impressed with the surrounding grounds than the castle itself, which was mostly ruins. There was a poisoned garden full of plants that have been known to cause death or extreme sickness in humans. We also enjoyed the lovely fern garden, and an area with waterfalls and caves lived in by some of the earliest people in Ireland. The storybook-like “witch’s kitchen” under the hollow of a tree was a site I didn’t realize existed outside of fairy tales.
Waterford Spraoi festival
The Spraoi festival, held annually in Waterford, showcases street performers and musicians, and ends with a parade and fireworks. The hotels and B&B’s were all packed when we arrived, so we had to drive to the next city for a place to sleep, but did make it out for a few hours of the festival and had a great time watching the performers and wandering the streets of Waterford. You’ll see more footage of this in the video below.
Speaking in an Irish Accent
Yes, this was a highlight because it was so fun! Marie and I especially loved having an excuse to try and speak in an Irish accent as much as possible. It just seemed to flow so easily off the tongue, like a relaxed way to speak English. I also remembered a poem I’d written in Jr. High School that I always used to recite with an Irish accent. Want to hear it? ‘Course ya’ do!
When on a wintry morn’
The wind is chillin’ and freezin’.
I feel its wrathful scorn,
And take up coughin’ and wheezin’.
But tonight it should be warmer,
And me cheerful neighbor farmer
Can start to do his weedin’,
And give his porks a feedin’.
There. Now aren’t you glad you read this blog today? But wait! There’s more!
Back in Dublin
We had a few days in Dublin on our way out of the country. We returned our rental car early to save some money, since we knew we wouldn’t be needing it (and because parking is very expensive in Dublin). The kids were excited to see the Leprechaun Museum, which was okay. We climbed on oversized furniture in the “giant’s house” and walked through a “rainbow” of beaded strands hanging from the ceiling.
Much was left to the imagination there, but we did learn more about the origins of leprechauns and fairy stories and some of our western traditions. For example, the story goes that before humans came to Ireland, it was populated with many magical creatures, who were eventually defeated and driven underground by the humans. Leprechauns were traditionally shoe makers for the fairies, who often needed shoe repairs because they danced so much. And Leprechaun clothing wasn’t widely thought of as green (they looked more like garden gnomes) until Disney’s Darby o’Gill and the Little People portrayed King Brian that way, and Lucky Charms cereal took off on that theme.
Further, did you know that the tradition of throwing money into wishing wells started with throwing food scraps into the well as a yearly offering to the evil fairies so they wouldn’t take their newborn children? And that the process of collecting these food scraps from the people in the village is where the tradition of trick-or-treating comes from? Well, now you know.
At the end of the museum there were tables with paper and colored pencils to draw with. The kids and I drew pictures, which were then hung on the wall. So we now all have our original artwork on display in a museum in Dublin! Jen and I also went out one night on our own for dessert and to try the classic Guinness in an Irish pub. I had several sips, and really tried to like it, but just couldn’t tolerate the flavor, especially the aftertaste. It’s not as repulsive to me as coffee (which I won’t even sip because the smell is so horrid to me), but I have a hard time understanding how one can like the flavor of beer. I figure if I don’t like a Guinness, or any of the other craft brews I’ve sipped, there’s no point trying any more. Beer is just not my thing. Not sure if it’s genetic, or if my Mormon upbringing is to blame for that, but I guess it’s not a bad thing to not like beer and coffee. :) We also came home with our hair and clothes smelling like smoke. So pubs may not be my thing, either. It was fun to try once, though. We actually visited a few pubs on the trip for lunches and not all were as smokey. Well, that’s our Ireland trip. More fast-paced than we’re used to, and we weren’t able to meet up with any friends, unfortunately. But we had a great time. I don’t think we’d want to live there (mostly because of the weather), but it’s a lovely place to visit. If you have the time, peruse the rest of my pictures below, and watch the video for some fun Irish music and footage. Now I’ll get back to enjoying our time in the UK.