Dingle, Blarney, and Beyond
with Steve McCarthy
Well, having dangled in Dingle and getting freaked out by a patch on the wall, we headed back to Dublin. But not without a few adventures along the way.
First, I got so caught up about connecting with my late brother's spirit, that I didn't say much about the Dingle Peninsula. It's a remarkable place. Yes, we finally got seriously rained on (and frankly were kinda glad for a car with a roof and heater) but it was everything we'd been told. Far less traffic than the Ring of Kerry, and pretty much, no tour buses. Dingle is home to some of the greatest coastline in Ireland, and some great early Christian sites.
There are some of the best preserved "bee hive huts" (actually dating from pre-Christian times, but a design copied for millennia), a neolithic fort at Dunbeg, a High Cross at Slea Head, for us, the most powerful sight, the Gallarus Oratory. This last is a small church, of indeterminate age (somewhere between 600 and 1200) and its simplicity is a vivid counterpoint to the massive monasteries of Clonmel and Cashel. It's simple, one room, mortarless, almost pyramidal stone building. One door, one window. The stones are such a precise fit that the interior is dry as a bone. THIS is a church for a simple Carpenter.
From Dingle, we headed to Kinsale, and like our last trip to Ireland, found it too crowded to find parking to look about. It appears to be a great town, we just didn't have the time to spend. After that, we headed to Blarney for a return visit. Early in this trip, we took the family to see "our" castle and kiss the Stone. We decided to stay at the Blarney Woolen Mills hotel. VERY nice place, and a bargain on hotels.com! We poked about the shops, got some great deals on jewelry for Marianne and had a pleasant dinner in the hotel's restaurant. Next morning, it was up and off on the rocky road to Dublin.
Because our original plan was to then turn the TR in to the shipper and enjoy a couple of days in Dublin, we'd booked the Holiday Inn Express near the airport. WHAT A MISTAKE! This was THE worst place of the trip. First, while I was having to PAY to park, Marianne ran in to answer the call of nature that had been yelling at here for the past half hour. At the desk, she was directed to THE OTHER HOTEL NEXT DOOR for a rest room! Later, I spotted one 20 feet away in our hotel's lobby! NEXT, having booked for THREE days, we were told, with no apologies, that they had us down for only TWO days. And of course, they had no other rooms. The place was about as amenity free as the worst Hotel 6 in the states, just more expensive. The bed was terrible, and the halls had THE ugliest carpet we'd ever seen. We did manage to find a very good Italian restaurant around the corner, the Little Venice. Veery nice place, great food. Sadly, no local pub anywhere near, so we settled for the hotel bar. BORING.
We did manage to repack everything and sort some stuff for shipping home so we'd be under the 50 pound weight limit per bag (get yourself a hand held luggage scale. Invaluable) and found a place for our last night in Ireland.
But First: One more side trip. We headed to the North and the Giant's Causeway. We had this on the original itinerary, but had to give it a miss because the early problems with the TR delayed us. So, we figured, why not? We left at O'Dark-Thirty, making sure on checkout to register our displeasure at the substandard stay in this corporate dump, and headed out towards Belfast. Now, here's a tip. Gas up in the Republic. Fuel is far cheaper than in Northern Ireland!
We kept to the motorway, needing to make time. It would be almost a 400 mile day. At home, that's a full day's drive. In Ireland, it's an epic trek! Three hours later, we were in Bushmills, home of the oldest legal distillery in Ireland, and gateway to the Causeway. Evidence of solid Unionist sentiment was all around us, so I had to make sure to keep my trap shut about politics. Never a bad idea really!
We got to the Giant's Causeway, and all I can say is WOW! This is one of the world's greatest stretches of coastline. It's a basaltic rock formation of hexagonal columns that march out to sea and eventual erosion. The formation stretches along miles of coastline. There is an excellent visitors' centre and it's a short hike to the sea from there. Try to get there before too many tour buses! The Selfie-Stick Wielding Morons were out in force, worse than Stonehenge. ugh.
So, why is it called the Giant's Causeway? There is a similar formation in Scotland, and the legend is that the Irish giant and hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) was challenged to battle by the Scottish giant, Benandonner. who built this bridge from Scotland to Ireland. There are various iterations of the story, one is that Finn kicked Ben's butt and sent him home, ripping up the causeway. Another is that Fionn dressed like a baby and had his wife carry him out to meet Benandonner. When the Scots giant saw the size of the "baby", he panicked, worried about how big a full grown Irishman would be, ran back to Scotland, ripping up the causeway behind him. So, brute strength or guile? Which wins the day?
The area also has other attractions. One is a steam tourist railway that will take you along the coast. It's a three foot narrow gauge train that's a lot of fun. (See the appendix for details). The other, of course, it the Old Bushmills Distillery. It's the oldest licensed distillery in all of Ireland. While, personally, not my favorite whiskey (note the "e" in whiskey, only Scotch is spelled "whisky") the tour and the cafe are worth the visit.
The town of Bushmills is a great example of a small town that dates from the early Protestant Plantations that began in the time of Elizabeth I. The farms in the area are neat, clean and tidy, as opposed to the crazy quilt, random stonewall farms of Catholic Ireland.
The drive back is along the coast and is spectacular. Stunning cliffs, small fishing villages, infinite vistas, and a great winding road. What's not to love. In addition, for the Not-Faint-Of-Heart is the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Check it out. We were not that daring, but, if a 70' long rope bridge that's 100' above the jagged rocks is your thing...
After a good lunch at the Distillery, we headed back for our last night. Naturally, we didn't take the direct route. The coastal road rivals the better known roads in Donegal, Clare, and Kerry. One of THE best drives in the world. Finally, sated with scenery, we headed back to one last splurge, the Johnstown Hotel and Spa, a few miles outside of Dublin.
This was at one time a manor house that has been added to with all the modern amenities. The lobby (complete with original furniture and facade are all that remain. The bar is excellent and I'd recommend it over the fancy restaurant. Our steaks were over cooked and the meal was a bit bland. In the bar, we had dessert (chocolate Guinness/whiskey mousse) and it was excellent. The room was palatial and comfortable. Overall, a fine end to this once in a life time trip.
The next morning, it was up early, head to the airport, drop off the rental and lounge in the Gold Circle Aer Lingus lounge. It was well worth the extra seventy bucks. On the way to the customs (and the cool thing about Ireland, US Customs has a facility there. You get prescreened, so when you get home, you just pick up your bags and head to your waiting limo! After a 14 hour flight, it's heaven) we stopped in the duty free area. Now, I'd THOUGHT I'd been good and used up all but about 15 Euros of that funny money, and only a couple of British pounds. I checked my security wallet and DAMN if there wasn't 100 Euros stashed in there! So, a bottle of Connemara 22 year old peated single malt later, I managed to divest myself of that unwanted cash. Aw, what a pity.
The flight home was the usual. As was the drive from LAX. We slept for a week, getting back to the sad normality. sigh.
So, was it all worth it? Hell Yes. In Spades. In Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs. Even the couple of jokers we were dealt didn't spoil it really. "Don't be sad it's over, be happy it happened"-Dr. Seuss. Now, when can we go back?