When I decided to come to Ireland, my brother and sister-in-law bought me a ticket to the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet for Christmas. I hadn’t planned on going to anything like this – I’ve attended SCA feasts before, and the novelty had worn off – but they said that they had had a really good time when they’d gone, and thought that I would, too.
I’m really glad they got me the ticket, because I’m just back from a very fun evening that I would have missed out on. So, thanks, folks!
I got a few pictures.
I didn’t get any pictures of the food, because you eat with just a knife, and I really didn’t want to spend the rest of the evening cleaning gravy off my camera. But the food was very good. I sat with an Australian family who were very nice.
The actors/singers/servers were amazing. They were friendly and upbeat, kept everyone smiling, nudged people into the mood to participate, and still got the food coming in and dishes going out with great efficiency. Their performances were also very good, with fiddle, harp, and singing. They crowned an Earl and his lady to preside over the feast, and at one point threw someone in the dungeon, which was kind of fun.
Yes, the whole evening was very touristy, but y’know what? Touristy gets a bad rap. These were talented people showing off a bit of their history and culture for us, and they worked hard and did a good job. It’s easy to turn your nose up at things like this, but I really think you’re missing out if you don’t relax and have fun with it.
All in all, it was a wonderful evening, and I thank Al, Daph, Ryan, and Keira again for this great present.
I’m getting to be an old hand with the Irish bus system1, and made it to Bunratty a few hours earlier than I had thought I would. This gave me plenty of time to check out Bunratty Castle and Bunratty Folk Park, which is spread out around the castle.
The big draw, of course, is Bunratty Castle.
My brother and sister-in-law and my nephew and niece bought me a ticket for the medieval banquet taking place in the castle this evening, so thanks again Al, Daph, Ryan, and Keira! I’m looking forward to it. I’ll probably post a little something more tonight after the feast, but I’m not sure if they’ll allow photographs, so it may not be much.
But it’ll be something.
Then tomorrow, I’m off to Galway for three nights.
Of course, now I’ve just jinxed myself, and the next bus I get on will deposit me in Krakow. [↩]
So, I didn’t get to go see the Skelligs. I did get a nice chance to wander the countryside and talk to some nice people. Really, the folks in Ireland – whether they live here or are just visiting – have been amazingly nice.
The Moorings is a fantastic place to stay. The rooms are good, the food is amazing, and they’ve got a restaurant and a bar attached. But the nicest part of it all is that the people who work here are so friendly and helpful. That’s seeming to be a pattern, here in Ireland – the folks who run guesthouses are all absolutely delightful to talk to. But The Moorings is second to none.
I spent this evening in the bar, talking to the staff, to the other tourists, and to the locals. I had a wonderful dinner of roast lamb, and I even tried a pint of Guinness1.
And now I pack up. The taxi is coming at 7:30 tomorrow to take me to the bus which will take me to the other bus which will take me to the third bus which will take me to Bunratty, and a medieval feast.
For those who don’t know, I don’t drink. I’m not against drinking, I just never picked up the habit. But coming to Ireland, it seemed that I would have to try Guinness, just to be able to say I did. While I didn’t hate the flavour, it’s obvious that it’s an acquired taste. I only finished half my pint. [↩]
Got up this morning, and it was raining a bit. I went down to breakfast and found out that the seas were too choppy for the boats to go out to the Skelligs. As today is my only day in Portmagee, that means I miss my chance1 to visit Skellig Michael and see the monastery.
I’m pretty disappointed, because Skellig Michael was one of the things I really wanted to see. I mean, I can’t blame the boatmen for making the decision – they know their business, and if they think it’s too rough, then it’s too rough. Really, it’s my own fault for coming so late in the season, and for not building in the flexibility of staying an extra day to take a chance tomorrow.
So, to make up for my lost chance to see the Skelligs, I indulged in a full Irish breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, and white pudding2. Black pudding is a blood sausage that is sliced up and fried, and white pudding is just black pudding without the blood. I was a little leery of them, but gave them a try, and they’re not bad. I’m not terribly fond of the flavour – I liked the regular sausage and the bacon much better – but the puddings are nowhere near the level of disgusting that you’d think hearing people talk about them.
I lingered over breakfast, talking to another guest, named Frank Cooper. He told me an interesting story, which is documented here. We talked for over an hour, and I heard about his solo circumnavigation of the globe, how he met the King of the Gypsies in Papua, and about some close calls with whales on his various voyages. All in all, an interesting breakfast.
Afterwards, I took a walk to the Skellig Experience, the little visitor’s centre on Valentia Island just over the bridge, and got some pictures along the way.
The Skellig Experience was small, but it had some neat little displays about the history of the Skelligs. There was also a film about Skellig Michael, showing the climb up to the top. I have to say, watching the zooming helicopter shot3, I was a little relieved that I wouldn’t be climbing up those steep, smooth steps in a light misting of rain.
Then, of course, they cut to some tourists climbing the stairs with a young child – maybe three or four – and all of a sudden I felt like a big wimp. I will need to come back at some point and try again.
I did buy a little book and some postcards showing the Skelligs. But it’s not the same. And then I walked back across the bridge4 and back to my room to write this post.
I’ve got dinner tonight, and then an early bed time. I need to be in Cahersiveen by 8:00 tomorrow morning to catch the bus back to Killarney, or my entire travel schedule falls apart.
Today was mainly a travel day. Bus from Cork City to Killarney, then wait four hours for the bus to Cahirseveen1, and finally take a taxi from Cahirseveen to Portmagee. I got here shortly after five, just a little too late to make it across the bridge to the Skellig interpretive centre on Valentia Island.
I’m staying at The Moorings, which is a very nice guesthouse. The room here is bigger than at either Ariel House or Garnish House, and looks a little more like a North American hotel room.
The Skelligs Package here at The Moorings is really quite nice. Not only do you get the room and the trip to the Skelligs, but you get a voucher for a dinner, a packed lunch for the trip, a free special Irish Coffee2, and some very nice Skellig chocolates.
Apparently, according to the taxi driver who brought me here, the boats were not able to land on the Skelligs last week, but did land this morning. Weather looks promising, but the announcement will be made in the morning at breakfast whether or not the boats are going out. I hope they do, obviously.
Now, to sleep. I need to be rested for climbing the 660 steps on Skellig Michael tomorrow. Fingers crossed.
I gotta say, I have no idea if I’m spelling that right. I have seen four or five different spellings, many of them in this past day as I was trying to get there. [↩]
Which I’m not really interested in, but still. [↩]
It was raining when I got up this morning. Not the quickly ended showers we had when I was in Dublin; constant, lasting rain. It kinda put a damper on my mood. So, I lingered over breakfast, then sighed, put on my hat, and went to take the Cork City bus tour.
There’s lots of neat stuff to see in Cork City, but most of it is churches and, this being Sunday morning, you can’t just go wandering in with a camera to have a look. And with the rain, there was no getting any decent pictures. I debated just giving up and going back to the guesthouse, but decided to try and make my way out to Blarney Castle instead.
By the time the bus reached Blarney, the rain had stopped. By the time I made it into the grounds, the sky was clearing up. And I got some good pictures.
Yeah, I’m a tourist. I wanted to climb to the top of the castle and kiss the Blarney Stone. Turned out to be far more of a challenge than I had anticipated. To get to the top of the castle, you climb about a hundred steps1. This may not sound like a big deal, but they are tiny, worn steps in very tight spiral stairways. I’m not claustrophobic, nor am I acrophobic, but I am afraid of slipping on wet, uneven, little stone steps and rolling all the way down to the bottom.
But I soldiered on and, when I got to the top, the bit where you have to lean out over a hundred-foot drop – backwards, mind you – to kiss2 stone in the underside of the battlement, well, that bit didn’t seem so bad. I lay down, leaned out, realized I was about to die, and then gave the rock a big smooch and it was over3.
Interestingly – and happily – the way down is a lot easier than the way up4, with wider, less break-kneck steps. It took about half the time to get down that it did to get up. All-in-all, the whole endeavour took the better part of an hour from entering the grounds.
But there was a lot of other cool stuff on the grounds besides the castle and the Blarney Stone, so I went looking around.
After wandering around the castle grounds for a couple of hours, I caught the bus back to Cork City. The weather was nice enough that I took a little walk to get a couple of pictures. It’s not much, but it’s something.
And that’s about it for Cork City. Tomorrow, I make my way to Portmagee.
According to the signs around the castle, anyway. [↩]
I firmly believe that, at night, the locals pee on the stone. Like that’s going to stop me. However, I overheard some of the other visitors in the castle complaining about the cleanliness of kissing the stone, when the folks guarding it said they clean it four times a day. I mean, you’re kissing a stone. What about that makes you think it should be hygienic? [↩]
I have pictures of me kissing the stone, but they were taken by the castle staff, and I have them only in hard copy. I’ll have to see what I can do about that. [↩]
I’ll wait until someone makes the obligatory joke about just letting gravity take its course. There. We all done? Good. [↩]
Things started off substantially better today. I actually made it to my tour bus on time, and was off on a tour of the Ring of Kerry.
One important word about this tour: if you are planning on taking a bus around the Ring of Kerry, and you are at all susceptible to motion sickness, take something before you go. I rarely get motion sick, but the narrow, twisting roads and the rocking and bouncing of the bus had me feeling nauseous fairly soon. And I was an idiot; I kept suffering through the bus ride portions between the stops, feeling worse and worse, then getting off the bus into the fresh air and feeling a bit better. I finally broke down and got some pills at a pharmacy in Killarney on the way back, and the ride back to Cork City from Killarney was fine.
Anyway. Word to the wise. I’m just even more glad that I didn’t sign up for a guided coach tour for the whole vacation.
So, our first stop was a replica 19th-century bog village.
We went on from there to a stretch along Dingle Bay that is obviously a popular stretch for pictures. The narrow road that wraps around the mountainous coast had a number of little nooks on the water side where cars and buses could stop for pictures. And they were mostly full when we stopped.
We stopped for lunch in Waterville, a very nice little village on the end of the peninsula.
After lunch, we were back on the road for about fifteen minutes, getting to this little overlook above Waterville.
We then drove on to the village of Sneem.
We drove off through the mountains, up through Moll’s Gap, and on to the Ladies View, above the lakes of Killarney.
We stopped last in Killarney, but only in the heart of the city. Not a lot of really interesting picture material, but it is a very nice city to walk around in.
Really, the tour was great, but it was also kind of a tease. There were dozens of times when I wished we could have stopped to take a picture of some thing, but we didn’t. Sometimes there just was no place to stop a whole bus load of people, and the time it took to unload and reload all the people for a photo op was substantial. So, the driver picked a few very good spots.
Still, there was a beautiful view with interesting things in it pretty much around every corner. The Ring of Kerry is a beautiful drive, and I heartily recommend it.
I missed the bus from Dublin to Cashel by mere seconds this morning – I watched it pull away from the station as I was scurrying to make it to the gate. Not a big deal, it just put me behind a little bit. All it meant was that I had to wait two hours for the next bus, and that would get me in to Cork a little later than I had intended, but nothing insurmountable.
See, the plan was to take the number 8 bus, which goes to Cork, but also stops at Cashel. I would get out at Cashel, take a couple of hours to go see the Rock of Cashel, and catch the next bus through to Cork. So, a little delay in the bus station wasn’t a huge problem, though it was a bit frustrating. I did get a chance to watch this pigeon very fearlessly stalk through all the folks sitting in the bus station, looking for crumbs on the floor.
I was very determined to make the next bus, and did so with no problem. But about half an hour into the trip, I realized that there had been two number 8 buses, and that this one was the express bus to Cork City – it would not be stopping in Cashel1.
I had a momentary fit of disappointment, but then sat back to see the scenery2. And it was interesting scenery to see. A lot of it was very much like driving along the highways in Canada or the US3, with the trees pushing in fairly close to the road. But every so often, the view opens up to these marvellous hills and valleys and little towns and round stone towers4, and it becomes very obvious that I’m not in North America. I didn’t get any pictures, because I was on a moving bus, and they would all be crappy, but it was a beautiful drive.
I made it to Cork City at about the time I had planned when I thought I was going to get to stop in Cashel, which was okay. I’ve got an Irish GPS app on my phone, so it walked me through downtown Cork City to Garnish House, where I’m staying.
So, tomorrow is my tour of the Ring of Kerry. The nice folks here at Garnish House have told me where to meet it, and I should not have a repeat of today’s failure. I should also have a lot more pictures tomorrow.
Tonight, I will wallow in my despair and get that out of the way so I can enjoy the rest of my trip.
This is what happens when I forget that I don’t know what I’m doing. I get cocky, think I can make decisions like a big boy without asking any questions, and bang! Express bus to Cork! [↩]
Don’t get me wrong; the Rock of Cashel was one of the things I really, really wanted to see. I am terribly disappointed that I probably won’t see it this trip. But I’m on vacation, and I’m going to concentrate on all the stuff that goes right and is amazing, rather than the one or two things that go wrong and make me sad. Otherwise, why bother? [↩]
Except, of course, on the opposite side of the road. [↩]
Today was my last day in Dublin1, and tonight is my last night at Ariel House.
I can’t say enough good things about Ariel House – my room is comfortable, the bed is very nice, the breakfasts are wonderful2, they have a laundry service, and the DART station is a two-minute walk. Then it’s about a six-minute ride on the DART train to downtown Dublin, so even though it’s a little way out of the downtown area, it doesn’t cause a problem.
The best thing about Ariel House, though, is the people who work here. Everyone is amazingly friendly and helpful, ready to jump in to help with advice, recommendations, and help with making arrangements. It’s a wonderful place to stay, and I recommend it whole-heartedly.
Anyway, for my last day, I had nothing scheduled. This was the day I had set aside to catch up on the things that I had missed on the other tours. Of course, that’s impossible; there’s just too much stuff here in the city. Still, I had to give it a try.
First of all, I had to go take a closer look at the statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square.
My next stop was the National Museum of Ireland. There are actually three of these, and I went to the Anthropology and History.
On the way there, I passed by this little spot, just tucked in between a couple of buildings.
I took a lot of pictures. I mean, on the previous days, I took between twenty and forty pictures. Today, I took over a hundred and forty, and most of those were at the museum.
I’m not going to post them all here, though. I’ll just provide a sampling.
There are a lot more pictures from the museum, but those will do for now. I have to get the rest of them uploaded and sorted.
I headed down to O’Connell Street, next. I had walked it a little bit on Tuesday, but didn’t get the pictures I wanted, so I came back today to take them.
At this point, I pulled out my map and decided to go find St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which I hadn’t got a really good look at, yet. It was quite a wander, and I got lost a couple of times. On the way, I passed Christchurch Cathedral again, but from a different angle than I had seen before.
I found St. Patrick’s, right when the sky opened up and rained. I stayed there under my umbrella, and the rain stopped after about ten minutes, so I was able to get these pictures.
It was getting on in the afternoon, and it was a good long walk back to the DART station, so I headed back then. I went by way of Grafton Street, to try and get a few pictures there, and was well-rewarded.
And then I made it back to Ariel House.
Now, everything is packed, and I’m ready to head off to Cork – with a stop at Cashel – tomorrow morning.
I’m gonna miss Dublin.
Well, except for the overnight when I come down from Belfast to catch the plane back. But that doesn’t really count. [↩]
Confession time. I’ve only had porridge every morning, but it’s their Orchard Porridge, with apples, raisins, walnuts, and stuff. It’s more than enough to keep me going for the day, and it’s delicious. [↩]
I’m putting this in the Dublin category because that’s where I’m staying right now1, even though this post is not about Dublin really at all.
Today’s agenda was my Mary Gibbons bus tour out to the Hill of Tara and Newgrange. On the drive out, Mary filled us in on the history of the Boyne Valley, the Battle of the Boyne, the importance of Tara to Irish History, and the significance and history of Newgrange and the other passage tombs in the area. It was an informative talk, and helped the time pass swiftly. She was also very good at pointing out interesting things that we passed, and giving us a bit of history on them.
The Hill of Tara was our first stop. When we got there, Mary warned us that the wind was going to be fierce out on the hill, and that the ground was going to be slippery2, so we should think carefully about going down into the trenches or climbing the mounds.
Enough exposition. Here are the pictures.
As you might be able to tell in this picture, it had started drizzling at this point. And the wind, which I had scoffed at in my mind, was getting stronger. My hat blew off at one point, and a pair of nice ladies walking their dogs had to help me catch it. Thanks, ladies! After that, I tied the cords under my chin no matter how stupid it made me look.
They say that from the top of Tara, on a clear day, you can see two-thirds of Ireland. Well, we didn’t have a clear day, but we could see a good long way. Easy to see why it was chosen to build the High King’s Fort – you can see any enemy coming for days.
Then I made my way back down from the top, through the treacherously slippery trenches3, and went look at the Mound of Hostages.
The wind was blowing something fierce on top of the hill – there was nothing nearby to slow it down, so it basically got a running start right across the whole country and slammed into us up there. My hat was more like a kite from time to time; thankfully, I had tied the idiot strings under my chin to keep from losing it. It was also drizzling a fair bit of the time up there.
And then it was back on the bus, and on to Newgrange, through Slane village, which was neat to see. We didn’t stop, but we got a look from the road at Slane Castle4, and the four big stone houses in the middle of the village that a man had built for his four daughters who couldn’t get along with each other.
We also got a nice look at the actual site of the Battle of the Boyne, and a glimpse of Knowth Tomb on a hill near the river. Then we were at the Bru na Boinne Interpretative Centre, where we had a nice lunch, saw a little film about Newgrange and the thirty-nine other passage tombs in the Boyne Valley, and basically waited for the rain to get really ready to fall on us when the shuttle buses arrived to take us up to Newgrange itself.
I don’t have as many pictures of Newgrange, for two reasons. First, they don’t allow photography inside the tomb itself. Second, as I think I mentioned, it really started raining while we were up there, and most of the pictures I took are useless because of water drops on the lens. Still, here are a few.
Okay. The guide gave us a good buildup about how tiny and cramped it was going to be, and how the ceiling was low and it got so narrow at one point that they requested we take our backpack and bags off and carry them by hand to minimize scraping. She stressed that it was a pretty claustrophobic place, and that there was no way in or out except for the passage, and that almost a quarter of a million tonnes of rock was sitting over and around us.
Well, as a hefty guy, let me tell you, it was tight. I got to one bit where I had to turn sidewise and sidle through, and thought, “Huh. That wasn’t so bad,” and then got to the actual tight spot. I had a moment there, as I was crouching and twisting, and almost crawling, where I thought I wasn’t going to make it.
But I did. And man, was it worth it.
The central chamber was pretty cramped with the twenty of us in it5, but it was very tall – six metres, according to the guide, with corbeled stonework rising up to a capstone far overhead. There were three nooks of the main chamber, each one with a basin stone that had once held cremated human remains.
After a little bit of a talk about the place, and what it meant, the guide turned the lights off and, using electric light from outside, showed us what it looks like at Midwinter, when the light shines down the tunnel floor, which has risen to the same level as the light box above the entrance, and stabs one slender, perfect beam in to touch the basin stone in the end alcove.
It was pretty impressive.
So. Out we come, and in goes the next gang, and it’s really raining pretty hard by this point. I walked around the tomb, but couldn’t get any more decent shots, though I really wanted to capture some of the decorated curbstones around the base of the mound. I gave up and went back down the hill to wait for the shuttle bus.
Which had broken down.
And so we wait in the rain for another bus to come. After about fifteen minutes, the driver of the broken bus lets us wait inside the bus, out of the rain. And about fifteen minutes after that, the replacement bus shows up, but there’s so many people waiting for the bus now that I get to wait for the replacement replacement bus. And when we get back to the Interpretive Centre, the rain stops, and the world looks beautiful and green and amazing.
So, that was Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. Wet, windy, cold, and absolutely worth every bit of it. Both sites were amazing, and the Mary Gibbons tour was an exceptionally good way to see them.
Yes, in the category. You know I can hear it when you start thinking sarcastic thoughts, right? [↩]
In fact, someone had recently taken a fall out there and broken a leg. [↩]
I did not fall. I scoffed at safety advice and there were no consequences. [↩]
And incidentally got to hear the pedigree of the current owner. [↩]
The group had forty people, and they took us in two shifts. [↩]