Dublin Ghost Bus

Tonight I went on the Ghost Bus tour of Dublin. This is kind of cheesy and touristy, but it’s also loads of fun. Nick, the guide, was awesome, dressing first in a black cloak to talk about Bram Stoker and Dracula, then in a bloodstained lab coat to talk about body snatching, grave robbing, and the… eccentricities of one of the surgeons.

Nick talking about Bram Stoker and Dracula.
Nick talking about a rather bloodthirsty surgeon.

I have to say, he got into it, and it was wonderful. He also pulled out some cheap startles to make people jump, which were great.

As the bus drove through the city, we stopped at various buildings to hear about their ghosts, and that was good, but the highlights were the two times we got off the bus.

First, we went to St. Kevin’s Cemetery, where we heard some more ghost stories1, and then he gave a demonstration of the bodysnatching technique used by one of the most famous and successful resurrection men.

Nick demonstrates bodysnatching using a hook and a very brave volunteer.

We were left to wander the graveyard for a bit once he got our imaginations revving, then it was back on the bus for another trip and a discussion of being buried alive.

The next stop was the same gate on Cook Street I had visited earlier in the day. It’s much more sinister at night.

This gate looks much friendlier in the daylight, when you haven’t been primed with ninety minutes of ghost stories.

Beyond the gate, in the dark, is what we were told was the Haunted Stair. This is where the best ghost stories of the night came out, as we were standing in the dark by a medieval stairway beside a sinister-looking church.

Tell me that doesn’t look at least a little creepy.

The stories he told us there are ones that I’m keeping to myself, in order to use in the Feints & Gambits game I’m running. But they were great. As a teaser for my players, here’s one last picture.

The Gates of Hell. That is all.
  1. And Nick is a master of telling them. He’s got the right mix of reluctant belief and skepticism and unwillingness to talk that makes them all the more convincing. []

Dublin Walking Tour

I’m taking a bit of a breather between my walking tour this morning and the Ghost Bus tour tonight. I didn’t really take any downtime yesterday1, and it was quite late by the time I finished the post and got to bed, only to get up even earlier today for my walking tour.

So, rather than waste time, I figured I’d do a little work on the blog. Hey, it counts as rest: I’m not walking anywhere or carrying anything.

First, for those who saw the blog yesterday, I have fixed the pictures in yesterday’s post, and added a couple to previous posts. If you’re interested, make sure you go back and check those out.

So the walking tour this morning was to take in Viking and Medieval Dublin, with a finish at St. Michan’s Church to see the mummies in the crypts. Somehow, I got myself to the wrong tourist office for the start of the trip, but the nice folks there got me sorted out, and the tour guide came over to collect me at the start of the tour, which was great.

I’m pretty sure the tour covered about 600 miles2, and wove all through Dublin. There’s no way I can cover everything we saw, so I’m just going to put in some pictures of highlights:

This is the old House of Lords, preserved in the old Parliament building, which is now owned by the Bank of Ireland.
One of the narrow cobbled streets in Temple Bar.
One of the gates into Dublin Castle.
Clock Tower in the main square of Dublin Castle.
The Dublin Castle green. The brick paths make a celtic knot design inspired by swimming river eels. The building is the Coach House, a fake wall and house erected so that Queen Victoria would not have to look out on the city itself.
This tower is the only surviving part of the original castle, built by King John.
The organ loft in the Chapel Royal of Dublin Castle.
Statue of Daniel O’Connell and historical friezes in Dublin City Hall.
Christchurch Cathedral


The Brazen Head, said to be the oldest pub in Dublin. We didn’t stop to look at it, but when I saw it, I needed to take a picture, because of the legend of how it got its name.
A section of the original city wall, with one of the original gates. Opened onto Cook Street, where cooking was done, because of laws against open fires within the city walls.

When we got to St. Michan’s Church, I found out that I couldn’t take any pictures of the crypts or the mummies. This is perfectly understandable; these are the remains of real people, with real families, and this is a functioning church in an active parish. So, I can’t show you the inside of the crypts. Here are the entrances to the two we went in, though.

The entrance to the crypt with the mummies. It is even more difficult to get through and down the stairs than it looks.
A look down into the other crypt. Notice how you can’t see the stairs – that’s because they are too steep and treacherous, and the tunnel is too low. Fun!

I did get to shake the hand3 of the Crusader4, one of the mummies, which is supposed to bring a year’s worth of good luck, so that’s something.

Then, it was a long walk back to O’Connell Street, where I found a fast-food place to have some lunch. I walked down O’Connell Street to find where I need to go tonight to catch the Ghost Bus Tour, and I also found Claddagh Records, a shop recommended by the guys on the Musical Pub Crawl. I went in to see what I could find, and the shopkeeper was very helpful. I picked up five CDs of traditional music that he says will probably never make it to North American distribution. So, win!

And then back to the hotel for the blog and a bit of a rest. I’m heading out to the Ghost Bus in about an hour. I’ll post about that when I get back.

  1. Aside from my slow start, that is. []
  2. This is a filthy lie. Still, I figure we walked about three miles, with another two or so at the end to get back to where I needed to be. []
  3. This is an exaggeration. They don’t let you shake his hand anymore, not after one of the fingers came off. But you can touch his hand, and I did. Felt like old, polished wood. The other two folks on the tour did not do so. I say that gives me their dose of luck, too. []
  4. As with the other mummies, the Nuns and the Thief, this is just the name they give the body, based on a little bit of detective work and some romantic wild-ass guessing. This was a big guy, buried nine hundred years ago, with his legs crossed, which marks him as a soldier. What big battles went on in the 11th and 12th centuries? The Crusades! So, he’s the Crusader, even though there is no evidence one way or the other to indicate he’d ever been to the holy land. []

Dublin, Day One

Okay, no more thumbnails. Full-sized pictures below.

Overcoming some massive inertia this morning, I got up, made it down to breakfast, and walked down to the pharmacy and back. It was a nice walk, and I saw a couple of cool things along the way:

Back and feeling ready to face the day (having bought toothpaste, deodorant, and shaving cream), I caught the shuttle bus down to join the Hop-On, Hop-Off Dublin City Bus Tour.

This tour is amazingly good. They hit 23 stops, with great running commentary from the guides along the way. I was determined to ride the whole thing around and then get off at various stops on the second trip, but I couldn’t wait. There was a whole lot of very cool things to see, and having limited time today, I picked two that were must-sees.

First off, I took the tour of Kilmainham Gaol. It was everything I could have hoped. Shane, our guide, was extremely knowledgable about the Gaol’s history, and had a number of stories about the prisoners – famous and not – who had spent time in Kilmainham. I’d seen pictures of the Gaol, but they don’t convey the tiny, cramped cells, the narrow corridors, low doorways, and general oppression of the place.


The great hall of the Gaol has featured in a number of movies, but again, seeing it on the screen doesn’t really prepare you for what it’s like to actually be there. It’s constructed in the panopticon plan, so that guards can see every prisoner at all times – there’s no place to hide. Even the little arches along the top had walkways for the guards.


The tour finished up in the yard where the leaders of the 1916 uprising were executed. This is the cross that marks where James Connolly, wounded in the uprising and unable to stand, was tied to a chair for the firing squad. The large wooden gate is where he was brought in from the Royal Hospital in ambulance for his execution.


Back on the bus1, I got off next at Trinity College. It was Freshers Week, so the place was full of students, but there were tours running to view the campus, including the Book of Kells exhibit and the Long Room in the library. Now, they didn’t allow photographs in the latter two places, so I can’t show you anything about them. But they were very cool.

I was able to take a couple of pictures on campus of some interesting things, including the campanile in the main yard, and the nearby statue of Provost Salmon, who famously said that women would be admitted to Trinity over his dead body, then was forced to sign a statute allowing them in. When he did so, he said that he had signed with his hand, but not with his heart. A short time later he died of a heart attack. The story goes that he was buried at the entrance used by the women students, forcing them to step over his body2.

I also took a walk through St. Stephen’s Green, looking for the statue of the Fates. I found it, and also a swan.


I made a quick stop at Grafton Street to get my iPhone and iPad set up on the 3 network3, then tried to figure out how to get back to my hotel. I finally took a cab, because I was running out of time – I had to get to the hotel, grab my confirmation for the Musical Pub Crawl, and get back to Oliver St. John Grogarty’s for 7:00.

I want to note at this point how helpful the staff here at Ariel House are. They are amazing. Not only are they friendly and willing to answer questions and ready to make suggestions about places to go and things to see, but they know how to get everywhere. They’ve been absolutely great. I just need to learn to ask about how to get back.

Also, the breakfast here is wonderful.

Anyway, I made it to the pub in time, and the evening was incredible. Our two guides, Mark and Ray, played guitar and button accordion respectively, and Mark also sang. He even pulled out a bodhran at one point. The whole group was friendly, and we made our way from Oliver St. John Grogarty’s through Temple Bar to the Ha’Penny Bridge Inn, and after that crossed over the Ha’Penny Bridge itself and down O’Connell street to Brannigan’s By The Spire.

At each stop, there was much singing and playing and telling of stories and explaining the history and culture behind traditional Irish music. It was great fun. I even sang a song4 when they asked the audience to sing something from their home countries5. Here are some pictures:

Then it was back to Ariel House, and this post, and now to bed, for I am sleepy. Another big day tomorrow, and another post tomorrow night.

Oh, one more picture for you. This is the spire on O’Connell Street as we walked past it tonight.


  1. Before I got back on the bus, I grabbed a bite to eat at the Kilmainham Gaol Tea Shop. It was a flapjack, which is not the same thing in Ireland as it is in Canada. It’s like a baked granola bar slice. And that was lunch. []
  2. This story is completely false, but fun. Well, I mean, he did say those things and then he died, but he’s buried in a family crypt. []
  3. Also to grab a quick burger at the Burger King there – I needed a quick, simple dinner. []
  4. Well, 60% of a song, anyway. It was hard enough making it through the first three verses of it. []
  5. It was The Idiot, by Stan Rogers, that I chose. []

First Impressions

There were a lot of low clouds today. This made me a little sad. I flew into London at night and, while that was kind of cool to see1, it didn’t give me much of an idea of the city. And flying out, everything was hidden by clouds, so I didn’t get to see much of London.

And there was so little time between when we dropped below the clouds and when we landed at Dublin, I saw very little. I did see some of the coast, and an island that looked like something out of a travel brochure, and maybe2 even some whales. Then we were down and the airport looked pretty much like all the other airports3.

The bus from the airport drove through the centre of the city to get me to my hotel. There was a football match today – Dublin v. Kerry, I believe – and there were a large number of people out in team colours, and a few streets closed, and so on. It felt like home during a sports event.

And then the bus driver called the O’Connell Street stop, and I looked around. Before I realized it, we were driving past the GPO, then over the Liffey, and past Trinity College, and it all started to feel real.

I actually made it here.

It’s a beautiful city, with an amazing mix of buildings. There is a lot of greenery – trees, hedges, etc. There are some strange things, though: it’s tough to find a street sign, it took me a little while to figure out the crosswalks, cars traveling in both directions parallel park on the same side of the street, stuff like that.

Ariel House, where I am staying, is wonderful. It is charming, with attentive staff, nice rooms, soft beds, and free wireless. The plumbing is a bit temperamental, and I don’t seem to be able to have my usual scalding, torrential showers, but that’s a small price to pay.

This evening, I went out to find a pharmacy to buy some toiletries – toothpaste, deodorant, stuff like that. The pace I went was closed, this being Sunday and all, but I walked across the street to Roly’s Bistro, which restaurant had been recommended to me by the concierge at Ariel House. It was a little fancier place than I had expected4, and the food wound up being a little more expensive than I had planned, but wow, was it amazing. A tremendous treat for my first night in Ireland.

I will post some pictures tomorrow, when I take the Dublin bus tour. See you then.

  1. Towns, villages, and cities lit up, looking like the the lakes you see flying over Northern Ontario, but with light instead of water. []
  2. Only maybe, because I only saw them for a second, and I was sitting over a wing which narrowed my view, and because I was so very, very tired. []
  3. Much smaller than Heathrow, of course, []
  4. Said expectation based on nothing at all. []

Beyond Toronto

The flight from Toronto to London was kind of surreal. I sort-of dozed through the flight, but I didn’t really seem to sleep. Uncomfortable seat, the obligatory crying baby1, and the fact that every half-hour or so the plane would run into some turbulence or the flight attendants would ask if I wanted anything or something. I must have got a little sleep, because I jerked awake when the cabin lights went on about an hour and a half before we landed so that we could be served our light continental breakfast2. Still, I made it.

Heathrow is huge.

Heathrow is bigger than the town I grew up in, both in area covered and population.

Heathrow scares me3.

I had been bemoaning the fact that I was going to be stuck at Heathrow for six hours before my fight to Dublin. Ask my friends; they’ll tell you how much I’ve been complaining. I was so certain that six hours would be enough for me to find my gate once I got there.

The place is a maze, but a well-run maze. Staff all along my migration route were quick to point me in the right direction in a friendly, helpful manner4. They made sure I got on the right bus to take me to the right terminal, and then through the right customs line, and then to the mall where I spent the rest of the time waiting for them to announce which gate I had to meet the plane at. I wound up spending about three hours in that mall area – much less than I had guessed.

Still, it was plenty of time for me to finish the book I was reading – The Magicians, by Lev Grossman5 – which was very good. I started my next book – Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey, by Chuck Wendig – on Kindle on my iPhone. His psychotic profanity and good writing advice have helped to keep me awake.

Eventually, they announced my gate, and I found it, and got on the plane, and then spent the fifty minutes or so it took for the flight trying not to nod off.

And so I am arrived in Dublin, tired and smelly, wearing the same clothes I put on twenty-seven hours previous. Shower time, then go find some food, then I will write a quick post about my first impressions of Dublin.

I’ve got a couple of pictures I want to add to this post and the previous one, but something’s not quite working with that, and I’m hungry. So, I’ll work on that later.


I’ve added the picture below, mainly for Michael. I had flashbacks, dude! I wanted to go in, straighten shelves, and count paperbacks!

  1. While it is regrettable that there was a baby crying, I can’t get too upset about it. I mean, it’s far worse for the parents, who have to deal with it. []
  2. I didn’t eat the muffin they offered, despite the fact that the dinner had actually been pretty good. My stomach knew that this was not breakfast time, and that the offer of a muffin must therefor be a filthy lie. []
  3. Okay, maybe not scares me, but it is pretty damned intimidating. []
  4. One even called me darling. []
  5. I really wanted to finish it, but I made a mistake bringing the trade paperback on this trip. Now I have to lug it around. []

On The Road

So, I’m here in the airport in Toronto. I’ve got a couple of hours to kill before my flight to London. The walk from where I arrived to my departure gate ate some time1, and was a good test for carrying my luggage. It worked great, but I think I’ll use the backpack straps when I get to Heathrow.

Grabbed a bite of lunch – got to try a Cuban sandwich, which I quite enjoyed – and had a bit of a look at the sculptures around the gate area. Maybe I’ll take some pictures of a couple in a little bit.

But for right now, I’m at a pretty interesting part in the book I’m reading: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. Highly recommended.

More later, but probably not on this side of the Atlantic.


Added the picture of the sculpture below. Well, half the sculpture. It was mirrored on the other side, but people kept walking through the middle so I gave up on trying to get a shot of the whole thing.

  1. Though the express moving walkway was both scary and fun! []

Almost Time!

Two days to my flight to Ireland. I’ve been spending the last week or so making sure I’ve got all my ducks in a row for the trip. I’ve got my euros and pounds, I’ve got my health insurance, I’ve got my reservations and bookings and tickets. I’ve got my bags mostly packed, and am going to finish making sure I’ve got the stuff I want loaded onto my laptop, iPad, and iPhone tonight. This morning, I phoned Ariel House to confirm my reservation in Dublin1. I’ve even checked bus schedules to see about travel between the various cities and made note of the times available on the days I need.

I was worried that some of my checking might just be a little obsessive, but the other day I realized that I had booked a stay for three nights in Glasgow instead of Galway2. Now, I’m sure Glasgow is very nice, and it’s certainly cheaper than Galway3, but as it’s in Scotland, it’s not very convenient for my needs. So, I caught that and fixed it, and am much relieved.

Nearly there. I’m very excited. Tomorrow – my last day of work before the trip – is going to be a very long day.

  1. Interestingly, they couldn’t find me listed. After a moment of panic, we discovered they were looking under the wrong date. Much relieved. []
  2. The two cities are next to each other in the menu on the Jury’s Inn site. I mistakenly picked the wrong one. []
  3. At least, the Jury’s Inn in Glasgow is cheaper than the Jury’s Inn in Galway. []


Warning: The following post is kind of long, and chronicles my quest to find the perfect luggage for my trip. If you’re not into luggage, you may want to skip it. I’ve been told I’m a little… obsessive on the subject.

I’ve got a bit of a thing for bags. I like backpacks, messenger bags, luggage, totes, all that sort of thing. I wind up carrying around a lot of stuff from place to place, and that has made me very aware of what makes a good bag. A lot of it comes down to function and purpose: some bags work better for some things than others do. I own a number of different bags that I use for different things. I’ve got bags for my laptop, and for my clothing when I go on trips, and for hauling around my game books, and for carrying my gym shoes and water bottle, and so on.

So, I’ve been putting some thought into the luggage and packing for my trip to Ireland. My initial plan was to bring a moderately large upright rolling suitcase that I would check on the flight, and a smaller messenger bag/laptop bag for carry-on. However, after looking how my trip plan was shaping up, I decided that wouldn’t be the best way to do things.

The problem I saw was that I was going to be doing a lot of traveling by bus around the countryside, and relying on public transport in the cities. That meant that I’d be hauling my big suitcase with me on these things. Now, anyone who has used a rolling suitcase knows that the wheels work moderately well on smooth, flat surfaces – like airport floors – but are pretty much crap on anything rougher. And, seeing as I was going to be doing things like getting off the bus at Cashel for a couple of hours to see the Rock of Cashel, it looked like I was going to be dealing with a number of rougher surfaces.

I started rethinking what I was going to do for luggage. And what I was going to pack – if I was going to be hauling my stuff from place to place on buses and taxis, I needed to cut down on the amount of stuff I was planning on bringing. Research time!

One Bag proved to be very useful in clarifying my thinking and getting me started on planning what I would need, and what I would carry it in. While I am less focused on the minimalist approach the site advocates1, it did give me a good starting point to make my own decisions.

After doing a fair bit of looking around and reading reviews, I decided that I would base my luggage on what I could carry on the plane. This meant one carry-on bag, plus one “personal article” – in this case, my laptop bag. I would pack a week’s worth of clothes, and make use of laundromats in Ireland periodically2, cutting down the number of clothing articles I would need to bring.

I want a third bag with me, as well – a small messenger-style bag that I can carry around with me as I go sight-seeing, one smaller than my laptop bag. I plan on packing this flat into one of the other bags for the plane ride, though.

Carry-On Bag

I did a fair bit of poking about to find a good carry-on bag. I need it to be big enough to hold a week’s worth of clothes: a couple pairs of jeans, four or five t-shirts, two or three sweatshirts, a sweater, socks, underwear, and my good hiking shoes3. Weather in Ireland in the fall is generally fairly warm, but with frequent rain, and the possibility of cool days and strong winds. Also, night is not so warm, so I want to be able to layer my clothing, hence the large number of shirts, etc.

While these would have still left space in the suitcase I had originally intended to bring, it was more stuff than I could fit into any of my current carry-on size bags. I needed something bigger, so I went looking. While I was shopping anyway, I decided that I wanted a bag that had multiple carry options, including backpack straps.

My top couple of choices were the Sky Train from Red Oxx and the Aeronaut from Tom Bihn. Both had great reviews and included all the things I was looking for. In the end, I went with the Aeronaut for a few reasons: it was a little bigger, it was a little cheaper, I liked the colour4, and I had already had a really good experience dealing with Tom Bihn previously, when I got my laptop bag. I included the Absolute Shoulder Strap5, and packing cubes designed to be used in the bag.

On my GenCon trip this summer, I got a chance to try the bag out, and it was pretty much perfect. I had to pack a few more things for the trip than I plan to bring to Ireland6, but I didn’t bring my hiking shoes. All in all, it should work out just perfectly.

Laptop Bag

I had been sold months before on the Id from Tom Bihn, and I love the bag. With the addition of a Brain Cell, Snake Charmer,  and Absolute Shoulder Strap, it is a great case for carrying around my laptop, iPad, and a few other things. I brought it down on the GenCon trip, as well, trying it out in concert with the Aeronaut, and it worked wonderfully.

However, with all the stuff in it, it bulges7 and is not quite as manageable as I want it to be – not for a long trip like this. When I’m carrying less crap, it’s pretty much perfect, but it’s not quite big enough for the stuff I want with me on this trip.

I looked at a few other laptop bags, but none of them were really in the running once I started looking at the Empire Builder from Tom Bihn8 – it’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for, and will come in handy on other occasions, as well9. It holds my Brain Cell and laptop, along with the Snake Charmer and a bunch more crap, in a nicely-organized, easy-to-access manner. The design on the bag is tremendously smart, with nice little features and extras that I keep discovering.

My one complaint was the colour choice. I wanted the Black/Cardinal/Steel colour combination, but the Cardinal isn’t going to be ready in time, so I went with the Black/Steel/Steel10. That said, it’s a small complaint, and the bag is very impressive.

Shoulder Bag

I had the perfect bag for carrying around during the day: the Paladin Mission Go Bag. It’s a deceptively simple design that seems a little awkward and inefficient to pack, at first, but once you get the hang of using its features, it reveals itself as brilliantly designed and able to hold a whole lot of stuff. I actually have two of them – the Coyote and the Black – as well as the Paladin Mission Pack that is designed to be used with the Go Bag. And I love them dearly.

But then a couple of people – one of them Irish, and one who travels to Northern Ireland on business frequently – gently suggested that carrying a bag with such a military design might not be the best idea, especially considering the violence this summer. Neither they nor I think it likely that the bag would draw any sort of negative attention, but perhaps best not to take any chances. From all I’ve heard and read, Irish folk in both the Republic and Northern Ireland are friendly and welcoming, but I’d hate to have my holiday spoiled because of what bag I decided to carry. That would be dumb.

So, I decided to go with another bag, even simpler in design, but able to hold a great deal of stuff without being stupidly large. It was my second-choice small shoulder bag: the Red Oxx Gator Carry-On Bag. I already owned it, and it folds up nice and small to pack into one of the other bags for transit, and then unfold for my day trips out sightseeing.

Last-Minute Addition

That was it for luggage until this morning, when my friend11 Chris sent me a link to the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack. For thirty bucks, it struck me as a remarkably convenient thing to have on hand, in case I needed an extra bag for souvenirs, hauling my laundry to the laundromat, or stuff like that. So, I ordered one, and will be bringing that along with me, as well.


So, I’ve got my luggage picked, and my packing list done, and everything looks ready to go. I leave in a little under three weeks, and am pretty much all set.

  1. I also don’t care as much about wrinkles as the site seems to. []
  2. According to all the travel books I’ve been reading, these laundromats aren’t hard to find, and many of them offer a wash and fold service, so I can drop off the clothes in the morning, go see the sights, and pick them up in the afternoon. []
  3. These are what I will be wearing most days on the trip, but I will be wearing my lighter, easier-to-remove-and-put-on shoes for the plane flight, both because of comfort and because of convenience getting through security. []
  4. The one I got is red, but not the Cardinal red that is on the site. I like the Cardinal better, but it wasn’t made available until after I had bought my bag. Oh, well. []
  5. Which is awesome! []
  6. Yes, even though the GenCon trip was two weeks shorter, I brought more stuff. No laundry and plenty of sweating during an Indianapolis summer, not to mention toiletries. I’m not bringing toiletries to Ireland, because the regulations for transporting such things mean I wouldn’t be able to bring enough to last the three weeks, anyway, so I might as well just buy them there. []
  7. Maybe it’s just me, but I find a larger bag that does not bulge is far easier to manage than a smaller bag that does bulge. []
  8. This is starting to read like a love letter to Tom Bihn. What can I say? So far, they’ve impressed the hell out of me, and I love their bags. []
  9. For example, it holds all the stuff I need to run my bi-weekly D&D game, replacing a much larger and more awkward backpack. []
  10. And kudos to Tom Bihn’s customer service for making it easy for me to change my order when the Cardinal was delayed an extra month. But I still would have preferred the Cardinal. []
  11. And enabler. []

My Planning Process

So, here’s how I went about putting together my itinerary for the trip.

First of all, I needed to decide what kind of trip I wanted, now that I had decided not to take a package tour. Many of the books I used for research recommended renting a car and driving around. I didn’t really want to do that for a few reasons1, so I went with the next recommendation in the books, which is to set yourself up in a couple home bases and take day trips out.

I then started making a list of must-see, nice-to-see, and okay-to-see spots, based on reading the books and surfing the Internet. This list quickly became less-than-useful, mainly because I did not have a good grasp of the geography of Ireland, and thus had trouble deciding which things were near which other things. I needed a map.

Map 2.JPG

So, I ordered a map. And then I got a big cork board to hang the map on. The only spot to hang the cork board was in the narrow hallway of my apartment, so that’s where it went, and then I started sticking pins in it. I used red pins for must-see places, and white pins for nice-to-see places, and then started looking at the groupings. It became apparent that I was going to want to spend several days in Dublin, and then head out to other cities for a couple of days in each.

One of the big things I wanted to see was Skellig Michael, so I immediately started tracking down how to do that. Some of this was hampered by the fact that the map I got didn’t have a scale on it, and my sense of the size of a country (living, as I do, in Canada) skewed my understanding of how travel times would factor into my trip. This showed up first in my attempts to schedule a visit to the Skelligs from Cork City2. An e-mail exchange with the Skellig Interpretive Centre set me straight on that, and I started getting an idea of timelines for where I would be when, using the Skelligs as a sort of anchor for the trip.

Cards 1.JPG

At that point, I decided I needed a bit more structure to what I was doing, and got a bunch of coloured index cards to start mapping day-by-day stuff – one card for each day of the trip. I decided to use a different colour of card for each city that I was using as a home base, and white cards for the travel to and from days. Then I started filling things in.

This part resulted in the bulk of the work in organizing my trip. I spent a lot of time reading my guidebooks and surfing the Internet to find out where and how to see the various things I wanted to see. The cards got scribbled on, rearranged, removed, added, torn up, shuffled, and otherwise moved all around. This is one of the advantages of index cards in a situation like this. It’s easier to move things around and change them than it would be in a notebook. It also let me see a nice visual representation of my trip.

I quickly came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be able to get everything in – I’d need months for that. Nailing down certain things – five days in Dublin at the start of the trip, two nights in Portmagee to see the Skelligs, one night in Bunratty to attend the medieval banquet my brother and sister-in-law bought me for Christmas – quickly showed the shape of the trip. Once I had the bases set, I started locking down the activities at each base, and booking accommodations and tours.

As things stand right now, I’ve got all my accommodations booked, and most of the tours booked and confirmed. It’s a little over a month and a half until the trip, and about all I’m waiting to hear back on is the Bogside Artists tour in Derry/Londonderry. I may wind up booking a couple more evening tours – there are ghost tours in Belfast and Galway that look interesting – but pretty much everything is set.

All that’s left is the waiting.

  1. The main ones being that automatic transmission cars are much more expensive to rent in Ireland, and I didn’t want to fuss with manual while trying to drive on the opposite side of the road from what I’m used to. []
  2. Yeah, yeah, you native Irish folks can laugh if you like. I got it sorted out. []


Okay. I’m a technical writer by profession. I often say that the primary skill involved in technical writing is the ability to become a short-term expert. You’ve got to learn enough of whatever it is you’re writing about to be able to write intelligently about it, and then you’ve got to move on to the next thing.

What does this have to do with my trip to Ireland? Well, when I decided not to take a package tour, I was left with the daunting prospect of putting together my own trip. Which meant I needed to become a short-term expert on Ireland. And that meant books.

I got a whole bunch of books to read through, and used them to decide what I wanted to see, where I wanted to stay, how I wanted to travel, and all the rest of it. Here are the books I picked up, and what I used them for.

Ireland for Dummies, 5th Edition

What can I say. I love the Dummies books. They are a beautiful example of technical writing, providing simple, clear information, and not assuming that you know anything about the subject. They’re not the be-all and end-all of research, but they’re a great place to start if you know very little about what you’re researching.

Ireland for Dummies is no different. It gave me a good foundation for more research, and provided the basic information that let me decide when I was going to take my trip, how I was going to get around, and all the rest. It was the starting point for doing the rest of my research, and probably the book I used most through the whole planning process. There’s a new edition out, now1, but I used the 5th.

Lonely Planet Ireland

Not as user-friendly as Ireland for Dummies, but with a lot more information crammed into it. This is where I went after Dummies, looking for more detail on an area, or more helpful travel tips. The focus is on more active, adventurous travelers than I, but it balances nicely with Dummies’s2 focus on more traditional tourists. I find I’m kind of splitting the difference.

Frommer’s Ireland Day by Day

The value of this book is all the colour maps, walking tour maps, bright pictures, and lists of favourite moments in the various locales. I found it not as useful as the other two books for information, but leafing through it kept me inspired and interested in the planning process. The easy, readable entries and the colour maps make it the book I’m planning on taking with me to Ireland.

Eyewitness Travel Ireland

This book came in handy for two reasons: first, it kept me inspired with all the pictures, and second, it let me take a look at the physical layout of places I wanted to visit. See, I’ve got arthritis, and it impairs my mobility sometimes. It was helpful for me to be able to assess how demanding seeing certain things – some of the castles, Skellig Michael, etc. – was going to be, so that I could schedule appropriately. It’s not that I can’t get around, but if it’s better for me to schedule seeing two difficult excursions on different days, to make sure I get to enjoy everything I want to see. So, yeah. This book was quite helpful.

Eyewitness Travel Dublin

I could say that I got this book for the same reason as Eyewitness Travel Ireland, but really, it was because I’m running a roleplaying campaign set in Dublin. The book’s great for that.

Michele Erdvig’s Ireland Dream Trip

This book is billed as being enormously useful, and I think it is, but only if you plan the kind of trip the book caters to. That trip is renting a car and staying in delightful little out-of-the-way B&Bs. The book focuses on villages, towns, and the outskirts of the big cities, which means it didn’t have much of real use for me. I don’t feel like I wasted my money, though; the book had a tip in it that may have saved my entire trip from crashing and burning. And the forum on Michele’s site is full of helpful advice and helpful people, willing to pitch in and offer advice on pretty much any Ireland travel question you may have.

And, of course, the Interwebs

Seems like pretty much any place I wanted to go in Ireland had their own website. Some were better than others, but they all provided the basics: when the site is open to the public, what the cost is, stuff like that. Also, the hotels and guesthouses have their own sites, and the various tour companies. The trick is knowing what to search for, which is where I needed the books to start.


So, that’s the reading I did to figure out how I wanted this trip to work. Next time, I’ll talk a little bit about my actual planning process.

It’s getting close, now!

  1. I’m not sure I want to look at it. Everything’s already booked, and I don’t want to find something that makes me want to change. []
  2. Okay, now that’s just a tough title to turn into a possessive. I stand by my decision, though. []