Last Night in Ireland

Back in Dublin for my last night in Ireland. I was sorry to leave the Old Rectory – in fact, I spent so long talking1 to Mary and her daughter, I thought for a second I was going to miss my bus to Dublin. I could easily have spent another week there.

Back in Dublin, I checked into the hotel near the airport, and then took the bus into the city centre to do some last-minute gift-buying. When I got off the bus on O’Connell Street, it felt oddly like coming home. I really love this city.

I could live here.

Of course, as I walked down to Grafton Street, the sky was more clear and blue than I think I’ve seen it on this trip. And I hadn’t brought my camera. Oh, well.

The trip has been a lot of fun. I’ve very tired, with a bit of a cold, and am ready to go home. But I’m also really sorry to leave Ireland. This is an amazing place – both countries. I’ve met so many nice people, and seen so many awesome places – even with the few things I missed doing2, this trip has been everything I might have hoped.

So, farewell, Ireland. Thanks for everything. I’ll miss you.

I’ll see you again.

  1. The standard long Canadian goodbye. []
  2. Most notably, seeing the Rock of Cashel and Skellig Michael. []

The Hill of Tara and Newgrange

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.

The statue of St. Patrick by the path leading up to the Hill of Tara.
The gate to the churchyard, through which you need to pass to get to the hill, is locked. You have to squeeze through a little notch at the top of some stairs in the churchyard wall.

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.

The churchyard at Tara. You can see the Mound of the Hostages rising in the background.
These are the sorts of trenches Mary warned us about. You can’t tell very well from the picture, but they are at least six feet deep, and some are easily fifteen feet deep, with steep, slick, grassy sides.
Some perspective: this is the view of the top of the Hill of Tara from the foot of the hill. Note the two rings of trenches. Yeah, I totally ignored Mary’s advice about them.
On top of the Hill of Tara. The stone to the right is the Lia Fail, the Stone of Kings. The stone to the left marks the grave of 400 Irishmen killed here in the 1798 rebellion.

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.

This is a smaller, less-elaborate version of what’s coming at Newgrange. It was closed to the public, so we could only look at it from outside. Looked like a tight crawl, anyway.

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.

A look up at Newgrange from the area where you wait for your guide. See the nice blue sky? It’s a filthy liar. Rain is falling.
For purposes of preserving the site, visitors to Newgrange are limited. Here’s the whole crowd from our tour waiting for our guide to take us up. The tractor is just cutting the grass.
An unexcavated (and smaller) passage tomb in a nearby field.
One of the megaliths that surround Newgrange and dot the hills all throughout the area.
The entry stone at Newgrange. Archaeologists think the original builders had those who wished to enter the tomb climb over the stone, letting it represent the barrier between life and death, between the physical and the spirit world.
Fortunately, in modern times, we get to climb over on a stairway. Note the opening above the main opening – that’s for the sun’s light at Winter Solstice.

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.

See? Once we were done with being outside, it decided to play nice.

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.

  1. Yes, in the category. You know I can hear it when you start thinking sarcastic thoughts, right? []
  2. In fact, someone had recently taken a fall out there and broken a leg. []
  3. I did not fall. I scoffed at safety advice and there were no consequences. []
  4. And incidentally got to hear the pedigree of the current owner. []
  5. The group had forty people, and they took us in two shifts. []

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. []