Thursday, March 21, 2013

Slán, Éire

Monday, March 18, 2013

Our 6th and Final Day in Ireland

Those final hours, we knew we didn't want to venture too terribly far from our homebase in Mountshannon. So, DH routed an easy toddle to a few castles in Co. Clare, the first being:

Built in the mid- to late 1400's by Sean Mac Conmara, Knappogue Castle has been occupied by all manner of classes from clan leaders to misters to councilmen, and even several earls, one of whom led the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Unfortunately, it was confiscated in the mid-17th century by none other than that manky, stuck up Englishman Cromwell. (By the end of this trip, Ollie was really beginning to get on my last nerve!) Good news? The beautiful castle finally landed into the good hands of Mark Edwin Andrews and his American architect wife. Together, they restored the edifice and its 1248 acre grounds (whoa!) to their current glory. It is now owned by the Irish government.


Just a few kilometers down the rocky road (hey, Dublin's not the only one who has 'em!) and we found the eye-pleasing ruins of Quin Abbey.

If you already guessed this was another friary, you're absolutely right. Constructed within a 30 year span in the early 15th century, this enormous monastery has been used as a place of worship, as well as a small university and graveyard. Naturally, old meanie Ollie delved his hand here, too. In 1650, he invaded, murdered every last monk, and ultimately destroyed the abbey. Though it was restored for the umpteenth time, the last friar, John Hogan, who stayed on until his death in 1820, neglected the abbey and its standing buildings finally came to ruin.

The graveyard is still in use today, and I hear that the floodlighting provides for a stunning night view.

After a cappucino, hot chocolate, and a milk latte (Jake's hooked on these now... sigh...) in the local Quin Pub, we hit the road for Bunratty Castle. We didn't actually visit inside (admission was €15 per person, and by then we'd seen plenty of castles), but luckily found most of our souveniers in the neighboring giftshops.

Banaffi Pie at a local Irish eatery.
This was the bomb!
The day ended with a hot meal (fish & chips + bacon & cabbage--and their "bacon" is like cuts of ham... deeeeelish!), all of which included potatoes (because this is a staple in Ireland; they don't even say that a meal comes with potatoes; it's simply a given), and we returned to the cottage. Packed. Went to bed. Got up early. Realized 30 minutes down the road that I forgot my wedding ring. Panicked. Turned around. Retrieved the ring (thank the Lord). Made it to the aiport in time for our flight and the anticipation of traveling all... day... long.

All in all, it was a good last day & Traveling Tuesday. But I miss the hills, the people, the air that speaks of simple living, good company, and a place to rest your head at day's end. And so... Slán, Éire (Goodbye, Ireland). Thank you for your hospitality and giving us the trip we dreamed of. Really, it's not goodbye, but until we meet again.

Because I know we will.

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,
P.S. On our way into the village that evening, we witnessed the most brilliant rainbow, one that completely arched from one side of the hills to the other. In all my life, I've never seen the complete, half circle curve of a rainbow.  Talk about feeling as if we had the true blessing of the Emerald Isle.  That's the pic at the very top of this entry. Slán agus beannacht leat!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Limerick, Miss Austen (and Castles, too!)

Saturday, March 16th & Sunday, March 17th

Days 4 & 5 in Ireland

I combined these two for a very valid reason, the main one being that Saturday was supposed to be our "Castle Day." Because, really... don't you, like, have to have a Castle Day whilst trekking through the Emerald Isle?  The morning began fantastic. We rose early, fed the wee one, and headed out to Co. Galway and Portumna Castle. Now, Portumna is closed until April, and we knew this, but for the sole sake of pictures AND since DH has grown accustomed to scaling castle walls...

The drive leading up to this place reminds me of something out of The Duchess (Kiera Knightley & Dominic Cooper). Gorgeous stretch of green, well-groomed lawn. Can't you just imagine a game of cricket or rounders out there? In full 19th century garb, of course. Whilst the Prince Regent looks on, respectively, because of course he would have paid you a visit if this was your ancestral home.

Lord knows I would have.

All right, now, since we could only see the front and DH imagines himself an elite photographer (he really is quite good, actually), we felt it necessary to try and see the side and rear of the place (that's the picture you see above). Bear in mind that high hedges surround the place, not to mention people's residential homes. Can you imagine living directly next to a castle?! Anyway. Through the process, we discovered this.

Portumna Friary from the 15th century. I know, right? AND we actually got to walk through, around, in, and out this one. Woot! But wait a minute... how come the camera's not working anymore?

Uh huh. Roll in the panic of having a dead camera battery and having forgotten to bring the charger.


But it really turned out to be OK.

One, we took a wrong turn--no, really... it gets better--and found this:


Ballaghmore Castle in Co. Laois. Partially destroyed by Cromwell's forces in 1647 (that great English oaf!), this beauty was restored in the mid-19th century by a man who found gold on the land. But he was shot by an angry tenant. Yeah. So the castle sort of sat in wait for a long, loooong time until a descendant of its original owner purchased it in 1990 and restored it to what we see now. Grace was lovely, and FULL of historical knowledge. My research glands salivated as though she dangled a piece of Cadbury chocolate before my eyes.

Truly, I can't imagine a better way to venture off the paved road.

Though we went from store to store in town centre to town centre searching for this special Nikon battery, whilst simultaneously receiving the, "Um, uh... we don't carry big cameras like that. You might wanna try..." bit, we wound up in the big, shopper-friendly city of Limerick.  If you've seen Becoming Jane, you may remember these lines (the whole scene is great, but my point is made by 00:22):

So, Limerick! Beautiful city. A little bit tight like Galway, but it also has a lot more shopping centers, kind of like our malls. After hitting a couple of no-go's--I spotted another Boots!--DH finally saw a tiny store in the town centre who was a certified Nikon dealer. Hallelujah! But by the time we bought our bonnie new charger and returned to the road, we were ready for a meal, a warm peat fire, and bed.

And so our story continues on Sunday. Now, I really wanted to attend worship services. Especially since it was, you guessed it, St. Patrick's Day and we're in Ireland and I couldn't wait to sing Irish hymns with the locals. But the church in Galway was way further than I originally anticipated, not to mention our sense of direction has tended to lead us (as I said before) off the paved road. Choosing the safer route, we ate breakfast and headed back to Portumna. This time I made a video, which I tried to upload on YouTube, but the internet here is not at all akin to ours back home. As soon as I can, however, I'll get that posted for you guys.
This is just for you, Jenn-la Lynn.
Afterwards, we hit the road for Cashel, Co. Tipperary and the Rock of Cashel. Every town centre was bedecked to the nines with St. Patrick's Day festivities. Ribbons, flags, people garbed in head-to-toe green, some with crazy-dyed hair. For all you Americans who may have imagined St. Paddy's being a bigger day in America, well, you are sorely mistaken. It is HUGE here. And the Irish people couldn't be prouder. Especially for the foreigners visiting their land on the biggest holiday of the year (besides Easter).
As for the Rock of Cashel... here's a little history.  The Cashel of the Kings, St. Patrick's Rock or, as the Irish affectionately call it, Carraig Phadraig, is said to be the site of the King of Munster's conversion to Christianity by St. Patrick in the 5th century. The 400's, y'all. Wow! In 1101, the fortress was donated to the Church, and it is from that century and the next when most of the buildings we see today were constructed. The ancient Celtic symbols alone, carved into almost every pillar and wall, made the trip worthwhile.
Down the hill from the Rock, positioned in the midst of a great field, sat Hore Abbey. As is common with most of these monuments, most of the top was missing. But the structure and graveyard was breathtaking. I promise, when the misting rain began and the wind started howling, you could hear the spirits of old humming through the ancient stones.
On to our final destination (besides the cottage, because we do have to sleep!): Cahir Castle, Cahir, Co. Tipperary. This amazing landmark, featured in the film Excalibur, plops itself on the rushing waters of the Suir River. This was by far my favorite. For one, it's been restored beautifully by the government (which, I have learned, the castles privately owned by individuals do not care for in the least. Hey, the government has more money than they do! Not fair!) and so the great hall and most of the rooms have been set up much as they would've appeared in the 13th century. This place totally got my Muse goin' strong. She adored the ceilings, winding stone stairwells, the tiny gated cells, and the grand fireplaces. The courtyards, too. Many a heroine took a turn about those lush lawns during our hour-long visit.
Coolest thing? Cannonballs are still lodged in the stone, where the 6th Baron of Inchiquin laid seige in 1647. At the castle bookstore, I picked up two books on medieval history, a steamed milk for DS (he is getting SO spoiled!), and called it a day.
Pizza and chips completed our journey, and we went to bed at a relatively decent hour.
Next? More castles and who knows what else! Apologies if the post was too long, lovies. Have a beautiful day! :)
Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,

P.S. On Sunday, while driving down one of the 50 gazillion country roads, DH said to me, "Oh my gosh, honey! I'm doing 49 in a 50! I am out of CONTROL!"

Erin Go Bragh!


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Galway Gallivanting

Where we goin' today, Momma?

Friday, March 15, 2013
Day 3 in Ireland

Time for a big city. No, I'm not talking about Dublin, though I'd very much like to see the most famous attraction in Ireland. I'm talking about Galway. Yes! Pretty special place to my heart; my BFF who writes kick-butt YA paranormal/fantasy from her California home has an entire saga based on a royal family from this busy, yet beautiful place steeped in Irish history.

So, DH, DS, and I headed out for shopping and who-only-knew-what-else (stuff kind of happens that way here; we call it "turning off the paved road") and stumbled upon a gorgeous site outside of Kinvara, Co. Galway.

That's Dunguaire Castle, folks. Built around 1520 by the Hynes Clan, this tall fortress sits on a wide stretch of marshy bogland. As the story goes, the castle was first occupied by newlyweds--two tribes who made an alliance by joining a son and daughter. They were nice, too. Good to their tenants, generous beyond the norm, etc. Rumor has it that the Lord of Dunguaire Castle was, in fact, so generous that his kindness extended beyond the grave, and that 'til this day, if one stands at the gates and asks a question, he or she shall have an answer by sundown.

We didn't get to go inside (a lot of the castles here are seasonal), but I did take the tiny trail which led all the way around the perimeter, as well as enough pictures to fill a shoebox. During the summer months, performers put on medieval style shows while you eat an authentic 8-course medieval meal. Kind of sounds like Medieval Times but, like, way cooler because hello! You're in a REAL 16th century castle!

Afterwards, on to Galway we traveled, where everything was way busier than I expected. We parked in a garage, then loaded DS in his stroller and headed onto the people-packed streets. It was cold, windy. But the stuffed pork, potatoes, roast beef and, yes, the Guinness at The Skeff, one of many local pubs, was outstanding, and the smiling faces a welcome sight. They even filled DS's bottle with steamed milk for free. Bonus! Making our way through the crush was... interesting. I mean, neither of us are accustomed to that many people in one place. Not all the time, anyway. Lots of tourists wended their way through the park, rolling suitcases in hot pursuit. Others carried armloads of shopping bags from unique shops we've never seen in the States.

Me? I found the one shop the Pixiwoo sisters and Tanya Burr (my fave makeup gurus on YouTube) consistently refer to for their products--especially the drugstore ones.

Talk about squealing, jumping up and down stoked. Girls, this is sorta kinda like our Ulta, but with a pharmacy and most of the department store lines, as well (Clinique, Lauder, etc.). I picked up two foundations, a concealer, and a body lotion, none of which we have back home, all of which come highly recommended by the Pixiwoos and Tanya.

My day thus made, thanks be to the goddess of makeup and hair, we scrambled to our little VW Passat rental and set to hightail it back to Mountshannon. And proceeded to come across this:

Aughnanure Castle in Killarone, Co. Galway. Constructed by the O'Flaherty's in the 16th century, this gorgeous structure sits close to the still waters of Lough Corrib. In Gaelic, Aughnanure translates to "field of the yews" and is one of 200 tower homes constructed by Gaelic and Anglo-Norman landowners. But the really, really good part? My husband, who will go to the ends of the earth, bless his pea-pickin' heart, to make sure I have whatever my little heart desires, climbed over rails, turrets, and curtained walls to acquire some of the most gorgeous pictures.

Oh. Did I forget to mention the castle was closed?

Soon after, another chick's hubby followed suit, and we all had a good laugh over the total law-breaking-ness of it all. Thank goodness I've seen plenty of signs for solicitors (laywers).

Tomorrow? It's official castle day. So, put on your wellies and a warm coat (it's cold between those stone walls!), and get ready! Until then...

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,

Friday, March 15, 2013

Windy Cliffs & Expensive Shopping Carts

Sunrise Over Lough Derg

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Day 2 Continued...

Know that feeling when you think you know something, you've done the research, looked at history, blogs, forums, maps, etc., all to discover that you were, like, wrong on so many levels it's not even funny? Or maybe you weren't too far off course--this is my situation--but enough off the paved road that you think to yourself, "OK, I'm never trusting <insert elite research tool here> again"?  When I decided that our first official day in Ireland would be spent doing the tourist thing and witnessing, with our own eyes, the famous Cliffs of Moher, I imagined trotting off afterwards to a nice little day in Galway. I mean, they're not that far apart, right?

Well. Actually, they're not.

Stone Walls Everywhere

Here's the thing. When one ventures to see the Cliffs, that's pretty much your outing for that day. Why? The journey to them is tedious. At least for us wee Americans it is. Traveling through Ireland reminds me a lot of traveling through South Mississippi. And I don't mean Hattiesburg, folks... I mean, SOUTH Mississippi on Highway 90, where if you mean to stay on one road and get from Ocean Springs to Bay St. Louis, you'll go through 4, maybe 5 little towns before reaching your destination. Only difference here is that the narrow roads wind in and out steep hills, not only slowing your journey but making matters a great deal harder than driving on straight, smooth highway.

All right, so it was kind of funny actually when we finally--finally, finally, finally--reached the signs that said Cliffs of Moher This Way! because we were behind three other rent-a-cars all headed in that same direction. When we could at last see the Atlantic, and I'm certain we were all thinking, "Yay! Hallelujah! You have the camera ready, right? Right??" we came upon an arrowed sign pointing to the right, and so naturally we all eagerly took it.

To a dead end.

No, we didn't end up in a graveyard, but isn't this cool?

Hilarious as all get-out watching four vehicles attempting to turn around in an area the size of someone's driveway. I'm thinking some Irishman did this sign thing to get a hearty chuckle out of tourists scrambling to see what the Irish regard as, *yawn* "Yeah, yeah, so you're goin' to the cliffs are ya? Have fun with that."

Thank goodness DS was pretty much asleep through this whole thing.

A sigh of relief and 12 euro later and we were actually walking about the steep, steeeeeep incline to the cliffs. As I sit here typing this, I remember cheerfully thinking that it wasn't as cold as I imagined it would be. Sure, it was a little windy. Crisp. Oceany. You know what I mean. It's the Atlantic, right? We expect it to be cold. More walking, more thinking, "Holy cow, I have GOT to start working out. My calves are on fire!" and we reach the top of the right hill where one of the stone towers shoots up from the hill like a mighty bastion overlooking miles upon miles of blue, blue sea.

And now it's cold. Steal your breath windy. Raining. Snowing. Sleeting. Geezum petes, how long were we climbing that hill??

But it was all worth it.

Because, folks, lemme tell ya... when your eyes behold one of God's magnificent natural wonders, if you can look upon it without feeling the hot press of tears behind those same eyes, well, you're a stronger individual than this sentimental fool. As I stared at these wondrous rocks rising from a bed of crashing whitecaps, doubtless rivulets of mascara-laced tears rolling down wind-chapped cheeks, my heart sang one of my most favorite Irish hymns:

Walking all the day
Near tall towers where falcons build their nests
Silver wings they fly,
They know the call for freedom in their breasts,
Saw Black Head against the sky
Where twisted rocks they run down to the sea
Living on your western shore,
Saw summer sun sets, I asked for more,
I stood by your Atlantic Sea,
And I sang a song for Ireland

If you haven't yet heard this by Mary Black or the Dubliners, do yourself a favor and add it to your playlist.

This is all great, Mommy, but when can we eat?

Tower Overlooking the Atlantic

If not for my sweet little one's nose running like a faucet, I might've stayed in that same spot for hours, dreaming up my next book (I've already decided the hero in this one is an Irishman) and listening to the little old man at the bottom of the hill playing penny whistle. And so we picked up a few gifts for family and friends and journeyed to the nearby town of Doolin for food--cottage pie... deeeeelish--and a little more sightseeing before stopping at a local supermarket, where you have to RENT shopping carts! Ha! And finally heading back to our warm Mountshannon cottage.

Ennis Town Centre

Before eating and settling in for the evening, DH spoke with the owner about land and house rates.

DH & DS having a laugh at a local graveyard.
Is that weird?

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,


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