Since it's St. Patrick's Day, I thought it would be a good day to take a look back at a trip to Ireland I made with my folks several years ago (2003).
At the time, I had one of my first digital cameras, an Olympus D380. I thought this was a pretty awesome digital camera at the time: it took good pictures even in really low lighting conditions; it made zero noise; it fit easily in your pocket or purse. Unfortunately, one day it just quit working. It's sort of funny - I thought the camera was so awesome when I had it (and I still have it, although it's only useful as a paperweight), but I look back at the pictures I took with it, and, well - perhaps it is the original quality of the pictures. Perhaps the e-files are just degrading over time. Maybe I just shot the pictures at the lowest quality to fit as many as I could onto the camera's memory.
Let's just say they haven't all held up over time, but at least enough of them do that I can present this photo essay, and the pictures are enough to make me return to Ireland and 1. take along a much better camera; and 2. (more importantly) have a much more leisurely, non-rush-rush trip around the beautiful island that is Ireland.
Replica(?) of the harp of Brian Boru, the symbol of Guinness
If you're visiting Dublin, whether or not you actually enjoy beer, it is worth a visit to the Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate. The self-guided tour is pretty interesting, and at the end of it, you get to go up to their 7th-story bar (called the Sky Bar) for fantastic 360-degree views of Dublin, and belly up to the incredibly-crowded bar for a slow-pulled pint (included as part of the tour fee). My dad didn't drink and neither my mother or I find stout appealing (personally, I think it tastes like liquid peat), so we made some other tourists happy by giving them our drink tokens.
As a final souvenir, however, you get a little plastic paperweight with a splash worth of Guinness sealed inside, which I thought was kind of cool.
My biggest disappointment in Dublin was that I couldn't take pictures inside the Trinity Library (home to the famous Book of Kells). This is one of the most gorgeous, amazing libraries on the planet, and well, I'm a bibliophile.
Ah, well, that's what postcards are for.
The Roseville Inn near Waterford
From Dublin, we headed south towards Waterford, home of the famous crystal-making company. Unfortunately, this beautiful inn was all full up (and we were "winging it" around the country, with a guide to Irish B&Bs in hand) so we ended up further down the road at a place called the Bromley B&B.
The Waterford factory tour is also worth taking, although obviously if you find crystal interesting, you'll get a lot more out of it. It's fascinating stuff to watch the glassmakers at work, and they serve many years' apprenticeship before they're allowed to do the really cool glasswork.
We went out for a bite to eat in Waterford, and this was the sign on the pub we ended up choosing. It reads:
"This pub has been granted the JAMES JOYCE PUB AWARD for being an authentic Irish pub. 'A good puzzle would be to cross.... Ireland without passing a pub,' Ulysses. James Joyce identified and described the characteristic ambiance of the Irish pub so successfully that the characters in Ulysses may be fictional, but they are based on a multitude of living beings, characters who Joyce found in pubs just like this one. The establishment remains an outstanding example of tradition which Joyce immortalised in his works and is an authentic Irish pub which retains a genuineness of atmosphere, friendliness and presence of good company. Best drinks - Best bar."
Although I tried to keep an eye out for more of these signs as we made our loop tour around Ireland, I can say I don't recall seeing more of these signs in any of the pubs we happened to stop in, but I may simply have missed them.
From Waterford, it was on to Blarney Castle. Although the castle itself is in a state of semi-ruin, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland, and yes, we made the climb to the top, although I was the only one of us who paid to kiss the Stone of Eloquence, more commonly known as the Blarney Stone. Let me say that this is probably one of the scariest things I've ever done as a tourist, and not because of the... ahem, let's call it "heresay about local rumors".
No, no - in order to lay a smooch on the stone, you lay on your back and grasp onto two thin rails fastened to the crumbly castle wall. Then, because of somebody's quirky sense of humor about where this stone should be mounted, you hold onto those rails and lean way back over nothing, about five stories up. Ok - for safety's sake, there's a guy there to hold onto you, and you're not exactly over "nothing", there are three iron bars which will assumably keep you from falling down, but as you're attempting to do a backbend over a sizable opening in the castle wall, and reach the stone to smooch it, all the blood is rushing to your head, and you get an interesting view of the countryside below. I've done it once - I don't know if it made me any more eloquent or not - so it's not something I will repeat if I ever return to Blarney!
"To the Earl's bedroom" - and you complain about your house!
Glenbeigh on the Ring of Kerry
From Blarney, it was north to the Kerry peninsula (also known as the "Ring of Kerry"). Alas, we were plagued by rain much of the week, with the sun teasing us on occasion. You can bet that if our plans called for us to be indoors much of the day, it was a glorious sunny day, and if we were planning on seeing lots of stunning natural vistas, it was pouring buckets. Oh well. The country was still beautiful, even soaking wet, and everything was so brilliantly green.
We saw a lot of glorious sunsets in Ireland, however. It seemed like wherever we were in the country, at the end of the day, the sun would manage to break through the clouds and show off the glory of nature.
Typical Irish pub, Glenbeigh
In Glenbeigh, we found a local pub, and I had some of the best fish chowder I've ever eaten. It's funny - before I went to Ireland, a lot of people told me that Irish cuisine consisted of "meat and potatoes with all the flavor boiled out of them." They could not have been more wrong. (Well, there was one fish and chips place we stopped in Dublin that was awful beyond belief. But as it appeared to be some sort of chain/franchaise, I would not deem it "cuisine".)
So to clarify: modern Irish cooking = fantastic.
In some aspects, our trip around Ireland was very random. My father's goal for the trip was to see the whole island. He didn't have any particular sights in mind, however, so choosing what to see what left up to my mother and I. Armed with a couple maps from the tourist board, and an Eyewitness Travel Guide, we picked the obvious "big" sights and tried to pepper in as many other things as we could along the way.
In Adare, we found the Trinitarian Abbey church. Within the church is a sculpture, which contains a piece of rock identified as "a 5 million year old piece of marble from Jerusalem."
The Roadside Tavern, Lisdoovarna
In Ireland, they refer to fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation as "craic", although you will occasionally see it referred to as "crack". In light of other meanings of "crack", some signs for "craic" can be amusing to outsiders.
Cliffs of Moher
Along the southwest edge of the Burren and near the town of Doolin are the famous Cliffs of Moher. These striking shale and sandstone cliffs rise 400-700 feet above the surging waters of the ocean below, and film fans may recognize them as the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride, or as seen in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.