Tuesday, 12 June 2012

CONNECTICUT YANKEES ON THE SHAMROCK TRAIL

Somewhere off the West coast of Ireland
Sometimes we don't need to fill a minibus full of  budget travellers and  drive, guide and cater for them on a shoestring. Sometimes we can just take a couple of people in the back of  a car and chauffeur them around the exotic highways and byways of the British isles , with accommodation to suit and at the same time show them some places that they wouldn't normally find on a package tour.

On this occaision our guests were 2 Americans from the New England state of Connecticut and the glamorous destination was Ireland in June.

Which meant it mainly rained......

But not always. And in fact on some of the days it was quite sunny.

Referendum fever

Scene of the 1916 Rising,Dublin
Arriving at Dublin airport and spending a couple of nights in the capital it became apparent that we'd picked the week of the Irish Constitutional referendum. From every lampost and hoarding posters screamed at us saying 'Vote NO to Austerity' or 'Vote YES for Stability'..Sinn Fein Says NO, Labour says YES Fine Gael and Fianna Fail say YES and a various assortments of left parties also said NO....in the end a midly interested Irish population voted YES...but with barely over 50% of the vote.

So Dublin was a a vibrant stopover with plenty of action and a ska festival to boot. 'A very clean place' said Colleen. 'Hic' said Don as we visited the Guinness Storehouse where they must have got lost still not emerging 3 hours later....

We took in all the sites-O Connel street and the Post Office-scene of the 1916 Easter Rising, Dublin Castle, the Temple Bar and the rest.

Munster Mash

Leaving Dublin we headed south to Waterford where a small 6 car ferry was the only access to the island based Castle hotel, where the Vikings had first landed before deciding to found the actual city itself.
Fat man on the rocks

From Waterford we could head out on day trips. One day we went to the famous Rock of Cashel and another to a Lithium Mine. Not even the Irish knew they had lithium-but Don did as he had some investments there. And apart from the Lithium County Carlow is a pleasant place for a couple hours break, noticeably the small river crossing of Leighlinbridge with it's ancient stone bridge, collapsing castle and riverside walks.

Along the south coast via Dunvegan we had a lunch break at the Ballymaloe cookery school - very famous and then accidentally happened upon the small lifeboat station of Ballycotton (older readers will remember he had a bandshow back in the 60s) where we met the publican Gerry who dispelled the Americans views that Dublin was a quiet little backwater when he described it as something equivalent to Sodom and Gommorrah. Then a fisherman friend came in and they played dancing lobsters on the bar while conversing unintelligibly about mackerel.

Heading West

Gap of Dunloe in County Kerry
The city of Cork was a massive traffic jam. Just as well we were missing it out and heading for the more sedate Kinsale- site of the 1601 battle when the Irish crucially failed to kick out the English despite help from the Spanish due to their lack of stirrups. Thats a fact. The Ulster Earls had force marched down there across the whole country only to mess up at the last minute. And I write this mid way through the Euro 2012 football finals....

A day trip around county Cork took us to Clonakilty, home town of Michael Collins-rebel leader cum free state leader and hammer of the rebels. Assassinated in a valley not far away at the peak of his career during the Irish civil war. By now the rain had set in a bit..but luckily Don and Colleens main interest was meeting the local characters in the local pubs...no shortage there then.....

Macroom at the top
From Cork through Macroom , with it's castle on the town square, they reached county Kerry and spent a couple of nights on the Dingle peninsula . On the down side this area of major ancient stone forts and cricles does tend to be spoilt by a little man in a pay booth sat at the bottom of his field selling people entrance to a rain sodden hillside to see his particular pile of stones- but on the positive side, when the breaks in the rain do occur there's some spectacular cliffscapes and islands to have a look at. And of course you;re in the heart of the Gaeltacht where the Irish language is spoken by a large number of the residents.

Over on Tralee Bay the visitors chose to stay at Ballyseede castle- a lovely spot-despite being right next to the 1923 Ballyseedy massacre monument when 8 IRA men were tied to a landmine by Free State soldiers and executed. Unluckily for the perpetrators one man escaped as he was blown into the nearby ditch and was able to get away and tell the tale. Well, it's the case that there's no shortage of massacres,battles and gory incidents all around Ireland interspersed with the charming touristy stuff so you're never far away from either!

The only way to travel!

'How ya doing!'
So we decided to visit Killarney. A tourists picture book introduction to the iconic Ireland of  loveliness. And on such a day the sun decided to come back out. So Don and Colleen took a pony and trap through the Gap of Dunloe and up towards McGillicuddies Reeks (a range of hills within the famous Ring of Kerry) starting and finishing at Kate Kearney's cottage and then off around the Ring to Muckross House-where Queen Victoria had dropped in for a visit in 1861 and near where her ladies in waiting had observed the 'finest view in all her kingdom'...now known as 'ladies view' (and just around the corner from Leprechauns Leap...now with added Wifi...).

Heading on across the dolphin infested mouth of the Shannon River into County Clare the rain came down again....bringing to mind numerous episodes of Father Ted (which was filmed here). The cliffs of Moher couldn't even be seen, never mind accessed, so we went to the musical village of Lisdoonvarna (for reference google the Christy Moore song) instead.
Off the Doolin shore

Ridiculously sunny

The next day was a ridiculously sunny day - confusing everyone. So off they went out to sea on a little boat trip not only taking in spectacular views of the cliffs of Moher from the sea but also including a brief jaunt around the nearby Arran islands (see opening shots of Father Ted).

The small village of Doolin is a must for visitors to Clare with some excelent coastal scenery, all the boat trips you'll need and some great bars and music outlets.

The final day saw a visit to Galway -just across the Connaught border-but sadly in the rain. And by now the rain was quite intense and causing some flooding...so just about time to go....and leaving from Shannon airport would you guess-the sun came out....

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