Finally…. I visited Ireland. Just a hop across the Irish Sea but I’ve never been before. Dave away on a work trip, so I flew to Dublin, got the 30 minute shuttle bus from the airport to the city centre for 6 euros. All the way to Heuston Station, an easy 3 minute stroll from the Ashling Hotel. Overlooking the River Liffey and right next door to Collins Barracks and the National Museum, a perfect location away from the noise of Temple Bar and central Dublin. Dropped my bags and walked the river for 20 minutes to Trinity College to meet my friend’s son, Luca who studies there. A walk around the centre of Dublin with Luca pointing out the main sights and a visit to the stunning Long Room in Trinity College. 200,000 books and almost 65 metres in length, built between 1712 and 1732…the Long Room is lined with marble busts of philosophers, writers and men who supported the college.The ceiling was originally of plaster and flat, with bookshelves on the lower floor looking up to an open gallery. The library was given the right in 1801 to claim a copy of every book published both in the UK and Ireland, the increased volume of books meant the shelving space needed to be extended. In 1860 the current shape of the library was conceived when the roof was raised to give a second floor of bookshelves. It is known as a ‘copyright’ library; Irish publishers must give or deposit a copy of every book they publish with the same requirements extended to the UK. The most famous publications held here are the 4 volumes of the Book of Kells, two of which are on display to the public for an entrance fee…and a 1916 copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It’s also home to the Brian Boru Harp, a wire stung medieval instrument dating to the 14th or 15th century.The River Liffey runs through the centre of Dublin, like a watery artery spanned by bridges and quays on the north and south banks. Bachelor’s Walk is lined with old Dublin architecture, image below taken from the opposite side of Aston Quay. The most popular crossing point for tourists is the iron Ha’ppeny Bridge. Built in 1816 in Shropshire, England, it’s official name is the Liffey Bridge. On opening it charged a crossing toll of a ha’penny, a price set to match the ferry crossing fares it replaced.The Molly Malone statue is close to Ha’penny Bridge and Temple Bar. Apparently good luck according to some to rub her boobs…if their high shine is evidence there must be a lot of lucky people. Molly Malone is a famous Irish song also known as ‘Cockles and Mussels’ and tells the tale of a Dublin fishmonger who sold on the Dublin streets but died young of fever. Apparently it has become the official anthem of Dublin but there is no definitive proof, only speculation, that it’s based on a living character. I wandered the streets and alleyways of Temple Bar; crammed with Irish pubs, old street signs and small shops.Walking back my route took me by Collins Barracks in the Arbour Hill neighbourhood; one of the earliest public buildings in Dublin built in 1701. Named after Michael Collins, First Commander in Chief of The Free State after Irish Independence. A former military barracks it’s now home to the National Museum of Ireland-Decorative Arts and History. Collins Barracks face on to the memorial garden known as Croppy’s Acre. A memorial to the rebellion of 1798 was erected by soldiers of the Eastern Command over an area believed to be the mass grave of Irish rebels; their shortly cropped hair earned them the nickname of Croppys. Surveys by archeologists have found no proof of a mass grave but the site remains as a memorial to the rebellion.
I visited Kilmainham Gaol. Opened in 1796; leaders of the 5 Irish rebellions including the Easter Rising in 1916 were jailed here…many of them executed. I found this an invaluable visit to learn about Irish history. I had to pre-book online seven weeks in advance and visited early morning on my second day for the 45 minute guided tour. At the end of the tour I walked around the second floor museum which is really well laid out with a lot of additional displays and information. You can take the chance of just showing up but being as this is Dublin’s current number 1 attraction booking in advance is advisable.
Leaving the Gaol I walked directly across the road and through the arch to IMMA, The Irish Museum of Modern Art. It isn’t crammed with art, in fact it’s quite sparsely laid out… but if you’re an art fan it’s worth visiting. The grounds are lovely and there’s a good cafe onsite.
Tara, my work colleague from way back in 1988 lives in County Waterford. On her way back from visiting friends in Armagh she picked me up from the IMMA carpark to go down to spend time with her in the beautiful countryside of Ireland. Tara and her husband Phillie’s house sits surrounded by fields and trees on the borders of County Waterford and County Cork. Lucky for me (and I didn’t rub Molly Malone’s boobs) the sun came out and warmed the day. Tara’s garden looked beautiful with fronds of new uncurling ferns and pinecones purple in the sunlight. We had a great walk with her 4 dogs Douglas, Scooby, Nelly and BoBo. We laughed later at our photos, it looks like we’re dragging a dead dog but Douglas was incredibly stubborn.
For the next few days Tara generously drove me around several counties. To the pretty seaside resort of Youghal in East Cork; home to a clocktower and the Collegiate Church of St Mary. We followed the local heritage trail and wandered along the beautiful beach and wooden boardwalk eating icecream.To Ardmore in County Waterford, thought to be the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland and another small seaside resort and fishing village not far from Youghal. We visited St Declan’s and drove around the narrow streets admiring the old stone buildings. We visited Saint Declan’s Monastery where an Ogham stone stands in the monastery grounds. Said to be the earliest form of writing in Ireland, Ogham dates to the 4th century A.D. Often referred to as the “Celtic Tree Alphabet” (some numbers are linked to old Irish names of trees), the Ogham alphabet is made up of a series of strokes along or across a line. The alphabet is carved on standing stones believed to commemorate someone, using the edge of the stone as the centre line. A secluded beach called Goat Island was the highlight of my day. Difficult to find unless you’re with a local, It’s situated around 5km west of Ardmore in an area called Ardoginna, Ballynamona. The inlet is popular with local fisherman; two were here clambering over rocks and out of sight. We explored the incredible natural rock formations, layers of colour, some leading in to small caves. Wildflowers grew from sandy crevices and golden lichen crept over rocks. It’s a beautifully wild natural place; a colder day but we spent time climbing across rocks…Tara more nimble than me… and looking out across the sea from the beach.Tara set out to drive us in and out of three separate Counties. First to Cork City in County Cork, Ireland’s second largest city and known as its food capital. A visit to the Crawford Art gallery where we see the iconic painting by Sean Keating (1889-1977) portraying an IRA ‘Flying Column’ waiting in the Irish landscape in advance of an ambush of a passing British military patrol. Such guerilla tactics were a feature of the War of Independence (1919-21) out of which the Irish Free State emerged. The sitters for the painting were all members of the North Cork Brigade. A walk around the main market in Cork and on to a bar for a quick drink where one of Tara’s sons work. It’s a pretty city, small enough to walk. We drove across the rugged open landscape of wild heather known as The Vee where the Knockmealdown Mountains rise in the distance. On to Lismore in County Waterford where overlooking Blackwater River, Lismore Castle stands nobly above the tree line. The Irish home of the Duke of Devonshire, built for the 6th currently owned by the 12th. The once derelict west range was converted in to an art gallery, ‘Lismore Castle Arts’ and the castle gardens also open to the public, include the 17th century upper walled garden. To our third county, Clogheen in County Tipperary. Clogheen means ‘Little Stone of the Market’. Now a small village with less than 500 inhabitants but historically a bustling trade of commerce in the 18th and 19th centuries. Georgian style townhouses, a former market square, ruined mills and millhouses evidence of its former trade. Before it was demolished by the State in 1960, Shanbally Castle designed by the famed architect John Nash stood less than 5 kilometres outside the village. Built around 1810 for First Viscount Lismore, it stood empty for 40 years and politically many were in favour of demolishing properties of the entitled ascendency. Edward Charles Sackville West had agreed to save the site, buying the castle and 163 acres of land but withdrew when the Irish Land Commission allegedly refused to stop cutting down trees on the property he was poised to buy. In March 1960 ‘The Nationalist’ reported: “A big bang yesterday ended Shanbally Castle, where large quantities of gelignite and cortex shattered the building.” Driving back towards Lismore, we stopped at St Carthage’s Cathedral. We were the only visitors other than a cat which curled itself around the imposing brass eagle lecturn. Outside, the serene graveyard blossomed with wildflowers among the headstones. Driving back in to County Waterford, we ended the day at Ballysaggartmore Towers, less than three kilometres from Lismore. Two castle like entrance lodges, one of which acts as a bridge, are considered architectural follies rather than built for specific purpose. They were built circa 1834 for an Anglo Irish landlord called Arthur Keily-Ussher who had a terrible reputation, allegedly evicting tenants during the Great Famine of 1845-1849; so disliked that an attempt was made on his life. Up until the 1970s one of the lodges was still lived in. It’s a beautiful area approached by walking up through heavily wooded trails. Free to enter and explore, we were here for an hour and a half including the trail walk. It’s atmospheric and the surrounding woodland is beautiful.And so my short trip around this scenic part of Ireland comes to an end but not without a mention of our back to back viewing of Tommy Tiernan DVDs. Sat around the TV with Tara and Phillie, eating dinner from our laps whilst guffawing to the Irish comic legend. I wasn’t familiar with him before…but now I’m forever smitten.
Ashling Hotel Dublin https://www.ashlinghotel.ie
Trinity College Dublin Library https://www.tcd.ie/library/old-library/long-room
The Book of Kells https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells
Collins Barracks Dublin https://www.discoveringireland.com/vacations/national-museum-collins-barracks
Kilmainham Gaol Dublin http://kilmainhamgaolmuseum.ie
Irish Museum of Moderrn Art Dublin https://imma.ie
Crawford Art Gallery Cork https://crawfordartgallery.ie
The Vee South East Ireland https://www.southeastireland.com/plismore-the-vee-drive-ireland.html
Lismore Castle Waterford https://www.lismorecastle.com
Ballysaggart More Towers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballysaggartmore_Towers
Ballysaggartmore Loop Trails https://www.alltrails.com/trail/ireland/county-waterford/the-ballysaggartmore-towers-loop-trail?u=i
Tommy Tiernan Irish comedian https://www.tommedian.com