Finally! I visited Ireland. Just a hop across the Irish Sea but I’ve never been before. Flew in to Dublin on my own, got the shuttle bus from the airport straight in to the city centre for 6 euros in only 30 minutes as opposed to 25 euros in a cab. It went all the way to Heuston Station which was ideal as that was an easy 3 minute stroll from the Ashling Hotel where I was booked in. Overlooking the River Liffey and right next door to Collins Barracks and the National Museum. Great location away from the noise of Temple Bar and central Dublin. Dropped my bags and walked 20 minutes along the river in to the centre to Trinity College to meet my friend’s son, Luca who studies there. We had a walk around the centre of Dublin taking in the main sights and the stunning Long Room in Trinity College. 200,000 books and almost 65 metres in length, built between 1712 and 1732, this is a must see when visiting Dublin and high on the list of most tourists. The library official site: https://www.tcd.ie/library/old-library/long-room/ The Long Room is lined with marble busts of philosphers, 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. Due to the increasing number of books caused by the library being given the right in 1801 to claim a copy of every book published both in the UK and Ireland, 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 is 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, as seen above from the opposite side of the water from 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 actually the Liffey Bridge and 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 stands close by 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 out there. Molly Malone is a famous Irish song also known as ‘Cockles and Musells’ and tells the tale of a Dublin fishmonger who sold on the Dublin streets but died of a fever early in age. Apparently it has become the offical anthem of Dublin but there is no definitive proof, only speculation, that it is based on a living character.Wandering the streets of Temple Bar; crammed with Irish pubs, old street signs and small alleyways.Walking back to my hotel later in the day I walked by Collins Barracks, named after Michael Collins (First Commander in Chief of The Free State) after being handed over at the end of the Irish War of Independence. In the Arbour Hill area it is a former military barracks now home to the National Museum of Ireland-Decorative Arts and History. Sadly I didn’t have enough time in Dublin to visit but am advised that it is a fascinating museum. The Barracks is one of the earliest public buildings in Dublin built in 1701.
Collins Barracks face on to the memorial garden known as Croppy’s Acre. There’s a memorial to the rebellion of 1798 erected by soldiers of the Eastern Command over an area believed to be the mass grave of Irish rebels; who with their shortly cropped hair became known as Croppys. Surveys by archeologists have found no proof of a mass grave but it remains as a memorial to the rebellion. I visited Kilmainham Gaol. Opened in 1796; leaders of the 5 Irish rebellions across the years including the Easter Rising in 1916, were jailed here and many of them executed. This is an invaluable tour to learn about Irish history. A short distance outside of the centre but easily reached on the frequent trams and buses in only a few stops. You must pre-book several weeks in advance. I booked a ticket 7 weeks in advance online and was here on my second day at 9.30am for the guided tour. You can take the chance of just showing up but being as this is Dublin’s current number 1 attraction booking in advance is easily the way to go as you can’t guarantee getting in otherwise.
The tour was 45 minutes long after which you are free to browse the small and second floor museum. More information here http://kilmainhamgaolmuseum.ie If you are planning a trip to Dublin make time for this tour.When you come out of the Gaol make time for a visit to IMMA directly across the road, through the arch and a walk through the lovely grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. http://www.imma.ie/en/index.htm It isn’t crammed with art pieces, in fact it is quite sparsely laid out but if you’re an art fan it’s definitely worth spending some time here and there’s a good cafe onsite. Entry is free except for the featured guest exhibitions so check their website in advance.
Tara, my work colleague from way back in 1988 lives in County Waterford and after a visit to friends in Armagh she picked me up from the IMMA carpark to go down to spend some time with her in the beautiful countryside of Ireland. Tara’s place sits pretty much on the borders of County Waterford and County Cork…in wide open fields surrounded by trees. Lucky for me (and I didn’t rub Molly Malone’s boobs) the sun came out and warmed the day to summer temperatures. Tara’s garden looked beautiful with fronds of fern starting to uncurl, pine cones purple in the sunlight and we had a great walk with her 4 dogs Douglas, Scooby, Nelly and BoBo. Though it looks like we are dragging a dead dog in one of these pictures I can assure you that Douglas was very much alive when I left him! For the next few days Tara generously drove me all around her local area.
To the pretty small seaside resort of Youghal in East Cork. You can visit the clocktower, the Collegiate Church of St Mary, follow the local heritage trail or do as we did; and wander along the beautiful beach and the wooden boardwalk eating ice creams.In to another county to visit St Declan’s in Ardmore, County Waterford, another small seaside resort and fishing village not far from Youghal. Ardmore is thought to be the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland.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. Quoted from this informative website: http://www.ardmorewaterford.com/on-luguds-leacht/ “The Ogham alphabet is made up of a series of strokes along or across a line. Oftem Ogham is referred to as the “Celtic Tree Alphabet”. This is because a number of the letters are linked to old Irish names for certain trees. The alphabet is normally carved on standing stones to commemorate someone, using the edge of the stone as the centre line. The marks normally read from the left hand side bottom up, across the top and if needed down the other side.”Goat Island was the highlight of my day. A secluded beach, difficult to find unless you’re with a local, situated around 5km west of Ardmore in an area called Ardoginna, Ballynamona. The inlet is popular with local fisherman, there were a couple here at the same time as us clambering over the rocks and out of sight. We explored the incredible natural rock formations, layers of colour, some leading in to small caves.Wild flowers grew out of sandy crevices and golden lichens crept over the rocks. It is a area of great natural beauty and even on a colder day we spent time clambering across rocks to get better views out to the sea. Tara was more nimble than me!It’s great to be driven around the area and another day another opportunity to see more. Tara set out to drive us in and out of three separate Counties. First to Cork City County Cork, Ireland’s second largest city and known as its food capital. A visit to the Crawford Art gallery where we see this iconic painting by Sean Keating (1889-1977) which portrays an IRA ‘Flying Column’ symbolically 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 wander 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 make it easy to walk around. We drove across the rugged open landscape of wild heather known as The Vee where the Knockmealdown Mountains rise in the distance. The South East Ireland website has great information and route directions for this area: https://www.southeastireland.com/plismore-the-vee-drive-ireland.htmlOn to Lismore 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 which are also open to the public, include the 17th century upper walled garden. To our third county of the day, to 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 and 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 around 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 wandered in to St Carthage’s Cathedral. We were the only visitors other than a cat which curled itslef around the imposing brass eagle lecturn. Outside the serene graveyard was blossoming with wild flowers 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 also acts as a bridge, are considered by many to be architectural follies rather than being built for a specific purpose. It’s a beautiful area approached by walking up through heavily wooded paths until it opens out to reveal the towers. Built circa 1834 for a landlord of Anglo Irish decent called Arthur Keily-Ussher. He had a terrible reputation, allegedly eviciting tenants during the Great Famine of 1845-1849…so disliked that an attempt was made on his life. Up until 1970s one of the lodges was still lived in.There is no entrance fee and you are free to explore for as long as you wish. We were here for around 90 minutes including the walk up and back down. Its very 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 familar with him before but now I’m forever smitten.