Howth, Ireland, United Kingdom/Ireland trip

Friday, May 26: Back in Howth, Ireland

First, a quick summary of Thursday, May 25. We drove back to Exeter, dealt with the car damage, took the bus to the train station, and given the tragedy that had just happened in Manchester, I did not want to go back into London. We got off the train in Reading, took a bus to Heathrow, and took a hotel shuttle to our room at a Doubletree Hilton in Hounslow, where we had dinner at the hotel restaurant and relaxed for the flight to Ireland the next day. The police presence at the Tube station at Heathrow was a little disturbing. We couldn’t get our Oyster cards loaded for a ride into London if we had wanted or needed to, at least not right then, because they closed the station.

However, Sandy did get this shot from the train. We thought it was the White Horse of Uffington, but it turned out to be the Pewsey White Horse. Still cool, and the most interesting photo from this day.

The next day, we flew back to Ireland, got back on the bus and DART train to Howth, then took a taxi with our luggage back to Gleann Na Smol, where Sean met us at the door. This time we had energy to walk to the harbour and back. Sean recommended the Oarhouse on the pier, but they were having a record day because of the lovely weather and we hung around for a long time on the pier before they let us sit at the bar and eat. (At first, they turned us away but we pleaded.) The family that owned the restaurant also owned the boats that brought in the seafood, so I rated this the best meal we had on our trip.

On the way back, we stopped at the Cock Tavern, which was recommended as a pub where the locals go to hear and play music. A couple at a table offered to share it with us, we ordered pints of Smithwick’s at the bar, and enjoyed the rest of the night listening to a local musician who sang everything from traditional music to Prince to Guns and Roses (in honor of the superfan patrons on their way to a GNR concert the next day). The friendly couple told me stories about the “local lunatics.” One of the best nights ever!

AND, the next day we got up at the crack of dawn, took a taxi to the airport, and flew to JFK on Aer Lingus, which I liked a lot despite being in enormous pain seated in a middle seat of the middle row of the plane. They had a good selection of movies and TV shows, which allowed Sandy to almost get caught up on Games of Thrones while I watched La La Land and Bridget Jones’s Baby. At JFK, we found out that we were lucky that we decided to fly from London to Ireland on Friday when the British Airways computer system and created chaos at Heathrow. We had some delays, but finally we walked in our front door at about 10 p.m. that night.

Cliff walks, Howth, Ireland, United Kingdom/Ireland trip

Stopover in Howth, Ireland – a rather mundane travel tale, with photos at the end

Sandy and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary by going to England, with a stopover in Dublin for one night on the way there and one night on the way back. When we got a good deal on airfare from Hopper, it included a 7 hour layover at Dublin Airport, which was of course was too short to do anything fun, so I booked a B&B in Howth, Dublin, not too far from the airport, and we flew to London the following day for about as much as it would have been anyway. Besides, you know how we love Ireland, how could we resist?

That part is a bit interesting because when we got to Raleigh Durham airport around 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 13, the people at the Jet Blue counter informed us that our flight had been delayed from JFK, and that was a common occurrence in the late afternoon at JFK, and that we probably wouldn’t have made our connection anyway. So they rerouted our flight through Boston and London, giving us the option of getting off in London where we were headed in the first place. But it was too late to cancel the room in Howth, and it didn’t take long to make the decision that even though it would be a longer flight, we wanted to go to Ireland first. The Jet Blue staff put us in upgraded seats and I have now officially become a fan of Jet Blue and may switch my points card over to them from Southwest once I get my travel done for this year. The other takeaway was to avoid JFK like the plague if at all possible.

We knew that we would be exhausted on the first day. Sitting for more than an hour causes me a lot of pain and I couldn’t sleep. The British Airways flight from Boston to London was okay. We were served a meal around 11 p.m. with wine and I recall that the food wasn’t bad, although even I knew that the wine was shite. We got to Dublin around noon on Sunday, May 14, where we took a long meandering bus ride to Sutton, got on the DART train to Howth, and found ourselves in a crowded seaside town with no phone service or wifi, and relying on my memory of the map and address of the B&B. The tourist information kiosk was no help. No one we asked knew where Kilrock Road was, or maybe they didn’t understand our accents. There was a jolly man who was driving a little tourist “train” up and down the main drag who gave us a ride as far in that direction as he went for free, and I bless him for that.

And here’s where we learned that the backpack idea was not a good one. The map in my head did not indicate altitude. The street we walked up, although very picturesque along the edge of the sea, was extremely steep. We found Kilrock Rd. but I did not have an address other than a postal code. We faced another uphill street, we were soaked with sweat, and I got worried about Sandy. He sat at the bottom of the street with our bags while I set out to find the B&B, which turned out to be one block away at the top of the street. Sandy said, “Well, I know now that if my heart survived that, it will survive anything.”

It was about 3 p.m., the B&B was locked, and I sat down on my backpack and wept. Fortunately Sean had just stepped out quickly, and he turned out to be one of the nicest, most helpful people on our journey. He got us into a very comfortable room where we both crashed for about 3-4 hours. Then Sean drove us down the street to the Abbey Tavern for dinner, where I had “fisherman’s pie” and an Irish red ale. We walked past the abbey ruins back down to the harbour at sunset, where the weekend crowd had gone home. We took a cab back up the hill for the short ride to the B&B – it turned out that there was a shorter, less strenuous ascent, but we were still too whupped to do it.

The next morning, Sean served the guests an insanely delicious full breakfast and we chatted with a German couple about our plans and our favorite travels so far. We asked Sean about a cab to the airport and he offered to drive us! Then, when I got ready to pay him for our night’s stay, it turned out that he didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have the cash. We offered to go to an ATM, but he insisted that we seemed like honest sorts and that he’d get the payment from us on our way back through in two weeks.

I decided to take a misty walk up the Howth Cliff Path until Sean was ready, part of which we had walked on our first journey into town.

May is an excellent time for wildflowers in the British Isles.

art, fiber art, Ireland, tapestry, weaving

“Dingle Cliff Walk”

“Dingle Cliff Walk,” tapestry. Cotton, linen, and silk; 6 x 8.75 inches. Tweaked the finishing touches today.

It was designed from a photo taken on the cliff trail in front of Gorman’s Clifftop House on the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland. The mountains in the background are called the Three Sisters.

It is a bit wop-sided. I’m usually better than that but I wove it last on the same circular warp with some other pieces which made the tension hard to master. I’ve loosened up enough that it doesn’t bother me (much).


Coming Home

After we left the Giant’s Causeway, I took over driving because the roads were wide and easy at this point. Sandy tried to take a nap, but what I assumed was a bypass of Belfast took me through Belfast at rush hour. He got a little taste of what it was like to be a passenger in harrowing traffic, and I am still working on unclenching my fingers.

We stopped in Dundalk for one last dinner in Ireland at Eno Bar and Grill, across from Dundalk Cathedral. I had my favorite salad, with beets and oranges, and Sandy had pasta. The chef sent out a free calamari appetizer – a very nice dining experience.

As we left Dundalk, I was trying to reset the GPS and Sandy grew absent-minded and neither of us noticed that he was driving on the wrong side of the road until we saw a car coming at us head-on. Sandy swerved and the other car swerved in the same direction. Sandy swerved back to the side of the road. The other car stopped and a small red-faced elderly gentleman jumped out of his car and marched up to us and chewed us out. We apologized sincerely and abjectly, and promised the old man that we would be off the highways of Ireland in less than one hour and that we would be supremely careful (if he would just let us drive away!) for the short remainder of our trip. Finally our pleas of fatigue and stupidity calmed him down and we drove the rest of the way, adrenalin pumping, to the rental car return at the airport.

Then we flew home to Greensboro the next morning after an uneventful night in an airport hotel and TWO security checks and a long line at U.S. Customs.

The end. If you made it this far with us, thanks for reading my Ireland adventure story! I hope that you enjoyed it. Now go plan a trip to Ireland – the people there will walk up to you on the street and thank you for being there. If you’re a nervous driver, I suggest that you take buses and trains. You won’t regret it no matter where you choose to go or what you choose to do because in Ireland there was beauty and craic everywhere. Be sure to order a pint of Smithwick’s. Sláinte!

Ireland, Northern Ireland, UNESCO World Heritage sites

Monday, May 21, 2012: The Giant’s Causeway

After a short ferry ride across Lough Foyle, we were in the United Kingdom. The currency was now pound sterling and the speed limits and distances were in miles. The feel of the country was different. The houses tended to be larger, the fields tended to be fenced instead of walled. And yet the sheep were still everywhere.

Our goal was to visit the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and then get to our hotel near the Dublin Airport fairly quickly. We had to return the rental car that night and we were tired already with most of the day behind us and a long way to go.

We stopped briefly at Dunluce Castle, and had it been earlier in our trip I feel sure we would have paid to go into it, but instead we just took photos from the outside. This 13th century castle ruin is on the edge of the seacliffs, and one day the kitchen split away and fell into the ocean, taking the kitchen staff with it.

Since I wasn’t feeling so hot, we parked at the Park and Ride in Bushmills and took a shuttle to the Giant’s Causeway, which was a bit cheaper. Then we took a shuttle again down to the stepping stones of Finn M’Coul. I wanted to save my energy for climbing around this mindblowing geological formation. Science says that it is a result of a lava flow that cooled slowly. Folklore says that the giant Finn M’Coul began laying a stepping stone path in the sea over to Scotland.

Bladder campion – one of my favorite wildflowers

If I lived near here, I’d want to go here every weekend.

Next post: Coming home

County Donegal, Ireland

Monday, May 21, 2012: Greencastle

On Monday morning, I awoke early with what I at first thought was a hangover. It wasn’t that we had drank that much on any one day or night, but over the course of the week I had drank more than usual so I thought maybe my body was catching up and punishing me. It turned out to be a virus, but fortunately the worst of it hit me after we got home. I was determined to get through the day, though, because the last major place where I wanted to go was on the agenda today.

We decided to take the ferry near Greencastle, and to revisit Glendowen Craft Studio near Clonmany. I’m so glad that we did, because it was full of handwoven and local textiles, sewn and assembled by Ann McGonigle. If I had had the money and the room in my luggage I would have spent a bundle there. It was the first shop I had been excited about since we were at the weaver’s shop in Dingle. Although the woolen sweaters and coats and scarves were beautiful, I knew that I would not wear them here at home much. On the very coldest days a few days a year perhaps, but I am hot natured and can go without a coat when others are wrapped up and shivering. I bought a simple linen shirt (and wore it out of there, since I was on the third day of wearing my last clothes) and an Irish tweed shawl to wear this fall.

When we reached Greencastle, we were a little early for the ferry over to Northern Ireland, so we drove up the road a little ways and discovered, completely by accident, an unstaffed public site of a 1305 castle ruin and Napoleonic Martello tower next to the shore. We spent about 30 minutes exploring the site. It was covered with vines and wildflowers and completely thrilled my inner child, since I lived to explore old abandoned buildings in the woods when I was a free-range kid.

I took some video while I was walking up and down through the different openings, but it is all sideways and I haven’t figured out how to edit it. Maybe that’s something I need to practice before our next big trip.

Next post: Monday, May 21, 2012: The Giant’s Causeway

County Donegal, Ireland

Sunday, May 20, 2012: Exploring Inishowen

The idea was that we were going to take the “Inishowen 100 Scenic Drive” up to the northernmost point in Ireland, Malin Head, but a wrong turn changed our plans. And as it often happens, the wrong turn was not a bad idea at all. We ended up on a road splendid in its isolation and followed signs to Clonmany. Side trips in the country like this that make you realize that Ireland really is a country with a small population. I gather that this is similar country to the moors in Scotland. We both loved this road. You’d have to travel for miles to find country around here that did not have any houses or evidence of humans (other than sheep and this road).

We decided to look for a craft studio/shop that we saw advertised that was located near Clonmany. It was closed, but in our wanderings we discovered, quite by accident, Glenevin Waterfall and the beautiful hiking trail to it.

Yes! finally a shamrock!

We returned to Buncrana, where we had dinner at the Ubiquitous Cafe, then stopped in Grant’s Bar where we had a couple of pints and a long discussion about Irish and American politics with a regular. It was another wonderful day, and the last pub we would visit in Ireland. I already miss the people and conversations we had there.

Next post: Monday, May 21, 2012: Greencastle

County Donegal, Ireland

Sunday, May 20, 2012: Grianan of Aileach

The Grianan of Aileach was what led me to choose this area for part of our visit. I knew that the O’Neills were one of the great Irish families; in fact, they are one of the few families that the banshee cries for at their deaths. From the Wikipedia article: “Legend has it that for five great Gaelic families — the O’Gradys, the O’Neills, the Ó Briains, the Ó Conchobhairs, and the Caomhánachs — the lament would be sung by a fairy woman; having foresight, she would sing the lament when a family member died, even if the person had died far away and news of their death had not yet come, so that the wailing of the banshee was the first warning the household had of the death.”

I found out in my research that the Grianan of Aileach was important in the history of the O’Neill clan, so I figured why not make this one focus of our trip? The story of this place is far from simple, though. There is much controversy about its restoration and history and new evidence continues to come to light that it may have begun as a site much like the one at Newgrange.

I copied this from the sign at the site.

“This large stone-walled fort, located on a hilltop commanding views over Loughs Foyle and Swilly and counties Donegal, Derry, and Tyrone, was the royal citadel of the northern Uí Néill from the 5th to the 12th century. It was probably built some time around the birth of Christ. Its builders may have been attracted to this hilltop site by the presence here of a sacred monument – a prehistoric burial mound or tumulus, possibly from the Neolithic period (about 3000 BC).

“A lintelled passage through the 4.5m thick wall leads to the interior where the wall rises in three terraces to a height of about 5m; there are also two long passages contained within the thickness of the wall. Substantial restoration work was carried out in 1870. We know little about the three earthen banks which circle the Grianan, but they could be part of an earlier Bronze Age or Iron Age hillfort. The trackway running through these banks and leading to the fort is believed to be an ancient roadway.”

I plan to keep up with the new archaeological theories and findings about Grianan of Aileach. But, we went there for the first party on the site in centuries, and the views were every bit as awesome as we were told. (I slipped up to the top tier for a few shots before I was asked to come down.)

I just loved these two little girls.

Sandy is painting this one.

There was a pageant with kings and giants and dancers and flags and music!

There were reenactors and craftsmen demonstrating ancient and medieval skills.

And I ate a periwinkle fished out of its shell with a safety pin. I ain’t skeered of no food.

Next post – Sunday, May 20, 2012: Exploring Inishowen

County Donegal, Ireland

Saturday and Sunday, May 19-20, 2012: Buncrana

When we arrived at the Lake of Shadows Hotel in Buncrana, we stowed our stuff, took a walk downtown to look around, then headed back to the hotel to have dinner. It was one of the least expensive but most delicious dinners we had in Ireland! After eating the seafood salad below, I had a turkey and ham entree. I had to do a search on Google to identify the fruit on the dessert plate. First time I’ve ever tasted a gooseberry. So good!

An old man that had been sitting in the pub reached out and fingered my new wool cape with a frown as I passed him on my way out. “Scottish!” he snapped.

“I was told that it was woven in Ireland,” I said, miffed.

“That’s what they all say,” he smirked.

We rested in the room that night, and I went through all our shopping bags and tried to consolidate our things into the bags we would check and the bags we would carry on. We packed light for this trip and I packed an extra empty duffel bag in one of my bags anticipating that we would be buying some bulky woolen clothes. That turned out to be a good plan because we barely had enough room, but it all made it in there. Sandy was a shopping machine while we were in Ireland.

In the morning we took a walk on the beach, where to my delight this dog joined us for some play.

He liked to bark.

And play with sticks.

Next post – Sunday, May 20, 2012: Grianan of Aileach