Stingrays and Turtles in the Cayman Islands

This post is a blast-from-the-past. I started this blog after I retired in 2009 but we vacationed as a family since the boys were in diapers and experienced some amazing trips. So I figured I would go back and pull pictures from some of those old trips and post them on our blog.

We visited the Cayman Islands in May of 2001. Cameron was about 7.5 years old and Ryan was almost 6.

Cayman Islands 2001

Cayman Islands

If you’ve never visited the Cayman Islands, it’s located in the Caribbean just west of Jamaica.

cayman_islands_location

A British territory, the Cayman Islands was first discovered in 1503 by Christopher Columbus. He originally named it Los Tortugas because Tortugas means “turtle” in Spanish and reporting seeing lots of sea turtles on his first visit.

Cayman Turtle Centre

We visited the Cayman Turtle Centre where you can hold turtles of different sizes, check out their website here.

cayman-turtle-center

Stingray City

They also have a hefty population of stingrays. We visited Stingray City, a shallow area in the surrounding waters of the Cayman Islands where stingrays will feed out of your hands.

stingray-city-cayman

Ryan was a bit unsure what to think of the stingrays but our guide eased his fears. After feeding this one, it crept up on my arm and I felt a sucking sensation on my arm. I almost freaked out to find out that the stingray made a move on me and left a hickey to prove it.

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Meanwhile, Cameron sat quietly in the boat as the captain entertained him.

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Cayman Island Beaches

The beaches in the Cayman Islands are beautiful. The water is turquoise met by white sand. The boys enjoyed building sand castles, making a sand turtle and lazying around in the hammocks at the resort.

cayman-island-beaches-turtle

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Ryan Being Lazy

Devil’s Hangout

On one of our excursions, we ventured out to the edge of Hell and lived to tell about it.

Aye Matey

On our final excursion, the boys got to captain a pirate ship and were later forced to walk the plank.

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Co-Captains of the ship

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About to walk the plank

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Cameron snagged a life jacket before walking the plank

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this little blast-from-the-past of our trip to the Cayman Islands. If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of Ryan hanging 10.

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First visit to the Caribbean: Ocho Rios, Jamaica

This post is a blast-from-the-past. I started this blog after I retired in 2009 but we vacationed as a family since the boys were in diapers and experienced some amazing trips. So I figured I would go back and pull pictures from some of those old trips and post them on our blog.

Slide back the calendar back to 1989, I was working for Ross Perot at Perot Systems and Lynn was working at ABC News. We were referred to as Yuppies (Young Urban Professionals) and were making our first real money. We were living outside of Washington D.C. and did not have kids for another 4 years.

After working crazy hours at Perot, Lynn and I needed to get away. Neither of us had traveled much before and decided to take a trip to the Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We found an all-inclusive resort called Sandals and were bitten by the travel bug for the first time.  Here’s what Sandals looked like in 1989:

sandals-resort-1989

I found a picture of it today, the building itself has not changed much but they’ve greatly improved the pools, water sports area, and interior.

sandals-resort-2016

One of the first things we did once we arrived was to find the swim-up pool.

Sandles Ocho Rios

As you can see above, the swim-up bar was inviting but it looks very dated now. At the time, it blew us away. I found a picture of the pool today, quite a difference:

sandals-ocho-rios-today

We had an ocean-front villa. At the time, they were building Jetties so that they could have a calm area for water sports, like sailing and windsurfing.

ocean-front-sandals-jamaica

jetties-ocho-rios-jamaica-sandals

Fast forward to today — they have an incredible swim area. You can see where they eventually put docks on top of those jetties.

jetties-2016

This was the first time I’de ever windsurfed and it’s not as easy as it seems. I stayed in the water more than on top of the board. We also kayaked and enjoyed all the water sports they had to offer.

windsurfing

One of our favorite excursions was a sunset sail on the boat you can see in the picture above. Lynn and I got our first taste of Red Stripe beer, Rum Punch, and Reggae — it was awesome.

sailing-jamaica

We also visited Dunn’s River Falls. The Spaniards called the area “Las Chorreras”, the waterfalls or springs and it is truly one of the most beautiful spots on the island. Check out the video camera the guy was holding, this thing was huge!

dunns-river-falls-1989

If you’re curious, here is what Dunn’s River Falls looks like today.

dunns-river-falls-2016

I’ll leave you with a final picture of me playing volleyball, I did a lot of that on this vacation. For each activity you participated in, you received points. At the end of your stay, you could cash in the points for a leather necklace with sandals as the pendant. Last year I actually found a couple of those necklaces from this trip!

Check out all the Europeans with the speedos — I was not going there!

volleyball

I hope you enjoyed this blast-from-the-past. In the coming months I plan to document some of our earlier travels to give our kids a better glimpse of where we’ve traveled to.

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Historic St. Andrews and Medieval Edinburgh Scotland

We end our trip to Scotland by stopping off at Culloden, then to a picturesque Blair Castle in Pitlochry, historic St. Andrews and medieval Edinburgh. Here is the path we took on our trip:

culloden-to-edinburgh

Culloden

The battle of Culloden in 1745 was the last battle between the Scottish and English. You may remember from my earlier blog that King Henry 8th started the protestant movement after the pope refused to allow him to have a divorce from his first wife. This was in 1521 and during the time between 1521 and 1745, Britan’s aim was to spread Protestantism throughout the UK and to convert Catholics to Protestants.

Bonnie Prince Charles Stuart was a Catholic and a Jacobite (loyal to King James) and wanted the Catholics to regain the British throne. Prince Charles was Scottish and he found backing from a long-standing Scottish alley: France. After years of fund-raising and planning for a rebellion, the battle was short. It took less than an hour for the Jacobite rebellion to be over and Culloden was the battlefield.  Almost 2,000 Jacobites were killed in the brief yet bloody battle.

We visited the Culloden battlefield during our visit to Scotland. Not much remains but an open field and a few headstones that mark the clans that participated in the rebellion.

culloden-battlefield fraser-clan-culloden

During our visit to Scotland, I learned a lot of British and Scottish history. One of the travellers in our group mentioned a Starz TV series called Outlander. After returning from our trip, we began to watch the TV series and really enjoyed it.

It begins in 1945 when a British combat nurse witnesses a witch ceremony that transports her back to 1743, just 2 years prior to the battle of Culloden. She falls in love with a Jacobite Scottish warrior who is part of the planning of the rebellion. Being from 1945, she knew the fate of the rebellion and works to try to prevent it. It is a really cool concept for a show.

Blair Castle in Pitlochry

Our next stop was Blair Castle, a castle occupied by several Jacobites including Bonnie Prince Charles Stuart twice.

blair-castle

The castle is quite a spectacle surrounded by beautiful gardens.

blair-castle-cannon

blair-castle-gardens

Historic St. Andrews

Making our way towards Edinborough, we stopped off at St. Andrews Cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral built in 1158, long before King Henry 8th tried to put Catholicism behind the British empire.

st-andrews-cathedral

As you can see, it sits in ruins today because in 1559, the new Protestants stripped the cathedral of its altars and images. By 1561, it was abandoned and fell into ruin.

st-andrews-ruins

Just steps from the cathedral is the University of St. Andrews, the college where Prince William and Kate met. They pointed out the coffee shop where they met as we made our way to the cathedral.

Our next stop was at the St. Andrews Golf Course, the iconic Scottish golf course that’s known to most as the “home of golf” because golf was first played there in the 15th century.

st-andrews-old-course

The Old Course is the home of The Open Championship and has hosted this major 29 times since 1873, most recently in 2015.

st-andrews-old-course-2

Medieval Edinburgh Scotland

Our final stop in Scotland was the Medieval city of Edinburgh. It is also the capital of Scotland and the 2nd most populous city. Notice the castle at the top right of the picture below, it is the Edinburgh Castle.

edinburgh-scotland-2

The castle is heavily fortified with cannons.

edingburgh-castle-2 edingburgh-castle

From the top of the castle, you can see the entire city.

edinburgh-scotland-1

Our guide was a stoutly Scottish fellow with a bit of disdane for the Brits. As he told us about the history of the castle, he intermingled British jabs along the way.

edinburgh-tour-guide

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, Edinburgh will feel very at home to you. JK Rowling lived here while she wrote the Harry Potter series. She wrote a lot of the script in a coffee shot on Potter street and was influenced by the medieval look of Edinburgh. The owner of that coffee shop was named Harry. Howarts was influenced by this Edinburgh building:

hogwarts-edinburgh-scotland

During our stay in Edinburgh, we were lucky that the 2016 Royal Military Tatoo was being held. It was an incredible parade of military bands, music, dance and theater. It is held at the base of the Edinburgh castle at the beginning of nightfall. They shine images on the walls of the castle that are in time with the playing of the band. It’s really not possible to fully appreciate this event unless you see it yourself. One of the more moving parts of the show was a lone bagpipe man playing atop the castle.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed following along with our trip to Ireland and Scotland. In case you missed any of the other blog posts, here is a full journey of our trip:

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Searching for Nessie, 007 and Herding Sheep in Scotland

The next leg of our trip to Scotland takes us to Loch Ness, Eilean Donan Castle, and to a small sheep farm in the Scottish Highlands. Here’s our route so far:

scotland-loch-ness-map

Loch Ness

From an early age, I learned about the Loch Ness monster. Portrayed as an aquatic dinosaur, it has eluded capture for ages. I was happy that we were visiting the famous home of Nessie.

nessy

There have been accounts of an aquatic beast living in Loch Ness for 1,500 years but the first official sighting was in 1933 as reported by the Inverness Courier.  Since then, there have been numerous sightings tracked here.

In the 1960s several British universities launched expeditions to Loch Ness, using sonar to search the deep. Nothing conclusive was found, but in each expedition the sonar operators detected large, moving underwater objects they could not explain. In 1975, Boston’s Academy of Applied Science combined sonar and underwater photography in an expedition to Loch Ness. A photo resulted that, after enhancement, appeared to show the giant flipper of a plesiosaur-like creature.

Loch Ness is a beautiful lake surrounded by rolling hills.

loch-ness-panorama

It is a huge lake, there is more water in this lake than all the other lakes in Scotland, England and Wales put together.

loch-ness-huge

The lake is over 22 miles long and a depth of 754 feet.

loch-ness

Inverness

Our next stop was Inverness. Inverness is located on the River Ness at the end of Loch Ness.

river-inverness

We only spent a few hours in Inverness but if I return I would like to spend a lot more time here. It is a large enough city to have lots of things to do yet it felt like a quaint city with a lot of character.

inverness-city

It also home to the Inverness Castle, a red sandstone structure that was erected in 1836 by architect William Burn.

inverness-castle-2

Earlier castles have stood where Inverness Castle is located today and have been recorded as far back as 1548. Here is a drawing of The Castle of Inverness of 1548 (thanks to Wikipedia for the photo).

inverness-castle-1548

Eilean Donan Castle

On our way to Culloden, we made our way to Eilean Donan Castle.

eilean-donan-castle

Eilean Donan is one of the most iconic images of Scotland. Located on an island where 3 lakes meet, it is surrounded by beautiful hills, valleys, and lakes.

eilean-donan-castle-and-bridge

First inhabited around the 6th century, the first fortified castle was built in the mid 13th century and guarded the lands of Kintail. Since then, at least four different versions of the castle have been built and re-built.

It has also been home to numerous movie sets. In 1986, Highlander was shot here. If you’re a James Bond fan like me, you may remember the 1999 movie “The World is Not Enough“, parts of it were filmed here.

highlander-movie

Sheep Herding

It was a real treat to stop at a working sheep farm. I was taken aback at how the farmer had such incredible control over his dogs. He would send a single dog out to round up dozens of sheep and the dog would take direction from whistles and hand gestures.  Many times the dog would be a quarter mile away and could still hear his commands.

sheep-herding

Pictures can’t do this justice, you would have to see it in action to truly appreciate it.

 

Next Stop: Edinburgh

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and I will finish up our trip blog next week. The last blog will cover our visit to Culloden, St. Andrews, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

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If you missed the prior posts, you can see them here:

 

 

Scotland: Glasgow and the Isle of Skye

The next leg of our trip takes us out of Ireland and into Scotland. We started our trip in Glasgow and made our way up to the Isle of Skye. Here is a retrace of our trip so far:

map

Glasgow

Our introduction to Scotland was a scenic ferry ride from Northern Ireland to Scotland. We drove up to Glasgow — the largest city in Scotland.  Glasgow is like any large metropolitan area, it has lots of shopping and restaurants. The city center has statues and is the gathering place for tourists and locals alike.

glasgow

They have a difficult time keeping the younger crowd from putting pylon cones on the statues in town, I took a quick picture of one on the back of Queen Elizabeth’s statue. As soon as the officials take them down, someone puts them back up again.

glasgow-statues

While we were there, they had a tennis court where you could receive serves from one of their more famous celebrities, Andy Murray. Of course, it was not the real Andy Murray, it was a machine that serves the ball as fast as Andy. If you were able to return 1 out of 2 serves, they would enter your name into a drawing for a prize. If you want to see my pitiful attempt at this, check it out here.

Glengoyne Distillery

In the neighboring community of Glengoyne sits a distillery for fine Scotch. It is located in a beautiful valley. In Gaelic, Glen means valley — that’s why you’ve heard of other Scotch whiskeys like Glenfiddich, they mostly put the distilleries in the valleys because it is away from the hustle and bustle of cities.

glengoyne

While there, we toured the distillery and were able to sample their Scotch. I’m not much of a Scotch drinker but it was very smooth.

glengoyne-distillery

We capped off our day with a dinner at Arta, a hip restaurant in the middle of Glasgow.

arta-restaurant

It had a cool and funky vibe, we walked into the restaurant with James Brown playing over the speakers.

arta

It was described as a Mediterranean restaurant but it was an eclectic mix of styles. It was a very interesting place to eat, I would highly recommend it if you find yourself in Glasgow.

arta-mediterranean

Loch Loman

Our next stop was Loch Loman. By the way, Loch means lake in Gaelic, so when you hear of Loch Ness or Loch Lowman, you will know it is a lake.

lock-lowman

After boarding our boat, we toured Loch Lowman. Each year, thousands of people hike the nearby mountains and Loch Lowman is a stop along their way.

lock-lowman-boat-ride

As you cruise around the lake, you see hotels and waterfalls, it’s breathtaking.

loch-loman

Isle of Skye

After a quick visit to Loch Loman, we headed north towards Isle of Skye. To get there, you must take another ferry. Isle of Skye is made up of a lot of sheep farms and fishing villages.

isle-of-skye

The island is pretty remote and you can’t count on Internet or other modern conveniences we’ve come accustomed to. The hotels are very basic but the scenery is wonderful. The hotel we stayed in had a dock that fishing boats came and went from.

isle-of-skye-fishing-village

There were some really old boats that I had to capture on camera.

isle-of-skye-boats

Next Stop: Loch Ness

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so I will continue chronicling our journeys over the coming weeks. The next blog will cover our visit to the Loch Ness Scotland (maybe we will spot the Loch Ness monster).

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If you missed the prior posts, you can see them here:

 

 

Giant’s Causeway and Belfast Northern Ireland

 

The next leg of our trip to North Ireland takes us to the mystical Giant’s Causeway then on to Belfast, the epicenter of the Northern Ireland “troubles”. Here is a retrace of our trip so far:

londonderry-to-belfast

The Giant’s Causeway

Giants_Causway.pngDrenched in myth and legend, the Giant’s Causeway is a beautiful coastal outpost located on the north shore of Northern Ireland.

The product of years of intense ancient volcanic activity, it’s 40,000 basalt columns provide beauty and mysticism and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.

Legend has it that it was carved from the coast by the mighty giant, Finn McCool. Gaelic mythology says that Finn McCool was challenged to a fight by a Scottish giant, Benandonner. Accepting the provocation, Finn built the causeway across the North Channel to meet and duke it out with Benandonner.

giants-causeway

There are opposing stories of how the fight went. One legend says Finn easily defeats the Scottish giant. Another says Finn makes his way to the meeting point and sees how big the Scottish giant is and begins to hide.

Following closely behind, Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and puts him in a cradle.When Benandonner sees the size of the baby, he figures that Finn’s father must be a huge mighty giant so he retreats back to Scotland, destroying the causeway across the Northern Channel so Finn’s father cannot come after him.

giants-causeway-2

Evidence of Finn McCool are everywhere, you can see below that his Mom kept his baby shoes for posterity.

fin-mccool-shoe

The landscape here is beautiful, it is surrounded by basalt columns that extend up the to the apex of the cliffs.

giants-causeway-basalt-columns

We trekked to the top of the causeway and were rewarded with a spectacular view:

view-from-top-of-giants-causeway

After descending, we decided to test our lungs a bit more and climbed to the other summit of the cliff where we were met by sheep.

giant-causeway-sheep

The Gemstone Chronicles

Our story of the Giant’s Causeway would not be complete without sharing a book with you called The Gemstone Chronicles. Written by a high school friend, Bill Stuart, the story is about a couple of kids that discover a fairy cross while rock hunting with their grandfather.

After finding out that an elf was imprisoned in the fairy cross, they mistakenly released the elf and embark on a journey to a land of giants called Celahir to help in the elf’s return to his homeland. In book 3 of the 4 part series, their journey takes them to the Giant’s Causeway. If you like books like Harry Potter and Narnia, you’ll enjoy this story.

Belfast: A City of Troubles

Our final stop in Northern Ireland was the capital city of Belfast. Known to most as the “troubles”, Belfast has been the epicenter of violence between Irish Protestants and Catholics.

You may remember from my last post that King Henry the 8th started the Protestant religion when the Catholic church would not grant him a divorce from his first wife. Prior to this, Ireland was primarily Catholic and as the Protestant religion began to spread across the nation, it caused unrest and division within the country.

belfast-walls

After hundreds of years of religious strife, it all came to a crescendo in Belfast in 1920. Ireland was partitioned into 2 separate countries. The Republic of Ireland was mainly Catholic and Northern Ireland Protestant.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) began a campaign of violence against Catholics that lasted for several decades and most of this violence centered around Belfast. Of the 465 killed in the conflict, 90% were civilians. As we drove around the city, there were clear signs of the conflict, with tons of war graffiti and wire laced walls.

belfast

After the unrest cooled in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, the city began a rebuilding period. We visited the Titanic museum, this is just one example of the new Belfast.

titanic-museaum

Ireland and Brexit

You may remember that the Republic of Ireland is an independent nation while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom just voted to leave the EU.

This has major implications for Ireland. Since the Republic of Ireland will continue being part of the EU and Northern Ireland will not, they may have to erect a border between the countries. Leaving the EU may also have trade implications for Northern Ireland as the EU provided free trade and travel between the participating countries of the EU.

For years, many Irish citizens have wanted to reunify the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland into a single country as it was before the turn of the 20th century. Now that the  UK is leaving the EU, this may be an opportunity to make this change. Then no borders would be needed and all of Ireland could continue to benefit in being part of the EU.  But there’s still a lot of deep resentment between the countries, so only time will tell if this will happen.

Next Stop: Scotland

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so I will continue chronicling our journeys over the coming weeks. The next blog will cover our visit to the Scotland and the Isle of Skye.

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If you missed the prior posts, you can see them here:

 

 

A Tale of 2 Countries: Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

After visiting Galway, we made our way to Northern Ireland, stopping along the way to take in the beauty of The Republic of Ireland.  Here is our trip path thus far:

galway-to-londonderry

Tobernalt Holy Well

After leaving, our first stop was at a sacred site called Tobernalt Holy Well in Sligo, Ireland. It was an eerily quiet place that is off-the-beaten path — very few tours take you there. It was established in the 5th century during Celtic times — long before Christianity made its way to Ireland.  To enter, you make your way through a tree laden entry and you are reminded that these are sacred grounds.

tobernalt-1

tobernalt-2

You are immediately met with beautiful flora and babbling streams.

tobernalt-3

As you make your way up the path, the quietness of this place consumes you. All you hear is singing birds and the trickle of water.

tobernalt-4

The path culminates in a cross and crucifix scene on an elevated hill.

tobernalt-5

Onwards towards Donegal

We continued our journey towards Donegal and stopped at a scenic coastal overview that was just a few miles from a castle (notice the castle in the distance).

castle towards donegal

The inlet led out to the sea as I caught a glimpse of a fishing boat in the distance.

boat-in-the-distance

Pictures don’t do it justice, but here is a panoramic view of this incredible place.

panaroma-of-castle

Donegal Castle

We made our way to Donegal, the castle is just off the main square. Built in 1474 by the O’Donnell clan and restored in 1990. In 1607, after the Nine Years war, the leaders of the O’Donnell clan left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls.

donegal-castle

In 1611, the castle and its lands were granted to an English Captain, Basil Brooke. The O’Donnells severely damaged it to prevent the castle from being used against the Gaelic clans. But it was quickly restored by its new owners. Brooke also added windows, a gable and a large manor-house wing, all in the Jacobean style.

donegal-castle-interior

The Brooke family owned the castle for many generations until it fell into a ruinous state in the 18th century. In 1898 the then owner, the Earl of Arran, donated the castle to the Office of Public Works.

Tale of 2 Countries

Many of us may not realize that The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are two separate countries even though they share the same island.

nothern_ireland_and_republic_of_ireland_map

It was not always so. For many years there was a single republic but in May of 1921 they split. During the split, Northern Ireland decided to stay in the United Kingdom (UK) but The Republic of Ireland did not. This has major implications with Brexit — we’ll discuss that in our my next post.

Londonderry Northern Ireland

So why the split? You have to go back to earlier times. In 1521, Henry the 8th (the king of England) wanted to divorce his wife. Since England was Catholic, he asked the Pope to grant the divorce. The Pope refused so Henry the 8th basically said “screw you — I will create my own church, I will be the head of that church and it will allow my divorce.”!  That’s when the Protestant religion and the Anglican church began.

Londonderry's a beautiful city

Londonderry’s a beautiful city

For many years, Ireland was torn between Protestant and Catholic religions. The northern part of Ireland pledged allegiance to the king and the Protestant faith. The southern part of Ireland wanted to stay with its Catholic roots.

Beautiful Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Beautiful Londonderry, Northern Ireland

So in 1921, the debate came to its final boiling point and they decided to split the country. Derry was the demarcation of the split, so they decided to split that into 2 cities (Derry in the Republic and Londonderry in Northern Ireland).

Londonderry

Londonderry

The River Foyle separates Derry and Londonderry and The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

derry-and-londonderry

There are still hostilities between Ireland and Northern Ireland and groups like the Irish Republic Army (IRA) fuel the fires of discontent. More about that in my next post.

I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures I took of Derry (on the other side of the river). We took a quick trip up a mountain that offered incredible views of the surrounding area.

derry

Panoramic View of Derry

Panoramic View of area just outside of Derry

Next Stop: Giants Causeway and Belfast

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so I will continue chronicling our journeys over the coming weeks. The next blog will cover our visit to the Giant’s Causeway and Belfast.

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If you missed the prior posts, you can see them here:

 

Galway Ireland: A Cosmopolitan College Town

After visiting the Ring of Kerry, we made our way to the coastal city of Galway. It just happened that it was a big day for Galway, the Galway Races were on. More about that later. Here is our trip path thus far:

Limerick to Galway

Galway: SmartBear Software

Many of you may know that in 2009 Lynn and I sold our company to SmartBear Software. It just happens that SmartBear opened an office in Galway, Ireland a few years ago and they develop and market the software I created (now called QAComplete) from that office.

An old friend from SmartBear (Miles Kane) contacted me during our trip and asked if I would stop by the office to see the latest version of QAComplete. I really wanted to but our schedule didn’t give me enough time to do it. But it’s very cool that we were halfway around the world in a city that now continues the development of the software that my team wrote and maintained for years.

Galway Waterfront

The Galway Races

During our visit, the Galway Races were going on. The Galway Races is an Irish horse-racing festival that starts on the last Monday of July every year. Held at Ballybrit Racecourse in Galway, Ireland over seven days, it is one of the longest of all the race meets that occur in Ireland.

Galway_Horses

Galway is also a bustling college town, it boasts the National University in Galway. Due to a beautiful summer day, Galway Race event and it just being a college town, there were tons of college students dressed to the nines before attending the races. Guys wore their best suits and women were decked out in nice dresses and hats.

Galway_Races

The City of Galway

A city of about 180,000 (including surrounding area), Galway is known as Ireland’s Cultural Heart, as it has a vibrant lifestyle, great nightlife, and lots of festivals.

Galway City 1

We caught a glimpse of the River Corrib on our way in, there was fly-fisherman trying his hand at bringing one in.

Galway Entrance

When we were there, it was like a carnival atmosphere with lots of people walking around, street performers singing and dancing, and people meeting friends on route to the Galway Races.

Galway Streets

On our trip to Galway, our tour guide told us about The Kings Head Pub. In 1649, King Charles I was found guilty of high treason. When it came time for his execution, the Executioner for the City of London, Richard Brandon, refused to be the one swinging the blade. Finding a replacement was a challenge, the emissaries sent all throughout Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. The story goes that they found their executioner in an Irish man named Richard Gunning, and he was given the building that’s now the aptly named King’s Head pub as payment for the execution. We knew we had to visit.

The Kings Head

Claddagh Ring

Also while in Galway, our tour guide told us the story of the Claddagh ring.  It was invented by Richard Joyce after being captured and enslaved by Algerian Corsairs around 1675 while on a passage to the West Indies. He was sold into slavery to a Moorish goldsmith who taught him the craft and he later invented the ring. King William III demanded the release of all Brits enslaved in that country and that included Joyce. Joyce returned to Galway and brought along with him the ring he had designed while in captivity. He gave the ring to his sweetheart, married, and became a successful goldsmith.

Claddagh_Ring

Cameron purchased one of these rings while in Galway. You are supposed to wear it on the right hand with the heart facing away from you if you are single and the heart faces towards you if you are in a relationship. If you are engaged, you wear it on the left hand with the heart facing away from you and with the heart facing towards you if you are married.

Next Stop: Northern Ireland

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so I will continue chronicling our journeys over the coming weeks. The next blog will cover our visit to Northern Ireland.

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If you missed the prior posts, you can see them here:

 

Ring of Kerry, Ireland: Vistas, Limericks, and Spoons

Our next adventure to Ireland was a drive around the Ring of Kerry and visiting a quaint pub in Limerick.  Here is this leg of the trip:

Killarney to Limerick

W. B. Yeates

The Ring of Kerry is an 111-mile scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula. On the drive there, we stopped by the church where W. B. Yeates is buried.

I remember taking Humanities in college and reading poems by Yeates. As an Irish poet, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in December 1923. He is buried at a small church and with a very unassuming grave.

His epitaph contains the last lines of “Under Ben Bulben“, one of his last poems written before his death:

Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!

The Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry is a beautiful drive reminiscent of some of our great California scenic coastal drives.

Ring of Kerry 1

Ring of Kerry 2

Ring of Kerry 3

On one of our stops along the way, we stopped into a small gift shop. Cameron tried on Irish hats.

Cameron Hats

We also found a crest with our surname. It says that Miller came from Irish and Scottish heritage with a name of Muilleoir. It was common for families to change their last names to a more English sounding name when they migrated to America.

Miller Crest

On to Limerick

Once we visited the Ring of Kerry, we stayed in Limerick. If you remember from Humanities, a limerick is a humorous poem containing just five lines. The first, second, and fifth lines must rhyme and the third and fourth lines have to rhyme with each other and have the same rhythm.

Our tour director challenged each of us to create a limerick. By this time in the trip, we were in a routine of traveling by bus to see fantastic sites, drinking lots of the local beer and Irish whiskey, and getting up early each day to start again. Here was my limerick:

Guiness, Jamison, Irish Cofee and the like,
Have clouded me memory of our time last night,
We danced and sang and partook some more,
When at “last call” they told us it was quarter past four.
I awoke at noon in a terrible fright to find that the bus was nowhere in sight!

Yet Another Pub

In Limerick, we found a really cool Irish pub, with the best Irish singers so far.

Limerick Band

If you want to hear a clip of their music, click here.  They really made the evening fun. They taught us a traditional Irish dance and they had several people come up on stage and play spoons. Of course, Cameron was chosen and he played spoons like he knew what he was doing.

Cameron Playing Spoons

After the band stopped playing, we went downstairs and hung out for a few more hours. There were 2 Irish girls sitting in a booth downstairs playing and singing traditional Irish tunes. They were not paid to do it, they were just having fun — that’s the way it is in Ireland. The drummer from the band we were listening to earlier joined in and they all entertained us for hours.

Next Stop: Galway

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so I will continue chronicling our journeys over the coming weeks. The next blog will cover our visit to Galway – a bustling college town.

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Cork and Killarney Ireland: Kissing the Blarney Stone

After visiting Waterford, we made our way to Cork and then to Killarney. Cork is the 2nd largest city in Ireland and looks very industrial.  Cork was settled in the 6th century and was taken over by Vikings in the 10th century (around 915 A.D.). One of the big attractions of Cork is the Blarney Castle, more about that later.

Cork

Killarney is a beautiful lake-side city complete with green rolling hills and a deep lake. It won the Best Kept Town award in 2007 and in 2011 it was named Ireland’s tidiest town and the cleanest town in the country by Irish Business Against Litter. We boated around the Lakes of Killarney and took a “jaunting car” (horse and buggy ride) around the beautiful Killarney National Park. More about that later.

Killarney

To get your bearings, here is the trip route (the light red shade is from the prior days):

Waterford to Killarney

Blarney Castle: The Gift of Gab

When visiting Cork, we stopped by the Blarney Castle. According to Irish folklore, anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone receives “The Gift of Gab” (ability to speak eloquently). The Blarney Castle is a medieval fortress that dates back to the 10th century.

Blarney Castle 1

There have been 3 structures erected on this site, the first one in the 10th century was a wooden hunting lodge. Around 1210, the wooden structure was replaced with a stone building that was later demolished and replaced by what is currently standing.

Blarney Castle 2

 

To reach the Blarney Stone, you climb 127 stairs to the top of the castle. For over 200 years, pilgrims have climbed the steps to kiss the Blarney Stone and receive the Gift of Gab. The stone was brought to the castle in 1314 when Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, sent 4 thousand men to defeat the English at Bannockburn. After the defeat, the stone was split in half and sent to Blarney. A few years later, a witch was saved from drowning and revealed the special powers of the stone to the MacCarthy’s. And the rest is history.

The climb to the top provides incredible views of the surrounding area.

Blarney Castle Views

Once you reach the stone, you must lay down on your back and bend backward to kiss the stone.

Kissing the Blarney Stone

Lots of people on our tour were hemming and hawing about germs and the like but when they got to the stone, all of that went out the window: they all kissed the stone.

Blarney Stone

The Blarney Castle is surrounded by beautiful gardens and caves.

Blarney Castle Gardens

Cameron and I wandered into some caves and almost had to climb through on our stomachs at parts. Once we reached the end of one cave, we saw lots of engravings from people that made their way here in the past.

Blarney Castle Caves

Killarney: A Land of Lakes

Our first stop in Killarney was the Ross Castle where we boarded a boat for a tour of the lake. Ross Castle was built in the 15th century by O’Donoghue Mór and was eventually owned by the Earls of Kenmare. They owned an extensive portion of the lands that are now part of Killarney National Park.

Ross Castle

Legend has it that O’Donoghue still exists in a deep slumber under the waters of Lough Leane. On the first morning of May every seven years he rises from the lake on his magnificent white horse and circles the lake. Anyone catching a glimpse of him is said to be assured of good fortune for the rest of their lives.

We took a nice boat ride around the Lower Killarney Lake and learned about the history of the area. We saw a huge eagle that was circling the mountains, we were told that there are a couple of eagles that inhabit this area.

Killarney Lake

Lake Killarney 2

Killarney National Park: Jaunting Cars

After our boat ride, we were picked up by Jaunting Cars (Horse and Buggy) and received a picturesque ride through the Killarney National Park, arriving back into the heart of Killarney.

Jaunting Cars

Check out my slow-mo video of the Jaunty Car ride.

Killarney National Park

Killarney National park 2

Killarney Town

Our Jaunting Car driver works during the summer season and he takes care of the horses in the off-season. He said the horses will gain about 100 pounds in the off-season and it takes them a few months to get back in shape.

Jaunting Car Driver

Muckross Traditional Farms

For dinner, we visited a working farm called Muckross Traditional Farms. It’s like time traveling back into the past, as they still use old-style plows, harrows, corn drills and horse-drawn mowers.

Muckross Farm

We had a demonstration of making butter without any use of electricity, as they did in older days.

Muckross Farm Butter

After touring the farm, we sat down to a traditional Irish feast — I had lamb stew and it was incredible. A couple provided entertainment which included singing old Irish songs and playing an electric bagpipe. The electric bagpipe costs about $15,000 so it’s a bit difficult for young people to take up this musical instrument due to the cost.

Muckross Farm Dinner

On our final day in Killarney, our tour guide had a photo taken of our group with Lake Killarney as the backdrop.

Group picture

Next Stop: Ring of Kerry

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so I will continue chronicling our journeys over the coming weeks. The next blog will cover our visit to Ring of Kerry – a spectacular coastal drive with amazing vistas.

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If you missed the prior posts, you can see them here: