Tag Archives: Ireland

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:

 

 

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

 

 

Waterford Ireland – Studs, Crystal, and Craic

After a couple of days in Dublin, we began our journey towards Waterford, Ireland. If you’re unfamiliar with Ireland, here is the route of that trip.

Dublin to Waterford

Waterford, Ireland

As far back as I can remember, we’ve bought Waterford Crystal Christmas ornaments and items for the china cabinet. It was a treat to visit the factory where these heirlooms are all hand-made.

Waterford Crystal Factory

Waterford Crystal is almost as old as the United States, it started in 1783 by George and William Penrose. Upon the death of the owners, the business was sold several times. In 1825, Great Britan and Ireland placed a hefty duty on glassware and this eventually caused Waterford to go belly up. However, in 1947, Charles Bacik and Noel Griffin reopened Waterford Crystal and it has thrived ever since.

The artisans of Waterford Crystal go through intensive training. They first go through 5 years of apprentice training before they can test as a Master. If they fail to pass the Master test, they normally leave the company. If they pass the test, it takes another 3 years to become a Master artisan.

Waterford Master Aristan

I was really surprised at the types of crystal they make. It’s not just vases, glasses, and ornaments — you will find NBA and NCAA trophies and all kinds of odd uses of crystal.

 

Irish National Stud Farm

On our way to Waterford, we stopped by the Irish National Stud Farm. This is where championship horses are bred. The property is beautifully manicured and has even been visited by the Queen of the United Kingdom.

Irish Stud Farm Grounds

Irish Stud Farm House

It’s amazing how much they charge to breed Champion studs. The most expensive Stud on the farm is Invincible Spirit. His stud fee is £ 120,000 — that’s $158,168! This horse is bred about 4 times a day so he brings in $632,672 per day. Now that’s some serious money!

Invisible Spirit.JPG

Invisible Spirit Stud.JPG

Japanese Gardens

On the grounds of the Irish Stud Farm sits a Japanese Garden. It’s an incredibly manicured garden of various native (and even some non-native) plants.

Japanese Garden Bridge

Japanese Garden

Jack Meades Original Irish Pub

We had a special dinner at the Jack Meades Irish Pub. This is a traditional Irish pub that carries a lot of history.

Jack Meade exterior

The pub dates back to 1705 and it has been in the current family since 1857. As you walk into the pub, you must duck your head because the ceiling height is only about 6 feet and some of the header boards are just over 5 feet high. As you look around the 200 square foot bar, you see locals bellied up to the bar sipping Guinness.

The upstairs is bigger and that’s where we had dinner. A local talent serenaded us with Old Irish songs and we all sang along. Danny Boy and 40 Shades of Green were the crowd pleasers.

The singer also told us about Galway girls. Galway is a coastal town we visited later and they supposedly have the most beautiful Irish girls there. Most have dark hair and blue eyes. They think this happened as the Spanish visited the coastal city and left a bit of their heritage behind.

The singer also said that in recessionary times, they converted the upstairs of the pub into a funeral home because in Ireland they like to celebrate a person’s life by pounding pints of Guinness. This was a logical fit and it ran as a pub/funeral home for many years.

I had the best seafood chowder I’ve ever tasted at this pub — it was  a wonderful night of craic.

Next Stop: Cork and Killarney

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 Cork and Killarney.

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If you missed the post covering Dublin, you can read it here.

 

 

Dublin Ireland – 10 million pints of Guinness

We just finished up 2 amazing weeks visiting Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. We visited lots of interesting sites so I will be creating a series of blogs that highlight our adventures.

Guinness Storehouse

After traveling the red-eye flight to Dublin, we arrived early at the hotel but the rooms weren’t yet ready and wouldn’t be for several hours. Our tour guide suggested we visit the Guinness Storehouse — a museum and brewery for the nitro infused creamy beer called Guinness.

Guiness Storefront

We’ve had Guinness before but during this trip, we grew quite fond of this original craft beer. It was sold in every pub at a cost of about $3 pounds (about $4 US Dollars). Compare that to $7 in a bar in the states — a great deal. Guinness is a hugely successful company, brewing 10 million pints a day in Dublin.

If you like beer and the science behind making it, you will enjoy the Guinness Storefront. They have lots of interesting ways of showing how beer is made — most of the demonstrations are backed with video and other audio/visual aids. They also have an entire floor dedicated to how they’ve marketed the product over the years. It was fun to see really old commercials and how they targeted their sales.

Included in the price of admission is a trip to the Gravity Bar to get a free pint of their nitro-infused brown ale. This is on the top floor of the building and it overlooks Dublin so it has incredible views of the downtown area as well as the surrounding mountains. Great beer and beautiful scenery, can it get any better?

Gravity Bar at Guinness

How did you find it?

After we returned from our trip to the Guinness Brewery, we met our other travel companions. This was a Trafalgar tour, so we were traveling with 27 other people. One of the couples we met were Australian and they were a lot of fun. When we met them, I talked about our trip to the Guinness Storefront (they arrived later and did not go).

After I described it, they said: “How did you find it?”. I answered, “we caught a cab outside of the hotel”. They then repeated, “so how did you find it?”. I reiterated that the cabbie knew the directions.

Then they just started laughing hysterically. Then they said “I think in American English, I meant “how did you like it?”.

Nancy Hands

We got our first Irish pub experience at Nancy Hands. This is a late 1800’s pub with lots of tradition.

Nancy Hand Pub and Restaurant

Back in the last 1800’s pubs could not sell beer during 2 hours of the day (that time was called Holy Hour). There was a bartender named Nancy that illegally sold beer to local soldiers during Holy Hour. She would pass the beer through a hole in the wall and the only thing they saw was her hand — that’s how it got its name.

Nancy Hand

Nancy Hand Pub

Glendalough

Located about 30 minutes outside of Dublin stands Glendalough — a Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin.  St. Kevin moved to this area to become a hermit and monk but word travelled quickly across the area and people migrated there just to be near him and to follow his example.

Glendalough

The drive to Glendalough is inspiring itself. Beautiful rolling green hills lined with purple heather. In fact, Johnny Cash wrote a song about this area called 40 Shades of Green, it is now an iconic Irish song.

The surviving buildings and graves at Glendalough date back to the 10th century.

Glendalough Graves

Glendalough Graves

Around 1042, timber from Glendalough was used to build the second longest Viking ship ever recorded.  A replica of this ship can be seen in Roskilde, Denmark.Viking Ship

Taylors Three Rock

On our last night in Dublin, we learned what it was like to have “craic” (pronounced CRACK). On our cab trip to Guinness, our cab driver introduced us to the word. He said it was an Irish word that’s hard to explain even by the Irish. When you go out, meet people, have great conversations, and just have an incredible time, you just had “craic”. There’s an interesting article that explains it better, you can visit it here.

Taylors Three Rock is an Irish Night Club and Cabaret. When it was first described, I figured it would be a corny tourist attraction but we had a really good time. We experienced authentic Irish cuisine (I had lamb stew) and a passionate crew of Irish entertainers that included song, River dancing, and bagpipes.

They picked Cameron out of the audience to go on stage and play a traditional Irish drum. He was a bit embarrassed but did a great job entertaining the crowd. After that, everyone in our tour knew Cameron’s name and graciously volunteered him for many more events over the next 2 weeks.

Next Stop: Waterford

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 Waterford and the incredible Waterford crystal factory.

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.