Trip Report: Bus Tour of the Emerald Isle, part 3
Day 10, Saturday, June 29th - Giant's Causeway
No rush this morning so we slept in…well, we were still up by 6:00. I headed down to the lounge to hook into the wifi and got a few more names and addresses for the family portrait. Lynn came down for breakfast eventually. In addition to being the nicest hotel of the trip, the Holiday Inn also provided the best breakfast. Similar fare as the other mornings, but with the addition of a pancakes and made to order omelets. I still stuck to fruit and cereal just to try and maintain a somewhat healthy diet…plus fewer calories now equates to more beer later.
Pierce had suggested that if anyone needed a rest after so many days of hard traveling that they could bag the tour today and just hang-out in Belfast. Not that the tour was not worth seeing, but rather it worked out logistically. Even with that the vast majority of the family was on the bus at 8:30 and ready to go. Only three did not make the trip. And we had our first tardy family member (up to this point no one had been late for the bus, so everyone was very aware of being respectful of the timing and of the group dynamics, so to only have one instance where the group was held up by one person was actually pretty remarkable. Besides, Pierce gave the offending family member a bit of a stern lecture….and then we applauded when guilty party finally party did finally board the bus…all in good fun).
The main attraction for today is the Giant’s Causeway, way up on the north shore of the island. This is an all-day excursion and Pierce has a few stops planned for us. His route today will be a loop; we’ll head north along the coast (the long way) and come back the more direct, overland route.
The morning was chilly and grey, with a bit of drizzle on and off through the morning. But it was still an enjoyable drive up the coast. As usual, Pierce kept up the commentary on all matters Irish. He pointed out a few of the city’s sites as we went and as we left Belfast, we got a view of the waterfront and port area and saw a couple of the huge ferries making their way in and out of the port. Our first stop of the day was along the Belfast shore Carrickfergus Castle, another reminder of King William of Orange.
Carrickfergus is a Norman castle built in 1177. This is the location where King William III first set foot in Ireland on June 14, 1690, after General Schomberg besieged and took the castle. We have been talking about William of Orange throughout the trip, so just who was this guy and why is he so important to the history of Ireland. Here’s a summary of sorts based on Pierce’s commentary and information from the internet:
So it seemed like most every day of the trip, Pierce would add more to the history of Ireland that focused on the fighting over religion and land, and mostly religion. Yeah, there’s certainly more to it than that, but the Catholics and Protestants seemed to be continually knocking heads. He talked about the Unionist/Loyalists and the Nationalist/Republicans and it just seems like a lot of the angst is traced right back to good ol’ William of Orange and his ascension to power over England, Ireland and Scotland.
In the late 1600s, Europe was ready to explode (seems like that happens a lot), with France on one side and the Grand Alliance consisted of Spain, Holland, Germany, Hungary, Naples, Prussia and Sweden on the other. Our buddy William of Orange, who was a Protestant, was the commander of the Grand Alliance. At the same time there were changes to the power structure in England as King Charles II was succeeded by King James II. Just to make things really interesting, James' daughter, Mary, married William of Orange and thus making William heir to the throne of England.
James was a Catholic and introduced laws for religious toleration of non-Anglicans (i.e. Catholics and Presbyterians). Now when James began promoting Catholics into the higher ranks of the army, Parliament became suspicious that he was trying to revert England officially to Catholicism. In 1687, James made his brother-in-law his viceroy in Ireland. The viceroy strengthened the Irish army in case James needed it. Because James was a Catholic, it was easy to find recruits in Ireland.
In 1688, James had another son and regarded this Catholic boy as his heir. Parliament on the other hand regarded Protestant William as heir. To prevent James from taking take action to prevent William becoming King, Parliament invited William over to take over the monarchy. William invaded England on November 5, 1688, and while his troops and marched to London, James fled to France. William and Mary were made King and Queen in 1689 in what became known as the 'Glorious Revolution'. The Protestants in Ireland joined the revolution and declared their support for William (see the trends along the religious lines?). So now William is William III of Orange, William III of England and Ireland and William II of Scotland, although folks in Northern Ireland and Scotland refer to him as King Billy.
Now James was not going to give up without a fight, so in March 1689, he landed in Ireland at Dublin to start his comeback, because he knew he would get strong Catholic support. The Protestants, in support of William, took up arms and attacked James' new army, but James’s forces were stronger and drove the Protestants back. The tides turned during the summer when James’s soldiers were defeated at Newtownbutler in July and then in August when William’s armies landed at and took the town of Carrickfergus.
Keep in mind that while this is going on in England and Ireland that there are still hostilities on the Continent. The Grand Alliance wanted to get William back to leading the war against France, so they sent troops to Ireland to aid William and hopefully settle the issue there. Countering this, King Louis XVI of France sent troops to help James in order to prolong the war in Ireland and thus distract William’s attention from France.
Finally, in June 1690, William himself arrived at Carrickfergus and marched south. James marched north from Dublin and the two armies met at the River Boyne, in County Meath on July 1, 1690. The ensuing battle, known as the Battle of the Boyne, is arguably the most famous event in Irish history, due to its symbolic Catholic/Protestant confrontation. William won the battle which was celebrated all across Europe as it represented a victory by the Grand Alliance over France. After the humiliating defeat, James immediately left for Dublin and subsequently fled to France. After failing to completely defeat the Jacobites (supporters of James) during the siege of Limerick, William returned to England and left the General Ginkel in charge. Fighting continued in Ireland for over year before the Jacobites finally surrendered in September 1691 with the peace treaty signed in October. The Treaty of Limerick permitted Catholics to retain the right to practice their religion, but they had to forfeit their land.
As we continued up the coast we passed through several small towns flying the Union Jack that were prepared for the marching season by the Orange Order, basically the celebration of William’s victory in 1690. Pierce indicated that these parades still cause a lot of angst between the Unionist/Loyalists and the Nationalist/Republicans, so much so in fact that many of the latter leave the area during marching season. Pierce also shared the symbolism of the Flag of the Republic of Ireland where the green representing the Gaelic tradition of Ireland, orange representing the followers of William of Orange in Ireland, and white representing the aspiration for peace between them.
We were back on the bus about 9:20 and continued on our northerly route along the coast. We enjoyed the views over the water even though it was a somewhat grey day. Our next stop was a viewpoint not too far from Waterfoot. It was a very nice view, looking across the little bay to the green fields on the hill on the opposite shore and the sheep grazing in the pasture immediately in front of us. Looks like Ireland to me. I also saw a Cormorant skimming along the surface of the water along with the ever present gulls and other shorebirds.
Vista point 2 was a "drive-by shooting" as I just got a lucky photo as we came around a bend in the road There was a break in the trees and another beautiful bucolic view of green farm fields, grazing livestock and wooded hills.
Our third stop of the day was at the viewpoint above Portaneevey, or “the port of the caves.” From this vantage point we could look down on Carrick-a-Rede Island, which is connected to the mainland by the famous swinging rope bridge from April to September each year. There has been a rope bridge here since at least 1784, helping fishermen gain access to the island…along with the braver tourists! The chasm spanned by the bridge is the neck of an extinct volcano, a reminder of the volcanic history of much of the coastline.
The white cottage, or “bothy”, is the base for the island’s salmon fishery, established in 1624, and remaining active today throughout the short summer salmon season. The bag net, introduced from Scotland in the mid-nineteenth century, is anchored to Carrick-a-Rede, a name interpreted as “the rock in the road” the road being the migration route of Atlantic salmon returning to their home rivers to spawn.
We only had a few minutes at Portaneevey; just enough to walk the trail along the overlook and to read the signs about the history (shoot, I spent the time enjoying the views so I just took a photo of the signage for later reading).
I remember crossing the swinging bridges over the Guyandotte to the railroad yard office back home, but those were permanent structures made of heavy steel cables. I’m not so sure I would have been up to making the trek to Carrick-a-Rede Island, even if we had the time.
The weather was still grey and breezy as we continued north, but still no rain to speak of. The road swung over to the shore again and we were afforded some nice views along the coast. Our next stop was the Giant’s Causeway. As we approached this natural wonder, Pierce gave us a couple of theories on its formation.
Pierce did not spend a lot of time on the scientific explanation of the 40,000 basalt columns, just that they were created due to volcanic activity and the cooling of the lava beds. The visitor center and the internet provide a bit more detailed explanation. The black basalt columns were formed about 60 million years ago when highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau. The lava cooled rapidly causing the basalt to contract and fracture forming the pillar-like structures. The pillars are hexagonal in shape and about 18 inches across. The size of the columns was primarily determined by the speed at which lava cooled.
More time was spent on the legendary construction. Apparently, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. As I recall, in the version the Pierce told, the Scottsich giant, Benandonner built the causeway so that he could get to Ireland to fight Finn MacCool. However, once Benandonner arrives, Finn realizes that he is out matched and makes tracks back to his house to hide. Finn’s wife, Úna, dresses Finn as a baby and places him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the 'baby', he reckons that its father, Finn, must be a giant among giants and he flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Finn could not follow. Seems like a reasonable explanation.
As we were pulling into the parking lot, Pierce stated that we would have to choose which story best explains the formation of the causeway, the legend of the giants or “that rubbish about lava.”
It took a few minutes to get things sorted once we arrived at the causeway as there was just a little confusion on the parking and tickets, but nothing that Pierce could not quickly resolve. They run a tight ship at the causeway and the ticket agent kept us all moving toward the entrance. We were soon on our way to the trail that leads to the causeway. However by now our mostly dry yet overcast day had turned to a steady drizzle…something more than spitty-spotty, but nothing that our rain jackets could not handle.
Lynn and I did not loiter in the visitor center opting instead to make the most of our limited time outside exploring the causeway. We had arrived here at about 11:45 and Peirce said we had until 2:20 for the causeway, the visitor center and lunch. Again a “busy, busy, busy” day!
We found our way to the paved trail leading down the hill to the causeway. We were given audio guides that were intended to provide details on the area at specific sites along the trail, but I reckon I just did not have the patience for it and turned the guide off after the second stop or so. Besides, who needs the audio guide with all the visual wonders to take in.
The views along the shore were amazing even without the 40,000 basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway. On the outbound trek, we just took in the causeway from afar with the plan of exploring in detail on the return hike. The paved trail turned to dirt..OK, mud…not far past the causeway. We took the coastal trail to the end of the line, probably a little over a half-mile past the causeway. Great views all along the route. About the point where the coastal trail intersects with The Shepherd’s Path, the trail starts to climb to The Organ and continues upward to provide views over Port Reostan. The trail ends here due to a landslide in the amphitheater back in the 1990s. The old trail is still visible along the opposite wall of the alcove but it is obvious that it has not been used in a number of years. Even with the abbreviated hike we took in some great views of the basalt columns in the cliffs along the shore.
There were a fair number of birds in the area; ducks, gulls, swallows and a hawk. Other than the duck, which I believe is a female Eider, I was not able to get any good photos.
On the return trip we stopped at The Organ and took a photo of a young couple who gladly returned the favor. Then we headed to the causeway for a more detailed look around. The columns jut up at the shoreline, maybe 40 or 50 feet, then gradually taper down to meet the sea. It is easy to climb around on the causeway since the columns form natural stairs providing access to both the high-point on the shore and right down to the crashing waves. There is a park employee stationed at the low end of the causeway to keep the visitors away from the dangerous areas. Even in Ireland there is the danger of “stupid human tricks.”
We climbed around on the causeway for a while, taking in the views, watching the waves crash into the columns and enjoying the wildflowers that were growing in the cracks between the columns. Then it was back up the hill to the visitor center to get some lunch and to warm-up a bit.
After a bite to eat from the cafeteria, we had a look around the visitor center. A large part is gift store, of course, but there are also displays on the formation of the causeway, both the “scientific rubbish” and the legends are portrayed. There is a short cartoon movie of the Finn McCool legend that has no narration or captions, just the characters acting out the legend. I was glad that Peirce had clued us in on the story as I’m not sure I would have gotten it just from the movie.
We were back on the road about 2:30. The drive up the coast was very pretty, but the return was not as interesting, plus it was raining fairly hard so it was difficult to get great views. I actually napped a bit during the return trip, the first time for the trip.
Another of Pierce’s topics of discussion over the past several days was the ”Tinkers, Travelers, Itinerants, Gypsies” who live in throughout Ireland and who have also immigrated to the US (I admit it, I’ve watched those TV shows…it’s like watching a train wreck; you just can’t look away!). Interesting group of people, and perhaps somewhat misunderstood. They are generally perceived in a negative way. We did not see many Travellers along the way, but we did pass one family set up on the side of the road. Our other encounter was at the Marian Shrine just before we reached the Cliffs of Moher. There were a couple of Travellers there blessing a large statue of Mary in the water of the shrine. Pierce said that they would then take the statue back to their camp.
Pierce also pointed out several places, particularly in Northern Ireland, where there were low bars at the entrances to parking lots to keep the Gypsies out (the bars were set high enough for a standard car to enter, but were too low to allow a mobile home or trailer to gain access). These gates were seen at the parking lots for churches and schools for example. It seems that when a group of Travellers set up camp they are hard to evict. Pierce cited a couple examples where people allowed the Travellers to setup camp on their property, only to have the Travellers take advantage of the situation.
So who are these folks? Irish Travellers are a traditionally itinerant people of ethnic Irish origin, who maintain a set of traditions and a distinct ethnic identity. As mentioned, they are also called Gypsies but are not to be confused with the Romani people of the European continent. A tinker was originally an itinerant tinsmith, who mended household utensils. Some traveling people and Gypsies adopted this lifestyle and the name was particularly associated with indigenous Irish and Scottish Travellers.
They live mostly in Ireland but there are also large populations in the United Kingdom and in the United States. There are around 10,000 Travellers in the United States, with about 2,500 living in Murphy Village, South Carolina. They are of course descendants of the Travellers who left Ireland, mostly during the period between 1845 and 1860 during the Great Famine. As it happens, there are several Travellers living down home around Princeton.
We were back at the hotel about 4:00. The weather in Belfast was once again gorgeous; sunny and warm. We opted to take a walk around the city and perhaps find a restaurant. However the places on our rout that looked interesting were all mobbed, so we just had a quite dinner in the hotel bar. Bass and a burger as I recall. We called it an early night and just watched a couple classic mystery shows: Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Somehow that just seemed appropriate
Here's the gallery for additional photos from today's excursion.
Day 11, Sunday, June 30th - The Titanic Experience
Our last full day in Ireland, and like all those before, it would be “busy, busy, busy!” Early start as we had to be on the bus at 0800 for a 2-hour driving tour of Belfast with a local guide, an older gentleman named John. Lynn and I had front row seats as the rotation scheme was working in our favor. It turned out that the front row was a good spot for the city tour.
The Belfast tour was not as good as the Dublin tour, but not because of the city. John just was not as engaging or entertaining as Maureen, and he and Pierce just did not seem to click. But we still saw many of the highlights of the second largest city on the island. Here are a few that I recall, in roughly the order that we saw them:
We talked more about the conflict between the unionist/loyalist/Protestant and the nationalist/republican/Catholic communities, but got a new name for this strife, “The Troubles.” In this conflict, the unionists, etc. see themselves as British and the nationalists and like factions are Irish. The Troubles began in the late 1960s and ended (?) in 1998 with the Belfast “Good Friday” Agreement. As mentioned earlier in this narrative, at the heart of The Troubles is the disposition of Northern Ireland. The unionist/loyalists what to remain part of the United Kingdom while the nationalist/republicans want a unified Ireland. Enough politics, back to the tour....
- We made a couple of passes by the Belfast City Hall and its statues, including the very grumpy Queen Victoria statue and memorial to the victims of the Titanic disaster.
- We saw the Albert Memorial Clock, built as a memorial to Prince Albert, the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria. It was completed in 1869, but since it was built on marshy ground, the 113-foot tall tower leans about 4 feet from perpendicular. So sort of the “leaning tower of Albert” but it appears to be stable.
- Of course we saw several beautiful churches throughout the tour, but there was one that really stood out, St. Anne’s Cathedral. It had a couple of interesting architectural details. First was a huge Celtic cross built into the exterior of one wing of the facility. The second is the Spire of Hope, a 131-foot tall stainless steel spire that was installed on top of the cathedral in 2007.
- Our only stop of the trip was to get a look at the Parliament Buildings, commonly known as Stormont because of their location in the Stormont area of Belfast.
- We saw another of the public works sculptures as we were nearing the end of the tour, the 64-foot tall Thanksgiving Statue. But like so many of these sculptures, it has several nicknames, including "Nuala with a Hula." Seems appropriate.
- The tour ended at the waterfront, but we first got to see a couple engineering marvels namely the huge shipbuilding gantry cranes in the Harland & Wolff shipyard. These cranes are called “Samson” and “Goliath” and were built by the German engineering firm Krupp. Goliath was completed in 1969 and stands 315 feet tall. The 348-foot tall Goliath was completed in 1974. Both cranes have a span of 459 feet and can lift loads up to 840 tons.
- We also passed by the last surviving ship of the White Star Line, the SS Nomadic. She was a tender for the RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic. As a tender, she carried passengers from the port to the huge liners as the Olympic and Titanic were too large to berth at the docks. She was launched in 1911 and has been fully restored. She has basically come home as she was built by Harland And Wolff Shipyards alongside the Olympic and Titanic.
Our driving tour ended at 10:00 here in the shipyards at the Titanic Experience. John said his good-byes, and walked off looking like a stereotypical Englishman in his suit and carrying his umbrella. Our new guide was a young lady from the Titanic Experience who gave us a quick overview of the museum, got us setup with tickets and then turned us loose in the museum.
The Titanic Experience is a very striking building. To me it had elements of a ship and an iceberg…probably the effect the architect was going for. The building is covered with 3,000 anodized aluminum plates, the vast majority of which are unique in shape. The 126-foot high building is the same height as the Titanic as it sat in its slip at the end of construction (not including the ship’s funnels). The museum is the center of an overall complex that includes the SS Nomadic, the Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices where the Titanic was designed and the slipways where the Titanic and Olympic were built.
Peirce wanted to be on the road at 12:45, so we had less than 3 hours to tour the museum and any of the surrounding areas plus get some lunch. You know the motto: “Busy, busy, busy!”
This was one of the best museums that I have ever visited. Granted it is brand new, opening just over a year ago in March 2012, but the exhibits, the architecture, and the location just immerses you into the life of the great ships and the lives of all those associated with her. The museum covers much more than just the tragic end of Titanic’s short career. While the Titanic is the focal point, the exhibits tell stories of the ship building culture of Belfast, the men who lived and died bringing these great ships to life, and of those folks of all walks of life who sailed on the Titanic and Olympic.
The exhibits drew you into the life of the ships and the men and women affiliated with them. You got sort of a feel for what it was like during the construction. One of the best exhibits was an animated display that carried you vertically through the Titanic, starting in the engine room and moving up through the various decks.
An interesting point was that while the Titanic’s career was short to say the least, her sister ship the Olympic had a rather long career including serving as a troop carrier during World War I. She was such a stalwart that the Olympic was nicknames “Old Reliable.”
We took about two hours to tour through the museum, although I did not read every word of every display. One of the exhibits was closed during our visit, but we still got to see and do a lot. We also spent a little time outside, but did not have time to venture too far. I viewed the slips; the posts mark the outline of where the great ships sat during construction.
We grabbed a quick lunch in the coffee house. The sandwich we split was a little dry but OK, however the red velvet cupcake was outstanding! I had a Titanic Quarter Irish Pale Ale which was pretty darn good.
We headed back out t the bus about 12:35 and were shortly on the road. We returned passed the SS Nomadic and “Nuala” and on through the city then turned south toward Dublin. This was a relatively quite drive with only one stop at a service station for a rest break. But we did score some more Cadbury chocolate!
Once back on the road, Jill read her poem about our adventures. It was lighthearted, entertaining and endearing and while she referred to it as doggerel, it was obvious that she had put a lot of time and effort into the verse. This was not some silly little limerick, as appropriate as that might have been; no there were pages…plural…to this rhyming tale of the family’s exploits. Epic. Let’s call this “The ‘Jill’iad.”
We rolled into the Belvedere right at 3:30. Since we were not sure if we would see Pierce again (and we did not), we said a quick good-bye and give him a nice tip. He was fantastic guide and earned every dollar, er, euro.
We were quickly in the room as the hotel was ready for us and had our keys laid out waiting, so we grabbed our key and headed to the room. Lynn wanted to wait for the luggage this time, which was not our usual routine, but this time it paid off since the blue skies that we had upon arrival in Dublin switched to clouds and opened with a heavy, albeit short, downpour. We waited out the rain watching “A Touch of Frost.” Once we saw whodunnit, we took Peirce’s advice and “ran wild” through Dublin.
Our first goal was the shopping area over near Trinity College, so south of the River Liffy. Lynn had spotted a vase that was a perfect gift for Lisa’s 50th birthday. Then we just started meandering through the streets and up to St. Stephens Green, which was another fairly large and quite lovely urban park. The weather was back to perfect and the area was crawling with folks enjoying the blue skies and green space. There was even an art show set up adjacent to the park with local artisans displaying there creations.
We sort of meandered back toward the hotel as there were a few photos that I wanted to try and get. First was one of the many sculptures of Dublin, this one of the fictional Molly Malone, better known as “The Tart with the Cart.” Then it was back to the north side of the Liffy and down to the Custom House. I also wanted to walk down to get a better view of the Harp Bridge since I could not get a shot from the bus during the tour of Dublin. But Lynn vetoed that plan; oh well, we got plenty of other great photos. Besides, this gives us yet another reason to return to the Emerald Isle.
We merged back into O’Connell Street and headed to Murray’s for dinner. The street was full and the restaurant was fairly crowded this evening due to the football game…Gaelic football. The home team was victorious today. But we only had to wait a minute or so for a table; we ended up at the same table from our visit earlier in the trip. Lynn had the same shrimp dish as before, but she said it was not as good as the first time…seemed like it was missing something. I tried the beef and Guinness pie, Irish meat and taters. It was good, but a little on the bland side. Smithwick’s tonight…I’m really looking forward to getting home and having a beer with some bite.
Check the day three map for the location of the points of interest for our stroll this afternoon. Our route was basically straight out and back O’Connell Street to get to and from the Liffy, except for the detour over to the Custom House and around block. Here’s the link to more photos from Day 11, plus a couple from Day 12.
We stopped in the bar at the Belvedere for one last drink and dessert. None of the family was in sight when we arrived, but we were soon joined by Bill and Linda, then Jack and Nikki. We all shared one last pint...well maybe two...and toasted our "family vacation." We reviewed the tour and listened to a few Irish stories from Bill; all kind of corny, but we still had a good laugh.
Nikki asked about our grade for the trip. Lynn and I both gave it an “A” while Nikki and Jack said it was a “C” primarily due to the very full schedule for the tour which left little downtime. Yeah, I see their point as we had a pretty full schedule everyday and a little more free time would have been nice, but that was not a secret. I guess I was ready for the “busy, busy, busy” itinerary and made the most of the of the time. I’ll stick with the “A” grade.
Lynn and I were the last of the group to leave the little pub. But it was time to head up to the room and pack for the journey home. Our “best of Ireland” tour is coming to an end. We were serious about that “A” grade for the trip. I think Linda hit the nail on the head earlier this evening when she said that the trip was meant to be a sample of many things in Ireland to give the traveler an overview, and then you can come back and focus on those things that really spoke to you. My thoughts exactly. For me, I would focus on the parks ad natural wonders, but then again I’m a National Parks kind of guy! Of course having a guide and someone else do the driving was pretty nice. I got to enjoy the scenery rather than fight traffic and the roads! Maybe next time I’ll find a guided tour of the Irish parks.
Day 12, Monday, July 1st - Heading Back to Ohio
Well, we’re heading home today. We were lucky, I think, as we had the last of the three transfers to the airport, particularly since the first two busloads left pretty early (6:00 and 7:30 AM). We were still on the road by 0815 and by the time we went through the eight separate security checks, plus two stops for tax refunds, we were at the gate at 10:10 (and there were two more people who looked at passports during boarding. That makes 12 checks!). So less than two hours from the time we left the hotel to being ready to board, so not too terrible. Two x-ray screenings seems excessive, but perhaps Ireland and the US have different standards.
It is quiet here at the gate with over an hour to go before boarding begins. Good time for reflection and to add some notes to the journal. As I sit here and look around at the “family” members also waiting to board, I recall many of these same folks back at the gate in Cleveland Hopkins on departure day and wondering who might be on the same tour. It is sort of cool to think that over the past week or so that we’ve added so many special people to our list of friends.
We had an uneventful flight to Dulles. The climb out from Dublin was pretty as it provided one last look at the forty shades of green. But we were soon above the cloud deck so there would be nothing much to see for the next several hours. Fortunately there were movies to watch. I had time for three:
The good news is that we made it to Dulles with no issues; the bad news is that we are in Dulles, which has such a bad track record for flight delays and today was no different. Not surprised really.
But, if there were going to be delays, I’m glad it was on the return trip and not the outbound. “Awaiting Crew” was the cause given to our delay. Whatever. We’ll make the best of it and just deal with the continued ineptness of United (I still say that there is a book to be written on how to ruin a good airline). Our original departure was 4:50, but that was immediately slipped to 5:50, then every time we looked at the status board we would lose another half-hour (note to self: stop looking at the status board). We eventually left at 7:30. Still better than being stuck here over night…been there, done that! But we made the best of the time. Got in a stretch of the legs walking the concourse. Grabbed some dinner at a Mexican place which was not too bad. And finally had a good beer at the Old Dominion Brewing Company, their Hop Mountain Pale Ale. Finally a beer with some bite. I’m home.
Wrap-up and Reflections
As I sit here on September 1st, two months after returning from Ireland, I am just now completing the journal from that trip. That says a lot about how much we did in those 12 days. It was an epic trip and required a long trip report, even by my standards. I “only” had 51 typed pages for this trip journal. The photo count was a little over 2200; so not a huge number by our standards but still a lot of pictures. I guess that these numbers are still a good measure of how full of memories this trip really is.
We enjoyed everything that we saw during the trip, but certainly some more than others. My fav? The Cliffs of Moher. I could have stayed from sunrise to sunset. But then again we were fortunate to have had ideal conditions for viewing and photography. Least favorite? I probably would have skipped Celtic Crystal and Belleek Pottery, but even those stops turned out to be quite interesting. I think the most pleasant surprise was Blarney Castle as I was expecting more of a tourist trap but it was actually a very nice attraction with much more of a park feel as opposed to the Disney sideshow I was afraid that we would get. I did end up posting several reviews on Trip Advisor; I listed them all on a separate page (with links to the TA reviews).
For Lynn and me, the group bus tour itself was an experiment and I would have to say it was a success, but that was in large part due to the folks on the bus with us. While Lynn and I were on the young end of the age scale, this was a young at heart crew so we all moved along pretty well during the tours and folks generally got along very well which made the experience that much better. The fact that we had the Cleveland connection probably helped the group gel.
The other key factor was of course a well laid-out plan and the execution of that plan by Pierce and John Joe. Every detail was covered and the tour ran like clockwork. Each day Pierce had the timing set up to be optimal for planned tour stops and the expected weather. He knew when to get us somewhere ahead of the crowd and when to lag behind so that the crowd was already gone by the time we arrived. The result was a well-paced tour each day with minimal impact from other tour groups.
For our first trip to Ireland, the bus tour was perfect. Having someone else plan the trip and work out the logistics was a nice change of pace since that is usually my job (and I enjoy doing all of that). The biggest advantage was having someone else do the driving. I’m quite sure that I never want to drive in Dublin or Belfast…or around the Ring of Kerry for that matter!
Here are some additional miscellaneous thoughts on the tour:
- I thought we had enough time at most locations. Of course I could have stayed longer at the Cliffs of Moher and we would have walked more of the trails at Blarney Castle, but we still had sufficient time to enjoy these stops.
- I think we picked a great time of year to visit. The long days provided more time for seeing the sites. This was our most northerly visit to date, so having the sun up until nearly 11:00 PM was new for us. The weather was also pretty darn good most of the time. Sure there was overcast and rain, but mostly of the spitty-spotty variety. But we had our share of beautiful blue shy days as well. No need for shorts, and a rain coat is essential equipment, but overall the weather was never a deterrent during the trip.
- I get the whole “forty shades of green” description of Ireland. Even in the cities there are nice patches of green.
- I loved the humor relative to the nicknames for the many statues.
- The politics are confusing at best. The violence seemed harshest from the last 1960s through the late 1990s. It seems that President Clinton had a significant influence on getting the unionists and republicans to talk. Things are improving now, although there were riots in Belfast during marching season just two weeks after we returned.
- The food was better than I expected. The beer was not.
- The Titanic was part of three stops, so sort of a common theme. The Titanic Experience in Belfast was very well done and worth the time for the tour.
- Probably the only disappointment, if you can call it that, we that we did not get to explore a little more on our own in the towns in which we stayed. We covered Dublin pretty well and usually there was a little time to explore in your own in the evening if you were not totally exhausted. We did get a nice hike in at Killarney one evening. Of course having so much daylight really helped.
We even did well on the critter list, particularly the birds. The only bird that I was really hoping to see were Puffins when we visited the Cliffs of Moher and again due to the excellent viewing conditions we did see Puffins, as well as Razorbills and several types of gulls. I think I added 25 species of birds to my list, and I got a few decent photos as a bonus. Here’s the critter list from the trip:
There were a few others that we saw but could not identify, including a hawk of some sort at the Giant’s Causeway. Here's the link to the Ireland wildlife photo gallery.
Ireland is an amazing place. I was not really sure what to expect as honestly I was not that familiar with the Emerald Isle and I only did a very limited amount of research prior to the trip; I mostly let the planned tour be the guide for this trip. It is a beautiful place and packs a fair amount of variety into a small package (Ireland is 32,599 square miles; for comparison the state of Indiana is larger at 35,910 square miles). The history was fascinating. Like most of the places that we have visited, we have barely scratched the surface of all Ireland has to offer. With the grand time that we had on this excursion, I am certain that we will return.