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Our Final Stop, Powerscourt !

It was with bittersweet anticipation that we pulled into the parking lot of Powerscourt Garden Estate. All of the Irish tourist sites have you exit through the gift shop. Powerscourt has you exit and enter through the gift shops!
Wow, the Italian Gardens with its sweeping clipped lawns and pond complete with Roman sculptures! Then we strolled the shaded pathway to the 1/2 size round tower. I could just imagine the young Lords and Ladies of Powerscourt playing ” King of the Castle”. Further along the trail was the Japanese garden,  My favorite with its tiny bridge and small brook.  The pet cemetary was next, nestled in the woods, four rows high with inscriptions for pets dating back to 1840s ! Then we went around the giant fishpond and into the walled formal 18th century garden. I asked Tom to snap a picture of the perfect tearose, at least 6″ across!
By now the boys had enough of flowers, so we went inside to Tara’s Lifesize Dollhouse. Turns out it was several dollhouses from generations of the Estate’s youngsters, along with all their other toys. Sally and I spoke to two ladies who volunteered there. When they heard that we had been to Skellig Valentia, they had to show us the miniature village made entirely of shells. It was created by 2 residents of Valentia and was donated by their children in the 1960s after their deaths.
After a little shopping,we left for the Powerscourt Waterfall,the tallest in Ireland they claim.  We were teased by Tom and Matt because we hadn’t packed a picnic meal like all of the other families in the park. We climbed over boulders to take some pictures of the Falls and that was enough of that!
Time to settle in for our last night, sniff,sniff! Matt suggested that we drive back to Dublin,but not into the city. So through town we went and just North of the airport to Rush, a small seaside village. One last time, we used our method:

1: Find a village for the night.

2:  Find a pub.

3: Befriend a barkeep.

4: Ask about B & Bs.

It worked again! We landed at The Maroc House just two blocks from the pub. After we checked in, we strolled back to the pub for a pleasant dinner and talk about our trip. The men stayed to listen to music while Sally and I walked back to Maroc House. We walked right past it, since it was still light out at 10 PM. We wanted to look at the ocean. It turned out that’s all we could do – Look. The beach was closed due to pollution!  Everything looks so pristine in Ireland, but they have the same problems as the rest of the industrialized world.

After an early and quick breakfast, it was back to the Dublin Airport. We returned our car and after several security checkpoints, we were in the terminal to await our jet.  There was,of course, time for last minute shopping- God knows we hadn’t done enough of that!  After a quick pint, we checked into our flight and headed back Home.

Bhain gach am ion tach!

The Vale of Avoca, aka Ballykissangel

The Vale of Avoca, aka Ballykissangel

Pub time, just as we pulled into the shoreline town of Arklow, specifically Howey’s Bridge Bar & Guest Rooms. We were in search of the Vale of Avoca, hoping to recreate one of Mom and dad Ward’s pictures. We met some friendly locals and the barkeep used his phone to call Cherrybrook Guest House in Avoca,” just downhill on Beach Road.” to make our B&B reservation. Hooray! We finished our pints, and headed out the door.

Well, after several turn-arounds, we finally found Beach Road and just 4 miles (Not really!) later, the B&B, Cherrybrook House! It was our hostess that asked if we ever heard of the PBS show, Ballykissangel. Turns out, our spot to recreate the Vale of Avoca picture was also the location where the TV show was filmed. Downhill we trudged to Fitzgerald’s Pub. Inside, the walls were covered with plaques, each displaying the TV Show characters! They did not, however, serve food and by now we were past hungry….we were HANGRY! The bar miss said go ahead across the street to Hedley’s ( also on the show) and get some fish & chips and bring them back here to eat. So we did! We spent the rest of the evening in pleasant conversation until the yawning started. We marched SLOWLY back uphill just before last call. Next morning, after a great breakfast in a pretty glass sunroom, surrounded by the garden, we drove back downhill to Avoca to take our tourist pictures, Fitzgerald’s, Hedley’s and The Church! We took a final photo of the Vale from the bridge, just as Mom and dad did in 1984.

Now onto to our last destination, Powerscourt Gardens!

A Bit of Blarney, Castle and Gardens

A Bit of Blarney, Castle and Gardens

The Castle Hotel in Maccroom was known for its buffet breakfast, so we took a chance.
It was delicious! Sally and I treated ourselves to the little mason jars with local yogurt with raspberries. I added a plate of local cheeses and scones with honey and walnuts – yummy! Then out the door we hurried, we made it to Blarney Castle before 10:30 not crowded at all. The guys went inside the Castle to climb to the top of the tower and kiss the famous Blarney Stone. Sally and I opted to explore the gardens surrounding the castle. We tried the underground cavern but it was so damp and stifling, not a place for 2 asthmatics, so we beat it out of there! The formal garden was pretty but the poison garden was fascinating. That was where the men found us, they decided to ditch waiting 2 hours to slowly climb the steps and kiss the stone. That’s OK; we’re full of blarney already! We spoke to a sweet young Chinese girl, who said “Let’s make a new tradition and kiss this stone here at ground level instead!”

We decided to walk along the river and take in more of the beautiful gardens. We saw a Fairy glen with walls made of moss and ferns and the Witch’s kitchen. The legend goes that a witch was captured stealing wood from the Lord of Blarney’s forest and she would be executed. But because she was a creature of magic, she turned herself into a stone so she could come back each night and light a fire in the Witch’s kitchen to warm her. The Fairy Glen was filled with weeping willow type trees and plush with soft moss and ferns, perfect for fairies’ frolics!
We left just as the crowds and tour buses were pulling into the place.

We skirted the city of Cork on the way to Dungarven and the an Senachai Pub. This thatch – covered Pub was a photo op for Mom and Dad Ward in 1984. We got a picture of Tom outside the Pub and then all enjoyed a wonderful lunch in their courtyard. We met the owner and I showed him the picture from Mom and Dad’s trip. He asked me to post it to their website so that his followers could see the improvements made since he took ownership. Then it was back into the car, we drove the rest of the afternoon because we were headed to the Vale of Avoca. This was another recreation of the Original Loga Saga crew in 1984.

The Ring of Skellig – Skellig Valentia

If we thought the roads to this point were small, Velentia’s only route was miniscule! We headed up the hill from its harbor while I held my breath in the back seat. Then down a gravel path and out onto the rocky shore we drove to the lighthouse. We were still in the parking lot when we were greeted by Johnny, a Velentia resident who volunteers as guide and lighthouse staff. Johnny started our tour right there on the shore. He pointed out the rough rectangular stones that scientists determined were cut and laid as a harbor in the Bronze Age. Later, a ring fort was built sometime in the 1600s. Then into the tiny lighthouse we went, down into the two 8 foot prison cells. These were located directly under the officers’ quarters which weren’t much larger or at all secure. Johnny told us that once the fort had imprisoned 14 men in a cell 8′ high and 8′ across! It was so dark and damp and during storms it flooded with seawater, Dismal! The lighthouse was built in 1901. There was ever only one keeper and his family that lived there from 1901 until 1947 when the light was decommissioned. He told us how proud the Islanders were of their rescue crews. In the 1920s, 31 men were stranded in the bay aboard a sinking Italian freighter. Velentia’s Rescue Crew attempted to save them by rowing out but the storm waves were too rough. They decided to shoot a harpoon with a rescue line attached onto the sinking ship’s deck. But the harpoons were all now in the local museum. So, they broke into their own museum and stole the harpoons! They managed to get all men safely back to shore but one! His name is inscribed at the local Grotto along with the names of other tragedy victims. After a quick picture with Johnny, then it was back on the road and uphill this time.

Our next stop was a sign pointing downhill that said “Terrapods”. Couldn’t miss that! So we parked and climbed down the gravel trail to see the Terrapod Rocks discovered in 1992. There we found drag marks and footprint fossils preserved in the red mud. Apparently, Terrapods were the first creatures on Earth believed to have crawled out of the sea onto dry land! Now, back uphill we trudged and drove following the road to the flagstone quarry. The local Lord brought Welsh miners over in the 1600s to mine the island’s flagstone for the English market. This turned out to be quite profitable for him. However, after the last cave-in in the 1920s, the quarry was permanently closed and the entrance was made into a Grotto dedicated to the Blessed Mother, in honor of all who had died there.

By now, all the climbing had made us hungry and thirsty. So we followed the road around the island to Port Magee. There in the Bridge Bar, we enjoyed a bowl of seafood chowder and a pint. Delicious! There is something to be said about seafood that just hours before was swimming in the nearby waters! Back on the road onto the ferry, we completed the Ring of Kerry in record time and ended our day in the village of Maccroom at the Castle Hotel. Yay, a hotel meant a normal sized shower!

The Ring of Kerry

Our host at the Kingfisher Lodge asked us at checkout where we were headed. He had just returned from a drive around the Ring of Kerry with his wife. They suggested that we leave early and follow the Ring from the opposite direction of the tour buses, far less traffic that way. He also told us about the Ring of Skellig. The Ring of Kerry apparently does not go out to the point of the peninsula, which is considered an additional ring tour. This usually includes a boat ride from the point to the islands, Skellig Michael and Greater Skellig. We took his advice and headed right out in the opposite direction from the rest of the town’s tourists. He was right, there was far less traffic on our side of the road but the tour buses were coming at us! Thank Goodness the roads were much wider than Donegal or the Cliffs of Mohr. Doing the Ring simply means that you drive along the coast and look out at the views of sea and sky, I had not known that! If you want to actually go to the beach, you have to find a way down to the water’s edge. We were on the scenic tour. We drove along the cliff top and took in the panorama of sea and sky. The Ring of Kerry takes a turn to cross overland and heads down the opposite coast. We opted for the route that went out to the point, called the Ring of Skellig. The road began to narrow considerably and slope downhill but as we came out to the point, it opened up into a small harbor. We drove out to the water’s edge and parked. We could see across the narrow channel to an island. The ferry chugged across to pick us up and in ten minutes we were off to Skellig Velentia!

Kilarney Town

It was already teatime pubtime heck, it was Dinner by the time we rolled into Kilarney. Because it was so late,we skipped our usual stop at the pub  for a B&B referral. Sally’s smartphone found the Kingfisher Lodge and we made it there with only one turn-around. Our rooms overlooked a yard with a koi pond and beautiful rose garden,lovely!  We dropped our bags and walked downtown since we were very hungry! The town center was crowded with tourbus passengers, most seemed to be lodged in The Arbutus Hotel and The Tower Hotel. We walked the main street and watched as most of these tourists crowded into the small pubs and bistros. So, we opted for the larger Tower Hotel and O’Donohue’s Bar and Restaurant. Good choice! Sally had ham and cabbage which was nothing like the bland mush that usually comes to mind. I opted for salmon. This came out plated on a wooden plank and grilled to perfection, accompanied by champ and mushy peas. The men opted for “meatier”  entrees. We All enjoyed an excellent meal! By now, Sally and I had decided that Irish Coffee is the perfect dessert!  We didn’t have to leave our table for entertainment, as the local superstars took to the stage. This group believed in audience participation so the crowd was encouraged to sing along. We decided after a couple of sets to make our way back to Kingfisher Lodge. Our next stop was Murphy’s Pub next to the Arbutus Hotel for a parting pint.  The place was packed with a much younger crowd and the volume of music was at a max! Two drinks later we were ready for the walk back to our rooms. Tomorrow the Ring of Kerry!

Bunratty Castle & Bridie of Bunratty Village

After lunch, it was a short drive to the Norman 5 story castle known as Bunratty. This was like an Irish Disneyland. There’s 2 large motels and Dirty Nellie’s Pub, Bunratty Castle Tour, The Medieval Banquet Tour and Bunratty Village. We started with a Castle tour. There were pieces of furniture in the Castle Hall, assembled there because they were from the period, beautiful wardrobes, chests, throne chairs and tapestries on every wall. The Castle’s corner towers held glass – protected rooms setup as they had been in the Middle Ages. The Castle Lord’s bedroom, the castle kitchen, the private chapel and even the dungeon cells.
The banquet hall is on a lower floor and is a separate, evening tour. Dinner with the Lord and Lady…nae, we passed on that!
Bunratty Village surrounds the castle, that was worth seeing! Each tiny building has its own volunteer actor or actress who relates the time frame and what life was like for the inhabitants. The Doctor’s house was obviously more posh in furnishings. The Doctor introduced himself and showed the scarce tools of his trade to us. It was frightening to think how little he had to keep the Village people alive and well! Next door was the village school. The center rooms were the home of the schoolmaster. The classrooms were on either side of this,the girls’ classroom on one side and the boys’ on the other. Girls we were told attended school until 14 years old, while the boys continued until 16 or 17 years old. The tiny post office was really a post office where you could buy a post card and mail it home!
Then we came to the small farmer’s cottage and met Bridie! She was the jewel of the trip for Sally and I! She first went through the story of life on a farm in the County Clare of the 1800s. How each bride would receive a few gold coins on her wedding day which she hid for emergencies. Her family might also gift her with a stone floor in the central room,the kitchen. They then helped her and the groom to hide the stone floor under weeds and dry grasses so the English taxman wouldn’t see it and raise their taxes!
She told us how the girls went to school until they were 14. They then either had to enter the convent to become a nun or marry a farmer. Often they were much older men looking for a replacement wife to take care of him and his children. The farmers were very strict with unmarried daughters, they wanted to prevent them from getting pregnant. If they were unlucky enough to get pregnant, they were sent to a convent to have the baby. The baby was then taken from them and put into an orphanage for adoption and the mother entered the order of nuns. If she refused to become a nun she was sent to a mental institute,she could not return home, she was disgraced.
” Now, in my time,just before World War Ii, the family’s women had enough of this. They might put together their coins and send the girl to America or England to work. That was me, I left for America in the late 40s to work as a cook and maid. Relatives in America were expected to send home parcels with luxuries such as tea, sugar and linens. If an unlucky someone died the Irish Immigrants would ask for the clothes and linens of the deceased, then they would wash them and mail them back to Ireland.
I left my home poor, nearly penniless! But,I came home driving an expensive big car! ” She beamed with pride!
It was getting late when we left Bunratty and made our way to Kilarney.

Quinn Abbey & Craggavnowen – The Living Past Project

Since the sun rose at 5:30 AM, we once again enjoyed an early breakfast,this time in the Gray Gables lovely sun-room. Our hostess asked where we were headed. Bunratty Castle, which was only 20 minutes down the M1 highway. ” Don’t go that way though.” she urged. She handed Matt and Tom some brochures listing the local sights of interest, Quinn Abbey, Knappogue Castle and Craggavnowen. So,once more, we amended our destination and made a right out of the B & B parking lot, towards Quinn.

Quinn was the castle of the Norman Lord De Thormond from around 1270. But after years of the local Irish attacking and burning the castle, he departed and left it to the McNamaras. The McNamaras built a new castle close by named Knappogue. They turned the original castle into an abbey for the Franciscan Monks. Then, King Henry VIII closed the Catholic abbey, but he graciously allowed the ” few useless, old men to end their lives there”. It is now a part of the Irish parish of St. Mary’s. They have utilized the ruins as their parish graveyard. We found grave markers from the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

We could not get into Knoppogue Castle, it is no longer a royal residence but a catering venue. But the formal gardens were worth the effort despite the heat and humidity! Sally found an unusual bumble bee there. We soon found out it was a thatching bee!
It took some zig-zags to find the farmland marked as Craggavnowen – The Living Past Project. By now the sun was high up in the sky,so it was nice to wander down shady treed paths to the 3 exhibits.

The Neolithic Village, complete with moat. The Iron Age Village surrounded by earthen embankments and a hidden escape tunnel. Finally the St. Brendan Canoe exhibit. This was in a glass enclosure with the leather canoe used in the 1980s to prove the possibility of St Brendan’s legendary travel to the New World.We ended our visit in their gift shop, of course! It was not our fault though, the Irish sites all have the tourists exit through the gift shop!!
By now we were starved, so down the road we went. We made a brief stop in the tiny village of Sixmilebridge for lunch along the river overlooking a 20′ bronze of ” The Miller Returns”.

Cliffs of Mohr, home to the Puffins

As I mentioned in the last post, the trip uphill to the cliffs of Mohr is a white-knuckle drive. Imagine a road the size of a single car driveway and hedges or stone walls on either side of the pavement. Now send a couple of tourbuses down the hill towards you and the drivers want to play chicken! The considerate Irish have built pull-overs onto the side of the roadway every 25 feet or so. If you can make it to a pull-over, you’re safe! If not….good luck! Matt wondered why there weren’t auto repair shops on every corner to fix the broken mirrors and scraped door panels. But our luck held and after only one encounter with a hedge, we arrived at the Cliffs of Mohr around 2:30 PM. The timing was to avoid most of the tourbusses and the crowds. It worked!
I managed to climb up the right-hand trail to the lesser cliffs. This side had a castle roundtower that you can enter and a spectacular view of the taller cliffs to the left. This was also the side of the Rookery, the nesting site of the Puffins and other seabirds.
My knee screamed at me to NOT climb the longer, higher trail to view where I then stood. So I sat on a bench while Sally, Matt and Tom went on to the right hand trail. When they returned Sally tattled on the men and how they climb past the “Do not pass this point” sign to take pictures from the cliffs’ edge. Then it was back into the car and downhill we went, goodbye Benbullben Mountain! Matt did not lie, the trip down the backside road was much more enjoyable!
It was well past tea, I mean pub time when we rolled into the village of Ennis. Our pub of choice was Cruises Bar. Ennis is a college town and there is a large youth hostel on the edge of the town center, so the streets and pub were filled with young people. Our bartender, Ricki recommended Gray Gables B & B, right next door to his parents’ home on O’ Connell Street. This was a medieval narrow shop street, that twisted and turned for a couple of blocks, charming! We unloaded the luggage, no 3 flights of steps this time, but the guys did have to lift them up a narrow spiral staircase, always an adventure!
We walked back to Cruises Bar for a dinner of Beef & Guiness Pie and another night of traditional Irish music. This time we watched as a pair of young Chinese musicians apprenticed under the local music legends. Imagine they travelled from China to Ireland to learn traditional Irish fiddle music. They did very well! Early to bed, our breakfast was set for 7:30!

Yeats Grave, the village of Drumcliffe

In 1984, Mom & Dad Ward, members of the original Laga Saga crew, stopped in the small village of Drumcliff to visit the graveside of William Butler Yeats. So as we drove South from Donegal, we also paused in Sligo County and the village of Drumcliffe. There,beside a tiny but still active chapel,lies the unassuming grave of one of the world’s greatest poets. The Irish poet,Willain Butler Yeats,lays in a peaceful chapel graveyard where his grandfather had once been curate. His final resting place,with it’s stunning location at the foot of Benbulben mountain,is quiet and unadorned. But the local parishoners recently have installed a brozne memorial with a life – sized statue of the poet and his words in the nearby parking lot. The Church graveyeard also has the remains of an early round tower and a high cross constructed in the 11th century when there was still a Christian monastery on – site. The monastery was founded by Saint Columcille (Columba),one of St Patrick’s deciples,in 574 A.D.
We left Drumcliffe and continued the journey Southward.

We paused at Castle Dughaire, overlooking the reeks (marshes). We climbed its towerhouse from bottom to top. Apparently, its English Lady had renovated and modernized it in the 1960’s. It still seemed dark and dismal, not for me! But as Sally said, “You never forget your first Castle!”
Finally,it was on to the Cliffs of Mohr! But you cannot enjoy the cliffs until you have survived the white knuckle drive UP into the hills! Matt promised Sally & I the ride down the other side of the hill would be much better.