Southern Ireland- twenty years ago
Saturday July 30, 1988 (London-England)
We arose early, at 6:00 a.m., ordered coffee and the paper. We finished packing and prepared to get underway. We checked out. The bill was 292L, which is not too bad considering the location and elegance of the place. I definitely recommend it.
We cabbed to Euston train station and caught a train for Holyhead, at 9:30 a.m. The train ride across Wales was enjoyable, if long. The first class compartments are roomy and have tables. A bar car was available. We had books and cards to occupy us for the 4 1/2 hour ride.
The visage of the English countryside was pastoral, with sheep, cows and grass. The grass is green from the rain. The train stations along the way have funny sounding Welsh names. They look like a slice of early 20th century mid-west Americana.
The fare, for the train and ferry, was 88L each. We arrived at Holyhead around 2:15 p.m.. We dragged our luggage along and got in line for the St. Columba ferry that would take us to Dun Laoghrie, Ireland, near Dublin. She was large and multi-decked, carrying passengers, freight and automobiles.
As we stood in line, in the rain, I began to appreciate what it must feel like to be an immigrant. We dragged our bags in a crowded line, with kids running about. We had to pass ticket agents who looked both officious and anti-Irish. A sense of apprehension and "the last lifeboat' syndrome" had set in. We boarded her. The gangways of the decks looked like steerage. Apparently, most of the regular customers usually bought the cheaper outside deck seats. In that it was raining, they headed indoors and lay about the aisles. Looking down a deck stairwell, reminded me of a steerage section visage I had seen in many movies. Looking about, we espied a lounge area that looked relatively normal. For an additional 5L each, which Mary later recovered, we secured entrance to the relative comfort and peace of the Pullman Lounge. The trip was long, 4 hours. I frequently strolled about the top decks, even though the wind was fierce and the rain occasional. I watched Holyhead disappear in the distance and thought of all the thousands of old salts that had looked at Holyhead before me, as they came upon or left England. It was picturesque and reminded me of New England.
We had a few drinks and tried to quiet queasy stomachs. Even though the seas were mild, several people looked green at the gills, from motion sickness.
Upon arriving in Dun Laoghrie, south of Dublin, we passed through customs, without as much as showing our passports. We rented a 4 door, automatic Rover for 500 Irish pounds a week. (Judas, we just wanted to rent, not buy!) It was raining and we packed in our bags and changed about $300 into Irish pounds. This was our fourth currency transaction (American to Canadian to English to Irish). By now it all looked like monopoly money anyway. ($300 for 197L with a 3.95L fee)
We set off on our Irish adventure. The roads of course were narrow. The steering wheel was on the right side of the car. We of course drove on the left side of the road. No confusion for these mouseketeers, no sir. Brandon had volunteered to drive and did very well. We drove north through Dublin to Clontarf, where we checked in at our first "B & B". It was run by Eileen Kelly, at 17 Gabriel Rd. We put our gear in our rooms and inquired after a restaurant. We drove to the nearby town of Howth and dined at the "Royal Howth Hotel".
Irish dining was a new experience for us. First, the maitre' d escorts you to the pub. There, you ponder the menu over a pint or two and place your order. When the meal is ready, you are escorted to your table. It is very civilized. The food was a surprise. I had fresh salmon again. It was delicious. Irish soups are creamy and thick with cheese. Several types of potatoes and boiled vegetables are served with the meal, including French fries.
It was good. We were tiring fast from the day's travel. We had interesting conversations with the waiter and waitress. She had 14 brothers and sisters and he, 22. The bill included a 12% gratuity. The waiters claimed that they didn't get any of it, so we over tipped them as well. It was congenial and pleasant. It was a good start for this leg of the trip. We drove back to the B & B, retired and read.
It was a long train and boat ride and though interesting once, I think I'd fly the next time. The weather was cold and rainy. Temperature was in the 40's. The B & B had a bathroom that we shared, but was otherwise comfortable and adequate. Eileen Kelly was pleasant and interesting. She helped us book some of the weeks' B & B's. All were good. Her recommendations were not given lightly.
Sunday July 31, 1988 (Clontarf, Ireland)
Mary and I arose early (7 a.m.), showered and went for a walk to the seacoast. It was sunny and cool. (50) Several boats lay on their side at low tide. The effect was much akin to a Winslow Homer painting.
At breakfast, we made the acquaintance of a delightful Argentine couple, Sergio and Marcella Duffy. They were from Buenos Aires. He was a veterinary student, living in St. Paul, Minnesota. They were returning from a medical conference in Sweden. They were looking for the birthplace of a great, great grandfather, named Duffy. We had a very pleasant conversation. This is the real reason you stay at a "B & B", the people you meet and talk with. Eileen made a few reservations for us and we were off. We just missed the tour of Dublin, so we drove up and down the Liffey River, by O'Connell Square. We parked near Trinity College. While the others began the first of the great shopping odyssey frenzies, I took a good look around. The famous Dublin doors were evident.
After some shopping in the Blarney Woolen Mills outlet, we
Drove out of Dublin and continued south along the N-11, to the seacoast villages of Bray and Wicklow. We stopped at both to view the seascape. Our first prolonged stop was at Wexford. There, we had a pint at the "Bohemian Girl" pub and a walk about town. The streets are all picturesque, if impossibly narrow. They have a character of their own. We saddled up and journeyed on to Waterford, where we were booked at the St. Anthony's B & B. It was run by Marion O'Keefe at North Main St. in Waterford. It is near the glass factory. We had also stopped at the Avoca Weaving Mill to purchase capes, for mom and Aunt Ruth. We bought a couch blanket for Mary’s sister. The weaver was quaint and the woolens beautiful. It is worth a detour. It was still cold, in the 50's, with a drizzle.
We had dinner at the "Manor Lodge,” in Waterford. Then we retired early to read and rest up. The day had been a long drive (159 miles). It is not much by U.S. standards, but in Ireland, you average about 30-35 miles per hour. The roads are narrow and they wind through every village and town. I'd recommend driving 50-75 miles per day, maximum.
Monday August 1, 1988 (Waterford-Ireland)
We were up early and took a1 1/2 mile walk nearby, to get some air. We had breakfast and met more people and chatted with Marion O'Keefe.
A word about the breakfast at a B & B, which we avoided for dieting purposes. It begins with orange juice and coffee or tea. Then, bran cereal or porridge and eggs with bacon and sausages. In addition, delicious brown bread and toast are available in endless quantities. If you ate this every morning, as apparently many do, you would gain 5-10 pounds per trip. We had coffee and brown bread most days. This feast was included with the room and bath each night. Staying at B & B’s in Ireland is very affordable.
We were fortunate enough to get a tour of the Waterford glass factory. The factory is closed for holiday during the first three weeks in August, but they maintain a skeleton crew for demonstrations. Each craftsman serves at least a five-year apprenticeship. Each individual glass piece is a work of art. It gave us a new appreciation for Waterford crystal, no two of which are alike. The showroom is magnificent, with displays of stemware, vases, lamps, bowls, chandeliers and trophies. We didn't purchase any crystal here because it is cheaper at Shannon airport or Blarney Woolen Mills. After the tour, we drove 2 1/2 hours to the seacoast village of Kinsale, south of Cork. Here, remnants of the Liner Lusitania washed up after it was torpedoed and sank by German U-Boats before W.W.I. The driftage included several survivors.
A village fair was in progress. We strolled about and enjoyed the afternoon. We had lunch at the "White House" tavern, which was very crowded. Everybody in Ireland appears to be on vacation the first three weeks of August. Lucky us.
Again, we walked about the fair. We had a pint later, at the White House and left late in the afternoon, just as the heavy rain started. The streets were jammed with traffic, but we found a back route out of town. We drove 45 miles to Ballincollig (suburb of Cork), where we stayed with Mick and Elmarie Long of Woodview House B & B. They have three children, Edward, Mike and Jean. Following our nightly M.O., we drove to “Tatter Jaks” for a few pints. The 1/2 and 1/2 (black & Tan) is a real art when poured by an experienced barman). We then had a great dinner, at the "Powdermill Inn.” Again, we had lots of potatoes and fresh salmon. We had a late conversation with Elmarie and Mick, who was a golfer and hurler. He was a feed grain salesman, as well as gentleman farmer. He and Elmarie were university educated & Interesting. The day had proved long. The scenery was panoramic, with wide rivers and green fields. The roads are narrow and scary. We were tired and crashed gratefully. The weather was damp and cold in the 50's.
Tuesday August 2, 1988 Cork, Ireland)
We arose fairly early, showered and were at breakfast by 8:45 A.M. This time, we shared the table with a father and son from Paris. The son spoke halting English and the father, none. Our French at the time was all but non-existent, so the conversation was sketchy. We tried our best to be non-uglus Americanus. We managed to speak well of Paris and the wine country. They were amiable as well. A second breakfaster, Liam, was a native en route to a funeral in Cork. He spoke with a heavy brogue. His intent was to get to America (N. Y.C.) and work as a plumber. I had him made for an I.R.A. gunrunner, perhaps from watching too many old movies. We took pictures of the family as we left. They were leaving for the day to ride around the ring of Kerry, on a picnic.
About 15 miles away, we found Blarney Castle. Enroute, we found a Bank of Ireland and cashed $600, for 400 Irish pounds. We then bought Irish lottery tickets. It was 60, sunny and nice.
At Blarney, we toured the castle (2L each) and manor house. Mary and Brandon went up to kiss the stone. An attendant holds you near upside down, while you lean in and kiss the blarney stone. It is supposed to endow you with great powers of speech. Not needing any prompting in the fluidity of speech department, I wandered about the grounds. The castle is in ruins, but interesting. One could see the medieval struggles and plots that must have emanated from the moats, tunnels and passageways. On the way into the grounds, we stood on a bridge spanning the Martin River and tossed in coppers for luck. The grounds were all beautifully landscaped. The manor house, near the castle, looked vintage Edwardian, England. At 2L each, we got a guided tour. The place was then still occupied in the winter by Lord Colthurst, the managing director of Lloyds Bank in London. Waterford chandeliers, antique furniture and mirrors were all period pieces. It was spacious, elegant and right out of a movie set. The guide mentioned a relation, one of the family’s ancestors who reputedly fell out of cherry tree, when climbing it at 140 years of age. That sounded interesting until we heard the same yarn, at Muckross House, in Kilarney. What would possess a 140-year-old lady to climb a cherry tree?
Next, was the real shopping frenzy at Blarney Woolen Mills. This large department store has everything designed to shop your little heart out. We bought 10 Waterford goblets, at 210L. Trish and Brandon just ordered the left half of the store. We spent nearly a grand between us. The mill is a must stop. Prices are reasonable and they ship everything for you wherever you call home.
It was sunny and in the high 60's, the nicest day yet. We drove two hours to Kilarney and got bumped from our scheduled B & B. We had visions of ending up in the "hellhole of Kilarney.” Instead, we found a very pleasant berth with Betty O'Sullivan on Countess Rd, in Kilarney. We unpacked and rode over to Kilarney National Park, right outside town. It was a good choice. The Park is beautiful. We hired a "jaunting cart,” with horse and driver (5L each), for a two-hour ride and tour. The scenery is breathtaking. The Park has a large lake, huge manor house that we toured (1.5L each), a formal flower garden and green, green grass, with mountains in the distance. 20,000 acres of a private estate, donated by an American named Vincent, to Ireland, for a park. A beautiful falls and the ride through the woods make a storybook finish to the town. I recommend it highly for a leisurely afternoon on a warm, sunny day. It is Ireland at its verdant best.
For dinner, we went to "Foley's" in Kilarney. We had excellent crab mornay and many potatoes, rounded off with a few pints of Smithwicks. Just as we were leaving, the piano player, an elderly local woman, came on and played sing-a-long music. It was a nice touch. We dropped Trish off at the B & B. She wasn't feeling well. We went on to the "Crock of Gold" pub in town, for Irish music. It was a bit sad and not much sing-a-long. I guess that is more Irish American. In any case, after three pints more of Smithwicks, who cared? As we walked back, we stopped at the "Laurel Bar.” It is a giant beer hall, sing-a-long place, that was fun. It looked as if it belonged in Munich, with military banners hung on the walls. Indeed, much of the clientele were German tourists. We quit about midnight, walked back to the B & B and crashed. It had been a long day and we had seen a lot. The streets in the Irish Towns are always crowded with traffic in summer.
Wednesday August 3, 1988 (Kilarney-Ireland)
We had a very international mix for breakfast amidst pleasant banter. There were Italians, Germans, Irish and Americans. Saddling up, we drove off onto the Dingle Peninsula, perhaps the most rural and picturesque area on the island. We saw tinkers (gypsies), in their highly painted wooden wagons, farmers digging peat bricks in the fields, and dairymen in single horse carts, carrying their milk in large cans, to a central crossroads. There, a milk tanker took their product. It was all colorful and picturesque.
The scenery was of course beautiful. We stopped in the village of Dingle and got a picnic lunch of pita sandwiches and Chablis, for later. Our next stop, as we drove along the shore, was Connor Pass. It sits astride Mt. Ballysiterack, which rises 2,000 ft above the ocean shore. A small mesa atop the mountain overlooks both Dingle and Brandon Bays. We drove and walked to the top. The view was breathtaking. Fierce winds made it cold, but you could view the two bays for miles. It is a must stop. We had the picnic lunch in the car. It was too cold outside. We drove down the other side of the mountain, through the village of Brandon and through Tralee to Tarbert. Tarbert sits near the mouth of the Shannon on its Southern bank. We caught a car ferry (6L), for a quick ride across the Shannon. It was windy, cold with rain, but this was Ireland. Through County Clare, we drove along the coast to the Cliffs of Moher. It was misty with rain, fog and wind. The view was spectacular. The cliffs rose 600 feet straight out of the ocean. The mist gave it a Tolkienesque appearance and an aura of mystery. We walked along the cliffs and saw goats grazing along the edge. O'Brien Tower stands at the top like a sentinel. I wondered at the stamina and sanity of anyone living on these windswept cliffs. Again, it is a must stop. We had hot chocolate at the souvenir stand. We felt sorry for the many hikers, with backpacks. They were wet, bedraggled and somewhat forlorn. They were mostly kids, French, German and American.
From the cliffs, it was a 1 1/2 hour drive to Galway. We stayed at the "Marless" B & B, 24 Seamount, Salthill, Galway. Mary and Tom Geraghty were the proprietors. It was raining and cold. The Salthill section of Galway is a giant Boardwalk type of beach, with hotels, amusements and restaurants. It is very prosperous.
We dined at "La Taverna,” reputedly the only Italian restaurant in all of Western Ireland. It is a delightful, cozily snug place, with 10 tables and red-checkered tablecloths. We had great Italian food and good Piscini Chianti. The proprietor talked with us at length. He and his wife ran the place themselves. He had visited Vegas and New Orleans many times. He was a fan of American jazz. It was a very pleasant experience. We were all bone tired, having spent about 10 1/2 hours in the car sightseeing. It was a very full day. Back at the B & B, we had a beer in the room and crashed tired and happy.
Thursday August 4, 1988 (Galway-Ireland)
We had a late breakfast and talked with Mr. & Mrs. Seamus Rann of Dublin. They were interesting. Also, we met people from Chicago and Connecticut. The best feature of a B & B is the breakfast conversation. I phoned Sean Murphy, Limerick County manager and set 11:30 Friday for our meeting.
Nearby, in Spiddal, sits 'Mairtin Standuns', famous for its fishing sweaters and Donegal tweeds. It was another shopping orgy. We bought sweaters and a tweed sport coat. Trish and Brandon did a good job of using up all those left over travelers' checks. I had coffee with the owner and a pleasant conversation.
We drove back to Galway and walked around the narrow streets. They were clogged with traffic. We stopped in the Great Southern Hotel, various shops and had a pint in "Trigger Martyn's,” A carnival like atmosphere prevailed despite the rain. We had some chowder and a pint in "O'Flaherty's,” beneath the Great Southern Hotel, and bought 10 lottery tickets. It was misty, cool and damp. We then retired to the B & B, for a nap.
I was taken seriously ill, delirious and nauseous. I "lost" the rest of the day. Trish and Brandon went into town and ate at the White Rabbit. They said it was very good. I slept all evening and night.
Friday August 5, 1988 (Galway-Ireland)
We arose early. I was still weak and tired. I tried some tea, packed and got dressed for the meeting in Limerick. It took about two hours to get there. The road was much superior to anything we had seen yet. Limerick appeared pleasant enough. We arrived shortly after 11 a.m., at 69 O'Connell St. It is the address of the Limerick County Council Building.
We met with Sean Murphy, the County Manager and later, Eddie Wade, the chairman of the council. We had a pleasant, wide ranging talk, on foreign investments, world economics, national unemployment, and other topics. I presented both a china plate, with the emblem of Erie County, New York on it. They in turn gave us mementos of Limerick. Photos were taken and we agreed to keep up the twin county relationship. We were given a tour of the council chambers. Eddie Wade showed us his badge of office. It is a ceremonial silver necklace, listing the names of former Council Presidents, one of whom had been executed by the English in 1920. It was a subtle reminder of their past. They seemed to feel that the "trouble" in the North was bad for business. An aside, during that week in Ireland, six people were shot to death. There was also a barracks bombing in London. All were I.R.A. Related. Curiously, they had the notion that Americans don't travel in presidential election years.
They (Eddie and Sean) invited us to lunch at the Dunraven Arms Hotel, in the nearby village of Adare. The place is beautiful. It is set amidst thatched cottages and a nearby manor house. This is being transformed into a major inn and nine-hole golf course.
We had a great lunch of fresh salmon, wine and more pleasant conversation. I was particularly taken by one comment of Sean's. He said that they were a "nation of begrudger's" and weren't particularly fond of seeing each other do well. He said this ruefully. With a chuckle, I informed him that all of his Irish cousins in America also felt that way. It is curiouser and curiouser how much we are all alike. They left for business. We toured the village and estate, before driving to Bunratty Castle. Our B & B was Bunratty Lodge, run by Mary Brown. The castle itself was huge, with a craft fair type of village. They also had evening medieval banquets. Next-door, sat Durty Nelly's Tavern, as usual it was awash in patrons. Still feeling ill, I crashed for the afternoon. Mary, Trish and Brandon toured the castle area. They weren't too impressed. Brandon told me that all the shriners in western Ireland were there touring.
In the evening, feeling better, I joined everybody for dinner at "Fibber McGees", across the road. We had a nice time and stopped for a few more pints in the pub. There, we listened to a group called "Dublin South.” As an aside, we again noticed that the practice of leaving a tip, on the bar, was unheard of. I left one anyway. The evening was mild and nice and we were ready to go home.
Saturday August 6, 1988 (Limerick-Ireland)
The day was overcast, cool (60's) with rain. We had breakfast and met no one new. The ride to Shannon took only ten minutes. We checked our luggage through while Brandon returned the car. He did so quickly and without incident. We did notice however, a great deal of private security. The agents would approach people and ask if you had left a bag lying unattended on the floor. If you had, it was liable to be searched for bombs. It was a chilling reminder of present day Ireland's "troubles".
We had one last opportunity to get into a shopping frenzy. Shannon's duty free store has everything. We bought souvenirs and trinkets, like good little tourists, including an Irish doll for Mary Jo Gorski. We were glad to be going home. Trish and Brandon left first, for N.Y. City. We boarded our Air Canada flight at about 11:30 a.m., bound for Toronto, Canada.
The flight was uneventful, though long. Plenty of food, refreshments and a movie, "The Big Easy,” made the trip go by quickly. We read and watched the sun dappled ocean pass far below. The wide-bodied monster arrived about 6 1/2 hours later at Toronto Airport. We checked through customs without incident. We got a jet way bus to our car, paid the tab to retrieve it, and drove 1 & 1/2 hours to Buffalo. We got no hassle at customs and arrived late in the afternoon, very tired and jet lagged. It was hot and in the 80's, very different from Ireland. We read the papers and mail, got a pizza and crashed, tired but very happy to be home.
General Impressions -
Ireland is a country meant to be experienced slowly. The tourist pace is much too fast. Eire is a kaleidescopic panorama of visual images, meant to be savored slowly. The weather is fit for hardy Celts. 70's and sunny is a rarity.
Good rain gear and warm clothes are recommended, even in summer. The food is very good, the people congenial and the scenery breathtaking. It is an experience not to be missed. We will return.
Western Ireland is the most scenic part of the Country. I think in the future, I'd fly into Shannon and just center on Kilarney, Galway and the coast.
Joseph Xavier Martin