Ireland – April 2002

My husband, my parents and I all went to Ireland for a week in April 2002. Here are some pictures and my travelogue…

The whole idea of a trip to Ireland began with my father. I don’t recall if he had heard of the Celtic Festival or just wanted to go as a family, but he mentioned it, and started making plans for April 2001. It didn’t happen that year, but it did cause my mom to renew her passport in anticipation, and we started planning it for April 2002.

Then, in January, dad got confirmation of a trade with his timeshare, for April 20th through the 27th, and we started planning in earnest. The place we were staying at was owned by The Seasons, and had been a 12th century abbey, converted into a manor house sometime in the 18th century. In its current incarnation, it was a cozy resort with about 6 suites in the main house, and 7 cabins attached in a row along the grounds. We were told that the in-house restaurant, the Black Abbot, was closed for renovation during our stay, but that there were nearby eating facilities in the town of Knocktopher.

In January, dad bought the tickets for our flight on Expedia.com, from PBI to JFK, and then on to Dublin. However, after he purchased them, he realized that the flight out of PBI came into La Guardia, while the other left from JFK, so he bought a new set on Travelocity, both legs going into and out of JFK. Little did we know at the time that these tickets were also not quite correct!

We received the Expedia tickets first, and checked everything out. The Travelocity tickets came second, and I cancelled the incorrect Expedia ones.

I started doing some research into things to do, as dad said the itinerary was up to me. Since we were based in Kilkenny, which is about in the middle of southern Ireland, I figured day trips should be only as far as Dublin or Kerry, and went on from there.

A couple of things I had on my list were not to happen, I’m afraid. The original reason for the trip, the Pan-Celtic Festival, was changed from April 19-22nd to April 4-7th, and it was too late to change our plans. The Viking Medieval Feast, which sounded touristy but fun, turned out to be closed in 2002 for renovation. However, I was able to arrange with Anne McCaffrey to meet her while we were there, and I think that more than made up for what we missed.

A week before the trip, my co-worker asked me what time I left. I pulled out the tickets, and noticed (to my horror!) that they were dated Jan 30 and Feb 1, rather than Apr 19 and 27! After several frantic phone calls to Travelocity, they graciously admitted that the trip had never been taken, so we could use those tickets towards the purchase of the correct ones. However, I had to Fedex the original tickets to Travelocity in Texas, before they could reissue tickets to me, so I did. I called the next day when they had them, and they reissued new tickets, at an additional charge of $600 each!!!!! Since the flight from south Florida to New York is so popular in April (snowbirds flying home) those are premium seats, and to purchase a week before flight is even worse. I asked to speak to a manager to complain, and decided to check the Travelocity website while I waited, to see what the difference is between purchasing a ticket 7 days in advance to, say, 8 days in advance. I noticed that there was a flight from PBI to JFK, with a stop in Atlanta, for only $290 each! Only about $150 more than the original tickets for that leg were!

When the manager made it to the phone, I questioned her about this. She said she didn’t realize I wanted a connection!? I think she didn’t realize I wasn’t going to take a $1200 bill so easily!

We had them reissue the tickets as Etickets, and we were on our way (finally!)

April 19th

The day of the trip, we woke up around 9am, and finished our last minute packing. Jason only had one bag, which he was taking as carry-on, and I had a carry-on and a suitcase to be checked.

Todd drove us to the airport; we got there at 10am (our flight left at 1pm). There was a very long line inside, but since we were (ultimately) an international flight, we couldn’t check our baggage curbside. We got in, checked our luggage (almost forgot to tell the attendant about our further flight to Dublin, as they are on different airlines, Delta and American) and went on to the security line.

This line was also very, very long, but it went pretty quickly. Jason got stopped for a tack in his shoe, he took it in good humor, and was sort of impressed that they would find a tack in his shoe.

We got to our area just before they were boarding, and Jason went to get a snack; nothing much was around there, but he did get some Reese’s Minicups. The seats themselves were a bit cramped, we were on the left side, seats A and B, but it wasn’t too bad.

The flight itself was fairly uneventful, and we got into Atlanta with just enough time to hop onto our connecting flight to JFK. However, the flight wasn’t quite ready to leave; everyone had boarded, and we waited… and waited… finally an announcement was made that they were being delayed by some paperwork. We waited some more. Then another announcement was made, that some bulbs in the cockpit needed to be replaced, and we saw a maintenance man going in to the cockpit. We waited some more.

Finally, after about 45 minutes of waiting, we were cleared for takeoff, and off we went to JFK.

Our approach to JFK was very dark, even though it was only about 6:00pm, there was a heavy storm system sitting over the area, so we had to circle a bit. I had already just about given up on making our connecting flight, which was only leaving an hour after we were supposed to be there, but I maintained some hope that they weren’t letting planes take off in the storm either. We flew in a holding pattern for about another hour, and finally got in (and waited on the runway) around 7:15 or so. When we disembarked, the Delta attendant said our flight may still be here, and rushed us out the doors, and out to the street, and onto a bus, and around the whole airport to Terminal 8, and finally to a looooooong line in the Connections area of American Airlines. One assistant was very short with me, said my flight was long gone (didn,t even ask which one it was) and that I had to wait in line. So we waited… again… and we waited… they kept calling passengers out whose flights were leaving soon, and since ours wasn’t called, it must have already left.

About an hour in that line, and we finally made it to the counter, and a wonderful woman named Valentina helped us get our connecting tickets on American, with a stop in London. The flight left at 11:30pm, stopped in London for an hour, and we connected on an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, arriving at 2:30pm. This sounded wonderful, and I went down to search to see if my bag got off the plane and was waiting downstairs. I asked someone to help, and she went in to check, and said it was on its way to London, as that was the next flight out to Dublin (eventually). We went in search for something to eat, as we had had only snacks since breakfast that morning, and were quite starved.

The food court had several restaurants, including McDonalds, and Sbarros, but, while their lights were all on, they were closed. The only place that was open was a salad/yogurt place, and we got a couple chicken Caesar wraps that were quite forgettable if we hadn’t been so hungry, they would have been trashed. However, partially sated and ready to go, we went to the terminal to await our flight to London.

We waited with the many Brits and Aussies that were waiting for the same flight. As our rows were called, and we made our way to the bulkhead seats (chosen for more legroom), we discovered that the bulkhead seat armrests could NOT be moved up out of the way. In fact, the armrests were solid (no butt room under them) because the collapsible food trays were inside them. Jason couldn’t even fit into the seat, and even I was a tight squeeze.

We looked at business class, and saw one lonely person there, so Jason asked the stewardess to find out how much it would be to upgrade to business class. After several minutes, she came back and told us (somewhat abruptly) that the upgrade would be $3000 each person, each way!!! We both thought this a bit ridiculous, and Jason sat down (as well as he could). I thought he was done arguing (I was wrong) and went off to find another option. I went out to the front desk, and told them the situation, and asked for solutions. They told me that if my husband doesn’t fit in a seat, he would need to purchase another ticket! I retorted that since the armrests don’t come up, buying a second ticket wouldn’t do him a bit of good, he still could not fit into the seats. And besides, were they discriminating against him by trying to charge him twice as much?

I was quite upset at this time and one of the stewardesses mentioned that in the back rows, the armrests did come up, and that I would have to ask one of the people in the back if they would switch. (evidently they couldn’t ask themselves?) I went back to our seats, and told Jason the solution, and asked him to go back and ask, as I was very upset and needed to calm down. He went back and we arranged to switch with some people in row 44, window and aisle seats with removable armrests (yay!). After we started taking off, a couple in the middle rows offered to switch with us, as they had an extra seat between them, and that would give us three armrest-less seats to fly in relative comfort in.

The flight itself was much better after that. One of the stewardesses actually came over and apologized for the first stewardess’s rudeness, and made sure we were comfortable. One of the inflight movies was Shrek, so we relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the flight. I got a couple hours of sleep, and even Jason slept (with the help of some Benedryl).

April 20th

We arrived in London around noon, and went to the Aer Lingus terminal for our flight over to Dublin. This may have been part of the original Heathrow terminal, it was very old and 50s futuristic looking, with round tubes and porthole windows. The plane itself was about 20 rows, very small. The armrests didn’t come up, and Jason didn’t fit in the seat, but as it was only a 45 minute flight (and there was no first class, much less business class) we dealt with it for the short duration.

Arriving in Dublin we went to get my bag, and couldn’t find it. I put in a claim for lost luggage, and since it was 3:00pm, and the parents were due at 4:30pm, we decided to head for the food court and have a snack while awaiting their arrival. We found a McDonalds open, and proceeded to have our first Irish meal (so to speak). Afterwards, we went down to meet mom and dad, and collect their luggage, as well as look for mine. Their luggage was there, but mine was still a missing person, so we told the lost luggage department, and they said they would send it out to our place in Kilkenny when it was found. I hoped that it would be soon, as all my clothing was in there, as well as several books I wanted Anne McCaffrey to sign.

Well the parents had a much easier time of the trip over. (Dad here.) I had to teach that day (the 19th) and our flight didn’t leave until 6 PM. But it was leaving from San Francisco airport and the shuttle was due to pick us up by 2:15 – what with the heightened security restrictions and this being an international flight. We were due to travel non-stop from San Francisco to London and catch a short flight from there to Dublin as my daughter ended up doing. The good news was I was teaching a relatively easy class with a small group of students, so I had no worry that we would finish around noontime on Friday. Sure enough, I was home in plenty of time for the scheduled pick-up. I did have a concern that all would go well for the kids on their flights, but I was prepared to arrive before them in Dublin.

The flight to London was long. We both tried to sleep some – between movies. Judy did better than I. Part way through, we stretched our legs and stood up for a while. We were talking in low voices when a passenger had the nerve to ask us to be quiet so they could sleep. These were the same passengers that had their lights on for most of the night, making it very difficult for me to rest well. The flight was something like 10 hours long, so we got to see a couple of movies – ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, ‘Joe Somebody’, and ‘Gosford Park’.

(Father): We arrived in London around noontime and trekked (literally) from the international terminal to the domestic terminal where we arrived to find that no gate had yet been assigned to our flight to Dublin. Apparently they do that at the last minute, to attain maximum flexibility (and confusion). So we sat around until they posted a departure gate for the flight and then located the waiting area for it. The flight over was pretty brief and we landed pretty much on schedule. We were pleased to see that the children had made it safely before us, in spite of their delays and re-routing, although we were not pleased by the errant luggage.

We picked up our rental car from Budget, and loaded our stuff in it, and drove on out of the airport. I drove as I had done so before in Ireland, and in Dublin itself, although we wanted to avoid having to do that if we could. I put dad in charge of navigation, and we drove out of the airport.

We took the M1 down to the M50, and followed that around to the N7; I think we missed the exit, and had to turn around and get back on the M50 to make the N7. That continued to Naas, and we made the mistake of getting off at Naas rather than just passing it, and staying on the highway.

We stopped in Carlow for some dinner, and the first couple of places we tried weren’t open or didn’t serve food. We rounded the corner in the main street, and found a place that had little neon signs with Coca-Cola on them, so we thought we’d try it out. What a mistake! It was a little fish-n-chips place with a blaring TV, greasy food and surly service. But it was food, and we were hungry. The TV had a British equivalent of the Dating Game on it, after a Star Search/Karaoke program. It was almost painful!

We continued to Kilkenny the long way, on the smaller roads (a mistake we wouldn’t make again!), and finally made it to Knocktopher Abbey around 10:30, utterly exhausted and ready for bed.

This is Knocktopher Abbey, the resort we stayed in while in Ireland. It was a 12th century abbey, restored to a manor house in the 18th century, and recently made into a resort.

The Abbey door had two notes on it, one for us and one for another guest, telling us which cabin was ours and that it was unlocked, with the keys inside. What trust!

We went to our cabin, which was one of a row of six attached to the main manor house of the converted Abbey. Ours was #12, the second one down, and it had two bathrooms and two bedrooms upstairs, and a living room/dining room and kitchen downstairs. The steps were very shallow and difficult to get up and down, especially as mom has bad knees. However, after a little settling in, all of us slept soundly and long into the morning.

Dad had planned on sleeping on the pull-out couch downstairs, but discovered that the mattress was inexplicably missing; so I believe he ended up sleeping on the floor with some of the couch cushions.

(Father): Actually, Judy was kind enough to volunteer to sleep on the couch itself and surrendered one of the upstairs bedroom to me.

April 21st

I think we were all finally up around 10am the next morning, refreshed, showered and dressed. We decided that today would be a relax and recover day, and went into the office to speak with Derrick. Derrick was flabbergasted that someone would steal the pull-out couch mattress, and offered to find another for us. In the meantime, though, he mentioned that he had an upstairs suite in the main house that wasn’t being rented all week. Would we like to use that? Jason and I said sure, we could do that, and the matter was closed. We moved our stuff up to the third floor (second floor in Ireland) suite, which was a large efficiency-style room with two beds, a living area, a small kitchenette, and a bathroom. That way mom and dad each had their own room, and we had our own suite. Everyone was happy!

Especially me, as Derrick allowed us to use the extra room at absolutely no extra charge. What service!

Derrick told us that today was a big match in Kilkenny, evidently the National Hurling Championship, in which the Kilkenny team was playing. He said this was on the north end of town, and we should avoid the area if we wanted to avoid crowds. He mentioned that Carol’s, a bar/hotel just in Knocktopher, served breakfast, and we decided that this would be a wonderful thing.

So we went into town (walking distance from our room) and had our first Full Irish Breakfast. This consists of fried eggs, ham (called bacon), very bland sausages, a grilled tomato half, black pudding and white pudding (boiled grain dishes, much tastier and spicier than the sausage), toast, tea and coffee. Not exactly the healthiest breakfast if you are watching your cholesterol, but definitely filling and satisfying.

We decided to go into the next town over (Thomastown) and look for a grocery store, so we wouldn’t have to eat out if we didn’t feel like it, and perhaps cook our own breakfast. Certainly snacks and drinks were required. Why have a suite with a kitchen if you’re not going to use it? So into town we went, which was about 8 kilometers away. Knocktopher had a very small grocery, but it had no fresh food; my bedroom is bigger than that grocery store was! We got some shampoo (I had left mine at home) and some drinks, and went on to the bigger town.

Thomastown wasn’t exactly large, although it did have several pubs, and a regular grocery store tucked in behind a church. It also had the smallest, twisting, hilly streets I’ve seen within a town, especially on the main street.

We found the grocery in Thomastown by accident, parked in the 10-car parking lot, and went on in; such strange things for sale! First of all, we were assaulted by a Louie-the-Lizard balloon for Budweiser — not exactly what you would think coming into an Irish Grocery. We found a fresh made pizza on sale: with corn and tomatoes on it, but no tomato sauce. We found some chicken, some rice dishes, some soda, some bread and lunchmeat, chocolate and miscellaneous items and went to check out. We found out that you needed to buy your own bags at the dispenser in the back of the store, too.

Back at the cabin we put our groceries away and relaxed a bit, had some sandwiches for lunch, and relaxed watching television. We still weren’t quite recovered from the trip over and the jet lag, so we discovered what Irish television was like. Mostly old movies and SKY news; we did get into an episode of Agatha Christie mysteries, mom recognized the story and Miss Marple. It had a very young version of the actor that plays Lionel in the current Britcom As Time Goes By.

As dinner time rolled around, we decided to head up to Kilkenny, hoping that the sports crowds had died out a bit by then. We went by a couple places on the main strip for some dinner, and finally found a place called Li’s, a Chinese restaurant. It was an excellent choice; the food was delicious and fresh; although the coke size left much to be desired. I ordered a king prawn dish that was very spicy, I think Jason had General Tso’s chicken. It was very filling and it renewed our faith in Irish restaurants, if not in Irish cuisine.

As we left the restaurant, we stopped into a little bookstore down the street, and browsed a bit. I saw lots of Robert Jordan books in the scifi area, but no Anne McCaffrey or Morgan Llewllyn, oddly enough. Mom found a book on Irish insults that she bought, and I considered buying one on Irish words in the English language, but decided against it. I was severely tempted by several lovely Irish picture books, but restrained my spending. Jason also considered buying a book on local flora and fauna, but didn’t end up doing so.

We headed back to the car and back to the resort. We hauled all of our stuff up to our new suite, after deciding what we should do the next day. Just as we were about to leave, a truck from Aer Lingus showed up with my luggage (praise to the gods!), and the whole outlook was that much brighter.

We had discovered during the drive today that dad drove rather fast and recklessly, at least to our cautious opinions. We asked him to slow down, but evidently he felt as if he either needed to scare me almost to the point of tears or that he needed to keep going fast if someone was behind him. There are several points along any road in Ireland that are designed for pulling over and letting people by, and he used those occasionally, but in the meantime, he kept going about 50 or 60mph on little windy roads he was not familiar with. Several times he nearly hit the sideview mirror on the hedge or the stone wall on my side of the car. I took a dim view of this practice, and Mom, Jason and I decided I would drive the next day.

We decided that we would try to do Glendalough and Powerscourt Falls and Gardens tomorrow, and try to give Anne a call.

April 22nd

When I woke up, I wasn’t sure what time it was, but I knew I wasn’t going to get back to sleep. The birds were chirping outside, and it was light, so I figured it was morning, and decided to take a shower and get ready for the day. Once Jason was up and about, I tried to phone my parents cabin to see if they were up, but our phone wasn’t ‘cleared’ for use by the downstairs office (they had to switch it on), so we went downstairs to their cabin.

Dad didn’t get much sleep, only about three hours, but he’s a bit of an insomniac, so I guess that’s enough for him to function on, and we were off to breakfast. Full Irish Breakfast at Carol’s again, at least it’s consistent.

Back at the cabin, we gave Anne’s house a call, and she said today would be a great time to visit, so we said we’d be there midafternoon, after we went to Glendalough and Powerscourt. Her daughter Ginnie gave us directions from Powerscourt, and we gathered our books (for her to sign) and went on our way.

We stopped in the first town, Thomastown, to get some caffeine for Jason and some batteries for my camera. I had not taken any pictures yet, as I discovered yesterday my battery was dead. Dad went into the news store to get one for me, and they were out. However, the clerk just went over to a new camera, took the battery out, and sold it to us — what service!

We drove through Carlow and on towards Glendalough, with mom navigating, and me driving. Jason slept a bit in the back seat, and perhaps Dad did as well. The road wound through the Wicklow Mountains towards the east coast, and we discovered our first sheep in the road; evidently they are less wary of traffic up there then in the lower hills. It was a wonderfully stark landscape, peat mountains, rocks and sheep. We felt our ears pop as we climbed in altitude, and kept looking for something new around each bend (and there were many!).

This is the view of a valley on the road from our Abbey to Glendalough Monastery. As you can see, it was a wonderfully sunny Irish Day. We had to wait for several sheep to get out of the road on this leg of the journey through the Wicklow Mountains.
We stopped at a spot where there were some old stoneworks done near a mountain stream, stretching and taking some pictures. The rocky streambed was lovely for climbing on, and the view down the valley was breathtaking. You could see the mountains framing the valley in a dramatic view. There was a stone bridge made over the stream, and perhaps an old farmhouse on the other side, falling down.

Jason decided to regale us with a set of puns regarding sheep, branches and trees…. even after we begged him to stop! Of course, dad joined in and added some of his own, but he had to eventually admit defeat at the hands of a master punster.

Our next stop in the mountains you could just see the Irish sea over the horizon. There was a large white object in the water, but we couldn’t make out what it was. The horizon line tended to fade into the water, probably due to mists or rain. Another breathtaking spot!

When we arrived in Glendalough, we went first to the little giftshop outside, as I was searching for a small notebook to jot down all my impressions, in order to write this cute little travelogue. We didn’t find one, but we did find more film (I had left all but two rolls at the suite, and I realized I would need more than that today!) That was followed by several bad puns based on the little stuffed sheep that were on sale (including spelling something with a long ‘ewe’).

We went into the visitor’s center, and decided against the tour, and just wanted to wander the grounds. There is a quiet little road from the visitor’s center to the monastery grounds, although today it seemed to be teeming with French students on holiday.

Along that road is a massive rock that comes up from the ground, and is covered with undergrowth; to me it looked like a huge muppet with its mouth open.
On to the monastery… we discovered many modern headstones in among the ancient ones, especially a lot of Byrnes. There was a round tower, built long ago to serve as both defense for the monks during invasion, and as a signal of location to the local population. The first window was about two stories up, and the monks would climb up a rope ladder and pull it up after them if the Vikings came to raid. They would keep all their treasures, such as the illuminated manuscripts and gold ecclesiastical items in the tower during raids. Jason mentioned that this just sounded like a brick oven for the vikings to cook their monks in, just add fire.

There was a very friendly black cat on the grounds, who looked as if she was ready to give birth to her kittens. She delighted in rolling around on the gravel at each person’s feet.

We got into a baaaaing contest with the sheep in the enclosure next to the graveyard. There was one ram who won, I believe…he out baaaaed us by quite a bit.

There were many beautifully carved Celtic crosses, with intricate intertwining lacing and symbols on them. Some of the less legible headstones dated back to the 1700s, but we couldn’t read anything much before them. Many were very recent, and there were definitely common family names that had had plots there for hundreds of years. We even found the headstone for John Lyons, which is the name of our roommate!

We wandered around to the hotel and restaurant, and decided to have lunch there. They had a delicious, thick lamb stew, and Jason had his first pint of Guinness in Ireland. Mom bought an Irish wool shawl in the gift shop outside, and we went on to our next stop.

Since it was already about 2pm, we decided to skip Powerscourt and go directly to Anne’s. Of course, this meant we had to reconfigure the directions since they were given from Powerscourt, which is farther north than we were. We drove through Newton, and then through Newcastle (Caisel Nùa in Gaelic) and past Anne’s house to Ashford. We discovered our error, and turned around to take the N11 back up to Dragonhold.

There was a great deal of construction and road work being done around the area, and we almost missed the sign for Dragonhold Stables. Anne’s house, Dragonhold Underhill, was the next stop. There were iron dragons in the gates of the house, how perfect!

As we drove into the gates, we saw her house sitting quite pretty on the hill. Very nervous, we got out, and went to knock on the door. Then Anne herself let us in, shook all our hands, and we went into THE kitchen table for some tea and a chat. We met her dog, Maya, who was very friendly and wanted to meet each one of us several times. We met her enormous Maine Coone cat, Pumpkin, and took some pictures with Anne, the cat, and us. Echo, Pumpkin’s son, was being shy and hiding.

We chatted about all sorts of stuff, including other fiction writers, such as McMaster, Llewellyn (a friend of hers) and Heinlein. We discovered that not only was Anne the first female science fiction author on the best seller list, but the first science fiction author, male or female, on the best seller list! She told us about her first story, one that developed into the Ship who Sang, and how she had her husband look it over for her. Her husband wanted her to change it all around, and she didn’t… it is still in print today! He had also said that he didn’t ‘mind’ if she wrote, as long as she wrote ‘real’ books. She never showed him anything again.

We talked about the original Robinton, an opera teacher in Delaware. We talked about Crystal Singer becoming a movie someday, and how Sigourney Weaver would make a perfect Killashandra. We talked about different languages, such as Russian and Gaelic(she thought I was wasting my time learning it if I wanted it for anything useful), and Klingon. We talked about Babylon 5 (all of us are fans), L. Ron Hubbard, book tours (she had one that was 22 cities in 32 days!). She told us about a gift she received, a big stuffed white sequined dragon, that she had to stuff into the overhead bin in the airplane to get it home, and ended up as a gift to a child in the hospital. She told us she no longer rode horses, as the ground got harder the older she got. She told us as she was growing up she used to have puzzle parties, where everyone got together to put together jigsaw puzzles.

Anne then gave us a tour of her wonderful house. Jason was impressed not only that she was so down to earth, but that her house wasn’t overly ostentatious. He tried to impress upon her that it might be dangerous to accept strangers into her house like she does, but she poo-pooed his suggestions. We saw all sorts of dragons (she said she doesn’t collect them, that they collect HER), some wonderful iron sculptures of horses done by an Ukranian friend of hers. We saw a room with pictures from the Littlest Dragonboy (K’van), and many pieces of original art from Michael Whelan, who did her book covers for Pern for many years. Her work room was comfortable and cluttered, and had a lovely view of the hill and countryside. Echo was still hiding from us.

We finally bid her adieu after about 2 hours, after a couple of book signings, and I felt quite elated as we left. My mom reflected this elation, by repeating several times “I can’t believe we just spent the afternoon with Anne McCaffrey!”

And here is me with Anne McCaffrey, my favorite author. She was kind enough to invite me and my family to tea while we were in Ireland, and we spent a lovely afternoon chatting with her (and her beautiful Maine Coone cat Pumpkin!)

We drove down to Arklow for dinner. Since we were on the southeast coast of Ireland, we thought to find a seafood restaurant. Inquiring at the first place we found (a hotel), they recommended a place called Birthistle’s, and gave us directions. We went off in search of the place, which was near the center of town.

Birthistle’s was a pleasant enough place, but for a place that ‘specialized’ in seafood (so said the sign) it had very few marine selections. I had the salmon with hollandaise sauce, which was quite tasty, but there were only a few other choices that were seafood. Most were steak or chicken items. Everyone else had cod, and we had mandarin cheesecake and crème brulet for desserts.

We drove out of Arklow and towards New Ross, and discovered we were going the wrong way, so we turned around to Mullinavat. It was a long, tiring drive home, as most of the roads were Rs or small Ns, and as it got dark it was more difficult to see to drive. However, arrive we did around 10:30, and dropped off to a good night’s rest.

A short explanation of Irish road designations seems in order. Starting from the largest, there are the M roads – motorways – roughly equivalent to our freeways or major highways. I think there are two or three of these — all centered around Dublin. Perhaps I’m just being cynical? Then there are the N roads (national?). They can vary from four-lane highways down to country lanes. Third are the R roads (regional?) They are much like our one lane country lanes. Finally, there comes the L roads (local?) Fit for tractors, livestock, and hay balers. We made up some pretty unflattering synonyms for them.

 

April 23rd

We slept in a bit this morning, waking up around 10, and having cereal for breakfast rather than the “heart attack special” up at Caroll’s. We asked Dad to drive, as my ankle was killing me from yesterday’s drive, but we made him drive slowly. We decided to do Cashel today, and started off on the wrong road south. We seem to be doing a lot of that!

We got to a town on the right route (Piltown) and turned the right direction. Unfortunately, the detour meant lots of R roads and even some Ls, but we eventually made it on to Clonmel in time for some lunch. The day was bright and warm, and beautifully sunny.

We had lunch at Clonmel Arms, which was a hotel we picked by virtue of it being the first place down the street from the carpark we found. It was a cafeteria-style lunch, and quite tasty, with decorations that were very regency. I had a pint of cider, and mom tried it; she said she liked it, but didn’t want any herself. Jason observed that there were a lot of eggs served with meals here, but he had yet to see any chicken farms.

We drove onto the N24 through Cahir and on to Cashel. As we approached the Rock, we got stopped by some construction going on at an old church on the side of the hill. A huge truck was backing up into the construction area, and came real close to hitting our car. However, the driver was more talented than I could ever be, and fit in where he needed to go, and we went on up to the Rock of Cashel. On the way up we saw a small chicken farm, and I told Jason that ALL the eggs in Ireland must come from this one chicken farm. Very busy chickens!

Here is a wonderful view of Rock of Cashel… not an easy place to siege!

A truly impressive sight! The Rock of Cashel had originally been built somewhere around 600AD, and had been the seat of power in the south for centuries, before being handed over to the church around 1100AD. Even in ruins it was awesome to behold. A chunk of the third story curtain wall had fallen down to the ground, and it was humbling to see just how thick the construction was that high up. And then you realize that it must be even thicker on the ground floors to hold up that weight!

Mom and I went in to see a short video on the history of the castle, but it mostly concentrated on the church’s occupation of the place. I was more interested in its original purpose, as a royal residence. I know that Brian Boru ruled from here around 1000AD, as did his sons.

After wandering around the Rock and taking a slew of pictures, we went down to the Brian Boru Centre, which has a gift shop and a cultural exhibition of music, dancing and history of the area. It was nicely done, but a bit difficult to hear. The acoustics of the place meant that the recording in one area, which was talking about dancing throughout history, competed with the one across the room, talking about the historical memories of the bards. Nice, but confusing!

 

After the Rock of Cashel, we headed back towards Kilkenny, and saw several towers, castles and churches in ruins along the sides of the road as we drove. It seems that this area of the country is practically littered with ruins!

We got to Kilkenny around 5pm, and parked near the castle. We wandered down the main street, looking for a decent place to eat. The first place we stopped in, Lanston’s, was a very 1970’s looking ‘mod’ bar, and smelled of cigar smoke, so we decided to move on. The next place was one I had seen on the internet as recommended, so we tried it. It was called Breathnach’s, and the restaurant was upstairs. It looked like a fairly new place, and you could still smell the wood of the exposed beams in the place. Very clean and nicely decorated, we sat and had a wonderful meal. Jason had a sizzling steak, mom and dad had chicken, while I had a regular steak, and a sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

During dinner, we decided to cast a production of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with modern actors. We decided on the following cast: Alice : Whoopi Goldberg White Rabbit : Chris Tucker Mad Hatter : Christopher Walken Cheshire Cat : Robin Williams Red Queen : Rosie O’Donnell Red King : Danny Devito Walrus : John Goodman Carpenter : Woody Harrelson Humpty Dumpty : Nathan Lane Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum : Jay and Silent Bob March Hare : George Carlin Dormouse : Dudley Moore Caterpillar : Steven Wright Duchess : Penny Marshall

We figured that constituted a full days work, and went back to the Abbey to sleep it off. We had an early day tomorrow, as we were headed for Dublin.

April 24th

We woke up around 7am to go to Dublin (I drove). Mom and Jason both fell asleep in the back seat on the trip up. We broke our fast in Carlow, at a little deli-style breakfast bar, where dad could get a slightly healthier breakfast than the normal fare.

As we got closer to the city, we noticed lots of roadwork, which we discovered was due to a new subway system being built under the city. It should be going on until 2005, according to one of our bus tour guides. After a very congested drive into town centre, we found the Dawson Parking Garage (near Trinity College) and went in to gawk at the Book of Kells at the College. As it was a Wednesday, the campus was alive with students, and the center square had them sitting all around (most ignoring the “keep off the grass” signs posted periodically). The Book of Kells has a wonderful exhibition on the construction of illuminated manuscripts, including the manufacture of inks and dyes used, and the preparation of vellum for the pages.

The book itself was in a separate room, and had several guards to keep people from touching the precious manuscripts. One guard had a rifle and was keeping a close watch. Evidently people have ignored the warnings in the past!

Lighted enlargement from the Book of Kells in Trinity College, Dublin

We went on into the Old Library, which is very similar in construction to the Jedi Library shown in Attack of the Clones. In the Old Library there is a hallway, with two story alcoves off each side down the whole length of the hall. Those alcoves are covered from floor to second story ceiling with books. Also in the library are busts of famous literary peoples, and the harp used as a model for the national symbol of Ireland. That harp is from the 15th century, and is the oldest known surviving harp in Ireland.

Out of Trinity College, and onto the nearest bus stop for the on-again-off-again city tours. We got our all-day tickets, and did our first round of sightseeing. We passed the Guinness factory, Phoenix Park and Zoo, and of course the famous statue of Molly Malone. Our tour guide had a wicked sense of humour, even though you could tell most of his jokes were pre-written and standard for the guides. However, he also serenaded us with a selection of songs, including ‘Molly Malone’. In addition to his wonderful singing, he told us of one of the nicknames of the famous statue: “The Tart with the Cart”. He showed us the statues of two other ladies, with shopping bags on a nearby bench, called “The Hoors near the Sewers” or “The Hags with the Bags!”.

 

Our first departure from the tour was at Guinness factory storehouse. To Jason this was like a pilgrimage to Mecca. The whole exhibition was done over 5 stories of the building, and was very slick and modern. Almost EPCOT-style in its design, it had several areas where you could smell the different types of hops and grains that went into the manufacture of the beer. You could see old barrels and copper tanks, one which held over 720,000 pints of Guinness. On the fifth floor, there was an exhibit that held all the old advertising and promotional items, including a little video with many of the TV commercials in it. We hadn’t realized that Rutger Hauer was a Guinness boy! A little dancing reindeer, ala Wallace and Grommit, was dancing to the mambo throughout the commercials, as this was their theme tune. Very cute!

On the top floor was the Gravity Bar, a round glass enclosure where you could get your pint of Guinness, and see Dublin spread out before you like a sea of buildings. Since I don’t drink Guinness, and neither do my parents, he could have had four pints up there. However, he said if he did so, we would have to carry him down, and none of us were up to the task. So he had his own pint and mine, and mom discovered that she could get a Coke instead with hers.

It was very crowded up there, so after our libations we headed downstairs, and perused the gift shop for a bit. Jason couldn’t find anything there that he couldn’t get in the States, so we went back to the bus stop for our next leg of sightseeing.

 

 

 

 
We took the tour bus back to Stop 1, and since there was a wait until the next bus started again, we stopped at the McDonalds right there for lunch. A very strange McDonalds, the bathrooms were on the 4th floor! They still used styrofoam as part of their packaging, and we noted that it said all patties were 100% Irish Beef. It did taste strangely different from our burgers! It was very crowded, so we ate quickly and went out to catch the next bus leaving.

We went on to the Phoenix Zoo, and Jason had a moment with the monkeys right away. He was watching the spider monkeys through the plastic screen, and one came over to him and started mimicking his faces. All of a sudden, the monkey pressed his privates against the screen and started dancing for Jason! Unfortunately, I was elsewhere with the camera, a fact that Jason still curses to this day.

After seeing some beautiful (but sleepy) snow leopards, polar bears, snow owls, and sea lions, mom and I rested while Jason and dad toured the African section of the zoo. It was getting close to closing time, so we wandered towards the entrance, seeing some red pandas on the way out.

We waited about 15 to 20 minutes for our bus to come pick us up, across from the Wellington Monument Obelisk in Phoenix Park, all the time wondering where the pick up point was (no sign was evident).

When we got back to stop 1, we decided to walk back to the car and find some food for dinner on the way. We ended up near Trinity College, but in the financial district, and Jason and I noted some pickpockets checking our group out, until they saw Jason. My husband is 6’4″, and 350 pounds — not anyone to mess with lightly.

We went into a rather large restaurant/pub called O’Neills, and then decided that it was too crowded and smoky to eat in. We realized that at this time of night, finding a quiet place to eat was nigh impossible, so Jason and I volunteered to go get the car and come pick them up. Mom had twisted her ankle, and was having trouble walking a lot. We walked back to the garage, paid for our parking (E20) and got the parents.

On our way out of town, (it was just dusk) we saw a place that looked right out of the Jetsons… it was called Joel’s and it had a glass frontage, sort of angled out at the top, with neon signs. We decided to give it a try, and it was a good choice. Jason and I had the plaice, while mom had steak… it was very good. We noticed that there were several birthday cakes going out for singing Happy Birthday, and realized that they use the same cake each time, take it back, and bring out pre-sliced pieces for the diners — very odd!

We drove the long way home, and luckily it was mostly Ms and Ns, and we made it home at 11pm, off to sleep.

 

April 25th

This morning, Jason didn’t feel well, and didn’t feel like spending all day cramped in the car, so he decided to stay at the Abbey while mom, dad and I went to the Ring of Kerry. We left around 7:30, and drove through Cork, and on to Kenmare. We tried to stick to the larger roads, and luckily there is one N that goes fairly straight through to the beginning of this Ring of Kerry. There are actually three Rings, and we were planning on driving around the middle one.

We reached our starting spot, Kenmare, around lunchtime, and bellied up to the local pub, called Moeran’s, for some chicken sandwiches and potato soup. We chatted with a local contractor who was sitting next to a sign that said “Ye Olde Bullshit Corner!”. Then off we went into Kerry!

 

 

As we entered County Kerry, we came across a standing stone on an outcropping near the road. There was some lovely barberry blooming beside it, and we stopped for a while there. Then, further in, we noticed someone had carved a unicorn and placed it on the side of the road, rearing up as the cars rode by. We stopped at Moll’s Gap, a “scenic spot”, and did a little shopping and some sightseeing. The view was absolutely wonderful. The mountains were sere and harsh, but soft and rounded as well. You could see the sky all around you as it met the tops of the hills…

 

 

 

We kept driving down, and eventually started driving along the coast of the peninsula, and saw some wonderful vistas to the sea. Now, at this point, the day was a bit stormy, and a cold wind was blowing strong, but you could still see blue waters next to bright green fields, and stony cliffs. We noticed many of the B&Bs had names like Seaview, Forestview, Cliffview, etc. We made some others up: Sheepview, Rainview, Roadworkview…

 

 

 

At one point they were completely resurfacing the road, and was at the point where all there was left was gravel, so for half a mile, we drove on the side of a mountain, on a narrow road, on loose gravel. What fun!

We ran into our second set of suicidal sheep here, including a lamb aching to become stew. We had to wait for the sheep to get out of the road. We noticed that we were in pink sheep country (the farmers stain their sheep’s butts with dye to identify them), while back near Kilkenny we saw more green sheep.

Once we got to the tip of the peninsula, we switched drivers, and saw the Dingle Peninsula on the other side of the bay. There were very narrow roads (more than normal, even) and very little traffic. Perhaps the fact that it was raining and cold helped, but by the time we got into Tralee, we were more than ready for a hot dinner and no driving for awhile!

We stopped at a Chinese restaurant for dinner. I have yet to have a poor or mediocre dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the British Isles. I had a fried king prawn appetizer that absolutely delicious, and wished Jason was there so he could figure out what was in it (and make it himself someday). I guess you get used to having a husband with supernatural taste buds. Dinner was mussels in a spicy sea sauce, also delicious and something I couldn’t identify.

When summing up the Ring of Kerry, mom said it definitely deserves its reputation of being the most beautiful drive in Europe. Dad simply said it was beautiful. I would say breathtaking. And we only drove one third of it, in the rain!

We drove back through Limerick, and got home late, around 11:15pm. I slept very well!

April 26th

We slept in today, at least compared to prior days, and got up around 9:30. We went in to Kilkenny before a leisurely breakfast at a local bistro, which had the most delicious mushrooms! The bistro was behind a shopping centre, where we parked our car, and we walked on to Kilkenny Castle, which was all of two blocks down the road.

Our guide was Eamon, and we weren’t allowed any photography or filming inside the Castle. However, we were taken on a wonderfully informative tour of the rooms. Much of it has been restored recently to its 18th century grandeur, including gilt on the moldings and rails. The stairway was made entirely of Jamaican mahogany, and there were Italian marble fireplaces and tables.

 

 

 

We went downstairs after the tour for a short glimpse of the medieval section of the castle, which looked like a brick oven, for the most part.

We went to search for a woolen shop, as I was still searching for a shawl for Kim, like the one I got on my last visit to Ireland. We couldn’t find any, but stopped at the “Abracadaba Café” for some drinks.

We went on to Thomastown to see Jerpoint Abbey, but went to have lunch first at Bradshaw’s Pub. While trying to find a parking spot in town, we noticed a terrific traffic jam, and decided to park behind the Supervalu. We went in to purchase some Cadbury chocolate first, to bring home with us. (so Jason wouldn’t go through withdrawals quite so soon.) The food was OK, although the sherry trifle chantilly was heavenly.

Leaving the pub, we noticed the traffic jam still quite heavy. I wondered aloud if this was common, and a little old lady said “Yes!” as she walked by. We laughed a bit and went off to wait in traffic to get to the abbey.

Jerpoint Abbey was a Cisterian Abbey in the 12th century, and while we were touring the place, a storm worthy of south Florida blew in, blew up, and blew out, all in a half hour’s time. Afterwards it was sunny and the birds were chirping. Luckily, we were able to weather out the storm in the Abbot’s quarters!

 

 

We saw a carving of a dragon in one of the pillars of the colonnade, and were told that the forked or knotted tail in a dragon means it represents the devil. No fork or knot in the tail means it represents power. We also saw carvings of the Lord and Lady of Kilkenny, the Butler family, with little monkeys carved next to them. The story goes that they had a pet monkey, who woke up when there was a fire in the castle, and saved the family by screeching. Ever since, they have been the patron animal of the family.

 

 

We drove back into Kilkenny for dinner at Breathnach’s (we didn’t feel like experimenting on our last evening), and got almost too full to drive home. But drive home we must, as we had to wake at 6am for our noon flight out.

April 27th

Up at 6am… ugh! We were packed, showered, and downstairs by 7am, and on the road back to Dublin. An uneventful drive, we got to the airport, and reserved our seats for the trip from Dublin to JFK. For some reason, the clerk could not find our reservations from JFK to PBI, and this worried us a bit! We went down to customs by about 9:30, and discovered they don’t open until 10:30, so we relaxed a bit. I went up to the duty free shops and did some last minute shopping, and when we were allowed in through customs, I went over to the Delta counter and asked them to verify our reservations, as well as get seats for us. Done and done, no problems, and a BIG worry off our minds.

The plane ride back was quiet and easy, we had a free seat between us and our armrests lifted nicely. Once in JFK we had about a half mile walk (with luggage!) from the American terminal to the Delta terminal. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it was in the airport, but we had to walk outside, across busy streets, in the heat, dragging bags. You would think they would engineer things a bit better than that, no?

Once in Delta territory, we blessed our Etickets, as we avoided a long line, and once again Jason had to remove his shoes for check in. We took it in good humor, though, and went on to our flight. A quick lunch (we learned from last time) at Burger King in the airport and we were ready to fly home.

Very uneventful trip home — I much prefer them that way. Of course, coming back into PBI was like walking into a sauna with a hot, wet towel slapped in your face, but hey, I guess it’s home!

Father: Our trip home wasn’t quite as smooth. We got the car returned to the rental agency while the kids were working their way through the various lines as our flight didn’t depart for a few hours after theirs. In fact, we got back to the airport to find that they weren’t accepting check-ins for our flight yet so we just cooled our heels in the outer terminal lobby, until they got around to posting our flight. No early check-ins, I guess. Then, while we were waiting in line to check in, a security person had us step out of line so they could hand-inspect our luggage! The good news is, we got to return to a special line that moved pretty fast, since our luggage was already checked.

We then proceeded through security (again) and to the gate. I exchanged all my Euros for dollars at the local exchanger and bought us some lunch at a local kiosk. Then it was down to customs (which, again, were off duty until an hour before the flight left). So sit some more. Then some more in the gate area. Our route back was Dublin to Chicago and then back to San Francisco. So, we would go through Immigration in Chicago. At least the flights were somewhat shorter – 8 hours and 4 hours. But we got to see the same movies again. You see, we flew over on United, but returned on American. We arrived back in SF about on schedule and caught the shuttle home. We had pre-paid for the trip home on the way out (discount) so we just had vouchers to give to the driver. Since we were the last stop out of several passengers, we finally arrived home shortly after midnight. A loooong day.