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Northern Ireland and Ireland, August-September 2022

This trip was a long, long time in the making. Much longer than I normally have, and not by my choice.

All my photos are available on Facebook in albums. You don’t need to be a user to see them:

You see, I’ve been to Ireland five times, and I absolutely adore it there. My husband has only been once, on a trip with me and my parents for a week in the midlands. It wasn’t a great trip for him, because who likes traveling with their in-laws? Besides, he loves the sea, and we barely ever saw it on a week near Kilkenny.

So, this trip, I was hell-bent on showing him the wonders of the Irish coastline, food, drink, and history. I wanted him to fall in love with Ireland like I have. I dove into the planning as I often do, feet-first with all guns blazing. We had visited Dublin on that first trip, so no need to do that again. He isn’t a fan of big cities. In fact, they kick in his anxiety. So, instead, I had us landing in Belfast, and staying somewhere in Antrim, somewhere in Donegal, Westport, Inis Mór, and Kenmare. Then flying out of Shannon. That was the plan, and we aimed for shoulder season to avoid the crowds. May 2019.

I did the research, found and reserved the B&Bs, calculated the driving times, stalked the airfares. In February 2019, I bought the airfare, and got a great deal.

Then COVID reared its ugly head, and everything shattered. Obviously, I had to cancel everything. Luckily, except for one B&B (about $100), I was able to cancel it all without penalty or fee, including the airfare. Of course, Delta Airlines fought me on it, but the US Govt stepped in and slapped them on the hand, and I got my refund, because by that time, no one was allowed to travel from the US to Ireland for leisure.

And we hunkered down through the pandemic, and I planned for the future, sort of. As the months went by and the COVID graphs undulated, I finally felt comfortable enough to re-plan for May 2022. I made my reservations at my B&Bs, though there were some that weren’t available. I made some alternate plans. I shifted the itinerary around a bit.

Then another surge came through and May was no longer looking like an option. I shifted to August 2022. Once again, new B&B reservations. Once again, a bit of a shift in the itinerary. But finally, we ended up with the following:

Flying out 8/18/22 from Hartford, CT (American Airlines and Aer Lingus)

4 nights in Ballyvoy, County Antrim

4 nights in Ardara, County Donegal

3 nights in Westport, County Mayo

4 nights in Inis Mór, County Galway

4 nights in Kenmare, County Kerry

Flying back 9/7/22 from Cork Airport

It might have been better to stay in Doolin rather than on Inis Mór this trip (hindsight is 20/20) but I loved staying overnight there before. Unfortunately, our B&B was too far away from Kilronan to be able to do anything without a hackney fare, and we weren’t up for biking around. I am learning.

As the trip approached, I watched the airfares stay steady with almost no variation for months. Finally, they dipped slightly, almost exactly three months from the trip, and I pounced. Getting from Hartford to Belfast required three flights, and if I can avoid that in the future, I will. Evidently, you need to go through security every country you go through, even if you’re just connecting. I didn’t realize this, but now I do! I paid a bit extra for economy plus, so we could have some extra leg room, and I’m glad we did.

Car rental – that was a huge headache. Because many rental companies sold off excess inventory during the pandemic to keep afloat, that meant all rentals were at a premium. The cost just kept going up. So, I finally bit the bullet and reserved a car for way too much. I kept checking to see if it would go down, but it never did. I ended up renting through Autoeurope with Hertz. I tried several others, but most didn’t do UK to Ireland one-way trips, or just didn’t have cars in my range.

But now we had airfare, B&Bs, ferry reservations, rental car, and just needed to wait. And wait. And wait. I’m not great at waiting, especially since this was my first overseas vacation since 2015, and I usually go every 2-3 years. And wait.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Our friends, Patrick and Amber, gave us a ride to the airport, which is about an hour away. Our flight left at 4pm, so we got there at 1pm to leave plenty of time for check in and security and all that. I had already checked in online, but we needed to drop off our checked luggage and get printouts of our boarding passes. We got through TSA security super-quick, maybe about 5 minutes.

Since we still had plenty of time, we found a restaurant to have our first official meal of the vacation, at Blue Boar Saloon. With a Guinness for Jason and a Strawberry Downings Cider for me, a cheeseburger and a blackened chicken sandwich, we enjoyed the meal. Expensive at around $60, but I was resolved that all meals would be expensive on this trip.

We wandered over to our gate and when we finally boarded, we still had an empty seat between us. I prefer the window seat while Jason likes the aisle, as he’s tall and needs the legroom.

One new thing for me was being able to see our checked baggage tracked in the American Airlines app. It wasn’t always updated right away, but we could at least see when they landed, which helped my anxiety about delayed luggage. I’ve got a bad history with delayed luggage and knew to keep all my electronics and prescription meds, as well as a change of clothes, in our carry-on luggage. This habit saved me from five days without luggage on my Scotland trip.

Our first connection was in Philadelphia, so the flight was barely an hour long. We weren’t supper hungry, but we did have a couple drinks (more cider!) and an appetizer, crab mac-n-cheese.

The flight from PHL to London was a brand new 787-9 with LCD windows and a great individual entertainment system. Again, we had an empty middle seat between us and plenty of room.

With this fancy-schmancy IE system, I got to watch Belfast, a movie I’d been wanting to watch for some time. Then dinner was served, which was an entirely forgettable ‘chicken with couscous’ and like most airline meals, it was horrible except for the dessert (a churro bar), which was great. Always end on a high note seems to be the eternal airline meal philosophy.

After dinner, I did my best to get some rest. I think I did get a few hours of actual sleep, but I never have much luck. I did peek out of the windows now and again to see if I could catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis. The chances were good and the sky was clear so high up… but no luck. I managed to catch a little bit of sleep, though I am rarely able to do so. Maybe a couple of hours, if I’m lucky. I guess I got lucky enough because I was able to power through all the next day.

Friday, August 19, 2022

As I woke in the morning, we got served some breakfast, yogurt with granola. I tried to watch Encanto, but only got about halfway through before we landed in London. We disembarked and made our way to the connecting terminal. Clever me, we got to the right terminal, but somehow got herded through immigration. We then had to re-enter and go through security again. Luckily, there was a three-hour layover, because we used a good chunk of it!

Despite that brain-freeze, we had enough time for a sit-down breakfast at the London Pride Pub. I had to stand for about fifteen minutes just to put in our order (my feet were unhappy, as I cannot stand for a long time), and our service was pretty slow. It was okay, nothing fantastic, but our first Full English of the trip. Yay.

Our Aer Lingus flight had tighter seats and there was someone on the aisle seat, so this connection was less comfortable than the others. We weren’t able to choose our seats online as we could with the American Airline flights, so Jason’s knees were wedged tight against the seat in front of us, and caused him a great deal of pain, especially when the guy in front wiggled or moved. I got a coffee but was barely able to finish it before we were descending.

As we were waiting for our checked luggage, a woman in a wheelchair next to us started chatting with a group of musicians, a group called Jive Aces. She got all excited and took a selfie with them, and it made me smile to see the joy.

Bags were there (app never did update that final leg, but at least I knew they’d gotten to London. I guess Aer Lingus doesn’t like talking to the American Airline app) and we grabbed them and headed to our car rental. I had reserved a car and wanted to get a GPS so I wouldn’t have to use a lot of my phone data. The clerk said he’d just give us a slightly more expensive car with a built in GPS, and it would be less than renting a separate one. I shrugged and agreed, but I probably should have just shut up about the GPS to begin with. He might have given us the car for the amount we’d originally reserved. Hindsight is 20/20. The car was a Renault and while it was comfy, there was no way there would be enough leg room for Jason to drive. As it was, there was an annoying bar right where his knee went in the passenger seat, so being in for a long time was uncomfortable for him.

Our listening choice for this trip was the Dresden Files audiobooks. We’d already heard them several times, so it wasn’t essential to pay attention, but it was comfortable and entertaining.

I mentioned that Jason doesn’t like big cities, right? I grew up in Miami. I’m fine with them. But especially driving in a city makes Jason all sorts of anxious. And we landed in Belfast City Airport, on the southside of the city, needing to head north. Luckily, it was mostly highway all through, and we drove an hour to Larne.

Now, I was last in Northern Ireland in 2013. I don’t remember Larne being a large town, but it seemed much larger to me this time. We needed to stop for food and it being mid-afternoon, we didn’t want to get stuck in the countryside in that time period where no one is serving lunch. So, I found a parking spot, we walked up and down the street a bit, and settled on a place called The Stove Café. We really wanted a pub but, oddly enough, didn’t see one in walking distance that served food. Go figure.

The Cafe had fish n chips for Jason and a prime rib sourdough for me, with mushrooms, onions, and on ciabatta bread. They were both a bit underdone, but tasty enough. Nothing exciting, I felt sort of let-down. But we were on a mission – up the Causeway coast!

The sun played a bit of hide and seek, with some drizzle and sunny spots as we drove up the coast and found our B&B at Ballyvoy. Well, just outside Ballyvoy. Which is just outside Ballycastle. The home B&B is called Teach an Cheoil, the house of music. Our host, Micháel, was delightful, and made us more than welcome. He showed us our large room, en suite bathroom, and the resident cat, Oíche Meán, which means Midnight (he was a black cat, of course). He seemed intent on extracting a toll of some pets every time we came in or out, which we were happy to pay.

After we settled into our room and reveled in the fact we were no longer traveling, we decided to wander into Ballycastle to find something for a proper dinner. Ballycastle has like three parts – the part near the marina, the touristy part near ‘the Diamond’, and the rest of the city, for the folks who actually live there.

We didn’t realize all this yet, and so when we wanted traditional pub food, we headed to the only part I knew about – the marina. By the time we actually found a place to park, we were right in front of Marconi’s – which from the outside, looks like a pub. We went inside, but it was really a hotel with a touristy restaurant attached to a fancy bar. But we were there, they had food, and we were hungry. So we ordered a charcuterie tray, a Guinness, and a Magners. The tray was pretty good. The best thing about it was the tomato relish they served with it.

After that, we indulged in some dessert – spiced plum crumble with honeycomb ice cream (absolutely delicious!) and a peanut butter biscoff cheesecake.

Following this, we waddled outside, found our car, and stumbled back to the B&B to sleep forever. Well, almost, but we were in bed by 9pm, and didn’t wake until 8 the next morning. I did toss and turn, because this was a smaller bed (a double) than we’re used to, and my legs kept cramping from the travel and driving, but sleeeeeeeeep.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Our first full day of vacation! At least, a real day, one not full of boring/annoying travel. We woke around 8, showered, and felt ready to wrestle Celtic Tigers. Our host served us a great Full Irish breakfast, complete with beans, potato farls, and of course, eggs, rashers, and black pudding. As we ate, we chatted with him about where I was with the Irish language. Micháel teaches Irish as well as traditional music and singing. His whole family is musical and fluent in Irish. I’m afraid that, while my intentions had been honorable, I was more interested in going out and about than sitting inside taking lessons, but we did discuss some of the places I needed help. He lent me one of his books to look through as we finished breakfast.

We did ask him to think about some activities we might do on a rainy day, as the weather promised rain our entire time there. However, it wasn’t raining yet, at least not more than some mist, so we got in our car and drove north.

Today’s intention was the north Causeway Coast, starting at Torr Head. Or Fair Head. Or Murlough Bay. We kept getting them mixed up and the GPS was no help at all. The only reason we found any of them is because I helpfully noted the GPS coordinates to almost all of the sites I wanted to visit, and was able to program them in. Of course, if we saw a contradictory sign, we believed the sign. That wasn’t always a great move, though.

The first place we actually found was Murlough Bay. This was a filming location for Game of Thrones, Slaver’s Bay. We were able to drive the very narrow coast road down to a turning spot, and then walked down the steep and dew-wet path. After a while, though, it got really muddy and squishy, and I realized I would have a very difficult time getting back up. So, though we could glimpse the bay around the edge of the hill, we turned around about halfway and came back.

The next place was Fair Head. We found a decent sized parking lot with several marked trails, and went for the shorter one, up to one of the lakes. It said there was a Crannog on the lake, and I was eager to see that. A group of fishermen went as well, through the farmer’s yard and up the path. We found the lake, but it was a bit of a disappointment to us, and by the time we hiked up it, Jason’s stamina was about tapped, so we didn’t continue on to the coastline. It wasn’t a great effort-to-payoff ratio. We would chase this effort-to-payoff ratio the rest of the trip, since we had limited energy, and Ireland doesn’t always let you know how much walking there is to a fabulous site.

Next we headed to Torr Head. This one I’d been to before, and we could drive all the way to the end. There was a climb on the mountain itself that I did a little of, but even I was flagging on energy by this time, and we were getting hungry.

We moved westward along the coast, deciding against Kinbane, Larrybane and Carrick-a-Rede. I knew from experience that the latter was a long trek, and Jason wouldn’t be up for it, besides the fact I’d been there twice and he wouldn’t be up for crossing the bridge, so no great payoff for the energy. We did find a good lookout spot to get some great photos of Carrick-a-Rede from a distance, as well as Fair Head in the other direction. This was a parking lot and a railed observation area. Just as we were going to leave (the parking lot was on a loop) a tour bus started backing up into the exit. Totally unnecessary! But then two tourists ran up to the bus and got in. They must have been left behind.

We moved on to Ballintoy Harbour, but there were so many people. At least thirty motorcycles parked along the pier and probably forty cars as well. This is one of the filming spots for Game of Thrones (Pyke harbour). The last time I was here, I had it all to myself. After we hunted and finally found a very tight parking spot, we did explore and walk along the rocks. Despite the people, it was relaxing to listen to the waves crash against the rocks.

Hunger started making itself a priority as we headed to the Giant’s Causeway. We did stop at Dunseverick Castle for some photo opps, but once again, so many people and very difficult finding parking.

Now, despite the weather saying it was going to rain all day, we barely got a few sprinklings in the morning and at noon, it was sunny, bright, and hot. That, of course, meant that the other tourists were legion. We could barely get past the Giant’s Causeway for all the traffic, both cars and tour buses. We knew better than to even try to get in there today, as Jason and I were both pretty much over-peopled at this point.

We passed right on by to get to Bushmills to relax with some food and a pint. The first place we stopped at, The Scotch Bar, didn’t serve food, but we needed some relaxation and a drink, so we hung out in the quiet, empty place for a while. The bartender, Stuart, was very helpful and chatted with us while we had our drinks (Bushmills White Label and cider). He said to try the Causeway after 6 and bypass the Visitor Centre. He also gave us some advice on where to find a blackthorn walking stick (I was asked to get one for a friend back home) and where to head for some good fish-n-chips.

We went to the recommended place, The Cod’s Way (yes, love the pun on the Causeway). The fish was good, we had curry gravy to share, and it was delicious. It was also quiet, which we relished after the crowded morning. Then we went to a grocery store, got some cash from the ATM for our B&B bill, and grabbed a plug dongle since I couldn’t find mine. Then we wandered into the off-license shop next door where Jason bought a bottle of a new type of Bushmills he hadn’t tried before.

Thus armed, we headed to our next stop, Dunluce Castle. It was already like 4pm by this point, and once again, we had difficulty finding any parking. When we got the tickets, they warned us that the site was only open for another hour, and asked if Jason was 65! Granted, he asked in case he could give an additional discount, and Jason does have a gray beard and gray in his hair, but it still set us back a bit (Jason is 50).

Dunluce is also part of the Game of Thrones filming, as it was used (heavily CGI) as Greyjoy Castle. Just after we arrived, a very loud, very rambunctious busload of Italian schoolchildren (older teenagers) arrived and swarmed the place. The only other folks there seemed to be an older Irish man who had a pro camera, quietly finding interesting shots like I was doing. We exchanged a few quiet words and smiles, sharing a moment of ‘no Italian chatter’ in one of the side rooms.

After we escaped the Italian Castle of Teenagers, we headed to our last target of the day, the Dark Hedges. This is a place I again had mostly to myself the times I’d previously visited. And I realized that not only was I dealing with August tourist activity (I hadn’t visited Ireland in August since 1996), but the pent up visiting power of 2 years of pandemic, as well as being a gorgeous day. And many of the spots we were visiting had burst into popularity due to Game of Thrones.

The Dark Hedges was no exception, as it was iconic for being the King’s Road in that show. And unlike my prior visits, no cars were allowed down the road now. Instead, we had to park nearby and walk a bit to the actual road, along with about thirty other people. Still, it was gorgeous and serene except for the motorcycle that ZOOMED through the the road while we were there, shattering all the peace.

By that time, we headed back to Ballycastle and started thinking about dinner. Another side effect of the August/Pandemic thing was that most dinner places were full up, and I hadn’t even thought about making reservations, as I’d never before had to do that. Of course, I usually traveled to Ireland in May, June, even November, so there was never a need. And of course, Pandemic. And gorgeous day.

The first place that had gotten recommendations was Anzac, but they practically laughed at us when we said we had no reservation. They were full up to two weeks out! Then we went to find a steak & seafood place on The Diamond, but they were also totally full. We called a third place, tired of tramping around and getting quite hungry, but they were also full. We ended up going into the co-op and buying sandwiches (three types of half-sandwiches in one, it turns out) and chips, having a sullen and sad supper on the park bench in front of a church on The Diamond.

We thought about heading to a pub for drinks afterwards, but we were exhausted from the first full day and bummed out by the sad dinner. However, as we drove back to the B&B, we spied Hunters Pub in Ballyvoy and stopped for some pints. It was hot and very crowded, and for a while, I had to go outside to get cool, but we enjoyed our pints in a corner. I tried the ‘Outcider’ and it was really tasty. I did try to call a couple restaurants to reserve dinner for the following night, but no one answered their phones, and I gave up. Then we headed back to the B&B, watched a bit of TV, and went to sleep.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

8am seems to be the natural wake-up time, which is fine by us. Breakfast wasn’t served until 9am, so that gives us time to get ready. Once again, we chatted with our host over breakfast. He’s a language nerd, like us, and he was fascinated by Jason’s information about his native language, Wolostiquey. He showed me the primer he had from The Christian Brothers on the Irish language, and we talked about some sites we’d visit today, including Kinbane Castle.

After breakfast, we headed to Glenariff Forest for a morning walk. Now, I’d walked this twice before, but I’m noticing that for sites I’d previously visited, whether due to a change in the visitor experience, more traffic, or just time, I misremember the entrance or details. This time, we parked in a big parking lot but it didn’t seem the same as I remember. I recalled a building with a cafe, then a huge waterfall as the first thing you saw on the walk. This parking lot had commercial tents to one side and didn’t have a waterfall. We chose the shortest path, as one matching our energy level, about 2km. I thought this was the same one I’d chosen before, which hugged the river gorge and had a dozen small waterfalls and delightful, cool greenery.

I was wrong.

This trail was all forest and no waterfall. No gorge. Rocky, dry, and while there were lovely trees everywhere, there was no ‘payoff’ view. I’m afraid that Jason and I had a bit of a tiff, while I wanted to head ‘down’ to see some waterfalls, I was also worried about getting stuck on the much longer trail, and get lost. I should have taken a photo of the trail map before we started, but I thought we were following the right arrows. We weren’t. We ended up coming back on a merged longer walk, but still saw no lovely waterfalls. Deflated and defeated, we limped back to the car and drove to Cushendun.

Mary McBrides had been recommended by a fellow traveler. I looked up the address, and it said ‘Ballymena, Cushendun’. Foolishly, I listened and put Ballymena in the GPS. Thsi was like 20 miles away from Cushendun, so I had no idea why it was listed, but after we realized that, we got back on the right track, now thoroughly hangry and tired. Luckily, the seafood stew was delightful, though Jason’s steak and guinness pie was a bit bland. Kopparberg strawberry & lime cider made up for a lot. While we were there, I called Harry’s, the steak place, and Anzac to try to make reservations, but none answered. O’Connor’s answered, but they didn’t take reservations.

Finally fortified with lunch and pints, we walked down to the Cushendun caves, another filming location for Game of Thrones, where Melisandre gave birth to her shadow child. The local apartments had their parking all gated off, as well as some construction, but we made it down.

There were two ways to go – along the rocky beach or up along the walkway. We chose the beach and searched for interesting stones. Only a few other people were wandering around. At the mouth of the caves, there was a place to climb up to that level, and I needed a stranger’s help to get up the rocks. Within the caves, someone had placed a sad, old leather armchair with cardboard swords on the back, to mimic the Iron Throne. The caves were cool and interesting.

Once back into the car, we headed to Kinbane Castle, as per Micháel’s recommendation. This time, there was easy parking to be had, and a fantastic vew of Fair Head, the ruined castle, and Rathlin Island. We could see the shadowy form of Scotland in the distance as well as Craig Island.

Jason spotted a whale spout in the distance as we walked along the path. We decided to get coffees at the kiosk, but that was a mistake. It tasted nasty and thin, so we poured those out.

We had some time to kill before dinner, so we chose a road and drove. We saw something called the Orra Scenic Route and drove through Sleievanorra Nature Preserve. There were rolling hills covered in purple heather and brown peat. Lonely and gorgeous. We saw two goats giving us stinkeye as we drove by. We kept driving until we ended up in Cushendall.

After getting some pics of the river, the tower, and the main road, we decided to get dinner at Harry’s. This is a spot I’d dined at before, as I stayed in Cushendall on two of my prior trips. However, the quality of the place had seriously declined since I was last there. I learned it was under new management. I got a brie with salad and potato skins while Jason got the salmon. Both were overdone and dry. We skipped dessert, even though they had the first sticky toffee pudding I’d seen, and that’s one of my favorites.

Instead, we decided to drown our sorrows in some pints, and walked down to Johnny Joe’s. This is another place I’d been before, and I knew they had traditional Irish music. It was still a bit empty when we arrived and sat with our pints in ‘grandmother’s sitting room,’ but after a while, Barry showed up and pulled out his guitar. He proceeded to tune it while we chatted. He was from Bunbeg, and we talked about Irish, films, and music. Other musicians showed up; a banjo, fiddle, concertina, 2 flutes and a tinwhistle.

While they went through several trad tunes, each one taking turns choosing a piece, the guy next to me kept talking about how he had his own heavy metal band, Hot Ashes. He kept air-bodhraning (bodhran is a drum).

After a few sets, nicely full of trad music, we headed home. We saw five lights in the clouds above Ballycastle and figured they were some sort of spotlight, but were too tired to figure out the puzzle.

Monday, August 22, 2022

 

Since we were checking out the following morning, I had a quick chat with our host about those Irish lessons I never stuck around for, and he agreed we might arrange to do some via Zoom in the future. Since today was supposed to be another rainy day, he suggested a Bushmills tour as a good rainy day option. However, when we checked online, there were no tickets available for the for the next week.

Instead, we headed for the coast again. We figured if it was going to be rainy, it might be a less crowded day at the Giant’s Causeway. At least, that was the theory. We headed to Whiterocks Beach and Magheracross Viewpoint near Portrush for some lovely coastal views, and then we headed to the Causeway. We did get lucky, as the rain threatened but stayed away. We were able to park in the close lot if we went through the visitor centre, and we didn’t begrudge the admission price. After all, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and deserves some support. Also, I found a few gifts at the shop inside. We did take the bus down and back, to save our limited stock of energy. There were still plenty of people, including one family with a very sullen teenager who was having a pouting fit about her not knowing they’d be coming here today.

Both of us climbed the pillars, explored the area, and swam through the still thick amount of people. Still, it was a lot less crowded than it would have been on the day before, so I’m glad we waited.

Afterward, we headed toward Ballintrae, looking for a place for lunch. We saw a billboard for The Cove Bistro and tried that. It was pub-like but had an windowed terrace that was nice and bright. This was nice, since the day stayed gloomy though the rain still held off. The lunch menu was less extensive than the dinner one we saw online.

It was at this point when Jason made the observation (which pretty much held through without) that all the pubs in Ireland and Northern Ireland seemed to have the same basic items without a lot of variation. Fish-n-chips, a salad with some sort of brie or goat cheese, a burger, a chicken sandwich, a steak (usually sirloin strip), and chicken goujons. Maybe some seafood chowder, if we’re lucky. Maybe a curry for a vegetarian option. It’s like they had a law or something. After discussion with many people across the vacation, we determined that while some of it was ‘this is what people expected’, more would be due to the pandemic reducing the number of trained cooks who could create fancier items, to supply line shortages for fresh fish and seafood, to rising costs limiting the items any place wanted to keep on hand. Also, we heard tell that supplies on mainland Europe were willing to purchase entire boatloads of the daily catch, so the locals didn’t have as much chance at them.

Whatever the reason, this would become a recurring theme, and we were amazed and surprised when we came across a place that broke out of this tired menu mold. Especially since Jason is a chef and Ireland has had (in the past!) amazing seafood from my own memory, it was frustrating.

So, for our lunch, I had a rose marie prawn salad and he had a burger, along with our normal drinks of Guinnesss and cider. They were tasty enough and we counted ourselves lucky.

Afterwards, we headed to Mussendun Temple and Downhill Demesne. We parked at the Bishop’s Gate, though in retrospect it might have been better to park at the other side. However, we enjoyed a lovely, quiet stroll through the gardens and then climbed the hill to the memorial. We went toward the ruin and out to the temple. We had the place almost to ourselves except for a family of four very loud and rambunctious children who ruined the peace.

That, of course, is when the rain finally decided to fall, but it didn’t last long. And we had both hoods and an umbrella, so we enjoyed the sea views and dramatic skies.

By the time we got back to the car, we were about wiped, but I wanted to find a scenic viewpoint nearby I’d seen a sign for – Ballyhackett. Up, up, a very narrow road we climbed, took some photos from a very windy viewpoint, and then back down toward Ballycastle (and around a road closure that tried to detour us back the way we came).

This time, as we came into town, we headed toward the ‘real’ part of town, and found a blackthorn walking stick at a gift shop. We tried O’Connor’s for dinner, the place that wouldn’t take reservations. Luckily, they had a table. The fried mushrooms we ordered as a starter weren’t your tiny little button mushrooms. They were huge! Jason had a steak & Guinness pie while I had bangers & mash. A very satisfying dinner, overall.

We were just leaving town when Jason spied a tall ship in the harbour. We turned back in the roundabout and found parking along the street, getting out for photos. The name of the ship was Thalassa, and I recently learned that the name for the fear of water was Thalassaphobia, so I found that lovely.

Instead of heading back right away, we got some ice cream at Maud’s, which is situated right at the harbour parking lot. I tried Poor Bear’s Treat (honeycomb) and Salted Caramel and they were both thoroughly delicious and I want some more now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Travel day! We woke at 8, packed up, had a final lovely chat with Micháel about language, history, and culture. He gifted me with a CD of his music. We got on the road for our trip to Ardara in County Donegal.

First, we stopped at a Centra and bought more snacks (and using our last £5 note before moving on to Euroland). Jason got a bit nervous as we approached the border. We had no idea what to expect post-Brexit. The last trip I did was 2013 and there was nothing at the border. The trip prior to that, in 2011, was a traffic stop but it seemed like they were looking for someone in particular because they practically waved us by. This time, however, we barely noticed we had crossed. The only clue was that the bilboards now said Euro instead of Pounds for ads.

Our first major stop was a place I’d been to twice before and loved, Griannan Aeilleach. This is an ancient round stone fort on an impressive hill, and you could drive all the way to the top. That made it an excellent effort-to-payoff ratio. The road up was windy, twisty, narrow, and surrounded by thick hedges and grass. However, once we reached the top, the views of the surrounding countryside absolutely take my breath away every single time, no matter what the weather.

We climbed the short distance to the fort itself. There were about 6-7 other folks exploring, but nothing too bad. The sky was threatening and it started to rain just as we made it back to the car, excellent timing.

While we made a few stops for scenic views on the way, we pretty much powered through to Ardara so we could settle into our B&B for the night, Woodhill House. The GPS took us almost there, but not quite – one road over. However, I had pre-scouted via street view on Google and knew how to get there from where we were. I did take the wrong fork at the entrance, and came in the back way, but that was fine, we made it into the front area (hint – take the fork closest to the road).

This was an old manor house made into a B&B, and we kept getting Fawlty Towers mixed with Monarch of the Glen vibes. The owner was an elderly man named John, definitely a bit on the ‘eccentric/dotty’ side of the spectrum. I had gotten excited when I booked the place as I belatedly realized I had used the house as a location in one of my books years before, Legacy of Truth, set around 1800.

They didn’t quite have our room ready, as it was only 2pm, so we headed into town, only a few minutes away, for a late lunch.

Once again, I chanced going to a place I’d been before and had great food there, Nancy’s Pub. Nancy’s is a local institution, a pub owned by the same family for countless generations. I had also included a tavern run by Nancy in my 1800 book! The last visit, I had enjoyed lovely talks with the mother of the current generation as well as one of the daughters and the young man behind the bar, all part of the large family. This time, however, it seemed different. A lot was probably due to it being high season and all that, but I also learned later that the mother had died a few years after my last visit in 2013, and the eldest daughter as well, which made me quite sad.

However, I didn’t know all this yet. Instead, we sat and had lunch. Seafood chowder and a Louis Armstrong sandwich. They were tasty, but we had been looking forward to the oysters or the smoked mackerel on their menu. Both were off that day as their delivery driver was ill.

After lunch, we checked in and chatted a bit with the other guests, one of which drove the Bentley outside. John showed us to our room in the outbuildings, a big room with a lovely patio and entrance to the garden behind them. A bit twee, but comfortable enough.

We decided to venture out to Loughros Point and Maghera Beach to find the shore, as I know Jason loves the ocean. I knew ahead of time this would be a long, windy road, so warned him, but we took one turn that became a sketchy gravel road, which became a sketchier rocky road. Finally, we turned around and took a different branch, and voila! There was the beach.

I took off my socks and shoes and walked into the surf. We found all sorts of shells. Then, back to the car and we went back up the road and down the next one, search for the Easaranca waterfall. Again, narrow, windy roads, but these had more shoring up along the edge, less rural, and more houses, so obviously better traveled.

Once we enjoyed the waterfall, we returned to town for dinner. We looked at the Coachhouse, but they were just closing up, only for breakfast and lunch, so we went back to Nancy’s for burgers. The cheeseburger was well done and dry, unfortunately, but the started of red pepper dip was fantastic. Jason had the fish n chips and tried a local ‘Silkie’ whiskey, and liked the smoky flavor. Then we went back to the B&B and watched some TV before bed.

All in all, despite being told it would rain all four days of our time in Northern Ireland, we had maybe a few hours of rain in total. Never believe the weatherman.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Breakfast at the Woodhill House was a bit more of a formal affair than at Micháel’s, as one would expect. Woodhill House had room for maybe 10 families, as opposed to 1-2. That being said, breakfast was tasty enough, though a bit overdone.

We headed south today. We went through Glengesh Pass, which was a wonderful site. I never tire of it, and it even impressed Jason. After that, the first stop was An Port Beach, which I hadn’t visited before. A very long, windy, narrow road (as is common enough in Ireland), but when we reached the coast it was delightful. A local was there walking her dog, but other than that we had it to ourselves. White rocks, ruined cottages, and uncaring sheep all along the way. We did have to back up a bit at one point for a passing truck, since we had just gone by a layby.

The next stop was Glencolmcille Folk Village. I’d been there twice before, but the last time it was closed as I was in late November. We enjoyed touring the different cottages, set at different points in history, complete with clothing, nicknacks, etc.

We did a bit of shopping in the gift shop, and I picked up a few books for myself (a story book in Irish) and friends. I tried to chat with the clerks in Irish, as this was a Gaelteacht. We exchanged a few lines, but they were more interested in chatting with themselves than with me, I’m afraid.

After Glencolmcille, we headed down the coast toward Teelin. We wanted to have lunch at The Rusty Mackerel, a place which had been highly recommended. We drove through Peat Bog Central, and saw lots of piles drying in the August sun. We also spied a few people actually cutting the peat, poor guys.

We got to The Rusty Mackerel, which is right on the main road, around noon, just as it started pouring. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open for lunch until 1pm, which seemed to be common. So we sat at the bar and had pints until lunch was on. This was a very typical gorgeous Irish pub bar, though a bit upmarket with wine casks and the like.

For lunch, we had a starter of the Donegal Bay Mussels. I had prawn and monkfish in cheese sauce with red peppers and onions, and it was delightful. Jason had prawn in a white wine sauce over linguini. All of it was absolutely delicious, and we would definitely recommend the place again. And just as we were finishing up, an absolute character of a flirty waiter blew in and ‘met’ each of the tables.

After lunch, the rain had stopped, but started and stopped again on our drive to Sliabh Liag Cliffs. This was another area where the access had changed since my last trip. There are two parking lots, and in the past, you could choose either the lower one (with a long trek up the road) or the smaller upper lot. This time, it was blocked off and you had to use the lower one. However, Jason definitely wasn’t up for that.

I went to the gate and asked if there was a way we could drive up, since my husband needed a cane to walk, and they gave me a pass to drive to the upper lot. This was fantastic, and the only way we could have seen the cliffs. Since this is one of my favorite views in Ireland, I really wanted to share it with Jason. This might again be an issue of traveling during high tourist season.

We got to the top, and there were only a few places to park because most of the area was taken with busses and gift/food trucks. However, we were able to walk around to the observation deck, and I climbed up the rocks a little bit before we returned.

As it always is, Sliabh Liag is breathtaking and truly one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. The rain and dramatic skies on the horizon just made it more so, and the rain stayed away until we were leaving.

Next, we took a leisurely drive through more peat bogs to Killybegs. We had reservations this time for dinner there. However, before we got there, we saw a sign that looked like WWW – we finally figured out this stood for the Wild Atlantic Way, basically a ‘scenic drive’ marker. This one took us 7 miles along a very narrow cliff road to Muckross Point. Amazing cliff views, and a short walk through some sand dunes to another view. Definitely worth a stop, despite the very blustery, stormy winds coming off the ocean. The walk up to the headland was one of the highlights, a new place I had never been before.

The rain finally chased us back to the car, and we took that long, windy cliff road back to the main drag back to Killybegs. We arrived about a half hour early for our reservation, so we walked along the waterside, checked out the local art shop, and watched the ships in the harbour. There was a central sign with some of the local sites listed on it.

As our time came, we went to Anderson’s Boathouse for our meal. We each got the surf & turf for dinner, and everything was delightful. Too much steak for us to finish, but we really tried. Well, we didn’t try too hard, as I wanted to leave room for dessert. We got crepes with salted caramel ice cream and it was well worth the deprivation.

The drive home was more direct than the trip there, but I had eaten too much and my stomach was complaining. I did copy my phone photos and videos so far onto the laptop, just in case I either ran out of room or something happened to my phone. Then I was feeling better so we headed to Nancy’s for pints.

We sat in the front room and met a gentleman from Glasgow named Alan. We discussed a lot of things like US/UK politics, gun laws, genealogy, native rights, Scottish independence, the Orangeman society, the resurgence of native languages, the Troubles, etc. It was a good, long, rather drunken conversation.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

This morning, instead of the traditional Full Irish breakfast, Jason decided to roll the dice a bit and ordered the kippers for breakfast. He got two full filets of kippers! He couldn’t finish them, but they were definitely tasty. We also asked our host about laundry, and he was happy to do a load for us for a reasonable cost – we dropped off our first laundry and went about our day.

The first thing we did this morning was add gas to the car. This was the first time we needed to do so, even though it was only at 3/8 of a tank. While it cost E85 to fill it up, I was impressed at the fuel efficiency (diesel). This was an automatic car. While I can drive stick, Jason hasn’t driven stick in many years, and we didn’t realize when we rented it that he wouldn’t be able to fit in the driver’s seat. Besides, it’s one less challenge on tiny, windy roads to not deal with a manual transmission, especially on hills. So, while I normally get manual, I was fine with the added expense for automatic on this trip.

Today our first goal was Glenveagh National Park. I’d driven through it on my last trip, but that was November, and I was looking forward to seeing it in the summer. On the way, we saw signs for the Colmcille Centre near Gartan, so took a side quest to explore that. It’s a lovely little museum with all sorts of great information on life in the 5th century.

As we got to Glenveagh, we could barely get into the parking lot. It was packed with people, and no parking spots to be found. I hadn’t really done a lot of research on the park, as I assumed you could just drive through parts of it, but it looked like walking routes only. The map showed a 4km walk to the castle, and that was beyond Jason’s energy level, and to be honest, my own as well, so we drove on. We did drive along the outskirts of the park, and that was gorgeous enough.

Eventually we got to Errigal Mountain and the Dunlewey Valley, and we stopped several times to take photos of the amazing views. I tried to get down toward the picturesque church for the iconic shot of Errigal behind the church, but didn’t really see a way to access that without hiking, so we moved on.

We were looking for lunch around this time, and headed toward Gweedore and then to Bunbeg. I had, last trip, stayed in Bunbeg and enjoyed several great meals at Sean Óg’s pub. However, by the time we found it and squeezed into the tiny parking lot (there was construction going on), we saw a sign that said no food until that evening. We asked one of the girls at the bar where we could find pub food. She directed us down the road to Cafe Kitty, but her sense of distance was off. We stopped at Pepper’s Cafe instead. We had a rather forgettable lunch of a Donner Kabob and a BLT. I was interested in having some of the delicious ice cream, but we decided to move on instead.

Our next plan was to find a stone circle I’d read about but never visited, Ternon Stone Circle, and Maghery Beach. I also had listed a few other sites, like Lough Aghnish Promontory Fort and Crohy Head.

We found one of those.

The first place we found was Maghery Beach. A lovely little crescent just along the road, easy peasy. Then we continued along the road and saw a sign for Ternon Stone Circle. We found Ternon House, a B&B of some sort, but no stone circle. We drove through some old walls, labeled Famine Walls, and then kept going along the very narrow one-lane ‘road’ that wound through several farms and stone outcroppings. But no stone circle. Was it hiding in the stone outcroppings? We had no idea. We no longer saw any signs. Eventually, we found a spot to turn around, and made it back to the famine walls. Finally, Jason looked up the stone circle and found a blog with some pictures. We triangulated where the circle was compared to where we were (in front of the Ternon House), and realized it must have been across a couple of very muddy, sloggy fields. We decided against tramping through the farmer’s private land to find it.

We moved on to find Lough Aghnish Promontory Fort, which had us back through the village of Maghery and up through some houses on a hill, and then up a gravel road. Then up a steep, scary goat track or something, which we declined to try in our little car, as it was definitely not a 4X4.  So now we’re 1 in 3 seen.

The same blog that described the Ternon Stone Circle also had directions to Crohy Arch. While it wasn’t far away (along the coast again), it described some pretty tough rock climbing in order to reach it. After the disappointments of the day, including the lunch, we decided we were done, and headed back to Ardara along a ‘scenic route’ which was basically just through back farm roads.

We shuffled off to Nancy’s and surprise! They had oysters today, glory be, halleluleah! And tasty oysters they were. Nancy’s offered several ‘styles, and this one was in Kumba seaweed vinegar, and so delicious. Well worth the wait! I had the smoked mackerel dinner while Jason had fish-n-chips, and they were delicious, though the mackerel had a bit too heavy lemon for my taste, very strong. We chatted with a gentleman at the next tables making fishing flies. He lives in Chile, but was from Belfast, and his family moved nearby, so he was visiting them. We talked about some of the Peruvian native history and the gorgeous views in Patagonia.

After our early dinner, we went to the B&B to just stretch out and relax after so long in the car. I took care of some administrative tasks related to my book sales, and messaged our Inis Mór B&B about changing our bike rental (that was a hope that I didn’t think we could actually deal with) and change it for a hackney pickup at the ferry.

Later, we headed back to Nancy’s for some pints. It was nice being close enough to the pub (about a minute’s drive) to do so. I wanted dessert, but they were all out, so I was sad. Instead, we had some sriracha honey oysters and some pints, so that was sort of dessert and I could eat several dozen of those. One group of patrons brought in their dog, Harley (allowed after food service was done) and he was a big fuzzy, curly puppy who said hello to everyone.

Our laundry was waiting for us in our room when we returned, all folded and clean!

Friday, August 26, 2022

We were back to the Full Irish Breakfast this morning. Our plan today was Beltany Stone Circle, and perhaps the Celtic Prayer Garden on Inishowen. On the way to our first goal, we stopped to refill our Snack Bag with something salty, and found all sorts of bacon crisps.

Beltany Stone Circle is an amazing spot. It’s access is down a farm road, and there is space for a few cars. Then there’s a lovely walk through a forest path, covered with trees. Once you get to the end, it opens up to a large stone circle on an open field, with amazing views of the surrounding countryside. The circle itself is raised in the center, and I don’t know if any excavation has been done inside. The last time I was here, it was covered in sheep, but they must have gone elsewhere this time.

I found some lovely spider webs in the leaves on the path, heavy with morning dew, and got some lovely photographs of these tiny beauties. The woods along the path were full of moss-covered trees, very romantic and a sylvan delight. When we arrived, one other car was there, but they were on their way out. And as we left, another carload arrived. We had the circle to ourselves, and it was wonderful. Stormy skies in the distance disappeared as we headed to our next goal.

The Celtic Prayer Garden is located near the town of Muff, in a spiritual centre. I’d been there once before, in November, and I was eager to see how much more amazing it was in August, but I was a bit disappointed. It is a heavily Catholic place, with stations dedicated to various Catholic saints. And as a walk and meditation area, it was lovely, but I somehow expected more from the flowers and natural beauty.

The afternoon began to go downhill from there. We just switched over to book three of the Dresden Audiobooks as we went out in search for lunch at a restaurant or bar. I searched on the car GPS system (I really should have known better by now) and it ended up sending us back into Northern Ireland. I only noticed because again, I saw a billboard with £ listed on an advertised price. And not only was it Northern Ireland, it was a good-sized city, Derry. That means Jason got anxious as we got caught in a city-centre traffic jam, barely moving a few feet at a time.

We finally found the place that GPS sent us to, but there was absolutely nowhere to park. At this point, we just wanted to get out of there, away from the city. We were getting hangry and harassed and needed some space. Eventually, we made it out and toward Letterkenny. We found one place that advertised bar food in a village called Manorcunningham, so we stopped to check it out, but they didn’t serve until 4pm and it was only 1:30pm at this point.

As we pulled into Letterkenny, also a good-sized city, we stopped at the first restaurant we saw, relieved just to be out of traffic. This was a touristy/shopping mall/activity centre, and a big disappointment, but at least it was food and they had Guinness. I had a chicken spice box and Jason had pasta. Neither were tasty, but we got full.

Thus mostly refreshed, we debated some options: head back to Ardara and hang out in the B&B (just to watch TV), explore the Inishowen peninsula, but have a long way back, or head to teh coast to drive along the Wild Atlantic Way. We headed for the coast, eager to actually get some scenic payoff for our day.

It was a fairly easy drive on an N road to Dunfanaghy. We found a turnoff for Doe Castle, so stopped to explore the lovely 15th century keep of the O’Donnell’s. They we explored Horn Head. This was a very scary single-lane road along some rocky hills, but the sea views from the end were amazing, and a good payoff for the effort.

By this time, Jason was feeling achy from too much time in the car, so we headed home on the N56. It was still a 1.5 hour drive but we made it back to Ardara. Then headed to Nancy’s for dinner and drinks.

This time, they had a special, pan-fried hake with chorizo and white bean stew. We had oysters for the appetizer (making up for lost time without them!) and some pints. The stew was absolutely delicious, and I want some more of it right now! Afterwards, we were wiped, so we wandered back to the B&B.

 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Travel day! This is our day to drive from Ardara, County Donegal down to Westport, County Mayo. I love Westport. It’s a vibrant, compact city, very walkable. This would be our first B&B situated right downtown, so we wouldn’t have to drive everywhere. I could drink more than one pint, because I wouldn’t have to worry about driving. Lots of options for restaurants and traditional music all at our fingertips.

I had the full Irish, but Jason opted for the poached eggs. He’d had them an earlier day, but they’d been mostly hard. This time, they were properly runny, so we packed, chekced out, and got on the road.

I knew we had a long travel day, over three hours, so the first part we didn’t make any stops. The first stop I had listed was Creevykeel, which was right on the main road south and I’d visited before. However, we must have missed it because our car GPS is stupid. Instead, we just kept going, because we didn’t want to be in the car all day. However, the next place was new to me and I absolutely wanted to discover it, the Gleniff Horseshoe. This wasn’t a single place, but a horseshoe-shaped scenic drive with amazing cliffs hemming in the road. We stopped several times on the three-mile drive down the stunning backroads. Ruined cottages, delicate waterfalls, grass-covered cliffs, all gorgeous. We had the place pretty much to ourselves, and there was a lot of payoff for no walking.

Once we got to the main road, we went past Drumcliffe and Glencar waterfall (both of which I’d visited before) but I really wanted to show Jason Carrowmore, which has thirty megalithic structures in one place.

When we got there, a minibus of others started a tour, so we headed across the street to visit the stone circles there, to avoid the people. Jason was feeling low on energy, so he hung out after that while I climbed the hill to visit the Listoghil chamber, a place I wanted to see again. I was also able to get some good zoomed in photos of Queen Maeve’s Cairn on the nearby summit of Knockarea. I want to visit that someday, but that’s a big hike.

After visiting the sites I wanted to see, I headed back down the hill, once again avoiding the tour group. Jason had enjoyed a tasty coffee at the kiosk, and then we went on the search for a place for lunch. We found The Harp Pub in Sligo, despite the crowding of being in a city. Lots of parking right next to the water.

We enjoyed a delicious seafood chowder, some of the best I’ve had. Huge chunks of hake, salmon, monkfish. It was slightly sweet, too. I told Jason it was even better than his. While the 90s pop music was intrusive, it seemed like a true locals pub. No tourists to be seen.

I did indulge in some dessert, and ordered a bannoffee pie. It came in a jar with ice cream and caramel sauce. Service was a bit slow – our server was glassy-eyed and didn’t seem all there.

After a satisfying lunch, we set back on the road to Westport. After an hour and a half, and slogging through traffic coming into the city, we found the parking lot behind our B&B. We had to fight to find a spot. This area had parking for the local gym and the cinema, but once we parked, we could walk up a flight of stairs to the back door to An File B&B.

We had to search to find the actual pub to check in (the B&B is above/next to the pub/restaurant), and we settled in our room. This was by far the smallest room we had, with two beds sort of shoved in there. And a tiny bathroom that I literally couldn’t turn around in without shutting the door first. There was also some grody grout mold that gave me the yucks. The water was hot and the shower was strong, but I put a washcloth down to stand on.

After settling in, we went to walk the street and discover the area. I’d been there twice before, but in different B&Bs. I think, in retrospect, I’d choose the place I stayed in November (McCarthy’s) as it was definitely quieter than this place, and just a bit further up the hill.

First, we wanted some pints in the pub. I chatted with the bartender, Chris, who said he’d just attended a wedding in Scarborough, Maine.

I was getting a bit warm, so I wandered outside to cool down. There was a flea market of some sort set up out in front of the pub, on The Octagon. Nothing exciting, but I did a quick walk. Shoes, uniforms, candles, soaps. Then, after our pints, we went in search of dinner. We walked down James Street and up Bridge Street, examining each of the menus posted outside. Remember how I said that all the pubs seem to have a standard menu? This held true here, as well. We didn’t really find anything that seemed different. There were some buskers, including a girl on a concertina and a man playing Spanish guitar. LOTS of people. A sunny Saturday afternoon in August seemed to be way too many people for Jason to handle, and he started getting jumpy.

We looked at the Thai place, and walked up the stairs, but it was only take-away and looked incredibly sketchy. Then we looked for a seafood place, but all of them were either full or sporting that standard menu. Finally, as we got testy from looking at too many places, we decided on Olde Bridge, which was Indian food. We didn’t have a reservation, but we were early enough that we should be able to finish before others arrived.

We had duck spring rolls, garlic naan, five-spice chicken, and massaman curry. It wasn’t what I would normally have gotten, but it was tasty. I was trying to sample new things on this trip.

After dinner, we went back to the pub and had some pints, just to relax and not be walking or be in the car. As we had our pints, a ‘one-man band’ started setting up his equipment for music. I eyed him suspiciously, as he had a lot of equipment for trad music. Then he set up a second microphone, so we realized he’d have someone else.

An hour later, they actually started singing. It was the worst example of 70s lounge lizard medley music I’d heard. Like, Girl from Ipanema morphing into The Last Train to Clarksville into Suite Judy Blue Eyes, yet all sounding the same. As we looked around, we noticed that we were by far the youngest patrons here, most were at least 60.

We escaped through the back door and the beer garden (which is where all the under-60 patrons had gone), and up the stairs to our room. The 20-somethings in the beer garden remained rambunctious as we fiddled with the paddle key which refused to work for like five minutes. Finally, we got it to unlock and we escaped most of the sound.

That’s when we realized how hot it was. The window sash wouldn’t stay open (very heavy) without Jason wedging his cane under it, and we had to leave the window open. Even with that, since there was just the one window, we sweated, even without a sheet on. That meant that the very squeaky automatic gate on the flats across the alley disturbed us well into the night and the wee hours. There was also some heavy door that kept slamming shut well into the night and the wee hours. Then, in the early morning, the bottles were tossed into the trash with loud crashing, waking us both. We probably wouldn’t stay there again.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

One of the downsides of An File B&B was that breakfast wasn’t served until 10am. I’m an early riser, usually up at 7am. Even Jason usually gets up around 8. That means that our time to be out and about sightseeing was cut short. Now, I understand that they are likely waiting for their kitchen staff to come in for lunch prep to make breakfast, but it was still much too late. However, we gave it a try that first day. It was good, but not worth the late start. Also, it didn’t really open at 10 – it was 10:10 before someone showed up and unlocked the door. There were eight of us waiting at that point (not sure if the others were people staying at the B&B or folks coming in for breakfast separately).

Once we finished and got on the road, we headed to Cong. Jason and I both love the movie, The Quiet Man. It was an intersection of his love for John Wayne movies and my love of all things Ireland, and we watched it at least once a year, usually around St. Patrick’s Day. We’ve both practically memorized the lines. Cong was where most of it was filmed. Again, I’d visited before, but it was mostly empty my prior trips. This wasn’t related to Game of Thrones, so I will attribute the massive crowds 100% to August/post-pandemic.

We debated going into Ashford Castle to explore, but decided against it, and found parking around the corner from Cong. We wanted to visit Pat Cohan’s for a pint, but they weren’t open until 1, and it was only 11:30. We wandered through the crowds to Cong Abbey, then down the street to the wee gift shop set up as a thatched cottage replica of Whit O’ Morn cottage. We didn’t even bother searching for the real Whit O’ Morn cottage (the house in the movie), as I knew it had become a derelict ruin due to neglect by the owner. Several groups had urged him to restore it, even offering funds to do so, but the owner continues to leave it as a pile of crumbling walls.

We wandered back up to Pat Cohan’s, but it still wasn’t open. We hung out at the picnic bench for a bit, until a walking tour guide started speaking to her two tourists in an overly melodramatic and loud presentation about the story of the film. We escaped and got back to the car to explore Connemara.

On the way, we stopped at a roadside pub called Joyce’s Bar. This was a spur-of-the-moment stop, no research, and we were glad we did. They offered a cabbage and bacon special that Jason absolutely loved. I had smoked salmon open sandwich.

Thus fortified, I wandered into the next building, an artisan gift shop. I bought myself a new wallet and some gifts for friends. I chatted with the owner about my books, and gave them my card, just in case they wanted to order any. I don’t think they will, as my books are set in Ireland but I’m not an Irish author. I’ve also heard it is very difficult to get a local Irish bookstore to carry local author books, but you never know.

Back in the car, we drove along the Wild Atlantic Way to Clifden, and found a sign for ‘Island’s view,’ so we followed it, all the way down to a little beach. The wind was strong and blustery, but it was still an amazing spot for some photos.

After that, we drove allong the Killary Fjord through Leenane, more amazing views and landscapes. Jason was running out of car spoons, so we headed home after a brief stop at Kylemore Abbey for some photos.

Tonight we decided to forego the menu roulette and just eat at An File for dinner. We asked our host about the squeaky gate door last night, and he assured us that Saturday night meant lots of folks coming in late, but tonight should be better. He also offered to bring up a floor fan to relieve some of the heat, and we gladly accepted.

Dinner was a pile of mussels as a starter, stuffed lamb for Jason and lobster & crab ravioli for me. Both weren’t ‘standard pub fare’ so that made us happy, and everything was delciious, although the burnt garlic bread made me sad.

After dinner, we went to the room to stretch out and destress. We watched an episode of Dunbar’s Ireland, and then went back down for more pints. Maybe it was because the prior night had been so difficult to sleep, or because I had several pints, or because of the fan, but I slept much better that night. I also slipped the cover off the duvet and used that as a sheet, so I could be covered (I am uncomfortable sleeping without any cover) but not broiling.

Monday, August 29, 2022

While I got a better night’s sleep last night, Jason didn’t and wasn’t feeling very well and might be getting a cold, so we planned a lighter day today. We didn’t want to wait until 10am for breakfast, either. We wandered down the street to find a place open for breakfast. There was a place right near An File (the Tucker Bag Cafe), but they were closed for vacation. Most of the other places didn’t open until 10am either. I still can’t process that. People eat before work, don’t they? Some were only closed because it was Monday or Tuesday, and that I do understand, the typical days off for restaurants.

However, we finally found the Chilli Coffee Shop on the next block. I had a smoked salmon bagel, and Jason had a breakfast bagel. I also indulged in a delicious mocha/caramel coffee.

Thus bolstered, we dropped off a bag of laundry at Gill’s, E30 for one big bag of laundry, wash and dry. Pick up that night after 5pm. Then we were off to Achill Island for the day.

We did get some daytime and nighttime cold medicine for Jason, gel capsules. Then we drove the hour or so to Achill Island. I’d been twice myself, and loved the island. I even set one of my books there, set around 1800 in farmer’s croft cottages. We stopped at the tiny parking lot to explore Kildownet Castle, a small, square keep on the coast where Grainne O’Malley once lived. This is another place I’d been in before, but today was a bright, brilliant day and my other trips had more moody weather, so I got lots of photographs. There were about three other people exploring.

We continued up to the amazing outlook of Ashleam Bay, down the windy, switchback road to the beach, and then found parking on the other side for more pictures. Then we went in search of a lunch spot.

I did want to find Achill’s Stonehenge, a recently constructed replica of the famous megalith structure, but the signs sent us up increasingly sketchy roads and rocky goat paths, so we gave up and headed back down the hill.

We still hadn’t learned our lesson about the car GPS, and tried to find local restaurants or pubs. Everything seemed so packed with people that we couldn’t even find parking. Often they had tour busses parked out frong. We drove through several towns, including Dooega, Bunacurry, and Keel. Finally, we saw a sign for Geilty’s Pub – the westernmost pub in Europe. This is presuming that Iceland is not part of Europe, or has no pubs. Which I knew for a lie because I’d been in an Irish pub in Reykjavik. But maybe that was on the American side of the tectonic plate divide in Ireland? Who knew.

Anyhow, we had plenty of parking at Gielty’s and amazing views across the bay. We might have been worried about so few people there during lunch time but at this point, we really didn’t care. We both got the fried seafood platters, which had two HUGE calamari rings, prawns, scallops, and cod. Definitely tasty, though the amount of fried didn’t do to well on my stomach.

On the way back off the island, we tried to find another megalithic site I had on my list. We found the sign, but it was a very steep hike up a hillside trail through tall grass, and it was far enough away we couldn’t see it from the road, so we decided it was more than our energy level would allow, especially after that big, heavy meal.

Once back on the mainland, we stopped at a place we’d glimpsed on the way in – the Old Irish Goat Centre. It was a local artisan gift shop and goat rescue. Sure enough, as we pulled into the parking lot, two goats were sitting on rocks outside the shop. I chatted with the women in the shop who were knitting or crocheting. All the gifts were made by local artisans, with the proceeds helping the rescue centre.

Once back in Westport, I still had energy but Jason wanted to rest. Therefore, I left him in the B&B room while I went shopping and wandering around town. I stopped to have some Honeycomb and ‘Kinda Bueno’ gelato, I went to Supervalu to find a whiskey for a friend that wasn’t exported to the US (Proclamation). Then I shopped at several gift stores and book stores. I got some gifts, talked to the bookstore owner about my books, searched the charity shop for blackthorn walking sticks, and realized that Aisling Gifts was chock full of tourist tat.

I finished off my afternoon by getting some chocolate and gummy candy at the old fashioned candy shop and picking up our laundry. Then we relaxed before meeting a friend for dinner. We had met the last time I was in town, and she was an American who had moved to Westport sixteen years ago. We had dinner and pints at An File, since we knew it had decent food.

We had a delightful visit, though we couldn’t for the life of us remember where we first met online. We both loved Ireland, of course, and had lots of mutual friends, but we never decided on a match point. For dinner, I ordered the burger, as I’d seen the huge things several times by this point. Boy, was that a disappointment. It was full of breadcrumbs, and tasted more like well-done bland meatloaf than a hamburger. I was not pleased. Jason tried the chicken wings, not expecting to get 25 of them. Debe got the ravioli I had the other night, so at least she had a great meal.

We spoke about genealogy, history, housing, taxes, moving to Ireland, my dad’s story, my books, but we still couldn’t figure out our meeting point. It was definitely pre-Facebook, maybe even pre-2008.

After Debe wandered home, Jason was tired, but I wanted to at least have some traditional music at Matt Molloy’s while I was in town, so I went there. It was incredibly hot and crowded, standing room only, and even though I thoroughly enjoyed the trad music, I couldn’t stay long. After about five tunes, I wondered back to the B&B.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Travel day again! This time, we were headed from Westport to Doolin, to take the ferry over to Inis Mór. Yes, we could have taken the ferry from Rossaveal, and it would have been less travel time. However, our stop after that was Kenmare, and the distance from Rossaveal to Kenmare was too long for a single day for us.

So, up at 7am and on the road within the hour. We did do a circuit of downtown, looking for a place to grab something for breakfast, but nothing was open that we could find, not even Chilli’s. Instead, we stopped at Supervalu and got some breakfast snacks and coffee.

The trip south was pretty uneventful, especially as the M17 highway swung us wide of Galway proper. We did turn onto the N67 so we could drive through Ballyvaughan and explore a bit of the Burren before we got to Doolin.

We stopped at Caherconnell to stretch our legs and explore the ancient ring fort. I actually got my first spontaneous Irish response there, from one of the tour guides. I was wearing my ‘Labhair liom’ t-shirt (which is ‘speak to me’ in Irish), and we had a brief discussion in Irish about where I studied the language.

I wanted to show Jason Poulnabrone, but at this point we were running short on time, as our ferry would be leaving at 1pm. We also saw several tour busses parked in the lot as we went by, and people swarming all over it, so we passed.

The GPS then took us on a very narrow pass up over one of the mountains. By the time we finally emerged, we were almost to Doolin. Even looking at the map now, I am not sure which route we took, but it was a new one to me.

When we arrived, we parked at the first lot we saw, a large field with lots of cars in it. Then we had to lug our luggage across the grass and another parkinig lot to the ferry. If we had realized that, we would have kept driving. More on that later, though.

This is when I discovered that when I bought the ferry tickets, I had gotten the wrong date. I had bought them for 8/27-8/30, rather than 8/30-9/3! However, when I went into the office, they were able to fix it without any fuss. I did ask if we needed to take our luggage off the ferry with us when we stopped at Inis Oirr, and they said yes, we did. We were hoping to get lunch while we were there, as it was getting late. Ah well, we’ll figure it out.

While we waited for the ferry, we chatted with the family next to us. Siobhan from Tralee and her sullen ten-year-old daughter Lana. We discussed a trade – my cat, Lana for her daughter, Lana. The daughter was all for this since we lived in the exciting US.

The ferry took about twenty minutes and we docked in the smallest island, Inis Oirr (east island). We grabbed our luggage and walked up to Tigh Ned for lunch. They didn’t really have a lot on the menu, just panini and other sandwiches. I got a ham and brie panini while Jason got a BLT with chips and pints. It was standard, nothing incredible. But again, I spoke a few lines of Irish with the girls at the bar. They were kind enough not to laugh when I asked for our bill in Irish, ‘Ba mhaith liom ag íoc an bille.’

Back on the ferry to Inis Meáin (middle island), where we just stopped for a few minutes and traded some passengers. I did get some wonderful photographs on the way of the Plassy Wreck, a shipwreck on the shore.

Next was our destination, the largest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mór (big island). As per our hostess’ instructions, we waited for Noel with his Luxury Tours white hackney van, and got our ride to Tigh Fitz B&B.

Now, there are stereotypes of an Irish B&B host. Some, like Micháel in Teach an Cheoil, are warm, low-key, and chatty. Some, like John at Woodhill House, are old-school and dotty. Then there is Penny at Tigh Fitz, a virtual hurricane of information and furious positivity, who talks non-stop and full of smiles.

Peggy got us checked into a big nice room with a double and a single and a lovely view of the sea, a modern bathroom and (glory be!) a desk. She also got us a reservation (after some argument with the hotel) for the Aran Islands Hotel for dinner that night. It seems that, due to COVID and high season, several of the few restaurants on the island were running habitually short-staffed. Tigh Joe Watty’s was closed for food for the first two days we were there, while another of the four eating spots was also closed for food.

Tigh Fitz B&B was delightful. Unfortunately, it was too far away from town for us to walk the distance, a little more than a mile. I might have done that on my own, but Jason was still feeling sick and his body just wouldn’t do that even once. My original plan had been to rent bikes to get into town, like I had when Vicki and I stayed here. But that wasn’t an option, either. So, we had to rely on the hackney rides every time we wanted to go into town, for all meals or sites. That was an issue, both for logistics and cost (E5 per person each trip).

I also had issues figuring the right way to dial for Noel to arrange a ride, dealing with the country codes and regional numbers. I kept getting a busy busy signal, or I got a generic message. I had no idea if I was getting through to the right place or not.

After some relaxation, we got our ride from Noel and went to the hotel. When I had originally booked this trip, I had managed to secure one of the stand alone pod rooms that faced the ocean at the hotel. That would have been a much shorter walk to town (1km), but they were all booked up early on and I couldn’t find anything but a hostel closer in.

Anyhow, we sat for dinner as there was a wedding going on in the next room. I ordered the seafood pasta, while Jason had a starter of seafood chowder and steak with mushrooms for dinner, medium rare. Will he get it medium rare? The menu had a disclaimer that ordering a steak well done would mean it was less tasty. We were hoping that meant the chef knew how to cook a steak.

We were wrong. It was medium well and tasteless. My seafood pasta was super-bland as well, and looked so much like the seafood chowder Jason had as a starter, I suspected it was just that dumped over noodles. We were very unhappy. To be fair, the server comped the steak after we showed her how not medium-rare it was. I did get a sticky toffee hazelnut pavlova, but got it to go, as I was stuffed.

They were also kind enough to get us a ride back to our B&B.

When we got back, we chatted with Peggy about maybe doing a boat ride around the cliffs on Thursday or Friday, as she knew someone who did such tours. We also arranged for Noel to take us around the island the next day. She mentioned that one site I wanted to see, the wormhole (a natural hole in the rocks where the waves pushed through) was a bit of a hike, so we passed on that.

Back in our room, I deep dove into restaurant research. Joe Watties was closed to dinner service on Monday and Tuesday due to staffing, and closed to lunch most of th eweek. Bayview was also closed Monday and Tuesday. It seemed that our only options was the disappointing hotel restaurant and The Bar. We hoped to call tomorrow to get a reservation for dinner. Jason went to sleep while I watched a biopic on Freddie Mercury.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

We woke up this morning to a gorgeous orange sunrise across the water, visible from our B&B window. Stunning! We were up earlier than normal. Our time here on Inis Mór is when I realized how much a problem my phone was becoming. My battery is old and doesn’t hold charge very long. It wasn’t an issue when we were out and about in the car all day, I could just keep it plugged in while we drove. But here on the island, no car meant no charge. I had a backup charger, but must have left the cord to charge THAT back in the car, so it was useless. I had to seriously conserve the use of my phone, which meant photos and videos, on our days out while here. And look up getting a replacement battery when we got back to the US.

We went down to breakfast, and there was another group of three and two singles in the room. We got our normal Full Irish breakfast, and lots of orange juice.

Because I also developed a sore throat, and Jason was still coughing from his cold, we decided to take it easy today and went back up to our room. If we had been closer to town, I might have risked going out and about, but figured it would be better to rest. However, the maid knocked on our door at 10am, as Noel was here for our day tour. With a bit of grumbling over it, we got downstairs and into the hackney bus. We hadn’t realized this was settled, and thought Peggy had only inquired about the tour today, but it was what it was.

Noel took us into town, but still had to wait for the ferry to arrive for the rest of his people, so we walked up to the Spar and got water, money from the ATM (because all those rides would need more cash) and some more lozenges for both me and Jason.

We did some shopping in the Aran sweater shop, and I got some fingerless gloves. Jason looked at the Irish caps, but they were more expensive than the ones he’d seen earlier, so he balked. I was hoping he’d get one, but he never ended up doing so.

Then the ferry arrived and we piled into the bus with the others. Chock full of people! The bus windows were tinted, and I was on the inside aisle, so didn’t get many good photos. I especially wanted to get some of the seals sitting on the rocks, but we didn’t stop long enough to get out and they were on the wrong side.

Then we headed to Kilmurvey Beach and up to Dun Aengosa.

Now, I’d been here twice. The last time was in May and we stayed at the Man of Aran B&B nearby. We walked up to Dun Aengosa early in the morning, before the tourists came, and had the place entirely to ourselves.

August/post-pandemic and a gorgeous sunny day made this slightly different. You could barely walk in the small square of shops where everyone got dropped off. Jason was content with sitting and people watching while I went to climb Dun Aengosa. It doesn’t seem like a hard walk, but it is 1.2 miles long and steadily rises. I stopped for a while to chat with the basketmaker who was set up weaving on the path.

The last bit is rocky and difficult. And I’m 53, overweight, and out of shape. But I did it! It took a lot of effort, but I did it. I did a little private victory dance at the top.

There were about a hundred other people there. I wasn’t the oldest and I wasn’t the fattest, but I was still proud that I could still conquer that particular physical feat. Then on my way down, I saw a woman in her 70s climbing while wearing wedge sandals and felt a bit silly. But she said she’d grown up near there and had climbed it hundreds of times and I didn’t feel so bad.

Once back down through the visitor centre, I chatted with one of the locals on his pony trap about the weather in Irish, and that made me happy. I was wearing my ‘Tá cúpla focal agam’ (I have a few words) t-shirt on, so he must have noticed it and obliged.

After getting back to the square, Jason and I scooted into Teach Nan Phaidí’s for lunch before the rest of the crowd returned from Dun Aengosa and swamped the place. I got a delightful Aran goat’s cheese salad and Jason had beef & Guinness stew. And since I remembered how good it had been when I visited in 2006, I saved room for a slice of Guinness chocolate cake. It was still as good as I remembered it. It’s nice that something had stayed the same!

Loads more tourists showed up, like fifteen busloads, and it seemed like all of them were very loud Italians. We watched as the busses did a merry dance of trying to get in and out of the tiny spaces. We got back on our bus at 2pm and finished out tour. We went down to the seven churches and explored the area. The day remained sunny and positively hot, maybe 75-80 degrees in the sun.

Finally, we made it back to town in time for dinner, and we managed to wedge ourselves in at Tigh Joe Watty’s. This place had been our go-to place on our 2011 trip, and I was very much looking forward to an excellent meal. It was jam-packed!

The menu looked exactly the same as all the other menus we’d seen in pubs. We sighed with resignation and ordered some oysters for a starter. No specials, no catch of the day. That seemed to be normal in many of the places, as well.

Jason got the fish-n-chips, figuring that was hard to screw up. I decided to try the chicken curry. The last time I was here, I had a positively amazing smoked mackerel salad, but now the salad had salmon and beets. I detest beets. This wasn’t the first salad I saw with beets, and I don’t approve of the trend.

Folks, I was so disappointed. The oysters were fine, though they were poorly shucked (chunks of shell in most of them, still firmly connected). But that’s not what killed us. The chicken curry was okay, but I’ve had better microwaved meals.

The fish-n-chips were horrible. Super thin, like maybe a centimeter? Jason compared them unfavorably to Gorton’s fish sticks. This is when all the prior disappointments about Irish restuarant and pub food came crashing into me and I got more upset than I should have been. Here I was, trying my hardest to convince Jason Ireland was a great place to live, and one of the places that shone brightest in my memory was a horrid disappointment.

To be fair, the owner came by and she asked what was wrong. We had already sent the fish-n-chips back, but she knew which it was. We’d already paid the bill, but she insisted we take back some cash for the poor meal. I know, intellectually, this wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was busy season. It was post-pandemic. Everyone was short-staffed, supply lines were iffy, and folks were trying hard to keep costs down to stay open. But it was still heart-breaking. I sort of lost something of my love for Ireland at that point.

We dragged ourselves home and went to sleep.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

I have a complaint about the B&B showers we encountered, especially those who are obviously made from kits. Where are the shelves? There’s none. Barely even a corner on the floor. People take things into the shower. Shampoo, conditioner, razors, soap, washcloths. Why have no place to put them? C’mon folks. Seriously.

Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, we went down for breakfast this morning and tried the poached eggs again, but they were hard and not soft enough. I wasn’t feeling great, and it seemed that Jason’s cold had migrated into my chest. Our boat ride was arranged for 2pm, and the plan is to go to lunch around noon and then go to the pier for the cliff boat ride. We weren’t sure we were up for that, but would assess as the day went on.

So we rested that morning, watching TV and getting sleep in stages. Jason went down around noon to cancel the boat ride for us. We didn’t even go into town for lunch, but relied upon the Snack Bag for sustenance. (I just couldn’t see spending E20 plus the cost of the meal for both of us to go into town and back for a lunch neither of us could enjoy).

I finally figured out the proper dialing protocol for getting hold of Noel, though we didn’t actually get hold of him. Peggy said to look outside, and there he was, across the street, doing yardwork. I had no idea he was so close! So, we did go into town for dinner. Noel brought his dog, Tadgh, on the bus, and that was delightful. We had dinner at The Bar. They didn’t take reservations, but we went early enough that it didn’t matter.

The Bar had locals sitting at the bar, and seemed a much nicer space than the hotel had. More homey and relaxed. Certainly fewer people than Tigh Joe Watty’s. They actually had Irish stew on the menu, the first place I’d seen with that, and we both ordered it. While on the salty side, it was delicious. The owner said lamb was very expensive since COVID, so that may be why we hadn’t seen it on any other menus to this point. We chatted about the disappointing same-ness of pub menus and the lack of fresh shellfish. He said that was 90% due to COVID, between getting/keeping trained staff to cook it, getting hold of the shellfish (even for an island where tourism and fishing were it’s two major industries), and the expense of having a larger menu, and having to keep those supplies too long.

He did insist on us trying his seafood chowder at that point, and it was delighful.

When we were ready to leave, I tried calling Noel again, but must have messed up or he wasn’t answering. I tried two other cabs. Finally I got hold of Joe, who was the one we got last night. He arrived in his car rather than his hackney, since he was elsewhere doing work. We resolved to ensure arranging for any rides all at once in the future.

We got back to the B&B and watched an episode of a show called Cheap Irish Homes, where the host finds renovation projects for homebuyers.

Friday, September 2, 2022

I had a fitful night, coughing and wheezing. The day was overcast, and the breakfast was strange. I asked for two eggs and two bacon. I got one egg and three bacon. Then she came in with more eggs later. No worries – food is food. This was another lazy day as it was set to rain all afternoon. We took the opportunity to rest and heal, watching a documentary on jaguars and tigers, and then some Hotel Inspector episodes.

That night, we went to The Bayview for dinner. This was the first night it was open since we arrived, and the last dinner spot we hadn’t yet tried on the island. They had a very Brazilian fusion feel, and the salsa music was quite loud, even in the smaller front room we sat in.

The mushroom tepanade on bruschetta was okay, but very bland. It could have done with some pepper or spice. Then I had the frutti del mar, because that’s one of my favorite dishes. That had plenty of spice, but served with really wide noodles, which I hadn’t expected.

After we finished dinner, we headed over to The Bar again for pints, as that was such a comfortable place. We enjoyed listening to the locals argue both in English and Irish. Then a double rainbow came out over the harbour and it seemed a fitting ending to our stay on the island.

We called Noel around eight to come get us, and as we were waiting outside, we chatted with one of the other patrons. She was from London, but came each summer to Inis Mór to work as a dive instructer.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

 

We woke after a rough night of coughing. We had breakfast and packed to wait in the lounge for our pre-arranged ride to the ferry. We chatted with two older local men who had come to the island for a wedding. They’d grown up here but lived just over on the mainland. I did have some conversation in Irish with them, but it quickly changed to where I learned Irish. We discussed some history, the Irish language itself, and a bit about saint hagiographies.

Then Noel arrived and took us out to the pier. We waited in a big bus station style waiting area, covered and with lots of bench room, as it seemed the ferry was running a bit late. A young indian couple with their son sat next to us, and the child was absolutely entranced by the rainbows being cast by the glass of the shelter windows. Then he had an entire conversation with another couple’s dog.

When the ferry finally arrived about a half hour later, we went into the lower deck to avoid the cold and the wind, as our coughs were still pretty bad. Of course, the sun came out during our trip anyhow, but I have no regrets.

Once we arrived, I had Jason wait with the luggage while I went to get the car, so we wouldn’t have to lug everything across the parking lot and grass again. Unfortunately, I left everything with him, including my phone. That was a mistake.

I went to get my car. There were only two other cars left in the field, and one of them was another ferry passenger. I drove to the exit… only to find it padlocked shut! I had no idea what to do. I didn’t have my phone, and I really didn’t want to walk all the way back since I was feeling sick. Luckily, a local woman walked her dog nearby, and she said that they shut that lot down on September 1. I must have been one of the last to park there.

She called the harbour master, and they sent someone out with a key to let us out. It would have been really nice if there had been some sort of sign when we parked, mentioning that it would be closed. Evidently they rented it from the farmer next door just for the summer season.

Anyhow, I went back and got Jason, and we only drove a little while out of the Doolin touristy area. We were hungry for lunch at this point, and I was a wee bit more than stressed from the parking adventure. We found a pub with food just in the main part of Doolin, Fitzpatrick’s Bar or Fitz’s Pub, and went in for some sustenance.

I got the smoked salmon caesar salad, which was amazing, while Jason had the seafood chowder. They also had brown bread made with treacle, which was amazing and I’m craving some right now.

Thus fortified, we got back on the road. We were facing a three-and-a-half hour drive, so we had to make a hard decision about the Cliffs of Moher. I had been there several times, but Jason never had. We saw the cliffs from Doolin, but it’s such an iconic site that I’d feel bad that Jason didn’t see it. However, I also remember what a hike it was to the top, and the rain was coming in. We made the decision to skip it and instead get on the road to Kenmare. We had dinner reservations that night and didn’t want to run short on time, either.

I plugged in our route to the car GPS, and despite my insistence that I didn’t want to take the ferry across the Shannon, it kept trying to send us there. Instead, I programmed it for Limerick and then, once we passed the ‘decision zone’, reprogrammed it for Kenmare.

It rained on and off during our trip, and gave some gorgeous clouds and sunlight on the mountains as we passed Tralee. We made a couple stops for photos, and noted the ‘highest pub in Ireland’ nearby, but just wanted to get into town.

I’d been to Kenmare before and it’s one of my favorite towns. I’d stayed at the B&B we were going to, O’Donnabhain’s, and knew that the parking was in the back. However, I wasn’t certain exactly how to get there, as there is a warren of back alleys, and they were all chock full of cars. So instead, we parked near the tourist office and walked to the B&B/Pub. I didn’t see Ger, the owner, but spoke to a guy who said he’d been working there the last time I was there in 2011. I got checked in and got our keys.

I went out the back door to find the route to where I’d left Jason with the car. What used to be the parking lot in the back was now converted to a covered beer garden, so that was one reason we hadn’t found it. However, there was parking all along the alley and we found a spot, and settled in our room. Our reservation was about an hour away, so we could stretch out for a time. The beds were a bit on the hard side, even for me (I prefer a firmer mattress) but I pulled the cover off the duvet to make a sheet, and put the duvet under me as a sort of mattress pad, and that helped.

Tonight, we had reservations at a place that was recommended to us, The Sailor’s Bar in Killaha West. Our quest for fresh seafood was evidently only satisfied by the higher end restaurants, rathe than the pubs (as it used to be), so to the restaurants we did go. This place was easy enough to find, right on the main road, and an amazing picture of sunset clouds greeted us as we went in.

The menu was a bit disappointing, as it seemed so similar to the standard pub menu. However, the special board came to the rescue. There were more specials than regular menu items, and we opted for the mussels appetizer. I got the sea trout while Jason ordered the salmon. Evertyhing was well-cooked, but not extraordinary. At this point, I was willing to settle for ‘standard’ rather than ‘poor’. At least Jason stopped being hangry.

We drove back into town and had pints and dessert at the pub our B&B was attached to. I had sticky toffee pudding, and Jason had the chocolate mousse, and the day seemed replete. We retreated to our room and watched some TV before bed.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

The realization has hit that my lovely Ireland vacation is coming to an end in just a few days. I’ll have to return to humdrum reality and leave my beloved Irish landscape behind.

This morning we had our first breakfast at O’Donnabhain’s, and I was confused. The hostess was the cook and owner, and I swear that I had brown bread with treacle the last time I was here, but she swore she never made it that way. I even wrote it in my trip report. But regardless, it was tasty, and they had a sideboard full of extras. Fruit, croissants, juice, cereal.

At one point, my fork slipped and I launched a piece of white pudding into my tea. I am so talented.

Thus fortified for the day, we headed to the Kenmare stone circle. Even though I’d stayed in town before, I’d never sought this one out. We could drive down the block, and then a short walk to this hidden spot, shaded around by trees in the early morning. A small tour group was already there, about five people, so we didn’t have it for ourselves. A lovely spot next to the river.

We had reservations for lunch in a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves, Fishy Fishy, in Kinsale, so we headed in that direction to explore. It was an hour and a half down, but the car GPS once again reared it’s idiotic head and sent us to some crossroads in the middle of farmland, miles away from the actual town of Kinsale. With a deep sigh, we reset it and tried again. I swear this thing is full of crap.

Drifting through town, we found it not quite as crowded as previous places have been, and a lot of that was probably due to the fact it was now September, and tourist season seems to shut with a bang on August 31. Regardless, we enjoyed the slightly less crowded town and wandered around, since we were early. We found a parking garage a few blocks from the restaurant. We were a bit short on coins, but the machine didn’t take bills or credit cards. You needed to download an app online and not only was I not thrilled with that idea, the signal down in the parking garage was too crappy to even try. However, Jason found E2 in the car so we paid and displayed.

Fishy Fishy was pretty full for lunch, and we were glad we’d made a reservation. Upscale but the decor was odd. There were sculptures of women’s torso backs and butts all along one wall.

We ordered the oysters for a starter, as well as a seafood platter, which had selections of oyster, crab, prawn, scallop, etc. I ordered the surf & turf while Jason had the fishy fishy pie. I splurged and had a peach bellini, since I saw it was the daily special drink.

The scallops on my surf & turf had the roe attached, the sauce was creamy and sweeter than I’d thought it would be. Perfectly cooked, and a fantastic choice. The brown bread had treacle again. The manager or owner came by to ask how our lunch was. Jason mentioned that the oysters were a bit sloppily shucked, and she seemed to take that to heart.

When she brought his second Jameson, he swore that she gave him the black label or special cask, even though we only paid for a regular.

As we had our lunch, a child, perhaps three or four, was running around in her posh purple dragon princess dress. She kept going under the rope to climb the stairs. She was adorable.

After lunch, we waddled outside and sat on some benches in the park for a while, people watching. Once rested, we walked a few blocks to find the ‘picturesque’ shopping area, with lots of brightly painted shops. We had to thread through the crowd around the tourist office and up an alleyway, but we found it. After getting a few photos with too many people in them, I went into one garishly bright shop, The Stone Mod, I think. There was so much stuff! Bright, vibrant, sparkling, it spoke to my inner child.

I chatted for some time with the owner. She was from America, but had bought this shop and lived here for 25 years. She still didn’t feel like a local, alas. She was making plans to sell up and retire to an island in Greece.

We sat in the park for a while, and I debated having an ice cream, but was still too full from lunch. We watched a few crows go nuts over one woman tossing them crisps.

The rain began to blow in, so we escaped back to the parking garage and the car just as our paid-for time was about to run out. Perfect timing.

I really wanted to go to Cork. I wanted to explore Cobh and the picturesque places of the city, and check out the English Market Food Hall. But I also realized that there was no way Jason would be able to deal with going into a city that big at this point, so I let go of that ambition. Instead, we drove along the southern coast and the backroads. I initially set the GPS to Skibberreen, but it once again sent us on a wild goose chase. Luckily, this time I caught it early and beat it into submission.

I wanted to see Bantry Bay, Skibberreen, and other towns I’d just heard of. The storm blew in and out and in again. We found a brown sign, but ended up not finding whatever it was leading to. Instead, when I saw the sign for Drombeg Stone Circle, I screeched a turn and almost gave Jason a heart attack. This was on my list of things I wanted to see.

There was (of course) a long, windy one-track road, but there was actually a parking lot of sorts, enough for at least six or seven cars. A few were already there. A long walk along a stone wall led to the stone circle. Jason decided to rest in the car, so I went alone.  A bunch of loud, laughing teenagers (Spanish this time instead of Italian) and a quiet older couple were also exploring the main circle and the recumbant stones to the side.

As I walked back, I noticed something nestled in the stone wall, someone’s burnt offering, a bound bunch of twigs. I got back to the car just as the rain started to hit.

We kept driving and found Bnatry Bay, and while it was gorgeous, and I got out for some photos, the rainy, windy weather chased me back to the car pretty quickly. We drove on through Caha Pass as Jason gritted his teeth during the entire thing. It was a bit dicey with the wind and the rain, but it was also stunning and gorgeous, despite being misty and dim in the wild weather.

Once through the pass, we passed an interesting place, Bohane Heritage Park, and then Molly Galligan’s Druid View. I’ve been by there several times, but never gone in. It looks wildly touristy, but I do admit it’s got a fantastic viewpoint. Finally, we came back to Kenmare.

Tonight we dined at our home pub, O’Donnabhain’s. They had personal pizzas so we gave it a try. We had previously never had good pizza in Ireland. Well, we still haven’t. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either. Luckily, I drowned my disappointment in Kopparberg Strawberry & Lime cider. There was some traditional music at 8:30 and I had finally had a quick chat with Ger, the owner, who was working at the bar when I paid for dinner.

Monday, September 5, 2022

The shower in this place was strong and hot and I appreciated it after the rainy day yesterday. We had our breakfast and then walked around the block to drop off a bag of laundry at the laundrette. Then we did some shopping down the street, since this early in the morning there were no crowds to fight. One place was full of toys, and I finally found something for our friend’s 5yo child. At the next shop, I found another blackthorn walking stick, one that didn’t seem as cheesy as the first one. Jason had sort of adopted the cheesy one, so now I had two. We still hadn’t quite figured how we would get them back, as neither would fit in our luggage.

Today we were headed for the Ring of Beara. I had considered taking Jason on the Ring of Kerry, but our previous experience with crowds just told me it would be too much this year. And Dingle, while gorgeous, was further away. Beara would be uncrowded and close, and we wouldn’t have ALL day in the car. Also, I’d only explored it once and wanted another go.

Of course, the first thing we did was go through Caha Pass again. This time, it was relatively sunny in the morning, so the views were even more stunning. Also, with successive times going through the pass, it got a little less scary for Jason. I was fine with it when it wasn’t pouring rain or dark.

The only thing that made it difficult were the bicyclers. There was evidently some sort of marathon/race going on, the poor sods. It wasn’t as nearly as thick as when Kim, Theresa, and I drove the Ring of Kerry alongside hundreds of bikers – this was only about twenty or so that we passed. Still, one-lane windy roads are difficult for passing them. Luckily, we either passed the lead or they went another route shortly after the Pass. We did pass a few refreshment stations for them here and there.

Shortly after that, the wind and rain picked up again, but then it went away in waves. It reminded me of hurricane bands, but I think that’s just the natural weather patterns here on the west coast. We drove along the south road, heading west. We went through Glenariff, Adrigole, and Castletownbere. Then we arrived at Eyeries, with all sorts of brightly painted buildings. We tried to find a place for lunch, but nothing in Eyeries seemed open on a Monday, so we kept going. We did, however, pass and re-pass Pat the Baker’s delivery van several times. At one point, I considered stopping him to buy some bread to gnaw on.

I thought about going on past Castletownbere to the further ‘loop’ to Allihies and Dursey Island, but I didn’t want to keep Jason in the car all day again, so kept it shorter.

The most gorgeous area, for me, was the cliffs and mountains between Eyeries and Ardgroom. Open, desolate, rocky, green, and delightful.

Finally we found a pub that served food in Ardgroom, The Village Inn, just as a furious band of rain attacked us. We shuffled into the almost empty pub. One young man was eating soup at a table, reading the newspaper, while the owner’s dog came over and said hi. She got us a few bowls of delicious seafood chowder and a scone, as well as a few pints. We watched the wind and enjoyed our chowder in the cozy warmth of a true pub.

As we tried to get into the car, the wind tried to shut the door on us. We drove back towards home and made a stop at Gleninchaquin, as I wanted to show Jason Uragh Stone Circle and the beautiful park. We drove down the (of course) tiny, gravel, one-lane road, carefully, and into a small parking lot. There is a short hike up the hill to the stone circle, and the wind almost knocked us over several times, though luckily the rain stayed away. The scenery at this spot is amazing, with a waterfall in the distance and a lake almost cradling the small stone circle.

It was easier getting to the car since the wind was at our backs this time. We decided to get gas on the way in and search out tonight’s dinner destination. We had a reservation at the Boathouse, and it was pretty easy to find, on some large park estate on the water. We went back to the B&B and rested, stretching out before we had to go out again.

Just as we decided to walk up the street to fetch our laundry, it started raining again. We sheltered in the entranceway of a hotel across the street as furious rainfall kept us trapped. Luckily, it only lasted about ten minutes and then lessened. We retrieved our clothing and walked back just before another deluge hit.

After we put our laundry away, we headed to the Boathouse for dinner. I had the salt and pepper calamari and Jason had seafood chowder for starters. I had the prawn and monkfish green curry. It wasn’t green (more of a white cream sauce), and didn’t really taste like a curry, but it was still delicious. Jason had the halibut special. Way, way, too much food for me, but I still saved room for dessert. Creme brulee and apple pie. We were stuffed. We headed home well-satisfied.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

My last full day in Ireland, and I woke early before 6am. Sigh. I decided to stay up because the next day, we had to wake even earlier. 3:30am since we had a 1.5 hour drive to the airport and an early-morning flight out of Cork. I checked into our flights online, checked our times, saw that there was still an empty seat between us, and had our breakfast.

Today, we were headed to Gougane Barra, a small chapel on a picturesque lake. It took us south past that Bonane Heritage Park, so we decided to scope it out. There was a parking lot and an information sign, but it looked like a 2km walk, a little too much for us. I did take some photos of the miniature crannog on the pond and we got back on the road again. And through Caha Pass again. But the sunny morning this time was gorgeous. I saw signs for the Kealkill stone circle, so followed them up the hill. And up. And up. There was no real parking spot at the sign, just a wide corner in the one-lane road, but enough for us to nestle in.

Now, with all the rain the day before, and a furious downpour just before we arrived, the path up to the circle was very muddy. We had to climb a stile next to a gate before we actually saw the stones. I got close, but then a huge muddy swath kept me from going further. I didn’t want to fall and slip with my camera. However, Jason went with his cane for balance, and got some photos for me. I took photos of the amazing views from the hilltop.

Back in the car and to the scenic spot of Gougane Barra. It seemed to be next to a resort hotel of some sort, and Jason stayed in the car as I went to the chapel and explored the little island it was nestled on, with stunning views of the surrounding hills. An older male couple was also exploring as I did, but no one else was around. It was full of quiet grace and peace.

Afterward, we took the northern route bak, through Kilgarvan. I swear that was the name of the larger town they always went to in the show, Ballykissangel, but I suppose it’s a common enough town name. We went back to Kenmare and tried one of the other pubs, Davitt’s, for lunch. The service was particularly slow and spotty. Jason had the bacon and cabbage. I wanted a burger, but they said they had to be well done so I opted for a steak sandwich instead. Neither was great, as the steak was medium well (despite me asking for medium rare). Jason’s ham was bland and nothing as good as the bacon and cabbage he had at Joyces. We wanted dessert, but got tired of waiting and trying to find our server, who had completely disappeared. So, after Jason got into a knife fight with a bee, we paid and left.

We walked down the street and did some more shopping. I got some wooly knit socks for myself, to wear around the house in the winter. I asked at the store about some fabric for my friend’s Irish cap. His dog had chewed it, and he just needed a small bit of fabric. But they didn’t have any samples I could get. I did get the website, color number, and all that.

We stopped at the real estate office and looked at some house prices, and they looked reasonable for what we might afford some day. After that, we went to the Cafe Mocha and got some blueberry cake and ice cream for an afternoon treat.

Then we returned to O’Donnabhain’s, had a few pints, and went upstairs to relax. After the rest, we packed our gear, brought some down to the car, and cleaned out the car in anticipation of leaving super-early the next morning.

We had dinner at The Coachman’s next door. Jason had Steak & Guinness stew and I had fish pie, and both were delicious. There was a mini altar to whiskey in the alcove behind Jason, lit up with an eerie red light. It was nice for our final meal in Ireland to end on a satisfying note.

We went back to the B&B and up to bed early.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Ugh, waking up at 3:30 am was not nice. We were packed and out the door in twenty minutes, and it was of course still pitch dark out. Luckily, there was no traffic. I mean, nothing at all for the first half hour of our drive. For a moment, we thought the GPS was taking us south through that damned Caha Pass again, but luckily it was not so. It drizzled and rained on and off, but by the time we got to the airport, found the car drop off point, and wlaked to the terminal, the sky was beginning to brighten. We checked our bags and security took all of 15 minutes.

We still had about 45 minutes to boarding, so we stopped at the one place open and serving food, a sort of breakfast cafeteria. We waited for a while in the line for fresh omelettes, behind an obnoxiously loud family of teens with seven pounds of eyelashes and makeup on, but gave up and grabbed some pastry and coffee.

Boarding was fine, though our third seat was full, so we were rather uncomfortable squeezed in. Some woman behind us talked the entire flight, and her companion barely got a word in edgewise. We’re talking the entire hour we were waiting to take off, the flight, and the landing. She was still talking as we disembarked.

We had a long journey from Terminal 2 to the bus to Terminal 3 in London, and evidently had to go through security again. We got to the gate just as they were about to start boarding. They checked folks in before they got into the waiting room, which is the first time I’d seen that.

We got to our seats and glory be, the middle seat was still empty! Jason was in the aisle seat and the row in front of us had only two seats, so he had plenty of leg room. However, that meant his entertainment system and tray were in his seat, and they never quite worked right.

We were about 15 minutes late in taking off, but there was a 3 hour window upon landing in Charlotte, so I wasn’t worried. I did ask the flight attendant about earphones, but evidently the airline didn’t supply any for that flight. I can’t imagine that, for a 7 hour flight? But luckily I dug into my purse and found the ones from the first flight over, and was able to finish watching Encanto as well as Top Gun Maverick.

Once in Charlotte, we had to go through security again. In fact, we had to collect our checked luggage, re-check it, and go through security. Is this new? I don’t remember having to do this on a ticket that was bought all at once before.

We stopped for dinner at a diner – a couple of sandwiches. We were so tired at this point, anything would do. Sustenance for sustenance’s sake. I contacted our friend, Patrick, to assure them we were running on time and that he’d be there to give us a ride home.

The final flight once again had a seat open in the middle, so was uneventful. We collected our luggage, found our ride, and stumbled to bed, so exhausted.

All in all, I had a wonderful time, as I always did in Ireland. I will not again make the mistake of going during high season, especially not after everyone was pent up from the pandemic. It just reduced the ability for me to enjoy a lot of these sights, especially traveling with Jason who has people anxiety.

I probably won’t stay on the Aran Islands again, at least not outside of Kilronan. It was too much of a hassle to get anywhere, and I really miss the freedom of having your own transportation. I’m afraid I’m too old and out of shape to rely upon bikes any longer.

I know I’ll be back. I will always be back.