Tuesday, May 06, 2008

'Getting Back to Our Roots' in Southern Ireland

Let me first introduce you to Our Maggie, my cousin and her husband Mike. Our travelling companions.

We have been discussing and promising ourselves a holiday in Southern Ireland for a few years but not got around to it, always something cropped up or somewhere else to go but we finally did it.

'Getting back to our roots' as Maggie would say. My Father's family originated from Ireland so we were eager to pay a visit.

Among other things on this holiday we were going to have a pint of the black stuff. Well two or three probably. Guinness that is.

Well, this is the tale .........................

We set off late on the Sunday evening, about 11.30 pm to be precise. Mike was doing all the driving, so all we had to do was sit back and relax.

The weather was terrible, we drove through several blizzards and each time they advanced we thought, 'Oh heck, we will get snowed in or worse we will have severe blizzards and gale force winds for the crossing from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire. So our expectations of the coming week at that time were not very high. Nevertheless, we made good time and we arrived at Holyhead at 4 am. We were due to catch the ferry at 8.50 am, so a bit of shut eye was in order, by the time we got to 5.30 am everybody was wide awake and needing a cup of tea and the loo. I have never been inside a McDonalds at 5.45 am but were we glad it was open. After a lengthy refreshment stop we headed off to the ferry terminal and eventually boarded. By the time you found your sea legs you had arrived.

We disembarked to glorious sunshine.

Our first stop was Avoca, for anyone that watched the TV series, this little town doubled as the fictional town of Ballykissangel in the TV series. We visited the wool mill, very picturesque and we had our first taste of Guinness in the local pub Fitzpatrick's. Which was exactly as on TV.

The mill was founded in 1723 and it is the oldest in Ireland. Avoca or 'Oboca' was first mentioned on an old map of Ptolomy in the 1st century AD.

Fitzgerald's is probably a little younger.

Our first night we stayed in Arklow in a little B & B, the bathroom was like an ice box, and the shower a sprinkling of luke warm water, you had to run about underneath to get wet, so best not mention too much about that one, but it was somewhere to rest our heads and recharge the batteries. You could say that this is one of the down sides to not booking before you go, but where is the fun and adventure in that.

Tuesday 8th April, we headed over to Waterford and no visit to Waterford is complete without a visit to the Crystal factory. We did the full guided tour. The glass is amazing and we stood transfixed watching as the patterns were cut into it by the staff using a cutting wheel, with only the pattern drawn onto the glass as a guide line. Unfortunately, at the end of the tour Steve and I sort of mislaid the end of our group and we headed off in the wrong direction, the guide eventually found us and we got a ticking off for keeping the rest of the group waiting, we felt like naughty school kids.

Every item and pattern that has been cut at the factory is kept as a record, a huge selection is shown in the middle photograph. Many of the items are made as specials, such as trophies which will never be repeated, in such cases the molds are made of wood, metal molds are used for items which are mass produced.

These are just a couple of the items that really impressed, the engraving was fantastic.
The hotel that night was upmarket from the B & B but the shower was still only a trickle and luke warm, we were beginning to think this was going to be the pattern of all the hotels we were going to stay in.

Wednesday 9th, from Waterford we headed over to Blarney, the home of the famous Kissing Stone. 'There is a stone there. That whoever kisses. Oh! he never misses to grow eloquent'

'All Blarney', Elizabeth Ist is credited with introducing the word 'blarney' to the English language. Her emissary Sir George Carew, was charged with persuading the MacCarthy Chieftain to abandon his ancient rights and accept the authority of the English throne. Every time he tried he was met with lengthy and eloquent protestations of loyalty and honeyed flattery of the Queen - but also with no agreement. In frustration Elizabeth exclaimed ' This is all blarney. What he says he never means'. And a new word was born.

I have to admit Steve & I did 'chicken out' of kissing the stone, it is a very long way down when you are hanging practically upside down but at least Steve made it to the top, I only got half way and I started to panic. So I volunteered to take the photographs.

This is me as a little spec, taking the photographs, much too high.

My intrepid cousin did though, they bravely climbed their way to the top and did the deed and they have the official photograph to prove it. With the zoom on the camera, they look quite close, don't be fooled, but if you are ever in the vicinity Blarney is a very picturesque village and well worth a visit.

That night we stayed at the Blarney Castle Hotel, very posh and the shower was hot. The breakfast was to die for, my choice was a very large poached mushroom with garlic, topped with scrambled egg, it was lovely but did nothing for my fellow travellers who stayed at arms length until tea time.

Thursday 9th. After spending some time and money at the Blarney Woollen mill, and being astounded at the price of the Arran sweaters, which made me want to come home and get my knitting needles out we headed over to the Ring of Kerry. We made our first stop at Derrynane House, the former home of Daniel O'Connell, he was known as "the Liberator," he was born on 6th August 1775. He was active in the movement to repeal British laws that penalized Roman Catholics because of their religion. Catholics were barred from Parliament but O'Connell became the leader of the battle to win political rights for Irish Roman Catholics. The outside of the house does not impress but inside it is very interesting, with many items on show that belonged to him and his family. Photographs were banned inside but while wandering around the grounds which are extensive we came across a stone ringed fort. One of the buildings housed a ceremonial coach.

While I was sneakily taking photographs of the item in question everyone else left and the door closed behind them. When the photo shoot was over I turned to follow, only to find there was no door handle on the inside, Steve had been holding the door open so had not noticed. I panicked, and was desperately trying to get my fingers to latch onto something with which to open it, help! looking out of the window I saw the rest of my so called family just walking away! calm down ..... think. After about 5 minutes I did manage to pull the door open to find a gardener digging not too far away. I felt it was duty to inform him that he should fix a handle to the inside. My family claimed they were just about to come looking for me, I don't think if I believed them at the time.

The Ring of Kerry is a tourist trail in County Kerry, south-western Ireland. The route covers the 170 km circular road, starting from Killarney heading around the Iveragh Peninsula and passing through Kenmare, Sneem, Waterville, this was a favourite holiday spot of Charlie Chaplain that now has a statue of him to commemorate his love of the place, Cahersiveen and Killorglin. Popular points include Muckross House (near Killarney), Staigue Stone Fort and the afore mentioned Derrynane House. Just south of Killarney, Ross Castle, Lough Leane and Ladies View(a panoramic viewpoint), all located within Killarney National Park, are major attractions located along the Ring.
We headed for Kenmare and put roots down for two nights, at last a chance to unpack our bags of a few essentials. Using the hotel as a base we travelled out during the day to all the points of interest, alas we failed to drive around the full ring but what we saw of it we thoroughly enjoyed.

Maggie waiting for her cup of tea (well it was on it's way) in a cafe overlooking the view.

Saturday 11th. We headed back to Dun Laoghaire ready for the return ferry crossing on Sunday morning.

'No room at the Inn', was a familiar cry from B & B's and hotels, until we were finally directed to The Royal Marine Hotel. We trudged into the foyer and looked around in amazement, marble lined the floors and the walls, a huge reception desk with five people in attendance, a pianist playing to anyone who was taking coffee in the lounge. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceilings, it was magnificent. We couldn't possibly afford to stay here! but we did. Room only! the breakfast cost you another arm and a leg. We pushed the boat out and spent our last night in Ireland in splendour. The original plan was to take the dart into Dublin but the heavens opened and we thought best to make the most of this opulent hotel. Our rooms were on the top floor, we were like kids in a sweetie shop, running from our room to Maggie & Mikes, 'have you got one of these', Now I won't say we have not stayed in a posh hotel before but hand on heart this was the tops. The bed was 6' and so comfortable, felt like you could just stay there and never get up again!

Among some of the famous people that have stayed there have been, Queen Victoria, she apparently took a 16 course breakfast in the dining room, Laurel and Hardy and Frank Sinatra.

Even down to the accessories in the bathroom, which now look ever so good in mine!

The chandeliers are taken through a mirror, so it is a reflection of the three down the centre of the room. This middle photograph is of the entrance and the black crystal chandelier.

And a night time view.

All too soon Sunday morning dawned and it was time to rise and head off to catch the ferry home. The weather throughout our stay had not been too bad, the temperatures were a couple of degrees higher than at home, the trees were coming into bud and whereas our daffodils had only just come out, they were dying off in Ireland but the blossom on the trees was fully open. We did have some rain over the week but nothing that spoilt the holiday.

I can recommend a holiday in Southern Ireland, it was relaxing and peaceful, everything seems to happen at a much slower pace. At traffic lights no one seems to get stressed, we got stuck at one set for over 20 minutes, not one car sounded the horn and no one looked distressed or impatient, the only person who looked fed up was one of the workmen, he was standing in the pouring rain. Funnily enough he was still standing in the same place when we drove back through and getting just as wet.

Leaving Ireland behind on the crest of a wave. I can definately say, we will be back.