It was quite the busy nine days that I spent with my aunts, Laura and Barbara before my study abroad program began. Our plan was to see as much of Ireland as we possibly could and that is exactly what we did. I have placed a picture here that shows the route we took minus the getting lost on crazy side roads. I also learned something very important about the beauty of Ireland – Every picture you take could be a postcard.
Mapped out route for Ireland. Courtesy of Laura Grant.
Mapped out route for Ireland. Courtesy of Laura Grant.
I landed in Dublin and needed to get a student visa stamp for 90 days which made the start fairly stressful. All that worry was over nothing, as the customs agent was by far the friendliest person I have ever dealt with in an airport. I was on a different flight than my aunts so we ended up meeting in the luggage pick-up area. I was lucky enough to have all my bags, they on the other hand had none of theirs. The staff seemed unsurprised to have lost the luggage in the short hop from England to Dublin, you think they would have figured it out by now. From Dublin Airport we rented a car and headed straight off towards Wexford and Enniscorthy. We all were fairly tired with jet lag and all the drama trying to figure out how to get the luggage, so as soon as we got to Wexford we ended up calling it a night. We stayed in a beautiful Bed and Breakfast, The Rathaspeck Manor House, and this place is not only nice from the outside it also sports the best bathroom I have ever seen!
Rathaspeck Manor House
After waking up and having my first full Irish breakfast, black and white pudding included, we headed off into town. Wexford and Enniscorthy both have that special something that most towns seem to lose as they grow in population. They both hold very tightly to their history and they have built themselves around it. I highly recommend checking out the Enniscorthy castle and there is the 1798 museum which is a must see! Also near town is Vinegar Hill, the last standing of the 1798 rising, it gives a breath-taking view of the whole area and is a tremendous place to take a panoramic! That night we stayed at a wonderful place, East Clare Golf Village, where we rented a two bedroom chalet style house. The house itself was impressive but the drive there was very nerve-racking, especially at night with its crazy hair pin turns which just happened to have high walls and trees around them making it a completely blind turn as well.
The next day we traveled to the Cliffs of Moher, which is just awe-inspiring. We had spectacular weather for it as well, almost no breeze and a sunny 60 degree day, which is just hot by Irish standards! The cliffs themselves are something that I could just stare at for days. The cliffs’ visitor center boasts a fantastic cafe with an amazing view, you can sit at a window and just look off into the Atlantic ocean for hours! We ended up driving back and making a couple stops along the way, We visiting both Ennis Friary and Quinn Abbey. I recommend visiting the Quinn Abbey not just for the church ruins but also for the amazing tavern across the street! We stay again at the East Clare Village which offers Wifi, allowing me to really be able to touch base with my parents. It seems odd that at this point I had been gone for only four days and there was so much to catch up on!
Cliffs of Moher
Day 4 rolls around and we have just checked out of the East Clare Village and are now on our way towards the Burren. We have ourselves booked for a walking tour that states it is “an easy stroll”, an easy stroll if you’re used to walking at a 80 degree angle! The tour was given by a man named John whose family owned the land. They give tours, have a small coffee shop, and also have a chocolate store in the back. All of these are great and while it was a tougher walk than expected, it was still well worth it. we ended up driving back towards a small coastal town named Lahinch. We ate a place called The Wave which had a better view than it did food. Personally, if I were to be in Lahinch again, I would find a cheap fish and chips place nearby and just have dessert at The Wave and watch the sunset. That night we stayed at the Vaughan Lodge Hotel, which was quite nice but after having such a crazy day I am sure almost anywhere would have been fine with me!
Now we have been in Ireland for 5 days. We are just now getting over our 6 hour jet lag but we are still exhausted from all of our travelling, so do we decide to take an easy day? No, we try to pack in even more fun! We start the day driving off towards Knock, the location where Mother Mary reportedly showed herself to believers in Ireland. Along the way we came across an empty rock beach on Spanish Point, the location where the Spanish Armada sank along the coast of Ireland back around 1855. At this moment I realized that Ireland truly has every type of scenery to offer. We had travelled through an urban city, hills, mountains, grasslands, forests, and now here we are standing on a great stony beach facing the Atlantic! Knock is fascinating if seeing churches and locations where Pope John Paul has spoken before is your cup of tea, otherwise there isn’t much to be offered from the city. It felt a little like Gatlinburg, Tennessee with its overpriced tourist trap stores. After Knock we drove to a quaint Bed and Breakfast in Swinford called Deerpark Manor Bed and Breakfast. Now this is when we got very lost. We were attempting to find Mullaney’s Cross, which has a connection to Barbara’s ancestors, yet we unfortunately were not aware that it was actually long gone. We ended up travelling along back roads and while not fully lost we definitely weren’t sure where we were, so the only solution was to keep going forward! We met a very nice old man who gave us directions as well as a story. It was a very Irish moment, which set us back on track to get to our Bed and Breakfast.
The next day we headed off towards Northern Ireland (don’t tell my parents) and we went to see the Ulster Folk Park. If you have never heard of the Ulster Folk Park, or as I like to call it the Ulster Fun Park, I am not surprised. It is set up as a walk-through of how life used to be during the Irish Famine and tell the story of how some families immigrated to America. It focuses on the Carnegie family, which was not your average family as you can tell by the size of their house. The Park itself is in great condition and feels like it is full of information. It suffers however from the fact that you easily have to walk what feels like 9 miles to see it all. It offers a cafe, which was out of food when we got there so we ended up eating sandwiches that cost us 8 euros. I am sure that if I went again knowing what to expect it would have been nicer but at the time I was just too tired to really enjoy all the history. To get to our next hotel we drove through a national forest. This was not by chance but because Chuck, our GPS, decided that it would be faster to drive on tiny roads rather than the highway. We stayed at the Abbey Hotel in Donegal. The hotel attempted to stick me in a “driver’s” room which is about the size of a small car. Aunt Laura was not having any of this and went to the desk and ended up getting a refund and an upgrade for all of us to a triple room which turned out to be very nice.
Ulster Folk Park -Not the Carnegie House
Day 7 rolls around and we are off again towards Northern Ireland, this time we are headed to Giant’s Causeway. Giant’s Causeway is by far the coolest naturally occurring phenomenon I have ever seen. Pictures cannot describe it and neither will my words, just know that if you ever get the chance to go there that you have to do it, TRUST ME! We also got to see Dunluce Castle, which is slowly trying to reach sea level by falling off a cliff, the kitchen has already taken the plunge! This was the day where those 9 miles of walking in the Ulster Fun Park was catching up to us and we decided to stop early and just have a nice drive back to Donegal along the coast roads. We ended up eating back at the Hotel’s pub; I highly recommend their seafood pie!
After a good night’s rest in Donegal we were off back on our way towards Dublin. At this point we had traveled almost all of Ireland except for the center, so we headed inland towards Athlone. It was a day that contained a lot of driving, but when you are with great company and outside your window are picturesque scenes flying by there isn’t much complaining. We ended up stopping at Clonmacnoise Monastery which is one of the oldest monasteries in Ireland. It is right next to the Shannon River and is still intact even though it was built back in 546. This is another interesting place to visit but I would avoid going with a tour. It will just make you feel rushed and the magic of the monastery is the peace it can bring you. We stayed at Creggan Court Hotel which was your normal hotel nothing spectacular but not everything can be 5 stars!
The final day of my pre-semester trip rolls around and we have made our way back into Dublin. We are staying at Stauntons on the Green Guesthouse, which is right on St. Stephen’s Green. We ended up getting the on and off bus passes and tried to see as many of the sites as we could. The on and off bus is good for seeing the city as a whole and helps you get your bearings but at times the commentary can be a little lackluster while other times it can be phenomenal. We ate lunch at the Brazen Head which is the oldest pub in Dublin and surprisingly hasn’t become too touristy. There was also a live band which adds some to the Irish atmosphere. We continued our journey walking around Dublin, doing some shopping on Grafton Street and in St Stephen’s Green Shopping Center. For dinner there isn’t a lot to offer around St. Stephen’s Green which is mostly residential but we were able to get some fantastic American food at a wonderful place named TGIF. Yes, I know what you are thinking, how could we eat in a TGIFs in Dublin?! Well the truth is, it’s the only place that will give you free soda refills which after nine days of just water, makes it a 5 star restaurant in my books.
The trip has come to an end and while I was sad to see my aunts leave me, I know that my adventure has only just begun at this point! They help me get all checked in to Griffith College and we split ways. I just want to take a moment and thank both of them for coming with me over to Dublin. I know how much of a sacrifice it was to take a 9 day, fun-filled, action packed, vacation. I would do it all over again at the drop of a hat!
James, Your Travel Leader
“Ireland is where strange tales begin & happy endings are possible.” — Charles Haughey