I have wanted to write about Ireland for a while now. I literally have butterflies in my tummy thinking about it. That’s how much I loved Ireland. Seriously, I don’t know if it was my Irish roots, my red hair, the wonderful accents, my serious love for Irish coffees, or the entire countryside of Ireland that stole my heart. But it did just that within the first 10 minutes of arriving.
I always had this yearning to go to Ireland. I did my research and instantly knew it was the place for me. My entire Dad’s side of the family was settlers from Ireland – originally name ‘Naughton’ not Norton, but their accents were deceiving and now we are ‘Norton’s’. Also – hence my latest post, my middle name is Siobhan, a very Irish name. And yes, I do love potatoes and pots of gold.
So I actually did this trip 2 years ago now… my oh my where has the time gone? But not a day doesn’t pass where something reminds me of Ireland, my Irish roots, or how much I would kill for an Irish coffee? (Seriously, these work days would get a lot easier) But honestly, this was the trip for me that changed everything. It made me realize where my real passions lay – and that was travel. That was it for me, just a quick trip to the UK and I caught a horrible case of the travel bug – still trying to find the cure… but not really. I have learned to embrace it. So for me, it all began the year after high school, I worked a ton and saved up every penny for this trip. I knew I wanted to get an ‘out of Canada’ experience, and when I pitched the idea to my mother of going alone she said she’d join me. Which in hindsight was the best thing possible. We had such an amazing time and I will forever cherish the memories, and photos shared together. Now the real question is when can I go back?
So where do I begin…
We began our journey in Waterford, Ireland. We took a ferry from Wales to Ireland. It was quite a beautiful and quick boat ride. We spent the night in Waterford and wandered the streets. Seriously, this small town was built beside waterways and looks like the cutest fishing town with colorful houses, cobblestone roads, and bright doors with large knockers. It’s very interesting as one side of the river is ‘Waterford’ and directly down the center they cut it, and on the other side is ‘Kilkenny’ another wonderful place. Seriously check out some maps, quite funny really.
The next morning we woke up and did a lovely walking tour of Waterford. Its history is so amazing. Waterford is Irelands oldest city and was founded by Vikings… seriously how cool! Our tour guide ‘John’ spoke of the Vikings and brought to life the history of Ireland and its culture. He spoke of the tragic potato famine and its affects throughout the nation. I am no history buff, but this was seriously amazing and gripping. It also helps that John was an adorable older gentleman with a real knack for Irish history, and had many jokes to crack throughout.
We then visited the world famous ‘Waterford Crystal’ factory in the heart of Waterford. We walked through the exquisite exhibits, and watched a few demonstrations. Seriously amazing the training they go through and the art of crystal molding and cutting. Just astonishing. We went to the gift shop and to say the art displayed there was beautiful is an understatement, the things they can do with crystal is mind blowing. Definitely a must do if you’re in Waterford!
We drove along the beautiful coast from Waterford to Blarney Castle. It was a short 2-hour drive but stunning none the less. We arrived at Blarney Castle and were instantly in love. The castle is set amongst vast gardens and waterways. The original castle was built in 1210 and was destroyed. They rebuilt in 1446 and the castle still stands proudly today. It is an amazing structure that oozes with history and character. Blarney Castle is famous for the ‘Blarney Stone’, which is a sacred stone, said to give ‘the gift of the gab’ to anyone who kisses it. So naturally, chatty Paula had to kiss it. After several flights of stone stairs you get to the top of the castle and get some seriously amazing panoramic views of Blarney. To kiss the stone you actually have to lie on your back and hang over a 90-foot drop! But I did it; definitely have the gift of the gab while writing this. Hehe.
After checking out the beautiful town of Blarney and the castle we headed to Kenmare. A short hour and a half drive through the stunning countryside and winding roads, we arrived in Kenmare.
Kenmare is a small town in the south of ‘County Kerry’. It is nicknamed ‘The Jewel of the Ring of Kerry’. Kenmare actually means ‘the head of the sea’ and Vikings passed through the small town helping shape the community. Naturally, the town was built around the first church, which was erected in the early 1800’s.
We then headed out to board the ‘Star of Kenmare’ a wonderful boat filled with merry fisherman and a charming captain. Seriously such an amazing cruise, I highly recommend it! We boarded the boat and were greeted with smiles, jokes, and coffee. Yay! It was an overcast afternoon, but beautiful nonetheless. We cruised down and around Kenmare Bay. It was a scenic mixture of small homes, castles, rolling hills, mountains, glistening waters, and lush greenery surrounding the Bay. The pictures don’t even do it justice! It began to rain but I didn’t give a care, how could you with scenery like that! Even better, a rainbow wasn’t too far behind!
Following the cruise we went to Con’s Marina Bar. Had a hearty dinner and a few too many Irish coffees. In case you didn’t know, Irish coffees are made with: coffee, Irish whiskey, cream, sugar and whipped cream. Very diet friendly…not. Seriously though, this place made the most amazing coffees and whoa they were strong – probably because they also put Kahlua in there as well! Anyways it provided an excellent evening of delightful chatter, company, and drinks all around!
The Ring of Kerry:
The next morning we rose bright and early to set out and drive the Ring of Kerry. This day made my soul shine. Seriously, this day was one for the books. We drove, and drove, and drove, and drove, but I loved every second. I am a HUGE fan of road trips and I would love to do this again. Honestly the views were just sickeningly beautiful and just when you thought it couldn’t get any prettier we would drive up a mountain and around a corner and get even better panoramic views. We headed from Kenmare and did a large loop to end the day in Kenmare.
After spending a stupendous day driving with sickeningly amazing views, sporadic weather, and rainbows galore, we went to Killarney National Park and took a horse and buggy ride through the village, National Park, and then to Ross Castle. Yet another castle to tick off the bucket list.
Killarney was the cutest town, definitely would spend a couple days here if not in the town then exploring the National Park and the nearby castles! Next we were off to continue driving. We made a few more stops… just when you thought it couldn’t get any more beautiful! We pulled over on the side of the road at this stunning lakeside area, and there was live music! What the heck! How freaking amazing! The music set the mood for soaking in the beautiful moments spent in the hills of Ireland. Life is pretty amazing and moments like this prove it!
We ended an amazing day at a local farm, not just any farm in fact but Molly Gallivans. A small family run farm just outside Kenmare. We toured the small farm and got a real feel for the history, work, and proud family that live there today. Molly Gallivan – ‘Widowed with seven small children, Molly Gallivan had to call on all her resourcefulness to keep body and soul together. She supplemented her meager income by selling part of her farm produce such as butter, eggs and honey on the local market. Her renowned home baking and hand-spun woolens were ever popular, but it was her illicit home-brewed poitin or whiskey locally known as Molly’s Mountain Dew, which she sold in her Sibheen (illegal pub) that proved the most profitable. The exploits of this enterprising widow are legendary.’ We tried some of the poitin – VERY potent liquor. It can be between 60 – 90%. Seriously, I had 2 shots and felt drunk.
We finished the evening with a very intimate dinner in the old stone house and were served by the family. Everything was homemade and or grown/ made on the farm. It was such an amazing inside look at the culture and mannerisms of the Irish. I simply loved it! We had fresh biscuits, lamb stew, and finished with apple crumble with fresh cream. All the while we had live music from the farmers daughters. With full bellies, music in our ears, and smiles on our faces we left the farm happy as ever.
The next morning we rose and departed Kenmare and headed through the countryside to Cashel a small town with a whopping population of 2000. Cashel is known for the Rock of Cashel, so naturally we had to go check it out for ourselves. It is also known as Cashel of the Kings and St. Patrick’s Rock. According to local mythology the Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil’s Bit a mountain 20 miles north of Cashel, when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave resulting in the Rock’s landing in Cashel. This beauty was actually the seat of the Kings of Munster several hundreds of years. Its still in amazing shape and the history and legends are quite interesting.
When you walk through or around these large stone ruins you get a feel for the Irish heritage and history, it’s a feeling I really cant describe. They were so beautiful and you could see how much work was put into them.
For lunch we headed to the Steak House Rock in the small town of Cashel. I still think of this unreal meal I had. I had shepherds pie with carrots, peas, and turnip. Smothered in gravy… I am no food critic but I think if I’m still thinking of a meal 2 years later, it means it was damn tasty.
We headed out from Cashel and next up were Dublin. Yes, finally, Dublin! Dublin is the capital of Ireland with a shocking population of 500,000. I don’t know what I thought Dublin would be like, but wow it was bustling! Very different from the slow paced, small towns we had so far experienced.
Naturally, our first stop in Dublin was the Guinness Brewery and Storehouse. If you know me at all, you’ll know I am no beer lover. I am a straight shooting liquor kind of gal. Anyways, while in Dublin, do what the Dubliner’s do. We did an amazing and very interesting tour through the brewery (I love looking at how things are made) and then went upstairs to the Gravity Bar to enjoy some fresh on tap Guinness’s and get panoramic views of Dublin. Amazing!
We then headed to Taylors Three Rock Bar. This was one of the mostly lively nights we had the honor of attending. A night filled with great company, excellent food, unreal music and entertainment! We got to watch traditional Irish dancers – which I totally admire, and have a few more Irish coffees. Hehe.
Glendalough is a glacial valley in County Wicklow, Ireland, renowned for an Early Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century. This was the part of Ireland that seriously captured my heart. I don’t know if it was the quiet countryside, quilt like patterned fields, lush greenery, or large churches and stone fences everywhere you looked, but wow. This was a dream for me. Visiting the ‘Monastic City’ it consists of a number of monastic remains, and the most impressive being the Round Tower, which stands 30m high. The main group of monastic buildings lies downstream near the Round Tower. The grounds were entered through the Gateway, which has two round-headed granite arches. The Deer Stone lies just beyond the bridge.
Once you pass the ruins you head down to ‘Lower Lake’ this view just… says it all. I think my Mom and I stood here in silence for almost half an hour. Wow I love Ireland.
After Glendalough I felt as though I was awe struck and couldn’t love Ireland anymore. But we went back to Dublin, and did the touristy things ya know? So we toured the streets, and of course had to go to Grafton Street. Grafton Street is Dublin’s must see shopping district and it is marvelous. Seriously, I’m not a shopper but the atmosphere is lively and there were buskers, live music, and little market like stores throughout. We made a few stops in the cutest stores; I just loved the feel of it. Obviously I had to go to Butlers Chocolate. Seriously go there and try the Irish Cream Chocolate truffles – lord have mercy. Ugh, my mouth is watering; anyways go do it because you will not regret it. One other store we popped into was R&C McCormack Jewelers. I knew that when I went to Ireland I wanted to get a Claddagh Ring. I had always wanted one and I figured a ring would be an amazing keepsake and would always remind me of my time in Ireland. So my mother surprised me with one. The Claddagh Ring is a ring in the form of two hands clasping a heart, traditionally given in Ireland as a token of love. It represents love, loyalty and friendship – something that I share with my Mom and still think is the best keepsake.
We walked down the hustling street and went to Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre- another famous and beautiful stop and finally entered the St. Stephens Green Park. This park is a whirlwind of greenery; gardens, fountains and you almost forget you’re in the center of a huge city! It was so well preserved and everything was just so lush and alive with color, it was good for the soul.
Now you’re all waiting for the part where I make it to the Temple Bar. We wandered down back through Grafton Street, past all the churches, parliament buildings, and cute storefronts. Finally, we made it to the Temple Bar and wow it was beautiful. The place was packed and it was mid afternoon. The streets were loud and alive with Irishmen and beer… the best scenery ever. (Sorry Mom)
After leaving the Temple bar district we ended up being on the same street as an Irish parade filled with a marching band, Irish dancers, and bagpipes – coincidence? I think not. Anyways, seriously, Ireland you’re the greatest.
Something I am so thankful that I did, was the entire time I was in Ireland, I listened to Mumford and Sons. Not only do I love their music but it was the perfect soundtrack to our travels, seriously. Now every time I listen to Mumford and Sons – which is quite often, I think of the UK and my wonderful travels. I am actually fulfilling my lifelong dream of seeing them live in 2 weeks time too here in Sydney! Eek! I’m sure it will take me back to the rolling hills of Ireland and I will only be reminded of my amazing trip once again.
So that was my brief, amazing, and life changing experience of Ireland. I know I only covered 1/3 of Ireland and I WILL BE BACK. (I didn’t even say it like Arnold). But honestly, I feel as though I left my heart there and something is calling me back. There is no doubt in my mind that I will be back. So until next time I will keep flipping through my hundreds of photos, dreaming of leprechauns, Irish coffees, rainbows, and beautiful countryside’s.
‘May you live a long life, full of gladness and health, with a pocket full of gold, as the least of you wealth. May the dreams you hold dearest, be those which come true, the kindness you spread, keep returning to you.’ – A classic Irish blessing