Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 18 Glasgow (final day)

The morning started foggy and cold but by 10:00 was full sunshine with clear blue skies (I think we’ve only had two days with rain since we arrived). We were on the streets early looking for a breakfast spot and found the perfect place at the i-café on Sauchiehall Street- really good pancakes and strong coffee…ready now for six hours of city walking.

First stop, the Glasgow City Chambers at Royal Exchange Square. We timed it perfectly for the 10:30 free tour of this magnificent building with is four stories of Italian marble, gold leaf covered carvings, Wedgewood ceilings, mosaic tiled walls and painted murals. Dating back to 1889 and officially opened by Queen Victoria, it had a construction budget of 150,000 pounds but came in at more than 600,000 pounds and today would cost an estimated 40 million pounds. it is absolutely magnificent in every way. Best of all, admission and the tour is…free!

From there we made our way to Glasgow Cathedral in the north east of the city to view the magnificent windows. This cathedral, like many others we have visited, is a historic museum and also free to the public. This one in particular has fascinating catacombs under the cathedral filled with ancient treasures all well marked for a self-guided tour. Next to the cathedral, are the burial grounds called ‘The Necropolis’. High on a hill, one gets a sweeping panorama of Glasgow while enjoying centuries old monuments to the city’s famous and less-famous dead.

From the necropolis, we made our way south to Glasgow Green to see the People’s Palace, a one acre glass conservatory filled with plants and trees that the people of Glasgow can enjoy all year round. Also on site is a museum of the history of Glasgow, the Nelson Monument (love that) and the Doulton Fountain dedicated to the four continents that Great Britain colonized in the 1800’s, i.e. the British Commonwealth: Australia, India, South Africa and Canada.

Time to start heading back toward our hotel, we strolled along the pedestrian-only shopping district of Argyle and Buchannan Streets (known as the Style Mile) passing notable landmarks like the Clock Tower and Central Station along the way. Thousands (mostly a young crowd) milled about on this very cosmopolitan part of the city. What good fun we had people watching while strolling along.

Dinner was terrific at ‘Thairiffic’ restaurant just a block from our hotel. And finally we retired to our room for a nightcap of Bushmills Whiskey (we had bought two drams a week ago on the Causeway Coast) which went wonderfully with Irish Whiskey Chocolate. That’s a perfect end to a perfect vacation. Tomorrow we are homeward bound for New Brunswick. Thanks everyone for coming along with us on this trip of a lifetime. Slán.




Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 17 – Glasgow

Leaving Edinburgh, we caught the train at Waverley Station for Glasgow at 10:00 and enjoyed the 50 minute ride across the Scottish countryside, arriving at Charring Cross station which is right beside our hotel…how convenient!

A quick and easy check-in and off we went on foot to explore the west side of the city on this beautiful sunny day (again). First stopping point was the Kelvin Grove Art Gallery which is free admission to the public and is designed to be interactive and educational for people of all ages. What a marvelous place with something for everyone from priceless paintings from all the masters to dinosaur skeletons to (best surprise of all) a full sized Harry Clark stained glass window, and so much more. The building itself is phenomenal and contains a full sized pipe organ in the Great Hall. Luckily, we caught a 1:00 recital … wonderful acoustics.

Carrying on, we strolled the beautiful park walkway along the Kelvin River for a kilometer or so until we came to the Glasgow Botanical Gardens with its multiple glass conservatories filled with exotic plants from every corner of the planet…also free admission to the public. Truly spectacular and the oxygen level inside the glass houses is invigorating.

Hungry from all the hiking and marvelling at the wonders we had seen, we found the perfect place for lunch at The Ubiquitous Chip, totally different than anything we have every seen before and very much like dining inside one of the garden conservatories at the botanical gardens… with its assorted trees and plants, glass ceilings, and silk screen wall art…it was incredible. The food was great and the service wonderful. Our waiter (German fellow) gave us some sight seeing tips for the city.

Heading back toward our hotel, we had one more stop planned… at the Hunterian Museum on the campus of Glasgow University – again, free admission to the public (that’s three free admission today). This place is like a miniature Museum of Science and Natural History and is totally fantastic – from the ancient Romans right up through the ages to modern medicine and everything in between (except for the arts).

Fully exhausted from seven hours of walking and sight seeing, we crashed in our hotel room to upload pics and blog the day’s adventures. Tomorrow we will see the city’s downtown and, I expect, will be just as impressed.

Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 16 – Edinburgh

Unbelievably, the skies today were cloudless…we’ve been so lucky. Even the locals are saying this is way beyond normal. After breakfast at the B&B, Monica and I caught the bus to Calton Hill. Only a 10 minute ride and we were there and climbed the steps to the summit of this hill with its sweeping 360 degree views all around Edinburgh. We saw the Dugald Stewart Monument (1800’s key influence on the Scottish Enlightenment), the observatory, the Lord Nelson Monument and the National Monument (looks like Greek pillars) which remains unfinished since the mid 1800’s due to lack of funds.

Descending from Calton Hill, we explored the residential neighborhood just north of the main city core admiring the architecture and occasional surprise such as the Sherlock Holmes statue. We also happened across the National Portrait Gallery with its free admission and just couldn’t say no. Nice to see these historically important works of art – for free! and the interior of the building itself is worth the visit. Our ultimate destination this morning was the National Gallery (different from the Portrait Gallery) on Princes Street also with free admission to the public. This gallery has a wonderful collection from many of the masters and we were allowed to take all the non-flash photos we wanted. Got to love that!

After the art gallery, we parted ways for the next couple of hours. Monica wanted to finish exploring the shops on the Royal Mile and I wanted to explore the west end cathedrals…so off we went in opposite directions with an agreed on meeting place later.

I discovered St. John’s Cathedral on the corner of the park with its beautiful ceiling and stained glass windows. However, it was St. Mary’s Cathedral further west that I really had in mind and I found it easily after a 15 minute walk from the city park. (it really doesn’t take long to get around Edinburgh on foot). On this bright and beautiful morning, St. Mary’s was fully flooded with multi-colored light streaming through the stained glass windows. What a thrill to see and since I was the only person in the church, I enjoyed taking my time and snapping photos. It is quite lovely but nothing yet has compared to St. Giles from yesterday…that cathedral is out of this world.

Monica and I met up as planned at 1:00 and slipped into the Black Bull Pub for lunch right under the castle. The food was good (not great) but the pub was quiet and cozy and that was grand. Back to the B&B for an afternoon rest and making plan for an evening of pub music.

It was dark when we set out to find a suitable restaurant. I thought I had the city routes memorized by now but one little mistake ended us up on a dark alley behind the castle with spooky characters wandering about and drunks passed out on benches. Yikes! Gladly, we soon came to more civilized quarters and found, by accident, The Elephant House restaurant where JK Rowling used to sit and write the chapters for her famous Harry Potter series. The food was excellent and reasonably priced. This restaurant is on top of the George IV Bridge and directly underneath the bridge is the Dropkick Murphy’s Pub (which we had discovered yesterday) so we popped down for a pint to celebrate our last night in Edinburgh. The Dropkick Murphys are an alternative Irish band from Boston and the pub here is a vibrant “late night”sports bar that doesn’t even open until 9:00 pm. We, of course, were the first and only ones there at 9:15. It was nice and quiet.

Tomorrow we’ll head to Glasgow for the final leg of our vacation.

Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 15 – Edinburgh

We afforded ourselves a leisurely start to the day since we couldn’t check into our B&B until after 10:00 am. We caught the train from the airport hotel into the city and had a 15 minute walk to find our address… eyes wide open all the way. Edinburgh is simply lovely and today was bright and sunny (we’ve been so lucky this entire vacation so far).

After checking in and chatting with the proprietor to get some sight seeing tips, we set off on foot to explore the city core. Strolling along through residential neighborhood streets we passed by George Heriots School (which looks like a castle) and soon came to Greyfriars Square and the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby, a popular attraction with lineups of people waiting for their chance for the photo op. The statue is simply of a little dog “Bobby” who, as the story goes, came faithfully everyday starting in 1858 to his master’s grave site at the kirk for 14 years until his death in 1872.

We carried on to the colorful Victoria Street lined with its boutique shops and began the climb up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. I had been here once 33 years ago with my friend, Karen, on a post university trip across Europe and was anxious to see if my memory shots would still look the same today. I’m happy to say, they were. The castle grounds have been wonderfully preserved after all these years and we thoroughly enjoyed our tour.

Two hours later and with tired feet but still so much more to see, we started down The Royal Mile lined with shops on either side. While Monica did some shopping, I visited St. Giles Cathedral which originally dates back to the 11th century but has been expanded in more recent centuries. I could not believe my eyes when I entered. This cathedral blows all the other ones that I had seen in the past two weeks right out of the water and you might think I’m exaggerating…but I’m not. 360 degrees of stained glass windows, priceless statues and other treasures from Stotland’s past history. A minimal fee of 2 pounds gets you permission to photograph all you want and throughout the cathedral, volunteer guides are waiting and happy to explain the marvels around you. Magnificent doesn’t even begin to describe it. I took at least 30 photos and tried to choose only 4 or 5 for this blog. You really would have to see it for yourself to appreciate the beauty.

Afternoon was getting along and our feet were screaming to stop but we wanted to finish the shopping on the left side of the Royal Mile (saving the right side for tomorrow) so we pushed on to the end and got a nice look at Hollyrood Palace just before the sun went down. This is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth when she is in Scotland. Hungry as well as tired, we chose the nearest bar we could find and what a find! Kilderkin Bar-restaurant is marvelous, quiet, old and the walls are decorated with 70’s rock star ablum covers…we sat with Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Whitesnake and others. Pink Floyd was a couple of booths over but had people there so I just admired it from a distance.

We strolled back to our B&B and got there just at dusk. A totally different day from those in Ireland and totally wonderful.

Ireland-Scotland 2015 stained glass

Day 14 – Belfast to Dublin

Our final day in Ireland was almost surreal for several reasons: 1) the weather was absolutely beautiful with not a cloud in the sky (not your typical day here) and although the early morning was chilly, the day warmed up quickly and by afternoon it was downright balmy. 2) We saw three more cathedrals, all more beautiful and/or significant than all the previous (if that’s possible). 3) We saw three of Ireland’s most historically important landmarks.

Up at 4:30 and chomping at the bit to get started, we checked out of our hotel in Carrickfergus and headed south on the M1 highway in the dark. The early start was a calculated attempt to avoid the Belfast morning rush… that was a good idea and even at that early hour, there were lots of commuters around the city.

First destination: the city of Armagh. It was here that St. Patrick established his first church in the mid-4th century. In modern times, Armagh has become the center for both Catholic and Protestant religion in Ireland. Therefore, there are two churches here; St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland. We arrived before either of them were opened so we found a little corner café that served breakfast and good strong coffee and waited for 8:30.

The first one we visited was the magnificent Roman Catholic Cathedral with its twin spires the tallest in the county. The sun was just coming up as we climbed the stairs. Every square inch of the interior walls and floors are covered with millions of 1 inch square mosaic inlaid tiles. Then there are the stained glass windows – and there are lots of them. Then there is the statuary and the priceless artifacts and so on. It is breathtaking. I really didn’t want to leave… but the other St. Patrick’s in Armagh also needed seeing.

St. Patrick’s Church has a more square look like a castle (not really) and is somewhat smaller than the catholic church… but no less incredible inside and with more historical artifacts of Ireland (sort of museum-ish). The windows, of course, are spectacular but there is a mosaic of the Last Supper that is particularly attractive as the halos of Jesus and the Disciples are made of mother of pearl… so different and so lovely.

Leaving Armagh, we continued south to the town of Monasterboice to see Ireland’s tallest high cross. At 7 meters it is completely impressive and must weigh several tons. We timed it perfectly and got the photos just before a bus tour of students arrived for a history lesson.

From there, we travelled just 15 minutes south to “Bru na Boyne”, a 5000 year old burial tomb in the area called Newgrange. It was astounding to hear and see how simple farmers of this land built this site out of hundreds of thousands of tons of rock… 6000 years ago! No photos allowed inside but we were escorted in by our guide and marvelled at the structure and wall art carved into the sandstone rocks. Nobody knows for sure what the purpose of it was (perhaps religious or sacrificial reasons) but it predates both the Pyramids and Stonehenge. Incredible history in this place and there are more than 40 other tombs in Ireland some similar in size and many smaller.

Next door to Newgrange is the city of Drogheda (busy and bustling) where we parked the car and strolled the streets to find several gems starting with St. Lawrence’s Gate – through which Cromwell ( in 1646 under Henry VIII) invaded Ireland and “took no prisoners”. We also saw Magdelene Tower (13th century) and St. Peter’s Cathedral with its three sparkling and huge circular stained glass windows. This is the only cathedral we visited with such grand circular windows.

And then we were done in Ireland and made our way to the Dublin airport where we dropped off our rental car. In total we had driven 1800 kms. Time now to make our way to Scotland for the next leg of our journey. Slán Ireland (goodbye in Gaelic). You were amazing beyond our wildest dreams.

Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 13 The Antrim Coast to Belfast

Today we drove from Ballycastle to Carrickfergus along the beautiful Antrim Coast hugging the tight turns all the way. Very lovely indeed and not a long drive at all. What we thought would take us four hours only took one and a half hours including a couple of quick side trips to catch a view of something interesting. The sight of Carrickfergus Castle indicated our arrival to the town where we would stop for the night. We found our hotel (too early to check in) and left the car in the parking lot to catch the 20 minute train ride into Belfast for the day.

Belfast is gorgeous…big…and fascinating. First up on the agenda was a Black Taxi Tour of the city. Terry, our driver, was wonderful and so engaged in his story telling. He gave us the 90 minute history of the religious/political background that lead to “The Troubles” that we westerners know about but can’t really appreciate. He was a little boy when it all began in late 60’s. His perspective was very personal… for example, whenever there was an explosion in the streets, he and his friends would look for a way around it rather than to run away. He drove us slowly past a couple of the 40 peace walls in the city and explained some of the murals that we saw and the stories of the people and events behind them. The experience was sobering… neither Monica nor I dared say much during the tour out of respect and for fear of showing our ignorance. He was incredible and the story of Belfast and the rest of Ireland has new meaning for us now that we’ve been there.

After the tour, we set out on foot to see the rest of the downtown core with its magnificent architecture. As we walked the streets, we recounted the stories our cab driver has told us… and a two hour walk seemed like 15 minutes. Of course, there were a couple of cathedrals that just begged to be seen and rightly so… my favorite was St. Patrick’s. We also saw St. Georges Market which was packed with Sunday shoppers, got a glimpse of the Titanic Museum from across the river, Albert Clock Tower, and City Hall just to name a few of the more famous landmarks. We also slipped into the renowned Crown Bar for a glass of wine (gorgeous, opulent and expensive!). The entire city is grand and it was very difficult to narrow my photo selection for the blog down to the chosen 32 pics.

Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 12 – The Causeway Coast

Now that we are in Northern Ireland, the hearty Irish breakfast includes potato bread (first time for that and it’s really good). Leaving Londonderry, we travelled the north-eastern coast to Ballycastle which is not that far as the crow flies but it took us the entire day.

First stop of the day was just outside Londonderry to see Grianan Aileach, the sixth century ring fort. It sits high on an 800 ft hill with a 360 degree, absolutely breathtaking view of county Donegal. The main structure is a stone ringfort, once the seat of the Kingdom of Ailech and one of the royal sites of Gaelic Ireland. The wall is about 4.5 metres (15 ft) thick and 5 metres (16 ft) high. It has three terraces, which are linked by steps, and two long passages within it. We were the only ones there and were humbled by the silence of this still morning, the stunning views all around and the history of this 1500 year old gem.

Moving on, we found the Causeway Coast Highway heading east and began what would be a many-stop photo opp drive along this stunning coastline with its mountains to the south, world-class beaches, ancient castles and historical sites, quaint villages and unique topography unlike anything we had seen yet.

Highlights of the day were as follows:

Downhill Demense: a mansion ruins built in the 18th century for Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol which included the mansion, a Mussenden Temple on the edge of the sea cliffs, an icehouse and a mausoleum. Much of the building was destroyed by fire in 1851 before being rebuilt in the 1870s. It fell into disrepair after the second world war.

The town of Portrush which is seems quite affluent with its grand yachts in the harbour and stately highrise apartments.

The ruins of Dunluce Castle perched high on the edge of chalk white cliffs skirted by pristine white sand beaches.

The lovely town of Bushmills with its riverside walkways complete with salmon jumping in the river, art galleries, town tower clock and, of course, the iconic whiskey distillery. We restrained ourselved as we were on the road today. However, Monica did purchase a couple of wee drams to enjoy later.

The Giants Causeway – you read about it and sort of know what to expect but can’t really appreciate the strangeness of this place until you experience it. It was very busy here today (being a Saturday I suppose) with many bus tours arriving steadily and thousands of tourists crawling over the rocks like ants. Unexpected was the audio box you get to wear as you explore and listen to the many fascinating facts, legends and whimsical stories about this place and its people.

The ruins of Dunseverick Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (way too busy for us with a 30-minute line-up to walk the bridge…so I was happy with a photo and moved on).

The hike up to Fair Head before diner. This was something I had been looking forward to since we started planning this trip. Fair Head is a 600-foot semi-circular bluff of rock that defines the north-eastern corner of Ireland. We found the road and parked the car in a farmer’s barn yard (with permission) and hiked the 1.5 km trail up to the top. Monica was a trooper to do this with me as we greeted sheep and cows along the way. Arriving at the top one is moved at the grandeur. There are no touristy walkways, no safety handrails, nobody else except us and the view is unparalleled up and down the coast and across the sea to Scotland. Amazing.

Hungry after al that, we made our way into the town of Ballycastle and had a much better than expected meal at O’Connors Pub. Monica had the Steak and Guinness Pie and I had the Beer-battered Cod. The chips (french fries) were a meal in themselves. The Magners cider for me and Fair Head Gold beer form Mon helped it all go down. This defines “being stuffed”.

A great day on the Causeway Coast. Tomorrow we head south toward Belfast along the Antrim Coast. They say it is lovely… I can’t imagine it being any better than what we saw today.





Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 11 – Letterkenny to Londonderry

Today would not be a great distance driving day but still one covering some remarkable terrain in the high north of the country. We had a wonderful full Irish breakfast at the Mountain View B&B and set out for Glenveagh National Park just 15 minutes away. Here we visited the 19th century castle/mansion on the shores of Lake Veagh. With extensive gardens and pathways, abundant wildlife (the European Robins were singing their heads off) and a backdrop of mountains, lakes, glens and woods, this castle is a classic beauty.

We stayed an hour and then moved on, winding our way north through the Derryveagh Mountain range through quiet little towns and jaw dropping scenic vistas like Ballymastaker Beach and the view across to Malin Head (Ireland’s most northerly point) until we came to Fanad Head. Here is the most beautiful lighthouse in all of Ireland, perched on the edge of a 100 foot rock gut that cuts inland for several hundred meters. You can’t take a bad photo of the Fanad Head Lighthouse. Last night (we read on google news) the northern lights were performing for those lucky enough to be there after dark. Not us though. we had to move on again to get to our accommodations in Londonderry before the sun went down.

The route from Fanad Head to Londonderry goes through Letterkenny so we stopped for 20 minutes to take in St. Eunan’s Cathedral and its magnificent glass windows. Of all the cathedrals we have visited in Ireland so far, this one is the most impressive for the sheer amount of stained glass. There are at least 30 or more windows, some of them 20 feet high including 8 by Harry Clarke (although they are not like his usual colorful and illustrated style but are more structured and grid-like). Some of the others, however, are unbelievable for the amount of work that has gone into them.

Leaving Letterkenny, we had a 30 minute drive to Londonderry and found our B&B with the help of Mon’s I-phone gps. We settled into our room quickly and then set out on foot for the downtown to see the famed “Walled City” from the 16th century British Rule. The wall encloses a 3-4 block area of the city which was the original British establishment in the 1600’s.  This is where it all started in Northern Ireland – the British strategic positioning to prevent the Spanish from invading through Ireland, the inequity of how the Irish were treated, the resistance, the “Troubles” and ultimately the civil rights movement. Walking to it, we passed by several revolution murals painted on the sides of buildings and anti-British graffiti on the wall itself. Although Londonderry is a bustling and vibrant city, the section we walked through to get to “the wall” is dingy by comparison to other cities in Ireland. It has an industrial look and smell. Litter lines the street gutters. Homes are rather drab in color. However, inside the walled section is totally different. British influences are evident in the well maintained streets and opulent buildings and statues. Such a contrast from inside to the outside. Such fascinating history and you can feel it as you walk through it. We’ll learn more about it later in Belfast, I’m sure.

p.s. we saw one more cathedral – St. Eugene’s and it is just a breathtaking at St. Eunan’s Letterkenny. There was a young lady practicing her solo and the acoustics are phenomenal. Here is a 20 second clip.




Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 10 – Sligo to Letterkenny

This is Thursday (we think) and the morning was chilly and started out foggy. Monica really wanted to visit the Yeats Memorial Museum but it didn’t open unto 10am so we filled in the time staring with a short breakfast at the Lilly and Lolly Café also in the same building (they were the names of Yeats’ sisters). A roaring fire in the fireplace welcomed us and the scones were piping hot right out of the oven. On the walls of the café were inscriptions of some of Yeats’ best known poetry. It really set the mood… and today is National Poetry Day (thanks Melissa for letting Monica know that – how ironic).

After breakfast we strolled through the city admiring interesting architecture, iconic sculptures, the 11th century Sligo Abbey, the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception and St. John’s Cathedral until it was 10 o’clock and the museum opened. We enjoyed a very interesting video of Yeats’ public life (didn’t know he was so influential in Irish politics). Sligo and surrounding area is very proud and dedicated to everything Yeats. He is arguably one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.

Leaving Sligo, we travelled north to the town of Drumcliff to visit Yeat’s gravesite passing by the infamous Ben Bulben mountain (which Yeats wrote about) and which unfortunately was mostly covered in clouds today. The sun was trying to burn through but we had a long day ahead of us and couldn’t wait for the perfect photo. We settled for less and moved on.

Next stop was at the Beleek Pottery factory in the town of Beleek which is just over the border into Northern Ireland. Fascinating museum and gift shop…some of the pieces valued in the thousands of dollars. Monica’s shopping was more modest but she was delighted, nevertheless, with her selections. Leaving there we travelled north to Donegal which is reputedly the capital of woolens and tweeds made from Aran Island wool and Monica had her heart set on a new sweater. As she shopped, I enjoyed the city sights including Donegal Castle and the Cathedral with its round tower. The sun was out in full force and the early afternoon was quite warm (not a day to wear a wool sweater). Purchases made, happy Monica.

Carrying on, we drove west to the coast on some of the most harrowing narrow and twisty roads yet, dodging sheep and squeezing around tight turns. There we saw the seaside cliffs of Slieve League which may not be as well known as the Cliffs of Moher but are equally as impressive… perhaps even more so since they tower 1900 feet above sea level, almost three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher. The late afternoon sun was peeking in and out of the clouds casting beautiful shadows on the cliffs. So stunning and grand they are… all you can do is stand there and stare and feel very very small.

As the afternoon was getting on, we travelled north east through the Blue Stack Mountains (oh my goodness) toward Letterkenny and arrived just before dusk at the Mountain View B&B. This private home is incredible (stained glass throughout) and the hostess very welcoming and as the name suggests, it’s in the mountains. We had our own private sitting room with tea beside the fireplace where I’m blogging this right now. It was a great day filled with every good emotion. We’ll see if tomorrow can compare.

Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 9 Galway to Sligo

We fueled up with a hearty breakfast at the Inishmore B&B in Galway and set out on the road north with final destination Sligo. There would be 8 major stops along the way, starting with the magnificent Ashford Castle in Cong. This quiet little village is also the setting for John Wayne’s movie “The Quiet Man” with Maureen O’Hara. There’s a statue and a museum there as tribute. Also the ruins of the 11th century Cong Abbey with its beautiful gothic archways and high crosses. But we really came to see the castle which was built in the 1200’s and was also once owned by the Guinness family. So grand and royal…and no crowds of tourists in October.

Leaving Cong, we made our way to three nearby towns all within 15 minutes of each other specifically to visit the churches and see the Harry Clarke stained glass windows in Kilmaine (a triple window of ‘The Adoration of the Magi’), Roundfort (a 7-panel window of ‘The Ascension’) and Ballinrobe (8 double windows of various saints). As I’ve said before, photos cannot do them justice… but I tried anyway. I literally took dozens of shots to enjoy later…but to spare you here, I’ve included only two pics from each church…a full window shot and a zoomed in detail shot. The colors! The details!! The importance of his work in the world of stained glass cannot be overstated!!!

Carrying on to the town of Westport, we took a side trip to see the National Famine Monument in the village or Murrisk, commemorating the Great Famine of the 1840s. The sculpture is a bronze ship, with skeletal figures symbolising the many emigrants from the Irish famine who died in the appalling conditions aboard the “coffin ships” on which they left Ireland.

We continued into Westport for lunch and to visit St. Mary’s Cathedral to enjoy the stained glass (not Harry Clark but still really beautiful) and then headed north again for one more stained glass stop in the town of Newport…this time to see a tri-panel Harry Clarke windows at St. Patrick’s Cathedral called ‘The Last Judgement’… hauntingly disturbing with its references to Heaven and Hell. I’ve seen so much of his work in the past week and I still get overwhelmed every time.

Leaving Newport, we continued north through the Nephrin Mountains to Downpatrick Head, a stunning expanse of sheer seaside cliffs on the edge of sheep pasture only a 5 minute hike from the parking lot. We were the only ones there and the wind was whipping the waves into huge surfing curls. Monica was too nervous to get close to the 150 ft. drop off and I wasn’t much braver…but I did get close enough to shoot the “sea stack”, a multi-layered tower of rock just off the shore that has been eroded for centuries. Really impressive!

The last leg of the day’s journey was along the coastline toward Sligo passing though quaint villages including Killala where one finds a 12th century round tower complete with conical cap . Occasional rain showers and intermittent sunshine meant rainbows and we were lucky enough to capture one. It was nearly dark when we arrived at Sligo and found the Glass Hotel. Dinner was a bottle of wine and some peanuts and a relaxing night in our room uploading photos and reminiscing the day’s events. Tomorrow we will explore Sligo and then continue north again.

Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 8 – The Burren and Galway

It rained all night but the morning broke bright and sunny – for a while at least. We had a hearty breakfast at our B&B and then set off to explore The Burren, Ireland’s mid-west coast rocky mountain region. The landscape here is very strange – almost lunar for lack of better description- extremely rocky and sculpted by ancient glaciers. Rock farming/property walls built hundreds of years ago criss-cross the hills in every direction. Limestone is the main ingredient here and although there isn’t much top soil, what little grass does grow is rich and replenishes quickly, making for good cattle raising.

Our first stop was at the 6000 year old Poulnabrone burial tomb where 33 bodies have been excavated. The slabs of rock that cover the tomb weigh many tons, leaving us to wonder how ancient people erected the structure. Next we stopped for a shot of the Leamaneh Castle ruins (unique design for Ireland with the stone window grids built into the design) and then continued on to the village of Kilfenora to see the 11th century cathedral ruins and some of the oldest high crosses in Ireland. Also, we couldn’t resist stepping into the modern day catholic church beside the ruins to see the stained glass windows.

Next we drove up into the high grounds to see another burial tomb, this one a wedge design. A short stroll beyond this tomb and we came to a 360 degree vista of the burren. Absolutely incredible to see the glacier-sculpted mountain tops that look like giant cow patties with diminishing circles going up the slopes (see the photos as this description really doesn’t do it much justice).

Carrying on, we came to the very beautiful Corcomroe Abbey ruins and then to the Burren perfumery where the employees make scented perfume and soaps from the naturally growing alpine flowers. Really nice!

Time to leave The Burren and head north to Galway. En route we passed by Dunguaire Castle which is the most photographed castle in Ireland. Unfortunately, it was closed today (possibly for the season??) but we got the iconic photo anyway. It was built in 1520 by the O’Hynes clan on the picturesque shores of Galway Bay.

Then into Galway to find our B&B (Inishmore House) in the west end. If not for the gps in Mon’s cell phone, we would never have arrived. The proprietor (Marie) is really down to earth and accommodating and gave us a walking map for downtown Galway. Best surprise was the stained glass window in our room!!! (Happy face). We settled in, did a bit of blog prep work and then headed downtown. The central city core is pedestrians only which made for excellent strolling and photo taking. We also had time to discovery of a couple of cathedrals with gorgeous stained glass windows. For dinner, we chose the Dail Bar restaurant. Great food, great atmosphere, great city. Tomorrow we head north to discover more wonders of Ireland.

Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 7 Dingle Peninsula to Doolin

Today held a highlight for me on this trip so far, in the town of Dingle.

First, we were up early and on the road to explore the Dingle Peninsula. With very little traffic at 7:00 am and barely daylight, we had the narrow roads to ourselves and we wound our way along the peninsula to the tip called Slea Head. Along the way we stopped to photograph Inch Beach (3 kms of fine white sand) and then came to a  2500 year old historic site, Dumbeg Fort on the peninsula’s southern coastline. Donkeys greeted us as we strolled down the lane to the site. We were astounded at the ruggedness of this coast and the endurance ancient people would have had to exist here.

Carrying on, we came to Slea head at the tip of the peninsula. Looking out across the ocean, I could sense New Brunswick 3000 miles to the West. What a beautifully dangerous place, with jagged cliffs, pounding surf and incessant winds that take your breath away. Absolutely stunning in its remoteness although hundreds of thousands of tourists come here every year to experience these feelings.

We continued around the peninsula passing the occasional village or simple gathering of homes, marvelling at the breathtaking ruggedness of the hills and coast and arrived back at the town of Dingle by 10:00 for a tour of the Diseart Convent. We were greeted by elderly Father Fiannachta (what a memory he has) and proceeded to tour this ancient convent with its many treasures including 6 double windows by Harry Clarke. Photos cannot convey the depth of these windows… the reds pop out and the blues recede giving the glass panels a 3-D richness that the camera cannot pick up – only the human eye can see it. Absolutely spell binding. Add to that, the recorded audio commentary describing each stained glass scene as you move around the chapel from window to window. In addition to the Harry Clarke’s, there are other stained glass panel of equal importance and beauty, plus painted murals by American artist Eleanor Yates. So absolutely amazing. Although I was well-researched and knew what to expect, this place totally blew me away. If you ever come to Ireland, try to get here to see it.

We hated to leave Dingle, but the north was calling and time was ticking…so off we went across Connor’s Pass (OMG – hold on tight through the twisty winding narrow road and watch out for sheep – up, up, up and over then down, down, down and… made it!

We took the ferry across the Shannon River and soon arrived at the Cliffs of Moher – Ireland’s most famous tourist destination. These cliffs are 700 feet high and stacked along the coastline like dominoes (700 ft dominoes). Oohs and Ahhhs and selfies galore… the seas were flat calm and the cliffs were reflecting on the seas. So massive, so beautiful, so deadly. A couple of weeks ago, a section of the cliffs collapsed under heavy rains! But today it was absolutely lovely.

Final destination for today was the town of Doolin just 10 minutes past the cliffs. We found our B&B and were greeted by the proprietor, Sean O’Connor (eccentric and very interesting fellow). We chatted as he lead us upstairs to our room, opened the door and there, out our window, was a spectacular and unexpected view of the Cliffs of Moher… how lucky are we! How excellent is this “Doll’s House B&B”. Sean recommended a local pub for dinner (Fitzpatrick’s) and we enjoyed local seafood (chowder for Mon and crab claws for me). A light rain was falling as we strolled back to our hotel, the first we have had since we arrived, and it cast a shimmering glow on the streets as live pub music wafted through the night air. Should be good for sleeping tonight.

Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 6 – Ring of Kerry

Today (Sunday) was the day we were supposed to take the boat tour out to the Skellig Michael 8th century monastery. We were up early and not optimistic when we saw the wind and dark clouds. Off we went to Portmagee (a 30 minute drive from Waterville) where we called the tour boat captain am who relayed his concerns about the weather. Not wanting to die on the Atlantic Ocean today, we cancelled the trip and, instead, made plans for a relaxing and VERY enjoyable car ride around the Ring of Kerry…. starting with a fantastic breakfast in Portmagee (when was the last time you has fresh grilled kippers with capers for breakfast?)

Words and photos simply cannot convey the majesty of this place. We took several little dead end roads that lead to the most surprising and ancient discoveries… such as McCarthy’s Castle ruins, Ballyskellig Abbey, the Cliffs of Kerry, Valentia Island Lighthouse, Ballycarberry Castle ruins, Kells and Rossbay Beaches and made our way by late afternoon to the lovliest little B&B in Castlemaine.

We checked in, had a glass of wine and wandered over the street to Knightley’s Pub for dinner – fantastic seafood and shepherd’s pie. Good night Ring of Kerry – you were a wonderful day.

Ireland-Scotland 2015

Day 5 Cork to Waterville

Just before leaving Cork this morning, Monica and I slipped right across the street to visit the Honan Chapel on the grounds of the University College of Cork. Here one finds 10 brilliant Harry Clarke stained glass windows. All the windows are of various saints and one of Jesus. His work is magnificent…the colors so bold and the details so illustrated. It’s easy to see why he is considered one of the world’s most famous stained glass artists. I was in a daze the whole while….Monica had to help me out and to the car.

Leaving Cork, we travelled west toward the Ring of Kerry along well maintained but VERY narrow roads. A few more white knuckle moments along the way…especially when meeting a bus. There aren’t many places to pull over and one runs the risk of scraping the mirrors along the rock walls that line the roads. Along the way, we visited a 3000 year old historical site called Drombeg Stone Circle…similar but smaller than Stonehenge in England. Very fascinating to see where ancient people carved out an existence in this rocky land.

Continuing on we went through Skibbereen (stopped for fuel and some street shots), Bantry (lovely seaside village), Kenmare (hustling busy), and then we got lost. We thought we were on the Ring of Kerry but had somehow missed the turn at Sneen (also a bustling town) and found ourselves crossing the mountains through Kilarney National Park. These roads are barely wide enough for two small cars to meet, let alone a bus…and they twist and wind so fast it’s like playing a Race Car Video Game. By the time we got turned around, my sholders were aching from the tension and then we had to drive back over the mountains again. Nevertheless, there were a couple of stop spots were we got some spectacular shots of the valley.

Finally we made it to Waterville for the night. The views along the coast are unbelievable. At one spot, we could see Skelling Michel (the island we are supposed to visit tomorrow, weather permitting). We found our inn, found a decent restaurant and found time to blog another wonderful day in Ireland.