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Archive for the ‘Ireland-Scotland 2015’ Category

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.




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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.