When the universe throws you an opportunity for a second trip to Ireland in a six-month period, you say “thank you universe”, buy a plane ticket, and go with the flow.
And so Sunday afternoon, we head off on another adventure… and this time we brought along some friends. Sue and I for a full week of playing tourist, Greg and Alice were mostly there to work. First flight circled the Montreal airport because it was too busy for landing, second flight delayed and circled the Toronto airport because they had to remove something from the runway, third flight (the one finally heading in the right direction) delayed… but at that point, whatever… we were flying through the night anyways. Watched some movies, mostly failed at sleeping… and then we were in Ireland.
Dumped the bags, found some eats (mmmm avo smash at Ethos), and Sue and I wandered off to explore a bit of Dublin… all part of operation power through until night time to get on the right time zone. We wandered through St. Stephen’s Green (hooray for flowers and sunshine and no snow and no jacket!) and around the Trinity College area… she popped in to visit the Book of Kells and library while I basked in the sun like a lizard. Found a treat at a bakery, and then back to the hotel to wait for the others to get back from the office. Supper at Searsons and called it a night (I made it until 8pm, I woke up at midnight, and did some work).
After finally getting a bit more sleep, it was time to get our tourist on. In the wee hours of the morning, it was off to meet the bus to head to Northern Ireland for our Game of Thrones tour with Finn McCools. Our guide Gavin and driver George were fantastic. It’s a long day, but it’s a nice way to add in some extra sites. First stop (not counting the quick stop for bathrooms and eats), the dark hedges – a really cool row of old trees (they are about twice as old as that type of tree should be) – better known to GoT fans as the Kingsroad. It’s waaayyyyy more fun to visit them when it’s not pouring, without six tour buses, and when liquid fertilizer (of the totally stinky kind) is not being sprayed on the nearby fields.
From here, off to the Giant’s Causeway. This was one of my very favourite places we visited on our trip last year. And, this time it wasn’t nearly as cold or rainy. We explored the site, marveled at the awesomeness that is all those rocks, snuck in a lunch break with some hot soup, and then we were off to Ballintoy Harbour.
For GoT fans, Ballintoy Harbour doubles as the Iron Islands… but it’s also a neat stop to make nearby the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. We also visited Larrybane Quarry (where Catelyn meets Renly and Margaery). A nice touch with the tour is that Gavin had still photos of the locations being used in the show for comparison. Admittedly, even if you know nothing about GoT, it’s a nice Northern Ireland tour. Starting this month though, it gets more GoT-focused, removing the stop to Ballintoy Harbour and adding in a stop in Belfast where you can visit sets, costumes etc.
To end the day, we spent a couple of hours with free time in Belfast before the two hour drive back to Dublin. All in all, I would use this tour company again… there was enough time at each of the stops, considering how many there were, but the bus was pretty tight for leg room (which was especially evident when the jerk in front of me reclined his seat for the drive back to Dublin).
Another beautiful day in Dublin meant it was time for me to show Sue more of it. We did some wandering along the Liffy, checking out the Jeannie Johnston, Customs House, the famine memorial, and the bridges. We joined in on a free walking tour for a couple of hours (available because we had booked a Finn McCools tour), and it was nice to get a bit of local colour along with our wandering. We also visited Dublin Castle, Dublin garden, walked through Temple Bar, and ended at Christchurch Cathedral. We visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Killmainham Gaol, and did mass amounts of walking around before returning to our hotel.
As a strange twist of luck would have it, some friends just so happened to be in Ireland at the same time as us. While our schedules didn’t overlap a ton to be able to meet up a lot, we did all get together for a night of eats and drinks at Murrays.
On Thursday, finally being done with their meetings, Greg and Alice got to join us for a day of playing tourist. This time, on yet another beautiful sunny day (this is noteworthy because we did not get rained on AT ALL while in Ireland for a week… and I wore my jacket for about one hour, and only because it was windy), we were off to explore the ancient east with Extreme Ireland with driver Jim and trainee Brendan. This was a day of being outdoors in wide open spaces, and my soul really needed it after the 17 year long winter we’re still in. Our first stop was the Hill of Uisneach, an ancient ceremonial site in County Westmeath (the symbollic center of Ireland). We met up with Marty for a tour around the site, really interesting and stunning views.
From here, we were off to explore the grounds of Trim Castle (used in Braveheart), Bective Abbey, Fourknocks passage tomb (about 5000 years old), and the Hill of Tara. It really was a beautiful day of stunning views. So I’ll just leave you with plenty of pictures… you don’t have to take my word for it.
Friday saw Greg and Alice headed back to Canada while Sue and I switched hotels to the Jurys Inn across from Christchurch cathedral. Our friends Melissa and Mel were still in Dublin, so we had left the schedule clear today to spend some time with them. Off we went on the DART to check out Malahide Castle. Admittedly, I like the ruined ones better, but we had a nice tour of the castle and grounds. Boxty House for supper and a bit of walking around, and then it was time to call it a night.
For our last full day in Ireland, we lucked out with another beautifully sunny day. Blarney was something that was never really on my radar, but when I offered it as an option to Sue, I’m glad she picked it. There’s a lot of cool stuff in that area. Off we went with Extreme Ireland again, and our incredibly entertaining driver/guide Phil. Apart from a rest stop, our first stop of the day was the Rock of Cashel. This was my favourite place to visit on this trip – and I think that was helped immensely by having nearly the entire site to myself for about 15 minutes (while the rest of my bus watched a video of some kind). Standing in the middle of the ruin like that without another person around is worth writing home about. Ravens make their homes throughout the outside walls, and the sounds of their calls echoing through the place were both eerie and amazing all at once.
From the Rock of Cashel, it was off to Blarney Castle to kiss the stone and acquire the gift of gab. The grounds of Blarney Castle are really quite lovely, especially this time of year where flowers are blooming everywhere. It wasn’t overly busy, so once we got to the top of the castle (not for anyone with mobility issues because the way up and down are narrow and uneven spiral stone staircases), the wait to kiss the stone was only a few minutes. We had a couple of hours here, so we explored around the grounds and then grabbed lunch at the giant food court area at the Woolen Mills (across the street from the castle, and also featuring the biggest shop of Irish stuff I’ve ever seen).
One more stop of the day – Cahir Castle. We weren’t actually sure we were going to get to make this stop. They were setting up for a movie shoot (The Green Knight, coming next year) and the castle was closed to the public. They decided to let us come in and look around though, as long as we agreed that we wouldn’t take any pictures of the sets that were already set up (production was starting the next day). I’ve never walked through a Hollywood set before, so that was kind of interesting… but not nearly as much as the castle itself. This specific castle gets used in movies because it’s still in great shape and some of the defensive aspects of it – like a gate with pointy bits at the bottom – still function.
And with that, our touring in Ireland pretty much wraps up. Back in Dublin, we grabbed some supper (and beer) at the Beer Market (avoiding the Temple Bar area like a plague, it being Saturday night), and called it a night. Sunday morning, we walked around a bit, grabbed some breakfast, and we were off to the airport.
Our flight was delayed nearly three hours leaving Dublin (how many people does it take to change a light bulb on a plane? I’m not sure, but it involved breaking something else and causing us to miss our connection in Toronto). We knew before we even took off from Dublin that our lovely 90 minute connection had become an hour five hour connection… so many movies we were watched, we got back to Canada and cleared customs in about 30 seconds, got Air Canada to at least buy us supper, and we killed some time at the airport. And then we flew home… and it was still winter… and I went to bed.
If Ireland isn’t on your list, it really should be. I definitely plan to go back – there’s still so much more to see.