Day One: October 27th, Dublin, Ireland
New York was a disaster for me–let’s just leave it at that. I’ve been there many, many times and my neutral opinion of the city has not changed nor will it ever. Boom. That’s the end on that.
As for today, these are my observations as well as conclusions:
At the airport, our cabbie had a hardcore Irish name–Brian O’Flaherty. He was as happy and friendly as any Irish stereotype. He had a lot of suggestions and was a smooth talker as he was a good driver. It was a good start after a five-and-a-half-hour flight; not to mention the five-hour jump to go with the jet lag that would be in tow soon enough.
After checking in and dropping off our stuff at Paddy’s Palace Hostel, we explored a bit and passed plenty of people. They appeared if it was twenty degrees lower than the fifty-degree temperature I say we were lucky to have. A fair few even gave me and Emylee odd looks as if we were crazy to wear our regular clothes with a simple scarf and flip-flops in this gently breezy weather.
A couple hours passed napping and walking around when I saw Dublin as a metropolis dressed in modernity yet rooted in classicism. With its pillared buildings and aged cobblestone walkways, the play-by-play of Gothic architecture meets Victorian style meshed beautifully with the orange zones of heavily disoriented traffic and construction.
The crosswalk signs were outlines of a figure signaling you when to and not to walk. Instead of a countdown, like in any major U.S. city, it had a progressive tick you could hear. The faster it was, the less time you had to cross the street. But the sign was still perceived as a suggestion to most pedestrians like any American city’s downtown parts.
Another thing I’ve noticed or heard really was the diversity of tourists. Though I’m no language barer, I’ve heard a French family conversing in J.W.Sweetman’s while slurping my traditional Irish stew; an argument in Italian where two men were stereotypically gesturing with their hands on O’Connell Street (by the way, which smelled like deli meats the whole time walking–I loved it); and two teenagers contemplating directions (I assumed since they were looking at a map) speaking in Portuguese. Later, when I made note of this to Emylee, I was told that a lot of Brazilian-born people live here.
- I wanted to check out this pub. The atmosphere was anything but what I expected; I’m referring more to my observation of the patrons rather than the narrow, red- and gold-accented pub itself. As we stepped further into this pub, just about all the pint drinkers seemed entirely shocked by our appearance. But that’s not it…not counting all three of us and one other customer, the entire place was filled with men. It was unnerving at first, seeing everyone staring as they were socializing with their beer, but then shortly Moriah and I went up to the bar and got three Murphy’s Irish Reds. The bartender was very friendly and one of the men at the bar was grinning through my phone as I took a screenshot.
- Peadar Kearney’s Pub is one of the many locations I intend to use in my manuscript I’m currently working on. One of the reasons for coming to Ireland was to get firsthand research and experience the settings I’ll be describing in my novel-in-progress. It’s set mostly in Dublin and Galway as well as Boston.
After today’s somewhat short exploration, I concluded that Dublin must have been one of the few inspirations for Boston’s own exterior and street culture. Everything is extremely similar that I was flabbergasted. I immediately felt at ease, being in a place I haven’t stepped foot in ten years.
In spite of yesterday’s struggles and the somewhat-difficult flight, I know each day is going to be unforgettable in the least.
Day Two: October 28th, Dublin, Ireland
Too much to say about the following attractions/places, so I’ll fill it in once I review my notes:
The Book of Kells Exhibition
- pages on display: “The temptation of Jesus” & John 6.57-7.1
- its materials & ink
- “turning darkness into light”
- Chi Rho page & John the Baptist portrait
Old Trinity College Dublin & the Long Room:
- Book of Hours, c. 15th century
- stocked with many subjects influential of the 17th to 19th century, even today
- its position with the public & its 4000 present researchers
- busts of influential, well-known and unfamiliar (to me) men
National Museum of Ireland, the location of Archaeology Branch
- Ecclesiastical atmosphere
- The Fadden More Psalmer, or Book of Psalms
- materials & content
- “Book shrines”
- Archaeological remains
sub-exhibit: Medieval Ireland
- Replica of Gokstad Faering, or of a Viking ship
- Brian Boru’s Call
- The distinction between the Irish & Vikings
- Slavery in 10th & 11th centuries
- Role of Bogs
- Dugout Canoe
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
- coat of arms (I think that’s what it was) (below)
- physical description & atmosphere
- lighting a candle for my grandmother
More to come, should I get the chance, to recap my notes and pictures.
Day Three: October 29th, Cork City, Ireland
Even after getting a full night of sleep, for once in my life, this morning felt like I still woke up at the crack of dawn. Which technically we did, considering the sun didn’t come for two-and-a-half more hours.
It was 8 a.m. when our cross-city tour down to the Southwest towards good old County Cork was in motion. When we met our bus driver for the day, immediately he asked, “What’s the crack?” I blinked, thinking did he really say that? Since he got similar looks from the other tourists, he elaborated what he said was “What’s the craic?” meaning, “hello”, or “What’s up?”, that kind of greeting. Then he gave plenty of sass to go around to which the ride was a pretty easy-going atmosphere.
And when we found out the bus had wifi, it was like a gift from God. I wish I was kidding. But anyway, the hour-drive to the first destination, the Rock of Cashel, went fast with The Count of Monte Cristo to entertain me. Then the Sand Man took over, knocking me out, having me leave a cheek print against the bus window.
When we got to Cashel, I wondered off like an over-curious child and made a beeline for the hill to the giant cathedral that is the beacon of the Rock. Though my calves were burning by the time I got to the entrance, I saw the little cemetery. Keep in mind that while I was generally raised Catholic, I don’t consider myself religious. Yet I found it necessary to make a sign of the cross out of respect several times as I carefully stepped around headstones large and small, faded and new. What really drew me, however, was this one large headstone: a cross that crumbled some time ago and let the Irish moss root it to the ground. The thought that came to mind was “A broken grave does not break the soul whose body resides there.”
Since we had a little over an hour to explore, I took my snapshots and said farewell to head back to the bus. Another hour or so passed by. Naturally, I nodded off again.
I opened my eyes and there we were smack-dab in the main street of Cork City with the large bridge breaking yet unifying city’s many island cousins. Like in Cashel, we only had an hour to explore. Which meant we had time to get stamps, something to eat as takeaway, and pee. In that order. So after spending 11 euros on international stamps, we stopped at gourmet sausage place and it overshadowed the average all-American hot dog a hundred times over. Oh my god, it was so good yet somehow I still have no idea what any toppings I picked were. I just know it was cheesy, hardy, a little crunchy, and even had what I assume as saucy purple cabbage. I don’t know. Point is, I’ll definitely be on the hunt for that place the next time I’m in Cork.
While stuffing my face on the bus with the delicious sausage and the O’Donnells Irish mature cheese and red onion chips–better than any Lays I’ve had, go find some–we were at the site of Blarney Castle. And the three outlet shops. One of them was the World’s Largest Irish Shop. I went a little overboard in there, let’s just it at that. But back to Blarney. We were given less than 3 hours to poke around, take pictures and shop. Just let it be known that, no, I did not kiss the stone. I’d already done so back when I was thirteen, and I don’t intend to ever do it again.
What I did though, was take one detour in Badger’s Cave; it was creepy but awesome as hell. Then I got sidetracked by a cave-like tunnel in the front of the 600-year-old fortress. At the end of this tunnel, there was an enclosing ceiling covered in white writing–mostly names of people–as if someone was leaving their mark in history. Going back the way I came from was the tough part: my bag got me stuck a few times, spots in the tunnel were either wet or muddy, and to top it all off I literally slipped and got dirty. So instead the tunnel left its mark on me. At least my coffee didn’t spill the entire time holding it crouching in there.
Finally, all the exploring and browsing got the better of me. I did the exact same thing I did coming down to County Cork. I slept a bit, then woke up to read some more of The Count. So far I’m really liking Edmond Dantés.
As much fun as that all was, thank god it’s a lazy day tomorrow down to Galway.
Day Four: October 30th, Galway, Ireland
We were able to, what I consider, sleep in until around 10 a.m. Check-out was at 11, so we got out efficiently and quickly because we were on our way to the Heuston Train Station. To get there, we took a short Tram car ride–it’s like an above-ground and cleaner subway–and by chance, we crossed paths with a young woman name Dale. She’s a Tennessee native on vacation for two-and-a-half months. She assured us that we were on the right one since we got a little uneasy with the whole subway mix-up back in New York. From day one, we’ve been noticing how friendly everyone is here, even the tourists too. We’ve been told differently about the tourists.
Anyway, we took the Luas Tram car to, not only to catch our train to long-anticipated Galway but to meet up with Emylee’s long-time online friend, Brendan. He’s as bubbly and Irish as I’m fair-skinned and redheaded (I am those things, in case you don’t know what I look like). While having a bit of SuperMac’s, Emylee introduced Moriah and me, we sat right down and got right down to learning what Brendan’s been up to. He still writes (Emylee told us he’s a published author), he’s been performing in a variety of things, Brendan and his boyfriend, Gustavo, are going on strong seven months in counting, and he came to the train station with a huge hangover.
With some coffee and ice cream, we managed to gab the morning and early afternoon down to the last twenty minutes before us, girls, had to board the 2:05 p.m. train on its A coach. This was the last car at the very end. But because we booked them ahead we got special seating with a table and extra room for our stuff.
It was a peaceful ride down to Galway. We were expected to arrive just before 5 p.m. For the first hour, it was rather quiet since we had to catch up on our personal writing, social media, and what-not. I spent it journaling any access things I haven’t done the last couple of days. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself by writing your thoughts and documenting your memories; you can see what works for you and you recall more of those special moments.
Once I finished my five-page entry, due to the soft and rhythmic vibrations of the train, I did the usual and nodded off for just a bit with Enigma serenading in my ears.
When I stirred, I decided to reorganize my stuff. Then a man sought my attention, asking if we had any suggestions for places to eat in Galway. I explained how we were trying to get some as well. This man thought we were from Dublin judging by Emylee’s and my hair (again, we’re redheads). As it turned out, he and his wife were visiting Galway from Budapest, and I saw a brochure of the Lally Tours that we’ll be attending tomorrow. So while Emylee looked up recommendations from Brendan and her brother, Moriah and I told him that we’ll be seeing them tomorrow since we’ll be doing the same tour. He was a very nice man and, though he had a thick accent, he spoke English very well. For some reason, he reminded me of a Hungarian Anthony Hopkins.
Around five minutes till five, we got off the train and headed straight to our hostel. After the short check-in, we were given a key that opened the general door to the dormitory, if lacking a better word for it, and to our room itself. This room and its accommodations were many times better than the last hostel we were in (since the first day arriving in Dublin). For each bed, there was individual light, two USB drives for charging and personal outlets (but we need a different energy converter). We only had the place for one night and, within fifteen minutes, we wanted this room for the next three nights that we’ll be spending in Galway.
We got lucky thanks to the guy at the front counter; he was able to give us the three more nights but starting Tuesday, we’d be in different rooms, which obviously we’re more than okay with. So I canceled our reservation for the hostel we would have stayed in starting tomorrow, and Emylee got the confirmed reservation. Though we haven’t asked for his name yet, I intend to so the acknowledgment is there and I want to give gratitude where it’s deserved.
Once that was all taken care of, my stomach was yelling for us to head to the nearest place to eat. Emylee was told to try The Pie Maker. I guess you can figure out what their specialty was: meat pies and, of course, regular pies too. It had no more than four booths and a narrow bar area where you could see their pies being made. While we waited for a booth to be free, I was surrounded by a warm combination of beef, vegetables, and baked bread. Going through the doorway, you smelt the meats and felt the literal hearth that it was being cooked from.
We decided to share two meat pies: one with beef, onions, and gravy, and the other with Irish sausage and veggies. We got sides of hearty mash potatoes and gravy. Ahhh, so good. I mostly ate the beef and gravy one and had some of my Australian root beer. Apparently, they make their root beer with vanilla and licorice for an interesting aftertaste down under.
Once we settled the bill and took a couple of pictures, we browsed in whatever store was still open and then hurried to the hostel’s common room to do much-needed laundry.
Right now at this moment, as I’m finishing this post, I get a text pic showing how the shower had somewhat flooded the doorway of our room. Awesome. Emylee told me that the two girls staying in the room with us took showers first. Then Moriah was in the middle of hers when Emylee noticed water seeming out on the carpet as she was talking to her husband on the phone. This night should be interesting.
The more exciting stuff will occur tomorrow while we’re at the Cliffs of Moher.
Day Five: October 31st, Galway, Ireland
Our Lally Tour Coach left at 10 a.m. on the dot. Darin was a very meticulous, punctual, non-bullshit kind of tour guide. What he requested and outlined to us three, as well as the rest of the tourists, was exactly what happened. He also emphasized time; the bus left at a certain time and if you got back a minute after, the bus would be gone with no exceptions.
Fair enough for me considering how much we did and went through.
From Galway to the Burren and County Clare, the roads were windy and narrow like we were on a slow roller coaster. Our blunt and direct, yet informative (not mention with an ironic sense of humor) guide gave us a brief overview of an annual festival in August regarding Galway hookers (they are little sailboats). I instantly perked up because in my final college semester I took a poetry class and one of my poems I wrote about that very festival.
Here it is if you’d like, otherwise feel free to scroll down:
rock by Galway Bay herself
with her rushing foam-edged curves.
The festival of Cruinniú na mBád
presents an annual race
on the county edge
of Galway and Clare.
A sea lough
once a parcel
for Picts and Vikings
is now a tradition
for importing limestone
and sport on strong seas.
Galway hookers travel
with three burnt umber sails
and hulls black as greased carbon;
the only repose
in this competition is Lennon’s voice,
if we could make changes with the morning dew
the world would be Galway Bay,
drifting like the acute gusts
treading the sails of those humble vessels.
A wandering sailor
scouts out Inis Mór’s pier,
his foot perched on the bow
and a cauterized hand deflecting the sun.
high above the heads
of locals and tourists,
the cliffs of Moher
sustain the stone fortress
A terra firma
of Irlanda’s zealous republic
awaiting this lone boater
to finally come home.
Téir abhaile riú
Because your match is made.
On the way to the understated County of Clare, we passed the city of Kinvara. It means “head of the bay”. The entire ride I saw layers and hills of greenery; the specks on this sea of grass were spotted and brown cows, and obsidian-faced sheep, and the barriers of the land were waist-high stone walls with flecks of white on them. The centerpieces of these lands were cottages of all sizes and shapes, and the accents were lots of still water–ponds, rivers, lakes, some of the Atlantic ocean even, you name it–of all shades of blue. I’d go as far as to rephrase Frances Mayes’s words to say this was what blue smelled like (rather than smelling purple in the Tuscany market). Cool, calm, and fresh.
When we drove into County Clare, Darin immediately informed us we were passing the mountainous Burren. It is a colossal mound of limestone and one of the few locations to have plenty of the mineral-based rock. The Burren is over 560 km and has been around since the Ice Age.
I’ll even throw you a little history of a once-powerful figure: Connor O’Brien. The O’Brien family, for a time, was considered the head honcho of this county for several centuries. He especially made his family’s mark during the 17th century; O’Brien even designed Corcomroe, an abbey, in honor of himself almost as if he were the last high king, Brian Boru. He sounded like a pompous ass, yet somehow within his right to act as such; after all, he and his family made the county very prosperous.
But before his O’Brien name seeped into Clare soil, Darin spoke of the Penny Walls that became one with the land. These were high-mound stone walls made by the Irish people, under English rule, to keep them corralled and in line. Let me tell you, these walls go for miles or, as they’d say, kilometers. It saddens you to think that the English used the Irish resources to use them against the natives.
Though history can be ugly and brutal, Darin lightened the ride by introducing us to Aillwee Cave. The cave was discovered in the mid-1940s as a man was searching for his dog that wandered off. The man (I can’t remember his name) came upon what turned out to be the home to bones of European bears. We were told that this species grew extinct years ago, due to most likely deforestation and hunting.
For several decades, the cave was under excavation. Archaeologists determined the cave to be made of over 300 kilometers of limestone. Aillwee had so many caverns and trenches, and rainwater would seep in from above. The cave’s guide said it was, “an ancient sea head risen above the sea.”
Just to pass on a science lesson, the group and I were told that that very rainwater would get in to form pieces of calcium on the rock. Then that calcium would create a shimmering effect on the edges and surface. It made limestone look like icicles hanging from the ceiling.
That tour guide then took a few seconds to turn off the lights, for us to stand in pitch black darkness so we could get an idea of what you’d be dealing with if you came into the cave like that man searching for his wandering hound.
Our timetable was just about up as we went out the door, so I stepped back on the bus with my signature pin and postcards (that I get from every destination I’ve been to so far and will continue to do so).
Before telling about the next destination, I’ve got one last piece of history from Darin to speak of: the typical Irish home. It’s known to have three windows on the front, two in the back and most having a half door where there’s a split (you can open the upper half without needing the bottom). Usually square or rectangular is the shape of the house. However, some houses are judged by the craftsmanship of how they’re shaped; they can even be used to decipher which clan name built it. Spectacular.
Within due time we arrived at the main attraction of the tour: the Cliffs of Moher. In the time span of an hour and a half, I went solo on exploring the cliffs from all angles; I even managed enough time to be on the edge of one (behind the aligned fences, of course). On that one side, I stood one, you could see across the frigid Atlantic as it occasionally sprayed you in the face the little battlement that is O’Brien’s Tower. Yes, the very same family I just spoke of above. I didn’t get a chance to hear much of the tower, but I can assure you I’ll be researching soon.
This place had the weather we’ve all been waiting for: fiercely windy, cool, moist air, and clouds that only darkened the grass and calmed the ocean. We managed to get a bit of Irish fog to make the sight even more sullenly pastoral as the moors you’d read about in Wuthering Heights.
Reality set in, so I hurried back to the bus with fifteen minutes to spare. As we headed back to Galway, we stopped into the cottage town of Doolin for lunch. Like Chipotle-style, only Irish, we got in line to share a humongous meal on a slab; on this wooden tray was Irish bacon, potatoes, and vegetables, with some seafood chowder on the side. Oh, and Dooliner’s Red Ale to top it off.
On the way to County Clare and Aillwee Cave, Darin pointed out Dunguaire Castle and our chance to explore towards the end of the tour. Though we couldn’t go into the ruined fortress, we were given the opportunity to spend twenty minutes taking some snapshots literally around the castle. Before entering its grounds, I thank God for the screenshot I attained of Dunguaire and its pristine reflection in the water underneath it.
The time limit came by fast, so we hopped back on the bus only to be thrown back into exciting Galway nightlife for dinner. We chose O’Donnagh’s, based on a recommendation, to have good old-fashioned fish and chips with some good conversation with a few senior, but local delightful characters.