Trip to Southern Ireland

Greg and I accomplished a joint bucket list!  When we first started dating, one of the things we agreed on is that we would love to one day see Ireland.  How fortunate that we are able to do so and to share this bucket dream list come true with our son!  Greg told me to make the plans; he said he wanted to stay in one place, much like how we did in Venice.  I agreed that the one place in Venice worked well, this way we wouldn’t have to pack and unpack constantly at different locations.  With some research, I found flights and a farmhouse and we booked the tickets back in October with plans to go in February.  Ireland was an amazing experience!  


I’ll say from the start that the people in Ireland are eager to talk if you are willing to do so. They will ask where you are from, how long you are staying and wait to see if you are willing to share and open up.  They are happy to help if you have a question and are incredibly kind people.  They are genuinely good people!  They keep Ireland clean, take pride in their accomplishments and have a rich history that soaks down into your bones.  


To my trip notes.  It’s lengthy. Grab a cup of coffee or whatever drink you prefer, sit back and let’s go to Ireland!  (To skip the blog and go to the pictures, scroll to the bottom and click on the link.  YES, Greg, this is a long blog post. It's my blog so shush!  Lol)


As we were about to enter the airport, we heard a voice, “Gregory!  Gregory!”  We turned around and Gregory saw his school mate, Nell.  How fun to see a friend at the airport leaving for a vacation at the same time that we were.  I hope they had a wonderful time!


If you fly from America (more specifically, from Louisiana) to Dublin, Ireland, I’d definitely recommend the flights we took going there.  We went from LA to Philly, which was roughly 2 hours.  We had an hour and a half break between flights, which allowed us to use the bathrooms, get something quick to eat and time to walk the very long airport in Philly, which was great for stretching our legs.  The 6 hour flight from Philly to Dublin did not see any of us getting much sleep.  


I find it difficult to catch z’s when on a plane filled with strangers, people getting up and down, carts rolling around, sometimes overhead lights coming on or worse, what happened on our flight... my eyes were closed, but I was awake, when I felt someone bump hard into my shoulder.  It was enough to make me grumpy look up.  I saw her stumble.  I thought she was drunk and then.. she just collapsed like a rag doll to the ground.  Thankfully Greg and Gregory were asleep at this time, so they didn’t freak out.  Four men ran to the lady to help her; she was non-responsive at first.  They were able to get her to sit up, but then she was throwing up and still rather incoherent.  


The captain came overhead asking if there was a nurse or doctor on the flight.  Both of which came forward and helped the lady.  This happened mid-flight.  Then, about 30 minutes before our flight landed, a guy was walking in the same area but on the other side; he tripped and fell.  The captain said we had special clearance to by-pass taxing the runway and to go straight to the gate where paramedics were waiting.  The paramedics ran various test (blood pressure, sugar levels, heart rate, balance, etc) on the lady and the man.  The paramedics believe it was a reaction to motion sickness for the lady.  Thankfully both were okay, but you might have guessed it was giving us a flash back to when my mom got sick in Italy!  We weren’t able to depart the plane until after the two patients were well enough to leave, which left some grumbling from the restless passengers.  I reminded Gregory that had this been Oma, we would want her care to be top priority.  He agreed; the thought helped settle him.


Going through customs was a breeze, then we picked up the rental car.  Ok, I have to add this tidbit.. after we signed the papers for the rental, the representative said what sounded like to us, “You can pick up your car in the carriage.”  We said, “The what?  The carriage?”  She spelled it out, “Yes the g a r a g e.”  But it sounds like carriage, only change the “c” to a “g” when they speak it!  I love listening to the Irish accent.  It’s melodic.  Oh and they can’t make the “th” sound.  So the word “Three” sounds like “Tree.”  It’s so cute!  Seriously, though, I could listen to someone from Ireland talk all day.  I told this to an Irish man in line at a cafe’ and his Irish eyes smiled back.  “Is that so now?” he asked.  Adorable, I tell you!


Now, the difficult part of the trip - Driving.  Greg was listed as the only driver for two reasons.  He is a more confident driver and though I’m a great navigator (proven on this trip), my hearing is horrible and I can’t hear verbal instructions from the car navigation system or person sitting next to me while driving).  And the second reason, it cost $10.00 more per day to add a second driver. 


But even for a confident driver, it still took some adjustment.  Greg is sitting on the wrong side of the car and driving on the wrong side of the road.  He had to keep telling himself, “This is the right side of the road.”  He did a fantastic job with round abouts (circle instead of four way stop for those not familiar with the round abouts).  I think we drove in 70 round abouts by the end of the trip.  There’s not a lot of stop signs in Ireland and the only red lights were saw in most of the towns were for construction reasons or for people to cross the street. There were more red lights in the bigger cities like Dublin and Cork, but our vacation was more focused on nature than the cities.


Greg said, “We got an automatic, but I know how to drive a stick.  We could have gotten a standard, because those are cheaper to rent.  I grew up with that.  I know stick shift like the back of my hand.”  Then he did the stick driving motion in the air.  I looked and said, “Do you see what you’re doing?”  He was puzzled.  I continued, “You’re using your right hand.  But if you got a car you aren’t familiar and driving it in a place you know nothing about, on the wrong side of the car and the wrong side of the road, how much worse would it be that the motion you just did in the air to change the gears is using the wrong hand too!”  Because when you sit on the wrong side of the car, the shift is in your left hand!  I think he was happier with the automatic after that.  The more he drove, the better he did. 


If you stay where we did - at a farmhouse, plan to get there before dark.  On our first day arriving to our airbnb, it was dark and there are no road lights... the roads are horribly small and people drive crazy fast! During that insane road trip, Greg said, “Stick a piece of coal up my butt, because by the time we arrive, it’s going to be a diamond!”  He was white knuckle driving.


Everyone told us to get out of Dublin and go see other things the first day.  Before going to the farmhouse, we arrived at the Hill of Tara in Meath County.  The path was muddy, the rain had soaked the ground thoroughly, but we walked the path and appreciated the sun that shined on those delightful green rolling hills.  It’s the color green, so bold and beautiful that you find in a coloring box; it’s the color you think is never found in real life.  But it is, right here on the Emerald Isles, so appropriate for Ireland!


Back in 4000-2,500 BC, people thought the Hill of Tara was an entrance to the otherworld, which is not surprising as it is a place of Mother Nature’s poetry - the softness of the rolling hills, the boldness of the color, the cool breeze and pathways to get lost in. To just enjoy walking, breathing in the crisp air... you finding yourself dropping the worries and embracing the peace. 


The hill was so important to people, that Kings of Tara, were buried at this location.  St. Patrick himself was there in the 5th century.  We walked around rolling hills and took a lot of pictures. Then we found this charming gift shop. Greg said, “I’ve never seen a gift shop with that many well priced, different items!”  Adjacent to the gift shop was a small restaurant.  Gregory loved his hamburger; he called it a meatball hamburger, because the spices remind him spaghetti and meatballs.


Gret, the hostess of our airbnb at the Laharn Dairy Farm, helped us find the location when we called and said, “Our GPS said we have arrived, but I think we’re lost!”  (Quick note - they don't have addresses like we do.  For instance, the farm address was P12YF22.  If you are using a book on Ireland and see letters and numbers like that for a place to go, it's the best way to use the navigation system.). We were just down the road from her home entrance.  The farmhouse, located in Coachford, Cork County, has been in her husband’s family for three generations.  Gerard, her husband, rebuilt the farmhouse and discovered beautiful archways.  They figured out that the house was originally a stable for horses by the shape of the arches.  It was a stable for the Lord that lived further down the road at a huge house.  Eventually Gret’s husband, Ger added to the stable and created an additional home, right next to it, where they live and now rent out the original stable/home as an airbnb.  


It’s such a lovely, inviting place to stay.  I’m thrilled with it and would definitely recommend it!  There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms, kitchen with gas stove top, oven, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, washer, dryer.  It’s basically a home.  It’s what we wanted - privacy and the ability to move around and be comfortable rather than crammed into a hotel room.  The beds were comfortable and warm.  We had good nights sleep and plenty of accommodations, such as hair dryer, spices in the kitchen, linens, towels, shampoo, coffee maker and more.  The wooden floors are also heated, which is great during the cold mornings!  Be prepared for the Moo’s though.. they have cows (and calves) so you’ll wake to that, which I think is a sweeter sound than roosters or the alarm clock.  The location is excellent for many things to see in the Cork County and if you are okay with driving it’s in the middle of the southern region to go either west or east for day drives.


On Sunday, I woke up Greg and Gregory in time to see a gorgeous sunrise, with the morning dew glimmering silver in the sunshine.  We were more awake and better to be in awe of the surroundings.  Greg said, “Ireland had to be the inspiration for Windows XP!”  All those rolling hills!


We arrived at the first destination - the Blarney Castle.  It was built by Galic lords between 15th and 17th century.  It’s said that Cormac McCarther, King of Munster, stayed there and helped Robert the Bruce in the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  Supposedly the king gave half of the Stone of Scone to McCarthy in appreciation.  That is now called the Blarney Stone, which many people will kiss to get the gift of gab.  We opted not to do this, because it was too long of a walk up and there’s a space between where the castle stones are and the Blarney Stone.  You have to lie on your back and someone is holding your back - because there’s NOTHING there - you’re at the top of the castle, suspended by someone holding your back and tipping you downward and over to kiss the stone.  Heck and No.  Just a side note - we were told by a local that Munster and Cork County are the heritage areas of O’Brien’s!  (I’m not sure what the heritage areas are for O’Reilly’s - my mom’s side of the family.)


Before touring the castle, we went to the cave. Gregory really wanted to see the cave first, which he later regretted.  It was cool to walk in it, but it was really muddy and slippery.  He fell and one side of his body was caked in thick mud.  Fortunately he was not hurt, other than his pride.  He took off his jacket and shirt, thank goodness for layering cloths so he had an extra shirt on not covered in mud.  We finished walking the grounds and went to the gift shop where I bought him an Ireland jacket.  We went back to the farmhouse so he could change his pants.  This made us go backwards in a day with plenty planned, but we wanted him to be comfortable.


On the way back home for Gregory to change, we saw a car parked on the left side with roughly 40-50 people standing, blocking the road.  We thought about getting out of the car to see if someone was hurt or maybe it was sheep trying to cross the road.  Just as we were about to put the car in park, the people in the car ahead us waved us to go around them.  As we did so, we saw a mixture of facial expressions from greeting smiles to frowns of “what are you doing here” and downright looks of irritation from the group.  We saw one guy in the group pick up a metal ball, wind his arm around twice and swing the ball into the distance.  What the heck??


When we saw Gret at the farmhouse, we asked her about what we saw on the road.  She said, “That’s road bowling (think of the sound “boweling”, like “bowel” as they say it, so cute).  It’s a tradition in some of the families that date back many generations.  The group of people pick a place in the road that is fairly straight, because you know in Ireland, most roads aren’t straight.  The person who gets the metal ball from point A to Point B in the least amount of throws wins.  People frown on it though, because people who do this place bets.  It is not looked well upon by many.”  (At this point, Greg interjected with, “So in other words they are degenerates.”)  She laughed and continued, “They have drones that fly over to watch it and they have metal detectors to help if they can’t find the ball.”  It was definitely a memory maker, to witness a unique traditional Irish game impromptu.


We also made another stop along the way to take a picture of the O’Callaghan bar, for our friends who have that last name.  Greg had promised he would do this for them and made sure to make the stop.  We opened the door and got hit with the smell of beer.  It was one of those hole in wall bars, you need to know about it places that the locals go to and yes... they had people drinking beer in the morning!  (Greg did, later on a different day, stop at a local bar and pick up Guinness beer.  He wanted to drink it at the farmhouse.  I didn’t try it, because he said it was bitter.)


Back on the road and off to see Charles Fort, located in Kinsale, Cork County.  A tour guide gave a very short description of the area.  It was neat to hear him say, “Some people call this the Atlantic ocean (point to the distance) but it’s really the Celtic Sea.  That area (point in another direction) is what we call Atlantic Proper.  This fort was one that was listed as a must see in Ireland.  I didn’t know if Gregory would enjoy it much, but oh my gosh, we LOVED it!  The fort was built between 1677 and 1682.  It has a “star” shape to it, which was designed to sustain attacks by cannon.  Most places show you a sample of the ruins and that’s all - with most of it blocked off.  However at Charles Fort we could walk everywhere we wanted and boy did we do that!  We walked on all levels, Greg and Gregory even walked up a hill side.  Gregory wanted to play hide and seek and I said, “No indeed!”  However, at one point Greg stayed on a lower level to stay out of the wind, while Gregory and I went up to the top.  We called out to Greg and he whistled, but we couldn’t find him.  He eventually found us - the winner of hide and seek.  All in all, it was a lot of fun to roam around a huge area of history!


On the way to our third destination - Dromebeg Stone Circle, located in Glandore, County Cork. Car navigation brought us to the location, but it wasn’t well designed with a sign.  We passed it up and had to double back to the small little parking lot that we didn’t even know was the right place or not until we saw the small sign.  It’s a short walk, yet you can’t see it from the road -  but it was so beautiful!  I loved seeing the stone circle.  There’s a richness to the air, the magic vibrated, the feeling that only Mother Nature can provide when she deems it.  I can understand why someone would pick that place to create the circle, because the view was breathtaking with the ocean in the distance, yet the open feeling of the rolling hills.


I could picture the fairies and druids, the spells, the dancing and was glad to be there to feel it... the magic tickled the air.... until Greg said, “They had sacrifices here.  Gregory lay down; you’re the sacrifice.”  Then he took a video of that.  We were there for a while, with the place to ourselves, for some time. 


The stone circle is thought to date back to the middle Bronze Age.  The name of the circle comes from the meaning, “the small ridge.”  Most stone circles are thought to be places where rituals and ceremonies took place.  It wasn’t the massive fun that we had at the fort, but it was still well worth seeing.  I read that the circles were being constructed in Ireland centuries before the more dramatic Stone Henge in Britain.  Gregory had an online class where he read about the Stone Henge and did a painting of it.  He was really excited that he was able to see a real Stone Circle other than just in a picture!  It’s good to learn about things and even better to see them in real life.


The day ended with a quick trip to Aldi’s to pick up a few grocery supplies.  We wanted to buy breakfast and lunch food.  Biscuits are a staple for our family in the morning, but don't ask for that in Ireland.  I looked all over and couldn't find them, so I asked two ladies that worked at Aldi's.  They gave me odd looks, "Biscuits?  You mean croissants?"  No, I described them, in the can... they directed me to a can of cookie dough.  I smiled and said, "Yes, I meant croissants." That's what we bought and then back on the road to the farmhouse... yet another dark night drive home. 


On Monday I was determined that we would get home with plenty of daylight hours.  We even packed sandwiches and chips to bring on the road so no need to stop for lunch and again, a way to cut costs.  We only had The Ring of Kerry to do in Kerry County.  It was a pretty drive, to see the landscape change from farmlands to mountains and my goodness - all those adorable sheep on the mountain sides!  It’s about 35 minutes away from the farmhouse, but the ring drive itself is about a 2-3 hour drive, without stopping.  


There were supposed to be LOTS of stops to make, however.... many were closed because we went during the off season.  (We chose the off season to cut on costs.  There’s pros and cons to off season. Obvious pro - cheaper prices.  Obvious con is things won’t be open. But a big pro - the places that are open - most the time we were there by ourselves.  No crowds and no waiting.) 


We made one stop at the Kerry Woolen Mills, established in 1760.  I asked the lady who worked there about the Ring of Kerry and that’s when we found out most places were closed.  I guess she saw my disappointment when she added they don’t give tours right now at the woolen mills because of it being off season.


She said, “What the heck, come with me!”  We were given a free private tour by a lady (and I’m ashamed to say I don’t recall her name) who owns the mill; the mill has been in her family for 5 generations.  They don’t raise sheep, but they get all the wool from the sheep farmers.  She explained, “Sheep are scavengers and will forage around for their food.  Cows do not.  You raise cows in good grassy areas and sheep in bad areas.”  


Her mill gathers and sorts the wool from the farmers by texture and value.  They dye their own colors and then process it through huge machines.  We were able to see the wool from start to finish.  She let us hold the wool that was first delivered, to feel the texture and spidery web like mass.  We pulled it apart to see how different ones felt, some more matted than others.  She showed us how they take the dyed wool and combine colors to get a finished color.  It’s like mixing paints and knowing how much of each color to use.  Only with wool, you see the extra colors woven in, if you look closely - it’s really neat!


Then we went to the working (yes, to this day still working) machines where we saw how the machines stretch out the wool and add air to it.  It looks like hair!  It’s cut, but not with scissors rather with a machine that pushes the material apart.  It goes to spinning to add strength, sometimes with one or two other threads. 


All of the items they sell in the store, it came from their wool.  She told us, “Our motto in Ireland is “Add Value.”  So whatever you make, make it add value, not just the sale for money.  Money is not the value, the value is the intrinsic feeling of creating and providing.  Greg bought a hat and Gregory bought two hats.  I bought a scarf.  It was so soft.  


During the tour, she told us that there are 800 types of sheep (Greg thought she was just tossing a number out there.  So, I did a google search and there are actually 1,000 breeds of sheep that exist!) and each one creates a different texture for wool.  Some are more coarse and some are so soft you have to add a nylon thread to keep it from unraveling. When I asked her what type of sheep the scarf was made from that I bought, she said, “Merino E Sheep Breed.”  There was a table with soft wool from that breed.  One of Gregory’s hats is made from that breed too.


I felt like we were given a special educational gift from stopping there and definitely a new respect and appreciation for the wool clothing made in Ireland.  Literally, from start to finish!


I asked her about the Kerry Cliffs, if we could see them.  She said yes, but most other things are closed.  I REALLY wanted to see the cliffs on the Ring of Kerry and I wanted to go to the beach there too.  We saw a sign for the beach, but drove by it too quickly to turn back.  


We went through two red lights where the road went down to one lane both times.  We went over bridges where only one car could drive it at a time and someone going to the opposite direction would have to back up.  We had huge trucks drive on the opposite side and we had to hug the left side so much that the branches from the bushes scrapped the side of the car.  It took a car navigation system, Greg’s iphone, a map from the lady at the wool shop... and a sign on the road that said, “This way to THE MOST spectacular view of the Kerry Cliffs!”  We kept following that sign and following the next and following the next and pulled up to the parking lot for the MOST spectacular view... just to find that... (fill in the cuss word) it was locked and closed and the sign read, “CLOSED MEANS CLOSED!”  Rude much?


We were going to head back, when I saw another car going in the direction I thought the cliffs might be.  “Follow that car!”  Greg thought I was nuts.  He said, “They might be going to their home.”  The car was going into a more remote area and up, up, up a mountain.  The drive looked reckless.  I replied, “Let’s go on an adventure and see what happens.”  He replied, “Is that what we’re calling it..?”  He followed the car and holy SHEEPS!  It was a scary drive, narrow, having to pull over into bushes when another car was coming from those twisting winding roads. I kept hearing Greg; I wondered at his sighing.  I realized he was taking large amounts of air in-between holding his breath with the dangerous driving....  up and up we went and then down and down, round and round, but YES - we finally did get to a beautiful area to see the cliffs.  Oh, I’m sure it’s not as spectacular as the original place, but we saw the cliffs!  We were able to safely pull over to take pictures....


Then I saw a path that lead down to the beach.  I asked Greg if he wanted to walk to the beach.  His quick response, “No.” was not a surprise.  Gregory must not have heard us.  He asked, “Can we go to the water?”  I grabbed his hand and said, “Let’s go!”  It had rained off and on all day (typical for Ireland, but really the weather has mostly rained when we drove, but not when we got to places to get out and look around, so lucky us and lucky to see gobs of rainbows too!).  


Gregory and I walked down to the rocky beach.  I found my Ireland happy place.  It was exhilarating finding this gem and I don’t even really know where it was.  It was off of the regular path most tourist go to, which makes it even more special.  The sounds of the waves, the brisk cold wind, the rocky shores, the setting sun... such a joy!  I did my happy dance on the beach.  Gregory loved the rocks too and pointed to a few of them, “Look!  It’s a green rock!”  It might look more gray but if you put it next to a regular rock, yeah, it looks green!  We took some selfies, while Greg took a video of us from the distance.  We made it back up to the car and I thanked Greg for bringing us there.  He really went above and beyond when it wasn’t something easy to get to or even a map to help get us there.


Just a note, we found a shop on the Ring of Kerry where Greg bought two wool vest.  After the wool mill tour, just looking at those vests is like looking at artwork.  They were expensive at $250 each, but they look sharp on him and it’s something he can wear and remember what we learned and the memories of Ireland. 


On the way back, we stopped for gas at a Super Value, come to find out it’s a big grocery store attached to the gas station.  We bought some items and continued on our way home.  And sure enough.... it was ANOTHER night drive to get back to the farmhouse.  The distance isn’t bad, but the roads make it a longer drive than you think it will be.  


Mardi Gras Tuesday, we weren’t catching beads, but we caught some views!


Mardi Gras morning had me looking at the weather in Clare County, still showing overcast, but would not start raining until 12:30.  We woke up to my alarm clock at 6am to make breakfast, eat, make sandwiches to take on the road and brave the 2 1/2 hour drive to Clare County.  It was an incredibly fogging morning.  As Gregory said, “That’s scary looking!”  The closer we got to Clare, the more the fog lifted.  


I was concerned about Clare county weather because I’ve read blog posts and seen pictures of people saying, “We had tickets to Cliffs of Moher but all we saw was fog.” and in the picture you can barely make out the first cliff edge.  The tickets have to be purchased online and you have to pick the day and time of day to go.  When I booked the reservation, it was with seeing Tuesday as the only clear day.  I knew if we didn’t see the cliffs this day, we wouldn’t be coming back to see them, much like the people who posted about their foggy experience.


It wasn’t clear sunshine, but it sure wasn’t foggy either.  We heard a lady playing Irish music and walked the path to the cliffs.  They were amazing, post card beautiful.  It’s no wonder the cliffs are ranked inside the top 10 natural wonders of the world!  They were featured in The Princess Bride and Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince movies.  Now I want to go back and watch those movies to see the cliffs in them, silly, I know.  Moher is Gaelic and means “place overgrown with brushwood.”


We took pictures, walked to the O’Brien tower, then Greg went to the store to get some coffee and Gregory and I went to walk the path along the Cliffs of Moher. We got a good distance on the path and then a huge warning sign, “Danger!”  The path was slippery mud and went up on an incline, no steps.  We both had flashbacks to the cave mud and decided to take the long walk back down.


I’m going to back track to the drive to the cliffs.  We had a little OH SHEEPLES driving moment!  The two lane roads are scary to drive but worse when you have to choose between hitting a large garbage can laying on its side in the road on your left versus hitting a car to you right.  Greg rightly opted for the garbage can.  You wouldn’t think this would cause damage on a vehicle, but the can took a chunk out of the plastic in the front of the vehicle, about the size of Greg’s head!  Greg said we have full coverage with a deductible of about $170.  If you read my previous posts, you know Greg’s opinion of insurance.  He detested getting it on the rental, but look, it’s worth it!  I definitely recommend rental car insurance in Ireland. Thankfully the car was still operational.


It was noon when we left the cliffs.  Greg wanted to go home, but Gregory said he wanted to see more sites.  He asked me if I had any other research for places to go, as I was the one to figure out the places and routes for our trip.  The two other options for today were within 30 minutes of the cliffs.  


One was Poulnabrone Dolmen.  It’s in Burren, County Clare and is found at the highest point of the region.  It’s three stones going straight up with a top stone.  It’s limestone rock and is the oldest dated megalithic monument in Ireland.  The stones date back to neolithic period, with estimates of 4200 BC. An archaeologist uncovered the remains of 33 people at the site and radiocarbon dated the bones between 5,200 and 5,800 years ago.  The bones showed signs of wear, suggesting hard physical labor, but also signs of creativity by a discovery of decorated pendants.


It is thought that the glacier ice sheets created the paths and smoothed the limestone rocks.  It was a short walking path to the Poulnabrone Dolmen.  The ruin was impressive to see, something still standing on three rocks, balanced and stable.  The area around it was beautiful, littered with limestone rocks. We were able to walk on them.  Gregory said, “It’s Mother Nature’s playground.”  We respected it, but enjoyed it as well.  It’s one thing to see it in pictures, but when you get to see it in real life and walk around the area, that makes it well... surreal and real at the same time.  I don’t know how to describe the feeling of history reaching out and gently wrapping around you.  It creates the memories around you and now you are threaded to the memories as well.


The last stop of the day was Corcomroe Abbey.  I picked these ruins out of the many in the area, because it mentions the O’Brien name; I thought it would interest Greg.  The abbey was founded in 1194 by Donal Mor O’Brien, King of Thomond.  To see the abbey ruins now, it’s eerie, because not only is there a grave on the outside of the ruins, but .... also a grave INSIDE the ruins.  The ruins are in good condition, given the years.. you can see the herringbone design on the roof, not common in Ireland.  It was architectural work by master stonemasons, known as “The School of the West.”  At the base there’s a memorial to the King of Thomond. 


Gregory and I thought it was beautiful, but Greg was weirded out by it.  He doesn’t like going to grave sites.  Had I know there would be a grave site inside the church, I wouldn’t have included it on the list of places to see.  Ah well.


On the drive back to the farmhouse, we saw sheep being herded to the edge of a gate next to the road.  I asked Greg to go back so we could see them.  I asked the people working with the sheep if we could come forward and they kindly said yes.  They were chasing and trying to catch the youngest sheep to give them a shot and to spray paint their wool.  When the lady caught one of the sheep, she held it up, came to the fence and said, “You can pet it.”  We all did - such coarse wool on such a tiny cute sheep!  We were seeing sheep all over the rocky mountains and to see them up close and people working with them in action - what a treat!


This was the first day that we ended our trek back to the farmhouse with daylight to spare!  The next day, Valentine’s day, we all woke up late and had a slow start. It was another foggy morning.   Though I had made plans for the day, I knew Greg was plum tuckered out from all of the driving.  I didn’t figure he was up for another 1-2 hour trek to see sites on the East side and then 1-2 hours back to the farmhouse.  It was going to be a home day, however, Gregory did some research and found a ruin about 30 minutes away in Macroom, the Ballyvourney Monastic Site.  He even researched about the history of the ruins to prove to Greg it was worth going to.


Gregory created a video to share about the history regarding St. Gobnait, the angel, the deer and the well.  At the ruins, there are instructions on making the seven stations and ending with putting your hand in a hole in the wall to touch the wet ball and then make the sign of the cross for healing.  It was interesting to see the ruins, yes, even with the graves. Greg found one that had his middle name and his dad’s middle name and the date of death was Greg’s month and day of birth.  Gregory found a headstone with the “O’Reilly name on it.  The ruins are beautiful, though some might consider it morbid.


We had a small breakfast at a local restaurant, where Gregory tried scones for the first time.  He wasn’t impressed.  We had a ham and swiss sandwich with tomatoes and onions - it reminded us of club sandwiches.  

As we left the restaurant, Greg said, "Why does everyone from here have red faces?"  I didn't respond, but my heart sang.  I have a second home.  These are my people.  I don't tan.  I'm fair-skin and my face is red under make-up.  Before we left on this trip, Greg didn't believe I had Irish in me.  I had to prove it by showing him the DNA results from my mom - she's 49 percent Irish/Scottish.  She knew it because of her family's research on the O'Reilly's.. but even if I didn't have the DNA results, that one simple comment from Greg sang to me!  It made me love Ireland even more.

We drove back to the farmhouse, where Greg called the rental car company to report the damage on the vehicle. 


While at the farmhouse, I did some reading on the various castle towers that seem to just randomly appear throughout the country.  I understand, of course, that they are part of history and I love that they weren't torn down, but respected.  It's just that I didn’t see a way to get to them while we were driving.  

I read that most are on private property and they don’t want visitors, understandably. One family went so far as to share the history to deter people from entering their private property at the Carrigaphoca Castle.  It is said the original owner used to track down Irish rebels.  He would invite them to his house, kill them and feast on their flesh.  He thought he would gain the respect of the English, but instead they killed him for the behavior.  His ghost is said to haunt the castle.  Another haunting of private property castles is the Puca, a malevolent fairy entity that will attack visitors at will. Needless to say, I didn’t pursue finding a way to those castles!


Gregory did some more research and found a castle turned into an observatory.  Another place to see, within 30 minutes.  We headed out to tour the limestone castle, called the Blackrock Castle Observatory.  Later we learned it was called Blackrock Castle, because limestone is white (like what we walked on), but when it gets wet, it turns black.  The castle is by the water, so most of the time, the limestone looks black.


Blackrock was originally built to protect Cork Harbour from pirates.  Once the threat was gone, it was turned into a lighthouse to guide ships.  The castle caught on fire and was restored, then to be used for annual banquets.  It was destroyed again by fire and rebuilt.  This time used for meetings for local organizations.  Eventually it fell into disrepair and was leased to a professor of Botany at UCC and then businessman acquired it, running it as a bar, restaurant and functions.  When the Cork City Council purchased the castle, the observatory moved in.  Many of the castle rooms are used for scientific research on the observatory findings.


Not only did we get the history of the castle, but also a star show.  We were given an example of what the sky looks like with light pollution all the way to no pollution.  The most popular constellations were shown, including the big dipper.  It’s also known as the big bear, with the tip of the bear’s tail being the North Star.  Gregory like seeing how as she moved the night sky, the North Star stayed put.  He enjoyed it, all the way to the point of the stairs...


The winding stair case went up 100 steps.  He isn’t a fan of heights, but he made the climb with us.  We were warned that the steps varied in thickness.  This was a clever means of defense for the castle - the people in the castle knew the thickness changes of the steps, but not the invaders - so they might trip and fall because they weren’t prepared.  We took the steps carefully, to the top - an awesome view!


When we came back down, we went to the Castle Cafe.  I wasn’t expecting much, but it turned out to be a fancy restaurant - perfect for our Valentine’s Day lunch!  Greg took a picture of me and said, “You are more beautiful than the day I married you.”  Wow, and that’s the man I married, right there.  


The last full day in Ireland was Thursday.  We woke up early to meet Ger for a tour of the working dairy farm.  He has hundreds of cows - all heifers, no bulls.  They buy the calves young or buy pregnant heifers.  February and March are their busy season for calf births.  One night they had 20 calves born!  We were able to see where the cows and calves are fed and milked.  They stay in that area for about 40 minutes and then go out to pasture.  We were able to see the calf that was born last night.  He showed us how when a young calf is first bought and doesn’t know the robotic feeding system, they bring them to a different area and teach them how to use the area to feed.  


Each cow and calf are chipped.  He said they each have passports as well and it’s more difficult to move cattle than it is for a person to visit a different country.  The chip on the new calf is recognized by a chip reading machine, which tells Ger how often and the last time the calf ate.  If the calf didn’t eat, he will bring it to the machine and help it so it gets comfortable with using the feeder.  He said it doesn’t take much time for the calves to learn, but the machine helps them keep an eye out if any of the cattle isn’t eating - could be sick. It was fascinating to see the process, though I’m glad to hear that they get most of the time outside.


After the tour, we asked about the big “L” and “N” letters on some of the cars.  The “L” is for those learning how to drive.  They have to have an experienced driver with them.  The “N” is for Novice - they can drive by themselves but it tells other drivers that they are new to driving.


Ger also told us about a waterfall not far from the farmhouse.  I took a video while he gave us instructions.  There were two paths, one to the top of the waterfall and the other to the bottom.  We went both ways.  It was slippery, but enjoyable. The waterfall is lovely and a perfect way to end our stay in Ireland.  Now we need to check in for tickets and start packing.  Greg told me, "You need two days to leave for a trip.  One day to get everything ready and be anxious.  The next day to actually leave."  That sums it up well for me.  Greg, on the other hand, doesn't get anxious and is happy to pack the day of.

The getting back home was long, with a 4 hour drive from the farmhouse to Dublin.. then an 8 hour flight to Dallas and a 2 hour flight back to NOLA. 


We won’t be coming back to Ireland again, but I believe we had a really good feel for many things, from natural wonders, to farmland to mountains and sheep to beaches and ruins.  There’s no way we could possibly see all that there is to see in the one week, but we saw enough of a variety to know that we love Ireland.  Greg listed the many reasons we should move to Ireland, he likes it here that much.  But the driving was what kept him for truly wanting to make the move.  


So lessons learned, this might be the boring part, but if traveling, it might be worth your while.... let’s talk luggage.  When we first started packing, Greg announced that he was going to only bring two bags and they would be carry on rather than check in’s.  He looked at me and said, “You’re probably going to bring a check in, huh?”  I answered yes, but then I thought about it.  With having a washer and dryer, we don’t need to pack as many clothes. If Gregory had two carry on and I had two carry on, then we could make this work without actually checking in luggage and saving time to leave the plane (which was a bust given the health issues that I wrote about in the beginning).


Originally our one carry on would be something we had to carry but with the second carry on, it could be a rolling luggage and put the other luggage on top of it.  (which worked very well by the way)  We all had carry on luggage and I do recommend this.


Greg decided to check in one of his luggage right before boarding the plane.. which was the rolling one that he had (because the flight was full and they said they might not be able to put all luggage items in the upper ben.  Greg was being benevolent and checking one in).  Gregory and I didn’t want to check in, because we would have had to check in the rolling one, as our “keep at our feet” luggage had our necessities. We needed the rolling luggage to make it easier to get to the connecting flight. The lesson - pack light!  If you aren’t going to use the rolling luggage to assist with a smaller luggage, you might want to check it in.  If you can pack light enough for two carry on, then I recommend it.


One more thing about luggage - if going to Ireland - buy and pack your hiking boots.  It’s muddy, but you’ll be fine if you have good hiking boots.  We were prepared and did well, other than the first time Gregory slipped.  It would have been much worse with regular shoes.

Oh and about the Internet connection, it's not good in the rural areas.  Greg's cell worked better with AT&T than mine with T-Mobile (the opposite was true in Venice, Italy.). Make sure you get a vehicle with the Navigation support, because we used this primarily to get to each location.


One more lesson... food.  It’s definitely more affordable to buy from the local groceries.  It helps if you’re in a country that has the same language written on the food packages.  We tried different snacks and food.  (For instance, Greg thought one of the chips I bought looked like cylinder calamari.  He was hesitant to try it but when he did - he liked how crunchy it was and that it taste like potato chips.)   It’s fun to do it this way and at a more affordable price.  Plus, having an airbnb with a fully functioning kitchen helps.  If you have it, then why not put it to use.  Albeit, it did take a few times for Greg to figure out the stove and for us to figure out the washing machine.  Mini adventures that you don’t think of, just have patience!


And last but most important lesson - planning. - Don’t pick just one lodging to stay, but don’t stay just one night at a place either.  If we came back to Ireland, I'd do what my parents did - find hotels or airbnb on the route rather than a one location to stay in.  But definitely plan an airbnb on the route, say 3-4 days into the trip and make sure the airbnb has a washer and dryer.  This will help with packing light.

Do your research first or go to a travel agent if you don't have the patience for research.  Before booking any arrangements, look for the attractions you want to see.  I’d suggest putting them in an order of priority.  Then look at where they are located and figure out a plan of where to stay from there.   

If you can make arrangements at an airbnb (better than hotels, in my opinion) and look at flights - see what airport is close by to where you are starting and stopping your plans... be careful though... my brother and his family made plans to arrive in one country and then leave in another... but they got sick in the middle of their vacation... and had to still manage to get to the other country while not feeling well.  


Plenty of people want to go to Europe and hop skip and jump countries, because they are so close together.  However, if you’re going to be in a country, I’d suggest picking one country to stay in - really get to know it!  

I can't share much about shopping in Ireland, because I planned the trip around nature.  We didn't go into the big cities and we didn't stop in the small towns, though they were colorful and quaint.  We bought a few things, but mostly, we're bringing back memories.


Even though we didn’t see everything I had planned and certainly not close to a tenth of all that there is to see in Ireland, we really got a good feel for the country and a real respect for the people, the nature and the culture.  Minus the pubs, with a young child, that wasn’t on the agenda.  Anyway, I hope that helps in your trip planning if you’re reading my blog for that purpose!  

I’m grateful for going to Ireland, making the bucket list a dream come true.  It’s a country that resonates in my soul.  I’ll treasure these memories!  Click here to see the many pictures.