Ireland 2007

At the end of October, I traveled to Ireland to do a week-long training for a work. However, not being one to pass up an opportunity to explore, I took some vacation time as well.

I left Boston on Friday night bound for Shannon, via Dublin. Unfortunately I had a 6-hour layover in Dublin – no doubt anyone who has experienced this layover has said “never again,” as I did. When I arrived in Dublin at 5:30 AM, there were a few people starting to filter in for early-morning flights. The airport pubs were open too, and they were already pouring Guinness. Something just didn’t feel right about drinking before dawn, so I held off having my first Guinness [pic] in Ireland until about 8:30, with my breakfast bagel. It was excellent.

Around Limmerick

When I finally arrived in Shannon, I picked up my rental car, which had no less than five pieces of flare reminding me to drive on the left side of the road, and headed for the hotel. The hotel was in a fairly nice spot, with a view from my room out onto a cow pasture [pic]. The only thing I did that day aside from trying to recover from jet lag was to drive up to a “forest park” near the hotel and take a walk. I met some mountain bikers from Limerick University (these ones, actually) and talked to them for a little bit. They were all engineering majors, not unlike home, except one who was studying Midwifery. I had an interesting conversation with one of them about building home-made lights for biking.

During my stay in the Radisson Limerick, I watched a bit of TV. There is an all Irish-language channel, a couple other Irish channels, some BBC and assorted satellite channels. The Simpsons was available, as well as Jerry Springer hosting a UK game show “Nothing But the Truth” where contestants answer personal questions in front of there loved ones. Contestants win money if their answers match a previously-taken lie-detector test. One guy went through all the effort of admitting to affairs and that he wouldn’t tell his wife if he could get away with another. But he lost at 20,000 pounds by answering that he had not had any affair of which his wife was unaware. He did pass the question (with a “no”) of whether he had ever worn his wife’s underwear without her knowledge – phew. One program on the Irish-language station caught my attention. An Irish woman from the Aran Islands who had immigrated to the US was talking about her experiences and topics such as September 11, 2001. On immigration, she told the interviewer that she was opposed to immigration from Mexico, the problem being that they come to the US, are lazy, don’t work and live off welfare. She made the assertion that no one ever thought of the Irish immigrants lazy; they were always seen as hard-working. All I could think was, “She doesn’t quite get it, does she?” I was sure Irish immigrants had been viewed similarly in back in the day. In wondering more about this, I found a quote attributed (most reliable?) many places to the Chicago Evening Post in 1868, “Scratch a convict or a pauper, chances are you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic.”

As I had assumed it would be cloudy every day, I was surprised to wake up to sun on Sunday. I took a look around Limerick, walking through most of the downtown. I came across King John’s Castle and checked it out. As I walked out from the visitor’s center, it started to pour [pic]. It wasn’t too long before the rain let up some. Not too long after it rained a second time, it was sunny. The saying I have heard many different places attributed as a local saying: “If you don’t like the weather, wait … and it will change,” was starting to be accurate for Ireland (Someone else has noticed the proliferation of this “meme.”). I had lunch in Limerick and decided to practice driving on the left side in the afternoon.

I loosely attempted to follow a tourist driving route laid out on a county map, but pretty much made up my own route with back roads and a circle or two. The countryside was beautiful [pics 1, 2]. However, it was interrupted by a full-blown McMansion [pic]. I was so surprised by the out-of-placedness, I had to turn around and take a picture. It looked under construction, and it was a Sunday, so I though I was safe. I was about to leave the driveway, when I noticed a Mercedes pull in behind me and drive down to the house. Whew, the owner had almost caught me snapping derogatory pictures of his pride and joy. I eventually made my way down to Killmallock and back to the hotel.

On Monday, I decided to find some mountains I had seen the day before in the distance (and which looked interesting on Google maps). I started driving, expecting I would be able to pick up some details as I got closer to my destination. No luck, it was a bank holiday, the tourist center was closed, and there wasn’t a decent map to be found in Tipperary town. So, I drove over the Slievenamuck Ridge, where I found a nice forest park and trail to the Rock An Thorabh, which provides a great view [pic] of the Tipperary town area below. I drove down the south side of the ridge and into the Glen of Aherlow, a beautiful valley between the ridge and the Galty Mountains. As I wandered around the Glen, it became increasingly obvious that I was not going to find anything with the map I had. I found a hotel/bar where the only tourist information was a flyer showing a hike to a lake. After eating lunch at the bar, I set out to find the lake. The flyer was quite vague (in competition with my map, apparently), and there were quite a number of roads winding through the valley. Just as I was thinking of giving up, I saw a sign matching the name of the hike I was looking for. I drove in the direction of the sign. Miles later, again as I was about to give up, I saw a sign for different lake, found the trailhead and started hiking.

The hike included great scenery the whole way, with everything except the higher elevations of the Galty Mountains visible. The track was a decent road and then a four wheel drive road all the way to Lake Muskry. On the way up I saw quite a few local-seeming folks and a whole crew of mountain rescue guys. I stopped to talk with the mountain rescue group. I was sort of wondering how much rescuing they have to do in this fairly small mountain range, with fairly mild weather. Apparently there are quite a few accidents of different sorts, such as people getting lost in the heavy mist. I think they thought I might be asking if I would be OK, and they said I should have enough time. They wondered where I was staying and if they were aware of where I was and when I would be back. I was pretty sure this was overkill for this type of “hillwalk” (hike). I continued on and made it to the lake in plenty of time. The views [pic] over the hillsides back down into the valley were great, as were the views to the steep walls [pic] at the higher elevations beyond the lake. Sheep were abundant, and it was amazing the places [pic] they could go, assuming most white dots are sheep. It got dark as I drove back to the hotel and started to rain heavily. I decided I had passed my driving test at this point, having driven on the left in the dark and pouring rain on unfamiliar narrow roads.

The Workweek

During the workweek, I worked with the Intel folks at the Shannon site. There were also some guys down from Leixlip, so we went out for dinner and a couple pints at the pubs in Limerick. On one of our trips to the pub, I really wanted to get a Black and Tan (the traditional American version with Guinness floating on Bass). I mentioned it to the Irish guys who had never heard of the drink by that name. They did tell me about the other meaning of Black and Tans in Ireland, a British paramilitary reserve known for its brutality during the Irish War of Independence. Maybe not the thing you want to be looking for in an Irish pub. However, my Irish friends made their best attempts to acquire a Black and Tan for me. It was clear the bartender was really not familiar with the American meaning. I got a couple of slightly different pints, but both involved complete mixing of Guinness with an ale. One of them was pretty good – I might have to try this version again.

The first night were out was Halloween. Before I left for Ireland, I had been saying I was hoping they didn’t have Halloween as I liked the idea of avoiding it altogether. I had a sneaking suspicion that I might be disappointed. A quick Wikipedia search confirmed my worst fear; Halloween was invented in Ireland, and it is a particularly crazy holiday there. On our way to the Indian restaurant (the Indian/Thai restaurant just past the Indian/Chinese restaurant) things seemed pretty calm. However, the fact that the door to the restaurant was locked (we had to be let in by the owner), I’m sure was a sign of things to come. After dinner we had a few pints at a pub which was hosting a full-scale costume party in the back. As we hailed a taxi for me to get back to my hotel, there were numerous fire-cracker type explosions in the distance. The driver was a character to say the least. After asking me why I wasn’t going out to the clubs that night, he told me how his car had just been dented by a sign that someone launched at him. He seemed to be enjoying the Halloween sights, though. He was pretty excited about “all the girls wearing thongs and short skirts showing feck all.” He told me, “take one of them home with you and you won’t just be looking.”

Killarney and Carrauntoohil

On Saturday, it was time to start my real vacation. I dropped off my venerable Opel Astra and picked up a Ford Focus which was a bit more beat up but serviceable – all the better to keep my damage unnoticed. I couldn’t help but take a picture of Shannon Town as I drove by [pic]. The actual town center of Shannon is a mall. I took the scenic route toward Killarney where I planned to hike up the highest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohil. I stopped at a popular (with families at least) forest park, Curraghchase [pic] and took a short walk. I drove through Foynes [pic] and along the River Shannon [pic]. At a viewpoint on the road, I saw Macgillycuddy’s Reeks [pic] for the first time, the range which includes Carrauntoohil. When I got to Killarney, I drove to the trailhead for the next day’s hike to be sure I knew where it was. I would be hiking with an accomplice from Intel, and I needed to find a place to meet. We decided to communicate via text message, since it is pretty inexpensive and reliable. My message went something like this:

Texaco N72 w of Killarney N52 4.223 W9 37.9149 WGS 84 please confirm

We met the next morning at 8:45 at the Texaco, drove to the trailhead and started hiking. The hike started out through a farmer’s fields and was pretty gradual for quite a ways. On the way up, there were a number of people hiking in different directions out of the bowl that the main trail passed through. We saw at least two people [pic] on top of what I believe is called the Hag’s Tooth (makes sense). If it were a clearer day and I knew the area a little better, it would have been fun taking a less-travelled route to the summit. Just past two lakes [pic] comes the Devil’s Ladder. Unfortunately this part of the trail is quite eroded from so much use, and it really is nearly a ladder in many spots [pic]. From the top of the ladder, there is a great view down into the valley on the other side of the ridge. For us, it was a short walk until we were in the clouds [pic] on our way to the top [pic]. There was very little visibility on top, but that didn’t keep it from being a popular place. There were about 20 people spread around when we got there. I walked up to the cross marking the summit, looked at it, and felt an urge to knock my fist on it. I didn’t think much of it, but then noticed a number of other people do the same thing. On the hike down the clouds lifted a little bit, and we could see more of the ridge above Devil’s Ladder [pic].

The evening after the hike, I had a hankering for corned beef and cabbage. Not having Wikipedia immediately handy and thinking of St. Patrick’s day in the US, I figured I should be able to scare up some corned beef and cabbage in a town the size of Killarney. Not so, and after a Wikipedia consultation, I think I understand a little better: “while [corned beef and] cabbage has become a traditional food item for Irish-Americans, corned beef was originally a substitute for Irish bacon in the late 1800s; [they] learned about this cheaper alternative to bacon from their Jewish neighbors.” Another webpage made an interesting point: “Certainly, there will be many restaurants in Ireland that will be serving Corned Beef and Cabbage on March 17th, but most of them will be doing so just to please the tourists.” I would have been a pleased tourist and taken one of those restaurants, but I found a place which had Guinness Stew on the menu and that was good enough. I was later disappointed to realize I was in the Best Western restaurant, but what can you do? The stew was good, nice and root vegetabley, and the Guinness was excellent, as always. After the soccer match was over, the barman popped in the Riverdance DVD; that was my cue to leave.

That night I started getting pretty sick with a cold, which put a bit of a damper on the rest of the trip. I realized that between Monday morning and Wednesday evening, I used a whole bottle of 48 Vitamin I (ibuprofen). In the morning, it was raining, so I went on a tour of Ross Castle [pic] in Killarney National Park. It was nicely redone. As always there were the interesting historical tidbits, such as the fact that the spiral staircase wound clockwise going up because most defenders of the castle would be right-handed and their sword-hand would have more range of motion. This didn’t work for any of the three on the tour, as we were all left-handed; I guess we would have been valuable to the attacking force. I also visited Muckross house [pic], a Victorian era house in the park. On the way to the Dingle peninsula, I drove through some beautiful valleys [pic] and came around behind Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. I saw Carrauntoohil from the south side [pic]. Finally, I made it to the Dingle peninsula [pic] and the ocean and then found a place to stay in Dingle. After my evening dose of vitamin I took affect, I went off for some dinner and then went right to sleep.

The Dingle Peninsula

The next morning, I didn’t feel any better, but it was a beautiful SUNNY day. November is not the time of year one expects sun and blue sky in Ireland, so I had to take advantage. I drove around the Dingle peninsula on my way back to Limerick. It was a great place to drive on my only fully-sunny day in Ireland, from Ocean [pic] to Mountains [pic] the scenery was great. I pretty much stayed in the car, only getting out to take pictures. That afternoon I got back to Limerick and found a relatively cheap hotel to stay at – not quite the quality of the Radisson I was used to. Luckily, though there was an Eddie Rockets [pic] attached. According to their website, “Eddie Rockets is Ireland’s only authentic American style diner and it pays homage to the classic diner with […] the authentic and much loved Eddie Rockets atmosphere.” (spelling corrected) The first time I saw an Eddie Rockets, I laughed out loud, as it looks to me like a knockoff of Johnny Rockets, which of course is a knockoff of an authentic American Diner. Authenticity aside, it wasn’t all that great. You would think they would know mashed potatoes in Ireland, but I figured out my mashed potatoes were the frozen pucks I saw mixed with a little milk and nuked. But Eddie Rockets was attached to the hotel, and I was sick…

The flight home was no fun. I was sick, and after my first water was confiscated at security, I found out that I was not allowed to take any water or soda from Ireland onto the plane – bought after security water or not, it didn’t matter. To add insult to injury, there are a couple of soda machines just before the search where your potable Irish products are confiscated. The flight out we had some pretty decent food, I thought, but the choices on the flight back, as my seatmate relayed them to me were only two: “take it, or leave it.” The night before I decided that all I wanted was to be sick in my own house, waking up soaking wet with sweat every couple hours in my own bed. It was good to be home.

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