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FC: Ireland

1: With Don's "special" white passport, we flew into Dublin August 30, 2011, two days later than scheduled. Nervously we approached customs but all the stress of having a passport stolen in London disappeared with the cheery welcome from our immigration officer. "Well now, young man, what did you do to get one of these pretty passports?" he grinned mischievously. From that moment we knew we were going to love our time in Ireland. Picking up our manual stick shift Micro and setting up the absolutely essential GPS, we lurched our way out of the airport and headed off to Aurburndale Bed and Breakfast in Kilkenny. By the time we arrived, we had some idea of how to navigate the Irish roundabouts but driving on the left side of the road was still a challenge to our individual perceptions of mid-lane! We were sorry to have missed two nights of our intended stay in charming Kilkenny but enjoyed an evening at Matt the Miller and a walk along the river to Kilkenny castle.

3: Kilkenny Castle

4: The next day as we drove the freeway to Killarney we "oohed and aahed" over the postcard scenery with ever changing, spectacular cloud formations, rolling fields, and intriguing stone fences. Arriving in Killarney for lunch, we decided to spend the afternoon exploring Killarney National Park, a ten minute drive away. The Park became one of our favourite spots in southern Ireland! With so many different species of trees, rhododendrons, azaleas, arbutus, three lakes, mountains, Ross Castle, Muckross House and Gardens, Muckross Abbey to see, we didn't have time to take advantage of the many hiking trails and boating tours. All the more reason to return to Ireland!

5: Killarney National Park

6: "This here be Charlie and I be Mikey!" said the driver of our jaunting car. as we started off on a ninety minute tour of the Park including Muckross House and Gardens. This being a "slow" day for Charlie and Mikey, Charlie offered to include extra time so we could also visit Muckross Abbey.

7: Overlooking Muckross Lake and surrounded by magnificent gardens, the beautiful Elizabethan house was built in 1843. The owners, hungry for better titles and a grant of more land, spent six years preparing the house for Queen Victoria's much-anticipated visit to Muckross. As queens do, she arrived with an entourage of 80 people and stayed just two nights. Unfortunately for her hosts, Prince Albert died soon after the visit and Victoria went into mourning, forgetting to repay her hosts' generosity with the titles they'd wanted. Muckross's oweners weren't able to recoup the loss incurred to make the house more comfortable for Vicotia so their children eventually mortgaged it. However, Queen Victoria's visit started the thriving tourist industry in County Kerry.

8: A Walk Through Muckross Estate Gardens

10: As Mikey dropped us off at Muckross Abbey, he warned us of ghosts and told us the story of how Thomas Cromwell hung all the monks from the rafters and set the abbey on fire. A little creeped out, we set foot into the remains of the building with trepidation and it certainly had an aura of violence. Founded in 1448 as a Franciscan friary, the friars wereoften persecuted and subjected to raids by marauding groups. Although roofless, it is amazingly well preserved with a striking courtyard which contains a yew tree.

14: After leaving Charlie and Mikey, we spent time further exploring the park by car and by foot. The roads are extremely narrow, with no shoulders, and often bordered by sheer rock. Poor Don had the unenviable task of navigating the challenging roads while adjusting to the use of his left hand for shifting gears and driving on the left side of the road. Worst of all, he had to put up with his wife hanging onto the car door for dear life, pushing her foot into the car floor, and constantly telling him to move the car to the right! But we burst out laughing when we turned onto a road, no wider than our little Micro, and saw the posted speed limit of 80 kilometres per hours! | Exploring Killarney National Park By Car and By Foot

16: High Street, Killarney

17: Back in the town, we headed to Rossarney Town House, a B and B on St. Margaret's Road, to meet our hosts, Triona and Will Neilan. What a treat! They are so typically Irish and really should star in their own sitcom. Triona is a warm, take-charge woman with a twinkle in her eye, a thick brogue, and a delightful sense of humour. Will, a livestock auctioneer, is rather a "milktoast" but his dry wit sneaks up on you. Will didn't enjoy serving breakfast, as Triona told us, but she kept him going by saying, "Ah, Will! There's a good man. Keep up the good work and ye'll never have to worry about keepin' your job. Ye'll be havin' this job for life, ye will." Triona was always prepared with maps, brochures, and lots of advise and opinions, all delivered from her front hall music stand. We quickly learned that she was "spot on" with her recommendations for places to eat and those to avoid.. "Don't be goin' there, now. They'll be chargin' ye an arm and a leg for food ye wouldn't serve to your worst enemy!" | Triona was prepared with maps, brochures, and lots of advise and opinions, all delivered from her front hall music stand. We quickly learned that she was "spot on" with her recommendations for places to eat and those to avoid. We learned, too, that every time we left the house, Triona would meet us at the music stand. "Now where are we off to today, kids? Ahhh, the Ring of Kerry! Ye'll be having a grand day, just grand! Now, Don," she'd say as she put her glasses on, pulled her music stand close, and found the appropriate map, "ye'll be turnin' a left out of here, then a right, then left again. Are ye listenin' Don? Now, Wendy, ye'll be the navigator. Ye'll have the map on your lap, like so, and ye'll be givin' the directions. So Don, now ye'll be the driver and Wendy will be the navigator and ye'll be just fine. Ye'll be gettin' on just grand, ye will." Then Triona would point out "must see places" along the route, giving us the insiders' point of view. She never "steered us wrong" and we always had special information that boosted our experiences.

18: A stop at Kerry Woolen Mills and the opportunity to peek into the looms enticed Wendy to purchase a beautiful Irish Knit sweater direct from the mill. | Picture postcard views await your every turn along the Ring.

19: Rossbeigh Beach

21: Views along the Ring of Kerry

22: Portmagee is a delightful, picturesque fishing village and the main fishing port in south Kerry. We enjoyed a delicious soup and Irish bread lunch at Moorings, one of Triona's excellent suggestions.

23: Charlie Chaplin was a famous resident of Waterville. | Just one of the stone henges found along the Ring of Kerry | We learned from Will that farmers mark their sheep with spray paint when they share grazing rights. The paint is easily removed from the wool when it is processed.. | The sweetest of cows!

24: ""Ah, the Dingle!" exclaimed Triona the next morning as we prepared to leave for the day. "Ye'll be havin' a grand, grand day! Be sure to stop at Inch Beach. It be famous for the movies made there. It's for sure Robert Mitchum drank a few pints there and wooed a few women!" We were prepared to fall in love with Inch Beach, but certainly weren't expecting the breadth and depth of the sandy beach! You can drive right onto the beach and there is still a huge expanse for horses, for walking, and for beachcombing. Don found some very unusually shaped shells, almost like very long (about 5 to 6 inches in length) fingernails with striated colours including blues, browns, and beiges. "Razorfish shells," explained the barista when we asked. They're beautiful. Not far from Inch Beach we spotted a quilt shop and pulled into the parking lot that it shared with a gas station. A very friendly Irishman welcomed us and explained that he was proud to be Irish and to be drunk at 10 in the morning! He insisted that we take his picture, "he being true Irish and full of the Guinness and all!" Upstairs in the shop, we met the owner, a designer of Irish quilts and contributor to Irish Quilting Magazine. She wanted to know all about quilting in Canada and bemoaned the fact that her local customers only wanted American goods and designs. While asking about our trip, she also explained how to get to her favourite spot, Minard Castle, off the beaten track and a little difficult to find. We paid close attention and headed off to find this very special place.

25: Inch Beach

26: Inch Beach

27: Minard Castle, located on a secluded beach

28: Dingle, County Kerry

29: Dingle is at the bottom of Ireland's highest mountain pass, the Conor Pass. Many of the people on the Dingle Peninsula speak the original Irish and they are known for their traditional music ceileihs. We had a lovely walk around the fishing village where we discovered a street market selling dulce, Don's treat for the day! Later on, we returned to Dingle for dinner as the weather was too unstable to consider traveling the pass.

30: Celtic and Prehistoric Museum No need to mow the grass on the grounds as the American flag-wearing goat does the job!

31: Dunberg Fort Dating from the Iron Age, this is one of the best preserved promontory forts in Ireland. Spectacular seascapes and cliffs can be seen from this site and all along the Dingle Peninsula, especially approaching Slea Head, westernmost point of Europe.

32: Enroute to Slea Head

33: Slea Head A perfect spot for weather watching! The wind whipped us to and fro as the clouds moved at amazing speed. We saw a number of storms come and go. The tidal pools would be amazing to explore, if one could only reach them. Although the Cliffs of Moher are famous, we we were equally impressed with some of the cliffs along the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. They are so spectacular! One of the things we soon realized about Ireland, is how quickly the weather can change. It may be pouring rain, but within minutes or an hour, the sun can be shining and a little later, another layer of clouds will bring some soft rain. No wonder the cloud formations are so fabulously interesting! They are constantly moving and revealing yet another weather system. The only way to dress is in layers.

34: In Search of the Ogham Stone We first learned about Ogham Stones in a Killarney jewelery store when we went in to inquire about a very unusual pendant. Named after Oghma, the Celtic God of elocution or fine speech, Ogham is an ancient linear script and is the first known written language of Ireland, dating from 300AD. The Ogham alphabet consists of groups of lines from one to five, set across a vertical stem line. Each group represents a different letter. Ogham probably originated and was certainly most prominent in southern and southwestern Ireland, namely counties Kerry, Cork, and Waterford. This area remained the focal point for it to the end. and many Irish names make their first, some their only appearance in history, on the Ogham stones. They were used mainly for commenorative inscriptions. With such history we were very keen to see an actual example, rather than a gold or silver version, beautiful as they are. We were told that a few examples can still be found, one of the best in a 12th century church near Ballyferriter. The church is on an unmarked road and it was pouring rain but we were determined to find it.

35: With the windshield wipers working at top speed, and barely able to see ten feet in front of us, we passed a small stone church. That must be it! Don turned the car around, no easy feat on such a narrow road. Pulling our rain jacket hoods up and stuffing our cameras inside our front zippers, we entered the churchyard. It seemed that the door would be around the other side of the building so we trudged through knee deep wet grass only to be greeted by a sign: "Private Residence. No Trespassing." Oops! Back in the car, we dried off our faces and decided that we would have to give up the search and start heading back to Dingle for dinner. It was getting late and we would still have an hour drive, in the dark, back to spend our last night with Triona and Will. A little ways down the road, Don spotted a very old graveyard. Tucked away behind was another old, roofless stone church. We just knew this was it, Kilmalkedar Church! Once again, hoods pulled up and cameras tucked into jackets, we ventured into the downpour. The church, itself, is beautiful with a Romanesque doorway, decorative carved animal heads, high pitched gables, and geometric designs on some of the columns. We were so excited to see the Ogham Stone after persisting through the heavy rain! It was awe inspiring to think about the origins and about the fact that this stone commenorated a person over 800 years old! Not only was there an Ogham Stone, but also a very ancient sun dial, a type that pre-dates Christ. We spent a long time exploring and just soaking up the atmosphere before returning to Dingle, and then Killarney, deeply satisfied with our day on the Peninsula. | Another Ogham Stone in the churchyard of St. Margaret's Cathedral in Killarney.

36: Before leaving Killarney and heading off to our next Bed and Breakfast in Galway, we decided to make another visit to Killarney National Park. This time we wanted to view Ross Castle and felt that with a week of driving on the left side of the road, we could tackle the mountainous drive up to Ladies' View.. Ross Castle, at the edge of a mirror-surface lake, is a tranquil scene right out of Excalibur! Built in the 15th century by an Irish Chieftain to defend his family, he was also inspired to create an idyllic scene on the edge of Lough Leane. All we needed was more time!.

37: The Ladies' View This is the viiew preferred by Queen Victoria's Ladies-in-Waiting while they stayed at Muckross House..

38: During our quick visit to Limerick City, we admired the ivy-covered Georgian houses with their brightly coloured doors and walked across Thomond Bridge for some beautiful views of St. John's Castle and the Shannon. We also took some time to explore the very curious Hunt Museum located in the Old Customs House. The English collector and archaeologist, John Hunt, and his wife, Gertrude, donated this intriguing "collection of curiosities" which guidebooks claim to be the greatest collection of antiquities in Ireland. The exhibits date from the Bronze Age but also include a bronze horse attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. and the reliquary cross belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots. The museum is filled with "curiosity cabinets", in which we discovered paintings by Paul Gaugin and Picasso! There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the contents of these cabinet drawers, and had we had more time to dig through the cabinets, we would have discovered works by Jack B. Yeats, Henry Moore, and Renoir. Perhaps it was Triona's suggestion that the contents of the museum include the spoils of Nazi looting, but this museum felt oddly sinister to Wendy. | Limerick View of Thomond Bridge over the River Shannon and King John's Castle

39: Ennis Town

40: Typical buildings seen along the route between Killarney and Galway | Across the bay from Bunratty Castle | View of Bunratty Castle

41: The Burren Having run out of time to see the Cliffs of Moher enroute to Galway, we planned to spend our first day out of Consilio B and B exploring the Burren area, including the famous Cliffs. The Burren is a vast limestone plateau in northwest county Clare, described in 1640 by Cromwell's surveyor as "a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury.." From May to August, though, wildflowers add beautiful spots of colour and we were lucky enough to catch some of them in bloom. In the southern part of the Burren, limestone gives way to the black shale and sandstone that form the dramatic Cliffs of Moher. Waking up to pouring rain, we debated very briefly whether or not to head to the Cliffs. The sky was dark with layers of clouds, but by this time we knew that we could see all different types of weather during the day. We dressed in our layers and carried on. The sun came out along the way, it cleared beautifully, and as we approached the Cliffs an hour and a half later it began to rain again.. However, by the time we parked the car and walked from the parking lot to the information center and on to the pathways, the weather cleared. From the top of the cliffs we watched three different rain clouds quickly come in from the sea and move on. It was an amazing sight and a great reminder of the power of nature!

42: Views along the route to the Cliffs of Moher

43: The Cliffs of Moher

44: Views of the Cliffs of Moher

45: Lahinch is a town south of the Cliffs of Moher, on the coast of County Clare. Surfers love this Atlantic bay and there are a number of professional surf schools. The Championship Course at Lahinch Golf Course is renowned for both its design and its fantastic location, with links stretching right along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, it was late in the day and quite cold when we visited but we did enjoy our walk around the town.

46: Enroute to Dublin airport, where we were to drop off our trusty rental car, we drove through "tree tunnels" and farmers' fields to experience the magic of Knowth. The passage tombs of Knowth, are a UNESCO World Heritage site that predate the pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge by several hundred, perhaps thousands, of years. They are over 5000 years old. No records exist as to how they were built but it is known that some of the 16-ton stones came from as far away as County Wicklow. There are questions about the swirling patterns that mark the door to the tomb and the many kerbstones that surround it. Similarly patterned stones have been found in such far away places as Sicily and the Isle of Wight. Another mysterious feature is the play of light that only occurs here during the winter solstice. The rest of the year, the inside of the tomb is pitch black but at this time, for 17 minutes, a ray of light enters the tomb at dawn and snakes its way through the passage and up the back wall.. Within the largest mound, one of the two passages has three side recesses, each containing a stone basin which once held the cremated remains of the dead. One of the greatest treasures of Knowth is a wonderfully carved sandstone basin Completely overgrown and somewhat unremarkable, the raised mounds were finally noticed from the air, and Professor George Eogan began excavating in 1962. The only access to the site is through the Bru Na Boinne Visitor Centre, where shuttle buses are regularly scheduled to Knowth and it "sister" site, Newgrange.

48: From our Grand Canal Hotel we were able to walk to Trinity College in the heart of Dublin. Senior students lead guided tours of the college and our charming guide was full of insight into the history of the college, as well as the present day life of a student. He explained how books in the beautiful and immense library are organized by size, not by title or author! Apparently every student looking for a particular book from the catalogue is issued with a ruler. The Book of Kells, the lavishly decorated Latin copy of the four gospels, came to Trinity College in 1661 and is housed in the library. It was probably produced early in the 9th century by the monks of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. The Book of Kells was sent to Dublin during the Cromwellian period, through Henry Jones after he became bishop of Meath in 1661. It is a stunning work of art!

49: Grafton Street,

50: Dublin Castle | The Tourist Bureau of Dublin is located in this beautiful church.

51: Atop Dublin Castle's entrance is the representation of justice, and the courtyard is now the peaceful Castle Garden with pathways laid out in Celtic designs. We visited the Chester Beatty Library on the Castle grounds, a jewel of a gallery, where there was an excellent exhibit of "The Art Books of Henri Matisse".

52: Our two days in Dublin were grand! We visited the National Gallery, the highlight of which is the Yeats Room. A memorable evening was spent in the Wine Cellar Restaurant of the foodie Paradise, Fallon and Byrne. A one euro corkage fee allows you to enjoy a cellar bottle of wine with your meal. Ten days of adventures, the grandeur of nature, culture, and fun in Southern Ireland came to an end but we vowed to return. Don says, "The Guinness really does taste better!!"

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