S: IRELAND 2012
FC: IRELAND | 2012
1: Mom- What a fun trip! Thank you for all the wonderful memories. Vanessa
2: Part 1: Dublin
3: ...Mom's new iPhone + Mom's love of awkward candid photos =
5: We followed our lively guide around Dublin's sites while attempting to sort out the not-so-straightforward history of the Irish Catholics & Protestants.
7: Part 2: Kilkenny
11: We started off our road trip with a visit to the town of Kilkenny- famous for Ireland's oldest ale (and one of mom's new Irish favorites), Smithwick's ... and a few other historically significant sites. We visited Kilkenny castle where we learned about the Butler family, a classic story of how to get rich by just being friendly & drinking wine. Before we drove on, we also stopped by St.Canice's Cathedral where we climbed the 100', "slightly slanted", 9th century tower.
14: Part 3: The Rock of Cashel
17: The next leg of our road trip brought us to the Rock of Cashel in South Tipperary. Many people asked us why we skipped the Blarney Stone, one of the most well-known Irish castles. Our trusty road trip tour guide, Rick Steves, directed us towards Rock of Cashel and was not shy about sharing his disdain for the Blarney Stone... But what really sealed the deal were the tales we heard at the local pubs... (Apparently, local teens have a tradition of pulling drunken pranks on unsuspecting tourists at Blarney Stone) It was an easy decision between the overcrowded & booby-trapped Blarney Stone & the revered Rock of Cashel, which had just been visited by Queen Elizabeth II on her historic visit to Ireland. Queen Elizabeth II's 2011 visit was the first visit by a British monarch to the area that is now the Republic of Ireland since the 1911 accession tour by Elizabeth's grandfather King George V (when the entire island of Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland).
18: The Rock of Cashel is popularly called "St. Patrick's Rock". According to local mythology, the Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil's Bit, a mountain north of Cashel when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock's landing in Cashel. It is also reputed to be the site where St. Patrick converted the King of Munster to Catholicism in the 5th century. Another nickname for the site is "The Rock of Kings", because it served as the traditional seat of the ancient Irish kings until 1101, when the reigning King of Munster donated his castle to the Church. The location atop a steep outcrop, was not only a majestic site for the rulers of Ireland to reside, it also served as an important & strategically placed fort (...as it was the only elevated point for miles around.. thanks to St. Patrick of course... )
19: Through the centuries the church built on to the existing structure using the architectural methods of the time... resulting in a unique mix of architecture spanning hundreds of years. The site is regarded as one of the most well preserved and best examples of Celtic art and Medieval architecture in Europe. The graveyard outside of the castle-turned-Cathedral was equally as striking with many beautiful examples of Medieval High Crosses, including intricately designed Celtic Crosses standing prominently over the lush farmlands surrounding the site. Celtic Crosses are a combination of the Pagan Sun Cross and the Christian Cross. It is believed that St. Patrick introduced this cross when converting the Pagans to Christianity to either link Christianity with the life giving properties of the sun or to show Christ's supremacy over the Pagan gods by placing the cross over the Pagan sun symbol.
22: Despite the drizzle, we decided to venture off the beaten path...
25: ...It turns out that rather than just being "off the beaten path", we were actually just off anything resembling a path... We were about to turn back when... | ...we turned the corner and were greeted by a gorgeous view and some friendly locals. | The scenery turned from lovely to treacherous again. The exit point consisted of a steep drop off meant to stave off ancient raiders and a large entanglement of barbwire fences that were put in place to prohibit entrance by their modern day counterparts (e.i. tourists)... but despite their best efforts, these blockades proved to be no match for the Montana girls...
27: Part 5: South County Kerry - Kenmare, The Ring of Kerry & Portmagee
29: Driving on the other side of the road and converting to kilometers became the least of our worries once we headed up the Kerry coast. The roads became more twisty and narrow as the speed limit, rain, fog, and the number & size of cars & buses increased. The drive was definitely 'breathtaking' with the combination of steep cliffs dropping into the sea and views unobstructed by modern day construction (in this case that unfortunately meant guardrails & wide roads)... County Kerry seems to have an all or nothing approach to signage. Each post is swarming with signs and you need to know the Gaeleic & English spelling of your destination because the languages are used interchangeably. And once you've located the proper sign, you then need to determine which direction it is pointing (it was often a gamble as many signs pointed in between two roads). As the roads became more dangerous, the signs seemed to become more scarce. While heading around a curve, the road would suddenly narrow to one lane without warning... And when you account for the tourists casually stopping, bicyclists, & freely wandering sheep, the total width of the road adds up to about 3/4ths of a lane.
30: We had a short but enjoyable time in the quaint town of Kenmare. We kick started our morning with another lovely B&B breakfast... With some surprisingly delicious porridge... Vanessa never thought she would use words such as 'delicious' to describe porridge and Mom never thought she would consume the entire glass of the secret ingredient (whiskey) for breakfast.
31: We traveled just over halfway around the RIng of Kerry to our 1st stop, the (very) small port town of Portmagee. In the 1950s, the Irish government started the "tidy towns" competition to help improve local communities and make them more appealing for tourists. The towns were encouraged to paint their buildings with vibrant colors -- which is why there are so many quaint, cheerfully colored towns around Ireland today. | We traveled halfway around the RIng of Kerry to our 1st stop, the tiny town of Portmagee. In the 1950s, the Irish government hosted the "tidy towns" competition to help revamp local communities and make them more appealing to tourists. The towns were encouraged to cleanup their streets and paint their storefronts with bright colors. This competition was so popular that, to this day, towns all around Ireland have decided to keep up the initiative resulting in many vibrantly colored villages throughout the countryside.
33: Part 6: Skellig Michael & Little Skellig
34: “...Both the Skelligs are pinnacled, crocketed, spired, arched, caverned, minaretted; and these Gothic extravagances are not curiosities of the islands: they are the islands: there is nothing else. The rest of the cathedral may be under the sea for all I know: there are 90 fathoms by the chart, out of which the Great Skellig rushes up 700 feet so suddenly that you have to go straight up stairs to the top — over 600 steps... An incredible, impossible, mad place, which still tempts devotees to make 'stations' of every stair landing, and to creep through 'Needle's eyes' at impossible altitudes, and kiss 'stones of pain' jutting out 700 feet above the Atlantic...I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world.” – George Bernard Shaw
36: It is believed that the monastery on Skellig Michael was founded by St. Fionan in the 6th century and was continuously occupied until the 13th century. In the early 9th century the Vikings repeatedly pillaged the monastery, killing many of its inhabitants. In 823 AD the Annals of Innisfallen recorded that “Skellig was plundered by the heathen and Eitgal (the abbot) was carried off and he died of hunger on their hands.” The monks endured, however, and legends tell that in 993 AD, the Viking Olav Trygvasson, who later became king of Norway & introduced Christianity to that country, was baptized by a hermit on Skellig Michael. | The remote island of Skellig Michael has a long & rich history dating back to 1400 BC when Irish folklore names it as the burial place of Ir, son of Milesius, who was drowned during the landing of the Milesians. A story from around 200 AD tells of Daire Domhain –King of the World resting at Skellig Michael before an epic battle against the mythical warrior-hunter Fionn Mac Cumhaill & the Fianna army. The first historical reference to the island says that after a feud in the 5th century, Duagh, King of West Munster, fled to "Scellecc" pursued by the Kings of Cashel.
38: Skellig Michael was one of the earliest monastic settlements in Ireland. The monastery is located on a terraced shelf 600 ft above sea-level. The very spartan conditions inside the monastery illustrates the ascetic lifestyle practiced by early Irish Christians. Life was extremely harsh & isolated. The monks ate sea birds, fish, & vegetables they grew on the terraced walls. There is no water on the island, so they carefully designed system for collecting and purifying rainwater in cisterns. | There is no path to the hermitage at the top of the island. It was built "virtually in the air on the treacherous ledges of an Atlantic rock rising straight up from the ocean to an altitude of 218 meters." It has been called "one of the most daring architectural expressions of early Irish monasticism" erected to reach "the ultimate goal of eremitic seclusion- a place as near to God as the physical environment would permit."
40: The monastic site contains a cluster of six beehive huts called clocháns, two oratories, and a number of stone slabs and crosses. The pristine condition of the buildings is astounding considering their age, exposure to severe weather, and the fact that they were built without mortar. Although the clocháns appear rounded on the outside, their interior is square. The monks used a technique known as corbeling to erect these huts. All the stones are positioned so that they slope outwards, allowing for wind-borne rain to run off, keeping the building watertight.
43: Skellig is derived from an Irish word meaning 'steep rock' or 'splinter of stone'. The name is certainly fitting- The two jagged islands rise abruptly out of the ocean and as you climb the steep stone staircase, you are surrounded by towering spires of rock and nearly vertical cliffs. | The 6th century staircase was hand-built by monks and consists of over 600 stairs. The exposed and rugged stairs were stunning, but this also meant that any misstep could prove fatal.
45: The monastery was abandon in the thirteenth century due to changes in the structure of the Irish Church and climatic deterioration. Today, Skellig Michael's only residents are large number of friendly sea birds and two rangers who live on the island for weeks at a time to guide visitors and protect the unique & sacred World Heritage Site.
46: Most Atlantic Puffin colonies are located on islands with no natural predators and steep cliffs. Puffins dig burrows in the alongside the cliffs to lay their eggs. Skellig Michael has more than 4,000 Atlantic Puffins. These Puffins return to the Island to breed from April to Late July/Early August. We were fortunate enough to see the Puffins hopping around the island before they left for their 8 months at sea.
47: We decided that Puffins were the most adorable birds we had ever encountered. Upon leaving the boat, we were greeted by a curious Puffin poking out of his burrow and as we made our way up the ancient steps, we encountered many more Puffins frolicking in the grass and hopping along the cliffs. These birds definitely lived up to their nickname "the clowns of the sea".
48: In addition to Puffins, Skellig Michael is also home to many cliff dwelling birds such as Kittiwakes and Guillemots. While puffins are often seen perched on cliffs, their nests are securely tucked underground. The cliff dwellers take a much riskier approach to rearing their young and have made amazing adaptations in order to nest on the island's steep rock faces.
49: Kittiwakes (named for the noise they make) fasten their grassy nests to tiny ledges, using their own droppings as cement. Guillemots lay their eggs directly on the rock. Their eggs are pear-shaped to prevent them from rolling off the edge of a cliff. If the knocked, the Guillemot egg spins in a tight circle rather than tumbling from the precipice.
50: We carefully descended the stone staircase, boarded the boat, and prepared for the long & tumultuous trip back to Portmagee. Before leaving the Islands in the mist, the boat made one last stop at Little Skellig. Little Skellig, like Skellig Michael, is a magnificent spectacle, rising dramatically from the ocean. But despite their close proximity & similar geological form, the two islands have vastly different ecosystems. Skellig Michael's jagged rocks are covered with lush, flowering meadows while Little Skellig's cliffs are barren and appear snowcapped from afar. As you approach Little Skellig, swarms of birds cover the sky and it becomes apparent that the ledges are covered in birds, not snow. With nearly 70,000 gannets, Little Skellig is the second largest gannet colony in the world.
53: Part 7: The Dingle Peninsula
54: From Portmagee we traveled up the coast of County Kerry to the beautiful Dingle Peninsula. We stayed at the charming & colorful town of Dingle (An Daingean). Fishing & farming have long been the major industries in Dingle, but tourism has become an increasingly important business in the town since the filming of "Ryan's Daughter" in the area. Although it helped jump start their tourism industry, locals don't seem particularly fond of the film... The picture above shows an older/unofficial Dingle signpost. Dingle is a Gaeltacht town, a national park of sorts for the traditional culture, where the government protects the old Irish language & ways. The government now only allows the Gaelic name "An Daingean" on all official documents, maps & signposts.
56: As a market town & fishing port, Dingle has long been well supplied with pubs. The town has 52 pubs (which amounts to about 1 pub for every 38 residents) and the variety is almost as great as the number. There are large, modern pubs and pubs so small that five's a crowd; one that sells sheets & blankets and another that sells everything from beds & bicycles to hardware & fertilizer. Its no wonder that 'craic', meaning fun conversation & atmosphere, is one of the most frequently used words in this small seaside town... The locals do not seem to differentiate between weeknights & weekends. Even though we visited midweek, Irish bands were performing up & down the street and all of the pubs were packed full. We spent our second night in Dingle wandering the main street, stopping into pubs featuring traditional Irish music, festive dancing, and vibrant locals. We finished the night with a pint and some shopping at one of the town's famed 'shop pubs'. Mom gravitated towards J. Curran's, a tiny shop that sold wool caps, wellingtons, and other wears. The cashier counter doubled as a bar and was lined with lively locals that were happy to give mom input as she modeled hats & scarves.
57: We traveled around the Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne) on Slea Head Drive. With just under 2,000 people, Dingle is the largest town on the peninsula. The rest of Corca Dhuibhne is dotted with tiny villages and lined with ancient stone walls that are still used to contain the 500,000 sheep that roam the lush, rolling hillsides.
58: The peninsula has been home to various tribes & populations for around 6,000 years. Over 2,000 ancient monuments & settlements have been remarkably well preserved. The oldest site excavated on the peninsula was a seasonal settlement inhabited by hunter-gathers during the Mesolithic Era (4000 BC-8000 BC). The Dingle Peninsula has numerous examples of monastic beehive huts, ritual worship sites, forts, and many other old stone structures. One of the ancient stone structures that is still standing, comprises of a stone fort constructed around 800 BC and used all the way through the 10th century. Many of the old ring forts survived due to superstitious beliefs that they were "fairy forts".
61: Ogham is the earliest form of writing in Ireland, dating from around 300 AD. Surviving examples of the language are carved vertically along the edges (rather than face) of erect standing stones, in a series of hash marks. Examples are found throughout the UK, but over one third of all the stones are found in County Kerry, most densely (70 stones) in the former kingdom of the Corcu Duibne on the Dingle Peninsula. The Ogham stones were often inscribed with names of people or of Pagan gods & goddesses. Examples stand prominently throughout the peninsula from Dunmore Head, the westernmost point of mainland Ireland, to the grounds of an ancient church, built hundreds of years later (in the 1100s), right alongside the Pagan markers. Cnoc Bréanainn (Mount Brandon or Brendan's Hill), one of the highest peaks in Ireland, can be seen rising up through the mist. Cnoc Bréanainn is named for Saint Brendan, who some claim was the first European to reach America around 500 AD (although many believe the "Voyage of Saint Brendan" is simply a immram & religious allegory). Saint Branden is said to have stood atop the mountain and gazed west, receiving inspiration for his famous voyage and for this reason, Cnoc Bréanainn is still a popular destination for Irish Catholic Pilgrims today. But, in another example of the mixing of Pagan & Catholic traditions, it is believed that this pilgrimage up Cnoc Bréanainn is actually originally an important pre-Christian ritual. The mountain was likely significant to Pagans due to the fact the mountain's height & westerly location made it the last place where the sun could be seen before it set.
62: The upper fields and hillsides have not been touched since 1845, the year of the great potato famine, which nearly halved Ireland's population through starvation & emigration. The Dingle Peninsula was one of the hardest hit areas-- the population of the peninsula is still only about 1/4th of what it was in 1845. The Blasket Islands, which lay just off the coast, were once home to a small, isolated population of about 150 was known as the most traditional Irish community of the 20th century (& had the highest concentration of internationally renowned Irish writers). In 1953, the government forcefully evacuated the island, because, due to the inaccessibility & harsh conditions of the islands, they could no longer guarantee their safety.
65: Part 8: The Cliffs of Moher
66: We traveled from the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, taking a ferry, called the Shannon Dolphin, across the Shannon River, the longest river in the British Isles.
87: Part 9: The Burren