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Trip Report Coasting through the Emerald Isle on Pints of Cider - Ireland May 2011

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OK, so I'm back from Ireland, and starting in on my trip report. It's still in rough form, but I thought I'd start, as I'm about halfway through so far. I'll be posting the polished form with pics on my website when I'm done, but here it is so far, one section at a time.

Ireland 2011 – Taking Ireland by Storm! (May 12th through May 30th, 2011)

Itinerary:

13th (Fri) – Fly into Belfast. Overnight in Cushendall (Riverside B&B)
14th (Sat) – Overnight in Cushendall.
15th (Sun) – Overnight in Cushendall.
16th (Mon) – Overnight in Ardara (Bayview Country House).
17th (Tues) – Overnight in Ardara.
18th (Wed) – Overnight in Ardara.
19th (Thur) – Overnight in Westport (Boulevard Guesthouse).
20th (Fri) – Overnight in Westport.
21st (Sat) – Overnight in Inis Mor (Man of Aran cottage).
22nd (Sun) – Overnight in Inis Mor.
23rd (Mon) – Overnight in Ballyvaughn (Oceanville B&B).
24th (Tue) – Overnight in Ballyvaughn.
25th (Wed) –Overnight in Dingle (Blooming Wildflower B&B).
26th (Thu) – Overnight in Dingle.
27th (Fri) – Overnight in Kenmare. (O'Donnabhain's Guesthouse)
28th (Sat) – Overnight in Kenmare.
29th (Sun) – Overnight in Kenmare.
30th (Mon) – Drive to Shannon and fly back home.

My fourth trip to the Emerald Isle ended up being a completely different trip than first planned. The players changed, the dates changed, the places changed, and the pace changed, some several times. However, there is no such thing as a bad trip to Ireland, that magical, mystical place of green rolling hills, dry stone walls, sheep on every mountain and pints in every pub.

Our final plan was as is listed in the itinerary above.

With much research and planning, I found some fantastic B&Bs for our trip, decent flight arrangements, rental car, and other details as necessary. Now I just needed to wait for the departure day to arrive! That week at work was very, very long, let me tell you. However, Wednesday May 11th finally arrived, as it must, and I was lucky enough to get out about a half hour early. I checked in online before I left.

The plan had been to drive home, load up the car with my luggage, and for my husband, J, to drive me to Pittsburgh. However, he felt a kidney stone coming on, so I drove the 1.5 hour trip myself, and just paid for long term rental at the hotel I was staying at. The flight was in the morning, and my friend V was arriving from Gainesville, FL that evening, so we figured a hotel stay near the airport was best. I picked her up around 8pm, and we got something to eat, and to sleep for an early morning start. We stayed at America Best Value, which has a complimentary shuttle early in the morning, was inexpensive, clean and adequate. They also had a long-term parking deal about $50 less expensive than airport long-term parking.


Thursday, May 12th: "Into the Bowels of the Theatre…"
We were up at 3:30am to catch the shuttle to the airport, print out our boarding passes at the kiosk, and get through security. We were checking no luggage on the way over, as we were able to pack carry-on sized bags. I have had poor luck with checked luggage in the past, and didn't want a repeat of my Scottish trip, where I didn't get my bag for 5 days. The security was my first full body scan experience, but it went rather smoothly. We now had about 1.5 hours until our flight boarded, so we snuck in some WiFi time on our digital demons. V had an iPad to keep in touch with work each day, and I had my iPhone to keep in touch with everyone else. I introduced V to Shaun the Sheep videos, and came across an article about the 111 Most "Bangable" English literature characters (http://www.alwayssometimesanytime.com/new/?p=3342) . We laughed very hard about some of the choices on this seemingly random list. I get some of the Jane Austen characters, but Aslan? Really? And why would Frankenstein's Monster even BE on this list?? Peter Pan?? We posited that the list was created by scattering corn on a keyboard and letting a chicken pick the winners.

The flight ran about 15 minutes late, but we had a 12 hour layover in Newark, so this was no problem for us whatsoever. My friend S met us there, as arranged, and proceeded to show us a lovely day in Newark and New York City. We visited the Loew's Theatre (http://loewsjersey.org/), which he has helped in restoring to its original state. It is a beautiful old theatre and well deserves the chance to shine and glitter once more. We explored it from projection room to the bowels of the theatre – at certain points we had to pull out our cell phones and use them as flashlights, as the lights didn't work!

We then found the hop-on/hop-off bus tours and went around to various touristy sites, taking pictures and having fun. We wandered around Chinatown a bit and S took us to a dim sum restaurant in the heart of it for a late lunch. Unfortunately, we probably got the last bits of lunch, as it was later in the afternoon, but it was an interesting experience. There was serious police presence in town, and we discovered that there was a budget cut protest being planned – we skedaddled elsewhere. There was also a cluster of news vans around the courthouse – a local police rape case was being decided that afternoon, and the vans were all awaiting the verdict.

Back to Newark, and this was the longest security line of our trip – about 40 minutes, which isn't too bad. They did check my CPAP, but it was no big deal, and the TSA were polite throughout the process. We had some dinner at the Guinness Irish Pub at the airport to get into the mood – some salad and some pints (usually cider for me, Guinness for V).

We were on the plane by 9pm. Our carry-ons were gate-checked, which was fine – it's the full checking that always gives me ulcers. And, for the first time in many, many years, I didn't need a seatbelt extender! I had lost 100 pounds since the previous summer, and it was a fantastic feeling. I also didn't feel like I intruded into the next seat, even better. I did need some back support, so that silly little pillow became my lower back pillow for the trip. V went right asleep, and made sure I didn't wake her up for dinner or anything, she would rather sleep right through the flight. I watched an episode of Castle on the in-flight entertainment system, and then took some Xanax and actually got several hours of sleep myself. I ended up skipping dinner as well, as a result. I did wake about an hour before we landed, had some breakfast, and got our gate-checked bags.

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    Friday, May 13th: "No one takes swipe cards anymore"
    At the arrivals area, I called Dan Dooley, and they sent Heather to pick us up in our rental car. Pick up was no problem, and NO hidden charges, yay! We drove to the first Boots we saw and picked up those supplies we didn't want to carry over with us, such as shampoo and the like. Well, we tried… when I went to pay for my items, I gave them my chip and pin (I had obtained a prepaid Travelex chip-and-pin card for our trip). I had misremembered my pin, but I had written a hint on the back… but the clerk wouldn't let me look, as it was physically in the machine. Therefore, I tried a couple more times, unsuccessfully, and it locked up. And they said they couldn't take non-chip-and-pin cards (and that this was true throughout Europe, which was NOT correct). So I gave up, went and found a customer service phone, and got my card unlocked (fairly easily). If she had just let me look at the card, all of that could have been avoided, but it is what it is, and no tragedy occurred.

    On to Carrickfergus! We explored the castle a bit, and took our first scenic photos of the trip. Both V and I love taking photos, though I sell them more aggressively than V does. We were just arriving as hordes of schoolchildren were leaving, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. It's a nice, solid old place on the water, with lovely big rocks and nice sea views. We stopped a couple other places along the way north for photos, captivated by the colorful cuts of rugged cliffs, the wide water with ghosts of islands in the distance. At a couple places in the road, the cliff was actually carved out into a tunnel through which the road went, and I think that's when it finally hit me that I was in Ireland again, my soul's home, my anam bhaile.

    Cushendall is a small village on the Antrim Coast, one main street, one small grocery store, and 4-5 pubs, rather a typical Irish village. There is a river running through, a gratuitous ruin or two, a fairy hill, and a lovely coastal walk. We found the Riverside B&B (http://www.theriversidebandb.com/), just as our hostess was exiting – she came right back when she saw where we were going. The B&B is right on the main road through town, and our hostess showed us to our room – a beautifully decorated double room with a black, white and purple tastefully oriental theme. She recommended Joe's (pub down the street) for an afternoon lunch, and off we went. I had the goat's cheese salad (a popular pub offering in Ireland) and V tried some Guinness bangers and mash, both were delicious. V had never tried goat's cheese before, but she was hooked when I offered some of mine to try.

    We decided to take a walk around town, see what was on offer, and then found a path to Layde Hill – lovely path through the woods and to a park, with a small waterfall nearby. It was beginning to get later, so we stopped at the grocery store to get some supplies. V is a Diet Coke addict, and needed to stock up (3-4 a day, plus coffee in the morning is a minimum). We got some snacks, including nuts, apples, etc, and what V deemed Apple Crap – carbonated apple-flavored diet drink (ick!).

    We did a small nap for about a half hour, and then chatted with the host, Pat McKeegan, about the things around the area we can do. He was genuinely helpful, and you could very much tell he loved the interaction with guests, and talking about the local area. He recommended Glenaan, Torr Scenic Road, and Cushendun, as well as music at Joe's in the evenings. Some of it was traditional, some wasn't, but there were several rooms where music was played, so we could take our choice. We had a couple pints, laughed with a couple Australian girls about the 111 Bangable list mentioned above, listened to some of the music sessions, and tottered off to a well-deserved night's sleep of the dead.

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    Welcome home! I was just browsing through your trip report. I'll have more time to read it after dinner. We stayed at the Boulevard guesthouse on our first trip to Ireland, and I loved the location right in Westport. Did you get to Matt Malloy's pub for some music? Well I guess you will get to that part of the report later. I'm interested to read about Kenmare and nearby area as we will be staying in Kenmare for the first time in September. Thanks for sharing!

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    Reading with interest. Dan Dooleys----Yes, we've had great success with them for 2 trips.
    Matt Malloy's---One of our most fun nights,

    Melissa5----In Kenmare our best dinner in all of Ireland was at "Mulcahy's", Sept. 2010---check it out. The best sirloin steak (something I'd never order in the states), and the goat cheese salad(somehting I order alot) too die for.

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    Happy to hear you made it back to Ireland....AND 100 lbs. lighter! Congratulations on that! You must feel wonderful. I am looking forward to the rest of your report and your pictures, which are alwys gorgeous!

    Oh why did you have to gate check your carryon luggage?

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    Saturday, May 14th: "We're not climbing all the way up that, are we?"

    Up, up, up! We were up at 6:30am, and discovered that the light in the bathroom is motion sensitive. If you stay still for too long (say, in the shower), the light goes off. And the sensor is not near the shower, so you have to stop and wave your hands as you shave your legs – disconcerting to say the least. However, that's part of the adventure of traveling! It was raining a bit, so we decided to do some driving. We drove the Glenaan Scenic Route and the sun started peeping out of the cloud cover occasionally, in between spats of rain. We saw waterfalls, bridges, lots of sheep, a few goats, lovely rolling hills and tiny, windy roads. We ended up in Cushendun at one point, and explored a church back in Cushendall before breakfast was ready at 8:30am.

    In the lovely breakfast room there were lots of nautical items – we discovered that our host, Pat, used to be in the merchant marines, and worked as the harbor master now. The room had a slideshow of local photographs to some quiet traditional music to accompany our breakfast. Full Irish breakfast consisted of the usual fried eggs, brown Irish soda bread, bacon, mushrooms, sausage, and grilled tomatoes. There were potato pancakes and fried bread, as well.

    After filling up to the brim with food, we were off to the Torr Scenic Road, Torr Head, Fair Head and more Antrim Coast delights. The sun was shy at first, but started peeking out as we got nearer to Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge. This area is listed as a tourist spot, but very little of what I saw mention the spectacular white and rock cliffs that surround the spot. On our way to the bridge itself, we walked by a young man trying very hard to sell us some programs. He tried guilt right off, by saying how stressed he was – we at least stopped to chat with him. He lived on Rathlin Island (we could see it through the mists), which has a total population of 54 people. He had to drive his boat into work every day. We climbed over the bridge, all around the island, stared in awe at the beautiful coast, and wandered back. It is a long walk, and there were many tourists braving the winds, but it was definitely worth it. I think it was the most beautiful spot along that coast that I saw. It was wonderful to sit on the rock, look out over the seabirds darting into the waves, and realize I was there, in my home Ireland, once again.

    Our next stop was the Giant's Causeway, something I'd wanted to see for many years. I had visited the Isle of Staffa in Scotland in 2008, the other 'side' of the causeway. The hexagonal basalt rock formations are surreal and strange. The walk down to the causeway was up and down, and beautiful as well, but the rain kept coming furiously through every 20 minutes or so. Then the sun made up for it by sparkling down on the wet surf and rocks. I had picked up a cheap rain poncho at the Rope Bridge and it was my most valuable purchase the entire trip! An umbrella would have been useless in the wind.

    This site was more crowded than the Rope Bridge, but it was more open and climbable, as well. I was able to find some lovely photo ops here and there, and then the rain hit with a fury. We sheltered behind an outcropping until it died down, and we started the long walk back. The small café was bursting with people due to the furious wather, but I managed to get a hot Irish Coffee to keep me warm. We got back into the car and headed towards Dunluce Castle.

    We ended up taking a wrong turn, despite having our handy-dandy TomTom SatNav to guide us. It tried to take us into Derry, but V beat it into submission, and we found our way. Dunluce was another spectacular spot, a castle situated on a sea cliff, with part of it having fallen into the sea hundreds of years ago. We had the place almost to ourselves, and the sun cooperated by shining through the rain and giving us some lovely views. The only other visitor was a large black cat who obviously owned the place, though he disdained from being petted.

    We went into the town of Bushmills to find some lunch. It was about 3pm by the time the effects of the breakfast wore off, and of course that's when many pubs close for food. However, we found a tea shop called The Copper Kettle that served Irish lamb stew, and we had a warm, yummy, savory break.

    We picked a road going south at random, and drove through farms and fields, over hills and through glens. We spotted many wind turbines in the distance, and one or two at individual farms across fields of bright yellow (not gorse this time – perhaps rapeseed?). My legs were a bit achy from all the climbing up and down we did today, and the unfamiliar actions of driving a manual transmission without cruise control all day. We went through Ballymoney, and explored the glens of Antrim a little more before returning to Cushendall. The open vistas were impressive after the narrow hedgerows that grow along the farm roads.

    We decided to explore the town a little more this evening, so we walked up one of the hills towards the fairy hill. I looked at it, felt the ache in my legs and said "We're not climbing all the way up that, are we?" This became the quote of the day, as it turned out. We found a road called Cairn Road, so I figured that there was a cairn on it – off we went! Up and up, through foresty bits, past the fairy hill (and higher). We met Johnny, a local out for a walk, who said there was no cairn – but that Layd Church was on the road, later on. We didn't find the church on that road (we missed the turn off) but had a lovely walk. It started raining again on our way back, so we dashed back into the B&B to warm ourselves in the lounge in front of the cozy fire.

    We watched some TV (Cops was on – go figure) and wandered for some food. It was later now, after 9pm, so the only place serving was the take-away – I had some fantastic chicken curry, the place was called The Half Door. We went to Joe's for some more pints and music. It was more crowded than the previous night, but less music around. One room was singing along with something, and we heard several songs, such as The Joker and Summer of '69. We staggered off to bed around midnight, well-pinted and tired from a full day of exploration and visual feasting.

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    Layd Church was difficult to find. From the town, there's a sign pointing to Layd Church. Then there's a fork in the road where the left fork goes uphill that also has a sign for Layd Church. Then you continue on that road for a couple kilometers and you don't see it. The problem is that the small road turnoff for Layd Church (on the coastal side) only has a small sign that's visible from the opposite direction. So once we had turned around and come back, we saw the road for Layd. The church is small and quaint. Not much that really distinguishes it from the other ruined churches, except a nice view of the coast, and a very old keyhole shaped cross. There was no one there when we went.

    There's a parking lot for about half a dozen cars, then the short path to the church. The path continues straight for a walk around the coast, too. I think it's a couple kilometers worth.

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    Sunday, May 15th: "We won't walk as much today, since it's raining"
    This morning was the morning I was going to teach V how to drive manual transmission a mission fraught with danger and terror! We chose this day as few people would be out and about, especially early in the morning. The weather was a bit rainy, but it was bright enough. We took the Glenarm Scenic Route since we were already somewhat familiar with it, and it had big open spaces that made it easier to see oncoming traffic, if it existed. She did great, without any stalls or grindings, but decided it was much too much work with all the hills. That was fine, I figured I'd be driving this trip anyhow, but at least we tried!

    Back for breakfast and then it was time to explore the Glens of Antrim a bit more. We just picked a road and drove and discovered the pain and promise that are the brown signs in Ireland. The brown signs point out places of interest sometimes ruins, castles, abbeys, and scenic views, but also often B&Bs, stores, and other things I wouldn't have thought a tourist would be interested in, such as furniture stores. We deemed these abusive brown signs, and did our best to ignore them when encountered. It did make things confusing, though, as one street junction might have 15 brown signs, only one or two of interest and trying to read them all at even 30 mph was difficult.

    We saw signs for Glenarm castle and garden, and I remember reading something about a maze, so we set out to search for it couldn't find it. We ended up driving on the mountainside above the town, and could see it from there, so we went back down to town level, and found it. It was not open until noon that day, still 2 hours away, so we wandered away.

    We found Glenariffe Forest and decided to take a walk in the forest path. Now, it is still raining and drizzling on and off throughout the morning, so we are packaged up in plastic like leftovers. However, waterfalls love rain, and make for lovely photographs, so off we went! The forest was lovely primeval, dripping, filled with ferns, water everywhere. There was a recurring odor that reminded me of musty stew, simmering all day in a rustic farmhouse, over the hearth with a peat fire. I think I counted at least a half dozen big, powerful waterfalls, and countless streamlets and cascades everywhere you looked.

    We took the 2 mile 'easy' path, and it was delightful. Partway around, we came across a shelter that had 4 stalls with benches, and took a rest several Polish families were bringing little barbecues and setting them up for a party. This was a wonderful day, despite or perhaps because of the rain. It was very natural and rustic experience, with the constant dripping of the water, the rushing of the rivers, and the bombardment of scents from the greenery around us. The power of the falls was intense and humbling.

    We finally made our way back to the starting point, and had a lovely lunch in the restaurant there, along with about 15 motorcyclists. All rice-burners, of course Harley Davidson doesn't seem to be very popular in Ireland. The restaurant itself was a bit touristy, but with lovely post and beam ceilings. I had some potato leek soup with brown bread, as I wanted something warm and savory. V had a goat's cheese salad. Much refreshed and recharged, we decided to try the Glenarm castle and gardens once more, as it was well past the noon opening times posted.

    The gardens were lovely, but many of the flowers were not yet in full bloom in May, and others had been in bloom and were already a bit past their prime. There wasn't any 'maze', but there were hedges partitioning different parts of the garden, and a strange little spiral hill on one corner, that you could climb up and survey the gardens from above. The sun actually sparkled on the rain-wet leaves while we were there, affording us with a fairy-tale glistening of greenery. We went into the café/gift shop, and we asked about entry into the castle itself; we were told, rather snootily, that the castle was 'in residence', so there was no entry for tourists.

    We went on to explore the brown-signed Glencloy Scenic Route, and came across many of the typically Irish stone walls corralling farms across galloping hills, steeper and steeper over each one as we drove. On the way back we found the first Ruin of No Consequence, a lovely ruined structure on a hill but no sign or indication of what it was, what it had been, why it was there.

    Coming back to Cushendall, we decided to find Layd Church this time. We drove to where we thought the turn off was, and found a small parking lot and a short walk to the church itself. It was small, but with several lovely Celtic Crosses, so I took some photographs. We then started walking along the coastal path not realizing it was quite long. It was lovely, though, and we saw the shore from up high on this path. We saw islands in the mist in the distance, and V decided that it must be Scotland. In her best Tina Fey/Sarah Palin voice, she claimed 'I can see Scotland from my path!' Fisherman, a man playing with his dog, many varieties of flowers and the occasional mist of rain accompanied our journey, which let us out somewhat down the road from our car.

    We made our way back and had dinner at Harry's, a restaurant on the corner. I had the seafood chowder (which surprised me by having chunks of tomato in the cream-based soup), while V had a platter with parma ham, chorizo sausage, and duck egg rolls. During dinner, we decided today's phrase of the day was "We won't walk as much today, since it's raining."

    Having grown up in Florida, I took palm trees for granted, but always assumed it was at least a subtropical tree. I had previously seen a couple here and there in the southwest of Ireland, but noticed that here, in the northeast, almost everyone had at least one palm tree in their yard. There were various species of them, some short and bushy, most tall and V-shaped. Many looked a bit worse for wear, and not at all healthy, but everyone had them in their yards. It's not what most people think of when they think of Ireland, and it was a bit bizarre to see them so often.

    We warmed up after dinner in the lounge of the B&B, by the toasty fire, and caught up on our facebook addiction. We watched a BBC special on puffins around the islands, and went off for an early night. The host also came in for a bit and talked to us some more, he was a very sweet man, and obviously loved the area.

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    Thanks irishface, and suneun - as you see, I did find Layd Church, and it was worth the search. Comments always appreciated, as well as ego-boosting praise :)

    Monday, May 16th: "The Inis Eoghain 100" or "The hardest working man in Ardara"
    I awoke from a disturbing dream. I had dreamt that we were already back in the US, at work, having taken a flight back, intending to return for the rest of our vacation, but then discovered we couldn't afford to come back to finish up. Shaking that thought off, we got up, packed and that's when I realized that I hadn't packed the battery recharger for the video recorder. D'oh! Well, that puts a damper on things. I had taken some video already, and while I was primarily a photo lover, I also knew there were some sights better shared through video, such as performances, crashing waves, etc.

    I decided to order one on Amazon and ask them to deliver it to one of our upcoming B&Bs, so I tried that. Their delivery date was between May 20th and 25th; this would be OK if they delivered as promised, as we'd be close enough to the area to pick it up, so I placed the order. We shall see. In the meantime, my regular camera did take short video clips, though it ate up memory and battery – but I had plenty of memory and a spare rechargeable battery, so I figured I was good.

    I like bringing postcards from my home state and leaving them with Thank You notes at our B&Bs, so both V and I did this. Pat was off to work this morning, so we had our breakfast served by Mrs. McKeegan and settled up with her. Today we were off to Donegal!

    We started off through Glenarm, and then to Coleraine, Ballycastle and to Derry. Around Armoy, I realized I needed to gas up for the first time, and realized I had almost forgotten one of the sights nearby I had listed, the Dark Hedges. Luckily, the store clerk knew exactly where it was (it was very close) and gave us directions for finding it. It's an amazing little place, just one road with interesting trees all along it, the branches twisting and tangling to make it look odd and strange. We also found a church with a round tower, called Gleneshk, and then we headed off towards Derry. We found the wide road! It was luxurious after several days of winding through tracks in the Glens, and afforded a wonderful view once we crossed a ridge, looking down on the Inishowen peninsula in the distance, half-hidden by haze and mist.

    We decided to explore said peninsula on the way to Ardara, even though it was one of our rainy days. We took the road north to Stroove, but ran across a brown sign that simply said 'Inis Eoghain 100'. We didn't know what this was, though I should have realized that it was the Irish spelling of Inishowen. I realized that much later.

    We kept seeing more signs for it, and kept following them – it led us to the other side of the peninsula, then up north along the coast. It turned into an epic quest, full of interesting sights and small villages. When I spotted a map next to another of the brown signs, I stopped to look – the 'Inis Eoghan 100' was simply a poetic name for 'the scenic route', evidently. But that was fine, it was a lovely journey. Also, the map was right next to a small pavilion that housed a 7th century Celtic Cross, and I was excited to have found that by accident. I have an addiction to Celtic Crosses, and I had to get my fix regularly throughout the journey. Sometimes I could bypass a cemetery (V doesn't feel comfortable tramping around the graves, so I tried to restrain myself somewhat), but sometimes I just needed my fix. Usually I'd leave V somewhere shopping or with a pint while I went and indulged.

    We continued along the Inis Eoghain 100 to Malin Head, and this is where TomTom started getting stroppy. As many of you know, most GPS/SatNav systems will plan the most direct route to your destination. It gives no consideration to the size, condition or accessibility of the road it recommends. We discovered this was a bit of a problem in Ireland, several times, as the most direct route is often the least maintained.

    This particular time, it decided to take us up and up, over a mountain – on an unpaved tractor path. First gear, all the way up! It took us to the Wee House of Malin, a tiny church on a small cliff on the other side of the mountain – but TomTom tried to tell us to keep going, off the cliff. We wisely ignored its polite suggestion. At this point it got pissed at us and took us on another unpaved road over another mountain pass, and into Stroove.

    By this time, we were quite hungry, and, having been on the road for several hours, needed some comfort facilities. However, as we drove into Stroove, it looked like a ghost town. Even though it was around 11am by this time, it was dead – every pub or store we looked at was boarded up, despite huge signs declaring it was open. Really, is it so hard to take down an open sign when you close? False advertising!

    We kept driving into town, and finally found Carey's Fish & Chips store by the shoreline. They said the stores usually open during season, but we were early for that yet, being only mid-May. We had some chips with curry and a chicken kabob, and enjoyed not driving on steep, tiny mountain tracks for a little while. We went out to enjoy the quay, take some pictures of furiously lashing waves upon the rocks, and then retreated from the ocean winds into our car.

    We followed the now ubiquitous 'Inis Eoghain 100' brown signs around the east coast of Inishowen to Muff (giggle), and across to Letterkenny, once more on the 'mainland.' V realized that we were out of the UK and in the Republic of Ireland without any sort of border patrol or crossing check. There was a point on the large, wide road where they were stopping cars, but they glanced at us and waved us by, without even making us fully stop – evidently we weren't who they were looking for. And going back in and out of the UK or Ireland had no signs, even.

    And that's when TomTom got pissy again – and took us through a tiny road with more potholes than I'd yet seen in one place before we found the main road again. We drove through mountains and rain, mist and puddles to Glenties, and finally to our day's destination, Ardara. I'm sure there was a better road, but we must have missed a turn, and TomTom found the most difficult way through once again.

    Ardara was my favorite town on this trip. There isn't one reason that sticks out as to why it's my favorite, it just seems to be a conglomeration of all the little reasons. It's not a large place, just one main street through town with perhaps a dozen pubs and restaurants. It's near the sea, and has some fantastic sights nearby, with mountains in the distance. The people were all incredibly friendly, and I could easily move there someday. I felt at home – more than that, I felt part of the family.

    Once in the town, we found Portnoo Road (north out of town) without any problems. Our B&B, Bay View Country House, (http://www.bayviewcountryhouse.com/) was down the street perhaps a half mile from town, and was a pleasant surprise. The house itself was large, with a big yard and lovely landscaping and plenty of parking. The lounge was warm and inviting, and the room Marian showed us was huge. It had lots of windows, a large bathroom, and two beds (one single, one double). The other rooms appeared a bit smaller, but I didn't go snooping. We were delighted!

    Since the wind was howling and the sky was weeping most of the day (especially the latter half) we were well-wearied and weathered, and decided to find some warming beverages and filling food. Marian recommended Nancy's Bar, and mentioned there was an event going on that night. When we arrived, it was certainly crowded, and when enquiring about food, was told that they weren't serving that night, because of the event, but that we could try the Heritage Bar. So we walked down the block for the Heritage Bar – who said food was more of a 'weekend' thing or a 'bank holiday' thing. We got the impression it wasn't really a 'normal' thing at all.

    Right – so, off to the Nesbitt Arms, a hotel nearby. I have found that hotels serve food when no one else wants to, though not always the best food, it's the most reliable source. I prefer pubs for the atmosphere, but when those are unavailable, we can at least find food. And that's where we discovered the hardest working man in Ardara! He was desk clerk, bartender, busboy and waiter to a fairly full restaurant. I ordered the monkfish and prawn tart with vegetable soup, and V had the goat cheese salad, and we both had pints of cider. The hardest working man in Ardara booked around the place like a man on speed – taking orders from a party of 9, getting us our food (and it was not slow service, either!), cleaning glasses, etc.

    V and I started talking about books, the days' sights, etc. Kinnagoe Bay on Inishowen was breathtakingly beautiful, and I only wish it was bright and sunny to see the sweeping sand sparkling in the sunlight. As it was, the memories were dim and gloomy, misty and soft. V mentioned that she didn't like the Northern Irish accent too much, it reminded her of chav London accents, with a question at the end of each sentence.

    After a pleasant evening not driving, we wandered back to the B&B for a well-deserved rest.

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    Tuesday, May 17th: "Thou shalt not waste the pickle!"
    This morning V was introduced to white pudding for the first time, which she liked. I enjoy both black and white pudding, as well as haggis… I truly don't understand why people don't like it, it's just sausage with some grains in it. However, some folks are a little squeamish about ingredients, I suppose. We had breakfast with a woman and her mother, both from Australia.

    We decided to head towards Errigal Mountain today, to see if we could try to climb it. We drove north through vast peaty bogs, saw some well-placed wind turbines, and traversed tiny, windy roads, windswept vistas of brown and black. There had been some devastating wildfires in the region a couple weeks before, but they were all under control now, thanks to a massive effort by the community, and we saw evidence of the char in many places.

    We stopped at Errigal Hostel to meet Karl, a gentleman who climbs the mountain often with groups, and takes wonderful photos of it (he posts them on Facebook). He gave us advice as to where to start, and off we were. We started up the slope – and realized it was VERY muddy and squishy. Even though we had proper footwear on, we were both rank beginners, and the slope did rise rather steeply for us. Another group of hikers (with walking sticks and better gear) went up past us, and we decided it probably would be better not to try. Besides, we reasoned we could see nothing from the top, as it was enveloped in mist. Sour grapes, and all that, doncha know!

    We wandered around the area a bit, TomTom tried once again to do away with us by taking us across a lake into diminishing sheep tracks. We turned around and went back after some scenic photos. We decided to head up to Letterkenny to see if we could find some adaptors, as the ones I brought were evidently outdated and no longer useful in Ireland, and/or a recharger for my video camera.

    While finding Letterkenny, we came across Griannan Aileach, a stone fort on a high hill I had wanted to visit. It was a long, rather scary drive up the narrow road with high hedges and limited visibility, but it brought us most of the way to the top. The remaining walk was short and WELL worth the effort. Again, we had the place to ourselves. The view was sublime, and it looked like you could see half of Ireland from the top. Though the sky still looked stormy, and the wind was fierce, it didn't rain while we were surveying the landscape, and it was a very powerful spot. It was one of those places you were reluctant to leave, because you knew that when you did, the magic of the spot would no longer hold you enraptured and timeless.

    We saw another ruin nearby, and found a road that might have led to it – but it simply went around it, through flower-framed lanes in a big circle around the hill it was perched upon. We dubbed it our second Ruin of No Consequence, and moved on, almost running over a rather questionable-looking farmer with an axe, standing on the side of the road.

    Letterkenny was a maze of traffic circles and cars. We started at Dunnes (like a Walmart), got sent to B&Q (the equivalent of Home Depot), Argos (like AT&T) and then Mats (like Circuit City) – adaptors we got cheap at B&Q, but no recharger. I resigned myself to taking videos via my still camera until and if my recharger came from Amazon.

    We decided to give up and head down to Donegal for the evening, though we ended up back in the UK by accident once or twice. The only place to park in Donegal was a Pay and Display, and we had no Euro change yet, so we went to the tourist office, and they were helpful and happy to provide change. We wended our way through busloads of tourists in the center Triangle of the city, and settled on the Castle Bar Restaurant for dinner.

    After having been in places that weren't very tourist-ridden, I had forgotten how braying a group of American tourists could sound, and felt sad that I was one of them. "Is the bus coming back? I had to walk a whole block!" "Oh, look at this cute leprechaun doll I bought! Isn't it precious?" "When is this rain going to stop? It's ruining the whole vacation!" Sigh.

    I had a delicious smoked salmon and crabmeat salad, and V had seafood chowder, and we each had a pint, and I felt better.

    In Donegal we did our first serious shopping of the trip, going from kitschy tourist shop to kitschy tourist shop. I have a tendency to pick up several postcards from each area to give to folks at work, while picking up actual gifts to those closer to me. While I try to avoid the 'tat and tacky', I still enjoy looking at the offerings and giggling a bit, like the glow-in-the-dark Guinness boxer shorts, and such.

    I prefer local crafts, and enjoy supporting the local economy. I waited to buy a knit hat until I found one that was locally made, for instance. Much of the jewelry I purchased was locally made. I won't refuse to buy something commercial, but I do prefer the handmade. I can get commercial stuff on the internet – the handmade stuff isn't as widely available, and helps someone make a living doing something they love. Since I make my own jewelry and photography as well (www.greendragonartist.com!) I sympathize and support the effort.

    The last place we visited still had several other shoppers, but was unable to take credit cards as she had already sent in the night's report, so it was cash only.

    The drive back to Ardara was less than a half hour, as we had traveled in a large triangle across the county. We enquired about a launderette, and Marian said there was one that could do our washing for us the next day. We then relaxed a bit in the B&B before we went out for pints.

    We decided to try Nancy's again, and as we reached the door, a thin young man named Angus insisted that we come right in. He mentioned that my hair was fabulous (he was rather fabulous himself, which we didn't expect in such a small town!), and introduced us to Daniel and Michael, who were sitting at the bar. He said Daniel was a fantastic cook, and therefore with my glorious hair, we would make a great couple – certainly anyone could see the logic there! We settled down to a table, ordered pints and a Ploughman's Lunch of cheese, pickle and bread for a late night snack.

    In the course of our dinner, we chatted with the men at the bar, who were quite nice, despite Angus' matchmaking attempts. Angus was evidently quite drunk, and left shortly thereafter. He evidently was a star at the event he night before, dressing up as the Toucan from the Guinness ads. I said he was quite the character. V said 'Character? That's the C word you're going with?' and the whole bar started laughing. We enjoyed the food – it had some nice cheddar and brie, and V and I fought over the bits of delicious sweet pickle relish. A bit fell off the plate - Thou shalt not waste the pickle!

    We all had a lovely conversation about politics, economics, music, etc. with everyone, perhaps a total of eight people including us. The place was much less crowded than the evening before. It turned out Daniel was a cook there at the pub, but was off for the evening. He was one of the sons of the owners, and Michael was a cousin. There were 6 children, I think, and most of them worked in the pub in some way or another. It had been in the family for 3 or 4 generations, and was a very welcoming place.

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    Wednesday, May 18th: "Sea caves and sandblasting"
    We woke up and broke our fast, dropped the laundry at the launderette, and headed off for Glencolmcille and the southwest corner of the county for some sightseeing. It was turning into a lovely day, mostly sunny with wind, and we wanted to take advantage of the bonny weather.

    We drove through more lonely, wistful peat bogs and farms, and saw a brown sign for St. Columba's Well, so we decided to investigate. It took us along a beachside road, and up a cliff. We parked and climbed a bit farther, but found no well. We did find a fantastic view, and perhaps a couple places where there were markers – perhaps they were stations of the cross for pilgrims to follow? There was a church or a tower up at the top, but we decided the way was a bit too treacherous, and remained satisfied with the views of the coastline, rocky and violent with wind-whipped waves.

    We then went on to the village of Glencolmcille itself, and passed by the folk village, but it was raining at the moment so we went on to the coastal road, pretty much by accident. This was a lovely drive, but a bit nerve-wracking with oncoming traffic, including busses, on a windy, narrow, cliff-bound road. We ended up in Carrick, which was past our day's goal of Slieve League Cliffs, so we backtracked a bit on the non-coastal road. We found the brown sign we were searching for, and followed the road – and then another sign pointed back the way we came. There had been nothing but a café and gift shop along that stretch of road, so we were a bit confused. I went into the shop to ask – evidently the wind had turned the sign around, we should continue on up. We saw several signs like this throughout the trip – perhaps Ireland should invest in two poles, so the signs don't turn so easily? Or go fix the sign? Ah, but then the gift shops wouldn't get as many confused tourists stopping in… and there was droves of them, as several tour busses were parked.

    There is parking down at the gift shop, and a second parking lot halfway up the twisty, switchback road up the cliffs. However, there is a third parking lot at almost the top – keep going up that, even the busses do it. You will have to open a gate and close it behind you, but you are allowed. We then walked the rocky sloped stairs up to the top, and it was incredible.

    I love sea cliffs, and sitting on a high point, looking out into the ocean below, and the waves crashing against layered rocks below, pure power and fury. Sitting on top of these cliffs, 900 feet above the sea, was one of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip, and it was as wonderful as I had anticipated. There wasn't anyone else at the top when we were there, as the wind was still quite fierce, and the stormclouds looked as if they were gathering for an assault. However, there was a stripe of lighter clouds that stayed above us, and the storms parted as if commanded by the Gods.

    The contrast and shadows created by the shifting sunlight on storm clouds was sublime and abstract, like an ever-changing tapestry of a living, breathing coastline. The sheer scale and distance was deceptive. We saw a small flock of white birds feeding around a floating island of seaweed below, and they were just small white specks, like sea foam. Again, I had no desire to leave this powerful place, I could have happily settled here for a long time. However, the storm clouds started moving about like a dance, and we figured our Gods-given reprieve was short.

    We started back down, out of breath from the beauty of the experience, and as soon as we got into the car, the storms decided it was time to hit. This was to happen at several of the sites throughout the trip, where the weather Gods were kind and gave us sunlight, just enough to enjoy the places we were, no more.

    We noticed many French schoolchildren at the sights in Donegal, and many older Dutch tourists. Later on, we would notice busloads of French and then German tourists. It seemed as if all of Europe was taking its vacation while we were.

    We drove back down the road, taking photo ops when offered by view and by weather. We stopped in Carrick for petrol at a rather questionable-looking petrol station. Not the scary one – that was back down the road a bit, and the pump looked like it was built in the 1930s. We saw many closed, or should-be-closed, petrol stations in our journeys. Some were Texaco, some were Emo, some were unlabeled. Was Texaco pulling out of Ireland? Or perhaps closed just for season, like so many other places?

    Back in town at Ardara, we decided to explore the local area a bit. We drove down the road to a brown sign we saw for Lough Cros Point. It turned out to be down a very long (perhaps a mile and a half?) sandy inlet at low tide, and saw a boat slip with crashing waves to stop at. We continued down to another beach, and put our toes in the water. It was actually rather warm, and we weren't expecting that. We walked along the beach a while, noting patterns in the sand and a girl walking with her dog.

    We went back down the point for another previously noted brown sign, for Eos Waterfall. I think the Irish name was Eas a'Ranca Waterfall, as that was on my list of things to see for the area. My friend Cathy had mentioned a lovely waterfall she encountered on her morning rambles through the area, was this it? The waterfall was fantastic – tall, thin, with a nice little picnic area to sit and enjoy it right in front of it. We went on to Maghera Caves, supposedly some sea caves along the same road. We found the brown sign – and it pointed to a path that led into some very tall sand dunes. The parking lot was nearby to some very deserted-looking holiday thatched cottages, obviously not open for season yet. Sure, why not?

    Off we went – into a surreal world of 12 foot tall sand dunes covered in wavering sea grass, and 25 mile per hour winds, resulting in a sandblasting. I ended up with sand in places I didn't even realize I HAD places before then! The footprints and patterns in the dunes from the wind made it a bizarre, organic, monotone sculpture. We followed the dunes through to the shore, a good twenty minute walk, and figured the caves were in the rocky outcropping – but also realized that no one knew we were out here, and the tide was coming in. We decided exploring sea caves with an advancing tide was probably a bit foolish, and turned back to journey back through time to modern life, through the dunes.

    We did some shopping back in town at John Molloy's Tweed Outlet, and I bought a nice hat and a couple gifts. V found the first of many cookbooks she bought, one on eggs. We looked at a couple other shops in town, and saw a street vendor van selling food… the name was Watcha McCollum – we giggled.

    I stopped at the church to take some photos of many more Celtic Crosses (I can never get too many of those!) while V went shopping for her required addiction of Diet Coke, and then we went into Nancy's for an early dinner (or a late afternoon meal, whatever you like). I had the special, a plate of steamed mussels, while V stuck with seafood chowder. The mussels were fresh and very tender, and the brown bread was soft and yummy. If Daniel was the cook today, he was quite good.

    While we were eating and catching up with the day, one of the sisters came in, with her son, Simon. We chatted with her a bit about the family, picked up our laundry (only E15 for all of it, yay!) and then went back into the B&B. I showed V a couple funny videos we were talking about earlier (Danny Bhoy and the difference between Scottish and Irish accents, and Talking with Animals). V was not feeling very social that evening, so I went back to Nancy's by myself for some conversation and pints.

    Nancy's was a bit fuller that night, as there was a large group of French tourists in the second room having dinner. One man talked very loudly, and I could hear him over everyone else in my room, but of course I understood none of what he said, except it sounded like the worst over-exaggerated French accent I'd ever heard.

    I met a girl named Lauren at the bar, she was trying to read her book and I kept pestering her. However, she turned out to be quite nice about it all, and we talked a lot. She likes science fiction as I do, and had read the Outlander books, Narnia, etc. I showed her some of the jewelry pieces I made, and brought to show off to folks, and she was duly impressed. She worked as a server at a nearby restaurant, and of course knew everyone who worked here; she called it a love/hate relationship. I also talked to Alan at the bar about our decision not to explore the sea caves – he agreed it was a wise decision.

    We alternated rounds, and I bought a pint for Alan when he was done with his bar shift, so he joined us. He bought me a bottle of cider while I was in the ladies room, so I drank three bottles in total – probably a bit too much. Good thing the B&B wasn't far away!

    We all chatted about the Queen's visit to Ireland that day, and how no one thought Northern Ireland would ever join the Republic of Ireland, at least not in their lifetime. We talked about the fires that had been coursing through County Donegal a couple weeks before, and the life of a small town in Ireland. Alan ended up buying a pair of my earrings for his mother, who loved them, and that was a sweet gesture. The place really made me feel as if I was part of the family – I can't wait to go back some day. When I left, the owner made sure my B&B was close by and that I could get home alright.

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    Thursday, May 19th: "Those megaliths are hungry for ankles!"

    As we checked out of our Ardara B&B, I discovered that, if a B&B does take credit card, they likely don't take Chip & Pin, but that was fine. I have learned to make sure to have Chip & Pin card, Credit card, and cash whenever buying something. ONE of them will work!

    We drove around a bit trying to find the Green Gate Cottage we saw on a postcard, but the directions given by the woman at the store didn't work too well. So we went off to find Kilclooney Dolmen, and the directions were better. We did end up walking up the road about a half mile before asking a local, and heading back, but the dolmen was worth the extra effort. Walking through someone's yard to it freaked V out a bit, but I was used to such things, having been in Ireland (Scotland, England) before and explored the countryside. There was a big ditch dug around it in the peat bog, which successfully deterred anyone from getting close enough to touch/climb on the dolmen, but the sun once again graced us with its presence while we were there.

    We went on to visit Glencolmcille Village again, since the sun was lovely and we had the time to visit each of the cottages. Father Dwyer had set them up to attract tourist income to the locals, and help them build up local infrastructure. The place is very nice, with about a half dozen cottages set up to portray typical life for each time period at 1700, 1850, 1900, etc. One was a General Store, one was a fisherman's cottage. We took copious photographs until a group of German tourists invaded, complete with their own interpreter.

    The drive to Sligo was a bit rainier, and we got sidetracked by Glencar Falls and the lake around Ben Bulben. That was a nice hike up to the falls, and a break from being in the car. However, the side trip took us off the main road, and we were afraid we had missed Carrowmore megalithic site, which was one of my Must See items this trip. We asked at a grocery store, and all we could get is 'west of here', only one woman knew what we were talking about. So we headed west towards Sligo Airport, and found the inevitable brown signs.

    Carrowmore had stone circles, cairns (yes, Carla, cairns!), and dolmens, at least a dozen different sites all within a walkable distance along a circle of trails. We explored several of them, and then the megaliths started to show their true colors, and attacked. Yes, I took a fall – I swear they jumped out and grabbed my ankle. My right ankle twisted, I fell on my left knee, and scared V, who said I looked like I just crumpled. It took a couple minutes for me to get back up (was more concerned about my camera breaking). I was hurt, but not broken. I hobbled on to the other side of the road, where there were three more stone circles to explore. Both my knee and ankle ached, but after having lost 100 pounds in a year, my frequent falls were much less damaging, and no longer crippled me. I think V was worried she would have to drive the car now (she did offer), but I was good.

    Heading on towards Westport, we saw more brown signs. There were several on one pole, promising a Fairy Hill, a Miniature Village, and some other things we couldn't read, so we figured, why not? Let's go find them.

    We searched down one road, found a church and a graveyard (and a tourist that tried to back up into us without looking first) but no Fairy Hill. Then another road, and another. Was that the Fairy Hill? No, just a mountain. What about that? No, it was a ruined farm building. Perhaps the Fairy Hill was hiding? Playing silly games? Well, we did finally find a lay-by with a stone wall and a pulpit that might have held an informational sign, and there WAS a hill nearby – but who knows if it was THE Fairy Hill. We started getting disillusioned with the brown signs at that point, and my ankle was aching from the driving, so we gave up and let TomTom find us a route back to the main road.

    We got to Westport, found South Mall and our B&B, The Boulevard Guesthouse (http://www.boulevard-guesthouse.com/) without any problems. Sadie checked us in, and she was slightly abrupt, but professional. I had been corresponding with Noreen via email before, so was uncertain if she was the owner or Noreen was. She said breakfast was 9, 9:30, or 10, and we could have scrambled eggs and tomato, porridge, or something else (fruit and yoghurt?). None was the Full Irish we were learning to love, and since the first choice was the only low-carb friendly item, we chose that. We thought that, since none of the options offered meat, and tomorrow was Friday, that perhaps the owner was Catholic, and observed no meat on Fridays? Certainly not an impossible thought. There was also a sign in our room insisting No Takeaway Allowed. Since there was an Indian restaurant a couple doors down, I'm sure people had done so in the past. It just seemed rather militant. We wondered if there was No Loud Talking… perhaps No Loud Giggling? Definitely No Loud Walking.

    Our room was a sage green room, with two beds, no outlets, and very tall, Victorian ceilings. The bathroom was huge, and it was the only place we had a bath with a shower in it (the others were all showers). There was also very few surfaces to actually place things – shelves or cabinets, etc. V found the one outlet, after having to move the bed to reveal it, so we could start budgeting out time for our copious electronic gadgets and chargers. There were so many books and magazines in the lounge area, I thought I was on an episode of hoarders, but I do appreciate that more selection of reading material is better than none.

    We got hooked up with the WiFi (she evidently turned it off at night, as we couldn't get any signal from around midnight to 9am), and I contacted my friend Debe so we could meet up. I'd never met Debe in person, but we were online friends for several years. Her boyfriend Dee was performing at Matt Molloy's pub the next night at 10, so we agreed to meet at the pub beforehand and chat a bit.

    We still had sunlight and didn't care for staying in the room while we could be out exploring. So, we decided to see if we could find Cong and take some pics for my husband, who loves the movie The Quiet Man, which was filmed there. It was a rather long drive of about an hour, and rainy at that. When we got there, the pub from the movie served no food, and didn't allow photography inside for non-patrons. It was nearing 8pm, and I knew from experience most places didn't serve food past that time, so we couldn't stick around. I did try to sneak in one pic as I left, but was unsuccessful in getting a good shot in the low light.

    We walked down the street to the Crow's Nest Pub, and I had a Shrimp Rose Marie appetizer, while V had Fried Brie with Plum Chutney. They were both quite good, and we realized it was a place that catered to Americans as it was listed as shrimp rather than prawns. There was a big group of American tourists sitting next to us, as well, having a great time.

    On our way out, we found Ashford castle, and went in to take some photographs of it. We were getting a bit punchy from our long driving day, and decided that every hill we came across was the missing fairy hill. Oh, look, a fairy pony! This must be a fairy castle, then. Is that a fairy fence? Right near the fairy lay-by? It's a wide road – must be a fairy road, the straightest road in Ireland.

    My ankle was very stiff and painful from the twisting and long day of driving, and I was very glad to get home.

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    Still reading and loving it. I know what you mean about a favorite place without being able to give a particular reason why. I have had that feeling before.

    and did you take a "fairy plane" home?

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    Still reading and loving it. I know what you mean about a favorite place without being able to give a particular reason why. I have had that feeling before.

    and did you take a "fairy plane" home?

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    Friday, May 20th: "We're not climbing up that, are we?" Redux
    Luckily, my ankle was feeling much better this morning. Since breakfast wasn't until 9am (by military decree), we went out to walk about a bit before breakfast. However, it started raining pretty hard as soon as we rounded the corner, and of course nothing was open at 7am, so we got back into the car to do some rain-free exploring.

    We drove towards Croagh Patrick. I had originally had the foolish thought of trying to climb part of this, until I saw it in person. Yes, you could see the track people followed from quite a distance, but the upper part was at least a 55 degree slope – not for beginners, certainly! And with the rain, and my ankle, it was right out of consideration. If I hadn't twisted my ankle, I might still have been tempted to try the lower, gentler portion.

    We found a church with a lovely graveyard full of angels and Celtic Crosses, so I stopped to feed my habit and get some photographs. I very gingerly climbed through to the old, ruined chapel, the ivy-covered crosses, and the iffy footing. There was so much ivy and undergrowth covering the pieces of stone and brick that it was like walking in a bog of greenery. Back at the car we went on towards the mountain, like a beacon in the mists.

    We saw another brown sign on the way – Famine Memorial. It intrigued our interest, so we went to see – a very bizarre but moving sculpture (bronze?) showing a large sailing ship, draped with skeletons. It was in the middle of a manicured park, the precision of care that it was kept made it seem quite incongruous next to the rough style of the memorial itself.

    We backtracked a bit for petrol, and realized it was soon to be breakfast time, so we skedaddled back to the B&B, afraid that if we were a minute late, it would be 'no breakfast for you!' Noreen was there, and we met her and another gentleman that was helping. Scrambled eggs aren't my favorite, but it was plenty for breakfast with the toast and brown bread. The two women at the next table had asked about (and received) bacon, and we wished we had thought of that, but figured it wouldn't hurt us to have no bacon for a day or two.

    Today's plan was to drive around the Connemara Loop and explore that area, and if time allowed, explore some of Achill Island later in the day. We realized that this was an ambitious plan, but we are ambitious folk, and we only had the one day in the area. We drove through Clifden first, and then tried to find Mannin Bay, another brown-sign-promised view. We asked a couple of older ladies walking on the road, they directed us in the right place to Ballyconneely, and a beautiful sandy beach at low tide, a rocky wasteland, desolate and stark.

    We wandered around the area a bit, noting houses in various states of being half-built, and others in varying stages of deterioration, usually right next to each other. We were later told that people would live in the old building, build a new one, and simply use the older one for storage – and do the same process again, 50 years later. Very rocky, but still plenty of holiday style homes built along that stretch of coastline – the views were sweeping and epic. We saw one town with a spa that advertised seaweed baths, the thought of which horrified V. She said she would never take a bath in seaweed, chocolate milk, chili with cheese with fries on top – anything she can't see through. To be more specific, anything that she couldn't tell wasn't 'waste matter,' to put it delicately. I reminded her that fish pee in water.

    There were lots of horses and ponies, as well as cows, and not nearly as many sheep as had been in Donegal and Antrim. We saw a sign promising that littering would result in a fine, in the oddly specific amount of E1902.61. There was a place called Dogs Bay, and a sign that said No Dogs right nearby – rather ironic, that. Farther inland, we had seen one field with about eight horses that seemed not to be penned at all – wild ponies? Not sure, but Connemara would be the place to find them, if they were.

    We made it around the coast to Roundstone, a sweet seaside village where we parked, took some photographs of the area, and found a place for lunch. O'Dowd's café had a Smoked Salmon Salad and a Seafood Cocktail Salad, with fresh whole grain scones and a shared bottle of cider. It also afforded a nice view of the harbor, and an upstairs room with a higher view of the same.

    The sun was out most of the day with occasional clouds and not much rain, so it was a refreshingly bright morning and we enjoyed being out in it. We decided it was time to head up to Achill Island, about a 2 hour drive. I have long since discovered that Americans think 100 years is a long time, and Europeans think 100 miles is a long way, and I know Noreen was surprised we'd been planning this much driving today.

    When we arrived to Achill Island, I suddenly saw flags and streamers of blue and yellow everywhere. I currently live near Morgantown, West Virginia, and these are the colors of West Virginia University, so I was momentarily confused. Why would there be Mountaineer fans in Ireland? But it was a local school team's colors as well, as we saw several signs with the team symbols on it, as well as a pub entirely in yellow and blue (called the Way Inn).

    School was out and the children were everywhere, so we drove very carefully through town. We saw a brown sign for "The Atlantic Scenic Drive" so off we went in search of scenic views. We were not disappointed. There were lovely views of the bay, and some ponies I stopped to photograph more closely. They were very friendly, especially the two foals, and one was quite brave to come right up to me, probably looking for something to eat. The owners were coming out of the driveway while I was there, and waved at me as they drove off. Obviously they were used to the charms of their friendly ponies to the tourists.

    We drove around the coast road to the other side (south, I think) of the island, and saw a very narrow, very steep switchback road ahead, but we figured if the giant white bus that was coming down it could navigate it safely, so could we. We went up carefully, especially as the wind had picked up again to about 25mph, and it was well worth the journey. We later found out it was probably Keem Bay, and we had it to ourselves for a good while, though the wind tried it's hardest to discourage our presence. Once again the sun helped us out for photographs, but it could do nothing about Sister Wind. The coast of Ireland is definitely a wealth of wild and wooly coastlines, and I thoroughly enjoyed each one.

    On the way along the coastal route, we also found a tower on the water, and it turned out to be Grainne's Tower. Grainne O'Malley was a female pirate who lived in the area in the 16th century, and was rumored to have butted heads with – and met - Queen Elizabeth I.

    After Achill Island, we headed towards Westport once more. A brown sign prompted us to go looking for a castle, but it was covered in scaffolding, even though it had a fantastic spot on a lake, overlooking a green valley. The scaffolding reminded me of the beginning feature in Monty Python's Meaning of Life, when the Accountants set sail on the wide Accountant Sea.

    We settled up that night in the B&B, since we were off early the next morning for the ferry over to Inis Mor (no scrambled eggs for us!). Both Sadie and Noreen were there, and it was clear that Sadie was actually the one in charge. She reduced our bill by E10 since we didn't need breakfast the next day, and was much friendlier and less abrupt than the first night we were there. Perhaps she had just had a bad night?

    I had hoped my charger would arrive, but told them that I would be back from Inis Mor in a couple days, and would call to see if it had arrived. If not, they said they could just forward it to my home, and I gave my details so they could. That is what ended up happening, and they were very kind about it. They refused compensation for the shipping.

    We decided to take a break from pub food for the evening, and ate at the Indian/Nepalese restaurant down the street, The Everest. (they had takeaway, probably prompting the sign in the B&B room) The food was delicious, we had Chicken Tikka Masala and Nepalese Lamb Masala. The lamb dish was very tasty, sweeter than I had expected, very aromatic. I wished I could eat more, but I am physically limited to what I can eat at one time, due to stomach surgery. And, of course, we couldn't bring any leftovers into the B&B on pain of death.

    V was feeling unsocial again, so we went into the small grocery store and got a couple of small bottles of wine for her to relax with for the evening while she soaked in the tub, while I went to Matt Molloy's to meet Debe. I sat in one of the small rooms waiting for either Debe or music to show up. There was a girl from Hamburg, Germany sitting at one table, and a group of folks from Louisiana at another. I nursed my half pint of cider (I was still quite full from the lamb) and caught up on the day's events in my notebook. I find it's always easier to be sitting alone at a pub if it looks like I'm doing something, so I always bring my notebook.

    I did hear a girl singing My Lagan Love in another room, her voice was sweet. There were several small rooms, like many pubs in Ireland, so different singers/players could have their own small audience without intruding on the other performers. I liked the setup up, as it allowed for different types and styles of music for different tastes. Joe's in Cushendall had been like that as well. Nancy's in Ardara wasn't doing music the nights I was there, but they often did Jazz or Blues, I was told.

    Since I still didn't have my charger, I discovered I was doing fine getting small video clips on my camera. It did gobble up charge and space, about 1 picture 'space' for each second of video, but that was fine as I had plenty of memory cards. That's good, as the charger never did show up to the B&B in time.

    As I sat and reflected on the trip so far, waiting for Debe to show up, I realized one of the main differences I saw was that there were decent seafood selections at every place we went – shrimp, salmon, chowder, mackerel, monkfish, you name it, they had it. I love seafood, and require a high amount of protein on my current dietary plan. Shrimp has a high protein content, so I ate that frequently, but it was very nice to have several options available. And it all tasted fresh and delicious!

    I also realized that as we headed farther south, into 'touristy' areas, the roads got wider and less windy than in Donegal and points north. I'm sure that will change eventually, as more EU funding helps tourism, but I already saw the differences. Of course, Westport and the surrounding areas are also more heavily populated than, say, Ardara, so that was certainly a factor as well. Can't blame the tourists for everything, can we?

    I'd long ago learned a very important lesson in Ireland – there is no shame in letting the locals drive past you. In fact, they appreciate it when you do, as they know the roads well, and actually go the speed limit, while you're poking along, afraid of what's beyond the next bend or hill. Pull off in a lay-by and they'll blink their lights as they go by in thanks. By now, however, I was driving confidently enough that some tourists were pulling over to let ME by. I felt so proud!

    We also noted a proliferation of signs, whether they be warning of twisty roads ahead (which should just be a blanket sign for the entire island of Ireland), or 'no verge ahead' (there was a sign every 20 feet coming off of Achill Island). We posited that there was one little old lady in the back country churning out hundreds of signs for the roads, and she was rather overworked by now. The time-honored tradition of Sign-Making in Ireland, a true cottage industry! Random 'Danger' signs on every bend, 'Concealed Entrances' ahead, or perhaps 'Hidden Dip?' You decide.

    The pub is filling up quickly as the evening progresses, but I have not yet seen Debe. I'm pretty confident I'll recognize her when I see her, as she looks a lot like my friend Celesta, so I just continue to observe, sip, and write. A short, older man with white hair comes in and starts chatting with one of the tables, asking where everyone is from. For each response, he sings a song or a bit of a song related to their place of origin. When he comes to me, of course, he sings 'Country Roads' (or a clip of it) when I tell him West Virginia. I told him I was from Florida before that, and that seems to stump him, so I start off with Suwanee River (Old Folks at Home).

    I was joined by another older gentleman (perhaps around 70?), who literally put his dancing shoes on – evidently he was looking for someone to dance with, but I begged off due to my ankle, as I've never been the most graceful person at the best of times, and my ankle made me a right danger to those around us. He told me the singer's name was Mick Lavelle, and you could tell he loved the singing. Mick continued singing some other songs, including Molly Malone (which many of us joined in on) and Wild Rover, then When Irish Eyes Are Smiling and Black Velvet Band. He tried to get us to sing the chorus on that, but we failed in volume and tune.

    The four people next to me borrowed the stool I'm saving for Debe, promising to return it when she arrives. I spoke to one of them (they are from Boston), and showed off my jewelry once more. One man's daughter also makes jewelry, and I gave him my card, as I wrote an article on getting started in the art show business.

    There is a rowdy group of girls against one wall, obviously here to drink and not listen to the music, so when two players started in one corner, everyone got quiet except them. I think they were too drunk to notice that the music was even playing. These were definitely session players, there for fun and to enjoy playing, not paid performers here to entertain the tourists. Not that there is anything wrong with that, that's fun, too – but there is a definite difference between the two types of entertainment. Paid performers are more polished, and cater to the crowd more, while session players simply play for the pleasure of it, and play what they like and know.

    Debe walked through, and I recognized her, called to her. She said she hadn't been sure it was me. She sat and chatted for a bit, and then we migrated into another room, a larger one, where her boyfriend was performing. He was one of the aforementioned paid performers, and he was very good. He knew how to work the crowd, which increased dramatically quite quickly. A hen party (bachelorette party in American) of about 60 girls came in, all dressed like Audrey Hepburn, the theme of the party. It was a nice change from the usual flashing headdresses and sparkling neon jewelry bits of most hen parties.

    I met Debe's friend Jackie, a buyer for a department store, she was a blast. We sat and talked about all sorts of things. I dragged my jewelry out again to show it off to them. She told me that it was great stuff, but in all honesty, too high priced for the Ireland market right now – I greatly appreciated the information, and it made sense, since everyone was in a recession right now. Dee sang things from traditional stuff like Clare Island to Sweet Caroline, 500 Miles, Daydream Believer, and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Fun was had by all!

    By midnight I was tuckered out and made my way back to the still hard-partying streets of Westport to my B&B. It was only about a block away, but ducking drunks on the street made it an interesting slalom course. This is definitely not a sleepy town on a Friday night, and had a healthy night life.

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    Saturday, May 21st: "That'll be E15 Euros. Close the door, you're letting the weather in"
    We had an early start today, out at 7am and off to the ferry at Rossaveal to get to Inis Mor. It was a gloomy, rainy morning, lowering clouds and a bit depressing. We packed only what we wanted to bring on the island, as there was no need to bring 7 days of clothes when 2 will do, and we couldn't bring our car on the island – only residents could do that. It was a 1.5 hour drive to the ferry dock, and we met very few cars on the road on the way. We stopped at a Spar in Rossaveal, got some snacky bits to make up for missing breakfast. While scanning the items on offer, we saw Spam – selling for E4.99. We figured we could buy a bunch and bring it over, make a killing.

    While we waited for the ferry (we were about an hour early, just in case something had gone wrong), we decided that Ireland is a bit of a contradiction. Everyone drives fast, but does things slowly. Things may say they will open at 7 (if hours are posted at all), but not really open until 8. Perhaps they just want to hurry and get off the roads so they will have to pass fewer people on the road? Debe had mentioned things don't really get going until 9 or 10 in the morning, but many stay up late at night. In the US, if a place is closed, that open sign is turned off, turned around, but definitely gone. They seem to leave them up everywhere in Ireland, even when a place is obviously closed.

    We went in to where the ferry parking lot was, confirmed our prepaid tickets, and headed to the dock itself. It was pouring rain at this point, with high winds, so the umbrella was useless. I couldn't even get my poncho on due to the strong wind, it threatened to fly away, so I just pushed through, carrying my smaller bag (without wheels, unfortunately). We boarded the ferry amidst a group of American teenage tourists, one of which sitting behind me seemed so vacuous I was afraid my brain cells were being siphoned off due to extreme osmosis. The trip was very choppy due to the wind, and one woman a couple rows from us lost her breakfast, and was almost carried into the back of the ferry, where the rocking up and down wasn't as pronounced.

    Luckily for us, both V and I have iron stomachs, and considered this to be a roller coaster ride and rather fun. When we docked, it was still pouring and the wind was still raging. We rushed in (with everyone else) to the tourist office. I wasn't sure if our B&B host was going to pick us up, so I tried to give him a call – busy. The very helpful lady at the tourist office said the jitney tour busses lining the dock doubled as taxis, and they would be able to take us out to the cottage (which was about 5 miles along the 9 mile island). That was great in theory, but the first driver we approached (an older man with a blue van) said he wasn't interested. The second driver (a younger man with a red van) was also reluctant, but finally agreed to let us at least sit in the bus until he got a full load of tourists. We got the impression that, if he was able to get a full tour-load, we would be asked to get back off, and try a different taxi driver.

    The driver waited about 15-20 minutes, while I continued to try our B&B on the phone. I finally got through (I was worried that our host was out there looking for us) and was assured by Maura, our hostess, that Joe wasn't there, and that we should go ahead and take the taxi. Meanwhile, the driver had started gathering a larger group. He dropped some off at other B&Bs (turned out he had a taxi day rather than a tour day, after all), and then picked up some others to do the same. One of these groups had Jeff – an organizer of a tour group of some 40 people from Dublin, here for the weekend. One sat next to me, Ken, and we started chatting. He had been to the US, even lived in NYC for a year.

    With everyone else nearby dropped off, our driver started the tour for the 4 people left in the bus, and headed towards the center of the island, where our B&B was, Man of Aran Cottage (http://www.manofarancottage.com/). When he made it to the village near Dun Aengosa, he dropped off the tour folks and then down the street and around the corner, dropping us off at our place. Warm, safe and dry at last!

    The cottage was charming, lovely, and nicely restored. It had been used in the film Man of Aran, a 1934 film about life on the island (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0025456/), thatched and comfortable. Our room (#5) was in the next building, nicely done with wood floors, a decent sized room with a window overlooking the water, and a rather tiny bathroom (by US standards – normal by European standards).

    V and I were both thoroughly tired of the rain and gloom, and since we couldn't use our car to get around the island and stay dry, she decided to stay put for a while and read. I went in to the dining area, and chatted with Maura a bit, taking her up on her offer for tea and biscuits. We talked about island life, politics, crime, jewelry (I dragged out my stuff again, and she was kind enough to buy a pair of my gingko leaf earrings), depression, finance, weight, etc. It was a thoroughly enjoyable alternative afternoon to slogging through the rain.

    She told me that Joe Watty's, a pub I was looking forward to visiting, served food from about 6pm to 8:30pm, and I went back to the room and checked my email and Facebook (yes, they have WiFi, yay!). I started getting stir-crazy then – I didn't travel 3000 miles to stay inured in the B&B! So, when the sun started burning through a bit, I put on my rain poncho and went walking to the nearby village. I remembered it from last time I was here, and they had hearty soups and wonderful Guinness chocolate cake.

    I ended up walking the same way the bus had come, which I discovered later was the long way around, but it was a nice enough walk. The rain came and went, but I was thoroughly ponchoed (the umbrella was useless in the wind). I got into the village, did a little shopping in the shops, and traded a few phrases of Irish with the locals. They all seemed impressed that I even tried, and I was gratified that my accent could be understood.

    Once the tour busses filled back up and took all the extras away, I wandered into Nan Phaddy's to find a warm, welcoming, toasty fire in the fireplace, hot vegetable soup on the menu, and a seat near the fire waiting for me. I met a girl from Malta who was visiting, she was part of the group from Dublin. I can't now remember her name, but we talked for a little bit then and later on as well. I also heard another of the Dublin 40 speaking Spanish, and was delighted to discover I could understand every word she said. Since I grew up in Miami, I speak Spanish passably well, but Cuban Spanish is much faster than some of the other accents, and it is difficult for me to understand when the words stop. I concluded that she was from Spain, as her words were well-enunciated. I asked her '¿Eres tú de España?', and she answered yes – it was great! I spoke two foreign languages that day, and was understood in both. We get our little joys out of life in odd ways, don't we?

    Jeff came in after a while, and extended an invitation to join them at Joe Watty's later, even giving me his cell number. Since I was planning on going there anyhow, I told him that would be great. With V feeling unsocial, I wanted to have someone I knew already there. While I don't mind going in blind, it's much nicer if there is at least one person you've met before.

    I headed back to the B&B via the shorter route, which was only about ten minutes to walk. There was no rain for the first couple of minutes, and then it returned with a vengeance. When I got back to the room, V was happily playing on her iPad, and I set my clothes and jacket on the radiator to dry. That's when the sun decided to come out and start shining through, even revealing some lovely, much missed brilliant blue patches in the sky. I decided to take advantage of the unusual weather and set out to walk the 4.5 miles to Joe Watty's. I could have called a taxi, but I wanted to absorb that rare sunshine.

    Since my sneakers were soaked, I put on my other shoes and started out. The walk was long and windy, up and down hills, in and out of sun and rain. I did develop a small blister on one toe, but made it in about an hour and a half without problems. I saw several folks driving, another walker, and a biker. I saw a ship anchored off the island, and was later told it was a National Geographic vessel, doing a story on the local wildlife. Along the route I also saw two donkeys, about a dozen chickens (the most we had yet seen in Ireland), several horses, and a gang of young hostelers.

    When I got to Joe's, I saw several tables marked Reserved, and concluded that this is where Jeff's group was planning on sitting, but no one that I knew was there yet. I went up to the bar, and got myself a pint of cider and a Smoked Mackerel Salad. The smoky, salty flavor of the fish worked perfectly with the sweet balsamic dressing, it was delicious. There was a game on television, and everyone was very excited about it – Leinster was playing, and they won. This was evidently a good thing, judging by the cheering and other reactions. I'm rather a dunce about sports, but the mood was infectious.

    Jeff and his crowd started trickling in a bit later. They were all part of a group called "New and Not So New in Dublin", a social group that did all sorts of meet-ups and gatherings. I sat with and talked with several people. Fernando, who was from Mexico and just moved to Dublin a short while ago; Maria who was from Belgium, originally; Jeff, the social butterfly who flitted from group to group; Louisa, who had a huge plate of stone crab claws, and was somewhat apprehensive about being able to get them open; Ken, the gentleman who sat next to me on the bus, looked like a younger version of Ian McShane, and was an accountant like me; Declan, who had lived in Thailand for a year teaching English, and was about to embark on the same job in Barcelona. Declan and I actually got along quite well – we both loved trivia and history, so we chatted a lot. I showed off the jewelry once again, and got lots of compliments.

    After everyone else finished their dinner, the pints started flowing. Ken got Declan to start drinking Gin & Tonics, which I wouldn't think would mix well with the cider, so I stuck with my Bulmers. The singer started up, and we all danced and sang to songs like The Gambler, Country Roads (really? Is West Virginia so popular in Ireland??), Piano Man, With or Without You, Daydream Believer, Fields of Athenry, Molly Malone, Stuck in the Middle with You, Galway Girl, etc. The place was now packed, with at least one hen party, several groups of guys, and with a couple outright stumbling drunks.

    I went outside for some cooler air, as the wind was still whipping about with bits of rain. There was a pub dog playing fetch with whoever was willing to throw the straw (we couldn't find a proper stick for him). The wind was raw and wild, so it drove me back inside for more fun.

    As it neared 11, I decided to try to find a ride back to the cottage – I didn't want to get stuck walking back in that weather. I made my way through the dancing crowd to the bar, and asked one of the girls to ring up a taxi for me. When I went outside, the guy in the blue van was there again – he wanted E15 for a 5 mile drive. I thought perhaps he wanted to haggle, so I offered E5 (Ken had told me that E2 was more normal, but it had been E5 that morning). He said that wasn't even going to pay for the petrol – now shut the door, the weather is coming in. Well, I went back into the pub, and asked the girl if that was really the going rate, or was he trying to gouge me? PJ, the owner of the bar, heard me, and got very upset. He said it was a ridiculous sum, and that he'd take me himself.

    Now, the pub was STUFFED with people. He had a great staff, but for him to leave his own pub in the middle of a Saturday night crowd just to take a tourist home was incredible. He was livid about the taxi driver, and wanted to make sure that this wasn't the impression I took away about Irish hospitality. PJ, you more than made up for that man's attempt to gouge the tourist. Your kindness and help is what I will remember, and pass on to everyone who will listen. Thank you!

    I am very glad I didn't attempt the walk back, as it was by now pitch black, and there is NO light on that route. I would have used up what was left of my cell phone charge to try to see and not stumble on some unsuspecting donkey, or tumble over a dry mortar wall.

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    What a great read! Thanks!

    Your story of the dark road reminds me of two young friends of mine who went off to a pub about a mile from their B&B one evening. It was very dark coming home, so they kept lighting matches to see their way. Luckily it was a pleasant evening, but even so, I think the matches were used up before they got home.

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    What a great read! Thanks!

    Your story of the dark road reminds me of two young friends of mine who went off to a pub about a mile from their B&B one evening. It was very dark coming home, so they kept lighting matches to see their way. Luckily it was a pleasant evening, but even so, I think the matches were used up before they got home.

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    Out on Inis Mor, there are no lights - no ambient light, no street lights, it's very pitch black. And in an hour and a half, I am sure I would have hurt myself several times trying to walk back that uneven, bumpy, twisted road...

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    Sunday, May 22nd: "It's not my inner thighs that hurt, it's my inner butt!"
    We slept well, and saw sun in the sky, so we set off to breakfast with refreshed vigor and high hopes for the day ahead. Maura had broken her ankle, and was off to an anniversary mass for her mother's death a year ago, so Joe was cooking breakfast for us. I had some wonderful smoked salmon, and loved a country in which I could have this for breakfast and not be considered odd.

    We were concerned about the weather. PJ had mentioned that there was a storm due to come in tomorrow, with 45mph winds; he listened to the marine forecast. When I discussed this with Joe and Maura, they did express some concern as well. PJ had thought they might cancel the ferry back, which would mean we needed to stay on the island a third night, and make arrangements for that and a missed night in our next stop.

    Maura was certain that they wouldn't cancel the ferry, but we were still a bit worried. The ferry office said they wouldn't know until the time of the ferry the next day, so we decided that, to play it safe, we would take the morning ferry out instead of the noon ferry, as we had planned. That way, if one or even two were cancelled, we could still get out on the third. The blow was unlikely to cancel all three. Joe said he'd arrange an early breakfast and a taxi to go out to the docks with us and our stuff. What wonderful service (as long as the taxi wasn't Joe Gill and his blue van)!

    Joe said he would order some bikes delivered so we could have a little more mobility and freedom, but they wouldn't be here until 10am. In the meantime, we walked up to the village. No tourists yet this day, so everything was still locked up tight, but we decided to see if we could get through to Dun Aengosa, which was nearby. The visitor centre had evidently just opened up, and I think they were quite surprised to see us so early. We climbed the path up to the 2,500 year old fort, from about sea level to a 300 foot cliff. It was amazing to have the place to ourselves – the last time I'd been there, I was a daytripper with all the others, and there were probably about 75 people all over the place. This time we had no one but us, the wind, and the now shining sun. It felt prehistoric, momentous, and intimate at the same time. The high wind meant great, crashing, powerful waves far down on the cliffs and rocks below us.

    We tore ourselves away from this wonderful place, and got our bikes. Now, this is the first time I'd ridden a bike in probably 25 years, and I wasn't nervous at all until I realized what I was about to try. I'm still a very heavy girl, even though I've lost 100 pounds, I've another 100 to go until I'm at a 'normal' weight. But, after adjusting the seat up much higher than it was (I was hitting my knees on the handlebars!) we headed off towards the Seven Churches.

    We saw a sign for Clochan na Carraige – I thought I remembered something about that, but the brown sign gave no indication of what it was. We parked our bikes and started walking down a path. Then down another path. And another – mazing through short dry stone fences, we finally gave up. We found out later it was a beehive hut, which is fine, I'd seen many of those before, and V wasn't particularly interested in them. I think that's about the time I took my first spill on the bike, landing on the knee I hadn't hurt when I fell at Carrowmore. I felt better with a matched set – again, it wasn't a particularly injuring fall, but it did concern V that I fell again.

    We went on towards Seven Churches, and found it shortly thereafter, about 2 miles down from the B&B. As we walked down the driveway to the site, there were two farmers (and their dog) trying to get a very upset cow to stay in a pasture. She had another cow with her, and a calf, and she was complaining loudly, and trying to escape at various points in the field. We quickly vacated so the farmers could get their job done without worrying about stupid tourists hanging about getting hurt.

    We explored the Seven Churches area a little bit, and took lots of photos (V preferred the beach and coastline, so went and looked at that while I tramped around the church). Again, it was delightful to wander around, get the shots I wanted to get without other people in the way. I found the exact spot I had taken one of my more popular photographs at in 2006, and tried to recreate it. That never works, but I keep trying.

    We got back on the bikes and started the long trek to Kilronan – about 7 miles from where we now were. We were foolish and did not take the coastal road, not realizing that it was much more up and down, hill and valley. I fell at a couple more times, usually when braking. I couldn't get the bike out of 6th gear (they were both pretty old and rusty, and I think they were both stuck in 6th) so getting up hills was difficult – we walked them up. The bike chain fell off the gears when I tried to switch them, but V figured out how to fix that. Then my brakes seized up on me – I had a bit of a tantrum, and V suggested we switch bikes, since she had ridden them more recently than I had. That seemed to work a little better, and we made it safe and sound to Joe Watty's. I was SO ready for a pint and some lunch!

    We walked in, and found Declan waiting for his own lunch, so we joined him and chatted some more. I was disappointed that the mackerel salad I had loved the night before wasn't on the lunch menu, but got a Greek Salad instead, and it was delicious. V wasn't yet hungry from the Full Irish Breakfast she had eaten, so we just had some pints and talked politics, education, etc. We left Declan and went off into town for some serious shopping.

    I had remembered the large woolen outlet from the last trip, and had been looking forward to the selection. I was looking for a sweater to keep me warm the next winter, so it had to be too small for me now, longer (past the hips), zipper was preferred, pockets, and a darker color. White and off-white don't mix well with me, it gets instantly dirty!

    I found one that fit my requirements, but decided to shop at the other shops a bit before deciding. We laughed at some of the kitschy bits for sale, wandered down the street to more shops, bought some things there – and found Declan again. He was evidently bored enough that he agreed to join us shopping – I think he just wanted to see what American Tourists considered worth buying. I got the sweater (a nice dark green) and then we had some ice cream at the Spar. We ran into Ken and Maria, hugged everyone goodbye (their ferry was leaving soon) and rode our bikes back along the coastal route. This route was much more level and easier to deal with, and was much more pleasant, despite biking against the prevailing and increasing wind.

    We saw the seal colony basking in the surf, and they were so still we at first thought they were statues put there to fool the tourists… but no, some of them moved a bit! We took copious photos, and moved on to the village near our B&B. They were closing up, but V managed to go in and buy some bits and bobs before they were done. We biked back to the B&B and recharged a bit.

    After some relaxation and reconnection, we decided to head for Joe Watty's again – but not by bike. My inner butt hurt too much to try that right away. We were taking a taxi this time! I had told Maura about my previous night's experience with the blue van, and she said she knew just who it was, he had been a problem before. Tourists beware! Don't take Joe Gill's blue van – he has a bad attitude.

    Today's taxi driver was John, and he had a jeep. He picked us and another couple up, and took us down to Joe Watty's for dinner. The mackerel salad was back, woohoo! V had her staple of seafood chowder, we had pints, and noticed that most of the folks around on a Sunday night were locals, as opposed to the tourists from the weekend. That made sense, of course – and even at that, most of the tourists had been from other parts of Ireland. But everyone was speaking Irish, and that made it more interesting to me. I tried to catch a word here and there, and barely succeeded.

    Some other interesting quotes of the day included:
    "It's a romantic candlelight dinner now, maybe I can get my thighs rubbed."
    "I like the soft underbelly"
    "Mine curl like monkeys around rocks"

    We chatted a bit with Grace, PJ's wife, and when she mentioned that her sister makes jewelry, I dragged out my stuff again. She ended up buying a pair of earrings, and offered us a ride home later in the evening. I really do appreciate the way Irish folk do things – and wish it wasn't such an unusual occurrence in the rest of the world that I have to note it as different.

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    Monday, May 23rd: "Celtic Cross Addiction Satisfied – for now"
    Up early and ready for our non-Joe Gill taxi ride to the docks! Joe was kind enough to make the arrangements, and get up early to make sure we were well-fed. He asked if we wanted something different for breakfast, since the ferry ride was likely to be very rocky, but we both assured him that we had iron stomachs, and would be fine (and we were). We settled up with him (he had fronted the money for the bike rentals the day before) and we made it in good time to the ferry. The taxi driver (John) talked to us about Obama's visit, the Queen, and even Pope John Paul II (the best pope ever, in his opinion).

    While the wind was fierce, there was no rain to make it miserable, so it was energizing rather than depressing. The boat crossed the waves sideways, so the ferry went side to side rather than up and down like the trip over. It made it hard to stand, but still fun. We did find the music on the ferry interesting – it was a local radio show, and played Kung Fu Fighting and Freedom.

    We drove towards Galway, and while TomTom wanted us to go around the city, we decided to try to find the Spanish Arch and drive around inside the city a bit – a foolish idea at 9:30am on a Monday morning, perhaps. It was very crowded, very traffic-heavy, with busses and people everywhere. We didn't find the arch (even if we had, there was no place to park) and decided we had had enough with the hustle and bustle. After we saw the unusual site of a redhead man with dredlocks, we made our way out of the city and on to Clonmacnoise.

    Our final stop that night was Ballyvaughan, but there was enough time for a detour on the way to this large monastic site. This was where we were when the heavy winds hit, and at one point I actually had to hold down my big, heavy purse as the wind was actually lifting it up.

    Clonmacnoise has two round towers (one evidently older than the other), many beautiful crosses, and is situated on the river Shannon. It was lovely, and fed my Celtic Cross addiction for a while. We made our way back through gentle rolling green hills with farms and villages, crossed a river with the humorous name of River Suck, and made it to Kinvarra – at which point TomTom took us over a mountain again. While we were used to his shenanigans by now, it was always an adventure to discover if he had chosen a road that still went through where he thought it did.

    We found Ballyvaughan easily, and our B&B was right where I thought it was, just past Monk's Pub, literally right next door. It was a lovely big place, with bright, colorful gardens, parking, and a large room. The bathroom was nice, the view over Galway Bay was delightful, even in the gloom. We checked in (had a little trouble getting onto WiFi), and then went off to Monk's for a late lunch.

    We each had a half pint with lunch, me sticking with cider and V trying Smithwicks ("Smiddicks") for the first time. I had a salad that was made up of slices of black pudding, crispy bacon, slices of green apple, and a balsamic vinaigrette – it was a bit dry, but still a tasty combination. V had the goat's cheese salad once again.

    We walked into town, explored the neighborhood, went into Spar for some snack refills. We went into a gift store, and discovered the closest ATM was back in Kinvarra. The weather started deteriorating, so we walked quickly back to the B&B, got the internet working, and asked the hostess (very nice, but a bit fluttery) about a local launderette. There was one in town, we could go by in the morning before we headed out.

    Tonight we headed back to Kinvarra for cash, stopping at several brown signs on the way – Traugh Beach, a Napoleonic lookout tower, and other various beaches and scenic views. In Kinvarra, I finally found my toothpaste (I prefer a brand you can't get in the US). The town of Kinvarra was a little quiet, oddly so, but it had a largish Londis that we shopped around in a bit.

    On the way back, we saw our first Irish rainbow – a double one, and one that met the earth on both sides. Welcome to the Emerald Isle!

    We stopped for dinner at the Hyland Burren Hotel and Pub. It was very quiet, and we thought at first it was closed, but it was open. Again, not tourist season here yet, I suppose. I had the smoked salmon and prawn rose marie salad, while V stuck with her seafood chowder.

    V has several cats, and all have Egyptian names. We discussed possible names for future cats, and she opined that she couldn't have a cat named Ra, because Ra was the Sun God, and all the other cats would think he was better than them.

    We had an early night tonight, praying to the weather Gods to be kind to us tomorrow.

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    Tuesday, May 24th: "Nice bright-shirt – pity your wife isn't wearing one (thu-thump-thump!)"
    The beds at this B&B were a bit firmer than I'm used to, but we had gone to bed early so I got plenty of sleep. Breakfast was with a German couple and a German/French couple who kept switching back and forth between the two languages.

    The weather Gods were evidently listening, as this was one of the very few no rain days we had in Ireland. It was sunny and glorious! There were some clouds here and there, but we stayed dry, though wind-swept. I swear, I do NOT remember it being this windy on other trips, but it was ever-present for our entire vacation.

    We went down to the launderette to drop off our laundry – but it was closed. The website I had checked the night before said it was open at 9, but no sign of the owner. We walked across the street to enquire of the shop there, and they said he usually stayed closed unless someone called him – but my phone wasn't getting through to the cell number listed on the door. They had his home number, but that went straight to an answering machine. We went back to the B&B, and the hostess managed to get hold of him – but he was in Galway, taking an exam. However, here Irish hospitality kicked in – he said he'd pick up the clothing from the B&B on the way back, do the laundry, and drop it back before we were home for the day, and he did. Lovely solution!

    We headed off along the coast road, taking several stops for photographs on the way to Fanore and beyond. We saw signs forbidding the building of cairns, and figured the locals didn't want the competition. We then went on to Lisdoonvarna, and did some shopping in the smokehouse. I really wanted to get some smoked fish and cheeses, but none came in sampler packs or small enough packages that I could reasonably eat most of it before heading back to the US. That made me sad – we had gotten some on my last trip when we were able to gobble it down at the self-catering lodge for breakfast. I did pick up a bottle of Poitin for Jason, and a couple other gifts.

    Onwards to the Cliffs of Moher, in competition to be one of the new seven natural wonders of the world! Not that the cliffs are new, by any stretch of the imagination, but they are definitely full of wonder, and the weather Gods were gracing us with sun today, I would not waste the gift.

    There were, of course, droves of tourists there, especially as it was such a nice day, despite the still-strong winds. Today was evidently a French day, I heard it everywhere in various degrees of accent and style. As we left, a fresh wave of Germans started coming in, but we shared the Cliffs experience mostly with the French.

    The last time I was here, there was a big sign saying 'Do not go beyond this point'. There was still a sign, but it was covered in stickers from various places, almost to the point of illegibility. The way past that point was also MUCH better blocked by stone barriers – last time it was relatively easy to get past them, and many did. This time I saw no one venturing on private property past the sign.

    Also, last time the O'Brien Tower had been closed for renovations – this time it was open, and free of ugly scaffolding. We explored the varying views of the cliffs, 700 feet above sea level, and the wheeling seabirds cavorting among the strong waves and sea stacks below. It is an awesome place, in the best sense of the word 'awe'.

    On our way back down through the crowds, we stopped at a couple of the little gift shops, especially the one with music. I tried to find some storytelling or Noel McLoughlin CDs, but failed. Yes, they are available online, but are expensive, so was hoping to find it less so in a local shop. Also, storytelling CDs were hard to find.

    We headed out for the Burren to explore and find interesting things. We searched for the Poulnabrone Dolmen, and for once, the brown signs let us down – the only ones we saw was for the walking trail The Burren Way. This was likely because TomTom took us around on little roads, and the signs are only on the main roads.

    We finally found Poulnabrone Dolmen, and shared it with only about 20 tourists, the largest dolmen I've yet seen. The Burren itself is a bizarre place, with a karstic, cracked rock landscape offering intriguing folds of flora and fauna within its glacier grasp.

    We explored a bit more for Caherconnell Fort, and then ended up almost back to Ballyvaughan on small backroads through the Burren. We headed back, as we were looking for the Burren Perfumery, scents and oils made from the local flowers and herbs. We found Parkanbinnia Wedge Tomb completely by accident on the way, atop a hillside and through a rocky pasture. The perfumery itself was on a very long, winding road through a valley, and did have some lovely scents. However, the few things I was interested in were all only available in the larger sizes, which didn't work for the three ounce rule, nor did I want to trust it to checked luggage at those prices.

    We went to the café for some food, and I had the goat's cheese salad with a locally made chutney. We then left, and passed through Corrafin – a self-advertised 'Angler's Paradise'. "What, do the fish blow the anglers and then jump into the boat?" We passed a man walking with his wife down the narrow road, he was wearing a neon safety shirt, pity she wasn't wearing one. (thu-thump-thump!) I hope no one gets offended at that – we were a bit silly and loopy at this point!

    Along the course of our drive, we came across another infamous brown sign. This one said Dysart O'Dea Castle – and a High Cross. The German woman in the castle was quite helpful, but when we noted that half the clerks we had spoken to in the area were all German, she professed she didn't know why. We figured the Germans are slowly infiltrating the island, and will quietly take over the country before anyone notices.

    We explored the castle a bit, then into a field where the high cross was at, passing a group of (gasp!) London tourists on the way.

    We headed south to Quin on a quest to find Quin Abbey. We did pass Clare Abbey in the distance, but this was not our target for the day. Quin, when we found it, was actually closed as it was 5pm by now. However, I was able to explore the graveyard and architecture quite a bit on my own. We saw a sign for Knappogue Castle, but it was hidden by trees and closed to the public at that moment. We turned around on a small road with a girl exercising her horse, and headed back to Ennis.

    We wandered around downtown a bit, found a parking spot, and decided on Brogan's Pub for some dinner. Once again the seafood chowder became a meal, though I had fried prawns and rose marie sauce – and we each had ½ pints to wash it down. It was reasonably crowded, and the waitresses were a bit rushed, but the food was decent.

    It had turned out to be a fantastic day today, with winds still high and around 20-25 mph, but the blue sky wasn't shy and the clouds were fluffy and white. We ended up back in Ballyvaughan for a couple of pints at Monks, chatted with Robert at the bar, and relaxed.

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    Wednesday, May 25th: "National Irish Fish-n-Chips Day"

    We were up early this morning, as it was another long travel day down to Dingle. We repacked, breakfasted, and checked out to a rainy day. The route was only 3.5 hours, but we knew well that side trips and brown signs could easily double that figure.

    Our first diversion was to Cormcoroe Abbey, a nearby place I had noticed the day before. I was able to get some nice architectural photos there, and then skedaddled back on the road to Dingle. We did get shots of the several different types of stone fences the Irish built, creative folk that they are.

    We came across another brown sign, for Tully Holy Well and Shrine – down a narrow farm road we went. The hill took me past some very friendly, sleek brown horses, to a very odd little shrine on the hill, and then back to the main road. By the time I saw the Shannon Estuary, I realized that TomTom had ignored our request for 'no ferries' in his instructions, and going around at this point would add at least an hour and a half to the trip – so we bit the bullet and took the ferry.

    It was only about E18, and a nice, easy trip in the car. The rain kept splattering, but we only had to wait about 15 minutes for the ferry to start boarding, and the trip was short. Once on the other side, we went exploring for a scenic view or two. At one point, driving along the road, I heard a huge THUMP on the windshield, and saw the underside of a big black bird – he hit us! Hit and run! Track down that bird!

    We tried to find Glin Castle, but all we saw were a couple castle gates that looked like someone made them from papier mache. We took the 'scenic route' back, and decided that 'scenic route' was Irish for 'crappy road with very little to see' on it.

    On the way to find Ardfert Cathedral, we found Lislaughlin Abbey, and then went on to find Carrigafoyle Castle by accident. This was a well placed ruin on a lakeside, and looked like a mouth permanently open to swallow all of time within. Ardfert was worth exploring – lots of lovely architectural spaces, archways, halls, galleries of stone stretching around to ancient gravesites.

    By the time we got to Camp, on the north side of the Dingle peninsula, we realized that it would be much too misty to see anything from Connor Pass – nor was I interested in braving that north road in the rain, so we took the longer, windier path across the peninsula before we got to the pass. It did switch back and forth a lot along that southern coast, but it was relatively wide throughout, and I remember going up that pass with Kim constantly in 1st gear the whole way up.

    We got into Dingle and found our B&B along the road without any problems, The Blooming Wildflower B&B (http://www.wildflower-cottage.com/). Evidently she runs an herbal shop out of the front of the house – our entrance was in the back. There is no street parking or off-street parking – she told us we could park in the lot across the street, which was several houses in a group. The room was the Captain's room, and not huge, but the bathroom was almost larger than the room itself. Marianne, our hostess, was a tiny, soft-spoken woman from Seattle, but she reminded V of Tangina, the little old psychic woman from Poltergeist, with her little voice.

    We settled in and found at least one extra plug, a fantastic view over the water, and it was a nicely decorated room, with a blue nautical theme. The rest of the house was cut off from our hallway by a brochure stand on wheels – evidently she would come fetch us for breakfast the next morning. This all felt a bit odd, but this house isn't set up as a B&B as well as some of the others, which were probably more purpose-built.

    We walked into town, and passed by the Aquarium, to find a fish-n-chips place. Today was Irish National Fish-n-Chips Day, and we meant to honor that. We stopped at Harrington's, had some cod, and somehow came to the conclusion that V was the 'black hole of sin' for some reason.

    We did some serious shopping then, finding odd shops like The Craic House, The Dolphin Store (which was full of hippie stuff, incense, beaded curtains, and a huge, wall-sized 3D graphic of a dolphin on one wall). It also had the only real seed-bead work I'd yet seen, though there was no clerk to help us or ask questions of. We went into another shop called Cuchulainn, which had some higher-end jewelry, and a couple other shops with lacework, knitwork and woolens, music, etc.

    We settled into the very American-tourist-oriented Dingle Pub for some pints and to escape the rain. They had free WiFi, but only if you sat at one table in the pub, evidently. I had a meal of smoked salmon on brown bread, and while the bread was tasty, it was so dense it could easily give someone a head wound if properly wielded. We watched some silly commercials on the television in the pub, and wandered again once the rain stopped (for the moment).

    We got the recommendation of the Courthouse pub by a local, but couldn't easily find it wandering around, so we went into Murphy's, which promised trad music. It was pretty well packed, so we moved on to John Benny Moriarty's, which had a free corner for us to curl up in. Again, this pub had trad music, and again, it had many American tourists, but seemed less commercial than The Dingle Pub. Also, there was free WiFi throughout so V could hide in her corner.

    V actually engaged with another pub patron – on her very own, too! She commented on him texting on his iPhone, a common addiction. He was a tourist from Denver, named Phil, and she had a whole conversation with him before he had to leave. I was so proud!

    A couple sat next to us on the other side, and ordered a couple of hot whiskeys. It looked very warming, but I'm not a fan of whiskey, so I passed and stuck with my ciders. The pub started filling up as the music session got closer, again, true session players. They were very good, but after 3-4 tunes, V wanted to get going, so we braved the wind and the rain and got back home – cold, wet, and very loopy.

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    Thursday, May 26th: "Since when have I EVER refused alcohol??"

    We were 'fetched' for our breakfast at the appointed time, and followed Marianne up through the front room, upstairs, past the kitchen and into the dining area. It had a lovely view of the bay, but was only separated from the kitchen by a half wall, so it was rather odd, as Marianne didn't have much to do once we were served, so she sort of watched us. The food itself was delicious – yogurt with granola, fresh berries, full Irish breakfast. She had on some music in the background, it sounded like James Galway.

    After breakfast we headed off along the road to Connor Pass, as the sky was a bit lighter now (though it still had storm clouds in many places). This was a scenic view we missed our last trip, as after the long and laborious drive up from the north side, there was so much mist and rain that we could see exactly nothing from the vantage point on the top.

    This time proved to be just as windy, but clearer. We waited a bit at the top for the sun to slip into the occasional openings in the cloudy cover, but when it did, it showed sparkling green views of a lovely landscape, well worth the wait.

    We headed down the north side to find Brandon Point, and found Brandon Beach instead. We continued on – this part of the peninsula didn't look like it had very much tourist traffic, and we got a few odd looks as we drove through. Brandon Point was also lovely, but with the cloud cover we couldn't see much in the mists. There was one other carful of tourists, and we played leapfrog along the scenic spots, each getting out to take photos, and pass the other, and then reverse the order.

    I think the north road of Connor Pass is wider than it was five years ago. Yes, there are bits that are very narrow, but I remember a lot more of it being so. Perhaps it's just that there was no deep, thick fog this time, making time stand still and teeth stand on edge, expecting a big truck to come around a bend at any moment. However, it wasn't all too bad this time. The south road, to Dingle, is definitely wide and easy to travel.

    We went on along the south Dingle road towards the Celtic Prehistoric Museum. This was a great stop – a man from the US settled here and set it up, and has been here 13 years. He's made the house into a great little museum – each room dedicated to a different part in prehistoric Ireland. There were many artifacts, including cave bear bones, mammoth tusks and skull, Celtic jewelry artifacts, goddess figures, tools and weapons from the Neolithic age. There was also a very odd structure that looked like a dressmaker's mannequin with a boar's head on it. I did not question it.

    There was a lovely little gift shop as well, that sold some antique bits, like bottles and coins, as well as locally made handcrafts. This is where I found a knit cap to purchase, and a hair toggle made of leather. I highly recommend this stop!

    We went along the road, past Dunbeg Fort (it was covered in busses) and the beehive huts. We stopped a few times for somewhat misty sea views, but ended up at Slea Head in the almost sun. The sun was very reluctant to show its face today, though the rain was also rather reluctant to come. It did drop here and there, but very small bits.

    Slea Head is the scenic high point of Dingle, in my opinion. It has a lovely beach, dramatic black diagonal rocks jutting out of the surf, and a gently sloping peninsula pushed into the sea, surrounded by smaller green islands. On a sunny day it is a bit of paradise. Even on the overcast day it was lovely – less so with the idiot tourists that were out climbing the jagged rocks in the high winds, but still lovely.

    We passed on Blasket Island, given the weather, but we found a lovely beach to enjoy, Wine Strand. Of course, there were about a dozen or so really old, run-down looking holiday campers parked along the dunes, evidently for rental. There was a sign that asked to keep this 'area of beauty' free of junk and trash – right next to one of the worst looking campers. Very nice.

    We found the Gallerus Oratory farther along that road, and once the coachload of tourists left, we had it to ourselves for a good 20 minutes. A group of school kids were coming towards it just as we were leaving, so we once again felt blessed by the Tourist Gods.

    On to Killarney for some sightseeing and an early dinner. We found a parking spot and went searching for dinner. First, we needed more cash – but where were the ATMs? The clerk at the petrol station said they 'lined the streets' in Killarney – liar! There was one lonely ATM with a line of 7 people waiting to use it, but at least there was one. We went in to several different places, searching for food – all of them weren't currently serving, as it was that magic hour when breakfast wears off and the pubs are closed for food. We went into the Laurels, O'Connors, O'Somethingelse, and then found a real restaurant – Trevand's. I had some yummy fishcakes and V had a chicken tikka wrap. It wasn't the best food in the world, but it was tasty enough, and it was fuel. I couldn't finish my bottle of cider, so I offered it to V – "Since when have I EVER refused alcohol?"

    After our late lunch, we did some more shopping, posited on the lack of ATMs, short shopping hours, and the general acceptance of a lower level of convenience than we demand in the US. V found a collapsible walking cane for her husband, and was happy as a clam.

    We tried to drive up the Gap of Dunloe afterwards, but were stopped by a jaunting car driver, who said drivers were no longer allowed up the road unless you were a resident, due to an accident with one of the ponies. We decided to head towards Ross Castle instead, and enjoyed its lakeside views. Too much wind and rain to climb up Torc – so back to the B&B we went. We stopped at Inch Strand on the way back, as the shifting sunlight through stripes of storm clouds made a wonderful dance on the long, shimmering strand of sand.

    We headed back out for some pints once in Dingle again. We found the Courthouse Pub this time, and they had pints, WiFi, and trad music. I chatted with a couple Scottish tourists for a bit, and we noticed that our two bartenders looked a bit like Snooki and Horation Hornblower – a very odd combination! The music was very good, many of the tunes were ones the Chieftains do, I think there were four musicians playing.

    Back at the B&B, the internet kept cutting out on my iPhone. I would have to go into the hallway and hold my phone up in the air to capture signal again, and that might last 5 minutes, or a half hour before cutting out again. V's iPad had no problem with it, though – so my phone was just less powerful, but I knew that.

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    Friday, May 27th: "You've got to stop playing with that, I just can't handle it!"
    We got all packed and ready to check out, after getting led up to breakfast again. The tick-tocking of the clock was very loud in the quiet room, but our hostess was a bit more chatty this morning, and we checked out and headed for our final destination, Kenmare. And as a note, even though she accepts credit card for the reservation itself, she only takes cash on checkout – I'm glad I decided to get more cash at the last known ATM.

    It was about an hour drive to try the Gap of Dunloe again. The weather was nicer so we decided to walk up the Gap, since cars were evidently not allowed – which was bull, because we saw at least a dozen cars of tourists drive through there while we walked it. I think the jaunting car driver last night simply wanted a fare from us instead of letting us drive it. However, it was a lovely walk, about 2.5 miles up to the bridge across the gap. There was a slight drizzle now and then, but it was green, lush, and the water made for wonderful photographs. There was one guy that looked like he had strapped three couch cushions to his back, and crossed the river. Evidently camping gear – but he looked very ungainly.

    On the way up, we were passed by several tourists on bikes, jaunting carts with ponies, on ponies themselves, or in cars. There were also other walkers… this is a spot of great natural beauty, and I'm glad others are appreciating it.

    On the way back, I actually jogged a couple downhill spots – and I am NOT a jogger by any stretch of the imagination. But it felt good to get some speed up, with the help of Mother Gravity. The last time we were here we took the jaunting car, and Kim rode one of the ponies – I asked another cart driver about Tim, our previous driver, but he had the day off.

    On to Muckross House, a stately Victorian home. The car park was packed, and the spots were VERY narrow, even for my little car. We walked through the café and into the gardens, and explored the rocky hill garden with stone steps up, around, and through. We ended up behind Muckross House itself, and that is a prettier view than the front of the house. The house tour is E7, and we enjoyed the tour a lot. Queen Victoria had stayed there, and the rooms are kept as they were at the time of the visit.

    After the tour, we climbed up Torc Waterfall, enjoyed the views, but we felt we had been spoiled for waterfalls after Glenariffe Forest and Eos Waterfall in Ardara.

    After Torc, we headed out of Killarney and on towards Kenmare, not too far away. We found ourselves in Moll's Gap, I recognized it from my 2002 trip – I hadn't realized it was on the route. In Kenmare, we found O'Donnabhain's (http://www.odonnabhain-kenmare.com/) Guest House and GastroPub with little trouble – it's halfway down one of the two main streets. We weren't sure where to park, so we parked around the corner and went to check in. Like most Irish towns, the houses were townhouses, all attached to each other, but this place was HUGE. It looks normal from the outside, but it keeps going and going and going back – and it's three stories tall, as well. The rooms are all upstairs, the kitchen and pub is downstairs. Jerry, the owner, was great, showed us our room, the lounge, the pub. The room was huge, by any standards, and the bathroom large, as well. Very clean, very modern, very precise. More of an American Hotel standard décor than an Irish B&B standard.

    We parked our car in the back parking lot (thanks to Jerry for directions), and went into the pub for food and pints. Our waiter, Michael, was Australian, and reminded us very much of Moe on the Simpsons – the way he looked, walked, etc. I had a seafood open sandwich with prawns (of course), while V had the seafood chowder – and we discovered the best brown bread in Ireland. It had honey in it, was sweet, soft, and absolutely delectable. Jerry said he would post the recipe on his website in a month or so, as he kept getting comments. Oh, and my meal included a large prawn, complete with head and antennae. I kept playing with it, and V said "You've got to stop playing with that, I just can't handle it!"

    Once more we braved the soft weather to go shopping. We were going to meet a friend at the Square Pint, but when we looked around it was hopelessly closed. I noticed some Irish towns are geometrically challenged – their town square here was triangular, and it's not the first time I've noticed that. Back to the pub after a flurry of shopping goodness, for pints and sticky toffee pudding! I figured it is our last stop on the trip, I'd been good but wanted some sweetness to counter the bitterness of an ending vacation.

    I like Kenmare, as a town, better than Dingle. I still like Ardara more, but Ardara, if I were to live there, would likely be quite cold in the winters. Kenmare is likely to be warmer – and it's cosier than Dingle, more intimate, more friendly. We were planning our trip for the next day around the Ring of Beara, and Jerry came over with some advice about sticking to the coastal road for the more scenic bits.

    We went back to the room, and I started my Grand Repacking Scheme. I knew I had bought lots of stuff, and wanted to check my extra bag with my clothes on the way back, bring the gifts as a carry-on. However, I realized that the extra bag was soft sided, and I had bought a bottle of poitin for J. That means that I would have to instead check my rollerboard (the one with wheels!) and carry my soft-sided bag, as the poitin was definitely more than 3 ounces. Sigh – it is what it is. V had found a nice duffel bag, with Ireland embroidered on it, for her second bag, but had to figure out how much space she still had left to fill.

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    Saturday, May 28th: "A Stone Circle a Day Keeps the Mists Away?"
    We got up early this morning, and went down to sit on the stairs in order to get WiFi. Jerry had warned us that it works fine on the first floor, iffy on the second floor, and forget it on the third floor. We had a wonderful breakfast served by Vanessa, Jerry's wife. Then we were off towards the Ring of Beara, another trip I had been greatly anticipating.

    We started on the north road, and stuck with Jerry's advice on taking the scenic coastal route. Unfortunately, this was one of the high rain days, and the mists obscured much of what I'm sure was spectacular coastline and lovely beaches. We stopped to explore at one brown sign for Uragh Stone Circle, which took us inland along a long, windy, narrow, steep, questionable road, which then opened up into a rocky questionable road, and a further walk (but not too far) to the stone circle. There was a small donation box for E1 each, which we of course contributed to.

    The circle was perfectly placed on a small hill in a spectacular valley, surrounded by gentle high hills, a waterfall in the distance, and green and white dotting the landscape everywhere. It was very prominent and impressive, yet the circle itself was small, almost intimate – much less intimidating than others I'd seen. I liked it a lot.

    We saw another sign back at the parking area – handwritten – promising a famine cottage, a 'boulder circle', and a hut. We walked up the mountain, following the occasional arrow signs (again, hand written). We went all the way up the mountain, past a farmhouse, and decided we had missed it somehow. On the way back, I saw a blown-over handwritten sign pointing who knows where? There was a path, so we followed that as well. It got very squishy, so I chickened out, but V continued on – she found nothing she could recognize, so came back. The mysterious 'boulder circle' remains at large to this day – keep your eyes out for it!

    We drove along some more, and found another brown sign – we obviously had not yet learned. This was Castlecreevy Stone Circle, I think. We parked, and started walking through the woods. We saw a deer, who kept flirting with us, ran away a couple feet, then came back, ran some more, etc. We walked and walked, exploring all. The forest was very different from the one in Glenariffe – very mossy, very dark, almost spooky. We saw three other people walking with a dog, and they said they were going to the stones, so we followed them. It's a good thing we did – we would never have found it on our own! Evidently we parked one spot too soon, and didn't take the road/path up to the stones, we went the long way around.

    There were actually two stone circles right next to each other, both rather small, but both with large principle stones. They were on top of a tall hill, with misty views out into the valleys below, and you could see the inlet, even through the mist and haze.

    We went back down through the shorter way, but I slipped part of the way down. I was fine, even though my leg bent under me as I fell. I was more muddy than hurt – but a big, conveniently placed rock helped me scrape the worst of the mud and wet off my butt. We saw the deer's tracks in the mud as we took the 'real' path back to the road, and then a short distance down the road to our car.

    Since TomTom has no differentiation between "safe route" and "quickest route" we have interesting side trips. It might be nice to have "scenic route" as an option, but that often means, as we've discovered before, simply an "alternate" to the real road. "Insane driver in a tractor going 60mph down the narrow, windy road coming towards you around the next bend" might be a more useful option.

    We found another brown sign, for another stone circle. The circle was in a fenced field next to a farmhouse (after a long, narrow, windy road, of course). There was another car in the little parking area that started back down towards us, when it could easily SEE us coming down this narrow road, with no place to pass. After a moment, the other driver, I suppose, decided that the cars should not actually exchange paint molecules, so he slowly started backing up to the parking area again.

    The circle had a couple lambs lying next to it, who quickly vacated as I went through the gate and walked towards it. They ran around the corner of the farmhouse – and evidently got their mommies and daddies, because all of a sudden, a herd of about 50 sheep started coming towards me, baaing and baaing, running towards me. It was like something out of a bad Irish horror movie! I had plenty of time to get back out, and the sheep were far enough away that I didn't need to run to keep ahead of them – but that circle definitely has an effective guard system!

    We went into Ardgroom, but by that time the rain and mists had increased to the point it was difficult to see anything. However, we had no problem seeing the almost eye-blindingly brightly painted buildings in town! They must have had a sale on BRIGHT paint one day. I'd seen many individual houses with bright colors – I'm sure it brightens up the mists and gloom on occasion. But often it's one house, or trim on one or two houses – not the entire village.

    We did see another brown sign for an Ogham Stone (Ogham is the ancient writing system of the Celts), but it was through a private farm. V stayed in the car while I ventured up. When I got there, I found this 18' stone jutting up into the sky from a tall hill – and realized my memory card was full! No problem, I went back and deleted the most recent few photos, took new ones up there, and then retook the last ones after getting a new card at the car.

    This area is lovely, with rocky points sticking up into the mists in the now much calmer ocean. The houses and villages look as though they needed an influx of prosperity, though, and much was weathered and beaten. Part of that, I'm sure, is that Beara isn't the tourist mecca that is Kerry or Dingle, and therefore doesn't have as much funding (or interest) in keeping things tourist-friendly. This is both a good and bad thing. Good in that it keeps the area authentic, 'normal', and unspoiled; bad in that it makes it more difficult for the locals to subsist.

    We drove around the tip of the Ring of Beara, found Kilcatherine Church and a Mass Rock, and traveled along more windy roads through rocky hills, up mountains and down through valleys. We found Castletownbere, and saw another brown sign for a small circle that was right off the road. Then we found a wedge tomb – this was like a clearinghouse for Neolithic structures! We found one tomb, went on to the second promised one (brown sign again), and ended up on a steep hill leading up to a farmhouse again. With some manipulation of the manual transmission, I managed to turn around without hitting anything, and found the main N road (N71) with relief.

    We passed by Molly Gallivan's and Druid's View (still too misty to view much), and decided that we had had enough with brown signs for the day. They had led us on enough foolish epic quests and down enough twisty, questionable roads for the nonce. We made our way back to Kenmare (ignoring the brown signs that now popped up like teasing little schoolchildren, nyah-nyah!). Having seen at least six stone circles today was wonderful, each one was different and unique, and I asked favors at each one.

    Ah, pints! Yes, the sweet taste of cider, the Guinness stew, and the fish-n-chips of a well-run pub. V was feeling antisocial again, so she went upstairs to repack and retool, while I had a pint at the bar, and waited for another online friend, Seamus, to show up. He was a motorcyclist, and was camping nearby, so he said he'd meet up with me for a chat this evening. While I'm waiting, I am writing in my handy-dandy notebook, tallying up the experiences of the day. Once again, the 'character' in the pub comes over and asks if I'm writing a love letter. This is not the first time I've been asked that – to people actually write love letters any longer? I told him no, I was writing a book, and it was all about him. He said I'd need a bigger notebook!

    Seamus came in and we talked about all sorts of things – that Irish actually drink Irish coffee (I thought it was an American invention of Irish culture, like corned beef on St. Patrick's Day), history and genealogy, economics and education. He hadn't eaten yet, and the pub was past serving food (only just) so we went out to the take-away and had some chips and curry. There were several very drunk guys staggering about, and one in the chip shop was the 'friendly drunk' who loved everyone. Another was the 'dropsy drunk', and he dropsied his soda on the floor twice.

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    Sunday, May 29th: "Enough with the mists already!"
    Today was the Ring of Kerry. I had thought about the boat out to Skellig Michael, but the weather was still too rough for this, and we would have had to arrange it the day before, anyhow. It was very misty and still quite windy today.

    We had breakfast again, served by Jerry's wife, and we realized that the floors in that breakfast room was an entire orchestra of squeaks! I would hate to have the room just above it – I'm sure they were loud enough to break through any fog of sleep and ear plugs I had surrounded myself in.

    V was able to check out with no problem that morning, since we would be up and out before sunrise the next morning to get to the airport on time. She mentioned that Vanessa, Jerry's wife, was incredibly helpful and friendly, and for V, that is quite a compliment.

    We started out on the southern road of the Ring of Kerry towards Sneem. Now, I'd driven the ROK twice myself already, but V had of course never seen it. The last time I went, we went counter-clockwise, and got stuck in the middle of a huge charity bike race in June. There were literally hundreds of bicyclers using the road in the same direction we were, and they take over the entire road. Trying to pass them is a nightmare around bends and twisty roads, and we were all nervous wrecks by the time we decided to take a detour to Valentia Island. This time, there were no such problems, though the ever-present mist and drizzles still continued to haunt us.

    We explored around Ballinskelligs Bay, thanks to Jerry's recommendation the night before, and the beach there was wonderful, with a ruin on an island out into the ocean. We continued on to Staigue Fort, St. Finan's Bay, and Killonacaha. TomTom took us over another mountain, and the way was steep and a bit scary, but at the top you could see all of Valentia Island spread out in front of us, even through the mists and the wind.

    We went down to the Visitor Centre to learn about Skellig Michael, and while I really wanted to go, I realized it would have been impossible to see much, and probably quite dangerous climbing those stairs in the wind without any railing or support.

    The last time I had been there, we had climbed part of the hill at the end of the island, but came back before getting to the top. This time we walked the whole thing, and what a wonderful choice! There was a surprise view on the other side, with crashing waves against rocks and lovely cliffs. There was a rather spooky ruined house at the top – I have no idea if there was any historical significance, but it looked like a rather modern concrete structure. It had a sublime view, though, when the mists cleared.

    Back on the main road of the ROK, we found two other ring forts along the coast, one of which we saw from the road, and took a long, runaround way to get to it. We were greeted by the owner (an orange tabby cat) who allowed us access after paying a toll of several pets. This was a cool fort, as it still had some of the internal structures in place, so you could see better how people lived inside the fort.

    Farther along the road, we saw more brown signs – 2 forts and a castle. The castle that was surrounded by barbed wire, but several teenage boys were inside and climbing around. As we left, we saw a rather angry-looking older woman driving a tractor up the road, and figured she was going to go thrash the boys that were on her land and her castle.

    The two forts were right near each other, on neighboring hills, and we parked in one place for both. These were larger, higher forts than the last one, again with some internal structures to help us picture life of that time. Yesterday was the Stone Circle day, today was evidently the Stone Fort day.

    We went back down to the main road, and found Rossbeigh Beach, which was pretty, but we had just about had enough of the gloom and mist, and were rather tired of it all. We got back to Killorglin, and then back home to Kenmare. We decided to go out to the take-away for chips and curry, and V had a chicken burger. They had decent food, and Jer (I assume that's the owner's name, as it said Jer's Take-away) is evidently the hardest working man in Kenmare. He was doing great, had several customers going at once, and I think owned the kabob place across the street, too. He had gone over there for more curry sauce the night before.

    One of the last things we saw on the ROK was a horse, peeing on the ground, and I joyfully pointed it out to V and said 'So that will be your last memory of a horse in Ireland!' Luckily for her, we saw a pony a short time later, bending down and then rolling in the grass to itch its back, so she had a better final memory.

    We went back to the pub in Kenmare, and got some Irish coffee crème brulee – yum! And then we had to get to sleep early, as we were up early, 3:45, to get to the airport on time.

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    Monday, May 30th: "No Petrol Stations to be found"
    Up early and dark – we'd not yet seen a sunrise here, since the sun rose before 5:30am, but today is the day for that.

    We packed, headed out, and got on the main road – and then did a very foolish thing, and listened to TomTom. I could have been smart and stayed on the N road the map said headed to Shannon, but I was still sleepy, and listened to the SatNav – and it took us across country roads to the N20. Possibly a shorter route (by 2 minutes?) but one that had no towns, villages, or cities on the way.

    This wouldn't have been a problem, either, if it weren't for rental car policy that gave a full tank of gas when you rented a car, and asked that you return it with an empty tank. Of course, no one wants to waste money on gas if they are going to lose it, so I figured I had enough to get me to the airport.

    I was wrong.

    The TomTom said it was 100 miles to the airport. The car said there was 125 left in gas, fine, no problem, just about perfect – but that was km, NOT miles… so we had nowhere near enough to get us to the airport. And it was 5am on a Monday, and nothing is open in Ireland at 5am. Also, all the gas pumps we had seen are operated by clerks, none take credit cards at the pump like those in the US, so they need to be manned in order to get gas. And villages don't have any gas stations, much less 24-hour manned ones.

    We made it to a decent city, Charleyville, pretty much on fumes. The gauge had been saying empty for quite a while at this point, and we were very nervous about it. We found one gas station that looked like it might be open, but it wasn't – yet. It was now 6am, our flight left from Shannon (45 minutes away still) at 9am. The station opened at 7am. We could do it, but it would make us very nervous being so late to check into an international flight.

    I walked down to the Aldi next door, and was able to knock on the window, and get the attention of one of the stock guys. He said there was another gas station down the road that was 24 hours, not too far down, about half a mile. I got back and V said the store clerk (she didn't have the keys, was just early for work) said the same thing. We went down the road, and found a very closed-looking gas station. The windows were covered in paper, and no amount of knocking summoned anyone. I asked a guy on his way to work, he said no, there was another farther down the road.

    This was Mecca – a true 24-hour gas station, glory be halleluliah! Let the angels sing and the light shine down from the heavens! We quickly put in about E12 of gas and started off on our last dash to the airport. I sped the rest of the way on N and M roads. We got there around 7:00.

    The weather today was beautiful, of course, on the day we left. We even saw another rainbow as we emerged from the tunnel that bypasses Limerick.

    We dropped our car off at Dan Dooley – and I want to say, I've rented cars in Ireland four times and the UK three other times, and this was the smoothest, most helpful agency I've ever dealt with. They were quick, efficient, no hidden charges at checkout, and very friendly. I highly recommend them! www.dandooley.com. I told the clerk I was concerned about making my flight – he said no problem, he knew the pilot and that he would wait for us (yeah, right).

    We took the shuttle into the airport, and got into line to check in – and now I realized why the clerk was so sanguine about our flight. It looked like the only flight leaving that morning, and we were all in line to check in for it. Customs came with little laptops on rolling desks to pre-screen us. There were 4-5 clerks, so the line moved somewhat quickly, but we were still in line for about a half hour. Everyone was on the same flight, though, so I wasn't too concerned.

    I found the VAT windows to turn in my receipts without problem, and a small wait. They are more efficient at it than they were. If more shops took the new VAT card, it would be even easier – that meant no paperwork, just swipe the card at the shop and swipe it at the airport, and voila! All done.

    We got to the gate just as boarding started, couldn't be more perfect. Since this was a day flight, I gave up thought of sleeping (it's hard enough on an overnight, dark flight), and watched movies. I watched This is Spinal Tap, Music & Lyrics, Inglorious Bastards and Season of the Witch. None was great, but all had some entertainment value and kept me occupied.

    Getting into Newark, we had a four hour wait, but we had electronic entertainment and snacky bits, we were fine. Our gate was moved, and it was a strange little add-on gate. The flight was late boarding by about 45 minutes (was late getting in) but we had no other flights to catch, so I was unworried.

    When we got back to PIT, we collected our luggage, I called my shuttle, found my car, and drove the 1.5 hours home. I was pretty exhausted, but happy that most of the trip went without major hitch. The most worrying part was the gasless drive back to the airport that morning, and we did what we could.

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    Recap and reflections:

    Ireland remains my magical retreat, the place where I feel free and alive. This is my fourth trip, and it will never be my last trip. Someday I hope to move there. The people remain friendly and incredibly helpful, like Pat at the Riverside B&B, PJ at Joe Watty's or Jerry at O'Donnabhain's. The food is delicious, and so full of seafood choices, it's like heaven. The scenery is sublime, and getting easier to access. The wild parts are still wild and wonderful. While I didn't visit Dublin this trip (the first time I didn't visit Dublin on an Ireland trip) I'm sure it's changed as well, as it had changed so much between my previous visits.

    I did notice many roads were wider than I remember. Did the EU put that much money into infrastructure, or am I just getting used to Irish roads? It could be both. It took me longer to get used to driving on the right side of the road again when I returned than it took getting used to being on the left.

    All in all, we had 3 days with no rain at all, 2 days of all rain, and most of the rest were a mix between the two. Most of the mix days were 10 minutes of rain followed by an hour of no rain and some sunshine. Not the worst weather I've had for vacation, but not the best, either. We evidently missed three weeks of glorious, sunny, dry weather just before we got there.

    Our favorites were as follows:

    Scenery: Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Glenariffe Forest and Waterfalls, the Dark Hedges, Cliffs of Moher, Sliabh Liag cliffs, the sand dunes near Ardara, Keen Bay on Achill Island, Dun Aengosa, Slea Head on Dingle, Connor Pass, Healy Pass, the forest near Ardgroom, sticking our feet in the water in Ardara.

    Surreal: those sand dunes near Ardara, the forest near Ardgroom, the Dark Hedges.

    Pubs: Nancy's in Ardara, Joe Watty's on Inis Mor, O'Donnabhain's in Kenmare

    B&Bs: Riverside in Cushendall, Bay View in Ardara, Man of Aran (except being so far from Kilronan and Joe Watty's!) in Inis Mor, O'Donnabhain's in Kenmare. The view was exceptional in Oceanville, as well.

    People: Pat McKeegan in Riverside B&B, Everyone at Nancy's Bar in Ardara (the McHughs that run it as well as Lauren and Angus), Debe, Dee and Jackie in Westport, Joe /Maura in Man of Aran, PJ/Grace at Joe Watty's, the Dublin 40 (Jeff, Maria, Declan, Ken, etc.), Seamus, and Jeff/ Vanessa/Michael at O'Donnabhain's.

    Thank you for joining me vicariously on my journey – I love comments and suggestions for this report or the next trip!

    Go raibh maith agat! (thank you)

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    Great trip report! You are obviously very artistic by your descriptions...and sense of humor!
    I go home every year and I travel similar...take many sideroads and follow brown signs (although I refuse to use a GPS). I love Ardara! I make sure to be home for thier Jimmy Dougherty Music Festival each year. I stay in the old gaol that is now a hostel...Its the big gray one right in the triangle with "hostel" written in big letters! I usually go in late September/October or November. I am so happy there are very few tourists at that time of the year. I have been to the Cliffs of Moher when we were the only ones there. I'm looking forward to your photos!

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    Thanks for sharing your photos! They are gorgeous! I can't wait for more time to go back and look in detail.

    I know it is not the camera but the photographer's eye. However, I am always interested in cameras, so am asking what camera you used.

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    I realized many of the photos on my trip report weren't coming up - I THINK it's fixed now, but if not, they are all (and more!) on the facebook links, which are also on the trip report.

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    Wow...I am trying to nail down my itinerary for our upcoming trip to Ireland in Aug and I had come up with a very similar plan (fly in to Belfast and out of Shannon). I am sure I'll find your report immensely useful. Will print it and read it today. Thanks for posting!!!

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