Our Trip to Ireland 2001

Day One

In order to keep this trip report from becoming a novel I will not described everything we did and saw, but I will provide links, which you can click on at your leisure. Double click on the pictures to view a larger photo.

We began our journey to Ireland from the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on July 27th at 12:30PM, where we boarded a flight to New York. We landed in New York with a 2 hour layover before we boarded the plane for Dublin, a Delta 767. As luck would have it, maybe Irish Luck, we were bumped up to First Class, so the flight from New York to Dublin was a treat we thoroughly enjoyed. We arrived in Dublin at 7:00 AM, and going through Customs was less of a hassle then we thought it would be. We flew 5000 miles to get away from the Texas heat and we arrive in Dublin on the hottest day they have had in 10 years. Due to a 6 hour difference in time, we left on the 27th of July and arrive on the 28th. Flight time 6h, 30m.

Day Two

We hailed a taxi to our Bed and Breakfast, Kilronan House. which was built in 1834 in an up and coming area of Dublin. It was designed in the fashionable Georgian style. Many of the best places to see in Dublin are only 5 minutes away. Saint Stephen's Green is a remarkable park and a peaceful respite from the city's most fashionable shopping area which is around the corner at Grafton Street.

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We checked into the Bed and Breakfast and then took a walk through the park. Even though it was the hottest day that Dublin had had in 10 years, it was sunny, dry and not 105 degrees, like it was in Dallas. Going straight through the park and outside Saint Stephen's Green on Grafton street we joined a "Hop-on, Hop-off Tour". For £9 you have 20 different bus stops throughout the city, including Dublin Castle, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Phoenix Park, the National Museum, the Guinness Storehouse and more. 

The buses come and go every 15 minutes, all day long, but you need to make sure that you get on the right tour bus. There are several of these "Hop-on, Hop-off Tours", and the buses are similar in design and color. Be sure to note which one you decide to take and the exact name of the tour bus. Ours was "The Dublin Tour", but there was also one that just said "Dublin Tour". We almost made the mistake a few times of getting on the wrong bus.

We took the bus tour through the entire city before we made our first stop at the Guinness Storehouse. The brewery was founded in 1759, when Arthur Guinness purchased the Rainsfords Brewery. For £8 you can take a tour of the 19th century building that houses an excellent exhibition on the making of the famous brew. In the center of the Reception area, enshrined in the floor, lies the original lease for the St. James Gate Brewery, signed by Arthur Guinness in 1759. After the complete tour, which takes you up 7 floors, you arrive at the Gravity bar where you receive your free pint of Guinness and take in the spectacular view of Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains.

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After leaving the brewery, we took the "Hop-on, Hop-off " bus back to O'Connell Street. We located an Internet Cafe and emailed our friends and family. For a £1.50 you can access the Internet for 15 minutes. These cafes are found throughout Ireland, and for us, it was much more economical than phoning home. We have an email address at Yahoo, which made it easy for those at home to keep us up to date with family matters.

After leaving the Internet Cafe we walked along O'Connell Street,  the major thoroughfare of central Dublin. An 1854 bronze statue of Daniel O'Connell, the Irish nationalist leader, surveys the avenue from the river end. The River Liffey comes down to Dublin from the Wicklow Mountains, and passes under 14 city bridges, before reaching Dublin Harbor. The most famous bridge is the Ha' Penny Bridge, built in 1816. While we were there it was closed for restoration and they had erected a temporary bridge next to it. 

Walking down O'Connell we pass the General Post Office, which was build in 1818. This building is an important landmark both physically and historically, as it was the focus for the 1916 Easter Rising. It is still pockmarked from this 1916 clash as well as the Civil War in 1922.

One block west of O'Connell Street is Moore Street, central Dublin's main produce market.  Henry Street next to the General Post Office, is a pedestrian mall, where you will find branches of most of the leading European chain-stores.

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We were getting tired and hungry so we stopped in Frazer's for some Pub Grub. They had laid a buffet of chicken, roast, potatoes, and other vegetables. For £17, including drinks, we stuffed ourselves before heading back to the bed and breakfast. There are over 800 pubs in Dublin, so you don't have to worry about finding a place to rest your bones, get a pint, an something to eat.

Day Three

Before heading off to  to County Wicklow, we enjoyed a full Irish Breakfast; omelet, bacon, sausage, toast, juice, tea and coffee. Terry and Rosemary Masterson were wonderful hosts, who were most helpful in arranging trips, taxis, and other accommodations.

We took a taxi to the Gresham Hotel to catch the tour bus to County Wicklow. This day trip took us to Avoca, the location of the BBC popular show Ballykissangel and to Glendalough, a 6th century monastic settlement. The route provided spectacular scenery as we climbed high along the "Tour de France" route, traveling through small villages and across mountain peaks and valleys. We arrived in Avoca about 1PM and were left to fend for ourselves. The focal point of the town and the series, is Fitzgerald's, an Olde Worlde Pub. My husband is a fan of the show so this was a treat for him to actually visit this charming village. About 70,000 people visit  annually, due to the success of the television show. They only filmed about 5 or 6 seasons, so maybe someday, the village life they enjoyed before the show, will return.

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The village also has a craft shop and Avoca Handweavers, Ireland's oldest mill, built in 1723, and still operating. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to visit all the sights  before we boarded the bus to Glendalough. 

 (Gleann dá Loch) means 'Glen of the Two Lakes'. It is an ancient monastic settlement tucked beside two dark lakes and overshadowed by the sheer walls of a deep valley. It is one of the most beautiful sites in the Wicklow Mountains.

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Sites include the gateway to the monastic city of Glendalough, the round tower, the cathedral, the Priest's house, and several other churches. These ruins date from the 6th to the 12th century. Also an ancient cemetery is nearby. It takes more than just a couple of hours to take in all the sites here and we didn't have enough time to see everything as we had to board the bus back to Dublin.

We arrived in Dublin about 5PM and settled on walking down to the Temple Bar district, which is between Dame Street and the river. Dublin's answer to Bourbon Street. This is one of the oldest areas of Dublin and has numerous pubs, shops, and restaurants. The oldest street is Fishamble, which dates back to the time of the Vikings. Nearby is Dublin's Viking Adventure, which has a 40 minute tour of Viking Dublin, which was then known as Dyflin.

We asked a local where we could find the best fish and chips. He directed us to Beshoff's at Westmoreland Street and O'Connell Street. We stopped there for dinner, which was reasonable at £12.50. Excellent cod, fries, slaw and bread and healthy doses of traditional malt vinegar. We later stopped at O'Shea's Pub for a few drinks before heading back to Kilronan House.

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Day Four

We started our day with another wonderful breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast, brown bread, juice, coffee, and tea. We hired a taxi to take us to AVIS Car Rental on Hanover Street, to rent a car. We had made arrangements before we left Dallas, but it still took over an hour for all the arrangements to be completed. The AVIS clerk gave us a map showing directions  out of Dublin. Our plans were to drive to County Donegal through Northern Ireland, but we changed our plans and decided to go by way of County Sligo. 

Getting out of Dublin was a real challenge. Street signs as we know them, are nonexistent. What signs they do have are up on the buildings. It's difficult to drive on the left side of the road and look up at the buildings to locate what street you are on. Street names change every few blocks and they can be subdivided into upper and lower or north and south parts, which in some cases are on two different sides of the city. After getting lost twice, I suggested to Mike that we find a taxi driver and pay him to escort us out of town. He didn't think that was a very good idea and getting turned around once more we finally found the N4 and headed out of Dublin. We both breathed a sigh of relief and didn't look back. Funny thing, we met a couple in Donegal Town, from North Carolina, who did get a taxi driver to escort them out of Dublin.

The roads in this part of Ireland are very good and we found no difficulty driving; except  through some of the larger towns. The streets are very narrow with barely enough room for two cars to maneuver. We usually encountered a large truck trying to get through the city the same time we were. There were a few times I just closed my eyes and prayed we wouldn't hear the crunch of metal.

Our drive to County Sligo took us through Counties Kildare, Westmeath, Longford, and Roscommon.  Needless to say the scenery was beautiful. We stopped and took a break at a truck stop called "Mother Hubbards", in Moyvalley, close to County Westmeath. We then drove on to Kinnegad, and cashed some Euro travelers checks at the Bank of Ireland. The landscape was simply breathtaking so we stopped and took some pictures.

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We continued to County Sligo, where we decided to have dinner and spend the night. As we got  closer to Sligo the weather started to change and we began to get a soft rain.  Unbeknownst to us, Sligo was having a William Butler Yeats symposium that had attracted people from all over the world.. William Butler Yeats is the most celebrated of Irish poets. He was born in Dublin in 1865, but his mother was from Sligo and he spent a lot of time there as a child.  Due to this symposium, accommodations were at a premium. We were directed to the Tourist Information Center, which will check the local Bed and Breakfast's in the area for vacancies. Directly across the street from the tourist office was Ross & Brian's Bed & Breakfast. They had a vacancy, and since the weather was poor we decided to stay there. We settled ourselves in and once the rain let up, we walked down to the town center to look around. Most of the shops were already closed for the day so as it began to rain again, we decided to stop in "The Ark Bar", for dinner. We had a wonderful dinner and enjoyed talking to a young couple from Rowlett, Texas. We all shared our Ireland adventures and enjoyed a nice quiet evening. We said our goodbye's and headed back to the B&B. Upon arriving at the B&B we were asked what we wanted for breakfast. Having just eaten dinner, breakfast wasn't on our mind, but we went ahead and gave our order and retired for the night.

As with most of the Irish counties, Sligo has plenty to see, Sligo Abbey, Markree Castle, Ballymote Castle, Creevykeel Goort Cairn, and more. Everywhere you look there are deserted cottages, whose thatched roofs have caved in and are covered with vines, ancient towers, castles and church ruins. Truly beautiful, but somehow sad.

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Day Five

We awoke to a partly sunny day; wasting no time, we quickly downed our breakfast and headed out to County Donegal. The N15 took us north out of Sligo and our first stop was Bundoran, which is a popular seaside resort.  We had tea and scones at Caroline's Cafe, a small, but very cute tea room/luncheonette, cashed more Euro's, and walked around the town. 

Tullan Strand has a nice beach with waves that encourage surfers. It was 59 degrees, but they were out there in their wetsuits catching the waves.  There are plenty of activities catering to families, game arcades, hotels, B & B's, and restaurants.  A visit to a local hardware store was quite a treat for Mike. So many new and unusual things to check out. Like the hand tools that resemble the antiques we see in old magazines. Expensive, but built to last a lifetime.  We picked up a £2 adapter for the camera and window shopped the main street.

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We arrived in Donegal Town around lunch time and went to the tourist office. They helped us find accommodations at Riverside House. We made reservations for an evening walking tour of the city and then checked in at the B & B. Just around the corner from the B & B is Donegal Castle, which was built on a rocky outcrop over the River Eske, by the O'Donnell's in the 15th century.

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After touring the castle and grounds we walked downtown and did some shopping. We visited McGinty's Sweater's and purchased a couple of Hanna hats and also did some shopping for our son and grandchildren. Hanna ships hats all over the world from this one small factory in Donegal Town. Each one is hand finished of Irish wool. You will see Mike wearing them in some photos. Donegal town sits at the top of Donegal Bay, and is a beautiful and pleasant small place that is well worth visiting. We had dinner at the Abbey Hotel, in the bar/restaurant. We splurged and had steak and prawns costing £28 for the both of us. After dinner we joined a walking tour of Donegal town. The tour lasted about 1 1/2 hours and cost just £3 per person. Up the hill, from the tourist office, are the ruins of a Franciscan friary, founded by Nuala O'Brien, wife of  Red Hugh O'Donnell in 1474. It was accidentally blown up by Hugh Roe O'Donnell in 1601, while laying siege to an English garrison. There is also a cemetery on the property that dates back several hundred years to present time. As you can see in the pictures below, the weather was perfect.  Donegal Town, celebrated in story and song, is Mike's idea of the typical Irish town. Sitting by the River Eske, it has the look and feel that I expected, i.e., very old and Irish! We even saw a bagpipe player on the Diamond, (town square), as we strolled the shops. Add a castle, ruins of very old churches, some sheep and the ever present flowers and you have the postcard views that most of us expect.

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Day Six

After another full Irish breakfast at Riverside House we packed up and headed for the Inishowen Peninsula. Driving out of Donegal town, we stopped and took a few pictures. We took the N15 to Burnfoot and then changed to R238, which took us through Ballyshannon and Buncrana. After Bundoran, Buncrana is said to be the next most popular seaside resort in County Donegal.  It has a nice long sandy beach on Lough Swilly, lots of pubs, B&B's, and restaurants. South of Buncrana there is a 6th century monastery founded by St. Colmcille.

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We arrived in Clonmany about noon and called my cousin from the super mart. She drove up to the mart and we followed her back to her house where we stayed for the next three days. She plans on turning her home into a Bed & Breakfast so she practiced on us, quite successfully. That afternoon we drove out to meet her mother in Culdaff. Mary Ellen owns the farm that once belonged to my McGrenaghan family. We have been corresponding with each other since 1994. My great grandfather was born on this property in 1860. He immigrated to America in 1880 and I don't believe he was ever able to go back and visit family. 

The land is now used for grazing cattle, and the old thatched cottage, like so many others you see on the roadside and fields in Ireland, has gone to ruin. The thatched roof fell in years ago and they had to tear down some of the walls to protect the animals that graze on the land. We wandered around the property, took pictures, picked flowers and cherries from the cherry trees, and then drove to St. Mary's Church, where McGrenaghan family marriages, baptisms, and burials, had taken place since 1836.

We took a drive through Culdaff and Carndonagh looking at the sites, including Culdaff beach, before we returned to a lovely dinner prepared by the family.

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Day Seven

Inishowen Peninsula has Lough Foyle to the east and Lough Swilly to the west, it reaches out into the Atlantic and extends to the most northerly point of Ireland, which is Malin Head. The landscape has been described as rugged, mountainous, and desolate. Rugged and mountainous it is, but desolate it isn't. We found it lush with dozens of shades of green, beautiful fuchsia, which grow like hedges, foxglove, hydrangea the colors of blue, pink, and purple, fields of heather and other flowers grown for markets. There were so many wild flowers that I had never seen before, growing like shrubs and standing 5 feet tall. Ancient sites abound, quaint villages, plenty of beaches, and friendly people. This peninsula has been designated a European Special Area of Conversation and is home to hundreds of species of migrating and indigenous bird life.

There is a scenic drive around the peninsula call Inis Eoghain 100, which is clearly signposted. We started out early to take this scenic route around the peninsula. Part way we took a side road that went up a small mountain into some out of the way residential area. We stopped and took in the magnificent view before we went back down the mountain and continued on the scenic trail. 

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We drove on to Malin Head, which is at the top of Inishowen Peninsula. The most northern point of Malin Head is called Banba's Crown (Fíorcheann Eíreann). The tower on the cliffs was built in 1805 by the British and later used as a Lloyds signal station. We spent some time admiring the view before we headed back to Culdaff and had a drink at McGrory's Pub. Mac's backroom bar is very comfortable and has established itself as one of Ireland's finest live music venues. Wherever we went people asked where we came from and if we were enjoying our holiday in Ireland. Being from the Dallas area, they wanted to know about the Ewing's and Southfork. American programs are very popular in Ireland. Turn on the telly and more likely you will see an episode of Friend's than an Irish program.

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From Culdaff we took the R238 to Moville. My great, great grandparents were married in Moville in 1855 so I was trying to locate the church.  Moville is now a small seaside town, but it was once a busy port where emigrants set sail for America. I asked one of the local children where the Catholic church was and she pointed us in the right direction. It wasn't far so we proceeded on foot. Once we found the church I realized it was too new to be the one where they had married, so I asked a man who was leaving the church, "where was the oldest church in Moville." He told us it was up the road about two miles, and he offered to drive us up there, so we got into his new Mercedes station wagon and headed up the road. Even though this church was the oldest, it was only built in 1888, but on the grounds of the original church, which is where my great, great grandparents had married. The cemetery, on the church grounds, was ancient and I found Farren (my gg grandmother was a Farren) tombstones everywhere.  Our new found chauffeur, Frank Higgins took us on a tour of Greencastle, which was just a few miles from the church. He and his wife are from County Tyrone, but are now retired and are living part-time in Greencastle. From the front steps of their home you can see across the Lough Foyle to Northern Ireland and County Londonderry. We spent about and 1 1/2 hours touring with Mr. Higgins before we had him drop us off at the church where we met him.. We thanked him for spending time with strangers from Texas and counted ourselves lucky that we met him. We decided to return the next day and spend more time visiting Moville and Greencastle. Realizing we had worked up an appetite we had lunch at the Clock Tower in Moville. The clam chowder and vegetable soup were excellent. After lunch we headed back to Clonmany, by way of a back road enjoying the landscape, and finally arrived at our home base. After telling our cousins about our day trip we all went out to a late dinner (8PM) at the Ballyliffin Hotel.

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Day Eight

There is so much to see in the Inishowen Peninsula area that we started out early. This was one of coolest days we'd had on our trip and it was misting off and on. We headed to an area call Dough Island to view the headland of Lough Swilly and of some castle ruins, called "Doherty's Castle". We next visited the Dough Island Famine Village. While we waited for the tour guide we were given scones and tea.

After the tour we headed to Greencastle. This is a very popular resort village and gets its name from a castle that was built there in 1305. It was attacked by the Scots under Robert Bruce in the 1320's and later demolished in 1555. There is not much left, but we did go exploring inside and it has a great view of Lough Foyle. We stopped at the Castle Inn for a late lunch and took the scenic route back to Clonmany. We had a family gathering of our cousins and said our goodbye's with a promise that we will return to visit them again.

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Day Nine

We awoke to a lovely Irish breakfast of bacon, eggs, beans, toast, tomatoes, tea and coffee prepared by my cousin. After one last goodbye we left the Inishowen Peninsula and made our way into Northern Ireland, which took us through County Londonderry, where we changed to the A5, and drove on into County Tyrone, through Strabane and then to the Ulster American Folk Park outside Omagh.

The park is considered one of the best museums in Ireland. They have an impressive number of life size exhibits including, a forge, schoolhouse, Presbyterian meeting house, a 19th century Ulster street, and an early street from western Pennsylvania. This park tells the story of thousands of Ulster people who left Ireland to make a new life for themselves in America. The park sits on property that belonged to the Mellon family. Judge Thomas Mellon, the son of an Irish immigrant farmer who settled in the Pennsylvania countryside, rose to prominence in Pittsburgh during the latter half of the nineteenth century through shrewd real estate investments and a lending business that became the Mellon Bank.

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After we completed the tour we called ahead and made reservations in County Monaghan at Fortsingleton Bed & Breakfast. We drove to Omagh and visited the tourist information office looking for an Internet Cafe and they directed us to the town library. The fee was about the same as all the other places we had been, but they only use sterling and we were out. They would have taken the Irish punt, but we would have lost money in the exchange. The librarian at the front desk took pity on us and let us use the Internet access for nothing.

County Tyrone has plenty to see, the Sperrin Mountains, Celtic and early-Christian archaeological sites around Lough Erne, castles, Ulster-American Folk Park, and the Ulster History Park. We left Omagh and drove on to Emyvale in County Monaghan to our accommodations for the night and were met by the owners, Anne and Ray Goodall and their four dogs. After getting settled we drove down to Monaghan and had dinner at Andy's Bar & Restaurant. We both had steak and onions and I can say it is the best that I ever had.

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Day Ten

Fortsingleton Bed & Breakfast is a lovely Georgian Manor built about 1700. When the Goodall's purchased the property 10 years ago it was being used as a barn. They have fully restored the interior of the Manor house, but still have the stables to complete. The grounds are lovely and the home very comfortable. We had a wonderful breakfast prepared by Anne and had a nice conversation with a couple from Dundalk. We had planned on driving on to Dublin to spend the last few days before leaving for home, but they recommended that we visit Cooley Peninsula in County Louth. Anne and Ray agreed, so that was all the incentive we needed to make a change in our plans.

We took the N2 from Monaghan and changed to the A57 and drove on into Dundalk. From Dundalk we asked for directions to Carlingford, which took us to R173, and follows the coast up to Carlingford.

Carlingford is a pretty little medieval village with narrow streets and whitewashed houses, with crumbling walls and towers dotted around the village. The Mourne Mountains are just north across the lough. Carlingford was first settled by the Vikings, and in the Middle Ages it became an English stronghold. King John's Castle was built between the 11th and 12th century.  There are other castles in Ireland called King John. It seems where ever he went they named a castle for him. He may have visited this castle in 1210.

West of the village are the remains of a Dominican friary, built around 1300. The Mint, in front of the hostel near the square was built around the 16th century. It was given a charter to mint coins, but there is no record that coins were ever minted there.

The town streets are situated on levels. We walked through the downtown area and planned on visiting the Holy Trinity Heritage Centre, which was suppose to open at 1PM, but it never did. We walked up and down very quaint streets and got lost trying to find our way back. We finally worked up an appetite and stopped at McKevitt's Village HotelThe food was great as usual, and reasonable. Mike pronounced his lamb in Rosemary as superb and my medallions of pork in Madera was excellent. Three kinds of potatoes and chowder, plus dessert. While having lunch we talked to a woman and her daughter who were locals. Her husband runs the local Pleasures Cruises, and they also own a farm. They subsidized their income with the boat and fishing tours. Carlingford was one of the few places in Ireland that was effected by Foot and Mouth disease, and they lost all of their cattle.

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After leaving Carlingford we took the R173 back to Dundalk and then changed to the M1 and followed the signs to Drogheda, where we decided to spend the night. Drogheda, once fortified, still has one town gate that is in good condition. The town is named (Bridge of the Ford), after the bridge built by the Normans to link two earlier Viking Settlements. There was a rough settlement here prior to 910, but the town began to take form when the Danes built defenses to guard a strategic crossing point on the River Boyne. The Normans came in the 12th century and built a bridge, which expanded the two settlements forming on either side of the river. In 1649, the town was the scene of Cromwell's most notorious Irish slaughter. The town sits astride the River Boyne with the main shopping area on the northern bank along West Street and Lawrence Street.

According to our tour guide the Tourist Information Office was suppose to be open until 5PM. We stopped to check if they would recommend a place to stay, but they apparently closed early. So back to the tour guide for suggestions. We picked the Boyne Valley Hotel , which  is a 19th century mansion set in a quiet and secluded area, off the main Dublin road. We checked into the hotel, I took the guide book, and Mike went snooping around the grounds. When he found me, all cozy outside the bar, and reading the tour guide book, he suggested we go find someplace to eat. I told him, "this chair is too damn comfortable, I'm worn out, I ain't moving, bring me a sandwich." The bar had great pub grub so a sandwich suited me just fine. We looked over the tour guide and found so much to do in the Boyne Valley that Mike checked to see if accommodations were available for 3 nights. So we blew off Dublin and stayed in the Boyne Valley for the rest of our vacation. Great decision.

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Day Eleven

After a good nights rest we were ready to hit the "Trail of Ruins" again. We awoke to soft rain, which lasted most of the day. This didn't stop us from exploring the area. Mike, said before we left Texas, that he wanted to see Newgrange if we ended up anywhere near the site. Well, as luck would have it, here we were, just a few miles from the site. Newgrange is a huge, flattened, grass-covered mound about 80m in diameter and 13m high. The mound covers the finest Stone Age passage tomb in Ireland and is one of the most remarkable prehistoric sites in Europe. It dates from around 3200 BC, and predates the pyramids of Egypt by six centuries.

We went to the Boyne Room for a leisurely breakfast of cereal, toast, coffee, juice, and fruit. They definitely overfeed you in Ireland. I left enough food, on my plate, in each of the restaurants we visited, to feed a small country. Eating only cereal and toast suited me just fine. We read the local paper, decided what we wanted to visit besides Newgrange, grabbed our rain gear, and headed out.

The desk clerk told us we could get to Newgrange faster by going the back road instead of the main highway (N51), so we decided to take her advice. Of course she didn't tell us we would have to drive 60 mph, take curves on two wheels, and pray a lot. This back road isn't one of those where you can decided to, "stop, pull over, there's a ruin we gotta see."  I had to roll the passenger window up to keep from being assaulted by foliage. It grows so close to the road that the side mirrors knocked leaves off the bushes. At the end of the day we took the N51 back to Drogheda.

Newgrange lies in the Boyne Valley, which is called "Brú na Bóinne". It describes an area between the towns of Slane and Drogheda where the River Boyne meanders in dramatic loops and bends. The area consists of many different sites, but the three main sites are Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. Over the centuries these tombs have been covered by grass and trees and were plundered by everyone from the Vikings to Victorian treasure hunters. Beside these three major tombs, you can see smaller ones dotted around the countryside. 

Visiting the area can only be done through the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. Dowth is closed to visitors, though you can view it from the road. From the visitor's center you will take a guided tour to both or only one site,  your choice. We decided to see both Newgrange and Knowth so we purchased tickets for both locations at about £5 each. As we were walking to our bus we ran into Mike's recently retired boss, Herb Vest. I think the saying, "it's a small world", comes to mind. We spoke for just a few minutes as we were in a hurry to catch the next tour bus. We later found out that he and his son were on a month long tour of Ireland.

Knowth was built around the same time as Newgrange and surpasses Newgrange, both in extent and the discoveries made there. It has the greatest collection of passage-grave art ever uncovered in Western Europe. It is still under excavation and the interior remains closed to visitors. Some 300 carved slabs and 17 satellite graves surround the mound.

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After our tour to Knowth we had about 30 minutes before the bus tour left for Newgrange. We waited in the Centre cafe and had tea. It rained most of the time we were at Knowth and it had turned off pretty cool, so hot tea hit the spot.

The purpose of Newgrange is not known. It could possibly have been a burial site or a center for ritual. It might also have been used as a calendar, due to the alignment with the sun during winter solstice. You can walk down the narrow 19m passage, lined with 43 stone uprights, some of them engraved. Over the centuries, others who have entered the tomb, have written their names and dates on the stones. You are not allowed to take photos inside the mound anymore so this link will show you what it looks like inside. Inside Newgrange  Behind the mound there is what the tour guide called a folly. It was built by the family that owned the land about two hundred years ago. For more information regarding other sites as well as the ones I have mentioned please visit Knowth.com.

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After leaving Newgrange we drove to Slane, which was built as a manorial village for an important castle. The little village is perched on a hillside overlooking the River Boyne. Just southwest of the town center is the massive gate that leads to Slane Castle. Above the village is the Hill of Slane. Tradition says that St. Patrick lit an Easter fire here in 433. A ruined church, tower and other buildings once formed part of an early 16th century Franciscan friary. From the top of the tower, which Mike climbed, you can see the Hill of Tara and the Boyne Valley. Also, on a clear day you are suppose to be able to see seven counties.

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While we were at Hill of Slane we talked to a man who was visiting the area, looking for his ancestors. He told us he was having trouble reading some of the tombstones, so I gave him a tip on how to make the inscriptions clearer, but cause no additional damage to the stones. He told us that he had just come from Slane Castle, which had been closed for 10 years, due to a fire in 1991. They had just reopened and he had spent some time talking with the owner, Lord Henry Conyngham. We decided to try to get there before the last tour, but we were too late. We talked with the Lady Conyngham and decided to go back the next day for a tour. We took a few pictures of the outside of the castle and then headed back to the hotel. We rested awhile and had a late dinner in the hotel restaurant.

This elegant, sit down restaurant is located in the old wine cellar of the Manor House and simply drips ambiance. Above average food and a bottle of South African wine left us full and happy after another long day of soaking up Ireland.  There turned out to be a comfort level here that gave us the chance to unwind after days of staying on the move.  The prospect of giving Dublin traffic a pass, also eased our minds.

Day Twelve

Since the first tour of Slane Castle did not start until 12 noon, we decided to drive to County Meath and see Trim Castle. Trim is a sleepy little town on the River Boyne, with several interesting ruins. One of the most impressive is Trim Castle, which was founded by Hugh de Lacy in 1173, and was used by Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

Inside the grassy enclosure is a massive stone keep, 25m tall and mounted on a Norman mote. Inside the keep are three lofty levels, the lowest one divided in two by a central wall. On the first level are three models showing the three stages of the castle's structure as it was added to over the centuries. We had a very knowledgeable tour guide who explained  the various stages of the construction, and a little  history of those who occupied the castle. We finished at the very top of the keep and enjoyed an excellent view of the landscape.

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On the way to Navan from Trim there is Bective Abby, founded in 1147.  The remains seen today are 13th and 15th century additions and consist of the chapter house, church, ambulatory and cloister. Between Navan and Slane on N51 you pass a number of manor houses, ruined castles, round towers and churches.

We arrived at Slane Castle about 1PM. The castle is the private residence of Lord Henry Conyngham, earl of Mountcharles, and is best know for hosting outdoor rock concerts. They were preparing for the August 17th concert of U2 while we were there. Built in 1785 in Gothic Revival style by James Wyatt, and was later altered by Francis Johnson for the visit of George IV to Lady Conyngham. She was allegedly his mistress, and it is said that the road between Dublin and Slane was built especially straight and smooth to speed up the randy king's journey. In 1991 a great portion of the castle was destroyed by fire and the family has spent the last 10 years working on the restoration. They were also delivering furniture while we were there. The tour took about 45 minutes and was worth the £3.

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After leaving Slane Castle we drove back to Drogheda and the Boyne Valley Hotel. We went to the bar to have a drink and Mike asked the barmaid for a dinner recommendation.  Suddenly her face lit up as she began to extol the virtues of her favorite place. A few miles north, we found Monasterboice.  This local favorite was already busy at 6 PM.  Entire families and small groups dotted the bar and a very large restaurant to the rear of the pub.  We found a table near the entrance and just opposite the bar. As promised the food was great. The shrimp scampi was light and flavorful and more than Mike could handle.

We relaxed and enjoyed our drinks listening to the locals talk of American politics. This is a very popular topic in Ireland. They are very affected by our politics and some know more about what's happening in America than we do. We were asked several times what Clinton was really like and did we like Bush.

Day Thirteen

Enjoyed a nice breakfast in the Boyne Room, loaded up the car and began our 40 mile drive to Dublin Airport.  The M1 takes you directly from Drogheda to the airport and the road is good, but you still have to watch closely as you drive through some of the smaller villages. About 14 miles before the airport you reach Swords. Between Swords and the airport you have 5 roundabouts. These are great, because if you miss your exit you can stay on the roundabout until it comes up again. We drove the car to the AVIS drop off area and turned over the keys. They don't have any buses or trams to get you to the airport so we lugged all our luggage a short distance, up a small incline, and into the airport. If you are carrying a lot of luggage this can be a problem.

After checking our bags we did some last minute shopping at the Duty Free stores, went through customs and settled down for about an hour before our flight left. We were not lucky enough to get bumped up to First Class for the trip home, but we had good seats with plenty of leg room. 

Visiting Ireland had been a dream of mine for many years and this time it actually came true. I am fortunate enough to have visited places I only dreamed of, and met cousins I didn't know I had. I feel so lucky to have found the place where my great grandfather was born, to be able to walk on the same land as he did, and those before him, to stand on the sands at Culdaff Bay, and look out at the ocean as he must have 121 years ago, dreaming of what life in America would be like, knowing that he would probably never be able to come back home. As the plane took off and left the ground I watched Ireland slip away from me as we ascended into the clouds, hoping that I will be able to go back again.

 

 

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