Friday, July 12, 2024

Ireland, Isle of Man, and Northern Ireland May 2024

All Photos are at the bottom.

As you read this, we are somewhere over the Atlantic, heading to Ireland. This will be my 86th country/territory, out of the 260 I plan to visit. 

We do have a few surprises on this trip. We are actually going to be visiting three countries/territories.

While many people say there are 193 countries in the world, my list is a bit larger. Is visiting the mainland U.S. the same as visiting Puerto Rico, Guam, or even the U.S. Virgin Islands? We have even had presidents and congresspeople who thought these places were not part of the United States. But were separate countries.

I realize they are part of the United States, but they do have different cultures and are worth visiting. Reunion Island would be another good example. It's part of France but sits in the middle of the Indian Ocean, not the same as going to Paris.

Clicking this link will take you to my entire list.

You might ask, why Ireland? This seems a bit tame for my travels. Joining us on this trip is Little "L." Little "L" asked us if we would take him to Ireland when he was eight.

At eight, it would be difficult to get him into the Guinness Factory or the Jameson Distillery. What would a trip to Ireland be like without these two highlights? For that reason, we have waited ten years to take Little "L" to Ireland and beyond. Little “L” recently turned 18.

I know many of you reading this have been to Ireland, so feel free to make suggestions as you follow us across Ireland. Hopefully, we will show you parts of Ireland you've never seen, and you can share some highlights we might miss otherwise.
This first picture is of Little "L" this is when he first showed interest in going to Ireland.

And this picture is when he tried to fly there on his own.
Day 1: Dublin -

Typically, when flying to Europe, you fly overnight, a flight known as a red-eye.

The key to not being jet-lagged is to keep moving upon landing.
DO NOT go to sleep before 8:00 PM in your new time zone.

We landed at 5:45 am. Did we sleep on the flight over? I'm not sure you can call it sleep, but we got a few hours of shut-eye.
Our host at our Airbnb arranged for us to drop our bags, even at this early morning hour. Little "L" found a great breakfast place for our first traditional Irish breakfast. Lots of meats! Not sure what they all were, but I know they were delicious.
We had arranged a walking tour for 10:00 AM: Best of Dublin: Southside Tour. It was only 8:00 AM when we finished our breakfast. We had two hours to kill. We wandered the streets and parks of central Dublin for those two hours.
At 10:00 AM sharp, we met at the Spire of Dublin for our tour. The Spire of Dublin was built to celebrate the millennium. Unfortunately, its construction was started late, 2002 and was not completed until 2003. The cost was almost five million Euros. At a height of 120 meters (390 feet), a blue light on the very top had to be installed, so planes flying over do not hit it.

Our guide, Rob, gave us a nice overview of the history of Ireland. He spoke of the conflicts with the British and Ireland’s fight for independence, including the rebellion of Easter Monday. Not a very successful rebellion, but it was the catalyst for eventual independence.
We visited many famous sites, including the O’Connell Bridge, the only bridge in all of Europe that is wider than it is long. A little fun fact.

We saw the two famous churches, Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick's Cathedral, both Anglican Churches.
We also visited Trinity College. For over 300 years, Catholics were not allowed to attend Trinity College. When they were finally allowed, they could only attend if the local bishop gave them permission. No Catholic Churches were allowed in Ireland until 1791.
We visited Dublin Castle, which only has one of its four columns remaining.
After the tour, we had lunch at Lundy Foot’s, a traditional Irish Pub. Of course, I ordered the Fish and Chips. I was happy I did; it was an excellent lunch. We would late realize our first Fish and Chips meal was our best.
Our second tour was scheduled for 2:00 PM: Rebellion & Independence (North Side).

We met Martin, our guide, at the Spire of Dublin. We learned all about the Rebellion and how it was the catalyst for Ireland’s independence.
I wish I retained what I was taught, but with very little sleep on the plane, my brain was turning to mush, and my retention was near zero.
One of the rebels was badly injured. While dying, he penned a letter to his wife. The letter was turned into a plaque mounted on the wall above where he died.

Our tour deviated from the rebellion for a moment as we walked by the Rotunda Hospital, the oldest maternity hospital in the world, close to 300 years old. Bono from U2 was born at this hospital, as well as Martin, our guide.
After the detour of the hospital, we visited the memorial for the soldiers.
We learned on the tour that for much of Ireland’s history under British rule, Catholics, the majority in Ireland, were not allowed to practice their religion. For this reason, priests would go to homes so women could confess, and the same priests would go to the pub to allow men to confess. These pubs were called confession boxes.
A couple more statues, a few Guinness trucks, and then we reached the famine memorial.
The Great Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, the Famine, and the Irish Potato Famine, was a period of starvation and disease, in Ireland lasting from 1845 to 1852. It constituted a historical social crisis and subsequently had a major impact on Irish society and history as a whole. During the famine, millions of Irish died, and millions fled Ireland. Many fled to the United States. To this day, Ireland has not completely recovered from the population loss caused by the Great Famine.
After 27,000 steps, we reached 7:00 PM, and little “L” hit the hay, hard!
Today, our second day in Ireland, Little “L” decided we should take a walk to Poolbeg Lighthouse.
Situated at the entrance to Dublin Bay, Poolbeg Lighthouse has been guiding ships into port for over two hundred years.
Before we departed, we had a mystery guest knock on the door. More on our mystery guest later.
Poolbeg Lighthouse is a good mile out into the bay near the entrance to the River Liffey. Luckily for us, there is a rock wall that allows you to walk all the way to the lighthouse.
Before heading to the lighthouse, we wanted to stop and see what all the noise was about: the Dublin Portal to New York City. A large fisheye lens not far from the Spire of Dublin. An identical portal resides in New York City. This allows folks passing by to view folks in each city in real time and full size. Unfortunately for us, the evening before, a young lady decided to show her breasts New Orleans style, and this caused the portal to temporarily shut down. Hopefully, the portal will recover before we leave Dublin.
We wandered through the city guided by Little “L,” heading toward the Poolbeg Lighthouse. We got to see some off-color parts of the city, the industrial workings of the port, and even an electricity power plant. A very industrial part of the city.
Eventually, off in the distance, we could see the Poolbeg Lighthouse. We had walked over four miles and still had another mile to go.

We eventually made it to the lighthouse. It was now a bit past noon. We all felt the walk was worth it, as we got to explore another part of Dublin we may have missed.
Upon completing this task, we realized we may have miscalculated our timing. We had a scheduled 3:30 PM Guinness Factory tour, and we had over five miles of walking to cover.
How could we cover this distance and still have time for lunch? There was nowhere to catch a taxi. We decided to rely on the kindness of a stranger. We asked another walker who had driven to the rock wall if she would be kind enough to give us a ride to a location where we could catch a taxi. She drove to the bus stop she thought was where the bus to the Guinness Factory stopped. WRONG.
We did not complain; she saved us from walking about two miles.

At this location, there were no buses, but there were taxis. We found a taxi and got to the Guinness Factory in plenty of time to grab lunch.

Lunch was just ok. I had the fish and chips again, and it was not even close to the quality of Lundy Foot’s.

Now it was time for our afternoon experience: Little “L”'s first beer, his first legal beer, that is.
We learned a lot about beer making and what makes Guinness special: the water, barley, and a unique yeast that has been cultivated for hundreds of years.
We learned how to taste Guinness and how to pour Guinness.
Video of our lesson on pouring Guinness.

After our lesson, we headed to the rooftop bar to sample some of the products. We learned that Little “L” is not a fan of Guinness.
We had a 6:00 PM tour scheduled called Urban Legends and History of Pubs. Justin, our guide, was just okay. Though it might have been our exhaustion from our tens of thousands of steps so far that day or the several Guinnesses we had at the factory that caused our less-than-focused evaluation.
Back to the apartment for a light dinner.

It was time to see if the portal was back live. We walked the mile back to the portal only to find a disappointing sign: “The portal is temporarily closed”. All was not lost. We found a good ice cream shop.

Notice the bald guy in the picture? Yes, our new best friend, Kevin (alias Hot Spot). We met our new best friend Kevin in a sushi bar in Japan. He is an avid reader of LifeOfDug, and when he sees we are traveling near each other, he makes a point to find us.
Since our meeting in Japan, Hot Spot has tracked us down in Amsterdam, Oslo, and Guatemala. We can now add Dublin to the list.

We had over 40,000 steps today. It was time to call it a day. Though the sun was still out, it was 9:30 PM, a full 13 hours since we started our day heading to the Poolbeg Lighthouse.

Day 3 in Dublin. Our last day!
After breakfast, we decided to find some street art to photograph. We had until 5:30 PM, when our Jameson Distillery Tour was scheduled.
Just by luck, we stumbled upon a street artist at work.

His street art is unique in that, instead of painting a city wall, his canvas is plastic wrap.
He strings plastic wrap between two poles and paints a new mural each day.

Before moving on, we spent a few minutes watching the artist at work.

Before leaving Dublin, we needed to enjoy a 99 Flake Although it actually started in England, the 99 Flake has gained popularity in Ireland. While soft-serve ice cream is not my favorite, at 9:00 AM, it was a great way to start our day.
Thank you, Tommy G., for telling me about the 99 Flake.
We wandered the city, just enjoying our free time.
We returned to visit the original artist we met to see the finished product. It was a mural of John Lennon. What a great way to show off one’s talent.
It was time for lunch, and I wanted to continue my quest for the best fish and chips in all of Ireland.
I heard Leo Burdock had the best fish and chips.

In business since 1913, they only serve fish and chips out of a small hole-in-the-wall establishment. Takeaway only!
We arrived to a line of about 40 people, a mix of locals and tourists. This has got to be the place.

After about an hour's wait, we got our fish and chips. Now, where to eat?

We found a little park behind Christ Church that was perfect.
The conclusion of my three lunches of fish and chips: Leo’s is number 2. Not worth the hour wait in line.

Next stop, the National Leprechaun Museum.

This is where we learned the history and folklore of leprechauns in Ireland.
Can you believe it, we were approaching 5:30 PM, so we high-tailed it over to the Jameson Distillery.
Similar to the Guinness Factory tour, but instead of learning about beer-making, we learned about the history and making of Irish whiskey.
This included a welcome drink of either whiskey straight up or ginger and whiskey.

Little “L,” being his first time trying hard liquor, wanted to try both.
Take a look.

Little “L” and his first drinks!

After the Jameson Distillery, we had dinner at Cleaver East, a local restaurant owned by Bono of U2.

Our meals were excellent, and it was nice to have something other than pub food.
Of course, before calling it a night, we had to have ice cream.
On the way home, we thought, let’s check out the Portal one more time before leaving Dublin. Apparently, the portal has passed on.
Tomorrow, Friday, we leave for a surprise destination.

I hope you enjoyed our tour of Dublin.

Our surprise destination? The Isle of Man, a small island nation off the east coast of Ireland and the west coast of England. It's part of the United Kingdom, but most natives feel they are an independent nation.
They have their own government and monetary system. Their big claim to fame is “The Isle of Man TT,” a series of motorcycle races that take place over a two-week period, usually toward the end of May and the beginning of June. This race is only successful if the death count stays under 10 riders per week.
Our original plan was to come for the race, but that was until we found out you need to book accommodations two to three years in advance.
Our plan B was to arrive in the afternoon and have Phil, one of the best tour guides on the island, show us around.
A few weeks ago, we were notified that our flight schedule was changed to arrive at 4:00 pm instead of the original noon time arrival.
On to plan C. Phil agreed to give us an evening tour from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM, since sunset is around 10:00 PM. All was good. Was good. NOT.

As we arrived at the airport, we were notified our flight time was moved again. We now wouldn’t arrive until 5:45 PM.
We were waiting to hear back from Phil to see what plan D would be.

Phil suggested we move the tour from 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM. This was plan D.

We now had to go to plan E as our flight was delayed indefinitely.

Plan E worked: we met Phil at our hotel at 8:20 PM. We are staying at the Halvard Hotel.

As I had mentioned, sunset is not until 10:00 pm. Phil did a great job condensing our three-hour tour into one hour and forty minutes, even after waiting for us for several hours.

We learned a bit about the Isle of Man. It's an independent country with ties to Great Britain for defense and international relations. They pay approximately three million pounds a year for these services.

They have their own currency, but it is tied to the British pound.

There are two railroad systems: a steam train that goes to the south of the island and an electric train that goes to the north. Both are primarily used for tourism.

Our tour took place in Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man. Other industries include banking, as the Isle of Man is used as a tax haven for both legitimate businesses as well as illegitimate ones. Poker Stars, a large online gambling site, is based on the Isle of Man.

The Isle of Man, much like Ireland, was invaded by the Vikings. While there, the Vikings mingled with people on the island. The people are known as Manx.

The Manx are a minority ethnic group originating on the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea in Northern Europe. They belong to the diaspora of the Gaelic ethnolinguistic group, which now populates the parts of the British Isles and Ireland that once were the Kingdom of the Isles and Dál Riata. The Manx are governed through the Tynwald (Ard-whaiyl Tinvaal), the legislature of the island, which was introduced by Viking settlers over a thousand years ago.

Douglas is on the water with a two-mile-long promenade. When we arrived, there was a slight haze or fog from the unusually warm weather. At the southern end are the ferry docks. The ferries run frequently to the mainland of England as well as Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Less frequently, there is a ferry to Dublin, Ireland.

After the tour, the four of us had a great dinner at Frank Matchams. What a great restaurant! Lots of small plate options. After just a week of traveling with us, Little “L” is turning into a true foodie, having a fish cake with a poached egg. Not only did he eat it, but he also said he enjoyed it.
We had nothing planned for Saturday and wanted to play it by ear. Carla, our taxi driver from the airport, offered to show us around the island. She suggested the southern part of the Isle of Man.
Saturday, 8:30 AM, Carla picked us up right on time. It was sunny and warm, again very unusual.

We headed directly west toward Peel. In Peel, we saw the location of the longest-running continuous parliament in the world, started by the Vikings.
We walked around the park and visited the church.
As you can see, the weather in Peel was a bit different from the sunny, warm weather in Douglas. It was dense with fog and a bit chilly.
From Peel, we headed inland and south to the small village of St. John’s. Here we visited the cathedral.
We also learned a little fun fact: you may know the workout called Pilates. It was founded on the Isle of Man. During World War I, any folks of German descent were put in an internment camp on the Island. Josef Pilates was one of the prisoners. With not much space and wanting to stay fit, he devised a way to exercise. He noticed how the Manx cat stretched, mimicked those stretches, and Pilates was created.
The garden of the cathedral has a sculpture dedicated to Josef Pilates.
Our next stop was Port Erin on the southwest side of the Island.
In Port Erin, we walked around the old castle. As you can see, the fog remained dense, not allowing us to view the beautiful landscapes.
Besides the castle, Port Erin is known for its ice cream, specifically Davison’s Ice Cream.
Of course, we had to indulge.

We continued on our tour, with our next scheduled stop being Cregneash, a traditional Viking village that people still live in today.
Before arriving at Cregneash, we found a sheep farm with a wool shop. Ballacosnahan Farm is an eco-friendly farm that raises Manx Loaghtan sheep.
From the sheep the Vikings left behind. Rare breed Manx Loaghtan wool and wool products. Manx Loaghtan wool is much sought after as the fleeces are soft, close-textured, and lustrous, heavily oiled, and excellent for hand spinning. The staple varies between 70 mm to 100 mm. When spun, it is naturally a dark to light toffee color. Once knitted, it is fine enough to be comfortably worn next to the skin yet robust enough to be used in outerwear.
The owner of the farm gave us a history of the Manx Loaghtan sheep. He then showed us around the farm.
We continued on to Cregneash, where we saw the traditional Viking houses with thatched roofs.
Next was the southernmost point of the Isle of Man, where we could see the tiny island called the Calf of Man. A very small uninhabited island. With the fog, the view was somewhat eerie.
Onward to Castletown. A midsize village and the original capital of the Isle of Man before the capital was moved to Douglas.
We walked around the town and visited the castle in the center of the town.
After Castletown, we headed back to Douglas. Much of our drive was on roads that will be used for the TT race. This is a two-week event with a multitude of motorcycle races. These races are run on public roads. We saw a lot of roadside foam barriers being installed as we toured the countryside.
The TT started in 1907. Since 1907 over 200 riders have died in this race.

Even with these barriers at 180 MPH, most crashes involved many broken bones at best, and death and dismemberment at worst.
Clara said a good friend was smacked in the face by a rider's arm. The gross part was the arm was no longer connected to the rider's body. By the way, neither was his head.

Once back in Douglas, Little “L” continued his quest for the perfect alcoholic beverage. He is leaning toward the sweeter drinks.
We walked around Douglas before calling it a night.

Today, Sunday, we head back to Ireland. We woke early to see the sunrise, which happened at 5:00 AM.
Next, it is off to the airport to hopefully catch an on-time flight.
That is, it from the Isle of Man. I highly recommend if you travel to Ireland or the United Kingdom, take a day or two and visit the Isle of Man. Isle of Man was country/territory 87.

We are back, back in Ireland that is. Our flight was uneventful, which is a good thing.

We picked up our rental car. One crazy process here is that they charge you to get insurance on the car, which we always decline. But if you decline, they charge you to decline the insurance.

Never heard of this before, but since the customer service rep was only the messenger, I will deal with this and have the charge removed when I have time. Crazy stuff.
We had about an hour's drive to the country house we rented for the next three nights. Hildi, our host, greeted us at the house.

The house is actually inside Wicklow Mountains National Park. This park is known for its hiking trails and mountain biking trails. Unfortunately for Little “L,” the mountain bike shops are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. This means no mountain biking for Little “L.”
Monday - Hildi took us on a six-mile hike through the park. Nice trail next to the river.
After the hike, we went to the Powerscourt House & Gardens, rated third among the world's best gardens.
We had a very overpriced lunch while at the gardens. Founded in 805 as an estate given to the British government official overseeing the Irish people at the time, Powerscourt has seen a lot of turmoil over the years. This included a complete burning down of the main house in the 1970s.
Now completely rebuilt, it is a thriving tourist attraction. As time was limited, we skipped the gardens and went right for the distillery.

Powerscourt Distillery is a micro-distillery only open for a few years. The owner was nice enough to give us a tour.
To help finance the startup cost, he sold casks of his Irish whiskey for €8,000 each. The issue is they would not be ready for eight years.
Each cask is equivalent to about 250 bottles of whiskey. Once the whiskey reaches eight years, the owner of the cask can decide: do I take my whiskey and run, or pay €200 a year and allow the whiskey to continue to age.
Remember, each year you lose one to two percent to the angel's share (evaporation), so don’t wait too long.
After the tour, we headed to Wicklow Town, a small village along the coast. We walked the Main Street, browsing the streets and wandering into the small shops.
Yes, we indulged ourselves with some local ice cream.
We spoke with some local fishermen who were harvesting sea snails. Ugly-looking creatures, they explained they are shipped off to South Korea where they are a delicacy.
Apparently, the waters off the coast of Ireland have been so overfished that the fishermen can no longer make a living off fishing. This is why they have turned to harvesting sea snails.
We walked along the coast to see the ruins of the old castle and fort.
This is the area where Saint Patrick landed.
It has been a long day, so we headed back to our cottage.
Today we were supposed to hike Lugnaquilla Mountain, one of the highest peaks in Ireland.

I was outvoted two to one, though I am confident the vote was rigged.
Instead, Margarite and I ran the hike we did yesterday while Little “L” slept in.
After breakfast, we hiked Sugarloaf Mountain. Not the tallest mountain but still a hike. The best part was some ewes and their babies joined us for part of the hike.
Once we hit the steep climb to the summit, Margarite and I watched Little “L” reach the peak, climbing like a billy goat.
It was now time for lunch. The village of Roundwood was not too far from us. What a disappointment. I think this village has seen better days. Most of the pubs were closed, and I mean closed as in out of business.
We lucked out and found an artisanal grocery with some fantastic prepared foods. The name, not very original, was called Roundwood Stores.

After our lunch break, we were off to Glendalough. Glendalough is considered one of the highlights of the park and is the main historic site in the area.
It features a collection of early medieval monastic structures from the settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century.
There are also a variety of walks in the valley as well as a great visitor centre offering plenty of facilities and information. It’s a popular place to head on a day trip from Wicklow town.
We visited the historic sites as well as the waterfall, covering several miles of the park.
As a treat for our robust activities of the day, we rewarded ourselves with ice cream.
Today we leave the beautiful area of Wicklow Mountains National Park. Today will be our longest driving day with a very special event scheduled for 9:30 PM. We have several stops planned along the way.
After about two hours of driving, we stopped in the town of Waterford. The reason for our visit was the House of Waterford. This is where the famous Waterford Crystal is designed and manufactured.
Thank you, Amy N., for the suggestion.
What a great educational experience! We learned a lot about the long and painstaking process that goes into each glass item made here.
Many of the steps are still done by hand, as they always have been. Each job requires an eight-year apprenticeship. Every three years, you must pass a test before moving on to the next stage of becoming an expert in your field of study.
Here is a short video of some of these experts practicing their trade:

Video - House of Waterford - 

After the House of Waterford tour, our plan was to walk the town for a bit before hitting the road for our next stop.
Fortunately, Little “L” has developed a nose for sniffing out Irish whiskey distilleries. Little “L” brought us to the Waterford Distillery.
A micro-distillery only a few years old, the owner came from a family wine business in France.
He bought the property that had many lives over the past 100 years, most involving beer making. In fact, for many years, Guinness made beer at this location.
With the Waterford Distillery, it is all about the barley, much like wine is all about the grape.
Waterford Distillery actually tracks everything about the barley they use, from which farm it came from, the process used to grow it, down to the chemical makeup of the soil, amount of wind, rain, and sun the barley received.
Each bottle of Waterford Distillery has a number on it. You can go to the Waterford Distillery website and see all the details of the barley used in that bottle of whiskey, including YouTube interviews with the farmers who grew the barley.
This was an interesting concept, one brought over by the owner from his wine experience.

The tour took up more of our time than we had anticipated. We had to skip our next two stops and hit the road. We had a three-hour drive ahead of us.
The roads in Ireland are either new high-speed highways or small, windy, narrow, scary roads.
When you plan a trip, you have no idea which type of road you will be traveling on. We encountered them all.

We reached the West Cork Hotel in time for dinner.

We rested up for our evening adventure: a sunset sea kayak tour. The tour with Atlantic Sea Kayaking kicked off at 9:30 PM. This made sense since that is close to when the sun goes down.
We met at Lough Hyne Marine Nature Reserve. This is the largest inland saltwater lake in the world, or at least that is what we were told.

Unfortunately, they requested we not take our cameras as they could get damaged. I apologize, as my writing skills are not good enough to describe the beauty of the lake and evening.

While the sunset was nothing to write about, the full moon was spectacular. We watched it rise, and then throughout the tour, it would peek in and out of the clouds, lighting up the lake enough to cast shadows.

I highly recommend this activity.

It was past midnight when we got back to the hotel, and tomorrow we have another long day ahead of us.
Today, we got an early start heading to the most southwesterly part of Ireland, Mizen Head.
Thank you, Ross II, but you could have told us it did not open until 10:30 AM. We arrived at 8:00 AM.
All was not lost; we saw some of the ruins and the beautiful coastline. We only missed buying the tickets.
On the way out, Margarite noticed a sign for Dunlough Castle, also known as the Three Castle Head, because of the three towers.
What a great find! Situated on a sheep farm, we met the family that owned the farm. This farm was down a very narrow gravel path. Yes, somehow I got the car there, even though the signs suggested we not attempt the passage.
The family explained it was about a two-mile hike to the castle, and they asked for a three Euro donation.

What a find. Great views of the cliffs and coastline and seeing the remains of a castle built hundreds of years ago.
You may recognize this castle. It was featured in a scene in one of the Star Wars movies. Can you name which one?
It was now time to hit the road again. We had a two-hour drive to Cork. We are staying at the Isaac’s Hotel.

We had scheduled an underground doughnut tour for this afternoon.
The tour is actually a tour of Cork with four breaks to stop, rest, and eat doughnuts at local bakeries.
We visited the English Market. Back in the day, only the British could shop here. This is where the high quality items were sold. The Irish had their own market for items they could afford. Mostly potatoes.
One of the most famous blues guitar players you’ve never heard of, Rory Gallagher, is from Cork.
Mary Elmes, also from Cork, was recently honored for her bravery in saving Jewish children during the Holocaust by smuggling them across the border to Switzerland.
The Titanic’s maiden and only voyage departed from a port very close to Cork.
Over the centuries, Cork, like most of Ireland, was conquered by different groups from Europe, including the Vikings.
After the tour, we returned to our hotel and called it a night.

Today, we took a 30-minute drive outside of Cork to the seaside town of Kinsale. Kinsale is a historic port and is famous for being a major fishing spot in the country. As the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way (more on this later), Kinsale is a perfect destination for a road trip.
On our drive, we learned that sometimes the only option is reverse.
Our main reason to visit this town was not only to check out the town but also to do the Scilly Walk. I’d argue that the Scilly Walk in Kinsale is up there with the best walks in Cork. This is a roughly 6 km round trip that starts in the town and takes you out to Charles Fort.
The weather was unusually warm and sunny, which is the weather we have had so far this trip, though that is about to change.
First things first, before we could take the hike, we needed some energy. Ice cream, what else?
We walked by the harbor. The tide in Ireland can have a range of almost 25 feet. For this reason, at low tide, boats might be sitting on the mud bottom of the harbor.
The walk was beautiful, with views of the harbor and ocean.
We finally reached Charles Fort. Kinsale was a strategic location for commerce back in the day with its deep harbor and proximity to Europe. It was important the harbor was protected, and that was the job of Charles Fort.
After a few hours of checking out the town, we headed to our second destination of the day, Blarney Castle.
The main reason for this visit was for Little “L” to kiss the Blarney Stone.
There are many legends about the stone, but the truth is, if your first kiss is the Blarney Stone, you will be a great kisser for the rest of your life, making anybody you kiss immediately fall in love with you.
Over the years, Little “L” has had many young ladies court him. In fact, he is currently dating a very nice young lady. But since eight years of age, Little “L” knew he would be kissing the Blarney Stone when he visited Ireland. For this reason, he has saved his first kiss for the stone.
Now we will see if Little “L” is truly a great kisser.
We had heard the line to get to the stone can be hours long. The castle closes to visitors at 5:00 PM, and the grounds close at 6:00 PM.
Margarite had the genius idea to arrive at 4:30 PM. When we arrived, the grounds were empty. Within ten minutes, we were at the top of the castle, and Little “L” was sucking face with the Blarney Stone.
The gardens around the castle are outstanding. We spent the next hour walking the grounds before departing for our apartment.
Today we head to Killarney, famous for being at the start of the Ring of Kerry.

We had reserved bikes from Killarney Bike Rental. Unfortunately, the weather turned on us. It was now cold, windy, and raining cats and dogs.
We had prepaid for the bikes, so we were going to use them. We did a quick tour through the grounds of the Muckross House, a local historical site.

We walked around Killarney for a bit, checking out the unique shops.
After that, we headed to the Kissane Sheep Farm. At 2:00 PM most days, they have a sheep herding demonstration.
Thank you, Ruthy, for the recommendation.

It was a great demonstration. We learned the dogs are trained to stare down the sheep, not bark at them. It is important the dogs do not panic or stress the sheep.
The dogs are trained for over a year. Each dog has one master. The masters command the dogs with either whistle commands or verbal commands.

It was fascinating to watch.

Here is a quick video of the demonstration:

Video - sheep herding:

After the sheep herding demonstration, we headed to the city center of Killarney. We explored the area.

After watching the sheep dogs work so hard, we needed something to replenish our energy. Of course, Murphy’s Ice Cream.
It was Saturday evening, and we had not been to church in a while. A nice family asked us to join them. We agreed but refused to be in the family photo with the priest.
We had a great dinner at The Tan Yard.
Sunday - Today we are taking a day trip out to Dingle, which is near the end of the Dingle Peninsula.
Our main purpose in going to Dingle was to visit the Dingle Distillery. Though it is closed on Sundays, Little “L” knew distilleries operate 24/7 and figured one whisky drinker to another, they would show us around.
He was right. As we arrived, the distiller greeted us and told us they were closed.

Once we explained our situation, he gave us the nickel tour.
After the tour, we explored Dingle for a bit. Originally a fishing town like many of the small villages along the Irish coast, Dingle now relies on tourism for its survival.
After Dingle, we took a drive on Slea Head Drive. Most folks visiting Killarney drive the Ring of Kerry, but the real beauty is seeing the coastline on Slea Head Drive.
On our way back to Killarney, we stopped at the Gap of Dunloe. The Gap of Dunloe is a narrow mountain pass that stretches about 11 km and passes by five lakes. Because the road is so narrow, it’s tricky for tourists to navigate by car, so the most popular way to experience it is by walking.
We waited until late in the day to visit the Gap of Dunloe to avoid car and bus traffic. We are glad we did. We had the entire Gap to ourselves. We heard earlier in the day there were hundreds of walkers fighting for space on the narrow road with cars and tour buses.
What a beautiful hike. We covered six miles and spent about four hours in the Gap.
Today, Monday, we are heading toward Galway. But first, we have a surprise for Little “L.” Thanks to Trish “L.” (no relation to Little “L”).
Ireland is known for its falconers. One famous falconer is Liam, with Falconry Kerry.
I contacted Liam, and he offered to have one of his apprentices give us an hour-long demonstration of both falcons and owls. I will let the pictures and video show you what we experienced. It was a great experience.
Video - Falconry Experiences! Falconry in Killarney:

Next on our drive toward Galway was Crag Cave. Ireland has a lot of limestone, which also means it has a lot of caves.
Crag Cave happened to be on our way, so we stopped in for a visit.
Our next stop, one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Ireland, was the Cliffs of Moher.
We joined the other thousand plus tourists and walked along the cliff's edge.
Yes, it is a beautiful sight, but with all the tourists, I would say I would skip this in the future.
Our last stop on our way to Galway was the most important: Cafe Linnalla Ice Cream Parlour.
If you click here, you will see that Cafe Linnalla Ice Cream Parlour is located at the end of the world.

Famous for its fantastic ice cream and as a reward for making the drive, you get beautiful views of the coastline.
Thank you Chelie V.

Now this is the place to visit, and I would skip the Cliffs of Moher.

We reached our destination, a small village outside Galway.

Tuesday - today we have two options.

Option One: Take a ferry out to the Aran Islands. Once on the island, rent bikes and explore. Thank you, Kurt, Ruthie, and Bob Kelly, for this idea.

Option Two: Take a walking tour of Galway.

Little “L” favored Option One, but when he woke up and saw the entire coast was socked in with fog that was forecasted to last all day, he decided Option Two was best.

We did the Best of Galway Walking Tour.

The city of Galway is a vibrant, bustling urban settlement. Its compact center is best experienced on foot. Our passionate guide showed us the cultural capital of Ireland (though that might be an overstatement). We experienced the unique atmosphere of street musicians, quaint shops, and lively pubs, all among the stunning medieval streets and laneways of one of the most popular towns in Ireland.

Galway's history dates back to the 12th century with the building of a fort at the mouth of the River Corrib by the O’Connor Clan.

Fourteen merchant families of the 15th century brought trade and prosperity to the town and left Galway Lynch’s Castle and St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church as their legacy.

The reputation of the city was such that in the 15th century Christopher Columbus came to visit and pray in St. Nicholas’s Church.

The tour was informative. The fog never lifted, so we were all happy Little “L” picked staying in Galway.

Our visit to Ireland is coming to an end. We have one stop left before we head to my 88th country/territory. I am sure you know which one that is.

Today, we left Galway, continuing on the Wild Atlantic Way. The Wild Atlantic Way is a group of roads that run along the west coast of Ireland with fantastic views of the rugged coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

We stopped at a few villages as we drove north. We had to stop in Connemara. Why? To visit the Connemara Sheep and Wool Centre.

While the Irish wool industry has died off because of the advancements in cheap acrylic and polyester materials, Shamus of the Connemara Sheep and Wool Centre is working hard to bring the industry back.

Today, the wool from Irish sheep is either not sheared or, if sheared, sold off to China for pennies, most of the time not even covering the cost of the shearing.

Most of the sheep you see in Ireland are raised for meat.

Shamus is on a tireless mission to change that. He is looking for new industries that can use the wool. One idea is building insulation. Wool is both a great insulator for temperature and sound.

He is also working hard to get younger people educated in the traditional benefits of wool over acrylics and polyesters, such as durability and sustainability, to name just two.

Shamus gave Margarite and Little “L” some quick lessons on preparing wool to be spun into yarn once it is sheared from the sheep.

The first step was straightening the wool, which both cleans and straightens it. This is done by combing the wool with two metal brushes.

After the wool has been cleaned and straightened, Shamus taught tMargarite and Little “L” how to spin the wool into yarn. They learned on a hand-powered spinner and a foot-powered spinner.

Both spinners, well over 100 years old. This process was very labor-intensive.

After the education, we bid our farewell to Shamus. We promised we would spread the word about the benefits of Irish wool.

We continued our drive and stumbled upon a small micro distillery, Achill Island Distillery, also known as the IrishAmerican Trading Company.
We stopped in, got the nickel tour, and Little “L” got to sample some of the whiskey distilled by Achill Island Distillery.
We reached our next and final stop, the Bervie, a boutique accommodation on Achill Island owned and operated by Elizabeth and John Barrett.

They have been operating the hotel for the last 50 years. What a fantastic place to stay. We will be here for the next three nights.


Our longtime friend Gareth McCormack, the world-famous professional landscape photographer, offered to spend a few days with us and give Margarite and Little “L” some lessons on shooting landscape photography.
We picked Achill Island because it has some of the most beautiful coastal views in all of Ireland.
The photos in this update were taken by me. They do not come close to the quality of the photos that Little “L” and Margarite took.
This is what we have been doing for the last few days:
Now we are off to number country / territory 88, Northern Ireland.

Saturday - Today we drove from Achill Island to Bangor, Northern Ireland. It was about a five-hour drive.

We will be staying with R2 over the next few days. Who is R2? That is a story too long to tell.

R2 lives in Bangor, Northern Ireland.

Bangor is on the coast of Northern Ireland. When Margarite saw the water, she and R2 had to jump in.
Today, Sunday, R2 and his partner R3 took us to the Mournes, an area about an hour’s drive from Bangor.
What a beautiful area! We did a seven-mile hike through the mountains.
The weather could not have been better.
I am starting to see why Little “L” wanted to visit R2. Notice the resemblance.
In the afternoon, we hung out at R2’s house.

After dinner, we walked into downtown Bangor and had some ice cream. We earned it after today’s hike.
Today, Monday, is our last full day in Northern Ireland. We are going to spend the day in Belfast.
A little more on R2. It turns out that for Christmas, Little “L” got a DNA test kit. Unbeknownst to anybody, he had a familial match with someone in Ireland.

When he reached out to this person (R2), they decided to meet up on our trip. R2 insisted we stay with him.
They (R3 and Little “L”) will not tell us what the relationship is. But we know Little “L”’s mom spent some of her college time in Northern Ireland, which was about 19 years ago.
Our first stop was the Titanic Museum / the Titanic Experience. This came highly recommended. Either our expectations were set way too high, or the museum was way too crowded. In hindsight, we would have passed on this adventure.
After the disappointing museum, we did a walking tour with Barbara.
We learned a lot about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This is when the Catholics and Protestants were killing each other and blowing things up in Belfast.
The tour was educational, and we saw a good bit of Belfast.
That is it from Ireland, Isle of Man, and Northern Ireland.
The next trip is in August. It’s to a country most of my readers have never been to, but I know one did live there.

Hope you are enjoying this update.



All Photos: