Category Archives: Ireland

First Stop Clifden

connemara

We’d been told about the new motorway from Dublin to Galway, but I don’t think either of us actually believed that it would only take us two hours to cross Ireland from East to West. In fact, it was an extremely pleasant drive, and yes, we were navigating the (many) roundabouts on the outskirts of Galway city an easy two hours after leaving Dublin. (The fact that it took us 45 minutes to get out of Dublin because of my woeful navigation notwithstanding). Still jet-lagged, our boys slept soundly almost all the way. This was good and bad. Good, because we had a peaceful drive, and bad because even though the drive to Galway city was short, we still had at least another hour to go and we knew that it would be important to get our kids outside and running around if we were to have any hope of a decent night’s sleep that night.

On the road to Clifden, it seemed that Galway city stretched out much further than I remembered and I wondered if my quest to go to Connemara to be off the beaten path in Ireland was ill-conceived. My fears quickly dissipated as we left Oughterard and instead I was rendered speechless by the scenery. The boys were awake by the time we drove into Recess so they spotted this gable-end sign and howled in disbelief. Of course we had to stop and take a photo!

joyces-crafts-recess

Tiny though it is, there were plenty of fun and funny photo opportunities in Recess. Photos taken, we decided to stop in Clifden for lunch before continuing on to Renvyle. This turned out to be a perfect choice. The lunch crowd at E.J. King’s on the Square in Clifden was just thinning as we arrived for our first pub lunch of the trip. As we waited for our food (smoked salmon, fresh homemade brown bread and Guinness), CAM took this photo of his Dad – which he titled “An Irishman Happy In His Natural Environment”.

ejkings-clifden

Even though the wind was blowing steadily when we left the pub, a brisk walk down to the harbor seemed like a good idea. As we started down the hill out of town, I noticed a cheery yellow “Sli na Slainte” (schlee na schlawnte) sign. I’d read the words aloud almost as if to remind myself that I could do so not really paying attention to BigB at my side. He thought the words sounded hilarious. With a serious Mommy voice, I tried to explain that the phrase meant Path to Health but he was off, racing down the hill repeating his new catchphrase over and over as he ran, accenting the words differently and playing with the sounds to his heart’s content.

By the time we were on our way back from the harbor, the wind had really picked up and it was starting to rain. Normally, I’d expect my boys to be complaining in full voice at being outside in such weather but whether it was the giddiness of jet-lag or just the enjoyment of being on vacation, they were in high spirits. CAM turned around to face me and discovered in so doing that the wind blew out his jacket and almost swept him into the water. Naturally then they both had to try to hold their ground against nature.

clifden-harbor

Within an hour we were all checked into the Renvyle House Hotel, our home for the next three nights. It had been a short, but fun, first day of our vacation-within-a-vacation in Connemara.

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Related Posts
Connemara National Park
Crowdsourcing In Connemara

We were invited to stay at the Renvyle House Hotel by the management in order to review the property for CiaoBambino.com.

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From Expat To Tourist To Expat Again

Panorama 4

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to get on an airplane as When we boarded our flight to Chicago this past Saturday. Thanks to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name, our two-week trip to Ireland had become three weeks and we were all more than ready to go home. We had a great time and I’ve got a mountain of photos and plenty of stories to tell about our trip, but first I need to set the stage.

Two days ago I was in a store in my home town, Navan, when the friendly manager asked me where I was from. “Here”, I answered wryly knowing full well that he was only asking because I didn’t sound like a local. I can’t hide that I’m an expat any more. I’ll always be Irish, but what that really means has become less clear to me the longer I’ve lived out of the country. When we first moved to the U.S. it made sense to refer to Ireland as home but lately this didn’t seem to be appropriate any more particularly since we hadn’t spent any appreciable amount of time in the country with our kids since 2002. Before our trip, I promised myself that I would take time during this visit to re-aquaint myself and my children with Ireland.

The reason for our trip was to attend two family weddings so we interleaved being tourists around those to the bemusement of many family members and the consternation of others. Catching the Easter 1916 celebrations in Dublin on Easter Sunday, the first day of our trip, was a great start even if we were all horribly jet-lagged as we stood in the bright April sunshine. I fell in love with the wilds of Connemara and was sad to leave after a short three day stay. We spent the next day in Galway before heading east to scenic Wicklow for the first wedding, and then did a mad loop of the country stopping in Dublin, Antrim, Sligo and finishing with two beautiful days in West Clare before heading south to Cork for the second wedding. We even managed to squeeze in three whiskey distillery tours and my children got plenty of time to practice both their Irish (Gaelic) and their irish accents along the way.

By the day after the second wedding we couldn’t ignore the impact of Eyjafjallajokull, most of European airspace was closed so we weren’t going to be going anywhere. It would have been lovely to continue being tourists but our budget dictated this as impractical especially since there was a more economical option available to us. We reverted to being expats and were able to take advantage of the generousity of family members offering places to sleep. But traveling with two boisterous boys, including a teenager with ADHD, while living out of an overnight bag and sleeping in spare rooms is decidedly not fun no matter how generous the welcome.

This is the challenge with being a visiting expat: it’s great to go home but time is always too short, there’s always way too many people to see and, with children of all ages, space is an issue. We’ve avoided these problems over the past few years by meeting family in other countries where everyone was on vacation. During this trip I realized that I really like Ireland and that we should go there more often. (The unseasonably warm and sunny weather was obviously at play here, but I happen to know that Ireland is fun in the rain too.) The problems of people, space and time while being there – or, put another way, the colliding responsibilities of concurrently being daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend – are things I’ll be pondering between now and our next visit in August 2011. If you have any suggestions on how you manage this, particularly with teenagers, while visiting your family wherever they are, do leave a comment below.

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Connemara National Park

diamond-hill-connemara

This is the trail map for the Diamond Hill hike in Connemara, Ireland, one of the most unusual hikes we’ve ever done. The trailhead is at the entrance to the Connemara National Park visitor center in Letterfrack, Galway. The hike, with an elevation gain of 1,350 feet (400 meters), is an easy walk on the lower loop (blue section above), a little more challenging at the start of the red section of the trail heading up the mountain and downright difficult with a steep incline on stone steps at the top.

diamond-hill-summit-view

Even though it was a little cloudy as we started out, we had a clear view west across the valley towards the Atlantic for most of our hike. The lower sections of the hike alternate between a gravel trail and a wooden path over the blanket bog. This trail opens up safe access to the bogland which is a great bonus for the park. The amount of visible standing water is remarkable – if you’re ever looking for a visual definition of “sodden”, then this, in my opinion, would be it. Once above the lower trail, though, the terrain changes dramatically from wet bog to exposed rock interspersed with pockets of bog, grasses and heathers.

diamond-hill-trail

While picking my way up to the top – and marvelling at how BigB could chatter non-stop as I huffed and puffed my way along beside him – I was intrigued at the construction of the trail. Large amounts of gravel and stone had been brought up the mountain and carefully laid to create the path. I later learned from my uncle, who lives in the area, that the construction materials had been deposited at the top by helicopter and that the trail construction had taken about six months.

The view from the top is spectacular. You can see Kylemore Abbey (or, “Irish Hogwarts” as my boys nicknamed it) below and, if it’s clear, stunning views eastwards across the Twelve Bens and westwards out onto the Atlantic.

connemara-sheep

If anything, the trail gradient seems steeper on the way down from the top and I would caution against trying this hike with very young children since a slight mis-step could lead to a nasty accident. Also, don’t try this hike without decent rain gear and good hiking shoes. Our luck with the weather ran out as we were coming down the upper section of the trail. It was only a 15-minute shower and we, in Seattle-tested outerwear, were warm and dry inside our rain gear but the jackets themselves were absolutely soaked. That said, by the time we approached the visitor center at the end of the hike, the sun was shining again. The path really flattens out here with fields on either side and sheep, lots of sheep.

The visitor center at the park is worth checking out before you leave. Even though CAM groaned about having to “visit a museum about a bog!!”, the displays provide plenty of interesting information about this unusual ecosystem and it’s place in Irish history and language (my favorite: the display listing the myriad words for bog in Irish Gaelic).

The park lands, currently owned by the State, were once part of Kylemore Abbey Estate and the Letterfrack Industrial School. The park buildings were all part of the Industrial School. This school, which operated from 1885 to 1974 is an ugly part of the history of Ireland (you can read details about this in reports produced by the Irish Child Abuse Commission). Some may wish that these buildings had been demolished as a way to remove this ugly history. Personally, I’m glad that the history has been preserved and these buildings, which saw so much pain and suffering, are now being used for something good.

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Information on traveling to Ireland with kids.

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Road Trip Ireland Part III – Into The West

killary-harbour-ireland

In this final post in this series on visiting Ireland I’ll be describing the places we plan to visit during our upcoming trip. We haven’t been to Ireland since 2005 (I can’t complain, we’ve met up with our extended family in Portugal, Cyprus and Italy in the intervening period) so we’re all excited at the chance to re-aquaint ourselves with the Emerald Isle. We have two weddings to go to while we’re there so our trip itinerary looks something like: 1.Spend a few days being tourists; 2.Meet family and attend wedding; 3.Spend a few more days being tourists; 4.Meet family and attend wedding; 5.Return to Seattle.

renvyle-ireland

For our first few touristy days, we’re going to head west. We’ll be staying at Renvyle House Hotel, waaaay out in Connemara – so far off the beaten track that one of it’s earlier owners, Oliver St.John Gogarty, once described it as “the world’s end”. The scenery in this region is barren and windswept and utterly gorgeous. We plan to hike in Connemara National Park, spend a day exploring Clifden and take a day trip to the Aran Islands. We’ll round out this section of our trip with a night or two in Galway city. Oysters and Guinness at Moran’s Oyster Cottage is definitely on the cards and sure we may stop at Oranmore just for the hell of letting our boys belt out The Galway Shawl as we drive through – they already know all the words anyway.

benbulben-ireland

We’re still deliberating on what to do during our second touristy jaunt. Here’s a sampling of the ideas we’re playing with – you’ll have to check back in late April to find out what we actually did:

Sligo. My Mom’s family is from Sligo and my great-great-grandfather was mayor of the city in 1882 and 1884 during which time he donated the city’s mayoral chain. (He was also MP for North Sligo in 1891 as a member of the anti-Parnellite Irish National Federation. Obviously he wasn’t OK with Parnell’s meanderings with Kitty O’Shea. Tut tut.) Yet my children have never actually been here. I can see them enjoying beach walks at Rosses Point or Strandhill or the hike up to (fairy) Queen Maeve’s grave at Knocknarea. A visit to Yeats’s grave at Drumcliff would be required as well as some walks around Lough Gill. Although, I can see my boys revolting if we make them go for a walk to see an island (Innisfree) and a rock (Dooney) that somebody wrote a poem about nearly hundred years ago – even if Yeats did win the Nobel Prize for his literary skill.

Derry (or LondonDerry). Call me crazy. I think getting a video of my kids doing a rendition of Danny Boy on the Derry city walls would be one for the family video archive. If you could, you’d be tempted too, right? (If we do this, I’m 100% sure it’ll sound more like the Muppets rendition below than Daniel O’Donnell).

Whiskey and Beer. Since the WanderDad has been so diligent in teaching our boys Irish ballads, they can also do a mean version of The Irish Rover (we’re such responsible parents). So he thinks it would be perfectly appropriate for us to visit the Guinness, Smithwicks and Murphy’s breweries (in Dublin, Kilkenny and Cork respectively) and the Bushmills and Midleton distilleries (in Antrim and Cork). Apart from the fact that to do so we’d have to drive from one end of the country to the other and back, I’m pretty sure my kids would be all done with this theme after the first stop.

If you have any opinions on any of the above – or any other ideas for what we should do during our week between weddings, leave a comment.

Related Posts
Road Trip Ireland Part I – The South Coast
Road Trip Ireland Part II – Dublin To Belfast
An overview of visiting Ireland with kids .

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Photo Credit: revnancy, theq47, michaelclarke

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Road Trip Ireland Part II – Dublin To Belfast

newgrange-passage-grave

For today’s post I’m going to focus on the part of Ireland where I grew up: the Boyne Valley. As I’ve said before, Ireland is positively littered with structures built in earlier times from early Christian churches to castles of all types, sorts and sizes. In the Boyne Valley, you’ll find all of that and passage graves which pre-date the pyramids at Giza within an easy hour’s drive from Dublin.
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Road Trip Ireland Part I – The South Coast

aer-lingus

I’ve been asked about visiting Ireland with kids twice in the past week or so. So, given that and the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, I thought I’d be patriotic and devote a few posts to visiting Ireland.
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An Eventful Visit To The Giant’s Causeway

finn-and-the-giant

I was clearing out some bookshelves recently and I came across this little book. It’s part of a set of Irish Legends re-told for young children. The Finn MacCool story reminded me of the time we visited the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland with CAM.

Before I describe our visit to the Causeway, I need to first share briefly the legend of Finn MacCool and how he is associated with the Giant’s Causeway. Legend has it that he was a great man, a giant of a man even. According to the story, he built this causeway so that he could walk to Scotland to fight a Scottish rival – and that Scottish rival (who was also a giant) ripped up the Causeway so that Finn couldn’t follow him home!

giants-causeway-route

We took a day trip to visit the Giant’s Causeway when CAM was almost five. As we drove north from my parent’s house in County Meath, I was most moved by the ease of the journey. This was my first visit back to Northern Ireland since I’d graduated from Queen’s in Belfast in the early Nineties. The impact of the Good Friday Agreement was visible in many small ways but most noticably in the fact that the border crossing into Northern Ireland was a five-minute stop – nothing like the multi-hour wait in a heavily armed checkpoint which I’d experienced on every trip between home and school just a few years earlier.

images shankillWe stopped for lunch in the town of Bushmills. After eating, as we returned to the car, CAM noticed and was immediately fascinated by the painted kerbstones. During the Troubles, painting the kerbstones either red-white-blue (for Loyalists) or green-white-orange (for Republicans) was a common way to mark a neighborhood affinity to one side or the other – as you can see in this photo taken in the Shankill Road area of Belfast.

For a kid coming from Seattle, these markings were truly confusing. In CAM’s world view, a set of yellow kerbstones indicated a Bus Stop and a set of red kerbstones meant “No Parking”. “But Mom, why is the road painted like that?” he insisted at the very top of his voice – and he wouldn’t budge without an answer. Standing in the middle of Main St. in a town which wasn’t yet showing many of the beneficial effects of the improving political situation while trying to explain the complicated history of Ireland to a preschooler in simple terms (and in Southern Irish accents) was not a very comfortable situation in which to find ourselves. Thankfully we had Finn McCool on our side.

giants-causeway-antrimWith tales of giants tossing man-sized rocks, making and breaking bridges that could cross stormy seas and battling from one end of the country to the other we managed to distract our inquisitive little guy.

Thankfully, he was duly impressed by the Causeway.

After such excitements we felt we deserved our subsequent visit to the nearby Bushmills Distillery.

And CAM got all his questions about Irish history answered on the drive home.

Photo credit: http://www.r-l-p.co.uk/Ireland.htm

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Information on traveling to Ireland with kids.

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National Trails Day at Glendalough

Glendalough

October 4th being National Trails Day in Ireland we took ourselves off to Glendalough, Co Wicklow to support this worthwhile event and to give the Small Boy more practice in his new backpack.

glendalough-church.jpgWe chose Glendalough because it ticks a number of boxes for walking/hiking with an infant. For one thing It is an easy commute from Dublin,  so there’s no real interruption to sleeping schedules if your infant takes a nap en route. There is ample parking as well as good baby-changing/diapering facilities in the Visitors Centre. The trails are also well marked with plenty of rest areas and benches for quick pit-stops and feeds. Finally, though some trails ascend the hills either side of the lakes you can, if you are feeling less energetic, just walk the paths between the two lakes and admire the views.

Glendalough Round Tower

Glendalough History

Glendalough which derives its name from the Gaelic, Gleann Da Lough or Glen of the two lakes, is one of my favourite places because it is beautiful in any weather and because it is rich in geography, history, myth and legend. The valley was carved out by glaciers during the last Ice Age with the two lakes emerging when the ice eventually thawed. It boasts one of Ireland’s earliest Christian monastic settlements built in the 6th Century by St. Kevin about whom there are a host of legends, not least that he lived as a hermit in a cave above the lakes, was pursued by a blue eyed woman called Kathleen and lived to be 120! The remains of the monastic city are nonetheless impressive, and include a 30 meter round tower, priests’ house and “cathedral”.

Favorite Hike At Glendalough

For our National Trails Day walk, we stuck to the lake paths and wandered around the shores of the upper lake for a while before the Small Boy started to let us know he had had enough. For those with older children used to walking, our favourite hike is the 5k Glendalough Miners Walk. This is a popular trail which loops around from the upper car park past the deserted miners settlement. Not only has this trail the best views back down over the two lakes and the monastic city there is also a herd of wild deer which we’ve been lucky enough to see from time to time!

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Photo credits: mattandkim

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Photo Friday: Wicklow Way

WicklowWay

MT’s mention of the Wicklow Way in her recent post made me realize that I really don’t write about Ireland enough on this blog. So today I thought I’d redress that a little by sharing some photos of the scenery along this 127km trail which winds through the Dublin and Wicklow mountains.

DjouceMt

Mountains in Ireland are one of the reasons why it’s a fantastic family hiking destination. The mountains are old (literally, they’re ‘old fold mountains’ as opposed to ‘new fold mountains’ such as the Himalayas) and weathered and therefore perfect for hikes with young children who aren’t quite ready for steep inclines. Not to mention that in Ireland it’s hard to walk anywhere without having to pass a dell, glade or valley or even a pile of rocks which is named after a fairy, giant, prince or saint – all good fodder for young imaginations and a great way to distract from the efforts of hiking.

Powerscourt Waterfall

Powerscourt Waterfall with Djouce Mt in the background.

Wicklow Way 2

Powerscourt Grounds

And that photo, my friends, clearly shows why Ireland is called ‘The Emerald Isle’. If you’re planning a visit, make sure you have good rain gear because there’s a price for all that greenery, and yes, it means that it rains in Ireland pretty much in every season.

We stayed in this area on an extended visit to Ireland in 2000 and hiked around the Tibradden Mt. with our boys, then 4 and 6 months. The abundance of sheep was a fun distraction – especially when the sheep were looking in our kitchen window. For our trip, we rented one of these Dublin Cottages which I highly recommend.

Head on over to DeliciousBaby for more Photo Friday fun.

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Photo credits: pleeker, miert, martindo, don_quilty

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