Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beara Peninsula

Yesterday started off brilliantly with the stone circle at Kenmare, just a short walk from the town centre. The first one I've ever seen and it's a beauty. About 20 metres across and all 15 stones are still there after 3000 years.
From there I decided to travel around the Beara Peninsula - the most southerly of Kerry's three peninsulas. The lady at the hotel told me it would only take a couple of hours and there'd be little traffic as it's not as popular as places like Dingle. Ha. Ha. Ha. I managed to find another stone circle: the Uragh circle up yet another narrow, twisty, hilly road. A gravel road takes you to a gate where an old man sits to collect 2 euros. Then you walk a little way up a hill and there it is.

Uragh stone circle

It's much smaller than the one at Kenmare - only 6 stones; one large one and five smaller ones. Somehow, out there in the middle of nowhere, it seemed more authentic.
From there I headed west along the coast road. Mostly all I could see were towering hedges along the roadsides and these got closer and closer together as the road got narrower and narrower. The little car struggled a bit with the steeper sections of road. Coming up one such steep bit, approaching a left hand bend, I was suddenly confronted with a convoy coming the other way. There wasn't enough room to pass so I had to go back down the hill, backwards, till there was room to pull over. I gave up then. Turned round and headed back to the main road and drove straight through to Glengarriff where I found somewhere to stay for the night. I just wasn't enjoying the stressful driving on those roads. Consequently there are a couple more stone circles and other things that I missed. Oh well.
Today the plan is to head into County Cork.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry

The Dingle Peninsula, in County Kerry, is Ireland's most westerly area. And it's quite gorgeous too. From Limerick I headed towards Tralee, originally on my way to Killarney. But, as usual, I saw a sign and went off in a different direction - to Dingle. Good choice!!
The road heads up through the mountains, through the Connor Pass - parts of it are closed to large vehicles like buses and HVGs (whatever they are). I'm not surprised as it gets pretty steep, narrow and windy. There's one whole section of road, up top of the pass, that is only wide enough for one car at a time. Scary. But great scenery!!

Dingle peninsula

Dingle itself is at the western end of the peninsula. It's built around a harbour which has two functions: 1. fishing, 2. dolphin tours. 25 years ago Dingle was nothing more than a small, sleepy fishing village that no-one knew about. Then someone spotted a dolphin. 25 years later that dolphin, Fungie, is still there and Dingle has prospered. Boats leave the harbour every half hour to take people out to see the dolphin. 16 euros but if the dolphin doesn't appear there's no charge. The tour takes about an hour and was worth every penny. The scenery is worth the trip alone - ruined tower, lighthouse that's too cute to be true, cliffs with caves - and then there's Fungie. The boat cruises around where the dolphin hangs out and we didn't have to wait long. At first he appeared away from the boat, just gently surfacing every now and again, always in a completely different place. Playing with us. Then he started racing alongside the boat, surfacing only when the boat slowed down. It was like a game - race, jump, race, jump, race. Until he'd had enough and then he wandered off to rest till the next boat arrived. Awesome!

Fungie the fun guy

From Dingle I headed eastwards, along the south coast of the peninsula, to Killarney. There's lots of historical stuff around Killarney - Ross castle, cathedrals and churches, etc. But, I arrived in town at the end of a major funeral service - 4 teenagers were killed during the week (car accident) (two of them were brothers). The whole town seemed to be in mourning. I decided it wasn't appropriate to wander round playing tourist so left.
So yesterday and today I travelled the Ring of Kerry, a road that runs around the perimeter of the Iveragh Peninsula - the other half of Kerry. I got some great sunset shots at Cahersiveen last night.
There also seems to be a lot more trees in this area. I saw a thing today that said that by the 1910s Ireland has only 1.5% of its forests left. That has increased to 7% now. Still not a lot. I'm not sure where all the wood has gone as it's not used for housing - all buildings seem to be made of stone throughout the whole country. Maybe it was all just cleared for farm land? Exported? Dunno.
Tonight I'm in Kenmare and will head into Cork tomorrow.


Friday, August 27, 2010

It's a long way to Tipperary

So I think I'll go somewhere else. Actually, it's just down the road but I think I'm going to head for the coast today. Had enough of urbanity for a while.
Limerick is surprisingly shabby, particularly the "medieval quarter" around the castle. I had a look at St John's Cathedral yesterday - impressive. There were a number of people inside but the silence was overwhelming. I felt a bit embarrassed by the echoing noise of my camera. Great stained glass though and exceptionally ornate altars. The central altar is made from some lovely marble.


St John's Church, directly across the road from the cathedral, has an interesting graveyard but the church itself is empty. It looks like it's been turned into a meeting/music type venue. Maybe a youth club - it had that look about it.
Most of the other medieval places were closed. I was looking through the gate at one place and a guy got out of his van to tell me, "We might have a key in a couple of hours." Right. This is a crazy country :)

Time to hit the road while the sun's out...


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Limerick - sort of.

Yesterday was a bit of a disaster photography-wise. I went off to have a look at King John's Castle and several other attractions in Limerick. But I committed a cardinal sin and didn't check the camera's batteries first. I got some shots of the castle before the battery went flat - no probs, I've got another one. Flat too. Grrr! Not only that, but I also didn't check camera settings and got a bunch of shots of pure whiteness - using indoor setting outdoors. Gawd. Send me back to beginner's class.
Anyway..... the castle itself was a bit disappointing in that there's not much there except the shell. There are two round towers and the main entrance but the insides are empty for the most part. There are a couple of displays in the towers but not much else. Perhaps I shouldn't have seen it so soon after Bunratty which is chock full of stuff. Mind you, the castle was built in about 1210 so I shouldn't really be surprised that most of it has gone.
What is interesting are the archaeological digs on site. One is outside in the main courtyard where they are uncovering what they think might be the great hall as well as a road to the river. I could be wrong here though as the pic I took of the info board was one of the pure whites. The other dig is below ground, directly underneath the souvenir shop. Here they've found evidence of a sally port, defensive walls and pre-Norman dwellings. I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was a kid.
Anyway.... today is another day. Camera batteries are both fully charged.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On to Limerick

Haha, I'd planned to drive straight to Limerick and spend yesterday exploring the city. Haha, it took me all day to get here. I saw a sign to Bunratty Castle, followed it and that was it for the day :)
Before that I'd come across a megalithic tomb on the road from Ennistymon to Ennis. There was no information provided about the tomb but I think it's a portal tomb. No idea of its age.

Megalithic tomb

I love how these things are just there on the side of the road. Just about every bend in the road brings something new to look at. And there are plenty of bends - no such thing as a straight line in Ireland!
Sadly though, there's not always the opportunity to stop and have a proper look: the roads are narrow and winding and places to pull over and park are few and far between once you get out of the towns and villages.

Just as I was about to get on the motorway I saw a sign to Clare Abbey. So off I went down a narrow little road..... The abbey is mostly a ruin and at least one of the towers is leaning rather precariously. The gates around it were all locked so I couldn't get inside for a decent poke around. I thought about climbing the fence but the field was full of scary cows. I suspect the abbey is now on private land.

Clare Abbey

The only way to get back to the motorway was to back up all the way I'd come. Did I mention the roads can be narrow?

A few miles down the motorway and I saw a sign to Bunratty Castle. Detour again....
15 euros to get in. I thought that was a bit steep at first but the castle is fully open to the public and comes with a whole village spread over a number of acres. It's definitely a place to spend several hours, if not all day, so 15 euros isn't so bad after all.

Bunratty Castle

I spent the whole afternoon wandering around the castle and the grounds. The castle itself was crowded with tourists (duh!) which made taking people-less photos difficult. There are signs everywhere asking people not to use flash photography - to protect the tapestries, etc. There are also signs on all the stairways: Entry Only and Exit Only - to keep the traffic on the narrow spiral stairs one way only. Ha! Both sets of signs were routinely ignored by most. Idiots. Traffic jams on the stairways were immensely annoying.
There's a lot more room to move outside and all the buildings are open. They're kept in as original condition as possible - peat fires make them very smoky and most dwellings were small and dark. Interesting nonetheless.


Most of the cottages are white but a couple were painted different colours.
I got sucked in by the touristy thing and ended up buying a certificate with the history of the family name, coat of arms, etc. Apparently Strahan originated in the Donegal area up in the north of Ireland. Shame I'm heading south.

Anyway, after several hours at Bunratty I had a coffee at Durty Nelly's, a 1620 inn just outside the castle, and then got back on the motorway to Limerick. I'm now in the Greenhills hotel until Friday. I decided to spend a couple of days in Limerick as there looks like there's plenty to see. Going off to find King John's castle once I've finished here.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Burren

The Burren is an area in the north of County Clare that's just fascinating. Megalithic portal tombs, medieval ruins, Celtic high crosses, etc. An archaeologist's wet dream. I've been here for two days but have only seen a fraction of what's on offer. The portal tomb at Poulnabrone is impressive - I was amazed at the size of it. It's fantastically well preserved. The limestone landscape is interesting too.
Poulnabrone Portal Tomb

The Cliffs of Moher are worth seeing too but........... the wind! Gale force. 8 euros to park at the cliffs.
Cliffs of Moher

Kilfenora Cathedral has a collection of 11th century Celtic High Crosses which are also worth seeing. The carvings have been worn away in some places but, overall, they are remarkably well preserved. They stand under a specially constructed protective roof now. Makes the cathedral look like it has a greenhouse, but it's all in a good cause.

Only the larger towns in these parts have ATMs and many smaller villages don't have credit card facilities. It's wise to keep a stash of cash in reserve.

Ireland is a strange land. It's kind of in the real world, yet it's not.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mayo into Galway

Of the two counties, so far I much prefer Mayo. The Galway coast is very pretty - postcard villages, etc., but once you get away from the coast it changes. I've followed the road around from Westport, through Leenaun, Kylemore, Roundstone and on to Galway city. The road down to Leenaun (Leenane) is amazing - it runs alongside a couple of lakes (loughs) surrounded by hills and mountains. There are a couple of Famine monuments along the way which provide a sobering reminder of the hardships this country has suffered. The hills around the lakes are covered in small rivulets running down the hillsides to keep the lakes full. Very pretty. There is a great shortage of trees so I guess the water has nowhere else to go.
Kylemore Abbey is a showcase attraction. 12 euros to get in though. There's also a gothic church on site and both it and the abbey have been fully restored. Lovely stained glass window in the church.
It's only a relatively short distance to Kylemore but it took me most of the day, stopping to take over 300 photos as I did.
The Rosleagh Hotel in Kylemore has pretentions to be 5 star accommodation - grand is the word. But the Fawlty Towerisms made it quite loveable too. The formal dining room is impressive - proper table settings, chandeliers, etc - but the beef fillet was tough. The bedrooms are big and airy but watch out for dead birds on the staircase. Etc.
Yesterday's drive to Galway wasn't nearly as interesting. I quickly got tired of the endless landscape of rocks. Occasional patches of wildflowers and the odd sheep here and there break it up a bit but, overall, I found it to be a bit depressing. The coastal areas are definitely a step back in time. No internet in most places, no phone reception either. I heard a lot of Gaelic being spoken and, in some places, there are no English translations of signs.
Galway itself is one of Ireland's biggest cities and all of a sudden I was faced with something I haven't experienced for a while - traffic! Jammed traffic. I made my way out of town, slowly, and found the Connemara Coast Hotel. A bit pricey but very comfortable. Excellent view from my room, I'm looking right over the bay. Nice. Good food and service too.
It's raining today so I might go into town and do some shopping. Nothing's open till after 12 though, it being Sunday, so there's no hurry.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ireland: days 2 & 3

Still haven't made it to Galway :)
Yesterday I went to Slane and Kells. Slane has a wonderful ruined abbey on the Hill of Slane. It overlooks the countryside for miles around. It's where St Patrick lit the Paschal Fire, in 433 AD, in contravention of Pagan law forbidding any other fire but the King's at Beltane. The beginning of the end for Paganism in Ireland. The ruins that are on the Hill date from the early 1500s. There's not much left, just the shell of the college and the abbey tower. The graveyard is pretty full though and has some great Celtic crosses.
Slane Castle, in the town itself, is used for rock concerts these days - U2 are one mob I know have played there. It was closed when I was there though.
Next stop was Kells. They have a copy of the Book of Kells on display in the Information centre - the real thing is at Trinity College. Fascinating work of art. There's also an excellent 10th century round tower at the church up the hill. It's 90 feet tall and has 6 floors inside. No staircase though - access by ladder only!! But I guess if you were sheltering in there from a Viking attack you'd probably climb the walls unaided to get to safety. Plenty more Celtic crosses in the graveyard too. Impressive.

Today I wandered over to Westport, a pretty town near the west coast. From there I made my way to Louisburgh which is where I've parked myself for the night. This area has some fascinating history. Croagh Patrick (mountain) dominates the whole area. Appropriate as it's Ireland's Holy Mountain. St Patrick again - he's supposed to have spent 40 days and nights on the summit, fasting, praying, doing penance. It's a major pilgrimage site now and there was a steady stream of people heading upwards while I was there. I stayed at sea level. I know my limitations!
The national Famine Monument at Murrisk is also worth seeing. It's a bronze sculpture representing one of the coffin ships that transported Irish immigrants away from the Great Famine of 1845-52. The ship's sails and masts are made up of skeletal figures - representing both the Famine and the journey. Impressive piece of work.
Murrisk Friary is a few hundred metres away - not much left now but enough to give a sense of the place.

I was going to go out again this evening and take some sunset pics along the coast. But it's raining so I'm staying put - watching Liverpool on TV will have to do :)

Maybe tomorrow I'll get to Galway and beyond...

I'll leave you with this gem I overheard while having dinner in the bar of the hotel I'm staying at:
Re a recent trip to Tunisia: "The Safari tour was real disappointing. It was just a wildlife park. We didn't get to see the Safari Desert at all."


Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Took off from Manchester at 8am yesterday - 35 minute flight into Dublin. Haha, how do Aer Lingus staff know that all passengers are on board? They do a head count. Anyway, by 9.45 I'd picked up my hire car and was on my way. I've got a Nissan Micra - the world's smallest car!! Only just fits my case, computer and camera in the boot. But it's easy to drive and cheap to run.
5 minutes down the road and I found myself in a town called Swords, complete with ruined castle. Photo op #1. It wasn't open yet though so I only saw the outside. I'm sure there are better ones to look at though.
I had intended to head for Galway and start touring from there. But, a few miles along I saw a sign to the Battle of the Boyne so headed there. Glad I did. I ended up on a tour (5 euros) of the passage tombs of Knowth. Fascinating place: one huge mound surrounded by 18 smaller ones. Megalithic art carvings on most of the kerbstones surrounding the main tomb. Apparently one-third of Europe's known megalithic art can be found at this one site.

Knowth Passage Tomb

From there I found myself in Drogheda, on the east coast. So much for heading west! The town itself looks a bit rundown but it was full of old churches, a fort and a ruined abbey. The tomtom GPS I've got a loan of kept sending me the wrong way up one-way streets. Spent about an hour trying to find one particular church I could see the spire of. Gave up in the end.
I ended up in a town called Navan where I found a room in the Ardboyne Hotel. Haha, the only room left was the bridal suite so I got it at standard room price (69 euros). Sweet. Lovely hotel and the staff are great too.

There are a couple of things nearby I want to look at today - there's an abbey up the road and Kells is about 20 miles west. The Book of Kells has always fascinated me so I have to go see.....
Then I'll head west to Galway I think. Or I might see another interesting sign and follow that....

Time for breakfast. Later.....

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Another childhood home

Another childhood home
Originally uploaded by jsarcadia
We lived here until we moved to Australia.

One childhood home

One childhood home
Originally uploaded by jsarcadia
Cherry Lane. I think this was my second house. The first one isn't there any more.


I haven't updated for a while because I haven't really known what to write. It's been such an interesting experience even though I haven't done a whole lot.
I've spent most of the time with family, hearing all sorts of stories about my Mum, Dad, me, various others. A lot of gaps have been filled in and a lot of questions answered. I can't go into it all here 'cos it's kind of private but it's been a bit of an eye-opener. Funny at times, sad at others. Fascinating at all times.
The city itself is interesting - a lot smaller than I remember! Every now and then I see something - a street name, a building, etc - which triggers a childhood memory. That's kinda cool :) I've had a look at the houses I grew up in, the park I played in, the schools I went to. Most of them are still there. The old cinema my brother and I used to go to on Saturday mornings is now closed and pretty much derelict though. The docks have been tarted up a great deal. I remember we used to catch the bus into town and catch the "ferry 'cross the Mersey". I took the ferry ride the other day. I think it's the same boat :) The whole Pier Head and docks area is completely different though - all touristy now, instead of a working dock area. Liverpool is still a working port town though and there's a lot of commercial traffic up and down the river. Kind of comforting in a way.
The Liver building and its Liver Birds on top are still there and that's a good thing. The birds can be seen from all sorts of different places around the place and I find that reassuring somehow.
The other thing I've noticed is the overwhelming presence of The Beatles. They are everywhere! I'm sure that if I'd stayed here all my life I'd hate them by now. Locals say they don't even notice all The Beatles stuff. I certainly have. I went on the Magical Mystery Tour - basically a bus tour of notable Beatles sites: the houses they grew up in, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, the Cavern. I'd already been to the Cavern but not to the other places. I was annoyed that we couldn't get off the bus at John's house in Menlove Avenue. Wrong tour. For 15 quid it wasn't really value for money. I got a few decent pics but plan to go back and get better ones at some later stage.
Apart from that I've done the ferry, the cathedrals, the "Iron Men" at Crosby beach. All have been fascinating. I was especially impressed by the Iron Men and the Anglican cathedral - fabulous piece of architecture. Check flickr for pics if you're interested.
The weather, in general, has been lousy. Average temperature of 18C and rain most days. At first I didn't mind the cooler temps after the stifling heat of the US. Now I'm ready for something a bit warmer and drier.

I'm off to Manchester on Monday, just for the night. Fly off to Ireland on Tuesday.


Monday, August 2, 2010

The Three Graces

The Three Graces
Originally uploaded by jsarcadia
From left: The Liver building, the Cunard building, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (aka Port of Liverpool) building.

And so...

Here I am in the town where I was born: Liverpool, England. It's 43 years since I was here.
The flight from Boston to London was smooth. I was able to upgrade to business class for $500. Considering that my whole round the world ticket, at business class rates, would have cost $16,000 instead of the $4500 I paid for Economy, 500 bucks is a drop in the ocean. No, I'm not joking about the 16 grand. Business class is definitely the way to go if you can get it: leg room, proper reclining seat, decent sized TV/DVD screen with real headphones, 4 course meal, bottomless wine glass, attentive crew, etc etc etc. Seductive.
Ha, then back to economy for the flight from Heathrow to Manchester - squishy seats, bacon roll and lukewarm tea. Hahaha, back to reality!
In keeping with this magically charmed trip I'm having, the 2 strangers sent to pick me up at Manchester recognised me and I recognised them. Thank you Keith and Richie :)
I'm staying with my aunty Sheila and uncle Les in West Derby - not that far from where I used to live. Haven't checked out the old house yet but I will.
Sheila and the extended family have welcomed me with open arms and gone out of their way to make me feel at home. Once again I'm spoiled rotten. Don't know who my guardian angel is but she/he is working overtime :)
I've only been into the city centre once so far - parts of it seemed very familiar: road names, buildings, etc. A lot of it has changed lots - been a lot of modernisation, touristy additions, etc. The first place I looked at was The Cavern. I was nowhere near old enough to see it when I lived here originally. It is a tiny tiny place. Surprisingly small. It closed in 1973 but has since reopened and operates as a music venue again, but also, now, has its eye well and truly on the tourist dollar/pound. The interior is all brick and every one of them is covered with people's names. Must add mine next time I'm there.
From there I walked down to the Pier Head and Albert Dock - on the Mersey. Recognised the Three Graces immediately. They're the 3 big buildings along the waterfont - the Liver building is the one I most remember. Seeing the Liver Birds on top of the building almost brought a tear to my eye. The ferry leaves from the Pier Head. I remember taking the ferry often when I was young. Haven't done the ride yet but will soon.
Instead of the ferry I decided to visit the Tate Gallery instead. Picasso exhibition. £10 entry to that, the general gallery is free. I've never been much of a fan of Picasso but, like any art, once you see it for real..... impressive. The exhibition is titled Peace and Freedom and includes works from the post-WW2 period. The most impressive piece was The Charnel House - referring to the murders of a Spanish Republican family in their home by Franco's forces. It reminded me strongly of Guernica in that it's black, grey, white and is done in that same style. It's unfinished though and sketch lines, etc, can still be seen on the canvas. Picasso's justification for this was apparently: "Only death finishes something." The rest of the exhibition featured a range of works - some landscapes, the dove of peace, the Algerian Women, lots of skulls (reflecting the carnage that had recently occurred), etc. Worth the money.
Apart from that I've been catching up with family, meeting most of them for the first time and hearing lots of stories about my mum'n'dad and others.
I haven't done much touristy stuff yet and I'm ready to start doing that again now. So much to see and do, I don't know where to start.