The Emerald Isles! Land of Leprechauns. Our visit was a 5 day tour around the Republic with Mitch’s family, Jan, Fred, Cam and Cams’ girlfriend Louise. Earlier we introduced Jan and Fred to the hustle and bustle of London visiting a few of the sights, also getting tickets to the Let It Be – Beatles Show.
Our entry to Ireland was on the famous RyanAir airlines. As we experienced the highlights of low-cost budget airlines, including no tray tables, no reserved seat numbers and hostesses who were dressed in their pressed canary yellow orderly outfits. Their harsh Irish accents made little sense either – “tharliffejaketsareunderthaseet. Effyoutenkthaplanesgowanundarwarter, youmustnowsharrwithyarneighburr”…
On arrival to Dublin Airport Mitch promptly burst into a Chiefs semi-final victory celebration over the Crusaders moving swiftly through customs to our first bus ride. Our first hotel was quite a scale up from our French accommodation, except the bar staff noticeably watered down the drinks. Rookie mistake, wait till we are drunk first, then slip the opaque Guinness!
Dublin town was quite lively, particularly with the tourist industry. A large amount of beggars, street performers, sand sculpture artists (they all made dogs, not one castle) and megaphone touting evangelists crowded the streets. Despite the high unemployment (Including 1/4 of those between 20 and 35), the price of basic grocery goods was incredibly high, crippling for those starting out. Our walk took us westwards down the River Liffey, into Temple Bar and through the “Viking District”, full of cathedrals and ancient buildings. Walking through Dublin Castle, the history of Irish people, through the ages, repelling the Romans, integrating and assimilating Norman rule and more recently their struggle to freedom from English rule makes up a large part of the Irish character and psyche.
The bars by midday, were full, yet not the throng they were to be later in the night. We were lucky enough to get a live gig by the Guinness World Record Holder for the longest guitar set – 114 hours! So after a good boozy session we met with the rest of the tour group for a morning tour around Dublin. Bill, our “Irish” guide, with his encyclopaedic recall, dry wit and disappointing Kentish accent, narrated us through the alleyways and statues.
In the afternoon, we ventured inland to Glendalough (“Valley of the two lakes”) to see, well, two lakes…and an ancient monastery built by the early Christians who converted the Celts, picking up a large amount of Celtic culture in the process. The Irish are very superstitious, with Irish fairies still a large part of common folklore and still existing in traditional gatherings. We learnt the famous story of St Patrick, who lit a fire when he shouldn’t of, then managed to convert the Celtic Kings of Ireland in doing so. We failed to see how a fire would be started with all the rain that came down. It was torrential and in our summer clothes, not a welcome sight.
That night, back in Dublin, Jan and Fred went to enjoy an Irish Cabaret, while the rest of us settled in to an Comedy Crunch night at the Stags Tail (under the Stags Head). For a small donation, it was great entertainment, with some of the best rising and established comedic talent practicing new material for the upcoming Fringe festivals. Main topics were the recession, RyanAir, Australians and death. Pretty easy to get material for those… The Guinness tastes much better in Ireland, they make 3 million litres a day – 1 million of which is consumed among the 4 million locals and tourists. We didn’t manage a tour of the factory, but Fred, Jan, Cam and Lou did later.
The following day was a bit more travelling on the bus to Galway. We managed to catch up on lost sleep and then some, before arriving at our destinations in need of a nap before an early night. It was tough – we missed half the commentary! Galway was a nice smaller town, packed with charity workers! We got asked 5 times in the space of 100m if we wanted to donate to an Alcoholic Reform Charity. It must be a big problem here? Heading south we stopped at the Cliffs of Moher, probably the most spectacular natural sight in Ireland. Tam, after trying to encourage others over the embankment with her for a closer look, promptly hurried back after a bout of stinging nettle. Apparently the weather isn’t always good at Moher, so they made an interactive 3D experience to simulate what it would be like if the weather was fine and if you were a seagull. A stay over in Ennis, near Limerick , charged the batteries again. That night we went to a feast at a real castle. Cam managed to get the King’s chair and Mitch had to be his Jester. Tam got “lost” in the corridors looking for secret passageways…
The next day we drove around the Ring of Kerry, stopping off quickly for retail warfare at a local shop – duty free! We did get free Irish Coffees though and managed to resist any big purchases. Fred, Jan, Cam and Lou got some good kit and some to take back home. The Ring of Kerry was a bit of back road round the valleys, fairy rings and coast (we saw one beach) of Southwest Ireland, going past Charlie Chaplin’s bach and past a spot where Queen Victoria had a picnic and named the spot after her servants. Lunch was a slop of Irish Stew and dry brown bread. At 11 Euro it would have to be the best stew we ever had…and shared – tourist trap. The evening saw us in Killarney, where we went out for a bit of Irish music and step dance lessons at a local pub. All dancing to the classic hits. Later retiring out to another local pub for more music. Tam went up to request a song “The Bells of Belfast”. It was almost a pin-drop moment as the singer exclaimed “Nooo, we don’t play dat round ere”. A quick geography/history lesson for Tam and the pub was back in full swing.
Our final day traveling north back to Dublin took us through Blarney and Cashel. While we weren’t able to get a good view of the Rock of Cashel due to renovations, we did get to kiss the famous Blarney Stone – apparently rated the 4th most unhygienic attraction in the world. In the heavy rain, getting lowered by a burly Irishman a few feet, then to feel the cold-sores and herpes creep onto your lips as you were simultaneously gifted “the gift of the gab”. After getting a bit soaked we sheltered in another tourist shop, watching others who didn’t plan for wet weather on their summer vacation buy complete changes of clothes.
On return to Dublin, we departed early, leaving the others to enjoy one more night, catching up with Mitch’s cousin Brett, who was working in the area. Mitch’s parents have now moved on to the Netherlands, catching up with Dutch relatives.
In all Ireland was a great trip, full of surprises and quirky people. It was great having Jan and Fred over and join them on a tour – much appreciated. Thanks.