Click on the photos to embiggen and to read captions where available. All photos are mine. Trying to decide on pictures for this post was so hard, and I have so many more that I want to share.
This day’s travel was courtesy of Paddywagon Tours.
At Destiny Student – New Mill, we were about a 20 to 25 minute brisk walk from the meeting place on College Green. I’d asked the front desk for better instructions to our meeting place the night before and been supplied with a map and a route. The route we were given took us up a residential street, New Row South, then up past St. Patrick’s Cathedral, turning at Christ Church right along Dame Street.
We found the green Paddywagon Tours bus easily on Dame Street and confirmed with the driver that we were in the right place. He welcomed us convivially and sent us off to pick up coffees and breakfast since we were a few minutes early.
Fortified with caffeine and sugar, we climbed back on the bus. Once we were all assembled and the bus took off, our guide talked us through some of the sights out the window, the Bank of Ireland with its bricked in windows to avoid the light tax and Phoenix Park with its herd of deer. And the tour continued as we got out into the country, our guide talking us through Ireland’s history from the four kings of Ireland, to Strongbow’s arrival at the behest of Mac Murchada, the former king of Leinster (mid-1100s), to the Burren, and the penal laws when being Catholic was outlawed (mid- to late-1600s). He explained the importance of peat and the importance of the potato. He talked about the Potato Famine, better called the Great Hunger (mid-1800s), and about the tension between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, including what he has witnessed himself as a tour guide (ongoing but finally, thank God, cooled after the late 1990s).
He was a fabulous tour guide, and I wish I could remember his name to commend him personally!
I learnt more on this tour than I did on any other, from my history classes, from stumbling upon Tumblr posts, or from guidebooks. I laughed at some of the bad puns, and just had to smile at his enthusiasm, while my heart sank with his sadder stories.
Between stories, he played us a mix of more modern Irish bands like the High Kings singing primarily more traditional pub songs.
Meanwhile, out the window, the Irish countryside rolled past. It’s green. Everyone says it, but it is true—and we were in Ireland during a drought, so I imagine I have seen the country less green than it might usually be. There were far more cows than I ever imagined. On earlier train rides through England, I marveled at the number of sheep. Here I marveled at the absence of the sheep and the abundance of cows.
We passed a great diversity of landscapes: fairly flat fields with far off rises, a peat bog, and then rocky mountains like I’ve never seen before: rocky but not in the way that, say, Croatia’s or Montenegro’s mountains are rocky. From a distance they looked like mounds of gray stone rising from green fields. Nearer, you could see the tracery of green breaking through the rocks. And the mountains were crisscrossed by low stone walls: stone walls to nowhere, fencing nothing, built by a starving people to whom the government refused charity and refused “handouts,” making them work for rationed food even if the work accomplished nothing meaningful. That sentiment stung. It rang too familiarly in my ears. I don’t like the idea. And I think those walls will haunt me. I think we are not far at all from repetition of that same government refusal, though the work left behind by our starving people may be more ephemeral. In some ways I think we are already there.
We stopped to stretch our legs in the small fishing village Kinvara. Just briefly. We walked along the park-edged harbor and turned up the hill along a road called The Quay to catch a quick glimpse of the town farther inland, peering up and down Main Street, before returning to the waterside and walking around the corner from the park. Across the water we could see Dunguaire Castle. True to form, I only took pictures of the boats and the water.
Our tour continued along the Galway Coast, but we had chosen seats on the wrong side of the bus for there to be photos; sorry. Driving along the coast we learned about another export of the country, though: seaweed.
We stopped a little while later at an area the tour called “the baby cliffs” near Bothar nA hAillite. I’m not actually sure what Bothar nA hAillite is (it might be the road’s name?), but it was the nearest marker I found on GoogleMaps to the place where we stopped, which I was able to identify in part because one of the photos uploaded onto GoogleMaps showed a Paddywagon bus. We climbed about on the rocks a little, getting as near as we dared to the sea. I’d done enough research to know that the Burren is home to all kinds of unique plant life, so I was peering into the mossy, grassy, crevices in the rocks too, though I don’t know enough to identify any of the wildflowers.
I have no pictures from Doolin, the next place we stopped to stretch and to search out lunch. I thought I did, but I don’t. It was a tiny place. We stopped along Fitz’s Cross, a few shops side by side along the street, two hostels, a pub, a café, a welcome center with a courtyard behind the lot with benches and fire rings and picnic tables. It looked like someone had set up a corner for a celebration when we were there. We grabbed sandwiches for lunch, ate in the courtyard, and hopped back on the bus, finally arriving not long afterward at the Cliffs of Moher.
I was unprepared for how beautiful and rugged and wonderful these cliffs are! I know everyone says that you must see them, but I’d sort of dismissed the hype. Believe the hype. Go see the cliffs. You can’t get anywhere near the water. If you get near the water… I doubt anyone will see you again, but just looking out over these rock faces topped with green grass and lines of people who seem dust specks in comparison with these monstrous heights in photographs—! It’s beautiful.
Our tour guide had told us to walk out towards the right for a better view of the cliffs, towards O’Brien’s Tower. We’d been fiercely warned not to climb over the rock walls or get too near the edge. I’m glad we followed the advice.
Past the Tower too, the stone walls and paved walkway abruptly ended, and a well-worn dirt track along the height of the cliffs replaced them. There was a less-trodden trail below this. Perhaps the trail we took for most of our journey out was meant to be the top of an earthworks divider between a tourist and the cliff, but everyone else was walking it too, and it was still some distance from the edge. It took a steady foot, though; not for the fainthearted and not for the wobbly. We came back along the lower trail when we’d felt that we’d gone far enough, letting those unacquainted with the views stay up higher to gawk.
We ducked into the museum, but frankly, it wasn’t much, though the structure of the museum within a hill is in itself intriguing. We sat to watch a digital animation of the fauna of the cliffs, in the air and in the sea, but it wasn’t very impressive, frankly. And we didn’t stay to read plaques for the exhibits; outside the museum was too pretty.
So we struck back out along the left side of the cliffs, climbing up the top of the iconic view. We didn’t go far that way, though, because we were coming close to our deadline to be back on the bus. We perused the stalls set up by the museum’s exit, and overheard a couple from our tour group admitting to their friends that they’d become engaged on the cliffs.
Our tour guide found out too, and every song remotely about a man and woman in love was dedicated to the couple from there on out.
Clambering back on the bus, we struck back east again, passing Dough Castle, a heartbreaking monument to all those but particularly the children who died in the Great Hunger, Bridge Street in Ennistimon, and the ruins of Clare Abbey. We stopped again to stretch across the street from Bunratty Castle, though there was not much time to explore the area around the castle—or any time to enter the castle itself.
Though we were still a good ways away from Dublin, I haven’t any more pictures from that day until after getting off the bus that evening. Maybe I slept. I know we listened to more Irish music. I was awake long enough to hear the story of one man’s discovery of his link to President Barack Obama. We passed the town, Moneygall, that was home to Barack Obama’s great-great-great grandfather, where now a rest stop is named for the former president, owned by a distant relation.
At any rate around 8 PM, we got off the bus on the north side of the Liffey near O’Connell Street in Dublin after stopping one last time at a rest area for toilets—I think that a requested stop of one of the other travelers, to which I’m glad our tour guide acquiesced, not because I needed another stop, but because it’s nice that a stop can be added because of a need.
We ended up shopping at some of the tourist shops on the northside that evening, meeting a man in one of the shops and having a long conversation. We crossed over the pedestrian Ha’penny Bridge (built 1816) around sunset though, where I snagged this stunning photo looking west, crossed through the beautiful pedestrian streets of the Temple Bar area, and found our way back to Dame Street, ate some delicious, fancy, branded burgers (Greek-flavored lamb for me, Cajun-flavored chicken for my sister) at BóBós Burgers and sat long into the night after a bit of confusion about whether or not we asked for the check, but it was pleasant to sit, pleasant to talk, and no one seemed fussed about us sitting.
*I want it noted that it IS possible that I am misremembering which tour guide gave us which information, but I do remember that this was the more eloquent of the tour guides, particularly about more ancient history. Both talked a good deal about their own experiences in Ireland and recommended places to visit. More on the second tour guide in the next Travel Notes post.