All photos are mine. Click to view them in more detail and to read captions where applicable.
Today’s tour is courtesy of Gray Line Tours. We booked through a site, wicklowmountainstour.ie, which offered even more of a discount than did booking through the Gray Line site, but it was confusing because none of the email addresses were what I would have expected. Gray Line was helpful and quick to respond when I wrote fearing that our purchase had been illegitimate.
Another of the bucket list items that we sought to check off was a walk through the Sally Gap in the Wicklow Mountains. My sister was long in love with the film P.S. I Love You and wanted to recreate the scene where the American woman is wandering lost along the road.
No tour that we could find and no public transit will get you near the Sally Gap, a crossroads in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, nor could I even find a way to hire a cab to drop us there, though I did my research only online and didn’t actually call any companies to ask if it was a possibility, international rates for phone calls being what they are.
There were many different sites and tours offering to go through the Sally Gap and the Wicklow Mountains National Park, and several offering photo opportunities at a bridge in the Park where the two main characters of the film kiss, but when I started tracking the tours back, they all seemed to boil down to three or four different companies. The one walking tour ran only once or twice a month and not during the time that we needed it to be.
I contacted one company and was told that a walk such as what my sister wanted would be impossible. Because I was running short on time, I did not email ahead to ask Gray Line if they thought that such a walk was possible. Sometimes it is better to have fewer expectations.
When we arrived at Gray Line’s office, the Dublin Visitor Center on Grafton Street, there was already a long line out of the door, and none of the people in the line were there for the tour that we were. But my sister wound her way to the front to pick up our tickets while I watched for the bus, not really sure what I was looking for but hoping that I’d know our tour bus when I saw it. Ultimately, from the office a guide emerged and called forth groups for different tours and led them to the correct bus around the corner in front of the Bank of Ireland, another tour before ours but then ours.
My sister managed to pick up our tickets from the desk inside and have them in time to be called forward, but the tour did leave a few minutes later than was advertised.
Once on the bus, things went more smoothly.
The tour is supposed to visit Glencree German Cemetery, but the day of our tour the company had learnt that the roads to get there were impassable so we got more time at Glendalough (the “lough” is pronounced like “lock”) instead.
Since we weren’t there to go to Glencree and I’d forgotten that we were with this tour supposed to stop there (I did look at a lot of tour itineraries), I didn’t much mind, but I hope no one on the tour was particularly upset.
Our bus pulled out, heading south this time, where we saw St. Stephen’s Green and more sites important to the Easter Rising.
We were driven along some narrow mountain roads past a hut-like construction that from our guide’s story I suspect may have been a set piece for Vikings, past Lough Tay to the bridge called the P.S. I Love You Bridge, though it’s real name, I think, had something to do with sheep (our guide mentioned it, but now I can’t find it online anywhere). While our driver went on to turn the bus around, we were given 15 or so minutes to climb around the stream and photograph the hills and the heather—our guide said it wasn’t heather, but everything else I’ve read, and my own instincts, think that it is—perhaps a specific kind of heather or heather locally known by another name, but I think heather nonetheless.
Turned around, we headed just a bit farther back the way we had come to an overlook point that looked down on Lough Tay or Guinness Lake and the valley that it occupies, and were given another ten or fifteen minutes to go explore the area, to take photographs, and enjoy the scenery. On this tour, I learned a lot about the Guinness Family and their legacy not only of world-renown beer but also of philanthropy.
It started raining just as it was coming time to get us back on the bus.
The views out the window were obscured by trails of water across the glass.
Thankfully the rain had all but stopped by the time we arrived at Glendalough, and the sky cleared as we wandered the ground of the monastic settlement.
We were pretty much set loose on the grounds. We wandered first through the cemetery, a blend of old plots with illegible headstones and newer markers. We did a lot of careful tiptoeing and stepping and apologized often to the dead as we unavoidably trod on gravesites. Between the headstones are the ruins of the settlement: a nearly in tact chapel, a ruined cathedral, a priest’s house, and a tower also nearly in tact. An archeological group was doing some excavation just outside of the graveyard, cordoned off and too far away to be disturbed the tourists.
Most of the buildings on the site are from the 10th-12th century, the settlement having been destroyed by Norman invaders in 1214. Visit Wicklow has a lot of good information about the individual structures around Glendalough.
We walked out from there towards the Lower Lake. The way through the woods is fairly broad and flat. I think it was even paved. There were occasional benches to sit and trash bins.
We didn’t go much past the edge of that first lake, but went back towards the modern village, such as it is, ducked into a few shops, two of which were permanent structures but more of which were pop up tents, and saw a sign for a sheep dog demonstration. We tried several routes to find the entrance to the event without success, though over the wall that bordered the road we could catch glimpses of the sheep and the young Border collies, one of which was definitely a pup. Unfortunately, we eventually found out, we’d missed the beginning, and the next demonstration wouldn’t begin until after we were supposed to be on the bus back.
We sat for a little while, having nowhere else to go in the time that we had, on the hill beneath the trees just a short ways inside the monastic settlement’s stone gate, overlooking the road. Sitting beneath the trees on the hill was peaceful with the cemetery behind and a sheep pasture beside and more pasture across the road below.
The last stop on the tour was Avoca, a small village known for its hand-weaving center but also as the filming location for the BBC show Ballykissangel (1996-2001). We ate in the pub, Fitzgerald’s, which frequently appeared in the show. I got the sense that visiting this pub was like visiting the Cheers bar in Boston. But the food was good, the service quick, and fairly inexpensive. There were only a few people there besides our tour. One of the televisions inside the airy pub was playing episodes of the show, but I was more interested in the airing commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Amiens on the other television behind the bar.
We didn’t have much time to explore Avoca itself. We crossed over Main Street to a small park overlooking the river that gives the town its name , and we went up the road a little ways past the lot in which our bus was parked to see what was over the hill’s crest. Looking down the road we could see the Avoca Handweavers, but we didn’t go down the hill towards the museum and factory because we didn’t want to be late for the bus back.
This tour wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping for, but the places that we did visit were beautiful. I just wish we’d had more time to wander in the mountains.
To the best of my ability to track our travels through GoogleMaps, my photos, and my recollection, this might’ve been our route, but I’m much less certain on on our route out of or into Dublin.
Which would mean in all that this is what we managed to see of Ireland, only really a third of the country and a fourth of the island.
We got off the bus around 6 PM on O’Connell Street. We spent the evening ducking into bookstores—on my sister’s suggestion not mine, though you know that I happily acquiesced. We visited larger more corporate bookstores like Eason and little used shops too. We wandered and found St. Stephen’s Green, and ended up—by my own faulty sense of direction, I’ll admit—down by the Grand Canal. The canal was pretty, but I didn’t take any pictures; I was too busy consulting maps.
Again, thank God for GPS! When our map failed us—we’d wandered too far south and were off the edge of one of the maps that we had, and I don’t think that I consulted the other, though I should have done—we pulled out my phone, and turned north. We passed the Bleeding Horse Tavern, a tavern that’s been at that site since 1649 (I didn’t realize at the time that it was any point of historical interest, but I remember commenting on the name; I found it on that second map after I had got home and was researching these blog posts), and continued north around the side of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
We ate our wrapped, convenience store sandwiches (purchased the night before in case the pub on the tour offered nothing that my sister could eat) in the park beside the cathedral before heading back to the dorm to pack and sleep for an early morning.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral was the most prominent tourist site near our dorm; it seemed like a place that we should spend some time. We were never there when the doors to the cathedral were open, but we were able to say hello to the building this way.