Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wet, Wild, Windy & Cold Ireland

Well...those four words really describe what my last week in Ireland was like. This is my fourth trip to the Emerald Isle but I’ve never known the weather to be as bad as this !! I shouldn’t expect much given that it is winter !!

My final week begins with me still chilling out in Dublin; crashed at my friend, Anne’s place. She had to fly back to Australia rather suddenly after a death in the family so our plans to travel up to Donegal & Sligo were put on hold until she got back...hence the chilling out in Dublin.

The plan we’d worked out was for her to fly back to Dublin on the Tuesday (at 4pm); we’d then head back home, unload luggage, repack & head off to Donegal.

As with the best laid plans, they went out the window when: her plane was delayed leaving Melbourne; she had to change planes in Hong Kong; she was late arriving in London & missed her connecting flight to Dublin. Consequently she didn’t make it into Dublin until 7pm. Our plans kinda went out the window at this point. The amount of luggage that Anne brought back was truly astounding...ok...slight exaggeration here. It was only one suitcase but it weighed a tonne !! Trying to get it (mine & Anne’s) all into the car required a bit of creative arranging & sheer physical violence but we managed to fit everything in.

We didn’t end up leaving the airport until about 7.40pm so the leisurely drive up to Donegal turned into a mad dash (in the rain & dark) to get to the B&B we’d booked by a reasonable time. As it turned out, we didn’t get to there until nearly midnight.

We were both exhausted (Anne, especially after the 22hr flight from Melbourne) but glad to have made it to Donegal.

Giant’s Causeway

We woke up the next morning to quite beautiful views across Donegal Bay (well…..from the dining room anyway). We figured that the weather might just be good enough for us to head up into Northern Ireland & the Giant’s Causeway.

The road we were following took us onto part of the “Innishowen 100” driving route. It’s quite a lovely drive up through the northern most part of the republic...that’s if the weather is good: the last time I did the drive, I got caught in a rain storm so bad that I couldn’t see the road & had to pull over for about 15 min.

We stopped at the ring fort of “Grainan of Alleach” (residence of the Ul Neill, the high king of Ireland in the 5th Century) along the way. The ring fort itself is not much to see but the views across Co. Donegal & Co. Derry more than make up for it. The weather was overcast & very, very windy. There are photographs of me all rugged up & not looking impressed.

We continued on our way to the Giant’s Causeway, snaking along the outskirts of the city of Derry (taking the wrong turn at one point & heading back into the Republic along the tail end of the “Innishowen 100” drive).

We stopped in the seaside town of Portrush. Anne rushed down to the beach to have a frolic in the sand (I swear the sea rushed up to greet her !!!). Needless to say…it was still windy & the view of these huge waves crashing into the coastline only confirmed the fact that….yep….I’m in Ireland in winter !!

Meanwhile, Anne was loving every single minute of this !!

One more stop near Dunluce Castle & then we reached our ultimate destination. This is the third time I’d been here but it was Anne’s first. The weather had cleared reasonably well but the wind had really picked up. The waves were really crashing into the coastline here. As you approached the famous rock formations, ooccasionally, you would be showered by foam spray.

We continued along the path (as best we could in the wind) until we got to the rock formation known as “The Organ”. There we rested for a bit & watched these huge waves crashing into the coast. We were both waiting for people getting too close to the water to be swept out to sea.

The walk continued along the path as far as we could: apparently, the combination of clothing I wore that day (my green rain jacket & khaki trousers) allowed me to really blend in with the scenery. I didn’t believe Anne when she told me this until I saw the photos she took: the only way you could tell I was there was the purple beanie on my head !!!!

The path finished in a little sheltered bay (not that sheltered but sheltered enough) overlooking another rock formation called “The Chimney Stacks”. The roar of the waves crashing into the rocks below was deafening.

At this point, daylight was fading fast so it was time to head back to Donegal. Also…the rain started so it was a slow drive back in the dark & wet.

Shopping in Ardara

The next day we left Donegal. We had planned to visit the cliffs of Slieve League but the weather had turned particularly nasty overnight. By the time we’d woken up, it was really blowing a gale.

We decided it was best not to visit the cliffs for fear of being blown off (they are over 600m tall !!!). Instead, it was off to the town of Ardara, a town famous for its wool knits. We found ourselves traveling along the back roads (very easy to do in Ireland) where we got stuck behind a truck (with trailer) transporting timber.

Now...imagine the setting...a back road in Ireland (narrow & winding), it’s raining (visibility is poor) & the truck’s load is very unsecured !! Can you see where I’m going with this ??

At one point, Anne got the feeling that it would be best to pull back from the truck a bit: it was then that two of the logs fell off the truck & instead of falling onto the bonnet of the car, they rolled to the right & off the road. That was close...too close !! Needless to say, we kept a safe distance from the truck from that point on.

We eventually made it to Ardara. There are any number of stores selling the famous Ardara wool knits. It was at the second one (on the outskirts of town) where we found what we were looking for.

After about two hours, I walked out with a new, ¾ length coat (water & windproof) while Anne walked out with two coats, a rug, a scarf & a stuffed pig (don’t ask). A rather successful shopping excursion I would say.

We then drove out of town to try to find this dolmen the shop owner had mentioned. We did find it but, by now, the weather was turning nasty again & neither of us really wanted to tramp through a sheep paddock in the rain !!

We then headed down to Killybegs for a hearty pub lunch & then onto our next destination: Sligo.

As we were approaching Drumcliff (where Yeats is buried), with the Ben Bulben mountain towering above us to the left (in the mist), we took a detour to visit the Glencar Waterfall. Now, the waterfall was impressive enough, but the rain bucketing down at this point, it wasn’t helping my mood at all. Again, there are photos of me looking very unimpressed. What was impressive, however, was all the water leeching off Ben Bulben: it was raining so hard, there were torrential rivers cascading down just about every crevice.

We eventually found the B&B we were meant to stay at (getting lost along the way). Once we got settled, it was off to Sligo town to visit a friend of Anne’s (Lisa) where we chatted the night away.

Queen Maeve’s Grave

Friday dawned & the sunrise from the B&B looked pretty spectacular. I kinda hoped the weather would hold off for the last excursion on the west coast: a trip up Mount Knocknarea to see Queen Maeve’s grave. It was still windy but it looked like it would clear.

After spending some time shopping in Sligo town, off we went.

Knocknarea is quite a prominent mountain & dominates the countryside to the west of Sligo. The views from the top are stunning & it overlooks the Carrowmore Megalithic cemetery. One top of Knocknarea is the burial cairn known as Queen Maeve’s grave.

Who is Queen Maeve ?? In Irish, her name is Medb & according to Irish mythology, she was the Queen of the province of Connacht (one of the four provinces: the others being Leinster, Ulster & Munster). She features quite prominently in the Irish folk tale: “The Tain”. It is said that she lies buried “in an erect position, in full battle regalia, facing northward toward her Ulster enemies”.

That would be nice to believe but the reality of it is this: the cairn is from the Neolithic era & is the largest, unexplored burial cairn in Europe. It is thought the weight of stones alone is in the realm of 40,000 metric tonnes & would take about 50 yrs to excavate (hence why it still remains untouched).

As we pulled into the car park, the weather started turning nasty again: the wind picked & it started to rain. The walk to the top of the cairn is about 40 min. The longer we walked, the worse the rain got & the colder the wind became.

After about 20min of this, I’d had enough !! A combination of thoroughly soaked pants, leaking shoes & cold wind was enough to make me stop, say “F@#$ it !!! I’ve had enough !!” We decided that I would head back to the car while Anne continued up the mountain.

Back in the comfort of the nice, warm car, I thought it quite funny I was the one who turned back: I’m the one who recommended that we should climb up there. As with a lot of experiences I’d been having in this area over the last few days, obviously it was not meant to be.

The temperature then dropped to about 6 degrees (which would explain why I started to lose all feeling in my legs !!) & the wind continued to blow a gale. It did stop raining for about 15 min at one point. I was concerned for Anne but she made it back about an hour later. She was thoroughly soaked, cold but glad to have made the trip up.

Anne had to grab some dry clothes from the boot to feel human again & I had the heater working hard on the drive back to Dublin. We tried to make it back before the Friday afternoon peak-hour & we were doing quite well until we got to the M4/M50 junction. It took us about 40 min to clear that before we got home to Sutton.

The thrill of being home didn’t last long as we had to be in Blackrock for a dinner at 7pm. I was meeting up with two friends from Oz (Scott & Sarah). We had a lovely Italian dinner & a great chin wag.

I was staying with Scott & Sarah while Anne headed back to Sutton. We walked her to the train station & waited with her until the train arrived. It was at this point that Scott decided to regale us with a rendition of an Irish poem about beer (I think it was about beer). The funny thing was, as he was reciting this poem, in the background, there was this old guy who was really, really, REALLY drunk. He was stumbling about the place & was struggling to put on his coat jacket. It was funny to see yet quite sad at the same time.

The next day dawned bright & sunny (a contrast to the last few days on the west coast) but still quite windy. I had to drop the car off at the airport & do some last minute shopping in Dublin city before heading back to Blackrock.

That afternoon, the three of us went down to Dalkey, for a rather brisk walk up the Dalkey & Killiney Hills. The walk up wasn’t too bad (even for someone as out of shape as me) & you were rewarded with spectacular views of the coastline running south from Dublin; the urban sprawl that is greater Dublin & the rolling Irish countryside to the west & south of Dublin. The coast down here is dotted with these round defence towers built by the British during the Napoleonic era. Dulkey also seems to be a big surfing area for the locals (all rugged up in the wetsuits).

The Sunday was my last full day in Ireland. The day started off sunny & relatively cloud-free but there was something about the wind that was ominous. I headed back to Sutton (& Anne’s place) early in the afternoon.

As the afternoon progressed, the winds got worse & the sky darker. By mid-afternoon, it was really blowing a gale. In all my visits to Ireland, I’ve never seen or experienced such strong winds like I did this day. Apparently (so I found out at the Christmas party: more on that later), the winds were so bad, that Dublin airport was closed as planes were experiencing severe wind shears. Just the sort of thing you want to hear the day before you fly out !!

To give you an idea as to how bad it was: Anne & I went for a walk to some local shops on the waterfront to pick up some pizzas. The walk to the shops into the howling gale took about 10min (walking at a 45 degree angle & struggling to walk forward) while the walk back only took 2 min !!

Anne’s Christmas party.

We popped into Dublin town where we met up with two lovely friends (& work colleagues) of Anne (Darren & Louise).From there, we headed off to their place to get ready for their work Christmas party. Why get ready there ?? Well, the Dublin City Council, in it’s infinite wisdom, turned off the water to over 30,000 homes in the north, so they could do some work on a new underground toll road being built. This water outage went from 8pm Friday night to 6pm Sunday. This outage not only meant you couldn’t shower or use the toilet, in Anne’s case, it meant that there was no heating for the weekend !! Bugger !!

Luckily, this particular weekend, I was staying Blackrock, Catherine (Anne’s housemate) was at a conference all weekend & Anne was at work so it wasn’t too bad for everyone.

Getting everyone ready took a bit longer than expected & we all turned up at about 8pm. Anne got wisked away immediately to do tarot readings. Yes...Anne is a psychic !!

So what happens at a party full of psychics ??’s just like any other office Christmas party: lots of load 80’s music (very hard to do psychic readings when you have to shout everything to the person sitting opposite you); lots of people getting drunk, people falling on the floor & cracking their skulls open (OK….I didn’t see any blood but the fall I did see looked as though it would really, REALLY hurt !!! I’m sure both women had some form of concussion).

The party was held at the Guinness Factory & it was free booze until about midnight. Unfortunately, as I was flying out the next day, I couldn’t really drink that much, so I had to console myself by hanging out at the (milk) chocolate fondue fountain (Mmmmmmm...chocolate). The party was great: I got to meet some of Anne’s work colleagues who are really great people. Anne was so busy with her readings that she missed out on the fondue fountain.

A good time was had by all & we got home about 1am.

You can view some of the photos taken that night at: or

Last days of the trip

The flight back to London was uneventful & thankfully the wind held off, allowing us to take off. We had a few Ryan Air passengers onboard who had been abandoned by the airline when flights were cancelled the day before due to the airport being closed. Needless to say, they were not impressed !!

Got into London OK where I settled into the hotel & caught up with my friend Jane one last time before heading home. The last day of the trip was spent trying very hard not to spend anymore money on more books or any other souvenirs: my second bag was (literally) bulging from every else I’d bought on the continent & there was no way I could fit anything more in.

As it was, I had to get Anne to send about 4kg of books home from Ireland (as well as the two jackets I’d bought: one in Modena & the one from Ardara).

I left Oz with just under 20kgs, I was coming home with nearly 37kgs (& the extra bag).

The flight home was uneventful but memorable because I got my upgrade to Business Class all the way to Sydney. Unfortunately, that didn’t help as I didn’t manage any sleep (well...maybe about 3 hrs in total), even with the sky bed & doped up with sleeping pills !! Not impressed !!!

On that note...this particular adventure is now at an end.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about what I’ve been up to. Sorry that it’s taken so long to fill in the last part of the trip.

Now comes the torturous process of getting all my photos developed, deciding which ones to put into the albums (yes...there will be multiple albums !!) & then putting together the albums. To give you an idea how much effort that will be: I took 40 rolls of film & took 10 x CDs worth of photos on the digital camera.

So...until the next great adventure...take care.