Nire Valley Drive

Our time in Ireland was rapidly coming to an end and we had decided to give Dublin another try after being disappointed with our initial, albeit brief, visit. We had booked accommodation at Curracloe on the southeast coast for our last night before returning to Dublin. Leaving Blarney, we set the satnav, Holly, who again seemed to have problems identifying a highway.

1.Holly

Ignoring her instructions, we followed signs to the Nire Valley scenic drive and, as long as we were heading east, we couldn’t go wrong. The scenery was spectacular with the Knockmealdown Mountains running east and west along the border of counties Tipperary and Waterford.

2.Scenic Drive3.Knockmealdown

Knockmealdown is the highest peak in the range, with other peaks named Knocknagnauv, Knockmeal, Knocknafallia, Knocknanask, Knockshane and Knocknasculloge. I can’t help thinking of the knockwurst sausage containing the painting of ‘The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies’ in TV series ‘Allo ‘Allo! I digress. I don’t know why anyone would want to drive along a motorway when they can be surrounded by such magnificent countryside.

4.Knockmealdown5.Nire Valley Drive6.Nire Valley Drive7.Nire Valley Drive8.Nire Valley Drive9.Nire Valley Drive10.Nire Valley Drive

The road may be a little more narrow and winding but so much more rewarding

11.Nire Valley Drive

and from the high points, there were breathtaking views across forty shades of green.

12.Comeragh Mts13.Comeragh Mts

Further east, we followed the mist shrouded Comeragh Mountains

14.Comeragh Mts15.Comeragh Mts

to Waterford where we encountered a monumental traffic jam, it took an hour to travel 24 kilometres. We arrived in Curracloe after dark, our only ambition a beverage, meal and bed. The next morning, we wandered down to Curracloe Beach, eleven majestic kilometres of Blue Flag bathing.

16.Curracloe Beach17.Curracloe Beach

We savoured our last taste of salty air before returning to the car for our final destination – Dublin.

Blarney Castle

After spending the night in Cork, we fortified ourselves with a substantial breakfast and headed for Blarney Castle.

1.Blarney Castle

The walk from the car park, crossing the River Martin, warmed us up a bit.

2.Blarney Castle

The castle presented a stunning backdrop for the burnished autumn foliage.

3.Blarney Castle

Across a bridge over the river,

4.Blarney Castle5.Blarney Castle

we stood looking up at the north wall. The original Blarney Castle, a timber hunting lodge, was built in the 10th century and replaced by a stone construction in 1210. The existing castle, built on the edge of a cliff, was completed in 1446 by the King of Munster, Dermot McCarthy. The castle changed hands over the centuries, to Oliver Cromwell in 1646, back to the McCarthys fifteen years later before they lost it again in 1690, then sold to the Governor of Cork in 1703.

6.North Wall,Blarney Castle

The rather elaborate windows, halfway up the wall on the right, are not the romantic bedchamber embellishments one might imagine. They are, in fact, garderobes, the medieval answer to the ensuite.

7.garderobes

We followed the path past the guard tower

8.guard tower

and well-worn steps that led to the dungeons

9.dungeon stairs

before starting our climb to the top of the castle. Our ascent was frequently interrupted to take in the spectacular panorama through the windows.

10.Blarney Castle

13.view

There wasn’t a lot of breathing space in the passages, I can’t imagine running along them dressed in a suit of armour.

14.Blarney Castle

The narrow, spiral stone steps finally ended at the top of the castle. Looking down, we could see where the three floors would have been in the main living area.

15.standing over the main room

The pigeons are the only ones on lookout these days.

17.pigeon lookout

At the top of the tower is the infamous Blarney Stone, believed to give anyone that kisses it the gift of eloquence. At one time, anyone wishing to kiss the stone would be at risk of plunging from a great height but there are now railings to hold on to and some underneath to break the fall.

18.Blarney Stone

Even so, we didn’t join the queue to bend over backwards from the parapet, there is only so much blarney one needs in life. Besides, the Blarney Stone has been named the most unhygienic tourist attraction in the world.

19.Blarney Stone

The magnificent view from the battlements was well worth the climb.

20.view from the battlements

Once back on terra firma, we discovered Rock Close, a garden landscaped in the 18th century around existing stone monuments.

21.Rock Close22.Rock Close

It’s easy to believe the tales of Druids and Fairies in this mystical place, the senior Druid Priest was reputed to have lived in the Druid’s Cave.

23.Druid's Cave Rock Close

We would have liked to spend more time in this enchanted garden but time was ticking on.

Legend has it that there is a witch who will grant wishes to those who can walk up and back down the wishing steps with eyes closed (I didn’t get a photo of the steps, nor did I try this). In exchange for this gift, she is provided with firewood for her kitchen. I didn’t get a photo of the kitchen either, but we did see the witch stone. Some believe it was the Blarney Witch who told McCarthy about the power of the Blarney Stone but it remains a mystery how she became entrapped in the rock.

27.The Witch Stone

Dingle

Leaving the Cliffs of Moher, our destination was the Dingle Peninsula, the westernmost part of Ireland and all of Europe. Rather than stay in the large town of Tralee, considered the start of the peninsula, we continued on to Dingle and found wonderful accommodation at Benner’s Hotel. I will always remember the delicious meal we had, the best duck breast I have eaten before or since.

1.Benner's Hotel

Next morning, after a short stroll around the narrow streets lined with colour,

6.Dingle7.Dingle

we set off to discover the peninsula. Slea Head Drive is a 47 kilometre loop, starting and ending at Dingle, that takes you right to the western edge of the country. The road is very narrow with occasional passing points and so, is driven in a clockwise direction. The scenery was spectacular from the outset.

8.Slea Head Drive

Our first stop was Dunbeg Fort, the ruins of the dry-stone structure, built around 800 BC, hang precariously onto the sheer cliff.

9.Dunbeg Fort10.Dunbeg Fort11.Dunbeg Fort

Used until the 11th century, the expansive views of Dingle Bay would have given plenty of warning of invasion. The rocky coastline looked very substantial

12.Dunbeg Fort

but much of the area consists of earth rather than rock. During fierce storms in January 2018, parts of the fort tumbled into the sea and it has been closed to the public ever since.

13.Dunbeg Fort

Near the fort there is a group of clocháns, fascinating beehive huts built from stone without mortar to create the ‘beehive’ appearance. Thought to date back to the 11th century, these huts were once family homes.

16.Clochain14.Clochain15.Clochain

The view from Slea Head lookout was breathtaking, although the mist obscured anything beyond Dunmore Head, the westernmost part of the peninsula.

17.Dunmore Head from Slea Head18.Slea Head

The loop road took us to a most fascinating place, Gallarus Oratory.

19.Gallarus Oratory

The 8th century Christian church is amazingly well preserved, the dry-stone walls having repelled the elements for over a thousand years.

Inside, the solidity of the walls becomes apparent around the only window, directly opposite the entrance.

22.Gallarus Oratory

Outside, there is a stone column, carved with a Celtic cross and an inscription in an old Latin script used between the 5th and 10th centuries.

23.Gallarus Oratory

There was such a feeling of peace around us, I imagine it would be quite different with a coach load or two of tourists in the warmer weather.

Mount Brandon seemed to dissolve into the clouds as we meandered our way back to Dingle. The second tallest mountain in Ireland takes its name from St. Brendan the Navigator who, according to legend, spent forty days on the mountain preparing for his voyage in search of the Garden of Eden in the 6th century.

26.Mount Brandon

It’s easy to see how Johnny Cash was inspired to write Forty Shades of Green on his visit to Ireland in 1959.

27.Dingle Peninsula28.Dingle Peninsula29.Dingle Peninsula

 

The Burren

Much as we would like to have stayed in Galway a few more days, our time in Ireland was limited and there was so much more to see. Driving southward, we were once again surrounded by enchanting scenery. Scattered farmhouses wrapped in green, stone-framed pastures overlooked peaceful waters.

1.burren road2.burren road

Just outside Ballyvaughan we encountered Irish gridlock and spent some time chatting to the farmer. We will never forget his name, it was Michael Cannon.

The landscape changed the further we drove into the region known as The Burren.

6.ruins, the burren

The great expanse of limestone karst covers around 160 square kilometres in County Clare, the rock has been dated back to the Carboniferous period, around 350 million years ago.

7.the burren

The water soluble limestone has eroded over the years and formed the channels, known as ‘grikes’ and blocks, known as ‘clints’. It’s hard to believe that when people first inhabited this area 5,000 years ago it was a lush forest. Clearing the land for farming, along with time, grazing and erosion all contributed to the appearance of The Burren.

8.limestone karst, doolin9.limestone karst, doolin

We were too late to see the array of wildflowers that bloom among the rocks in spring but there was evidence of life in unexpected places.

10.fern in limestone karst

We strolled around the quaint coastal village of Doolin with breathtaking views from the harbour.

11.doolin harbour12.doolin

Once part of the mainland, Crab Island is a renowned surfing location, though not today. The building is the remains of an 1830s constabulary outpost.

13.crab island

Further across the water, the Aran Islands are just visible. The group of three islands sit at the mouth of Galway Bay and can be reached by ferry from Doolin.

14.aran islands

There is a path along the cliffs from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher, about an 8km walk with green fields on one side and the Atlantic ocean on the other.

15.doolin cliff walk

Not to mention spectacular scenery along the way.

16.cliffs, doolin

The Cliffs of Moher, on the southwestern edge of The Burren, are 14km of vertical cliffs rising to a height of 214 metres at the highest point. O’Briens Tower stands on that headland, built in 1835 by landowner Cornelius O’Brien as a viewing point for tourists. From Doolin, we could see beyond the tower, all the way to the rock formation known as  Hag’s Head at the southern end of the cliffs.

17.cliffs of moher, o'briens tower & hag's head

We left Doolin to have a closer look at the cliffs, passing a contented local on the way

18.doolin local

and a rather impressive edifice on a nearby hill. The 16th century Doonagore Castle has been in the same family since the 1970s and is their private holiday home. The views would be astounding.

19.doonagore castle

We finally made it to the Cliffs of Moher in all their majesty but time was ticking on and we still had no idea where we would be spending the night.

 

22.cliffs of moher

 

Galway

We arrived in Galway late afternoon and found accommodation at the rather salubrious Park House Hotel. One of the advantages of travelling out of season is that these fabulous hotels are within budget.

We ambled our way into town in the hope of experiencing some live Irish folk music. Taaffes fit the bill perfectly, a traditional pub in a gorgeous building dating back over 400 years. We settled in with a pint or two, Michael got some tips on playing the Irish bagpipes.

Next morning we set off early to explore this beautiful harbour city. Galway started off as a small fishing village located where the River Corrib meets the Atlantic Ocean and became a walled town following the Anglo Norman conquest in 1232. European traders frequented the docks and in the 16th century a fortress was added to the town walls to protect the merchant ships from looting. The only remainder of this bastion is The Spanish Arch, built in 1584 and presumably so named because of the trade with Spain and Spanish galleons.

10.Spanish Arch

The Skeffington Arms Hotel, built at the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, overlooks Eyre Square, the city’s hub and popular meeting spot.

11.Skeffington Arms Hotel

Galway was dominated by fourteen merchant families, known as the Tribes of Galway, between the mid 13th and late 19th centuries. One of these was the Browne family, the doorway to their townhouse has been moved from Abbeygate Street and now stands at the north end of Eyre Square. Dating from 1627, the door was moved in the early 1900s when the original building became a ruin and is now supported and encased in plexiglass to help preserve it.

12.Browne Doorway

We were surprised to find remnants of the medieval town walls within Eyre Square Shopping Centre.

13.Norman Wall Eyre Square

The River Corrib flows from Lough Corrib to Galway Bay and, at only six kilometres in length, is among the shortest in Europe.

14.River Corrib

The main channel leaving Lough Corrib is known as Friar’s Cut and was the first canal to be built in Ireland in 1178. The friars of Claregalway Abbey created the artificial cut to avoid the long trip to the west to enter the river. The cut became the main course of the river and has been widened since.

15.River Corrib,Friar's Cut

Despite its Renaissance appearance, the construction of Galway Cathedral didn’t start until 1958 on the site of the old city prison. This last great stone cathedral to be built in Europe was completed in 1965. There has been much controversy over the years, mostly aimed at the appearance of the building. It was recently referred to as a “squatting Frankenstein’s monster”. I think it is quite spectacular and sits comfortably in its beautiful surroundings.

Opposite the cathedral, a figure emerges from a stone wall. Equality Emerging represents the struggle for equality and the suffering because of its absence.

19.Equality Emerging

Our walk took us past Eglington Canal

20.Eglinton Canal

and the National University of Ireland

21.Galway University

before we returned along the river toward the city centre.

The William O’Brien Bridge was the first of the four bridges spanning the River Corrib. Originally a wooden structure, the current bridge was rebuilt in 1851.

25.River Corrib,William O'Brien bridge

After a wander around the quirky shops in the town

26.Galway

there was only one thing for us to do…….return to Taaffes for another evening of music and Guinness.

27.Taaffes