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Answering Ireland’s Call

Ireland has been number one on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I have dreamed of green as far as the eye can see, drinking real Irish beer in a real Irish pub while listening to real Irish music. There have been times I’ve felt the call so urgently but just not been able to make it happen. For example, in 2013 while on an extended roadtrip, out of work and pondering my next move, I looked into WWOOFing in Ireland, but thinking I should try it out in my own country for a couple of weeks first, found life taking us in a different direction. However, in June this year I finally got to answer Ireland’s Call and it beyond exceeded all my expectations. 

I was too busy enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes while on our 16 day visit, that I didn’t keep a blog of everything, so this is just a brief summary of our itinerary and impressions according to my one, daily Facebook post.

Day 1 | Walking the streets of Dublin

The first thing we noticed is that there are bicycles everywhere! Also the brightly coloured doors on all the buildings. We struggled to find parking, so when we did we decided we were there for the day and so we walked… and walked some more! We wandered the Temple Bar area, and then to St Stephen’s Green for a relaxing time in the park. Damian was thrilled to find the Disney store, and we even spotted a leprechaun on Day 1!

Day 2 | Dublin

There are blue buses, yellow buses, green buses, viking buses… but of course we took a red bus to explore Dublin some more! The Guiness Storehouse was an amazing experience… Damian got to pour a pint at a wheelchair accessible tap… can’t say he liked the taste though! Fish and chips at Beshoffs and a stroll through Trinity College before a night out on the town with live Irish music and dancing at Fitzsimons.

Day 3 | Wicklow and Bray

We said goodbye to Dublin and started our road trip with our first stop in Wicklow town, County Wicklow. Spent the day exploring and then took a drive through to Bray for a lovely evening walk and ending with some fantastic traditional music in a pub. We had a brief glimpse of Wicklow’s famous Sammy the Seal when he popped his head up in the river, but he didn’t hang around. Still not getting used to the sun only setting around 10pm so we missed dinner as kitchens were all closed once we finally went inside after all the walking in Bray!

Day 4 | Glendalough, Hollywood, Annemoe

We spent an amazing rainy morning walking through the paths of Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountain National Park, visiting the monastic city and enjoying the forested walkways. Following the film route, we drove the Wicklow Gap where we got to experience the Ireland I came to see… green as far as you can see, sheep & cows dotting the hillside, and magnificent mountain views. We ended up in Hollywood (the original one) for a cup of coffee and an interesting chat with a local, Brian – then back along the road to Annemoe for the highlight of Damian’s day… sheepdog trials!

Day 5 | Kilkenny

We left County Wicklow, the Garden of Ireland, for Kilkenny and told the SatNav we didn’t want any freeways on our trip so we had 2.5 hours of narrow winding roads with thick green walls of trees and brush all the way & passing through some small towns – how beautiful! Just don’t ask us to go back the same route as we have no idea where we went! Mr Damian slept through a lot of that! We spent the evening at Matt the Millers listening to some more traditional Irish music and meeting new people – and so Rod could have a Kilkenny in Kilkenny! Everyone is so friendly and helpful.

Day 6 | Kilkenny to Mallow

A morning roaming the streets of Kilkenny with a visit to Kilkenny Castle. We stumbled upon Charly’s Cheescake for without a doubt the best cheescake I have ever tasted in my life! Then it was back on the road towards Mallow, spotting a gypsy caravan along the way with the horse grazing in the opposite side of the road while the dogs guarded the trailer. What a great find our accommodation was… out in the countryside on a horse and cattle farm for just the perfect stay!

Day 7 | Killarney

What a lovely town surrounded by absolute beauty! I got to ride an enormous Irish draught horse through the Killarney National Park and spotted some red deer and a magnificent view of the lake. Turns out it was the Ireland Bike Fest this weekend so the town was rumbling with Harleys and bikers from everywhere – Scotland, Wales, England… so we popped in at the festival for a while. Then a drive up to Ladies View – I don’t think there is anywhere in Ireland that is not beautiful – what a gorgeous drive!

Day 8 | Dingle

Photos cannot do justice to the magnificence of the rugged coastline on the Wild Atlantic Way. We drove the Slea Head route from Dingle town – rich in Celtic history. We were going to drive the narrow Connor’s Pass but the weather turned and we were told the mist would cover any views. Damian was craving cake so a stop at a cafe in Dingle before the drive back to Killarney.

Day 9 | Doolin

We drove to Tarbet and took our car across on a ferry to Killimer, which was quite an experience for Damian, and then drove to Doolin. What an amazing little village…we wish we were staying longer here! A fantastic night in Fitz Bar for some more traditional Irish music. A group of French travellers asked if they could play a few songs so we enjoyed some French music too! This small Irish pub was buzzing with people from across the world… French, Spanish, German, American, Chinese… and of course, South Africans… all coming together through music!

Day 10 | Cliffs of Moher & Galway

We left Doolin and backtracked a bit to go and see the Cliffs of Moher. Cape Town Cycle Tour 2017 had nothing on the wind at the cliffs so we only got to the second platform before deciding we couldn’t push Damian and his chair any further up without being either blown over or back down. Next was a road trip through the Burren, stopping for homemade ice cream and then on to Galway for a quick stop over en route to Rossaveel.

Day 11 | Innis Mor, Aran Islands

We drove to Rossaveel to take the ferry across to Innishmore, the largest of the 3 Aran Islands with a population of 750 to 800. We had booked bicycles and a buggy before we left S.A. but when we arrived we found the buggies too small for Damian. The only transport on the island is hired bicycles, pony traps, or the tour shuttle buses. Our plan B was to walk… in the rain. Our B&B was 2km from the ferry, so an easy walk there and back into ‘town’ for a bit of music at the pub later.

Day 12 | Innis Mor, Aran Islands

We had a wonderful night’s stay at our B&B with a fantastic host. She arranged for us to be fetched in the morning by one of the pony traps… Damian’s request for this trip, which we waited to get to the island for. What an experience, definitely the highlight of our trip. We were taken on a ride around the island with a stop at Dún Aonghasa an old fort on the edge of a 100 metre high cliff. They wouldn’t charge us an entry fee at the ticket office as they said we wouldn’t be able to get up there with Damian  We did. The trip home passed the seal colony, and we heard the tales of the island history from our driver. Our lovely Irish Cob, named Robyn, was such a willing and kind horse – well looked after and loved by her driver. The number of pony traps in use on the island is in the mid 20s, transporting visitors to all the sites. Another ferry trip back to the mainland in the late afternoon.

Day 13 | Connemara

We spent the night in Inverin, then took a drive through to Connemara National Park where we went for a lovely walk in search of the Connemara ponies. We only saw one mare and her foal, but the views on the trail were magnificent. Afterwards we drove the Skye Road to Clifden, for even more spectacular views, then back to Inverin for an early night.

Day 14 Ballymahon & Day 15 Dún Laoghaire

We took a slow drive through to Ballymahon for a stop over en route back to Dublin. We planned to go kayaking but it was too windy (we have got used to the rain, but the wind was too strong for watersports). The following morning was the same so we decided to head to Dun Laoghaire for our last night. What an amazing find.. we stumbled upon an international food market so spent some time there and then explored some more.

After refusing to sleep on the 8 hour flight from Dublin to Addis Ababa,  Damian finally fell asleep in the airport at 6am between flights.

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