I wrote this daily diary of my Ireland travels from 2014 as I travelled the green isle and after arriving home I decided to pen it to my Mother so sit back and enjoy.
29.06.2014 - 17.07.2014
As I pen this final letter to my precious mother I know she will be smiling at me as I struggle to carry on a tradition I have had with her, a tradition of a weekly letter to her regardless of where I was living, a letter to tell her of the family antics and achievements. This letter will be different as it is a letter to the grave; I buried her last week after a long and fulfilling ninety five years. My letters were always full of my travels over the years and this trip was going back to Ireland, the old country, the country of her grandmother and a place she spoke of often. Her grandmother was Irish from Skibbereen in Cork so I feel I am going home for Mum.
My Dear Mother
My first solo trip overseas on my own and I am looking forward to several weeks of travelling which has been in the planning for over twelve months. I can hear you saying “be careful, come back safe.” It is a crisp cool winter Australian morning; a friend is driving me across to the Qantas Domestic Airport to catch the Melbourne flight QF615 departing Brisbane at 10am. Minimal traffic on the roads and I book the case through to Heathrow, London, the attendants query my return ticket as I am not returning with this airline but with Malaysia Airlines. I have passed though the security area with no dramas, something of a novelty for me. The flight to Melbourne departing at gate 21 is interesting as I am seated beside a lady born in Roma in West Queensland and who knew you and your family—we have kept in touch since returning to Australia. The two hour flight goes quickly and we are landing in Melbourne where I am to meet a friend I have known for over 35 years and have not seen for over 10 years. Farewells and I head towards the international section of Tullamarine Airport. I have nearly three hours wait for the QF65 to Dubai departing at 7.30pm and I am already starting to droop, it has been a long day and I still have not left Australian soil. Hopefully I can get some sleep before we land in Dubai, this is the longest part of the flight and I am not keen on the Dubai airport.
It has been a very long and a full flight, arriving at 3am Dubai time. 37° and so glad we are not leaving the air-conditioned airport. I do not feel comfortable in this airport and have a two hour stopover so walk up and down the corridors. You must keep check on the flight departure times on the overhead boards as no flights are paged. When I am not walking I sit, read and try to catch up on some sleep. The next leg of the flight to Heathrow is only about 7 hours, arriving ahead of the expected time; clear customs, collect my luggage and head towards the Ireland departure lounge. The luggage is booked in and I clear customs again, sit and wait, I am scared to shut my eyes in case I go into a deep sleep and miss the last leg of the flight to Dublin. As usual the Dublin flight is delayed time and time again, this is not unusual but eventually we are paged to start the lengthy walk to the area where the Aer Lingus flight is to depart. Jetlag has hit so I sleep on the Ireland leg as I know the hostess will wake me before we land. After landing and clearing customs with no dramas, I locate the transfer bus area, a 30 minute trip to the city. The bus drops me in O’Connell Street around the corner from the Best Western Hotel where I am staying for the next few nights. A smallish room but after a quick meal in the hotel, a shower and I am in bed and asleep. The area where the hotel is situated is perfect for me being a single traveller.
The morning light shines through the open windows, grab my sneakers, camera and back pack and head off into the cool but clear morning. The only people up at this time of the morning are the taxi drivers and the street cleaners so feel quite safe on my own. It is such a lovely time of the day for photos so I wander towards the Liffey River at the top end of O’Connell Street, the morning is casting magnificent shadows across the waters. Numerous other bridges span the river. Up the hill into the Temple Bar District, a popular nightlife area, and off Dame Street sits the Dublin Castle, the security is opening the public access gates as I arrive so an opportunity to wander around in silence without the public crowds. There is so much history in these buildings as I quietly walk around, reading the signs and just gazing, the morning seagulls feeding their squealing young on the tops of the chimney stacks. The Dublin Castle was until 1922 the seat of British rule in Ireland, and is now a major Irish government complex, most of it dates from the 18th century though a castle has stood on the site since the days of King John. Hunger has set in so I locate a Costa Restaurant and relax with a coffee, a bowl of hot porridge and the Dublin Times. I slowly head further into the Temple Bar area and the 11th Century Christ Church Cathedral and the churches loom ahead of me and tower over the surrounding buildings. There are a lot of homeless men floating around, some still asleep in their colourful sleeping bags on the sides of the footpaths—a change to when I was last in Dublin. I am still trying to contact an O’Sullivan cousin whom I met on my last visit. I wander up to the dock area so I can take a tour of the Jeannie Johnson Famine Boat or tall ship docked at the Customs House Quay in the old harbour area. A very interesting tour and only six other American people in the tour. The Jeannie Johnston is a replica of a three masted barque that was originally built in Quebec, Canada, in 1847 by a Scottish shipbuilder. The boat performs a number of functions: an ocean-going sail training vessel at sea and when in port the boat converts into a living history museum on 19th century emigration. Further down the waterfront is a very sad famine memorial of life sized painfully thin sculptural figures, standing as if walking towards the emigration ships on the Dublin Quayside. I have walked all day but thoroughly enjoy this vibrant and lively city, its people and sights.
I find Jetlag still has me waking early so head off and this time towards the Four Courts and Market area. The area is a little rougher but I feel quite safe among all the early market workers and massive delivery trucks. I am searching for the Debtors Prison but I seem to be walking in circles and cannot locate the building even though it is clearly marked on the tourist map. I have to eventually ask one of the big burly delivery boys who enlightens me, I am standing in front of the dilapidated building. It is very rundown and covered in graffiti, Irish history falling to bits. I had a look and took some photos as I feel this building will not be around for much longer.
I am meeting my cousin and her husband today outside Brown Thomas Department Store in Grafton Street. Brown Thomas is home to an unparalleled range of designer brands and is a similar store to Myers and David Jones but with a doorman in a spiffy uniform. I arrive earlier than planned as I want to have a look at the street with its buskers up and down the pedestrian walkway and its statue of Molly Malone and her trolley. No traffic is permitted on this part of Grafton Street. After we leave each other’s company I wander back spending some time browsing in the many department stores and novelty shops, every shop is advertising massive sales as it is the middle of the year. I have decided to venture out to Madigan’s Hotel for a meal, live Irish music at the pub tonight so stay and listen for a while. I leave vibrant Dublin tomorrow.
This morning I am booked out by 9am and dragging my bag up O’Connell Street to where the Airport bus pulls in only to find that it also stops across the road from the Hotel. I am returning to the airport to collect the Avis rental car—a red Nissan Micro. Small but easy to drive and all I require for the next two weeks. I am given directions to the M50 and Bray in County Wicklow, about 20 klms south of Dublin. It is an easy drive around the ring road and the roads all have 110klm speed limits but everyone still rushes past me. I have parked at the beachfront and find a classy looking restaurant for a cuppa and directions. The beach is covered in small pebbles not sand and the water looks rather cold but there are people swimming. I will skip the swim and just watch them. My bed for the night at The Esplanade Hotel is very interesting and looks like it belongs to Dracula with its pointed roof sections but great sea views. The hotel faces the Promenade and sits at the foot of Bray Head and is within walking distance from the restaurants and the Dart Railway Station. As soon as I have settled into my room which overlooks the garbage bins, I can never seem to manage a great room view, I grab the sneakers and backpack and head off to start the 7 klm coastal walk to Greystones. The Cliff Walk has an interesting history; it was built during the construction of the rail line, to allow the movement of men and equipment. The ruins of a small cement block house along the path was once Lord Meath’s Lodge, here there was a toll gate and the public was charged a penny for entry. Just past Lord Meath’s lodge is an area called the Brady Hole, which was a cave notorious for smugglers. It is a lovely walk with great sea views from the beginning to end, birds nesting on the cliff face and different floral arrangements jutting out from between the jagged rocks. The walk takes me around two hours and my aching body tells me how unfit I am. I wander around the village as I wait for the Dart to arrive and I take the easy way back to Bray. The train ride takes about 30 minutes. I walk back to the hotel along the beach front admiring the colourful stripped beach carnival shelters, an ice-cream in hand. I have decided on Fish and Chips for tea and sit watching the late cool afternoon cast shadows across the waters. So peaceful.
This morning a detour to the most magnificent landscaped walled gardens and grounds in Ireland. Along the tree lined entrance this large country estate is where family were born, worked and some died and were buried before the remaining members migrated to Australia due to the famine. Powers Court Estate is near Enniskerry in County Wicklow. Surrounding the vine covered headstones in the cemetery is a large steel fence with menacing looking spikes on top, I would like to have a look but without prior permission I don’t like my chances. I could climb the fence but would probably get thrown off the estate or end up doing myself a serious injury. Instead I stand peering through the bars knowing I have family in there among the briars and knowing I cannot gain access to visit. In the centre of the cemetery are the ruins of the church now covered by vines and filled in with headstones. Probably the original church for the local district. The Japanese Gardens are green with a variety of different bushes and flowers intermingled with moss, Buddhist statues and waterfalls. Around the corner is the Pets Cemetery, graves which house small and large animals that have passed away on the estate. In the grounds as you merge from the house are views of the surrounding Sugarloaf Mountain, fir trees and a large winged horse fountain posing in the centre of the lake. The view makes you stop and gaze. The estate also has a golf course and a large hotel.
I have decided on an early start, light rain falling but cool so nice for driving. I make my first stop at the Irish National Heritage Centre but the rain is so heavy I can only have a coffee and take some photos through the front window. A shame as it appears to be a very interesting display. The centre is home to the Irish Ringfort and gives the visitor a look back into 900 years of Irish history. After a break I am on my way to Wexford, my hip is really aching so pleased to see the signs to Wexford but as usual I cannot locate the accommodation and drive in circles until another driver gives me directions. It appears I drove past the exit several times, just needed to turn at the lovely old bridge crossing the Slaney Estuary River. It is now pouring with rain and quite cool but I have found a great little parking space at the front door where I will stay parked for the next 24 hours. My accommodation is Riverbank House Hotel, a lovely single room for the night, minutes from the centre of the thriving town. A cup of warming soup hits the mark and I settle for a quiet and relaxed afternoon as I need to ease the pain in my hip so I can continue my walking tomorrow. An early night but a rude awakening in the early hours when the fire alarm is sounded accidently by another resident, the alarm is just outside my door and it takes many minutes before it is turned off and I register what has just happened. Should I get up and get dressed or just ignore the alarms, decide on the latter. It is wet and cold and I do not feel like having to drag myself outside to a designated area.
I am out of bed early, grab my shoes and backpack and head to the bridge, the day has cleared to a fine but cool morning. I told the lady in the office the night before that I would be going for a morning walk so they have the back door unlocked for me so I can leave without waking anyone. County Wexford was the centre of the 1798 rebellion against British rule, the town was held by the rebels throughout the fighting and was the scene of a notorious massacre of local loyalists by the United Irishmen, who executed them with spikes on the Wexford bridge. I wander up through the narrow pebbled streets to some notable churches within the town, St. Iberius with its distinctive spires and the Ann Street Presbyterian church. These churches can be seen from any part of Wexford. The streets are eerily quiet as the garbage truck makes its way around the businesses, the street lights still glowing. So many interesting medieval monuments and buildings which are reminders of the towns glorious Viking and Norman past. As the sun comes up over the harbour I head back across the bridge to the hotel and a cooked breakfast which will keep me going for the remainder of the day. I am heading towards the Hook Lighthouse a short drive of about 40 minutes along the narrow coastal roads. There is a bitterly cold wind blowing but the sea views are magnificent. Six tourists take the tour to the top of the white lighthouse. The Hook Lighthouse (also known as Hook Head Lighthouse) is a building situated at the tip of the Hook Peninsula, and is one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, and the oldest operating lighthouse in Ireland. The current structure has stood for almost 800 years. The existing tower dates from the twelfth century and the tower stands four stories high with walls up to 4m thick. The old keeper’s houses have been turned into a visitor centre and a fabulous café offering some mouth-watering homemade cakes. I must keep moving back along the coast taking a few detours and stops. On a narrow side road of the Hook Peninsula are the church ruins of St Dubhan, a small church surrounded by old headstones. The site dates from the 5th century when the monks looked after the nearby lighthouse. My next stop is Loftus Hall, a large mansion on the Peninsula believed to be haunted by the devil and the ghost of a young woman. The Redmond family built the building in about 1350 during the time of the Black Death. In 1917 Loftus Hall was bought by the Sisters of Providence and turned into a convent and a school for young girls interested in joining the order. The staircase in Loftus Hall is one of only three of that design in the world, one is at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean as the Grand Staircase in The Titanic and the other is in the Vatican City. After a quiet walk around the large quiet grounds watching the rabbits chasing each other I start the drive to Cashel through New Ross, Kennedy country. The small town is located on the River Barrow, near the border with County Kilkenny. The 18th and 19th centuries were prosperous times for New Ross with the colonisation of North America, local merchants sailed their own ships back and forth to the colonies usually carrying Irish emigrants. A replica of one of those ships, the Dunbrody, is now berthed on the quay in New Ross and offers visitors to the ship an insight into life as a passenger during the late 19th century.
Most of this drive is on high hedged, narrow back roads with the speed limit being 100klm and someone is constantly on my tail. The Rock looms ahead as it rises above the village of Cashel. My accommodation for the next two nights, “Baileys Hotel” is situated in the middle of town with underground parking a few shops away; I do not plan to take the car out while I am here. This 4 star hotel is a beautifully restored listed Georgian building, old fashioned charm with modern conveniences. A latte and a meal in the downstairs restaurant and then an early night as it is drizzling rain and cold so a good night to curl up with an interesting book.
The morning is lovely and clear as I start the walk up to the rock also known as Cashel of the Kings and St. Patrick's Rock. According to local mythology, the Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil's Bit, a mountain 20 miles (30 km) north of Cashel when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock's landing in Cashel. Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century. The oldest and tallest of the buildings is the well preserved round tower (28 metres, or 90 feet), dating from c.1100. Cormac's Chapel, the chapel of King Cormac Mac Carthaigh, was begun in 1127 and consecrated in 1134. Other notable features of the building include interior and exterior arcading, a barrel-vaulted roof, a carved tympanum over both doorways, the magnificent north doorway and chancel arch. It contains one of the best preserved Irish frescoes from this time period. The pigeons nest in the many crevices in the outside walls with the ancient headstones standing proud overlooking the plush green fields and the church ruins below. The rain has started and a very cold wind is blowing so time to head back down the hill past a very good tourist shop and onto an interesting thatched historical house, a little run down but full to the brim with history and odds and ends. A walk to the Georgian St. John's Cathedral and I stay for a midday Mass.
This is my first petrol stop since collecting the car so it is proving to be very economical, my next stop is Cahir Castle, the largest castle in Ireland sitting in the middle of the River Suir, built in 1142 by Conor O'Brien, Prince of Thomond. The day is grey, overcast and light rain is falling as I make my way towards the M40 and Cork. I feel that I should have bypassed this city, I am booked into the Airport Travelodge which is some distance from the airport, very difficult to locate and a horrendous roundabout to master. You know how I hate large roundabouts. This is not the best motel that I have stayed in but guess it is only for a night and just somewhere to lay my head. I hope to go into town but must walk up a rather steep hill and wait for a considerable amount of time before the city bus turns up and a 30 minute ride into the city, dropping me off at the South Mall near the majestic old Imperial Hotel in the centre of busy Cork. I wander around to get my bearings and end up at the Holy Trinity Church so stay for midday Mass, I am surprised at the number of workers and younger people attending. A quick stop at the famous English Food Market and a wander down along the River Lee with shadows from the buildings being cast across the blue grey waters. It is time to head home as the day draws to a close and a storm closes in. A quiet night as I want to make an early start tomorrow.
County Cork - Family and Friends
Leaving the city is much easier than my arrival and I am on the exit highway with no traffic problems. I have decided to take a few detours so I can see the Timoleague Franciscan Friary, dark clouds are collecting over the extensive ruins. The ruins are open to the public and there are a large number of ancient headstones surrounding the ruins so I wander through the different areas until the storm reaches the ruins and has us all running for shelter. The village is close and I walk up the narrow pebbled streets to the Trimoleague church on the hill with a very interesting Famine memorial at the bottom of the steps. After the storm clears I move down the coast road to the Old Head at Kinsdale. An early lighthouse was established here in the 17th Century and the area is noted for being the closest land point to the site where the HMS Lusitania sank in 1917. The dramatic cliffs of the headland jut out into the Atlantic Ocean and they rise several hundreds of feet above the water with its towering cliffs. As I meander along the narrow road and down the peninsular I stop off at St Marys Catholic Church, the Leap where several of our O’Sullivan, O’Driscoll and O ’Donohue relatives are buried. This church was built during the famine times. As I continue into Skibbereen I feel I am home again, this is my third visit and the home of your grandmother, Ellen O’Sullivan. The village always looks like it needs a little TLC but I feel comfortable here, I have family here even if I do not know them and never will. I locate the B & B “Bridgehouse” where I will stay for the next three nights and I feel I have just stepped back into an earlier century. A massive large Convent key to the door, nic nacs everywhere, flower petals on the bed, fresh bunches of flowers in every nook and window sill, red satin curtains draped at the head of the bed. The communal bathroom has the largest bath I have ever seen and again furry, hairy creatures perched on the sides. The owner is lovely but a real flower child. I wander down the narrow street to High Street, cars and trucks barely missing each other, residents, tourists and children wandering all over the road but it appears this is a daily occurrence. As the streets become quieter and the workers leave for their homes I wander down to the West Cork Hotel for a Guinness and a meal, I have stayed here on a previous visit and it is a very welcome place. I move the car closer to the accommodation and I settle for the night. I wish I had booked into the white hotel.
As the morning sun is rising I head off for a walk before breakfast, down past the hotel and across the River Ileen, stand and watch the large numbers of birdlife floating along the water and trying to hide among the reeds. It is such a peaceful time of the day. After a light breakfast I head to the town roundabout and onto Russagh area where your G Grandparents had a farm. Russagh area is still farming land and the remains of the once busy Russagh Grain Mill is now a popular Hostel, brush, flowering trees, and fields cover the surrounding landscape. It is a strange feeling to know I am walking the same lanes that our O’Sullivan family walked so many years ago. I continue to drive not knowing where the narrow road is taking me but soon I am in the fishing village of Baltimore, home of the O’Driscol clan. I have been here before but feel I need to have another look at the family castle, Dun na Sead, which stands on the hill overlooking the calm harbour and the many colourful boats and wandering tourists. The castle has been recently renovated but the inside displays much historical information about the Pirates and sacking of the village in the 1600s. Many of the inhabitants which survived the pirate’s invasion of the village fled upstream and founded the village of Skibbereen. On the outskirts of the village is the cosy, popular pub “Casey’s of Baltimore” which sells the best homemade scones and cream I have tasted in some time and from here I wander down to the Tullagh church ruins and the old graves mainly O’Sullivan and O'Driscoll family.
My next stop is Castletownshend, a short distance from Skibbereen and situated on the Castlehaven harbour. To reach this harbour you must manoeuvre an extremely steep hill past the castle and St Barraihane’s Church but worth the walk along the water’s edge.
The next water stop is Lough Hyne, a marine lake with several Holy wells and the ruins of St Bridget's on the shores of the lake. Castle Island is situated in the center of the lake where the ruins of Cloghan Castle, once a fortress of the O'Driscoll clan, are still able to be seen from the shore. A short drive back to Skibbereen as the rain clouds build over the green fields, I stop off at Abberstrowry Cemetery, a graveyard full of burial pits and mass graves of the great Famine 1845 – 1850. A cemetery full of our relatives. The graves and dilapidated headstones, some standing, some lying on their sides, some on the sides of the slopes overlooking the River Ileen flowing past, the large grassed area where tens of thousands of bodies lay together, so many sad stories.
The morning has started cool but surprisingly fine, no clouds on the horizon so the drive to Schull is enjoyable. I am going to meet some new Goggin relatives, my 3rd cousin and the first Irish contact on this line of the family so very exciting. I have some very vague directions, who in this village would know this family? The family has lived in the area since the early 1800’s.The shops are starting to open their doors so head towards the post office and the owner sets some directions for me and off I go. The country roads are winding and tall hedges rush past, I hope I do not get lost as I could drive in circles for ages and not know where I am, my sense of direction is terrible. I am searching for a yellow house with a blue car in the garage. I take a chance at the crossroads and for once it was a good decision, the house looms over the crest. What if they don’t want to see or accept me, now I am starting to be a little afraid. Approach the front door with some in trepidation but all this is blown away when John answers and holds out his arms for a hug. This welcome I have found all over Ireland – family or acquaintance. A cuppa, lots of family history and more relatives arrive before a decision to walk up the hill to the Goggin House which now houses the cows in winter time. This house is where John and his parents were born, where your grandmother would have visited and possibly slept and where her parents would have visited. I saw photos of this house and the area some 10 years ago and it has always been on the wish list to visit even if only to feel my Great Grandmothers presence. It is such a peaceful place and full of so many lovely family memories. The day continues in Schull with a lovely meal and then a walk along the harbour waters to the cemetery and its ruined church still standing proud in the middle among the headstones, some famine graves and possibly where your Great grandparents are buried. John’s brother is buried there so after placing a flower on his grave he wanders back to the village the way we came, we will probably never see each other again, I stay on and wander around and so many family names stand out. I would love to stay longer but storm clouds are building and I do not want to be caught in it. After arriving back in Skibbereen I go to the local Butcher O’Sullivan to see if he can help me in any way but it appears he is a new comer - only been in the area for the last 20 years. He gives me some more family contacts which I will follow up on when I return home. It has been such a full day and I am exhausted.
I am not happy having to leave Skibbereen but would not be happy having to stay any longer in the B & B, I start the drive to Bantry arriving in time for the Friday street markets. Plenty of parking in the town area as the crowds have not built up so very relaxing just wandering around the much organised stalls with a fresh coffee in my hand. The last few days have been hectic and exhausting but very fulfilling. Onto Glengarriff via the O’Sullivan Castle, Carriganass Castle near Kealkill, all that remains are ruins but open to the public. Carriganass Castle tower was built in about 1541 by clan chieftain Dermot O’Sullivan Beare. This is our castle……. A short distance from the castle is the Kealkill stone circle and some standing stones so worth a stop, through the cow paddocks avoiding the muddy patches and the stones stand proudly looking out over the fields and castle ruins. The sea is just visible through a dip in the hills. A short distance from the castle and the stones is a very peaceful lake and settlement, Gougane Barra, a small church built on the island and the ruins of some 6th century monastic cells. A very holy piece of ground and picturesque location.
As I continue onto Glengarriff and settle into my accommodation the day is drawing to a close. I remember the village from a previous visit to Ireland. It is a small friendly place on the junction of the Beara Peninsula and always seems to be partially covered in cloud or misty rain.
I have a few very busy days with the O’Sullivan family, this is their area, this is our area. I head off early to meet the Clan Chieftain at Dunboy Castle, an impressive reminder of the O’Sullivan Beare Heritage, situated outside Castletownbere on the headland. He is a real character but accepts me as family. The village is situated on the beautiful deep water Berehaven Harbour with easy access to Bere and Dursey Island by either ferry or cable car. While the Chieftain is explaining the O’Sullivan history we are joined by another O’Sullivan family from Queensland so it seems the next best thing to do is to retire to one of the local hotels which is owned by family, they are everywhere – a lovely feeling!! A quiet drive back up the peninsula stopping to take some photos, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean are blue and peaceful. So much has happened in the last few days it will take some time to sort in my mind.
I am leaving early and driving west to Kenmare through the valleys and over the Mountains, cool morning and a very heavy low fog is hanging around, some tunnels to manoeuvre, a bit scary as the head lights on the car are not the brightest. Cross my fingers and hope I get through and out the other side, the tunnels are single lane. I feel it wise to stop at Molly Gallivanes and the Druid’s View at Bonane and wait for the fog to ease, a very interesting 200 year old farmhouse with a short walk reaching up the hill which shows you through the different simple country lifestyles of early rural Ireland. A very good display for free entry and magnificent craft rooms packed to the rafters with items crafted by the locals. Across the road is the imposing pine Druid figure looking across the green valley to the mountain peak “Barra-Bul” where a Cairn on the summit marks the resting spot of an ancient chieftain. I pass the Bonane Heritage Park where the Ring of Beara meets the Ring of Kerry but I have a lot of driving yet today so decide to continue to Kenmare. The fog has lifted. This picturesque little town is rather busy being Sunday so masses and church services in most churches in the town area, parking is limited. Heaps of quirky little shops and restaurants serving gourmet food. A haven for walkers. I must keep going as it is now early afternoon and I am to meet up with the O ’Sullivans in Castletownbere later in the day so drive down the west side of the Beara Peninsula, spectacular scenery, stone circles, clear blue lakes and heaps of history but I am unable to spend much time in the small colourful villages. I am in Castletownbere in time to meet up for the last time with our new family. The drive back to Glengarriff takes me a little longer as I make several stops to just gaze out over the water and the steep hillsides with the stone walls stretching along the road sides with its sheep straggling the hill sides. Hungry Hill towers above all at the half way mark.
Before I leave this morning I visit the local church cemetery where most headstones are O’Sullivan, have never seen so many in one spot. There is a light fog but not as thick as yesterday as I once again head towards Kenmare where I turn off towards Killarney. The pretty little village of Adare is my first stop for the day; I have been here before but always enjoy the visit to the village with streets lined with small thatched houses and tourists everywhere. It has started to rain so keep driving to Limerick, avoiding the city traffic and turning off the motorway towards Ennis, a market town. The boutique hotel where I am staying is within walking distance of the city and its medieval narrow pebbled streets and laneways. The River Fergus meanders through the town which is known for its trout and salmon, home to much birdlife. My reason for wishing to stay at this town is so I can visit the magnificent Cliffs of Moher stretching majestically along the Atlantic Coast, housing the large numbers of Puffins who live in colonies at isolated parts of the cliffs. I walk-up to O’Brien’s lookout and then climb further up the coastal walk, the climb rather strenuous but the views memorable. My next stop is further down the Loop Head Peninsular to the Lighthouse sitting on the cliffs edge overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and standing guard. A drive along the rugged coast and back to Ennis with a few photographic stops and I am back in Ennis before the rain starts.
After I leave Ennis I head to Roscommon but never make it, a few detours and I stay on the back roads then decide to head straight to the historical walled town of Athlone in the Midlands region, close to the centre of Ireland. After I locate the beautiful hotel on the banks of Hudson Bay and settle in I then head back into town, the hotel is about 15 minutes form the centre. From the bridge which spans the Shannon River, can be seen the 13th Century Castle and the Church of St Peter and Paul, lovely inside with large stained glass windows. Close to the Church is the Reilig na Mainistreach Abbey Graveyard where all the old headstones stand upright against the fence and making a pathway to the middle of the ruins of the old Abbey. Within sight of the ruins is an excellent example of a Famine-era workhouse which now houses several youth groups. There is so much to see in this town but I head back in time to watch the sun setting and casting its pink shadows over the still waters of the lake. Peaceful as some children play on the grassy verge, pelicans and white swans float by. Tomorrow I head to Dublin.
Today Trim Castle on the banks of the Boyne River is deserving of a visit, interesting example of a Norman structure. I wander for a few hours before getting directions to the Hill of Tara - “easy directions you cannot miss the Hill” I am told. An hour later I am still driving in circles and cannot locate the road, nearly ready to give it a miss when an elderly couple point out the hill just up the road. Not sure how I missed it but it is not what I was expecting. I have read so many books over the years which mention this Hill so it has always held a fascination for me but I feel a little disappointed. I am here so up the hill I walk, it is a very warm day. Part way up the hill is a church/visitor centre surrounded by old and current headstones and standing erect on the top of the hill is a standing stone believed to be the Lia Fail or the Stone of Destiny.
It is time to head back towards Dublin, I am not looking forward to the traffic congestion and with my lack of directional sense I could end up anywhere but at the Airport where I need to return the rental car. I surprise myself and manage to safely handle the trucks, traffic lights and motorway and arrive at the car rental depot with no big dramas. My last night in Dublin.
Home Sweet Home
An early flight across to Heathrow to meet up with my Malaysian Flight home via Kuala Lumpa. A few panicky moments when I check my home phone texts and receive the news that the Malaysian Flight 727 has been shot down over Russia with no survivors. It is too late to change airlines but I take this sort of chance every time I climb aboard a plane, this will not stop me travelling. A few hours break in Kuala Lumpa and we board the last flight, the plane is not full so I can spread out and try and get some sleep. Seated beside me is a young lady from Roma, I now feel I am heading home.
Cold and raining when we land in Brisbane, through customs and family is waiting.
The trip back to your family’s lands is over but I will return to Ireland again.
What is it that keeps me wanting to go back? Is it family or their friendly ways, their way of life or just Ireland?