Ireland Day 4: Queen Maeve’s Cairn, Croagh Patrick

Shane and I were a short drive from Queen Maeve’s Cairn, so on the morning of the 11th we got up early and drove over.

Queen Maeve’s Cairn (also called Knocknarea and Queen Maeve’s Grave, Tomb, or Resting Place) is basically a mound of rocks atop a hill, steeped in legend.  I had asked Shane to tell me about it before we arrived, but he told me to wait, and that he’d tell me on the way up.  So that’s how I’ll tell it.

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Back in the days of legends, there lived a queen named Maeve.  Her kingdom was Connacht, and its rival was Ulster, where her husband was king.  Their kingdoms were equal in every way, except that the kingdom of Ulster had a massive prize bull.  Maeve could not let this stand.

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So Meave set out to find a bull that would fight the Ulster bull.  She heard of a bull living in Cooley, who had been born to her herd but left because he would not be ruled by a woman.  So Maeve sent her men to rent the bull from his owner, but the deal fell through in the 11th hour and began a war.

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The battles went on and on, and Maeve’s forces were repeatedly rebuffed by Ulster’s warrior, Cúchulainn, a young boy barely 17 years of age.   But in the end Maeve sent her warrior, Ferdiad, who was the best friend and foster brother of Cúchulainn.  Although they were brothers, both warriors were committed to their kingdoms, so they met on the battlefield with the knowledge that only one would survive.

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Every day they would fight, wounding each other terribly.  And every night they would drink together and share medicine.  Both warriors had been trained by the same master, Scáthach, but she had given each of them a secret weapon that only they could use.  Cúchulainn’s weapon was the Gáe Bulg, the death spear.

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On the third day, both warriors met and began to fight again.  Ferdiad soon had Cúchulainn at his mercy, and Cúchulainn knew that his death was near if he didn’t do something quickly.

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So Cúchulainn called for his death spear, and it was floated down the water to him.  It was a curious spear, and would kill any person that it pierced by breaking into several pieces inside their body.  But no one could use it because no one could launch it.

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But Cúchulainn knew how.

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On that day, Cúchulainn placed the spear between his two toes and launched it at his brother.  It ran him through and killed him.  In the ruins of his childhood, Maeve achieved her victory yet: her army stole away the Cooley bull, and matched him against her husband’s bull, who was beaten.  Maeve, when she died, was laid to rest in a tomb on the hill Knocknarea.  She was buried so that she would be always facing Ulster.

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“The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea,
And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say.”

– William Bulter Yeats, Red Hanrahan’s Song About Ireland

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After leaving the Cairn, Shane and I made our way to Croagh Patrick.  But on the way we spotted these ruins and stopped for a peek.

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From there, we headed to Croagh Patrick.

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The legend of Croagh Patrick is that, ages ago, St. Patrick was traveling Ireland and converting and blessing the people.  However, he soon became tired and had the idea that he could climb to the top of a mountain and bless all of Ireland at once, effectively converting everyone.  So this is what he did, and now, once a year, Catholics and interested persons make the trek up Croagh Patrick.  At the top of the mountain they say mass.  Many of these people climb barefooted.  Although Shane is not religious, he has climbed the mountain twice.  Luckily for me, today was not one of those days.

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This is as high as we went.

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Across the street from Croagh Patrick was a famine ship.

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Shane told me that this ship represents the people who died trying to immigrate to America.

From here Shane and I drove on through Connacht.

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That night we stayed at Oliver’s Seafood Bar, Bed and Breakfast in a little town called Cleggan.  We were quite a bit out in the wilderness, and driving through the country at night is a huge fear of mine.  It was emotionally exhausting for me to drive on roads with no lights, no houses, no reflectors, knowing that there could be sheep or a serial killer just feet away.  Luckily for me, Shane was incredible: supportive and empathetic, he helped me handle my anxiety about the countryside.  Nevertheless, that night I came back to our B&B and fell asleep at 8:30 and slept 11 hours.  And it’s a good thing, since the next day we’d be driving for hours, fighting a status red storm, before finally arriving at his parents’ house.
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Ireland Day 3: Glenveagh and Sligo

On the morning of the 10th, the bad weather broke, or we drove out of it.  It was early afternoon when we arrived at Glenveagh National Park, and the rain had mostly stopped.  We caught a shuttle to Glenveagh Castle and settled in for a tour of the house and gardens.

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What man wouldn’t want a dressing room like this?

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Glenveagh Castle can only be accessed by guided tour, which was €5.  The shuttle to the Castle and gardens is usually €2-3, but I don’t recall that they charged us for this; possibly because it was the off-season, early morning, and raining.  The tour itself was very basic, and the guide didn’t seem eager or engaged with the subject (this bothered Shane more than it did me).   Half of the rooms we were directed to and told that we could tour at our leisure, without commentary from the guide.  There was also a video for viewing, but we skipped it and headed to the gardens.

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From touring the house and gardens, we decided to walk back to the carpark instead of taking the shuttle.  It was only a couple of miles, but we took our time walking.  Now, I’m a city girl through and through, but I have to say that one of the things that I most enjoy about dating Shane is being taken out of my element and out of my comfort zone.  And there is something affirming about being outside together, just walking, surrounded by nature.  During our first year together, in Korea, we walked everywhere, and it wasn’t just good for our bodies: it was great for our relationship.  No distractions, just the two of us, walking and talking and being genuinely entertained by each other.

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From there we drove on to Sligo, where we were staying that night.

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My driving’s not that bad!

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Finally, after night had fallen, we arrived in Sligo.  We were staying at a Best Western, but it was very difficult to find (it was listed under a different name).  But when we found it, we were pleased with the room and ended up eating at the restaurant.

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The food was bar food: bland pasta for me and a ham and veg plate for Shane.  I thought his was good but he thought it had too much gravy.  Sligo is a very pretty town, but it was basically closed down by 8pm, when we arrived.  So keep this in mind if you want dinner or entertainment there.

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By the Yeats statue

Shane and I walked around Sligo that night.  It was a very walkable town, cute, but it was empty and I felt unsafe.  I’m sure that it’s great during the day, but I recommend to travelers that you decide exactly what you want to do in Sligo and plan your trip accordingly.

 

 

Ireland day 2: the North (and a warning)

The second day of our trip got off to a bad start.  I hesitated to write about this part because I don’t want to taint my blog with negativity, but my stat counters show that lots of travelers have been finding my blog, and they should have all the information available before making a choice.

Shane and I were set to cover lots of ground, so I rented a car.  The price for a 10 day car rental seemed to be from €160-200.  However, many of the websites confused me: lots of asterisks and tiny, grey font.  When I found Dan Dooley, I was relieved because it seemed simple, no bullshit, and even though the prices were a bit higher (€255 for 10 days), their website boasted “fully inclusive rates” and under the section Our Promise, they wrote: “All Inclusive Price Guarantee: No Extra Fees Payable Upon Arrival” and “Our Inclusive car rental low prices are just that, we guarantee there are no Hidden Extras charged when you arrive…It is important when comparing discount car hire costs, that you check what’s included as some companies prices do not incorporate the insurance you’ll need or the compulsory additional local charges.”  Pretty good, huh?

Unfortunately, none of that is true.  When we arrived (all paid up and with our reservation printed out), we were told that we had to put a deposit for extra insurance, and then the deposit would be returned to us when we returned the car.  No big deal, right?  Many companies do this.  Except that the deposit was €1,800.  That’s right.  Over $2,000.

Now, precisely because we were on vacation and didn’t want to lose a card or overspend, neither of us had brought a card with that kind of a limit.  Had we been informed of this mandatory extra fee, I would have brought one or chosen a different company.  We were told that our only other option would be an extra charge of €19 per day – that brought us up to an extra €190 for the car!  And to add insult to injury, the woman at the desk was sneering, condescending and rude.  At one point she snidely asked me, “How old are you?  24?” even though she had my license on her keyboard.  Clearly she was trying to make a point and not ask for information.  And, to make matters worse, when I wrote to Dan Dooley about this incident, I got a clipped, recriminating reply.  Obviously I will continue to mail them, but I think that customers should be aware of this hidden fee and the unhelpful attitude that we encountered.  Although they claim to, Dan Dooley does not treat their customers like “VIPs.”

To get back to our happy vacation: so the trip started on a low note, but as we left Dublin, we felt the gloom lifting.

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We had plans to visit Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, Giant’s Causeway, and two friends.

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However, our day soon took a turn for the worse again with even more car troubles.  Most of you probably realized this, but driving on the other side of the road and driving on country roads was not only different for me, but nerve-wracking.  The roads didn’t seem wide enough for me and I couldn’t get a feel for the width of the car.   Due to this issue and others, driving took much longer than we had anticipated, and we ended up losing even more time that day.  And to make matters worse, Shane’s phone was unable to call numbers in the North and my phone couldn’t get any wifi, so we never met with Maeve and Laura!

On the bright side, though, we had some great weather for the beginning of the day.

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Our luck took a turn for the worse again as we neared Carrick-a-rede rope bridge; the weather worsened as we arrived, and it was shut down.  However, we were still able to go out and take pictures.

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Of course, we couldn’t resist taking a quick selfie!

From there the weather got worse, and we had a couple of hours’ drive ahead of us.  By the time that we got to the Giant’s Causeway, it was freezing and I changed into my wellies and put my hair up just to save my cheeks from being whipped with it!  (Tip: if you are going to Ireland, wellies are must, and so are earmuffs!)

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From there we drove to Donegal.  The weather got nasty during the drive…so bad that we pulled in to a parking lot to regroup.  We decided to get dinner at a nearby spot, The Drift Inn, and wait out the storm.  The restaurant itself was cozy, and it had a sort of nautical lodge decor going on.  We both had salmon and talked about whether or not to tip (even after a year and a half in Korea, it still feels unnatural to me not to leave at least a little something).  The storm had passed by the time we left, so we headed to The Lake of Shadows to stay the night.  The reviews had been mixed, but it was a great place.  The reception staff were incredibly helpful and went out of their way for us, even making phone calls for us and helping us find our way around.  So, despite the stress of that morning, the night ended on a high note.

Ireland day 1: Dublin

I’ll be honest and say that I was really heavy-hearted as I left America.  It sounds silly, but after a year apart from my family, I felt that I really knew how long a year could be.  I dreaded the 7th, even as I looked forward to it because of my reunion with Shane.  I was excited about our vacation, but Ireland has never held the charm for me that it has for many other Americans.  Certainly I appreciated pictures of the landscape and (in the right mood) the traditional music.  But in general, my mood was gloomy as I left America that day.

The flight from New York to Ireland was only about 5 hours, and I managed to sleep.  I landed in Dublin around 6am, but it was closer to 7:30 by the time I had made it through customs and immigration and finally, after almost 5 months, saw Shane face-to-face again.  How to describe it?  It was…different.  For one, his brother was there, and I was meeting him for the first time.  And secondly, we hadn’t even seen each other’s face in well over a month!  It was surreal.

Shane and I dropped our stuff at the hostel and quickly began walking to the first site on our itinerary: Áras an Uachtaráin, the house the president.  On the way, we stopped and he got me a breakfast roll, which is basically several kinds of pig meat: sausage, “pudding” (again, ground pork), “bacon” (ham), and I think hash browns.  It smelled good, but was actually almost tasteless.  This was to become a theme of the first few days of our trip: food that looked good or smelled good, but had almost no taste.  I quickly found that if I asked for very spicy food or food flavored with lemon that it helped tremendously.

On the way to the president’s house, we got a ride in a horse and carriage! But when we got there, the ticket office wasn’t set to open for several more hours.  So we simply snapped a picture and moved on.

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Not pictured: the candy wrapper that accidentally flew out of my pocket. Shane: “You’ve just littered the white house!”

From there, we headed to Kilmainham Gaol, a historic jail.

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The Guinness Storehouse was next, and it was around this time that I realized just how walkable Dublin really was;  Shane had told me before that it wasn’t a metropolis, really (at least not in terms of size) but I think that I had been expecting it to be a lot more industrial and forbidding, and definitely larger, if only because it is such a hub.  But walking around it was really very manageable.  Soon we were at the Guinness Storehouse, where we both learned the pull the perfect pint.

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From there, we were off to Dublinia, which was a sort of museum experience focusing on viking and medieval Ireland.  It was actually pretty empty, which was fun because so many of the exhibits were hands on.

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Our tour included a visit to Christ Church Cathedral and crypt, so we headed over there next.

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We did a bit of shopping and walked around Dublin after that, including taking in Trinity College and the book of Kells.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed.

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That night Shane had booked us tickets to Dark Land, a short show at the Leprechaun Museum.  There were only two other people at the show, but that actually made it better.  It was an interactive play where the story was this: a man meddles in fairy business and it is more than he can handle.  I won’t spoil anything in case any readers want to see it.

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Looking for clues.

The show was only about 45 minutes, and after that we walked around the Temple Bar area until we found a pub playing trad music, so I got seats and Shane got drinks and we settled in.  It was a great first day!

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Ireland in panorama

My favorite panoramas from the past month.  Click to enlarge.

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Giant’s Causeway

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A view of Glenveagh National Park

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Croagh Patrick.

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Somewhere in Connacht.

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Start of the Ring of Kerry

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A groto on Valentia Island.

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Staigue Fort

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Conor Pass

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The view from Valentia.

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Killarney National Park

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Torc waterfall.

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Killarney National Park.

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Killarney National Park.

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Children’s quarters in Muckross House.

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A fort in Kerry.

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Courtyard.

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Unedited.

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A field near Shane’s house in Kildimo.

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St. Brigid’s well.

 

Back together!

 

Valentine’s Day ’14

This post is a few weeks late, but as of February 8, the long distance relationship is over!  Shane and I spent 11 days touring Ireland and a bit over a week ago, we headed back to Korea; Shane to Jeonju, and I to Daejeon.  Tonight he and I are moving the rest of my stuff.  So, we’ll still be long distance, but this time only an hour.  Just being in the same time zone feels like a luxury!

Anyway, we’re back, better than ever, and bending ourselves to our new jobs and new neighborhoods.  This week I’ll be sharing pictures from our Irish adventures, snaps of my new apartment and decorating schemes, and maybe some of my “new professor” outfit choices.  Wish us luck, and hope to speak to you all soon!

Elise, happy to be with us again