I recently had the opportunity to go to Ireland. Readers of this blog may recall I went about 3-4 years ago and made a post about it. It was mostly about Dublin and a short drive to the nearby countryside.
Fast forward to 2015 ; I needed to return for some work. This time Julie came along and we made a vacation out of it. The plan was to do a loop of Ireland (and Northern Ireland – which is part of the UK) starting in Dublin and roughly following the coast in a counter clockwise direction. It required a good deal of planning, but I think the result was an awesome road trip. This post is quite “picture heavy”; we had a great time and I hope to give you an overall idea of the things we saw and did.
First things first, the car. Its a Skoda Octovia diesel. Since Skoka belongs to Volkswagen, this is essentially a VW Jetta. I am used to driving a car with the wheel on the right, but since it was a manual transmission, the stick (gears) are changed with the left hand, which is a bit different, but was a lot of fun of course.
Ok and we are off! We immediately headed north to Northern Ireland to the city of Belfast. Did you know that the Titanic was built in Belfast from 1909 to 1912? Here is the Titanic museum and visitor center. Quite a spectacular sight which is clearly built to resemble the ships bow. At the exact spot where I am standing to take the picture is where the ship was built, as in the second (historical of course) picture below.
Even if you are not a huge fan of all things Titanic, I highly recommend a stop at this museum. A vast amount of information is presented, from the construction to the sinking, beyond and everything in between.
Next stop was at the “Dark Hedges”. If you are a fan of the TV show “Game of Thrones” you may recognize this place. Its a simple country road with these spooky trees. The picture does not do it justice ; it was very spectacular. Julie and I probably spent an hour walking the entire length and taking many pictures. It is one of the most photographed locations in Northern Ireland. We got there fairly early in the morning so there were few people.
Next we are now completely on the northern edge of the island. The coast is beautiful. Lovely beaches and cliffs. No swimming here though … water looked really cold.
Along the way there were also many nice castles to see … too many to visit them all. Some of them we just stopped for a few moments to take a look. This one is a lovely sample of an ocean side castle. Dunluce Castle.
This next stop was the most anticipated one of the whole trip. It is called the “Giants Causeway”. Although these stones look man made, they are a some sort of volcanic phenomenon. Its absolutely spectacular. All of the stones are essentially basalt columns. There are an estimated 40,000 of them and they are all interlocking. I have to admit, walking around on them had something magical. I compared it to the magic of Stingray City in Cayman while I was there.
Here are Julie and I taking a break at one of the highest points at the Giants Causeway.
One of the next highly anticipated sites was “Cliffs of Moher” which is along the western coast. These cliffs are +-400ft high over the Atlantic and were an amazing sight of natural beauty. There are 1000’s of birds flying around which nest along the cliffs. It was also a great view down to the ocean.
In Limerick, we visited King John’s Castle. The entire visitor center was recently renovated and the displays were very interesting. We really liked this visit. The Castle is right in the middle of town and is quite sprawling, so getting it in one picture was not possible. We found Limerick to be a lovely city even though we were only there in passing.
Along the south west coast, we ventured out onto the “Biera Peninsula”. It was a few hours drive and the last 1/3 of the peninsula was gorgeous but barren landscape ; rugged shoreline, rough ocean and small vegetation. Great place to take pictures. Very narrow roads though which made for some interesting driving. (see comment about the car near the end …)
In Waterford, we stopped by to do a factory tour at Waterford Crystals. We were glad we did. The tour, which lasted +-45 minutes, was fascinating. We essentially saw the entire process from blowing the glass, cutting, quality control, the engraving, etc. I now understand why their products are so expensive. Each piece is done by hand and a lot of time is spent making sure they are perfect. Below we have a “Master Blower” creating a vase of some sort. If you like factory tours, make sure this place is on your list of things to see in the southern part of Ireland.
Next stop in New Ross was a visit I was not sure about. It was the “Famine ship” experience. The ship below, the Dunbrody (this is a replica of the original), which was built in Quebec City, was used to bring Irish people to North America during the potato famine. We all know that the Irish have a huge diaspora around the world. Well, that is mainly because of the potato blight starting in 1845 where a large percentage of the population was dying of hunger due to much of the potato harvest going bad. Many Irish left the country in search of a better life (and food). A very informative visit. I was glad we stopped here.
Julie particularly liked our visit to “Powercourt Gardens” due to the gardens. It was a lovely stroll along various paths and with a fabulous rose garden.
Our final visit prior to leaving Ireland was to Malahide Castle and Gardens which is just outside of Dublin. This was another really nice visit ; the Castle has both a very “old” history dating back to 1185 and then to 2009 where it had been with the “Talbot” family for over 791 years with exception to a few years where the family has been kicked out … Anyway, really nice visit and great for history buffs.
So here is the approximate map of our trip. Starting and ending in Dublin and going first North and then along the coast all the way back to Dublin. We did +-2000km in 10 days. Lots of driving around, but we love road trips.
If you like Castles, history, rugged coastlines, lovely countryside, Ireland is a great place to go.
Just one recommendation for anyone who wants to do a similar trip: Rent a small car. Our Skoda pictures above is the biggest I could recommend. In many places, the roads are extremely narrow, so anything bigger will not be any fun.
Stay tuned for a Cayman post soon … just did some really nice snorkeling at a new spot.