Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 2018: Southern Ireland with Mom
By nikkihop from Texas USA, Spring 2012
Page 2 of 12: June 11, 2012 – Doolin, the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher
I drove from Austin, Texas, to Dallas the day before our trip so DM and I could fly out of DFW together. DM has a rule about getting to the airport at least three hours early, which was annoying before the iPad came along. Now, I consider it two hours of online time. We hung out in the pretty posh seating area outside our gate, where they have chaise lounges. I’m not kidding. We were surprised too. We spent the time reading and working Sudoku puzzles (DM) while watching a woman painstakingly wash and squeegee the glass windows and handrails. I thought she was going to murder the security guard who came up and actually put his hand on the glass that she had just cleaned. She went right over, wielding her squeegee with a crusader’s outrage, and set him and the glass straight.
We flew United to Newark (ug) and then hopped on the big jet to Shannon, Ireland. There is really nothing to report about the DFW to Newark flight except that we rode with a couple who was clearly going to a wedding or other fancy event because he was wearing a suit and she was wearing a large bubble-gum pink ruffled taffeta skirt and white lace top that would have been okay had she not been at least 45 years old. The reason I remember this couple is because we stood in line for the Newark bathrooms with the woman in the pink skirt. She got the stall next to mine and actually dropped her skirt full on the floor to do her business. (Horrified squeamish face here) I will never forget that. Does she not know what’s on those airport bathroom floors? (strangling sound). Ick.
I booked the extended leg room seats on United for our International flight and was glad I did. It really does feel much roomier than regular coach, so it felt like first class even though I couldn’t pay for it. Our upgrade cost around $89 per person (pp). DM and I had the window and center seats. The aisle seat was taken by the woman who played the bad guys’ mother from the movie The Goonies. I swear it was her or that they’re related. Before the doors had closed, Mama Goonie barfed up her breakfast into her airsick bag. Then, she barfed again. I asked her if she was all right. It was partly concern for her and partly my fear of catching the deadly virus she might be carrying. She said a dear friend of hers had died and that it was nerves. I felt bad for my earlier uncharitable thought and offered her both my and DM’s airsick bags. She thanked me by barfing into all of them the whole way to Ireland, and then leaving them scattered about her like used tissues. I kept thinking that since she had to be in her sixties or seventies, she would have to get up to pee and would take the barf bags with her to throw away, but she must have had a bladder like a camel or she was terribly dehydrated because she never got up to pee. DM and I used the extra leg room to squeeze out in front of her to use the facilities ourselves.
We arrived at Shannon airport at 7:00am. There was a negligible line at Customs and the whole baggage and Customs process took us less than 15 minutes. We rented a car at Avis, which took us another 15 minutes. DM and I both used the ATM in the Shannon airport, which is right in front of the tourist office, where we bought Ireland Heritage cards (€21 for adults and €16 for seniors). This was one of our best purchases. The card gets you into all the national heritage sites for “free.” To give you an idea of its value on our trip, I have provided a list of sites that we visited with the regular entrance costs. The Heritage card gets you in free. All of these would have cost us €60 if we paid a la cart.
Great deal, no? So, at 7:45am we drove out of the Shannon Airport in our navy blue, left-hand shift Opal Insignia, pretty proud of ourselves. The reason I relate how much time it took us to get in and out of the Shannon airport is because DM and I planned to drive from Shannon to Doolin on our first day and catch the 10:00 ferry to the Aran Islands. I was concerned about the timing and couldn’t find any reliable estimates of how long Customs and claim took at Shannon when I looked online. We had a back-up plan in case we couldn’t make it, but it worked out beautifully. We drove the 59.9 km (about 54 minutes by car) to Doolin and arrived by 9:00am. Now, many of you may be thinking we were crazy to attempt this, but since we were arriving at 7:00am, we didn’t want to waste a whole day recuperating from jet lag. We planned on taking a ferry to the Aran Islands and then renting a pony cart to shuttle us around the island. Minimal driving for us and a beautiful start to our trip.
We drove into Doolin proper, which is a tiny village that’s more like a street with about 12 houses or storefronts on it. We bought our tickets from a grandmotherly woman in the ferry ticket office on the main drag. Thinking we had time to check in to our bed and breakfast before the 10am ferry, we asked the ticket lady if she knew where the Harbourview B&B was. She repeated., “Harbour view, Harbour View...” then there was a five-minute-long pause before she said, "yes ... I do" and then proceeded to send us up a hill to another county before we decided to turn back and ask someone else after our ferry trip to the Aran Islands. Long, poor directions are all a part of the Irish experience. We had several good laughs about this on our trip. The facts that none of the roads have names and the roads all look like driveways are contributing factor.
Giving up on checking in early, we drove down to the small boat ramp to board the Happy Hooker, our ferry for the day. Note: a “hooker” is a type of boat, not an homage to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. While waiting for the Hooker to arrive (love writing that), we chatted with the ticket master in the dock-side ticket office. He told us the ferry stops at the islands of Inisheer and then Inishmore and that we could decide on the boat where we wanted to go, but we had to get off the boat at Inishmore because it is the last stop until America. DM told him that's where we just came from this very morning and he told us we were crazy for driving straight over to visit the Aran Islands. We chatted for a bit and then wandered off to photograph the scenery, which is pretty spectacular since the Cliffs of Moher are to the left and the fascinating Burren rock extends right out to the ocean all around the dock. More about this later.
Eventually, we all lined up with our tickets to board the ferry. While we were shuffling forward to board, we saw a woman in full wet suit walking down the boat ramp to the water’s edge with bare feet and a snorkel in 50 degree windy weather. Yowza. What was even more amazing is that a dolphin came right up to the edge of the boat ramp and they swam together while all the ferry passengers loaded. It was great entertainment, and I wondered if that’s why she was down there at the ferry time, showing off with her dolphin for all the tourists. The ticket master was herding all of us gawking folks along the gangplank when he spotted us and said, "Now there are my two American peaches...on board wi’ ye." DM and I got a kick out of being peaches for the day.
It took about an hour and 15 minutes on the ferry to Kilronan on the island of Inishmore. We were hungry, so we stopped into the first cafe we came to: The Pier House B&B and Cafe. We sat inside the charming café with a view of the harbor. The service was slow, but also charming. In fact, all of Ireland is “charming,” so I’ll try not to be redundant. I had the seafood chowder and DM had the vegetable soup, and both soups were bland. Mine was spuds from the sea (no discernible seafood in the chowder, but a lot of potatoes). DM's was green (leeks) and therefore suspicious. However, the best thing about the food in Ireland is that every meal comes with lovely brown soda bread. We devoured our bread with slatherings of butter and shared a lovely pot of tea, which we are both now addicted to several weeks after our trip.
Here’s a tip: when you take the ferry to the Aran Islands, you cannot dawdle around eating soda bread and soup. If you want to ride a pony cart, you have to catch one immediately upon disembarking the ferry. We totally missed the pony carts, which was a big bummer. All of the cart drivers (there aren’t that many) picked up passengers and left for the outskirts of the island. We were left wandering the small pier calling, "Pony carts? Pony carts?" So sad.
All was not lost. There were still several minivan tour operators who, like streetwalkers, called out to us as we wandered by, trying to get us to pay €10pp to drive out to the Dun Aengus fort. We didn't like the look of the first two drivers, but were suckered into Patrick Mullen's red van, only to have him drive around the block with us twice so he could look for other wayward people who ate and missed the pony carts. He was lucky. He found two other ladies who proceeded to haggle like fishwives on the price only to agree to Patrick's original price of €10pp round trip.
Patrick was a local and showed us all the sites: his parent's house, his cow (actually his former cow...he sold it two days before we got there), the island's friendliest donkey, and the island's only round house. Patrick told us that only locals can build a house but foreigners could buy property in two ways: they can marry into it, or they can buy a preexisting house, but they cannot build a new house. Weird. He told us there are 800 people living on the island and that they export 2500 cows per year. He also told us that practically none of the sweaters sold on the Aran Islands are made in the Aran Islands ... they're made in Taiwan or China or somewhere, which was a total let down. I wanted a true Aran sweater.
The highlight of our minivan tour was the seven churches, where we saw a very old graveyard with a grave for Patrick Mullen, who died in 1915. So, not our minivan driver. Outside the seven churches, there was an adorable donkey who likes the tourists to feed him the sweet grass by the side of the road. I named him Justin Bieber because he has very shaggy and moppet-like hair. After feeding Justin Bieber, we were off to the Dun Aengus fort, which is about a 20 minute steep climb. The views were worth it though - amazing cliff views and gorgeous weather to reward us. If I lived in the stone age and I lived in a fort, it would be this one.
After hiking back down the fort path, we stopped into the cluster of sweater and craft shops at the base of the hill. Some of the shop keepers were knitting, which was encouraging. It was also interesting since I’m a knitter and the ladies in Ireland have different knitting techniques than Americans. Patrick, who dropped us off to climb to the fort, picked us up and drove us to the port just in time for the 4:00 ferry back to the mainland. While getting out of the van, DM stepped in a huge gob of tar on the roadside and then had to make a trip down to the water’s edge to wipe her shoe in the ocean and sand. On our trip to South America, she stepped in dog poo, so I now have photos of her scraping her shoe in two different countries. I’m hoping for a series of these someday.
I won’t lie; we were tired on the ferry ride back to Doolin. The jet lag was nipping at our heels. We checked into the Harbour View B&B (good directions from a guy at the dock). Kathy Normoyle and her husband run this B&B, which is very close to the harbor and had a great breakfast room and clean comfortable rooms. The bathroom was fantastic – very large. Kathy, who is so pretty and helpful, I wish we were related, sent us off to Fitz's pub for dinner, where we had a great meal, if a bit pricey at €15 to €18 per plate. DM had the Guinness and beef stew, which came with a huge serving of mashed potatoes that made her whole day, and I had a perfect plate of fish and chips. Since it was still early at 6:00pm and we would have daylight until 10:00pm or so, we decided to drive the 10 minutes over to the Cliffs of Moher to take a look.
The Cliffs of Moher visitor’s center looks like a huge Hobbit complex built into the side of a grassy hill. It was closed when we got there, but there were still plenty of people about. We walked out to the cliff edge, and DM decided she’d like to try to walk out to the old signal tower ruins at Hag’s Head, which looked about two or three miles away to the south. There is a well-worn path along the edge of the cliffs, and despite several signs that strongly discourage climbing over the stone barriers, we climbed over them and walked along the cliff edge like everyone else. Had it been windy or inclement weather, I wouldn’t have done this, or at least not with DM. However, it was perfectly sunny and clear, so we didn’t have to worry about being blown over the “Cliffs of Insanity” as they were called in the movie The Princess Bride. We walked, and walked... and kept walking. Like a mirage, the signal tower ruins that seemed so close back at the visitor center never got any closer. Five miles later, and we still weren't there, although they looked close (still). If you are judging me for dragging my 65-year-old mother five miles along a cliff edge, please note that it was her idea and that I must have asked her a hundred times if she was sure she wanted to keep going. DM finally admitted she was getting tired, so we turned back without reaching our target. We definitely didn't want to be caught in the dark on the cliff edge, which lies about six inches to the right of the path.
After the long walk back to the visitor’s center, we arrived just in time to watch a beautiful sunset behind O’Brien’s castle. DM realized she had lost her hoodie on our walk, which thankfully we found on our way back to the parking lot (and not five miles south toward the signal tower ruins). After a full day, we wearily headed back to the B&B at 10:30pm for showers and bed.
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