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Report 2018: Southern Ireland with Mom

By nikkihop from Texas USA, Spring 2012

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Page 3 of 12: June 12, 2012 – The Burren, Shannon Ferry, Conor Pass to Dingle

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Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren

DM and I got up at 7:20am and felt surprising pain-free considering all the hiking exercise we got yesterday. We both slept great, which meant for me passing out and going into an uninterrupted coma for eight hours, and for DM, her usual intermittent wakefulness, with the ultimate wake up at 5:30 or so. It seemed we totally kicked the jet lag by staying up until a normal bed-time yesterday.

We walked down the hall for our first Irish breakfasts in the breakfast room of the Harbour View B&B. The menu consisted of rashers, bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms (full Irish), French toast and bacon, scones, toast and/or cereal. I opted for French toast and DM had just eggs and bacon, neither of which she was very happy with. The egg was cooked over really hard, and the bacon looked like American ham. She choked it down whilst I truly enjoyed my French toast and ham, I mean bacon. I should also note here that if DM has any travel flaws, it is her finickiness. She likes brown and white food (meat, potatoes, dessert and bread), and that’s pretty much it. No seafood, veggies and most sauces. I cannot count how many Shepherd’s pies and beef and Guinness stews DM ate while in Ireland, but whatever floats her boat, ya know?

Another family was in the breakfast room when we sat down: a middle-aged couple and their parents from Boston. They had ridden the ferry to the Aran Islands with us yesterday and apparently were heading to Dingle today, same as us. We had a nice chat with them and Kathy Normoyle, our hostess. The Normoyles have a couple small children and are an adorable family. Apparently the littlest one is a streaker and gave the other guests a show the previous day.

After breakfast, we took a short drive through Doolin village for some photos we missed yesterday, driving by the Doonagore castle to do a bit of roadside sightseeing before heading into the Burren proper. Our first stop of the day was the Burren Cultural Center in Kilfenora, which is a small village a few miles inland and south of Doolin. At the cultural center, we watched a 12-minute video (or, as the Irish say it “fillum”) on the flora and fauna of the Burren and some interesting facts on the topography and anthropological roots of the area.

We bought an Irish whistle for my niece in the gift shop and then headed next door to St. Fachtna Cathedral (horrible name for a saint) to see some fine representatives of Celtic crosses and some unique carvings of bishops' and cardinals' faces and figures on various tombstones, crosses and stonework. Other than a few huge scary crows perched on the tombstones outside, the most interesting thing about the cathedral was the tiny doorways. The monks in those days must have been midgets because you had to stoop halfway over just to get in the door. Perhaps you were meant to do it on your knees?

Back in the car around 10:00am, we drove on route 480 past Leamaneh Castle, which really just looks like a large crumble-down country house, and then onward to the Caherconnell Ring Fort, which was very touristy. They've made a big production out of most of the sites in Ireland, which in my opinion, reduces the experience. Yes, it's nice to have amenities like cafes and toilets, but having some bored employee charge me €6pp to walk around a ring fort like it was Disneyland kind of brings out my cynical side. The Cliffs of Moher were the same. They built a beautiful visitor's center because the cliffs are one of the most visited world heritage sites on the island, but the fact that you can buy a plastic key chain with a photo of the Cliffs and a Lucky Leprechaun chocolate bar at the base of the cliff walk somehow diminishes the fact that this is a natural wonder.

Nonetheless, like everyone else we used the amenities at the ring fort, visiting the toilets and buying a picnic lunch at the café, where all of the young archeologists who were excavating the site were digging into lunch instead. DM and I bought sandwiches and some sodas to eat on the road as we made our way south to Dingle. Then, we were off to see the Poulnabrone dolmen. As we approached the sign for the dolmen, DM said, "It looks smaller than I thought it would be." I’m not sure what she expected. I thought it was really cool. It’s just three stones stacked like a house of cards where they used to perform burial rites, but it’s a powerful image. There weren't too many tourists at the site yet. We got some photos of the dolmen and hopped along the strange rivers of stone that comprise the Burren for a while. The stone landscape is really interesting. It looks like fingers of pocked and broken lava flowed over the land, leaving miniature grand canyons in between, which have since filled up with an impressive variety of ferns, lichen, moss, violets, heather and daisies. We left just as a bus full of people arrived and were thankful for the excellent timing. We continued to motor through the Burren, stopping at several scenic overlooks and winding around some very steep hairpin curves. And yes, I have done all the driving so far. No dents or scratches yet.

But, there is a universal truth that no matter how mature and old you get, your mother will always criticize your driving, from outright yelling, Aah! What are you doing?" to various eeks and ohs(!) and performing the mom-arm at stop signs. If I got too close to the center line on the very narrow roads, DM leans to the right and groans. If I get too close to the bushes or line on the passenger side of the car, DM leans toward me and squeals. I'm sure DM would agree that I did just fine driving on the left with a left-hand shift, but we did have a moment on the Burren road where I went a bit wide around a hairpin when a car coming the other way rode its center line, and you'd think we were in a scene from Speed 4. Drama, drama, drama.

Following the coastal road south, we drove through some really pretty country heading for Killimer, where the Shannon ferry would tote our car across the Shannon River into County Kerry. On the way, we saw a sign for White Strand Beach and pulled off the N67 to eat our picnic lunch overlooking the Atlantic. It’s really a beautiful spot and I recommend a stop for anyone making the same drive. It’s a nearly perfect circular cove with beautiful black rock formations running into the sea and a small white sand beach and boat ramp. Sheep were grazing in the meadows wrapping all around our pretty spot. Lunch was very tasty, and at about €4.5pp, economical. I had a really delicious tuna salad sandwich, which had fresh red onion, lettuce, cucumbers and other yumminess in it. Why do foreign sandwiches always taste better than American sandwiches? I’m not sure DM would agree with that last statement. She ho-hummed through her chicken salad sandwich and gave me all her onions, pickles and veggies.

Back on the main route, we drove down to the Killimer ferry port with no problem.

We arrived around 30 minutes early (ferries leave every hour on the hour from 7:00am until 9:00pm in June). They have a nice café and gift shop to browse while you’re waiting. We left our car at the front of the line to board the ferry and waited in the café with a big motorcycle gang from Germany (I think), all dressed in leather and boots. What must it be like to see a country from the saddle of a motorcycle? On Irish roads, it might be a lot more comfortable, though they can’t bring much luggage, can they? After a bit, we all drove onto the large ferry, where they packed us in so tight, I couldn’t get out of the driver’s side door. The motorcycles were two inches from my door. So, I climbed out the back passenger door to snap a photo of DM in the car surrounded by motorcycles. The ferry ride was only about 30 minutes long, and smooth. The ferry docked and a sign welcomed us to County Kerry.

I had read a lot about driving to Dingle via the Conor Pass, which is mostly a one-lane road and very steep. The best account I read was in the book The Last Donkey Pilgrim, Kevin O'Hara. He did this drive in a donkey cart. (Note: read this book – it’s wonderful light reading). Everything I read said that it’s best to drive the Conor Pass heading south if you can, so that’s what we did. Other than a couple cars coming down the mountain towards us, we didn’t have much to worry about. The person heading up is expected to back up if you meet a car on a downward slope, but we mostly managed to find small niches in the mountain to pull into to let others pass. As we neared the peak, the weather became darker and windier. We didn’t get any rain, but the wind was so strong at the lookout on the top, I had a hard time getting focused photos even with a tripod. If you’re driving to Dingle, this is a must-see in my book. The view down to the Dingle harbor with dappled patches of sunlight on the green pastures and farms is really fantastic.

Dingle is really pretty and quaint, with its brightly painted clapboard shops and houses. We had fantastic weather – blue skies and white puffy clouds all day, which were starting to darken as we checked into our hotel around dinner time. The Dingle Harbour Lodge is adjacent to the Dingle Aquarium and opposite the marina, about a three minute walk from town. It has free car parking and WiFi in the rooms. We were greeted by an elderly, slightly mangy boxer named Bella who looked pretty ferocious until she flopped over to have her belly rubbed upon closer inspection. Trish, our innkeeper was great. She checked us in and then really went above and beyond by calling the Irish Adventures kayaking company, who had gone radio silence on us after we paid the deposit on our kayak trip for the following day.

We were supposed to kayak the Dingle Bay tomorrow at 7:00am but we had received no information from the tour company. I wasn't sure about this company, because frankly, they were really bad about returning my emails or providing any information about our trip before we left the US. I must have emailed them 10 times after the initial email I got from them tentatively scheduling the tour. I think my last email went something like, "URGENT. We are leaving for Ireland tomorrow and you still haven't told me where we should meet you, what we should wear, and when our tour begins. Please email me back ASAP." So, Trish called Noel O'Leary, the main contact for the kayak company.

Finally, we got some details, like bring a swimsuit to wear under the wetsuits they will provide. Um, yeah. We didn't pack swimsuits, Noel, because it’s never over 67 degrees in Ireland. No problem, he says, just bring a change of underwear. Uh. What? "Well, y'r underwear will get wet under the "wet" suit, so you'll want to have some dry drawers to change into when y'r done, won't you?" Thank you, Noel, for explaining. That's very helpful. You have just made it 99% more unlikely that my mother will make this kayak trip. I wrack my brain to think of a euphemism for "wetsuit" and a way of explaining the whole skivvies situation in a non-scary way to DM. I opted for no-big-deal-it's-obvious-that-this-is-what-we'll-do. DM seemed to buy it, but I'll bet her lack of sleep that night is directly correlated to the images of getting in and out of those wetsuits floating through her amygdala, the part of the brain that controls fear and humiliation. More on this tomorrow.

The Dingle Harbour Lodge is really beautiful. Our room was on the second floor and had a jaw dropping view of the bay. Really stunning. We had a twin room, which meant a double bed and a twin bed in the room, with white-white duvets and lots of space. We walked through town a bit and had dinner at Fenton's Restaurant, which had its large stone fireplace blazing. DM had lemon chicken with red and green peppers, which she promptly transferred to my plate. It came on a bed of polenta with a side of potatoes. I had a steak, which looked fantastic, but was a bit tough. The steak came with caramelized onions and mixed vegetables. The leek potato soup was fantastic and the atmosphere was lovely. The brown soda bread is like corn bread in texture with a bit more whole grain taste. They hung a boat hull over the bar and the small two-room restaurant was warm and cozy, if a bit overpriced.

We walked around a bit looking for some Irish music and settled on Murphy’s Pub on Main Street. There was a two-man band made up of an accordionist and guitarist/singer playing old favorites from Johnny Cash to Irish classics like Molly Malone and Galway Girl. They invited several patrons up to sing with varying results. One woman was so enthusiastic, she kept backing up and getting so close to the accordionist that he had to lean way out to the side on his wooden stool to avoid accordioning her in the butt. DM and I had Irish coffee and coke until about midnight, when we walked back to the lodge.

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