Limerick: “Angela’s Ashes” Walking Tour and King John’s Castle

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Several years ago I read a book that touched my heart: Angela’s Ashes. It is the childhood memoir of Frank McCourt, an American-born son of two Irish imigrants who returned to Ireland with his family when he was a young boy. His story is one of extreme poverty, neglect, sickness, death, constant struggle…and hope. It’s an incredible story that is told through the innocent and witty eyes of a boy who overcame all odds (McCourt went on to be a respected teacher in New York City and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author). The story is set in Limerick, Ireland where McCourt grew up. When we moved to Ireland I kept thinking back to anecdotes and references from Angela’s Ashes and I kept thinking, “I should really read that book again while I’m living here.” So, I did (and, let me tell you, it’s just as good the second time around!). And then I couldn’t stop thinking about Limerick. I wanted to see all of the places from the book–I wanted to experience first hand the city of this story.

As I was reading the book I took notes of locations that held special importance to McCourt: where his homes were, his school, the library where he spent countless hours reading, the pub where he would frequently retrieve his drunken father. Then I entered all of my “places of interest” into Google Maps and made myself a customized Angela’s Ashes walking tour of Limerick:

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Now, there are a couple of official Angela’s Ashes tours led by different people in Limerick, but none of them were running at this time of the year (this time of the year being NOT the busy summer tourist season)–and, besides, our crew with two fussy boys under the age of four just doesn’t do well on guided tours. I did, however, find a great walking tour online that covered a few of the places I was already planning on visiting so I printed that off as well. With all of my maps and little waling guides in hand, it was time to pack up the family and drive up to Limerick.

We got to Limerick at lunch time. There was a cute Farmer’s Market set up on one of the streets downtown:

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But, being the lazy, grease-hungry Americans that we are, we opted to eat at the Burger King across the street.

After lunch we walked a few blocks away to a little park where we could see the Shannon River. It’s a huge river and at low-tide (which it was when we were there) little rapids form at the crests of the river. There was a group of kayakers paddling through the rapids having a grand time. In the distance you can see King John’s castle…more on that later. Now, moving on to the Limerick of Frank McCourt.

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Our walking tour began at the Parnell Street Railway Station. This is the railway station that the McCourt family arrived in when they first came to Limerick (OK, a little back story for those of you who haven’t read the book: Frank’s parents–Malachy and Angela–met in New York City the day that Angela immigrated from Ireland to start a “better life” for herself. Malachy had just gotten out of jail and was on the run for some anonymous crimes related to his involvement in the IRA back home in his native Northern Ireland. So, Malachy and Angela meet, they hit it off, and…9 months later Frank is born. It’s quite the scandal. Malachy and Angela quickly marry and even more quickly start making babies. Within four years they’ve had five children. They have no money, no love for each other, and very little love for their ever-growing brood of children. So much for the “better life”. They do have one saving grace: a baby girl who everyone adores. When she dies in infancy due to the horrid conditions the McCourt family is living in, it’s more than anyone can handle. They decide it’s time to leave New York and start back over in Ireland. Angela’s mom pays for the family to travel to Ireland because the McCourt family doesn’t even have enough money to buy a loaf of bread, let alone six one-way tickets to Ireland. So, they arrive in Northern Ireland where Malachy is from, they get kicked out; they go to Dublin; they get kicked out; they decide their last chance is to go to Limerick where Angela’s family is from. They ride the train all the way from Dublin down to Limerick and they arrive at…the Parnell Street train station. There. All caught up.)

The railway station is a beautiful building and I was fortunate enough to see the inside where trains have passed through for centuries (we had to run in so David could use the potty):

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After arriving at the train station, the McCourt family carried their meager belongings through town to their new home in Limerick. The first place they passed through on this walk was the Peoples’ Park. I’m not sure what little Frankie was feeling when he first saw this park, but we loved it. There was a great playground for the kids (which we enjoyed immensely, but I’m sure it was not there in the 1930’s when the McCourt family arrived) and beautiful flowers everywhere.

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At the edge of the park there is an art center that used to be a library. This is the library that Frank McCourt used to frequent as a boy so he could check out books for his mother and, if he was lucky, be allowed to sit in himself to read books about saints (guess libraries hadn’t caught on to the idea of a children’s section and weekly story times yet).

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Just past the library is St. Michael’s Church where Frank and his friend Billy Campbell (jealously) watched the Protestants play croquet on the church lawn after service on Sunday mornings:

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About a block past the church is South’s Pub–the infamous pub where Malachy McCourt infamously drank away every penny he ever earned (meaning his own family was cold and starving). This is the same pub where Frank’s uncle bought him his first pint at the age of 16 so he could become a “real man”:

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And, to be quite honest, I don’t think I would have minded spending a bit of time inside South’s. It’s a beautiful pub, warm, welcoming–probably a lot nicer place to hang out than the overcrowded, damp, cold, nasty slums where the McCourt family lived:

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And that brings us to the overcrowded, damp, cold, nasty slums where the McCourt family lived. This is Windmill Lane, the location of the McCourt’s first house in Limerick. The tenements where the McCourt family actually lived in the ’30’s have been torn down and replaced with more stable homes. This house was so poorly-built that one of Frank’s brothers, a twin, died here of disease when he was only two years old:

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The family was distraught by little Oliver’s death. They couldn’t stay in that house on Windmill Lane a moment longer, so they moved to a house on Hartstonge Street (again, the old tenement houses have been replaced):

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Unfortunately, little Oliver’s twin, Eugene, was so heartbroken over the death of his twin that he, too perished. The family decided to move again, this time to the top of Barrack Hill on Roden Lane:

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This is where Frank lived for most of his childhood (and, once again, the original houses are long gone). The house on Roden Lane was at the end of the lane near a stable. There was one outhouse that the entire lane used–and it was right next to the McCourt’s house. The stench was unbearable in the summer. In the winter, the bottom floor of their house was constantly flooded and they were forced to move upstairs where it was dry–a place they fondly referred to as “Italy”.

After seeing all of the McCourt houses (well, the general locations, at least) we made one final stop on our Angela’s Ashes tour: Leamy’s National School. This is the school where Frank received his formal education–all six years of it.

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Today the school is home to the Frank McCourt Museum, a wonderful privately-run museum. There are only two rooms in the museum–a classroom and a room set up like the McCourts house on Roden Lane–but they managed to fit a lot of information and memorabilia into the small space. The photos in this collage are: (top left) entrance to the museum, (top right) me and David with Frankie boy, (bottom right) Frank’s classroom (with some extra-cute pupils), (bottom left) school photo with Frank McCourt (he’s sitting in the front row on the right with the dark hair):

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The museum is run by this woman (the one drawing at the easel in the photo):

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Her father-in-law bought Leamy’s school after it became derelict and turned it into a garment shop. Once he retired, the building was sitting empty and she decided to make it into a museum. She drove around the country collecting information and artifacts and set about creating this little gem of a museum. And, speaking of gems, she was a gem herself. She gave my children paly-doh and markers to play with while she showed me and Jon around the museum, then she sat the boys down to draw portraits of them (she’s an artist), then she gave them candy for being such good little museum-goers.  Seriously, one of the best museum-with-children experiences I’ve ever had! I would highly recommend that anybody who finds themselves in Limerick make a quick stop by the Frank McCourt Museum and give this woman a little hello.

 

After a full afternoon of walking around Limerick we had the option of driving home and crashing or…going to a castle! We, of course, went to the castle. Limerick is home to King John’s Castle, a fortress that was commissioned by King John (of Robin Hood lore) in the late 12th century. Last summer the castle was restored and renovated to include some incredible exhibits on the history of the castle and what life was like in Medieval times. There were lots of hands-on activities and interactive displays that kept us all entertained for hours:

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As an added bonus, we were treated to beautiful views of Limerick from the top of the castle walls:

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As we were walking back to the car at the end of the day I asked David what his favorite part of our day had been: The fun playground at the park? The lollipops at the museum? Climbing up castle walls?  Nope, none of that. Do you know what his answer was? Getting rocks stuck in his boots. Yep. There were lots of pebbles at the castle and while he was running around like a wild banshee kicking up all the gravel, some of it got stuck in his boots. It was…awesome. At least for a 3-year old.

On our way out of town we made one last quick stop. Jon’s friend from work heard that we were in Limerick for the day and there just happened to be a Munster rugby match happening RIGHT THERE in Thomond Park, and he had an extra ticket, and could Jon come? Please, please, please could Jonny come out to play? So, as we drove out of Limerick we swung by the stadium to drop Daddy off for his first Irish sporting event (and, if you know my anti-sports-watching husband, you know that this is a big deal). He had a great time, and he even bought himself a Munster rugby hat. Up, Munster!

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As I drove home alone with the boys I was treated to beautiful views of the rolling green hills in the Irish countryside. We ate granola bars and fruit snacks for dinner in our car, and it was perfect. An absolutely, perfectly Irish-y day.

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Belfast: From Ships To Sheep

This weekend we took a roadtrip to a foreign country: Northern Ireland. Yes, this is still part of the island of Ireland and, no, there is not a physical border crossing that you pass through (much to my disappointment…I really wanted another stamp in my passport!). Nevertheless, The North is part of the U.K. and is, therefore, a separate country. Our destination this weekend was Belfast, a city rich in history  and conflict. A city, we happily discovered, that is well worth a visit. When we told David that we were going to Belfast, he quickly retorted that he wanted to see “ships and sheep” there (not sure why…guess he just thought that would be cool to see). So, we had our mission set before us: get to Belfast and see ships and sheep.

The drive from Cork to Belfast is just over 4 hours. We loaded up our car with snacks and iPads for the kiddos and left town early Friday morning. We made one stop along the way, just north of Dublin. The Gas Station Oasis (as I’m now referring to it) that we stopped at was amazing–it had shops, restaurants, free wifi, and indoor and outdoor playgrounds for the kids. It was the perfect place to stop, refuel, and get some wiggles out before getting back on the road.
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Our journey went smoothly and both kids did great during the long drive.  We arrived in Belfast at about 2:00, and that’s when the most stressful part of our trip began. First, we missed a turn and got onto a Motorway going the opposite direction of where we needed to be. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be such a big deal but, since we were now in a foreign country, our cell phones weren’t working yet with the local network. Which means that the GPS we were using for navigation went out. And the physical maps we had were not detailed enough for us to find our way out. Which means we were a bit lost.  In the end, Jon’s keen sense of direction got us back on track and we found our destination–a bit frazzled and a bit later than we had hoped to arrive, but all in one piece. And that leads me to our next problem.

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Jon had a Very Important Meeting that he had to attend for work that afternoon at 3:00 (so the driving aimlessly around lost in a city we’ve never been to before really didn’t help things). We had originally thought we could check in to our accommodations in time for the Very Important Meeting so Jon could use the wifi. Unfortunately, our host was out of town until later in the evening and we couldn’t be let in until he got back. Long story short, we found a business center just in the nick of time that Jon could go in and pay (a lot of money) to have a conference room so he could use the wifi and take his phone call for the Very Important Meeting.

Unfortunately for me, I was now stranded in a city I’d never been to before, without a car or navigation, with two hungry and very tired children. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, so I just started walking toward the big buildings that I assumed represented downtown. Thankfully my instincts were right and we quickly found our way to the central train station. We hunkered down at the train station for awhile so we could eat a snack and get our bearings.

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There were lots of maps available at the train station so I picked one up and we headed back out to explore the city. Belfast is a beautiful city. Most of the buildings were built of brick in the mid-1800’s, so everywhere you look there are these rich red-brown buildings towering over you:

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After wandering around the city for awhile we found our way to the waterfront where we watched boats cruising up and down the river (and where the boys could participate in their favorite activity of all time, throwing rocks into water).

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Finally, the Very Important Meeting was over and our host was available to let us in to our house. For me, the house we stayed in was actually one of the coolest parts of our trip. The house was originally owned by Anthony “Artie” Frost. Artie was an engineer for Harland and Wolff, the company responsible for building Titanic right here in Belfast. Artie was a member of the Titanic Guarantee Group, which basically means that Harland and Wolff were so sure their ship was unsinkable that they sent a team of their own engineers to ride on its maiden voyage as a “guarantee” of how sound she was. Artie perished in the sinking of Titanic, leaving behind a wife and three children (and, consequently, his very cool house):

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As we were walking around Belfast we came upon this Titanic memorial at City Hall. On the base of it there is listed every Belfast resident who lost their life on Titanic:

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And right there, 4th name from the top, is our friend Anthony Frost:

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The house was quite spacious. The boys each had their own room on the 3rd floor, we had the master suite on the 2nd floor, and the living space was on the 1st floor.  David and Jacob loved all of the stairs and they had races to see who could slide from the top floor down to the bottom the fastest:

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The view from the landing between the 2nd and 3rd floors of the house was pretty amazing. The house backs up to a church and, if you look into the distance, you can see the yellow gantry cranes of Harland and Wolff that still stand at the same shipyard where Titanic was built. I can just imagine Artie Frost standing here in his house and looking out this window to see the building of this unsinkable ship he had helped to design:

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After we got settled in that night we walked around the neighborhood and found a great little pizzeria for dinner. We were all pretty wiped out from our big day of travel so we just got our pizza to go and brought it back to the house to eat. And then, it was off to sleepy-land for all of us.

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The next morning (Saturday) we started our day in a neighborhood right down the street from where we were staying. Jon and I really wanted to come here because this is where one of our favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, got his start. C.S. Lewis holds a special place in our hearts because Jon and I actually met when we were in college studying one of his books together. We just had to see where the beginning of our beginning was.

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C.S. Lewis was born in this house, “Little Lea”, in 1898. He lived in this house until he joined the service during World War I when he was 19 years old:

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We couldn’t actually go inside the house because it is a private residence, but it was still fun to see it and picture where little C.S. (well, they called him Jack back then) used to roam. C.S. Lewis told his biographer that he used to spend hours upon hours playing in an upstairs room in this house when he was a boy–an empty room with nothing but a wardrobe–and that this was his inspiration for “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”.  Here is a photo that I found in a book in a library in Belfast of C.S. Lewis with his family standing on the front porch of Little Lea when he was a boy (C.S. Lewis is second from the left in this photo, wearing the black outfit):

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After our walk around C.S. Lewis-land we drove into the city for some exploring. We started at Victoria Square, a large shopping center in the heart of the city center. We got some coffee and then made the obligatory stop at the Belfast Apple store. Then we took the lift to the dome at the top of the shopping center where there were some amazing views of the city:

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Our shopping spree continued down the road at St. George’s Market, the oldest public market in Belfast. The market has a very interesting history that is shown in a series of photos that line the walls of the market. Apparently, during the Belfast Blitz of World War II this space was even used as a temporary mortuary to house the bodies of those who perished in the attack.

The Saturday morning market was buzzing with vendors selling everything from produce to meats to spices, baked goods, preserves, artwork, handicrafts, and toys. David got a new stuffed animal there, a hippo that he has named “David Junior”. As an added bonus, the boys also got to pet goats, rabbits, and baby chicks:IMG_2060

From the market we continued on to the Linen Hall Library, the oldest library in Belfast. Books were quite a rarity in Ireland when this library was built in 1788, so it was quite a landmark for its day. The library had a nice children’s area where the boys could play and read, and there was an amazing collection of Irish works on the top floor (including several written by and about our favorite Belfast-born author, C.S. Lewis):

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We spent our afternoon exploring the Titanic Belfast museum. The museum opened about 2 years ago, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. It is a beautiful modern museum with incredible exhibits. The museum is in the dock area of Belfast, on the actual site where Titanic was built in the early 1900’s. The building is even meant to resemble the shape and size of Titanic, so you really get a good idea of how massive the ship would have been:

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We spent several hours exploring the museum. There were lots of interactive exhibits that could engage even the fidgety-est of 3-year olds:

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There was even a ride in the museum that took you through the ship-building process. We got to ride in our own little pod that was suspended from the ceiling, almost like a gondola that went up and down and all around. It was hard to get a good photo on the ride because it was dark and moving, but we all had a great time!

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Wandering through the museum we even came across several places where “our” former house-owner, Anthony Frost, was mentioned:

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After seeing the entire Titanic Museum we decided to continue on to view one more piece of Titanic history, the pump house and docks where Titanic was fitted out for sea. On our way to the docks we passed Titanic Studios, a production studio where the T.V. show “Game of Thrones” is filmed:

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The Pump House (the area that housed machinery for pumping sea water in and out of the docks) was pretty much left exactly how it was in the early 1900’s when Titanic was housed outside its windows.  There were lots of big levers and wheels and buttons that the boys could touch, and lots of loud gangways that they could run (er…walk…) up and down:

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The docks themselves were amazing. Just this huge, huge pit in the ground where enormous ships would have sat until they were ready for sea. This photo shows Titanic sitting in the dock, with the empty dock behind it:
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We were able to go all the way to the bottom of the dock and stand where the bottom of Titanic would have sat. Being in the massive dock with towering walls rising 4 stories above your head gives you an appreciation for the people who would have been down here working on the ship every day. Let’s just say I’m glad that wasn’t my job!

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Suffice it to say, we saw lots of ships and “ship stuff” in Belfast. Alright, David, one down, one to go on the “ships and sheep tour”.

Our final excursion for the day was to drive by the “Peace Walls” that separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast. During The Troubles that scarred this city for nearly 40 years, these walls were erected to keep peace between warring groups of Protestants and Catholics. Even though city officials have tried to take down the walls in recent years, the residents living inside them insist that they remain standing. Many of the walls are covered in colorful murals:

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…and other sections of the walls just look like prison barriers, complete with barbed wire and police watch towers:

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This house even has a cage covering their entire back yard–just in case someone tries to throw a petrol bomb or something over the fence:

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It was crazy to see how some people in this city still live in fear–and even hatred–of their own neighbors.

The next day (Sunday) we made one more stop before heading out of town. We visited a unique “museum” called the Ulster Folk Park on the outskirts of Belfast city. The folk park consists of historical buildings from around Ulster (the region of Northern Ireland where Belfast is located) that have been relocated to the park. Each building was taken apart, stone-by-stone or brick-by-brick, and moved here to the park. The park is set up to look like a city and a rural community in Ulster during the early-1900’s. Guests can wander through the town, go inside the buildings, and even see actors dressed in period costume who demonstrate what life would have been like 100 years ago:

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I enjoyed sitting the boys down in the 1-room school house–boy am I glad I never had to work in one of those! One teacher, up to 100 children aged 6-12, 1 coal-burning fireplace for heat, 1 outhouse, and very few books or learning materials available. At least the pupils were cute:

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There were beautiful old farm houses that we could explore both outside:

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…and inside:
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There was even a man demonstrating how a printing press works–we were all very impressed:

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We found our way out to the “rural” part of the museum where there were working farms. We saw all sorts of animals, including donkeys, chickens, pigs, and SHEEP! Sheep: check.

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Our last stop at the folk park was the town sweet shop so we could pick up some treats for the looooong drive back to Cork. David chose the largest, most ridiculously-colored rainbow lollipop in the store.

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The folk park was huge–we were there for over 3 hours and we still didn’t see everything. Alas, it was time for us to say goodbye to Belfast and hit the road. We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in Belfast, and we’d love to come back to Northern Ireland again soon to explore the Northern coast and surrounding areas. For now, though, I think we can leave saying that we saw all that we came to see–even ships and sheep.

The Ring of Kerry and Killarney

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My parents just came for a visit (read all about it here) and, while they were here, Jon and I managed to sneak away for a couple of days to enjoy some time together. Since our time alone is so rare, we wanted to do something that would be best done without our kids. We’ve really been wanting to drive the Ring of Kerry, a scenic tour along Ireland’s coastline. We knew that the boys would go berserk sitting in a car for 8 hours while we marveled at the natural beauty surrounding us so, it was decided, on to the Ring of Kerry we went sans children.

We drove up to Killarney the day before our self-guided tour so that we would be able to get an early start on driving “The Ring” the next morning. Killarney is a cute little town with lots of pubs, restaurants, shops and Victorian-era hotels. We stayed at the Arbutus Hotel right in the middle of town. It was a charming family-run hotel that has been passed down from generation to generation. When we checked in we were greeted with tea and warm homemade gingerbread by the fireplace. It was so warm and cozy and…quiet.

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After a nap–because, as any parents of young children know, sleep is the most precious thing you can get on vacation–we went out to explore town. We did a little shopping, went out for dinner, and visited a few pubs to listen to some trad (traditional Irish music). We didn’t stay out too late, though, because tomorrow was going to be our big day of driving The Ring and we’d need to get an early start.

The next morning we had a delicious breakfast at the hotel before heading out to The Ring.  We followed Rick Steve’s Guide to driving the Ring of Kerry so we actually drove in the opposite direction of the tour buses.  Since we were there during the off-season, there was very little traffic and we were able to pull off at every scenic pull-out that we wanted to see (which just so happened to be every scenic pull-out).

Our first stop was a waterfall that was a short hike off the road. It was raining so we didn’t want to bring the big fancy camera on our little escapade into the woods but, trust me, it was beautiful! I think that if we make it out this way again we will bring our hiking boots and just do some hikes–there are miles and miles of trails leading to the most incredible sites! Even the boys would have fun romping through the woods.

Our next stop was at a vista overlooking the Lakes of Killarney. There are 3 large lakes–Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and Upper Lake–surrounded on all sides by lush vegetation and striking mountains (the photo at the top of this post is also of us posing by the Lakes of Killarney):

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While we were at Ladies View looking at the lakes some mist blew in over the water. If you look closely at the photo below you can see a little rainbow near the bottom of the photo:

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There were lots of beautiful old buildings along the road. This is an old church perched between a river and a small mountain:

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And this is a castle on somebody’s private property. There was actually a “For Sale” sign posted nearby, so I’m wondering if we could actually buy some land with our own little castle. Best Irish souvenir ever!
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Next stop was the Staigue Ring Fort (so called because of it’s circular shape). Staigue Fort was built somewhere around 300-400 AD but historians don’t know the exact purpose of why it was built or who built it.  The fort was quite impressive with 13-foot thick stone walls and two little chambers that you could walk inside. It’s amazing to me that something that was built 1700 years ago–with no mortar and only the most basic of tools–is still standing right where it’s original builders left it.

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From the Ring Fort we continued on to a vista of the Skellig Islands and the Skellig Experience Visitor Center.  These two islands have quite the history.

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The smaller island, Little Skellig, is home to one of the world’s largest seabird colonies with over 30,000 pairs of Gannets (and, I’m guessing, one of the largest piles of guano in this hemisphere). The larger island, Skellig Michael, is the site of an ancient monastic settlement. Some time in the 6th century monks sailed the 12 miles out to Skellig Michael and labored to create stone huts and thousands of hand-carved stairs into the mountainous terrain. Despite four Viking raids and being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for 1400 years, the entire settlement is still in tact. During the summer months, visitors can actually charter boats out to the Skellig Michael and walk around the ancient huts and chapels where the monks lived and worshiped. Again, I am impressed.

Another must-stop attraction near the Skellig Islands is the Skellig Chocolate Factory.

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This has to be the most remote chocolate factory in the world, but the quality of their chocolates means that people are still willing to drive hundreds of miles to get a taste. We went into the factory for their free chocolate taste testing, and we ended up spending a small fortune on chocolates to take home to get us through the long Irish winter ahead.

Continuing along the road our next stop was the town of Waterville. Waterville was home to Charlie Chaplin and his wife for a time, so there are several statues and mementos dedicated to the silent film star in town. We pulled over here for some lunch (sub-par food) and a walk along the ocean (phenomenal).

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After lunch we continued our drive and enjoyed amazing view after amazing view:

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We drove by several “famine villages”–houses and farms that were abandoned in the countryside during the Great Irish Famine of the mid-1800’s. There were hundreds and hundreds of these abandoned houses in Kerry, so it really gave us a picture of the devastation that the Famine must have brought this region.

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Our final stop on the Ring of Kerry was a place called, appropriately, “The Best View On The Ring of Kerry”.  We walked up a path to the top of a cliff where we were greeted by stunning views of the ocean beyond:

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And the cliffs below:

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By this time we’d been driving on The Ring for over 7 hours and our daylight was starting to wane. Luckily we had already seen all that we came to see and it was time to head back for home. We had a wonderful time enjoying the natural beauty of Ireland and spending some quality time together.

And now, after a glorious mini-vacation, we are gearing up for our first-ever BIG family vacation! On Monday we leave for two weeks in London and Paris. Bon Voyage!

Killarney Day Trip

We’ve spent the last couple of weekends laying low (really low…we’ve been sick). Now that everyone is back on two feet again (or, in Jacob’s case, two knees) we were itching to get out and do something fun. A few days ago I met some tourists from New Zealand who told me about an amazing place they had just visited–and I knew right away that it would be our next adventure.

Welcome to Killarney. Or, as I will be referring to it from now on, The-Most-Beautiful-Place-On-God’s-Green-Earth. It was fascinating.

It took us a little over an hour to drive out to Killarney–practically on our back doorstep. Killarney is part of The Ring of Kerry, a 100-mile loop through some of the most incredible scenery you will ever witness.

We started our day at the Gap of Dunloe, a narrow mountain pass that winds though a lake-laden valley. There is one teeny-tiny road that goes through the Gap, so you can’t drive your car through. Instead, many people were hiking (and, if we didn’t have two ticking time bombs called toddlers with us, we probably would have done the same). We decided to go with the other popular option, a horse-drawn trap. The trap was basically a small carriage with bouncy little seats and a friendly driver. It was wonderful. Before we got on our trap, David got to meet some of the live transportation:

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When it was time to board our horse-drawn trap, we all climbed in and held on. Our horse’s name was Kinny (he was 12 years old and very good-natured) and our driver’s name was Dan (he was as old as the hills and called me ma’am).

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The road took us through a grassy valley filled with sheep of every color. Well, the sheep themselves were mostly white, but they all had colorfully-painted backs. Each owner paints his sheep a different color to keep the herds distinguishable, and the end result was a rainbow of baaing onlookers as we rolled past.

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We rode out to five different lakes, each enchanting in it’s own magical way. Everything was so pure and still and beautiful. The photos really don’t do it justice.

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We paused for a walking break at one of the lakes and got to poke around some (400 year old) cottages. What a beautiful place that must have been to live!

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We all agreed that our ride through the Gap was one of the most magnificent tours we’d ever been on. And, oh! Our day was just getting started.

From the Gap we drove back through the town of Killarney to Killarney National Park. The Park is huge–over 25,000 acres. We parked near one of the entrances and went in for some lunch and a little walk. There were beautiful gardens:

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And a marvelous place called Muckross House:

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The boys were starting to get antsy at this point so we decided to cut our time in the park short and head out to one final destination: Ross Castle.

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I really can’t get enough of the castles here in Ireland, and you can see why. They’re incredible! This castle is perched on the edge of a deep blue lake surrounded by mountains.  You can take boat rides out from the castle to explore the lakes and islands (one of which has the ruins of a 6th century monastery on it), but we were running short on time (that is, time before one of our children exploded).

Ross Castle was built in the late 1500’s as a personal residence, and today it has been restored for people like me to come and gawk. The castle is mostly intact, so there were lots of fun places to explore. We had a great time exploring the grounds and touring the interior of the castle. We may have even scaled a few rocky walls.

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Thank you, Killarney, for the beautiful day and the incredible memories.