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2020 Trip to Ireland, February 12-19, 2020

by Jenny and Charlie Plesums


Somebody looked through our travelogues and said "Why haven't you been to Ireland? I'm surprised." We agreed, so we planned a trip. A few days in Dublin, then a drive cross country (4 hours) to Dingle for a couple days on the west coast.

Getting there

We had other commitments early on Wednesday, so scheduled the late afternoon flight on British Airways non-stop from Austin to London Heathrow, connecting to a BA flight to Dublin arriving Thursday afternoon. It was on this BA flight that Charlie passed the 2 million mile mark on American Airlines and partners.

As usual, we recommend withdrawing the equivalent of about US$100 on arrival. Most of the ATMs in the airport were from money changers (expensive) but finally we found one associated with a bank, and withdrew €100. We used very little cash; almost everything was on a credit card, but we will be back in Europe soon, so excess Euros is not an issue.

We waited to get the SIM card for one of our phones until we were in town; we then paid €22 for unlimited voice and data for a week on Eir (the biggest network).

Airllink Bus 747 is the preferred way into the city - a double decker bus with lots of luggage racks, that runs about every 15 minutes for €7 per person (€6 on their web site). In about 20 minutes it dropped us about a block from our hotel.

Thursday February 13

Our hotel, Jury's Inn Christchurch, was adjacent to Christ Church Cathedral, originally built by the Vikings in 1030, then Roman Catholic, then Church of England, then Church of Ireland (and perhaps a couple other changes over it's history). This picture was from our hotel room.

We checked in, rested a bit, and walked to the shopping area near Trinity College.

The church has an interesting sense of humor. This is a bronze "person" sleeping on the bench next to the church.

Friday February 14

Within walking distance of our hotel was the "Guinness Storehouse" visitor center - 8 floors of fun.

As the tour began, you could see the original 9000 year lease for the brewery.

There were displays emphasizing the ingredients... in this case, super pure water. There was a room filled with barley, like the floors originally used to germinate the barley before use.

Hops makes beer different than other spirits, and grows in vines as much as 12 feet tall. Before automation, the vines were cut and then stripped in the factory.

Wooden vats and barrels have now been replaced with stainless steel and aluminum tanks and pipes, but there was a very narrow gauge railroad through the brewery to move the barrels in the past.

And another historic locomotive. For many years they also had their own fleet of ships to deliver product, but it is now brewed in many countries.

After teaching us how to properly drink Guinness (don't sip it since the foam is bitter, made with nitrogen rather than carbon dioxide), we moved on to their advertising over the years. One long-running program was "Guinness makes you strong," with a cartoon character carrying a steel beam.

They also had a fake Guinness Trademark harp that you could play... no strings but lines on plastic, when your finger went near the lines, it detected your fingers and made the corresponding sound.

We got formal training on how to properly pour a Guinness... the angle of the glass, the wait for the head to form (see the glass at the left, with the cloudy brew clearing to form the head). Most carbonated beverages use CO2 to form the gas; Guinness adds Nutrogen which forms the head (but has a different taste).

Success at last. Of course, testing is required.

And finally to the glass enclosed top floor for a view of the brewery and the city.

Saturday February 15

Finally we visited Christ Church Cathedral, just across the street from our hotel. It was first built by Vikings in 1030, and has evolved through many buildings and functions until it is now the primary cathedral of the Church of Ireland, separate from but in communion with the Church of England (Episcopal).

The photo of the nave doesn't capture the beautiful stained glass

The church is well known for it's music. The organ is fairly new, but the the most famous performance of the choir was the very first performance of Handel's Messiah in April 1742. Yes the organ console is in the balcony above the choir.

The baptistery has windows of St. Patrick (of course), but also features every type of marble found in Ireland.

The lady chapel has stunning stained glass of the passion of Christ, the crucifixion. The pointy cabinet is the bottom is a stunning bright red carved tabernacle (no longer in use).

Of course, if it is a Cathedral it has to have a seat for the bishop - or at least for the elected president of Ireland.

For centuries the crypt was used as a burial place, but now it is used as a treasury (and gift shop). Some of this gold plated silver was a gift of King William III and Queen Mary in 1620.

One of the less elegant pieces on display are these mummified cat and rat, discovered stuck inside one of the organ pipes about 1850

As we left the church and walked towards the museum we encountered this bronze sculpture of "Molly Malone" of the song

In Dublin's fair city,
Where girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she pushed her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh!"

Now she was a fishmonger,
And sure twas no wonder,
For so were her mother and father before,....

third verse...
She died of a fever,
And no one could save her,
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone.
Now her ghost wheels her barrow,.....

In the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology we encountered this huge (about 50 feet long) historic dugout canoe from 2500 BC

Lots of gold jewelry. Apparently much was buried in the peat bogs for safe keeping, in the era before bank vaults and safes.

There was also a huge exhibit of gold artifacts.

This mummy found in a peat bog was quite complete and well preserved. They also had several partial bodies that were even more completely preserved.

Our plan was to next walk to the Jameson distillery, but the rain sprinkles turned to a downpour, and the wind came up. Our umbrellas proved useless in the wind, our legs were soaked to the crotch, and Jenny's shoes were squishing water through the leather. Half way to the distillery we were a block from our hotel so we abandoned the plan, returned to our hotel room, and dried out.

By dinner time, we had changed to dry clothes, the rain had subsided, so we went to church a few blocks from our hotel and out to dinner.

Sunday February 16 - Drive Dublin to Dingle - 4 hours

Renting a car in Ireland is a challenge... your own insurance does not work abroad, and the insurance provided by Master Card and Visa does not work in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Israel, or Jamaica. (It took a long time on the phone before we departed to confirm that ugly news.) So I called Avis directly to be sure we had the right insurance - we have no experience using the overpriced insurance from the car rental companies. Avis has cars as low as US$0.84 per day, but a more realistic choice is around $11 per day. Three days rental would be about $33 for the three days, but with Ireland insurance it came to $156. Okay (ouch), sign me up.

As I was collecting the car, the gentleman looked at my license and said "I see you are over 75. Where is the note from your doctor saying you are healthy enough to drive? And the certificate from your insurance company at home that you are a safe driver with no accidents in the last 5 years." I didn't expect those requirements. Our non-refundable reservations were in a small town 4 hours away. I was not a happy customer.

Fortunately I am a cradle robber. Jenny is only 74, compared to my 76 11/12, so she was able to rent the car. We won't mention that I have done virtually all the foreign driving (including left side of the road driving) for the last 30 years. Thankfully we had reserved a car with automatic transmission (not that common in Ireland).

Four hours later we checked into the Milltown House Guesthouse on Dingle Bay. The little blue car in the parking lot is our Chariot as seen from our room.

Monday February 17

The plan for the day was to do the scenic drive around the Dingle Peninsula. A couple guide books and local folks said to be sure to go clockwise - on the two lane roads it is sometimes hard to pass cars coming towards you, so most people follow that advice. Yes, this is two lanes, 50 mph (80 kmh) speed limit. Sure. (Many roads were really two cars wide ... two very small cars wide. During high season there are many tour buses on this road, but thankfully we saw none. At one point a semi decided to pass us on a road like this. My heart has almost returned to normal.

The ancient cemeteries are interspersed with active cemeteries. Older gravestones are labeled in Gaeilge (Gaelic normally means Scottish rather than Irish.) Today only 1.7% of the native population speak Irish/Gaeilge on a daily basis; English is the dominant language.

Another cemetery. It is commmon for the graves to be covered with stones. Since the ground is so rocky, perhaps these were traditionally the stones removed when digging the grave.

We saw lots of sheep flocks in the fields

Historically significant were the stone fences between fields and pastures. In the past, seaweed and sand were brought from the coast to work into the soil so it could grow crops, at one time potatoes, and the stones from the fields became fences.

Much of the coastline is rugged. "Ryan's Daughter" (a classic 1970 Irish film) was shot in this area - it still seemed familiar 50 years later.

The mountain scenery in the other direction was beautiful as well.

We found several of these huge crosses beside the road.

We encountered the Kilmalkedar Church built around 1200 and before, on the site of a monastery whose founder died in 636. There were graves around the church but what little engraving was still visible was not in English.

Even though the roof was gone, it was amazingly preserved.

This western most part of Ireland is rugged - no sunny beaches. They call it the western most part of Europe, but Iceland is farther west, and the Europe/American geological plates split under Iceland.

Back over the hills to return to Dingle. A very nice drive, especially with off-season light traffic.

Back at the inn, we were met by Seamus, the giant Irish wolfhound and friends. I looked for where they kept the saddles.

The Dingle Distillery founded in 2012 is practically across the road. The owners made whiskey, gin, and vodka, until a master Distiller was recruited. He arrived in October 2019, after 14 years at Glen Moray, following 11 years at Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie. Since Irish whiskey takes a minimum of 3 years (and more often 10+ years) to mature, they are making gin and vodka (in weeks rather than years) to pay the bills until the whiskey matures.

Despite the new master distiller, they have a fair variety of whiskeys. They were very smooth and tasty. Limited availability in USA, about $90 per bottle; batch 2 and 3 have great reviews but one reviewer did not like batch 4.

The large wooden mash tanks (where the fermentation takes place before distillation in the copper stills in the background)

The smaller still is used for gin and vodka, which is a much faster process than whiskey since it doesn't require years of aging..

Semi-automatic bottling takes place just past the stills.

Their trademark is outside the distillery entrance, a wrenboy - an Irish tradition that involves people in straw costumes collecting donations for charity on St. Stephen's Day (December 26).

Tuesday February 18 - back to Dublin

Fond farewell to Milltown House Inn. Only 10 guest rooms, all recently refurbished, and only a few occupied during this off season, so extraordinarily quiet and peaceful.

The Harbor in front of the inn sees an 6 to 11 foot change in water level with the tides, and with a 42 degree water temperature we weren't tempted to get wet.

Lots of interesting old churches in the little towns at the beginning of the trip back.

The roads leading to the Motorway were not as challenging as the scenic tour.

And yes, that Avis sign in the passenger windshield does remind us to drive on the left.

Wednesday February 19 - Return Home

We spent Tuesday night at the Maldron Hotel at the Dublin Airport. They have a nice restaurant for Tuesday dinner. They run a shuttle to the airport every 20 minutes around the clock, but they are close enough that we might have been able to walk. The car was returned Tuesday evening, and the Avis shuttle dropped us directly at the hotel. British Airways flight to London departed at 7:10 am (ugh), then connecting on the BA flight from London directly to Austin.

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