Army,  Europe,  ExPat,  Travel

Eleven Equals Ireland

Our trip to Ireland corresponded with Hunter’s eleventh birthday and Jules and I allowed him to plan much of the agenda.  Unfortunately Ireland in February is low season and most tourist attractions close early and some even close for the winter months.  This helped slim down the agenda somewhat but still forced Hunter to make choices.

The 150 minute flight from Munich to Dublin touched down at approximately 1430 leaving just 1.5 hours to visit highlights in Dublin as most places close at 1700 during the winter months (accounting for the commute to town).

Enjoying The Munich Executive Lounge Pre-Departure

DRIVING ON THE LEFT 

This also included the time required to drive into Dublin.  Now I have to be honest, while I love travel and almost never get nervous; I was nervous at driving in Ireland.  It just seems so unnatural to drive from the passenger seat of an automobile.  This more than driving on the left side of the road is what had me most nervous.

Driving is about spatial reasoning and with the backcountry class B roads we would be traversing, I would need to be a master of spatial reasoning.  You have to decide in a split second if you will have enough space to have your side view mirror avoid the oncoming car’s side view mirror or if you need to correct towards your outer side and if so by how much and how your car will react to what is just off the pavement.  Frequently the shoulder would be a brick or stone wall.  More frequently it would be hedges.  Sometimes it would be two foot ditches.  Sometimes that split second calculation had to determine that you must stop and do so immediately so that you and the opposing driver could pass each other much the way one threads a needle–deliberately and slowly.

Unfortunately social media did not help with my anxiety as most of the reviews I read were Americans traveling in Ireland with very little European driving experience.  Having lived in Deutschland for over six months I have become accustomed to narrow country roads that frequently require you to drive 100 k.p.h on the shoulder for a brief period of time if you encounter an oncoming car during one of the more narrow pieces.  What is different in Deutschland is the Deutsche are fastidious about everything including their roads and that means the shoulder is always leveled and unencumbered.  They also drive on the right in Deutschland.

But to downtown Dublin and Trinity College we went.  Luckily for us there is traffic in much of Dublin.  That gifted me the luxury of time to focus on the decisions required to drive successfully in Ireland.  Including at roundabouts where the urge to enter one and go right was as strong as what I imagine Anakin felt when being pulled to the dark side.

TOURING DOWNTOWN DUBLIN IN 90 MINUTES 

Hunter had been prepped regarding his wish list for Dublin.  We would only be in Dublin for a few hours after touchdown and would then head to our AirBnB in the Boyne River Valley.

He had shown interest in Trinity College, The Dublin General Post Office, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Glasnevin Cemetery, and the Guinness Storefront (thrown in obviously as a bone to his parents, sadly a Jameson’s bone was not thrown).

TRINITY COLLEGE~OLD LIBRARY~LONG ROOM

The Long Room

With everything closing at 1700 Hunter chose the Old Library at Trinity College.  Trinity College was founded 100 years after Christopher Columbus landed in America, 1592, and houses the largest library in Ireland.  But to many it’s known for a 1,600 year old book containing the four Gospels that was scribed by Monks, the Book of Kells.

Unfortunately The Book of Kells had been removed temporarily prior to our visit as part of scheduled maintenance.  This did not deter Hunter from making the Old Library his only choice for Dublin.  Being a bookworm, as are all our kids, he was happy to visit the museum that normally houses the book as well as read about the Book of Kells and visit the Long Room.

The Long Room is upstairs in the Old Library from the Book of Kells.  For graduates of the Universitas Viridis Montis imagine the North Lounge of the Billings Library.  On steroids.

On display is the national symbol of Ireland, the Harp.  The Harp dates back over 500 years and is considered one of the three oldest in Ireland.

The Long Room houses 40 marble busts–all male (which the university provost set out to upend in the fall of 2019.  It was great watching the reaction of the children to the names on the bust.

Perhaps most surprising was the reaction Eva and Acadia had to the bust bearing the name of Plato.  They instantly recognized the name and were drawn to the figure. Not having educated my children on Greek philosophers I questioned in what way they learned of him.  Apparently he serves as a character in the Magic Tree House series.

Having been raised on Milton jokes as a teenager in Burlington, Vermont I couldn’t help but giggle upon seeing the bust of Milton.  Real mature Scot, real mature.

The Bacon bust demonstrates how the six degrees of Bacon even applies to great minds such as Plato.

IOWA STATE LIBRARY IN DUBLIN?

The stairwell leading to the top floor in the Long Room was not needed when the library was first built. It was only after the collection started expanding that they decided to ‘raise the roof’ and build an additional floor that the stairwell came into play.  I include this photograph because it reminds me of the most beautiful library I have seen in the world. The Iowa State Library located in the Capitol.

Too Afraid To Face The Zombie Storefront

No joke.  It truly is the most beautiful library in the world.  While driving across America with Jules and the kids in April 2019 we found ourselves in Des Moines, Iowa getting lunch at Zombie Burger.  Oh my gosh those burgers and shakes are phenomenal.   Unfortunately, our children were terrified by the decor and we had to eat on the terrace even if it was a bit chilly (we raised our kids on things like the Brady Bunch so Walking Dead motif isn’t really their thing).

Back to the library.

For those that know I’m a political junkie BECAUSE I am a government junkie. Government fascinates me.  City, state, federal, or foreign government, you name it. Well when we finished lunch at Zombie Burger in the shadow of the Capitol building, I had to step inside.

Jules and Acadia wanted to stay behind so it was just myself with Hunter and Eva.  Due to this fact I knew we didn’t have the hours to wander around as I would have liked.  After all, we did have a 17 hour drive waiting for us to North Carolina.

To ensure we used our time wisely I chatted up the security personnel screening us at the entrance.  He looks over at me and says, ‘I’d go to the library’. Kind of funny answer to the question where is the one place you would visit in the Capitol.  But to the library we decided to go.

IOWA CAPITOL

Now his directions were multi-step and long.  After several minutes I turned to Hunter, the elephant memory child, and asked for his recall.  He claimed we were told to get on an elevator that I absolutely did not recall being told to use.  However, nine times out of ten when we recall things differently, he usually recalls it correctly. So into the elevator we went.

Yeah, this was that one out of ten times he was wrong and I was right.

Iowa State Capitol Dome

The elevator doors open and we are standing just outside the member door to the Iowa House of Representatives directly behind the Speaker.  There was an older gentleman in a suit sitting in a chair not more than five feet from us reading a book oblivious to our presence. Until I said, ‘excuse me sir but I think we are somewhere we shouldn’t be’.

He slowly looked up from his book, not stunned at all.  He brought us over to the edge of the House floor where a member was speaking to the

chamber and pointed to the opposite side of the room and gestured to where the library was located.  He said very matter of factly that it was straight across the chamber but of course we couldn’t go that way. That we would in fact have to go down a flight of stairs, walk a distance, and then take a flight of stairs up.  Man I love Iowans.

Following the mix-up we made our way to the Iowa State Library and I am so grateful we did.  I cherish that experience tremendously.

Back to the island of Ireland.

Enjoying The Choral Music

Leaving the Old Library we strode across campus to reach the streets of Dublin and on to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  During our walk we began to hear choral singing emanating from the portico of the university chapel.

Honestly, I cannot fathom how our visit to this revered institution could have been more special than an impromptu concert by this co-ed group of musicians.  Listening to the music while standing in the courtyard (pictured below) between the historic buildings that have been described as monumentally 18th century was awe inspiring.  It moved you emotionally but paralyzed you from moving.

MAKE LEINSTER HOUSE GREAT AGAIN!

It started in the gift shop in the Old Library at Trinity College (right now you’re asking yourself, another Old Library story?  Yes, another one).  About the only thing my children love as much as books are gift shops.  Boy do they love gift shops.  Hunter’s choice in the library gift shop was surprisingly not a book.  It was a bookmark.  Showing the books of the Long Room.

Ireland’s Parliament

When Hunter and I approached the counter to pay, we engaged the salesman in friendly conversation.  He remarked what friendly people we were and said he was going to put something special in Hunter’s bag.  A bag which really isn’t necessary considering we only purchased a bookmark.  Then Eva appeared.

The salesman asked who she was and next thing I know he shoves another surprise into the bag.  Then Eva opens her mouth that Acadia wont be happy and the salesman asks to whom is she referring.  Our other sister Eva replies.  The salesman pulls out a second bag and shoves something else in that bag.

Keep in mind we are now up to two bags and our only purchase is a bookmark.

When we went outside we opened the bags to discover these Trinity College hats.  They were marked at 11 Euro each but presumably they were discontinued and the salespeople were advised to give them away as they deemed appropriate.

So the five Euro bookmark netted us the bookmark plus 33 Euro in hats.  And if you have kids you know what kids think of as hats for souvenirs.  And if you don’t have kids, take a look at this picture and you can see what kids think of as hats for souvenirs.

Be honest.  When you saw this picture your mind instantly played tricks on you.  Yeah, it did to Jules and I as well.

The hats were the first instance of what would become a recurring theme in Ireland, legendary Irish friendliness and generosity that is unparalleled to what I have experienced previously in my globetrotting.

But back to Leinster House.  Just a block in the other direction from where we parked for Trinity College was a building that just eked of governmentalness.  Remember what I said about how I feel about government?  Yeah, I could smell this one.

Incidentally it was cold and windy (not rainy) and Acadia had started to complain about how far her little legs had taken her when I spied this building on our way to the car.  I begged her indulgence–which she acknowledged with moans–and we proceeded to the gates of Leinster House.

Leinster House is home to Ireland’s parliament.  Tours stopped at, yep you guessed it, 1700, so no luck there.  But we did get to see their parliament building.

THE IRISH NATIONAL ARCHIVES?

NOT Neoclassical architecture

On our walk through downtown Dublin we passed a building that I could smell was governmental.  Crossing the street I saw that it was Ireland’s National Archives.  Unfortunately tours stopped at, yep you guessed it, 1700.

Let there be no mistake I love Ireland.  I love the people, their countryside, their culture.  However, I will take the architecture of the United States National Archives any day (sorry Ayn Rand for the superfluous architectural feature cheerleading).

BREXIT, THE IRISH MURAL

Trinity College Political Art

It’s been a fun ride with a second row seat to Brexit (second only because we live in Deutschland, the influence center of the European Union and not Britain).  As we walked across the Trinity campus (yes, ANOTHER Trinity photo and quip) I spotted this re-creation and knew it was Brexit driven without any further explanation.

After returning to Deutschland I researched the artist to learn a little more about her mural here.

IRELAND–LAND OF FEBRUARY BLOOMS

The Original Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

Coming from Vermont at the 45th parallel to Dublin at the 53rd parallel it is bewildering to see all the February blooms but there it is.

Ireland was like North Carolina, blooms all over the countryside and in the cities.  On trees, in bushes, in the ground, you name it, it was blossoming.

SLANE CASTLE

This trip was unusual for me in terms of the amount of planning that went into it.

Slane Castle

I recall one trip with Jules pre-kids when we were hopping across the Greek Islands.  It was low season so my preference was to wait and see on which island we would remain for the night before finding overnight accommodations.  At one point Jules asked me, ‘can we just pre-book a place for tomorrow night?’.  I am actually very detail oriented in many things in my life however vacations are one area where I prefer to be laissez-faire.

In preparation for our Ireland trip I spent an inordinate amount of time on restaurant research.  Unusual for me not because I do not appreciate a a fine meal but when I’m traveling, it’s usually more about the people and the views first and second before the food.  However being a good husband I’m finally learning after 15 years of marriage that knowing when and where to stop before we drive through a three hour no restaurant wasteland is probably a good idea.

We would be leaving Dublin around dinnertime heading to our AirBnB in Ardee and because it was a small village I couldn’t expect anything to be open.  In fact I couldn’t even expect there to be any option, let alone it being open.  Compounding the issue was not keeping our AirBnB host waiting for check-in.

I had found several options within 15 minutes of country driving near our stay for the night and ultimately settled on Browne’s Bar in Slane Castle.  It was the perfect choice for our first meal in Ireland.

As you can see from the photograph we had the Castle nearly to ourselves.  There were two diners in the bistro when we entered but they soon left (perhaps it was our American accent).

The bistro sits next to the more formal restaurant and is named for Mary Browne who had lived in the space while serving as the castle housekeeper.

Hunter who loves seafood and eats like a linebacker had been looking forward to eating fish and chips for each meal during our trip to Ireland.  After ordering fish and chips they brought out sausage and chips to a stunned Hunter.  This was one of the few times we knew for certain as restaurant patrons that it was the server who had misheard rather than the customer misspeaking.  There was no way he would order anything other than fish and chips.  It was no problem for Katie our server as she apologized, put in the new order, and offered to leave the extra entree at our table.

An Empty Browne’s Bar, Slane Castle

Speaking of the staff, we had an opportunity to meet three out of four.  Christian who was serving the main dining room–I poked my head into the space to see what transformations they had made to the space.  When I complimented the massive stone columns scattered throughout the tight restaurant space Christian remarked that confirmations were difficult as the children put their grubby little hands over the column stonework.  After mentioning this, all I could see were the hand prints.  Christian mentioned they brought in experienced stone craftsmen twice a year to remove the grubby handprints but pretty much for ten out of twelve months of the year, you were looking at handprints.

Then in our dining room we had Katie as well as Sean the bartender.  Sean provided much of the information regarding the legendary concerts that had taken place at this sleepy castle where at times we were the only patrons.  Among the folks who had performed lawn concerts on the castle’s front lawn were U2, Madonna, the Rolling Stones, and GnR.

At the end of dinner Eva and Acadia received their desserts that came as part of the children’s menu. In keeping with the Irish generosity, Katie brought Hunter an exquisite banana split sundae as part of the kids menu even though he was eating off the adult menu.  While I know this seems trivial to mention it just reflects a broader sense of hospitality that is evident in Ireland.  It’s hard not to feel nickel and dimed in the United States at restaurants whereas here they were treating Hunter to what would be a $7-8 dessert (it may have been off the children’s menu but it was adult sized and reminded me of one of the fantastic creations you could find on a Friendly’s dessert menu.

Slane Castle is also home to a distillery.  Although the distillery was not open when we visited the castle, we enjoyed their whiskey with dinner and did take a bottle home to Deutschland from the airport in Ireland (no duty-free for us as we fly from one EU country to another).

ARDEE AIRBNB

Our AirBnB Is The Cottage On The Left

It wasn’t until I moved to Europe that I began to employ the services of AirBnB.  Until then it was just a quaint business disruptor that millennials and people my age who didn’t realize they were in their forties used.

While we still stay at Hiltons and Marriotts where available during our European trips we have also added AirBnB to the arsenal.  My favorite stay so far was the home we found in Ardee, Ireland.  Ar-where you ask?   Exactly.  This home is located nowhere but also in the middle of the Boyne River Valley where everything is happening.

Cozy Cottage

Our Ardee AirBnb was originally a tenants cottage that housed two families and was built most likely in the 19th century.  The hosts, Ellie and Barry, live in the 2005 building on the right.  The road ended outside our cottage so what was already a desolate area was even more so.

Honestly, I was planning on starting each day early to maximize our time in Ireland but then I went to bed in this cottage and didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  The two bedrooms are on the second floor with A frame ceilings complete with skylights.  With Storm Ciara bearing down on Ireland we could see the tree branches bending outside as well as hear the howling wind.  Furthermore we were just below a ridgeline with turbines and when the wind howl died down you could hear the ‘WHOMP….WHOMP….WHOMP’ of the blades spinning.  It was a very meditative sound.

Broken Key In Whiskeyland

One of the pictures caught the girls in the middle of a game of Roald Dahl Monopoly on the beautiful large slab slate floors.  In summer I’m sure these keep you quite cool but in the winter it is like walking on ice.  I’m getting soft from all the radiant heat in Deutschland.  The upstairs was covered in wide plank wood floors.

The picture of the broken key shows what happens when you marry a very athletic woman.  Not knowing her own strength Jules just turned the key to the home until she cranked off the top.  That was a great message exchange with the host, ‘I’m sorry that my wife broke your key like a pretzel stick’.  As far as the whiskey is concerned, we were not hitting distilleries on this trip so we made up for that by bringing nips homes to sample at night.

BOYNE RIVER VALLEY~NEWGRANGE

Prior To Entering New Grange

Newgrange.  The Neolithic attraction in Ireland that no one you know has ever visited.

In case you didn’t know, Neolithic simply identifies items from the New Stone Age.  This compares to items from the Old Stone Age, or the Paleolithic era.

Okay, enough with the history lesson, what are you trying to tell me?  I’m trying to tell you the tomb you see below is older than Stonehenge.  It is older than the Great Pyramids.  The tomb you see below is over 5,000 years old.

Outside The Entrance To Newgrange

Probably the best benefit of turning agenda planning for this trip over to a ten year old with massive intellectual curiosity and limited real world experience is that their search patterns are not guided by accepted norms.  The result is places like Newgrange appearing on your agenda.  For that I’m grateful.

Newgrange was only a 30 minute drive from our AirBnB.  Hunter had built this in as a relaxing day for our journey where we would casually enjoy a few of the local attractions.  Because rain was expected to roll in later in the day we headed out around 9am.  The parking lot at Newgrange presented a scene we would see repeated for the duration of our Ireland trip–empty and desolate.  They may have been ten cars in the parking lot.  Once again, visiting Ireland in February was paying dividends.

The visitor center was beautiful but still a distance from the actual mounds upon which they focus.  This required our family to walk a bridge crossing the Boyne River and then take a visitor shuttle five minutes to the actual Newgrange Mound.  There are many mounds in the area and during the summer they visit Knowth and Dowth mounds as well.  However, during the winter months only Newgrange is open for viewing.

Entrance To The 5,200 Year Old Temple

As part of the visit you enter the Newgrange mound and your guide recreates how the sun casts its shadow each winter solstice.  At this and only this time of year the sun will light up the interior chamber.  Absolutely amazing in that to get this right it may have taken them several years of just working on the entry passage.  After all, if it wasn’t lined up just right, they needed to reconstruct the entry and light tunnel and then wait an entire year for the next winter solstice.

The dome inside the chamber is held up by the pressure of the rocks surrounding it pressing in.  The mound consists of different materials from regions more than 25 miles from Newgrange at a time when Ireland was covered in trees and passage was difficult.

One of those materials, kerbstones, came from the seacoast with some stones weighing as much as 20,000 pounds.  You can see examples of the kerbstones just behind Jules and the children.  You may also see the swirl on the kerbstone just above Acadia and next to Hunter’s head.  Many of the 97 kerbstones at Newgrange are decorated with Neolithic art such as the three interlocking circles.

Our guide told us of the BBC trying to recreate how those Neolithic farmers may have moved these 20,000 pound stones the tens of miles required to get them to Newgrange.  While rolling a kerbstone across logs, a local farmer asked them what they were doing.  Following their explanation the farmer responded that he didn’t know how they did it 5,000 years ago but he used seaweed.  Sure enough, the BBC put seaweed on the ground and was able to push the stone.  And what grows along the seacliffs where these stones were quarried?  Seaweed.

Final thoughts.  Our guide was informative and funny.  The grounds were perfect for children as it gave them plenty of space to run.

BOYNE RIVER VALLEY~HILL OF TARA

Tara From Teamhair na Ri Meaning Sanctuary Of The Kings

The Hill of Tara conveys many meanings.

As with Newgrange, the Hill of Tara dates back to the Neolithic period with a roughly 5,000 year old mound.  However the Hill of Tara is perhaps better known as where the High Kings of Celtic Ireland were crowned.  Additionally, it is believed St. Patrick lit an Easter fire at Slane Hill, some nine miles away from Tara, to announce the arrival of Christianity to the pagan Celtic King.

Provocative indeed.

Where Celtics Were Kinged

Of all the places we visited in Ireland, Tara probably does the best job of encompassing all of Ireland’s traditions from the very old to the old.  In the photograph with Hunter and Acadia if you look closely you can see items in the tree behind them.  Legend has it that if you tie a ribbon to the tree, Irish fairies will grant your wishes.  Actually no, that’s not true.  According to a preservation group that oversees this area, they claim that is what folks have turned this area into.  Historically, they say, one would stand in between the two trees and simply make your wish to the fairies.  That was the case until 2012 when visitors started tying tokens to the tree.  The result?  One of the trees (seen on the right) fell from the weight of these tokens.

Wishing on Fairies At The Hill Of Tara

From what I read, the preservation group really isn’t too happy.

You may ask where is Eva in this shot.  Oh just nursing a busted knee.  The Hill of Tara also offers children a chance to run across Ireland’s beautiful rolling green hills.  Unfortunately for Eva, she slipped and came down on one of the many rocks strewn about those rolling hills.

As with much of Ireland’s attractions in February, our visit to the Hill of Tara was peaceful with most of our time being spent alone.  The accompanying visitor center was closed for the winter.

BOYNE RIVER VALLEY~TRIM CASTLE

Trim Castle, Home To The Set Of Braveheart

Trim Castle is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. But what what will impress you more is that FREEDOM!!!  Sorry, what I was saying is that what will impress you more is that Braveheart was filmed here.

Trim Castle was not on the original itinerary for the day however Hunter’s plan for a picnic at the Hill of Tara fell through–sitting on wet grass while cold winds howl at you while enjoying a picnic didn’t appeal to the majority of the clan.  How we discovered Trim Castle was the fantastic exhibition hall at the Newgrange Visitor Center.  Hunter and Jules were like kids in a candy store looking at one exhibit that displayed all the highlights in the Boyne River Valley, ‘I WANNA GO HERE!  THEN HERE! THEN HERE!’.

As it happened, it worked almost perfectly for lunch.  I say almost because while I was going 16 hours without eating years before intermittent fasting was cool, not so with the small children and wife.  However we were rewarded with a stop at Rosemary Bistro.  The service was fast and the food was great.  In addition to my club sandwich, Jules and I split the fried goat cheese beet salad.  Can never eat goat cheese without thinking of the cuisine from Casa de Michelle y Bart in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Re-enacting Previous Trim Battles

Following lunch we headed to St. Mary’s Priory.  Along the way, the kids decided to have a little fun with a mural depicting some of the history of the town.

BOYNE RIVER VALLEY~SAINT MARY’S PRIORY~TRIM 

The St. Mary’s Priory wasn’t even mentioned at the Newgrange visitor’s center.  However when walking the very few streets of Trim, one cannot help but notice the ruins of St. Mary’s directly across a stream from Trim Castle.  This nearly millennium old 13 story ruin casts an imposing presence as an early skyscraper.

ON THE WAY TO THE CLIFFS OF MOHER

You know the adage about old churches in Europe.  At first you wonder at them but eventually it becomes, ‘look, another old church’.  Ireland was filled with ruins in backyards.  The example in this photo was just outside of Gort on the way to the Cliffs of Moher and dates back nearly a millennium.  The round tower in the center of the picture would house residents in case of a seige.

The trip to Cliffs of Moher from our Ardee AirBnB would take nearly four hours.  As part of my Google Maps settings I kept us off the highways and for that I am grateful.  It wasn’t until we needed to make our Sunday flight that we allowed ourselves to zip by the countryside on the Irish highways.

A Drinking Age of Eleven?

On the way to the Cliffs we stopped in Gort, not to be confused with Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Jules chose O’Grady’s Carvery which was set up as a pub as well as cafeteria style.  With the Six Nation Rugby tournament happening over the weekend in Ireland, Jules asked the bartender if we could bring our food to that side to enjoy the Wales-Ireland match.  This being Ireland, he readily agreed and would have even if for some particular reason it was taboo.

We entered a pub/dining room with nothing but three workers eating their pre-shift meal.  In keeping with the generosity of the Irish the bartender came over to our table and topped the kids water off with orange squash.

Upon finishing our meals the bartender appeared with three jelly and ice cream  desserts, (which is not as it sounds to an American).  Now desserts were a la carte so these desserts represented approximately 15 Euro worth of food.  Unbelievable how giving the Irish people are to visitors.

At this time the rugby match was about to begin and the entire room had filled with patrons who had trickled in from Storm Ciara.  Unfortunately we could only stay for the first fifteen minutes as we still needed to get to the Cliffs of Moher and we had a sunset deadline of 1730 to beat.

THE CLIFFS OF MOHER

I had come prepared for Ireland by packing trash bags for the children to use as rain ponchos.  Eva being Eva decided she was going to make the hole for her head a little larger and Acadia being her sister decided she was going to adjust her hole as well.  Well, Acadia took two steps out of the vehicle and the wind tore the bag off her body and VRRROOOM into the wind it went.

Lucky Eva.  Her trash bag poncho didn’t fly away so she was able to enjoy it during her time at the Cliffs.  However her poncho, like the three Jules, Hunter, and I had been using, were torn apart by the wind rendering them useless by the end of our visit.  Eva was not a fan of this photograph but even she laughed when she first viewed it.

Normally the Cliffs of Moher can be windy.  On the day we visited the worst storm to hit the United Kingdom in seven years was crossing Ireland just to the North of our location.

Not only was it February in Ireland but it was 90 minutes before nightfall and Storm Ciara was rolling over the area.  There was almost no one there.

Now because we were at the Cliffs of Moher, second in tourists only to the Guinness Storehouse with 1.6 million visitors in 2018, it was remarkable that there were only maybe thirty cars in the parking lot.

As a Vermonter Hunter was excited to visit Ireland in February exactly for days like this.  Cloudy, check.  Windy, check.  Cold, check.  Rainy, check. The smile on his face tells it all.

I was amazed at how close the pathway came to the Cliffs in some areas due to the periodic rock slides in which entire slabs simply fall into the ocean. At some point the tower on the promontory by the visitor center will fall into the sea.

When planning our time at the Cliffs of Moher I had envisioned doing the entire 8 mile Cliffs walk from North to South however the conditions simply did not allow for such a walk.  The trail had been closed to all foot traffic North of the visitor center due to rock slides.  Had it not been closed, I’m not sure my heart could have survived watching the three children romp along a trail so close to a cliff that high.

GLEN TAVERN~LIMERICK

A Drinking Age of Nine?

There once was a family from Bayern Deutschland….

Okay, I’m not sure how to use Bayern Deutschland in a limerick but I can tell you I made a point of stopping in Limerick, Ireland if only to see the origin for the type of prose.

The city was not what I expected at all.  It was larger than I expected and was neither modern nor historic.  I definitely got a Pittsburgh type of vibe (and for those that know me this is a compliment).

We dined at the Glen Tavern.  In my  research I had strived for a local establishment and I truly believe we found it. The floors were sticky, the patrons were raucous, and the staff was friendly.  And no, Eva is NOT drinking gin or any other type of alcohol.  Still water is served in old liquor bottles and I just happened to catch a photograph of her that made this photograph comical.

I thought our streak of Irish generosity was to end when an English bartender came to take our order but no such bad luck.  When I tried at the end of our meal to tip 10% (Ireland is coming around to tipping and 10% seems to be the going rate for a fine experience), he refused to take my 20 Euro bill and make change.  He asked only that I go on TripAdvisor and identify him by name with a positive review.  It was comical how he would not accept money.

This photograph was taken to demonstrate Ireland’s strong connection to America.  The ship in the picture frame is none other than the Mayflower.  I did a quick search to see if the Mayflower serviced Ireland in some way that escapes most Americans but that doesn’t appear to be the case.   No, it just appears to be a framed model of a ship that brought our forebearers to settle the United States of America.

BLARNEY CASTLE

No. 3.

No, I’m talking about hole number three on the golf course.  I’m talking about being the third person to enter the grounds of Blarney Castle on Sunday 9 February when we visited.  Or perhaps Acadia was number three to enter but let’s not squabble.

We arrived 20 minutes after opening on a Sunday morning as a storm was passing through Ireland in the month of February.  Apparently that is the best time to visit the Blarney Castle.

As I mentioned previously, winter seems to hold little power over the magical island nation of Ireland.  The grass continues to be lush and green.  The bushes and trees blossom.  And we even saw clear skies and the rain stopped for part of our visit to the Blarney Castle.

When we entered Blarney Castle there was a couple with whom we leapfrogged back and forth.  Had we wanted to, we could have walked straight to the top of the castle and been the first ones to kiss the stone that day.  Not wanting to kiss a stone without a few germs on them, I deferred to the couple who made the first romantic gesture to the Blarney Stone.

As you approach the Blarney Castle, you will come across two Disney signs.  The first warns visitors that you are now 90 minutes away from entering the Blarney Castle.

The photograph shown below warns visitors you are now 60 minutes away from entering the Blarney Castle.

As you can see, no lines, no waiting.  We just sauntered up to the castle with our devil may care attitudes.

Jules and I are always trying to impress upon our children how blessed they are and in this case I understand how blessed we were.  To have the Blarney Stone, Blarney Castle, and Blarney grounds almost to ourselves was an unbelievable experience.  So much so that we canceled visiting the Rock of Cashel on our way back to the airport that day so we could spend more time in Blarney.

We were touring the Poison Garden when Jules pointed out we needed to leave for the airport (a three hours drive away).  Hunter let out a groan as we had only identified two-thirds of the plants in the garden.  Tough life.

He complained that he still hadn’t seen the fern garden.  What ten year old visits Blarney Castle in Ireland and includes the fern garden as one of his must sees.  Apparently Hunter.  So we split.  Jules took the girls and I took Hunter.  Our only requirement was that he must jog to the garden so that he could be back in the parking lot by the time the girls would arrive.

I have to admit when I heard fern garden I was unimpressed.  Growing up in Burlington, Vermont I spent my summer days exploring the Winooski River valley where ferns grew aplenty.  To spend the precious few extra minutes I had on the grounds of Blarney Castle viewing ferns did not excite me.

I was wrong.

Since moving to Deutschland I haven’t been able to understand how palm trees can survive the winters of Roma, Germany, and Ireland.  Turns out they are not palm trees.  They are giant fern trees and I am grateful my son insisted on taking a jog through the fern garden at Blarney Castle.  If you look closely at the photograph you can see Hunter walking down a set of stairs to give you perspective on the size of the ferns.

I also took a photograph of this large planter floating down the stream that ran through the grounds of Blarney Castle.  While we visited Blarney Castle during a lull, Storm Ciara had no doubt wreaked havoc on the island of Ireland.  Streams were flowing fast and full, sweeping bystanders like this pot in its wake.

The drive back to the Dublin airport was uneventful as I mentioned previously.  We used their autobahns to fly along at 120 kilometers per hour stopping only to pay tolls.  We did make one stop in Blarney before getting on the autobahn–the gas station.  No, not just for petrol but for food!  During my research on Ireland I learned that petrol stations are actually a good source for inexpensive food.  My first petrol experience did not disappoint.  I went in to pay for my petrol when I encountered the smell that brings me to my knees–baked goods.  I looked at the cashier and said, ‘what’s that smell?’.  He pointed to a plethora of baked goods covering not one but two tables set up directly behind me (don’t ask me how I missed them).

I grabbed the entire basket of freshly baked scones and handed them to the cashier.  He then proceeded to walk around the counter, go to the table, and grab two plastic bags attached to the side of the table.  In my haste to enjoy their baked goods I had broken petrol baked goods protocol.

It was the most delicious three drive of my life.

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