The Causeway Coast

Causeway-P1160443

Earlier this week I went to the top of Ireland, to the northeast corner known for the Giant’s Causeway. Molten lava from an extinct volcano many millennia old has formed columns of stone in (usually) hexagonal shapes. Because this corner of Ireland is just 16 miles from Scotland, it is sometimes said that the “causeway” is nearly a bridge to Great Britain.

Causeway-P1160459

Tourists love to climb the rocks by the sea that comprise the Giant’s Causeway and to have their pictures taken there.

Tourists arrive by the busload to visit this area, drawn by the Giant’s Causeway and the charming villages near the coast and the great, wide beaches. Having seen these places previously I went there to visit our cousins who live nearby. Mary and Eddie have welcomed me with generosity and grace each time I’ve turned up. They are the first people I think of when I tell someone that the Irish are the nicest people on earth.

Here are a few photos of the northeast corner of Ireland. This country is small, only 300 miles from top to bottom, so it’s easy to plan a drive around the whole island that includes a visit to the Causeway Coast.

Causeway-P1160383

This is part of the Ballycastle Marina, located on the eastern side of Causeway Coast. The drive from the town above down to this spot involves five or six hairpin turns.

causeway-PICT1013

Mussenden Temple has overlooked a wide beach on the northern edge of Ireland since 1785.

Causeway-P1160396

Another view of Mussenden Temple with the beach on the eastern (County Antrim) side of northern Ireland coast. The beach is very fine but the water is cold and the skies are often gray. Nevertheless, the Causeway Coast is a natural wonder that’s well worth the drive.

Libbie

The Most Beautiful View in the World

Kerry-P1160327

The beautiful view.

Killarney is a joyful place once more! Probably second only to Dublin in number of visitors, five years ago Killarney was a victim of the Great Recession in America and the Irish debt crisis. Now visitors have returned. Many large tour buses bring people to the hotels, restaurants and shops of the city.

Kerry-P1160350

The band we enjoyed hearing and watching on in Killarney.

Buskers are on the streets making people happy with their cheerful music. We found a four-piece band playing Irish jigs that drew a large crowd and inspired people to dance in the street. We also enjoyed listening to and conversing with an excellent singer called “Scottie” — especially when he played his Donald Trump song! Traditional Irish music is played in many Killarney pubs and on the streets seven nights a week.

Kerry-P1160313

The castle remains behind The Lake Hotel in early morning light.

Bee and I stayed at The Lake Hotel, a classic hostelry more than 100 years old. This very large hotel bills itself as “the hotel with the most beautiful view in the world.” I agree. I love staying here. The rooms are large and overlook the lakes of the Killarney National Park and the mountains of Kerry. The remains of an old castle on the lake’s shoreline creates a magnetic focal point for visitors and photographers.

Ladies-View

Agi Risko shot this beautiful picture of Ladies View when we were in Killarney together in 2005.

We spent most of one day touring the Ring of Kerry on a bus from Deros Tours. Our driver, Michael, was excellent. He drove carefully. He was knowledgeable about the many interesting places we passed, and good at keeping us entertained with jokes and history. He made sure not to leave anyone behind. At €22 per person for a seven hour ride, it’s a great deal. Our tour bus with 55 seats was almost full. The tour ends with a stop at Ladies View, made famous by Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting in the mid-1800s. (See gorgeous pictures and learn more here.)

Kerry-P1160344

One of the collies herded the sheep down the hill.

Our favorite stop on the tour was at Kells Sheep Dog Trial where we watched border collies perform their duties. Incredibly well trained, the dogs respond from 100 yards away to very low commands and short blasts from a high-pitched whistle. They manage herds of sheep better than people can. It was fun to watch them. I think most people agree that this is the best part of the tour. Someone has put a video on YouTube of the same place we visited.

Now is a great time to visit County Kerry!

Libbie

Two New Resources for Those Who Love to Travel

Hook-Light-P1150586

As you probably have guessed, my favorite part of Ireland is the southeastern corner. This area is called the “Sunny Southeast.” The weather is a bit better here than in other parts of Ireland. The hills are the amazing green that Ireland is famous for. This is where the gardens are most plentiful, where Irish history is about Vikings and monks, where castles and round towers pop up everywhere. (The picture above shows the Hook lighthouse which has been standing tall and warning sailors for 800 years.)

The Irish Tourist Board has begun to promote the eastern side of Ireland with a new marketing campaign entitled “Ireland’s Ancient East.” They’ve created an excellent website that begins with a video and extends through a number presentations featuring important periods of Irish history. I think anyone would enjoy this site but particularly for those planning to travel to Ireland, this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity for learning about this country before you arrive. Click here to when you have some time to explore historic Ireland: http://www.irelandsancienteast.com/

Islands Everywhere

Mykonos

One of my favorite islands: Mykonos in Greece. I hope to return there one day to stay a while!

There’s something special about islands. Something about being cut off from the world appeals to me, at least briefly. Often the landscape is both wild and beautiful. The coast of Maine is famous for its fir-covered islands. Caribbean beaches and relaxed way of life appeal to many people. Every island seems to charm its visitors.

This weekend’s New York Times Travel section features island destinations including several in the United States. Click here for a good introductory article to American islands and then explore the Travel section for stories about islands in other places. (You can read up to ten articles a month on the Times website for free: NYTimes.com.)

Libbie

A Day at the Races

Clonmel-P1160015

We went to a steeplechase race yesterday. It was fun! The horses are beautiful. The race is exciting. And most fun of all is observing the other by-standers.

Clonmel-P1150961
As in the U.K., betting on horses is legal here. The race track has the betting windows that all tracks have but there are also representatives of the big booking agencies standing on “soap boxes” and taking bets. I suppose they give slightly better odds than the race track windows offer.

Clonmel-P1150960

The bookies have gone high tech with computers and cell phones.

Before the races the horses are paraded around for observation by the crowd. Young trainers walk them around in a circle, allowing an “up close” view of the animals. Some of them are quite rambunctious, challenging their escorts for control.

Clonmel P1150949 The track is long – two times around is more than two miles. It’s a grass-covered oval with two hurdles near the viewing stands. The horses are walked from the barns to the opposite corner of the oval for the start of the race. They thundered past us once then crossed the finish line in front of us to end the second trip around the track.

Clonmel P1160040 Bee placed a one euro bet on a horse. The odds on it were 13 to 1 so when it came in second we thought she had won a bit of money. Unfortunately she had only bet on it to win, not to place or show, so she didn’t win anything. If she had she was going to put her winnings on a horse named “Dixie Highway” but instead we left. We should have stayed and bet! Dixie Highway won that race at odds of 7 to 1. Since Bee had planned to put $7 on that horse we would have had a nice dinner on the way home! (Instead we had pizza.)

Clonmel-P1160030

Just placed her bet!

Libbie

Bee Meets the Irish National Stud!

Irish-National-Stud-and-Bee

One of the very best places to visit in Ireland is the race horse stud farm owned by the nation and operated privately, thus it’s interesting name: the Irish National Stud. Begun in 1896 by William Hall Walker this beautiful horse farm also includes an authentic Japanese garden which has often been called the best garden of its kind in Europe. Mr. Walker (later he was made Lord Wavertree) had two great interests, horse racing and Eastern culture. He combined them in this wonderful farm and park that he bequeathed to the nation of Ireland.

irish-national-stud-1

Today race horse breeding is a profitable business. On our guided tour we learned that one stallion alone generates about than six million euros a year in stud fees. His name is Invincible Spirit and he’s a true winner. A number of other male horses are owned by the breeders who control the farm. Mares are brought to the farm and remain there until their foals are born. We enjoyed watching the new mothers and their babies in paddocks.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The Japanese garden was created by a man brought from Japan by Mr. Walker. It is an intricate representation of one lifetime. Visitors follow the elaborate trail from “birth” to the end of life by climbing up “mountains,” passing through “caves” and crossing “streams” on stepping stones. The plants in the garden are meticulously maintained.

Irish-national-stud-Japanese-Garden

There is also a large Irish-style garden centered around a pond and man-made waterfall.

Irish-national-stud-3

You can read much more about this fascinating place on their website by clicking here. If you’re planning a trip to Ireland this is one “off the beaten trail” site you should make a point of visiting.

Libbie

The First Day of Summer in Dublin

Dublin-P1150206

Summer has arrived in Ireland! The sun has been shining brightly and the air is a perfect 75 degrees. Our accidental timing could not have been better! The positive change in the weather coincided with our plan to go to Dublin for an overnight stay recently.

Dublin-P1150198

It seemed that everyone was out — enjoying the arrival of summer following a very long, cold, wet spring. In St. Stephen’s Green, a lovely park in the center of the city, people of all ages were looking for a spot in the sun – or shade!  The gelato stand was very busy! (Gino’s gelato is the “real deal”!)

Dublin-P1150186

The terrible storm that struck the Irish economy in 2008 has abated but all the damage has not been repaired. It seems that retailers and restaurants from the European continent, the UK and the USA have stepped in to replace long-standing Irish businesses. For example, the Bewley’s Cafe near the O’Connell Street bridge is now Starbucks and the one on Grafton is closed. Going to Bewley’s for a “cuppa” has always been one of my favorite things to do in Dublin.

If you’ve been to Ireland during the past ten years you’ll probably remember Avoca. The tiny business that specialized in traditional weaving of Irish wool has turned itself into one of the few Irish success stories of the early 2000s. Combining excellent small restaurants with retailing beautiful merchandise and locating them in many of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations has been a key to creating a very successful company. In Dublin the store just off Grafton Street sells well-made Irish products and specialty food items. It also has a restaurant that’s not to be missed.

Dublin-P1150204

My friend Bee went to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Having already paid my $10 to walk through a library and look at one page of a book in a glass case some years ago, I felt no need to do it again. Bee reports that significant changes have been made in the experience and she loved it.

We stopped for a glass of wine in my favorite bar. Café en Seine is a large copy of everyone’s image of a French brasserie of the early 20th century. It’s decorated lavishly in a style that appeals to my love of everything French. It’s located on Dawson Street, just one block away from the center of commerce. Dawson Street has always been home to a number of good restaurants. Some of them offer good-value “early bird” pricing around 6:00 each evening. We enjoyed dinner in Sam’s Seafood Club.

Dublin-P1150212

When we headed home again Bee said, “It’s fun to go to a busy city for a while but I’ll be glad to be back in the country again.” I agree!

Libbie

Kilmokea Country Manor House and Gardens

Kilmokea-P1140746

Deep in the countryside of the Hook Peninsula in Southeast Ireland is a beautiful old stone house called Kilmokea. It has been a luxurious six-room B&B for nearly 20 years. The property also features two very nice vacation rentals as well as a spa. A beautiful garden surrounds the stone house and there’s an adjacent mature seven-acre garden. There are tea rooms where visitors can enjoy meals made from organic foods grown on the premises.

The gardens are filled with trees and flowers of every kind including many tropical plants such as exotic palm trees. The garden near the house is in the formal style. Beautiful tulips bloom there in late spring. At the rear of the garden a gate leads to a country road and to the much larger garden with a pond on the other side.

Kilmokea-P1140753

Mark and Emma, the owners of Kilmokea, are creating a garden that will appeal to children. They have a “fairy village” with small houses hung high on tree trunks and a red-fenced pond with what appears to be the fairies’ party house in the center. There’s a “Viking settlement” with a very old style house. A pirate ship has been built and installed in one corner of the garden. (I know my 5-year-old grandson Colin would enjoy that!) Another structure made of wood says “I am a Smaug from the Hobbit.”

Kilmokea-P1140730

Houses in the Fairy Village. Note the entrances created at ground level. Irish fairies aren’t very big so these houses fit them perfectly.

Kilmokea-P1140007

This is the sculpture of Smaug created from an old tree. Kilmokea has many creations that delight children.

Kilmokea is situated in one of the earliest-occupied areas in Ireland. A water mill with a chute made of an oak log has been found and carbon dated to the late 7th century; a small mill stone lies beside it. A tiny cemetery is adjacent to Kilmokea. Some of the gravestones have been carved with names and dates as long ago as the 1700s and other graves are marked only with large stones, some roughly engraved.

old-gravestone

What does this carving mean?

Find more information about Kilmokea at its website enhanced by 120 photographs of the gardens and the property. Wander in the gardens for a small fee from April through October. Kilmokea is a fascinating place. I’ve been there three times in the past ten days and every time I’ve made many new discoveries.

Libbie

 

 

Curraghmore and Mount Congreve

Mt-Congreve-P1140405

Yesterday was beautiful in southern Ireland – a great day for me to show Bee some places that are among my favorites. I’d like to show them to you too!

Curraghmore is the home of the Marquis of Waterford, a home that’s been in his family since the Vikings arrived about 1000 years ago. It’s an enormous estate, located on gently rolling hills west of Waterford city near the town of Portlaw. The manor house has been built so that it’s attached to the original Irish tower house. It features a famous sculpture of a stag with a crucifix on its head. I love driving down the mile or two of dirt road, past the house and the small river, and to the huge dairy barns. The scenery could not be more pastoral. Cows and sheep are grazing here and there. Recently Curraghmore has become much more visitor-friendly. Learn more about touring it by clicking here.

Curraghmore

Curraghmore-P1140323

The white “cow” is pure bull!

Mount Congreve is located near Curraghmore. It too is an old estate. For more than 100 years it was the home of a renowned horticulturalist, Ambrose Congreve. Mr. Congreve began gardening at the age of 12 and was still actively involved on the day he died at the Chelsea Garden Show in London at the age of 104! He has turned acres of land surrounding his home into a magnificent garden. It features azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas (called “hortensia” here) and acres of lovely blue bells. Any gardener touring Ireland should be sure to put this on her/his “must see” list. Since Mr. Congreve’s death changes have been made here that make it much easier to visit. More information can be found here:

Mt Congreve P1140388

Bee and the azaleas at Mount Congreve.

Dungarvan is a small Irish city located on the south coast, about 20 miles west of Waterford. I’ve added it to this post to tell you about the wonderful lunch Bee and I found there yesterday in a little restaurant called Ormond’s Cafe. Bee had “cottage pie” which is a casserole of ground beef, vegetables and mashed potato that she enjoyed. I had “hake” which is a very good white fish found in Irish waters but what inpires me to tell you about our lunch is my side dish called “ratatouille.” That’s a name that covers many variations. This one was two stacks of thinly sliced rounds of tomato, onion, zucchini and yellow squash that had been lightly oiled and seasoned and briefly broiled. The restaurant had a wonderful selection of desserts but we were too satisfied by our main course to try them. I took a picture of the ratatouille so I’d remember to try this when I’m home again. Here ’tis:

Ratatouille-in-Dungarvan

A way with veggies to be remembered!

Today’s going to be another beautiful day and we’re off to enjoy it!

Libbie

Fruit Hill

opener

My friend Bee arrived yesterday! I’m happy to see her – I have lots of explorations planned for us in the next four weeks. I was pleased to introduce Bee to our “home” at Fruit Hill Self-Catering Cottages near Campile, Ireland. I’ve already been here for fifteen days and the longer I’m here the more I love it. There’s a delightful, old-fashioned air to the place that exactly fits my image of Ireland. Deep in the countryside, on a farm that’s hundreds of years old, the four homes that comprise the Fruit Hill property have served generations of Irish families.

Susan and Dick’s family has lived at Fruit Hill since 1995. Their six children, now teens and young adults, have grown up here. Three of the houses are self-catering cottages (vacations rentals). The fourth, the “big house,” was derelict when Dick and Susan came here – a tree was growing through the roof! After 18 months of absolutely necessary repairs they and their kids moved in. Work of restoring the house hasn’t stopped but they have created a beautiful and comfortable home.

Situated at the end of a lane off a typical narrow Irish country road, Fruit Hill is located near the village of Campile, about ten miles from the 800-year-old town of New Ross. This is Kennedy country: the graves of the president’s ancestors fill a nearby churchyard and their old home farm has become quite a tourist attraction.

I’ve tried to create a slideshow to give you a feeling for how relaxing and welcoming Fruit Hill has been for me. It’s the perfect place for a springtime visit to Ireland. I’ve had difficulty making the slideshow work. If I click on a picture it opens the slideshow but the images are blurry. Try it if you like or simply look at the parade of images that follows.

Libbie

A Springtime Ride in Ireland

Altamont-cows-P1130888

Yesterday I decided to drive about 40 miles to a beautiful garden that is one of my favorites. The drive took about an hour and a half over narrow old roads, past prosperous farms where sheep, cows and horses grazed. It was beautiful! The weather here has been really cold and sometimes rainy all week so I’ve been hibernating. It felt good to be out. In Ireland now all the new leaves are popping out, their bright yellow-green adding another hue to the hundreds of shades of green for which Ireland is so well known. Sometimes the country roads are lined on both sides with trees that overarch the road. The picture below is not one I took yesterday but will illustrate for you a typical country road in Eire.

2005-PICT3329

A typical, one-lane Irish country road in Spring.

My destination was Altamont Gardens, now owned by the Irish government. A woman named Corona North inherited the large house and gardens and dedicated her life to making them lovelier. The big pink mansion has been vacant since Ms. North’s death in 1999 but the gardens have been beautifully maintained according to her wishes. (Read about Corona North and Altamont in her obituary in the Irish Independent here. She was a strong, perhaps head-strong, woman.)

Altamont-peacock-P1130639

A beautiful peacock guards the gate leading to the gardens at Altamont.

The gardens at Altamont include two wide rows of narcissus (daffodils). An effort has been made to have some of every known variety. They bloom from early February to May, and I was late seeing them this year, which is why I went there on a cold and windy day. The other highlight of Altamont is the one-acre lake covered in lily pads. Yesterday I found a very large swan there, apparently alone.

Altamont-swan-P1130827

The walk around the lake is lined with old trees and shrubs, many of them planted there in the 19th century. A path leads down some stone stairs to a walk along the quiet river.

Altamont-Carole-PICT0109

My friend Carole who, with others, visited Irish gardens with me several years ago.

I was the only person visiting Altamont on a wet, cold day. It was heavenly to have the gardens to myself — just me and the peacocks and the swan and the cows!

Libbie