Category Archives: Ireland

Daytrip to Howth, Ireland

I know, I know, this isn’t very original material, but we spotted an awesome (double) rainbow by the ocean in Ireland!  No pot of gold or leprechaun though… Continue reading

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin

About a year ago, my brother Patrick and I entered a pact that if we were both in Europe this year we were going to Dublin for it to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  This year finds me in Amsterdam and Patrick studying in Budapest so the long weekend with the Irish seemed inevitable, and we’re both very happy we did!

Man, it’s like we’re twins or something… Continue reading

2011: A Year in Review

When I think back on 2011 it will undoubtedly go down as the year where I did more in 12 months than most people do in a lifetime.  If I didn’t personally already defend a thesis, become a published author, move to a different country, and explore 20 countries on 4 continents along the way I would accuse myself of lying because I’m tired just thinking about it.  But I apparently did because I lived through all of it! Continue reading

I Visited the Blarney Castle (but didn’t kiss the stone!)

When I visited Ireland two years ago, I shocked and confused all idle questioners by not visiting Blarney Castle. As there are only so many things to do in Ireland I did finally visit the castle, but had no interest whatsoever in kissing the stone. Why? Well firstly I already talk too much if anything, secondly if there was a place where hundreds of tourists from around the entire world put their saliva to the point where there is a damp spot on the wall would you kiss it?  Exactly.

Continue reading

Kilkenny: The Perfect Irish Town

I spent an unexpected few days in Ireland on my way home to the United States from Europe, but as everyone knows this is no great hardship.  I’d visited the country two years ago so I was determined to explore a few places I missed the last time around, which is how I ended up spending a few days in Kilkenny, about 90 km southeast of Dublin.  And I am so glad I did because it turns out Kilkenny is the perfect Irish town! Continue reading

Summary of Ireland

Ireland is an interesting place because everyone thinks they know everything about it before even visiting.  It’s got to be the best-marketed country in the world- they even got all these people who aren’t even Irish to celebrate their holiday!- so it’s neat to show up and realize the actual place doesn’t follow your preconceived notions.  Which in hindsight you should have realized would happen but we all get caught off our guard on occasion.

Highlights-

- The pub life.  I list this first because back at home whenever I went to an Irish pub I’d find myself saying “you know, I really want to visit Ireland” and I am proud to report the stories live up to the expectations!  The Irish are remarkably friendly, and great musicians are a dime a dozen (they don’t play Irish trad normally though- it would be the same as us listening to She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain When She Comes or other folk songs in the bar).  I’ve always been a traitor to my generation in that I like to hear myself think when going out or at least having good music instead of base  pounding my head, so Ireland was great for this.

- Dublin was a bit meh, just another big city, but i met cool people there and got new pages for my passport.  I am including the above so you guys can see why I needed one- pretty much the whole old part looks like this by now!

- My favorite place in Ireland, though, has got to be Galway.  Seriously, go to Galway as you won’t regret it.

- Killarney I will write off as a necessary evil to go see the spectacular Ring of Kerry.  There’s nothing really wrong with Killarney, it’s just an incredibly touristy place that pales in comparison to the other fun towns Ireland has to offer.

- Learning Irish fiddling from Theresa and exploring the dime-a-dozen ruins in Loughmore.

- Another thing I liked after so many months on the road is how this was the first place I’d been where they spoke English!  I never realized just what a great asset it is to assume everyone can understand you until I came to Ireland and realized just how great I’d gotten at pantomiming these past few months.

Lowlights-

- This is the problem with Ireland- eventually you will come across a point in this nation where it is pouring rain and you just arrived in a strange place.  There’s a hostel, where’s the hostel?  The rain makes things seem longer than they are so maybe that guy you asked directions was just trying to mess with you.  Eventually you will come across the hostel but not before you are completely soaked despite umbrella and rainjacket, which sucks when you’re me and only have one pair of close-toed shoes.

To be fair about the Irish weather it’s not like you haven’t received enough warning about what you’re getting into (that’s one preconception that will remain firm!), and traveling to the U.K. afterwards will seem positively sunny in comparison.  Plus the Irish have long ago realized that all you want to do on a rainy day is disappear with a coffee or pint at a nice pub, and have accomodated accordingly.

- On the other side of the spectrum, I got sunburnt while reading in the park  in Limerick one afternoon.  I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, though to explain there was a lovely five day stretch of perfect weather I will not complain about otherwise.

- The fact that my camera finally broke and I needed to shell out lots of Euro to get the replacement.  RIP camera…

- As a final note this is one thing I will never, ever get used to in Ireland- the pubs close early!  Really early, as in 11:30 on weeknights and an hour later  on weekends (clubs are until 2 and 3, respectively, but I’m not a fan of getting kicked out of the comfy pub!).  They have this curfew by law.  The only other country I have been to where there was a national law dictating a curfew was Laos, and I find it odd that Ireland is in the same boat as a communist country on this.

Anyway, that is Ireland.  What a great little place!  I think it gets the distinction of being the second country I’ve visited on this trip that I wouldn’t mind setting down in for a little while, so I hope to be back someday.

Killarney

I came to Killarney because even those from Ireland tell you it’s the place to go for pretty scenery.  I soon discovered that while it might be pretty it’s also one  of the most touristed places I’ve been to, which is saying something by this point.   Not to say it was all bad- I went to the movies for the first time in four months!- but not the lovely place to disappear to like Galway.

Anyway, when it comes to pretty scenery the popular thing to do is the Ring of Kerry, for which I got terrible weather but it’s not like the dazzling sunshine before was normal for this country.  Me on the bus-

And the person who stole my camera to take the picture, Gisela, a German working the year in Ireland-

In the spirit of Germans everywhere who can’t seem to survive if they’re not hiking or battling elements, she was forever walking about in gale-force winds with stinging rain with me wondering why we couldn’t go find a cafe to curl up in or something.
Anyway, the scenery!  Now it is an absolutely gorgeous route even in the rain, which is saying something.  Part of the ring is national park but the far majority is farmland, mainly horses and sheep that routinely escape their paddocks and cause traffic jams from all the tourists taking pictures of sheep on the road.  Yay!

Looks straight out of a fairy tale, doesn’t it?  If they put Cinderella’s castle up on the peak here it wouldn’t look out of place.

There’s an awful lot of ocean views on the route too, but this is the most spectacular lookout.  Interestingly this point is only a few kilometers from where the first trans-Atlantic cable came ashore from Newfoundland, 4200 miles away, which is significant because it marks the closest Ive gotten to back home since beginning this trip!  And the closest I will for some time actually…
A few brightly painted houses- it’s a rather normal thing in Ireland to paint your house a bright color different to that of your neighbor, probably because if they didn’t do it the world would look beyond dreary.  Kind of hard to think of the gray clouds when you have a pink house in your view.

In short, Kerry is lovely though I’m sure better weather would have been a nice thing.  And I’m stopping here because my laptop battery is about to die.  Cheers!

Gone Fiddling

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When I make a list of things I miss most at home, once I get through the obvious friends and family, delving into a particularly good science problem and the like, I list my violin pretty quickly. I miss it. You will never find anything half as fun, beautiful, and sexy as a violin, except for maybe those lucky enough to play them!image39

This is Theresa. She runs a program called Fiddler’s Retreat from her home in a tiny village, Loughmore, where you can go a few days to learn how to play Irish fiddle and go out for a few trad sessions with the Irish musicians at night. Cost a fair bit, but one must always remember the importance of when to shell out money for a good experience. Like remember that trip around the world I did? Yeah, that totally sucked.

Anyway, Theresa is a lovely soul who taught me five Irish fiddling songs over the course of two mornings- three polkas, a jig, and a reel. The reel was my enemy, as it turns out they are very difficult. And I will never cease my amazement for the talent of the average Irish musician- yes I realize if I went every week to play them I would be good too, but how many places in the world do you know where you can go into a pub and have ten people show up who come and play along? Not outside Ireland I think.

The only problem with learning to Irish fiddle, of course, is it’s more about sound rather than images so this is going to be very sparse on the actual fiddling part (I have videos, but issues uploading them). So I will delegate all that to my secret project that starts with the letter “b” and instead talk about an afternoon walk I had around Theresa’s village-Clearly Loughmore is a happening place in the afternoons when the Irish music isn’t playing. But it turns out they have a few random ruins to check out-

Ooooh, an abandoned 12th century castle!

Ooooh, an old abbey from the same era! The interesting thing about Ireland is how you see random ruins like this everywhere- old forgotten castles just begging to be explored to the point where no one cares about them because they’re so numerous it would take a lifetime to visit them all. I had to settle with this set of ruins (there was a fairy fort, aka grassy oval overgrowing an old Celtic fort, but they’re not very photogenic). But not without company…

Oh, hi guys! I’m just taking a shortcut across your field, you don’t mind right?

Ummm, okay. It turns out these cows were conditioned to associate “person” with “food” so they politely followed me around the field until I ducked under a wire fence. Fascinating as it is to have a cow cult of your own, I have to admit it’s a little intimidating to have a silent herd of cattle following you around even if you know they’re not exactly vicious because they’re bigger than you. Like what if they picked up a copy of The Birds and wanted to do a cow version starting right now?

As for the castle itself, here is the inside. Having just read enough Ken Follet to depress anyone (I read 1,200 pages in 4 days- I wasn’t over the English in bookstores yet) going around a period castle at my leisure was pretty neat. There were carved fireplaces still in place and you could see the old sticks used to insulate the walls where the lime had chipped away and such.

There were also the names of pretty much every kid in Loughmore carved into the walls. According to Theresa no one’s allowed to play in the castle as a child but that’s everyone’s playground anyway.The neatest thing about the castle, though, is the fact that there’s a spiral staircase that still goes all the way up to the upper floors. It’s probably beyond dangerous and such, but here’s the view from the fourth-floor-turned-roof! Yay!

And in that odd way, this is my description of what the average little place in Ireland is like. If you’re driving around and come across one of these, I highly recommend wandering around to see what gems you might find. Particularly if you can top it all off with a bit of Irish fiddle.

The Burren

I am going to warn you right now that this post is not going to have a huge plethora of pictures because this was the trip where my camera decided it had led a nice, healthy life of two years seeing more sights and suffering more abuse than most people do in a lifetime, and died. (The people at the camera store in Galway suggested a grain of sand got into it awhile back and finally got dislodged, which is possible considering how loose the casing had gotten.) So RIP camera, may your new younger brother survive 18 new countries and 25 more states.  And so may I, come to think of it…
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To begin with here is a picture of what most of The Burren looks like- limestone.  Lots and lots of limestone.  When you go close to the ocean then yes, you get fertile fields for pasture thanks to the backbreaking labor of farmers in years past, but go up to the top and it looks desolate in a lovely kind of way.

Interestingly enough it is said that during the time of the Celts this would have been pine forest- in subsequent years however the trees were unfortunately chopped down and the topsoil eroded away.  Certainly a very different picture.image502

Go around the Burren long enough and you start noticing these things- a Celtic tomb!image503

Another view of the same tomb.  This one happens to be the oldest in the Burren, dated to  approximately 3500 B.C., or a thousand years before the pyramids.  Which naturally led to me wondering just what we’ve erected that will still be  standing in 5,000 years…

One interesting factoid is that some of the people buried here were buried over 2,000 years after the tomb was built.  Leading to another interesting point- wouldn’t it be an interesting thing to see someone buried in a 2,000 year old tomb?  Mainly because I can’t think of any of that age, let alone ones where they still bury people?  It’s funny how details like  this leave me happily wondering for hours.
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What most people come to see in The Burren- the Cliffs of Moher!  To quote my sister, it sounds like something straight out of Lord of the Rings and frankly they’d fit right into the scenery, as these things rise up about 200 meters from the Atlantic in an incredibly dramatic fashion.

By the way, my camera was dead by this point so this and the following picture were actually taken with a Hong Kong student’s camera, who understood why I wanted to temporarily borrow his camera with my memory card.  Someone later pointed out to me it would be an interesting trip in itself to go out with a memory card alone and borrow other people’s cameras along the way, but I don’t think I would recommend it.  Frankly there is no universal standard for memory card size so you’d often be out of luck even if you met friendly people, and odds are anyone over the age of 30 won’t understand your request and/or get suspicious.  So it goes.
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My second Cliffs of Moher picture, which I am primarily using to show how windy it was as evidenced by the disarray of my hair.  It was  windy like I’d hardly experienced before, as the wind here has been happily going for several thousand miles without running into anything before it comes to the Cliffs.  It switches around quickly too, so that I’m told a few tourists die every year by falling off the Cliffs and, I presume, stupidly standing closer than the indicated signs.

I admit I discovered a fun game while at the Cliffs (behind the walled portion of course) called “jump into the air and marvel at how far the wind carries you before you land.”  You’d think this wouldn’t be particularly exciting, but somehow it is when the minimum distance you’re carried is a foot.  Needless to say I got a few odd looks and interesting comments from passing Hungarians I returned with a “koszi!”  Good thing I left my sense of dignity at home, I’d never have fun with it around.image507

This pub is in the village of Lisdoonarva where I spent the night at a great hostel- I didn’t realize it until I arrived but the town hosts the Matchmaker Festival, Europe’s biggest singles event, where people arrive from all over in hopes of finding The One.  No idea what the success rate is of that, but there you go.

So those are where the pictures end, and my memory goes on.  There are lots of beautiful walks around Lisdoonarva and the hostel had a great lounge where we curled up beside the fireplace  for the night, but after the night I returned to Galway an hour away.  If you come to Ireland though I highly recommend seeking out a little village or two to stay in hardly mentioned by anyone to see what it’s like.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Galway

As fate would have it, I got to go to Galway twice- once for two nights as I intended, and once again for two nights after my camera broke and I was advised my best course of action to replace it would be to return to Galway. I was actually ok with this (except for the spending a few hundred dollars for a new camera part of course) because Galway is a pretty neat place.

The shopping street of Galway, lined with pubs and stores trying to sell you tourist crap and a few bookstores where I’m certain they knew me by the time I left because I kept spending hours at a time in them (I was still in the “oh my, English!!!” phase). Note the blue sky- I don’t know what gods I pleased but one morning I woke up to blue skies and it stayed like that for five days. Probably so I could be the only person to talk about how nice the weather was while she was in Ireland.

Another interesting thing about walking around Galway is the sudden realization of how multicultural it is- thanks to the E.U. there are lots of Eastern Europeans who have moved to the city to the point where Galway is the city I overheard the most Hungarian outside Hungary itself (this didn’t stop the Hungarians from saying all sorts of things they would never say in public otherwise, as we all do that when outside Hungary). My Irish friends tell me that Ireland today is completely different to the country they knew even while growing up, and I completely believe it.

Me chatting with two writers, Oscar Wilde and Eduard Wilde, the latter being an Estonian writer who coincidentally has the same name as Oscar (the statue was a gift from the Estonians when they joined the E.U., as Ireland had the presidency then). The inscription reads the O. Wilde quote “we are all in the gutter… but some of us are looking at the stars.” Needless to say, we had a good conversation…

The cathedral in Galway, where I first realized how seriously Irish people take religion- it was a random day of the week, but there was still a sizable crowd of people there praying. If this sounds odd you have to realize I’ve gone into countless churches the past two months I’ve been in Europe, and frankly the tourists always overwhelm the people actually using the church for what it was originally intended.

Now I realized the Irish are pretty religious but after a bit of inspection into the matter I’m going to say they probably are more religious than us in some aspects- condoms were illegal until 1978, and divorce was only legalized in, get this, 1999. Considering the fact that this is in Europe, where non-religious people make up the majority of the population in Ireland’s neighbors, I find this to be rather interesting.

One of the set of taps in an Irish pub I visited, because apparently if you don’t have 14 taps you’re doing it wrong. If it seems odd to transition from religion to pub that’s because you don’t know Ireland- for a few hundred years during British rule Catholicism was illegal, so the Irish got around this by holding Mass in secret backrooms in pubs (because who would suspect an Irish family going to a pub Sunday morning had an ulterior motive? what nonsense!). And this is probably why the Irish like their pubs so much today- they became the center of the community rather quickly under this arrangement. The cruddy weather probably didn’t hurt either.

The Guinness at another pub settling after being poured- I admit this is a process I hadn’t watched much before because I don’t really like Guinness (too dark for my taste), but my physicist self spent a ridiculous amount of time happily watching while listening to the plethora of talented musicians around every corner and striking up conversations with everyone.

A word on the last bit- after much experimentation, I have concluded it is impossible to go into an Irish pub and not make a friend before you finish the first pint. During my time in Galway I ended up talking hours to a brother/sister pair, a musician who played harmonica on the streets, and a guy from the other side of the country who had driven to Galway to escape the fact that his fiance had cheated on him. And while this might seem odd in most other countries in Ireland it’s totally ok and happens all the time.

My Sunday lamb roast in the pub, because I have enough experience to know you need to eat a Sunday roast in countries with British influence as it will be delicious. And I realize the pint above reads Guinness on it but I was actually drinking a black and tan, as that’s the closest I can get to drinking the real thing when it comes to taste.

As a random aside, Irish people, I am sorry but I don’t know if I can get behind Bulmers as my choice in hard cider. Too acidic in taste. Though before someone starts accusing me of not liking Irish alcohol I am in happy agreement with Smithwick’s, Bailey’s, and your whiskey.

A sign in the front of one of the bookstores in Galway I really took a fancy to. See one nice thing about Irish people is they have a good sense of humor about their hordes of tourists. I suspect it’s because of all the practical jokes they play on their visitors to keep them giggling- “Hey, kiss this awkwardly-positioned stone in a castle that thousands of people kissed already today and the local boys pissed on last night! Oh, and jump in the freezing cold water to swim with a dolphin who might be around! Sure we all do it ourselves, that’s why we aren’t now…”

I confess I have begun to suspect I have some Irish genes in me somewhere that I was never informed about- the Irish people seemed to agree about this as I am apparently more outgoing than the average tourist and we share a similar sense of humor and sarcasm. But then they were on the whole relieved I wasn’t one of those countless people who come here “searching for their Irish roots,” so perhaps I’ll let this one go. Cheers!