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Post Info TOPIC: One Trip -- Two Visits; June/July 2013


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One Trip -- Two Visits; June/July 2013


Dan -- Thanks.  You should be excited.  They grow up SO quick!

Judy -- Since they were flying Internationally, they were allowed Four checked bags.  They had compacted everything into two, because they were traveling with ME ... hmm hmm

On the return flight, they checked three (counting the new one) and MOSTLY, it was due to weight, not space issues.

JT 8's teacher (for NEXT year) told her that she needed to keep a journal, so that she could give a detailed report to the class.  We bought, or collected, NUMEROUS pamphlets wherever we went.  I'm hoping to snag a copy of that report.  biggrin  biggrin

Bob



-- Edited by Itallian Chauffeur on Friday 16th of August 2013 04:12:51 PM

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Bob,

That was a heartwarming story. The GC are at that fun age for such a short time. It was great that you were able to seize the opportunity to have them with you on such an enjoyable time in Ireland. It gives me the courage to continue to make plans for a trip with our GD for next spring!

Dan

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Oh, we would love your granddaughter's trip report here!! Or on my blog. That would be very cute.

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"Ireland Expert"  Michele Erdvig

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Michele -- I'll see what I can do.  biggrin  biggrin  While I realize that every Grandparent has gifted grandchildren of immense intelligence, JT 8 ( who begins Third Grade tomorrow) is a voracious reader and her Stanford Reading Score from last year, placed her reading ability on the Seventh Grade Level.  Correlating the obvious link between reading and writing skills, I think her report might be interesting AND entertaining ...

Friday, 28 June:

A synopsis Two travelers, my wife and I, with a plan to spend 1 night near Belfast, 2 nights each, in Enniskillen, Clifden, Mountshannon and an as yet, undetermined location in County Cork followed by our final night, at the Premier Inn Dublin Airport.

The main goal for this trip, other than visiting/revisiting sites that we hadnt previously given ample time to, was to allow me to winnow down my Round Tower List.  All in all, I would have to say that despite some challenges the visit went quite well.

Details:

We made our way to the Hertz rental desk and proceeded to secure our booking for our SECOND visit.  I had reserved a Standard sized car (a manual-shift, Opel Insignia, or comparable) at a quoted price of 125.87 Euro, waiving all insurances.  I really didnt care to have such a large car for just the two of us, but due to the whims of Supply and Demand, it was the least expensive offering at the time I made my booking. 

With our first rental, I had prepaid, in US dollars, securing a discount, in the process.  Im not really sure why I didnt do the same for THIS rental, too.  Not ever having used Hertz, in Ireland, before, I THINK I had decided to wait to see if the first rental went smoothly, or not???  confuse  confuse

In any event, the counter person stated that they did NOT have an Insignia available, so they offered me a free Upgrade to an Audi.  Since the Insignia was already stretching the $50,000 limits on my Credit Cards coverage limitation, I declined.  I told them that I would be willing to accept a SMALLER vehicle, but that I had NO interest in taking a larger, pricier vehicle. Instead, we were provided with a 2013 Ford Focus (diesel, six-speed manual) that was in PRISTINE condition. It only had 1,699 kilometers at pick up and still had that, New Car smell!

As an ADDED bonus, the Focus was parked AT the terminal, eliminating the need to Shuttle to the Depot!  I, however, DID notice more than a couple of Opel Insignias parked there as well.   confuseconfuseconfuseconfuse?

Now, driving a car that new is actually MUCH more stressful than I normally would prefer.  I would rather have a more Seasoned rental car One that has already experienced a few bumps and bruises.  biggrin  biggrin  With a vehicle as spotless as this was, there can be NO doubt, if a scratch or ding is added!  Ah, well.  I would need/must exercise EXTRA due diligence on THIS visit!

Total Hold for my rental was 5289.42 Euro.  That included a 30 Euro Admin Fee (for waiving the CDW) and 120 Euro, for the Initial Fuel charge.  With BOTH rentals, I had been advised that a 5000 Euro Charge would be applied, due to my declining the Insurances (CDW and Theft).   They did NOT actually apply that to the First rental car, but they DID, on the second.  Based upon my CC statements, it seems to have only been a Hold', though.

FYI On return, since I returned the car with a Full tank, total ACTUAL charge for the rental came to 159.92 Euro All In.  That Included a 22.91 Euro Location Fee and the 30 Euro Admin Fee.  All   in all, that really isnt very expensive at all, for a ten day rental.  I added 2,625 Kilometers, but NO visible blemishes although it no longer smelled quite as NEW, by the time I returned the Focus. biggrin  biggrin

They DID burn me with DCC, however . . .  furious  furious  furious

More To Come . . .

Bob

 



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Friday, 28 June:

We drove back to the Premier Inn, loaded up and checked out.  We were on the M1, heading North, by 9 AM.  We made a brief stop just after crossing the border, to acquire beverages and draw off some GBP Sterling from the ATM and then continued along the A1 to Banbridge about 10:45 AM.  The cool, clear morning had turned drizzly at this point.

It having been an early day and our breakfast minimalistic, we passed a Coffee Shop, at 1 Main Street that had available parking and dashed inside.  It was an eclectic place 5 or six tables crammed into one side and a tiny cooking area, surrounded by display cases for sodas, ice cream and fresh baked pastries.  We each ordered a Mini Fry with tea and then added a pastry of choice.  Total cost came to about 12 GBP.  Bathrooms were located outside, at the back of the building accessed by exiting the shop, opening a small, wooden door that was cut into a large, arch-topped, wooden door and then walking back between the two buildings, along a cobblestone driveway / parking area.  Despite their rather strange location, they proved reasonably modern and serviceable

By the time we returned to the car, the sun had chased away the rain.  Back on the road, I spotted a large Tesco and we dropped in to buy a N.I. SIM card.  I assumed that my daughter had pretty much used up my previous Top Up and had failed to secure a UK Add On.  Also, past experience had taught me that my Vodaphone account had both Spotty reception and costly rates in the North.  With the kids traveling, I decided that buying a 10 GBP, UK SIM made for a cheap alternative. 

After finally departing Banbridge, on the A1, we exited at Dromore, onto the B2 heading East, to Ballynahinch.  From there, we moved NE, through Saintfield, Balloo and Lisbane, in order to make our way out, onto Mahee Island.  Crossing the causeway, the first thing you see are the ruins of Mahee Castle.  Just beyond, is a moderately sized car park.  A sign points the way up a grassy hill.  At that point, all that's visible is the edge of the outermost dry-stone ring wall.  All together, there are three.  Once you crest the hill, a building is visible.  Within, there are numerous displays and information panels.  Once you exit the Information Center, a short, uphill walk leads you to the inner ring and the ruins within.

WOW!  What a site!  The setting, alone, makes Nendrum worth a visit, but if you are a History Buff, it is a MUST SEE!  While the Round Tower is but a stunted ruin, Nedrum was once one of THE major Monastic Settlements, in all of Ireland.  First founded in the 5th century and abandoned in the medieval period (15th century), the site was only Rediscovered in the mid-1800s and not excavated, until the 1920s.  Subsequent excavations discovered a tidally-driven grain-milling apparatus dating from 619 AD that is the oldest known in the world.

The significance of THAT level of engineering sophistication has MAJOR ramifications about our understanding of Early Irish history, to say the least.  Most such history, which was written AFTER the fact, by the victorious Norman-English invaders, goes to GREAT length to DOWNPLAY the accomplishments and sophistication of the Native Irish.  Even today, numerous experts wrongly state that, prior to the Norman incursion that the Native Irish did not (or, COULD not) build in stone.  Others persist in stating that the Irish had NO towns or villages prior to the arrival of the Vikings.

And, yet More than 550 YEARS before Strongbows followers waded ashore in Wexford, Native Irish monks were using the stored energy of the tides to grind their grain.  An enterprise of that magnitude implies an infrastructure that must certainly have required the resourses of a LARGE community.

More Info:

http://irishantiquities.bravehost.com/down/nendrum/nendrumcastle.html

http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Nendrum-Monastic-Site-Comber-Newtownards-P2877

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nendrum_Monastery

http://www.nendrum.utvinternet.com/tmill/capacity.htm 

And, lastly, a FUN little App:   

 http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/mobilelearning/nendrum/

 After departing Mahee, we meandered North, along the Wetern shore of Strangford Lough, through Comber and Newtownards.  From there, we followed the A20 South, along the Western edge of the Lough, down past Greyabbey to Kilcubbin.   We cut across the peninsula, heading East to Ballywalter, where we followed the A2 North to Millisle, to enjoy the rugged, ocean views.

The B172 led us back to Newtownards, where the A20 brought us toward Belfast.  We turned South onto the A55 to avoid the city, and followed it SW,  until joining the B205 and following the signposts, to Drumbo.

All that remains of the Monastic site of Drumbo is the Round Tower and a bit of outer wall that probably once bounded the settlement.  That makes Drumbo seem rather irrelevant, at first glance, but the site has an interesting history, as well.

More Info:  http://www.drumbocarryduff.ie/ourparish/parish-history/

http://irishantiquities.bravehost.com/down/drumboRT/drumboRT.html

http://www.roundtowers.org/drumbo/

http://lisburn.com/books/drumbo_church/drumbo1.htm

After our brief photo op, we returned to the B23 and followed it around Belfast, into Lisburn.  I had booked into the Premier Inn there.  It wasnt too hard to find its on the A1, just North of the M1.  We had a Twin room, for 49 GBP, Prepaid.  Although a bit older, the room was clean, quiet and comfortable.  We checked in about 5 or 5:30 PM.

Tired of being in the car, we opted for dinner in the adjoining restaurant and found the food and service acceptable.  Nothing outstanding, mind you, but we had no complaints.  According to Google Maps, our route covered 280 kilometers and involved 4 ¼ hours of driving time.  In the Real World, it took us between 8 and 8 ½ hours, including all stops.

More To Come . . .

Bob



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Saturday, 29 June:

We got a lazy start on the day after opting to eat breakfast at the hotel.  Once again, while there was nothing particularly wrong with either the food or the service, it wasnt particularly memorable, either.  All-in-all, our stay was pleasantly unremarkable.  Factoring in the low price, I would consider it as a win.

We made our way to the nearby M1 and followed it West for two exits, to Junction 9, where we turned North onto the A26, to Glenavy.  From there, we followed the B156 to locate the Marina, which proved somewhat elusive.  I had done copious research about the Round Tower on Rams Island.  A volunteer group operates a ferry to the Island, but during the month of June, it only makes ONE trip, per week and that trip departs the Marina at 13:30 PM, on Saturdays.  Once I finally located the Marina, though, there was NO ferry!  A passerby told me that the Ferry only operates on a PRE-BOOKED basis, now.  He gave me a phone number and suggested that I call, but after one unanswered attempt, I reluctantly gave up.  They day was grey and blustery, which didnt make a boat trip (even a short one) all that appealing.  Plus, we were booked in to a B&B in Enniskillen for the next two nights.  With the day already half gone, and unsure as to how long our drive would take, I decided to save a visit to Rams Island Round Tower for later.

We returned to the A26 and headed North, past the Belfast Airport, into Antrim.  The Round Tower there is fairly easy to find and is actually signposted!  It sits in a park called Steeple Hill and even though there is minimal parking, the Tower stands less than 30 feet from the road. It is thought to be one of the first Round Towers ever constructed, and has a number of interesting features.

As we were retracing our route along the A26, the weather began to alternate between rain and light mist. At a major intersection (A26 and A52) named Nutts Corner, my wife spotted a row of brightly painted phone booths along the side of the A26 and had me turn around, for photos.  I pulled into the adjacent Petrol Station and refueled the Focus, while my wife braved the mist, for her pix.  Thats when I noticed the large, impressive Salvage Yard located at the rear of the Petrol Station property.

Even though we were a bit pressed for time (I thought), we drove in, walked around the Yard and had a nice chat with the owner of the place.  He had a number of VERY impressive items In addition to the phone booths (mostly from NI, but he DID have one, from the Republic), he also had pallets of Belfast Bricks, reclaimed oak beams, Post Boxes (both UK and Republic) and cast iron street lamps just to name a few of the items.  Prices seemed a BIT high and, shipping costs would be OUTRAGEOUS but it was both interesting and tempting.  Sadly, though, my budget wasnt having any of it.

We returned to the M1 and followed it West, to its end, then joined the A4.  The further West we traveled, the more the weather improved.  By the time we reached Enniskillen, about 4 PM, even the grey skies had turned to blue.

Our B&B for the next two nights was Dromard House  and we were delighted with our large room and the photogenic setting.  Dromard is a working farm, with the connected buildings arrayed around a central, paved yard.  Our room was located upstairs, in a wing off the main house.  Our hostess, Sharon Weir, provided an excellent Local Guide Booklet which detailed much useful information about the farm and attractions on offer in the vicinity.

We set off on one of the two signposted scenic walks, eagerly accompanied by the Weirs family dog and made our way down to the Lough.  My wife snapped a few interesting pictures there mostly of our canine companion and then we returned to our car and set out to find dinner.  Sharons Guidebook had listed a lakeside eatery in nearby Carry Bridge as being a family favorite.  Its located South of town, at a marina along one of the main channels connecting Upper and Lower Lough Erne and was VERY picturesque.  After an excellent meal, we lingered for a bit, walking along the docks to enjoy the views of the boats, boaters and the impressive bridge.   

With lots of sunshine and daylight, we drove past the turn off for Dromard House, through Enniskllen and then turned North, along the Western shore of Lough Erne, on the A46, past the site of the G8 Conference that had been held the previous week.  We had seen a number of news articles detailing all the cosmetic improvements that the government had implemented, in order to give the APPEARANCE of prosperity to the area.  Some were self-evident The newly resurfaced road surface leading up to Lough Erne Resort ENDS just slightly North of the hotel and we DID notice some of the Window Dressing shops vacant buildings that had been repainted and had plastic DECALS affixed to the windows so that they would LOOK to be busy, prosperous and filled with products when viewed from a car driving by!

As we were heading back into town, we spotted a signpost for Monea Castle, listing it as a mere 2 Km away and decided, on a whim, to check it out.  Wow!  It was VERY impressive.  Monea is one of a half-dozen (ish) Plantation Castles (dating from around 1600 AD) built by Scots that were Awarded property after the Battle of Kinsale.  In a field next to the car park, horses and donkeys competed for our attention.

http://goireland.about.com/od/countyfermanagh/gr/monea_castle.htm

http://www.virtualvisittours.com/monea-castle/

We finally made our way back to Dromard House about 9 PM and called it a night.  It had been a LONG, mostly productive and QUITE enjoyable day.  Total miles driven for the day was just under 150 miles.

More To Come . . .

Bob



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Sunday, 30 June: 

Although we had been awake for some time, we made our way to the Main House for our scheduled breakfast about 9 AM.  Neither of us were up for a full Ulster fry, so we opted for lighter fare.  Breakfast was quite good and we had some pleasant conversation with Sharon about the farm, Enniskillen, the G8 Summit and the general state of the economy.  She mentioned that, after the Press repudiated the governments claim of increased tourism numbers, that it was admitted that the TRUE fact was along the lines of a 20% DROP a number that Sharon reckoned reflected the state of her B&B business.

The day was blustery and grey as we started out.  We headed into town and then turned North, following the A32 onto the B82, to run along the Eastern shore of Lower Lough Erne.  It still seems strange that Lower Lough Erne lies North (or above) Upper Lough Erne (which is South of, or, below) the Lower lake . . .

Our destination was Castle Archdale Marina and Country Park.  By the time we reached there, it was just a little past 11 AM.  We purchased passage on the White Island Ferry for 11:30 at 4 GBP each and waited along the shore, watching the swans, ducks and talking to a few hardy children who were playing along the waters edge.  By now, the day had turned truly Soft.  Our pilot finally ushered us aboard the small (12-16 passenger) enclosed boat about 11:25 and then set off.  It was just the three of us. 

As soon as we left the shelter of the Marina, it began to rain more steadily and much harder. It took 10 minutes or so to chug across the choppy, semi-open water to the dock at White Island and our pilot assured us that the storm was pretty minimal, but he DID remain aboard the boat, rather than accompany us.  The rain had settled into a light, steady level, so we zipped up our jackets, raised our hood and umbrellas in hand made our way to the ruins. The carvings that line the walls of the ancient, roofless church are even more impressive than the pictures.  Atop each carving were small piles of coins, doubtless left as offerings.  I wandered about, snapping photos; vainly attempting to capture the unique clarity of the sculptures.

Even with waterproof shoes and long pants (and the afore-mentioned rain gear), we were pretty well wet and so, we returned to the boat after only 20 minutes, or so.  My wife joked to the pilot that our visit had to be one of the shorter ones.  He laughed and said that wasnt even close to true Once, in weather not much worse than we experienced, his passengers decided to turn back before even docking at the island!

The wind began to REALLY kick up the lake on the way back and my wife began to become a little nervous.  Sensing her anxiety, he smiled and insisted that she had nothing to worry about unless, or until, she saw him opening the locker and donning a life jacket!  Im NOT sure she found that terribly comforting, but in any case, the return trip was soon over.

After disembarking, we drove up through the Park, to Castle Archdale House.  Since it was about 12:30 PM and we were damp and chilled, we opted to visit the café for a soup, sandwich and tea lunch.  Over lunch, we discussed our options for visiting Devenish Island.  A small, 12 passenger boat sails from a nearby Marina, charging 3 GBP per person, or the much larger, 56 passenger, glass-walled MV Kestrel sails from Enniskillen and offers a 45 minute stop on Devenish, for 10 GBP per person.  Given the weather and our recent experience, it seemed to be a No Brainer the MV Kestrel was JUST the ticket!

On Saturdays in June, the Kestrel sails at 2:15 and 4:15, so after a brief wander about the grounds of Castle Archdale, we made our way back through Enniskillen town, to the Rolling O Jetty at the Brook Park Marina, just West of town on the A46.  The parent company operates a Coffee shop/Tourist Center/Ticket Agency in the park, which includes a childrens playground, public rest rooms, a substantial area of green space and a large parking lot.  We arrived about 1:30, in a light drizzle, purchased our tickets and sat, waiting, in the car.

After about 15 minutes, the drizzle faded away, so we got out and wandered about, snapping photos of the vessel, swans and scenery.  About 2 PM, we boarded the ship and settled in.  About 2:15, we cast off from the mooring and headed South AWAY from Devenish.  There were three crewmen (counting the Captain) and about 30 passengers aboard.  We motored under the bridge, passed Enniskillen Castle and turned down a side channel in order to pick up four more passengers.  Because of the strong current (and the watchful presence of a Water Patrol boat) we pulled up alongside of boats moored along a wharf and the passenger boarded by first climbing over one of the moored boats!

After that, we retraced our steps and then headed North.  We passed through a Lock, where the Captain pointed out Portora Castle.  After that, we pretty much headed straight to the landing at Devenish Island.  By this time, the day had turned glorious It was sunny and warm with great swaths of blue sky and fluffy white clouds.  Perfect weather for exploring the monastic ruins and the tall, complete (and recently renovated) Round Tower.

We spent pretty much every minute of our allotted 45 minutes wandering about Devenish.  They have reopened the Round Towers interior, so that I was able to climb all the way up to the top.  Since Devenish is the only climbable Tower that maintains an original style corbelled roof, I found it even more interesting than my climb at Kildare. Devenish is also unique, in that there is a second Tower foundation -- almost next to the completed Round Tower.  There are also a number of other interesting features on the Island an early High Cross, numerous church ruins and an information center.

Our return trip was pretty much speedy and direct back to the jetty doubtless to make up for our initial delay in gathering passengers.  There was a decent crowd waiting, too, for the second sailing, at 4:15.  The Captains commentary had peaked our interest, though, so we decided to visit the nearby ruins of Portora Castle.  It was only about a five minute drive North from the Marina, on the A46.

Portora is in a more ruinous state than Monea Castle partly due to the energetic efforts of truant, military minded students from Portora School, back in the 1800s, who practiced their sapping and demolition lessons using REAL gunpowder!  It is still an interesting site, however. Sitting high on a hill, overlooking Lough Erne, the views are impressive and it is easy to see the strategic value.

While there, we ran into a young woman who was herding about 4 or 5 8-10 year olds and she asked if we had seen any of the other Plantation Castles around Enniskillen there are 5 or 6, it seems.  After we mentioned our visit to Monea Castle the previous day, she suggested that we should consider Tully Castle, as well as it was just a short drive North, from Portroe.  She said that her son had visited all the area castles on a school field trip and that had become quite fascinated by them, as a result.

Tully Castle was a little harder to find, though it IS signposted.  As the young woman said, though, the hunt for it proved quite rewarding. You drive past some beautiful, large homes along the way and the ruins are moody, yet tranquil.

Finishing up our touring, we headed back into Enniskillen and parked near the center of town. Walking around, we made our way to the Linen Hall, who were offering a Sunday Carvery that looked appealing, but proved to be rather disappointing.  Our choice of the Roast of the Day was dry and highly over-cooked.  Part of that MIGHT have been the lateness of the day, but I dont think I would bother to chance it, again.  We had actually chosen to try Pats Bar, but they were no longer serving . . .

We made our way back to Dromard about 9 PM and settled in.  I took a walk down the long hill lane leading up to the farm and put in a call to our daughter.  She verified that all had arrived home, safe  -- though NOT without significant drama and anguish.  It seemed that trauma of the flight over, had nearly been MATCHED on the return flight, as well.

Shortly after clearing Security in Dublin, they were advised of a 1 ½ hour delay, Due to traffic.  They arrived in CLT about 2:45 and raced to the gate for their connecting flight to MCO.  It was still there, but they were denied boarding.  USAir had rebooked them and given away their seats!  Even worse, their new flight wasnt scheduled to depart, until 11 PM.  SIL went to work, though and they found seats on the 4 PM flight though, upon boarding they were assigned to seats scattered all through the plane.  When my daughter complained, they offered to seat her and VN 5 together, SIL at the other end of the plane and the Big child (Just Turned 8!) in a seat a row ahead of my daughter!  To her credit, my daughter refused reminding the attendant of the FAA Regs concerning Minors.  It turned out that the aisle seat next to where they offered to seat DD and VN 5 was vacant but USAir was Saving it, as Preferred Seating for FF members!

DD, VN 5 and JT 8 promptly sat down and then calmly stated that since the seat only a row away was vacant, that SIL would take it!  The Attendant protest, briefly, but finally acknowledged defeat. 

At least THIS time, the luggage managed to find its way.  All in all, BOTH flights were a horrible experience, end-to-end and I am VERY disappointed with how USAir handled themselves. 

More To Come . . .

Bob

 

 

 

 

 

 



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I really AM trying to speed this up and not fall into my old habits of getting distracted! cry  cry

Honest!  biggrin  biggrin

Monday, 1 July:

We rose, packed up and enjoyed another fine breakfast and said our good-byes about 9:20 AM.  Today would be a day of conflicting agendas.  Our destination was Clifden, but my wife was determined to revisit Knock and I had my eye set on yet another Round Tower, located just outside of Roscommon town.  Google maps calls it about 180 miles and claims 4 ½ hours of driving time, so we knew that we were in for another FULL day.

On the way to Roscommon, we followed the A4 to Belcoo, where we crossed the bridge into the Republic and the road turned into the N16.  Shortly after, we turned South, onto the R207 and followed it along the Eastern shore of Lough Allen, through Drumshambo, into Leitrim.  Shortly after, we followed the R280 into Carrick-On-Shannon.  From there, the R368 took us through Elphin, to the N61. 

Making our way from Elphin to the N61, we stumbled upon the very large and impressive IRA Memorial, erected to commemorate the 40 men and women who died in the struggle for Independence.  Sitting isolate, surrounded by fields and sheep, yet clearly within site of the N61, it is an awe inspiring place, sitting quiet, yet defiant.

We followed the  N61 into Roscommon, where signposts lured us into another interesting stop, to visit Roscommon Castle.  We had the place pretty much to ourselves and the ruins here were substantial.  Ive never been a big fan of castles, but this trip certainly gave me a whole other appreciation.  

Back on the road, we made our way NW on the N60 to the Round Tower at Oran.  This was one of the two times that my GPS failed me, since I had NO connectivity via my Mobile Wi-Fi.  On the other occasion, the GPS co-ordinates that I had were incorrect.  At any rate, after a fair bit of stumbling about, I finally figured out the correct side road to take and located the tattered stump. 

Rejoining the N61, we followed it through Castlerea and into Ballyhaunis.  From there, the R323 took us directly into Knock.  We wandered about the Shrine for a bit and did some shopping.  My wife had accumulated a fair number of Wish List requests from friends and family back in the States Should we HAPPEN to visit Knock So, that was the MAIN thrust of our visit.  We considered grabbing a bite to eat, but the places all looked quite busy and neither one of us were particularly hungry, so we settled for a Diet Coke, a bottle of water and a couple of Cadbury bars, instead.

From Knock, we drove through Castlebar and Westport and then drove the Direct, N59 route through Leenaun and Letterfrack, into Clifden.  We parked opposite the A&B Hotel about 5:30 and checked in.  After bring our luggage into the room, we started to walk around the town, but we didnt make it very far.  After threatening to, all day, it finally began to rain.  It started out lightly, at first, but it escalated fairly rapidly.

We decided to try our luck at the in-house restaurant and were VERY pleased with our choice.  The service and food were excellent and we discovered that we were both MUCH hungrier than we thought.  We made our way back upstairs and were both asleep by 10 PM.

More To Come . . .

Bob

 



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Tuesday, 2 July:

It was still raining in the morning as we settled in to an excellent breakfast in hotel.  For our time in Clifden, I had amassed a comprehensive list of possible sites (mostly, from Tony2phones excellent suggestions) that would have probably required DOUBLING our stay.  Since that was NOT an option, I had decided to adapt on the fly as time and weather dictated.  However, there were SOME sites that I considered as Mandatory the Sky Road, the Bog Road and the Roundstone Loop pretty much topped THAT list.

Taking advantage of a slight break in the rain, I headed out for Ballinaboy and turned onto the Bog Road.  Although it was only misting at this point, visibility was limited to about 100,000 yards or less, before fading into a sort of foggy dissolution.  That gave the scenery a somber appearance of other-worldly desolation.  It was quite evocative a true sense of the isolated, rugged, Old Ireland.

The mood vanished about mid-way along the road, however, as we drew to a forced stop in traffic! that eventually totaled 5 or 6 vehicles.  A female Garda approached us and advised that it would be a few minutes as they were clearing up an accident.  They were winching a marked Garda car onto the back of a flat-bed truck.  It had apparently run off the road on a curve and struck a rock.  The damage didnt look all that severe, but the muddy soft shoulder (verge) had swallowed up the bottom half of the front tires.

Note To Self:  Make sure to NOT let tires wander Off the Pavement! biggrin

After a few minutes, we were flagged through and continued onward. Discovering a wide, semi-dry turn off a short distance down the road, I decided to take advantage of the quasi-dry conditions for photos.  That pretty much took care of the Traffic jam, as all the other cars continued on and disappeared from sight.  The last vehicle to do so was an unmarked Ford Focus, driven by the female Garda.  Her passenger seat was occupied by a male Garda whom I PRESUME was the ill-fated driver of the marked car.  They slowed as the passed, but then smiled, waved and continued on after I held up my camera.

I think we passed only one other car (who was coming toward us) for the rest of our drive, until we reached the junction with the R341 and stumbled upon ANOTHER crash site!  Our Garda friends were directing traffic and investigating the accident.  The R341 makes a sharp curve, right at the Bog Road junction.  It appeared that one of the cars was turning onto the Bog Road and was struck in the side by the other, as it was attempting to negotiate the curve.  No one seemed injured, but the damage was such that neither car was going to be driven from the scene.  Since both of the cars appeared to be driven by locals, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor and headed for the MAIN road (the N59).

Second Note To Self:  If the Locals can't handle road and weather conditions -- Tourists need to find some place else to drive!  biggrin  biggrin

We pulled into the parking lot, in Recess, just opposite from the Connemara Giant statue and entered the shop.  We ended up spending about 35 minutes there, as it was raining too hard to even think about leaving.  Its a nice enough shop, but neither of us were particularly over-impressed.  In all fairness, our impression might have been tainted by the fact that we felt trapped by the weather outside . . .

In any event, as soon as the rain diminished into mist, we bolted for the car, crossed the street for a couple of quick snaps of the statue and then continued East on the N59.  It was still misting as we passed through Maam Cross, driving into Oughtergard.  By then, the rain was more miss than hit, so we drove down a side lane toward the shore of Lough Corrib.  My wife snapped a few interesting shots of some moored boats and then we headed back into town.  By the time we arrived there, the rain had completely stopped. 

Acting on a whim, we followed signs to the nearby Aghanure Castle.  Its a National Heritage site, so that means there is an Admission charge, but we thought that it was well worth the 3 Euro per person.  If budget is an issue, though, admission is free on the first Wednesday of the month, or, if you will be visiting other OPW sites, you can purchase a Heritage Card.

The walk along the river from the car park to the entrance is quite tranquil and pretty and the fully restored Tower House made a delightful comparison after having visited so many ruins.  The grounds are lovely, too, in an understated way NO Grand gardens or fanciful mazes here.  This was clearly a fortification, as opposed to a Stately Home.

Back in the car, we headed back toward Maam Cross. We made a brief detour for the sign posted turn off for Leem Bridge (The Quiet Man Bridge) for a few photos mostly because it was SO close by, that it seemed a waste, NOT to.  We stopped in to Maam Cross for a soup and sandwich lunch in the café.  Food was excellent, but there were very few customers about, both in the café and in the gift shop.  The whole place seemed much reduced compared to past visits although I did buy yet another sheep for my Flock.  This one is small, but mounted on a block of Connemara marble.

After lunch we headed East on the N59, back through Recess.  With grey, but mostly dry skies to encourage us, we returned to the R341.  Shortly after the turn off, we detoured into Ballynahinch Castle Hotel for a quick look see of the grounds and exterior, then continued on, to Roundstone.      

We parked and walked around Roundstone a bit and then made our way to the IDA Craft Center and a visit to Malachy Kearns World of Bodhrans.  After wandering about the Music Store and the Crafts Shop and purchasing a few items for the grandchildren! we wandered into a nearby pottery shop for a much pricier visit.

My wife had been looking for suitable Thank You gifts for two of the Cousins that CONSISTENLY exceed the normal limits of kindness and generosity.  One of them is a self-confessed, Tea Addict and my wife found a beautiful tea pot and two matching mugs.  She also found a small bowl, which she thought she might be able to find a place to squeeze it into her china cabinet at home . . .

After settling up, we continued around the R341, returning to Clifden.  With the day remaining dry, we immediately set out, along the Lower Road of the Sky Drive.  We followed it around to join the Upper Road and then followed it, back into Clifden. 

Fortified by some pastries that we bought in Roundstone, we immediately headed back out of town, following the N59 North, to the entrance to Connemara National Park.  We drove up, through the tree canopied lane, for quite a ways stopping periodically for a picture or two.  With the light fading (due more to the over-cast skies, rather than the lateness of the hour), we turned about and made a graceful retreat to Clifden.

Once we found parking near the hotel, we set out for a brief walk about town.  Though our previous evenings meal had been quite good, we decided to branch out tonight, in search of something different.  Our first stop, however, was a truly unique jewelry store, located next door to the hotel, named Joyces.  They had some absolutely intriguing designs, but fortunately for my wallet, my wife isnt much of a jewelry person.  If YOU are, then I heartily recommend their shop.

As they were closing, we continued around the square and finally settled upon Cullens Bistro & Coffee Shop for our evening meal.  The food was excellent and the service very good, although the proprietor seemed oddly intent upon keeping all of the patrons seated in close proximity with in the front, even though a larger and most spacious area to the rear looked to be more suitable.  Perhaps -- like the NI government had been during the G8 Conference -- she was overly concerned with the APPEARANCE of being busy?  Or, perhaps she merely found it easier to contain us all, within the front of the establishment?  I really dont know, but other than adding a bit of humorous quirkiness, we had no complaints.

With true dark beginning to fall, we headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

More To Come . . .

Bob



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Believe it, or NOT -- This IS the abbreviated version!  biggrin  biggrin  biggrin

 

Wednesday, 3 July:

After breakfast, we packed up, checked out and headed out. I had a VERY ambitious day planned, with lots of stops along the way to Mountshannon, at Lough Derg.  First on our list was in Moycullen, at the Connemara Marble Factory.  They have a small showroom on one side of the N59 and a larger Museum, on the other.  I must say that we were under-whelmed.  They werent particularly busy.  Maybe it was the day of the week, or the time of day, but the staff seemed quite apathetic and disinterested.  While there were lots of nice things on offer, there was no mention made of any tours or demonstrations.  We didnt stay long.

Our next stop was at the nearby Celtic Crystal Showroom.  Still looking for a gift for her other cousin, my wife had opined that a set of nice wine glasses might be appreciated.  The factory and showroom are located on a side road off of the N59, near the old railroad station.  Its a large building, set back from the road by a huge parking area.  Next to it is a large, grassy field that is often populated by Connemara ponies.

The showroom is cavernous and there is a large craft and souvenir shop attached.  At first glance, the display lining the periphery appears starkly sparse but that is an illusion.  The area was designed to accommodate the types of crowds that buses disgorge and the lighted and mirrored shelving displays the crystal to maximum advantage.  

Upon entry, there were only about three staff members and two other customers visible.  We were immediately greeted by a rather imposing older woman who identified herself as Mary Munnelly and offered to show us around.  It turned out that she was the Founder, Designer, Head of Sales and the next 15 or 20 minutes proved to be fascinatingly enlightening.

After the Tour, we were invited to a carving demonstration by one of the Master Cutters.  He demonstrated upon a small bowl and explained the entire process.  Since we were only an audience of four, it was a very personal and up-close experience.  Once we finally departed, we carried with us two Wheat pattern wine glasses and a standing order for my Round Tower vase.

On the Eastern edge of Galway, I detoured very slightly South to get some pictures of the incomplete, Roscam Round Tower.  To actually visit the incomplete Round Tower, it is necessary to obtain permission from the owners of the farmhouse and then walk about 2-3,000 yards through a field of wet, knee-high grass.  I took the lazy way out, though, and took my photographs from the street.

We returned to the N6, in Galway, followed it to Loughrea and then made our way via the N65, into Portumna.  Due to our rather lengthy stop in Moycullen, it was now about 1:30 PM or so, so we drove around town, looking for a lunch place that appealed.  We ended up back where we started, near the intersection of the N65 and the R352, at the Modena Restaurant.   It sits back, off the street, at the end of a short, cobblestone alley between two old buildings, in a modern, new structure,

The place is a paradox, of sorts.  It is a Traditional Irish / Indian Restaurant, with an Italian name that is owned and operated by a family from Bangladesh but they are Irish Citizens.  There was a large (20+ people) group of Locals, a different small group of four and my wife and I.  The food and service was excellent and the prices seemed quite reasonable, as well.  We were very pleased with our choice and would not hesitate to recommend Modena.

Our hunger satiated, we followed the N65 through town and made our way toward Birr.  The Heritage Town is a tempting destination for tourists.  Theres a Castle, with a world-famous telescope and science exhibit, an abandoned Workhouse (famously visited by Rosie ODonnell and Mario Corrigan during her Who Do You Think You Are? segment and much more.

BUT . . . I was a Man On A Mission and there is NO Round Tower in Birr.  I skirted to the South of town and made my way to Seir Kieran Round Tower or what little remains of it.  Within the grounds is the ruins of an old, round gun emplacement structure that is often mistakenly pictured as the ruined stump -- even though its dimensions are all wrong.  The ACTUAL Round Tower ruin lies at a corner of the outer wall of the much later Monastic enclosure and it is usually missed by many visitors. 

There is much else at Seir Kieran to see, as well:  Remnants of a motte, the large, ornately carved base of what would (or was intended to) have supported a High Cross of significant stature and views of the valley of breath-taking beauty.  Still, I would hazard a guess that for every 100 visitors to Birr, less than 7 Kilometers away, Seir Kieran probably hosts only one.

With time running short, I made our way to N62 and drove into the market town of Roscrea.  We parked near the Castle and oriented ourselves with a brief walk-about.  The Round Tower and Monastic ruins were just a moderate walk away, as the road actually bisects the grounds.  On one side of the street, the one remaining end wall and gable of the 12th century St. Cronans stands resolute, blocking view to the Church of Ireland building within, that replaced it.  Opposite the free-standing gabled wall is the Round Tower.  It is a slightly stunted Tower, missing its cap and about 18 feet of the top.  This alteration was made after snipers advantageously used the Tower, during the 1798 Rebellion.  In any event, it was a dramatic antithesis to the marginal remains at Seir Kieran.

By the time we returned to the car, it was nearly 5 PM, so I telephoned the B&B in Mountshannon to advise that we were delayed, but would still be arriving, as soon as practicable.  With that, we returned to Portumna and then followed the R352 to Hawthorn Lodge, on the northern edge of Mountshannon.  After checking in, we headed into town, to do some orienteering.  I quickly located the Marina, from which I planned to make an excursion out to Holy Island, on the morrow.   Then, we dropped in to the little shop attached to the café where we had eaten lunch, back in 2010, as we were enroute to Clonmacnoise and Athlone.  Our stay here, this trip, was actually partially based around our fond memories from that too-short visit.

Not terribly hungry, we stopped into the shop for a light snack, in lieu of a serious meal.  We actually ran into our B&B hostess there.  She confessed that she had needed to run out, in order to purchase ingredients to bake some fresh brown bread, for breakfast!  Not that we had much doubt, after checking in, but, at THAT point, we just KNEW that we were going to LOVE our stay at Hawthorne Lodge.

It was drizzling as we returned to the B&B and headed upstairs to our room.  We had covered a LOT of ground, today.  Google maps called it as 280 kilometers (about 170 miles) and requiring a bit over four hours of driving time.

More To Come. . .

Bob



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Michele --

 

A few words about Hawthorn Lodge B&B:  The B&B is a small, fairly recent build that basically occupies the upper floor of a family home.  There are four large bedrooms -- all ensuite -- connected by an 'L' shaped hallway.  We were the only guests, both nights.  All the rooms had just had the carpeting replaced and everything was spotless and comfortable.  Ursula and Noel Hogan and their two teen daughters operate Hawthorne Lodge, although, during our time there, the girls were mostly absent.  Noel, who farms, was only met on our last evening.  Both Ursula and Noel are active in local theater, as well.  Both are extremely friendly and outgoing, but we never felt that either was intrusive.

Hawthorn Lodge reminded us of our previous B&B favorite -- the late and very much lamented, Asgrove House, in Watergrasshill, County Cork.  Run by the dear to our heart, Mary Cronin (RIP), it was a place that felt more akin to visiting Grandmother's house, rather than an ordinary B&B.  Hawthorn Lodge has a very similar 'Vibe' but, given the age of the owners, a better analogy might be more like dropping in on favorite, younger cousins!  biggrin biggrin

We intend to revisit the area, again and when we do, Hawthorn Lodge will be our first choice for accommodation. 

Nuff said?  biggrin

Bob

 



-- Edited by Itallian Chauffeur on Monday 26th of August 2013 06:35:25 PM

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I can't wait to hear about Hawthorne Lodge. I have inspected it before and it looked very nice. It is listed in my book as a "Quick Pick".

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Sounds lovely. The hosts can make or break a B&B.

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Thursday, 4 July:

The sun was shining as we sat at the table by the front window in the dining area.  After a filling and tasty breakfasts including some delicious, fresh-baked brown bread! we had a bit of time to kill, so we struck up a conversation with our hostess.  A delightful hour or so later, we noticed that the blue sky and sun had been replaced by heavy, grey clouds and scattered bouts of rain.  Undaunted, we set out for the Marina.

Ger Madden is perhaps the foremost local expert concerning Holy Island, its Monastic Ruins, the Round Tower and the history and heritage of East Clare and has authored numerous publications.  He also operates the only regular ferry service to the island.  Access is by small, open boat only as the mooring site is too shallow and primitive for anything larger. The island is used in the summer, for grazing cattle that are brought over in the spring and returned to the main land, in the fall, on shallow-draft barges.  OPW maintains enclosures around the scattered sites and pays to have the grass mowed, but waking trails between the dock and the various sites must be shared with the cattle and their detritus.   

When Ger arrived, I purchased two of his guidebooks, but he suggested that it might be best to wait an hour or so to see what way the weather was likely to turn.  Following his advice, we drove down through Scarriff to the village of Taumgraney, in order to visit the East Clare heritage Center.  Taumgrainey once had a Round Tower, but it was torn down and the materials were used in the construction of a Tower House keep that was built by the OGradys, in the 1500s .

I took a picture of the intact keep Im counting it as HALF of a Round Tower ---

Inside the Old Church that houses the Center, we fell into a lively conversation with the three young ladies that operate the place.  Two of them confessed that they had never visited Holy Island, but they were well-informed on the history of it and the surrounding area.  The Center is only open during the summer, as the Old Church is actually the antechamber to the New Church (Built in the 12th century!) is still a working Church of Ireland church, during the remainder of the year.

Our chat ran long, as rain discouraged departure.  The ladies seemed glad for the distraction, since we were the only visitors.  BOTH churches are actually pretty amazing, both in form and function and I really enjoyed the architectural touches of each, distinctively unique structures.  The knowledge that we were occupying a space that likely had once hosted Brian Boru, made it all the more interesting.  Eventually, though we noticed that the rain had cleared and we hastened back to Mountshannon. 

Ger motored up to the dock, shortly after we arrived and not long thereafter, we were gliding over the water, to Holy Island.  The sky was grey, but dry.  In the Good Old Days Ger guided customers around the island and an employee ferried them to and fro.  Now, Ger does the ferrying and his Guiding consists of a map and a few pages from one of his books, laminated into a binder that he provides.  Nine Euro per person buys you approximately one hour on the Island roughly the amount it takes for the boat to make a round trip, to-and-fro.

Its all very impressive, in a low-key sort of way.  As we pulled up to the pier, five or six people waited to trade places with us on the boat.  From the low, rough, slightly crude concrete dock, a muddy, cattle-hoof pitted path leads up, through the trees for 30 feet or so.  There, the trees give way to a wide, hilly pasture that hosts a goodly number of cows.  About a thousand yards away, the Round Tower is visible within the first of the Monastic enclosures that stretch out to the other side of the island.

By this time, the sun had broken through.  We even had decent-sized stretches of blue sky.  Ill let the pictures and Links speak as to the significance of the archeology as they do the site better justice than I ever could

BUT as we were returning to the dock (arriving there, JUST as Ger was approaching with another boatload) my wife was disturbed to see a line of cows, blocking our path.  They stood, side-by-side, under the shade of the trees, just as they narrowed down at the top of the forested path and seemed quite determined to NOT be moved.  Even though both of us grew up in small towns, we are primarily City Folk.  My wife was rather intimidated by the four large beasts that barred our way particularly when I began waving my arms, shouting and striding toward them.

They werent terribly impressed by my questionable bravado, but after a few moments (And, I SWEAR, one or two Snorts of Derision!) they finally drifted away albeit, in VERY casual nonchalance   biggrin biggrin biggrin

After returning to shore, it seemed a pity to waste the remainder of the now, quite pleasant day.  My wife expressed an interest in visiting the newly-opened (though, as it turns out, incomplete) Portumna Workhouse.  We arrived there, within 45 minutes of closing time.  Initially, our Guide was a very proper woman who turned out to be one of the directors.  After showing us through the restored parts of the Main, Entry building and displaying a short, informative film, As we entered the first courtyard, though, we were Handed Off to an older man, as she needed to attend a Staff Meeting. 

The man admitted nervously that he had just completed the training to provide tours and that we were his first.  His primary function was in the construction (repairs and renovation) of the buildings.  He was also a local and remembered delivering groceries to the ancient Matron / Caretaker that had remained at the Workhouse, up until her death, in 1975.  Despite a tendency to drop the occasional F-Bomb, the tour was actually QUITE fascinating partially due to his intimate knowledge of the many unique, architectural features.

Even though Portumnas Workhouse was built AFTER the Famine, but it was chilling non-the-less.  We knew, of course, that families who entered were separated and kept segregated but knowing that is quite different than seeing the lengths to which the Administration went, to make that edict stick.  Babes in arms were allowed to remain with their mothers until the age of two at which time, they were forcibly removed.  Children occupied the first building and exercised in the first court yard.  Women occupied the second, window-lined building.  To keep the women from peeking out the windows to catch sight of their children, however, the windows along the front court yard were raised higher than they were, along the other side of the building!

Heaven Forbid that the Inmates should find ANY source of comfort or happiness within!  The tour ran later than normal, as our guide eagerly answered all of our questions and pointed out construction oddities that greatly interested us.  As it turned out, we were three of the last people to leave.

After returning to Mountshannon, we parked along the street and enjoyed an evening meal in the bar of the Mountshannon Hotel.  After eating we wandered through the nearby Park.  WOW!! It is an elaborate Maze, replete with interesting, scattered exhibits that mirror the passing ages.  Meandering along the pathways is like taking a walk through the history of Ireland made even MORE fascinating by the information that it was apparently designed and built by volunteers!

Well worth an hour, in MY opinion IF the Midges arent about!

We returned to Hawthorn Lodge about 9 PM.  Ursula and Noel invited us into the Lounge and we struck up a conversation that ranged over topics of Genealogy, Lough Erne, growing up in Mountshannon, Florida, their families and ours.  We shared a bottle of wine and Noel and I had a wee dram of the breath of life, to celebrate the US Independence Day.  biggrin  biggrin

Over the past years, Ive noticed that the Irish seem to have heartily embraced our holiday festivities.  Thats true, I suspect, in large part, due to the glee they feel in sharing our common adversary!  That might be a tad simplistic, but it works, for me.

We finally made our way upstairs, close to midnight.  It had been a long day of touring and gathering experience and yet, I had driven less than 85 kilometers!

More To Come. . .

Bob



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Friday, 5 July:

After another fine breakfast, we said our reluctant good-byes, packed up the car and bid adieu to Ursula, Hawthorn Lodge and Mountshannon.  We drove through town about 10 AM.  Over the previous few days, our plans for the end of our trip had jelled.  We decided to make it about family both present and past.  To that end, we made a few phone calls and set the wheels in motion.

Our first stop of the day was in Killaloe, at the Car Park just before the bridge over the Shannon.  We had stopped on the opposite shore on our previous drive through, in 2010.  This gave us a chance to see and photograph the old bridge, close up, from a different angle.

Resuming our travel, we followed the R494 through Ballina, down to the Junction with the M7.  We followed it down, below Limerick, onto the M20 and then eased onto the N20, toward Cork.  In Mallow, we pulled over to give B. a confirming call.  It was about noon.  At the stop, we purchased some Wexford strawberries, from a roadside vendor, as gifts.

She had set up a lunch meet with us, at 1 PM, at the River Lee, in Cork city.  The hotel is located on Western Road (N22), nestled between the river, University College Cork and the Cork Institute of Technology.  Needless to say, traffic was quite heavy.

River Lee has an underground Car Park that connects, via elevator.  The dining area is at the front of the building; a cavernous, glass-walled area overlooking the Western Road.  We were the last to arrive, very close to our planned, 1 PM schedule.  Present were B (widow of one of my FILs First Cousin and now, one of the SOLE remaining representatives of that generation),  S daughter of B, T husband to S and A son of S&T. 

B is a retired kindergarten teacher.  One of her former students was a young boy from the neighborhood John Spillane who grew up to become a multi-Meteor Award winning singer/songwriter/Irish Radio personality and musician and a bit of an National Icon. In Cork, though, his status is near Legendary.

S & T are also teachers, in different small schools, near Macroom.  T is a Principal.  He is also a bit of an Historian.  At our last Get Together -- an evening meal at a restaurant, in Macroom, in April of 2012 -- that lasted about 5 hours! T and I discussed our difficulty in locating the residence and grave of my wifes Great grandfather as outlined in the 1901 Census.  I brought along the additional info unearthed since then, from our October visit to the Registrars Office, in Dublin.

Based on that info and the maps, T made a few phone calls and arraigned for us to contact a man in Macroom that he thought might be of some help.  The meal / meeting ran about two and a half hours and the conversation was wide-ranging, interesting and animated and, we cant wait to have the chance to do it all, again.

After we finally said our good-byes. I rejoined the N22 and made our way to Macroom.  As advertised, the man in Macroom was very helpful pointing us toward the current owner of the land, who is quite elderly.  Unfortunately, HE was not available, but we did feel that we have gotten MUCH closer to locating the old homestead. 

Ah, well --- NEXT trip!

After leaving Macroom, we made our way to Dunmanway, on the R587, past Kilmichael.  From there, the R584 brought us into Drimoleague, where we planned to spend the next two nights.  While Macroom was the last known residence of my wifes Grandfather and his family, Drimoleague is where her Grandmother hailed from.  All of the Cousins are related through that branch of the family.  In fact, a distant relation still owns the Family Farm where Grandmother was born.   

Our accommodation for the next two nights is a relatively modern, end-of-terrace house located just off the main street, owned by the Cousin that my wife has grown closest to.  U and her sister, N, were going to meet us there.  U mother of the bride (from April), the self-confessed tea addict (from our pottery purchase in Roundstone) bought the house a few years back as a Weekend Getaway.

We arrived first, and let ourselves in.  U arrived shortly after and her sister drifted in about an hour later and we stayed up, late into the night, engrossed in conversation.  It had been a long day, covering 240 kilometers, but it seemed to pass in a much too short blur.

More To Come. . .

Bob



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Saturday, 6 July:

Unusually, I was the first to rise, so I set off for a walk about the village.  There is a fairly new, modern Centra not far from the house. It has a bakery attached that vents its excess heat outward, into the Car Park.  It is a BRILLIANT marketing tool!  The net result is that the heady scent of fresh baked bread entices you from hundreds of feet away and seduces you, completely, before you even enter the door to the shop.

I had gone in search of orange juice and fresh flowers and my essential Diet Coke.  I returned carrying all of those plus a dozen assorted (still warm to the touch) scones, a streudel-like pastry and a rhubarb tart, for a just-in-case, after dinner dessert.  I was sharing a house with three habitually health and weight conscious women and yet, not one of them complained!

We spent a leisurely few hours, sitting about the kitchen table, chatting and winnowing down the stockpile of baked good all washed down with gallons of tea.  We proffered our gifts to equal amounts of appreciation and protestation that such were unnecessary and made plans for the rest of the day.  U needed to depart, by late afternoon, as one of her sons was scheduled to compete in a Scor.  It was a Tune Up match for the up-coming, All-Ireland Roadbowling  Championship.  N planned to remain, however, until after Mass.

Shortly before it was time for U to leave, we caravanned to the grave yard at the church to pay our respects. U & Ns parents and grandparents rest there, as do three of their parents (and my wifes fathers) first cousins including a much-beloved, though often querulous, reprobate bachelor.  I have fond memories of the departed, Laird O The Mountain and our visits to the Mealagh Valley.

Some background history:

Margaret (my wifes Grandmother) and William (U&Ns Grandfather) were brother and sister.  Margaret went off to America with another sister and both worked in New York.  William, a younger brother, went to Montana and worked the mines.  After her sister married, Margaret returned to Ireland, found no future there and returned to the US for good.  In the early 20s, William returned to Ireland.  Before he left, he stopped off, in Upstate NY, to visit his favorite sister.

Back in Ireland, having saved enough to buy a small farm of his own William married the local school teacher, Agnes.  Agnes is rather famous locally, as well.  During the Tan War, she bravely delayed and distracted a group of Auxiliaries at her front door as the IRA Flying Column that had taken rest and shelter within, slipped out the back and melted into the wild mountainside beyond.

The teachers house sits nearly opposite the rugged ruins of Castle Donovan, separated by the rough bohreen that leads up, into Mealagh.  William and Agnes lived in the teachers house for years and she continued to teach, while he went off each day to work their farm.  U & Ns father inherited the farm.  In the 1970s, he sold the West Cork farm and purchased another, in East Cork, in order to provide greater opportunities to their children.

Bs late husband was more interested in academics.  After University, he began teaching at Presentation College, in Cork and retired as Assistant Dean.  Along the way, though, he missed the quiet West Cork life and bought a small, Gentlemans farm, as a summer and weekend retreat.  One of his sons (E) still operates it.

On our first visit, in 1999, we had driven by the old house, where Margaret and William had been born, but had not stopped, as the Cousin (T) living there at the time was gravely ill with cancer.  Subsequent visits to the area failed to return us there, as well.  Im not really sure why time, as always, was ever in short supply, but there seemed to be a sense of separation . . .

End of background . . .

After parting ways with U, at the church, N drove us North toward Castle Donovan.  We stopped into the old farm for a brief visit with E and then drove the back lanes around the area.  We even stopped by the Castle marveling that the scaffolding that has shrouded the structure since 2000 is now gone!  Signs indicated that the site will soon be open to tourists after all these years.

From the castle, we continued up the bohreen toward the Mealagh valley, but stopped at a wide spot short of the ridge.  Taking advantage of the blue sky and sunshine, we dallied there, enjoying the panoramic views of the vale spread out below us.  It was bitter-sweet, as our last visit here had been with U&Ns father, just a few, short months before his death.

Returning to town, N & my wife dropped me at the house and made their way to Mass.  When they returned, both of them seemed quite excited.  They had met Ts daughter and widow at church and they had been invited to stop by the old family home.  It was no longer occupied by family, but is instead on long-term rental, as the family members have all built newer homes, elsewhere on the property.

Despite needing to head home, N seemed quite excited to delay her departure long enough for a detour to see the old family home.  As we milled about the outside taking photos, the renter came out and spoke with us briefly.  He seemed quite friendly although he didnt invite us IN and we were surprised at how the house had changed compared to our previous, rainy-day memories from 1999. 

We made our way back into the village and N hastily departed.  Cousin E arrived, about 9:30 and invited us to join him at his Local.  My wife begged off, but it seemed an enticing way for me to spend my final night in West Cork, so he and I headed off to the pub.  I only stayed for about an hour, though just long enough to enjoy one pint amid pleasant company.  I left E and his friends for a refreshing walk home, savoring the tranquility and solitude.

It had been a VERY good day.

More To Come . . .

Bob



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Sunday, 7 July:

We made a late start from Drimoleague, following the Direct route (R586 to Bandon via Dunmanway; N71 to the N25 South Ring Road; the Jack Lynch Tunnel onward to the M8) past Cork and the Cousins.  Our only Agenda was to arrive at the Dublin Airport Premier Inn in a leisurely fashion and at a reasonably early hour.

We stopped at the Service Plaza near Junction 14 for rest and refreshment and I began my insidious manipulation to Add-In an impromptu detour, to Old Kilcullen.  Located a scant 10 kilometers from the M7 at the Curragh of Kildare, and adjacent to the M9 (for easy egress), it could NOT possibly add more than an hour to our journey says I.  Its a leisurely, EASY drive from the Curragh, via the R143, I wheedle.  Its a chance to relax, get off the Motorway and enjoy a little countryside.

Long story short, the wife reluctantly agreed, but she DID end up enjoying both the drive AND the Monastic Ruins although I must confess that my Round Tower obsession is clearly beginning to wear upon her patience.  However, the drive through the countryside past the Military barracks is quite scenic and the old church yard is sited atop a hill, with scenic views so, I BELIEVE my minor deceptions were ultimately appreciated.  Counting the time spent wandering about the grounds, we rejoined the M7 about two hours later.

After checking in, schlepping the luggage up to the room and performing some repacking, we set out, in search of dinner.  Doubting that the hotel had resolved their service problems in the span of only ten days and still leery of the TGI Fridays experience from last October, we resigned ourselves to the fact that our vacation was over and made our way to the nearby McDonalds.

Neither of us was terribly hungry and, in our defense, this was only our THIRD such visit, in Ireland, out of the past 14 years!  I only confess this, because of the remarkably unexpected treatment.  When the wait staff realized that we were Yanks, they seemed genuinely surprised and curious about our Irish travels asking numerous questions about where we had been, what we enjoyed and if we would ever return!  It was all rather amusing and a BIT disconcerting as they seemed equally SHOCKED and DELIGHTED that we seemed to enjoy Ireland so much!!!

Back at the hotel, I spotted a large group of motorcycles parked at the back including a VERY Drool-worthy Classic, 40 year old Laverta 1000 Jota Triple.  Caught in the act of unabashed adoration, I was soon surrounded by and enmeshed in conversation with a biker group from Yorkshire.  They had taken the ferry over for the long weekend in order to tour about and watch the Skerries Road Race.  Lest it be that any readers feel concern for my personal safety, I might add that I was doubtless, ONE of the youngest if not THE youngest individuals present.

With the exception of the Laverta, most of the machines were modern, road bikes, but a number of the gentlemen mentioned assorted other machines that they had left at home, for this trip.  Next thing, we were passing around images of our various bikes on our smart phones and exchanging break down stories, travel tales and etcetera.  After an hour or so, we parted ways, after I assured them that having been the SECOND group of Yorkshire men to tell me that Yorkshire was THE site in England worth a visit that I would definitely add it to my list of Must Sees . . .

We called it a night shortly thereafter.

Monday, 8 July: 

We were up and out by 6:30 AM and had returned the car to the Hertz Satellite Lot by 7:00, without any incident or drama.  A quick bus ride later, we checked in and began the rather lengthy Clearances process.  A little before 9 AM we boarded and departed pretty close to our scheduled, 9:20 AM time.  We had only a 2.5 hour layover in Atlanta, which was JUST long enough to allow us to grab some lunch, before departing at 3:45 PM or so and arrived in Gainesville, about 5:15.  My Brother-in-law had dropped my truck off at the airport the evening before and arriving home by a little after 6 PM.

 

Some final details to follow . . .

Bob



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Some Updates, Observations and Further Information:

 

                                      The Round Tower Quest:

This trip, I visited  Nendrum, Drumbo, Antrim, Devenish, Oran, Roscam, Seir Keiran, Roscrea, Iniscealtra Holy Island, Old Kilcullen and Tomgraney  -- I'm Counting this as ½, since the stones were reused, in the Tower House!  That makes ten (and a HALF) Round Towers this trip.  Even though I missed out on Rams Island,  I consider this a fairly successful excursion.   I also managed to climb the interiors of two (of only three) Climb-able Towers.  biggrin  biggrin

To the best of my knowledge, that leaves me with ELEVEN to go -- Although, I'll need to re-visit four more, to get adequate photographs cry  cry

Three are in County Kildare: Oughtergard, Castledermot and Killashee

Three are in County Kilkenny: Aghaviller, Tullaherin and Kilkenny (to Climb)  biggrin

One is in Clare:  Scattery Island though near to needed revists of Killinaboy, Croom and Ardpatrick)

One is in County Dublin:  Rathmichael.

One is on the Aran Island of Inis Mor:  Killeany

The two, most problematical destinations: Tory Island (Donegal) and Rams Island (Antrim)

There are also a couple of Quasi Towers those that are called Round Towers, even though they fall under the Discredited category . . . aww

Given the disparate locations, it could take a couple of more years to visit ALL of them but, Success does seem possible, at this point!

 

                                       Traveling With Family Particularly, Little Ones:

We knew, going in, that traveling with six would alter our typical traveling habits.  The fact that two of the six were under the age of ten, also altered the dynamic.  Even though both girls are seasoned car travelers regularly making the 3+ hour drive from their house to ours their experience is on Florida roads that are predominantly either ALL Interstate, or near enough to it.  Florida roads are practically all smooth, straight and level.  Irish roads, on the other hand, are windy, twisty and turny -- 

We visited far less than we had planned even given our reduced expectations but, as Michele often says, You wont miss what you dont see   I fully believe that the girls were delighted by what they DID see and do.  As recently as this past weekend, they were still talking avidly about their trip.

Car/motion sickness was a SLIGHT issue, exasperated by the fact that our daughter was approximately two months pregnant.  Always a poor passenger, she spent all of her time in the front, fighting morning sickness aggravated by the car travel.  Poor, 6'2" SIL was relegated to the rear seats, as a consequence.   Ideally, I should have opted for a 9 passenger.  We really 'Lucked Out' with the upgrade to the Galaxy, though, as anything less roomy would have been woefully inadequate.

Due to the flight delays, we ended up making TWO round-trips between Dublin and our Self-Catering and that covered around 600 of the 1400 total miles accumulated during that portion of our trip.  In contrast, my wife and I covered over 2,400 kilometers, during the second portion of our trip.

I have a LOT more to say about my 'Round Tower' Vase from Celtic Crystal, but it will be QUITE lengthy, so I'll save it for a separate posting ... 

Bob

 



-- Edited by Itallian Chauffeur on Sunday 29th of September 2013 10:25:38 AM

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Celtic Crystal and my Round Tower vase:

 

One of our favorite stops, this trip, was at the Celtic Crystal Showroom.  Still looking for a gift for her other cousin, my wife had opined that a set of nice wine glasses might be appreciated.  The factory and showroom are located on a side road off of the N59, near the old railroad station.  Its a large building, set back from the road by a huge parking area.  Next to it is a large, grassy field that is often populated by Connemara ponies.  The showroom is cavernous and there is a large craft and souvenir shop attached.  At first glance, the display lining the periphery appears starkly sparse but that is an illusion.  The area was designed to accommodate the types of crowds that buses disgorge and the lighted and mirrored shelving displays the crystal to maximum advantage.  

Upon entry, there were only about three staff members and two other customers visible.  We were immediately greeted by a rather imposing older woman who identified herself as Mary Munnelly and offered to show us around.  It turned out that she was the Founder, Designer, Head of Sales and the next 15 or 20 minutes proved to be fascinatingly enlightening.

 

Some details:  Celtic Crystal was founded in the early 70s.   They found it impossible to secure retail dealers within Ireland, she said, as the big, established companies (like Waterford) Black-balled them, as flash-in-the-pan that was doomed to failure.  She took great satisfaction in pointing out that, today, Celtic Crystal remains as one of the ONLY, "True" Irish crystal companies still in existence.

The lack of domestic retail outlets produced a pleasant side effect, however.  By Irish law, the Company is not required to charge or collect Value Added Tax -- on ANY sales!  No pesky paperwork, no forms to be validated at the airport and no dual-pricing.  Most of their sales are generated by overseas buyers and Mary spends much of the year attending various Shows, displaying samples and collecting orders.  Scattered throughout the display areas were numerous, one-of-a-kind, Show Pieces.  One, in particular, caught our eye and she discussed it, in great detail.

It was a GIGANTIC vase 3-4 feet tall and weighing close to 150 pounds!  Mary explained that like all of the larger pieces, her design called for repetitive carved features that reduced in size as they rose, from bottom to top.  Common motifs are various iconic, Celtic designs, such as the Shamrock, Tara Brooch, Brian Boru's Harp, the Claddagh and (to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine) a Wheat stalk.  She told us proudly that the giant vase had been carved by a Master Cutter named Sean and that the vase had won first Prize at a Show in Paris.

Moving on from the vase, Mary pointed out three pieces of crystal setting off to the side, on the Sales counter, destined for an upcoming Show in Belgium.  Two of them were COLORED crystal a unique specialty of Celtic Crystal.  The third piece also carved by Sean, it turned out was a 17 inch, six-sided, tapering vase.  Three of the sides displayed the Wheat carvings, while the alternating sides were carved in a cross-hatch design.  She said that this was their Round Tower prototype . . .

 

Now, perhaps, Ms Munnelly is a clairvoyant mind-reader.  Perhaps, though I am a skeptic by nature, Fate and Destiny conspired to force me down a certain path.  Perhaps, the Universe (and everything else) REQUIRED this happenstance to occur, just to maintain Order.  None of that even really matters --  She HAD me, at "Round Tower".

Bearing in mind that I am NOT the most subtle of individuals, my casual inquiry as to what would be done with the Round Tower vase after the Show should have triggered all sorts of alarms.  Any salesperson worthy of the name would likely be salivating in anticipation at a rate FAR in excess of Dr. Pavlovs vaunted canines!  To her credit, Mary didnt pounce.  She calmly stated that after returning to the Shop, she would likely display it, or maybe offer it for sale.

 

"How much might that go for," said I with NO sense of calm diffidence, what so ever.

"Oh", says she, "I dont know, say, 65 Euro, plus shipping?"

I truly believe that she was QUITE startled at the speed with which I produced my VISA Card and said, "Sold!"

After the Tour, we were invited to a carving demonstration.

Link to Round Tower Vase Pix and Demonstration Cutting:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/itallian_chauffeur/sets/72157634558506415/

The fellow doing the Demo is Sean -- he of the GIANT AND the Round Tower vases -- a Master Cutter with 30+ years at Celtic Crystal.  Each Master Cutter must graduate from Arts College BEFORE beginning a 5 year apprenticeship -- Then there are TWO more years given over to attain 'Master' status.  Sean created the Tall, heavy (150+ pound) vase on display AND "MY" Round Tower Vase.  They are one-offs, created for Trade Shows through-out the world.  "My" Round Tower will make / has made a brief visit to Belgium before returning to Moycullen.  Then, Sean will sign his work and it will be shipped to me ...

I had hoped to have it within 9 or 10 days, but there were a number of delays in shipping --

First and foremost, my Visa card was compromised while I was in Ireland.  In an interesting case of coincidence, someone tried to rack up over $800 worth of merchandise from Best Buy on 19 June-- and Visa "flagged" it as bogus -- BECAUSE they noted that I had informed them that I would be in Ireland at that time.  At THAT point, Visa "Froze" the account.  Once I got back and found out, I had to call Ireland and give them a different CC number, so that they could ship it.It REALLY pays to notify your Credit Card company before you travel!

There was some other complications/confusion, but my vase finally shipped around 1August and arrived, about 10 days later.  To my GREAT dismay It was damaged!  I contacted Celtic Crystal, with the following missive:

 

"My Round Tower vase finally arrived, Tuesday, 13 August.  I am saddened and dismayed to report that it did not survive the journey intact.  The shard pieces found within the package indicate that the damage likely occurred during shipping.

Apparently, two corners of the six-sided base were impacted at some point.  On the minor corner, there is very minimal damage that is barely visible.  On the more heavily damaged corner, however, a large, wedge-shaped shard has actually separated from the base.

The vase is, of course, beautiful and its stability, free-standing, does not appear to be affected.  With the large shard pressed into place, the damage is not readily apparent under casual observation although it is, under closer scrutiny.  There does not seem to be any further signs of fracturing apparent at this time.  Since the Round Tower vase was a One Off prototype for the Belgian Show, clearly, securing a replacement is not possible.  Filing a damage claim might yield a refund, but it could not, given the nature of the piece, provide a substitute.  My inclination is to Live With the damage, as it is, at least in my mind, a truly unique and irreplaceable piece of art."

 

When I emailed Celtic Crystal, with a couple of photos of the damage, this was the reply that I received -- the very NEXT day:

 

Dear Bob,

I am sorry about the damage to your vase. There is little point in sending a certificate I think the best thing I can do is give you a full refund. There is no need to return the vase  you might find some use for the it in a porch or some where in a corner for flowers. Please be careful the sharp edge does not scratch your furniture or cut some one.

Once again my apologies.

Best regards,

Aengus Munnelly.

 Within a couple of days, I received a FULL refund for all charges!

 In the interim, I spent about $10 at a local Craft Shop and fabricated a round, wooden base that supports the vase, holds the broken shard in place AND protects the dining room table that the vase sits upon.  Sunlight from the South-facing window causes the vase to actually Glow.  Despite the damage, the vase has become a MOST cherished memento of Ireland.  I can NOT say enough good things about Celtic Crystal both as an informative and entertaining touring destination --- AND as a company of EXCELLENT products and Customer Service.

 Integrity is a valuable commodity and the Celtic Crystal has demonstrated an abundance of that trait.  Additionally, they are truly DELIGHTFUL people every one of the staff that we interacted with has been friendly and professional, even beyond the lofty expectation that we have come to expect, after our many visits.

 

 

Bob

 



-- Edited by Itallian Chauffeur on Sunday 13th of October 2013 02:31:43 PM

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I thoroughly enjoyed your very extensive trip report and the many links you provided. I will be referring back to it when planning our next trip to Ireland. I see now that we missed many places on our last trip when we were so close to some of the interesting places you visited.

What a shame that your crystal arrived damaged. Same thing happened to a friend with a wine glass, however that was replaceable, yours was not.

I had to laugh toward the end of the report when you started to speak like a native ending sentences with "said I" and "said she". Expected to read the word "ye", maybe next time. Love that Irish dialect.



-- Edited by Judy on Tuesday 15th of October 2013 11:58:15 AM

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Bob,

So sorry to hear about the damage to your round tower vase. I know you were greatly looking forward to its arrival. That is fantastic customer service from Celtic Crystal. Now you can pretend your vase was knocked around by some marauding Vikings in the distant past and bears the scars of history. biggrin 

Thanks for the Ashling Hotel rec. It was perfect. 

Michele



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