Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Ireland Road Trip: Dingle Town

Trip date: September 2019

After the long drive around the Ring of Kerry I was very happy to park my car and check into the Dingle Benners Hotel.  They put me into a very large room by European standards, with king bed and good sized bathroom. I was staying in Dingle for 3 nights so it was nice to have room to spread out. 

I also took advantage of their laundry services and left a bag for them to take that evening. It was going to be nice to have a suitcase full of clean clothes again as I was on day 9 of my trip.

The hotel is 100+ years old and not all rooms have lift access; the staff is very happy to help with luggage however. There's a comfy bar right off the lobby and as soon as I dropped my bags I was more than happy to relax with a Guinness! 

And not that Dingle is big, cuz it isn't, but the hotel is very central and easy to walk everywhere. I would not have to take my car out of the included parking spot until I left!

Dingle is such a cute and cheery town. It's laid out in a triangle shape, basically making it impossible to get lost! Armed with some recommendations from the front desk, I took myself to dinner at Fenton's for some delicious local mussels before grabbing a seat at the bar at John Benny's Pub for some excellent music. 

John's wife Eilís played and she was awesome! I just loved the vibe in this pub, great music, service, and super fun people! It was an excellent first night in Dingle!

The town is perfect for wandering around and getting some shopping in. There is beautiful cut crystal to be found in Dingle but I talked myself out of adding to the sizeable glassware collection I already have. I did not talk myself out of purchasing some lovely Irish cheeses from The Little Cheese Shop however. 
The woman behind the counter helped me pick out an assortment of cheeses; some I'd take to share with Nic and Forest, others I'd snack on in the car. It's a great shop and they have all sorts of delicious things!

More delicious things can be found at the uber popular Murphy's Ice Cream which has interesting flavors such as Dingle Sea Salt, Irish Brown Bread, and Dingle Gin. That's my kind of ice cream!

Dingle has its own resident dolphin who frequently hangs out in the harbor. I didn't see Fungie but my stroll around the waterfront was still very enjoyable. Absolutely beautiful scenery here.
I had heard there was a farmers market on Fridays so was very happy to stroll over in the sunshine. Unfortunately there were just a few bags of potatoes and a couple of craft tents. Peruse if you happen to be there but don't go out of your way.

What you should go out of your way for though are the Harry Clarke stained glass windows and other exhibits at the Diseart Cultural Center. 

One ticket price gets you free range to explore the former convent. My first stop was to the fresco of The Last Supper. In this rendition the artist, from Colorado in the States, painted locals in for the apostles and the surroundings are that of the Dingle Peninsula. I thought it was very clever!
Next I went into the chapel to view the stained glass windows. Harry Clarke was considered the top artist of his kind when he was commissioned in 1922 to create the 12 pieces of art. 
The colors are striking, especially with the sun streaming in. It's a beautiful chapel and the windows are intricate and very beautiful.

In a small space which use to be the Sisters’ community room there are a series of portraits of Nano Nagle who founded the first convent in Ireland. 

The gardens are gorgeous and great for wandering around, I saw a few people enjoying picnics. I absolutely loved exploring through and around the Diseart Cultural Center; you can't miss it as it takes up most of Green Street.

At the far west side of town the Dingle Distillery is making whiskey and gin, is there any question about my visiting? There are only three tours a day at set times so it is important to make a reservation if you are interested. I walked the 1 mile which just took about 20 minutes from the Dingle Benner Hotel. 

The tour was interesting with stories of local support; they are still a pretty young distillery having only released their first whiskey in 2015. 

We started with a taste of the gin, then a tour around, and finished with a tasting of their current whiskey lineup. Pretty great for €15! The gin is available at Dublin airport duty free for a bit less, the whiskey is not at duty free.

There were a lot of choices and recommendations for eating in town but I was possibly most excited to try Reel Dingle Fish, a modern chippy right in the middle of town. An actual hole-in-the-wall! I got in before it was too busy and had some delicious cod and chips while sitting at the counter. It was a HUGE portion! 

One afternoon I had a late lunch of pot pie and a pint across from my hotel at the Dingle Pub. It was fine, but I wouldn't recommend with so many better options. The music line up they were promoting was also really geared towards tourists so if that is your thing you might want to check them out in the evening.

At Out of the Blue, which is right across from the waterfront, I treated myself to oysters and lobster, fresh from Dingle Bay. It was absolutely delicious and I'd absolutely recommend making a reservation for this popular and busy spot!

Another evening I had oysters again but this time with steak and scampi at Ash's Restaurant. The food was excellent at this local favorite which also has a great bar. And I was able to taste their special Founding Fathers bottling of one of the Dingle whiskeys that I had learned about at the distillery. An excellent dram!

Without a doubt Dingle had my absolute favorite bar/music scene. So. Much. Fun! I already mentioned John Benny's for good music and on another night I wandered into O'Flaherty's on Bridge Street. 
Here the owner Fergus Ó Flaithbheartaigh poured my pint and then sat with his musicians and played a session. Fergus plays a few different instruments and the sets were very tradition tunes, which was fine by me!
The night I stopped into the Courthouse Pub the music wasn't traditional, nothing wrong with that but I was in Ireland for Irish music! It was still fine for a pint before heading off.

Some of the pubs in town have historically also been hardware stores, mercantiles, haberdasheries, or the like. So seeing the front windows stocked with tools and such can be puzzling, but step inside the likes of Dick Macks and you'll be very pleased with the overflowing shelves of some incredible whiskeys from around the world!
Many of these old pubs also still have a snug up front. These semi-closed off areas were for ladies as it was not proper for them to be sitting at the bar (even if their husband was!). 
Another interesting thing is that pubs in Ireland close right about midnight! One evening after listening to some music in another bar and leaving as they were closing, I passed Foxy John's Hardware/Pub. There seemed to be people still inside even though it was late so I took a chance and walked in. 

The bartender hesitated for just a minute before pouring me a Jameson and the three local guys at the bar started chattering away like they had known me forever. They took turns buying rounds until 2am (I did try to get one as I had been told it is very bad form not to reciprocate!) I had such a blast with these locals and was very touched that I was let into their "lock-in" as after hours drinking is called (the bar doors were literally locked).

With Dingle being so small, three nights may seem like a lot. But I found lots to do and really found it to be the most fun of all the towns I visited on the solo part of my trip so I was very happy to have stayed around a bit!
*Thank you to Dingle Benners Hotel for providing me a special rate for my accommodations including complimentary breakfast, however all opinions are my own.*

**As I visited all of these places before the COVID-19 pandemic, please double check on opening hours. And fingers crossed these businesses all stay in business!**

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Ireland Road Trip: Kenmare and the Ring of Kerry

Trip date: Sept 2019

County Kerry is well known to have some of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes in all of Ireland. My first night in the county I was staying in Kenmare which was a great jumping off point to the Ring of Kerry. Before arriving in town I had made an appointment at the Kissane Sheep Farm for a demonstration of sheep herding and shearing.

The drive from Kinsale in County Cork only took about 2 hours but it was raining incredibly hard the entire way. It's a gorgeous drive though; vibrant green hills, old stone bridges, big estates. 

The farm is tucked into the hills of Moll's Gap. I arrived and at the appointed time the gates opened so I could drive down the way and park outside of the shearing barn. We were a small group of visitors, the others were traveling together on a minibus, and the only people truly decked out for the rain were the sheep farmers. 

We moved into the barn after watching the dogs in action and sat down for a sheep shearing demonstration. It was pretty impressive how fast they were able to do it! And also how the dog kept his eyes on the sheep the entire time!
The farm has been a family business for over 200 years. In 2005 they started doing demonstrations of their sheep dogs herding and tours of the facilities in order to help pay the bills. They also sell some locally made products to support their neighbors. I thought it was great, even in the dumping rain!

It was a quick 15 minute drive to Kenmare where I checked into the Lansdowne Arms. The hotel is fine; its days of being a grand hotel are firmly in the past however. The furniture is old and worn, the wifi is almost non existent, and there are so many hallways, because of additions to made to the original hotel built in 1799, that I felt lost. 

Kenmare is a very small town with a population of about 2500 and is laid out in the shape of an X making it very easy to walk around. The front desk pointed me down the street to their sister restaurant The Wander Inn and recommended the mussels. So that is exactly what I did!

Brown bread and a pint of Guinness rounded out my delicious lunch. The rain had finally let up, I had warmed up, and now I was out to explore one of the town's claims to fame. Over 3000 years old, the Ancient Stone Circle is just a 5-minute walk from Main Street.  There use to be an honor box that you dropped your €2 in but now the site is protected by a fence and an attendant who will exchange entry for your money.

They aren't really sure what the stone circle was used for, it's a bit of a mystery, but it's an interesting site to visit if you are staying in town. 

That evening the bar at the Lansdown Arms was very empty so I went across the street to Mulcahy's where I found a very nice selection of gin and a bartender who made me a proper martini! So nice in fact I ended up having two :)

Afterwards I stopped into No. 35 for a light dinner. They were kind enough to let me just order a couple of appetizers as usually they only serve a 3-course set menu. My food was delicious and I'd absolutely recommend an evening here!

The next morning after breakfast of decadent porridge with cream and a side of bacon in the hotel, I checked out, loaded up the car, and was off for my big drive around the Ring of Kerry. This would also be my start of driving the Wild Atlantic Way

Unfortunately the day was drizzly and foggy so I would be missing out on a lot of stellar views. But I was so excited that the weather didn't dampen my spirits. I had done a lot of research on my drive and chosen carefully what I wanted to see. I was also driving clockwise around the ring in order to not get stuck behind tour buses! SMRT

First stop; Staigue Ring Fort. I pulled into the muddy parking lot after driving down a tiny one-lane road. There were only two other people as I pulled on my rain gear and dropped €1 in the honor box. 

It's amazing how the ring fort has survived, having been built around 300 AD. And to have it almost to myself was a little eerie! 

I climbed up and had a walk around. The actual reasons for forts are still mostly unknown. Were they defensive forts, ritual sites, or meeting areas? No one can say for sure.

As I drove away from the fort, I tailgated the SUV in front of me so that if there was car coming the other way they would have to back up for both of us. :)

The weather cleared just a bit as I pulled into Derrynane House. I didn't tour the inside of the house but walked around the grounds and out to the Ogham stone. As I had learned at the Book of Kells, these stones are found around the country, their markings were an alphabet so people could leave messages. 

Back on the road I drove along Kenmare Bay and through the Coomakesta Pass. This entire area is suppose to have the most stunning views. I had to laugh at the "view" I was getting.

I turned off from N70 onto R567 and the Skellig Ring Loop. This road is too small for the tour buses so I wouldn't have to worry about giving the right of way. I had some nice views of St Finian's Bay and the beach below. 

I pulled into the gravel lot for the Kerry Cliffs (which btw my Irish friends say this is 100% a made up name for tourism), paid some Euros and hiked out to the dramatic look outs. It was windy and rainy and the fog was coming in and out. And it was amazing!

I stayed and hiked around for a while, I could see the islands of Little Skellig and Skellig Michael when the fog lifted, and could barely see the tip of the cliff I was on when it rolled back in. I loved it.

By 13:30 I arrived in the cute harbor town of Portmagee and was starving for lunch! The huge plate of fish and chips at The Moorings pub was exactly what was needed. I didn't walk around the town but from what I read I saw it all getting out of my car as the village has a population of just over 100!

A few miles down the highway, at Knightstown, I boarded a tiny car ferry which took me across the water and back onto the N70 in Cahersiveen. There are two more ring forts out here, Cahergal and Leacanabuaile. 

These two forts are about 200 yards apart and share a tiny parking lot. It was getting a bit late in the day so I chose to hike up the hill to Leacanabuaile which was believed to be a farmstead. It was quite a bit more elaborate in its structures than the simple circle at Staigue, and the views of the surrounded land and bay were gorgeous.

On my drive to the forts I had seen the ruins of an old stone castle off in the distance. I love shit like that. So after I checked out the fort I made my way to the ruins. Turns out it was one of the largest castles built in the area in the 15th century and was home to the McCarthy Clan. Very cool!

At Killorglin I ended my Ring of Kerry drive and headed west on the R561 past Inch beach and on to Dingle. I had been on the road for 7 hours and had seen a lot! And even though the weather hadn't exactly cooperated, I was very impressed with the beauty of the Irish countryside!

**As I visited all of these places before the COVID-19 pandemic, please double check on opening hours. And fingers crossed these businesses all stay in business!**

All photos of County Kerry here.

Other posts from this trip:

Country Count #50: Ireland

Out and About in Dublin Town

Michelin Stars and Cocktail Bars in Dublin

24 Hours in Belfast

Ireland Road Trip: County Kilkenny

Ireland Road Trip: County Cork

Ireland Road Trip: Dingle Town

Dingle Peninsula Archeology Tour

Ireland Road Trip: Cliffs of Moher and Galway

Aran Islands Day Trip

Ireland Road Trip: County Mayo

Ireland Road Trip: End of the Road; Sligo to Dublin

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Ireland Road Trip: County Cork

Trip date: September 2019

I was driving from The Rock of Cashel, to Kinsale, a small town on the harbor in County Cork. But first I had an appointment at the Jameson Distillery in Midleton. It was only an hour away so I had made a reservation for 2pm thinking that would give me time to arrive early and have lunch before my tour. Nope. 

My map sent me to the working distillery (instead of the site where customers are welcomed). By the time I made it to the correct location I was late for my tour and the restaurant wasn't serving lunch any more. But the folks were great and got me a spot on the next tour so I relaxed with a beer for a few. 

Whiskey has been made on this site, the grounds of the old Midleton Distillery, since 1825. Jameson moved in from Dublin in 1975 and built new facilities to accommodate their expanding offerings; Powers and Redbreast are among the other brands made here. 

Besides making the world's most purchased whiskey, the distillery also boasts the world's largest pot still built in 1825!

The tour was fun with lots of history and also a blind tasting of Scotch, American whiskey, and Jameson. At the end we were led back to the bar and given a choice of whiskey cocktails. I had signed up for the Premier Tasting so was told to wait until someone came to lead me to a private office. Seems I was the only one who had signed up for this tasting so had the whiskey expert, and pours of Jameson Black Barrel, Redbreast 12 Year Old, Powers John's Lane Release and Midleton Very Rare all to myself!

I did a little shopping in their bottle and gift shop and then continued on to Kinsale, my home for the next two nights. 

Kinsale is absolutely charming and I was so happy I had decided to stay here instead of the bigger city of Cork. I found the large public parking lot and right across the street from Pier House B&B (thanks for the fantastic recommendation Natalie B!)

My room was lovely and had a little deck and view of the water. I was starving since I hadn't had lunch, so made my way to the very popular Fishy Fishy for an early dinner of fish and chips. 

The weather was great for a nice walk around town after dinner before heading into Kitty O'Shea's for some traditional music. The bar was quite fun, even if it was about ½ Americans and ½ locals. Even that was fine until someone next to me started talking politics... 

The next morning I had a lovely table in the breakfast room at my BnB and met the owner Anne (her daughter had helped me out the day before). I ordered the small Irish breakfast of fried egg, black pudding, bacon, sausage and tomato. So filling!

My day was pretty full so I got going right after breakfast. The city of Cork was just over 30 minutes away. It was busting down rain the entire drive and once I arrived I found the city much bigger and with more traffic than I had expected, not the best first impression! I made my way to a parking garage (narrowest spaces ever!) and started walking towards the the English Market. Even in the rain I could see that the city was basically an ad for Ireland. Wet cobblestones, flower and ivy covered brick walls, colorful hanging shop signs. Ok Cork, we're good!

I've never met a market I didn't like and the English Market was no exception. I love how the more I travel the more I recognize things (that would still be quite foreign to most Americans). But there are always new things waiting to be discovered! 

There was a case with the region's favorite Clonakilty black pudding in it (the same one my BnB was serving) and also an amazing selection of seafood that was being prepped under a continuous stream of water. It's a small market and doesn't take much time to wander around;  the vendors each have their specialties proudly on display and not all of them appreciated me taking photos (I'm talking about you Stephen's Bacon!) 

Upstairs is the Farmgate Cafe which is known for their use ingredients from the market vendors. I had a really excellent fish chowder with soda bread, the perfect warming lunch for the blustery day!

The rain let up as I was leaving town, just long enough for me to park and take a quick walk along the River Lee. It really is a pretty town, especially down around the river with its series of bridges.
It was another 30 minute drive to my next stop, Cobh which sits on Cork Harbor. St. Colman's Cathedral sits at the top of the hill, looking out over the town and the sea below. It's an impressive sight both inside and out. I was able to park just down the street and took some time to explore. I thought the cathedral was awesome!

Across the street is a row of cute colorful houses which the locals refer to as the Deck of Cards. It's all very pretty even in scattered showers!

For a town of just ~13,000 Cobh has a lot of history. Many Irish-Americans would tell you that there family is from County Cork, but as Cobh was the launching place for over 6 million emigrants County Cork was listed by default if they didn't write in their county of residence. 

Additionally Cobh was the last stop the Titanic made before heading towards America, and ultimately sinking. The town went by Queenstown at the time and didn't change it back until 1922.

At the Cobh Heritage Center I spent the next 45 minutes going thru the exhibits documenting the Irish emigration, including the story of Annie Moore, the first emigrant to go thru Ellis Island. There are also stories of the Australian bound prison ships, or coffin ships as they were called. 

I had made a reservation in advance for €50 to meet with Christy Keating, Resident Genealogist at the center. I  had learned fairly recently that my family on my father's side came from Ireland, County Tipperary. Christy and I sat for almost an hour researching my family. He found the properties that my ancestors owned, and signed records of their tax payments. As my ancestral grandfather came to America in the late 1700's there aren't any records of his passage but it was really cool to find these other records. 

If you are going to be in the area and already have a bit of info on your Irish roots, I highly recommend this!

On the way out of town I stopped at the memorial to the Lusitania, which was bombed off the coast near Kinsale. The marker sits across the street from the original White Star Line office, the company who built the Titanic. 

That was a long but super interesting day. Back in Kinsale I headed to local favorite Dalton's Bar for a pint while I read more about the history of Kinsale and Cobh. Dalton's is a sweet spot with a cozy fireplace, a dogleg room with tables, and super friendly staff. 

After learning that the band that was going to be playing that night was very good and very popular I went for a quick dinner around the corner at Jim Edwards. I ate in the pub side as I wanted to get back for the trad session, dinner was fine but nothing to go out of your way for.

Back at Dalton's the place was packed! One of the locals, Heather, had saved me a seat at her table. Later we were joined by some English guys who had grown up in Kinsale and were back visiting. It was such a fun night of music, hanging out with the locals, rounds of Murphy's (County Cork's local stout) and Jameson backs. I felt properly introduced to pub culture and most likely was a little wobbly when I went home at closing time!

If you ever are in Kinsale please have a pint or three for me at Dalton's.

The next morning I checked out of the Pier House after having a delicious breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. It was absolutely dumping buckets of rain as I was on my way to County Kerry!

**As I visited all of these places before the COVID-19 pandemic, please double check on opening hours. And fingers crossed these businesses all stay in business!**

All photos from County Cork here.

Other posts from this trip:

Country Count #50: Ireland

Out and About in Dublin Town

Michelin Stars and Cocktail Bars in Dublin

24 Hours in Belfast

Ireland Road Trip: County Kilkenny

Ireland Road Trip: Kenmare and the Ring of Kerry

Ireland Road Trip: Dingle Town

Dingle Peninsula Archeology Tour

Ireland Road Trip: Cliffs of Moher and Galway

Aran Islands Day Trip

Ireland Road Trip: County Mayo

Ireland Road Trip: End of the Road; Sligo to Dublin

Weekend in Boise

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