Ireland – Part 1

17 Apr

Repairing or replacing dry stone walls is a common sight in England and Ireland. I imagine this is very skillful and requires a lot of patience

Burton Upon Trent, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Merseyside, Irish Sea, Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kerry

Our Lichfield clients came home a couple of hours early, which had me in a bit of a panic.  I always like to be fully organised on the final day of a house sit.  The bedding washed, all the floors vacuumed and mopped, the fridge cleaned and all our gear packed away in the van.  Then it’s just  a matter of a quick chat with the owners, telling them how wonderful their pets are and listening to stories about their holiday.  Thankfully this couple were not at all worried that we still had to finish our packing and cleaning.  On another occasion when the owner came home early he was MOST put out that we weren’t ready to leave the property the moment he came through the gate!  He treated us as he would his other staff of cleaners and gardeners.

A fresh water canal ran parallel to the harbour, where the swans swam between the water weed

After that hiccup, we were on our way to Liverpool.  We were booked to cross the Irish Sea early the following day, so that left us most of the day to explore the city and waterfront.  We took in the Slavery Museum and the Museum of Liverpool, the latter being a brand new building.  We actually ran out of time here, which was disappointing as the history of Liverpool and surrounds is fascinating.  Or course they had a large section on The Beatles and  the Mersey Beat, which we could relate to well.

Museum of Liverpool has the same feel as Te Papa

The salubrious P and O Ferry Terminal

An otherwise okay building in Liverpool looked weird with the box stuck on top!

We slept well in the parking area near the middle of town, woke early to have breakfast, etc before making our way to the Ferry Terminal.  The ferry was much the same size as the Cook Strait ferries, but that was where the likeness stopped.  The Ferry Terminal was a small shed and unless you were a foot passenger you were not allowed inside.  As Ireland is another country we were surprised at the lax attitude towards crossing the border.  The only thing that they did was come inside the motor home to check that there was no one sitting in the bathroom.  Once onboard we were invited to enjoy a complimentary breakfast.  Lovely!   Fried sausages, bacon, hash browns, poached eggs and toast or cereals and fruit.  Even though we had breakfasted earlier we had no trouble eating our share.  Another thing that was foreign to us was the fact that we had to go through a lock system to get out of the Liverpool harbour.  I know I go on about the tidal range around the UK but that is the reason.  The eight-hour sailing was  completely flat all the way but it was extremely foggy and we never saw the sky or more than a metre or two out to sea.  There was a bar open from 9.30a.m. until noon and I was intrigued to see so many truck drivers drinking before they went down to their cabins for a sleep.   It reopened again at 3p.m. and an hour later we were served another complimentary meal .  This dinner offered three different meats and lovely battered fish, cooked vegetables, the best salad in all of our time away from NZ and a choice of desserts as well!

Through the fog you can just make out the last lock gates closing behind us in Liverpool Harbour

They have Canadian Geese here as well

The beach in Dublin, obviously at low low tide

As soon as we set foot in Dublin it was obvious that spring time was more advanced on this side of the Irish Sea.  The trees were budding, gardens had a wide range of spring flowers in bloom and the cows were out in the paddocks!  The mountain range just south of Dublin made a welcome change of scenery as well .  

Wicklow. The bunting was for St. Patrick's Day the previous week

The following day we received a phone call from our Lichfield clients to ask us to post back their house keys that were still on our key ring!    So when we got to Wicklow we found the small Post Office to do just that.  We had been told by another experienced, caravaning couple in Wales, that you could use British currency in Ireland.  We weren’t surprised by this fact as we did use British pounds and pence in Scotland when we were there at Christmas.  First of all I needed just one envelope.  And yes, eventually we did manage to find one envelope, now to pay for this and the postage to Lichfield.  The lady weighed and stamped the envelope and told me the grand total was two euros 10 cents.  I handed over a fiver but was told, “Sorry, we don’t take pounds.”  No problem, I handed over my debit card. “Sorry, you can’t use  a debit or credit card for anything less than five Euros.”  Okay, I’ll buy the envelope and postage and then take cash out to make up the five Euros.  “Sorry, we don’t give cash out.”  And all this was in a LOVELY Irish accent.  So the next suggestion was “to send my husband over the road to a money machine to get some Euros”.   So off he went only to return to say that money machine would not accept our particular Bank’s card and he would carry on walking through the village until he found one that would.  All this was taking some time and it was getting quite funny.  I was standing, waiting to the side of the queue for Dennis to return with the loot, when a lady who had just been served came up to me and asked if I was Australian.  Why does everyone think we sound like Ozzies?  (It is generally the first guess.)  We spoke for some time about how long we  were planning to be in Ireland,  how we were travelling around, where to go, etc, etc.  She then gave me two Euros as she had been listening to my conversation with the shop assistant while she was in the queue and was so embarrassed to think that this would be our first impression of Irish people.  She was so sweet.  So I joined the queue again only to find that I had forgotten that it was still another 10 cents!  Finally the ever smiling shop assistant gave me a discount and so the keys were duly posted away.  Then I had wait outside for another 15 minutes until Dennis finally got back with Euros in his pocket.   

From Dublin south right along the coastal route, for the first five days, there was a sea fog that obscured the view, even though the weather was warm and fine.  At first I thought it was pollution but the locals assured us that it was a mist from the sea, blown inland for several miles.  It happens fairly regularly apparently.  I hardly took any photos over this time because of it and also because the place looked run down.  After driving through the English countryside, where all the hedgerows are beautifully trimmed, and most farms and houses are neat and tidy, this section of Ireland looked quite depressed economically and physically.  Here gorse was a problem, mainly I think because it wasn’t trimmed regularly as they do in England.  The villages are fewer, smaller and further apart and it is obvious that the population is less dense.   Single storied homes are much more common in Ireland, though it was odd to see groups of the same design of house together.  Maybe the developer had one plan approved and then decided it was cheaper to build five of the same than have separate designs.  Where the farmer had spent money on fertilizers, etc the farms looked beautiful and very productive but the farm right next door could look very run down and bleak, lots of small paddocks with scrappy, overgrown hedges with poor stock.  It was mainly sheep farming in this region and they had the habit of spray painting matching numbers on the ewes and lambs.  Those that did not number them had a system of spray painting blobs of different colours on them.  It was hilarious to see some of these technicoloured sheep!  One ewe and her lambs would have a blob of red on their backs, the next set one blob of red and one blob of blue, the next set, red, blue and orange, etc!

I wish I had taken a photo of a technicolour sheep

One thing we really noticed straight away in Ireland (and this was the case everywhere) NO LITTER!   

The people are so friendly!  They seem to be all keen to stop and talk to you and they are very knowledgeable about their region and the history of Ireland in general.  It was plain that  they did not like the English and once they established that we were not in fact English, they were pleased to do anything for us.  Every one loved to talk about the weather.  We were blessed to have such beautiful weather for the whole three weeks.  I can only remember two days of rain, which is unheard of throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland.  In fact, we had a heat wave for the first week with temperatures around 21 degrees C!  I even had to strip off my long johns to cope with it!

Tintern Abbey - but it wasn't the famous one

I really had no idea ahead of our holiday what Ireland would be like, but I was surprised by two things in particular:  the beautiful beaches and the rocks.  I’m not that sure if people ever get to swim at these gorgeous beaches, as tourist information booklets describe the climate as “Influenced by the Gulf Stream, Ireland has a mild temperate climate with the average summer temperature around 15 degrees C.  Areas close to the coast rarely have a large difference between summer and winter conditions, with an average 10 degrees C difference between January and July.  Typical winter weather in Ireland is cloudy and raining with the occasional sunny spell.”  Surfers loved them though and we watched plenty of them when we parked on the beach fronts for the night.  Irish rocks come in ALL sorts of shapes and sizes!  It was extraordinary, with distinct regions having their own type of rock formations.  Big mountains made of solid rock down south, Burren rocks up the West Coast, the Giant’s Causeway up North and very rock imaginable in between.

This was at Cobh. This harbour was the last port that the Titanic had visited before venturing out into the Atlantic almost 100 years ago. They had a neat little museum here that specialised in Titanic memorabilia

Such enormous mountains of rock around Mizen Head

We decided to stick to our usual practice of driving on the narrow lanes and byways, off the beaten track, to gain a real feel for the countryside.  Motorways are so boring, always busy and full of huge trucks that enjoy overtaking us.  Irish drivers are very polite and almost always say thank you to Dennis when he pulls over to let them pass our slow motorhome.  We think the roads in England (other than the main motorways) are poorly maintained but in Ireland it was even worse.  They patched the patches, and didn’t bother to smooth the joins!  Everyone seems to blame the terrible winters they have had recently but it looks like very little in the way of complete road resurfacing has been done for years.  Anyway, on one particular occasion, driving along a secondary highway we received a phone call from NZ!  Lynton was on the other end and when I answered he quickly passed his phone to Anna, who had moments before given birth to their first child, Eliana!  We were so thrilled and excited that Dennis had to pull over onto the shoulder of the road so we could both speak to the happy parents without the distraction of driving safely.  What a blessing to hear of another grandchild safely delivered!  When we reached our destination of Cork and parked up for the night in a large supermarket car park we were able to Skype with Anna, Lynton and Kathy and see Eliana for ourselves.  What a marvellous invention the Internet is!

Parked on the side of the road we heard the happy news of Eliana's birth. It was so special and emotional to be able to speak with Anna so soon after the birth.

We travelled right down to the most southern spot in Ireland, Mizen Head.  (Although this was trumpeted as the most southern spot Wikipedia  gives that honour to Brow Head, nearby)  Mizen Head is a signal station, built in 1931.  Six and a half kilometres out to sea stands the Fastnet Lighthouse but due to the conditions we could not see this. The peninsula is almost cut in two by the waves but you could walk down 99 steps and cross a beautiful arched bridge to get to the actual Signal Station.  We got there two minutes before they closed the Visitor Information Centre so made ourselves comfortable in their car park and stayed the night, intending to take a look around in the morning.  But after dinner we took a walk around the place and admired the views and read all the information we could through the windows!  There was a Maritime Museum inside but after enjoying the dramatic cliff views and watching the Atlantic Ocean pounding up against those cliffs for some time we decided to continue our driving in the morning.

Ireland is part of the EU and as such has different signs, currency, etc from England

Once you leave the villages or cities all the roads are numbered not named

Looking down to Mizen Head

We couldn't cross the bridge as it was padlocked while the Information Centre was closed

So many beautiful beaches! There were often hotels and static caravan parks nearby these beaches, so obviously in summer people flock to them.

Once we started heading north, we left the sea fog behind and the scenery was beautiful.  Decent sized mountains, picturesque lakes, good looking dairy farms, coastal scenery which reminds me of the Marlborough Sounds back home and pretty little villages here and there.  Just lovely! 

They tell us there are 42 shades of green in Ireland

Beautiful, colourful villages everywhere

With the roads as bad as they are we tend to have to drive very slowly.  On quite a regular basis while one wheel drops down into a giant pothole one of the top cupboards pops open and out comes the groceries crashing to the floor! Dennis has designed a cord that now tries hard at keeping the cupboard

Amazing rock mountains, that are miles long

doors closed, no matter what, which has helped but can still be defeated by these uneven roads.  We’ll have to invest in magnetic latches I think.  There are advantages in driving slowly though, you get a real feel for the countryside rather than it being a blur and at one stage we were getting 29.8 miles/gallon!  We are so enjoying the life of touring in our motorhome!  It certainly is the way to go, stopping whenever we see something especially interesting, taking wild detours off the main tracks, having a mobile kitchen for those all important cups of tea, and a mobile toilet can be quite handy as well.  Now that we are learning the art of conserving our water this has enabled us to freedom camp for six nights out of seven, which is a wonderful saving on accommodation costs.

Tunnels hewn out of solid rock, with no inner cladding

Surely it's only in Ireland that you find the white line painted on by hand at the end of a day's road works!

One such detour took us to the Kerry Woollen Mills, just out of Killarney.  This business was 300 years old and had been in the same family for the last three generations!  We arrived at lunchtime so all the machines were quiet but we loved the factory shop and I bought MY first souvenir since travelling.  It’s a very light woollen not quite a coat, not quite a poncho thing.  I haven’t a clue what it is called!  It is made from merino wool that actually came from Australia but was designed and made in Kerry, Ireland.  As tourists, we were told, we were entitled to get a discount on their VAT, which was great as it’s 23%!

Our favourite place in Ireland was the small village of Cahersiveen.  We arrived on a most glorious day,20 degrees C with not a breath of wind.  We were able to park the van right on the marina near the mouth of the river.  We spent an interesting couple of hours in The Barracks, a local museum which taught us all about the village’s favourite son, Daniell O’Connell,  famously known as “The Liberator”.  He was the leader involved with gaining the right for Catholics to sit in Westminster Parliament (Catholics had been denied this right for over 100 years by the British rulers).  The story of the actual building was quite funny.  We remarked to the woman running the Museum, how it was a surprise to see that style of building in Ireland and she told us the amusing story of how there was a mix up with two designs.  One design was for Ireland and the other for the British Raj in India.  Cahersiveen got the Indian one!   She also told us how fortunate we were with the weather as last year they had ONE day all summer that was like this one, fine, warm and no wind, all the other days it had rained!  No wonder everyone was so keen to remark on the weather –  many people as you passed them on the street said “Hello, glorious weather isn’t it?”

We ate our dinner outside watching the sun set in Cahersiveen

"The Barracks" this was originally a police station

One thing that Dennis REALLY wanted to do was to sail out to the Skellig Rocks and visit the ruins of the Skellig Micheal’s Early Christian Monastery.  This was on Great Skellig, 14kms out into the Atlantic Ocean, a monastery founded in the 7th century and occupied for 600 years.  They built 1000’s of stone steps up the near vertical cliffs and a “village” of beehive huts called clochans, all out of the local stone and perched this “village” near the summit of the 230m high Island.     Along with Little Skellig nearby, these are now nature reserves and are a World Heritage Site.   They are home to millions of birds, gannets (just like the ones in Cape Kidnappers in NZ),  puffins as well as many more.  Each season from April through October, 13 licensed operators are allowed to take one boat load of visitors to these islands each day, stopping off to climb the steps of Great Skellig.  When we came across the Skellig Experience building we were very excited!  Unfortunately, we were three days too early for the opening of the season, so we just viewed the documentary about it and read up on the exhibits!  The manager rung up one of the launch operators as there were a few people wanting to go and with the weather being so beautiful he thought maybe one of them would agree to take us but none of the license holders wanted to breach their contract so that was that.  The long-term forecast did not sound promising either, otherwise we would have been tempted to wait the three days.  

Great Skellig

The Skellig Experience building with the jetty beside it all quiet

We have seen so many shrines to Mary, the Mother of Christ, in Ireland.  Most small  villages will have one at the entrance to their boundary, often residential houses will have one built in the walls of the house or in the corner or their gardens and we even saw a grotto craved out of the rock at the entrance to a large slate mine.

Slate lying at the entrance of the mine

The grotto craved into the rock at the entrance to a slate mine. In the foreground was a memorial garden complete with fountain

Another excellent detour took us to the Loher Stone Fort, which was a great example of the many ruins of stone buildings found along the west coast of Ireland.  With so many rocks and stones in this area the hedgerows give way to stone fences and in early times everything was made with stone.    The outside wall was around 2m high and they had restored the two houses to about 1m high.  There was a covered trough that ran from the rectangular house through the only opening in the perimeter wall, draining down the gentle slope to the sea.  Apparrently this was originally built in the 9th century.

In this bay the Trans-Atlantic cable leaves Ireland

The two houses inside the fort

The Loher Stone Fort


One Response to “Ireland – Part 1”

  1. Chris and Richard April 17, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    What a great trip I feel I am having in Ireland,please hurry and post the second installment. Looks a very pretty country. Lovely talking the other morning, but a shame about the reception.
    Happy traveling xx

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