Sinéad and I had been discussing going to Ireland for the past couple years. I had always wanted to see the country and Sinéad had been wanting me to be able to meet her family. Our planning converged with her parents' planning, and before we knew it we were off to see the Emerald Isle.
The day started off a bit bumpy, which I guess could have been a precursor to our flight later that day. We pushed through and before we knew it we were riding the bus to Logan. Traffic on 93 proved to be the typical Boston mess, and we arrived at Logan nearly an hour later than scheduled... woo... It worked out in at least one way, though, as Sinéad's parents arrived shortly after we did. We got our tickets, got through security, and we verified our gate's location. After a quick beer at the Beer Works and a sandwich at Pot Belly's, we were waiting for the boarding of our plane.
I had taken Dramamine before the flight to help me doze off during the flight, but that never fully happened. People all around were laying seats back as far as they could (in front of Sinéad's dad), some constantly getting up for the bathroom (next to Sinéad's mom, and after a seating dispute), and at least 1 was constantly throwing up (behind Sinéad's dad) - for 5 *magical* hours. Fortunately, I did miss some of this courtesy of the Dramamine, but only in a few small intervals. We departed at 8PM and arrived 6AM of the next day.
Exhausted and groggy from the flight, we made our way through customs and awaited our baggage before heading to the car rental desks to see what luck we had left. After a bit of inquiries and at least 1 really shifty car rental guy we found some luck. As there were 4 of us, we opted for the economical car with the largest trunk. Being it was my first time in the country it was only fitting that we rent a car from a company I was hearing of for the first time - Skoda. Keys, rental papers, and luggage in hand we made our way to see our prize rental. My father-in-law took photos to cover the entirety of the car and then we loaded in. As my brain wasn't quite as aware as I would like it to be for my first time driving on the opposite side of car and road, he took over the driving. And, we made our way...
Getting familiar with our Skoda was not as smooth an event as we would have liked. We nearly returned to the Shannon Airport to return the car as we were not anticipating its behavior when stopped. The car was turning off when it would come to a complete stop with the brake pressed. We pulled into a lot in Limerick and looked for some type of manual for the car, but non was to be found. Eventually we discovered upon our favorite little button in the car, though. The car was designed with an auto-start / fuel saving feature. We killed that feature with the button, and our panic dissipated shortly after.
Despite our panic, we had arrived at the location of our first visit spot and were looking for a place to park. King John's Castle was not scheduled to open for another hour, but we were much more interested in finding a decent meal. We parked in a parking garage about 8AM, and Sinéad asked the attendant where we might be able to find a good breakfast. His response was mixed with laughter "Nothing opens in Limerick before 9..." Guided by only our instincts (and maybe curiosity), we wandered down a few streets before arriving at St. Mary's Cathedral. True to the lot attendant's words, it did not appear to be open before 9. As we turned the corner, the lot attendant was soon proven wrong. I honed in on a Trip Advisor recommended sticker seated nicely upon a window of a cafe that looked to be open, and brought us all a great deal of hope. My mother-in-law poked her head in the door and we got the confirmation we were praying for!
An early morning Godsend in a late morning city, and it was ready for our arrival! (It was also rated 5 stars on Trip Advisor!)
We sat down in Nelly's Corner and ordered much needed coffee and tea before settling into the menu too much. The waitress was a pleasure to have wait on us, and the food was excellent. We also met a lovely couple from the states who was also making their way down to Cork. We shared our plans to see a soccer game later that night and some contact info before heading out. It was now after 9AM and we made our way to our first castle.
King John's Castle
There was much more to King John's Castle than I had anticipated. The self guided tour started with an introduction to the history of the castle. There was a plethora of information provided, and it was not sugar coated. They provided scaled models, videos, and other various displays to better depict the history. I was focusing on taking photos so that I would not lose the steam I gathered from breakfast, so I did not get a chance to take in all the information presented. But it was still quite the entrance for the tour.
Some fairly vivid imagery was offered on the tour...
And (below) some content was still vivid but bypassed on the use of imagery.
The exhibits continued in an very nontraditional manner. After a brief stroll between structures, we found ourselves beneath the castle looking at the original structures beneath the walls.
The exit guided us to the final set of stairs before we got to take in the entirety of the castle. We were also able to explore much more of the castle structure than I had anticipated. I couldn't help but make use of my camera!
After exploring all the castle had to offer, we made our way through the gift shop and started the walk back towards the Skoda. Sinéad and I made a quick stop at one more location on our way.
St. Mary's Cathedral
Steeped in history, The Cathedral of Saint Mary Blessed Virgin was around 850 years old, and still in regular use and service. Sinéad and I checked to see if it was open for a look around, and if it was alright for me to take some photos. After a small donation we were given the green light to look around.
The structure was pretty impressive, especially when realizing it was founded in 1168. A brief history of the building can be found here.
Thoroughly impressed, we made our way back towards our trusty Skoda and re-grouped with our travel companions. It was going to be a long road to Cork City still and we were all ready to have the traveling portion of the day behind us. The ladies passed out pretty hard once back in the car. Mrs. O'Mahony was worried she was going to decapitate herself with how hard her head dropped when she passed out. I provided the banter to help keep my father-in-law awake for the drive. The struggle was a difficult one, but we persevered and were relieved to find a parking spot at the hotel when we arrived at Jury's Inn. We unloaded, and made our ways to our rooms for a little relax and recharge time.
Sleep was not allowed yet and it was very hard to fight, so Sinéad and I took a walk around Cork City. She brought me to see several of the places she knew growing up. We found me a rain coat in the process (harder than one would think, fyi) before heading back to Jury's again.
As it was getting close to time, Sinéad and I made our way out to find a taxi. We had a soccer match to see, and she was a little foggy on the directions. We had a nice chat with the taxi driver as we made our way out towards the stadium. Once there we made a quick detour to where Sinéad's Gram used to live, and she had a quick chat with an old neighbor, Anthony. We then made our way to the local stadium and enjoyed some great playing by the Cork City team!
We only had enough energy to last the first half. It was a good half, though! Our team was up 4-0. We made our way out of the stadium and back to the hotel. It wasn't until we made it back that Sinéad received any of the replies from the couple we had met at Nelly's Corner earlier that day. They were at the game, but we missed running into them. We got back to the hotel and it wasn't long before sleep conquered us both. We needed the rest, though, and were ready to go for day 2.
Our 2nd day got off to a great start! It was cloudy but not raining, so we were excited to get out and visit some places. We enjoyed a leisurely paced breakfast, met up with Geraldine (a family friend), and then got on the road. Mr. O'Mahony was in charge of the driving up till we made it past the dreaded Kinsale Traffic Circle. After that slightly jumbled bit of an insane sadist's fantasy, we found a nice pub to pull over at and the wheel was mine from there.
The road down to Kinsale was an easy enough drive. We passed several towns as the roads narrowed and widened in very noticeable amounts. Once I got comfortable, though, the driving was a lot of fun! I was wishing that I was more comfortable with a left handed stick shift, because the roads were ideal for that type of driving. We got into Kinsale and experience driving in around Pittsburgh, PA kicked in. Roads were narrow and usually 1 car wide for travel. Adjusting to the roads was almost 2nd nature, just had to get used to the lefty side of things.
We were lucky to find a spot to park in the main lot and we started to take in the town. The weather was still on our side which made the sightseeing that much better.
From other photos Sinéad had shown me I knew there were Palm trees in Ireland. It was still surprising to see them in person, though!
The Littlest Door
It was even making Sinéad crouch down!
Even smaller for me!
This definitely would not be ideal when returning from the pub....
We'd walked for a while, and we were in need of some refreshments. So, we made a stop in The Lord Kingsale!
After the quick recharge we set back out and ran into a museum in the middle of town. We hopped on inside for a quick look around.
The museum was really interesting to discover. It was great to see some of the town artifacts in the basement, and then the Lusitania information in the upstairs. Photos were not allowed, but upon asking the custodian said I would be alright to take some so long as they were more room shots and not focused in on any one item in particular.
After taking in what the museum had to offer, we continued our walk around Kinsale as we made our way back to the Skoda. We had another location nearby to visit, and it was one that was not going to disappoint!
The roads we traversed to get to Charles Fort were an adventure all their own! Plenty of narrow roads with single car passage spots and short visibility due to inclines and turns. We made it there and back again in good shape, though! (And scoped out a couple bars to maybe try out in the future!) We arrived at Charles Fort and our timing of the visit proved to be especially lucky! We had great weather, and it was a rare free admission day. It was a spectacular site to see and explore!
Once inside it was quickly apparent that there was an incredible amount to explore and learn. The house below contained a summarized history of the fort in displays, weaponry, and videos.
The Fort was an excellent location to capture some panoramas!
We made our way back towards the center of Kinsale to pick up our 2 travel companions who stayed behind to catch up with each other. The way back proved to be just as much an adventure as the drive there! There was a nice lookout point my father-in-law was interested in stopping at along our path. The lot was full when we were heading to the fort, but there was plenty of room coming back. We pulled in and took in what the view had to offer.
We picked up the rest of our party once back in Kinsale, and then made our way further south to the next destination in our adventure.
Old Head Lighthouse
Our luck continued strong for this adventure. Sinéad and I were interested in seeing the lighthouse but the rest of our party preferred to stay behind. They had all seen the lighthouse before (before there was a golf resort blocking access to everything on Old Head) and they all recalled there not being much to see. Sinéad was less interested in making the journey over after hearing that, but I pushed her into checking it out anyway. We grabbed our tickets for the bus over to the lighthouse and made our way over.
The driver was a seasoned pro at the road over to the lighthouse. I am fairly sure he could drive it faster with his eyes closed than I would have using the same vehicle. The tour led right over to the lighthouse and we unassumingly made our way up the several flights of stairs to the top. There were some nice windows to look out on our way up.
We made it to the top and went out on the red access walk. I didn't tell Sinéad I was feeling a little apprehensive when considering how many people were on that access walk when compared to how many the designers of the lighthouse were probably building it for... It hadn't fallen down yet, though, and I could only figure there would have been some research done in regards to that before opening it to the public, so we made our way out. The views were pretty awesome!
At the Lighthouse
A friendly stranger happily offered to take our photo at the top. Works out way better than a selfie!
I think Ireland has some odd love for tiny doors....
I also took the opportunity to grab a couple panoramas while we were up there too!
I got to chatting with one of the workers while grabbing the panorama shots. We discussed where we were from, he had said he'd visited Boston himself, and he was mentioning how lucky we were to arrive when we did. He went on to say that they might open the lighthouse again tomorrow because the weather was so nice, but he wasn't sure because they could only open it twice. I asked if that meant twice a week, and he replied twice a year! I was beyond shocked and confirmed that we really did hit some good luck with the timing being so perfect! Chatted a little while longer but eventually had to say our goodbyes.
Sinéad and I headed back down to the bus and made our way to our travel companions. There were some amazing cliff views on the right side of Old Head on the return trip. I was wishing I could have grabbed some shots of them, but access to the view was blocked by the Country Club. I did grab this shot to show just how close to the lighthouse lenses we were.
We met up with the rest of our crew and were informed there was an nettle incident while we were away. Being all parties were okay, the retelling of the incident made for some great laughs. Sinéad and I debated checking out the Lusitania memorial they had at the bus location but, as we had already encountered something like that in the center of town and we had already made everyone wait so long, we decided to skip it for the day. We made our way back towards Kinsale to get back to Cork, but decided to make a quick stop at Garrylucas beach on the way.
The stop at the beach was lovely, but our daylight was running short. Sinéad and I found a treasure trove of "wishing rocks" and collect a couple. We put our feet in the water and took some time to dry off before hopping back in the Skoda. We made it back to Cork and settled back in to our rooms. I met up later with my father-in-law for a couple pints in the hotel bar. We're pretty sure we witnessed a nuisance family get kicked out of the hotel, and then sneak their way back in. It was quite the interesting night! We weren't going to stay up to see the McGreggor vs. Mayweather fight, but we did catch a lot of people prepping for it. It was getting late, jet lag was catching up with us, and Sinéad came down to fetch us. We headed back to our rooms to rest up for the day to follow.
Day 3 got off to a bit of a slow start. We all met up for breakfast in the hotel and discussed our plans for the day. Top of the agenda was to visit the final resting place of Sinéad's Granny. When we were all ready, we packed into the Skoda and made our way to the burial site. We paused to pay our respects, and to read through the names of those who were also laid to rest before her. There was a tour of the cemetery passing through who ushered our return to the Skoda.
Our next destination was just down the road slightly. We parked across the street and took a pleasant stroll around the Lough. Sinéad took some photos of the water fowl as we walked along, while recalling a story of when she was attacked as a kid. The black ducks with the white bills and head stripes reminded me of Charlie Chaplin somehow. Thought they were pretty cool, and not something I had seen before in the states.
We had also come across some people fishing in the Lough, but couldn't imagine they'd be eating the fish from it... And, there were some men racing RC sailboats around a course. Our walk had to draw to an end as we had plans to meet for lunch with Sinéad's Uncle Frank, Aunt Marion, and Cousin Adrian.
The Skoda returned us to Jurys. They soon found us and we were back in the cars to find our lunch location. Through twists, turns, round-abouts, and highway we eventually happened upon our intended destination - The Elm Tree in Glounthaune. They were a great place to eat and it was evidenced both in how long the wait to be seated and how few parking spots were available. We decided it might be best to re-think our dining location for that meal, and headed back towards Cork and found ourselves at the Metropole hotel.
The food was excellent at the Metropole! I had to pass on trying some pate Uncle Frank offered me (it was most likely mostly chicken), but Sinéad gave it a try for me. It wasn't going to be a favorite of hers anytime soon. It was a great meal, though, and a great chance to get to meet some of Sinéad's family! It was great getting to know them, especially since I had heard so much about them (even if the soft jazz was a little loud for the room, and complicated the conversation).
We all headed back to our cars after lunch and there was a bit of a specticle to be enjoyed as I had to pull out of a parallel parking space with nearly no room to do so. My father-in-law was a great spotter and we got the car pulled out, incident free, in 3 point fashion. From there we were on our way to see if we could catch a sight before it closed.
Sinéad and I were really fortunate to catch this place just in the nick-of-time! It was less than an hour till closing, but as we were not interested in space exhibit, we were able to be let in. It was a pretty interesting little setup of a castle, though, and heavily utilized for astronomy now.
Everything one could want
Bathrooms, classrooms, Restaurant (with pub offerings), picnic tables, gift shop, and an attraction!
The tour brought us to the top of the widest tower. At the top we were given some of the history of the castle and ample time to take in the views. The University had used the top of that tower to house a sophisticated telescope. the dome for the telescope can be seen in the picture above.
A pretty interesting part of the history was that there used to be a large chain that was run across the River Lee. The castle was able to raise the chain if an unwanted ship was trying to make passage into Cork City. They also had canons below, which we soon got to see (sadly not the original's, though) with a demonstration. We just had to wind back down the narrow staircase into a dark and cramped bit of claustraphobia.
From there, Sinéad and I headed back up and took in a few more sights before being on our way.
We met back up with our travel companions, and made our way over to the shops in Douglas. The parking at the shops was an adventure in its own right. Severely narrow lanes edged with thick, twisting tubes of scraped metal were our path to the parking spaces provided for the shops. The good news we were not expecting was that the parking was free! We picked up some snack supplies from the Tesco after a quick search for any other open stores - not much to choose from after 5pm. I was able to find some of Sinéad's favorite cereal at the Tesco, though! It was a good surprise for her!
After the Douglas shops we made our way over to see Sinéad's Unlce Tony. We enjoyed a nice visit with her Uncle Tony and Cousin Sarah. We also got to meet their new and super affectionate dog, Thunder. Uncle Tony also had me check out his Land Rover - stick shift on the left. It was great to get to meet them as well as I had heard so much about them as well.
We headed back to Jury's after our visit, and we were getting settled in for the night when a knock came on the door. Sinéad's dad was asking if we were able to head down to the bar as Uncle Frank had swung by to visit. Sinéad and I headed downstairs and were happy to visit a little more, with far less background sound this time. It was a great way to end a good day of visiting.