Provence and Ireland

Thursday 1st August 2019

Our 11th anniversary! And we thought that a nice way to spend it would be at Carrieres de Lumieres in Provence, of which, more later.

Yesterday, we flew to Marseiiles and picked up a hire car - note to self: never use Goldcar again - slow and incompetent. An hour’s drive brought us to St. Remy, where Gill had booked us a hotel for two nights. It was fairly basic, but had a comfortable bed and, importantly, air conditioning. We set out immediately to explore the little town on foot, starting at the Tourist Office. Gill asked the helpful assistant if she could recommend a restaurant, and she gave us three. We set off to look for them.

It was as if St. Remy had been designed and built just for Gill, with narrow streets lined with little shops selling dresses, jewellery etc. and several selling ice cream. In the afternoon sum it looked idyllic. In the evening we went back into town and chose the restaurant closest to the hotel. The courses were small, but we took the long walk back to the hotel to aid our digestion.
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St. Remy hotel
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St. Remy
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St. Remy
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Carričres de Lumičres
Today we drove to Carričres de Lumičres and arrived at 10.30am. Already parking spaces were hard to come by and there was a sizable queue waiting for the show. Luckily, we had pre-booked tickets for 11am, so got in without a delay.

There are, of course, Son et Lumiere events all over the place - we saw one over a decade ago at Abu Simbel. What distinguishes Provence’s version is that it takes place in a rough-hewn, roofed-over limestone quarry that has pillars of stone in the middle and several side chambers.

The show is projected from a multitude of synchronised projectors, and as you gaze or walk about there’s a different but related piece of the action wherever you look. On top of that, the images have been animated, which gives them a sort of 3D ‘reality’. The background music is also an important component of the event, but this year a couple of the pieces were really badly chosen.




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MarketDay in

Eygaličres
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MarketDay in
Eygaličres
The first part of the show was of Japanese art, and the second featured paintings by van Gogh, who spent a lot of time in Provence at the end of his life. The whole event lasted for an hour, by which time the chill of the quarry was starting to get through. We headed back to the hotel and had a couple of hours by the pool, and in the evening walked into St. Remy for a nice dinner.

Friday 2nd August 2018

We checked out of our hotel and headed for Eygaličres, a small town nearby where it was Market Day.The was a lot of Provencal food and arts and crafts on sale, all of good quality and fairly inexpensive. We had a lovely lunch in a typical, shady Provencal restaurant garden, and then set off for Marseilles airport for our 16.20 flight to Dublin.

At check-in we were told that the flight had been delayed by half an hour, and this eventually stretched to two hours. We eventually landed at Dublin at approaching 8pm, and by the time that we’d picked up our luggage and hire car and driven to our apartment in the southern suburbs it was 9pm.

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A delighful Provencal lunch
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Kilkenny Design
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Book of Kells Exhibition
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Book of Kells Exhibition
Saturday 3rd August 2019

After a quick, light breakfast we walked the short distance to the local station for the 10 minute journey into Dublin. As we left, the owner of our apartment suggested we should visit ‘Kilkenny Design’, a large Irish arts and crafts shop near Pearce station where we disembarked, that has a nice restaurant on the first floor, so we went there for tea and cake to last us through to our 2pm food walking tour.

At midday we went to see Trinity College’s Book of Kells exhibition. Again, we jumped a sizeable queue because Gill had booked tickets on-line this morning!

The book is one of four works of great antiquity, written in the 800s AD and illustrating the Gospels. There were enlarged reproductions of many pages, with explanatory text, in an extensive exhibition, and the book itself was on display under low lighting in a small room where no photography was allowed. It must have been a truly amazing sight in its early days, with bright, vibrant colours such as purple and orange/gold, and is even impressive today, twelve hundred years later.

The tour ended in the Long Room, 65 metres in length, with a high, barrel-vaulted ceiling and containing over 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books. A truly impressive room.

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Trinity's impressive library
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Trendy Dublin
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Trendy Dublin
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I had a 'Dublin Coddle' here
We had time to kill, so sat reading in one of Trinity’s lovely squares until we joined the walking tour at 2pm. There were five stops for food, starting with Battered Smoked Cod in Beef Lard, followed by a specialist (and very expensive!) grocer’s where we tried three different varieties of Irish cheese. The third stop was at the ‘Hairy Lemon Traditional Irish Pub’ where we had a choice of four pies/stews - Gill had Beef and Guinness Pie and I took a leap into the dark with a ‘Dublin Coddle’, which seemed to be small pork sausages with boiled potatoes and vegetables in a broth - very nice, actually!

Stop four involved Whiskey tasting, which neither of us enjoyed, unlike the seven other members of our party. The final stop was for delicious ice cream, where we were urged to try samples of as many flavours as we liked before selecting the cone of our choice. All in all, another nice tour with interesting food and a good opportunity to learn about yet another lovely city.
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We tasted Whiskey here
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Molly Malone - you can see where passersby lay their hands!
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Waiting for the bus
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The Liffey
Sunday 4th August 2019

We set off for the nearby station again, only to find when we got there that, due to signaling problems, trains were greatly delayed. On the assurance that our tickets would be valid on buses we tracked down the nearest bus stop and made it into Dublin without too much delay.

We wanted to go on a hop-on hop-off tour on a particular route but didn’t know where it stopped. Luckily, a bus whizzed past us and, with a bit of a scamper, we caught up with it at the next stop.

The route took us clockwise all around Dublin, past Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, Christchurch and St. Patrick’s cathedrals, the Guinness factory and Kilmainham Jail (where the leaders of the Easter Uprising were executed) on the south side of the Liffey river. The route then switched to the north side. with Phoenix Park. the Wellington Monument (the Duke was born in Dublin in 1769), the Jameson Distillery, the Post Office in O’Connell Street (an important location in the 1916 Easter Uprising) and the Jeanie Johnston, a repilca of a ship that made 16 Atlantic crossings in the 1840s carrying survivors of the Potato Famine to America.

We ‘hopped off’ in O’Connell Street for lunch in a nice and pleasantly quiet restaurant, where I treated myself to Irish Stew and a pint of cool Guinness :o) Nearby was the 390 feet high, pin-like, stainless steel Millenium Spire that was erected only in 2003, with the usual Irish attitude to urgency and timeliness! This had been the location of Nelson’s Pillar, erected in 1809 in post-Trafalgar euphoria, but increasingly unpopular in post-war Dublin as a symbol of English oppression. In 1966 the IRA blew it up - I remember the press reports at the time!

We rejoined the bus tour, eventually disembarking at St. Stephen’s Green to visit The Little Museum of Dublin. It’s set in a four storey Georgian town house, and you have to take a guided tour to visit the two rooms on the first floor. There was 50 minutes to kill until the next tour, so we went to the basement cafe next door for tea and cake. The cafe’s called ‘Hatch and Sons’!

The first floor exhibition consisted of posters and memorabilia from the 1916 Uprising and post-independence public life, some of them highlighted by a guide who I thought tried too hard to be funny rather than informative. Still, I seemed to be in a minority of one ;o)

When we left we went back to Pearse station, hoping that normal train service had been resumed, and, luckily, it had. We had a brief breather before setting off by car to explore the nearby village, Sandymount, and at 7pm we went to a nearby cinema to see, ‘Yesterday’, a really nice film about the only man on the planet who remembers The Beatles and their music.
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The centre of the universe for Guinness drinkers
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No relation, but a nice
Afternoon Tea!
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Wicklow
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Wicklow
Monday 5th August 2019

After three nights in our comfortable and cosy little apartment in the Dublin suburbs we got up early and set off southwards before 9am.

We were aiming to reach Waterford by about 1.30pm, giving us enough time to check into the Granville Hotel and then catch a walking tour at 2pm. The idea was to choose a coast-hugging route, taking in Wicklow and possibly also Wexford on the way.

We stopped briefly for breakfast in Wicklow, a small and pleasant town. Quite a few businesses were shut for the day, probably because today in Ireland’s August Bank Holiday. We carried on south, stopping briefly at Brittas Bay to look at the beach. It was noticeable that there were very few places where you could park and walk down to the beach. The few places where you can do this charge 4 or 5 Euros for parking, and considering that we’d only be staying for a maximum of half an hour this was simply not worth it.

As we travelled it became apparent that sections of new motorway were being opened but that we had to keep diverting away from as yet unopened sections. This was massively confusing for Gilló, who was trying to follow our progress on a fairly new map. Luckily, Google Maps seemed to be up to date.

We called in briefly at Arklow but decided to skip Wexford, and a period of intense rain made this seem like a good decision. By the time we arrived in Waterford the sun was out again, and we had clear skies into the evening. We checked into our hotel, which directly faces the river, and then went to reception to wait for our guide.

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Waterford: an enormous carving made from a single fallen tree
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Replica Viking longship
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Waterford Crystal factory
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Waterford Crystal factory

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Waterford: a craftsman at work
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Waterford: a craftsman at work
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Waterford Crystal factory
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Granville Hotel, Waterford


In the event, we were the only takers for his walk, whereas there had been, he said, a group of fifteen this morning. The plus was that it made it much easier to ask questions as we went, and as a result we seemed to learn a lot about the city and Irish history.

Waterford is another settlement that was founded by Viking raiders who eventually settled permanently. The area’s attraction was that it’s surrounded by mountains that protect the anchorage on the river from strong winds. Also, the river is very deep - up to forty feet.

By the sixteenth century there were extensive walls around the city, making it very difficult to attack. In the 1570s a Spaniard, Don Diego Ortiz, came as a spy to investigate its defences, pacing out the distances around the walls by day and reporting that the 23 towers had, ‘a cannon on them to keep off savages’.

At around this time relations between Spain and Britain plummeted from being warm and close to outright hostility in only twenty years, culminating in Drake’s appointment by Elizabeth to outright piracy against Spain and its empire and the despatch of the Spanish Armada.

The French Revolution in the late eighteenth century set of waves of panic amongst the monarchies of Europe, leading to Britain suddenly allowing Ireland to build Catholic churches in a land where only Protestantism had been permitted. This was probably a smart move, because at that time 80% of Ireland’s population was Catholic. The moment that this was permitted work started on a cathedral. This was largely funded by Irish emigres living in Cadiz.

I asked what the attraction was for Irish people to settle in Cadiz. Apparently, at that time, the Pope demanded that Spanish Catholics should not do trade with Protestants, Jews or ‘Moors’, so the Irish became useful intermediaries for getting around the law.

Waterford in the early 19th century had had a vibrant spinning and weaving industry that supported many skilled workers. Weavers relied on as many as eight spinners for raw material, but, almost overnight, the Industrial Revolution wiped out the whole industry, with mechanised spinning and weaving and the arrival of cotton from the southern USA.

But there was still money to be made in Waterford. Ships set off each Spring for Newfoundland to catch cod that was then dried,giving it a ‘shelf life’ of as much as twenty years! The fishermen stayed away for eight months, trading dried cod for fruit and vegetables from south America, dyes from the Caribbean and timber from the Baltic. They returned in time for Christmas and a very rowdy time in port, no doubt!

On our walk we came across a whole pine tree, roots and all, lying flat on the ground. It had been blown down last autumn, and a sculptor had carved it into a sword shape, all 20+ metres of it, and decorated it with carvings showing the history of Waterford, all in a month. Nearby there was also a replica of a small in-shore Viking clinker-built longship, underlining the city’s early history.

At the end of the tour we visited the Waterford Crystal factory. Surprisingly, it had been in business only since 1947, although in the mid-19th century there had been another factory on the site. We went on a 45 minute tour of the factory, watching the skilled workforce at work. The effort that goes into making fine glass crystal is considerable. There are four trades covering the process, each requiring apprenticeships of eight to ten years, meaning that even a lifetime of work would be insufficient to qualify in all of them. The sad thing is that the process is so very labour-intensive that the cost of the end product is extremely expensive, and I really don’t think that I could tell the difference against mass-produced cheap copies. Still, a fascinating process!

This evening we ate in the hotel bar, lamb  for Gill, bangers and mash for me, plus a pint of delicious Smithwick’s Red - pretty much a regular Bitter.

Tuesday 6th August 2019

A very busy day!

At breakfast a passionate waiter called Jacek explained to us the glories of the hotel's porridge and insisted on serving it to us himself. It was made with local oats - Flahavans - and he added cream, cinnamon and sugar, but it was the alcohol that he thought made it so special. There was a choice of Bailey's Irish Cream, Dunphys Irish Whiskey or Muldoon Whiskey Liqueur - he recommended the latter and we went along with him. Gill loved it, but I was agnostic ;o)

The waiter's nationality (Czech?) raises an interesting point. We have been amazed and impressed at how multi-national / multi-ethnic Ireland is. On the Dublin bus tour the driver told us that the overall public transport company that he works for employs 13,000 people, who speak 68 languages! Wow! And in Waterford we spotted Italian, Chinese and Indian restaurants - there were probably others too.
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Smithwick's Red
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You can have any of these with your breakfast porridge!
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Granville Hotel
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A familiar name -our granddaughter is Mayela!
Having checked out we drove to Cork, which took a couple of hours. I made the mistake of not putting a destination car park into Google Maps before setting off, which meant that we picked the first one we saw, a multi-storey thing, which proclaimed that it was part of a 'Shopping Centre'. When we emerged on to the street it was like stepping back 50 years to a very run-down part of town, with semi-derelict shops. Quite a surprise.

We were both quite anxious to find a toilet, but weren't keen on going into a bar or picking a cafe where we'd feel obliged to have something to eat - we'd both eaten well at breakfast. We found a more up-market part of the City Centre and popped into a department store for relief ;o)

There was an interesting 'English Market' selling fresh meat, fruit and vegetables and groceries - not sure how it gained its name. The prices being charged we're ridiculously expensive, something that we've noticed repeatedly since we arrived in Ireland. Cheeses we're priced at 20 Euros per kilo and above! Yesterday, Gill went into a pharmacy for a 24 pack of Ibuprofen, for which she was charged 8.50 Euros!! Eating out is pricey too. Here you can expect to pay double what we pay at home, and the prices for wine are steep too, although beer is reasonable value.

After an hour, and with still a fair bit of driving ahead of us, we headed for Kenmare, a small town on the 'Ring of Kerry,' which seems to specialise in cafes, bars and restaurants. As we arrived, the heavens opened, which detracted from the attractiveness of the town, but all came good later when the sun ventured out. In fact, we both caught the sun today and can't really work out how that happened!
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The Ring of Kerry
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The Ring of Kerry
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The Ring of Kerry
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Muckross House
We found a nice restaurant for refreshments, but had only a bowl of soup each because we expected to be eating this evening. We left attractive little Kenmare and set off for Killarney. We travelled along a part of the 'Ring of Kerry' and had one more stop along the way, at Muckross House, built in the 1840s and now belonging to the Irish National Trust. We arrived at 4.30pm, an hour before the official closing time, but still managed to squeeze in a walk in the ornamental gardens and a guided tour of the house.
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Muckross House
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Folk evening in Murphy's
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Murphy's
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Killarney
In Killarney we checked into our accommodation - Murphys of Killarney. At 8pm we took a table in the bar for our evening meal and stayed on afterwards for the Irish folk band who played classics like, 'Will ye go lassie go' and 'Whiskey in the jar'. Gill enjoyed it so much that she was reluctant to leave the bar, even at 11.30pm!
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800 * 600
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Seafood Chowder
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'Fungi' commemorated
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The Rose of Tralee
Wednesday 7th August 2019

We had a walk about in Killarney this morning, discovering that it was much more attractive and extensive than we'd realised. As we walked we were musing about how much more attractive everywhere we've been so far would have appeared in bright, warm sunshine! And yes, later in the day we had yet another brief but very heavy downpour.

We're finding the natural friendliness and helpfulness of everyone we meet to be a joy. Whenever Gill asks for suggestions of where to go or what to do people have been pleased and eager to help.

We experienced a strange example of Irish warm-heartedness and good humour as we drove out of Killarney. We came to an impromptu police check, with passing cars being flagged down. I wasn't sure whether the officer's gesture was for me to stop or not, so I wound down my window snd stopped. "Did you want me to stop?", I asked. He grinned sheepishly and said, "I was going to stop you but I only did it in a half-arsed way". We both laughed and he waved me on.

We drove along a fair stretch of the Ring of Kerry to Dingle, way to the West of the county. The weather had been dreary and wet for most of the way, but at least it was dry by the time we stopped. We had lunch straight away. Gill had an amazing Seafood Chowder that was stuffed with chunks of fish rather than the fishy broth that you sometimes get. I had fish and chips, plus a pint of Killarney Red. Red beers have grabbed my attention here far more than stouts!

Dingle Bay is home to Fungi, a solitary dolphin who appeared here eight years ago and who has never left. In fact, he appears so reliably that boat trips promise a full refund if he's not seen!

The town is also home to Murphy's Ice Cream, the same product that we tried on Saturday's food tour. Gill and I both opted for Vanilla and Dingle Sea Salt.

We spent two hours in Dingle before setting off for Tralee. By now we'd left the Ring of Kerry behind and were starting to see signs for the 'Wild Atlantic Way'. There's a famous rose garden in Tralee that Gill had made a note of. It proved to be a little under-cared-for, with beds getting over-run with grass and weeds and bushes in great need of some heavy ptuning. However, the blooms were lovely.

The garden has a display of the Rose of Tralee contest, which is pretty much an old-fashioned annual beauty contest, open to contestants of Irish descent, no matter where they were born or brought up. Contests like this have been out of fashion in the UK for decades, but the Rose of Tralee version still draws one of the largest TV audiences each year.
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Our B&B in Ballybunion
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Ballybunion's beach
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Ballybunion - clifftop ruins
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Ferry crossing to Tarbert
After Tralee it was off to our last stop of the day - our B&B in Ballybunion, where we arrived a little after 5pm. This is a large detached house on a large grassy plot and it's immaculate, having been built only two years ago. We were welcome by the owner, whereupon we discovered a curious thing - we were struggling with his strong Irish accent, but he was equally having difficulty understanding us!

By now the sun had broken through and the world looked glorious! We went out for an hour or so and found a superb beach packed with families having a great time. It struck us that, with its gentle slope, it provided the wide flat surface that our grandchildren adore.

We had a bread and cheese picnic in our room before bed time :o)

Thursday 8th August 2019

We had another excellent Irish cooked breakfast, and a little after 9am we were on the road to the car ferry at Tarbert in glorious sunshine that lasted into the afternoon. As we approached the embarkation point just after 10am, aiming for the 10.30 crossing, we could see cars boarding a ferry, so we drove straight on board. This was the delayed 10am departure, so we were lucky!

Within only a couple of minutes, even before we’d paid our 20 Euros, the ferry set off on its 20 minute voyage. We went up above the car deck to watch for dolphins, and halfway across the captain announced that some had been sighted off the bow. There were two or three of them, and, try as I might, I couldn’t get a good photo of them. The stretch of water we were crossing was the River Shannon, marking the boundary between County Kerry, which we were leaving, and County Clare.

We left the ferry and headed north towards, ‘Spanish Point’, that it seemed had been so named because in 1588 a Spanish Armada vessel had been wrecked there trying to return to Spain. A few hardy souls were swimming in the Atlantic, and there was a van parked up where you could rent surfboard if you wished. The weather was so nice that we toyed with getting some refreshments and staying for a while, but in the end decided to carry on to Kilfenora.


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On the 'Wild Atlantic Way'
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Kilfenora
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The Parochial House
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The Parochial House
Why Kilfenora? Well, we’d booked a Father Ted tour for 1.30pm! Fourteen of us were picked up by a mini-bus, and straight away we saw a number of Ted locations, including the pub where Ted entertained the Chinese community to prove that he wasn’t a racist, and Dougal’s roundabout from ‘Speed 3’. Actually, the roundabout was a prop, and every year it’s brought out again as part of the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Then it was off to the Parochial House, where we had Afternoon Tea. On the way the guide had the whole bus singing, ‘My Lovely Horse’, first handing out song sheets for those who mightn’t remember all the words.

At the front gates to the Parochial House the guide offered to take photos with our phones, and had a range of quotes from the show on boards that we could hold up. We had, ‘Down With This Sort Of Thing’, and ‘Careful now’.

The house had been built in the mid 19th century by a rich landowner as a gift to his son, and was now owned by a local who had married a woman from Manhattan! She’d come across 30 years ago on holiday, met a farmer, stayed on and married him. She had a few stories about the three seasons-worth of on-site filming.

The writers had wanted the area to look bleak and miserable and chose her house because, unlike others in the area, it hadn’t been painted in bright, cheerful colours. They also filmed in late October to the end of November to make sure that the weather was as dismal as possible. After all, Ted, Dougal and Jack had been more or less exiled to Craggy Island for various misdemeanors, e.g. ‘The money was only resting in my account!’

Lots of local people were given roles as extras, except for the pub-full of Chinese. The main couple of characters were brought from the UK, but the rest were recruited from Chinese restaurants in Limerick!

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Gill as Mrs Doyle!
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That tiny square of dirt ...
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The 'waterfalls' from
'A Song For Europe'
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The tour last three hours, of which almost half was spent over afternoon tea. We had smiles on our faces pretty much all of the time :o)

These tours are one of the ways in which Kilfenora has recovered economically from long term decline. In the mid 19th century the town was a major hub for cattle trading, but then the railways came. Unfortunately, the line missed Kilfenora and went through nearby Ennistimon instead, and the cattle business went there too. By the late 1960s there were increasing numbers of empty and semi-derelict properties and the local knew that something must be done.

A letter from the town to a government minister arrived on the very day that he was discussing regional aid, and he was already considering how towns like Kilfenora could be helped. Before long the area started to receive government support that galvanised the locals into action of their own, and it’s now a more vibrant community. The town sits in the Burren National Park, an area of great natural beauty. Its designation has been good for tourism and Kilfenora is also gaining from this.

Tonight we’re in a lovely B&B in Lisdoonvarna that’s set in beautiful gardens. We’re just back from a meal in a ‘gastropub’ that offers live music while you eat.

In case Lisdoonvarna sounds a little familiar this might be because of its annual matchmaking event, which attracts tens of thousands of people seeking a partner. The month-long event is also an important tourist attraction.
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Matchmaking and Donkey Farm!
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Traditional folk music in the gastropub
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Traditional folk music in the gastropub
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Full Irish!
Friday 9th August 2019

After yet another lovely cooked breakfast and a quick walk around our B&B’s glorious gardens we set off for The Cliffs of Moher. If only the weather had been kinder we would have sat in the garden last night - there were tables, chairs and benches in little quiet corners all around.

They’re quite a dramatic sight, with layer upon layer of sedimentary rock that the sea keeps eroding, hosting lots of species of sea bird like puffins, petrels, gannets, guillemots and, of course, seagulls. We walked to the cliffs in gusting winds and then a rain squall hit. August in Ireland, eh? We had to laugh about it :o)

The car park was packed and so was the coach park, mostly bearing foreign tourists of all ages. As we drove away there was still a steady stream of traffic arriving.


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B&B in Lizdoonvarna
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The Cliffs of Moher
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Irish summer weather!!
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Ice cream!
We headed north, passing through Lizdoonvarna again, and aiming at Galway. Along the way Gill had spotted on her road map that there was an ice cream shop just off our route, so we diverted. It was a beautifully clean and well-decorated shop, and we weren’t the only customers there, which was a surprise since the road that passed it didn’t seem to go anywhere. The area is right on the coast, and it can be severely affected by winter storms coming in from the Atlantic, as they did repeatedly in December 2013 and January 2014, when fields were left deep in seaweed.

The weather was picking up, so we decided to go straight to our B&B in Galway. There was an amazing amount of traffic as we entered the city - more than we’d seen in Dublin, in fact! Luckily, we wouldn’t need the car for the rest of the day and we could walk into the city centre.

The B&B has far more rooms than anywhere we’ve stayed so far with a total of 13 bedrooms. Its big advantage is its proximity to the centre. We walked into town at about 4pm, thinking that we’d find a bar with food and live traditional music. In fact, there are bars like that throughout the city centre and they were all full with tourists, many of them seemingly ‘bagging a seat’ ahead of musicians starting up at 5 or 5.30pm. And it wasn’t just bars - every few yards we walked we came across musicians playing in the street itself. As Gill observed, it’s a very musical city.

In the end we gave up looking for seats in bars and went to a quiet restaurant. Well, it was quiet when we arrived and ordered, but shortly after that hordes of young people started pouring in. It looked as if there were stag and hen parties all over town!

By 5.50pm we’d given up and returned to our B&B. However, Gill had spotted that the Anglican church in the centre was holding a concert of traditional music at 8pm. After some ummming and ahhhing we walked back into town for this event. It came in three parts, firstly with a violinist who has a Master’s Degree in Irish Folk Music from Limerick University, then a tap dancer who danced as the violinist played, and finally a concertina player. For the final number all three women performed together. Not quite what we’d planned, but we surely heard the best two musicians in town!
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Busy Galway
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Athlone Castle
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Athlone Castle
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Athlone Castle - exhibit
Saturday 10th August 2019

When we set off this morning we headed for Athlone, which is pretty much in the centre of Ireland. As we drove the rain was cascading down and lorries going in the opposite direction splashed great torrents of water straight at our windscreen!

When we arrived in Athlone we had a brief dry period, which unfortunately coincided with us being inside Athlone Castle, and when we emerged the heavy rain started up again, effectively making it impossible to walk around the streets. This was a great shame, because it’s an attractive town with the Shannon running through it to a weir on the downstream side. We sat in our car, wondering what to do next, but on our map picked out a town further south called Shannonbridge, where, we reasoned, there might be restaurants for lunch.

The Castle visit was really interesting, because we learned something that we’d never encountered before in history lessons or books about the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This was when Catholic King James II was removed from the throne by his Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange, subsequently King William III.

In the English version of history, James was chased off the throne, and, during a failed attempt to return via Ireland, was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne by the forces of ‘King Billy’. This is the battle that Protestant sectarians celebrate to this day, with the implication that this settled everything and everyone was happy.

The exhibition in Athlone Castle presents the succession crisis from the Irish point of view, which is subtly different. In fact, the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland are entirely attributable to this period, although you’d have hoped that, 300+ years later, everyone would have grown up a bit and left this behind.

We’ve all heard of the Jacobites, i.e. the supporters of James II and his descendants, but I’d never heard the term, ‘Williamites’ before, i.e. the supporters of William III. In the exhibition this overthrow of a monarch was presented as almost an aberration, with the Irish population defending their legitimate king.

The armies that fought in support of James were pan-European, with military leaders and troops from France and Germany as well as local forces. And there were battles that these armies won against ‘the Williamites’ that never get mentioned in English history lessons. As always, history is written by the victor, and we need to be more aware of that.

Another surprise is that there are Anglican churches wherever we’ve been - the church we went to for last night’s concert is a good example.

During the drive south to Shannonbridge we had better weather, which means it didn’t rain - much! We had a light lunch in a nice restaurant overlooking the river and the bridge before carrying on to our final B&B in Ballina.
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Shannonbridge
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Killaloe and the Shannon
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Final 'Full Irish'
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St. Flannan's, Killaloe
‘Carramore Lodge’ is a large two storey building that has been tastefully extended to be  both a home and a three bedroom B&B business. Paul and Eileen were very welcoming, as was also the case in Ballybunion and Lisdoonvarna. Paul had recently retired and was loving it, and clearly intended to spend more time tending their already very impressive gardens.

In the evening we crossed the small bridge over the Shannon into Killaloe and County Clare, but when we didn’t find a nice bar with live music we crossed back to Ballina and County Tipperary :o) The Lakeside Hotel didn’t have any music, but it was uncrowded and cosy, with a lovely view down to the Shannon. For most of the two hours we were there the rain was torrential. We sat in a three table extension to the main bar with a skylight above us, and the rain colliding with the glass was like a constant drumroll.

We both ordered Fish and Chips, and if we’d known how enormous the portions would be we’d have shared! Having said that, the batter was beautifully crisp and the chips were triple-cooked - a delightful meal, so it was a shame that neither of us could finish it.
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Boat trip on the Shannon
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Ballina B&B
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Hunt Museum, Limerick
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'Durty Nellie's' near Shannon Airport
Sunday 11th August 2019

We stayed pretty much in the twin towns of Ballina and Killaloe today.

After a late breakfast we parked on the Ballina side and crossed the narrow bridge to the Killaloe Sunday Market by the river. There were only seven or eight stalls set up, selling local produce, all of which claimed to be organic, it seemed.

This raises an interesting point. We’ve noticed that restaurant menus here always list all of the relevant food allergens (including Lupin??) as well as noting which items are gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan. I’ve even noticed butchers offering traceability information on the meat that they sell. Ireland seems to be way ahead of the UK in this.

We had a little time to kill, and it wasn’t raining, so we sat by the river, reading. The bells of St. Flannan’s started to chime and were playing well-known hymns. They even broke into ‘Happy Birthday’ at one point. Gill looked up the church on the Internet and found that a single bell-ringer was playing all of the bells. He has bell ropes hanging closely together in front of him and barely seems to flick them to strike a note. I could easily imagine grand-daughter Ana getting the hang of this without many lessons! Gill enjoyed it so much that we stayed listening until the impromptu ‘concert’ stopped.

We crossed back over the bridge to a bar/restaurant where we both had warming hot chocolate drinks - it had been a bit chilly sitting by the river. At 1.30pm we took a one hour boat trip up the Shannon into Lough Derg, leaving the quay in brilliant and very warm sunshine - it didn’t last, although it didn’t rain either ;o)

Until the 1930’s, when a hydro-electric power station was built downstream, the Shannon was sufficiently shallow near the bridge for people to wade across, but after the dam was built water levels in the river and the lough rose by two metres. However, Lough Derg can be over 15 metres deep in places.

When we returned to the quay we picked up the car and explored a little on the County Clare side before stopping for a late lunch in a restaurant a couple of miles up a *very* quiet lane. When we arrived we found lots of cars parked and very little space in the restaurant! However, a table was quickly found for us.

Afterwards, we drove to the Killaloe end of the bridge and went to look to the church whose bells we’d heard earlier. We had the place to ourselves and were very impressed by what we saw. It had been built in 1225 AD and was in remarkably good condition. Surprisingly, it emerged that it was an Anglican church, which we’d inferred from the absence of Mary in any of the stained glass windows. There was a mediaeval font and a stone carved with runes and Ogham script - we’d learned about the latter in the Book of Kells exhibition in Dublin. The church felt ancient, but it seemed loved and cared for.

We went back to the B&B to relax before setting off again for, we hoped, an evening of traditional music. It didn’t quite work out like that ;o) We’d spotted a bar less than a mile from our B&B that advertised traditional music every Sunday evening from 7pm to 9pm. So, we arrived before 6.30pm to be sure of seats, ordered our drinks and took seats near five musicians who were sitting in a circle and playing, a little hesitantly, we thought. At about 7pm they all packed up and left, and we realised that we could hear music from the other end of the bar. ‘Our’ musicians had just been rehearsing!

We moved along the bar and thought ourselves lucky to get stools and a table, especially as more and more people came in. The trouble was that the ‘real’ musicians (flute, bodhran, banjo) weren’t wonderful either. The trio that we’d seen in Killarney announced each number and the singer doubled up as percussionist, beating the wooden box on which he was sitting. Tonight’s trio had no singer, gave no introductions and had no rapport with their audience. A shame, really, but so many bars offer live music that it’s hard to work out in advance which ones will offer the best entertainment. Our expectations had probably been raised by the excellent trio in Killarney :o)

Monday August 12th 2019

We set off southwards after breakfast in pouring rain, and half an hour later we were in Limerick! We knew that we'd only have part of the day to play with, and the heavy rain made it clear that we needed indoor options :o)

Gill had found details of The Hunt Museum, a collection of ancient and more modern artifacts from around the world that had been assembled by John Hunt, a 20th century historian, antiquarian and collector. Luckily, this was quite close to the multistorey car park that had been recommended to us, which meant that we didn't need to brave the rain for too long!

The museum houses items from as far back as the Stone Age and Ancient Egypt, right up to the 20th century. It was a very varied collection whose main significance was that it was the work of one man. Nearby is St. Mary's Cathedral, which we thought of visiting until we saw that the entry charge was 5 euros each!
We walked along the bank of the Shannon for a while, amazed at the power of the water that was rushing downstream, but then set off by car again for Bunratty, where we had a light lunch in 'Durty Nelly's', an ancient but very busy pub on the road to Shannon airport.

I filled the car's tank before returning it to Alamo, noting that we'd covered over 1,150 kilometres (700+ miles) in 11 days! On arrival in Departures we found that our flight had been put back half an hour, but it didn't get any worse than that. We landed at Gatwick at 8pm, and our taxi got us home by 9.30pm. The cats were glad to see us!

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