On our last morning in Killarney, we stopped by a bookstore and I bought a paperback copy of Tana French’s latest book, The Secret Place. Her books take place in and around Dublin, so I was looking forward to heading to the Irish capital to see the setting of some of my favorite novels! I wasn’t alone in reading Irish novels. Tim had bought Ulysses earlier in the summer and had impressively been making his way through. A literary bunch, the two of us!
We said goodbye to Killarney and made our way across Ireland, with two stops planned: Cashel, another recommendation from my aunt and uncle, and the Wicklow mountains, south of Dublin. When we got to Cashel around lunch, the parking lot of the Rock of Cashel (the fortress we’d come to see) was full, so we parked in town and had lunch (well, we both ate breakfast food) first. The fortress was built in the 12th century-like Ross Castle, it was fascinating for me to see a manmade structure that old (we just don’t have those in the US). The fortress was pretty crowded, and under construction, so we didn’t linger too long.
Our last stop before Dublin was the Wicklow Mountains. This was also one of the rare times we got a little lost. Navigating on the main roads was easy, but finding our way around the country lanes with no guide other than some screenshots of Google Maps was challenging! We eventually found our way to the park and Glendalough, an ancient monastic site. Like Cashel, it was so interesting to see something that old-the entire site dates back to the 6th century! We walked on the trail from the monastic site to the upper lake-apparently there are some ancient mines on the hillside but we couldn’t really figure out how to get to them. The hike and the views of the mountains were beautiful enough for us anyway. On the way, we saw one of the funniest-yet extremely serious-signs I’ve ever seen. The whole trip, every Irish person we’d met had been so polite, except for the author of this sign!
Having the rental car was nice, and our trip would not have been possible without it, but by the time we got to Dublin, we were glad to turn it back in! We drove to the airport and stopped at a gas station to fill up and do a quick clean up of the car (amazing how dirty it got over the 5 days we had it…and how quickly we managed to get it in passable shape), then turned it in to the rental agency and got on a bus to Dublin!
Dublin! My first European city! Driving in, it reminded me a lot of New York or Boston (which, duh). I think I expected it to look like the charming parts of London you always see in movies, which it did not. Our hotel was in the theatre district, one block north of the River Liffy, just off O’Connell street. The general post office is located on O’Connell street, which played an important part in the Easter Rising in 1916. It is also where I bought stamps and mailed postcards to all my friends! The post boxes around town were green and had two options: Dublin, or the rest of Ireland. Puts the size and population of the country into perspective!
Our first night in Dublin, we had another pizza dinner and drinks at a bar across the river. When we checked into the hotel, they told us that there would be an event on the second floor both nights we were staying, and that they’d given us a room on the 5th floor so we wouldn’t be disturbed. At the time, I didn’t think much of it-how could we be bothered by something going on three floors below? Well, those two nights turned out to be the loudest nights EVER. Good thing we were worn out from several days of travel and were able to fall asleep despite all the noise!
My favorite thing we did in Dublin was tour the Kilmainham Gaol, a prison that was used to hold political prisoners during the uprising. The foreboding prison was the perfect place to learn about, and fully appreciate, Irish independence. The tour ended in the yard where prisoners were executed, on a solemn note. Until that point, we’d spent all our time on the western coast of Ireland, which was somewhat removed from what was going on in the capital. A few of the coastal towns we stopped in were Irish speaking, but the larger cities like Galway and Killarney were almost entirely English speaking-even the inscriptions on the tombstones at the cemeteries we saw at the Rock of Cashel were in English. We’d noticed that the car license plates and all the road signs were in English and Irish and learned that the Irish language had been brought back for official use not too long ago. Touring the prison gave us a much better understanding of what makes Ireland the country it is today.
Another way to fully appreciate Ireland was to drink some Guinness! The tour of the Guinness storehouse (not the actual brewery) was very flashy and basically a giant advertisement for Guinness. There was actually a whole exhibit on Guinness commercials! The best part, of course was the Gravity Bar on the top floor, where we enjoyed a pint of Guinness and a perfect view of Dublin. I generally prefer my beer several shades light than Guinness so I’m impressed with myself for drinking the entire pint. We went back to the hotel and relaxed for a little bit before having a pub dinner (more lamb stew!) and meeting up with Tim’s soon-to-be roommate Connor, who was in Dublin on a work trip. I’d never met Connor before so it was fun to have drinks and chat-although the bar we went to was more of a club. There was another room upstairs with a band-I’m pretty sure it was a Daft Punk cover band but I could be misremembering.
On our last full day in Dublin, we toured some of the museums-by that time, we had museum fatigue and kind of just wandered through the exhibits without really taking much in. Tim did find a case full of rocks and minerals, which he quizzed me on (one of his favorite things to do). There was a street performer festival going on at one of the local parks, so we sat down and watched a guy who did soccer tricks. We also spent some time wandering around, while Tim pointed out some of the Ulysses landmarks, like the maternity hospital and the national library. We ended up walking along the river almost to the port so we could see out to the Irish sea! This part of town-the Docklands-was brand new and shiny compared to the rest of the city-a convention center and a bunch of corporate office buildings. While we were walking back to the hotel, two people stopped us to ask for directions. As soon as we opened our mouths, we could tell they were so embarrassed for having asked American tourists for directions! I was just glad we looked like we fit in!
Since we were staying in the theatre district and it was our last night in Ireland, we decided to see a play: The Shadow of a Gunman, about a man who plays into his neighbors’ theory that he’s an IRA member. The play was excellent-beautiful theatre, good acting, great story, especially since we’d just learned so much about the Irish revolution. We had a final pint at the hotel pub and were off to bed!
The next morning, we had one last full Irish breakfast (well, Tim did. I think I had oatmeal) and took the bus back to the airport. Our flight had a 7 hour layover in Washington, D.C., and since we’d cleared US customs in Dublin, we had plenty of time when we got back to the USA. We took a bus to the air and space museum in Fairfax, VA, and looked at the space shuttle (go America!). The museum was about 10 minutes from where I lived as a kid, so we took another bus into a local shopping center and ate dinner at my family’s favorite Mexican restaurant. After a week in Europe we’d gotten really good at finding buses to take us places! We finally made it back to Houston late that night and went straight to sleep. I had to go to work the next day which was a huge struggle, but I forced myself to stay up until about 9 pm so I adjusted to the time change pretty quickly. Our trip to Ireland was so much fun and I can’t wait to see where we go next!