Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cold, Wet, & Green

Last summer our University of Illinois bound daughter Caitlin found out that she had not only been selected to join the Marching Illini, but that a trip to Ireland to perform in the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade was afoot.  Caitlin manages her own college fund/bank so making the decision to go was an easy one for her.  Making the plans to join her was an easy decision for us!

Caitlin arrived in Ireland a few days before St Patrick ’s Day to tour the sights with the 300 other members of the marching band.  We arrived at the tail end of the trip in time to catch her for dinner and, listen to some great music at "The Church", an old church renovated into a bar/restaurant in Dublin.

Video - "The Church" in Dublin, (Sunday) 

For St. Patrick’s Day, Kelly scored us a great hotel room with a 4th floor view of the parade route so we could watch the madness below in style as the Illini rocked the crowd.  After they passed by, we ran downstairs to the street and made it to the Guinness Brewery where the band performed again in the main atrium and totally killed it!

Video: Marching Illini play the atrium in the Guinness Factory (Monday)

We stayed long enough to enjoy a late lunch, a few pints, and as Caitlin headed home with the band, we made our way back to the hotel to pack for a week of touring.  We rented a car Tuesday morning (yep…driving on the left side of the road!) and got the heck out of Dublin.  After a “crash” course in roundabout navigation (and a few unintended detours) we found our way to Clifden on the western coast.  We checked into the Sea Mist B&B and stopped into Lowry’s Pub to enjoy a late night snack and live music from some local musicians. 

Video: Lowry's Pub, Clifden (Tuesday)

The next day we found our way to Ashford Castle for our only “scheduled” event at the Ireland School of Falconry. Our guide Owen takes us through the castle’s wooded grounds as we manage a pair of Harris Hawks for their daily hunting and exercise.  So cool to learn about them and the sport of falconry, and now of course…I WANT ONE.  We finished the day with a hike through the Connemara National Park in high winds and horizontal stinging sleet. 
 Video: Connemara National Park (Wednesday)

I suppose that’s considered “inclement weather” but so much fun being out in the elements and seeing the landscape of high Ireland.  We wound our way back to Clifden, becoming intentionally lost in beautiful rainbow filled valleys, and dodging the occasional flock of sheep crossing the roads.  We hung out at another pub for dinner, stouts, and whiskey before heading to bed. 

Thursday morning we shopped at an art gallery on our way out of Clifden and finally made it out after a purchase and an hour long conversation with the owner comparing the differences in social structures and political climate between Ireland and the US – no joke, it was really nice and we could have talked all day!  A lovely scenic drive southward along the coast with a stop in New Quay at The Russell Gallery  for lunch brought us to the Sea View B&B in Doolin.  After checking in we make our way to O’Connor’s pub.  Not bad, but being that Doolin is near the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands, it’s decidedly more touristy.  Friday morning we enjoy a huge breakfast to prepare for the 8km uphill hike from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher.  Local Famer and Inn owner Pat Sweeney has been steadily building a walking trail right on the coastline, across farmland along the cliff’s edge.  He walks it nearly every day and the guy’s a machine – so keeping up was challenging but it’s an experience not to be missed.

We arrive at the Cliff’s visitor center thoroughly soaked, and after lunch take a bus back to town for souvenir shopping.  Our innkeepers kindly let us hang our wet gear in their garage to dry and after warming up by the fire, we walk an Irish mile (two point somethingish miles) to McGann’s pub for dinner; farther from town and a lot more laid back.  After lamb stew, stouts, and whiskey we walk back to the inn in pitch black, seeing a full sky of stars, and turn in for bed.  Saturday morning we pack up our dry clothes and gear for the drive to Shannon.  Opting to drive through the Burren allows us to stop and view the stark and rocky landscape, and also experience my one and only close call with another car (another American driver who hadn’t caught on to the notion that some roads don’t allow 2 cars to pass at the same time…)  Hertz didn’t seem to notice (or care) about any scratches from that little swerve through the bracken, as we return the car and check into the Shannon Airport hotel for the night. 

Too short a visit, but using Caitlin’s band trip as an excuse to go, I think we certainly made the most of the time we had.  Already scoping out other parts of the island for the next time we find ourselves in Ireland.  Slainte! 

Video: Slideshow of Ireland 2014