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Our 15-day road trip of Scotland and Ireland ended with an overnight in Dublin. We couldn’t resist checking out O’Donoghue’s Bar (15 Merrion Row) after reading Lonely Planet’s review stating it as “This, the most famous traditional music bar in Dublin, is where world-famous folk group ‘The Dubliners’ started off in the 1960s.”

O'Donoghue's Bar sign, Dublin, Ireland

O’Donoghue’s Bar sign, Dublin, Ireland

O'Donoghue's smoking section

O’Donoghue’s smoking section

O’Donoghue’s Bar is a great place to have a drink and listen to Irish music. The bar seems to attract locals and visitors alike. I noticed there were those in suits just coming from work and those in jeans/casual clothes. Interestingly, they stayed on different sides of the bar but the great equalizer was the smoking area where the two came together. Sort of ~ in the photo it still seems like suits on the right, jeans on the left.

Since I wasn’t thrilled with my previous visit to Dublin, I decided to scan blogs instead of the guidebooks for something to do prior to our late afternoon flight home to London. I was hoping to gain sage advice from a Dubliner and thankfully, I happened to find Arran Q Henderson’s blog post “Top Dublin Sights and Visits” (click here to read it). As soon as I read University Church as one of his suggestions, I knew I could trust his recommendations. Here’s what we ended up doing:

We walked through St Stephen’s Green to the Canal.

Fusillier's Arch, St Stephen's Green, Dublin, Ireland

Fusillier’s Arch, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland

Robert Emmet (1778-1803) Statue in St Stephen's Green, Dublin Ireland

Robert Emmet (1778-1803) Statue in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin Ireland

I was intrigued by the statue of Robert Emmet. Two things caught my eye: he died so young and the plaque read “Presented by The Emmet Statue Committee of the United States of America.”  I decided to research the life and legacy of Robert Emmet. Born to wealthy Protestant parents, he sympathized with the unfair representation the Irish Catholics had in Parliament. He became an Irish Nationalist who was executed by the British for plotting a rebellion. He was captured when he moved from his hiding place to be with his lady-love thus becoming not only an heroic figure but a romantic one as well in Irish history. Robert Emmet also sympathized with American Revolutionaries and, after his execution, his older brother emigrated to the US. There are towns in several states named after Robert Emmet and there are similar statues of Robert Emmet in Washington DC (Embassy Row) and in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Canal Lock, Dublin Ireland

Canal Lock, Dublin Ireland

Bikes and Bikes along the canal in Dublin, Ireland

Bikes and Bikes along the canal in Dublin, Ireland

Handsome Mallard, Dublin, Ireland

Handsome Mallard, Dublin, Ireland

Brisge over canal, Dublin, Ireland

Bridge over canal, Dublin, Ireland

As we left the canal and headed toward St Patrick’s Cathedral, we walked through a non-tourist neighborhood of Dublin. It was obvious to those around us that we weren’t from the ‘hood. A very nice gentleman chatted me up at the cross walk and he pointed out different interests in the neighborhood including telling me about a church which had been converted to apartments. Would love to see inside:

Protestant Church Converted to Apartments

Protestant Church Converted to Apartments

Tiki Heads (?) in Dublin, Ireland

Tiki Heads (?) in Dublin, Ireland

Mural in Dublin, Ireland

Mural in Dublin, Ireland

We finally made it to St Patrick’s Cathedral along with a large group of French teenagers (at least 40 of them). Couldn’t believe how many of them smoked.

St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin Ireland

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Ireland

Always fun to find free WiFi

Always fun to find free WiFi

After spending more time in Dublin, I started to see more of its charms! I wouldn’t be adverse to another visit to the city.

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…with the Blarney Stone.

I was about seven years old the first time I ever heard of Blarney Castle and the tradition of kissing the “Blarney Stone” in order to get the Gift of Gab. My dad told me the story in great detail and I was fascinated. The legend of kissing the Blarney Stone was described in a book by Francis Grouse in 1785 so it’s nice to know the long standing tradition continues. I could certainly use all the help I can with ‘clever and charming’ speaking as opposed to my current snarky sarcastic propensities so let’s hope the kiss works for me.

Kissing the Blarney Stone

Me, Kissing the Blarney Stone ~ have to admit it was awkward but not as bad as I thought it would be. Thank Goodness for the safety bars…

‘Tis there’s the stone that whoever kisses

He never misses to grow eloquent;

‘Tis he may clamber to a lady’s chamber,

Or become a member of Parliament.

“A noble spouter he’ll sure turn out, or

An out and outer to be let alone;

Don’t try to hinder him, or to bewilder him,

For he is a pilgrim from the Blarney stone.”        

                      By Francis Sylvester Mahony

Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland

Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland

The Blarney Stone is a block of Bluestone which was built into the castle wall in 1446. Besides kissing the stone, the castle and surrounding grounds are beautiful so if you are traveling with anyone who doesn’t want to kiss the stone (fear of heights, etc), they will still find the area beautiful. It’s a perfect place for a picnic. Give yourself a few hours to enjoy the gardens.

Looking out from Blarney Castle

Looking out from Blarney Castle

Inside of the Blarney Castle

Inside Blarney Castle

Stream flowing through the grounds of Blarney Castle

Stream flowing through the grounds of Blarney Castle

Narrow Staircase going up at the Blarney Castle

Narrow Staircase going up at the Blarney Castle

Window at Blarney Castle

Window at Blarney Castle

Stone Archway at Blarney Castle

Stone Archway, Blarney Castle grounds, County Cork, Ireland

Winding Staircase at Blarney Castle

Winding Staircase at Blarney Castle

 
Poison Garden ~ with some serious poisons. Take heed ~ don't touch.

Poison Garden ~ with some serious poisons. Take heed ~ don’t touch.

JP going in for the Kiss of the Blarney Store

JP going in for the Kiss of the Blarney Store

Blarney Castle is only 8km (5 miles) from the town of Cork and can get VERY busy during the summer season. A staff member told us the wait to kiss the stone in the summer can be over 2.5 hours. We arrived at the Castle soon after it opened and didn’t wait at all to pucker up for a “smooch.”  If you decide to go click here for additional information.

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We woke up not knowing where we were going to spend the next two nights so I scanned the internet a bit, looked through the Lonely Planet guide and came up with Clonakilty. We took our time driving from Doolin (County Clare) to Clonakilty (County Cork). Drove down the coast to Killmer where we caught the car ferry to Tarbert (County Kerry). We stopped in Tralee for lunch which was not the best choice for us ~ I found Tralee to be crowded and a bit unfriendly. We thought about doing the “Ring of Kerry” which a lot of guidebooks list as a “must do” but we only skirted along the top of the Ring. We left that drive on the list for next time.

Shannon Ferry from Killmer to Tarbert (County Kerry)

Shannon Ferry from Killmer to Tarbert (County Kerry)

There was beautiful scenery the entire drive to Clonakilty.

County Cork Coastline

Ireland Coastline

And there were lots of tractors along the road. We even saw an accident between a tractor and a truck ~ thankfully everyone seemed fine.

Tractor Jam

Tractor Jam

I chose to stay at the Bay View House B&B because it overlooks Clonakilty Bay. Unfortunately, the tide was low during the day but it’s still a nice view. The owner of the B&B along with her daughter are wonderful hosts ~ it was a great place to stay. Only hiccup was the man in the room next to us who had his TV on max volume until 1:30am. I finally knocked on the wall which he then thankfully turned it off. I’m the only light sleeper in the family.

The town is full of shops, restaurants and has a rich history. Michael Collins, the commander-in-chief of the Irish Free State army, was born near Clonakilty. If you’re interested, there’s a map called “In search of Michael Collins” which you can get at the town’s tourist office ~it traces the key places in the area such as birthplace, school, place of ambush where he was killed, etc.

Bay View House B&B, Clonakilty, County Cork

Bay View House B&B, Clonakilty, County Cork

View of Clonakilty Bay from B&B

View of Clonakilty Bay from B&B

Clonakilty, County Cork

Clonakilty, County Cork

On the second day in Clonakilty, we woke up to sunshine once again so we decided to spend some time in the County Cork countryside on horseback. All the rides in Clonakilty were booked so we ended up riding in the Mealagh Valley which is about 5 miles outside of Bantry. Weather could not have been more perfect for the ride and we were treated to a gorgeous view from the top of the hill overlooking the valley and out to Bantry Bay. It was about a 45 minute drive from the B&B and the road narrowed considerably as we got closer to the horse farm. We were greeted by several creatures: cats, dogs & sheep. I got a very good feeling about the Bantry Pony/Horseriding and when I asked, I found out they “rescue” neglected/unwanted ponies and horses. We love to ride when we visit a new location but sometimes I don’t like the way the horses are handled. Thankfully with Bantry Pony Trekking, I could tell the horses/ponies are loved and seem very content.  I feel confident HIGHLY recommending this activity if you’re in the County Cork.

Road to Horseback Riding, Bantry, County Cork

Road to Horseback Riding, Bantry, County Cork

Cat greeter at the horse farm

Cat greeter at the horse farm

Sheep Greeter at the horse farm

Sheep Greeter at the horse farm

Horseback riding in Country Cork (Bantry)

Horseback riding in Country Cork (Bantry)

View of Bantry and the Bay during horse ride

View of Bantry and the Bay during horse ride

Mama and her twins ~ she was definitely "on guard"

Mama and her twins ~ she was definitely “on guard”

Cow in Bantry

Cow in Bantry

We had a late lunch at Tractors (yummy) in Bantry then it was back to Clonakilty for the night.

Bantry, County Cork, Ireland

Bantry, County Cork, Ireland 

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Doolin Caves has the Great Stalactite which we heard about from several locals in Doolin. Having been to several caves in my past travels I wasn’t sure what to expect but have to say I was impressed by the Great Stalactite which at 23.5 ft (7.30 meters) is the longest free standing stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere.

The tour begins by taking the stairs down 80 ft into a tunnel and from there you wander through to a dome area where you’ll see the impressive stalactite. The maximum allowed per tour is 20 people and we were thrilled there were only 6 of us on the last tour of the day. Our tour guide was very informative and did a great job giving us the history of the cave. Our tour was a little less than an hour but I imagine with more people it would be closer to a full hour tour. Hard hats are provided and a must since the cave ceiling is very low in some spots ~I managed to hit my head a couple times and I’m only 5’8″. Plan on getting a little muddy so don’t wear your favorite pair of shoes. If you’re in Doolin, take an hour to enjoy the cave ~ it’s worth it.

Going through a passageway in the Doolin Cave.

Going through a passageway in the Doolin Cave.

Great Stalactite (23.5 ft) in Doolin Cave

Great Stalactite (23.5 ft) in Doolin Cave

Great Stalactite in Doolin Cave, Ireland

Great Stalactite in Doolin Cave, Ireland

A couple more photos of Doolin before we head out for County Cork.

Before sunrise in Doolin, Ireland.

Before sunrise in Doolin, Ireland.

Half Moon over Doolin, Ireland

Half Moon over Doolin, Ireland

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Wave off of Doolin Point, County Clare, Ireland

Wave off of Doolin Point, County Clare, Ireland

Bird near the Cliffs of Mohr, County Clare, Ireland

Gannet soaring near the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland

Doolin Bird

Gannet soaring along the water near the Cliffs of Moher

Birds in Flight

Herring Gulls in Flight

We hiked around the Cliffs of Moher which is about 8K south of Doolin but then decided we wanted to see it from the water as well so we booked a cruise on “Dolphin Discovery.” With full on sunshine and milder temps, it turned out to be a great way to spend the morning ~ got to see a friendly, playful dolphin, birds and the Cliffs of Moher.

Dolphin in the the Doolin Pier

Dolphin in the the Doolin Pier

Dolphin checking us out

Dolphin checking us out

Looks like Hawaii but it's really Ireland

Looks like Hawaii but it’s really Ireland

Cliffs of Mohr

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Mohr

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Mohr

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Mohr

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Mohr

Cliffs of Moher

If you want to go to the Cliffs of Moher, there’s a car park and visitor center. Click here for opening hours and prices.

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I admit, my expectations of Dublin were so high I doubt any city could live up to my own hype. It’s not that I didn’t like Dublin, it’s more that I felt absolutely nothing while I was there. Usually when I’m in a new area, I get a feeling from it: good, bad, fun, funky but, in Dublin, I felt bland. On the positive side, we stayed two nights in beautiful lodgings just off St Stephens Green in central Dublin. We were within easy walking distance to Trinity College, Temple Bar, the Liffey River and the Christ Church Cathedral in oldest part of town.

Catholic University Doorway

Lion guarding the Doorway

Fusillier's Arch into St Stephen's Green, Dublin

Fusillier’s Arch into St Stephen’s Green, Dublin

The highlight of our visit was Easter Mass at Catholic University Church just on the other side of St Stephens Green. The Priest’s homily was so heartfelt (he spoke extensively about Human Rights) that it brought tears to my eyes. There was also a choir and a solo singer ~ both sounded so wonderful but the singer had one of those haunting Irish voices ~ what I would imagine an Irish Angel would sound like. I could have listened to her all day.

Trinity College, Dublin

Trinity College, Dublin

Trinity College Campus, Dublin

Trinity College Campus, Dublin

Trinity College Library ~ original editions

Trinity College Library ~ original editions

Beautiful Trinity College Library

The Long Room in Beautiful Trinity College

In the afternoon, we headed over to Trinity College to view the “Book of Kells” which was written over a thousand years ago. It’s comprises the four Gospels and was created by Monks on the Iona Island (off the coast of Scotland). Originally one book, but in the 1950s, it was rebound into four separate volumes. Two are on display at Trinity and two are on tour. Photos weren’t allowed in the “Book of Kells” display.

In the early evening, we wandered around the Temple Bar area but we found it to be a bit of a zoo. My days of stepping over vomit from beer guzzling lightweights are over. We’ll avoid the area next time.

Temple Bar Area Dublin

Temple Bar Area Dublin

Dublin Q here

Literary Pub Crawl ~ defiitely on the list for "next time"

Literary Pub Crawl ~ defiitely on the list for “next time”

I’m very excited we’re leaving the city behind for 4 days and we’ll be out in the Irish Countryside…

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Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions about my visit to Belfast. If you’re looking for an in-depth history of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, this is not it.

Most of my reluctance to visit Belfast was the recent renewed tensions (violence) ~ it’s covered extensively on British TV. In the end, I’m so glad I went to see the city for myself rather than rely on the media. It’s obvious there has been a lot of progress made in the last 15 years since the Good Friday Peace Accord was brokered (in 1998). We didn’t plan it, but we were in Belfast on Good Friday so there were a few events happening for the anniversary. Unfortunately, the famous pub “Crown Liquor Saloon” (circa 1826), which is located in a beautiful Victorian building and still has gas lights overhead, was closed due to Good Friday. The Irish take the Good Friday holiday VERY seriously ~ even the pubs in Dublin were closed or so we were told from our Dublin cab driver.

City Hall, Belfast

City Hall, Belfast

Staircase in Belfast City Hall

Staircase in Belfast City Hall

Stained Glass in City Hall, Belfast

Stained Glass in City Hall, Belfast

"No Mean City" Exhibition at City Hall, Belfast

“No Mean City” Exhibition at City Hall, Belfast

Memorial to the Titanic Victims, Outside Belfast City Hall

Memorial to the Titanic Victims, Outside Belfast City Hall

We visited City Hall which was dealing with the “British Flag” flying controversy.  From my understanding, the British Flag used to fly 365 days a year but recently, Sinn Féin formed a coalition, gained a majority in the government and voted to fly the Union Jack a limited number of days. The decision is not sitting well with the Loyalists and so it is ratcheting up the tension once again in Belfast. As we were leaving town, we saw Loyalist demonstrators in front of City Hall waving the British flag. Our taxi driver said he was making about £5,000 a month prior to the latest controversy but since news about the renewed tensions (and bombs being found), his income from tourists has dropped to £1500.

St Annn's Cathedral, Belfast

St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

Mural in Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

Mural in Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

Belfast has beautiful and interesting artwork throughout the city

Belfast has beautiful and interesting artwork throughout the city

Mural in Belfast

Mural in Belfast

Belfast Alleyway

Belfast Alleyway

Parliament Building, Belfast

Parliament Building, Belfast

Titanic Experience, Belfast

Titanic Experience, Belfast

Extreme Style in Belfast

Extreme Style in Belfast

We opted for the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour with a live tour guide. As a lifelong Belfast resident, she was a fantastic guide and gave us the dramatic, tragic history of the area while infusing just the right amount of dark humor to keep the story from depressing us too much.

Peace Mural in West Belfast

Peace Mural in West Belfast

Political Mural in West Belfast

Political Mural in West Belfast

West Belfast Mural

West Belfast Mural

Curbside paintings designating what side of the political argument you're on(one hint: this would be "loyalist"

Curbside paintings designating what side of the political argument you’re on(one hint: this would be “loyalist”)

Political Mural showing how far back the tension goes in West Belfast

Political Mural showing how far back the tension goes in West Belfast

Intimidating Political Mural

Intimidating Political Mural

Peace Wall, West Belfast, Northern Ireland

Peace Wall, West Belfast, Northern Ireland

The Peace Wall, also known as “peace lines,” have been built all over West Belfast to separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. It’s the hardest part of the Peace Agreement for me to understand. Everyday, people in West Belfast wake up to these peace walls which are build with corrugated metal and barbed wire. Graffiti created by locals express everything from “Peace” to “Break the Wall Down.”  The walls are a constant reminder to residents (and visitors) that this kind of peace is fragile. I feel in order to move forward, integration is essential. Once you get to know your neighbor, you then start to respect your neighbor. Easier said than done, but I’m a hopeful person!

On a happier note, the restaurants we ate at in Belfast did not disappoint! Muriel’s in the City Center was a favorite of mine ~ delicious food and a quirky interior complete with “knickers” hanging throughout the restaurant. It used to be a hat shop at the turn of the century (I think) and the restaurant is filled with art deco.  Made in Belfast had a very fun atmosphere.  Both restaurants had comfy couches and a relaxed ambiance.

At "Made in Belfast" Restaurant

At “Made in Belfast” Restaurant

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