Friday, December 13, 2013

Visiting the Emerald Isle

So I could make excuses for this taking too long- I moved countries(twice), didn't have internet connection(and still sometimes it cuts out now that I do have it), and I have been busy working.... but the simple truth is I forgot!

In August I went to Ireland for a week. Ireland is a country I have wanted to visit for a long time. As luck would have it- my friend was getting married there and I was invited.

I spent the first 2 nights in Dublin as well as the last two nights and the 2 nights in between were spent in County Clare near Dromoland Castle.

Ireland I discovered, is a friendly country. It is also very green... and as my luck would have it- very wet.

I arrived in the evening and so didn't see much the first day. I found my hostel with some help from the locals, and I have to say it was probably the best hostel I have stayed in. It's called Jacobs Inn. The staff were great, the rooms have their own ensuite bathrooms(so no need to worry about running around the halls with just a towel around you and being locked out of your room because you forgot your key), and I was lucky enough to get a room that almost shared a wall with the reception area so I didn't need to go to the lobby to get internet.

But enough about the hotel.

The first full day we actually had some sun in the morning, and I did a free walking tour of Dublin with a lovely guide whose name(if I remember correctly) was Ashley. I can't for the life of me remember the name of the company that runs the walking tours, but it was a good tour. The guide straight up told us that she liked history, and if people were looking for a tour guide who would talk about architecture, then it wasn't her. It was great to get to learn a bit about the history of Dublin and Ireland in general including conflict with England. The tour started at the hostel and we got to visit the Temple Bar district, the Town Hall, Dublin Castle and gardens, St Andrew's Cathedral and Trinity College. I realised that I knew more than I thought and less than I would like about Ireland. Unfortunately it did start raining on us about halfway through the tour but we persevered and made it to the end... albeit a bit soggier than when we started.

That evening I did a pub crawl run by the same company. We visited 5 pubs and one club I think it was. I was unfortunate enough to encounter the one unfriendly person I can recall from my trip, in the form of a taxi driver who when it started raining wouldn't take me to the pub where it started. Luckily I also met one of the nicest people in the form of a elderly gentleman who offered to show me what direction I needed to go and then walked with me through the rain to the pub itself. Wherever you are, sir, I can only hope that good fortune comes your way!

The second day was a bit more boring. I didn't do much except catch a train cross-country to Limerick to get to where I was staying the next two nights.

The hotel I stayed at is located on the Dromoland Estate in County Clare, which is also home to Dromoland Castle. I did a bit of walking around both the estate and the castle where my friend's wedding reception was also held. It is exactly what I imagined castles to be when I was a child. It was grey stone with crenellations and towers and corridors inside that were more than a little confusing without someone to guide you. It is GORGEOUS! The grounds were amazing too. They have a very nice walled garden as well as some fabulous views if you are willing to go for a little bit of a walk. It is somewhere I would love to visit again, and hopefully next time I visit I can stay in the castle instead of the inn.

Back in Dublin for the last two days and nights I had an amazing time. After making friends with some other hostel guests, I did my own exploration of Dublin that involved touring St Andrew's Cathedral and the crypts beneath.

I also visited the Dublinia museum which covers Viking and Medieval Dublin. Here I was in my element. I am fascinated by certain parts of history- Vikings and medieval history is something I cannot get enough of. The museum starts off with a section covering the founding of Dublin as a settlement by the vikings as well as a bit of general viking history. We had a very friendly guide for a free tour of that section, but the whole museum is amazing.

 The exhibits are excellent. Often when you visit a museum, everything is behind glass and very boring. Dublinia uses bright colours realistic and/or lifesize reconstructions- want to see a privy(toilet) or a viking burial? They have it. You can walk inside a room made to look like the inside of a viking round house or even down a street of medieval Dublin and past a busy dock scene. The best thing of all is that it is really interactive. There are little games and tests set up through the exhibits so you can test yourself after you read the information- or before if you are like me. There are flaps to flip to explain exhibits. What's this shoe about? Flip it to the side and you can read about it underneath.

There is also a section right at the top of the museum called the History Hunters Exhibition which is about archaeology and how it, history and science are working together to uncover Dublin's past. As I had just finished an online archaeology course it was very interesting for me. I understood a lot of the information included and could guess what things were in exhibits without needing an explanation- like why archaeologists use toothbrushes.

Overall I would highly recommend Dublinia museum to people who love history and are travelling with kids- I think it is hard to be bored when you can get a bit hands on with things.

In the afternoon we also managed to get over to Trinity College and have a bit of a look around when it wasn't raining. Unfortunately we were unable to see the Book of Kells as the library was closed already, but in our wandering around, we encountered a fox. That's right. A fox! In broad daylight in Dublin it was just casually wandering around areas where people were sitting and enjoying the view. It was my first encounter with a live fox and it was pretty awesome.

My final day in Dublin involved what could possibly be the most history laden and awe-inspiring moment I have had ever. Maybe I overstate it, but it really was amazing. I did the Mary Gibbons tour of Newgrange and Hill of Tara. With the aforementioned Mary Gibbons as our tour guide I learned a lot about both sites and the history of the area.

Hill of Tara is the ancient Royal seat of the Irish high kings. 142 kings were crowned here. It is said that on a clear day you can see half of the Irish counties from atop the hill. walking on the hill, you can easily see evidence of structures that would have stood on the hill in the mounds, ditches and other earthworks that cover the area.

Newgrange is a neolithic passage tomb. It is older than both the Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza in England. It is particularly well known for the winter solstice, during which time as the sun rises it shines down the passage of the tomb to illuminate the chamber inside for about 17 minutes. I was lucky enough to go inside the tomb which only limited numbers are permitted to do each day, and although it wasn't the winter solstice, it was still awe-inspiring. To think that people 5000 years ago somehow managed to move these stones and build this structure that still exists to day is mind blowing. It may not have the spectacular look of the pyramids or Stonehenge, but in it's own right, it deserves to be experienced

All in all, I can say Ireland is a country that I truly did not have enough time in. I will definitely be visiting again to see all the things I missed.


~~Random Logic~~

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