Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day Trip to Western Ireland

After looking at the weather, we saw that Saturday was to be the only clear day in sight so we decided to take advantage of the good weather and see a different part of Ireland. We found a rail tour that went to western Ireland where we would leave the train and tour several areas by bus. The only problem was that we decided to go only after the ticket office had closed for the day and the tour actually left before the office opened on Saturday. Ever optimistic Dr. V. emailed the office and we got a response that we would be able to go if we showed up at the train station by 6:30 the next morning. We assured them we would be there. At 4:45 a.m. we were up and were at the station early. At 7:00 we embarked on our trip to the Cliffs of Mohr, Bunratty Castle, the Burren, and Galway Bay. It was dark until about 8:00 a.m. so we didn't see much of  the countryside at first but, as it got light, we saw beautiful, lush horse country and farmland. We passed many small town and villages with their white houses, and even a castle. We changed trains at Limerick Junction and it was only a short ride into Limerick. Our total trip was about 2 hours. We had a wonderful guide, Jim, who was so knowledgable about what we were seeing.
Irish Rail
We changed to a bus and took a short drive around Limerick (birthplace of Angela's Ashes author, Frank McCourt). There is also a castle built by King John about 1200. Limerick received its city charter in 1197, making it older than London's charter. It was built on a very strategic position on the Shannon River, which is Ireland's longest river.

Burt (our driver) and Jim (our guide)

King John's Castle

Shannon River
After leaving Limerick, we went to Bunratty Castle. Part of the reason we selected this trip was so that Dr. V could see a castle. I have been to Bunratty before and it is very interesting.  It is described as "the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland. Built in 1425, it was restored in 1954 to its former medieval splendor and now houses mainly 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries and works of art which capture the mood of the time" http://www.shannonheritage.com/Attractions/BunrattyCastleandFolkPark. To me, Bunratty is more of a tower house because of its square shape. I am not exactly sure what would differentiate the two. The castle was definitely built for protection and we were shown all of the ways the owner would have protected himself. The walls were 8 feet thick so there wasn't a great deal of room for living space. The only room on the first floor was inhabited by soldiers who lived in that one room as the first line of defense. The narrow twisting staircases in the turrets turned to the left so someone trying to get up the stairs would be unable to hold a weapon in his left hand, and there was a "murder hole" where boiling oil, water etc. could be dumped on those trying to enter.  The great hall on the next floor was operation central for the castle-where the lord heard from his tenants, conducted business, etc. There was a spot on the floor where anyone speaking to the lord was required to stand and two hidden archers were focused on that spot! Handily, the dungeon was just off of the great hall. It looked like a staircase leading to a dark area, but after a few stairs, there was just a long drop to a stone floor. If the fall didn't kill you, you were just left to die. The kitchen, bedrooms, chapel and store rooms were in small spaces on other floors. None of the original furnishings and artifacts remain, but a Trust exists which has provided 450 items for the castle that were indicative of what would have been used (http://www.bunrattycollection.com). The castle doors are very small and the staircases very narrow and winding so all furniture had to come apart to be put into the castle. This was also so it could be moved from residence to residence should a lord or ruler have to move for protection or to conduct a war.
Castle Irish Wolfhounds at Bunratty - HUGE!



Stairs in the Turret

Rooftop

View from the castle roof

"murder hole"



South Paw at the Castle

Susan & Paige
Along with the castle, there is a folk village at Bunratty. There are reconstructed buildings from all over Ireland that show what like would have been like in the 19th century. Many of these buildings would have been destroyed because of building projects, such as airports, but were saved and reconstructed. The houses vary from one room huts to larger and more comfortable ones. There are commercial buildings as well. It is very interesting,to see the different structures that are here and there are about 22 of them in all.





After leaving Bunratty, we had a fabulous lunch stop in Doolin where we ate at Gus O'Conner's Pub. We had fabulous seafood chowder here and then wandered through some shops before reboarding the bus. Our guide told us that Doolin was a half-village, which meant there were only buildings on one side of the street.








We then drove to the Cliffs of Moher (http://www.cliffsofmoher.ie/default.aspx), which many people in Ireland had told us that we must see.  The Cliffs are one of the top tourist attractions in Ireland and it is easy to see why.  They were just breath-taking! They are the highest cliffs in Europe at about 700 feet. The views of the cliffs and from the cliffs were so spectacular that really, seeing the pictures, is the best way to experience them.  We could have stayed much longer than our allotted time!

Cliffs of Moher
Susan at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
Paige at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

South Paw at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland


In a real contrast to the Cliffs, we then drove to an area known as the Burren http://www.burrennationalpark.ie/. When we read about this area, it was described as a lunar landscape and that is perhaps the best description. Burren means "great rock" and this is certainly appropriate. The Burren is composed of great limestone flat rocks with criss-crossing cracks known as grikes. This makes the area look like an area paved with giant flagstones. They were once sediment in a pre-historic sea.  The amazing thing is that this area is also known for the great variety of plants which grow here-some in the grikes and others near the rivers.
Great texture

...like walking on the moon

We're told the wildflowers are beautiful in the summer.

South Paw at the Burren

After leaving the Burren, we drove around Galway Bay, which is a beautiful area of Ireland, and arrived in Galway in time to catch the 6:00 train. We arrived back in Dublin about 8:45, very tired, but VERY happy to have seen all we did! Thankfully, Ireland went on daylight savings time that night (they call it winter time), so we were able to get an extra hour of much needed sleep.  We'll actually get two extra hours this year
Trusty Burt, our driver, in the rear view mirror


alpacas in Ireland



5 comments:

Amanda Lloyd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amanda Lloyd said...

Thanks for sharing your Ireland adventures with us, Dr. Santoli and Dr. Vitulli! A trip to Ireland has been on my "bucket list" for quite some time, now! Until then, it was a joy to experience your journey through your images and posts!

-Amanda

Paige Vitulli said...

Keep it on your list Amanda - you will not be sorry!

Laura Ellenburg's EDM 310 Class Blog said...

The pictures are fabulous! I now want to travel to Ireland! I loved seeing "South Paw" out and exploring Ireland with both of you.

I have also never heard of a half-village before...is there a reason why the buildings are only on one side of the road?

-Laura Ellenburg, EDU 301

Chanel Ellison said...

Wow! You two were able to see some really incredible sites. I'm so glad South Paw was able to join you! I really enjoyed all the pictures of different castles that you got to visit as well. They way you two are so bundled, I'm guessing the weather was definitely not warm on this day, but I'm glad the skies remained clear for the most part!