The Emerald Isle

We got back on Wednesday from an AMAZING trip to Ireland.  We spent 8 nights on the Emerald Island and saw some of the most beautiful sites we’ve ever witnessed.  Bear with  me on this post- because it’s gonnna be long!

Day 1- March 13

We flew from Berlin to Dublin on Tuesday afternoon.  The flight was direct and just over 2 hours.  Upon landing we easily located a bus to the center of the city and made the trip downtown.  We checked into our hostel (Generator) and headed out to see the city.  Though the sun was setting the Temple Bar area of the city was just heating up.  Temple Bar is the name of one of the most famous Dublin establishments and also the area dedicated to numerous bars and restaurants.  We spent a little while walking around the area and taking in some sites before heading up to a pub called Messers Maguires.  We chose Messers because we’d read a review about their home-brews back at home and we weren’t disappointed!  I was happiest because their newest draft was a “California Style Pale Ale”- Pale Ales and IPAs are my favorite variety of beer.  And while German beer is generally outstanding, they do suffer a bit when it comes to variety.  I was in heaven with my “hoppy” ale and Dave was a fan of the “Rusty Red”.  After dinner and drinks at Messers we headed back into the Temple Bar area where we enjoyed some live music and got friendly with some locals.  The people in Dublin (and Ireland in general) were incredibly friendly.  Both at Messers and the following bar we had locals buy us drinks and talk to us about their city.  It was a bit of a late night and we didn’t get home until after 1:00am, but it was a lot of fun as well.

Temple Bar

Day 2- March 14

We woke up early as it was our only full day in Dublin and we had a lot on the agenda.  After breakfast we immediately headed down to Kilmainham Gaol for a tour of the facility.  Kilmainham Gaol is one of the largest unoccupied prisons in Europe and the tour covers the history of the institution.  The prison was opened in the late 18th century and operated until the early 1920s.  It housed mainly petty criminals and political dissentients, and has quite an interesting history.  In fact all the leaders of the Irish Easter Rising were imprisoned and then executed on the grounds. For anyone unfamiliar with the gaol you may recognize the largest holding chamber from movies such as In the Name of the Father and Michael Clayton.

Kilmainham Gaol

After our tour of Kilmainham Gaol we walked though the ground of Dublin’s modern art museum and headed over to the Guinness Storehouse.  The tour of the Storehouse is self-guided, but incredibly informative (and the free samples and pint of Guinness don’t hurt!).  We learned about Arthur Guinness and his creation of the brand.  Not only did he play a major role in crafting the beer, but signed a 9,000 year lease on the Storehouse location. The tour included more than 5 floors of information surrounding the history of Guinness, the making of the beer and the brand today.  The most interesting area may have been the section of the tour dedicated to the coopers (the designers of the old style barrels used to ferment the beer), but we were also pretty impressed with the sky-high Gravity Bar. We grabbed our beers, were lucky enough to find seats near one of the windows, just sat back and relaxed for a bit, enjoying the views of Dublin.

Following our stint at the Gravity Bar we made our way back to the Smithfield area Dublin so we could hop on a late afternoon tour of the Jameson Distillery. The tour guide walked us through the process of triple distillation and showed how Jameson gets it’s unique taste and smoothness.  The highlights of the tour included a look at 5 different barrels of Jameson all at different distillation periods- 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 12 years and 18 years and the final tasting at the end.  In addition to the basic tasting Dave was selected to be a “special taster”.  As a “special taster” he got additional tastes of Jameson, Johnny Walker Black Label and Jack Daniels.  He and the other tasters had to sit at a front table and share their favorite of the varieties, following that they each got an Official Whiskey Taster certificate for their troubles- it was very cute.

That evening we took it a little easier by wandering about Dublin a bit before enjoying a couple of pints at The Old Stand pub.  It’s more than 300 years old and reputed to have been a favorite haunt of Michael Collins. After our beers we grabbed some street food before making our way back to the hostel and crashing.

Day 3- March 15

We got an early start on Thursday, because we needed to pick up our car and start the 4+ hour drive our to the northwest of Ireland. The car pick up went smooth and Dave was an old pro and driving on the wrong side of the road.  We kept commenting that the scenery throughout the drive just kept getting better and better…but we had no idea what waited ahead in Malinbeg. Malinbeg is a tiny little town, located in the western-most part of Donegal country, miles from any large city.  In fact the population of Malinbeg is a mere 75 people, but they make up for it with the thousands of sheep roaming around.  When we arrived we were greeted by the hostel owner, Frank, who is also the proprietor of the general food store.  He showed us around the hostel and directed us to the beach, just a 5 minute walk down the road. We’d seen the green rolling hills and some distant coast line, but were absolutely amazed at the beautiful site that greeted us at the end of the street.  The beach consisted of a beautiful carved out bay completed with green hillside, impressive rock cliffs and a distant waterfall. We hoofed it down the long staircase and spent a good hour wading into the freezing ocean, searching for sea life and shells in the rocks and just enjoying the view. After cooking up some dinner in one of the hostels 2 fully-equipped kitchens we relaxed with some tea in front of the fire Frank set up before heading off to bed.

Day 4- March 16

Of all the things we were looking forward to about our trip to Ireland hiking Slieve League was number 1 on the list. We got an early start out of Malinbeg and took Frank’s advice on a scenic route out to Slieve League. The bit of extra driving was absolutely worth-it and we were so excited to see the main event when we reached our destination. Slieve League is basically a coastal mountain with magnificent sea cliffs. It’s among the tallest cliffs in the country and boasts some of the most amazing scenery.  We were lucky that the weather was relatively clear and that we were some of the only people out at the cliffs that morning. In addition to the excitement over the cliffs for the first time in my life I was thrilled about the fact that we hit a traffic jam.  The thrill being that it was a jam of sheep!!!  It was seriously cool. The cliffs were seriously cool as well.  We were the only visitors at the time who opted to hike up from the car park and we got some pretty spectacular views all to ourselves.  Really my words can’t do it justice and to be honest the pictures don’t either, but they do a better job than I could:

Sheep Jam

After the cliffs we headed up and inland to Glenveagh National Park.  We hiked the Castle Trail- which was lead provided great views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Upon arriving at the castle we stopped for a picnic lunch in one of the gardens and then explored the grounds a bit. It was beautiful, but the weather was starting to look a little rainy- so we headed back to the car and began the journey to our next destination: Derry.

Day 5- March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day!!!)

We lucked out with our accommodations at the International Hostel in Derry. Though we booked an 8-bed dorm there were only two other occupants the first night and none the second! In addition to the decent sleeping arrangement the hostel provided fresh baked bread every morning and a comfy lounging room with a great variety of movies and books…it had a very homey feel. We awoke on St. Patrick’s Day, enjoyed some coffee and fresh baked bread and then headed into the city to explore a bit before our 11:00 “Free Derry Tour”.  We knew absolutely nothing about the city before arriving, but it has quite a tumultuous history. Built in the early 1600’s there were constructed in an effort to control the “Irish Rebels” and the trouble kept growing. Though Derry is located in Northern Ireland and is technically part of the United Kingdom it has very nationalistic sentiments. There’s even a debate over whether the city’s real name is (as the nationalists call it) Derry or (as the loyalists call it) Londonderry. To avoid the drama many shops and businesses in the area go by Foyle, the name of the river, rather than “choose sides”. We walked around the city center, which was gearing up for the day’s festivities and around the still-intact walls before meeting our guide.  The “Free Derry Tours” are all conducted by former political prisoners and IRA advocates. Our guide Gerry was adamantly pro-IRA and he warned us from the get-go that his tour would be from his perspective. He began the tour by saying that they’re are three sides to every story- “my side, your side and somewhere in the middle what actually happened”. Well Gerry definitely gave his side. He painted the IRA solely as a victims in the conflict, only talking about the atrocities done by the British never and he ended his tour by saying he hopes that Margaret Thatcher dies a slow and painful death.  Though he gave us a very biased view of the troubles, he was remarkably interesting and his personal connection to the conflict made it all the more intriguing (his brother was one of the men who participated in the first hunger strike).

Following our tour we were ready to get the drinking started. We began with a few pints at the most popular pub in the city, Peadar O Donnels. After those headed back to hostel for some car bombs (whole new meaning now) on the cheap before making our way to the parade route. We only stayed on the route for half an hour or so because it was time to head back to a bar for the big Ireland vs. England match in the 6-Nations Rugby Tournament. We decided it was only appropriate to pay a visit to the pub “Bound for Boston” and fought our way through the crowds to see the Irish get creamed.  Luckily most people remained in good spirits following the loss and we made our way back to Peaders to grab some more pints and listen to some live Irish music. All in all a festive and fun Saint Patrick’s Day in a very authentically Irish local.

Day 6- March 18

Considering the amount of Guinness we thew back the day before we were feeling pretty good come Sunday morning. We hopped in the car and made our way along the northern coast.  We spent the entire day stopping at spots along the causeway coastal route and enjoying the gorgeous scenery. Highlights included walking around the Mussenden Temple, hiking down to the Giant’s Causeway and taking in the view at Carrick-a-Rede. Again words (nor pictures) can really do the sites justice.

That evening we splurged a little for a comfortable B&B where we were greeted by our wonderful host, Olive, ready with a fresh pot of tea and homemade bread. It was a great ending to a beautiful day.

Day 7- March 19

After a good nights sleep we awoke to another one of our anticipated trip events: a full Irish Breakfast. Our host Olive cooked up sausage, bacon, fresh bread, soda bread, fried eggs, yogurt, fruit, fresh OJ and coffee. It was by far the best meal of our trip…I’m literally salivating now as I write about it.  In order to work a little bit of it off we headed to the Glenariff Forest Park and set off down the waterfall trail. After spending a few hours taking in even more beautiful scenery we headed back down the coast towards Belfast (making one more stop for another hike to a waterfall along the way).

We arrived in Belfast just after 3:00 and after dropping our bags at the hotel we walked down into the city. I wasn’t sure what to expect of Belfast, really only knowing about it from the violence associated with the nationalist vs. loyalist conflict.  I have to say that I was greatly impressed. The city center is very modern, young and friendly. After taking in some sites we made stops at Bittles Bar, Fibber Magees and Crown Bar- when in Ireland right?!

Day 8- March 20

Our last day on the Emerald Isle. We picked a hotel near Queen’s University which turned out great because we were easily able to find a great, cheap dinner for breakfast. After the morning meal we headed through the campus and onto Belfast’s Botanical Gardens. The campus was absolutely gorgeous as were the gardens.

After our stroll there we walked over to the Ulster Museum to learn a little more about Ireland’s history. The museum was not only free, but fantastic. They have six floors dedicated to history, natural history and art; we definitely learned a lot. Probably the most interesting part about our visit was getting to compare and contrast the information we’d learned from Gerry in Derry and the information we discovered here. Gerry conveniently left out all mention of the bombs and attacks on civilians by the IRA. In addition to a good deal of information on the “troubles” the Ulster museum had exhibits on the history of Ireland from ancient times. Most interesting were the displays on population growth, the potato famine and the fight for Irish independence. Also displayed were the findings from a sunken ship discovered off the coast of Ireland a few years back– gold doubloons and all!

After the museum we headed into the city center for our final tourist excursion- a bus tour of Belfast. We hopped on the double decker bus and enjoyed a fascinating (and very funny) tour of the city. One of the things Belfast is most famous for (and most proud of) is the fact that the Titanic was built in their city. The tour started out by driving by the “Titanic’s final footprint” and the docks. Opening at the end of this month is a new museum and tourism center dedicated to the ship and we were able to see the almost finished product. The building is designed to the same height as the ship and the different wings resemble the bow of the Titanic. Also pointed out was the oldest intact ship from WWI- still floating in the harbor.

From the docks we headed into the posher area of the city over to Stormont, the Parliament in Belfast.  We then drove by our first of many murals- most done by the Irish loyalists.

The second half of the tour took us through the center of the city, into the area we had stayed the night before: The Queen’s Quarter and over to the Shankill area (where many of the violent attacks by the IRA were carried out).

All in all the tour was fascinating and the city lively. Belfast was a favorite city of Queen Victoria and official given the title of “city” by her in the 1888 (the year UPS was founded!). It’s had a troubled past, but is now a thriving and modern center.  Dave and I agreed that it was our favorite of the cities we visited this trip and we wished we’d had more time to explore…next time!

After our bus trip we grabbed a quick lunch and a final pint at Bittles before jumping in the car and heading back towards Dublin. We enjoyed one last beautiful drive down the east coast as the sun set.  We flew back to Berlin the next morning.

It was a wonderful week, made even more magical by the beautiful weather. We put over 900 kilometers on the car by the time it was all said and done and enjoyed every bit of the trip. It was a perfect way to celebrate our engagement and we can’t wait until our next adventure!

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One thought on “The Emerald Isle

  1. Beautiful pictures of a beautiful country. Thank you so much for sharing! I have spent some time in Ireland, but never made it to the northwest section. I see now that I will have to rectify that SOON! Malinbeg looks amazing.

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