My grandpa used to sing many a British/Scottish/Irish jig. I’ve driven the children wild with them since we arrived. I remember one for every place we visit. In York it was the ‘Grand old Duke of York’, in Scotland it was many including ‘You take the high road and I’ll take the low road’, in Ireland things have really ramped up and as we approached Tipperary recently you couldn’t hear yourself think in the car over my jubilant rendition. My travel companions are, as always, thrilled, to have me around 😏
We arrived in Belfast, a destination we decided on after the recommendation of a colleague – thanks Aidan (no bias at all 😉) plus I was fortunate to work with another pretty incredible Irish doc who provided further encouragement (the lovely Hannah).
Northern Ireland in general, is not a place many people I know have included in their UK itineraries. I think previously it was likely seen as kinda scary. More recently, as the political situation has become less volatile with the peace treaties of 1994 & 1998 I think tourist interest is getting traction. That said, we didn’t see many other tourists cruising around Belfast in February 😂 .
I was fascinated by Belfast. I’ve never been to a city with an enormous dividing wall let alone an OECD city that has seen the kind of struggle and strife Belfast has. It shows. Design and art and forward planning and beautiful spaces are reserved for those people and places who have nothing else to worry about. But in places where there are bigger fish to fry we often see a delay in the development of their urban spaces. In this way, Belfast is a city of contrasts. There are many many go ahead areas from the city centre, spreading outwards. There’s lots of new, fun, colour and clever design. These areas sit alongside depressed, drawn blocks – where it looks like life is still pretty tough.
The enormous wall that used to divide the Republican and Nationalist Catholic neighbourhoods from predominantly Loyalist and Unionist Protestant neighbourhoods is still erect in parts (probably still serving a useful purpose) and we went out of the city to take a look.
One of the striking things about Belfast is the street art. It’s complex, it’s clever and it’s EVERYWHERE. Art is such an important tool for human expression and it’s dominating presence here brings life and hope, I thought. The people in Belfast were really friendly and we found ourselves engaging a fair bit.
From here we headed to Derry, via the north coast. We hit up three big tourist attractions on the way – The Giants Causeway – an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – a famous rope bridge near Ballintoy which links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede AND for all the GOT fans we visited the dark hedges. Safe to say they were looking less dark with no leaves in the middle of winter, but still, we came, we saw, we conquered.
Arriving into Derry late, it is the second largest city in Northern Ireland and made infamous, sadly, as the location of the Bloody Sunday massacre where in 1972, 13 unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers during a civil rights march. It is a really quaint, walled city with some incredible old pubs (where they serve free soup or stew when you buy beer – turns out they do this all over both NI and the ROI). The girls decided to check out the social scene in Derry which they described as akin to attending your second cousins wedding. We had our first minor Airbnb issue in Derry that resulted in me making a cup of tea for an advanced dementia patient in his own kitchen that he let me into, bless.
The day we left Derry we, almost immediately, crossed the border into the Republic of Ireland. The only tell was the petrol prices had changed and now displayed both pounds and euro. It was so unexciting it is difficult to believe that this is the border causing a good deal of the Brexit angst!
Onto Ballina, County Mayo to find my ancestors. I’m not going to go into much detail here other than to say when you google “things to do in Ballina” the piano in the hotel lobby where we were staying pops up (it’s also the capital of salmon farming in Ireland, has a lovely little fairy walk in the forest and has a pretty cool castle on private property that we broke into). In Ballina I didn’t find my ancestors and I also realised I’d lost another precious family member…..foofie. Yes I am a 42yo with a blankey but I’ve given up caring what other adults make of this. In any case, those that know me know what a drama this must have been, made all the worse for the fact that I’d just left a reasonably ‘honest’ review of the property I’d left it at! Needless to say, after some negotiating and pretending foofie belonged to Eve to save my last shred of dignity, he was returned in the holey, falling apart condition in which I’d left him & had his own adventure across Ireland.
On the way to Galway we decided to point the car toward the coast and see where the day took us. We ended up running into ocean (funny that) on an amazing little island in County Mayo called Achill. During the Neolithic period this place had a population of about 1000, things have really taken off in the last 1600 years and it’s inhabitants numbers have DOUBLED ; busy, busy 😂 Ended up shooing the sheep off the road to get around to the gorgeous Keem Bay – beautiful way to pass the morning.
Flushed with this success we decided to try our luck with Kylemore Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1920 on the grounds of Kylemore Castle, in Connemara. It’s super famous, appearing in lots of movies. We were too cheap to pay the price of admission so just enjoyed some (amazing) quiche in the cafe and took some snaps.
Galway was a firm family favourite. It is walled (which we love), it is colourful, it is happy, it’s on the sea and the sun shone everyday we were there. (Please note, if planning a visit, it rains solidly for 200 days a year -I dont want to give you the wrong impression). We took a great walking tour and learned all about not only Galway history but also Irish history more generally (not happy listening I have to say, those Bloody English!). We all now better understand why I (& my gorgeous friend Pat) have never let the truth get in the way of good story – it is literally IN my Irish oral story telling genes. Anyhow – this is a great family holiday spot with the friendliest Irish folk we met in ROI and the girls can vouch for the nightlife!
Eve’s 10th birthday dawned a miserable day and our final in Galway. We packed up (again, gah) and all agreed Moher Cliffs were a ‘must do’ despite the inclement weather. So on we trudged. It was pretty yuck, but I have to say, the cliffs have a certain appeal in any weather!
Arriving into Dingle and trying to find our house late that evening is something I don’t think any of us will forget in a hurry. The house was as far flung down the Dingle peninsula as geographically possible. It was absolutely pitch black, the wind was howling, the fog thick. The skinny road clung to the cliffs edge and the GPS stopped working. Initial fear quickly turned to raucous laughter with everyone offering suggestions for solving this dilemma. In the end, a lovely old lady pointed us in the right direction and we found our wonderful house on the hill staring right into the face of the cranky Atlantic ocean. I probably don’t need to tell you how incredible the Dingle peninsula is and being able to stay out there looking out at the sea was really special. One evening all the kids and us had our heads out the fully open skylight in our bedroom to marvel at a sky so choc full of stars it hardly looked black! The locals are currently earning a buck by charging visitors to check out their Star Wars-esque stone beehives. Some are even more enterprising than that!
Because we had overstayed in Galway we ran out of time to do the whole of the ‘Ring of Kerry’ drive. However on the way out of the peninsula we stopped in at some of the rings well known attractions. The cute town of Killarney proved a great lunch stop and quick explore as the snow we hadnt seen for a while begun to fall. The Torc Waterfall was well worth the down and up hike while the Gap of Dunloe proved to be one of those magic travel moments you don’t forget…..notwithstanding all the normal shaninigans like almost slipping right off the tiny, icy road in the van or certain family members insisting on making urine coloured snow cones in the otherwise pristine environment.
In Cork we had a spectacular Airbnb fail when the resident security consultant (sporting his new beard) scanned the network and found a concealed CCTV camera in the lounge/dining/kitchen area of the house. I’ll save you the details, but let’s just say after Andy hacked the live-feed and called the owner to ask what the fudge sticks was going on, it all blew up and we ended up leaving the house and having to find emergency accommodation. We got our money back and the guy is currently under investigation with his Airbnb listing removed.
We cruised into Dublin after a quick, but interesting stop at the Rock of Cashell (another fortified castle/place of worship with a murderous history).
Dublin jostles with Galway for first place in our winning cities of Ireland competition. It’s everything you read about Ireland all rolled into one delightful, characterful little city. With so much to see and do we were a little overwhelmed. So overwhelmed infact, that one day, we just gave up and went to the movies!
Other than that we wandered around town including the fun Temple Bar area and explored the campus at Trinity College, including the pretty incredible Book of Kells exhibit and library (stunning).
We explored the enormous Phoenix Park and drove out to Poolbeg lighthouse. We all would have liked longer in Dublin, but we’re keeping a cracking pace at the moment and so we’ll just have to consider this an Irish tasting plate! Lastly, the girls went on an organised pub crawl in Dublin that kept Andy and I awake and worried until 3:30am. In their defense, they got up bright and early the following morning for our trip to Prague.
I’m going to make a controversial closing commentary based solely on OUR experience of Ireland. We came with very high expectations of amazingly friendly people, incredible landscapes and great food. We got the landscape, in parts. It is not dramatic like Scotland or the South Island, NZ. It’s a more agricultural vibe with some outstanding areas. The more well known attractions are absolutely overrun with tourists – even in March.
The food is, on the whole, very average. We found 99% of the hospitality workers incredibly UNfriendly. The locals are better, but the big centres are like any big centre – it’s difficult to engage people as visitors. The overall cost of everything here is on par with London or even more expensive; much more than everywhere we’ve been so far. I think if we were to return we would stay in one place and try to hang out with family friends etc to get a real feel for the famous Irish hospitality everyone talks about.
Leaving home attempts end Week 15: (including mum and dad) had another one this week (bringing the total to 7) that included me saying something like “they absolutely do not pay teachers enough for this shit” and “the industrial revolution saved first fathers and then mothers from having to live with their children 24/7 – we all forgot to praise it for that.”
Threatening to send children home end Week 14: has to be at least 3 more outbursts (coinciding with the incident above) which brings us to 20.
Airbnb concealed cameras discovered = 1
Embarrassing adult blankey admissions = 1
Negative Airbnb reviews OF US = 2