Day 1 | Day 2-3 | Day 4 | Day 5-6 | Day 7-8
The original reason for going to Ireland was to hook up with a friend at the Rock of Cashel. I don't know why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. And luckily the day they were going to be there was also the day I'd be closest to it.
This was the first full day of the vacation and it set the pace for the rest of the trip - Do research on the area the night before, then get up in the morning and check the maps to figure out how to get there. I decided I could make a trip around Lough Gur, spend the day at Cashel and still make it to Sligo where I had a B&B reserved.
The first stop was the Grange stone circle. This was very odd. It almost looked more like a ringfort. The center section was much lower with a raised ring around the outside, and an entrance cut through one side. Sort of like reverse curb stones.
It costs 2 Euro to visit the circle. Which I don't have a problem with, but if I'm going to be charged I think it wouldn't be too much to ask to keep the cows out. The whole thing is fenced, but also filled with little cow poo surprises. What the hell? Does the poo add to the "Ireland experience"?
Here's another circle near the main one. This was the point where I became very impressed with the boots I'd bought. Apparently Ireland had been having much more summer rain than normal and the humidity was extremely high. So while this looks like a nice meadow, it's really a muddy mess and all the grass is dewy.
But my feet stayed dry even though I ended up wet and muddy up to my knees. Handy travel tip for Ireland - Gore-Tex lined boots.
Here was a standing stone, also near the Grange circle. It was one of those places where I'd need to do some rather gratuitous trespassing to get close to the stone, so this is taken from the field below. I got very confused about things like this.
It's got a little antiquities marker next to it, so does that mean it's fine for me to climb over two fences to get to it? Beats me. If I did something like that in Montana I'd expect to get shot at. On any future trips I need to quiz people in Ireland about tramping around farms. If it's not posted I suspect no one cares, but with hoof and mouth and that mad cow thing being spread on muddy boots it seems like they might.
I actually thought it might be a good idea to hire a local guide who could escort me around to all these places. But that would probably just slow me down. And it wasn't really all that big a deal anyway. The whole idea of the trip was just to have a vacation in Ireland. Simple as that. I saw tons of stuff. No sense dragging some unemployed sheep herder along.
And I was completely disorganized anyway (which was kind of fun actually). I'd gotten up an hour late, so I wasn't even going to be able to do the walking circuit of the lake that I'd planned. I had to be at the round tower in Cashel in a couple hours, and the roads between me and there didn't look very "clueless newby" friendly.
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I had hoped to take a walking tour around Lough Gur, but I was running behind and didn't want to miss Ralph & Co at the Rock of Cashel, so I settled for a quick walk along the shore. It turned out that I had a lot more time, and I should have a least visited the interpretive center. Maybe next time.
The sun was starting to peek out and of course there were swans swimming around the lake. This picture is a good example of how insanely green Ireland is. It's sort of like a rain forest without the forest part.
Getting to the lake I got to experience getting lost for the first time. I don't know how it could be *hard* to get to Lough Gur. Especially with all the maps I had. But if you can't see the sun, and you aren't aware that a little one lane alley is actually the main road, things can be confusing. It basically took me 30 minutes to drive the two miles to the lake.
And this picture shows how fast the weather can change. The clouds you see there are extremely low, and speeding across the sky like some sort of movie special effect. It will be sunny and wonderful, then five minutes later it will be dark and rainy.
I was constantly keeping my eyes open for sun lit patches where I could whip out the camera and snap a quick shot. Sometimes these opportunities would only last two or three seconds.
And then back in the car and on to the Rock of Cashel - Something I'd been wanting to see for a long time. On the drive out I decided to stop off at an old passage tomb near the lake.
I doubt these pictures look all that impressive. It's hard to really capture the feel of the big tombs. Originally this would have held a very well constructed, weather-proof passage and perhaps a stone cairn covering.
But it is a good example of the state most of the megalithic sites are in in Ireland. They're scattered everywhere and most have been quarried for stone. Still, for a 4000 year old pile of unworked stone, they tend to hold up rather well. Especially since the people who made them hadn't found a use for things like writing, math, or the wheel.
So...... On to Cashel. The idea was that I'd meet my friends at the round tower at the top of the hill at noon. This was only mentioned in an email exchange, so I certainly didn't know how it would work out. Were they just kidding? Would I be able to find the place? I didn't print the email - did I even have the details right? Maybe it was the 16th rather than the 15th. The date had rolled over on the flight over, did I even know what day it was?
Who cares. I was going to be there at noon and I assumed other travelers might show up as well.
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Of course you can see the Rock of Cashel for miles, but how do you actually get to it? I figured there would be some obvious signs if I just drove through the town, but that would be too simple wouldn't it? I tried the first car park that said "Rock of Cashel - This way", but there didn't seem to be any way to get to the hill from there. Of course it cost 2 Euro to get *out* of the car park. Someone is making a lot of money on people driving in and out of that thing without stopping.
So.... A helpful tip for Ireland travelers - The car park isn't in town, it's half way up the hill.
These pictures look a bit odd because I had to use the wide angle lens to fit everything in.
From walking around this tightly packed cluster of ruins you get the idea that everyone wanted to build their own section over the centuries. Things are packed in like puzzle pieces. The keep to the south is the most interesting, but also in the worst shape. Notice the secret passage revealed by the collapsed wall in the center photo.
I found out later that there's a path down to this church. Once again, foiled by poor planning. I'd wanted to do lots of research on the areas I might end up in, but just got too lazy, or too busy, as the trip approached. Dang it. Now I'm back in the States and reading about all the stuff I'd like to see if I went to Ireland. Clearly I'm an idiot.
"You know..... We'll be in Ireland in June. Why don't you just fly over and I'll buy you a Guinness?"
The Guinness thing didn't work out. We couldn't find a nearby pub that was both serving food and not packed to the gills with people. Oh well, we settled for a little cafe.
. At this point we got to one of the things that really bugs me about Ireland. The Irish speak English. But their accent is so think that I can't understand any of it. It's very frustrating. I should be able to communicate with other English speakers.
So we sit down to lunch and I order ice water and orange juice. When the water comes the waitress apparently says, "Here's the water, but we don't have any ice." I reply, "Well, in that case I'll have coffee." She gives me an odd look and says, "So..... you don't want the orange juice." And of course I say, "Well, if you have orange juice, I want that."
People in Ireland always looked at me like I was an idiot.
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The drive from Cashel to my first B&B was uneventful. A quick drive up through Ennis, past Galway, and finally to Tuborcurry. Dad had figured it would take 6 hours, but I made it in about 4. I was still a bit sleep deprived so I crashed early.
Part of the plan was to take sunrise pictures so I set the alarm for 4am. Good luck taking sunrise pics in Ireland during the summer. First there's the problem that you can't have a sunrise if the sky is overcast. But worse is the fact that the sun seems to come up about 3am. Screw that. I went back to sleep.
For the most part this worked well, but there were some problems. It turned out I hadn't spent enough time practicing with my new GPS unit. I'd assumed if I had a topo map and a little toy that would give me my exact latitude and longitude I'd be able to find anything. It turns out this isn't true. Especially if you don't have a compass. Doh!
But worse was the fact that I hadn't printed out the info on all the megalithic sites that were off the beaten path. So I was mostly relying on the guidebooks, which seem to assume that tourists aren't interested in getting out and about.
Since one of the main motivations for the trip was to take pictures of this sort of thing it was very disappointing. But, on the plus side, I suddenly had more time. If I wasn't going to be spending most of the day tramping through undocumented bogs I'd be able to get in some extra driving each day.
The first thing I wanted to do was climb Knocknara. I left Tuborcurry about eight and headed towards Sligo. I'd wanted to beat the crowds, but maybe I shouldn't have bothered. With the World Cup match about to start I was the only person on the mountain.
The car park was easy to find and I headed up the hill. Queen Meabh's tomb ETA 45 minutes.
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There was a nice wide, rocky (rather than muddy - this is good) trail leading up the mountain. But with all the rain there was literally a steam running down the whole thing. Fortunately my boots proved to be 100% water tight, so I just splashed my way up.
I'd been doing lots of walking and working out to get ready for climbs like this, but I needn't have bothered. Whenever I was out I ended up stopping about every 50 feet to take pictures.
Here's one odd thing about trails in Ireland. They don't have many mountains in Ireland, so they don't know how trails are suppose to work. The trail will be very well marked and maintained, with a gradual accent. Then suddenly it will turn muddy and indistinct as it heads straight up the steepest part of the terrain. I'm not making this up.
The tomb is only impressive for it's size. Doubly so since they must have carried most of these rocks up from the bottom. I brought up a rock of my own and added it to the top. Which is cool. I have a rock on Queen Meabh's tomb. I'd meant to ask everyone to send me a rock that I'd carry up, but I sort of forgot to mention that during the trip planning. Oops. My bad. Sorry everyone.
It was right as I got to the top here that I started to get worried. You can just barely see the car park from right here and it looked like someone was parked right behind my car. I had my laptop and most of my camera gear in the back seat in my very convenient photo backpack. Great. [sigh] I'm so stupid.
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As I got to the car park I approached the rental with some trepidation. Okay... No broken windows...... [woow] Pack is still there. Then I go to unlock the door and find that I didn't even lock the thing!!! Real smart. This was a major problem I had throughout the trip. I'd park out in the middle of no where, or in a city somewhere, and forget to lock the car. Doh!
I was right near the town of Strandhill, so I decided to head over there. The guide book said that this was one of the best surfing beaches in Ireland with "huge rolling breakers". But when I got there I found waves only a few inches high. What the hell?
Kind of a nice little area though. I ended up coming back here later in the trip and got some fantastic photos. When I got back to the states everyone asked if I'd been golfing. No, Jon does not golf. But I did see a lot of golf courses.
Part of the problem with the survey maps is that you have no idea what you'll find if you actually try to find one of the "antiquities" they have marked with little circles. Again, more research would have helped. The Internet has sites that list just about everything. I could have used those to filter out the boring sites. But nooooo.
Okay, whatever. On to Lough Gill. On the way I stopped by this little lake (Colgagh Lough) and took some cool pictures. There's a little crannog there I think. Very pretty. Where's the damn sun!!??
And then to Lough Gill. I have to say I was underwhelmed by Lough Gill. Maybe it's better if the sun is out, but I really think the guide books over sell it. It's just a lake. Sometimes I get the idea that things around Sligo are suppose to be really special just because Yeats peed there or wrote a poem about it or something.
My plan for the day had been to spend a couple hours driving around the lake. But after driving around the Parke's castle area a bit I decided I'd had enough. What am I missing here? It's just the "Yeats peed here" syndrome isn't it?
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I don't really know what was with me on this morning. I drove over to Parke's Castle and snapped a few pictures. I peeked inside. Shrugged and drove off.
My plan was to drive all around the lake and here I was leaving after seeing a few hundred yards of it. Was I bored or something? How could that be? Am I just a total dork? Not to worry, all that was about to change.
I drove up to Deerpark where I was planning to get out and do some hiking. Wow. Do not miss Deerpark. Tons of wild flowers. Ancient tombs. Dark, mossy forest. And since it was the day of the World Cup match I had the whole place to myself.
This was one of the places where I wanted to use the GPS unit to find some of the hidden megalithic sites, but it just didn't work out. With the thick forest and the constant overcast it was hard to tell which way was which. I really needed a compass. And I should have marked the exact lat & long of the sites on my map. Also - GPS doesn't work well in thick forest.
So, note to people who want to track these things down - Check the Internet to see if the sites will end up being boring, get the exact coordinates and set them in your GPS unit, and remember that with the thick cloud cover you'll have no idea which direction you're heading.
Deerpark has a famous court tomb, but it also has four other sites marked on the survey maps. I never found any of them.
So I'm bumbling around off the trail, trying to avoid the cliffs. Constantly checking my topo map, not lost, but not finding anything either. And then I come across this little patch of clover where the light is sneaking through the trees. Very cool.
Do not miss Deerpark. Best. Hike. Ever.
The court tomb is easy to find though, and it was very nice. It's too bad they put up the fir plantation because you can't see the great view that was probably the reason for building there in the first place.
Also - If you look at that picture on the right above you'll notice it looks a bit.... odd..... I've changed the way I'm formatting the pictures in Photoshop. Tweaking the colors a bit more to try and capture the green. In fact all of the pictures today are altered a bit from what came out of the camera.
Is this good? Does it look silly? I think it better captures the mood of the place, even if it's not really visually accurate.
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I did see some wonderful forest though. The picture above is nice. That's Colgagh Lough lined up with Sligo and Knocknara, with the Deerpark cairn lined up behind me. Always interesting to wonder if they did that on purpose.
After walking every single trail, I finally gave up and headed around the mountain to Lough Colgagh. The waterfall is the thing to see, and I originally thought this was it. But it's not. Very pretty though. While I was taking pictures here a couple women came walking down the road and asked me for directions. This happens a lot in Ireland. I don't think I could ever pass for a local, with my California tan and my long hair. But on both trips people were always asking how to get to things I'd never heard of. "Hi. Do you know where Lughnagumore Road is?" No..... What?
Here's the waterfall. It was raining quite a bit at this point. I got this picture while hunching over the camera with an umbrella, but there's still a big blotch from a rain drop on the lens. Damn it.
If I'd known the picture was going to turn out this nicely I would have waited until the rain stopped and took more with a clean lens. I took several shots here and each one seems to pick up one more rain drop. Damn. I make a point to always carry lens paper and a microfiber cloth with me now. Too late.
There was a sign right by the trail up to this platform that said, "Danger. Do not enter." Which is highly strange, because obviously you're suppose to walk up the trail. I didn't find anything dangerous. I think you'd have to hurl yourself over the railing here repeatedly to do much damage.
I headed back down to the car and listened to the last few minutes of the World Cup match. A real nail biter. Then I realized I was starving and decided to head back to Sligo and find something to eat. Easier said than done. I spent about an hour driving around lost.
I finally just pulled over and wandered around until I found something that looked interesting. In this case The Loft restaurant where I had some Guinness and a wonderful prawn salad. (helpful tourist tip - In the US a "prawn" is a relatively large shrimp - but in Ireland prawns are those tiny little boy sized shrimp)
Then off to Carrowmore where I arrived just in time to watch them close the gates. Damn. I elected to drive down the road a bit and just climb over the fence. Of course it started to rain again so I didn't get too many pictures. (I went back later - don't worry)
Then a drive up the coast to see the Creevykeel court tomb.
Pretty impressive. I had several books on the megalithic sites (back home in San Diego) and I wish I'd done more reading about what some of this stuff is. I saw several count tombs all over Ireland, and they all seemed very haphazardly laid out. But they were all haphazard in the same way. Very strange.
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