The Irish Jewel: touring Ireland

girl in windbreaker in green countryside

By Kelsey Morfitt*

Shortly after arriving, I rented a vehicle and learned how to drive on the left-hand side with what I wish I could say was no problem at all.  After going the wrong way through a roundabout and being honked at multiple times, I stopped at a gas station and gladly bought large, red “L” (Learner Driver) decals for my windows.  Folks moved out of my way after that.So I ventured to Ireland.  It was incredible.  The green countryside dotted with white lambs and the crashing waves upon the rocky shore were lovely.

I stopped in Wicklow and was surprised to see a castle next to the parking lot.  About 1,000 years old castles are all over Ireland.  The stone castles, cathedrals, and cemeteries are quite impressive, but alas, I couldn’t stop to take pictures of them all if I wanted to see more of Ireland.

County Waterford was next, and I enjoyed visiting Hook’s Lighthouse—the oldest operating lighthouse in the world (800 years and still counting).  My GPS took me on a ferry next; I thought I was taking the land tour around the southern part of the island, but I guess not.  Eight Euros and 3 minutes later, I was on the other side and just 10 minutes from my hotel in Waterford.

On Saturday I visited downtown Waterford and loved the seeing ships along a waterway down the main street, and the Waterford Crystal tour was wonderful.  I enjoy seeing Chihuly glass-blowing in Tacoma, Washington, and while this was similar, fancy crystal worth hundreds of thousands of dollars took this tour up a notch.


At the Waterford Crystal factory

A couple of hours later I was off to Blarney, County Cork to do some kissing.  I wandered into a cave (prison) beneath the castle at first, and after a déjà vu moment for the Czech mine tour, some other Americans directed me to the top of the castle to kiss the Blarney Stone.  I ran around the castle to get to the top ahead of a tour group from Austria and the Netherlands.

kissing stone
Kissing stones is dangerous business

Check-in at my B&B in County Kerry was from 3-6p.m. and I made it with 5 minutes to spare. I was greeted with a cup of tea and some travel advice from an elderly gent named at the B&B.  His kind hospitality made up for the dirty sheets and blankets, crumbling shower floor, lack of bath towel, and overall stench.  The traditional Irish breakfast of a fried egg, 2 pieces of Irish bacon (ham slice with attached bacon tail), and Irish brown bread was delicious.  I passed on the sausage links.  Black and white pudding is also part of a traditional Irish breakfast.

After breakfast, I headed out on the Ring of Kerry from Kenmare, County Kerry to Killarney.  On the way, I stopped at the Muckross (means Peninsula Peak) House, Abbey and Traditional Farms in the midst of Killarney National Park.  I only intended to spend an hour or two and then head up the western coast to see the Cliffs of Moher and Galway before heading back to Dublin.  The Irish castle and grounds were enchanting.

The Irish elite inhabited the “house” from 1843 to 1932 when it was gifted to Ireland and became its first National Park (in the Republic of Ireland… after its 1910-20s revolutionary war and freedom from the British flag. In 1861, Queen Victoria visited the house for three days and three rooms were designed for her 2-night stay, plus an entire dining room with hand-carved, solid walnut furniture from Italy, hand-woven curtains from Belgium, Waterford Crystal Chandelier.They actually imported ice from Norway on a regular basis for ice cream, cooling, etc.

After the tour I ate lunch in the gardens, and then headed to the 1920s traditional Irish farms.  I visited  to the small farm, medium farm, petting area (part of the large farmhouse), and the schoolhouse that spanned multiple acres.  The small farm had a turkey and chickens wandering around by the farmhouse.  I cautiously stepped toward the house, trying to see in.  The reenactment was so real, I almost jumped entering the house where a woman in traditional gingham was tending to an open fire.

“Hello,” she said, as though I were a neighbor, stopping in for tea.  I greeted her in return, not sure whether I should ask to come in.  She gave me a piece of Irish bread and butter they made on the farm and told me about her way of life.

“Four children sleep here, head to toe, yah know.  It turns into a bench during the day,” she said, pointing to what looked like a large, wooden toy box.  I looked around the 2-room house before heading outside.  I was surprised (I shouldn’t have been by now) to see a man coming down the lane into the backyard pulling a donkey with soil on its cart. 

“Hello,” he called out, and I felt like an intruder on his property.  He offered for me to get a picture with his donkey, and I breathed a sigh of relief that someone finally broke character.  After visiting the 3-room medium house I trotted to the petting farm and enjoyed playing with the Irish sheep dog puppies, kitten, and petting a lamb.  The goats were running freely in the yard with the ducks and chickens.  The turkeys and peacocks, behind cyclone fencing, were not so friendly.

I arrived in Dublin Sunday night, and had to call home for help to work the shower.  Three calls home, one fruitless attempt at calling the front desk, some internet research, tears and prayer, the shower finally worked.  However, a long shower Sunday night did not make my dirty jeans, shoes and 3-days worth of clothing for a 5-day trip smell any better. 

On my return flight Monday, the gal sitting next to me was sniffing her perfume and holding her head.  When the plane reached cruising altitude both of the people sitting next to me sprung up and moved to other seats.  Oh well, having the only empty row on the plane was nice.

*Kelsey Morfitt, of North Liberty, Iowa, is a UI graduate student pursuing her M.S. in Urban and Regional Planning. She is currently studying abroad on the USAC program in Prague, Czech Republic.

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