So maybe it was the Guinness, the fresh air, or possibly the Guinness… but we decided to do the rest of our trip around Ireland by car which may have been a crazy idea. You know, with the steering wheel on the right side of the car, driving on the unnatural wrong side of the road – left side, and with the roads being in most places a third smaller than North American roads. Why did we do this crazy thing? Because Rob hates with a passion, tour buses and tour groups, always has; it’s like being in a cattle-bus and you never get to see what you really want to see or get to meet people from the country you’re visiting.
We rented the smallest vehicle available from the rental company on April 26th, 2014 in Dublin and had our first experience driving on the left hand side. Rob had the honour of driving first and we started our driving trip on the motorway (highway), which was good and bad at the same time. Good because we had three lanes on the motorway to get used to driving on the left hand side and the rental place was only two blocks from the motorway. Bad because the speed limit is 120 km/h, but in the end it wasn’t really that bad except when we had to get off the motorway and drive on the secondary roads through a town or village that on many occasions were not much wider than a single lane road and had lorries (trucks), buses, and sheep coming at you from the opposite direction!
Anyways, I swear the roads are only designed for Mini Coopers, as they seem they’re the same width as a car. So passing cars in the opposite lane, going through towns, and driving beside those quaint countryside stone/grass covered walls are all a bit nerve-racking, like white-knuckle crazy drink lots of Irish Whiskey at the end of the day nerve-racking. There were several moments while driving that the passenger (we would switched up each day) would slowly start saying “close, close, close, TOO CLOSE!!”
Saying that, we only had two real close encounters; once when a bus almost ran us off the road and we ‘tapped’ one of those beautiful country stonewalls, and another time when Sophia backed into a hedge that was covered by old growth, but was definitely made out of rock as we left a small dent in the car.
On our first day after leaving Dublin, we drove through the Wicklow Gap Mountains and Wicklow Way, stopping at the Powerscourt Estate in Glendalough and ending our day in the beautiful and ancient city of Kilkenny. The Powerscourt Estate is a 64 square kilometre estate with the main draw being the formal gardens and the views of the Wicklow Mountains. A person could easily spend a whole day at the estate but as Sophia was playing tour guide to make sure we saw as many sites as possible in one day, we only spent about an hour exploring the main gardens. One of the interesting sites at the estate was the pet cemetery with some very interesting pet names and headstone engravings. The estate was also used in the movie ‘Count of Monte Cristo’ (newer version).
Following our visit at the estate, we went to Glendalough which is the site of an ancient monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 5th century that started falling into ruin in the 14th century. It was a beautiful and evocative area but unfortunately it started to rain hard when we arrived at the site so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we would have liked to.
We kept going after getting soaked at Glendalough and arrived quite late in Kilkenny, Ireland after our first day of driving and actually ended up arriving during rush hour!! We stayed at Mena House, owned by Catherine one of our first of many welcoming B&B places we stayed at in Ireland. After chatting with Catherine for a bit about what to see around the area and settling in, we took a walk around town and had a bite at the Kyteler’s Inn and Pub. After dinner we walked around town for a bit and were able to witness a bunch of young ladies running around for a bachelorette party, Irish style. We also visited St. Canices Cathedral a beautiful medieval church all-lit up for evening service.
Early the next morning, we took the opportunity to explore Kilkenny further and visited the Kilkenny Castle, a lovely place that should not be missed. Rob thinks he was here back in 1983 or 1984 on his first visit to Ireland. Before leaving town, we wandered around town and came across an antique car show that had some interesting vehicles including a double ended vehicle – not sure how it works!
We continued our drive and headed north initially in order to catch the motorway to Cashel to visit the Rock of Cashel before heading south to Ardmore. The Rock of Cashel is an ancient site that started out as a fortress in the 4th century that was eventually turned over into a church in the 12th century as a place of worship. It’s also the home of Scully’s Cross, one of the largest and most famous high crosses here. Unfortunately, the Rock of Cashel was under restoration and we could not get very good shots. We also hiked down to another heritage site that had more cows grazing around it than tourists. While in Cashel, we took some time to have tea and a scone (Sophia was constantly searching for the perfect scone) and were entertained by a true Pipe Band marching down the street that was part of the Brian Boru & the Battle of Clontarf 1,000 year celebration.
After visiting Cashel we went towards our next B&B, Newtown Farm Guesthouse which was approximately 5 km outside of Ardmore in County Waterford. The B&B was a bit further out of town than expected but it gave us an opportunity to visit a local pub called ‘Fleming’s Bar’ (Newtown, Grange, Co. Waterford, Ireland.), owned by Tony and Josephine who are a very nice couple. Initially we thought it was someone’s home (which it actually is) so we kept trying to figure out if we should go in or not as the name was barely visable. We finally walked in and there were two other customers inside with additional space for maybe 6 more people! This pub was tiny, and the atmosphere inside was dark, cozy, & welcoming. If people were carrying swords and pistols, we would not have been surprised! Tony and Josephine invited us in and we ordered two pints of… you guessed it, Guinness Extra Stout and a pint of Smithwicks. We chatted with Tony and Josephine while sitting in front of a fire and found out that Josephine inherited the pub some 30 years ago from a family member and they decided to take it over. The pub apparently has been there for almost three hundred years. A great way to end our second day of touring Ireland. ~Sophia & Rob