a counter-clockwise ireland tour

We managed to cover huge swaths of Ireland in a little over three weeks, here’s how we did it:

Ireland Map Tour

September 17 Flew from St. Johns, NL and arrived in Dublin. Took a bus to Belfast

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September 18, 19, 20  Three nights in a Belfast hostel

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September 21 Hopped a tour bus to Carrick-a-Rede, the Giant’s Causeway and Dunlace Castle, wandered the highway to Portrush East Strand, and finally caught a train to Derry.

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September 22 Spent two nights in the walled city of Derry

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September 23 And the magic of buses let us enjoy Letterkenny, Dunfanaghy, Dunlewey and eventually Mount Errigal

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September 24, 25 Donegal town

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September 26, 27 Galway and the awful hostel

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September 28  A bus tour to Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher

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September 29, 30  Limerick, and a stopover in Dingle town

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October 1, 2, 3 Cork, and a rainy visit to Blarney Castle

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October 4, 5, 6 Dublin, and a day trip to Howth

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October  7, 8 Wicklow with the Vikings

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October 9, 10  Our last nights in Dublin then to Paris!

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what rhymes with both? howth, of course!

At our hostel in Dublin, the walls in the cafeteria were lined not with photos of the city and its sites, but with large posters of seven or eight sweet little villages which surrounded the city. Public transit in Dublin is great – the DART train is quick, efficient, and, best of all for us budget travelers, makes stops outside of Dublin. We took the DART to Howth, a suburb of Dublin, and arrived in what can only be described as a very quaint fishing village. Howth encompasses the majority of the peninsula of Howth Head, and offers views of Ireland’s Eye, a small island off the coast.

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We arrived early, just as the fish markets were opening for the day. After coffee in a sweet little cafe, we discovered the public library, and an ornate church down a side street. The market is usually on, just outside the DART station, but we either missed it, or it missed us.

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The whole town was a bit California style meets French countryside; boardwalks take tourists and joggers around the bay to where the waves lap against the rock walls, and little uniformed school children run down the middle of the street to the playground. We had fish and chips (seafood is a requirement in Howth) at a pub, and then climbed the hill in the direction of Howth Head.

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There are a number of walking trails surrounding the village, ranging from hour-long jaunts to full day trip hikes. One could spend a week just walking and being next to the ocean. We picked what looked like the shortest that would take us to Howth Head, and found the trail after a bit of a climb through residential neighbourhoods. We were fortunate to have a completely cloudless day for our walk, which took us up around the peninsula, each curve offering yet another expansive, beautiful view of the sea.

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We saw maybe four other groups of walkers on the trail, including a pair of older French women who were so captivated by the views that they had to stop every three feet and take a photo, and a honeymooning couple who didn’t seem to care so much about the vistas.

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It was a little like the Cinque Terre in Italy – literally walking on the edge of a cliff, but as usual, without any guard rails or even so much as a ‘Caution’ sign. We didn’t make it all the way to the end, as we feared missing our train back into Dublin, but I can’t say enough good about these walks. An entire vacation could – and should – be spent walking in the villages, soaking up the Irish sun.

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I am no artist, but check out Visit Dublin’s colourful map of Howth here!

see dublin on a budget {top five}

Back to Ireland we go!

For those who may not have been following the Ireland saga (it’s almost the one year anniversary of our departure from Ireland! Sad…) we made it to Dublin, somewhat accidentally, and ended up spending a weekend in the city before getting back on track. Although our B&B was awful, we had a couple of days of great weather, and spent much of our time getting acquainted with the city.

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We went on a hunt for a farmers’ market Rachel had read about, and three hours later did not find it. We did find the zoo though, a large war monument, the Guiness factory, almost all of Phoenix Park, a tiny little bookstore, and got asked for directions! Managed to also find ourselves – completely accidentally of course – at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, which was absolutely free (again, serious perk of Ireland). It was one of the coolest buildings I think we saw the whole trip, We meant to come back and never did, so that’s definitely on the list for next time.

We spent more time in Dublin than we did anywhere else (spoiler alert: we came back to Dublin after being in Wicklow, doing what we’d meant to do in the first place! Ha). Here’s our list of ‘Must See and Do’ in Dublin, on a budget, with limited time:

Walk the Grand Canal to the Portobello Neighbourhood

The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal flows into the River Liffey (one of the most beautiful rivers in Ireland, in my opinion) near-ish to Trinity College. On the day we went to the Book of Kells at the College, we continued down the river until it intersected with the Grand Canal, a tree-lined escape from the noise and bustle of Dublin centre. Rachel had read about the Portobello neighbourhood, and we ended up coming across it via the Grand Canal. It’s not the flashiest, most exciting neighbourhood, but it was the only time we escaped the crowds of tourists and felt like we’d found the real Dublin – high school students walking home, people cycling to and from work, grandmas out with their children and grandchildren. Cute and quaint, and a little break from the madness.

Irish Museum of Modern Art

We can speak honestly that you shouldn’t miss this gallery, because we actually missed it, and very much regret having done so. Our quick glimpse (a tease, really) revealed a large square courtyard, cheerful staff, music coming from an unknown location and an exhibit on what seemed to be World War One, with interactive aspects for children and real artifacts to keep everyone engaged in history. Don’t be like us, just go to the museum.

Phoenix Park

Of course, St. Stephen’s Green is gorgeous and green and filled with swans which will chase you if you come to close. And yes, in the fall it is really pretty and definitely worth checking out if you have time. But for something completely different, head to Phoenix Park. Not only do you pass the Law Society, the Criminal Courts of Justice, the National Museum of Ireland, and almost every bridge in the city just to get there, but it is huge, and less frequently overrun by tourists than St. Stephen’s. We came upon a group of university students taking photos at the War Memorial, and an elementary school cross-country running meet, which was very sweet, and immediately made us feel a little bit Irish, just watching them run. If zoos are your thing, there’s one at Phoenix Park, and apparently also a farmers’ market (though we’re a bit skeptical of that now).

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Grafton Street Buskers

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I don’t know a budget traveler who doesn’t love buskers. We hit Grafton Street for the bookstores, but were completely distracted by all the buskers. Almost every style of music you could think of, child prodigies, marionette artists, painters, dancers, you name it. Absolutely filled with tourists, but worth it. Every few hours there’s a new performance artist to see, so we definitely recommend returning a couple of times throughout your stay in Dublin to see all the variety that is offered.

Take the DART out of Dublin

Yes, technically this isn’t a thing to do in Dublin. But, for the three pounds on the DART, it was the best thing we did. All over our hostel were posters of beaches and blue sky and quaint towns, and we learned that we could hop on the train (the DART) to seven or so different villages surrounding Dublin. We arbitrarily chose to go to Howth, got our tickets at a kiosk just around the corner from the hostel, and arrived in a tiny fishing village on the coast. There’s so much to share about our time in Howth, it requires its own post (check back next week!) but it was one of our most memorable day trips, and is reason enough for us to return to Dublin.

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Four out of the five things listed are absolutely FREE, and even on a tight budget, we didn’t have any trouble seeing loads of Dublin and enjoying our time(s) there. We will be back!

why travel when you can read? {a story and a song}

Okay, so not quite. But certainly if you can’t travel, or are finding it impossible to travel due to the massive stack of papers/works/bills and a significant lack of funds, reading about travel is about as good as it gets. Of course, blogs are great for this, but every now and then one finds a real book more attractive.

I just finished reading Canadian author Will Ferguson’s book Beyond Belfast: A 500 Mile Walk Across Northern Ireland on Sore Feet. This was the wrong order. For future reference, read the book about the place before actually going to the place, then feel free to reread upon return. Ferguson decides to walk the Ulster Way, apparently a marked walk completely covering Northern Ireland. He of course realizes, as we did, that the Irish definition of ‘marked walk’ is perhaps, maybe, a lie.

Part history lesson, part travel memoir, part family mystery, Ferguson covers just about every small town in Northern Ireland, while tracing his family roots. Had I read this before we went to Ireland, we definitely would have tried to cover parts of the Ulster Way. According to Ferguson, the trail has been modified now to include more way-markers (would be hard to include fewer!), and although the comprehensive walk still exists, it has been broken down to emphasize shorter, day trip hikes.

Photo: amazon.ca

Next time, parts of the Ulster Way it shall be (contrary to the many warnings Ferguson offers up). Hopefully it will take less time to walk it than it took me to read about it (5 months to read. Ridiculous. I blame school).

The poor book took a beating during three days of rainstorms in St. John’s, so this is a stock photo. My copy is no longer being photographed, and is really only good as a paperweight. Thank you Newfoundland, and your book-soaking rain. Might as well be in Ireland with weather like this.

And while you’re reading, or studying, or working, or paying the bills, pretend you’re on a beach, or a boat or a plane or anywhere else with a wee song:

a small(ish) detour to dublin

Our next stop on the Ireland tour was supposed to be Wicklow, a small town Rachel had read about. So we headed to the bus station, which was conveniently close to our favourite coffee shop. As it turns out, you actually can’t get to Wicklow from Cork, without going through Dublin, and all other small town options outside of Cork seemed to include the same stop in the capital city.

That’s alright, we thought, we’ll just go to Dublin, and then on to Wicklow, no problem, We waited for the bus. And waited. And then there was a bus… but it was too full and wouldn’t take us. There’s a tricky bus ticket system that we’d never experienced before in Ireland, which gave preference to three different types of ticket holders before walk-ons, so we were out of luck. We waited for the next one. Finally we got a bus heading for Dublin. On a map, the distance between Cork and Dublin leads one to believe it will be a rather short journey. But in reality, it’s a really long bus ride, and we arrived at 6pm, hungry and tired.  We were supposed to take yet another bus from there to Wicklow, which would be another two hours at least, but instead decided to just stay in Dublin. It’s the capital, we thought, it shouldn’t be hard to find a room in a hostel.

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Ha! A joke. Again, check the music festival schedule before going to a place. Turns out, a big concert was on in Dublin that Friday night, and it was the weekend, and Oktoberfest, and every hostel was completely booked up. It was finally suggested to us that we take another bus out to the airport, to see if we could find accommodation there. Not loving that option, we branched out to B&B’s, finally finding one that would take us… for the cost of a week in a hostel. But with no other choices, we took the room. It was the size of the bed, with hardly enough space for us, let alone our backpacks, and there was no room to move around. Lesson learned: book ahead for Dublin, and be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for even an awful room in a B&B.

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October in Dublin is not warm. But the sun was out, and we got to explore a little of the district, and check out the river with its many bridges before finding a little Italian place to finally have supper. The waiter was very excited that we were going to Wicklow, and offered helpful tips for when we finally got there. We watched a dad try to get dinner into his infant and young son, muttering all the while about what their mother would do if she were here, and how she would know exactly how to deal with the children. The restaurant soon filled up with a large party of Italians, all of whom seemed intent on tormenting the waitstaff. We managed to find a small cafe with wifi so we could book rooms for the next two nights (in a hostel, not an overpriced B&B) and reluctantly returned to our hovel.

We will definitely be booking our rooms in advance in any major city from now on. And if a private or a family room is what you desire, we would also seriously recommend finding such a spot in a hostel. They are almost guaranteed to be cleaner, more security-conscious, and more interesting for children than a B&B – and almost certainly less expensive.

popping the cork… in cork (not really!)

We arrived in Cork in the dark, after a long ride from Dingle. It was a beautiful drive, through the mountains, with green fields everywhere, and cows roaming. Cork was almost the exact opposite. Although the sky was dark, the stars weren’t IMG_0749visible with all the lights from the city. Everything was lit up – the bridges, the shops, the traffic lights. Not the hostel we had booked, which was up on a hill, hidden out of the way, with poor signage. When we walked it, it was bright, and the girl at the desk was excited that we’d been in Dingle. It wasn’t our cheapest stay, but not our most expensive either. We got two beds in an 6-bed dorm, and it was only a little sketchy. As it got later, we got hungrier, and we ventured out into the city. As we passed the hostel lobby, the Garda – Irish police – were at the front desk… we didn’t linger to find out what the problem was.

We found pizza and a drink at a small pub across the bridge. Cork, like most cities in Ireland, is built on a river, which makes for lovely wandering, and for the directionally challenged like Rachel, generally easy to find the way home.

Our nights in Cork were long – it’s a big party city, and a dorm room is not the calmest place to be – but the days wereIMG_0772 lovely. There are probably almost a dozen bookshops in the city, mostly centered around a major, pedestrian friendly shopping area. Cute cafes, including a Costa Coffee we spent a rainy afternoon in, booking tickets and hostels for the next leg of our trip.

I had an interest in Blarney Castle, which was conveniently only a short bus ride from Cork. Although the day was cloudy, we took the city bus out to Blarney. The grounds surrounding the castle are immense, sprawling and green. For children, it would be far more attractive than the castle, filled with duck ponds, fields for playing in, and flowers to sniff (I’m pretty sure picking them would be frowned upon). By the time we reached the castle, it was absolutely pouring. Even our rain gear was drenched. For people who like castles, this was a good one. Although many of the roofs are gone, the many turrets are great for climbing and exploring, and unlike some more in-tact and delicate structures, Blarney Castle was good and destroyed by the time we arrived, with very few restrictions on where you could wander. In the sunshine, it would be absolutely lovely. In the rain… we say it’s authentic.

And since we were all the way out at this tourist attraction, and we were already wet, I was convinced to be slightly manhandled by a burly Irishman in order to kiss the Blarney Stone. Legend says that by kissing the Stone, one will never be lost for words – clearly that’s not a problem… maybe it worked!

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For those who may not be as in love with the castles as I am, there were some very interesting caves just down the path from the castle, included in the price of admission to the grounds. It was a perfect respite from the rain, though very dark, and although I am not a geologist of any sort, I suspect there were some interesting features for those who might be more knowledgeable.

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For Rachel – not as much of a castle-lover as I am – was far more engaged by our second highlight of Cork, the English Market, a covered food market in the centre of the city. Along with all the merchants selling local produce, meats, fish and souvenirs, on the second floor there is a sweet little restaurant and a posh cafe, where we splurged on coffees and a treat, overlooking the wandering shoppers and the merchants with their wares. Although it was a bit of a touristy day, with the market and the castle, we got to see a slice of Irish life in the market, and saw lots of side streets in Cork trying to find our way there!

Cork was not our favourite stop by any stretch – the hostel was slightly creepy, the weather did not hold up, and I cannot recall huge sections of our few days there – but Blarney Castle was memorable. Blarney (the town) was very cute, and the sheer number of bookshops we got to visit made the trip worth it. And, if the rain just won’t stop, the Costa Coffee across the river is the perfect place to wait it out, book a ticket, or hope for a bus out.

dingle – an off-season backpackers’, small-town paradise

With a population of about 1200, Dingle village is a tourist hotspot in the summertime, often practically overrun with touristsdingle. The picturesque town is located on the Dingle Peninsula, a mountainous piece of land, jutting into the Atlantic Ocean. We arrived in the late afternoon, on the last day of September. Tourist season had been over for a few weeks, and almost no one got off the bus except us. We hadn’t booked a room, the bus had taken all day, and we had run out of snacks. We were greeted by a young man encouraging us to take a room in a hostel up one of the mountains, about a ten to fifteen minute drive from the town. Having learned our lesson from Limerick, we hit the streets to find a room in town, not a short drive away. IMG_0730 Dingle exceeded all expectations, and completely made up for our disappointing stay in Limerick. The sun was bright and warm, the tide was in and the ocean sparkled, and everything was absolutely green. Very few streets would have accommodated two cars passing at once, but fortunately, we encountered almost no one driving, as the town was so compact it would be silly to take your car anywhere. We found two cheap beds in a 12-bed dorm in the Grapevine Hostel, but unlike our other dorm stays, this one was empty. Apparently Dingle is not such a hotspot after early September, and we were some of the only backpackers in town. I have no idea why – it was almost like a secret haven of perfect Irish solitude, with friendly people and cobblestone streets, complete with cows and the waves lapping in the distance.

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We dropped our bags, and headed out to find dinner, but got completely sidetracked by a trail leading past the harbour to the water. We walked down a road filled with now-deserted summer homes, to a small path that ran alongside the water, and emerged in a field of cows. IMG_0728 (2) (1) Had traditional Irish fish and chips (and not so traditional but equally delicious pumpkin risotto) at a pub on one of the main streets, and on the walk back to the hostel discovered the Phoenix Cinema, a small, independent theatre, which just happened to have a movie showing! IMG_0742 We popped in, paid a small fee, picked up one of those perfectly European mini ice cream containers, and joined the other locals from Dingle to watch Mr. Morgan’s Last Love, starring Michael Caine. Not only was it a very good movie, but it was a perfectly non-touristy moment, and the woman sitting next to us encouraged me to partake in the (free) tea and cookies being served before the show. We emerged onto the dark, quiet street, only to hear the distant sounds of a fiddle and accordion. Following the music, we discovered Murphy’s Bar, absolutely packed with locals singing along with the two older men playing their instruments and having a grand time. We were the youngest ones there by 30 years at least, but the music was great, and the bartender told us you could see live music almost every night in Dingle, often at two or three different pubs. For such a tiny town, the arts scene was alive and well.

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The perfect end to a perfect, Irish night. The next day we found books and food, and we were happy. The Tree House Cafe featured a great Irish breakfast, and colouring pages for the many children who frequent the popular spot. Goat Street Bistro was a little above our price range, but it being the off-season, we couldn’t be picky. I highly recommend the leek and potato soup. Dingle features not one, but two bookshops, a public library, and two dozen other independent businesses, selling everything from fresh cheese to stationary. And Murphy’s, an ice cream parlour chain gaining popularity across Ireland, included not only excellent ice cream, handmade in Dingle, but also featured a small family from St. John’s, NL, who had got the same flight deal we had. IMG_0747 Their 14 month old daughter had met another small Irish girl, and the two families were discovering the many things they had in common, as we all sat in our corner of the world, enjoying our ice cream. Dingle made our trip. We will be back.

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