We flew into Belfast International Airport and rented a small car, circling the northern half of the island. Driving in Ireland proved to be an adventure, not just because the steering wheel wasn't where I typically expect it, nor just because the traffic flowed in a direction that seemed counter intuitive to me. The windy narrow roads encourage creative driving and a certain amount of faith and good luck, further compounded by the Irish tendency to park anywhere and everywhere that's convenient for the person parking. Having the car did give us the freedom to explore at our rapid pace, always in a bit of a hurry as there was far more we wanted to see than we really had time for.
We followed the coastline through Northern Ireland, then headed down the west coast into the Republic of Ireland through Galway into Doolin from some traditional music. We explored a couple of caves, and got as far south as the Cliffs of Moher, offering a spectacular view. We then cut across the center of the country and headed east into Dublin from where we flew back to England.
Carrick-a-rede rope bridge
The carrick-a-rede rope bridge was originally constructed by salmon fisherman though has since become a well-known tourist attraction in the town of Ballintoy.
Alister, Harold and Alice Morden
Harold was my math teacher in high school back in Haines, Alaska. After he and his wife retired they headed to Europe, ultimately settling down in Ballintoy, Northern Ireland, where they've lived for over a decade now. They took Jamie and I out to lunch at a local pub in the small town, along with their friend Alister. We caught them shortly before they left on a month and a half vacation in Italy, and offered me their place while they're gone -- an offer I took them up on. After finishing exploring the island with Jamie, when she head's back to the states my plan is to return to Ballintoy for a few weeks.
The Giant's Causeway
The Giant's Causeway is comprised of around 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns formed when volcanic lava rapidly cooled some 65 million years ago. There are numerous myths surrounding the structures, all of which talk of them being built by a giant for various reasons ranging from love to war.
Walking the Causeway
The inner columns stay dry and thus are easy walking, but as you get closer to the water's edge they become more slippery and difficult to navigate.
In Gaelic this Abbey is known as "Coill Mor" meaning "Big Wood" due to the surrounding forests. Originally named the Kylemore Castle when it was built in 1860, it's now the Kylemore Abbey and home of the Benedictine Nuns of Ireland and a boarding school. We spotted it from the distance when driving by and parked our car where we could in good Irish tradition, walking along the lake to get to the abbey. The place was closed for the day, but a kind nun allowed us inside while she worked.
For most of our wandering we found roads to be well marked, enough so that getting lost was difficult. But occasionally it didn't matter, and we'd find ourselves driving along looking for a sign or other landmark to tell us where we were. On this day we'd taken a wrong turn in a small town and found ourselves wandering up a back road. We pulled over to ask a lady walking along the road for directions, and she assured us that while where we claimed we wanted to be was behind us, where we really wanted to be was further along the road we were on, known as the "sky way". So we followed her directions and enjoyed some impressive views of the coastline.
Doolin is renowned for the nightly traditional music that fills its pubs. We stayed at a hostel half a block from the town's two pubs, and enjoyed music and good Guinness in both of them.
The Great Stalactite
A massive stalactite measuring in at over 7 meters in length hanging in the Doolin Cave, one of two that we explored during our visit to Ireland.
Cliff's of Moher
Jamie posing on the edge of the Cliff's of Moher, over 200 meters above the Atlantic Ocean below. If they look vaguely familiar to you, it could be because they were used in the filming of the movie The Princess Bride as "The Cliff's of Insanity".
Looking north along the Cliff's of Moher at O'Brien's Tower. The tower was built in 1835 by Sir Cornellius O'Brien for tourists that were already visiting the cliffs back then.
The Trim Castle in the County Meath is the largest Norman castle in Europe, built by Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter starting in 1174. We took a tour of the main keep, offering many nice views of the surrounding area from the top.
The Trim Castle was used in the filming of the movie Braveheart, in both the York and London scenes.
Thought to be 1,000 years older than Stonehenge and 500 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza, Newgrange was originally built between 3300 and 2900 BCE. Every winter solstice the sun shines directly into the tomb for 17 minutes. The tour took us into the depths of the passage tomb, an impressive chamber of rocks, the roof of which is still waterproof and standing 5000 years after it was built.
Hill of Tara
Thought to have once been the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, it's possible to wander the Hill of Tara unsupervised. Sheep graze on the hill which holds a number of ancient monuments, many of which still haven't been excavated. The stone in the foreground to the right is said to be the Stone of Destiny at which the High Kings were crowned. The stone is evidently out of order, as it's supposed to scream when touched by a king but didn't scream when I touched it.