Another recook of a travel journal. We only went to Ireland one time. Would not mind going back.
How to get the feel of Ireland in just 6 days? Get a rent car and get out in the country. Although Ireland is a small country, there’s just so much that can be seen in less than a week. Our decision was to pick some high spots in a programmed drive.
The motion picture The Quiet Man, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, had long been a sentimental favorite of mine. Most notable of the movie was its idealistic depiction of life in rural Ireland in the early twentieth century.
Initially I had given away any possibility of visiting Cong, the quaint Irish village that was the setting for the film. Fate decided for me, however. One morning we were driving north toward the coast, somewhere on R336, when my wife spotted the sign “Quiet Man Bridge.”
Rapid braking and a quick U-turn followed. We turned off the main highway, onto a country lane, and there it was. It’s a real bridge, not a movie prop. The road passes over the bridge on the way to the nearby farms.
Here, about 50 years ago, John Wayne and Barry Fitzgerald sat on this stone bridge in a horse-drawn carriage while Wayne pointed out the family homestead in the opening scenes of the movie. A sign, put up on the film’s fiftieth anniversary informs visitors of the bridge’s history. Of course, the fictitious family cottage is nowhere near the bridge. Film editing has created this false impression of proximity.
Neither is Cong nearby. The film’s main set is about an hour’s drive from the bridge, and the original village has not been preserved since the making of the movie, although it still promotes itself as a Quiet Man tourist site. Even so, the drive to Cong makes this a worthwhile stop. R345 breaks from R336 at a T intersection a short distance from the bridge, and it then arcs around the waters of Lough Corrib, amid lush pastures and forested hillsides. For our drive, the weather was just right, and the light was perfect. It was a photographer’s dream.
The Rock of Cashel rises imposingly above the town of Cashel. This ancient fort sits on a limestone formation that erupts abruptly into the sky in Tipperary County. The site was a power base the Welsh Eoghanachta clan in the fourth century and later a spiritual center following the conversion to Christianity. Construction of the Hall of the Vicars Choral, the cathedral, the round tower, and Cormac’s Chapel, all now in ruins, added height and substance to the thick-walled fortress. It has not been a place of worship since the eighteenth century, but its ancient stones preserve it as one of the most significant archaeological sites in Ireland.
For breath-taking viewing it’s hard to beat the Cliffs of Moher. Outside the town of Liscannor the land’s rock base suddenly cracks away to drop as much as 700 feet straight into the Atlantic ocean. For a five-mile stretch the cliffs present a nearly vertical face and afford visitors a not-to-be-missed spectacle.
North from the Cliffs the heights diminish, but the land shows its bare rock face in a region called the Burren, which is from Bhoireann, Irish for “stony place.” The Burren is bleak and beautiful at once. Flashes of color from wild flowers sprout almost from the rock, itself. The wind seems always to whip in from the Atlantic, and fishing villages, farms, and roadside inns hunker down along the coast.
At the heart of Irish tradition is the Book of Kells, and Kells is the site of the Kells Priory, a medieval archeological site dating back to the late twelfth century. Kells Priory is now just a few acres enclosed by stone walls and containing the remains of a number of the original buildings. It’s a short drive from Kilkenny, free to visitors and a great photographic opportunity.
North from Liscannor in Clare County, R477 tracks the Atlantic coast through one of the bleakest stretches in Ireland. The Burren is a place where the soil is scoured from the limestone shield, laying it nearly bare for a hundred square miles. Even so, the pitted stone surface in many places catches thin remnants of soil, providing root for wild flowers, shrubs, and a tough grass, giving this place a kind of wild beauty.
For much of the trip the ocean gnaws at the rocky cliffs, sending up walls of spray and even producing an occasional “spouting hole,” where surging water shoots up from a hole in the rocky ledge. In the inhabited regions the hardy residents have adopted bright paint schemes for farm buildings and isolated business establishments, seeming to rebuke the forlorn landscape. Where soil is plentiful stone walls divide up the landscape, and an occasional horse grazes.
The isolation of the Burren has an appeal of its own. The traveler can walk the rocky landscape and try to imagine what the world was like before people. Back from the shore the thunder of the waves grows mute, and the restless wind becomes the predominate sound. This would not be a comfortable place to visit in winter, but during the spring and summer months the wind is bearable and even invigorating.
Looking for a place to stay in Dublin? Don’t overlook Trinity College. During the summer months school is out and the dorm rooms are open for rent at a discount relative to Dublin rates. Very important: for Trinity College the summer months include the month of September.
A shared apartment for two went for 44 Euros at a time when the remaining accommodations in the town were either sewed up or out of reach. The availability of a dorm room was especially appreciated when the Rolling Stones booked a concert and drew down the supply of traditional hotel rooms. Apparently, the college is such a secret, even our cab driver was unaware.
The college is right in down town Dublin, about a block south of the Liffey River and within walking distance of the principal city sights. Some rooms have private baths, and some do not, and the price varies accordingly. The cafeteria near the registration office is open for breakfast, and a hearty Irish breakfast it is, too.
Trinity College also is the home of the Book of Kells, written in the ninth century and proclaimed as “one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world.”
You can book ahead by phone at 01/671-1267 and pay with your credit card.