So for those of you keeping track, you must be starting to think that our trip can’t possibly last much longer. Despite my apparent inability to get through more than a single day in one blog post, the blog posts can’t go on forever, right? This is true. So true, in fact, that Saturday, the day after our Good Friday Ring of Kerry drive and 5 mile race, was our last full day in Ireland. We were due to fly out of Shannon Airport early Sunday morning.
We woke up on Saturday morning with plans to fully enjoy our final day and to end up at the Park Inn Hotel in Shannon by nightfall. We packed up and left Brook Lodge a little sadly. Even though we only stayed there two nights, it was starting to feel like home. The staff members were so helpful and friendly and we just loved the town. Ah, well. All good things must come to an end, even our time in Killarney.
We started out the day with the good breakfast in the sunny yellow breakfast room at Brook Lodge. I was already getting accustomed to having dried apricots with my breakfast and wasn’t sure how I was going to manage without those in the future. Suffice it to say I enjoyed them that last morning. :)
The day was sunny and gorgeous with a bright, bright blue sky as we drove through town headed north and out of Killarney.
The Quills on the right is where Mike bought his Irish hat and I bought my pink and purple plaid scarf our first night in Killarney
Well, actually I’m using the word “we” rather freely. Mike, of course, was driving. He tried to talk me into driving because he felt I should have the experience. He tried hard.
“It will be a good experience for you,” he said.
I shook my head. “No. You’ve already got the hang of it. It’s best if you keep going.”
“What are you going to do when your coworkers ask you if you drove on the left side of the road during your trip?” he wanted to know.
“I’m going to tell them my highly mechanically-minded husband did all the driving,” I replied. “Plus,” I added, bringing out the clincher. “I have all my maps and you’ll have to figure out all the navigation if I drive.”
Mike looked at my stack of five maps, all of them different, some road maps, some city maps, and he shook his head. “Ok, fine. You can keep being the navigator. But let me know if you want to drive.”
Like that was going to happen. I wasn’t scared of driving, but I believe everyone has their gifts and Mike understands how machines think which gives him an inherent edge when driving. And my gift includes leafing through obscure maps trying to figure out which exit we should take on a 5-way roundabout. All about teamwork, right? :)
Once we left Killarney headed north the traffic thinned out immediately. To the point where it almost didn’t matter which side of the road we were on. We saw small stone fences separating farms as far as the eye could see.
Our first planned stop was about forty-five minutes outside of Killarney and was a special place!
Brosna… the town where my Irish ancestors are from!
We got a little lost trying to find Brosna because it’s a very small town and my maps didn’t have quite the granularity needed to navigate us there, but we found it!
My dad had told me there was a big church and cemetary there, and that many of my ancestors (Horgans) were buried in the cemetary.
We drove up a hill through the town, and it literally took about two minutes. We didn’t see any big church or any graveyard. Driving back down the hill, though, gave us the perspective needed to see the church and the graveyard. Mike pulled our little Fiat Panda into the empty parking area.
The church with the gorgeous blue sky behind it was surprisingly breathtaking!
The church in Brosna
At first it looked as though there was a fence all around the graveyard, but then we located the gate.
There were Horgans there… probably relatives!
We took pictures and enjoyed the nice weather at the church for awhile and then decided it was time to get back on the road.
We noticed a lot of windmills around Brosna and the surrounding countryside… as windy as Ireland seemed to be, it made sense to harness all that power!
Irish countryside with lots of windmills in the distance
Because of the way the River Shannon cuts so deeply into western Ireland, in order to keep going north we either had to take a car ferry across the Shannon River or drive east far enough to get to Limerick where the Shannon was narrower and there were bridges across it. We opted for driving up through Limerick.
Limerick was a cute town, but we didn’t see any compelling reasons to stop, so we headed through and turned back westwards. I continued reading my maps and discovered that we were going to be passing within a few miles of Bunratty Castle (and coincidentally our hotel for the night and the Shannon Airport, but we weren’t ready to stop there yet!). We were getting hungry so we decided that a detour to quickly check out out Bunratty Castle and get some food was in order.
We were pretty sure we didn’t want to actually tour Bunratty Castle because there was a fee and because it would take time and we had a different destination in mind for our final day in Ireland. However, since it was right off of the N18 freeway that we were driving on, we wanted to at least stop. The first thing we did after getting off of the highway was to get lunch, though. We found a good-looking place called J.P. Clarke’s about half a mile from Bunratty Castle. I got a bean and lentil casserole (which was really good!) and Mike got some steak medallions with giant carrots and mashed potatoes (which he said was also really good). Everything was tasty and relaxing and gave us the chance to be off the road for a little while. Then we got back in our little black Panda and headed down the road to Bunratty Castle. We could see it as we were coming up on it, and we were surprised that there seemed to be construction around it. We discovered that this was actually not due to renovation of the castle, but due to building a “folk park” that basically would consist of replicas of the village houses that were prevalent in Ireland over a century ago. While we appreciated the sentiment on one hand, we were a lot less interested in reproductions than we would have been in seeing the real thing. However, we still enjoyed walking around the castle and taking pictures from the outside. In looking up the history of the castle, it was attacked and fought over many times because of its prime position on the Shannon River estuary into Ireland. It was a beautiful old castle!
After staying awhile, enjoying the gorgeous weather and watching a crow gather twigs to build a nest in one of the narrow windows far up on the castle wall, we were back on the road again. We made our way back to N18 with little trouble; despite the area having more traffic than what we’d driven in before, Mike was getting used to driving on the left side of the road and shifting with his left hand.
Back on N18, we continued our journey west. Our goal was to make it to the Cliffs of Moher, all the way on the west coast, with plenty of daylight left to see the cliffs and to take pictures. If you aren’t familiar with the Cliffs of Moher, they are huge cliffs on the west coast of Ireland that span five miles of the Irish coast. They have been used in several popular movies (i.e. The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). They are also one of Ireland’s top tourist destinations and one I’d seen pictures of since I was a kid, so I was eager to see them in person.
I continued navigating us along the N18, which then became the M18. In Ireland, ‘N’s indicate National Primary Roads and ‘M’s indicate Motorways (i.e. freeways). Driving on these bigger roads was much easier because there were few intersections and once you were on the left side of the road you just stayed there.
We knew that we had about an hour to get from Shannon all the way west to the Cliffs of Moher, so we settled back to enjoy the ride. The freeway part of the drive went by relatively quickly. Once we passed through Ennis, the capital of County Clare, the roads got more windy and narrow. I was able to look at my map less frequently as there were plenty of signs for the Cliffs of Moher.
Note the Cliffs of Moher sign on the right… and note that the Gaelic name is listed first! This was standard throughout Ireland.
We kept driving and seeings signs for the Cliffs and the areas we were passing through kept getting less and less populated and the cities kept getting sparser and sparser, but we still didn’t actually see the Cliffs. Mike kept pointing out things that might be considered cliffs.
“How about those over there?” Mike asked, pointing to some small rocky hills.
“No,” I said decidedly.
“How do you know?”
“Because I know what they’re supposed to look like. And I know that they’re on the Atlantic Ocean so I think we have to drive west until we can’t drive west anymore.”
Both Mike and I were expecting some small visitor center out in the middle of nowhere, maybe watched over by an old monk, particularly since the Cliffs seemed to be in a sparsely populated region. However, when we got to within about 5 miles of the Cliffs we started to see a lot more cars, about half of them headed west and half of them headed east, and we realized that this was all traffic from the Cliffs of Moher. The traffic was pretty backed up for that five miles, but then suddenly it opened out into a giant, flat, paved parking lot. There were signs everywhere directing people where to park, and there was a whole section of parking just for tour buses. There was also a giant visitor’s center and some small shops. Well, well. Definitely not isolated and guarded by a single, solitary monk!
We easily found a parking spot in the giant sea of parking spots, and then walked up to the visitors center. We bought entry tickets from there, and I tried to make sense of the map shown on the brochere we were given. After all, we were at the Cliffs of Moher, right? And there seemed to be hundreds of other people here, right? So where exactly were those cliffs? The spots on the map were a little unclear, listing sights like “North Platform”, “Main Platform”, and “Goat Island”. Um, ok. We decided to just head towards the main platform and see if we could see the cliffs from there. We felt a little disoriented since we’d come there somehow expecting to be the only car in the wilderness next to cliffs on the Atlantic Ocean and instead we seemed to be in the middle of a giant visitor’s center with hundreds (or thousands?) of other people, many of whom were eating slushy-like frozen treats from a refrigerated food truck.
Interesting feeling! :)
However, as we climbed the steps to the main platform, we saw the cliffs.
The Cliffs at last!
Now those were the cliffs I was expecting to see! They were amazing!
To get a sense of the scale of the cliffs, you can dimly see people at the top of the cliff on the left… but they are very small in comparison to the cliffs.
VERY small people… or very large cliffs
At the north end of the cliffs there was a tower called O’Brien’s Tower. It was an observation tower built in 1835 by a descendent of Brian Boru, one of the high kings of Ireland.
The Aran Islands, a mecca of Irish culture and history and an area where Gaelic is still the primary spoken language, were visible on the horizon.
The Aran Islands
We also discovered that many sea birds make their homes among the rocks on the cliffs, including Puffins which are a special favorite of mine. We saw many, many sea birds flying in and out and around the rocks, but we were so high up that I couldn’t tell what kinds of sea birds they were.
We ended up spending several hours at the cliffs because there was quite a bit of walking along the cliff edges on pedestrian paths to get different views. It was extremely windy and very sunny while we were there. Because we were up at the top of high cliffs there really wasn’t any shade, so by the time we were finished we gratefully sought refuge in the visitor center just to get out of the sun for awhile. (Clearly we wouldn’t be good desert dwellers!) :)
We got back to our car around 4pm and decided we were pretty exhausted from all the traveling and sight-seeing over the past week and a half, so we decided to head back to our hotel next to the Shannon Airport and get some rest before our early flight back to Seattle the following morning. The drive back was easy and uneventful. We were pretty familiar with the route given that we had just travelled it going in the opposite direction several hours earlier. I was wondering how easy it would be to find our hotel, but as it turned out there were excellent signs pointing us right to it. And it literally was right across the street from the Shannon Airport. Perfect for getting to our gate early in the morning!
Our first order of business was dropping off our Enterprise car. We saw rental car signs all over the front of the airport, but we didn’t see any Enterprise signs.
“What if there is no Enterprise location here?” Mike asked. “And we have nowhere to drop the Panda off?”
I tried not to think about it!
As it turned out, though, the Enterprise location in Shannon was just new and didn’t have any signs up yet. What a relief! The woman who helped us was very friendly and had a name so Irish we couldn’t even begin to pronounce it but it sounded very pretty when she pronounced it. :)
After we had said our good-byes to the Panda, we headed back across the street to the hotel ready for a relaxing dinner and drinks in the Park Inn’s lounge.
Given that we had been on the go for the previous ten days and had spent lots of time figuring out hotels, sights to see, rental cars, trains, and subways, we were very ready to just completely relax. The lounge at the hotel definitely gave us that opportunity! Mike had some sort of meat stew and I had a vegetable soup. We both got drinks. I got my usual Jameson (we were still in Ireland, after all!), and Mike went for a gin cocktail since he’d had enough Guinness to last him for awhile. :) We lingered there, eating at the bar and chatting with the friendly bartender. We watched a couple shows on the Kindle Fire when we got back to our room and decided to make it a relatively early night. We kept the window open to let the cool night breeze in, and we fell asleep to the sound of cars driving up to the airport and the sound of people talking as they approached the terminal.
And thus ended our England and Ireland adventure. :) We uneventfully flew back early the next morning on the Irish airline Aer Lingus (which has the cutest planes I’ve ever seen by the way!) .
Check out the three-leafed clover on the engine!
We found ourselves back in Seattle with our little black cat by 4pm that afternoon (plenty of time to do laundry and stock up on groceries, but not time for much else).
Hopefully we go back to Ireland at some point. Mike really liked Ireland and said we can definitely come back, and I haven’t given up on convincing a certain friend (*cough* Lia *cough*) to come with us the next time we go to Ireland. ;)
I know I haven’t seen enough of it to last me a lifetime. :)
Slán go fóill, Éire