Super Blood Moon!

In certain parts of the world last night there was a ‘Supermoon’ (where the moon is at its closest point to Earth in its orbit – so appears larger and brighter), which coincided with a lunar eclipse, making for an amazing super blood moon!

The event was visible in North America, South America, Greenland, West Africa and Western Europe. Apparently the next time this will happen will be in 2033 – at least in this part of the world (and the last time it happened was in 1982). I did a little bit of research on this and I found some decent information on the USA Today website and today I found the BBC website also provided a good explanation and some great photos.

Did anyone stay up and watch this rare event?

I watched the first half of this (from North Texas, USA) – watching as the Earth’s shadow began to fall across the bright full moon and progress until it was fully eclipsed and gave off an orange/red glow. I must admit, it was wonderful to watch.

As I keen photographer, I tried to capture some of this. I knew I wouldn’t be too successful as I took the photos from my balcony and there was a lot of incidental light about, and I don’t have a powerful enough zoom lens; however, I did try. Did anyone else capture a good photo? This is what I managed to capture:

The beginning

The beginning

Almost there!

Almost there!

Full eclipse

Full eclipse

Kilkenny to Dublin

Well, our journey around Ireland is almost over. 😔

Yesterday we left our wonderful hotel at Kilkenny, but before saying good bye we visited the castle and explored the town a little.

The castle sits above the town with a commanding spot on the River Nore. Disappointingly, there is no photography allowed within the castle – this is very unfortunate because it was beautiful with lots of wonderful things to admire. The portrait gallery in particular was fabulous. The garden was also very pretty.

 After exploring the town (very nice), on the way back to the car, we happened to call in on a music shop, which just happened to have a harp for sale:

 Alas, at €2795 and no room in my luggage, I could not take it home with me. I did however find myself a book of all of Turlough O’Carolan’s sheet music (with 4 cd’s to accompany it) – so I did leave with that. Turlough O’Carolan is a famous Irish harpist from the late 17th and early 18th century for those not in the know.

We called in at the Brownshill Dolmen (it sits in a field, just outside of Carlow) – it has the largest capstone of all the megalithic portal tombs in Ireland (reputedly weighing 150 tons). It is very impressive.

Brownshill Dolmen

Glendalough was our last stop before heading back into Dublin. This is home to an early Christian monastic site originally founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. It is easy to see why he would have chosen this spot; it is so peaceful and very beautiful! 
  

For our final 2 nights I thought it would be nice to finish off with a stay in a ‘castle’ (it was originally a castle but has been rebuilt and reinvented most recently in in the late 90’s as a hotel)- at Clontarf Castle, a little out of the city.  

Our final day in Dublin has been pretty quiet, catching the local bus into the city and just doing a bit of shopping, having lunch in Temple Bar and some more walking around the city. Tomorrow we fly back to Texas and back to reality. For a little island, Ireland sure packs a lot in! It has been a most wonderful trip (I wish it could have been longer) and I hope I can come back soon! 😊

Cork and Waterford

Sadly we had to say farewell to County Kerry too soon and left with sights unseen and adventures missed! There is so much to do in this area – a week would have been lovely!From Kilarney we headed to Cork taking the longer coastal route, stopping at Buntray House (home of the White family [my maiden name] ,the former earls of Bantry since 1739) and gardens overlooking Bantry Bay. This is a magnificent house (no photography inside the house unfortunately) and is still privately owned (it also acts as a B&B).

Bantry House and Gardens

Before heading on to Cork, I had to stop in at Drombeg Stone Circle, dating from the 2nd century BC.

Drombeg Stone Circle

I must admit I did not really like Cork, it appeared a hard and dirty city; it certainly wasn’t quaint and charming. The following morning we headed for Blarney to visit the castle. This was so much more than I expected.

Blarney CastleBesides the castle (and of course, the Blarney Stone, which I did not kiss!) there is a rather large manor house and some rather extensive gardens; one of which was called Rock Close (a hidden grove of ancient Yew trees and limestone rock formations) – this  was a magical wonderland where ivy grew over trees, tree roots were twisted, the moss covered the trees and the rocks, and where there were waterfalls and hidden caves, the Witch’s steps, the Witch’s kitchen and the Druid’s cave. For me, this was wonderland and I could have stayed here for hours!

BlarneyWoods

We did experience a bit of rain at Blarney castle, but quite a good deal more as we made our way to Cobh, which was going to be our next stop. As is was totally miserable here, we didn’t stay and pushed on, calling in at the Old Midleton Distillery (Ireland’s largest distillery) for a quick visit before making our way to Waterford (Ireland’s oldest city) where we stayed overnight at the Waterford Marina Hotel (a great value hotel and I would recommend it).

Waterford's crystal harpI liked Waterford (and again, I could have stayed longer). Our first stop in Waterford was Waterford Crystal where we did a tour of the factory. This was very informative and I enjoyed it, but it was pricey at 13euro each, although I now have a great appreciation for the craftsmanship that goes into creating these pieces of art – by the way – there are no seconds at Waterford Crystal- any imperfect pieces are scrapped! I couldn’t afford to buy anything here, but I did admire all that was on offer, including The Barclays trophy with Jason Day’s name on it, The Ashes Cup and the People’s Choice Awards Trophies. Of course, I particularly admired the crystal harp on display!

Just down the street we took a look at Reginald’s Tower (a stone tower dating from the 12th century, this is the oldest civic urban building in Ireland).

ReginaldsTower

We also took a look at the ruins of the 13th century Grey Friars church and Christchurch Cathedral (built in 1770). Before leaving Waterford I happened to find my street and took a photo:

Catherine Street– and then headed to Kilkenny.

However, once again, we didn’t take the most direct route; I had to go via The Rock of Cashel! What an impressive and imposing structure. Once again – I loved what I saw here.

RockOfCashel

The views from this former fortress and monastery are also impressive.

View from Rock of Cashel

To cap off my day – we finished up in a hotel bar (Langtons House Hotel) – old and beautiful, having dinner and a few drinks listening to some live Irish music. For me; I was feeling a bit like ‘a pig in mud’, very happy! 😊

IMG_0634

I tried to upload this yesterday, but had trouble with Wi-Fi!

 

Spectacular Kerry

2 days in Kerry – absolutely wonderful – even in wet weather!

Thursday we ventured to the Dingle peninsular and drove the Slea Head road. It was another very full day. We looked in at Inch Beach (part of Ryan’s Daughter was filmed here)

Inch Beachand then went on to Dingle town (where we had lunch at Denners Hotel).

We also saw an ancient stone ring fort and some Beehive Huts:

Beehive Hut

Unfortunately the rain did fall for a considerable part of the day and we did get wet. However, it was still very nice. We saw lots of rainbows – the best I have ever seen – they were complete and very vibrant.

Rainbows in Dingle

Friday we did the “Ring of Kerry” – and, yes, there is plenty of spectacular scenery.

Kerry Coastline

There are also lots of tourist buses and lots of narrow roads! But, we went to some places the tourist coaches don’t go. We had great fun crawling through the ruined remains of Ballycarbery Castle – this was awesome!


We also clambered over a couple of 2500 year old stone forts!


All in all – it was a great day and topped off with my first tipple of Irish whiskey!

I must add; the hotel we stayed in at Kilarney was very nice – The Lake Hotel (even if the bed/mattress wasn’t, and completely stuffed my back) – the room and views over a part of a ruined castle were lovely:

I wish we could have stayed longer – I could have spent a week here easily, there is so much to see and do!

Bunratty and Limerick

I apologise for the lateness of this post; I have been fighting a cold for the past week and the last 2 days it has been fighting back aggressively!

After leaving Galway we headed to The Burren (literally ‘rocky land’ in Gaelic) – and the countryside is just that! Very different to other areas of Ireland. I was keen to see some more of ancient Ireland and we called in on Poulnabrone Dolmen, dating from 2500-2000 BC.

Burren-Dolmen

Afterwards we headed to the Cliffs of Moher. Very spectacular!

CliffsOfMoher_a

Kilfenora_HighCrossWe didn’t really have as much time as I would have liked to explore this region, however I did manage to squeeze in some more High Celtic Crosses at Kilfenora:

– we needed to move on to the town of Bunratty, where I had booked us a 4 course medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle. This was fabulous.

Upon arrival at the castle you climb the narrow spiral staircase to the great hall where we were greeted with a goblet of mead (this was delicious, by the way) and a violinist. We then enjoyed a welcome from our hosts (all the staff are in period costume) with a history of the castle and some more music and song.

Bunratty_GreatHall

Bunratty_performersEveryone is then ushered down stairs to the banqueting hall. The only implement provided for eating is a knife, so the soup – you had to sip from the bowl. The food was very good, and during dinner entertainment was provided by a fiddle player and a harpist; there were also interludes of singing and story telling. Overall though, my favourite was the solo by the harpist. Just wonderful! It was a great night and I’m glad we did this.

The following day we headed into Limerick for a look around. Again, not enough time, but we went to King John’s Castle (sitting on the banks of the Shannon River), which provided a great interactive display of history of Ireland, Limerick and the castle.

KingJohnCastle_RiverShannon

Limerick_StMarysWhile in Limerick we also visited St Mary’s Cathedral, originally built in 1172 – this is probably one of the best ancient churches I have ever seen. This stone building has wonderful stained glass panels, an oak barrel vaulted roof and is probably best known for it’s 15th century oak misericords (a form of seating used by the clergy) with each one having a different figure carved into the underside of the seat (they fold up when not in use).

Limerick_Misericords

On then to Kilarney!

2 days in Galway

Our run of reasonably fine weather has run out! We have had 2 full days in Galway and the weather has not cooperated at all – with it raining probably 90% of the time! Lots of cloud, rain, wind and much cooler temperatures. I guess this is more typical of Irish weather!

I had planned to go to the Aran Islands for a day while we were here in Galway, but we didn’t get there – if the weather is bad, apparently it is not worth the trip. So, our first full day we spent exploring the narrow, paved streets of Galway.

Galway_streets_01

We also walked through Eyre Square, the Latin Quarter, saw Lynch’s Castle (which now houses a bank, but is the grandest 16th century town house in Galway), walked down to the harbour, saw the Spanish Arch (built in 1584 to protect the harbour) and did a bit of shopping!

The 16th century Lynch's Castle

The 16th century Lynch’s Castle

Last night we sought some dinner in the town and then found a fabulous Irish pub Tigh Neachtain to enjoy a few drinks and to listen to some live music (it came recommended by the receptionist at the hotel we are staying in).

This pub is small, low ceilinged, with lots of timber panelling and a few cosy seating snugs; there are also lots of interesting historic wall decorations; it is full of character!

Inside Tigh Neactain (before the crowds)

Inside Tigh Neachtain (before the crowds)

We were lucky to get a seat (having tried a couple of other recommended pubs before this one – and they were all packed), but I am glad we sat where we did (I’ll explain shortly). The pub filled up once the band started playing – it was literally standing room only, and you had to push your way through the crowd.

In the corner there is a small space for the band to play and last night we saw Mike and The Scallywags play – they were a 6 piece band made up of a piano player, guitarist, banjo player, a double bassist, a fiddler and a “drummer” (actually played a Cajon – a drum that you sit on to play). Our table was right next to where the band played. Because I was sitting so close, I got to talk to a couple of the band members too – they were great. The music was fantastic and I had a wonderful time! I tried to attached a movie file of the band playing, but unfortunately I have had no success – sorry.

As I said, this is a fairly small pub, and where we were sitting was right next to the band – so close that the fiddle player could have sat on my lap!

Cate_band

Today we took the opportunity to recover from a big night last night, slept in a bit, had a late breakfast and then, because the rain was coming down still, we stayed in Galway, drove around to Salthill (a seaside resort area) and explored a little more in the car.

The tides out at Galway Bay

The tides out at Galway Bay

The River Corrib flows out into Galway Bay

The River Corrib flowing out into Galway Bay

Don’t let the above photos fool you – the rain stopped for a wee while and the sun struggled to come out (it wasn’t successful) and I was able to get a couple of decent photos without getting wet!

Unfortunately, I think we probably missed a great deal of things to do and see in Galway (partly because of the weather, and partly because I wasn’t organised enough)! So, not too exciting today, but a rest and recovery day was probably in order. Hopefully tomorrow the weather will improve as we set forth toward Bunratty and Limerick.

Westport to Galway

Leaving the pretty town of Westport behind us, we headed to Kylemore Abbey.

Kylemore Abey

Marble and stone work inside mini cathedralThis building started life as a castle built by a Mitchell Henry, who built it for his wife, Margaret. Margaret died after contracting dysentry whilst holidaying in Egypt at the age of only 45, leaving behind 9 children. Henry then built a cathedral-in-miniature in the grounds of Kylemore in memory of his wife. This is a magnificent little building all on its own featuring beautiful Irish marble and some exquisite stone carvings!

The building became an abbey when Benedictine nuns fleeing Belgium during WWI sought refuge here. It became a boarding school run by the nuns in 1923 and closed as a school in 2010. It has quite an interesting history.

Leaving Kylemore we again took the scenic route and took the coastal road through the spectacular Connemara region. With so much wonderful scenery it is hard to pick just one photo, but I liked this one – it shows the heather, the green fields and the glorious coast.

Connemara coastal scenery

Passing through the coastal towns of Cleggan and Claddaghduff we then followed the Sky Road on into Clifden, where we had lunch and did a spot of shopping!

SkyRoadScenery_cowInstead of heading straight into Galway from here, we again took the longer scenic route. We travelled the Wild Atlantic Way again skirting the Roundstone Bog passing through the towns of Ballyconneely and Roundstone, where the scenery was slightly different, before getting back onto the main road and heading into Galway where we are staying for 3 nights.

 

Donegal to Westport

Yesterday our first stop after leaving the little town of Donegal was to call in at Belleek Pottery, just back inside the Northern Ireland border. The building is very nice:

Belleek Pottery building We didn’t get to tour the factory – the were two Trafalga tour groups ahead of us – so we had a look at their little museum and the shop (& couldn’t resist 1 purchase).
Passing through some very picturesque countryside we journeyed through “Yeats Country” (home of the poet WB Yeats), stopping at the Glencar Waterfall – pretty!

Glencar Waterfall

Traveling on to Sligo, the largest town in the Northwest, sitting at the mouth of the River Garavogue, we stopped for lunch. While here I decided to indulge my passion for history and decided a visit to the town’s sole surviving medieval building was in order; Sligo Abbey.

Looking down the nave at Sligo Abbey This was founded in 1253 as a Dominican friary; most of what remains dates from the 15th century, but it was absolutely fabulous, with some excellent carved stonework still evident. The abbey also contains the only surviving carved stone 15th century altar in Ireland. Well worth the visit!

Carved stone altar at Sligo Abbey

Our last stop was the Carrowmore Megolithic Cemetery (the largest Megolithic cemetery in Ireland). Although not as well preserved as Newgrange or Knowth, it was still great to see original dolmens that had not been restored.

Dolmen at Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery

Ireland_AI_waterfall
Today was our first full day of rain here in Ireland so we didn’t do too much. However, I can say that even in wet weather the Irish countryside is still very beautiful!

From Westport, we drove out to Achill Island (Ireland’s largest island). We did the Atlantic Coast Drive, covering more spectacular cliff and oceanic scenery. We have seen a lot of peat cutting/ harvesting on our journeys so far, but on Achill Island, the bogs are plentiful along with the peat cutting.

Bog and peat cuttings on Achill Island

There are also a lot of black faced sheep wandering the fields and the roads! These ones were munching on the wild fuchsias.

Ireland_AI_sheep

Derry to Donegal Town

We have seen and done so much in our first week in Ireland.

Yesterday (was, it only yesterday) before we departed Derry we walked the city’s walls.

Ireland_Derry_wall

This was really worth the effort and I’m glad we did this even though it had not been on my ‘must do’ list. Derry was a very pretty town and I really enjoyed it. Of course, I could have done with an extra night there, but that is always the way!

From Derry we drove to Letterkenny where there is a most beautiful cathedral – St. Eunan’s. This Neo-Gothic building is absolutely gorgeous with some excellent celtic stone work, lovely vibrant stained glass windows and a vaulted ceiling that is very grand. The cathedral also boasts a 65m steeple. I am so glad we stopped here!

inside St. Eunan's Cathedral

inside St. Eunan’s Cathedral

After our quick stop at Letterkenny we took the coastal route along the part of the “Wild Atlantic Way” road. Yet more spectacular scenery – we called in at Horn Head (and the pretty little town of Dunfanaghy) and drove through The Rosses (an area with more than 100 lakes).

driving through The Rosses

driving through The Rosses

This was a lot of driving through narrow, winding, country roads. I didn’t see as much as I would have liked since we didn’t leave Derry until midday; we spent quite a few hours in the car, not arriving at Lough Eske (Donegal) until just after 6pm.

Lough Eske Castle is very nice! This place was a ruin until 2006 when it was rescued and given a new life as a hotel.

 

Ireland_LoughEskeCastle

Today, we took a look around Donegal town and took a tour through the castle, which is pretty much in the middle of town. Although, not particularly old as far as Irish castles go, it was still interesting.

Ireland_DonegalCastle

After the visit to the castle, we drove some more of the Wild Atlantic Way – to Killybegs (a little town, with a big fishing port), and then on to Glencolmcille – the Glen of St Colmcille (had to visit here just because of it’s association with said saint – AKA St Columba), but this is one of the prettiest valley’s I’ve seen.

On our way back to Lough Eske Castle, we called in to visit Slieve League (one of the highest cliff faces in Europe) – it is very spectacular! However, it was quite a walk out to the cliffs (about a 6km round trip) – we didn’t realise that it was possible to drive right to the top as there was a carpark at the bottom and it was gated, so we assumed you had to walk (until we saw cars coming back down). Oh well, we got our exercise in for today!

Ireland_SlieveLeague

Belfast to Derry/Londonderry

Well, we certainly didn’t have very long to enjoy Belfast; I find it’s always the way! There is never enough time to see all that I’d like to see.

As we arrived fairly late into Belfast we only had 1 day to see and experience this city. Our Sunday morning started with a visit to the St George’s market, followed by a sightseeing hop on- hop off bus tour of the city, which was excellent.

Titanic Belfast buildingAlong the way we went to see the Titanic Belfast experience. This was really very good – and there is quite a bit of interaction you can engage in. The experience takes you through Belfast at the turn of the century and opens your eyes to the living conditions of the people at that time. The exhibit takes you on a tour from the designs and building of the Titanic (you can even take a cable car ride through a simulated building experience), through to its launch and fit out; then through actual displays of how rooms would have looked and descriptions of passengers and crew. Of course following on from its departure from each of the ports it visited you can experience then collision with the iceberg and all the events that followed. Afterwards you can see how the titanic was found and explore the relics on the sea floor via a virtual ROV. This was a really well done exhibit and I learnt a whole lot about the Titanic that I did not know previously.

Ireland_Titanic_Room_01

After Titanic we finished our bus tour and then had a late lunch at a most fabulous old pub – The Crown Bar – which is owned by the National Trust. This easily rates as one of the best pubs I’ve been to. This has beautiful tiles, woodwork and pressed metal ceilings (the food was pretty good too).

Ireland_CrownBar_inside

Today, Monday, we departed belfast without seeing a couple of noteworthy sights, including the castle. Time is our enemy! However, we had a lot of ground to cover today. Our first stop was the dark hedges,

Ireland_darkHedges

Then onto the lovely sea-side town of Ballycastle for breakfast. Ballycastle was the town where Marconi sent his first wireless message from. From Ballycastle we cruised along the picturesque Antrim coast.

Ireland_Ballycastle_01

The Giant’s Causeway was next on our hit list; I had been looking forward to seeing this legendary place. The weather was changeable, with alternating sunshine and misty showers. There are a couple of different walks you can do here and we walked back along one that involved a climb of 162 stairs (it was worth it though – the views were stunning)!Ireland_GiantsCauseway_01

Dunluce castle was our next stop. A ruined castle at the edge of the coastline. I imagine it would have been rather spectacular in its day.

Ireland_DunuceCastle_01

Finally we arrived at the only surviving fully intact walled city in Ireland – Derry (Londonderry). The walls date from the early 17th century.

Tonight we are staying in an 18th century country manor (BeechHill Country House), just outside of Derry, which is just delightful!