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Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Honeymoon Adventure in Ireland

Written by Bonnie Moses
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Honeymoon Adventure in Ireland, travel Ireland, Irish castles, driving Ireland, Irish B&S'sWhen my husband and I were thinking about where to go on our honeymoon the first question we asked ourselves was, “Do we want to relax on a beach and do nothing for 10 days, or do we want to have an adventure?” Being lazy and relaxing in the warm sun was very appealing, but we decided on having an adventure and being exhausted after it was finished. The next thing we had to figure out was where to have this said adventure. My husband had never been out of the country, let alone the state he was born in, so we decided that for his first trip we would go to an English speaking country.

My husband had worked in an Irish pub in Boston a few years before and always liked the stories that he heard from the people who had lived there. So when we were looking over English speaking countries, we decided upon Ireland. We bought our travel books, went online to look at local hotels and saved up some money for the trip.

We had an evening flight, but couldn’t sleep because we were so excited. As we neared the Irish coast the cloudy skies parted and we could see the dark green Irish shores, dotted with small cottages and winding roads. We landed in Shannon on the west coast, a quaint little airport with helpful, smiling people. We picked up our rental car, an economical peppy little car, that was very easy to use despite having to learn how to drive on the opposite side of the car, not to mention the road!

Our first hotel near Shannon was a family hotel and although nice, was filled with families with small, very loud children who ran through the hallways all during the night. We would not have stayed at this hotel, but our tour package included it. Thankfully however, we were quite jetlagged so we slept through the noise most of the day and night. Also the first day that we were in Ireland we experienced the historic downpours that keep Ireland so green. (The rest of the week however, we lucked out with sunny skies and warm temperatures.)

Honeymoon Adventure in Ireland, travel Ireland, Irish castles, driving Ireland, Irish B&S'sThe next day we headed east making our way to Birr. We drove through Limerick, a sleepy town with a few castles by a windy river and amidst rolling mountains and hills. We stopped at a couple of places snapping pictures of ruins of old churches, homes and castles. The second place we stayed was a little bed and breakfast in a local farmhouse. It was cozy and quiet, and was very close to Clonmacnoise.

Clonmacnoise is an early Christian monastery situated in County Offaly on the River Shannon south of Athlone. It sits quietly beside a large glassy lake, and its solitude gave us a sense of how the monastics must have felt so many years before. Many old Irish crosses dot the graves that surround the ruins, weathered by the sun and the elements but still as stately as they had once been. We were delighted to find in one of the ruins the “Whispering Arch”, a part of the church used by the priests to hear the confessions of the sick as they stood outside the church, and the priest stood inside.

The next day we traveled to our next B&B in the town of Edenderry, through the rolling green hills which soon turned into the flat marshes of the midlands. Many tourists tend to avoid the midlands claiming them to be boring, and not nearly as beautiful as Ireland’s coasts, but in doing so they avoid a large part of Irish history, its peat bogs. Peat is quite important to the Irish and it is used for everything from fuel to Christmas ornaments.

Once we unloaded our stuff, we trotted off to Kildare – the home of Saint Bridget. Kildare is a beautiful little town, with tiny cottages, quaint pubs, and a large cathedral (said to have been used by Bridget and by pagan priestesses before her). At the Cathedral there is a tower we climbed, which has no stairwells. We could only get to the top of this tremendous tower by way of ladders inside it. It was very scary at first but the view was well worth the frightening climb.

After leaving the Cathedral we went to the famous Kildare stud farms and Japanese gardens, only a five minute drive away. The Japanese gardens were a maze based around the changes that happen in life from birth to marriage to death. The stud farms surround the Japanese gardens and lakes, a nice walk and a great place to have a picnic on a warm Irish afternoon. Our last stop that day was to a little known place where Saint Bridget would go to retrieve water, called St. Bridget’s well. The well is about three miles from the Cathedral – quite a hike for St. Bridget, but a nice spot to get away from the crowds of the Stud farms and Japanese Gardens.

Probably one of our favorite places, suggested to us by friends, was a place called Glendalough. Glendalough is another former monastic community begun by St. Kevin, which is now a tourist hot-spot for good reason. Glendalough means “The Glen of the Two Lakes”, and is one of the most spiritual and beautiful places in Ireland. To get there from the Midlands we had to drive to the eastern coast of Ireland, Honeymoon Adventure in Ireland, travel Ireland, Irish castles, driving Ireland, Irish B&S'sover very steep and very beautiful purple mountains dotted by little white, blue and pink puffballs (also known as sheep) through a chilly morning mist. Once we got to the top of the Wicklow Mountains, were able to look down on Glendalough and its two crystal clear lakes.

Like many places in Ireland, Glendalough is essentially the ruins of a former monastic community; however its feeling is very different. The houses are surrounded by thousands of graves dating from hundreds of years ago to just fifty years ago. After scouring the ruins, we were able to hike up the mountain to see St. Kevin’s own little beehive hut, where he went to get away from the crowds of the monastery. At St. Kevin’s hut we were able to see a beautiful lake below us, and it is stated that it was here that when a saucy young lass came to seduce the pious Kevin, he took her and threw her into the lake below trying to “cool her off”. Here in Glendalough one feels away from the world (even with the crowds); and the forests, waterfalls and lakes gave us a very peaceful feeling.

Honeymoon Adventure in Ireland, travel Ireland, Irish castles, driving Ireland, Irish B&S'sThe next day was our longest driving day, since we drove back across the entire country to our next destination: Ashford castle. It was a long driving day (about five hours across the country), but thanks to the very clean and easy Irish highways it was quite easy. Once we got to Ashford castle we were quite tired, but once we saw the castle we woke right up!

Set in the mountains of the west coast, it is situated in picturesque scenery. The grounds of the castle can be visited by anyone, but the castle itself is saved only for those who stay there. We were amazed at how wonderfully accommodating and welcoming the staff were, and the rooms were magnificent. That night we treated ourselves to a gourmet dinner, with five or six different courses including a decadent dessert.

The castle is a wonderful place to stay, but what was even more exciting for us, was the fact that they offered a falconry course. Honeymoon Adventure in Ireland, travel Ireland, Irish castles, driving Ireland, Irish B&S'sIn the morning we got up early and went out into the woods where the class is held. The staff there was especially nice, and we each got our own falcon to learn with. We were given two brothers, my husband got the larger more grumpy one, while I got the lighter more docile falcon. Our guide walked us through how to hold the amazingly light birds, how to call them back and how to reward them. After a little introductory course, we walked through the woods and were able to see them in true flight, swiftly dodging and acrobatically missing tree braches, dive bombing from the sky and landing lightly on to our arms when we called them back. It was no wonder to us afterward why the kings who had taken up falconry had loved it so much in the past.

Before we left Ireland for good, we decided that we had to see Saint Patrick’s mountain where it is said he spent forty days and forty nights praying and fasting. If we had had more time we could have climbed the mountain ourselves which takes the whole day. The mountain is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, and the tide was out so far that we were able to walk on long stretches of sand which normally the ocean covers. The environment around the mountain is the most beautiful land that we saw. It is mostly just steep craggy mountains, dotted by sheep and patches of grass; which surround the clearest lakes we have ever seen where the fish literally fly out of the water in leaps of joy. At one point we stopped at one of these lakes, just sitting by its quiet shores, without anyone else nearby. All we could hear there was the soft cool breeze from the lake, and the murmur of baaing sheep on the hillsides. It was a place where we felt we could have stayed forever.

Honeymoon Adventure in Ireland, travel Ireland, Irish castles, driving Ireland, Irish B&S's

When we told friends that we were planning on driving across Ireland and back, they said we were crazy. But we found that by making our own itinerary we were able to go when we wanted or rest when we wanted. We also got to explore many parts of Ireland that perhaps others have never seen. Ireland is a sweet place filled with quaint little cottages, delicious pubs and restaurants, and accommodating bed and breakfasts. It is a great place to feel like you are really having an adventure, but aren’t too far from home. It is a trip that we will never forget.

©Bonnie Moses

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012