Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Last Day in Ireland

Tomorrow we fly home. It has been a wonderful two weeks. We've seen a lot, had great experiences, and overall are very happy we came. But two weeks of nonstop touring is a lot! This is one of the first places we've travelled to in many years that we didn't have someone to visit while here.

Fortunately, we planned for our last two nights to be in a B&B in Swords, the town closest to the airport. It will make a short easy trip in the morning to return our car and check in for our 11:25 flight. Today we went north to see the Bru na Boinne visitor centre, from where it is possible to visit several Stone Age monuments. We went to Newgrange, a circular burial mound on the top of a small hill. It is in the middle of farmland, so it was a bit roundabout to get there. We shouldn't have followed our GPS, which took us very near the monument, but we had to go another 20 kilometers around to get to the actual entrance.

This burial mound has been very well preserved. It was discovered by modern people in 1699 and taken over as a national monument in the 1880s. We went inside to the center room, where about 25 of us were able to stand. There are three alcoves with large stone basins, where some cremated human remains were found. The structure has been dated to about 3200 B.C., a thousand years before the pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge in England. The structure is build of overlapping huge stones that were brought more than 20 miles to this location.

Walkway into the visitors' centre

River Boyne from walking bridge

View of the monument
In the photo below you can see the entrance with the decorated stone in front. The entrance is low; adults have to stoop to enter. The slit above the lintel allows the sun to penetrate completely into the center of the structure for five days surrounding the winter solstice.

Entry way with decorated megalith

Closer look at the stone

Another area nearby

A structure off to the side

Looking in the passageway; no photos allowed inside

A large circle of low stones nearby

A view from the hill

A lovely old tree on the hill

Can you tell we aren't in the USA?

Country road again

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Heading South

After a very nice day in Northern Ireland, we headed south this morning. We didn't have any particular sight-seeing plans on the way, but we saw a sign for Navan Fort and its visitors' centre, so we decided to go for it. We told our GPS to go to the Fort. We ended up on a one-lane country road with no visitor center-type place nearby. But there was a lovely farm. There was a gateway marked Navan Fort, so we went in and climbed up the path. At the top of the hill was a large circular mound surrounded by an earthen wall. It is prehistoric; no one is sure exactly when it was in use. Under the grassy top there are chambers filled with stones. I have a feeling it is similar to what we are planning to see tomorrow at Newgrange and Knowth. There was no one else around and we had an idyllic little hike and a great view.

Farm below the hill

The Navan Fort

Interesting tree at the fort

Another view from the top

We continued on our way and enjoyed a stop at a service center on the M1 super highway. It was impressive -- yes, it had a Burger King and a Costa Coffee, but it also had a local cafe with excellent-appearing food. We had our usual tea and scone in a nice setting.

Our B&B is in Swords, the town north of Dublin that is near the airport. We have two nights here, giving us a leisurely end to the trip and an easy drive to the airport Wednesday morning. We went into the town for supper tonight and ended up at a local pub. The food was decent and plentiful.

Pub interior

I looked at this clock a lot and got a kick out of it -- it's not working any more

Irish stew in bread bowl

Ivy-covered wall of our B&B

Monday, October 7, 2013

Into Northern Ireland

We left the Donegal area fairly early, planning to stop at the Ulster American Folk Park. Alas, we discovered it didn't open until 11:00 and we didn't want to wait more than an hour, so we kept heading north. We had a wonderful drive along the coast, which is absolutely gorgeous. We stopped for tea in the little seaside resort town of Castlerock.

Dan had a latte; pretty, isn't it?
Our main stop for the day was the Giant's Causeway, a World Heritage Site. Basalt columns pushed up by ancient volcanoes form an amazing natural phenomenon. It was about a kilometer's walk from the visitor center to the actual rocks. The audio guided tour was very enjoyable, including quite a few stories about Finn McCool, the giant who allegedly used this walkway.

You can see the columns here

Camel formation in stone

Finn McCool's giant chimneys in the distance

Looking across the cove

Dan at the top

You can see some of the hexagonal rocks

The surface near the top

After we left there, we headed on around the coast, back toward our B&B in Portrush. We passed this old castle.

Small rock islands seen from the shore

We easily found our B&B, right on the main road through Portrush. This is another holiday resort town and lots of people were around here for a Sunday outing. We had dinner at 55° North, a very nice restaurant just across the street. We enjoyed sitting next to a couple from Belfast who were very friendly. This place has a special 3-course early bird menu and it was really busy!

We both had Caesar salad to start

Dan's pork chop on mash with red cabbage

My stir fry with veggies, cashews, and noodles (I left most of the noodles!)

Dan's brownie with toffee sauce

My fresh fruit roulade

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Galway to Donegal

We left Galway this morning after having breakfast with two women from Iowa. We first met them at our B&B in Waterford about a week ago, then ran into each other at the Shannon ferry on Thursday. Last evening we were in the lounge in Galway doing our Internet work and they walked in! There are thousands of B&Bs in this country; it is amazing that our paths paralleled and crossed like that.

We only had one stop today and otherwise enjoyed the drive through Connemara and into Donegal. Our stop was at Kylemore Abbey. It was built in the 1800s by an Irish/Englishman whose wife was full Irish. She died tragically quite young and he built a miniature Gothic cathedral in her memory (the Irish Taj Mahal??). The place was sold but lost in a poker game and then purchased by Benedictine nuns. They were Irish nuns who had been exiled to Ypres in Flanders during the reformation. They had to flee Ypres during World War I and ended up back in Ireland, purchasing the Kylemore estate. From the 1920s to 2010 they ran an international boarding school for girls in the Abbey; several daughters of Indian rajahs were educated here, as was Anjelica Huston. [I wondered how she did so well portraying an Irish widow in "Agnes Brown."]

The first photo is along the road this morning. Heavy clouds, but sun broke through off and on.

Kylemore Abbey

Neo-Gothic chapel

Chapel interior-- you can see it is quite small

Stained glass in transept window -- only one transept

Tree on grounds

Walk from Abbey to chapel

Chant book nuns brought from Ypres

Our B&B -- Rossmore Manor, outside Donegal

View from the B&B

Another view from the B&B

Sunset from our B&B

We drove the 3-4 kilometers into Donegal for supper at The Harbour Restaurant, recommended to us by our hosts. It was indeed excellent and Donegal is a nice small town.

Yes, Dan's fish and chips again

My roasted hake on scallion mash surrounded by creamed Savoy cabbage

Chocolate "pudding" with ganache and vanilla ice cream -- yum!