Ireland

Wednesday March 31: Getting to Kilkenny

After 5 days in Britain we found ourselves in Ireland at Dublin Airport following our arrival from Edinburgh. We went through immigration quickly, with a quick question on how long we were staying and then another stamp added to the passport. From just outside the terminal we caught a DublinBus service to the central bus station for €5 each, had a sandwich for lunch, then took another bus to Kilkenny. Bus Éireann is a lot less hassle than the National Express buses in Britain, with tickets available on the day of travel for reasonable prices. The bus took lots of back roads, which was made worse by road works.

We arrived in Kilkenny around 15:50, and the Knockavon House B&B was only a few minutes walk from the bus and train station. We walked around Kilkenny a bit, up the main streets, and around to the castle. The streets are narrow and interesting, and the castle on first impressions looks to be one big building, very unlike Edinburgh Castle.

We ate dinner at the Kilford Arms, where we appreciated the smoking ban which had just come into place in all Irish pubs. I ate an excellent meal of turkey with bacon, stuffing, and wedges, plus a couple of Irish beers. Smithwicks was particularly tasty.

Thursday April 1: Kilkenny

The B&B provided a greasy breakfast of bacon, egg, sausage and toast, then we walked to the tourist information office to do a walking tour at 10:30. We hung around for a while, but then we found out the tour had been booked out by a private group. Not particularly impressed.

We walked up to Kilkenny Castle and did a tour with a very knowledgeable guide. I learnt something new in the tour - a drawing room is a room into which one withdraws. The tour contained plenty of interesting history and things to see. Lots of beds and paintings. The castle tour took about 50 minutes, and afterwards we saw a bit of an army review of Irish troops who were leaving for peace-keeping duties in Kosovo.

Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle

We walked back to the tourist information office to try again for the walking tour, and this time we were in luck. This tour was again very interesting and was run by a knowledgeable local, and costs €6 each. There were only three of us on the tour. Sights of interest included Rothe House, the Court House, and Kyteler's Pub. The pub was once owned by Alice Kyteler, who was accused of witchcraft in 1324. The disappeared after the accusation, but her maid was burned at the stake. Alice was probably not a witch, but was without doubt a very nasty person who went through a few husbands before the eventual accusation.

We went into the Black Abbey, an interesting little church just outside the old city walls. (The monks had their own key so they could enter the city whenever they chose.) The tour also took us into the former jail under the city courthouse, which has been left untouched since it was closed in 1913. An old cooking pot, remnants of a fire, and the prisoners' wooden beds have been left exactly as they were when the jail was closed. We saw Butterslip, a little laneway where women used to stand on each side in disgusting conditions selling butter to try to earn some money.

After the tour we planned to go to Rothe House, but it was closed for lunch so we visited St Canice's Cathedral instead. There's not much to see inside, apart from the spectacular wooden ceiling with sculpted animal heads. The cathedral was built between 1202 and 1285 in Early Gothic style. The cathedral's main attraction is the 100' round tower, built around 849 AD. We had learnt during our walking tour that the foundations of the tower are only 2' deep, which completely removed any enthusiasm we had to climb it. It's unfortunate really, because the views from the top are probably excellent.

St Mary's Cathedral
St Mary's Cathedral
St Canice's Cathedral
St Canice's Cathedral

Next up was Rothe House, a Tudor merchant's house build in 1594, that was well preserved but supposedly nothing noteworthy in its day. The interior was disappointing, and contained a collection of old household goods and other museum-type exhibits. Advertising its location as 75 miles south-west of Dublin seems a little optimistic. I don't know why anyone would travel that far specifically to visit.

Having seen all that we could, we headed back to the B&B, and later went out again for dinner. We started by heading to Maggies in search of some live music, but it was obviously too early because they had neither food nor music. Instead we went to Kyteler's, and I had an excellent meal of chicken, mushroom, onion and garlic bread.

Friday April 2: Kilkenny to Dublin

The day started similarly to the previous day with a big greasy breakfast. We walked to the bus and train station in solid rain to get the 09:15 bus to Dublin. In the 2hr 15min journey, the weather brightened up to be overcast with patches of sun. As on our journey down to Kilkenny, we seemed to take a circuitous route. We saw lots of green farmland with occasional small rivers, and little towns with narrow main streets. Once we arrived in Dublin, we took a taxi from the central bus station to our B&B. The driver commented that we were staying in a good area, which we took to be a good sign!

When we arrived at Abbeyleigh House B&B, our room wasn't ready so we left our cases and went straight out again to explore Dublin. First stop was an unremarkable cafe, where we had a reasonable and inexpensive lunch.

In the centre of Dublin we started at Trinity College and The Book of Kells. The exhibits are well organised and give a detailed background about the book and similar other books. The Book of Kells took 200 years to write, and is full of extravagently decorated text. Seeing the book itself was a bit of a let-down. Naturally it's not possible to see much of a book that's behind glass and open on a single page. In any case, the exhibit was worthwhile. Entry costs €7.50.

Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College

Afterwards we decided on a hop-on/hop-off bus tour (€12 each with student discount, even though we're not students). It was a bit of a wait before the bus turned up, but we were rewarded with an excellent driver and guide. He was knowledgeable and funny, and liked swearing at other drivers and jumping red lights. We had originally planned to get off at the Guinness brewery, but decided to stick with our driver until Jameson's Old Distillery. Good drivers are hard to find!

We wanted to go up the Smithfield Observation Chimney while we were there, but unfortunately we couldn't timetable it with a Distillery tour. We waited 40 minutes for the tour, which we spent in the bar. The tour was most informative. My fiancée volunteered to be a taster, so she got to taste four Irish whiskeys, one Scotch, and one Bourbon. She favoured Bushmill's Irish Whiskey in her taste test.

Irish Coffee
Irish Coffee at Jameson's

We managed to get on the last tour back towards the centre of town, then walked to the Temple Bar area for dinner. We found a nice pub and had chicken things with chips and salad, then walked around a bit and back to the B&B.

Saturday April 3: Dublin

Today was our full day in Dublin. We started with a full Irish breakfast of bacon, egg and sausage. Then it was on to the hop-on/hop-off bus tour. One good thing about those tours is that the ticket lasts 24 hours, so if you time it right you can get pretty good value out of it by starting it in the afternoon. Anyway, the bus we hopped on had a crappy pre-recorded commentary, so we hopped off as soon as we got to the Guinness Storehouse.

It was about 11am when we went in, and it took quite a while to get through as the self-guided tour was quite substantial. We received a small gift-book when we arrived simply by showing a promotional SMS message we both received when we arrived in Ireland. The tour goes through the usual how beer is made stuff, but there's several interesting extra bits that I haven't seen elsewhere. I found the advertising section particularly interesting. The tour finished with a free pint at the bar on the top floor, with panoramic views of Dublin. The sun was out and it was very pleasant. After drinking both my pint and my fiancée's, I stopped at the giftshop to buy a Guinness jacket for a very reasonable price.

Guinness Storehouse
Guinness Storehouse
Pint of Guinness
Enjoying (?) a pint

We hopped on another bus, but we didn't stay on it long. This time we hopped off at Kilmainham Gaol. There was twenty minutes to wait before the guided tour started, but we spent this time in the excellent museum section. Most memorable for me was the plot of prisoner numbers over time (and the huge peaks they had around the time of the famines), plus some of the professions that were given by the prisoners including police constable, broom merchant, and gentleman. What sort of profession is that? The tour of the gaol was very good, especially the bits about the 1916 uprising. We saw where the prisoners were held and executed, including people so famous that even uneducated visitors like ourselves had heard of them - Michael Collins for example. Originally the gaol was very cold since the windows had no glass, in the believe that fresh air was good for prisoners (even in winter).

Once again we utilised the hop-on/hop-off bus (by this time our tickets were slightly expired, but nobody noticed). We stayed on the tour to the city centre, then walked back to the B&B. We didn't stay inside long though - we had to find dinner before starting on a Literary Pub Crawl for the evening's entertainment. It wasn't quite what I expected. We walked between four pubs, with short pieces of Irish literature performed on the way. It was enjoyable, but it would have been better if some of the pubs weren't quite so packed.

After the pub crawl it was time to walk back to the B&B for some sleep and packing our bags in preparation for our flight back to Britain the next day.

Sunday April 4: Leaving Dublin

Getting up early was the order of the day to get our 09:00 flight back to Heathrow. We were disappointed to find that no breakfast had been left out for us, despite what we had arranged. We aimed to leave the B&B at around 07:00. All week we had seen the Aircoach service going past at intervals far less than the 15 minutes they advertise, and on this morning we only waited five minutes before a bus turned up. Aircoach provides a very comfortable, professional, and efficient service to the airport 24 hours a day for €7.

We arrived at the airport, queued around 15 minutes to check-in (bmi didn't have enough check-in staff in my opinion) then another 15 minutes to get through security before we found our gate. We boarded on time, but were 20 minutes late to push back due to "apron works". Pretty poor excuse in my opinion.

Behind us there were two women who talked loudly for the whole flight. They were excited to discover that the man sitting next to them was Irish. He had lived in America for seven years, currently works as a bartender, and was previously in the construction industry. The women had been to Dublin for the weekend on a (successful) quest to pick up Irish men. They lived three hours north of Heathrow, and would have left from Bradford if it wasn't for Sally who hadn't gone with them anyway. It's amazing what you learn on planes.

The story continues in Britain (part 2).
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