[Guest Post by Jeff Lewis]
If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know last week was part III of Jeff Lewis’ epic Valley Vagabond trip to Ireland. This week we have part IV the finale!
Besides our time in Dublin, Cobh was the only place where we stayed right in the thick of an urban setting. The view out our window was of the incredible St Colman’s Cathedral. Just a hundred yards away was the Cobh waterfront where the Titanic made its last port of call. Four days later, it and 1517 souls were resting on the bottom of the Atlantic.
Cobh is also where the survivors and victims of the RMS Lusitania sunk by the Germans during WWI were brought. Just a half-hour away is the famous Blarney Castle and the much kissed Blarney stone.
While we did drive out to the castle grounds and were probably within 100 yards of the castle itself, we never actually saw it! We made a decision not to do the whole Blarney stone thing-this being a pandemic, and sharing a rock to kiss with hundreds of strangers didn’t appeal to us! Instead, we went shopping! Ireland is famous for its woolens and crystal, so we had to pick up some souvenirs.
Once our wallets were a little lighter, we made the relatively short drive up the coast to the resort and fishing village of Ardmore and our stay at a B&B on the farm. From our second-floor suite of rooms, we could see the local farms and the ocean beyond.
The farm itself was a working dairy farm complete with cows, chickens, donkeys, goats and a couple of friendly dogs with brand new puppies! The town of Ardmore is pretty tiny but has a beautiful beach and waterfront walk, which ends with a hike along the cliffs along the shore. High on a hill above town, one will find the 12th-century ruins of a cathedral and round tower attributed to St Declan, who is said to have bought Christianity to Ireland before St Patrick.
Of all the cemeteries we walked through on the trip (they are everywhere!), this was one of my favorites, with unique headstones, fascinating ecclesiastical ruins and a breathtaking view of the town and ocean. With some time on our hands, we could head out on some lesser traveled roads to beaches not seen by most visiting tourists. Dinner was back in town at a 5-star restaurant, and the day was complete.
The following days were extra special as they took us to the county and town of Wexford-strawberry capital of Ireland, but more importantly, the home of the Irish National Heritage Park, the home base for our daughter’s archeology project.
Between Ardmore and Wexford is the world-famous town of Waterford, the original home of Waterford crystal. Like the Guinness factory in Dublin, we chose not to go to the crystal factory. Instead, we spent our brief time in Waterford at the Waterford Treasures Medieval Museum as it had so much more to do with the Viking and Norman history of Ireland, which is what brought our daughter here in the first place.
This day also brought us to one of the most incredible B&B’s I have ever stayed in. Rathaspeck Manor house is a 5-star 300-year-old Georgian country home with its own 18 hole golf course surrounding the estate. While other guests were staying at the manor, it felt like we were living in our mansion. Extremely friendly hosts. Conveniently located outside of town but close to the Heritage Park. An hour or so from the coast.
This place was perfect in every way. Spacious and comfortable beyond belief! Because of a scheduling snafu, we arrived a day later than they expected, so our triple room was given to someone else, but they made accommodations for us at no extra charge with my wife and I having our suite and our daughter was in her own room.
The plan was to spend the afternoon at the Irish National Heritage Park but not having learned our lesson about making reservations yet; we were turned away as they were at their covid limited capacity for the day. Instead, we turned to the coast and the Hook Lighthouse, the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world.
It doesn’t sound like much, but the lighthouse, its history dating back to the 12th century and the truly dramatic coastal setting, was well worth the drive. The drive was interesting as one passes by ruin after the ruin of settlements and castles that dot the countryside between Wexford and the coast.
Much of Ireland has similar features, but this drive brought them right up to the roadside. Due to Covid, the lighthouse itself is closed, but the grounds are open and enjoyed by many foreign and domestic tourists. The Irish seem to like visiting their coastline as much as we do. This memorable detour was again a testament to the beauty of having a flexible itinerary.
Having learned our lesson regarding making reservations, we were at the Heritage Park first thing in the morning. The Park is a living history park that takes visitors through Irish history, starting with Mesolithic times, through Viking and Norman occupations and today.
Our daughter’s project was excavating a 12th century Norman town and castle with the ultimate goal of recreating it onsite. Like many castles, hers was situated on a hilltop in the Park, so we headed there first. Lucky we did as we ran into the Park’s master falcon handler who was on his way to their collection of hawks, owls, falcons and other birds that were common in medieval times. We were invited into the falcon center and given a private introduction to the birds, including an opportunity to hold one of his younger trainee hawks!
After an hour at the falcon center, we moved on to the field lab and office for the archeology project that truly led us to Ireland. We got a behind-the-scenes look at some of the artifacts being cleaned and preserved from the dig sites. Next, we got to see the actual work areas and projects our daughter had been involved in. You couldn’t imagine the pride and excitement we felt at seeing some big holes in the ground and a two-foot-tall castle wall built.
Our last travel day before returning to Dublin took us to the monastic city of Glendalough, which was founded in the 6th century. We don’t have a history like that here in the states! Finally, it was back to Dublin, a night back at Stauntons, a visit to Trinity College, and our return home.
With tornados delaying our trip here, was it any surprise that there was a hurricane blowing up the eastern coast of the US on the date of our return flight? Was it any surprise that the airlines booked our daughter on a different flight from Newark to Chicago than us? Or that the limo service to get us from Seatac to our house upped their fees by 30% without telling us? Suffice it to say we got home and will live with some of the most spectacular of memories from a terrific trip.
My life motto is “He who dies with the best stories wins.” I think I’m winning after this amazing experience!