Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Day 7: Emerald Isle Last Stop: Castle on the hill

Alas, all good things must come to an end and we have to leave the fairy tale setting behind. We'll certainly long for the rolling greens, the enchanting castles, and plummeting cliffside... OK, maybe not that last bit. 

But before we do, I had one must-see castle to visit! By absolute coincidence, our hotel was a mere 9 minute walk from Manderley castle, a.k.a. Enya's home. My closest friends in college would know that Irish singer Enya is the single most influential female singer during my college years. So much so that I brought my cassette tapes with me to graduate school, and I still have them to date.  She saved my sanity during my sprectra-solving, electron-pushing years with Watermark. That's why I could hardly believe my luck when, on a whim, I looked up where Manderley castle was located and, lo and behold, it's in Killiney hill, right next to Dalkey, and within walking distance! (Cue in Lothlorien).  The Dalkey-Killiney area is something like the "Beverly Hills" of Ireland, and a hotspot for celebrities. Bono and Van Morrison live in the area too. But, they take a backseat to Enya on my playlist, and my itinerary.

For those who don't know, Enya is an Irish female musician. Her music is like an ambrosia for the soul. She plays different instruments and sings with Celtic rhythms and you can't peg her music in any clear genre. She sings in Latin, Gaelic, English, and also in made up languages like Elvish and Loxian. She may be better known to most for her song "May It Be" in the first Lord of the Rings movie. She is also a very private person, selling millions of albums without performing even a single solo concert. Well, no worries, Enya, I'm not scaling the castle wall! The castle is small, as castles go, but and accentuates the Killiney hillside perfectly. The location offers a view of the Wicklow mountains, the Irish Sea, and Dalkey Island; it's inspirational, as one would expect, for an artist like Enya. 

Manderley Castle - Enya's private home

On top of the hill with a view of Manderley Castle
We climbed Killiney hill. On top, the small obelisk sits in the most enviable spot looking out into the Irish sea. And because the girls needed to get their wiggles out before the long way home, we ended our Emerald Isle trip with... what else? A visit to the playground.
Killiney obelisk

The playground at the bottom of the hill

Needless to say, the girls had an amazing experience, and the family had a memorable first trip abroad. Seriously, how do we even top this trip?  The Emerald Isle mesmerized us.  My 5-year old asked many times if we can live in Ireland.  Not today. But someday, kiddo, you can take us back...

"I'm going to turn around, go back to the hotel, 
and live here in Ireland to see all the castles I didn't get to see."

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Day 6 Emerald Isle: Song of the Sea

Turning Darkness into Light

We are geeks. I don't think it'll come as a surprise to anyone that the highlight of our day in Dublin is visiting Trinity College to see the Book of Kells.  On the way to Ireland, the girls watched the animated movie "The Secret of Kells", a unique fictional film loosely based on the journey of the Book of Kells, believed to be necessary to preserve the Celtic culture from the invaders (likely the Vikings). The kids loved the movie and bounced their way to Trinity College library to see THE BOOK. They had already seen an Abbey and a stone circle during our trip so far and they related those well to the film. It felt awesome to see their faces lit up when they realize not every cartoon is fictional. In The Secret of Kells, the boy meets a fairy in the stone circle, which supposedly served as entrances to the "other world". Seeing the book was icing on the cake, and what sweet icing it was! I didn't think they would be as excited with this surprise. The book was safeguarded in the Abbey at Kells, which was its home for centuries before it was moved to Dublin.  The Celtic artwork in the book were incredible!  My 7 year old was amazed at the different materials used to make ink, like berries and minerals to create the art text and images in the book.


Picture taking of the actual book is not allowed, and it is encased securely for viewing. After all, it has been around since 800 AD, and regarded as Ireland's national treasure. The book itself contains the four gospels in the new testament with ornate calligraphy and vibrant illustration and symbolism. I cannot recommend this exhibit enough if you're in Dublin. But treat yourself to the movie too!
Our other must-see in Dublin is also conveniently located at the Trinity College library - The Long Room. Full disclosure, our main interest here is due to its resemblance to Hogwarts' Great Hall, and we thought it would serve as a delight to our mini-Potterheads.  However, the Long Room, apart from being vast and, well, long, doesn't really evoke Hogwarts' dining hall. Not entirely surprising, I guess. After all, this is a library! It is perhaps one of the most impressive libraries I've seen, in the company of Manchester's John Rylands Library. It is filled with 200,000 books, two stories high, with marble busts of great philosophers, writers, and scientists lining the room. Encased by the back of the room is Ireland's iconic Harp. It is well-known that Ireland's emblem is a harp. The Brian Boru Harp in Trinity College is the "official" emblem of Ireland, a 15th century harp and the oldest Celtic harp surviving from the medieval period. 

The symbol of the harp is much loved in Ireland. You see it as a moving bridge in Dublin, on Irish euro coins and even on Guinness beer. 

Samuel Beckett bridge, an Irish harp-shaped bridge rotating through the air
We continued to explore Dublin on foot, crossing the Ha'penny pedestrian bridge and taking in the somber sculptures commemorating the Irish Famine, the famine due to potato disease. The famine killed ~1 M people and caused emigration of ~1 M more. We walked down to the Medieval area (and was not very impressed); we saw the Dublin castle, which is really too embedded in the city and the view obscured for one to appreciate the structure; we walked on the famous Grafton street then headed to St. Stephen's Green where the kids spent  the time chasing pigeons.  Where is all this energy coming from?? After 30,000 steps, I'm beat!

Clotted cream, where have you been all my life?

Song of the Sea

At about 4 pm, we were contemplating on whether to stay longer in Dublin city, or to take the train to Howth (rhymes with "oath"). The lure of sitting down on a train for short time was very attractive to me.  Howth is a pretty fishing village on the Dublin Bay less than 30 min train ride from Dublin. Indeed, it would have been a shame if we didn't visit! Howth turned out to be my favorite town in this trip, and that's saying a lot after seeing colorful Kinsale, Kenmare, Sneem, Glengarriff, and quaint Bantry. The idyllic town offers so much.  We took a wonderful walk along the pier, then up to another Abbey ruin, which can't be accessed, then towards the Martello tower. They have a number of these towers in Ireland. The stunning view of the bay, the boats, and Ireland's Eye, an uninhabited island off the cost, calmed our weary bods.  And as if we haven't seen enough, Howth also has a grand castle a short walk away from the town center, though it is privately owned.  This is what Ireland is about - castles, rolling hills, ancient rocks, and tranquil waters. 

Howth's unmoving castle

We capped the night with a train ride back to Dalkey, enjoying dinner and stroll in the town center and back to our hotel, facing the reality of having to pack for our trip back home. 

Dalkey castle

Monday, June 18, 2018

Day 5 Emerald Isle: Dublin-bound

We finally had to bid the Beara peninsula and our cottage in Adrigole goodbye.  Early on the 5th day, we started our trek eastward to Cork to head to Dublin. It was a tough choice deciding whether to stop at Kinsale or Cobh.  I've read wonderful things about both towns, but in the end, we decided that Cobh will have to wait.  We visited picturesque Kinsale with its colorful houses, shops and harbor. Kinsale had established itself as one of Ireland's most significant town during the medieval period. We went souvenir shopping for trinkets for the kids, and enjoyed the traditional fish & chips at Dino's, a must-try restaurant when you're in Kinsale. We also visited Desmond castle, which had been turned to a wine museum, but it was closed for renovation. BOO! 

Fish & Chips! That's a kids plate?!

The highlight of Kinsale for us is the Charles Fort. It is one of the best-preserved star-shaped artillery forts in Europe, and the view of the town from Kinsale from the fort is worth the visit. The compound is huge, quite ideal for getting the girls wiggles out!  And the staff were kid-friendly to boot. Built in the 1600s during King Charles II reign, the fort remained in use until 1922.  The exhibits show the how the soldiers lived in the fort.  It would have been nice to stay in Kinsale longer and explore other gems like James Fort and the Garden of Remembrance. Alas, we were simply passing through, but grateful for the few hours that we did.



I don't think so!
Finally, we returned the car at Cork and took the train back to Dublin. I was doing the victory dance when I handed the keys over at Hertz rental. (Cue in Theme from Rocky)  Woo hoo! I enjoyed the adrenaline-filled drive around south west Ireland, but I'm happy to take the train for the rest of our holiday in the Dublin area.  The train ride from Cork Kent station to Dublin Heuston was easy and the view is breathtaking, pretty much just like everything else we've seen here in Ireland. We passed many castles and cattle along the way, and the people we interacted with were friendly. Seriously, I highly recommend taking the train from Dublin to Cork, Limerick, or Galway, if your destination is in the southwest.  The roundtrip fare for a family can be "Open", which means you can choose your own return date and time.

Sorry, no chocolate frogs off the trolley, dear!

Do you know that you can book a castle stay on AirBnB?  Yup, I had looked into this possibility because I really wanted to surprise the girls with a stay at a castle.  Sadly, most, if not all of the castles have a no-kids policy. This makes a lot of sense though especially once you've seen what the castles look like.  The staircases are usually steep, slippery and not very safe for children. It was very disappointing, but a friend of ours clued us in on where to stay. As a surprise to the girls, we booked our remaining stay at Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel, a castle converted to a hotel in Dalkey, county Dublin.  The castle built in 1740, was also named Killiney Castle before it was transformed to a hotel by the Fitzpatrick family in the 1970's.  The hotel is quite charming, and our girls loved feeling like princesses! The rooms were very big, and we were given a room with a view of the bay. (Personally, I think the hotel could use a bit of an upkeep inside, but I wasn't going to rain on the girls' parade.) 

Something old, something new, something blue

Finally, Guinness.

(and the Irish art of pouring a perfect pint of it.)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Day 4 Emerald Isle: Of Yew and ewe

The Ring of Kerry is THE destination in Ireland's Iveragh Peninsula.  The ring itself is too big to explore in a day.  For those who love history and nature, Killarney National Park is heaven.  To get here from the Beara peninsula, the drive is almost Lord of the Ring-esque.  We drove towards Kenmare for the second time in 2 days, this time heading north along the Ring instead of South. We drove up the winding Cork and Kerry mountaintops through Caha pass, where the view of Bantry Bay is spectacular. Just as impressive are the series of rock tunnels we went through. I couldn't decide whether I like the sunny view from the day before or the rainy, misty morning of this drive. One day cheery and hopeful, the next mystical.  

Our first stop was Ross Castle, built in the 15th century, just outside Killarney. The castle sits on the bank of Killarney's lower lake. I'm so happy that we took the tour of the castle.  While climbing the steep stone staircase was a bit of a scare for my little one, both kids were really engaged and asked questions to our tour guide. One can see that great care was taken in restoring the castle, carefully matching the time period furniture to reality. One of the furniture (not saying which!) was the real one when the castle was still inhabited by the ruling clan of Killarney, the O'Donoghues. The kids, of course, had a giggle when the tour guide showed the "garderobe", or ahem, toilet/latrine. There's also a little X on the floor that Maya, who is shortest and keenest among the group, spotted. The guide shared that legend had it that a treasure is buried underneath, but you'll have to dig up the castle to find out! Also, legend has it that the clan lies at the bottom of the lake watching....  Sadly, taking photos inside was not allowed, but the experience left a lasting impression to all of us.

After a hike along the paths behind the castle, we drove north of the park to see the Muckross Abbey, an old monastery ruin and a graveyard, dating back to the beginnings of Christianity in Ireland. The structure, built in 15th century, is well-preserved. The graveyard is supposed to be where the O'Donoghues are, in fact, buried. What really caught my eye is the ancient yew tree rising in the center of the cloisters, which is older than the Abbey. The Abbey was likely built around the already mature tree. Yew trees are believed to be the "tree of life", are venerated, and as such are often found in Irish graveyards as as symbol of eternity. Irishman Bram Stoker, who lived in Killarney for some time, was supposedly a frequent visitor of the Muckross graveyard and roamed the abbey late at night;That the yew tree and the eerie graveyard served as inspiration for Dracula.

For Harry Potter fans, the yew make several appearance from wands to graveyards in the J.K. Rowling books too! 

The Abbey was a real delight because we could explore it from top to bottom. You can see the intricate details up close. It was enchanting! 

Anyone up there?

Amidst ruins and fallen tree, there is LIFE! 
We went on to walk to Muckross house, which at one point hosted Queen Victoria, and was also owned by the Guinness family. However, the girls were getting a bit tired and rambunctious.While my husband and I would have loved to tour the house, we ultimately decided to skip the tour, which the host also emphasized are not really well-suited for kids. Nevertheless, we enjoyed touring the large estate grounds, which is the country's first national park. It even has a waterfall!

Muckross House

Torc waterfall

Ireland veiled in fog and as I've always imagined it

On the way back to Adrigole
Ewe looking at me, kid?

Say Cheese! ...or not.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Day 3 Emerald Isle: Beyond leprechauns

The girls adore our jolly farmer neighbor, Patrick!
I can't get enough of the view from Rose Cottage in Adrigole.  Sea, cliff, cows. Seriously, if I was a mythical creature, I would live here too and never ever move away. What evidence of Irish luck do you need? One only needs to stand outside.

While we had a setback with the flat tire, that didn't stop us from going on with our adventure and exploring more that the Emerald Isle has to offer. Carpe Diem!  We went to a tire shop in Kenmare. They took care of replacing our tire in 15 mins flat! (Haha!). While in Kenmare, we visited the Kenmare Stone Circle, which was quite accessible from the town proper. This is the largest stone circle in south west Ireland, consisting of 15 boulders with an impressive giant capstone in the middle.  Ever seen the animated movie Brave? The kids really got a kick out of seeing the movie before our Ireland trip then seeing the stone circle in real life! (Pat on the back for mommy.) Just like in that movie, set in medieval Scotland, stone circles or "Druids' Altars" are scattered in the Cork-Kerry region of Ireland. No one knows what they are for. Some suggest they're burial grounds, while most believe they serve ritual or religious functions. I read that they could be astronomical in nature too, given that if you face the axial stone, you can perfectly view the rising or setting sun during a solstice or equinox, pointing to the circle's calendrical use. The last one is actually in line with the name, the druid's altar, since the solstice and equinox marked the shortest and longest night, and important to ancient druidry in terms of rebirth and renewal. For short, these stone circles are magical and spiritual at the same time. 

Kenmare Stone Circle. The Boulder-Dolmen in the middle is said to mark a burial site for someone important. On the back left side, you'll see a fairy thorn tree with ribbons of wishes tied to it.

We continued (slooowly) driving south along the Ring of Kerry to Derrynane, stopping at the town of Sneem to pick up some snacks along the way. Mind you, they don't know what bread "rolls" mean. Buns! Say buns! 

In Castlecove, we stopped at Staigue Stone Fort. From afar, the fort was not impressive to look at, but as we draw near, we appreciated its grandeur and how it was erected entirely without mortar - just stones on top of stones! While the fort is thought to have been built for defensive stronghold for a local lord, it's location contradicts that as iit is tucked away in a valley amidst rolling hills, not to mention the lack of mortar. It's also been described as a temple, and observatory, built by men of old. More impressive is the inside, with the stairways lining the wall. 

Do you believe in Fairy tales?

We continued on to Derrynane House to treat the girls to a special kind of hike - a Fairy Trail kind of hike.   It is well-known that mystical folklore play a huge part in the Irish culture. The Druids and Celtics believed in magic, and stories still abound of leprechauns hiding their gold and changeling stealing human children. The "faes" are alive and well in the hearts of the Irishmen with poems and songs dedicated to these fair folks. The heart shape shamrock (clover) representing the trinity still holds a special meaning here. 
While the girls have graduated from their obsession with Tinker Bell and Periwinkle, they still find fairies irresistible. The old forest in Derrynane brings to life these folklores with little houses to discover within the woods. Locals believe that the woodland site around the Derrynane house is inhabited my mystical creatures for thousands of years. My girls loved the hike. They were squealing with joy every time they discovered a miniature house semi-conspicuously tucked away from the main trail. We spotted more than a dozen little houses with wonderful details that will make even grown-ups believe in fairy tales.  

The Fairies

Up the airy mountain,
   Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
   For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
   Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
   And white owl’s feather!

Down along the rocky shore
   Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
   Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
   Of the black mountain-lake,
With frogs for their watchdogs,
   All night awake. 

High on the hill-top
   The old King sits;
He is now so old and grey
   He’s nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist
   Columbkill he crosses,
On his stately journeys
   From Slieveleague to Rosses;
Or going up with the music
   On cold starry nights,
To sup with the Queen
   Of the gay Northern Lights.

They stole little Bridget
   For seven years long;
When she came down again
   Her friends were all gone.
They took her lightly back,
   Between the night and morrow,
They thought that she was fast asleep,
   But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since
   Deep within the lake,
On a bed of fig-leaves,
   Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hillside,
   Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn trees
   For my pleasure, here and there.
Is any man so daring
   As dig them up in spite,
He shall find their sharpest thorns
   In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountain,
   Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t  go a-hunting
   For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
   Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
   And white owl’s feather!
- William Allingham, Irish Poet