Posts from the ‘Ireland’ category

Ireland’s Pots of Gold – driving the Emerald Isle

Our Ireland Itinerary:

  • try to find out what Justin Timberlake ordered from the Waterford Crystal factory
  • does chin-kissing the Blarney Stone still give you the gift of the gab?
  • drive the scenic Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula
  • make it back to Dublin for St Patrick’s Day

Ireland is both surprisingly drivable, and well worth it. Dublin, for all of it’s charms, is lacking in certain essential parts of the Irish experience. Green grass, for one.

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Licensed under CC.

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Licensed under CC.

So today we’re headed south in our little rental car. The city gives way gradually and then, suddenly, we’re amongst the fields. The grass truly is greener here, it seems. Thanks, Gulfstream!

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Our first stop is just over an hour and fifty minutes from Dublin. The town of Waterford is home to the famous Waterford Crystal brand, which, having seen some tough times that included bankruptcy, is now seeing a resurgence of the brand.

This is a very good thing – the skill we’re about to see proves that.

Take a look at the incredible detail in some of these pieces, and then reflect that they are made entirely by hand. Every notch, every shape, every part.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

A tribute to 9/11 from Waterford. Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The quality, especially up close on the factory floor tour that we undertook, is palpable. Justin Timberlake had a piece commissioned, and you can see the mould below.

So what was it? Actually – we’ve no idea. It looks very close to the trophy moulds that accompany it, but who can say for sure what is in the mind of a celebrity like Justin. Waterford certainly wouldn’t tell us!

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The tour is fascinating, and is especially enjoyable if you like smashing expensive things into little pieces.

As a part of the tour, you’re able to take the crystal pieces that quality inspectors at Waterford have declared unfit for sale – and smash them! Select a wine goblet, an almost perfect tumbler, even a beautiful vase, and watch it shatter into tiny pieces in their rejects bin. Don’t worry – it all get recycled, melted down and put back into new Waterford crystal pieces.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

SMASH! Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

 

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The craftsmanship is truly incredible. Before the tour we had no idea how much human involvement was needed to produce even something as small as a crystal glass. It really gives a new appreciation for the work put into these crystal pieces when you know that even cut that you can run you finger across in those crystal glasses is made by the firm hand and clear eye of the Waterford master craftsmen.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

There is, of course, an incredible shop at the end of the tour. We steered away from the crystal chandeliers (next time, we said) and instead elected to have some wine glasses sent back to our home. A perfect reminder of this little hidden gem.

Do you actually have to KISS the Blarney Stone?

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

‘Tis there’s the stone that whoever kisses

He never misses to grow eloquent;

‘Tis he may clamber to a lady’s chamber,

Or become a member of Parliament.

“A noble spouter he’ll sure turn out, or

An out and outer to be let alone;

Don’t try to hinder him, or to bewilder him,

For he is a pilgrim from the Blarney stone.”

– Francis Sylvester Mahony.

We’re on the road down towards a place where millions of others have been before. With that in mind, it is a wonder that anyone actually wants to go through with this strange ritual we humans have invented – the kissing of a particular stone in a particular castle, for the purposes of gaining the ‘gift of the gab’.

The things we do…

It used to be that to actually kiss the Blarney Stone, you had to put your life at risk. There was real danger involved. Now, with guard railings and an assistant and even, remarkably, ANTIBACTERIAL SPRAYS, there is little to worry about as you lean over backwards to plant your kisser on this rock.

And for those who are still thinking about those millions of people who’ve done this before, they must be asking – does it still count if you just chin-kiss it?

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

It is quite a strenuous climb to the very top of this tower, so be prepared if your fitness is a little lacking. And it is a long way up as well, so if you’re scared of heights, tight spaces, exercise, and other people’s germs, then you may be happy just to watch the spectacle from the ground below.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

 The Ring of Kerry and the road to Dingle

On Friday evening, we stop in a small village just on the outskirts of Cork. The next morning, we’re on the road through one of the world’s great scenic drives – the Ring of Kerry.

The Ring of Kerry, in County Kerry, located in south-western Ireland, cover some 180 km from Killarney to Killorglin. We pass tiny villages with cobbled streets and lanes, leading to coastal roads with views of a vast and endless ocean.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Eventually, having stopped in for pastries, pies and pints, in nearly every village along the way, we make it to Dingle.

This little fishing village shelters us from the notion that there is a world beyond it’s borders. In the pub, a local band plays half-forgotten tunes from travelling minstrels, beating our a rhythm on a tambourine.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The colours in the water, are, as you can see, beyond compare. Set against the order and rightness of drystone walls and farmers cottages, it is a quiet reminder that no matter what goes on in the rest of the world, life will continue here, and bring order to nature’s chaos.

Back to Dublin for St Patrick’s Day

We’ve found the green grass and blue waters of the Emerald Isle, and we will take these memories back with us as we journey back to Dublin. There’s a big party waiting for us there – but some part of use wants to stay behind and roll in the grass and watch the sun set over monuments that may outlast us all.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

 

Guinness and James Joyce – wanderings in Dublin

Our Dublin Itinerary:

  • start the day with the breakfast of champions
  • see one of Ireland’s national treasures
  • mix with the locals at the games they play best

Something smells right.

It isn’t quite the smell of napalm in the morning, but something far more pleasant. As we approach the forbidding gates of the Guinness factory, the air is full of toasty, malty notes. For those of you who have tried Vegemite, this is that smell.

It is a little early for a beer. Ok – it’s nine am. But given the near universal popularity of Guinness, that king of stouts, that lord of dark ales, that meal in a pint glass – we wanted to beat the rush.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

We take a tip from a local and head to the credit card machines on the left once we’re inside the storehouse. That way, we not only avoid the queues, but we also get our free drink voucher for the upstairs lounge if we choose ‘Print Receipt’.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Guinness has been a part of Irish life since around 1778, varying from a porter to a stout to a double stout. Today, it is one of the most popular beers in the world.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The size and scale of the Guinness Storehouse attests to the popularity of Guinness and the pull it has on the imaginations of visitors to Ireland. Make sure, when you enter, to look up through the many storied heights and try and guess (without being told) what shape the building resembles.

As we ascend, we are recounted the Guinness story, smelling and tasting the raw inputs including the all important water (the reason the factory is located where it is).

Reaching the top floor, we have panoramic views of Dublin, with passages from the collected works of Joyce pointing out icons of the city.

And there’s that complimentary Guinness for breakfast.

It really doesn’t taste as good anywhere else in the world as it does right here in Dublin, from the very source. Slainte!

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

James Joyce’s Dublin

It’s impossible to mention Dublin without conjuring this city’s most storied biographer. Joyce, for all his super-modernist tendencies, also tenderly chronicled the lives of the ordinary characters around him.To get a feel for Joyce’s Dublin;

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

See the Book of Kells

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, in a style of intricacy and dedication that we probably don’t understand in a disposable modern world. The Trinity College Library (also the largest library in Ireland and bearer of the rare title of copyright library) is fortunate to possess these awesome (in the true meaning of that world) manuscripts containing the four Gospels of the New Testament, illustrated around 800 AD.

You can see all of the books online by visiting the digital archive, but you will miss out on the very informative tour that accompanies this permanent exhibition, showing the mediaeval book-making techniques, and even how the monks corrected mistakes in a time without such a thing as White-Out.

Meet the Irish at Temple Bar

Despite starting the day with a Guinness, by mid-afternoon we’re feeling strangely parched again. Luckily, the lively entertainment district of Temple Bar should throw up one or two options for quenching that thirst.

Photo by LenDog64, Licensed under CC.

Photo by LenDog64, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Keith McGovern, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Keith McGovern, Licensed under CC.