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Ireland Trip

posted Jun 22, 2014, 10:56 AM by Justin P   [ updated Jan 5, 2015, 4:40 AM ]

This June, we went with my family for a trip to Ireland to see some of the highlights of the beautiful Emerald Isle.  We left Friday afternoon from Raleigh, flying via Air Canada to Toronto and then overnight to Dublin.  I chose Air Canada, because they were significantly cheaper than other airlines, but also because they have good customer service (for an airline, anyway) and clearing US Customs is a lot easier in Toronto than major US airports, like JFK or Boston.  We did have the added step of clearing Canadian customs, but because we were only in transit, this was very simple and straightforward.  Our trans-Atlantic flight left Toronto late in the evening and we arrived in Dublin around 11 in the morning.  After getting our luggage and clearing Immigration/Customs, we caught our shuttle from Aircoach that took us to our hotel in Dublin - Ballsbridge.  We arrived a little early and had to wait in the lobby for about a half-hour for our room to be ready.  Once it was, we dropped off our luggage, changed clothes and headed into Dublin.  From the hotel, we headed down Northumberland Road, which changes names several times as it heads into the main tourist area of the city.  Besides some airplane food, we hadn’t eaten today, so our first stop was somewhere to eat and have a drink.  My cousin Lani had just turned 18 and it would be her first (legal) drink.  We stopped at the Blarney Inn on Nassau Street near Trinity College.

Here, we had a late lunch and some drinks to officially commemorate our visit to Ireland.  My mom, uncle, and cousin had Guinness, while I had a Smithwicks, as I don’t care much for Guinness.  Sandy had a whiskey & ginger ale.  For food, Sandy and I both had some traditional Irish food - Shepherd's Pie and Sandy got a bowl of creamy vegetable soup.  After we ate and finished our drinks, the server let us go behind the bar and took a group picture.  From here, we continued down the street and headed to Trinity College.  Sandy was really excited about visiting the library here, but unfortunately, it was about to close.  So we walked a bit around the campus, getting pictures of the beautiful buildings, including the Campanile, Public Theater, and Graduates Memorial Building and planned to come back for a visit to the library later.

There was a lot of construction going on, but I was still able to get some good pictures of the beautiful buildings.

After that, we headed over to Suffolk Street to the Dublin Tourism Information Centre, which is located in a beautiful old church, the former Church of St. Andrew.

This is where we would be picked up early in the morning tomorrow for our tour of the Giant’s Causeway and Northern Ireland and I wanted to be sure we knew exactly where to go.  We didn't want to be wandering around aimlessly at 6 in the morning.  Then we did a little bit of shopping - I picked up a power converter, since the European one I had brought doesn’t fit the Ireland/UK outlets and Sandy got some lovely paintings from a street vendor.  We also found a 24-hour convenience store.  Our tour tomorrow was very early in the morning, too early to get breakfast.  But we could stop by this convenience store and get something to eat before the tour.  By this time, it was getting into the evening and although not late, we were all exhausted from the long flight.  But before we made our way back to the hotel, we made a detour to Dublin Castle.  The inside was closed for the evening, but we walked around the outside and I got some pictures of the beautiful buildings.  Heading into the area, we saw a suit of armor near a door and then headed towards Chapel Royal and Norman Tower.

The Norman Tower, also called the Record Tower and built in the 13th century, is the last intact medieval tower at the castle and in all of Dublin.  The beautiful Chapel Royal was once the Church of Ireland chapel and has a number of carved heads along its walls.

After a short time, we started making our way back to the hotel for an early bedtime.  Sunday morning, we had a wake up call for 430 and after getting our stuff together, we caught a taxi to the Dublin Discover Ireland Centre.  We swung by the convenience store and got some breakfast and ate it at the steps of the former church.  Soon, the tour buses from Irish Day Tours arrived and we got on the one heading to the Giant’s Causeway and Northern Ireland.  Our bus driver and tour guide’s name was Matthew and he was a fantastic guide.  As we drove north on M1 towards Northern Ireland, Matthew told us about the history of Ireland and the conflict in Northern Ireland.  Although today there is no formal border crossing, just a sign along the highway indicating we had crossed into the United Kingdom, in the past, this was a heavily armed border and all visitors would need to show papers to cross.  After we had crossed into the UK, we made a quick stop at a gas station in Banbridge for a bathroom and coffee break.  While we were stopped, I got some pictures of some cows grazing next to the gas station.

Then we continued on heading north, driving through Belfast and then getting on A2, the coastal road.  This portion of the drive was incredibly scenic as we drove along the Northern Ireland coast, with the islands of Scotland just barely visible on the horizon.  We drove through the town of Larne, where we saw a big crown in the center of a roundabout.  This 8-m tall coronation crown was erected to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, though it may not stay there much longer.  The Larne Council erected the crown without planning approval and so it will likely be taken down in 2015.

Continuing north, we made a short stop in the tiny coastal village of Carnlough.  This little village had a picturesque harbour on Carnlough Bay, situated between the North Straight to the east and the mountains and Glens of Antrim to the west.

We also saw a memorial to a local hero - Paddy.  Paddy was a pigeon who carried coded messages between the Allied forces during World War II.

After about 15 minutes, we got back on the bus and continued heading north along the coast.  Near the town of Cushendall, the road departed from the coast and headed into a more forested area, where Matthew told us a bit about forestry in the region.  We crossed the Glendun Viaduct, a three-arched viaduct over the River Dun, and soon got back towards the coast as we approached our first main stop - Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.  The rope bridge connects to a small island that was once used by fisherman to catch salmon in the rich waters.  From the parking area, we made the scenic hike of about a mile to the bridge.  This is a fairly popular attraction and Matthew warned us there could be a line to cross the bridge, so we walked quickly.  Matthew had given us vouchers before we got off the bus so we headed straight towards the bridge.  The coastal walk is free, but visitors must pay to cross the bridge; our admission was included in the tour.  The bridge spans approximately 20 meters and is about 30 meters above the rocks and sand below.

Once on the island, we enjoyed views of Rathlin Island and islands of Scotland in the distance.  There were kittiwakes and other sea birds nesting in the volcanic cliffs of the island and mainland.  To the west we could see the cliffs above Larry Bane Bay, where we had gotten off the bus, and Sheep Island.

Looking south, we could see the beautiful cliffs of Portaneevey.

I got some very nice pictures from the island and then we made our way back across the bridge.  The line to cross seemed longer so I was glad we had gotten there when we did.  Near the bridge, we had great views of Portaneevey cliffs, including a beautiful sea cave in the basalt cliffs.

Since there would be no more lines, our walk back was a little slower and we stopped to get more pictures and enjoy the beautiful scenery a bit more.

Back at the parking area, we had a couple minutes before the bus was taking off, so we grabbed sandwiches for lunch from the cafe.  We boarded the bus and headed west for a short ways to the highlight of the day's tour, The Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Matthew dropped us off and would be picking us back up near the restaurant.  Strangely, it is free to visit the Giant’s Causeway, but there is a fee to enter the visitor center and gift shop.  It was lightly raining when we disembarked the bus and began walking, but stopped shortly thereafter.  We started off on the Blue Trail, heading down along the coast next to the shuttle route.  We passed Port Granny and soon made it to the Grand Causeway.

By the time we got here, the rain had stopped completely and we could see blue skies, although the basalt rocks were very wet and slippery.

We climbed around here, getting pictures and enjoying the phenomenal views of the mountains, coast, and of course the strange polygonal basalt columns that the causeway is famous for.  From here, we continued on the Blue Trail, stopping for a picture of the Giant’s Boot, a massive rock that looks astoundingly similar to a boot.

Shortly past the boot, we turned right to get on the Red Trail and headed up towards the cliff above along the Shepherd's Path.  Along the trail, there was quite a bit of spear thistle, with wicked-looking thorns on its leaves and stalks, but the trail was well-maintained and we were able to avoid any painful contact.  Near the top, the path turned to steep stairs as we ascended the Shepherd's Steps.

Once up at the top, we enjoyed wonderful views of the causeway and coastline below the cliffs as we made our way back, taking a short detour on Aird Snout to view the causeway from directly above.

In the distance looking west, we could see strange glowing columns below the clouds over Portballintrae and Portrush.  I have no idea what caused these, but they were very interesting looking.

We finished the Red Trail back at the Visitor Center and got on the bus.  Almost immediately after we boarded, the rain started again, but it was light and we were safely on the bus.  As we waited for the other visitors to return, we watched a steady stream of classic British cars driving by, mostly Jaguars and MGs.  There must have been some car show in the area.  When everyone returned, we drove a little bit further west and made a quick stop to view Dunluce Castle from the road.  This castle is the location of House of Greyjoy in Game of Thrones.

Then we headed towards Belfast.  I fell asleep and don’t remember anything more about the drive there, but awoke as we were heading into Belfast.  First, we made a quick stop at Buoy Park and I ran out for a quick photo of St. Anne’s Cathedral adjacent to the park.

Then we stopped at Donegall Square at the Belfast City Hall for about 45 minutes.  I spent much of the time walking around the absolutely beautiful city hall, getting pictures from different angles.  A truly gorgeous building and perhaps the most beautiful city hall I had ever seen.

Surrounding the City Hall were beautiful gardens and walkways with numerous statues and the Garden of Remembrance and Cenotaph, dedicated to those who fought in World War I and II.

Next to the City Hall was the Scottish Provident Building, an office building with a beautiful facade.  I don't see many office buildings like that back home.  We also stopped in a couple of stores along Donegall Place, just north of City Hall, and then re-boarded the bus.  Before we headed back to the Republic, however, Matthew took us to a few more places in Belfast to really make the former conflict come to life.

We drove to several murals commemorating figures from the IRA and the Irish struggle in the Falls Road area, including the Bobby Sands mural and the Solidarity Wall.

We also saw the Garden of Remembrance, honoring those who had died on a hunger strike, and the security fence that is still in place. There were several spots where we had to turn around due to the fence being closed, and I was amazed that Matthew could turn the huge tour bus around on such narrow streets. Then we started making our way back to Dublin, about a two-hour drive. Although we didn't get back to Dublin until after 8, there was still plenty of daylight left. We were hungry, however, so we stopped at O’Donoghue’s near the Dublin Tourist Information Center. The downstairs was crowded, so we ate upstairs. The food and service was great, although I felt bad for Joe, the bartender, who had to keep running up and down the stairs to bring us our food and drinks. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel after a very long, but fun day.  Monday, we had another tour, although this one didn't start quite so early. We woke up around 7 and, after getting ready, started walking back into Dublin. We got breakfast along the way and then waited for our tour back at the Dublin Tourism Information Center. Today, we would be heading south into the Wicklow Mountains area with Hilltop Treks. Our tour guide was Emily and once everyone was on board the bus, we headed to the outskirts of Dublin. Sandy and I were doing a guided walk, along with two girls from Norway, while the rest of the group was going to Powerscourt Gardens. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to do both. After dropping the others off at Powerscourt, we headed back towards Enniskerry and then a short ways up R117 to a pull off on the side of the road. From here, we started hiking along the Dublin Mountains Way into Barnaslingan Wood. Shortly, we made a quick stop at The Scalp Lookout, where we had nice views of the surrounding mountains and could see where the road passes through the Scalp.

The Scalp is a narrow glacial valley through which R117 passes. The summits are quite wooded, in contrast to the bald, rocky slopes where we had stopped. We even saw a feral goat on the steep hill. Then we continued on the trail, passing through some open areas. At one point, a very deep puddle blocked our way and we had to hop a fence to pass through a field and stay dry. We then entered Carrickgollogan and continued on Dublin Mountains Way. Near the summit of this hill, we took a detour off the main trail and hiked up the rather steep Mountain Access Trail to the summit of Carrickgollogan. From here, we had wonderful views in all directions. We could see the Irish Sea to the east, all of Dublin to the north, and the surrounding Wicklow and Dublin Mountains in the other directions.

It was very windy up here, though and we could see storm clouds in the distance. After getting some pictures, we started hiking back. Back at Barnaslingan, we took the Scalp Lookout Trail to head back in a slightly different way than we had come and soon were back at the bus.  Emily dropped us off in Enniskerry, where we would have lunch at Poppies and went to pick up the rest of the group. I had the Poppies Chicken and Sandy had a chicken panini and we both enjoyed our meal. It's a small restaurant and as the others from the tour starting returned and the restaurant filled up, I was getting claustrophobic. So after finishing lunch, I walked around the quaint little village of Enniskerry for a bit as I waited for everyone else to finish their lunch and got some pictures of the town.

From Enniskerry, we drove up an old road into the mountains towards Glencree and then got on the Old Military Road heading into Wicklow Mountains National Park.  The mountains here were bare of forest, with primarily rock and bogs covering the land, along with the occasional lake.  Emily told us about the history of the area and even sung a few traditional Irish songs, both in English and Irish Gaelic.  At Sally Gap, we turned left on R759 and made a quick photo stop for this rugged landscape. A small cascade flowed under the road and our tour guide told us that this area was used in the filming of PS I Love You and Braveheart.

Then we continued on to another photo stop on a ledge high above Lough Tay, also called Guinness Lake as the family had an estate here.  Additionally, the lake’s waters were nearly black, except for a white sandy beach area at the northern end of the lake - thus resembling the dark color of Guinness with a creamy head.

From here, we got back on more-trafficked roads and made our last stop at Glendalough.  Glendalough was the highlight of this tour and although we didn’t have much time, it was a very enjoyable visit. We started off near the visitor center and while some in the group used the restroom, I took some pictures of rhododendron. 

I asked Emily if these plants were native to Ireland and she told me no - they were a species from Malaysia, and while beautiful, were invasive and harmful to native flora. But nonetheless, they made for a beautiful sight and it was good timing that we were here in Ireland while the rhododendron were blooming. From the parking area, we walked over to the Monastic City in the lower valley and spent some time walking around and viewing the ancient sites. The round tower looked a lot bigger than what I had seen in pictures and the graves were beautiful. I really liked the beautiful Glendalough crosses on many of the gravestones.

St. Kevin’s Kitchen remarkably still had its stone roof intact, while the large cathedral was missing its roof, but was the largest and most impressive structure.

After some time exploring in the lower valley, we headed towards the lakes following the Green Road boardwalk trail. First, we passed the lower lake and then came to the parking area for the upper lake. There was a small unnamed waterfall on a stream flowing into the lake and then I walked over to the Upper Lake for a couple of quick pictures.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to spend here, but the lake was absolutely beautiful, surrounded on both sides by mountains.

After a couple pictures, we rushed back to the bus and made our way back to Dublin. Due to heavy traffic in the city, Emily dropped us off near Temple Bar. It’s a real tourist-trap area, but was fun to walk through and do a bit of people-watching.

We had sushi for dinner and then went back to O’Donoghue’s for some drinks with our favorite bartender.  By the time we were ready to walk home, it was actually dark, I think the first time we had seen darkness since arriving in Ireland.  Tuesday was our last day in Dublin.  We slept in a little later and then had a full Irish breakfast at the hotel before checking out.  The hotel staff were kind enough to store our luggage so we could enjoy some more sightseeing in the city before we left.  Sandy really wanted to see the Library at Trinity College so we headed there, while my mom went to Glasnevin Cemetery and my uncle and cousin went to Abbey Theater.  When we arrived at Trinity College, there was a huge line to get into the library.  I talked to a student tour guide and he said that the line looked a lot longer that it actually would be and suggested that we do a tour with him.  It was only an extra €2 more than the library entrance fee and the line would be shorter by then.  So that’s what we did.  Our tour guide was Ross and he did a great job telling us the history and stories of Trinity College.  We started off at Parliament Square near the Campanile and saw the statue of George Salmon, the provost at the turn of the 20th Century, who reluctantly withdrew his veto against the decision to allow women to attend the college.  He died right after the first women attended, but the male students are forever grateful to him.  We walked through Library Square and saw the largest Oregon Maples in Europe and then headed to New Square and saw Berkeley Library and Museum Building.  Carvings of flowers around the building represent the native species of Ireland.

He also pointed out the Pomodoro Sphere within a Sphere in front of the library.  Today, students referred to it as the Golden Snitch, but in the past, students had referred to it as the Death Star.  Neil said he was showing us his age with the Death Star reference.

When the tour was over, we headed to the library.  Sure enough, the line was shorter and it only took us about five minutes to get in.  First we saw the Book of Kells, a beautiful illuminated Gospel manuscript. It was absolutely beautiful and amazing that a manuscript could be kept in such perfect condition for such a long time.  Then we headed upstairs to see the Long Room.  This room houses many of the college’s oldest books and rows of marble busts line the ends.  We saw the busts of some famous people including Shakespeare, Boyle, Newton, and Cicero, as well as many important people in the college’s history.

And the Long Room itself was absolutely beautiful with a high wooden arched ceiling. 

When we were finished here, we headed down to the gift shop. I saw a nice Glendalough Celtic Cross, but unfortunately, it was out of stock.  The cashier said I could probably find one online, since coming back in a week wasn’t feasible.  As we left the college, we saw my mom on Grafton Street and she joined us as we walked down to see Christ Church Cathedral.  We had spent a lot of time at Trinity College and would need to get back soon, but we wanted to at least see the cathedral from the outside. It’s a truly gorgeous building and worth the walk down to see.

And since we were so close, we also made a stop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a couple quick pictures.

Then we started making our way back to the hotel. Along the way, we stopped quickly in Merrion Square Park for a picture of the Oscar Wilde statue and then headed back to the hotel.

After getting our luggage, we got a cab to the Heuston train station and boarded the train to Galway. It took about two hours to cross Ireland, but at least the ride was comfortable. They even have free WiFi on board, so we were able to get online during the trip. In Galway, we got a cab to our hotel - Salthill Hotel on the Salthill Promenade. It was a beautiful evening and the nearly-full moon was shining over Galway Bay as the sun began to set. But like most of our evenings in Ireland, we went to sleep before it really became dark.  Wednesday, we were doing a tour with Galway Tour Company to the Burren and Cliffs of Moher. I had contacted the tour operator before we left and they picked us up at our hotel, rather than having to get back to downtown Galway first thing in the morning. We switched buses at the coach station and headed south around the bay to begin our tour. As we were leaving County Galway, we made a quick photo stop at Dunguaire Castle and then crossed into County Clare.

Our first stop to get out of the bus was at Corcomroe Abbey. For about 15 minutes, we walked around the 13th century monastery ruins, viewing the ancient graves and structures. There was a tomb effigy of Conor na Siudane Ua Briain, an early king of Ireland, that looked like something out of a movie.

The doorways between rooms in the monastery were very small and I had to duck to fit through, but had fun scrambling around in the ancient ruins. Outside the abbey itself were a number of old gravestones, some ancient and some more recent, but it made a very beautiful setting.

Leaving the abbey, our next stop was in the village of Ballyvaughan, right on Galway Bay.  It was primarily a bathroom and coffee stop, but I walked around a bit on the docks and got some pictures of the bay.  There was a sign showing a car falling off the end of the dock; I guess some people thought it was a bridge?  Well, I had no intention of driving off the dock, but did enjoy the views of beautiful Galway Bay.

Looking out across the bay, our hotel in Salthill was somewhere on the other side, but too far away to discern from here.  Leaving Ballyvaughan, we got off main roads and onto a very bumpy road heading into the Burren.  We made a short stop at the Ballyalban Ring Fort and took the opportunity to walk the ancient site.  There wasn't much of a fort left but we could see the raised circular path around the enclosed area.

Back at the bus, we headed a little further into the Burren and stopped at Poulnabrone Dolmen, a 6000-year old neolithic structure, consisting of two portal stones supporting a horizontal capstone across the top.  From the right angle, it kind of resembled the Greek letter pi or Stonehenge.  I walked all around to get pictures of it from various angles as well as the surrounding landscape.

This was a great area to see the karst landscape of the Burren.  Limestone pavement stretched out all around with vegetation growing in the clints between the grikes.

After twenty minutes or so here, we headed back for the bus and started driving further into the Burren.  We passed a couple interesting ruins shortly after leaving, including Carran Medieval Church and Leamaneh Castle.

Unfortunately, Sandy got really sick at this point and we had to leave the tour prematurely.  Back in Galway, she took a cab back to the hotel to rest and I walked back for the chance to see more of the city.  I passed Galway Cathedral and Eyre Park before leaving the city towards Salthill.

The Salthill Promenade was a particularly nice walk right along Galway Bay and the weather was lovely.

Along the way, I stopped at a grocery store and got some bottled water and crackers for Sandy.  When the rest of my family got back from the tour, we regrouped.  Sandy was tired so she stayed in bed and the rest of us went to eat.  We walked down to Salthill and had a nice dinner at The Galleon Restaurant.  I even had the chance to try a local craft beer - Galway Bay IPA, which was very good.  After dinner, we made our way back.  In the evening, Sandy and I headed over to the promenade and view the bay as darkness was falling.  I played around with long exposures on the camera in the low light.

By the time it truly got dark, we headed to bed.  Thursday morning, Sandy still wasn’t feeling great, so she stayed and rested at the hotel, while the rest of us went on the Connemara and Cong Tour with Galway Tour Company again.  We were picked up at our hotel, and after picking up other guests, our tour guide Ken dropped off those who were doing Cliffs of Moher at the coach station and the rest of us stayed on the bus.  We headed north on N84 and made our first stop at Ross Errilly Friary near the County Galway/County Mayo line.  This 14th century friary was a lot of fun to explore.

Although the roof was gone, there were lots of narrow doorways to duck through to navigate between rooms.  The friary included an old church and bell tower, living quarters for the monks, and an open cloister.  There were also a number of grave sites, both standing up and along the floor.  After about 15 minutes or so, we headed back to the bus and continued on towards Cong.  We made a quick detour to see Glebe Stone Circle, just from the bus, as there was no good place to park.  Then we headed into the village of Cong and had some time to explore around this town that was the setting for the movie The Quiet Man.

Ken told us that this movie from the 1950s played a big part in opening Ireland up to tourism.  In Cong, I walked around a little bit in Cong Woods just outside the village, stopping to see the Monk’s Fishing House.

The Cong-Clonbur Trail leads from here to Clonbur Woods near Lough Mask, essentially providing a hiking trail between Loughs Corrib and Mask.  But I didn't have enough time for thorough exploring so just got some pictures near the trailhead.  However, the forest was very beautiful here with big old trees and an open patch full of wildflowers.

After a few minutes in the woods, I headed back to the town to see some other points of interest, including the beautiful runs of Cong Abbey and the Quiet Man Statue, commemorating the movie that had put Cong on the map.

When we were finished in Cong, we continued west into the mountainous Connemara area.  The bus got on R300 and crossed Lough Mask.  Along the way, Ken told us some Irish history and the poor conditions that the

Irish lived in under British landlords.  Much of the hunger and famine was due to the British shipping food back to Britain for sale so that there wasn't enough left in Ireland.  We saw the ruins of a tiny little house that may have been home for a family of ten or more.  Then, we made a quick photo stop at Lough Nafooey, a beautiful glacial lake on the border between County Mayo and County Galway.

After this stop, we got off the main road and continued heading west on L1601 along the lough.  On the west side of the lake, we got on L1301 and made another short photo stop in the Connemara mountains.  Looking east, we had nice views of Lough Nafooey from here.

After a short stop, we continued heading west, getting on N59 heading west and making another short stop at Killary Harbour.  Although often called Killary Fjord, it is actually a fjard as the the cliffs are shorter and less steep than a fjord.  In the dark waters here of the harbor, we could see many mussel farms.

There was also a fairy tree here.  According to legend, fairies live under and around these trees and misfortune will befall those who disturb it, while good luck will come to those who hang a bit of fabric.  The tree was just about covered in ribbons and other small pieces of fabric.

From here, we drove just a short ways further to Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden.  Admission to the abbey and grounds was not included in the tour, but we did get a discounted group rate of €8 by buying them from Ken.  This was our longest stop and we got a full 2 hours here, but there was a lot to see.  Ken recommended taking the shuttle from the entrance to the gardens to save time, but I decided to walk and ended up beating the shuttle anyway.  It was a pleasant hike along the Woodland Walk with ancient trees and blooming rhododendron along the way.  The Victorian Walled Gardens were absolutely beautiful and so perfectly manicured.

I walked around for a bit getting shots of the beautiful grounds and flowers.  On the hills overlooking the garden, the rhododendron were in full bloom, which complimented the grounds nicely.  Once I had walked around the whole garden, I stopped at the tea room to get lunch.  There was a line and I didn't want to waste a lot of time, so I passed, and took the shuttle back to the entrance area (which probably took longer than walking it).  Back at the entrance, I headed over to the Abbey.  Kylemore Castle was originally built in the 19th century as a private residence for Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London.  In 1920, the castle was purchased by the Benedictine Nuns and has been an abbey since.  Although not particularly old by Irish standards, this was one of the most beautiful buildings we had seen on our trip.  Not only was the castle gorgeous, it was in a most beautiful setting, with the calm waters of Pollacappul Lough in front of the abbey and rhododendron covered mountains behind it.

Only a few rooms are open to the public for touring as the nuns still live here, but it was beautifully decorated and a delight to walk through.  Although the abbey had been damaged by fire, much of the interior had been restored to its original glory.

Once done in the abbey, I continued on towards the Gothic Church, walking along beautiful Pollacappul Lough.

More rhododendron were blooming along the lake's calm waters.  The Gothic Church was a small cathedral built by Mitchell Henry in memory of his wife Margaret.  Mrs. Henry had dies of dysentery and her husband wanted a suitable memorial built at her beloved Kylemore.  Although small, it was beautiful inside and out.

There were two more quick spots I wanted to check out on the way back just past the church.  The first was the mausoleum where Mr. and Mrs. Henry are buried.  Despite the extravagance of the castle and church, the mausoleum was not show showy.  Right past here was the ironing stone, a large iron-shaped rock.  According to legend, it was thrown by the giants Cú Chulainn and Fionn Machuail on the surrounding mountains.  Those who can successfully stand with their backs to the stone and throw a pebble over the top will be granted a wish!  There were five pillars sticking out of the ground near the stone that kind of looked like giant's fingers sticking up out of the ground.

I got a couple pictures, but was starting to run out of time.  I swung by the cafe and grabbed a sandwich and drink to have on the bus ride back.  We turned off the main road onto R344 to make our way back to Galway.  We had to stop once for some sheep that had gotten into the road and then made our last stop of the tour at Inagh Valley near Lough Inagh.

It was a beautiful little spot, nestled among the Twelve Bens Mountains whose summits were covered in clouds.  There was even a scenic little cascade right along the road.  From here, it was a little bit over an hour back to Galway and the last part between Salthill and downtown Galway took the longest as the traffic was bad.  Ken dropped us off at the coach station and we headed to the King’s Head Pub to have a drink on our last night in Galway.  The 800 year old pub gets its name from a former resident - Peter Stubbers, an English colonel under Cromwell who is suspected to be the executioner who beheaded King Charles I.  After a beer, I headed back to the hotel to check on Sandy.

She had rested all day, but was a little hungry, so we walked down to Salthill and got Chinese.  She had a wonton soup, which was good for her stomach, and I had spicy chicken.  Then we headed back to the hotel and got our stuff packed up.  Before going to bed, I headed out to the beach to get some pictures of the almost-full moon over Galway Bay.

There was a rather rowdy Irish wedding reception at the hotel, but I can usually sleep through loud drunk people.  But not through a fire alarm.  Apparently, some idiot smoked a cigarette in his room and set off the fire alarm at 2 in the morning.  Not a pleasant way to wake.  We woke up Friday morning, groggy from being woken up so early.  And to make matters worse, the elevators were down.  We talked to the guy at the front desk and he got our luggage on a cart and brought it down in the service elevator.  He even offered us some coffee and breakfast even though it wasn’t open yet.  We took a cab to the train station and took and train back to Dublin and then another to Waterford.  Paul and Eleanor picked us up at the train station and we went back to their house for a visit.  The house was a beautiful cottage along the hillside with a great view of Waterford across the river.  And the gardens were fabulous; they even had a pond with a small waterfall.

We had a great dinner of steak, chicken, potatoes, sausage, and salad.  It was the best we had eaten all week!  After dinner we socialized and walked around a bit through the gardens.  A path led down through thick flowers and vegetation and led to a gate to the road leading up to their house.

Unfortunately, the last train to Dublin left at 630, so we had to catch that one and then a cab to our last hotel - Dublin Airport Manor.  After checking in, we had some pizza and took a shower before bed.  It was going to be a long day.  I went for a short walk in the morning around a neighborhood across the street to stretch my legs.  Then we headed to the airport and had a pretty uneventful flight back.  There was no line at all to clear US Customs in Toronto and soon we were back in Raleigh.