So how many gorgeous cliffs can you have in one country? In Ireland, there are plenty. We had driven in our tiny rental car south to County Clare. Since we were staying in one spot for four days, I knew I could recover from back-seat-drivers’ fatigue. I only made one mistake. I let myself get talked into an 6-hour bus tour to visit all the famous areas around County Clare – the oldest castle in Ireland, the Burren, a few picturesque villages, an excellent cave, and the ultimate Cliffs of Moher. The sights were stupendous. The weather glorious, the people wonderful. The bus ride turned out to be 12 hours long.
But would I have wanted to miss out on the Cliffs of Moher, our last stop?
The Giant’s Causeway. I’d heard of it all my life, before I learned it was world-renowned. I’m fairly skeptical about the wonders of the world. Sometimes they are over-rated, and sometimes simply over-run by tourists. I expected to be pleased to walk the paths my grandpa had walked. But I didn’t expect to be surprised by beauty and fresh cleanliness and the absolute breath-taking surprise of what nature can do.
Of course, we heard the story of Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool), as all tourists do. He was a giant man who built the Causeway so he wouldn’t get his feet wet when crossing to Scotland. Of course, there is much more to this story, including a tale of how very clever his wife was. It is a nice legend, but not near as unbelievable as the stonework itself.
A person can walk for as long or as short as they want. Many parked their cars east along the Old Causeway Road, near the Shepard’s Trail, to walk the long way into the Giant’s Causeway. It zigs and zags down the cliff to the ocean, an intimate entrance to this stunning landscape. Well, intimate when you can avoid the crowds.
Many, many people appreciated the scenery on the day that we did. It didn’t take away my pleasure at this extraordinary sight. But it did make me wonder how much more powerful it would be, just me and that magnitude of a force of nature.
If you’re an American in Ireland, don’t drive with people you love.
I love my brother-in-law. He has a good heart and I want him to keep it functioning for a long, long time. But after a mile or two of his taking the right-handed driver’s seat of our Irish rental car, I felt like killing someone.
I can’t remember the last time I got car sickness. Usually, though, I am the driver and not the passenger stuck in the back seat of an unfamiliar vehicle going too fast on roads that would better fit a bicycle or two. Add to that the tunnel effect of driving along roads that have stone fences edging in the cars and tall bushes that keep you from seeing anything but the immeasurably small distance between your knees and the buses heading toward you at break-neck speeds.
Not just little polite buses, but enormous bully buses that know where they are going when no one in your rental has a clue. We made a strategic decision to avoid traffic and take scenic side-roads with the help of GPS. With a thoroughly confident voice, this bossy GPS woman guided us down one tiny road after the other, making a 3-hour journey stretch into six.
By the time we got to Ballycastle, my brother-in-law was lucky to be alive, because who else could I blame for six hours with my eyes closed and my stomach dizzy through what I believed would be gorgeous Irish countryside that I never got to see. I closed my eyes just outside of Dublin. When I opened them in Ballycastle, however, all was forgiven.
Going to Ireland was for me a search for my grandfather’s spoken word. I wanted to hear a voice I loved, but which had been silent for many years. He emigrated from Northern Ireland to the USA in 1920, so I knew that finding his voice in Dublin might be a tall order. I didn’t know it would be nearly impossible.
As we walked the busy, happy, boisterous streets in Dublin, I heard Spanish accents, Indian accents, English spoken by people from Asia, Russian accents and Italian. No doubt there was an Irish accent or two, but the international flavor of the city overwhelmed me. I had heard from my grandpa that everyone in the world is really Irish, so the fact that people had come to Dublin from all over the world only proved him right. Though people had changed the voice of the city, they hadn’t changed one famous Dublin tradition.
There are several cities on this earth that are known for something special. New York: skyline. Sydney: harbour. What comes to mind when you think of Dublin?
Pubs. The traditional pub crawl is still in full swing. We signed up for a literary pub crawl and followed two local actors who took on the roles of famous Irish writers such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. At each venue after our beginning at The Duke, the actors spoke outside the pub and led us inside to order drinks and sit a bit. We visited nice pubs, especially O’Neill’s, but I have to wonder if the actors were relying on our increasing inebriation to compensate for a quality performance. I don’t get inebriated, so I noticed. Our time would have been better spent just crawling on our own.
Not so with Peter’s Whiskey and Beer tasting tour. His newest tour was gaining word-of-mouth popularity, but I think our enormous number that night surprised him. A group of mixed ages and nationalities, we followed Peter to four pubs. “Sláinte,” he had us practice at the first, where we sampled four local beers. At the second, we were poured a traditional Guinness. I do not care for beer at all, so the fact that I drank half my glass is a testament to the remarkable beer that truly can be drunk only in Ireland. At Slattery’s, we sampled a wee dram of two Teeling whiskeys that actually weren’t dreadful and had a very nice dinner, then set off to listen to some great Irish music. This wasn’t just a pub crawl, it was an entertaining and informative evening.
We didn’t just pub crawl. We crossed River Liffey over Ha’penny Bridge. We toured Trinity College, the jail, the entire downtown with its history – both happy and sad – and we walked for hours. The streets filled with Dubliners of many languages and accents. The pub crawls added tourists speaking from many nations. If I had come to Ireland only to hear my grandpa’s voice, I would have to go farther than Dublin’s city limits.