Exploring Southwest Ireland – A trip back in time…
Prior to my grandmother’s passing, my mom, aunt, little sis, and kids all decided to hop on a plane and fly to Southwest Ireland. We were able to check out Cork, Kerry, and the Dingle Peninsula. This is one from the archives. At the same time, I am CRAAAVING some travel since this whole COVID “stay in place” thing has started. I hope you get as much of a kick out of this as I did.
We decided to make the trek after the little ladies and I came back from visiting the States. We had just taken a trip to Dublin a few months prior (for St. Patrick’s Day), but we couldn’t wait to explore the land of our “roots” more. This time we decided to concentrate on the more rural side of Ireland, which contains lots of gorgeous scenery (beaches, farms, hills, gardens, and castles), tons of history, as well as very interesting people.
Upon arriving in Ireland, my mom went straight to the Sixt car rental counter to pick up our 7 passenger van. What they don’t tell you when you book your 7 passenger van, is that they’re assuming that none of the passengers have any luggage whatsoever.
Well, we tried…we tried cramming that luggage in that van, but there was no way. We needed either bungee cords or rope, or to tie a rope around the handle of some of the wheely luggage and pull it via bumper all over the SW–something.
So, after much deliberation, the customer service rep for Sixt came out to us and suggested that we go ahead and rent another car–yes, for the luggage. One car for the passengers, and one for THE LUGGAGE. Sad, really.
But what was even more traumatic was the fact that nobody in the family was fit to drive out there. Lara (my sis) couldn’t drive yet, the little ladies couldn’t reach the peddals (and I think there’s a law against allowing kids under the age of 10 drive in Ireland), Grandma was…well, grandma (a.k.a. “The Meter”)!!! We just couldn’t put her behind the wheel in a country where everything seemed turned upside down. Aunt Amy had to take care of Grandma, so that left…me.
Yes, terrified, I had to drive. I would have been ecstatic about driving in every other circumstance, but yes, in Ireland they drive on the OTHER side of the car/other side of the road.
I approached the car…swear to God…my hands were sweating and I swear I just floated over to it. I was shaking and could barely breathe. I was amazed that Irish car rental (er care “hire”–that’s what they called it there) places even allowed people like me behind the wheel.
They gave me a little test of maybe 10 questions such as “What side of the road do you drive on in Ireland?” Hell, I was sweating and almost dry-heaving. My mom filled out the “test” for me right in front of the lady and and I was off to the car.
Well, I made it into the car okay…Lara and my little one came with me. Thank goodness I didn’t have to decipher directions, or I think I may have wrecked going out of the parking lot. All I had to concentrate on doing was driving. I was doing well.
Mind you, my hands were GLUED and in PAIN within 10 minutes of driving, I was gripping the wheel so hard. My sister was really sweet, yelling nice things at me like, “TONI, YOU’RE DRIVING REALLY, REALLY WELL!!!”
I wondered why she yelled it as well.
I noticed that she was leaning over–almost into my lap–for a long while. I looked at her strangely, and she tells me, “You’re doing a great job driving. But Toni, if I’m leaning over like this it’s because I’m eating trees.”
I then realized I wasn’t driving in the middle of the lane at all, but rather, I was driving with the driver’s side wheels in the center of the lane, while the passenger’s side wheels had far passed that solid white line on the other side.
I was driving in somebody’s bushes.
Nonetheless, we were on our way around Kerry. We stopped a few times to enjoy the gorgeous scenery.
Now, because of my “experience” in getting around on the Internet, my mother put me in charge of booking B&Bs for us to stay in for the duration of the trip. The first B&B I found was in Kerry county–in a cute little place called Dingle. I really do think I was more excited about staying in “DINGLE” than anything, but it proved to be a fantastic place with tons to do. After we got to the B&B we went out for Guinness and fish and chips. GREAT food and beer at a great pub!
The morning after we arrived there, we had breakfast and made our way into the main town–about a mile away. The plan was to see the Dingle Dolphin and to shop. That was it. Maybe to hit a beach later on. Well, we parked a car, and this old man comes up and starts chatting away. He then pulls me really close to him and keeps talking. It was more like a mutter. I had no idea what he was mumbling, but I got my action. What a hottie.
We wandered around for about an hour until it was Dingle Dolphin time. I took the kiddies and Lara onto a boat so we could check him out, all flippering about and stuff. My oldest was happy. She got to see her dolphin. My youngest got to talk to some strange man. I got to take pictures of the land and what looked like ruins. Fun stuff!
After the Dingle Dolphin, we decided to drive around to see what we could find. Besides, we had to feed Grandma (a.k.a. “the meter”). We found a neato museum with the oldest mammoth head ever found…and it was from Wisconsin. Go figure!
We saw some more of the bay, a cute little house on a hill, and some sheep enjoying their lunch…by the water! Lucky sheep! Later on that night grandma and Aunt Amy went to see a concert while the little ladies, mom, Lara and I went to the beach nearby. The ladies had a great time, played in the water, and got the car really sandy.
The next day we got up to take off to Cork. By this time mom and I were used to the driving and we were making pretty good time. We stopped at a rest stop by the beach about 40 minutes into the drive to go wee and check out the stand.
Lara then lets us all know that she left her purse at the B&B. We scurried around to find a phone to verify that it was still there, and it was.
Lara, mom, and Aunt Amy decided to leave me, the ladies, and grandma at the rest stop. There was a restaurant right there, so I decided to feed the kiddies. There I sat, talking to my grandma about her ancestors that came from Ireland, her childhood, and family as we drank our coffees. It was a truly priceless moment.
The little ladies ran out into the water and played along the beach, making sand castles and gathering shells. Before long, everyone was back and Lara came to join the ladies and I in the water.
We made our way back to the restaurant, and there I see Aunt Amy and mom asking grandma to eat. I had totally forgotten!!! Grandma needs to eat! She didn’t feel hungry so she didn’t eat when I was with her, but she was refusing, and we didn’t know the next time we’d be able to stop for a little something. I don’t think she ate, but we left the rest stop anyway. Off to Cork we went!
After one Dave Matthews CD show and one Jack Johnson CD later, we arrived in what I thought was Cork. It wasn’t. It was just a gorgeous church set in the middle of this town with a really gross bathroom with graffiti written on the walls.
Roundabouts from hell.
After another random CD of my sister’s, we arrived in Cork–or Cork’s roundabout. Everything that we THOUGHT seemed simple about getting straight to our next B&B was suddenly complicated with roundabouts going about other roundabouts.
If you’re not familiar with roundabouts, they’re all over Europe–and in some other places too, I’m sure. They were developed by Sir Roundabout, an evil, evil man who–about two hundred years ago–decided to kill all of the toll trolls in Europe and replace them with unmarked roundabouts.
See, there you go…driving all happy and thinking that you’ve got everything under control when you come across…a roundabout!!!
Well, you get all excited when you first see it because hey…new adventures, right? WRONG!
There, where an intersection should be, you see a big circle marked by these big curved arrows and dotted lines and angry people whipping around all sweating and all bearing the same confused expressions.
Once you get on the roundabout, it’s all over. When you intend to make a left turn, you end up going back where you came from. When you intend to go straight, you end up turning left.
One roundabout in Cork was even so bad that the locals called it “The Magic Roundabout” because you would simply get lost in it, and then suddenly find yourself in some strange neighborhood. With sheep.
Well, I told the poor people at the B&B that we would be there at 1pm. Because of the roundabout fiascos and Lara forgetting her purse, we got there at 6. Grandma was hungry and wilting–looking rather pale. It was then that my mom explained to me that if we don’t “feed the meter” we could have a real problem on our hands.
We then looked for the closest restaurant we could find otherwise grandma was going to faint. That happened to be an upscale, overpriced hotel restaurant with mediocre food. Yes, even kids meals were 10 euros. Eh, we ordered drinks and were okay after that. We fed “The Meter”. Then we went back to the B&B and got some rest.
The rest of the trip was entertaining, and the soundbites that continue to bubble up fill me with warmth and laughter. Grandma eventually passed in 2008, which was a somber year overall. I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to spend this time with her and with the fam. Today, my sister is just about 30. I am…well…much older than that. The girls are grown and gone.
Travel has a way of opening up pathways to personal growth unlike any other. During this trip to Ireland, I was able to really able to feel what it must have been like for my ancestors to live among all of the beautiful greenery and sheep. It must have been a simple life. Sweet.
And this was the first of many, many other adventures for sure!