Pub hopping through Ireland
No, this is not a Guiness tour of Ireland. During spring break in 2011, we spent a week in Ireland from March 12 to 19. It had not escaped our attention that we would be spending St. Patrick’s Day on the Emerald Island. We flew to Dublin and rented a car and immediately started making our way to the western shore. Our main objective was to pub hop, not for the Guiness but for the music. So on top of our list was the small town of Dingle which is famed as a center for traditional Irish music. Dingle is in the far western part of the country on the Dingle Peninsula whereas Dublin is on the eastern shore. Other than pubs, we also stopped at a number of interesting ancient sites and ruins.
Our first stop was Cashel which is about half way to Dingle. Cashel is best known as the site of an old castle known as the Rock of Cashel which dates to the 12th and 13th century. It sits on a hill overlooking the countryside and includes a tall round tower, old cathedral and chapel.
We drove to Dingle and stayed in a quaint BnB right on the harbor. The small town of Dingle (population 2000) is a major fishing port with a large harbor. The shops on the main street are very colorful but it is most famous, at least in my mind, for having several pubs that feature traditional Irish music. Every night of the year there is live music at 2 or 3 of these pubs. We went to the Marina Inn on the first night as there was a jam session on Sunday night with many local performers.
We met a couple from Toronto traveling with their teenage daughter at one of the pubs in Dingle and started chatting with them. They were also traveling in Ireland primarily for the music. It turned out that their daughter was an accomplished fiddler of Irish tunes. To our surprise the next evening we saw them at another pub and their daughter volunteered to play a few tunes with the performers, which she did to excellent effect. It turned out that we were on the same tour itinerary as we would run into them again and again in Doolin and Galway!
One day we were wandering around the town and I went into a small music store with collections of mostly Irish traditional music. So I asked the lady who ran the shop if she could recommend some good local Irish performers. She and another customer in the store immediately said that I should buy the CD from Pauline Scanlon, a local woman. Unfortunately, she wasn’t performing on the days that we were there but I did buy the CD (Lumiere), which is beautiful! But what I found interesting is that after I made my purchases (if I recall, I bought 2 CDs), the lady said that we should celebrate with some Irish whiskey. So she pulled out a bottle from behind the desk and poured all three of us a shot. Sort of fit the Irish stereotype.
During the next day we drove around the Dingle Peninsula which is a beautiful drive with great views of the sea and island as well as several interesting ancient sights. The Gallarus Oratory is of particular interest. It was build probably around the 12th century and consists of finely cut stones that are corbelled together without the use of mortar.
Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher
Leaving Dingle we headed north toward Doolin, another town famous for Irish music. It happens to also be very close to the popular tourist site known as the Cliffs of Moher. While driving around the cliffs, we ran into the Canadian couple again. And then saw the daughter playing in a band in Gus O’Connor’s Pub, which is probably the most famous pub for Irish music in Doolin..
Galway for St. Patrick’s Day
We drove to Galway just in time to watch the St. Patty’s parade and also to hit a few more pubs.
On the way back to Dublin to catch our flight home, we stopped in Newgrange, which is a fantastic Stone Age site!! It is located in an area with a number of neolithic sites. Newgrange itself consist of a large mound within which lies a tomb consisting of a long hallway leading to a central room constructed with very large stones. The entrance and window box above the door are perfectly aligned on the rising sun on the winter's solstice. The first rays of the rising sun on that day enter the window box above the door and light up the long inside hallway, which has a slight upward slope as you walk in toward the center tomb. Standing at the central tomb, the window and doorway are not visible so the first light will seem to make the room glow. How did they do this in the Stone Age, circa 3200 BC, before Stonehenge??
Imagine that you are building this structure and discover that the calculations were off by a few inches and the door has to be moved slightly. First, how would you move the huge stones a few inches? And once you’ve done it, you would have to wait for a year to see if the adjustment was correct. Or possibly wait a few years if the weather is cloudy on the critical days. Amazing!
One can enter a lottery to be one of a 100 people out of about 30,000 applicants who can see the phenomenon on one of the 5 days around the solstice each year.
For the last evening we stayed in the town of Trim, near Dublin. There is a large ruin of a castle, and more pubs.