8th August 1985
China – Tibet
11th September 1988
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Country number: 29
Territory number: 31

When?   A long time ago
How?    By car
Who?    With Don

See what Sue says

“My heart is quite calm now. I will go back.”

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

  • Ireland almost doesn’t happen. It was, in any case a last minute replacement for Tibet, which, was cancelled: too much rain and too many avalanches on the road from Nepal. And it takes far longer to drive to the port of Holyhead on Anglesey than I could possibly have imagined. I fondly imagined that the drive through Wales would be scenic. It probably is, but it’s very busy and winding and I’m too busy panicking to notice. We’re practically  doing one of those French Connection car chase leaps up the ramp to get onto the ferry.
  • Dublin, at the mouth of the Liffey has some quaint houses, a cathedral and lots of pubs. Don feels he has an obligation to try the Guinness in all of them.
  • We wander west and round the edge of Northern Ireland to Donegal. Back south to Sligo, the mossy crags of Ben Bulben Rock filling the horizon and W.B. Yeats’ tranquil Lake Isle of Innisfree. The scenery everywhere stunning, the roads peaceful, the breakfasts huge, tweed shops ubiquitous. Its almost obligatory to buy a cloth cap and walking stick.
  • Next, County Mayo. Coincidentally, I’m reading Year of the French, which is hugely evocative in terms of scenery and atmosphere. Now, the loden green peak of Croagh Patrick towers above us.
  • South, along the west coast through Connemara. For me the best part of the journey – wild and wonderful, even if Don does nothing but sit and fish.
  • The coastal route continues to be glorious. County Clare and the towering Cliffs of Moher. Through Limerick and onto County Kerry with the Dingle Peninsula and its wide sandy beaches- Ryan’s Daughter was filmed here. Emerald (naturally), pasture filled with brown and white cattle. (It is where the butter comes from after all). It’s gorgeous in a pretty-pretty kind of way, but others think so too. The roads are throttled by tourists in ‘gypsy’ caravans.
  • Cork and Blarney castle. I decide not to kiss The Stone. I might live to regret it, passing up on the gift of eloquence,  but I shudder to think how many bugs are residing on that bit of rock. And you have to be a contortionist to get your head to the right place anyway.
  • Waterford, unsurprisingly jammed with crystal shops.
  • And home.

When?   October 2019
How?    Tram, foot, taxi
Who?    With Companion

See what Sue says

October 21 – Guinness galore

Our first stop in Dublin sets the tone for the remainder of the visit; we have lunch in a beautifully authentic Victorian pub. Ryan’s is replete with wood panelling, carriage clocks, globe lights, framed prints and mirrors. There are delightful nooks and crannies and the friendly barman serves us in our own tiny snug. Companion, of course, samples the Guinness, (the vast and sprawling brewery is just across the river) and the food is good too. It’s an excellent way to begin.

Phoenix Park is just a little further up the road, the entrance tucked in behind the law courts. It’s claimed by some sources as the largest walled city park in Europe. It certainly stretches prettily away into the distance, dipping down to lakes and streams, autumn colours gleaming in the sunshine. It has more than its fair share of impressive memorials, but we can’t find the more ignominious shabby cross on the ground that I’ve read commemorates the murders of Cavendish and Burke in 1882.

We wander along the Liffey, towards the city centre. It’s not the prettiest part of town, but the reflections of the red brick buildings and stone steeples in the water are lovely and we’re pleased in any case to be enjoying sunshine. This is Ireland, after all.

A charmingly garrulous clergyman gives us a special guided tour in St Audoen’s, the oldest church in Dublin. The tour threatens to take up rather too much of the afternoon, however, so after stroking the Lucky Stone, (it’s not quite the Blarney), we escape to find the street closed and the garda whizzing around in blue flashing cars. There’s a bomb disposal squad out in front of Christchurch Cathedral (there are a lot of churches round here). It turns out to be a storm in a tea cup- or rather a firework in a rubbish bin incident.

Next, Dublin Castle, with round towers and early English style turrets and a memorial garden on the site of the black lake that gave its name to the whole city.

The Molly Malone statue is a must. I’m all geared up to sing the song, much to Companion’s consternation, but I am diverted as she is being assaulted by a group of uncouth Italians who insist on being photographed fondling her amply displayed bosom.

Stephen Green Park has another lake and an arch and there are hosts of other grand neoclassical civic buildings, especially the Leinster Building, where the Irish parliament the Dail meets, Trinity College, the Irish Bank and a plethora of galleries and museums. The largest dome belongs to Government Buildings, the home of the Department of the Taoiseach. Companion insists on referring to it as the Teashop. I’m hushing and looking round in the hope that no-one has overheard.

There are more pubs than any other type of building and they all sell Guinness. We eat a very good Irish steak dinner, the meat supplied by a butcher referred to in James Joyce’s in Ulysses.

October 22 – An EPIC day

There’s a glorious sunrise over the Guinness brewery, heralding a cloudy day.

West, to the most recently developed area of Dublin, the docklands. The award winning EPIC Museum of Irish emigration here is mainly videos of a lot of people who have decided that they don’t want to live in Ireland and whining about their tough lives when they leave. The rest of it is devoted to videos of famous people who are claimed as being of national importance as they have obscure Irish roots, such as one great grandfather who was born in Sligo. In the tennis section of the sports department, for example, John McEnroe and Pat Cash are both claimed as Irish. There are notably several US presidents claimed too. Kennedy is an obvious one, but Ulysses Grant is a more surprising addition. Ditto Margaret Mitchell whose maternal great grandfather came from Ireland.

It’s a little astonishing – these many tenuous claims to fame and (as far as we can see) numerous omissions of genuinely Irish celebrities. Maybe these are only well known in the UK? We opt for laughter, instead of succumbing to bewilderment. We decide that everyone must be Irish if you look hard enough. A statue of Batman has been placed above a door to a bar by the river. We assume he must be Irish too.

A last wander past Abbey Street, the statues (each resplendent with seagull on his head) and needle spire of Connell Street, across the white arched Halfpenny Bridge, through the fake and real traditional pubs of Temple Bar. They both charge exorbitant prices in this most touristy part of town. Up to 30 euros for Irish stew, beef and Guinness pie or Dublin Bay. We finish our visit with a meal in the genuine article, just off the main drag.

88% of Irish citizens are nominally Roman Catholic. The Republic of Ireland has one of the highest rates of church attendance in the Western World.
The ancestral language of the Irish people is Irish Gaelic.
Many Irish family names start with “Mac” or “O’…”, which means respectively “son of …” and “grandson of …” in Gaelic.
The three most famous symbols of Ireland are the green shamrock, the harp, and the Celtic cross.
Ireland has won the Eurovision Song Contest more often than any other country – seven times.

To see more of my photos of Ireland, visit this page.