Ireland – Did it live up to our expectations?

We began our three week trip through Ireland with a preconceived notion of what Ireland would be like.  I don’t think we were completely unrealistic as I was quite sure we wouldn’t see any leprechauns or fairies fluttering about, but we did expect to experience something quite magical, maybe even mystical.  So, now that we’re done, did Ireland live up to our expectations?

We saw plenty of stunning scenery and explored many romantic castle ruins.  We heard  legends and myths aplenty, and met some of the most friendly and hospitable people you can imagine.  We listened to local music in local pubs enjoying the local food and brew.  We marvelled at the pretty little towns with their colorful buildings lining the streets, and gorgeous, overflowing flower boxes.  In many ways, Ireland met and even exceeded our expectations, and yet we felt something was missing.  We didn’t feel any magic or mysticism in our travels.  We didn’t feel an emotional connection either.  We think that we simply had misguided expectations based on a lifetime of an imaginary Ireland portrayed in movies and literature.  Even marketing and advertising campaigns have played a part.  At the end of the day, Ireland is a modern country with a fascinating past and well worth a visit.

We’ve put together a collection of photos of some of the highlights of our visit.  I’m sure you’ll agree that Ireland has a lot to offer.

Bective Abbey (above and below) near the town of Trim as well as Trim Castle
were used as locations during the shooting of the 1995 historical action-drama movie Braveheart.

The Stone of Destiny (left) where ancient high kings were crowned on the Hill of Tara, dating back over 5,000 years! According to legend, the stone would scream if a series of challenges were met by the would-be king. At his touch the stone would let out a screech that could be heard all over Ireland.

Today the Hill of Tara (below), one of the most important ancient sites in Ireland, looks like a large field with mounds of grass here and there.  

Knowth and NewGrange are the location of ancient passage tombs, over 5,000 years old, making them 1000 years older than Stonehenge and 500 years older than the pyramids in Egypt.

The Great Mound at Knowth (right and below) has two passages with entrances on opposite sides, the western passage is 34 metres long and the eastern passage is 40 metres long, ending with a cruciform chamber.  We were able to climb to the top of the mound and enjoy the view.

The passage tomb at New Grange (right) is more than just a tomb, as it is now considered to be an Ancient Temple, a place of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance. We were able to walk through the passage way into the inner burial chamber.

Above the entrance to the passage there is an opening called a roof-box. Its purpose is to allow sunlight to penetrate the chamber on the shortest days of the year, around December 21, the winter solstice. At dawn, from December 19th to 23rd, a narrow beam of light penetrates the roof-box and reaches the floor of the chamber, gradually extending to the rear of the chamber. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens within the chamber so that the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated. This event lasts for 17 minutes, beginning around 9am.

During our tour, the guide simulated the winter solstice. The lights were turned off and we stood in complete blackness when a sliver of artificial light appeared and etched its way along the passage way until light flooded the burial chamber. Amazing!

One of three famous 10th century high crosses at the historic ruins
of Monasterboice which was an early Christian settlement
in County Louth in Ireland, north of Drogheda.

These days, travelling from the Republic of Ireland in the South to Northern Island is a piece of cake.  In fact, you don’t even realize you have crossed the border – there is no border control and no security checks.  How times have changed for the good from just a few years ago.

Belfast is a very friendly, welcoming city with barely a hint of its past troubles.  It is making a big effort to attract tourists with new attractions like the recently opened Titanic Centre.  It has been such a tremendous success that is has been booked solid since its opening in April.  It was sold out completely during the three days we were in town.  We saw the outside of the building which is located down by the docks where the Titanic was designed and built one hundred years ago.  The architecture is impressive, mimicking the bow of the ship.  Standing below the “bow”, you get a real sense of the size of the ship.  We “settled” on a walking tour instead, and learned all kinds of interesting facts about the Titanic, not to mention walking down into the dry docks where the ship was fitted.

The Titanic Centre, Belfast

We discovered Tim Horton’s in Belfast and enjoyed a little taste from home.

The Europa Hotel, known as the “most bombed hotel in Europe” 
and the “most bombed hotel in the world” after having suffered 
28 bomb attacks during the Troubles.

The Peace Wall, so called because it kept the peace
between Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods during
the Troubles – vivid reminders of a turbulent past.

Murals can be found on buildings throughout the city, each one telling a story most often about past and present political and religious divisions.  The mural above l is a picture of Bobby Sands who was an Irish volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and a member of the British Parliament.  He died in 1981 on a hunger strike while imprisoned.

Ruins and beautiful scenery along the coastal route, north of Belfast.

Crossing the Carrick-a-Rede suspension bridge.
It wasn’t as scary as it looked, especially since I no
longer have a fear of heights. 

A timely break in the weather at the end of the day allowed us to explore
the Giants Causeway and catch a beautiful sunset.

Dunluce Castle – it was raining hard and visibility was so poor
due to a heavy cover of mist and fog that we only stopped for a moment to take a picture. 

The rugged beauty along the cliffs in County Donegal.
Heather covered bog was spongy and wet underfoot.

More hiking along the cliffs in County Donegal.

View of Dunfanaghy from Horn Head.

Huge sand dunes stood between us and the beach at Horn Head.

There aren’t many rustic, old cottages like these anymore.

Peat is still used as a heat source in many rural areas of Ireland.

We spent two nights on InishMor, one of the Aran Islands.
Over two days, we hiked the entire island, staying off the main roads.
which meant crossing many stone walls that ranged in height from
four to six feet.  One afternoon we must have climbed about 75 such walls!

Our days in InishMor were quite idyllic; we stayed in a beautiful
B&B (Kilmurvey House), and the weather was warm and sunny for a change,
although it rained hard both evenings. We hiked each day in remote
parts of the island where we barely saw a soul.

A rare sunset  illuminating the bare limestone landscape
of the Burren, in County Clare.

The Cliffs of Moher are a major tourist attraction.  We especially
enjoyed the Visitor Centre which was tucked away into the side of the hill.

Ireland has miles upon miles of gorgeous beaches, but
they don’t have beach weather, at least not while we were there.
We watched the surfers on Inch Strand, three miles of sandy beach on the Dingle Peninsula.
Inch Strand was chosen by David Lean as the beach location for “Ryan’s Daughter”.

Another beautiful and practically deserted beach on the Dingle Peninsula.

Gallarus Oratory, an early Christian church located on the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry.

Ring of Kerry near Killarney.

Muckross House, a huge estate near Killarney 
in the Killarney National Forest. 

Beautiful gardens at Muckross House.

Ross Castle, Killarney.

Cahir Castle, Cahir.

Rock of Cashel: After circling the town more than once looking
for this prominent castle, we finally looked up and discovered
it was right under our noses. 

Inside the Rock of Cashel

Kilkenny Castle

The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is a museum dedicated to the story of
Guinness, a must see for any respectable beer drinker!

Category: Europe, Ireland
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3 Responses
  1. Jim Callahan says:

    C&C, I’m a friend of Sonja’s. I’ve enjoyed following your travels. I love Ireland but think of the line from the Yeat’s poem, “September 1913” – “romantic Ireland is dead, buried in O’Leary’s grave”.

    Travel safely and enjoy. Jim

    • christina says:

      Hi John,
      Nice to meet you and I’m glad you’re enjoying our travels. Looks like we’re over a century too late to find the romantic, magical Ireland in our imaginations. Something I didn’t mention in our posts about Ireland was the vast network of walking trails throughout the country, especially in the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. I would love to return to Ireland for a 10-14 day walking tour where we hike each day and stay in B&B’s each night – no car whatsoever. I think that would be an amazing way to explore and discover the best of Ireland.

  2. Angus says:

    Hi Guys,

    Can’t believe all the walls on InishMor. Makes for a nice photo though and I love the picture of Chris + Chris on the beach.

    One of the exchange officers during my officer training (a long long time ago) was British and commanded for a while in Ireland. Some of the stories he told were pretty scary and sad so it’s really nice to see things so peaceful allowing you to really enjoy the entire island.