Kent and Chrysa, County Clare, Ireland
   Our Trip to Ireland, 1998
The trip started on Friday, February, 13th, 1998.  Luckily, that was not an omen of things to come!  We flew to Chicago Midway from Minneapolis, and then caught a shuttle to go to Chicago O'Hare Airport.  From there we flew non-stop to Dublin, and then on to Shannon Airport, near Limerick.  So there were three flights and one shuttle in all just to get there.  We got there in the afternoon of the next day, since we lost six hours going over.  They are six hours ahead of us, in other words.  We held up amazingly well, and got the rented car at the airport.

The biggest challenge lay ahead for me....driving on the left side of the road, and yielding to cars from the right, rather than from the left.  After my whole life of being "right" oriented, it was a challenge to get away from that.  We rented a subcompact Nissan, with automatic, so at least I would be able to concentrate on driving without having to worry about shifting with my left hand too!  Sitting on the right in the car, rather than the left, gives one a whole new perspective too!

And so off we took from Shannon Airport, and we entered our first "Roundabout".  Now if you are unfamiliar with what that is, it's difficult to explain.  As you are driving, you approach a circle.  You go left, of course, with the flow of traffic, and you stay on this circle until you find the egress that leads to your road.  If you miss it, you just stay on the roundabout, and catch it next time around.  Confused?  Me too!  The country roundabouts weren't too bad because there wasn't much traffic, but those in the city were really confusing and stressful!   I felt a lot like I was learning to drive all over again, with the same anxieties as to where the far side of the car was.

Now another complication in driving in Ireland is the roads.  They are extremely narrow, and often, there is a stone fence close to the road on both sides.  Scenic, yes, scary, yes.  Until I got the "feel" of the car, it was a lot of slowing down whenever a car approached, and I eased to the side.  The main roads were pretty good in places, but more often than not, they narrowed down quickly, and there were stone fences on most.  And crooked roads!  Luckily, I had done some mountain driving in the past to partially prepare me for this...except I was on the right side of the road instead of the left.

I have unscientifically concluded that there is such a thing as the "Irish mile", and it is about 2.98 normal miles in length.  In other words, if you have 15 miles to go, figure on at least 45 miles in "real" time.  On two evenings we ended up far far away from our destination because we had greatly underestimated the time it would take.  So then you get to drive these narrow winding stone lined roads at night, often in the fog or rain.  Cool!

But I stray from our visit.  We left Shannon Airport and headed toward Lisdoonvarna, a small town where we had reservations for the night, and about 15 miles (45 real miles) from where Kent is going to school in Ballyvaughan.

Oh, another thing about Irish roads is that they really don't believe in road signs.  There are a few, but they are varied, and sometimes hidden in with about 20 or 30 other signs.  So we did have a few "false starts" shall we say, where we needed to back track.

Well, to make a long story short, we couldn't find the place where we were to stay, but we did find Ballyvaughan, and Kent's cottage, and so met up with him and Chrysa, his girlfriend, who just happens to live at the cottage next to his.  It was great to see them, and so we went out to supper at the local pub called Hyland's in downtown Ballyvaughan.  It was approaching 30 hours since we'd gotten on the plane so we were getting tired, but they did take us and show us a few stone monuments, the seashore, and the area right around the town.  We then called the Bed & Breakfast to get specific instructions as to how to get there.  All the signs she had up had been blown down in a big storm which was the reason it was so difficult.  We took a very crooked road to the B&B, which was very nice, and had a good night's sleep.

Here are some of my initial impressions.   First, Ireland is in early spring, probably about a Minnesota April.  Grass was green, flowers were budding or blooming, and it was in the 40's or 50's most of the days.  But we saw very little sun, and a lot of drizzle, rain, and wind.

It is a very friendly country, where you can feel very safe. We were in the west and southwest, of course, far from the strife of Northern Ireland.  It was a very rural area, with cattle and sheep and tourism being the main industry.  Since it was "off season", however, many of the sites were closed.  But it was nice to be able to travel to a place, and have it all to ourselves.  But it is rural.  There were cows and sheep loose on the road, so you had to be careful not to be going too fast for this reason too!

It is an old country with a rich history, not all of it pleasant.  They have been a very persecuted country for hundreds of years, and the British were not kind to them.  But to visit a church from the 15th century, and rock formations from 4-6,000 years old, and see the monuments to so many great people is really overwhelming.  Many of the 14th and 15th century churches are near ruin, and need a lot of renovation to keep them from becoming in even worse condition, but this is a relatively poor country with few resources for something like this.

Some of the scenery of the ocean and the mountains is as beautiful as I have ever seen.
The Cliffs of Moher are spectacular!

We went to many castles dating from a 1,000 years ago or 14th or 15th century, and were able to tour a couple of them, including the one at the college where Kent is going.  Many are in ruins.

The money of Ireland is interesting also...they have a Punt or pound as the main currency, and it is worth about 1 ½ dollars.  It is divided into 100, with pence, two pence, five, ten, twenty, and fifty pence coins.  We brought back a number of them as souvenirs.

Oh, we did so much and saw so much in the week that it blurs together, but I guess that is the highlights.  I bought a number of CD's with Irish music, and we spent some time eating and imbibing a bit in some pubs to soak up some of the local culture.

Well, the flight back was long, with delays and stopovers at the airports, and misplaced luggage.  We started back at about 10:30 A.M. Ireland time, and got home about 11:00 P.M. our time, so I guess it was about 18 hours altogether in getting back.  Then we caught a shuttle to our car, and drove home.  Bad idea, actually.  Joan couldn't stay awake for anything, and even though I did, I was really a bit too tired to be driving.

All in all, a wonderful week.  We got to spend some great time with Kent and with Chrysa, saw some wonderful things, met some terrific people, met some challenges (driving!), and had a nice break from the winter routine.  We picked up some souvenirs, of course, we have our memories.

We have agreed we'd go back in a minute if we had the chance.