Howth & Dublin

With only two days left before heading home, we made one more trip outside of Dublin, to Howth.  My friends all went to Howth months ago (back when I went to the Hook Peninsula), so I had saved my trip until my mom came.

Howth is located on Dublin Bay, and you can take a city bus to the top of a hill, and walk along the outer edge of the hill by the bay until you get into the city.  Mom was occasionally a little displeased with this plan, when she felt like she was too close to the edge, but overall it was a great way to spend a morning.

That afternoon we did some exploring in Dublin (and I also made her go to the ‘burbs to see my campus). We also hit up the leprechaun museum.

And to end our trip on the best possible note, I surprised my mom with what was voted thenumber 1 attraction in Dublin: “An Evening of Food, Folklore and Fairies”.  There’s a dinner at the Brazen Head where they feed you traditional Irish food, and tell you stories, and play Irish music.  It was phenomenal, and the best way to end my 6 month adventure.  Because that evening embodied why I choose Ireland for my study abroad in the first place – its history and stories fascinated me, its language intrigued me, and I wanted to be able to experience it for myself.

Glendalough and Kilkenny

And while it seemed like no time had passed, I was already on the last leg of my trip. Mom and I flew to Dublin last night and explored downtown. So today we decided to head out of the city.

As y’all will remember, I just adored Glendalough, and I thought my mom would too.  So I found us a day trip that goes to Glendalough and Kilkenny, which I hadn’t been to yet. It was nice to see Glendalough when it was green and not covered in snow, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that there was a little band playing outside our lunch spot.

Our next stop was the Wicklow Gap, way up in the Wicklow Mountains.  We passed waterfalls, reservoirs, bogs, and spectacular panoramic views.

Our final stop was Kilkenny.  The main reason for stopping was to visit Kilkenny Castle which we did, but we managed to get a few other museums and some town wandering in too.

Mom loves old houses that are furnished from the time they were built, so we went to Rothe House & Garden.  Built between 1594 and 1610, it was the home of the renowned merchant, landowner and Mayor of Kilkenny City, John Rothe Fitz Piers, his wife Rose Archer, and their eleven children, and is really worth a visit.

And we finally made it to the castle.  We did a tour inside, and wandered around the massive (and gorgeous) gardens, before heading back to Dublin.





Dingle & the Blasket Islands

This next trip across Ireland definitely took the longest to get to. Eight hours after leaving Dublin we arrived in Dingle, which turned out to be a charming little town.

The next morning we went down to Dingle Bay, before splitting up for the day.  Claire and I were headed to Ventry Pier to take the ferry to the Blasket Islands and explore for the day, before busing to the nearby town of Dunquin.  The others, well they were going to spend the day walking to Dunquin. It’s only 14km; totally doable (this is the crew that decided to hike 19km along the Giant’s Causeway in a storm).


Getting ready to split up!

Our little ferry eventually arrived, and Claire and I were off!

We came across a pack of dolphins which was amazing.

And saw a few basking shark in the distance.

After what seemed like a blink of an eye we arrived at the island. I actually studied the writings of the Blasket Islands in university, so I had wanted to make sure to actually make it to the islands when I was in Ireland. In the 20th century, a few of the islanders were taught to write, and as a result, they wrote autobiographies about life on the island. It was, and continues to be, an idyllic place to be.

It was just an absolutely gorgeous place to see, especially with the sun shining.  This was the perfect trip.

Eventually our ferry came back to pick us up and we were forced to leave.  At least the scenery on the way to Dunquin was still nice to gaze at.

We met the rest of our group at a great bed and breakfast, and then made our way back to Dublin the next morning.  Here we are waiting for the bus.


One of my absolute most favourite trips.

The Cliffs of Moher

The next day we left Galway and headed to the Burren on the way to the Cliffs of Moher.

The Burren is definitely a unique place.  There are huge pavements of limestone with vertical fissures all throughout, and has apparently been settled since the stone age.  It was pretty bleak though, especially on a cloudy day.

From here we moved on to the main event: theCcliffs of Moher.  Now, the rule of thumb regarding the cliffs is simply don’t follow the rules. Even your guidebooks will tell you that to properly see the Cliffs you need to trespass. The public path allowed us to walk for about 5 minutes along the cliff before a sign appears telling you to turn back. However, there’s a well-worn path which we trespassed along. You are more likely to find more people where they shouldn’t be, then where they should be. (Mom, don’t worry.  This is probably the only time I didn’t follow the rules).

We weren’t sure what to expect, as it was incredibly foggy when we arrived.  I’ll admit to being disappointed, but we decided to walk along the cliffs anyways.  We walked for about 30 minutes, even though we couldn’t see anything around us.

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We were about to give in and turn back, when out of nowhere, the fog started to clear. It was amazing to see the cliffs slowly come into view.  In hindsight, it was a pretty stupid decision to walk through the fog, as we could have fallen off the cliff at any moment, but it was definitely worth the risk.


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My sweater from the Aran Islands.

In the end it all worked out perfectly, as it so often does.

Galway & the Aran Islands

UCD planned another trip for us – this time to Galway, the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher.

We drove two hours across the county, and spent day one exploring Galway. It’s a cute little university town, with one main streets and rivers running throughout town.  Very picturesque.

The next morning we headed to the ferry for the Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are a group of three islands, with aproximately 1,200 residents.  There are several Bronze and Iron Age forts on the islands that you can actually interact with. But they are most famous for their hand knit wool sweaters, one of which I purchased. We only made it to the biggest island, Inis Mor (Inishmore), but we still have a full day of exploring.

On the ferry ride (about 45 minutes long) we saw the Irish Coast Guard practice a drill which was pretty cool to see (and kept my mind off the cold).

Once you arrive on the island, you have four options of transportation. You can

  1. hire a bus to give you a tour
  2. rent a horse and buggy
  3. walk
  4. rent a bike

Renting a bike is the most popular option and at the time seemed like a reasonable idea. Five hours later, I wasn’t quite so sure. In my usual fashion I fell off about 4 times throughout the day and now I have bruises all down my legs. But it helped make the experience authentic and it really was an awesome day.

The Aran Islands


Proof that I rode a bike.

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Dun Aonghasa: the most spectacular semi circular Celtic Stone fort in Europe.  It was built by Celtic tribsman around 2000 BC.  The other part of the fort, shown below, is sheer cliff.



St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin

The big day had finally arrived … it was St. Patrick’s Day! I swear, there were more people on the streets than I had ever seen in the city.  The actual Dubliners knew better than to wait in the cold to watch the parade, but we had a great time surrounded by other tourists.

Every year, a story is written specifically for St. Patrick’s Day, and each county in the country is given a different chapter to interpret for their float. The story for this year’s float is found here: The counties were definitely creative – there were only a few floats that I recognized depicting scenes from the story.

After the parade, we enjoyed some live music on Grafton St, then made ourselves comfortable inside a nice cozy pub, where we spent the remaining hours of the day.




The Giant’s Causeway

From Belfast we moved on to The Giant’s Causeway.

There was once a giant named Finn McCool. Now he had heard there was a giant in Scotland. So Finn built the causeway to go visit the other giant. When he got there he saw that the other giant was bigger than him. Finn got scared and ran back to Ireland.  He told his wife of the other giant from Scotland and that he may be coming.  She came up with a plan. When they heard the other giant coming to them she dressed Finn like a baby. When the giant saw Finn as a baby, he thought that adult Finn would be massive, got scared and ran back to Scotland.  On the way back he destroyed the middle of the causeway so Finn wouldn’t follow him. That is why the giant’s causeway is shaped the way it is (for it is found on both the Irish and Scottish coast).

 The truth is the Giant’s Causeway is shaped as it is because of a volcano, but where’s the fun with that. 

Antrim Coast & the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge


Scotland is to my left, and Ireland is behind me.

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The Giant’s Causeway



From the Giant’s Causeway, our group split into two.  Our tour bus was dropping my friend Claire and I off near the small town of Coleraine . The rest of our friends were going to walk  19km along the coast and meet us.  I thought they were crazy for two reasons.  One, the distance.  Two, it was a miserable day! As soon as we finished up at the causeway the heavens opened and it started to pour. It was really not a good day for a walk.

Claire and I got to the hostel just before the rain got worse, put on comfy clothes and waited by the fireplace for the rest to arrive.  To say they were not happy to see us so comfortable would be putting it mildly.


But we went out for a great dinner, and explored the town in the morning before heading back to Dublin.



From Paris we flew back to Dublin, then moved on to Belfast for a couple of days.


Getting excited on the train to Belfast!

Unfortunately we had a pretty miserable time in the city. It was wet, dark, gloomy, and even started to snow.  On our first day there we wanted to be positive and not spend the day at the hostel, so we went for a walk … and got soaked. I had’t thought to bring rain books, so my socks were thoroughly soaked by the end of the day.  For the rest of our time in the north I had to put my feet in plastic bags before putting my shoes on to keep them dry!


Trying to stay dry!


I wasn’t lying about the bags!

We tried to have a better time on our second day. We took a black cab tour in the morning, which drove us around the city and went into some detail about its history. Except every time we took a picture in front of a mural, as directed by our driver, he would tell us to say ‘happy’.  It was pretty awkward.


Here’s The Crown, one of the oldest bars in Belfast. They story about the bar is as follows: it was owned by a couple, the wife being Protestant and the husband Catholic. She wanted to name it the Crown and of course she won. But in reality, he won as he was able to put a welcome mat with a crown on it by the door, so when you came in you walked on top of the crown.

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The Europa Hotel was once the most bombed hotel in the world, but has recently become demoted to the most bombed hotel in Europe. Journalists and high ranking people would stay here (Bill Clinton stayed here). The IRA would warn the hotel management to get everyone out and then bomb it. The journalists staying there would write about the bombing which would be publicized around the world – the result the IRA wanted.

Belfast 072

At one point a large crowd of people turned around the corner and our cab stopped. All of a sudden he opens the doors and says “It’s an IRA parade, go get some pictures.” and so feeling very awkward we took some pictures of the IRA parade.

 Protestant Murals in Belfast:

With that our cab tour ended, but it was incredibly informative. We were in a pretty good mood, so we decided to give Belfast Castle a go, and do a nearby hike! But it was too foggy, so we had to turn back soon after.

Belfast Castle HikeAnd so we searched for something to do inside! There was a market near the city centre that we stopped at, and then we ended up at city hall.  There are free tours at Belfast City Hall, which was a good way to spend the rest of the day.

Belfast City Hall

My spoils from the market: 1 chocolate sheep

By the end of two days we were ready to move on.


Hook Peninsula

When two friends joined UCD’s Archaeology Society, I decided to also going.  Now I hadn’t ever taken an archaeology class, however I liked going on trips, and this club went on them!

I only ever ended up going on one trip to the Hook Peninsula, which is about a two hour drive from Dublin.  It was well worth it — I may not have any background knowledge on archaeology, but no one needs classes on how to enjoy a great view.

Baginbun Head

Templar Church


Hook Tower (Lighthouse)

The Hook Tower is the oldest working lighthouse in Ireland and Great Britain and one of the oldest in the world.  It was built as a ‘beacon for ships’ in the early 13th century, was constructed of local limestone, and the original building survives almost intact. The tower stands just under 36.3m high, and consists of 2 tiers linked by a mural stairway of 115 steps.

At the base of the lighthouse there was a replica of the lightbulb used (which is in actuality 3 times bigger).  The real lightbulb is surrounded by mirrors, which magnifies the 1000 watt bulb to 2 million watts.  The lighthouse requires three such bulbs!

Of course, I most liked the view from the top.
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Cold, but still enjoying the view with my roommate Celsiana

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Also enjoying the rather large anchor outside the lighthouse

Slade Castle

Our next stop was at Slade Castle.  The owner actually did something out of the ordinary at the time. He divided the space and rented it out. People lived in the castle until the 1920s! There were two families on the main floor, two on the second floor and one in the tower. The stairs were added at a later date, to give a family on the second floor a private entrance.

Harrylock Millstone Quarry

Cobh, Cork and Blarney Castle

UCD was really great about making sure international students had opportunities to see the rest of Ireland.  The first trip they planned for us went to Cobh, Cork, and Blarney Castle.

Cobh is a small fishing village just outside Cork, and is famous for two reasons.  It was the last boarding stop for the Titanic, and it’s cathedral has the largest bell arrangement in the country.  Two very different reasons, but two reasons nonetheless. It’s a super small town, but very cute.  Apparently it’s a lot like St. John’s, though I haven’t been able to confirm that for myself yet.

We were there on a pretty gloomy day, but even still, the charm of this small town was still very much evident.  My favourite thing had to be the rows of colourfully painted homes.

Up next was Cork (which is about a 4 hour drive from Dublin).  Cork is thought to be the cultural capital of Ireland, but I most enjoyed wandering on its winding streets and finding little antique stores to look through.  We also discovered a great farmer’s market which fed us for the day.  It was another gloomy day weatherwise though, so not many pictures were taken.

Our third and final day was spent at Blarney Castle, my absolute favourite place from this trip (I love castles).  There’s quite a bit to see at Blarney Castle, though it is most famous for having the Blarney Stone.  Kissing the Blarney Stone is supposed to give one the gift of eloquence – a useful gift no matter the time period!

There are quite a few legends about the stone, but the general story is that the earl living in the castle was Queen Elizabeth’s man in Ireland. She was very happy with his work for her, and sent him part of the stone so that those loyal to her would kiss it to pledge their allegiance.  After some time she wanted him to visit her at court.  He kept putting it off, saying he had to wash his hair, etc… . After some time she was irritated by his reports and said they were all ‘blarney’. And that is how some believe the stone got it’s name.

I really loved exploring here.  Not only was there a castle, but there were caves, gardens, and waterfalls. Everywhere you looked there was something to see.  I only wish I brought food so I could have had a picnic – it would have been the perfect place!

2011 Blarney Castle (82)

Hanging out in the Family Room

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Kissing the stone