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Back to where it all began

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

I’m finally back in Ireland! It was here some 14 years ago that I went on my very first solo backpacking trip around Europe. There was just something special about landing in Dublin again after all this time and thinking about the experiences here that caused me to fall in love with traveling, the steps that brought me to where I am today. I even happened across the very first hostel I ever stayed in and snapped a photo of it!

My first hostel

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Things were a little different this time around, as we were met at the airport by a good friend of mine that I met in Vienna on that trip 14 years ago. We’d be staying with him and his girlfriend for our time in Dublin, and what a blessing that was for us! They definitely spoiled us while we were there.

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My friend Alex was our tour guide while in Dublin, he even took time off work to hang out with us! There are so many interesting sites and museums to see in Dublin, but we made sure to check out the big ones. We visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, built to honor the saint who came to Ireland around 500AD and converted the people to Christianity. We strolled the grounds of Trinity College, on par with the other great institutions of the area such as Oxford and Cambridge. We visited the heart of the city at Temple Bar, a famous street of eateries and pubs, and made sure to catch a meal there one night.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

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Trinity College

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Temple Bar

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A delicious pub meal

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My favorite part of Dublin though is that it’s just so choc full of history. Being situated on the River Liffey and on the sea, it was a very important port while it was a part of the British Empire. When the Potato Famine hit in the mid 1850s, many people either starved or fled the country, but this massive loss of people has left an indelible mark on the country. Nevertheless, the Irish came back strong and in the early 1900s fought and gained independence from Britain.

Famine Memorial

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Post office now, formerly a resistance headquarters. Still bullet holes in the pillars from the fighting

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There were many activists that led the charge for independence, and their stories are well documented in the Kilmainham Gaol, the jail where many of them were held and rather expeditiously executed. We got to tour the jail and see what the conditions were like for those activists and all the others that would end up staying there. It was quite depressing, but enlightening at the same time.

Kilmainham Gaol

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Kilmainham Gaol

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To best see the Emerald Isle, as Ireland is sometimes called, we rented another car and set out early southwest to the town of Kilkenny. South Park references aside, this relatively small town presides as the capital of County Kilkenny (Think of counties as states), and is steeped in medieval history. Similar to Scotland, the local clans here would set up fortresses to protect their land, and Kilkenny has a big one. We didn’t end up going inside but it was still impressive to behold. The town also has a beautiful “Medieval Mile”, full of shops, restaurants, and pubs. It just feels Irish!

Kilkenny Castle

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Kilkenny

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I was dreading the following morning because we were apparently in the middle of a summer storm and there were all sorts of warnings about intense rain, lightning, hail, monsoons, flooding, avalanches, earthquakes, volcanoes,… okay, some of that is made up, but the rain and flooding part was true. God has blessed us so much with good weather on this trip though that I honestly think I could count the number of “bad weather” days on one hand. This day ended up not being an exception, as it did rain overnight, and we did hit some rain driving early on, but by the time we arrived at Blarney Castle the rain had really let up.

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Oh, didn’t I mention we were going to Blarney? Although a good two hours south and east from Kilkenny, we couldn’t miss a chance to see the castle with a magical twist that dates from the 1400s. Another clan castle built to fortify the surrounding area, I’m sure you’re all aware that the magical Blarney Stone resides here, a chunk of limestone strangely stuck on the base of the fortifications running along the top of the tower.

Blarney Castle

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There are different myths surrounding what the stone is, but my favorite is that the clan leader once upon a time saved a drowning witch and in return the witch told the clan leader about a magic stone he had already in his castle that, if kissed, grants the smoocher with the gift of eloquent speech. The gift of gab, to talk the talk, to have a way with words, so to speak. Ethan was a bit too short to reach the stone, but Catherine and I kissed it. Can you tell that my writing “speech” has greatly improved? I shouldn’t fail to mention that the castle grounds also has beautiful gardens and other sites of mythical mystery, and the weather stayed away long enough for us to enjoy it all!

People kissing the stone

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This is how you kiss the stone!

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After grabbing some lunch in downtown Blarney, we got back in the car and drove another 90 minutes or so to Killarney, the capital of County Kerry. We arrived late in the afternoon, but still managed to scrounge up the energy to check out the town. Killarney itself isn’t much on sites, but it has a nice cathedral and a few streets lined with shops to wander through. It’s what’s around Killarney however that we were really after!

Killarney Cathedral

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Downtown Killarney

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The Ring of Kerry is a 120 mile circuit that traverses the perimeter of the stunningly beautiful Iveragh Peninsula. To be able to cover everything we wanted to see, and to beat out the tour buses on the narrow roads, we set out early. It was too foggy to see much of the Dingle Peninsula across the bay, but we cruised into quiet Victoria Island and the skies started lightening up for us. From there we got our first good views of Skellig Michael, a craggy island with an ancient monastery which is now better known as Luke Skywalker’s Island in planet Ahch To from the new Star Wars movies. Not that I’m a fan or anything…

Skellig Michael far in the distance

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Amazing Ireland

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We then got to drive right along the cliffs on roads of varying thickness (from a single lane to two wide lanes!) all the way around the peninsula. We stopped innumerable times (I’m sure they could be counted, but this sounds more eloquent!) to see the amazing views of the hills, verdant fields, lakes, and the mighty Atlantic Ocean. We also drove through beautiful small towns, visited old mansions and crumbling castles along this Wild Atlantic Way. After a total of over 8 hours along the route, we returned to Killarney to relax for the evening.

Kilkee Cliffs

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Kerry Cliffs and Skellig Michael

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This is the life

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Killarney National Park

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Torc Waterfall

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This marks the end of the first half of our journey through Ireland and a good place to wrap up this blog. Stay tuned for the epic, bone chilling conclusion next week!

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