That's all, he wrote
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Our journey continues as we resume traveling clockwise around Ireland, this time heading north from Killarney to Galway. The highway could get us there in just over 3 hours, but where’s the fun in that? We had some things along the way, and in case you haven’t figured it out yet… Ireland is beautiful!
We first headed about due north to the town of Talbert, where we had booked passage on a ferry over the River Shannon. This route is a continuation of the Wild Atlantic Way that I mentioned in my last blog, which really is a thing and goes from south of the Ring of Kerry all the way up and along the northern coast of Ireland. A lot of water, a lot of coastline! The ferry got us to the other side of the river in about 20 minutes and then we were on our way west and then north along the Atlantic.
The drive was incredible, passing through coastal towns and amazing views of the coastline. One of the two stops we had planned was right on the coast, a famous stretch approximately 4 miles called the Cliffs of Moher. Being a natural site and free to visit, we drove along the site only to find traffic backups and people everywhere. We were told that all the parking areas were full and if we came back in 90 minutes we’d have a better chance of finding a quite expensive spot to park in. Undeterred, we drove down the road a mile or so and parked at the beginning of a hiking trail down a one lane road. After a 20 minute walk we were on the cliffs for free, enjoying the amazing views and munching on the lunch we’d brought. Score one for us!
After the cliffs, we headed inland toward an area of Ireland known as the Burren. This area is known for landscape unlike any other, where Ireland’s beautiful greens are replaced by fields of limestone boulders. It is completely out of place and completely otherworldly. It is also unique for the few species of flowers that grow there – and nowhere else in the world. We made sure to enjoy this area for a while before heading a bit further north and finally reaching our destination for the night at Galway.
Galway, on Ireland’s west coast is a lively, artsy university town. I didn’t get to spend any time here the last time I was in Ireland, so we made sure to spend a day. There’s a busy main street full of shops, restaurants, buskers, and street performers that is fun to stroll through. We visited the cathedral and visited the harbor before walking along the water’s edge down the coast to the suburban town of Salthill. All in all, it's a cute town to wander through and experience Irish culture.
It was in Galway that we really got to experience what the Irish call weather. We woke up to sun and, since the weather forecast didn’t say anything to the contrary, planned on a nice day. Within 30 minutes of being out a dark cloud had materialized and we were getting rained on. Within 20 minutes it was sunny again. The second time (in the same day, mind you) that this happened, we realized here that you just bring everything you need for all kinds of weather. From there on out we had plenty of days with rain, sun, warm, cold, windy, cloudy, clear, hail, and everything else short of snow, thankfully. We learned just to roll with it and not let it bother us.
After Galway we continued our clockwise tour of Ireland by heading first north, and then east along the northern coast. We planned to spend two days in Northern Ireland, which is a region of six counties that Britain kept when they gave Ireland its independence. That’s right, there’s a piece of Ireland that’s officially (and happily, from what I can tell) a part of the United Kingdom. After spending the night just 20 miles from the border, we set out and back into Great Britain to see what awaited us there.
Our first stop is full of mythology and is known as Giant’s Causeway. Consisting of columns of stone shaped like squares, pentagons, and hexagons, it is said that Irish giant Finn McCool stacked these stones here and across the ocean floor so that he could pillage the Scottish coast. He discovered that the giants there were much bigger and ran back to Ireland in a hurry. In reality, these seemingly intricately shaped rocks were created by volcanic pressure once upon a time. In any case, we showed up at these rock formations very early in the morning so that we could check them out without the crowds.
From the Causeway, we headed inland a bit to a site known as the Dark Hedges. Apparently a big deal if you're a Game of Thrones fan (sorry, I know nothing about the show), these beech trees were planted by the landowners over 200 years ago and have grown naturally to somewhat cover the road. Although the road isn't completely covered, the trees do still block out a chunk of light, creating a dark feel as you walk underneath them. I think it would have been really interesting to take this stroll at night, and without so many people around, but it was still very neat!
After the Dark Hedges we headed back along the coastal road to Carrick-a-Rede, a small island made famous by ocean fishermen trying to catch salmon as they migrated back to the place of their birth. With the island sticking several meters up and out of the water, the fishermen built a wooden bridge to cross from the mainland to have a shot at those salmon. We followed the fishermen’s footsteps across a wooden bridge to the island (sans all that fishing gear, of course) and enjoyed the views out over the ocean. We could just about make out Scotland in the distance to the northeast.
With Carrick-a-Rede behind us, we decided to stay on the coastal road as we headed towards Belfast. Here above all else is where we discovered how the weather can change; we had clear skies at the bridge but within 20 minutes of driving it was so foggy we could barely see in front of us. We then had rain for a while but this all cleared up so we could have some nice views of the coast before turning back inland towards Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland and our home for the next few nights.
On our last full day in Ireland, we set out from our apartment in Belfast to the Titanic Experience, showcasing how Belfast grew into a shipping superpower that led to the building of the world’s first unsinkable ship there. We got to see and experience how the Titanic was built swiftly and expertly in just two years and how the ship passed all its readiness tests in equally fast time. It took another entire year to fit the ship with all the furnishings it required to be the luxury liner that it was made to be. Of course, we also got to develop a deeper understanding of the events that transpired the night of its first voyage, the night it hit the iceberg.
It was incredibly powerful to read the final messages that went out from the Titanic as she sank, and read the stories of people who did not survive and hear the testimonies of those who did. It was amazing to hear how quickly she sank, and even the process behind the searches that led to her eventual discovery on the ocean floor some 80 years later. We even got to visit the Nomadic, a tender vessel that once ferried people to Titanic, the only remaining link to the ill-fated ship. Even Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, has been reduced to scrap after many years of service.
After such a gut wrenching experience, we went to lighten the mood by seeing Belfast’s city center. With the city developing only in the 1700s, it lacks the old European city feel but still has nice pedestrian streets, plenty of areas for shopping, and a majestic city hall that we went inside and toured. We also visited CS Lewis Square, as the author of the Narnia series among many other works is a Belfast native and a favorite author of ours.
On our last and final day on this crazy journey that’s taken us completely around the world, we drove south from Belfast returning to the Republic of Ireland and headed back towards Dublin. On the way we stopped at Newgrange, a 5200 year old Neolithic site and one of the oldest sites ever discovered. It’s at least 500 years older than the pyramids of Giza and 1000 years older than the circle at Stonehenge. Like Stonehenge, these people chose to bring in rocks from many miles away to build their site, and the site is perfectly aligned to allow the sun into the main chamber on the first day of the winter solstice. How they had the knowledge to do this is beyond me. There are many Neolithic carvings at the site, but what they mean and what the site itself stood for is still completely unknown.
We left the site with enough time to make it to the airport, and thankfully we got there quite early because it took us nearly two hours to complete all the steps necessary to make it to our gate. We, along with seemingly everyone else on the flight, were not informed that we would have to go through a passport control BEFORE boarding the aircraft. I’ve never seen this done before, and while it meant we didn’t have to do anything with immigration once we landed, it led to frustration for some and we saw at least a few folks miss their flight. It worked out well for us because, as we never check any items, we were off the plane and out the airport doors in under 30 minutes.
This does mean, of course, that we are now back in the United States of America. 10 months of traveling and many months before that of planning, and we’ve made it safely back home. Looking back, we’ve been more than blessed with everything that we’ve seen and done. In fact, of every single thing we planned to see and do, the only one thing that didn’t work out was a whale watching boat cruise on New Zealand. We got to do every other thing we set out to do and so much more. In addition, we very very rarely had any issues with health along the way. Ethan had an injury to his foot which he recovered from very quickly, but other than that there was never a day where someone had to stay back due to illness. If that’s not a miracle and God’s blessing on our trip, I don’t know what else it could be.
Now begins the scariest chapter of them all though, returning to life in the United States! We’ve not done a lot of planning on what life is going to be here, so it’s still quite the mystery. Ethan starts school in two weeks, so the spotlight is on him as we figure out what to do. Whatever that may be, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for taking this journey with us and reading along as we traveled. This will probably be my last blog for a while, but I am certain with our love of travel that this won’t be the last trip we ever take. I hope, when the time comes, you’ll join us on those adventures as well!