Tuesday, 25 November 2014


I have to interrupt the scheduled Ireland memory posts for two very important reasons:

1. I accidentally scheduled this week's posts for next week because apparently I don't calendar.


Sort of.

In a way.

All that "I'm too busy to even tell you how busy I am"? It's done! Or, almost done. The brunt of it is done. There are still a few things to be cleaned up, a few people to still train, and a couple of t's to cross, etc, etc. But last week, I left work on time twice.


It was like winning the lottery except better somehow.

And this past weekend? I didn't have to go into the office at all. The fact that I didn't spend the entire weekend in my pyjamas, on my couch, and so drunk I confused dusk and dawn has more to do with the fact that a friend needed me to house sit than any self-control on my part.

Amidst all the craziness of the last three months, I was made a regular full-time employee in my department. I have a job after December 31st and even better? It's doing something I absolutely love.

There are not happy Pingu gifs in the world to show how happy I am about the work part of my life right now.

Also, there will be some semblance of regularity and order to the blog commencing shortly.

That's all. We'll be back to the Ireland posts shortly.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Ireland 2014: Slieve League and Southern Co. Donegal

During my visit in 2011, our plans to visit Slieve League were rained out. It was my goal to get there this time. We went with Andy of Donegal Coastal Tours (not Andy, Linda's husband from the last post.) I would, without a doubt, recommend him. He's the guide that the Tourist Office and the hostel both recommended and there is definitely a reason. I would gladly have paid twice what we were charged.

We met at the tourist office at 11am. In the end, there were five of us on the tour and we all got along well, which is pretty important when you're spending the day in a minivan. Our first stop of the tour was Killybegs, a small fishing village just down the road from Donegal Town.

Shortly down the road from Killybegs, we stopped for a picture opportunity. Andy did not disappoint with his choice of locales.

Those mountains in the far distance are Co. Sligo and Co. Mayo (left to right)

We continued on down the road with Andy chatting away and telling stories about the places we passed. The nice thing about this sort of tour is that any time we wanted to stop, we just told Andy and he'd pull over. No schedule, no set itinerary, just a guy driving people around for the day.

And just to prove we really were on the tour:

The day was one of those windy, rainy, sunny days where you take three pictures of the same thing within a minute and each picture looks like a different season. Our next stop after this photo was Slieve League, the whole reason why I insisted we took this tour in the first place and it was heavily misting as we drove into the parking lot. I was a little worried that I was going to be 0/2 on seeing the cliffs.

But then we came around the bend in the walkway and I kind of stopped caring whether I actually saw the cliffs or not.


As I keep telling people, Katie and I were literally over the rainbow at seeing Slieve League.

Oh, and we did see the cliffs.

And more rainbow!

It was also just a tad bit windy. Just a little.

There's a narrow pathway that runs along the top of the cliffs but it takes roughly 5 hours to hike the whole thing one way and we didn't have that sort of time, so we set off to reach an outcropping we could see from the first lookout point. Thomas beat us up there.

We had to be careful walking up there because there were balls of sheep poop everywhere. Katie took to calling them shitbombs and I really can't think of a more apt description of them. Unlike Katie, I did not take a picture of them because I don't need a visual reminder of sheep crap, thank you very much.

This was where we stepped of the path to being our scramble up the rocks.

From the top of the outcrop. Not too shabby a view!

Looking back the way we came.
You can just make out our van in the parking lot.

Thomas getting all philosophical about life.

We returned to Andy's van and continued along the coast to Silver Strand, near the town of Glencolmcille. In case you didn't know, strand is another word for beach. Also, Silver Strand is a very common beach name in Ireland. It seems like every county on the sea has at least one Silver Strand.

In the summer this place would be packed with people, but on a random wet day in May we pretty much had it to ourselves.

In case you're wondering, there are 129 steps to the beach.

Thanks to the time delay on Katie's camera, we attempted this photo 5 times
and this is the closest we go to me actually in the air for my jump.

As we left Silver Strand for Glencolmcille, two things happened: 1) the rain set in for good and 2) one of the other tour members mentioned that she had to be back in Donegal Town to catch a bus at 17:15. Due to both of these items we hurried through the rest of the afternoon, only stopping at Glengesh Pass for a quick picture. I'm sure it's really beautiful when it's not pissing with rain.

I could have kicked the girl from not mentioning this at the start of the tour when we could have been more conscious of our time at the various places. Glencolmcille was adorable, the drive through the peat fields to the pass was straight out of old Ireland with the peat all stacked for drying - of course, with the rain, none of the farmers were out harvesting it - and I really could have done with a hot drink of some sort by the time we got to Ardara.


Just another reason to go back!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Ireland 2014: Donegal Town

If you were to tell me that I could only visit one county in Ireland for the rest of my life, no questions asked, I would pick Donegal. I don't have any family that lives there, there's no 'big' tourist destination to recommend, it's just a beautiful county and worth the effort to visit. My original love for Donegal started with family trips in the 80s and 90s to the Bunbeg/Gweedore area, but a trip to Donegal Town on my own in 2011 renewed my love for the area. And it was in no way influenced by finding a great restaurant and a fun pub.

After settling into the hostel, we headed back into town to visit the Friary ruins before supper. The ruins sit just at the edge of town on Donegal Bay and the grounds now house a cemetery. (Note: this is often referred to as the Abbey, however, historical records call it a friary, the sign posted outside of it calls it a friary, and the Franciscan order that once occupied it calls it a friary. It's a friary!)

The friary was founded in 1473. In 1588, the site was taken over by English forces and turned into a fort. When it was taken back by English forces a few years later, it once again functioned as a friary until 1601 when the powder kegs in the basement blew up during a siege by English forces.

Efforts to rebuild the friary were abandoned in 1607 after the Flight of Earls. The friars, then moved to various other friaries in the surrounding counties, most notably in Co. Sligo.

We played a quick game of Hide-and-take-a-picture to work up our appetites for the lamb shank dinner I had been talking about for three years and then walked up to the Olde Castle Bar only to learn that they were out of the lamb shank.


We order an appy to split, fresh Donegal Bay mussels in a white wine sauce. I'm not someone who takes pictures of food I've ordered in a restaurant because I'm usually too busy stuffing it in my mouth, but these mussels were so good. I may have groaned after I ate the first one.

Heaven in a bowl right there!

These were some of the best mussels I have ever had in my life. Thank goodness they give a slice of bread with the meal to sop up the broth because otherwise I would have licked that bowl. I can't remember what I order for dinner that night (I think it was the chicken with colcannon) but those mussels... I'm drooling just thinking about them!

After dinner and a stroll, we wandered over to the Reel Inn for some live music and a few drinks. That night, the music was Frankie on vocals and guitar with John (the owner) on the accordion. I remembered them from last time I was there and at the end of the night, Katie and I got to talking with Frankie. He wasn't playing the next night but he would be playing our last night in town, and yes, he would play the song that I requested.

Frankie (guitar and vocals) and John (accordion)

I awoke the next morning to find Katie barely able to breathe she was coughing so much. When she did stop coughing, she had to whisper as she had no voice. Linda's husband, Andy, kindly drove Katie to the clinic so she could get checked out while I lazed about writing postcards. I wandered into town to meet Katie at our appointed time and after a bite to eat, we set out trying to organise a tour for the next day. I don't think I have ever found friendlier or more helpful staff than we did at the Donegal Tourist Office. We did some shopping for souvenirs, stocked up on snacks, tried to find a internet cafe that apparently doesn't exist anymore, then walked back to the hostel for a nap. What can I say? Our late nights were starting to catch up with us.

As we were heading back into town for dinner, Linda (hostel owner) asked if we knew about the path along the water so we didn't have to walk along the road. Um, no. We didn't. She gave us directions and what should have been a 10 min stroll along the roadside, ended up taking close to 30 mins because we had to keep stopping to take pictures. We were almost too late to order dinner at the restaurant because of our picture taking!

Walking along the path it quickly became very apparent why we never saw locals walking along the road.

The next day was our tour out to Slieve League and Glencolmcille - I'm saving that part of the day for its own post - before we found ourselves back to the Old Castle Bar for that lamb shank I had been craving for the last three years. So, indulge me, Katie took a picture for me to remember it by.

We also played with our drinks.

I love you Guinness!

We rounded out the night with another stop at the Reel Inn and ended the night seated at a table with Frankie and a few other tourists singing songs and exchanging stories before Frankie gave us a lift to the hostel.

The next morning was breakfast at the Blueberry Cafe where I used very inappropriate language in front of children and we thought we were hilarious by staging it to appear as if our bags were eating breakfast.

Honestly! Can't take me anywhere!

After breakfast, we caught the bus to Galway to continue our adventure.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Ireland 2014: Armagh

We started our Saturday morning visiting one of my uncles and enjoying a good Irish fry before we hopped on a bus and headed to Armagh, Northern Ireland. We had a hour in Monaghan while changing busses. Maybe it was the late night the night before or maybe it was the threatening rain clouds, but we decided to hunker down at the bus station and drink coffee instead of heading into town. Who am I kidding? I'm from the west coast of Canada. Of course, it wasn't the clouds.

On our bus ride out of town, I pointed out the places we went by that held memories for me. Visiting Monaghan is a strange experience as an adult. There's very little family here now so there's no real reason to visit, and it's definitely not a tourist destination so there's really no point in actually staying to 'see the sights', but so many of my memories of Ireland are wrapped up in this town. It's the county I support first and foremost in the GAA but the need to visit it as I get older is waning.

We arrived in Armagh and headed to my uncle's house. The city had hosted the start of the second leg of the Giro d'Italia the weekend before and everywhere you turned, hot pink bicycles and signs caught your eye. Some companies had even gone so far as to paint their buildings.

I'm often surprised that Armagh isn't more of a tourist destination. I know that Northern Ireland in general stayed off the tourist trail for a number of years because of the Troubles, but now that the number of visitors is increasing every year, I'm surprised how little the guidebooks talk about Armagh. It's the ecclesiastical centre for both the Church of Ireland and the Irish Catholic Church, it has two beautiful cathedrals built on opposite hills, it was one of the old seats of the Irish kings, it's where St. Patrick set up shop (hence why it is the ecclesiastical centre), and it's where Brian Boru, the last high king of Ireland, is buried.

Looking from the Catholic Cathedral to the Anglican one

We actually spent our first day 'in Armagh' day tripping back to the south as my aunt had an appointment in Drogheda (Draw-ha-da). While she did her thing, we visited Oliver Plunkett's head. Plunkett was a Catholic priest who was executed in 1681. After two acquittals by Protestant juries in Ireland, his trial was moved to England where he was found guilty and executed.

It's hard to get a good picture through so much glass but that's a head in there.

Drogheda is also famous for being the city closest to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and for bearing the brunt of Oliver Cromwell's wrath during his tour of Ireland from 1649 - 1953. If you don't get the sarcasm, Cromwell was a dick to the Irish. For such a small town, it sure has seen some important events!

We drove up the coast to Dundalk to visit another aunt and uncle before stopping for a little shopping at the mall. Of course, the fact that the Co. Tyrone vs. Co. Down Gaelic football match was playing on every TV in the mall had nothing to do with why we stopped. Nope. Nothing at all.

Co Monaghan was to play the winner so the outcome was important!

We returned to Armagh and had a quiet night at home.

Who am I kidding? It was our last night actually with my aunt and uncle (they were heading off on holidays a few days after we left so we skipped out the last night to give them a chance to pack bags, etc) so my cousin and his girlfriend came around and we had a good send off.

After a late start the next day (I have no idea why we had a late start...), we packed ourselves off to the hostel and then headed out to be tourists. The hostel is just behind the Church of Ireland Cathedral so we wandered over there first.

April 2014 marked 1000 years since Brian Boru's death. No one is sure exactly where on the church grounds his heart was buried, just that it was 'on the north side of the church'. In honour of the 1000 anniversary, a wreath had been laid at the plaque. Not surprisingly, a month of laying outside had left the wreath looking a little... dead. I was actually a bit surprised no one had picked it up.

We headed inside the cathedral where we befriended the doorman. Our friendly banter lead to him quoting an entry price which was less than what the post sign right next to him said. Befriending doormen is a very important tourist skill to have!

Most of the large cathedrals have TV monitors and speakers so
everyone can see and hear the service.

Also, Katie learned why you really can't take me anywhere.

I imagine he's judging the wardrobe of everyone who's attending mass.
"Those shoes? with that dress?!?"

Can't leave a statue hanging!

We stopped being tourists long enough to grab a bite to eat and visit with my two step-aunts who live near Armagh. We hit up the carvery at the Armagh City Hotel - I really wish we had more proper carveries in North America - and caught up on all the family gossip.

What better way to work off lunch than walking back across town and up the hill to the Catholic Cathedral?

Every time I see this hill, all I can think is how much fun
it would be to roll down it.

The cathedral was started in 1840 but wasn't completed until 1904. The building was delayed, in part, because of the famine. It was also in part because the entire inside of the cathedral is done in mosaic.

Floor. Wall. ALL mosaic!

The mosaic work continues all the way up to the roof.
It is incredible to actually see up close.

I've seen a lot of churches, cathedrals, minsters, and holy houses in my travels and this Cathedral is one of my favourites.

After a couple of late nights in a row, we decided to grab a bite from the local grocery store - I love you McInerny's - and have a quiet night in. The nice thing about being the only people in the hostel that weekend? Full control of the TV. I hadn't seen Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in probably 20 years. It hasn't aged well.

My only regret from this trip to Armagh? I didn't buy these flip-flops.

The next morning, we hopped the bus to Donegal Town.