top of page
Search

12 Days of Ireland

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Dear Ireland, forgive my frail attempt at poetry, but you deserve at least a meager try from the ones you inspire.

Ireland

Jim Camoriano

God poured the creamery in early morning blush

along the lush crack of dawn,

when the early tide brought the cold in.

Into the clover, the tuft thick beads

and strands cover

and fall along their merry way.

This is the breadth and length and height and depth

of violin, flute, pipes and guitar:

The rhythm of a rhyme

here in the heart of the Divine Worker's hand,

here in the heart of the road and the abode

of Ireland.

__________________


Nine members of my family have returned from a vacation in Ireland. At least I think they did. We had a hard enough time keeping track of the number of visited pubs, let alone any relatives who may or may not have walked into one.


For a few, it was a dreamy swipe off our bucket lists. For me, it was that and a journey to the roots of my family tree. An emigration from Scotland to Ireland occurred in the 1700s. Sure, we've got historical documents and Ancestry DNA results, but I look for no further validation than my mom’s love for mashed potatoes, poetry and an occasional drop of Baileys. We be Irish.


After filling our pints with a full week of Dublin, we rented two cars and drove the country 1,500 miles clockwise, navigating its perfect rock-dappled hillsides and turquoise seascapes. I chose to carve the journey down to a few highlights here. (Happy to share a longer version over a Guinness.)


Behold, the land and the people of the Emerald Isle ...


Day One - the dogs of Dublin


Tucked behind a quiet street in east Dublin is a lodge that welcomes locals and tourists alike. The brick-paved quaint front leads to an unassuming door, the kind from which you'd expect your grandmother to suddenly appear and offer you a warm chocolate chip cookie or a cold glass of lemonade. Inside and around a corner hallway is a room full of couches, coffee tables and books. A middle-aged woman in a yellow cotton armchair set her tea down and spoke first. "Well how are yuh?" Sandra lives in the country but often stays at the lodge to catch the buzz of the city and nab some shopping deals. Our upbeat conversation drifted from the weather to culture to politics, when Robin and Sandy strolled in. The home's two golden retrievers must have seen our American suitcases on the floor and instantly commenced "Operation Biscuit." Sandy brushed by our knees and got a good back scratch. Robin took advantage of the distraction, angled by the armchair and snatched Sandra's bread right off her plate. (The pups, generally well behaved, visited us each morning, ambling into the dining room to catch a whiff of salmon-infused scrambled eggs and black and white pudding.)

After checking us in, the owner took a black permanent marker and circled various "gotta-go-sees" across a small map of Dublin.


Some of us had traveled more than 5,000 miles for this. We were ready.


We left our luggage and jet lag and strolled the streets of the capital city.


You quickly notice language quirks. Bathrooms are Water Closets. Lines of people are Queues. Dollars are euros until you get into northern Ireland, the UK, when they are pounds. French fries are proper chips. Elevators are lifts.


The people here are friendly. They know we're tourists yet still take an interest in a good chat. Outside of a pub, you'll find most discussions at several points along the River Liffey, which cuts through the heart of Dublin and empties into the Irish Sea.


I knew that vehicles travel on the left side of the road, but wasn't aware parked cars on a street don't need to face the same way. Basically, if you can fit into a spot, you can take it.


The River Liffey

Low on sleep and high on hunger, we found an Italian restaurant, because, of course, Camoriano. While waiting for drinks, talk focused on being cramped in close quarters. A woman at the next table joined the conversation, offering up her own, similar fears. It felt great. After all, we claustrophobics must stick together, at least for a few minutes. Until we feel cramped again.


We were about to spend five full days here and it was already getting late, so we looped back to the lodge.


Retiring to our rooms, we downed one more drink: the long swig of sweet slumber.


















Day Two - bar buds


The Hairy Lemon is a traditional Irish pub and bar inside a downtown 19th century house. Steamed strands of beef in a shepherd's pie, the crisp bite of hard cider and a plateful of bangers and mash have a way of reviving your past. Our family pounded never-before told stories on the raw and unlit thick wooden table. We eased into some, laughing at run-ins with the law. Other memories were hard, as our tears ran for loved ones gone far too soon and away.


Crisscrossing curbs and leaning away from left-lane cars, we came on another pub.


"That's a good whiskey." The young man waiting for his drink noticed my daughter Cassie had just ordered a shot of Redbreast. Ryan from D.C. and his girlfriend Amanda were on their way to Scotland. In their late 20s or early 30s, we became fast friends. They suggested a bar with live music a few blocks down, and joined our troupe to check it out. Along the way, I learned he was military and she worked for Homeland Security, which meant I was either walking into something or about to never walk again.


It turned out okay. We muscled our way to the far back corner and stumbled on a group of locals spinning songs and stories faster than you could chug a cold one. They were the real deal and had us all belting out Irish tunes as if we were at a family reunion. Come to think of it, some of the guys did look like portraits that used to hang in my parents' house.


After exchanging numbers, we bid Ryan and Amanda one final slainte (SLAWN-chuh - aka cheers). Then back to base.



Malahide castle

Day Three - Ola and the Ukraine War


Cherished moments aren't always at the top of a picturesque harbor. Sometimes they're between a kitchen and a handful of menus ...


My co-worker's friend, Ted, lives in Howth (pronounced like "both"), a peninsula east of central Dublin. He graciously booked us a table at a restaurant with a stunning ocean view. A giant regatta launched below while we relished the delicacies of the Emerald Isle. It was a fairytale, carefree night.



That all changed when we met Ola.


Quiet and extremely polite, our waitress brandished an accent clearly not Irish, nor American. So we asked.


"I'm from Ukraine."


She was 17, separated from her family by 1,700 hundred miles and a war that today just so happened to be the six-month anniversary. Her mother, a physician, was risking her life at that very moment, having chosen to stay behind to help the wounded. Ola was living with an Irish family until she could make it on her own.


When she disappeared to fill a water pitcher, my wife started an impromptu family collection. We don't know how much it was, but Ola clutched the bundle of cash and looked at each of our faces in silence ... "thank you," she finally whispered.


Leaving, I looked over my shoulder at the bright sailboats streaming below. Blue, orange, purple, black. Amazing how things can fade when you encounter something more meaningful, more vivid.


Ola and her mother had given us new colors.


rounding an island bend off of Howth
passage or cave?
Martello tower
Shane our tour guide
Howth harbor
Off the beaten path: U2 played gigs here before their fame. Shane personally knows their drummer and co-founder, Larry Mullen.






Day Four - Guinness and jail (but not in that order)

For over a century, Kilmainham Gaol (jail) held thousands of men, women and children for petty offenses to large crimes. During the Great Famine in the mid-1800s, many citizens broke laws hoping to be carried away to here; it was the one place that guaranteed a meal.


The facility is famous for holding a group of men and women who fought for Ireland's independence from UK rule. More than a dozen movies have also been filmed here.


Inside the famous Kilmainham Gaol
I took this through the peephole in a cell occupied by Grace Gifford Plunkett. She painted the mural while being held during the Civil War. She is also well known for marrying Joseph Plunkett in the prison, only hours before he was executed. Their tragic but noble story can be found in Irish love songs.
Here in the Stonebreakers' Yard, 13 men were executed by firing squad for their part in the 1916 Easter Rising. The quest was for Irish independence.

The Irish are so nice they'll offer you just about anything.

Ted, my co-worker Mark and Chris from Hail Varsity doing a show from the Merry Cobbler pub the day before the big game. They interviewed me for my radio debut a few minutes later.


We learned there are 30 million bubbles in a pint of Guinness. We also learned every one of them makes you happy.
A freshly poured Guinness has to sit two minutes to turn from light chocolate to the darker tone here. We drank these at the top of the original Guinness brewery.




Day Five - My cab driver stabbed a guy


Martin Crosby goes by "Bing" for the obvious reason, but I prefer to call him the Jason Bourne of Ireland. The round-bodied, jovial cab driver was moderately talkative but pleasantly interested in the Americans he just picked up. We were on our way to Newgrange, home of burial sites older than the pyramids.


Bing no longer drives people around at night. A passenger almost strangled him with a seatbelt. Another one pressed scissors against his neck. But it was what Bing told us next that snapped me out of any remaining jet lag.


One night he drove the city with three passengers. One in the back was fast asleep. Somewhere along their route, the man in the front seat next to him pulled out a knitting needle and began tapping the dash. The guy in the middle back seat then started to tap Bing on his side, poking him repeatedly.


"He was annoyin' so I slammed on me brakes." Bing described in detail how the man fell face first onto the console (police later found his teeth on the front floor). At the same moment that happened, Bing reached over and grabbed the knitting needle out of the other man's hand and plunged it through his thigh, right into the seat.


"Police came and said I did a good job, and they invited me to a bear-bee-cue (BBQ)." He smiled three kilometers wide and then asked me to pay the fare. My credit card flashed. He leaned in with a thicker accent. "Cash only. I dohen have me machine." You don't say "no" to Jason Bourne of Ireland. I was close to speed dialing my SWAT team friends Ryan and Amanda, but my sister-in-law came to the rescue with a roll of euros.


5,000-year-old burial site in Newgrange. It's built so that sunlight once a year (at the winter solstice) can shoot through the entrance and travel deep into the inner chamber.

Another amazing Dublin building
Johnnie Fox's, the highest pub in Ireland. Awesome hooley show and traditional music.

Day Six - American football


traditional Irish breakfast
St. Patrick's Cathedral was built 831 years ago. Jonathan Swift, author of "Gulliver's Travels," is buried here. (Amazed my little cell phone captured all the fine details.)

It's match day, as they call sporting events here. First game of the season - Nebraska vs. Northwestern. Behind me stand two guys from Scotland. In front is a chap from England, and to my right are three young dudes from Dublin.


Callum, 25, is from Kilkenny (south of Dublin) and copied everything I did, for the most part. At one point, he praised rugby over my American football, saying real men don't wear pads and stop the game for timeouts every 10 minutes. I replied that rugby players spend a lot of time hugging each other. We considered it an even debate, and (for the most part) he yelled "Go Big Red!" the rest of the game.


The Irish know how to have a good time and throw themselves heart and soul into anything that involves a crowd. And when there isn't a crowd, they find a way to make one. A group to our left started what's called "the snake" by stringing together empty beer cups that eventually extended 30 rows long and 30 to 40 seats wide. It went viral and was reported on by news outlets in the U.S.



And yet, all the clapping, cheering, stomping and cajoling could not get Nebraska a win. Although we were up by 11 twice, we eventually succumbed, 31-28.



Day Seven - Driving on the left


It was time to leave the big city for our weeklong journey into heathered hills and zig-zagged nooks of stone.


Two rental cars - a RAV 4 and a Volvo 60 - carried the nine of us straight to Kilkenny, home of our friend Callum and also a 12th century castle on 50 acres of parkland.


looking down from Kilkenny castle
one of the most stunning sights in all of Ireland, the Rock of Cashel



If you're going to drive a vehicle in Ireland, here are some things to consider:

  1. Get your life right with God before picking up the keys.

  2. Have someone ride shotgun who never gets tired of saying "stay left stay left stay left stay left." And then, by all means, stay left.

  3. When you see a sign that reads "traffic calming ahead," keep going - you'll learn what it means in a few seconds. (Spoiler: it's a speed bump. And it really does calm your car down. The Irish, if not concise, are very accurate.)

  4. An "M" on a numbered road sign is like a highway - so drive 120 kph. An "N" is like a state road - so drive 80 to 100 kph. An "R" is like a country road - so drive 50 kph. An "L" is like a road to hell - so drive like a snail and remember #1 above.

Around 10 o'clock tonight and 350 kilometers (218 miles) later, we arrive at our second Airbnb. It's a beautiful home on top of a hill in Kenmare, a town that means "head of the sea." Aptly named, it sits at the end of a bay that opens to the Atlantic Ocean.


Mary, the manager, greeted us warmly and almost mentioned the view from the kitchen where we stood, now in pitch darkness, but held back. Glad she did. Here's what I woke up to:



It's no wonder Ireland produces so many writers and artists. Absorbing this environment gives you half your script before you even start.


Day Eight - Ring of Kerry


Back to exploring today - this time we follow the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive along the south and west coast. The younger crew took a boat to Skellig Michael, the steep volcanic mountain where a couple of Star Wars movies were filmed. They climbed 600 steps. The older crew walked six steps to their car and went to Portmagee (population 123), where we met up with our "kids" and downed Hake fish and chips, lobster, mussels, muck rock fish, cider and lagers.


hidden gem along the Ring of Kerry







Kerry Cliffs (far and wide)
Kerry Cliffs (closer)
Kerry Cliffs (as close as I want to be)

Day Nine - Dingle area


A two-hour drive west from our Airbnb and we're in the port town of Dingle. It's one of the most scenic so far, and it's here where many local residents speak the Irish language, not the Irish accent, but the actual Gaelic language. I wanted to chat with some guys in a local bar, but I couldn't understand a single word they were saying. So I come up to them and I says, "Ellohay enmay of the armfays! (pig latin: "Hello men of the farms!"). I didn't, but probably would have gotten on just as well if I did.


Beer and green fields, two important ingredients for anything Irish


This is a two-lane road ... Yes. It really is.


Day Ten - The Gap of Dunloe


I've been on hundreds of boat rides, but nothing is as breathtaking as an early glide through the mountains of Killarney National Park. At one point it was so shallow, we ditched our rig, walked through woods and got into another boat, where it carried us to the beginning of a seven-mile hike through the famous Gap of Dunloe.


Over the throttle of his 25 hp outboard, the captain announced he was quitting work and doing scriptwriting for a living. He might have been inspired by the view himself and just blurted out the sentiment (this land can do that), or he might actually have a literary future. Coming upon one island, he pointed to a stone structure and said that's where a lot of marriages used to occur. "They gave three kinds of rings there - engagement ring, wedding ring and the groom had a special one called suffering."


Earlier today: I believe I discovered the best potential paintball location on the planet, in Muckross Abbey. An open court of stone in the center has branching passageways in all directions. Chimneys lead to a flat roof with stairwells at every corner. Above that are more stone shafts and passages. Narrow slits in walls overlook a graveyard. Four very famous Irish poets are buried here, so I won't make light of the place. Just sayin' it would make a darn good retreat center.


trail near Torc waterfall
a rare sunny day in the Gap of Dunloe

Ross Castle - near the Gap of Dunloe


I almost named him Ronan and brought him back to the U.S.

Can you get any more Irish than this jaunting cart driver? He stopped and posed for a second on the downward slope.
de-colorized for an even older effect
climbing the gap
more of the Gap - black charcoal boulders on rich green grass is contrastingly stunning.
Seven-mile hike - a little over half way in



This yew tree at Muckross Abbey in Killarney is estimated to be 350 to 400 years old.

Day Eleven - Islands


We're in Doolin now, near the Cliffs of Moher. A 35-minute ferry got us to the biggest island, Inishmore. There, we rented electric bikes and cruised the coast, catching glimpses of swimming seals and deep blue skies and seashores.




You're biking around an island 3,500 miles away from your home, and you happen to run into a family your wife grew up with. #Amazing

Day Twelve - Famous Cliffs of Moher and the Wicklow Mountains


The Cliffs of Moher stick their bold neck into, and hundreds of feet over, the Atlantic Ocean. They are the site of several movies and songs, including The Princess Bride, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Leap Year, Maroon 5's "Runaway" and Rich Mullins' "The Color of Green."


I'm not used to public venues, cliffs or otherwise edges-of-no-return that don't have gates or guardrails or electric fences. Long stretches of Moher are completely open, without the presence of human interference. Makes it beautiful. Also makes it gut-stirring scary.


The wild green grass and stone fences never get old.

the less traveled side of the Cliffs of Moher
One of the more popular angles of the Cliffs

After the cliffs, we raced from west coast to east, trying to make Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains before sundown. Because tomorrow we fly home.


The forests south of Dublin give you a much different environment than the bony outcroppings of rock in the open grasslands of the west. Purple, red and yellow flowers fill the terrain. Moss-covered giant trees, followed by tall, slender sticks of more trees hug the hills and surround quiet lakes.




The young adults getting their picture taken by the slightly-less-young-but-still-cool-and-relevant adults



Our last restaurant before heading to the airport hotel: The Grey Dog in Wicklow. Welcome to the malty-bocker glory sundae ... chocolate ice cream, honeycomb ice cream, caramel sauce, Belgian chocolate sauce & real Irish dairy whipped ice cream topped with maltesers.

Thank you for being part of our 12-day tour of Ireland. I hope you were able to catch a glimpse of the grandeur of this timeless island.

323 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

2 Comments


This is great. Thanks for sharing.

Like

Fantastic storytelling and beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing your adventure!

Like
bottom of page