Once upon a time, there was a little girl who fell in love with fairy tales. She spent many an hour daydreaming of being a princess and living in a castle. Well the little girl grew up, but her love of fairy tales and fascination with castles remained. Seeing the castles was one of the things I was most interested in while in Ireland. There is no shortage of them to discover.
One of the things that struck me about the castles was that they just kind of appeared when you got close to them. You couldn’t see them from a distance – you would think given their size they would dominate the landscape but they really just melded into it. We were actually on our way to one and we drove right past without seeing it – when we realized we went too far we turned around and driving back exclaimed “It’s right there, how in the world did we miss it!” For me this just added to their allure.
Kilkenny Castle was the first one we toured. It had been painstakingly restored to its original grandeur. Walking throughout it there were photographs and descriptions showing the work that went into restoring it. I’m so glad the time and money was put into this. It would be such a shame for these places to go into complete disrepair, eventually to be lost forever. I enjoyed seeing the décor and furnishings as they would have been when it was occupied over eight centuries ago.
Lismore Castle was the grandest we visited. Much to our surprise this is still a private residence. Can you even imagine? Architecturally it is beautiful and quintessentially what you would expect a castle to look like. Although you aren’t able to go inside you are permitted to walk the grounds and gardens, which are impressive on their own. There is a charming area decorated as a fairy glen for children, sculptures throughout including two sections of the Berlin Wall, herb, vegetable, and perennial gardens, as well as beautiful trees and flowering shrubs.
I fell in love with Ballyscaggartmore Towers. This is the fairy tale castle me, the princess, dreamed of living in. While not a complete castle, the structures here capture the imagination. It’s nestled in a “fairy” wood sprinkled throughout with remnants of days long gone by.
Lough Eske in Donegal is a castle that has been converted into a five star hotel. We had the privilege of spending one night here. We just missed hobnobbing with actual royalty, Prince Charles was staying there the week before. It was wonderful! This does make you feel a touch like a princess. Not far from the castle is a wooded walk along a picturesque lake. It is so relaxing to be in such a decadent atmosphere.
Bunratty Castle is fun. You can wind your way up narrow staircases to see rooms throughout the castle reminiscent of the 15th and 16th centuries. I was happy we got to explore it when it wasn’t crowded because navigating through the narrow passages in a crowd would have been awful. It is part of a folk park that recreates the experience of a working 19th century village. You are able to get a sense of the class structure and see how things were done such as milling, printing, baking, and pottery. We also participated in a medieval dinner at the castle complete with traditional music and storytelling. It was a very entertaining experience.
It was great exploring the real deal – for now this princess will need to go back to daydreaming. Perhaps even some story telling inspired by another era.
A month ago I had the pleasure of touring across the Emerald Isle. It was a glorious week – I wish it had been longer! Knowing Ireland’s propensity for rain – I had prepared and brought all kinds of rain gear with me. It was never needed – the weather was spectacularly beautiful for the entire trip. Perhaps some of the “Luck ‘o the Irish” was with us where the weather was concerned – it was a bright blue sky vacation.
One of the first things people say about Ireland is how green it is. It definitely lived up to that expectation. I didn’t realize quite how rugged it would be and I wasn’t expecting to see so many mountains. Before I got there I was envisioning rolling hills and farmlands and there is plenty of that, but so much more!
The Wicklow Mountains are breathtaking. In this region we visited the Powerscourt Estate and Gardens and Waterfall as well as Glendalough. Arriving at Powerscourt early, there was a slight wait until it opened. A bus of Japanese tourists arrived at about the same time. While wandering around taking in the beautiful mountain views, one of the Japanese women began to sing. She had a beautiful voice and although I have no idea what she was saying it was like an homage to the mountains and seemed such a fitting and respectful way to start the day. At the estate, every vantage point, nook, and cranny held amazing views. All shades of vibrant greens were present, sprinkled throughout with the reds, pinks, oranges, and yellows of the rhododendrons throughout the paths. The waterfall drapes itself down the side of the mountains flowing into a rocky riverbed. Travelling further down the mountains you reach the ancient monastic site of Glendalough. Walking through here you feel nestled in a serene valley, surrounded by mountains where a river runs into a quiet lake. I really just could not get enough of the beauty surrounding me.
One of the stops that truly captured my imagination was Ballyscaggartmore Towers. As a lover of fairy tales and folklore – I felt like I walked into a storybook here. You follow along wooded trails where trees and rocks are lushly green and moss covered. Wild rhododendrons provide pops of color along the way. Then suddenly you come across beautiful guard towers on either side of a bridge crossing a river. I half expected to see trolls coming up over the sides asking for the tolls to cross. Further along the trails you come across the beautiful remains of a castle entrance – the castle itself was never completed. I kept waiting for a fairy to appear – my mind was overflowing with thoughts of fantastic creatures and kings and queens.
The Ring of Kerry does not disappoint, from mountains to ocean views and everything in between. This area gives you a sense of the country’s ruggedness as you wind your way through mountains and valleys on narrow roads. Almost every view along the way is picture worthy. There really is something for everyone – lakes, rivers, stone circles, ruins, waterfalls, peat harvesting; you name it, you will likely see it along this route. One of the highlights for me was our stop at one of the beaches. I really got a kick out of putting my toes in the water on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Sometimes it really is just the little things.
The Cliffs of Mohr – WOW – this is a wonderfully magnificent site. We spent the better part of a day wandering around the cliffs just trying to take it all in. I think the only thing that got us to leave was hunger setting in. You are high up there! I braved the inner trail to walk along the cliffs but didn’t really venture too close to the edge. At times it can feel a little disconcerting as you are walking along. The sides of the cliffs were interspersed with wildflowers cascading down in a blanket of pink, purple, and white. There is a breeding site for puffins along one side and I was hoping to get a glimpse of them. No such luck – I could hear them, but I could not see them. This was a wonder to see and we were so blessed to have such a beautiful day to spend there.
The Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery was like nothing I had ever seen before. Over rolling grassy hills stood dozens of chamber tombs, ring forts, cairns, and passage graves dating back to 4600-3900 BC. This was a site that brought some of the folklore of the region to life. I felt like I had taken a step back in time. You could see another large cairn up on one of the mountains surrounding the site in the distance. I felt the mystique of the site as I wandered from grave to grave.
Mother Nature has certainly out done herself in Ireland. There is so much natural beauty here. It was glorious to be able to relax, bask in the sun, breath in the air, and be surrounded by splendid sites. It recharges the batteries and offers a fresh perspective. It just piqued my interest more and I hope to some day return and explore even more areas. There is so much I still want to see and do here!
I love to travel. For me it is an escape, sometimes a reawakening, often enlightening and inspiring. I hope you enjoy the stories of "my adventures." If I inspire you to have some of your own - all the better. Bon voyage!
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