I would never have known about Glendalough if the staff at my hostel hadn’t recommended it to me. Originally, I asked the front desk guy about the Cliffs of Moher.
I had learned late in the game about the Cliffs of Moher and how amazing they are. Unfortunately, it would’ve been a better idea to see them from Belfast because the drive from Dublin to the cliffs is about three and a half hours one way. So… That wasn’t happening. Also, it’s very weather permitting. What I mean to say is that if you leave Dublin and it’s sunny, by the time you arrive at the Cliffs of Moher it could be foggy and rainy and you can’t see the hand in front of your face; then you’ve wasted 7 hours of your trip and anywhere from €50-100. It was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.
But seeing that I had an interest in seeing more than museums and parks, the staffer showed me an alternative tour of somewhere called Glendalough. The tours starts only 45 minutes away from Dublin in Kilkenny and takes you all around. And, as he put it, offered me a little more bang for my very little buck.
So for €25, you board a bus operated by Wild Rover Tours and take a day tour of the areas just outside of Dublin that help make Ireland one of the most beautiful places in the world. My pictures just won’t do it justice.
The tour started with the quaint little town of Kilkenny. Some of you familiar with Irish beer might recognize this as the home of Smithwick’s, but they have other claims to fame. Back in the medieval days, Kilkenny was actually the capital, so to speak, of Ireland.
When we arrived in Kilkenny, we had a choice to make. Either we could spend 3 hours leisurely exploring the town and maybe a nice sit-down lunch, or go to the Dunmore caves about 20 minutes away and take a guided tour, leaving us with about an hour in Kilkenny. I opted for the caves because it was my feeling that I could hang out any old time. But when was I going to come back to the Dunmore caves? Who knows!
So we dropped the hungry folks off at the castle and all of us go-getters set out for the caves. Now, the deal with the Dunmore caves is shrouded in mystery. Originally billed as the setting for a massive Viking massacre, it is the site where about 1000 bodies were found. Once we were on the tour however, it became apparent that there is more than one possible explanation for this finding (as there often is with archaeology). Some people believe that this was a burial ground, or an unsuccessful escape route; maybe even an early settlement. At any rate, a fascinating place!
This was also how I met two fellow tour-goers, Rebecca and Silvia; a couple of German co-workers visiting Dublin on holiday. We walked and talked, all the while learning about the caves, German food, and what we were seeing in Dublin.
The tour of the caves concluded with a very impressive light show conducted by the tour guide. He began by turning off all the limited lighting in the cave, leaving it the darkest place I have ever been in. But then the lights came back in the form of small dancing beads of luminescence, changing color from red to green to blue. We must’ve all sounded like a bunch of tourist because I swear every time the light changed color or even moved slightly, it was all “oohs” and “aahs”. But in the end, I was happy with my decision to visit the caves. It added a little depth to my trip to Dublin, literally and figuratively!
And then it was back to Kilkenny for some much needed sustenance. Rebecca and Silvia invited me to join them on their wanderings so we set off in search of a sandwich and coffee.
Let me start by saying Kilkenny is absolutely adorable! The streets are all cobblestone and considerable narrow for the size of cars these days. There are street performers scattered about, not unlike Dublin, and many, many, many small cafes and coffee shops. The choice was almost overwhelming! But eventually we settled on The Yard Café. This little mom-and-daughter deli was cute as can be with delicious sandwiches and no room to turn around. It was a great choice! We took our sandwiches to go (because I don’t think there was any other option) and used our remaining half hour or so to walk around the castle, slowly making our way back to the bus.
Having my sandwich at the ready, we pulled our anchor (in this case parking brake) and set off for the Wicklow mountains!
On the way up, we were able to take a quick trip to Hollywood! But not that Hollywood, the Irish version; the place where they filmed movies such as P. S. I Love You, Braveheart, Excaliber, and so on. But I could appreciate that they called it Hollywood. There was even a little Hollywood sign up on the hillside. Sure it was no more than a couple feet high, but it counts!
At this time of the year, the Wicklow mountains are downright picturesque with green fields, babbling brooks and gorgeous purple heather in bloom. Since we drove through the moutains, not necessarily Wicklow proper, there wasn’t much to see that would require more than a 15-20 minute stop. After all, we did have a schedule to keep if we wanted to be back in Dublin by dinner. But we did get a nice look at the Wicklow divide. Then it was back on the bus.
The final stop: Glendalough and St. Kevin’s monastery. Interestingly enough, our tour guide, Kevin, got his namesake from this canonized fellow. St. Kevin is regarded as a holy man and great teacher. He also, as Kevin explained, had a very close connection with nature, namely animals. In fact, it was this special kinship that won him the very valuable Glendalough valley, or so the legend has it.
Apparently, St. Kevin had been asking the king for property to build a monastery. But King O’Toole said no because he was greedy, just like all kings in any folklore. However, the king did have one soft spot: his goose. Yes, the kind had become very keen on this goose. But as time went on, the goose was getting older and soon he was moments away from meeting “the sticky end”. So the king, knowing St. Kevin’s excellent relationship with animals and his renowned healing abilities, asked Kevin for help. In exchange, Kevin proposed that once the goose was healed, any land that it flew over would become St. Kevin’s monastery. Willingly the king agreed because he though his goose was cooked, quite literally! So Kevin had a word with the goose and did his magic when viola! The goose went soaring into the air and all over the Glendalough valley. Or so the legend goes.
At any rate, it was a lovely place to stretch our legs. Kevin (tour guide, not saint though he was quite pleasant) gave us a 30 minute walking tour about the monastery, the cemetery, and the ruins of the churches of old. There are graves of course, but they are not as old as the monastery itself which dates back to the 6th century.
In the valley also lay two lakes that you can get to at about a 20-25 minute clip. So, Rebecca, Silvia, and I went exploring through the lush green forest until we reached the lake. It was there we decided that when we were all three rich and retired, we would buy up the land and live in this gorgeous green valley for the rest of our days (and close it off from tourism of course!).
When we got back to Dublin, we three decided to grab some local fare at an old Irish pub called The Celt and listen to some old fashioned folk music. While Rebecca opted for the classic fish and chips (with the not-so-classic mashed potatoes), Silvia and I decided it was a great night for a traditional Irish stew! It was quite good, but I wouldn’t say it’s better than bangers and mash by a long shot. Flor joined us for dinner and drinks and when things got a little too crowded at The Celt, we set off in search of a new venue. It wasn’t long before we heard some powerful crooning down the road at The Confession Box. Much to our shock and awe, we walked in and realized that this melodious sound was coming from none other than the bartender! As he poured perfect pints of Guinness and mixed whiskey sours, he had his microphone in hand and was belting away. Now, I have to say, this was one of the highlights of my trip. Never before had I seen anything like this, ever! That’s when I decided that the Irish are some of the coolest freaking people on the planet!
What I learned in Ireland: expect the unexpected. Especially in the pubs.