(Go here for part 1: New York City.)
Our flight from New York to Ireland was very smooth and uneventful. We landed in Dublin around 5:00 a.m. local time, ate breakfast in the airport, then picked up our rental car. Interesting side note for those who, like us, are not used to driving on the left side of the road (or, as our shuttle driver called it, the “right” side): it is a common tendency to drift too far to the left in an attempt to avoid on coming traffic. This was easily evidenced by the rental car parking lot, where basically all the rental cars had scratches and dings on the left side only. Moral: be alert when driving, and pay attention to both sides of the road. 😉
Not that I can talk, since I let my husband do all the driving. I preferred to be the picture taker–and trust me, it kept me busy. Of course, just because I wasn’t driving doesn’t mean that I didn’t have my own fair share of terrifying passenger moments, at least at the beginning. There were plenty of ditches, walls and trees flying dangerously close to MY side of the car, which made me gasp, hold my breath, or say a prayer (or a combination thereof). But, to be fair, my husband actually got the hang of it pretty quickly.
Since we couldn’t check in to our first hotel until that afternoon, we decided to go exploring right away. Fine by me!
After consulting our handy GPS (what did we ever do before technology??), we discovered a national park just south of Dublin. What better way to begin our trip in Ireland than with some sight-seeing? So we drove to Wicklow Mountains National Park, which is free to drive through, by the way (or at least it was when we were there). It seems we came at a good time, because there was literally no one else there. We had the entire place to ourselves–which was probably a good thing, since we kept slamming on the brakes every few minutes in the middle of the road so I could frantically scramble out and snap pictures like the type of over-enthusiastic tourist I used to make fun of.
How could I not be enthusiastic, though? The scenery was breathtaking.
The very first place we stopped was this little neck of woods called Devil’s Glen–an unfortunate name for such a beautiful, perfect place. I’m not even sure why it’s called Devil’s Glen, since the Irish name (An Gleann Mór) literally just means “The Great Glen.” The only contributor I can think of is that it does get extremely dark beneath the trees. It gave me the chills; not because it was scary, but because it felt like we were walking into a completely different world and it was thrilling. Perhaps that was just my fantasy-loving imagination getting carried away. But I loved it all the same. 😉
There was nothing out of the ordinary about the place, really. Just some insanely tall trees, leaf-covered earth, tree mushrooms and moss. But there was something about it that inspired me and stuck with me for the rest of the trip.
More on that later, though…
Pressing on, we soon found ourselves in the middle of a spectacular wilderness that seemed to roll on forever. We took the Old Military Road through the park (which was built by the British after the rebellion of 1798 to pursue rebels hiding in the mountains).
I found out later that there are plenty of historical sites to see, including churches, the temple of Skellig (which I’m kind of disappointed I missed, since it is the subject of one of my favorite Loreena McKennitt songs), monuments, stone crosses, etc. We didn’t see any of these. As I said, this was a spur-of-the-moment visit, sort of our own “Unexpected Journey” (to continue with The Hobbit theme), so we had no idea what was there or what to look for.
But the views alone were worth it!
We did discover a waterfall early on during the drive. Here you can see it right in the middle of the picture, which I captured just before a bend in the road:
Sorry I don’t have a better shot of it. I noticed it at the last moment, so the scene went something like this:
Me: *Big, Dramatic Gasp* “SLOW DOWN! SLOW DOWN!!!”
Jonathan: *braking and looking anxiously around* “What? What is it?”
Me: “A waterfall!” *snaps the picture* “Ok. Carry on.”
The above picture was the result, and my only evidence of the waterfall–along with a random house and a warning sign about private property (we didn’t trespass, I promise). You gotta admit, though, you can’t beat that location. I rather envy that home owner.
Later on, we spotted a delightful little stream winding through the hills.
Conclusion: If you’re ever in or around Dublin, check out this park! It’s free, and the views are truly awe-inspiring. I can’t imagine a more perfect place. It’s beautiful, wild, peaceful and secluded. You’d never guess a major city was nearby.
Now, for the moment you’ve been waiting for…our first castle stay!
Cabra Castle, located in County Cavan just east of Kingscourt (Dún a Rí in Irish), and a little north of Dublin. This was actually my favorite of all the castles. Probably because it was the least modernized of them all, so it felt more genuine in a sense, like we had truly gone back in time. And the grounds were spectacular.
Once you reach the entrance, you still have to drive a kilometer or so through a wooded area before the castle finally comes into view. In a way, it increased our satisfaction when we did see it at last, because our anticipation kept building. I sat on the edge of my seat with bated breath, my camera poised to snap the first glimpse. This was one of the moments I had been waiting for as well. I still can’t believe we got to stay in four castles.
You better believe we did some exploring over the next couple of days!
First, there was our picturesque room:
With this view from the back door:
And don’t even get me started on the endless staircases and passages. I was in love.
A few of my favorite things about this castle? Let’s see, there was this adorable little archway that was like an entrance to the Secret Garden:
Then there was this totally awesome tree:
And I mustn’t leave out the walkway between the rooms and the main castle:
And last, but certainly not least, there was Oscar. The Irish wolfhound who lived at the castle, and was approximately the same size as me.
So that is a small glimpse at our first two stops in Ireland!
Before we part, I would like to return, as promised, to Devil’s Glen. Since I didn’t care for the name, I did what any writer would do. I renamed it. 😉
Henceforth, Devil’s Glen shall be known as, “Doras na Haimsire” (approximate pronunciation: DOOR-uhs nah HAM-sheer-uh), or in English, “Time’s Door.”
Not only did I rename it, but the place was so inspiring to me that for the remainder of our trip I also spent a good deal of time crafting descriptions of it in my head. Thus, if it were part of a story, it might look something like this:
Doras na Haimsire
The Trees towered overhead, ancient sentinels standing watch with straight backs and stoic gazes. Below them, a solemn silence hung heavy on the air, deepened by the shadows as dark as night. No birds sang, no animals skittered between the roots, no insects buzzed. Even the Wind slowed in their presence.
This was Time’s Door. Here all thoughts, all visions, all dreams, and all deeds of the past came to rest long after they were forgotten. For the Trees were the Guardians of Memories.
A crackle of leaves on the forest floor betrayed the presence of a wandering visitor. The loudness of her steps and her exclamations of delight displeased the Wind, who rustled the treetops indignantly. He thought to blow with all his might until the cold air drove the unwelcome woman away out of the sacred grounds.
It rippled from Tree to Tree, soothing the bitter Wind.
“Be at peace,” murmured Grandfather Pine. The timbre of his voice told of years past reckoning, years of knowledge and experience, of joy and sadness. “Be at peace, dear friend. For not all sound is an offense to be silenced. Listen more closely to the rapture of the woman’s voice, and consider carefully the wonder in her eyes. Then you will see she comes not in irreverence, but praising the Father for the beauty of His handiwork. And what other purpose do we serve, if not to reflect His glory? Do not then dissuade a humble guest from entering. Rather, greet her with warm welcome and loving caress.”
Ashamed for his anger, the Wind drew close to the woman. Softly, ever so softly, he held her in his embrace. The woman felt his kiss brush against her cheek and she smiled. How she loved the cool touch of the breeze and the scents of the forest he carried.
The woman turned, her eyes drawn up a little hill nearby. How she longed to view that quiet world from its height!
Up she walked, weaving between the Trees. Sometimes with feet slowed in quiet admiration, and other times with a quick skip in her steps. The urges to dash through the forest singing at the top of her voice and to remain still and silent battled within her. At the top of the hill, she looked down to behold the royal raiment of the forest court:
Mighty Trees tucked their feet beneath a carpet of brown and orange leaves, and around their trunks draped cloaks of soft green moss. Bare canopy sprawled overhead, except for an occasional crown of hardy evergreen needles. Below, a shadow of perpetual twilight that the morning sun could not penetrate.
And in the midst of it all, Grandfather Pine standing tall and proud, with garb adorned in loveliest ornaments: rows upon rows of mushrooms, whose soft white flesh glowed bright in stark contrast to the dark forest colors; and in between and all around, small buttons of red-brown dotted the old bark.
The woman closed her eyes and listened to the rustling leaves in the breeze. A perfect, peaceful day.
Then, another sound met her ears. One she had not noticed before, but felt certain it must have always been there. A soft murmur high above–ancient voices whispering to each other of memories past and as old as time, of memories new and only just arrived, and everything in between.
Whispering Trees that brought songs of remembrance, with voices so soft they went often unheard. But not today. For there, at the top of the little hill, the woman heard it. Then she sang her own quiet song of praise; and the Wind, moved by the gentle melody, carried her voice up high, high, high to mingle with the Trees’, where they made harmony pure and sweet.
As her song dwindled into nothing, the woman thought with some reluctance that she must go. Descending the hill, she patted Grandfather Pine’s strong trunk as she passed and whispered, “Farewell.”
She left the grey shadows of the forest behind and stepped out into the cool spring sunshine, humming the tune that filled her heart.
And Grandfather Pine whispered back, “‘Til we meet again.”
The woman’s crunching footsteps faded into the distance, and her song slipped between the Wind’s fingers, beyond his grasp.
All was as it had been. The woman’s visit was but a passing moment, born at the threshold of Time’s Door…
Stay tuned for the next stop in our Irish journey!