Sunday, September 15, 2013

Our Adventures in Ireland - Greenery, Glorious Sheep, and the Unforgettable Enchantment of It All

In May-June 2013, my husband and I took a much-anticipated and hastily planned trip to the Emerald Isle. We knew, from reading and hearing about it, that we would have an unforgettable multi-sensory experience in Ireland, that there would be sheep by the thousands, picturesque country vistas, hearty food, and excellent music. But we didn't expect our every expectation to be exceeded, and to be so immensely captivated by and enamored with the land we saw.
 
Dingle Peninsula Ireland
A typical landscape on the hauntingly and quietly magnificent Dingle Peninsula. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
We had many quintessential Ireland experiences. From seeing multitudes of sheep around virtually curve in the roads, to being left breathless by the magnificent coastal landscapes of Ireland's West Coast. To enjoying pints of Guinness, delicious pub grub nouveau, and the soulful and toe-tapping Irish traditional music we both love so much, in a pub near Fanore. To staying in historic homes built in the 1700s and 1800s, and experiencing that renown Irish hospitality everywhere along the way. To witnessing Ireland's many shades and gradations of green, which, paired with the blues of the coast and the whites of the flocks of sheep, made for a vivid, refreshing, and delectable visual palette. We left a part of our hearts in Ireland, and cannot wait to return to see more of Counties Clare and Kerry we enjoyed the most, and to travel up to Donegal and Northern Ireland too.
 
Here is a handful of photographs from the trip. You can see more if you follow me on Instagram (find me at "elena_knitsandbits"). If you are planning a trip to Ireland, I'd love to give you a few tips about some of our favorite off-the-beaten path places to stay and visit, so feel free to get in touch.
 
This view from our B&B window, caught hours after landing in Shannon from NYC, couldn't have been more idyllic or ideal. We spent the first few days of the trip exploring County Kerry from a home-base outside of Killarney. Jacqui at Burke's Mulbur House was the epitome of hospitality, friendliness, and all-around good nature.
 
Killarney, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Killarney, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
The bright and jubilant abundance of gorse (flowering shrubs) seen everywhere around Kerry made driving through the late spring countryside quite magical. The obligatory sheep delightfully dot the landscape virtually everywhere. As a fiber and wool fanatic, I couldn't get enough of the gorgeous creatures, and each sheep sighting was accompanied by peals and shrills of giddy excitement even on day 10 of our trip. Though, sadly, only some of the sheep in Ireland are kept for their wool, we did encounter quite a few sheep whose fleeces were long and beautiful, and, I hope, used for wool.
 
While we did see lots of knitted pieces in tourist and mainstream shops in Ireland, I was disheartened to note that despite the complex cable designs characteristic of Irish knitting, the hand-knit items were often priced quite low considering the time-consuming work involved. Knowing first-hand the true high costs of using high-quality wools and designing and hand-knitting ready-to-wear and bespoke accessories and clothing, it appears that more consumer education and appreciation would be lovely, both in the US and in Ireland. Ironically, in packing for this trip I didn't anticipate just how chilly the weather could get along the coast in late May, and was glad to support the local knitwear economy by buying a cozy knitted wool hoodie mid-way into our stay.

Gorse growing in County Kerry, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Gorse growing in County Kerry, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Spring Blossoms, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Spring Blossoms, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
While exploring the Iveragh Peninsula, in addition to the famous Ring of Kerry, we took a side trip to a lesser known Valentia Island, where we wandered around the overgrown sub-tropical gardens at Glanleam House and came across graceful horses on the hills overlooking the Atlantic. Unforgettable, magical, and otherworldly.


Horse grazing on Valentia Island, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg
Horse grazing on Valentia Island, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg

We couldn't be happier when we had to brake for sheep crossing the roads, and the novelty and charm of this experience never wore off.


Sheep family crossing the road in Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Sheep family crossing the road in Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
For NYC suburbs' residents like us, it's not often that we get to experience an environment and landscape that are virtually timeless. Our trip through the ancient Gap of Dunloe gave us that sensation of timelessness. I am so glad the weather was fittingly wet and brooding.

By the way, a major advantage to traveling the in off- or shoulder-season is that we were either among only a handful of visitors or alone almost everywhere we went (the Cliffs of Moher being one exception).



Gap of Dunloe, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Gap of Dunloe, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
On our way from the West Coast to Dublin, we visited rural County Kilkenny, where we were treated to scenes like these.

The setting sun, County Kilkenny, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg
The setting sun, County Kilkenny, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg  


Kilkenny Sheep. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Kilkenny Sheep. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.

In Kilkenny, I lived out the fantasy of the countless period films I have watched, by staying at Ballyduff House, where the movie "Circle of Friends" (with Minnie Driver, Chris O'Donnell, Alan Cummings, and Colin Firth) was filmed. The house, the grounds, the ambiance, and the caring hostess, Bred, were all memorable.


Ballyduff House, Thomastown, County Kilkenny. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Ballyduff House, Thomastown, County Kilkenny. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Family Portrait, Ballyduff House, Thomastown, County Kilkenny. Photo by Elena Rosenberg
Family Portrait, Ballyduff House, Thomastown, County Kilkenny. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.


It was unbelievably wonderful to see hundreds of animals as an indelible part of the landscape wherever we traveled in Ireland.


Just another drive through rural Ireland - a herd of ivory goats. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Just another drive through rural Ireland - a herd of ivory goats. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.


This family of sheep has an enviable daily view of the Atlantic. County Clare, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
This family of sheep has an enviable daily view of the Atlantic. County Clare, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.


Horses near Ashley Park House in Nenagh, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Horses near Ashley Park House in Nenagh, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
 
As rugged and severe as much of the West Coast of Ireland is, the way it is tempered and softened here by the pastel wildflowers and lichen, to me is somehow indicative and reflective of the wild and aloof yet delightful and endearing essence of Ireland itself.


Cliffs over the Atlantic, near the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Cliffs over the Atlantic, near the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.


A 'polka-dot' shell fragment on the beach in Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
A 'polka-dot' shell fragment on the beach in Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
We try to seek out special and off-the-beaten-path places and experiences when we travel, and the Burren Perfumery is the very definition of such a place, in a very literal sense. An oasis in the heart of the Burren region, it houses a most fragrant "body" shop, a quaint café, a charming herb garden, and an inspiring story. After hiking the "Burren in Bloom" (spring wildflowers of countless varieties among rocky outcroppings), a stopover for some aromatherapy and souvenirs of the Burren Perfumery's "Summer Harvest" and "Man of Aran" fragrances hit the spot just so. Not to forget, generous cups of herbal tea enjoyed al fresco around a moss-covered tree-stump of a café table.


A cup of herbal tea at the Burren Perfumery's Café. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
A cup of herbal tea at the Burren Perfumery's Café. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Our trip was relatively short (10 days), yet we saw so much -- from castle ruins dating back 500+ years, to formal English gardens from the 19th century (in states of alluring disrepair), to trees, ancient and majestic. My one regret is not scheduling a visit to a dreamy looking alpaca farm (the first in Ireland!) down the road from Orchid House B&B where we stayed in Fanore. By the way, this was an excellent home base for exploring the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher.


Medieval fortress ruins, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
Medieval fortress ruins, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.


19th Century Gardens, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
19th Century Gardens, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.


A very old tree on the Ashley Park House estate in Nenagh, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
A very old tree on the Ashley Park House estate in Nenagh, Ireland. Photo by Elena Rosenberg.
  
And yet there is mightily plenty more to see, soak in, and experience in this country we enjoyed so much. We hope to return very soon. For now, I'll daydream of Ireland while looking in its direction from across the Atlantic.


While driving across Ireland. Photo of and by Elena Rosenberg.
While driving across Ireland. Photo of and by Elena Rosenberg.


 

4 comments:

Nutfield Weaver said...

Lovely post, Elena! Your photos are superb! I cannot wait to visit Ireland; County Roscommon will be a required stop as it is where my grandfather was from. A Guinness seems about right after reading about your travels. :)

Rachel Biel said...

So beautiful, Elena! What a great opportunity and it was fun reading more about it. I would love to go there someday, too!

martina307 said...

Beautiful photos Elena! Now I really wish my trip to Ireland wouldn't have been cancelled this summer!

Marilyn Perez said...

I love Ireland so much! I really enjoyed looking at your photos and reading about your trip. It brings me back to when I went back in '03. I hope to one day return and explore more of it. It really is a beautiful country.

Post a Comment