On one hand it's somewhat surprising that it took me until now to visit Ireland. On the other, I really had not had too much interest in Europe in general until I ran out of other places on the map in the past few years. I say it is surprising considering I have family history in the southern end of the country near town of Cork, I went to a high school modeled after the teachings of Irish Catholic Missionary, Edmund Rice, and attended University of Notre Dame, which although French in name has the mascot of the “Fighting Irish”.
The title of this blog is from an Irish drinking song made popular by the Clancy Brothers:
I spent my high school and college years learning all the tunes on their greatest hits CD and my friends and I would recite at parties for no particular reason. I chose “Mountain Dew” as the title because as I walked the hills south of Dublin, this tune was constantly in my head. I encourage you to give it a listen while reading the following trip recount to put you in the proper mood for an Irish tale.
Per usual, let’s start this story how all my forays into a foreign land begin, with a concise recap of the history of the land. The land that is currently Ireland was settled about 10k years ago during the last ice age when a land bridge formed between Ireland and Great Britain and even mainland Europe. Even though the Celtic people resided throughout Europe they eventually got pushed out to the western islands. Their traditions and associated Gaelic language survived and was incorporated into modern Irish customs. The Romans did settle Great Britain but never invaded Ireland, probably only because they really saw no great benefit. Their influence was felt though, through trading and eventually their religion (Christianity) was brought over by St Patrick. Lots of infighting between the various Irish kings and they sought support from UK and the Normans. This opened the floodgates for outside involvement. The UK set up shop and recruited their own Protestants to move into the north of the country. Eventually in 1916 there was a big uprising against British rule leading to the establishment of the Irish Free state in 1922 with the ratification of a treaty. Many of the Irish were not happy with a divided Ireland (IRA) and a civil war ensued. Ireland remained separated and newly created government prevailed. In the 60s Ireland finally became an independent country, completely free from the shackles of UK. Well, except for that little bit of land called Northern Ireland. This led to “The Troubles” Irish Catholic Republicans vs the English Protestant Unionists. Hunger strikes, car bombs, and protests. That about gets us up to date. After UK left the EU, places like Scotland and Ireland seem much more likely support a referendum and become completely independent, or unified as one country in Irelands case.
Now that we have that out of the way, we can get down to the details of the trip. My plan was to spend a week hiking across Ireland (similar to last year’s Scotland trip) followed by a brief stop over on the Isle of Man to see the oldest and most dangerous motorcycle road race in the world, “Isle of Man TT”.
Here is the general map of the hike as well (South to North direction)
Unlike in Scotland, I decided to check my bag for the flight, to allow for transport of hiking poles, tent stakes and multi-tool. I might have gotten away with poles and stakes carry-on but did not want to chance it this time. I don’t think I will go this route in the future as it is a bit stressful having so much gear and electronics at the mercy of the airline. If it gets delayed I am sunk for the trip and possible out a lot of money. In fact, it did get delayed on the way home for a couple days. In the future I will either go back to carry-on only or check just the sharp stuff. On a related note, when I was flying out of Detroit, I went to ticket counter bag drop, where they tagged my bag and grabbed my backpack, and literally stood up and threw it about 6 feet onto the belt. I just looked at him. It was very strange as he tossed it in a high arc that seemed like a toss one would make in a game of Corn hole. I just looked at him and said, “That was unnecessary” He just shrugged. I spent the next few hours wondering what was broken in my backpack. I guess he was used to dealing with hard shell luggage, but I honestly thought I was on hidden camera or something.
Even though I was flying United, the flight was operated by Air Lingus. For some reason I was unable to reserve a seat for the flight on their app, or United for that matter. When I got to the gate I asked for a seat assignment and they said they were busy at the moment and to come back up in 30 min. I did and they said they were going to lunch and come back in another 30. Getting annoyed as it literally takes 20 seconds to assign a seat. I went back when they were starting to board and they said they would call me over loud speaker. Everyone boarded and I went to board and of course I had no ticket. So they finally gave me a boarding pass. I looked at it and realized it did not have a seat assignment on it. WTF. So they asked me to just wait until everyone else was boarded. I finally lost my cool along with the 5 other people they would not provide seats for, and of course we all ended up with middle row seats for the flight over to Europe.
I arrived in Dublin at 9am. Can't check into hotel, did not sleep on plane, so what else to do but go on a Guinness tour!
It was a decent experience that culminated in beers on the top of the brewery in a glass-walled bar. I could look South and see the Wicklow mountains, knowing that if all went according to plan I would be walking over them, back into Dublin in 6 days time.
I thought the below shot was interesting. How often do you see a church with hundreds of kegs stacked up in the backyard. But I guess that is kinda where brewing beer all got started so maybe not that strange.
The Beer brewing process was interesting because opposite of liquor, where all the unique flavor seems to come from the aging in flavored wood barrels, with beer the flavor is all up front and the storage is not important. They take the barley, and roast, mill, mash and boil it until it is time to add yeast.
I thought the above structure was cool. It was a table that you could put your beer glasses on. So instead of a regular table there were a number of these scattered around the room.
I had not slept in over 24 hours and after a few Guinness I was feeling good and decided it would be a cool souvenir to slip a miniature pint glass into my shorts. Why not just put into my pocket you ask? Well, in my altered state I thought they might have security patting people down for some reason, and they might not check my underwear. I made it out of there and went and took a nap outside St Patrick’ Cathedral until my hotel room opened up.
I actually forgot all about the glass still in my shorts until I rolled over on it and almost had a major accident. I then tried to dig it out of my crotch. I eventually realized I was in a crowded park, surrounded by kids, digging around in my pants. I decided it was time to leave before I heard the familiar Whoop Whoop sounds of a police siren. On the way back to the hotel I stopped in the Temple bar area along the river Liffey to snag a couple pictures of the famous watering hole
After check-in I walked much of the city around the river to take in the sights
I crashed early that night from lack of sleep. The next morning I checked out around noon after breakfast across from hotel at local café.
I walked to central bus station and caught a bus a couple hours south to the town of Bunclody.
From there I could have caught a taxi to the start of the Wicklow Way, the trail I would follow back to Dublin, in Clonegal, but instead, after having a meal I just decided to start walking.
It ended being about 7km to the actual trailhead. It probably wasn’t the smartest idea as these were busy country lanes with a plethora of blind corners and tall hedges, with no where to hide as I was hemmed in by stone walls like a gladiator in the colosseum. At one of the more dangerous parts I tried scaling the wall, but in the end I just waved my hiking pole to indicate a human around the corner.I got to Clonegal and took a breather at the official start to the southern route
From there it was more roads. I knew all this going in, part of the reason I elected to start at the southern end of the trail. By the end of 6 days I doubt I would be interested in hiking along roads. As it would turn out, that is exactly what I did for no other reason than I was not ready to stop walking even after 100 miles.
I stopped a couple times for a snack along private driveways as their walls made nice beds.
I finally got off the main drag and starting seeing sheep.
Here is a little video I took just to set the mood
Isn’t wasn’t long before I came upon the outskirts of Shillelagh. Famous for their walking sticks.
Around 4pm I walked into what I imagine to be one of the smallest pubs in existence: "The Dying Cow".
It was about the size of a closet. When I opened the door and ducked to go in, the 3 people all stopped and stared. I wanted to blurt out, “I’m here for the gang bang” in my best Old School movie improvisation, but instead I just ordered a pint and asked if I could set up my tent in the land behind the pub. The kid behind the bar was more than happy to oblige, and for $15 I got a towel and access to a shower and bathroom. They even had a little gazebo-like structure I could set up shop in. After unpacking and showering I went back to the bar in search of dinner.
I ordered a decent pizza and talked to locals for a few hours before retiring for the evening. Not sure why, but did not feel as social this go-round as I had on previous hikes. All were very kind and interested to know why I was here. I listened as they talked about the IRA and the struggles with the UK and what Brexit meant for the future of the relationship. I am always glad I spend hours of time researching a country as it just makes these conversations much more interesting. It is like coming to visit the USA; There is one conversation that can be had if you know nothing, but if you know about events/people like say Donald Trump, then the conversation becomes much more colorful. I asked if he felt the island of Ireland would end up united. He was not too sure. His answer was one I had not thought of. He said, “no one wants Northern Ireland. It doesn’t produce anything. It is just an anchor around the neck of the UK currently.”