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Newgrange, County Wicklow, New Ross, & County Wexford
My journey began in the Dublin Airport where I rediscovered my dependence on my cell phone. In this case, I needed it to locate Malachy Quinn of My Irish Cousin who was meeting me with my vehicle. He also had my SIM card sorted, but without it I was unable to call or text him. Thankfully … the Internet. We used email to connect up, and after a rather funny series of missed interactions, we were at last sitting across from one another in an airport cafe. Over coffee we discussed my itinerary. Malachy sent me on my way at approximately half past six in the morning, with little to no driving instruction. Let the adventure begin!
I drove north first to Newgrange, but arrived too early to take the tour. Eerily enough, Hurricane Ali prevented my attempt to revisit the prehistoric monument nine days later. I took this failure as a sign: “Not this time.” I suppose that could be interpreted as a promise to one day return. #Ireland2020
Wicklow Forest National Park
From Newgrange, I took a southwesterly route to Blessington, where I stopped in for breakfast. My Irish oatmeal came with fresh berries at Crafternoon Tea. The shop also sold handmade items – everything from knitted coasters to woolen hats, all as delightful as the food and drink. A narrow less-traveled road led me through County Wicklow. When I reached the National Park, however, the landscape bore little resemblance to a forest. I can only describe it as my idea of an English moor or heath.
Beautiful ground covers in lavender, bright green, and pale yellow swept across the rolling hills. When trees finally did appear, they struck me as an afterthought rather than a theme. I wondered at the culture that would call this stark land a forest. Random sheep grazed along the hillsides, but contrary to the many warnings I received, I never experienced a crossing.
The Ruins of Glendalough
I could not have imagined, much less predicted, the mesmerizing effect that Glendalough would have on me. Its charms left no wonder as to why St. Kevin chose this particular area as his place of solitude. The peaceful, majestic woods gave reason enough for the existence of the ruins of the monastic settlement, but I found the remains of the ancient stone structures as compelling as the natural beauty of the Valley of Two Lakes.
Glendalough’s monastic city grew out of the settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. Surviving structures today date back to the 10th and 12th centuries.
“Despite attacks by Vikings over the years, Glendalough thrived as one of Ireland’s great ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning until the Normans destroyed the monastery in 1214 A.D. and the dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin were united.”
I strolled the Green Road Walk all that drizzly afternoon, taking time to wander into the shops surrounding the visitor’s center. My favorite photo would have to be the house I spied sitting up on a hill across a little stream.
From Glendalough, I made my way to New Ross where I enjoyed a meal of vegetable soup and Irish brown bread overlooking a replica of the Dunbrody Famine Ship.
According to Wikipedia, “The Great Famine of Ireland during the 1840s saw a significant number of people flee from the island to all over the world. Between 1841 and 1851, as a result of death and mass emigration (mainly to Great Britain and North America), Ireland’s population fell by over 2 million. Robert E. Kennedy explains, however, that the common argument of the mass emigration from Ireland being a ‘flight from famine’ is not entirely correct: firstly, the Irish had been coming to build canals in Great Britain since the 18th century, and once conditions were better, emigration did not slow down. After the famine was over, the four following years produced more emigrants than during the four years of the blight. Kennedy argues that the famine was considered the final straw to convince people to move and that there were several other factors in the decision making.”
Winding country lanes led me to my first AirBnB – a dairy farm in Ramsgrange, near the border between County Kilkenny and County Wexford. Somehow I never spotted Phil and Shirley’s cows, but that did not stop me enjoying their (raw) milk in my morning tea. Phil and I shared breakfast the next morning, and he sent me off with a couple of apples picked fresh from the trees you see in the photo above (left). Irish hospitality at its best!
I spent the morning of Day 2 walking the streets of Wexford Town. There I found an embroidery shop where I had my grand daughter’s name etched into the belly of a lamb. I spent a good hour or more in a Birkenstock store conversing with the shop owner about everything from divorce to the rewards and difficulties of running a small business in Ireland. It might have been uncanny how easily she and I got on, except I’ve gotten used to meeting kindred spirits along my path. Happens to me all the time.
Street performers were pretty common in the shopping districts.
A visit to the Ballyteigue Burrow Nature Reserve made for an excellent afternoon. The green tract in the photo on the left follows the coastline, then makes a loop back to the harbor for about a 4 kilometer hike.
The views along the way were stunning.
Shirley had recommended I visit Hook Lighthouse and Loftus Hall, so those were my final destinations for day 2. The lighthouse was amazing, but I missed the tour of the most haunted house in all of Ireland by about 30 minutes.
A Templar monastic ruin in Templetown on the Hook Peninsula:
During the first few days of my journey, I delighted in traveling the back roads for scenery such as this. But as I neared the end of week one, the stress of driving on the left, along roads almost too narrow for two vehicles to pass, finally lured me back onto Ireland’s main thoroughfares, but already the breathtaking beauty and variety that is Ireland’s southeast had stolen my heart.
In 2015 I made my first bucket list. I was 51 years old. There were exactly three items on my list:
- Publish a novel
- Vacation in Ireland
- Open an AirBnB
Three years later two things astound. One, that it took me so long to set any goals for my life; and two, that in only three years I have accomplished two out of three. I buried goal #3 sometime last year, but did I mention that I’m a strong believer in resurrection? 2018 must be my banner year, ‘cause on May 29th I self-published my first novel. You can find it on Amazon – assuming you are into fantasy fiction with a Celtic feel. Here’s my blog post announcing the release. One month ago I stepped back onto American soil after 11 magical days in Ireland. Yesterday I ordered the photo book of my trip. I’m thinking that tomorrow will be a good day to set some more goals.
Well, maybe not so fast. First let’s process Ireland, shall we? This post is the beginning of a series of travel blogs about my amazing Irish adventure. On the Emerald Isle I learned some things about myself. I remembered my love for photography … looking at the world through a zoom lens … focusing on various elements … seeking the perfect shot … and capturing moments that made me feel really good. Because of this newly rediscovered love, there are going to be lots of photos. I also found out that I am braver than anyone ever imagined – including me.
And, I became just a wee bit better at listening to my heart. You know, that still small voice inside that most people ignore? Yeah, that. Paying attention to my heart is why I went to Ireland, and why I went alone. Most everyone is familiar with the voice inside, the one that knows things that the rational mind could not possibly know. But our fear of being wrong (or more often, looking foolish) prevents us from paying close attention to it. According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, “we live in a time when it is not enough to know, we have to know how.” It is not enough to quote platitudes like “follow our heart,” it’s time to learn how to do it.
I used to think that I needed to live in a quiet environment to be able to listen to my heart. I have learned instead that stillness is the key. Stillness is a characteristic of the mind, therefore it is something that I can find even in the most chaotic of settings. Only when the ever-present chatter inside my mind fades into the background can I begin to hear the subtle language of the heart. The heart speaks in feelings, emotions, and gut reactions, not words. But I did not need to go to Ireland to learn this. In fact, it is something I have known for perhaps twenty years or more. No, I went to Ireland in response to the call of my heart, not to learn to hear it in the first place.
Of course, learning to follow the heart is a life-long quest for all of us. It is not something we necessarily ever fully achieve, but I believe we can get better at it. Going to Ireland reminded me how much fun this journey can be.
May you find joy unspeakable as you discover the path to your heart.