Roadtrip: Ireland (Adventures in Scenic)

Mad: In the end, due to the Great Rental Car Hassle, we wound up with an automatic-transmission car. We could have kept driving manual, but honestly, driving on the left side and in fitfully pouring rain, driving stick would have been One More Thing. We left the Dublin airport in the new, unbroken car, only three hours later than our first departure, dropped The Goddess Sam™ off at her home (at which point she cheerfully got into her own car and led us to the onramp of the M50) and headed off to Cork. 

When I say fitful rain, I mean that for a while there would be what I would characterize as a drippy fog, that suddenly transmuted into a truly impressive deluge. Laura Anne, who has nerves of steel at war with a writers’ imagination, was navigator, and indicated when I was drifting too far to the left margin for her comfort by a) hissing sharply, or b) saying “Left Frog”. We got as far as Kildare before the need for dinner (the vagaries of intercontinental travel meant that we had “breakfast” on the flight at an hour locally appropriate for lunch) got to us, and we stopped and had a quite lovely dinner. And discovered that Ellen knew the words to the theme song to Dr. Kildare. Because we contain multitudes.

LAG:  I would like to say here that not only do I not know the lyrics to the theme song for Dr. Kildare, I have never even seen an episode of the show, and would not know the theme song if it bopped me in the nose.  However, I can and will sing the entire theme song to M*A*S*H at a moment’s notice and with no provocation whatsoever.

Mad:  After dinner, with night drawing in and the rain getting more insistent, we drove onward for another two hours until we reached The Gabriel Guesthouse, a former monastery, in Cork. By which time it was sheeting down rain, and unloading the car was a distinctly soggy process. But we were safe and dry in our first destination, and that has to count for something, right?

LAG: I was sent in to make sure that there was still someone awake to receive us.  The gentleman who came in response to the bell was an odd but not unenjoyable mishmash of California surfer hippie and Irish farmer, who assured me that twas no trouble a’tall.  When Ellen inquired if there was a place where, despite the hour, we could get a drink, he allowed as how everything was closed for the night but perhaps he knew where a drink could be found…

And thus we were brought up to our room – small, but comfortable, with a lovely en suite bath – and a bottle of red wine and three glasses made its way into our possession.

We have forgiven Ireland for Ray, in light of everyone else we’ve met so far.

The next morning, Ellen slept in (this is a phrase that will be repeated often) and Mad and I ventured down to the lovely breakfast room, where we were given caffeine and carbs, and all was well.  And the sun is out

(well, it’s not-raining, anyway).

And thence on to Kinsale

Mad: The drive to Kinsale was accomplished almost entirely on wee narrow roads—and as I was driving, this may explain why my hair was a touch grayer when we arrived than when we left Cork. And Kinsale itself has streets that are just about wide enough for one car, which means two-way traffic is an exercise in tact and good manners (California drivers could take lessons). 

LAG:  Having driven through the hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria (and the hills of Queen Anne in Seattle), this seemed somewhat familiar, if no less stressful.  As navigator, part of my job was to gasp sharply when we went around curves a bit too closely.  Note:  curbs (kerbs) in Ireland tend to jut out sharply on the curves.

Mad:  Kinsale itself is a lovely town, a sailing port tucked inland, where geography has created opportunities for History (the Spanish Armada hovered off the coast on its way to defeat by the British). Laura Anne and I did the walk to Charles Fort, which was built to defend against the French and Dutch in the reign of Charles II, and then taken by the English 30 years later (important safety tip: if there’s higher ground in back of your fort, it’s pound-wise/penny-foolish not to cover your back because it’s expensive). On the map the walk wasn’t long, but it contrived to be uphill in both directions, and that day was so blustery that Fiona, our guide around the Fort, was concerned that one of her group might be blown into the bay. We managed not to do that, returned to the town proper, and achieved Ellen and some lunch.

We have eaten very well in Kinsale, I have to say. Like, very well. Also drunk rather nicely. I don’t beer, but Ireland does not want for ciders of various sorts. And Ellen and Laura Anne have been indulging in stouts and porters with every evidence of relish. 

LAG:  I have not yet had a Guinness, being busy investigating everyone’s Reds.  So far, so tasty.

The most surreal moment of the trip so far was walking down a street in Kinsale and seeing a woman waving madly.  At me? I thought, then dismissed that thought.  Until I heard my name being called.  Oh, right.  I know people here!  And so it was.  My friend Kate S has family in town, and happened to be in the right time and the right place to spot me.  I am Amused.  And also delighted to see her again, before the inevitable crush of WorldCon.

Mad: After a really really good dinner with Laura Anne’s friend Kate (a Kinsale native) we began to plot out our Sunday, and decided that a visit to the Toy Soldier Factory would be absolutely required. Because what does it profit women in a country-not-their-own with a car, if they don’t get out into the countryside? And it was Laura Anne’s turn to drive.

LAG:  This was my first time driving on the left side of the road.  It was, interestingly, nowhere as difficult as I’d been told it would be.  Of course, I have trouble determining my left from my right on a good day, so this may have been a matter of using my faulty brain-wiring for good, for once.  We did end up on some….rather narrow local roads, where occasionally the hedges had not been trimmed recently.  So that was fun.  But the few times we encountered traffic heading the other direction, the driver with access to a shoulder politely pulled to the side to allow the other to pass.  

We had said that we wanted to get out and see Ireland, and we have, indeed.

After the Toy Soldier Factory (which was fascinating even for those of us who do not collect toy soldiers), we found ourselves in Macroom for Sunday supper.  Our waiter seemed adorably flustered by the three of us (I swear, we were on our best behavior), but the food was great (roast lamb for Mad and myself, “Irish Chicken Schnitzel” for Ellen) and we were clearly the only tourists in the place, which is always a good sign.  Eat Local is the best advice for travelers, really.

And then we came home and took a long stroll through town to keep our beer-to-steps ratio sustainable.  Kinsale in the dusk is a lovely thing, and we were not alone in our strolling.

Mad: Have we mentioned that there is music everywhere? Not always the music you want to hear (we gave a pass to the grunge/punk pub—not that there’s anything wrong with either, but it’s not for a relaxing pint before going home). Best single music experience: wandering down a street hearing that distinctly Irish band sound: fiddle, kettle-bass, banjo and bodhram. It was the song being sung by the fiddler that took us aback: “If I Were a Rich Man.” Utterly charming and appropriate, and just mildly discrepant in a rich Irish brogue. Somewhere Tevye is smiling.

Today, at Laura Anne’s request (not that anyone else was opposed) we went to the coast. Specifically to Old Head, the land-site of the torpedoing of the Lusitania, to go to the signal tower there. It was one of those days of fitful rain and sun—when the rain came, it came close to downpour, but there were as many (or more) spates of lemony sun in a startlingly blue-and-gray-cloud sky, and brisk brisk winds. Laura Anne got to drive there—I believe in sharing the joy of driving on tiny roads on the left, with  rain threatening. We had lunch, with breathtaking views of The Atlantic and all the storm clouds that formed and moved and formed again, then went on to the Tower and Lusitania museum, then went down for a semi-licit stroll on the cliffs above Old Head Golf Links  Turns out Laura Anne and I share a phobia about edges—which is, we’re okay about approaching the edge of a cliff or something like it, but watching someone else approach that edge makes our bowels turn to water. 

LAG:  I got to spend some time wave-dancing on a nearby shore (while we stared in awe at the people out swimming in the surf), and then home again home again jiggity jog, wherein we tucked one more pub under our belt, had dinner again with local-friend Kate (whom we will see again WorldCon), and headed home to pack up and crash before our 11am checkout.

Next Up: Heading to Dublin, site of our yet-unknown address therein….

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About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books

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Roadtrip: Ireland (Adventures in Scenic) — 5 Comments

  1. I am old enough to remember that there was, indeed, a television version of Dr. Kildare (it made Richard Chamberlain an idol of teen girls), and I know enough about television to know that it would, of course, have had a theme song, but I have no idea at all what that song might have sounded like. Not, I hasten to add, that I really want to know,

    Your travels sound delightful, whether accompanied by your own singing or that you hear on the streets and in the pubs.

  2. I visited Kinsale many, many years ago and still remember what a beautiful town it was! On that same trip, I took the ferry out to Cape Clear Island, the southernmost inhabited island in Ireland and one of my favorite places ever. I haven’t been back to Ireland since, and you’re making me want to go — especially with your reports of how much the food has improved over the decades!

  3. It all sounds wonderful except the driving. I tried driving on the left (not) in Nevis. I navigated and spousal unit, prone to terror, drove as we circled the island. Because More Terror if someone else was driving. the real terror was turning across traffic, and we kept passing wrecks with locals and what we guessed were tourists. Finally we were chanting “Left! Left!” at appropriate places.

    Which is why I will forever be navigator and not driver on these trips. At a guess.

    Thank you for uploading and sharing, and wish I could be sampling ciders with Mad and reds with Laura Anne.

  4. Thanks for the mini tour! Wish I could have gone. And, yes, I was navigator in England while Thor drove, and I had to keep saying, “Drifting!” as he got too close to left edge. We had memorable encounters in narrow, one-way lanes as well…. I’m with Kat — no driving there for me!