Oh, Ireland! You bring me to my knees. You cause my breath to catch in my throat. You are haunting, but always laughing. Today was glorious. County Wicklow was misty and the winds were stiff. It was the perfect day.
Breakfast was typically Irish. Some beautiful, thick slices of ham, an assortment of soft Irish cheeses and sinful pots of berries and cream. We sliced off generous servings of dark soda bread and fluffy potato bread. Of course there were scones.
Mike had done his homework the night before and had booked a bus tour of County Wicklow, the garden spot of Ireland. We walked to The Shelbourne Hotel to meet our bus. The Shelbourne is a beautiful Grande Dame in the Victorian style, facing St. Stephen’s Green. Our driver, Damian, gave us the full benefit of his knowledge and pride in his city as he called out the points of interest on our way out of Dublin. He filled us with local facts and trivia. Dublin is a city of 1.4 million but is larger than Manhattan. Sixty-two percent of the population of Dublin is under thirty years of age.
Our route was to take us to Glendelough (pronounced lock). It translates as Glen for Valley, de meaning two and lough for lakes. Valley of two lakes. And, not just any lakes. They are glacial lakes and they are the site of an ancient monastery. The Glendelough National Park is over seven hundred square miles in size and is the second most visited site in all of Ireland. What is the first, you might ask? Why, the Guinness Brewery, of course (did I mention that Arthur Guinness had twenty-one children?). The ancient ruins at Glendelough date back to the eleventh century. The monastery was burned by the Vikings and rebuilt many times over the course of history. It consists of the ruins of seven churches and the second tallest Irish Round Tower in Ireland as well as a very large cemetery. We hiked from the site of the monastery to the point between the two glacial lakes, where we again met our bus. All this time, the wind was blowing, the rain was a light mist and the light was such that you knew that you would bump into a ghost at any turn. Damian reported that had the weather been lovely, the site would have been teeming with tourists and our time at Glendelough would have been much less enjoyable and spiritual.
Just a short ride from Glendelough found us at a local pub for lunch. What is it about Irish potatoes? They are superior to any potatoes found anywhere else in the world. Mike and I both had a huge bowl of stew (secret ingredient being Guinness) served over a half dozen small roasted potatoes. We washed it down with a pint of Carlsberg. We were warned that drinking too much beer would not make for a pleasant afternoon bus trip as we were about to enter a toiletless/treeless section of County Wicklow. In fact, you cannot even step off of the paved thread of a road because you would sink and never be found again. As you climb up into the pass, the ground becomes a solid marsh as far as the eye can see. We climbed into the mist as the trees disappeared and there was nothing but gorse, heather and sheep in all directions. The sheep are everywhere. In fact, the sheep are in the road. And, the road is a challenge all it’s own. The Tour de France was held on this road a few years back. The road is not wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. One vehicle must always yield to the side. This is not an easy feat when there is no shoulder of any sort. Remember, if you step off the pavement, you will sink. I found it best to simply look away and trust Damian. Again, the misty rain simply added to the glory of being in Ireland. The rain hung over the peaks and slide into the valleys. When we stopped to take photos of a waterfall, the wind was sharp enough to make you catch your breath.
As we began our descent, Damian flavored the tour with selections of music to suit the vistas. We enjoyed the overtures to several movie sagas – Christopher Columbus and Braveheart among them. The music punctuated the drama that spread before us. As we returned to the roads that would take us back to Dublin, the music changed to the Clancy Brothers and other Irish musicians. Smokey Robinson too? Yes, Damian’s taste is rather eclectic.
Back to our hotel for a quick cat-nap and then to a lovely Italian restaurant for pasta and a bottle of wine. Early to bed and tomorrow we head to the west.