The Emerald Isle at Christmas

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We left DC in late afternoon heading to Dulles where we would catch an overnight flight to Dublin.  We were driving in really heavy rain but were thankful that we would be able to leave the States ahead of the predicted winter storm scheduled to hit most of the country the next day. This was the first time Bob has traveled with his walker, and we were impressed when we were met with a wheelchair for him the minute we got to the United check in desk.  It took a bit of time for the clerks to figure out how to check his walker through but with Patrick’s help the walker was wrapped and checked.  The United clerk commented to Patrick how lucky we are to have him traveling with us.  Amen to that! 

We had arrived early at the airport and spent a couple hours in the United Lounge before boarding. As Christmas, birthday and anniversary gifts to each other we had splurged and purchased first class tickets.  On this flight that translated to seats that reclined into beds, not bad for a red eye! After the fact, I’m not sure this was such a great idea because it’s really going to be hard to go back to ordinary seats knowing what a difference this upgrade means on a long haul flight.  

We arrived in Dublin to find the rainy weather had followed us there. No wonder it’s called the emerald isle!  Our Airbnb was next to the Jury’s Inn Hotel that we were familiar with from a previous visit, and our host said she would meet us there in the coffee shop.  Helen bounced in greeting us with all the enthusiasm of a local tour guide.  Her place, she explained, was just around the corner.  As we began to follow her, she paused to explain our location, favorite restaurants and things to do even showing me her lovely waterproof Irish hat. Unfortunately we were getting drenched as we took in all this information. 

As I was planning for our days in Ireland I had found that most things are closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day as well as the 26th (St Stephen’s Day in Ireland, Boxing Day in Great Britain). But there was one tour of Guinness available at 4 pm on the day we arrived. So we quickly got settled in our apartment and Patrick and I headed off to the Guinness Storehouse.  It’s a self-guided tour and winds up from the ground to the sixth floor.  I had purchased the tour with two extras.  The first was a lesson in how to pour a perfect brew (and of course a pint of Guinness was included with it).  The second was a pint at the Gravity Bar on the very top floor, with a 360 degree view of the night lights of Dublin.   

Helen had suggested Darky Kelly’s as a nearby pub. Dorcus Kelly was a madam who operated a brothel on this site in the 1760s.  She was arrested and executed for killing a shoemaker who was abusing her “girls.”  

Cary, flying in from Rome, was scheduled to arrive while we were at Guinness so we decided Darky Kelly’s, just around the corner from our Airbnb, was a great place to meet up for dinner.  Pat and I arrived first and were lucky to find a table back in a corner.  A crowded Irish pub two nights before Christmas complete with an Irish band and singing!  

I had booked a tour of Christchurch Cathedral for the following morning and then a walking musical pub tour for the afternoon. Because of the rain (and the fact that we had toured Christchurch Cathedral previously)  Bob and I let Cary and Patrick venture off on their own.  Christchurch was built in 1030 by a Viking King, Sitruic Silkenbeard, and then rebuilt in 1170. Cary and Patrick found the 63 meter long catacombs of Christchurch fascinating, particularly the mummified cat chasing the mummified rat inside the pipe organ from the 1860s. 

And a few hours later they were the only guests on the walking tour.  As the guide was telling his stories, people would stop by and say hello and contribute to the dialogue. The rain prevented them from doing all that had been planned but the intimate group seemed to make up for it!

Christmas morning we woke up to the Christmas bells chiming from Christchurch Cathedral, just across the street from us.

I  had booked another walking tour in the afternoon. This tour of the Liberties took us through the historic area of extreme poverty as well as political upheavals that Patrick Taylor references in many of his books. I had painted a picture of the area in my mind and it seemed to match up well. The best part of the tour was that it was authentic; this was no canned script. Our tour guide was James, a middle aged local resident who enthusiastically recalled for us stories of his own youth all punctuated by fond memories of his granny.  Again, we were thrilled because the tour was just the four of us and one other, a Canadian with a passion for history, who was visiting Ireland for the first time.  It was a chilly walk and while rain threatened, luckily it held off!

I had hunted for a Christmas dinner reservation before we left the US.  I had found The Jurys Inn, virtually next to our Airbnb, offered a set “Christmas Lunch” menu that included a glass of prosecco, an appetizer, a main and a dessert.  Bob, Patrick and Cary chose the traditional turkey dinner and I chose the roast beef. Both were amazing. After dinner we walked back to our apartment in the rain!

We had one last day in Dublin, St Stephen’s Day, and were disappointed that this is generally a day of futbol in Ireland with most shops closed including many pubs. Even the Hop On Hop Off buses weren’t running. But people were out and about. We spent the day walking along the Liffy, enjoying some street performers and stopping in at Temple Bar.

The next morning we left Dublin for Belfast. We like to travel by train because it gives us opportunities to see the countryside. Not knowing how crowded the train would be over the holidays, I made reservations in advance. How surprised we were when we entered the car and found our names lit up next to our seats. It’s only a 2 1/2 hour trip north and when we arrived we took a cab from the station to our stay at the Belfast Jury Inn.  

At the top of our list to do was the Black Cab Tour.  Bob and I had done it when we were in Belfast a few years ago and found it an amazing experience.  This time was just as interesting as the first. The area is still full of tension.  The murals for both sides, the Catholics and the Protestants evoke a very emotional responses.  Our cabbie showed us videos of the bon fires from July 11, (the night before the July 12 celebration of the 1690 victorious battle when protestant King William of Orange defeated Catholic King James).   The cabbie explained that these are no ordinary bonfires. They are far higher than the buildings around them and create a real danger to their communities. He told us many families go away on the bonfire nights because they fear for their family’s safety. He showed us a video of a bonfire from July 2022 when sparks from the bonfire started fires on nearby buildings. Check out this link if you want to see more.

Patrick and I also went to the Titanic Museum.  The thing that makes this museum so unique is that the museum is almost entirely about the building of the ship where as the Titanic Museum we visited in Nova Scotia focuses primarily on the ship’s. Thankfully we had timed tickets but even so the museum was very very crowded and made it difficult to mosey through at our preferred pace.  

One more day in Belfast before we were going to head to warmer environs, Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, what should we do?  Patrick and I decided we wanted to go to Derry, about an hour train trip away.  We got a cab from our hotel, again in the rain, and headed to the what we thought was the appropriate train station, but it appeared to be closed.  A bus was parked next to the cab and we soon figured out that the tracks were under repair and therefore, the station was closed.  The bus driver told us he would take us to the next stop, Antrim, where we could get a train to Belfast.  As soon as we boarded he drove off.  Not bad service. But we did find it odd that the cab driver didn’t know the train station was closed prior to our arrival. When we arrived at Antrim we got our ticket to Derry as well as a return ticket back to Belfast.

When we got to Derry we found the train station was in the middle of nowhere. The clerk at the station explained how we could walk across a bridge and downtown, but given the continued cold rain we were looking for a dryer, warmer route.  As soon as we went outside the station, a taxi pulled up.  The guy looked at us like we were nuts when we told him we wanted to walk the wall. But then he kicked into gear and first told us where we could get a taxi back to the train after our excursion and then went out of his way to get us to the top of the hill and next to an entrance to the walled walk.  The walls were built in the early 1600s and have over time held people in and also blocked people out.  During most of the Troubles of the late 60s and 70s the walls were closed off.  There are interesting lookouts with great views along the walk.  About halfway round we left the walk to get a better look at Catholic majority Bogside. The murals here continue to tell the same story as those in Belfast honoring the Catholic patriots and calling for the release of political prisoners still held.  

We stopped in at a little hole-in-the wall museum/gift shop.  The owner was a local who was eager to share with us the history of the area.  When he found out we were Americans he was particularly eager to chat asking lots of questions about Trump.  We thought it strange that this Irishman didn’t know we currently have an Irish president.  He was well aware, however, of John Kennedy.  

By this time we were both pretty cold so we checked out a few stores and then stopped in another Irish pub for dinner before heading back to get the train home.  Right around the corner from the pub was the taxi place our driver had told us about. Finally, after a twenty minute wait a cab arrived and got us back to our train station.

Given that there are four of us and Bob and I together have 4 bags and a walker, we decided we should order two cabs to take us to the airport.  I suggested to the hotel clerk that perhaps we could book a van but he said it was easier to book two cabs.  At 5:30 the next morning we were in the lobby waiting for our taxi.  No one; nothing.  I checked with the hotel clerk.  She called the taxi company but got no answer.  Finally one cab came!  The driver mad no bones about it; he didn’t think we would fit. Totally ignoring the driver’ protests, Cary took charge and managed to get most of the luggage in the trunk. Then with Bob in the front, Cary, Pat and I squeezed in the back seat with the remaining luggage and Bob’s walker stretched out across our laps, we set out for the the 30 minute drive to the Belfast airport and our flight to the Canaries. Oh, and did I mention it was raining!

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