After leaving Galway I had just over 3 weeks left in Ireland. I was based outside the city of Cork and took little trips to different towns in southwest Ireland.
The first stop en route to Cork was Killarney. I chose this town entirely because of the Bing Crosby song Christmas in Killarney. We listen to it every holiday season and I just love it. There was no way I was passing up a chance to visit. It was a lovely little town, were I had delicious food and enjoyed the street performance of some young boys dancing and playing music.
Top of my list from Cork was to visit Blarney, and like any good Irish-American, kiss the Blarney Stone. The castle itself was really interesting and set on beautiful grounds. After an hour long wait I finally got to kiss the stone, and hopefully I have now obtained it’s gift of eloquence.
Another day trip I took was to the coastal town of Kinsale. It’s a quaint and colorful harbor town. When my parents visited Ireland 2 years ago this was my mom’s favorite town, so I had to visit. I loved the winding little roads with brightly colored buildings. At the entrance of the harbor is an old English fort which I took a tour of and enjoyed very much. I would happily go back and spend more time here, as there seem to an impressively high number of bookstores and delicious looking restaurants.
A little bit of time was spent in Cork city as well. There was more bustle here, with a lively city center. I loved The English Market and the pedestrian roads around there. What I liked most was finding all the interesting little details that can sometimes be easy to overlook.
Lastly I headed back to Dublin to catch my flight out of Ireland. It was sad to leave, but I was excited for the next leg of my trip!
I took a day trip from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher. Along the way I got to see a lot of really cool sights. One of my favorite little things was spotting thatched cottages along the way. They are so charming. We stopped at Dunguaire Castle for a quick and stunning view. Then we drove through the Burren National Park, which is a strange rocky landscape. I ended up being more interested in the dry-stone walls that divide up the countryside. They’re fascinating to me. There’s no mortar to hold them together, it’s just gravity and perfectly fitted stones with enough space in between them for the wind to whip through. Another stop was to see the Celtic crosses in Kilfenora, which were lovely. Last, but certainly not least, were the Cliffs of Moher. I walked all along them, watching the different waves of rain make their way in off the water. The height of the cliffs is so impressive, and the scale is hard to fathom. I loved sitting by the edge and taking it all in. The day was perfectly wrapped up when a rainbow appeared on the drive back to Galway.
After leaving Dorothy’s I headed down the west coast of Ireland. I spent a night in the town of Westport in County Mayo and got back in the swing of traveling solo again. The town was lovely and I simply took pictures and enjoyed a meal at a pub.
Then I headed to Galway. I completely loved this city. There are street performers everywhere and most of the pubs have live performers or local jam sessions nightly. My stay was filled with music and it was amazing. I took a free walking tour and learned about the history of the city. We went to see parts of the old medieval walls, which are strangely preserved in a modern shopping center. I walked through the Claddagh, now a neighborhood of Galway. It was once a separate town across the river where the local population of Irish lived, while the ruling English lived in the walled city, and it is where the Claddagh ring originated. I wear a Claddagh ring that my parents got for me, so it was wonderful to get to see it’s historical roots. I had fish and chips, and one night I went out dancing; everything was a blast. Mostly though, I spent my time in Galway wandering and doing street photography. In such a vibrant, bustling town it was the perfect place for it.
Westport, County Mayo
The best part about my stay in Ballymena was forming lasting connections with the people I met there. I cannot say enough how much this place came to feel like home because of the wonderful group of supportive people that became a part of my life.
Dorothy is a force of nature, sharp as a tack, and so much fun. She can do anything, from felling trees with her several chainsaws, to whipping up a batch of jammy dodger cookies in 10 minutes flat, to analyzing interpersonal communication skills. The day trips she took both Lea and I on were spent talking for hours, and often extended to more conversation over dinner and wine. We became very close and I will always consider her family and friend. I loved getting to know her daughters Cora and Neve, and getting the chance to see Neve play for the Ulster Women’s Rugby team.
Just down the street from Dorothy lives her father, John. He is such a good natured man, always with a smile on his face. He would join us for dinner or afternoon tea on occasion, and was eager to lend a hand around the house or garden any way he could. I loved hearing is stories of growing up in Wales during World War II, or about how his mother was a great painter and his father was a published mathematician. John himself is a painter, and he uses it as a sort of meditation. When he paints everything else recedes into the background. He also keeps bees, and Dorothy lovingly says that he looks like an astronaut Winnie the Pooh in his bee suit.
There were some of Dorothy’s friends that became my own as well. I never got a picture of Alex, but she is a spunky Northern Irish woman who I enjoyed very much. Then there was Jo and her whole family. Jo is a kind, smart and welcoming person. She persistently asked after my photography and ended up coordinated me doing a little presentation of my different photo projects to their friend group in Ballymena. She let me document her beekeeping, which is so cool. I learned so much. My day of shadowing Jo and her bees also included lunch with, and made by, her mother Judy, who I got to know at several of the friend gatherings and who is a delight. She recently moved to Ballymena from the Lake District in England, and is loving living in Northern Ireland. We bonded over both being left handed.
I also become close with Jo’s son, Gus, who is a documentary filmmaker. We had a lot to bond over with movies and documentary subjects, not to mention that he is a funny guy and just great human. He showed me around Belfast and we also caught a couple of movies in Ballymena, followed of course, by analyzing them like the good film geeks we are.
Dorothy hosted another traveler while I was there, Lea from Switzerland who is so sweet. We made a good team, and made also sorts of tasty dinners and treats. Lea was the instigator of the glamor shoot and the rugby lesson that I went to, and my time there would not have been the same without her. We left Ballymena on the same day, and there were more than a few tears shed.
The whole gang was just the greatest and I am so thankful to have found my adopted Northern Irish family.
Back at Dorothy’s we decided to have a photoshoot. Another traveler, Lea from Switzerland, was staying with Dorothy as well and she suggested that we take advantage of Dorothy’s beautiful house and gardens, and the fact that I’m a photographer. We pulled dresses from the collections of Dorothy and her two daughters Neve and Cora, both of who joined us throughout the day. Then we played dress up all day and took pictures. It was just the best time.
My good friend and former DC roommate, Sarah, has been getting her Masters in London, so we planned a weekend together in Belfast while I was staying with Dorothy. It was so wonderful to be able to see Sarah and hang out in a fantastic city together. Our first stop was one of my favorite places in the city, the Crown, a gorgeous Victorian pub. Dark rich wood, intricate ceiling designs, and booths with doors. It feels straight out of a movie and I absolutely love it. What’s great is that if you’re lucky enough to snag a seat in a booth you are likely going to be sharing it with at least one other group of strangers. We made friends with the group of women that were in ours and it was great fun.
Both Sarah and I love Game of Thrones, and since so much of it was shot in Northern Ireland we couldn’t pass up the chance to take a tour to different filming locations. So one day we spent on a tour bus geeking out over the show and taking in the stunning landscapes of the country. The tour also included a stop a Giant’s Causeway, because why not, so I got to see that again. I absolutely loved the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. It is suspended high above the rocky coast and leads you to an island. Workers alternate allowing people to cross one way and then the other, which means a bit of a wait going either direction. And also meant that we did not allow enough time for the wait going back and nearly missed our bus! We waved it down just as it was getting to the end of the parking lot. Much too close for comfort, haha, but we were happy to get back to Belfast without any other excitement.
During our time in Belfast we walked through different neighborhoods, both Protestant and Catholic, and sought out the murals the city is known for. I always love street art and Belfast did not disappoint. We spent the evening in the Cathedral District bar hopping and having the best time. Then Sarah headed back to London. I will visit her again in London right before going back to the states, and I am really looking forward to getting to hang out with her more in her adopted city.
Dorothy took me to visit several towns around Northern Ireland. First on the list was Derry, known for its intact medieval city walls and as the location of the start of the Troubles. The city walls were so cool to see and walk along, but I was most interested in the street art in the Catholic neighborhood of Bogside. The history of the Troubles was never something we learned in school. I only started learning modern Irish history after college when I picked up books on historical topics I was personally curious about. Spending time in Northern Ireland let me learn even more, and see where history happened. I heard from people who had actually been there during the Troubles, and how, like any country, Northern Ireland is so much more than a single part of their history.
As a whiskey lover I couldn’t miss Ireland’s oldest licensed distillery, so one day we visited the Bushmills. We took a tour, which included a delicious tasting in a beautiful setting. Other days we passed through lovely little towns like Glenarm and Killyleagh. I loved the charm of these places, and their timelessness.
On several occasions I went in to Belfast. I did some genealogy research there, which didn’t turn anything up but I was glad I had the opportunity to do. Dorothy’s daughter Neve plays rugby, and one day I took an intro to rugby class through one of her teams. It was really fun, and I even made a try. Other times I just got to wander the city and take it all in. By the end I really felt like I knew a bit of the city.
During my stay with Dorothy we took many day trips around Northern Ireland, and even some into Ireland as well. She was a wonderful host and I got to see so much of the country thanks to her. Because we did so much I’m splitting up my sightseeing posts into countryside and towns.
First off is the countryside. The rolling hills with a hundred shades of green, and stunning rocky coastlines. Many of the places that we visited had been used as Game of Thrones filming locations, which as a fan, was fun for me to see. It’s such a beautiful country, and I hope you enjoy the photos!
Next I moved on to Ballymena, Northern Ireland, where I would be staying with host Dorothy. I helped out around her house and garden, and in return got to live like one of the family. Turns out that Dorothy is one of the best people I’ve ever met and we became as close as family. This was my home away from home. I stayed there for 7 weeks, and will definitely be back at some point to visit.
Dorothy lives in a big old farmhouse with extensive gardens. It is the house that she grew up in, and her father, John, now lives just down the road. She works amazingly hard in her garden, having sculpted them out of the woodlands that John planted. They are wild and playful with a hint of Alice in Wonderland. People can pay to have events on the grounds or in the Potting Shed, which has been turned into a lovely tea room. The whole place is magical, and I miss it.
John, who became like my Northern Irish/Welsh grandfather, is a genial man, and a collector. At his house he has a shed that he keeps with all his treasures, accumulated over the years. He says they’re bits and pieces that people might overlook, but that he finds interesting. Everything was once, if not still is, practical and functional, and he puts everything out on display. John is also a painter, and so you can see where he has added flowers or bees right onto the wall or items themselves. His artwork also hangs framed among the other pieces. It’s such a cool space, and it’s wonderful to see how much John loves it.
kaitlin k walsh
Adventurer armed with a camera.