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Republic of Ireland

Tree Tunnels & Tractors

So, to be fair there isn’t a stark difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland aside from currency and units for the speed limit.  You still get the rolling green hills which are completely hidden from the road by tall grass, trees and shrubs, and you still get tractors driving around everywhere.  You will literally see tractors driving down the motorway.  It may be seasonal since it is spring, but we haven’t driven anywhere and not seen or followed multiple tractors down all kinds of roads.  But tractors aside, there are a few subtle differences.  The towns we drove through seemed a bit more colourful and very quaint and it seemed there were more older buildings in the places we visited.  There were significantly more stone walls in Ireland, and they were usually topped with vertical stones which we found interesting.

It was about a 4-hour drive from Belfast to where were stayed in Ireland, so after we picked up our 3rd rental car of this trip, we headed out for a road trip.  Our next Airbnb wasn’t going to be available until around 6pm, so we took the long way.  We headed back to Enniskillen to take a better look at a castle we had driven by previously.  We also made a point of stopping in Athlone to get a picture of Sean’s Bar which is the oldest pub in Ireland and possibly even Europe.  The bar has a detailed and documented history back to 900AD.  Thanks, Mel, for the tip on this place!

We stayed in a small village called Ballina about a half hour drive from Limerick.  We felt like it was a good central location to explore from.  The town was adorable, but most of the services were across the river in Killaloe and there was only a single lane bridge connecting the two villages.  Traffic was a bit of a nightmare, but they are currently constructing a new bridge further down the river.  It just gets a little chaotic during peak times right now.  Ballina and Killaloe are adorable, and it was lovely to just walk along the River Shannon.

We explored Limerick where we toured King John’s Castle.  Construction on the castle began in 1212 and King John never did return to see it despite commissioning it in the first place.  The castle has survived a turbulent past including a couple of sieges.  People still lived within the walls up until the end of the 20th century.  They had a ton of information on the history of the castle and Ireland as a whole. 

Nenagh is a small village nearby and they have a lovely museum called the Nenagh Heritage Centre.  It is located in the former Governor’s house which is attached to the county gaol.  Several wings of the gaol have been demolished, but the gate house, Governor’s house, and one wing are still standing.  It is also home to the North Tipperary Genealogy Centre.  Behind the Governor’s house is what used to be the women’s prison block.  In 1887, shortly after the goal was closed, it was taken over by a branch of the Sisters of Mercy for educational purposes.  To this day a small group of nuns still live in the section that was the women’s prison.

We also visited the Nenagh Castle, the remains of a 13th century limestone castle.  It is really just a cylindrical keep, but it was really interesting.  The walls of the keep hold the spiral staircases to get from each floor.  At the base of the tower the walls are approximately 15 feet thick and by the top they are only 11 feet thick.  You can really feel the difference in the spiral staircases as you ascend.  They’ve restored the tower, so you can climb all the way to the top for some great views of Nenagh.

Finally, we poked our nose into the St. Mary’s of the Rosary Church in Nenagh.

The one thing I insisted on was a visit to the Cliffs of Moher and it was definitely worth it.  It is a very popular tourist destination, but for good reason.  The cliffs are incredible to see, and they have done an excellent job making it a safe and accessible attraction.  They built the Visitor Centre into the landscape to not take away from the natural beauty.  We wandered quite a long way from the Visitor Centre to get a way from the crowds and the views did not disappoint.

We opted to drive down to Cork for the day and wander around town.  We found another Heritage Centre located in the Cork City Gaol.  The gaol was built in 1818 and much of it still remains.  In 1923 the gaol was closed due to deterioration and in 1927 Eireann Radio took it over and began broadcasting from the main building up until the 1950s.  It was later used as a school and storage for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.  In 1993 it was restored and opened as a visitor attraction.  They’ve paid homage to all of its history, and they even have an exhibit on its years as a broadcasting station.

Cork itself was a very beautiful and interesting city to explore.  It sits on the River Lee and in the middle of the city there is an island in the river that housed the original port and markets in Cork.  Most importantly, I finally found a cat that needed some pets.  This is the first one we’ve come across in Ireland.  There was a cat that walked by our Airbnb every day, but never when we were outside.

Of course, we couldn’t visit Ireland and not visit Galway, so we made a day trip to visit.  We pretty much just wandered around town, but we had a lovely time.  We did wander through the free Galway City Museum which had some great exhibitions.  They have an exhibit called Superhuman which dives into medical technology research in Ireland.  It turns out Ireland is the highest exporter of medical device products per capita in Europe and one of the top 5 hubs for medical technology research in the world.

After a couple of days exploring cities, we were ready for some nature.  We visited Curragh Chase Forest Park which was the former home of the de Vere family.  The park is comprised of 300 hectares of parkland, trails, lakes and an arboretum.  The former home of the family is still standing as well and although you can’t go inside, it is a very impressive structure.

On our last day we drove to Cahir Castle, a 12th century river island fortress that sits on the River Suir.  It is one of Ireland’s largest and best-preserved castles.  The castle served as the stronghold of the Butler family.

We also stopped at the Rock of Cashel; a cluster of medieval buildings perched on a hill overlooking the town of Cashel. There is a round tower, a high cross, a Romanesque chapel, a Gothic cathedral, an abbey, the Hall of the Vicars Choral and a 15th century Tower House.  Cormac’s Chapel can only be viewed with a guided tour as it is home to the only surviving Romanesque frescoes in Ireland and they are working hard to preserve them.  And the highlight of course, was the cat we found on the way back to the car.