Cycling Killarney National Park in Kerry, Ireland

Aongus and I held a vote the other night. Our best day since moving back to Ireland from London? We unanimously agreed:

Our day cycling in Killarney National Park.

This was one of four days we spent in County Kerry, and the 20 or so hours we spent in Dingle ranked a close second (see prior blog posts on Dingle, Slea Head, and stone forts along the Ring of Kerry).

Awakening from Lockdown

When the Irish government said “Lockdown is lifted–go forth and spend your money on domestic tourism”, we readily agreed! “Let’s head for Kerry,” I exclaimed. “It will be a treat to see Killarney when it’s not full of tourists!”

Indeed, Killarney, its National Park, and its famous Muckross House are typically packed to the gills with Americans.

We arrived safely after a 3.5 hour drive from our home in Dublin. As this was right at the end of lockdown #1, we had not yet been able to buy a bike rack for our car.

Arriving in Killarney, we found many people who were delighted to welcome tourists. Those in the hospitality industry have really suffered, financially, during lockdown. Nonetheless, we found one hotelier who was terrified of my accent. “No, I’m not straight off a plane,” I reassured her. “Dublin is my home.”

Hiring bikes

After a fair night’s sleep and breakfast in a nearly vacant cafe, we rented bikes in Killarney town and headed for some scenic routes.

Muckross Abbey

Our first stop of the day was Muckross Abbey, a place I’d never visited before. The stone abbey is absolutely spectacular. It is surrounded by a cemetery, woods, and fields.

We spent a good hour exploring the Abbey’s multi-story ruins.

Muckross Abbey offers magnificent views at every turn.

Sweeping panoramas abound.

And there are some beautifully preserved details, like this stone relief.

To the side of the worship space is housing for the monks. The plan is straightforward enough, but when exploring it you’ll experience a maze of rooms, passages, and stairs. Delights are tucked away. They reveal themselves, to the persistent traveller, piece by piece. Most rooms are well lit, but Aongus found a dark and spooky one (photo below).

The highlight for me was the central cloister with its ancient Yew tree. Such incredible majesty, reaching up to the Heavens!

We discovered spiraling stairs to the upper floor…

…where I got so mesmerized looking around that I whacked my head on the lintel of a low doorway! I think I was gazing up at the chimney (shown below) when that happened.

I recovered, though, and discovered the Monks’ sleeping quarters. At the end of the room, we found even more stairs. These went up to the main tower.

The inside of the tower was architecturally spectacular.

In spaces like these, the iPhone’s panorama feature provides loads of fun.

We had a great time exploring each nook and cranny.

Here’s a view looking back down toward the main entry of the worship space, and the relief we saw earlier.

Here I am walking the lane back to the Abbey’s carriage parking area, where we had left our bikes.

When you visit, if you are not on bikes, consider taking a carriage ride out the Abbey.

On this tourist-free day, the horses had little work to do.

Muckross House & Gardens

Muckross House itself was closed, though the gardens and cafe were just opening back up from hibernation.

Approaching the house by bike we enjoyed this view:

The surrounding landscape was carefully crafted and meticulously cultivated.

The picturesque view out from the front terrace of the house nearly takes your breath away.

The whole place is a masterful work of art.

Here’s a Yew tree in the garden:

Leaving the house, we headed out toward the National Park’s stand of ancient Yew trees.

Ancient Forest

This ancient forest of Yews is simply unforgetable. So lush. Covered in mounds of plush green moss.

It’s hard to do justice to this dramatic landscape.

But suffice to say, I felt like a Hobitt!

At the edge of the forest we found dramatic views of the northern lake.

Dinis Cafe

Our bike rental guy had shared ideas of where to stop–including important pointers since few spots were going to be open for lunch. Dinis Cafe, he thought, would be open today. It had been shut for lockdown and this was its first day back in action.

I arrived at Dinis a bit before Aongus:

Dinis Cottage is a quaint little house perched on the hillside, overlooking the southern lake from two terraces with picnic tables.

I enjoyed a nice hot bowl of soup and picturesque views (of the lake, and the man).

And then we were off again….

…to explore some more.

Torc Waterfall

Our next big stop was at Torc Waterfall.

It’s a short walk up hill from the car (and bike) parking area.

Viola! Here’s the waterfall in all its splendor. Aongus isn’t too keep on heights, so he’s hanging on to ensure I don’t fall over the edge!

Or perhaps he’s considering shoving over the edge? 😉

The stairs upward beckoned, promising more adventures, paths, and views. We decided to get going downhill, however, as we had another big adventure in mind.

We did take time, though, to marvel at various trees on the way back down to the car park where we’d locked our bikes.

Muckross House to Killarney

Our tour route took us back around, past Muckross House for a second time.

Northern Loop

Returning to Killarney town, we found a second wind and continued on toward the Northern Loop.

Throughout the day, we set our bikes aside, taking side trips by foot.

I long to canoe here someday. Canoes are rare here, however. Kayaks and motorboats are far more common. Aongus didn’t even know what a canoe was!?! People here often call kayaks “canoes”.

Isn’t this view inviting? It makes me want to paddle away….

Ross Castle

On the road to Ross Castle, we discovered more phenomenal vistas:

These photos are of Ross Castle, operated by Ireland’s Office of Public Works (OPW), but closed on this Covid-ridden day.

Ross Peninsula

Our tour around the Ross Peninsula rounded out the day so nicely.

Offering more moss, more green, and so much more lush. Here Aongus models a fine Marino wool sweater we brought back from our last trip to New York:

Memories of this place are great fodder for dreams. There’s almost no place I’d rather spend a day.

Overnight in Killarney

After out adventure, we returned to Killarney for a second night.

We’d not dined out for all of lockdown, and this was a very welcome treat! Aongus loved his first night’s chicken burger so much that we returned to the same pub for night #2. He’s very serious about his food:

The next morning, he was recharged and ready to roll!

Ladies View

We caught a final view of the Killarney lakes from the famous “Ladies View” on our way westward, toward the Ring of Kerry.

As with many iconic sights of Ireland, Aongus had never seen these places before–it took an American to show him America’s favourite highlights!

We are both delighted we grabbed the opportunity while it existed. Once lockdown #2 lifts, we certainly will return again!

Stone Forts along Ireland’s Ring of Kerry

Feeling a bit claustrophobic these days. We’re two weeks and three days into lockdown #2 here in Ireland, and my big outings of the past weeks have involved the fish market across the street and nearby grocers.

In fact, I wrote this blog post on the stone forts in County Kerry for you long ago–just after lockdown #1 lifted and the Irish government encouraged us to travel the country (to spend tourist “dollars”).

Since then, I’ve been so busy with work that I never got around to posting. Maybe it will brighten your autumn day….

I’d like to introduce you to Staigue, Cathergall and Leacanbuile–three impressive and ancient stone forts. The first of these is on the southern side of Kerry’s famous ring, whereas Cathergall and Leacanbuile are in the northwest corner of the Iveragh peninsula (aka Kerry’s largest peninsula synonymous with “Ring of Kerry”).

Here’s someone else’s list of all the stone forts of Kerry: http://www.theringofkerry.com/visitors/36-sights/ring-forts

Cathergall and Leacanbuile lay just northeast of Valencia Island. If you are visiting by car, you can reach them by driving to Cahersiveen, taking the bridge northward, and following the brown heritage signs. They are clearly marked and open to tourists. Park your car in a lot at the mouth where two paths join. The path to the right lead to the Cathergall stone fort, while the one straight ahead takes you to Leacanbuile.

Google map of the Iveragh peninsula, showing locations of forts.

Meagher and Neave (2004) say Cathergall and Leacanbuile date from the 9th or 10th century and were owned by wealthy farmers. On the other hand, Rick Steves says they were all “built sometime between 500 BC and AD 300 without the aid of mortar or cement”. The placard posted at Cathergall resolves this by stating they are “notoriously difficult to date”. (I included a photo of that sign, below.)

To reach Staigue fort, drive to Castlecove and turn northward. Again, the signage is clear.

You may notice other circular mounds covered in green along your journey. Kerry is covered in forts, but many are buried and not accessible—the land where they are is now privately owned.

You’ll find all three of these on Rick Steve’s Kerry tour, although they appear to be missing (or perhaps hidden) in the Michelin Guide. You can find details about them from a book like “Ancient Ireland: An Explorer’s Guide” written by Robert Meagher and Elizabeth Neave, and published by Interlink Books in 2004.

All three forts, according to Rick Steves, are about 2.5 miles off the main drag. It is so very well worth the effort to find them, in my opinion!

Staigue stone fort

Approaching the fort by car on the rainy day of our visit, we inched past wandering sheep. The stone fort eased into view through thick fog, periodically crystallizing into drizzle….

Then WHAM: the Staigue fort revealed itself in all its wintry glory. (Okay, yeah, it was June, but I assure you that it FELT like winter.)

Staigue is a fortress, perched on an elevated plain but surrounded on three sides by hilly slopes, and sheep! It measures 90′ in diameter and the height of the walls varies, reaching 18′ at the highest point (Meagher & Neave, 2004).

The entry is small and hidden. From the approaching path, it’s off to the right, tucked away behind and below the clumps of grass. At its base, the wall of the fort is 13′ thick. You viscerally feel the weight of the stone and the thickness of this wall when crossing the threshold.

Here, just inside the entry door, Aongus stands:

This is the view you find as you enter through the small passway of a “door”, protected today with a gate. Despite there being a gate to keep sheep out, people are quite welcome. This site is free to visit.

The thick stone walls vary in height, and undulate like the surrounding hills.

The interior is ringed by stairs that would have made the compound easier to defend, I’d say, by allowing many people to scale the inside quickly. The outside wall was designed to be impenetrable.

You can scale the interior walls. It takes some care, especially on a rainy day!

Here, you feel you’re on top of the world….

…yet somehow safe.

Cathergall stone fort

The next day, we discovered the Cathergall fort is even taller, higher, larger, and more dramatic than the Staigue.

I’d actually visited all three back in 2003, and Cathergall is the one that stuck in my mind the most, with its intricate stepped terrace stairs, water views, expansive landscape, and towering presence.

From Cathergall, you can see the Leacanbuile stone fort as well as ruins of a castle called Balleycarberry (built much more recently than the forts, but in worse condition).

You’ll catch glimpses of Cathergall from the road and also the walking path:

As shown in the panorama below, you see the entryway to the right. You feel the weight of the wall below you and the expansiveness landscape to the east:

Here’s a view looking to the northwest:

The stair system on this fort is even more extensive than on the other forts. It reminds me of the stepwells of India.

As with the previous fort, it appears there’s an inner core of fill. This one, however, is covered in grass.

Tiny little plants cling to its sides for life.

Leacanbuile stone fort

From the path up to Cathergall, you can view Leacanbuile across the fields.

We enjoyed watching a farmer and his dog practice herding sheep in the field between the two forts.

This third fort is the smallest and most intimate of the three publicly-open stone forts on the Ring of Kerry. This one feels the most like a residence, whereas Stiague and Cathergall feel more defensive. In fact, the sign says, there were four houses inside the wall. This handy plaque provides detail:

Below, you see the rooms, as well as the wall covered with grass and tiny little plants. And you can notice my little head popping out the top of “House A”.

This fort feels more like the beehive housing complex, also bounded by a stone ring, that we saw later in our trip, on Slea Head just west of Dingle. Featured in a separate blog on Slea Head.

The floor inside the ring undulates in a way the others don’t, and I’m not sure what the original ground level would have been–perhaps below what it is now?

None of these four Houses have roof coverings today. There are, however, some covered passageways inside the walls and they are shown in the darkest blue hatching on the plaque.

In the photo below, the entry is straight ahead (the white dot is the plaque beside it). In this fort, the entry is not covered, but there is still a gate to keep animals from entering.

As noted above, we visited all the sites the weekend after the Irish government opened the country up for travel from within. As such, there were few visitors and all were residents of the island.

These sites are not guarded.

We were appalled to find one set of families visiting both Cathergall and Leacanbuile that day, letting a half dozen children play tag and run recklessly along the walls of both forts. They left visible damage, with a number of stones loosened or entirely displaced (at the entry where they’d been jumping across from side to side in their game of tag) at Leacanbuile.

As frustrating as this was, it did, however, make for a visually dramatic scene: silhouettes of dancing, laughing and running children wholly engaged in their game, atop these majestic structures.

I hope you’ll show these ancient beauties plenty of respect and due reverence, when you visit for yourself.

County Kerry: Slea Head

At the very end of June, after a long day driving around the Ring of Kerry we headed toward Dingle with a stop off at Inch Beach during tumultuous weather.

The weather calmed as we arrived at Dingle’s Brambury Guest House and our hostess encouraged us to hop in the car and drive Slea Head. With now-perfect weather, we shouldn’t risk missing the views! The day before, we’d abandoned plans to drive the Skellig Ring due to rain and low visibility.

Ventry Beach

Our first stop after leaving Dingle for Slea Head was Ventry Beach—a bit cold, but pretty in the glimmers of sun.

We stopped for a glimpse of an old fort that is tumbling into the sea but it wasn’t open. Frankly it doesn’t look either safe or as if it can be saved from the sea. But there is a gift shop that was just closing its doors when we arrived:

The cliffs here are impressive, and the fort is sliding right off. It’s not pictured, as all I could capture was scaffolding and fence.

Bee Hive Huts

Our next stop was the Beehive Huts, a cluster of houses situated within one large circular compound.

I’d guess that you must pass over a farmer’s land to arrive at here from the road. I say this as the site is publically maintained but there’s a man collecting a €3 fee per person.

Many such sites exist on privately-owned land and can’t be viewed (without great will and determination). Paying €3 is the easy way to go! It a fascinating place to behold.

The €3 got us each a cess and a copy of this information sheet:

Slea Head

The very western end of the Dingle Peninsula is called Slea Head. The Atlantic pounds these cliffs, day in, day out.

The water is so very blue!

And there are views of the Blasket Islands, just beyond Slea Head:

The bit of land shown below has always stayed in my memory, since my first trip around Slea Head in 2003. It’s less dramatic in a camera phone photo, as it gets flattened out. In person it’s quite impressive.

Gallarus Observatory

An addition, indelible, memory of the 2003 trip was our visit to Gallarus Observatory, an ancient church of dry stack stone. Not a bit of mortar was used. Yet the place still stands today. Amazing ingenuity and craftsmanship.

This plaque explains how the edifice was constructed:

Indeed, during Europe’s Dark Ages, when most knowledge was forgotten, monks were hard at work on the nearby Blasket Islands, copying religious texts by hand and keeping literacy alive.

It is awe-inspiring to think of what a few dedicated and hard-working individuals were able to do for humanity.

Leaving that kind of legacy is why I became an architect. But today, instead of designing buildings, I design with words.

Kilmalkedar Church

I find the hour or so I spent at Kilmalkedar Church in 2003 is also etched in my being. That’s why I wanted to share it with Aongus as well. It’s just a few minute’s drive from Gallarus Observatory.

Fortunately we saw a humble little print out on the wall of the Observatory gift shop (outside, as the shop itself was still closed in the aftermath of Lockdown). It told us the name of the church so we could search for it on Google Maps.

Kilmalkedar Church is surrounded by a cemetary.

It was built in the 1100s, and is thus much newer than Gallarus Observatory which may date back as far as 600 AD.

In true Irish fashion, the cemetery extends inside the church walls.

And you’ll find ancient markers here,

and there!

The drive around Slea Head offers thousands more fabulous views, not captured here, and many opportunities to stop and explore the many gorgeous (but cold) beaches.

I wish for you a sunny drive around this peninsula someday, and many happy returns for Aongus and me as well.

Discovering Dublin: Dining al Fresco! (6/)

The zone of town around Grafton Street is ripe for pedestrianization. Right now, Dublin City Council is testing the use of street space for people rather than car occupation. Aongus and I are delighted to support that test!

It’s lovely to be in this quarter when you’re safe from cars, as we discovered during the height of lockdown:

Since lockdown started in mid-March, Aongus and I had gone months with no meals out.

We pretty much waiting until the government opened the country for internal travel to start eating out.

Awakening for coffee

By June 21, it was finally time for our first sit-down coffee in Dublin since lock-down.

We sought out a little pop-up container shop at St. James’s Gate, based on a Twitter recommendation from Ciran Cuff. I wanted to support the use of this greyfield site (location of a former gas station), in the hopes the land gets assigned a greener use in the future than petrol sales.

They’re using a shipping container to house the shop itself, and they provide outdoor picnic tables in the back. It was an ideal first stop for the day’s in-town cycling adventure on the southside of the city.

Such a joy to be outside!

First Dinner Out, Post-Lockdown

Later that day, on June 21st (and well after the 20km zone opened), we were overjoyed to find a street-side pizzeria offering a couple of sidewalk tables. They had gotten their Guinness tap up and running earlier that day, and we got to sit down and enjoy pizza and a pint in true Irish-Italian style!

We’re delighted that Dublin is re-awakening and we hope to see more street-side dining. Yet, we hadn’t eaten out again here in Dublin until today, August 1st. We have gotten so accustomed to cooking and eating at home, except when we’re venturing far from home.

Instead of traveling far outside of Dublin over the bank holiday weekend, we stayed here in Dublin. We stayed in town for a few reasons: (1) Hotel reservations outside Dublin were somewhat hard to come by for this three day weekend, and quite pricey. (2) We wanted to show support for the pedestrianization trials going on in Dublin over four weekends. (3) We exhausted ourselves the weekend prior by cycling 50 km in one day during variable Irish weather. (4) Aongus is studying for a big test–cramming a three-year degree into four months.

The pedestrian experience of Dublin town did not disappoint!

We really enjoyed the car-free areas. Dublin City Council is still allowing the flow of traffic (heavy traffic at that) into and out of the multi-story parking garages in the town center. But they put people in place during these trials to direct the automobile drivers and help with “traffic calming,” so it’s not the wild-west free-for-all of drivers heading into these garages that has become the norm.

I’m baffled that so many drivers disregard pedestrians in these areas most days. It’s clearly a pedestrian-centric area but drivers barrel on through and expect pedestrians to scatter in their wake.

Last Saturday, we shopped at the ILAC center and wandered the walkable streets, Henry, Grafton and surrounds.

We looked for a pleasant place to sit outside and eat. We found ample selection and couldn’t decide on just one… so we ate twice. Yep, back to back.

Tables in the Street!

We had our first encounter with “Sole,” which opened while we were living in London. They’re part of the pedestrianization trials and are providing really pleasant and visually pleasing on-street dining on weekends. The manager said they were getting permission to double the size of the on-street area the following weekend.

We each ordered a steak and blue cheese salad. Amazing!

There were little bowls with–mints?–on the table when we arrived. Seemed odd, as mints usually come after food. But the waiter showed up with a pitcher and poured water over them. They were actually little cloths for freshening up!

The deserts our neighboring diners ordered looked fabulous too, but we decided to eat light for lunch and to enjoy an early dinner at another place.

Oh, and I wanted to add that the interior design of Sole was pretty spectacular as well. We’ll be back! Soon!

After some shopping, then lounging in Steven’s Green and watching the people swirl past, we sauntered down Anne Street, where the businesses have been keen to pedestrianize. News reports say the Council raised the sideway in the fenced-in areas shown below over the past week. Hoping to get out later today and see for myself.

Around Anne Street, we found a few moment that reminded of us London and one of the neighborhoods where we lived while we were there: Shoreditch E2.

A bit later, we headed over to the street-side tables at Salamanca. A couple tapas and an order of churros hit the spot!

Incidentally, the people watching from this street-side table was second to none!

We cycled home. I got too far ahead when Aongus got hung behind a traffic light. So I stopped to admire the architecture. New design aside old, with interesting colors and textures everywhere you look.

So in closing, Aongus and I are asking, begging, Dublin City Council to keep these streets pedestrianized and to encourage businesses to place more tables and chairs outside. Everyone deserves the chance to try the outside seating and find out just how enjoyable it can be. If we can’t go to Italy, we can at least have a slice of Italy here!

Yet, we see the pictures from Cork and realize that what’s in place in Dublin right now is only just a start. We’ve enjoyed outside dining in countries with Ireland’s climate and we *know* it works.

Thanks, Dublin City Council, for the great work you’ve done since March to improve quality of life in our city and keeping the air and the surrounding clean and healthy. We applaud what you’ve been doing and we yearn for more. What a fabulous transformation this can be!

Discovering Dublin: 2/5/20km Southside (5/)

Aongus and I feel so fortunate to live close to the city center. During Ireland’s lockdown, the entire central core fell in our allowable exercise area–a 2km radius from home. We got out and about on weekends, though we sorely missed our gym (1escape, we love you!).

This blog pictures how our world expanded southward as Dublin’s lockdown lifted. Prior posts show the first days of lockdown, isolating at home, our escapades in Phoenix Park and 2/5/20km northward.

Central Dublin, South of the Liffey

The streets of downtown Dublin were particularly tranquil for morning bicycle rides, and the weather blessed us during March and April. We eventually explored all around Temple Bar, Grafton Street, Synge Street, Portobello, and the Liberties.

We normally returned home before sunset. They can be so beautiful when viewed across the Liffey.

Here we’re at South King Street, near the still-asleep Gaiety Theater and St. Steven’s Green:

Docklands

Our cycles brought us through Grand Canal Docks several times, with the Board Gaís Theater, designed by the office of architect Daniel Libeskind.

Ballsbridge

We found Herbert Park in Ballsbridge, which I knew of from Collene Dube’s “100 Days of Walking” Tweets. It’s near Dublin’s big Arena.

Riding out here, I felt that drivers gave me more space when they saw the orange vest. Aongus says it’s probably the style of vest I’ve chosen, which evidently suggests I do maintenance in the social housing complexes of Dublin. Whatever–it works! And yes, my sense of style is surely all my own!

Sandymount

We could only access the inner part of Sandymount in our 5km radius, but we made the most of it and dreamed of cycling even further southward, toward Booterstown, Blackrock village, and Dún Laoghaire in coming weeks.

Here we are playing around at Sandymount Strand:

Seapoint

Low and behold, we discovered the beach at Seapoint as our zone opened to 20km, permitting our ventures toward Dún Laoghaire. It was a bit crowded, but still possible to find the needed distance from others:

Dún Laoghaire

We made it to Dún Laoghaire, with its mega-sized harbor and its vibrant People’s Park. The harbor is so much larger than Howth’s. We always brought a picnic and planned for the lack of bathrooms. Although Howth opened thiers prior to our visits, Dún Laoghaire did not.

We have talked about a cycle out to Dalkey, which is just inside our 20km, but we haven’t made it there yet by bike. Something to look forward to…..

Discovering Dublin: 2/5/20km Northside (4/)

During lockdown in Ireland, we started with an allowable 2 km radius exercise zone from our homes. This eventually increased to 5 km, then 20 km. For Aongus and me, the entire center of Dublin falls within 2km. If you’re thinking “Wow, that’s small!” I agree, yes, Dublin’s central core is quite small.

Our circle expanded, very slowly, from our immediate neighborhood of Smithfield, to 2km with Phoenix Park (described in another post), Blessington Basin and the Royal Canal (described below). At 5km, we expanded to the Botanic Gardens and Griffith Park. At 20km, we cycled further, challenging ourselves to 20km there and 20km back, which would get us to Howth, cycling along the greenway at Clontarf or even over onto Bull Island and along Dollymount Strand. I’ve shared photos of all this below, as it’s just too picturesque to miss.

I wanted to document the experience for historical purposes (the life of empty nesters in Dublin during lockdown!?). I think the post has wider value, too: if you’re ever visiting Dublin, these are great places to explore!

Smithfield Plaza was empty for weeks.

Days before lockdown started, I reminded myself that I wanted to climb the tower at Jameson’s Distillery, shown above, which one could then access for a €5 fee paid to the Genesis Hostel on Smithfield Plaza. The tower could, I told myself, become inaccessible again, for any reason, at any time. It had been closed most of the time since I moved to Smithfield in September 2012.

Due to Covid, the tower certainly became inaccessible once again.

During lockdown, I rarely ventured out Monday-Friday. I tried to get indoor exercise during the week, but it wasn’t easy. With the Liffey four blocks from home, I motivated myself to get out and walk that far some evenings, between work and dinner. Below, Aongus and I are pictured on one of Dublin’s two Calatrava-designed bridge, which is five blocks from our home:

You can see the tip top of the giant obelisk in Phoenix Park peeking from the trees between our heads.

Below are photos of “northside” streets close to our home: (1) along the Liffey with Smithfield to the right/north, (2) cycling the new protected lanes along the Liffey, (3) the lovely steeple of St. Paul’s @ Smithfield shown as second time, and (4) a morning view of, vacant, taken by Aongus on his way to work once lockdown started to lift.

During the height of lockdown, the streets of central Dublin were actually quite eerie in the evening. The Irish police (called the Gardí) set up checkpoints all around Dublin—mostly to prevent drivers from exceeding their boundaries without reason.

On one walk we were stopped on O’Connell Street by a Guard. He asked us why we were in town, and since exercise was allowed and we were within our allowable zone, there was not problem and the guards let us pass. Other acceptable reasons were shopping for medicine or food shopping, or assisting someone who was cocooning.

We got stopped one other time, on the way to Phoenix Park because unbeknownst to us, a right-wing radical individual was trying to stage a protest. It didn’t work for her. People didn’t show up to join her shenanigans. The Irish are quite reasonable politically, in my opinion, and such radical views are unpalatable here.

Blessington Basin

Although Aongus initially thought 2km would be too restrictive, it turned out there was more to see than he realized. Within our 2km small radius there were urban delights to be found: we joyfully ‘discovered’ Blessington Basin for ourselves.

I’d seen it on the map while searching the web for property (I might as well be looking for leprechauns or unicorns as a sunny and affordable flat or house in Dublin). Though I knew its name and location, I’d never had reason to venture there. Until lockdown. It’s easily reached from our flat by foot or bicycle.

Ultimately, we ended up near the Basin while exploring on Dublin Bikes (which we both subscribe to for a very reasonable annual fee).

Aongus was flabbergasted. He had no inkling of the existence of this Basin– even though he was raised not far away, on the Northside of Dublin in Glasnevin!

There are several delightful murals in the park surrounding Blessington Basin, and the one pictured above, with me sliding through an illusionary door, is appropo. A step into Blessington Basin park feels like you’re entering Sinclair Lewis’ Narnia or Alice’s Wonderland!

Royal Canal

A week into lockdown, I got my previously non-working bike up and running. At about the same time, Aongus borrowed a bike from his sister, because he was the one appointed by his family to keep his 82 year-old aunt supplied with food and meds.

With these bikes, we were able to explore more easily and we found more joys, like the footpaths, the little canalside park beside Shandon Gardens, and cycle paths aside the Royal Canal (with one of its locks shown above). We determined to return again when we’re allowed more distance to roam.

National Botanic Gardens

Our allowable zone eventually expanded to 5km. Inside that we found the Botanic Gardens and Griffith Park, although these photos were taken after we’d gotten 20km access. The Botanical Gardens had been closed for months before opening its gates to the public. The caretakers must have been there during lockdown, as the place is still meticulously manicured.

When amenities began re-opening on the northside of the city, the gates of the National Botanic Garden sprung open with colorful life:

The flowers had been developing nicely in the peace and quiet.

Aongus loves this place. It’s near his childhood neighborhood and one if his mum’s favorite spots for a weekend walk.

Griffith Park

Aongus brought me through Griffith Park one day. It’s just to the south of his auntie’s house. Here’s I’m decked out in bright orange and a crash helmet, which I found helpful as cars returned to the streets of Dublin. Most drivers allowed me plenty of space, but of course, I was only cycling on weekends.

We had a snack beside the canal this day in Griffith Park, and then enjoyed a short and distanced front-year visit with his aunt.

Dollymount

Bull Island with its Dollymount Strand fall just beyond our 5km, so we had to wait for the 20km radius to enjoy these coastal amenities again. Fairview and some of Clontarf were allowed, but we couldn’t go up as far as Bull Island. It’s too bad that we couldn’t enjoy the Wood Bridge without cars.

Our visit to Dollymount Strand came after our cycle to Howth (described below). We took the long route on the way home from Howth, to enjoy the views, and the challenge of cycling in the sand. It’s much easier to cycle where the sand is wet than dry!

The wildflowers were stunning! Which is why I couldn’t decide which photos to include… so you get a bunch!

Howth

The real jewel in the crown of our 20km radius northward from Dublin is the little fishing village of Howth.

There’s a picturesque little harbor, protected by a lighthouse (and seagulls), that is today filled with pleasure craft in addition to work boats.

We have cycled out to Howth twice now. Once we bumped into friends of Aongus and enjoyed a distranced chat (after months of isolation seeing them was a highlight of the day).

The pictured below show us getting caught in the rain. We ended up taking the DART home that day and, as I had no mask, I had to improvise with a beach blanket.

Fortunately, there was also lots of space and sun in Howth.

And so very many eye-catching views.

Plus, some darned good company.

I couldn’t be more blessed than to spend this lockdown with the fun, kind, generous, patient, energetic, optimistic, healthy, share-the-load and ever-loving Mr. Aongus Coughlan. Now, if only I can get him hiking that Howth cliff walk with me (see the map below). Since the 20km rule has been lifted, it’s in our currently allowable zone. And yet, it’s still a bit too steep for the man. Never on a windy day!

Southeast Ireland: Cycling around Rosslare

Last weekend we tested out our new car-mounted bike rack. We researched good cycling routes, loaded the bikes for an overnight trip, and struck out Saturday morning for Wexford, the sunniest county in Ireland. On the island’s southeastern-most tip, County Wexford enjoys the highest number of summer days per year on the island.

En route to Wexford with bikes ready to roll.

We parked the car at our hotel in view of Rosslare Harbor, with its ferry port and boats to France, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe and fueled up with a sandwich.

Then we set out to find peaceful waters by bike. The port is the starting point for the Irish leg of a major European cycling route, with three sub-routes circling the area. It’s part of a larger European system of touring-friendly cycling roads.

Our cycling route this day totaled about 37 km and, with its loops, provided us options if we ran out of steam. We didn’t run out though! We chose tranquil little roads, were passed by the occasional car, puzzled at the road signs, and asked other cyclists for advice. GPS really helps with navigating roads in Ireland, but groping around can also be fun.

Ladys Island

Our first stop: Ladys Island, also called Our Lady’s Island. The island itself is a bird sanctuary, and the peninsula beside it is accessible to people and is a religious pilgrimage site. We completed the pilgrimage route by bike. There was evidence of recent outdoor masses beside the castle-like ruin. We explored a old cemetery, recently reclaimed from the brush. There were many people walking and cycling in the area.

The church here reminded me of the one in Staunton, Virginia, called St. Andrews, where my grandmother went. Designed during the same neo-Gothic loving era, I’d say, and not terribly old.

Carne Beach

We enjoyed the sounds of all the lovely birds and then we struck out for Carne Beach. It was beautiful and blue and the water seemed warm enough for a swim although we didn’t try. We just enjoyed the sun, sounds, breeze, and colors.

Rosslare

Then we cycled a long stretch to Rosslare village and beach. It was packed with weekend holiday-makers so we didn’t stay long. Turned away from a restaurant at 4:30 PM, we decided it was best to find food without delay. Rosslare doesn’t currently have capacity to serve many in restaurants and it was full of blow-ins from Dublin, like us.

We cycled back toward the Harbor and were fortunate to find the last table at Culletons of Kilrane where we enjoyed one lovely plate of fish and chips and another of salmon-wrapped cod. The high quality of the food was a pleasant surprise! And pulled pints of Guinness to boot!

The pub we tried before this one was filled by funeral-goers from the burial we’d passed earlier in the day, near Lady’s Island. As an Irish person, Aongus is 100% certain the pub booking was linked to the funeral. This is the only possible explanation, he insists. As an American, I’m not sure I can explain how he knows, even though I read up on funeral rites in the book “How to be Irish” by Daniel Slattery. Actually, I’ve read that funeral chapter twice, but some details still evade me. 

After dinner, we returned to our hotel and settled in for the night. The cycle route here is lifted off the street and was safe enough even after a pint of Guinness, which Aongus says was rocket fuel for me. I virtually flew home. 

Breakfast wasn’t well organized at the hotel, but Supervalue did the trick. We ate on the back deck of the hotel, then packed up and drove back to Lady’s Island to soak in a bit more birdsong and delicate tranquility.

The highlight of our whole trip came at the end, with an impromptu invitation to lunch at the holiday home of our friends Richard and Geraldine. I’d stayed the night with them once before here in Rosslare, between days of RoboSlam events that our team conducted throughout county Wexford, but Aongus had never been to their home. 

As we’d only chosen this destination the night before, I messaged Richard on the way down to see if they might be visiting Rosslare on this particular weekend. 

Geraldine and Richard arrived in town after us, but welcomed us with (virtually, not literally) open arms! I thought we’d meet at a cafe or on the beach, but they were eager to have guests and graciously invited to their place, nicknamed “Five”. Try finding that on Google Maps!

This was my first time visiting with friends in person since mid-March, and it was really good for my mental health to reconnect with beloved others. I even got to expand upon my new-found knowledge of Irish politics and governance by sharing ideas and perceptions with them. 

County Wexford and the Hays family gave us a lovely weekend and we look forward to visiting both again!

Lovely outdoor lunch with Richard and Geraldine. Plus Aongus and Shannon.

Discovering Dublin: Last days of normal life (1/)

Something was about to change here in Dublin on the night of March 11th. I knew this, and thus felt hesitation as well as excitement for an interesting day as I headed into work on the 12th.

You see, TU Dublin had an Open Day planned to show female high school students about our apprenticeship courses. My colleagues and I had put a lot of work into planning this, although we anticipated things could change due to coronavirus. Later this day, life was to shift decisively about our world here in Dublin.

The Last Day ‘Open’ at TU Dublin

A glimpse of Bolton Street with drama in the sky.

We waited anxiously for word from the university about closures. In the meantime, we took care. Although plans went ahead and during this Open Day, the new norms of hand sanitizer and social distancing appeared. Wee conscientiously worked to hold intimate conversations about life plans at a two arm’s length–not an easy feat in a loud and active space like the lobby of Linenhall, home of the TU’s Dublin School of Architecture.

Attendance on this Open Day was higher than one would expect given the uncertainty of life, but not as high as the past year. Only a portion of those who reserved places made it to D2 that day. It was well worth my own four-block walk into work to meet girls from as far as Wicklow who’d ventured up to meet us.

Setting up for the day.

I provided tours of the facilities–bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry, metal fabrication, painting and decorating, laser cutting and 3D printing, automated fabrication–at Linenhall and Bolton Street where apprentices learn. Those taking our sampler program, “Access to Apprenticeship” get to use to all these workshops, and to complete a small project in each to help them determine which to specialize in by completing a full course.

At the end of the event we heard that campus buildings would close that night at 18:00; after this, classes would meet only online.

The BIM modules we offer in my program did indeed meet that night, all online, thanks to the collaborative working platform my colleagues use to teach BIM. Kevin Furlong, Barry McAuley, and Emma Hays took it all in stride and kept on delivering! I was truly impressed.

Working it out during Covid-19

I already worked half time on research, so I actually labored from home 50% of my working hours, pre-Covid. For me, work life after the 12th of March looked pretty similar to before–lots and lots and lots of time at my laptop. There was less variety, though, and much less human contact.

I missed feeling creative. I wasn’t able to blog, as I didn’t feel reason to celebrate during a time of fer and hardship.

I got work done, but not with my normal level of zest.

The first two weekends after the campus shut down, we weren’t yet asked to isolate (we never officially ‘locked down’) but the government was asking us to keep our distance from others.

My household has one other person, Aongus, and this fact has kept me sane during isolation. I’m glad I haven’t had to go through this pandemic living alone. That said, my guy has much higher exposure to the outside world than I do, and could inadvertently drag Covid-19 home at any time.

As you probably know, Aongus and I really enjoy our weekends. We love getting out, exploring the world, getting exercise, fresh air and sunlight. In fact, not feeling pangs of guilt for taking weekend off is a major reason I moved to Europe from the USA. You’ll recall that Aongus and I made the most of every minute in London during my two-year fellowship there. We had plans to make the most of our precious weekends together in Dublin upon our return.

A Sunday at Greystones Beach

Sliding into a new normal, we had a couple weeks to adjust to freedoms and habits that were slipping away. We were still allowed to drive and explore, but were required to stay away from others. Our gym was still open during this time, as well, though we were distancing.

On Sunday, March 15, Aongus and I drove out to Greystones, where we were able to distant from others on the beach. We enjoyed the solitude in the cool winter breeze off the Irish Sea.

And we learned that lunches and loos were few and far between. From this day forward, we packed sandwiches whenever we ventured out, and planned ahead for long period of loo-less-ness.

The difficulty finding these that day told me that things were going to change more radically. We drove to some favorite spots hoping for lunch, but couldn’t stop because they were packed with people.

We did, however, find joy in simple pleasures: an apple, the sunshine, and loving company.

Holi-day at Bull Island Marshes & Dollymount Strand

St. Patrick’s Day was a holiday, so we made another trip trip to the sea, still pre-lockdown (to use the phrase lightly–we’ve never officially ‘locked down’ in Ireland to the degree of many other European countries).

Although Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade had been cancelled, and tourists discouraged from coming, we residents were still allowed out, but asked to keep our distance.

Aongus and I headed out to Bull Island, by car, as was typical for us before coronavirus. Walking and Dublin Bikes were our other main forms of transportation, and where they didn’t bring us, a bus or car would. “Back then”, we would never have dreamed of cycling to Bull Island or Dollymount Strand; they seemed so very far away.

Bull Island is a favorite among Dubliners though, and when we arrived the beach looked far too crowded to allow the distance I required, so we instead explored the marshes.

My colleague Damon Berry had recommended that I check them out, and this was the first time I latched onto the idea. Aongus and I had a nice picnic in the dunes.

Of course, we hoped to find passage across to the beach by way of the dunes, but the waterways prevented that. Nevertheless, we enjoyed discovering a tranquil strip of Bull Island where few people venture.

By the late afternoon, the beach had cleared out (it was the bottleneck along the wall that had presented the problem passing others) and we were able to visit the strand, which is called Dollymount.

As you can see, Dublin is quite chilly during March, but any opportunity to go outside, walk, and soak in the sunshine is prized.

Isolation begins

The lifestyle we had known was quickly sliding away. Soon after our visit to Bull Island, the period of isolation began. Aongus and I essentially hibernated for weeks. I was able to keep working from home. He, as a construction site project manager, was able to do some limited amount of work from home and was allowed on site, alone, occasionally, to do essential work, or check for security.

As we have a range of grocery stores (Fresh Market, Lidl, two Centras and a Daybreak) within 1-4 blocks of our flat and the food supply chains serving Dublin never let us down, we were able to source food easily and have learned many new recipes with what we can find in these stores.

That 2km radius we were allowed to travel from home for the purpose of exercise kept us sane, and we looked forward to weekends, hoping and praying for sunshine.

County Kerry: A day in Dingle

The Irish government has allowed domestic travel since June 29, and has been encouraging residents of the Republic to holiday inside the country to help revive the Irish tourist sector. Aongus and I were happy to oblige and we headed out for a four day weekend to the west of Ireland.

Unbelievably, my Irish man—born in Dublin and raised speaking Irish—had never been to Dingle! This rainy little fishing village is a favorite of Americans, and I’ve visited several times since my inaugural trip there in 2003.

The Fish Box is just to the left of Dick Mack’s Pub, across the street from St. Mary’s Church.

This particular overnight stay in this lovely little town included dinner at The Fish Box (amazing!), bed and breakfast at Bambury’s Guest House, and a kayaking trip guided by Irish Adventures.

And yes, we saw Fungie first hand, just 30’ or so away. Such a friendly and adventurous dolphin who has graced Dingle Bay since 1983. The tourism industry loves Fungie, with hundreds and sometimes even thousands of people boating out to visit the people-living dolphin daily.

On our kayaking trip were four learners—a couple from Cork and a mum and son from Dingle—and two instructors. A family of five got their own guide and travelled apart from us.

It was such a treat to pal around with Irish people enjoying their own home place. Truly an ideal time to visit. Especially since the seas were too rough for boating two days before and two days after our own outing. We really lucked out!

The pubs of Dingle were still closed during our visit, so there were no trad music sessions to enjoy, but we were able to do a little shopping. I picked up some exercise gear in hopes of our gym opening next week, and I also purchased a Cornwall Seasalt brand scarf to replace the one I dropped at Bonobo’s of Smithfield in February that so unkindly was never handed over to the lost and found.

Social distancing was easy in Dingle and we look forward to exploring more of Ireland as time, weather, and government guidelines permit. We were so very thankful for this one precious day of fun and glorious weather.

New-ish cap!

Special thanks to Noel of Irish Adventures for excellent instruction and leadership of the tour as well as his gift to me of an Irish Adventures baseball cap. They had actually run out of new caps, but gifted me one off their very own head! And it’s already perfectly broken in. Pop it in the wash and it’s good to go!

The photo gallery below shows an approach to Dingle via the Connor Pass (with new Wild Atlantic Way signage), the town of Dingle at sunset, and our morning out on the weather. Stay tuned for more pics of Kerry to come!

An Irish Welcome-Home!

Welcome to the homepage of Ireland by Chance, a blog sharing the adventures of an Expat architect/urbanist/teacher/engineering education researcher who moved from the United States in 2012 to make Ireland her home.

You can view archives (2012-present) by clicking the folder icon to learn what it’s like to be Fulbright and Marie Curie Research Fellow, to teach at university in Ireland, and to explore the cities and landscapes of Ireland, the UK, and Europe.

I’ve also posted an example grant proposal for Marie Curie (individual fellowships):
Abstract and Eval
• Excellence Section 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4
Notes on using tables
• Impact Section 2.1, 2.2
Implementation Section 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4
Ethics Section
Final Report from 2016 submission