The Tour Bus Will Wait: Across Ireland in an 8-Passenger Van

This first appeared as a guest blog on Rosemary Adkins’ great website, www.ExtraordinaryIreland.com.? Since Noelle is going to Ireland this month, it seemed appropriate to re-post it here.

When we booked our last trip to Ireland in 2000, our party consisted of my wife, my college-age daughter, my sister and myself.? This was the first trip that I could do research and much booking online.? I learned that it takes many hours to find the best places to go, stay in and eat at.? And I put in my time.? If you only need a room for two and are not picky about accommodations (or don?t care how much you spend), such planning is not necessary.? We needed two double rooms at each place and are picky (we like en suite, or attached bathrooms).? By a week before, we were all set: flights booked, itinerary planned, and rooms reserved.? Then I got the call from our daughter, Noelle.

?Hello??
?Hi.? It?s Noelle.? I, uh, had a little accident.?
?Are you okay??
?Sort of.? I broke my ankle.?
?How??
?Uh, I tripped?? It?s not bad.? I have a walking cast, but I?m going to be on crutches for a while.? Guess I can?t go to Ireland with you.?
?Yes, you can. I?ve already paid for the flight.? You?re going.?

That is an abbreviated and editorialized version of what the real conversation was, but it is the gist of what was said that day.
Since walking for any distance on crutches is difficult, my wife Kelly and I decided to rent a wheelchair here to take with us for Noelle.? That way we could wheel her to the plane and have it ready when we landed.? The airline did not charge extra to take it, so? it seemed like the best way to go.? However, that did change our car-rental plan.? With one phone call, our small station wagon changed to a minivan.? Or so I thought.
Our trip began well.? With the rented wheelchair, we had priority boarding on the plane.? Nice.? We found a taxi in Dublin that accommodated us, our luggage and the wheelchair for the trip to our B&B, Harrington Hall.? After my sister arrived, she and my wife went on a double-decker bus for a tour of the city.? My daughter and I headed to the Temple Bar area of Dublin for lunch.
Pushing a wheelchair for a mile was a little difficult.? Riding in one over filling-rattling cobblestones is far worse.? By the time we got there, both my daughter and I were ready for a pint.? There were plenty of pubs glad to accommodate.? For lunch, we went to Gallagher?s for their specialty, boxty pancakes.? These potato pancakes are wrapped around a meat or vegetarian filling with varying sauces.? I cannot adequately describe them, but I can heartily recommend them.? Gallagher?s was a favorite of all of us and we ate there several times.

Noelle on crutches in front of Gallagher?s in Temple Bar, Dublin.

 

After Noelle?s bone-jarring trip back to our B&B in the wheelchair, we took a cab to dinner that night.? In fact that was the last time Noelle used the wheelchair.? From then on, she decided that crutches were fine.? When Noelle decided to stay at a pub with a new ?friend? for a while after the rest of us went back to the B&B, I extracted a promise from her ?friend? that he would get a taxi for her later.? Taxis were scarce when they set off for Harrington Hall, so they decided to walk.? Noelle crutched it the mile back.? Her ?friend? did escort her, probably hoping for an invitation in.? Vain hope, no matter what.? Considering he told Noelle he was already engaged, he would have been lucky to get a handshake.? That?s why ?friend? is in quotes.? I might add that he was Welsh, not Irish, but there are cads and gentlemen in every country.

Sister Donna, daughter Noelle, the slimeball ?friend? and his friend at a Dublin pub.

When we set off from Dublin, we took a taxi to the airport car-rental agency for our minivan.? Except it wasn?t so mini.? It had plenty of room, with enough space to seat eight and their luggage.? It had a diesel engine and a six-speed manual transmission.? If you?ve ever driven in Irish cities, you?ll know these were not positive assets.? If I hadn?t already driven for five years on the Isle of Man, I might have turned and run.? Instead we loaded up the wheelchair and our luggage, and set off to the west of the island.? I called it our private tour bus.
Our trip included Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains, the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry.? One cautionary tale about the Ring of Kerry is to follow the big tour buses, which go clockwise on the road.? Some poor soul in a camper of some sort went the opposite way and we were all stuck about a half hour on the road until they were able to maneuver the camper around the buses on that narrow road.
On the way, we toured Muckross House near Killarney, at the southern end of the road around the Dingle Peninsula.? It had an interesting tie to the area where I live, the California Gold Rush foothills.? The Bourne family made their fortune in gold mining and bought the house for a daughter as a wedding present.? The beautiful restoration was done with money from California gold.? The ?jaunting? carts that take you from the parking lot to the house are worth the trip, with wise-cracking drivers whose families have done the same job for many years.

All of us on a jaunting cart in front of Muckross House, Killarney

Our next stop was Bunratty, with its well-restored 14th century castle and recreated Georgian village.? You should take a gander.? Across the road from it is a rather touristy pub named Kathleen?s that had a food-entertainment package.? The step dancers, however, were very good.? Next to the castle is Durty Nelly?s, a more traditional pub with great Irish music.? There are pubs in America with the same name or the variant Durty Nellies, but these all seem to be unconnected wanna-be?s.? Go to the original.

Sister Donna, wife Kelly, daughter Noelle and I in front of our tour bus at Durty Nelly?s in Bunratty.

My sister took a flight out of Shannon Airport, but the rest of us and the wheelchair continued in our private tour bus.? We headed up the west side of Ireland for some incredible scenery.? The Cliffs of Moher were breathtaking.? Part of that may have been due to the strong winds while we were there, but not all.? As we walked to the cliffs, a young woman harpist was playing and I bought a CD from her.? Even with the brisk breeze, her haunting tunes touched the strings of my Gaelic heart.

The Cliffs of Moher, a mystically haunting place.

The last major stop we made in our tour bus was at the Poulnabrone Dolmen on the Burren.? That dolmen is a stone tomb that dates to at least four thousand years ago.? You can walk right up to it and go inside.? What an experience.? In America, they would have a fence with guided tours.? Oh, and don?t forget the Burren itself.? It is a field of flat, natural limestone that stretches as far as the eye can see.

The Poulnabrone Dolmen on the Burren. It could also be called Barren, with not tress and little grass.

After this, we headed back across Ireland to Dublin.? After dropping off our tour bus, we boarded our flight, again getting priority boarding because of Noelle?s wheelchair.? Believe me, though, taking one to get priority boarding is just plain not worth it.? Unless you plan to rent your own tour bus.

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