Southern Ireland

  • Waterford, Dungarvan, Ardmore, Kenmare
  • 26,769 miles flown + 1,067 miles driven
  • 52°15′N 7°7′E-ish
  • Temp: 49 deg
  • 7 books read, 11 massages + 2 hot stone + 1 thermal baths in the books
  • Day 44-46

When you’re traveling alone you do crazy things without thinking, like book a 6am flight that requires a 3:30am wake-up call, and then make plans to drive two hours after landing in a new country…on the opposite side of the road than you’ve ever driven before. Good move. But I survived all 30 roundabouts, driving on the flip side, and looking right before left. Turns out I’m a natural born Irish driver.

Waterford

My dear friend Bill put me in touch with his dear friend Joan in Waterford, so I pushed on through and headed straight to the B&B I had booked so we could meet up that afternoon. Clear blue skies and vibrant green horizons led the way and I resisted the urge to stop every 10 feet. As I pulled into the parking lot of the B&B, unloaded my bags and rang the doorbell, the skies opened up as they’re prone to do in Ireland. Where the clouds came from no one will ever know, but their timing was impeccable. Mostly because the owner of the B&B wasn’t home and I stood there taking cover under the small porch ringing an unanswered doorbell. Super. But just as I was about to load my bags back into the car and wait out the rain, Joan pulled up and saved the day. We called the owner who informed me that she wouldn’t be home for another hour. According to Joan, this is very Irish. Or maybe just a precursor to my stay there.

So we headed off to the Waterford factory to kill some time. A very touristy thing to do, but as someone who has long had an obsession with serveware (long before anyone should have an obsession with serveware) it was a must-do. I don’t care if you don’t care about crystal, I would highly recommend this tour to anyone who travels through Waterford, simply to appreciate the artisanal work that goes into every single handmade piece. It’s incredible. Moulds are made out of hard beechwood or cast iron and get about 2 weeks of use before new ones are required. This whole multinational operation feels very bespoke and old school.

Each person who works in the factory is a specialized glass blower, etcher, carver or engraver — no person does more than a single job. Did you know they hand-draw the lines with marker before cutting? Good lord.

And QA is done with a quick glance by an expert who can spot a flaw in mere seconds. The tour is very hands on, as you can see from my attempt to throw a long pass with the BCS trophy.

Also, they let me ditch a reject (I asked for a paycheck in the form of crystal, but that fell on deaf ears.)

Of course all this hands-on fun ends in the shop after you’ve completely fallen in love with the Willy Wonka of crystal — well-played, Waterford.

After leaving the factory we no sooner walked out the door and the skies opened up again…with hail. The only rational [and Irish] thing to do was to pop into a pub for a wee dram, which promptly put me to sleep.

Dungarvan

The next day I drove to Dungarvan to spend the day with Joan and her father, Tom, who sat on the town council for 40 years. He was a fount of knowledge, and good Irish humor–the dry kind that you’ll nearly miss if you’re not listening closely enough. I’ve spent a month and a half traveling and I can’t tell you how different and memorable a day spent in a country is when you spend it with a local.

Tom gently took my arm and led me first to the City Council building to show me where they have a piece of the World Trade Center displayed, dedicated by none other than my dear friend Bill. He then led me around town sharing the history of Dungarvan, stories of the Normans, the Vikings, the Brits. He regaled me with tidbits about shipwrecks, and town hangings, and wives of wealthy dead men who insisted on verbose plaques commemorating their husbands very generous donations. And when they weren’t verbose enough, they had them rewritten. Feisty Irish women.

Ardmore

We loaded into their car and drove to Ardmore, meaning “high point,” and the site of St. Declan’s Cathedral and the most “modern” lookout tower in Ireland (ya know, from the 12th century.) All that remains of the Cathedral are a few walls from the 10th and 12 centuries, one of which still has slabs of stone depicting the stories of Adam & Eve and the birth of Jesus. Does anyone else agree that Ireland should change their flag to green, gray, and blue?

We drove down the hill to visit St. Declan’s Well, a refuge where he used to pray and listen to the stream empty into the ocean inlet. It’s a peaceful place where people still come to pray and etch a cross in the stone with a small pebble, leaving about a 2-inch deep impression where thousands of prayers and signs of the cross have been made. It was beautiful and serene. If you don’t know St. Declan (am I a terrible Catholic that I didn’t?) he and St. Patrick were buddies and both spread Catholicism throughout Ireland around 420 A.D. Old and important.

I didn’t want the day to end, but I had to hit the road and head west, hoping to beat the sunset and maintain my good standing as an Irish driver. Dear Tom gave me a copy of the book he wrote to remember our time together in Ireland. I secretly wanted to load him into my car and bring him with me on the rest of my journey — I know he’d probably stop me every mile to share more history of this town or that one, deep knowledge you can’t find on a plaque or in a guidebook, and with much more humorous delivery. If you’re swinging by the Waterford or Dungarvan area, Joan and her fiancé are starting a local tour business (Off the Trail Tours) to provide more tailored experiences based on your interests. More personal and far more enjoyable [and humorous] than being on a big bus, and, if you’re lucky, maybe Tom will gently be taking your arm too. Cannot thank Joan and Tom enough for making my first two days in Ireland so much more enjoyable than if I wandered alone aimlessly — I am 100% certain I would not have seen any of these things without them (except the Waterford Willy Wonka Factory.) Xoxo.

Kenmare

Kenmare was meant to be the beginning of my drive through the Ring of Kerry before heading on to Ennis, but the weather was not clear and a few locals I spoke to said the views wouldn’t be great, so instead suggested I visit Killarney National Park and Muckross Manor on my way north. So I spent the morning strolling the quaint streets of Kenmare before hitting the road, buying a few lamby things (and then buying a few more when they offered free shipping home.)

Heading N’West, young man…

xo, xt

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