“My heart is quite calm now. I will go back.”
― James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
In dreams, when I thought of Ireland, I saw nothing but green. Maybe some quaint cobblestone streets here and there, the obligate thought of potatoes, soda bread and beer; but most of all, rolling hill upon rolling hill of vibrant green.
I got the green I was hoping for, and it was such a sweet respite from the dry golden heat of our California home. But as I suspected, Ireland is more than green, and Guinness and soda bread. It is a country with a painful past, rich in history and its people are among the sweetest and funniest.
Though I did rely on my phone, a digital device, as my quick camera; we took nothing but film along for the ride in terms of a real object to document our trip. I was excited to bring along some Kodak Ektar, Fuji and Portra films, and of course, we never leave home without Ilford FP4.
Our first two days in Ireland were spent in Dublin. We walked everywhere. Highly recommend the walking tours led by graduates of Trinity College, stop by the Whiskey Museum where you can do everything from learn, taste and make your own blend.
I fell in love with this little bakery. So much so, that I made Bill walk back and sit down to enjoy something while I took these three frames. All shot on our Hasselblad 503 with Kodak Portra 160.
From walking around and having a pint at Temple Bar, visiting The Clarence Hotel (owned by U2’s Bono and The Edge, visiting the Guinness factory (which has amazing food by the way), Dublin is full of color and personality.
The Ha’penny Bridge, officially the Liffey Bridge. Hasselblad 503, Kodak Portra 160.
Fancy a pint?
If you love books, don’t miss out on paying a visit to the Trinity College Library. It’s like something out of a J.K. Rowling story, a truly magical place. Our advice? Go early, beat the crowds and buy a book scented candle in the gift shop.
From Dublin, we took a train over to County Clare, where our home base would be for the rest of our visit. Sitting on that train, and seeing the beautiful green landscape fly by, I could not help but picture myself walking those green rolling hills, and how happy our dogs would be here, with all this green and misty weather to breathe in.
Hasselblad 503, Ektar 100.
We stayed at Ballinalacken Castle Country House in Doolin. The castle, visible in these frames, is just above the house, and it comes with its own beautiful and picturesque white horse on the grounds (you’ll see her later). When we arrived, Bill and I wasted no time lacing up and trekking out to explore the grounds by foot.
Hasselblad 503, Ektar 100.
Hasselblad 503, Ektar 100.
Ballinalacken Castle is in great condition, despite the elements and thousands of years gone by. And though some may be keen on living in a castle, I much preferred the idea of a cozy cottage.
The views did not disappoint.
The fields around the castle are glorious and frequently visited by pheasant and fox. Hasselblad 503, Ektar 100.
I was enchanted by the place, and Bill thought I needed an old timey portrait showing how happy I was just then. Hasselblad 503, Ektar 100.
All this white lady needed was a shiny horn on her forehead, and we would have had ourselves an Irish unicorn. Ilford FP4.
Bill was enchanted by the light inside the caste walls. His love of texture and still life kicked back in, taking most of these black and white frames.
The next day took us across the rough waters to the Aran Islands; three small islands off the coast of Doolin and Galway. I will be completely honest and say that was not looking forward to the ferry ride. The waters are rough and the Doolin ferry is small and can rock quite a bit. I get anxious and worried about getting sick. In such cases, I pack these essentials to make the trip a little more bearable:
- Headspace app: a little meditation helps work through those feelings of anxiety and fear and remember to breathe.
- Spotify: I create playlists with my favorite music according to mood, for example Mellow, Productivity, Move of Focus.
- Stugeron or Dramamine tablets, or ginger chews or caramels to help settle the tummy.
- Bach Original Flower Essences, Mimulus Flower for fear and anxiety. I keep this in my bag at all times, and I have used it for Willow when I don’t have our Spirit Essences handy.
Rocky boat ride aside, the Aran Islands are gorgeous and I really enjoyed our time there. We docked at Inis Mor and took a short tour of the island, and stopping for a few hours to hike up Dun Aonghasa, an ancient fort set on 300 foot cliffs and a World Heritage site.
The view from the cliffs was impressive. It was windy too, and I was glad to have brought our hiking poles. Hasselblad 503, Kodak Portra 160.
I never met a carbohydrate I didn’t like, and boy… I am glad of all the hiking and walking we did, because every meal included delicious bread, whatever soup was the day’s special, and beer. Though some may consider it a simple, humble breakfast; porridge to me is as essential as that cup of tea with a splash of milk.
The highlight of the Aran Islands for me however, was not the beautiful hike, the gorgeous sights and beautiful weather… No, it was the Guinness chocolate cake I devoured after the hike at a little cafe just near the entrance to the hiking trail. I have never tasted something so sublime. I ate it so fast, I even forgot to take a picture of it! Even now, I salivate just thinking of it.
Another favorite from the Aran Islands, are the gorgeous Aran sweaters. If you love wool, cozy sweaters to curl up in and a good chunky knit, you have to get an Aran sweater. Every sweater has a knitting style that has a meaning, a story behind it.
Welcoming committee at Craggaunowen Village. Hasselblad 503, Kodak Ektar 100.
Craggaunowen Village, called The Living Past, is a beautiful place tucked in among bright green forests. It allows you to step back in time and get a taste of what living in Celtic times was like.
Later on, we stopped for lunch at the famous Durty Nelly’s where I tried my first Wicklow Wolf beer. Admittedly, I was won over by the design of the label (I was sorely missing my own black wolf back home), but once that glorious brew hit my lips… I didn’t drink anything else for the rest of the trip.
Once refueled, we spent the rest of the day (ahem… buying more sweaters), walking around Bunratty Castle and village. I loved this place. The castle itself was gorgeous, but it was the village and the cottages that really did it for me. Word of the wise, if you feel queasy in tight spaces, admire the castle from the outside or stick to the grand rooms, the stairways to the rooms can be very narrow, steep and very crowded at times.
A most dapper Irish fellow, don’t you think? Hasselblad 503, Kodak Ektar 100.
I had been looking forward to hiking the legendary Burren since we learned we’d be going to Ireland, and more still, to hike it with Tony Kirby, a human encyclopedia of history, geology, botany and poetry. Tony’s written a few guide books on Irish nature walks and hikes. If you plan on doing any hiking on your visit to Ireland, don’t miss out on walking with Tony. I would have missed out on a million special flowers and plants, and curious stories looking up and out into the landscape. The wealth of The Burren is right by your feet, colorful and humble, and incredibly beautiful and delicate.
Now, this dog nerd was not leaving Ireland without seeing canines at work, and so, while the rest of our group went about their day shopping or resting, Bill and I hitched a ride to Caherconnell Fort after getting wind of the sheepdog demonstrations that would be taking place that day. Just a short ride from The Burren, this may have been my favorite thing we did in Ireland. Caherconnell is a working farm, so the demos are based on real farm life scenarios and needs, not for competition. You have a viewing area of the filed, protected from the wind and rain, but let’s face it, I has happy to get wet seeing this. John Davoren and his dogs Lee, Lynn and Sally (who is 19 years old!!) are wonderful. You are so busy picking your jaw up off the floor, laughing or just listening with mouth open that you never realize you are getting schooled on sheep herding.
Hasselblad 503, Kodak Portra 800 and Fuji Pro 400H films.
No visit to Ireland would be complete without a trip to The Cliffs of Moher. Overlooking the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, and a stomach dropping 702 feet at their highest point, the Cliffs are probably Ireland’s most popular attraction. They are deadly as they are gorgeous, and for those of us with a slight fear of heights and weighing less than 150 pounds, they do have a barricade of sorts, where you can walk alongside the cliffs but feel a little more protected. Plenty of folks have no problem sitting right at the edge, and whatever your fancy, the Cliffs are sure to satisfy.
Kodak Ektar 100
I have never been a fan of hop-skipping and jumping from one place to another when traveling. I much prefer to pick one place and explore as much as I can from it, which is why I loved this trip to Ireland, and yet, it was still not enough. There’s so much more to see and explore.
Our last night in County Clare took us to have a banquet style dinner at Dunguaire Castle. I was a tad skeptical at first, not really being one for Vegas style dinner and a show, but this is nothing like that. For one, you are in a real castle, with real history; and upon walking in, an Irish lady dressed in a lovely velvet dress hands you a goblet of real mead as another lady plays the harp.
Dinner is served in a great room with long tables. There is music, there is poetry, there is acting, but it is all a nod to Irish history, great Irish writers, poets, legends and stories passed down for generations. The mead was delicious and the food was outstanding.
Our last night in Ballinalacken Castle served an incredible sunset (at 10 p.m. at night), perfect to grab a portrait of Bill and his father. Never let moments like this one pass by without taking note of them, whether it is with a camera or simply acknowledge them. They are special. They have their place in your story.
Leaving any place you have loved visiting is always bittersweet, but we left knowing we’d be happy to return to keep exploring and could not have been more grateful to Ireland, its people and its beautiful land for leaving such a mark on us.
From castles, to fairylands. From pubs to grand dining halls. From villages to breathtaking cliffs. From misty rolling hills and black and white sheepdogs to curling up in a cozy Aran sweater with a glass of Irish whiskey at the end of the day, to sip it all over again… I hope you enjoy Ireland through our eyes. I hope you get inspired to go and see, breathe, taste it all for yourself.
Our top ten favorites from Ireland:
- Caherconnell Fort Sheepdog Demonstrations
- Bar Rua, Dublin (best local brew and pot pie ever!)
- Irish Whiskey Museum (don’t forget to try The Irishman whiskey)
- Burren walks with Tony Kirby
- Ballinalacken Castle Country House (great place to stay, amazing food)
- Teach Nan Paidi cafe in Inis Mor, Aran Islands (get the Guinness chocolate cake!)
- Wicklow Wolf
- Bunratty Castle and folk park
- Dungaire Castle banquet style dinner
- Aran Sweater Market