At Long Last, Ireland (Pt 1)

View from the Raphoe Bedroom

Our Daily Ireland View

I meant to blog about our trip in it’s entirety sooner, but to be honest it’s taken me a week to decompress and collect my many, many thoughts about Ireland.

The Plan

The trip was a fluke – we hadn’t intended to go!  If you’d told me a year ago that my family would be spending 3 weeks in Ireland, I’d have said you were full of blarney.

But that’s just what we did.

As many of you know, I’ll be teaching in Stirling, Scotland in August at the British Yarn Knit Camp and thought it might be nice to find a home share situation so I could take the family.

The Raphoe Kitchen

Our Irish Kitchen

I registered our home with Home Link, and got a few nibbles, but none from Scotland or Northern England.  In all honesty I have to admit I didn’t think St. Paul – as wonderful as it is – would be a huge draw…

I did, though, get a lovely phone call from a woman in Ireland whose son was to graduate from law school in the Twin Cities, and wondered if we’d like to do a swap.

After a family meeting, a pooling of our resources (frequent flier miles) and the decision that by saving a bit each month we’d have enough for the trip (9 months away) we said YES and started planning.

Class at This Is Knit

This Is Knit! Class

Our reasoning was that life hands you opportunities sometimes, and you should grab them.

As Auntie Mame says, “Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

And – not to put too fine a point on it – since we have a full understanding of the finite nature of LIFE Chez Landy, it seemed absurd to turn down such an amazing opportunity.

The Voyage

The Famine Sculpture & Max

Max at The Famine Sculpture

Because of the distribution of our frequent flier miles, we traveled in two groups, Gerry & Hannah on US Air, Max and I on Delta.  Reviews of both airlines were mixed, but it looks like Max and I had the more pleasant flight.

Arriving in Dublin we headed to the short-stay apartment we’d rented for 2 nights so I could teach at This Is Knit (a WONDERFUL yarn shop) and the family could sight see. Unfortunately Han & Gerry had a hard time getting over their flight (they may have picked up a cold or something)



So Max and I did most of the walking and exploring. We walked all over the city center, up and down the Liffey, and had a magnificent time riding the light rail.

But the most delicious memory of my first day in Ireland?  The  gluten free chocolate muffins I found at Marks & Spencer.  Light, moist, chocolaty – I wish I could find similar ones here!

My love affair with M&S had started, there was no turning back…

The Troubles

More Bedroom Window Views

Our View

The low point of our trip – and it was the lowest point, the trip only got better from there – was the theft incident.

I’ll leave that as I covered it at the time in blog posts, but it left us rather bereft and happy to head north on our hard-won bus tickets, clutching our last 2 euros tightly.

In the scheme of life, it was money.  Just money.  And the hardest to replace physical items, our passports, were not taken.  Huzzah!


In Raphoe [ra-FOE], which is in County Donegal [daw-ne-GALL], we discovered our haven. Our host family’s Manse (for that’s what it was called, seriously) was huge and beautiful.

Peat Briquettes

Mmmm, peaty!

And full of Irish detail we hadn’t expected (peat briquettes, anyone?)

We soon sorted out our financial worries with the help of American Express and Gerry’s mom, the host family even left us a small loan that we didn’t have to use (yay and THANK YOU!)

County Sligo

Sligo Snail

The morning that our host family headed off to our tiny-but-lovely Minnesota house I took the car out for a very early morning spin on Irish roads.

I wanted to get used to

  • A) The stick shift on the Right side
  • B) The steering wheel on the Left side
  • C) The traffic on the Right side
  • D) The narrow roads that seemed to have neither Left nor Right side.

And for good measure I pulled into a parking lot and practiced my parallel parking and use of the reverse gear.  I felt oddly at ease, and did quite well with it.

Dunluce Castle

Semi Circle at Dunluce

Gerry never seemed to have the same ease with the shift or the road oddness, so I did most of the driving (to the relief of the kids.)


Halfway throug our trip Max announced that he wants to grow up to design and build a museum of circles.  All kinds of circles; architectural, artistic, natural, cosmic – just circles.

Beltane Stone Circle in Raphoe

Beltane Morning

I was struck by that as so much of Ireland tends to revolve  around (no pun intended) circles.

My first circle adventure was a solitary trip to the Beltane Stone Circle in Raphoe.  It was on the morning of my getting-to-know-the-Peugeot wild ride, and the long walk up to the circle was a perfect nerve-calmer.

It was a foggy morning, I couldn’t see very far, but I could see far enough to avoid the many sheep droppings surrounding the prehistoric site.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but yes – I did have my “Outlander” moment when I desperately wanted to hear some of the stones buzzing.  No such luck.

But sitting quietly on one of the stones as the sun rose was a bit of a time-travel experience in itself. Everywhere we turned we found circles.

Here are the kids experiencing an amazing kid’s playground in Moville (where the kids and I went sea kayaking – more about that later!)


Speaking of travel, here is a  word about Irish Roads.  Everyone we met told me that driving in Donegal would be the hardest driving I’d ever do in my life.

Evidently these folks hadn’t driven in Scotland, West Virginia, or the rest of Ireland.

Minis on Parade

A School of Minis

Donegal was no harder driving than many other places that I’ve been (although I must say that Ulster was a teeny bit easier going.)

All over Ireland there are roads that are hardly wide enough for one small car – and in those cases you drive carefully and look for a wide space where you can let oncoming traffic pass.

The curves and mountains were no more daunting than tooling around Beckley or Ripley, WV, and the hedgerows (my own personal bete noir) were no thicker than in Scotland. But driving in Donegal – in all of Ireland – does take a certain nerve.

It’s like driving in snow.  You can learn it, but nothing takes the place of growing up with it and watching your parents deal with it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as good as a native Irish driver, but I pride myself that I’m as good as any Yank driving in Ireland. 

I zipped my camera into my hoodie to take this driving moving from Letterkenny to Raphoe, then I forgot all about it.  The sigh of relief when I come to a stop says it all…


Gerry Works

Gerry Stays Home

But we were in Ireland to SEE the country, not to lay about watching The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle (both on Sky TV) and Black Adder (on videotape, now our kids are fans, too!)

Glenveagh National Park

Territorial Swaledale Sheep

So while Gerry finished up his two online classes at St. Paul College, the kids and I explored. I saw, Glenveagh National Park on a map and thought, “Oh, trees – a park – a castle!”

BOY was I wrong!

Park? check. Castle? check. Trees? Not so much.

In the course of our stay in Ireland we passed through the Glenveagh area about 5 times, each time it looked less daunting, more beautiful, less frightening.  I began to fall in love with the spare and dramatic landscape.

But that first day, driving alone with the kids to what I thought was going to be a green parkland and entering a very forbidding and dramatic lunar landscape (with goats) was – well – terrifying.  It was rainy and overcast, it was cold.

The fact that a Shostakovitch disk left in the CD player started up then just added to the overall effect.

The kids and I were fascinated and creeped out in equal measures.  Thus is the effect of music on an adventure.

And I got totally lost and couldn’t find the castle, which was no surprise given my shaky mental state at that time.

Glenveagh National Park

Jaysus On A Stick

We stopped the car at one point and I took a video of the barren, windy, desperate landscape, ending with a shot of an unidentified something attached to a post.

What was it?  A statue of Jesus – he definitely had his worked cut out for him.

I felt oddly comforted. Not only had folks been here before, they’d attached a statue to a post.

…and, I must admit, seeing anything on a stick puts me in mind of the Minnesota State Fair.

Next Post: More Ireland traveling with the WHOLE family!

On The Water

Five Finger Bay

You can tell when a vacation’s going well – before the trip is half done, you begin planning how long it will be before you can come back again.

Today as I walked along the ocean at Five Finger Bay I found myself dreaming of future Ireland visits, times when I might come back with the family or alone, and felt absolutely caught up in the magic of this place.

We had a pretty great day today.  Low key, we didn’t cram a lot in, but we enjoyed every bit of it.

First we went sea-kayaking, which – for me – was an absolute HIT!  Total mom-win, Hannah wasn’t quite so convinced.

4 Kayakers (I'm on the Right)

I’d contacted a company I found online called Just Kayaks (very well run by Adrian Harkin) and reserved some time for the kids to get into the water.  The drive up to Moville was rainy, but gilded with bright sunshine and the day was perfect by the time we arrived.

Can I just say, I’m getting pretty good at the narrow Irish roads, it’s so similar to driving in West Virginia that I feel an odd deja vu at times.

Max Prepares

By the time we got to the beach the kids had convinced me to go out, too.  So against my better judgement, but because I hated them to go alone, I agreed.

The hardest part of the day was getting the damned wetsuit on, the second hardest was SEEING myself in the wetsuit.  And because I like you, I will not subject you to that.

The cost for the ‘taste of kayaking’ was €36 for an hour (€12 each) of guided time for Hannah, Max and myself.

Hannah at the Helm

Gerry watched, it just would have been too much for him – and even at that he was pretty worn out by the time we returned.

Hannah did well (although she took a bit longer to get the hang of it.) At first she tensed up, but finally she was able to relax and enjoy it.

Max in the Clear Blue Sea

Max did great, although he fell out of his kayak at one point, and it terrified him.  Our guide was stellar at getting Max up, back into his kayak and calm in just minutes.

I think if we were to do this a few days in a row Hannah would become absolutely amazing!  In all honesty, I was unprepared for how much fun I would have (and how good I’d be at it!) I kept moving ahead, cutting through the waves, going much more quickly than I’d anticipated.  It was heaven!

Shoes or Knives?

Shoes or Knives?

I highly recommend Just Kayaks, and the wonderful town of Moville as well – beautiful!  When we finished the kids couldn’t resist 30 minutes at one of the nicest under-12 play parks we’d ever seen – VERY inventive and extremely fun.

Leave the stillettos at home, though, kids…

Adrian had recommended that we drive up to Malin Head, the northernmost point on the Irish mainland, and since we were just 40 minutes away and the day was beautiful we headed up.

The View from Malin Head

That was when we took the detour to five finger bay, then continued up to the point.  If it seems that I’m hesitant with words, it’s that I’m afraid most of what I say would sound trite and could not describe the beauty and drama of the scenery.

Had I been alone, I could have just sat and stared at the ocean all day.  Even better would have been staring at it from a kayak.

Gerry Gazes at Scotland

Driving is tiring.  I think it’s mostly because I need to be very alert mentally and physically to operate the stick shift (haven’t driven one of those in about 10 years) AND keep my senses alert for driving on the opposite side of the road AND keep an eagle eye for sudden appearances of autos from behind hedgerows.

Gerry’s not been 100% on this trip, it’s wearing on him.  He’s had mostly good days, but he’s also having a lot of pain and needs to rest quite a bit every day.  The driving seems to be a bit much for him, he doesn’t really want to try it, and I can’t blame him!

I’m happy to do it, but I’m also happy when we get back to the manse and pull up that curving driveway.  Then I know we’re home and I can rest my own mind for a bit.