Exploring the Best of Ireland by Bus and Train
Copley News Service

A milky, misty sky hovered over a pastoral patchwork of emerald and lime. White-capped waterfalls cascaded in glistening sheaths along the hillsides, weaving through the wild heather and forested terrain. In the distance, a glimmer of sunlight struggled to lighten the lavish landscape drenched by days of rain.

"Looks like a bit of sunshine. Not very typical for Ireland, love," said our bus driver John, with a cheery lilt that belied the inclement weather.

We edged our way through narrow, curving roads toward the lakes and sixth-century monastic ruins of Glendalough, the wonder of Wicklow County, less than an hour's drive southeast of Dublin.
 

MODEL CITIZEN A life-size bronze statue of street peddler Molly Malone, known for singing "Cockles and Mussels," can be found across the road from Dublin's Trinity College. CNS Photo by Beverly Mann.

The sun miraculously appeared, with blue skies brightening the azure waters and radiant green mountain range, just in time to stretch our legs with a hike along one of Glendalough's lakeside trails. I couldn't help but think of Irish writer Nuala O'Faolain's description at the end of her book "My Dream of You": "Didn't one of the early astronauts say that from space, Ireland was the greenest thing on the planet?"

The tour was just the beginning of the many scenic journeys that I had experienced during my two-week travels via bus and train through the southeast and southwest of Ireland, a pint-size country no bigger than Maine with a giant-size heart. Humor and hospitality prevailed in most every encounter and turn. Traveling by bus or rail is less costly and stressful than by car. I didn't have to fret about driving on the left side of busy, winding roads, worrying about finding appropriate parking. It's not uncommon to see cars booted with expired or missing parking stubs.

Best of all, I had many opportunities to chat with locals and other travelers along the way, while boning up on my Irish brogue.

Ireland also has an extensive network of buses to all major cities and most of the smaller towns and villages. The trains, however, are more available on the east coast, with Dublin serving as the major hub.


ROCK SOLID The most well-known, and most accessible, of Ireland's 70 or so megalithic tombs in the Burren is Poulnabrone, found in 1968 to have remains of over 23 bodies. Photo by Beverly Mann
  I needed at least three or four nights in Dublin to enjoy its rich sounds, tastes and sights and to take several side trips. A university town, Dublin resembles the Boston area, with a preponderance of Georgian architecture and brownstones, a myriad of monuments, churches and cobblestone side streets bustling with a literary and scholarly life stemming from the 16th-century Trinity College. Its eighth-century Book of Kells depicting early Celtic Christianity is a key attraction.

What separates Dublin, though, from other cities are the colorful door fronts and the continuous traditional Irish sounds of accordion and fiddle playing throughout the artsy Temple Bar and Trinity College area, flowing with trendy restaurants and Guinness galore. I found myself meandering along the nearby shopping arena of Grafton Street before taking a stroll through the flower beds and foliage adorning the manicured parks of Stephen's Green and Merrion Square. The Writer's Museum gave me an informative overview of some of Ireland's literary greats: Joyce, Swift, Wilde and Shaw, to name a few. After a day of touring, the grounds of the Museum of Modern Art, a converted 17th-century retirement villa for soldiers, became a wonderful spot to reflect and relax.

The train provided the most convenient and direct route to my next stop southward, Waterford, the country's major seaport and oldest town founded by the Vikings. Think crystal and you think of Waterford, which produces some 300 to 400 pieces a day, created by master engravers, many with 30 years of experience.

The two-hour trek breezed after meeting Margaret, a delightful, middle-aged Irish woman living in Waterford who clued me in on some of the sights to see in her city and affirmed my choice of travel.

"I prefer traveling by train rather than auto. I have more room to stretch and don't have to deal with the darn city traffic," she stated.
 


BLARNEY HOUSE Ireland's Blarney House is just one of several tourist attractions named after the city. Nearby are the famous castle and even more famous stone. CNS Photo by Beverly Mann.

I was a bit distracted by the scenery. As I gazed out the window at the clusters of sheep cuddled together like cotton balls and contented cows sprawled out in a bed of green lushness, I curled up and took a nap, comforted by the smooth motion of the train.

Before I knew it, we were in Waterford. The station was just a 10-minute walk to our hotel on Canada Street in a quiet corner overlooking a narrow section of the Quay, remarkably resembling the stark stillness of a landscape painting with several fishing skiffs resting at low tide. This picturesque city can be covered by foot, with a walk along the seafront promenade and down Broad and George Street. Here, I discovered Haricots, a culinary gem owned by two affable sisters raised on a farm. I can still taste the wholesome, moist carrot cake and sticky sponge cake made of fresh apples and plums, and the herb nut loaf that could turn anyone vegetarian.

The next morning, I left at the Bus Eireann depot, Ireland's main bus line, for the second-largest city, Cork, for a side trip to the Blarney Castle. People from all over the world bend over backward to kiss the Blarney Stone, a Celtic tradition dating back centuries.

Cork is a charmer and haven for foodies, with the energy of a bustling city and the look of a small town. An artist's enclave, Cork has been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2005. The choices of restaurants and shops are overwhelming. Cafe Paradiso proved to be a perfect lunch break. Chef Denis Cotter emphasizes the use of organically grown produce and the use of herbs to add an exotic flair to his vegetarian and fish entrees. The lavender ice cream is an added treat.

Near the end of my Celtic sojourn, I arose for a two-hour bus ride to Limerick, immortalized by John McCourt's "Angela's Ashes." Not as colorful or touristy as some of Ireland's major cities, Limerick has an earthy, no-nonsense feel and was a wonderful stopover for our coach tour via Barratt Tours to the Burren (rocky place), an endless expanse of limestone and neolithic tombs, then on to the majestic Cliffs of Moher, literally the height of my trip. The grandeur of these 800-foot cliffs that dramatically rise above the foamy Atlantic waters is unprecedented to any ocean view that I have ever experienced.  


MOHER MAJESTY The height of any trip to Ireland are the majestic Cliffs of Moher, dramatically rising 800 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. CNS Photo by Beverly Mann.

What could better cap this memorable day and my travels but a spirited medieval feast at the Bunratty Castle, where costumed entertainers performed a medley of songs and repartee, as guests ate in 16th-century style - without utensils. When the lively music subsided into a tender chorus of "Danny Boy," as we all held hands and swayed together, tears welled up in my eyes. It was at this moment, after having journeyed miles, when I realized that I was closer to home than I thought.

IF YOU GO

Getting There: Aer Linges has direct flights to Dublin or Shannon Airports from such major cities as Los Angeles, Boston, New York and Chicago. (800) 223-6537, www.aerlingus.ie.

Bus and Rail Connections: Bus Eireann is the main coach service linking cities and towns in Ireland. For more information go to www.buseireann.ie. Irish Rail can be contacted at info@irishrail.ie. CIE Tours International at (800) 243-7687 issues an Emerald Card valid for eight or 15 days travel within a month in Ireland by bus or rail. The pass also covers city bus services in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford and Belfast.

^top of page
Website design by
Freeman-Designs

Copyrighted 2005 - All Rights Reserved by Beverly Mann