the Best of Ireland by Bus and Train
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
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.
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.
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
Best of all, I had many opportunities to chat with locals and other
travelers along the way, while boning up on my Irish brogue.
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.
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
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
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.
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
"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,"
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.