Last year, when Aer Lingus, Ireland’s national airline, introduced direct flights from San Francisco to Dublin, a travel seed was sown. We already had plans to go to England. Why not go to Ireland first, visit some old haunts, then proceed on to London? And so it was that the travel seed came to bloom.
Once In Dublin, we stayed at the Hibernian Club, a private club housed in an 18th century townhouse facing St. Stephen’s Green. It’s a lovely place, and a great location down from the historic Shelbourne Hotel and around the corner from the elegant, pedestrian-only Grafton Street. We were within walking distance of Trinity College and the treasured 8th century Book of Kells, Christ Church Cathedral, Merrion Square, the trendy Temple Bar area and more. We visited the Gaiety Theatre where, many moons ago, I had seen Peter O’Toole in Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock. We stopped for a Guinness–or two–in several of Dublin’s traditional pubs. Then, after a joyous reunion with some Irish cousins, we picked up a rental car and headed south.
Our destination was Kinsale, County Cork, but on the way we stopped at the spectacular Rock of Cashel, one of Ireland’s most important archaeological sites. The Rock, with its ancient religious ruins and intriguing history, towers over the little town of Cashel where we paused for refreshments after climbing up to the Rock.
Later, as we drove down the winding road into the harbor town of Kinsale, memories came flooding back. Decades ago, I had lived in Kinsale, working for a group that was attempting to explore the wreck of the Lusitania, torpedoed off the Old Head of Kinsale in 1915. Time and memory can play tricks on you and I was apprehensive to revisit. Happily, Kinsale did not disappoint. It looked better than ever.
We stayed at the Blue Haven Hotel on Pearce Street, where I once stayed all those years ago. Our room was charming, our breakfasts superb. We strolled around the harbor and wandered up and down Kinsale’s narrow streets, admiring the old buildings, colorful shops and interesting galleries. One day we set off walking to the village of Summercove, about two miles away. On the way, we popped into the Spaniard Inn, another of my old haunts, up on the hill. From there we took the coastal path to the massive ruins of Charles Fort, built to guard the harbor back in the 1670s. After exploring the Fort, we made our way back to Summercove and the Bulman Bar for an outstanding seafood lunch.
Onwards to Arklow, County Wicklow, the home of my mother’s side of the family. When my sister and I were growing up in London, we’d spend our summers with our other Irish cousins there. I hadn’t been back since. I found the main street, the Catholic church and the bridge over the Avoca river were, as I remembered, was the row of terraced houses where we stayed. But the fields opposite where we played, jumping in the haystacks, were long gone, replaced by upscale homes. Fond memories.
On the way back to Dublin, we meandered along, revisiting famous beauty spots—the Vale of Avoca, the Meeting of the Waters, Glendalough and St. Kevin’s Bed. We spent our last night in Ireland at the Powerscourt Arms in the charming village of Enniskerry, near the renowned Powerscourt Estate. Next day it was back to Dublin, out to the Airport and on to London. Happy days.
—Text and photography by Monica Conrady. For information, visit Tourism Ireland.