“In Dublin you’ll always find a pub next to a bookmaker’s,” Denis told us as the coach swung around the roundabout, ” You place your bet, watch the horses on the telly then pop next door to get your winnings”. We’d barely left the hotel on our Wild Wicklow coach tour, driving past Georgian terraces and brightly coloured front doors, when the stories started to flow. Denis O’Reilly, our guide for the day, was like a good natured leprechaun, full of michievous energy and with a tale to tell about everything that we passed. One of the other bloggers beside me exclaimed “I don’t know what sort of coffee he had this morning, but I want some of that!” The flow of chatter and stories was so continuous that it took me an hour to realise that Denis was driving the coach as well as giving us an annecdote or joke about everything that we passed. Who says men can’t multi-task?
I was off on the Wild Wicklow tour, the day after the TBEX travel bloggers’ conference I attended in Dublin. Although I’d barely scratched the surface of Dublin, I selected this tour because it seemed to offer a taste of Ireland in one day; wild scenery in the Wicklow mountains, a stop at the Avoca handweavers known for their colourful checked throws, a bit of history at the Glendalough monastery and a good lunch in a traditional Irish pub thrown in.
As we pulled up at Sandycove, a seaside spot on the outskirts of Dublin, Denis managed to convince us that the group of Germans on the tour were keen for a bit of skinny dipping. We got off the coach to stretch our legs and admire the views across the bay where a red and white buoy marked the mouth of the Liffey to guide the ships into the port of Dublin. Tucked on the far side of the rocky point was the 40 Foot swimming club, a popular place to come and swim all year round, even on Christmas day. According to Denis “you go in a man and come out a woman”, or as James Joyce, who swam here, described it in Ulysses, “the scrotumtightening sea”. We wandered around, mingling with the wrinkly swimmers, who were all sticking to the rules with togs on. They dressed and undressed, juggling towels and clothes in the fresh air, sharing cups of steaming tea poured from thermos flasks. We could see swimming hats bobbing in the water, or perhaps they could be the seals that Denis assured us swam in these waters. You never get a cold or fall ill if you swim here all year round.
“Don’t take me too seriously”, said Denis as we got back on the coach, “it’s only that I had a group of 25 Danish students and before I knew it the lads were in for a swim, bollock naked. We were all ready to go except for the girls who were last back on the coach and they’d been skinny dipping too!”. To this day all the swimmers at the 40 Foot, most of whom seemed to be in their 60s, ask Denis, “When are you bringing back the Danes?”
Our next stop was at Avoca handweavers in Kilmacanogue where we couldn’t resist cuddling the bark of the huge tree in the car park which felt spongy and soft to touch. The centre consisted of a large and tempting shop showcasing Avoca throws and other Irish crafts, a cafe full of delicious food, and a plant nursery and garden. The property was the home of John Jameson, of Jameson whiskey fame who came to Ireland from Scotland (but we won’t hold that against him) and collected all the exotic trees which are planted in the garden.
We sat on the terrace tucking into the huge scones then ignored the railing around the weeping Monteray cypus tree and went inside the dark cavern under the branches. I could easily have spent an hour or two, not to mention a few euros, drooling over all the beautiful things in the shop, but I didn’t want to trouble the Ryanair police and needed to stay under my 10kg baggage limit.
Before long, we were driving over the Wicklow mountains, which were not so much high peaks as rolling moorland (50 shades of green according to Denis) with dots of fluffy white bog cotton and the heather staining the hillside purple. Beside the road, the rainwater ran down the hillside in streams that were coloured brown from the peat (no, it’s not Guinness). Denis pointed out how the moorland and bog was uneven in places, where families for centuries had come to cut turf, which was the main source of fuel in days gone by. The turf was cut into rich brown bricks and laid out to dry in the sun and wind to fuel the winter fires. Every so often they find treasure left by the fleeing monks and 2000 year old bodies perfectly preserved under the turf. The Irish definition of heaven in October is to sit in a country pub with the smell of turf on the fire, a pint of Guinness and a packet of cheese and onion crisps. I was quite sold on the idea of the pub and turf fire but not so much on the bog snorkelling that some people also try in these parts – yes really they hold competitions!
Denis pointed out the patch of woodland where one of the battles was filmed in Braveheart (Mel Gibson in a skirt). Apparently the tax breaks for filming in Ireland are more generous than those in Scotland, so a lot of films are made here. The film was watched in Ireland more times per capita than any other country, since half the locals took part as extras in the battle scenes and had to see the film at least 3 times to make sure they could spot themselves. According to Denis you’d go to the cinema with your friends – but couldn’t hear anything except people saying “Did’ya see me? Did’ya see me?” Next we stopped to photograph the bridge where PS I Love You was filmed (it’s a chick flick) and the house by Lough Tay where all the pop stars stay. The lake was fringed with a bit of extra sand where they’d been filming Vikings and was also the setting for Excalibur where the sword is flung into the lake.
While we all stood on the hillside admiring the lake, and wondering whether Bono or Enya might be staying at the Guinness family home, Denis popped out a bottle of Jameson whiskey and we all had a warming nip and a toast – Sláinte! To continued peace in Ireland – see the video here
As we drove on to Laragh, Denis treated us to tales of his childhood when his parents would leave him and his brothers to make Irish coffees for their guests. If any went wrong and the cream got mixed with the coffee then of course Denis and his brothers would have to hide their mistake by drinking them. Here’s the recipe for a true Irish coffee;
How to make an Irish Coffee
Take out your best Waterford crystal goblets and put a teaspoon in the glass then heat the glass by pouring the boiling water over it, the spoon is there to prevent the glass from cracking. Pour freshly made coffee in to halfway up the glass then add 3 teaspoons of brown sugar and stir like crazy until the sugar melts. Add a good dollop of Irish Whiskey and a bit more for luck, then take your fresh cream from the fridge – not whipped cream but thick pouring cream as you would eat with strawberries. Rest the teaspoon against the inside of the glass then pour the cream slowly over the back of the spoon so that it sits on top of the coffee. When you drink it you have to get a creamy moustache.
At Laragh, we stopped at the Lynham’s Hotel, where a good roast lunch was being served washed down by a pint of Guinness if you were inclined to have a doze on the coach in the afternoon. The bare brick walls were covered with old pictures and prints and a young girl was playing on the Irish harp. It seems that no self-respecting traditional pub would be without a musician or two to entertain the guests.
After our late lunch we were off to nearby Glendalough, the ruins of a monastic settlement, built on the gently rising ground where the glacier had deposited its moraine at the end of the valley millions of years ago. The settlement was founded in the 6th century by St Kevin who lived as a hermit a bit further up the valley beside the lake in an inaccessible spot that could only be reached by boat. The tall tower set among the gravestones might easily have featured in Rapunzel, but was used as a bell tower to call the monks to prayer as well as a look-out for pilgrims or less welcome visitors who might be planning to attack. We wandered up the valley through the woodland and passed the first lake, up to the second lake which filled most of the valley. It was a lovely setting and in the car park I treated myself to a Teddy’s 99 ice cream before we were back on the coach for the drive back to Dublin, listening to some haunting Irish pipe music from Pat Connery who we had passed at the stone archway as we came in. You can see my short video of the singing here.
Thanks to Denis we had a great day out and a true taste of the Irish Blarney. I’m not so sure which of your stories was true, but after the Wild Wicklow tour, I’m ready to believe anything told me by an Irishman!
The Wild Wicklow Tour – book through the website or through your hotel, costs €28 per adult, €25 for child/student/seniors.
You may also enjoy my article: The best of TBEX, The best of Dublin
What other bloggers made of the Wild Wicklow tour;
Wicklow, the garden of Ireland: Finding the Gypsy in me
Day Trip from Dublin – The Wild Wicklow Tour is a must: Solo Travel Girl
The best pubs and restaurants in Dublin
As we reached Dublin, Denis gave us his personal recommendations for some great Irish Dublin pubs for a pint of Guinness and perhaps some traditional Irish music. If you’re looking for a good craic you might try;
Toner’s at 139 Lower Baggott St, O’Donahuhes at 15 Merrion Row where you’ll find traditional music every night, The Long Hall at 51 South St George’s St, Dohenny and Nesbitt at 5 Lower Baggott St, The Merchant at 12 Lower Bridge St, Stag’s Head at 1 Dame Court, The Brazen Head at 20 Lower Bridge St
For restaurants in Dublin, Denis suggests that you try;
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey