We had for some time resisted the isle of the hackneyed cliches, mostly for fear of tripping over Guinness downing American River Dancers at every Shamrock infested Craic. We had also lived in Dublin for a year before we had the kids and found that most of the stereotypes were really wide of the mark, especially the bit about the Irish being friendly.
But after this trip to the Irish Midlands and a bit of the West I’m going to revise our negative options to a resounding ‘feckin’ marvellous’, especially the bit about the Irish being anything but REALLY friendly.
We stayed in Tullamore for 9 days or so, mainly because friends in Abu Dhabi lent us their house and it was too good an opportunity to miss. It also gave us the chance to have a holiday with my mom, otherwise known as the ‘Ayatollah’, who traveled over on the short flight from Birmingham.
So when in Tulamore, let’s start with whisky and a word about the weather. The Tullamore Dew visitors’ centre is an interesting and quite atmospheric way to kill a couple of hours, especially if combined with a some tasty food from the attached pub. The only downside is if you go on a rainy afternoon you could be coming back for several repeat visits, as that would cover most days. England is wet, we all know that. Wales is wetter. And Ireland takes the gold.
So the tour itself is informative and even kept the kids amused, as well as giving you enough ammo to turn you into a self-styled whiskey bore.
After the tour and some food you can take a not too demanding walk along the canal side weather permitting.
Tullamore town is pleasant place with busy high street and a pub every 100 yards, actually make that 50. Culinary options are also pretty much pub based, although are course there are chippers, kebabs and pizza on offer as well. There’s also a decent sized park 5 minute’s walk from the town centre, which was packed when we went down on sunny Sunday morning. Aside from that the main attractions lay outside the town and you do need to rent a car to visit anywhere of note.
Before I go on and list these noteworthy spots, I must give a special mention to the Tullamore Rugby Club traditional Irish music Tuesdays. These events run through the Summer and are a chance to see the real deal as far as Irish music is concerned, being a MILLION miles away from the plastic Paddy shows in Temple Bar. If you had told me I would have enjoyed a night that featured the phrase “followed by light refreshments- often tea and scones” as much as I did I wouldn’t have believed you. And when I turned up to see a selection of child musicians and a geriatric audience I groaned out loud. But by the end of the night I was being dragged away, after a mixture of great musicianship and a real love for the culture that you will be hard pressed to find elsewhere. The highlights of the show were the songs performed by kids and adults alike with the no accompaniment, the champion whistler, the child uilleann pipe player and the storytelling. One old gent had me sobbing with laughter with his, ‘its the way he tells ’em’ delivery which was simply hilarious (TV comics take note). By the way as well as the tea and scones (which were nice and moist) there is a bar….
So onto the highlights of the Midlands, a phrase not too often heard in guidebooks about Ireland. For no particular reason I’ll start with Clonmacnoise, a monastery site from the 6th century and one of the country’s finest. Again the kids were kept entertained, there was a well put together film to watch and there was space to run around as required. The place had plenty of atmosphere and the next time I do a photo shoot for a Celtic heavy metal project I will know where to come. Mom was not impressed mind you. I’ll let the pictures say the rest, you’ll know from these if this is your cuppa.
Next, comes Lough Boora, a definite highlight of the holiday and one that is missing from many guidebooks, I guess because it opened only recently. This is a wetlands bog park big enough to get lost in and with enough going on for repeat visits. You can rent a bike and go on a pretty decent off road jaunt, have a walk around the open air sculpture park, do a bit of bird watching, not get lost in the not really a maze or go for a picnic.
Our last really noteworthy day tip around Tullamore was to Birr Castle, a not really-a-castle, castle, but a cracking day out. You have some beautiful gardens, plenty of space to walk, a good quality children’s play area, a massive telescope an historical science museum and a foody, poshish cafe with organic everything. We all had a great day, the kids joyed the bouncy things and the rest of us enjoyed the gardens, the telescope would have been a lot better if they had let have a go though….
Also worth a final comment is Shannonbridge, not so much for the water based shenanigans (although they seemed have those to) but for the splendid pub come shop J. J. Killeen’s, where the somewhat unimaginative food menu is more than made up for by the great atmosphere. You can also have a little nose at the area round the bridge itself and get one of the apparently infrequent boat trips.
A couple of day trips
We managed a couple of day trips, one to Wicklow and the other the Galway. Just me and Tommy made the trip to Wicklow to see old friends and despite the grim weather we had a cracking day with old friends in a nice spot. We did try and spend the day in Glendalough but after getting rained off all we managed was this picture.
the West of Ireland is of course a blog in itself and this trip to Galway was not our first to the West, on previous trips we had been to Cork, Kinsale and Dingle but this was our first time since the family arrived….
Galway is basically brilliant. We were there during the arts festival and the place was jumping. There were street musicians galore, loads of great pubs, a nice little craft market with food stalls that made me stuff my face despite having just had a big veggie lunch.
Even the the Ayatollah was impressed, what more can I say?
Would we come back to Ireland? Yes we would. Would we bring warmer clothes and umbrellas? Most definitely. I want make any comments about the warmth of the Irish welcome blah blah, but for once the cliche turned out to be true.