Monday, June 25, 2018

Protest, Propaganda, and Politics: Welcome to the World Cup

Since June 14th, when Russia beat Saudi Arabia 5-0, more than 3 billion people have tuned in to the FIFA World Cup. Germany was upset by the feisty Mexicans. England has demonstrated uncommon good form. And the once mighty Argentines are floundering.  The globe is ball and everyone is watching it.
                But it’s not all about football. Nor has it ever been.
                As it stands, two players and a coach could possibly be suspended over gestures made during the Swiss victory over Serbia.  At issue is the “double eagle” displayed by both Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri following their respective goals. Players celebrate in many creative ways—some suck their thumbs, some remove their shirts, some make heart symbols with their hands, and others use the universal “simmer down” motion. Ronaldo recently rubbed his chin to tell the world that he is “the goat.”
                But the double eagle has ignited a controversy.
                At the heart of this hullabaloo, is FIFA rule number 54:  Provoking the general public.  The rule is simple, leaving a gaping hole into which pundits and fans can throw any number of infractions, both real and imagined.  It reads, “Anyone who provokes the general public during a match will be suspended for two matches and sanctioned with a minimum fine of CHF 5,000.”
                So, what’s wrong with the double eagle? Well, Xhaka and Shaqiri, while Swiss, are also Kosovars with ethnic Albanian roots. As such, their gesture—which refers to the Albanian flag—has been interpreted by some as the goading of their Serbian opponents and the fans in the stadium.
                Kosovo, unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and though its independence is recognized by more than 113 member states of the UN, Serbia is not one of them.  This has unearthed the decades-old Kosovo War where Serbian troops were responsible for the ethnic cleansing (terrible euphemism) of more than 10 000 Kosovars. Reciprocal atrocities were also committed, displacing 200 000 Serbs and Romani.
                But enough of history. At issue is the politics of the gesture and its intent. 
                I can’t help but draw comparisons the the recent storm around the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick and “knee-taking” during the American anthem.  Many say that politics has no place sport. Others argue freedom of expression.

                So, should Xhaka and Shaqiri be suspended, potentially affecting the outcome of the group stage of the World Cup?
                Ultimately, I say no. Just think about the nature of the World Cup for a moment. It pits nation against nation. The spectators drape themselves in flags, paint their faces and bodies in national colours.  Iceland fans wear the Viking helmets of old.  Brazilian fans wear…well, almost nothing.
                In this kind of atmosphere, how can you keep the World Cup free of politics?
                Serb captain, Aleksandar Kolarov, lifted three fingers in the “Serb salute” after he scored a goal against Costa Rica. Should he be suspended for what some consider to be a “nationalist” gesture?
                Forcing players to “behave” in this way is simply reinforcing a wilful ignorance of the issues facing the world—a kind of self-induced coma. FIFA wishes and hopes for this sort momentary amnesia, not for the sake of the “beautiful game,” but because it is part and parcel of ignoring the issues raised by the very selection of such countries as Russia and Qatar to host the games. Countries whose records of human rights abuses should arguably not be rewarded with the World Cup prize to begin with.
                If the gestures of Xhaka and Shaqiri—or even those of Kolarov—spark debate and discussion, this can only be a good thing. In fact, most of the 3 billion viewers probably had no idea what the “double eagle” meant before the Swiss players used it. And maybe that was the intent. Or, maybe the intent was simply one of solidarity following years of hardship.
                In the end, as long as the intent and impact did not purposefully engender hatred or prejudice (such as paramilitary insignia and flags in the crowd!), then play on.
                Serbia, and impartial aficionados of the game, have a much more legitimate complaint with the officiating of that match than they do with any gestures used. The Serbs deserved a penalty shot, and VAR review should and would have proven what the referee inexplicably “missed.”
                Let’s not pretend that politics don’t exist.  Embrace them. Discuss them. And get on with the game.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Language and the Art of Travel

The Sacred Valley, Peru

Photography by Caroline Begeron

We met Eduardo straight off the plane in Cusco. Our B&B had sent him to pick us up. He was sixty-years-old and had been driving taxi in the city most of his adult life. He did not speak English. Eduardo was Quechan, so we met halfway and struck up a conversation in Spanish on our way across the city.  He was funny and gregarious and he knew just about everything about Cusco. I asked him how much it would cost to hire his taxi for an entire day.  We had come to climb Machu Picchu, but we hoped to visit the Sacred Valley, too.

Cusco Peru
We struck a deal (for less than half the price of a bus tour—for one). On the day prescribed, Eduardo picked us up at 5 in the morning.  We set out into the hills north of the city, whisking past several different Incan ruins in quick succession—Q'enko, Tambomachay, Puca Puchara. On any given day, one of these stops would have been enough. Peru is an embarrassment of riches. We immediately began to make plans with Eduardo for yet another day upon our return from Machu Picchu.

Sacred Valley Cusco Peru
He asked if we would like to see llamas, and then promptly took us to a small weaving coop just off the main road.  Women in colourful traditional dress worked at ponchos and shawls on hand looms. 

He took us to Pisac—the ruins and the market--then he chose us a cheap place to eat near Urubamba. 

Ollantaytambo, our next stop, was beyond words. Impressive in its sheer scale and impossible crafted stonework. We stayed too long, enthralled by it all. We simply didn’t want to leave. 

And all along the way Eduardo told us stories, answered our questions. He joked with us and told us what to watch out for, what to avoid. He was the consummate host.

Inca Valley Peru

It was so late as we left Ollantaytambo that we figured we must forgo our final stop at Chinchero.  As we passed up higher into the mountains, the sun was disappearing behind the distant peaks, lighting the snow-capped chain behind us.  Eduardo pulled over so Caroline could catch the display on camera. After, we thanked him and bid him return to Cusco. We understood the lateness of the day. No tour could have packed in the itinerary the way we had. Nothing would have been as personal.  But Eduardo would have none of it.

Inca Valley Peru

Inca Valley Peru

It was dark as we pulled into the Adobe Church in Chinchero. Women were still spaced out around the plaza weaving colourful blankets as the lights in the church came on. The experience was visually surreal. We felt lucky. We felt privileged. We couldn’t thank (or pay) Eduardo enough.

Adobe Church Peru

However, several hours later, once we were safely tucked into our beds at the Second Home Cusco, I remember thinking that I owed it all—the experience, our burgeoning friendship with Eduardo—all of it, to language.

Of all the things I have learned in life, be they from schools and universities or the experience of living and working in the world, nothing has been more rewarding or defining than language.

By technical definition, I suppose that I am a polyglot. I speak three languages with fluency (English, French, Spanish), and I have working knowledge of a fourth (Portuguese). Through travel, study, and simple interest, I have managed to pick up smatterings of German, Italian, and Russian, as well—though I pull the latter out in case of emergency only, or perhaps as party tricks under the right “influence.”

I did not set out to make this so. Language was not part of a master plan enacted years ago under misguided notions of world domination. In fact, beyond my native English, French is the only language that I have studied at school and university for any length of time.  Spanish came organically through travel, necessity, and personal effort; Portuguese has been a recent experiment.

But no matter how it occurred, nothing I have ever learned has brought me more satisfaction, presented more opportunities, or allowed me to live more fully than language. On a personal level, it has changed the course of my life. My wife (a francophone), my children (bilingual, both), my career (as a teacher of English, French, and Spanish), have all been defined and shaped by language.

However, I also believe that language is the common ground upon which the world can build understanding. No small claim, I know. But I empathise with why a sovereignist from Quebec longs for separation--even if I don't agree. When I hear the first few lines of "Nicaragua, Nicaraguita" I feel a pang of homesickness. And I'm not Nicaraguan.

We met Eduardo two more times after our tour of the Sacred Valley. On the second last day of our trip, he took us to Sacsayhuaman and several other Incan sites encircling the city. And on our final full day, he took us to the Mantay Home for Adolescent Mothers, where we dropped off donations and spent the afternoon with the women and children staying there. They showed us how they were making fair trade crafts and receiving an education for themselves and their children. Once again, it was the ability to connect through language that made the day so memorable and complete.

It was difficult, after only a few hours, to say goodbye to the mothers at Mantay. And it was difficult, after only a few days, to say goodbye to Eduardo the next morning at the airport.

These are good things. They are the measure of an experience's impact.

Language opens doors to rooms we didn't even know existed. All we have to do after is walk through.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Off the Beaten Track: The Mouth of Hell

Masaya, Nicaragua

Photography by Caroline Bergeron

"In the case of expulsions of rocks, protect yourself under the car." This was the first sentence to catch my eye on the pamphlet the guard gave us upon entering the Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya. If this weren’t ominous enough, then the sign at the top of the volcano was. "Park your car facing exit, in case of emergency."

Of course, my first question was, if such an emergency were to arise, which action should I perform first? 

Masaya, Nicaragua

Nicaragua has nine active volcanoes running up the centre of the country like a volatile spine. The Volcan Masaya is the most accessible and, by extension, the most popular. It is also a rare form of basalt volcano, which attracts scientists from around the world in addition to the steady flow of tourists. It erupted for the first time in 4550 BC, and to date, it is one of the largest eruptions on historical record.

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On the day we arrived in a rattling, aging mini-bus, the volcano was smoking profusely – emitting noxious sulfuric fumes that stung our eyes and nose. Despite the haze, however, we were suitably stunned as we approached the gaping yawn of the Santiago crater. The drop to the crater floor is vertiginous. The stark grey windswept landscape gave us the impression a mischievous god shoveled out the centre of mountain with an ice cream scoop. My stomach convulsed. My feet hurt. The wind whipping in, out, and over the toothless maw didn’t help. I felt as though at any minute I could be plucked from the safety of my perch and tossed insignificantly into the mountain’s belly. It was awesome.

Masaya, Nicaragua

When the Spanish arrived on scene in 1524, the vent was a bubbling lake of molten lava. The crater remained that way until 1979, when the lava retreated. The cross that stands watch over the site to this day, was first erected by those same conquistadors, who gave the mountain its nickname, boca de infierno – the mouth of hell. The cross was meant to stop the devil from surfacing. Its effectiveness, however, is still in question, given the great eruption of 1772. In fact, the stairway to the cross is currently inaccessible due to a minor eruption six years ago. Workmen were toiling away at it in the incandescent sun on the day of our visit.

Masaya, Nicaragua

The indigenous tribes who predated the Spanish were more efficient. They simply tossed appeasing sacrifices over the edge every once in a while. 

We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the famed chocoyos del crater – the florescent green parrots that make their nests in the crags and caves of the cliffsides, mystifying scientists – but, alas, we were not so lucky. The volcano, which is one of the world’s largest natural producers of dioxides, also expels bioxides which when combined with saliva form sulfuric acid. Other than the arcane chocoyos no other life exists for miles around the vent. Needless to say, visitors are encouraged to limit their stays.

Masaya, Nicaragua

Trails, maintained by park staff, circle the bleak and rocky moonscape, offering the intrepid traveller the opportunity to explore the fields of volcanic ash and stone, which look the forlorn and twisted sculptures of a modern art museum. As we discovered, however, these trails can come to abrupt ends as they near the crater’s edge and become unstable. Simple wooden signs appear without warning, forcing the hiker to retire, or to continue at his own risk.

Masaya, Nicaragua

The Sandero de los Coyotes, if you can get past the name, is the longest and most interesting of the trails, taking several hours to complete. But even if you have only a short while, the volcano is worth a detour. You will never see anything else like it on earth.

Originally published on Hackwriters: The International Writers' Magazine

Thursday, April 5, 2018

5 Irish Pubs You Won't Want to Miss

Irish Pubs with Character

Photography by Caroline Bergeron

These 5 traditional Irish pubs have each have something special, be it local flavour, hip atmosphere, great craft beer selection, unbeatable trad sessions, or historic significance and location. Heck, some of them have it all.  In any case, if you are planning a trip to Ireland soon, be sure to stop in and check them out. You won’t be disappointed.

RELATED: 12 Day Road Trip in Ireland

Bar · 41 John Street, Kilkenny, Ireland

Paddy pours a great Guinness and offers up a selection of fine whiskies in this cozy local pub. Shoot a game of billiards, or just sit by the fireplace with a finger of 12-year-old Red Breast. Trad music sessions are the real deal here, and the locals come out in droves to listen on Thursdays after 9:30pm. It's standing room only after that!

Bar · 78 Camden Street Lower, Dublin, Ireland

Great eats, great beer, loads of character, and fine Trad sessions upstairs several nights a week. Stretch your horizons beyond the Temple Bar the next time you're in Dublin. This neighbourhood haunt is busy on weekends and spills out onto the street over whisky barrel tables in fine weather.

Brewpub · Raven Terrace, Galway, Ireland

Top 5 Pubs in Ireland

This hole-in-the-wall separates the Claddagh District from the Latin Quarter in Galway, and offers up 120 unrivalled craft beers, and 21 tapped kegs. Try the delicious Foam & the Fury IPA. You might picture dockside sailors gathered here in another time. And the barman/owner is a character unto his own.

Pub · 2 Sea Rd., Galway, Ireland

If it weren't for the green and white mural on the outside wall, you might walk right by this quietly unassuming pub. But there's nothing quiet about the famous Trad music sessions upstairs. Come early if you want a seat. This place is packed to the rafters on the weekend. 

Bar · 6 Echlin St., Dublin, Ireland

Brendan Behan, the renowned Irish writer, is rumoured to have sipped his last pint here. But historic significance isn't all The Old Harbour has going for it. This family run establishment is full of local flavour and home-cooked meals, where you can sit quietly and tip back a pint while you gab with the neighborhood regulars or watch the horse-racing and GAA on the tele. It also has the distinction of being the closet pub to the The Guinness Storehouse. Can't get fresher than that!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


A Short Story

Last night I dreamed of rats. They were in the basement of a house that was mine, but wasn’t mine at the same time. They were large and grey and fluffy, except for their tails. Their tails were rat tails, all slick and menacing. Otherwise, they were the texture of my cat. I know, because one scurried up my leg to bite my face and I had to fight it off.
            The house was really an apartment building, see, and someone had left their garbage in the basement, rather than taking it out. The bags were torn open and festering with maggots.
            The exterminator came and told me we should stomp on them. That didn’t seem right, even in the dream. When I tried, I could never generate enough force in my leg. It was like I was stomping in slow motion. The puffy little things just slipped away and kept at the garbage. The exterminator guy had much better luck. When he was finished with them, their bodies were little more than sticky garnet starbursts on the cement.
            It didn’t matter, though. The rats just kept coming.
            Eventually, he told me that we had to burn them out. I nodded. He was the professional, after all. I couldn’t even stomp them properly.
            Anyway, that’s how we lost the house.
            My wife turned to me from the bed in our hotel and asked if I had managed to salvage the shower curtain.
            “We lost our house, and the first thing you think to ask about is the shower curtain?” I said.
            “Well,” she said, “did you?”
            “Of course.” I rattled the bedsheets to show her that we were, in fact, sleeping under the shower curtain at that very moment.
            That immediately put her mind at rest. For my part, I couldn’t erase the glow of the flames as they licked at the basement window. I felt terrible for having trusted the exterminator. In retrospect, he didn’t even wear a uniform. What kind of exterminator doesn’t wear a uniform? He looked like the Marlboro Man, minus the Stetson. Ruggedly handsome, chiseled good looks. He would not have been out of place on the cover of a romance novel.
            When I told my wife about the dream, she just said, “Huh.” But I’m not sure that she was paying attention. She was on her phone. Facebook, maybe. Her face was pale blue phosphorescence in the half-light of the morning.  We both go to work early. I sipped my coffee.
Anyway, I’ve done a lot of poking around on the Internet since I woke up. I have a desk job and I’m into self-diagnosis. Cut out the middle man, I say.
What I found is that dreams about rats are rather complex. It makes a difference, for example, if you are chasing the rat, or if the rat tries to bite you. Your emotional state in the dream is also important. An analyst would want to know if you felt afraid of the rat. Then they might want to know how you feel about rats in the real world.
Chewing and gnawing appear to be significant, as well.
Some of the stuff I read just seemed obvious, like the bits about sickness and disease. Who hasn’t heard about the Bubonic Plague, right? Or the stuff about dirt and filth. A few of the articles weren’t even trying.
But there was a website that talked about betrayal and people eating away at you. That one got me thinking. It also mentioned that killing a rat meant that you were victorious over your enemies. But, of course, I couldn’t kill the rats in my dream. And I really tried. I lined them up time and again, but the tricky bastards just slipped away.
You might be surprised, but there was nothing about shower curtains anywhere. Fire, sure. But not shower curtains. I don’t know what to make of that.
Anyway, I can’t even look at my cat this evening. And like I say, that one article has really got me thinking about betrayal. I tried to raise the topic with my wife again, but she was watching something YouTube. She’s really into social media.
It’s just that I feel like I should know the exterminator from somewhere. It’s on the tip of my tongue. And what’s worse, is that I can hear them now. I mean right now. The rats. They’re in the walls as we speak.  I can hear them chewing and slinking. Slinking and chewing.
I keep looking at my wife, but if she hears them, she does not let on.
That one in the dream came really close to biting my face, you know. I think it goes without mentioning that I am feeling more than a little anxious right now. I mean what if I can’t stomp them? Like in the dream.
What choice will I have? I should really prepare the shower curtain.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

12 Day Road Trip in Ireland

Music, Whisky, and Beer, Oh My

July 2017

Photography by Caroline Bergeron

Driving in Ireland is not for the faint of heart, but it does bring its own special rewards. Manipulating a stick shift with your left hand as you enter a roundabout on the opposite side of the road is actually the easy part. The harrowing portion comes as you hurtle down Ireland’s L roads, hemmed in by hedges on both sides and then encounter a cyclist at the same moment as a tour bus travelling toward you rounds the hairpin corner laughably rated at 100km/hour. Did we mention that Ireland’s L roads are only wide enough for a single vehicle? Thank goodness for the Guinness at day’s end.
Rolling Hills of Ireland

Best of Ireland @ a Glance

Best Pub – The Salt House, Galway
Best Trad Music – O’Gorman’s, Kilkenny & The Crane Bar, Galway
Best Restaurant – Fishy Fishy, Kinsale
Best Tour – Jameson’s Distillery, Midelton & Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
Best Experience – Horse and Cart Tour of Dun Aengus and Inis Mor, Aran Islands
Best Scenic Drive – Slea Head Loop, Dingle & The Burren, County Clare
Best Beer -- Galway Bay Foam and the Fury IPA (Brent), Franciscan Well Rebel Ale       (Caroline)
Best Whisky -- 12-year-old Red Breast
Best Fish & Chips – McDonagh’s, Galway
Best Value – Killarney National Park (Muckross Abbey and the grounds at Muckross     House, Free), &   Siuloid Cholmain Hike, Ventry (Free)
Best Accommodations – House of Swans, Galway
Best Shopping – Quay Street, Galway

Day One – Dublin to Kilkenny

The road to Kilkenny is mostly spent on the dual carriageway M1 highway. This makes for an easy induction into Irish driving; however, as with all highways, the views are probably not as spectacular. We rented our trusty Toyota Yaris from Sixt. It was a painless process at the airport and a quick getaway from the city.

Road to Kilkenny

Our accommodations for the entire trip were booked in advance through AirBNB. It was our first experience with this service, and overall, one to recommend. For those unfamiliar with AirBNB, it is a facilitator similar to UBER, connecting travellers with room renters, instead of rides – not unlike staying at a Bed and Breakfast.

Our trip began with Helen at Newpark Villa. She owns a lovely, spacious home only a ten-minute walk from the city centre. Helen was a wealth of information, and offered us free wi-fi and a scrumptious breakfast the next day.

Kilkenny is a charming little town spanning the River Nore. It’s serpentine streets and colourful shops are watched over by its commanding medieval castle.  Be sure to visit St. Canice’s Cathedral, with its round tower built in the 12th century. The Black Abbey is also beautiful. But if you are anything like us, you might have come to Ireland for the beer. Hence no visit to Kilkenny is complete without a visit to the Smithwicks Experience. Beer has been produced in Kilkenny since medieval times. First by the Franciscan monks and later by John Smithwick. The brewery tour last 45minutes and is interactive. But nothing beats the taste testing at the end. Splurge and order the three-glass paddle.

Kilkenny, Ireland

Afterward, we had a nice meal of Atlantic Cod 3 Ways at the family-operated Lanigan’s Bar and Hostel. There we also caught our first hurling match on the giant screen.  Hurling is huge in Kilkenny. Kids and adolescents can be seen strolling the streets and parks with hurlies in hand.

The highlight of our day, however, was a stop at O’Gorman’sPub (Kilkenny House) at the top of John Street, where local musicians gather informally around a table in the front window to play traditional Irish music. The evening we were there, two visiting fiddlers from Sweden joined in the mix.

Ireland RoadTrip

Paddy, the barman, made us feel right at home with the local crowd. He even invited Caroline to join him behind the bar for a better vantage point for photography. He also has a great selection of Irish whisky.
Ireland Road Trip

Day Two – Kilkenny to Cork

The trip to Cork is another smooth one, and perhaps your last! You get a small sampling of what’s in store as you exit the M8 for Blarney Castle.  Blarney Castle is overrun with tourists, but still a must. Its gardens alone are worth the stop. Purchase your tickets quickly and lineup for the slow and narrow ascent to the Blarney Stone. The process may appear daunting from a distance; however, it is an easy and safe experience. Well worth the time and effort in return for the gift of the gab. Leave yourself three hours here, and be sure to hit the Witch’s Wishing Steps and waterfall.

Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

Our two nights in Cork were spent with Catriona – a vivacious, knowledgeable, and easy-going hostess. Her eclectic little home is just down the street from the Munster Rugby grounds, and about a thirty-minute walk from the city centre. She gave us free run of the kitchen – not to mention a refrigerator shelf full of breakfast goodies. She even gave us a ride downtown on the first day.

Cork is lively with a big-city vibe, sandwiched onto an island in the River Lee. We took a stroll down Oliver Plunkett Street in between the South Mall and St. Patrick Street. The little alleys leading north and south offered a wealth of shops and snug pubs. The beer to order here is Beamish or something from the Franciscan Well – both local brews.

Road Trip Ireland

Although they serve all-day breakfast, we stopped for supper the Thomond Pub on Marlborough Street. After a serving of onion rings to wet our appetites, we both thoroughly enjoyed a plate of Cork Bangers and Mash. What a feast. We stayed on awhile to hear the band and then took a quick taxi back to Catriona’s – about 8 euros.

Day Three: Cobh, Midleton, and Kinsale

We should point out that the weather during our trip to Ireland was uncharacteristically sunny and warm throughout. This undoubtedly played into our enjoyment of Cobh – a seaside resort town on the hills of Cork Bay. There we savoured a Beamish at the Trade Winds overlooking the harbour and across from the Titanic Experience. Cobh was the last stop of the White Star Line Ship before it sailed to its doom. The museum was a very original and personal glimpse into the lives of the Titanic passengers and crew. If you plan on purchasing anything from the boutique next door, Lizzy C, save your ticket for a discount.
Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

Our next stop was Middleton and the Jameson Distillery. We would return to the distillery just to see the architecture and skip the whisky… well, maybe not. This tour was arguably one of the best we took while in Ireland. Our guide was keen and well-versed in the production of spirits. A knowledgeable crowd threw very specific questions her way, but nothing could stump her. If you are a whisky lover, volunteer to be one of their tasters. This way, you will have a few extra tipples for your buck. Don’t worry, it’s not a test you can fail. Caroline, who would not have considered herself a whisky connoisseur, was introduced to the dangerously delicious Jameson, ginger-ale and lime.
Road Trip Ireland

Thus, began the wild and woolly drive to Kinsale—our first true introduction to the possibilities of Irish driving. If you choose to brave the roads, you must then treat yourselves to supper at Fishy Fishy, repeatedly voted the best seafood in Ireland. Caroline had the fresh hake, which simply melted in her mouth. I had the unrivalled Fishy Fish Pie. Given our druthers we would have stayed the night in Kinsale, if only to squeeze out a few more hours in the picturesque harbour. It had a wonderful mix of restaurants, lively night spots, and solemn medieval remnants. As it was, we returned to Cork the way we came – harrowing roads and all.
Road Trip Ireland

Day Four: Cork to Killarney and the Ring of Kerry

We checked in with David after a short and easy drive early on Sunday morning. David’s place was quiet and clean and literally around the corner from the bustling city centre. However, we had little time to spare that first morning, as it was our plan to drive the Ring of Kerry. The first highlight on the Ring is Killarney National Park. We stopped at both Muckross Abbey and Muckross House, two magnificent and picturesque sights. The former is a ruin set among trees and fields and tombs; the latter is a superb mansion nestled in the hills and overlooking Muckross Lake. Both are a photographer’s feast. Beautiful views abound in the park, including those from Moll’s Gap as you drive warily over the hills and down into Kenmare.

Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

Do stop here for a light lunch and beer. O’Donnabhain’s Bar and Guesthouse was our choice with its whisky barrel patio set out among the passing pedestrians on a lively street. The chowder is especially tasty.
Road Trip Ireland

The Ring of Kerry is one of those occasions where having your own car is a bonus. It is also a good training ground for the wilder west coast stretches ahead. We stopped at will among the rolling stereotypical Irish landscape, with its tiny parcels of green pasture, framed with stone hedges and dotted with white sheep. For long expanses, the Ring skirts the coast with only a stone wall between you and the sea. The camera lover in your party will enjoy the pull offs that offer unparalleled views. There are also many neo-lithic ruins along the Ring, like Staigue Stone Fort, which are inaccessible by tour bus.

However, the gem of the Ring requires a detour onto the lesser frequented Skellig Ring, which is also not accessible by bus. Just outside Portmagee we visited the Kerry Cliffs, which are a dynamic rival of the more famous Cliffs of Moher. There are few tourists here, but the vista of cliffs and ocean is awe-inspiring. We hurried back along the northwest side of the Ring, and were home in Killarney by 7pm.

Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

Killarney is a bit Disneyesque when compared to other Irish towns, but it does not lack for activity and pubs. We settled in to a pub on Plunkett Street for a bite, and then moved on for a whisky and live music at the cramped and raucous Dunloe Lodge. It pays to be within walking distance of your accommodations.

Day Five: Dingle Peninsula

The Lir Café around the corner from our AirBNB opened early, and after a quick pastry and a coffee we were off to the Dingle Peninsula. In our estimation, driving the Dingle is an even more rewarding experience than the Ring of Kerry – and that’s saying something.

As we shuttled out along the south shore of the peninsula, we were treated to magnificent views of Castlemaine Harbour, Inch Beach, and the Kerry coast we had driven the day before. There are frequent pull-offs for picture taking, so don’t slow the traffic behind you.

Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

Dingle Town is all bustle in the summer.  At once quaint and touristy, it offers centuries old buildings with colourful facades. It was at the tourist info centre here down by the harbour that we grabbed a perfect map to help us plan our day’s drive and stops. To begin, we can’t stress enough how important it is to drive the Slea Head Loop clockwise. The winding road which circles the peninsula is hardly wide enough to allow two cars moving in opposite directions. Unless you want to draw the ire of locals and tour buses alike, follow the path. 

Road Trip Ireland

Hiking the rolling hills of the Dingle had been one of my bucket list items, so the first thing on our schedule was a lovely stroll down the country lanes around Ventry. Siuloid Cholmain is just one of dozens of day hikes on the Dingle. But we chose it because it presented a little of everything Dingle has to offer: beautiful views over Ventry Beach, the stone circle remains of Cill Cholmain, the ruins of an early Christian Monastery, and Rathinine Castle which is slowly collapsing into the verdant hills and overrun by sheep. The walk is a quiet one and takes about two hours to cover the 7km route. The last of these kilometers runs along the sandy beach before returning you to your car by the Ventry Post Office. Just perfect in every way.
Road Trip Ireland

The idyllic calm of the Ventry hills quickly gives way to the dramatic seascapes and winding turns that make the Slea’s Head Loop so unforgettable. There are several Iron Age ruins along the route that are more than worth a stop. Dunbeg Fort is a fine example of a defensive structure, but even more impressive are the beehive hut clusters, called colchans, a little further along.

Road Trip Ireland

We took a shorter, wilder hike once we hit Slea Head itself. The path wound from the carpark out over a rocky outcrop to the edge of the sea. From there we could sea Blaskett Island and watch the rollers crashing white and foamy beneath us.

Another highlight along the Slea Head Drive is Gallarus Oratory, which is suspiciously well-preserved. It resembles the beehive construction of other ruins, but is rectangular, and a master class in mortarless stonework.   Although it was our intent to return to Killarney that night, we made a slight detour north after completing the loop at Dingle Town where we began. It took no more than fifteen minutes to climb the mountains to Connor’s Pass, and it was a small price to pay for the commanding views over the valley. From the carpark you can also observe mountain goats in impossible locations and wonder at how they arrived there. 

Road Trip Ireland

This detour also allowed us to discover the Dingle Brewing Company and Tom Crean Lager. Crean was a polar explorer from the Dingle Peninsula, who made three journeys to Antarctica with both Shackelton and the ill-fated Scott. A maritime-themed pub is on site for tasting. The beer does him proud. 
Road Trip Ireland

It was an hour and a half back to Killarney. As had quickly and easily become our routine, we went in search of a pub for supper -- The Laurels, which I would highly recommend, if for no other reason than it connects with Murphy’sBar for your daily dose of live music and a nightcap afterward. However, the food and the beer weren’t bad either.

Day Six: Cliffs of Moher, Clare, and Galway

Our longest day of driving was the trajectory from Killarney to Galway. Straight through it would have been just under three hours, but we had several stops planned along the way, including the ubiquitous Cliffs of Moher and the Burren.

Rather than take the ferry in Listowel, we wound our way east through Limerick and then once over the River Shannon, we swung back out to County Clare and the coast. We wondered, after having visited the cliffs of Kerry, whether Moher could wow us further. The thought was a bit naïve. The Cliffs of Moher surge to heights of almost 700 feet over the frothy Atlantic billows. And while overrun with tourists from around the world, I would describe them as “quieter” than the cliffs of Kerry. If the cliffs of Kerry are wild and woolly, Moher is the gentle cousin – stoic and forlorn. We walked along the top of the cliffs to O’Brien’s Tower, and beyond, and then we walked back in the other direction. It would be hard to take a poor photo here.
Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

Afterward, we cut back east again to explore the Burren’s karst landscape. Edmund Ludlow famously, and accurately, summed up the Burren as “a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.” It is an otherworldly drive through sparsely populated landscapes of bald rock. We managed to visit both the Poulnabrone Portal Dolmen, which is an ancient Stone Tomb from 2500 BC, and the na Caterconnell Stone Fort built between 400-1200 AD. There are still active archaeological digs at the fort to this day, and we met some students working there. The Dolmen and its surroundings is a highpoint.
Road Trip Ireland

That evening we arrived at the House of Swans in Galway, and we stayed three days. If you can only spend three days in Ireland, spend two of those days in Galway and one on the Aran Islands. Ireland has much to offer, but if you are under time constraints, you can find almost all of it in and around Galway.

If you are a budget traveler who likes to be pleasantly surprised by value, then stay at The House of Swans as well.  Swans is an AirBNB run by Natalia (Spanish) and Lamberto (Italian), a young university-aged couple. The room we had was enormous and overlooked the harbor and the river. It has an ensuite bath, and was nestled in the hip Claddagh District, three minutes from restaurants and shops and pubs.
Road Trip Ireland

And while you’re at it, treat yourself to Fish and Chips at McDonagh’s on your first night, as we did. It’s cheap and fantastic. Then, by all means, go listen to music at TigCoili or grab a drink at Tigh Neachtain’s in the Latin Quarter. There will be time for the Claddagh District tomorrow. Besides, it’s been a long day.

Day Seven: Galway

If shopping is your thing, Quay Street will give you all the Ireland you can carry home in a bag. There are also plenty of eateries and pubs there and down the side streets if you need a break from your economic therapy. The National University of Ireland’s Quadrangle and Galway Cathedral are also worth a visit. But one of our favourite activities in Galway was a stroll up and down the two canals, and then back to the city centre and the Spanish Arch to catch the boats (known as hookers) and the swans bobbing in the harbor.
Road Trip Ireland

The nightlife in Galway is unparalleled in Ireland, except perhaps by Dublin. We stopped in at many pubs and restaurants while we were there, but among our favourites was the Salt House Pub on Raven Terrace between the Claddagh and Latin Districts, which serves more than 120 craft beers with wonderful names and flavours, like The Foam and the Fury IPA. 
Road Trip Ireland

It’s small and unpretentious and everything you would imagine in a local Irish pub. We also enjoyed one of our only non-traditional Irish meals at Massimo Gastropub on William Street, which served up gourmet burgers and pizzas alongside more locally-crafted beer.

We were also lucky enough to be in Galway during its International Arts Festival. As such there were outdoor markets and wonderful evening concerts across the city. We caught Rising Appalachia at Monroe’s Pub, which has an intimate concert venue on the second floor.

Day Eight: Galway and the Aran Islands

On our second full day in Galway, to make things easy and efficient, we booked a morning shuttle bus to Rossaveal, where we took the ferry across Galway Bay to Inis Mor, the largest of the three Aran Islands. Book your tickets in advance to be sure. You do not want to miss out on this experience. Inis Mor was a highlight in our trip and we would highly recommend it to anyone. These rocky islands are well-known for their enduring traditional way of life. Islanders still fish and farm, though they supplement these things with tourism opportunities now as well. Aran island sweaters, intricately patterned in wool, can be purchased at one of two factories on the island (as well as in Galway stores). And most of the population still speaks the Irish language in their everyday dealings.
Road Trip Ireland

There are many ways to see the island once you are there. Shuttles and bikes can be hired at the harbour. Hiking is also possible. But there is nothing like a horse and buggy tour. We met Patrick and his Connemara pony Gracie shortly after leaving the ferry, and for 50 Euros he gave us an up close and personal tour of the entire island that lasted 3 hours. He regaled us with stories as we bumped along past tiny fields divided by stone walls and thatched roof cottages.
Road Trip Ireland

Partway through our tour, he deposited us at the foot of Dun Aengus, and allowed us time to hike up to the summit -- a huge pre-historic fortress clinging to a sheer cliff-face, which careens into the Atlantic Ocean below.
Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

We really enjoyed the pace of our day on the Aran Islands, and we managed to squeeze in a Guinness at the island’s pub before the ferry arrived to return us to Galway.

After a last pub meal in the Latin Quarter at Dail, we sought out the Crane Bar for some farewell Irish music. The upstairs has an unassuming décor but was packed to the rough-hewn rafters with aficionados and tourists alike. In true Irish style, there were guitars, pipes, bodhrans, and banjos. People from the audience made guest appearances for a song or two, and some even stood up to tell stories. The next day we were headed to Dublin on the last stretch of our trip, so we toasted the city with a tipple of Irish whisky and then it was off to bed.

Day Nine: Clonmacnoise and Dublin

An hour east of Galway on the shores of the Shannon River is the sixth century monastic site of Clonmacnoise. We chose to stop there to break up the journey to Dublin, which can be done in under three hours non-stop. But you would be doing yourself a great injustice to pass up this opportunity. The site was reportedly founded in 544AD by St Ciaran, and for hundreds of years it was a centre of culture and learning. Many ancient texts are on display here, but the true attraction here is the site itself. Clonmacmoise is a well-preserved complex of stone buildings – towers, temples, chapels and a large cathedral grow up among tipped and tilting tombstones. Our visit was conducted during the early morning when mists from the Shannon were still clinging to the ground, and it was all together an otherworldly experience. Plan for at least an hour. You can have scones and a soup at the teahouse on site.
Road Trip Ireland

Back on the M4, we made Dublin by early afternoon. As far as big cities go, Dublin is easily navigated, and we parked our vehicle outside the AirBNB (available only at five) in Ballsbridge and walked the half-hour into the city centre, past Merrion Square, the National gallery, and finally Trinity College. There is a tourist information centre on the corner of Mercantile, facing the college. There we booked a tour of Kilmainham Gaol for the next day and bought 48-hour tickets for the jump-on-jump-off tourist bus. This ticket included an evening tour of the city, as well. This gave us easy access to Dublin’s sprawling attractions.
Road Trip Ireland

On our first afternoon, we contented ourselves with a stroll through the Temple Bar area and Grafton Street. Certainly worth the visit, it is nonetheless difficult to find a well-priced pint in this hive of pubs and shops. The most famous of the pubs is The Temple Bar itself, which has been serving up drinks for more than 160 years. Just to say we had done it, we too ordered ourselves a Guinness, but as a tourist tip, understand that even pubs on the edge of Temple Bar serve drinks for 2 euros less. Neighbourhood pubs are even better priced. So drink in the atmosphere of music and narrow cobbled streets instead.
Road Trip Ireland

Grafton Street is lively at all hours of the day as well. It offers a high-end shopping experience, but we went to see the buskers and listen to the music. All in all it was a pleasant way to kill an afternoon. After we had settled into our accommodations and met our hostess, we returned to the same area to catch our evening tour of the city at O’Connell Monument across the River Liffey.
Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

A city tour is a great way to orient yourself, and a night tour was a nice twist – although I suggest you dress warmly. It can get chilly on the upper level of open deck buses once the sun is gone.
Road Trip Ireland

We finished our night with a late supper at Lillies Bordello. This place is lavishly decorated as a Victorian-style brothel, heavily dependent on tones of reds. We ate on the second floor by the round bar in plush club chairs. Late in the evening, the place becomes one of Dublin’s hot spots as a night club.

Day Ten: Dublin

We began our day at St. Stephen’s Green, where you can find a statue of the late wit Oscar Wilde. It is a beautiful park with a swan pond, but they also happened to be having a craft fair which we were able to browse through. One gentleman demonstrating wood turning actually gave us the bowl when he was done.
Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

Afterward, we used our bus pass to navigate the city sites, which made the day trouble-free and simple.  Our longest stop was TrinityCollege and the Book of Kells.  Buy your tickets online and skip the wait outside if you can -- though Trinity is certainly worth the wait.  This was one of our favourite stops on the entire trip. The Book of Kells is kept in a gorgeous old library of the college. Assumed to be over 1200 years old, it is one of Ireland’s national treasures. You can view the book and other important early manuscripts in the museum, along with a fascinating display on the history of ink and book-making. But even if you are not a bibliophile, as my wife and I are, you cannot help but be awed by the Long Library, which is included in your entrance. Don’t miss it.
Road Trip Ireland

Our day in Dublin was a flurry of activity and sites, but it never felt rushed. We stopped at Christchurch and St. Patrick’s Cathedral after Trinity. Both are equally awesome, though they do charge a steep entrance fee. As consolation, you can perform “rubbings” for free at St. Patrick’s. These make great gifts and souvenirs.  St. Patrick’s is an amazing example of Gothic architecture. It is the oldest, tallest, and largest cathedral in the country.
Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

Most people will tell you that no trip to Dublin is complete without a stop at the Guinness Storehouse. And dutifully we headed there next. I love industrial architecture, so the entire area around Guinness was interesting to me; the entrance price, however, was not. Like the cost of drinks in Temple Bar, Guinness is banking (literally) on your desire to tick off the boxes on your “must see” list. Twenty-five euros may not seem steep at first blush, but the tour at Guinness is self-guided. By comparison, our amazing experience at Jameson’s earlier in the trip was only 20 euros and lasted an hour-and-a-half. Our tour guide was also a whisky specialist trained at the Irish Whisky Academy. So in a last minute decision, Caroline and I decided to eschew the tour and head straight to the nearest pub.
Road Trip Ireland

As it happens, Harkin’s is only two minutes away. Harkin’s Harbour Bar was the haunt of Irish writer Brendan Behan. It is rumoured that he drank his last pint here in 1964 before succumbing to a heart attack. At the time, it was reported that his funeral, attended by an IRA Honour Guard, was the largest in Ireland since that of Michael Collins. The pub, for its part is small an unassuming. It would not be out of place on the set of Coronation Street. We had our Guinness here (along with lunch), chatting with the barman and the locals, as they – and we – watched Gaelic Football and horse-racing intermittently on the pub screens. Now that was worth every penny.
Road Trip Ireland

Our sightseeing journey ended at Kilmainham Gaol. To understand Ireland, and the Irish, you have to visit Kilmainham. Its long history of oppression and rebellion can be vividly distilled in this compelling, if somber, tour. It also gives you some insight into the Irish joie-de-vivre which you find at every turn in Ireland. With a history like this, it is no wonder that the Irish appreciate the good times with such relish.
Road Trip Ireland

The last tour bus from Kilmainham takes you through the north end of the city through Phoenix Park, past the Jameson Bow Street Distillery, and down along the Liffey. Back in the city centre, we strolled through Temple Bar one last time and wound our way circuitously past the myriad local pubs and clubs, where people spilled into the streets. Our destination was Devitt’s Pub on Camden Street, for supper and one last trad session.
Road Trip Ireland

Not disappointed with either offering, we headed home with big plans in mind for our last day.

Day Eleven: A Crazy Road Trip to Northern Ireland and Back

If anyone ever asks whether it is possible from Dublin to visit the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, stopping in at Carrick-a-Rede, Bushmills Distillery, the Dark Hedges and Belfast, while also visiting your ancestral homestead in Antrim County and return to said Dublin for the night, the answer is…yes. Is it advisable? That depends on the traveler.
Road Trip Ireland

Always in the back of our minds was the possibility of visiting Northern Ireland, should we have the energy at the end of our trip. It wasn’t a plan, so to speak, but the option was there. On my father’s side, I can trace my French heritage all the way back to the first Canadian migration in 1650, and aside from late additions of British heritage, my lineage is straightforward. On my mother’s side, however, there is a mix of German, Dutch, Italian, and of course, Irish. The Protestant sort from Northern Ireland.

My great, great grandfather, Robert Armour, was born in 1860 in Antrim County and emigrated to Canada in the latter half of the century. He settled into a house on 180 Henry Street in Carleton Place, Ontario, (the town where I was born and raised) married Jessie McNeely (also Irish) and started a family. He worked in the Canadian Pacific Railroad shops.
Road Trip Ireland

At various points in history, family members have returned to his homestead for a visit. My grandmother did so in the 1980s, and my great uncle and his wife were the most recent envoys, only two years earlier. With the help of my cousin, I tracked down a distant relative, Noel Armour, in Belfast, who gave me the directions to the home of Eileen Dowdall, the only occupant of the homestead today. I was hesitant to drop by, but I am certainly glad that I did.
Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

The small collection of homes on Lislunnan Road in Kells, Antrim have no running water or indoor plumbing. With the exception of electricity, they are very much the same as they have always been. Eileen, now in her eighties, was a little started to see my wife and I arrive from nowhere, but as it so happened, she had a framed photograph of me on my wedding day in her home – a gift, I assume, from my grandmother twenty years earlier. Once she had established my credentials, our visit took an emotional turn, and it was difficult to eventually say goodbye. To think I hesitated to make the pilgrimage, and yet it was an experience I will never forget.
Road Trip Ireland

Energized, we dove further north to the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede and the ubiquitous Giant’s Causeway for photos and an afternoon of sunshine. We stopped in late at Old Bushmills Distillery and were given free drinks, as the last of the tours had already departed. We were not disappointed. Our return drive took us through the Dark Hedges of Game of Thrones fame, and even afforded a stop in Belfast. Ireland’s long summer days helped us here.
Road Trip Ireland

Road Trip Ireland
Road Trip Ireland

Road Trip Ireland
 Road Trip Ireland

Road Trip Ireland

Road Trip Ireland

We strolled through the area around City Hall, which was quiet. And we managed a supper at the gaudy and opulent Crown Saloon, before visiting the Peace Wall murals as dusk was falling.
Road Trip Ireland
 Road Trip Ireland

Road Trip Ireland

It was late when we arrived back in Dublin, but we were thoroughly pleased with our flight of fancy.

Day Twelve: Home