Crossing off the Counties: Wicklow

My sister recently came to visit me. I hadn’t seen family for 17 months so I was ready to burst with excitement.  We only had a couple of days so I had to be wise in planning our adventure. We had one full day together in Dublin and one day to get out of the city and explore some emerald hills. I chose Wicklow because of its close proximity to Dublin and its many claims to fame. Boasting film locations for movies such as Braveheart and P.S I love you, it’s a must-see on anyones Irish tour. This was my third trip to Wicklow, and believe me, there’s a reason why it’s referred to as the Garden of Ireland.   After taking a taxi from my house to O’Connell Street out of fear of being late, we arrived right on time, 8:50am. We grabbed a quick and necessary coffee and proceeded to wait for Irish time, departing a half hour late. Because we were so timely, we managed to snag some seats fairly close to the front. With an upbeat Dublin tour guide and an excessive amount of excited American women we were on our merry way. Joe, our tour guide, went above and beyond the call of tour guidance. He sang classic Irish tunes (sans any musical accompaniment), attempted teaching the Americans how to say a few Gailec words, and provided us with information about every place we went. I had done a very similar day trip to the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough when I first moved to Ireland but I took a lot more away from this tour.

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sisters and sunshine

We got lucky with the weather. As we crawled up the winding roads deeper into the Wicklow mountains the clouds cleared and the sun paid us a visit. When we stopped at

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Ruth frolicking

the Wicklow Gap (P.S. I love you filmpoint) we left our jackets in the bus and Ruth frolicked ahead to capture the perfect photograph. A few clouds hung between the mountains, so close it felt like if you reached out you could touch them. The lakes nestled between the green hills were perfect. Even with the robust character from Virginia squacking in the background the Wicklow Mountains felt calm. Peaceful.

We also went to the Monastic City in Glendalough where we saw the remains of the famous early Christian monastic settlement first established by St. Kevin in the 6th century. The monks abandoned the settlement centuries ago but many of their hand-built stone buildings are still standing. The monuments built by the monks gave us a glimpse of their way of life. I found that the ruins represent the passion and absolute dedication these people had for their beliefs system. The Round Tower, built by hand centuries ago, is about 30 metres high. I can only imagine how long and how many injuries it must’ve taken to accomplish such a project.

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Monastic City

We finished the tour at the first ever Avoca store, an Irish staple, where we got to watch hand weavers in action. I was very impressed with the quickness and finnese required for handweaving, and was doubly impressed when shown the final product – beautiful multi coloured cashmere throws that make you want to veto clothes forever and just lie snuggled in those blankets all day.

The highlight of the trip was the fact that I got to experience Ireland, my current home, with someone I love from my permanent home. Spending time with family and traveling adventures are individual gifts. Getting the opportunity to do both at once is so incredible it turned me greedy. I want more.

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Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters

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Crossing off the Irish Counties: Roscommon

Ireland is a small country. Driving from tip to tip, Creeslough, Co. Donegal to Bantry, Co. Cork, will take six hours and 52 minutes (Google Maps). To put this in perspective, it took me longer to drive from my hometown Kinburn, ON to my university in London, ON, and that isn’t even the full length of the province of Ontario.

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Although Ireland is small, each county is known for something different. People who live two hours apart will support different sports teams, embody different cliches, and have completely different accents. In Canada, those who live two hours apart are practically neighbours. People here don’t even need to be from different counties in Ireland to sound different — two people from different parts of Dublin have stronger accent variations than people who live at opposite ends of Canada. For example, there is a stark contrast between the “posh” D4 accent and a classic North side accent. A good way to imagine a D4 accent is to picture someone elongating each syllable while speaking with marbles in their mouth, whereas a typical North Dub speaks so quickly they’ll leave you with verbal whiplash. Although these areas all fall under the Dublin umbrella, the culture is different, and I find these differences fascinating.

Because the island is so small, there is no excuse for me to not experience every county. Last year I went to Galway, Tipperary, Tullamore, Wicklow, Kerry, and Belfast. This year I ros-churchkicked off the counties with the exciting Roscommon. The population of the entire county is 64,065, and the county town population is 5,017. Roscommon has an area of 984 square miles and is the fifth least-populous county in Ireland. Needless to say, what was I thinking picking Roscommon? I got a Groupon voucher for a nice hotel, I thought Roscommon rolled off the tongue nicely, the town website said it was scenic, and I want to see all of the counties.

I saw this town in its entirety, and I saw it quickly. It took about half an hour to do a full lap of the town. In terms of food, there was one cafe that was bustling during the lunch hour. It had very kind staff and offered soup, sandwiches, cakes, and even gluten free options. There was also three or four fast food places open in the evening, and one amazing Indian restaurant where we had the best naan bread I have ever tasted. Although there were few options for food, the sleepy town of Roscommon won’t leave you thirsty. In true Irish form, we saw about seven or eight pubs. For landmarks Sacred Heart is a beautiful church with stunning glass windows and there was an intriguing Abbey ruin behind our hotel. One highlight was a perk included in the Groupon voucher — we had “sparkling wine” on arrival, which turned out to be a fancy bottle of cider and two champagne glasses. Once I finished giggling over the fact that there was a cork in a bottle of cider,  we realized it was the perfect refreshing beverage after spending the day in the leisure center.

Ultimately, when visiting Roscommon the key is to bring good company. Wandering through a quiet town in drizzling rain and January wind is nice when you have a good travel partner. It’s a pleasant family friendly town, and visiting made me appreciate living in Dublin that much more.

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Crossing off the counties together. The Abbey behind our hotel

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