Posted by: Heather | April 20, 2011


For our last trip within Europe, Paul and I decided to visit Ireland and Scotland. We both have ancestors in these countries so thought it would be a neat to see where they had come from, even if we didn’t have enough time on this visit to track any long-lost cousins.

Upon arriving in Dublin we decided to be real touristy and visit Ireland’s #1 attraction- the Guinness Factory. It was a very cool tour, although you don’t actually get to see the brewing process. I was amazed by the archival footage of the cooper (barrel maker) at work! I was equally amazed to realize they have been using the same yeast strain for the past 250 years. The building itself was a renovated factory that has won awards for its innovative interior. To ‘literally’ top off our tour we headed up to the 7th floor gravity bar to enjoy a pint of Guinness while overlooking the city of Dublin.

Guinness Factory

Enjoying a pint of Guinness high above Dublin

After our pint we headed into the historical district of Dublin to explore. We visited O’Connell Street, the Temple Bar district, Christchurch Cathedral, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle and Trinity College. We also strolled along the River Liffy and I went shopping in the main shopping district. I really liked Christchurch Cathedral with its medieval gothic architecture and quirky little bridge over the road. The building has the largest crypt in Ireland or the UK where they have many treasures on display, including the famous mummified cat and rat who were found after being trapped in an organ pipe for an unknown (long) time.  Later on in the visit we enjoyed live celtic music in a pub and the Jeannie Johnston famine ship. Amazingly, despite transporting over 2500 people to Canada during the Irish Famine no lives were lost on the Jeanie Johnston. This is incredible considering the tragic loss of life typical of the dangerous sea voyage from Ireland to the New World.  We also visited the Trinity College library, where the Book of Kells and an exhibit on the history of medicine were on display.

Christchurch Cathedral

St Patricks Cathedral

The Jeanie Johnston- famine boat

Irish Famine Memorial, presented to Dublin by Canada in 1997. Very Moving.

The next day we hopped on a train for Ireland’s West coast. Upon arriving in Galway city we joined up with our tour group and set off. The first stop was at the Ailwee caves and the Burren Birds of Prey Conservation Centre. We got to visit the large birds of prey, but weren’t able to have  a ‘fly by’ because it was too rainy. The cave is the most famous of the thousands of caves that exist in the soluble rock of the karst landscape. They were show caves, so no squeezing or rappelling like we had done in Canada. There was a beautiful waterfall, ancient stalactites/ stalagmites,  a formation that looked like ‘praying hands’ and even the remains of an extinct species of bear.

Waterfall in Ailwee Cave

After navigating many windy roads through territory characterized by abundant stone walls, we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are roughly 650′ high and are stunningly beautiful. We were incredibly lucky to arrive during a break in the coastal fog- the cliffs were shrouded in mist by the time we left. Amazing!

The Cliffs of Moher peeking out of the fog

After a pub lunch in a small village we visited the megalithic Poulnabrone Dolmen (hole of sorrows) passage tomb. Rising against the stark Burren landscape, the 5000-6000 year old tomb is a reminder of the ingenuity of our ancient ancestors. The huge rocks marked the grave of between 16- 22 adults and 6 children. It is hard not to feel awed by the massive 6′ by 9′ monument erected so long ago- then you realize there are over 90 other monuments dotting the Burren. The Burren is a karst-landscape of scarred limestone with an inredible mixture of arctic, mediterranean and alpine plants and rare animals and insects clinging to life in the unique environment.  .

Typical stone fences of West Ireland

The following day we visited Northern Ireland. I was a little apprehensive about the trip due to the recent murder of a young police officer by IRA terrorists. Despite this, the atmosphere was incredibly encouraging. People are standing together despite their differences to demand an end to the violence. I was encouraged to see how far the peace process had come- what a difference from the troubles of only a few years ago!

We started the day by driving along the only truly coastal highway of the UK and were treated to a beautiful view of Rathlin island and the outer Hebrides islands of Scotland. The first stop was at the carrick-a-rede (rock in the road) rope bridge. The 20m gap to the tiny island has been bridged for hundreds of years by salmon fishermen. Today the salmon are too scarce and the only use of the bridge is by visitors.

Costal cliffs

Doing my Indiana Jones impression

The highlight of the day was visiting Giant’s Causeway. It is a unique geological formation consisting of thousands of hexagonal columns of rock. This formation can only be found at the Giant’s Cause way in Ireland and a tiny bit on the coast of a Scottish island across the water.  It formed as molten lava was forced to the surface at high speeds and rapidly cooled upon contact with sea water.

In Irish legend, it is said that the Giant Finn MacCool built the causeway in order to go to Scotland to challenge his rival, the giant Brenandoner. Upon seeing Brenandoner’s size, Finn raced back to Ireland… but it was too late. Brenandoner chased Finn back and it up to Finn’s quick thinking wife to save the day. She disguised her husband as a baby and invited Brenandoner in to see the ‘wee lad’. Brenandoner was shocked at the size of the infant; thinking ‘how big must his father be’! After making his excuses, Brenandoner fled back to Scotland, tearing up the causeway behind him.

A mountain of columns

White cliffs

Castle ruins on the cliff

Our last stop of the day was in central Belfast. I felt totally safe while in the downtown area despite visiting the ‘most bombed hotel in Europe’ which suffered nearly 40 blasts during the troubles. We also visited the Crown Liquor Saloon, a splendid pub with authentic decor dating from 1885. The interior features are marvellous; cosy snugs (private booths with little doors, thanks to Victorian modesty), stained glass, marble and antique woodwork. Legend has it that the owner’s were of a ‘mixed marriage’- one Catholic and one Protestant. The husband wanted to display the crown, but his wife would have none of it. They eventually came to a compromise- the crown is on the floor outside the door. It is on display, but is trampled on by every patron as the enter the pub. Paul and I then walked to the City Hall where there was an exhibition about the Titanic, which had been built in Belfast.

The most bombed hotel in Europe

The Crown

Belfast City Hall

 On the way out of Belfast we stopped to observe some murals painted by dissidents. I took some pictures but after a fair bit of thought have decided not to post them as I am philosophically opposed to their methods. I found it extremely disconcerting and made me really appreciate living in a country free of violent sectarian conflict. This stuff is still out there inciting hatred despite the progress made towards peace.

The following day was one of the highlights of my entire year. I am really interested in ancient human history and had wanted to visit Newgrange for years. Newgrange is one of the most significant neolithic structures in Europe, possibly in the entire world.  It is older than the pyramids by at least 500 years and is approximately 1000 years older Stonehenge. The structure is 250′ accross and 40′ high with building materials from over 70 kilometres away. The stone carvings are beautiful and incredibly intricate. If only we knew their significance!

Newgrange was a multipurpose monument. Inside the central, cross shaped chamber are three enormous bowls. These were used to cremate the deceased, some of whom were then buried in the temple. The smallest basin is a bit of a puzzle- it is thought to have been either used in cremation of children or as a bowl in childbirth. Looking up in the central chamber, one sees an incredible corbelled roof made of overlapping boulders that come to a peak under a massive capstone. One of the most impressive things I learnt during the visit- in over 5000 years, the roof has never leaked!! This was achieved with stone age technology! How many modern buildings can claim to be that watertight?

The rocks align with the precise spot where the sun rises on the winter solstice

Another incredible aspect of Newgrange is that it is perfectly lined up with the winter solstice. Every year on the 21st of December, daylight penetrates the inner chamber for only 17 minutes before it is released back into darkness for another year. Newgrange is only one of many passage tombs along the fertile Boine River Valley. Nearby, the even more massive and richly decorated Knowth was built to align with the equinoxes and Dowth also aligns with the Winter Solstice. This suggests a religious meaning, or at the very least shows us how very important the changing seasons were to the agricultural stone age people.

White quartz and black eggs cover the facade of Newgrange

View of Knowth from across the Boine Valley

We actually visited the Hill of Tara before going to Newgrange, but I was so excited about Newgrange I wanted to cover it first. The Hill of Tara is the ancient seat of the Irish Kings. It is said that 3/4 of Ireland can be seen from Tara on a clear day, and I certainly believe it! Sadly little remains of the ancient seat of the kings except a small passage tomb and an ancient coronation stone called the Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny).   Much of the area surrounding Tara, and indeed much of Ireland, was land belonging to monasteries. During Europe’s dark ages, Ireland was experiencing it’s golden age and was known as the ‘Island of Saints and Scholars’.

View from the Hill of Tara with medieval monastery

This is the end of ‘part one’ of my trip to Ireland and Scotland. I must now return to working on my term essays for medical anthropology. I hope to post pictures and stories from our time in Scotland over the weekend.

Only 8 days till Kenya!



  1. You must have had a great time in Ireland. Good on you and cool pictures of Ireland by the way

  2. WOW. Thank you so much for taking me there. How beautiful.

  3. Wow…the Irish Famine Memorial is so MOVING!


    Thank you for posting all the pix and sharing your amazing experience.

  4. Enjoyed the pictures! This def. reminds me of PS, I love You.

  5. You’ve totally piqued my interest in Newgrange! I’ve been to Ireland four times but have never been there. Now it’s very high on my list! Congrats on your Rotary sponsorship….and imagine gliding over that landscape. Next time?

  6. Jealous, Jealous, JEALOUS! Ireland is totally on my bucket list!


  7. I just booked a week’s stay in Dublin and I’m so excited to go. I’m hoping to hit up some day trips to Belfast, Cork, Cliffs of Moher, etc….Any travel tips you can suggest would be greatly appreciated.

    Great post and great pics!

    • Hi,

      Dublin was a great place to stay and an excellent hub to visit the rest of Ireland. We used Railtours, Extreme Ireland and Mary Gibbon’s Newgrange tour and stayed at the North Star Hotel. All were really good but we enjoyed the tour by Extreme Ireland the most.

      Have a great trip!

  8. Very nice travel post on Ireland with great pictures especially of Newgrange:)

  9. I love your photos. It’s been over 10 years since I traveled in Ireland, and your photos make me salivate at the thought of going back. I can’t wait! Thanks!

  10. Cool pictures. Nice trip. Wish I get to live there for a while. 🙂

  11. Hello Scholar –

    Your photos of the Irish coastline are amazing, breathtaking. And of course, what would a trip to Ireland be without experiencing a thick, dark pint and mingle with the locals! Very nice blog. 🙂

  12. Lovely post about Ireland. I’m moving to England this summer and plan to visit Ireland within my first month there. You’re pictures and adventures have given me some ideas of things to see. I think I’ll hit up Cork too. I’m curious about the Rotary scholarship you’re on. I looked it up and I thought they had stopped giving them. Are you one of the last recipients?

    • Hi!

      Have a great time in England! The Rotary scholarship program has been subject to some large cuts but it still exists- you probably saw the announcement about the closure of two of the programs (cultural and multi-year scholarships). The type of scholarship I am on is called the ambassadorial scholarship and the application for 2012-2013 is still open, although it might be past your local Rotary club’s deadline. I also understand there may be some local variations in funding availability which has led some individual districts to discontinue their scholarship places. I don’t know which districts have cancelled funding.

      If you are interested, have a read at

      Its an amazing scholarship, especially because of the local contacts you make while in another country. Its a long application process (1-1.5 years from starting the application to starting studies)- the best thing to do is to start getting in touch and building a relationship with your local Rotary club right away.

  13. I will come back tomorrow to read it over carefully…..

  14. breath-taking photos!! It looks like you had a fantastic time!!

  15. aaweeee….

  16. Great photos. My wife and I went to Scotland and Ireland last year. The Guinness Factory was a highlight for me, no surprise. We didn’t make it to the scary bridge though. I like your shots of the Cliffs.

  17. Great photos and awesome writing…..

    Visit my first travel post and do reply me with improvements…..

  18. Great photos! I travelled Ireland by bike, bus, and train and there are so many interesting and amazing places to visit. You have been to many of the places I went, plus a few more and it’s great to see your photos and hear how you felt about your experiences. I understand your feelings about Newgrange as I feel similarily about Emain Macha (Navan Fort) outside Armagh — it was an important pre-christian centre and the feeling you get being there is hard to describe, but it is truly magical and mysterious. I just have to say though, that I never had any qualms whatsoever about traveling anywhere in Northern Ireland and felt totally safe the entire time I was there.

  19. Scary bridge!

  20. I’ll be visiting Ireland and Scotland for a few weeks in July, so your post made me very excited for my trip! There is just so much to see and do that I’m not sure exactly where to start!

    I do believe that your post narrowed it down for me, though, so from one Canadian girl to another, thanks! 🙂

    Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  21. Awesome! I’ve always wanted to visit Ireland… now when I do manage it, I’ll have a better idea of where to go! 🙂

  22. Great blog and I’m so pleased that you enjoyed your visit to Ireland. Anyone visiting Dublin and who likes real pubs should be sure to visit John Kehoe’s in South Anne Street – one the few unmodernised pubs in the city and just across the road from Trinity College. Link here:

  23. Thank you for the trip down memory lane. congrats on Freshly Pressed. Your photos are brilliant.

  24. What a wonderful trip! I adored my own (much shorter) study abroad in England, and also took a side trip to Ireland. Your post brings back so many memories! Looks like you’re making the most of your year abroad. Have fun and write more!

  25. That would be an amazing trip! Thanks for sharing it with us. 🙂

  26. wow super cool photos. ireland looks like tons of fun. looks like you had an amazing trip. congrats on freshly pressed and nice post overall =]

  27. Simply delightful! Thanks for the journey through my FAVORITE corner of the world. I look forward to taking my husband to Inverness, Scotland where his ancestor’s castle resides. Lovely photos and great ideas on where to go!

  28. Thanks.

  29. great photos! i hear ireland is amazing!

  30. You make my country look so lovely! I visited the northwest for the first time last weekend, it was beautiful too.

  31. Oh you make me want to go to Ireland!!

  32. Some of your images of Ireland are amazing, I love the seascapes.

  33. Hi there, your “FRESHLY PRESSED” release has come just in time before we visit ireland on wednesday of this week, we have literally one day on friday to visit anywhere outside of dublin due to hire of car so i am going to let my better half have a browse of this post, well done for getting into freshly pressed and well done for the timing it has helped me decide that we must visit if we can places you have so briefly visited yourself stated in this entry.

  34. Wow! You packed a lot into your holiday! Nice shots…. the Cliffs of Moher looks very mysterious and majestic…. enjoyed reading about your travels!

  35. Simply beautiful! Congrats on being pressed…

  36. Really awesome 🙂 and great photos. I cant pick my favourite but it has to be the guiness factory 😉

  37. Brilliant! Thank you for your post. The photos tell the story.

  38. luar biasa……

  39. Wonderful photos and I love the story that goes with them too. Thank you for posting. I love everything about Ireland and Scotland. I am a new fan to your post. I am glad I found you:)

  40. I have never seen the Irish Famine Memorial, the Cliffs of Moher or ever heard of Newgrange. These are fresh new pictures of things to visit and experience. Thank you for sharing. You put a lot of time into this presentation.

  41. i’ll be taking my first trip to Ireland this year and I couldn’t be more excited!

  42. This is a great post for anyone considering a trip to Ireland – no need for a guidebook – you cover so many highlights so well – most of the places I’d recommend people visit. Really well done. And you must have covered the ground at a fair lick.
    Your pictures are great too.

  43. Wonderful pictures. I was intruiged by the image of the ruin atop the Cliffs of Moer. When I was there we did know we could get that close to it and only have a very distant image of it. I hope to be posting some Ireland pics on my blog soon, once I manage to get them organized. Thanks for sharing.

  44. You really have a wonderful trip at Ireland.I hope I can visit it in the future.I really love travelling. Thank you for your sharing.

  45. Nice pictures! The famine memorial really is moving! Will head out for Ireland sometime… maybe… 😛

    Congratz on FP!

  46. Wow!beautiful.

  47. Wonderful photography. It is a goal of mine to get to Ireland someday.

  48. love your photos. It’s been over 10 years since I traveled in Ireland, and your photos make me salivate at the thought of going back. I can’t wait! Thanks!

  49. Lovely pictures! 🙂

  50. All picture so beauty full but seascape is really amazing,congrats on being freshly pressed.

    Thanks for sharing.

  51. Fantastic images of Ireland – it was a pleasure reading about your experience. I lived in the South and North a few years ago – keep on posting – looking forward to coming back for more.

  52. beautiful pictures!!!

  53. beautiful images!!!

  54. Great job!
    Wish to visit Ireland!
    I wait for accounts from other trips 🙂
    and I recommend my word/photo accounts.

  55. loved Newgrange and knowth… visited another ancient human site up near the hill of Tara (the name escapes me at this hour) but the stuff is just mezmerzing.

  56. I am so glad you enjoyed your trip to Ireland – I am from Northern Ireland and it’s great that you managed to get here too. Always fascinating how others find the place and your photos are superb – I think you captured it perfectly! Enjoy the rest of your travels.

  57. Great Photos…I always wanted to go and now I had a virtual tour, thanks fr dat 🙂

  58. Great pictures!. The Irish Famine Memorial looks so surreal.

  59. Beautiful scenery shots and some intriguing subject choices. Enjoyed this very much, thank you!

  60. Beautiful pictures, and equally beautiful description. I can see that you had lotsa fun. 🙂 I hope to visit Ireland and Scotland someday, myself.

  61. Looks like you really enjoyed your trip 🙂 And for sharing such wonderful photos, thank you 🙂 I got a glimpse of Ireland through your lens :p

  62. Sounds like you had a great trip.

    “It is a unique geological formation consisting of thousands of hexagonal columns of rock”

    Beautiful as it is I am afraid it is not unique. Such formations are found in Iceland, Turkey and Yellowstone Park to mention but three.


    Others examples can be found in Hong Kong, The Grand Canyon, The Hexagon Pools on the Golan Heights (Israeli occupied side), The Devils Postpile National Park (CA?) and – wait for it – Cheakamus Canyon, BC, Canada! There are probably more.

    They are not as good as ours of course!!

  63. oh great…… now i have to go to ireland thanks to you!

  64. .. that was meant in a good way~

  65. this photos are pure and quiet. This country always makes me think of beautiful folk tunes.

  66. I was living 6 months in Dublin, and it’s a wonderful city!

  67. i loved your post. i’m living in galway right now and LOVE LOVE ireland. glad you enjoyed your trip here.

  68. I should like to travel one day in Ireland,must be wonderful!

  69. I love the Irish Famine mamorial! That is so interesting!

  70. really beautiful pics!

  71. Great post! I love how a lot of UK coasts are just drop off cliffs.

  72. Jealous, Jealous, JEALOUS! Ireland is totally on my bucket list!

  73. Great Post with great information!

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