Sunday, 18 December 2011

Searching Ireland.....

I’ve been living, breathing & dreaming ‘Ireland’ these last 6 months, so it will come as no surprise to many who know me, that I’ve been spending many hours searching the internet for useful websites to help me plan my Ireland itinerary.    I love travel, differing cultures, history, ancient sites & genealogy, so touring Ireland is going to be an absolute feast for me & there are many helpful websites out there to fill you up with useful tips. 

I decided that these sites are worthy of sharing with those of you contemplating spending time touring Ireland.... so here we go.

First on my list & rightly so, since my winning trip to Ireland is courtesy of Discover Ireland NZ, is their official Tourism Ireland website.  Tourism Ireland incorporates both Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Boards & pitch tourism to 20 countries around the world.  I really like their logo [below] too, which invites you to...

LonelyPlanets Ireland, is probably one of the best known global travel brands & well used by millions of travellers.   The first Ireland travel book I brought to help me get started was ironically purchased a week before I won my trip to Ireland..... ‘had I had a premonition?’.   Lonely Planet has excellent online information which is convenient & easy to use.

 The 2011 B&B brochure offers a huge list of Irish tourist board approved B&B’s throughout Ireland & Northern Ireland.    If you’re going to ‘B&B it around Ireland’, then this is a great place to start.    There is a free download of their brochure on the website

I've used TripAdvisor, a website where travellers share their candid reviews of places they've stayed in, historic sights, tourist activities and more.     This site will help you decide what to put on your list of ‘must do’s & help you to decide where the best places are to stay. 

Google Maps is one of my more exciting finds... this online ‘GPS’ is an easy way of tracking your travel route, giving you the distances & times from one destination to the next.  You can put streets & roads in your search if you know where you’re going, but it’ll search town to town too [include town & county].  It does pay to double check the info it has given you though, to make sure it has found the correct location & not taken you across the Atlantic Ocean as it did with me when I wanted to go from Ennis to Rossaveal!  I thought “wow, that’s not going to take us long!” then realized I had to swim as well!  
I suspect you have to be a little wary of the travel times too, as speed limits on Irish roads will be variable & from what I’m told, can range from a cautious crawl on wee country roads to maximum speeds on the motorways.

Over the last few months, I’ve been getting great travel tips off a couple of facebook pages administered by two lovely Irish gals.  As well as their facebook pages, they also have their own websites dedicated to spreading the word about the very best of what Ireland can offer you.

Ireland’s Hidden Gems is an independent travel website written by Susan Byron, a native of Dublin, now living in County Clare. As well, Susan is the Irish Travel Blogger for Irish Central the largest American Irish online community in the USA.    Susan also feeds you wonderful wee ‘gems’ on her facebook page Ireland's Hidden Gems about what to see & do when visiting the ‘island’ of Ireland.   Her website is chock full of ideas of where to go, stay, eat & drink, from pubs to castles to sacred places.

Madeleine O’Donnell is the owner of Peg’s Cottage, an “idyllic thatched cottage in the picturesque village of Puckane in Tipperary, which has stood the test of time for 300 years”.  Follow Madeleine on her facebook page Ireland & Peg’s Cottage for great information about what to see in & around Puckane & the rest of Ireland & Northern Ireland.   She will keep you entertained as well, on a daily basis.  Ask Madeleine about staying in her beautiful Peg’s Cottage.

I’m grateful to both Susan & Madeleine for their willingness to impart their local knowledge of their beautiful country.  Susan has even offered to feed me her famous Guinness Stew if I find myself in her neck of the woods! 

If it’s Irish History, Stone Age structures, Monastic ruins, ancient Castles & old thatched cottages you’re after, then drop by the Travelmania website where you’ll find great coverage of where to find just about every historic site in Ireland.  As well there is a very impressive gallery of stunning photographs taken of all these sites.

However, if it’s Sightseeing, Pubs, Guinness and Culture you’re after, then you’ll enjoy the blog-style website of Uisce-Beatha  

Uisce-Beatha is the Irish interpretation for Whiskey, more literally known as ’water of life’.  Suffice to say there’s tips on Pub Crawls, Whiskey & where to get the best Guinness.

There are also some really interesting & well written blogs out there on the subject of Ireland worth a read.  I’ve made a list here of my favourites.

Got Ireland
Irish Fireside 
All Ireland Travel
Hecktic Travels 

By now you might suspect I may have become a little obsessive in my quest to find out all I can about touring Ireland, rather than leaving it all to chance ... and it’s fair to say, you may be right.   However, my Irish holiday itinerary is almost complete now... with plenty of room to include the odd detour along the way.  


Thursday, 27 October 2011

Game Over! .... All Blacks 8 - France 7

I decided very early on that every post on this blog would always have something to do with Ireland .... but that was before the Rugby World Cup final played out in Auckland last weekend.  However, I'm pretty sure that anyone watching this match back in Ireland, would have been cheering for our All Black's.... thanks guys!  We would much rather have been playing the Irish in the Final but it was not to be.

What a game.  I don't think I've been so anxious watching the All Blacks play in all my life!
It's been 24 long years since their last win in 1987.  Ironic that the score should, in the end, be 8-7 to the All Blacks.  A tribute you might say, to that '87 win.

Five days since the final whistle blew & Rugby mad New Zealanders are still basking in the glow of that golden Rugby World Cup.   It was a low scoring game & we only just got there, we could so easily have lost again.... so what! ....we don't care!  It's ours to enjoy for the next 4 years.

There have been plenty of wonderful photos & videos of that final match, but by far the best video I've seen was a collage of scenes taken at the Auckland Fan-Zone prior to & during the match, brilliantly capturing those last nerve-racking minutes of the game.  Filmed by Jared Brandon Productions, this video has captured a moment in time that none of us who were at the match, watching at one of the many Fan-Zones around the country or like me, sitting amongst friends at home watching on TV,  will ever forget.  

Sunday, 18 September 2011

I R E L A N D! ..... I R E L A N D!! ..... Together Standing Tall

For those of you from Non-Rugby playing Nations, you may not have heard of the Rugby World Cup Party we’re having down here in NZ.... & last night the Parties would have been in full swing in every Irish Pub up & down New Zealand & Ireland! What a game! Ireland played out of their skins & were the deserved winners over the Aussies.

You’d have been hard pressed to find a Kiwi who wasn’t screaming for the Green Team! Especially in those last 3 minutes when Ireland’s Tommy Bowe picked off a fantastic intercept and raced 98 metres toward the Irish try line before Aussie’s James O'Connor caught him and tackled him into touch just a couple of metres short of the line! Heart racing, voice hoarse, I thought I was going to have a heart attack!

It was the final nail in the coffin though for the hapless Aussies, with only a minute to go, they were now down the wrong end of the paddock.


As the lovely wee Irish Captain, Brian O’Driscoll said at the end of the game - “ You’d swear we were playing in Dublin with that crowd”!

Most exciting game of the tournament. Am so thrilled for all those Irish fans who have travelled 'Downunder' to support their team.     I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said that every Kiwi in NZ wanted to be Irish last night.


Listen here to the crowd as they belt out the Irish Rugby anthem

Watch here as the fans go wild during the last few minutes of the game.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Little known facts about St Paddy's Day

I know, St Paddy’s day is a wee way off yet but  recently I’ve been expanding my knowledge about the significance of this day & have stumbled across a few unknown facts.... unknown to me that is.

Did you know that this most Irish of days is actually a Public Holiday in the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland.... I did not know that.  And so it should be.   I’m just a little peeved that we don’t get a day off to celebrate it down here in the Southern Hemisphere too.  Surely if it is good enough for Newfoundland, Labrador & Montserrat to observe it as a Public Holiday, then what’s up with the Kiwi’s, Aussie’s, Canadians & American’s getting the day off too?  Haven’t most of Ireland’s many emigrants dispersed to our far flung shores to set up residency during the last 150 years?    
It would certainly save all those excuses as to why you can’t make it in to work, while all along you’re downing pints of the black stuff & singing with the band as they belt out ‘Dirty Ole Town’ down at the local Irish Pub!

Interestingly, St Patrick’s Day also falls during the 40 days of Lent.   However, it seems that as long as the joyous feast of St Patrick falls on the church’s calendar of feasts, Lenten restrictions on eating & drinking alcohol can be lifted to ensure the faithful can celebrate their Saint by dancing, drinking & partaking of the traditional St Paddy’s Day feast of Corned Beef & Cabbage!    When the feast day of St Patrick falls on a day of abstinence from meat however, such as a Friday in Lent, the local Bishop, if you’re lucky, can dispense with the rules for just this one day.
 A St Paddy’s Day without the traditional meat fare or alcohol would be unimaginable to most... particularly the latter?  Power to you, if you can get through St Paddy’s on the dry side!

But, not so long ago [prior to the 1970’s], Irish law enforced that all pubs be closed on St Paddy’s day.  This was a holy day where families attended church & later went for a walk, met up with friends or worked in the garden.... there was no Guinness beer & certainly no green beer!
In fact, it appears the American’s, more noteably the Irish-American’s were the first to observe St Patrick’s Day, not so much for it’s intended religious purpose but to gather those who had immigrated from Ireland to honour their homeland.  In more recent years, this has come to include anyone with just a skerrit of Irish ancestry, to those who just wanted to be Irish for a day.   

St Paddy’s day became a national holiday in 1903, but it wasn’t until 1995 that the Irish government backed the festival as a way to boost tourism.  Well, it’s worked.  And I for one will be there in Dublin, 17th March, wearing green & doing my best to acquire a taste for the black stuff.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Springtime in Ireland

Someone told me "March is the best time to go to Ireland.  Spring lambs, Paddy's Day, Daffodils everywhere!"   Sound like any other country you know?  Is it any wonder Kiwis feel so at home in Ireland & the Irish feel so at home in NZ?

Then again, someone else told me that "March is usually cold & windy.  And there'll be a lot of rain so bring umbrellas, raincoats, scarves & hats and be careful if wearing trousers, because the bottoms will get soaked in the rain puddles!"   
I'm sure that unless those puddles are as big as lakes, in which case I'll be rowing across them, then I'll enjoy a good bit of puddle jumping while I'm there.

The weather is a lottery no matter where you go .... however in Ireland, you can be sure that rain will be a distinct probability.

Rainy it might be, but I prefer to look on the bright side.  Sure, doesn't all that rain make for wonderful skies, green fields & rainbows?   :o)

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Who wants to come to Ireland?

I have two return flights as part of my amazing ‘trip to Ireland’ prize package [thank you so much Tourism Ireland NZ!!].   So a flying companion needed to be chosen.  Of course I had offers a plenty from family & friends, willing to carry my bags for me.  In the end, I’ve picked Donna who was planning to go with me anyway... one day.   I do hope she knows how lucky she is [I know she does, as do I]
We’ve settled for a 6 week holiday in the Northern Hemisphere, spending 4 weeks of it travelling the length & breadth of Ireland.  It is with much relief that our respective bosses have allowed us to take leave for that extended period of time.  New Zealand & Ireland are about as far away from each other as any two countries in the world could be, so it’s hardly likely you’d ever travel all that way for a week’s holiday, would you?
I’ve tried to work out the size of Ireland in comparison to New Zealand & have decided it’s about as long as the North Island & slightly wider.  I’m figuring 4 weeks should be ample time to ‘circumnavigate’ our way up, down & across the Island of Ireland.
The bag of  travel brochures Irish Mary gave me when we met in Auckland a couple of weeks ago, have been poured over many times.  There are so many wonderful places to go & sights to see in Ireland and I want to see them all. 
Is it too soon to start packing?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Have you ever had a dream come true?

I recently took stock of my list of things I want to do in this lifetime...  I don’t actually have a written list... it’s a list which I’ve filed away in a ‘thought bubble’ in the recesses of my brains memory bank.   There’s not much on it but at the top of the list is one word in capitals...... IRELAND.
I’ve  travelled a bit in my day.  47 countries if I was going to skite about it.  Sadly, I never reached the Emerald Isles which I was later to find out was the country of my great grandmother’s birth.   With a name like Paddy, you’d have thought it’d be the first place I’d have travelled to, but during the late 70’s & early 80’s, times were pretty troubled in Ireland.  Regretfully, I let the fear of being ambushed, shot at or blown up in a roadside bomb put a halt to any plans I may have had of touring there.

Back home in NZ, many years later, I lived in hope of one day finding the funds to travel there.  I often trolled Irish websites reading about the history of Ireland and looking at all those fabulous ‘must see places  to visit’ when you ‘come to Ireland’.

But Alas, there it was destined to stay.... IRELAND..... in capitals, at the top of my ‘bucket list’.   And it might have stayed there, had I not entered a competition offering the winner a trip to IRELAND.  Then I started to ponder the question..... 'does anyone actually win those big competitions"?  You know the ones... a new car.  A  trip around the world? ...... the reality that you've actually got to enter these competitions to be in to win, waved its little [green, white & orange] flag at me.
The competition in question, landed itself in my Inbox one sunny day, courtsey of the Irish Tourism site, Discover Ireland NZ !  

You had to write a wee story about why you wanted to go to Ireland, then get yourself onto a leaderboard of 10 people, by getting friends & family to vote for you.  I thought, well how hard could that be.     Putting pen to paper, I hastly wrote a short missive & entered into the competition!  I was desperate to win this and set about harassing all my friends & relatives to vote for my entry, which they duly did and in no time at all, I was on the leaderboard. 
It was then up to the judges to read all the short stories that had been submitted by those on the leaderboard  & pick a winner by the 9th of May.
As the 9th of May came and went and there was no news of the winner, I resigned myself to the inevitable.   I hadn’t won my much dreamed of ‘trip to Ireland’.  I consoled myself in the fact that as a runner up on the leaderboard I may get a small consolation prize.
Then on Tuesday 17 May, I received a curious email from someone called Mary at the Tourism Ireland, office in Auckland.
Dear Paddy

I'm not sure if this is your real name but can you please get in touch with us ASAP re the Ireland competition that you participated in recently as we may have news of great interest?
Thank you

Maybe I’d won a consolation prize I thought… a Lonely Planet’s Guide to Ireland book if my memory served me right. The office was closed so I had to wait till the following morning to give Mary a call.

I dreamed that night of Mary telling me that I had actually won the trip, but knew deep down that it couldn’t be possible. Many had convinced me that I could have won, but I wasn’t about to get too excited.

The following morning....

Hello Mary, this is Paddy. 
“Aahh yes Paddy, well… I have some news for you” says Mary, in her lovely Irish accent.

[was she going to say my votes didn’t count….. or was she going to tell me that I’d won the consolation prize of a Lonely Planet’s Guide to Ireland book?]

“Have I won one of the consolation prizes?” says me.
“No Paddy! You’re our ‘top dog!’ says Mary.

[my heart rate went into overdrive & I found myself holding my breath!]

“You’re kidding me!?  I’ve won the trip!? says me.
“Yes Paddy, you’ve won the trip to Ireland? says Mary.
“Oh My Gawd!!!... O!....M!....G!!!! I yelled back!
At last, the #1 item on my ‘bucket list’ was finally going to be ticked off & turfed.... out of the bucket!