Around Ireland with Celtic Rider
Coming off the ferry into Dublin I catch a shuttle bus into town. The driver striving to be cute finds annoying. Beyond belief.
He keeps ending his diatribe with, ÔÇ£at the bus station.ÔÇØ Which he pronounces in some sort of a rubric French like accent. It sounds like ÔÇ£bus stass ee ooonÔÇØ. This goes on and on, IÔÇÖm about to kill him when I notice three Ozzies just waiting to do him.
At the ÔÇ£stass ee ooon,ÔÇØ the Ozzies are closing in on what I am sure is going to be a messy murder. With things well in hand I slip over to the nearby Custom House and head for the Trinity Capital Hotel down on Pearse Street. ItÔÇÖs not far so I decide to walk.
Clearly the teeth have been pulled from the Celtic Tiger. When I was here in 06 the streets were packed now no so much. Granted itÔÇÖs the off season but there are lots of vacant storefronts with dusty for rent signs staring out into the streets.
Soon I've reached my destination checked in and jumped into a steaming hot shower to wash two days of funk picked up hiking around Snowdownia in Wales. IÔÇÖm also trying desperately to cook a cold out of my body that attached itself to me in a London tube. I shower, soak in a tub of hot water and generally try everything to shake off the alternating chills and fever.
My sister in law has given me something called ÔÇ£asidamyathindextrotroprolinethingy.ÔÇØ I look at the pills there is nothing on the minimalist package about side effects so I take two.
Eighteen hours later I wake up to the alarm going off. Looking at the pills, then back at the clock, then back at the pills I resolve only to take one and only at night. Then it occurs to me that maybe my sister in law doesnÔÇÖt have warm feelings for me.
Tip: Pack the drugs you normally take for minor colds aches and pains. At the ÔÇ£ChemistÔÇØ or the grocery store I can find nothing that remotely resembles anything I've ever used and settle on Halls Cough Drops which I eat like candy.
Downstairs I have a great full breakfast; all part of the room package, then it's out to my waiting taxi. I know heÔÇÖs waiting for me because of the Celtic Rider sign displayed in the window.
I donÔÇÖt know it yet but these small attentions to details are going to become the hallmark of a great relationship with a remarkable company. I have arranged to rent, or hire, as they say in Ireland,a BMW F650GS for the next five days.
Celtic Rider rents a full range of BMW's and some Harley's in Dublin. They specialize in providing self guiding tours. You choose the bike you want, they provide a GPS that directs you to each nights lodging and off you go. The service can include all the riding gear so you need not pack your kit. ThereÔÇÖs a discount for MOA members and a further discount if you book in the off season such as March. I rode in the off season and choose not to follow the self guided tour. Choose a GS model and you wonÔÇÖt go wrong. I struck out in search of nothing; just the road ahead of me and found accommodations wherever. HereÔÇÖs the link http://www.motorental.ie/ I have no affiliation with the company.
Upon arrival Paul, Liam and Jonathan greet me and get me kitted out in boots pants jacket gloves and helmet. I pack the panniers with the essentials and leave the rest of my bags locked up at the shop. Back downstairs Paul ask where I planned to go. I arrived with no real set destination in mind, so I took a three sixty turn and pointed to where the sky was bright and clear and said, ÔÇ£there.`
To the south there were clear skies over a distant line of hills. ``Good choice, that`s the Wicklow Mountains, said Liam, where in ancient times the Irish would pour out of to attack the English in Dublin, at least until the English pushed a military road into the mountains.` Sounds perfect to me so while Liam attaches a GPS to the handlebar of the F650GS twin Jonathan introduces me to driving Irish.
We begin back upstairs with a white board followed by a short primer on clockwise traffic circles then we watched a couple of short videos detailing driving through round a-bouts. Even though I've driven a car in England and have been studying the motorcycle guide to England and Northern Ireland the instruction is invaluable. I highly recommend it.
With the bike all set up we've reached the moment of truth and off we go. Jonathan offers me a two way radio communications but I opt to just follow with no additional distractions in my ears. I quickly learn that I need to be faster on and off the turn signals. Coming from western Canada when thereÔÇÖs an intersecting road every 10 miles means youÔÇÖre in a urban zone. Here in Dublin there seems to be an intersecting road every 50 feet.
Perhaps the best aspect of the riding lesson was having Jonathan there to guide me out of Dublin. That alone was worth every penny, er Euro.
But without doubt the best piece of advice he gave me had to do with my line through the corners. Jonathan noticed I was staying tight to the inside line when going around left hand corners. This was putting me as far as possible from any oncoming car in in the right hand lane. However, it was leaving me dangerously exposed to any car entering from a left hand intersecting lane or road. This is important in Ireland where so many driveways, lanes, roads and approaches are blind. They are all hidden around the apex of the turn by stone walls, hedges or whatever. So by riding the right line of the left hand lane, Jonathan stressed, that the first thing around the corner was my vision which would give me a chance to see and react.
This seems terribly complicated, he explains it far better than I do, but if you go youÔÇÖll quickly see and understand what Jonathan means. Do not let your front wheel be first into the blind intersection just beyond the corner apex.
Just on the southern outskirts of Dublin I said my goodbyes to Jonathan and was on my own.
Following the GPS is was not long before I reached the Pollaphuca Reservoir. Here I raced across a bridge and started to power through this beautiful long sweeping corner that swung along the south shore of the reservoir. A turn off led down to a beach, I rode on a short way and turned back.
This would become a common theme, do not pass up a chance for a photo. Across the water lay the ruins of a castle or fortification. I snapped a few pictures stretched my legs and took a deep breath. Man IÔÇÖm really doing this. IÔÇÖm on my own on the Emerald Island. I decided right then that the journey was not going to be about the road but about the experience. Nevertheless the road beckoned.
HereÔÇÖs the key to the road system in Ireland. M is a freeway. Straight, well engineered and highly regulated. Patrol cars, radar photo radar etc. A and N designate primary and national routes (busy) often dual lane highways. A and N can also be national secondary roads less traveled, curvy more fun. B and R roads are regional roads. These are lots of fun theyÔÇÖll take you to places beautifully unexpected. I take R756 southeast.
On your map anything that looks like a simple white line is perfect for your GS bike. Expect to find sheep. Be careful as Liam explained the sheep are stubborn. Although they are fully versed in the rules of the road they simply refuse to obey them.. Do not be surprised to find that the road to your destination turns into two paved tracks separated by a grassy centre line populated with grazing sheep. Just keep going.
At one point I seem to have reached the top on the Wicklow Mountains. ThereÔÇÖs only blue sky and a smattering of clouds over head. To my right lays the ruins of a stone house. Tiny cold and forgotten, could it have been the home of a family driven away during the potato famine. Before me the road drops straight down the right side of a long valley and disappears into a distant wood. along the road pink rhododendrons hang precariously above the road. They cascade down to the roads edge like a flower waterfall. ItÔÇÖs magical.
Somewhere beyond Glendalough I turn off R755 and go down one of these white lined roads on my map and head up and deeper into the Wicklow Mountains. IÔÇÖm now heading roughly southwest chasing the sun.
With the sun sinking into the early evening I find myself on R731 riding into New Ross. IÔÇÖve been on the road for five hours. Behind me IÔÇÖve traveled through Knockananna, Tinahely, and Shillelagh. In New Ross I cruise by a statue that looks remarkably like USA President John F Kennedy. Turns out this is the ancestral home of the Kennedy clan and that this was the last foreign stop for the President before the assassination in Dallas. JFK famously greeted the towns folk with a cheery message, ÔÇ£IÔÇÖm home boys.ÔÇØ Maybe part of his spirit is still there.
After a long day the dreaded fever and cold were beginning to wear me down. It was getting late and I turned to the task of finding a room for the night. On LiamÔÇÖs advice I had not booked any accommodations. He encouraged me to just walk into any pub and let people know I was in need of a room for the night. ÔÇ£Some fine lady will take you in. As appealing as this was I knew IÔÇÖd be at a loss to explain to, ÔÇ£The OtherÔÇØ, why I was sleeping in some strange woman's house in Ireland. Besides I just couldnÔÇÖt inflict this cold on some sweet unsuspecting lass. So I stopped at the tourist office. I know it sounds dull but youÔÇÖd be surprised.
Inside I found this raven haired beauty with this lilting accent. I know it was only a voice but it sounded like music whenever she spoke. Tall with long black hair that swept down off her back, a fine line to her face, full luscious lips and dark smoldering eyes. I was smitten. I stood there spellbound as she called a Bed and Breakfast. ÔÇ£SheÔÇÖs a room for 50 Euros a night?ÔÇØ She looked at me as I stood there struck dumb by her beauty. Finally I blurted out it might fit my budget.
Quite unexpectedly she started right in on negotiating a better rate, although I was only joking, she would hear nothing of it and pushed on. Secretly I was hoping the negotiations would fail and this stunning woman would offer me the cot in her spare room. Really the rug at the foot of her bed would have sufficed.
It was not to be. Yet, I found myself that night in tucked in at Rossville House an amazing B&B at a somewhat lower than advertised rate. The proprietor and she keeps a first rate house, spotless, warm and inviting. Perhaps most important is the enclosed court like area at the back of the house. ItÔÇÖs perfect for keeping bikes and gear secure and out of sight. http://www.rosvillehouse.com/ No affiliation.
The next day found me back at the tourist house where I took a tour of the Dunbrody a replica famine ship. Sobering.
My paramour is there but now she's playing the role of a merchant's wife fleeing Ireland on the famine ship Dunbrody. Her beautiful west country accent is gone replaced by the hard clipped dialect of Dublin. Every time she speaks my fantasy is cut to ribbons; death by a thousand words. Time to move on.
Ironically I was not yet done with things Dunbrody. Travelling southeast on N25 toward the coast and the Hook Head Lighthouse I stumble upon Dunbrody Abbey. I pull the bike into the lane and stop to take some pictures. ThereÔÇÖs a sign saying no trespassing so I go no further, but before I can put the camera away a lorry pulls in behind me and the driver invites me to follow him down the lane where I can park the bike and knock about the ruins.
At the abbey he introduce me to the archaeologists who gave me an impromptu tour. Construction of the abbey began in 1170 on orders of the Norman conqueror Strongbow. It flourished until 1335 when hard times turned some of the monks into highwaymen to make ends meet. The guilty were were banished and the rest acquitted.
However the abbey could not escape the attentions of Henry VIII who was bearing a powerful grudge against all things Catholic. He had it sacked. On this day the archaeologist and his crew were pointing the stone work to ensure the remaining walls of this impressive edifice donÔÇÖt collapse on some unwary trespassing motorcyclists.
Back on the road the bike runs like a clock and soon the miles and time is ticking by. At Arthurstown I decide to take a detour and catch the ferry to Passage East. The ferryman apologises for the two Euro fare. ÔÇ£Tis only three ifn ya only return.ÔÇØ I smile and gladly pay the inflated one way fare. Back home it cost $60 to $70 to catch a ferry off of Vancouver Island. ThatÔÇÖs one way.
I skirt Waterford although I give more than a passing thought to picking up another Waterford fountain pen, but the call of the open road wins out at least until I figure out that the rumbling from down below is not the parallel twin but my stomach. The engine needs little in the way of gas (I get over 60 mpg) but itÔÇÖs time to eat.
I pull into the a pub on N25 just outside Waterford. Pub food in in Ireland is excellent and plentiful. Typically everything is cooked on site. If you find yourself in a place serving up pre cooked frozen microwaved product you've found yourself in a place only fit for drinking. Get ye elsewhere. I have mashed potatoes, cabbage, carrots and roast beef. The plate is huge and this is lunch. Dinner will have to wait until late in the evening. The Guinness looks grand but there are still miles to gobble up so I pass on the pint.
Over lunch I pull out the GPS and find a route to Churchtown. With no idea where this would lead me I plugged into the route and headed down the road. What roads, Twist, turn, up, down, narrow, wide, narrow again, rhododendrons on one side daffodils on the other. Eventually I come out a upon a small intersection. Just across the road thereÔÇÖs a church, a parking lot, a graveyard and a large propane tank. Such an interesting juxtaposition warrants a closer look. I pull into the parking lot and find a historical marker explaining that this is Affane close by the site of the Battle of Affane.
After a short interlude I look to the GPS with a new appreciation. This thing is full of mysteries. Why would someone want to come to this spot? More importantly did they know how the journey here would be of far greater satisfaction than the actual arrival. I decide I like navigating this way and head off to someplace called Monkstown with rain clouds threatening to close in on me.
IÔÇÖve been on the road about three hours when I ride down to a ferry in a light rain. IÔÇÖm in Cobh (pronounced Cove) and just across the water is Monkstown and someplace to bed down for the night and try once and for all to shed the fog of flue that is wearing me down. The bed turned out to be at The Bosun. http://www.thebosun.ie/ Agaqin no affiliation.
Checked in I ride the diminutive lift to to my room on the third floor. My room faces the harbour access and the ferry landing. Stripping off the riding gear I set everything up to dry off, climb into a hot shower, then into bed. A couple of hours latter I wake famished and head down to the pub for dinner.
What a wonderful pub, families, old young, women and men socializing in the best of pub tradition. I take an instant liking to the place.
The gentleman sitting next to me says heÔÇÖs from Tipperary. I look him over and decide, since I do not know exactly how far away Tipperary is, not to crack the obvious one liner. I think he appreciates it as he offers to buy the next round.
Just across from us a middle age woman recounts the history of Cobh and Monkstown. Cobh was for the ratings (ordinary seamen) and Monkstown was for the officers of the Royal Navy. Ironically the harbour at Cork and at Waterford remained under British naval authority after the south became a republic. In the late 30ÔÇÖs the harbours were turned over to the Irish authorities just before the outbreak of World War II. This had a profound affect on the war. Without these ports and naval air bases the British and the Canadians from Canada could not patrol the entire Atlantic. In the mid Atlantic the gap became the hunting ground of German Uboats.
Lots of British citizens of a certain generation fault the Republic for sitting out the war. But for countless generations the rank and file of British navies and armies were largely made up by the Irish. Having just won a partial victory in the bitter fight for independence what Republic would want to subjugate themselves to the old masters. The wounds were still too raw. I have a personal connection and bias for things British. My mother in law is British. We.ve been skirmish for 30 years.
Now hereÔÇÖs the personal irony in this bit of history. My namesake Uncle sailed into this gap early in the war. His ship the St. Croix was sunk. HeÔÇÖs still on patrol. Since I was a boy IÔÇÖve always felt his ghostly presence hovering there deep in my subconscious. Haunted.
Soon though itÔÇÖs time to order dinner and another feast arrives; roast beef and all the fixings.
Upstairs I spend a feverish night. Arthur Guinness, could you have done me wrong? In the morning I awake to a cold sweat. The sheets are soaked so itÔÇÖs into a steaming hot shower which revises me enough to determine that a good breakfast is in order. Downstairs the dining room is impeccable. The starched white cloth napkins stand at perfect attention next to the flatware and crystal. Yet again I am amazed by the level of the service and the quality of the food. I could really get use to this.
I decide not to travel far. ItÔÇÖs either raining or threatening to rain. so I spend the morning emailing loved ones until a ray of sunlight brightens up my room and I look out to see a giant ship gliding by on the channel. SheÔÇÖs all awash in sunlight and sparkling raindrops.
Clearly itÔÇÖs a sign to get up and about. On my map Kinsale looked interesting so off I head into yet more unknown. After wandering through the back roads of county Cork I arrived to find Kinsale a a picture perfect town nestled along the coast. Parking the bike I head off to do some shopping. Soon I had a fine wool cap for myself and a nice scarf for ÔÇ£The Other.ÔÇØ Back on the bike I headed for Ballinspittle, Kilbrittain, and Ballinadee (chosen merely in recognition of the music in the names) Eventually I found myself back for dinner at The Bosun.
The previous night IÔÇÖd left the bike in the parking lot across from the Inn but tonight she was invited to stay in the old carriage way between the pub and the Inn. The staff were worried about her safety out on the street. So I wheeled her in and set her up on her centre stand adjacent to stacks of steel barrels of Guinness. At first my Bavarian beauty was a bit put off. However, once I explained how it was a Munich brewmaster who brought the craft to Ireland she settled right down. BarvarianÔÇÖs will believe anything.
ItÔÇÖs day four and I have a mission. There is a noble purpose to todays ride. My mission is to ride northwest towards Dublin. Search out and find a fine pub in which to strike camp and watch Ireland destroy the British in the fine sport of war without weapons - Rugby.
Rugby has been the sub theme of my journey. Before arriving in Ireland I spent some time in Wales. In Cardiff I was part of the 80,000 that watched Wales defeat the Italians at in the millenium stadium. That victory was celebrated appropriate enough in an Italian restaurant with old and new friends including a young gentleman dressed up as a daffodil. It may or may not have been his stag. The next day found us in a midlands pub, ÔÇ£The Lord NelsonÔÇØ to watch the English take on the French in Paris. I introduced myself as Gordineer Villeneuve, an indirect and bastard relative of the French Admiral who`s betrayal by the Spanish handed the victory to that English midget at Trafalgar. I supported the Blue. Although surprised at how little the English know about history, we somehow managed to lose again, this time the English did it even without the aid of those treacherous Spaniards.
That match however was only a warmup for the Celtic war between the Scots and the Irish that followed. Undoubtedly the hardest bloodiest rugby match I've ever had the pleasure to witness. Glorious. A week on and it was the Irish in London to take on the great oppressors. I had to find a place to watch.
Quickly dressed and down for breakfast. There was no lingering over endless cups of coffee. There was a purpose to the day, miles to go, hills to climb, twists and turns to take. In the carriageway the bike waited. She also seemed imbued with a new eagerness to be back on the road. I wheeled her out and rode over to the ferry. The short hop across would mean I could skirt Cork and fine the open roads to the east and north. It wasn't long before I found climbing up the long hiles heading toward Tipperary. Up through the switchbacks I climbed until at the summit I broke through to see the entire Tipperary valley and county spilling out before me.
I rode down into the valley with Tennyson echoing in my mind: ``Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell``
There were of course no Cossacks or Russians to my right or left. There was only the stumps of a clear cut forest; mowed down just like the 600. Sadly it`s not just western Canada that practices this type of harvesting. It saddened me. Tennyson eased my mind.
Soon I was off the hill and in the pastoral valley proper. IÔÇÖd left Tennyson far behind and was trying to match the rhythm of the Chieftans ÔÇ£Rocky Road to Dublin with the ride. Tin whistles and the fine guitar riffs of the Rolling Stones collaborations were competing with the twist turns and undulations of the road. I was having a grand time. Until my path intersected with a village St. Patricks day parade. It looked like IÔÇÖd be delayed as my route was blocked with a barricade and a local Garda officer.
He gave me an inquisitive look and asked, ÔÇ£where ya going? Me, Paddy Moloney, the rest of the band and the Rolling Stones are riding the Rocky Road To Dublin. He looked hard at me for a moment, ÔÇ£are you wearin headphones?ÔÇØ No Officer itÔÇÖs a memory piece. Would you like be to hum you the tune.
ÔÇ£ThereÔÇÖs no need of tha.t I know it well. But where are you from?ÔÇØ Canada. And this is the gods honest truth there was a twinkle in his eye as he pulled the barricade aside and said, ÔÇ£well in that case slide in behind the tractor pulling the wagon, ride three blocks and IÔÇÖll radio my partner to pull you out at the roundabout.ÔÇØ And just like that I was part of a St. PaddyÔÇÖs Day parade. What a hoot.
West of Dublin the country is given over to the raising of horses. Beautiful stables and properties dot the countryside. Finally I ride into Kildare and spot the Silken Thomas Flanagan Pub and decide itÔÇÖs time to park the bike for the day.
It looks like bad news. ThereÔÇÖs no rooms above the pub because of some sort of womenÔÇÖs sporting event is in town. Hmmm! Luckily the pub owner has an apartment in an annex across the street. I end up with a two bedroom, living room, kitchen two bath complex for sixty Euros. Breakfast is included.I take it and resolve to seek out some of those sportin women who to fill the empty spaces.
Back at the pub I tear into a turkey dinner with three types of potatoes, baked mashed and boiled and green vegetables. Later I drop into GracieÔÇÖs to catch the rugby. The place is packed, loud and in a festive mood. ItÔÇÖs standing room only. the guy next to me has such a thick accent I cannot understand a word. I nod and say yes and failingly try not to look like the village idiot in yet another country. IÔÇÖve obtained village idiot badge in France, Germany and Wales. The festive mood starts to sag as the British begin to really put a beating on the boys. The celebration gives way to some serious drinking. The defeat is clearly good news for the publican. TheyÔÇÖre pulling pints like mad trying to keep up with the demand. I take a walk.
One turn about the town square in the falling rain and with the temperature beginning to drop I decide to pack it in. Back at the apartment I crank the heat up and spend another feverish night with what IÔÇÖve decided is the curse of the London tube. Mind the Gap my arse. Better to mind that sneezing snot nose bugger that got on at the last stop.
The next day will be a short ride down into Dublin and the end of my journey.