The first and last time I visited Ireland was in the summer of 1987. I was a student at the University of Lancaster and my sister Chris was studying in Madrid; we made plans to meet in Dublin. My journey was a relatively short one–just across the northern end of Wales by train, then a ferry from Holyhead to Dublin’s port, Dun Laoghaire (that’s pronounced “Dun Leary”). I was there the next day. Chrissy, on the other hand, had a longer train ride and much longer boat ride. I waited around the Dublin Youth Hostel for her for 4 days and I had to go back to the UK soon after she got there, so I had little chance to look around Ireland then. I always meant to go back one day.
This May, I finally did.
This is the bus tour I took: http://www.cietours.com/us/escorted_tour/2014/leisurely_ireland_10d/.
Arriving in Dublin
After an uneventful overnight flight, I arrived at the Dublin airport just after 10 a.m. The tour company promised that someone with a sign would be waiting to meet me and would put me and other people going on the same tour on a shuttle to our hotel. And there he was! His name was Sean. But since no one else on one arriving on my flight was going to the same hotel, I had to sit for awhile. Eventually, Sean sent me off in a cab by myself. We had to cross most of Dublin and the taxi driver pointed out anything that might be of interest, so I got a little tour of my own before the real tour began.
My hotel was The Royal Marine in Dun Laoghaire. It sits on a hill overlooking the bay, not far from where the ferries come and go. So I felt I was on somewhat familiar ground, although the accommodations were certainly an improvement upon the Youth Hostel. There was a wine-tasting conference going on in the public rooms that weekend.
Lots of windows overlooking the water, but my room only looked out on other windows. As soon as I checked in, I freshened up and went right back out again. The tour itinerary said that we would begin with a drive to Russborough House at 2:00.
I couldn’t find anyone connected with the tour company inside the hotel, but there were two large, orange buses with the company’s logo parked out front, so I stood near them until one of the drivers came up. I asked if he was driving my group; he said that he was and we would be starting in about 20 minutes. Which gave me just enough time for a quick walk down through the little park in front of the hotel (where I took the photo above) and along the waterfront. By the time I got back, a few other people on the same tour were gathered in front of the hotel by the bus and we introduced ourselves before we got on.
Our driver’s name was also Sean. Our tour director would be arriving later in the day. For this first trip, Sean would be doubling as guide.
The drive to Russborough House took us south of Dublin, up until the hills of Wicklow. This is the part of Ireland where Ballykissangel was filmed. We didn’t drive through Avoca, which stood in for Bally-K, but passed by some other charming little villages and around some lovely valleys.
It was raining by the time we arrived at the house, so our group didn’t walk around the gardens or venture into the maze, but went directly into the house.
We were taken around all the rooms by a woman who knew everything about the house: the histories of the families who had lived there as well as of the paintings on the walls and the furniture and other decorations. Russborough House is also famous for its hand-molded plaster ceilings, which are very elaborate and have been wonderfully preserved.
After the tour, there was just enough time for a cup of tea and a scone in the house restaurant before we got back on the bus. Our tour guide, Doug, was at the hotel when we returned.
There was a little reception for the entire party, including a few members of the group who had missed the bus earlier, in one of the hotel’s private dining rooms. There were 26 people on the tour in all, mostly retired couples.
This party gave everyone a chance to introduce themselves, and gave Doug an opportunity to hand out some name tags and explain when and where we would start out in the morning. Our first full tour day would feature a look around Dublin.
Some of the group went out to eat at one of the neighboring restaurants, but I didn’t want dinner. I hadn’t really slept on the plane and had been up all day. So I went to bed.
An inauspicious beginning, but the trip would improve in the days to come.