I’ve kept a travel journal for years. I started recording our canoeing adventures back in the eighties, mostly because pictures cannot capture the essence of a trip like words can. Pictures cannot convey the misery of a sleepless night in a leaking tent, or the utter contentment of relaxing by the fire watching sparks from the flames disappear into the night sky. When Hubby and I began to travel more widely, I kept a journal for each trip. I dig these journals out every now and again, and read them out loud to Hubby. Sometimes I do this to settle an argument about some point we’re trying to recall, the name of a town, or a mountain pass. Sometimes when we’re in the midst of planning a trip, we become nostalgic for a previous adventure. We’ll sip our wine, read and remember, laugh, and agree that travel is totally worth all the bother.

It was Hubby’s idea that I share with you some small parts of our adventures as documented in my journals. I thought that was a great idea. I miss writing travels posts when we’re not travelling. So if you don’t mind journeying back into the past with me, I think I’ll give his idea a go. And since I’m back home in New Brunswick this week, I’d thought I’d start with our 2011 trip to Ireland. Home of my O’Sullivan ancestors.
woman walking with a collie dog, field overlooking the ocean
Me and “Buddy” the dog, hiking on the Ring of Beara

As I found out through my research before we left Canada that summer, I am six generations away from being Irish. Four generations including me have been born in Canada, after Michael O’Sullivan and his wife Ellen, and their baby son John (my great great grandfather) emigrated to Canada in 1819. It was fun trying to untangle the various generations, the many, many Michaels and James and Johns, one for each generation it seems. Confusing, even with a family tree compiled back in the seventies by a distant relative, a retired school teacher like me. Having the benefit of on-line resources helped me uncover numerous errors, as well as the reason my uncle found such hilarity in that earlier version. That family tree had my grandfather’s father dying a year before my grandfather was even born. Ha. And even though I found on-line census records which contradicted that version, my Uncle Buddy still clung to what was, to him, the most interesting part of our family tree… the fact that “we were all bastards” as he used to say to my mum.

My Sullivan family tree, annotated by me.
Part of our flawed Sullivan family tree with my annotations

All that digging, and reading old records, and talking to my mum about her family, whetted my appetite for Ireland. Our trip was not a long one, as our trips go, only three weeks. And much of the time the weather was cold and rainy and windy. But nothing could dampen my enthusiasm. I fell in love with everything Irish.

We loved the towns and villages. The countryside and the scenery. The food, the beer, and the music. We spent several heavenly nights in pubs listening to impromptu performances by wonderful musicians. I drank my first Guinness. I even began to develop a taste for stout, and I wrote in my journal that I hoped I “didn’t resemble that word by the end of the trip.” Ha. The people were the best. Our hosts everywhere we went were welcoming, and helpful, and, almost without exception, garrulous and good-humoured. In my journal, I commented that Vicky and Pat, our hosts in Kilkenny could “talk the leg off an iron pot, to quote my grandmother Sullivan.” When we arrived at Berna’s B&B in Galway, cold, damp, a bit dispirited, and quite a bit earlier than expected, she didn’t turn a hair, just built up the turf fire in her lounge, and served me tea and homemade scones while Hubby napped. She even brought out the scotch one night when she heard it was Hubby’s birthday. Anne in Derry was chuffed to introduce us to her “Ulster fry-up” as she called her ginormous (even by Irish standards) breakfast. I’d never eaten fried bread or black pudding. Good thing we walked and walked when we were in Derry.
Tea and scones and a turf fire in Galway
Tea in Berna’s lounge, Galway, Ireland

A week of our time was spent in a stone cottage near Bantry in County Cork. From here we explored what turned out to be O’Sullivan country. What a hoot. We arrived in darkness one night, and the next morning when we explored the village we saw that there were more Sullivans in this part of the country than you could shake a stick at, as my grandmother also used to say. I laughed reading my description of Bantry: “A beautiful and seemingly typical Irish town: pub, restaurant, grocer, pub, pharmacy, supermarket, pub, camera shop, take-away, pub…well, you get the picture. Wouldn’t Grampy Sullivan love this place?”

woman sitting on a bench outside a pub in Ireland
Bantry, “O’Sullivan Country.”
But perhaps our best story from our Irish trip was trying to navigate our way “home” to our cottage after a day of exploring the magnificent Ring of Kerry. We were pretty accustomed  to difficult roads, having driven so many in New Zealand, and Australia, and northern Scotland, even when we had to drive on the “wrong side.” And Hubby was getting used to remembering to NOT put the windshield wipers on when he wanted to signal a turn. Ha. That’s a longstanding joke with us. When you’re used to a left-hand drive vehicle, it’s harder than you might think to remember to reach for the signal on the correct side of the steering wheel of a right-hand drive. He’d also become adept at NOT flinching when a vehicle approached us on a narrow road, as well as NOT driving into the leafy hedges which lined the roads, and which we discovered upon closer inspection were actually thin layers of foliage hiding stone walls underneath. What we weren’t prepared for in Ireland was how useless our maps were. Even our quite expensive and very detailed Michelin map was, as Hubby said, “a mere guideline.”
Our day of driving the Ring of Kerry had been pretty easy, and even the smaller and more challenging Skellig Ring road was fine. We saw lots of beautiful sights, ate a picnic lunch on the cliffs overlooking Dingle Bay, and then decided not to drive all the way around to Killarney, but to take a shortcut home that Hubby had spied on the map. We’d be fine, he said, we’d just be careful to orient the map, and watch the number of turn-offs. Ha. That carefulness, in fact, turned out to be our undoing. Do not count the number of roads on the map, people, and expect them to bear any resemblance to the roads on the ground in Ireland.
narrow road between two boulders
Driving the Ring of Kerry… somewhere

We were heading for the famous Ballaghbeama Gap. As I recorded in my journal: “we set off, turned around, asked directions, and ended back on the route we’d started on… twice. We encountered T-junction after T-junction, cross-road after crossroad, intersection after intersection which were not on the map. The problem then became how to choose, without aid of map or signage, which of two roads to take. We devised a system. If one was hardtop and one not, take the hardtop; if neither were hardtop, take the one without the grass growing down the middle; and if both had grass growing down the middle… stop and ask. At one point, confused, we tentatively turned left, up a steep unpaved road, and saw a car speeding along the right hand road. The one that we weren’t on. “That must be it. Follow that car,” I yelled. We turned around and made after it. The driver must have been a local because he or she was long gone by the time we attemted to follow. After a bit, the road turned into two tire tracks with grass in the middle. And a few minutes later, at the top of a hill we pulled into a farmyard, defeated, and in need of assistance. With my map in hand, and my best rueful, and apologetic grin, I approached the front door of the farmhouse.”

“The door opened before I reached it. And I was confronted by a tiny, neatly attired, very old man, leaning on a walking stick. He wore a plaid Viyella shirt buttoned up to his neck, a worn tweed jacket, pressed trousers, and could not have been over four feet tall. I am NOT kidding. I smiled. He smiled. “Hello,” I said. “Helloooo,” he echoed. “We’re lost,” I said ruefully. “Yer lost,” he repeated. “We need some help,” I tried. “Some help,” he grinned. We might have been there still, but a woman, who looked as if she might be his daughter, appeared from within the house, moved him aside, and smiled at me. “Yes, yes, yes?”
“Can you tell me how to get to Ballaghbeama Gap?” I asked. “Yes, yes, now where’er’ye comin from? Is it Killarney, Killeenee, Coomakilleenee, Keenillee, or Coomakeenillee?” At least that’s what it sounded like. Actually I lost her at Killarney. “Uh…” I stumbled, and was so very tempted to say “Canada,” but this was not the time for jokes. We finally ascertained that the road we’d been on ten minutes back, the steep left hand turn one, was actually the one we should have taken. So I thanked her, and she shut the door.
I was barely able to contain my glee as I danced across the yard and back to our car where Hubby had been watching the scene unfold. “I have just met a leprechaun,” I exploded. “Did you see him? Was he adorable or what? And that lady was so nice, but I couldn’t understand a freakin’ word she was saying. Killarney, Killeenee, Coomakilleenee,  something something-illeenie. Oh my god… that was the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me. I thought I was going to burst from trying not to laugh. Not AT her, but at how perfect the whole thing was.” I sighed, and buckled my seatbelt. And Hubby stopped laughing long enough to say, “But you DID get directions, right?'”
And we did get to Ballaghbeama Gap, and it was stunning, and worth all that trouble. As I said in my journal, “high, high, tiny, teeny roads to a tiny, teeny gap between the hills, that you would not believe was even there until you were upon it.” Gosh, I loved Ireland.
musicians playing in an Irish pub
Boys in the band, a pub in Kilkenny

That’s the boys in the band, above, who we listened to one night in Kilkenny. We were just walking by on our way back from dinner, in the rain, in our Gortex jackets and hiking boots. We heard the music, and decided that one more pint wouldn’t hurt. So much of what we loved about Ireland was happenstance. Sure we’d booked our flights months in advance, and our rental car, and most of our accommodation, but we could not have planned all the little serendipitous things that happened on that trip. The stunning views as we ate our picnic lunches. The amazing coffees in the pubs when we stopped each day for our “elevenses”… a practice which has become a tradition for us, now. The friendly collie who appeared out of nowhere as we hiked across the fields on the Ring of Beara, accompanied us on our two hour walk, lay down by our feet when we stopped for a drink of water, and then bounded off when we reached the car park. As I said to Hubby, “Even the animals in Ireland are friendly.” And of course the joys of getting lost, seeing some unexpectedly amazing sights as a result, and even meeting a leprechaun. Ha.

Travel can be exhausting, and sometimes dispiriting, and even frustrating. It’s a ton of work to plan, and most of the time pretty costly, even when you’re careful. But, it’s worth all the bother, I’d say.
I hope you don’t mind if I stray down memory lane via my travel journals every once in a while. I’ve had such a good time reliving Ireland. Now, I must go. I have assigned reading to do this week, while I’m at Mum’s. Hubby is way ahead of me in researching our Italy trip for this fall. I can’t let him do ALL the work.
How about you my friends? Do you keep a journal, travel or otherwise?


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35 thoughts on “Tales From My Travel Journal : Ireland”

  1. Hi Sue! A truly wonderful post … and thanks to Stu for encouraging you to do this! I can almost imagine I was there, travelling with you! Your story about the “leprechaun” took me back to an experience I had in a village in the borders of Scotland, when I was in my teens. My brother lived there at the time and asked me to drop off some trousers to be altered, with the local tailor … I followed directions, and climbed the tiny spiral staircase to an attic room and was totally stunned to see a tiny guy … quite elderly, with twinkly eyes, sitting cross legged on a bench in the corner, sewing!! Like a character in a fairy tale!! As with your gentleman I guess you had to meet him to totally appreciate how he looked!
    I don’t keep a journal … other than when I was in my teens … angst and romance!! ? but I really wish I had, especially when my children were younger. I’m not one for regrets but on reflection this is maybe one regret I do have … I kept one for a year when my elder two were quite small, in secret, to share with my husband on Christmas Eve when they were tucked up in bed … it’s so lovely to look back on … as you say words can capture moments in a way that photographs never will .,,
    Looking forward to you sharing more of your travel tales!

  2. That made me laugh & set lots of bells ringing . I’m fascinated by family history , not just mine , everyone’s . The idea of those people being brave & desperate enough to set out on such tremendous journeys knowing they were leaving family , friends & all they knew forever . I’ve traced many relatives who have started new lives in Australia , New Zealand & mainly Canada . My great grandfather , an American citizen , ran off back to New York leaving my great grandmother in a dire situation but I tracked him down , running his diner ( then called an eating house ) near Broadway in the late 1800s . What a rotter he was !
    Quite a few of my friends here have Irish blood . York is ringed by good soil & has always been a major agricultural area . Many agricultural labourers fled the famines & came to York for work . Certain sections of the city became wholly Irish until they gradually dispersed. . We’ve only visited Ireland once but remember well the good music , welcoming locals & the fabulous home made soda bread .
    Like you , I've got a pile of travel journals , written often in bed , nodding off , but so glad I made the effort . I’m look forward to your next installment . Hope you are enjoying your trip home & that your mum is well .
    Wendy from York

  3. I laughed out loud at your Irish navigational challenges! Long ago I learned that the Irish never discourage any lost traveler and that all destinations are only "about a mile up the road." 🙂

    In a few short months I'll be heading to Ireland myself. It will be my first time back since I was first there in 1967, hitchhiking alone with nothing but a roll of Kennedy half-dollars (US) to see me through any complications. And it's the God's honest truth (that sounds Irish, too, doesn't it?) that in Ireland in 1967 Kennedy half dollars were more valuable than gold.

    This time I'll not be hitchhiking, but luxe'ing it on a small Italian cruise ship, which isn't as weird a means of travel around Ireland as that may sound. I'm looking forward to the springtime Irish weather packing challenges, since it's not the kind of cruising weather I normally get to enjoy.

    And finally, my last port of call before Cork will be St. John's in Newfoundland — my first time to visit there. I'd wave at you, but have just learned from Google that St. John's is twice the distance to you as Missouri is.

    Ann in Missouri

    1. I hope it will be summer when you are in St Johns. They can have some pretty unpredictable weather. But I love Newfoundland. The closest thing to Ireland outside of Ireland. In fact when we were in Ireland, a waitress who'd been told we were Canadians said," I hear you have people over there in Canada who talk just like us." Yep, I said, they're called Newfoundlanders, and I'm related to a good few of them.
      I hope you have a lovely trip. Luxe-ing on a small cruise ship should be fabulous.

  4. We are planning on going to Ireland this September. My husband wants to go in the summer, but I hear it is too crowded, plus I don't want to go when it is very hot. how is the weather in September? I don't mind a wee big of chill since we live in Florida and I want to get away from all the heat. Plus I feel it is easier to take less clothing when it is cooler. We only want to stay a week. should we stay only on one coast the Dublin side or could we travel all over the island? For instance, how long does it take to get from one side of the island to the other driving time? We want to rent a car and be on our own schedule. Also, my husband hates to book ahead of time for hotels after a few nights in Dublin. Can we find rooms available if we do not book ahead? I am nervous about that, but I also like the freedom to just stop anywhere and not feel pressured to get to our next room in a certain area. Any suggestion or websites that I could visit that you recommend would be so appreciated!!! btw, I have relatives in Ireland that I should meet.

    1. We travelled to Ireland in July, and we did not find the crowds too bad. We avoided Blarney castle, and places that are always on the packaged tour lists. Even in July we did not find it hot. After looking at average weather temps on-line, I was very happy that I threw a light scarf into my bag at the last minute. We made very good use of our rain jackets and even our rain pants. In Kilkenny the temps were about 18 degrees Celsius in the daytime, and it was overcast and raining off and on. So wearing a warm jacket and waterproof pants meant hat we could walk and be warm and dry. Even if we didn't look very fashionable. I eschewed my sandals for my hiking boots and a light fleece most of the trip until we hit Dublin when we had warm and sunny weather.
      I can't tell you driving times, but my husband found all that info on Google maps, and used it to try to estimate where we would stop each night. The distances are not that great but some of the roads are much slower than here in Canada. We loved having a car because we would have missed the small villages and the routes where buses did not go.
      We booked most of our accommodation from home before we left. But it was July, so maybe September will be different. I'd for sure book Dublin ahead. As for what coast… wow… I can't choose. We started in Dublin and travelled south the Kilkenny for two nights, then straight to our cottage (for a week) near the Ring of Kerry. We then took day trips to drive the Ring of Beara, the Ring of Dingle, and the Ring of Kerry etc. Then we headed up the other coast to Tralee, where my ancestors emigrated from, on to Galway (fabulous) where we stayed for a few days, and then north to Londonderry (the biggest surprise of our trip… we loved it) for three nights, then back to Dublin. If you're only there for a week, I'd book ahead. You don't want to be disappointed for one night when you're only there for seven. Having said that, we used Booking.com all over France in 2015 to book a night or two ahead in surprisingly small and quaint villages. I had thought that those sites only handled big hotels.. I was wrong.
      Hope you have a fabulous time!

  5. Your tales of travel are so lovely to read and made me recall our various trips to England, Wales and Scotland…we have yet the pleasure of touring the Emerald Isle. My husband is the travel journalist and does a brilliant job…we try to reread them every couple of years and it is amazing at how the written word captures a memory that would otherwise have escaped our collective memories. I journal each day while at home but that is more mundane items of interest…dinners out, theatre experiences, long dog walks, shopping treasures and every day things such as the weather, a jaunt to an antique store or what was prepared for a meal. You are so correct when you say that travelling brings with it various stresses, requires time-consuming planning and is expensive…but isn't it heavenly to explore new territory and learn about the history, customs and food of a new place? We are richer for the experiences gained while travelling and feel blessed to be able to do it…returning home to our beautiful country of Canada all the more appreciative of the fact we are lucky to live here! Cheers, Alayne

    1. Thanks, Alayne. Exploring new territory is wonderful, especially the small towns, small shops, small everything. I'm not one for the "you have to see it" sights… even though we do visit those too. Because…well…some of them we do have to see.

  6. I only once kept a travel journal – two weeks in China – and am very glad that I did. It brings it all back very clearly, especially seeing my handwriting. Most of the time though I rely on looking at photos of holidays and realising how many places we have been over the years. France coming up at the end of May and perhaps a hop to Brussels as my daughter is now living there. I realise all the time how lucky we are to live on the edge of Europe and the infinite possibilities.

  7. What a delightful story! I never kept a journal but occasionally find scraps of paper with notes I've jotted down with unrelated phrases only I know what they mean. My photographs are my journals. Meeting a leprechaun!!! How beyond exciting and cool is that? Kind of like when I met "an angel" last fall in Italy. Feeling like I might pass out at the Rolling Stones concert in Lucca, I prayed and asked God to help me. Skipping tons of details… a cab driver later drove up and when I said, "Thank you! You're my hero," in all seriousness he said, "No Madam. I am an angel." Once again at some point he said, "I am an angel." If you'd been there and seen his demeanor and the way he spoke and what he did for me, you would have agreed. xoxo, Brenda

  8. Two months today I will be in Dublin. I can hardly wait. I will be in Ireland for two weeks – one week with a tour and one week doing my own thing. I loved your story. Thanks for sharing that. Since I am traveling by myself there is no way I wanted to start driving on the other side of the road in a car that is set up on the other side too.

  9. When I worked in Zurich a colleague was from England. Morning tea there is elevenses.
    But in Switzerland that translates to 'Znuni (9 o'clock for hard working Swiss)

    I keep a tiny notebook for a travel journal. Sometimes just a few words for the day – but it brings it all back, together with the photos. Then I capture a version for my blog.

    Was reading yesterday that each time our brain remembers, the memory is freshly created. Not like rereading the same page in the same book.

  10. I don’t keep journals, although I wish I had as it might bring back forgotten memories. Funnily enough the only holiday journal I have is from 2 weeks in Ireland. I went with a group called ‘Joyce’s Ireland’ and had the most amazing and fun holiday of my life. We were a small group travelling in a minibus and staying in those wonderful b&b’s after walking for absolutely miles every day, learning to play the penny whistle on tops of mountains and of course visiting pubs and listening to the wonderful music. Every day a different member of the group wrote in the journal and at the end of the holiday we all had a copy of the journal so I can still remember the places we visited.

  11. Hi Sue
    What a great idea Stu had! I thoroughly enjoyed your adventure.
    When hubby and I retired, we set out on a four month road trip. We traveled from Ontario to BC, down to California, across the mid west to home. The Coles notes version for sure!! I was going to keep a travel blog so our family & friends could follow us. I wrote the first day. Writing is not my strong point…Thankfully my husband took over after that. I discovered he was a natural with words and created a upbeat journal. We would add pictures to each day. Many people commented which encouraged us to keep the blog going. It was a treasure to read our journey afterwards. We even made a "coffee table " book with our pictures. Also, my husband made a short video of our trip to music we enjoyed along the way….talented guy!
    It's snowing in Nelson and I'm looking forward to fresh powder in the morning!

  12. Yes, I've got a box full of travel journals — sometimes they were as simple as a Moleskine that I jotted point-form details about the day, the name of a restaurant and the reminder of what we ate there, an anecdote about someone telling a story at the next table or of a mother coaxing her child up off the ground to hurry home for dinner. . . .Rereading them sometimes just refreshes a memory I'd otherwise call up independently, but sometimes it resurrects details we'd both completely forgotten. I'm so pleased you're sharing yours here and I love the way you weave the journal entries into your retrospective summary — past travels are very much a part of our current lives, even if we can't always see them, and I think Stu's was a very good idea.

  13. Please,do write about your travels-bravo for Hubby and his great idea
    It is warm and funny story-can't wait the series to be continued…
    For a first couple of travels with my son I've kept a little diary beside the photos,so nice to re-read it now, and than I've stopped
    And I've kept diary for the first year of his life….

    1. Thanks, Dottoressa. Sometimes in the last two years I haven't kept a full written journal because I write my blog posts as we go. But I keep notes for that in a journal.

  14. Love thinking back about past travels and loved hearing about your trip to Ireland. I love Ireland too and the Ring of Kerry is amazing. I'm lucky my husband is British so used to the roads there. I just have to navigate, which like you found out is not easy! I don't keep a travel journal but now I guess my blog serves as one? Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  15. Loved reading your interesting trip to Ireland and getting lost in town and asking for directions. I do like to keep a paper journal. It is so fun to go back and read months or years later. Thanks for sharing! #TheWeeklyPostcard

  16. LOVE this, Sue! This took me back to my own wanderings through Ireland many years ago – can’t wait to go back. This was a much-needed tonic today to this snow-bound and travel-deprived girl…

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