Well, just about made it back from our Paddywagon Tours 6-day tour of Ireland. Kinda got mixed feelings about it all to be honest. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting – I dunno why, but Ireland was a lot more similar to England than I was expecting and wasn’t all that impressive as Scotland. The west coast, especially the south west and Slea Head around the Dingle peninsula was very cool, as was the Belfast Taxi tour taking you onto Shankle Road and housing estates, Belfast peace wall and offices of Sinn Fein was good too.
Anyways, a lot of the first couple of days was centered around the conflicts in Northern Ireland. I didn’t realise all the different parties involved, and that were those on the Protestant side just as happy to use extreme force to stay within the UK, as well as the IRA and others using force to make it all a Republic. The walking tour of Derry was quite poor, though it was late in the day and the guide had already done a couple of tours that day and had rushed to us from a previous large group.
The Giant’s Causeway really wasn’t overly impressive for me. I dunno, maybe we were there at high tide and when the tide washes out a lot more becomes visible, but I don’t think so. Most of the photos are very moody and atmospheric, which just didn’t come across whilst we were there. Still a nice walk though!
Further round the coast, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was quite cool. A rope bridge connecting the small island to the mainland, which originally was traversed by fishermen using the island to catch fish by being able to cast their nets off whichever side the fish were schooling. Although the weather wasn’t too good with a constant light rain, it was still pretty clear looking around the island, though crossing the bridge and climbing the wooden steps back onto the mainland was fun in the wet!
The Belfast Taxi tour really impressed me. Not from a touristy point of view, but because I’d heard so much on the news whilst growing up but never fully understanding things. Both Charlie and Connor, our guides from Paddywagon did a good job explaining things, but George our taxi driver then took us right onto the Shankle Road, Shankle Estate, head-quateres of Sinn Fein and the Belfast Peace Wall. Going to places I’ve seen to many times on the news with all sorts of riots, fires, shootings, etc. going on and standing there myself was quite weird. Charlie had mentioned the previous day about protection money he pays in Derry and Belfast, and how painting the Paddy’s Palace hostel in Belfast bright green as with the other hostels wasn’t really a good idea since it was in the heart of Protestant Belfast. Someone asked Connor if he was worried about being in a bright green bus around this area and he casually dismissed it, saying “I’ll be driving so fast you’ll just see a blur” and as we headed back into the Republic of Ireland he came true to form!
The Cliffs of Moah (probably spelt wrong!) were impressive, and this is where the local guide paid off. When we first rocked up, Connor realised the weather wasn’t going to give a good view of the cliffs, so we headed down the road for lunch instead. By the time we returned, the rain had eased up, the sun came out, and all was good again!
Heading down to the River Shannon was a nice little drive, and even though we missed our intended ferry crossing, it was only half an hour before we caught another one. This is where some of the stories came out about what the guides have done with other tours. Things such as getting people to hide in the boot if they didn’t have their passport after being told since they were crossing the river they’d need and the inspectors were coming around… I quite like boat trips, and this was a nice 20-25 minutes ride.
Up in the mountains, the Randy Leprechaun is a hostel + pub joined together and owned by Paddywagon Tours. It’s a really nice pub, and the guys managed to organise some live music to kick off. 2/3 people ended up grabbing the guitar and standing up, which then carried on well into the early hours of the morning in back room of the hostel! How long the pub will stay painted bright green with the pressure the local council is exerting is unknown, but I liked it, and the locals didn’t seem to have any objections – the amount of business being brought into the village probably makes it bearable!
The drive around Slea Head was very pretty, going around the most Westerly point of Ireland, including islands inhabited until the 1950′s using age-old traditions and speaking completely in Irish without much idea of the outside world! We then headed into Dingle for lunch which was a scenic touristy town, not much to my liking but was nice to get away from the town and across to the far side of the harbour:
The last night on tour took us to Kilarney, another nice, pretty touristy town. A choice of horse-back riding through the Kilarney National Park or a horse + coach ride was available, and since most of us were lazy, the coach ride was where we ended up! Very peaceful, if only I could have understood the accent! I would have liked more time to explore the parks, and the south west of Ireland is probably the only area I’d be looking at coming back too, and Kat was of the same opinion. More drinks were called for, with the Granary displaying an amazing collection guitars which had been loaned to the pub by a collector who needed some extra room at home. Hell, he could donate a couple to me!
Another long day on the bus for our last day, which was something I was a bit disappointed about, along with a few others on the bus, led us to Blarney Castle. Kissing the Blarney Stone was a must, even though the idea of kissing a stone which is kissed thousands of times a day for a number of years wasn’t too good from a hygiene point of view! A long hike back up to Dublin was broken by a stop off for lunch and a nice audio/visual tour of a local castle (forget the name!), and we the got into Dublin around 6p.m.
Overall, the tour was a nice trip around Ireland with some good craic with the people on tour and with the guides. I wouldn’t really go do it again as other than the south west, there wasn’t really anything that jumped out and said “come back and visit this place again!”. The accomodation on Paddywagon tour was awesome – we were expecting your run-of-the-mill bed & breakfast, but in Belfast we were in a Holiday Inn Express, and in Galway we were in a very swish hotel. You maybe missed out a little by not staying in the hostel’s as you didn’t spend much time with the other guys on the tour, but the extra room, en-suite facilities, cooked breakfast, etc. made up for it!
I’d also say some of the places where the guides chose to stop weren’t always ideal or made sense. On our first day, yeah, we had a long hike from Dublin up to Londonderry, but we stopped in a service station with joined on small restaurant and take-away. On our third day, we drove right through an area with 6,000-7,000 years of history, dozens of stone circles, massive burial chambers, etc. which was all explained in good detail, but we then stopped in a town where an appartion of the Virgin Mary appeared meaning a huge tourist
drive with a dozen taps bumping out holy water, and ice creams for sale all over the place. Most people weren’t overly religious so weren’t interested in going into the church itself, but even we had wanted to explore, it was only a 20 minute stop for a bathroom break + grab a drink.
Dublin itself was also very disappointing. I can’t for the life of me think why people rave about the place so much, other than because flights are cheap so they’re going for a night out, then flying back. We took a tour bus around the city, and only Phoenix Parks looked good, and maybe the Guiness Brewery, but you’re stuck inside for hours anyways. The traffic in Dublin was awful and took so long to move around by bus or taxi. It’s not really somewhere I’d be keen to go back to, and is weird that a city with so much history didn’t have a great deal going on other than shopping areas and churches that all looked the same!
But, if you want more photos, check out the following links:
We’re off to London on Thursday afternoon for a 3/4 day tour of Wales which should be good, or at least I hope so! Gonna have a day in London, and maybe a day in York too on the way back up, so hopefully there’ll be some good stories and photos to put up from there too!