Adventures in Ireland

Posted by on Jun 10, 2017 in drawing, Illustration, pastels, travels | 17 comments

Ever since a brief visit to Ireland in 1980, I have yearned to go back. Somehow, the years piled up until recently, when Marty, Daisy and I enjoyed two weeks of travels there. On May 22, we flew to Shannon Airport, during which the dusk to dawn was sped up, like a time lapse into the next day. We landed at 6 AM, sleepless, and rented a diesel powered Renault in which Marty bravely took the wheel to find our first lodging.

The Carrygerry House is a mere 15 minute drive from the airport but felt far away in another time, situated above rolling fields.


The inn’s pastoral views relaxed us even more.


The gracious owner let us in quietly, wearing her bathrobe and showing us to our room at 7 AM. We completely missed breakfast with jet lag taking it’s toll. We woke in time to head over to Bunratty Castle in the afternoon. Our tour guide rambled through a few centuries of Irish history while we marveled at the art and embellishment everywhere. And those giant antlers? Irish deer were once enormous.


We climbed up and up and up narrow circles of stairs past windows like these. Built around 1425, the castle was a stronghold of the O’Brien clan, and later kings and earls.


This stain glass collage is my favorite.


Certain rooms brought to mind the splendor of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, with majestic halls filled with ornate carvings, enormous tapestries, and paintings of royalty. But this was her inspiration.


We made it to the top tower for views of the River Shannon, breathless.


While Marty and Daisy descended to the dungeon, I sat outside to sketch the castle.


We strolled through the adjacent Folk Park, were cottages from a century ago were reconstructed. The fragrance of peat fires was everywhere.


We tried to learn a bit of Gaelic at the school, but failed. The teacher was on his way out but promised to find a match for Daisy if she came back the next day.


The fairy village was not on the map, but we found it nonetheless.


There were goats trotting about, pigs, cows, and donkeys grazing on all sides. These carts were typical vehicles of travelers at the time.


We returned to the inn for a gourmet dinner, watching horses prance in the field.


On May 24, we headed to Dunquin, a seaside village on the Dingle peninsula. The highway out of Shannon turned into smaller and smaller roads which passed through village centers and miles of grazing livestock. We stopped in Abbeyfeale and Keel just to get out of the car. From here, Inch Strand, our travels were in view of Dingle Bay.


We arrived at Chris and Nan Hadden’s Dunquin Cottage, our home for the next nine days.


We set out to explore the area, blooming with iris and sheep.


Relics of old homesteads are not uncommon.


We discovered the path to the ferry pier to Great Blasket Island.


The cottage is in the center of this photo, beneath Eagle Mountain blanketed in fog.


After a dinner of beer and toasties at Kruger’s Pub, our loft bed was a welcome sight.


Chris had advised us: the first sunny day you get, go to Great Blasket Island. We awoke to clear skies on our first morning, so off we went. You are taken out to the boat in groups of eight, there’s not much of a pier.


Islanders always happy going offshore!


The ride is about 25 minutes, and you are transferred once again to the concrete pier.


We learned that Great Blasket was inhabited for about three hundred years, perhaps first by Vikings. Emigration and the hardships of an isolated community led the Irish government to evacuate the remaining islanders in 1953.


Marty and Daisy decided to hike up to the top, while I headed down to the beach, where it’s full of bobbing sea lions, curious as ever.


This made Daisy just a little happy.


We hiked back to the pier for the last boat to the mainland, and walked back to the cottage.


A similar cottage is right next door, owned by a man with many cats.


The solarium in our cottage was always warm, a good spot to spy on cats and sketch.


We’d flop about a bit before deciding our next outing.


We ventured into Dingle, a 20 minute drive over narrow roads. We dined at John Benny’s but learned there was no music. Down the street at Paudie’s Bar we happened upon Peter Staunton on button accordion and Niamh Varian-Barry on fiddle, an outstanding duo. Their music made our hearts sing.


Every morning this cheerful kitchen greeted us. We’d linger over toast with homemade jams from the Carrygerry House, and figure out our plan.


Once the Dreamer climbed down from her loft, we’d be ready to roll.


We took the short cut to the Blasket Center.


We learned history about the islanders, their way of life, and their literary legacies. Scholars had visited in the early years of the 20th century to collect folklore and learn the Irish language. Marty began reading The Islandman by Tomas O Criomhthain and I began reading Twenty Years A-Growing by Muiris O Suilleabhain.

The short films, displays and artifacts of a vanished life were fascinating.


The island was plentiful in rabbits. I sketched this from a taxidermy display.


The cottage’s window seat was my favorite perch, where I drew or wrote every day.


I sat out in the field behind the cottage to draw the view of Inis Tuaisceart in pastel, an island that looks like a floating giant.


We set out on one of the hiking loops from the center that led to An Mionnan Mor.


The Inis was ever present from every angle.


We passed so many sheep. Had to draw a lamb with it’s markings.


We stopped at another fine beach, testing the water. Most beaches had warning signs about the strong currents.


Being Saturday night, there was a concert at the Siopa Ceoil, where we enjoyed traditional music with an Irish coffee break in the middle. The atmosphere alone is worth it.


This is 9:30 in Dingle. Colorful and hardly dark.


The drive over the mountain to Dunquin was never disappointing.


In the morning I did a sketch of the cottage sitting on the stone wall across the narrow road, and met the neighbor, Chris, with his dog.


We decided to trek another loop from the Blasket Center, one that took us over stiles that separated fields of livestock.


We made it to the top of Ceann Sraithe with a view of Ballyferriter and Ceann Sibeal behind us.


Back at the cottage we chilled, wrote postcards, and Daisy drew this, our neighbor’s window.


The cats were indeed curious about us.


Too tired for a drive to Dingle, we found a seaside pub with excellent smoked fish and chips in Ballydavid, the Tigh T.P.

On Monday we found the post office in Dingle, bought some groceries, and had a delicious lunch at Goat Street Social. I am a complete sucker for animal signage.


More window seat moments drinking in the late sun….


On May 30, clouds had finally lifted on Eagle Mountain, and we’d found the trail head, our legs were ready.


We climbed up the steep slope, our cottage always in view.  A family of sheep crossed our path just before we stopped for a picnic.


By the time we reached the top, the clouds were settling in again. Kissed by the mist, we headed back down.


While it was still fresh, I did a pastel sketch at the cottage table, with Great Blasket in the distance.


We took a different route into Dingle along Slea Head Drive, which is crazy narrow but spectacular. In general, the driving in Ireland terrified me. I only got behind the wheel once, and otherwise Marty got us places, with me hitting the imaginary brakes on my side, only a bit of screaming.


We visited the Celtic Prehistoric Museum, a unique private collection from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Viking antiquities.  From a huge woolly mammoth skull to goddess figurines, this place seemed liked it could stand some public funding.



We continued into Dingle to browse at the local library, always a welcome respite.


We lingered in the local music store, and visited St. Mary’s where we discovered a lovely labyrinth to walk.


We dined at Fenton’s where I ordered my first Irish lobster.


We caught the airs of music outside O’Flaherty’s pub, too late to go in and drink but safely drive over the mountain. Yet look how light it remains.


The next day, I needed a break in the action. I drew, which brings calm and restoration.


Later we visited the Blasket Center again, just for their splendid tuna melts. We met a lady from Mallow on one of the bus tours that stop there. I took a solo jaunt to the rocky beach nearby and did a quick pastel of craggy rocks.


We headed to Ballyferriter for a second visit to Murphy’s Bar, where the mussels are beyond compare. We detoured in search of some evidence of the town’s claim to Star Wars fame. Apparently the Jedi fortress in the recent film was constructed on the far side of Ceann Sibeal. Instead, we came across this monument at Fort del Oro, a marker of a battle past.


Our last full day in Dunquin was our first rainy one. We headed to Famine Farm, bearing a resemblance to our own cottage with it’s red trim.


We met Gabriel Kavanagh, a farmer who now gives sheepdog demonstrations.


He put his two dogs through their paces, and it is a sight to behold a flock of sheep galloping in unison.


This sheepdog is still learning at a year and a half, but happy with his job.


There are startling mannequins that give a creepy edge to the period installations inside the cottages, where more history is on display.


We left with a signed copy of Famine in Ireland and West Kerry, a detailed history of dark times.

This is where you say your prayers on Slea Head Drive.


We spent the rainy afternoon drawing and reading. There were objects around the cottage that captivated me. The neighbor had told me there was a fire ages ago, back when the animals slept inside cottages for central heating and people slept up in lofts. I drew two skulls I found on a windowsill.



Marty joined me while I drew a taxidermy squirrel I found on a shelf.


He christened a guest book we left. Reading the two full ones there was a major source of amusement and information.


We went back to Dingle for dinner, and were delighted to hear this duo again!


With great reluctance, we packed up the next morning. The day was brilliant making it doubly difficult to depart. We walked once more down to the Blasket pier after turning in the cottage keys to the caretakers.


Dunquin, we shall miss thee! We were off to Cork, but that’s another story. Stay tuned for more.















  1. Wonderful to start reading about your trip! Looks like amazing weather, grat placces to see and what amazing scenery. How did all the green affect y’all? Can’t wait to hear more. So glad you had a great trip. XO

    • Thanks for reading, Peg! Hope you got your postcard!

  2. Great reportage, Jamie! Looks like you got into the rhythm for drawing.

    We’re taking Liam (for his grad gift) in a couple of weeks.

    Thanks for the tips.


  3. What great photos, drawings and commentary. What a trip. Thanks for taking us along.

    • Thanks for reading, Nicole. How goes the rehearsing in Pubnico?

  4. Hi, Jamie:

    Sounds like such a wonderful trip. I’m planning on going back to Ireland next spring, so your blog is full of inspiration as well as your lovely photographs and drawings. I’ve never seen anywhere so green!

  5. Great reportage, Jamie! Looks like you got into the rhythm for drawing.
    We’re taking Liam (for his grad gift) in a couple of weeks.
    Thanks for the tips.

    • Lucky Liam! I’m working now on my post about the city side of the trip, more to come.

  6. Thanks for sharing!!!!
    I’ll be in Maine for the next 6 days…i will check in with you.
    We have both dogs in tow however!!

  7. Oh, what a lovely trip! I’ve never been to Ireland (would love to) but have spent time in Scotland and England including the Lake District which totally woooed me! I felt like I had come home. Love reading about your travels. xoxoxo

    • Jeannie, thanks for reading. Would love to get to Scotland sometime, look up John Muir’s birthplace.

  8. We must connect soon, Jamie and Marty. We were on the magical, beautiful Dingle Peninsula just a month ahead of you. Seeing your drawings and photos and reading your words makes us miss it so. Xoxo Brenda & Diane

    • Brenda, thanks for reading! It is magical there, indeed!

  9. Thanks for sharing Jamie! A place I’ve wanted to go, so you have my travel bug activated. Loved your cottage. How did you find it?

    • Leslie, you and Mark would love Ireland, with or without kids. Thanks for reading!

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