This is the first entry in a series of installments from the travel diary of my journey through the Emerald Isle.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are about to begin our final descent into Dublin airport and will be landing in about 20 minutes…”
Although sleep deprived and jet lagged from the six hour flight across the Atlantic, after the pilot’s announcement my friend Joanna and I were positively bubbling with excitement. For years and years I had dreamt of the day I would finally land on Irish soil, and after planning our very own self-made tour of the Emerald Isle, here it was. Joanna and I could barely contain ourselves as we headed off the plane and into the custom’s queue to have our passports stamped. We then skipped off to the baggage carousel and after waiting for it to present us with our ridiculously over-sized suitcases, we were off to the Europcar desk in the Terminal 1 Arrivals Hall, where we obtained the keys to the rental car that would make our nine day tour possible.
Running on pure adrenaline and sheer excitement, we ran out of the airport into the welcoming sunshine and the refreshing morning chill. Although it was June, this was Ireland after all so it was a touch cooler than back home in Toronto. Once we reached the parking lot we found our shiny silver Kia Rio and luckily for me Joanna jumped into the driver’s seat. After a few deep breaths and a shaky practice run we headed out of the lot. However, this seemingly simple task was no easy feat. We circled the lot repeatedly until we finally realised that what we had mistaken for a dead end was in fact the exit.
After that slight hiccup we were finally out and on the open road. Unfortunately for us, the open road did not last very long and we found ourselves at our first dreaded roundabout, which would have been all good and fine if we weren’t driving on the left hand side of the road. It all seemed to happen so quickly: Joanna entered the roundabout, but to our horror, and that of the angry honking drivers around us, we were going the wrong way! As I was apparently hysterical from sleep deprivation, instead of expressing any trace of fear or panic I fell into a fit of giggles at Joanna’s near fatal blunder. Needless to say, Joanna stayed focused on the road for the remainder of the car ride which gave me the chance to take in the passing sights.
As we headed into the city, I caught glimpses of happy grazing cows dotting the green Irish countryside I had been longing to see. We passed signs indicating which way to the “An Lár” (in Gaelic), or the “City Centre” (in English). Horse drawn carriages rode by us, blending in as naturally as the rest of the regular morning traffic of people on their way to work, pedestrians, cyclists, grumbling garbage trucks and Dublin’s bright blue and yellow city buses. We drove past hotels, bed & breakfasts and naturally pubs, with names like: The Ivy House, The Cat & Cage and Peggy Kelly’s. Each pub was unique, some even donning colourful cartoons exclaiming that it was “Guinness Time”.
We saw churches, old and new, and amongst them we were lucky enough to spot St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the predictable sight of tourists looking over their city maps at its doorstep. There were tree lined neighbourhoods with charming homes; brightly painted front doors; blossoming dooryards laid out before them; and crumbling stone walls that framed them. Totally caught off guard, we gasped at the sight of palm trees that seemed to be growing all around. Everything was a marvel to us, and with my camera in hand I snapped away at everything I saw in an attempt to capture it all. The further we drove, the closer we got to the looming outline of mountains in the distance and the emerald collage of fields that graced them. Those very fields seemed to call out to me with their own siren song of pipes and flutes, just as the vast Irish Sea’s rhythmic crashing waves did as they passed us by.
Finally, we pulled into the sprawling grounds of the majestically beautiful Radisson Blu St. Helen’s Hotel, which was formerly called the Seamount and was originally built in 1750 by Thomas Cooley, a barrister and MP for Duleek, a town located in County Meath. It was truly a palatial estate complete with an expanse of manicured gardens and an aesthetically magnificent fountain at its doorstep. The interior of the 18th century mansion was equally as impressive as it looked to retain the elegance and opulence of a stunning early Georgian villa. Complete with marbled floors and columns, a wide spiral staircase, walls graced with the paintings of historic figures, a grand piano set in a plush and luxurious lounge and warm soft light spilling from gilded chandeliers. While we took in the obvious extravagance of the hotel, we checked-in with the assistance of the extremely helpful and pleasant staff, and before we knew it we had our room keys in hand. It was not easy for me to book this hotel. Here are some helpful resources to find great deals on Dublin hotels
Dead on our feet we somehow made our way through the stately hotel and to our room; where Joanna and I put away our heap of luggage, checked out all of the amenities and the lovely view our room had to offer, and quickly called home to let our families know we had arrived safely. And, although we wondered what else Dublin held in store for us, ultimately, the two lavish queen-sized beds beckoned, and we gave in to exhaustion. The city would just have to wait!