Posted in Travel

Two weddings and a family visit: UK/Ireland

Back in May we went to the UK & Ireland for two weeks. We had two weddings to attend within days of each other.

We flew with Virgin Atlantic and since the tickets were only marginally more expensive, went premium economy on the way there. It was sooo worth it: even though we were in the usual departure lounge, we still got to board first, and have sparkling wine in nice big seats while all the grumpy people (usually us) filed past. Later in the flight my husband managed to sweet-talk a flight attendant into giving us a cheese platter from First Class.

We arrived in Bournemouth for a quick family visit. Saw everyone, saw the beach, made a go-pro video of seagulls with Dad. Then we flew from Bournemouth to Dublin on the inaugural FlyBE flight of this route.

On arriving in Dublin we somehow got talked into upgrading our hire car to an Audi A5 which was all very nice until a few days later when we got to the narrow country lanes of inland Ireland, and found even a Mini would have seemed like an articulated lorry.

Too big for Ireland!
Too big for Ireland!

Approximate Route (1000 km)

In Dublin we stayed at the Croke Park hotel. We had one day to “do” the city so we put on our walking shoes and stepped out, and immediately got soaked by a thunderstorm. We squelched our way around to the Cathedral, the Castle (where we saw an random exhibit about everyday design), had lunch in a random pub (our first inclining that Irish portion sizes give the US sizes a run for their money), went to Grafton Street (recalling Cambridge, MA) and St Stephens Green, where we got rained on again. Finally we went to Trinity College and walked around until we stumbled upon a cricket match. Since the sun had come out we sat and watched it, having not seen live cricket for some years. That evening we had dinner at an Indian restaurant followed by a Guinness nightcap.

The next day we drove right across the country to Dingle. We had lunch out of a Tesco somewhere along the way, and as we got further west the roads got smaller and narrower.  We observed that on the big roads everyone thought that going 80 km/h in a 100 zone was perfectly acceptable, whereas the on the smaller roads, everyone went 100 km/h in the 80 zones.

We arrived in Dingle with the sun shining, so after a restorative cup of tea we decided to drive part of the Slea Head Drive (R559). The coastline was beyond spectacular, and exactly what I imagined the West Coast of Ireland to be: cliffs, rocky shores, crashing waves, beaches, green fields, dotted stone cottages, sheep. That evening after checking out the town (in 5 minutes) we went to Fenton’s for a great fish dinner.

The next day we drove out of Dingle via Connor Pass. The weather was foggy and rainy so we felt extra pleased with ourselves that we had done the loop drive the previous day – but it did mean we saw nothing at the Pass. We drove along narrow roads to the town of Lahinch where the Cliffs of Moher (or Mordor as I frequently found myself calling them) are located. It was foggy and miserable here too (even though it was about 100 miles north) so we checked into the Craglea Lodge B&B, where were greeted by an enormous dog.

Hello dog.
Hello dog.

To pass the time we visited Aillwee Cave then drove across The Burren, an interestingly bleak landscape, to Ballyvaughn where we stopped for an early dinner. Fish n Chips and Guinness later, the fog still hadn’t cleared. Still, we drove along the narrow coast road where the cliffs should be, saw nothing but fog, then retired for the night.

The next morning the weather hadn’t improved in the slightest, so we gave up on the Cliffs and headed towards the first wedding destination – Ballina in County Mayo. After a hair-raising drive on wet, narrow roads, and through the lunch-time rush of Galway, we stopped on the other side of town for lunch. We had thought about doing a massive scenic drive through more coastal areas, but soon realized that would be too much. Our short-cut through the hills (mountains?) was spectacular however – the sun was out, and there were lakes and forests, and sheep wandered in the road.  We randomly stopped at the village of Cong and checked out its spectacular Abbey.

We arrived at the soulless Hotel Ballina and almost immediately headed out again for dinner. We’d been assured by the Groom that his home town of Enniscrone would be a perfect place to eat, but after doing a couple of laps we begged to differ (sorry!). So we headed back to Ballina, and to Bar Square. We may have had fish n chips and Guinness for dinner again…

The next day after a quick lunch at the hotel we got a taxi (eventually) to the town’s Cathedral. It was lightly raining and the driver said, without irony, ‘nice weather for a wedding’. We got to the church with ten minutes to spare, only to find it almost empty except for the ushers (whom we recognized immediately as the groom’s brothers).

The cathedral soon filled up, and one mass later the wedding was complete. We headed over to Belleek Castle for what turned out to be an epic reception. The venue was amazing and the hospitality and food was out of this world. There were drinks, music, dinner, drinks, music, dancing, drinks, conga line, and a second dinner. The speeches by the bride and groom were hilarious and the company was great. We left around 2 am when the party was still in full swing.

The next morning we drove right across Ireland again back to Dublin where we got the FlyBE back to Bournemouth. After one night at home we drove with mum up to Leicester where the second wedding was to be held.

This second wedding was for friends we had known only since Boston (so for about 2 years) but feel like we’ve known our entire lives. They saved us when the US and Cambridge threatened to engulf us with its strangeness. We wouldn’t have missed this day for the world.

In contrast to our Ireland wedding, theirs was a civil ceremony held at Leicester Guildhall. The bride wore blue, the flowers were paper, and the vows were hysterical, containing references to ‘being that couple that works out together’ and who picks up whose socks from the floor. The ceremony was followed by tea and wedding cake, then speeches (everyone was introduced – such a good idea for an international couple) including a voice/ukulele performance by the bride and her sisters, drinking, dinner, more speeches (including a spell-binding monologue on raising a child by the father of the bride), conversation, and a traditional Irish/Scottish Ceilidh (pronounced ‘kay-lee’). The Ceilidh was an hour’s dance extravaganza where willing volunteers (or unwilling, depending on the numbers) lined up and went through several variations of spinning, going backwards and forwards, side to side, changing partners and general carrying on. I was kicked several times and my husband stood on someone’s foot, but overall it was a riot.

A large bottle of beer was required to recover from this and as we sat on the balcony of the hotel, looking over Leicester, we marveled at our good fortune: to be able to travel from LA to Europe to see two sets of great friends from opposite sides of the US, where neither of them are actually from, get married in two different countries, within 3 days of each other.  Thanks for the invites guys – we’re so happy we could share your special days with you!

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