Teacher "Trains" in Ireland
Upon arriving in Dublin, Ireland, my confidence level in my ability to travel was considerably high. After all, Ashley and I had traveled through London
like professional guides! We had used public transit in London, and now we felt brave enough to rent a car and go exploring in Ireland- a romantic notion, right? Before our plane even landed in Dublin, I was imagining Ashley and myself streaming down the jagged coast of Ireland with the Irish Sea over our shoulders breaking into a million shades of green and an ocean breeze in our hair. I couldn’t wait to get that car, that is until our first taxi driver wrote us a much-needed reality check.
With all the charm of an Irishman, he began a symphony of colorful words that would’ve made an American sailor blush when we told him that we were planning on renting a car then driving across the country. The driver explained to Ashley, Jeremy (a friend who joined us in Dublin), and me that it would not be wise at all to go tearing down the road in an unfamiliar car on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car on very busy roadways. His response to our request for the best to rent a car was “DO NOT DRIVE!!!” He meant no offense to us by his words, and one could tell that he was very concerned about our safety. When I asked him how we were supposed to get around on the island, he said, “use the trains!” This was by far the best piece of advice that had been given to me since landing in Europe.
Most of the cab drivers in Dublin want to help tourists get around and can give you a wealth of knowledge about the city, but do not expect this from every driver. The driver that took us from the airport to our Air B-n-B probably saved us a whole lot of trouble by telling us about the train system and quite possibly our lives. It will be up to you as to how you approach the cabbies in Dublin, but I usually found that if you are friendly and warm, they will take good care of you. Now, on to the great city of Dublin!
|Overlooking the River Liffey |
If you are planning a trip to Ireland, your plane will most likely land in Dublin. My advice to you is to give yourself no more than three days in the city, then hop on the trains and see what the rest of Ireland has to offer. As for Dublin itself, I found some excellent historical sites that history teachers must soak in. Teacher or not, the first place I recommend you visit in Dublin is Trinity College in the center of the city. Here you will find the Book of Kells, the oldest surviving copy of the four gospels that are in the New Testament of the Holy Bible. The artwork is breathtaking, and you can feel the history as you imagine each page of the book being labored over by Columban Monks (named so for St. Columban- an Irish missionary who established many Catholic monasteries in Ireland during the sixth century). Photography inside the Book of Kells Museum is not allowed and strictly enforced.
|Me in the long room of the library |
Your journey to view the Book of Kells will take you through the “Long Room.” This may be one of the most famous libraries in the world. The architecture with barrel-vaulted ceilings and arched windows lined with marble busts of famous philosophers, adds to the visual wonder of your surroundings. This is the library where great minds such as Edmund Burke, Oscar Wilde, and Johnathan Swift found fodder for their works of genius. Trinity also found itself at the center of what the Irish people call “The Troubles,” and you will find a mountain of information about this religious conflict here if you are interested. The Troubles was not only the struggle between Catholic and Protestant faiths but also represented the resentment still felt toward the English rule that ended in Ireland during the 1920’s after the Easter Rising.
You will want to drop by City Hall, which is just a short walk from Trinity College and FREE to visitors! The beautiful Georgian building was constructed during the 1760’s by the British during the rule of King George III, but the treasures of City Hall lie in the basement. In the basement, you will find the remains of an original Viking settlement that served as their capital during their occupation of Ireland. The information about visiting City Hall was afforded to me by another wise cab driver and had I not asked, I would have never witnessed this authentic piece of history. There are also a lot of displays about the history of Dublin and helpful staff touring around that will guide you through the area.
|City Hall pictured on St. Patrick's Day |
The National Library of Ireland
offered Ashley and I both relevant topics, and it is located just a couple of blocks from Trinity College. The National Library has rotating exhibitions, so check those out before you decide to visit. We were fortunate upon our visit here because the library had a William Butler Yeats exhibit for my lovely wife who teaches English, and there was also a World War One exhibition for me. The staff here was accommodating and answered every question I had about Ireland’s role in the Great War. After you have spent a couple of days in Dublin, I encourage you to do as we did and hop on the trains!
|Me doing some online teaching work while traveling through Ireland |
The trains of Ireland along with the cab driver who told me about them were a real blessing. We all bought tickets (which were relatively cheap) at the train stations with ease, and we were able to enjoy the ride with the Irish countryside filling our passenger windows. You will also find food carts and trolleys if you want something to eat or drink on your journey. Opting not to drive a rental car across this beautiful land allowed us to truly enjoy the views which were always amazing. We also didn’t have to worry about getting lost or trying to find places to park. We were able to just enjoy one another’s company and conversation without the stresses of driving.
|Our view from the train to Belfast |
Now, here are the specifics you need to know about the train stations in Dublin and where to go. One station will take you north and south, and the other will take you east to west. The trains that run north and south leave the Connolly Train Station, which you will find on the north side of the River Liffey. We took an early morning two-hour train to Belfast, which, yes, it is literally in a different nation that has a different currency as well- (No customs line or baggage checks to worry about here). Northern Ireland uses the Pound system like England, so keep this in mind before you go there with a pocket full of Euros that you will not be able to spend.
Ashley had the foresight to call a driving company in Belfast days before we were set to go there. The company she contacted, Value Cabs (don’t let the name discourage you- this business is amazing, and we were very satisfied customers), was waiting for our arrival off the train from Dublin. Our driver, Gary, was warm and friendly. He drove us around the winding roads of Northern Ireland, a feat I dare say I would have failed miserably at and took us to the Giant’s Causeway- a site on the edge of visual bliss and the Irish Sea. After a beautiful tour of the coast of Northern Ireland, Gary delivered us safely back to the train station and to where the Titanic was constructed- Titanic Belfast. This museum was very interesting and visually stimulating, but if you can stay out with your guide longer, I suggest you explore!
|The launch site of the Titanic |
|Belfast Titanic |
|Ashley visiting the Giant's Causeway |
|Dunluce Castle- County Antrim |
|The County Antrim |
The other train station that will take you west from Dublin is called the Hueston Station. Once again, Ashley booked a tour company in Galway two days in advance to take us around the area. We bought our train tickets at the station (you can buy these online as well if you don't want to risk not having a seat) and two hours later we were on the west coast of Ireland. Our driver took us to the Cliffs of Moher and the breathtaking castles along the Wild Atlantic Roadway. One of the most beautiful works of architecture I have ever witnessed was Corcomroe Abbey, which was built by Cistercian monks in 1180 CE. The five monks that built the abbey were all executed by the person who hired them because he did not want his abbey to be copied or rivaled. Talk about a terrible retirement plan.
Before you leave Ireland, you have to hop on the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) train and take the twenty-minute ride over to the little fishing town of Howth (pronounced "Holt" by the Irish). You can pick up the DART at Pearse or Connolly station and it will cost you only a couple of Euros. When you get to Howth, you will be glad you visited. It has one of the most wonderful beaches in all of Ireland and there are a ton of hiking trails. Also from Claremont Beach, you can see the "Eye of Ireland!"
|Jeremy at Claremont Beach- Eye of Ireland in background|
|Eye of Ireland|
|View from the west pier in Howth|
Our trip to Ireland was absolutely amazing, and I attribute our good fortune to figuring out the train system and NOT DRIVING! Ashley and I were able to use the wifi on the trains to get our online classes in order, which helped us to stay caught up on school work. Having our friend Jeremy meet us in Dublin was also a wonderful experience that we will always be able to share with each other. We were sad to leave Ireland, but we took a lot of it with us as we headed over to Scotland to be educated in Edinburgh.
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