For Spring break a lot of my college friends made plans to go on fancy trips to mainland Europe, but knowing there was still plenty to see in Ireland, I decided to take a tour of County Clare. I booked a week-long stay at a hostel in Sixmilebridge, and to get there, I needed to make a lot of transfers. I took a train from Derry, to Belfast, then to Dublin, and finally a bus to Sixmilebridge. I think I could have maybe taken a bus with fewer transfers, but it would have taken a lot longer, and Irish roads + double-decker bus = nauseating. Lots of swaying and jerking around. Travelling by train was much more comfortable.
By the time I arrived in Dublin, I discovered (to my dismay) that there were no more buses to Sixmilebridge that evening! I’m not sure what happened because I was sure to research the transfers thoroughly. While I was explaining my predicament to the ticket clerk, a bus driver overheard me. He had to drive a bus back that direction anyway for some reason—maybe to pick up a morning connection in the opposite city, and said that he’d be able to take me on his empty bus and drop me off. I was a little nervous about that, but I really didn’t want to sleep on a terminal bench in Dublin either, so I accepted. He was a very nice man, and I’m glad I did it.
I arrived at the “Jamaica Inn Hostel” on a dark, misty evening, and knocked on the door. Hostels aren’t like hotels that have 24/7 concierges running the front desk. For example, when I booked my stay at the hostel, one of the questions on the form was “What time will you be arriving?” I knew I’d be arriving really late in the evening, so I put 11:00… well, most people in Ireland use 24-hour time, so the hostel owner thought I’d be arriving at 11:00 in the morning—I neglected to say 23:00!! The owner thankfully had just finished checking in a group of kids from Basque country and was still awake. Thank god! He opened the door and said, “You’re very lucky I’m still awake! I wasn’t expecting anyone else!” What would I have done if no one was awake to let me in? I got lucky twice that evening.
There is a lot to see in this area and it’s all close together, which is good for since I didn’t have a car. The first day of my trip I spent wandering around Sixmilebridge. It’s a very small town, but absolutely charming. There’s basically only one hostel, two bars, and a church. In the morning I chatted with an elderly lady in the park who was busy feeding the birds. We talked about Mary Poppins. I think she might have been a few crayons short of a box, but she was super sweet and fun to talk to. She said that she’d be at the pub around dinner time and that I should meet her again later. I poked my head into a boutique shop and was horrified to see a beautiful harp mounted on the wall being used for nothing more than an earring rack. Scandalous! For lunch, I went to a small cafe overlooking a bridge and had crusty bread smothered in butter.
After that I found the town’s library inside an old church building. I picked up “Catcher in the Rye” and sat down to read it until they closed. I almost finished it.
I did stop at the pub around dinnertime to see if that lady would be there. I lingered over a drink to enjoy the musicians playing session. Later that weekend the session group let me play along even though I was new at it and a little bit on the slow side. They were all very nice. The kids from Basque were there too. Turns out that they were folk dancers and had their own troupe of musicians with them! They joined the session players and also danced for us.
I didn’t find that lady there that night, but later that week I was at the pub talking to visitors from London and they said that they’d ran into her too and that she was talking about me! I was sorry to have missed her! Word gets around quick in a small town eh?
I hung out at the pub probably every night while I was in Sixmilebridge. I don’t know what it was about that tiny little village, but there were people from all over place! I think it’s because there was an international airport not far from here in Shannon. I already mentioned the dance group from Basque, but there were representatives from Italy, Australia, England (London), and one guy from Galway. We all bonded and I connected with them on Facebook. I managed to stay in touch with them for a while.
The next day, I hitched a ride to Bunratty Castle from the Australian guys I’d met at the hostel. They had a car rental, and were kind enough to give me lift on their way to the airport in Shannon. It’s about 4 miles from Sixmilebridge. Bunratty Castle is a cool place because even though there are tons of ruined castles all over Ireland, they have put a lot of effort into maintaining this castle it as it would have been in it’s heyday. It really helped me picture the lifestyle more vividly.
In addition to admission to the castle, you also get to hang out in a reconstructed 18-19th century Irish village. They’ve re-created farmhouses and a “main street” complete with pubs and shops, and chickens milling around.
After I spent the morning and afternoon at Bunratty, I decided that since it was a beautiful day and it was only 4 miles back to the hostel, I’d walk all the way back. It was harder than I thought it’d be because the road was extremely narrow with no room to walk on the side of it really. There are hedges and stone walls right up to the edge of the road, so if a car came careening around the corner, you’d better pray the driver is paying attention for pedestrians!
The next day I took a bus tour up to the Cliffs of Moher, which are stunning. It’s a must-see if you go to Ireland. My old 2007 camera pictures really DON’T do it justice, so I’m going to borrow a professional shot to supplement my own.
The next day I set out to a a little park where they built replicas of Irish villages from the stone and bronze ages. This was a really cool and well-done museum!