Dundrum: My Last Three Days in Ireland

On Sunday morning I woke at my AirBnB accommodation in Dundrum, a suburban area seven kilometers outside of Dublin city. I was relieved when the hot water system worked, and revelled in the cleansing sensation.

I didn’t have much planned for my three-day stay in Dundrum but to relax prior to the journey home, but I did have one last small piece of research to complete. The reason I had chosen the area of Dundrum for my final stay of the trip was because it was the location of the Central Mental Hospital.

The hospital began in 1850 as Central Criminal Lunatic Asylum for Ireland and was the first secure hospital in Europe. This was an early move of an ideological initiative throughout Britain and its colonies which included the building of the infamous Broadmoor Hospital in England. The site was originally chosen to be soothing to mental health patients and was intentionally not linked to any particular prison service to maintain distinction between criminality and illness.

The facility is operational, so of course I was not going to be able to go inside the grounds, but I could definitely scope out the exterior and take photographs for my research. In fact, I had a view of one of the buildings through the window of my room at Catriona’s house.

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The hospital was a seven minute walk from Catriona’s house. The surrounding area was quiet and peaceful, a contrast to the nature of the facility so close by. Central Mental Hospital made it’s eerie presence known by the imposing 18 foot high wall that seemed to emerge from behind the leafy greenery of the trees and bushes. A huge locked gate hid the 35 acres the made up the grounds.

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Holding 140 patients, two-thirds are there by order of the Minister for Justice, some on murder charges and others on lesser criminal charges. Patients were transferred from Mountjoy Jail to Dundrum when found guilty and certified as mentally disturbed, or when they were certified unfit to plead. The remaining one-third of patients are sent by order of the Minister for Health and are known as ‘207 patients’, usually ending up in Dundrum from another mental institution following assault charges.

The medical staff at Dundrum consists of three psychiatrists. The two doctors look after 36 murderers, 50 remand patients, and 54 ‘207’ patients. Of the total of 140 patients, 112 are men.

The remainder of my exploration of the area of Dundrum was much more light hearted. I continued along Dundrum Road, with the Dublin Mountains towering over the area in the near distance. I made it all the way down past the Dundrum Luas Bridge and spotted Saint Nahi’s Church on the other side, a quaint stone building with a lush green cemetery sprawling down the hill behind. I decided to take a walk through the grounds.

Built in the 18th Century, the current church is still in use by the local Church of Ireland community and is one of two churches in the Parish of Taney (historically encompassing the whole area around Dundrum). It is built on the site of an early Irish monastery founded by Saint Nahi. St. Nahi’s stands on the grounds of the original monastery, having been refurbished several times, most recently in 1910, after a period when it was in use as the local boys’ national school.

After my wander around the grounds of St. Nahi’s, I headed back to Catriona’s place. I used the next two days to rest and catch up on my blogging, and on Monday afternoon prepared to fly back to Brisbane early on Tuesday.

A Final Note

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has been following my journey to Ireland through this blog for the past three and a half weeks. This trip has been more than a travel destination ticked off the list; it has been a writing goal achieved. In 2014 I decided to start work on my first crime novel, and it soon became apparent to me that I couldn’t just go off my memories from my first trip to the Emerald Isle in 2012. I would need to undertake another trip to create a realistic setting for this book. Three years later, I have completed that goal.

I undertook this trip with no financial assistance from any arts funding bodies or crowd funding platforms.  This trip was a challenge not only practically but also emotionally. Like I said in my very first blog post for this trip, when I finally made the decision to undertake this journey, I became engaged soon after, and had wedding plans to consider. After several discussions with close family and friends, I talked to Greg about taking this trip. It was a big ask, as we would be delaying our wedding, but I simply had to get this trip done before committing my time, energy and finances to our nuptials.

In the process of prioritising this trip, I feel I grew so much as a person. I stood up for what I believed in and what I really wanted, even when I knew it would challenge my relationship. And it certainly did, but what Greg and I have is so strong, and it survived my trip to Ireland, just as I knew it would. Now I am home and ready to start an exciting new book, and to plan a beautiful wedding to the man of my dreams. I hope one day to be able to take him to Ireland to show him what I have experienced there.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to encourage everybody who is reading this that your travel dreams are not out of your reach. I work part time on average thirty hours a week earning $19.10 an hour without penalty rates. What took me so long to get to the stage of believing in my ability to take this trip is that I thought because of my lack of formal education, and subsequent average income, that I did not deserve to undertake world travel. Not only did I think I didn’t deserve it, but I couldn’t see how I would be able to afford it even if I tried., Any money I saved was quickly sucked out by living expenses. What I had to do was save for my trip in increments, and I plan to write a blog post specifically on how I did this. First I lay-byed my flights, and broke it down my anticipated expenses into categories, e.g. accommodation, food, travel etc. Each fortnight when I was paid I put whatever money I could aside and ticked off each item as I went along. I worked as much as I possibly could, saying no to days off and early finishes when offered. I went without luxuries and leisure activities.

I do consider myself to be in a fortunate position; for example, I don’t have any health concerns that keep me from travelling. But it does still irk me when people say that travel if for a ‘lucky few’. If money is your only concern, travel is within your reach. If you really want it, you will make it work. You will make sacrifices, you will go without. You will find the motivation to get there. If you don’t earn a lot of money, save in increments and pay things off as you go along instead of trying to save up a bulk amount.

You are in control of your destiny; the position you are in is the result of your own decisions. I would have never imagined that the timid little girl I was at school, who was too shy to even talk to anyone or ask for help, would be brave enough to travel across the world alone, and to some of the most remote places in Ireland. I hope that by following this blog, I have inspired you to not only take on your writing or travel goals, but any goals that you desire.

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Inisheer to Dublin: The Journey Home Begins

Wheeling my large yellow suitcase along the rough tarmac road alongside the water’s edge, the bad feeling began to fester when there was no-one else waiting at the pier. Once I stopped and took out my ticket, my stomach sank when I read ‘8.00’, not ‘8.30’, on my return ticket.

Everything had been going well that morning: I’d been up and out of bed and packed ready to go. I’d forgotten to inform the caretaker the day before that I would need to have an earlier breakfast that morning, so he was not up and about. I’d decided I would get something once I was back in Galway.

Walking back up to the Hotel Inisheer, I was able to access their free wifi, even though the venue wasn’t yet open. The timetable on the Aran Island Ferries website read that the next ferry to Rossaveal on the mainland was due in at 10.30. By this stage on the trip I had lost all confidence in the accuracy of public transport timetables in Ireland, but this time had been indicated by the site’s booking form, so I expected that would be correct.

The hotel was not yet open and my phone battery was already plummeting. I sat outside Hotel Inisheer for almost an hour, the sun shining by the chilly Atlantic wind still mercilessly blowing. I should have checked my ticket the night before, I scolded myself. How had I not thought to do that, especially after having gotten stuck in Ballinasloe for an hour and a half longer when I’d misread the train timetable? I had become so efficient in my travel movements, and now this. I’d stayed out longer than expected the night before, after another Island visitor had invited me to play pool and then subsequently watch the Ireland vs Wales football match whilst enjoying a number of red wines and even a brandy. At least the next ferry wasn’t too far away.

One of the staff members at the hotel greeted me and invited me in for some breakfast at about 9.15am. It was so nice to be out of the wind. I ordered a small Irish Breakfast and a pot of tea, and by the time it arrived another couple had come into the restaurant.

At about ten o’clock I finished up my breakfast and made my way back down to the pier. By this time another two visitors were there too, and one of them asked me if I knew if any of the ferries would take them over to the neighbouring island Inishmann. I replied that I thought the other ferry service, the Doolin Ferry, operated inter-island services and that they would be the best bet.

Approaching 10.20 the water was calm and free of vessels, and I reminded myself not to worry, as it was not yet 10.30. Almost on the dot a small vessel became visible, and then another. As they approached, I was disappointed to read ‘Doolin Ferries’ on the side of both of the boats. I approached the staff as the passengers disembarked from the services, and asked if they knew when the next Aran Island Ferries service was due. 4.30, one replied. So not one, but two, of the times on the Aran Island Ferries website was incorrect. They really let things go during the off season.

I asked one of the staff if I would be able to jump aboard the returning Doolin service, and he agreed. Soon we were setting sail to Doolin, a village located on the edge of the historic Burren in northwest county Clare. I had remembered my previous AirBnB host Sharon had advised me that public buses ran from Doolin, and so I had thought as a plan B I could jump on a bus traveling to Galway. The staff member that had allowed me to jump onboard the Doolin Ferry service approached me and asked me for ten euro for the ride. I explained to him that I did have a ticket for the Aran Island service, but he explained that they could not honour it. I was able to muster together nine euro from my remaining cash and coins, and he accepted it.

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The Cliffs of Moher

Upon arrival at the Doolin port, I began making my way up the long stretch of sealed road into the village. When pushing my suitcase along the rough surfaces on Inisheer, I had kept the case to the parts worn smooth by the cars, but there was no such surface area on this road, which made the pushing even slower and more difficult. I had little space between me and the cars coming and going from the port. At one point a car slowed and the driver called out the window to me.
“Do you want a lift?”
“Oh, yeah, thanks!” I replied in relief. “I’m just going into the village.”
The driver got out and helped me put my case on the back seat. He apologised as I moved a few tools off the front passenger seat, and I dismissed his apology, thanking him for helping me.
“So where are you off to?” he asked as we got on our way again.
“I’m trying to get to Galway,” I replied. “I’m catching a train back to Dublin this afternoon. You wouldn’t happen to know when the buses are running, would you?”
“No, I don’t, I’m afraid, but I do know they’re not that often.”
“Well, if I need to, I’ll just catch a taxi back to Galway.”
“Oh, don’t be catching a taxi back to Galway!” the man exclaimed. “You’ll be paying 100-150 euro for the trip. That’s all your spending money gone! You’d be better off just spending the night and getting the bus in the morning.”
The man dropped me in the village, and I thanked him again. I had to walk a little way before I got to the bus stop, and as I read the timetable I learned that the next service didn’t arrive until 3pm. I approached backpacker’s hostel across the street, leaving my suitcase outside as I went into the reception.
“Hi there,” the young woman at reception greeted me. “How can I help?”
“I’m just wondering if the 3pm time for the next bus to Galway is correct?”
“There’s no buses today,” the woman replied. “The drivers are all on strike.”
My stomach sank again, harder and faster than it had on Inisheer.
“Okay, are there taxis around?”
“I’m not sure, I’d say head up to the hotel up on the corner, they have tour buses that go into Galway, you might be able to give one of the drivers a tenner to get a lift.”
Walking up in the direction of the hotel, the panic started to set in. I had remained fairly calm all morning, but the trip back to Galway was seeming more and more impossible. Maybe I would be spending a night in Doolin after all, which I wouldn’t have minded so much except for the fact I had already paid for an AirBnB room in Dublin. I’d already lost my money on the Aran Island ferry and coach transfer, and I wasn’t too keen on losing more.
On the way to the hotel I came by an information centre, and went inside. I explained to the woman behind the desk that I was trying to get back to Galway, and she replied that the only way would be by taxi, and that it would be expensive. I replied that if that was my only option that was what it was going to have to be. She made a call to a driver she knew named John, who gave her a price for the trip. Ninety euro. I accepted without hesitation. It wasn’t ideal but it was what I was going to have to do. The woman invited me to wait in the courtyard of the hotel behind the information centre and she would call me when the taxi had arrived. By this stage I was feeling fairly sorry for myself.

The taxi arrived about fifteen minutes later, and the woman at the desk came out with me and she and the driver went on to discuss their disgust in the public transport system.
“They do these strikes and don’t tell anyone, and all these tourists have no idea and are stranded. I had another poor girl earlier this morning who needed to get to the airport, and was absolutely beside herself.”
“I understand if they want to strike,” I added, “but at least give some notice so that people can make other arrangements!”
Before too long myself and John the taxi driver were on the road, continuing the discussion about the disorganisation of the public transport system in Ireland in general. Throughout the seventy kilometer trip the conversation turned to Australian wildlife, and John was surprised at how I had managed to survive almost twenty eight years in a country inhabited with such dangerous creatures. By the tale end of the hour and a half journey, we were talking about paranormal activity.

I got on the 3.05 train to Galway, and even had time to sit down in a nearby cafe for some lunch and a hot drink beforehand. I arrived back in Dublin at 5.40 and caught the Luas tram into the city centre. My next AirBnB stay was in Dundrum, a twenty minute drive outside of the city centre. I needed to change Luas lines from red to green, and disembarked at the central Abbey Street stop. Looking around the area, I expected the green line to be located near the red. Looking at the map provided at the stop, I could see that the ‘City Centre marked out between the two lines, although on the map it looked like the red and green lines were practically side by side. I headed off in the direction I thought the green line started, my frustration once again building. I stopped by a nearby information centre and went inside, but when I told the staff member I needed to get to Dundrum and was looking for the green Luas line, he informed me I needed to catch a bus instead from outside the nearby Savoy cinemas. By this stage in the trip I was very much getting tired of the misinformation I was receiving every time I went to catch public transport. I made my way to the cinema, and by this stage I had forgotten which bus number I needed to take. I waited by the stop, and finally the number appeared and reminded me, but it was not going to arrive for another forty minutes.

I sat down on the ledge just outside the cinema and managed to find a free unlocked wifi signal. I took the opportunity and jumped onto the AirBnB app, and found that my host Catriona had sent me a message asking me how I was traveling. I explained in short the situation I had been in that day and that I had only just arrived in Dublin, and that the next bus to Dundrum wasn’t until 7pm. She asked me where I was, and I told her, and she replied that she would come and pick me up. I was aware that she was working in the city that day. I thanked her, and asked if she wanted me to wait where I was or go somewhere else. Then I lost the wifi signal.

It was about 6.40pm, and I was giving Catriona until 7pm when the bus to Dundrum was supposedly arriving. I hated the thought that I would inconvenience her, but I had now lost the ability to communicate with her, and I just wanted to get to Dundrum already. My energy and patience was rapidly declining.

I heard a horn toot and looked up to see Catriona waving at me from her car pulled up near the bus stop. Thank God, I thought. I approached the car and she apologised profusely for the mess while I thanked her for her help. Catriona asked if it was okay that her small white dog named Paolo sit on my lap for the trip, and Paolo made himself comfortable.

On the drive out of town Catriona pointed out the green Luas line, and expressed her confusion at why the two lines had been spaced so far apart. I confirmed her confusion, adding that they looked as if they passed each other side by side on the map, when in reality they were a few blocks apart.

Catriona’s accent had a distinct Australian twang, but when I asked her she informed me that she was indeed born in Ireland but had lived in Australia previously during her teenage years. She also laughed that her Aussie ‘twang’ came out when she was around other Aussies.

Before too long we arrived at Catriona’s home in Dundrum. Catriona offered me a glass of wine and I accepted without question; I desperately needed it after the day I’d had! We ordered Thai takeaway for dinner, and I was delighted to learn that many places delivered for just a few euros regardless of the size of the order. Back at home there was usually a minimum spend of around $40 to have takeaway delivered, and not all places provided the service.

Finally the long and challenging day had come to an end, and I collapsed into a warm and comfy bed. Catriona’s hot water system was playing up, but I didn’t have the energy for another fight, so I decided to leave a shower until the morning.

Three Days on Inisheer

Day One

It was an early start on Wednesday morning to catch the bus back into the Galway. Once in Galway, I caught a coach out to Rossaveal, in the Connemara area of County Galway, and then a ferry across to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands.

I arrived at around 11.30am and began to follow the directions I had been given to the AirBnB home in which I was staying. It was very easy to find, although the winding road required me to once again push my big yellow suitcase up the hill. Once I reached the house, I found that no-one was home, but a key had been left for me, so I was able to settle in straight away.

This AirBnB property was also an actual BnB, with the caretaker’s living space downstairs and the accommodation rooms on the second level. After settling into the room, I headed straight out again to find something to eat for lunch.

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View of O’Brien’s Castle from the village

I walked back down to the pier where I had disembarked the ferry. There was a small pub located there called Tigh Ned, however one of the locals informed me that it would not be open until that night. I passed by the South Aran House Restaurant, but it was also closed.

 

A boat up on stumps, a guide to the marine life off Inisheer, and the beach. I found the sign entertaining as it has a picture of a person swimming to scale against the animals, but looks like the person is one of the animals to be seen in the water!

I headed to the Inis Oirr Hotel, which was obviously receiving renovations from the tradesman coming in and out of the building. The front doors were closed, so presuming it was shut too I continued up the hill to the small shop. There was nothing on offer for lunch there, but the lady at the shop suggested I try the hotel. I walked even further up the hill to Tigh Ruairi, which was also closed up.It was the tail end of the off season, and by the looks of things most places shut up shop completely during this time. By this stage I was getting ‘hangry’, and also feeling a little alarmed. Was there anywhere open on this island, or would I be starving for three days?

I approached the Inisheer Hotel again, which the lady at the shop had suggested, and found the closed doors unlocked. I went inside and found two American girls who had caught the ferry over sitting at the bar digging into their lunch. I approached the bar and the friendly lady there gave me a menu, from  which I ordered fish and chips with a  side of salad. The serving was enormous for the price, but I ate it all up as I was legitimately unsure when I would be able to eat again. The longer I sat in the Inis Oirr Hotel the more apparent it became that this was the one and only place open during the off season, and that I would be able to get a meal there that night.

After finishing my lunch I decided to a little exploring of the surrounding area, to get an idea of where some further adventuring could take me over the next two days. There was the walk up to the medieval tower house, and also to the Plassey, a shipreck on the shore of the island. I decided to split the two trips over the two days, and planned to undertake them in the morning then come back to the BnB to write in the afternoon.

Day Two

I started my walk up to the tower house, diverting to the ruins of Caomhan’s Church. These ruins are below ground level, and are estimated to have been built during the 10th century. The church was nearly buried by drifting sands but has now been excavated and is kept clear of sand by the islanders.

Continuing up the hill towards O’Brien’s Castle, I passed by this house with this very cute border collie sitting outside. Upon seeing me, he started off down the road toward the castle, occasionally pausing to look behind him to check I was there.

I then continued up the hill towards O’Brien’s Castle. Unfortunately the grounds weren’t open to walk around and enter the castle, probably because it was still the off season, but I was still able to get a good look at the structure and take some pictures.

O’Brien’s Castle on Inisheer was built in the 14th century. The castle was taken from the O’Briens by the O’Flaherty clan of Connemara in 1582. The castle was occupied by them and others until 1652, when the Aran Islands were surrendered to Cromwellian forces.

Past the castle the road continued south toward the other side of the island. It was now early afternoon, and I decided to keep walking. My K-9 guide kept on ahead of me, occasionally pausing to check I was still coming. As I crossed from one side of the island to the other, I watched civilisation fall away, leaving only the network of stone walls.

 

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The village was built on the northern, protected side of the island, while the southern side was left exposed to the elements blowing off the Atlantic Ocean. A lighthouse came into view, and I could also start to make out the Cliff Of Moher on the mainland.

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Approaching the rocky shoreline, the road I had been following fizzled into a patch of gravel. My faithful tour guide trotted around the area sniffing at this spot and that, as if he had come back to a familiar place.

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I tentatively stepped over the rocks and found a large flat boulder on which to sit and rest my tired legs. Looking out to sea, I spotted what I thought was a dolphin. I had read on the sign by the beach on the other side of the island that there was a dolphin who frequented the waters off Inisheer, but as I studied the movement in the water closely, it seemed that the object was too still to be a dolphin. I ventured further along the rocky foreshore to try to get a look. To my absolute delight, what I was seeing was no one, but two, grey seals. They bobbed just off the shore for a good forty-five minutes, coming a little closer every now and again. I was sure they could see me, and two other spectators who were watching them from further up the beach.

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Being a lover of fairies and Irish folklore, seeing these beautiful sea creatures in their natural habitat had an extra special meaning for me.

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The Selkie are mythological creatures from Irish/Scottish Gaelic & Icelandic folklore, and are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on the land. In 1994, a film was made about the selkies titled The Secret of Roan Inish, based on the book by Rosalie K. Frye.

My heart filled with joy at the possibility of having spotted myself a selkie, I explored the rocky foreshore a little longer before making a start on the walk back to the BnB. By this time the seals had disappeared from sight. My doggie tour guide was also nowhere to be found, so I headed back on the road by myself. As I was walking back toward the village, I found my tour guide dog once again sitting outside his house.

Day Three

On my last day on Inisheer I decided to hire a bike to ride to the Plassey shipwreck. I had hired a bike on my previous visit to the Aran Islands in 2012, and ridden around the entire island of Inishmore, pushing against the strong Atlantic wind. But despite the memory of this hard work, I really wanted to hire a bike again. So I did!

 

I started off heading east, in the direction I had walked the previous day to the ruins of Caomhan’s Church. Passing the graveyard and the small airport, the road wound it’s way to the south east side of the island, on the opposite side of the lighthouse to where I had been the day before watching the seals.

 

On 8 March 1960, while sailing through Galway Bay carrying a cargo of whiskey, stained glass and yarn, the MV Plassey was caught in a severe storm and ran onto Finnis Rock, Inisheer. A group of local Islanders rescued the entire crew from the stricken vessel using a breeches buoy. Several weeks later, a second storm washed the ship off the rock and drove her ashore on the island. The wreck is also visible in the opening credits of the television series Father Ted.

 

Pieces of shrapnel can be found several meters away from the wreck.

I walked a lap around the wreck, and was even able to step inside the hull.

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I even found what I thought to be a fairy dwelling inside, where nature had started to take back the ship!

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Once I had seen all i could see of the Plassey, i hopped back on my bike and headed back towards the village. It hadn’t taken as long as I had expected to get to the wreck, and the owner of the bike rental shop had given me a map and suggested I explore the area of the island closer to where I was staying. I stopped back in at the BnB and removed some of the layers I had put on that morning, including a long-sleeve shirt, tights, jeans, boots and a jacket, beanie and scarf. From all that I changed into a hooded jumper, tank top and exercise tights and a pair of ballet flats. It was certainly a cold place but you could work up a sweat on the bike!

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Upon opening the front door I was surprised by the other residents of the BnB. I jumped back on the bike and headed to the west side of the island, where supposedly there lived a colony of seals. I didn’t see any seals that day, but luckily I had the previous day. It was absolutely stunning day with not a cloud in the sky, and I took some shots of the neighbouring island Inishmaan.

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It had a similar settlement, with it’s village located on the protected side of the island, and the southern side had been left uninhabited. The difference looking from one side to the other was such a contrast.

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Finding no seals and coming to the end of the road on the west side of the island, I turned the bike around and fought the hardest I had fought yet against the wind up the hills back to the BnB. It was now mid afternoon, and I didn’t have to have the bike back until 6pm. I parked the bike up outside the house and went upstairs for a well-deserved nap.

After returning the bike to the shop just before six, I decided to go for a short walk on the beach as the sun was setting. This beach was the first sandy beach I had come across in Ireland, and it was a refreshing change. It could not have been a more picturesque end of my three days on Inisheer.

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