Our third day in Ireland started with a farewell to our first B&B and a hello to our new traveling companion: our Happy Europcar!
We also sprang for the British-lady-voiced GPS. We would not have made it far without her. Frankly, we wouldn’t have made it out of Dublin without her.
Here’s what I would recommend about renting a car in Ireland: 1) Do it. 2) Go through Irish Car Rentals. 3) Get all the insurance. All of it. 4) Learn where everything is on the car before even taking it out of park. 5) Learn about Irish road signs before you even get in the car.
Guess which two of these things I did not do? I figured out how to turn on the windshield wipers ten minutes after it started raining, how to open the gas tank five minutes after we pulled up to the pump (and then only because a kind Irish stranger offered help), and how to switch off the lights two hours after I accidentally left them on. But I figured out the radio right away.
Then there were the road signs. Getting used to those was far more nerve-racking than driving on the wrong side of the road, from the wrong side of the vehicle. My favorite was one that read “Slow,” until I found one that said “Slower.”
Our first stop out of Dublin was Glendalough. My friend Aimee recommended we visit it, and we were not disappointed.
It was maybe an hour from Dublin (the way I drove), in the Wicklow mountains. We hiked to one of the lakes and climbed around some ruins and basically decided there are shades of green in Ireland that do not exist anywhere else on the planet. Even on an overcast April day.
After Glendalough, our British Lady took us on a meandering path through the Wicklow mountains, which is great for your first day of international driving. Actually it was fine, and I really enjoyed the scenery that was directly in front of the car. Whatever was out the side windows was completely lost to me.
The last part of day three’s drive was actually just freeway, and very easy (until it started raining and I couldn’t figure out how to see for a few minutes). We arrived at our next stop – Cobh – around 5 p.m.
We arrived with wind and rain and found our hotel – the WatersEdge – with no problem as it is literally at the water’s edge. I followed the directions to the car park and for a panicky second thought they expected me to pull onto a boat at the end of a dock, but no – just make a very sharp left and park underneath a building on the edge of the sea! We spent the rest of the night at the hotel – eating dinner, journaling, and listening to the wicked weather.
Cobh, formerly Queenstown, is a small town outside of Cork. I’ve actually been there before, but this time I knew what I was experiencing: the last stop my great-grandmother (Grammy), two great-uncles, and grandfather made in Ireland before they left it for good. My grandfather was just over a year, but Grammy was in her thirties and (as far as we know) had never left Ireland before. Cobh is also the port where Titanic stopped in Ireland. Call me a romantic, but the gloomy weather really seemed to match the history of the place.
The next day, we went through the Titanic Experience – and we were the only two people there, despite it being less than a week from the anniversary of the sinking. I know a lot about the Titanic because I was an obsessive 12-year-old girl in 1997 – you’ll get there in a second – but this time I tried to think less about Jack and Rose (there it is) and more about what it meant to the immigrants who boarded ships after the Titanic sank, like Grammy. I would find it terrifying, so it’s lucky Grammy was not like me, or I wouldn’t be here.
After the Titanic Experience, we went through the Cobh Heritage Centre, which is also right on the water. We learned a lot about the immigrants of various eras and the ships, including those full of famine victims and known as “Coffin Ships.” For the first time I wondered how my family actually lasted in Ireland as long as they did. Irish people had been leaving the country for fifty years by the time my family got around to it. How did they survive? And what finally made them leave?
Cliffhanger! We’ll come back to that, but next: Killarney, the Ring of Kerry, and How The Irish Feel About Margaret Thatcher