ESCAPE TO IRELAND #01 – The first day, Clontarf

July 04, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

May/June 2016

ESCAPE TO IRELAND - #1 – The first day, Clontarf


Day 1 map

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Getting to Ireland

Guess what?  Ireland is a long way from California, 5,400 miles if you include the stopover in Los Angeles.  We left Palo Alto around 2 in the afternoon and wound up landing in Dublin around 2 in the afternoon the next day.  It would have been nice to get a direct flight from San Francisco to Dublin but when one flies on points, you wind up with strange routes.  There were no issues with the travel, unless one considers 20 minutes with a check in representative at LAX working out how do deal with the my ticket being issued on Aer Lingus, By United Airlines in the name of DanCarl Hartford and my Passport being in the name of Daniel Carl Hartford and then once that was resolved how to hook up our checked baggage numbers to the flight.  But as we had nearly a 2 hour layover it didn’t really matter that much.  Anyway the flight was good, albeit long – and they served a free dinner and free breakfast along the way -- of course that leg was, not a US airline.  We ponied up an extra $40 each to acquire Group 1 boarding along with some extra leg room – still coach though - which helped with a ride lasting 10 hours in the air.

Upon landing we were surprised that the sky was cloudless and the temperatures were in the low 70’s/f.  Wait, isn’t Ireland supposed to be cool and rainy?  The local folks said it had been like this for several days, but not to worry, the longest period without rain that anyone could remember was about 6 or 7 days a couple of decades ago, so it was likely to become cooler and rainy quite soon.  But at least today was lovely California weather so from that standpoint we felt quite at home



Once we landed and got some Euro’s from a friendly ATM machine – thank goodness we no longer have to deal with traveler checks – the fun began.  Along with most British Empire (or Ex-British Empire) countries, they have this silly habit of driving on the left side of the road in cars with the steering wheel on the right side of the car.  The prospect of dealing with this had kept me awake many nights leading up to this trip.  But I was armed with printouts thanks to the magic of the Internet about driving in Ireland.  I had one stack of pages for road signs and pavement markings, another for how to navigate round-a-bouts. And yet another on dealing with tolls roads that have no toll booths (like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco).  The agent at the rental car desk at the airport was also helpful in that regard.  Turns out there’s really only one bridge that has no cash option, however you can choose the ‘electronic’ lanes at any tool booth if you desire.  They actually handle it much better than the Golden Gate does.  If you go through one of these electronic tolls somehow it knows it’s a rental car.  I think there’s something in the license plate number that indicates that it’s a rental car.  Anyway, it knows and if it is a rental car you have 48 hours after your rental car is returned to get on the Internet and settle up any tolls you acquired. 

But back to driving.  It was pretty obvious that after such a long flight and an 8 hour time shift driving a long way, on the wrong side of the road, in a car with the driver on the wrong side of the car, in a country with different signage and customs it was best to keep the driving as simple as possible and to a minimum on day 1 (or 2 for that matter).  With this in mind we had booked a hotel only a 15 minute drive from the airport and that did not require passing through Dublin.  I should point out that it was some comfort to know that in 1981 we went to England and Ireland and I was able to handle the driving just fine – even with a standard transmission.  But that was 35 years ago and the driver was a much younger person.

So we loaded the luggage into the trunk, plugged in our trusty GPS which I had preloaded with all our destinations, selected our hotel and off we went repeating the mantra “stay left” over and over in my head.  So, what’s it like driving wrong way around you might ask?  It’s quite tricky but you get used to it – sort of.  In the car they just took all the controls (steering wheel pedals, etc.) and put them on the right side instead of the left.  They didn’t mirror image anything so the gas pedal is still on the right with the brake next to it, the turn signal lever is still on the same side of the steering wheel etc.  We ordered an automatic (to have one less thing to worry about), which is not predominant in Ireland as it is here and that got us AC as well – equally not predominant.  Normally no one cares about AC in Ireland as the temps hardly ever get out of the low 60’s, but we were glad to have it with the temps in the mid to upper 70’s.  The automatic transmission was exactly the same as in a left hand drive car – including having the label for P, D, N,and R on the left side of the shift lever which makes it easy to see - if you are in the left front seat.  But now, being in the right front seat, all you see is the shift lever which blocks the view of the labels telling you what slot it’s in. 

“Stay left”, “Stay left”, “Stay left”, over and over.  It wasn’t too bad at 3:00 in the afternoon with light traffic as in most places I could just follow the car in front of me and be OK.  When I needed to make a left or right turn, there was usually a car in front of me somewhere that I could watch and see where to go at which point I navigated like a sailor using dead reckoning by keeping my eye on the lane I was aiming at. There were a few things I never got used to.  One was when I want to see what was behind me I automatically glanced up and to the right where the rear view mirror should be only to discover that I was looking that sky outside the side window.  Same thing when I wanted to check if it’s ok to switch lanes.  Mostly though I just followed other cars.  The other hard part was staying in the middle of my lane.  Even though I was trying to center the car in the lane, my co-pilot kept telling me that I was about to lose my left mirror to any number of roadside hazards or other cars in the lane next to me.  Of course the lanes themselves are much narrower than around here and except on the “Motorways” (freeways) there are no shoulders whatsoever, with posts, and hedges right up to the edge of the driving lane.  So even if you are centered in your lane these obstacles are whizzing by way closer than we’re used to.

Now, I have to admit that without the GPS it would have been nearly impossible.  But with the GPS showing me my path through round-a-bouts and telling me ahead of time things like “Enter the round-a-bout and take the 2nd exit” along with a glance at the GPS map showing that the target exit was ¾ of the way around the circle made life much easier.  On this first day I only messed up twice. One time I was trying to get on the M1 (freeway) going southbound – “take left exit to the “M1” toward Dublin” – but the first left exit was to the M1 toward Belfast and not being used to how they word signs (way more text and diagrams on the sign) I took the first exit.  Another was that I took a hard left at an intersection when I should have taken a soft left.  Like Boston the roads were laid out by wandering cattle so few cross at right angles.

Anyway we made it to the hotel in only about double the time it was supposed to take and I don’t think I caused any major accidents.



Our hotel, the Clontarf Castle Hotel, is in the Clontarf area on the north side of Dublin – Suburbs really.  Clontarf means Meadow of the Bull – so keep that in mind as you read this blog.  Its claim to fame is that the famous Battle of Clontarf happened here in 1014 in which Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, defeated the Vikings of Dublin and their allies the Irish of Leinster. This battle, which extended over a wide area, is seen as marking an end to the Irish-Viking Wars.  OK let’s get our timelines in order.  This was 478 years before Columbus stumbled on America and to the dismay of the folks already here claimed to have discovered it.  It was 762 years before the start of the US revolution.  We’re going way back before countries really existed in any real way and every small clump of people more or less fended for themselves.   

After they kicked out those pesky Vikings in 1014, not much happened here for another 100 years when another group, the- Normans this time - from what is now France showed up and took over the whole shebang.  This was in 1172.  The Normans took charge without too much of a fuss and they granted the Clontarf area to Adam de Pheypo who built the first Clontarf Castle.  Several remodels and reconstructions of the manor house took place over the years.  Along the way it was burned in 1641 by one of Cromwell's Generals, apparently in revenge for the disloyalty of the then owner, George King. The castle estate and district are then said to have been given by Cromwell to John Blackwell, who assigned his interest to John Vernon, Quartermaster-General of Cromwell's army in Ireland. The Vernon family subsequently occupied the Castle for nearly three hundred and fifty years.  After several more owners came and went, the more or less 1837 version of the castle was significantly enlarged with new more modern wings and converted to a 4 star, 111 room hotel in 1997.  This Clontarf Castle Hotel is where we stayed the first two nights


Clontarf Castle Hotel, Gatehouse

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Clontarf Castle Hotel

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Clontarf Castle Hotel

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Doesn’t everyone power wash their lion?

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The Clontarf area is a typical suburban landscape with mostly single family homes in upper middle class realm mixed in with some more middle class duplexes and some lower income block apartment buildings stemming from the 50’s and 60’s.  It is situated along a channel/bay about quarter mile wide the other side of which is the port of Dublin.  In other words it’s a lovely scene if you ignore all the heavy industry across the bay.  There is a very nice grass park along the shore of the bay that is used for bicycling and jogging.


Typical single family home

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Middle income duplexes

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Lower income 50’s, 60’s era block apartments

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Older section of area with attached multi story homes

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Park along the bay

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St. John the Baptist Cemetery

After arriving in the late afternoon from our long flight, and not wanting to drive, we just walked around the Clontarf area.  Our first stop was at the St. John the Baptist Cemetery which happened to be just around the corner from the hotel.  Staring out as a monastic site the current, now crumbling, church was constructed in 1609 and dedicated to St John the Baptist. It was in use as an Anglican parish until 1866 when a much grander Church was built to replace it. On one side the bell tower still stands which can be seen as you walk around the neighborhood.  As it turns out, author Bram Stoker – you know, the Dracula author - was baptized here in 1847.


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From here we wandered down to the park along the bay, then found a restaurant open on a Monday and then back to the hotel for some long sought after sleep

Next on our agenda – Dublin City


I hope you enjoyed reading this travel log and will read accounts of future or past trips.  

- Images of this trip can be found on my website at.



The Ireland blog series can be found here:


This Blog can be found online here:


Thanks for reading -- Dan



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