Across the sea to Ireland: Part 2 Tralee and Dingle

No, I didn't see Funghi the dolphin (though I sort of might have seen two humpback wales) - you have to buy a boat trip out of Dingle harbour to do that. And no, I didn't get round to rereading Pete McCarthy's Bar before I set off on the train to the most Westerly extremity of Europe. There's a whole chapter on Tralee and Dingle entitled 'Blaming the dolphin' in there, which I did read when I got home. The trouble is, this wonderful book has no index or map.

The reason for my trip was outlined in Part 1; and my thoughts on Ireland's fabulous trains (and eco-tickets) has also been blogged. The journey from Dublin Heuston to Tralee, changing at Mallow, was unremarkable, save for a nifty manouvre around Killarney station. Tralee is the furthest you can go by train. You used to be able to go all the way to Dingle, and enthusiasts are trying to reopen the line, but there's nothing doing yet.

L Quinlan

Tralee is a funny little place - why didn't they build it on the coast, just a short hop away? It has some nice old bars, notably Jess McCarthy's bar on Castle Street (there are a lot of McCarthys in Tralee) and L Quinlan's on Bridge Street (bridge? what bridge?) which has a tea room at the front and a bar, with wild west style swinging doors, at the back - with all the tables in wooden cubicles. I confess to feeling a bit nervous about little Irish Bars - you always think you might be sitting in someone's seat! Also worth seeking out is the Holy Water tap by St John's church.

Holy water on tap

I stayed in two hotels - the big bland brown and beige business Brandon Hotel (hosting a Kerry farmers' convention the night I was there) and the more homely central Tralee Townhouse, above a TexMex restaurant. Both were fine, though at half the price, the Townhouse wins on value for money.

Nancy and Funghi the Dolphin

The 275 from Talee's spanking new EU-funded bus station to Dingle must rate as one of the world's most scenic bus rides, and by the wonders of wifi internet, I was met at Dingle harbour by Ross and Nancy. After a quick look around, we got in their car and headed even further west on the anticlockwise Slea Head drive. Wow, the views of Skellig and Blasket Islands were phenomenal, as we'd been blessed with perfect weather. After passing various prehistoric and famine sites, we stopped right at the tip of Slea Head, where there's a full-size white-painted crucifiction monument, and took photos in the direction of America. There was a woman with a big telescope and I asked her what she was looking at - 'humpback wales', she replied - 'look one's blowing, there's a tail'. I looked through her binoculars, but couldn't see anything except wave-lashed rocks!

Wale watcher

We had lunch round the north side of the peninsular, at Tig Bhric (Brick's pub), a microbrewery that did a dark ale called Cul Dorcha. I had seafood chowder, with crunchy bits of star anise thown in, and dark brown soda bread. Then it was back to Dingle and on the 5.30 luxury bus to Tralee.

Boxty platter

Back in Dublin, I got a 145 bus all the way from Heuston to Buswell's Hotel, right opposite the Grand Masonic Lodge. It's a splendid hotel with a beautiful lobby (though it did blot its copy book in the morning!). Then I walked to Bewley's Oriental Cafe on Grafton Street for tea and a look at the Harry Clarke stained glass windows in the back room, thence to Gallagher's Boxty House on Temple Bar for an early supper of Boxty Platter (pancake, dumplings and potato bread), and back to the Porterhouse on Nassau Street for that pint of Plain. Dublin was getting ready for a hectic Friday night, so I had a quiet Guinness (the cheapest so far) and wifi back at in the hotel lobby.


Saturday morning I had to get up at the crack of dawn to get the 8.45 ferry - so no breakfast, and only cold water in the shower! The taxi to the ferryport cost a staggering €17.20 - so it was €20 with tip - the price of a RyanAir flight to the Emerald Isle! The Jonathan Swift was on time and the weather good, so I took some photos on deck. Back in Blighty I was joined at Rhyl on a packed train (five coaches instead of ten) by Stephen 'Scandal' Randall, thanks to the miracle of mobile phone technology, so the journey back to Brighton didn't seem so long.

[More photos on Flickr]


Across the sea to Ireland: Part 1 Dublin

I'd never been across the sea to Ireland (apart from a flight to Belfast many years ago), so when my American 'cousin' Ross Pipes announced that he and his wife Nancy were to visit Dingle, I had a flash of inspiration and began to plan a trip. Consulting The man in seat 61, I discovered I could get a SailRail ticket from anywhere in Britain for €33 (well, more like €40 with booking fees added) - to Dublin via the Holyhead ferry. As Anglesey was already on my list of 'extremities', that was the way to go - and it'd remind me of those childhood trips to Butlin's Pwllheli - by steam train from Manchester Victoria.

So, on Monday 18 July, I set off. The journey by Virgin to Chester was fine, but here I had to change onto a tiny two-coach Arriva train! Yes, it was standing room only, but the route along the North Wales coast, through Conwy Castle and over the Britannia Bridge was worth it. The day before my sailing the fast Irish Ferries boat Swift had been cancelled due to bad weather, but when I arrived it was only delayed. The passage was fine and I had two pints, beginning my acclimatisation to the nearly €5 pint!

Dublin power station

At Dublin there was no fuss getting through customs etc (in fact I didn't have to show my passport the whole trip!) and I caught a shuttle bus to the centre. I was expecting it to drop us near O'Connell Street - I knew the route to the hotel from there - but it was somewhere called Busaras and I was disorientated. Luckily a chap pointed me to the Luas tram and I got a ride to Smithfield, a stop too far as it turned out, but the route to Jurys Inn Christchurch took me past the Brazen Head - a Peter Chrisp recommended pub - so I popped in for a pee and my first slow-pulled pint of Guinness on Irish soil - and it didn't taste too bad.

Luas trams

After checking in at the hotel, I went for a wander around the Temple Bar area and bought a bag of chips at Leo Burdock's (Dublin's oldest chipper), which I ate in my hotel room. The bag was huge, the chips white and soggy - and I left half of them.

Tuesday morning, I walked over Ha'penny Bridge and bought some stamps at the famous Post Office in O'Connell Street then got a tram to Connelly station to take a Dart to Sandycove. This according to Ian Marchant's book Parallel Lines is the oldest commuter line in the world and is very scenic, providing wonderful views of Dublin Bay as it travels south (in hindsight I should have gone further - to Bray). It's a bit of a schlep from the Dart station to Joyce's Martello Tower, but when you get there you can also have a peep at Forty Foot, the once gentlemen-only bathing place, where now 'Togs must be worn'! Inside the museum you can climb the thin spiral starcase to the windy top of the tower and catch some more views.

Togs must be worn

Back in Dublin I alighted at Pearce station and made my way to the (mostly closed for renovation) National Gallery for a very nice lunch of brocolli soup, passing Sweny the chemists on the way. I was taken by the paintings of Paul Henry, especially his landscapes of Western Ireland with their big cloudy skies, and the watercolours of George Petrie - and a fine Feininger shardy skyscraper in the foreign section.

Prince of Wales's seat

Bongo Pete had recommended the tour of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ireland. It was 2.15 and according to the notice on the door, the daily tour would start at 2.30 - so in I went. It was well worth the €2 - the tour started in the huge main lodge room with its chess-patterned carpet, but also took in some smaller themed rooms including an Egyptian one (with mystery trapdoor!) and the gothic splendour of the Knights Templar room with its Prince of Wales throne. The guide was very entertaining and this tour is highly recommended.

Harry Clarke stained glass

After a coffee and wifi at Fixx at the end of Molesworth Street, it was off to St Stephen's Green for my date with a Dublin Ambassador. After a quick look around the Little Museum of Dublin (not yet open), my greeter Philip took me off to microbrewery Porterhouse on Nassau Street for my free pint. He didn't drink - so I got two: Oyster Stout and TSB! (I tried the Plain Porter on my return to Dublin some days later.) Then I went off to photograph the 'Why go bald' sign! The perfect end of a tiring yet exhilarating day in Dublin. To be continued...

[More photos on Flickr]


Tea revives the world

If you like the pictorial maps of Neil Gower, you'll love this exhibition of MacDonald (Max) Gill (1884-1947) - his maps and murals - at the University of Brighton gallery. Who? Well, he was naughty Eric's forgotten younger brother (and he married Edward Johnston's daughter). The exhibition is full of fantastic maps, such as Wonderground (1913) for London Underground and Tea revives the world (1940), full of detail and in-jokes. He also did murals for the Queen Mary and the Glasgow Empire Exhibition of 1938. He also designed the lettering for the War Graves Commission. A highlight for me were the locomotive drawings done by Eric (of Goldsmid No. 316) and Max in 1896 at the very start of the exhibition. Don't forget to visit the corridor and cafe areas, where many of his original ink drawings are on show. More details on the Uni's website and you can hear a podcast by Melita Dennett here. The exhibition is on until 31 August.


Euston to Heuston - and beyond...

Luas trams

Because of the Celtic Tiger and the EU, Ireland has a fabulous public transport infrastructure. The trams, trains and buses - and stations - are all spanking new and comfy. What's more, they have a state of the art ticketing and reservation service. To get from Brighton to Holyhead and over to Dublin I needed eight tickets: one there, one back, and a reservation for each leg of the journey. To get from Dublin to Tralee, changing at Mallow, I was surprised to find that I only needed one ticket - it would have been six in England! Genius...

Irish rail ticket

What's more, when I got on the train I discovered that my seat had my name on it (I'd booked the tickets online and picked up the ticket from a machine by keying in a number)! How cool is that!

Named reservation

So, no arguments like you get on English trains. On the way there, the Chester to Holyhead leg was on a tiny two-coach Arriva train... and yes it was crammed - standing room only. On the way back, the Holyhead to London Virgin train was five coaches instead of ten, and the reservation system had broken down! Plus there was hardly any space for luggage - on a route known for holiday makers. They did add five more carriages at Chester, but by then people were very cross.

There have been several blogs lately (here's another one) proposing to redesign UK rail tickets to make them more understandable and concise. Well, look no further than Ireland - they're already doing it.

Tralee to Mallow train, at Tralee


Brighton works and the Leader class

I heard the other day that a friend (Roundhill Rob) had experienced disappointment that 92220 Evening Star wasn't the last loco to be built at Brighton works (it was built in 1960 at Swindon where it still resides). According to Wikipedia, the last steam loco to be built at Brighton was BR standard class 4 tank 80154 in 1957, which was the 1,211th locomotive to be constructed there. 130 of these workhorses were built at Brighton; many are preserved and still doing sterling service on the heritage railways - though apparently not this one.

Checking this out I stumbled across an experimental loco designed by Oliver Bulleid that I'd never heard of before: the Leader class. This was an 0-6-6-0 articulated loco with a cab each end and the boiler, coal and water supplies all encased in a smooth double-ended body, making it look more like a diesel loco! Five were ordered, but only one was built, in 1947 - CC101 (Southern number), 36001 (BR number) - but it was scrapped once Bulleid had gone, in 1951. Steam was on the way out; the diesels and electrics were coming!

After Bulleid left Brighton works in 1951, he went to Ireland and produced a shorter and lighter model for Córas Iompair Éireann: CIÉ No. CC1, a turf/peat-burning locomotive. The design was modified by Bulleid's assistant John Click to have a single-ended boiler with the cab located at the firebox end, water tanks at either end of the loco and a bunker at the cab end. One of a proposed 50 was built in 1957, but it was withdrawn in 1963 to be replaced by diesel locos. Some photos of the ugly beast can be seen here.