Hook Peninsula, Co. Wexford (Fethard & Loftus Hall)

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In the courtyard of Loftus Hall, which is said to have been visited and cursed by the devil himself.

“Oh, no, this bus doesn’t go to Fethard. Some of them on this line do, but not this one. I think the next one is in the evening.”

The driver said it like it was obvious, then glanced over his shoulder for confirmation at two old ladies sitting in the front row of the bus with sacks of groceries on their laps. They agreed with him, and then began to discuss the matter in depth between themselves. I thanked them, then disembarked the bus I had just gotten on ten seconds before.

I had asked if the bus went to my destination purely as a formality, because after all, my ticket and the posted information had told me that I could take line 370 to Fethard, so surely I could rely on that?

Another lesson in the quaint unpredictability of public transit in Ireland: always ask if the bus you’re getting on is actually going to the place you think it is.

Getting there

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It’s really not as simple as Maps makes it seem.

That morning, myself and two of my friends from school, Melissa and Maddie, had left Parnell Place in Cork on a bus bound for Waterford. That part was easy. Our final destination, however, was further off the beaten path. We were headed for the tiny seaside village of Fethard-on-Sea in County Wexford (not the Fethard of County Tipperary), on the Hook Peninsula, just southeast of Waterford. We didn’t know much about Fethard, other than that it was near the ocean, and near Loftus Hall – said to be the most haunted house in Ireland.

We had two hours to kill in Waterford. It seems like a cool town, and I’d like to return for a longer visit sometime. We found a quiet pub with a mural near the front door of a man and an ox staring at each other in a very intimate way, and there we had a pint and played cards while the bartender playfully harassed the regulars sitting at the bar and a small dog wandered between the legs of the low tables.

After being told that we couldn’t take the bus, we hailed a cab and asked him to bring us to Fethard. The drive took an hour, and it was expensive (around €75), but not so bad when split three ways.

If you decide to take this trip yourself from Cork, your best bet is to drive. If that’s not an option (like it wasn’t for us), then you can take a bus to either Waterford or New Ross, then:

A – take a regular taxi (like we did – although that’s expensive – but it would be less expensive from New Ross, which is closer to Fethard).

B – try to hire a taxi through a local company, which we ended up doing on the way back the next day. If you’re doing this from Waterford to Fethard or vice versa, have the driver take the ferry across the little channel, rather than going around. It’s more direct and will cost less, but will still probably be around €40-50.

C – hitchhike, which is dicey but not as dicey as you might think. Choose this option at your own risk, but it’s pretty safe honestly – just trust your gut. Know too that this area gets very empty (albeit very beautiful) very quickly, so you might not encounter too many drivers going that way in the first place.

or D, try to sweet-talk the 370 line bus driver into dropping you off at Fethard anyway, as we were later told they’ll do sometimes, since the 370 line goes through that area but Fethard itself just isn’t a regularly scheduled stop.

Fethard

What to do

Our first priority when arriving in Fethard was to find the shore. On that cold, rocky beach, the entire rest of the world seemed to disappear. Low in the sky, the sun cast a dim light that gave everything the illusion of glowing gently from within. On the beach I found a hag stone, a small, flat, smooth stone with a hole worn through it. It’s said that looking through the hole can reveal faeries, or the other world. Looking through it that evening on the beach, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, although the scene was magical enough as it was.

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Breathtaking, haunting, dramatic Irish coastline

 

 

A tip for others who decide to visit the beach at dusk: pay attention to the rising tide. A few minutes after wandering out onto a small sandy peninsula, we looked back to find that it had become an island, and we had to wade back through a foot or more of water.

There are a few pubs in Fethard, and we made our way to two of them that night: Droopy’s and Molloy’s. Droopy’s was very local, and Molloy’s had live music, but both were fun. Going to these pubs was a very different experience than going out to the pubs in Cork, and you’ll feel in your bones that you’re not in a big city but rather in a very, very small town. It’s a difficult thing to describe, but well worth the experience.

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When we were walking down to the shore, there were several boats propped up above the waterline. As we were walking back twenty minutes later, boots and socks soaked through, most of those boats were floating.

We ate dinner at the chipper – garlic chips and curry chips and burgers and fish n’ chips (chips, chips, chips), and it was the most decadent, fried, sauce-covered meal, perfect after a long day of walking and missed connections and wet feet. We were also told by everyone we met that the Village Cafe has excellent curry, and the Wheelhouse Cafe, where we ate the next morning, serves a wonderful Irish breakfast.

Where to stay

With socks and boots soaked through, we made our way back to our AirBnb – a beautiful, fully renovated old schoolhouse – and what was one of the warmest, most comfortable, relaxed and happy nights I’ve ever had. Tina, the owner of the house, is a healer and psychic medium, and the four of us had a great time talking and hanging out while our things dried near the wood stove. The house had a big claw foot bathtub, and I took the first (and only) hot bath I’ve had since leaving the United States. It was heavenly.

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Fethard Castle, built in the 1400s

Loftus Hall

In the week before we embarked on this little trip, Melissa, Maddie, and I decided that we wanted to get out of the city for one night and go somewhere, anywhere, that weekend. Preferably, we all agreed, somewhere spoooooky. 

With this criteria in mind, my entire research strategy was as follows: I typed “ghost tours Ireland” into Google, found the Loftus Hall website, looked it up on the map and saw that it was reasonably close to Cork, then found an AirBnb nearby and booked it.

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Loftus Hall, September 2017

However – getting to Loftus from Fethard is yet another challenge, and more proof of how Google Maps simply doesn’t know how to handle Ireland. Maps told me that Loftus is 4-odd miles away from Fethard, which, while long, isn’t an impossible trek.

When we stopped in a cafe that morning to ask directions, though, the people eating breakfast laughed at us when told them that we planned to walk. But, in yet another example of the relaxed friendliness of the Irish, a local man finishing his breakfast in the cafe offered to drive us. His name was Michael, and he’d grown up in the area, and on the drive down the peninsula he gave us a small tour, pointing out the farmhouse he’d grown up in, the small cemetery where his parents were buried, the lighthouse (the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world), and the old harbor, built during the famine times.

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Maddie and Melissa in the gardens at Loftus

Loftus Hall is hauntingly beautiful (pun not intended – it’s simply the most accurate word for it), and has a curious and fascinating history. The tour is a little hokey, but very fun, and focuses almost exclusively on one legend of the hall: in the 1700s, the caretakers of the hall had a beautiful young daughter, Lady Anne, who was very lonely and bored and the isolated old house on the wild and rugged Irish coast.

One foggy night, it’s said, a dark and handsome stranger rode in from the coast claiming that his ship had wrecked, and he asked to stay the night, as he knew no one in the area and had no way of returning home (which was said to be Spain, or Italy, or somewhere else suitably exotic). His stay of one night turned into weeks, and soon Lady Anne fell in love with him. 

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The front door of the hall, and – according to the tour guide – the point of no return.

The family and the handsome young stranger would spend the cold and stormy nights playing cards, and one night Lady Anne accidentally dropped her cards. As she reached under the table to retrieve them from the floor, she glanced at the feet of the handsome stranger sitting across from her, but saw instead the cloven hooves of the devil himself. She screamed, and the devil flew upward in a burst of flames, punching a hole in the ceiling that, reportedly, has never been able to be properly repaired.

Lady Anne was never the same. She became “a confirmed maniac”, and was locked away in a back bedroom for the rest of her life, where she spent her days curled into a ball, gazing out at the ocean. When she died, they say, she had been in that one position for so long that they were unable to straighten her body, and a special coffin had to be made.

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The hall from the gardens

I left the house with more questions than answers. There’s so much in the history of Loftus to explore – what of the house after it was vacated by the Loftus family? The story about the devil – surely there’s something there about how this was a Cromwellian Protestant family in a majority Catholic area, and they were also rumored to have been seen as a miserly and status-hungry family? A cursory Google search and the Wikipedia article don’t reveal any information not available on the website, but I asked one of my professors about where I might look to do more research, so expect a post soon taking a deep dive into Loftus.

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The original structure on the property was built during the 12th century, and has seen multiple extensive renovations and rebuildings. The current hall was built up during the second half of the 1800s.

Visitors were not allowed to take photos inside of the house, but the interior is even more breathtaking in its dilapidated grace – search for images of the Loftus Hall interior, and it still looks exactly like that.

Despite the hiccups, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to ring in the autumn than the trip down to the Hook Peninsula. If you’re adventurous and brave enough to face uncertain transportation, rising tides, charmingly-yet-heavily inebriated small town young men, ghosts, and curses, then make it a point to make it down to this isolated, haunting corner of Ireland.

 

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Doolin, Co. Clare

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Taken from a hill above Doolin, September 2017

Doolin is my favorite place in Ireland. It always has been, since the first time I visited the country with my family when I was eleven. It is the place where my parents first met 30-odd years ago, and when I am there, I feel my own roots and the way that the stars align sometimes to put two American backpackers in the same middle-of-nowhere town at the same time and change the small universe of their lives.

Despite my own personal connection to it, there is so much that makes Doolin an amazing place to visit for everyone. A shockingly tiny town on the west coast of Ireland, within spitting distance of the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands, it is home to four cozy pubs where you can hear live traditional music nearly every night. The surrounding landscape is breathtakingly beautiful, the people are friendly, and (very important for a student who relies on public transit to get anywhere) easily accessible by bus.

Since arriving in Ireland six weeks ago, I’ve been to Doolin twice. In fact, I’ll be going back again this coming weekend, to take a day trip to the Aran Islands – stay tuned for another post about that soon. For an American student studying abroad in Ireland (or anyone, really), Doolin is a must-see. Everyone knows about the Cliffs of Moher, but I see so many people taking those gaudy Paddy Wagon vans for day trips to the cliffs, which is all well and good, but you can see the cliffs and so much more by doing a weekend in Doolin: small-town Ireland, traditional music, amazing food, a gorgeous slice of coastline, and a hard-to-describe atmosphere of peacefulness that seeps in to your bones as surely as the mist.

How to get there:

It’s very easy to get to Doolin from Cork, in part because of its proximity to the Cliffs of Moher, one of the major tourist attractions in the whole country. From Parnell Place (the bus station in Cork city center), you get on the 51 line to Galway, hop off in Ennis, then take the 350 line from Ennis. When you get on that one, let the bus driver know where you’re staying, and he’ll be able to let you know which Doolin stop to get out at, as the two parts of town are a little ways down the road from each other and you can save yourself a potentially confusing 10-15 minute walk. You can buy your tickets online from the machines at the bus station, or from the drivers themselves as you get on the bus.

You can catch the same line back to Ennis at various times most days across the street from the Hotel Doolin, just off Fisher Street. If you’re confused about where or when to find the bus, you can ask (and also buy tickets, if you didn’t already buy a return) at the front desk of the Hotel Doolin. Although, a few weekends ago a few friends and I were able to catch the bus straight from the cliffs back to Ennis, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about where and when everything is happening – I’ve found from experience that the bus information online and posted on screens is not always 100% accurate. The Irish are very relaxed about most things, including bus routes and timetables.

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The bus ride may seem intimidatingly long at first glance, but the buses are pretty comfortable and the view from the window is damn gorgeous. It goes quickly.

 

Where to stay:

There are several options for where to stay in Doolin, including several Bed & Breakfasts, hostels, and a hotel. Personally, my favorite is the Rainbow Hostel. It’s affordable, comfortable, is in a good location to walk to two of the pubs (McGann’s and McDermott’s – more on them further down), and has an insanely cozy common room with a wood stove that was kept nice and warm on the rainy afternoon that I was there. They have dorm rooms with six bunks each as well as private rooms, and the owners are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.

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Doolin, September 2017

 

What to do:

Cliffs of Moher

There are buses from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher (and vice versa) multiple times a day, every day. Catch them across the street from the Hotel Doolin.

The cliffs are one of the most spectacular natural wonders I’ve ever seen. The morning that I visited with my friends, there was an incredibly heavy fog obscuring everything, but we had made plans to see the cliffs that morning and couldn’t change them. We hiked along the trail at the edge of the cliffs, and although we couldn’t see the ocean, it was no less magical – in fact, it was particularly beautiful in its surreality. We could hear the ocean but not see it, and there were very few other visitors at that time. At the cliff’s edge ten feet away, the world simply ended in grey, and it was easy to see how the old tales of the faeries and other worlds had come to be.

Our timing was perfect, though, because by the time we got back to the visitor’s center, the fog had cleared and allowed us to see the view, and we left just as the massive crowds of tourists descended.

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At the edge of the world. September 2017

Aran Islands

There are ferries from Doolin pier to the Aran Islands, which I plan to visit this weekend. Keep an eye out for a post on that soon.

In Doolin

Doolin is so beautiful and the day that I arrived there, it was sunny and clear and just outrageously lovely, so I was content to just walk around for a while. From the Rainbow in Roadford (a part of Doolin just up the road from Fisher Street, the “main” street if you will), I walked up one path trying to find an old graveyard my mother had told me about. I didn’t find it, but I did continue on into town. I passed fields filled with flowers and delightfully fuzzy cattle, who despite their cute appearance glared at me with unmistakable hostility whenever I stopped to take a picture.

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“You can’t sit with us.”

Along Fisher Street, I stopped in each of the shops. They’re a nice mix of fun, kitschy tourist fare and really nice items, like Aran wool sweaters and one shop with books of folklore and Irish literature.

The pier is a ten to fifteen minute walk from Fisher Street. From there you can catch ferries to the islands as well as boat tours of the cliffs and surrounding areas. You can also sit on the rocky beach and bask in the dramatic beauty of the wild Atlantic ocean, like I did.

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Doolin Pier at dusk. September 2017

At night

There are four pubs in Doolin. I’ve been to three of them, although I’ll make a point to stop in Fitzpatrick’s this weekend to see how it is. The last time I was in town, Fitzpatrick’s was overflowing with men and women clad head to toe in leather, in town for the motorcycle rally nearby, and so my friends and I moved on to find somewhere a little quieter.

Gus O’Connor’s is on scenic Fisher Street, near many of the B&Bs and the Hotel Doolin. It’s a nice place with really good food (try the mussels), but it’s a little touristy for my taste.

McGann’s and McDermott’s are both very close to the Rainbow, which is good, because the stretch of road separating Roadford from Fisher Street, while short, is narrow and gets very dark at night, and some of the locals like to drive very fast. It can be a bit of a harrowing walk, especially if you’re a few pints deep and trying to find your way back to the hostel. Better to stay close to home if you plan to stay out late.

Both pubs are great, cozy, traditional Irish pubs, with similar prices and excellent fare for dinner. Both have live music near every night, especially during the summers. If you want to get a good seat near the music (or, especially during busy times, a seat at all), you’ll want to choose a pub, get there early, eat dinner, and camp out. Music usually starts around 10pm. On our second night in Doolin, my friends and I got to McGann’s around 7:30pm for dinner, and managed to get a seat right next to the musicians’ table, which was a magical experience.

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I took a video at McGann’s, but WordPress won’t let me include it unless I pay them money. Stay tuned until I figure out a work-around.

 

Please, please, if you’re going to be in Ireland for any time at all, visit Doolin. I promise you, it will be unforgettable.

 

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