Chasing rainbows in Ireland

I’ve been a lucky boy this past week or so – lucky to have been able to drop everything and take a short-notice week away, lucky to have spent much of that week in great company, lucky to have had the best of a wild week of Irish weather, and you’ve been lucky because I’ve had so little wi-fi access that this blog’s been silent for a few days. Hooray!

The sail-rail ticket is one of the few genuine bargains left from the wreck of the train network – no more than £30.50 single, even on the morning of travel, from anywhere to Dublin by train and ship, with a ticket which can be picked up from local station ticket machines. I didn’t finalise my plans until three days before I set off. The only fly in the ointment was caused by my deciding to return from Belfast – computer said no to coming home via Stranraer and Glasgow (sold out), yes to a ticket via Dublin and Holyhead to Euston, but no to Charlton, and I had to have it sent special delivery since I couldn’t pick it up at a station.

As for the journey – the Irish Mail leaves Euston at 0910, the boat leaves Holyhead at 1410, and you’re in Dublin for teatime. The ferry Ulysses is a motorway service station on water – full of Scouse stereotypes and dozing travellers. It wasn’t much different from a Ryanair flight, to be honest, but with wonderful views and without the hassle of flying. I left Charlton at 8.05am, and arrived in Kells, County Meath, at 8.05pm.

Getting around Ireland’s pretty easy – Bus Eireann isn’t particularly cheap, but it does the job; trains north and south of the border can be very cheap, but don’t expect to them to get you anywhere in a hurry. That said, I had one of my very, very rare moments of car driving envy while on the coach going through Donegal – not for the speed, but the option to explore further. Maybe another time.

Coming home was a bit more stressful – fine travelling from Belfast to Dublin on the Enterprise train, near-seamless connection onto a bus to Dublin port, but the port itself is a bit grim (tip: stock up on food beforehand) and the fast boat Jonathan Swift was packed and not as comfortable as the Ulyssees. There was no direct connection to London at Holyhead, instead there was a scrum to get on a poxy little two-car Arriva Trains Wales stopping service to Chester, which was standing room only as soon as it departed on a two-hour journey. It was as if Holyhead being a major port was some kind of inconvenience for the train operator. The rest of the ride (on Virgin) was smooth and swift, though.

So what did I do? I spent a night on the Meath/Cavan border with an old pal from college and her family, visiting pubs in their nearby village and getting muddy playing with their kids and dog; I was taken to a brilliant Dublin bar which had bras and knickers behind the counter (I didn’t ask), watched some Gaelic football and went on a literary pub crawl (highly recommended); got the train to Sligo and watched Charlton get beat on TV in a cosy pub and learned more about WB Yeats than I’m ever likely to remember; took a jaw-droppingly beautiful coach ride to Derry through the snowy Donegal mountains, after which I took a tour of the Bogside which left my head spinning and watched Australians mosh to traditional fiddly-dee; and saw bands in Belfast and found a bar which reignited my fantasies of pub ownership.

It was a fascinating trip, and despite the nasty journey home (must remember to take direct trains next time), I’d love to do it again some time. So, did I miss anything exciting while I was away?