Greystown Castle – County Tipperary

The ruins of Greystown Castle is set on an outcrop of limestone rock overlooking the Clashawley River valley, 3km west of the village of Killenaule.

Graystown castle in it’s heyday guarded an important route linking north and south Tipperary along this river valley. It is said that the name Graystown derives from the Norman lord and military genius Raymond le Gros, who accompanied Strongbow on his invasion of Ireland around 1170. However, it seems more likely that the area is named after one of a number of Norman knights called Grey, who are named in documents from around 1300.

The castle itself dates from the 1500s, extends to five storeys and is 60 ft. high. In the 1650s it was occupied by Henry Laffan, an official of the Butler Family and the castle was the residence of the Laffan family, who owned most of the parish of Graystown in the late medieval period. The site and associated structures were also owned by Henry Laffan. Graystown was later confiscated from Marcus and Henry Laffan by the Cromwellian administration and in 1659 two English men, Giles Cooke and Edward Pippen, were the principle land owners in Graystown. The Laffans failed to get their lands back after the Restoration of King Charles II.

The castle had been unoccupied and left to fall to ruin over a number of years and today is quietly sitting in a field used mainly for grazing, overlooking the nearby quarry.  It is well worth a visit, not least for the spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.

The castle is situated on private land and dangerous to enter, so visitors are requested to view it only from the adjacent roadside.

Irish Weather

Approximately 5 minutes before it started sleeting.

Before we moved to Ireland I chatted with a native about his chickens and chicken housing and management and asked him how they manage the wet conditions and rain here. He told me “Honestly, it doesn’t rain THAT much in Ireland!” About 5 months after we arrived this happened:

On our first visit to Ireland, we arrived in October and anticipating a cold winter, asked the locals if we can expect to see snow. Every single one of them responded with exactly the same answer: “It NEVER snows here! But it did two years ago.” A few weeks later this happened:

Caha Pass on the Co Cork and Co Kerry border – 2014

About two weeks after this pic was taken, we picked up a hitch hiker and and I asked him if he thinks we’ll be getting more snow. Guess what he said to me? “It NEVER snows here! But it did two years ago.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Irish are in denial about their weather and should NOT be trusted!

After spending more than 2 years in Ireland myself, in total, and switching from wishing it would rain to wishing it would stop, experiencing a few light snowfalls, getting drenched and learning which flooded roads are safe to navigate and which are better avoided, I’ve learned to enjoy and appreciate sunny days. There are plenty of those and they are wonderful, even if many of them are interrupted by quick, light showers, coming seemingly out of nowhere and disappearing again before you had time to change your plans, or in my case, find shelter.

The Irish don’t think they get a lot of rain, but they do get rained on often. “Frequent rain” comes to mind first when I am asked about the weather. Followed by “mild”. Temperatures are mild year round, with a few evenings and early mornings dipping to below freezing and mid-summer days occasionally seeing a hot day. But summer days are generally quite comfortably warm… with the odd shower.

In spring (February – April), the average highest temperatures range from 7 to 12°C/46 to 54°F, with April considered quite pleasant.

In summer (May – July), the averages for highest temperatures are between 17 and 18°C/64 and 68°F, but the temperatures may occasionally rise to the low 30°C/mid 80’s Fahrenheit. This is not very common though.

In autumn, (August to October) the highest temperatures average between 13 and 17°C/57 and 64°F. September is considered a mild, temperate month.

Winter air temperatures inland normally reach 7°C/46°F, while the coldest months are January to March.

The sunniest months in Ireland are May and June when sunshine duration averages between 5 and 6½ hours per day over most of the country. The southeast gets the most sunshine, averaging more than 7 hours of sunshine a day in early summer. December is the dullest month with an average daily sunshine ranging from about 1 hour in the north to almost 2 hours in the southeast. Over the year as a whole most areas of the country get an average of between 3¼ and 3¾ hours of sunshine each day. Irish skies are completely covered by cloud roughly half of the time. I did mention earlier that I’ve learned to appreciate and enjoy sunshine!

With all this in mind, what to wear and what clothes to bring to Ireland for the unpredictable weather is a frequently asked questions by visitors. I always tell people to bring whatever they feel comfortable in, as long as they are modest and neat and to bring a light, waterproof jacket for summer, a heavier coat for winter and a pair of waterproof shoes with good gripping soles year round. In spite of the frequent rain, many sidewalks, steps and parts of the roads here are slippery underfoot when wet and on roads outside the towns and cities, covered in puddles, due to inadequate roadside drainage. So if you plan to hike or walk around a lot, bring the right shoes!

 

 

Travel, Accommodation and Money Saving Tips

 

Ruin Exploring in Co Kerry

Everyone has their own ideas, budgets and plans for visiting Ireland on holiday. Us? Well, we had NO plans when we arrived here, not detailed ones anyway. We didn’t arrange anything beforehand either and basically just winged it,  figuring things out (some the expensive way!) along the line. Apart from looking for a place we’d eventually like to settle into, our plan was to first spent a lot of time travelling around the country and exploring it and we did… This post is some tips for you for saving a saving a bit of money during your stay, along with some recommendations for getting the most from your time here.

First off: some money saving tips.

If you are planning to hire a car and drive on your trip, do not wait until you arrive at the airport before arranging a hire car. Booking a car online and arranging pick-up at the airport (they can and will have the car ready for you all hours) can save you a lot of money! Shop around before committing and book through a car hire agent that works with a number of different companies, if possible. It’s a bit of effort, but it really will save you loads of €€€. To give you an example friend of mine got an absolutely loveable, almost brand new car for a 5 days for around €80 last year (2016). We picked up an arrive-at-the-airport-and-hire-a-car, a not-quite-as-nice (and 6 years older) model for about… A few hundred Euros more? Shop around and check out all your options!

When stopping for gas/petrol/diesel for your car, look at the price offered at a few filling stations before filling up. Prices shown are per litre and fluctuate quite a bit between the different filling stations and Murphy’s law would have the first one you stop at be the most expensive one. Yep, been there! Believe me, after just filling up @ €1.49/litre at that one filling station in Cork and finding unleaded @ €1.37/litre at another in Tipperary I was not happy!

Next up, accommodation. Though it may make sense to book a room in a hotel, it’s worth looking into B&B accommodation, which is wonderful and very affordable, with the added benefit of great hosts that will be only too happy to chat with you and tell you about the area, places to go, eat and more. One of our hosts helped us enormously when we told him we’re after buying a car, warning us about potential pitfalls and frauds and even went online to find and print out car adverts for us. They will also arrange taxis etc for you, if needed.

When booking a B&B, avoid going through the first online booking agent you see. They add a commission and you end up paying way more than you will when booking directly with the B&B’s owners. Rates vary greatly depending on the B&B, some may let any children stay for free, or at a reduced rate. If you are on a tight budget, shop around first. Out of season (during winter) many B&B’s are closed, but there are many that stay open year round and vacancies in the slower months are easier to find. When we came over we drove around looking for B&B signs, stopped and asked if they had vacancies. It sometimes took up to five stops before we found a vacancy though. Also keep in mind that many B&B’s are extensions of private homes, so start looking and enquiring late afternoon/early evening. The benefit of this flexible approach to accommodation is that it leaves you free to go about as you please and not have to be in a certain town or village on certain days. Most of the B&B’s we stayed in were lovely and the hosts wonderful, except one in Cavan. The hostess was very unfriendly and our room was haunted. But that one thankfully was an exception on both counts! Air B&B bookings are gaining popularity in Ireland as well and is also worth checking out.

Food-wise… B&B’s serve a good size “full Irish” breakfast (with healthier cereals and fruit for the less adventurous). When dining out, some of the nicest meals we had were in pubs. Delicious, generous dinners and very affordable too. If you are on a very tight budget, check supermarkets for ready meals and ask your B&B host if they’d heat it up for you. Otherwise, even the smallest Irish villages now host a Chinese or other foreign owned Take-Away/fast food restaurant, often locally known as the “chipper”. These offer meals ranging from burgers, to fish and chips, kebabs and pizzas and some are really, really good! I’ve had burgers from “chippers” that would put MacDonald’s to shame and at half the price of one from the more popular outlets.

Exploring West Cork

When traveling around Ireland, we didn’t pick out “must see” places beforehand and drove around and explored spontaneously instead (and got lost frequently!) Buy a good road map book and get a good GPS, but allow for some “off the beaten track” adventures away from the main tourist attractions as well. I found some incredible places, castles, beaches and little villages by asking locals and just driving around, exploring. Not saying diss the tourist spots, but after paying to see the Cliffs of Moher, I discovered Achill Island’s coastline is just as stunning, if not more so, and there is more of it too. (And it’s free…)

If you want to see castles, the locals would most likely recommend the more well known ones, like Kilkenny, but I found incredible castles by exploring, like Lismore Castle, Co Waterford. I am crazy about castles and found there are many, many wonderful ones to explore here. Some are open to the public, some are on private land. I’ve started documenting the castles I found in the Irish Castles section.

There are lots of truly wonderful places here, villages, etc that are not well known. Be spontaneous and adventurous and ask locals. They know the best places and most of them are only to happy to recommend places or show you where to go. We picked up a hitchhiker near Cork city one day and he ended up showing us the region around Castletownbearhaven and the road up to Dursey Island, which is quite simply breathtakingly beautiful! He also recommended the lovely town of Eyeries and that region ended up becoming one of our favourite haunts.

I feel personally, that the best way to really experience Ireland would be to head off the beaten track, find and explore the smaller villages, follow the small roads, talk to the locals, be open-minded and be spontaneous. You never know what you’ll find, but I can assure you, you will not be disappointed!

Some personal recommendations and quick tips:

Jaunting Car Ride – Killarney

If your time is limited, head South-west to Co Kerry and Co Cork and explore the coast line, go for a “jaunting car” ride in Killarney (it’s well worth the money spent) and drive along the coast up towards Waterford, stopping along the way in places like Eyeries, Allihies, Glengariff, Baltimore, Clonakilty…

Co Clare is lovely too, with the curious “Burren”, well worth a drive through and a stop. I lived in the Burren for about 3 months. It’s an amazing landscape, quite unlike anything I’ve seen before.

If you head up the coast towards Mayo, clear a day or two for exploring the amazing Achill Island…. 

Achill Island – Co Mayo

Pack clothing for all weathers (it’s almost guaranteed to rain at least a little bit most days) and pack good waterproof shoes for exploring, especially around the castles. Note that Ireland is often wet, so make sure your shoes have non-slip soles!  The charm of an ancient ruin will quickly fade when you lose your footing and and land on a gorse (been there, done that… Those plants are mean!)

Make sure you always have some cash on hand, especially coins, for parking meters, toll gates, public toilets (usually 20c coins) and small purchases. Some shops require a minimum purchase of €10 for card payments. Many also offer a “cash back”, so you can ask them to add an amount of up to €50 or so onto the transaction, which they give you back in cash.

If driving on the M50 around Dublin check in at the nearest filling station as soon as possible afterwards and give them your car’s plate number so they can see if you have to pay the e-toll. (Chances are you would) The sooner you get that done, the better. We tried to pay ours later in West Cork at a shop that claimed they can take the payments, but couldn’t, and nearly got fined!

Most importantly, keep your camera battery charged and have fun!

Buying a car and getting insurance in Ireland

Buying a car and getting insurance in Ireland for immigrants can be an expensive hassle, so it pays to do your homework and be as prepared as you can be, before you start shopping.

First of all, let’s talk a bit about buying a car. The easiest way would seem to do what we did, when we arrived. Do a quick tour of the dealerships in and around Dublin and buy a car that looked to be suitable and not too expensive.  On hindsight that turned out to be a very expensive mistake.

First off,  cars in and around Dublin are fair expensive. Setting a price range and shopping around in counties further afield can save you a LOT of money and potentially bag you a real bargain. So take your time and don’t hesitate to travel to get to a better deal. Don’t discount private sales either. I bought a lovely car privately, negotiated on the price a bit and ended up getting a good car at way less than I expected to and was prepared to pay. Look and look and look some more before you buy.

Secondly, once you find a car you like, before you buy, check if the vehicle has an up-to-date NCT, road tax paid up etc. If not, and it’s often the case,  these requirements would add to the cost and hassle (getting an appointment for an NCT test usually takes a few weeks, add to that the pre-NCT check at a garage and inevitable minor repairs needed). Check the disks and ask the dealer/seller.  The tax disc states the annual amount payable and expiry/due date.

Secondly, let’s have a look at car insurance. This, in Ireland, is a sore point, with premiums high and increases over the last 2 years hitting cash strapped motorists hard.

TIP: Before you buy a car, contact a few car insurance companies and/or an insurance broker and find out what their restrictions are.  Ask them about any restrictions on vehicles, your licence, your driving and insurance history etc and buy a car accordingly. 

If you buy a vehicle on a foreign driving licence be prepared to be turned down by a few companies. I spoke to a few that will not, for any amount of money, insure you on anything other than a full Irish or preliminary licence. One company told us they will insure a foreign licence holder for a month only, another said they will not insure a vehicle older than 10 years for a foreign licence holder.  Another company told me they will only insure foreign drivers holding licences from the UK, other EU countries and “possibly” Australia.

Some companies now refuse to insure cars older than 10 years and one told me today they will not insure cars older than 17 years (currently 2000 model), so find out of your chosen company has a  restriction on car age etc before you buy one. Or just play it safe and buy a car no older than around 9 years.

Insurance companies keep changing their regulations, so phone around and ask questions, or go through an insurance broker and let them do it for you.

Something that is required by some insurance companies and will save you a small fortune with all of them is what they call a “no claims bonus”. This means providing paperwork proving that you have had previous insurance for a car or other vehicle in your country of origin and even better, no claims. Ask your insurance company to write you a letter detailing your insurance history with them and present this to the company you contact for a quote in Ireland. It will save you a LOT of money! If you are from a country where insurance is not compulsory (like South Africa) and have no insurance history and/or was not named on  a car insurance policy in the last one to two years, be prepared to fork out an exorbitant fee for your first year’s insurance in Ireland. And be prepared to be turned down by some companies for lack of experience.

If you find yourself in this unfortunate position, your cheapest option would be Third Party Insurance, if you can get it, which is the minimum legal requirement and will generally insure you for claims resulting from any third parties due to damage caused by your car. This includes damage to the third parties car, their property and personal injury. This level of insurance will not cover damage to or theft on your car though, so if you are in an accident you will have to pay the damages and repairs sustained by your car yourself. The first year’s fee for this cover however could still set you back a substantial amount of money and finding a company that is willing to insure you may take some effort, so find out before you buy a car and when you do, buy a car with a low market value, until you have some “history” with your insurance company and can get better rates.

Also see my post about Driving In Ireland

 

Buying Property In Ireland

When we first came to Ireland we had a look around the lower price end of the property market here, which after the recession, saw prices on some properties drop by up to 75%. A buyers market indeed. And in many parts of the country there are amazing bargains to be snapped up still, so this is definitely something to keep in mind if you’re planning on settling here. With that said though, cash is king right now and the banks are VERY sticky about giving mortgages.

If you are in a position to buy, or looking to invest in property here, there are loads of properties advertised for sale online and many more not, so it’s worth your time visiting property agents, or auctioneers as they are called here, offices and even asking around locally when shopping.

Most auctioneers we found are very helpful and informative, until it came to viewing the properties we were enquiring about… Things got interesting there. First of all, getting said auctioneer to leave their cozy office and go show you the property in question did not happen for us. What we did get was some delightfully vague directions along the lines of “Drive about a mile down that road, turn left at the school, continue down that road, second left…” We never did find that school. An hour, grand tour of the region and a stop at a dairy farm to ask the alarmed looking farmer for directions back to where we started later, we gave up and went searching for our next adventure… ehh, property to view.

Another property that looked promising from the single pic and description lead us down a dirt track and into a bog. Stopping for directions I asked an old lady how to get to Knocknagashel. She rather rudely told me “That’s not how you pronounce it!” I decided against telling her the place we were actually looking for from there was Meenbannivane…

Bottom line: Unless you have a good up-to-date GPS (ours swore we were in Spain at the time), a 4×4 and a burning desire to explore the region, talk the auctioneer into taking you to the property.

If/when you finally locate your property of interest, be prepared that it may not not resemble the 1-year old photos you saw when window shopping. This is often the case for properties on the lower price end of the market. Also be prepared that the auctioneer may never have set foot on or near the property in question and will be as surprised as you are about the state of the place. We went back and asked the auctioneer about the tree growing in the lounge of one house and she responded by telling me that same property is currently on the market for about a ¼ of it’s “one year ago” value… O.K. There is still a tree growing in the lounge… Another house we looked at haven’t been entered by a human since the previous owner (diseased) left it 10 years ago. The current owner, after using a crow bar to get the door open, had a wonderful time exploring the inside of the house and it’s contents with us. The previous owner’s breakfast dishes and condiments were still on the kitchen table… I found that both a bit sad and rather creepy.

Bottom line #2: Be open-minded.

With that said, some auctioneers are wonderfully honest about their properties. I remember a property description for a very derelict house in Co Clare, the description:  “Classic renovation project comprising derelict cottage, outbuilding on circa 3 acres partly hilly land. House has been empty for decades, and is now a roofless house shaped pile of stones with a hawthorn tree growing inside, and full of brambles. Situated in a quiet, rural, somewhat out of the way location with river running near the house. Access from the public road by drivable track . Numerous mature trees on site. Small scale quarry on site. Major project for the adventurous. Could be wonderful.” Got to love that optimism!

Stopping for directions to properties can be half the fun of property shopping here. In North Cork I got invited in for a cup of tea by a lady who’s house we stopped by to ask for help, after failing to locate a cottage we were interested in. Turned out we drove past it 3 times, not recognising it. (See the bit above about 1-year old pics). On more than one occasion our stopping to ask for directions resulted in “Oh, such-and-such’s house is for sale! How much do they want for it?” And a lengthy discussion about the property and poor such-and-such while we patiently waited for directions. My personal favourite was an old man walking his dog who gave me the most delightful and delighted grin, telling me “Yer lost! Yer lost” I think we made his day… I still smile when I remember that.

Bottom line #3: Be patient.

Now, an important and another very interesting part of buying property here especially is: the price. Asking prices are one thing (and often wishful thinking on the vendor’s part). Offering prices that may be considered and accepted, are a completely different thing. We got advised (by auctioneers) to offer €90,000 on a house that was at the time listed at €265,000 and €25,000 for a house that was listed at nearly €80,000. Talk to the auctioneers about your budget and don’t be shy to under offer if it looks feasible. Obviously this kind of under offering is not going to work everywhere and on any type of property, but there often is wiggle room and sometimes quite a lot of it. Especially on properties in less desirable areas (outside Dublin for starters) and properties that have been vacant and on the market for a year or so.

We ended up renting a property for the time being, but are still watching the market and watching prices rise and fall in regions, so depending on where you’d like to buy, it will be well worth it to take some time and do your homework before committing.
Happy house hunting!

Driving In Ireland

When I moved to Ireland I considered myself a very good driver…. I’ve since become an expert in driving on the wrong side of the road, down the middle of the road and even on the pavement, if needed. I can execute split second emergency stops on muddy country roads, I’ve become a pro at hedge clipping, without damaging the paintwork on my car, going through roundabouts without slowing down much, squeezing past oncoming vehicles with literally millimetres to spare (without panicking) and I can park like a pro… Wherever I can fit my car, including on the street.

I’m not sure if this is a good thing?!?

See the Stop sign a little bit further down the road? Enough said…

Ireland’s roads are interesting and driving here even more so. With that said, driving around is definitely the best way to explore the country, if a bit stressful at times! Here are some things I learned and found from driving around here.

Parking outside of designated parking spaces are a “It fits, I sits”, affair. The perfect “fit” is often on the road…

I once found a car parked at a Stop sign in an intersection. Sideways. This one couldn’t be bothered with such fanciness, but at least tried to get as close to the side of the road as possible:

Forcing the car coming from behind to execute a risky overtake manoeuvre to get into the traffic on this 4-way intersection:

I also once patiently sat for a few minutes behind a lorry I was following, before realising that it wasn’t going anywhere… At least not yet. It’s driver calmly parked it right there, on the road, before going off to do his business.

Parking in the side of the road facing oncoming traffic is perfectly acceptable.

Road signs and rules in Ireland are standard fare, with signs being very carefully designed to get the message across clearly as can be seen here.

Whenever possible, in Ireland we drive on left hand side of the road. (And most vehicles in Ireland are right hand drive.) If necessary, and it often is, it’s acceptable to drive down the middle of the road, or the “wrong” side of the road. The reason for this being:

Narrow roads with no off-street parking. You will find cars lined up on urban streets with two wheels on the pavement and half the car on the street, carving the already limited tarmac to single lane traffic, driver from both directions politely waiting, or “yielding” before taking turns to travel down the middle the road, or zig zagging in and out of “parking spaces” along the road, pausing to let incoming traffic through. And…

Sheep. In many parts of the country roads are dotted with free range sheep (with zero road sense). You will also see signs in rural parts of the country warning you against “sheep on the road”.

Cyclists are regarded as and treated similar to all other traffic and many cyclists will not get off the road to let you pass, so you may find the occasional one, or group, peddling away happily down the road with a long line of cars behind them, patiently waiting for an opportunity to overtake.

Drivers in Ireland are generally very polite, patient and forgiving. (Until they get onto the motorways, when you may find the odd rude one) Pedestrians on the roads get given a wide berth when passed and if there is not enough space to do so, cars will slow right down and crawl past them. Which makes walking here very pleasant.

Navigating heavy town traffic can be interesting, but something I and many other drivers here do, is follow what I think of as “path carvers”. What this means is tucking in behind another vehicle and letting them navigate through the traffic, with you tail gaiting. This works especially well when you are following a truck or bus, they make lots of space! This practice can make driving through heavy traffic and these crazy tight streets much easier and provide some unexpected humorous situations too, like when the “follower” vehicle’s driver get so focused on following you, that they forget to watch WHERE they are following you to. I’ve had a Learner driver try to follow me into a parking space once. And another car obediently pulling over on the side of the road when I stopped so my son can take a quick bathroom break, much to my son’s dismay!

The speed limit on many of especially the smaller rural roads is a dare. I would recommend driving at a pace you are comfortable with and making sure you do not exceed the limits signposted. With that said, the council sometimes apparently leave it up to drivers to decide what speed limit they feel comfortable with…

Once you get to one of those narrow (approximately 8 feet wide) and very twisty little roads going down a mountain and see the sign optimistically saying 80km (50miles)/h, you’ll understand….

When approaching a pedestrian crossing, look for pedestrians and be prepared to stop, to let them cross. It’s expected here. I.e. they will cross the road and expect you to stop! Often cars will also stop at other places on the street (when feasible), to let pedestrians cross. (I did mention that drivers here are very polite)

When you’re driving and see an approaching vehicle flash it’s lights at you, it’s to warn you. A quick flash-flash is usually a head’s up that there is something needing caution ahead, possibly an animal on or close to the road, or pedestrians (where you wouldn’t normally expect to find some). When oncoming cars flash-flash-flash their lights at you rapidly and clearly with the aim to get your attention, it usually means there is something serious going on ahead, like a road traffic accident. Either way, if you see flashing lights, slow down.

When renting a car, do take the insurance offered. If only for peace of mind, though after chatting with an American tourist who managed to lose both a tyre and a rearview mirror within 5 days of arriving here… I’d say just get insured. It’s cheaper.

**A note on drivers licences: If you hold a valid driver’s licence from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Jersey, Isle of Man or Switzerland, you can exchange your licence for an Irish drivers licence, but must do so within one year of your licence expiring. I’ve also been told that you have to do this exchange within one year of arriving in Ireland, but for insurance purposes, I’d suggest do it asap.

Drivers with a licence issued by an EU/EEA member state can continue driving on this licence in Ireland until it expires. If they wish to exchange their licence for an Irish one, they must do so within ten years of their original licence expiring.

Drivers from the United States and Canada can drive in Ireland on a drivers licence (or international driving permit) from their country of origin for one year. If you are staying longer than one year, you will have to apply for an Irish drivers licence.

You can also apply for an international drivers licence which is valid for one year after the date of issue. This licence is recognised by any nation, including Ireland, that has signed the 1926 or 1949 UN Convention on road traffic. If you are travelling to Ireland from another country, contact your embassy in Ireland in advance to confirm whether this licence type will be accepted.

You may also like: Buying a car and getting insurance in Ireland
Happy driving!