The Most Haunted House in Ireland

On the end of the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford sits a desolate old mansion that locals say is haunted by the Devil.

Loftus Hall, formerly Redmond Hall, has a long and turbulent past. We had not even heard of it, so were not planning on visiting. Elijah, however, learned of it from researching haunted sites in Ireland. The Hall has been the subject of several paranormal documentaries, books, and horror movies. So, naturally, he really wanted to go and see for himself. Since it was near the Hook Lighthouse, Ireland’s oldest functioning lighthouse and second oldest in the world, we decided to stop by. We never know where our family adventures will take us!

Loftus Hall wasn’t open until later, so we went to the Hook Lighthouse first. The lighthouse is impressive, it was much bigger than we expected. The current structure has stood for 846 years. We had a casual little second breakfast at the cafe overlooking scenic Wexford Harbor and then walked around the grounds.

Elijah, however, was impatient to get to the main attraction. He had read some intriguing stories about Loftus Hall and was ready to experience it himself.

This is one of the stories surrounding The Hall:

“It is for many years said to have been visited by the Devil, so many people from the surrounding area are nervous to enter the place after dark. Legend has it that during a storm at sea, a dark stranger approached the Hall on horseback after his ship was driven into nearby Slade Harbor with rough seas. He was invited in to seek shelter and spent some days with the Tottenham Family who were living at the Hall at the time. The young Lady Anne Tottenham was especially taken with this dark stranger and fell head over heels for him. One night during a card game, she dropped a card and upon bending down to retrieve it, she noticed that this dark stranger had cloven hoofs instead of feet. As soon as he realized what she had seen, he shot through the roof in a ball of flames.Anne never recovered, she went into a state of shock and madness and her family locked her in the tapestry room for fear that anyone would see her.She died a couple of years later, still quite young, but her death was no release as servants and family members reported seeing her wandering through the house at night. The family had the local catholic priest Fr. Broaders exorcise the Hall but he could not exorcise the tapestry room.”

We took the plunge and went on a tour. The guide was very good, good at keeping us scared. I’ll admit, I don’t believe in ghosts, but the place is more than a little creepy. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, so you’ll need to go see for yourself. You can also watch The Lodgers on Netflix to see the hall (Disclaimer, the story is not real, just the setting.).

We left Loftus Hall and headed for Kinsale in County Cork. Kinsale will be the first place we re-visit in Ireland. We were there 10 years ago and are anxious to see it again.

Categories: Ireland | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Rock

If you say you’re going to The Rock in California, everyone would assume you’re going to Alcatraz  in San Francisco Bay, but in Ireland its the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary.

Also known as Cashel of the Kings and St. Patrick’s Rock, this hilltop ruin is immersed in legend and history. Irish myths tell that the hill was formed when the Devil took a bite out of a mountain 20 miles north and spit it out on the plain as he was fleeing from St. Patrick. The Devil’s Bite, as the mountain is called, does look like a huge bite was taken out of it.

It is also reputed to be the site where St. Patrick converted the last pagan King of Munster to Christianity in the 5th century. For many centuries afterwards, it was the seat of the Kings of Munster. In the 12th century, it was donated to the church, who built a cathedral on the hill.

You can clearly see The Rock from any direction as you approach. It is a magnificent example of Celtic stone work and architecture. We highly recommend taking the open tour, about 45 minutes, to learn about the site. Since it is a very popular tourist spot, you’ll want to get there early before the loads of tour buses arrive.

The round tower reminded Elijah of every Disney fairy tale princess tower in movies. He was bummed that he couldn’t scale it. You aren’t even allowed inside for safety reasons.

Across from The Rock of Cashel is a less visited ruin of an old abbey. We packed a picnic lunch and headed over to see it. You have to be careful to dodge the minefield of cow patties on the way. The ruins themselves were impressive, but they also offered an amazing look back on The Rock.

Elijah’s favorite activity was exploring old ruins.

Next up, Elijah made us detour to the most haunted house in Ireland!

Categories: Ireland | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Oldest City in Ireland

Long before it was known for crystal, Waterford was an important port city in south east Ireland.

To be honest, we really had no interest in going to the famous Waterford Crystal factory. Even though it is internationally renowned we decided to pass it up. Maybe other family travelers can comment about it. An important distinction we learned is that the crystal is named after the city, not the other way around.

The most interesting thing for us was Reginald’s Tower. This 54 foot tall stone tower was built on the site of a wooden viking fortress and has been used as a fort, prison, home, storehouse, and mint. Most notably, it was the site where the legendary Strongbow (mentioned in my last post) married Irish princess Aoife.

It was only a couple of Euro to visit, so we went up. Inside is a small museum with displays, artifacts, a short movie, and good views of the city. Best of all is a cannon ball embedded high in the outer wall, a left over from a failed siege long ago.

The rest of Waterford to be honest is pretty lackluster. In fairness, it is a working class city with people doing jobs and not catering to throngs of tourists. It did make, however, a good base of operations to explore southeast Ireland.

We stayed at a wonderful Air BnB owned by Pat and his wife, Maureen. They recommended we try Brooklyn Restaurant in nearby Tramore for dinner. It was a very popular place with locals, so you know it has to be good. Luckily, Pat made reservations for us. The food was delicious! Since it was on the beach, we had great views too.

After a good nights sleep, we headed north for a day trip to the Rock of Cashel.

Up next, The Rock!

Categories: Ireland | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

We Found the Shire!

Parts of the Irish countryside look like they’re illustrations for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Places like Kells Priory are as quintessential Ireland as you can get. Amazingly, many of these Irish ruins and historical points are free and, better yet, off the beaten path. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy an inexpensive family adventure. We enjoyed just walking the two mile priory trail around the ruins, along the river, and through the village. You never know what you will find.

We found an old mill that reminded Elijah and I of The Old Mill in Hobbiton of the Shire. For those of you not familiar with Tolkien’s Middle Earth, I highly recommend reading the books or watching the movies before you go to Ireland. We had fun pretending we were actually there. I can check that childhood fantasy off my list now.

Elijah climbed up on an ancient wall to pose for a picture.

Mish found a more modern iconic artifact to pose with. Thanks to cell phones these old phone booths are now just decorations, but they do add to the ambiance.

From Kells Priory, we meandered our way to Waterford,  which is world famous for its crystal.

Categories: Ireland | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Our Second Day and Second Castle

Kilkenny Castle is the ancestral home of Richard de Clare, aka Strongbow.

You can’t visit Ireland without learning a little Irish history. Today, we learnt about Strongbow, not the cider but the man.

The legendary Strongbow is a controversial figure in Irish history. To some he is a mighty hero and to others he is the villain who first brought English rule to Ireland. He was an Anglo-Norman lord who was a little down on his luck and only partially in favor with his king, Henry II. As fate would have it, his fortunes changed when the ousted King of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough, came from Ireland to England seeking aid to regain his throne from Rory O’Connor, the High King of Ireland in 1166 AD.

Strongbow needed some quick money and agreed to help MacMurrough. So, with a 100 loyal knights and 1,000 soldiers, he set-off to Ireland. He succeeded in ousting O’Connor,  but also established himself as the dominant figure in Ireland, which did not make King Henry II very happy.

Strongbow established his seat of power at Kilkenny on the River Nore in 1173 AD. There he built his castle in 1213 AD and set himself up as an Irish lord. He even married the daughter of MacMurrough, Eva, thus solidifying his line of ascension to the throne of Ireland.

His castle has been handed down over the centuries and extensively modified and updated by new owners. Today, it is more of an estate than fortress. The wealthy Butler family purchased it in 1391 AD, who owned it until 1967 AD when they turned it over to the City of Kilkenny as an historic site.

It is a pretty over-the-top residence. Obviously, the previous owners had enormous wealth and power. Elijah was amused at the narcissistic way that they hung their portraits all over the castle and even had sculptures of themselves placed around. If you got it, flaunt it, I guess was their thinking.

We had a very nice afternoon tea in the castle cafe, which formerly was the butler’s pantry. I felt a little snubbed that us commoners could only eat in the servant’s area. Oh well, the chairs were more comfortable anyway.

The city of Kilkenny is lively with lots of unique shops and good pubs. We strolled around for a while and then headed to an old abbey and more history outside of town.

Our next stop was one of my most favorite so far on this trip!

 

Categories: Ireland | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Our First Irish Castle

Our family travels brought us to Trim, Ireland.

Now that we were rested and fed, we were eager to explore Ireland. We were sad to leave Crannmor Country Guest House, but excited to explore Ireland. We said goodby to Marc and Ann and all of the farm animals and headed out on country roads for adventure!

Probably the biggest excitement was re-learning to drive on the left side of the road. Plus, Ireland has some very narrow and winding roads flanked by thick vegetation, so driving was sort of like a bizarre amusement park ride. Rounding blind turns and coming head to head with a huge farm tractor got our hearts racing. Dodging the occasional stray sheep was a thrill too. I was really amazed that Mish and Elijah’s stomachs could handle my driving. After a while, it became normal, quick brake for a sheep crossing, sudden left turn for a tractor, accelerate around a horse and cart, hug the side for a huge truck, breath, loop a round about, and straight on. Easy!

Luckily, with Mish navigating and me focused on driving, we made it to Trim Castle. Trim Castle is the largest Norman castle in Ireland, completed in 1224 AD. The once mighty keep was built on the south side of the Boyne River on a small hill overlooking a ford in the river. It was a very strategic point and, therefore, an important stronghold. Today, all that remains of the impressive fortress is the outer wall and shell of the inner keep.

We toured the grounds and keep in awe of its sheer presence over the small town of Trim. You can, with a guide, enter the keep and climb all the way to the upper ramparts four stories above the grounds. Hugh de Lacy built the castle to clearly solidify Norman dominance in Ireland. Looking out across the landscape from the top of the keep, I could see how it probably intimidated everyone for miles around.

Below, the Boyne River lazily flowed around the walls as it has done for over eight centuries, oblivious to the battles and changing rulers of the land. The Normans eventually were expelled from Ireland and the castle was left to the elements and time. The history that took place here awed us.

We climbed back down the keep and walked across a bridge over the river to another ruin. The remains of an old stone church that stood across from the castle added to the beauty of the scene. You may recognize the area from the movie Braveheart, which was filmed there because the weather in Scotland was too poor.

We walked around the cute town and simply enjoyed the magnificent feeling of being in Ireland with all of its history.

Next up, Kilkenny!

Categories: Ireland | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

First Stop: Trim

Day one of our Irish road trip!

Family traveling in other countries is our passion! We love exploring new places as a family and we were very eager to get our adventure started. So, even after all the flying we headed for Trim.

Trim is a small town in the Boyne Valley in County Meath just 45 minutes northwest of Dublin. County Meath is considered the heritage center of Ireland. It is loaded with historical sites from all periods of Ireland’s colorful past.

Our first night we stayed at Crannmor Country Guest House. The owners, Marc and Ann, set a very high bar. Crannmor was everything and more we hoped for in quaint Irish country living. The house was picture perfect, the rooms were comfortable and tastefully decorated, and best of all, they had farm animals. We were greeted by two very exuberant Springer Spaniels. There were also ducks, goats, and two beautiful and friendly horses to pet. Marc introduced us to all of them while he explained their personalities and histories. We loved learning about them.

Ann recommended a lovely restaurant near the house called Dunderry Lodge. It was an old stone barn converted into a restaurant. It was perfect. The food was incredible. It was our first meal in Ireland and we loved every bite. Mish had her first pint of Irish cider to wash it down. That night we slept like Irish lambs.

The next morning, Ann prepared us custom ordered breakfasts. Mish and I had simple farm fresh poached eggs on toast. Elijah opted for the full Irish breakfast, which consists of bacon, sausages, fried eggs, baked beans, and roasted tomato halves. My cholesterol went up just looking at it. To go with it all, we had fresh baked brown bread smothered with real Irish gold butter and homemade jam from berries picked on the farm. It was as amazing as the dinner the night before.

During breakfast we chatted with Ann and Marc. I wish I had brought my fly rod because Marc is also a champion fly fishing guide. Hanging proudly in the dining room was one of his prize salmons he caught. I was very jealous with fish envy.

After breakfast, we headed out for our first historic site, Trim Castle.

Categories: Ireland | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

We arrived in Ireland (eventually)!

Budget family traveling is good for your wallet but bad for your back and sleep.

Mish got us a good deal on airline tickets to Ireland, so she booked them. The only problem was that there are no direct flights from San Jose to Dublin, so we were forced to take an indirect route. I tried to remember our family motto, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” In this case, however, I kept thinking of the destination the whole trip. Are we there yet?

 

We left Monday for San Jose, where we spent the night so we would not miss our early morning flight. From San Jose, we had a short hour flight to Las Vegas. Elijah really liked the five-hour layover. We had a chance to explore the infamous Vegas Strip. We dodged the 94° C heat in and out of casinos. We had not been in Las Vegas for over 10 years, so much had changed. The casinos are in their own way impressive, in an over-indulgent gaudy sort of way. They seem to get more elaborate each time we go. Other things in Sin City hadn’t changed, like people gambling away at all hours of the day. I am amazed that people apparently fail to see that logically the casinos bring in far more money than they pay out. That is why they can afford to build those outrageous themed monstrosities. Oh well, it’s not my money.

 

After walking and gawking we headed back to the airport for the long flight to London. We spent 10 hours on a 747-400. Despite the size of the aircraft, it got really small after a while. The flight was very smooth until we went over Greenland. We hit some pretty hard turbulence that left me a little frazzled. I was very glad to touch down at Gatwick.

 

We waited another hour layover and then, finally, boarded good old Ryanair for Dublin. We have traveled on this Irish no-frills airline several times. Their fleet is composed of all new Boeing 737’s but stripped to the most minimal possible. I think if they could make you stand, they would. Cheap and reliable.

Finally, after almost 20 hours of traveling, we walked off the plane and onto Irish soil! Now our real family adventure begins!

Categories: Ireland | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Back to Europe we Go!

The Irish hills are calling…

The school year is almost over! We have just two more days! Students think that they are the only ones anxious for summer vacation.

We are FINALLY heading back across the pond! We are flying into London next week. I remember 12 years ago when we first made the trip and started our family adventure. I am really looking forward to returning. Looking back on pictures of the boys back then makes me smile.

From London, we will fly good old Ryan Air to Dublin, where we will pick up a car and start our Irish road trip! Mishele has meticulously planned our route. We are going to spend three weeks leisurely touring Ireland. I can almost smell the fresh Irish countryside, taste the Guinness, hear the music streaming from the pubs, and touch the ancient castle ruins.

I will be blogging regularly from Ireland, so stay tuned!

 

Hills as green as emeralds
Cover the countryside
Lakes as blue as sapphires-
And Ireland’s special pride
And rivers that shine like silver
Make Ireland look so fair-
But the friendliness of her people
Is the richest treasure there.

-anonymous

Categories: Ireland | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

FIRST Robotics Competition

Let the games begin!

I’m right now watching the preliminary rounds of the First Robotics Competition regional event at the University of California Davis. I’ve never been to a robotics competition before, but was asked to help out with the team from my school, Carmel High School. Being a science geek, I was intrigued and agreed to come along. Plus, I am a little worried that robots are going to take over the world (I saw the Matrix and Terminator.).

I don’t think that I’m much help, however. These kids know their business. Many of them are seasoned veterans of hard robot battles and don’t need a novice like me getting in the way. I thought I was pretty handy with tools, but here I am a little out classed. So, I feel like a fifth wheel on a robot. Despite aimlessly walking around and trying to not mess things up, I’m really enjoying the event. Since the kids don’t need my help, I have plenty of time to watch and learn.


To say that these robots are impressive is an understatement. I had no idea that high school students could design, construct, program, and operate such sophisticated machines. Even more amazing, they are made from scratch in just eight weeks!

FIRST was founded by Dean Kamen, the man that invented the Segway (those cool two-wheel electric scooter-like devices you see in cities around the world). It is a non-profit organization that partners with industry, universities, NASA, and others to promote STEM education since 1992. They host FIRST Lego League Junior competitions for children starting as young as six years old and continue through high school with FIRST Robotics Competition. In FIRST, there are over 3,600 active teams from 30 countries that send robots to battle in the arena during the three day regional competition.


The competition event is difficult to explain. Every year it is a different challenge to keep students engaged and thinking. They need to create a unique robot for a specific purpose while keeping within the rules of the competition.

This year’s completion involves driving your robot around the playing field to pick up cubes and place them in specific cubbies and on high and low balances as you maneuver around competitors trying to get cubes too and stop you. You are randomly assigned to a team with two other robots, so it is a three on three match. You get extra points if at the end, and before time is up, your robot can grab a bar and pull itself up off the floor. If it can lift one or more other team robots with it, then you score even more points. Confused? Me too. The match combines, technical ingenuity, operating agility, and team strategy. It is a blast to watch!


I love programs like FIRST! It allows students to engage in solving complex problems, applying knowledge, working together, and utilizing tools and technology in a fun event. Our students clearly are enjoying themselves. As an educator, I can see the wheels turning in their young heads, not just on the robots they build.

Of course, I do feel a little dated. These robots are light years beyond the Erector Sets I loved as a child. Maybe I can impart a little experience to the team. If not, I’m having fun and learning!

Categories: The United States | Tags: | Leave a comment