Enjoying Life's Little Pleasures

The Ariel House Blog

Dublin After Dark

With Halloween around the corner and kids on midterm, one great way to celebrate the holiday is to hop on board the Ghost bus tour. The bus operates every evening at eight o’clock in the evening, and is a fantastic way to explore the darker side of Dublin.

The evening begins with a spooky experience as you board the bus. Ghoulish figures wait in the corridor for you as you pass by, and eerie displays of dolls and creepy clowns are set up along the interior walkway into the bus. Once you’ve made it through the terrifying twists and turns of the dark bus, you can head up the stairs and find a seat in the dimly lit room.

 

Upstairs, your guide will meet you and welcome you onboard the bus with a scary and funny introduction. He then begins by introducing you to one of Dublin’s most well-known figures, Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. You’ll hear a short history of the novel and how Bram Stoker was inspired to write it. Your guide will also perform live readings of Dracula along with acting out certain aspects of the book. As he performs, eerie noises and sound effects can be heard echoing up the bus’s staircase.

 

After listening to some of Dracula, the bus will drive you past several Dublin buildings with dark pasts. The first building is an old hotel, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young girl. Another building that the tour makes its way past is the home of an old anatomy professor who enjoyed working with “fresh cadavers”. The guide gives detailed retellings of both the sinister professor and the hotel’s ghost as you make your way to the first outdoor stop of the tour—Dublin Castle.

 

At Dublin Castle, everyone piles out of the bus and makes their way into the castle courtyard for an after-hours tour. The tour heads underneath the castle to see the old River Coddle, which used to run right through the centre of Dublin. As you wander the ancient stone corridors beneath the castle your guide will talk about the excavation of the river and tell some spooky ghost stories, too.

 

After your tour of the hidden part of Dublin Castle, your guide will lead you back to the bus, which will make its way out to the old cemetery in St. Kevin’s park. In the cemetery your guide will explain to you some spooky stories concerning those who lie at rest in the park before taking you right into the heart of the cemetery and explaining how people used to be buried. You will also hear about ancient body-snatchers, and why this was such a popular occupation for those interested in criminal activities.

 

Once you’ve learned all about body-snatching, you will head back to the bus for the ghost bus quiz! Your guide will play theme songs from famous horror movies and you and the rest of your tour group will work together as a team to guess which theme song matches with which movie. The grand prize for the quiz is a copy of Dracula, which you can take home as a souvenir of your evening onboard the ghost bus!

 

The quiz is the last part of your tour, which will end back on O’Connell Street. After such a spooky evening it’s time to head back to Ariel House for a good night’s sleep. And don’t worry, we’ll leave the lights on in the Drawing Room to scare away any wandering ghosts! Happy Halloween!

 

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Life in the Countryside

 

For anyone interested in seeing what life in the Irish countryside is like, a great place to go for a day is Causey Farm! Causey Farm is a beautiful farm located in Kells, which is about an hour outside of Dublin. The farm is a family owned business run by the Murtagh family, who raise livestock and grow several varieties of vegetables for profit. The farm also hosts year-round events and activities and organizes visits for all kinds of travelers!

During your visit to the farm, you can observe a live sheepdog demonstration. The dogs are trained from a young age to herd the sheep into pens. During the visits the dogs herd the sheep right over to the visitors so that guests can say ‘hello’!

 

After watching the sheepdog demo, visitors can head over to the barn where they can learn how to milk a cow. You can even try tasting some of the milk—it’s guaranteed to be the freshest in Ireland! The farm breeds their cows as well, and there are often several calves in the barn. Next to the cows is a small doghouse, for some of the retired sheepdogs to rest. The female dogs are bred for puppies, which are often found sleeping on the straw in the barn. The most recent litter of pups was born just four weeks ago! Little piglets, lambs, and donkeys can also be found in the barn.

 

Once you’ve met all the animals on the farm, it’s time to let out your adventurous side! The farm operates tractor rides out to the bog down the road. You can walk out safely about 20 meters into the bog, where you can observe turf cutting. Or, if you’re feeling brave, you can try walking or jumping in one of the many mud pools found in the bog. They say it’s great for the skin!

After spending time in the bog, head back over to the farm for some traditional Irish activities! You can try your hand at playing the Bodhran, a traditional goatskin drum, or you can learn Ceili dancing. You can also join in a game of hurling! If none of these options appeal, you can also sit in on a mini-Gaelic lesson and learn a few words of Irish.

 

After all that activity, it’s time to head back to the barn to end your day with tea and freshly baked scones. In the long cookhouse you can either bake your own Irish soda bread to enjoy, or you can have scones with jam and butter. Either way, it’s the perfect snack to end a long day of entertaining activities!

 

See you next week for more activities, sights, and events around Ireland!

 

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An Aran Island Adventure

Dublin is a beautiful city, and is a wonderful place to visit during your time on Ireland’s east coast. However, Ireland’s west coast also has much to offer and is a beautiful place to visit during your stay in Ireland. One of the more rugged areas along the west coast is the Aran Islands, which make for a unique and special experience if you get a chance to visit!

 

The Aran Islands are made up of three islands just 30 miles away from Galway City. The three islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer, are located in County Galway and are part of the Gaeltacht area where Irish Gaelic is spoken as the first language. The islands have flourishing agriculture, fishing, and wool industries and many of the traditional wool sweaters are shipped worldwide. Tourism is also a growing industry on the island as visitors flock to the islands for their rugged and barren appearance.

 

To begin a visit to the Aran Islands, you can choose to access the islands by either plane or ferry. The largest of the three islands, and the most visited, is Inishmore. The ferry offers beautiful views of the ocean and a great vista as you approach the islands from the sea. It’s also quite fast and takes only forty minutes to get from the mainland to Inishmore, fifty minutes to Inishmaan, and an hour to Inisheer.

 

Once on the island, there are several entertaining things to do. First, you can wander around the shops and pick up a genuine hand-knitted wool sweater from a traditional Aran sweater shop! You can also enjoy a slice of Man of Aran fudge, which is a beautiful family owned Fudge Company located on the island.

After you’ve armed yourself with fudge and a sweater to keep you warm, it’s time to head off and explore the island! There are numerous footpaths which circle the island, or you can rent bikes or a horse and carriage to take you around the island. Whichever you choose, be sure to stop along the coast to see the seals basking on the rocks!

Just past the seals is the ancient fort of Dun Aengus. Dun Aengus is a prehistoric fort that is built on top of the cliffs of Inishmore. Much of the structure dates back all the way to the Bronze Age, with other segments of walls in the building dating back to the Iron Age. From up on the fort you can get stunning views of the sheer cliffs and the thrashing waves along the coast of the island.

 

Finally, make your way back down from the cliffs and head back into town. The ferry runs every hour and will be waiting to pick you up and take you back to the mainland, where you can enjoy a hot cup of tea. The Aran Islands are sure to add excitement to your trip and make for a memorable visit to Ireland!

 

See you next week for more activities, sights, and events around Ireland!

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Butler’s Chocolate Experience

Did you know that out near the Dublin Airport is a real-life Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory? Well, there is! Butler’s Chocolates are an Irish chocolate brand with a working factory just a short drive from Dublin city centre.

 

Butler’s Chocolates was founded in 1932 by Marion Butler under the name Chez Nous Chocolates. She made all the chocolates by hand and sold them in the George’s Street Arcade and at the horse races in town. She ran the business by herself until it was bought by the Sorensen family from Cork in 1959. Today the company has expanded and now has stores and cafes in over forty countries.

 

Butler’s Chocolate Factory is the only butler’s Factory in the world, and it is located right here in Dublin! The factory operates five days a week, with operations being closed on Friday evenings and weekends. Visitors can tour the factory throughout the week to learn about the history of Butler’s Chocolates, watch a working factory in action, and even make some chocolate of their own!

A visit to Butler’s Chocolates begins with a movie all about the history of chocolate and how it was first discovered. The video also gives more insight into the history of Butler’s chocolates and explains how the company made the shift from a small business to the multi-national organization that it is today. What’s more, as you watch the video you can enjoy samples of Butler’s white, dark, and milk chocolate varieties.

Next stop on the tour is the museum. The museum explains how chocolate is made and what products can be made from the cocoa bean. As you make your way around the museum, you can enjoy one of Butler’s praline truffles. You can also complete an optional scavenger hunt – a great addition for families with small children!

 

After wandering around the museum, it’s time to visit the factory and see how the different kinds of chocolates are made. You can watch as chocolatiers pull taffy, make different varieties of fudge, make handmade truffles, and create Butler’s many flavored chocolate bars. You can also watch the packaging and wrapping process, all of which is done by hand. As you watch the factory processes in action, you can enjoy a piece of Butler’s vanilla or chocolate fudge.

Finally, the last part of the chocolate factory tour is the experience room. In the experience room, you can first watch a live demonstration of how the flavored, filled chocolates are made up close. Afterwards, enjoy one of the freshly made filled chocolates and get ready to decorate your own chocolate animal! You can paint white chocolate onto a milk chocolate elephant, egg, or bunny and be a Butler’s chocolatier for a day. Sip on a delectable milk hot chocolate as you work on your handmade creation!

 

A wonderful way to end your afternoon at the Butler’s Chocolate Factory is with a visit to the Butler’s Café. There you can enjoy some more of the factory’s handmade truffles, try one of Butler’s gourmet flavoured hot chocolates, or have a cup of afternoon tea and one of Butler’s chocolate bars.

Next week I’ll be posting about an evening of Irish music, dancing, and good craic! See you then!

 

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Spending the day in Belfast

Only a short bus-ride north of Dublin is the beautiful Northern Ireland city of Belfast! Belfast is about an hour and ten minutes away by bus or car. If you aren’t renting a car during your stay, Dublin Coach makes a nonstop trip up to Belfast every hour beginning at 5:30am and ending at 8:30pm.

When you arrive in Belfast, there are a number of great attractions to see. The most popular place to visit in Belfast is the Titanic Museum, which is a wonderful exhibition all about the history of the Titanic! The Titanic was originally built in Belfast, and the museum has lots of local tidbits of information about the building of the famous ship.

The museum also has several interactive exhibits, including a hands-on video experience showing the excavation of the Titanic wreckage site.

Another great place to stop at in Belfast is the City Hall. This past June the City Hall built a free exhibit about the history of the city. The exhibit has several different rooms, showing how Belfast has grown and changed over the years and talking about noteworthy people who are originally from the city.

Belfast is a great city to walk around in as well, and there are several beautiful landmarks that you can stop by as you explore the city. One of the first landmarks to see is the Big Fish, an iconic fish-shaped monument along the waterfront. The Big Fish is a ten meter long mosaic sculpture which was constructed to celebrate the revitalizing of the River Lagan which runs through Belfast. You can also visit the Albert Memorial Clock, which was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s consort. The clock tower is modeled after Big Ben in London, and offered a great view of the launching of the Titanic!

Lastly, an excellent place to go to end your day in Belfast is the botanic gardens. The botanic gardens have many varieties of trees and plants and also house a stunning greenhouse. In addition, the gardens have a very extensive rose garden which visitors can walk around and enjoy. It’s a great place to go to end an afternoon.

Belfast is a wonderful place to visit for a few days, and makes for a wonderful place to go to spend a morning outside of Dublin. After a busy day up north, don’t forget to head back to Ariel House for a cup of tea and a traybake!

 

Next week I’ll be posting about some of Dublin’s most delicious chocolate and where you can go to watch them being made. See you then!

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Touring Northern Ireland

Many visitors to Ireland like the idea of getting out of Dublin and seeing some more of the country, but there isn’t always time to spend multiple days doing it. The good news is, Darby O’Gill Tours does a lovely day tour up to Northern Ireland!

 

The tour begins at 7:30am at the Custom House Quay and drives up North to the Giant’s Causeway. The Causeway is a beautiful natural land formation of basalt rock columns that formed thousands of years ago. It is one of the largest basaltic rock fields of its kind, and is made up of 40,000 columns!

The famous legend of the Giant’s Causeway says that a gentle giant named Finn lived at the Causeway many years ago. Finn and another giant from Scotland, named Benandonner, got into a big fight and decided to have a contest to find out who was the stronger of the two. In order to make the contest possible, Finn began to build the causeway as a long road so that he could cross over to Scotland for the competition. However, while he was building it he got so tired that he fell asleep! When he woke up, he heard huge pounding footsteps. Finn knew that it was Bennandonner coming to attack him! Thinking quickly, his wife dressed Finn in a bonnet and nightgown and put him to bed. When Bennandonner arrived, he saw Finn and mistook him for a little baby. He became terrified, thinking that if the baby was that large then how much bigger must Finn be! He was so scared that he ran all the way back to Scotland, shattering the Giant’s Causeway as he ran. Today, the rock formations along the coast are all that are left of the road Finn built to Scotland.

After you’ve seen Finn’s handiwork (and don’t worry, if you see him he’s a very friendly giant!), the tour will take you out to Carick-a-Rede rope bridge. The bridge is an old bridge used by fisherman to cross over to one of the islands off the coast! Today visitors can cross the same bridge for some beautiful views out to see.

Next, the tour stops by the Barn Café for lunch. The café has a delicious variety sandwiches, soups, and traditional Irish meals. After lunch, the bus heads over to the Dark Hedges. The Dark Hedges are a beautiful row of trees along the road which were planted by the Stuart family to impress visitors on their way up to the Stuart mansion. Today, the Dark Hedges are a much visited tourist attraction because of their use as a filming location for the hit TV series Game of Thrones.

On your way back down to Dublin the tour will stop by Dunluce Castle for a photo opportunity. The castle is mostly in ruins, but it’s an interesting piece of history for visitors to explore! The tour arrives back in Dublin at 6:30pm outside the Gresham Hotel, just in time for dinner or a welcoming cup of tea back at Ariel House.

 

Next week I’ll be writing about another lovely place to spend a day in Northern Ireland – Belfast! See you then!

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Back Stage at The Abbey Theatre

If you love theatre and the arts, then a great place to go for an afternoon is Abbey Theatre. The Abbey is the original National Theatre and was founded by Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats. And the most exciting part is that it’s still in operation today! You can attend a show there, or, if you’re like me and you only have an afternoon to spare, you can take a backstage tour and see how the theatre is run.

The first stop on the tour is actually the foyer, where you will learn about the history of the theatre and how it was originally set up. What’s really fascinating about the theatre, is that it was actually used in the 1916 Easter Rising. During the Rising, the rebels were publishing illegal papers speaking in favor of Ireland’s independence. The printing press for these documents was hidden under the Abbey Theatre stage when it was not in use at the General Post Office or when the leaders of the rising believed that they would be searched.

After learning about some of the history of the theatre, the tour heads upstairs to the bar where you can learn a see portraits of the founders on the walls. There is a lovely portrait of Lady Gregory, who co-established the theatre with Yeats. Across the room from Lady Gregory are two portraits of the Fay brothers, who brought their theatre troupe into the theatre and helped gain a good reputation for the Abbey. Finally, there is a large portrait of William Butler Yeats himself, which was painted specifically for the theatre.

Next stop along the tour is the Abbey Stage itself. First, guests are led into the auditorium where they can observe the beautiful wood paneled walls. Then, the tour walks onto the actual stage. On most days, the production crew will be downstairs setting up for the evening’s performance, so you’ll really get to feel like part of the action!

The last stop on the tour is the costume and makeup department, which is upstairs above the stage. Inside the department you can see the many different wigs the actors wear, and learn a little bit more about the process behind designing them. You can also see photographs of different costumes from past productions and learn how they were designed. If you’re lucky, there might even be a few costumes out on display.

The tour ends up back in the foyer, right where you started. If you want to, you can stay at the theatre for an evening or matinee production. Or, you can step downstairs into the Peacock café for a coffee before heading back to Ariel House.

Next week I’ll be posting about a wonderful way to get out of Dublin and up to Northern Ireland for a day. See you then!

 

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An Afternoon by the Sea

The Dublin Bay is a wonderful place to go to spend an afternoon, and one stop that you can’t miss is the beautiful fishing village of Bray! Bray is located south of Dublin and is only a short train ride away.

A great way to start your morning in Bray is with a walk along the pier.

There is a lovely seaside path that walks right along the sand, and offers beautiful views out to sea. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try going for a swim! However, they’re only about 13 degrees Celcius at the hottest time of the year. That’s about 55 degrees Fahrenheit – not very warm!

After spending the morning by the ocean, you can head off on the famous Bray to Greystones Cliff Walk. The walk goes right around the bay and wraps around the cliffs along the coast. If you look down, you can even see the DART running all the way out to Greystones!

Along your walk, you can take a little detour up to the Bray Cross. It’s only 170 meters up, but it can get tiring so bring good walking shoes! From the top of the mountain you get a stunning view out to sea and can also look down on the town of Bray. When you’re ready to continue your walk, you can either climb down and continue along the cliff path, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can continue on to Greystones bye walking through the mountains and down around the golf course. The mountain path joins up with the cliff path on several occasions, so if you want a change of scenery at any point you can always change your route!

When you make it to Greystones, you’ll probably be ready for a snack. You can either stop by one of the local takeaways for some fresh fish and chips, or you can grab a coffee and a crepe at La Creperie Pierre Gris. Both have some delicious ice cream to cool you down after your hike!

When you’re ready to head home, you can either board the DART to head back to Bray, or you can try walking back along the cliff path again and trying one of the other paths. Enjoy the lights of Bray and a stroll past the children’s carousel before heading back for a relaxing evening at Ariel House.

Next week I’ll be posting about one of Dublin’s theatres and its rich history. See you then!

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Ariel House; Broadway Comes to Dublin

The hit musical, Once, opened in Dublin last weekend and is a wonderful way to spend an evening out on the town! The musical is being performed at the Olympia Theatre every evening at eight o’clock and on Saturday afternoons at three o’clock.

 

Once is a beautiful musical which follows the story of a young Irish street musician living in Dublin. He is feeling discouraged after his last relationship, and is all but ready to give up music when he meets a young girl from the Czech Republic who brings his passion back to life. The two of them work together to help him produce his first musical album, and as they grow closer together they learn more about each other and more about love. It is a beautiful love story about how music brings people together.

 

The musical has been on Broadway for three years and was also performed in the West-End for two years. It has won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album, and an Oscar for Best Original Song, Falling Slowly.

 

One of the most exciting aspects of the show is the live music beforehand! The doors open an hour before the show begins for a stunning live music show. All of the actors in the musical are musicians, playing a variety of instruments including the bass, fiddle, and guitar. The actors are all Irish, as well, giving the musical a real at-home feel. After the pre-show music and drinks, the show segues seamlessly from a music performance into the splendid musical. During intermission, you can go up onstage and order a drink from the on-set bar!

 

Overall, this show will give you a night to remember! Next week I’ll be posting about a wonderful way to spend an afternoon by the sea. “Sea” you then!

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Ariel House; Getting to know Irish Gaelic

You may have noticed during your stay here in Dublin that Irish Gaelic is printed on all the street signs and buses. Irish plays an important historic and cultural role in Ireland, so to help you get more acquainted with the country and its people, I’ve interviewed one of my professors who is fluent in Irish about the Irish language!

 

 

One of the first things I asked my professor, Francis, was about the pronunciation of Irish words. Francis explained that many words in Irish have actually developed to drop sounds. This is why words like Dun Laoghaire (dun lee-ry) don’t sound out all the individual vowels and consonants. While hundreds of years ago each letter might have been pronounced, over time the words have evolved into the simplified version we hear today.

 

Another interesting aspect of Irish pronunciation is that the pronunciation changes depending on what vowel comes after each consonant. For example, in the phrase “man of the house”, fear an ti, the ‘t’ is very crisp and pronounced. However, in the word bull, an tarbh, the ‘t’ is much softer. All of this means that Irish ends up pretty complicated to pronounce!

 

Next I spoke to Francis about the grammar of Irish, and he explained that it is actually similar to the romantic languages. In fact, much like Latin, Irish has several cases and declensions. It also assigns a gender to each noun, which means that all the subjects must agree with the gender as well as the case. Finally, another unique fact about Irish grammar is that the verb always comes first. Because of this, people who grew up with Irish as their first language sometimes speak English with the same grammar and sentence structure that they would have in Irish.

 

 

Next, I talked to Francis about Irish language culture. He explained to me that at the moment there are seven areas which have been designated by the state as speaking Irish as their first language. Even so, less than 85,000 people actually speak Irish as their first language, and as a whole the language is on the decline. While Irish did used to be the first language of the people, in the 19th century it went out of fashion because people used to associate it with poverty.

 

While Irish may be on the decline, it is still an important part of Ireland’s history and culture. It colors the personalities of the people, and it tells the story of Ireland’s religious ties and other historical events.

 

Now to prepare you for your visit to Dublin, here are a few simple phrases to impress all your friends with!

Next week I’ll be writing about the hit Broadway musical Once, which has come to Dublin for the summer. See you then!

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