Ireland August 2015 (Northern Ireland & Republic of Ireland)
Having scoured the internet to find some decently priced flights for a short trip to Europe I was surprised myself when I ended up booking flights from Doncaster to Dublin! After all this was an airport I’d never used before and a country, bizarrely, that I’d never been to!
Booked through Aer Lingus
EI3413 1455 Doncaster – Dublin
EI3412 1320 Dublin – Doncaster
Cork – Gabriel House Guesthouse – Summerhill North, St. Lukes, Cork
Situated on the hillside overlooking Cork Kent railway station, it’s only a 6 minute walk between the two; out of the station, turn left, up the old steps on the right hand side of the road, over the bridge attached to them, turn right when you get to the roadway and it’s about 100m up on the right. For a B&B it is quite s large place and the woman at reception was friendly and took us through what we needed to know about the local area, including the sights, eating and where the local tourist information office was. The room itself initially had a double bed and a single bed but the single was removed after the first night, which made it a bit more spacious. It was clean and with a large bathroom but lacked tea/coffee facilities.
Belfast – Ibis City Centre – 100 Castle Street, Belfast, BT1 1HF
Ibis Belfast City Centre, which is essentially just off Great Victoria Street with the walk only taking about 10 minutes from the platform at Great Vitoria Street to hotel lobby. We were checked in and in our room on the 6th floor in no time. The room was quiet, clean, had free WiFi, tea/coffee making facilities and shower gel was provided; pretty much as you’d expect from an Ibis anywhere in the world nowadays really.
Booked direct through Inter Rail
Interrail Pass (Single Country Ireland – 4 days in 1 month flexi) – £116
Booked online direct through Irish Rail
Advance single on the 1900 Dublin – Cork €19 each
Sunday 16th August 2015 (The first time I flew from Doncaster)
With a 1455 in the afternoon flight there was no rushing around to get to the airport and with having checked in online even less rushing around needed when we were dropped off at 1300. Some old guy at the airport doors seemed to be expecting us to say something as we walked in and in the end tried to direct us to the check-in desks when we’d told him where we were going and then seem a little surprised that we’d checked in online and were headed straight for security.
While it wasn’t busy at security it wasn’t the quickest of events to get from one side to the other, especially as the security staff insisted on everyone having a separate box for almost every piece of their luggage that had to come out of their main bag. My bag and liquids both didn’t make it through, the liquids had to have a swab test and my bag had to be completely emptied and everything electronic put through separately while I was repacking.
There’s a large waiting area that basically houses everyone for gates 1 to 3. There were only 3 flights that afternoon, and one of those was an hour after ours; the other was a Thomson flight to Paphos. Surprisingly the main place to buy food airside was a Wetherspoons!
Our plane, which came into sight with its propellers going ten to the dozen, was only a small thing and we boarded through fold down steps, from the runway. It wasn’t wedged solid and just as well as the overhead luggage space wasn’t that great. The 1h10m flight went smoothly enough and we were on the ground in Dublin a few minutes before time. A bus was waiting to take us to the main terminal building and we were outside looking for the bus to get us to Heuston station in no time.
The Airlink bus, run by Dublin Bus, is signposted as you walk out of departures and towards the bus station; downstairs on the right hand side. A No. 747, as the bus runs as, was already sat waiting to go. Tickets are €6 single and €10 return; we opted for the latter. The driver told me the journey to Heuston would take about 50-60 minutes and also explained on the way where the bus picks up from near Connolly or our return journey on the way home; which is outside the Busaras. The journey from the airport to Connolly only took 20 minutes and to Heuston it took 45 minutes; it must have been a good day for traffic around the city centre?
With time to kill before our 1900 booked train to Cork we used the Galway Hooker pub on the station, which served hot food. Having never quite seen a pub with a canteen style counter and a woman sat at the end taking the money I was a little surprised when the food was as good as it was. While it advertised a carvery it wasn’t quite my idea of a carvery in that you didn’t get to put your own veg on and pile it as high as you liked; still it was a good meal and we were thankful as there wasn’t anything else around outside Heuston station.
The pub had been a little busy when we’d first walked in and little lively; all eyes were on the TV screen which was displaying a Hurling semifinal. What we didn’t realise was that the match was being played in Dublin and while we were waiting for our train to get a platform the masses started to descend on Heuston station. It was a small mercy that we’d actually got advance tickets, which included seat reservations, as our Interrail tickets were only valid for 4 days and we were there for 5.
Once platform 7 was displayed there was a mass movement of people down by the taxi rank to the bay platforms at the top end of the station; movement ended at the ticket barriers though as they wouldn’t let anyone’s ticket through! Some guy eventually reset them and then the mad dash down the platform commenced. The train looked pretty wedged and our coach had names in all the reservation displays; we shared the coach with a large group of bowling folk, who were travelling back to Cork. GM #220 was at the head of the 8 coach set and both 232 & 234 were seen on the shed as we departed, as well as a long line of orange 201’s and few 071’s that all looked demic or stored.
Despite the wedge factor the journey to Cork was fine and we arrived bang on time. Our place of residence for the next two nights was clearly visible from the station entrance, situated on the hillside overlooking Cork Kent railway station, it’s only a 6 minute walk between the two; out of the station, turn left, up the old steps on the right hand side of the road, over the bridge attached to them, turn right when you get to the roadway and it’s about 100m up on the right. For a B&B it is quite s large place and the woman at reception was friendly and took us through what we needed to know about the local area, including the sights, eating and where the local tourist information office was. The room itself initially had a double bed and a single bed but the single was removed after the first night, which made it a bit more spacious. It was clean and with a large bathroom but lacked tea/coffee facilities.
Gen for Sunday 16th August 2015
220 1900 Dublin Heuston – Cork
Monday 17th August 2015 (The day we went to jail)
Breakfast at the Gabriel House was picked from a menu and of the good old English type; which all the foreigners in the room looked to be turning their noses up at. There was a fruit selection and the odd bit of continental type stuff but the English breakfast sufficed for me.
Having has a morning of sightseeing that took in the Shandon Bells and Cork City Gaol, among other things, we arrived back at Cork station with about 20 minutes to spare for the 1220 Cork – Dublin, which had GM #234 bolted to the rear. En-route to Mallow the old guy in the next bay, who was clearly a crank, decided go show me his working timetable; when he’d spotted me reading my Irish Rail diagrams. I used his local knowledge to my advantage though and he got on the phone to a friend of to confirm that there was still currently only one loco-hauled diagram on the Dublin – Belfast Enterprise services. Thankfully it seemed it worked the 0800 Belfast – Dublin and 1100 Dublin – Belfast; which were the two trains we’d be using on this trip so hopefully that gen would be correct!
079 was outside the shed at Mallow and makeshift Thomas & James on the platform, looking a little worse for wear. Our 43 minute fester flew by and if we’d been on the right platform in the first place it would have saved us a run when 220 arrived with the 1100 Dublin – Cork; which clearly hadn’t stuck to diagram and worked the 0800 Mallow – Cork & 0920 Cork – Dublin like it should have done. It turning up on the train it had threw my next planned Mallow move in the bin and it meant we needed to do the 1620 out and not the 1820 to cover the two diagrams that I’d not seen since we’d arrived into Cork the previous evening.
Back in Cork we had grand plans of going to look at Blackrock Castle and we even found the right bus stop for the #202 bus which takes you there; which is on the opposite side of the road to the bus station, by the River Lee. Due to the fact that it was total gridlock by the bus station, thanks to a bridge closure, the #202 bus we were waiting for basically made it about 100ft while we waited. After 5 minutes we gave up and went into the shopping centre over the road for something to eat instead, before ultimately heading back to the station.
GM 219 was on the rear of the 1620 Cork – Dublin and I managed to spot a spare engine on the shed, which was 223. It as sunnier at Mallow during our second visit and we even managed to spot Blarney Castle, hidden behind the trees, while on the way for the second time. 232 was a little late with the 1500 Dublin – Cork on the way back but was early into Cork, with all the recovery time the trains are given into Cork.
It was quite a nice 15 minute walk from the station to basically St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, where almost directly opposite is an Italian restaurant called La Dolce Vita. The place was almost empty but for a family of six, who definitely kept the chef busy. Our pizzas were speedily prepared and well presented but it was a complete farce trying to cut them with the massive knife we’d been given. The food was ok though and nothing was left on the plate, other than the very large red chilly that had topped my pizza!
A leisurely stroll back to the Gabriel House Guesthouse via the more upmarket streets of Cork made a bit of a change and we were glad to get our shoes off the moment we walked through the door and into our room. As there were no tea & coffee making facilities in the room a swift walk down to the AMT cured that problem. An early night followed as we’d be checking out early the following morning to head north to Belfast.
Gen for Monday 17th August 2015
219 1300 Dublin Heuston – Cork, 1620 Cork – Dublin Heuston
220 1100 Dublin Heuston – Cork, 1420 Cork – Dublin Heuston
232 1500 Dublin Heuston – Cork
234 1220 Cork – Dublin Heuston
Tuesday 18th August 2015 (An enterprising way to get to Belfast)
Up at 0545 we were heading out of the hotel by 0630, having collected our pack-up breakfast from the hotel’s breakfast room. I’d been expecting a couple of bags placed neatly on a table but what we found was a plastic Tupperware box with sandwiches, cake and apples in; the breakfast was ok if you liked Salami, which of course made everything around it smell and taste of Salami!
GM 221 was already in platform 5 at Cork Kent station when we got there, forming the 0700 Cork – Dublin Heuston, and there was plenty of room on board when we joined. By the time we’d left Mallow the train was quite full and we’d inherited a bay full of children next to us that kept messing around with their mobile phones, trying to play video out loud to the whole coach. It took two attempts to stop this and a threat of telling the kids parents, who were sat further up the coach, who ultimately dealt with them when they all fell out anyway!
Arrival into Dublin Heuston was at 0930, right on time. We had to get to Dublin Connolly for the 1100 Enterprise service to Belfast Central, the handy Luas tram system, which has a stop right outside the front doors of Heuston and downstairs at Connolly, was just the job. Single tickets in the central zone cost €1.80 and can be bought from the machines on the platforms. Even though Connolly has its own station every tram heading towards it stops at the Busaras stop, which is about 100 yards from the Connolly station so there’s no need to actually wait for a Connolly tram; you can catch any and get off at Busaras if need be.
Some much needed food was gathered at Connolly, from a Subway outside, thanks to breakfast not being up to much and most of it being binned. The Enterprise trains from Dublin Connolly to Belfast Central depart from platform 2 and the set to form the 1100 to Belfast was in by 1015 but nobody was allowed to board until 1045 with the platform cordoned off and everybody directed to wait in the dedicated Enterprise waiting room. A nice pictorial history of the Enterprise services and how the line from Dublin to Belfast was constructed is mounted on the wall in the waiting area, which should probably have another chapter added soon as the Enterprise sets are currently going through a refurbishment program; the result of which is only one Enterprise set being in service while the others are away and the other two diagrams being worked by units instead. What I didn’t realise until I picked a timetable up was that the diagrams for each set are clearly visible in the timetable based on what is says about the services offered on each of the Enterprise trains; it’s evident that the only loco-hauled Enterprise train at the moment is the 0800 Belfast – Dublin, 1100 Dublin – Belfast, 1405 Belfast – Dublin & 1650 Dublin – Belfast Monday to Saturday and 0900 Belfast – Dublin, 1200 Dublin – Belfast, 1605 Belfast – Dublin & 1900 Dublin – Belfast on Sundays. Thankfully the booked Enterprise set was sat in platform 2 waiting to take us to Belfast and I found GM 233 at the leading end when we were allowed onto the platform.
The journey north and into Northern Ireland was harmless and the train was relatively empty, in comparison to the one from Cork, all the way to Belfast and having arrived into Belfast Central a few minutes early we made a unit round to Great Victoria Street; this meant a lot shorter walk to the Ibis Belfast City Centre, which is essentially just off Great Victoria Street with the walk only taking about 10 minutes from platform to hotel lobby. We were checked in and in our room on the 6th floor in no time. The room was quiet, clean, had free WiFi, tea/coffee making facilities and shower gel was provided; pretty much as you’d expect from an Ibis anywhere in the world nowadays really.
An afternoon of sightseeing, in the rather nice Belfast sunshine, followed our hotel check-in, taking in most of the main sights and finishing up at the Crumlin Road Gaol; which is well worth a visit. Food for the evening was sought on our way back to the hotel at Safa Indian restaurant, which was only a short walk from our Ibis hotel. The guy serving us was from a place called Phagwara in Punjab; this was randomly a place I’d set foot in only 5 months earlier when on a trip to India; needless to say he was keen to hear about why I’d been to this non-descript place in Punjab! The food served was piping hot, very tasty and there was plenty of it; we left Safa very full and certainly not needing any desert!
A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon was topped off by a very good meal and all we could do as we prepared for the following morning’s trip to Giants Causeway was hope the weather forecast was wrong; it was showing heavy rain from 1000 to 1800 continuously!
Gen for Tuesday 18th August 2015
221 0700 Cork – Dublin Heuston
233 1100 Dublin Connolly – Belfast Central (with DVT 9004)
Note – both other Enterprise turns were DMU while the refurbishment program is ongoing
Wednesday 19th August 2015 (Rain, rain and more fecking rain; it was a wet day!)
Having woken up to a glorious morning in Belfast we sought breakfast from Tesco’s across the road from Great Victoria Street station before boarding the 0810 NIR train to Portrush; from where our day’s adventure would continue by bus as we headed to the Giant’s Causeway.
As we headed out of Belfast cloud began to fill the skies and soon enough the cracking morning sunshine gave way to grey skies and eventually the inevitable rain began to fall; it was to stay like that for the rest of the day unfortunately. The weather forecast on this occasion was absolutely spot on!
If traveling to Giants Causeway by train most documentation tells you to change at Colerain for the connecting bus to the causeway, this is exactly the same bus that picks up in Portrush on the way so we stayed on the train and walked the couple of minutes round to the bus stop on Dunluce Street where the number 402 bus stops; which is out of the station, turn left, turn right at the Eglington Hotel and then head directly across the car park when you get to it. The bus shelter is clearly visible and has all the bus timetables up for all to see. We were definitely in need of the shelter by the time we got to it and what we probably should have done, as sensible people, was gone straight back to Belfast on the train and called it a day; but the Yorkshire in us wasn’t going to be put off by a little rain!
Having stopped off at Dunluce Castle on the way to Giants Causeway, rather than head straight to the causeway we opted to walk the 300m from the bus stop to the nearby Giants Causeway & Bushmills Railway, which operates trains over a 2 mile section of old tramway, which only now runs to Bushmills and not all the way through Dunluce as it had back in the day. The railway is 3’0” gauge and I’d been expecting a small steam loco to turn up with the train and was a little confused when it didn’t. It turns out that the railway wanted their train to look more authentic and had a small diesel engine built, which was housed in a body shell to look like one of the old tramway cars; one the guy in the booking office had pointed a picture out to me I understood why as the trainset now used looks almost identical to how it had historically. Number 8165 had been built by Severn Lamb Ltd of Stratford on Avon in July 2010 and did what the railway needed of it. Round trips of the line cost £5 each and to be honest it was a welcome respite from the rain; although the cars could do with some internal heating! If we thought we were cold and wet though the poor guy who had to stand on the front veranda of the leading car, as the train headed to Bushmills, had definitely drawn the short straw that day bless him!
It was an interesting journey to Bushmills and return and it was the only railway I’ve travelled on where golfers get right of way over trains at crossings! Thankfully we had a carriage all to ourselves out and back and the doors were firmly closed; though it didn’t keep the cold out. Back at the Railway’s Giants Causeway terminus I’d hoped the rain might ease a little but it hadn’t so off we trudged towards the main attraction of the day; cold and already wetter that we needed to be!
After a wet walk to the Giants Causeway we caught the bus back to Portrush and our No.402 bus was a little over 10 minutes late when it turned up and the connection at Portrush for the train was only 15; and only 10 at Colerain! There was a bit of make-up time towards the end of the schedule though. When we arrived into Portrush with 5 minutes to make the train we made a bid for it and rushed to the station, making the 1505 train back to Great Victoria Street with only 2 minutes to spare; which had the same guard on board as the 0810 train we’d done out that morning.
The train journey allowed us to really assess just how soaked everything was; with Danielle’s stuff suffering a worse fate than mine for some reason. Nothing seemed to have survived in her bag and some things were dripping wet, despite being protected by a plastic bag! Despite us attempting to dry things out on the train’s heating vents nothing worked and we were still as wet when we got off at Great Victoria Street as we had been when we got on at Portrush; and we all know what it’s like putting wet clothes back on! To add insult to injury the gray skies had given way to blue ones, filled with nice white fluffy clouds and the sun was beaming down as we walked back to the hotel.
A hairdryer is the answer to anything that is wet and bless the one in our room it literally performed like a trooper! Whether with socks stuck on the end flapping like an airport windsock, or buried deep in our shoes sending a fragrant aroma around the room, the little hairdryer just kept on going and did what it said on the tin; dried things!
To celebrate our newfound dryness we opted for Thai food that evening and found a nice place called Thai Garden on Dublin Road, which wasn’t full at all and made for a nice relaxing meal to finish the day off and reminisce about when we were wet! The service was good, food tasty and the banana fritters were possibly the best I’ve had, mainly because they weren’t soaked in syrup and were nice and crispy.
Our sightseeing had come to an end at that point and all we had to do back at the hotel was pack before heading home the following morning.
Thursday 20th August 2015 (Homeward bound)
We had a choice of trains to get us from Great Victoria Street to Belfast Central, as opposed to walking with our big bags, and having called at Tesco’s for breakfast we managed to just make the 0718 round to Belfast Central; where GM 227, an Intercity sector one and not an Enterprise one, was already sat in waiting to depart with the 0800 Enterprise train to Dublin Connolly. The set had the same driver trailer as we’d had up two days previous but a different brake as it was in the new livery and looked refurbished. The journey was harmless but for the annoying kids that wangled their way into the bay next to us, who eventually got the message about not playing video’s out loud on their telephones!
At Dublin Connolly all we had to do was walk the 100 yards to the Busaras and wait for a No.747 bus to the airport. There were quite a lot of folk waiting and the first bus that turned up was already full and went straight by without stopping, which left us pondering our options should it happen again. The solution would have been a tram to Heuston to board the bus where it started but thankfully that didn’t need to happen as an empty bus was provided and with everyone safely on board we were airport bound.
After a good 8 minute journey round Dublin airport by bus we were dropped at our plane door; another propeller machine, which had even less room on board than the plane we’d had on the outward journey. So much so that some luggage had to be emptied a little to get it in the overhead lockers! Not only was the luggage a farce but there were people booked in emergency exit rows that needed assistance to get on the plane so they had to be moved round and others put in their place to compensate as the flight was full; we were two of those moved. The result of the farces was a late departure and subsequent 30 minute late arrival into Doncaster. Our lift home had been sat in a lay-by not far from the airport and headed over when we asked them to, this saved the ching for the airport car park as there’s a 5 minute free period for drop-off / pick-up. Another successful short trip, unfortunately marred by a little rain, but looking back it’s always something to talk about.
Gen for Thursday 20th August 2015
227 (Intercity Sector) 0800 Belfast Central – Dublin Connolly (with DVT 9004)