by Mary Beaumont © 1998
Jim and Mary Beaumont share their recent tour of southern Ireland. Jim, who has quadriplegia, utilized a power chair, and Mary drove an accessible rental van for their exploration of the emerald isle.
My husband, Jim, using a regular adult-sized power wheelchair, and I just returned from a June 1998, trip that included Southern Ireland.
Jim is a quadriplegic and does not transfer. Since we found no place to rent a van in Ireland, we brought the van we had rented in England with us, via the Stena Line high speed ferry from Holyhead (Northern Wales) to Dun Laoghaire, Ireland. The ferry company handles cars with wheelchair users very well and allows room for wheelchair people to disembark right beside the elevators (we had a lift off the back). However, there were only two tables my husband could use in the lounges, because all the seats were fixed on the floor. On our way to Ireland, we got one of the usable tables, but on our return trip we didn't. The company should reserve appropriate seats for those who cannot get out of their wheelchairs.
The high-speed ferry only takes one hour and fifty minutes and was very smooth. The cost was quite expensive--$420 round trip, but we had not inquired about costs before tickets were purchased for us. Lower costs might be achieved by using the regular ferry or by traveling at different times. We crossed on weekends. There are contacts in USA where you can purchase tickets and inquire about charges ahead of time - see any Ireland travel book.
Lodging options in Ireland were not as plentiful as in England. We used
Holiday Care Services (all done by fax) to book our rooms, and they often arranged reduced rates. The fee to join HC was saved many times in discounts and convenience. We had hoped to stay in Dublin City Centre, but the Jury Christchurch was filled more than four months ahead of time, so we stayed just a short distance out in the Ibis at Clondalkin. This turned out to be very convenient for us since we were visiting friends who lived near by, and this also gave us easy access to trips north and south of the city.
Accessibility was really not a problem in Dublin. Accessible pubs and restaurants were plentiful. Always ask if something does not seem accessible. After getting my husband up a big step to get into Christchurch, a person at the door said, "Gee, maybe you would have liked to use our ramp that we keep right here..." We then used the ramp for the other single steps in the church and our exit.
Guinness Hop Store, Trinity College, Book of Kells, most pubs, and Beweley's presented no challenge to us. The many parking garages in the city, unfortunately, do not accommodate the height of the Ford Transit, so parking in Dublin was a little more iffy. The Guinness Hops Store has its own lot, as do some museums. I read that Christchurch can arrange parking if notified ahead of time. There was a wheelchair spot just outside it. Spaces at meters around the St. Stephen's Green were available around nine in the morning. We used our USA disability card in the van and did not feed the meter. We did not get a ticket.
A trip north of Dublin to see the stone age tombs of New Grange and Knowth was very enjoyable. From the visitors center, an accessible bus took us to each of the tomb areas. (there is only one bus, so make sure you are scheduled for that one.) My husband could not enter the Newgrange tomb, due to the steps and its tiny passage way, but everything else was OK. There was wheelchair parking at the center.
A day trip into the mountains south of Dublin ended in a stop at a lovely little valley and the famous historic monastic ruins at Glendalough. The ruins were up some stairs, so my husband could not see them, but there are ruins all over Ireland visible from the road, so it was not a notable miss! The hotel had an accessible place for a spot of tea before we returned to the coast and back up to Dublin.
We drove down to Waterford and stayed at a Travelodge, just a short distance from the Waterford factory. There was wheelchair parking at the Waterford Factory, and the Waterford tour uses buses with lifts. Everything is accessible. Then we drove to the west country and stayed at Killarney Mountain View Guest House. The owner is a para who after his injury moved into town and built this house with several guest rooms. He now offers rooms to wheelchair users when Holiday Care contacts him. The bath in the room was not accessible, but just down the hall was a huge fully accessible bathroom with a roll-in shower, etc. It was inconvenient to book here as they required a deposit of 20 Phunts, so we had to find a bank where we could purchase phunts (Irish pounds) and then sent the cash to them.
From Killarney, which has many wheelchair parking spots, thanks in part to our host's involvement in the community, we took a day trip around the Dingle Peninsula, up the Connor Pass, and out to see the most western coastline in Europe. A marvelous day, even though that Irish mist was persistent that morning. The weather changed so quickly that after a spectacular double rainbow climbing the pass, we had clear weather the rest of the day. The lovely Blasket Islands Visitors Center is accessible, and the town of Dingle had several places to eat that were convenient. The coastal scenery was magnificent.
We did not "do" some of the main tourist things by choice - Blarney, etc., but we had our choice of shops, pubs, and restaurants in Killarney. We viewed the ruins of King John's Castle in Limerick on our way back to Dublin and caught the ferry back to Holyhead to continue our month long vacation in England.
If you are used to driving in England, then the narrow roads off the beaten path in Ireland will not surprise you. However, we found the majority of the roads were very rough, uneven, and bouncy. Travel is slow and the riding was difficult for my husband with all the bouncing. It was even hard on me as the driver, trying to avoid rough spots - tiring, etc.
We were happy to return to English road technology. Also, note, like on the Continent, on many wider two lane roads (main roads) slower traffic is expected to hug the side and allow passing traffic even though there is oncoming traffic at the same time! In other words a two-lane road becomes a three-lane road.
Four different times we were stopped by herds of animals being moved down the road, sheep twice and twice cows. We thought it grand to see the sheep dogs in action and didn't consider it an inconvenience at all! In the mountains, I was always watching that sheep didn't wander into my path, especially the new lambs. Don't plan to average 55 miles an hour - Dublin to Waterford, 90 miles, took us 2 1/2 hours non-stop.
We contacted the following places and received (don't know what from whom now) a typed guide to Dublin accessibility (all kinds of places, hotels, pubs, stores, theatres, and restrooms), a guide to historic sites in Ireland, a book of accessible accommodations, and a key to disabled restrooms.
National Rehabilitation Board, 44 North Great George's Street, Dublin 1
Disability Federation of Ireland, 2 Sandyford Office Park, Sandyford, Dublin18 295-9344
Terry Cullinane Fax: 011 3531 280 5740 (his name was given to me as someone familiar with accessibility)
We rented the van in Britain from Wheelchair Travel,
1 Johnston Green, Guilford, Surrey GU2 6XS
Tel: 01483 233640
Fax: 01483 237772
Trevor Pollitt is the managing director. We have used this company for two trips. He rents by day, week, or trip. His staff will take you to a place of your choice or on a sightseeing trip of London. The cost depends upon the size of the car or van and time of year. Our Ford Transit was 530 pounds for the first week and 474 pounds for extra weeks during the month for June.
We rented a US/UK voltage converter from Trevor at Wheelchair travel for 2 pounds a day.
Holiday Care Service
Fax No.: 01293 784647 (To fax from US add 011-44-and drop the 0) Joining costs about 30 pounds.
Travelodges run 43 Irish punts, $61. The Ibis was about 44 irish punts without breakfast per room per night, 5 punts less than posted standard. Mountain View guest house in Killarney was about 20/person b&b.
British lodging of note includes the The Fat Lamb Country Inn at Ravenstonedale, Kirby Stephen, Cumbria. Its between the Lakes and Yorkshire Dales and its a marvelous setting with excellent gourmet dining room and good pub food. Talk about beautiful countryside! Its 30 pounds per person B and B. The rest of lodgings in England were hotels -- Travelodges, Novotel in York, Tara in London and a "kind of" accessible B&B in Stratford upon Avon.
For this trip, we flew United non-stop from Chicago to Londons Heathrow Airport. Previously, we have used British Airways, and prefer their service because United contracts out the job of transferring and assisting disabled passengers at the terminals. In England, the persons they sent were unable to assist us - i.e. Once they sent a 70+ gentleman to transfer my 6 foot, 180 pound husband, and another time they sent two teenage girls. Since I do the transferring, this was not a problem for us, but it might be for other travelers.
Our major problem was the wheelchair they brought for Jim to transfer into at the gate from the aisle chair: It did not have removable arms. I got Jim into it at the gate to go down to luggage to get his chair (unlike Chicago where one's personal chair is delivered right to the gate and you get into it from the aisle chair), but said I would not be able to get him out. This 70ish man rounded up some staff women to help, and they tried, but, of course, couldn't do it. Finally, four men gathered at random in the luggage terminal and accomplished the task in a rather undignified manner. So be sure to request A wheelchair with removable arms even if they say they don't exist like our guy did.
In comparison, our 1995 experience with British Air went smoothly. They were extremely prepared for us (at the check-in counter as well as at the gate) and did their own disabled passenger service. Their on-board crew was also attentive. With United, we had to insist about our gel batteries, etc. and show them a copy of their rules (we had asked an airline rep. to send them to us before we left) to convince them everything was OK without removing the battery from the chair. We had large labels on the chair back indicating that the chair had gel cell batteries. We also included directions on how to maintain the free wheel. I carried the footrests and the cushion onto the plane with me (in a large canvas bag that also holds the battery charger) so there were no loose parts on the chair. We told them to just unplug the power cord and release the gears so the chair would roll. We have always insisted that Jim stay in his power chair up to the plane door and with persistence the airlines have always allowed us to do this.
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