Sister, brother, sister-in-law and I are back from our Irish escapade and dazzlingly stunning does not even begin to describe the countryside, the animals, the people and the heritage of the Emerald Isle…we had a fantastic time!
Our journey began in Dublin -- home of Molly Malone -- where we enjoyed a bus tour of this city rich in Irish history. Dublin is the site of the 1916 Easter Rising, an insurrection by Irish republicans with the goal of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic. The fighting stopped after seven days when insurrection leaders surrendered.
We visited the center of the Rising, the Dublin Post Office – complete with bullet holes....
...and Kilmainham Jail where the insurgents were held and executed.
Dublin is famous for its Georgian houses with their painted doors. We learned the folklore as to why the doors are painted so brightly – in defiance to a mourning Queen’s request to paint all doors black – and why the doorways are so wide…to accommodate the large dresses the ladies of the time wore.
Our first evening in Dublin, we enjoyed traditional Irish music and were memorized by a very talented Irish step dancer, Bronwyn, who performed the Irish fertility “Brush Dance.” I am fascinated that feet can move so quickly!
From Dublin, we traveled to Galway and we happily walked the streets of this quaint city.
Then off to the town of Ardrahan, where we were charmed by an Irish farm complete with a fully-functional thatched-roof cottage!
While at Rathbaun Farm, we enjoyed homemade scones and jam...
...fed the baby lambs...
...watched the dogs herd the sheep and even witnessed one lose its warm winter coat! There are 139,000 farms in the tiny country of Ireland most of which raise cattle and sheep.
The next day, we visited the shrine of Our Lady of Knock and took away some blessed water.
Then, we toured Ashford Castle in Cong, the city where “The Quiet Man” was filmed and the site where John Wayne kissed Maureen O'Hara. A visit to the Connemara Marble factory completed our day.
It was in Galway that I had my first Guinness while listening to a visiting Philly band, Barleyjuice, cover “Galway Girl”…it’s a small world indeed! Listen to Steve Earle sing Galway Girl here.
The next day, we made our way to the magnificent Cliffs of Moher. At some points, The Cliffs of Moher soar over 700 out of the Atlantic Ocean and from O'Brien's Tower visitors can see the Aran Islands in Galway Bay.
Then on to Bunratty Castle where we ate at Durty Nelly’s...
...and eagerly searched the rafters vibrantly gilded with police and firefighter badges from all over the world hoping to find one from Philadelphia's Finest!
We strolled the delightful cottage-lined town of Adare and even saw a wedding at the Trinitarian Abbey. We stopped at the shrine of Saint Bridget and left some items of lost loved ones for her to watch over and protect. It was quite emotional.
Off to Killarney. We started the day with a delightful carriage ride through Killarney National Park, the grounds of which were once owned by a Philadelphia builder/developer, John McShain. We were thoroughly entertained by a sit-down comedian, Michael, our carriage driver (along with his horse, Lightning), who delivered more one-liners than Hal Roche.
We boarded our bus and drove along the majestic County Kerry countryside and stopped to have Fish & Chips at Harringtons, in Dingle.
We continued along the Dingle Peninsula and saw the incredible medieval “beehive huts” built over 1,400 years ago by monks who chose to live a life of isolation.
We strolled along Coumeenole Beach, wrote our names in the sand and I even dipped my toes in the water, which was quite warm, by the way!
Our Ring of Kerry jaunt began the next day. The Ring of Kerry is home to some of the most pure, magical, and natural beauty in Ireland and provides amazing insight into Irish history and heritage.
First, we visited the Bog Village, an attraction that recreates how Irish people worked and lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. What is a bog, you ask? A bog is a wetland that accumulates dead plant material that over time hardens, is harvested -- as peat -- and is used as a fuel source, much like coal.
Driving further along the countryside, we stopped at the ruins of an Irish community abandoned during the potato famine. Very sad.
On to the colorful little town of Sneem, an Ireland “Tidy Town” competition winner and where I purchased some Aran Tweed wool yarn.
Further still, our driver spotted some newly born lambs and we stopped to take photos…the mama sheep was not pleased and even nudged her baby along!
All during our trip, our bus driver would say, “see that tree over there all alone in the middle of the field?” We would all dutifully say “yes” and then he would say, “Good! Bear in mind that you saw it.”
Finally, he told us the story of the Fairy Tree. It is a Hawthorne tree and the Hawthorne tree’s scent is undesirable to critters so they leave it alone. In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, if babies were stillborn, they could not be properly buried so the families would bury the babies under the naturally repellant Hawthorne tree. As with many things in Ireland, legend has it that the fairies would watch over the souls of the babies buried under the Hawthorne tree, hence the name “fairy tree.” The stones at the base of the tree serve as grave markers. These trees are scattered all about Ireland and even road construction is diverted to avoid disturbing the little lovelies and angering the fairies…a very unwise move! The superstition is more tradition today.
We learned about fairy forts, leprechauns, the road boulder law and the Irish Travelers. The Travelers are also called “Tinkers” because they would traditionally roam about the country and the locals would hire them to fashion tools, pots, pans and other things out of tin. All along the way, these are the kinds of little morsels our wonderful driver, Micky, would dish.
At the conclusion of our trip our affable, informative, witty, accommodating and ever patient bus driver, Micky Nolan, estimated we traveled a total of 1,600 miles on the bus. If you ever tour Ireland, ask for Micky…he appears to be infamous, at least in the counties we visited!
We had a splendid time with a group of fantastic travel mates… not a grouch among us! It just goes to prove that there are no strangers, just lovely people we haven’t met yet. Memories are created and we now have some emerald jewels to add to our collections!