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Published: October 2nd 2008
JOHNNY’S JOURNEYS : IRELAND AND NORTHERN IRELAND 2007
July 20, 2007 (Friday)
A busy morning in store for us. Up at 5 a.m. Lots of last minute chores to do. It was
almost midnight getting to bed last evening. Check this, pack that, don’t forget, ……
I had two yard dogs to shampoo early this morning. They love the attention, even the
hair dryer. It takes two trips to the vet / boarding kennel. So much for two dogs, two cats,
and one puppy. Then I pack up the pen and take the rabbit to nephew Jason’s house. He
will look after the bunny with the big foot.
Grandma and Boppa Walters come by for a short visit. They bring us sausage biscuits
from McDonalds. That is a nice tradition. The Mobile Airport shuttle van picks us up
about 11:30. I go ahead and reserve a return trip to our house for August 2nd. The round
trip total is $28. Not bad.
We visit the Delta Airlines counter. The luggage is “checked through” to Shannon,
Ireland. I’m walking up the steps at 12:00 noon. We go through the metal detector. Beep,
beep. I have too much change and keys in my pocket. We have plenty of time before our
2:15 departure to Atlanta, GA. We check our carry-on bags a few more times…passports,
wallet, boarding passes, itinerary, etc. We are ready.
Heavy thunderstorms in Atlanta. Poor visibility. The two dreaded words for all airline
passengers: Flight Delay! The Delta flight from Atlanta to Mobile was delayed about two
hours. That same plane (ours) was now delayed two hours flying right back to Atlanta.
Our 2:15 flight took off at 4:17. We nervously checked our watches on the 70-minute
flight. Leave the plane about 6:30 EDT. Catch the shuttle-train and arrive at Concourse T.
This one is for international flights. T-01 is 8 long gates away. I arrive breathlessly at
6:53. The sign at the counter says “flight dispatched”. No, that can’t be! We still have
two minutes. I step up to the window and wave at the pilot. I tap my watch to let him
know we’re on the verge of missing OUR plane. He waves back and puts that big old jet
in reverse at 6:55. Hope he felt guilty for the next eight hours.
Well folks, this is NOT on our itinerary. We make our way to the Delta Airline desk
for rebooking. The assistant works at her keyboard trying to connect on another flight to
Europe. With a missed flight, Delta automatically schedules us for the very next trip to
Shannon. And our luggage is automatically booked to Shannon. Delta has one flight daily
to Shannon, which is at 6:55 p.m. We tried looking at other options: fly to London, then
onto Dublin. Or fly to Glasgow, Scotland and then connect. We would have to pay $145
apiece for a flight from Dublin to Shannon. However, our luggage is tagged to be arriving
in Shannon on Sunday at 7:35 a.m.
After 20 - 30 minutes of working on our arrangements, we don’t have too many op-
tions. We will have to spend the night in Atlanta. Wanted to reclaim our luggage.
However, with 200+ requests ahead of us, we might have to wait until 3 a.m. Janet
bought some essentials in one of the airport stores: toothpaste, toothbrushes, make-up.
We receive a voucher for one free night at an area hotel. We catch a 10-passenger
van to the Sleep Inn Hotel in Fairburn. This city is southeast of Atlanta, 12 miles from
We settle into our suite about 10:30. I make a few trips down to the check-in desk,
inquiring about a complimentary guest kit. I was impressed with the stairways. Why,
you ask? Most of the stairwells were dimly lit, but equipped with motion sensors. When
I stepped from the hallway into the stairwell, the bright lights came on. That is a neat,
energy saving feature.
July 21, 2007 (Saturday)
We wake up about 8:30, then go downstairs for the continental breakfast. Lots of
goodies. After a hot shower, we each get back into yesterday’s clothes. However, Janet
and Bethany had purchased two souvenir Atlanta tee-shirts for today.
We lounge until almost 1 p.m., then check-out. The shuttle-van takes us back to
Hartsfield-Atlanta International. And we have plenty of time to wait today. The new
Harry Potter book was available today in the magazine/bookstore. Bethany starts reading.
We will start boarding at 6:25 and cross our fingers that we depart at 6:55. With the
overhead reading lights not working, electricians are called in. There is a 41-minute
delay. We are on our way at 7:36. Why, oh why, oh why? Why couldn’t this delay have
happened last night on flight 156? It just wasn’t meant to be.
We do have the Compass feature on the television screen. Miles to destination : 3836.
Time to destination : 6 hours & 43 minutes. Estimated arrival time : 7:24 a.m. Sunday in
Ireland. We have updates on the outside air temperature : 82, 71, 64, -2, -18, -26, -38 F.
And our altitude climbs from 7000 feet to 22,500 then 25,000 then 33,000 and settles at
34,000 feet. And we level out at 670 mph.
We have two choices for the supper entre, pasta or chicken. The feature film is a
Sandra Bullock movie about death, called Premonition. Didn’t look like something I
was interested in. The Harry Potter book, Deathly Hallows, keeps Bethany entertained for
hours. I asked her many times to close the book and try to sleep. At least get some rest.
A 6 hour and 45 minute flight, and she probably dozed no more than 5 minutes.
I sat by a semi-retired Irish businessman. Jalarta O’Connell has lived in the San
Francisco bay area for many years and was going back home to Ireland for 4 weeks.
July 22, 2007 (Sunday)
A pink glow appears on the eastern horizon a little after 5 o’clock. Day dawns before
6 a.m. Breakfast is served and we land right on time, 7:35 a.m. We get our passports
stamped. WELCOME TO IRELAND!
At baggage claims, we pick up two out of our three. Janet’s does not make it. Why
can’t Delta get it right? It takes a little time to file a claim. At the Information desk, we
get a call into our Globus tour guide. We arrange for a 42 mile taxi ride to the Cliffs of
Moher. 95 Euros or about $ 140 US Dollars. Keep the receipt so we can submit to the
traveler’s insurance company. FINALLY, we meet our tour group and get a big hug from
our host, Carmel Schmidt. I take two pictures then off we go.
As we leave the Cliffs, we are introduced to the rest of the tourists. There are 44 of us
in this group. Out in the Atlantic, we see the three Aran Islands. The next stop is The
Burren. This region encompasses 300 sq. kilometers. It is composed of limestone pave-
ments, which are eroded in distinctive patterns known as karren. This pavement is criss-
crossed by cracks known as grykes and underneath the pavement there are huge caves and
rivers that suddenly flood when it rains. There is a special ecology that has developed
with plants growing in the crevices and cracks of the rock. This region of County Clare
contains celtic crosses, megalith tombs, and ruins of a 12th century abbey.
Next on our agenda was a visit to the Rathbaun Farmhouse. This is a 150 year old
thatched farmhouse where the fireplace was fueled by peat. The Connolly family has
been farming these 80 acres of land for over 200 years. The fireplace room has a
strange aroma to it, as we head into the large kitchen. We are treated to fresh scones and
hot tea. The owner, Fintan Connolly, leads us to the barn. There are a dozen different
varieties of sheep. With delight, we watch the determination of the sheepdog as she
rounds up a group of 24 sheep. Of course, when one breaks away, the dog is focused
on just her. As they all come to the gate, Fintan brings one in to be sheared. Sadly,
farmers only receive about 35 cents for one pound of wool, mainly to the Chinese market.
Bethany gets to bottle feed the baby sheep. She is thrilled.
Our next stop in County Galway is the city of Galway. The official Irish name is:
Gaillimh. The city was first settled in 1124. In the Middle Ages, it was the principal Irish
port for trade with France and Spain. With 72,000 citizens it is the 3rd largest city in
Ireland. Though largely from Celt descent, there is significant Spanish ancestry, dating
back to the shipwrecks from the Spanish Armada in 1588. Bought gold and silver rings
for the girls, Celtic themed, of course.
We wanted to visit the medieval Spanish Arch, on the banks of the River Corrib. This
was one of four arches built in 1584. This is the site of an old fish market, where the river
flows into the sea. Walked around Eyre Square and left town as a festive parade was just
Our last region to visit today is Connemara. Unique to this part of west Ireland is the
green marble. Stopped for souvenirs at the Connemara Marble Visitor Center. This
marble is one the Earth’s oldest natural minerals, 600 million years old. The Connemara
marble is regarded as one of the most authentic products available in Ireland. All sorts of
jewelry: necklaces, bracelets, anklets depicting the Celtic cross, shamrock, harp, and the
Claddagh ring. Also, there were chess boards, clocks, ashtrays, marble eggs and other
neat little souvenirs.
At 4:45 we arrive in the town of Clifden. This city is set between the Atlantic Ocean,
12 Ben Mountains and preserved bog lands. We are staying at the Station House Hotel.
It is across the street from the original railroad station ( which is now a restaurant / bar ).
We bring in the luggage and rest for awhile. On the television menu screen is the
message: Clifden Station House Hotel welcomes Mr. John Cobb. There were six
different languages to choose from. Most of the “local” news concerned the massive
flooding in southern England. We saw our beloved Tewksbury, where we vacationed
in a 500 year old cottage two years ago. Most of the sports was about soccer. However,
we did learn that an Irishman, Padraig Harrington, won the British Open Golf Tourney
for the first time in 60 years. Dinner was served at 7:00. What a feast. Afterwards, I
walked around a few city blocks, thankful to finally be in this beautiful country. As I
turned on the television again, Clifden Station House was welcoming Bethany Cobb. If
they welcomed Janet, I didn’t see it. The cozy bed sure feels good. I take my last picture
of the day as Bethany has fallen asleep with the Harry Potter book still open. Cute.
July 23, 2007 (Monday)
Wakeup call at 6 a.m. Luggage out to the bus at 7:00 and breakfast at 7:00. Only
in Clifden for one evening, as the bus pulls away at 8 :00. What a treat in store for us
this morning: Kylemore Abbey. This is the Monastic home of the Benedictine Order of
Nuns in Ireland. The nuns have resided here since 1920. First founded in Ypres, Belgium,
in 1665, they moved to Dublin in 1688 at the request of King James II. However, they
returned to Ypres following James’ defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Their
abbey was destroyed in the early days of World War I. After taking refuge in England
the nuns returned to Kylemore in December 1920. The name Kylemore comes from:
Coil Mor, meaning big woods or big forest. A 12 minute video gets us started. The
abbey was originally built in 1868, the site of a former hunting lodge.
Original founder and owner, Mitchell Henry, built the Gothic church between 1877 -
1881, as a memorial to his wife. There are 20 stained glass windows, as well as Irish
marble columns. The church is a center for reflection, meditation and prayer for many
Adjacent is a cemetery. And a short distance away is the mausoleum, where Mitchell
and Margaret were laid to rest. This might be the most tranquil place I have ever visited!
Our time here is over too soon. Now, on to Westport.
The bridge was washed out in last weeks’ heavy rains. We shall have to detour. We
do take a 5 minute photo-stop. In front of Gaynor’s Bar, there is a nice sign that says
“the Field bar”. There was a movie filmed here in 1991, called “The Field”, starring
As we continue traveling northwards, our tour guide tells us about the peat bogs.
We learn that there are two distinct types of peat bogs: blanket bogs and raised bogs.
Blanket bogs are found wherever there is high rainfall. From a distance, they seem to
cover the topography, like a blanket. At maturity, a blanket bog will be 10 feet thick.
The cutting of peat ( called “turf” when cut ) for fuel began in the 17th century
Raised bogs are formed naturally. After the last Ice Age, 10000 years ago, the glacial
depressions filled with water and formed thousands of tiny lakes. Without good drainage,
poorly decomposing vegetable matter ( peat ) built up on the lake bed floor. The water
levels rose and the peat bogs “rose” above ground level. Most raised bogs average 23 feet
in depth. Bogs are exploited as a cheap source of fuel. Most of this is cut by hand and laid
in the sun to dry before being burned. I sure know more about bogs than I used to.
Our Globus tour of 44 stopped for a lunch break in the pleasant village of Cong. This
comes from the Gaelic words: Cunga Feichin which means “Isthmus of Feichin”. Cong
was made famous as the location of the 1951 Academy Award winning film “The Quiet
Man”, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. (We would see her house later in the
trip.) After lunch, we purchased a few souvenirs and postcards. I also bought some
much needed batteries for my digital camera. Walking through the small village ( pop.
180 ), we passed a large celtic cross, in the center of the main street. Leaving town, we
drove by Ashford Castle. Built originally in 1278, it was once the country estate of the
Guinness family. On the banks of Lough Corrib, it was transformed into a luxury hotel in
Our guide, Carmel, spoke to us about St. Patrick. He came to Ireland in 432 A.D. After
the fall of the Roman Empire, his mission was to spread Christianity. I enjoyed hearing
the history of Ireland as we rode through beautiful countryside. Observed in the pastures
were sheep, cattle, the occasional Connamara horse and a few donkeys.
Our next destination is Knock. On August 21, 1879, Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, St.
Joseph and St. John the Evangelist appeared at the south gable of Knock Parish Church.
This was witnessed by 15 people of varying ages. The apparition lasted for a little more
than two hours. In the center of the gable was a plain altar on which stood a lamb. Behind
the lamb, a large cross stood upright. Angels hovered around the lamb for the duration of
the apparition, which was enveloped in a heavenly light. The personal pilgrimage of Pope
John Paul II in 1979 commemorated one century since the apparition. This has inspired
even more devotion and enhanced the status of this internationally recognized Mother
Mary shrine. There are a dozen water fountains on the premises, where you can fill your
canisters or bottles with “Holy Water”. One and one-half million pilgrims visit this shrine
each year. Though I’m Methodist and not of the Catholic faith, I enjoyed the quiet time of
reflection, reverence and meditation.
Our last tourist attraction today is in the tiny town of Drumcliff, on Sligo Bay. We
visit the historic churchyard at Drumcliff Church, beneath the green, majestic Benbulbin
Mountain. We stop at the gravesite of poet William Butler Yeats. On his headstone :
Cast a cold Eye on Life, on Death. Horseman, pass by. W.B.YEATS June 13th 1865 -
January 28th 1939. Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923. Yeats be-
came involved with the Celtic Revival, a movement during the Victorian period, which
sought to promote the spirit of Ireland’s native heritage. It is said that his poetry grew
stronger as he became older.
There is an impressive Celtic Cross set into the graveyard wall. Built in the 11th cen-
tury, the cross depicts Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Daniel in the lion’s den, David
slays Goliath, many animals and Christ in Glory. Also included are the Presentation in
the Temple, and the Crucifixion. St. Colmcille founded a monastery here in 574 A.D.
Across the road is the “stump” or remains of a 10th or 11th century Round Tower. We
leave and head to the coastal city of Bundoran, (Celtic: Bun Dobhrain) located on gor-
geous Donegal Bay. The Great Northern Hotel will be home for the next two evenings.
Dinner is served at 7 p.m. Janet and I each choose the Atlantic salmon. We also have
rolls, mashed potatoes, carrots and cauliflower. Dinners are finished with hot tea and
apple pie or cheese cake. Bethany enjoys a cheese pizza.
After dinner, Bethany joins me for a long walk. Down by the waters edge, we put our
toes into the bay. Then up onto the paved pedestrain walk. At the peak, we could see past
Donegal Bay and out into the blue Atlantic. The pathway wound itself past the Bundoran
Golf Club. There has been a golf course at this location since 1894. Walked / strolled
about 2 and ½ miles. At 9:50 I counted 20 surfers in wet suits catching some waves. And
the last golfer was leaving the course at 10:10 p.m. Bethany settled into the room about
10:15 as I went to the front desk to request a wakeup call. I stopped by the Atlantic Ball-
room to enjoy some Irish music, from the local entertainers. Enjoyed that, but was
surprised to hear such non-Irish favorites such as Rocky-Top, Folsom Prison Blues and
Old Cotton Fields Back Home. Saw the last bit of light outside at 10:45 as I closed the
curtains. Another wonderful day.
July 24, 2007 (Tuesday)
Wakeup call was scheduled for 6:30. We were NOT called. I awoke at 7:30. Rushed
through our breakfast. Today we head for Donegal. County Donegal is the second largest
in the country. Carmel read a poem about fairies, known as the fairy folk. We are in view
of the Bluestack Mountains. I see sheep grazing and notice that instead of branding they
have a colored letter spray painted on them. There are bales of hay, covered in shiny tarp /
bags, to keep out the moisture. Seems like all the houses have such well kept yards. Just
about every lawn looks like it was mowed this morning. Manicured hedges and flowers
galore, especially hydrangeas. I sure appreciated the bilingual signs: Irish and English.
Dun na nGall which is Donegal and one of my favorite names: Na Cealla Beaga which
is Killybegs. There are dozens of cages in the water. Aquaculture or fish farming is
becoming more important with hundreds of thousands of salmon hatchlings. There are
about 35 different species of fish in the Irish waters. As a member of the European Union,
there are quotas in place to limit over-fishing. Somehow, Spain seems to be able to fish
all they want in Irish waters and “vacuum” the waters until empty of any fish. Don’t think
we got all the details on this one.
Still in County Donegal, we stop in Ardara. Time to visit the Triona Design, home of
Donegal Tweed. This family run business has been weaving garments for 5 generations.
We received a 10 minute guided tour. We learn of the tweed making process from the
sheared wool, spinning, color choices, discussion of patterns, the weaving of 25 meters
per average day by the weaver and the washing of the fabric which leaves it pre-shrunk
and soft to the touch, the cutting and designing all here in the factory. Learned that it is
the men who actually weave on the looms, while the women hand stitch the wool. It takes
1340 threads, individually placed, to form one row of fabric. Takes seven days by hand to
form 90 feet of fabric. There are only seven old men in this region of Donegal who weave
on the hand looms now. Seems to be a dying out industry. Janet and Bethany find some
beautiful jackets, wraps and mittens to buy. Excellent quality! I have found the small
room where fresh scones are served with hot tea or coffee. There are so many different
recipes for scones. These tasted like “tea-cakes”. And they were prepared with and
without cherries. Scones are always a treat.
As we drive toward Glenties ( long valley of the glens ), Carmel encourages us to
write a limerick. On the last day of our tour, we shall arrive in Limerick. And we will
read all the poems which have been submitted. It should be fun.
More history today as we learn that the original Celts came from the Middle East.
They crossed the Danube River valley then were continuously pushed westward by
barbaric tribes. Pushed across the European continent, they fleed into Great Britain and
on into Ireland. Touched on the high points of the Celtic language. There are six distinc-
tive branches. Irish Gaelic (spoken on the island of Ireland); Scottish Gaelic (spoken in
Scotland); Manx (spoken on the Isle of Man); Welsh (spoken in Wales); Cornish (spoken
in the Cornwall section of southwestern England); and Breton (spoken in the western
region of France known as Brittany).
Depending on which part of the Emerald Isle you are on, between 40% up to 71% of
the people speak Irish. The Irish language is taught from the first day of public school.
The Irish government has stated that it is committed to the development of a bilingual
society, where as many people as possible can use Irish and English with equal ease.
Thus we have all road signs with the two names of a town or city.
There are some very narrow roads out in the rural areas. I’ll remember that for a long
time. Many times our bus would have to stop when another bus or large truck passed us.
Throw in the hearty people on bikes and the locals who walked in the road, since there
were no sidewalks, and we had several close calls.
We have arrived in the city of Belleek, on the River Erne, in Northern Ireland and are
ready for a tour of the Belleek Pottery factory. The sign reads 1857 - 2007, so it is
celebrating 150 years as Ireland’s oldest and most famous Belleek Fine Parian China.
After World War II, the Belleek pottery concentrated all its production on parian
china. Parian is the name given to the white biscuit colored porcelain. No two pieces of
Belleek China are ever the same. Every handle, flower and brush stroke is applied by
HAND. The pottery’s founder had an eye on perfection. If any piece had even the slight-
est flaw, it had to be destroyed. Upon entering the Visitor Centre, we are impressed with
the oldest and most prestigious pieces of Belleek ever made. The Belleek International
Centre Piece was displayed at the Paris Exhibition in the year 1900 where it was awarded
its fourth gold medal. It took seven weeks to create this masterpiece (by hand, of course).
It is a 28 inch high urn shaped vase, exquisitely decorated with flowers and Irish harps
and rests on a scrolled base which also supports three Irish wolfhounds. Incredible.
We are taken to all the departments in the factory. Start with mold making. There are
three kilns, basket weaving, painting, and three separate quality control stations to rid the
imperfections. Bethany was asked to help “smash” a beautiful vase. Only a trained eye
could see two little dots of imperfection. She and the tour guide used a long wooden pole
to destroy this piece. A well stocked gift shop greeted us as we finished our tour. Very
As we arrive in the beautiful city of Donegal, we are “on our own” for about 90 min-
utes. I think we want to visit the castle. That would be a no-brainer. Donegal Castle was
the chief seat of the O’Donnells, being built in 1474. It was regarded as one of the finest
Gaelic castles in Ireland. It is situated on the banks of the River Eske at the mouth of
Donegal Bay. The leaders of the O’Donnell clan left in 1607 during the Flight of the
Earls. It then fell into British hands in 1611. The English Captain Basil Brooke then
added windows, a gable, and a large manor-house wing. An interesting feature were the
very narrow windows. Arrows could easily be shot at an approaching enemy, but an in-
coming arrow was indeed rare. It fell into ruin in the 18th century. The roof has now
been restored with massive oak timbers. The stonework has been restored. New flooring
has been added. And the manor wing has been partially roofed. Restoration continues to
this day. We always enjoy a visit to a castle, wherever it may be.
Lunchtime and we found an organic foods shop. I had tasty vegetarian lasagna and
the two girls had a cheese sandwich. We had our lunch in the town centre. There is a
tall limestone monument, featuring Celtic crosses. Plenty of benches to just sit and people
Arrive back at The Great Northern Hotel in Bundoran. I check at the front desk and
Janet’s luggage did not make it in today. A little freshening up, and then at 5:00 our bus
takes us on one of those optional trips. We drive along the coastline away from Bundoran
towards Mullaghmore. This village boasts a year round population of 70, but grows into
the hundreds with vacationers. In sight for a couple of miles is the stately Classiebawn
Castle. Built of sandstone, it was completed in 1874. This was once the home of British
war hero Lord Louis Mountbatten. Born in June 1900, he was a great grandson to Queen
Victoria and uncle to Prince Phillip. He came into ownership of the estate by marriage in
1922. His pedigree and titles? Retired Admiral of the British Fleet, one time Commander
of Allied Forces in Southeast Asia, last Viceroy of India, First Sea Lord, and Earl of
Burma. Wow, that is impressive. He was the occasional visitor to Mullaghmore. The Pro-
visional Irish Republican Army assassinated him in August 1979. A 50 pound bomb blew
up his small boat that calm, sunny day and also took the life of his grandson and two
others on board. Another senseless killing and another episode of “the troubles”, as
Ireland and Northern Ireland continued their civil war. Peace, in large part, has come
now and we have learned a lot of history from our guide. We were now heading for a pub.
About 35 of us have made reservations for O’Connell’s Pub. We had already prepaid
and had our choice of any two drinks. I tried something I had never tasted before: Paddy’s
Irish Whiskey. Don’t think I’ll ever try whiskey again. But I do admit that it tasted better
than the Scotch whiskey I tried two years ago in Glasgow, Scotland. Janet was ready to
try the “national beer”, Guinness dark. And for the non-alcoholic drinkers in our group,
Bethany enjoyed the red lemonade. Two singers entertained us tonight: the Bogtown
Rats. Enjoyed the Irish songs and they threw in some humor as well. Can’t go to a pub
without dancing. Carmel, our tour guide, encouraged a few of us onto the dance floor. For
some reason, I just couldn’t get Janet or Bethany to dance with me. About 15 of us got
out there and I danced a little with Karen, Carmel, and Samantha. It was fun! The owner
of the pub had his two granddaughters working for him. They came back by the tables
and gave us a second round. Our 1 and ½ hours was over too quickly. Just enough time to
purchase a souvenir CD of Bogtown Rats music. Looking forward to listening to Danny
Boy when we get back home.
Dinner is at 7:30 tonight. We enjoy pork loin, torticelli, pizza, brussel sprouts, carrots,
mashed potatoes, a choice of four appetizers, dessert, and lots of hot tea.
Now is the perfect time to “walk away the pounds”. I walk up to the Jungle River
Amusement Park. Looks like a small town carnival atmosphere. Another couple of
blocks and I’m on the main street. Buy a few postcards and souvenirs. In bed at 10:30.
July 25, 2007 (Wednesday)
Since we did not get a wakeup call yesterday, I had one of the staff to actually
knock on my door at 6:30 today. At 7:30 we place the luggage outside our door for
pickup and go to breakfast. We say goodbye to beautiful Bundoran at 8:30. We will
drive for about an hour and ½ until we arrive in Derry. There are several windmills on
the hilltops, taking advantage of the winds that are constantly blowing in from the At-
lantic. At a service station, gasoline is priced at $1.179. Well, that is / liter and in Euros.
That translates into about $6.50 USD / gallon.
We pass through the village of Lifford, cross the River Foyle, and enter Strabane.
We are in Northern Ireland. This is my 20th foreign country I have been to. Strabane,
called An Srath Ban in Irish, means “fair river valley”. At one time, it had the dubious
distinction of having the highest unemployment rate in European Union. There are Union
Jack flags all over the place as these peopla pledge their allegiance to the Queen of
England and are a part of the United Kingdom. A treaty forming two separate countries
was signed on Jan. 1, 1922. The civil war that ensued has lasted through too many
decades and is known as “The Troubles”.
We are soon in the city of Derry. For years, it was known as Londonderry. As we enter
the downtown area, I notice a round yellow flower bed. With strategically place red flo-
wers, it looks like a welcoming smily face. We will have a local tour guide talk about the
history of Derry, as we walk atop the Walled City. Derry is the only remaining completely
walled city in Ireland. These walls were built originally to protect settlers arriving from
England and Scotland. They are 1.5 km. in length and were completed in 1618. The four
original gates : Shipquay, Ferryquay, Bishop and Butcher gates have all been rebuilt and
three new gates have been added : Magazine, Castle and New Gate. The walls form a
walkway around the inner city and are 18 feet thick. Part of the modern political history
of Northern Ireland is told through the murals on buildings. Bloody Sunday occurred here
in January, 1972. Fourteen unarmed people were killed by British troops. There were up-
wards of 15,000 civil rights protesters that participated in a march that Sunday. There are
many murals that stand as a reminder of the historical conflict between the Catholics and
Protestants in Northern Ireland.
One of the jewels of Derry is the Guild Hall. Built in 1912, it houses the mayor’s
office and council chamber. Constructed in neo-Gothic style, it houses some of the finest
stain-glass windows in Europe. Full of ornate carved wood, it looks like a church. A huge
pipe organ takes up one entire wall. It is massive, composed of 3132 pipes. It is beautiful!
Lunch time and a large group of us stopped at a restaurant / pub. I had the traditional
Irish stew and sweet tea for 5 pounds sterling. Time to leave Derry and we saw the British
army barracks which were deserted in 2006. The bomb proof (?) wall is still in place. And
on July 31, the British army finally leaves Northern Ireland after a 38 year occupation.
On the northern coast we make a quick stop for a photo shoot of Dunluce Castle ruins.
Set in the northeast corner of Ulster province, it sits upon a crag, overlooking the north
Antrim coast. The great circular towers on the east side suggest a date of origin in the
14th century. Most of the rest of the buildings were from the 15- and 1600’s. First in the
hands of the MacQuillans, they were displaced by the powerful MacDonnells, (Lord of
the Isles). The wreck of the Girona, a ship of the Spanish Armada, came aground here in
1588. Cannons retrieved were mounted on the castle wall. In 1639, part of the kitchen
fell into the sea, bringing several members of the household with it. Another pretty spot!
We drive through the small town of Bushmills. The place is known worldwide as
the home of Old Bushmills Whiskey. The Old Bushmills Distillery is the world’s oldest
licensed whiskey distillery. King James granted the original license to distill “acqua
vatie” or water of life in April 1608. Bushmills has been making the finest Irish Malt
Whiskey ever since. The four types include: Bushmills Original, Black Bush, 10 Year
Old Malt, and the rare 16 Year Old Single Irish Malt.
The next highlight of our tour today is a visit to the Giant’s Causeway. It was formed
about 60 million years ago. This was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1986. Due to in-
tense volcanic activity, highly fluid molten rock was forced up through fissures in the
chalk bed to form an extensive lava plateau. The rapidly cooling lava contracted and the
result was hexagonal shaped columns. The precisely formed stone columns almost look
man-made. There are over 40,000 basalt columns at this site on the Antrim coast. Legend
has it that the rocks are man-made and this is a bridge stretching across to Scotland. It
was built by an Irish giant named Finn McCool to encourage a Scottish rival named
Benandonner to cross over to Ireland for a battle. With the Scottish giant approaching,
Finn was fast asleep. His wife covered him in a nightgown & bonnet. The wife said to
be quiet or he would awake the baby. If the baby were this size, Benandonner feared the
size of the “adult” giant. He ran back to Scotland, 15 miles away, ripping the rock bridge
as he went. I just can’t decide which version to believe. But it is an awesome beauty like
we have never seen before. And there is an informative film in the visitors centre.
We drive eastward and pass by the road to Carrick-a-rede. Sure wanted to visit there,
but it was not part of our plans. There is a famous rope bridge, 80 feet above the water. At
one time, there was only a single rope handrail. Primarily used by fishermen, it was the only way to reach Carrick-a-Rede Island. A bridge has been on the site for 300 years.
We view Rathlin Island in the distance. It is Northern Ireland’s only inhabited island.
Sitting six miles off the coast, it served as a retreat for Robert the Bruce in 1306. Fourteen
miles away is Scotlands’ Mull of Kintyre. An eleven mile road circles this small island,
which finally received electricity in October 1992. Most tourists by ferries stay only for
the day, then return to Ballycastle. The permanent population now has dwindled to 73.
Rathlin could one day soon be uninhabited. It is a wonderful sanctuary for many species
of birds, puffins being the foremost. Kittiwakes, guillemots and gulls all come to nest
here and in May and June the noise is deafening.
We come across another castle ruin: Dunseverick. The McCain / O’Kane family held
it from circa 1000 A.D. The castle was occupied until its capture and destruction by
Cromwells troops in the 1650s. Today, only the ruins of a gate lodge remain. The last
previous remaining piece, a small residential tower, tumbled into the sea below in 1978.
We come across a diversion (detour) and must now travel upon a narrow “B” road.
There are gently rolling hills in the distance, followed by narrow wooded areas. The song
that came to mind was “over the hills and through the woods, to Grandmothers house we
go”. We come across a few more roundabouts or traffic circles. In the distance is a hill
with twelve windmills. We see that gasoline in Northern Island is about 99 pence / liter.
Approximately 4 pounds British sterling, that is about $8.50 USD. So, roughly 90% of
gas stations in the border region of Northern Island have closed. With the Republic of
Ireland being part of the EU, gasoline is up to 40% cheaper.
We now arrive in Belfast, the capital of Northern Island. There are over 600,000
residents in metro Belfast. When the Titanic was built here in 1912, Harland and Wolff
had the largest shipyard in the world. Saw several yellow H & W cranes at the shipyard
as we passed by the waters edge, before arriving at the Stormont Hotel. Once again, no
luggage for Janet. Another phone call assures us that it is now at the Belfast airport. Dare
Dinner was again served at 7 p.m. Lets start with a salad bar, then move on to the
buffet. We choose from turkey, salmon, pork, roast potatoes, carrots, broccoli, sliced
potatoes, and flan for dessert. Afterwards, hot tea and coffee are served. I tried to call my
dentist friend, Caroline, but had not written her phone number down in Mobile. And she
was not listed in the phone book. She was part of the Costa Rica Methodist Dental team
in 2004. Sorry we couldn’t chat for a wee bit.
Across the street from our hotel is the Stormont Administrative Building. This is the
parliamentary site of the Northern Ireland Assembly. What a magnificent building and
grounds. The Processional Way from the main gate to the legislative building is almost
one mile long. And the 300 acres of parkland and gardens are open to the public. Don’t
get locked in. Gates close at 9:00. I was walking briskly as I left at 8:59 p.m.
July 26, 2007 (Thursday)
Regular routine with a wakeup call at 6, luggage out and breakfast at 7, then we leave
at 8. It was overcast as we left Belfast. We drive by the Mountains of Mourne. Cross back
into the Republic of Ireland. Entering the city of Knowth, we go to the Boyne Valley Vis-
itor’s Centre. We prepare to visit the Bronze Age passage graves.
The Great Mound was built over 5000 years ago, after the construction of Newgrange
and before the construction of Dowth. The Great Mound is surrounded by 18 smaller sat-
ellite mounds. The Great Mound has two passages, with entrances on opposite sides.
They meet near the middle with a cruciform chamber. Archeologists discovered the
first passage and chamber in 1967. This area was first settled circa 4000 B.C. It has been
a place to live, to bury their dead, to work, and to carry on ceremonies and festivals.
These passage graves were built about 3000 B.C. That makes them 1000 years older than
Stonehenge in England and 500 years older than The Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
We are fascinated by the huge pictograph boulders that circle the Great Mound. Almost
all of the kerbstones, 124 out of 127, with the beautiful artwork still reamin today. Each
weighed about 5 tons, and were transported on wooden rollers. Megalithic Art is simply
art done on a big stone. And one-third of all Western Europe’s megalithic art is found on
Dublin is our next destination, as we will stay here for two nights. We have a free
afternoon to walk, shop, rest or explore. We check into the 5-star Berkeley Court Hotel
and once again find that Janet’s luggage is not here. But, it is at the Dublin airport. We
make 2 or 3 phone calls to try and have it delivered, but to no avail. It is still in London,
we are just not sure.
Bethany and Janet rest this afternoon and I go out. First stop is the bank. I exchange all
my British pound sterling for Euro-dollars. Try to find a store to buy another shirt or two
for my wife. Day 7 of the trip without her luggage is quite frustrating. Stop in a small
pharmacy for a few items and directions. Walk past the U.S Embassy then on down to a
post office for airmail stamps for the postcards. I walk around for well over an hour and
enjoy the sites. Back to the hotel and prepare for our evening out.
Most of our tour group will attend dinner and Dublin’s Traditional Irish Cabaret
tonight. It is a celebration of Irish music, laughter, song, comedy and dance. And what a
fabulous two hour show it was. At the heart of the show is Ireland’s funniest comedian,
Noel V Ginnity, who has been performing in the show for over 30 years. Irish tenor,
Paul Hennessy, sings many solos including “Danny Boy”. There are 8 - 10 young people
from the May Crean Irish Dancers group who perform the traditional Irish River Dance.
Don’t think I had ever seen a uilleann piper, but Tommy Keane played with great talent.
Uilleann pipes are similar to the Scottish bagpipes, but are played at the elbows. And Ray
Kennedy and Ruth Cahill also sang, accompanied by a couple of wonderful fiddlers. Our
delicious three course dinner was followed by Irish coffee.
After the show, I was able to get autographs from five of the performers. And I bought
a music CD by Paul Hennessy. Plan on listening to that many hours after we return home.
Back to the hotel to catch up on the travel diary and a good nights rest.
July 27, 2007 (Friday)
We start the morning with an excellent breakfast buffet. Then it is soon time to board
the bus for some highlights of Dublin. We hear lots of history as we travel on statue lined
O’Connell Street. There has been a recent push to save the Georgian style houses, made
popular during the reigns of Englands’ four King Georges. This was from 1714 - 1830.
We had a quick photo-stop by St. Patrick’s Cathedral. According to tradition, St. Patrick
baptized several converts at a well in what is now the park, adjacent to the cathedral, circa
445 A.D. To commemorate this event, a small wooden church was built. In 1191 the first
Anglo-Norman archbishop of Dublin, raised the little church to the status of a collegiate
church. The baptistery at the entrance to the cathedral is the only surviving part of the
original 1191 church. The present building, the largest in Ireland, was erected between
1200 and 1270. Of course with time, disrepair sets in. There was a massive restoration
project between 1860 - 1900, carried out by the Guiness family. The massive west tower
dates from 1370; the choir school was founded in 1432; and the cathedral choir took part
in the first performance of Handel’s “Messiah” in 1742. This is not a museum, but an on-
going church with services held every day of the year.
Our next destination is Phoenix Park (Pairc an Fhionn-Uisce), meaning “clear water”.
It is one of the largest enclosed city parks in Europe, at 1752 acres. Some of the signifi-
cant features of the park include: the Dublin Zoo. Founded in 1830, it is the third oldest
zoo in the world. There is the Papal Cross, erected for the visit of Pope John Paul II in
1979. Over 1 million people attended an open air mass at that time. We see the Phoenix
Monument and the Wellington Monument. The Deerfield Residence is the official home
of the United States Ambassador to Ireland. We then pass by the Aras an Uachtarain,
which is the residence of the President of Ireland. There is a remarkable resemblance to
the U.S. White House in Wahington, D.C. And from inside the second floor window, a
light is always on. The President wants to welcome back home, any Irishman who had
Trinity College is our next stop. On permanent display in the library is the Book of
Kells. It is an ornately illustrated manuscript, produced by Celtic monks around 800 A.D.
It contains the four Gospels of the Bible in Latin. The calligraphy is exceptional! The
book was stolen in the early 11th century, then recovered a few months later, under a peat
sod. It was then presented to the Abbey of Kells in Kells, County Meath, where it was
kept for much of the medieval period. It was then presented to Trinity College in 1661.
The most characteristic ornaments in the Book of Kells are the closely coiled spirals,
connected with each other by a number of curves and terminating in a “trumpet pattern”.
There are interlacements of colorful beings: men, animals, birds, horses, dogs and gar-
goyle like creatures. These are all twisted and hooked together in intricate detail. For
example, in the space of one inch square were counted 158 interlacings of white ribbon
with a black border on either side. There are pictorials of the Virgin Mary and the Divine
Child, Jesus, and the evangelists. And the colors are still rich even today, after 1200
years. It has been said that many believe the Book could only have been written by angels.
We had our lunch on the second floor of a department store. Large windows allowed
us to see the city streets below, and watch the rain coming down. Why did we leave the
umbrellas at the room? Now for some culture.
Janet, Bethany and I find our way to the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology
and History. There is a world famous collection of Bronze Age gold ornaments. There are
Viking Ireland and Medieval Ireland galleries. Dozens of spears and spear-heads are on
display. I was fascinated by the remains of a few humans who had been found in the peat
bogs. These are called the “bog bodies”. Artifacts date back to 7000 B.C. A few of the
prized treasures are the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch. Thoroughly enjoy our time
here and soon its time to grab a few souvenirs before the bus arrives for us.
Our optional tour at 5:00 takes us to the Guinness Storehouse. There is a guided tour
awaiting us. Someone had painted a clever equation on the wall. Hops + Water + Barley
+ Yeast = Black Gold. I was surprised to learn that a visit to Guinness is the number one
international visitor attraction. We are introduced to the four ingredients that make up the
beer, then learn about Arthur Guinness himself. We visit the Tasting Laboratory, Transport Exhibit, the Craft of the Cooper, and tales abour Guinness abroad. There is one
floor dedicated to advertising the beer, and we hear about the story of the building’s
construction. It was one of the first skyscrapers in Europe to use steel beams. The elevator
takes us to the top floor to the Gravity Bar.
At 130 feet above street level, we enjoy the panoramic view of Dublin. Glass windows
allow for a 360 degree view of the city below. Lots of nice pictures from here. Plus, we
receive our complimentary pint of Guinness beer. The next glass elevator ride takes us to
the fifth floor. Dinner is ready. There are choices of ham and cabbage, or chicken tortel-
lini, fresh veggies, rolls and dessert. Delicious!
Back on the bottom floor, we pass by the original 9000 year lease signed by Arthur
Guinness in 1759. And what would you think they have located by the exit? A shoppe to
purchase your Guinness souvenir tee shirts and hats and lots of other goodies.
July 28, 2007 (Saturday)
Up at 6. Luggage out at 7 and breakfast served at 7. As we leave the 5-star Berkeley
Court Hotel, we still don’t have Janet’s luggage. Soon, we are promised, again. Carmel
points out different sections of Dublin, as we leave the capital city. We have a nice ride
along the eastern coast and view the Wicklow Mountains to our west. An hour later,
we arrive in the small town of Glenealy.
We visit a typical Irish family run farm guesthouse. It is also home of the Bally-
knocken Cookery School. Two of our Dallas, Texas pharmacists volunteered to assist.
Today we will learn to make the scones. And it is certainly worth the wait. There was
rhubarb and ginger topping for these scones. Wonderful. Our host at the cooking school is
Catherine Fulvio. She offers cooking classes from southern Italian to Mexican, from
vegetarian to gourmet entertaining, and much more. This is one of Ireland’s leading
cookery schools. Catherine is a food writer for the Irish Garden Magazine and has made
many media appearances in magazines such as Saveur USA and Japan’s Stekki Recipe.
Some of her extensive television appearances include: Food Network USA, Discovery,
UKTV Food, Italy’s Mele Verde, Latvia’s Culinary Travel with Martin Ritins, Germany’s
Schlemmerreise Irland, and Belgium’s leading culinary program Gentse Waterzooi.
The farmhouse has belonged to the Byrne family since 1850. This has been a guest
house, open to the public since 1969. Catherine remodeled the milk parlor in 2003 and
set up her cookery school there. It won Ireland’s Farmhouse of the Year award in 2004.
We enjoyed a tour of the Victorian farmhouse with its antique furnishings and also the
herb garden outside. We sipped hot tea as we strolled the grounds, covered with beautiful
flowers. This has been a delightful little visit.
Our guide pointed another dolman to us, as we headed to Kilkenny. Dolmans are also
called Portal Tombs. These are large capstones, held up by huge standing stones. These
were created between 3000 - 2000 B.C. Primarily used as tombs, they also may have had
other religious significance. There are more than 100 dolmans scattered throughout the
country, and we saw several on our scenic tour. The largest dolman, Browne’s Hill, has a
weight of 120 tons.
Our destination city for today is Kilkenny, the preeminent medieval city in Ireland.
The city’s rich medieval heritage is evident in the treasure trove of historical buildings
and landmarks, especially the magnificent Kilkenny Castle. This was a fortified, walled
city in the days of the Norman invaders, in the 12 th century. Several very old buildings
still remain today. We arrive at the Pembroke Hotel and check in. On our own for a few
hours. Just down the street is a sandwich shop. And it has internet access. Bethany will
try to send a few e-mails to friends in Mobile.
Our tour group meets at 3:00 in front of the historic Kilkenny Castle. First built in
1172, the wooden fortress burned down the following year. In 1192, the first stone
building was completed. The backside is on the banks of the River Nore. As our tour
began, many of us Americans were surprised to see a parade, featuring United Nations
troops, tanks and flags. Since Ireland is officially not at war with any other country, many
in its military serve under the auspices of the U.N.
Our young guide presented a very informative tour, highlighting the early castle his-
tory. It was remodeled in Victorian times and is set in extensive parklands. This was the
principal seat of the James Butler family, who were the first lords and dukes of Ormonde.
My sister-in-law married a James Butler, and I will have to check his geneology. Due to
major restoration works, the central block now includes a library, drawing room, and bed-
rooms decorated in 1830s splendor. I especially enjoyed the beautiful Long Gallery, with
dozens of old portraits and paintings. A very informative and interesting tour indeed.
Now, time for a few souvenir books.
Back at the hotel room, we prepare for supper. We get to watching an English t.v.
show called Baby Ballroom. Ballroom dancing competition from 11 year old couples.
It was cute. What a surprise as we went down to our 7:00 dinner. Janet’s luggage had
arrived. On day 9 of our 14 day vacation, she FINALLY receives her suitcase!!! When the
announcement is made by Carmel at dinner, everyone applauds her good fortune.
The girls head on back to the room and will stay there for the evening. I decide to walk
around the town. Seemed to be hundreds of people walking about on a pretty Saturday
night. I went to the Nore River and took a few pictures. I soon discovered the pedestrian
walking trail on the north side of the castle. It gets dark as I walk around the entire per-
iphery of the castle grounds. Takes longer than I expected. But I always enjoy the solitude
of a long walk. Back to the room about 10 p.m..
July 29, 2007 (Sunday)
Another 6-7-8 routine. Up at 6, luggage out at 7. Breakfast at 7. And the bus leaves at
8:00. Our first stop today is the world famous Waterford Crystal factory. It is located in
Waterford City in the southeast of Ireland. It is a picturesque river city. And three years
ago, as road crews were putting in a city bypass, a Viking settlement was unearthed. The
archeologists tag this as a 1200 year old settlement. Only 10% of this site has been un-
covered so far. Much of the metalwork seems to belong to the period 840 - 880 A.D.
This was a densely settled area and so far, over 5000 items have been recovered.
We have another guided tour awaiting us as we reach the Waterford Crystal Factory.
Two brothers founded the company in 1783 with the bold promise “to make crystal in as
fine a quality as any in Europe…in the most elegant style.” Due to a crushing tax burden,
the company was closed in 1851. It was about 100 years later that it reemerged. This is
now the fourth most popular visitor attraction in Ireland.
We start with a short film, which ends with the unveiling of a replica of the Millenium
Ball, used in the Times Square New Years Eve celebration in New York. We are then
taken to the Blowing Room. It is noisy and very hot in there. We watch red hot molten
crystal take shape. The craftsmen turn the glowing orange blobs of glass into elegant
shapes. Next is a quality inspection. No shortcuts to perfection. Next is the Cutting de-
partment, and we hear the whirr of diamond-tipped cutting wheels. Teams of cutters work
on each piece. And there are varying depths at which the glass is cut. More quality in-
spection. The next part of the tour is the Sculpting Department. The craftsmen sculpt a
model from clay to make a mould that will later become a beautiful model or figurine or
collectible. Solid blocks of crystal are also used in some special projects. Now we come
to the Engraving Department. A copper wheel is used by the master to engrave the de-
signs. It takes 10 years to become a master engraver, and afterwards they participate in
continuing education classes. More quality control and then we had a chance to meet one
of the craftsmen. So much involved before there is a final product.
There is a very large retail center with hundreds of pieces of Waterford crystal for sale
to the public. It is exquisite! Janet could not decide which chandelier was the prettiest.
Don’t think I have ever been around such pretty stuff. This was awesome.
Our bus takes us through Dungarvan and Youghal, and we see a Celtic cross in a
field. There are 200 - 300 people buried there, victims of the 1848 potato famine. Grey-
hound dog racing is big here in the Dungarvan area. Youghal is the site where the movie,
Moby Dick, was filmed and also where Sir Walter Raleigh brought back the first potato
and tobacco plants. As we drive into Killeagh, looks like every pub sports a Guinness
sign. There are Irish flags flying over most of the houses, but what catches my eye is the
Confederate Battle Flag from the American Civil War era. Around 12 noon, we pass a
school playground and see a soccer game in progress. I notice a small plot of land in
another small town. It’s a stone church, surrounded by a cemetery. However, there is no
roof left, and one of the two remaining walls left is leaning. We have seen many ruins on
this scenic journey.
Our next stop is at the Blarney Woolen Market for lunch. We sit with one of our
Australian tour members and have a pretty good lunch. Now its time to walk over to the
Castle. The first castle built here in the 10th century was a wooden structure. A stone
structure was built in 1210 A.D. This was demolished and in 1446, the third castle was
built by Dermot McCarthy, the King of Munster.
In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth sent the Earl of Leicester to take possession
of the castle. Whenever he endeavoured to negotiate the matter, Cormac McCarthy
always suggested a banquet or some other form of delay. When the queen would ask for
progress reports, a long report would be sent, but the Blarney Castle remained untaken.
The queen was said to be so irritated that she remarked that the earl’s reports were all
At one time, Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster, sent 4000 troops to supplement the
forces of Robert the Bruce. This occurred during the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn. Legend
has it that the latter king gave half the Stone of Scone to McCarthy in gratitude. This is
what is known as the Blarney Stone and was incorporated in the stone castle where it can
now be kissed.
The Blarney Stone is embedded near the top of the castle wall, at nearly 90 feet in
height. Kissing the stone was once a difficult feat. In past times, people were hung by
their heels. Now, one sits down with their back toward the stone, and someone holds
their feet or belt. Next, leaning far back and downward into the abyss while grasping the
iron rails, you lower yourself until your head is even with the stone to be kissed. The term
“blarney” has now come to mean “the ability to influence and coax with fair words and soft speech without giving offense.” Down at the souvenir shop, I purchased a certificate
stating that I had indeed kissed the Blarney Stone and the picture to prove it. Fun!
As we drive toward Cork, we learn that with 3 days left in July, this is the wettest
month on record for Ireland. Carmel tells us that there is some magnificent scenery ahead
of us the next few days, when sunny. She requested that we say our Hail Marys, even the
Methodist ones. I liked that.
We are soon in Cork and checking into our Clarion Hotel. About an hour later, we
load onto the bus at 4:10. Our optional tour will take us to Cobh, to learn the Queenstown
story. As a port city, we learn about its emigration history. From 1848 - 1950, over six
million adults and children emigrated from Ireland. The exodus from Ireland was largely
due to poverty, crop failures, the land system and a lack of opportunity. The three primary
sites were Canada, the United States and Australia. There was a life-sized statue of Annie
Moore and her two brothers. She became the first ever emigrant processed at Ellis Island
in New York City. This occurred January 1st, 1892. Annie was only 15 years old and took
care of the two younger brothers. When their parents had saved enough money in the U.S.
they sent money for boat passage. We had listened to a very touching song a few nights
ago called “Isle of Hope.” It was about Annie Moore. We see the oldest yacht club in the
world, founded in 1720. Inside the museum, we learn that this was the last port of call
for the Titanic in April 1912. Almost 1400 sacks of mail and 123 passengers were loaded
on board here for the Titanic’s maiden voyage. And three years later, the Lusitania was
torpedoed about 25 miles west of Cobh. 1200 people out of almost 2000 died as a result
of the German attack. This act drew the United States into World War II in 1915.
This has been most interesting. We walk several blocks, past a very steep hill. There are 23 adjoining houses, one higher than the previous one. It is called “a pack of cards.”
I got some nice pictures here. Around the corner is the imposing structure of St. Colman’s
Cathedral. Neo-Gothic in design, the cathedral dominates the Cobh town. And inside is
one of the most majestic churches we have seen our tour.
As the bus takes us back to Cork, I notice a Hillbilly Fried Chicken Express sign. It
just seemed a little out of place. We have our 7:00 dinner and enjoy a choice of salmon,
pasta, or pork-loin. As always, we finish with hot tea, coffe and dessert. I don’t have any
volunteers to walk into the downtown area with me. I walk by the river for awhile, and
notice a river rat by the waters edge. I am soon in the city centre. Just walking and win-
dow browsing. Another chance to walk away the pounds. Out for about two hours. Back
to the room at 10:15 and in bed at 10:30. And Bethany has finished reading Harry Potter.
July 30, 2007 (Monday)
We leave Ireland’s third largest city, Cork, at 8 a.m. and will have some nice weather
today. We cross the river Bandon and continue overland until reaching the pleasant port
town of Bantry. According to many ancient Irish books, the first inhabitants of Ireland
landed in Bantry Bay as early as 4000 B.C. This is the site of two naval wars. France and
England fought here in March 1689. And again in December 1796, Bantry once again be-
came the destination of a French fleet. 43 ships and 15,000 men came in support of the
Irish patriot, Wolfe Tone. With the mass exodus of emigrants after the potato famine, the
population dropped from 4000 to about 1200.
Bantry sits at the head of the turbulent Bantry Bay, which stretches 30 miles from the
town to the ocean. The statue of St. Brendan stares out at the water from a downtown
plaza. Of all the Irish saints, Brendan was the greatest traveller. Brendan established a
number of monasteries in Ireland, especially on the west coast. He voyaged to Scotland,
Wales and England. Brendan’s reputation as a traveller rests on the Navigatio Sancti
Brendani. This was an account of his second (and successful) voyage which lasted seven
years and probably took him to Iceland, Greenland and even Canada. The writings con-
tained navigational directions and detailed descriptions of the places he and the 17 monks
visited. By plotting their course on a map, and comparing the descriptions to actual is-
lands, historians sought to reconstruct Brendan’s journey. Some concluded that he landed
in North America. Since this occurred in the middle of the 6th century, he would have
been in the western hemisphere 900 years before Christopher Columbus. Some accounts
of giant white sheep would indicate they were at the Faroe Islands. (Faroes is Danish for
sheep). The crystal pillar would have been an iceberg, a likely sight as the monks headed
north. The hot rocks could be explained as molten slag from an erupting volcano on or
near Iceland. The “moving island” would probably be a very large whale. Other unusual
items in the writings might be explained as polar bears and Eskimos.
So far, archeologists have not found a trace of any early Irish civilization in North
America. And that is what it would take to convince scientists and historians. It wasn’t
until 1964 that an early Norse civilization could be conclusively verified in northern
Newfoundland. Norwegian archeologists excavated the small village of L’Anse aux
Meadows, discovering several Viking longhouses and other artifacts such as iron boat
rivets and a Norse spindle whorl. Until evidence is conclusively found, St. Brendan will
have to await his turn in the history books. Fascinating!
We head northwards a few miles and arrive at Glengariff Harbor. Soon, our tour group is boarding the Harbour Queen II. We have a ten minute boat ride to Garinish Island. The
Irish named is Ilnacullin, meaning “island of holly”. It is a small 37 acre garden island.
We pass small outcroppings of land, where seals are sunning themselves. There are 15 -
20 in this colony. Cool. There is an amazing richness of plant life here. With the warming
oceanic influence of the Gulf Stream, the climate is almost subtropical. This favors the
growth of ornamental plants from all over the world. One of the features is the exquisite
Italian Garden. The island is overflowing with rhododenron, camelias, fuchsia, heather,
bonsai, and magnolias. It is truly breathtaking.
A short hike takes us to the far side of the island. We are now at Martello Tower, built
as a defense against a Napoleanic invasion. There are stunning views of the bay from this
height. We wandered through woodland pathways; my favorite one was Happy Valley. A
clock tower and a Grecian temple also added to the charm of this island paradise.
Our time here is too soon gone. And we’re back on the private boat. Carmel points out
a two story white house, close to the bay. This is where the Irish born actress, Maureen
O’Hara lives. She will soon be 87 years old. The bus stops in the downtown area of
Glengariff and most of us wind up at The Hawthorne Bar. Our lunch today will be
Bantry Bay Seafood Chowder, cheese sandwiches, and coca-cola with ice cubes!
Across from the tour bus is a small cemetery. One interesting headstone had a Celtic
Cross, and all the words were in Irish, not English. We drive north and view magnificent
valleys. Go through the community of Bonane. This area is rich in archeology, with over
250 sites. In the townland of Dromagorteen, there is a stone circle, used for ceremonies
and rituals. It consists of 13 stones with a central burial boulder. It is the centerpiece of a
complex astronomical calendar, including solar and lunar cycles. This was set up circa
3400 B.C. I am amazed again.
Now we are in the mountains and also the gorgeous valleys. Have a quick photo stop
at a little place called Molly’s Old Tea Room. More beautiful pictures to take. We see
where a glacier ripped an opening through the mountaintop. Stop at the awesome over-
look called Ladies’ View. We have now entered Killarney National Park. This is the site
where England’s Queen Victoria stopped for a visit in 1861. The views from here are
some of the most spectacular on the planet.
We arrive at the Holiday Inn in Killarney and will stay here for two evenings. After a
short time, we have another trip lined up: the jaunting car ride. This is a horse drawn cart
which takes us down a major street in Killarney, then through the woods, then to Ross
Castle. It is right on the shore of one of the three Lakes of Killarney. I took a beautiful
picture of small boats awaiting passengers on a small creek that empties into the lake.
Even got fussed at for being ten minutes late for the ride back. But I got some nice pics.
We have a special show tonight in Tralee. We will be attending the Siamsa Tire, the
National Folk Theater of Ireland. There is a core group of full time players plus local
actors from the surrounding community. All performances include traditional music, song
and dance and mime / movement. The show tonight featured life on the Great Blasket
Island. A small island, it is only 4 miles long by ½ mile wide. The small farming / fishing
community exceeded 150 inhabitants in the early 20th century, but had just 22 people
when the island was abandoned in 1953. The folklore presentation was sung in Gaelic,
not a word of English. The story was about daily life and what happened when a young
child became ill, and there was no medical care. After his death, the islanders decided that
they really had no choice other than to move to the mainland, three miles from the tip of the Dingle Peninsula. The Great Blasket Island is the westernmost point in Europe.
We learn the history about Tralee and its famous yearly festival. The Rose of Tralee
International Festival is based on the lovesong The Rose of Tralee, by William Mul-
chinock. He was from a wealthy family who had employed a young maid, Mary
O’Connor. William fell in love with Mary, but due to their different social classes, they
could not be married. William emigrated but never fell out of love for Mary. Upon his
return to Ireland six years later, he found out that Mary had just died. He was broken
hearted and expressed his love for her in the song “The Rose Of Tralee”. Another
wonderful day comes to a close.
July 31, 2007 (Tuesday)
Today we shall have a panoramic drive along the Dingle Peninsula. Early in our ride
we are stopped by two farmers and five cows, leading them to pasture. A postcard we saw
called this an Irish traffic jam. As we travel west on Dingle Peninsula, we look across the
bay and look at Iveragh Peninsula. And just offshore are the two Skellig Islands. The
smaller island, Little Skellig, has the world’s second largest colony of Northern-Gannets.
These seabirds number upwards of 70,000 and catch fish by plunging into the shoals from
a great height.
Carmel next talks about the larger island, Skellig Michael. Eight miles from land, it is
one of the most remote sacred sites of all Europe. There was a monastery built here in the
6th century. Tradition says the founding was by Saint Fionan. The monastery consisted of
a small enclosure of stone huts and oratories, whill still stand today. Even after several
attacks by the Vikings in the 800’s, the monks stayed here for over 600 years. The site
was finally abandoned in the early 13th century. There is a small cluster of six bee-hive
huts and two oratories and small terraces. This site was favored by the monks and also
hermits, who wanted to live far away from the “normal” life. This site is now a United
Nations World Heritage Site. For visitors arriving by boat, it takes 600 steps to reach the
top of the island, where the monastery is located. Though we did not have a chance to
visit, I took a few pictures.
We had a short photostop and the scenery here continues be to outstanding! What do
we see next to a modern day farmhouse, but two bee-hive huts. The best description of
these iron age “buildings” would be a stone igloo. They were used primarily for storage,
but also for habitation. More than 400 beehive huts dotted the hillsides on the peninsu-
la. The best estimates of construction and usage is between 1000 B.C. and 1200 A.D.
We pass several girls heading to the segregated “scoils” on the very narrow two-way
road. That’s right, boys in one school and girls in another. Our guide catches us up on
the history and current events of Ireland. We hear of the “Celtic Tiger” economy. After
joining the European Union in 1973, this economically socialist country has slashed tax
rates and things are booming. The unemployment rate has crashed from 32 down to 4.2%.
Tens of thousands of Europeans are immigrating to the Emerald Isle, especially Poles and
Carmel points out some ogham stones, which have markings on them. The markings
were from the Gaelic 25-letter alphabet that was used in 5th century Ireland. Seems to be a
very interesting form of writing / communication. We also learn that the 1970 movie,
Ryan’s Daughter, was filmed in this beautiful area.
We arrive at the Blasket Island Interpretive Center. After the Siamsa Tire folk theatre performance, I was eager to learn more about the hearty people who eeked out an exist-
ence on that small island for centuries. Records indicate people lived there as early as
1597. There is a topographical map of the Great Blasket Island. Many artifacts are on dis-
play here. And for such a small number of inhabitants, the island has at least three very
well respected writers. Tomas O’Criomhthan wrote “The Islander”. Peig Sayers wrote
“An Old Woman’s Reflections” and Robin Flowers is known for “The Western Island”.
Lots of photographs and pictures to enjoy. And there was a large selection of books to be
purchased. Many sculptures, too. Glad I got to learn more about these self-reliant folks.
We finish our magnificent drive along the Slea Head. This just might be the prettiest
part of Ireland! We arrive back in the town of Dingle. Have some free time as we head in
all directions for lunch. Today, Janet and I want the “traditional” Irish corned beef and
cabbage. Well, it is not as traditional as we thought. Could not find it anywhere. Oh well.
We look high into the mountains of the MacGillicuddy Reeks. These are the highest
mountains in Ireland. Finished with almost all of our souvenir purchases. The cashier is
originally from Louisiana and I had bought enough stuff for her to give me a free VHS
movie about Fungie. This is a bottle-nosed dolphin that has been a constant visitor to
these waters for more than 20 years. The townspeople of Dingle have “adopted” the
friendly dolphin. And there is even a nice little sculpture of Fungie in the town plaza.
Our bus driver stops for a short photostop along a cove of a public beach on Dingle
Bay. I see wind-surfers and several kites. And most of the cars were parked on the sand.
More beautiful pictures await my digital camera.
Back to our Holiday Inn in Killarney. We have free time from 3:00 until 7:00. Bethany
and Janet will rest and you-know-who has his walking shoes on. I stay mostly in the down-town area, but do walk to the outskirts, where I see the beautiful old church. Lots of
window shopping. I chat with a man whose brother lives in Boston. In his music shop, I
buy a CD of Celtic music and also a Scottish music tape.
It takes awhile, but I finally find a grocery store. Janet instructs me to buy six boxes of
Barry’s classic blend Irish tea. As I check out, I’m asked if I want a bag. Yes, please.
There is a 50 cents “convenience tax”. Rather tacky, I thought, but amusing.
I continued my walking and came across a small park / playground. Several kids were
having a blast with the bungee-bounce. As I was watching and taking a few more pictures
of a church nearby, a young Chinese woman started chatting with me. She had been in
Ireland one week and was looking to find a job. A pleasant woman, trying to practice her
English with me. Seemed to be a little homesick.
Closer to the hotel, as I was walking back, I came across St. Mary’s Well. There was a
sign next to it with the coat-of-arms of Cill Arnie (Killarney). “A place of pilgrimage
since 1302, reputed for baptisms and cures over long years.”
Many jaunting cars passed by with tourists, as I continued walking back to the hotel.
Another delicious dinner at 7 p.m. This would be our last chance to go swimming. How-
ever, pool rules required everyone to wear a swimming cap. Oh well, I’ll swim when we
return to Alabama. Our chore tonight was to carefully pack and rearrange the luggage.
Only one full day left, as we go to bed about 10:30.
August 1, 2007 (Wednesday)
Breakfast started at 7:45. Once again, there are tomatoes for us. I just don’t normally
have tomatoes at home with my cereal or pop-tarts. We have a group photo taken. Some
of the folks want to do a little more shopping in town, so our bus leaves at 10:30. As we
head towards Limerick, Carmel decides its time to read our limericks. There are 14 of the
44 tourists that had submitted a limerick. It was fun to listen to individual experiences in
poem form. We pass the Adare Castle (built in the 1190’s) ruins as we drive northward.
Fifteen miles from our destination is Adare. It is regarded as being Ireland’s prettiest
and most picturesque village. The Gaelic name : Ath Dara means “the ford of the oak”
due to its water and woodland location. The old town was destroyed by 16th century
wars and most all of the present village was built in the early 1800’s. There are a few
dozen thatched cottages, lining High Street. Enjoyed this beautiful little place as we
walked and window-shopped then found a restaurant for lunch. I tried the chicken stuffed
with ham and dressing today. Bethany stayed with her favorite cheese sandwich, while
Janet had soup and a sandwich. For our last day, I tried plum pudding for dessert.
Our next stop was the Holy Trinity Abbey Church. It was founded in 1232. Behind it
was a garden with some unique boy and girl “scarecrows”. Adjacent is a columbarium or
dovecot. It is a circular building in which doves and pigeons were housed. It was erected
in the 14th century. An opening in the roof allowed the birds to come and go. The internal
walls are lined with niches where the doves rested and food was provided. This provided
an unlimited supply of food for the resourceful monks.
A group of us walk by the Village Park (More pretty flowers.) And next to it is the
Washing Pool. Centuries ago, the women of Adare used this as a laundry washing pool.
The stream flows under a small two-arched stone bridge. We cross the street and enter the
Adare Heritage Centre. It features an historical exhibition, a restaurant, crafts, a woolen
market and a heraldry. The history of Adare is told through realistic model enactments.
We drive through more lovely countryside until we are soon in the city of Limerick.
The Clarion Hotel is home for the night and we have a few hours of free time. Rest and
relax for a short while and then get ready for the final optional tour.
Most all of us pile into the bus and head out of town. We pass Bunratty Castle. This is
what we were supposed to have seen our first evening in Ireland. We pass through a few
villages as we enjoy the countryside views. Carmel tells us that we are about to pass the
smallest pub in Ireland. Many of us have our cameras ready as we cross a small stream.
It looked like a pink floating doll-house. It was named the Duck Inn. Real cute.
Tonight, we shall attend a medieval feast at the Knappogue Castle. It was built in 1467
and like so many castles in Ireland, it fell into ruins. It was purchased by two Texans in
1966 and restoration began. A stone marker near the entrance reads: Knappogue Castle
1467 For half a thousand years these walls have stood 1967 What we rebuilt we pray
will be as good. We are greeted my men and women wearing the traditional medieval
clothes. Upon entering through the massive door, we are all given the honey rich mead.
Pretty tasty, but very sweet! Bethany even enjoyed her a cupful. Two of the ladies enter-
tained us guests with music from a violin and harp. I noticed a few of the banners as we
waited to be seated in the Banquet Hall. Did I mention that we waited for awhile for other
tourists to arrive? “Would my lord like some more mead?” A few men commented that
they could get used to this special attention.
It seemed like there were about 200 of us that were ushered into the great hall. Sitting
on wooden benches, we were served a full three course dinner. Included were red and
white wines. The Earl’s Butler narrated and enjoyed storytelling while the ladies danced
for us. Then there was the madrigal singing. When finished with dessert and the program
was over, we saluted our host with a toast. It was a grand and glorious time!
The sun was setting in the beautiful countryside as we drove back to Limerick. Need
to finish packing, and get to bed early for tomorrow will be a long day.
August 2, 2007 (Thursday)
Wakeup call at 5:00 a.m. Luggage is set out at our doors at 6 a.m. as we go for a cold
breakfast today. We leave the hotel at 6:45 and head for the Shannon airport. Get the suit-
cases checked in at the Delta counter. Many of us use the kiosks inside the air terminal
for a VAT (value added tax) refund. Hope to see a “credit” on our credit cards within the
next six weeks. We arrived with plenty of time to spare for our international flight. I see
a massage chair. Thought Bethany needed to relax before the 8 hour trip back For 3 euros
you get a 10-minute massage. She enjoyed it so much, I got me one also. We taxi out to
the runway at 11:15 and we are soon leaving the Emerald Isle. As we fly above the Shan-
non River, I just appreciate my window seat and take a few departing pictures.
The compass feature shows that we have 3836 miles until we reach Atlanta. After
about 4 and ½ hours, I spot some small islands in the proverbial middle of nowhere over
the north Atlantic. At 5 hours and 15 minutes, we start to cross over the Canadian main-
land. I try to take a few pics but there is too much glare. We are hungry, maybe due to the
six hour time change. We are served penne pasta with veggies, a roll, crackers, cheese, a
cookie and drink. An hour or so later, we have a snack of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. From
6 or 7 miles high, I can see the calm ripples of the Atlantic as we fly into and out of the
We finally land in Atlanta, GA at 2:26 p.m. Go through customs and reclaim our luggage. It is 87 degrees and humid. Back in the U.S.A. A few hours later we are in
Mobile. ALL our luggage has arrived with us. Oh happy day. Catch the shuttle van
back home and wonder where we will go next year. Life is good!
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