5/2/2016 (now with a slideshow of pictures I took then)
I flew from Ft Lauderdale/Hollywood International to JFK on Jet Blue. The airplane was quite comfortable, with a video monitor in the back of the seat in front. I pretty much just read and watched the progress of the flight on the monitor.
At JFK I barely had enough time to pick up my luggage, figure out to which terminal I needed to go to check in for my Aer Lingus flight to Dublin Airport, check in, send my luggage through security, go through security myself, and get to the gate before the gate was scheduled to close for departure, with no time left over to get something to eat. After we all got checked in and boarded the plane, we discovered that due to mismanagement on the airport's part we'd have to wait for the 30 or so planes in front of us to be cleared for takeoff before we could leave. We left JFK almost two hours late, and watched a short thunderstorm while waiting on the plane.
The flight was pretty good. I watched the movie ("Ice age 2--the meltdown") in spite of considerable static on the audio. We had a snack and a full meal.
We arrived at Dublin airport around 7 AM Dublin time on Monday morning. After going through customs and immigration, I finally found the CIE Tours booth down in the Arrivals Hall. I met some other people on my tour, and called Mom to let her know we'd arrived.
There were enough people signed up for the Irish Odyssey tour that CIE had split it up in two buses (called "coaches"), which would be staying at two different hotels most of the time. I checked in with the CIE representative, was told I'd be traveling with a driver/guide named Pat Cooley--who we wouldn't meet until Tuesday--and staying at the Grand Canal Hotel while in Dublin, and those of us who were there boarded the coach to be taken to our hotels--both of which were ready for us to check in, thank God. I was in my room at the Grand Canal Hotel by 10. I don't think I fell asleep, but I did stretch out for a while and took a shower before heading out for something to eat.
While driving around on the way to the hotel, I'd noticed a pub nearby called "Becky Morgan's" advertising a full Irish breakfast. So, after my shower, I headed over to see if I could still get the FIB for lunch. (Although I found it OK this time, and made it back to my hotel with no problems, I never felt quite sure I could make it there again.) I ate everything, including the baked beans and both the black and white pudding, although I wasn't quite as fond of the black pudding as I was of everything else included.
Monday afternoon we went on a tour of Dublin via the coach, with a local guide. We wound up at the Chester Beatty Library, over by Dublin Castle. Both the Castle & CBL are adjacent to the site of the original Dublin settlement which became Dublin. Although the site is a dry, glassy lawn now before it was drained it was the site of a pool, a black pool or "dubh linn" in Irish Gaelic.
Chester Beatty was an American mining engineer, who made millions and was a collector of art, and rare books and manuscripts. He sounds like a genuinely nice guy, not like his contemporary tycoons John D Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, both of whom became charitable pretty much at the suggestion of hired public relations specialists. CB's portrait collection became the core of the collection of Ireland's National Museum (also in Dublin); his collection of rare books and manuscripts is housed at the CBL. He collected books in Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity, including some of the rarest and oldest surviving fragments of the Gospels.
We didn't get to go to the Castle, but I did take some pictures of it from the CBL which is right next to it..
We were on our own for dinner that evening. I wandered around for a while in the area around the hotel and the Grand Canal, in search of fish and chips. I couldn't quite remember how I'd gotten to Becky Morgan's for lunch, but enjoyed wandering around anyway. I eventually settled on getting some fish and chips from a take-out near the hotel. I spent a quiet evening in my room, reading and listening to some CDs of Irish music I brought using the wonderful little portable speakers Michael & Renee had sent me for my birthday.
Breakfast was at the hotel. The restaurant there was very nice. They put out pastries, yogurt, and an assortment of cereals. You could also get as much of, and as many components, of the full Irish breakfast as you wanted--except for the baked beans.
Tuesday morning we met our driver for the rest of the tour, Pat Cooley, and drove through the Wicklow Mountains to the early monastic settlement of Glendalough. Pat turned out to be an excellent driver (*I* certainly wouldn't want to be driving a coach on some of the mountain and coastal roads we went on), a wonderful raconteur (I kept hearing people on the bus saying "I gotta write Pat's jokes down", a pretty good singer, and an excellent guide and host to show us around Ireland. He had a very in-depth knowledge of everywhere we went, including most of the places we merely drove past or through, and his love of and pride in his country and heritage was very evident. Oddly enough, he's visited Florida a couple of times. At the end of the tour, I told Pat that if he ever got the chance he should go see Western Oregon and Washington, the coast and the San Juan Islands because he'd find they are a lot like large parts of Ireland, and if he ever makes it to Ft Lauderdale I'd take him to one of our own local Irish pubs.) We also found out that CIE tours is owned by Bus Eirean, the Irish government-owned national bus company, and that Pat had worked for CIE for over 30 years, including 25 as a guide/driver/tour director.
The coaches were wonderful, very comfortable, and seated a total of 49 people (12 rows, with two seats on each side and three across the back). For the first part of the tour, there were only 28 of us; we would be joined by another 8 people in Limerick. To start with, there were among others: my favorites, the "4 Ms" (grandmother Millie, her married daughters Mary-Katherine (but known as Kathy) and Margaret, and Kathy's daughter Maureen)--they had some Irish connection; a group of 9 (two brothers, three sisters, some inlaws, and the daughter of one of the couples--their Dad had emigrated to the US from Derry by himself, leaving family behind; a married woman (one of the Sandies) whose husband didn't or couldn't want to go on the tour with her, so her cousin Dave came along (Dave was a bit of a jerk--not a *big* jerk by any means, but still a bit of a jerk, who seemed to have done no research beforehand and often didn't listen closely when Pat was telling us things); my other favorites, a married couple in their early 20s (John, known as "Jack", and Katherine--oddly enough Jack has a brother down here) from a very small town somewhere in rural Virginia; Sherwin and Sandi, an older couple in their 60s from Jacksonville whose son is somewhere down here in Broward County; and Andy, Maureen, and Delia. I know Mom would have had everyone's personal details by the end of the second day, but I wasn't that thorough. I only know for sure that Andy, Corinne, and Delia were traveling together and were somehow related; Corinne and Delia looked enough alike and were close enough in age in appearence they could have been older and younger sisters, or mother and daughter; I do know that Maureen's brother had recently married an Irish girl and moved to Ireland, and they hoped to at least see him somewhere on the trip (they did, but it was very briefly, and I forget which town it was in). All in all, a very nice group of people.
We all know what a glen is; it's the same in Gaelic as it is in English, a small valley. "Lough" is pronounced the same as the Scottish Gaelic "loch" and means the same thing, "lake", so Glendalough means "valley of the two lakes. It was founded by St Kevin in the 6th Century--a lovely place. We only had time to go on the tour and hike over to the nearest of the two lakes--the furthest is about a 45 minute walk away from the Visitors' Center, and we only had about 2.5 hours there in total. It's a lovely place, in a wonderful, magical setting. There are several modern houses on the shore of the lake across from the monastic settlement.
We had that afternoon free, and most of us hitched a ride in to downtown Dublin on the coach . The Grand Canal Hotel is only about a half an hour walk from the center of downtown.
While driving around on the way to where we were dropped off, I had noticed a nice-looking pub called "Doyle's" so I of course had to have lunch there. The pub had a limited lunch menu, but I wound up having a very nice lasagna--what I thought quite amusing is that it usually comes with chips--great big steak fries (pasta and potatoes?).
We had been dropped off very near to Trinity College. While most of the rest of the tour went shopping or headed for their chosen sacred ground of the Guiness Brewery, I headed over to mine--Trinity College, the Old Library, and the "Book of Kells" exhibit. At Trinity, I discovered that admission to the OL and BOK exhibit is 8 Euros but you can take a tour guided by a student, with entrance to the OK and BOK exhibit, for 10, so that's what I did. Our guide (William) had just graduated with a degree in Russian and would be starting on his Master's in the fall.
Oddly enough, one of the features on the Trinity campus our guide pointed out were a lovely pair of trees--maple trees from Oregon, in fact.
The rest of the afternoon I was on a mission. I decided I needed a pair of sunglasses, which was easy to find at the first drug store (pharmacist's) I went to. I had discovered the previous day that the light-up travel alarm clock which I'd bought here at home to take with me was one of those radio-controlled, atomic-clock ones and wouldn't let me set if for time zones out of the US, so I decided I needed a new one. This proved hard to find; I went to several places, including other large pharmacist's, a couple of department stores, and several other places, before I found this place sort of like an electronics warehouse in St Stephen's shopping center near Grafton Street. They didn't have a lot on display, but what you do is place an order yourself or go up to a service desk and they'll look it up in the catalog and order it for you, and you pick up your items at another desk in a few minutes. I wound up getting an alarm clock which I've become kind of fond of and am now using as my alarm here at home as well (a brief digression--here I use a plug-in digital clock which is lit up all the time but I don't use it for the alarm because it's a buzzer which is, well, too alarming. I used to use an older digital, battery-operated travel alarm clock as the alarm but it doesn't light up anymore, so I needed a portable travel alarm clock which lights up. The new clock lights up when you tap it, and when the alarm goes off it lights up and goes through several changes of color while the alarm starts off beeping quieter and gets progressively louder the longer the alarm stays on).
After finding the alarm clock, I wandered around Grafton Street some more--the place was packed on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in July, the height of the tourist season. I listened to some buskers (street musicians), including a group (the Slovak Dulcimer Ensemble, which includes a cymbalon--a Central European version of the hammer dulcimer, usually made with the craftsmanship and the size of a small piano) playing classical music. I bought two of their CDs.
We were all going to go to dinner and a show that evening at the Abbey Tavern in Howth. Although the GCH was apparently only a half an hour or so walk from downtown, I was feeling kind of tired from not much sleep and all the walking around at Glendalough and downtown, so I took a cab back to the hotel.
Before we left for the AT, Pat bought us all a drink at the hotel, which had a very nice bar as well. I didn't feel like having anything alcoholic, though.
To get to the AT, we drove through Dun Laoghaire (Dun Leery) on the South side of Dublin Bay, then North around the Bay to Howth, where the AT is. Dinner was OK--not bad, but I've had better corn beef at a local NY Jewish deli here. The after-dinner show was excellent, though, and included music and dancing.
Unfortunately we only drove past the Rock of Cashel, but did stop to take pictures.
Although I did make the climb up to the top of Blarney Castle, I did not kiss the Blarney Stone. The guys I work with would probably tell you it was just as well, because I'm full of blarney already, but to tell the truth it was too much trouble with my already-existing knee problems to do so--you have to get down to the floor, lie on your back, kind of hang out over the edge, kiss the Stone from underneath, pull yourself back, and get up again. Besides, after the climb up to the top my knees were already shaking, both from the effort and terror--those stairs are treacherous--and I still had to make the climb back down, which turned out to be even scarier than going up because you could see how bad the stairs were and where you'd fall if you did. The view from the top was well worth it, though.
After the Castle, we had time to wander around Blarney on our own and have lunch. This is where one of the major outlets of the Blarney Woolen Mills is located (of course), which has a very nice restaurant and is where I had lunch before wandering around town.
After lunch we drove through County Kerry to the lovely town of Killarney, where we spent the next two nights at the Best Western International Hotel right downtown.
The hotel was delightful, and very charming. What Dad would really have loved, though, is that right downstairs on the ground floor was what looked like a very nice coffee and chocolate shop. It's across the street from a very nice, small park with a statue of Christ the King and enough room to be the headquarters from which horse-drawn "jaunting cart" tours leave, and which is also adjacent to one of the entrances to Killarney National Park.
Dinner was back at the hotel. Afterwards I wandered around town. There was a small kind-of carnival with some rides including a sort-of ferris wheel not far from the hotel, which I went on.
It was a bit of a surprise to me, but probably shouldn't have been, that large parts of Ireland are still pretty rural--I wasn't surprised at how rugged and how beautiful much of it still is. This of course included the Dingle Peninsula, which was wonderful and lovely. At least two movies were partly shot in locations along the DP, "Ryan's daughter" (1970, directed by David Lean, with Robert Mitchum among others--I don't think I've ever seen it, but just put the library copy on hold) and "Far and away" (1992, directed by Ron Howard, with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman--and quite possibly the worst movie any of them ever made), so Pat kept pointing out where scenes in the movies took place.
If we had had more time, we could have taken a trip to see Fungie, the porpoise who has made Dingle Bay his home and become very friendly with and a favorite of tourists. Pat mentioned him and the tours you can take out to see him--apparently Fungie's such a regular that the tour boat operators *guarantee* your money back if you don't meet him.
We also got a chance to stop and wander around the lovely and delightful town of Dingle itself.
Along the DP road, Pat stopped at a small place with lots of stone fences, a stone beehive hut, and the remains of another small stone building at what must have been a minor monastic settlement--at a very lovely place with a wonderful view of the sea and surrounding hills. I went up, paid the lady who owns the property a couple of Euros, and took some pictures. The entrances in the buildings only came up to my chest.
Right next to the ruins, facing the sea, was a small shrine with a couple of statues. If you know your history, almost all of the Christian holy places scattered throughout Ireland--and we saw quite a few of them--are on what most probably were pre-Christian, Celtic holy sites.
That afternoon we went to the Blasket Islands Heritage Center near the town of Dunquin, where we also had a very nice lunch at the restaurant there. These remote and desolate islands had been sparsely inhabited up until the 1950s when the very small remaining population was relocated. Although largely uneducated the population there produced some of Ireland's best-known authors.
Going back from the BIHC to Galway, we stopped at a place with a very nice view of a couple of buildings and a wonderful, broad stretch of sandy beach.
Of the group of 9 I mentioned, it turned out that only 4 of them wanted to go on a jaunting cart ride, so I went along with them. The four included the older sister (Cass), Rita and her Italian-American husband John, and their daughter Maureen (who had a boyfriend back home). We took a trip down into the Park, to Ross Castle, which is on the shore of one of Killarney's lovely lakes. We didn't have a chance to take a tour of the castle, but the view was worth it. While we were there, the sun was breaking through the clouds on to the hills across the lake.
What made the jaunting trip itself pretty hilarious was the driver, Michael, who was not-unpleasantly risque and kept outrageously flirting the whole time--what made it hilarious and not unpleasant was that he kept deliberately and gently teasing Cass, the older sister, who must be in her 70s and not her younger sister, Rita, or Maureen, who is in her 20s. To add to the hilarity, Michael was obviously missing some teeth....
There was a show going on in Killarney, just across and up the street from the hotel, featuring one of the oriignal musicians from "Riverdance". For some reason (probably having something to do with still not sleeping very well), I decided not to go but to wander around town some more. The 9 were going, so we got back in time for them to have dinner and make the show. I ate with the rest a bit later, and spent the evening wandering around Killarney some more on my own.
After a very nice breakfast at the International Hotel, we left the lovely town of Killarney.
We drove along the beautiful river Shannon to the Flying Boat Museum at the town of Foynes.
This is where commerical trans-Atlantic flight between the US and England got its start, begun by Charles Lindbergh and Pan American Airways. From 1939 until 1945 when WW II made its operations too difficult, and commerical airports inland elsewhere in Ireland made them unnecessary, Foynes was the Irish hub for all flights between England and Ireland and Canada and the US. It's a very nice museum, with a very nice coffee shop. And, not incidentally, the cafe at the airfield at Foynes was where the Irish coffee was invented--we were given a very nice one at the cafe at the museum before we began our tour. Afterwards we had the opportunity to wander around town for a bit, which was very pleasant.
We next stopped at the very charming little town of Adare, which has one of the largest collection of thatched cottages in Ireland still in use and in their original locations.
We stopped for lunch at, and spent some time in, the town of Bunratty itself, which is where the Folk Park and Castle are. Most of us did not go through the Castle or Folk Park, though--we'd have had to pay for it on on our own, and we'd be coming back for dinner and a show there. Pat told us that the Ulster American Folk Park, which we'd be going to later on the tour, was much better, and admission there was included.
I had lunch at the original Durty Nelly's in Bunratty, which has been in operation in its original location since 1620, and had a very good lunch there indeed.
After lunch we drove through and around Limerick, which I don't remember very much of. We went on to our hotel, the Radisson, which was a very nice but kind of characterless modern hotel. There we were joined by 8 more people, who were taking a shorter CIE tour. They were all nice people, and included two long-time friends and their wives and a family of four with two teenage sons, the eldest of whom will be entering college in the fall. Pat and CIE bought us all another drink in the hotel's bar, and we went back to Bunratty for dinner and a show in the Corn Barn at the Folk Park.
The whole evening was wonderful. We were greeted with a free drink--I had the small glass of mead, which was very nice. Most of had the lamb stew for dinner, which was one of the best of all the excellent meals I had on the trip. There was a guitarist who played and sang during dinner, after which she was joined by an uilean piper, a fiddler, a very attractive and very good singer, four female dancers, a male dancer who also played the bodhran, and an MC who reminded me very much of and actually rather looked like Garrison Keillor. The music and dancing were all excellent. On the bus ride back to the hotel, we all discovered that Delia had had a bit too much of the free wine with dinner--she wasn't too bad, though.
We pretty much just drove through parts of the Burren, and didn't see as much of it as I'd have liked. We didn't have time to go to the Nature Center, or to see any of the megalithic sites there. We did get a chance to stop at least once and take some pictures, though.
From the Burren, we drove over to the coast and up to the Cliffs of Moher.
This was the worst weather we had on the entire trip. It really wasn't too terrible, just a bit windy, grey, and cloudy and a bit drizzly--no heavy rains. It was kind of like a mediocre spring day in Portland or Seattle or on the Oregon Coast, certainly nowhere near as bad as when Mom and I were at the Coast over Christmas. So most of us were probably kind of glad we didn't spend more time there, although we all agreed what we saw was indeed remarkable and worth seeing in spite of the weather.
Walking along the trail on the upper part of the cliffs, I thought heard some music, and when I came around a corner I realized I had been right. What I'd been hearing was a CD of two musicians, a husband and wife, who play Celtic-influenced New Age type of music. Normally they'd actually be playing but the weather was a bit too bad for that. I liked what I had heard of their CDs, though, so I bought a couple (which are pretty decent, kind of like Joni Mitchell).
I stuck to the approved tourist paths; there were of course a whole bunch of idiots who hopped over the not very effective barrier wall and continued out along the cliff edge.
From the COM we headed through the town of Lisdoonvarna (known for its Matchmaking Festival and the aptly-named Corkscrew Hill), through Ballyvaughan, around Galway Bay and into Galway in time for lunch and a couple hours wandering around town.
It was still rather drizzly, so a lot of us just wanted to find somewhere warm and dry for lunch and hang out there. Even though I was only wearing my poly vest instead of my jacket (so the sleeves of my shirt as well as my pants were getting soaked), I was quite a bit more adventurous. Pat had mentioned what he said was a pretty good place for fish & chips, McDonagh's, down on Quay (pronounced "Key", of course) Street down by the waterfront, so that's where I headed for lunch, which was indeed as good as Pat had said. After lunch I wandered around Galway some more, and found a wonderful record store, Mulligan's, where I could have spent a lot of time and money but only bought three CDs of Irish traditional music.
I also found two pubs on Quay Street which the "Let's Go" guidebook Michael and Renee had sent me said were two of the best for traditional Irish music, Tig Coili and Seaghan Ua Neachatain (otherwise known as Knockton's) I wanted to come back to. I also had a hot coffee in a pub called "Ti na Nog", which means I got to visit the Blessed Isles or the Isles of the Young without dying first.
From downtown, we headed on out to our hotel in Salthill. Salthill is very much like Alki in Seattle, except it has several hotels and B&Bs instead of condos. It's quite lovely, with a wonderful view of Galway Bay, and the longest oceanfront promenade in Ireland. It was still drizzly but I wandered out in search of some more film and batteries, a bit of a snack for the night, and maybe some herbal/not-caffeinated teabags (all of our hotel rooms came with very nice, and very fast, electric teakettles).
I still had time to change into dry clothes before dinner, which was at the hotel and was excellent. By then it had stopped raining, and the sun had come out.
On the ride to the hotel, I'd mentioned the two pubs to Margaret, one of the 4 Ms. When we arrived at our hotel, I asked her and found out that she, Cathy, and Maureen would all like to go into town to check out the pubs and see if we could hear some music somewhere. We caught a cab in from Salthill (only 10 Euros).
I hadn't actually checked inside either of the pubs, and the guidebook of course didn't say the pubs are usually kind of small. Things were pretty crowded at the first place we came to, so we stood around and listened to the music for a bit before moving on. At the next place, we had to stand for a while before a table right next to the musicians opened up and we swooped down on it like birds of prey. We stayed there listening to the music for a while, and had a drink. It was still a lovely night, so we wandered around for a bit and headed on down to the waterfront. We found a very nice and surprisingly uncrowded pub right across the street from the bayside; it turned out that it was the first week the place had been open. We had a drink and sat in a table by the window, looking out over the bay, and waited for a cab back to the hotel.
This was a very nice place, although there was some construction going on since they're adding quite a few more rooms. (When we got there, Pat teasingly said some of our rooms might be drier and less windy than others) Everyone's rooms seem to have been very nice, although some of us had better views than others. Mine was on the front side of the hotel, facing a very nice small park across the street, but if I looked up to the right I could see the Bay.
A word about Galway Bay--it's huge, much larger than Seattle's Elliott Bay.
And a word about Guiness, since I'd been pubbing that evening with three very nice, lovely ladies. I'd tried Guiness back home, and didn't like it. All my life I'd heard that Guiness really doesn't take long, overseas traveling very well, and is much different and much better in Ireland than anwhere in the US--and it indeed seems to be true. The Guiness I had in Ireland was indeed creamier and smoother, with no bitterness or harshness. Harp, which is one of my favorite lagers, on the other hand really has no problems with long-distance travel and is as good here in the US as it is in Ireland. I also had a couple of hard ciders, which you know I'm also fond of, while in Ireland, Bulwer's while in the Republic and Strongbow in Northern Ireland.
And a word about the length of day and relative latitude. We all kept noticing how late it got dark, pretty close to 10:30 our first evening in Galway. One of the mornings I had trouble sleeping, I noticed it was getting light about 4:30 AM. (Officially, sunrise was at 5:01 AM and sunset was 9:56 PM on July 1.) So I just did some research, and here are the latitudes, sunrise and sunset on July 1 for (from South to North) Miami, San Jose, Portland, Seattle, and Dublin:
|Miami||25 deg, 46 min||6:32 AM||8:16 PM|
|San Jose||37 deg, 22||5:51 AM||8:32 PM|
|Portland||45 deg, 36 min||5:26 AM||9:03 PM|
|Seattle||47 deg, 38 min||5:16 AM||9:11 PM|
|Dublin||53 deg, 20 min||5:01 AM||9:56 PM|
So, as you can see on 7/1 it got light an hour and a half earlier and got dark over an hour and a half later in Dublin than it did in Miami....
Connemara is quite a rugged area, which makes it very scenic. Actually seeing the area made it quite clear why Connemara has always had a reputation for sheltering illegal activity of one kind or another, with several inlets to the ocean to make smuggling easy and myriads of rugged valleys which would be easy to disappear into when pursued. As one old song puts it, "Gather up your pots, your pans, and old tin cans,/Your mash, your corn, your barley and the bran,/Run like the devil from the excise man/To the hills of Connemara."
Today was spent touring the Gaeltacht, the Celtic-speaking area of Connemara in County Galway, which was very beautiful. We stopped in a peat bog to take a look at areas where people had cut peat for their own personal & household use. We got to spend some time in Spiddal and Clifden, a couple of very nice towns.
On the way to Kylemore Abbey, we stopped at the Connemara Celtic Crystal factory in Moycullen, County Galway, for a tour and a demonstration of some of the elements in cutting crystal, and saw some very lovely stuff, including several pieces done for various exhibitions. CCC is owned by Belleek, so you can buy their products through them as well.
We spent the afternoon visiting Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, which is in a very lovely setting on a small lake. KA is currently the home of a teaching order of nuns and during the school year is a boarding school for girls; unfortunately, due to declining enrollment, they have announced that the school will be closing in a couple of years. I later mentioned that I could see why girls might not want to go there, since there really isn't anything else to do in the immediate area; a couple of moms in our tour group pointed out that was the idea....
On the way back to the hotel we again went through Muycullen for a visit to the Connemara Marble Factory, which has supplied marble to buildings around the world and throughout Ireland.
After dinner at the hotel, I spent the lovely evening wandering around up and down the Prom along the Bay and into Salthill. I could tell which pubs had the World Cup game on because I'd hear cheering as I'd walk past.
On the way out of Galway this morning, we passed through the town of Tuam (for which I can find almost no information online and which isn't mentioned in any of the 3 guidebooks I have, or in the huge "Encyclopedia of Ireland") but which I'm told is where one set of Dad's grandparents came from. Pat stopped just long enough for me to get off the bus and take a picture of the sign at the city limits, which unfortunately didn't come out too well.
Our next stop was the town of Drumcliffe in County Sligo, (for which I can find almost no information online) but which is famous, and well worth stopping to see, for several reasons. The current church and cemetery were built on the site of a 6th Century Christian site, with the old round tower still standing. The church is itself worth seeing, being quite pretty. It's also where Ireland's greatest poet, William Butler Yeats, was eventually reburied in accordance with his wishes; either his grandfather or great-grandfather had been a minister there. Both the church and the town of Drumcliffe--which is itself quite charming--are in the shadow of one of Ireland's largest mountains, the limestone plateau or tabletop of Ben Bulben, a very interesting and picturesque geological feature.
We continued on to the town of Knock in County Mayo, which has become Ireland's largest pilgrimage center since the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared to local villagers on August 21, 1879. I'm not much a believer, myself, but I do accept the sincerity of others' belief, and the church and related facilities at Knock are an impressive and lovely expression of that faith. The town itself is also quite pleasant.
From Knock we followed along Donegal Bay and into the town of Belleek in County Fermangh, along the shores of the river and Lough Erne. Although most people come to Belleek for a visit to the famous china factory there, it's a very pleasant town and well worth wandering around in.
We had a very interesting tour of the factory and got to watch some of the craftspeople at work.
From Belleek we drove back into County Donegal, which is another of Ireland's most rugged areas (including the Blue Stack Mountains) and so is quite scenic as well. Because I've got the kind of memory that often seems to retain odd bits of information for decades with no apparently good reason, I remembered a long time ago seeing a Disney movie called "The fighting prince of Donegal", a historical action adventure supposedly set in Donegal in the 16th Century (all I can find out is it was filmed somewhere in the UK). Anyway, County Donegal well deserves its reputation for rugged scenery.
We crossed into Northern Ireland over an open border with no formalities and almost without noticing. Our hotel for the next two nights would be the Tower Hotel, right inside and adjacent to Derry's old city walls. This was a very nice hotel, with a good restaurant and bar.
I walked around for a bit before dinner, just sticking within the city walls, which is actually the most scenic part of the city anyway. The really odd thing about Derry is that most of the shops close between 5 and 6, so after 6 nothing in town is open but some of the pubs. I then spent a very pleasant and quiet evening in my hotel room. I did see one disconcerting sight, though, a massive bonfire which had been prepared for use the following day. More about that later.
In the morning, we had a walking tour of the old city walls with a guide (whose name was Michael) from one of the local companies which has that concession. As most of us know, Derry and most of the rest of Northern Ireland has had a contentious and often violent and bloody history for many centuries. Our guide quite calmly and factually explained it to us, and reminded us that the summer is known as "the marching season" and is when the Protestants in Northern Ireland celebrate the various victories of the Protestant forces of William of Orange (who wasn't even English, by the way, although he was King of Great Britain) over the Catholic forces loyal to James II, as well as celebrating the later activities of that rather nasty Oliver Cromwell (who is still greatly disliked--a side note: there is a pub in Galway, which I saw only from the outside, called "the King's Head" because it was supposedly started with the proceeds its original owner received for being James II's executioner). One of the main celebrations would occur the following day, July 12, the anniversary of the 1690 defeat of the Catholic troops by those of William of Orange, beginning with the lighting Tuesday night of bonfires including the one I'd seen being prepared Monday night.
Afterwards we headed on over to the coast in County Antrim for a visit to the Giant's Causeway. We didn't have a whole lot of time here, only a couple of hours--it would take the whole day to walk up to and back from some of the more remote features. Most of what we saw was restricted to the first headland, which really does have some remarkable volcanic and geologic features. I walked down and took the shuttle up.
After leaving the GC we stopped for a view of the ruins of a seaside castle which had been occupied up until the kitchens fell off into the sea, supposedly during a banquet.
From the GC we headed inland to the town of Bushmills in Antrim, which besides being a nice village on its own, is the site of a place holy to Catholics, Protestants, believers in other faiths, and even people who don't believe in religions--the oldest licensed whiskey distiller in Ireland. Although not much of a drinker, I do find the whole process of beer, wine, and whiskey making interesting. This time of year the plant's not operating but is going through some annual cleaning and maintenance, which was actually OK--I've been through some soft-drink bottling plants and the bottling parts of breweries before, and it can get a bit noisy. After the tour, we all had a small tot of our choice, including something non-alcoholic for the younger or non-drinking set (I had the hot toddy). I knew what was coming, but didn't try to get included in the whiskey sampling and tasting session--although those of us in our group who were told me they enjoyed it all and all of it. We had a very nice lunch in the restaurant/tasting room, and I especially remember the whiskey cheesecake which was excellent.
After lunch we had time to wander around town for a bit, which was also quite pleasant.
We returned to Derry around 3, well before the shops closed. I wandered around for a bit then as well. Dinner was in the hotel, and was excellent as usual. I hung around in my room reading for a bit, and around 9:30 or 10 decided to venture out of the hotel in search of a pint. The day before I'd noticed a pretty nice pub called "the Anchor" down the street near the walls on the other side, so I went there. I felt pretty safe within the walls, but didn't consider it advisable to wander around too much or to head outside of the walls. You could smell the bonfire I'd seen being prepared the night before. I had a pint of the local hard cider, Strongbow, in the quiet pub which had only about 6 locals in it, and headed back to my hotel.
While we were in Derry, the party of 9 I mentioned earlier was able to meet and spend a lot of time with relatives of their father's whom they'd never met before. Apparently they had a wonderful, meaningful, and occasionally sentimental time, visiting places like the cemetery where the grandparents they'd never met are buried.
We drove alongside Northern Ireland's Sperrin Mountains on the way from Derry to the Ulster American Folk Park.
Although the Northern Ireland town of Omagh is best known for being the site of one of the most recent and hopefully one of the last atrocities during the Troubles (a bombing there on August 15, 1998, killed 29 and injured hundreds) it really should be known for the Ulster American Folk Park, which is both a historical and preservation site. The base for the UAFP, and the only building actually orginal to the site, was the childhood home of Thomas Mellon who lived there until he emigrated to the US in 1818. If the last name sounds familiar, it should--he went on to become a very important and wealthy banker, whose bank is still one of the biggest financial institutions in the world. All the other buildings on the site were rescued and relocated there because the FP's directors felt they were significant to the history of Irish (OK--mostly Ulster Protestant) emigration and contributions to the US. Part of the site includes a replica of the deck and hold of a typical sailing ship in which an unknown number of Irish came to America. After hearing how long the voyage could take, and that passengers/emigrants were confined to the hold and only allowed on deck for a short time each day, and slept four to a bunk, we all decided not to complain too much about airline food and delays in flights to and from home.
After the UAFP we re-entered the Republic and made a short stop in the very nice and scenic village of Monaghan, in County Monaghan.
From Monaghan we headed back on to our hotel for the night, Cabra Castle, near the town of Kingscourt in County Cavan. I am unable to find out much about Kingscourt anywhere, and we really didn't see that much of it anyway. Cabra Castle is apparently quite a bit further than walking distance from the town. When I asked at the desk about possibly heading into town to see if I could find a shop selling some CDs of Irish traditional music, both the staff at the desk and Pat, our tour guide/driver said it wouldn't be worth the cab fare.
We arrived at the Castle (built in the 18th Century, and with an interesting history before being opened as a hotel by the current owners in 1991) around 3:00, and it was a lovely, sunny day--perfect for our last full day in Ireland. The grounds at the Castle include some gardens, and a 9-hole golf course, so several members of our party hit the links. I wandered around for a bit, and greatly enjoyed the efforts of the offical photographer for a wedding taking place there, who was trying to get the wedding party organized for pictures before the wedding.
Some members of our group actually had rooms inside the Castle. The rest of us were in what had been the original servants' quarters, and had been converted into hotel rooms, including what was one of the most charming rooms I stayed in during the entire trip, and they all were very pleasant.
Part of the current hotel staff includes a largish and rather shaggy Irish wolfhound named Oscar, who apparently sleeps most of the time although he will occasionally greet guests and let them pet him and take his picture. I didn't take many pictures of him, though, because he was sleeping almost every time I saw him.
After a very nice dinner in the Castle's restaurant, we were treated to a performance of very good Irish dancing by some local girls (I think from 3 families). The girls ranged in age from 6 (who had started dancing when she was 4) to 9 (started when she was 5) into the teens and up to the oldest who was 20 (started when she was 5 or 6). They were all quite good and enjoyed themselves immensely.
After the performance, I bought myself a hard cider (Bulwer's, in this part of Ireland) and had it outside on the terrace while we all said "goodbye" and "safe home" before catching some sleep on what was the last night in Ireland for most of us.
Some of our party had flights scheduled for very early that morning. Pat and CIE had arranged a shuttle to get them to the airport on time, and the hotel had arranged a continental breakfast in their room at 4:45 AM. After we found out that the hotel bar was open to residents until 4:00 AM, we half-jokingly suggested that solved their problem and they should just stay up all night. A few people had to be at the airport not quite as early, and arrangements were made for them. The majority of the rest of us, though, were able to have breakfast at 7:00 AM and catch a ride at 8:00 with Pat on the coach to the Dublin airport, or even just back into Dublin itself for those who weren't leaving that day.
My flight was scheduled to leave at 1:30 PM, so I had plenty of time. Although my flight into Dublin airport was direct from JFK, for some reason the flight out was through Shannon. We had to get off the plane, go through US Customs and Immigration there, and reboard the plane with the rest of the passengers who were joining the flight there.
I don't like having to transfer between planes and airlines at JFK. We got off the plane, had to go through Customs and Immigration again (the guy basically looked at my ID and waved me through) and then I had to figure out to which terminal I needed to go to check in for my Delta flight home. I of course wound up at the wrong terminal at first, and had to hurry. I finally found the right terminal, got checked in, sent my bag through security, went through security myself, and finally made it down to the right gate--and learned that the flight had been delayed for about an hour because the plane had been delayed leaving its previous airport, which I am sure the Delta agent who checked me in could have told me.
The flight wasn't too bad--better than it looked like it would be, at first. We thought it would be a flight from hell, because there was a baby who wouldn't stop crying and screaming. Pretty soon, though, after it got dark the baby went to sleep and remained asleep for the rest of the flight.
Back at the Ft Lauderdale/Hollywood airport, it didn't take too long for my bag to show up. I caught a cab and was home about 1 AM our time, which was 6 AM Irish time, almost 24 hours after I'd got up the previous morning.
Over the past couple of months before my trip, I collected a bunch of novels. The mysteries are all set in Ireland, by Irish authors, or in one case involve an immigrant from Ireland to New York early in the 20th Century. The fantasies all have something to do with, or are based on, Irish or Celtic myth and legend.
Here is what I read before, and during the trip:
This novel is about St Patrick and the beginning of his ministry in Ireland. It was pretty good.
This is a not-bad historical romantic fantasy about a high king of Ireland who falls in love with a goddess.
Irish noir--part of his mystery series about Jack Taylor, a former member of the Gardai. This is set in Galway, and by coincidence that's where we were staying when I read it. Kind of gritty, but pretty good.
Some of you may have seen the PBS "Masterpiece Theater" series based on these stories. They're about Major Sinclair Yates, a Resident Magistrate in a small town in Ireland early in the 20th Century, his family, and his adventures with and among the locals including his landlord and his extended family--quite charming. This is at least the 2nd time I've read them.
This is the first of the author's series about Boudica, the British Celtic warrior princess who led the Celts in battles against the Romans during their invasions under Caligula and Claudius. Excellent.
This is a fantasy based on Celtic mythology. It's also quite good; I'd forgotten I'd read it before, but read it again anyway.
I know some of you have read this yourself, and think Dad did as well. The author points out how it was largely through the efforts of Irish monastic institutions that much of what remains of the literature and knowledge of the classical Greek and Roman worlds survived the collapse of Rome and the Dark Ages.
This is the first of her two mysteries featuring Irish archaelogist Cormac Maguire and Nora Gavin, an American pathologist, in Ireland. It involves the search for the identity of a woman whose severed head is found in a peat bog, and a modern search for a missing mother and child. Very good. I plan on reading the 2nd as well.
This is part of her mystery series about Romanian-American genius linguist and translator Torrey Tunet in the small Irish village of Ballynagh. Pretty good. This is actually #2; I've just ordered #1, "The Irish cottage murder".
She's a New Zealand author of fantasies based on Celtic mythology and folk and fairy tales. This is the first of her "Sevenwaters" fantasy series, and is based on the fairy tale of a girl whose six older brothers are turned into swans and will remain so unless she stay silent while making them all shirts spun from a nettle-like plant. Very good so far.
I've read several of her mystery series about Evan Evans, a constable who prefers living and working in his small village in rural Wales; this is the first of her mystery series about Molly Murphy, who flees from her small village in Ireland to early 20th Century New York after accidentally killing her landowner's son who was trying to rape her. VGSF.