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Idyllic IrelandAuthor: Martha W.
Date of Trip: September 2009
We left Derry on Saturday, September 19. Our coach driver made a brief stop for photos at the murals in Derry. These murals depict the events of the bloody fighting that occurred in the north, one of which was "Bloody Sunday' when fourteen civilians were shot dead in the violent aftermath of a banned protest march. Bill Clinton is revered by the Irish as having been instrumental in helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland. The area is still not a part of the Republic. They are under British rule and the Pound is the currency used in the north.
The highlight of the day was our visit to the Giant's Causeway. The Giant's Causeway lies at the foot of cliffs along the sea coast on the edge of Northern Ireland. It is made up of some 40,000 massive black basalt columns sticking out of the sea. The dramatic sight has inspired legends of giants striding over the sea to Scotland which you can see on a clear day. Geological studies of these formations over the last 300 years have greatly contributed to the development of the earth sciences, and show that this striking landscape was caused by volcanic activity some 50–60 million years ago.
The Ulster American Folk Park was a nice visit this afternoon. We viewed many cottages, including the boyhood home of Thomas Mellon, who founded the Mellon Bank The park depicted the world famous story of Irish emigration. We followed the emigrant trail we journeyed from the thatched cottages of Ulster, on board a full scale emigrant sailing ship leading to the log cabins of the American Frontier. We met costumed characters along our way with traditional crafts to show and tales to tell. After a very busy day we arrived back in Dublin at the Clontarf Castle Hotel. This hotel is set in a leafy northern area of Dublin. In 1172 the castle was built as an inner circle of defense sites protecting Dublin. In 1649 it was sold to John Vernon. The Vernon's were in Clontarf for almost 300 years. In 1660 when John Vernon passed away it was owned by his son Edward Vernon. After his death in 1664 one of his sisters took over the castle. The estate passed through the family and in 1835 the original building was declared unsafe. It was demolished and the castle as we view it was rebuilt in 1837. It opened as a four star hotel in 1998.
Day 11 Sunday, September 20 was our last full day in Ireland. It was a beautiful, sunny day. After breakfast we left for a tour of Megalithic Tombs at Knoth. The tour guide explained the discovery of these tombs which are over 5000 years old. We were told how primitive people managed to align these tombs with the sun and moon. It is here in the gift shop where Lin purchased his Irish cap.
Today is the day of the Irish football playoff. It is comparable to the Super Bowl in the United States. The teams vying to win are Cork and Kerry. It seems all of Ireland turned out in Dublin to watch or attend the event which is held in the 82,300 seat stadium. The Kerry team won the game, as expected. We watched the game in the hotel bar while eating lunch and then took a walk in the neighborhood around the hotel. Tonight we dressed for a Farewell Dinner in the dining room. Entertainment was provided by tour members.
Monday, September 21 we said our goodbyes and transferred to Dublin Airport for our return trip home. After check-in we had time for some last minute shopping in the duty free shops. We ate lunch before boarding. Our flight left at 2:20 p.m. and arrived at O'Hare at 4:30 p.m Our limo once again met us and brought the seven of us back to Bloomington/Normal.
Summary: We had a marvelous holiday in Ireland. We are especially appreciative of our tour director, Cheryl Thorne from First State Bank of Mendota and our CIE coach driver/guide, Irishman, Pat Smith. They provided crack (fun) and information throughout the tour. Both were flexible when possible and this allowed us to enjoy many things that were not on the itinerary. Questions were encouraged and addressed. Our fellow passengers were congenial and courteous.
The Irish people seemingly do not have an easy life. However, they accept it and work hard to provide for their families. Family is most important in Ireland. Taxes are high on most everything, but they do not have a real estate tax on their homes. There are many government rebates available for a variety of purposes, including keeping the hedges trimmed on your property along the roadway. This is due to the narrow roads and the need to pull over or off to the side for opposite bound traffic. Small cars abound because of high taxes on autos and the narrow roads. The Irish are most courteous when driving. They are quick to give the right of way and greet you with a wave as you pass by. We were treated kindly by the people, and they were very helpful when we needed directions, etc.
Food in Ireland is very good and you are served potatoes with every entrée. If you order meat or fish it comes served on mashed potatoes. Boiled potatoes are also put on the plate. Coffee is served only with dessert and is usually limited to one cup, unless you request more. They love their beer and refer to a serving as a "pint." The pubs come alive very late in the evening and many offer musical entertainment.
Northern Ireland is cautiously calm. Unrest is not apparent. The area in the north is just as beautiful as in the rest of Ireland. Much rebuilding is occurring due to the fighting there in the past. We felt perfectly safe during our visit there.
Currency used in Ireland is the Euro except in the north where it is the Pound. The exchange rate to the dollar was very unfavorable during our visit. An ATM card used to exchange currency or charge card was the most useful payment for goods and services if one lacked Euros or Pounds.
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