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Ireland with Go-Ahead Travel

Author: svitak5
Date of Trip: October 2005

Today's weather was wet and wetter. We left Dublin at 9:00 a.m. for our excursion to Glendalough and Powerscourt, both in County Wicklow. The highlight of the day - I discovered just how wonderful scones and Irish tea can be. We climbed around the ruins of Glendalough and through the cemeteries in a light drizzle. It was really not bad at all, soft rain as Father Terry calls it. I walked with some of my tour companions to the lower lake. Misty, damp and green. Carmen hiked to the upper lake and to St. Kevin's Cell. She is the only one of our group who did. But then she is the youngster on this tour. And while she was exploring and seeing all there was to see, I was making my culinary discovery. I enjoyed tea and scones at the Glendalough Hotel, just outside the monastery grounds.

"Glendalough, with its famous round tower is one of the most enduring images of County Wicklow. A truly beautiful location which is steeped history. The English name Glendalough comes from the Irish Gleann Dá Locha which translates to "The valley of the two lakes". It was here that St. Kevin founded a monastery in the sixth century. From this beginning the site grew to become famous as a centre of learning throughout Europe. Indeed, Ireland was known as the "Island of Saints and Scholars". Standing amid the remains of this monastic settlement, one can feel a powerful sense of peace and tranquility. The settlement continued to expand for 600 years and was destroyed in 1398. The buildings which survive date from the 8th and 12th centuries. The most famous is, of course, the round tower which is 34m high and 16m in circumference at the base. A cathedral, stone churches and decorated crosses also survived." (Wicklow.com)

We left Glendalough and started our return to Dublin with a planned stop at Powerscourt Estate. The rain quit for a while and we were able to walk through the gardens. They are beautifully landscaped and maintained - but, of course, since it is October, there are no blooming flowers. There are sculptures, and fountains, and ponds. Walkways twist around to secluded benches and hidden grottos. After spending time in the gardens, we toured the interior exhibits. Sadly most of the building was destroyed by fire 1974. To finance the restoration that is now being done, much of the space has been leased to commercial specialty shops. I did buy Angie a scarf of Merino wool, but I am sure we will find things of equal quality for lower prices elsewhere. Here we are a captive audience. Carmen and I bought cheese and crackers and settled down in the forecourt for a bit of a snack. No sooner seated and it started to rain - hard! It rained most of the way back to Dublin. Sean told us this was the hardest rain this year. This evening we went to a pub in the west Dublin hills. The entertainment was terrific. We heard a group called the Merry Ploughmen at a pub called Taylor's Three Rock. The dancers were so-so, but the musicians were wonderful. It was an evening of traditional Irish craic. ***

Thursday, October 20, 2005 Cork, IE - sunny & clear

Today we left Dublin at 9:00 a.m. for our next overnight stop in Cork. Dublin was wonderful but it is a big city just like every other big city - except that it has lots of history. Much more than anywhere in the U.S.

On our way to Cork our first stop was at the Irish National Stud Farm. It is off season, neither breeding nor birthing going on. But the area is beautiful. We saw foster mares that foal every year for ten years so they are available to wet-nurse thoroughbred foals that may need it. We also saw miniature horses originally bred to work in the coal mines. They are no longer used for such purposes, thank God. We saw beautiful thoroughbred studs. Each ensconced in his own huge pasture. We toured the beautiful gardens at the Stud Farm - everywhere you go in Ireland, there are gardens - and we ate scones and drank tea at elevenses - just like the hobbits.

On our way from the National Stud Farm to Kilkenny, Sean pointed out a huge field that was used to film the battle scenes in Brave Heart. I didn't take a picture because it would just look like a big green field. And there are lots and lots of big green fields in Ireland. We were on our own for lunch in Kilkenny. We looked for somewhere we could eat cheap and light. Eating out in Ireland is expensive. After lunch we toured St. Canice's Cathedral. It was a very interesting tour provided by a local parishioner. As an Anglican, he was very patient with a group of insensitive RCs.

"Prior to his death in 1202, it was the vision of Bishop Felix O'Deleaney that the monastic settlement that was St Canice's should house a cathedral church. Since the 1120's the see of Ossory had been shifted from Aghaboe to Kilkenny but no new building was erected to mark the move. The bishop was one of the few who realized the significance of the Norman settlement of the region. In consequence, he established the foundations of the cathedral with a view that the practically minded Norman overlords would sponsor the stone masons to erect a house of God worthy of both worship and prestige. Bishop O'Deleaney died before his vision became real. However in laying the foundations he left the challenge to his successors to complete the task. The 13th century cathedral of St Canice is the second longest cathedral in Ireland . The site on which the cathedral stands has been a site of Christian worship since the 6th century. The architectural style of the cathedral is Early Gothic and it is built of limestone. The cathedral has been carefully preserved in its original style and form. It is richly endowed with many stained glass windows including the East window which is a replica of the original 13th century window. The cathedral contains some of the finest 16th century monuments in Ireland. The memorials stretch right across the social spectrum from the great figures of the house of Ormonde to the humble shoemaker and carpenter. The baptismal font is original and the ancient stone of enthronement for bishops still exists under the seat of the mediaeval throne in the North Transept, where to this day the bishops of Ossory are enthroned. The continental carvings on the choir stalls and the hammerbeam roof are not to be missed. Beside the cathedral stands the 9th century round tower. It may once have been a watchtower and a refuge and it can be climbed to give an unsurpassing vantage point to view the city of Kilkenny and the surrounding countryside." (Norman Lynas, dean of Ossory)

We made a rest stop in Cahir and arrived in Cork at 6:30 p. m. We are at the Rochester Park Hotel. Carmen and I could not get a non-smoking room, so we will probably reek of stale tobacco tomorrow. We have been spoiled so far on this trip. Within the past year or two, the Irish Republic passed a "no smoking in public buildings" law similar to the one we have in California. So we have been blessed with smoke-free atmosphere most places we have gone. Even though it is raining tonight we are sleeping with the window open. Thank goodness it is only for one night. Tomorrow night we will be in Kenmare. ***

Friday, October 21, 2005 Kenmare, IE - Overcast

We left Cork promptly at 9:00 a.m. this morning for the little community of Cobh (pronounced Cove). We toured the Emigration Museum. Not only did the coffin ships set sail from Cobh, but the big ocean liners made Cobh their last European port of call before crossing the Atlantic. Both the Lusitania and the Titanic called at Cobh before their fateful voyages. From Cobh we returned to Cork for the city tour. Sean scheduled the city tour second so that we could avoid the morning rush hour traffic. After driving around Cork and seeing the Cork City Gaol, Sean took us to the English Market - a lot like Pikes Place Market in Seattle. We spent about an hour there and then boarded our bus for the ride to Kenmare with a stop on the way.

Our stop was at Blarney, County Cork, where we toured Blarney Castle. Carmen climbed the 91 steps to the top but declined to kiss the Blarney Stone. Since I have already kissed an Irishman who has kissed the Blarney Stone I did not need to make the trip to the top. Good thing too, because there is no way I could climb up that narrow twisting stairway to the top of the tower. One of the best things about the town of Blarney is the Blarney Woolen Mill. I bought Joe a sweater and a cap; and I had a wonderful time window shopping as well. From Blarney we drove to Kenmare, County Kerry. We are staying at the Kenmare Bay Hotel. What a lovely little town. I looked at real estate prices and they are a little below our part of the U.S. I can only dream of living here. And I am not sure I would like it for the long haul. But I would be willing to give it a try. ***

Saturday, October 22, 2005 Kenmare, IE - sunny & clear

Today we drove the Ring of Kerry. We stopped first at Killarney, also in Kerry, and rode jaunting carts pulled by Irish draft horses through Killarney National Park. What fun! We shopped at the outlet center in Killarney and at the Blarney Woolen Mill outlet store. I bought a sweater for me. We ate lunch at the Thatched Cottage near Cahersiveen, County Kerry. We enjoyed the most incredibly clear and beautiful weather. Sean says that if you drive the Ring of Kerry 15 times, you might get one day like ours. We were able to see the Dingle Peninsula and the Skelligs. Sean told us that a boat trip to Skellig Michael is only possible when the weather is perfect and the seas are calm. The island has seabird colonies, magnificent scenery, and a fine example of early Christian Monastic architecture on a cliff top 200 meters above the sea. All the tour buses travel the Ring of Kerry in the same direction. The road is too narrow in most places for two buses to pass side by side, so they all go counter clockwise, so they never have to pass each other. I don't know if it is the rule of the road or just self preservation, but when we meet a car coming toward us, it is always the car that pulls onto the narrow shoulder up against the hedgerows to let the bus pass.

When we returned to the hotel in Kenmare, Carmen and I walked to see a druids' circle on a small hill in the town. It was a small circle, but still impressive - a place of pagan worship more than 2,000 years old. We also walked the two main streets in Kenmare reading the menus at every pub and restaurant. After Saturday evening Mass at Holy Cross Church, we ate dinner at Foley's. We both ordered lamb chops and they were delicious. ***

Sunday, October 23, 2005 Galway, IE - Overcast

We said good bye to Kenmare this morning as we departed for Galway City, the last stop on our tour. The time has passed so quickly. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to see. I would love to spend six months touring Ireland - but maybe not the rainy season. Our stop on our way to Galway was Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, County Clare. It is quite interesting. There has been a lot of restoration. We started out at the castle. I managed the narrow circular stairways up a couple of levels but didn't feel adventurous enough to climb all the way to the top. My depth perception and my knees both leave much to be desired. The Folk Park was fascinating. The houses are authentic with thatched roofs and peat burning fireplaces.

The trip from Kenmare to Galway is almost five hours, so mostly we were on the bus looking at the scenery as we drove. I think that both Carmen and I actually cat napped along the way. Dan played Irish music on the bus sound system as he has during the whole trip. It makes the bus travel so pleasant. Sean has shared with us so many stories and historical facts along the way. He taught school for a while, in fact he may still be teaching history, he doesn't talk much about himself. We have learned that he lives in Northern Ireland in Belfast. While he steers clear of discussing Irish politics, I get the feeling that he is probably a Protestant. But if so, he has been very tolerant of a busload of mostly Roman Catholics - all descendents of immigrated Irish - with all our biases and grudges. The Irish don't have the same animosity for the English that we Irish Americans do. I guess that is because they are still in Ireland, and we are exiled.

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