Ireland

October 2011

It was a small group and a short trip for a small country but it kept us busy!

The trip started in Toronto with an overnight flight to London followed by a shorter one to Belfast. Smooth but long.

After a little time to freshen up we set out on a historical pub walking tour. Walking is always a great way to discover a new city and making pub stops along the way just makes it more fun!

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Belfast’s history goes a long way back and it has been tumultuous. But as you can see modern fits right in with the old.

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The next morning we set out by coach to drive along the Causeway coastal route which it the north shore of Ireland. It is very picturesque.

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We stopped along the way at the Londonderry Arms Hotel for scones. This is said to have been home to Winston Churchill from 1921 to 1934. The location is very pretty.

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Our next stop proved to be a bit more of a challenge as we were invited to cross over a rope bridge to Carrick-a-Rede Island. The walk to and back was breathtaking in all senses of the word… 

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We next stopped at White Park Bay, a gorgeous beach that seems cut off from the world.

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To regain our strength the next stop was a distillery. But along the way we spotted an old castle perched very close to the edge of a cliff: the Dunluce castle, dating back to the 13th century when Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, built the very first castle there. At one point, much later, part of the kitchen next to the cliff face collapsed into the sea, after which the wife of the owner refused to live in the castle any longer.

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The distillery was Old Bushmills. I expected a very sterile tour in a symbolic set up but the minute we walked in the smell told us this was an operating distillery! Unfortunately there is not a lot to see as everything happens inside huge copper vats. The tasting at the end was fun though!

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Anytime you have a distillery or a brewery, you need water and so here is the picturesque river that runs by Bushmills.

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After a lovely lunch, we set out to the Giants Causeway, again a spectacular walk! This area has been created by the volcanic eruptions (60 million years ago), which has left some surprising rock formation.

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The following morning we had an orientation tour of Belfast. I must say it confused me a bit but I do carry some vibrant images with me, especially of the street art commemorating the struggles and “troubles” as they are referred to here.

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The cathedral is especially beautiful…

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This building set amid beautiful gardens was showing the first signs of fall…

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Amusingly there are moose heads on the top of lampposts here…

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The next attraction we visited is something that should become a big attraction next year when all the work is completed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic, as this is where she was built. For the time being you can only visit the musty office building that housed the shipping company’s activities and the dry dock where the ship was brought in to be outfitted as well as glimpse at what will be the visitors center. You can also see photos of what the cabins looked like as well as see an authentic ticket to attend the launch.

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And it was time to leave Northern Ireland and head all the way south, past Dublin to the area of Wicklow, also known as the garden of Ireland. The drive down was lovely and really illustrated why this is known as the emerald isle: the greens are so intense and so rich everywhere you look.

The first thing we visited the next morning is a spectacular estate called Powerscourt. I would have gladly spent the entire day there.

The skies were a dramatically dark which made for interesting photos. There is even a pet cemetery on the grounds with very touching epitaphs to favorite dogs, horses and even a prize-winning cow.

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But we had other houses to visit… The Avondale House was very interesting because it is outfitted in period furnishings. It reminded me of the plantation mansions in New Orleans. According to a plaque over the door it was built in 1779. The fireplace mantel is especially intriguing as it is inlaid colored marble.

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We had lunch in Avoca at a hand weavers shop. I think they started as simple yarn spinners and weavers but have now grown into a very successful business. They still keep one loom in operation…for the tourists…and they do make the most wonderful mohair throws…

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We walked through the village

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That night we stayed in a beautiful hotel that has a grand spa and each got a treatment! But what I enjoyed the most was their pool outfitted with both very strong jets of water to blast away your back and very gentle bubble beds that you could rest on…

After such nice R&R we were all set for a walking tour of Wexford the next morning, but were met by a chicken standing guard by the door. We never found out if it was a guest who stayed too long in the sauna or if it was to be out next dinner….

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There are so many castles and towers in Ireland… I had no idea…We drove by this one called Ferns Castle (Caisleŕn Fhearna)

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And then the remnants of this one which was part of the walls surrounding the medieval city of Wexford
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The niches inside the passageway in the wall, was where people were detained to suffer the ridiculing and abuse of passersby after having been found guilty of some offence.

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There is a renowned opera house in Wexford by the way…

Our next stop was the Dunbrody, a 19th century 3 mast sailing ship that transported immigrants during the great famine. It is a very well done reconstitution. There is a similar one on display in Dublin and both their claim to fame is the small number of passengers who died during the trip. Interestingly, this ship was built in Quebec.

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Across the street from the Dunbrody is a surprising thing: the Ros Tapestry exhibition center. When I read that we were going to see tapestries, I expected the dull musty tapestries of olden days but lo and behold, these are brand new, as a matter of fact still in progress tapestries! This is a community initiative being developed by volunteers. It consists of fifteen embroidered panels - 6 x 4 foot each – that depict events around the Anglo-Norman arrival to the South East of Ireland, specifically the founding of the town of New Ross, Co. Wexford by William Marshall and Isabel de Clare. Anne Bernstorff designed the content for these tapestry panels. The colors and the stitching are marvelous!

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We stopped for lunch in a pub and because it was daylight, I was able to get some photos.

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We stopped in the picturesque village of Inistioge on our way to the Kilkenny Castle. This is where Maeve Binchy’s novel and café “Circle of friends” is located.

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We made an unscheduled stop at Jerpoint Abbey; a Cistercian abbey built in 1180. I don’t know what it was but this turned out to be one of my favorite visits of the week. The sun was shining and the guide was great which probably contributed to the favorable impression.

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We walked around Kilkenny before going to the castle and stepped inside the Kytelers Inn. It is said that the original owner of this Inn was Dame Alice le Kyteler whom was born in Kilkenny in the year 1263. In her time she gained much notoriety not least because she acquired four husbands and a considerable fortune. Her enemies eventually conspired to accuse her of witchcraft and have her burned at the stake.

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We also walked through Butter slip so named because this is where butter was kept at it was cooled by the river.

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The castle itself is imposing…with beautiful grounds…

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We enjoyed another Pub outing…. This one was packed to the rafters with all sorts of knick-knack… but the entertainment was a lot of fun…

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After a full day of professional meetings we had one full day left to explore Dublin. Obviously it deserves more than that but we did the best we could with the time we had…

We of course visited the unavoidable Guinness Storehouse and learned how to pour the perfect pint.

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We did make a brief stop at the National Museum of Ireland

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and should have gone into Trinity College to see the Book of Kells to but we ran out of time…

Dublin is called the city of literature, as it is the birthplace of James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett as well as Oscar Wilde whose whimsical statue stands in Merrion Square Park.

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Speaking of Merrion Square we stayed at the Merrion Hotel that night…a very upscale hotels, located in a beautifully restored Georgian mansion, with an impressive art collection… The doorman wears a top hat and they had the most amazing cake waiting for us in our room…

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It is located across the street from the parliament buildings.

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The rest of our time in Dublin was spent driving and walking around just enjoying the sights…

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We were able to see and touch the statue of Mary Malone. "Molly Malone" is a popular song, set in Dublin, Ireland, which has become the unofficial anthem of Dublin City. Legend has it that she was a beautiful fishmonger by day and a prostitute by night…

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This bridge is called the harp…the harp also being an emblem Ireland

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This trip did not follow the traditional triangular itinerary south and west of Dublin, but I am glad, as those attractions are easy to sell, while the north and east regions that we visited are not as well known. One fact that is widely accepted and absolutely true is the niceness of the people. Over and over again we got to experience first hand their kindness and care and welcoming nature. One of my big surprises was the food. It was always fresh, and tasty and often quite original. Needless to say the potatoes were ever present and ooohhh sooo good…

One of the images of this wonderful trip that will stay with me is all those green hills dotted with sheep…

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