Friday, April 1, 2016

Magical Ireland

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, the elegant and the humble.

I'm back from a magical mystery tour of Ireland.  What made this travel adventure all the more special was sharing it with my daughter Elissa. We're both wrapped in green now, and the luck of the Irish, so coming back to emerging Springtime in Sylvania seems like coming around and completing a sacred Celtic circle.

DUBLIN! Dublin music, dance, architecture, culture, from street life to Trinity College Library and Book of KellsElissa with the Sylvania Advantage, where she is the graphic designer; the president's house, St. Patrick's Cathedral, celtic cemetary; the Taylor pub (at least one on every corner), and Searson's restaurant. 
Elissa on a Dublin walk.
Our Gate 1 tour around the Emerald Isle, with informative, awesome and entertaining guide Doug, started in James Joyce's Dublin, where we took in statue-lined O'Connell Street, rows of Georgian houses with colorful doors, Phoenix Park, where the president resides, St. Patrick's Cathedral, dedicated to Ireland's patron saint, and then to Oscar Wilde's famed Trinity College and Library, which houses the magnificent 8th-century Book of Kells, an illuminated Gospel book in Latin, a lavishly decorated masterwork of western calligraphy. That evening we enjoyed an Irish feast with Irish whiskey, wine and beer, and Irish music and dancing, at an Irish pub, all enthralling and fun.

We got into the spirit of Ireland that day, even though Elissa and I preferred walking about central Dublin's streets to paying a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, which occupies several city blocks and bolsters the Irish economy! But before our first pint, as they say in Dublin, we did learn the Irish toast "Slainte" (pronounced Slahn-che), to your good health, which stood us in good stead to the end of our visit.

A bookstore displays books
on the 1916 Rising.
Galway street poster
We were in Dublin on Easter Sunday, 27 March, when the country commemorated the 100th anniversary of "The Rising" of 1916 and the massacre of its now-revered freedom fighters seeking Irish independence. England's brutal response increased support for Irish republicanism, leading to the rise of Sinn Fein and
Our itinerary
the Irish Republican Army (IRA).  It also laid the foundation of what the Irish call "the Troubles" of the late 1960s to 1998, a violent period of nationalist and sectarian revolt that resulted, at last, in peace and an independent Republic of Ireland. A part of Northern Ireland (in white in upper right on map) continues under British tutelage with its capital in Belfast, but a sense of cultural unity also persists among the Irish people.

Waterford, Kilkenny and nearby landscapes. An excellent 
local tour guide, Patrick, lead us around his hometown of Kilkenny. 
Killarney by Elissa. She loved the gluten-free fish & chips, and onion rings!
We also had a great Thai dinner. 
From Dublin our trusty bus driver Barry, who navigated the winding roads with ease, took us to Waterford, home of the famous glass makers; the Blarney Castle en route to Kilkenny; around the famed Ring of Kerry through Killarney National Park on the Island's southwestern tip, and also past the remote Michael Skellig, the dramatic location of the final scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Who can forget that scene of Rey hiking with determination up those rocky green slopes to meet Luke Skywalker and present him with the magical lightsaber that belonged to his father and grandfather. 

From County Kerry in the southwest we headed north to Bunratty Castle and an interesting "Folk Park" of 19th-century reconstructed or rebuilt Irish homes, then to the fabulous Cliffs of Moher with its Henry Potter feel, and onto beautiful, bustling Galway. 
Bunratty Castle and the Folk Park, an outdoor museum of 19th-century Irish homes. Our tour group  (there were 40 of us from all over the US ) had a nice guided tour of the castle.  We missed the popular 'medieval banquets,' but got a good sense of the place.  

Iconic Irish Images
Doug's Irish "gift of gab," so eloquent and so rich in humor and insight, entertained us all the way as we drove through one iconic landscape after another.  Near the town of Limerick on the River Shannon, Doug read us several limerick poems. Elissa, so creative and clever, such a dear, added a wonderful limerick of her own to the travel festivities, which Doug read with pleasure. I hope she posts it! We learned Irish history, about the language, about farming, about Irish gypsies. So many fabulous stories! We had a wonderful overview of a lovely country with bustling towns and modern cities, beautiful countryside and farms, and gentle landscapes dotted with ancient ruins and fences made of thick shrub or ancient stone. Our Ireland tour enveloped us in the warm, soft feel of Irish wool with a overlay of sparkling emerald green.
Galway, once a small fishing village, is now one of the fastest growing cities of Europe, according to our tour guide Doug. It's on the Shannon river, which is now full of rushing water at a very high level and turbulent.  Our hotel, Jurys Inn, was on the river and in walking distance to the heart of the city. Wish we could have stayed longer but we got a great feel for the city. 

Cliffs of Moher, a mystical landscape.  George Bernard Shaw called it "a part of our dream world."

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