Wyoming Public Media's Shades of Ireland Tour
WPM’s Shades of Ireland tour landed in Dublin on June 10th following an overnight flight from Denver. Our group included twelve Wyomingites, yours truly and my wife Cheryl, Rick Dowe, Jim and Carol Jacobs, Ron and Brenda Delaney all from Laramie, Rick and Sue Chambers from Cheyenne, Sue Ann Robertson from Casper along with her sister Grace Robertson from Wilson and Glen Mooney from Sheridan.
We met our Collette Vacations tour guide Dennis Sheehan at the airport. Dennis, a former history teacher from Boston, did a great job keeping us informed and entertained. We stayed the first two nights at the Trinity Capital Hotel centrally located in Dublin near Trinity College founded in 1592. The library holds one of Ireland’s finest national treasures. The Book of Kells is a lavishly decorated and illuminated copy, in Latin of the four gospels of the New Testament. It was created by the monks of Iona early in the 9th century.
Our first afternoon was sunny and warm as we walked the bustling streets of Dublin. (Trying our best not to get run over).
Day 1 – The Wyoming contingent met for dinner with other members of the group that totaled around 50 at the Irish House Party Restaurant and Pub. We were treated to traditional celtic music and dance following dinner. The group provided fine singing and performing on instruments that included the uilleann pipes, whistles, guitar, bodhran and celtic harp. The famed Irish humor between songs was as entertaining as the music and Irish step dancing.
Day 2 We toured Dublin, the capital and most populous city in Ireland. It was founded as a Viking settlement and sits at the mouth of the River Liffey on Ireland’s east coast. The group visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral built in the 13th century on a site associated with St. Patrick from ancient times. This stunning cathedral with gothic interior contains tombs, stained glass, commemorative plaques and early editions of the works of Jonathan Swift.
We had lunch at Ireland’s oldest pub, the Brazen Head, established in 1198. I tried to imagine the stories, lies, amount of beer drank, fights, laughter and romances that have been a part the Brazen Head’s history over 800 years. We sampled the Irish Guinness, said to taste better than what we get in the states.
We toured the huge Guinness Storehouse in Dublin laid out over seven floors surrounding a glass atrium shaped in the form of a pint of Guinness. The ground floor introduces the beer's four ingredients (water, barley, hops and yeast), and the brewery's founder, Arthur Guinness. We wrapped up the tour on the seventh floor at the Gravity Bar with views of Dublin and a free pint of Guinness.
There were a number of significant events happening in and around Ireland in June. It was Bloomsday time in Dublin celebrating one of Ireland’ s most famous authors, James Joyce. The G8 summit took place in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland. Luckily we were a few steps ahead of the Obama family when they visited Dublin tracing their Irish ancestry. The Irish government and the Kennedy clan celebrated the 50th anniversary of one of Ireland's most fondly recalled moments, the visit of President John F. Kennedy, with a daylong street party being capped by the lighting of Ireland's own "eternal flame." "JFK 50: The Homecoming" celebrations focused on the County Wexford town of New Ross, from where Patrick Kennedy departed in 1848 at the height of Ireland's potato famine to resettle in Boston. In June 1963 his great-grandson John returned to the town as the United States' first and only Irish Catholic president.
The tour bus rolled out of Dublin driven by our most excellent driver from Ireland Billy Harrington. We were bound for Kilkenny to explore the medieval city on the banks of the River Nore.
We visited Kilkenny Castle built in 1195 by William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke. There was a vast expanse to the west in a parklike setting with trails along the river and a field of green that seemed to stretch forever.
Our next stop was in Waterford for a tour of the Waterford Crystal Factory. We viewed the process of making the crystal and saw quite an impressive display of the largest collection of Waterford Crystal in the World. My favorite was the bear.
We enjoyed fine dining in our fancy digs at the Granville Hotel in Waterford.
We next journeyed to the historic Blarney Castle. The Wyoming folks gathered for a group shot before taking the hike up the steep and narrow steps to kiss the famous Blarney Stone.
The weather was delightful until we reached the top of the open castle to lay down, bend over backwards then upside down to kiss the stone. Clouds moved in but luckily there was no lightning and just a light rain. Legend has it that those who kiss the stone are bestowed with the gift of eloquence. I did come away with the feeling that I was now totally full of blarney. After storming yet another castle, we traveled to beautiful County Kerry and the town of Killarney. We loaded up for a jaunty, horse drawn cart-ride to the Muckross House in the heart of Killarney National Park. It was a short but very scenic ride through the park with a good view of the lower lake of the Lakes of Killarney.
The Muckross House and Gardens provided a glimpse into Victorian gentry where Queen Victoria stayed in 1861. Many attended another evening of Irish music and dance at the Killarney Avenue Hotel where we stayed two nights. Cheryl and I were thrilled at the opportunity of meeting relatives of my great grandmother from Killarney, Mary Cronin. Tom and his wife Kathryn came to the hotel where we had a very nice visit in the lobby. He owns and operates a butcher shop in Killarney with his son Denis. The shop has been in the family since the 1930’s. It wan indeed a highlight after hearing so much about Killarney from my grandmother many years ago.
Today we first stopped at Moriarty’s at the Gap of Dunloe, one of the best places for shopping in Ireland. It included Aran sweaters, Irish tweeds and a good collection of jewelry. We then travelled the famed Ring of Kerry, one of the most beautiful coastal routes in the world. Unfortunately, it rained all day and visibility was not so good. The rain did produce a number of waterfalls all along the mountains and a rainbow. Along the way, we saw a hotel that Charlie Chaplin enjoyed frequenting and his sisters’ house near the ocean that was for sale. The bus stopped for lunch at the Scarrif Inn claiming the best view on the Ring of Kerry-weather permitting. Along with the pouring rain came very, narrow windy roads that were extremely well navigated by Billy. He only had to back up for other vehicles once or twice.
Day 6 - We bid farewell to Killarney and next visited the Molana Dairy Farm. We enjoyed the company of Paddy and Margaret as well as the cows, horses and dogs. Paddy told us the history of the farm and recited a very moving Irish poem. We headed for the city of Limerick, home of King John’s Castle. We stayed at the Absolute Hotel which was very modern. I felt a bit like we were on the set of the Jetsons with George, Jane, Judy and Elroy. Quite a contrast to the castles and ancient history that seemed to be around every turn.
One of the most scenic and photographed places in Ireland awaited Sunday morning. We arrived at the Cliffs of Mohrer under mostly cloudy skies but no rain thankfully. The view of the mighty Atlantic atop the cliffs was most impressive and inspiring.
We travelled through the vast limestone landscape of the Burren, heading north through County Clare, along Galway Bay then into the town of Galway. We had lunch, walked the streets of Galway while enjoying the people and scenery. After lunch we enjoyed a stop at Conamara Marble.
Day 8- We journeyed to the town of Tullamore to visit the Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre. The tour included a lesson in making Irish Whiskey and a sampling of three varieties of Tullamore Dew. Seemed a little early in the day for whiskey but went down smooth and tasted pretty good.
We then travelled to County Cavan near the small town of Kingscourt for our last night at Cabra Castle. The bus arrived in the afternoon and I was able to work in 9 holes of golf on a course adjacent to the castle. The castle was guarded by a very large Irish Wolfhound named Oscar who was quite mellow but had a thunderous bark used only when necessary.
The courtyard was beautiful and dinner that evening was outstanding. I raised a glass for a toast to our great tour leader Dennis, our driver Billy and all the great people in Ireland. We all sang Tura Lura Lura then Father Piotr from Poland ended the feast with thanks, a blessing and safe travels to all. T’was indeed a great trip to Ireland.