Ireland Tour 2009: Trip Highlights
Early Sunday morning, May 17th, 2009, the clouds opened up over the Emerald Isle and a Continental Flight from Newark landed in Dublin. The skies were cloudy and a fine mist was falling but, for fifteen excited travelers from San Diego, the weather and early hour didn't matter. This was our first day in Ireland!
A cozy private bus was waiting to whisk everyone and their luggage away to a charming hotel at the top of O'Connell Street; one of the widest urban streets in Europe and Dublin's main thoroughfare. Leaving luggage behind and not caring about being tired from a long international flight, everyone took advantage of the time before check-in to start experiencing Ireland's largest city. Comparing notes as we left the city center a few days later bound for Waterford, it was amazing to hear what everyone had seen and done in Dublin. Enjoying authentic Irish stew in Temple Bar, digging into the ancestry files at the Dublin Library, shopping on Grafton Street, snooping through bookstores, taking photos from the Gravity Bar atop the Guinness Storehouse, discovering colorful buildings in unexpected places, listening to live Celtic music, looking for the family ghost at Malahide Castle, and sipping on Bulmer's Pear! All this in addition to a guided tour of Dublin with stops at St. Patricks' Cathedral and the Book Of Kells!
After checking into the hotel in Waterford, the evening began with everyone first comparing notes regarding what had been seen and purchased at our stops at, St. Canice, the Kilkenny Design Centre and Waterford Crystal Factory. Dinner followed, but not without revving up our appetites first with a spirited walking tour of the Old City; led by Jack, our local
guide and story-teller. What a fantastic bit o'good luck to be seated in a wood-paneled private dining room in a quaint Irish restaurant near the hotel! After such a busy day and all that incredibly delicious Irish fare, it was all we could do to roll ourselves back to our hotel rooms after dinner.
Bright and early the following morning our driver gathered us up and off we went to Blarney Castle; commenting on how brilliantly green Ireland is as we made our way through Cork and the surrounding countryside toward Galway- our final stop on our Ireland trip. A light haze of rain was falling as we made our way up the steep stone spiral stairs to the top of Blarney Castle to kiss the famous stone.
As it turned out, not everyone was willing to be dangled upside down at the top of an ancient castle by their heels in order to fulfill this old Irish legend!
Continuing on through the amazingly lush green landscape, we made our final stop of the day at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. Built in 1425, Bunratty Castle is the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland. Restored in 1954 to its former splendor, Bunratty now contains 15th and 16th century tapestries, furnishings and works of art representing the Medieval
period in Ireland. Today, Bunratty Castle towers peacefully over the Folk Park- a collection of superbly restored cottages and shops situated in much the same way that the original village would have clustered around the castle's massive base hundreds of years ago.
Then on to Galway, our final stop, where two of days of exploration offered many interesting options. Among them was a guided tour of Innis Mor; the largest of the three Aran Islands located off the western coast of Ireland. Innis Mor (meaning "large island" in Gaelic) offers a eerily rugged landscape with magnificent cliffs that drop some 200 feet to the sea and
the mysterious Celtic stone fort Dunne Aengus. Certainly a great place for many scenic photo opportunities but it was not surprising that no one was willing to get too close to the cliff's edge! After time for lunch, shopping for the famous Aran Island fisherman knit sweaters and some last minute photos of the distinctive blue water of the Innis Mor harbor, everyone
boarded the ferry and headed back to have that last stroll along the River Corrib and through the winding streets of Galway.
Pleasantly tired, cameras loaded with photos and with many stories to tell, we boarded our plane in Shannon early the next morning; leaving the Emerald Isle behind until the next visit.