MY TRIP TO IRELAND
40+ years in the making…
We left for Ireland a day early so we could rest up after an 8 hour flight from Chicago, and get used to the 7 hour time change from Minnesota, then set the clocks ahead for daylight savings time. All of our body clocks were all so messed up. Soon we would all be very glad we had a day to adjust to the time change. Are Lingus Airlines sure knows how to treat their passengers. The first thing they do it to make sure that everyone has a new green plaid Irish linen type blanket in a sealed bag. The flight attendant said “It’s yours to keep”. I thought that was a very nice gesture not to mention a neat souvenir. So, the trip is off to a good start… It was a very comfortable flight to Dublin. The food and snacks and in-flight entertainment were much better than I had anticipated. After a well needed nap, lunch, and snacks the Captain came on the PA system. He said, “Welcome to Ireland”, he said we would be in on the ground in 20 minutes. Once through Customs we gathered our luggage and found our way outside to find a taxi to the Burlington Hotel. (The Burlington Hotel sat on extremely valuable land and since has been was torn down for new development in Dublin.) Outside of the Airport doors, we found the AIRCOACH, also known as the ‘Big Blue Bus’. The AIRCOACH system provides a 24-hour, luxury coach service between Dublin Airport and Dublin city’s many stops every 15 minutes. This was such an easy, user friendly system and the cost was only 12 Euro round trip. Arriving at the Burlington Hotel our bus driver stopped at the posted bus stop that was 20ft from the main entry to the hotel grounds. They certainly have their bus system figured out. This hotel lobby was really beautiful. I thought we were in the wrong place. The rooms were just as nice and comfortable. Brendan Tour Company certainly picks very nice hotels. We got settled in our rooms and of course we just had to check out the hotel pub, I mean come’on were in Ireland. This pub looked like 4 different movie sets in one. The different sections reminded me of, Pirates of the Caribbean, to Mutiny on the Bounty. This was a cool place. I thought I’m in heaven – I have finally found a Pirate Pub! After resting our minds in the Pub, the rest of our group caught up to us and we walked around the neighborhood a bit to find a place to eat and look for our evening’s entertainment. We found some really neat pubs and restaurants within 2 blocks of the hotel. We decided to visit M. O'Briens Pub tonight due to the Irish band playing there. We had dinner at the Café Bank Restaurant. Prices were right and the food was very good. Around 8pm we went to M. O'Briens Pub for the show. The band TURLOUGH, led by Tommy Walsh was more than great. They talked to us a lot during the show and got to know us all while they were playing. We were asked if they could teach us a traditional dance. One of the band members came off the stage to teach a few in our group a traditional dance.
Before eating breakfast, we went to the lobby and found our tour guide had a posting in the lobby for us to all meet at 2 p.m. by the main door. Breakfast in Ireland is a big deal. Eating a big breakfast in Ireland is the norm. 3 types of Eggs, thick/wide bacon, sausage links, black & white pudding sausage-(believe me, you don’t want to know what it is made of) many cereals, toast, bagels, muffins, fruits, Juices, and of course Europe’s favorite dish with every meal, pork and beans. Now we are ready for our first tour. This was the first time we met Martin Guilfoyle, our exceptional tour guide. We began our voyage with a city tour with our local guide from Brendan tours, Martin and his beautiful ultra-deluxe motor coach. Martin has an incredible knack of bringing life to Dublin's architectural treasures and history stretching back more than 1,000 years. We went to St. Patrick's Cathedral, which was founded in 1190. We then took a driving tour of Dublin's beautiful Georgian squares and the River Liffey. We went past the historic Clarence Hotel. This is an Old Dublin hotel along the Liffey bought and renovated by the rock band U2 a few years’ back. Next was a stop at the cobbled courtyards of Trinity College to its view its famed library and its truly unique world treasure - the 8th-century Book of Kells. There is a huge area filled with artifacts from the era and the Trinity Library is amazing. All I can say about this tour is WOW… After returning to our hotel to rest and freshen up, we jumped back on the Brendan motor coach short drive to the fishing harbor of Howth for dinner and traditional music at the 16th century Abbey Tavern. This Pub and its blazing turf fires, original stone walls flagged floors, gas lights beams a real warm welcome to everyone. This was a very fun evening. Dancers, fiddlers, and singers topped off with incredible Corn beef dinner, Irish coffee and apple pie.
Day 3: Dublin / The Midlands / Sligo / Mayo
We started our journey and crossed midland Ireland to visit one of Ireland’s fine old manors: Strokestown Park House in County Roscommon. Continuing west over the Curlew Hills to Sligo, and on to Tubbernault Holy Well where we stopped to visit a truly touching place. In the 1700's when Catholics were banned from practicing their religion, these wells were used to secretly hold masses and baptisms. After our stop at Tubbernault Holy Well, we continued our journey through the rugged, but beautiful terrain of County Mayo. We made our way to The Downhill House Hotel, in Ballina, County Mayo. Again what a wonderful hotel. The hotel rooms were all more than spacious and left you with everything you could ask for. After a brief rest I took a walk in the gardens near the banks of the River Moy, one of Ireland's richest salmon & trout fishing rivers. I found mega star Sean Connery was a regular here, and they had his pictures hanging on the walls.
Day 4: Mayo / Connemara
We traveled through Castlebar to the picturesque town of Westport where we made a comfort stop for some free time to stretch and browse before heading on to Connemara, Ireland's historic western province. The stone walls and hedge rows in the country side seem to go on forever. Next on the agenda was Kylemore Abbey. ‘WOW’ just doesn’t cover it! This is one time castle, surrounded by a pristine lake, tucked into the mountain side and its many gardens makes this a must see. The neo-Gothic mansion is occupied today by the Irish Benedictine community of nuns. We continued tour of Connemara, where cottages are scattered over a land of Rocky Mountains, sparkling brooks and rivers. The mythical beauty of the hills and bogs seem to hypnotize you. Our evening was topped off with dinner at our hotel, the Connemara Coast Hotel on Galway Bay.
Day 5: Connemara / Galway / Cliffs of Moher / Bunratty
First stop today was the Galway Cathedral. Next is a stop for refreshments at Rathbaun Farm. We met the farming family and were given a very informative tour of the sheep farm. We watched as the flock was rounded up with the help of Mr. Rathbaun’s faithful collie. We were brought into the farm house and treated to coffee, tea and the best scones I have ever had in my life. We were even given copies of the recipe for these scones. Next was the place I have read and dreamed about since I was a child in grade school, the incredible, and spectacular, Cliffs of Moher. Rising approximately 600 feet above the beautiful bright blue pounding Atlantic waves this view is truly something I will never forget. The walk up to the top of the stairway way about 3 city blocks and a 20 degree incline was windy and tough but well worth the trek. This vantage point gives you a breathtaking view of both the east and west cliff’s. Once there, I didn’t want to leave. And I timed my stay at the cliffs right to the minute. After reaching the bus, Martin was dong a head count. I was the last one on the bus. Close but well worth it. I knew that we were about to have a great deal of fun at dinner tonight and did not feel like walking the next 30 miles. We got to the Bunratty Castle Hotel checked in. Brendan did it again… This hotel is outstanding. We did some shopping at the Castle gift shop right across the street to kill the time before the dinner. To say we had an exciting time at the medieval Bunratty Castle banquet would be a huge understatement. Dinner was a very good soup with fresh quail, ribs, veggies, potatoes and wines. NO, eating utensils. As our hosts said, “Slurping and eating with your fingers was highly encouraged”. The medieval dinner show was very entertaining and fun for all. To cap off the night we all walked to Durty Nelly’s Pub (est. 1620) for Fun, Fun, Fun!
Day 6: Bunratty / Ring of Kerry / Killarney
Today we are off to Adare, known as the "prettiest village in Ireland" with its thatched cottages and far reaching stone walls. We then followed the road that winds around the Iveragh Peninsula, better known as "The Ring of Kerry." Here you will need some type of motion sickness medicine. I found out the hard way. We had a very bumpy ride but it is undoubtedly one of the most magical places in all of Ireland. Poets, painters and musicians have all tried to capture its elusive charm. Here, mountains, valleys, lakes and sea blend into a landscape that is often breathtaking beyond words. We now are at amazing Killarney Avenue Hotel for check-in and dinner. What a place, or should I say what a Palace. The hotel is stunning from the lobby to the rooms. One of the nicest hotels I have ever been in. There was an optional Irish Lords of Dance type dance show at the hotel, but when we were driving into the city I became very interested in the main streets and the shops. I chose to walk the streets of Killarney rather than the show. I’m so glad I did this. I fell in love with this warm wonderful city. I walked the streets and alleys for a total of 5 hours and never felt unsafe once. This is a vibrant, exciting and bustling city with so many venues that a vacation to this city would be like visiting an Irish Downtown Disney. I there was an Internet Café that I went into so I could send an E-Mail home. 1 Euro for 15 minutes seemed like a fair deal to me. I had a blast going in & out of all the shops and pubs. Everything was different, everyone was so friendly. Killarney Ireland is no doubt one of my top 5 favorite places in the world!
Day 7: Blarney / Waterford
Today we visited the Blarney Castle which was rebuilt in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster and still stands today. I had no idea that the magical stone was at the top of the castle. You remember when I said it was built? 1446… well the steps must be original and it was quite a journey to the top, but well worth it. There are 3 rest stops on the way to the castle top so it is very easy to accomplish. Once there you just have to kiss the stone. After all, you will most likely be the only one in your neighborhood who has done it. After the Blarney Castle journey there are so many shops that you can enjoy hours shopping or just browsing. You will find a great variety of shopping, from the Blarney Woolen Mills shop for traditional fine knitwear, to the many craft and souvenir shops and many local restaurants. Now we are on our way through County Cork to Midleton and the Jameson Distillery and Heritage Centre to learn the story of Irish Whiskey. This is a fun tour, not to mention there is free Irish Whiskey tasting at the end of the tour. There is also a gift shop, but the prices are a bit high. We were told by Martin to purchase our spirits at the airport on the way home in the duty free shop. (Martin was right; the prices were much lower at the airport). We now arrive in the ancient Viking town of Waterford at Dooley's Hotel, again a wonderful place to lay your head down. We took the optional city walking tour with our guide. This was a very fun, easy walking tour. No steps or hills. Well worth the 2 Euro it cost. After dinner we went for a walk in and through the city’s night life hub. It was really interesting and busy.
Day 8: Waterford / Dublin
We started our day at the Waterford Crystal Factory. We had a guided tour and we were lucky enough to be able to watch the skilled local craftsmen as they carefully turn molten glass into exquisite crystal. They have wooden molds that they insert the raw, red hot glass balls into and then blow it into the shape of the wood mold. We were also able to watch the glass grinders at work too. This was amazing to watch. I have a whole new appreciation for Waterford Crystal now. Once the tour was done I wandered through the showrooms and dreamt of owning a collection of this beautiful crystal someday. Now our Ireland trip is almost over. So on to Dublin and back to the Burlington Hotel in time for some last-minute shopping. Our last evening was free to discover the nightlife. Once back in the Burlington hotel we discovered there was the ‘2005 Six Nations championship quarter final rugby game’ in town. The game was, England vs. Ireland. You can only imagine how anxious and excited these people were. Our hotel had many people from England staying there and they were all very nice. We went to the Dublin Hard Rock Café for dinner. It has been open for a year and our taxi driver had never heard of it. The rest of our group was in the taxi that had just left ahead of us and was turning the corner, so I said “Follow That Taxi”. We were very surprised as to how easy it was to get a table, but most of the town was at or watching the game on TV so the town was very quite then, but after the game was a different story. We wanted to spend our last evening in M. O'Briens Pub. We couldn’t get In the door due to the celebrating fans of the victorious team from England. We spent our last evening in the Burlington hotel Pirate Pub. Dublin is one of Europe's liveliest cities, where medieval and fine 17th-century buildings stand comfortably amongst all the trappings of the 21st-century.
Day 9: Dublin /Chicago/Home
I had a breakfast the last morning, and then It was off to the AIRCOACH bus stop. I found the bus shelter 1 block from the hotel on the westbound side of the street heading back to the Airport. The bus was right and time and I was on my way home. This AIRCOACH system works too good. I was in the Airport, at the check in desk within 30 minutes of being picked up.
The history, castles, churches, cities, culture, natural beauty of the country sides and people make Ireland was one of the best trips I have been on. The weather was very nice. The people are so kind, friendly and warm. I can’t remember how many people, from one side of the island to the other, said that there is a special bond between the United States and Ireland. You can feel that bond everywhere you go. I felt safe and welcome everyday. The Brendan Tour Company set us up in outstanding hotels every night. In my humble opinion, Mr. Martin Guilfoyle is the best tour guide in Ireland. Little did I know, when I got home I found I was not too far off. Martin Guilfoyle was the winner of the National Title in the 2003 Fáilte Ireland Irish Welcome Awards, The awards recognizes Ireland’s tourism champions who have made the traditional Irish welcome and the ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’ so famous the world over.
Someday I will return to Ireland and enjoy these feelings and island again. Until then I have so many memories it feels like I’m still there.
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