Short Trips Around Small Countries: Ireland

For our visit to Ireland we chose a tour with the Irish National Tour company CIE that circles all around the coast of Ireland.  When we arrived in Dublin we were driven to a hotel in the southern outskirts for the night.

If only I had known, nearby within walking distance, is the Martello Tower which opens the first scene of the great novel “Ulysses” by James Joyce.  These towers were built around the coast by the British to defend Ireland against invasion.  There is no space here to describe this novel, but everything in it is based on actual places in Dublin and events that occurred on one day, June 16, 1915, known as Bloomsday.

The next morning we were whisked away by coach, with a delightful character as driver and guide.  His accent was so strong you could cut it with a knife.  Instead of “thirty” he said “dirty.”  He was a lot of fun.  Our first stop was Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains, which was a founding site for Irish Culture, where St. Kevin built one of the first Irish Christian monasteries in the 6th century (I emphasize Irish as opposed to Catholic, since the Catholic Church later banned and destroyed the indigenous Irish Church).  There was also one of the peculiar round towers, a tall, thin tower which gradually becomes narrower towards the top.  They are found throughout Ireland and their real purpose is unknown.

From there we drove to the south-east coast to the small port town of Wexford, where we had a break,and from there to the town of Waterford. We stayed the night there and visited the famous glass works the next morning. It was an amazing display of artistry, how the glassblowers made a jug, then fashioned a handle and in a jiffy attached it perfectly.  From there we drove on to Blarney Castle, which all visitors to Ireland must visit.  On the top of the tower is a stone that if you kiss you are supposed to be given the gift of the “blarney”, i.e the ability to talk persuasively on any subject.  The problem is that to kiss the stone you have to be held and lean out backwards over a precipitous drop.  I declined, anyway I already have that power.

We drove to the city of Cork and stayed there in an excellent hotel overnight.  The name itself is a complete fabrication by the English because they couldn’t understand or pronounce the Irish name (that means something like bubbling waters).  It has nothing to do with the substance known as cork.  That evening we attended a fun get together at a local pub, where everyone was expected to get up and dance their country’s national dance.  We didn’t know whether to do a knee’s-up-mother-brown from England, a jive from the USA, but in the end we chose a hora from Israel.  It went over very well.

Our next stop was the pleasant small city of Killarney, and from there we went on a tour of the lakes of Killarney and the Ring of Kerry, which was a circular trip around of one of the Irish peninsulas that stick out into the Atlantic Ocean.  It was very wild and desolate place.  WE continued up the west coast, passing thru many small picturesque towns.  Our driver pointed out along the way where there were mass graves of the million or so Irish who died in the potato famine of 1845-8, that resulted in over a million also leaving for America. We passed thru Limerick and over the Shannon estuary and stopped at the Cliffs of Moher.  They are indeed impressive, rising dramatically sheer about 200 m (650 ft) straight up from the Atlantic.  The wind is indeed very strong there and there is precious little security and it seemed likely one could be swept away.

Further north we stayed overnight in Galway and saw the statue of St. Patrick who is supposed to have landed nearby, before converting most of the Irish.   We continued north to Sligo where we visited the Churchyard of Drumcliff where W.B. Yeats, the famous Irish poet is buried.

From there we headed east, skirting Northern Ireland, only entering it briefly thru Inniskillen, where we noted the difference in the style of the houses, they could have been in England, and the police stations with 20 foot high wire netting around them.  But, the driver said that things had quieted down a lot and currently there was no violence.    We drive then back to the east coast and to the most famous battle site in Ireland at the Boyne Valley.  In 1690 a significant battle took place between the deposed Catholic English King James II, supported by the Irish, and the Protestant King William of Orange, supported by the English, the Dutch and the Scots.  The Protestants won and Ireland has been suffering from the result of that victory for the past 300 years.

Nearby we also visited the reconstructed ancient site of Newgrange, that is a subterranean burial complex, although the significance of much of it is unknown.  From there we returned to Dublin.  Only a few remarks about Dublin.  Enjoyed drinking in some pubs, Guinness of course.  Went to a show of Irish music and dancing.  Visited the National Library at Trinity College.  Did the James Joyce walking tour, an excellent highlight with which to end the visit to Ireland.