Ireland claims to have 40 shades of green in an island 300 miles long and 150 miles wide. This compact isle is a place of romance and symbolism where the brogue is still very much a part of their speech. It was a pleasure to hear the people speak and sing. One of our bus drivers even serenaded us in the Kissing Tunnel, where, if you kiss your sweetheart, your love will be eternal.
The main hub for our group of twelve Forever Young Adventurers was Dublin and the O’Callaghan Mont Clare Hotel near Trinity College. The city was full of students of all ages-those arriving to begin college work, or children, clothed in colorful uniforms, sweaters and hats who walked to and from their schools each day. Our hotel was right across the street from the house where Oscar Wilde grew up and we found a smirking statue of the poet, playwright and one-liner extraordinaire in the park across from our lodgings.
We took a walking tour of Dublin with Liam (short for William) an intrepid guide who showed us towering Dublin Castle, Trinity College and Christ Church Cathedral. We saw the building where Handel’s Messiah was first performed and walked through the old House of Parliament. It was a beautiful day, with lots of sunshine as we walked around the city. When the tour finished at Temple Bar Street, we crossed the Ha’penny Bridge, where hung numerous padlocks-the kind with a single key. Romantic Irish lovers have the tradition of buying a padlock, walking hand-in-hand to the bridge and locking it on the iron lattice-work, then throwing the key into the river as a symbol of their undying love. Thus, the bridge that crosses the Liffey River is replete with numerous padlocks.
Brigitta Raumann took the time to admire that river on a boat ride down the Liffey, and she enjoyed the city’s sights at high tide. All of us enjoyed Grafton Street, a crowded pedestrian lane chocked full of musicians, mimes, merchants and (our favorite) Gino’s ice cream.
Our all-day bus ride up into Northern Ireland took us on the Irish coastline, with Scotland a mere fourteen miles away across the North Channel of the Irish Sea. We stopped at Carrick on Rede and hiked out to a 60-foot-high rope bridge that spanned the distance between land and a small volcanic island.
There Karen Brown and her daughter, Monica, took some wonderful photos of the two of them sitting on a rock with the wind in their hair and the sea at their backs.
We traveled north by bus to Giant’s Causeway, where we reached the water’s edge by walking down 160 steps from a plateau above. The causeway is an outcropping of large hexagonal-shaped rocks, pencil-like and seemingly pounded into the ground. These distinctive rocks made fascinating stones that head out into the sea in Scotland’s direction, Clay and Laura Douglas climbed far out towards the ocean on these rocks. (Ask us about the Giant’s legend that is part of this place!) Jeff Young even found old coins wedged in between the rocks in the wall. They were so old that they came apart when touched.
On our way back to Dublin, we stopped in Belfast. Ras Rasmussen and Colleen Kennedy took a taxi ride through the city to view areas where the IRA and English troops clashed a mere fifteen years ago. Passions on both sides are still heated, but subdued by the cease-fire that was signed then. Our bus driver gave us a portion of the southern point of view about the conflict. The Irish fly their politics in the breeze, as every little village had the flag of Ireland or of Britain displayed prominently.
Don Moulton, Ras Rasmussen and Clay Douglas took a train ride early Friday morning to Howth, on the sea coast. They had a grand time golfing near a castle on the sea coast high on a plateau where they overlooked the seaport town of Howth, complete with a lighthouse. Joy Young and Laura Douglas joined them for a seafood lunch out on the sun-drenched pier before we returned to Dublin.
All of us went to an Irish dinner (salmon, chicken or Irish stew with lots of potatoes) and then found seats front and center to hear the group, “Irish House Party.” The music was charming, uplifting and toe-tapping fun. We heard the Celtic harp, pennywhistle, Uillean (elbow) pipes and Bodhram (drum).
The group of four musicians-3 guys and a girl-each got a turn to be in the spotlight. The talented woman played the violin, the harp and also stomped out some Celtic dances in shoes that were literally held together with duct tape as a result of her powerful performances. One song celebrated the ties between Ireland and America, as they sang about the very first person to enter Ellis Island, a 15-year-old Irish girl. It was an idyllic Irish evening.
After a quiet train ride through pastoral southern Ireland, we came to Killarney, and our quaint hotel, the Arbutus. It had a fireplace in the lobby with an easy chair on each side. What a relaxing place to read in the evening! The day we arrived, we took a jaunting cart ride into the national park where we saw Ross Castle on Ross Bay. It was a bit rainy, but our horse, Jimmy, didn’t mind a bit. A couple days later, Karen and Monica rented bikes and rode into the park, while Don Moulton walked it early one morning.
Killarney has five churches, three Catholic and two Protestant. We visited a few of them the Sunday we were there, including St. Mary’s Cathedral, which was designed by Pugin and begun in 1842. The Gaelic word for the town’s name is Cill Arne, which means the church of Arne, so it seems perfect that the town has this beautiful building at its center.
Shopping in Killarney produced some real treasures. Brigitta and Joy came home with plush sweaters from the Aran Sweater Market where the sweaters have meaningful symbols woven into their fabric. Clay Douglas, Don Moulton and Ras Rassmussen scored Irish ball markers after golfing at the Killarney course. One of our golfers lost six golf balls and still came home with more balls than he started out with! Karen and Monica found some stylish calf-high boots for splashing through puddles, and Joy found a fun fedora to wear home.
The Ring of Kerry
Our final tour was of the Ring of Kerry, where we saw all 40 shades of green in the countryside of rural Ireland. There we applauded a shepherd and his well-trained competition sheep dogs.
The black and white dogs herded sheep up and down the hillside at quiet commands and whistles from the shepherd. It was all done with amazing precision, without any barking–the dog’s glare frightened the sheep into submission. Nick and Delores Sears thought that the countryside-beaches, islands, lakes and rocky hillsides-were breathtakingly beautiful.
We all agreed that the trip was wonderful, the company stimulating, and the sights incredible. It was a grand Forever Young trip, a step back in time full of romance, symbolism, scenery and all-around fun.
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