June 12 - June 19:  Cheers from Ireland

Our first 3 nights in Ireland were spent in Dublin. The boys and I walked across the street from our hotel and toured Christchurch, a large Anglican church originally built in the 11th century by the Augustinians, then rebuilt in the 12th century by the Normans, and the final product is 19th century It is famous for its choir and had a fun Medieval exhibit in an attached building. That evening we went to the opening night performance of Riverdance. It was awesome. They were happy to be back in Dublin for the summer, and it showed. The boys loved it. Lots of Irish dancing, some American tap, Russian dancing, Spanish flamingo, singing, and Irish instruments. The next day we toured Trinity College and saw the 9th century Book of Kells. It is a lavishly illuminated (illustrated) Latin book of the four gospels produced by the monks of Iona and Kells. Iona is an island off of Scotland which had an early Christian monastery until the Vikings drove them out and they went to Kells. The drawings were beautiful, with lots of celtic designs. The boys and I also went to the National Museum of Archeology and History. It had a large gold exhibit with necklaces, bracelets, and art from the Bronze Age (2000-700BC). Impressive. We learned about the Celts who lived in Ireland for 1000 years before seeing their first invaders, the Vikings (800-1200AD). They were never settled by the Romans. After the Vikings, came the Normans until the 1500’s when Henry the VIII took control. They also had a moving exhibit on the 1916 Easter uprising which made martyrs of the rebels, especially Pearse and Connolly. There followed several bloody years of wars with England, until the North and South were separated in 1922.

We spent 1 night in Cashel, where they have the famous Rock of Cashel. In the 4th century, a clan from Scotland lived on the rock, a high mound in the town. Since the clan is associated with St. Patrick, it has a 12th century cross called St. Patrick’s Cross. (He actually lived in the 5th century) Anyway, the oldest structures still standing are the 11th century tower, the 12th century Romanesque chapel, and the ruins of a 13th century Cathedral. Nearby are the ruins of Hore Abbey. They were fun to visit and located in a beautiful rural setting.

We spent 2 nights in Dingle, on a peninsula on the West coast. On our way, we drove over Connor Pass and stopped at Brandon Bay, with its beautiful rolling waves. Dingle is a quaint fishing village with brightly colored shops and houses. We rode on a tour boat into the bay to see Fungie the Dolphin, who has lived there for 21 years. Fungie is one of 15 sole dolphins in the world, and he has stayed in one place the longest. They don’t feed him, he just likes it there. He especially likes to follow the wakes of the boats. The next day we drove the Slea Head Loop. It was Robert’s favorite drive, because there were lots of sights to see. The Gallarus Oratory is a tiny celtic church built in 800AD. It’s shaped like an upturned boat and made of drystone, with no mortar. The visitor center movie was nice. We saw the Riasc monastic settlement, with its 5th or 6th century celtic designs on a pillar. We had lunch in a pub in Ballyferriter, then visited a gorgeous beach just north of Louis Mulcahy’s pottery shop. There was a huge dead turtle on the beach. . . leatherback? We took a nice hike to a high point, then visited the Blasket Centre. Fascinating story about the Blasket Islanders who lived off this far west coast of Ireland. Until their evacuation in 1953, the lives of 150 or so Blasket Islanders had remained unchanged for centuries. Their rich oral tradition kept alive the legends and history of the harsh island life. In the early 1900’s, people became interested in them and their Gaelic language, and many narratives were written by the islanders. Their literary tradition is world reknown. I bought the first book written in this tradition, ”The Islandman,” by Tomas O’Crohan who lived from 1856-1937. He never lived anywhere else. Last, we visited the Fahan huts, built in the beehive construction method. They were also built of stacked thin stones, and were ancient Celtic dwellings. That evening we went to a folk concert in a church. Nice traditional Irish music.

The next two nights were in Kenmare, on the Ring of Kerry. Kilarney National Park was beautiful. . . a bit like Scotland. Kenmare is about the size of Dingle, and just as colorful. They were having an Irish Song and Dance Festival that weekend. We spent a day driving part of the Ring, which is gorgeous. We visited Staigue Fort, built in 300-400AD. Again, a huge stone circular fort with no mortar. From the days of Celtic Kings and Chieftains. We visited Derryname House, where Daniel O’Conner, ”The Liberator” lived. 1775-1847. He was a lawyer who fought for Catholic Emancipation and later he tried to get the Irish Parliament reinstated. Next, we ate lunch in Waterville, another brightly colored town on the coast. We cut through the middle of the peninsula to head back to the B&B, and saw some very remote, rugged country.

Our last night in Ireland was in Kilkenny, the “Medieval City.” We saw St. Canice’s Cathedral 1251-1287. There were many Butlers buried there. There was a neat tomb of Piers Butler and his wife Margaret Fitzgerald from 1539. It had their effigies in black limestone on top. There was a tower outside that was built in 849AD. Kilkenny Castle was the third building built on the site, and was bought by the Butlers in 1391. Butlers lived there until 1935. They had lots of ties with English nobility. The town was very pretty, like all the rural towns in Ireland. Our travels are over. What a wonderful time we had.