We visited New Grange about an hour’s drive north of Dublin. It is known for its 5,000 year old tomb or ritual center located in the Boyne Valley.
The tomb is 1,000 years older than the pyramids of Egypt, and is the oldest astronomical observatory in the world, completely intact since the Stone Age. We saw circles, diamonds and leaves smoothly carved out of stone on the tomb; buildings of intricate patterns and designs make for beautiful works of art and architecture.
Our guide, Mary Gibbons, filled us in with folklore. Old Ireland used to be called Hibernia. She spoke of O’Connell’s monument in Dublin, which has four angels at the bottom of the monument that represent fidelity, loyalty, eloquence and. One of her stories was a conversation between a Catholic and a Protestant who was bragging about their Protestant church. The Catholic commented that the cornerstone of the Catholic Church was Jesus Christ, whereas the cornerstone of the Anglican Church was built on the testicles of King Henry XIII.
In passing the countryside one notices fields cut for hay, some fields overgrazed, otherwise all is very green. Many little fields divided by stone or hedges are common, but there is some industrial farming too, which the guide calls high cost farming. We visited the Hill of Tara where you can see for miles, a place where a passage tomb was built in the stone age, and a hill fort in the Iron Age.
Mainly our tour of Ireland consisted of visiting monastic ruins, castles and ruins of famine houses. We travelled south to Glendalough to see the monastic ruins of St. Kevin. He was known for healing a man’s goose. Kevin asked payment for how far the goose would fly. At Glendalough we saw the largest ancient church, a 31 metre “rine tarr” and many decorated crosses at the graves. The bus driver talked a lot about “rine tarrs”. With the Irish accent it took awhile to figure out what he was talking about, but finally we realized he was saying “round towers.”
We were lucky with the weather on nearly all of our excursions. For example, we just finished touring Glendalough when it started to rain. Glendalough is known for almost always raining. On our way back to Dublin we stopped at Powerscourt Gardens. These are beautifully tiered, which made one wonder how they mowed those steep sides. Beautiful ancient sycamore and beech were the ones I was not familiar with.
Our travel agent said that if we ate at MacDonalds or Burger King in Ireland it was a mortal sin, as he wanted us to experience the Irish food and culture. Food at the hotel was beautifully presented, but the menu consisted of corporatized Americanized tourism fare. There was some difference in the appetizers, but the menu choices were fish or beef, fish or chicken or fish or pork. The fish was definitely fresher in Ireland than what I am use to, but when I think of Ireland, I think of sheep, lambs, flax, linen and wool. Why was there no lamb on the menu? We were nearly done our tour of Ireland before one day on a hoax, I asked for lamb. The waitress just wrote it down and never questioned it. When the travel agent saw this, he asked if we all could have lamb. After checking with the chef to see if there was enough to go around, we were all served the most succulent lamb I have ever tasted. I commented to our agent that if he truly wanted us to experience Irish cuisine we had to get off the tourist trail. The very next day, our noon meal was at a country pub and of course they served Irish lamb stew.
As I am not much of a beer drinker, I only tried Heineken and Guinness Beer mixed with Black Currant. Both were pretty good. Irish coffee I sampled twice at two different pubs.
My experiences in the pubs varied on location. Most pubs were watching soccer on TVs. At a Dublin hotel, we were entertained by 13-year-old Richard Hennessy II, playing popular and classical music on the piano.
At another hotel pub, we were invaded by the Pink Ladies, about 20 of them. I found out from the bus driver later that evening that it was a “hen party”, or a bachelorette party. Apparently at hen parties, the ladies will dress all the same as teachers, nurses, nuns, priests, etc. The Pink Ladies had bought the jackets for a one night stand and all wore five inch heels. The bride also wore a pink sash from shoulder to hip and a top hat. They were loud and when they moved to the next pub, and we noticed the silence of the bar.
As a general rule, I think the Irish do a lot more drinking and definitely smoking than Canadians do. I didn’t find out what pub life was like after 10 p.m., but the noise in the streets carried on at least until 2:30 a.m., although I sometimes wondered if it was even later than that.
On the last day of our tour, to get a feel for Irish pub night, many of our pilgrims were given musical instruments to play – the CD was turned on and a couple or two were dancing, having a great time. Irish music is light and uplifting, folk songs and lively dance jigs. Throughout our trip we often encountered musicians playing accordion, flute, guitar or drums either in the pubs or on the street earning a little money for the atmosphere they provided.
The city of Dublin is not much different from any other city with the exception of the presence of canals and many more monuments — Molly Malone, other famous Irishmen like Oscar Wilde and statues of the starving poor from the Potato Famine of 1850s. I found Dublin difficult to get orientated in, as it was mostly cloudy the week we were there. But some of the streets are in triangles, the driving on the wrong side of the road, and not able to locate the sun kept me from getting my directions straight. A couple of times I knew which direction I wanted to go, but was standing on the wrong side of the street to catch a bus.
We had a quick tour of Belfast, viewing the graffiti and murals on the streets, Falls and Shankill, where all the trouble was, the walls between the Protestants and the Catholics. We learned Northern Ireland uses mph and the pound sterling, while southern Ireland uses kph and the Euro. Gasoline prices varied while in Ireland from $1.56 to $1.65.
We went to the newly opened Titanic Museum. The architecture is impressive, and the self guided displays well done. It consists of nine galleries. On the second gallery is a ride much like a horizontal Ferris wheel.
The shipping docks were massive. I don’t know how they know who is doing what or where.
As I looked for made in Ireland gifts to take home, I found sweater shops that carried scarves and socks that were genuinely made in Ireland, but one did have to watch and read labels to be sure it was not made in China. The same goes for linen. My first opportunity for purchase was at the Kilkenny Castle and Design Center. Here they demonstrate and show their wares, much the same as Sask. Juried Arts Council here. I also had an opportunity to go downtown and bought a dress at Ann Harvey’s. At Kilkenny we visited St. Canice’s Cathedral.
On our way to Waterford, the landscape has changed from urban to rural, the pace more relaxed, and there is so much to see and do. We walked along the quays for a while. Waterford is known for its crystal factory.
In Waterford, I found a small super value store where I was able to purchase honey. Our family makes a point of purchasing honey from the country we are visiting. In Ireland this proved challenging.
One had honey that listed ingredients of fructose, sucrose, honey and glucose — sugar syrup blend with honey that was labelled honey. I think this is false labelling. At the health food store, I found Manuka honey from New Zealand, Boyne’s Irish honey and a couple of other Irish brands, but they contained EC and non-EC honey, which means it could be a mixture of Irish honey and Canadian, Chinese, Argentinean or Pedersen honey. They also had fair trade honey was Zambia, which was the closest thing to genuine farm honey. I finally found two with the farmer’s names on them at Blarney and West Limerick.
Cork is known for its red and white coloured stone. Therefore many of the buildings churches and city hall were built with these colors.
Afterwards we visited the Blarney Castle and grounds. The keep, standing on a rocky outcrop, was built in 1446 by Cormac MacCarthy. The Blarney Stone lies just beneath the battlements. According to the rhyme,”A stone that whoever kisses, O he never misses to grow eloauent” but the origin of this bizarre piece of hokum is unknown. It is said that Dermot MacCarthy was expert in using honeyed language to keep the English at bay in the 16th century.
We were told blarney means gift of the gab from Lord Blarney who annoyed Elizabeth I by talking so much. Elizabeth frequented the area because she liked the clothing and material made in this area. I did not venture into the castle or attempt to kiss the “Blarney Stone.” Instead Msg. Ray Senger and I viewed the Poison Garden and passed by a cave that had been part of a prison.
To be continued …