Travel > Ireland

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I took my sister, Lisa, to Ireland for my first sabbatical in 2008. This was by far the longest trip I had ever gone on. We went on a Globus guided bus tour around the country. The big highlights for me where: Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, Waterford Crystal Factory, and the fish and chips at McDonagh’s in Galway. There was a lot of bus riding as we typically didn’t spent more than one night at each hotel. We arrived a day before our tour started and after a nap explored a bit of Dublin.

Dublin: Boyne Valley & City Tour Our tour started off will a bus ride to Boyne Valley with a stop at the visitor center. The burial mound we visited was Knowth. Boyne Valley was the scene of a bloody 17th century battle with passage-graves dating back to the Bronze Age making them older than the pyramids. When someone died, they would cremate thier body and put the remains in the tomb. We weren't able to enter the tombs, but we saw the entrance and the view from the top of them was spectacular. We then returned to Dublin to visit elegant Georgian Square, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Trinity College which is famous for the 1,200 year old Book of Kells. It was created out of cow hide with ink, written in Latin, and contained the four gospels of the bible.

Dublin - Sligo The next day we drove through horse-racing country and stopped at the Irish National Stud farm at Kildare. They had 9 studs on the farm and breed them mainly for racing. It costs between 3,000 and 75,000 Euros to get a horse bred here. At the farm, there was also a Japenese Garden. It was supposed to represent man's journey through life. Next up was Longford and a visit to Strokestown House. We had a guided tour of the restored 1740s mansion. Inside were several expensive antiques. The kitchen had a balcony that overlooked it so that the lady of the house didn't need to enter the kitchen. There were tunnels so that the servents could get around without going through the hallways. It also had a museum for the Great Irish Potato Famine. We then made our way to Sligo, but made a quick stop at Boyle for photos of the Cistercian Abbey ruins.

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Sligo - Galway We had another bus ride in the morning heading south to Knock and then through Connemara. Knock was the site of an apparition. It took place behind a little church and then a bigger church was built for the pope's visit. There was a large rosary on the side of the church and statues that represented what the apparition looked like. It contained Mary, St. Joseph, St. John, and an alter with a lamb and cross. We got to stop at Kylemore Abbey which was really cool. It is the home of the Irish Benedictine Nuns. It was a castle built by Mitchell and Margaret Henry in 1867. On the grounds, there was also a neo-gothic church and a Victorian Walled Garden. We were then off to Connemara Marble Factory and finished the day arriving at the port city of Galway. This is where I found the best fish and chips that I have ever had.

Galway, Aran Islands One of the rainiest days was the day we took a boat ride to the Aran Islands. The ride was pretty rough (and 45 minutes long) and we had to walk a ways when we got there to a bar for lunch. We were completely drenched. The rain let up a little bit which allowed us to walk up to an old clifftop fort named Dun Aonghasa known as one of the most spectacular and dramatic prehistoric stone forts in Europe. It is 2500 years old. Lisa was brave enough to peek over the edge of the Cliffs of Aran (300' drop). This is where we learned why there are rock walls around fields in Ireland. Because the land was so rocky, farmers had to move the rocks. They decided to use them to build walls to seperate their territories.

Galway - Limerick The next day started off at Rathbaun Farm watching a farmer shear sheep and maneuver a flock with a sheep dog. A visit to the 150-year-old farmhouse included home-baked scones. Our next stop was Kilfenora. There we saw a restored ancient cathedral with Celtic crosses in the churchyard, an important center of early Irish Christianity. We then got to take in the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs rise 668 feet above the Atlantic Ocean along the Clare coast. We had a fun evening enjoying a traditional Irish night which included both of us ending up on stage in front of everyone (with me dancing). The main dish was Irish Lamb stew. One of the sing along songs was The Wild Rover. After the song, the host said that there was someone in the crowd that participated so well that he had a gift for them. It was Lisa! She was embarressed on stage, but was given a book with a CD. Later on, I got handpicked out of the crowd to participate in a dance on stage.

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Limerick - Killarney We viewed the Treaty Stone and St. Mary’s Cathedral before heading to King John’s Castle. The castle was neat but there were several areas we didn't have access to that would have been cool to explore. Our day would end in Killarney with evening entertainment at Siamsa Tire National Folk Theatre.

Killarney. Ring of Kerry It basically rained a bit every day except for the day we went around the Ring of Kerry. It was a perfect day and the sites were beautiful. The Ring of Kerry is a 100-mile panoramic drive around the island’s southwestern tip. It included sparkling seascapes, mountains dotted with brightly colored farmhouses, winding lanes bordered with subtropical vegetation, and breathtaking panorama of the Lakes of Killarney. Back in Killarney, we went on a horse drawn carriage ride through the national park and visited the ancient Ross Castle.

Killarney - Waterford The next day we got to visit Blarney and the magical Kissing Stone. Actually, neither of us actually went up to see the stone (much less kiss it). In the afternoon, we stopped at the world famous Waterford Crystal Factory. Some of their pieces were truly amazing. After spending some money, we headed back to the hotel.

Waterford - Dublin On our last day we visited the site of the final battle of the Great Rebellion of 1798, Ireland’s oldest hand weaving mill, and Powerscourt house/garden. We didn't actually checkout the garden because it was raining very hard (basically sideways). Honestly, by now we were pretty exhausted and would often fall asleep on the bus between stops. It was really a great trip and I know Lisa can't wait to go back again some day.

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