It is widely understood that Ireland is famously green due to frequent and enthusiastic rainfall, yet on our recent Twomey Travel journey around the Emerald Isle, we enjoyed magnificent sunshine and spectacular views.
It would be obtuse to attempt to capture Irish history in one or two contributions, therefore I will keep this one to being more of a travel journal.
Nevertheless, there is one extremely important historical note worth mentioning. Easter 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the uprising against British rule in Ireland that lead to partition and independence. Celebrations and memories of the event were throughout the island and every hotel was full!
This tour really was a dream come true. Most of the passengers had travelled with me on other occasions and therefore from the start I was looking forward to seeing ‘friends.’
Flying from the United States and Western Canada, my clients flew into friendly little Shannon Airport in the Country’s southwest. As the most westerly country in Europe, flights from North America arrive very early. Alas my alarm went off at 5 AM .. but it was well worth it as everyone was on time.
The driver for our trip was my old friend Tommy Manning, proprietor of Mannings Coaches. For tour companies reading this entry, I recommend Mannings with the highest possible enthusiasm.
Shannon Town was built as a ‘free-port’ in order to encourage economic development in the once depressed west of Ireland. In the early days of transatlantic air travel, it became an important refuelling centre.
In fact in the earliest days of float planes, the ‘flying boats’ would land in the Shannon (the longest river in either Britain or Ireland), and the whiskey-laden Irish Coffee was invented to greet weary travellers.
From Shannon we enjoyed a short tour of Limerick (insert poem here) and famously thatch-roofed Adare before visiting the Bunratty folk park.
For some travellers this was their first time across the Atlantic and therefore their first true castle was King John’s 12th century palace located on the Shannon River.
From the Limerick area we drove north on the fancy new motorway into the university city of Galway.
Our hotel was the Imperial located in Eyre Square in the centre of this pedestrian-friendly city.
On the following morning, we drove west into Connemara. Famous for its barren and boggy landscapes, the region is an gaeoltacht – Irish speaking.
Until the 1840’s and the tragic potato-blight, the vast majority of Irish spoke their own ancient, celtic (pronounced Kelitc) language. In Ireland the Galic language is aptly called Irish and remains the official language of the Republic.
As a first language, fewer than 10% of the Irish now speak it at home, so it is always a meaningful cultural experience to visit communities where the language dominates.
From Galway we drove south to Claire where we visited the Burren region and, of course the mighty Cliffs of Moher.
The weather was perfect and we stopped at Vaughan’s pub for morning tea and scones. We did this specifically to show our friend Denice Vaughan that his name was indeed Irish!
Taking a ferry across the mouth of the Shannon, we continued on to Ireland’s home of tourism – Killarney. The Arbutus Hotel is in the centre of town and offered us a spectacular dinner and an outstanding breakfast each day.
On our full day in County Kerry (affectionately known as the ‘Kingdom of Kerry’) we drove the Ring of Kerry. This is Ireland’s most famous excursion and it lived up to all expectations.
In classic Killarney style we started the morning with a tour on the horse-drawn jaunting cars. A must!
From Kerry we carried on to Cork – Ireland’s largest County and of course stopped to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. Thus granted the ‘gift of eloquence’ we continued to the rebel city (and my former home) of Cork. The city was festooned with flags celebrating Irish independence.
I tipped a glass to the statue of Father Theobald Mathew, who lead the widely unsuccessful temperance movement in Ireland 😉 …
And north we drove via the iconic Rock of Cashel onto Dublin, Ireland’s lively – and literary – capital.
Upon arrival we immediately went out to Taylor’s Pub for dinner, music and Irish dancing!
On our full day in the capital, we enjoyed an excellent tour of Georgian Squares, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and, of course, the Book of Kells and Trinity University.
In the afternoon we made an excursion to Howth Peninsula where fresh lobster was being brought into port.
Leaving behind the spectacular Clayton Hotel, we again drove north into the divided province of Ulster. Technically a separate country, ‘Northern Ireland’ is barely an hour from Dublin and we were in central Belfast within two hours.
Once an major centre of shipbuilding, rope-making and textile production, modern Belfast is better known for the ‘Troubles’ – the conflict between predominantly Catholic Irish Nationalists and Protestant British Unionists.
As peace has gradually broken out, this northern part of Ireland is gradually taking its place as an important tourist destination. Again the Clayton hotel was excellent and everyone friendly.
Our tour did include visits to both neighbourhoods and finally to the fairly recent – and impressive – Titanic Museum. A significant investment was ‘sunk’ into the facility, but has proven extremely worthwhile. The museum not only chronicles the Titanic experience, but also Belfast’s industrial history.
On our last full day in the Emerald Isle we drove to the North Coast is order to visit the UNESCO Heritage site of the Giant’s Causeway. Formed by ancient lava, the Causeway is the mythical home to Finn McCool – Ireland’s resident giant!