The Emerald Isle Of Ireland

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Many Americans have relatives that came from Ireland. I think much of the American dialect came to the United States and Canada from Ireland.

It is perched on the northwest tip of Europe across from Wales and England. Ireland is the land of myths and legends.

Its landscape is loaded with labyrinthine caves and crystal clear waterways, and at some locations, lunar-like landscapes. The coastal beauty is a legend in itself with shorelines trimmed by golden sands and rocky outcrops. Inland, the lakelands and rural areas are equally as varied as they are tranquil.

I remember many years ago flying low over the inland area of Ireland and I can still remember the pastures that were the greenest green I have ever seen to this day.

Ireland’s history dates back as far as 6,000 BC and a lot has happened in between. The Department of Irish Folklore at University College, Dublin, has more than 100,000 tales, myths and legends on record — it is the largest collection of its kind in the world.

The Irish culture has taken thousands of years to develop and a vacation here is a rare treat. When you return home, you will soon begin thinking of a return trip. The Irish have a passion for music, dance and conversation. And we speak the same language.

There are two capital cities on this small island: Belfast in Northern Ireland and Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland is a sovereign state and covers about 80 percent of the Irish island. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and on the same standard of currency, and covers the remaining 20 percent of the island.

Between the 13th and 17th centuries, Ireland was divided into 32 counties, six in the north and 26 in what is now the Republic of Ireland. It is interesting to note that Ireland is the third largest island in Europe.

If this is going to be your first trip to Ireland, I suggest taking an organized tour. However, many Americans rent a small car and do their own thing.

Let’s do an imaginary guided tour.

You would most likely arrive by air from the U.S. at Shannon Airport and be taken to a hotel for the balance of the day to rest and get acquainted with the new time zone. Your tour leader would probably welcome you to a get-acquainted-dinner where you would meet your tour companions. The tour leader will use this time to also give you instructions for the following days and can answer questions you may have. Have a glass of wine before you retire. It will help you to fall asleep in the new time.

You will be given plenty of opportunities to drive through the farm country and probably visit a working farm, which most likely will have been in the same family for centuries. They may invite you into the home for a light Irish lunch and relate some Irish stories. You will probably visit Killarney and a visit to Muckross House, an Elizabethan-style mansion that was built in 1843. It is set in Killarney National Park. The estate features 19th century interiors and is surrounded by magnificent gardens of sensational colors. While here you will be driven around the Lakes of Killarney and can admire the beautiful landscapes.

If you saw the film “Ryan’s Daughter” or “Far and Away” the romantic coastal scenery of the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry will bring back scenes from those movies. A drive to the tip of the Dingle Peninsula will be a must in order to visit the Blasket Centre and a look at the lost lifestyle, tradition and language of the unique Blasket Islanders. At the end of this day you can enjoy a fine Irish dinner at your hotel or nearby pub.

How many times have you heard of the Blarney Stone? Well, this is your chance to actually kiss the stone and be blessed with the gift of gab. You can do this at the Blarney Castle, which goes back to the 15th century.

Nearby is Waterford where the tour will include a visit to the Waterford Crystal Visitors Center for a look at the centuries-old story of Ireland’s glassware. A short drive takes you to the heart of Kilkenny where you will probably have dinner and a night’s stay.

From here, the next morning after breakfast, you will probably want to discover the antiquities of days gone by. Nearby will be the Cistercian Jerpoint Abbey where you can see some remarkable medieval architectural artifacts. Then it will be on to Black Abby and to the Rothe House and Kilkenny Castle. The tour will then go to Mount Juliet, which is one of Ireland’s finest sporting estates.

The next day the tour will depart for Galway, one of Ireland’s fastest growing cities and a look around before entering the Connemara region, which is home to windswept mountains, bogland, sparkling lakes and the dramatic Atlantic coastline. A drive to a scenic high point to view and photograph the mountains and sea would be in order. You might even take in a boat ride before moving on to Ashford Castle set on a 350-acre private estate along the shores. You can stay at a hotel here also.

In the morning take off for some pretty amazing sightseeing in the wilds of Connemara. Here, you can see the Gothic Revival lakeside Kylemore Castle, which is now a girls’ school and then back you’ll go to Ashford Castle for another night’s stay.

From here, you will head to Sligo to visit the final resting place of poet W. B. Yeats at Drumcliffe, and then head to County Fermanagh. It will probably be time for lunch when you arrive here so you can pop into a small pub and order a fine Irish lunch. Travel onward to Lough Erne golf resort if your tour has reservations here. Hopefully they have. This is a great place to unwind and dine.

In another day, head north for a guided tour of the historic city of Derry, whose well-preserved city walls are some of the finest examples anywhere in Europe. You can have lunch here — perhaps at the Bushmills Inn, which would be a real treat. The afternoon will include a drive along the Antrim Coast Road. You will see over 40,000 perfectly symmetrical basalt columns that lead from looming coastal cliffs to the sea. You can stay this night at the magnificent Cullonden Estate and Spa. The next morning motor into Belfast.

Now that you are in Belfast, you will want to tour the city’s highlights. Afterward take time to walk the streets and discover it on your own. If you are interested, visit the Titanic Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. This is where the ill-fated ship was constructed 100 years ago.

Perhaps, the next day you will wish to tour the Saint Patrick Center, which celebrates Ireland’s patron saint in a countryside setting where he lived and where he is buried.

Next, the tour will take you to Dublin where you will have a guided walking tour of some of the city and then have time to explore it on your own. Nightlife in Dublin rocks with Irish melodies in the pubs.

A formal tour of Dublin should be included in your time here. There is so much to see and enjoy. You will see the brick Georgian row houses and glass-laced doorways. Walk through Phoenix Park and St. Stephen’s Green and enjoy O’Connell Street and see the Lord Mayor’s residence. Also, plan to visit Dublin Castle.

Your self-drive or formal guided tour will probably end here in Dublin. You may wish to bring with you an extra suitcase to pack your purchases in to take back home. You will want to purchase so many items in Ireland.

Your travel agent will be able to recommend tour companies that offer Ireland and since airfares are so high now, you may even wish to visit England, Wales and Scotland at the same time.

Have a great time!

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