November 2007

Latitude Adjustment: Discover Ireland!

Author: Lois Dudley

“Top o’ the day to ya”

We left the states in bright sunny weather in May and arrived at the Shannon Airport, on the west coast of Ireland, on an equally nice day. Rain had been predicted every day, so we were surprised by the warm, sunny greeting… but the rest of the trip conformed to the forecast.

Our first stop was Glenlo Abbey, just outside Galway. The Abbey was built in 1740 and was the ancestral home of the Ffrench family, one of 14 tribes that ruled Galway for five centuries. It is set on 138 acres on the shores of Lough Corrib and boasts a challenging nine-hole golf course. The bedrooms are furnished with antiques as are the library and lounges. The character is one of established elegance with comfy surrounds.

The next day we were off to Rossaveal to catch the ferry to the Aran Islands. There are three islands; we went to the largest, Inis Mor. It is nine miles long and about two miles wide, consisting mostly of limestone rocks—barren, with patches of green here and there. With one doctor, one nurse, one priest and one policeman, approximately 800 friendly people inhabit this place. Stone fences are everywhere, constructed without cement and with holes throughout so the constant wind can go through without blowing the fences down. Running water came to the island in 1960 and electricity in 1975. Ancient Celtic is the language. We had planned to hike to the cliff-top fort, Dun Aonghas, but the pouring rain and wind convinced us to stay in the small village of Cill Mhurbhig (pronounced Kill Wervy). The village consists of four shops and a warm, inviting café with a large fireplace and excellent food. (We awarded the Black Guinness Chocolate Cake first prize of the desserts we sampled.) Ladies on the island knit a lot because, as one lady said, there is nothing else to do in the winter.

Driving to the only fjord (Killary Fjord) in Ireland, we got a break in the rain to view it and to find the waterfall. Connamara also has lots of rocks—a very rugged landscape with many lakes and barren mountains.

Kylemore Abbey is a beauty viewed across the lake. Our first real shopping experience was near there at Avoca—a must-stop for Irish items of all kinds.

That evening, back at Glenlo Abbey, we ate at The Pullman Restaurant, consisting of two original Orient Express Carriages, one of which starred in Agatha Christy’s Murder on the Orient Express.

Leaving Galway the next morning, it was another very windy, rainy day as we made our way to New Town Mt. Kennedy, south of Dublin. We settled into our large American-style bedroom and very large bathroom with separate shower and tub at the Marriott Druids Glen Resort. The resort was packed with golfers who golfed in the rain because, as one said, if they waited for the sun, they would never be able to finish a round!

Since the weather was clearing somewhat, we decided to have a walk through Powerscourt Gardens in the afternoon. These gardens are lovely and consist of 47 acres. Rhododendron was in bloom. We had seen some wild rhododendron in the Connemara region but saw even more in County Kerry. May is a fabulous time to view Irish hillsides abloom with color. The terraces were laid out in the 1840s, and 100 men worked 12 years to complete these lovely green oases. The design of the fountain in the center of the lake is based on the fountain in the Piazza Barberini in Rome.

The next morning was lovely as we started out for Kilkenny, but the rain arrived before we did. Roads in Ireland could use a lot of work. The word “bumpy” is a strong understatement for our bottoming-out, backseat rides!

In Kilkenny we stayed at The Hiberian, right in town and very close to their castle. The Hibernian is a very dark hotel. It was once a Victorian bank and has large, deep, brown leather sofas and wine-colored walls. The fireplace provides cozy warmth. Our room was small, but adequate, along with a small bathroom. The location can’t be beat.

In addition to its castle, Kilkenny also is proud of its wonderful Design Center which displays and sells many types of Irish crafts.

Kinsale, on the southern coast, was our destination the next day, and we thought it was the loveliest place we saw in Ireland. (Kinsale is also the gourmet capital of Ireland, and many excellent restaurants vie for your patronage.) We then drove along the scenic route N71, the famous Ring of Kerry, with its hillsides filled with beautiful purple blooms.

That night we stayed at Caragh Lodge on the shore of the Caragh Lake, looking up at Ireland’s highest mountains, the McGillcuddy Reeks. In the evening, dinner menus are handed to you while you enjoy a cocktail warmed by turf fire in the fireplace.

Gregan’s Castle was our hotel in the Burren and it was set in beautiful country. We explored the Burren in (big surprise!) very windy and rainy conditions. Our guide took us to see Black Head, an arrangement of rocks which resembled a face, then on to the much-photographed Cliffs of Moher. The strong winds and sheets of rain made umbrellas useless, but we were determined to see the Cliffs before we left.

At the Arts School nearby, we learned about Irish castle construction: broader at the base and curved so that whatever is dropped from above goes outward with increasing speed. We also visited Corofin to view the dolmens, a burial site of very large rocks placed as walls with another huge rock placed on top as a roof. They date from the late Stone Age (4th millennium BC).

Our last night was at the delightful Carrygerry Country House near the Shannon Airport. The Carrygerry is a 200-year-old manor house which was restored and is now operated by a young couple, Niall and Gillian Ennis. Niall is the chef and an excellent one, as we were to discover that evening. He suggested we walk around the Bunratty Castle park for an hour or so before dinner. Beautiful sweaters known throughout Ireland and the Aran Islands were for sale in the mill shops across the road from the park.

Next morning… rain, as usual. For breakfast, we had porridge with Irish whisky cream—perfect for getting prepared for the dreary day. When we drove away after breakfast, Gillian waited at the door to wave goodbye one last time.

This was our third trip to Ireland, and we enjoyed it much as our very first go-around. I encourage you to visit Ireland to appreciate firsthand the beauty and magic that make Ireland a truly unique destination.

Lois Dudley is an associate of Valerie Wilson Travel and has been with the agency since 2001.

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