Along the road towards the Giant’s Causeway we stopped and took a view pictures of this ruined Norman Castle.
Originally all the castles would have been White. This one, from the ocean, would have been very visible showing those heading that way the power of the owner and to stay away!
Further along we stopped at an overlook at a rope bridge that links an island to the coastline. Fisherman to get out to the island and catch fish used this rope bridge.
Now it is basically a tourist attraction allowing the brave to cross over to the island. We didn’t have the time to make the trip.Next up was the Titanic Belfast Experience.
This is a very large building that was built at the location where the Titanic was originally built and launched.
The building points directly towards the dock where the hull was constructed.
Inside the building are a number of different displays about the area around Belfast when it was built, various shipbuilding displays and other information. The doors opened on this place on March 31, 2012, marking the centenary year of the launching of the Titanic.
Of course there are depictions of various parts of the Titanic including various staterooms, dining areas and of course a listing of the passengers that either made it or didn’t. All in all it was a very well done display but kind of of depressing when you think about all the history we all know about this ship. At the final display is a video of
Bob Ballard who discovered the Titanic gravesite in the mid 1980’s after extensive research.
Next stop – a Pub for dinner, music and some lite entertainment. Once that was done we got back on the bus for our final stop in Dublin and the end of the tour.
Once upon a time in a faraway place called Ireland…there was an Irish giant called Finn McCool, also known as Fionn Mac Cumhaill, who got himself into a spot of trouble with an angry Scottish giant called Benandonner who made a claim for Finn’s island of Ireland.
Enraged, the giant called Finn starts throwing boulders into the sea just off the Antrim coastline in Northern Ireland. Inspired by the way they fell into the water, Finn decided to use his boulders to make a bridge – or a causeway – all the way to Scotland to challenge his rival to a duel.
In a mythical world where size dictates winners and losers, Finn realizes he has underestimated his enemy – Benandonner is Giant even for a giant! Brute force won’t work on him – so Finn quickly returns to Ireland via his causeway and decides the best way to beat Benandonner is to con him.
Leaving the Giant’s Causeway for Benandonner to find, Finn McCool’s wife disguises him as a baby. When his rival arrives, he finds Finn’s wife tending her enormous baby giant. Realizing that if Finn’s child son was this big, Finn himself must be huge! Benandonnar hurries away, tearing away bits of the causeway as he retreats to the Highlands, determined to leave Ireland and stay away from the giant Finn McCool, who regains undisputed control over Ireland once more.
Now for the reality, the UNESCO World Heritage site is the result of an ancient volcanic explosion some 60,000 years ago.
The burning and quick cooling of the lava left a series of impressive 40,000 interconnected basalt columns hugging the northern Irish coastline, forming the Giant’s Causeway, one of Ireland’s most iconic and impressive landscapes to date.
Wednesday, and we are leaving Galway heading towards Derry (an Anglicized version of the Gaelic for Oak), or Londonderry as it is officially known, with stops along the way. Our first stop was at the Knock Shrine. The Knock Shrine is a Roman Catholic pilgrimage site and a National Shrine in the village of Knock. Apparently, in 1879, some observers stated that there was an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, angels and Jesus Christ (the Lamb of God).
This resulted in many pilgrims making the trek to the site resulting in more and more folks showing up. Inside the church there is an artistic mosaic of the apparition and other depictions. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the church was undergoing some renovation and there really wasn’t ANYTHING to see – therefore I have added some images I found on line to show what the place is all about.
Our next stop was The Grange sheep farm and a border collie sheep dog demonstration. Remember the Disney move Babe about a pig that is trained to herd sheep? Well it was just like that but real – and Jack is a working, award winning dog.
Martin Feeney is a well-known sheepdog handler, with over twenty years experience to his name. Having learned the skill of sheepdog handling from his father, Martin has travelled the world over; both competing in and judging sheepdog trials on an international stage. We joined Martin on his sheep farm where we watched him and his trusty sheepdog, Jack, guide sheep around the enclosure. It was really quite interesting to see the way he worked with his dog to move sheep around.
Martin has about 400 sheep year round – 100 males and 300 females – and another 600 after spring when all the lambs are born. Most of his sheep graze on top of a mountain not far from his farm and he is able to send his sheepdogs up to the top to herd the sheep down each day to be individually checked. It was really an interesting demonstration.
After the demonstration of the herding, he gave us an information seminar on the types of sheep he has and the benefits of them. All of his are kept as breeding stock, not for meat or wool production. It turns out the wool is really worthless – it all is sold bulk and goes to China for use as building insulation, not to be woven into cloth.
We stopped for a delightful lunch in the little village of Donegal where we ventured off to a locals tearoom for a light lunch and lovely blueberry pie.
After we arrived in Londonderry, before we even got into our rooms, we had a local guide take us on both a quick bus tour and a brief walking tour of the historical wall of the city. The city is know for its intact 17th century walls and gates.
Originally with four gates through the walls, this was increased by three sometime during the 18th century.
The Derry City Walls were completed in 1618 by an English merchant guildsmen, and mainly planned as a defense of the prosperous city against Irish raiders from Donegal. They are up to 26 feet high, and up to 30 feet wide, enclosing the old merchant city (where the money was). The walls then earned their immortal place in Irish history through the defiance of Derry’s Protestant apprentice boys, whose slamming of the gates (“No Surrender”) in the face of an approaching Catholic army made the Walls of Derry an iconic emblem of Loyalism and Unionism.
Derry is clearly a city that has seen it’s share of the Troubles and these are represented in several murals visible along the roadways and from the top of the walls.
Once the Troubles were over (if you can believe they are really over) things have settled down and a bridge to symbolize the final peace was built across the river.
Up and out early in the morning, as we had a ferry to catch.
The car ferry was taking us from Tarbert across the river to Killimer. It saves only a half hour on the trip but makes it much more interesting.
Once across the river, we drove through several small towns. One of them had a mural depicting how owners would evict their tenants who refused to move when told to leave.
Beyond trying to smoke them out by plugging their chimney with straw, they would have a battering ram contraption that they would set up to destroy the door. Not good times for sure.
Driving along, the landscape became increasingly barren. In some areas there is virtually no soil – it has all been washed away and just the limestone is left standing. The houses all have to be protected from the raging Atlantic storms that roll through. In many cases they have extra construction at the edges of the roofs to keep the wind from getting under the edge of the roof tiles and blowing them off. Clearly a hardy bunch makes their homes in these areas and they are few and far between.
We stopped at St Bridgid’s Well a holy well believed to be blessed by St Bridgit of Kildare, a 5th century Irish saint from the area and the only female patron saint of Ireland.
This is one of the most visited Holy Wells in Ireland and people have been visiting for centuries. Inside the structure are literally hundreds of prayer cards, photographs and related items people have left over the years.
Next stop, the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most visited national attractions with a magical vista that seems to capture the hearts of up to one million visitors every year.
While it is spectacular, it didn’t quite capture my heart but I’m glad we stopped. The Cliffs rise 214 m or about 700 feet at the highest point and range for 9 kilometers or 5 miles over the Atlantic Ocean on the western coast.
We walked through the display and up to one of the major viewing points along the cliffs and braved
the winds and chill of the Ocean air. It was clear enough to see the Aran Islands in the distance. Lovely.
We ended our day in Galway, home of the Claddagh Ring – that is a traditional Irish ring given which represents love, loyalty, and friendship, and Spanish influence from all the trading being done with the City.
Lynch Castle (now a bank building)was the setting for a Father /Son tale of economy and justice. The local lord and justice of the peace, Lynch, fostered the eldest son of a Spanish merchant who wished to trade with the merchants of Galway. He was to learn the culture of Ireland, and act as guarantee that the Gomez family would redeem him and continue trade in good faith. Unfortunately, he fell in love with the Lynch son’s sweetheart and stole her heart. The Lynch son knifed him, threw him in the river and laid low. The tides brought the body back, and the deed was attributed to Lynch’s son. The local council thought Lord Lynch would choose a scapegoat to send to the scaffold instead of his son. Lord Lynch spent a night before the hanging praying and talking with his son, and when the son rose, shoved his son out of the top windows of the castle on a hangman’s rope. And so, said our guide Brian, came about the concept of a “lynching”. A good story by a great story teller, the only thing needing lynching in Galway now is the McDs, but that is just my opinion.
Thursday, after a restful evening, we were up and out at 9 for our day trip on the Ring of Kerry. The Ring of Kerry is a loop of 179 Km (112 miles) following the coastline of the lveragh Peninsula with a number of points of interest to stop and visit. We started off from Killarney heading along the road with our first stop at an overview of Lough Leane – one of the large lakes along the way.
It was a beautiful day for November. From there, we continued on for a quick view of the Ogham stones. Ogham is the earliest form of writing in Ireland it dates to around the 4th century and was in use for around 500 years. The original alphabet is made up of a series of strokes along or across a line. No clue what these things say – or at least I have no clue. Maybe “Yankee Go Home” for all I know.
A little further down the road we stopped for views of the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea. While it was a bit chilly it was still a lovely day and the views were great.
Along the road, we passed the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell. O’Connell is often referred to as the Liberator as he was an early Irish political leader in the first have of the 19th century in the structural for Irish Catholics to be allowed freedom within Ireland. Unfortunately his home is in ruins now but at least they are trying to keep what is left intact.
A short distance further down the road, we passed the Daniel O’Connel Memorial Church. The Church is unusual as it is not named after a Saint or deity – but a layperson.
The next stop was a photo op to take pictures of the Skellig Islands. One of these islands, about 12 Km off the coast, became a monastery in the ninth century.
Talk about a harsh place – the monks had to chip steps into the rock to even gain access up the island peak. In order to have any kind of garden, they had to haul dirt from the mainland and spread it around. Their rock shelters are in the shape of ‘bees hives’ and are still in near perfect condition withstanding Atlantic waves and wind. We didn’t actually make it to the island, it’s usually inaccessible due to weather conditions, and would have been a difficult trip as there are over 600 steps without any kind of railing secure the steps!
However, we did stop at a place for lunch that was called the Skellig Experience and it had some general information. An interesting side note is the final scene of Star Wars 6 where Luke is scene (and never speaks) was filmed on Skellig Island. They have a t-shirt for sale with Luke holding a Guinness with R2D2 next to him with the typical bird that lives on the island. Didn’t but the t-shirt needless to say.
After visiting the Skellig Experience and having lunch we got back on the bus and continued our trip on the Ring of Kerry.
We saw, but didn’t stop, one of the Ring Forts that are scattered around Ireland. These are circular fortified settlements that were mostly built during the bronze age up to about year 1000.
The Killarney National Park, was the first national park of Ireland created in 1932. We drove through it on the way back to Killarney and several of the lakes and other features of the area.
Throughout the day there were sheep – some in large enclosures some in small and the hedge rows or stone walls separating the areas were interesting to see. The Irish Republic encourages the maintenance of hedgerows as natural habitat for local birds, badgers, hedgehogs etc.
First thing on Wednesday we hopped on the bus for a 3-minute trip to the Waterford Glass Factory. Waterford – bring to mind exquisite glassware for sure and our tour re-enforced that notion. Our guide, Mike, has worked for the Waterford Company since the 1970’s and clearly had a grasp of the process of the system. While most of the Waterford glass was manufactured in the late Slovakia, it would seem the more decorative or limited edition pieces are done in the Waterford plant.
Starting with a brief video highlighting the history of the company – started in 1783 closed in 1890 and restarted around 1947 it was an interesting presentation and gave a good understanding of the historical position of the company.
When making limited edition pieces, they start off with a wood model and from that make a wooden mold in which the glass is blown.
Once a design is determined to be acceptable more permanent metal molds are made. Our first stop was the model shop where we watched a woodworker make the finishing touches on a mold. From the model workshop, we moved on to the glass blowing station – with two stations heating and blowing individual pieces. While we were there they were making a limited edition Saint Patrick’s Day Bowl for sale to the US Market in February.
After the glass bowl has been ‘blown’ and cured overnight it moves to the first to the marking station, where all the design is drawn onto the bowl and then to the engraving stations.
Each bowl is hand engraved using diamond wheels and water. The training for the engraving station takes 5 to 7 years before the individual is truly fully trained and allowed to engrave the materials. It was interesting to watch these workers (99% men by the way) perform their tasks. Etching is done at the last station by artists with hand tools, both male and female.
From the production end of the building we of course went into the sales area where we were able to purchase a wide selection of Waterford products. Most tableware is now made in Slovakia. Needless to say, we didn’t purchase anything ,but it was interesting to see the wide range of items available.
After our tour we got back on the bus and headed towards Blarney Castle. There was a photo stop along the way to see the coastline – Atlantic Ocean and village of Dungarvan.
The countryside is GREEN with limited farming beyond sheep grazing the grass. The overcast sky’s and damp weather make it very clear we are Ireland.
Blarney Castle – what can I say about this place. Blarney castle is the third structure to have been erected on the site. In the 10th century there was wooden hunting lodge here, around 1210 this was replaced by a stone structure. This was all demolished and the foundations used to create the current castle built by Dermot MacCarthy in 1446.
Why do people go to kiss the Blarney stone? Well, legend indicates it all started when Cormac Teige McCarthy, the Lord of Blarney, was called to Queen Elizabeth to explain his lack of payments to the Crown. McCarthy met an old witch woman on the way who told him that anyone who kissed a particular stone she indicated would be given the gift of eloquent speech. So he kissed the stone and went on to the Queen and was so eloquent in his speech he was completely successful and returned a tax free happy man.
He subsequently had the stone placed in the upper tower of the Castle. From then on, the legend grew to such an extent that for over 200 years world statesmen( W.Churchill), literary giants and millions of ordinary folk have climbed the steps to kiss the Blarney stone and gain the gift of eloquence.
After getting off the bus we headed to the Castle and up the stairs. There are over 500 steps – not all in great shape and in a circular tower to get to the top. On top of all of that, it was misty and the steps were wet with dew. However, we made it to the top and proceeded to Kiss the Stone. Fortunately, there are a couple of guys there to help with the process along with grab bars and a mat to lay on to perform the ritual. Of course, you do it on your back, have to slide over the edge and while hanging UPSIDE DOWN slide down to kiss the stone.
After getting back down the tower steps, we walked over for lunch at the pub and Blarney Woolen Mills purchase of a vest for David, and then back to our bus for the drive to Cobh. This village’s major claim to fame is that the Titanic made the last port of call prior to setting sail across the Atlantic to her meeting with the iceberg. The other major event, for the village, was the sinking of the Cunard Liner the Lusitania on May 7th 1915 resulted in the deaths of 1,198 of the 1,9659 people on board. It was torpedoed off the coast and many of the boating people of Cobh went out and rescued survivors and brought back the dead.
The village has two memorials – one large one for the Lusitania and a smaller one for the Titanic. We also learned about the local history of the village, people who had visited and more answers to Ireland in WWII. Once our guide had shared his wisdom, we boarded the bus for our final drive to Killarney.
Tuesday our Driver Tony, although a native of Dublin, was ready to head out of the busy city and south toward Wicklow County where we explored Glendalough, Valley Between Two Lakes and site of the 5th century monastic community of St. Kevin Coemhghein (fair begotten). Although never officially declared a saint by Rome, the stories of his works and miracles keep him an “Irish Saint”.
Kevin’s Cross-incorporates the Christian Cross of Crucifixion with a circle of the Sun/Son, symbolic for the local people of the spirits of their previous deities. The Monks built a 30-meter high tower of local mica slate and granite, probably to mark the community for travelers and pilgrims, and perhaps to protect any property from marauders. It has a conical roof and four windows facing North, South, East and West at the summit. A bell called out worship times from the top. Glendalough was meant to be a place of communication with nature and quiet meditation. The community supported itself simply. Even after 12th century Ecclesiastics abandoned the site, local people continued using the “cathedral” and the cemetery to bury their dead in a consecrated ground.
Continuing our adventure, we headed along the coast, moving clockwise around the Ireland, we rode on to Wexford County, and New Ross, port for Wm. Graves “Hunger Ship “. When the potato crop failed for two successive years, and English Landholders saw their properties fail as families died off from starvation, they sought alternatives. One was to offer a family passage to the New World (US, Canada,) on a cargo ship.
The Dunbrody Famine Ship is a reproduction of an 1840’s emigrant vessel; it provides a good interpretation of the famine emigrant experience. On board the ship, our guide talked about the realities of life on these notorious “Coffin Ships”. Lasting up to six weeks, the Atlantic crossing was anything but pleasant. Packed cheek by jowl below decks, the steerage passengers barely saw the light of day – maybe 30 minutes a day they were allowed up on deck. During bad weather, which could last several days, they never made it on deck – not a pleasant experience for anyone.
As many as 1.5 MILLION people may have traveled to the “better land” in these ships.
It was an interesting visit seeing the ship and hearing the stories along with all the information they provided.
After completing our tour, we boarded the bus and headed to our next stop for the evening – Waterford. Once there we did a quick walking tour highlighting the Viking, and Norman Conquest of the city and visiting some of the significant sites.
Monday – Day one of our C.I.E tour of Ireland and we discovered there was a 2 PM bus and walking tour set up to begin the adventure. Our guide, Felicity, introduced us to Dublin City while we drove around and looked at the sites. Unfortunately, being on a small bus, doesn’t really give you a chance to take any good pictures plus the fact it was trying to rain didn’t help much. However, the history and sites were really interesting. We drove over the River Liffey a couple of times on 16th century and 21st century bridges to see the sites.
We stopped to see the statue of Oscar Wilde and the Children’s Play area near by which is across the street from his childhood home. The structures are designed to match the fairy tale of the Selfish Giant, a tale written by Wilde.
Soon we were at Trinity Collage, established in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, our next stop, which included a walking tour with a student (from upstate New York working on his PHD) and a visit to the Library and a viewing of the Book of Kells.
The College has about 17,000 students and takes up a fair piece of property in Dublin. The walking tour highlighted some of the key spots on the campus, talked a little about being a student there and it’s requirements and ended up a the College library.
The Trinity College Library is the largest research library in Ireland. Due to its status as a ‘copy right’ library, it receives two copies of EVERY book published in Great Britain and Ireland every year – that’s a LOT of books. Incidentally, any profit made from a creative endeavor, books, paintings etc. is NOT Taxable. Creativity is supported by the government. The Library we walked through holds much older publications, the Book of Kells and Brian Boru Harp.
The Book of Kells is from 800 AD and is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together other examples of monastic literacy. It was created in a Columban monastery in Ireland. Needless to say, the book is old, protected under glass and tightly secured. The colors of the book were amazing, the inks being layered on calfskin, and produced with natural plants and minerals . The Brian Boru Harp is the oldest surviving Irish harp and is the model for the insignia of Ireland. It dates from 14th or 15th Century. It too is protected behind a glass case.
After getting back on the bus we motored back to our hotel for a welcome drink and a quick review of the upcoming events. I’m sorry we didn’t get more of an introduction to Dublin on our tour but we come back at the end of the trip around Ireland and we may have additional time to explore this City.
Our last day or so in London had us walking around a lot – visiting various shops and picking up play tickets to see The Ferryman.
The area round the Apple Store, which I visited a couple of times, was called Leicester Square.
In the center of the Square was a Christmas market that opened while we were there – nice things but we were not in the buying mood.
Also, part of the square, is an M&M Store. This store reminded me of the store in NYC we visited some years ago. The place is 3 or 4 levels with LOTS of M&M stuff. We got some free samples and left.
The Ferryman is a LONG play (3 hours!) so we got tickets for the Saturday afternoon performance. The play is about Northern Ireland, 1981. The Carney farmhouse is a hive of activity with preparations for the annual harvest. A day of hard work on the land a a traditional night of feasting and celebrations lie ahead. Unfortunately a visitor comes and delivers bad news – the brother of the principal star who has been missing for 10 years has been found dead. WE find out a lot about him, his brother, the wife (now widow) and the rest of the doings during a turbulent period in Irish history. Very well done and is being considered the “play of the year” in the West End Theatre world.
Sunday we were off to Heathrow Airport and a flight to Dublin. After we checked in to our Hotel we immediately headed to the local pub – also called The Ferryman for a pint or two.
Sometime ago, I don’t honestly recall, I ran across a listing of the top 50 restaurants in the World. We have had the opportunity to sample several of these (Arzak – San Sebastian Spain #30 and Le Caladre – Rubano, Italy #29) so it seemed fitting to see if we could get a table at The Ledbury in London #27 (Knightsbridge-Chelsea).
Fortunately we were able to get a table for lunch Thursday and settled in for an afternoon lunch of tasting great foods and drinking fine wines. We were greeted warmly at the entrance, given space for our coats and scarves, and shown to our linen covered table.
There are several menus available – a menu providing 3 choices with four courses, a fixed lunch menu and a tasting menu. We opted for the tasting menu with paired wines. This was an 8-course extravaganza with various presentations paired with wines from around the world.
After presenting the menu (both food and wine) we ordered an aperitif (Lilli Blanc) and looked over our options. It didn’t take much convincing for me to get Janeen to agree to the tasting menu (the entire table must take it) so no other decisions were needed at the time. We did have three beautifully presented small bites to help us decide (see Amuse Bouche photos).
The first course of Chantilly of Oyster paired so perfectly with the Austrian Gruner Veltliner, that Janeen knew our chefs and sommelier were about to entice us at every level.
Courses two and three left Janeen in awe of the mandolin skills of the kitchen (such thin beetroot, truffle, ham…) and the pure savory of egg and truffle captured David.
Giving our palate some respite before meat and red wine, we tasted eggplant infused with olive and black tea and John Dory simply grilled with pumpkin shellfish cream on the side.
The suckling pig course, accompanied by a Spanish Tenerife Margalagua, was surrounded by Hen of the Woods, (seemed like mushroom to Janeen) was savory to be sure.
Pre-dessert led David to opt for 5 of 10 choices of cheese with Piedmont sweet wine pairing.
Dessert was followed by a visit to the kitchens, a request we had made on entering.
Although Executive Chef Brent was not in the kitchens, his head Chef, Greg was welcoming and gladly chatted and allowed photo opts, as well as offering us more ice cream.
When we told our wait staff we were headed for Dublin and would like recommendations, they sent over General Manager Darren, native of the city, who printed out food options, pub bests, and sites not to be missed, and explained each choice either as a personal choice, or recommendation of his parents. Lovely bonus.
While this restaurant has only 2 Michelin stars it’s place as number 27 on the top 50 restaurants in the world is well deserved. We had a wonderful afternoon and spent the rest of the day savoring the lingering tastes.