Ireland: Shannon Cruise, Dublin Walkabout, and Farewell Dinner

On the last day of our Best of Ireland Trafalgar Tour, Handsome and I packed dirty laundry in our suitcases. We also packed up mementos. With thirty euros left to spend, we boarded the bus for the day’s travel. Our guide, Ann, and our faithful driver, Pat, herded us into our assigned seats. We headed off toward Shannon, which in Gaelic is Sionainn.

By our eighth day together, our tour group has swapped names and stories. Two couples celebrated anniversaries. Bel had a birthday. Many in our group are retired. Handsome has told them how much he wishes he was retired. A few have asked him medical questions. Some have learned that I’m an author and asked for business cards.

Gar and Ruth will spend more time in Ireland thanks to a conference. They are paleobotanists and university professors.

Professors of paleobotany were on the tour.

Nancy and Earl shared our amusement and confusion over how to operate the showers and the lights in the rooms. In some of the hotels, the lights will not go on unless the room key is inserted into a slot on the wall. As for the shower controls, well, one of the hotels offered instructions.

Tub and shower instructions.

Ann taught us the meaning of craic as an acronym.

  • C = coel (music)
  • R = rince (dance)
  • A = amhran (song)
  • I = is (and)
  • C = comhra (conversation)

We have done our best. Because of the spotty WiFi, people pulled their faces from devices and socialized. It was lovely and refreshing.

On the Shannon River Cruise, I learned that Richard from Texas was adopted. Thanks to using one of the popular DNA test kits, like Ancestry and Me, he discovered half-siblings he didn’t know existed. Adopted young, he has been on a journey to reconnect with lost family. He approached me to chat because he wanted to discuss how to write his story to share with his family. So, during my recess from writing, I am again reminded that stories are everywhere. Next month, I resume writing. These few weeks off have energized me.

Shannon River Cruise.

Our driver, Pat, delivered our luggage to the hotel every day while we visited castles and villages.

Our guide, Ann, said that 1% of all road taxes goes for artwork, such as sculptures on the roadways. We saw a bronze elk, orange triangular sails, multi-colored silhouettes of horses and cows and lamb and deer, and a metal Chieftan on horseback. The Chieftan reminded me of a character from an HBO series called The Game of Thrones. The sculpture reminded me of The Night King. Oh, and when we passed the Aryn Islands, I thought Ann was calling them the Iron Islands. The map corrected me.

When the bus dropped us off for time in Dublin, Handsome and I marched straight to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. The line was about sixty deep, but we were inside in fifteen minutes. Cameras, flash or no flash, are not permitted in the room where the Book of Kells lies open beneath the protective glass. The vibrant golds, greens, blues, and reds are astounding. Preserved so long, this precious manuscript deserves preservation. Scripture comes alive through the illustrations and artistic calligraphy.

An illustration from the Book of Kells, courtesy of Trinity College.

Above the viewing room is the Latin library collection. Someone mentioned that the room was used in a Star Wars film. Display cases in the middle of the chamber show different types of damage to books with examples: humidity, rodents, vandalism, accident, and fire.

Trinity College in Dublin.

Trinity College.

The Trinity College library where the Book of Kells is housed.

Trinity College Library. These volumes are in Latin.

Trinity College.

The farewell dinner gave us time to reflect on the tour and trade photos. I taught one lady how to use iPhone’s airdrop feature. Those who got to know Heather, traveling solo from South Africa, urged her to move out of South Africa because of the increasing violence against whites. White farmers are being driven off their property; their families were beaten and killed. She said she is seriously considering moving to England. I pray she does.

Best of Ireland tour group.

The tour group was made up of Americans, Australians, a South African, and Canadians. It was a joy to explore Ireland with them.

Recommended reading on Ireland:

  • Trinity by Leon Uris
  • Seek the Fair Land by Walter Macken
  • Light a Penny Candle by Maev Binchy
  • The Big Wind by Cecil Woodham
  • and the poetry of W.B. Yeats.

May your neighbors respect you, trouble neglect you, the angels protect you, and heaven accept you.

Ireland: Knock Shrine, Castle Donegal, and Sligo

On our Best of Ireland Trafalgar Tour, we began the day by driving to Knock. And yes, knock-knock jokes raged through the bus.

At the Marian Shrine in Knock, fourteen witnesses saw an apparition of Mary. The vision lasted two hours in the pouring rain outside the back wall of the cathedral, behind the altar. A glass enclosure was built to allow worshippers to pray behind the cathedral.

Marian Shrine at the cathedral in Knock.

This is the front of the cathedral.

Inside the cathedral at Knock.

Handsome pauses by a wall made of stone and coral.

We stopped at Drumcliff to see Yeat’s tombstone and the cathedral.

Yeats headstone at Drumcliff.

Inside the cathedral at Drumcliff.

The cathedral at Drumcliff.

We stopped at Donegal for shopping and lunch. Castle Donegal is a planter castle. Castle Donegal in Gaelic is Caisleán Dhún na nGall. We didn’t have time to climb around this castle, so we grabbed lunch instead.

Donegal Castle.

The tide was out in Donegal.

The town of Sligo, which is Sligeach in Gaelic, was built around a ring fort. It is an active shipping port. A Neolithic tomb at Carrowmore, near Sligo, at the top of Knocknarea hill is said to be the burial place of Queen Medb, or Maeve. She is the warrior queen of Connacht in Celtic mythology. Fifty-percent of Europe’s stone age art is in Ireland. The bogs preserve artifacts. This place is an archeologist’s dream. To see more about ancient ruins, click here.

Ancient stone walls mark property lines.

The lump at the top of the hill is the burial site of Queen Maeve.

Giant windmills dotted the hills.


The Clayton Hotel in Sligo looks like a castle on the outside. We stayed there overnight.

The Clayton Hotel in Sligo.

The Clayton Hotel in Sligo.

We elected to go on the optional Sligo scenic drive and dinner and we were very pleased we did. The drive took us closer to a castle as seen from the shore. We saw the harbor where the IRA bomb killed Lord Mountbatten and members of his family. We dined at Harrison’s Bar and Restaurant. An amazing meal.

A lovely castle near Sligo.

The harbor where Lord Mountbatten and his family’s boat launched before being blown up by an IRA bomb.

The owner of Harrison’s Bar and Restaurant greeted our group.

Thus, we collapse at the end of our day. We have one day left of our Best of Ireland Trafalgar Tour.

Ireland: Pirate Queen, Kylemore Abbey, and High Tea

On our Best of Ireland Trafalgar Tour, we traveled through Connemara to Kylemore Abbey. The romantic history of this fairy-tale castle can be read here. It is, in a way, the Taj Mahal of Ireland.

Kylemore Abbey.

The view from the entrance to Kylemore Abbey.

Church on the grounds of Kylemore Abbey.

Galway, which in Gaelic is Gaillimh, had fourteen tribes. Now it is known for medicine, software, and shipping. Fifty-percent of the lamb raised in Ireland is consumed here. The rest is exported all over the world. The sheep roam freely and are branded with vegetable-based dye. Like the cows, they rested on their legs and on their sides. Apparently, they have no natural predators to worry about, like wolves or bear.

Ancient stone walls mark property lines.

Our guide, Ann, told us about a national competition called Tidy Town. Towns compete for the cleanest and most groomed appearance. Flowerboxes in windows and brightly-painted buildings gave many towns a quaint and welcoming vibe. In a bit of history, the Spanish Armada was defeated in part by the Gulf Stream, which blew the ships off course from their intended invasion of England. Many floundered and were wrecked off the coast of Ireland. The Irish rescued and hid the Spanish sailors. Descendents of the Spanish sailors and Irish are known as the Black Irish. More Black Irish were born through marriages with Spanish traders.

Killary Fjord.

The Irish claim that Flamenco dance and American tap dance originated from Irish folk dance. Think Michael Flatley and Riverdance. The shoes allow the dancer to tap as well as to go on point like a ballerina does. In addition to tapping, Irish folk dance involves straight leg kicks high in the front, back kicks (like kicking one’s own rear), and crossing feet and ankles. Arms are kept down at the side. Originally, the arms were raised, but the British demanded changes.

A half arc rainbow, so we didn’t stop to nab a leprechaun.

At Westport House, we enjoyed high tea, hosted by one of the daughters of the current owners of the house. We were greeted by the lady and a tour guide. We drank Pims while hearing the story of the house and its restoration. Pims is an alcoholic drink made from Pims #1, lemonade, and ginger ale. It was popular with nobles. Here, we learned the history of Grace O’Malley. Her father was in the shipping business and she later became a famous Chieftan and pirate. Her grandson, John Brown, built the house. Grace O’Malley’s oldest son was killed by the British Governor Richard Billingham and he also kidnapped her youngest son. Incensed, Grace met with Queen Elizabeth, who removed Billingham from office. The Queen then asked Grace to help fend off the Spanish ships, if called upon. What a formidable woman!

Westport House.

Westport House

Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen.

High Tea at Westport House.

That is a flame, not a horn on the angel. It is considered a blessing to shake the angel’s hand.

At dinner, the Orban Gaelic Choir from Scotland shared our dining room. They practiced songs for their upcoming competition during dinner. After most of our group faded off to their rooms, Handsome asked the choir if they knew Bohemian Rhapsody. Some of them laughed. Moments later, they launched into it with gusto. We were floored. Here’s a link to a sampling of it. An impromptu performance of Bohemian Rhapsody by the Orban Gaelic Choir.

They were to compete in Sligo the next day. I hope they won. They won our admiration!

Ireland: Cliffs of Moher, Galway, and Dunguire Castle

On our Best of Ireland Trafalgar Tour, we saw the spectacular Cliffs of Moher.

It’s windy at the Cliffs of Moher.

The tower is a viewing spot.

Tokens tied to the fence. Are they to mark one’s visit honor the visitors who fell from the cliffs?

A memorial to the fallen.

Cliffs of Moher

We also stopped at a sacred well where St. Brigid baptized people. The Celtic church allowed women clergy. It is believed that the well became holy because of the baptisms performed there. Some credit the well with healing. Brigid’s cross is a square cross crafted from reeds. Believers tie ribbons and bits of cloth to trees over the well in the hope that their ailment will be cured when the token falls from the tree. I touched the water. It was cold.

St. Brigid’s well.

St. Brigid’s well.

In Ireland, golfers are not permitted to use buggies unless they have a doctor’s note. The golf courses are lumpy, wind-blown challenges. Rocky, barren hills known as the Burren are protected from farming and development. These fossil-rich hills have caves and stone-age burial sites. Our guide, Ann, said that the traditional way to eat oysters is to have a dozen of them with Guinness. She mentioned that oysters are an aphrodisiac. “One raises expectations; the other lowers them.”

We stayed in Galway and visited Galway Cathedral and the historic (shopping and restaurants) area.

Galway Cathedral.

Galway Cathedral.

Mark 2:1-12

Galway Cathedral windows.


Oscar Wilde.

Dinner at Dunguaire Castle was a joy. We drank pureed veggie soup from a bowl, ate bread and butter, and a small salad. The main course was chicken with a white mushroom sauce, served with cooked carrots and Italian green beans with fingerling potatos. We were given unlimited mead (wine made with honey), white wine, red wine, and water. Dessert was apple pie with whipped cream. A harpist played and a couple sang ballads. Given the unlimited alcohol, I was shocked and pleased that all made it down the narrow stone spiral staircase without incident.

We dined at Dunguaire Castle.

At last, we collapse into bed at the Connacht Hotel in Galway.

Ireland: Travelers, Matchmakers, and Bunratty Castle

Handsome and I learned about the Travelers, matchmaking, and folk songs on the day’s tour in Ireland.

The Travelers were once tin and aluminum craftsmen who repaired tubs and pots. They lived as nomads, not settling. They have their own radio station. They travel with carts and horses, collecting scrap metal. They rarely marry outsiders and instead have arranged marriages. They tend to be illiterate. Exceptions are made for them to camp on farms and other areas. Like Europe’s gypsy population, they have a reputation for laziness and stealing.

Our tour guide, Ann, told us about the history of matchmakers in Lisdoonvarna. People gather from all over the country to hire a matchmaker. The matchmaker only charges the men. Those participating in matches enjoy ten dances a day. This is done in September.

We saw Desmond Castle, built in the 15th century.

Desmond Castle

Desmond Castle


Desmond Castle

Next, we walked around the picturesque village of Adare. It had a lovely monastery, and cathedral, and thatched roof buildings.


Thatched roof buildings in Adare.

Charming cottages in Adare.

Cottages in Adare.

Adare also had modern buildings separated from the older section by a park.

The modern section of Adare.

The city of Limerick has built up around King John’s Castle, built in the 13th century.

Our tour guide, Ann, challenged us to write a Limerick in honor of passing through town. So here’s mine.


We sought culture, history, and lore

Of castles and famine and war,

But we didn’t have it in us

To refuse the Guinness,

Now Ireland we truly adore.

We toured Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.

Bunratty Castle.

These massive elk horns were found preserved in the bog.

Handsome at Bunratty Castle.

A window at Bunratty Castle.

The path to the fairy garden at Bunratty.

Folk dancing and song at Bunratty.

We fell like stones into bed that night with ballads ringing in our heads.

Ireland: Ring of Kerry, Painted Sheep, and St. Patrick

Of the 32 counties in Ireland, Kerry’s tourism industry led the nation. The Ring of Kerry is a driving route through spectacular scenery. Our guide, Ann, spoke of history and folklore during the bus rides. We learned about bogs and bog horses.

A bog horse.

Bogs take seven to nine years to drain. The top of the peat can be cut and dried for fuel. Kerry cows are the indigenous cows and they are solid black. Handbuilt stone fences constructed centuries ago still stand. Historian Cecil Blanch Woodham Smith wrote a few great books about Irish history, such as The Great Hunger. A book she wrote about draining a bog is The Big Wind, but it is difficult to find as it is out of print. They were designed to allow wind to pass through. They mark property boundaries. Also along the property lines trees and Hawthorne hedges grow wild. Hawthorne trees are known as fairy trees and it is believed they are planted by fairies. They are left to grow, even in the middle of a crop field, to prevent offending the fairies and thus bring bad luck.

To be kicked out of a clan was to be held outside of the clan’s law, known as ban law. Such a person was called an outlaw. The ban law continued until the Norman invasion.

Doulus Head in County Kerry.

 Sheep can roam free. They are marked with vegetable-based dye to show ownership like a brand.

Sheep roam free and are branded with a vegetable-based dye.

We passed a view of the Skellig Islands. Skellig Micheal had a monastery built on it and it was featured in the movie Star Wars The Last Jedi.

There are 4,000 ring forts in Ireland.

We stopped at the Killarney National Park. There, as the story goes, St. Patrick drove all the snakes in Ireland into a lake where they drowned. This is why Ireland has no snakes.

We rode a jaunting cart ride through Bourn-Vincent National Park.

What a beautiful day.