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.
The Trinity College library where the Book of Kells is housed.
Trinity College Library. These volumes are in Latin.
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.
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 windows.
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 has fascinated me since childhood. I wanted to visit the island inhabited by leprechauns and fairies. As an adult, I am astounded by the impact of Irish writers on the world. Ireland is an island of approximately 32,600 square miles with a population of six million. And yet, where would storytelling be without Bram Stoker, C.S. Lewis, Oliver Goldsmith, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Frank McCourt, Maeve Binchy, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, and James Joyce? The list goes on, but these are my favorites.
Finally, I traveled to Ireland. Though I doubt these great writers gained their skill from walking the land or drinking the water, I nurture hope that the influence of this island will rub off on me. Having finished my third novel, I’m enjoying a month off before beginning my fourth. This is a time of renewal and rest.
Handsome and I toured Ireland by Trafalgar bus, jaunting cart, and foot. Here’s how the first day went. The signs at the Dublin airport were in English and Gaelic.
Found a Pringles dispenser. Love those chips (crisps).
A Pringles dispenser at the Dublin airport.
The first people we met in our tour group were Nancy and Earl from Ottowa. The bus driver, Pat, loaded up our gear and deposited us at the Ballsbridge Hotel. There, we met our guide, Ann, who narrated a driving tour of Dublin.
Home to 1.3 million, Dublin is the capital of Ireland. It is situated on the eastern side of the country with the Liffey River running through it. Each of the twenty-four or so bridges is different. To learn more about them, see Dublin bridges.
Trafalgar Tour Guide Ann.
Ann taught us about Georgian architecture. The size of the windows reveals the importance of the rooms. The lower floors had the largest windows and the higher floors the smallest ones.
Windows shrink from the bottom floor to top floor.
The decreasing size of the windows also gives an illusion of height. Homes were taxed by the number of stairs leading to the main door, so the wealthiest had them. In addition, the wealthy had a servant’s entrance door under the stairs. Many of the doors were painted in bold, bright colors.
Servants entrance is below the stairs.
We passed Trinity College, where the Book of Kells is kept. A national treasure of Ireland, the Book of Kells was copied and illustrated by monks. We got to view the document later in our tour.
Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.
We stopped for photos at Christ Church Cathedral. Streets in the trade or guild section were named after the kind of work done there. Cobbler Street, Cook Street…you get the idea. Lastly, we stopped at the Glasnevin Trust and cemetery, where we learned about Irish heroes O’Connell and Micheal Collins. We enjoyed drinks and snacks at the cafe there. Jetlagged and exhausted, we collapsed in our non-air-conditioned room at the Ballsbridge Hotel. The area known as the Dublin 4 postal code is apparently the 90210 of Ireland.
Michael Collins memorial.
Our guide at the cemetery gave us history and lore.
The Gaelic alphabet has only twenty letters. Dublin in Gaelic is baile átha Cliath.