Known for its hospitality, Ireland is a country that opens wide its arms to the all the world, and especially to the Celtic Diaspora. Green eyes and freckles surely gave me away.
Approaching Dublin, you can't help but notice that the lush green landscape is dotted with wind turbines, symbols of Irelandʼs strong commitment to clean energy. Dublinʼs highlights are many. Mine included seeing the actual Book of Kells and Book of Darrow at Trinity College, the Dublin Writerʼs Museum and a dramatic historical tour of Kilmainham Jail, an eery setting steeped in the violent history of the Irish conflict.
Irelandʼs history is a strong reminder that conflict “between religions” generally have nothing to do with religion, but with power and control. As moving as the Kilmainham experience was, the most profound day for me was spent at Newgrange—a thousand years older than the pyramids—and Hill of Tara, the ancient royal site of the high kings of Ireland. Newgrange, the oldest astronomical observatory in the world, contains extraordinary Stone Age art.
From Dublin, I took a train cross country to Galway. Galway is a small, vibrant, beautiful city that still celebrates the local filming of “The Quiet Man,” and youʼll find photos of John Wayne and Maureen OʼHara, who still lives in Cork, everywhere. My time there was far too short, but long enough to try the famous fish and chips of McDonoughʼs, enjoy a delicious French meal at Artisan Restaurant, and head south for a day at the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher. These magnificent cliffs were formed 330 million years ago, rise 700 feet and stretch five miles.
... my Irish adventure ended with a lovely dinner by a roaring fire during an unforgettable concert by Van Morrison
I then made my way south to the Dingle Peninsula on the southwest coast of Ireland where the crisp ocean air promotes deep sleep, especially after long hikes. Dingle is home to The Saints Path, a pilgrim route from Ventry Beach to the top of Mount Brandon, with numerous fascinating detours. The Gallarus Oratory is believed to date from the 10th century or earlier, and is the only one of its kind still intact on the mainland. The 12th century church Kilmalkedar includes an Ogham stone, a sundial and a holy well on its grounds.
My favorite excursion, however, was hiking through farmland to find the remnants of the schoolhouse from the film, “Ryanʼs Daughter.” Resting high on a coastal bluff, winds whip dramatically through what is left of the schoolhouse and the sacred well nearby. Dingle itself is a lovely village with an abundance of shops and restaurants, such as The Half Door, with its spectacular seafood and the best fish chowder imaginable.
I left the southwest coast and headed northeast to Belfast. Because of “the troubles,” Belfast, unlike Dublin, doesnʼt yet cater to tourism and was delightfully short of tourists, even though my visit coincided with the Titanic centennial memorials. I highly recommend a Black Taxi Tour for a visual history of Northern Irelandʼs conflict. The murals alone are worth the fare. And a drive along the Antrim coast, along with a visit to the 60 million-year old Giantʼs Causeway are absolute musts.
How does one end up in Belfast all the way from Dingle? Rule number one for any great adventure: be flexible. During my travels, a ticket to see Van Morrison at Culloden Estate landed in my lap. So my Irish adventure ended with a lovely dinner by a roaring fire during an unforgettable concert by Van Morrison. Talk about the luck ʻo the Irish!