A special journey to Ireland 42 years in the making
By Cynthia Kelly, 5-time traveler, Chester Springs, Pennsylvania
My husband Barry and I had both wanted to travel to Ireland since we married in the late 1960s. We had both taken courses in Irish literature in college, and loved the Irish writers—particularly Joyce and Yeats. We also knew that we were both of Scottish and Irish descent, so our ancestors had at least lived in Ireland for a short time. When Barry and I met and married in the 1960s, everyone our age seemed to be rebelling against traditional society, so we kept threatening to move to Ireland and raise sheep! (Now that I’ve visited an Irish sheep farm and seen the hard work that raising sheep involves, I know we never would have survived.) Ireland always seemed so romantic, mysterious, and beautiful to us—and we somehow thought visiting the country would make us feel as if we were coming home. And when we finally got there on our Ireland in Depth vacation 42 years later, it truly did!
Cynthia and Barry in front of Kylemore Abbey
We began our trip in Galway, and from there, decided to visit Connemara and Kylemore Abbey on an optional tour. We almost skipped this trip, as it was early in the itinerary and we still had jet lag. What a shame that would have been, as the tour was one of the highlights of our visit. We first visited Kylemore Abbey, which is a castle-like building in a lovely, rugged setting on a lake. Then we boarded our bus to go farther north into the barren land that is Connemara. We passed starkly beautiful fields lined with small plots bordered by stone walls—many of them populated by lonely sheep. The remains of the “famine cottages” were visible everywhere; mute testament to the hardships endured by the people who tried to eke a living from this unforgiving land during the potato famine. We boarded a small ship for a luncheon sail up Ireland’s only fjord—again surrounded on all sides by the hauntingly stunning landscape.
While in Galway, we also chose the optional excursion to a Ceili, a supper followed by lively Irish music and dancing. The musicians were professional, warm, and quite good at their art. My encounter with one of the local musicians who played the flute and bodhran drum has left a lasting impression with me. We learned he had grown up near Galway speaking only Gaelic, and had not heard English spoken until he was ten years old!
Barry (right) and fellow traveler Robin Mollenhauer stop at a local pub along the Ring of Kerry for scones and tea.
Barry and I enjoyed the time we spent in Killarney, which was our home base for trips to the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. Both excursions far surpassed any vision I had of how beautiful Ireland is: We were surrounded by craggy mountains, expanses of silver-gray sea, and placid sheep everywhere. Our stop to see a sheep-herding demonstration by Border Collies was one of the most exciting moments for me since I’m a true animal lover. It was our turn to be seated in the front of the bus. The shepherd stepped onto the bus with a four-week-old Border Collie puppy in his pocket, which he promptly handed to me! We then got off of the bus to watch the dogs do their work. Their enthusiasm and expertise was amazing to watch.
Cork was a treat. Ireland’s second-largest city was lively and inviting, and our side trip to Cobh was thought-provoking. There, we saw monuments to both the Titanic—which sailed from Cobh as its last port—and to the Lusitania, which sank not far off shore. An especially memorable statue honoring the Irish people who took to the sea in all manner of craft to save the Lusitania’a survivors overlooks the harbor. Colorful houses line the shoreline of Cobh, so it is not just a somber city.
As an animal lover, a visit to a farm for a sheep herding demonstration was especially memorable for Cynthia.
One of the things that surprised Barry and I most was the friendliness of the Irish people. Our own culture has taught us to be reserved and somewhat circumspect around strangers, especially those we meet on the street. The Irish had no qualms about coming up and asking us where we were from, and then engaging us in a lively conversation about both their country and ours. When this happened in St. Stephen’s Square in Dublin, we were a little skittish: Our jaded American minds wondered what the older gentleman who had just approached us was after. It turned out that he was coming from the National Library nearby, and he opened his briefcase to show us the books he had checked out. He regaled us with tales of his travels on the Orient Express through Siberia. He was delightful.
Dublin is a great city for walkers. We saw the Viking riches and Bog Bodies Research Project at the National Museum of Ireland, and the Book of Kells at Trinity College. As book lovers, Barry and I enjoyed the tiny Marsh Library on the grounds of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It contains amazing 300- and 400-year-old books, and the architecture of the place alone is worth the visit. We learned about the library from our wonderful and knowledgeable Program Director, Mick (Michael) Mulcahy, who seemed to know everything about everything, and was great at pointing out tiny, off-the-beaten-path treasures.
Beehive huts made without mortar were used by monks in the fourth to seventh centuries.
Barry and I had so many highlights from our Ireland trip, but the most memorable were our drives around the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry. The mountains, velvety green fields, and glistening silver sea made it one of the loveliest places we’ve ever seen. We also saw many ancient ruins, such as the tiny beehive huts built by monks 1,500 years ago, old famine cottages, and ruins of stone pillars with medieval writing on them. All of these places held so much history, it created a strong connection to our own ancient past. This trip only whetted our appetites for more of the same. We hope to return to Ireland some day …
Explore the magical landscapes of Ireland on our Ireland in Depth vacation.