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IRELAND

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15 DAYS FROM $3,195 • $ 213 / DAY
Grand Circle Tour

Enhanced! Ireland in Depth

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Days in Ireland
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Small Ship Adventure

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Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

1 2 3 4 5

Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderate

Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5

Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

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Recommended Viewing

Watch this video showcasing what makes this country so unforgettable

ReelEarth: Marc Mulholland: An Irish Basketball Story

Follow Marc Mulholland’s journey as he overcomes health issues and transforms basketball culture in Northern Ireland with an NCAA tournament held in Belfast.

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Ireland: Month-by-Month

There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.

Ireland in January-February

While Ireland is a year-round travel destination, it can get quite chilly during January and February—but perhaps not as cold as one would expect during the height of winter. Frost is common, but it seldom snows and temperatures rarely drop much below freezing. With the winds blowing off the Atlantic throughout the year, dressing in layers is almost always advisable. Many rural sights may not be open during these months but cities like Dublin are crowd-free and it’s also the most inexpensive time of year to explore the wonders of the Emerald Isle.

Holidays & Events

  • February 1: Saint Brigid’s Day, a celebration of Ireland's most important female saint, also marks the beginning of spring.
  • February (or early March): Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) is more popularly known as Pancake Day in Ireland, where the tradition of eating pancakes developed as a way to use up stocks of milk, butter, and eggs—items forbidden during the abstinence of Lent.

Must See

Temple Bar TradFest is an annual five-day music and culture festival that takes place in late January and celebrates traditional Irish and folk music at various venues in Dublin’s cultural quarter of Temple Bar.

Watch this film to discover more about Ireland

Smart Travels with Rudy Maxa: Ireland’s West Coast

Be charmed by the Celtic culture that abounds on Ireland’s west coast with Emmy-award winning travel expert Rudy Maxa.

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Ireland in March-April

Weather in Ireland is unpredictable, but during the spring months of March and April temperatures generally range from the mid-40s to the mid-50s (°F). With the onset of milder weather, markets open and flowers start to bloom throughout the countryside. Although it can rain at any time, April is also one of the sunniest months of the year in Ireland—and as far as March goes, most people in Ireland say that with St Patrick’s Day falling on the 17th, the weather during this month doesn’t matter at all! 

Holidays & Events

  • Late April: Cúirt International Festival of Literature is a six-day international literary event that takes place in Galway. 

Must See

There’s no bigger celebration in Ireland than on March 17—St Patrick’s Day. Ireland’s national holiday features parades and festivals celebrating Irish culture in almost every city and town—with the biggest parade in Dublin.

Watch this film to discover more about Ireland

Smart Travels with Rudy Maxa: Ireland’s West Coast

Be charmed by the Celtic culture that abounds on Ireland’s west coast with Emmy-award winning travel expert Rudy Maxa.

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Ireland in May-June

May and June are two of Ireland’s most pleasant traveling months, with temperatures averaging in the mid- to high-60s (°F). Not quite peak tourist time yet, May and June are perfect for witnessing Ireland’s trademark green countryside or viewing the wildlife in the picturesque islands scattered along the west coast. 

Holidays & Events

  • May: Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival is an annual festival of music, art, and literature that takes place during the first weeks of May in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.
  • Mid June: Bloomsday celebrates the life of James Joyce with events of his novel Ulysses relived along the streets of Dublin.
  • Late June: Cork Midsummer Festival is a massive annual arts festival at various venues in Cork that features dance, theater, music, food, and more.

Watch this film to discover more about Ireland

Smart Travels with Rudy Maxa: Ireland’s West Coast

Be charmed by the Celtic culture that abounds on Ireland’s west coast with Emmy-award winning travel expert Rudy Maxa.

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Ireland in July-August

July and August are peak travel times in Ireland, with cities and coastal locales seeing their biggest crowds of the year. This is also the warmest time to visit—yet temperatures rarely make it even into the 70s (°F). Adding to the allure of these summer months are long days (with 6am sunrises and 10pm sunsets), calm seas, and the opening of all parks, restaurants, museums, and sightseeing attractions throughout the country.

Holidays & Events

  • July: The Galway International Arts Festival features two weeks of live music, theater, street performances, and more in the city of Galway.
  • Late August: The Auld Lammas Fair, Ireland’s oldest traditional market fair, is held each year in Northern Ireland’s coastal town of Ballycastle.

Watch this film to discover more about Ireland

Smart Travels with Rudy Maxa: Ireland’s West Coast

Be charmed by the Celtic culture that abounds on Ireland’s west coast with Emmy-award winning travel expert Rudy Maxa.

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Ireland in September-October

Considered the “shoulder season” in Ireland, this is when the tourist crowds begin to thin out, B&Bs start to close, and the hillsides turn purple as the heather flowers—with the changing hues of the season reaching their peak in October. With cooler temperatures, twelve hours of daylight, and fewer crowds, this is still a great time to visit Ireland. 

Holidays & Events

  • Late September: Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival attracts people from around the world to witness culinary events and indulge in oysters and other bounty from the sea.
  • Mid October: Kinsale Gourmet Festival is a two-day celebration of local food in a variety of restaurants around the seaside town of Kinsale.

Must See

The All-Ireland Football Finals are typically held in September, attracting sports fans from around the country and around Europe.

Watch this film to discover more about Ireland

Smart Travels with Rudy Maxa: Ireland’s West Coast

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Ireland in November-December

The winter months can be cold and dreary in Ireland, but holiday festivities get underway at the beginning of December, with bustling Christmas markets and towns and cities aglow with decorative lights. And with all the crowds gone, the countryside offers visitors serene and delightful scenes of frost-covered hills and trees.

Holidays & Events

  • December 26: Wren Day is an Irish tradition consisting of “hunting” a fake wren, putting it on top of a decorated pole, and groups of locals dressing up and parading through towns and villages.

Watch this film to discover more about Ireland

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Featured Reading

Immerse yourself in Ireland with this selection of articles, recipes, and more

ARTICLE

The castles of the British Isles each have a story to tell. Read about some of the best here.

ARTICLE

It's a harbor of new beginnings and tragic endings, a port once named for a queen, and the location of a towering Gothic cathedral ...

RECIPE

Enjoy the flavors of the Emerald Isle with this recipe for Ireland’s national dish.

RECIPE

Learn how to make Irish soda bread with this recipe.

Written in Stone

Castles of the British Isles each have a story to tell

by David Valdes Greenwood, for Grand Circle

William the Conqueror. Richard the Lionheart. Henry VIII. It’s hard to imagine these iconic rulers commanding their kingdoms from any other setting than a castle. Yet these fortifications didn’t come into being until 1066, when William first began constructing them as military bulwarks. The first castles were mixed use, equal part military stronghold and living quarters. Soon, they became the homes from which royals and nobles ruled.

Over time, castles came to contain all the elements of feudal life in one setting: the ruling class, the servant class, and soldiers who defended them all. With medieval standards of living, castles were cold and dark much of the time, but became ever more elaborately decorated over the years, and the scene of the grandest pageantry of the day. With groundskeepers, stable hands, kitchen staff, and servants living in or near the castles, in addition to the lords and the military, these strongholds were like miniature cities unto themselves, often long before cities appeared.

The castles of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales have since become iconic symbols of history and culture, and each has a story of its own. With no one-size-fits-all approach to feudal architecture, these seats of power are as varied and colorful as the nations in which they rise.

Shoring up the Isles of Scilly

Like any island, Tresco was vulnerable to attack from the sea, and, with a central location among the Isles of Scilly, being captured provided its holders with access to other islands. Despite the first castle being named for King Charles, it was actually young King Edward VI who determined that Tresco was at risk of falling into the hands of the covetous French, and he ordered construction of a worthy fortress in the mid-16th century.

Built in the shape of a semi-hexagon, King Charles’s Castle boasted a massive central chamber with openings that gave its crew the ability to fire on vessels below in five directions simultaneously. This would have been more impressive had the architects considered their design a little more carefully. Because the edifice rose a full 130 feet over the harbor, the only way to fire its weapons was to aim them dramatically downward; but in this position, cannonballs simply rolled out before they could be fired. Only interlopers who came ashore were in actual danger, as soldiers above were well-armed with bows and arrows. No wonder then, that in 1651 during the English Civil War, the anti-royalist forces led by Robert Blake simply sailed past the harbor and went ashore elsewhere, to take not only Tresco but St. Mary’s, the next island.

To embellish his point, Blake sent a team to partially blow up King Charles’s Castle, then used some of the rubble as stone for a new castle. Named for Oliver Cromwell, this castle was closer to the harbor and was thus actually useful. With its six gun ports on a two-story façade, it was definitely the bigger, badder brother to the first castle. Showing more foresight than Edward VI, Blake got it right: No one could gain control of the island without passing in the line of fire from the castle. Meanwhile, its shape and size made it unlikely that the castle could be destroyed from sea—and, in fact, it still stands.

In for a pretty penny, out for a pound

Although some castles changed hands due to political shifts or as the spoils of war, 15th-century Kisimul Castle off the Isle of Barra in Scotland has been strongly associated with the fortunes of a single family for nearly 600 years. For most of that time, this castle—which covers an islet but seems from a distance to float on the water—was the property of Clan MacNeil, which traces its roots back to a legendary High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages. The head of the MacNeil family was called the chief and 20 consecutive chiefs oversaw Kisimul as their own.

In 1838, however, with the family fortunes falling, the 40th chief sold the island (and with it, the castle), and much of the clan moved to America, Canada, and other English-speaking lands. With no clan to maintain the castle, it fell into disrepair, some of its masonry being hauled away for paving stone. But 100 years later, Robert Lister MacNeil, an America-born clan descendant, determined to set things right. Using all of the money he’d earned as an architect in the States, as well as most of his wife’s inheritance, he bought back the island and set to work restoring the castle, which became one of Scotland’s treasures as the only remaining significant medieval castle in the Hebrides.

In 2011, 46th clan chief Roderick MacNeil, trying to avoid letting the island fall into disrepair ever again, made an unusual offer: The family would lease the castle to Historic Scotland, a National Trust organization, for 999 years. The terms? Rent of one British pound per year—and a bottle of Scotch whisky. It was an offer Scotland could not refuse.

Haunted house

At Dublin’s Malahide Castle, many families and political factions have walked the halls—and some, it is said, still do. Built in the 12th century by King Henry II of England and given as home to the family of his knight Sir Richard Talbot, the stone manse was expanded in the 18th century to include more imposing towers, and boasts a 22-acre garden with 5,000 species of plants. But what makes Malahide Castle stand out in the Irish imagination is its legendary ghosts, an array of colorful figures from 800 years of history.

There’s Miles Corbet, who sided with Oliver Cromwell against King Charles I in the English Civil War, and briefly claimed the castle. After Cromwell’s overthrow, Corbet was hung, drawn, and quartered, to set a grisly example for future anti-monarchists. His was the first ghost said to haunt the castle, often in full armor. As if it is not enough to encounter a ghost to begin with, his specter might fall apart, separating into quarters before your eyes.

Corbet was followed by Walter Hussey, who was murdered by a spear-throwing rival on his way to his own wedding. Adding to insult to (fatal) injury, his bride-to-be later married the rival, so Hussey’s ghost is said to wander the halls clutching his side asking if anyone has seen his former sweetheart. One Malahide couple, Maud Plunkett and her husband the Lord Chief Justice, never parted at all—it’s said that she can be seen chasing him through the castle at night, hounding him in the afterlife the way she is said to have done in their mortal years.

Puck, the four-foot-tall jester, haunts Malahide in a different fashion. He provided amusements for the ruling family and fell in love with Lady Elenora Fitzgerald, who had been detained at the castle under suspicion of plotting against King Henry VIII. Puck was found murdered, likely by pro-Henry forces, but his death was attributed to suicide. Legend says his ghost promised never to hurt anyone, and that remains true. But he also refuses to be forgotten and is said to show up unwanted in photographs taken inside the castle.

The original dream home

One of the oldest Welsh tales is that of Macsen Wledig, emperor of the Western Roman Empire in Britain, who dreamed of sailing a ship and crossing the sea to a land that was home to the world’s greatest castle and most beautiful maiden. After leaving Britain for Rome, the emperor found no such castle or maiden, and sank into despair. He sailed back to Britain—but when he ventured ashore in Wales, he found a castle at Caernarfon as great as he imagined, and a maiden beyond his hopes. He settled there, refusing to ever return to Rome. Macsen Wledig was a real person but the story was a myth, created long after his passing, which somehow caught the Welsh fancy. By the time Edward I ruled the British Empire in the 13th century, the story was part of local lore, and Edward was determined to build a castle as impressive as the one of legend. Replacing a smaller castle (which itself had replaced a smaller Roman fort that bore no resemblance to Macsen’s grand dream), mighty Caernarfon Castle rose in less than five years, with massive polygonal towers, multicolored stone meant to invoke the glories of Constantinople, and a stone enclosure wall that encompassed all of the original town as well.

Impressed with his own handiwork, Edward determined to make this castle a formal part of British royal tradition. He achieved this by insisting that his wife be moved to Caernafon for the birth of their first child, so that the Prince of Wales would be, in fact, English. To this day, Caernafon is the site of investiture for the Prince of Wales, including His Royal Highness Prince Charles in 1969.

It is likely that Prince William will follow suit, should his father Charles assume the throne in the coming years.

Last queen standing

Not every royal family is as close as the current House of Windsor. Mary, Queen of Scots, maintained a running battle with cousin Queen Elizabeth I that can only be called epic.

Mary’s seat of power seemed secure enough: Edinburgh Castle sits atop a chunk of 350-million year-old volcanic rock 390 feet above sea level, a truly immutable base. But even before she arrived in the 16th century, the castle had evolved multiple times over the years. First built in 1093 as the Castle of the Maidens, it had been damaged often in the continual battles with the English, requiring a steady stream of repairs. In 1360, King David II added 90-foot towers, and a century later, King James III brought the rest of the castle into line with more elegant furnishings and elaborate royal apartments.

Mary was by far the most famous of its residents, but when Elizabeth forced Mary to abdicate, a cadre of Mary’s supporters barricaded themselves in the castle to support their queen and sustain local rule. That turned out to be a bad idea, because Elizabeth, at her boiling point, simply gave orders to retake the castle. Her forces did considerable damage—including felling David’s mighty towers—in the process. The nobles lost, Mary was later executed, and the castle itself never recovered its height. Nonetheless, like all great castles, its value to the culture, and the history written in its stonework, endures to this day.

Castles of the British Isles each have a story to tell

Then & Now: Cobh

It's a harbor of new beginnings and tragic endings, a port once named for a queen, and the location of a towering Gothic cathedral. Cobh, a little town on Ireland’s southern coast in County Cork, has a history as colorful as the houses dotting its waterfront today.

Between 1848 and 1950, around six million Irish people emigrated to the United States, and nearly half of these men, women, and children departed from Cobh (pronounced like cove)the world’s second-largest natural port next to Sydney Harbour. The port at Cobh was renamed Queenstown in light of Queen Victoria’s first visit to the town in 1849, and it kept the title until the Irish Free State reinstated its original namesake in 1920. The hardships Irish emigrants faced on treacherous seas were lessened only by their hope to escape poor living and agricultural conditions for a new chance at life.

As many left their homeland, others stayed to build one of the most stunning and intricate Catholic cathedrals in Europe. The large Gothic St. Colman’s Cathedral can be seen from the ocean as it sits stoically on a hill overlooking the seaport town—it took 47 years to build, and houses the largest pipe organ in Ireland and Britain.

Of course, Cobh is also known for being the last port of call of the Titanic. On April 11, 1912, the ship set off for a voyage which many would not survive. Cobh has both a memorial garden and a museum commemorating those who lost their lives in the sinking of the ship. Just a few years later, the Lusitania sank off the coast of Cork, and the loved ones of those who died were greeted with compassion by Cobh townsfolk who helped them bury victims in the nearby Old Church Cemetery.

Despite the tragedy in much of its maritime history, Cobh is remembered today as a vehicle that helped Irish emigrants pursue their dreams in the New World.

Today, the port town is popular for Cork residents as a weekend getaway, as well as for tourists from around the world who wish for a glimpse of its elaborate history. It’s also Ireland’s only official cruise ship terminal, and visitors come via cruise ship to go bird watching, fishing, and see many of the sights that commemorate the fallen of both the Titanic and the Lusitania, like the Titanic Trail. It's also the present headquarters of the Irish Naval Service.

You can experience this quaint little seaside town for yourself on our Ireland in Depth vacation.

Learn about another destination you’ll visit on this vacation in our article, “County Kerry: Land of Lakes, Loss, and Legend.”

Read Article >>

The year was 1848 ...

Recipe: Irish Guinness Beef Stew

Irish Stew is the national dish of the Emerald Isle. It came about in the 18th century, invented by poor Irish farmers who, in times of famine, had little else to eat but potatoes and mutton, cut from sheep that were too old to produce wool, milk, or anything else of value.

Using just these simple ingredients, these resourceful folk produced a hearty and delicious dish whose virtues were extolled in a ballad from the 1800s, “Then hurrah for an Irish stew / That will stick to your belly like glue.”

Some traditionalists may insist that a real Irish Stew should consist of nothing more than meat and potatoes, but this recipe takes advantage of the comforts of the modern era and adds a few more ingredients. Instead of mutton, you’ll be using beef—a well-marbled cut is ideal, as the fat makes the stew more flavorful, and the beef will become nice and tender as it cooks. And, in addition to some extra vegetables for taste (and nutrition), you’ll add a splash of extra stout Guinness, to make the stew just a little more Irish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds well-marbled chuck beef stew meat, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 3 teaspoons of salt (more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups beef stock or broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup of Guinness extra stout
  • 1 cup of hearty red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 7 cups)
  • 1 large onion, chopped (1 1/2 to 2 cups)
  • 2 cups 1/2-inch pieces peeled carrots and/or parsnips (3 to 4 carrots or parsnips)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  1. First, brown the beef. Dust the pieces with a teaspoon of salt while you heat the olive oil in a large thick-bottomed pan on the stove top at medium-high heat. Pat the beef with paper towels until dry and place in the bottom of the pan. Don’t stir—let each piece become well-browned on one side, then use tongs to flip them over. You’ll need to do this in batches to avoid crowding; the beef won’t brown properly without space left between each piece. Place each browned piece on a plate to the side once you’ve finished. The browning process will leave a residue on the bottom of the pan—leave it, as it adds to the flavor.
  2. After all the beef is browned, place it all back into the pan, along with the garlic. Sauté for about 30 seconds, then stir in the beef stock, water, red wine, tomato paste, sugar, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, and Guinness (the recipe calls for 1 cup; dispose of the rest of the bottle as you please). 
  3. Heat the mixture until it begins to simmer, then reduce to the lowest setting. Cover the pan and let it cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  4. While the stew simmers, grab a separate pan and melt the butter over medium heat. Mix in the onions and carrots and sauté for 15 minutes, or until the onions become golden. Once you’re finished sautéing, turn off the heat and put the vegetables to the side until the stew is finished simmering.
  5. After one hour of simmering, add the onions, carrots, and potatoes to the stew mixture. Toss in the black pepper and two teaspoons of salt. Simmer for an additional 40 minutes, uncovered, or until the beef becomes tender. Discard the bay leaves and remove excess fat from the stew with a spoon while tilting the pan.
  6. Add parsley, salt, and pepper to taste, and serve, or refrigerate for later. 

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time : 1 hour, 50 minutes

Servings: 4-6

 

Irish Guinness Beef Stew recipe: Get a taste of Ireland

Recipe: Irish Soda Bread

How to Make Irish Soda Bread

Bring the warmth of an Irish kitchen into your home with this quintessential soda bread recipe.

Courtesy of Epicurious
06:54 | 1409 views
0

Courtesy of Epicurious

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup dark raisins
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1 cup cold milk

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it lightly with cooking spray or lining it with parchment paper.
  2. Sift the flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt together into a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse meal.
  3. Add the raisins, caraway seeds, and milk. Mix the dough until just combined; avoid overmixing as this will cause the dough to toughen.
  4. Turn the dough into a lightly floured surface. Press the dough into a ball. Form the dough into two equal loaves, or cut into sixteen equal pieces to make rolls. Dust with flour and lightly score an "X" across the top of each roll or loaf with a sharp knife.
  5. Bake the soda bread until it is lightly browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, about eight to ten minutes for rolls and twenty-five minutes for loaves. Wrap the bread in a tea towel directly out of the oven. Cool the soda bread in the tea towel on a wire rack before serving. It can be held at room temperature for up to two days or frozen for up to four weeks.

Servings: Makes two loaves or sixteen rolls.

Soda Bread recipe: Get a taste of Ireland

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