11 July, 2015
I was awake bright and early and checked out of Trinity college by 9am. The Taxi Rank for Trinity is just across the road from the Archway which is the usual meeting place. I got the first Taxi with a friendly driver who was quite happy to help me take my luggage into Terminal 2 Dublin Airport. There a ground staff member heped me up to the arrivals hall and then introduced me to the C.I.E. Tour guide. We waited for several passengers flying in from America before departing on a 90 minute transfer to the delightful Cabra Castle, our stopover for the night.
We drove along the freeway past lush green meadows and cottages. We crossed the river Dee into the county of Monahan and then onto Ulster. This part of Ulster is still in the Republic of Ireland and the currency is Euro. In the Northern Ireland part of Ulster the currency is Sterling.
The Cabra castle is as spectacular as advertised and has a real WOW factor. It is situated in the countryside 3 miles from the township of Kingscourt.The Castle sits on a 9 hole Golf course.There are beautiful flowers growing everywhere and when I walk from my suite down a side lane into the main entrance, a waft of delicate roses drifts through the air.
The Castle is as you would expect. Knights armour on every landing, Chandeliers, Tapestries, richly coloured carpets and drapes and enormous vases of flowers. The brass handrails gleam and the Chandeliers sparkle. Historical paintings hang on every wall. It really is lovely.
There was a large Wedding being held here this evening so I took photos of the Ballroom as it was being set up.
We enjoyed a welcome drink then a delicious dinner followed by some Irish dancing and lessons in the Irish Language. It is now time for bed. We have a big day tomorrow
12 July, 2015
It was hard to leave Cabra Castle. It was such a special hotel.
The weather was just perfect, sunny and mild. The driver Michael told us that it doesn’t rain in Ireland, it just sprinkles Holy Water!
The only difference that we noticed when entering Northern Ireland was that the street signs no longer displayed both Irish and English Language – just English. The lines marked on the road did not include the yellow, just white lines.
We drove around the Mourne Mountains to the Church in Down where St. Patrick is buried outside in the grave yard.
After lunch we took a Ferry ride, whilst remaining on board the coach, across Strangford Lough and drove through many Loyalist areas that had the Union Jack and Loyalist flags flying. It is Orangeman’s day today but being the Sabbath the Marches will be held tomorrow.
13 July, 2015
When our C.I.E Coach Driver Michael spoke to his wife last evening to tell her about the huge Bonfire set to be lit at midnight and the planned Orangemen’s marches she said to him “Michael get out of there!” Well, this morning at 8am he did his best to do just that and he guided us out of the city safely but not without a few hitches!
We drove past the remains of the huge bonfire still alight and took the route Michael had been advised to take out of Belfast.
You wouldn’t believe it. We ran smack bang into a feeder parade of Orangemen marching to converg on Belfast. In fact, we ended up in convoy along with all the traffic they were holding up and actually became part of the march! Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would join an Orangemen’s march! Several people on board In hushed voices that their deceased parents would “spin in their grave” if they knew they were in an Orangemen’s march. I thought the same thing!
Michael took several detours throughout the day to avoid getting caught up with the Marches but on two other occasions we ended up in the march again! Luckily they were peaceful and very orderly.
This morning we drove along the very beautiful coastal route “Nine Glens of Antrim”. We passed quaint fishing harbours, scenic countryside and through picturesque little villages until we arrived at Sheans heritage Farm in time for Tea with Scones. The lovely warm room and fresh scones were very welcome as it was only 17 degrees and “misty” outside.
Our four young ladies on board enjoyed going for a Horse ride while the rest of us learned about Turf (peat) cutting.
The warmth and smell of burning Peat is quite homely. I really like it.
Michael our driver gave everyone on board a giggle when I asked him if Turf was the same thing as Peat. Knowing I have Irish roots he quipped “It is called Turf. You go away for a holiday and come back all posh and call Turf “Peat” I joked back that my Prendergast family left Ireland 200 years! “Ah well, Michael pondered in a typically Irish fashion, It has been a while then”!
This afternoon we drove on to the Giant’s causeway, hexagonal columns formed by Volcanic activity over 60 Million years ago.
Christine from my UCC course, a Sydneysider, unbeknown to me was was staying at the same hotel in Belfast as we were. It was a lovely chance meeting and re-union when we saw each other in the restaurant over breakfast and later when she was at the Giant’s Causeway on a Monogram’s tour.
We caught up with all our news as we walked around the Giant’s Causeway Taking photos and later enjoyed a drink at the quaint pub there before each going our own way.We promised to stay in touch and tell each other about our latest genealogy findings.
We drove on to Derry this afternoon where we will spend the next two days.
14 July, 2015
Inside the living museum, we were able to immerse ourselves in the story of Irish emigration. With the help of costumed characters we were able to experience the emigrant adventure as we journeyed from the thatched cottages of Ulster, on board a full scale emigrant ship, to the log cabins of a new homeland on the American frontier.
The costumed guides gave us a vivid description. Margaret in the single room cabin with switch broom in hand explained how meagre the diet was during the days of the famine. How meals of potatoes were the staple diet and occasionally butter or buttermilk was added.
At the dock Alisdair captured our imaginations with his description of how emigrants arrived at the docks and how they often had to wait to board their ship to take them to their new homeland on the American Frontier. We boarded the replica of the early 1800’s Brig Union which carried families to Baltimore in 1816 and was said to be always a hive of activity.
Our guide Roland gave an excellent presentation on both the Derry medieval walls and about it’s twentieth century history. We visited the Town Hall that had been bombed during the troubles of the 1970 and now that it has been repaired, you would not know it – except for the missing hand on the Queen Victoria statue.
We later visited the Tower museum which had some very interesting exhibits including a recent archeological dig to retrieve an intact Spit fire that crashed into a paddock during the second World War.
15 July, 2015
I sat with Pat and her Husband George over breakfast this morning and they excitedly told me that tomorrow is their 50th Wedding Anniversary!
Inspired, I turned to Pat’s husband and said that today was the perfect day for them. Today, on the eve of their 50th Anniversary he would be able to show Pat all over again how much he loved her because he could be her “knight in shining Armour”and treat her like a Princess, take her to see some of the most beautiful pottery in the world and this evening read her romantic poetry by candle light.
You see today’s itinerary included visiting Donegal Castle built in the 15th century by an O’Donnell Chieftain. A visit to the Balleek factory to see how the craftspeople create the world-famous china and later in the day view the grave of W.B Yeats, the Nobel Prize-winning poet.
We were blessed with beautiful sunny weather and glorious scenery. Our group on board the coach is very friendly and enjoy the funny Irish jokes our driver tells.
We stopped at about 9.30 at the beautiful village of Donegal and visited the “Irish House” where we watched an interesting display of Weaving using the Loom to create Tweed. all whilst sipping on delicious Irish Coffee. Several of our group bought beautiful garments down stairs because the quality is exceptional.
At 10am we visited the Donegal castle and I took quite a few photos inside having made it to the upper floors. I had been challenged by the winding, narrow, slippery stone steps that led up stairs.
We travelled on to Belleek, back inside Northern Ireland, and had a very interesting tour of their factory. We had the opportunity to meet several of the Artisans who demonstrated their craft. It was lovely being able to purchase a “Ring Holder” signed by Rachael who had hand painted it. It actually takes about 16 People to craft one item.
“Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths. Enwrought with golden and silver light. The blue and the dim and the dark cloths of night and light and half light. I would spread the cloths under your feet. But I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”. W.B. Yeats.
I hope our friends celebrating their 50th Anniversary enjoyed the day as much as I did and I wish them many more years of happy marriage.
We are staying in Westport Mayo for the next two days and tomorrow visit a stately home.
16 July, 2015
Today was so different from yesterday’s beautiful sunny weather. It drizzled all day. Somehow though it didn’t seem to matter. It just enhanced the beauty of Mayo, Ireland’s “40 shades of green”.
The itinerary for day 6 of our C.I.E Northern Welcome coach tour was scheduled for our group to drive to Westport House and later to travel to Achill Island for lunch at the Beehive Restaurant. Later today we were scheduled to watch a sheep dog demonstrating his talent in herding sheep.
Westport House ticks all the boxes as a grand and luxurious stately home. The entrance is dazzling with a magnificent Waterford Chrystal Chandelier above an exquisite Marble staircase.
Our guide Caroline walked us through this magnificent house explaining all the features and enlightening us on some of the previous Marquis of Sligo. The first for example whose wife was Louisa found himself removed. She threw him out with a “I dismiss you” but made sure she kept his house and his title. That must have been one heck of a lover’s tiff!
The last, the 11th Marquis prior to his sad demise,was able to have the laws changed so that his five daughters benefitted from his Will. Sadly his title had to go to his Nephew as he fathered no male heir. His Nephew in Sydney Australia is now the 12th Marquis of Sligo. Must pop into his Real Estate Agency when next I am in Sydney and let him know that the family pile is in excellent hands! (just joking)
We drove over the picturesque Bridge to Archill Island via Newport, the area famous for Princess Grace of Monaco having Kelly Ancestors once living there. Princess Grace and Prince Rainier bought property and planned to live there in retirement. Sadly the car acccident that took Princess Grace’s life robbed them of that pleasure.
Achill is famous for being an area that was greatly affected by the potato famine and there are many grave stones marking graves in the cemetery of the victims. There are also many guttered stone houses now being lovingly restored by their new owners or those using the stones from these houses to build new homes as is required by law.
As we drove back through the township of Westport, I decided to get off the Coach and have another look at this pretty town.
Several alighted the coach with me but the enthusiastic sheep lovers in our midst – yes, that is you Dolly and Lillee, were very excited at watching the well trained and clever sheep dog herding the sheep. I can’t wait to hear their report tomorrow.
17 July, 2015
Driving along Military Road under cover of darkness with just a spark of light from the street lamps was very earie, especially knowing that this was the very road that was built by the English in 1800 to assist in putting down Irish rebels who still remained in the mountains following the 1798 Rebellion.
But I digress, I will tell you about that later.
Daniel on Reception here at the Stillorgan Park Hotel could not have been more helpful when I explained that my internet connection was failing. It turned out that my Ipad was just “travel weary”. After all, it has been on holiday with me, staying at lots of lovely hotels and driving along safely with Michael on our Northern Welcome C.I.E. Tour. Like me about now, it just needed a re-boot!
Day 7 of our C.I.E Tour started out cold and wet – lots of “Holy Water” being sprinkled today.
Our Itinerary was to drive to Galway for a walking tour of the city centre. Travel through the centre of Ireland to visit Kilbeggan Distillery, the oldest distillery in the world, to see artisanal whiskey production. This Evening in Dublin we were to head out for lively traditional entertainment and dinner.
When we arrived in Galway is was very cold, windy and wet. Still, being the stoic travellers that we are we “soldiered on” and were guided through the steets of Galway. President John F. Kennedy had been a well loved President not only by his people in America but also by his Irish extended family when he visited.
We stopped at the spot in the park that now has a monument depicting sails made of copper, the very spot where JFK stood talking to his Irish family – several thousand of them.
We walked past statues of famous writers and poets, along historical streets and then visited another St. Nicholas of Myra church. The name of the church being the same as the one where my 5x Grandfather was baptised in Dublin. Our guide teasingly told us that the St.Nicholas or Santa Clause as we have grown to know and love him, wore green in Ireland but his outfit changed colour to red when his popularity reached America!
I revisited the historical Thomas Dillon store. The makers of the original Claddah ring, the traditional Irish Wedding ring. I love the poem that best describes this ring and the Irish sentiment. “The hands are for friendship. The heart is for love. And loyalty is shown with the crown up above”. I love the fact that the ring worn with the heart facing inwards means that your heart is taken, worn with the heart facing out means that your heart is ready to love.
We drove on to the
Kilbeggan Distillery and I found learning about the process of making Kilbeggan Whisky fascinating and the sample later very tasty. We were even permitted to keep our shot glasses afterwards!
This evening capped off another enjoyable day when we visited the
“Merry Ploughboy” pub. It’s flyer proudly declares “before the act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1800, before the French Revolution in 1789 and even before America won its independence in 1783, this public house has served as a cosy gathering place.
Tonight as we enjoyed a delicious meal, top quality entertainment of Irish Ballads and exceptional Irish dancing, I had a lovely evening seated on a long banquet table beside Elaine and Gordon from New Zealand. We joined in with the singing and clapping to the tunes and lots of shared talk and laughter.
At the end of the show we walked across Military Road to catch the Coach back to our hotel. We drove along Military Road at twilight. The very road built by the English in 1800 on their hunt for Irish Rebels hiding out in the Wicklow Mountains. Again I have walked in the footsteps of my Ancestors. How spooky is that?
18 July, 2015
Taking the Dublin bus into the CBD from the Stillorgan Park Hotel this morning was easier than I imagined it would be. The buses run frequently even on a Saturday. Every 10 minutes. The drivers are friendly and helpful and even when they have a full load, they will let you know where your stop is if you ask them when boarding. The price was just €2.80. Exact coinage was necessary as the driver is unable to give you change. This rule is for security reasons.
As the Stillorgan Hotel is situated on the south side of Dublin, it was necessary to take the bus into the city to join the green Dublin hop on hop off bus.
I joined the Green bus and enjoyed hearing about St. stephen’s Green, the largest city square in Europe, Dublin Castle and it’s important historical events and many other interesting buildings and Parks.
I had travelled a short distance planning to continue on to Kilmainham Gaol when I decided to use my complimentary ticket to the Guinness Storehouse.
Lucky I did. Just as I was getting off the driver let me know that the Kilmainham Gaol was fully booked and closed for the day to any new admitances. as I was holding a Voucher pre-booked by C.I.E. I was able to queue jump and go straight in to the Guinness Storehouse
Although I am not a Beer drinker, I enjoyed seeing Guinness Storehouse. I met a lovely couple from Melbourne who allowed me to join them over lunch. They were also doing some family history research in Ireland.
The tour of Guinness was very well organised and although there were about 1000 people in the building, it did not feel crowded. The only room that was noisy was the Gravity Bar where everyone was redeeming their complimentary pint. The 360 degree view over Dublin was spectacular.
This will be my last Irish blog for the present as I fly to Paris tomorrow to enjoy a River cruise.