Gallarus Oratory, an early Christian church build
1300 years ago.
Land of Smiling Irish Eyes
Words & Photos by Beverly Cohn
reland. There is something quite magical about the name and when you
say you are going to visit the Emerald Isle, people smile and say how
lucky you are to be going. Ireland conjures up many wonderful images.
Beautiful blue-eyed colleens and mythical leprechauns, lively music
and dancing in neighborhood pubs, a rich archeological and literary
heritage, and friendly, oh so friendly people, are all part of the Irish
The trip began in Limerick and yes, it is the home of
the limerick which was created as a code to fool authorities. Only a
15-minute drive from Shannon Airport, this charming city is one of Irelands
main tourist attractions, some of which include King Johns Castle,
Limerick Museum, and St. Marys Cathedral. For pure entertainment,
check out Dolans Warehouse where you can catch some lilting traditional
The landscape is dotted with brightly-colored, beautifully
maintained homes, reflecting Irish national pride.
Driving along the country roads, the lush green landscape,
which is dotted with a bright yellow weed called gorse, is filled with
grazing sheep and cows. An agricultural society, Ireland is said to
have extremely fine beef, 90% of which is exported to Europe. There
are strict feeding guidelines as set by the European Union and Department
of Agriculture, and the cows are virtually hormone free. Prized Kerry
lamb is among the finest in the world.
Our group was fortunate to have assigned to it Will
Collins, a fabulous guide, who regaled us with historic facts as well
as his Irish wit and witticisms. Laughter was the order of the day and
this is no blarney. For example, explaining the verdant countryside,
Collins said, It only rained twice last year, once for seven months
and once for five months."
Picturesque stone walls can be seen throughout this
southern region. During the 1845-1849 Great Potato Famine, which destroyed
Irelands main food crop, over a million people died, while another
one to two million immigrated abroad. Britain, who was thought to be
quite supportive of the famine, forbade the landlords to feed their
tenant farmers who then hired them to build these stone
walls paying them a penny a day, plus a piece of bread and a bowl of
soup. This is how the wealthy landowners were able to provide for their
people, without breaking Britains ominous restrictions.
Guide Will Collins in front of Johnnie Storan's
Bar, established in 1868
in the city of Croon.
What Irish adventure would be complete without visiting
its famous pubs. The first stop was Johnnie Storans Bar, established
in 1868 in the city of Croon. It was early in the day, but not too early
for some of the local gentlemen to gather on old, well-worn stools,
a pint in hand, to watch a game of Irish football, a rugged form of
soccer and according to our amusing guide The best time to rob
a bank is during a match.
Historically, the pub is the central meeting point and
the hub of society. However, being the first European country to ban
smoking, coupled with a more vigorous enforcement of drunk driving,
pubs are feeling the pinch. Collins quips, The new going out is
staying home. That said, we saw no evidence of a sparse attendance
in any of the pubs we visited. Delightful music and dancing abounded
wrapped in the ever-present Irish charm and an empty seat was hard to
come by. By the way, the Irish speak Irish, not Gaelic.
The drive to the Dingle Peninsula took us through an
assortment of little towns where our van squeezed its way though tiny,
winding, picturesque streets. Framed by majestic mountains and beckoning
sandy beaches, the scenery is stunning, decorated with beautifully maintained,
brightly painted homes. There is a wealth of archaeological remains
thought to date back to 7000 BC, and, of course, the very famous Conor
Pass, the highest mountains pass in Ireland.
Of particular interest is the 1300-year-old Gallarus
Oratory, an early-Christian church. An excellent example of medieval
stone work, it was built without mortar, using a technique called corbelling,
dating from Neolithic times whereby stones are laid at a slight angle
allowing rainwater to run off. Despite being buffeted by Atlantic gales
for centuries, the structure remains waterproof to this day. If youre
planning a fall vacation, this years Dingle Food and Wine Festival
will be held October 2-4.
Ancient rock circle.
One of the most popular destinations in Ireland is the
Ring of Kerry. With its panoramic views offering incredible photo opportunities,
the circular drive can be taken in one day. However, with its narrow,
winding roads, unless you are very skilled at driving on the wrong
side of the road, it is recommended that you take one of the guided
tours, most of which depart from Killarney. The drive will take you
along the banks of the river Laune until Killorglin, the home of Puck
Fair, offering you astonishing views of the beach at Glenbeigh and the
Blasket Islands at the mouth of Dingle Bay. If you stop in Caherciveen,
take the elevator to the top of the former barracks and see miles and
miles of countryside.
Valentia Island is worth a visit. Waterville and Derrynane
are known worldwide for their beaches, walks and angling, as well as
their archaeological sites. From here, your route takes you to the most
picturesque village of Sneem, and to Kenmare. The journey takes you
back to Killarney from Molls Gap.
The town of Killarney is filled with craft shops, galleries,
museums, cafes, and restaurants and offers opportunities to buy your
souvenirs or special gifts. Free concerts are offered at St. Marys
Church of Ireland featuring traditional Irish music and dancers as well
as story telling. A must do while in Killarney is a ride on a horse-drawn
jaunting car through the 25,000 acre Killarney National Park. A peaceful
refuge from cars and people, but if your driver is Billy Tagney, prepare
yourself for side-splitting Irish humor which will leave you gasping
for breath. The park also houses one of Irelands most impressive
waterfalls and hiking trails.
Another very interesting Ring of Kerry attraction is
Kells Bay Gardens which is an extraordinary collection of sub-tropical
plants and trees. The guide at this tropical paradise walked us through
the various sections including River Walk, the Walled Garden, the awesome
Primeval Forest which houses a huge selection of giant tree ferns, and
the Palm & Succulent Garden, home to the largest palm tree in Ireland.
Castles, hotels, and quaint B & Bs are abundant
and with tourism down because of the world-wide depressed economy, a
vacation in Ireland is more affordable than ever. Several exceptional
hotels will be listed at the end of this article, but one in particular
stands out because of a unique characteristic.
The most elegant Ashford Castle.
Right out of a storybook Ashford Castle, located in
County Mayo, is a magnificent structure dating back to 1228 when monks
began its construction. It became a summer home of the Guinness family
until it opened as a hotel just before the start of World War II. Some
rooms are tucked away in turrets and the 350 acres provides a range
of country sports from horseback riding to fishing to clay pigeon shooting.
One of its most distinguishing features is that it is
home to Irelands School of Falconry and offers you a hands-on
experience of actually flying a hawk. Trainer Debbie Knight explained
that the females are bigger and more efficient than the males and that
the falcon is the fastest living thing as it can dive at up to 246 miles
an hour in pursuit of its prey. As far as being warm and fuzzy, Knight
said, They are not like pets and there is no loyalty or affection.
The falconer does everything to please the birds, building a trust that
once betrayed, cannot be restored. Lest anyone be concerned about
these magnificent creatures being in captivity, their life expectancy
in the wild is seven to eleven years, while they live 20 years in this
The southwestern part of Ireland abounds in treasures
and athletic activities from mountain climbing, hiking, kayaking, cycling,
to surfing, or golf, as Ireland is home to 53 world-famous links and
champions, including Tiger Woods, have played there. For those wanting
a non-athletic experience, there are countless tours available and the
best resource would be discoverireland.com where you can access information
on the enchanting Irish experience that awaits you.
All hotels listed have excellent, friendly service,
lovely rooms with Fine amenities.
No. 1 Pery Square,
Co. Limerick. Combines its historic Georgian roots with elegance
Adare Manor, Limerick.
A breathtaking castle hotel and golf resort. Amenities galore.
Hotel, Co. Kerry. Charming, old world décor.
Park Hotel, Kerry. 5-Star hotel with elegant rooms, full service
spa, and gracious service..