Magical, Mystical, Delightful, Enchanting
Story and Photos by Beverly Cohn
Part 1: Days 1 -3
t is safe to say that one cannot visit Ireland too many times. This
was my second trip and I was just as deeply taken by the beauty of the
landscape, as well as the wonderful, joyous, fun-loving spirit of the
Irish people. This two-part feature is a sketch of the tour organized
by Tourism Ireland for a group of intrepid travel writers to share with
our vacation-bound readers. Part 1 will cover days one-three and Part
2 will cover days four-six. I hope you enjoy coming along for this incredible
ride, one that you might consider taking for yourself.
After a comfortable flight on Aer Lingus, several of us were
met at the Dublin Airport and were whisked away to the Merrion
Hotel, the only hotel to win the Gold Medal Award for Excellence
twice. It is located in Dublins City Centre, with a vast selection
of restaurants, pubs, and museums within walking distance, including
the pedestrian-friendly Grafton Street, a shoppers paradise, and
Stephen's Green Shopping Centre.
Welcoming lobby of Merrion Hotel
The hotel staff was friendly and made our brief stay
very comfortable. The rooms are spacious, bright, and tastefully decorated
and exquisite artwork is on display throughout the hotel. Oh yes, for
those of you who have had difficulty getting the this side up
slide room keys to always work, the Merrion offers magnetic, non-slide
keys that you simply touch to the lock and presto
the door opens.
With several castles on our itinerary, this would be
a good time to say a few words about them. It is estimated that there
are over 4,000 castles in Ireland, ranging from ruins and castle towers
to the regal castles of Irish chieftains and the very lavish castle
hotels such as the elegant Adair Manor or Ashford Castle. Filled with
fascinating history, according to legends, many of the castles come
complete with a resident ghost or two. It should be noted that originally
Irish castles were designed primarily for defense purposes and tended
to be less ostentatious than their British counterparts. Generally the
architecture in Ireland is a mix of Victorian, Georgian, and Medieval
Following a light lunch of tea sandwiches of smoked salmon and cream
cheese or turkey and pesto served with delicious coffee, our charming
guide extraordinaire Will Collins, who beguiled us with facts and fiction
and amazing folklore throughout the trip, scooped us up for a visit
to Dublin Castle, which was originally built in the 13th century on
a site settled by Vikings. The castle functioned as a military fortress,
prison, treasury, courts of law, and the seat of English colonial rule
in Ireland for 700 years until 1922, when it was handed over to the
new Irish State. It is interesting to note that Dublin got its name
from the Black Pool harbor, or Dubhlinn, which occupied the site of
the present castle gardens.
Dublin Castle Upper Yard
Castle has been transformed into a place of national prestige and
hosts State functions, including presidential inaugurations. The meticulously
preserved historic rooms, a fascinating look at the opulent days of
yesteryear, include The Throne Room, James Connolly Room, the King and
Queens Bedrooms (separate), The Drawing Room, and St. Patricks
Our quick-witted guide, Will Collins, in the Throne
St. Patrick's Hall - the most important ceremonial
room in Ireland.
Each room, like this Drawing Room, is exquisitely
appointed with ornate furniture, Waterford Crystal chandeliers, and
Hugh Lane Gallery.
A short jaunt from Dublin Castle, the gallery was started by Hugh
Lane as Dublins Municipal Gallery of Modern Art and for his
"services to art" in Ireland, was knighted in June 1909 at
the young age of 33. He became one of the foremost collectors and dealers
of Impressionist paintings in Europe, obtaining such works as La Musique
aux Tuileries by Manet,
Sur la Plage by Degas,
Les Parapluies by Renoir
and La Cheminée by Vuillard.
We had a fascinating private tour and our guide took great delight in
revealing insider gossip on how the museum acquired many of its paintings
that, sometimes bordered on guile and trickery.
Dinner was scheduled for 7:00 pm and our very hungry
group headed over to Bleu
Bistro Moderne, owned by restaurateur and award-winning chef, Eamonn
OReilly. This airy, bistro-style restaurant, located in Joshua
House on Dawson Street, has floor-to-ceiling windows, comfortable dark
brown leather banquettes, and wooden furniture. The menu is comprised
of European dishes with an Irish twist and includes such delectable
selections as Fermanagh Free Range Chicken with Mushroom Risotto, and
Red Wine Reduction, and Beef Bourguignon Pie, housed in Crisp Puff Pastry,
with Creamed Potatoes and Glazed Carrots. For a starter, I tried the
mouth-watering Warm Roast Aubergine and Goat Cheese, Tomato Fondue with
Pesto and for dessert, the sinful Apple Crème Brulee, but the
Lemon Rice Pudding with Blueberry Sorbet and Biscotti would also be
a yummy choice.
Warm Roast Aubergine and Goat Cheese, Tomato Fondue
It was a long day and after our delightful dinner, we
headed back to the Merrion Hotel for our first nights sleep in
Malahide Castle, one of the oldest and most historic
castles in Ireland.
Set in the lovely seaside town of Malahide,
on 250 acres of lush parkland, Malahide Castle is one of the oldest
and most historic castles in Ireland. Owned by the Talbot family for
almost 800 years, the home is furnished with authentic period furniture,
complimented by a large collection of Irish portrait paintings. If youre
lucky, you might get a glimpse of Puck, said to be the resident, but
The contours of Malahide's lush grounds have not
been altered very much for the last 800 years and are peaceful and perfect
Our next stop was the famous Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb, the
most famous of the three great Irish passage tombs of the Bru Na Boinne
complex. Built around 5,000 years ago by Neolithic farming communities
to house the remains of the dead, modern research suggests that Newgrange
is probably the oldest known astronomically aligned structure in the
world, predating Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
It is estimated that it would have taken a work force of 300 people
30 years to complete construction. It is likely that this was a place
of astrological, spiritual, religious, and ceremonial importance and
according to Irish mythology, it was the home of Oenghus, the God of
Newgrange predates Stonehenge in England and the
Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
Photo Credit: Knowth.com
One of the most famous aspects of Newgrange
Megalithic Passage Tomb is that at dawn on the Winter Solstice,
a shaft of sunlight enters the chamber through an opening in the roof-box
and the beam broadens as it moves down the passageway. This remarkable
event lasts for about 17 minutes on the Winter Solstice, as well a few
mornings before and after. This site is a definite must-see. To learn
more about Irelands amazing history visit www.heritageireland.com.
Castle Leslie has been home to the Leslie clan since
The Castle at Castle Leslie Estate.
By the time we arrived at Castle Leslie, a bit of relaxation was in
order. I was treated to a Victorian Back Massage in the Organic Victorian
Spa, followed by a steam in a Victorian Steam Box. Shaped like a vertical
coffin, the panels on either side enclose your body and only your head
sticks out, allowing the rest of you to be bathed in a gentle stream
of soothing steam. Ah yes.
This way to the spa.
Following our pampering, we were given a pre-dinner
special guided tour of the Castle
Leslie by Sir John Norman Ide "Jack" Leslie, 4th Baronet,
also known as Uncle Jack. Tall and stately, Uncle Jack looks like hes
straight out of central casting and clearly enjoys sharing the history
of his home in which his ancestors have lived since the 1660s.
94-year-old Uncle Jack moves quickly and gracefully
up down the stairs and in and out of the various rooms.
This 94-year-old gentleman moves quickly and gracefully
up and down the stairs and in and out of the various rooms, never missing
a beat in his story telling about the castles history and some
of its famous visitors, which included Winston Churchill, Mick Jagger,
Marianne Faithful, the Duke of Wellington, the Roosevelts, Wallis Simpson,
and was the site of Sir Paul McCartneys ill-fated marriage to
Sir Winston Churchill's christening robe is on display
in the castle.
Perhaps one of the things that keeps Sir John young
and engaged is the local night life and he can frequently be seen enjoying
himself at the Squealing Pig pub or disco dancing at The Forum. Only
80 minutes from Dublin, Castle Leslie is one the last bastions of family-run
castle hotels in Ireland. Nestled on 1,000 acres of rolling, lush countryside,
dotted with rural woods and lakes, the setting is perfect for an afternoon
or evening stroll through beautiful gardens and wandering paths and
do stop and sit in one of the gazebos for a few moments of peaceful
Timeout for a tranquil stop at one of the property's
Following our delightful visit with Uncle Jack, dinner
was served in Snaffles Brasserie located in the Hunting Lodge. The food
is classic Irish cooking based on the Leslie clans recipes dating
back centuries. Fresh ingredients are sourced daily and by the way,
the fresh-baked breads, scones and homemade preserves are simply divine.
Ulster American Folk Park.
The Ulster American Folk Park, in
Castletown, just outside Omagh
in Northern Irelands County
Tyrone is a sprawling outdoor living museum comprised of around
29 restored original cottages, each depicting the life and times of
the immigrants who emigrated from Ulster to America in the 18th and
19th centuries in search of a better life. The sparse furnishings in
each of the cabins, from the lamps to the chairs to the occasional bric-a-brac,
reveal how difficult life was.
A blacksmith's forge of the 19th century, one of
the restored original cottages.
The period costumed re-enactor in each cottage demonstrates
how daily tasks were executed, such as bread making, cooking, arts and
crafts, embroidery, forging, spinning, and printing and shared personal
tales about their lives.
One particularly interesting demonstration was in the
candle-lit Weavers Cottage, one of the few that had glass windowpanes,
a sign of wealth in those days. A young woman sat at the spinning wheel
and told stories of how she learned to sew as a child and that women
produced the yarn and the men were the weavers. As she turned the wheel,
she sang an Irish folk song about the monotony of life and told of the
origin of the word spinster, which came from unmarried women
who filled their time spinning. She showed us miniature replicas of
adult clothing and talked about the natural dyes derived from a moss-like
plant called lichen.
With peat burning in the fireplace, a costumed re-enactor
talks about the origin of the word “spinster” which came from unmarried
women who filled their time spinning.
Perhaps the most visceral experience was walking through
the life-size replica of an emigrant tall ship that has re-created the
harsh living conditions that had to be endured for up to the twelve
weeks it could take to reach America. Rows of wooden bunks housed up
to 200 people and with the lack of proper food and sanitation, death
was an everyday occurrence, with up to 50% of the passengers not surviving
the journey. Despite these horrendous conditions, the promise of a new
life compelled tens of thousands of people to take the risk. Once in
America, Ulstermen, who played a vital role in the history of the United
States, would build cabins similar to the ones they left behind in Ireland.
Farm animals roam freely around the park and perhaps
the only negative for an untrained nose is the intense smell of burning
peat, used for heating, which permeates the park. Most Irish people
like the smell because its familiar, but for the unfamiliar nose,
it can be overwhelming.
Scottish-style Glenveagh Castle.
Glenveagh National Park.
Following a light lunch at the Folk Parks Visitors Centre, we
were off to Glenveagh
National Park, one of six national parks in Ireland, for a tour
of the romantic Scottish-style castle and one of Irelands most
famous gardens. Located northwest of County Donegal, the park is a sprawling
40,873 acres of gorgeous scenery made up of mountains, lakes, glens,
and woods. If youre lucky, you might run into a herd of resident
red deer, one of two large herds in Ireland. Adding to the beauty, is
a stunning array of flowers splashing over the hillsides, creating a
dazzling carpet of vibrant colors.
The park is on 40,873 acres of gorgeous scenery made up of mountains, lakes, glens, and woods.
John George Adair built Glenveagh around 1870 and lived
in it until his death in 1885. Subsequently, the castle was occupied
by the IRA in 1922 but retreated when the Free State Army appeared.
Filled with well-preserved original furnishings, the 30-minute guided
tour will give you an in-depth peek into the lifestyle of a more elegant
Created over a hundred years ago, the gardens are
filled with a vast number
of exotic plants.
The Mill Restaurant.
After a full day of sightseeing and absorbing the awesome experiences,
more sensual sensations were to follow as we headed over for dinner
to the Mill Restaurant,
owned and operated by Susan Alcorn and her husband/chef Derek. Located
in Figart Dunfanaghy, Letterkenny Co. Donegal, the former flax mill
was purchased by her grandfather who was a famous watercolor artist,
and the property was his studio and home until he died in 1990. Since
then, the mill has been modernized and expanded to house a restaurant,
six en-suite bedrooms, and living quarters for the Alcorns.
Mill Restaurant's living room
Susan greeted us warmly upon our arrival and invited
us to relax in the tastefully furnished living room, set off by a stone
fireplace, where we were served cocktails and given a menu.
The restaurant's beautiful split-level dining room.
The dining room is split level encased by many windows
allowing an unobstructed view of the vista. Fresh flowers sit on the
tables and the room is enhanced with soft lighting, with antiques adorning
the little nooks and crannies scattered about the room.
The amazing Horned Head Crab with Avocado.
The restaurant has an extensive, mostly organic seasonal
menu. I selected the Horn Head Crab with Avocado and Sweet Corn Sorbet
as the starter, followed by Monaghan Chicken - Lemon and Garlic Free
Range Chicken with Sweet Pepper Risotto and a Tarragon Emulsion, followed
by a luscious Puree of Pea, Apple and Curry Soup with Natural Yogurt.
My meal was topped off with a refreshing Pink Grapefruit and Gin Sorbet.
What a scrumptious end to a scintillating day and time to check into
our next hotel.
Before leaving the restaurant, we got to enjoy a
spectacular sunset over New Lake.
Our evening was capped off by a stay at Arnolds
Hotel, family-owned since 1922 in Dunfanaghy, County. Donegal. With
the Sheephaven Bay serving as its backdrop, we were welcomed by a friendly
staff and were escorted to each of our rooms. If you like horseback
riding, their riding stables have the seal of approval from the Association
of Irish Riding Establishments, the British Horse Society B.H.S., and
the Irish Tourist Board. Weather permitting, you can take a stroll along
Killahoey Beach to work up an appetite for dinner and then celebrate
the end of the day with a pint in the Whiskey Fly Bar where you can
relax, unwind, and listen to traditional music.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Ireland - Magical, Mystical,