Our trip to Ireland was wonderful, and I'm SO glad that we were able to go and enjoy this amazing country full of unique and engaging people. I can recommend Trafalgar Tours enthusiastically and their 10-day Best of Ireland experience. Click this link if you'd like to check out the itinerary in detail. In April of 2020, we had booked a 14-day trip to England, Ireland and Scotland, but, of course, Covid caused it to be canceled. I think we did the right thing in concentrating on one country when we rebooked, because now I feel I know much more about Ireland than I could have learned otherwise, and the daily drives between towns were much shorter.
Tour director James Creegan was personable, knowledgeable and a true Irishman in every sense of the word. Our bus driver was John, and he navigated the narrow, winding roads (from the left side of the road) with superb skill. And our Well-Being Director Ray (yes, a sign of the times) did the unenviable task of constantly sanitizing the bus, passing out hand sanitizer every time we got on the coach, reminding us to wear our masks, and arranging the Covid tests so we'd be able to fly back to the States.
Each day was filled with incredible scenery, narratives by James about Irish history, people, anecdotes, and a great overview of the Republic of Ireland, which is the southern part. This trip did not include Northern Ireland. We began and ended in Dublin and checked in and out of seven different hotels. Each time James arranged for luggage pick up and transfers, and our rooms were sanitized and waiting for us. The bus was new with all the bells and whistles, including Wi-Fi, and there were only 23 in our group, which made stops for restrooms, etc. much simpler and quicker and gave us plenty of room to spread out and time to get to know each other -- that would have been more challenging with a larger group.
As I've reflected during the week we've been home, six attractions in particular stand out as my favorites. Allow me to share them and reminisce.
MALZARD'S PUB and HURLING DEMONSTRATION
I confess that I didn't expect to like being in Irish pubs, but I was wrong. Yes, they are where folks go to "have a pint," but they are so much more. Pubs in Ireland are like community centers in many ways. They are gathering places for neighbors and friends. There's laughter, music, food, and fun.
Fred Malzard, the current owner, is fiercely proud of the fact that his pub has been in the family for 5 generations, dating back 200 years. His parents lived on the premises until their recent deaths, and he and his family live a few doors down from it. They consider the pub to be the heart of Stoneyford Village in Kilkenny.
Fred is also passionate about teaching others about hurling, a Gaelic sport using a stick, a ball, goalposts, and a lot of running. When we were there, the whole country was pulling for the County Mayo team in an Irish Super Bowl type of match with a team from north of Belfast. Sadly, they lost, but it was fun to see the whole country decked out in representative flags and paraphernalia. An 11-year-old local kid named Liam gave an impressive demonstration, then many in the group gave it a try.
Jim and Billy, local musicians, played lots of Irish classics, and because Steve and I were using this trip as part of our 50th anniversary celebration, we were invited to dance to one of their tunes. We loved it.
No, in keeping with our no-alcohol commitment, we passed on the pints but did try an Irish soft drink called Red Lemonade and enjoyed it a lot.
WALKING TOUR OF WATERFORD
I knew I'd enjoy seeing the Waterford crystal factory and showroom -- and I did -- but even more, I loved the next morning when a local historian with a wonderful sense of humor gave us a walking tour of the town. We saw historic buildings, statues, monuments, stores, and street art that gave a deeper, behind-the-scenes glimpse of this town. It only lasted an hour but was a stimulating start to our day.
The Waterford showroom was dazzling, as expected. I had to chuckle when the lady leading the tour pointed out the crystal football and mentioned that they always make duplicates "because you never know when an accident might happen." She went on to describe a football player's father who was holding the crystal football, then tripped on a rug causing it to drop and shatter. That, of course, had to be replaced. It just so happened that Steve and I know that particular football player's father. We went to church with him at Central Baptist in Decatur. Great guy. I wonder if he knows he's famous in Ireland? :) I tried to tell the lady that we knew that guy, but I'm not sure she believed me. :)
CLIFFS OF MOHER
Riding along the Wild Atlantic Way in County Clair, you'll come to the rugged Cliffs of Moher.
It was overcast and drizzling when we were there -- which I think is fairly common -- but you could still appreciate the uniqueness of the setting. It was one of those places that make you want to linger and drink it in. There were some pesky, biting gnats on the scene the day we visited. I'd recommend having some insect repellant handy if you go. Also, the path on both sides is quite a trek. Steve, naturally, made it to the top. I hovered closer to the middle and the bottom but still got a great view.
The first sight of Kylemore Abbey will absolutely take your breath away. Originally Kylemore was built in 1868 as a home (castle) for Mitchell and Margaret Henry, but for the past 100 years, it has served as an abbey for a group of Benedictine nuns who have added a school. The Victorian walled gardens are worth the walk, and the rooms you are allowed to visit inside are full of period furnishings and art. The surroundings of the mountains and lake create incredible photo opportunities.
The art of training sheepdogs (Border collies) to follow 5 simple commands that give them total control over a flock of sheep is amazing. We saw a demonstration at Glen Deen Farm, somewhere between Sligo and Dublin, and I loved getting an up-close look at some of the black-faced sheep that are familiar sights during drives through the Irish countryside.
By the way, the sheep aren't bleeding. They were marked with that color to distinguish them from the sheep of neighboring herds. Never fear.
We were then invited inside for sandwiches, scones, hot tea, and music. It was a delightful stop and so informative.
DINNER AT MUCKROSS FARM IN KILLARNEY
Muckross Farm is a traditional farm in County Kerry. The tour includes a look at farm equipment that goes back for generations, visits with Clydesdale horses and other working animals, and a deliciously prepared dinner served in the kitchen and dining room, accompanied by beautiful music. It was a lovely evening.
In the next couple of weeks, I'll share photos and comments about Irish cuisine and things I found surprising. Stay tuned.