Great Places – Ireland

      Ireland is the fun-loving country famous for St Patrick, Leprechauns, the Irish Jig, and River Dance. It is also an ancient Celtic country with roots that go back thousands of years. In America, it is famous because so many Irish came to the US in the late 1800’s to escape the potato famine and to find a new life. Many of their descendants are returning to Ireland to visit, joining huge numbers of tourists from around the world.
     Sit back and join me on a tour of this fabled "Land of the Green". A photo album will eventually follow.
     1. Dublin
           Dublin, Ireland, is the Irish capital and largest city. The Medieval Quarter includes two of Ireland’s great churches: St Patrick’s Cathedral which dates from the 12th century and contains the tomb of Jonathan Swift, among other notables, and Christ Church Cathedral, whose origins are even older. The stonework in the latter is particularly impressive.
           Just east of the Medieval quarter is Dublin Castle. This complex dates to the early 13th century and, as a royal residence, is worthy of a look inside. Nearby is Trinity College, which, besides being a world-famous center of learning, contains the Book of Kells, a manuscript of the four Gospels, in Latin, which is thought to have been published in about 800 A.D. and is, therefore, the oldest significant text from early Celtic Christianity (one page per day is turned for public viewing). The college itself is picturesque with cobbled squares, elegant buildings, and pleasant gardens.
           The Guinness Brewery (although tours are no longer conducted) and the General Post Office, which figured prominently in Ireland’s struggle for independence, are also worth a look. St Stephen’s Green and Phoenix Park are two “green” areas within the city limits which offer a quiet alternative to the hustle and bustle of the city.
           Don’t forget to spend some time in several of Dublin’s numerous Irish Pubs.
           While in Trinity College, see the Dublin Experience, a 45-minute multi-media show which documents the history of Dublin. It can serve as a great introduction to the city for first-timers.
     2. Kilkenny
           Kilkenny City, in the county of Kilkenny, in the southern part of Ireland, has the best-preserved Medieval buildings in all of Ireland. Kilkenny Castle is a classic castle of the period and dates from the 13th century. Also check out Kyteler’s Inn, possibly the oldest building in town, the dramatic Town Hall, called Tholsel because it was once the toll house, the Rothe House (a merchant’s house in the Tudor style which is now a museum), St Canice Cathedral, with its interesting carvings of wood and stone, marble floors and huge tower, and the Black Abbey, which has now been totally restored from its earlier modifications at the order of Oliver Cromwell.
     3. Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
          Giant’s Causeway forms a three mile section of the Northern Ireland coastline and consists of about 40,000 tightly-packed, vertical columns of basalt which seem like stepping stones. Scientists believe that these hexagonal structures are of volcanic origin and were formed by cooling lava. Of course, there are more fanciful legends about their origin, given that this is Ireland. Any visit here should begin at the Visitor Center, which runs a 25 minute audiovisual show about the formation and history of the attraction continuously throughout the day. The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
          Instead of the shuttle bus from the Visitor Center to the sight, take the circular walk.
     4. Ring of Kerry
          The Ring of Kerry, Ireland’s best scenic drive, begins in Killarney, in the western part of the country. The entire loop is about 175 kilometers (110 miles) and winds among mountains, lakes, and rugged seacoast. Traffic is usually slow due to the popularity of the drive and the numerous tour buses which travel the route. Don’t be in a hurry and stop frequently at overlooks and to explore the villages along the route (primarily the N70). If there is time for only one village en route, it should be Kenmare, a delightful little town, well-manicured and cared-for, in a lovely setting. There are also several islands which can be visited along the way, depending on time and weather.
     5. Kinsale
          Kinsale, Ireland, is a charming, seaside community which attracts tourists with its setting as a fishing village, its narrow streets, perfect for strolling, its well-kept homes with their floral accents, and its great restaurants, a direct result of its annual Gourmet Festival. Sights which should be included in a visit to Kinsale include Charles Fort and Desmond Castle.
          A possible day trip from Kinsale might include a visit to Blarney Castle, in County Cork, just west of the city of Cork, world-famous, of course, because of the Blarney Stone, a rock underneath a part of the castle walls, which, if kissed, is supposed to grant eloquence, otherwise known as “blarney” in the Irish vernacular. If everyone who has kissed the Blarney Stone, were granted eloquence, this would be a world of orators. However, the legend is all in good fun, and many tourists believe that a trip to Ireland without kissing the stone doesn’t count as a visit.
      6. Cliffs of Moher
           The Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s premier natural wonders, are found on the coast of County Clare, in the western region of the country. These dramatic cliffs, almost 270 meters (800 feet high), stretch for over five miles. Obviously, there are great views from the cliffs and especially from the O’Brien Tower, at the northern end of the area. Stop in at the Visitor Center for more information.


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