2016 has been a big year for me. I’ve become a blogger. I welcomed my second grandchild, Leland Michael Carr, into the world. And my daughter Caitlyn surprised me with the trip of a lifetime…seven days in Ireland followed by four days in Paris.
Ireland is a lifelong bucket list destination for me. I’ve always been intrigued by the Irish. My maternal grandmother’s ancestry was Irish, and since she died when my mother was twelve, I never knew her. But her black Irish good looks, with her dark hair, porcelain skin and vivid blue eyes, have been the subject of much scrutiny my entire life. I am named for my grandmother, and it has always been my intent to see the country of her origin.
I even gave both of my girls Irish names. Caitlyn is named after a recurring character in novels by an Irish Catholic priest that I read voraciously when I was expecting her. I would like to say that Kellen’s name was inspired by something equally romantic, but I actually came up with her name after a famous American football player when it was suggested by a good friend. Thanks, Ginger!
Yes, Ireland has always been the stuff of fantasies for me, and it didn’t disappoint.
Caitlyn is a world traveler, and is quite skilled at planning great trips. She and I have similar styles of travel…it’s go go go and no rest for the weary. So Caitlyn set about planning seven days in Ireland with a goal to see as much as we could of the Republic of Ireland. We’d save Northern Ireland (and her desire to see all the Game of Thrones sites) for another trip.
This trip was planned to coincide with my birthday, which turned out to be a wonderful time to visit Ireland. In late August and early September, many of the summer tourist crowds have dissipated and the climate is mild and cool. We enjoyed temperatures in the 60’s, and were even able to enjoy a fire or two while we were there.
We began our trip by flying into Ireland’s capital city, Dublin. This vibrant city is somewhat small, but full of wonderful things to see and do. Caitlyn and I landed mid-morning after a direct Delta flight from Atlanta and checked right into our charming hote. With a location right where the action is, we were a short walk from Trinity College, one of the finest colleges in all of Europe. The number one thing I wanted to see in Ireland was the Book of Kells, so we headed toward Trinity prepared to wander on our own around the beautiful campus. Actually, campus seems like such an absurd word for such a glorious sight. It reminded me of Oxford and Cambridge, and is actually considered one of the “big five great institutions of Ireland and Great Britain,” to include the University of Edinburgh.
One of our best decisions was to sign up for a tour. These tours leave every half hour right inside the entrance to the college and the tour guides are students at Trinity. Our delightful tour guide offered to let Caitlyn wear his black robe for part of the tour, so we were in.
No trip to Dublin would be complete without a trip to Trinity. Our guide was incredibly polite, well-informed and willing to answer our many questions. I asked how difficult it is to be accepted to Trinity. He politely informed me that as an American, one would have to make straight A’s, with numerous advanced placement classes and a penchant for rigorous study.
We were charmed by our guide, and intrigued by the fact that a select group of upperclassmen who pass a series of comprehensive exams instead of taking a Christmas break, are able to live free of charge in a castle-like residence constructed in 1761. Evening meals are served to these special students with a pint of Guinness every evening, just as they have been for over 225 years.
Our next stop was the awe-inspiring Long Room, built in 1732, and measuring 210 feet (64 meters) from end to end. In addition to housing the oldest harp in Ireland, it is home to 200,000 rare books as well as marble busts of scholars. I found myself wandering past all those texts, remembering that Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker (author of Dracula) and Edmund Burke had trod my same path.
Our guide Niall directed our attention to the examination hall, the interior of which is adorned with an ornate ceiling and gilded chandelier. All examinations at Trinity College are given in this building, just as they have been since 1791. A novel concept…I wonder how that would work at my alma mater.
Our final stop at Trinity College was the Old Library to see The Book of Kells, the most richly decorated of Ireland’s medieval illuminated manuscripts. It is believed that these manuscripts are the work of monks from Iona who fled to Kells in AD 806 after a Viking raid. The Book was moved to Trinity College in the 17th century, and contains the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in Latin.
I truly felt that I was in the presence of something so holy and so special. Caitlyn and I only stood in one line while we were in Ireland, and it was to see this Book. Pages are turned each day to prevent damage to the Book, and you are able to view the manuscript in several displays. If you only have time for one stop in Dublin while you visit Ireland, make it Trinity College and The Book of Kells.
Day One in Dublin continued with a visit to Dublin Castle, the seat of English rule in Ireland for seven centuries. When I think Ireland, I think castles, and this one didn’t disappoint. For those interested in Irish history, you can visit the Record Tower, completed in 1226, as well as the Neo-Gothic Chapel Royal. Since the days of King John, the first Lord of Ireland, the Castle has served as the seat of English, British and Irish rule, until the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921, when the complex was ceremonially handed over to to the newly formed Provisional Government led by Michael Collins. All you movie fans will remember that Liam Neeson played Michael Collins in a movie based on his life.
Caitlyn and I particularly liked the State Rooms, which include the Drawing Room with its Waterford chandelier. These luxurious rooms were built in the 18th century for the Viceroys of Ireland. St. Patrick’s Hall has extraordinary ceilings painted by Vincenzo Valdre in the late 1780’s, symbolizing the relationship between Britain and Ireland. Don’t miss the Throne Room which was installed for the visit of King George IV in 1821.
Our final stop in the Dublin Castle complex was City Hall, with its huge Corinthian portico. We would have wandered right past it, had a well-meaning Irishman not insisted that we take a look inside. Caitlyn and I wandered in right before a wedding was about to commence. For someone looking to marry in Ireland, this lovely building might be just the place.
An easy walk from Dublin Castle is Christ Church Cathedral. The oldest cathedral in Ireland, the original building was constructed of wood by Vikings in 1038. It was rebuilt in stone in 1186.
This extraordinary cathedral boasts a 12th century crypt with some unique artifacts. The mummified remains of a cat and a rat are on display, with the theory that the cat chased the rat into an organ pipe and both became stuck. This apparently struck a chord with the author James Joyce, an Irishman and one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. The sign at Christ Church Cathedral reads:
THE CAT AND THE RAT
The one, presumably chasing the other, became trapped in a pipe organ in the 1850s and were mummified. They are referred to in James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” where someone is being described as being “…as stuck to that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ…”
I was surprised to discover that Handel’s Messiah was first performed here in 1742, one year before its London premiere. This magnificent oratorio is so special to me, and I was charmed to find out that it premiered in this lovely cathedral. This is a MUST see in Dublin.
There are so many amazing, historic sites to visit in Dublin, to include (1) Guinness Storehouse; (2) National Gallery of Ireland; (3) St. Patrick’s Cathedral; (4) Old Jameson Distillery; (5) Kilmainham Gaol; (6) St. Stephen’s Green; (7) Phoenix Park and Dublin Zoo; (8) Leinster House, Houses of Parliament; (9) General Post Office; and (10) Ha’penny Bridge and the River Liffey. My philosophy is see what you can, and leave wanting more. Dublin is a city you will want to return to someday.
Your first trip to Ireland should certainly include two important activities…shopping and nightlife. For shopping, I recommend Powerscourt Centre. Completed in 1774, this grand mansion houses one of Dublin’s best shopping centers. The original mahogany staircase is still inside and the glass-domed central courtyard is a popular meeting place for Dubliners.
Caitlyn and I wanted to experience the unique nightlife for which Dublin is known. We made our way to Temple Bar, a series of narrow, cobbled streets running between the Bank of Ireland and Christ Church Cathedral. A short walk from our hotel, we found ourselves wandering through some of the city’s best galleries and art spaces, as well some raucous night spots. We wandered into a number of pubs, looking for pub grub and Irish music. We found both.
I was delighted that there is little pressure to purchase food or beverage (adult and other) in these establishments. People wander in and out, often stopping inside the door to listen to trad music (the way Irish refer to traditional music). Until 9:00 pm, you often find families with young children. After 9, children are no longer allowed in the bars and pubs.
Caitlyn and I scored a great table right in front of the musicians one night at a famous pub, so we ordered a dinner of soup and soda bread (my fave!) and planned to spend the evening. After 90 minutes of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Waylon Jennings, we moved on to another pub where Irish music played all evening. Temple Bar is such a fun place…even the streets are filled with talented singers, songwriters and musicians playing guitar, violin, drums and so on.
Some of these establishments have traditional Irish dance shows as well, so if you are a fan of River Dance, you’ll want to make reservations at one of the larger venues. Check with your hotel concierge for a reservation.
One famous pub in the Temple Bar area is Temple Bar. This is one crazy place, but if you want to see Dublin nightlife at its finest, this is the place to do it. You can move from room to room and sing-along with hundreds of new friends. And don’t forget to buy the t-shirt!
Caitlyn and I preferred the less raucous bars, and we heard some great trad music, including my favorite, Black Velvet Band. To our delight, we ran into a number of stag and hen parties. And just when we thought we had seen it all, we ran into “Donald Trump” complete with an entourage of supporters and secret service. We were quite surprised to discover that Irish people are fascinated with our political process, not to mention their quirky sense of humor!
We were a day and a half into our trip and decided to see some of the sights on the outskirts of Dublin. There are lots of options, to include the charming seaside village of Howth, Malahide Castle and the National Stud. Caitlyn and I chose to spend most of Day 3 at Powerscourt in County Wicklow, which is located 18 miles(29 km) outside of Dublin at the foot of Great Sugarloaf Mountain. The gardens at Powerscourt are quite probably the finest in Ireland. The house and grounds were commissioned in the 1730’s by the 1st Viscount Powerscourt and the gardens are filled with gates, statues and urns from across Europe.
Highlights of Powerscourt include Triton Lake, Japanese Gardens, the Perron Italianate stairway and my personal favorite, the Pets’ Cemetery, featuring the graves of the dogs, cats, cattle and horses belonging to the family.
After Powerscourt, we stopped in Enniskerry Village for a walkabout and a look at their charming clock tower. There are several great choices for lunch, as you can see from our al fresco dining experience below. The soup was great, but the dessert…indescribable!
By the end of two nights and three days in Dublin and its outskirts, Caitlyn and I headed to pickup our rental car and set out for six nights across the Irish countryside. In spite of our misgivings about driving on the left side of the road (mine more than Caitlyn’s!) it is truly the best way to see Ireland.
We found it quite easy to navigate, and once you get used to two-way roads that are more suitable for a horse and buggy, it is lots of fun to drive in Ireland. Thank goodness for Google Maps. It got us everywhere we needed to go without incident.
The next stop on our Ireland adventure was Kilkenny in County Tipperary on our way to the Rock of Cashel. Stay tuned! More to come.