Touring Ireland, part two

... a close-up look at Dublin, Kilkenny and Cork

by Jim Tierney

Editor's note: This is the second part of two of Jim Tierney's wandering with his family throughout his people's homeland. It is a delightful tour.

"In Dublin's fair city where the girls are so pretty.."

Our next stop was Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland. In a country known for it's relaxed pace of life and rural quiet, Dublin is faster and upbeat. Ireland is changing and Dublin, with one third of the country's population, is in the forefront of these changes, with its fast cultural and economic growth fueled by the European Union. However, the old Ireland is still present with castles, cathedrals, and pubs saturating the city, love of good craic (good times) and very friendly Irish people.

As in other Irish cities, Dublin has its share of churches, including Christ Church and the immense impressive St. Patrick's Cathedral. We had more FIRST church visits since coming to Ireland than ever before and, hopefully, our "good luck" will multiply accordingly.

The river Liffey cuts Dublin in half from west to east and O'Connell St., named for the famous Irish emancipator (nicknamed "The Liberator"), links north and south Dublin. Across the Ha' Penny Bridge is the Temple Bar area, Dublin's liveliest nightspot with its funky restaurants and excellent pubs with "trad" (traditional) Irish music. A pub crawl (crawling from pub to pub) aids in discovering the city and researching the best pint of Guinness. They also have literary pub crawls, combining pub visits with readings from the Irish literary giants like Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, William Yeats, James Joyce, and Brendan Behan of IRA fame. James Joyce once said, "A good puzzle is to cross Dublin without passing a pub".

Trinity College in Dublin was built by the British in 1592 as a protestant religious seminary that "will civilize the Irish". The 1712 Old Library holds Ireland's finest collection of Egyptian, Greek, Latin, and Irish manuscripts including the Book of Kells. Around 800 AD, Irish monks squeezed multicolored ink from insects to make the famous book, a four-volume edition of the Gospels. Each page holds an intricate lattice of Celtic knotwork and scrollwork into which animals and Latin text are interwoven. It's an amazing display of talent, skill, and patience.

One cannot leave Dublin without a visit to the Guinness Brewery with the building still smelling of the hops stored there for 200 years. There are seven floors of exhibits on the historical and modern processes of brewing, with a complimentary glass of Guinness at the top, overlooking a panoramic view of Dublin. If you're not a Guinness beer enthusiast, you can certainly acquire a taste for it after several days of visiting many pubs. We stayed at the landmark Arlington Hotel, had a typical Irish dinner, and enjoyed Irish music with step-dancing entertainment.

We stopped in Kilkenny, where the nine churches share the streets with 78 pubs, for a break during the long drive to Cork, site of the Blarney Stone, the ultimate tourist attraction. The term "blarney", meaning smooth talking, was supposedly coined by Queen Elizabeth I during negotiations for control of Blarney Castle when she was heard to say "this is all blarney.". As Ireland's second largest city (pop.146,000), Cork is the center of the southwest's sports, music, and arts. The old city was burned down in 1620, Cromwell expelled half its citizens in 1640, it was seized again in 1690, and torched again in 1920 during the Irish War of Independence.

Cork was where my mother was born, coming to America when she was 14. I felt her presence and thought I heard her say "it's about time Seamus." As with everywhere else, Cork has its miles and miles of "Forty Shades of Green", each shade broken by hedges, many stone, surrounding each shade. Who would have thought that song was written by Johnny Cash who was inspired while flying over the land?

We stayed at the Clonakilty Hotel in the quaint town of Clonakilty in West Cork with its typical narrow streets. Walking down the "main" narrow street for some entertainment, we passed a common sight of a horse and wagon delivering goods. Entertainment consists of typical Irish instruments (fiddle, flute, concertina, tin whistle, and elbow pipes) playing traditional Irish music, performed by whoever showed up. In many pubs, they never know what the entertainment will be until the last minute. The musicians are walk-ons who may or may not come and could be none or many. We were fortunate to have 12 male and female musicians, including singers, entertain us for two hours. The Irish just enjoy playing and listening to music.

"Over in Killarney many years ago, me mother sang a song to me.."

On to Killarney" which features Killarney National Park, Ross House, Ross Castle, the Killarney Lakes, Gap of Dunloe, Rock of Cashel, Muckross, more churches, and more pubs. Although we didn't travel the entire length of the Ring of Kerry, the Southwest's most celebrated peninsula, we did skirt it and enjoy soaking up the great sea spray, grand views, and pervasive quiet. Our driver Sean directed us to the "real" pubs in Killarney and one of them, called the Speakeasy, gave us a snapshot picture of old Ireland with men at the bar "hoisting a Guinness" and speaking Irish so rapidly it sounded like gibberish. It was apparent by their dress and boots that they came in from the farm for a "pint" and some conversation. A tradition of old, some pubs still close from 2 to 4 in the afternoon because the men would never leave otherwise, and you can see why.

It's not uncommon to spend 14 or 15 hours in a pub at one time enjoying the socializing and the camaraderie.

"The pale moon was rising above the green mountains."

From Killarney through Tralee (where they have an annual festival and the Irish lasses vie for the title of Rose of Tralee) to Dingle, and as the name implies, it is as quaint and as Irish as you can get. The Dingle Peninsula had been the second cousin to the Ring of Kerry but now the Killarney and Kerry tourists spill over to Dingle to see its stunning views and beautiful beaches and its fabulous pubs and smart cafes.

Fungi, the dolphin, charms the whole town from his permanent residence in Dingle Bay. He swam into here with his mother (who since died) in 1983 and became a local celebrity, entertaining daily. You know you're in Dingle when you see the street signs and directions in the Irish Language. You'll hear more Irish speaking (Gaeltacht) here than almost anywhere else in Ireland.

Dingle is attempting to get back to its roots, speaking the Irish Language (it's NOT called Gaelic as we always thought). Restrooms (called toilets) can be embarrassing with signs of MN'A for women and FIR for men. Many toilets throughout Ireland have troughs, reminiscent of the old Boston Garden and Fenway Park.

We traveled though Kinsale on the way to Killarney, learning about the 1601 Battle of Kinsale where the English armies demolished Irish Chieftain Hugh O'Neill's forces while the supposed allies from Spain sat in their ships in the harbor and watched. The English took control of the land and parceled it out to Protestants. Kinsale was also the site of the Lusitania sinking in 1915 which started World War I, and just down the road in the village of Cobh was the Titanic's last port of call before the "unsinkable" ship sank.  

The Blasket Islands, off Dingle Bay were once inhabited by poet-fishermen, proud but impoverished and aging villagers, whose future rested on a 19 year old boy. The boy died in 1953 fulfilling the prophecy, "after us, there will be no more". The last inhabitants left the island and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts.

There were many movies filmed in Ireland, the most famous, perhaps, "Ryan's Daughter" was filmed here in Dingle Bay. Dingle is the most western city in Europe and its nearest western neighbor is America.

Our final stop was Doolin, a small beautiful, windy, musical, overtouristed place where life revolves around pubs. We spent the night in a walk-up over McGann's pub, requiring little travel from the pub to our room. The room rent was itemized on our bar bill paid before we left the pub for our room. Besides McGann's, the other main attractions in Doolin are O'Connor's and McDermott's pubs. Doolin's 200 permanent residents run its four hostels, several B&B's, and the three pubs. However, on the way from Dingle, we traveled into County Clare to the Cliffs of Moher, and the Burren.  

The Cliffs of Moher are justifiably one of Ireland's most famous sights. The view from the edge leads 700 feet straight down into the open sea. The cliffs are so high you can see gulls whirling below them. As Oliver Cromwell complained of the Burren, "there is not wood enough to hang a man, nor water enough to drown him in, nor earth enough to bury him in". Cromwell was not a favorite in Ireland. The next day we sadly traveled through Ennis over the Shannon River to the Shannon airport, taking home with us many pleasant memories.     

June 2, 2006  

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