Travels with Lois and Jason

Norwegian Fjords, Artic Circle and Ireland

July 1 – 25, 2006


Return to Norway part of trip.

Ireland Overview


What a delightful and satisfying travel experience.  Everything Lois said about the countryside was true – a quilt work of forty-shades of green.  The hours spent in the bus going through the countryside just flew by.  Each farm (90% of the farms are under fifty acres) is divided by fences:  some made of stone (flat like slate or block like granite), some hedges, some stone-hedge combination, some trees, and a few modern (ugly wood or wire).  Sheep, cows, and horses dotted the fields, mostly standing but then sometimes relaxing on the ground. The stacks of hay, rolled or rectangle, stacked or sacked, represented the prosperous and flourishing economy of today's Ireland. The hay is sacked in plastic wrap as a way to store it out in the open for the winter months – we saw only a hand full of barns throughout our entire tour.




We wanted to see the countryside and selected a tour that spent most of the time there.  It was great.  Most of Ireland is two lane roads (they are building some four lane), and these were built for horse and buggy, narrow and winding.  The roads passed through villages and towns of quaint old buildings where there were flower boxes in the windows and flowerpots attached to lampposts. We had a lot of trepidation about going on a coach tour with its fixed hotels and meals, but it turned out just fine.  What a pleasure for both of us to sit in large seats with big windows to just enjoy the scenery.





Ireland's prosperity brings a variety of new challenges such as traffic, housing, immigration, health care, and education.   Unfortunately, all too often we sat in horrific traffic wherever we were, and overall, to say we spent an hour each and every day in traffic would be an understatement.  Housing projects, with cul-de-sacs and track homes were going up throughout the country.  Immigration is on the rise as people relocate for work opportunities throughout Ireland.  Every little village we passed through had Chinese, Indian or eastern European cuisine.  These are all new within the last 20 years.


When we watched the BBC Weather reports on TV we had never understood the significance to their showing the whole of the British Isles and the northern third of the Irish Isle.  England sees Northern Ireland as part of the UK and uses the pound as its currency, while the Republic of Ireland (the southern two-thirds of the Irish Isle) is part of the EU and uses the Euro.  That is only the beginning!  The "I'm Welsh" or "I'm Scottish" feelings were even more intense with the Irish.  There is a long (centuries) historical anger, ripe throughout the entire isle, and intensified in the Orange and Green.  Here's how our tour director related the sad tale:

The color orange is associated with Northern Irish Protestants because of William of Orange (William III), the King of England, Scotland, and Ireland who in 1690 defeated the deposed King James II, a Roman Catholic, in the fateful Battle of the Boyne near Dublin. William III's victory secured Protestant dominance over the island, to the enormous benefit of the 17th-century colonizers of Northern Ireland — the English (mainly Anglicans) and Scots (mostly Presbyterians). The north had better lands, and a thriving linen industry.  The south was mostly poor farmland.


Our Daily Adventures


We walked to Saint Stephen's Green, a large central park that was like a botanical garden, with a lake, and a wide variety of blooming flowers and trees.  In the afternoon we joined our tour group and visited the Guinness Storehouse that is the former brewery and now a massive museum showing the entire brewing processes.  That night we attended an Irish Cabaret with singing, river dancing, and joke telling!



Took a city tour and saw the various types of architecture (Georgian, Edwardian and Queen Anne) throughout the city.  All the houses on a block were the same style and looked identical, but each door was painted a different color.  We went to Trinity College and saw the 8th century Book of Kells.  Went to the Dublin Museum of Art and then we walked Grafton Street (which is just like 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica).



Travel through the Wicklow Mountains to Glendalough. We found ourselves on a path by a stream and at one point it was so quiet the only sounds we heard were birds and the water.   We drove on to Waterford to tour the Crystal Factory. It was quite interesting to see the craftsmen/women at work. They use no written diagrams or instructions -- everything is done from memory. They spend several years in an apprenticeship to learn glass cutting and engraving. The quality control position is that any seconds are destroyed rather than allowing them to enter the marketplace. 

We visited the Heritage Centre in Cobh (Cove). Cobh was the last port of call for ships heading from Europe to the US, including the Titanic before its doomed Atlantic crossing in 1912. The Centre was fascinating, with exhibits, photographs and film footage that made the Irish migration very real.


We went to Blarney Castle. In 1965 Lois had climbed and almost kissed the Blarney Stone before passing out so she had no interest in doing it again. On the other hand, sure-footed Jason insisted on climbing the winding tower stairs. Fortunately two of the young people on the tour assisted him, but he refused to hang over backward to kiss the stone!


We then drove on to Killarney and took a horse drawn carriage ride through the National Park to visit Lough Lein (Learning Lake). The word "Lough" means knowledge, and the lake was so named because of the monastery that was a site of learning when it was active.



Today we were to see what is considered some of the most outstanding scenery in all of Ireland, "The Ring of Kerry."  Due to clouds and mist, we have no idea if this is true.  We saw some of it, bits and pieces, which was beautiful.





We visited the Flying Boat Museum in Foynes. From 1939 to 1945, Foynes was the center of the aviation world for travel between the U.S. and Europe. Commercial aviation got its start with flying boats for several reasons:  The most important cities of the time were all located near water (rivers or oceans), so flying boats were the natural extension from boat travel.  It wasn't until WWII that land-based airports were built.  Foynes was also the birthplace of Irish Coffee, which we came to really enjoy.





Next we crossed the Shannon River by ferry on our way to the Cliffs of Moher.  Rain and mist again hampered the viewing, but Lois took this picture from under our umbrella.


Note the people (dots) on top the first cliff!



This morning we visited Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. This is a fully restored 15th century castle with a 25-acre living museum consisting of thatched farmhouses, village stores, a school house, pub and more from the past couple of centuries.  We then went to Rathbaun Farm for lunch and to meet the family.  Their sheep dog rounded up the sheep, Mr. Rathbaun sheared one, and their daughter picked up the wool.  Most interesting is that there is such a wool glut that they have to pay someone to haul it away.



Our day ended in Galway at the Connemara Coast Hotel situated on Galway Bay, facing the Arden Islands.  The view from our room and walk along the beach was just terrific.




This was a day of awesome surprises.  In the morning we sailed down the Killary Fjord, Ireland's only fjord, and a pod of dolphins rode the bow wave!  We traveled about 15 miles down the fjord, and for that entire length there was a mussel-farm (as in sea mussels).  The sea-farmers put out buoys that have ropes tied to them, and the mussels attach themselves to the ropes.  The sea-farmers pull up the ropes and pry off the muscles.  The calm waters of the fjord have made this an important industry of Ireland. 



After the fjord, we traveled through extremely isolated bog land, and then came to an incredible site in what seemed to be the middle of no-where: Kylemore Abbey, built originally as a Castle in 1868 and now a private girls school. When we saw it our immediate response was "Oh, that's where Walt Disney got his inspiration for his Fantasyland Castle!"  We walked the spectacular six-acre Victorian Garden which was organized into sections:  flowers, kitchen-garden, stream and trees.




Visited the Shrine at Knock, a pilgrimage place for millions since 1879 when fifteen people had a vision of Mary, Joseph and John.  The parking lot was as large as Disneyland's.  We went to Drumcliff churchyard to see W.B. Yeats' grave.  Yeats was Ireland's most famous poet.  We passed into Northern Ireland to go to the Belleek China Factory.  All road signs suddenly dropped the Gaelic writing, the gift shop only took Pounds and Dollars (no Euros), but the factory was very interesting and we saw how china is made.


Travel north to Glenveagh National Park through countless miles of bog land to come into a spectacular glacial valley with a scenic lake and of course a castle.  A bog is a wetland with very deep deposits of dead plant material.  The bog is cut and stacked to dry, and is called turf.  When the turf is dry, it is called peat, and used as a fuel by the residents or for agricultural purposes.  Today exporting bog peat is a multi-billion dollar business in Ireland.


Bog cut and piled (private use)

Commercial bog drying piles



On our return south we stopped at Bru-na-Boinne to visit the Neolithic passage-tomb at Knowth that predates the pyramids by 1000 years. There was one very large mound (where Christians later built houses on top) and 18 smaller satellite mounds.


Main mound with two smaller mounds on left

Entering the main mound



Note the megalithic art on the stone


The site has a large amount of megalithic art (where large stones are used as the artistic medium), probably depicting calendar events.  The passageways all line up with the equinox and the mid-winter sun shines inside the chambers.


We then returned to Dublin.  Given this was our last night; we found another cabaret to go to and once again enjoyed the songs, dances and jokes of Ireland.



Return to Norway part of trip


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Photo journalist:  Lois Frand
Writer:  Jason Frand
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August 8, 2006