Shamrocking It Up

Short on time and dying for company and someone to have a drink with, I joined a six-day Shamrocker tour of Ireland.

Our tour guide, Kevin (in my hat)

Day 1: Dublin to Westport

Our first stop for the day was the Hill of Tara. According to tradition, the Hill of Tara was either the seat of Ard Ri na hEireann (the High King of Ireland) or just a pile of myth. Read on and make up your own mind…

Atop the hill stands a stone pillar that was the Irish Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny). In Celtic mythology, the Lia Fáil is said to have been brought to Ireland in antiquity by the semi-divine race known as the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Tuatha Dé Danann had travelled to the “Northern Isles” (Geoffrey Keating identifies this with Norway) where they learned many skills and magic in its four cities Fálias, Gorias, Murias and Findias. From there they proceeded to the north of Scotland, bringing with them a treasure from each city – the four legendary treasures of Ireland. From Fáilias came Lia Fáil. The other three treasures are the Claíomh Solais, the Spear of Lugh and The Dagda’s Cauldron. In legend, all of the kings of Ireland were crowned on the stone up to Muirchertach mac Ercae c. AD 500. The Lia Fáil was thought to be magical: when the rightful High King of Ireland put his feet on it, the stone was said to roar in joy. The stone is also credited with the power to rejuvenate the king and also to endow him with a long reign. Cúchulainn split it with his sword when it failed to cry out under his protegé, Lugaid Riab nDerg, and from then on it never roared again, except under Conn of the Hundred Battles and Brian Boru. Or it could just be a giant phallic rock…

The Lia Fáil Hill of Tara Church

It was a short trip down the road to our second stop, Trim Castle. Famous for the part it played in the movie Braveheart, it is now the remains of the largest Norman castle in Europe and the largest castle of Ireland. I got into the mood and proceeded to get my head cut off!

Trim Castle
Off goes the head
Trim Castle

The third stop was Kilbeggan, home to one of the oldest licensed Whiskey Distilleries in the world and one of the strongest tasting whiskeys I’ve had in a while. Add to that the whiskey tasting competition and we were enjoying what Ireland is really renowned for.

The last stop for the day was a quick detour to Knock, County Mayo, an international place of pilgrimage and prayer where over one and a half million pilgrims come every year. It is claimed there was an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Joseph, St John the Evangelist and Jesus Christ (as the Lamb of God) in 1879. Whilst I can’t say I’m a believer, I still crossed myself with the water…just in case.

After our spiritual enlightment, it was off to Westport where fish and chips and a pint or two at the local awaited us!

Day 2: Westport to Galway

The second day begun with a trip to Croagh Patrick, a 764m mountain where St Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit of Croagh Patrick for forty days in the fifth century and built a church there. For some reason, this turned into a regular pilgrimage where men, in particular, climb the mountain barefoot. I climbed a bit of the way and can guarantee that barefoot is not the way to go.

Croagh Patrick

With Mi Seon Song on the mountain
From the “start” of the climb looking down

It was then off to the devastating and dreary Doolough Valley, the site of the Doolough Tragedy during the Great Irish Famine on Friday 30 March 1849. Two officials due to inspect people in receipt of outdoor relief arrived at Louisburgh as required but failed to complete the inspection for some reason. They moved to Delphi Lodge, 12km away and requested that everyone due for inspection appeared there at 7am the following day to continue receiving relief. For much of the night and day that followed therefore seemingly hundreds of destitute and starving people had to undertake what for them, given their existing state of debilitation, was an extremely fatiguing journey, in very bad weather. A letter-writer to “The Mayo Constitution” reported shortly afterwards that the bodies of seven people, including women and children, were subsequently discovered on the roadside between Delphi and Louisburgh overlooking the shores of Doolough lake and that nine more never reached their homes. Local folklore maintains the total numbers that perished because of the ordeals they had to endure was far higher. A cross and an annual Famine Walk between Louisburgh and Doolough commemorates this event. The monument in Doolough valley has an inscription from Mahatma Gandhi: How can men feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings?

View of Doolough Valley
Inscription on the Famine Monument

A quick stop to photograph Kylemore Castle, originally built as a private home (anyone want to marry that guy?). Now houses Kylemore Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1920 and the Kylemore Abbey International Girls School.

A quick pre-lunch Irish Coffee before heading off to Clifden for lunch. After lunch, we made a short shop or two in Recess. Purely to see the following statues. One could say only in Ireland, but apparently at least for the former they appear all over the world.

Inscription on the statue to the left

Front of the statue
Back of the statue
Inscription on the statue

On arrival in Galway, we headed off to the cultural epicentre…that’s right…Irish dancing! Not suprisingly, I was one of the first to get up and one of the last to sit down. I even managed to get into the precious circle of “experienced dancers” and got chatted up by my partner, who may have had a chance if he was about 50 years younger than he was. Turns out he was the “King” of Irish dancing in Galway. Lucky me!! By the end of tonight, I was almost ready to go home. I had experienced everything I wanted to experience. But the chance of a Kilkenny in Kilkenny dragged me onwards…

Day 3: Galway to Doolin

Onwards and upwards. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better – it did! The day started off with a trip to Dunguaire Castle. Believed to be the most photographed castle in Ireland, part of the lore about Dunguaire’s Castle is that the Lord of the castle was very generous and he continued this generosity into the afterlife. Today, if a person stands at the front gate and asks a question, they will have an answer to their question by the end of the day.

We then moved to “The Burren”, one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe. I’ll leave it up to your imagination!! Amazing!!!

Then it was off to the Cliff’s of Moher, the most popular tourist attraction of Ireland. Kind of similar to the Great Ocean Road. Oh, but there was O’Brien’s Tower, built to impress the ladies. Probably needed some help in that regard when you look at it.

Cliff’s of Moher
O’Brien’s Tower – pretty hot huh?

But the highlight of the day was the overnight stay. Doolin, traditional home of Irish music introduced us to the great Irish pub of McDermott’s, founded in 1867 and still going strong. Never will I forget the ‘spooning’ conversation that was to be one of many topics that night.

Day 4: Doolin to Killarney

And off we went again. This time we headed for Killarney via the ferry. On the way we discovered Dingle. I loved Dingle and the Dingle Peninsula. Checking out these photos, I’m sure you can understand why.

Fungi the Dolphin Blasket Islands
Dingle Peninsula

Bed that night was in Killarney, but by this time all the Irish towns were rolling into one. Aah but off to Kilkenny tomorrow and that excited me!

Day 5: Killarney to Kilkenny

First stop was Killarney National Park for a group photo in front of the Torc Waterfall.

Then onto Blarney for lunch and the famous Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone. According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with the gift of gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery). The stone was set into a tower of the castle in 1446. The ritual of kissing the Blarney Stone, according to the castle’s proprietors, has been performed by “millions of people”, including “world statesmen, literary giants [and] legends of the silver screen.” The kiss, however, is not casually achieved. To touch the stone with one’s lips, the participant must ascend to the castle’s peak, then lean over backwards on the parapet’s edge. This is traditionally achieved with the help of an assistant. Although the parapet is now fitted with wrought-iron guide rails and protective crossbars, the ritual can still trigger attacks of acrophobia. recently ranked the Blarney Stone as the most unhygienic tourist attraction in the world.

Blarney Castle
Kissing the Stone

After Blarney, it was off to Tipperary and the Michelstown caves (and yes the song did come up). We entered massive caverns in which you are surrounded by indescribable dripstone formations, stalactites, stalagmites, graceful calcite curtains hang from sloping roofs, calcite crystals glisten like diamonds in the distance. Huge calcite columns and one of Europe’s finest columns the inspiring “Tower of Babel”. Then it was onto Kilkenny where I had my pint of Kilkenny at the Kilkenny Pub in Kilkenny. A great night finished off with an Irish shot at the zoo while we watched a group of people test how many pints (out of 100) break when you drop them from shoulder height.

Day 6: Kilkenny to Dublin

First stop was the Rock of Dunamase, built in the 12th century and just as good for the scenery as it was for the view of the castle.

Then off to what our tour guide said was the highlight of the tour. Now, Glendalough was good, but I’m wondering whether the existence of St Kevins at Glendalough might have led our tour guide, Kevin, to be a bit biased. Kevin, a descendant of one of the ruling families in Leinster, studied as a boy under the care of three holy men, Eoghan, Lochan, and Eanna. During this time, he went to Glendalough. He was to return later, with a small group of monks to found a monastery where the ‘two rivers form a confluence’. Kevin’s writings discuss his fighting a “monster” at Glendalough; scholars today believe this refers to his process of self-examination and his personal temptations. His fame as a holy man spread and he attracted numerous followers. He died in about 618. For six centuries afterwards, Glendalough flourished and the Irish Annals contain references to the deaths of abbots and raids on the settlement.

St Kevins
The Round Tower
Glendalough – ‘Glen of Two Lakes’

After that, it was back to Dublin and the end of the trip. I’m leaving you with this sign. Any ideas what it means, let me know.