Many thanks to those of you who accompanied us on our third tour of Ireland back in April. What a fantastic week we all had. Ireland is currently experiencing an unprecedented economic boom. Besides the steady increase in tourism, many companies such as pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and computer outfit Apple have relocated to Ireland, bringing with them thousands of jobs and barrels of money, thereby creating a new, revitalized Irish economy. This new Irish economy or “Celtic Tiger” as it is being referred to in the press, has brought about an influx of immigrants and a tremendous strain on Ireland’s infrastructure. For the first time ever, young Irish don’t have to emigrate to find work. The biggest problem seems to be finding a place to live that’s a reasonable distance from your new job. Everything seems to be under construction. Contractors are scrambling to build new highways, widen existing roads, enlarge airports, create housing and increase sewer and water system capacity.
Despite this growth, Ireland has managed to retain its old world charm. We were all a little excited to be finally seeing it for ourselves. The Aer Lingus jets touched down in Dublin on Easter Sunday. We were divided into four buses: blue, green, yellow and red (so named for the color of our assigned luggage tags). Some friendly competition developed between the four motor coaches with the green coach definitely emerging as the loudest. Each of the four buses was piloted by a friendly, knowledgeable driver/guide who, with the help of a microphone on a goose-neck stand, described what it was we were passing by or stopping to inspect. The driver/guides also gave us a bit of Irish history to better put into perspective what it was we were experiencing.
After many attended Mass, there was plenty of time to visit the Guinness factory and watch the large gathering in front of the GPO (General Post Office), site of the 1916 Easter Uprising. It was quite a moving 85th anniversary of the bloody confrontation that was re-enacted at that very spot in the opening scene of the fine motion picture Michael Collins. For many of us, lunch was at Supermac’s, an Irish fast food chain with a very wide variety of fare. After a short nap we were ready to emerge from our four star hotel rooms for the evening. There were, of course, many fine restaurants and pubs to visit, many of which are situated in the trendy Temple Bar section of Dublin. Most of us didn’t stay out too late that first night, although the hotel bars do stay open all night.
Monday morning, after a hearty traditional Irish breakfast consisting of eggs, toast, grilled tomatoes, rashers (Irish bacon), bangers (Irish breakfast sausages), cereal, juice and aspirin (most of us avoided the sinister black pudding) it was on to Killarney with many breathtaking sights en route (including a Kildare hillside, used for location filming of Mel Gibson’s epic Braveheart and The Blarney Castle Complex, home of the famed Blarney Stone and the huge Blarney Woolen Mills gift mecca). Killarney is a beautiful town, situated below three lakes and well known for its tourist-friendly atmosphere. The area has inspired many authors and artists.
Tuesday morning the coaches drove many of us around the famed “Ring Of Kerry”, the long established route around the Iveragh Peninsula. The area is world famous for its captivating mountain and coastal scenery. A Tuesday evening Hair Of The Dog concert at The Killarney Avenue Hotel brought all four coaches and many locals together for a fine night of Celtic pub fare with a special appearance by the Irish rockers The Cloaks.
Wednesday morning, it was on to the bustling west coast city of Galway. Galway is both the center for the Irish-speaking regions in the West and a lively university city. It is also the fastest growing city in all of Europe! The center of the city lies on the banks of the River Corrib which widens out as it reaches Galway Bay. We found many great antique shops, clothing boutiques and music stores. Not to be missed was Conlon’s, a seafood restaurant just around the corner from The Imperial Hotel. Coastal Companion and I wandered in around half one (1:30), believing that we might avoid the lunch crowd. We had to wait almost 15 minutes for a table but the time went quickly as we chatted with several members from our group who were already seated. Conlon’s features about two dozen varieties of catch of the day seafood that can be broiled or fried, sandwiches, salads, soups and a great seafood chowder at reasonable prices in a very relaxed atmosphere. Served with fresh crusty French style bread, our chowders were rich and creamy and contained large chunks of sea scallops, shrimp, whitefish, clams, mussels, potatoes, onions and celery. Perhaps a bit too salty, but tasty and filling just the same. The fish specials were accompanied by a choice of baked or mashed potatoes or chips (we both went with the chips, or fries, as we Americans like to call them) a lemon wedge and in-house made tartar sauce. Coastal Companion’s and my fried cod was golden and crispy on the outside and moist and flaky on the inside as a good fish fry should be. The tartar sauce was just tangy enough to give the fish a bit of a zing and the lemon was plump and succulent; quite good considering the time of year and the fact that they obviously have to be imported. The chips were also prepared perfectly and served piping hot. We enjoyed the chips with salt only. Stay away from Irish ketchup; it tends to be way too sweet. Judging by the amount of people waiting for a table, this is not only a popular eatery for tourists but for Sally Student and Johnny Punch-clock as well. The bill, including tax, tip and four Cokes was a mere 28 pounds, a real bargain. We will definitely be back.
More sight seeing Thursday morning for those that were able to make the 10am departure. The magnificent Connemara region is both scenic and notable in that Gaelic is it’s only spoken language.
Our Thursday evening concert was quite memorable. John (whose parents and aunt and uncle came with us) had contacted his cousins (whom he had never met) to tell them that we were going to be in Ireland. They drove over from Mayo for the concert, bringing with them family keepsakes and photographs of the Haggerty great-grandparents. Quite moving indeed. Then there was a little girl named Maxine, the niece of a local couple that Rick met the night before. It turned out that Maxine was a world-class step dancer, and she got up and ignited the crowd with her footwork. Definitely the highlight of the trip for many of us.
|Barley Mow, Part 1
||Barley Mow, Part 2
||Barley Mow, Part 3
||Mike and Rick
||John and Larry
Friday morning after some sightseeing it was on to Shannon Airport for some final duty-free shopping and the flight back to America. It was a shame the tour had to end. We can’t wait to go back to Ireland.