On Saturday, February 13th, Aer Lingus Flight #104 departed from New York’s JFK Airport at 5:45 PM. Our group of 51 was on board. We arrived in Dublin at around 5 AM, well ahead of schedule. We were met just outside of the baggage claim area by our old friends Tony and Kate who were our driver and guide throughout our stay in Ireland. After some quick introductions and suitcase tagging, we made our way to the bus, loaded our bags underneath, and headed off for breakfast at a resort on Dublin Bay. Tony and Kate are like sports announcers only a whole lot funnier. Tony does the play by play and Kate provides the color commentary. They were a huge hit with our group.
Breakfast consumed and legs stretched, we re-boarded the bus and slowly made our way towards St. James Gate, home of the Guinness Brewery. Guinness is celebrating their 250th year of operation. The part of the Guinness Brewery that’s open to the public is called the Guinness Storehouse. The Guinness Storehouse reminds me a little of The Guggenheim Museum in New York. But I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t designed by Frank Lloyd Wright because it’s shaped like a giant pint of Guinness! You enter at the ground floor and work your way towards the top of the building via a circular ramp that winds it’s way up along the outer edges of the floors. Along the way, there are artifacts and multi-media displays that reveal the history of Guinness as well as the brewing process.
The tour concludes on the 7th floor, the top of the building which contains The Gravity Bar. The Gravity Bar offers a free pint of the best Guinness you’ll ever drink and a 360 degree panoramic view of Dublin. Around 3:30, Kate and Tony poured us back into the bus and we headed for the beautiful Camden Court Hotel, located just a few blocks from Dublin’s city center. The rest of the day and night we were on our own. Many people opted for Trinity College which features The Book of Kells while others headed for the Temple Bar district, Dublin’s Greenwich Village. Later that evening, about a dozen of us ended up at The Brazen Head which was opened in the 1100’s, making it Dublin’s oldest public house.
After a Monday morning breakfast at The Camden Court Hotel, we headed southwest for Blarney. The Blarney complex features Blarney Castle, home of the famous Blarney Stone and Blarney Woolen Mills, a shopper’s dream come true. Then it was off to The Killarney International Hotel where we stayed for two nights. The first night, the band played after dinner in the pub and it was a blast! The next day we drove to the Dingle Peninsula. Dingle is one of the most beautiful places on earth and we had a mild, sunny day which made it even better. Tuesday night we were free to explore Killarney’s many pubs and restaurants.
Wednesday morning we checked out of The Killarney International and headed for the west coast. After some spectacular sightseeing we stopped at The Cliffs of Moher (pronounced “more”) before continuing on to Galway. We had heard that the Irish had desecrated the Cliffs of Moher by blast
ing into them and installing windows and other man-made abominations. It turns out that they simply installed a modern, tasteful and location-appropriate complex featuring an information desk, learning center, gift shop and restaurant in the hillside approach to the cliffs, NOT in the actual cliffs themselves. If there was skiing in Ireland, this is what one of their ski lodges would be like except there would also be a big bar and a hospital.
We left the cliffs at half three and hit our Galway hotel around dinner time. After checking into the conveniently located Imperial Hotel, we broke off into groups and made our way through Galway City, Europe’s fastest growing city. Galway is very much a college town, and it has a bustling night life. There’s always something fun to do in Galway.
The next morning, many of us boarded the double-decker bus that regularly shuttles commuters from Galway City to the Aran Islands Ferry. The 45 minute ferry ride brought us to Kilronan, the main village of Inis Mor (pronounced “Guinness More”), the largest of the three Aran Islands. There, we were split into two groups, put on small tour vehicles and taken on a tour of Inis Mor, a place that has to be seen to be believed. Most of the inland terrain looks like the surface of the moon and the rugged coastline is as forbidding as it is beautiful. We got back to The Imperial Hotel at 7PM. After our farewell dinner, the band played a short, spirited set in their sprawling lounge. The rest of the evening was free. For many, it was a last chance to catch a few pints and hear some traditional music in the pubs around the corner.
The week went by too fast. Friday morning after a continental breakfast at the hotel, we got on our bus one last time and headed for Shannon Airport. As we disembarked from the bus at Shannon, it sunk in that we weren’t gonna see Tony and Kate again for a while. After our farewells, check-in and duty-free shopping, we boarded Aer Lingus Flight #106 and made our way home. On Monday morning, the folks from Hammond Tours called me to follow up and to tell me that Tony and Kate had sent them a note saying that this was THE BEST GROUP THAT THEY HAD EVER ESCORTED. On behalf of the band, Hammond Tours and Tony and Kate, I want to thank everyone for being so much fun and for being so easy going. This tour really was a pleasure and we look forward to many more in the years ahead.
Group photo: Moriarty’s Photographic Ltd.
Band photo: Dawn Snay