Ireland is a small country. It is 35,595 square miles. Compare that to Minnesota, in the U.S. where I live: 86,936 square miles. Which makes Ireland 2 1/2 times smaller than Minnesota. Ireland’s population in 2016 (the latest stats I could find) was 6,572,728 compared to Minnesota at 5,679,718 in 2018 which makes their population density almost three times higher than Minnesota. Dublin was crowded with 1.7 million people in the city and surrounding area but the smaller towns I visited only seemed crowded because of all the tourists. If I were to live there, I would defiantly find a country town. That being said, I think other countries are fine to visit but I like where I live and therefore, I will always come back home.
The history of Ireland is inextricably tangled up with Great Britain. My first tour driver told the story of how some English Royals were invited to an Irish wedding. They liked Ireland so much that they stayed for 800 years. Needless to say, the Irish were not happy about it. There is so much history to tell that I’m not going to get into it because I’m not a historian, and there is a multitude of really good books on the subject. To give you an example of the tenacity of the Irish, I heard this story: When Queen Victoria died in 1901 it was ordered that the Irish paint every door in the country black as a sign of loyalty to the crown and of mourning. The Irish of course were having none of it and painted their doors with the brightest colors they could find. It kind of gives you a hint of how relations went between the two countries. As I said in my post, “To Dublin,” The Irish won their independence in 1921. As with any negotiation, they had to make compromises, but they won their freedom.
When I decided to go to Ireland I had to come up with a way to make the most of my time there. I am interested in history, both of people and Natural History so I wanted to see as much of both as possible. I wasn’t sure about driving, and I didn’t want to rely on buses or trains. So I decided on taking a tour. I was a little apprehensive about spending an entire week with a group of people because I’m on the anti-social side but it turned out fine. The group I was with were all very nice, laid back people and I made some new friends. I chose a company called Vagabond Tours. They were highly rated and they are a small group tour company. There were 15 in my group. That’s as big as I’d want it to be.
I arrived in Dublin on a Saturday morning and my tour left on the following Monday so I had two days to explore the city and then I was headin’ south. We were picked up at the Grand Canal Hotel, (which is where I was staying) loaded up the coach and headed out. The countryside south of Dublin is relatively flattish land with farms of crops, horses, cows, and sheep. The motorway is equivalent to freeways in the U.S. According to the Irish, they drive on the correct side of the road, which is the left. With a little practice I think it could be easy to get used to. Our first stop on the tour was at the Rock Of Cashel. It is a castle dating from the 1100’s and was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster. In 1101, the King of Munster, Muirchertach Ua Briain, (Murtough O’Brien, whom I have traced my lineage to) donated the fortress to the church.
The Rock of Cashel
From there we visited Blarney Castle. If you have heard of the Blarney Stone, this is where it is. There is a legend that says if you kiss the Blarney Stone you will receive the gift of gab. I did not kiss it. The castle and grounds are very beautiful and very commercialized. You can’t blame them I guess. They’re making a lot of money off tourism and it’s helping the economy greatly.
At the end of a long days ride, we arrived at Gougan Barra. It is an ancient monastic site built by Saint Finbarr. The area is just stunning. It rests in a valley with a lake and mountains all around. And sheep. Always sheep. There are three spellings for Gougan Barra. The one I have used is the Irish spelling. The other is Gougane Barra which is English. And then there is Ghuagan Barra which is the spelling for the Ghuagan Barra Forest Park, or Pairc Fhoraoise. Confusing, right. Every public sign in Ireland has both Irish and English spellings on them.
Here are my favorite photos of Gougan Barra
It was a beautiful, peaceful place. I easily could have spent days there. As soon as I saw it I decided to leave some of Ann’s ashes there. I left them at the alter stone on the monastic settlement behind the little church building. I’m sure she would have loved it there. Ann was raised Catholic and even though she no longer participated, It was still a part of who she was. Here’s to Saint Finbarr!