Headin’ South


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.

My people

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.

Blarney Castle

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!

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To Dublin


Amsterdam

If you read my post, “Across the Sea,” then you know the reasons why I visited Ireland. My flight consisted of flying to Amsterdam, switching planes and then flying to Dublin. It’s always interesting when you fly over 400 miles further than you wanted to go and then board another plane to fly back to your destination. We reached Amsterdam without incident which, if you fly at all you will know is a great relief. I had a one hour and fifty five minute layover. When the flight crew announced they were ready to board we were all ushered onto a bus. Odd, but not unheard of. The bus left the terminal, and continued leaving the terminal. We rode past houses. And then farms. And open fields. Some time later I saw a plane up ahead on the tarmac. As we got closer, the plane got smaller. “Oh cute,” I thought. “A little planelet.” Well that small plane was where we were heading. It turns out it wasn’t really small, it held about 50 people. But compared to the giant jet I had traversed the Atlantic ocean on, it was small. We boarded and got settled and, didn’t go anywhere. Finally,one on the flight crew came on the intercom and in a nonchalant, sing song voice said, “You may be wondering why we haven’t left yet. It seems we can’t find our pilot. We’re pretty sure he knows he’s supposed to be here but we can’t reach him by phone. But don’t worry, he’ll show up eventually. He always does.”

This was not a confidence booster. Myriad thoughts ran through my little brain. Is he a drunk? Irresponsible? Is he lost? As I sat there reviewing all the poor decisions I had made in my life, flying to Ireland was creeping ever so slowly to the top of the list. Eventually he did show up and proved to be a good pilot. We landed safely in Dublin. I didn’t see any of the flight crew crossing themselves and that helped a lot. Getting through security at Dublin airport was a breeze except they took my shaving cream. In today’s world of AK 47’s and shoe bombs, shaving cream seems pretty tame. I’m not at all sure how I could kill someone with that but apparently terrorists are pretty inventive.

Dublin

So there I was, in Dublin, Ireland for the first time in my life. I found a bus heading toward the city center and climbed aboard. It was just a short walk to my hotel from the last stop. Dublin, with a population of about 1.7 million people is defiantly a cosmopolitan city. Many immigrants have come to Ireland in recent years to help make Dublin a colorful, busy, attractive place. There are restaurants serving every kind of food you can imagine, and shops of every kind. Buses, trains and taxi’s will take you anywhere you wish to go at any hour. There has been a resurgence of interest in the Irish language in the last decades resulting in every public sign containing both English and Irish. I have always heard the language referred to as Gaelic however I learned that is wrong. Gaelic is the culture, Irish is the language. I have been interested in Ireland’s history and have read much about the uprisings and the fight for independence, so I went to see some important sites, especially places concerned with the Easter Rising of 1916. One of these sites was the General Post Office, which is still in use today. It was here that The Irish Volunteers captured the building and used it as their headquarters. In front of the building, Padraig Pearse read the Proclamation of Independence. The rising was unsuccessful but the execution of many of the leaders by the British helped turn the tide of opinion against them (the British) and by December, 1921 The Irish Republic won its independence.

General Post Office and the Spire

In the middle of O’Connell street, right across from the General Post Office (GPO) is the Dublin Spire. It is a monument built on the site of the former Nelson’s Pillar, a monument to a British Naval officer, which was blown up in 1966. The Spire is 9.8 feet wide at the base and 390 feet tall, and is needle shaped. It was commissioned as part of a redesign of the street and chosen in an international contest. Those who don’t like the Spire complain that it has little architectural or cultural connection to the city. In my humble opinion, they’re right. While I was there I noticed a member of the Garda (police) standing near the GPO. So I asked him about the Spire. I asked what the significance of the Spire was. What did it represent? He said, “Well it’s a really tall thing, isn’t it.” It wasn’t a question. “But isn’t there any meaning to it?” I asked. “Well after all, You’ve got to have a really tall thing haven’t you,” he said. That wasn’t a question either. Irish humor is interesting.

As well as the GPO I saw lots of other places in Dublin. The Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, the Ha’Penny bridge, and Trinity College among others. It was a fun weekend and I feel like I walked 500 miles. All up hill. I just about got killed a few times, what with them all driving on the left side of the road. Not only that but electric cars are popular there. Dubliners call them silent death because they don’t make any noise as they run over you. There is much that I did and saw that I could write about but it would make this article way too long. As far as big cities go, I liked Dublin. Facebook and Google like it too. Those companies and others are buying whole office buildings and setting up shop in Dublin. Apparently they get a good tax deal. (If you want to know things, ask a cab driver.) Oh, and it seems Dubliners have an affection for green tinted glass. It’s on buildings everywhere. Next, I’ll tell you of my adventures in the country.