Like Coming Home
Which country has the shortest flight time from the US east coast? Where can you travel and never be more than twenty miles from a golf course, with over four hundred courses to choose from? Where would you find the world’s oldest solar observatory and Stone Age tombs dating back to 4000 BC? The Emerald Isle, Ireland – that’s where.
Over forty-five million Americas trace their ancestry to Ireland; I count myself among them. I enlisted my daughter to go with me to see the land where my grandfather was born. We decided that driving was the best way to see the country. The best decision I made on this trip was to have my daughter do the driving. Shifting gears with my left hand was too much for me! Our one mistake was picking up our car as we arrived in Dublin, rather than as we left. The twisting, medieval streets are packed with traffic. Everyone we asked was more than willing to give us directions to our hotel, but no two people gave the same directions! Eventually my daughter just double parked in the middle of the crowded street and ran into a pub to call the hotel for directions. It was just a bit beyond Trinity College, but with all of our confusion, we had circled this historic landmark at least six times by the time we arrived.
Getting to the Merrion Hotel was more than worth the effort. Located in Dublin’s Georgian district, the Merrion is housed in four classic Georgian Townhouses, plus a new garden wing. Walking into the marble foyer with its sweeping staircase and graceful columns is like stepping back into a more gracious time. As in Georgian times, afternoon tea is served in the parlor. The authentic period furniture and marble hearth with fireplace ablaze, made tea at the Merrion a highpoint of our stay. While the Merrion prides itself on its historic ambience, the guest rooms offer all the modern comforts, plus views of the Georgian gardens. Two restaurants, one of which has two Michelin stars, a cozy pub and full service spa complete the Merrion experience. But it is the people that truly make it special. On checking in, the receptionist noticed that it was my birthday. Before I had finished unpacking, a birthday cake had been delivered to my room!
Sightseeing in Dublin offers something for everyone. The inveterate shopper will be at home on Grafton Street, a pedestrian thoroughfare with shops of every variety. History buffs should visit Dublin Castle and see the magnificent Book of Kells at Trinity College. And everyone has to visit Temple Bar, heart of Dublin’s nightlife. Our visit to Dublin, St. Patrick’s Day week, coincided with the Irish Independent Brewer’s Festival. Temple Bar was never livelier, and during the course of our stay we managed to earn the commemorate shirt listing all of the participating brewers by sampling a pint from each. (I said sampling – not finishing!)
After our stay in Dublin, we headed southwest. Ireland has a good highway system, so travel was easy and fast. We stopped for one night in the town of Cashel. Here we opted for a totally different experience, staying in a farmhouse B&B. This was a great way to get to know some local people, and oh, the homemade Irish breakfast! It was the perfect way to start a day of exploring in this delightful village.
Known as the Rock of Cashel, the remnants of medieval fortifications and a twelfth century cathedral sit atop a large outcrop of limestone in the midst of the village. Only the exterior walls remain from the cathedral, but standing in the hollowed nave, with rolling green pastures and an electric blue sky framed by the gray stone window casement gave us a view we will never forget. We then wandered about a half a mile through the valley to the remnants of Hoar Abbey, where we had the ruins to ourselves and climbed the ancient walls for more spectacular views. Anyone visiting the Rock of Cashel should go early in the morning, before any tour buses arrive for a truly unforgettable experience.
After Cashel we continued on to that ultimate Irish icon, Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone. This is another point where an early morning arrival to beat the crowds is essential. We each made the hike up the to the top of the tower and kissed the stone for the gift of gab and have the picture to prove it. A stroll through the grounds completed our visit to Blarney before moving on to Killarney.
Killarney is one of the best known and most charming towns in southwest Ireland. It is home to many of Ireland’s famous “singing pubs”, making a night out in Killarney a highlight of any visit. It was easy to stay busy for several days here. A tour of Victorian Muckrose House and a stroll of the grounds made for a relaxing afternoon. The Killarney lake region offers both boating and hiking excursions. The Ring of Kerry is the most famous and most spectacular attraction in the area. The drive was breathtaking, both for its beauty and the curves that hug the cliffs along the shoreline. This is not a drive to be hurried, but to be savored, with lots of stops for pictures. Of course, there were also several stops just to let some escapee sheep cross the road, but that was part of the fun.
Finally, we returned to Dublin for one more night at the Merrion. It was like coming home, everyone welcomed us as if we were old friends. In fact, everywhere we went in Ireland, everyone made us feel like family coming home. We were sad to board our return flight, but spent the entire flight time planning our next visit. It can’t be too soon!