Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ireland 2014 - Dublin 1

An absolutely brilliant day in Dublin!

We began on the bus with local guide Neave, who - with the terrific driving skills of Frank - showed us the highlights of the city.

We visited Dublin Castle, seeing its impressive style and hearing some history from Shiobhan.  A surprise visit to the Royal Church (perhaps Chapel) was very nice.  The carved woodwork depicting important Irish family names and their crests were a highlight.

The off to Glasnevin Cemetery - where Daniel O'Connell and Michael Collins are buried, along with many others.

Then it was an afternoon of free time in the city.  Some took in theatre, many did some shopping, and others enjoyed more sites of Dublin - Trinity College, St Patrick's Cathedral, The National Gallery.....

Once again, the weather was pitch-perfect and cooperated with sun all day!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ireland 2014 - Belfast to Dublin

We departed the famous Europa Hotel (the most bombed hotel in Europe) and had a bus tour of the city with local guide Ken, who formerly worked in journalism during the troubled times.  Ken recommends the BBC documentary about the Europa.

Belfast was once the linen capital of the world and was the only Irish city involved in the industrial revolution - with famous inventors and Nobel prize winners all residing in a portion of the city.  We heard about the Crown Pub, which many had visited the night before!

Belfast was Base 1 Europe during WWI and lots of US soldiers traveled through here.  In fact the British trained the first US Rangers in Belfast during that time.  We saw City Hall, the Opera House, Queens University and more....  we even drove down the Golden mile - although no shopping from the bus.

We also drove through the walled portions of the city and heard about the conflicts, the issues, the 'fit for tat' killings and saw the murals - which change regularly to reflect current peace issues of the day (one of the newest cites Gaza).  This was very eye opening, to be down in this area of the city and hear of the long time strife among its inhabitants.

We said farewell to Ken and went to the Titanic Belfast exhibition - a wonderful museum with lots of cutting-edge components.  This has been one of the factors in the rise of tourism to the city.



A few stops along the way and a lecture from Richard about the Catholic Church in Ireland and then we arrived in Dublin.  Frank gave us a basic overview as we checked into the Ashland Hotel and headed out for dinner.  Many of us (including Nancy) dined at Nancy Hands Pub!

We also announced the first Alumni Travel Photo Contest - so there is some competition and we all look forward to seeing the award-winning photos!


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Ireland 2014 Day 5

Another magical day in Ireland, well, Northern Ireland!

We began with a sobering visit to the Free Derry Museum.  The guide on site was John Kelly, whose brother Michael was killed in the 'Bloody Sunday' ordeal.  Michael was just seventeen - the youngest of the 14 killed.  The museum is clearly a labor of love to John and all the family and community members involved. 

We then headed out along the coast and had a fantastic photo stop at Dundee Castle before reporting for our tour of Bushmill's Distillery.  The oldest operating distillery in the world, it was a very interesting and informative tour which concluded with a taste and some lunch.

Then it was off to Giant's Causeway which was magnificent!  Frank told us about Finn McCool and the folklore story (vs the scientific story) of the Causeway's history.  Just as we boarded the bus for departure the sunny skies gave way to clouds and some rain - but we're inside for the remainder of the day, so it worked out to be perfect timing.



While driving to Belfast, Richard concluded his lecture on Northern Ireland with the Peace Talks led by George Mitchell (former US Senator from Maine).  One interesting note was that after the pro-treaty group won the vote, a large wave of anti-treaty supporters emigrated to the US - which led to a significant population of the Irish-Americans having very anti-Britain tendencies still today.

We heard about the 1920 "Better Government for Ireland" law which forced state building after the evil war and led to 50 years of having no beaurocrat in London assigned to Northern Ireland - and Britain's very hands-off approach for so many years.

As always, Richard's knowledge of everything Ireland is awesome and everyone is so thrilled to have him share just a bit of his expertise with us.

Tonight we have a group dinner at the hotel and if the rain clears, perhaps some will wander across the street to one of the pubs.

Ireland Day 3 & 4 - Full Update


Today we welcome guest blogger Rosemary who recaps our past two days of adventure below. 
Monday, October 6th
 Off to Killary Lakes catamaran cruise for a tour of Ireland's only fjord with narration and complementary Irish coffee.  An "iffy" weather forecast resulted in intermittent rain, thunder, lightning and even brief hail, but once again, sunshine when and where we needed it most.  The upside of all these intermittent showers is rainbows multiple times a day.  (What's the plural of rainbow? Radiance rainbows. We're getting used to seeing double rainbows.). Learned a lot about aqua farming (mussels, oysters), Ireland's neutrality in WWII and both British and German UBoats seeking shelter here, livestock and potato farming.

Richard's lecture today was on the history of education in Ireland, everything from the hedgerow schools, to the influence of the Catholic Church for better or for worse and subsequent reforms, including standards setting, relevant vocations and trades, with similarity to our emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).  It's complicated but he does his subject justice.

Scenery of Connemara drive time culminated in visit to Kylemore Abbey, Gothic mini-Cathedral and walled Victorian gardens, check out the photo from yesterday's post. Originally built in mid 1800's as manor home for the Henry family, who were wealthy textile merchants.  He and his wife Margaret and their 9 children enjoyed the bucolic setting, trails, gardens, fishing ponds, and Eco-management way ahead of its time.  Sadly she died young after contracting dysentery on a vacation to Egypt.  The Chapel and mausoleum were constructed in her memory.  Both the Henry's are entombed here.  The formal gardens are among the best of their kind in Europe, but clearly the very best in Ireland.

Subsequently the manor fell into the hands of Duke and Duchess of Manchester who ultimately had to sell it to settle gambling debts.  Ultimately sold to Benedictine Nuns from Belgium whose convent was bombed in WWI.  They bought the property and converted it to a Catholic girls boarding school that operated until June, 2010.  Now the Sisters are still its caretakers and make breads and jams and soaps, conduct retreats and music lessons but it is administered by Kylemore Abbey Trust and its primary purpose is tourism.  We did our part today as we enjoyed its interesting evolution in history, the cafe, grounds and gift shop.

We returned for a final evening of free time in Galway.  Some enjoyed the comforts and amenities of Ardilaun Hotel and others ventured into city center for a final evening of dining, pubbing and "trad" music Galway style.

Tuesday. October 7
Leaving the well-appointed Ardilaun Hotel today.  We've been so busy, few have had the chance to use the beautiful lap pool, jacuzzi and gym, but those who did raved about it! 

Today's lecture from Dr. Finnegan is building us up for our visit to the North.  But first we must understand to fight for freedom in what is now the Republic.  We learn the distinction between self-rule and independence and the factions within the revolutionary ranks.  Many sacrificed their lives for the cause which inflamed a sometimes indifferent populous to embrace the ideal of self-determination.  Many of today's lessons will be witnessed in Dublin later in the week as we follow the trail of the 1916 Easter Rising and visit the Kilmainham Jail where the revolutionaries were executed.

As we move into Northern Ireland, one more lecture and then a walking tour with our guide Ronan, we learn of the similarities among the freedom fighters in the North and the Republic; voting rights, property rights, economic opportunity, education.  Derry has one of the best preserved walled cities in all of Europe, brought to the island by King James II's "Apprentice Boys", thereby "planting" loyal British subjects among the Catholic population.  Ultimately Ulster was divided with a portion in the Republic and a portion in the North.  He said it would be complicated and used Rory McIlroy's PR gaff and subsequent PR "course correction" as an example (whether he would ultimately play for the UK or Ireland in a future Olympiad; after saying I feel like a UK man, he ultimately said he was an Ulster man and wore the Ulster colors after winning the Ryder Cup).  I guess you had to be there!

An evening of free time, fellowship and dining.  Tomorrow off to Giant's Causeway.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ireland Day 3 & 4



Cover Photo
 
Technical difficulties have caused a delay in a complete post today but all is well and we're enjoying the Irish hospitality. Yesterday we traveled to Connemara again for a catamaran tour of Killary Harbour followed by a visit to Kylemore Abbey (pictured above) and enjoyed our last evening in Galway City.

Today we packed up our belongings and headed to Derry City, but not before stopping at Ballintubber Abbey in County Mayo and Drumcliffe Churchyard in County Sligo. We had a mix of a few showers and some clear skies today, but overall had great weather - which we've learned isn't always easy to come by!

More information will follow in the coming days! We're all very excited about the Museum of Free Derry tomorrow and a trip to the Giant's Causeway.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ireland Day 2 -

The title of today's entry could be: Aran Islands, weather does not cooperate but we still had fun!

We enjoyed a great breakfast and headed out for an hour drive through part of Connemara to get the ferry to Inishmore - the largest of the Aran Islands.  We knew the weather report was not in our favor so the boat ride out was not good for many riders.  Others commented that 'folks pay good money to go on a ride like that in Disneyland!"

We boarded shuttles that drove us across the island.  All our local drivers were knowledgeable and fun.  Only 800 people live on the island.  Most of them are employed in the tourist industry - 1500 visitors each day during the summer!

One of the stops along the way was 7 churches (actually only 2).  Some wondered out in the drizzle - only to have the skies open into a downpour once they were a hundred yards from the bus...dry off time!

We then went to the most important site on the island - a fort which was located 20 minutes up into the hills, along gravel and stones.  But the views were amazing - like being at the end of the earth!  Not to be outdone by history, the shops got our attention and many purchased sweaters, hats, scarves and socks (remember we were cold from the rains and winds!).  Beautiful hand crafted items were found - some even bought for loved ones back home.


Thanks to Tom and Rosemary for today's photo submission!!


Richard Finnegan again shared his knowledge with us - this time, his knowledge of women. :).  He actually reported on how the role and position of women in the country has evolved over time - including two female Presidents (both Mary).  We learned there were three women's movements in Ireland.  And how the Catholic Church and the Separatist vs Unionist movements both greatly impacted the women's movement in the country.  In 1972, a very important Report on the Status of Women and this was followed by the Equality Compact and subsequently by more laws which made Ireland one of the leading countries on women's equality issues.  His upcoming book has a great chapter on this topic (unpaid advertisement).

We returned to Galway and had free time and dinner on our own.  I'm to explore a bit on a Sunday evening. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Day 1 - weather

We expected typical Irish weather.  Sure enough a light rain met us at the airport.  But was followed by periods of sun and a beautiful sunrise.  Ann Rocha captured a stunning picture at breakfast!

The entire day proceeded to fall into place perfectly on the weather front...lots of rain en route to the Cliffs and then, as we arrived, the rain stopped and the sun came shining through.  In Galway, we had a bit more rain when we had a break for lunch.  No rain slowed down Brian and his walking tour though.  Who knew our sunglasses would be out most of the day!?!?

Hoping tomorrow brings the same love from the weather gods. :)