Archive for May, 2012

We opened our first full day in Dublin with a bus tour. Lasting about an hour, it gave a comprehensive overview of the downtown history and historical sites. It ended at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. While a church has stood on the site since the fifth century, the current structure was built mainly in the thirteenth. Highlights of its long Nd illustrious history include the time Jonathan Smith spent as Dean (1713 – 1745), as well as his burial in the church, and a display of several Celtic stone slabs decorated with carved religious symbols, dating from the seventh and tenth centuries.
After leaving the cathedral, our next destination was Kilmainham Jail. It held the leaders of the Easter Uprising. Among them were Sean MacDiarmada, P.H. Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, Eamonn Ceannt, and Eamon de Valera, who went on to become the third president of Ireland. The jail was also the site of the executions of several of those men; the executions themselves actually resulted in more popular support for the cause of a united Ireland. Exhibits in the jail included pieces from the Easter uprising and a display of personal effects and letters to and from loved ones belonging to the executed political prisoners.

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Our final stop of the day was Trinity College Dublin, to see the Book of Kells exhibit. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript from the 9th century, containing a copy of the four gospels in Latin. It was most likely produced by the monks of Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland, and finished at Kells, county Meath, where they moved after 806 AD. The library also houses several other illuminated manuscripts of similar age, among them the Book of Armagh and the Book of Durrow.

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Today we left Killarney behind and began our journey to Dublin.  Along the way we stopped at Blarney Castle, home of the Blarney stone. The fortification was built in 1446 by Cormac MacCarthy, a clan chief, and the legends surrounding the famous stone have been circulating since at least 1789. The long spiral staircase leading to the top of the castle is not for the faint of heart: made of carved stone, it becomes progressively steeper and more narrow as it climbs. After kissing the rock, we were off to lunch, then continued to wind our way toward Dublin.

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Blarney Castle

Also on the way to Dublin was the Rock of Cashel and the accompanying castle, once the seat of the kings of Munster. After some climbing around on the rocks and pictures of a Celtic cross near the top, we headed back to the bus to finish the ride.

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Rock of Cashel

After arriving in Dublin, we went on a brief walking tour (with our tour director, the most marvelous Margret), to get our bearings and catch a first glimpse of particularly historic bits, such as the General Post Office (commonly referred to as the GPO). The GPO was the site of most of the violence of the 1916 Easter Uprising, when factions within Ireland who wanted a unified, independent country rebelled against the government and the union with Britain which created six-county Northern Ireland, part of Great Britain, and an Irish Free State in the south. The creation of a free state, rather than a fully indepent republic with a seperate parliament, was another source of dissatisfaction that led to the uprising.

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We also became aquainted with the downtown statues of Charles Parnell, the ‘uncrowned King of Ireland,’ and Daniel O’Connell, ‘the liberator,’ whom we discussed previously. Parnell was a Member of Parliament (MP) for Meath and Cork City over the course of his life, as well as a land reform agitator and the founder of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

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This morning we embarked on a trek around the Ring of Kerry, with many stops. First up was a ring fort (large thanks to our bus driver Terry for making a slight off-route detour for the sake of adventure). Ring forts are pre-historic stone structures, scattered throughout the Irish countryside. Often referred to (particularly in very rural areas) as faerie forts, they feature prominently in many Irish folktales. Their historical significance, beyond their age, is similar to that of the standing stones that also dot the hills–largely unknown.
Our next stop was for a demonstration of sheep herding with dogs. Brandon and his dogs Cap, Bess, and Max, did an amazing job showing all aspects of the job–the level of training and obedience the dogs must have, the knowledge and patience of the shepherd, and the cooperation necessary for it all to work together.
After leaving Brandon and his dogs, we ventured on, to a replica of an 18th century bog village. It held full-size replicas of homes in which workers would have lived: small one- or two-room huts, with a small kitchen area and thatch roof. There were stacks of peat at the side of each cottage.  95% water and 5% partially-broken-down organic matter, peat was the main fuel, used for fires for cooking and heating.  It would be cut from the bogs and turned over to dry, then brought to the village on carts and stacked like firewood. The replica village also held a pair of Irish wolfhounds and several bog ponies, a species of pony native to Ireland that narrowly escaped extinction.
After leaving the bog village, we made another impromptu stop–to look briefly out of the bus windows at the ruins of a cottage along the roadside, all that remains of the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell, widely referred to as the ‘liberator of Ireland.’ An Irish politician in the early 19th century, he supported Catholic emancipation and the repeal of the 1801 Act of Union, which merged the parliaments of Ireland and Great Britain.
While driving through the gorgeous countryside, sometimes in sight of the sea and always of the mountains and dotted with ringforts and standing stones, we also passed quite a few famine cottages–ruins of small stone homes, last inhabited by families during the famine (1845-49) who either fled the country or died off.
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Peat logs stacked at the side of a bog house

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Green grow the lilacs, all sparkling with dew
I’m lonely, my darling, since parting with you;
But by our next meeting I’ll hope to prove true
And change the green lilacs to the red, white and blue.

–“Green Grow the Lilacs,” Irish folk song

After four airports, two layovers, and three flights (not to mention roughly three hours of waiting aboard a stationary aircraft, relearning the definition of cabin fever), your intrepid travelers have arrived in Killarney, Ireland. The town is small and lovely and oddly similar to Saint Augustine–touting its ghost tours and smelling vaguely of horses. Our major excursion of the afternoon was a ride on the jaunting cars (horse-drawn carriages) through town and part of a nature preserve, with a quick stop at Ross Castle. After dinner and drinks, most everyone discovered that their exhaustion had caught up with them, and disappeared into their quaint teeny rooms at the Kings Court Inn.

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photo by Chellsea Guyer (click for larger)

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