Ross Castle

Whitney and Barbara Snow of Snow Point near Union Grove enjoyed touring Ireland earlier this month. They're shown at Ross Castle in Kallarney.

My last trip to Germany failed to quell my insatiable zest for travel. Initially, my mother Barbara and I discussed journeying to Spain, Norway, Russia, or Sicily. Since Scotland had been only a small part of our England, Scotland, Wales tour, we thought about more of an in-depth tour.

GLOBUS, the tour company we always take, had an attractive two-week tour of Scotland, but it was a wee bit on the pricey side. So many options, so little time. I would have been pleased with any option so asked Mom where, of all the places in the world, she most wanted to go. In many ways, her answer did not surprise me: Ireland.

As some readers may recall, Mom and I first visited the Emerald Island in 2016. That journey, dubbed Scenic Ireland, had been 14 days long and included both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We scoured the listings of options and ultimately, chose a 9-day tour called Wild Atlantic Way. This adventure, spanning May 26 to June 3, was no less thrilling and perhaps more edifying. On the first tour, I was like a deer in the headlights, jaw opened in wide-eyed wonderment because I had never before been to Europe. On this tour, I felt like a wizened traveler, far more worldly and familiar with my surroundings and comfortable enough to take in both the scenery and the vast amounts of historical and contemporary information.

At 5 p.m.  on May 25, Mom and I flew  from Huntsville to Atlanta and from there, to Dublin. The last leg was long and largely uncomfortable. Each row had three sections of 3 seats. Our luck, we were seated in the middle section. Mom had the aisle seat and I the middle. It was an aged plane with vintage technology which did not work for half the flight, a drawback for which the stewardesses used the speaker to apologize.

Fortunately, I had brought a book. Eventually, the stewardesses got the technology up and running, but I watched only one movie— "Artic" (2018). While I cannot complain about beverage service on the international flights, the food leaves a great deal to be desired. Thinking back on it now, I think it was some sort of chicken concoction with hard-as-rock bread, and barely cooked asparagus. Was airplane food ever good?

In any event, given the lackluster flight and a lack of sleep, neither of us was in very good spirits when arriving at the Dublin airport on the morning of May 26.

We managed to get through customs rather quickly, but then had to wait many hours for our transfer to the hotel. In the meantime, we had coffee at the Oak Café Bar in the airport. At about 1 p.m., we were met by our GLOBUS tour guide Barbara McCarthy, and she and the bus driver Gregory ferried us to our hotel—Clayton Cardiff Lane.

I tend to associate individuals with various actors and when it comes to mannerisms, Mrs. McCarthy reminded me ever so much of Diane Keaton. We had been warned that the rooms might not be ready yet as check in tended to be at 3 p.m. Fortunately, they did have readied rooms so we checked in and had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. Given the odious plane food, we both wanted a bite to eat so just ordered fish ‘n chips in the hotel’s Stir Restaurant. We had to meet the rest of the tour for dinner at 6 p.m. and while Mom wanted to recoup from the flight, I went exploring.

It was a bit drizzly, but I donned a raincoat and umbrella or, as Mrs. McCarthy called it, “brally,” and ventured into the area around our hotel. On the ride there, we had passed the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship as well as the Famine Memorial, and they were not that far from my starting point—the Samuel Beckett Bridge.

I still haven’t caught the train when it comes to modern-day technology and possess a Straight-Talk iPhone which won’t work overseas except on Wi-fi. In the states, I use my phone’s map app to navigate, but have to wing it when traveling out of the country.

As I walked from the hotel, I noticed an astonishing number of bicyclists amidst the hustle and bustle of the automobile traffic.  I remembered having crossed the aforementioned bridge which looks ever so much like a white harp lying on its side. Once I had crossed the River Liffey, I took a left and walked in the direction of the Jeanie Johnston which I could see in the distance. Though I did not have time to tour the ship, I did take several photographs. In actuality, it is a replica of an historical ship which, between 1847-1855, made 16 trips to North America. All told, the ship transported more than 2,500 Irish seeking a new life.

A bit further down the North Dock, I came to the Famine Memorial which consists of an array of statues of gaunt, almost skeletal men and women. One man was carrying an ill or perhaps dead child across his shoulders. In addition to the statues of people, there was one of a dog, an animal so thin one could see his ribs.

Sculpted by Rowan Gillespie, the statues serve to commemorate both the casualties and survivors of the potato famine of 1845-1849. The statues are intricate and the faces haunting. Someone had placed a bouquet of flowers at the base of each statue. I remained there a good while, just studying the craftsmanship and thinking about how difficult it would have been to live during the Great Famine. In time, I made my way back to the hotel so as to get ready to meet the rest of the tour.

When 6:00 P.M. rolled around, Mom and I went down to the hotel’s restaurant where we met Mrs. McCarthy as well as the 27 other members of the tour. We had options for our three-course dinner. I had the Roulade of Smoked Irish Salmon, Roast Loin of Pork, and the Chef’s Assortment of Desserts which included mousse and cheesecake. Across from us at the table were Steve and Connie, a couple from Prosper, Texas, which is just two hours from where I work in Wichita Falls. Next to them were two Australian sisters, Anne and Helen. On my left was Gordon, a librarian from Sydney, Australia, who was traveling solo. After dinner, everyone dispersed rather quickly, probably because of major jet-lag.

I went down the street to O’Briens Ferryman and had a half-pint of Guinness. While not a big beer drinker, I do like Guinness on draft because it has a nice head on it. I might add that it tastes far better in Europe than it does in the United States. And that is not my imagination. The U.S. has a different distributor. 

On Monday morning, we had a full breakfast in the hotel dining area. It was nice to see mushrooms and baked beans on the buffet although I only partook of the former. I’m not fond of tomatoes. After breakfast, everyone boarded the bus for a driving tour of Dublin. Though we knew rain was expected, the early part of the day was simply overcast. Mrs. McCarthy said there are many, many Dublins when it comes to architecture, and she was not kidding.

The bus took us all over Dublin, but I most remember Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, O’Connell Street, Temple Bar, Nassau Street, Fitzwilliam Square, the brightly painted doors. Mrs. McCarthy said many celebrities are often spotted in pubs on Nassau Street. I believe that, among others, the name Jeremy Irons was mentioned. Because so many buildings and homes are gray, a beautification effort was initiated. Myriad families have painted their doors red, green, blue, yellow, or purple. 

I also noted that Virginia creeper covered many of the buildings. One of the unexpected sights was St. Ann’s Church where Dracula author Bram Stoker was married. We were also shown where the movie "My Left Foot" (1989) was filmed. At one point, we passed by the Spire of Dublin which locals jokingly refer to as the “stiletto in the ghetto.”

As we drove, I observed more and more bicyclists intermixed with jam-packed cars. Come to find out, Dublin has no underground, just a tram, so the traffic is horrendous. We saw a few police vehicles, and Mrs. McCarthy mentioned that law enforcement officers are usually on foot and unarmed. 

(To be continued)

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