Saturday, May 6, 2017

Travels to Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George's Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth.

After our short stay in London, Keith and I flew to Cork, Ireland.  Here, we rented a car and drove west toward Killarney in County Kerry.

Along the way we stopped at the Blarney Castle built nearly six hundred years ago by one of Ireland's greatest chieftans, Cormac MacCarthy.  Over the last few hundred years, millions have flocked to Blarney making it a world landmark and one of Ireland's greatest treasures. Now that might have something to do with the Blarney Stone, the legendary Stone of Eloquence, found at the top of the tower. Kiss it and you'll never again be lost for words. (yes! I did climb up and kiss it!).

We then continued to Killarney on the northeastern shore of Lough Leane, part of Killarney National Park.  Our hotel was gorgeous and provided a stunning view of the lake.  The next morning we set out to drive the Ring of Kerry, a 179-km-long circular tourist route that takes you around County Kerry in south-western Ireland.  We saw gorgeous spots along the way...

Torc Waterfall

Cliffs of Kerry
Cliffs of Kerry
Ballycabbery Castle
Ballycabbery Castle
We drove back to Cork to catch a train into Dublin, the capital and largest city of Ireland.  Founded as a Viking settlement, the Kingdom of Dublin became Ireland's principal city following the Norman invasion.  The Book of Kells, located in the library of Trinity College, is one of the city's most visited sites.  The illustrated manuscript created by Irish monks circa 800 AD is a Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. There was a bit of a line to get in, and standing in the rain was not fun, but once we got inside, it was pretty amazing to see the vibrant colors of the pages still in tact.  No photos were allowed of the book itself, however we did get great shots of the old library.

We quickly entered St. Patrick's Cathedral, which was founded in 1191 as the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland. With its 141 ft spire, St. Patrick's is the tallest and largest church in Ireland.

Since we were in Dublin for the St. Patrick's Day Parade, we thought it was only appropriate to visit the namesake cathedral.  Here are some pictures of the parade:

St. James's Gate Brewery is a brewery founded in 1759 in Dublin, Ireland, by Arthur Guinness and is more commonly known as the Guinness Brewery. Being that we arrived in Dublin for the St. Patrick's Day weekend, we only thought it was most appropriate to tour this facility and sample the beer of course!

The main product of the brewery is Guinness Draught. Originally leased in 1759 to Arthur Guinness at IR£45 (Irish pounds) per year for 9,000 years, St. James's Gate has been the home of Guinness ever since. It became the largest brewery in Ireland in 1838, and the largest in the world by 1886, with an annual output of 1.2 million barrels. Although no longer the largest brewery in the world, it is still the largest brewer of stout in the world. The company has since bought out the originally leased property,and during the 19th and early 20th centuries the brewery owned most of the buildings in the surrounding area, including many streets of housing for brewery employees, and offices associated with the brewery. There is an attached exhibition on the 250-year-old history of Guinness, called the Guinness Storehouse. The Storehouse covers seven floors surrounding a glass atrium shaped in the form of a pint of Guinness. The ground floor introduces the beer's four ingredients (water, barley, hops and yeast), and the brewery's founder, Arthur Guinness. Other floors feature the history of Guinness advertising and include an interactive exhibit on responsible drinking. The seventh floor houses the Gravity Bar with views of Dublin and where visitors may drink a pint of Guinness included in the price of admission.

If you are more of a whisky fan, check out the Jameson Distillery. Few things go together better than whiskey and a good story. The Bow St. Experience brings the stories of Jameson's rich heritage to life in an immersive, 40-minute tasting tour of the home of Ireland's best-selling Irish whiskey. Discover how John Jameson's focus on the highest quality ingredients, triple distillation process, and constant innovation resulted in an exceptionally smooth whiskey that is celebrated and enjoyed all around the globe. An expert Jameson Ambassador then leads you in a comparative whiskey tasting and a celebratory toast to Jameson Barrelmen everywhere. The experience concludes in JJ's Bar, where you can share a story and a whiskey with some new found friends.  I enjoyed the Strawberry Sour, made with whisky, bitters, strawberry juice, topped with lime zest.

Dublin Castle was until 1922 the seat of the United Kingdom government's administration in Ireland, and is now a major Irish government complex. The castle today is a major tourist attraction and conferencing destination. The building is also used for State dinners (the most recent being for Queen Elizabeth II in 2011) and most significantly, the inauguration of the presidents of Ireland. I was impressed by how grand the buildings within the complex still remain.

Another historic site to see is the Kilmainham Gaol - a former prison in Dublin that is now a museum run by the Office of Public Works, an agency of the Government of Ireland. Many Irish revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, were imprisoned and executed in the prison by the British.  When it was first built in 1796, Kilmainham Gaol was called the "New Gaol" (pronounced "jail) to distinguish it from the old prison it was intended to replace – a dungeon, just a few hundred meters from the present site. There was no segregation of prisoners; men, women and children were incarcerated up to 5 in each cell, with only a single candle for light and heat. Most of their time was spent in the cold and the dark, and each candle had to last for two weeks. Its cells were roughly 28 square meters in area. Children were sometimes arrested for petty theft, the youngest said to be a seven-year-old child, while many of the adult prisoners were transported to Australia.

The Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, was an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week, April 1916. The Rising was launched by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was heavily engaged in the First World War.  Almost every tourist site you visit in Dublin will have some exhibit or remark about this moment in their history.

I really loved the green pastoral of Ireland, mixed with the historic castles and churches found in the city.  For more Ireland eats check out my restaurant reviews. Have you visited Ireland before? What are some of your favorites things to do and places to eat? Please share in the comments below!

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