Ireland Part Two–More Great Sights

Irelandanother land of enchantment 

We live in New Mexico, known as the land of enchantment. Ireland is a bit greener. Beguiling in its own way with some great sights.  

We return to our travel feature on Day Five of our journey.  “Jerry from Derry” dominated the day. A voluble guy, Jerry relished his retirement job of regaling tourists with the history of Ireland. We had to ask if he had been a history professor. But no, he said, he just had an interest in learning about the place he called home. Jerry spent well over an hour offering a political and cultural history of not just Derry but most of Ireland. After leaving employment with the City Council, he became a local guide. That enabled him to give us a tour of the Guild Hall (despite it being closed)—where the Council meets, and exhibits may be found. Exhibits such as a statue of Queen Victoria, her hands missing; those were blown off by a bomb in 1972 during “The Troubles.”

Stained glass windows with historical images
A few of the many windows displaying Irish history over centuries

Note the stained glass windows in the main hall. They were all replaced after the bombing, Jerry informed us. The images depict the political and religious history of Ireland—kings and queens, conquerors, and more. Jerry used those to provide us the details of who lived in Ireland when, who fought whom, who was on which throne, etc.

Then there’s the issue of the name—Derry or Londonderry. Political or religious? Far be it from me, an American, to wade in on this topic. Our driver said it was mostly religious. Our Belfast guide said political. So, it’s Nationalist versus Unionist or Catholic versus Protestant. You can enjoy Ireland without getting involved in such matters. Wherever you’re from, there’s enough to worry about back home. Of course, if you have Irish ancestors, you may want to get into this; mine are way too far back to go there. Jerry’s hour-plus talk was enlightening. We must confess, without taking notes or recording it, we can’t remember all the details.

Day Six, a bit of traveling. Enroute to Sligo Abbey, we stopped at the grave and headstone of WB Yeats—Nobel Prize-winning Irish writer and poet. Writers and poets are one of Ireland’s biggest treasures. Here’s the headstone, with the author’s own epitaph inscribed on it.

The author and his wife at the tombstone of W.B. Yeats
“Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman, pass by.”

Sligo Abbey, built circa 1252, has some issues. A metal plaque explains that the Dominican Priory was endowed by Maurice Fitzgerald, founder of Sligo. The original structure was accidentally burned in 1414. Then damaged in the siege of 1595, and ruined by Hamilton’s Army in 1614. What remains today dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. Other historic buildings in Ireland have fared better and some worse.

The author checking the printed guide to part of the Sligo Abbey before him
Some writer/blogger with a pony tail looking at the map of this part of Sligo Abbey

We arrived midafternoon at Ashford Castle, a five-star hotel/resort at which we would spend two nights. Sleeping, that is, and dining at three of their restaurants. Much to do there that we didn’t have time for. We mostly ate and slept, but did walk the lovely grounds admiring the gardens.

Woman in a trellised garden
That’s her in one of many garden elements on the huge acreage at Ashford

One can try falconry. Play golf. Ride horseback. Indulge in a spa and more.  Bar none, the most luxurious place Juanita and I ever stayed.

One part of the Ashford Castle lobby with a knight's armor, fine wood décor and a deer sculpture
One side of the Ashford lobby

It’s an 800-year-old castle—but you wouldn’t know that to look at it. Of course, it has been upgraded over the centuries—especially in the last one.

A small corner of Ashford Castle, opposite Lough Corrib
A small corner of the castle; the windows look across a large yard toward Lough [Lake] Corrib
We had a late lunch on arrival in the well-appointed bar. We talked with two women at the next table; they said they stay there every year. A bit beyond our normal travel budget, although a manager gave us a free upgrade to a junior stateroom. Thankfully, the tour company get’s an unknown (to us) discount for bookings.

Day Seven, fitting perhaps, we went straightaway from the castle to Kylemore Abbey. It looked nothing like the former priory at Sligo. This one is in excellent condition. Built in the 1860s by wealthy politician Mitchell Henry as an estate, it became a home for a Benedictine order of nuns in 1920. It has a Neo Gothic church, built as a memento to his deceased wife—not quite the Taj Mahal, but reminiscent of a Roman Catholic cathedral. You could also walk the gardens, shop the craft store, have lunch and more. The “craft” store actually has some fine woolens, classy apparel and good souvenirs.

A tour of the grounds is a highly recommended attraction. Not for us on our visit; too rainy. We limited our tour to the building that exhibited the living area of the original owner/builder. As opulent as might be expected, it also has an historical presentation of the current tenants–the Benedictine order.

An historically accurately furnished luxurious late 19th or early 20th room in the Mitchell home at Kylemore
A well-furnished room in the Mitchell Henry home at Kylemore from a by-gone era

From Kylemore, we traveled  farther west to Clifden,   With about 1,600 people, it’s the biggest town in Connemara. A popular tourist stop–see the photo.  We had lunch in a local pub. There we picked up conversations in French among four to five people at the next table. Lots of foreign folks visit. The Republic of Ireland remains in the EU; easy access from elsewhere in Europe.

Many cars parked at angles to curbs in the Irish town of Clifden
We didn’t do much shopping here; just looked around and had lunch

Back to Ashford Castle for our second night, with dinner in the Henry V dining room. Jackets are required for male diners. The next morning, we were there again for breakfast—when jackets are no longer needed.

A table for two in the Henry V dining room in Ashford Castle
We had breakfast and dinner in the Henry V room. Jackets required for gentleman in the evening. We sat at a table with a better view than this one at our two meals therein

Day Eight, a half-day’s drive to the Cliffs of Moher. Another famous outdoors location. Busy even in early May. Historical displays on the topography are found in a visitor center, along with some simple meals in a couple of cafes. Just before the visitor center are some tiny gift shops of Irish memorabilia. More “official” stores can be found indoors.

The tall Cliffs of Moher, buffeted by Atlantic waves
Swimming at the base of the Cliffs is strongly discouraged

Long paths extend in either direction along the cliffs high above the ocean. Those so inclined can hike long distances. We chose the northerly route, with the choice of steps or simple paving. The latter affords the option of golf carts to take one up to the top where O’Brien’s Tower awaits.

People walking along a high atop the Cliffs of Moher
A view from O’Brien’s Tower of people walking a cliff-top path, extending afar

My knees were fine this day, so I did the double circular staircase to the top of the tower. Note, however, the view is often better from the ground because the stone ports atop the tower are thick and narrow–like gun slots. Still, the cropped image above was taken through one of the windows. Below is the interior of the tower. Note the staircase to the left.

Inside O'Brien's Tower, with a staircase seen through a doorway to the left
The interior of the tower; see the base of staircase to the left

Had to include this picture. No, the dog is NOT stuffed nor an available souvenir statue. It is a living breathing shop greeter. A little dog sits placidly atop a pillow in a shop at the Cliffs of Moher You won’t believe it, but the cute little terrier is alive

We had a quick lunch at the Cliffs before departing to the Great Southern Killarney—yes, named after a railway. We had dinner and spent the night at this older hotel. A popular golfing location it seems, as a waiter’s discussion with another patron suggested. The diner told the curious server that he  had a fifth day of 18-holes the next day before heading back to the US.

Day Nine was the great scenic journey—all the way round the Ring of Kerry. A challenge for our tour company and the driver they assigned.  The route is 179 km or 119 miles. Narrow roads and quaint little villages with names like Sneem—neat and painted in vivid colors. A tricky drive with the tour buses that may or may not be going in the opposite direction.

Charlie Chaplin spent many sixties summers in the tiny seaside town of Waterville with his wife Oona. With a maiden name of O’Neill, no surprise they did. The town put up this bronze in front of Ballinskelligs Bay.

A bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin in front of Ballinskelligs Bay
Here’s Charlie and a plaque in his honor to the left

For a better view of the bay, our driver took us up a hill overlooking the tiny village of  462 people. As with other photos of the two of us, he took the picture. All part of the Wild Atlantic Way as it’s called in Ireland.

We stand in parking area for the view of the Atlantic
Too windy for hats; the bay behind us and the other side is a lake and a river
Waiting for his order to arrive at a local cafe
Waiting patiently for my order

Next a stop for lunch and shopping in Kenmare, our last stop along the Ring of Kerry. A much larger town of nearly 2,400 people. It’s worth a stop. It has a wide choice of food and many items you might decide to bring home. We bought some apparel in a Fat Face shop, a UK chain. We ate in a comfortable café called Davitts.

On to our next hotel, the Montenotte a short way to the east of downtown Cork. Another luxury location with a great view of the River Lee. A better look can be had of its own gardens, from within the restaurant or on the open air terrace. [Note that smoking is permitted on the terrace]. The food and service are good.

A view of the gardens and the Cork skyline
The gardens at the Montenotte and some of Cork’s skyline

Day Ten, we toured Kilkenny Castle in the namesake medieval city. The structure has stood for over 800 years, with various modifications over the centuries. If you click on the website, you can find the details of recent (last 200 years) changes.  Its worth a visit. Within are ancient tapestries and pictures of the various royals who once inhabited the place. Look but don’t touch, from behind ropes. No flash photography either; the paintings and tapestries are very old and can’t take the bright light. There are three floors and a basement which includes a small café, bathrooms and an exhibit of latter day art work.

A large gallery room with paintings on the length of the side walls. A sloped glass ceiling lights the room

The Picture Gallery in the East Wing of the castleWe spent our last night in one of two Radisson Blue hotels—this one downtown rather than the airport. Ill timing, as an event had the main dining area reserved. We got dinner at the bar/bistro. Our driver aided our departure the day before by getting us to a COVID testing station. For those of you who may be traveling to the US from overseas and perhaps other locations as well, that entry requirement of a negative test is no longer required. Against the time zones, no red eye this time; just a late arrival at our home destination.

There’s much to see in Ireland that we missed this time. Like the Torc Waterfall near Killarney. Also Skellig Michael that has steps to an ancient monastery. Steps that you might have seen in Star Wars Episode VII “The Force Awakens” or Episode VIII “The Last Jedi.”  It can be reached by a tour boat. Perhaps we’ll run into you. You may recognize us from the photos here. Say hello if you do.

Lastly, an update on medical news. As we said in the first post on the anniversary trip, we NEVER give up. Before more travels across an ocean,  I’ll be getting some treatment for that prostate cancer. Gleason score 9, the biopsy said. Ten is the highest—and worst. Thankfully, a bone scan showed no signs of it spreading–yet.

Oh, but a bit of a wrinkle–the local hospital oncology crew are contractors, whose term is set to expire August 31 and a new group is set to take over September 1.  So no new patients right now. Thankfully, the current group gave me a hormone shot to slow down the cancer. Androgen deprivation usually comes after treatment–not before. But wait, there’s more. The negotiations broke down; no new group and the current doctors deal  is being extended–possibly up to a year! Complicated for the hospital, but great for me.

 The power of prayer—our Buddhist daimoku, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo means I can get treatment here–sooner than mid to late September. That will be either external beam radiation or proton therapy. No surgery. No chemo. But five days a week for several weeks, 30 minutes or less. Well, actually the proton therapy would be at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix–depending on a Zoom interview on August 10. There’s an extended stay hotel with patient discounts on the medical campus that even allows pets. Maybe home every night or gone for weeks. We’ll know soon.

Faith and physicians; an excellent combination. It’s important to have faith in something. Something that superficially seems to be outside yourself but is also within oneself. Plus, trust in friends who share and support the profound connection between mind and body. Whether you place any faith in Buddhism or not—you can take this scientific truth: Stress elevates cortisol levels, which in turn diminish the immune system. Calm and relaxed confidence restores and elevates it. Happiness more so. The mind and my Buddhist practice are not sufficient; they’re just multipliers to the medical treatment.

6 thoughts on “Ireland Part Two–More Great Sights”

  1. Lovely pictures John of you, your wife and castles and rose windows of churches. Re treatment : you’ll get the best possible one of this I have no doubt .

    1. Thanks, Susan! I’ve regularly been impressed by all the beautiful pix you post; my turn. Yes, I expect I will get the best medical care insurance can pay for–thank goodness we have that! BTW: the Ashford Castle is among the Red Carnation group of lux places, begun by some South Africans.

    1. Thanks, Jan! More British Isles for us too. Scotland and Wales are likely in the future. Timing is uncertain for all of our list but we’re not getting any younger. Still, we’re not ready for more cruises and train trips yet.

  2. Fabulous post John. Thanks for giving us some insight and gorgeous photos on what’s happening across the pond. Love the old history and buildings and churches. You guys did well. That’s a lot of walking and touring!
    And crossing my fingers for you that you get the best treatment -wherever that may be. I already told you chin up. My husband was also 9 on the Gleason scale. And he had the first shot before the treatment too. Stay in the light! 🙂

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