When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 9: A Rainbow in Ireland

The final day had finally arrived.

I awoke to the first truly dreary day we had experienced in Ireland.  It was grim and rainy outside which worried me a bit because our first stop of the day was a visit to the Cliffs of Moher.

After breakfast, we boarded our trusty bus once more and began the trek to the cliffs.  On the drive we experienced some rain and then, miraculously, the sun began to peek through.  How fitting it was to see a beautiful rainbow appear in the sky in Ireland.  Dad quipped my thoughts when he said, “Let’s go find the pot of gold,” to the amusement of our fellow travelers.

The sun began burning off this mist which made the day look a lot better as we approached the cliffs.  Frankly, I thought the mist enhanced the view of the Cliffs of Moher.  It gave it a mysterious, otherworldly quality as I looked upon this awesome spectacle of nature.

We spent a brief period at the cliffs before heading over to the city of Galway.

Galway is another major city in Ireland and its major street of commerce also happens to be named O’Connell Street just like in Dublin.  We were given a few hours to spend on our own before we would meet up for a mini-walking tour of the city.

I wandered up and down the street as I looked at the various businesses and enjoyed the various buskers.  The most interesting busker was a young lady who played a hurdy-gurdy.  It was truly a haunting sounding instrument.

I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry, but decided to stop off at a café to enjoy one last bowl of seafood chowder as I knew it would be my last opportunity to taste this local delicacy.  After finishing my soup, I returned to our meeting point where Bill gave us a mini-walking tour of the city.

We walked past St Nicholas’ Cathedral, saw the remnants of the oldest building in Ireland (discovered when ground was broke for a new business), saw the King’s Head Pub which is Ireland’s oldest pub and has operated since 1649, and we also saw the Lynch Point.

The Lynch Point is exactly what it sounds like.  Back in the day, condemned prisoners were hung here.  Its most famed story is that a very just judge once ordered his son to be hung at this spot for the murder of a Spanish sailor who had cuckolded the son.  The son was guilty as sin and the judge refused to recuse himself, insisting that justice had to be served.  So honorable was the judge that he dismissed the executioner and personally placed the noose around the son’s neck so that full responsibility for this decision would lay on his shoulders.

After this little walk through history we boarded the bus and made our way to Rathbaun Farm, the final stop of the trip.

Rathbaun Farm is a working farm that has been in the Connolly family for six generations.  We met Vinton Connolly who led us to the kitchen where our group would get a lesson in scone making.

The cook told us we would be eating the scones we were preparing and she gave us our lesson.  Like a true chef, a lot of the prep work was estimation, but my table managed to prepare 8 scones for baking.  I crossed my fingers hoping that they came out edible.

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Ingredients for scones

From the kitchen we went across to the barn where Vinton showed us some of his sheep and lambs and told us about farming in Ireland.

Then he introduced us to Ted, his sheepdog.

Vinton explained that sheepdogs are not trained.  They learn a few voice commands, but herding sheep is an instinct that dogs either have or they don’t.  Dogs that have a lot of energy and can’t sit still probably have the instinct.  As Vinton said, “If a sheepdog is sitting still for ten minutes, it’s probably dead.”

Vinton then gave us a demonstration of Ted’s skills as he let Ted into an enclosed pasture.  Ted bolted right towards the sheep as Vinton gave a few voice commands simply telling Ted where to direct the sheep.  For such hefty animals, sheep can really run.  Ted never made a peep.  He just stared down the sheep and ran them in the direction he wanted them to go.

When the demo ended, we went to the dining room to partake of an Irish tradition:  Sunday dinner.

On Sundays, Irish people have breakfast and then don’t eat again until about 4 or 4:30pm when they have a large family dinner.  The cooks had prepared a hearty Irish stew full of chunks of beef, potatoes, and vegetables.  They also served our scones.

My team’s scones came out pretty well.  Nice and crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

When dinner ended, we said our good-byes to Vinton and boarded the bus to return to our hotel.

Officially that was the end of the trip.  I felt the way one should at the end of a vacation like this:  sad to see it end, but ready to get back home.  The next morning would take us to Shannon Airport which is one of the few cities where you go through U.S. customs there so you don’t have to do it back at in the states.  I looked out the window at the flight that would take us back to America and reflected on the many adventures I had and the new friends I had met.

I was so pleased with Globus that I joined their Journeys Club and began planning a trip to England and Paris which I hope to take in either 2018 or early 2019.  But that will be a story for another time.

But you won’t have long to wait for my next adventure.  On December 1, it will be time for my 5th annual Christmas B & B review.  Mont Rest Inn of Bellevue, IA is the site of my visit and it promises to be something special.  We’ll see you then.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 8: The Feast of Kings

We had a rather leisurely start to our day as we actually had the first few hours to ourselves.  I decided to take another walk around Killarney.  Specifically, I had wanted to get inside the nearby Church of Ireland to see what it looked like and to get some photos.

Eventually it was back to the bus where we headed to the tiny village of Adare, famed for its thatched cottages.  Again we were given a few hours to explore.  Adare marked the only place where I actually bought an item for myself.  The visitor’s center had a tiny bookstore and I found a book of Irish ghost stories which I bought for myself.

Aside from that I spent the time exploring the small museum inside the visitor’s center, visiting a nearby cathedral and cemetery, walking around the park across the street, and walking along the main street (pretty much the only street) examining the various thatched cottages.  I also bought a small cup of ice cream which was some of the creamiest ice cream I had tasted.

Once our time was up we were off to our final destination of the trip:  Limerick.

We took a little tour of the city and saw St Mary’s Cathedral and King John’s (as in the archenemy of Robin Hood) castle before checking into our last hotel.  We ended up going full circle as we stayed in another Clayton.  The building was actually a unique piece of architecture as it was designed so that every room had a view of the river.

At this point, I needed some time to myself so I ended up going for a walk around the neighborhood.  I stopped at a nearby convenience store where I sampled some chili flavored Doritos.  Ireland appears to be tamer with its spices as these Doritos were actually quite tepid.  After a walk to clear my mind, I went back to the hotel to get ready for the final optional excursion.

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This night found us headed to Knappogue Castle for an authentic medieval banquet.  The performers dress up in authentic period costumes and the evening began with a mead reception in the royal hall.

Mead is fermented apple and honey and it is a very sweet drink.  However, it also tastes very light and tame which disguises the fact that it is a very potent beverage.  Ten minutes after drinking it, I actually felt a buzz coming on.  Our tour director regaled us with a story about a previous tour where an Australian gent drank two jugs of the stuff at the banquet.  He passed out during the dinner and there was real fear that he would have to be taken to the hospital.  The gentleman regained consciousness and managed to get back to the hotel to sleep it off.  According to our tour guide, the gentleman was quite red faced the next morning and his wife didn’t speak to him for the remainder of the tour.

The night’s entertainment was a history of Ireland presented through music, song, and dance.  It was a great performance with a fabulous four course meal consisting of a seasoned tomato and basil soup, homemade bread, salad, chicken, and dessert.  It was a grand night and it seemed to end all too soon.

Once more, it was back to the hotel to ready ourselves for the final day.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 5: Pardon Me, Boys, is that the Waterford Choo-Choo?

Another day, another adventure.

Today we started things off by taking a ride on the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway.  This 8.5 km train ride on an open car train takes you past the scenic River Suir (pronounced sure) as well as taking you to the land of the faerie folk.  At that stop one is supposed to make a wish.  It was a pleasant jaunt on a somewhat chilly morning.

We bused back to our hotel where we were given whispers (electronic listening devices) in preparation for a walking tour through Waterford.

Our guide for this tour was the affable Derek who was a knowledgeable and entertaining guide, if a bit blue in his language.  Our tour began right outside our hotel as immediately across the street was Reginald’s Tower which houses the Viking treasures of Waterford.  No, we didn’t actually go into the tower.

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Reginald’s Tower

From there it was off to the Medieval Museum.  The museum was actually built around the remains of a castle and held some amazing treasures.  Its rarest treasure was something that had been feared lost forever at one point.  Many moons ago, six priestly garments had been sewn out of solid gold.  It took 20 years to stitch these magnificent garments and they are worth many millions of dollars.  They are kept in glass cases with a special light to maintain them.  Pictures are allowed, but absolutely no flash photography is permitted as it will damage them.

Once we were through in the museum, we were taken to the 1743 Bishop’s Palace to learn a little more about Waterford’s history.  The ruler of this palace had been married to Letitia, the niece of Napoleon Bonaparte.  As such, the palace holds a Napoleon Clock (one of 12 left in existence) and a piano owned and played on by Letitia.

The palace also holds an impressive collection of art and Waterford crystal.  Below you’ll note the pictures of a chandelier and a table filled with crystal glasses and cutlery.  The chandelier is worth 100,000 Euros, but every single item on the table is worth more than the chandelier.  Derek told us how to recognize Waterford crystal and had an anecdote about a Waterford cross he found on Ebay.  He instantly recognized it as being made out of Waterford crystal and bought it for a few Euros, but flipped it for 700 Euros.

The museum also holds the oldest piece of Waterford crystal on the planet.  It is a decanter that was made in the 1780s.

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The oldest piece of Waterford crystal in the world.

At the front of the museum, we meant Sean Egan who is a master glassmaker.  He had worked for The House of Waterford Crystal for 25 years before getting laid off when Ireland’s economy went bust in the early 2000s.  He immediately went across the street to the palace where he was given a place to continue making his beautiful works of art.  Egan’s designs have been sold all over the world.  One of his notable works was a 9/11 memorial he designed featuring the rescue of Father Mychal Judge from the rubble.  Replicas of that work are present in Egan’s shop as well as in The House of Waterford Crystal.

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When the tour ended we had a little break where I dashed off to a local shop to buy batteries for my camera as my recharger had bit the dust the previous night.  After purchasing a pack I had to quickly go back over the ground of the tour and get the photos that I couldn’t take the first time around.

Once getting my pics, I met the rest of the group at the Druids, a pub famed for its Irish Coffee.  Each of us got a free coffee.  Now I don’t drink the stuff, but decided to have this famed local drink and I was wired after drinking it.  The coffee in Ireland tends to be stronger than its American counterpart and I agree with that assessment as the brew certainly seemed to overpower the whiskey in the beverage.

With the break over, we headed over to The House of Waterford Crystal for a tour.  Aside from being famous worldwide, the company also makes the actual prizes for the People’s Choice Awards.  It was a fascinating tour as we watched glass blown, sanded, marked, and etched.  Getting a job in the field is also interesting as one is apprenticed to a master craftsman for five years.  After that time, the apprentice has to make an item in their particular area and, if it passes, he or she gets to study for another 3 years and is then bestowed the title of master craftsman.

When this tour ended, we had the rest of the day to ourselves before embarking on another optional excursion.

We traveled to the village of Dunmore East which is by the Celtic Sea and home to Spinnaker’s, the #1 ranked pub in Ireland.  I spent an evening eating a gourmet beef burger with chips, drinking a Killarney Rutting Red, and listening to the house singer, Skinner, sing a barrage of classic rock numbers.  Our group really began to bond on this outing as well as the bus trip back to the hotel.  On the ride home I entertained our group with an acapella rendition of Jim Croce’s “Operator” which got a rousing ovation.

But it was time for bed as our group would be changing locales again the next day.