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 3: Going Back to School & A Night at the Cabaret

A full night’s sleep did wonders and I was ready to attack a fresh, new day.  But, first, the inner man needed to be restored.

With one exception, all of our breakfasts were the same over in Ireland.  We always ate in the hotel dining room and enjoyed a breakfast buffet.  The food is pretty much the same as you’d find in America except their bacon is closer to ham, puddings (types of sausages) are available, tomatoes and mushrooms are big breakfast staples, a cereal called Wheatabix is common, porridge is common, and baked beans are often served in deference to British guests as that is a staple of an English breakfast menu.

After dining, we boarded our motorcoach and began a driving tour through Dublin.  Bill educated us on the history of the city, pointed out muse houses, directed our attention to the River Liffey which splits the town like Jekyll and Hyde (everything north of it is the bad side of town while the south is the good part of town).  He also pointed out a hotel owned by the group, U2.

We stopped off at St Patrick’s Cathedral where we spent a little time exploring the grounds and church.  Then it was back on the bus to our final stop over at Trinity College which educated luminaries such as Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.

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The rest of the afternoon was ours to spend as we chose.  I decided to take a tour of the college.  Out tour guide was imminent graduate, Alex Gregory, who gave a rather eye opening view to life at Trinity.

For starters, undergraduate college education in the European Union is subsidized by the government which means the students pay no tuition, though Ireland does charge its students a student fee of 3,000 Euros a year.  Alex also showed us the dining hall where all students can eat lunch every day.  Supper is also served, but one has to be a scholar to get that.

Scholar is a designation given to students who score a minimum of 70 on the Scholars’ Exam which takes place each December.  It is an incredibly difficult comprehensive exam given in your major.  It’s a little easier for science and math students as those answers are objective.  As the arts are so subjective the last arts student to get a 70 was Samuel Beckett.  The perks for being a scholar are a dinner every night, a waiver of all fees, and the ability to live on campus for 5 years for free even if you have graduated.

The grounds of the college are immaculate and Alex told us that it is clipped and mowed twice a day every day.  As Ireland prides itself on its grounds, I imagine a good groundskeeper earns a pretty good living in Ireland.

When our tour ended, I visited the Samuel Beckett Theatre and then headed to the library to gaze on the Book of Kells.  It is actually 4 books (the 4 Gospels to be precise) and is the oldest, best preserved Bible in the world believed to have been written about 800 AD.  It is incredibly well preserved and only appears to be a few hundred years old.

I finished up my campus explorations and wandered down O’Connell Street which is a famed shopping district also known for its buskers (street performers).  As I walked down the street, I passed a McDonald’s and decided to stop in for a snack.  I had hoped to try their local sandwich, a Cajun Quarter Pounder, but they were no longer selling it.  I settled for a double cheeseburger and made my way to St Stephen’s Green.

St Stephen’s Green is the Central Park of Dublin and it is a gorgeous property.  The birds there also know no fear.  I could have jumped up and down and shouted, “BLBBBBLBBBB!!!!” and those birds wouldn’t have reacted.

I enjoyed a constitutional and then started hoofing it back to the hotel.  As I walked I made a few observations on Irish drivers and pedestrians.  The drivers seem to be a little hot tempered as I often heard honking horns and jaywalking is the national pastime.  Seriously.  Pedestrians often cross in the middle of a road and raise their arms and the drivers stop for them.

I got back to the hotel and puttered around until early evening as we boarded the motorcoach for our first optional excursion.

We drove to Taylors Three Rock, a famed cabaret restaurant.  This place is a complete sellout 364 days of the year.  The only day it doesn’t sell out is Christmas because it isn’t open that day.  They serve a fabulous meal and I enjoyed Atlantic salmon for my main dish.  The entertainment is also top notch as they use name Irish entertainers.  I chuckled to the jokes of Noel V. Ginnity, Ireland’s cleanest comedian, was enthralled by the harp playing and singing of Rebecca Murphy, swayed to the tunes of Rob Vickers, an Irish tenor who played Jean Valjean in the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables at London’s West End, and thrilled to the footwork of their world champion Irish stepdancers.

It was a lovely evening that ended much too soon, but we needed to get back to the hotel as we needed our rest as we would travel to a new city the next day.