We have a big day ahead of use today. After a nice breakfast at the hotel, three of us set out again (Lyra is still not feeling well; this has been a tough trip for her, but she does get out some more in the latter half of the trip) and head into the City to meet up with our coach. We have an all-day coach tour, and the highlight is the Cliffs of Moher, but there are other things as well. We stop at Dunguaire Castle along the way, and visit some paleolithic sites in The Burren. This is a very rocky area on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare, and is south of Galway, and we stop to see an ancient burial site, which looks like a slab of rock sitting on two other slabs of rock. It is called a Portal Tomb. The wind is very strong, you need to hold on to your hat if you have one. While we are there, a farmer goes by driving his herd of cows along the road. Then it is off to lunch at a local pub, Gus O’Connor’s, where we see a shop called O’Brien’s. Then it is off to the Cliffs of Moher.
These spectacular cliffs on the west coast of Ireland tower above the Atlantic, and appeared in one of the Harry Potter films, I believe. They are very steep, and on a clear day you can see the Aran Islands from here. At the high point there is O’Brien’s Tower. There are a ton of O’Brien’s in Ireland, I think it must be the largest family in the country. So while I may theoretically have relatives here, I doubt I could ever figure out who they are. Besides, my Irish relatives left Ireland 200 years ago. The wind up here was ferocious as well. There is a hiking path along the top of the cliff, but it looked too dangerous to me. You could clearly see where the rain had loosened the soil and it had eroded, and the fall would be certainly fatal, as the cliffs reach as high as 700 feet.
After viewing the cliffs we went back along the coast, enjoying more of The Burren. One thing I was amazed by is that so many roads in Ireland seemed barely wide enough for a one car, but were two way roads. And our driver took this big coach down those roads. Back in Galway we had dinner at the hotel, then to bed.
We had breakfast, then packed up headed ot the train station for the trip to Limerick, where we checked in to the Limerick City Hotel. Cheryl and I decided to head out for some sight-seeing (Dennis and Lyra decided to stay behind), and found our way to King john’s Castle. This is the same King John who ended up signing the Magna Carta in England, but as the brother of Richard the Lion-Hearted he was made Lord of Ireland. He planned and built this castle betwen 1200 and 1212, and it is a Norman-style castle. The Normans built castles as strong points from which they could exert their rule over the surrounding territory, so even as early as 1200 the English were trying to to take over Ireland. We toured the castle and got a few pictures from atop the battlements, then went in search of dinner, which we found at a nice restaurant. Our walk around Limerick was interesting because for the first time we were seeing evidence of other nationalities, particularly the Polish. Ireland is of course part of the EU, so there is free movement of people, and we saw shops catering to the Poles. We were pretty tired by the time we got back to the hotel, but I did my usual and had a pot of tea
A full day in Limerick, and we decided to book a local guide. It is surprisingly affordable to hire a local guide who will pick you up in his car and show you around. It turned out the fellow we originally contracted with had a conflict, and gave the job to one of his friends The three of us initially took off in the direction of the Ring of Kerry, but then DEnnis got a call from Lyra that she was felling better and wanted to joing the fun. So we changed the plan and headed back into Limerick to pick her up at the hotel, and decided to head for Bunratty Castle. I don’t think our guide was entirely happy with his plans being upended, but getting Lyra out was important. Once again we saw signs that the O’Brien’s were part of the story here. William Smith O’Brien (1803 to 1864) responded to the famine in Ireland by leading a rebellion against the British. This of course failed, and he was convicted of high treason, but instead of being hanged was sent to Tasmania. But in the late 13th century the castle was attacked several times by the O’Briens, aventuallt captured and destroyed it was rebuilt, obviously. Around 1500, the castle was given to the O’Briens, now the Earls of Thomond. O’Briens were the major clan in Munster, and made Bunratty Castle their seat. So in some sense you can call this the home of a branch of the family. But just as recent DNA discoveries indicate that every person of English heritage is a direct descendant of Edward III, I suspect that everyone of Irish heritage is descended from Brian Boru. In any case, I keep running into O’Briens.
The castle was very nice, as were the grounds around it. The Castle itself is mostly 17th century in the furnishings, but on the grounds around it are some examples of the older community life outside the castle.
After breakfast, we packed up and took the train back to Dublin, pulling into Heuston Station. We went back to The North Star Hotel and checked in, then headed out for some more sight-seeing. Talbot street was just around the corner from the hotel and lead to O’Connell Street, where the Dublin Spire was situated at the intersection of the two streets. It had a lot of the stores, and at this time of year we saw Christmas displays in many of the stores. So we wandered bit just soaking it all up, then found a restaurant for dinner before turning in. We knew that tomorrow would be a big day.
This would be our last full day in Ireland, and we again opted to book a private tour guide. He was Derek Smith ( https://customirishtours.com/ ), and he was fantastic. We had booked him for what was basically a Boyne Valley tour, beginning with Newgrange. It was another rainy day, but we didn’t care. he got us to Newgrange and took us to the front of the line where we entered right away. We started on the grounds, which had us on top of a hill with a view all around, and on the top a massive earth and stone mound. It was built around 3200 B.C., putting it 500 years before the Great Pyramid and 1000 years before Stonehenge. Around the outside are 97 kerbstones, massive boulders engraved with megalithic art, particularly spirals. We entered a passageway into the stucture, which is built so that at winter solstice the Sun’s rays reach all the way to the end of the chamber.
From there we went to Monasterboice, the ruins of an ancient Christian monastery (established in the 5th century), and home to the High Crosses. These are stone crosses taller than a person and beautifully carved. The name is an anglicized version of the Irish name, of course, and refers to the monastery founded by Saint Buithe. These crosses are the finest in Ireland. From there we went to Bective Abbey, a Cistercian abbey along the River Boyne. This was one the sites that was filmed for the movie Braveheart.
We finished our tour with a stop at Trim Castle, which was also featured in Braveheart. It is situated on the bank of the River Boyne, which was noticeably swollen from the rain when we were there. This castle occupies a strategic location on raised ground overlooking a fording point on the River Boyne. Henry II of England gave the land to one his lieutenants, Hugh de Lacy, to build a fortification to solidify the English hold on the area. For this stop Lyra elected to stay in the car instead of venturing out into the rain and wet. And after this we returned to Dublin. It was a fantastic trip Derek gave us, and we saw things that we loved, particularly Newgrange, which was on our must-see list even before we got to Ireland.
Back in Dublin we walked down Talbot Street and found a nice restaurant that also offered musical entertainment, a great way to end the day.