Ireland's Hidden Gemsby Susan Byron
- Green trails and massive variety characterize Ireland's walking vacations
- Lough Bawn House a hidden gem beautifully catered in mystical Westmeath
- King John's Castle, Limerick City, revamped and ready for action
- Irish jewelry designer creates a contemporary Ring of Kerry
- Barron's Bakery, a family-run, Waterford staple baking the best bread in Ireland for over 125 years
Halloween is an adaptation of a much, much older tradition called Samhain, a pagan festival that was held in the deep mid-winter of Celtic Ireland, at a time when the land lay barren and dormant. Our ancestors believed that the Gods of the Earth controlled fertility, so they paid homage to them in hope of a fruitful and abundant harvest.
It’s easy with hindsight, to see how that ethereal crossover between the pagan Gods and the Spirit world got woven into a Christian tradition, which the emigrant Irish carried with them when they left these shores during famine times for America. What’s harder to reconcile is the huge crass, commercial event it has morphed into all over the world, but then look what they did to Christmas?
Other Celtic festivals, such as Imbolg-Spring, Bealtaine-Summer and Lughnasa-Autumn are quietly being rediscovered and revived here in Ireland. Funnily enough, in much the same tradition as our ancestors, but with a new and timely respect for the land, and our global environment.
Doolin Cave or Pol an Ionáin, opened to the public in 2006 enabling visitors to view for the first time, what is reputedly the largest free-hanging stalactite in the northern hemisphere. Originally, discovered by speleologists in the 1950’s, it then took the owners John and Helen Browne, almost 20 years to attain planning permission to open the cave to the public, following the strictest environmental protocol. This year, the new visitor centre was officially opened and named after their friend, Irish author Nuala O’Faolain.
And what a triumph it finally is, the whole visitor experience is extremely professional from start to finish. You are immediately aware of their commitment to science, safety and conservation by being asked to wear a hard hat and carry a torch. In doing so, you seamlessly step into the role of an explorer/adventurer which adds enormously to the experience. Numbers are limited to 20 per visit. which lasts approximately an hour with a cap of a total of 55,000 visitors a year.
The guides are excellent, extremely well informed, patient and friendly throughout. As you descend through the main shaft, they explain how the engineers bored and shuttered the shaft in concrete sections 80 feet deep and 20 feet across. They then had to dig out 100 metres of chamber, enlarging the former river bed for access using air explosives, to ventilate, light and monitor the whole operation daily.
What a miserable piece of rubbish Matt Gross wrote about being 'Lost in Ireland' in yesterdays New York Times. Three pages of a whingeing, self-pitying comdemnation of Ireland and its people, which could have been avoided if the bold Matt had done a little bit of forward planning?
I mean which one of us here in Ireland, would land up in the USA with out some sort of a plan? What are your chances of 'losing yourself' while simultaneously 'having a good time' and connecting with the 'locals' setting off from the rental carpark of Newark of JFK without an itinery or even a map?
The Hugh Lane Gallery, in Parnell square in Dublin, not only has a great history but an exciting new future, having recreated Francis Bacon's studio in situ, which is proving to be a great tourist attraction. It also contains the Lavery paintings which are not only very beautiful but a colourful and haunting portrayal of Irelands past history including a depiction of the assinated Michael Collins. Did you know it was that Johns Lavery's wife Hazel was the face of Ireland on the old Irish pound note?
Sir Hugh Lane was the nephew of Lady Gregory who along with William Butler Yeats led the revival in Irish at the turn of the century. Well connected he amassed a valuable collection of works of art from leading impressionists such as Monet, Manet, Renoir and Degas which he bequeathed to the Irish nation, who unfortunately lost some of them to London, due to ambiguities in his will, leading to possibly the longest courtcase in Ireland which is still ongoing and unlikely to be resolved in the near future......
However the Gallery has scored a major coup in acquiring the entire Reese Mews Studio of Francis Bacon which was generously donated by his sole heir Michael Edwards. Francis Bacon was born in Dublin but lived and worked in London. 7000 items from his Reese Mews including pieces of the wall he had wiped his paintbrushes on were moved transported here from London and faithfully reconstructed at the gallery. There is a current retrospective including many previously unseen works of his at the gallery celebrating his centenary. Which is not exactly my thing, I have a soft spot for tradition but one has to be open to innovation and admire the foresight in the Huge Lane gallery in staging it, it's well worth a visit and it's free!
Dublin Castle is quite the fairytale inside and out. Massive medieval fortress walls protect an inner sanctum of majestic staterooms, filled with enough fabulous artwork, furniture and crystal to please any King or Queen ?
The only thing is we Irish don’t do royalty, we even managed to mislay the crown jewels! The nearest we got to a truly noble figurehead was Michael Collins who received the keys of the castle in 1922 ending some 800 years of British rule and tenancy. The question then was, what would we do with it?
Apart from being used as a centre of intelligence, Garda headquarters is still there it is now mainly used for elaborate state occasions. The last visiting dignitary to stay there was Dame Margaret Thatcher, who incidentally turned 85 last week just as the Chilean miners emerged from their incarceration......
Welcome to Dublin, I was born and bred here so I should know what I am talking about, right? Possibly of Viking descent? my maiden name Doyle means Dubh Ghaill or dark stranger and we can trace our roots back to Font Hill, right next door to the Guinness brewery which kind of explains a lot?
Never mind, Dublin is steeped in history from medieval times to the present day with an 800 year chunk of British rule which hugely influenced the built environment and of course our culture? We Dubliners are fiercely proud of our city and its history, especially the rebel bit? And although it has seen enormous changes in the last few years with the rise of the Celtic tiger, now extinct..... we all have our favourites, places we grew up with that are much the same as they always were, full of real history and character and well worth seeing if you want the real deal....
The following are my Top 10 attractions in Dublin most of which are free listed alongside each of these are 10 other interesting things to do and see in the area that you wont find in many of the guidebooks. The city is very compact and easy to get around, you can always, hop on a city tour bus, the Luas tram or just pick an area and walk around and Go n'eiri an t'adh leat - Good Luck !
A lifetime would be too short to fully explore the Burren, never mind a short holiday or day trip. For a start you will probably never find it? Although 'it' covers some 360 sq kms ie nearly all of County Clare, most people end up getting lost and constantly asking for directions when in fact they are often already 'there'. What people seem to envisage is an actual, neat, little place as in ‘The Burren’ somewhere, complete with limestone pavements, wild flowers etc. It does exist, it is just that it's huge and everywhere!
Look over any stone wall in the springtime and you will see the famous Burren orchids,blue gentians and a whole host of other wild alpine wildflowers you wouldn’t expect to find growing there, like Edelweiss and Mountain Avens. Marvel as you walk across the bare limestone pavements that were once the ocean beds of warm tropical seas millions of years ago. Or go underground into one of the many caves to truly understand how erosion has moulded this magnificent landscape and is continuing to do so at the rate of the thickness of a sheet of paper each year, so there's no hurry it will be here for a while yet ....
10 Other things to See and Do in the Burren....
1 The Cliffs of Moher, stunning views out over Ireland's own lost city of Atlantis with an excellent state of the art, all-weather visitor centre, restaurant, shop and facilities.
Thanks to Ryanair, in the last 10 years I have been all over Europe, often for less then the price of an onboard coffee. Up to a couple of months ago, before the M6 opened, I could have been and often was, in London, Paris, the South of France or Barcelona quicker then Dublin. Venice, a once in a lifetime trip for most people? been there, done that twice or is it three times?
Mind you, I screwed up mightily on that one, being a Ryanair virgin at the time, blatantly ignoring the Ryanair shuttle bus timetable which suggested leaving several hours in advance of departure? Why be a cheapskate I thought? when I could do the diva thing and get a watertaxi from St Marks to the airport in just 15 minutes... Wrong airport thats why? it then cost an arm and two legs to get to back to Treviso, okay point taken.....So you might land up in the middle of nowhere? do your homework, decide if you can live with it or do without?
Despite what you may have been told there is a lot more to Ireland than shamrocks, leprechauns and crocks of gold and to be honest before the Millennium, St Patricks Day was no big deal in Ireland, the whole razzmatazz surrounding it now was more an invention of Irish emigrants worldwide finding an excuse to celebrate their roots on the day. So here in Ireland, we would never actually drink green beer or dye whole rivers green like in Chicago. We have unfortunately adopted the whole silly hats thing.......
Traditionally, you donned your homemade St Patricks badge or fist of shamrock went to Mass and then if you lived near Dublin went to the parade to watch the marching bands and the odd float, now St Patricks is a huge festival lasting a week, with various cultural and fun events for all the family and visitors, with an estimated 500,000 cramming the city centre for the parade on St Patricks Day. There is even a huge fireworks display at alternative venues throughout Ireland, but Dublin is the place to be if you can make it on the day.
Down the country, although there are lots more localised parades, St Patricks Day is still more likely to celebrated traditionally especially on the islands and in Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) areas with traditional music and dancing, gaa matches, drinking too but that’s okay, its every Irishmans prerogative and a custom to be able to break their Lenten fast on St Patricks Day.