Ireland's Hidden Gemsby Susan Byron
- Barron's Bakery, a family-run, Waterford staple baking the best bread in Ireland for over 125 years
- Step into a storybook garden with a fairytale castle at Lismore Castle and Gardens Arts Centre in County Waterford
- Colorado native has a eureka moment - sets up "Full Irish Whisky Tour of Ireland"
- Ireland's top ten tourist attractions in 2013 - Where to go and what to see in Ireland
- "Where to Eat, Sleep & Play in Ireland in 2013" during The Gathering
‘The loveliness of many coloured gems has called me away from external cares’ an inscription on a medieval stained glass exhibit aptly describes the Hunt Museum in Limerick. In my opinion, the best in Ireland as it only displays a small, but excellent selection of the finest national and international treasures. Larger museums tend to overdo it causing the visitor to suffer from culture fatigue, and not a little boredom.
Spread over just three small floors, a basement and a gallery, you can wander through the exhibits which refreshingly, are not arranged in chronological order. Pre Christian, and Viking exhibits are neatly juxtaposed with Egyptian artefacts, my favourite is a small clay falcon from Luxor. An exquisite bronze horse by Leonardo DaVinci is surrounded by fine Japanese porcelain and Ming vases. You sift through drawers laden with Impressionist sketches, there is even a half finished Renoir languishing in one of them......
Craggaunowen is an example of what an early bronze age settlement might have looked like in Ireland long ago. Each building was constructed according to the best records of the time and has now matured into its natural setting. Complete with Crannogs, woven hut lake dwellings, reached by bridges or submerged pathways. Round stone reed- thatched farmsteads with open fires hint at how daily life was carried on with Fulach Fia, cooking pits and wool looms.
And if you have ever wondered what went on in the 40,000 odd ringforts around Ireland this example might explain it. These circular forts were defended by a band of stout wooden stakes on top of a high outer bank of stones and earth with an underground passage or souterrain which served as a food store or escape route if necessary.
These people were hunter gatherers and later farmers who grew spelt, oats and barley. There are live boars with cute babies to admire and miniature sheep whose wool was plucked rather than shorn to be woven into cloth. Costumed guides are available to elaborate on any aspect of particular interest and the public are invited to join in, especially the children.
Glenstal Abbey is a very quiet and holy place despite its surprising appearance. A 19th century Norman revivalist Castle, it was home to the Barrington family who lived there up until it was sold to the Benedictine order of Monks who arrived from Belgium in 1927. It became a working abbey with a dairy farm, guest house and boading school for boys, which continues today. You can stay here on a personal retreat if you like, but even a day trip will be enough to restore your mind, body and soul.
In recent years the Monks have become quite famous with the release for sale of their recorded Gregorian chants. A reaction perhaps, to the stresses and strains of life outside of these walls, with which we are all too familiar, or a longing for the alternative peace and tranquillity of monastic life, without the constraints? Did I tell you about their delicious chocolate truffles laced with liqueurs, such as Benedictine itself, Chartreuse etc from monasteries of Europe, I could be converted.....
Glenstal Abbey has also just released its first ever cookbook, which no doubt will be just as successful as their best selling prayer books ! Real ‘soul food’ based on the Monk's legendry hospitality, and a homage to big-hearted, homely comfort food laden with blessed butter, cream, and eggs by the dozen. Compiled by Brother Anselm (real life brother to actor John Hurt) it is available directly from their online shop, as are their divine truffles above!
If you have only one day in which to ‘to do’ Ireland I would highly recommend visiting Bunratty Castle and Folk Park as it will give you a very good feel for the culture and history of Ireland. It very close to Shannon airport, about 10 miles, so an ideal place to visit prior to departure as we all invariably leave way to much time for dropping off the hire car, why spend hours hanging about the airport when you could be here instead?
Bunratty Castle itself, is a very fine and impressive furnished 15th century medieval fortress with great views out over the estuary and surrounding lands it once protected. Visitors can enjoy a medieval style banquet each night during the summer or simply wander around the keep and ramparts during the day as part of your admission to the Folk Park complex, which will keep you occupied all day as you visit the various cottages and homesteads that were once occupied by farmers, fishermen and shepherds.
Having been abandoned in the 60's the Westclare Railway hit the headlines in 1996 when 'The Great Irish Train Robbery' took place. Jackie Whelan ‘stole’ the original, rusting steam engine the Sliabh Callan from Ennis Station, sadly most of the other wagons had been sold off for scrap at £100 each several years before. His dream, now a reality, was to restore it to its former glory at Moyasta junction between Kilrush and Kilkee and have it running again during the summer as a tourist attraction
The Westclare Railway was immortalised in a song written by Percy French which went like this 'Are you right there Michael are you right? Do you think that we’ll be home before the night?’ which may have seemed funny at the time that a train journey of 49 kms could actually take four and half hours. But it was true, the train was so slow that you could actually jump off, have a wee and hop on again! But at the time 1887-1952 there wasn’t an alternative, in fact it was a vital commercial link for the region. It employed 300 people and transported 400,000 passengers, not to mention livestock and goods, which where then ferried by horse and cart from the various stations along the route to local shops and businesses by ‘carters’.
Jackie & his chief engineer Richard Gere (yea...) are not just passionate about their railway, they are mines of information about the whole West Clare region which has been largely been forgotten about yet is stunningly beautiful with lots of other things to see and do in the area. Although you will have a real job tearing yourself away from Moyasta as anything can happen there, in a day there and often does, but thats another story.