Irish Americas Tour of Ireland
Irish America with CIE Tours International arranged a very special trip to Ireland for our readers this past October. Highlights included a medieval feast and some fantastic sightseeing. Photographs and story by Peter Foley
Having the good fortune to contribute photographs to Irish America, I would on occasion drop a not-so-subtle hint to editor Patricia Harty, that I was always available to travel to Ireland. As Irish luck would have it aided and abetted by Ms. Harty's generosity a spot was arranged for me on a very special trip: the Irish America/CIE Tour which took place this past October.
Like any semi-conscientious photo-journalist, as soon as I found out about my good fortune, my mind started to race as to what to see and where to go. Not to worry, I was told. It's a bus tour and the itinerary is all planned. My only instructions were to get out and take pictures whenever the bus stopped. And so, camera in hand, I was off.
There are as many reasons to visit Ireland as there are shades of green, but having never before visited the land of my ancestors, what I hoped for most was to meet and mingle with the natives. And the first smiling Irish face I met was that of our tour guide, Marlene Sullivan, who made the traveling easy by filling our days with tales of Irish folklore and displaying an encyclopedic knowledge of a land steeped in history.
After landing in Shannon Airport (courtesy Aer Lingus) in County Clare, we were on the bus and off to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. While walking through the village I met another smiling Irish person, the caretaker of the park and castle, Michael Swords, an agreeable chap, who shared a laugh with me and was kind enough to pose for a picture. There is much to see there, an authentic 19th-century village, a 500 year old castle and of course the famous Durty Nelly's Pub where history and a tall glass of Guinness awaited.
After a slight delay (I was off taking pictures and Marlene had to come and find me) we were off to dinner and a medieval festival at Knoppogue Castle, near the village of Quin. Here we were greeted by the Lords and Ladies of the Clan of Cullen, given a glass of mead, and treated to a feast with song and dance from 17th-century Ireland.
The next day we awoke to sunny skies, ate a big breakfast, and were off to the Cliffs of Moher, one of the scenic high points of the trip. It is a beautiful drive through County Clare and out to the west coast of Ireland where the cliffs rise almost 700 feet above the Atlantic. Driving in Ireland is recommended only for the most skilled and brave at heart. Most roads are just wide enough for two passing horse carts and twist and turn so that quite often the driver must pull over to let the oncoming traffic pass. It is best left to the pros such as our most skilled bus driver, Tom Ryan, otherwise known as the steerologist.
After the exquisite views from the cliffs we headed south and crossed the Shannon River by ferry. Midday we arrived at the majestic Southern Hotel in Killarney and despite a little rain, half the tour group boarded horse-drawn carriages (the other half took the bus) to visit Muckross House. It's a sprawling estate with lakes, gardens and a grand manor house that is over 150 years old.