I visited Ireland only once. Even though I am of Irish descent, I must say it was not my favorite tour of all time. The Irish have had to manufacture some tourist sights in order to lure visitors to the Emerald Isle. I was told that the Blarney Stone is one of those fake enticements designed to attract travelers. Also, visiting a cemetery with century-old broken monuments is not the way to spend an afternoon.
Ireland does have its positive aspects, however. It is rightly named the Emerald Isle as the greenery is awesome, a color you do not often see. The people are delightful. Our male tour guide on the bus was comical although we were taken to tourist traps to encourage us to spend our money. I have since learned that staying at a Bed and Breakfast is a better way to see Ireland since you are able to talk informally with your hosts and absorb some of the local color.
My favorite city in Ireland is Galway which is in the western part of the country and lies directly on Galway Bay. We were able to view the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway which are tourist attractions in themselves. I was impressed with the charm of Galway since it is a college town and we were able to walk through the town in the evening, feeling safe, as college students were all about us.
The Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Moher, both in the southwest, are picturesque areas to see. We were able to watch border collies rounding up the sheep on a farm in this area. We also came across a farmer cutting large squares of peat which were once used for heat, but are now used by gardeners as compost and to build garden walls.
My relatives came from County Cork. I was pleased that we drove through Cork where I spied my family name, Kelleher, on an establishment there. Each county is the homestead of specific Irish clans so I wasn’t surprised to see my name in Cork where the Kellehers hail from. We also visited the city of Cobh in County Cork. This is the port which became the country’s main emigration point following the potato famine in 1846. The immigration building is still there where visitors can research their ancestors who left from Cobh to come to America.
We stopped off in Waterford and visited the factory where the famous Waterford Crystal is manufactured. The factory has since been shut down and is now in receivership. When I visited Ireland in 1998, the country was experiencing an economy which was unprecedented in Ireland. The influx of computer technology companies into Ireland brought unparalled financial success to its citizens. Sadly, Ireland is now experiencing the downturn in the economy which is affecting the entire world.
In Dublin, we were treated to an evening at Jury’s Inn where Irish singers performed while we dined. We were able to walk down O’Connell Street and cross a bridge over the famous River Liffey. Our tour was limited to the southern part of Ireland. It seems at the time it was dangerous to visit Belfast in the north where relations between northern Ireland and the southern counties was still unfriendly.
At our hotel in Dublin, we were treated to an Irish Breakfast which was the most all-inclusive breakfast I have ever had. It consisted of orange juice, bacon, eggs, sausages, oatmeal, pudding, toast with marmalade and soda bread. The waitresses were in costume and were very friendly and helpful.
If I return to Ireland, I will take the advice of friends and rent a car and stay in several Bed and Breakfast sites along the way. This, I understand, is the way to see Ireland.