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October - November 2007


A Taste of Ireland

by Gabi Otvos

The “emerald isle” lives up to its name - rain or shine, the land is green, beautifully green. Not that it is the only thing that cheers you up when you are over there: the locals are friendly and helpful, towns and villages are clean and looked after, food is ample and varied, and lakes, mountains and medieval buildings are a feast for the eyes. To top it all, people speak English and drive on the left!

L: Dublin - O’Connell Bridge and the River Liffey
R: The Ha’ Penny Bridge - a symbol of Dublin (it cost half a penny to cross the bridge when it was built)

It has not been an easy journey for things to be so good: Ireland has a long and painful history. The original Celtic inhabitants had to suffer the Viking invasion over a thousand years ago, followed by English occupation for several centuries. In fact, Ireland only became an independent country in 1921, after years of political and armed struggle. Since 1972, when it joined the EEC (European Union), the economy has gone from strength to strength; the population rose to over 4 million, and far from being one of the poorest countries in Europe Ireland has become one of the better off. It takes time, of course, for wealth to spread evenly, and signs of poverty remain. Nevertheless, there is a feel good factor about the country, and the future promises to be brighter still.

L: The world famous Trinity College - University of Dublin
R: The medieval Round Tower at Glendalough – it was used as a grain store and refuge by the monks

Dublin, the capital, is the fastest growing city in the EU and has a population of over a million. The large and leafy Georgian district, behind Trinity College and south of the River Liffey, is the legacy of 18th century Anglo - Irish aristocracy. It is possibly the most attractive part of the city. Trinity College (Dublin University) houses the Book of Kells, a magnificent, illuminated, medieval manuscript of the Gospel. The exhibition associated with this treasure, together with the Great Library of the college, is one of the city’s highlights. The Writers’ Museum, near the main thoroughfare of O’Connell Street north of the river, illustrates the immense contribution of Irish writers to world literature: Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett – the list is endless. Not to be missed in Dublin is the superb Guinness Museum at the brewery itself, particularly if you are fond of Ireland’s national drink. Phoenix Park, west of the centre, is the largest urban park in Europe.

L: Saint Kevin’s 6th century church at Glendalough
R: Oscar Wilde Memorial near the house where he was born

The Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin, are hills of about 800 - 1000 metres with unspoilt scenery and sights like the 120 metres high Powerscourt Waterfall, and the 6th century monastic settlement of Glendalough in its sheltered, beautiful and dramatic setting.

L: Powerscourt Waterfall in the Wicklow Mountains
R: The picturesque main street of Kilkenny

Kilkenny, the old medieval capital, is about 80 miles from Dublin. Its castle, river, cathedral, quaint streets and houses make for a very pleasant stop on the way to Killarney and Ireland’s lake district in the far south west. The Crafts Council of Ireland is based here, and has an excellent shop opposite the castle.

L: Medieval courtyard in Kilkenny
R: The dramatic Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel, Ireland’s equivalent of Mont Saint - Michel, is a short drive from Kilkenny. Several medieval buildings are dramatically perched on a rocky outcrop above the small, attractive town of Cashel. It is a landmark which dominates the surrounding landscape, and can be seen from miles around.

L: The green fields of Ireland…
R: Traditional animals and stone walls near Killarney

Killarney, in County Kerry, is about 190 miles from Dublin, and its lake and mountain scenery is second to none. Ireland’s highest peak is here (1038 metres), and a drive round the nearby Iveragh Peninsula (the Ring of Kerry) offers wonderful coastal scenery as well. This is the extreme edge of Europe - the next stop is America!

L: Dingle Bay on the Ring of Kerry
R: A remote pass in the mountains of the Iveragh Peninsula

Ireland has many other riches: the charming city of Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, and the rugged, unique Aran Islands in the West, Donegal in the north, the coast of Skibbereen in the South, the valley of the River Boyne in the East. So much to see, and not to be rushed!

L: Dusk on Killarney’s beautiful lake…
R: The spectacular “Ladies’ View” on the Ring of Kerry

L: Muckross House: a stately home where Queen Victoria once stayed
R: A traditional Irish thatched cottage near Limerick

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