SHADES OF IRELAND
April 30 – MAY 9, 2005
A Trip Journal – by Joe Laufer
Taken from E-mails sent home throughout the tour
Sunday, May 1 - Limerick
We arrived safely after an almost flawless bus trip from Vincentown to Newark and a great trans-oceanic flight to Shannon. We started immediately with a tour Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and a guided tour of Limerick despite the fact that we were still suffering from jet lag. Because of the interest in Limerick raised by Frank McCort’s book, Angela’s Ashes, our tour manager, Liam Dunch , took us on an unusual tour, generally reserved for Americans -- where we were shown all the places in Limerick related to Frank and his book. We saw the bar where he had his first drink, the Catholic rectory where the priest told him he couldn't be an altar boy, his old neighborhood, etc. There are mixed emotions about him here. Some don't like the way he described Irish life in Limerick, and others who say it was just the way he described it. Bringing up his name in a bar makes for great heated conversation. We are impressed by our tour director – he is very knowledgeable and entertaining.
Limerick is a rather ordinary town, but I’m glad we go to see it because of the Angela’s Ashes connection. After the tour we went to our hotel, a Radisson located in a rural area between Shannon and Limerick. It is a very nice hotel. While there is a computer café here, it was not operating, so the good folks at the front desk let me use their business computer for these e-mails. The weather was overcast, but pleasant.
Our welcome meal tonight was in a Castle at a medieval banquet. The tour director asked me if Penny and I wanted to be King and Queen – but since I had once been the King of Wales, I deferred to my brother Bill and his wife Ellenrose . They made great royalty -- so much so that Bill has inherited the title 'A royal pain in the ass' for the rest of the trip. As a reward for presiding over the banquet, he was allowed to keep his crown (more than I got when I was in Wales!). It was really a fun night, especially when King William fell asleep at the head table during the entertainment! Tomorrow we have a day trip to both the Cliffs of Moher and Galway. We had a great first day in Ireland!
Monday, May 2 – Cliffs of Moher and Galway
We had a wonderful day today. There was lots of sunshine for the Cliffs of Moher, then on to Galway, where we had lunch. Today we saw one some of the most beautiful scenery Ireland has to offer – both at the Cliffs and on Galway Bay. On the way home, we were dropped off (at our request) at Durty Nellie’s for an evening pub/dinner stop. It was great, as we mingled with the natives. Today was a holiday in Ireland, - May Day - so everyone was celebrating.&nnbsp; Tomorrow morning we head to Killarney. On the way we will stop at a traditional Irish farm -- where we will tour and be entertained by the farm family. Then it was on to Killarney. We stopped along the way at the Connemara Marble Visitor Centre at Moycullen. We are looking forward to our two days in Killarney. The members of our group are winding down their second full day here in the hotel pub - so I have to join them. I’ll bring you up to date on our next venue when we get there tomorrow.
Tuesday, May 3 - Killarney
Today is our third full day in Ireland. We arrived here in Killarney about an hour ago. This is the first real Internet Cafe I've had access to. Our trip to Killarney today had a stop-off at an operating Irish Dairy Farm in rural Kilfinane , where we were hosted by Paddy and Margret Fenton in their home and by their son, who gave us a tour of the dairy barn. Paddy, a true Irish story teller, shared his memories of growing up in Ireland and Margret made us welcome in her home by serving us tea and scones. This is the kind of experience you can’t get on your own. It was a great stop. Tonight we are going to a sing-along pub, and tomorrow night to a show like River Dance here in Killarney. The weather has been great -- even though it rained today -- but only off and on. We've had lots of laughs, being that a major portion of the Laufer clan is here -- and when you get us together at a single table, the rest of the room becomes well aware that we know how to have fun. Tomorrow we have a big day as we tour the Ring of Kerry, a 120-mile bus ride in one of the most beautiful natural areas of Ireland. On Thursday we head to Waterford.
Wednesday, May 4 – Ring of Kerry .
Taking up from where I left off yesterday, we had a great meal last night in our hotel, the Hotel Killarney Plaza right in the heart of the town, within walking distance of everything. The hotel is only a few years old and it can definitely be described as luxurious. Last night we went to a sing-along bar as a group -- something of a tourist attraction, but not tacky or anything. The three-person singing band reminded me of the Clancy Brothers. They sang many of the old favorites (including Jambalaya -- as shocking as it may seem). There were several other tour groups there -- and everybody got a free Irish Coffee -- then had to buy their own drinks at thee bar. Needless to say, the singing got better and louder as the night and the drink consumption progressed. There were English, British, Canadian, Welsh and German tour groups in the hall. They catered to each of us -- but when they sang 'God Bless America' -- all of us stood and out-shouted all thee other nationalities with our volume and our patriotism. It was really a fun evening.
Today we took the 120 mile tour along the Ring of Kerry, one of the most scenic routes in Ireland. The sun shone throughout -- it was, as our tour manager described it, 'a glorious day' -- he had done these trips often before but never had a clear day like this, with unlimited visibility in all his years of touring. Somebody up there is watching after us! We had a great day -- with frequent stops for food, drink and shopping -- to the delight of everyone.
Upon our return to Killarney in mid afternoon, we all were taken through the national park on 'Jaunting Carriages' -- horse-drawn buggies unique to Killarney, that held 8 of us, the horses being something like a Clydesdale, and the driver being something like a stand-up comic who had us in stitches throughout the hour-long scenic ride. Again, the weather was 'glorious'.
Tonight, after dinner in the hotel, we go to a concert/show (for which we personally paid) starring Liam O’Connor, an “expatriate” from River Dance - near our hotel. Our tour director said it was quite a bonus to be here on one of the days of his concert.
Concerning the makeup of our group -- they are really having fun. I've never heard so many laughs on a trip as we are having on this one. Our two groups (my 28 and the other 11) have become one – and we seem to be getting along very well.
Tomorrow we move on to Waterford. We go via a southern route which takes us to Blarney for kissing the Blarney stone, and for the shoppers, a chance to use their credit cards at the famous Blarney Woolen Mills. Our Jaunting Carriage Driver told us to be sure to wipe off the Blarney Stone before we kiss it tomorrow, because every night at midnight sharp the leprechauns come out and take a 'wee' on it. Oh well! (I actually heard that the college students from Trinity College in Dublin do that -- for real!).
Thursday, May 5 – Blarney - Waterford
It is 11 a.m. Thursday where I am and 6 a.m. where you are ( East Coast, USA). We are half way to our destination at Waterford. We stopped here in Blarney for a 3-hour kissing, shopping and eating break. When I was here last time there were long lines, so I never kissed the Blarney Stone. Today, however, there were no lines, so I climbed the 110 steps to the top and kissed the stone. I now will be blessed with the gift of gab. Some will say that there was no need for me to walk all those steps, but I'm a glutton for myths.
It is another beautiful day here in Ireland -- we can't believe our good fortune relatted to the weather. Penny and most of the ladies are in the famed Blarney Woolen Mills shopping. We drove through the town of Macroom where William Penn converted to Quakerism when he was 23 years old, so our tour manager gave me the microphone to relate the story of William Penn and his New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ireland connections, the theme of one of my County Historian lectures (and that was BEFORE I kissed the Blarney Stone). We all enjoyed the Liam O'Connor show last night -- it was better than any Las Vegas show most of us had ever seen. Very well produced and O'Connor was outstanding, and his ensemble (band and dancers) were first class. It was, as they say here in Ireland, 'A lovely evening'.
Well, I wasn't planning on writing this afternoon, but since Penny is still shopping and I found this quaint internet cafe in the village of Blarney, away from the main tourist flow, I thought I'd do it. This is a REAL internet cafe. They serve coffee, donuts and breakfast, and the use of the internet is relatively cheap. They have two computers here in a back room of the restaurant. Really great! I'll be writing either from Waterford or Dublin next.
After leaving Blarney we headed out towards our destination, Waterford. However, on the way, we stopped at the Jameson Whiskey Distillery for a tour and, of course, samples. We were there for almost 2 hours. After the tour -- and it was really fascinating, as we had a demonstration of the process of distilling the spirits from start to finish -- we ended up in a large bar area, where three of our party were selected to be official whiskey taste testers. Theirs was an enviable task -- as they sampled a variety of whiskeys . We were all given our glasses of Jameson’s, and it was a rather enjoyable experience. By the way, there was a bottle of Jameson’s on sale there for 2,000 euros. Imagine passing that through your kidneys!
The ride from the distillery to Waterford was very quiet, as you can imagine after all that booze.
Our hotel in Waterford is right on the waterfront, something like Penn's Landing. We are having dinner here tonight, then in the morning we tour the Waterford Crystal Factory and then on to Dublin.
Friday, May 6 - Dublin
It is Friday evening and we arrived safely in Dublin at about 5:00 p.m. The rest of the gang are down in the bar -- it is about 8:45 p.m. our time ( 3:45 in the afternoon, yours). We had another great day. suspect,. We had a nice meal and got up this morning to have our official tour of the Waterford Crystal Factory. There we were treated to a very informative demonstration of how they make the various items out of crystal, including major sports trophies and the NY Times New Years Eve ball. Our group made a major contribution to the Irish economy before leaving. On the way from Waterford to Dublin we made a lunch stop in the medieval Irish town of Kilkenny. It was quite nice.
After arriving here in Dublin tonight we went down to Temple Bar -- not a tavern, but a section in downtown Dublin where the young crowd hangs out. We went to several bars, including the Hard Rock Cafe and Thunder Road. Once again the weather is cooperating with us -- except that shortly after our arrival in Dublin it rained a bit. It is already clearing up, however. Tomorrow morning two male members of our group have booked a golfing outing. The rest of us are going on a formal tour of Dublin.
Tomorrow night we'll be going as a group to a famous Irish Pub on the outskirts of Dublin for dinner and entertainment. We find it hard to believe that the trip is winding down, but we plan to milk this to the very end. We'll be here for another day and a half, then for the finale, we will spend our final night in a Castle just near the Northern Ireland border.
Saturday, May 7 - Dublin
We awoke to a semi-cloudy (or, better, a semi-sunny) day. Eventually it became an all-sunny day. Man, have we lucked out with the weather on this trip! We had a guided bus tour of Dublin -- with a special stop in Phoenix Park -- one of the most beautiful city parks I've ever seen, and then a stop at Dublin's St. Patrick's Cathedral, for a formal tour. We were then dropped off in the center of town to do our own customized touring. I led the small tour, taking them to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College, then the statue of Molly Malone ("the tart with the cart" or "the dish with the fish" as she is affectionately called by irreverent Dubliners). Some of the group will share their personal pictures taken with poor Molly when they get home. We then took a hike across the ' Ha-penny Bridge' -- another Dublin landmark. Grafton Street, the pedestrian mall, was absolutely jam packed with people today. There were lots of street entertainers -- mainly musicians. I'm sure the sunshine and pleasant temperatures brought out the crowd.
After seeing these basic sights, we conducted sort of a "pub crawl" through the Temple Bar area. There was some minor shopping along the way for some of our group, but most of the time was spent eating and drinking. It is now 4:45 on Saturday afternoon -- still sunny -- and I am sitting here in "The Bleeding Horse Internet Cafe" which is conveniently annexed to our Hotel here in the heart of Dublin. We leave at 6:30 p.m. for a trip to the outskirts of Dublin for dinner and entertainment at Johnnie Fox’s Pub, “the highest pub in Ireland” – a sing-along and entertainment spot on the outskirts of Dublin.
Tomorrow afternoon we head north to our Castle - Hotel in County Cavan - an honest-to-goodness castle converted into a hotel just below the border of Northern Ireland. This may, therefore, be my final e-mail from Ireland, as I doubt whether I will find an Internet Cafe at the Castle. We arrive home on Monday around mid-day after an absolutely "lovely" tour of the Emerald Isle (that's Irish for 'we had a great time!"). See you all then.
Sunday, May 8 - Cabra Castle, Kingsport, County Cavan
On the way to Cabra Castle today we stopped at the ancient ruins of a monastery where there were some fascinating medieval artifacts – and some of the best Celtic Crosses I’ve ever seen. The Castle which serves as our final stop on this wonderful tour is overwhelming. Our rooms are very nice and tonight we had our “farewell meal”. It was a fitting conclusion to a great tour. Early tomorrow morning we head to Dublin airport for our trip home to New Jersey. Everyone agrees that it was an outstanding vacation.
Monday, May 9 - Flight home
We arose early, had breakfast in the castle, then journeyed to Dublin for our Continental Flight home to Newark, arriving on time at 11:20 a.m. We were back in Vincentown before 1:00 p.m. Time now to plan for the next adventure.