Day 1: Departure from the USA
Our Pilgrimage begins with an overnight flight to Dublin.
Day 2: Arrive in Dublin
Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground (Oscar Wilde, De Profundis).
Welcome to vibrant, soulful Dublin! Upon arrival, we’ll transfer to the city center to enjoy a panoramic tour of Ireland’s capital. Dublin is situated at the mouth of the River Liffey which divides the city into north and south. Our tour begins with the north side, where we follow O’Connell Street, a main thoroughfare. We’ll see the General Post Office (GPO), the Custom House (a neoclassical 18th century building housing several departments of local government), and Phoenix Park, one of the largest parks in Europe with its large areas of grassland, and (since the 17th century) a herd of wild deer. Along the south side of the river, we’ll see sophisticated areas with shops and historic homes, including those of Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker, a few of Ireland’s world-famous writers. This part of the city is also dominated by Trinity College, home to the Book of Kells, a splendidly illuminated version of the Christian Gospels dating from the 9th century. The 680-page work displays such incredible workmanship, including extraordinary colors derived from shellfish, beetles’ wings, and crushed pearls, that some historians feel it contains all the designs to be found in Celtic art. Trinity College faces the medieval district where Dublin Castle and two Anglican Cathedrals can be found. We’ll also explore Christchurch Cathedral, site of Dublin’s first wooden church built by King Sitric Silkenbeard (first Christian Viking king of Dublin) in 1038. The present Cathedral, dating from 1172, possesses a crypt where sacred memorabilia is displayed. Also attached to the Cathedral is the Synod house, which houses Dublinia, an excellent exhibition of medieval Dublin. We’ll have ample time this afternoon to further explore the city before checking into our hotel and enjoying dinner and an overnight stay. A full Irish breakfast awaits us in the morning.
Day 3: Dublin, Cashel, & Blarney
Land of Heart’s Desire, Where beauty has no ebb, decay no flood, But joy is wisdom, time an endless song (William Butler Yeats).
This morning as we travel southwest from Dublin to County Cork, we’ll stop to see the Rock of Cashel, also known as St. Patrick’s Rock and Cashel of the Kings as it was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion. The picturesque complex with its rugged beauty and historical significance, is one the most photographed and visited sites in Ireland and it contains one of the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture to be found anywhere in Europe. Only a few remnants of the early structures survive; the present outcropping of buildings includes the Hall of the Vicar’s Choral, Cormac’s Chapel, a round tower, a cathedral, a twelfth century Romanesque chapel and high crosses dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. Cashel is also reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century. We continue on to Blarney’s Castle, one of Ireland’s oldest and most famous castles. At the top of the castle, now in partial ruin, lies the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone. Those who visit Blarney Castle may hang upside-down over a sheer drop to kiss the stone, which is said to give the gift of eloquence. Maybe we’ll kiss it to find out! There are many legends as to the origin of the stone, including one claiming it was a magical stone upon which Irish kings were crowned. Surrounding the castle are extensive gardens with paths along the grounds and signs pointing out the various attractions such as natural rock formations with fanciful names, such as Druid’s Circle, Witch’s Cave and the Wishing Steps. Cork is the day’s final destination where we’ll stop for dinner and an overnight stay. Tomorrow morning: a full Irish breakfast!
Day 4: Cork City & Gougane
Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race (James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man).
Our day will begin with a panoramic tour of beautiful Cork city, a major Irish seaport. We’ll find that some Corkonians refer to their city as the “real capital of Ireland” and to themselves as “Rebels.” We’ll explore the English Market or properly named Princes Street Market which has been in existence since 1788. (The term English Market was coined to distinguish the market from the nearby St. Peter’s Market which was known as the Irish Market.) The English Market has been rebuilt more than once; after it was refurbished in 1986 due to a fire, it became more multicultural with a variety of fresh produce from around the world. However, the market is still best known for its fresh fish and meat and butchers, and is still a source of local specialties such as spiced beef, buttered eggs, and drisheen (a type of black pudding made from a mixture of cow’s, pig’s and/or sheep’s blood, milk, salt, fat and breadcrumbs which is boiled and sieved and finally cooked using the main intestine of an animal (typically a pig or sheep) as the sausage skin; drisheen is mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). As we head for Killarney, we’ll stop by Gougane Barra, whose name derives from St. Finbarr, who was said to have built a monastery on an island here during the 6th century. Forestation of the area began in 1938 and today Gougane Barra is best known for its fine forest park which sports many roads and walking paths. The Forest Park, comprised largely of lodgepole pine, Sitka spruce and Japanese larch (species that thrive in poorer soils and can endure well the Irish climate), is home to many animals and bird species. We’ll enjoy dinner and an overnight stay in Killarney, and awaken tomorrow to another full Irish breakfast.
Day 5: Dingle Peninsula
How many loved your moments of glad grace, And loved your beauty with love false or true, But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, And loved the sorrows of your changling face (William Butler Yeats).
The Dingle Peninsula, famous for its Celtic and pre-Christian monuments as well as Christian churches, is our destination today. We’ll savor the town of Dingle with its thriving fishing harbor, shops, pubs, and narrow streets. The road around the peninsula which passes through the mountain chain (called Slieve Mish) offers us some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable, made famous in the 1970’s movie, “Ryan’s Daughter,” directed by David Lean. The Dingle Peninsula is also an area where the Irish language and traditional ways of life are well preserved. We’ll admire Iveragh Peninsula and Rossbeigh Beach, and as we drive around the coast to Slea Head, a promontory in the westernmost part of the peninsula, we’ll have a dramatic view of Basket Islands, which derives from a Norse word “brasker” meaning “dangerous place.” This group of islands was inhabited by purely Irish speaking residents making them subject to much anthropological and linguistic study. However, because of their constant battle to eek out an existence on what was little more than windswept rocks, the residents left in 1953. We will also see in the distance the rocky Skellig islands where the ruins of an early Christian Monastery can be found. Still under the spell of the bewitching landscapes of the Dingle Peninsula, we travel to the excavated monastery at Riask and dwellings at Fahan consisting of the ruins of a 6th century monastery, a 7th century cross slab of St. Mura, the patron saint of Fahan, and a walled graveyard which is the resting place of pioneering nurse Agnes Jones who trained with Florence Nightingale. Finally, we explore the impressive Gallarus Oratory, an early Christian monument built in the shape of an upturned boat dating from 7th century. It was part of a larger monastic site and was used as a place for prayer and reflection. We enjoy dinner and an overnight stay in a hotel in the Kerry area, and look forward to a full Irish breakfast in the morning.
Day 6: Burren Region & Cliffs of Moher
Burren is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him…… and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing (Edmund Ludlow, 1651-52).
Today we travel north to take the car ferry from Tarbert to the Clare shore at Killimer. County Clare is rich in Christian history and contains many abbeys and priories whose ruins date back to the 6th century when Christianity was first introduced to Ireland. Our drive along the cost will thrill us as we behold the Cliffs of Moher, the most majestic and dramatic in Ireland. The spectacular views attract more than a million visitors a year. On a clear day, from these cliffs the Aran Islands are visible in Galway Bay as are the valleys and hills of Connemara. At the base of the cliffs one can see 300 million year-old river channels cutting through the beds of Namurian shale and sandstone. Many animals live on the cliffs including an estimated 30,000 birds, representing more than 20 species. As of July 2009, the Cliffs were named one of 28 global finalists in the “New Seven Wonders of Nature.” We then make our way to Galway through the Burren Region (The Irish Boireann means “great rock), a high plateau of porous limestone. Although the area may appear barren, Burren is rich with historical and archaeological sites including megalithic tombs, portal dolmens, Celtic high crosses, and a number of ring forts. We will stop at at Corcomroe Abbey, once known as “St. Mary of the Fertile Rock” (a reference to the Burren’s fertile soil) to appreciate its detailed carvings and other rich ornamentation, which are not commonly found in structures from this period. Corcomroe Abbey lies close to another interesting monastic settlement, a group of three small early Christian Churches which nestle in the pass of Oughtmana and which are dedicated to St. Colman. These lonely structures give us an idea of how the monks must have sought out isolated areas in which to become self sufficient and live away from the outside world. At the end of a memorable day, we find ourselves in Galway, the fifth largest and the fastest-growing city in Ireland (also known as Ireland’s Cultural Heart (Croí Cultúrtha na hÉireann)) for dinner and an overnight stay. Tomorrow morning: you guessed it! A full Irish breakfast to start us out right.
Day 7: Connemara
We must laugh and we must sing, We are blest by everything, Everything we look upon is blest (William Butler Yeats).
The Connemara Region, consisting of a broad peninsula and famous for its scenic lakes and beautiful mountains, is thought by many to be the wildest, most romantic part of the Emerald Isle. In many of its picturesque villages replete with stone walls and thatched cottages, Gaelic or old Irish is still spoken. Today we’ll see beautiful Lough Corrib (the second largest lake in Ireland about which William Wilde, father to Oscar Wilde, wrote a book in 1867) then proceed westward through Maam Cross to the village Leenane (close to the ancient woods at Maam Valley) and Kylemore Abbey, a monastery founded in 1920 for Benedictine Nums who fled Belgium in World War I. Prior to Kylemore becoming an Abbey, it was built as a Castle and private home for the family of a wealthy politician from Manchester, England. The Benedictine Community has opened the Abbey and Estate to the public so Kylemore has become a must-see when visiting western Ireland. Visitors can experience the character and atmosphere of the castle and enjoy the breathtaking views from the large picture windows which capture and frame the majestic landscape (the name Kylemore originates from the Irish words Coill Mhór – meaning Great Wood). Main areas of interest include the Abbey, the Gothic Church, the Victorian Walled Gardens, the Craft Shop, Pottery studio, Restaurant and Tea Rooms as well as the Lake and Woodland walks. Tonight, we’ll return to Galway for dinner and an overnight stay.
Day 8: Galway, Clonmacnoise & Dublin
May you live all the days of your life (Jonathan Swift).
Before we return to Dublin (via Clonmacnoise), we’ll enjoy a panoramic tour of Galway. Points of interest may include Lynch’s Castle on Shop Street, one the finest medieval town houses in Ireland, St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, the largest medieval church still in every day use in Ireland, and Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, just to name a few. We’ll journey on to Clonmacnoise (“Meadow of the Sons of Nos,”), which was founded in 548 by St. Ciaran, and is a site of important pilgrimage, having been visited by Pope John Paul II in 19790. There is much to see in Clonmacnoise including a large round tower built in 1124 which was struck by lightning in 1135, and ruins of churches, the largest of which is the Cathedral, originally built in 909 by the King of Tara. Originally standing in front of the Cathedral is the remarkable Cross of the Scriptures which dates from about 900 AD and is one of the finest high crosses in Ireland. Also preserved in the museum and replaced with a replica in its original position is the South Cross, standing about 12 feet and decorated with abstract interlacing designs, spirals and bosses. It also has a bas-relief Crucifixion scene, which (unusually) appears on the shaft rather than the cross-head. The North Cross, whose style is similar to the Book of Kells, dates from about 800, but only the shaft and base survive. The excellent on-site museum includes a visual timeline of the site, the original high crosses from the site, and a fantastic collection of early Christian gravestones dating from the 8th through 12th centuries. We’ll continue to Dublin for dinner and an overnight stay and in the morning, enjoy a full Irish breakfast.
Day 9: Boyne Valley
We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us (from the people near the wood of Foclut as they cried out with one voice to St. Patrick according to his account of a vision a few years after returning home after being held captive as a slave. He wrote that his faith grew in captivity, and that he prayed daily).
Our travel this morning takes us through Boyne Valley, a complex of tombs, standing stones, hinges and other prehistoric enclosures predating the Egyptian pyramids. Built with a knowledge of science and astronomy, it is the largest and one of the most important prehistoric megalithic sites in Europe and place where St. Patrick’s first paschal fire challenged King Laoghaire’s fire on the nearby Hill of Tara. Tara was once the residence of the High Kings of Ireland (142 of whom are said to have reigned here over the annals of time) and served, in the early Christian period, as the political and religious center of Ireland. Over thirty monuments can be found in the area today. The earliest settlement at the site is Neolithic while the Mound of the Hostages was constructed in or around 2500BC. Early in the 20th century a group of Israelites came to Tara with the conviction that the Arc of the Covenant was buried in its famous hill but they found only some Roman coins. We will no doubt enjoy experiencing Tara’s rich history in the audio-visual display in the excellent Interpretative Center. Our next stop is The Abbey of Kells (Irish: Mainistir Cheanannais), a former monastery located in Kells, County Meath, 40 miles north of Dublin. It was founded in the early 9th century, and the Book of Kells was kept there during the later medieval and early modern periods before being taken to Dublin where it is still displayed in Trinity College. Much of the Book of Kells may have been created at the Abbey of Kells but historians cannot be certain of the exact date and circumstances of its creation. In the churchyard, atop the hill, we’ll find the Round Tower and several of High Crosses, a number of which can also be found in the graveyard. Some have Latin inscriptions, which is quite unusual in Ireland, and the best preserved look to be dedicated to Saints Patrick and Columba. The day’s last stop is Mellifont Abbey, the first Cistercian abbey to be built in Ireland. The focus of Cistercian life was a return to literal observance of the Rule of St. Benedict, which embraced a very simple, even austere existence. For example, work out in the fields to grow all that was needed for sustenance was a special characteristic of Cistercian life. By 1170, Mellifont had one hundred monks and three hundred lay brothers. The Abbey became the model for other Cistercian abbeys built in Ireland, with its formal style of architecture imported from the abbeys of the same order in France. Little of the original Abbey remains, save a 13th-century lavabo (where the monks washed their hands before eating), some Romanesque arches and a 14th century chapter house. We return once more to Dublin where we might have time enough to enjoy a bit of shopping or personal sightseeing before our Farewell Dinner and last stay in Ireland.
Day 10: Depart for Home
We will let the wonder of all we have seen and heard settle over us; then like other pilgrims of other times, go back to our lives with renewed faith.
After a final Irish breakfast, we transfer to the Dublin Airport for our departure flight home.
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