Day 1: Departure from the USA
Our Pilgrimage begins with an overnight flight to Shannon.
Day 2: Welcome to Ireland (D)
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).
Welcome to Ireland! Upon arrival at the Shannon Airport, we’ll travel by motor coach along the Cliffs of Moher, the most majestic and dramatic in Ireland to enjoy the spectacular views that 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 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 3: Connemara (B,D)
May you live all the days of your life (Jonathan Swift).
Today we’ll enjoy the Connemara Region; consisting of a broad peninsula and famous for its scenic lakes and beautiful mountains, it 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 Nuns 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. Stopping at the Celtic Crystal factory in Connemara will give us an excellent chance to witness master craftsmen at work. A guided tour explains all the stages in the crystal-making process and culminates with a glass cutting demonstration. We’ll also enjoy the extensive showroom and shop attached to the factory before returning to Galway for dinner and an overnight stay. In the morning, a full Irish breakfast at our hotel.
Day 4: Knock & Ballintubber Abbey (B,D)
Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, you gave hope to your people in a time of distress and comforted them in sorrow. You have inspired countless pilgrims to pray with confidence to your Son, remembering His promise: “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find.” (Portion of Prayer to Our Lady of Knock).
On the evening of August 21, 1879, several people, including men, women, teenagers, and children whose ages ranged from five to seventy-five years, witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist. Behind them and a little to the left of St John was a plain altar on which was a cross and a lamb (a traditional image of Jesus as reflected in the religious phrase The Lamb of God) with adoring angels. We visit this important place of pilgrimage today, the sacred Shrine at Knock, often referred to as the “Lourdes of Ireland.” One and a half million pilgrims visit Knock Shrine annually, and it was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979 to commemorate the centenary of the apparition. We will have an opportunity to see a portrayal of the aspects of rural life in Ireland at the end of the 19th Century and early 20th Century at Knock Museum, before making our way to the Ballintubber Abbey, founded by King Cathal Crobdearg Ua Conchobair in 1216. It is said to be the only church in Ireland founded by an Irish king that is still in regular use. Indeed, Mass has been celebrated here continually for almost 800 years; even after being damaged during the reformation, the roofless abbey continued to be used. In 1966 the nave was restored and reroofed in time for the 750th anniversary of the abbey’s foundation, and in 1997 the Chapter House and Dorter area were restored and reroofed. A further restoration is planned for the entire east wing before the 800th year celebration in 2016. Perhaps it is interesting to note that the actor, Pierce Brosnan was recently married here, that the abbey marks the beginning of an ancient pilgrimage route to Croagh Patrick, once defunct but now reopened as a cross-country pilgrimage/tourist trail, and that legend has it that St. Patrick banished nine goblins here. Once more, we return to Galway for dinner and an overnight stay.
Day 5: Scattery Island to Kerry (B,D)
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 Rose When You Are Old”).
We travel south this morning to catch a ferry to historically rich Scattery Island, which lies at the mouth of the River Shannon near Kilrush, in Southwest Clare. Scattery Island Cathedral and Monastery is an early Christian place of pilgrimage, where St Senan, Bishop and confessor, founded a monastery. There are the remains of his oratory and house and of seven rude churches or chapels, together with a round tower and a holy well still in repute. The legend of “St. Senanus and the Lady”, as told in Tom Moore’s lyric, is founded on the fact that no woman was allowed to enter Scattery Island; not even St. Cannera was permitted to land there, yet St. Senan founded two convents for nuns, and was actually on a visit to one of them when he died. He was buried in the abbey church of Iniscathay on 8 March, on which day his feast is observed. The island has been uninhabited since 1978. After an interesting visit to this soulful place, we’ll take the Shannon car ferry from Kilimer to Tarbert and continue to Kerry for dinner and overnight stay. In the morning, a full Irish breakfast at our hotel.
Day 6: Ring of Kerry (B,D)
Nobody really knows how [the Puck Fair] came about or when. One popular theory is that the event pays tribute to a wild goat that alerted the town to the advancing armies of military leader Oliver Cromwell in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland of 1649-53 (although Cromwell himself, who left Ireland in May 1650, never reached as far west as Killorglin). Another is that it stems from the pagan Celtic festival of Lughnasa, when feasting and sacrifices marked the start of the harvest season, and that the goat is a pagan fertility symbol (Jean Kearney, a spokeswoman for the Puck Fair).
It is not often that one beholds mountains, peat bogs, lakes, cliffs, and magnificent views of the ocean all in one drive. But that is what is in store today for us today as we experience the astonishing beauty of the Iveragh Peninsula and travel the 179 km coastal road of the Ring of Kerry, the most famous route in all of Ireland. After starting in Killarney, we’ll pass through Killorglin (known for its Puck Fair), then to Glenbeigh where the cliff byway affords panoramic views of the Dingle Peninsula and Dingle Bay. We’ll continue on through Cahirciveen (has the only Catholic church in the country named after a lay person: Daniel O’Connell) and peat bogs until we reach the town of Waterville (a favorite holiday spot of Charlie Chaplin; there is a statue of him in the center of the village). Then on to Sneem Village (famous for its statues) and the magnificent mountains to Molls Gap and Ladies View with superb views of the famous Lakes of Killarney. We’ll return to our hotel in the Kerry region where we’ll enjoy some leisure time before dinner and an overnight stay.
Day 7: Kerry to Waterford (B,D)
We must laugh and we must sing, We are blest by everything, Everything we look upon is blest (William Butler Yeats,).
Waterford (from Old Norse meaning “windy fjord” is the oldest city in Ireland. Our tour begins near Waterford, with a visit to Mount Melleray, a Cistercian monastery founded in 1833, and still fully functional. Mount Melleray welcomes visitors seeking peace and solitude. Next we’ll visit Reginald’s Tower in Waterford which is the oldest urban civic building in Ireland (at least 1,000 years old), and the oldest monument to retain its Viking name. To this day, it remains Waterford’s most recognizable landmark and is believed to be the first building in Ireland to use mortar. Many of Waterford’s royal visitors stayed here including Richard II, Henry II and James II who took a last look at Ireland from the tower before departing for France. Waterford is also known for Waterford Crystal, a legacy of the city’s former glass making industry. Glass, or crystal, was manufactured in the city from 1783 until early 2009, when the factory there was shut down. We’ll enjoy dinner and an overnight stay at our hotel in the Waterford area. We can also look forward to a full Irish breakfast.
Day 8: Waterford to Dublin via Glendalough (B,D)
Glendalough is truly one of the most beautiful places in Ireland and a highlight of any trip to the island (Lonely Planet Ireland).
Today we stop at Glendalough, meaning “Glen of Two Lakes” en route to Dublin. This beautiful glacial valley is renowned for its Early Medieval Monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by the hermit priest, St. Kevin, who, as a young man, was said to have gone to live in Glendalough in a “hollow of a tree.” He returned later with a small group of followers. After a life of sleeping on stones, wearing animal skins, barely eating and (according to legend) making friends with birds and animals, Kevin died in about 618. The present remains in Glendalough tell only a small part of its story. The monastery in its heyday included workshops, areas for manuscript writing and copying, guest houses, an infirmary, farm buildings and dwellings for both the monks and a large lay population. The buildings which survive probably date from between the 10th and 12th centuries. The extensive ruins of Glendalough include several early churches, a graceful round tower, and various sites associated with the life of St. Kevin. The largest building at Glendalough is the cathedral, which was built in several phases from the 10th through the early 13th century. Nearby is the Priests’ House, which has been almost entirely reconstructed from the original stones based on a 1779 sketch of the original. Its name comes from the practice of burying priests there in the 18th and 19th centuries. St. Kevin’s Church is a stone roofed building with a distinctive round belfry with conical cap at the west end. The most visible monument at Glendalough is the fine round tower, rising about 30 meters high. In medieval Ireland, round towers served as landmarks, bell towers, storehouses and places of refuge in times of attack. There are a number of other churches in the area. The beautiful area is ideal for walking at all levels, ranging from a short stroll around the ruins to demanding mountain hikes. We continue on to Dublin for dinner and an overnight stay.
Day 9: Dublin’s Fair City (B,D)
Ubi saeva indignatio ulterius cor lacerare nequit [Where savage indignation can lacerate his heart no more] (Epitaph inscribed on Jonathan Swift’s grave, Saint Patrick’s, Dublin).
Welcome to vibrant, soulful Dublin, where we’ll 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. The Guinness Brewery, Europe’s largest stout producing brewery opened in 1904, will definitely capture our attention. We’ll learn all about the craft and passion of brewing and enjoy perusing the retail store, gallery and exhibition area, as well perhaps sampling the wares at the restaurant and bars. Before meeting this evening for our Farewell dinner and last night in Ireland, we have an enjoyable afternoon of leisure to sightsee on our own.
Day 10: Depart for Home (B)
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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