Day 1: Departure from the USA
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).
Our journey begins with travel to Dublin, Ireland.
Day 2: Dublin
May you live all the days of your life (Jonathan Swift).
Welcome to vibrant, soulful Dublin! We’ll transfer to the city center to enjoy a panoramic tour of Ireland’s capital, known for its architecture, rich literary history (having produced many prominent Nobel Laureates), and irrespressible spirit. We’ll see elegant Georgian squares with their shops, historic homes, and interesting doors! We’ll visit 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. Our tour will include a visit to the largest church in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is said to be the earliest Christian site in Ireland and place where St. Patrick baptized many converts. Dean of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, from 1713 to 1745 was writer and satirist Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels and many famous sermons given during his stay as Dean. Swift took a great interest in the cathedral’s building, its services and music (the Choir School, founded in 1432, supplied many of its members to take part in the very first performance of Handel’s Messiah in 1742). His grave and epitaph can be seen in the cathedral. Tonight we’ll enjoy dinner and an overnight stay at our Dublin Hotel and look forward to a full Irish breakfast in the morning.
Day 3: Kildare
St. Brigid was not given to sleep, Nor was she intermittent about God’s love of her; Not merely that she did not buy, she did not seek for The wealth of this world below the holy one (An ancient account of her life by Saint Broccan Cloen).
We depart for Kildare this morning to visit the The Cathedral Church of St. Brigid, a restored Norman cathedral dating from 1223. The present site of the Cathedral Church of St. Brigid is likely the site of a pagan shrine to the goddess Brigid. Beside it stands one of County Kildare’s five round towers (105 feet high) which can be climbed at certain times. Brigid was interred at the right of the high altar of the Cathedral and a costly tomb was erected over her which became over the years an object of veneration for pilgrims, especially on her feast day, February 1st. St. Brigid, was born of noble birth and left the comfort of palace life to found a religious center which was shared by nuns and monks. Today’s cathedral contains a restored fire-pit which was kept burning until the dissolution of the monastery in 1537. Inside the cathedral there is a fine stained glass window depicting the three main saints of Ireland: Patrick, Brigid and Columb. St Brigid is also remembered by a simply constructed four-pointed cross, which is found in the kitchen of many Irish homes. We return to Dublin to enjoy the rest of the afternoon at leisure, before dinner and another overnight stay at our hotel.
Day 4: Belfast & Ulster American Folk Park
Pro tanto quid retribuamus (the motto of the city of Belfast taken from Psalm 116:12; the Latin translates literally: “For (Pro) so much (tanto) what (quid) we shall repay (retribuamus)).
En route to Belfast, we’ll explore Ulster American Folk Park, an open-air museum in Casteltown just outside Omagh. This amazing park grew up around the restored boyhood home of Judge Thomas Mellon (founder of the Pittsburgh banking dynasty), and explores the historical link between Ulster and America, focusing particularly on the lifestyle and experiences of those two million immigrants who sailed from Ulster to America in the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum contains some thirty buildings, some recreational and others painstakingly restored originals with all kinds of displays and exhibitions. Volunteers dress in periodic costumes and demonstrate old world skills such as candle making, spinning and cooking, and visitors are offered samples of local foods such as smoked salmon and freshly baked bread. One exhibition tells the unforgettable story of the grim lives of 15,000 Irish vagrants and convicts who embarked on a voyage to North America during the mid-18th century. The Ship and Dockside Gallery features a full-size reconstruction of an early 19th century sailing ship similar to the one that carried the convicts across the Atlantic. We’ll continue on to Belfast where we enjoy a guided tour of the city beginning with the leaning Albert Memorial Clock Tower (Ireland’s answer to the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’) and the Opera House, one of Belfast’s great landmarks and designed by the most prolific theater architect of the period, Frank Matcham. According to the Theater’s Trust the “magnificent auditorium is probably the best surviving example in the United Kingdom of the oriental style applied to theater architecture.” Despite the onset of The Troubles and damage by bombs on several occasions, the theater continues to thrive. We’ll also see City Hall (covers one and a half acres, has an enclosed courtyard and features towers at each of the four corners), The Crown Liquor Saloon (dates from 1885 and with its elaborate tiling, stained glass, and woodwork, is an outstanding example of a Victorian gin palace), Queens University (undoubtedly one of the most beautiful buildings in Belfast and Northern Ireland’s most prestigious University) and the Botanic Gardens (occupies 28 acres and located near Queen’s University; it is popular with office workers, students and tourists. The gardens’ most notable feature is the Palm House consisting of two wings, the cool wing and the tropical wing. Housed in the Palm House is an 11 meter tall Globe Spear Lily which finally bloomed in March 2005 after a 23 year wait, and a 400 year old Xanthorrhoea). Time permitting, we will also tour the Harland and Wolfe Shipyard, where the Titanic was built and launched in 1912. Finally, a visit to the Shankill and Falls road will be of interest as it will give us a glimpse into life in Belfast during the Troubles. After a wonderfully full day, we’ll enjoy a sumptuous meal and overnight stay at our hotel in Belfast. A full Irish breakfast awaits us tomorrow.
Day 5: Armagh & Down
Legend credits St. Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by displaying the shamrock or 3-leaved clover to highlight the belief of ‘three divine persons in the one God’.
Today our spiritual journey moves to Armagh, an ancient site of worship for both Celtic paganism and Christianity, and the island’s “ecclesiastical capital” as St. Patrick established his principal church here. In Armagh, known as “the city of saints and scholars”, we will visit St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral at the summit of Armagh’s principal hill, Druim Saiseach (Sallow Ridge) where St. Patrick founded his church in 445 AD. St. Patrick ordained that Armagh should have the pre-eminence over all the churches of Ireland, a position still held to this day. We’ll continue on to Down to visit the Down Cathedral, best known as the burial site of St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, who is thought to have died about 461. The Cathedral is the property of the Church of Ireland and has been a place of pilgrimage and Christian worship for many centuries. Although Benedictine monks first established the site of the church in 1183, the current remodeled structure dates back to some time between 1789 and 1812. There are some evocative stained glass windows inside the cathedral and two small stone crosses, carved with ecclesiastics with books and dating from the 12th century, are now built into a wall in Down Cathedral. Before our return to Belfast, we’ll visit the St. Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, which houses a permanent exhibition telling the story St. Patrick. The exhibition, entitled ‘Ego Patricius,’ presents Patrick’s story in his own words in the context of the period and uses state-of-the-art interpretations that gives visitors a real understanding of the history of Christianity in Ireland. Appropriately, the Centre is located in a new building below the reputed burial site of St. Patrick and offers a café, art gallery and shops. Depending on scheduling considerations, we might hear a talk given by Tim Campbell, director at the St. Patrick centre Tonight we enjoy dinner and another overnight stay in our hotel in Belfast. We’ll be treated to a delicious Irish breakfast in the morning.
Day 6: Belfast to Derry via the Giant’s Causeway
Land of Heart’s Desire, Where beauty has no ebb, decay no flood, But joy is wisdom, time an endless song (William Butler Yeats).
The magnificent beauty of the northeast corner of Ireland will overtake us today as we travel the Antrim Coast, a narrow channel linking Torr Head and the Scottish Coast, to visit Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The Giant’s Causeway, named as one of the great natural wonders of the United Kingdom and the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland, is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a rope suspension bridge linking the mainland to tiny Carrick Island. Although originally a seasonal working bridge for salmon fishermen, today the bridge is mainly a tourist attraction open all year round. The area, with its unique geology, flora and fauna, is exceptional in natural beauty with stunning views of Rathlin Island and Scotland. Underneath the bridge are large caves which once served as home for boat builders and as shelter during stormy weather. The day’s ultimate desitnation is Derry where we’ll enjoy dinner and an overnight stay.
Day 7: Derry
If stones could speake then London’s prayse should sound who built this church and cittie from the grounde (the inscription in the porch of St Columb’s Cathedral).
Derry, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Ireland (it is accepted that between the 6th century and the 11th century, Derry was known primarily as a monastic settlement), is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe. In fact Derry is one of the few cities in Europe that never saw its fortifications breached, withstanding several sieges including one in 1689 which lasted 105 days: hence the city’s nickname, “The Maiden City.” The spectacular Walls, with their four original gates (Bishop’s Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Butcher Gate and Shipquay Gate) and three additional gates, were built during the period 1613-1619 and form a walkway around the inner city which still retains its Renaissance style street plan. Historic buildings within the walls include the 1633 Gothic cathedral of St Columb, the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall and the courthouse. Today after exploring the walls, we visit St. Columb’s Cathedral; built in “Planters Gothic” style between 1628 and 1633, it was the first Cathedral to be founded in Ireland after the reformation. We’ll appreciate the small museum in the chapter house which contains relics from the siege of 1689 including the 17th century locks and keys of the city. The stained glass windows depict heroic scenes from this great siege and we’ll find an audio-visual display regarding this and the history of the cathedral. There is much to do and see in delightful Derry. We’ll have the rest of the day to explore “The Maiden City” at leisure before enjoying dinner and overnight stay. In the morning: a wonderful Irish breakfast.
Day 8: Sligo, Drumcliffe, & Galway
Between 1847 and 1851 over 30,000 people emigrated through the port of Sligo. On the Quays, overlooking the Garavogue River, is a sculpted memorial to the emigrants. This is one of a suite of three sculptures commissioned by the Sligo Famine Commemoration Committee to honour the victims of the Great Famine. A plaque in the background, headed ‘Letter to America, January 2, 1850’ tells one family’s sad story: “I am now, I may say, alone in the world. All my brothers and sisters are dead and children but yourself… The times was so bad and all Ireland in such a state of poverty that no person could pay rent. My only hope now rests with you, as I am without one shilling and as I said before I must either beg or go to the poorhouse… I remain your affectionate father, Owen Larkin. Be sure answer this by return of post”.
We head out for Galway today but stop in Sligo town en route. Here we’ll enjoy at our leisure the town’s quaint beauty, its sculptures (one of W. B. Yeats and the Famine Memorial on the Quays), architecture (the courthouse and several cathedrals) and shops. Just north of Sligo, we’ll visit Drumcliffe, a village best known for its round tower dating from the 10th or 11th century and as the final resting place of the poet William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), who is buried in the graveyard of St. Columb’s Church of Ireland church. Although Yeats died in France in January 1939, his remains were brought home to Ireland and re-interred at Drumcliffe in 1948 in the presence of a large number of local people and dignitaries. The church, in which his grandfather had been rector, was built on the foundations of St. Columb’s 6th century monastery but nothing remains but a magnificent high cross and the ruins of a round tower which was struck by lightening in 1396. The tombstone of Ireland’s greatest poet is simple and carries the famous epitaph written by the author himself. “Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by”. We’ll continue on to Galway to enjoy a panoramic tour of this delightful city. Its narrow streets, old shops, good restaurants and busy pubs will charm us – not to mention the allure of its bohemian musicians and artists. Points of interest in Galway might include its modern Cathedral (built in 1965), the Salmon Weir Bridge over the trout stream, and the Collegiate of St Nicholas of Myra, built in 1320. The Collegiate is close to Nora Barnacle’s house (Mrs James Joyce) and to the famous Lynch window from which the English language received the word to “lynch” (hang). We’ll enjoy seeing the rich merchant houses (Lynch’s Castle) and the splendid Squares of Shop Street before we check into our hotel and enjoy a pleasant evening meal and overnight stay.
Day 9: Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, & Limerick
We must laugh and we must sing, We are blest by everything, Everything we look upon is blest (William Butler Yeats).
Galway has a reputation amongst Irish cities for being associated with the Irish language, music, song, and dancing traditions. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Bilingual Capital of Ireland.’ Our tour of Galway continues with a closer look at the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, the largest medieval parish church in Ireland in continuous use as a place of worship. It was founded in 1320 and dedicated (like many other European churches in seaports) to St. Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of seafarers. St. Nicholas, with its many and varied architectural features, is one of the last Cruciform Churches built in Ireland. The church has suffered from Ireland’s religious differences with England as demonstrated by the fact that, from the period of Henry VIII to the arrival of Cromwell in Galway, the church changed faith five times. Today, its interior is decorated with a wide variety of interesting artifacts, some ancient and some more recent. Over the centuries, St. Nicholas has played a central role in the life of the city. For many years, the triennial elections mayors and city council were held within its walls, and local legend has it that Christopher Columbus worshipped there when he visited the city in 1477. We leave Galway and head to Limerick to behold, en route, 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. Later in the day, when we reach Limerick (situated on several curves and islands of the River Shannon), we’ll see St. Mary’s Cathedral, founded in 1168 and the oldest building in Limerick which is still in daily use. St. Mary’s has the only complete set of misericords left in Ireland (a misericord, sometimes named mercy seat, is a small wooden shelf on the underside of a folding seat in a church, installed to provide a degree of comfort for a person who has to stand during long periods of prayer). The belfry holds a peal of eight bells, six of which were presented by William Yorke, mayor of Limerick, in 1673. An active team of bell ringers travels the country to compete with other campanologist. We’ll also find the church’s carvings, grand tombs, and memorial stones enthralling. This evening we’ll enjoy dinner and an overnight stay in Limerick.
Day 10: Kilkeny & Dublin
There once were two cats of Kilkenny
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they fought and they hit
And they scratched and they bit
Till (excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails)
Instead of two cats there weren’t any!
(Limerick (with optional added couplet) about the two cats from Kilkenny)
As we make our way back to Dublin, we stop in the town of Kilkenny with its rich heritage and well preserved medieval old town dominated by Kilkenny Castle and St. Canice’s Cathedral. The present early Gothic structure of St. Canice’s Cathedral dates from the 13th century and is the second longest cathedral in Ireland. Beside the cathedral stands a 100-foot 9th century round tower, which is one of only two such medieval round towers in Ireland that can be climbed to the top. The cathedral stands on an ancient site which has been used for Christian worship since the 6th century. The cathedral, built of limestone, is richly endowed with many stained glass windows and some of the finest 16th century monuments in Ireland. The hill on which the cathedral stands is believed to be the center of the first major settlement at Kilkenny, and the round tower suggests an early ecclesiastical foundation. Next we visit one of the most well known symbols of Ireland, the Kilkenny Castle, built by William the Earl Marshall on this site in 1260. It was a symbol of Norman occupation and in its original 13th century condition it would have formed an important element of the defences of the town with four large circular corner towers and a massive ditch, part of which can still be seen today on the Parade. The Butler family bought the Castle in 1391 and lived there continuously until 1935. The castle lay vacant and in ruin until 1967 when it was given to the nation to be restored. The castle has an excellent guided tour touching on life in the castle over the many centuries of its existence. We return to Dublin to enjoy our last dinner and overnight stay in Ireland.
Day 11: 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 appreciation and faith.
After a final Irish breakfast, we transfer to the Dublin Airport for our departure flight home.
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