From the first day in Ireland when the taxi driver told us they didn’t vote to free themselves from the English, “we just shot them”, Ireland enchanted me. I had not expected it to exert its charm as it did. For me the whole trip was a planned around galleries and museums, places of worship and natural beauty. But for David, the highlight was always to have a pint of Guinness in Ireland, the home of his (distant) Kelly ancestors.
He restrained himself at lunch, but by the evening it was time to indulge. We were told later that a pint of Guinness should be consumed in six “quaffs”. A good barman will pour the second pint while you were having the fifth quaff, and it would be settled by the time you finish the sixth. No break in quaffing.
But for David it was like a ritual, as he watched the settling process, anticipating the taste of a brew he enjoyed in Australia, but knew would taste better in its land of origin. And he was not disappointed. His approach was reverent with not a quaff to be seen as he sipped, savoured and enjoyed, then repeated the process.
There were many other highlights during our week in Ireland. We were blessed with wonderful weather , although it was late in September. The countryside, with its fifty shades of green, was better than picture books, with white cottages – some still thatched, ruins perched on hilltops, and cows, sheep, and horses in the fields.
We were inspired by the spirituality of the Hill of Tara, home of the ancient chief-kings, which we visited in a still, misty morning and were amazed by the burial mound at Newgrange, where sun hits the inner chamber once a year – on the winter equinox and two days either side. Nowadays, the Government holds a lottery to be present on one of those mornings, and with Ireland’s wet weather, even those who win a place may not see the sun if it is a grey December day.
The fishing village of Howth sparkled in the late afternoon sun, as seals cavorted in the harbour, looking for scraps from the boats. I swear one smiled at me before it turned a circle.
In contrast the west coastal town of Galway greeted us with wind and showers. We stayed in a grand old-style hotel where we were among the youngest guests, and even David appeared sprightly beside many of the others. The restaurant where we had breakfast, had busts of the ancients around the walls, more like a museum than a hotel.
The next day I saw the sun rise over Galway Bay, and our visit down the coast to the Cliffs of Moher gave us a rare sight of the Arran Islands. The following day was wet and misty, so any thoughts we had of a boat trip were put aside, and we decided to potter through the midlands, seeing where fate took us. We ended up at Portloise, and stayed in an elegant, creeper-clad Victorian house, now a B and B. Breakfast included home made bread, porridge and free range eggs, served on linen table cloths, with real napkins and Wedgwood china. All over Ireland, we noticed menus proudly proclaiming Irish beef. Here even the kebab shop stated this.
We returned to Dublin, had afternoon tea at the wonderful Avoca cafe, and returned to the Holiday Inn Express, chosen for its proximity to the airport. Delayed by illness, we were lucky to find the Santry Demesne opposite. The former site of a grand house which had fallen into ruin, it still contains a folly and a temple pillar, and has acres of pathways. Kids were throwing sticks and a ball to get conkers down from a horse chestnut, one of many ancient trees on the site – great cheap afternoon’s entertainment said their mother. In contrast, the old walled garden, which had been used as a rubbish dump when apartments were built behind, is now being restored by members of the local community garden association. They have been able to go back to the records in the Trinity College library and can faithfully recreate what was there previously.
Apart from these regional adventures, I loved the exhibition of the Book of Kells and the long library at Trinity College, Dublin, imagining decades of students climbing the spiral staircase to research what their predecessors had written. And the manuscripts at Chester Beatty Library, including religous texts from many belief systems was equally inspiring.
But what really enchanted us was the Irish people themselves, their kindness, their sense of fun and their warmth. Their pride in their history and their heritage, and their civic organisation. Things work. Most of the people we met had a family member in Australia or hope to go themselves one day. Eight days only scratched the surface. We will return to explore more of its beauty and ancient ways and have another Guinness or three.