Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 3 – It’s So Green!

50 Shades of Green. Look at lovely Ireland from almost any spot, look in any direction, and you’ll see a world of green. As you drive the highways and old farm roads in Ireland all around you are rolling hills covered in green pastures, crossed by hedges and stone walls. Tunnels of trees made by overarching branches are found along many roads. Driving south from Dublin through low green mountains you’ll see cattle and sheep munching on green hillsides. Driving around the country, you’ll pass green pastures (that turn to gold in late summer) and many homes proudly decorated by beautiful flowers and blooming shrubs. Climb the hills following winding roads to the top where you’ll find a green view over the expanse of Ireland, the emerald isle.  It seems that it’s always springtime in Ireland.

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Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 4 – Gardens!

Gardens draw me to Ireland more than anything else. Irish gardens are old (usually) and lush (always) and green, highlighted by spectacular displays of flowers and blooming trees. Most of the best gardens are built around a lake or small river. Each garden is unique.

I’ve been to many gardens in Ireland.  There are five that are my favorites. I return to them as often as possible. At the top of this post is a spring view of the azaleas and rhododendrons in the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum. The photo was taken in May when they are at their best. The arboretum is huge, comprised of hundreds of acres. The garden makes up just a small portion of the arboretum but the walking trail around the garden is three kilometers long. I love walking around that trail, finding many new things each time.

Altamont is a called a “woman’s garden” because a woman named Corona North nurtured it for much of the last century. Her large home, now unlived in, overlooks a formal garden filled with many species of narcissus (daffodils) in spring and roses in summer. The walk leads to a small lake surrounded by many trees and bushes including a California sequoia and very old beech trees.

Mount Congreve was the life’s work of Ambrose Congreve. He began gardening there, on his family’s large estate, when he was 11 years old. He continued until his death at the age of 104. Its 70 acres are criss-crossed with trails leading through woodlands where thousands of azeleas and rhododendrons and hydrangeas (called “hortensia” in Ireland and England) bloom.

Mount Usher Gardens are especially beautiful in spring when bluebells cover the ground and the garden is filled with blooming bushes and flowers. Many species of small trees have been planted in this garden and spring is the best time to see them when they’re covered in bright new leaves. Placed on both sides of a small river, the garden stretches over a large area laced with walking trails.

I found a new favorite to my list this year. When I was in Ireland in 2016 I discovered Colclough Gardens (pronounced Coke-lee) at Tintern Abbey. I visited it once or twice in the springtime when it’s filled with flowers, blooming apple trees and the beginnings of a large vegetable garden. This year I visited it six times over the course of the summer, usually allowing about two weeks between visits. It is enclosed within an old walled garden It’s quite small when compared to the other gardens I’ve mentioned here. Around the edges of the garden a perennial garden with many species of flowers flourishes. The middle of the garden contains all types of vegetables. Recently planted apple trees were heavy with fruit. This lush garden is organic.

Gardens pull me back to Ireland, time after time. I’m already anticipating next year’s visit.

Libbie

Resources: In Ireland this year I found a detailed book entitled The Open Gardens of Ireland by Shirley Lanigan. A number of other books by this author are offered on American Amazon.com but this one isn’t there yet. It was published just this year. In Ireland you can probably find a copy at a good book store.

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Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 5 – New Ross

New Ross seems to draw me. Every trip I’ve made to Ireland has included time in New Ross and three times I’ve stayed for many weeks or months in the countryside nearby. It’s become “my town” in Ireland. I find the people here to be very friendly and the town is a good base for exploring southeastern Ireland.

William Marshall was an important Norman-English knight who won the friendship and admiration of King John of England. He was given a wealthy bride, Isabella de Clare, the daughter of “Strongbow” (Richard de Clare, second Earl of Pembroke). Together they brought the southeastern corner of Ireland out of the middle ages. Isabella is credited with beginning the town of New Ross in the year 1189. William Marshall made New Ross his port city because of its location on the river Barrow. This “power couple” began the city of Kilkenny and built the Irish Tintern Abbey a few miles from New Ross.

Today this 800-year-old town is becoming a popular stop on tour itineraries. That’s largely because of the connection to New Ross of President John F. Kennedy. The president’s ancestors lived on a farm six kilometers outside New Ross. His great-grandparents departed Ireland on a ship from here. Today a replica of that ship, the Dunbrody, provides an opportunity to discover the miserable conditions immigrants to the New World were made to endure. One of the last public appearances President Kennedy made was in New Ross. That event has never been forgotten and it’s memorialized on the main street of the town today. Irish-American donors and the Irish government cooperated to create the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum near the old Kennedy family farm.

The town is hilly. The old town center lies along the river banks and a new, modern town is developing on the other side of the hill. Little has changed in the old town. Three tall steeples grace the skyline. The thosel – Irish for town hall – is at the center of a small nest of shopping streets. It appears to date from the late 18th or early 19th centuries. Many of the shops and pubs are old, and bear the names of their owners. Not much has changed in the last 50 or 100 years, and I like that.  I’m already making plans to return next year.

Libbie

The photo above is of the ship Dunbrody. The building behind it is the very good tourist information center. It houses a small museum about Irish emigration and a good restaurant.

 

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Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 6 – History is everywhere

Human beings have lived in Ireland for about 10,000 years. A great many relics of ancient cultures have been found in Ireland. Standing stones (many of them in circles) are found throughout the country. County Cork has a large number of prehistoric stone circles.

Newgrange Tomb (shown above) is thought to be about 5200 years old, a thousand years older than Stonehenge. It is 279 feet in diameter and 45 feet high at its peak. It’s called a “passage tomb” and visitors can walk into the center of the tomb where there are three large chambers. The tomb was constructed to allow a beam of sunlight to pass directly through it on the morning of the winter solstice, illuminating the chamber 60 feet inside.

This is a photo of the entrance to Newgrange Tomb which is about five feet high. The box above the capstone allows light to enter the tomb at the time of the winter solstice. The carving on the huge boulder in the foreground, made by prehistoric people, is commonly found on stones in this area.

This site, Newgrange.com, has an excellent description of the tomb. The Irish government has constructed a visitors center at Newgrange that provides a helpful explanation of its history and construction. There are a number of other passage tombs located near Newgrange but none as large. Many are still buried in centuries of earth. The famous “Hill of Tara” where Irish kings were crowned and reigned many centuries ago is located nearby in this area of Ireland’s Ancient East.

Christianity came to Ireland in the year 432 AD with the arrival of Saint Patrick. Since that time it has been the most important cultural influence in Ireland. Many monasteries were built and their remains can be found throughout Ireland today. My favorite is Jerpoint Abbey located near Thomastown in County Kilkenny. It is roofless but the walls of the abbey church still stand. Sculptures are found on medieval tombs and on the reconstructed cloisters, some of them sacred and some of them actually humorous. Glendalough, located on a hilltop not far from Dublin, the “Rock of Cashel” in County Tipperary and Clonmacnoice mid-way between Dublin and Galway, are among the most important historic sites in Ireland.

If you’re going to Dublin don’t miss spending an hour or two at the National Museum of Ireland. Under Irish law, every artifact found in the country must be sold to the government. This has resulted in a spectacular collection of ancient gold jewelry and many other relics of centuries long past. The Museum occupies several locations. The most important articles are housed in the main museum building in central Dublin which is open Tuesday through Sunday with free admission and frequent guided tours.

I’ve just skimmed the surface in telling you about the many important historical places to experience in Ireland. The site, Ireland’s Ancient East and the site for the Wild Atlantic Way, covering western Ireland, will show you much more.  They are valuable planning tools for people who would prefer to enjoy Ireland’s history rather than Guinness’s brewery.

Libbie

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Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 7 – Cool summers and mild winters

In 2016 I was in Ireland for seven weeks in April and May. When I returned home to North Carolina I experienced one of the hottest summers ever. Each day I’d look at the weather app on my phone and read that the temperature I was feeling was about 97 degrees. I’d also see that the temperature in New Ross was 67. Before the summer was out I made arrangements to rent the smallest cottage at Fruit Hill for all of the summer of 2017. I didn’t regret that decision! Once or twice this summer the high temp was 25 degrees Celsius (according to the thermometer in the car) which is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Most days the afternoon temperature was in the high 60s. I never once wore any of my short-sleeve T-shirts; every day this summer I wore a light sweater all day. Although the skies were often cloudy there were not a lot of rainy days.

In 2005 my late husband and I were considering moving to Ireland. Because his grandmother was born there he was entitled to Irish citizenship. We wanted to test life there, including the weather, before making any final decisions.  We rented a cottage in the same area of Southeast Ireland for four months in winter, from early January until the end of April. Every morning George recorded the temperature. It was never lower than 40 degrees. It snowed once.

Ireland is positioned very far north on the globe. During June and July the sun doesn’t set until nearly 10:00 pm. In winter, the hours of daylight are short. The island is protected from temperature extremes by the jet stream but global warming is a great concern to many Irish people. Should the jet stream change its course, Ireland would experience very different weather conditions.

Libbie

The photo at the top of this post is the view from the kitchen window of my 2017 Irish cottage at Fruit Hill.

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The Top Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 8 – Kilkenny

Recently, in the 13th century cathedral in Kilkenny, I heard a small choir sing the original version of Handel’s “Messiah.” It was just one of the many offerings of the Kilkenny Arts Festival presented over a ten-day span in August. A few years ago I attended an opera performance in the old theatre in the town. In Kilkenny I’ve enjoyed Irish music in lively pubs and toured a castle, part of which dates back to the year 1195 when the city began. I’ve shopped and dined well. The city is small but it’s successfully filled with many enticing businesses.

Kilkenny is my favorite Irish city. It is called Ireland’s “medieval city.” An ancient city, it provides a perfect blend of history, interesting shops, traditional pubs and good restaurants. There are a number of centuries-old buildings to explore. The recent addition of the “Medieval Mile Museum” installed in a very old church in the very center of the town promises to make experiencing the town’s long history easier for visitors.

Like many Irish towns, the shops that line the streets of Kilkenny are painted in bright colors. Some of the shops retain identifying signs dating to the 19th century. My favorite shop is called “Yesterdays.” Located on Lower Patrick Street, just a few steps from the center of town, the shop, packed full of artful objects for the home and for gifts. There’s always something new and delightful on offer. A lovely small hotel called Butler House is just across the street.  Many old houses now occupied by businesses feature Georgian-era doors brightly painted such as the bright yellow doors of Butler House.

The location of Kilkenny in the middle of southern Ireland and an easy drive from Dublin and the south on modern highways makes it an ideal location from which to discover much of Ireland. There are many hotels in the town and self-catering cottages scattered about the surrounding countryside.

Libbie

The photo above was taken just prior to the performance of Handel’s Messiah in the 13th century cathedral in Kilkenny.

Resources:

Kilkenny City Online is a fun site, useful for planning a visit there.

Wikipedia has a detailed description and history of Kilkenny.

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The Top Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 9 – An Original Local Food Movement

Ireland’s 21st century restaurant and hotel offerings begin with traditional, home-grown foods: delicious soda bread (called “wheaten bread” in some places) and smoked salmon and the famous “Irish breakfast” of sausages, bacon, beans, broiled tomatoes and eggs. In old pubs all over the country visitors enjoy delicious seafood chowder and other longtime favorites.

In restaurants around the country, however, innovative chefs are combining fresh local ingredients, traditional recipes and new ideas to create an exciting new Irish cuisine. One of my favorite places is a small restaurant and inn called Zuni in Kilkenny. Its upscale dining room overlooks the open kitchen where chefs turn out original dishes that are always excellent.

And there’s Avoca, a successful Irish company that combines clever retail shops, food markets and really good restaurants in a number of locations around Ireland. The chefs create ever-changing seasonal menus offering the freshest local dishes. Recently I had a spectacular crab salad at Avoca.

Another of my favorites is a small bakery and café called Ormond’s Café located in Dungarvan, a busy seaside town. The offerings at lunch here are very un-lunch like. Large servings of fresh fish are accompanied by original side dishes. (The photo above was taken at Ormond’s – isn’t their take on ratatouille appealing?)

Local food isn’t confined to restaurants. Grocery markets offer many of my favorites. I love “West Country” yogurt made in west Cork with fresh cream and Irish milk. The tiny fish market in New Ross offers a wide choice of fresh fish including salmon, crab and haddock. In the southeast, Wexford strawberries are sold from small booths along the highways throughout the summer. A new facility covered by greenhouses is located near the place where I stayed this summer. I suspect tomatoes, strawberries and other fragile fruits are being grown there. Chicken is especially good in Ireland where a photo of the farmer who produced it along with his name and county are shown on package labels.

Pride is a chief ingredient in delicious Irish cooking and it can be tasted in every bite!

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