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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The photo at the top of this post is the view from the kitchen window of my 2017 Irish cottage at Fruit Hill.
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.
The photo above was taken just prior to the performance of Handel’s Messiah in the 13th century cathedral in Kilkenny.
Kilkenny City Online is a fun site, useful for planning a visit there.
Wikipedia has a detailed description and history of Kilkenny.
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!
I had the good fortune to spend all summer this year in Ireland. Irish immigration laws allow Americans to stay there for only 90 days. Now that I’m home again, I’m feeling a bit sad about leaving beautiful Ireland. Beginning with this post, I’ll be sharing the characteristics of Ireland that have caused me to fall in love with that small green country.
Ireland is littered with small towns, smaller villages and many wide-spots-in-the-road with very strange names. These places are hundreds of years old and many of them retain some very old buildings and the atmosphere of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Narrow farm roads crisscross the green hills. Often traffic on them is slowed by big blue tractors driving no more than 40 kilometers per hour (about 25 mph). Farming appears to be the main occupation supporting many families – perhaps a majority. Farms spread over the green hills, divided by ancient hedges and stone walls that are relics of centuries past when Ireland was a colony of Great Britain.
The people who live in these towns and villages and farms are gentle souls, always polite and friendly, speaking with the gentle brogue for which Ireland is well-known. In the west of Ireland many people still prefer to speak the gaelic “Irish” language. Signs are bi-lingual everywhere.
Dublin and other Irish cities are fully engaged in the 21st century but in the countryside life seems to be as gentle as a misty Irish morning. And I loved that!
The photo above is of the ten-arch bridge in Inistioge, which gets my vote for “most beautiful Irish village.” Read my earlier post about it here: https://in-my-suitcase.com/2015/11/07/the-loveliest-village-in-ireland/
I really like the great art that was created in Europe in the 17th century, particularly the genre art of the Low Countries. My favorite artist is Johannes VerMeer of Delft, Holland. You may know him for his famous painting of the “girl with the pearl earring.” Because he died at the age of 43, there are only 34 paintings attributed to him. It’s been my goal for a number of years to see all of them. This summer I saw two of his works for the first time. The painting shown at the top of this post is called “Allegory of Art.” It’s believed that the artist shown in the painting is VerMeer. It is owned by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna where it is exhibited.
Under the great dome at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
For years I’ve wanted to go to Vienna to visit its grand museum and to see that painting. Because Vienna is only about 120 miles from Budapest, my friend A. and I decided to travel there for a museum visit during my recent visit to Hungary. We were not disappointed! We spent an entire afternoon just viewing the paintings of Holland and Belgium. The collection of great art in this museum is so great that we must go again some day to see the many fine Italian and French paintings also exhibited there. There are many other wonderful things to be found and awed by in this great museum.
On our way back to the train station we paused to admire some of the grand buildings of Vienna. The art museum and the Natural History museum facing it are almost twins, constructed in the late 1800s when Vienna was the heart of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Tourist abound outside the Hofburg palace where many of the enjoy a quick ride in a gracious carriage.
As we returned to the street we were drawn to the Hofburg palace, formerly the home of emperors and of Empress Maria Theresa. We didn’t have time to tour the interior but the exterior is sumptuous.
Earlier this summer I saw an exhibition entitled Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry at the National Gallery of Art in Dublin. There are at least ten VerMeer paintings in the exhibition along with many other works by contemporaries of VerMeer. The exhibit is jointly curated by the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. It will be in Dublin until September 17. It will open in Washington on October 22 and run until January 21, 2018.
Resources: the website for Kunsthistorisches Museum and its collection
Here are two other great buildings in Vienna, in photos I took years ago with an early (and poor) digital camera. Shown here is St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Below is a shot of the lobby of the famous Viennese Opera House.
The star of the show in Buda (the west side of the river) is the great castle on the hill. Built in the mid-1700s under the direction of Empress Maria Thersa of Austria, the castle has its roots in the 1200s. It’s been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries since. A detailed history of the castle and a room-by-room description with old photos is on Wikipedia – click here.
Occupying the ridge at the opposite end of the castle hill is a charming neighborhood of lovely old buildings painted in pastel colors. The cathedral of Budapest is placed between the castle and neighboring residential district.
Below the castle on the Buda side of the Danube there are gracious old apartment buildings in busy neighborhoods. The apartment where I stayed was built in 1907. My friend’s grandparents bought it in 1947 and it has passed down to her. It’s a large apartment of the grand old style. Three large rooms overlook the city street below. At the rear of the apartment is the maid’s room (now storage) and a tiny original kitchen, obviously designed for a maid as well. Because this apartment has been handed down intact it contains the memories, the artifacts, the style of many decades. I felt lucky to spend a few days there.
Although Hungary was behind the Iron Curtain for much of the 20th century and on the losing side in both World Wars 1 and 2, the people of Budapest continued to preserve the great buildings and neighborhoods constructed when their city was a co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. That pride of place can still be seen throughout the city today. Despite its difficult past, there is a charm to Budapest that many modern cities have lost. As with many places that were once behind the Iron Curtain, the damage inflicted during bombardments during the 1940s was repaired long ago and the gracious style of the late 1800s can be seen throughout the city today.
I hope the pictures I’ve shared here will give you a bit of the sense of beautiful Budapest.
Old meets new on the Danube
This is where my friend A. attended grammar school. It remains a school today. It was originally a convent.
If you’ve seen a travel guidebook about Hungary chances are you’ve seen a swimming pool at the Gellért Hotel on the cover of the book. There are not many hotels in the world featured on the cover of guide books; not many with names recognized by international travelers. The Gellért is one of that select number. The history of the hotel is a story of destruction and interruption during the wars of the 20th century and rebirth during the Soviet occupation. Wikipedia’s article about the Gellért provides a good, brief history.
The hotel is obviously grand but it’s the spa and its swimming pools that attract attention and draw people from everywhere. I’m borrowing from Wikipedia a description of the spa at the hotel: “Hotel Gellért is famous for its thermal baths. The Gellért Spa, connected to the hotel directly, is a special attraction and its indoor and outdoor swimming pool, wave bath, sunbathing terrace and thermal spa can be used by the hotel guests [and the public]. Thermal baths are used for healing different diseases and illnesses. Jacuzzi with its glass roofs, which is opened in the summer, and the wave bath are the favourites among guests.”
Although I didn’t stay at the Gellért Hotel I was able to walk into the art deco interior of the spa and to snap some pictures, indoors and out.
If you have the opportunity to visit Budapest, grab it! If you’re considering a river cruise on the Danube, make a point of beginning or ending here. If your time there will be outside the summer season, look into staying at Hotel Gellért. It’s location in the center of the city is perfect for touring fascinating Budapest.
This is a view of the spectacular entrance to the famous indoor pool at the spa. Above the area shown here is a gorgeous stained-glass dome.
This is the best picture I could get from the closest point to the famous indoor pool.
But this borrowed photo shows you how fabulous this place is!
By poking my camera’s lens through rails on a fence I was able to capture this scene of the outdoor pool area on a very hot day.
No one from New Bern NC (birthplace of Pepsi) could skip this shot, also taken from the other side of the fence.
http://en.muemlekek.info/monument/gellert-bath.php (great pictures here).
Here’s Anthony Horowitz’s take on Budapest.