A Trip To The Old Sod, Filled With Irish Traditions
Around St. Patrick’s day, March 17, folks like to raise a pint of beer and toast to the Emerald Isle, whether they have any Irish heritage or not.
More than 50 million Americans can actually trace their origins to Ireland. And every year a few go back to the land of their ancestors to learn firsthand the history and traditions that their distant relatives enjoyed.
Although I can not boast of an Irish background, my wife Margie can. So she signed us up for a trip back to the Old Sod. It was an unforgettable experience taking a leisurely ten-day trip through Ireland.
Starting off in Dublin, we were part of a lively bus group of mostly Americans, Canadians and Australians of Irish descent, who were eager to learn about their ancestral homeland from one of the greatest tour guides this side of the rainbow. What made our guide Liz so great? She was a born storyteller and a songbird, who would liven things up with afternoon sing-a-longs as we went place to place.
We rode through a scenic patchwork of emerald fields, dotted with sheep and trimmed with weather-beaten stone fences. The breathtaking landscapes of the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry were certainly a highlight. The Cliffs of Moher were less inviting on a cold windy day.
Our route took us to Galway, Limerick, Killarney, Cork, Waterford, and the little village of Avoca where the delightful BBC series Ballykissangel was filmed.
Picturesque thatched cottages and charming villages greeted us at every turn. As did friendly locals who would break into song at the local pubs.
There were lots of historic castles and monasteries. And we explored ancient Celtic settlements that are dated older than the pyramids. Who knew?
The tradition of kissing the Blarney Stone is an activity that most tourists seem to love. But after seeing the shaky steps leading up to the top of Blarney Castle, I declined to participate. Instead, I nervously watched my wife climb to the top of the historic castle, and then bend over backwards grasping an iron railing to kiss the stone that juts out from the highest battlement.
It’s a perilous job, but the gift of eloquence for those who complete the task is supposed to be worth the effort. I figured if I kissed my wife, who kissed the lipstick encrusted stone, I would get the same benefits, without the aggravation. So I got the gift of gab by proxy.
Still the grounds of the castle are a great place to visit, with a wonderful arboretum and gardens. Plus the Rock Close woodland walks are steeped in Druid legend. It is a curious place with ancient stones and an aura of magic that stays with you. I’m sure many visitors experience that same delight as they discover Ireland.
Walking around Dublin was always great. The National Galleries and museums were interesting. And we found that you also could learn a lot about the history and culture by enjoying a pint of Guinness at a pub and chatting with the locals.
One of our favorite experiences was going to an entertaining show called Jurys Irish Cabaret in at Jurys Hotel in Dublin. It featured Irish tenors, comics and Riverdance-styled numbers. It was the perfect way to end our tour, with the celebration of Irish song and dance, and especially their humor and gift for storytelling. They probably all kissed the Blarney Stone.