Dublin – Wicklow – Powerscourt – Glendalough – Kilkenny – Rock of Cashel – Dingle Peninsula – Blasket Island Centre – Gallarus OratoryCliffs of Moher – Burren – Galway – Aran islands – Dunaengus – DrumcliffeDonegal – Grianan Of Aileach – Antrim – Dunluce – Giants Causeway Carrick a Rede Bridge – Belfast – Carrickfergus – Culturlann Bective Abbey – Tara
September 26 – October 9, 2018 (14 days)
Departure for Ireland.
On arrival at Dublin Airport we meet with our driver and guide before transferring to our hotel in Dublin City. Enjoy the balance of the day at your leisure in Dublin before dinner. (D)
TOUR “DUBLIN’S FAIR CITY”
The tour will introduce you to the principal sites, which you may then revisit at your leisure. You will visit the sophisticated Georgian squares, famed for their history, colourful doors and elegant shops. We’ll pass Trinity College, where the long room houses 200,000 books, and the world-famous 8th century Book of Kells is on display. We’ll also spot St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Built in 1192, it is one of Ireland’s largest Cathedrals, and notably its former dean was Jonathan Swift, author of “Gulliver’s Travels.” We’ll also pass by Christchurch, built by the Anglo-Norman’s in 1172 to replace an earlier Church built by the Vikings in 1038, on our way to the Phoenix Park, the largest public park in Europe, home to many monuments including the Papal cross. We’ll return to the city centre via the Quays, passing by the Guinness brewery, and Collins Barrack, now part of the national museum, before arriving back into O’Connell Street and the city centre.
The Guinness Brewery in Dublin is Europe’s largest stout-producing brewery and home to the Guinness Storehouse. Opened in 1904, the Storehouse was an operational plant for fermenting and storing Guinness. Today it houses a very fine exhibition dedicated to the Guinness story. Visitors will discover what goes into the making a pint of Guinness - the ingredients, the brewing process, the time, the craft and the passion. The exhibition shows how the brew has been marketed and how it is today sold in over 150 countries. Once the tour has finished, the guest is invited to the Gravity Bar to enjoy their pint of Guinness.
OLD JAMESON DISTILLERY
The Old Jameson Distillery Smithfield Village is located in the heart of Dublin city centre. This old barley storehouse, once the centre of distilling in Dublin, was renovated in 1998 and converted into a museum where all the secrets of Irish whiskey’s distillation will be revealed. An audio-visual show will introduce the history of this spirit and it is followed by a guided visit which will take visitors through the various stages of whiskey distilling from grain intake to malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation, maturation and finally bottling. The visit culminates in an opportunity for all to taste the signature drink at the Jameson bar. During the visit a number of volunteers are selected to take part in a tasting session to compare aJameson whiskey with a Scotch whisky and an American bourbon. Participants will receive a diploma for their achievement.
Enjoy the afternoon at leisure for some personal sightseeing or shopping. This evening, we’ll be treated to dinner and traditional entertainment at the Abbey Tavern. (B,D)
THE ABBEY TAVERN
An authentic 16th Century tavern with original stone walls, gas lights and blazing turf fires located in the old fishing village of Howth, overlooking Dublin Bay. The Tavern is known for the evenings of traditional Irish food, music and song which they’ve hosted since the 1960s, so we can look forward lively performances from the world-famous Abbey Tavern Singers and the very best of Irish dancing.
TOUR THE WICKLOW MOUNTAINS
Today we travel to the “Garden of Ireland”. County Wicklow, south of Dublin, is home to the great houses and gardens of Powerscourt, Mount Usher and Russborough, to name a few. In the rolling hills of the county’s heart are nestled the idyllic villages of Enniskerry and Avoca, while the coastline sports charming sea resorts such as Bray and Greystones. Discover the romantic and quiet beauty of its woods and lush fields, moors carpeted in heather and bright accents of Spring’s yellow gorse.
POWERSCOURT HOUSE & GARDENS
Powerscourt House & Gardens comprise one of the most beautiful estates in Ireland. An important 12th century Anglo-Norman strategic site in the mountains of Wicklow, Powerscourt was home to the Wingfield family for 350 years. In the 18th century the renowned architect Richard Castle radically expanded the house, constructing a Palladian mansion around the core of the 14th century castle, and it’s to this state that the house has been restored since it was gutted by fire in 1974. A small exhibition brings to life the rich history of the estate and visitors may also enjoy a visit to Tara’s Palace on the upper floor of the House. Now offering a selection of fine gifts, clothes, and furniture in the Avoca Stores and the Interiors Gallery, the house, exhibition, shops and terrace café are all available for you to explore. Set at the foot of the Wicklow mountains, Powerscourt Gardens were established in 1745 and are today a magnificent example of aristocratic gardens from the 19th century. With many rare plants and wonderful views of the Great Sugar Loaf Mountain, the gardens feature a Triton pool with a 30m fountain, Bamberg Gates to the walled garden, and American, Italian and Japanese gardens. The family pet cemetery is a touching addition, with headstones dedicated to the family dogs.
GLENDALOUGH MONASTIC SETTLEMENT
We proceed via Roundwood to Glendalough Monastic site, which was founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin, son of the king of Leinster. The English name Glendalough originated from the Irish “Gleann Dá Locha”, which translates as “The valley of the two lakes”. The site grew famous as a centre of learning throughout Europe, and today the largely 10th to 12th-century ruins include a cathedral, stone churches, exquisitely decorated crosses and the distinctive 34m high round tower. Beautifully scenic walking trails take visitors on a circular route by the lakes. An excellent visitor’s centre offers a very comprehensive exhibition on Glendalough detailing the history, archaeology and wildlife of this area of Wicklow.
Continue to our hotel in Kilkenny, check in and enjoy dinner. (B,D)
This morning we visit Kilkenny Castle.
One of the most instantly recognized buildings in Ireland, Kilkenny Castle has been an important site since it was built by the AngloNormans in the 12th century. Three of the original four towers built in 1260 survive to this day. The Butler family, Marquesses and Dukes of Ormonde, bought the Castle in 1391 and lived there continuously until 1935, after which it lay in ruin until it was given to the nation in 1967 and restored to its Victorian state. Set in extensive parklands, the Castle’s restored central block now includes a library, drawing room, and bedrooms decorated in 1830s splendour, as well as the beautiful Long Gallery. A suite of former servants’ rooms is now the Butler Art Gallery, which mounts frequently changing exhibitions of contemporary art.
Depart Kilkenny for the Rock of Cashel and Kerry.
ROCK OF CASHEL
We then continue to the Rock of Cashel, possibly the most photographed site in Ireland. Perched on a 200ft high limestone escarpment over the town, the fortress was once the seat of the Kings of Munster and because of its signal importance in history a guided tour is strongly recommended. St. Patrick visited the rock in 450 CE, and Brian Boru was crowned the 1st high King of Ireland here in the 10th century. It was granted to the church in the 12th century by the O’Brien clan and became the seat of the archbishop of Cashel. Sacked in 1647 by Cromwellian forces, today the impressive stone walls enclose a round tower, High Crosses, the 12th century Romanesque Cormac’s Chapel, and the 13th century Gothic cathedral and Archbishop’s palace. The 15th century Vicar’s Choral at the entrance to the Rock has been recently restored and houses a small museum of the site’s artifacts. One of the leading visitor attractions in Ireland, in 2011 it was visited by Queen Elizabeth II on her historic first visit to the Republic of Ireland.
We end the day in Kerry area. (B,D)
Today enjoy a tour of the Dingle Peninsula.
DINGLE PENINSULA TOUR
We begin today with some of Ireland’s finest coastal scenery, as we take the spectacular road around the Dingle Peninsula, most northern of the West Kerry Peninsulas. Famed for its Celtic pre-Christian monuments and Christian churches, it is also a ‘Gaeltacht’ (Irish speaking) area, where the Irish language and traditional ways of life are preserved. The road around the Peninsula is truly spectacular, passing through a chain of mountains called Slieve Mish. From Inch, a long beach bordered by dunes and made famous by David Lean’s movie “Ryan’s daughter,” we can admire the Iveragh Peninsula and Rossbeigh Beach. Dingle town itself is a thriving fishing community and offers wonderful opportunities for shopping or simply savouring the atmosphere of a typical country Irish town with its plentiful pubs, narrow streets and busy harbour. We’ll drive around the coast to Slea Head, from which we can see the deserted Blasket Islands, and the rocky Skellig islands, home to the ruins of an early Christian Monastery. The Dingle Peninsula will charm you with its villages painted in bright colours and bewitch you with the dramatic beauty of its landscape.
BLASKET ISLAND CENTRE
The Blasket Centre in Dún Chaoin, located on the tip of the Dingle Peninsula, is a fascinating heritage centre honouring the unique culture of the once vibrant Blasket Island settlements. The Centre illuminates the community’s struggle for existence, their traditional island life, language and culture centred on subsistence fishing and farming on the remote islands until their evacuation in 1953. Their way of life and the extraordinary literary legacy they left behind are explored, classics such as ‘The Islandman’, ‘Twenty Years A-Growing’ and ‘Peig’ amongst them. Their story is engagingly related through a variety of means: exhibitions, artifacts, interactive displays, audio visual presentations and artwork.
Gallarus Oratory is an impressive dry stone monument which has withstood the passage of over 1200 years. Built in the shape of an upturned boat, the oratory comprised part of a larger early Christian monastic site and was used as a place of prayer and reflection. With its small entrance doorway and round-headed east-facing window, it is an excellent example of dry stone construction. The visitor centre offers visitors the opportunity to explore the Oratory and learn more about the surrounding area via an audio-visual presentation.
We return to Kerry for the night. (B)
This morning depart Kerry for Galway.
SHANNON CAR FERRY
We take the Shannon car ferry from Tarbert to Killimer, crossing the Shannon estuary between Clare and Kerry. Passengers can enjoy great views of the surrounding landscape from the upper deck and drinks and snacks are available for purchase on board during the 20-minute journey.
CLIFFS OF MOHER
We then continue to where the Burren area meets the edge of the Atlantic at the spectacular Cliffs of Moher. One of Ireland’s most iconic locales, on a clear day the Cliffs boast amazing views as far as the Aran Islands in Galway Bay and the valleys and hills of Connemara. To the south of the cliffs is Hag’s Head, once the site of a castle. The 8km of cliffs reach their highest point (230m) just north of O’Brien’s Tower, constructed by a descendant of Brian Boru (who defeated the Vikings in battle). Adjacent to the Tower, the Breanan Mór seastack stands 70m above the waves and is home to wonderful examples of the Burren’s wildlife.
Then we travel through the unusual limestone karst formations of the incredible Burren region, a wild area covering about 300 square kilometres of County Clare. Containing dozens of megalithic tombs, Celtic crosses and the ruins of a 12th century Cistercian Abbey, a portion of this exotic landscape is National Park. Its limestone pavements have been eroded to a distinctive pattern and crisscrossed by cracks known as grykes in which grow a myriad of wild flora. A mix of Arctic and Mediterranean flora, rare flowers such as gentian, orchids and bloody cranesbill thrive. There are also vast underground caves and rivers, dozens of small villages abandoned during the Famine, and green roads on which you can walk for miles without ever seeing a car. The Burren is truly an exceptional part of Ireland.
Continue to Galway, where we check in. (B,D)
DUNGUAIRE MEDIEVAL BANQUET
An evening of superb music, song and storytelling awaits you at Dunguaire Banquet on the majestic shores of Galway Bay, one of Ireland’s most picturesque locations. Echoing the tradition of medieval ‘King Guaire’, guests are welcomed by the butler and ladies of the castle with a goblet of Mead, a traditional honey wine. After a short history of the castle and musical introduction guests climb the stairs to the Banquet Hall. A delicious four-course dinner with wine is followed by a 40 minute entertainment program of music, song and dance including excerpts from famous literary writers associated with the Galway region, such as Yeats, Synge, Gogarty and Shaw. The castle’s superb artists inspire you with selected stories and excerpts to lighten the heart in this intimate setting.
It is a short 30-minute ferry trip from Connemara to Inishmore, but a huge step back in time. Life on the Gaelic-speaking Aran Islands has resisted today’s technology, and fishing and tourism are the main sources of employment. We begin with a minibus tour of the island, followed by a walk to Dún Aengus fort, one of the finest prehistoric monuments in Western Europe.
ARAN ISLANDS TOUR
The three Aran Islands, Inisheer, Inishmaan and Inishmore, standing out in the Galway bay, are formed from a mass of limestone similar to the Burren. These islands are the last real “Gaelthacht” of the modern Ireland, where the inhabitants remain strongly attached to Gaelic traditions. On Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, old stone walls and little fields connect its 14 tiny villages. On the West Coast of the island, majestic cliffs drop into the wild Atlantic Ocean. This area is dominated by Dún Aengus, one of the most impressive Neolithic forts in Europe. A trip to the islands offers a fascinating journey through time, as well as an encounter with the old Ireland of myth and legend.
Dún Aengus is a huge prehistoric Fort built on the edge of a 300ft cliff on Inishmore. It covers 11 acres and is comprised of three concentric enclosures defended by stout walls of dry masonry, all well-preserved. The majesty and breathtaking views from the site make the 20-minute walk to the fort worthwhile.
We return to the village with time to enjoy lunch on your own, and some free time to explore. In the late afternoon we return to Rossaveal and the mainland, and thence to Galway. (B)
Depart Galway and journey to Derry.
We travel North toward Sligo to visit a small churchyard at the foot of the impressive table top mountain Benbulben. Drumcliffe is best known as the final resting place of the great poet, dramatist & Nobel Prize-winning author, W.B Yeats. The church, in which Yeats’ grandfather had been rector, was built on the foundations of St. Columba’s 6th century monastery, of which a magnificent High Cross and round tower ruins remain.
We travel to Donegal and enjoy some time at leisure.
Next we enjoy some time winding leisurely through Donegal, a county famed for the beauty of its coastline punctuated by deep bays, islands, high cliffs and long beaches inhabited only by sea birds. Its northwesterly location has kept Donegal secluded and wild. Narrow roads offer time to soak in the unspoiled beauty of the northern county’s mountains, lakes and heather-tinted bogs. The Irish consider it to be the most diverse and beautiful county in Ireland.
We travel on to Derry, check in and dine. (B,D)
We travel to the Inishowen Peninsula this morning, which stretches out into the Atlantic and Ireland’s northernmost point: Malin Head. With Lough Foyle to the east and Lough Swilly to the west, the landscape is typically Donegal: rugged, desolate and mountainous, fringed with wonderful beaches and dotted with ancient sites. The peninsula is a European Special area of Conservation and home to over 100 species of migrating and indigenous birds.
GRIANAN OF AILEACH
We’ll visit the windswept hilltop fort of Grianan of Aileach. Likely built on an earthen rath, Grianan has been a silent witness to the history of Ireland. It offers spectacular views of the entire peninsula and the glistening waters of Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly from its eyrie 800ft above sea level.
We return to our hotel in Derry for the night. (B)
This morning we depart Derry for Belfast, travelling the Antrim Coast and visit Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. County Antrim forms the northeast corner of Ireland, where a channel only 20km wide separates Torr Head from the Scottish coast. To the east, a magnificent coastline runs north from Larne and curves around the base of steep headlands, through which the beautiful glens of Antrim open to the sea.
Dunluce Castle is situated on the Antrim Coast, 5 kilometres east of Portrush and 3.5 kilometres west of Bushmills. The roofless ruins are breathtaking, particularly at dusk, or in the sunshine with the white chalk cliffs of Portrush close by. It was the former home of the clans McQuillan and MacDonnell. Dunluce Castle stands in as the House Greyjoy in HBO’s production of the Game of Thrones.
THE GIANTS CAUSEWAY
The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site often referred to as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. It was formed more than 60 million years ago when lava, cooled quickly by the sea, crystallized into the 40,000 basalt polygonal columns. There’s a wealth of knowledge in the new Visitor Centre which opened in 2012, with audioguides, various interactive exhibits and short video presentations on the geology and ecology, including a spectacular visualization of the eruption which created the site. The Centre also explores the rich mythology and culture developed around the site, and we learn the legend of Finn McCool, the giant who laid the “stepping stones” in order to challenge the Scotland’s giant Benandonner. The walks and trails around the site have been upgraded and a new cliff top walk accessible for families and people with disabilities has been added. In 2015, Conde Nast Traveler magazine included hopping the stones of the Giant’s Causeway as one of the ‘50 things to do in Europe before you die’.
CARRICK-A-REDE ROPE BRIDGE
Next we’ll visit the amazing Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which spans a chasm 30 metres deep and 20 metres wide. Originally a seasonal working bridge for fishermen to bring ashore salmon caught off the island, it once consisted of a single rope handrail and widely-spaced slats. Its spare construction has led some visitors to make the return journey by boat, but today’s less intimidating double-railed bridge offers visitors bold enough to cross fantastic views. Underneath the bridge are large caves, which often served as a safe haven for fishing trawlers escaping winter storms.
We proceed to our hotel in Belfast. (B,D)
BELFAST CITY TOUR
We start with an orientation tour of Belfast to see great landmarks like the leaning Albert Memorial Clock Tower (Ireland’s answer to the Tower of Pisa), Opera House, City Hall, The Crown Bar (1885), Queens University and the Botanic Gardens. A visit to the Shankill and Falls Road will give the visitors an indication of what life was like in Belfast during the Troubles.
Presenting the history of the world’s most famous ship, this new 6-storey building sits beside the site of the Titanic’s construction at the Harland and Wolff Shipyard. Opened in April 2012 to mark the centenary of the launch and tragedy, the self-guided journey begins in the building’s giant atrium, where four wings evoking the design of a ship’s hull house the interpretive centre. As you explore the nine large galleries of the interactive exhibition, you will uncover the true story of the Titanic, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s to her famous maiden voyage and subsequent place in history. Here you can also view the massive slip-ways from which the Titanic was launched. The Ocean Exploration Centre features a Voyage to the bottom of the Sea section, with live links to contemporary undersea exploration. Guided tours are available on request at a supplement. The site is fully accessible and also includes an education facility and gallery for temporary exhibitions, restaurants and the Titanic Store.
Then we move on to Carrickfergus Castle, which commands the entrance to Belfast Lough in the small coast town 12km north of the city, now a city suburb. The Inner Ward is the oldest part of the castle, dating back to its foundation in 1177 by the Anglo-Norman lord John de Courcy. Ireland’s finest Norman castle, it is dotted with life-size figures and houses a museum - both serving to illustrate its important role in Irish history. It was here, for example, that William of Orange stayed when he first arrived in Ireland in 1690, prior to defeating the Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne.
Enjoy the balance of the day at leisure in Belfast. This evening enjoy dinner and entertainment at Cultúrlann. (B,D)
This cultural immersion is a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the extraordinary Irish culture. Enjoy a delicious three-course Irish meal, then sit back and enjoy the sounds of Gaelic songs and music from the in-house musicians, learn the basics of Céili dancing or enjoy a display of solo dancing from some of the most talented and lauded Irish dancers today. The Cultúrlann centre has evolved into a shining beacon at the heart of Belfast’s Gaeltacht Quarter. Housed in the Old Broadway Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1896 and deconsecrated in 1982, the Centre has a welcoming, casual air, where visitors can engage in local life. This is where culture comes alive and “The Gaeltacht Experience” is certainly an authentic taste of Belfast’s urban Gaeltacht Quarter.
This morning depart Belfast for Dublin.
Today we’ll be exploring County Meath, an archaeologist’s dream, traditionally known as the “Royal County” because it contained the seat of the ancient High Kings of Ireland at the Hill of Tara.
Spend the morning as an Irish farmer! Causey farm is a working farm in County Meath, which opens its doors to the visitor and allows the visitor to see, firsthand, how farmers earn their living. It is not all work for the visitor though, and during our visit we will experience how the Irish traditionally enjoy themselves with food, sports, music and dance. Opportunities to learn abound - bread making, the art of Hurling, Irish Dancing, speaking Gaelic or becoming an expert in handling sheep and sheep dogs. We’ll stay to enjoy lunch at Causey Farm.
The medieval world of monks and abbeys brings to mind an ascetic life of isolation, prayer and scholarly study, but this is only part of the story. Many Irish monasteries were thriving and much sought-out enclaves of cultural creativity. These outposts were literally beacons in the dark, responsible for preserving and disseminating precious texts and the wisdom contained therein, and inthe process creating some of the world’s most imaginative and fanciful Christian art. Bective Abbey was founded in 1147 by Murchadh O’ Melaghin, King of Meath, for the Cistercians, and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The abbey was a site of some importance as the Abbot was a spiritual lord and sat in the Parliament of the Pale.
THE HILL OF TARA
Best known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, the Hill of Tara has been an important site since the late Stone Age when a passagetomb was constructed there. Tara reached the height of its power as a political and religious centre in the early centuries after Christ. Guided tours of the site and an audio-visual show convey the area’s historic significance.
We continue toward Dublin, where we will gather for a farewell dinner. (B,L,D)
Transfer to the airport for our flight home. (B)