THE EMERALD ISLE
For most of us travelling on the recent BRITISH HERITAGE/Lord Addison tour of Ireland, our visit began with our arrival in London the morning of 4th August, 2000, the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday. As I waited for my next flight, I watched the celebration on television and felt a little thrill to be seeing it on a "local" station.
A short flight on a spanking-new British Airways jet brought me to Belfast, a city I knew mostly through news coverage of fighting between and among Protestant and Catholic factions. But the city is hardly war-torn. Shoppers and office workers seemed happy and relaxed as they thronged the streets in the attractive city that is lately distinguished by its robust economy. I tried to make mental notes of what was where as my driver whisked me to the Europa Hotel–right next to the Royal Opera House and only a couple of blocks from the City Hall, the heart of Belfast–but that would come when I had a chance to walk around a bit. Our courier, Breandan, was in the lobby to greet me, and Alice from Massachusetts was there, too, so we had a chance to say hello. I met the rest of our group over dinner in the Europa dining room. One of the really nice things about the U.K. and Republic of Ireland is that hotel food is usually quite good and on a par with fine restaurants in the U.S. We did enjoy our dinner as we connected the names on our rosters to faces around the table, and we rapidly elevated the volume of chatter before calling it a day.
The next morning our smallish group (15 including courier and driver) boarded a smallish bus, ably piloted by Eamon, for a rolling tour of Belfast. We saw again the City Hall and learned that part of it was bombed during World War Two and later rebuilt. We also viewed the leaning Albert Tower and other significant historic sites, plus Samson and Goliath, the huge superstructures used for shipbuilding here–the Titanic and her sister ships were built in Belfast. I remember particularly our drive through the western neighbourhoods, with Protestant and Cath-olic sectors separated by a very tall wall to keep the peace.
Left to our own devices for the rest of the day, we found intriguing pubs for lunching, and some of us set off on a walk to see the art at the Ulster Museum, conveniently located in the Belfast Botanic Garden, which has a lovely glass house.
The next morning Eamon brought the bus around again, and we were soon on our way south to the Republic of Ireland, or Eire, heading toward Dublin. As we crossed the border at Newry we saw a tall military tower, a remnant of the time not so long ago when you had to stop here before proceeding into the Republic. Breandan told us that the military of peaceful Eire don’t have a lot to do, so soldiers escort armoured cars carrying funds among banks and businesses. We stopped at the site of the Battle of the Boyne–a bucolic river setting marked by a sign that is green on one side, orange on the other–and at Monasterbolce where we peered up into a 9th-century round tower and examined three fine tall crosses in a cemetery still used for new burials. We went much further into history–5,000 years–at Newgrange Tumulus where huge burial mounds have been recreated.
Dublin, with the lovely Wicklow Mountains as a backdrop, was a delight. Alice and Nancy came with me to see the National Gallery of Ireland and the Book of Kells at Trinity College, and Carol and Bill came along on my lowbrow quest to find the statue of a buxom Molly Malone, referred to by some as "the tart with the cart" or "the dish with the fish." Finding "the floozie in the Jacuzzi" was easier. This elegant, modern fountain featuring a reclining woman was practically across the street from our hotel. Eire and Ulster cities seem to have an unusual number of what I call "casual" statues–realistic figures talking together on a bench, standing on the sidewalk as if waiting for a friend–the kind you find yourself apologizing to if you accidentally brush against them.
Our journey continued south to the dramatic Rock of Cashel where we walked among the ruins of a 13th-century cathedral set on a high promontory.. Castletown, known as "Ireland’s largest and finest Palladian country house," was our next stop. Begun about 1722 as the home of William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, it has beautiful plasterwork and is currently being restored.
Then we pushed on to Killarney, our base for exploring the incomparable Dingle Peninsula. We made many stops for photos here, but we could have slowly walked the route and never stopped clicking shutters.
Now we began to head north again on our circuit of the island, heading toward Galway. The town of Limerick offered us many pubs to choose from for lunch before we reboarded our by-now-quite familiar bus for Bunratty Castle, set in a charming re-created village. Then we were off to the Cliffs of Moher. Their dramatic height and sheer drop to the waters below took my breath away, and when I saw young children standing right on the edge, I had to retreat to the bus so I could extricate my heart from my throat. The barren Burren was next–not quite so barren as I had expected, and with stunning views.
The next day we spent some time in Sligo, famous for its association with W.B. Yeats. It’s a pretty town with lots of book stores and other interesting shops lining the riverbank where a picturesque old mill still has its millwheel in the water.
I thought I had by now probably seen all the most beautiful views that Ireland had to offer, but on day 10 of our tour, we got our broadest views. Eamon coaxed the bus up a high hill to get us to Grianan of Ailech, a re-created circular fort with a 360-degree perspective on rivers and fields and ocean and distant mountains. I could see miles and miles in every direction.
That left Northern Ireland’s most popular attraction, the Giant’s Causeway, for our last full day. I don’t care how many pictures you see of such a place, it’s always stunning to see it in person. All those six-sided pillars jutting into the air were simply amazing. And there was more. Eamon drove us along the Antrim Coast, so lovely that I felt downright cranky when he turned inland to take us back to Belfast. But our grand hotel, the Hastings Culloden Hotel in Holywood, almost–but not quite–made up for it.
We lingered over dinner, and then we lingered over drinks, reluctant to say goodbye to each other and to Ireland. Thanks to my travel companions, to Breandan, and to Eamon for a truly wonderful trip.
Judy P. Sopronyi
NOT SO SPECIAL?
I must tell you that I am very disappointed in the special World War Two issue that I just received. It took me all of two minutes to thumb through, see there was nothing of any interest to me whatsoever, and throw the magazine away! I am very concerned that you seem to be heading toward doing more of these special or theme issues. I am sure there are other people who are very interested in the topic, but aren’t you risking losing some of your readers by not having some sort of variety in the contents? It is all well and fine to focus an issue on a subject, but please, please not to the exclusion of all else.
As I only get six issues per year, I do so look forward to each one. After a two-month wait, getting a special interest issue that may not have a single article in it that I’d read is something I don’t care to subscribe to. Won’t you please consider scaling back on these "special" issues to the point where you do have at least some variety of subject matter included in them? Or better yet, if your surveys have shown subjects such as World War Two to be of interest to a significant number of readers, include one major article about them in each issue so the rest of us have something else to read!
New Prague, Minnesota
Editor’s Note: Believe it or not, Nancy, we appreciate getting letters like yours. We certainly understand the need to provide our readers with the sorts of articles they enjoy and the importance of listening to their opinions.
The best balance between general-interest articles and themed issues is a a matter we’re constantly wrestling with. These special issues grew out of our desire to delve more deeply into certain subjects than we could by printing individual articles. Putting related articles together in a single issue helps bring out the relationship between aspects of a theme in a way individual articles cannot.
Our readers’ reaction to our themed issues has been overwhelmingly positive. We want to remain open to all our readers’ comments, though, and so we invite everyone to let us know how they feel about our special issues–good or bad. We won’t be able to please everyone, but we’ll do our best.