As our taxi van entered the city of Galway, we all felt the shift! The calm, tranquil countryside of Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher, were now replaced by the hustle and noise of city life.
As you learned from my previous blog post, Love of Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher: Part 2, this region of Ireland touched me deeply. I was drawn in by the beauty and I felt at home in my surroundings. I could have easily stayed for a month.
The city of Galway is considered the cultural heart of Ireland. Dublin is the capital and its largest city, with a population of 1.3 million. We had left behind the slow-moving, quiet pace of the countryside and were about to shift into high gear! We only had a handful of days to take in what the two cities have to offer.
After saying farewell to Sean, our faithful driver, we checked in to the Forster Court Hotel on Eyre Court, dropped our luggage in our rooms, and headed out shopping! Quay Street is the best street in Galway to shop, eat, listen to music, and people watch.
Galway, a harbor city on Ireland’s west coast, sits where the River Corrib meets the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of just under 80,000, the city is bustling with activity. Galway is renowned for its "vibrant lifestyle," festivals, and celebrations. Art in every form can be found in the city and has the official designation as a UNESCO City of Film. It is colorful, friendly, and intriguing!
Since I only planned for an afternoon and evening
in this lively city, we were going non-stop!
The street musicians seemed to be located every few hundred feet and walking became more like a shuffle, as we wove our way through the throngs of people. But, the excitement of the city was palpable!
A few of the ladies wanted to buy an authentic Claddagh ring; a traditional Irish ring that represents love, loyalty, and friendship. The design and customs associated with this ring originated in Galway, dating back to the 17th century. The gesture of clasped hands was a symbol of pledging vows. They were used as engagement and wedding rings in medieval and Renaissance Europe. I'm happy to say that those that were in search of this lovely ring, were not disappointed!
After sampling some chips from McDonagh's, which is considered to have the best fish and chips in all of Galway, we continued shopping until it was time to get ready for our "progressive dinner" tour through Galway.
The tour, offered by Irish Food Trail, was a highlight! We met at Garveys Select Bar, just across from where we were staying. Our guide, plus some 15 participants, donned our jackets and headed out to learn about the city.
First, we crossed the street and walked through Eyre Square, a popular park in the heart of the city. The park is home to canons, a modern artistic fountain, and 14 tribal flags, representing the 14 merchant families who, over the centuries had dominated the political, commercial, and social life of the city of Galway. The square was renamed John F. Kennedy Park after the president visited Galway in 1963. From the square, we headed to our first dinner stop. Although the names of the restaurants we visited escape me, all three courses were delicious.
On our last stop, we settled into soft sofas
and were given a lesson on the proper
way to make an Irish coffee!
Each person poured their coffee and scooped the heavy cream on top, but the guide poured the whiskey! As we heading back through the park to our hotel, I think each of us was ready to crawl into our beds for a good night's sleep.
The next morning, after a not so satisfying breakfast, we checked out. The train station was a stones-throw from the hotel, so even in the steady rain, we managed to get there without getting too wet. Once on the train, we took pictures, pulled out snacks, and relaxed for the next 2 1/2 hour train ride. During our ride, we all agreed that one day wasn't enough time to get a feel for Galway. Next time...
As our train entered Dublin's Heuston Station, we gathered our suitcases and found taxis to take us to our home for the next 4 nights, Stauntons on the Green.
Stauntons, located in an elegant neighborhood across from St. Stephen's Green, is a historic 18th-century townhouse. Recently remodeled, the hotel rooms were beautifully decorated, with modern bathrooms. My room overlooked the park and the street below. In the afternoon, I opened my window to listen to the sounds of the city.
Breakfast each morning was served in the sitting room, where Gregorian furniture adorned the room. On small round tables, we were served bowls of fruit, trays of fresh baked goods, and a full entree of our choice. Along with fresh hot coffee and juice, it was a lovely way to begin our mornings. Ang, again, it reminded me of the wonderful tea and breakfasts served in Bunratty and Doolin!
With St. Stephen's Green directly across the street from our hotel, we had many opportunities to walk through the beautiful park on our way to meals and shopping.
The park was transformed in 1663 from a marsh and in 1664, the park was enclosed by a high wall. Today, the wall has been replaced with decorative iron fencing. There are statues of famous Irishmen, as well as, memorial gardens. The grounds measure 1800 by 1500 feet and are centered around the formal garden above. The benches that surrounded the circle, were occupied by locals enjoying a coffee break, watching the many birds, and enjoying the sun filtering through the trees. I would have liked more time to sit with the locals or strolling the promenade.
Our evening plans included
dinner at The Church, then on to the theater!
The Church is the former St. Mary’s Church of Ireland and one of the earliest examples of a galleried church. Built at the beginning of the 18th century, this historic building laid in ruins until it was fully restored in 2005. Today, The Church holds a bar, cafe, and balcony dining.
As we awaited our dinner, we had an opportunity to take pictures and marvel at the bar and stained glass windows from our balcony table. Dinner was elegantly served and my steak dinner was delicious.
Our seats were located in Dress Circle, in the second row of the balcony, so we had a wonderful view of the stage. The dance troupe dazzled us with their moves and the speed of their steps. The music was varied, with fiddle, saxophone, and percussion solos. One highlight was the dance competition between tap performers and Irish step dancers. It was a showdown that left the audience clapping for more!
Our first night in Dublin was a full one,
but it was just the beginning.
Guinness Storehouse was first on the list.
Kevin, our driver, dropped us off and we entered into the world of Guinness! The storehouse was a bit like a visit to an amusement park, with special effects, plenty of souvenirs, and a variety of places to eat. Once you walk through the story behind the famous beer, you are rewarded with a pint of Guinness, and a view of Dublin in the Gravity Bar.
The story of Arthur Guinness is a true rag to riches story. Not only did he turn his brewing company into a brewing dynasty, but he provided housing, health insurance, subsidized meals, pensions, higher wages, and more, to his employees. "The perks of working at Guinness were unparalleled and even included a drink before you headed home in the evening!"
Upon arriving at the college, it took some time to discover which guide was ours. Several groups were meeting in the same small area at the entrance to the college. Eventually, our guide arrived and we began our walk.
The history behind the Dublin Castle is extensive. The castle was built in the 13th century on a site previously settled by the Vikings. "It functioned as a military fortress, a prison, treasury, courts of law and the seat of English Administration in Ireland for 700 years." Today, the castle is used for important State receptions and Presidential Inaugurations. The castle gardens are beautifully kept and encircled with a stone wall. There are several sculptures throughout the garden representing moments in history for the people of Dublin.
On our return to Trinity College, we were escorted
to a viewing of the schools' Library.
This was my second visit to the library and I was just as awed as my first visit! The Library’s history dates back to the establishment of the College in 1592 and it is the largest library in Ireland. "Today it has over 6 million printed volumes with extensive collections of journals, manuscripts, maps, and music, reflecting over 400 years of academic development." And, its most famous piece of work is The Book of Kells.
The Book of Kells is a 9th century illuminated manuscript that documents the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. It is Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and the world’s most famous medieval manuscript. The lavishly decorated opening page of the book features the gospel of John. The book is enclosed in a glass case to protect it from the elements.
Only a few people are allowed in at a time, giving each person a chance to see the book more clearly. Once the viewing is complete, we headed down to the book store to purchase souvenirs. On this particular day, the crowds were thick and the line to purchase was nearly out the door. So, we all opted to enjoy what we had seen, rather than buy, heading back to the hotel to get ready for our dinner cruise.
The Canal Boat Dinner Cruise takes in a beautiful stretch of the Grand Canal in Dublin. The boat holds some 50 diners, plus the crew.
Once our order was taken, several ladies headed up on deck, to sit on the bow and watch as the boat glided through 200-year old canal locks. The crewmen worked quickly and steadily to open the lock and swing open the gate for our passage.
When dinner was served, we headed back downstairs to enjoy our meal. The cruise was educational, the staff friendly, and the dinner was very good! It was a welcome change after a long day of sight-seeing.
The next day we would be traveling
to the countryside!
After an early breakfast, we walked to the Molly Malone Statue, on Suffolk Street, to meet our tour bus to Powerscourt, Wicklow, and Glendalough.
The statue and cart of Molly Malone were unveiled during the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations, and June 13th became Molly Malone Day. The famous song, Molly Malone, also known as, Cockles and Mussels, has become Dublin's unofficial anthem. Although there is no evidence that the song was based on a real woman, the statue has come to represent, not only the song but part of the history of Dublin.
The statue was recently moved from Grafton Street and stands outside of the St. Andrews Church. It also sits in front of an H&M clothing store, and across from O'Neill's Pub and Kitchen. I laughed at the juxtaposition of the ancient church alongside the modern-day fashions.
Once our bus arrived, we boarded and headed to our first stop, Powerscourt House and Gardens.
Powerscourt Estate, located in Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland, is a large country estate which is noted for its house and landscaped gardens. In 1730, the castle was transformed into a mansion for the 1st Viscount Powerscourt. He wanted to make his mark in society and "assert his position."
Powerscourt House today is home to the best of Irish design in gifts, clothes, and furniture. The Avoca Terrace Cafe offers a stunning view of the gardens as you enjoy one of their delicious baked goods and coffee. Powerscourt House was recently voted as one of the Top Ten Houses and Mansions Worldwide by the Lonely Planet Guide.
Our group spent most of our time in the Powerscourt Gardens. The Gardens stretch over 47 acres and includes a blend of formal gardens, wide open terraces, statues, and ornamental lakes. We meandered through The Italian Garden, The Japanese Garden, and through the Rose Garden. There was a hedge of hydrangeas that caught my eye since they happen to be one of my favorites. Powerscourt Lake is surrounded by plants, flowers, and trees. The lake shimmers with autumn leaves floating upon its water. Benches are positions around the lake, so we each took time to sit in the quiet and take in the beauty.
We strolled past the Pepperpot Tower, which was modeled after a pepper pot from Lord Powerscourt’s dining table! The stones were formally part of a church that sat on the Powerscourt grounds. When the old church was torn down to make room for a new one, The Lord sat at dinner, pondering what to do with the old stones. His pepper pot came into view and he had his design!
The gardens are magnificent and they were recently voted third in the World’s Top Ten Gardens by National Geographic. The Royals made a recent trip to the gardens, where Prince Charles planted a Giant Redwood tree. He was following in the footsteps of such noted guests as Princess Grace of Monaco, Jackie Onassis, and Buzz Aldrin, who have all planted trees in the Gardens.
Next, we stopped in Enniskerry Village Square and had lunch at Poppies Cafe. Some took lunch to go so we could check out the village, while others sat and relaxed. After lunch, we took a scenic drive through the Wicklow Mountains National Park.
The bus pulled over above the Guinness Estate and viewed the amazing black lake, which is known The Guinness, or Lough Tay. The name derives from the shape and colors, similar to a pint of Guinness beer: "the white sandy beach on the northern coast makes the beer foam and the brown color of the water close to the beach (due to the water coming from the streams that rise on peat covered uplands) complete the similarity to the famous Irish pint. And, since one of the homes of the Guinness family is adjacent to the lake, the name fit's perfect!
We arrived in the afternoon at Glendalough Monastic Settlement. This is the site of the 6th-century monastery of St. Kevin, as well as, home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland.
This early Christian monastic settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and from this developed the ‘Monastic City’. The ‘City’ consists of several monastic remains and St. Mary's Church, a 12th-century building in Romanesque style.
For thousands of years, people have been drawn to ‘the valley of the two lakes." Our group made the trek to the first lake, which took us on a forest-like trail. It was beautiful and very peaceful.
We stopped off at the Glendalough Hotel for an ice tea, then walked through the craft store located nearby. Once we were all back on the bus, we began our trek back to Molly Malone Square for dinner at Elephant and Castle Cafe in Dublin's Temple Bar.
Our last day in Dublin was relaxed. Each person took the opportunity to make their plans for the day. Three of us headed back to Grafton Street for a famous hot chocolate at Butler's Chocolate Cafe. We people watched, strolled over to ha'penny bridge, and then headed back to Avoca Cafe to meet some of the other ladies for lunch.
The afternoon was spent visiting St. Patrick's Cathedral. As the largest cathedral and one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Ireland, Saint Patrick’s has been at the heart of Dublin and Ireland’s history and culture for over 800 years. It was built between 1220 and 1260, in honor of Ireland's patron saint.
Upon entering the cathedral, you are drawn into the beauty of the nave leading to the main altar. Some 200 monuments grace the inside of the cathedral and the windows date back almost two centuries.
Due to the generosity of Benjamin Lee Guinness, a member of the cathedral congregation and grandson of Arthur Guinness, the church was saved from ruin in the early 1900. To this day, the Guinness family continue to be generous supporters.
Next up - Jameson's Distillery on Bow Street!
Upon arrival, we were served a shot of their whiskey, either on the rocks, or mixed with ginger ale. I had mine mixed and it was strong but tasty! Soon, we lined up and were taken on a tour of how their whiskey is made.
The state-of-the-art presentation was impressive, with lots of lights and hands-on activities. After our education on the process, we got a chance to taste, not only Jameson's but other leading whiskeys for comparison. Hands down, Jameson's was the best, in my opinion. Not that I'm a big whiskey drinker, but from its color, its clarity, and its smoothness, their whiskey came out on top!
After we finished our tour, we ended up back in the restaurant/bar area where chandeliers made of Jameson bottles hung from the open beams. The room is large, open, with lots of wood and glass throughout the room. It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours learning about and sampling the best selling Irish whiskey in the world!
Our last dinner together was at The Brazen Head, considered the oldest pub in Dublin, dating back to 1198. "There has been a hostelry here since 1198. The present building was built in 1754 as a coaching inn."
It was raining hard that night, so we welcomed the warmth of our upstairs room, where we would enjoy a delicious dinner, served with a side of Irish folklore and fairies. The stories were lively and certainly stretched the imagination!
As the night progressed, our group decided that it was time to go back to our hotel, discuss the past 11 days, and enjoy our last few hours together.
Earlier in the evening, I was presented with a beautiful scarf with The Book of Kells motif from one of my fellow travelers. As we gathered, I took it out to take a better look and someone snapped this picture.
Each one of the women shared their positive experiences, memorable moments, and spoke words of encouragement. It left me humbled and tearful, allowing me to thank them for their faith in me. There were hugs all around before we all headed to our rooms to pack and get organized for the long flight home the next day.
Once home, I sent them each a carved Irish Dancer from Willow Tree to remember our wonderful time together. I also sent each lady an evaluation, so they could offer me the necessary feedback I needed to make changes and improvements to my future Travel Retreats. I was grateful for the positive remarks and the constructive criticism that was given.
Planning a detailed vacation and retreat, not knowing who will be attending, was a challenge,
but I loved the process!
I wanted the trip to be filled with a variety of activities, high-quality accommodations, and delicious food. I hoped that the retreat would give them deeper insight into themselves and their desire for the future. And, I also hoped that they felt that there was a good value for the money they paid. I believe I met my goals in these areas.
I also wanted everything to go perfectly - silly me! I learned some personal lessons about myself and my expectations. I also learned my strengths and weaknesses during the 11-day trip.
Life is about learning lessons and growing. I hope I'm always open to both!
As my Spirit of Ireland Retreat blog posts come to an end, I look forward to writing about my next journey!!
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”