Ireland is like no other place under heaven.
~ George Bernard Shaw
I love Ireland!
I’m not sure when I fell in love with the country, but I know why!
Firstly, it was the deep green pastures and rolling hills, dotted with sheep, cows, and horses lazily grazing about. Secondly, it was the friendly people. Honestly, I can't imagine any nicer people anywhere. Lastly, when I discovered I was 25% Irish/Scottish, through my DNA testing, that probably sealed the deal.
During “The Spirit of Ireland” travel retreat, I found myself overwhelmed by the feeling of belonging. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was greeted like an old friend coming home again. And, as I stood and looked out over the rolling green hills, that stretched to the Atlantic ocean’s edge, I felt connected in some deeper way to this beautiful place.
Our travel retreat began in the small village of Bunratty in County Clare, just a short drive from Shannon Airport. I arrived a couple of days before the rest of the ladies checked-in. It was a nice time for me to get rested and centered before the actual retreat began.
The Bunratty Castle Hotel is a beautiful hotel and spa resort. It sits up above the small village, allowing for a stroll through their lovely grounds, down to the main street below. From the moment I arrived, I could be found walking the paths, visiting the shops, and lunching at the Creamery Cafe and Pub.
The shops in the village consist of Bunratty Woolen Mills, a small garden center, and the café. This little strip of shopping sits directly across from the Bunratty Castle and Durty Nelly's pub, a 1620-era thatched-roof cottage with lanterns and sawdust floors. It was once a bar for castle guards.
This little village is the perfect spot to start a tour of Ireland. You immediately feel that you have stepped back in time. And, the atmosphere lends itself to a stroll through the shops and then a cold Guinness at the pub!
One of the highlights during my early arrival at the hotel was Afternoon Tea in one of the many cozy sitting areas at the hotel. I decided to have their delicious coffee, with pouring cream, rather than tea. I sipped my rich coffee from a beautiful china tea service, while I sampled canapes, scones, quiche, and crust-less sandwiches. The scones were served with clotted cream and homemade jam - yum!
To top off my 2 hours of self-indulgence, there were a variety of desserts that consisted of meringue with fresh strawberries, rich chocolate mousse surrounded by shortbread cookies, and a cheesecake that was topped with a layer of Bailey’s infused cream! A small serving of freshly made raspberry sorbet rounded out the display. I practiced mindfulness and being in the moment while thinking, "I could get used to this!"
Once the women began to arrive and get settled, we gathered in one of the hotel's meeting rooms to begin our retreat. It was a nice way to begin our 11 days together and the hotel went above and beyond making the room comfortable for us.
The retreat portion of the trip was called, "A Journey Back to You." I wanted the activities to open up our minds and hearts to what we each desired at our current stage of life. I began the first dyad practice with the following quote:
“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul."
From this quote, the ladies practiced listening to one another as each answered a series of timed questions. When I stopped the time, they switched places. Dyad practices are a great tool for deeper listening and allowing for silence. It is also an opportunity to speak from the heart, without sharing with the entire group.
We then went into a Values Exercise. I explained that to know for what we want in our future, it is necessary to be able to name our current values. The hardest part of this exercise is being able to narrow the selection down to just 4 values. After we each made our selections, from a long list of value words, we spent time journaling about what each value meant to us and how it shows up in our lives.
We ended our session with quotes and a gift I had made each one of them. Then, we were off to get ready for our evening at Bunratty Castle's Medieval Banquet!
The site in which the Bunratty Castle stands was originally a Viking trading camp in 970. The structure is the last of four castles to be built on the site. The present-day castle dates back to 1425 and was restored in 1956. The restoration brought the castle back to life and is now furnished with tapestries, furniture, and works of art dating back to the 1600 century.
As we climbed the steps to the castle and crossed the drawbridge, we were greeted by the Earl's butler and taken to the main hall. Once we entered the massive room, we were given a cup of spiced honey mead. Mead is made from fermented honey, spices, and water. It had an interesting flavor!
As we sipped our mead, we were entertained by the sounds of the harp and violin. Then, the Earl crowned a couple in the audience to be the "Lord and Lady" for the evening, where the Lord would decide whether each course met his satisfaction. He also decided who would be sent to the dungeon!
There were around 100 guests in attendance, so once we were all seated at long tables in the dining hall, the food and entertainment began. Bowls of vegetable soup, along with warm bread, were served first. Next, large platters of ribs were served family-style, followed by chicken and vegetables. For dessert, we enjoyed cheesecake mousse with a nutty cookie crust. Oh, did I mention, that there wasn't any silverware, except for a large steak knife to spear our food with!?! It was all delicious and far too much to eat, but we managed!
Along with the meal, we enjoyed the beautiful voices of the lords and ladies of the castle. Dressed in period costumes, the group entertained with traditional folk songs. They told stories and played with and to the audience. The highlight was the solo performance by the harpist - breathtaking!
The evening at the castle was memorable and the perfect way to begin our 11-day journey together. The next morning we packed our suitcases, stored them at the hotel, and walked back to the village to tour the rest of the castle and stroll through the adjoining folk park.
We strolled under the canopies of beautiful tree-lined pathways in the Folk Park. There are 26-acres to explore and we only managed to cover a few of them. The 19th Century Folk Park is a reconstruction of homes and the environment of Ireland over 100 years ago. The lush green trees, expansive meadows, and beautiful gardens added to the experience of traveling back in time. As we meandered along the dirt roads, we got a real sense of what it must have been like during that period.
We visited the Golden Vale Farmhouse. This is one of many farmhouses in the park, with its own unique story. This particular house was a prosperous farmer's home, with stables, byres (cow shed), and corn barn. This is also the house were fresh scones, brown bread, and apple tarts were being made to sample. Once we saw the freshly baking scones on the open fire, we made sure that we didn't stray too far away, so we could try a taste. It was so delicious that we stopped at the cafe to enjoy our own!
There was a cute thatched-roof shop, not far from the castle door, filled with woolen scarves, hats, and sweaters. It was one of many thatched-roof buildings throughout the park, displaying the way thatching was used, not only to insulate the house but to keep it dry. The Village Street included the School, Doctor’s house, Pawnbrokers, Pub, Drapery, Printworks, Grocery, Hardware shop, Pottery, and a Post Office. Each was an example of a typical 1900 urban building, alongside the traditional Irish culture.
The "Fairy Trail" in the Folk Park was located deep within the forest. Although we didn't spend any time here, the area was filled with fun activities for children. The Fairy University, Fairy Library, and Fairy Shopping Village is a great place for children of all ages to gather and hopefully spot a fairy passing by.
Ireland is famous for its fairies of myth and legend. Those little creatures can be angelically good or they can be devilishly bad! We came across one of their gathering places, deep among the trees, but sadly, they were nowhere to be seen!
The day at the Folk Park was great fun! We had coffee and shared scones, with the famous clotted cream and jam, before heading to the main street for some shopping. Then, we wound our way out of the park and headed back to the hotel to retrieve our luggage and take a taxi to Doolin, about an hour away.
This is only the beginning of our amazing journey in Ireland! There is so much more I want to share with you, so I will stop here and continue next time with Part 2, which will feature the beauty of Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher. I hope you have enjoyed the first leg of our journey!
Next time - Part 2, Doolin, County Clare, Ireland
May your day be touched by a bit of Irish luck, brightened by a song in your heart
and warmed by the smiles of the people you love.
~ Irish Saying