At Christmastime, as the creche is unpacked and set up on the mantelpiece, I pause when I take out the old gray donkey and think about the wonderful work done by Paddy Barrett and his dedicated and caring staff at The Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll, Mallow, Co. Cork.
The Barrett family has been involved for decades in animal welfare and their wonderful sanctuary at Knockardbane is open to the public and a great place to visit, especially with children. Hours that the Sanctuary is open to the public are: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and weekends and bank holidays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission and parking are free although the gates do close promptly at the end of the day, so if you're a little late, be sure to park outside.
The Irish Sanctuary, which joined forces in 1987 with Dr. Elisabeth Svendsen's Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon, UK, has taken in more than 2,500 Irish donkeys over the years and combined totals for both sanctuaries number over 12,000 donkeys that have been rescued in England and Ireland.
Paddy, his family, and animal welfare agents from around Ireland continue to work toward improving conditions for donkeys and you often see them at fairs as we did last year at Maam Cross in Connemara. These agents are ever on the lookout for those who treat animals badly and for animals that need help. Many of the sweet donkeys that end up in these Sanctuaries have been abandoned or left in fields to suffer the vagaries of Irish weather after having spent their entire lives hauling peat or pulling carts.
Each year at this time, I mention The Donkey Sanctuary as a charity that merits support. Last fall, I visited there and "adopted" - for a small fee - a multi-colored donkey named Ritchie for my grandson in Pittsburgh. He was sent a picture of Ritchie, information about his background, and how Ritchie came to live at the Sanctuary, as well as a twice-yearly report to tell him how the donkey was doing. I thought it was a different and interesting gift that might teach him about animals and perhaps spark an interest in doing some kind of welfare or rescue work with animals or people when he grows up. You just never know.
In any event, it's a very good cause and one that I've personally supported for a long time. You can read more about the sanctuary and donating opportunities at the website: thedonkeysanctuary.ie.
New Year's Eve Offerings
Two elegant properties - Castlemartyr Resort and Ashford Castle - recently came onto our radar screen offering special holiday packages. A stay at either would be a great gift for you or someone special.
Castlemartyr Resort, in County Cork, offers a New Year's celebration in the beautifully restored manor house for 295 euro per person, a sharing that includes overnight accommodation in classic or deluxe guest rooms. (Packages are also offered for 640 euro for a junior suite and 740 euro for a two-bed suite.)
Also included are afternoon tea upon arrival - complete with finger sandwiches, pastries, homemade scones with clotted cream and jam - a pre-dinner champagne reception, and a black tie dinner with wine pairings and sparklers included. The dinner will have one seating only and a strictly limited number of guests.
The New Year's dinner includes menu items such as Lobster Bisque with Basil Oil, Pan Fried Turbot, and Filet of Beef. After dinner listen to "The Roaring 40s" swing band in the Knights' Bar and enjoy a champagne toast at midnight. A New Year's Day brunch completes the "House Party at the Manor" package.
For more information, visit castlemartyrresort.ie. Reservations can be made through the hotel (reception.castlemartyrresort.ie) or through The Dromoland Collection at: dromolandcollection.ie.
There are also several Christmas and New Year's packages offered by wonderful Ashford Castle in Co. Mayo. You can learn much more about these packages and book by visiting: ashford.ie.
Failte Ireland, the Irish branch of our Tourism Ireland, has reported that Galway City had a better tourism season than expected this year and that areas such as Connemara experienced strong weekend trade during the summer. That was encouraging to hear on the heels of the news that the most recent national figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) revealed a slump of nearly 11 percent in the number of overseas visitors this year, falling below five million for the first time since 2005.
The CSO data also revealed that Irish residents took 748,600 foreign trips in August 2009, down nearly 11.5 percent from the same period last year.
The overseas travel figures for August show there were 123,200 fewer overseas visitors, compared with the same month in 2008 - a drop of 13 percent.
Trips to Ireland from the country's main visitor market - Britain - dropped sharply, with 25 percent fewer crossing the Irish Sea - 369,700 visits compared to 488,400 in August 2008.
The good news was that the number of visits by residents of Northern America rose by more than seven percent, from 118,200 in August 2008 to 126,600 this year.
Ireland in December
No doubt activities have slowed down a bit as this year cranks to a close. But there are still many holiday events planned around the country that are fun and entertaining and will surely get you into the spirit.
From Nov. 30 to Dec. 21, experience railroad transportation's golden age in Kilmeaden, Co. Waterford. Visit www.wsvrailway.ie for details.
From Dec. 4 through Dec. 22, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be joined by some of their elves and other familiar Christmas characters at Bunratty Folk Park in Co. Clare, very near Shannon Airport. The Folk Park storyteller will recall tales of Christmas long ago. A complimentary glass of mulled wine and mince pies awaits in Corry's Pub. Pre-booking is necessary so if you know you'll be in the area and want to attend, contact shannonheritage.com/BookOnline For more information, visit the website at shannonheritage.com
From Dec. 26-Dec. 29, enjoy the four-day Christmas Horse Racing Festival at Limerick Racecourse in Patrickswell. For times and dates of the national hunt racing, visit limerickraces.ie.
From Dec. 30-Jan. 3, there's a Christmas Walking Festival in Westport, Co. Mayo, that includes three days of guided walks. To find out more, visit walkingguideireland.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Their postal address is: Croagh Patrick Walking Tours, Belclare, Westport, Co. Mayo.
To get information on the best direct flights and latest ground deals, visit your favorite travel agent or the Aer Lingus website.
Flights and deals are offered by US Airways and other domestic airlines, but usually involve layovers that can add several hours to your trip but also reduce the cost. Be sure to check out seasonal happenings at Tourism Ireland's website and enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever you go.
We wish all our readers a most wonderful holiday season and a new year filled with health and happiness and, hopefully, a trip to the Emerald Isle!