Westport House in the snow.
Shannon Airport was already in holiday mode when I traveled through in mid-November - proof positive that the Irish take Christmas very seriously and love to celebrate the season.
Two enormous, sparkling Christmas trees were erected at the end of the Aer Lingus counter. And, the night before departing, I joined friends for dinner at Bunratty Manor near the airport and it, too, was fully decorated with swags and lights galore.
The lights and decorations seemed to brighten everyone’s mood. Otherwise- stressed travelers were smiling as they worked their way through the check-in lines. The spirit of the holidays is definitely infectious.
I am always interested to know which saint is guiding us home, so I asked the stewardess as I boarded the plane. She came down the aisle after we lifted off and said our Aer Lingus plane (operated by ASL Airlines Ireland Limited) was named for St. Boce. She spelled his name because Boce was a saint with whom I was unfamiliar. But I couldn’t find any mention of Saint Boce online – if readers can enlighten me, I’d be grateful.
THE GIVING SEASON
We like to give special mention to Irish animal charities in December in case anyone wants to donate and help them out. But, after the horrific fires in California this year, it’s hard to suggest donating to charities other than those helping people and animals out there.
But, if our readers would like names, following are some of many Irish charities that help animals. They all welcome financial support for the sake of helpless animals who have no voices to express their plight.
In 2009, Dogs Trust Ireland, now Ireland’s largest dog welfare charity, established a rehoming center in Dublin with a mission to find new homes for stray and abandoned dogs in Ireland.
Dogs Trust lists impressive statistics including: 2,746 dogs rehomed and 2,468 educational workshops delivered in 2017 alone. The six-member education team has (since 2009) delivered more than 100,000 workshops that have stressed responsible dog ownership to over 300,000 children in primary schools.
All Dogs Trust dogs are neutered, micro-chipped, fully vaccinated, and temperament tested before being rehomed, and all of that is done without government funding. Dogs Trust relies on donors and supporters only. See dogstrust.ie for more.
There are, as we said, many worthwhile Irish charities that help dogs and other animals including ISPCA Ireland (ispca.ie), Paws Animal Rescue (paws.ie), Tags Rescue (Ireland’s largest adoption website for dogs, cats, horses and rabbits at Tags.ie), Cara Rescue Dogs (cararescuedogs.com), Dogs in Distress (dogsindistress.org), Madra (Mutts Anonymous Dog Rescue and Adoption at madra.ie) and there’s Last Hope Animal Rescue (lasthope.ie) for domestic animals and My Lovely Horse Rescue, established in 2011 for horses, ponies and donkeys. See mylovelyhorserescue.com for more.
The Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll, Co. Cork, is a charity I have visited on my own and with family several times over the years. The spacious sanctuary is home to more than 100 donkeys and mules and visitors are welcome. One year, I “adopted” a donkey for my granddaughter and she received a packet of information about “her” donkey. It was a fun thing to do and supports the Sanctuary’s work.
Since opening in 1987, it has taken in and cared for more than 5,600 neglected and abandoned donkeys from across Ireland. See: thedonkeysanctuary.ie for more information.
You could say Mayo is magic at any time of year but it is especially so during the Christmas season.
If you’re going to be in Mayo at this time of year, be sure to take advantage of these opportunities in Westport and Castlebar:
• Visitors with children will enjoy meeting Santa at Westport House’s Winter Wonderland. There will be storytelling, face painting, crafting, treats, a visit with Santa, and a Santa Express Train across the Westport House estate. The Winter Wonderland at Westport House is open through Dec. 23.
• Westport House will also screen a classic drive-in movie from Nov. 30 to Dec. 30 at 5 and 7:30 p.m. in the farmyard on the estate. Choose family movies such as Elf, Home Alone, E.T., Frozen or Willie Wonka. Other films include Grease and Dirty Dancing, Jaws, and Top Gun.
• Ice skaters will enjoy Connaught’s largest rink at The Mall in Castlebar from Nov. 30 to Jan. 6. There’s lots of great shopping in Castlebar too.
• How about spending a night or two in Hotel Westport on the Westport House Estate or in Castlebar’s Breaffy House Resort? Both are very nice accommodations.
And next spring, when you visit the West of Ireland, how about booking a self-catering stay at the three-bedroom Courtyard Suites and Superior Lodges behind the Mulranny Park Hotel? All suites are furnished to a high standard, are spacious, and offer viewings of the area’s special Eco-Lawn Mowers that visitors love – that would be sheep, of course.
The Mulranny Suites offer the freedom of self-catering but also complimentary use of the leisure center at the Mulranny Park Hotel. They’re ideal for large families and groups alike. The Great Western Greenway runs behind the Suites so they are also an excellent option for an adventurous holiday. See: mulrannysuites.ie for more information.
Traveling to Ireland with children? Santa and his reindeer will welcome visitors to Glendeer Pet Farm in Athlone, Co. Westmeath, daily during December from 4 p.m.to 7 p.m.
In addition to Santa, you can visit the crib where there will be a live cow and donkey, or view the snow scene with animated figures and the elves in their workshop. There’s also a coffee shop, an indoor picnic, and a play area. See glendeerpetfarm,ie for more information.
The 12-acre pet farm is also open every day from March 17 to the end of September.
ALCOCK & BROWN
Looking ahead to next year, be sure to visit Connemara and include the 100th anniversary of the first non-stop transatlantic flight in history at a Commemorative Festival from June 12 to June 16 in Clifden, Co. Galway. There will be lots of activities included – talks, guided tours, a welcome carnival, aviation conference, traditional boat regatta, street party, music, special guests, field trips, documentaries, readings and more. It all sounds like great fun. For details, see: alcockandbrown100.com.
We read recently in The Irish Times newspaper that Aer Lingus has its sights set on increasing its fleet in order to grow its transatlantic seat capacity by more than two-thirds. Stephen Kavanagh, its chief executive, said the airline would grow its A330 fleet to 16 from 13 in 2017 and invest in 14 Airbus A321 aircraft. The airline currently has a transatlantic seat capacity of 2.8 million a year. The increase in aircraft would see that figure grow to 4.7 million.
We’ve always enjoyed flying with Aer Lingus and we wish them very well.
There is much to do in Ireland even off-season. A Traditional Christmas Market will be held each Saturday and Sunday in the Upper Courtyard at Dublin Castle from Nov. 30 to Dec. 22. Choirs will perform under the tree from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday.
There will also be craft fair there on Dec. 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. inside Bedford Hall. Visit Ireland.com for more holiday happenings.
Enjoy Ireland whenever you visit and wherever you go. And enjoy this magical season of Christmas with friends and family.