Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare are Ireland’s top attraction.
By Judy Enright
Strike up the band and let the celebration begin! It’s March, that most welcome precursor of spring which, as they say, breaks winter’s back. And along with bidding snow, ice, and cold farewell for another year, comes the pleasure of celebrating St. Patrick with lively songs, stories, and parades here and all over Ireland.
The Irish do enjoy a good parade and are masters at celebrating holidays such as March 17 with all due pomp and circumstance. From east to west, north to south, cities and towns organize their marchers for the traditional and colorful parades, often coupled with religious ceremonies before or after and gatherings later that rock the local pubs .
So, who was this St. Patrick that everyone honors as Ireland’s patron saint? Was he just one man or were there several? It’s hard to answer with great certainty or accuracy, but it’s always fun to hear Irish legend and myth.
Scholars have done centuries of research on Patrick and perhaps one of the best places to see what they have concluded is at The Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Co. Down, Northern Ireland – the world’s only permanent exhibition about the saint.
The Centre is just a two-hour drive from Dublin Airport (where car rental is available) and about 40 minutes from Belfast. Those who don’t rent a car in Ireland can still visit by taking a bus or train from the Dublin or Belfast City Centers.
At Downpatrick, you can learn about Patrick’s life and legacy in interactive galleries and at the IMAX experience. Be sure to visit the Centre’s art gallery and excellent craft shop while there and stop for a bite to eat at the Garden Café.
There are many sites near the Centre that are associated with St. Patrick’s life, including the Cathedral of Down (where his grave is located), Inch Abbey (where the legend of the snakes was written), and Ireland’s first church at Saul (where Patrick died on March 17).
After you have walked in St. Patrick’s footsteps, be sure to continue north to the Titanic Belfast and see this wonderful attraction, which has welcomed more than 6 million visitors from more than 145 countries with 88 percent hailing from outside Northern Ireland.
Jackie Henry, a senior partner at Deloitte Northern Ireland, has conducted an independent evaluation that he said showed the exhibit had generated 319 million pounds sterling for the local economy.
Saying that Titanic Belfast is committed to being a key driver for tourism in Northern Ireland, Judith Owens, the company’s chief executive, has outlined plans to re-invest three million pounds sterling into a gallery refreshment program, adding, “through our Gallery Refreshment Program, we aim to deliver a world-class spectacle that will continue to drive visitors to Belfast and Northern Ireland.”
The gallery work will be Titanic Belfast’s biggest single investment and most ambitious project since its opening in 2012.
An aside: While you are in the North, be sure to also visit the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and Dunluce Castle as well as the many other historic properties preserved by The National Trust, including Derrymore House, Mount Stewart, and many others.
Who can forget Dublin when talking about St. Patrick’s Day? No one, right? The capital city bursts with activity over five days and nights from March 13 to the holiday itself. There’s music, performance, art, spoken word, and literature as well as tours, trails, food events, family fun, and more.
Principally funded by Fáilte Ireland (the Irish arm of Tourism Ireland), Dublin City Council and the Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, the program offers hundreds of events throughout Dublin. See visitdublin.com and Ireland.com for more.
If you are a Percy French fan, you surely know his beautiful song “The Mountains of Mourne” and also that Jan. 24 marked the 100th anniversary of his death.
A painter, musician, composer, and singer, William Percy French was born in Co. Roscommon and educated in Ireland and England. In 1872, he began an engineering degree program at Trinity College in Dublin, where he developed his talent for writing songs. French is perhaps best known for his humorous songs, but he was also an editor, concert promoter, landscape painter, sketch writer, poet, banjo player, and stage entertainer.
Like many of his fellow artists, he spent holidays on Achill Island in Co. Mayo during the early 1900s and drew inspiration there for the poem “Island of my Dreams,” or “In Exile.” He also painted a number of watercolors while there.
In January 1920, French, then 65, became ill while performing in Glasgow and died of pneumonia in Formby, England. His grave is in the churchyard of St. Luke’s Parish Church, Formby, Merseyside.
I have long admired the environmentally focused writing and art work of Michael Viney in the Saturday editions of The Irish Times. He is so in touch with the world around him, its many issues and hopes, as evidenced by the excerpt below from his Feb. 1 column about pollinators. After reading the column, I wanted to immediately visit this farmer and see what he has accomplished.
Viney discussed the EU award of some four million euro toward the cost of a five-year conservation program on Donegal and Connacht farmland. The aim, he wrote, “is to save our summer corncrakes, all but extinct as migrants to Ireland and declining in western Europe but still breeding in millions in Russia and Kazakhstan.
“The award was gratefully received by the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Service), whose land management plans, agreed with farmers, include the planting of meadows with tall native vegetation to give corncrakes cover for their breeding.
“This costly program, for birds that are neither “keystone” for their habitat nor threatened with planetary loss, seemed a fair example of the challenge to conservation in choosing which species to save.
“The column brought pertinent comment from Feargal Ó Cuinneagáin, a young farmer who has pioneered sowing for the corncrake ten grassy and windswept hectares (metric unit of measurement) of the Mullet Peninsula in Co. Mayo. His meadows of richly mixed native herbs and wild flowers, while primarily managed for corncrake cover, have attracted a striking variety of birds – ‘breeding skylark,’ lists Ó Cuinneagáin, ‘meadow pipit, snipe, reed bunting, sedge warbler, grasshopper warbler, stonechat, wheatear and chough’
“Even in winter, he has recorded barnacle and greylag geese, twite, golden plover and curlew. And the summer profusion of yellow rattle, bird’s foot trefoil and red clover offers food to the great yellow bumblebee, the rare pollinator that now survives only in parts of the west.
“So yes, biodiversity indeed. And in the careful elaboration of plants beyond the familiar nettles and yellow iris, it is the deliberate restoration of the meadows that used to be, full of insects and nectar in summer and spires of seeds in winter.
“ ‘Farming for Nature,’ however, the movement for which Ó Cuinneagáin’s farm is showpiece, insists that ‘the plan is not a step back in time’ but a way forward, not least in helping to save the pollinators that flowering plants need to survive. In most of the high-nature-value farmland across Ireland, it argues, ‘the income from agri-environmental schemes is a lifeline in keeping farmers farming.’”
MINDFUL SELF COMPASSION
How about taking several days to treat yourself? Check out Caitriona nic Ghiollaphadraig’s program March 22-24 at beautiful Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel in Connemara, Co. Galway.
Check-in is Sun., the 22d, in time for 7 p.m. dinner. The Mindful, Self-Compassion session will be introduced afterwards as “a first step in emotional healing - being able to turn toward and acknowledge difficult thoughts and feelings (such as inadequacy, sadness, anger, confusion) with a spirit of openness and curiosity.”
Two and three-day packages are available. For more information, visit Lough Inagh’s website at loughinaghlodgehotel.ie or visit embodiedbrain.ie.
Lough Inagh’s location is also perfect for outdoor activities, including hill walking, fly fishing, cycling, golf, sightseeing, and exploring.
Above all, enjoy Ireland and all it has to offer when you set down there in March.