By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
One of Ireland’s most appealing attributes, as we’ve said in previous columns, is that no matter how many times you visit, you can always discover something new.
For instance, local friends recently toured Ireland and spotted a sign for the Skelligs Chocolate Co. as they drove near Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry. They took the road and came upon the most wonderful factory where chocolates are made and packed in hand-painted boxes and other original packaging. Take a look at these websites: skelligchocolate.com and cocoabeanchocolates.com and, if you’re in the area, my friends highly recommend a stop at this factory that they totally found by accident and thoroughly enjoyed.
I’ve been to Co. Kerry many times but never visited Derrynane National Historic Park until last spring. The property presents a fascinating look at the country home, heritage and lifestyle of 19th-century Irish patriot Daniel O’Connell.
Derrynane is at the tip of the Iveragh Peninsula and, in O’Connell’s words, “Perhaps if I could show you the calm and exquisite beauty of these capacious bays and mountain promontories, softened in the pale moonlight…when all which during the day was grand and terrific has become calm and serene …perhaps you could admit that the man who has often been called a ferocious demagogue is, in truth, a lover of Nature.”
The park includes Derrynane House, set amidst some 300 acres, all of which is managed and maintained today by the National Monuments and Historic Properties Service of the Office of Public Works (OPW). The house was opened to the public in 1967. The surrounding parklands opened in 1975 to mark the 200th anniversary of O’Connell’s birth.
Daniel was the eldest of Morgan and Catherine O’Connell’s ten children and he and his younger brother, Maurice, were adopted by their wealthy but childless uncle, Muiris “Hunting-Cap” O’Connell.
The house is beautifully decorated with many pieces from O’Connell’s day as well as other furnishings. There’s a magnificent circular table in the upstairs drawing room with legs carved from a single piece of oak.
The bedroom now contains his deathbed, brought to Derrynane from the Villa della Fontana in Genoa where he died on May 15, 1847. And when you visit, don’t miss the beautiful chapel or the coach house that contains the chariot on which O’Connell returned to his Merrion Square home after being released from Richmond Prison in 1844.
Be sure to walk through the tunnel under the road and enjoy the gardens, which are very well maintained and contain the most magnificent flowers and trees. And, keep an eye out for many species of birds from puffins to curlews to, my favorites, the wagtails.
Other OPW sites in the area include Desmond Castle and Charles Fort, both in Kinsale, Co. Cork; Ilnacullin or Garnish Island in West Cork; the Blasket Islands Visitors’ Centre (also signposted as Ionad an Bhlascaoid) on the Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry; Killarney National Park; Ross Castle, on the shore of Killarney’s Lower Lake in Co. Kerry; Scattery Island Information Centre in Kilrush, Co. Clare, and the Ennis Friary in Ennis, Co, Clare.
And don’t forget that many tourist attractions in Ireland do not stay open during the winter, so be sure to check in advance before visiting. Most Irish tourist attractions now have websites.
I LOVE MAYO
Speaking of websites, we were interested to see a new website called iLoveMayo.com that showcases the art, photography, and crafts created by artists living or working in Co. Mayo. Initially offering original artworks, canvas prints, and mounted paper prints, the site will expand to include photographs and a range of crafts.
The website was founded by Jane and Alistair Steger-Lewis. “We are delighted to be able to offer beautiful images of Mayo, its culture and crafts, which will provide a reminder of our wonderful county to people around the world,” Jane said. The website address is ilovemayo.com
AS TIME GOES BY
It is totally amazing to me how fast time flies! I recently opened the drawer in a bedside table and pulled out a Round Tower Travel brochure for St. Patrick’s Week in Ireland, March 14-22, 1976. That was the first time I ever went to Ireland.
My husband, a member of the Boston Police Emerald Society at the time, and I flew over and drove around for a week visiting cousins, aunts, and uncles he had never before met. His mother was from Ballymote, Co. Sligo, and his father from Tarbert, Kerry. They met in Boston where both had immigrated to find work.
During our tour, both of us fell totally in love with Ireland and we returned many times.
How about this? One option – a car, five nights in First Class hotels, two nights at the Royal Dublin, full Irish breakfast daily and a cocktail reception -- was $159 per person for the week, double occupancy. To rent just an automatic car for a week cost $135 in 1976. Amazing!
Going over to Ireland this winter? If you’re near Dublin this month between the first and the 14th, the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival Committee is planning a diverse program for 2011, which is the Year of the Rabbit. There will be cultural exhibitions, a weekend carnival, lecture series, art and crafts workshops, film, Chinese opera, and a host of other activities to celebrate Sino-Irish relationships.
From Feb. 3-6, head up to the Inishowen Peninsula for the International Guitar Festival based in McGrorys of Culdaff. For more info, visit the website iguitar.ie.
From Feb. 17-27, Dublin City will be the site of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, Ireland’s premiere feature film festival and a citywide event that includes 11 days of movie magic. Each year the festival presents international talent and more than 110 films from 30 countries, ensuring that there is something for everyone. For more info, visit the website jdiff.com
Or, how about the Winter and Cask Ales Festival in Cork City? From Feb. 11 –13, the festival features Ireland’s finest cask ales and craft-brewed winter ales. The Beerfest takes place in a heated beer hall with food available throughout the weekend and live music each night. For more information, visit: franciscanwellbrewery.com
Music lovers take note that the Russell Memorial Weekend will be held in Doolin, Co. Clare, from Feb. 25 to 28. The Russell Weekend was established in 1995 in memory of Micho Russell, world famous trad musician who died in 1994, and it is held over the last full weekend in February. This is a celebration of traditional music, song and dance. For more, visit michorussellweekend.ie
When Ireland is on your agenda, be sure to visit your favorite travel agent or the Aer Lingus website (aerlingus.com) for the latest direct flights and ground deals. Hopefully, Aer Lingus will sort out their contentious cabin crew issues soon and flights will be lifting off on a regular basis from Logan to Shannon and Dublin.
Flights and deals are offered by other airlines, too, but usually involve layovers in various cities and can add several hours to your trip but also reduce the cost.
Check out seasonal happenings at Tourism Ireland’s website (discoverireland.com) and enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever you go.