By Judy Enright. Special to the BIR
The season of peace and tranquility is thankfully upon us after a tumultuous, wild, and wooly year. No matter your faith or lack of same, this is a truly lovely season for almost everyone. The lights, color, music, scents, giving, and kindness – and couldn’t this world use so much more kindness?
At this time of year – actually, at any time of year - I like to direct visitors to the many magnificent stained glass windows in churches around Ireland that were created by the late Dubliner Harry Clarke. If you step inside a church and see a series of windows that include some by Clarke, you can spot his immediately. The rich colors, craftsmanship, imagination, and intricacy make them easily recognizable. Clarke windows are in many locations throughout the island, in other countries, and even in the US, at the Wolfsonian at the University of Florida in Miami. They are well worth traveling to see.
One such lovely window is in St. Patrick’s Church in Lahardane, Co. Mayo, a town and parish noted for having the largest proportionate loss of life when the Titanic sank in 1912. Fourteen people from the parish boarded the ship in Cobh (then known as Queenstown), and only three survived. A plaque was placed in the church in 2002 in memory of the 14 Titanic passengers, a memorial garden there honors their memory, and two stained glass windows – the Emigration Window and the Titanic Rescue Window - were installed there in 2011.
There’s a great story behind the Clarke window, which is set in the western nave of the Lahardane church, and it speaks to the appreciation even then of his amazing work, especially by the religious.
The window, depicting the Madonna and child, came from a Castlelacken church on the North Mayo coast, where it had been installed but removed, along with a second Clark window, when the parish rebuilt the church. One has to wonder where the builders stored the elegant Clarke windows since history tells us that the second window was “destroyed by livestock.”
The stained glass treasures were probably stashed in someone’s shed or barn – much to the delight of the parish priest in Lahardane - a Father McGuinness - because they were never installed in the new Lacken church. The priest recovered and restored the remaining Clarke window and had it installed in St. Patrick’s.
You may have heard of Castlelacken – now known as Lacken –especially if you’re a fan of “The Year of the French,” the story about the French forces landing at Kilcummin Strand on Aug. 22, 1798: 200 French soldiers came ashore that day, and the rest disembarked close to the current pier to begin General Humbert’s march to Ballina.
We also love the story of the three-light Harry Clarke window in St. Patrick’s Church, Newport, Co. Mayo, commissioned by then- Canon Michael MacDonald, who sold his life insurance policy to finance the project. He and Fr. McGuinness certainly recognized artistic brilliance when they saw it.
SKELLIG RING KUDOS
The Irish Tourist Board (Tourism Ireland) advises that the Skellig Ring drive, on the southwestern tip of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, has been chosen as one of the top regions in the world for travelers next year. The region receives the kudos in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017.
Tourism Ireland writes, “The Skellig Ring is a coastal drive that is an extension of the famous Ring of Kerry on the Wild Atlantic Way – described in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017 as “perhaps Ireland’s most charismatically wild and emerald stretch of coastline. Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a ‘remote, wave-pounded hunk of rock rising out of the Atlantic like a giant triangle,’ made the new Star Wars’ location list. As the book recognizes, ‘Glimpsed at the end of The Force Awakens, Skellig Michael will play a bigger role in this year’s sequel and local businesses are gearing up for the expected visitor bump.’
“Also highlighted in the book is Skellig Michael’s sister isle, known as Small Skellig, ‘an even craggier outpost that hosts a colony of 50,000 gannets.’ Both are located on the Wild Atlantic Way, often referred to as the world’s longest coastal touring route – a 2,500 km stretch of glorious rugged coast along the west of Ireland.”
Lonely Planet spokesperson Nóirín Hegarty tells Tourism Ireland, “The Skellig Ring should be on every traveler’s must-see list. It’s a spot of timeless beauty and now that it’s coming to prominence on the silver screen, 2017 really is the year to get out there and see it for yourself.”
It’s sometimes worrying to have these beautiful, wild places so widely promoted for fear that excessive tourism may destroy them.
MULRANNY, CO. MAYO
Congratulations to Mulranny, Co. Mayo, which was recently chosen “Best Destination for Responsible Tourism” and will now be long-listed for world awards.
The Irish Responsible Tourism Awards, judged by a panel of experts, are part of a growing family of honors linked to the World Responsible Tourism Awards, originally founded by travel company, responsibletravel.com.
Other winners included: Silver, Inishbofin Island, Co. Galway, and Sheep’s Head Way, Co. Cork; Best for Natural Heritage Tourism, Gold, Doolin Cave, Co. Clare; Silver, Burren Nature Sanctuary, Co. Galway and Sea Synergy Marine Awareness & Activity Centre, Co. Kerry; Best for Accessible & Inclusive Tourism, Gold, Gleneagle Hotel Group, Co. Kerry; Silver, Mobility Mojo, Dublin; Best Local Authority Initiative for Responsible Tourism, Gold, Lough Muckno - Monaghan County Council; Silver, Westport Smarter Travel Bike Buffet, Mayo County Council.
Also, Best Tourism Accommodation for Local Sourcing, sharing Gold were Sea View House, Co. Clare, and Fuchsia Lane Farm Holiday Cottages, Co. Tipperary; Silver, Hotel Doolin, Co. Clare;
Best Innovation in Responsible Tourism, Gold, Blackfriary Community Heritage and Archaeology Project, Co. Meath; and Silver, Great Lighthouses of Ireland.
The Irish Centre for Responsible Tourism was founded in 2013 to encourage tourism businesses that benefit local communities and the environment.
We mention awards like these for future Ireland travelers who would enjoy visiting some of the many places cited, especially if they are ecologically and environmentally focused.
TUROE PET FARM
Looking for something fun to do while you’re in Ireland in December? How about stopping by Turoe Pet Farm in Loughrea, Co. Galway.
See a Nativity scene with live animals you can feed, visit Santa in his grotto, and enjoy other treats at the Winter Wonderland, which opens Dec. 2. Be sure to visit the website (turoepetfarm.com) because opening hours vary from week to week.
Turoe is a fun place to visit at any time of year, especially if you are traveling with children. But even adults would have a hard time not being wooed by the adorable pet animals for which Turoe provides food for you to feed (with hand sanitizer afterward): varied breeds of birds, ducks, sheep, ponies, goats, and more. The all-weather nature trail is stroller and wheelchair friendly, too.
CHRISTMAS IN IRELAND
There are many Christmas events and festivities planned all over Ireland, North and South. Be sure to visit the tourist board’s website – ireland.com – to find details on places you plan to visit and the dates and times various events are planned. There truly is something for everyone in Ireland so enjoy your trip whenever and wherever you travel.
Best wishes to all for a happy holiday season and festive dawn of a new year.