BY JUDY ENRIGHT
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
The headlines and focus for the month of March belong to Ireland’s patron saint and the many festivities that will be held in his honor here and in Ireland. Head for Dublin and you can enjoy the annual St. Patrick’s Festival from March 14 to 17 with numerous events including an Irish craft beer and food market, walking tour, funfairs, music and street performances, and a parade at noon on the 17th with marching bands from all over the world.
Or drive west to Achill Island to watch the traditional pipe bands from the villages of Dookinella, Dooagh, Keel, and Pollagh gather at various churches, pubs and hotels on the 17th to march and perform.
Head for Northern Ireland and you can visit St. Patrick’s grave in Downpatrick and the fascinating St. Patrick Centre there. Downpatrick has planned many events from March 11 to 18 that include archaeology lectures, tours, a street music competition, and much more. Belfast and other Northern Ireland cities and towns have multiple events planned, too.
Or, point your car south and head for the annual festival in Cork City that is being held this year from March 15 to 17. Or head to Cobh or Waterford or just about any city or town in Ireland. There are celebrations everywhere. Ireland will be awash with the events honoring St. Patrick while welcoming spring during this month when everyone is Irish regardless of heritage.
As much as we decry our New England winter weather, Ireland has been battered beyond belief this season by one storm after another. Flooding has been rampant and piers and car parks that have withstood winter storms and gales for many years have been destroyed. The damage has not been fully assessed as of this writing but it will surely be in the many millions of euros. Our prayers and well wishes go out to all the Irish whose communities have suffered so dreadfully this winter.
We all no doubt know about the epic “Gulliver’s Travels,” but how many of us know that author Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin in 1667?
He lived in Ireland off and on, and in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, we discovered that there’s a park named after him. The Jonathan Swift Park offers a range of family-friendly activities. You can rent a boat, take a swim, walk the woodland paths, fish, visit the children’s play area or seasonal coffee shop/café. If you’re a fan of more active pursuits, you can take a specialized course in canoeing, hill walking, rock climbing or first aid, among others in the Lilliput Adventure Centre there. Single and multi-day courses are offered.
See lilliputadventure.com for more information.
NEW TOURISM ROUTES
We read recently about a new tourism route through the Boyne Valley that was launched to draw “culturally curious” visitors to the area. Famed heritage sites in the valley include Newgrange, Knowth, Trim Castle, Monasterboice, Slane Castle, Bru Na Boinne, and Mellifont Abbey. All told there are 22 historic attractions on the drive.
The Boyne Valley Drive runs for 225 km through counties Meath and Louth, and includes a number of “hidden gems” as well as well-known tourist attractions. Signage along the route is planned.
Tourism Ireland (called Failte Ireland in Ireland) is also promoting the Wild Atlantic Way, a driving route that covers 2,500 km of coastal roads in the West of Ireland, from Donegal, through Sligo and Mayo and Galway and Clare to Kerry and Cork. The coast of the West is beautiful and this sounds like a wonderful tour.
Recently read about a potato called the Lumper that was said to be one of the causes of the Famine when it suffered a fungus and wouldn’t grow. The Irish poor had relied so heavily on the Lumper that when the crop failed, they had nothing else to eat.
An Antrim potato farmer, Michael McKillop of Glens of Antrim Potatoes, reintroduced the Lumper to the Irish market recently. He had apparently read about those potatoes and how dreadful they tasted, so he decided to try them for himself and grew a few. He was amazed, he said, by how good the Lumper was.
Look for the Lumper potato the next time you’re in an Irish market. I’ll certainly be looking for them when I go back there.
THINGS TO DO
Did you know that there is a National 1798 Rebellion Centre in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, that highlights Wexford’s Rebellion of 1798 as well as happenings in Europe, Australia, and the US? There’s an audio-visual exhibit, restaurant, and gift shop, with locally-made crafts, and more. See 1798centre.com for details.
Flying boats? Well sure, and what better place to land a flying boat (seaplane) than on the Shannon River? Across the river from Shannon Airport in Foynes, Co. Limerick, is the Flying Boat Museum, which claims to be the only aviation museum in Ireland and the only dedicated flying boat museum in the world. Not only was Foynes a pivotal port for early flights between Europe and the US, but it was also the place where Irish Coffee was invented in the 1940s. The museum is open from mid-March to November. For more information, visit flyingboatmuseum.com.
Skipping over to the West – Dingle Peninsula, to be exact – do stop at the Blasket Centre in Dunquin, Co. Kerry, if you’re nearby. The Centre celebrates the history of the Blasket Islanders, the literary achievements of island writers and their native language, culture, and traditions. I especially enjoyed the beautiful black-and-white photographs there by Anthony Haughey from Dublin. Depending on weather, you can take a ferry out to visit the abandoned village and walk the island. I was told that there are now more descendants of the Greater Blasket Island living in Springfield, MA, than on Dingle.
We all know about Waterford Crystal but how many of us have visited Newbridge Silverware in Co. Kildare? You’ll find a sparkling, well-lighted visitor center – open seven days a week – where you can see everything from jewelry and silverware to Christmas decorations, lovely items all. For more information, visit newbridgesilverware.com.
Ireland is ahead of us climate wise, and daffodils were already sprouting in February. It’s almost garden tour season, so be sure to be on the lookout for times and dates of festivals and tours if you are a garden and plant lover. Many sections of the country have organized festivals and tours during the growing season and probably the best source of information is Tourism Ireland’s informative website – Ireland.com – or stop by any of the Tourist offices around Ireland. The tourist board is known as Failte Ireland there and offices, where staffers are knowledgeable and very helpful, are marked with a big green shamrock.
Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go.