Ireland with kids

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May is a very good month to visit Ireland. The average temperature is in the low 50s, with occasional highs into the 60s (F). Spring is turning into summer, so the magnificent landscape is dotted with new-born lambs, at least 35 of the 40 recognized shades of green are in evidence, and wildflowers are blooming in abundance. Ah, it’s grand, so ‘tis.

 

Ireland May Festival MapTo launch the summer in the best way possible, the first weekend in May is a bank holiday weekend (meaning most businesses and schools are closed on the Monday) in celebration of May Day or the ancient feast of Bealtaine.

Here are the best of the festivals and major events taking place in Ireland during May 2014. Enjoy!  Read the rest of this entry »

Ireland has an active rail network between major cities, and taking the train can be a very enjoyable and comfortable way to see the country.  However, if you do your homework, you can also take a journey into the past on a vintage stream locomotive, in company of many people who share a passion for Irish history and rail travel.

#171 "Slieve Gullion." This star of the film Michael Collins is currently being restored. (Credit: E Friel/streamtrainsireland.com)

#171 “Slieve Gullion.” This star of the film Michael Collins is currently being restored. (Credit: E Friel/streamtrainsireland.com)

The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland restores and maintains steam-powered locomotives from the golden age of Irish railways. Some are fully operational and used for mainline excursions throughout the year, a couple are used for shunting and short journeys, and many others are actively being repaired and restored to their former glory. Their museum in Whitehead (near Carrickfergus) is an old train depot, where all the engines and vintage rolling stock are stored and restoration work is carried out — open by appointment only apart from “summer steam” open days in the summer months.  Read the rest of this entry »

A roundup of the major festivals and events going on around Ireland during April.

Map of April Festivals in Ireland

Where to go for the best craic in April?

Depending on who you listen to, April is either the cruelest month, the hopeful start of spring, a joyous season of rebirth, or a depressing wet period that must be endured in order to have a beautiful, lush summer. It’s not co-incidental that April is also the month that festival season kicks into high gear after the doldrums of winter. People need entertainment, companionship, and a bit of craic. There’s an incredible wealth and diversity of high-profile events and festivals going on around the country in April — particularly around Easter weekend, as Easter Monday is always a public holiday.

These are 15 of the biggest and best festivals and special events in April 2014 that both visitors and locals can get involved with and enjoy, everything from a celebration of great literature, to outstanding traditional music, testing physical races, and gourmet culinary experiences. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

Just outside Kildare town you’ll find not one but two wells sacred to St. Bridget.

Sr. Bridget's Well

St. Bridget’s Well (modern) Kildare, with clotties on the wishing tree behind. (Photo: atriptoIreland.com)

Holy wells were once common throughout Ireland. Before the invention of plumbing, fresh, clean water was of primary importance, so naturally spring-fed wells were valued, even revered. The water was thought to come directly from the underworld, courtesy of a god or, more commonly, a goddess. It’s thought that in pre-Christian times the wells each had their own deity, and over time these were replaced by the Christian saints. The number 3000 is bandied about as representing the historical total of holy wells in Ireland, although many of these are in disrepair or overgrown at this point, and many that are mentioned in ancient texts are now lost.  Read the rest of this entry »

The stories of the goddess Brigid and the later St. Bridget are so intertwined as to be nearly inseparable. The ancient feis of Imbolc was co-opted as St. Bridget’s Day, one of the most-popular saints days in Ireland and the Irish diaspora.

Saint Bridget  (Photo: St.Joseph Catholic Church, Macon Georgia)

Saint Bridget
(Photo: St.Joseph Catholic Church, Macon Georgia)

Bridget’s Early Life

Born c.451 near Faughart in Co. Louth, Bridget was the daughter of Dubtacht, a druid, and Brocca, who was either his wife or a slave, and possibly a Christian.  Bridget eventually became a Christian (probably after absorbing druidic teaching from her father) and founded a number of monasteries, including the famous one at Kildare. It’s possible she entered religious life after losing the sight in one eye (although some stories hold that she put her own eye out rather than enter into an unwelcome marriage, and once the marriage had been called off — Celtic tradition would not allow one to marry somebody disfigured — she put it back in and was miraculously healed).  Read the rest of this entry »

Trim Castle, the largest Norman castle in Ireland, is often known as King John’s Castle. The story behind this “honorific” title is not what you might expect.

King John's Castle, Trim

Trim Castle on the banks of the River Boyne
(Photo: infomatique via cc license/Flickr)

When the Normans arrived in Ireland in the late 1100s they claimed the best land in Meath and Dublin, and made Trim the center of their administration north of Dublin. Responsibility for the area was granted to Hugh de Lacy in 1172, and construction began on a fortress on a high point overlooking the River Boyne (which, at that time, was navigable as far as Trim). The castle on the site today, one of the largest in Ireland, was largely built by De Lacy and his son, Walter, and is officially known as Trim Castle. However, many people refer to it as King John’s Castle. Read the rest of this entry »

The Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site is made up of three major passage grave sites: Newgrange, Dowth, and Knowth. I’ve written about the first two already, so it’s time to explore the most-complicated of them all, Knowth: quite literally, a city of the dead.

Knowth passage grave

One of the satellite tombs at Knowth.
(Photo by Photolifer/Marc Gautier via cc license/Flickr)

Constructed contemporaneously with Newgrange, the Knowth site consists of a cluster of 18 smaller tombs around one huge central tomb. When I was a child, I used to peer through the gate to the site at the huge network of rectangular pits that marked the excavation that continued for decades before the site was finally open to visitors. It took the archaeologists five years of digging to discover the entrance to the first passage, and then another year before they found the second one. Eventually, archaeologists would spend over 40 years excavating Knowth, and the story they discovered was extremely complex.  Read the rest of this entry »

Lorna Sixsmith is at the forefront of a new wave of blogging farmers who are changing the perception of agricultural life in Ireland. Her first book, Would You Marry a Farmer? showcases the richness and diversity of rural life.

Would You Marry a Farmer? by Lorna Sixsmith

Would You Marry a Farmer? by Lorna Sixsmith

Would You Marry a Farmer? started life as a humorous post on her popular blog, Irish Farmerette. Her truthful and affectionate take on the pros and cons of marrying into such an all-consuming way of life touched a chord in a country where nearly everyone had farmers somewhere back in the family tree. After a successful crowd-funding campaign to prove the demand for the book (farmer’s are eminently practical) she expanded that initial post into a book exploring the ups and downs of modern farm life. I picked up the book expecting something in the nature of a humorous gift-book: a light-hearted distraction with a grounding of good sense;  but, I found a much richer story. Read the rest of this entry »

With all the hoopla surrounding Halloween, there is another Irish Samhain tradition that gets overlooked, the practice of winterage in the Burren in Co. Clare.

 Burren WInterage Weekend

 

Winterage is a practice of transhumance agriculture (where animals are moved from one grazing ground to another seasonally). On the Burren it’s the reason why local biodiversity is so unique. Read the rest of this entry »

Since the turn of the millienium, love locks have become frequent sights around the world. In Dublin, you’ll find them all over the Ha’penny Bridge.

Love Lock on the Ha'Penny Bridge (photo by Sean O'Donnell, via cc license from Flickr)

Early stage love lock infestation on the Ha’Penny Bridge (2011). (photo by Sean O’Donnell, via cc license from Flickr)

What is a love lock?

Well basically, courting couples write their names or initials on a padlock and attach it to an immovable object, before throwing away the key, and thus (they hope) making their love affair as enduring as the building to which it is now securely attached. (Altogether now: “Awwww!”)

Where did the idea for love locks come from?

The origin of the trend is contested, but it appears to have started in the Far East, in China or Korea, before being spread by travelers — a bit like the bird flu. (And, as far as Dublin City Council are concerned, about as welcome.) Read the rest of this entry »

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