Irish travel

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Just who was Jonathan Swift, political satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels? A new biography by Leo Damrosch paints a vivid and most compelling picture of a multi-faceted and contradictory individual.

Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Leo Damrosch’s new biography of Jonathan Swift, Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, is clearly an attempt to write the definitive work. The previous incumbent weighed in at 3000 pages, so its approach was clearly to overwhelm the reader with detail and sheer volume of material. Damrosch is more selective, and turns the copious material of Swift’s life (letters, diaries, account books, pamphlets — acknowledged and anonymous — books and more) into a vibrant and colorful life.  Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

There’s an intriguing event taking place in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day, Monday, March 17, and it’s being live-streamed around the world.

Trailblaze: We need to talk about Ireland

“We Need To Talk About Ireland” is billed as a “90 minute creative celebration of Ireland’s past, present and future,” exploring “what it means to be Irish in 2014.” The event — which sounds like a TED-type mix of performance and talks — is organized by Trailblazery, a collective who create community events designed to spur debate and create change. “We Need to Talk About Ireland” will take place in front of a live audience in The Round Room at Dublin’s historically significant Mansion House.  Read the rest of this entry »

Ireland’s wealth of valuable historical sites are in danger. Every day they’re under attack from the elements, from neglect, from developers, from public apathy or ignorance, and from misuse by landowners. It’s time to face the fact that many may not be there for the next generation.

Coolbanagher Castle last year, and immediately after the storm on February 17. (photos courtesy of Laois Archaeology)

Coolbanagher Castle last year, and immediately after the storm on February 17. Photos courtesy of Laois Archaeology

2014 has shown us two extreme examples of these dangers as first the severe winter storms eroded the cliffs beneath Dúnbeg Fort in Co. Kerry, resulting in large parts of the structure’s defensive wall falling into the sea, and then the storms caused part of Coolbanagher Castle in Co. Laois to collapse. After that partial collapse, the rest of the castle was completely demolished, although the circumstances of the decision and the identities of those who undertook the demolition are unclear at the time of writing. Read the rest of this entry »

Ah, Mother’s Day is a bittersweet holiday for Irish emigrants for several reasons. The bond between a child and their mammy is usually very strong, so this is a time when we think of the family we left behind and get all maudlin and stuff.

What's an emigrant lad to do when Irish Mother's Day is two months before the American one?

What’s an emigrant lad to do when Irish Mother’s Day is two months before the American one?

However, it’s also the single-most problematic holiday for the Irish in the US on a strictly practical basis: American Mother’s Day falls on the second sunday in May, but Mother’s Day in Ireland falls two months earlier! So, if we rely on the festive hoopla in the media and the avalanche of cards in the stores to remind us, it’s too late! (To be fair — and stereotypical — this is mostly a problem for emigrant Irish men, as the Irish women I know seem to have little problem remembering anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays…)  Read the rest of this entry »

While Ireland has a wealth of round towers surviving in various states of disrepair, only two can be climbed, and Kildare is the best of these. 

Kildare Round Tower

Kildare Round Tower
(Photo: atriptoireland.com)

The second tallest tower in the country (108 feet/33 meters), it is thought that the original round tower was constructed on the site in the 6th century. At some point, the upper two thirds of this tower seems to have collapsed — either as a consequence of assault or the forces of nature. The tower was rebuilt on the original base in the 12th century. You can see where the size and type of stones used changes as you examine the exterior of the tower. The elaborate doorway and windows are all from the 12th century. The doorway is constructed of red sandstone in the romanesque style, and is ornately carved (as always, some of the carvings are a bit weathered after 800 plus years) in four receding “steps.”  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 »

Is there any truth in last week’s story that wild boar are making a comeback in Irish forests?

Feral pig & piglets (Photo: Craig O'Neal/Mindseye via cc license from Flickr)

Feral pig & piglets
(Photo: Craig O’Neal/Mindseye via cc license from Flickr)

“Wild Boar Strikes Fear into the Hearts of Walkers” roared the headline in the Irish Independent last week. The story that accompanied this sensational statement claimed that wild boar are making a comeback in Irish forests, and suggested that they are a danger to walkers and children. Alarming stuff, but if they paid more attention to coverage of “boar” sightings over the past two years they might not have got so carried away. Read the rest of this entry »

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