Tis said that Ireland, once visited, is never forgotten, and for once the blarney rings true. The Irish landscape has a mythic resonance, due as much to the country’s almost tangible history as its claim to being the home of the fairies, Leprechauns, shamrocks, four-leaf clovers and the “little people”. Sure, the weather may not always be clement, but the dampness ensures there are fifty shades of green to compensate – just one of the reasons Ireland is called the Emerald Isle.
Ireland will always have a special place in our hearts because that is where I proposed to Lauren in November 2001. All the more fitting given that she is born on St. Patrick’s Day, the birthday of the patron saint of Ireland.
Although the unrest is far from over in the North, the recent referendum clearly signaled a willingness for peace and a genuine solution may be in sight. Meanwhile, the South has been busy shedding its quaintness tag to emerged as the darling of EU economies and a favorite among high-tech companies. If the country isn’t quite the paradise that its misty-eyed émigrés tend to portray, it’s nonetheless home to one of the most gregarious and welcoming people in Europe.
Ireland’s capital, and its largest and most cosmopolitan city, Dublin makes a fine introduction to the country. It’s a curious and colorful city of fine Georgian buildings, tangible literary history and extremely welcoming pubs, all on a scale that’s very human. The city is bisected by the River Liffey, and is bounded to the north and south by hills. Most of the sights of interest are located south of the Liffey, which unlike most city rivers is a rural-looking stream with real fish living in it. The area to the north of the Liffey may be more run down than the south, but, according to Roddy Doyle, it’s got more soul. This city is a must visit for any traveler to Ireland – especially if you are a single male! A friend told me that the ratio of single women to men is approximately 3 to 1!!!
Trinity College is uppermost in the list of attractions south of the river. Founded by Elizabeth I in 1592, the university complex boasts a campanile and many glorious old buildings. Its major attraction, however, is the Book of Kells – an illuminated manuscript dating from around 800 AD, making it one of the oldest books in the world. The masterpiece is housed in the Library Colonnades. Other magnificent buildings include the imposing Bank of Ireland, originally built to house the Irish Parliament; Christ Church Cathedral, parts of which date back to the original wooden Danish church of the 11th century; and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, said to have been built on the site where St. Patrick baptized his converts, and dating from 1190 or 1225 (opinions differ).
Bank of Ireland
Notice the bank has no windows! Apparently there was a tax on sunlight so many old buildings in Dublin have no windows. Our tour guide also informed us that the phase “can’t see the light of day” originated from these times. Who knows?
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral is one of Dublin’s oldest and most magnificent features. The site dates from around 1030 AD, and has seen a long succession of enhancements which reflect the history of Dublin itself. Definitely visit the crypt!!!
No visit to Dublin is complete without a trip to the world famous Guinness brewery in Dublin. The Guinness Hopstore situated in the heart of old Dublin, is your introduction to the world’s most famous creamy stout. Established in 1876, when Guinness was poised to become the largest brewery in the world, the Hopstore remained crammed with hopstack until 1957 when another hopstore replaced it.
The Hopstore has now been converted into one of the finest venues for historical and cultural exhibitions and events. There are regular tours which allow you to sit back and enjoy a sample or two of the stout in the comfortable surroundings of the Visitor’s Bar.
The tour includes an audiovisual presentation which demonstrates how Guinness is made. Although entry to the brewery itself is not allowed, an admission to the Brewery gets you a free pint of Guinness!! To some, it can be pleasurable…and to others it can be torture!!
DOOLIN/CLIFFS OF MOHER
Located a short distance from the small town of Doolin on the West Coast of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher are a spectacular place to visit. It was at the Cliffs, in Liscannor on the coast of West Clare, that I proposed to Lauren. Natural ramparts against the might of the Atlantic, the Cliffs rise to over 800 feet and stretch for miles. It is here that the visitor can most easily get a feel for the wildness of the terrain over which the Celts wandered. O’Brien’s Tower, constructed in the early 19th century as a viewing point for Victorian tourists, is located on Moher’s highest cliff. From its vantage point you can view the Clare coastline, the Aran Islands and mountains as far apart as Kerry and Connemara.
The story of our engagement is one of luck and serendipity – fitting given our childhood friendship, lack of contact for over 10 years, and our subsequent romance! I had planned to ask Lauren at a memorable place in Ireland given her birth on St. Patrick’s Day, the patron saint of Ireland. After scouring the isle for the ideal location, I had decided to ask her at the Cliffs of Moher. However, to get to the Cliffs, we had to purchase a ticket on the train from Dublin to the eastern part of Ireland. I had decided that I would do this the day before I was to propose and make sure we had ample time to do so.
On the eve of my proposal, we visited the Guiness Brewery. As “bad” luck would have it, Lauren decided that since we were in arguably the most famous brewery in the world, and we were given a free pint as part of our admission, she was determined to drink an entire pint of stout! This would represent the most alcohol she has EVER drunk in a single sitting. So, needless to say, she was drunk by mid afternoon and walking as snail’s pace.
As we were nearing the end of the day, I began to worry about getting to the station in time to buy the tickets. As I rushed to the counter, I realized they were closing in 10 minutes. When I asked the salesperson for two tickets, she said: “Luv, come back ‘ere tomorra’! It’s closin’ time!” After explaining to her that I had just flown thousands of miles from the U.S. and had to return the day after tomorrow, she volunteered to call the home office to see if they might still be willing to sell me a ticket! (*now I know why the European economy is so lousy*). After two phone calls, a growing ulcer, and a couple Hail Mary’s, we got through and they agreed to sell me two tickets!! Finally, the luck of the Irish was smiling on me!
The following day, we got to the Cliffs via bus from the train station. It was a windy and rainy day but breathtaking nonetheless. Lauren and I walked to the highest point on the Cliffs at O’Briens Tower. It was here that I surprised her with an “early” Christmas gift and gave her a jewelry box. On the cover I had inscribed a limerick which contained my proposal. After she recovered from her initial shock, she opened the box to find a ring and a shamrock bracelet! As luck would have it, she said yes! The rest, as they say, is history.
I’ve included a photo of O’Briens Tower where we were engaged and the post-engagement picture of us hanging on the precipice!