My plane left O’Hare at 2:15 p.m. on Friday, August 5. I arrive at Shannon Airport near Limerick, Ireland the same day at 6:06 a.m., reclaiming a few hours of my life. Several tour members wait with me for our Irish driver. His name is Tom and lucky for us, he’s a retired history teacher. We tour Limerick and settle in briefly at our hotel.
An overcast morning greets us the next day as we travel through the rugged countryside of western Ireland. The country is so exuberantly green that I want to burst into song. The mists, the bogs create enchantment. I see auras everywhere.
Tom tells us there’s a resurgence of interest among the young in learning Gaelic, and ancient songs and literature. Later, I learn that the European Union funds the study of ancient languages and arts. Brexit will remove those funds from Wales and Scotland, but not Ireland, as it is not part of the United Kingdom. Road signs are in Gaelic, as well as in English.
Tom tells us stories of atrocities committed by the Black and Tans, the constabulary recruited to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921). Memories of the Black and Tan stoke hatred in the hearts of many Irish.
As we drive through the countryside, we see cows, horses, and sheep on the hillsides. Most of the fences are dry stone walls. Artisans to repair broken walls, we learn, are a dying breed. Tom informs us that the original Irish were small in stature. After repeated Viking invasions, the Irish “grew up.” He tells us about Brian Boru (c 941-1014), who defeated the Danes at the Battle of Clongarf and afterward was slain in his tent by a Danish slave. The battle took place north of Dublin.
We head for the Ring of Kerry, a 112-mile coastal route, known for its ancient forts. The forts were thought to have been built betwen 500 BCE and 300 CE for defense from rival clans. Inner rings allowed an enclosure for livestock. We stop at Cahergal Fort near Cahersiveen. See photos.
At Kinsale, we tour Desmond Castle. Tom tells us there are 780 castles in Ireland. Desmond Castle was built in the sixteenth century. Located on the Celtic Sea, it was built as a customs house. In 1601, Spain occupied Kinsale and turned the castle into an armory. Later, it held prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars, as well as American Revolutionary War prisoners captured at sea. During the famine years, it served as a relief center.
The next stop is Cobh near Cork, where we learn about the Potato Famine.