The Best of Ireland

Mike and Judy Henderson
May 26 - June 8, 2018

My (Mike's) father always claimed that his side of the family came from Ireland, but the name "Henderson" is almost certainly English.  However, Judy and I had our DNA analyzed and it turned out that I'm about half Irish.  In any case, both Judy and I want to see Ireland and this Tauck tour seems to offer a good view of the country and the people.

5/26/2018 (Saturday)  I have to start this trip by explaining a bit of back-story.  Judy and I decided we wanted to see England and Ireland and signed up for two Tauck tours, back-to-back.  We first did the tour of Scotland, England and Wales and are now doing the Ireland tour.

The Scotland, England and Wales tour ended at the Savoy hotel in London.  Tauck always arranges transportation to the airport at the end of a tour.  We're leaving from Gatwick Airport to fly to Dublin today and there was a car waiting for us in front of the Savoy.

I had flown into and out of London many times, but always at Heathrow.  This was my first time at Gatwick.  It's a very nice, modern airport but it took a long time to get there from the center of London. Perhaps that's why Heathrow became the major international airport in the London area and Gatwick is the regional airport.

We were able to check in and clear security without any problems.  We boarded the aircraft on time but then we just sat there - the flight was delayed for almost an hour.  But we made it safely to Dublin and the driver was waiting for us.

While talking with the driver we learned quite a bit of information about Dublin.  We drove through the Dublin Port Tunnel - a long tunnel connecting the center of Dublin to the motorway.

The driver delivered us safely to the Conrad Hotel in Dublin. It seems like a very nice hotel, but after the Savoy, any hotel would have difficulty competing:-)

We had been fourteen days in England and had fourteen days of dirty laundry so our first order of business was to get some laundry done.  At first, we considered having it done by the hotel - until I looked at the charges for laundry in the hotel.  A pair of underwear, for example, was €5.50.  Fourteen pair of shorts (just Mike's) would have been €77.  The total would have been well over €150.

So we started looking for Plan B and asked the concierge for directions to a laundromat, which he gave us.  It was quite a bit of a walk and we were carrying three large bundles of laundry.  Before we got to the laundromat we noticed a shop that offered laundry service so we stopped there to ask the price.  He felt the weight of the bundles and gave us a price of €18, washed and folded.  It was then about 3pm and he promised it by 5:45.  We happily agreed!

Heading back to the hotel we noticed a Costa Coffee shop.  We hadn't had lunch so we stopped for a cup of coffee and a pastry.  I walked back to the hotel to got the computer so that Judy could finish editing the last page of our Scotland, England and Wales trip.

We picked up our laundry about 5:30 and our problem was solved.

That evening was the welcome dinner.  Here's our tour guide for the trip, Steve Jolis.  He, unfortunately, was not a good tour director - perhaps the worse Tauck tour director we experienced.

There are about 40 people on this tour, four tables of 10 each.

5/27/2018 (Sunday)  This morning we took the bus to Trinity College for a tour of the campus and a look at the Book of Kells.  Actually, I had never heard of the Book of Kells and, when I did hear about it, thought it was a listing of the early tribes of Ireland.  Shows you how much I knew about Ireland.

We boarded the bus on a cool morning with the threat of rain.

The bus driver, John, is ready to go.

Here's the Library of Trinity College, where the Book of Kells is on display.

They don't allow photography of the Book of Kells but after you view the book, you enter the Long Hall of the Trinity College Library.

Here's a professional photograph of the Long Hall, taken from the web.  The photographer was given private access so that you can see the hall without all the people, as in the photo above.

There are two floors of books on both sides of the Long Hall.

Also in the Long Hall is the Brian Boru Harp.  I couldn't get a good photograph of the harp through the glass because the glass has a lot of reflections.  I found this picture on the web.  The harp is the symbol of Ireland (and also Guinness beer - but the harp is flipped horizontally). Brian Boru was an early king of Ireland and is considered an Irish hero.  The O' in front of a name means "son of" so O'Brian is the son of Brian.  Being a descendant of Brian Boru would be considered prestigious in Ireland.

One display in a case was a medieval book on the laws of beekeeping.  Note that it gives three quarters of the first year's honey to the person who owned the land where the swarm was captured. That sounds unfair until you realize that a new hive doesn't produce much (if any) honey for harvest the first year.  (I'm a beekeeper)

Next, we drove to Dublin Castle, which is not a castle, but a palace.  The palace has an interior courtyard.  Here's a view looking toward the state apartments.

And a view of the side opposite the entrance.

We had a tour conducted by a very lovely young Irish lady.

The State Corridor in the palace.

A drawing room. It's called a "drawing room" because the women would withdraw to this room after a formal dinner.

St. Patrick's Hall.

Next, we went to Phoenix Park, which is a very large park in Dublin.  The residence of the American Ambassador to Ireland is in the park.  Here's the entrance to the Ambassador's residence.  We couldn't see the actual house.

And this is Áras an Uachtaráin, which is the residence of the President of Ireland. 

After that, the bus took us back to the main part of Dublin and we got out to wander around and have lunch.  Vickie, who is traveling solo, joined us.

Here are Judy and Vickie at the restaurant.  Vickie is from Irvine, which is very close to where we live.

While we were having lunch it began to rain very hard.  We waited until it seemed lighter to start walking to the National Museum, when all of a sudden the sky opened up on us.  We took shelter but finally hailed a taxi and went back to the hotel.

For dinner we went looking for a traditional Irish pub, and we found Chambers.

They had a "traditional" Irish group of a violin, a guitar, and an accordion:-) 

We had a beer with our food - Judy had the national beer of Ireland, a Guinness! 

5/28/2018 (Monday, Memorial Day)  We depart for Belfast today, which is in Northern Ireland.  We left the hotel about 9:30 and have a two hour drive to Belfast.

When we arrived in Belfast we went straight to the Titanic Museum which tells the story of the RMS Titanic.  I took this picture the next day when Judy and I were walking along the river.  I was too close to the building to get a good picture when we visited.

It's a well done museum, with information about Belfast and it's citizens during the time of building the Titanic (the Titanic was built in Belfast); about some of the people who were on the Titanic; the collision with the iceberg and the actions of the crew; the rescue efforts by other ships in the area; and about the search for and discovery of the Titanic on the floor of the ocean.

I don't know why the Titanic disaster has gained so much attention over time. Other maritime disasters, such as the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, or the RMS Lancastria, have not received nearly as much attention as the sinking of the Titanic - and the loss of life on the RMS Lancastria was likely greater than the loss of life on the Titanic and Lusitania combined.  Perhaps it's because the Titanic was the first major modern maritime disaster, sunk in 1912, while the Lusitania was not sunk until 1915, and the Lancastria in 1940.  Perhaps the sinking of the Titanic was a shock to the world, and by the time the Lusitania and Lancastria were sunk, disaster fatigue had set in.

We had lunch at the Titanic Museum.

After lunch we went to Stormont, which is the location of the Parliament Building for Northern Ireland.  We didn't go in, just took pictures.

We took a coach tour of part of Belfast while driving to our hotel.  This statue of C.S. Lewis, who was born in Belfast, is in C.S. Lewis Square.  He's looking into a wardrobe, and I suppose it reflects his fantasy novel, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Next we drove to the an area of "The Troubles".  A bit of history.  Ireland was conquered by the British long ago and then incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1800 through the Act of Union.  But the Irish fought for their independence in several uprisings in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Finally, in 1921 they were successful in forcing Britain to agree to the formation of the Irish Free State.  But it was a negotiated peace and Ireland had to give up six counties in the north of the island in order to get its independence.

The British had exploited the Irish by the plantation system, where the land was owned by wealthy Englishmen and the Irish Catholics worked the land essentially as serfs.  The English enacted The Penal Laws which were extremely harsh, designed to force the Catholic Irish people to convert to Protestantism. The Irish Catholics could not own land and could only lease for a maximum of 31 years.  Rental was equal to two thirds of the yearly value of the land.  Even in good times the tenant farmers were on the edge of starvation because of the lease payments.  Then came the "Potato Famine" of 1845 to 1849 which killed nearly one million Irish Catholics through starvation, because the only food they had were potatoes.  More than one million emigrated.

In Northern Ireland discrimination against Catholics continued after the formation of the Irish Free State.  The Troubles were a response to this discrimination.  The Troubles continued for about thirty years, until the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998.

While this agreement brought peace, problems still exist.  The Catholics are a slight majority and began to exert their power under the agreement.  For example, (I'm going from memory here) I remember a story about one of the city councils voting to not fly the Union Jack over their public building.  Acts such as that infuriate the Unionists who see it as a move to unite Northern Ireland with Ireland.

And perhaps union with Ireland is inevitable in the long run.  The Catholics have a higher birth rate than the Protestants and Northern Ireland is physically part of the island of Ireland.

Anyway, here are some murals reflecting the sectarian divide.

After our coach tour we went to the hotel, the Merchant Hotel.  It's a very nice hotel, and the room we have is large and modern. The hotel was a former bank that shuttered, and it was renovated into a hotel.

Dinner that night was in the Great Room Restaurant, which used to be the lobby of the bank.  It's very ornate and Victorian.

Here's Judy, with Nikki and Bob (from Huntington Beach, CA) at dinner.



Our adventure continues here