|Things to Do and See ....|
Avoca is home to the popular BBC
television show Ballykissangel. The show was created by Kieran
Prendiville in 1992 and ran from 1996 through 2001. It was produced
by BBC Northern Ireland and made available in the States through BBC
America. At its prime, the drama/comedy about life in a rural Irish village attracted an audience of over 15 million viewers. Reruns
continue to be aired in the states on many public television
stations. BallyK enthusiasts visiting Avoca can enjoy a pint at
Fitzgerald’s Pub or buy a chocolate bar at Hendley’s shop. Avoca,
located in County Wicklow, is also well known for its woolens.
The Browne’s Hill Dolman, located in County Carlow, is reputed to have the largest capstone of any dolman in Ireland and one of the largest in all of Europe. The capstone alone is estimated to weigh 100 tons, and the entire dolman stands about 7 feet in height. This megalithic tomb dates from prior to 2000 B.C. and is thought to be the burial tomb for a local king.
Ballyvaughan is a pretty little village north of the Burren right on Galway Bay. You can stay at Hyland’s Hotel, Gregan’s Castle Hotel, one of the many local B&B’s, or Rent an Irish Cottage right on the bay. Any of these will provide a great home base for exploring the Burren. Enjoy fresh seafood and a pint at Monk’s Pub, just across the road from the Bay, or stop by the Hyland House Burren Pub. Ballyvaughan also has a music shop, craft stores, a tea shop, a post office, and a small grocery. Travel up Cork Screw Hill into the Burren and enjoy breathtaking views of Galway Bay and the Atlantic Ocean to the north, and the constantly changing scenery of the Burren to the south. On the drive up Cork Screw Hill there are convenient lay-bys for picture takers to pull off the narrow winding road for photo ops.
The Burren is a 300 square kilometer (116 square mile) area of grey limestone in County Clare. It stretches 40 kms (25 miles) from east to west and 24 km (15 miles) from north to south. From a distance it resembles the surface of the moon rather than soft, green Ireland and looks like it couldn’t possibly support life in any form. But in actuality, the limestone is not a single sheet, but slabs of the porous stone with fissures that over time have filled with soil and become nature’s pots for wildflowers, grasses, and orchids. The water from subterranean caves provides the moisture necessary to support these plants year round, but they are most spectacular and abundant in the Spring. The Burren is also home to many small animals as well as lizards and frogs. Throughout the Burren you can also see evidence of human occupation since the Stone Age when early farmers built stone ring forts to keep themselves and their animals safe not only from marauders but also wild animals.
Ceide Fields is a 5,000 year old Neolithic site in northern County Mayo. It is situated on a cliff high above the Atlantic Ocean with wonderful views of Downpatrick Head and the ocean beyond. It was established as a farming community with the primary endeavor being cattle raising even though the bounties of the sea were so close by. Hidden for millennia by developing peat bogs, it was rediscovered by a local schoolteacher in the 1930’s as he cut his peat. Although he noticed that the rocks he found under the peat seemed to form a pattern, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that their meaning became clear when the schoolteacher’s son, an archaeologist, began serious exploration of the bogs. Since that time, a number of excavations have uncovered stone walls, houses, and megalithic tombs. There is a Visitor’s Centre with a 4,500 year old Scot’s Pine tree as its center piece. The Visitor’s Centre also houses exhibits depicting daily life in the community, an audio-visual room, and a tea room. There are also guided tours of the site itself.
Clonfert Cathedral was built on the site of a monastery founded by St. Brendan in 563 AD. St. Brendan, who may be buried on the site, is best known as Brendan the Navigator. In addition to his voyages to Wales, the Orkneys, and Iceland, some believe that he was the first European to reach the shores of North America, arriving nearly 900 years before Columbus. The Cathedral, although small compared to others that carry that title, is a wonderful example of the Irish-Romanesque style of architecture. The most outstanding feature of the Cathedral is the doorway. The triangle-shaped tympanum is filled with carvings of human heads. Directly above in the arch are representations of animals, more human heads, and geometric and symbolic portrayals. Clonfert Cathedral is located in eastern County Galway near the western border of County Offaly.
Corcomroe Abbey is an early 13th century Cistercian abbey church located on the northern edge of the Burren near the Village of Ballyvaughan in County Clare. It is also known as the Abbey in the Burren and St. Mary of the Fertile Rock. The Abbey is believed to have been founded by Donal O’Brien, King of Limerick, in AD 1194 for the Cistercian Monks. It was built in the form of a crucifix and had a chapel in each transept. The Abbey contains the tomb effigy of Conor O’Brien who died in a nearby battle in AD 1267. This royal tomb effigy is one of only a few remaining in all of Ireland. The Abbey’s graveyard is still in use today.
Croagh Patrick rises high above Clew Bay and the Atlantic Ocean just a few miles east of Westport in County Mayo. It is both an important Christian and pre-Christian site. On the last Sunday in July, Reek Sunday, thousands of pilgrims from all over Ireland and all over the world come to honor St. Patrick’s 40-day fast on the mountain in A.D. 441. Many pilgrims make the walk barefooted to the church at the summit. In 1994 archaeologists, sponsored by the National Monuments Service, discovered a hill fort encircling the very top of the mountain. They believe that the hill fort shows that the mountain was an important pre-Christian site as well. There is a Visitor’s Centre at the base of the mountain with a gift shop, lunch room, and showers for hikers and pilgrims.
The Famine Memorial is directly across the road from the Visitor’s Centre at Croagh Patrick. This sculpture of a Coffin Ship was crafted by John Behan and formally unveiled by President Mary Robertson in 1997. The Coffin Ship monument includes several skeletons and commemorates the Irish people who left Ireland during the Great Hunger only to find in some cases that the voyage to North America was as deadly at the famine itself. British vessels were only required to carry the equivalent of 7 pounds of food a week per passenger, the assumption being that most passengers would bring their own food. Most were too poor to purchase their own food for the trip and tried to survive on the pound of food a day allotted by the ship. Many of those who survived the voyage found the conditions in their new home to be as harsh as the one they had left – they had simply left the fields for the cities. But as the Irish became more politically powerful and moved up the social and economic ladder in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s many Irish were assimilated into the middle class with civil service positions such as firemen and policemen.
Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, County Galway, was built between 1861 and 1868 as a private home for a local member of the Irish Parliament Mitchell Henry and his wife, who had fallen in love the with area while visiting the area on their honeymoon. Since mostly local labor was used in the building of the castle, there was a significant contribution to local famine relief. Henry left after the sudden death of his wife and daughter. After a number of owners, it was purchased by Irish nuns of the Benedectine order who were fleeing their abbey in war-torn Belgium. Today it is home to a girls’ boarding school run by the nuns. A few of the castle rooms are open to the public as are the Gothic Chapel (also built by the Henrys) and restored six-acre Victorian Walled Garden. A visitor’s centre is open year round and houses a gift shop with Irish crafts and woolens, pottery made locally by the Benedictine nuns, and a restaurant/cafeteria. The first view that visitors have is across a lake with the reflection of the castle in the water. The backdrop of the mountain behind the castle adds to the dramatic effect. It is a beautiful and tranquil place to visit, particularly at the times of the year when there are fewer coach tours.
Portumna Castle was built prior to 1618 by Richard de Burgo (Burke), the 4th Earl of Clanricarde, and a member of the Anglo-Norman de Burgo (Burke) family. Located in eastern County Galway near the north shore of Lough Derg, the partially-fortified castle is Jacobean in design. The immense structure is built in a rectangular block with a tower on each corner, and firing holes for those who might have to defend the castle can still be seen in each of the towers. It was the Irish home to the de Burgo family for over 200 years until it was destroyed by fire in 1828. The castle’s surrounding woods and parklands were taken over in 1948 by the Forestry Service and are now a wildlife sanctuary. Conservation and restoration on the building and immediate grounds began when they were acquired by the Office of Public Works in 1968. It has continued under Duchas The Heritage Service. Restoration work on the castle is ongoing with the first floor of the three-floor building open to the public. Exhibitions on the ground floor tell the history of the castle and of the de Burgo family. The extensive walled 17th century kitchen garden and the formal gardens have been completely restored and are open to the public. While the site as a whole is breathtaking and perhaps a little overwhelming, the kitchen and formal gardens alone are worth the visit.
Re-stocking the Oyster Beds near Clarenbridge in County Galway is a yearly event. Young, immature oysters are purchased from oyster fisheries throughout the West of Ireland. They are then taken out into Dunbulcuan Bay near Clarenbridge where the Kilcolgan and Clarenbridge Rivers spill fresh water into the Bay. Here they grow and mature into the oysters that have make Clarenbridge famous as the Oyster Capital of Ireland. The Clarenbridge Oyster Festival, which includes music, arts and crafts exhibits, athletics, and of course oysters, is held early in September each year. 2005 is the 51st year of the Festival, and organizers in Clarenbridge expect about 20,000 visitors to consume over 100,000 oysters!
Round Towers such as the one at Glendalough served as lookouts for Viking raiders. The Glendalough monastic site was founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin. Born in A.D. 498 to the royal house of Leinster, he renounced that life to become a hermit, living in a cave at Glendalough. He went on to found the monastery in 550. In spite of attacks by Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries, Glendalough became a center of learning and religious activities and continued to grow and prosper until AD 1398 when it was destroyed by the English army. Although the site is primarily in ruins, it continues to be a destination for pilgrims as well as tourists. Glendalough is located in the Wicklow Mountains of County Wicklow.
Ruins like these near Clonmacnoise can be found throughout Ireland. They are the remains of castles, cathedrals, abbeys, and other public and private buildings. They may appear suddenly on the landscape, just around the bend in a road or over a hill, or they may be visible for miles, particularly in the flatter midlands. No special protective or regulatory attention seems to be paid to many of these, but they are remarkably free of graffiti and litter.<<Return To Top>>
Turner’s Rock Tunnel on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork is just barely wide enough for two cars; but as the rock walls are terribly unforgiving, it’s wise to yield to oncoming traffic. Although Ireland has built some multi-lane motorways and town by-passes in recent years, the majority of Irish roads are narrow and many are bordered by stone walls covered with attractive, but deceptive, bushes, vines, and moss. Most of these roads are posted at 100 kmh (60 mph) and local drivers expect to drive at the limit. This can be a real challenge to the traveler who is also learning to drive on the left hand side of the road! On single track roads be prepared to back up to a pull off area or opening into a field to let on-coming traffic through. At roundabouts (traffic circles), traffic moves clockwise; and drivers must yield to traffic coming from the right.