In 2003 we took our family to Ireland. It was our first overseas trip. The first week we traveled around southern Ireland. The second week we stayed in the blue cottage you can see lit up in this photo. Ireland is a beautiful green island with stunning geological features. The mountains were a surprise for me. But then, I never was very good at geography.
A trip to Ireland is not complete without a drive across Conner Pass that weaves through the mountains on narrow roads cut into the mountainside across the Dingle Pennisula.
Yosemite is one of, if not the most, stunning place I have ever seen. It’s huge intimidating mountainous rocks break the crust of the earth and jut to the sky. In many places, water falls from the tops and landings along the middle of these formations creating a glorious site.
I drove with my second oldest son Matthew out to Los Angeles when he was still in college and working as a co-op student for K-Swiss shoes. We passed through amazing countryside on our way.
When I think of vacation spots, Montana does not usually come to mind, and if not for the wedding of a close friend’s daughter, it’s quite likely this state wouldn’t make the list of places I’ve been. But I am so glad I went. It’s hard to imagine here in the populated mid-west just how open and majestic this country of ours is. You see that in Montana.
As we flew into the Shannon airport on our 2003 trip to Ireland, the Bunratty Castle in County Clare was a convenient first-stop as we were staying in a near-by hotel. The present castle was built in 1425 is the last of a series of castles built on this site. Bunratty Castle is “one of the most authentic medieval castles in the country.” (Ireland for Dummies).
The castle and the surrounding site with its re-creation of a nineteenth-century Irish village are a major tourist attraction. As we had arrived early that morning Ireland time after an overnight trip our time, we were all feeling a little punky while visiting Bunratty. I don’t remember if we even walked through the little village. I do remember two of our sons fell asleep with their heads on their arms while sitting at a picnic table in the middle of the afternoon. We weren’t deliberately trying to torture our exhausted children. Mark, the only experienced international traveler among us at the time, assured us that we needed to stay up and awake all day. Then we would be able to sleep all night and get ourselves adjusted to the time-zone difference.
Bunratty Castle is known for its medieval castle banquets. We thought this would be a good way to spend the evening and stay awake. We got the tickets in advance while still at home. Some may think it is a tourist trap, but I enjoyed it. We were offered a cup of mead when we arrived. The time-period entertainment was lovely and the food was interesting. And it did the trick of keeping us awake long enough to satisfy Mark.
Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland
The Rock of Cashel makes a powerful first impression. This photo was taken from the drive approaching the fortress where it commands the top of a hill. From the 5th century on it was the seat of the Kings of Munster. Brian Boru, Ireland’s most important High King, was crowned Kind of Ireland here in the eleventh century, (Ireland for Dummies). It was turned over to the Church in 1101 and became a religious center until a Cromwellian army held a siege and then massacred the 3000 occupants in 1647.
This ceiling detail and painted angel are from the Hall of the Vicars’ Choral, built for Cashel’s most privileged choristers.
If memory serves me, this is inside Cormac’s Chapel, one of the most outstanding examples of Romaesque architecture in the country. Make sure you notice the little faces carved into the arch.
The roofless cathedral is the largest building on the Rock and was never restored after being set fire by Cromwell’s men.
The Round Tower is perhaps the oldest and most remarkably well preserved building of its kind. It enabled Cashel’s inhabitants to search the surrounding plain for attackers.
“Legend places St. Patrick in Cashel for his famous explanation of the Holy Trinity. He is said to have shown pagans a shamrock, pointing out that the three leaves represent the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” (Ireland for Dummies).
A small cemetery right outside the buildings contain many tombstones and Irish crosses.
The ruins of the Hore Abbey can be seen by looking over the wall surrounding the cemetery.
Kilkenny Castle is situated in a downtown area of Kilkenny and overlooks the River Nore. Built in the 1190s, Kilkenny Castle was occupied by the Butler family from the late 14th century until the upkeep became too expensive and it was donated to the nation in 1967.
This is a view of the back of the castle with a small garden.
The castle has maintained its medieval form through many alterations including Victorian changes made in the Gothic Revival style.
Kilkenny Castle is a popular tourist stop and may at times have long lines.
The castle grounds contain beautiful sculptured gardens and a formal rose garden.
Ross Castle, County Killarney, Ireland
This 15th century castle sits on the edge of Lower Lake just outside of Killarney Town. It was built by the O’Donoghue chieftains and was the last stronghold in Munster to surrender to Cromwell’s forces, which it did in 1652. It is largely in ruins today with only a tower house surrounded by a walled garden with turrets.
I thought one of the most fascinating aspects of this castle is how it literally rises from the rocky hill surrounding the lake.
Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland
Blarney Castle is one of the greatest tourist attractions in Ireland, (Ireland for Dummies). The castle you see today is the third one to be built on this site. The first was built in the tenth century and was made of wood. It was replaced by one built of stone which was subsequently demolished leaving only the foundations. The third was built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster. The keep still remains standing.
A system of passages leads to the dungeons and prison cells.
This cave connects with underground passages and at one time had an outlet near Blarney Lake about 1 mile south.
Visitors climb to the top of the keep where they have a scenic view.
And where those who choose to can kiss the blarney stone to receive the gift of eloquence. I had no plans to kiss the stone because first of all I have enough eloquence and second of all—germs. But once I saw the height and the rather large gap between the walkway and the stone with a tremendous drop between, any doubt in my mind was settled.
But as you can see, my youngest son Joe opted for the eloquence. The man pictured with him is stationed beside the stone to help the tourists. (And there is a railing there visible in this photograph under my son’s body as added precaution.)
I think it must have worked, for Joe sure knows how to give us a bunch of blarney.
The Celtic High Cross with its distinctive addition of a circular section linking the arms and stem of a traditional Christian cross is a well-known symbol. It may have its origins in Ireland, although it is “also known in Cornwall, Wales, Northern England and parts of Scotland—all areas being in contact with Ireland during the so-called ‘Dark Ages.'” Go Ireland
Modern-day Celtic memorial crosses, sometimes confused with Celtic High Crosses, are abundant in cemeteries throughout Ireland, but “the ancient High Crosses of Ireland were never intended to mark places of burial.” Irish Genealogy
In 2003 my husband and I took our four children to Ireland. We piled into a small version of a mini-van and traveled around southern Ireland for two weeks. We had great fun driving between the ditches on Ireland’s winding and narrow roads and visiting castles, monasteries and ruins. We were as prepared as you can be, I suppose, for traveling with four children whose ages ranged from 21 to 12. But most of the crosses we saw and photographed were not technically considered the Celtic High Crosses of Ireland. In fact, I hadn’t done the research necessary to even understand the distinction at the time. If I go again, I will likely be in a much smaller traveling party of two, and will be fully armed with information—you can be sure of that.
The High Crosses are found throughout Ireland on old monastic sites and are one of Ireland’s biggest contributions to Western European Art of the Middle Ages. The High Crosses were likely used as meeting places for religious ceremonies or to mark boundaries. Monastic settlements typically included a church, a cross and a round tower if funds permitted. The churches were quite small, so for larger religious celebrations the people gathered around the cross. “Not all High Crosses were of an ecclesiastical nature—some were erected to commemorate an important event or person.” Go Ireland
The Celtic High Crosses are sculpted from sandstone or granite and typically consist of three or four parts which are slotted to fit into each other—the base, shaft or panel, arms and ring called the crosshead, and a capstone. Few capstones have survived. Sometimes the panel and crosshead were cut from a single piece of stone. The decorative carvings of geometric Irish Celtic symbols or later, scenes form the Bible, were added once the cross was erected.
The High Crosses are thought to be copies of earlier and smaller wooden crosses covered with metal.
No one knows for certain why the circle or ring was added to the Christian cross. Theories range from the “outlandish idea that some Irish clerics deliberately chose a ‘trademark’ and consciously designed the Celtic cross,” to suggestions that the circle represents a halo symbolizing Christ, or a disk, representing the sun-god. Perhaps it was simply a ring added by the stone masons to stabilize the construction. Go Ireland
Not the classic Celtic cross, but a very old Stone Cross from Kilmalkedar Church site on the Dingle Pennisula
Resources and where you can see more photos and read more about the Celtic High Crosses:
The Gallarus Oratory, a miniature church, overlooks Smerwick Harbor on the Dingle Pennisula, Ireland. The Oratory is one of several features of the Early Christian and Medieval site, Kilmalkedar. The history of this site is associated with St Brendan, but the site is said to have been founded by St Maolcethair.
Gallarus Oratory was built some time between the 6th and 9th centuries.
“The simple dry-stone structure has remained waterproof and in near-perfect condition to the present day. . .The oratory is made only of local stones fitted carefully together, using no mortar to hold together. But small traces of mortar suggest the oratory may have originally been plastered inside and out. . .Like most of Ireland, the area suffered from attacks by successive invaders. Vikings and Anglo-Normans burned, pillaged and destroyed the settlements around Gallarus and the oratory was abandoned,” www.sacred-destinations.com.
On our trip to Ireland in 2003, we saw many amazing sights. On a purely size scale, Ireland’s sights cannot compare to the grand castles and cathedrals you might see in mainland Europe, for Ireland is only a small island, but it is a magical place where the wee folk play.
Probably Stonehenge in England is the best-known ancient stone circle, and perhaps the most grand, but “circles were being built in the north-west of Ireland at least a couple of hundred years before the dramatic edifices of Britain,” Stone Circles
In the Early to Middle Bronze Age, the people in Ireland were building their small stone circles. Because of their size, they “could have been erected by rather small groups of people – even single extended families. Many are only roughly circular. And some are intimately associated with alignments or Stone-rows and circles filled with stones,” Stone Circles
“Recent fieldwork has established that even quite small stone circles have a sophisticated astronomical function: to foretell eclipses of the sun and moon. Accurate predictions of these dramatic events would certainly have empowered the mathematicians who made them,” Stone Circles
Lough Gur is in County Limerick southeast of Limerick City. This area contains evidence of a Stone Age settlement that “was thickly settled in 3000 B.C.” The Great Stone Circle there is 4,000 years old. Ireland for Dummies
We only saw three stone circles on our trip; one was in the middle of a small city and I didn’t get a photo because I was distracted. We were looking for a phone booth to call the doctor back on the Dingle Pennisula about our son’s mono test—but that’s a long, though interesting, story for another day.
The Drombeg Circle is in County Cork near Skibbereen, where I also stopped at a small shop along the road and purchased a book about Irish Ancestors. This “stone circle is locally known as the Druid’s Altar, and is located on the edge of a rocky terrace with fine views to the sea about a mile away. The word Drombeg means ‘the small ridge. […] Excavations in 1957 and 1958 revealed cremated bones in a deliberately broken pot wrapped with thick cloth,” Stonepages
I have to admit when I walked into the center of this circle I got kind of creeped out and had to back away. It was probably my vivid imagination construing a scene of witch offerings and human sacrifice, or I might just be psychic. I had a similar experience in Salem, Massachusetts. I am, after all, part Irish.
We took our four children and boarded a plane for Shannon, Ireland in June of 2003. We were going to take about one week to travel a southern loop around the island and then stay in a cottage on the Dingle Pennisula for a second. On our fourth or fifth day there while touring the south we were in one of the towns, perhaps Wexford, and I found myself standing alone outside of a shop.
The day had gotten off to a rough start. Everyone had their own idea about how we should spend the time. We had all scattered among the shops and I stood alone, somewhat frustrated that we couldn’t come to a consensus and my countenance undoubtedly showing it.
When along came a little old Irishman wearing a long top coat and a cap. He was short and frail with hair of gray, but eyes that twinkled. A lively Irish tune was playing somewhere from a shop’s speaker. The little old man stopped on the walk in front of me and executed ten quick steps of a jig, then with a nod and a smile resumed his course and walked away leaving me still alone, but smiling—only in Ireland.