Heritage Tours of Ireland

Ireland

Ireland abounds with Celtic history and cultural heritage. Visitors are awestruck by the exquisite beauty of this unique country as they travel the roads following Irish history. By driving themselves using a local guide book, travelers can be certain that they include celebrated historic Irish attractions, visit festivals where Gaelic is still spoken and folk songs from centuries gone by are still sung.

Many visitors to Ireland arrive in Dublin and begin their holiday from there. Rental cars or vans are available at the airport for convenience or at hotels in town. In the city, Historic Trinity College is home to the ancient "Book of Kells" considered one of Ireland's national treasures. The pages are hand-penned masterpieces of calligraphy and art that feature mythical creatures, animals, Celtic knots, traditional patterns and text illuminated with vibrant colors. Dublin is also home to Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed park in all Europe. A visit should include St. Patrick's Cathedral; the photogenic O'Connell Bridge; the River Liffey which cuts through the city skirting Four Courts; and trendy Grafton Street.

Traveling south toward Kilkenny takes the visitor to a 6th century monastery at Glendalough, originally founded by St. Kevin. Along the route are several churches, round towers and a cathedral in the Valley of the Two Lakes. Kilkenny Castle was built in the 13th century as a medieval fortress. This central structure of the city was updated in the 1500s by Thomas, the Earl of Ormond, who furnished the castle with lavish and now priceless treasures. South from Kilkenny, the traveler can visit St. Canice's Cathedral. A marvelous view of the city can be obtained by climbing the tower attached to the cathedral.

Tipperary and Cork counties are next along this route. Cork is the second largest city in Ireland. St. Finbarre Cathedral has been a house of worship since the 7th century. It came under fire during the Siege of Cork in 1689. The historic Opera House near the city center is also well worth a visit.

The famous and infamous coastal port of Cobh became the departure point for 2.5 million Irish who began immigrating to America in 1848 during the Great Potato Famine. It was also the embarkation port for individuals sentenced to the penal colonies in Australia. On April 11, 1912 this was the last port of call for the RMS Titanic before it set out across the Atlantic on its fatal maiden voyage. Only 44 of the 123 passengers who boarded in Cobh survived the ship's sinking.

Farther south resides Blarney Castle and its world famous Blarney Stone. Thousands annually grip the iron rails, leaning backward, with their head twisted down to kiss the stone and be granted the Irish "Gift of Gab." Killarney is known for sponsoring horse races, song festivals and regattas on Lough Lein. If time permits, travelers can trek up McGillycuddy Reeks Mountain enjoying its trails' flora and fauna.

The Ring of Kerry's scenery is truly breathtaking. Small towns and quaint villages form this area surrounded by the Black Mountains. A round of golf on the nearby greens may be enjoyable for the entire family. Watersports and fishing may be enjoyed in any of the nearby lakes. The pubs focus on local talent to provide musical entertainment nightly.

A photographer from National Geographic magazine described the Dingle Peninsula as one of the most stunningly beautiful places on earth. Combining ancient settlements, mountains and coastal scenery it provides stunning views that extend to the Blasket Islands. Area restaurants serve excellent seafood accented by traditional vocalists with a background of Gaelic conversations.

One of Ireland's most charming villages is Adare. It has a farmers' market, an Irish heritage and equestrian center. Dramatic, spectacular views include the Cliffs of Moher and in the sea the Aran Islands. The Burren extols a stark beauty with its undulating grey slopes home to unique flora and fauna. Farther on is Galway filled with winding streets from medieval times. The River Corrib curves through the city spanned several times with various bridges. Pubs and cafes are abundant and support a multitude of street performers.

A full Irish breakfast can be enjoyed before taking a tour of the island's oldest Benedictine Abbeys, Kylemore. The Gothic church has a walled garden set on Lake Kylemore. It is home to a convent of Benedictine Nuns of Ypres. Continue through the rugged landscape and wild beauty of Connemara where Gaelic is still the local language and tourists actually touch Irish history.

The ancient Christian Monastic Settlement at Clonmacnoise dates back 1500 years and was founded by St. Claran on the banks of the River Shannon. This medieval city was known as a center of learning and piety, a great holy location for pilgrims to visit. Now travelers head back to the starting point in Dublin, ending a fantastic Irish trip-of-a-lifetime.

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