Where would you find a Swiss Cottage in Ireland? or the World’s best Irish dancer who works in a pub at Dingle, or for that matter, who would take you to the dungeons of Huntington Castle where a feminine shrine is created for interested tourists? Who loves to talk non-stop and balances wit, charm and practical good sense all in one – well, it’s Eva Donoghue, the young, dynamic girl ( she says she’s 26 and wearing braces!) who was our guide on the Back Roads 12 day tour in Ireland.
Eva along with Kirstie, a brilliant driver whose road skills we admired, made our holiday fantastic. Thirteen eager travellers, mostly from Australia, including a lovely couple from the UK, journeyed in a small coach, the winding back roads, country roads, through the cities, past castles and bridges, sheep grazing and steeper narrow streets of the green hills of Ireland.
Kirstie was the “bag” woman – efficient in carrying our suitcases to the hotels and making sure they returned. Eva spilled out all her love of Ireland, the Celtic stories, legends, history and political ideals. She even hired local guides to cover things that she was not knowledgeable on, like the lads from the Black taxi in Belfast. Accents, jokes, poking fun at each other and the Peace Walls all come into play here with these men.
From local guide Charlene’s passionate speech in Derry (Londonderry) to Dave’s theatrical storytelling in Kinsale in the south, the tour provided many opportunities to interact with the locals. It’s the people, their warmth and friendliness that appealed to all of us. Open hearted, spirited and in tune with their violent past, the Irish have moved forward to strengthen their ideas and values. It was very emotive for my husband Bill who wrote a poem and read it to the group. As Fran said, “it encapsulated perfectly the sorrow/ laughter and hope of the Irish people.” That very evening in Derry, young journalist was killed, Lyra whose compassion and work for peace and justice, will not be forgotten. Sadly, it reminded us all of the precious moments of our lives.
From William Morris wallpaper in Kilkenny castle, with its Gothic Revival ceilings of the 1820’s, the Tapestry Room and Library with claret silk damask curtains and Berber style floor carpets into the Blue bedroom, Chinese bedroom and panoramic views of the gardens, our Back Roads riders were privileged to see so much beauty and heritage.
Now we visited many fine castles. Up steps, into hallways, through corridors, out into the splendid gardens with fountains and yew trees and the few fun dogs like Bill and Myrtle.
Sheep, donkeys, and museums were all on the agenda. From Gaelic football, street art, the hurling statue, the famine walk of Doolough Valley where many families died, to the magnificent Blasket Islands, to the Dingle Peninsula, Galway, Cork, Tipperary, County Kerry – so much to take in.
Fine dining – YES!! We enjoyed a lunch at Richard and Rosanne’s mansion, the gardens at Blarney castle, the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway. PLUS all the delicious filling meals at the fine hotels.
Bill and I really enjoyed seeing Newgrange. It’s a prehistoric monument in County Meath, located about 8 kilometres west of Drogheda on the north side of the River Boyne. It is an exceptionally grand passage tomb built during the Neolithic period, around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.
That’s enough to read now for part one of our tour. The memories will live on. And Eva seemed to solve any problem we had, including feeling hungry on the bus. Out came the Penguin chocolate bars and honey and oat bars, lollies and brilliant maps to follow. Stay with me for Part 2 later. More on Dublin, the sheep dog trials, Ulster American Folk Park and the pub scene.