They say that laughter is the best medicine and if it is true, then the Irish or at least the Irish tour guides, must be the healthiest people on the planet. Aonghus Weber was our physician on the GoAhead tour. He kept us laughing from the time we stepped onto the bus, until we bid him adieu in the evening. His was not a memorized routine, but seemed to bubble up from his enjoyment of people and his life. Our vacation proved to be one that was busy from sun up to sun down and left us still chuckling as the lights went out.
We began at the Shannon airport, holding our breath as the bus took off on the wrong side of the road or so it seemed. At least fifty shades of green dotted the countryside on our way to Galway. They say the livestock outnumber the people and we could attest that we saw more sheep, horses and cows than countrymen.
The land was a bit more stark on the West coast, with peat bogs and hard landscape, but it was still enchanting with its stone walls carving out patches of land. The castles and ruins remind you that this is an old settlement and instantly bring you back to another time. Galway, Ireland’s third largest city, was our first sleeping stop and the tour of the town was lovely. We found an outstanding local tavern for lunch on the recommendation of a shop keeper. It far exceeded our expectations.
The second night had an added attraction of the Dunguaire Castle Banquet. We were welcomed with harp music and mead and then ushered upstairs to the grand hall for dinner and entertainment. The music and ditties were played throughout the meal and had everyone’s attention. Thankfully, forks and knives were provided.
Our weather was perfect and unexpected, as the sun appeared on many days, despite the predictions of rain. We walked the beach, visited a limestone plateau called the Burren and explored the majestic Cliffs of Moher, along the Atlantic Ocean, all in sunshine and beautiful clouds. Rain altered plans only once on the trip.
On day 5, we visited the town of Cobh, which was the portal for ships launching to America. The haunting Queenstown Story Museum revealed the stories of the travelers and their treacherous journeys. The saddest part was the “funerals” that were held before they left as it was usually the last time the travelers were seen by their families and friends.
The highlight for us was Blarney Castle. The Castle dates back to the fifteenth century and you can almost feel the pulse of centuries of inhabitants. A climb to the top provides an opportunity kiss the Blarney stone and a breathtaking vista of the surrounding land. Not only was the castle impressive, but the 1500 acres of grounds were fashioned into beautiful gardens. One was a poison garden of medicinals and potential arsenal of herbs. Another was a tropical garden set down low in a gulley, with ferns and palm plants surrounding a waterfall. A rock Close contained a collection of boulders and passages dating back to prehistoric times. The river Blarney wanders through the grounds and as you walk along the paths and rustic bridges, a magical tranquility and timelessness pervades these spaces but not enough for us.