Notes from Abroad: The Movie Snob Does Ireland.
I just returned from a weeklong vacation on the Emerald Isle, and I thought I would share a few comments and observations.
C.I.E. Tours. This was my first time to go on a package-vacation sort of deal, getting thrown in with a bunch of complete strangers and getting chauffeured all over the place by tour bus. I have to say that I rather liked it. The company, C.I.E. Tours, is apparently some sort of affiliate of Ireland’s national transportation agency, and the whole vacation was pretty well planned. The only exception, I would say, was the day we arrived in Ireland. Like every other time I have gone to Europe, we all arrived in Dublin early in the morning, and C.I.E. really didn’t have anything for us to do until midafternoon. We were dropped off at our hotel, but we were there way too early to get into our rooms, so we left our luggage at the front desk and basically had nothing to do except wander around for a few hours before the tour got started in earnest. But this was a small glitch, and everything else was nicely organized and well-scheduled.
I would add that our tour director and bus driver, Brendan Heneghan, was a delight. He has been with this company for about 25 years, but if he is at all tired of driving American tourists around he never showed it. His love of Ireland was self-evident. I thoroughly enjoyed his frequent commentary on the landmarks, the countryside, and the Irish history behind the sights we were seeing. He even sang a few Irish songs for us and wasn’t half bad. Plus, he was an excellent driver; how he managed to maneuver that bus through all the tights spots and narrow turns we encountered (all while driving on the wrong side of the road) is beyond me.
Ireland. Absolutely beautiful, even in mid-October with the high tourist season in the past. We were very fortunate in the weather, getting only one really rainy day in the whole week. Although it was cool or chilly every day, it never got really cold. Our itinerary included two days in Dublin, followed by a drive through southwestern Ireland and stop at famous Blarney Castle. Then we spent two nights in Killarney as a base for a daylong drive around the famous “Ring of Kerry,” which is a scenic route around a particular peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. From there we moved to the more blue-collar city of Galway as our base for other scenic drives through the rugged terrain of the Connemara region, a visit to the famous Cliffs of Moher, and a catamaran ride in Killary Harbour, billed as Ireland’s only fjord. Along the way we drove through plenty of picturesque villages and past a million rolling green hills and meadows. I could finally sort of understand why the Irish make such a big deal about their homeland. It really is a jewel. Also, the booming Irish economy was evidenced everywhere by ubiquitous commercial and residential construction. According to our tour guide, Ireland’s population has finally started to grow again after being stagnant for 100 years or more.
Entertainment. I thought the highlight of the tour was the very first night we were there, when it was arranged for us to have dinner and then see some Irish dancing and music at a place in or at least near Dublin called The Abbey Tavern. The show started with a few Irish dances by three young folks, maybe even teenagers, demonstrating the fancy footwork that became so famous with the Riverdance craze ten years ago. Then a band of five older gentlemen and one younger woman took the stage to play some Irish music for us, and they were absolutely superb. They said they perform there seven nights a week, so if you ever go to Dublin I urge you to check out their show. I was so taken with the Irish music that I kept watching for another opportunity to see some more live music, and I actually did see a band called The Irish Weavers while we were in Killarney. They were good too, but the band at The Abbey Tavern was better.
The Ugly American. Our group consisted of 33 Americans, plus one young Australian woman who joined our group as we left Dublin. I witnessed no behavior that would put the USA in a bad light until the very last day of the tour, during the rather long morning bus ride to Shannon Airport. Our bus driver Brendan was doing his usual routine, mixing bad jokes in with colorful commentary about Ireland and the things we were driving by. He may have sung us another song. And at one point, he asked if anyone had any requests for him. I was sitting about a third of the way from the front of the bus, and I was mortified to hear one of our group (a middle-aged guy who had looked surly and unpleasant all week) sitting very close to the front say, “Yeah — shut up and drive.” I could not believe my ears. It was unspeakably embarrassing.
In summary, with only a couple of minor exceptions, it was a great trip. Ireland is a beautiful country, and you should seize any opportunity to pay it a visit.