Ireland is the most beautiful place in the world. I can now confirm this as a matter of fact. No matter where you go, which direction you head in, every bend in the road will bring you to another vista that will take your breath away. After visiting for the first time last July and driving thousands of kilometres, I can tell you that if you do it well, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll drink and dance and sing, and you’ll never get to see it all, but you will most likely, like me, see enough to ensure you want to go back.

I remember as a child listening to my Dad and Uncle Dan discussing Ireland; the history, the politics and the breath-taking beauty. I soaked it all up. So, seeing the wild, ragged coast of Dublin come into view was an emotional moment; the first of many, many emotional moments still to come.

 

Rand and I were in Ireland to attend the McAuliffe Clan Gathering in Co Cork; a week-long, four-yearly gathering when far flung, distant relatives from all around the world get together to celebrate their McAuliffe ancestry. We also intended fitting in as much sight-seeing and history as we could.

This was a first for both of us: first time in Europe, first time on Irish soil, first Clan Gathering, first ancient castles seen, first of many things.

The best thing we did was rent a car and drive.  As much as we could, we followed the stunningly beautiful coastal route, but kept diverting inland to check out whatever took our interest. In actual fact, we probably followed a random combination of place names I recognised from the hundreds of Irish songs I know, and the history I’ve soaked up over the years. Crazy!

In Dublin, the hop-on hop-off bus took us to all the places of interest. Kilmainham Gaol was both a highlight, and very chilling. I’d heard and read so much about it, but to see it; touch the walls that so many who fought for change had touched – I was overcome. One unexpected item here was a delicate carving of a harp, made by Jeremiah McAuliffe for his mother. I have no idea who he was, or why he was imprisoned, but just his name made this an even more personal experience.

 

The Guinness factory tour and a free pint added a lighter touch. I really enjoyed learning the brewing process, and Rand discovered a taste for Guinness. The next day found us at the Jameson’s Whiskey Distillery, sampling and buying our favourite whiskey. Well, it would have been rude not to!

 

Dublin is much like any other international city, but I enjoyed it all; the Georgian buildings with their bricked-out windows to avoid paying ‘window tax,’ (It’s where the saying ‘daylight robbery’ came from.) Dublin University, St Stephen’s Green, Phoenix Park, Glasnevin Cemetery and the museums.

 

Dublin is littered with statues, all with local nicknames: one of writer James Joyce is affectionately called The Prick with the Stick; Oscar Wilde has two – The Cock in a Frock, and The Queer with the Leer; Molly Malone has a selection, some of which are unprintable, but I’ll share The Tart with  the Cart, and The Trollop with the Scallop;  Anna Livia Plurabelle (from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake) also has two – The Floozy in the Jacuzzi, and The Bride in the Tide, and the enormous stainless steel Millennium Spire – The Rod to God.” You have to love that Dublin humour!

 

North-bound, our first stop was at the pre-historic passage tombs at Bru na Boinne. Built over 5,000 years ago, these are Ireland’s sacred sites. Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth pre-date both Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Egypt and are one of the world’s most important pre-historic sites.  Locally they are called ‘the caves’ as they comprise a network of underground passages where early people worshipped.

 

A famous Black Taxi Tour around Belfast was another emotional experience. The political murals on the ‘Peaceline’ between the Falls and Shankill Roads tell the graphic story of “The Troubles.” The nearby Clonard Martyrs Memorial Garden and the hair-raisingly honest account of the history from our ‘cabbie’ was heart-breaking. Perhaps because we arrived at the start of ‘Marching Season,” but Belfast and Northern Ireland were not as welcoming as the southern provinces. It was with some relief we drove on to The Giant’s Causeway for a blend of fabulous scenery, science and ancient legends.

 

In Portrush, Co Antrim we spent a great night at Kiwis Brew Bar, owned by Vince from the Waikato, who was passing through on a surfing trip 15years ago, met a local girl and never left. Vince served us up the best burgers in Ireland!

 

The walled city of Derry was our next stop.  17th century walls surround this ancient city, built by the English and Scottish settlers to keep the Irish out. Europe’s largest collection of cannons are displayed along the walls. Standing on the walls, to your left you can see the famous Free Derry Corner in the Catholic Bogside, to your right, the equally provocative Protestant murals. A tough town, I think.

 

By contrast, Donegal Town must be one of Ireland’s prettiest, sitting right on Donegal Bay, with a backdrop of the beautiful Blue Stack Mountains. Our B&B owner, Terry, was the ultimate host, even going so far as to race out and buy us tickets to the Gaelic Football Final – a unique experience, jammed into St Tiernan’s Park in Clones, along with 34 thousand GAA-crazed fans. I do think our rugby games are much more physical, but I was loathe to say that too loud!

 

In a pub in Donegal after the game we were drinking whiskey and discussing the merits of each with a few locals, when I let slip that I’d been told poteen (Irish moonshine) was pretty rough. The following morning, much to my (and everyone’s) surprise, I received a special delivery of poteen, disguised in an energy drink bottle!  It was not bad at all!

As much as possible, we travelled the local roads, not the motorways – the only way to see the real countryside; meet the real people, but be warned, roads can suddenly go from an averagely-OK road to little more than a cow trail in the space of a couple of kilometres.

Ireland is a very small island, slightly smaller than our North Island, but there is something new to see at almost every turn. Galway Bay, Athenry, Limerick, Tralee, The Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula and Killarney all distracted and delighted us as we continued south to Newmarket for the Gathering.

NEXT ISSUE: Our trip continues and we discover relatives galore!

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.