The Magic of Ireland                 words & images: Judy McAuliffe

I truly believe that Ireland is the most beautiful place in the world. When Rand & I visited last year, we discovered endless castles, historic sights and places of interest to visit, not to mention great pubs and restaurants.  Continuing on from our last issue, we head south for more wonderful people, amazing places and the McAuliffe Clan Gathering.

The real history of Ireland is told in its songs, and thanks to my Dad, I know hundreds of them, so, as silly as it sounds, we followed those songs: every time we saw a signpost with a name I recognised, that’s where we headed! It was a great plan.

From Donegal we took the Wild Atlantic Way, slowly winding down the stunning coastal road to Sligo, Ballina, around the Corraun Peninsula to Westport, on the west coast of Co Mayo. It’s a popular family holiday destination with great beaches, surfing, kayaking, tramping, cycling and more. Our super-fit B&B host, Maryanne, was very keen for us to join her at 5am next morning in her weekly jaunt to the summit of Croagh Patrick, a small mountain, by our standards, at 764m high. We suddenly remembered a pressing engagement the next day!

We stopped in familiar-sounding places like Connemara, Galway Bay and Athenry, before crossing into Co Clare to visit the Cliffs of Moher and a must-see for me, The Burren. The Cliffs of Moher were over-run with tourists and it was difficult to find a spot to get a good photograph, but The Burren more than made up for any disappointment. History freak that I am, my heart was in my mouth as I literally walked through time. The limestone rocks were carved by the retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age, leaving this amazing landscape!

Shannon, Limerick and Tralee all lived up to expectations, and then we headed for Dingle, where my cousin Fergal, lives. Unfortunately, we picked the worst day to arrive, with driving rain, and musician Fergal, at a concert in Cork. Ah well, another time.

Newmarket is a small market town in Co Cork in what was once Clanawley. A monument erected by the business community on the outskirts of town acknowledges close ties with the McAuliffe Clan, who were rulers of this land for centuries.  Our four-yearly Clan Gathering is a huge event for the town. The local pipe band piped us into town; hundreds of McAuliffes from across the USA, Canada, South America and Australia, a small group from Japan, and Rand and I the only kiwis.

The first event on the calendar was a barbecue hosted by Clan Chief John Paul McAuliffe, at Cultulann MacAmhlaoibh (the Irish spelling of McAuliffe), our family Heritage Centre. Having grown up with almost no cousins, it was overwhelming to be in such a group. I kept staring at a man who looked just like my brothers! Every time I looked across, he seemed also to be looking in my direction. Embarrassing!  Eventually, I went over and apologised, explaining why I was staring. He was astounded. “I thought I was staring at you,” he replied. “You look just like my sister!”

There were cemetery visits, music, history, and a full schedule of events and outings for five days. I think I cried all the way around our guided tour of Clonfert Cemetary. The history of what happened here, and across Ireland, is shameful. Many McAuliffe plots were marked for the occasion, and the guides descriptions of the events, graphic. It was heart-breaking.

I did most of the driving, with Rand navigating. On the third evening, on our way to the banquet, Rand said, “Take the third exit.” I missed it. Again, Rand said, “one, two, three,” I missed it again, eventually getting there on the third time around. “What was that about?” he asked. “Well, I had to be sure, to be sure, to be sure,” I quipped back. We laughed until we cried.

Of all the castles we visited, Kanturk was special. It was built as the chief home for MacDonagh MacCarthy, but he apparently ran out of money so it was never completed, remaining a roofless shell for centuries. It is four storeys high with a huge five storey square tower at each corner. The elaborate carved fireplaces, window surrounds and cornices are still spectacular. If we ever win Lotto, Rand would like to restore and complete the castle, and hand ownership of it back to the town.

Castleisland is where my family came from, so we spent a few days here, talking to locals and trying, unsuccessfully, to find ‘Woodview’, the property both my great grandparents were born on. Everyone went so far out of their way for us it was almost ludicrous, in some cases spending hours driving us around trying to locate the correct family of McAuliffes.

Finally, we headed for Cobh (pron. Cove), on the south coast. What a beautiful town! Olive, our B&B host, made sure our stay was relaxing and we spent a few days winding-down before our long trip home to NZ. The seaside promenade was a great spot to sit and ‘people-watch’ and the impressive Catholic Cathedral high above the town provided a magical view out across the harbour.

If you’re planning a trip to Ireland, I really do recommend hiring a car. The road rules are similar to ours, and traffic is on the left-hand side of the road so it’s not difficult. I do think they got a bit carried away with the concept of roundabouts though. I think they just popped one down every 200metres for good luck!  I’m hoping I get to return again soon, but for now, I have great memories.


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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.