My first trip to Ireland in 2010 was when I was a spry 58-year-old, and since my Lady Jane and I are still up for the challenges of international travel, we decided to return last month, with Jane doing pretty much all the heavy lifting in arranging a coach tour with Globus that would this time not only cover stops in the Republic of Ireland in cities such as Dublin and Galway but also some stops in the United Kingdom portion of the island, in cities such as Londonderry and Belfast.
Certainly one of the challenges of our trip was the currency that would be needed. While the Republic favors the euro, in the six counties of Northern Ireland, as it is in other parts of the United Kingdom, the currency of choice is the pound. Each currency looks pretty much the same to me, more like Monopoly money rather than all those dead presidents which I’m so used to back home. And while it’s rare here in America to be dealing with coins that are a dollar, if you’re heading to either the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, you better get used to working with coins that are worth a euro and even two as well as a pound coin.
On coach tours, some would see perhaps another challenge sharing a ride and the experiences that the tour provides with so many people who are strangers at the beginning of the trip. One of those strangers is the tour guide, whose knowledge of the areas to be seen and organizational skills go a long way toward determining how you’ll feel about the money you spent for the adventure.
Jane and I have been on six European tours and have traveled in 10 countries with either Trafalgar or Globus, and while I wouldn’t say any of our tour guides were substandard, admittedly some have been better than others.
On this most recent trip, the guide, a fellow named Bill, was actually an Englishman, one that was a bit short on charisma and often seemed not really willing to engage any of us on anything other than a superficial level, nor was he willing to share a whole lot of insight as we made our way from destination to destination.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t need these guides popping off constantly, but good old Bill often went long stretches where he favored putting on some Irish music rather than telling us what he knew or should know.
For instance, we wound our way past lush green pastures divided by stone walls and sheep bearing splashes of dyed color. In Ireland, the animals’ added coloring serves both as a mean to identify them since, typically, the pastures are shared by several farmers and also as a means to help farmers determine when mating has occurred, since a bit of different colored dye will be deposited on the ewe’s back by the ram when his deed is completed. This way, impregnated ewes can be moved to a different field. As for the sheep and the dye, I knew about that from my guide back in ’10. However, Bill never mentioned it.
As for our stops during our week-long sojourn, it was a nice mix of metropolitan areas and smaller towns. One of the draws in Ireland is visiting pubs, where the ‘tenders know how to pour a proper pint of Guinness, and, of course, it’s nice to see a castle, which we did in Donegal, and some city walls from hundreds of years ago, which we did in Londonderry. Such sites enhance our appreciation of the Emerald Isle’s antiquity.
In Athlone, a town just off the River Shannon, we visited Sean’s Bar, not just Ireland’s, but the world’s oldest continuously operating pub in the same location. Sean’s is a place where pints have been hoisted and Irish whiskey poured for a thousand years. In Carlingford, we saw the ancient walls of medieval buildings, such as King John’s Castle, dating to the 12th century, in the town known for its oyster beds in the waters of Carlingford Lough.
The unique basalt formations known as Giant’s Causeway on the north coast of Northern Ireland gave us glimpses of the raging white-water pounding surf of the North Atlantic and the wonders of what nature can do when left to her own designs.
As for man-made wonders, well, Dublin’s Guinness Brewery, which we toured and found so very interesting, and the museum called Titanic Belfast in the city that built the great ship along with so many others in the city once the world’s leader in ship building was also top-notch. We could see why it has been named in 2016 the world’s leading tourist attraction.
One of our stops was at a sheep-breeding farm, with some buildings that featured the old-fashioned thatched straw roofs. It was here that we all got a lesson in making scones, which this weekend kitchen devotee will definitely use, and we also got an excellent presentation by the farm foreman on sheep breeding and a demonstration by one of the day’s stars, named Ted, a border collie that could herd sheep and funnel them where they needed to by using eyes only and nary a single bark.
We also spent a lot of time with a mid-60s Cincinnati-area couple, both of whom recently retired and decided to crawl just about as far out onto a travel limb as one could ever imagine. It’s their story I found interesting enough to pass it along to you next Wednesday.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.