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COUNTY ANTRIM

Belfast City (Beal Feirste) is the capital of Northern Ireland and is located in County Antrim. The city offers easy access with a choice of two airports. Located in the city at Belfast Lough is Belfast Harbour Airport, Belfast International Airport is 12 miles west of the city. At Belfast Port, harbour ferries arrive from Scotland and the U.K. History and politics play a major role in the fabric of Belfast, where the culture that has evolved here is different than other parts of Northern Ireland. It is rich in a diversity of cultures in art, music, dance, sports, shopping, attractions and historical sites. Once you are in Belfast, take advantage of what it has to offer, with a city tour bus or Black Taxi tours.

  • City Hall is located on Donegall Square. It dominates the area with its magnificent architecture of classical renaissance style with fine Portland stone exterior and Italian marble interior. It was completed in 1903.
  • Ulster Museum is noted for its Irish antiquities, Ulster history and displays of art, The Early Ireland Gallery (10,000 BC to 1,500 BC), and treasures from the Armada shipwreck, Girona.
  • Linen Hall Library, located on Donegal Square, was established in 1788. It houses an Irish collection of over 20,000 volumes and a Robert Burns collection.
  • Crown Liquor Saloon is the most famous pub in Belfast. The building is of Victorian architecture, with the outside covered in thousands of colorful tiles. The inside décor has stained and painted glass, carved oak screens and mahogany furniture.
  • Grand Opera House offers a variety of musical programs.
  • The Botanic Gardens, the rose gardens and herbaceous borders were established in 1920. Two greenhouses dominate the gardens. The Palm House has a conservatory containing tropical plants like coffee, sugar, and banana plants. The Tropical Ravine has a high walkway that provides a great viewpoint.
  • Queen's University dates from 1849 and offers a Visitor Center with historical exhibitions. The architecture is something to be noted.
  • St. Anne's Cathedral, an Anglican Church, was built between 1899 and 1927. It incorporates part of the original building. There are beautiful mosaics within the church.
  • The Golden Mile has restaurants, galleries, entertainment venues, and pubs.
  • Culturlann Macadam O'Fiaich, on the Falls Road, is Belfast's main Irish language arts center. There are many murals painted on the buildings that depict the plight of Irish Catholics from An Gorta Mor to the 21st Century.
  • Fernhill House: The People's Museum tells the history of the Protestants in the Shankill District. The murals painted on the buildings depict their story over the past 30 years.
  • Belfast Zoo houses 40 endangered species of animals. It has won national and international acclaim for rare animal breeding.
  • Belfast Castle was built in 1870 and was the former home of the Donegall family. It offers a spectacular view of the city. There is a heritage center, antique shop, and children's play area on the premise.


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COUNTY CLARE

County Clare, steeped in history, offers beautiful seascapes, landscapes, lakes, cliffs, caves and music. There is a multitude of activities to enjoy indoors and out. Here we have highlighted The Burren, The Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.

The Burren in Irish, bhoireann meaning "stony place", is over 500 square miles of karstic limestone. It is in the northwest corner of County Clare. The area is a haven for botanists and ecologists because of the unique flora and rock. The ground surface is a floor of gray rock with long parallel grooves, known as grykes. Rainwater seeps through the porous rocks to the underground caves and lakes that swell with overflow, appearing in full lakes that disappear after the rain. There is an amazing variety of flora with Arctic, Alpine, and Mediterranean plants growing in spring and summer. It has an amazing range of color in the flowers, ferns and mosses.

You can walk your way to the discovery of ancient civilization on a 26-mile sign posted "Burren Way" from Ballyvaughn to Liscannor. There are stone dolmens, ring forts, churches, crannogs, monasteries, and holy wells. The Burren has over 60 Stone Age burial monuments and 400 Iron Age ring forts.

Alwee Caves were discovered in the 1940's. There are caverns, underground waterfalls, stalagmite and stalactite formations and remains of brown bears, which have been extinct in Ireland for thousands of years. The caves are open for guided tours.

Doolin is a very small port village where you can catch a ferry to the Aran Islands. It is famous for the quality of traditional music played in sessions at the three pubs.

The Cliffs of Moher just south of Doolin, are one of the most spectacular sights of The Burren. These majestic cliffs rise more than 700 feet above the wind swept Atlantic Ocean. They stretch five miles along the west coast of Clare from Hag's Head to just beyond O'Brien's Tower. Composed of shale and sandstone, the cliff's ledges make ideal roosting homes for birds. One of the best views can be enjoyed from O'Brien's Tower, built in the early 1800's. On a clear day you can see as far as the Mountains of Kerry, Connemara and the Aran Islands. There are marked paths along the the cliffs to explore. Make sure to dress tightly, it is perpetually windy. You are also subject to weather conditions that change rapidly. Also be cautious around the edges of the cliffs. A visitor center with a café is located near the parking lot. The best time to enjoy the cliffs is early morning or early evening, when the tour buses aren't as prevalent.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is one of the most complete and authentic 15th century medieval castles in Ireland. It has a long and bloody history. The castle is a combination of earlier Norman castles and the later Gaelic Tower Houses. It is furnished with a fine collection of medieval furniture, artwork and ornate carvings. Tours are available during the day. A four-course Medieval Banquet and entertainment with performers in traditional costume is offered in the evenings. Please book reservations far in advance.

The Folk Park is a reconstructed 19th century village with a variety of buildings, including a school, thatched cottages, grocery store, craft shop, coffee shop, pub, and agricultural machinery on display. The Folk Park is a living museum where animals are tended to and bread is baked. Country style meals are served and entertainment is offered, with story telling, music, dance, and story telling.


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COUNTY DUBLIN

DUBLIN CITY first known as "Eblana" was noted on early maps of Ptolemy in the 2nd century. Later it became known as Dubh-linn meaning "Black Pool". Its current Irish name is Baile Atha Cliath, meaning "Town of the Ford of the Hurdles". Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland. It is the resident city of President Mary McAleese and is the place of operation for the Irish Government. Dublin is split by the River Liffey (An Life) and is spanned by ten bridges. The Royal Canal and the Grand Canal provide connections between the port area and the northern and southern branches of the River Shannon.

Dublin is a city steeped in history. Along with its rich past, Dublin has been made famous in song from "Molly Malone" (the Tart with the Cart), to "Summer in Dublin". It boasts of having the oldest pub in Ireland, "The Brazen Head", and the oldest university, Trinity College. It is a center of art and culture and is the largest cosmopolitan city in Ireland.

Taking a walking tour of Dublin City Center can be quite intoxicating, even if you bypass all the pubs. Let's begin our journey north of the River Liffey at the O'Connell Bridge.

O'Connell Street is the main thoroughfare and the widest street. At the south end, is a huge monument of Daniel O'Connell. At the north end of O'Connell Street is a monument of Charles Stewart Parnell. Turn on to Henry Street for High Fashion shopping. On O'Connell Street there used to be a statue of Anna Livia, reclining in the waters of the River Liffey. It seems too many people took advantage of her and nick named her "The Floozie in the Jacuzzi". She has been moved to a temporary residence at the Croppie Field Memorial grounds off North Quay.

General Post Office (GPO), is located on O'Connell Street. It was the headquarters for the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the provisional government of Ireland in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Dublin Writers Museum is an 18th century restored mansion located at the north end of Parnell Square. The museum houses the works of some of Ireland's best writers, including: Behan, Joyce, Shaw, Swift, Widle, and Yeats. It is also home to an impressive collection of painting, photographs, and memorabilia of the various writers.

Gallery of Modern Art is located at the north end of Parnell Square. Guided tours, recitals, and lectures are offered.

Old Jameson Distillery, on Bow Street in Smithfield Village, tells the story of the "Water of Life". Guided tours are offered in the original distillery and at the end you get a taste.

National Museum of Ireland, at Collins Barracks, includes displays and exhibitions of Ireland's social economic and military history. Two other locations are noted below.

Phoenix Park is located beside Collins Barracks and is the largest enclosed city park in Europe.

"Aras An Uachtarain" is the official residence of the President of Ireland.

Dublin Zoological Gardens are located at Phoenix Park and is one of the best zoos in Europe. It is home to a wide variety of animals, birds, and reptiles.

Catholic Pro Cathedral, just off Marlborough Street, is architecture worth seeing.

Glasnevin Cemetery is a short bus trip at the top of O'Connell Street near Parnell Square. The cemetery is the largest in Ireland and final resting place for over 1.2 million souls... Daniel O'Connell founded the cemetery with the hopes that people of different faiths could be buried there. Many historical figures include Daniel O'Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, John Keegan Casey, Roger Casement, and so many others.

Attractions South of the River Liffey:

  • Temple Bar Area is the cultural quarter. This is a historical and eclectic area filled with art, theater, music, pubs, cafes, and the highest concentration of restaurants. There is the Market in Meeting House Square with organic foods, unique shops, book and music stores. It also plays host to many open-air events.
  • Dublin's Viking Adventure is a journey back in time when the Vikings occupied the city. It explores how they lived and worked.
  • Trinity College is one of the oldest centers of learning, dating back to the 16th century. The library is home to the world renowned 9th century Book of Kells, a Latin text of the four gospels, with meticulous artwork around the borders. The campanile of 1853 is said to mark the site of the monastery of All Hallow, upon which Trinity College was first built.
  • Grafton Street is an upscale commercial district, with lots of hip shops, neat pubs, restaurants, music, and interesting side streets to explore.
  • National Museum of Archaeology and History is located on Kildare Street. This branch houses artifacts from 2000 B.C. through the 20th century. It includes the National Treasury with many archaeological treasures of Celtic and Medieval art, such as the Ardagh Chalice and Tara Brooch.
  • National Museum of Natural History, located on Merrion Square West, houses specimens of wildlife and fauna, animals and mammals.
  • National Gallery, located on Merrion Square West, houses many important art exhibits and sculptures by Irish and European artists.
  • Guinness Brewery and Hop Shop provides exhibitions and tells of the Guinness Experience over 250 years of history. You end up in the Gravity Bar, with a pint and a great view of Dublin.
  • Dublin Castle, dates from the 13th century, when King John built the structure. It was the center of British power until 1922. It is also the Garda Siochana Museum, Police Force of the Republic of Ireland, along with the Irish Constabulary, the Royal Irish Constabulary, The Dublin Police, and the Dublin Metropolitan Police.
  • Christchurch Cathedral is Dublin's oldest place of Christian worship. The Christian Norse, King Sitric, founded it in 1038. Part of the structure goes back to the 12th century. It is presently an Anglican Church.
  • St. Patrick's Cathedral is the National Cathedral for the Anglican Church. Originally built in the 12th century, it is the burial site of Jonathan Swift, a former Dean and author of "Gulliver's Travels".
  • Marsh's Library located beside St. Patrick's was the first public library in Ireland. It houses several thousand volumes dating back to the 16th century.
  • Merrion Square is an upscale area with fine townhouses and the "Georgian Doors". The park is open to the public.

Additional notes on Dublin: the Irish are more casual than many other nationalities. If you are looking to enjoy the nightlife scene, you will want to dress properly. Smart casual is best. A lot of dancing goes on at various clubs so you might want to have your dancing shoes on as well. Dublin is a great walking city; however, if you have been out all day or are a bit tipsy, you might want to hire a taxi. Two or more people will usually get quicker service. There is also good bus service, NiteLink, makes runs on the main roads out of Dublin, each hour beginning around 12:30 AM. The last DART departs Connelly Station around 11:00PM. If you are looking for an elevator in any building, you won't find one. They are referred to as "lifts".

It is customary in pubs, anywhere in Ireland, for each person to purchase a "round" of drinks instead of each one paying individually. Everyone takes a turn. It used to be customary for women to remain in the lounge part of the pub. In Dublin, that is no longer the case. However, it may still be the norm in some parts of the countryside.

The drinking age in Ireland is 18. Stout/beer comes in two sizes, a pint and a glass. If you ask for a pint, usually you will be served Guinness. Ask for a glass if you don't want a full pint. You might run into a "snug" in a pub. This is a little room off to the side that offers a bit more privacy. Pubs stop serving at 11:30 PM in the summer and a bit earlier in the winter. You have another half-hour to finish your drink.

All kinds of music abound in Dublin, including American Country-Western, Classical, Jazz, Rock and Traditional Irish known as a "session". There are several entertainment newspapers circulated throughout the city, which provide excellent entertainment information.


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COUNTY CORK

COUNTY CORK is the largest county in Ireland; Cork City is the second largest city in the Republic. Blarney Castle was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster in 1446. The castle is located on a thousand acres of beautiful woodland, and is partially hidden by trees, some up to a thousand years old. The castle has been witness to the triumph and turmoil of Irish chiefs and enemy armies. By the 1700's the castle no longer functioned as a fortress.

Queen Elizabeth coined the term "Blarney" when she wrote to Cormac McCarthy, Lord of Blarney. Queen Elizabeth wanted the castle for herself. He would stall her requests by responding with letters overflowing with flatter, ovations of devotion, and loyalty to the crown, without addressing the issue. Lore has it that when you kiss the Blarney Stone, you acquire the gift of "eloquent speech".

To reach the Blarney Stone, you climb 120 steps to the roof. The stone is built into the outer face of a gap in the battlements. One of the legends tells that this stone is part of the "Stone of Destiny" on which the Scottish monarchs were crowned. The castle is five miles from Cork City and very popular with tourists.

Cobh, (pronounced cove), on the Great Island, is one of three large islands in Cork Harbour. It was the port of departure for many Irish during the Great Hunger from 1844 to 1848. At that time it was known as Queenstown. Many sailed hungry and penniless in the deplorable "coffin ships", but never reached their destination. The "Queenstown Story", a multi-media exhibit at Cobh's Victorian Railroad Station tells of their heart-wrenching story and the maritime history of this port.

Cobh also has the dubious distinction of being the last port of call for two of the worst maritime disasters in history. Cobh was the last berth for the Titanic and the Lusitania. The Lusitania sank in Cobh Harbour after being torpedoed by a German U-boat. The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage while crossing the Atlantic. There is a mass grave for the victims of Lusitania in the Old Church, near Casement Square. It is memorial to those that perished in both tragedies.

Above the harbour is St. Colman's Cathedral, with its enormous neo-Gothic spire and a 47 bell carillon that weighs 7,700 pounds. This is the largest harmonized bell system in Ireland. The cathedral has beautiful mosaic flooring and wonderfully colored windows.

Cork City is the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland, with a population of 140,000. St. Finbarr first built a monastery on the site that would later become Cork City in the year 650. The city grew along the banks of the River Lee at the point where it splits into two channels. Ferries arrive and depart from the U.K. and France.

There is much history to be explored in Cork City, dating as far back as the 1st century. From the expansive trade it conducted in the 16th century, to the laws enacted against the importation of commodities, and the atrocities committed by the Englishman, Oliver Cromwell. Even the cobble of the streets has a story. There are quaint shops and museums. It is a bustling cosmopolitan city that offers diversity and cultural activities that appeal to all.

Cork City is basically an island with 16 bridges, the River Lee flows around it. The main commercial area is located along St. Patrick Street, Grand Parade, Washington Street, Oliver Plunkett Street and Main Street. The charm and beauty of Cork City evolves around the contrasts the city offers. There are a multitude of theatres and a variety of arts. There is also a diverse range of excellent restaurants, cafes, and pubs with traditional Irish music. The city also has many unique and quaint shops. Across the Southern Channel are some of the oldest streets in Cork, along with the University College of Cork's campus.

North of the River Lee are the Shandon Bells at the 18th century, St. Anne's Church. You can climb to the tower, see the city and play the bells. St. Anne's has the "four faced liar's clock" where the time is never the same on any face. St. Finbarr's Cathedral is a 19th century French Gothic structure. The original church dates to 650 A.D. It is noted for its unique mosaics and ornamentation.

Fota Wildlife Park is on one of the three islands in Cork Harbour featuring 90 different species of wildlife where animals roam in their natural habitat. Cheetahs are the only caged animals. The park is the largest breeder of cheetahs in the world. The animals come from five continents. The arboretum has many exotic plants and trees. It is one of the best in Europe. A train is used to take visitors on a guided tour.

The complex also includes the Fota Island Golf Course and Fota House, an architecturally unique residence dating from the early 1800's.

Kinsale is a quaint fishing and resort town with a picture perfect harbour. There are wonderful narrow streets lined with colorfully painted buildings. It is renowned for its art galleries and gourmet restaurants.

Kinsale is considered the Gourmet Capital of Ireland. There is an abundance of accommodations to choose from ranging in price and amenities. Kinsale is a very popular tourist spot, especially during the high season.

At the Battle of Kinsale, in 1601, the English defeated the Irish with their Spanish allies. This marked the end of the Gaelic Aristocracy.

There are many sites to enjoy around Kinsale. These include the Harbour, the Courthouse, Desmond Castle, James Fort and Charles Fort. There are also a variety of walking tours. From May through October, there are a variety of festivals and events. Many of the pubs offer traditional Irish music. There is also informal entertainment at many of the bars and lounges. Some of the hotels offer Cabarets.


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COUNTY GALWAY

Galway City (Gaillimh) is known as the City of Tribes after 14 merchant families who controlled and managed the city in medieval times. It is situated along the River Corrib at the mouth of Galway Bay. It became a thriving Anglo-Norman city relying on heavy trade to Europe. Today, the city is a growing and thriving university city that is further complemented by high tech industries. The city offers the arts in theatre, museums, and churches. There is a vibrant nightlife and music can be found everywhere. During the summer, Galway offers many festivals.

Eyre Square is in the center of Galway City. Galway Irish Crystal Heritage Centre is a short five-minute drive from the city. In the Hall of Tribes you learn of the merchants, seafarers, and artists who made up the original 14 tribes. You can discover the history of the Claddagh Village and the famous claddagh ring, learn the story of the glass craft, and watch craftspeople at work. The facility has a restaurant and showroom.

Spanish Arch is a relic of the Spanish influence that dominated the tribes of Galway. The Arch was built in 1584.

Connemara is located north of Galway City, at the western tip of the county. Connemara is known for its wild beauty. There are gorgeous islands, beaches and harbours. It is one of the most unspoiled regions of Ireland. Connemara is a vibrant Gaelic speaking area. One is never too far from the mountain view of the Twelve Bens. There are regattas at some of the coastal villages along with other water sports. Galway's traditional fishing vessel is known as a hooker. The curragh is a long, narrow canoe like boat, sometimes made of oiled animal skins over a wooden frame. Connemara National Park covers 2000 hectares of mountains, bogs, heaths, and grasslands.

Glanmore (meaning large glen), forms the center of the park. The Visitor Center has 3-D models and displays. Many remains of human presence can be seen in the park. The oldest are megalithic court tombs, some 4,000 years old. Ruined houses and old walls are all that remains of the past.

Kylemore Abbey completed in 1868, is now home to the Benedictine Nuns and their international girls' boarding school. There is a restored Gothic church, lake walk, and craft shop with pottery made by the nuns and restaurant.

Clifden known as the capital of Connemara offers beautiful beaches, unique shops and antiques. John Darcy founded the town in 1812.

Roundstone is a fishing village situated in the heart of Connemara. There are great beaches here as well. It is the home of the "Roundstone Musical Instruments", which are handmade by Malachy Kearn. The movie "The Matchmaker" was filmed in this quaint village.

Aran Islands are located 30 miles off the Irish coast. It is a barren landscape comprised of exposed limestone terraces that ends in a shear 300-foot drop to the Atlantic Ocean. The Celtic cliff edge fortress of Dun Aengus is of world importance. The cliffs and seas are home to gannets, choughs, otters, dolphins, and whales. The rocky craggy provide a rich habitat for over 400 wild plants and flowers. The Aran Islands consist of three islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer.

Inishmore (Inis Moir), meaning Big Island, is eight miles long and two miles wide, and has a population of 900. The fort of Dun Aengus is built on the edge of a sheer southern cliff with a defense forest of sharp stone spikes. There are two smaller forts, Dun Eochla and Dun Duchathair.

Inishmaan. (Inis Meain), means Middle Island. It is three miles wide and two miles long, with fields bordered by high dry stonewalls, and marked by vast sheets of limestone rock. The island peaks at 300 feet and a series of giant terraces slope down to Galway Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The island has a Gaelic speaking population. The inhabitants make their living from farming and fishing. On the island's highest point is Dun Chunchuir are the ruins of an ancient fort The fort was built with intricate stone patterns and was done without the use of mortar. It is believed to have been built between the 1st and 6th centuries. An Aran sweater factory, museum, guesthouse and a pub are on the island.

Inisheer (Inis Oirr) is also known as the Little Island. It is 27 miles from Galway and covers 1,400 acres. It has a population of about 300. This island is an outcrop of the Burren landscape, consisting of bare limestone that is used for the many cottages, stonewalls, roads, and pathways around the island. The Gaelic speaking island is a haven for birdwatchers and those interested in flora and fauna. The main attractions are An Loch Mor, a lake covering 16 acres with wildfowl, a fort, Dun Formna, and O'Brien's Castle, dating back to the 14th century.


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COUNTY KERRY

COUNTY KERRY often referred to as "The Kingdom", offers a multitude of contrasts, from viewing the astounding scenery, climbing the highest mountain in Ireland (Carrantuohill- 3,414 feet), to enjoying the beauty of the Lakes of Killarney. The climate in Kerry is more unique than other places in Ireland. The warm waters from the Gulf Stream bathe the coastline. The water is generally warm enough to swim in all year. Very beautiful flora flourishes here. The oak woods at Derrycunnihy and Tomies are the last of Ireland's primeval forests.

Dingle Peninsula stretches from Tralee (Tra Li) and the village of Castlemaine (Caislean na Mainge) to the tip of Slea Head (Ceann Slebhe) to the Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodi). The Dingle Peninsula is one of three hilly promontories of County Kerry, with mountains, coastlines, and beaches. There are many small villages that are still Gaelic speaking, and have developed their own character. An area is shrouded in myth and legends, history and literature, and has extensive prehistoric Celtic ruins with ring forts, beehive huts and stone crosses.

One of the most unique sites is the Gallarus Oratory, between Ballyferriter (Biale an Fheirtearaigh) and Dunquin (Dun Chaoin). Built in the 8th century. It is a prime example of 'corbelling', a mortar less construction with larger stones at the bottom, reducing in size to the top. The church is still water tight. This is the same construction used at Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth in County Meath, in traveling to the Dingle Peninsula the quickest way is through Anascaul, however, a more scenic drive would be through Conor Pass, with the panoramic views of the Magharee Islands and Bandon Bay.

Dingle Town (An Daingean) is a fishing village that offers a wonderful selection of shops, restaurants and pubs with marvelous traditional music. This natural harbour is the area that Fungi the Dolphin comes to play, many times being the main attraction.

Killarney (Cill Airne, meaning church of the Sloes), dating back to 1604, is an area that now caters to the tourist. There are a multitude of places to shop, stay and enjoy a drink. Killarney is famed for its natural beauty in the mountains, lakes, and landscape.

Killarney National Park encompasses 25,000 acres of land with an oceanic climate of high humidity and mild winters, some of the finest examples of natural plant life thrive here. This is the oldest national park in Ireland and was established in 1932 when Muckross Estate was donated to the public. The estate consists of Muckross House and Gardens, Muckross Traditional Farms, and Muckross Abbey. The house is a splendid Victorian mansion built in 1843, with luxuriously furnished rooms that portray the lifestyle of the gentry. The basement portrays the working conditions of the servants. There were a variety of crafters and artisans making their wares in the basement as well. Muckross serves as the center of the park and the Visitor Center is now located in the house.

The Lakes of Killarney comprise almost a quarter of the park's area; they are the Upper, Middle (Muckross), and Lower Lakes. The lakes meet at what is known as 'The Meeting of the Waters'. Many of the original animals are extinct in Ireland today, including the Irish elk. The Japanese Sika Deer were introduced in the early 1800's. Now there are about 1,000 in the herd. This could possibly be the last pure herd in the world. The Kerry Cattle is said to be the oldest breed of cattle in Europe. The all black cattle can be seen in the park as well.

The Ring of Kerry is located on the Peninsula of Iveragh (Uibh Rathach). It lies between Dingle Bay and The Kenmare River. It is 110 miles of gorgeous coastal and mountain scenery, enveloping the towns of Killorglin, Glenbeigh, Caherciveen, Waterville, Sneem, Kenmare, and Killarney. Each town has its own personality. You can drive the Ring or take one of the coach tours. It can be a treacherous drive. This is one of the most spectacular sites in all of Ireland.


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COUNTY MAYO

COUNTY MAYO is located in the west of Ireland, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. There is diverse, unspoiled scenery from mountains to valleys, cliffs, and beaches with many attractions and activities that appeal to everyone.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, on August 21, 1879, an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist, all appeared at St. John the Baptist parish church in Knock for approximately two hours. A group of townspeople described a bright golden light in which appeared Mary, Joseph, and John in prayer. Mary was dressed in a white robe, with a brilliant gold crown. Her hands were raised towards heaven in prayer. To her left was St. John, dressed as a bishop, holding open a book, with his right hand raised to heaven as though he were preaching. To Mary's right was St. Joseph. He stood in humble stature, hands folded in prayer as he leaned towards Mary. To the left of St. John was an altar with a lamb on it facing the figures. All figures were above ground, with Mary slightly higher. The group of fifteen witnesses ranged in age from six to seventy years old. Soon the news of this miracle had spread throughout Ireland. Many miracles have occurred at the shrine since the apparition and today over 1.5 million people a year visit the shrine to pray, seek solace, or request a miracle. Pope John Paul II visited the shrine in August 1979 in celebration of the 100th anniversary. Mother Theresa has also been a visitor.

The magnificent Basilica has been designated a Marian Shrine. An interesting note to its construction, all counties contributed to the 32 pillars in the ambulatory. The four medieval style windows represent the four provinces of Ireland. Other facilities within the complex include the Knock Folk Museum, which portrays life in rural Ireland at the end of the 19th century, an audio-visual center, and guided tours mornings and afternoons. There is daily Mass, Stations of the Cross, Rosary Procession, Anointing of the Sick, and guided prayer sessions. The Shrine at Knock is a place of pilgrimage for all. It measures equally in reverence to Fatima in Portugal and Lourdes in France.

COUNTY MEATH

COUNTY MEATH has traditionally been known as the Royal County. This was the seat of the ancient Kings of Ireland at Tara. It is also the county where the Book of Kells originated, now housed in Trinity College, Dublin. In the Boyne Valley of County Meath are some of Ireland's most important archeological monuments, including the Megalithic Passage Tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, Fourknocks, Loughcrew and Tara. Access to the sites are available at Bru na Boinne Irish Heritage Site.

Newgrange is the most famous of these prehistoric monuments. It was originally built around 3,100 B.C. and accidentally discovered in the 17th century. The site consists of a huge stone and turf mound, approximately 280 feet in diameter and 44 feet high. Large boulders, 8 feet high, form a ring around the monument and at the base are horizontal stones with uniquely carved spiral, concentric circles, triangles, zigzags, and the human face designs. On the inside of Newgrange are similar designs. There are guided torchlight tours through a single passage 82.5 feet in length that leads to a cruciform chamber. Here one finds side chambers, ornamental stone basins, and prehistoric human bones. The ceiling of the chamber has vaulted interlocked stone slabs that have kept the chamber dry for 5,000 years. Above the entrance is a slit in the stonework and a roof box. On winter solstice, the sunrays shine through the box to the center of the tomb for about 17 minutes. The tomb is beautifully enveloped with golden light.

Knowth part of the 'The Boyne Cemetary', encompasses a six square mile area of forty passage graves inside the loop of the River Boyne. Knowth is a large round mound surrounded by 18 smaller tombs. It is made up of sod, clay, shale, and stones, some weighing up to four tons. There are two passage tombs; the Western, 112 feet in length and the Eastern, 132 feet in length; making it the longest passage tomb in Europe. Both passages have the corbelled roofs, which are giant stone slabs assembled in circular layers, with each layer slightly overlapping the layer beneath. When you reach the top, the roof is narrowest and has formed a dome. Excavation has been going on at Knowth since the early 1960's and discoveries have surpassed those at Newgrange. Unique to Knowth, in addition to burial and rituals, are settlements that have been discovered from as far back as 6,000 years ago. There is evidence that the Celts lived n this area 3,000 years after the tombs were constructed. It is also known that the Celts entered the tombs because of the artwork on the stones in the form of Ogham. The Celts protected the keystones around the base of the mound of Knowth by piling soil and stones on them, thus protecting the magnificent artwork on the stones. At Knowth, the sun's rays shine through the passage twice on the same day at both the March and September equinoxes.

Dowth, another monument, is 280 feet in diameter and 47 feet high. Inside there are two passage tombs and an early Christian chamber. While under excavation, these passage tombs are not open to the public.

It is a phenomenal realization of the intellect and engineering skills of the people who built these monuments. When you consider the average life span at that time was 30 to 35 years of age. It is also very difficult to determine why the people chose to build such structures, and who is buried in them. It could be religious, political, or even scientific. Much is open to discussion.


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COUNTY OFFALY

COUNTY OFFALY is situated in the Midlands, offers bogs, meadowlands, and undiscovered pleasure.

Clonmacnoise is located at Shannonbridge, on the banks of the River Shannon. It is one of the most famous monastic sites. Clonmacnoise began as an isolated monastery founded by St. Ciaran in 545 A.D. It is an ecclesiastical site, with ruins of a cathedral, eight churches, and three high crosses, one of which is a carved 'Cross of the Scriptures'. There are two round towers - the O'Rouke Round Tower that was hit by lightening in the 10th century. The second, the McCarthy Tower from the 12th century, this is still in excellent condition. Also part of the ruins is a castle, two holy wells, and ancient cemeteries, in one of which the last High King of Ireland is buried, Rory O'Connor.

Irish chieftains, Vikings and Anglo-Normans plundered Clonmacnoise. Cromwell's forces devastated it beyond restoration. There are guided tours during the summer months; a video presentation at the Visitor Center, and an informative five-mile trail tour of the Blackwater.

COUNTY TIPPERARY

Rock of Cashel dates back a thousand years before St. Patrick. It was the stronghold of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland in the 10th century. The ruin consists of a large cathedral, ancient round tower, and Cormac's Chapel. It is situated on the top of a rocky hill. Bru Boru is the interpretive center at the foot of the Rock of Cashel. Along with the history of the area, the center incorporates folk theater, a craft center, genealogy site, and an information center. Guided tours are also available.

COUNTY TYRONE

The Ulster American Folk Park is located three miles north of Omagh, in Camphill. The Folk Park is an open-air living history museum and explores Ulster's links to the many famous Americans who trace their ancestry to the North of Ireland. The park is comprised of an indoor gallery with information on the causes and patterns of immigration. Outside are a variety of reconstructed buildings of 18th and 19th century Ireland.

In the 'old world' section the buildings were moved from their original location and rebuilt, many stone by stone. There is a Weaver's Cottage with a fixed loom and a Tullyallen Mass House, where Roman Catholics, during penal times (the penal laws restricted Catholics from practicing their religion), could attend a proscribed Mass.

The 'new world' section includes a variety of buildings constructed of logs by Pennsylvania settlers, a smokehouse, a multi-purpose barn, and a six-room farmhouse. There is also a full sized brig, the Union, which has been reconstructed to represent the arduous conditions, (dark, cramped, and smelly) endured during the voyage across the Atlantic. Throughout the park are costumed guides and craftsmen that add to the authenticity. Also on site is the Centre for Emigration Studies, an extensive research library. Plan at least half a day to explore the park.

COUNTY WICKLOW

COUNTY WICKLOW is often referred to as the "Garden of Ireland". County Wicklow has some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of Ireland. It has spectacular views of mountains, valleys, lakes and coastline. Wicklow is located just south of Dublin and makes for a wonderful day trip or overnight stay.

Glendalough is a 6th century monastic site that was founded by St. Kevin. It is nestled into the heart of the Wicklow Mountains and offers a truly spectacular setting. It has a stone tower that stands 110 feet tall, several churches, a cathedral, and many other monastic buildings, ruins and sites. There is a visitor center and guided tours are available.

Wicklow National Park is an unspoiled natural wonder with nearly 50,000 acres of raw beauty. A drive through the Wicklow Gap from Glendalough to Hollywood is one of sheer beauty.

Powerscourt is a beautiful estate with some of the finest gardens in Europe. It is also home to the highest waterfall in Ireland. Powerscourt has impressive terraced gardens with hundreds of varieties of trees, shrubs, flowers and plants.


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