Last updated on July 10th, 2023
Featured image: Get inspired with Ireland’s majestic landscapes, like the northern shoreline | Photo by goinyk on Envato
Ireland’s Landscapes, Legends and Laughter
By Sue Janzen, Contributor, Women Over 50
Ireland is famous for its ancient stories, myths and legends. Irish poet John O’Donohue calls Ireland’s landscape ‘the most ancient presence in the world’ and it’s not hard to feel that sentiment in Ireland. On my Globus Green With Envy tour, I was excited about the landscape, curious about the history and apprehensive about joining a tour as an independent solo traveller.
Ireland’s landscapes charm the imagination
Lush, rugged, untamed – Ireland’s landscape is the stuff my imagination is made of.
Over the week, the tour took us west from Dublin to the Aran Islands and back again to the city. Looking out the window while we drove, it took little effort to picture ancient peoples living in the still-existing thatched-roof cottages, raising their livestock or fishing the oceans while they eked out a living. Simple lives, hearth and home.
The drive up the Wild Atlantic Way on Achill Island boasted sheer-drop cliffs on one side of the road and rising rocky hills on the other. Sheep dotted the hills and climbed on slivers of ledges while ocean waves crashed against the rocks below. The howling wind added to the breathtaking experience.
The Cliffs of Moher were also stunning. If you’ve watched the movie ‘The Princess Bride’, you’ll recognize them as the backdrop for the Cliffs of Insanity. The massive rock rises from the ocean, running a length of eight kilometers (five miles) and standing at a height of 214 meters (702 feet) at the highest point. It’s hard to grasp the scale, even when you’re there!
Much of the landscape in Ireland is lushly green, as you would expect, but it wouldn’t be so without the rain. We had only one full day of rain and it resulted in one of my favourite memories from the tour. On the day we visited Kylemore Abbey near Galway, there was a steady, misty rain all day – the kind that would eventually soak through if you weren’t dressed properly.
Nestled in the heart of Connemara, Kylemore Abbey has been home to a Benedictine order of Nuns for the past 100 years / Photo credit Sue Janzen
A two-hour stop at the Abbey allowed me the opportunity to grab some alone-time. I explored the Abbey itself, then spent the rest of the time wandering through the gardens and pathways, imagining the ancient stories, myths and legends that Ireland is famous for. The rain that day felt mystical… and appropriate.
A peaceful view of the Atlantic Ocean from Achill Island, Ireland / Photo by Sue Janzen
Mythical legends entrance the soul
Throughout the week, Helen Lee, a veteran guide with 17 years of experience, gave me a steady diet of history and legends.
She told us that the shamrock is attributed to St. Patrick because he is believed to have used it as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity when he introduced Christianity to Ireland.
As we crossed the River Boyne, she told us about the fabled Salmon of Knowledge. According to legend, the first person to eat the magical fish would become wiser than all others. Finegas was a poet who lived near the river and was one of the wisest men in Ireland. He tried for years to catch the fish, without luck.
One day it was caught by a young warrior named Fionn who had come to live with Finegas. In preparing the fish for Finegas, Fionn burned his finger. Without thinking, he put his finger in his mouth, accidentally gaining the wisdom that Finegas longed for. Fionn went on to become a great leader and warrior.
Not all Irish stories are mythical. We heard about the more than 1.5 million adults and children who left Ireland between 1845 and 1855 because of the great famine. In Dublin, you’ll find statues on Custom House Quay to commemorate the tragedy. Statues similar to those in Dublin are found in Toronto on the shores of Lake Ontario where Irish immigrants landed, emaciated but full of hope. The impact of the famine was so great, more than 100 other memorials exist around the world.
We also heard about the women of the Aran Islands, origin of the cable knit sweater. The thick wool sweaters kept the fishermen warm on the ocean, but the cabled patterns had a sad and specific purpose. Each clan had their own design, the purpose of which was to identify bodies of fishermen who washed ashore after a tragedy at sea. Can you imagine the love, pride and fear women felt as they knitted the sweaters for their husbands and sons?
The Famine Memorial in Dublin commemorates the great famine from 1845-1849 which saw the population of the country halved through death and emigration / Photo by Sue Janzen
Connemara ponies graze in the mist at Kylemore Abbey / Photo by Sue Janzen
In Ireland, laughter feels ever-present. In the words of Canadian band, The Irish Rovers, ‘could have been the whiskey…’ there was plenty to sample! We shared meals, travel stories and life experiences. I took the time I needed for myself but was thrilled to spend time with such a fun, adventurous group of people.
In Westport, I explored Achill Island while others took an e-bike ride through the countryside or learned how to bake soda bread and scones. It was a hard choice for me because I would also have loved the baking option.
In Galway, the choice was between a historic walk followed by dinner in a pub and a food tour. Again, a hard choice! I went on the walk but heard wonderful things about the food tour. And back in Dublin towards the end of the tour, we could choose between going on a literary pub crawl or going to a cabaret. I was happy with my choice of a boisterous evening at the cabaret.
Sue had prime seat at the Irish Cabaret at Taylors, Ireland’s largest thatched pub / Photo by Sue Janzen
As I look back on my experience as an independent traveller taking a tour, I can make the following suggestions for others thinking of doing the same:
Make sure you take your alone time when you can. Sit by yourself on the bus, wander off where you have the opportunity, and choose to eat a few meals on your own.
Arrange for your own room if you can afford it. I know some women talk about making new friends when they share a room with a stranger, but I was grateful for the extra time on my own.
Stay open to interacting with your fellow travellers. Our tour included people of all ages and I found great joy in listening to the broad range of life experiences and travel stories.
Stay extra days after the tour if you can. I returned to Toronto the day the tour ended but really wish I had stayed another week to explore Dublin independently.
The tour gave me just a taste of Ireland and I will most definitely make a return visit!
Disclaimer: Sue was a guest of Globus on the Green With Envy Tour, an 8-day tour that starts and ends in Dublin. If you decide to look into this tour, make sure. you tell them you heard about it on JourneyWoman!
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