Ir­re­sistible Ire­land

Af­ter a trip to Ire­land in late au­tumn, this writer can con­fi­dently pro­nounce that none can re­sist the charm of the coun­try and its peo­ple.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By S. S. YOGA star2­travel@thes­tar.com.my

Vis­i­tors will find a hun­dred thou­sand wel­comes in Ire­land, where na­ture can be en­joyed in its glory.

THE most Ir­ish thing about me is that I share the same shade as Ir­ish coffee ( if you haven’t any idea what that is, let alone tasted it, you’re miss­ing out). And, dare I hope, have the same amount of ( ahem) spirit( s).

It’s weird that, since I was a young kid, I’ve had an affin­ity for all things Ir­ish, es­pe­cially mu­sic: U2, The Corrs, The Chief­tains, Sinead O’Con­nor, Van Mor­ri­son, Clannad, The Hot­house Flow­ers, The Cran­ber­ries, Snow Pa­trol ... the list goes on. Not for­get­ting all those tra­di­tional Ir­ish dit­ties that my feet would itch to do an Ir­ish jig to.

The beauty of this is­land is to­tally breath­tak­ing. So are the peo­ple’s warmth, cheer­i­ness, laid- back style and the ready ac­cep­tance of any­one, with­out any judg­ment – ironic, con­sid­er­ing their ap­par­ent self- dep­re­ca­tion.

And who can dis­pute their gift of the blar­ney? If you’re not con­vinced, af­ter eight days tour­ing the Emer­ald Isle on the Trea­sures of Ire­land trip with In­sight Va­ca­tions tour di­rec­tor Big Mike Doughty, you will be! The mists of the val­leys of the Ring of Kerry be­ing the “dragon’s breath” to “seven white horses sighted by a woman in one day be­fore night­fall en­sur­ing a mar­riage”, were amongst the many “facts” he wove.

Non- Ir­ish eyes are smil­ing

Our multi- na­tional band of me­dia mem­bers started and ended the tour in Dublin, Ire­land’s cap­i­tal. It’s a great city and seems to be on ev­ery pro­fes­sional travel site’s list of must- visit des­ti­na­tions. It’s a city of lit­er­a­ture, of the Book of Kells and of course Guin­ness ( the Guin­ness name is not just syn­ony­mous with the stout but also the fam­ily who has given much back to the coun­try). You get to see all this on the tour but much has al­ready been writ­ten about it so let’s ex­plore the paths less trav­elled in­stead – while head­ing down south along the coast on a cir­cu­lar route.

The ru­ins of cas­tles and monas­ter­ies dot the Ir­ish land­scape, most of which we spied from our tour coach. It speaks of the tu­mul­tuous and oft-time con­vo­luted past of the coun­try that its time­line in­cludes the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Celts, Vik­ings, Nor­mans and the English.

Our coach, ex­pertly “pi­loted” by Eu­gene, was a lux­u­ri­ous 40- seater with WiFi and am­ple legroom for “gi­ants” – some­thing you get with all In­sight tours. And daily “flour­ishes” like lo­cal choco­late served on­board, cour­tesy of Big Mike who likes be­ing com­pared to ac­tor Liam Nee­son. Some­times th­ese In­sight flour­ishes are en­joyed out­side the coach, like the best tea and scones I’ve ever had – at the Thatched Cot­tage Restau­rant just out­side Ca­her­siveen. And the

ginger cook­ies that the Ir­ish re­fer to as flap­jacks for some rea­son, from a cart by the road­side at the Ring of Kerry, was to die for!

The re­laxed start to each day meant we didn’t have to get up at un­earthly hours to be­gin our day – that was much ap­pre­ci­ated, too!

Our first big stop dur­ing the tour was the town of Kilkenny – no, not for the beer ( which is made by Guin­ness) but for a go at the spec­tac­u­lar na­tional sport of hurl­ing – and no, that’s not the act of throw­ing up af­ter one too many pints. This 3,000- year- old sport re­quires fancy skills with the hur­ley stick and the slio­tar ( the ball) and lots of strength and ac­cu­racy. We all had a go at it af­ter some quick coach­ing on the game ( and his­tory) from PJ Lani­gan who con­ducts The Kilkenny Way: The Ul­ti­mate Hurl­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence that in­cludes a tasty Ir­ish stew lunch at his pub.

Kilkenny’s team is the cur­rent holder of the All- Ire­land Se­nior Hurl­ing Cham­pi­onships ( which it has now won for a record 36 times) and we ac­tu­ally got to hold the pres­ti­gious Liam McCarthy Cup. How cool is that? The play­ers and coaches don’t make a cent from this game – it’s an am­a­teur game and played for the pas­sion of it.

Sights and in­sights

The trip was filled with in­sights and pre­cious mo­ments like this. The Rock of Cashel looked im­pres­sive from afar, and quite pic­turesque with cat­tle and sheep graz­ing in the fore­ground. Some restora­tion work was go­ing on in the area as we were be­ing told a com­pre­hen­sive his­tory of the place.

De­light at the struc­ture and the lovely rolling plains in the dis­tance gave way to sad­ness at the num­ber of grave­stones ( many of young chil­dren) that filled the area that spoke of a dif­fi­cult his­tory.

Who can for­get the “drive” through the vast Kil­lar­ney Na­tional Park, the first in Ire­land in a horse- drawn car­riage called a jaunt­ing car? The amaz­ing scenery and the sight of red deer, na­tive only to the area, is equally matched by John our jar­vey ( driver) whose gift of the gab en­ter­tained our group dur­ing the hour- long ride.

Much later, we set off on an hour­long hike through the park that in­cluded the beau­ti­ful Muck­ross House and Gar­dens and the calm and serene Torc Wa­ter­fall.

Be­fore that, we were treated to some of the most stun­ning scenery in the world ( well, I think so) on a 179km drive around the Ring of Kerry. It was dot­ted with quaint pretty towns full of char­ac­ter, like Water­ville, a favourite va­ca­tion spot of Char­lie Chap­lin ( where there is a statue in his hon­our) and Sneem, where we made quick stops.

There are quite a few stops for us to take in the views, in­clud­ing one called the Ladies View in hon­our of Queen Vic­to­ria, who, with her ladies- in- wait­ing, was very im­pressed at the sight when they vis­ited in 1861. There’s also a look­out point that takes in the whole of Kil­lar­ney Na­tional Park and the moun­tains that are part of the Macgilly­cuddy Reeks moun­tain range. ( My head is still swim­ming with all the mem­o­ries of those mo­ments that, hope­fully, my cam­era has cap­tured well.)

Pub- crawl­ing in Kil­lar­ney made for a nice cul­tural con­trast as lo­cals and tourists hap­pily danced away to the merry Ir­ish mu­sic where I spot­ted a Hugh Lau­rie look- alike play­ing the fid­dle. There seems to be hosts of dop­pel­gangers in Ire­land, for surely there was Ed­ward Nor­ton work­ing in the Guin­ness Brew­ery in Dublin, too.

Just when you thought there couldn’t be more such mo­ments, along comes the Din­gle Penin­sula and the Wild At­lantic Way. I could din­gle all the way and that in­cludes the stop at the town so named. How many myr­iad of ways and styles of stun­ning has been cre­ated for our view­ing plea­sure – from rough and rugged to gen­tle and serene to nat­u­ral beauty? The spec­tac­u­lar Cliffs of Mo­her made me want to keep com­ing back for more here ( par­don the bad pun). One hour was not enough to take in the won­der­fully setup Vis­i­tor Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tre and hike up the cliffs. I made it to only one side and rushed back to the coach all sweaty de­spite the misty, wet and cold day we were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. Then we made an­other short stop at the big­ger town of Gal­way.

Sa­ti­ated senses

The food was de­li­cious at ev­ery stop, no mat­ter the level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion of the dishes served. There was O’Con­nells Restau­rant in Don­ny­brook, Dublin, and the 19th Green – a tra­di­tional Ir­ish guest­house run by Freda Shee­han and her hus­band John, an award- win­ning chef – where we had a cook­ing demo, fol­lowed by some tra­di­tional Ir­ish dishes for din­ner.

Stays in some stun­ning lo­cales, like the Old Ground Ho­tel in En­nis, and what is re­put­edly the best lux­ury ho­tel in the world at the mo­ment, Ash­ford Cas­tle in Cong, fed all our senses.

Meet­ing real gyp­sies ( trav­ellers to the Ir­ish) and just spend­ing time with the lo­cals was truly sat­is­fy­ing de­spite miss­ing out on lep­rechauns and lucky four- leaf clovers. I did find my pot of gold through the céad míle fáilte, ( one hun­dred thou­sand wel­comes) the Ir­ish and In­sight gave me, and the friend­ships among my fel­low “trav­ellers”.

Pair your In­sight Va­ca­tions itin­er­ary with ex­clu­sive dis­counted air fares and sub­stan­tial sav­ings when you use se­lected credit cards. Con­tact their hot­line at (+ 6 03) 2091 9996 or e- mail visa@ cit. travel. Visit http:// visa. cit. travel for more info.

— SI­MON BOuChEr- hAr­rIS/ In­sight Va­ca­tions

From afar, the rock of Cashel looks stun­ning and peace­ful but it hides a painful his­tory.

— SI­MON BOuChEr- hAr­rIS/ In­sight Va­ca­tions

Go­ing on a de­light­ful ride on a jaunt­ing car through the Kil­lar­ney Na­tional Park.

— S. S. yOGA/ the Star

Din­gle is a colour­ful and charm­ing lit­tle town along the Din­gle Penin­sula!

3 ru­ins of cas­tles and stately homes are com­mon sights through­out Ire­land.

1 the ma­jes­tic Cliffs of Mo­her might be fa­mil­iar to Pot­ter­heads.

4

4 hur­ley sticks, slio­tars and the prize hurl­ing teams as­pire to, the Liam McCarthy Cup.

— Pho­tos: S. S. yOGA/ the Star

5 torc Wa­ter­fall is a pleas­ant break from steep cliffs and vast vis­tas.

2 Af­ter the ring of Kerry, there is Din­gle Bay that will leave you gap­ing.

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