April 4-14, 2019
Rev. Kathleen McKern Verigin, director/guide
Paddy Downs, driver/guide
Adults 18+ – Land Package $2645.00 per person, double occupancy
(Travelers provide own air travel)
Thursday, April 4 – ARRIVAL (Bonus night in Dublin)
Travelers are encouraged to arrive Dublin a day early in order to acclimate. Enjoy a pre-paid bonus night at the centrally located Ashling Hotel. Overlooking the River Liffey, The Ashling Hotel is beside Heuston Station in Dublin. This 4-star hotel has beautifully decorated interiors, spacious rooms with free Wi-Fi, and a stylish bar. Take advantage of one of many Dublin Hop On Hop Off city bus tours. Dinner is on your own, followed by (if you’re awake!) live music at one of many traditional Irish pubs. The tour officially begins at breakfast on Friday morning.
After enjoying the first of many complimentary Full Irish Breakfasts, we will load our bags and hop aboard Paddy Downes’ comfortable and cozy bus—our traveling home for the duration of the journey. We’ll head north into the lush Boyne Valley. Our first stop is at the Brú na Bóinne Centre where we will visit Newgrange, the best known Irish passage tomb dating back 5,000+ years. It is here at the Winter Solstice that the first sunrays of dawn enter a small window, travel up a long, narrow passageway, to eventually illuminate the central chamber. There we will see three alcoves, many decorated with triple spirals and other ancient motifs. What will the spirals reveal to you?
After lunch, we’ll stop at the Hill of Slane, the area first inhabited in pre-historic times. In Christian history the hill became established as the place where St. Patrick lit the first paschal fire (Easter Eve) in direct defiance of the pagan kings at nearby Tara.
We’ll arrive late afternoon in Trim at our 3-star accommodations for the next three nights, Highfield Guest House. A family run hotel, the house was built in the early 1800s and was opened as a stately maternity hospital in 1834. It remained so up to the year 1983, making it 175 years old. (“Call the Midwife” fans will love the vibes!) After settling in, we’ll enjoy a complimentary arrival dinner.
DAY 2 – Saturday, April 6 – Trim Overnight: Trim
After a delicious home-cooked breakfast, we’ll roam the grounds and buildings of the renowned Trim Castle—just a short stroll from our Guest House. Standing at an important crossing point on the banks of the River Boyne – which gave the town its name coming from Áth Truim, ‘the ford of the elder trees’ – Trim Castle was constructed by the powerful Norman lord Hugh de Lacy in the 1170 and covers 7 acres of land. One look at Trim Castle’s stony outline against a dramatic Irish sky and storybook images of valiant warriors and timid monks springs to life. You might recognize it as a location for the epic “Braveheart” film starring Mel Gibson. Much of the interior of the castle was excavated in the 1970s, and more extensively in the 1990s.
After lunch, we’ll step aboard Paddy’s bus for continued exploration of the Boyne Valley, a region rich in heritage and history. Our focus this afternoon is the Hill of Tara. Though best known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, the Hill of Tara has been an important site since the late Stone Age when a passage-tomb was constructed there. Tara was at the height of its power as a political and religious center in the early centuries after Christ. Attractions at Tara include St. Patrick’s Well, sheela-na-gig, Stone of Destiny and Wishing Tree. Wishing Trees (aka May Bushes, Fairy Trees, or Rag Trees) are hawthorn trees where pilgrims tie ribbons to ask blessings from the local saints, deities, and wee folk. The hawthorn blossoms in May at the time of the Beltane festival of rebirth, now generally known as May Day. We’ll have our own pre-Beltane ceremony at the tree. What wish or prayer might you make?
We’ll return to Trim for dinner and evening on our own. Some may want to check out live music and enjoy a pint at James Griffin Pub. It’s a classic Irish pub whose motto is, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.”
DAY 3 – Sunday, April 7 – Trim Overnight: Trim
Today enjoy a leisurely Sunday morning on your own. After breakfast, roam the quaint streets of the village or take a gentle stroll along the banks of the Boyne River. Attend service at nearby St. Patrick’s Church, 9am or 11am, or in the evening at 7:00pm. This gothic style church has some of the most beautiful mosaics and windows. One window illustrates the beautiful “Our Lady of Trim” statue, and another shows St. Patrick preaching on the Hill of Tara. Even if you’re not Catholic, as one tourist put it, “There’s something about the Irish and their Mass. Their hearts are on their sleeves.”
After lunch, we’ll travel to the village of Kells. Once a royal residence for the High Kings of Tara, then a Norman Market Town where Hugh de Lacy lived, it became and remains a living example of early Christianity. Kells was central to the pre-Olympic Games of Ireland – the Tailteann Games, in legend dated to 1897 B.C. – and possibly a contributor to the ancient Olympic Games. Here was where the famous Book of Kells was completed and protected in this “City of God” for over 800 years. (On display at Trinity College in Dublin.) The shape of the village retains the monastic town that St. Colmcille, one of Ireland’s three patron saints, also known as Columba, fashioned in the 6th century. We’ll pay our respects at St. Columba’s Holy Well. Dinner and evening on your own. For night life, you may want to visit Sally Rogers Pub and watch Irish football. Paddy will likely join you!
DAY 4 – Monday, April 8 – Travel west to Co. Sligo Overnight: Sligo
After savoring another complimentary Full Irish Breakfast, we will load our bags and hop aboard Paddy’s cozy coach. We’ll travel west through Ireland’s soft Mid-Lands. The true beauty of central Ireland lies in the views of its quiet countryside of farmland, lakes, bogs and the occasional low hill. We’ll make a stop at Carrick-on-Shannon, enjoying a close-up view of the River Shannon. Sinann was a goddess in ancient Celtic mythology associated with the River Shannon which is named after her. It’s the longest river in Ireland, rising in northwestern County Cavan and flowing for about 161 miles in a southerly direction to enter the Atlantic Ocean via a 70-mile estuary below Limerick city.
After a short drive, we’ll arrive at Cosán Ciúin (Tranquil Paths) for a complimentary homemade lunch. Moya McGinley, visionary tender of the land, will be our host and private guide. There we will visit the young woodland grove of native Irish trees, sacred to our Celtic ancestors. Which tree will call to you? Later we’ll have an opportunity to walk the first Triple Spiral Labyrinth to be placed on Irish soil.
Late afternoon we’ll continue on to Sligo City Hotel, our home for three nights. After settling into our rooms, we’ll enjoy a complimentary group arrival dinner.
DAY 5 – Tuesday, April 9 – Sligo Overnight: Sligo
After our complimentary breakfast, we’ll make a short drive to Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. This is the largest area of megalithic tombs in Ireland and is also among the country’s oldest. Monuments range from 5,000 to 5,800 years old. Archaeologists have recorded over 60 tombs of which 30 are visible. A restored cottage houses an exhibition relating to the site. One tourist describes Carrowmore this way: “Fascinatingly mystical, spiritually challenging, historically intriguing.” We’ll enjoy a private group tour, with contemplation time at the stone(s) of your choice. Will one speak to you?
Our afternoon will be extra special with our private guide, John Wilmot of Celtic Ways at his home Carrowcrory, a thatched cottage and intimate retreat center, We’ll walk, in ceremony, his unique tree labyrinth followed by time to share about our experiences. After tea and homemade scones with fresh cream and jam, we’ll be treated to a 30-minute performance of Bards in the Woods, performed by John and Claire Roche, a renowned Irish harpist and singer. Perhaps one or two of us will perform as well? We’ll head back to Sligo town, with dinner on our own. There are a variety of Sligo pubs known for traditional music sessions.
***FREE DAY*** DAY 6 – Wednesday, April 10 Overnight: Sligo
Today is your opportunity to sleep in and set your own schedule. After a complimentary breakfast, you can roam the sweet town of Sligo, considered the capital of Ireland’s northwest region. It caters to tourists yet is also an everyday working village. You can sign up for a walking tour or visit on your own the mysterious Sligo Abbey. Through the Tourist Office, you may want to book your own tour to Maeve’s Cairn or hike up Knocknarea. Enjoy the small beach town of Strandhill to watch the surfers or experience a seaweed bath. There are also options for a round of golf or an afternoon horseback riding. Dinner on your own.
DAY 7 – Thursday, April 11 – Travel to Co. Mayo Overnight: Westport
After breakfast we will load our bags onto Paddy’s bus and head southwest into County Mayo towards Westport, our home base for the next three nights. We’ll make a brief stop at Knock Shrine where, in 1879, fifteen people from the village of Knock witnessed an Apparition of Our Lady, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, a Lamb and cross on an altar at the gable wall of the Parish Church. People travel from all over the world to offer prayers at this holy site. You may want to light a candle for a loved one, or for yourself. There are numerous souvenir shops where you might purchase a gift for a Catholic friend at home.
After a lunch stop, we’ll travel on to the award-winning National Museum of Country Life where amazing exhibits cover four floors. Discover the lives of our very recent ancestors (1850-1950) through agriculture, fishing and hunting, clothing and textiles, furniture and fittings, trades and crafts, transport, calendar customs, leisure and religion. Eye-catching displays include handcrafted harvest knots and wickerwork, spinning wheels and boats, traditional clothing, the hand operated machinery our grandparents used and even a life size blacksmith’s forge.
Later we’ll arrive at the luxury 4-star Westport Plaza Hotel where we’ll enjoy another complimentary group dinner. The of town of Westport is nestled at the southeast corner of Clew Bay, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of Ireland.
A particular feature of Westport is the incorporation of the river into the composition, contained for two blocks by low stone walls producing, on each side of the river, tree lined promenades with several stone bridges over the river Carrow Beg. For music lovers, Matt Molloy’s Pub is a definite point of interest for traditional music, offered 7 nights a week. Molloy is renowned as one of The Chieftans, a definitive Irish ensemble based on traditional instruments and classical orchestral principles. Perhaps Mr. Molloy will make an appearance?
DAY 8 – Friday, April 12 – Co. Mayo Overnight: Westport
After another hearty complimentary breakfast, we’ll hop on our bus and head east to Ballintubber Abbey where we’ll attend the daily and brief 9:00am mass. The strongest tradition is that the Mass has been said in the Abbey without a break since the year of its foundation in 1216. When St Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland in c.441AD, he founded a church at Ballintubber. The present Abbey was founded by King Cathal O’Conor. It is the only church in Ireland still in daily use that was founded by an Irish king. It was the romantic wedding site for Irish actor Pierce Bronson in 2001.
A tour of the grounds reveals the Stations of the Cross depicted by craggy stones. Across a grassy field, which might be shared with sheep, is a Holy Well where Patrick baptized his converts in the district. There is a stone alongside bearing the supposed imprint of the saint’s knee.
We’ll return to Westport in time for a leisurely free afternoon for lunch on your own at one of the numerous pubs and cafes, a stroll by the harbour, or shop where you’ll find everything from locally made fine art and crafts, to gift shops aimed at tourists. Evening and dinner on your own.
DAY 9 – Saturday, April 13 – Achill Island Overnight: Westport
Following breakfast, we’ll hop aboard Paddy’s bus for a day-long visit to Achill Island. It is known for some of the finest beaches in Ireland. (Perhaps you’ll want to wet your feet in the Atlantic Ocean—off Ireland’s west coast!) Achill is a special, mysterious and deeply healing place with a strong tradition of Sidhe (fairy) connections. Achill has a history of human settlement that is at least 5,000 years old. The remains of megalithic tombs and monuments suggest settlement by Neolithic man in the 3rd or 4th centuries BC. We’ll visit Kildavnet Tower, home of the legendary pirate queen Granuaile (Grace O’Malley, 1530-1603).
The Deserted Village at Slievemore consists of some 80 – 100 stone cottages located along a mile long stretch of road on the southern slopes of Slievemore Mountain. The area is a haunting reminder of times past. Hidden from the 21st century, this tranquil corner of a remote island is a perfect place for quiet reflection and remembrance. Dinner and evening on your own.
DAY 10 – Sunday, April 14 – Travel to Dublin Overnight: Dublin
After breakfast, we’ll load our bags onto Paddy’s bus for the final time with Dublin as our destination. We’ll stop along the way at the uniquely heart-shaped St. Brigid’s Well, Killare, County Westmeath. Located about 1/3 of a mile west of the mythological center of Ireland, the Hill of Uisneach, this holy ground is now dedicated to St. Brighid—patroness saint of Ireland, equal to Patrick and Columba. It was a place of worship long before Christianity came to Ireland. To the east of the pool is the scant remains of a church. Also present is the customary “rag tree” where we’ll offer our closing prayers. How shall you conclude your mystical journey to the land of spirits, saints and scholars?
As a side note, locals say this serene site was very popular with Michael Jackson when he lived nearby for a couple of years. Rumor has it that he wrote a few songs there that were never released. Will we hear a tune in the air from the King of Pop beyond the veils?
We’ll return to the Ashling Hotel in Dublin for one final night. It’s celebration time! A private shuttle bus will fetch us at the hotel and deliver us to The Merry Ploughboys Pub located on the outskirts of Dublin. Noted for their award winning Irish food, plus music and Irish dancing shows, it is only pub in Ireland owned and managed by traditional Irish musicians. The shuttle bus will return us to our hotel for a brief closing ceremony and bittersweet goodbyes.
Monday, April 15 – DEPARTURES
Although the tour is considered finished, you are still entitled to Monday breakfast. For those with early flights, the hotel graciously provides either a continental breakfast in the lobby or a breakfast bag to take with you. Travelers are responsible for all transports.
NOTE FOR THOSE TRAVELING ON TO SCOTLAND
The Highlands tour officially begins in Edinburgh at breakfast, Friday, April 19. You will have pre-paid for a bonus arrival night on April 18. Dinner will be out of pocket. Friday breakfast is part of the tour. You are responsible for arranging and paying for all transportations until the tour begins.
Rev. Kathleen McKern Verigin, Anam Cara Tours LLC