While I know that it is conventional to read guide books (or this blog) to choose what to see and do in Ireland, I have always found that going at things a bit slant has proven more enriching. Besides, you have a lot of dreaming to do in anticipation of your trip. Guide books will help you with logistics but they don’t necessarily nourish the trip dreamer in any of us.
For this reason I have chosen seven (non-fiction) books that will whet your interest and help build anticipation for a tour of Ireland. These are the books that I have chosen to help interpret what you are going to be seeing on your tour of Ireland. There is a genre of books that recount other’s tours around Ireland. They are very entertaining and I’ve enjoyed several of them. By all means read them when you have a bad case of itchy feet. But while these might help you be patient as you wait for you take off date, they won’t help enrich your tour around Ireland. For that reason, although there are a number of fun and well-written books they haven’t made the final cut on this list.
- The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit – Patricia Monaghan’s book is part scholarship and part memoir with an artful juxtaposition of ancient and modern Irish themes, places and spiritual sensibility. The reader will get well acquainted with how myth plays out in Ireland’s geography.
- Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends – Marie Heaney (Nobel Laureate Seamus’ Mrs) gives a succinct retelling of Ireland’s legends and myths. While Monaghan will give you a sense of place, Heaney outlines the story in full, which will greatly enhance your sight seeing.
- Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology - Poetry is intrinsic to Irish culture, but with so many really good poets you could assemble quite a library. An anthology is the answer, exposing the reader to a wealth of Irish poets, including excerpts from Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger. I particularly like this anthology because it includes Irish language poets in translation. The translations are done by the top flight of Irish poets – Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, John Montague and Michael Hartnett.
- Ever Ancient Ever New: Celtic Spirituality in the Twenty-First Century – Even if you are not particularly interested in Celtic spirituality, Whelan’s book is a great explanation of the Irish Celtic sensibility and how it has developed from megalithic times to the advent of St. Patrick. If you are traveling to a country like Ireland steeped in both spirituality and religion, even if you are an agnostic, your tour of Ireland will be greatly enhanced by grasping the principles that have guided life on this island for millenia.
- Complete Irish Wildlife (Collins Complete Photo Guides) – Ireland is mostly rural and you are likely to encounter unfamiliar birds, flowers, insects, etc. in your travels. This handy guide has a a complete flora and fauna with colour photographs to help you identify. If you don’t have this in your rucksack when you tour Ireland you are sure to regret all those unanswered questions! In the absence of a naturalist tour guide this book will be invaluable.
- To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings – The late John O’Donohue did much to explain and reflect on the preoccupations of Celtic consciousness with his best selling Anam Cara. This book will help prepare you for your trip to Ireland with a blessing. It will also acquaint the reader to all manner of practice Irish blessings for the conventional occasions as well as offering of way of seeing the blessedness of less welcome circumstances.
- Meeting the Other Crowd – The great Eddie Lenihan was a famed storyteller from County Clare. In this book, co-authored with Carolyn Eve Green, you will get initiated into the fairy culture of Ireland. Lenihan is steeped in the oral storytelling tradition and Green has rendered it to capture that oral telling of the faeryfolk. Well worth reading if you plan of doing some fairy hunting on your tour of Ireland.
All of these books will make good armchair travel experience. But while you are preparing for your trip to Ireland you can spend many happy hours getting acquainted with the culture that has been shaped by the land and the stories they have told to explain it all.
Bee Smith created Irish Blessings Tours to serve travelers to Ireland who want the unique and inspirational packaged for their group’s desires and needs. Bee seeks the source to manifest your dream Irish vacation according to your budget and time scale. She has a special interest in Fairy folklore, Celtic Spirituality and the Natural Heritage of western Ireland and Northern Ireland. In 2011 Bee became one of the first trained tour guides that act at ambassadors for the UNESCO designated Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Send her your dreams for your Ireland vacation package to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may have read about our Amazing Tribe of Fairy Cats. However, you have not yet been introduced to the little dog, which we latterly discovered is very much in tune with all things faerie. Little did we know that a Fairy Dog was about to be taken under the matronage of the Fairy Cat matriarch.
The little dog came in to our lives in quite a serendipitous way. And where there is whim and whimsy then you are getting closer to the fairies. He was found by a friend on a roundabout near Bundoran on New Year’s Day and he narrowly escaped being hit. This kindly person took him in once he ascertained with the Gardai that no one had reported him lost. Over the next three days it became clear that the puppy was profoundly deaf.
This is the final article in my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland series. And Z stands for getting your zzzzzzs! When touring Ireland sleep, rest and pacing yourself on tour is absolutely key to maximising your enjoyment of the sights, activities and people you meet. And if you decide to tour the Northwest of Ireland, with the purest air in Western Europe, be prepared for how unpolluted atmosphere work like knock out drops!
So pack your favourite PJs, some ear plugs, an eye shade and your favourite sleepy herbal remedy. Allow yourself a couple days to acclimatise to the new time zone. Allow yourself to see things at a leisurely pace. People watch. Get used to the new currency. Let your stomach curl with pleasure every time you hear an Irish accent and …EVERYONE is talking with an Irish accent! Gently ease yourself into a different culture. Pacing yourself while touring Ireland will pay off in maximising your pleasure over the days and weeks you spend with us.
For many North Americans a tour to Ireland may be a once in a lifetime trip and you want to pack in as much as possible over a fortnight or less. This is a mistake.
If you read this entire series you can see just about every item if your itinerary is planned with care. You don’t have to run rings around yourself trying to tour Ireland. By prioritising what you want to see you will begin to discover in this series that you can see many of things you want to see and do in Ireland are within a circular tour.
X is for the spot to mark on the map where you suddenly turned left and happened upon that hidden gem not in the guide book as one of the things to see in Ireland. So X in my A-Z of things to see in Ireland is that unknown factor, that surprise to quicken your pulse, that place or site that becomes a secret sanctuary or sacred place. In other words, be open to serendipity. Be prepared to be a bit flexible and brave enough to go a bit off itinerary. Ireland is a country where you need to to open to allow her to take her where she wants to take you.
It’s wise when planning your itinerary for a trip to Ireland to allow some ‘give’ so you can be open to that magical moment that may be the making of your tour of Ireland.
There are only a few more letters in the alphabet to go in my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland. We have travelled quite a way, ranging around many parts of the island of Ireland. So it seems fitting to mention the many Walking Paths that you can tread in Ireland. Along these way marked ways there are plenty of things to see and do in Ireland. Because they are often situated in spectacular scenery and national parks, you will experience many of things to see in Ireland mentioned in this series.
In my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland V is indisputably for the Vale of Avoca. This beautiful part of Irish countryside is very close to Dublin. For the time pressed visitor to Ireland with very few days for sight seeing, the Vale of Avoca can offer spectacular scenery along with the opportunity to see some early Christian sites at Glendalough. Personally, I do not feel that you get to know Ireland if you only stick to the cities. If you only have four days for a visit to Ireland you can have a leisurely visit to Dublin and the Vale of Avoca.
May you know love
spark and flair of youth’s longing
May you know love
steady flame of the hearth
May you know love
glowing embers of age
May you know love
ever changing constant
May you know love
Happy Valentine’s Day. I’ve written this special blessing for Valentine’s Day. Whether you have a partner or are single this blessing applies to us all regardless of relationship status.
My partner, Tony Cuckson, and I have been interviewed by Cavan Community radio as part of a celebration of love during Valentine’s week. We have had the privilege to explore this subject for nearly three decades. We met at a Poetry Circle so we included many of our favourites as readings during the broadcast.
The second half of the programme includes Tony, who hails from Armagh, singing one of my favourites “My Lagan Love” as well as our own musings on how relationships go through cycles and experience rebirth. If you are a lover of Irish traditional songs be sure to listen to his rendition. I know I may be partial, but sometimes it just makes me shiver to hear him sing it.
It truly is a blessing to have been able to and to continue to journey on the greatest learning curve in life. Love also introduced me to Ireland and quite independently of any love for a man I also fell in love with this land, each contour, nook, cranny and cove of it.
Arriving at the letter ‘U’ brings us up in Northern Ireland, where there are, of course, many things to see and do. In the ancient kingdom of Ireland Ulster was the Northern kingdom and included the six counties of Northern Ireland as well as Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan, which are in the Republic of Ireland. Of particular interest to North American visitors is the Ulster American Folk Park, which is about five miles north of Omagh on the Strabane Road, in County Tyrone.
I know, you probably thought that with my fetish for mythic and mystic Ireland that I would pick Tara to represent T in my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland. But I realise that you need to mix things up whether you are on tour or writing a blog about things to see and do in Ireland. Also, I have to confess that earlier in my life I had a serious crush on theatre. Also, for those of you interested in Irish heritage – the theatrical contribution to Irish literature is consistently high calibre. George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, J.M. Synge are part of the historic canon. Writers like Brian Friel are still with us and the younger generation like Sebastian Barry and Gary Owen.
What is so special about Ireland is its vibrant regional theatre circuit. In a country that would fit comfortably in the state of Pennsylvania (if you swivelled it horizontal that is) there is an amazing number of small theatre venues available for touring companies and amateur groups.