One of the coolest experiences of my life thus far was traveling to Ireland with my youngest daughter, Heather. Not only do I cherish time spent with her, but the visit to this particular foreign land was incredibly enriching. It was in February, but we were lucky to have unseasonably warm temperatures and lots of sunshine. Even if it had been cold and rainy, the Emerald Isle would have been worth it.
We stayed at the Clontarf Castle Hotel just north of Dublin and were immediately inundated with Irish history. The 1,000-year-old hotel was comfortable and conveniently located near everything we wanted to do. Although we could have stayed in cheaper accommodations, it was well worth the expense to stay in a real European castle.
Just a short train ride away is the city of Malahide, Ireland, home of Malahide Castle. Situated in the center of 260 acres of expansive lawn and gardens, the structure is relatively small but its historical importance is huge. We stood in the large dining hall and were told about the Battle of Boyne in July 1690.
On the morning of that fateful day, 14 male members of the Talbot family ate breakfast there before leaving to fight the army of the Protestant King Willia, and none of them returned home. It was haunting to see many of their portraits on the wall of the great hall.
Another venue of historical and cultural importance is Glendalough (Glen-da-lock, meaning glen of two lakes). Heather and I joined an organized excursion there that headed south through the Wicklow Mountains to the sixth-century monastery of St. Kevin, patron saint of Dublin.
Our early morning arrival added mystery and magic to the place with frost covering the buildings and grounds. We walked on stone-lined paths through the most ancient of cemeteries to an old, one-room church and scattered other stone buildings. An impressive 30-meter tall, round defensive tower overlooked the grounds. When threatened by enemies, the monks would climb a ladder to an elevated door and then pull the ladder up behind them. Today it’s one of the top visitor attractions in Ireland and has even been used for movies such as the wedding scene in "Braveheart." Our particular tour also included a stop in Kilkenny, home of one of the best Norman castles anywhere.
Our trip to Ireland would not have been complete without visiting the beautiful city of Dublin and exploring its treasures. To move about the city, Heather and I bought tickets that were good for 24 hours on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
At one stop we visited Trinity College and the beautiful library that is home of the "Book of Kells" — an absolutely stunning book written by monks prior to 800 A.D. and containing not only the four gospels but other religious writings as well. Each day, one page is turned so visitors can see the colorful illustrations and lavish gilded text.
Another stop was at the Kilmainham Gaol, or prison. Built in 1796, it, too, played a significant part in Irish history but is now a museum. At its height, the prison incarcerated men, women and children without any separation. Some cells accommodated up to five prisoners, the youngest recorded being 7 years old. In May of 1916, 14 prominent members of the Irish rebellion were executed in the courtyard, which led to the Easter uprising and eventually Irish independence. I was overwhelmed by a lingering feeling of sacrifice when I stopped to see the cold cell of Joseph Plunkett and other rebellion leaders and then later stood on the spot where they were executed.
I would say that Ireland was one of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken in my life, and yet we just barely scratched the surface of this intriguing and picturesque land. Castles literally dot the land and there is always something of great interest around every incredible corner. The Irish people have the most vibrant spirit I’ve ever encountered abroad, and I can’t wait to go back.
Chris Hale is an aviation maintenance technician for a major airline who has traveled extensively with his family. In his spare time he writes fiction novels inspired by places he's been. Find out more about his books at www.Chrisahale.com