Just prior to taking our first trip to Ireland back in 1967, my mother was expressing anxiety about flying since she had never been in airplane. Her arrival to the U.S. from England in 1953 was on the Queen Mary, a ship that is now retired and parked in Long Beach, California as a tourist attraction.
In an effort to ease my mother’s fear of flying, my father decided to take us to the local airport in Forty Fort, PA and get an introductory flight in a small 4-seat airplane. My mother sat up front, and my sister and I sat in the back. I still have vivid recollections of that flight and know that it influenced me to pursue my own pilot’s license some 20+ years later. My mother’s reaction was quite the opposite. She hated the small airplane that seemed to her like it was bumping along in the air like a cork on the ocean.
The most amazing thing about the flight for me was that I was able to look down from above and see my house and my hometown, and once I’d experience the earth from above, it became the way I began to visualize any place I visit. Experiencing a city from the ground can be confusing because it’s hard to recall how the city is laid out if you don’t always know which way you’re traveling. But in the air, there’s no mistaking it; you can see where everything is located and get a sense of the size and proportion of the area. Now when I visit a new city, I make a point of ‘visiting it from the air’ first, by using Google Earth, which allows you to simulate a flight over any location on Earth.
In a few weeks I’ll be traveling to Suzhou, China. I will land in Shanghai and travel by bus or rented car to Suzhou. Using Google Earth, I have already looked up the locations of the two cities, measured the distances between them and got a sense of the enormous size of the city of Shanghai. Although the cities are only separated by about 50 miles, I found that the airport is 20 miles to the east of Shanghai, and Shuzhou is to the west, so it’s going to take at least a few hours to get to Suzhou after landing. I had some advice from a co-worker today that the drive he had to Suzhou was quite nerve-wracking with the driver using the horn most of the way. I may try to take that trip outside of the normal rush hour.
Similarly, I used Google Earth prior to taking the European trip. I had hoped to retrace the routes to some of the same places we had visited in 1967 and needed to figure out how far apart they all were from each other. I knew we’d be traveling to from Shannon Airport to Nenagh first and then to Tubrid, just outside Kilkenny, and also to Waterford and Tramore. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they are only separated by distances of about 30 to 50 miles (as the crow flies). I knew that the roads between them were not straight highways and so it would take at least twice as long as the ‘mile per minute’ I generally allocate for travel on Interstate highways in the U.S..
Shortly after we arrived at John’s house in Nenagh, he had to meet with his architect, so he took us with him and dropped us off in Nenagh. It gave us a chance to take a self-guided walking tour around town. We visited the ruins of a Franciscan abbey, built in 1212. We also visited the Nenagh Castle, a 12th century structure that was undergoing some restoration work on the inside. Nenagh has a population of around 6,500 and is the largest town in North Tipperary. It’s a bustling little town with many shops lined up along its main street. Afterwards, John took us for a tour of a lot of homes in the area. We ended up back in Nenagh and had dinner at the Abbey Court Hotel. Later we visited one of those out-of-the-way pubs called the Carney Pub, a place frequented by Martin Sheen when he visits Ireland. Sheen’s mother, Mary Anne Phelan, is from a nearby area in Tipperary. The pub was tiny inside, but it had a nice crowd of people all of whom seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.
The next day, John took us for a tour which included a stop in Dromineer, a beautiful location on the banks of the Shannon River and we stopped briefly at a pub owned by a friend of his called the Whisky Still. There is also a very nice restaurant at the Dromineer Bay Hotel, which is where we’d being having dinner the following night.
On Saturday, John gave us a tour of Tipperary where we saw many beautiful views of the River Shannon, particularly around the overlook near Portroe. We eventually made it to the towns of Ballina and Killaloe, which was across the river in County Clare. Many of the houses that overlooked the Shannon River were spectacular. We were amazed at the number of homes we saw under construction and those that had been built in the last 10 years. Ireland is truly undergoing an economic renaissance.
Later that evening, we had dinner with my cousins at the Dromineer Bay Hotel. Dromineer is a beautiful location that was one of my Aunt Bridie’s favorite places to visit. The hotel’s restaurant has beautiful views of the River Shannon and the food is outstanding. Later, we stopped at a pub in Puckaun which is owned by my cousin, Pat. We had a great time there mingling with the locals listening to the live music.
After spending a few days with John, it was time for him to return to the U.S. and he needed to leave very early in the morning, around 6 a.m. to catch a 9 a.m. flight. We were schedule to travel to Tubrid that day, so we spent a little time washing a few items and visiting with my cousin Tom and his family where we got to see a hurling match on TV. I had seen local Irish boys hurling when I visited Ireland as a child, but had never seen a match on TV. It was quite interesting to watch since the game is fast-paced and requires tremendous skill. It’s a somewhat like a combination of field hockey and lacrosse, but the sticks, called hurleys, are flat and are used to balance the ball as the players run at full speed down the field. The hurleys are also used like a baseball bat to hit the ball through the air great distances so that accounts for the fast pace of the game. The goal is similar to a soccer goal, but it also has uprights similar to American football and you can score a point by hitting the ball through the uprights. Getting the ball under the crossbar and into the net results in 3 points, but it is protected by a goalkeeper so it’s much more challenging. The Irish are quite enthralled with the sport and we heard many references to it during our travels in Ireland. World Cup fever may have been raging through other European countries, but the Irish were fixated on the outcome of the hurling matches. After getting a chance to watch both sports, my vote is for hurling as being the more entertaining of the two.
The last time we visited Tubrid in 2003, we stayed with my cousin Lil Kellaghan, who has a B&B called the Cradog, which means ‘my little place’ in Gaelic. She and her husband Frank raised 6 children, all of whom are grown and living on their own and so they converted the space in their modern farmhouse into a B&B which they’ve been running for the past 10 years. Three of the rooms are ‘ensuite’ which means they have adjoining private bathrooms, and there’s another room with a separate private bathroom. The place is absolutely gorgeous and has b
eautiful views of the countryside in every direction. It also has a sitting room and dining room for the guests. There’s a country pub just a short walk down the lane. I’d highly recommend you stay at the Cradog if your travels in Ireland take you anywhere near Kilkenny.
On this visit we’d be staying a few nights at with my cousin Theresa at Tubrid House which is less than a mile from the Cradog. Tubrid House is where my grandfather, my mother, uncle, aunt and many of my cousins were born and raised. It has been in the Kennedy family for nearly 160 years. We stayed there for a week when we visited in 1967 and although it looks much the same from the outside, my cousin Paddy and his wife Theresa have done much updating to the interior as well as to the surrounding courtyard. It’s located right next to a 600-year-old castle which has been undergoing a restoration. The castle is currently surrounded by scaffolding and the mortar is being replaced to secure it so that it won’t collapse. On our previous visits, we had gone into the castle and did some exploring, but this time it looked like that wouldn’t be possible since the workmen were there each day. Despite it’s proximity to the Kennedy property, a neighbor owns the castle. It’s not apparent what the neighbor’s plans for it will be when the restoration work is complete. There is a similar castle a few miles from Tubrid called the Clomantagh Castle owned by the Irish Landmark Trust, and the interior has been retrofitted with electricity and running water and it is available for rental. We took a tour through it in 2003 and although it gets many points for its uniqueness, the atmosphere inside this castle tends to be somewhat dark and dank despite the copious amount of whitewash that had been applied to its interior walls. It costs around $1000/week to rent and sleeps 10. That’s not too expensive for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rent a 15th-century castle.
My cousin Lil invited us over to have dinner with some guests she was hosting so we’d get see her in action and to swap some stories with fellow Americans. We jumped at the opportunity. The Cradog is affiliated with a local group of B&Bs that can handle bus tours. The guests are split up among 3 or 4 B&Bs within a few miles radius and they get a chance to experience a stay at Irish farm house. This is a rarity on a bus tour since tour companies generally book rooms in city hotels. After spending several weeks traveling around Ireland and Scotland in 2003 by bus, we stayed for a few extra days to visit with Lil at her farm house B&B. I can assure you that the being able to sit and talk with a gracious hostess who grew up in Ireland will be much more memorable than any 4-star hotel you may experience in your travels. Staying at B&Bs is a great way to truly experience the culture and the people of Ireland. After having a chance to meet and talk with the guests who stayed at the Cradog, I found that they felt the same way…