Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Things to do in Trujillo

Francisco Pizarro, who waged war on the Inca to win Peru for Spain, was born in Trujillo, the illegitimate son of a nobleman. A bronze statue of him astride a fiery steed, ready for battle (done by two American sculptors in the 1930s), dominates the pretty Plaza Mayor in the heart of the Casco V Viejo (Old Town). Trujillo's two other famous sons were Diego Garcia de Paredes, who founded another Trujillo in Venezuela, and Francisco de Orellana, the first European to explore the Amazon.

The Casco Viejo, perched on a granite hill above the modern district, is full of grand 16th-century mansions financed with wealth brought back from the new territories. Of particular interest is the Palacio de la Conquista, built by Pizarro's half-brother Hernando; it still contains busts of the explorer's family.

Check with the Oficina de Turismo for opening date. The 13th-century Iglesia de Santa Marta holds the tombs of some of the town's most prominent nobles, including Garcia de Paredes, and is also noted for its 15th to 16th-century Gothic altar; the church is open daily. Towering over everything is the impressive Moorish built Castillo de Trujilloa walk up to its ramparts at sunset gives a spectacular view over the town's rooftops. Open daily. No admission charge.

The people of Trujillo live much as they always has, tending sheep and goats and doing wash by hand. In the evening, the main square is an evocative place to sit and sip a glass of sherry before going on to dine at one of the town's several good restaurants.

Merida things to do

Founded by the Romans in 25 BC as Emerita Augusta, a colony for the emeriti (veterans) of the fifth and tenth Roman legions, Merida quickly grew to be the Spanish Rome, capital of the vast and powerful province of Lusitania. The Roman ruins are among the best in Iberia, with top honors going to the Teatro romano, a Roman theater built with seating for 6,000 by Agrippa, son in law of Emperor Augustus, shortly after the city's founding. In summer, classical plays and flamenco dances are performed here. Nearby is an anfiteatro romano, a Roman amphitheater that held 14,000 spectators.

The National Museum of Roman Art Merida

There's ample parking near the entrance. The Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, in a building forming part of the theater complex, not only is acknowledged to be the finest repository of Roman artifacts in Spain, but also has drawn kudos for its design. It incorporates a Roman road, discovered when the museum was being built in the early 1980s, and contains a superb collection of statues, glassware, pottery, coins, and mosaics.

It's closed Sunday afternoons and Mondays; admission charge. Two Roman houses near the theaters have been excavated, revealing an intricate water system and some fine mosaics. They're open daily, and charge admission. Other Roman remains include an exquisite Templo de Diana (Temple of Diana); the circus, used for chariot racing; the wellpreserved Arco de Trajano (Trajan's Arch); the Acueducto de Milagros (Milagros Aqueduct), the better preserved of two that served the city; and the 60-arch Roman bridge across the Guadiana, the longest bridge ever built in Spain. Information on the ruins is available at the Oficina de Turismo, located at the entrance to the anfiteatro romano. Closed weekend afternoons.

Merida's past as a Moorish fiefdom is best seen in the Alcazaba, a castle built during the 9th century using a Roman wall as part of its foundation. Inside this fortress, note the cistern, a fine example of sophisticated Moorish engineeringits construction assured the Moors a constant supply of water from the Guadiana. Hours are the same as for the Roman amphitheater; admission included in amphitheater ticket.

One last sight not to be missed in Merida is the Hornito de Santa Eulalia, a 17th century shrine in front of the church of the same name. The shrine is dedicated to a young girl who, according to local legend, was baked in an horno (oven) in the 4th century for spitting in the eye of a pagan official of the Emperor Diocletian rather than renounce Christianity.

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Thursday, 4 February 2010

The monuments of Ireland

A land of 10,000 tales and a 100,000 memories, Ireland is littered with cairns and forts, dolmens and abbeys, standing stones and high crosses, monastic hermitages and feudal castles, with the oldest dating back thousands of years. But though the earliest traces of early life here date from about 6000 BC, it was not until about 3000 BC that humans built on a scale large enough to leave memorials to themselves. Those that survive are tombs of a type known as court cairns long chambers divided into compartments.

The earliest structure that grips the visitor's imagination is the passage grave. Found in groups, each under a huge mound, these typically consist of a long passage leading to a central space onto which other chambers open on three sides, with a roof of large stones, one or more stone basins inside, and, on all the stones, great numbers of incised geometric motifs and even stylized human faces. The group in the Boyne Valley of County Meath, which includes the magnificent Newgrange, is striking.

Equally arresting are Ireland's great standing stones, or dolmens. Outlined against the sky, crowned by an enormous capstone, they were built in about 2000 BC, probably as tombs. Men in pubs call them beds of Diarmuid and Grainne, referring to the Irish king's daughter who, betrothed to the venerable giant Finn MacCool, eloped with the younger Diarmuid on her wedding night and slept in prehistoric tombs during a furious yearslong chase that ended with Diarmuid's death at the snout of an enchanted boar and the wayward lady's marriage.

Later, during the Bronze Age, at about the time the Celts arrived here, there were stone circles like the piper's stones of County Wick low, Where, it was believed, the little people played the bagpipes for dancers. Hill forts like Tara, the legendary dwelling of the high king of Ireland, came later, in the Iron Age, around 500 BC.

A hill fort's outer fortifications enclosed a large area, so the owner was certainly an important figure. Ring forts, of which there are some 3,000 scattered around the country, are smaller, ranging in scale from the Grianan of Aileach in County Donegal to the occasional odd shape in a field.

Christianity in Ireland

Christianity came to Ireland in the 5th century, and with it the nation embarked on an era of great building. Monasteries sprang up all over Ireland. Bearing little resemblance to their more modern counterparts, they consisted of simple clusters of stone huts and a sheltering wall, like those on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry and at Glendalough in County Wicklow. Round towers, also seen at Glendalough, were put up as refuge from Viking raids.

The devout also built crosses which at first were just cross-shaped slabs or slabs incised with a cross motif. Later came the increasingly more . ornate high crosses, which had geometric designs and even scenes from the Bible, with a circle around the intersection of the horizontal and vertical arms.

In the 12th century, Irish Romanesque architecture made its debut on the ecclesiastical scene. Examples like the Chapel of Cormac at Cashel, in County Tipperary, and Ballintubber Abbey, in County Mayo, show the distinctive signs: roundheaded doorways, fantastic animal and human masks in stone, with intertwining beard and tail, chevrons, and foliage decorating arches, doorways, capitals, and sometimes church windows.
The cathedral towns of Ireland

In the 13th century, Franciscans and Dominicans arrived with Gothic ideas in their saddle bags. In cathedral towns like Kilkenny, Kildare, and Limerick, many of the older parish church buildings still in use abound in lancet windows and other distinctive marks of the style. By the 15th century, the Cistercians had risen to the glories of Holy Cross in County Tipperary.

Meanwhile, a more durable class of fortress, the castle, was'developing. The Norman invasion sparked the creation of fortresses like Carrickfergus Castle, in County Antrim, and the round keep at Nenagh, in County Tipperary.

There was no stopping the masons and their masters of this period. Between 1450 and 1650 every family who was anyone built a castle. Very few of these structures disappeared entirely from the landscape, and some most notably Bunratty Castle in County Clare are in splendid shape.

Early architecture in Ireland

Whether ecclesiastical or secular, each type of building has its saga and its place in Irish history, and with a little imagination, they spring vividly to life when you visit them. Those listed below, in roughly the order in which they were constructed, include some of the most important and most colorful.

NEWGRANGE, Newgrange, County Meath, Irish Republic: Very few relics of the daily life of the people of the Neolithic Age (ca. 3700-2000 BC) survive in Ireland today; it seems as if all the creative energies of the communities of this period were directed toward the construction not of homes for the living but of monumental repositories for the remains of the dead, and the whole valley of the river Boyne, about 30 miles north of Dublin, is scattered with cairns, standing stones, and earthworks both large and small. Of these, Newgrange is the most impressive by far.

In fact, this passage grave ranks among the most important of its type in Europe, and scholars have spent centuries studying it. Literature of the ancient Irish links it to a mysterious personage who is sometimes called Oengus an Brogha (Oengus of the palace) and sometimes dubbed Oengus mac an Dagda (Oengus son of the good god); some archaeologists have suggested that Newgrange and similar tombs on the Continent were constructed for the important personages in groups of traders and prospectors who first migrated from Spain or Portugal around 4000 BC.

Certainly, they had a civilization far more highly organized than our widespread assumptions about our primitive ancestors would credit them at least if they are to be judged from the sophistication of the building and decorative techniques evidenced here.

HILL OF TARA, near Navan, County Meath, Irish Republic: Little but legend and a handful of earthworks and stones remain of the glories of Tara but of legend and conjecture there is plenty, and this 512-foot hill about 25 miles from Dublin, commanding a fine view of a vast expanse of lush meadows, is well worth a visit.

Already a significant burial place 2 millennia before Christ (as revealed by the excavation of one of the site's most notable monuments, the Mound of the Hostages), it ranked among Ireland's most important political and religious sites for almost 2,000 years. It became the center of priestly rulers even before St.Patrick came to Ireland in the 5th century and long served as a residence for anyone strong enough to make himself at least nominally High King of Ireland.

Tara enjoyed one of its most glorious periods in the first centuries after Christ, when the celebrated Cormac the Wise constructed the wooden palaces that are mentioned in some of Ireland's early literature. (It was his daughter who, though betrothed to Finn MacCool, eloped with Diarmuid O'Duibhne and gave rise to the wonderful stories about the lovers' flight from one end of Ireland to the other.) Later, after St. Patrick triumphed in a contest of feats with the druids of High King Laoghaire, whose authority the saint had challenged, the King allowed his subjects to be converted to Christianity (although he himself remained a pagan until his death).

Tara's importance declined until its abandonment in 1022. Relics of all of these eras can be seen today. The Mound of the Hostages (Dunha na n Giall), an early passage grave (ca. 1800 BC) with a l7-foot long corridor, covered by a mound that measures 72 feet in diameter, is at one edge of the large, circular Iron Age ring fort called the Royal Enclosure (Rath na Riogh), at whose center are two other earthworks the Royal Seat (Forradh) and Cormac's House (Teach Cormaic), where visitors will see a modern statue of St. Patrick and the 5-foot Iong chunk of granite known as the Stone of Destiny (Lia Fail). The latter, according to popular legend, would roar when the king being crowned upon it was acceptable.

Adamnans Stone is a 6-foot high chunk of sandstone bearing the incised likeness of a human figure perhaps the horned Celtic Cernunnos or a type of fertility figure known as a sheilanagig.

The Grianan of Aileach (the sunny place in the territory of Aileach), one of the most important antiquities in the northern part of the country, is among the most noteworthy. Perched atop 800-foot Gnanan Mountain, not far from Londonderry, this fortification measures about 77 feet acoss; the 13 foot thick walls, restored in the 1870s by the bishop of Derry to their height of I7 feet, contain galleries and guard chambers and enclose a series of stairway-connected terraces. The views afforded by the top look out over the blue reaches of loughs Foyle and Swilly, are glorious fully worthy of the O'Neills, the Kings of Ulster, whose northern branch made this fortification its base from approximately the 5th century AD through to the 12th.

Already badly battered In 676 during an attack by the southern O'Neills, under Finechta the Festive, the structure was finally destroyed by Murtogh O'Brien, the King of Munster, who, avenging the pillaging of his own residence, instructed each of his men to carry away a single stone of the fort.

The round shape has inspired the church nestling at the foot of the mountain at Burt, one of Ireland's most interesting modern structures. It was built In 1967 after designs by Liam MacCormick and Una Madden. Similar and equally impressive fortifications include Dun Aengus in the Aran Islands and Staigue Fort in County Kerry.

The earth mound that is the most immediately obvious feature of Newgrange, entirely man made, using alternate layers of turf and stones, is unusually Iarge 40 feet high and 300 feet in diameter; estimates put the quantity of stones required for the whole undertaking at 180,000 tons. Now covered with grass, the mound was originally paved with white quartz pebbles so that it glistened brightly enogh In the sun to be seen from afar (as indeed it does now, thanks to a careful restoratlon In the 1960s).

Inside, leading into the depth of the hill from the entrance on the southeastern frontage, is a 62 foot long, yard wide passage.

High enough to let a person walk uprght and lined with a series of orthostats, or upright stones, 5 to 8 feet high, It ends at a generally circular burial chamber, whose notable features include its beehive-shaped ceiling paved with overlapping stones (following a method of constructio found over and over again at Irish ruins of this period) and, adjoining the main chamber and giving the tomb's interior a roughly cruciform shape three recesses containing stone troughs or basins probably once used to contain the ashes of the dead. On the morning of the shortest day of the year, rays of sun shine directly up the passageway to the center of the burial chamber a design that required some sort of calendar to calculate.

The decoration throughout further confirms that sophisticated minds were at work. The ceiling of the north recess, covered with carved spirals, lozenges, triangles, zigzags, diamonds, and other shapes, is particularly noteworthy, as are the gigantic threshold stone, at the entrance to the tomb, and many of the orthostats.

Megalithic Stones Ireland

The fact that similar motifs appear on many other megalithic stones (and on Mycenean tombs as well) has prompted scholars to theorize that, far from being mere ornament, the designs, probably rooted in the pre-Mycenean civilization of the 3rd millenmum BC, are magnificent abstract representations of gods, goddesses.

GLENDAlOUGH, County Wicklow, Irish Republic: Nestled deep in the Wicklow Mountains about 30 miles south of Dublin, this valley of the two lakes is the beautiful setting for one of Ireland's important early Christian monasteries, particularly striking in May when the gorse is in full bloom. Born on the site where St. Kevin settled to renounce human love and live as a hermit during the 6th century, Glendalough, like many other Irish monasteries, was pillaged and sacked many times by the Vikings and assorted other marauders. Famous as a seat of learning, like Clonmacnoise, it was particularly vulnerable and, as at Clonmacnoise, the ruins are extensive: more than half a dozen churches, crosses, grave slabs, a priest's house, a round tower, and old wells.

The stone of which most of these are constructed, granite and micaschist, has chipped and crumbled over the centuries, giving the walls a rough texture and providing a fine medium for the growth of the pale, soft local lichen, so that the buildings at Glendalough have that particularly antique look that many folks imagine all ruins have until they find out otherwise.

It's certainly pleasant to spend a day here, poking around among the broken walls, wandering along the pathways between them, and admmng the glasssmooth waters of the upper and lower lakes. Especially noteworthy are the 7th-century cathedral, Ireland's largest pre-Romanesque church; St. Kevin's Church (popularly known as St. Kevin's Kitchen), with its round towerlike belfry rising up above a stone roof; the small, 12th-century Priest's House, perhaps originally a mortuary chapel or even the saint's shrine; the Reefert Church, around whose walls sleep many Leinster kings; and, farther down the valley, accessible via a narrow sylvan path, St. Saviour's Monastery, a 12th-century church probably built by Laurence O'Toole, former abbot of Glenda Lough, archbishop of Dublin, and Ireland's first canonized saint.

There are especially fine walks around the upper lake, which is picturesquely backed by the steep cliffs of 2,296-foot Camaderry and Lugduff Mountains, ribboned by the rushing Glenealo Stream and a waterfall.

ClONMACNOIS, Shannonbridge, County OHary, Irish Republic: Founded by St. Ciaran in the mid-6th century on a large, serenely beautiful site on a reed-edged curve of the river Shannon between loughs Derg and Ree, Clonmacnois has been plundered and burned by Vikings, desecrated by Danes, harassed by the Normans, and, much later, during the Dissolution, carried away, piece by piece. But until this consummate act of vandalism, it grew strong, flourished, and became the Oxford of medieval Ireland.

Fine manuscripts were created here, and some of the country's greatest scholars and intellects came here to live, pray, work, and be buried. What remains are the most extensive monastic ruins in Ireland: eight churches, two round towers, a cathedral, and a castle, as well as three high crosses, parts of two others, and more than 2000 12th-century gravestones vividly illustrating the many types of graves used in early Ireland.

Of all the structures here, the celebrated Flann's High Cross, carved with scenes of the Last Judgment and the Crucifixion, is exceptionally beautiful, and the Nun's Church, whose doorways have capitals crawling with fiercelooking beasts, has the most interesting story: This was where the pathetic Dervorgilla retired in penance after eloping with Dermot MacMurrough, the King of Leinster thereby setting off the Norman invasion.
Rising in lonely tranquillity above the lush green landscape, the ruins possess an air of peace and dignity, as befits a national treasure.

ROCK OF CASHEL, Cashel, County Tipperary, Irish Republic: Even in Ireland's earliest days, before any fortresses or cathedrals or castles were built atop this chunk of carboniferous limestone, the Rock must have looked a bit unreal, rising precipitously a block of slate gray above the surrounding rockstudded green plains. Now, capped by the spare and broken remains of structures once frequented by saints, kings, and bishops, the Rock provides a visual experience that is, quite simply, one ofIreland's most stupendous. The long time capital of the Kings of Munster, the Rock was visited In 450 by St. Patrick, who baptized King Aengus and his brothers.

Later, Brian Boru, who defeated the Norsemen in the Battle of Clontarf near Dublin in the 10th century, was crowned king here, and, though it stayed in the hands of his descendants, its political importance declined as its ecclesiastical significance grew; in 1101, it was presented by Brian's grandson, King Muirchertach, to the church, which is responsible for most of the buildings in the tightly grouped complex seen on the Rock today. These are as impressive when viewed at close range as they are from afar.

Dominating the group is the cathedral, begun in the 13th century and abandoned in 1749. The central tower offers fine views into the distant mountains and to the Devil's Bit the mountain pass said to have been created when the Dark Angel took a large bite. (The size of the Rock is said to match the void in the mountain exactly.)

A very well-preserved round tower, probably from the 10th century, stands at the corner of the cathedral's north transept; and the massive, rectangular, three-storied archbishop's palace, honeycombed with passageways to explore, adjoins the west end of the cathedral's nave, which was never completed. Nearby is the newly restored 15th-century Hall of the Vicars Choral, used to house laymen who participated in the chanting of the cathedral's services and now home to the 12th-century Cross of St.

Patrick, which was recently transferred to this site. Tiny Cormac's Chapel, wedged into a corner between the cathedral's choir and its south transept, is especially interesting. Built in 1127 by Cormac MacCarthy, the Bishop of Cashel and the King of Desmond (in the realm created after a defeat by the King of Connaught divided Munster in half), it is considered by many to be the nation's best example of the Irish Romanesque style, and volumes have been written tracing its origins.

Visitors are often most impressed by the elaborate carvings, the ribbed vaulting, twisted capitals, and richly embellished blind arcades; the tympana (the surfaces between the arch and the lintels) surmounting the south door through which visitors enter today, and the far grander north door, through which worshipers gained access to the nave until the construction of the cathedral, are strikingly beautiful.

The lions and centaurs seen here are even more exotic than the human heads that peer out from around the chancel.After completing a tour, don't fail to see some of the older structures in Cashel proper.

BALLINTUBBER ABBEY, Ballintubber, County Mayo, Irish Republic: The site of this Augustinian community has long been important; tradition tells us that St. Patrick baptized local peasants with water from its well. Later, the monastery became the departure point for pilgrimages to Croagh Patrick. Now it is noteworthy because Mass has been said in its church ever since the community's founding by Cathal Crovdearg O'Conor, the King of Connacht, for the Canons Regular of St. Augustine in 1216 despite the suppression of the abbey under Henry VIII and the depredations of the Cromwellians in 1653. That there has been no interruption in religious rites for over 760 years makes the church unique in the English-speaking world, and, in addition to its special history, it is also an exceptionally handsome structure.

Thanks to sensitive restoration work begun on the initiative of a former priest, Father Egan, and finished in 1966, a new wooden roof was constructed for the nave and the interior walls whitewashed in the ancient fashion, so that the church looks much as it must have upon its completion.

The carving around the three lancet windows in the gable and on the capitals of the chancel exemplifies the best work of a school of talented late Romanesque carvers who worked in the province of Connacht in the early 13th century after the rest of the country had adopted the Gothic style; and the Augustinians, who were more permissive than other orders, allowed the artists more latitude in their designs which the results reflect. The wonderfully monstrous snakes twined around each other on the capitals between the triple roundheaded window in the front of the church (to see them in those distant gloomy recesses requires field glasses) and the grotesque creatures creeping along the corbels that uphold the chancel's ribbed vaulting are just two examples.

Nearby is the well where St. Patrick did his baptizing, as well as the attractive cloisters reconstructed from the ruins of the 15th-century originals with the aid of fragments that came to light in the course of archaeological excavations in the 1960s.


There is so much to see and do in Ireland that visitors should take their time to explore this intriguing and diverse land. The best and most economical way to get around Ireland is to hire a car from the airport. Airport car hire in Ireland, including Dublin Airport, Shannon Airport, Knock Airport and Cork Airport can be pre-booked before you travel to save you from delays and hassle when you arrive in Ireland.

MELLIFONT ABBEY, Drogheda, County Louth, Irish Republic: Near the banks of the narrow river Mattock, 6 miles west of Drogheda, are the meager, but moving and exceedingly graceful, remains of this abbey, Ireland's first of the Cistercian order. There are ruins of rounded chapels in the transepts of a church of continental European design, a fine 2storied chapter house with a handsomely groined roof in the Norman style, a tall, massive gate house, and other interesting finds, including a crypt under the abbey church, unusual for a structure built in 12th-century Ireland.

The whole complex, reputedly commissioned by St. Bernard of Clairvaux and consecrated with great pomp and circumstance in the presence of a papal legate in 1157, initiated a program of reform that quickly took hold and sprouted daughter establishments all over Ireland. At the time of the Dissolution, the abbey was acquired by Edward Moore, and from him it was passed on to the Balfours of Townley Hall, who never lived here. A century ago it was used as a piggery.

HOLY CROSS ABBEY, Thurles, County Tipperary, Irish Republic: Ireland certainly has no shortage of ruined abbeys, their gray silhouettes standing stark against the sky. But this one, on the shores of the river Suir, is among the country's most beautiful and best preserved. Founded in 1169 by Donal O'Brien, the King of Thomond, on the site of an earlier Benedictine property, it came into possession of a fragment of the True Cross that Pope Pascal II had given to the founder's father, Donogh O'Brien, the grandson of none other than Brian Boru, in 1110.

Because of the presence of this relic the monastery quickly grew, nurtured by gifts brought by the pilgrims who came in multitudes in the 15th and 16th centuries. The glory of the abbey today is its church, which was re-roofed with Irish oak and slate and otherwise restored for public worship beginning in 1971. It has magnificent stone carvings, lively Flamboyant traceries, an elaborately groined roof, and handsome windows and arches, along with one of the few wall paintings to be found in any Irish church.

(As befits the complex's setting in Tipperary's famous sporting country, the mural depicts a hunting scene.) The chancel, with its ribbed vaulting and fine east window, is considered to be among the best examples of 15thcentury architecture in Ireland.

CARRICKFERGUS CASTLE, County Antrim, Northern Ireland: Along with Trim Castle in County Meath, Carrick fergus Castle remains the mightiest symbol of the Norman presence in Ireland after the invasion of 1169. Situated strategically on the shores of Belfast Lough, it is one of Ireland's strongest castles, and its name repeatedly crops up at a number of important junctures in Irish history. Founded in 1180 by John de Courcy, the first Norman Lord of Ulster, it was besieged in 1210 by King John of England, who feared the rising independence of his Norman barons.

A century and a considerable amount of construction later, it fell to Robert the Bruce, whose brother Edward had invaded Ireland from Scotland in 1315, but it was returned to the Crown with the defeat of the Bruces a few years later. For nearly 3 centuries, it existed in comparative quiet and increasing decay. Then in 1690, William of Orange landed here during his campaign to defeat the Stuart kings for the possession of Ireland; some 70 years after that, it was taken by a French expeditionary force. In 1778, the American John Paul Jones, captain of the Ranger, defeated the HMS Drake, which was moored beneath the castle.

In the 18th century, the castle was used as a prison for United Irishmen and others. Visitors enter the impressive structure through a gate flanked by two rounded towers and then proceed through the outer ward past a handful of 16thcentury storehouses into the middle ward. Adjacent to the middle ward, the inner ward is dominated by the squarish keep 5 stories, about 90 feet high, 56 feet across, and 58 feet deep.

Inside the 8 foot thick walls is a stairway that climbs from the ground level (where there is an early 20thcentury steam engine and an antique wooden dugout canoe) to a group of military exhibits on the floor above and into the great chamber, a spacious room with large windows. Also worth a visit are the walled town's handsome late 18th century Town Hall and its Church of St. Nicholas, which dates from the 12th and 17th centuries and houses a not to be missed monument to Sir Arthur Chichester, who built the town walls and figured importantly in the establishment of modern Northern Ireland.

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Fairs and festivals in Ireland

Feis and Fleadh: The Best Festivals With such a wealth of talent in so many fields, it's hardly surprising that Ireland should be blossoming with festivals. What is surprising is that, without ever depending on having warm and sunny summer weather, they take place virtually yearround and last anywhere from a day or a week to a month or two. Some are oddball events devoted to strawberries or the arcane mysteries of the uilleann (elbow) pipes, a type of bagpipes that use the elbow as a bellows to pump air.

Others are rooted in the European tradition of street musicians, buskers, and parades. Lisdoonvarna, in Clare, has a matchmaking festival in September, and Belfast an agricultural exhibition in May. There are rallies and angling competitions, horse shows and country fairs, and people stand around in their town's main square listening.

Listening to bands and ballad singers, meeting neighbors they might not have had a proper chance to speak to since the previous year's event. There is a very good reason for this abundance of festivals: During festival times, all bars are allowed to stay open later than usual (though in the cities, late night drinking, that great source of Irish joy is confined to a single appointed place). Consequently, the atmosphere is usually jolly, and there is generally a feeling that something is actually happening.

Music festivals in Ireland

Music festivals are abundant, though it should be said that some kind of music, traditional or popular, jazz or rock is part of every Irish festival worthy of the name. Cork holds an International Jazz Festival annually in late October; Dublin holds a Festival of Music in Great Irish Houses every June; and each year, there's usually a major rock musIc event held outdoors in a natural amphitheatre on the sloping banks of the river Boyne at Slane Castle, in County Meath, not far from some of the country's greatest archaeological treasures.

In addition, since Ireland is the home of U2, and a host of other international musical heavies, visitors might catch the latest planetary sensation doing a gig at a sports stadium in the provinces or at the Point theatre and Royal Dublin Society in the capital.

Rock events, in any case, are held mainly in June and July and can, if the weather is good, be very enjoyable. The same goes for the kind of event known in Ireland as afleadh cheoil (festival of music), which convenes almost every sumer weekend somewhere in Ireland. The festivals manage an extraordinary combination of 1960s bonhomie and the long-standing Irish tradition of playing musIc at fairs.

Whether it be the biggest of the breed, the All-Ireland Festival (the Fleadh Cheoil nah Eireann), which generally takes place the fourth weekend in August, or one of the smaller affairs, the experience is fairly unbelievable. Thousands of people, young and old, take over the host town. Guesthouses and hotels don't have a bed to spare, ordinary homes turn into lodging places, and the young put up tents. People drink in the streets, and day and night the music goes on and on.

Many of the best intepreters of Irish traditional music and dance show up for performances and competitions alike (so it is not all just drinking and carousing). The size of the throngs who come to listen and take part demonstrates once again how Irish traditional music has grown in importance and popularity over the last decade.

Dublin Airport car hire

If you plan to arrive at Dublin Airport, book a hire car to pick up from the airport before you travel. This will save you time and money when you arrive, and enable you to drive around the country to find the best Irish festivals being held in Spring or Summer.

When attending an Irish festival or fleadh. it is sensible to buy a program. But buy It as a souvenir, a reminder of the event attended, an aid to identifying some featured celebnty, even a place to take notes.
In certain Circumstances, the greater part of the attendance may decamp to another town in pursuit of music, or sImply, as they say in Ireland to explain doing practically nothing, for the crack.

FESTIVAL OF MUSIC IN GREAT IRISH HOUSES, near Dublin, Irish Republic: At this event, hear the best singers in stately Killruddery, in County Wicklow, just outside Dublin (described in Stately Homes and Great Gardens). Or enjoy a Handel opera in the beautifully restored Royal Hospital, at Kilmainham in Dublin.

Or hear the New Irish Chamber Orchestra in splendid Castletown House, a mere carriage ride from Dublin for the 18th-century magnate who built it. This festival doesn't just want to sell tickets it wants to provide music lovers with an opportunity to enjoy the period architecture, the damask curtains, a cool glass of wine in the paved hall during the interval, and the perfumes of the herbaceous border laid down by her ladyship years before.

FLEADH CHEOIL NA EIREANN, varying venues, Irish Republic: The All-Ireland Festival is the culmination of the traditional music year in Ireland. Staged In a different town each year, it brings great numbers of Ireland's musicians and singers together for 3 days to compete, to judge, to listen, and above all, to play and sing in concert halls, pubs, car parks, squares, and streets, to audiences numbering in the tens of thousands.

Total informality and sheer physical stamina are the order of the day.
Visitors are likely to find themselves footing out a handy polka on the macadam surface of some remote main street to fiddle music provided by a local doctor seated on an upturned beer keg. Don't worry they'll never believe it back home anyway!

FLEADH NUA, Ennis, County Clare, Irish Republic: A little more formal than the clamorous jollifications of the All-Ireland Festival, from which it sprang, this late May event showcases Irish musicians, dancers, and singers in a pretty little inland town with some nice Georgian houses and a ruined friary just a few miles down the road from Shannon Airport. Details: Minnie Baker, Fleadh Nua Office, Crusheen, County Clare, Irish Republic.

GALWAY INTERNATIONAL OYSTER FESTIVAL, Galway, County Galway, Irish Republic: This western seaboard city was colonized in the 16th century by Elizabethan Planters, but, in addition, the surrounding bays have always been famous for their oysters and scallops, and in recent years local agencies and fishing cooperatives have actually farmed them. So it's only appropriate that the big annual wing ding here, traditionally held during the last weekend in September, continues to attract thousands of visitors each year.

After all the cultural festivals, this is the place to come and relax. The festival begins with the Irish Oyster-Opening Championship, followed a couple of days later by the World Oyster Opening Championship, which draws participants from around the globe. Throughout the festival, yacht races, golf competitions, and other festivities take place. To conclude all these activities, head for the pubs of Clarenbridge, where many a tasty bivalve slips down an eager throat on a stream of foaming stout to the accompaniment of terrific Irish brown bread and sweet butter. Or take a boat or plane to the Aran.Or explore the city: Tudor doorways and coats of arms are still visible on many streets.

GUINNESS JAZZ FESTIVAL, Cork, Irish Republic: A magnificent razzle for the those passionate about their upbeats and downbeats, this popular event attracts such international luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald, the Heath Brothers, and Cleo Laine, and together with a circle of local swingers, they keep the joints jumping on both banks of cork's stately river Lee. Don't expect to get too much sleep, and try to book the more important events in advance.

KILKENNY ARTS WEEK, Kilkenny, County Kilkenny, Irish Republic: Established enough to have acquired a roster of unofficial goings-on known here as a fringe, this event, held at the end of August or the beginning of September, convenes in one of the most pleasant and prosperous of Irish towns, with the added advantage of several very comfortable hotels and a location that makes it feasible to drive down from Dublin (a matter of a couple of hours), have a drink in The Marble City or Tynan´s Bar, catch a lunchtime concert, browse through the arts and crafts exhibitions, see the city's many interesting sights, attend an evening concert in acoustically excellent St. Canice's Cathedral, and then, for those who are not yet worn out, drive back to Dublin. Although many writers poets Robert Lowell and Ted Hughes among themhave read their work here, music is the main thing, and many of the performers are internationally known.

LISTOWEL WRITERS' WEEK, Listowel, County Kerry, Irish Republic: Listowel is the chief town and center of an area distinguished by its writers, among them playwright John B. Keane, who runs a pub here, the short story writer Brian MacMahon, and the poets Brendan Kennally and Gabriel Fitzmaurice, who are the presiding spirits of this increasingly popular and enjoyable festival usually held during late May or early June.

They hold workshops in drama, poetry, and fiction writing for the interested and aspiring, plays are produced by authors new and old, books are launched, and writers give lectures on and readings from their own works and those of others.

Yet the atmosphere is anything but academic. Among the musical concerts, art exhibitions, book fairs, and poster showings is the John Jameson, Humorous Essay Open Competition (first prize: a cut-glass decanter full of Joyce's favorite whiskey). At this event, the main purpose is enjoyment and people have been known to engage in the pursuit there-of all night. The pubs are friendly, and there's also an official club where a band plays dance music, and the assembled writers, aspiring writers, and other attendant festive spirits when not drinking leap about the floor.

ROSE OF TRALEE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL, Tralee, County Kerry, Irish Republic: Nowadays, nobody takes the competitive element of this beauty contest with a difference too seriously, but young women still come from all over the world at the end of August or early September to vie for a Waterford crystal trophy and the title Rose of Tralee, first made famous by tenor John McCormack. But this 6-day event goes beyond McCormack and, as a sort of Irish Mardi Gras, provides an extraordinary range of entertainment, from donkey and greyhound races and tugs of war to fireworks, brass band concerts, performances of traditional USIC, cabarets, and much more.

At any given moment, it might be possible to find four or five acts going on in different parts of the town. People roam the streets from early morning until late at night, and the Guinness flows like a flood. There's always something happening, and most of it is free. Nearly 100,000 attend.
ST. PATRICK'S WEEK, countrywide, Irish Republic: Irishmen and Irishwomen by birth, ancestry, or natural conviction descend on the Emerald Isle to celebrate the 17th of March with a week of holiday fun.

In Dublin, there are concerts of music and dance in St. Stephen's Green, Gaelic football and hurling matches, an annual dog show hairy with tradition, and the biggest parade the capital can muster with foreign and local brass bands, silver bands, fife and drum bands, pipe bands, and accordion bands, competitive exhibits on foot and on huge floats, Irish dancers in battalions, Irish and American majorettes, antique cars, and 18th-century ceremonial coaches bearing lord mayors dripping with gold chains and driven by solemn fellows in tricorn hats, not to mention legions of happy visitors, almost everyone of them greenhatted and beflagged.

It's a great sight, and every child in Dublin exercises his right to attend, festooned with shamrocks and round-eyed with delight. All of Ireland's other villages and towns do as much as they can of the same program and many have their parades on the Sunday after the big day to give the citizenry the chance to do the whole thing not once but twice. It's March often wet, cold, and windy. But most of the time visitors don't notice the weather, even if they forget their waterproofs.

WEXFORD FESTIVAL OPERA, Wexford, County Wexford, Irish Republic: In the latter half of October, when the nights get long and cold, this harbor town comes alive with an event that, from a social point of view alone, is probably one of the most enjoyable in Ireland, filling the town's narrow winding streets with opera lovers from all over the world. The festival's long drawing card is the opera usually two seldomperformed works by well known composers and one contemporary opus. Ticket prices are low, even by European standards, and performance quality is very high, as it has been since the festival's inception in 1951. Talented newcomers often use Wexford to launch their careers, and many well known singers (among them Frederica von Stade) have sung here.

Much of the backstage work, the ushering, and ticket selling is done by volunteers, and at least one member each of most local families is directly involved in the festival. As a result of such participation, this otherwise very elite event has become very public and popular. What makes it really special, though, is the setting a tiny opera house that seats only 446, crouched on a capillary of a side street plus a general feeling of style and opulence.

Among the broad range of events offered are concerts, recitals, and exhibitions and readings at the local arts center: There are also singing competitions in pubs and a window display competition that gets butchers, bakers, grocers, and others in on the act. Rounding out the roster are theatre presentations, lectures, walking tours, flower shows and art shows, and other events. To add to the glamour, several of Wexford's public buildings, including a few designed by Pugin, are floodlit for the duration.

WILLY CLANCY SUMMER SCHOOL,Miltown Malbay, County Clare, Irish Republic: Following the early death of the great piper Willy Clancy, a delightful man, his friends decided that musicians particularly pipers should come together every year in July in his memory to play, teach, and learn the pipes not hearty warpipes but the cunning, sweetly toned little uilleann, traditional and unique to Ireland.

It is an instrument that lacks the shrillness of Scottish warpipes and has a wide melodic variation. It's easy to understand the Irish wag's remark about how the Irish exported bagpipes to Scotland and the Scots haven't yet caught on to the joke. Old and young, American and Irish, novices, experts who can pipe their listeners into a trance, and wildly diverse others jam the pubs, and the music goes on and on.

Come closing time, the doors are locked so that no new merrymakers may enter, but those present remain as long as they can stay awake.

BELFAST FESTIVAL AT QUEEN'S, Belfast, Northern Ireland: One of the two biggest cultural events in the United Kingdom (the other is the Edinburgh Festival), this November event has, since its beginnings in the early 1960s, created excitement on the cultural scene that even the troubles have not been able to undermine. Although it covers the entire spectrum of the arts, the emphasis traditionally has been on classical music. But the jazz and film programs are excellent, and folk and popular music are well represented, as is a spectrum of drama, opera, and ballet, with visiting companies from the Republic and the rest of Europe.

Superstars like Cleo Laine and Dame Janet Baker, James Galway and Yehudi Menuhin, and Billy Connolly and Michael Palin have performed here. The setting is the Victorian campus Of Queen's University; concerts are also presented in the Grand Opera House, the Ulster Hall, and the Arts, Lyric, and Group theatre.

CORK INTERNATIONAL CHORAL AND FOLK DANCE FESTIVAL, Cork, County Cork, Irish Republic: This event takes place annually at the beginning of May. Choirs and folk dance teams from all over the world participate, and each year a number of choral works are commissioned from distinguished composers.

DUN LAOGHAIRE SUMMER FESTIVAL, Dun laoghaire, County Dublin, Irish Republic: During the last week in June, this prosperous and well-kept old borough 6 miles from Dublin expresses its essentially Victorian style with art exhibits and musical soirees in the Maritime Institute (High St.), local tours and trips to nearby Dalkey Island, a ball, a regatta, and everything from sea chantey concerts to Punch and Judy shows. Dun Laoghaire's popular harbor is jammed with boats and yachts.

PAN CELTIC WEEK, Killarney, County Kerry, Irish Republic: Scots, Welsh, Manx, Bretons, Basques, their kin, and their descendants are warmly welcomed back to their home turf with concerts, displays, parades, and plenty of music, song, and dance.


Theatres and the arts in Ireland

The Irish tend to agree with the late theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, who once noted Ireland's sacred duty to send over, every few years, a playwright to save the English theatre from inarticulate glumness. The contribution of this nation´s writers is outstanding and all out of proportion to the island's small population.

The names Sheridan, Goldsmith, Wilde, Shaw, Synge, 0' Casey, Behan, and Beckett, to ame but a few inevitably crop up whenever great drama is under discussion and with them, the names of such late great actors and actresses as Barry Fitzgerald and Siobhan McKenna as well as those of their successors.

With all this going on, settling on an evening's entertainment (or an afternoon's, for that matter) can pose some problems. When it comes to theater, one man s meat is another's poison, so before settling on a play, ask a friend or check the dally papers In Dublin, Cork, and Belfast; Galway's Connacht Tribune; the fortnightly events guide In Dublin; and the monthly In Belfast.

Some theatres reliably turn out productions and concerts that are more InterestIng or wonderful than others, and some are worth a visit in their own right because they are either particularly beautiful or unusually historic.

A few are quite small, so that even the most remote corner affords a fine view of the activities on stage and the prices are usually relatively low . A few of the best theaters are listed here, by county.

ABBEY THEATRE, Dublin, Irish Republic: The fine collection of portraits; including likenesses ofW. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge, and Sean O'Casey, that graces the foyer of the Abbey Theatre the country's national theatre is a vivid reminder of those heady days when the premieres of O'Casey's Plough and the Stars and Synge's The Playboy of the Western World were greeted by riot and disorder.

Though audiences are less boisterous now and the company is less lIkely to be arrested (as it was in Philadelphia in 1912, for performing immoral and indecent plays), the Abbey still presents the best of contemporary Irish play writing, includIng productions of works by Brian Friel, Hugh Leonard, and Thomas Murphy, among others, as well as revivals of the classics that made the old Abbey Players famous. Work of a more experimental nature is presented downstairs, in the Peacock; the opportunity to visit this wonderfully intimate auditorium should not be missed.

After the show, slip across the road for a drink in The Plough, full of posters of past Abbey successes, or in The Flowing Tide, with attractive stained glass panels set into the walls and mingle with the actors who have just taken their bows.

ANDREWS LANE THEATRE, Dublin, Irish Republic: Tucked in an alley off Dame Street and not far from Trinity College, this is one of Dublin's newer theatres, making its mark with performances of such contemporary plays as Agnes of God. In addition to the main theater, there is a small studio which serves as a stage for avant-garde productions, including occasional lunchtime shows and performances by all-female acting troupes.

FOCUS THEATRE, Dublin, Irish Republic: Dublin's smallest theatre is also one of its most exciting. In 1963, when Deirdre O'Connell returned to Ireland after studying in New York at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio, she began to train some Dublin actors in Stanislavskian technique and, by 1967, had formed the nucleus of a company and moved into a converted garage in a lane off Pembroke Street. An evening in this tiny, 72-seat auditorium is never disappointing, whether the play be a classic by Chekhov or the latest offering of a young Irish writer.

Besides the resident Focus Company, there is a Studio Company of young actors in training who occasionally present their own improvised and very original adaptations of Irish legends and literature. It is no exaggeration to say that, along with some of the finest actors in Dublin (including O'Connell herself), Focus theatergoers glimpse the stars of tomorrow.

GAIETY THEATRE, Dublin, Irish Republic: The Gaiety is where many a Dublin child, brought for a special occasion to a pantomime perhaps or a Gilbert and Sullivan musical, gets a first taste of the magic of theatre.
It was founded in 1871 by Michael Gunn and his brother John (a bust of whom can be seen on the staircase that leads to the circle), and although the original gallery, or gods, was removed when the theatre was renovated in 1955, the theatre remains a very fine example of the typical late-Victorian playhouse: It is marvellously opulent, with red carpets, dark pillars, golden draperies, and ornate pink cream plasterwork, and the orchestra pit's brass surround enhances the total effect.

In a private box, patrons feel like no less than visiting royalty. The letters patent issued at the theatre´s founding allows for the production of any interlude, tragedy, comedy, prelude, opera, burletta, play, farce or pantomime, and today's repertoire remains just that broad. As a result, the list of the famous who have played at the Gaiety is formidable, including Lily Langtry, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, Burgess Meredith, Siobhan McKenna, Paulette Goddard, the Bolshoi Ballet, Peter O'Toole and Dublin's own Jimmy O'Dea, who for nearly 30 years appeared in pantomime and musical and, in the character of Biddy Mulligan, captured the true spirit of the city.

GATE THEATRE, Dublin, County Dublin, Irish Republic: The name of the Gate Theatre is synonymous with those of the late Michael MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards, who organized the company in 1928 to present plays of unusual interest, regardless of nationality or period, at a time when the Abbey devoted itself entirely to Irish work.

The founders' tradition continues under the direction of Michael Colgan, and theatre-goers here are as likely to find a play by Tennessee Williams as one by Brian Friel or a young unknown. The visual emphasis is strong, and the theater has received awards for its stage designs. The auditorium is quite small and, as might be expected from the Gate's reputation for stage design, beautifully decorated, so that it feels less like a modern playhouse than an 18thcentury aristocrat's court theatre.

The young Orson Welles was once employed by the Gate, after exaggerating his previous experience, but proved his talents there as, subsequently, elsewhere. James Mason and Geraldine Fitzgerald also began their careers here.

OLYMPIA THEATRE, Dublin, Irish Republic: This stage occupies a very special place in the hearts of Dubliners, perhaps because of its connection with music hall, always the most popular form of theatre here. Patrons on the 1879 opening night at Dan Lowrey's Star of Erin (as the playhouse was then called) enjoyed such wonders as Mademoiselle Miaco, the Boneless Wonder, and Signor Zula, who swung from a high trapeze by his feet, with weights suspended from his teeth.

Part of the theatre's charm may be gauged from the fact that one of its bars is named not for some famous performer or patron, but for Kathleen Kelly, who served wit and kindness as well as drink from behind its counter for many decades. The only theatre in Dublin that still retains its gallery, or gods, from whose dizzying heights one can see the tops of the performers' heads far below, it is also notable for the Waterford cut-glass chandeliers and the two huge mirrors on either side of the circle in which the spectators can monitor their own reactions while watching the performance.

And, though television has meant the end of theatrical variety, the Olympia still presents concerts and pantomimes as well as plays, both Irish and foreign, and hosts visiting performers such as mime king Marcel Marceau. After each show, the bars remain open for half an hour and the actors congregate in Kelly's bar, attached to the theater, to drink to the memory of days gone by.

THE POINT, Dublin, Irish Republic: Also known as the Point Depot because it was formerly a depot building, this theatre-cum-concert hall presents everything from U2 concerts to Broadway hits, such as Cats. Ticket prices are heftier here than at any other performing arts venue in Dublin, and most events are booked well in advance.

ROYAL DUBLIN SOCIETY CONCERT HALL, Dublin, Irish Republic: While most people think of traditional Irish music when they think of Dublin, it's also true that high quality classical music can be found here. This is at least in part thanks to the Royal Dublin Society (RDS), which stages recitals from November to March in its 1,206-seat Members' Hall, also known as the RDS Concert Hall.

Although the acoustics are not all that one might desire for small chamber ensembles and soloists, the attractive booklined walls add a touch of intimacy that is not often encountered in concert halls nowadays, and many distinguished musicians have played here in recent years among them the Smetana String Quartet.

DRUID LANE THEATRE, Galway, County Galway, Irish Republic: Installed in a former grocery warehouse in the oldest part of the city, near the Spanish Arch, the quays, and the old city walls, the home of the Druid Theatre Company is perhaps the most attractive small theatre in Ireland, its intimacy enhanced by the way in which the seating surrounds the stage on three sides.

The company was founded in 1975 by Garry Hynes, still the artistic director, and in a short time has become renowned for its productions oflrish classics such as Boucicault's The Colleen Bawn and Molloy's Wood of Whispering, as well as contemporary Irish plays (in particular, those by Tom Murphy) and works from abroad.

There's good reason to believe that the lane on which the theatre is built is haunted by the ghost of a nun who walks slowly through the street at night.But don't let this get in the way of an evening with this exciting young group.

GRAND OPERA HOUSE, Belfast, Northern Ireland: When architect Robert McKinstry first went into the deserted building of Belfast's Grand Opera House and Cirque in the summer of 1975, he found the house manager's black jacket still hanging on the back of his office door. Crates of bottled beer stood unopened behind the bar where 4 years of dust topped the dour liquids in the half-empty glasses.

An upturned chair floated in the orchestra pit. The ashtrays on the backs of the seats in the circle were stuffed with the detritus of chocolate box wrappings and butts of now unfashionable local cigarette brands. In a drawer in the projection room lay a single copy of a pamphlet entitled How to Emigrate. But now the Opera House has come back to life. The brass rails that once reflected the footlights that illuminated Pavlova and the Divine Sarah (Bernhardt) glisten again, and the turn-of-thecentury theatre has been restored to its full plush and stucco glory.

Christmas pantomimes share the bill with drama companies from all over Britain and Ireland, international opera and ballet companies, and major popular entertainers among them the National Theatre. the Royal Flanders Ballet, the Centaur Theatre of Montreal, the Berlin Chamber Orchestra. Carlo Bergonzi, the Scottish Ballet, the Moscow Balalaika Orchestra. a harp ensemble from Japan, the Peking Opera.

Airport car hire Ireland

If you enjoy the theatre, and want to make the most of the wonderful theatres in Ireland, hire a car from Dublin Airport, Shannon Airport, Galway Airport, Knock Airport or Cork Airport and make the most of the wonderful venues in Ireland.

James Galway, the Chieftains, and modern dancers from New York. In July and early August, the house usually is dark.


Ireland attractions

The National Museum Dublin

The massive Thomas Deane building on Kildare Street into which the old Royal Dublin Society moved its collection in 1890 and, shortly thereafter, the antiquities from the Royal Irish Academy has lost some of its territory over the years.

Its display space is inadequate, and many items are not exhibited to their best advantage. These shortcomings notwithstanding, the museum should not be missed. It has priceless collections of prehistoric gold artifacts, such as solid gold dress fasteners, torques, and lunulae made by the skilled craftsmen of the Bronze and Iron ages.

An exhibition area called The Treasury features the museum's important collection of early Christian metalwork, including the Ardagh Chalice and the Cross of Congo The Georgian silver, Waterford crystal, and Belleek pottery on display are equally captivating.

Visitors should not miss the collection of Irish harps, uilleann pipes, and other musical instruments, nor the Derrynaflan chalice, paten, and strainer, found in March 1980 at Killenaule in Tipperary. Finds from the site of Viking Dublin are on display in the museum's exhibition center at nearby Merrion Row.

The James Joyce Museum County Dublin

Like other Martello towers around the Irish coast, the one that houses this museum was built in 1804 to withstand a threatened Napoleonic invasion, and it would have remained an attractive but fairly anonymous pile of granite had it not been for James Joyce's Ulysses, one of the greatest novels in the English language.

The novel begins: Do you pay rent for this tower? Twelve quid, Buck Mulligan said. To the Secretary of State for War, Stephen added over his shoulder ... Rather bleak in wintertime, I should say. Martello, you call it? Joyce lived here briefly in 1904 with a medical student friend named Oliver St.

John Gogarty, who paid an annual rent to the War Office for his tenancy, and emerged in print as the stately plump Buck Mulligan to Stephen Dedalus, Joyce's alter ego. Sylvia Beach, Ulysses' first publisher, opened the tower as a museum in 1962, and it now holds an odd and varied collection of memorabilia: the writer's piano and guitar; his waistcoat, tie, and cane; and letters, manuscripts, photographs, and rare editions.

But the chief exhibit is the tower itself, a squat structure looking across Dublin Bay to Howth that is one of the few of its type currently open to the public.On June 16, the day when the events described in Ulysses took place, the tower is the beginning for many a Joyce fan's Doomsday tour.

Muckross House and Gardens County Kerry

The emphasis at this museum, another among the Republic's most forward looking, is as much on displaying the objects in an interesting way as on preserving them, and a great deal of thought and effort has been put into every exhibit. In addition, potters and weavers can be seen at work, producing the kinds of items displayed in the museum proper.

When sated, visitors can go out for a stroll on one of the nature trails that meander across the vast grounds (which, together with the early 19th century house containing the exhibits, were presented to the nation in 1932 and now comprise the 25,000 acre Killarney National Park). The footpaths alone might warrant a visit here, encircling two of the lakes of Killarney. There is also a superb natural rock garden d an abundance of freeroaming red deer and rare flora.

The Horse Museum County Kildare

Having produced some of the world's greatest thoroughbreds, County Kildare is still turning them out at the Irish National Stud on whose grounds this museum is located; a few of these animals and their prgeny may be seen before and after viewing its collections.Small but interesting, the exhibits trace the history of the horse from the Bronze Age to modern times and cover not only horses involved in racing, hunting, show Jumping, and steeplechasing, but also draft horses and others not at the fore of the IrIsh horse scene.

Occupying center stage is the skeleton of the late Arkle (1957-66), one of the nation's greatest and bestloved steeplechasers, who made a place for himself In equine history when he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup 3 years in a row much to the consternation of British trainers and the glee of every IrIshman plus some 27 other victories in only 35 starts. For achievement-oriented visitors, there's an automated quiz and nearby are beautiful Japanese gardens laid out by a turnofthecentury Japanese landscape architect named Eida.

Monaghan County Museum

One of the Republic's first county museums, this institution formerly situated in a bleak old courthouse with huge Doric columns that must have put the fear of God into prisoners during the last century has a stunning and eclectic collectIon ranging from Neolithic relics to folk items.
And it now has a home of Its own that provides the showcase they deserve. Stuffed with china dinner sets, lace made in nearby Carrikmacross, and the cotton crochet known as Clones lace, the museum also contains artifacts such as the Cross of Clog her, which dates from the early 15th centry, as well as a cauldron (ca. 800 BC) found in a bog in 1854, old photographs, and In an openaccess exhibition area, a collection of querns (hand mills), milk churns, and milestones from the now unused Ulster Canal.

County Castle Museum County Wexford

A medieval air hangs over this town, with its narrow streets winding down to the rIver Slaney on one side and with Vinegar Hill, where the Irish rebels were defeated In 1758, rising on the other. The museum, housed in a 13th-century Norman castle on which the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser once held a lease (one of the few Irish castles not in ruins), contains muskets, pikes, and other relics of the battle, as well as objects from the 1916 Rising (during which this town was the last in the country to surrender).

But the museum's contents are not restricted to military impedimenta: A kltcheq at the back of the castle and a dairy showcase traditional cooking utensils and tools, including churns used in the old days for making butter and cheese. There are also striking displays of figureheads salvaged from ships wrecked off the coast, a stone covered with ogham script, ships' anchors, stone crosses, an chahces dating from the 17th century.

A recently added feature is a sports collection,housed In a hitherto unused tower of the castle. And if all this is not enough temptation, the view from the castle roof alone is worth the visit.

National Heritage Park County Wexford

The museum on the sloping banks of the river Slaney estuary is devoted to showing a full range of Irish historic buildings, with structures dating. from the time of the earliest settlements to the present from stone Circles and burial sites to early Christian churches round towers, and the first Viking and Norman communities. It IS an elaborate undrtaking and thoroughly splendid.

Irish Agricultural Museum Wexford

In the restored 19th-century farm buildings of Victorian Gothic Johnstown Castle, about 3 miles southwest of Wexford Town, this museum provides an excellent picture of just how much Irish farming has changed in the last 50 years. Its display of old farming and rural craft items, the country's largest, includes the hand flails, pitchers, turnip pulpers, buttermaking instruments, ploughs, harrows, sowers, mowing machines, harnesses, and carts and traps that were once among every Irish farmer's most important tools.

A complete model of an old kitchen is on exhibit, along with a laundry, creamery, laborer's bedroom, and stable. There are also displays 'on coopering, blacksmithing, wheelwrighting, harness making, and traditional Irish country furniture. The castle's 50-acre gardens full of meandering pathways, artificial lakes, and interesting shrubs and flowers are also a delight, and a tearoom is open at the museum from June through August.
The castle and surrounding farm are used for soil research by the Agricultural Institute.

The Ulster Museum Belfast

Housed in a 1920s neo-classical building with a well-designed modern addition that stands right in the city's delightful Botanic Gardens, the collections are broad-ranging: There's an old, functioning water wheel (in the Industrial Archaeology section); a group of contemporary paintings and sculpture unrivaled in Ireland (in the Art Galleries); prehistoric artifacts including the only surviving pair of late Bronze Age trumpets that can still be played; a display of minerals and gemstones unique in the country (including the largest group of quartz crystals in Britain and Ireland, an attractive display of fluorescent and phosphorescent minerals in a darkened central vault, and a full size cave); and, for a touch of glitter, the fabulous collection of jewelry, coins, and other items recovered from the Girona, a galley of the Spanish Armada that went down off the Antrim Coast in 1588.

The Living Sea exhibit abounds with realistic models of marine creatures, and the Dinosaur Show, a gallery designed with children in mind, features a nearcomplete skeleton of Anatosaurus annecteus as well as an enormous, now extinct, coelacanth in the old entrance hall. The museum store sells copies of the gold No tengo mas que darte ring, the original of which was worn by a Spanish sailor as he went to his watery grave, mindful, no doubt, of the sweetheart who gave it to him.

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum County Down

For a glimpse of how Ulster folk lived back at the turn of the century. Brick by brick, stone by stone, terraces of townhouses, as well as farmhouses, mills, a church, and schools, were moved here, then furnishd with the everyday objects of the appropriate period, and landscaped as they might have been originally.

A farm from mid-Antrim has been reconstructed right down to the stone walls, hedges, and ditches around the fields. There's also an assortment of galleries filled with domestic and agricultural artifacts and vehicles used in Irish transport over the ages rail, road, air, and sea. In fact, the museum is the home of the finest and most comprehensive such display in Ireland, with wheelless sledges, elegant horsedrawn carriages, automobiles (including a De Lorean sports car prototype), and even a vertical take-off plane.

The Ulster-American Folk Park

Born in 1813 in a thatch-roofed cottage near here, Thomas Mellon emigrated to the New World at the age of 5 and then traveled overland by wagon to western Pennsylvania, where he grew up as the son of struggling small farmers to found the banking empire that bears his name.

Now, the original Mellon cottage is restored, and it serves as the center of a 26-acre folk park where the Old World and New World stand physically side by side. From 19th-century Ulster, where turf fires burn, blacksmiths work at their forges, craftsmen toil in their thatchroofed cottages, and hardware stores sell lamp wicks and foot warmers, visitors are transported to a very different American landscape, complete with log cabins, a covered wagon, and a reconstructed Pennsylvania farm complex that has been furnished and equipped exactly like the one in which Mellon spent his boyhood, where demonstrators bake, weave, and churn, and log fires crackle on the hearth.


Museums and places to go in Ireland

Ireland's antiquities, impressive by any standards, are mostly concentrated in the National Museum in Dublin, which should not be missed under any circumstances. But numerous small museums in the provinces offer local collections and eccentric private collections of varying quality.

Ireland also boasts a number of fine openair facilities that show off the lifestyles of earlier people in vivid detail with restored or reconstructed dwellings and workplaces. Most of these are in settings of great beauty.All charge nominal admission, if any, and are open year-round unless otherwise indicated; be sure to call for current hours before making a special trip.

Pig House Collection in County Cavan

Housed in a former piggery and several other outbuildings on a picturesque farm, this collection of folk items is an odd and idiosyncratic hodgepodge of dishes, tools, implements, pictures, bicycles, carriages, parasols, lace, 19thcentury costumes, bricabrac, and even a few rare treasures. Though a little off the beaten path, it is worth a visit perhaps as a detour on the way to Killykeen Forest Park not only for the collection itself but also for the trip through the very pleasant and out-of-theway countryside. From the midland town of Cavan, take the road west toward Killeshandra, then watch for the signpost.The gallery is about 8 miles from Cavan.

Bun Ratty Castle and Folk Park County Clare

Associated with the O'Briens, the Lords of Thomond, and now authentically restored and furnished in the style of the period, Bunratty Castle is currently famous for its jovial medieval banquets. But it is also one of Ireland's finest existing 15th-century castles.

Together with the adjoining Folk Park, whose several acres abound with period replicas of Irish rural and town dwellings as they would have appeared at the turn of the century, it provides a glimpse of how the Irish have lived during the last few centuries.

Visitors can step into whitewashed or limestone farmhouses, cottages, hovels, and other domiciles from different regions (one of them was moved from a spot that subsequently became a Shannon Airport runway), as well as a typical landowner's bothiin (hut), a blacksmith's forge, a weaver's shed, and a village street complete with post office, pub, school, doctor's office, hotel, and other shops.

Turf fires smolder fragrantly in the hearths, socks hang nearby to dry, an old farm implement leans casually against a wall so that it all looks as if someone has just left the room. The effect is totally charming. Bunratty House, a substantial late Georgian dwelling of the type once occupied by minor gentry, rounds out Bunratty's fine document of Irish social history. A small, well-illustrated guidebook to the castle, available on the spot, is worth getting.

Clare Heritage Centre County Clare

In an attractive small town at the edge of the Burren, a desolately beautiful semi-desert of limestone rock that is transformed in May and June by the brilliant blossoms of its rare and unusually varied flowering plants, travelers will find this enterprising project, in the specially converted early 19th-century Church of Saint Catherine.

The center's collection, which has won several awards for its creator, includes artifacts and documents from all over the county, attractively displayed alongside texts that are lively and readable as well as informative. It is also now the source of an extraordinarily complete documentation of Clare families over the period from 1800-1860 an enormous contribution to Irish genealogical and social research.

The Craggaunowen Project County Clare

Craggaunowen Castle, built by the McNamaras around 1550 and furnished with many items of historical and artistic importance from the John Hunt collection, is only the center-piece of this unique outdoor museum, which comprises a number of other structures that reach deep into the past to convey a sense of life in prehistoric times. On an island in the lake, a dwelling known as a crannog has been reconstructed on the foundations of an original; it is approached by a causeway that may have been used as early as the Bronze Age.

There is also a reconstructed ring fort, the farmstead of Ireland's early history, which has an underground passageway for storage and refuge. Patty O'Neill runs a program whose aim is to interest and train young people in the fine traditional art of thatching. Displays also include the Brendan, the leather boat in which the writer and amateur sailor Tim Severin crossed the Atlantic a decade or so ago in an attempt to prove that the 5th-century St. Brendan could have discovered America, as legend has it, when sailing the seas in search of paradise.

Glenveagh Castle and Glebe Gallery County Donegal

Glenveagh National Park, which sprawls over 25,000 acres of Donegal's wild and remote Derryveagh Mountains, includes in its boundaries the awesome Poisoned Glen; the long tongue of Lough Veagh; and, at the edge of its waters, where salmon leap and red deer come to drink, the grounds of Glenveagh Castle, its towers and battlements constituting one of the more romantic creations of 19th-century Ireland.

Successive owners have created gardens of extraordinary beauty formal, terraced, and graced with statuary, criss-crossed by secret pathways, and dissolving gradually into the native heather scrub and dwarf oak of the surrounding rugged mountains. The government purchased the outlying lands in 1975, Philadelphia's Henry Mcilhenny gave the grounds and the castle to the Irish people in 1981, and they are now all open to the public, together with the former home of painter Derek Hill at Gartan Lough, on the edge of the estate.

The castle is filled with rare furniture mostly Georgian, some Irish, all of it very fine and a special gallery on the grounds of Hill's studio displays an extensive art collection that includes ceramics by Picasso, lithographs by Kokoschka, paintings and sketches by Annigoni, and wallpapers by William Morris, as well as works by distingUIshed Irish artists.

A number of informed people regard the whole complex as the most wonderful spot in all Ireland. A visitors' center, restaurant, and cafe are on the premises, and a free minibus takes travelers around the grounds.

Chester Beatty Library Dublin

The collection that copper mIllIonaire Chester Beatty bequeathed to the Irish nation in 1968, housed near the Royal Dublin Society building in plush, embassy belt Ballsbridge, evokes one superlative after another. The collection of Islamic art and manuscripts, among the finest in the world, includes more than 250 Korans; Persian, Turkish, and Indian painting are also extensively covered. The collection of Chinese jade books is unique.

The Chinese snuffbox collection numbers 900 pieces, and that of rhinoceros horn cups includes some 220 items. The collection of Japanese illuminated manuscripts (narae) ranks with the foremost in Europe, as does the collection of Japanese woodblock prints (surimono). The superb group of Western manuscripts includes illuminated books of hours and a volume of gospels from Stavelot Abbey, executed in Flanders in about AD 1000.

The important biblical papyri, 11 manuscript volumes of the Bible dating from the early 2nd to the 4th century, are also in the library's possession. Naturally, it is possible to display only a tiny fraction of the library's holdings at a time, but the permanent exhibitions offer a representative sampling, and there are major shows a few times a year.

Museum of Natural History in Dublin

Dublin, Irish Republic: Much loved for its refusal to change an iota over the course of the past century, this museum, originally among the three major Royal Dublin Society collections, was moved over a century ago to a building designed by Thomas Clarendon and constructed on the south side of Leinster Lawn, with an entrance on Merrion Square. The first sight to greet a visitor's eye is that old favorite, the Basking Shark, a huge preserved shark which hangs from the ceiling.

Also popular is the display of birds, as well as the three magnificent skeletons of Giant Irish Deer, believed to be about 10,000 years old. On the ground floor, the Irish Room displays Irish fauna and a new exhibition of Irish insects.

An impressive collection of big game heads and antlers from India and Africa bison, panda, giraffe, okapi, rhinos, hippos, elephants, and gorillas hanging on pillars and walls in the galleries on the upper floor transports museumgoers to late Victorian times. On the next floor are exotic shells, butterflies, and birds plus skeletons of the extinct dodo, solitaire, and giant bird of Madagascar, with its 7inch egg. A priceless assemblage of glass models of the invertebrates, which dates from the museum's earliest days, is also well worth seeing.

Suspended from the roof are the huge skeletons of humpback whales. From the museum's last period of vigorous acquisition the 1880s to 1914, when deepsea explorations generated additions to the marine biology and zoology sections to very recently, there was little activity in the museum; the impressive geological collection has long languished unseen for want of a proper home.

In the geological section there is a small exhibition of Irish rocks and minerals, and the museum has expanded its activities in the field of entomology and marine invertebrates.There is so much to see and do in Ireland that the best way to get around the attractions is to hire a car from the airport at Galway, Knock, Dublin, Shannon, Knock or Cork Airports.

The National Gallery of Ireland

Located on the western side of one of Ireland's finest Georgian districts, Merrion Square, within walking distance of the center of town, the National Gallery has been called the best small gallery in Europe. Certainly, considering its chronic shortage of funds, it has a remarkable collection, with some outstanding examples of the works of all major schools, particularly the Italian and Dutch.

Under the previous director, James White, and the present director, Homan Potterton, the gallery has shaken off an apparent case of the doldrums, regained much of its style of several decades past, and begun to achieve its potential. Andrea di Bartolo, Fra Angelico, Uccello, Signorelli, Perugino, Titian, Rembrandt, EI Greco, and David are all represented; a collection of more than 30 Turner watercolors is shown every January.

The Irish School is brilliantly represented by the works of Jack Yeats and earlier painters such as Nathaniel Hone, Walter Osborne, William Orpen, and James Arthur O'Connor. Though staff shortages often cause a number of its rooms to be closed, the gallery is lively and interesting, with an educational policy, a good research library, a modest bookshop, and an inexpensive restaurant that has become a popular Dublin meeting place.


Great places to go in Ireland

The Mountains of Mourne

This granite range in the north-eastern section of the island south of Belfast is not very large, but the scenery is especially lovely, with good views, sapphire lakes, and rugged gray rocks. The principal peak of the group, 2,796-foot Slieve Donard, stands out as a particularly good climb, both for its relative ease and its attractiveness, especially when approached from the town of Newcastle. On fine clear days, it's possible to see the Isle of Man, the peaks of the English Lake District, the mountains of Wales, and Scotland's islands.

Those with a full day to spare should walk along the ridge to 2,448-foot Slieve Binnian, to see the aptly named Silent Valley and its reservoir, the source of Belfast's water supply, and, beyond it, lonely little Lough Shannagh. Other good hikes include the ascents of 2,394-foot Slieve Bearnagh and of 2,512-foot Slieve Commedagh.

The big challenge in the Mournes is to walk the wall that delineates the Belfast Water Supply catchment area, which in fact takes in all the major summits.

The creation of a Round Ireland Trail, with a number of sections and spur paths, is a plank in the development platform of the Republic's National Sports Council, which has set up a Long Distance Walking Routes Committee (LDWRC) to promote development of long distance footpaths.

Hiking in Ireland

It is possible to take day hikes along any of these (though it may be difficult to get a bus back to the starting point), but the more ambitious can also plan a multi-day walk, with overnights in hostels, bed and breakfast establishments, and guesthouses not far from the trail or, having asked in advance, camp on local farms.

Note that many of the trails run for considerable distances through state forests, where camping and fires are strictly forbidden.The most interesting treks are listed below in the order they are encountered along the Round Ireland Trail.

Wicklow Way Dublin Ireland

This 80-mile trek contours the east side of the Wicklow Mountains, then wanders among the smaller hills in the south part of County Dublin, passing through many beautiful valleys, most notably Luggala; Powerscourt, known for its waterfall; and Glendalough, whose monastic ruins are described in Ancient Monuments and Ruins.

The route then proceeds through lush mature forests over the spurs of the mountains, with fine panoramas of hills and the Irish Sea. The Dublin Way, which crosses the Dublin mountains from east to west and joins the Wicklow Way, offers another diversion. Because both of these run close to Dublin, they are the most frequented of the Irish trails, and good accommodations, including several youth hostels, are within easy reach.

South Leinster Way

Beginning just 4 miles from the end of the Wicklow Way, thIs 58mile footpath climbs via forest tracks over the shoulder of Mount Leinster at the 1,500foot level, to expose vistas over Wexford to the east and the beautiful river Barrow Valley straight ahead.

To make the most of the beautiful hikes and trails around Ireland, it is worth hiring a car from the airport in Ireland and taking your time to follow the walking trails around the country.

The trail then descends to the river and follows the riverside towpath for a few miles to Graiguenamanagh, a picturesque market town that is the site of a 13th-century Cistercian abbey. At Graiguenamanagh, it begins climbing agam, over the shoulder of Brandon Hill, and thence proceeds over byroads and forest footpaths to the river Nore, at Inistioge, and on to Carrick-on-Suir.

Burren Way County Clare

Covering a distance of 14 miles around the rugged, almost lunar, landscape of County Clare, this is the newest of Ireland's sign-posted walking trails. The route starts near the Atlantic coast, north of Doolin and slightly west of Lisdoonvarna, and stretches by the valley of Oughtdarra and Ballyryan.

It then gently climbs to the uplands of Ballynahown, joining the Green Road through the highlands of the Burren, with its sheets of limestone and shale-covered hills. Next comes the contrasts of the Caher Valley, the Feenagh Valley, and the Rathborney River, ending at Ballyvaughan on the southern slopes of Galway Bay.

The path takes in many sights that are indigenous to the Burren: vast stretches of limestone, massive beds of granite, rock pavements, karst land, clints (horizontal slabs), grikes (vertical fissures), caverns and caves, ruined castles, and cliff forts, as well as wildlife, birds, and flora representing a mix of Arctic, Alpine, and Mediterranean species.

East Munster Trail

The towpath on the river Suir takes this 36-mile trail as far as Clonmel, where it continues via forest trails and byroads to the end of the Comeragh range and into the pleasant, peaceful Nier Valley.After crossing the Nier, the trail rambles through the woods on the northern side of the Knockmealdown Mountains, affording lovely views of the Galtee Mountains to the northwest, then climbs the aptly named Vee Gap, and finally descends through the woods.

Kerry Way Ireland

This 36-mile stretch of footpath cuts south through the Muckross National Park, past the celebrated lakes of Killarney, to Tore Mountain, an unrivaled viewpoint over the MacGillicuddy Reeks, and then follows the old Kenmare road, now unused, for a few miles before crossing into the remote Black Valley, immediately underneath the reeks. The trail is almost entirely on old Mass paths as it travels westward below the reeks to the rarely visited Bridia Valley and on to Glencar.

There it crosses the valley by road and forest path, supplying hikers with good views of Caragh Lake, and then climbs over Windy Gap to descend to Glenbeigh on the Ring of Kerry. Here the adventurous can pick up the trail of the disused railway line that goes almost to Cahirciveen; otherwise, the RoundIreland Trail has a big gap.

Western Way County Mayo

From its starting point, an angling center, this 58-mile walk follows the shores of giant Lough Corrib, past one of the few remaining virgin forests in the west of the country, with fine panoramas of the lake's wooded north shore, before plunging into the mountains of Connemara. Ascending only to about 800 feet, the trail does not attain any great altitude, but the feel is definitely alpine as it winds between the bare quartzite peaks of the Maumturks and Twelve Bens before descending to the narrow mountain-fringed Killary Harbour.

From Lenane, near the head of this inlet, the trail heads up the ErriffValley and then through the South Mayo mountains, over the shore of the Sheffry Hills toward Croagh Patrick, Ireland's holy mountain. Beyond the ridge to its east, island speckled Clew Bay is straight ahead. Then the route turns east and travels along side roads to reach another angling center, Westport.

Ulster Way County Donegal

Connecting to the Ulster Way at the border town and famous pilgrimage center of Pettigo, this 62-mile trail traverses countryside that is significantly more remote than that of other trails definitely not for the inexperienced. It begins by skirting holy Lough Derg, where anglers reel in bountiful creels and thousands of pilgrims fast and pray in a cavern on Station Island every summer, then passes beautiful Lough Eske, and steers a careful course over the eastern side of the Blue Stack Mountains. Passing through the Glendowan Mountains, it descends to Glenveagh, crosses by the Poisoned Glen to Dunlewy, and climbs over the shoulder of Errigal before descending past Altan Lough to Falcarragh on the north coast. Accommodations are not plentiful, so take a tent.

Slieve Bloom Way

This 32 mile long route makes a circuit of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, which rise out of the Central Plain between Portlaoise and Tullamore, on the border of County Laois.

The route can be followed in whole or in part through the beautiful wooded valleys and glens of this range, which seems quite grand, despite its rather insignificant height (about 1,700 feet), because of the flat terrain all around. It is also possible to link up with the Kildare Trails, which largely follow the towpaths of the Grand Canal and its branches.

The Ulster Way around Northern Ireland

The 500-mile circle of Northern Ireland takes in some of Ireland's finest scenery, including the coast and glens of County AntrIm, with the magnificent Atlantic coast cliffs and bays, the Giant's Causeway, the Spernn Mountains, the Fermanagh Lakeland, the Mourne Mountains, and St. Patrick Country, rich in legend and antiquities.

From Belfast, the route winds through the quiet wooded valley of the river Lagan. In addition, the trail connects with several in the Republic: the wild and remote 62 mile-Iong Ulster Way in Donegal (with a junction at Pettigo); the 16 mile-long Cavan Way, short but varied and beautiful (intersecting Blacklion, County Fermanagh); and the circular Tain Trail, a 19-mile circle through the historic Carlingford Peninsula (with an unwaymarked link to the Ulster Trail at Uewry, County Down).

Wherever you want to start your walking tour of Ireland, it is worth pre-booking a hire car from Dublin, Galway, Cork, Shannon or Knock Airport to pick up when you arrive in Ireland. Airport car hire can be picked up from the terminal building, and by pre-booking you will save time and money when you arrive.

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