- Our Expeditions
- Expedition Travel
- Expedition Travel
- Small Ship Cruises
- Overland Adventures
- Flight Programs
- Expedition Activities
- Why Zegrahm
- Private Travel
- Traveler Info
Report from the Field: Circumnavigation of Ireland
Published on Sunday, July 15, 2007
Last night we gathered together as a group at the Burlington Hotel in delightful Dublin, the vibrant capital of the Emerald Isle, for cocktails and a briefing from Expedition Leader Mike Messick, who introduced us to the staff and outlined our plans for the voyage ahead, starting with our exploration of Dublin.
This morning after a hearty breakfast, we boarded buses and set off for the morning with our charming local guides on a choice of tours. Some opted for a city highlights tour, taking in spectacular sites such as the 12th-century St. Patrick’s Cathedral and world-renowned Trinity College, whose library presented a chance to view the stunning Book of Kells and the Long Room containing over 200,000 of the college’s oldest books.
The other tour option was to escape the city and take a drive to the seaside town of Malahide. Here the highlight was a visit to the 12th-century Malahide Castle and its beautiful surroundings. On the way back towards Dublin, a stop was made at Howth. This small fishing community offered a great deal of local flavor, as well as fine views of Dublin Bay and the chance to grab an Irish coffee at the Abbey Tavern.
The afternoon provided everyone with the chance for some independent exploration of the city. Many found their way to Grafton Street, Dublin’s very busy shopping area. For dinner most of us took the chance to venture out and sample some local cuisine.
Dublin / Embark the Clipper Adventurer
With breakfast and baggage formalities over, we boarded buses for one of two tour options. The first group went north to the Boyne Valley in County Meath for a feast of archaeological and monastic treasures. At 5,000-year-old Newgrange we explored a beautifully restored Neolithic tomb and enjoyed a moving re-creation of the mid-winter passage of the sun across the east-facing entrance, and the resulting shaft of sunlight that reaches the main chamber. The remains of Monasterboice followed, a 5th-century Monastery surrounded by a cemetery which has a collection of unusually high and intricately carved stone crosses. After lunch at the Boyne Valley Hotel, a brief visit was made to the remains of Old Mellifont Abbey, a 12th-century Cistercian monastery, before heading back to Dublin.
The second tour group went south to County Wicklow, otherwise known as The Garden of Ireland. At Glendalough we visited the famous Round Tower with its incredibly picturesque surroundings. Moving on to the 1,000-acre Powerscourt Estate, we were treated to one of Europe’s top gardens. The brainchild of Daniel Robertson in the mid-18th-century, it is filled with an amazing array of statues and decorative work with many international influences. After a leisurely lunch at the Glenview Hotel, we made our way back to Dublin and the good ship Clipper Adventurer.
Saltee Islands / Waterford
A bright day dawned as we approached the Saltees, two small, privately-owned islands off the southeast corner of Ireland. Despite the bright conditions, our planned Zodiac excursion to view the resident seabirds on Great Saltee was thwarted by winds up to 35 knots and 6–7 foot swells. The captain took the ship around to the south side of the island where we were rewarded with excellent pelagic bird-watching and superb views of a large northern gannet colony. Those who braved the wind-swept outer decks had great views of razorbills, puffins, Manx shearwaters, great cormorants, kittiwakes, and of course the masterful gannets.
During lunch the ship sailed up the River Suir to Bellview Container Terminal near Waterford. We boarded buses with local guides for various tour options. One group went out of the city to the privately-owned 1,000-acre estate of Mount Congreve to explore part of the gorgeous garden complex with a charming local botanist. The birders explored rich habitats south of Waterford, sneaking a stop at Jack Meade’s Pub along the way, while the final tour group visited the world famous Waterford Crystal Factory, where they were shown how to blow, cut, and engrave glass before moving on to a local museum. The day was rounded off nicely with a welcome cocktail party and dinner hosted by Captain Nicholas Hope-Inglis.
Cork / Blarney Castle / Kinsale
Perfect weather graced our 12-mile passage up the River Lee to our berth in Cork. After breakfast we boarded buses for our choice of morning tours. Following a slow drive around the city center, one group headed out to the village of Blarney for a visit to its famous castle. At the top of the castle is the legendary Blarney Stone, which many made the effort to climb up to and plant an uncomfortable smacker on. With thoughts of obtaining the “gift of the gab,” we enjoyed a stroll around the shops and cafes before heading back to the ship for lunch. The other tour remained in Cork and visited University College Cork, the Crawford Gallery, and the bustling historic English Market, full of present-day flavor. With senses tingling we returned to the ship for lunch.
The afternoon was spent in Kinsale, a picturesque seaside village with a long maritime heritage. Local guides showed us around Charles Fort, a 17th-century guardian of the harbor entrance and the best preserved star-fort in Ireland. In quaint Kinsale we enjoyed a stroll along the waterfront and some free time to explore the colorful streets full of shops, bars, cafes, and galleries.
Back on the ship we were delighted by a performance of traditional Irish dancing by a group of young people. This was followed by a presentation on the Lighthouses of Ireland.
Ring of Kerry / Skellig Michael
It was another lovely morning as we sped ashore in Zodiacs to land at Sneem for our full-day Ring of Kerry tour. First stop was Kenmare, a quiet and colorful market town. Then on to Moll’s Gap, a high mountain pass that offered superb views of The Black Valley, so named because of an area that never receives any sunlight. Another photo stop was made at Lady’s View before continuing to Muckross House, a rather grand Elizabethan manor house with immaculate gardens in Killarney National Park. After a guided tour of the house we made our way to the Castlerosse Hotel for lunch. A little free time in Killarney town followed before carrying on to Cahersiveen at the mouth of Dingle Bay where our ship was waiting.
After an early dinner, conditions allowed for a bonus landing on dramatic Skellig Michael. Those hardy souls who braved the swells and made it to the remote island were rewarded with incredibly close-up views of puffins and kittiwakes. Overhead was a blizzard of birds, with northern gannets, guillemots, puffins, northern fulmars, kittiwakes, and gulls all competing for airspace. The die-hard and dedicated tackled 610 very steep steps to reach a superbly preserved 9th-century Christian monastic settlement near the top of the island.
Great Blasket Island / Dingle Peninsula
The day started with a Zodiac landing on picturesque Great Blasket Island. At 1,100 acres it is the largest island in the small Blasket Island archipelago, located a few miles off the Dingle Peninsula. Our arrival was observed with noticeable curiosity by the resident seal population. Ashore we enjoyed a variety of walks that ranged from relaxed explorations of the abandoned settlement to a five and a half mile effort that took in the island’s highest peak at 948 feet. Evidence abounds of the island’s occupation from pre-history right through to 1953, when the fishing/farming settlement near the landing was abandoned, bringing to an end the island’s legendary literary reputation.
In the afternoon we took a long Zodiac ride in to Dingle and a bus tour of the surrounding area. One of the main stops was Slea Head, which is Ireland’s most westerly point. From this spectacular spot we had great views of the now familiar Blasket Islands. At Dunquin we visited the Blasket Center to learn more about these historic islands. Further on at Smerwick Harbour we passed by the beehive-shaped Gallarus Oratory, Ireland’s finest example of an early Christian church dating from A.D. 800. Back on the ship we enjoyed the first recap of the voyage.
Cliffs of Moher / Inishmore, The Aran Islands
The day began with an early wake-up call and a cruise along the Cliffs of Moher, a breath-taking stretch of western Ireland coastline with the Aran Islands just a few miles offshore. After breakfast we took Zodiacs ashore to Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands with a population of just 720. Small buses took us across the island for a visit to Dún Aengus Fort, a 5th-century fortification perched precariously on the edge of 300-foot cliffs offering dramatic coastal views. On returning to the main town of Kilronan, we stopped in at a local pub for a pint or an Irish coffee. While there we were given a talk on the Aran Islands by a local historian. Then it was back to the ship for lunch and a well-earned afternoon at sea.
Portrush / Giant’s Causeway / Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland
This morning’s excursion began with a rather lively Zodiac disembarkation at Portrush in Northern Ireland. We boarded buses for a drive east along the coast to the World Heritage Site that is the remarkable Giant’s Causeway. With our local guides we explored this marvelous geological wonderland, hiking the various trails and learning more at the visitor center. Among the mass of basalt columns along the cliffs, many a northern fulmar was seen nesting. Sadly there was no sign of Fionn MacCumhaill (pronounced Finn MacCool), the Irish giant on whom the causeway’s legend is based. On the way back to the ship, a brief stop was made at the ruins of Dunluce Castle, a photogenic fortification perched on the edge of the cliffs near the world-famous Royal Portrush Golf Club.
In the afternoon we visited little Rathlin Island. Small buses took us to the western end of the island where we walked down to West Lighthouse for some outstanding viewing of the seabird cliffs. From our cliff-edge vantage point we were able to observe thousands upon thousand of breeding birds: puffins, kittiwakes, northern fulmars, guillemots, and razorbills. Many used the free time in Rathlin village to walk around the shore and view some Atlantic grey seals before returning to the ship for a quick recap and an early dinner. Later on a visit was made to Lagavulin Whiskey Distillery on Scotland’s western isle of Islay.
Isles of Iona & Staffa, Inner Hebrides, Scotland
Today was spent exploring two of the many islands that form the Inner Hebrides off Scotland’s west coast. In the morning we took Zodiacs ashore to Iona, an island long heralded as a sacred place. With local guides we walked the streets of the small village, visiting the rather grand 12th-century Iona Abbey and St.Oran cemetery (the site of a Monastery built by St. Columba in 563) where 60 Scottish kings are buried. We also passed through the flowered-grounds and ruins of 13th-century Iona Nunnery, and paid our respects at a large stone Celtic cross memorial built in honor of Ionan men who had given their lives in both great wars.
After lunch and a brief passage farther north, we once again boarded the Zodiacs for an afternoon visit to Staffa, famous for Fingal’s Cave. This truly remarkable cave is made up of columnar-jointed basalt pillars, like the Giant’s Causeway. In fact, legend has it that Staffa is the other end of the legendary causeway, which was smashed up by the retreating Scottish giant Finn Gall after he went across to Ireland to pick a fight with Finn MacCool. The acoustics inside Fingal’s (Finn Gall’s) magnificent cave were the inspiration for a Mendelssohn overture. After a walk along the top of the island, we boarded the Zodiacs for a cruise into the entrance of the cave, where waves crashed and seabirds sang, and for a while it seemed that we could hear classical music.
Calf of Man & Isle of Man, United Kingdom
Today’s highlight turned out to be something quite unexpected. A school of filter-feeding basking sharks greeted us as we arrived at the Calf of Man, and they hung around the anchorage all morning granting us extraordinarily close encounters in the Zodiacs. Following an onboard presentation by the wardens of “the Calf,” we went ashore to explore this island wildlife reserve off the southwest corner of the Isle of Man. With the wardens to guide us, we hiked the trails up to the bird observatory and on to the lighthouses, hearing stories of island life and local legends all the way.
The afternoon saw us going ashore in the rain at Port Erin near the south end of the Isle of Man, for a visit to Castletown. We made one leg of the journey on the world’s oldest continuously running steam train. In Castletown we visited Castle Rushen, a spectacularly preserved medieval castle that gives the town its name. There was also a visit to the town’s quaint Nautical Museum before having some free time to explore further. The archaeological enthusiasts were treated to a visit to the brand new Viking Gallery at The Manx Museum in Douglas, where artifacts from the Balladoole dig (a Viking ship burial site) are on display. The day ended with farewell cocktail party and dinner hosted by the captain.
This morning we said farewell to our friendly crew on the Clipper Adventurer and disembarked for the final time on this voyage. Dublin Airport beckoned as we prepared to depart the country we had come to know so well. It had been a remarkable and memorable Circumnavigation of Ireland.