Circumnavigation of Ireland

Published on Thursday, October 06, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011 - Dublin, Ireland: Our adventure began in the vibrant city of Dublin, our base for the next two days before boarding the Clipper Odyssey. After settling into the ideally located hotel, just adjacent to the walls of Dublin Castle, we were introduced by our expedition leader John Yersin, aka Little John, to the expedition team and heard some of the highlights of the following days. An early night was most welcome after the transatlantic journeys!

Tuesday, August 16 - Dublin: Our morning began with a choice of two tours, one heading to the north of Dublin Bay and the other focusing specifically on the city of Dublin. The northern excursion allowed a visit to Malahide Castle and its 250 acres of parkland. Built over 800 years ago, the castle doubles both as a fortress and private residence. Today it houses, among other items, a fine collection of Irish portrait paintings. Next it was on to Howth, a small fishing port, and a visit to the Abbey Tavern, where an Irish coffee was enjoyed! This is a traditional drink, combining coffee, cream, and a liberal lacing of whiskey....delicious.

The Dublin city tour began at Trinity College, founded in the 16th century by Queen Elizabeth I, and home to the magnificent and iconic Book of Kells and related manuscripts from the 8-9th centuries. The Long Library was an unexpected highlight, with its display of historical medical instruments and treatises. Driving around the fine Georgian squares and terraces, with their distinctive broad and multi-colored doors with decorative fanlights, was indeed a treat. Continuing on to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, founded in 1190 and reputed to be the location of the original chapel of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, we marveled at memorial plaques of the City Fathers, as well as of the author Jonathan Swift. Swift, who wrote Gulliver’s Travels, was Dean of the Cathedral for over 30 years in the 18th century. Elsewhere around the city, we journeyed down O’Connell Street, famed for its post office, the start of the Irish Independence movement, and its arguably less glorious tapering spire, officially called the Needle.

The afternoon was free for independent exploration, but a large group joined Colleen Batey, the team’s archaeologist, to view some of the highlights of the National Museum of Ireland, including the mysterious Iron Age bog bodies.

Wednesday, August 17 - Dublin / Embark Clipper Odyssey: Two full-day excursions ahead of us and the sun was shining! One group was headed south to County Wicklow and a visit to Glendalough, a picturesque early Christian monastic complex dating back to its foundation by St. Kevin in the 6th century. Most of the remaining buildings date from the period between the 8th and 12th centuries, and the Round Tower, which reaches some 30 meters into the sky, is the finest example of this 10th-century type in Ireland. Next we visited Powerscourt Estate with one of the finest gardens in Europe. Designed between 1745 and 1767, it follows the French style and is very reminiscent of Versailles in its plan and fountains.

The northern excursion headed for the Boyne Valley and its archaeological highlights. A short drive brought us to the tranquil setting of the Cistercian Monastery at Mellifont, founded in 1142. The ruinous structures, dominated by the hexagonal Lavabo and the Chapter House, spoke eloquently of the rich life, both spiritually and bodily that these monks shared. We then visited Monasterboice, a small monastic complex, with chapels, a tall bell tower, and two distinctive High Crosses, decorated with images from biblical stories and used by the priest for teaching illiterate followers. The final stop was at the World Heritage Complex of Knowth and Newgrange. Here we were joined by the excavator of the Neolithic passage graves, Professor George Eogan. We clambered on top of the largest mounds to see the wonderful rich landscape around us, and to learn of the complex, and of the myriad other passage graves in the immediate vicinity. From afar we could see the face of Newgrange Tomb. Around our group of mounds, we could see massive slabs brought to the site from considerable distances, and which served as a curb around the edge of the large mound. The highlight was to see clearly the Neolithic art carved onto the boulders, masterpieces of some 5,000 years in age.

Both groups converged on the Clipper Odyssey at the quayside in Dublin, and we handed ourselves over to those welcoming us on board, ready for the next part of the adventure.

Thursday, August 18 - Great Saltee Island / Waterford: An early wake-up call heralded our first morning of landings on Great Saltee, at the southwest corner of Ireland. Home to countless gannets, this privately owned island is a gem settling at the junction of St. George’s Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. With tales of pirates and shipwrecks, it is an easy leap of faith to imagine Robinson Crusoe meeting you on the small beach. A chance to stretch our legs and explore through guided groups or alone, this was a peaceful stop. Back on board, Colleen provided a summary of The Vikings in Ireland.

In the afternoon we stopped in Dunmore East and headed into nearby Waterford. Our tour included the new Waterford Crystal Factory, with a walk through the working and engraving areas. The intricate working explained why the finished products in both traditional and modern styles have found markets throughout the world. We then stopped at the nearby Bishop’s Palace for an exhibition called The Treasures of Waterford, focusing on Waterford’s illustrious 18th and 19th century history. Concluding our city tour was the adjacent Christchurch Cathedral, with its wonderfully simple interior, originally founded by the Norse.

The day wound down with the captain’s welcome cocktails and dinner, as we joined Captain Alan McCarty in the lounge.

Friday, August 19 - Cobh / Cork: Our day began in Cobh harbor, renowned for its associations with both the Lusitania and the Titanic. The beautifully colored houses stretched across the hillsides and the small piers punctuated the harbor. It was from here that our morning excursions took us to the Blarney Stone and into the city of Cork. The Blarney Stone, at the castle of the same name, is reputed to bestow eloquence forever, once kissed. Access via stone spiral staircases was an unforgettable experience for all!

The second tour took us into Cork to University College Cork, home to 17,000 students and housed in a picturesque campus set amidst modern buildings. The magnificent Honan Chapel, now an inter-denominational University Chapel, displays some of the finest mosaic work representing animals and birds as well as the signs of the zodiac. The stained glass window work was undertaken by the famous glass artist Harry Clarke.

A wet afternoon provided a number of options. Ann Wilson, our onboard historian provided a walk of Cobh, her hometown, for most of the group. The wonderful and dominant St. Colman’s Cathedral provided a refuge and insight into the way “Irishness” has been expressed—the walls were covered with tiny carved shamrocks!

Others sought out the local birds with Jonathan Rossouw, and the rest headed to the picturesque Kinsale, a lovely fishing village and home to several small galleries and coffee shops. With much to look at under the guidance of Jim Wilson, a local resident, the time passed with interest. On the return we stopped at the 17th-century star-shaped Charles Fort above Kinsale, just as the heavens opened completely and the winds gusted. A truly Irish experience!!

Once back on board, we were treated to a performance by the Cork Irish Dance Group, who delighted us with Irish dance routines.

Saturday, August 20 - Sneem / Killarney / Ring of Kerry: A full day excursion around the Ring of Kerry permitted us to view some of the more charming parts of rural southwest Ireland. A short stop at the town of Kenmare allowed some of us to visit the prehistoric stone circle and nearby ancient hawthorn tree bedecked with votive tokens. Onwards through Moll’s Gap, we next visited Muckross House in Killarney National Park. Surrounded by wonderful gardens, the house was originally built in advance of a visit by Queen Victoria in the late 19th century. With colorful rose beds and trees set within manicured parkland, this was indeed a lovely location, and we were delighted to have the sunshine to add to the experience.

Following lunch in nearby Killarney, we made our way further around the Ring of Kerry, with good coastal views of the Skellig Islands and Valencia Island, towards Caherciveen to where the ship had repositioned. There was a brief stop to admire a copper bust of Daniel O’Connell who was known as the Liberator due to his pivotal role in the fight to win political rights for the Catholics of Ireland in the 1820s. The bust is located adjacent to his birthplace, as well as a remarkable sculpture of a curragh being rowed by monks, a fitting memorial to St. Brendan, a great traveler of the Early Christian period, who is reputed to have lived in the area.

Back on board, Ann gave a lecture entitled Ireland: Conflict, Religion, and Identity.

Sunday, August 21 - Skellig Michael / Great Blasket Islands: Today we had an early start for what was to be an exhilarating morning! The monastic complex of beehive cells, the World Heritage Site of Skellig Michael, was our destination. Located atop a mountainous ridge, some 670 rock-cut steps from the landing, this cluster of distinctive structures clung to the rock terraces created by the early Christian monks who sought solace here in the 7th and 8th centuries. Surviving almost intact, we marveled at the building skills of the monks and the creation of the cells with corbelled roofs, built without mortar. We came to understand their fortitude to live in such an extreme location, as many of us battled to face our fears on the long and precipitous descent back to the landing.

As we regained our composure back on the ship, we listened to an entertaining and highly informative lecture by Jim entitled, Did St. Patrick Banish the Snakes From Ireland?

The afternoon was altogether a gentle affair, as we landed on Great Blasket Island, renowned for its remarkable, and perhaps unexpected, literary tradition in the days before it was forcibly evacuated in 1953. Today the ruins of the houses, haunted by the spirit of their onetime owners, lay amidst the overgrown gardens and fields, now marked by grass-covered boundaries and linked by winding tracks. A truly remarkable and entrancing island.

On our return marine biologist, Jack Grove, gave his presentation on the Oceanography of the North Atlantic to a weary but happy audience.

Monday, August 22 - Dingle Peninsula: Our full-day excursion to this most westerly of Ireland’s peninsulas saw us driving around the very narrow and winding roads lined with colorful hedgerows. The views to the Blasket Islands were stunning, and the landscape was filled with stone walls protecting the tiny fields. We explored Dunquin’s Blasket Centre, a jewel of a visitor center with its main viewing area focused on the Blasket chain. We continued on to the Gallarus Oratory, a 9th-century stone chapel with a pronounced upturned keel-shaped form, this is the best preserved in Ireland. Located on the main pilgrimage route to St. Brendan’s Mountain nearby, the site has been in use for generations and each pilgrim has brought a single pebble to record their presence at this holy place.

After some time for free exploration, we returned to the vessel and Jonathan provided an entertaining lecture entitled Spears, Bombs, and U-Boats: The Fascinating Lives of the Sulids.

Tuesday, August 23 - Cliffs of Moher / Aran Islands: An elective early wake-up call to view the stunning Cliffs of Moher revealed 650 feet of sheer sandstone and black shale. The seasonal nesting grounds of kittiwakes and fulmars were virtually empty, but the rock formation was sufficiently photogenic to encourage a second visit later in the day. After we landed on Inishmore, one of the three Aran Islands, we boarded mini-buses to nose our way around the island’s tiny ribbon-like roads, flanked on all sides by the distinctive mesh of stone walls, preventing the thin man-made soil cover retreating back to the seas. The Iron Age fort of DĂșn Aengus, sitting atop 300-foot sheer cliffs was an amazing site. On the outer side extensive prehistoric barbed wire could be seen, designed to combat incoming hostile forces.

On our return to the ship, a detour to sample some local alcoholic beverages was highly popular! A barbeque lunch on deck in the sunshine was a marvelous treat and was followed later in the afternoon by a presentation by Jim entitled The Irish Language is Not Only for Leprechauns.

Wednesday, August 24 - Killybegs / Donegal: Alongside in one of Ireland’s major fishing ports, we awoke to the surroundings of tranquil and verdant fields. Our excursion for the day was to take in the world-famous Belleek Potteries, to the south of Donegal. A highly interesting tour of the Belleek factory enabled a much fuller grasp of the quality of the porcelain and its distinctive basket-weave finish with delicate applied flowers. On our return to Donegal we paused at the peaceful Franciscan Friary at Rossnowlagh. In the afternoon, the 15th-century Donegal Castle was our port of call, prior to a brief stop to view hand-woven tweed being created.

Once back onboard, Ann gave a comprehensive presentation under the title of Ireland: The Creation of a Nation.

Thursday, August 25 - Portrush, Northern Ireland / Giant’s Causeway: Calm seas continued as we sailed northwards to our port of call on the north coast of Antrim. The colorful seaside resort of Portrush is the gateway to Giant’s Causeway, a massive expanse of basaltic columns formed by the slow cooling of molten lava some 60 million years ago. A World Heritage Site, this mass of hexagonal pillars forms a causeway heading into the sea towards Scotland. Higher up the slopes above, the distinctive columns appear at a distance like organ pipes and they are, in mythology at least, termed The Organ.

We next viewed the stunningly located Dunluce Castle on the north coast. The remains visible today are of the late 16th century and were built by the MacDonnell family, originally from Scotland. Excavations in the nearby fields revealed a whole settlement where the workers would have been housed, with the walls of the buildings surviving in many cases as high as three feet. Our final stop of the morning was at Old Bushmills Distillery, the world’s oldest at 500 years old! The amber nectar produced seemed to slide down easily...

After a little time to explore the seaside town of Portrush, it was time for a lecture by Colleen entitled The Vikings in the Irish Sea Region.

Friday, August 26 - Port St. Mary, Isle of Man: Calm seas and bright sunshine greeted us on our last morning onboard the Clipper Odyssey. A full day tour ahead of us, we explored this diminutive and beautiful Celtic island, located in the middle of the Irish Sea. Heading first to Castletown, a picturesque harbor, we clambered up spiral staircases and engaged with life in Castle Rushen. This well-preserved castle dates back to the 1200s and provided a wonderful insight into life within its confines. Nearby, the Nautical Museum provided a clear introduction to the maritime heritage of the island, with the exhibits focusing on the 18th-century vessel, Peggy.

Our next treat was an excursion between Castletown and Port Erin on the Victoria steam train, a joy for children of all ages! As we rumbled amidst the verdant fields and flower-filled hedgerows, some of us relived childhood memories of such a jaunt—or perhaps that was just the handful of us with homes in the UK!

Our afternoon continued in Peel, located midway up the west coast of the island, at the House of Manannan. The highlight of this contemporary exhibit was undoubtedly the small Viking-style vessel, Odins Raven, a replica of the Gokstad ship from Norway, which sailed into Peel harbor in 1979 as part of the celebrations to mark 1,000 years since the arrival of the Vikings in the Isle of Man. A brief stop at the Tynwald parliament site rounded off our excellent day on this delightful island.

We moved into the evening with the captain’s farewell cocktails, followed by dinner and Chocolate Madness. The evening ended with the superb photographic presentation by Giovanna Fasanelli, depicting our adventure.

Saturday, August 27 - Dublin: As we awoke once more on the River Liffey in Dublin, our adventure at an end, we all bravely tried to embrace the prospect of our journeys home, with myriad farewells to newfound friends...until the next time then.