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I recently was able to fulfill a life long dream by visiting the magical land of Ireland. I encourage everyone to take a step out of daily reality and experience this magical island for yourself (http://www.dublinsightseeing.ie/).

As my ship sailed into port on the shores of the Emerald Isle, it was an inspiring moment, one that I hope to keep forever in meaningful memory. I felt like I had been transported to a pristine place of green mountains and blue sea, with the scent of salt air blowing in from the Irish Sea. This was Ireland. Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once hinted that Ireland is not simply a place, but rather a state of mind. He described it as romantic, passionate, and garrulous. Here a stranger becomes a friend, thanks to one of the principal pleasures of the Irish- conversation.

Stillorgan Park Hotel, Dublin, IrelandIreland, which is located west of Great Britain, is officially known as the Republic of Ireland or by its nickname “the Emerald Isle”. It originated from an ancient tale that states “if you go out and look into the fresh morning dew in Ireland, the green pastures sparkle just like emeralds.” In the local Irish language, (which became official in 2005), the Republic of Ireland is known as Erin. You should have a little craic (fun) and try to impress your friends and family by speaking a few words of Irish.

Ireland is a small country, slightly larger than West Virginia, with most areas accessible from Dublin. Ireland itself is split into two parts, Northern Ireland which is part of the British Commonwealth and uses the pound as currency and The Republic of Ireland which takes up three quarters of the island including its capital city of Dublin. It is a constitutional democracy and a member of the European Union using the always fluctuating Euro as currency. 1 Euro = about 1.3787 U.S. dollars.

The climate is absolutely unpredictable; it is fairly common to go through all four seasons in one day. So how does an Irishwoman dress for the day?  Layering! This is what Irish style is all about- layering with shirts, hats, leggings, and the woolen sweaters for which they are most famous. May, when I visited, is the warmest month with the temperature only reaching the 50’s. The locals are all out in tank tops, and on more than one occasion I was asked why I looked like I was going skiing. I thought they were joking because the temperature was so cold!

Clarence Hotel, Dublin, IrelandIf you have trouble sleeping with daylight peaking through the curtains, you may want to invest in a heavy duty sleeping mask. Why, because the sun does not go down in Ireland until 11:00 pm and rises at around 3:00 am. So after dinner I actually went out for a walk in what felt like the middle of the afternoon. I know what you’re thinking ladies, No! The stores do not stay open longer because the daylight is longer. The differences in customs helped me to understand Charles Haughey when he said, “Ireland is where strange tales begin and happy endings are possible”.

My personal tale began in Dublin where I, along with my mother and sister, checked into the Stillorgan Park Hotel (stillorganpark.com).  It had a lovely, friendly ambiance, and the staff was very helpful and courteous. The rooms are spacious and ill-equipped and included wireless internet. The hotel is situated in a great location and is just a short taxi drive away from the city center, or you can take a bus (3 day bus card for 13 Euro a person). The 25 minute bus ride into Dublin provided a great view of the Wicklow Mountains along the way.

Céad Míle Fáilte (A hundred thousand welcomes) to Ireland’s capital city, located near the east coast at the mouth of the River Liffey, which is steeped in history and bursting with youthful energy. Medieval, Georgian and modern architecture appear sporadically throughout the city providing a backdrop to a friendly port where the various cultures it has absorbed each have a chance to shine and create the unique identity that is Dublin.

Dublin was founded in 841AD by the Vikings, after they settled along the coast and set up a port there. One third of the population of Ireland lives in Dublin, with an average age of 27 years old. The city center is confined to a 2 mile square, making it one of the smallest in Europe, very convenient for a tourist. There are more bars per square mile in Dublin than any other city, with about 750 pubs in the city center alone. Dublin is also a center for entertainment and very bohemian.

Temple Bar, Dublin, IrelandAlso home to one of the world’s most famous bands, U2, who actually own Clarence Hotel, a renovated, hip hotel and sleek bar originally built in 1852 that the band frequents without harassment from the locals. They are just one of the “lads.” You can hear their songs echoing up and down Temple Bar, a bustling nightlife area packed on the weekends with drinkers and revelers.

Once in the city I decided to ride the “Hop on- Hop off” 24 hour-a-day Dublin Bus tour. The complete tour took 1 1/2 hours, including 23 stops at some of the most popular sites. After sitting on the tour I decided to do some exploring for myself, hopping off at Phoenix Park, my favorite place in Dublin. This 1007 acre park demands respect with its huge presence in the city, and almost every road leads to it. It’s the largest park in the United Kingdom, twice the size of Central Park, once a hunting park for royals who hunted red deer, hundreds of whom still occupy the park today. There’s also the 3rd oldest Zoo in Europe, the first to breed and train lions including the lion that is seen roaring at the beginning of MGM films (the Irish consider this their big contribution to Hollywood).

There are two residences within the park, one being Aras an Uachtaráin, (heritageireland.ie/en/Dublin/ArasanUachtarain/) home to Mary McAleese, president of Ireland. The Irish President is similar to the Queen of England but cannot overshadow her. She now holds the Guinness World record as the longest running woman president anywhere in the world, ever. Ireland is a very neutral country and loves America because it was the first nation to recognize it as an independent country. The two countries work closely together, so much that they offered our American Ambassador the only other residence inside the exclusive park, for a rent of $1. Both houses somewhat resemble the White house in style, and proudly fly both the American and Irish flags together. Our tour guide told us, “When America catches a cold, Ireland catches pneumonia.”

Next I visited Trinity College, the premier University of Ireland, which is over 400 years old and was established by Queen Elizabeth I. Famous Irish minds including Oscar Wilde and James Joyce attended this school, which is considered the Ivy League of Europe, ranking up there with our Harvard and Yale. There is no cost for a Trinity education, and the only way to get in is through academic ability. Trinity College also houses the famed Book of Kells in its library, which attracts over 500,000 visitors each year. Written around the year 800 AD, the Book of Kells contains a richly decorated copy of the four gospels in a Latin text based on the Vulgate edition (completed by St Jerome in 384 AD).
 
Trinity College, Dublin, IrelandA discount came with the purchase of the bus ticket to the Guinness Storehouse (http://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en/Index.aspx). Like most visitors to Dublin, I just had to visit Guinness. It was filled with floors of displays, as well as the old machinery it takes to make it, and details of the processes used. The Gravity Bar on the top floor has a great view of Dublin and the Dublin Mountains, so you can sightsee and drink your 1 free pint. One of Dublin's biggest manufacturers is Guinness, which originally employed 12,000 employees but now, thanks to technology, they employee only 400. The Guinness family was and still is very influential in the city of Dublin.

As I anxiously watched the beer maiden taking her time pouring my very own glass of Guinness, I noticed every move she made, they were so precise. Then she proudly displayed the shimmering glass on the bar, and I reached for my first sip, when I heard the bartender say…… “No! Stop! Be patient, the Guinness does not settle right unless you let it rest for 5 minutes before drinking.” For all you beer drinkers out there, let's just say the wait was well worth it. As the distinctively un-American non-chilled dark brew reached my palate, the taste was just heavenly.

Our trip to Dublin ended with a visit to St. Patricks Cathedral (http://www.stpatrickscathedral.ie/index.aspx) built in 1192, on the site of a little wooden Church dedicated to St. Patrick. St. Patrick’s is the National Cathedral for the Church of Ireland (Anglican) Community. The famous Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, is buried in the cathedral. As I walked into the building, I was awed by one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen in my life. The stained glass everywhere bounced and reflected colors off the dark brick walls giving the old building life, but quickly reminding us of its age was the odor of the centuries filling the thick, stuffy air. After a few moments I sat down in a back pew and listened to the choir as their beautiful voices traveled infinitely through the church.

At that moment I felt that my trip could now comfortably come to a close, because nothing could top this moment of peace. In the words of a wise old proverb, “There is as much to see in a blade of grass as there is in a whole meadow.”

If you are wise enough to visit this amazing place, I encourage you to travel beyond the tourist traps and find the evergreen magic of this intriguing place for yourself, as I did. Ireland has a piece of me and I, a piece of her.

For more information about visiting Ireland, check out discoverireland.com.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 111 - September 2439
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