50th ANNIVERSARY IRELAND & LONDON
I don't know who thought up the idea to celebrate mom & pop's 50th wedding anniversary (9/9/86) in Ireland, but it turned out to be a fantastic trip and a wonderful experience for us. Joyce and I had only been married 4 years so this was a great opportunity to build a new connection with my folks. After many days on the road followed by Bailey's at cocktail hour , we formed a close bond and loving relationship that has grown stronger over the years. The trip was full of interesting experiences and beautiful sites dotted with sheep everywhere. A selection of pictures from the trip are in the Ireland Album on the web. Here are some highlights (click map for itinerary):
We planned to stay in as many castle or palace hotels as possible in order to reinforce the fantasy and romance of Ireland. The first was Ashford Castle in co. Mayo. This made a wonderful start as the rooms were huge and the grounds were green and beautiful. On our first day of excursion we had a delightful encounter with a pub owner named Joe who claimed to have been John Wayne's stand in when The Quiet Man was filmed. Joe was full of stories and hugs for the ladies and he referred to Joyce as my "wee darlin" which is a term of endearment that I still use. I have watched The Quiet Man many times and have recognized scenery from the area, but I must say that I can't find Joe. Our dog Trooper is named from the movie as John Wayne's boxing name was Trooper Thorn.
Mom got a special treat on our way north as we stopped to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Knock. The whole site has been pretty commercialized but it still had the feel of spirituality about it. We lunched in a pub on our way to Northern Ireland for a visit to a coastal resort. The owner was not too impressed with our itinerary and told us the coast would be bleak. We couldn't decide if he really meant bleak or whether he was talking about Beleek since we told him we would be visiting the porcelain factory. Once we got there, we realized it was the former as we were clearly past the season and it was pretty cold, you could even call it bleak. However, the accommodations were great and the anniversary event was celebrated in style. The tour of the Beleek factory was great fun with purchases made to prove it. We left the coast, crossed the border and headed for Dublin.
In Dublin we did big city things. We walked and shopped for many miles and toured the historical sites. We spent a very enjoyable afternoon at the zoo which was un-crowded and felt more intimate with the animals than the typical US zoo. The highlight of the Dublin stay was undoubtedly the cabaret at Jury's which was very "touristy" but was filled with terrific Irish music highlighted by an outstanding performance from Tony Kenny along with a curmudgeon of a comedian who kept us in stitches. Both Mom and I still have our signed Tony Kenny cassettes.
Back through the countryside we drove (almost always on the left side) with occasional stops for sheep or to admire the countryside. We toured Cahir Castle which was in remarkable shape and demonstrated the theory of progressive defenses all leading to preservation of the Lord in "the keep". Of course, all this became instantly obsolete with the introduction of cannon by the Cromwellians. We had a roadside picinic on the way to Waterford where we intended to buy out the factory store. To the ladies dismay, and Pop's delight, the factory was closed that day so we had to move on empty handed. By evening, we arrived at the Cashel Palace Hotel and the largest and most grand accomodations any of us had ever seen. The next day, we explored the ruins of the "Rock of Cashel" and had a grand time reading old gravestones and enjoying the scenery.
The drive to the Park Hotel in co. Kerry afforded some of the most beautiful vistas of the trip. Of course we stopped to kiss the blarney stone on the way and spent a couple of days just taking it all in. Each small town, like Killarney, was great fun to explore and the people were most warm and hospitable. We even made the drive to the dingle peninsula on the southwest coast.
Our final accommodations were in the Dromoland Castle Hotel near Shannon. This was another example of the surrender of the manor lords to the tourists. We spent a full day and evening exploring Bunratty Park which was a restored medieval village complete with dinner banquet in the castle. This was a terrific opportunity for Pop to eat with his fingers with no shame since no silverware was provided. Wandering the streets and exploring the cottages of the village made a nice ending to our visit to Ireland. I remember a quote from one of the workers at the park when we asked him why there were so many stone walls in Ireland. He said, during the potato famine and subsequent tough times, "a person either built stone walls or emigrated". This helped us appreciate how fortunate we were to be able to live as we do.
Our trip ended with a short stay in London where we saw the main sites of the Tower of London and a trip to Hampton Court. We even went to the theater to see Cats. I was pleasantly surprised by how much Pop enjoyed the show. I guess it was loud enough to hear and some of the cats are pretty cute.
We parted company in Atlanta for our respective destinations. Just writing this account helps me remember what a great experience it was and how lucky I am to have both parents still with us.