Our Irish Spring

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The reputation of the Celebrity Reflection was confirmed on our trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Dublin in April/May 2019. The trip was one of the best of the many trans-oceanic cruises we have taken with Celebrity since 2013  The entertainment was the exceptional. We met many new and old friends as we danced across the Atlantic Ocean.

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Andrew and John Ready for a Night of Dancing

The voyage was fourteen days with stops in the Azores before first landing in Cork, Ireland. The town has the dubious distinction of being the last stop for the White Star’s Titanic on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic in 1912.

Our first impression of Ireland was how wonderfully green the landscape was. Every shade of green was visible. We had heard references to the Emerald Isle and they are really true. In our morning in Cork we walked which is the best way to get a postcard view of a new community. The highlight was lunch which we had in the town market called the English Market. It is a conglomeration of shops selling every kind of fresh meat, seafood, vegetables, and fruit. There was plenty of prepared food in little cafes inside the market. Lunch was a delightful change from the rotating menu on the ship. We have no complaints about the food on the ship but the menu is a bit repetitious after two weeks.

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Blarney Castle Where We Went Up Top to Kiss the Blarney Stone

After lunch we struggled to find city bus #215 to take us to Blarney Castle. I had no intention of lying on my back and leaning down to kiss the Blarney stone. But after waiting an hour(short based on what we were told) Andrew convinced me that we had waited this long I should do it.  He and I kissed the stone. As the myth goes I now have the gift of eloquence. I have been spouting quotes from Oscar Wilde, Dublin born, ever since. Oscar Wilde is quoted having said, ““Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much,” or “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” The best quote I saw was written on a transformer box: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” If you can’t be eloquent yourself borrow someone else’s words.

We sailed next to Liverpool which everyone knows is the city where the Beetles got their start in the early 1960’s. On a cold morning we walked through downtown but didn’t have time to go to the Beetles Museum. We did buy a Beetle’s tee shirt. When all else fails buy a tee shirt. We sailed off for our last evening on the cruise ship and in the morning we were docked in Dublin, Ireland.

Fortunately, we took a taxi to our hotel which turned out to be the best decision. Many folks took a Celebrity shuttle which dropped them and their luggage off in an out of the way street on a bank holiday. Taxis were very hard to find. Andrew and I walked the streets past the first of many churches we saw that day. First, was the beautiful and unusual St Andrew’s Catholic Church which was constructed in the form of a Roman cross.

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John and Oscar

We walked on to Merrion Park(Dublin’s version of New York Central Park) where we found a sculpture of Oscar Wilde idly reclining on a rock. On we went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral named for the saint that reportedly drove the snakes from Ireland. We couldn’t confirm the story so we just accepted the story as fact. We saw no snakes the entire trip. On we went to Christ Church Cathedral where we saw a bill announcing a concert  the next day. We walked through the famous shopping area of Temple Bar.

The next morning I took a walking tour on the south side of Dublin with tour guide, David. I know I have mentioned before that I love the free walking tours  usually given by a young person who works for tips only. Our Guide,, David was excellent. Our group was an Irishman, a mother and son from Germany, the son’s girl friend from Mexico and me. I asked David to tell me when we came to a site particularly important to literature. Not only Wilde but so many important  writers, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw and Sinead O’Connor made their literary home at Dublin’s Trinity College.

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Across the street from Trinity College David pointed out a plaque embedded in the sidewalk. He explained that James Joyce wrote his most famous novel Ulysses at Trinity College. The novel takes place on one day all around Dublin. At over 100 places important in the story a plaque exists identifying the event and the page in the book where it took place. This plaque referred to an event that took place on page 133. It rests at the foot of a statute of Tommy Moore who is holding up his roguish finger.

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Chorale from UT Chattanooga in Concert at Christ Church in Belfast

 

After my tour Andrew and I attended the concert of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Chorale who performed at the Christ Church Cathedral. The  organist composed some of the beautiful music the chorale performed. The singers were exceptional ambassadors for the fine music programs that exist in the USA. The chorale members were engaging young people in Ireland for a three concert tour. The church, built on a site where a church has stood since 700 AD, was acoustically perfect with it’s high vaulted nave. We finished the afternoon with a late lunch at O’Neal’s where we dined on traditional Irish cuisine which included tasty seafood soup, lamb, four types of potato dishes and Irish beer.

The next morning toting our excessive luggage we board the train for Dundalk which is on the Northern/Southern Ireland border. The border area was the site of many of the skirmishes and pitched attacks resulting from the British occupation of Northern Ireland.

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Andrew, John and Aidan in Belfast

We were met by our friend, Aidan, who we knew from two past cruises. He owns the Murtagh Bar and small hotel in Crossmaglen, Northern Ireland. We stayed with him at his hotel and enjoyed a spectacular meal at a country club with a spectacular view of the countryside. I can confirm again that everywhere you look Ireland is one shade of green or another.  The following day Aidan drove us through a magnificent forest park and then along the coastal road to Belfast. The views were breathtaking.

Once we reached Belfast we went to Aidan’s new condo near the city hall. Aidan had some major surgery since we saw him so we were happy to see him healed and ready to be our tour guide. The entire downtown area was a pedestrian walkway filled with shops including our favorite Marks & Spencer’s Food Hall. We picked up our favorite snacks – cheesy twisted crispy bread sticks. After cocktails in the bar at the Europa Hotel, the most bombed hotel in Europe, we had a delicious dinner at Deenes – an award winning restaurant which we highly recommend.

I have to comment on the climate between the Catholics and the British in Northern Ireland today. Things remains tense. Even though the Belfast Agreement/Good Friday Agreement was signed more than twenty hears ago there were constant comments from Aidan about the stress that remains from the death and terrorism that happened during the preceding twenty years. It was brought close to us when Aiden showed us where a British soldier was shot dead on the steps of his bar.

Back in Aiden’s condo we had great conversation before going bed in his new, top floor, two bedroom two bath condo where we were lucky enough to stay for three days. The next morning with Aidan at the wheel we traveled to Holywood and Bangar, picturesque villages to the east of Belfast. We bought tasty, crispy bread and cheddar cheese for a future meal and then ate lunch in a cute Irish coffee shop. Aidan left us on the third morning to return to Crossmaglen to open the bar. We were on our own. That morning we visited the St. George’s weekend market. The food, goods and entertainment made for a great morning followed by lunch from food vendors. In the afternoon I walked to the Titanic Experience which tells the story of the construction of the White Star Line’s Titanic in 1911 before its fateful maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 1912. Belfast from the late 19th century into the mid-20th century was a ship building powerhouse and major industrial city during the industrial revolution. It was also the largest weaver and exporter of linen in the world.

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(Left to Right) Bow of Nomadic, 1912 Tender to Titanic, Titanic Experience and John with Walking Stick

The Titanic Experience, a modern exhibit space, sits where the top of the gantry stood when the Titanic was built. At the time the Titanic was being built a sister ship, the Olympia, was being constructed next to it. The Titanic’s encounter with an iceberg and sinking was caused by rushed construction, poor quality rivets and excessive speed. The tragedy  led to major safety and engineering changes even before the Olympia was completed. Any visit to Belfast should include a visit to the Titanic Experience and see the last White Star vessel, the Nomadic, a tender that took passengers to the Titanic in Cherbourg, France in 1912.

Our last day Sunday was spent preparing to leave and resting. We really loved our time in Ireland. We learned so much and understand so much better the problems that have so long divided the predominately Catholic south from the Protestant north of Ireland . The country side is beautifully green.

 

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