Corners of Ireland – Irish America Irish America Magazine Mon, 22 Jul 2019 14:31:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 “Sláinte, Mon!”: The Irish of Jamaica Wed, 09 May 2018 05:26:10 +0000 Read more..]]> That Irish is Jamaica’s second-most predominant ethnicity may come as a surprise, especially to those outside the country. It all started in 1655 when the British failed in their efforts to claim Santo Domingo from the Spaniards and took Jamaica as a consolation prize.

Of course, the British also had been quite active in Ireland, where, between 1641 and 1652, about half the population had been wiped out. War, famine, and plague played roles in this decline.

Another lesser-known factor was slavery.

As part of his “Western Design,” Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell was expanding his ventures in the Caribbean; as part of his “Settlement in Ireland,” he was tyrannizing many of the natives. To enslave Irish natives and transport them to the West Indies was a fine way to unite both agendas.

Another dynamic was that few, if any, Englishwomen were willing to emigrate to the West Indies, so slave catchers and plantation owners began indulging a sweet tooth for the Irish colleen.

Elliott O’Donnell’s 1915 book The Irish Abroad paints a rather vivid scene: “Gangs of [Cromwell’s] soldiers invaded Connaught, and pouncing on all the women and girls they could find, drove them in gangs to Cork.” At Cork, the slave catchers began to assess their plunder, among other activities.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper, 1656. (Photo: National Portrait Gallery, London / Wikimedia Commons)

A 1969 Ebony magazine article, “White Servitude in America” by African American scholar Lerone Bennett, Jr., mentions various colonial undertakings involving white cargo, including a special 1655 project to bring “some 1,000 young Irish girls to Jamaica for breeding purposes.” Though Bennett says it’s unknown what ultimately became of this particular plan, his article talks about a colonial tradition that “in some cases” saw “whites, blacks, and reds [indigenous Americans]” being “sold from the same stand.”

John Patrick Prendergast’s 1868 work The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland tells of a 1654 order (concerning the Governors of Carlow, Clonmel, Kilkenny, Ross, Waterford, and Wexford) requiring that “all wanderers, men and women, and such other Irish” who were lacking a “settled course of industry” be “transported to the West Indies.” Also ordered for transport were “all prisoners” and “such children as were in hospitals or workhouses.”

James Curtis Ballagh’s 1895 work White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia says: “Oliver Cromwell in preparing for his settlement of Ireland did not hesitate to transport large numbers of the dispossessed Irish as slaves to the West Indies.”

Into “such shameful slavery” thousands of Irish women were dispatched, relates Justin H. McCarthy’s 1883 book An Outline of Irish History from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Of course, a need for hard labor on the Caribbean plantations ensured that Irish men were claimed as well.

Sir Alexander Bustamante (1884-1977), Jamaica’s first president, showing his party sign. Bustamante’s father was born in Ireland. Date unknown. (Photo: National Library of Jamaica Photograph Collection / Wikimedia Commons)

Writing in the 1660s, a Rev. John Lynch, author of Cambrensis Eversus, describes the Caribbean-bound Irish: “many droves of old men and youths [and] a vast multitude of virgins and matrons […] the former might pass their lives in hard slavery, and the latter maintain themselves even by their own prostitution.” Lynch added: “Many priests are sent away to the islands of the Indies that they might be sold by auction.”

Delivering his Sixth Donnellan Lecture in 1901, Anglican minister G. Robert Wynne remarked: “The victories of Cromwell in the English and Irish wars of the Long Parliament furnished thousands of white slaves to till the fertile Jamaican valleys.”

These Irish were accustomed to hard work, but they were totally unacquainted with the hot Caribbean climate. Though their bondage was often a death sentence, enough of the Irish survived that by 1670 they already accounted for a significant part of Jamaica’s population.

Thousands of Irish slaves were steered to Barbados. However, Jamaica, being 25 times larger, was soon proving the more lucrative venue. In fact, quite a few owners of Barbadian plantations relocated their operations to Jamaica. And Joseph J. Williams in his 1932 book Whence the “Black Irish” of Jamaica? relates that the early Jamaican Irish in large part came from Barbados.

Bustamante and John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office, 1962. (Photo: Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

Catholicism was ardently suppressed in Jamaica, so the Catholic religion largely faded away within a few generations. However, other signs of the Irish were beginning to take hold. Among these signs was the prominence of Irish surnames. Even today in Jamaica, one can locate a Burke, Collins, Kennedy, Mackey, McCormack, McDermott, McKeon, O’Hare, or Walsh, along with many others.

Aside from surnames, Ireland also has taken root among place names in Jamaica. For example, there is an “Irish Pen” in a section of the country known as St. Catherine Parish, as well as “Dublin Castle” and “Irish Town” in St. Andrew Parish. Additionally, there are roads given such names as Leitrim and Longford.

Some of the most eminent Jamaicans have been of Irish extraction. Among these are Alexander Bustamante, Jamaica’s first prime minister upon achieving its independence in 1962 and whose father, Robert Constantine Clarke, was an Irishman, and Claude McKay, the native Jamaican writer who later would migrate to New York City and help spark the Harlem Renaissance.

Writing for the Irish cultural website The Wild Geese, Rob Mullally highlights similarities between Ireland and Jamaica: both are relatively small island nations that shared the same master for over a quarter-millennium, won their independence in the 20th century, and yet continued to see large amounts of emigration.

The two nations also are linked by the trade of human flesh. On a less depressing level, however, some have suggested that the Jamaican accent – made ultra-cool by reggae and Rasta – is a modification of the Irish accent. And white potatoes in

Jamaica are called “Irish.” So it might be fitting after all to combine the words: “Sláinte, mon!” ♦


To be clear and fair, the numbers of captive Irish sent to the West Indies amount to far less than the numbers of African slaves. Furthermore, some Irish in the West Indies became slave owners themselves. It should also be known that some venues, particularly online, have reported numbers of Irish slaves that are greatly exaggerated. At the same time, other venues say that Irish slavery was essentially a myth. The exact numbers of transported Irish will never be known. Many of those eventually transported were indentured servants who signed a contract stipulating that they would serve a master for a period of years in exchange for transatlantic passage. However, many other Irish signed no such contract. Rather, they were forcibly taken from their homeland and brought to the West Indies. Readers can judge for themselves whether or not that qualifies as kidnapping and enslavement.


Ray Cavanaugh is a freelance scribe from Massachusetts who enjoys long walks, short novels, and colorful characters. He has written for such publications as the Guardian, Time, Celtic Life, and New Oxford Review. His mother comes straight from Kerry, and his father is a few generations removed from Wexford.

A version of this article previously appeared in Ireland’s Own magazine.


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California’s First Irish Hunger Memorial Sat, 01 Oct 2016 06:38:27 +0000 Read more..]]> The community of Eugene, California welcomed the state’s first Irish Hunger Memorial at its dedication ceremony in Saint Joseph’s Cemetery in September. It was the product of efforts by the Irish Cultural Society of Stanislaus County and the San Francisco Chapter of the Irish American Unity Conference, and about 100 locals were present to see it unveiled.

The memorial’s location is a significant one – the first settlers in Eugene were a pair of Irishmen named Dillon and Dooley, who erected a change station for horses of the Kelly and Reynold stage line. When the settlement had reached its peak in 1870, James Nolan, another Irish immigrant, became its first postmaster. Nolan would go on to donate the land for Saint Joseph’s Church, which by the 1890s was the settlement’s final remaining building. It too was eventually torn down, leaving the cemetery grounds upon which the simplistic headstone and plaque of the Hunger Memorial now stand.

A view of California's first Irish Hunger Memorial.

A view of California’s first Irish Hunger Memorial. (Photo: Loretta McCarthy)


“When the Irish came to California, they were among the first pioneers,” said Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland in San Francisco, at the unveiling event. “There were no cities to find themselves in the slums of. Instead, they built the cities.”

He added, “It is as important to have a Famine memorial in a small rural cemetery in the middle of the foothills in California as it is to have it in Boston, or New York, or New Orleans because this is a very important part of how a people found salvation, how a people found hope.” ♦

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Salsa Verde: The Irish in Argentina Mon, 19 May 2014 12:11:25 +0000 Read more..]]> On the bicentennial of Combate de Montevideo, May, 1814, which won the River Plate and secured Argentina’s independence from Spain, Harry Dunleavy writes about the considerable contributions made by Irish people, such as Admiral William Brown, in the formation and development of the country.

In the southeastern part of South America lies the wedge-shaped country of Argentina, the Land of Silver. Covering more than a million square miles, it is Latin America’s second largest country and one of the world’s richest in natural resources. Its topography varies from the snowcapped peaks of Tierra Del Fuego in the south to the arid, sunbaked regions of the north. The Spanish discovered it in 1515 and Juan Garay established the first settlement near the site of Buenos Aires in 1535.

To this land of contrasts and beauty went several thousand Irish men and women in days gone by. Of a mainly haphazard nature before the 1810 revolution against Spain, Irish immigration was afterwards predominantly organized by the Argentine authorities and Irish groups in the capital, Buenos Aires.

The first Irishman known to have set foot on Argentine soil was Tomas Fehilly, a Jesuit priest from Limerick, who arrived in 1556. After some time, he continued to Paraguay and died in Asuncion in 1625.

Irish immigration was a mere trickle for the next two centuries. However, several Irish names crop up in newspapers of the period. Many were clergy; others were likely descendants of the Wild Geese (Irish soldiers in the continental European armies) who came directly from Spain.

In 1762, a British expedition, which included many Irish, under the command of a Scotsman named McNamara entered the River Plate with the purpose of capturing Colonia, a Spanish settlement on the north side of the river in modern day Uruguay. The attempt failed and McNamara was killed. Many Irish serving in this British naval campaign were captured and sent to the interior, to Mendoza and Cordoba. Others were taken prisoner after the battle of Egmont in the Falkland Islands in June 1770.  After short imprisonments, they showed no desire to leave Argentina and stayed on and made lives for themselves.

In 1806, the British, under Viscount Beresford, invaded Buenos Aires with the unwilling help of many Irishmen. (This was the first substantial group of Irishmen to arrive together in Argentina.) Beresford took the city, but most of the Irishmen deserted to the Spanish side. Prominent among them was Michael Skennon, who was in charge of a cannon in the Spanish attempt to recapture the city. Skennon stayed at his cannon long after his comrades had fallen back and was captured and executed (likely the first non-Spanish person to fall in the liberty of Buenos Aires), but the British were driven out.

Under General Whitelocke, the British made another attempt to capture the River Plate Provinces the following year, again with many officers and men, including an entire regiment of Irish birth, the 88th Connaught Rangers.

Commanders Duff and Vandeleur distrusted the loyalty of the Irish soldiers, which they had used as cannon fodder in the landing, and their fears proved to be well founded. After many desertions, Duff and Vandeleur surrendered.

The deserters helped the Spanish to repel Whitelocke. Another Irishman helping the Spanish was Thomas Craig, who had been shipwrecked off the Patagonian coast in 1798. He later served with the Argentine Navy under fellow Mayo man, Admiral William Brown against Spain and Brazil.

By the time the Spanish provinces of the River Plate rebelled against the mother country in 1810, Buenos Aires had an identifiable Irish community, many of them attracted to Argentina as a result of the trade that had long existed between southern and western Ireland and Spain and her colonies. That community distinguished itself in the War of Independence which ensued, none more so than William Brown, founder of the Argentine Navy.


Admiral Brown

Born in Foxford, County Mayo, in 1777, William Brown emigrated to North America with his father as a nine-year-old. He was orphaned soon afterwards and went to sea as a cabin boy, first visiting the River Plate in 1809. In 1811, in the midst of the War of Independence, he returned to the River Plate aboard his own ship, the Elosia.

In attempting to avoid the Spanish blockade, he ran his ship aground. But he succeeded in landing his valuable cargo and, with the proceeds, bought a new vessel, La Industria, which the Spanish captured. That was the turning point in his career. He was bent on retaliation.

Brown crewed two small boats with a few dozen English-speaking sailors and some Irishmen. Disguised as fishermen, they boarded a Spanish cruiser off Montevideo and overpowered its crew.  This daring feat prompted the rebel leader, General Alvear, to commission Brown to organize a navy.  By 1814, Brown was Commodore of the new fleet.

On March 8 of that year, Brown sailed out to capture the strategic island of Martin Garcia, which commanded the mouths of the mighty Paraña and Uruguay rivers. Brown’s capture of the island on St. Patrick’s Day was the major turning point in the war for Argentinean independence. It obviated previous setbacks by two other rebel leaders, Juan Bautista Azoparde at the naval battle of San Nicolas upstream on the Paraña River and Manuel Belgrano at the subsequent land battle of Tacuari.

The Spanish Fleet, under Jacinto Romarate, was set up in a circle, with support from canons and gunfire on the island. Brown decided to attack from the front and back while simultaneously sending three infantry divisions of 80 men ashore to silence the cannon and gunfire. Brown ordered the fife and drum band to play “Saint Patrick’s Day In The Morning” to increase the morale of the landing infantry. Initial setbacks on land and water were overcome and after five days of conflict, March 10-15, 1814, Brown had control of the island and, most importantly, the two major inland waterways.

Still a Lieutenant Colonel, Brown only had one major battle left before taking control of Montevideo and becoming an admiral.

The Battle of Buceo, just off Montevideo on the River Plate (Rio de la Plata, lasted three days from May 14 to May 17, 1814. The Spanish fleet under Admiral Sienna had eight ships while Brown had seven. Here, Brown’s skill and knowledge of one of the world’s widest rivers told its tale. After drawing the Spanish ships into shallow water away from the protection of shore batteries, five of them were burned, two were captured, and one surrendered. Brown himself was injured on May 16 when he was hit in the leg with a cannon ball. His losses amounted to four dead and one vessel destroyed.

Montevideo, which means “I see a mountain,” at the mouth of the River Plate was now at Brown’s mercy and surrender was the only option.

In 1825, war broke out between Argentina and Brazil, referred to as the Cisplatine War, over the Cisplatine province, which could roughly be equated with modern day Uruguay. The retired admiral was called back to duty and at the Battle of Juncal on the Uruguay River on February 24, 1827, he destroyed the Brazilian fleet. On June 11, 1827, his fleet routed the Brazilians at the Battle of Los Pozos on the River Plate near Buenos Aires. Peace was signed between the two nations on October 4, 1827, with the Treaty of Montevideo, bringing down the curtain on Brown’s military career, though he would go on to be director of Argentina’s National Bank and Governor of Buenos Aires Province.

In 1847, he returned to his native Foxford in Mayo. But Argentina was in Brown’s blood. and after four months, he returned to Buenos Aires, where he died ten years later.


After the war, the Irish began to filter out of Buenos Aires into the surrounding countryside where they took up sheep farming. Immigration from Ireland, particularly from Westmeath and Wexford, increased dramatically under new land schemes, and the new arrivals also went into sheep farming, with several becoming millionaires in the process. When Cavanman Peter Sheridan died in 1844 at the age of 52, his ranch, Los Galpones, in the Canueles district, boasted 10,000 sheep, 8,000 cattle, and 2,000 horses.

In 1848, a Dublin Protestant named McCann set up an agency in Buenos Aires to bring out emigrants for sheep farming.  The passage cost £10 if paid in Ireland and £15 if paid after arrival. There were many takers.

In 1862, President Mitre of Argentina set up an Irish agricultural colony on a large tract of land at Bahia Blanca. It failed due to the lack of a railway and a shortage of supplies. The last big attempt at organized immigration from Ireland began in 1887, when two wealthy sheep farmers, Buckley O’Meara and John Dillon, went to Ireland to recruit. Unlike previous immigrants, these new recruits were from the cities  – mainly Cork and Limerick.  The City of Dresden sailed from Cork in 1889 with 1,800 aboard.  They settled Naposta in Buenos Aires province. Most were unsuited to a life of farming and the colony collapsed within a year. Many of them ended up in the city of Buenos Aires, but some resettled on estates owned by Irishmen.

Before the 1810 revolution, most Irish immigrants were men. Afterwards, half  of the new arrivals were women, and settlements began to spring up that were almost exclusively Irish. Countless Irish societies were formed, the first being the Irish National Society of Buenos Aires.  The principal diversions seem to have been dancing and horse racing.

Clergy began to arrive from Ireland to cater for their spiritual needs, the first being Fr. Patrick Moran, who arrived in February 1830, and the most famous being Fr. Anthony Fahy, who arrived from Loughrea, Co. Galway, in 1843.  In 1856, the Sisters of Mercy arrived; several schools and colleges sprang up and in 1858, an Irish hospital was opened in Buenos Aires.


In Buenos Aires Province, the district which best exemplified Irish society in the halcyon days of sheep farming was Carmen de Areco, 70 miles west of the capital. It had a Mercy convent school, colleges of Clonmacnois and St. Brendan, an Irish College of Carmen, a library, the Brehon Athletic Club, and the Clara Morgan Hospital. In 1867, a fund was established in the area to ameliorate the plight of imprisoned Fenians. One successful Irish farmer in Carmen de Areco was Thomas Donohue, a native of Cork.  When he died in 1866, he had 12,000 sheep on his farm.

In the success story of the Irish in Argentina, the name Duggan is inescapable. When Westmeath man Michael Duggan died in 1888, his estate was said to be the size of Munster and he was considered the richest Irishman in the world.  His descendants are still among the most prominent families in Argentina.

The Irish involved themselves in every level of politics, from local councils to the highest office, attained in 1944 when Edelmiro Julián Farrell became national president.

Today, around half a million Spanish-speaking Argentines trace their ancestry to Ireland. They have their own newspaper, The Southern Cross, which is over 100 years old. Originally, the paper was written mainly in English, but by 1977, it had only one English-language column.

Irish social life and traditions now revolve around the Hurling Club in Hurlingham, a western suburb of Buenos Aires, where Irish Argentines congregate in hundreds each weekend.  There are still occasional hurling games, but the popularity of the sport dropped around the time of WWII when hurley sticks became impossible to import. Irish hockey and rugby teams continue to this day.

In the final analysis, when studying the history of Argentina, it is impossible to escape the considerable contribution made by the Irish in the formation and development of that great country.


For more on The Southern Cross, read Adam Farley’s interview with editor-in-chief Dr. Guillermo McLoughlin. And check out his profile of the Irish dance group Celtic Argentina, based out of Buenos Aires.

Harry Dunleavy lived in Argentina for a brief period. He currently resides in Augusta, New Jersey, U.S.A.

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The Irish of the Miramichi Wed, 15 May 2013 15:16:18 +0000 Read more..]]> The region’s tough but triumphant Irish roots are celebrated every year at Canada’s Irish Festival.

It’s no secret why folks along the mighty Miramichi River celebrate their Irish heritage so fiercely. When your roots and a good part of the history that followed are steeped in sorrow and loss, rejoicing in what is good about life and your culture is that much more important.

This region, about two hours’ drive north of New Brunswick’s economic center, Moncton, has taken body blows over the centuries, from famine and fire to war and mill closings that have tried the resolve of a largely Irish population.

But first amongst the woes, surely, was the string of coffin ships, full to overflowing with Irish fleeing starvation, that made their way up the Miramichi from the Atlantic Ocean in 1847.
In this region of 28,000, about 60 percent of whom are Irish, it is simply referred to as “The Tragedy of 1847.”

The first ship to arrive was the Looshtauk. Turned away at Sydney, Nova Scotia by officials terrified of the sickness and close to 100 dead on board, Captain John Thain hoped for better fortune up the Miramichi, where, in lieu of a quarantine station, the authorities had hastily erected a lazarattoo on Middle Island in the center of the river.

The Looshtauk had sailed from Liverpool on April 17 with 462 passengers living in deplorable conditions and arrived at Middle Island on June 2, in complete crisis. After months of misery, 242 of the passengers perished at sea or on the island. But matters worsened as six other ships followed the Looshtauk up the river in the days and weeks that followed, only one ship with a clean bill of health.

To their credit, the townspeople in what was then called Chatham rallied to help in the wake of the disaster, breaking from the planting season to round up food, clothing, bedclothes and medical aid for the troubled ship. After some debate, town officials sent workers to Middle Island to convert fish shacks into temporary shelters.

The heroic efforts of a local physician, Dr. John Vondy, 28-years-old, the only doctor who chose to live on Middle Island while caring for the sick, ended a month after the Looshtauk docked, when he contacted Typhus from his patients and died.

Vondy, who had received his medical training in London, had returned to his native Miramichi to practice.

All this is hard to envision under a summer’s blue sky on the bucolic island today, especially when the greater world comes to pay respects as Canada’s self-appointed “Irish Capital” stages its Irish Festival on its streets, waterfront, arenas and public gathering spots.

A Celtic cross monument and a trail around the island, now connected to the river’s bank by a causeway, provide simple and moving tributes to a terrible time.

“From that tragedy has sprung a tremendous sense of pride in Irish culture and the ancestors,” says Veronique Arsenault, the festival’s president. “We must always remember that, learn from it and move forward.”

Over four days, from July 18 to 21, local folks and more than 10,000 visitors will celebrate the festival’s 30th anniversary. They will party, parade, eat, dance, see art exhibits and theater, enjoy an almost endless stream of musicians, and check out the New Brunswick provincial archives and census records of Irish immigrants.

The closing moments of the festival always come back to 1847, with a remembrance of June 2 of that year and the misery that followed.

“It’s very emotional,” said Hughie McElvaney, mayor of Monaghan, the  Irish town that twinned with Miramichi at the first Irish Festival in 1998. “So many Irish were lost there.”
But the Mayor was also was impressed with the spirit of the citizens.

“What struck us here was the Irishness of the people, their hospitality and the joy of the celebration, the dancing and singing. To know they’re headed to their 30th anniversary is great.”
McElvaney, who visited last summer with a small delegation to honor the lives of those who perished, was so moved he reached into his own pocket to help the Nelson Doyle Dancers, a local Irish group, make a trip to Ireland.

When he learned fundraising had fallen short and several dancers wouldn’t be able to go, he made up the difference.

For Paul Parsons of Portland, Maine, an Irish dance and music enthusiast, the Miramichi festival was “the largest Irish-Celtic celebration I have been to.”

Parsons, 33, said he was impressed with the way the town was dressed up, the breadth of entertainment, and the fact that the Irish Ambassador to Canada attended. He also counted O’Donaghue’s as one of the nicest Irish pubs of the hundreds he’s sampled.

The Acadians
Nearby  Beaubears Island, accessible by ferry, also has a very interesting history. The largest refuge for Acadians (descendants of the 17th century French colonists) in maritime Canada during what has been called The Great Expulsion or The Great Exportation.

The French-speaking settlers were torn from their lands in 1755 by fearful English crown forces when they refused to swear allegiance to King George II as the Seven Years War between England and France was about to break out.

Somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 Acadians fled to the island to forge new lives, but disaster soon struck.

In 1756, ships with provisions sent from Quebec were delayed due to strong headwinds and then postponed as winter closed down the St. Lawrence River. The settlement slowly starved. By the end of the 19th century, the island appears to have been deserted. It was acquired by the O’Brien family in 1920 and willed to the government of Canada in 1973 following the death of Joseph Leonard O’Brien, a former lieutenant governor of New Brunswick.

The anguish of the Acadians is depicted by historical character actors on the island. It is riveting theater.

Visitors looking for lighter entertainment will enjoy a 90-minute bilingual river trip on the Max Aitken with Captain Azade Hache, who offers Miramichi lore with his own whimsical take. And for a bit of adventure, Stewart’s Tubing offers a journey down a tamer, stretch of the waterway on inner tubes.

For a really different experience for folks on a budget, tree house accommodation at Camping Miramichi is an option. Essentially small cabins on supports built around pine trees, it’s a small step up from camping and a novel overnight stay heavy with pine scent and bird calls.

Two of the best accommodations in the area are the Rodd Miramichi River, a modern hotel with  lots of amenities, and the Governor’s Mansion, an antique-filled rambling inn with large rooms, comfy beds and massive breakfast spreads.

Visit for more information.

Canada's Irish Fest parade, Miramichi. Photo: John Kernaghan. Fiddlers on the banks of the Miramichi. Photo: John Kernaghan. The engraving on the Middle Island celtic cross memorial. Photo: John Kernaghan. The Middle Island memorial cross at sunset. Photo: John Kernaghan. Miramichi's water tower shows the region's Irish spirit. Pipers at Canada's Irish Fest. Photo: John Kernaghan. Middle Island memorial cross. Photo: John Kernaghan.


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A “Legenderry” Year in Northern Ireland Tue, 04 Dec 2012 10:21:44 +0000 Read more..]]> “Let it be Legenderry” is the phrase being coined by the Derry-Londonderry 2013 City of Culture initiative, a year-long celebration of the Northern Irish city.

There has been a flurry of activity about Derry ever since it won the first-ever UK City of Culture title, for which it competed against 54 cities in the United Kingdom. The result was announced in 2010, and the famous walled city has been busy preparing ever since. Culture Company 2013, an independent group formed in partnership with Derry City Council, Ilex Urban Regeneration Company and the Strategic Investment Board, is planning the program.

Though the initiative’s official name, Derry-Londonderry City of Culture, points to the social, political and religious divisions still to be navigated, the opportunity for the city to show all that it has to offer is a clear indication of how far it has come from the days when its name was most closely associated with The Troubles and Bloody Sunday.

Throughout 2013, the city will host an array of events. Derry is known for its rich musical heritage, and the City of Culture website promises that “the city will be overrun with musical talent.”  Phil Coulter will return to his hometown on June 15 to perform with the Ulster Orchestra. There will also be a 10-day (August 11-18) All Ireland Fleadh, the world’s largest Irish festival, brought by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann.

For theater lovers, Brian Friel and Stephen Rea’s Field Day company will return to Derry with a new work by American playwright Sam Shepard. From May 19 -25 a festival will mark the 80th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s landing in a Derry field, with over 40 events to celebrate the pilot’s legacy. Derry will also host the World GAA Congress from March 22-24.

In anticipation of the year ahead, Lonely Planet guidebooks named Derry fourth in its list of the top ten cities to visit in 2013.

Visit for further information.

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The Charms of the West Tue, 25 Sep 2012 14:10:15 +0000 Read more..]]> Patricia Danaher explores the high season of Galway City and the delights of the western landscape.

The west of Ireland has a quiet magic at most times of the year, a tranquility that sneaks up on you, making tomorrow the soonest you could possibly consider doing what you were fully intent on doing today. It’s not that things don’t get done, it’s just that you’re on a different clock and things happen in more indirect ways, at a pace of their own.

The great exception is Galway City, which bustles for most of the year as a mecca for lovers of culture and sport. July is the month when the city truly comes into its own, hosting the culmination of the international Volvo Ocean Race, the annual Film Fleadh, the Galway Races and the Galway Arts Festival.

We arrived in the city at the pinnacle of the summer season: the day before the 24th annual Galway Film Fleadh opened and two days after the Volvo Ocean Race, the success of which seemed to have Galwegians walking on cloud nine. There was even more to celebrate, as the Film Fleadh had just been accepted by the American Academy of Motion Pictures as a qualifying festival for films vying to be nominated in the Oscars’ short film category.

Galway offers a wide array of accommodation, and we decided to check out the g, a quirky and somewhat flashy 5-star hotel just outside the city. Built at the tail end of the Celtic Tiger years, it was designed by milliner Philip Treacy, and has several idiosyncratic touches. The corridors are dark and have the feel of a bordello, but the rooms are bright and spacious and overlook the bay.

The gigi restaurant is a gem, with excellent local food and very friendly service. It also features an impressive wine list.

The highlight of the hotel for me was the spa, or the Espa, as it’s called, which deserves every award it has won. With dark stone, dim lights and an array of water treatments and features, it can either be delightfully romantic or revitalizing, depending on what you need. It’s easy to see why it is particularly popular with sports people and honeymooners.

Leaving the busy, uber-modern g and driving through Connemara was a refreshing contrast, as time slowed down again after the hectic pace of Galway City. The mercurial west of Ireland skies do their Dance of the Seven Veils many times a day, revealing luscious light and the verdant topography of County Galway, then casting moody shadows that display the wares of the countryside in a totally other aspect. It is a landscape that is at once highly dramatic and deeply restful. Largely uninhabited, Connemara combines gorgeous lakes and silent mountains, with an ever dwindling population of indolent sheep. The Maamturk Mountains and the glacially carved Twelve Bens make you catch your breath, as the sun and the clouds dance over the sepia boglands.

We made our way towards the enchanted Kylemore Abbey and Gardens, stopping en route for tea and scones. The Gothic Abbey was built as a private home in the 1860’s by Mitchell Henry, after he and his wife fell in love with the area while visiting on their honeymoon. The Abbey was handed over to the St. Benedictine nuns in the 1920’s, and it was a girls boarding school until relatively recently. There are nuns still in residence, but much of the grounds are open to the public and the gardens are magnificent.

At Leenane, where Jim Sheridan’s The Field was partly filmed, the fjord which divides Galway and Mayo along Killary Harbour is stunning, with its dark, fish-abundant waters reflecting the Maamturk Mountains. We had an exquisite meal of locally caught fish at the Portfinn Lodge , which offers the best views in Leenane of the fjord.

The high point of this trip was our stay across the fjord in Mayo at the Delphi Lodge, a spectacular country house and fishing lodge built in the 1830’s by the  Marquis of Sligo. Tastefully transformed in the 1980’s into one of the most restful and elegant places to stay, by the former English journalist Peter Mantle, Delphi Lodge is rightly listed in the 1000 Places To See Before You Die best-selling book by Patricia Schultz. There are just 12 bedrooms in the lodge, none of which have locks, and the atmosphere in the house is more like that of a country house than a luxury hotel. Most of the people who we met there, from across Europe, return at the same time each year to relax and fish the bountiful lakes for salmon and trout. For the non-fishing spouse, there is a well-stocked, eclectic library overlooking the lake, and many lovely places to walk or just sit and read. There is also a  spa next door.

As you head further up the road into Mayo, it’s hard not to be struck by both the awe-inspiring beauty of the landscape, and also by the paucity of houses and habitation. This area was particularly hard hit during the Famine, and the desolation that was endured sometimes hits you when you turn a bend. These days, even the sheep are dwindling, as subsidies from the EU are discouraging farmers from breeding flocks. Emigration is again stalking the land, with young people heading for Canada and the U.S. once again, now that the Celtic Tiger has beaten a retreat.

The pristine beaches outside Louis-burg, such as Silver Strand, are well worth taking a picnic to and lolling for a day. The lovely town of Westport, about 30 miles from Delphi, has many charms which have bewitched visitors for years. Matt Molloy of the Chieftains runs one of the most popular pubs in the town, where music is the chief currency.

The iconic and doughty Croagh Patrick mountain towers over the town. Its peak, where St. Patrick is believed to have fasted for 40 days, draws tens of thousands of pilgrims all year round.

Evenings at the Delphi Lodge are enchanting. Residents gather for hors d’oeuvres and pre-dinner drinks in the lounge before sitting down to dine at the long communal table. Before plates of scrumptious, organic local food such as lamb or fish, there was friendly conversation about the day’s fishing and other activities, in multiple languages and accents. For the solo traveler, this is a welcoming and easy place to break bread.

One woman from Carmel in Northern California who has been coming to the Delphi Lodge by herself, on the same week every year for several years, caught her first salmon, much to her joy and that of the Delphi Fishery’s fly-fishing instructor, Peter O’Reilly. She joked that it was the most expensive salmon in history!

The Delphi Lodge is a very welcoming and low key place, and handles all the small details with exquisite attention. After dinner, a fire is lit in the lounge, where guests repair for chocolate truffles and digestifs, just short of purring with utter contentment. There is an immense depth of silence and serenity that surrounds the house and the lake which it faces, which makes the cares of the rest of the world seem very remote and really not that important. As we sunk into the four poster bed, which was once occupied by Prince Charles (did I mention we were on our honeymoon?) I sighed with pleasure and looked forward to one more day in paradise.

More photos from Galway:

The Galway Film Fleadh
The Galway Film Fleadh has become a very important market place for European film and television producers, who attended in significant numbers again this year. It’s also become a magnet for international stars, and this year was no exception. The French actress Isabella Huppert was the guest of honor and a retrospective of her work was shown.

Fionnula Flanagan was there too, along with Belfast composer David Holmes, who has scored many movies for David Cronenberg and other major Hollywood directors; actress Kate O’Toole; the indomitable Lelia Doolan and assorted luminaries from the Irish Film Board, including CEO James Hickey. Steve Woods from Pixar introduced a special screening of its latest offering Brave.

Irish short films have done very well in recent years, with several nominated through the Foyle film festival, including this year’s winner, The Shore, and Martin McDonagh’s Six Shooter, which won in 2006. This year’s winner of Best Short Drama, which is now eligible for an Oscar nomination, was Andrew Legge’s The Girl With the Mechanical Maiden. Legge is currently directing the upcoming documentary on Irish silent movie legend Rex Ingram.

Among the interesting array of Irish movies were two quirky documentaries: Lon sa Speir (Lunch in the Sky), narrated by Fionnula Flanagan, which won best Irish Feature Documentary. It tells the story of the two Galway men among the eight workers famously photographed in 1932, eating their lunch on a steel beam 800 feet above the Manhattan skyline. The two Galwegians were identified as Matty O’Shaughnessy and Patrick Glynn, emigrants from Shanaglish, Co Galway. The documentary, made by Sean O’Cualain, is a touching meditation on the immigrant experience. The iconic black and white photograph was taken by Charles C. Ebbets during the Depression. To mark the launch of the documentary, a son of one of the workers helped recreate the photo on a steel girder in Eyre Square.

The second documentary, Art of Conflict, was made by Valeri Vaughn and narrated by her actor brother Vince Vaughn about the political murals that decorate the gables of many houses in Northern Ireland.

Shadow Dancer was the highlight and the closing film of the festival. The edge-of-the-seat thriller, starring Clive Owen and Andrea Riseborough, is set in 1990s Belfast during the worst of the Troubles, and features a woman who is bullied into spying on her family for the British secret services.

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Exploring Ulster Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:57:03 +0000 Read more..]]> In this travel series, Irish America explores each of the four provinces of Ireland.

The northern-most province of Ulster contains a diverse array of cultures and sites, which, combined, tell the tale of modern Ireland, a place of history, pluralism and an evolving culture. Ulster is divided into nine counties including the six that comprise Northern Ireland: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, as well as Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan of the Republic. In Ulster lies the largest freshwater basin in Ireland, Lough Neagh, which shares its borders with five of the nine Ulster counties. Just east of the massive lake is the contrast of youthful, urban Belfast, the second largest city in Ireland. With a jagged coast that travels from the Atlantic up to the Northern Channel and ends in County Down at the Irish Sea, Ulster has no end of historical sites and vibrant communities all in a landmass little more than one-sixth the size of New York State.

Among the most stunning of Ireland’s geological wonders is the Giant’s Causeway, located in County Antrim, which houses Ulster’s northeast coast. The Causeway,  a series of over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, mostly hexagonal though some have as many as eight sides, are a natural phenomenon resulting from volcanic eruptions. A simultaneously awe-inspiring and eerie locale, at its feet beneath the surfaces of the Northern Channel lie infamous shipwrecks of the Spanish Armada. The site is perhaps the greatest tourist draw in Ulster, and its endless contributions to folklore and myth inspire the imaginations of its stream of yearly visitors. The luxurious Bushmills Inn Hotel offers an ultimate experience in the heart of Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast.

Further inland in Antrim is the birthplace of the Irish linen industry in the city of Lisburn. Rich with historical tales including one of negotiations between Ben Franklin and Lord Hillsborough before the American War of Independence, Lisburn is now a growing city with extensive shopping centers and leisure activities as well as museums which detail the growth of linen into what would become an essential form of Irish industry.

A new buzz has been surrounding Belfast in the last decade as the city attracts tourism with its famed shopping centers, multiple tourist attractions and places to stay. The Titanic’s Dock has certainly had a hand in drawing tourists. Here visitors explore the city’s history with the ill-fated ship. The Samson and Goliath cranes, the Hospital Tower Block, The King’s Hall and the Stormont Parliament Buildings are all within the Belfast traveler’s grasp, along with all the perks of metropolitan entertainment. There are many wonderful places to stay in the city including Merchant Hotel, an incredible historic five star property within Belfast City Center.

Celebrating the extensive reaches of the great Lough Neagh and its richly forested adjacent lands, on the southern edges of the lake in County Armagh is the Oxford Island Discovery Centre. Its picturesque location makes the Centre’s cafes and meeting rooms an idyllic scene for visitors. Among its several attractions is the Kinnego Marina, the largest marina on Lough Neagh,  where skippered boat trips and expert instruction in sailing and powerboating are offered by fully qualified staff. Accommodation on-site includes a 30-bed hostel and a camping and caravan park which offers tours to Coney Island, the only inhabited island on Lough Neagh, believed to have its first human settlers as far back as 8000 B.C. The Nature Reserve cannot be missed by environmentalist and wildlife-lovers. The Centre has year-round festivals and exhibits about subjects ranging from the local insect life to the legends of Finn McCool.

Just on the edges of the city of Armagh, atop the hill Ard Macha, is the Cathedral of St. Patrick. It is on this site in the year 445 that it is believed St. Patrick built his church. The original structure suffered a series of destructive events at the hands of Vikings, lightning strikes, and fires, but what stands today is a stunning architectural work begun in 1834. Its many restorations have not detracted from the rich, ancient spiritualism that many flock to experience atop the hill.

Originally part of the Connacht province, County Cavan became recognized as a piece of Ulster in 1584. While the boggy terrain of Cavan has resulted in a rather rural setting, the numerous lakes are a fisherman’s delight. The Dun Na Rí Forest Park is not only a canvas of unusual natural sites, but the paths through its forests and monuments are lined with legends of battles and myths of giants. Cromwell’s Bridge is just one such structure nestled in the forested landscape that calls to the ghosts of Cavan’s rich history.

Milltown is a small town located in Cavan which serves as a unique anchor for tourists as they travel to the outskirts of this homely village to explore the ruins that surround it. The Monastery, Abbey, Church and Round Tower of the Drumlane are situated just beside Milltown. The massive stone structures date back as far as 555 AD. A number of saints are believed to have roamed Drumlane, and imprints in stones nearby a well are said to be the knees of St. Mogue.

The walled City of Derry is a bustling hub of activities for travelers. Its placement near the open seas tucked within the hilly countryside of the county makes the aesthetic of the city truly stirring. Its walls provide visitors and inhabitants with a unique architectural piece of history standing strongly against the foreground of a modern city hum.  Tower Museum guides visitors through the city’s history including the shipwrecks that brought Spaniards in the 16th century. St. Columb’s Cathedral, built in 1628 and consecrated in 1634, was the first Protestant cathedral to be constructed in Europe since the Reformation. The cathedral houses the earliest church bell in Ireland and many relics of the 1688-1689 city siege; the cathedral’s stained glass windows depict scenes from the siege. The Museum of Free Derry is an archive focusing on the civil rights era of the 1960s and the Troubles of the 1970s.

With the stunning backdrop of the Bluestack Mountains and the views of the Atlantic horizon just beyond Donegal Bay, this northwest county is celebrated for its natural beauties and thriving village communities. Donegal is home to the breathtaking Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Ireland. Another environmental draw is the more easily accessible Bluestack Mountain Range, just six miles outside of Donegal town. There are multiple golf courses and nature reserves to explore in Donegal, and the craft-fairs of the local towns are unrivaled in their authentic charm.

One simply cannot thoroughly explore the history of St. Patrick firsthand without visiting County Down. It is home to some of the most famed sites of this saint’s fabled journey, from his landing there to what is believed by many to be his burial site in the walls of the Downpatrick Cathedral. Travelers can also visit the Struells Wells, a series of four wells little over a mile outside of Downpatrick. It is there that, as the story goes, Patrick dipped himself into the icy waters at night singing and praying to build his self-discipline. The wells are still visited frequently today by people seeking healing powers from the flowing waters.

The Mourne Mountains are considered the most picturesque in the country. The site has become a favorite of adventure seekers and those new to hiking alike. The range is home to the highest peak in Ireland, Slieve Donard (the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa hotel is a favorite with tourists) as well as the Hare’s Gap, a sharp mountain pass which serves as a launching point for walking tours and expeditions up the treacherous terrain. Cyclists, horseback riders, hikers and climbers find their way to Mourne to experience this natural playground.

The best new talent in golf, Rory McElroy is the pro at the spectacular Lough Erne Resort and Golf Club in Fermanagh. This county also offers some of the best fishing and watersports in all of Ireland, and situated on the banks of Loch Erne, the county town of Enniskillen is a friendly stop for visitors interested in the heritage sites that are scattered throughout this historically rich county. The Enniskillen Castle houses museums dedicated to telling the story of the castle as a stage for the rebellion efforts of the 16th century. The cultural heart of the town itself beats strongly with the Clinton Centre standing in remembrance of those killed in the Troubles, while the Ardhowen Theatre lodges famous musical acts, opera, ballet and numerous other forms of entertainment.

It could be argued that whoever coined the term “rolling hills” was picturing County Monaghan, which is in many areas a stretching green landscape riddled with market towns and craft-making centers. Hope Castle resting in the countryside of Monaghan is an 18th-century building on the site of what was once Blayney Castle in the town of Blayneycastle. This castle, surrounded by moats and perfectly combed gardens and known for its pink apple blossoms, is a unique site which has visitors flocking to stay in the castle in spring months.

To the west in Monaghan is the unique Annaghmakerrig House in the village of Newbliss. The former home of theatrical producer Tyrone Guthrie has been converted into an estate for writers and artists to complete work. The draw to this place for the bohemian crowd has resulted in the Flat Lake Cultural Festival, usually held the third weekend in August, which is an energetic and eccentric celebration of poetry, music, literature and more.

The name Tyrone is derived from the Irish Tír Eoghain meaning “land of Eoghan.” This Eoghan was son of Niall Noigiallach or “Niall of the Nine Hostages,” the legendary king thus named for leading raids on Britain and the European mainland. Saint Patrick was said to have been kidnapped and brought to Ireland as one of his hostages during his raids. Researchers indicate that there could be as many as three million descendants of Niall alive today. Most of his descendants are concentrated in northwest Ireland, an area where DNA testing has shown that one in every five males has inherited his Y-chromosome.

The largest town in County Tyrone is Omagh, which makes a great base for exploring the surrounding areas, including the picturesque Gortin Glen. The nearby Ulster-American Folk Park, one of the country’s best museums, chronicles the journey of Irish emigrants with staff in period costumes, reconstructed period buildings and even a tall ship much like those taken by the America-bound Irish. The vast project recreates that experience for many to walk through similar steps that their ancestors took centuries ago.

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Magnificent Munster Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:56:19 +0000 Read more..]]> In this travel series, Irish America explores each of the four provinces of Ireland.

Munster is located in the southern part of Ireland and consists of six counties: Cork, Clare, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford. Its main centers of population include Cork City, the country’s third largest city after Dublin and Belfast; Limerick, the nearest city to Shannon Airport; and Waterford, on the southeast coast. It boasts a wide range of scenery, including the sheer cliffs of Moher in County Clare, the breathtaking beauty of the Dingle Peninsula, and the lush dairyland of north Cork, Limerick, and Tipperary, with such historic landmarks as the Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle.

A vacation around Munster alone would suffice for many travelers. Each of its counties offers a rich historical lore as well as sumptuous scenery. Suitable starting points for an exploration of the province include Cork, where there is an international airport with connections to Dublin, Britain and Europe, and Shannon Airport, Co. Clare, only 20 miles outside Limerick and the landing point for all transatlantic flights. There are also connections by ferry from Cork to Roscoff in France during the summer months.

Kinsale in County Cork is a popular holiday resort for tourists and native Irish alike. Known for its gourmet restaurants, yachting, sea angling, and golf, the town also offers Irish culture with its art galleries and historic architecture. Seven miles beyond Kinsale, The Old Head Golf Links is one of the most unique golf courses ever conceived, built on a 220-acre diamond of land that juts out over two miles into the Atlantic Ocean. A few of the prominent buildings in Kinsale include St. Multo’s Church and the Church of St. John the Baptist, as well as Desmond Castle, built as a custom house by the Earl of Desmond circa 1500 A.D. and used by Spanish occupiers as a prison for captured American sailors during America’s War of Independence.

Cobh is a seaport town on the south coast of County Cork and historically significant as the departure point of 2.5 million of the six million Irish who emigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950, beginning in the years of the Great Famine. The Cobh Museum houses the cultural, social, and maritime history of the town and the Great Island.

Just five miles northwest of Cork City is the village of Blarney, with the nearby Blarney Castle and its world-famous Blarney Stone. Over 300,000 visitors come each year to kiss the Blarney Stone, said to give the power of more eloquent speech. It was named by Queen Elizabeth I after the Lord of Blarney, known for his ability to talk his way around and out of any situation.

County Clare’s history stretches back millennia, and its rich archaology is testament to this. Dotted across the landscape are Stone Age burial sites built by Clare’s earliest inhabitants, Celtic high crosses erected by early Christians, round towers utilized by monks as protection against marauding Vikings, and ruined medieval monasteries and castles. These historic sites are surrounded by stunning scenery: Clare’s natural beauty includes soaring sea cliffs, playful dolphins and the otherworldly limestone landscape of the Burren with its myriad rare flora and fauna. Consisting of 250 square kilometers of limestone, the Burren is an environment unlike any other. Here, Arctic, Mediterranean and Alpine plants grow side by side, colorful flowers growing from the cracks in the rock. Known as Ireland’s rock garden, the Burren is a paradise for walkers, cyclists and artists. Stone Age inhabitants left behind dolmen structures, single-chamber tombs made from upright stones. The most famous of these is Poulnabrone – the Hole of Sorrows – which has stood since at least 3800 B.C.

At the southwestern edge of the Burren area, near Doolin (where the pubs offer great traditional music), the Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most spectacular natural vistas. At 702 feet above the ocean, these sea cliffs provide incredible views of the Aran Islands and of the valleys and hills of Connemara in the Connacht province.

Bunratty Castle, built in 1425 and restored in 1954 to its former splendor, is the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland. It now contains mainly 15th and 16th-century furnishings, tapestries, and works of art that capture the mood of those times. One experience not to be missed is the unique Medieval Banquet and Entertainment. Within the grounds of the castle is Bunratty Folk Park, where 19th-century life is vividly recreated. Set on 26 acres, the impressive park features over 30 buildings in a ‘living’ village and rural setting.

A county of mountainous landscapes and dramatic coastlines, where ancient historical sites sit alongside modern attractions, Kerry is what many travelers imagine Ireland to be. Its largest town is Tralee, which makes a good base for exploring Kerry with its abundance of high-quality lodgings and Ireland’s second-largest museum, which tells the story of the county from 8000 B.C. to the present, with audio-visual displays and an evocative re-creation of medieval town streets. From Tralee, many travelers choose to head west along the Dingle Peninsula, one of the most stunning stretches of scenery in all of Ireland.

West of Dingle, another of Kerry’s popular attractions is the Great Blasket Island. Inhabited until the 1950s, the island was home to a people who lived the most traditional of Irish lives, passing down oral history and folklore and maintaining a self-sufficient society. Visitors can walk around the island and explore the ruins of former homes, as well as learn more about the history of the island at the Blasket Centre back on the mainland.

Any trip to the Munster province should include a drive or tour bus through the Ring of Kerry, a route which begins in Killarney, heads around the Iveragh Peninsula and passes through Kenmare, Sneem, Waterville, Cahersiveen and Killorgin. The Ring encompasses some of Ireland’s finest beaches and panoramic sightseeing along the way. There is also an established walking path named the Kerry Way, which roughly follows the scenic drive.

Limerick City is situated along the curves and island of the River Shannon, and is one of Ireland’s top tourist destinations. Limerick Museum, next to King John’s Castle, includes exhibits on the history of the area. Visitors should also explore St. Mary’s Cathedral, the oldest building in Limerick that is in daily use, and the Hunt Museum, which exists in a historic 18th-century custom house by the River Shannon. The museum holds about 2,000 artifacts from Ireland and abroad. Visitors can also take the Angela’s Ashes Walking Tour, designed to take travelers through the sights Frank McCourt described in his Pulitzer-winning novel, including Arthur’s Quay, Sutton’s Coal, Windmill Street, People’s Park Redemptorist Church, and many others.

County Tipperary is steeped in history, as a medieval foundation that became a center of population in the early 13th century. Cashel (meaning Stone Fortress) offers several historic tourism destinations, including the Cashel Folk Village, a series of informal reconstructions of various traditional thatched village shops, a forge, and other buildings. But the town is most renowned for the Rock of Cashel, a site that served as the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion. The ruined church and fortifications still stand on the elevation of stratified limestone. Also worth a visit is the Holy Cross Abbey, a restored Cistercian monastery near Thurles.

Waterford City is the primary city of the southeast region of Ireland and is famous for being Ireland’s oldest city, founded in 914 AD by Vikings. Situated at the head of Waterford Harbor, it is a hub of historical significance and Irish culture. Waterford’s oldest cultural quarter is what is referred to as the Viking triangle: the part of the city surrounded by its original 10th-century fortifications. The Mall is a Georgian thoroughfare located near the People’s Park. Waterford’s Museum of Treasures is also worth a visit, housing a collection that spans over 1,000 years of the city’s history.

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Captivating Connacht Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:54:23 +0000 Read more..]]> In this travel series, Irish America explores each of the four provinces of Ireland.

Connacht is the ruggedly beautiful western province of Ireland, bounded by the Shannon, Ireland’s longest river, to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean. Connacht is comprised of counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, as well as Leitrim and Sligo farther north. It is divided north to south by a chain of lakes: Loughs Conn, Mask and Corrib, running down from Killala to Galway and providing a natural border between the fertile lowlands to the east and the wild mountains to the west. From the urban center of Galway City to the Aran Islands off the coast, to the breathtaking coastline of Sligo and the languid, scenic Shannon, there is much to be seen in the smallest of the four Irish provinces.

Among the region’s most celebrated spots to visit are the Aran Islands, located at the mouth of Galway Bay, off the coast of County Galway. They are the inspiration for J.M. Synge’s play Riders to the Sea and one of the last strongholds of the county’s Irish-speaking culture. The three islands, Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr, are the most populous in Ireland. The largest, Inis Mór, contains plenty of bed and breakfast accommodations for travelers. One of its most popular tourist destinations is Dún Aengus, an Iron Age fort situated on the edge of a cliff that stands 300 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. It is built in a series of concentric circular walls. Another, the medieval O’Brien Castle on Inis Oírr, was built in the 14th century.

Another stop on any exploration of Connacht, Galway City is the third largest and fastest growing city in Ireland. It also bears the nickname City of the Tribes, for the fourteen merchant families that led the city during its Hiberno-Norman period. The Church of Ireland St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, the largest medieval church that remains in daily use in Ireland, is located in Galway City, as well as the Catholic Galway Cathedral, one of the largest and most impressive buildings in the city. The Galway City Museum, opened in 2006, is located behind the famous Spanish Arch, overlooking the River Corrib and the ancient Claddagh village. It contains art and artifacts from medieval times to the modern era.

Connemara, in the west of County Galway, consists of a broad peninsula between Killary Harbor and Kilkieran Bay with a laced network of lakes and is considered one of the most beautiful regions in Ireland. Its scenic coast is made up of a number of peninsulas that form picturesque craggy mountain peaks, and megalithic tombs surround its main town, Clifden. Traditionally divided into North and South Connemara by the majestic mountains of the Twelve Bens range, Connemara is marked by the boundary of the Invermore River, with expansive beaches. The region is recognizable for the breathtaking contrasts of sky, sea, land and bog.

Moving up to the tranquil County Leitrim in the northeast of Connacht, golfers and anglers will find plenty to delight them. Fishing is a popular activity in Leitrim’s Lough Allen in the scenic town of Drumshanbo, which offers breathtaking views on the River Shannon. Surrounded by soft rolling hills, woodlands, and lakes, Drumshanbo is a beautifully preserved town with traditional pubs, shops and restaurants. It is also an ideal destination for golfing enthusiasts, with four courses in the area. Carrick-on-Shannon, the largest town in Leitrim, is acknowledged nationally and internationally as an angler’s paradise. Forty-one lakes surround the town, which is filled with local fishing experts, boats and maps for those undertaking a fishing excursion.

In Connacht’s County Mayo lies the archeological wonder of the Céide Fields. The world’s most extensive Stone Age dwelling site contains the remains of a highly skilled and organized agrarian Neolithic society that was preserved, undisturbed, for some 5,000 years and is now a natural wild ecology of blanket bog, dramatic cliffs and coastline. The vast prehistoric landscape of the Céide Fields, which is located near Ballycastle, consists of a network of parallel stone enclosures with a number of those walls running up to two kilometers in length. The multi-award-winning Céide Fields Visitor Centre offers exhibitions, tearooms and an audio-visual show.

Also in Mayo, Clew Bay is a natural ocean bay overlooked by Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, and the mountains of North Mayo.  It contains Ireland’s best example of sunken drumlins: hills formed by glacial action. Clew Bay is said in legend to have 365 islands – one for each day of the year – but in reality there are 117 drumlin islands, sandbars and rocks.

The Knock Shrine and Croagh Patrick are Catholic holy sites in County Mayo, known for their historical significance and religious pilgrimages. Croagh Patrick is five miles from Westport and the third highest mountain in Mayo. Over 15,000 climb it on the last Sunday in July every year, a tradition that dates back to the pre-Christian Celtic era as a celebration of the summer solstice. St. Patrick is believed to have fasted on the summit of Croagh Patrick for forty days in the fifth century. Mythology tells that at the end of his fast, he threw a silver bell down the side of the mountain which banished all the snakes from Ireland. The Knock Shrine in the village of Knock in Mayo is the reported site of an appearance of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. John and Jesus in 1879.

The third largest of Connacht’s five counties, Roscommon is three-quarters bounded by water and contains the longest stretch of the River Shannon of all the ten counties through which the river passes. Some popular stops on a route through Roscommon are Boyle Abbey, still regarded as the finest of the Cistercian churches to survive in Ireland; Ballintober, which contains the remains of a stone castle first mentioned in writing in 1311; and Tulsk, the village between Strokestown and Bellanagare which houses the interpretive center exploring Cruachan, one of the best preserved Celtic royal sites and an Irish Age royal palace. Strokestown, historically known as Bellanamully, houses a museum commemorating the Great Famine of 1845 as well as the County Roscommon Heritage Centre, for those hoping to uncover their ancestors’ pasts in their foray through Roscommon.

County Sligo, meaning “shelly place,” is allegedly named for the abundance of shellfish found in the river and its estuary. It is the second largest urban area in Connacht. One must-see stop in an exploration of County Sligo is Knocknarea, the mountain dominating the landscape to the west of Sligo town. The 1014-foot-high limestone mountain is monolithic in appearance, capped by a cairn of limestone rocks. The mythological significance of Knocknarea is Queen Maeve’s Tomb, the largest in Ireland outside the Boyne Valley. Queen Maeve, or Medb, was the Warrior Queen of Connacht in Celtic legend, and the famous Táin saga records the story of her reign.
For literary travelers, Sligo has much to offer. Dubbed ‘Yeats Country’ for its heavy presence in William Butler Yeats’ works, Sligo includes the stately Lissadell House, former home of the Gore-Booths, whose two daughters had a lifelong effect on the poet. A drive along the length of the coastline in Ireland’s northwest offers stunning views of mountains, sea and cliffs, sometimes moody, sometimes glowing with sunlight, but always spellbinding. The Lake Isle of Innisfree, featured in one of Yeats’ most evocative works, sits in Sligo, one of some twenty tiny islands in the majestic Lough Gill.

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Chile’s Irish Flavor Sun, 01 Aug 2004 06:36:58 +0000 Read more..]]> Nancy Griffin travels to Chile and finds a beautiful country still celebrating its Irish founding father.


Chile is a long, narrow, mountainous, beautiful country on the Pacific Ocean, its tip so far south that the last water to be spied from the mainland is the Straits of Magellan and the next landfall after the islands just below them is Antarctica.

The Chilean national language is Spanish, but enclaves of different Native American languages still persist. English is not widely spoken, being a second language mostly for urban dwellers or the emerging international business community.

So remote from Ireland and Irish culture is Chile that it seems incredulous to find that the most revered person in its history is an Irishman. And yet, coming from the airport into downtown Santiago, surrounded by the snow-capped Andes, with the bus passing a long, colorful line of “huasos” (cowboys) wearing the traditional horseman’s long poncho or “manta de castilla” headed for a Chilean rodeo, suddenly, incongruously, there it is: Avenida O’Higgins.

I remember Símon Bolívar as the liberator of Bolivia — they even named the country for him — because the nuns mentioned him when I was in grammar school. Maybe they told me about O’Higgins, too, but back then, the sound of an Irish name in Boston was so expected that perhaps it slipped by me unnoticed.

Spotting the street name made me laugh at first, then wonder. Finally, near the city center on the almost-two-mile-long Avenida O’ Higgins, we came to a statue of Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins which identified him as the liberator of Chile. The street also boasts a statue of José de San Martín, another military leader and republican.

Turns out, San Martín and O’Higgins, who were boyhood friends, collaborated and fought in concert with Bolívar. Together, the trio eventually ended Spanish role in South America in the early 19th century. And while Bolivar’s dream of a united Latin America did not succeed, he is credited with independence for Bolivia, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, while San Martín and O’Higgins led the battles that liberated Peru and Chile.

O’Higgins was the son of Ambrose Bernard (later known as Ambrosio) O’Higgins, an Irish engineer born in Ballinary, County Sligo or County Meath — depending on the source — who was working for the Spanish colonial service as Intendant of Concepción at the time of Bernardo’s illegitimate birth in 1778. Later Ambrosio became Governor of Chile and Viceroy of Peru.

A painting of O’Higgins by José Gilde Castro. (Photo: Embassy of Chile)

He took the boy from his Chilean mother Isabel Riquelme’s Creole family and arranged for Bernardo’s formal education including schooling in England, where his studies sowed the seeds of the red-headed Irish-Chilean’s republicanism.

After years of war that finally ended in liberation in 1817, Bernardo O’Higgins became dictator or “supreme director” of Chile, intending to raise cultural standards and improve education for all citizens before turning the government over to them. With the help of San Martín and Thomas Cochrane (later 10th Earl of DunDonald), he created the Chilean navy and the accumulation of troop ships. However, he spent a lot of the state’s money to finance San Martín’s last expedition to liberate Peru, and some say he proved a better general than an administrator. Some O’Higgins appointees proved corrupt, prompting a revolt after which he was asked to resign. However, others say he was ousted after five years because he alienated the ruling elite families with his social and economic reforms. In 1823, he left the country with his mother, his sister and his son, to settle in Lima.

Despite his failure at governing, his legend as liberator is assured if only by the number of attractions bearing his name. In Santiago, besides the street and the statue, a large city park is named for him. The greater region containing Santiago is known as Region Bernardo O’Higgins.

The largest of Chile’s national parks is the sprawling Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins located in the 12th of Chile’s 12 administrative regions, the southernmost region known as the Magellanes which is home to Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, the Straits of Magellan and Cape Horn.

But surely no one should travel to Chile just to note the oddity of an Irish name or two (Santiago also has Avenida Presidente Kennedy) in a place so heavily influenced by its Spanish conquerors, although a tour of things named for O’Higgins might prove an interesting and comprehensive trip. This unusual country has something for everyone — the rugged adventurer, the naturalist, the laid-back tourist, or the skier.

The first thing you notice about Chile is that the people are helpful, warm, considerate and as friendly as the Irish. If your Spanish is minimal; don’t be afraid to try it out, they’ll be encouraging and help you figure out what you need. But before you depart for Chile, remember to ask for a seat on the left side of the plane heading south, in case you’re flying overnight and can awaken to the sight of dawn breaking over the Andes as you fly by their peaks. It was my introduction to Chile and one I’m not likely to forget.

When the first red rays of sunrise began to stream out behind the snow-topped peaks of the wrinkled, black mountains on my first trip, most of the passengers rushed to the left side to peer out the windows. When the sun topped the peaks and the spectacular show had subsided to merely awe-inspiring, an Englishman on the flight said, “Well, that’ll make you believe in God if you don’t!”

Arturo Merino Benitez airport near the capital, Santiago, is clean, efficient and glassily modern, affording wide-angle views of the surrounding scenery. Santiago, an inland city of five million residents, is easy to reach by bus from the airport. The city has great public transportation including a modern underground metro and thousands of yellow taxis.

Visitors will spot predominantly Spanish-influenced architecture along Santiago’s well-laid-out grid, but building styles range from simple houses to modern glass-fronted commercial buildings, and include the French beaux-arts facade of the Biblioteca Nacional on Avenida O’Higgins. The six-million-volume National Library, dating from the early 20th century, hosts one of the biggest book collections in Latin America as well as paintings by beloved Chilean artists.

Tours of the city will show off the Biblioteca, as well as the Club Hipico horse-racing track, government palaces, the Pre-Columbian Art Museum and the city’s historical center, the Plaza de Armas. The neighborhood known as Barrio Bellavista is often called Santiago’s “Paris Quarter” for its dense collection of restaurants, nightclubs, craft shops and art galleries. Don’t miss the colorful down-town market, Mercado Central.

The Palacio de la Moneda — formerly the mint and now the Presidential residence — is situated on one side of the vast Plaza de la Constitución, alongside some of the city’s glass skyscrapers and historic colonial churches.

In this city built on and ringed by the majestic Andes, travelers may visit the huge Parque Metropolitano, often called Cerro San Cristobal for the highest of the three peaks it contains. A funicular takes visitors to the top of the highest hill, 650 feet above the city and 3,000 feet above sea level, where a 46-foot statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception rises another 75 feet on her pedestal. If Santiago’s well-known smog is at bay, the hilltop offers the best panorama of the city sprawling below, including one from a gondola that runs between two of the highest points.

But that’s not all. The same heavily forested city park offers a zoo, a swimming pool, snack bars, a full restaurant, gift shops, a craft shop and lots of friendly, wandering city dogs. Families picnic there, while mountain bikers, hikers and runners exercise on the many trails. Halfway up San Cristobal is the Enoteca Wine Museum, complete with tastings.

The nearly 200-acre Parque O’Higgins southwest of downtown offers a small lake, tree-lined walking paths, grassy fields, gardens, swimming pools, a skating rink, tennis courts and several restaurants. The park is also home to the Plaza de las Artesanias, where as many as 10 dozen artists and artisans both create and sell their art. Three museums are located within its perimeters, dedicated to Chilean insects, animals and the history of the Chilean farmer.

On another and smaller hill, Cerro Santa Lucia on Avenida O’Higgins, sprawls a historic, once-grand yellow castle, gardens and a fountain. At the foot of the hill, once called the “Huelen,” Spain’s Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago in 1541. Visitors may hike up the wooded paths and the castle steps, and through the gardens. Early residents used the fortified site as a refuge from attacks from the Mapuche people.

Chileans love coffee and there’s plenty of good java to be had in Santiago’s coffee shops and kiosks. Besides the open markets, shoppers can head for modern indoor shopping malls. A range of restaurants cater to every taste, and expect lots of salmon on most menus. Or you can head out of town to see some of the other, wildly different aspects of this 3,000-mile-long country.

Puerto Montt is the salmon-farming capital of Chile, and perhaps the world. Founded in the 19th century by German immigrants, the oceanside city still shows its old German influence in its architecture and restaurants such as the Club Allemande. Murals line the walls along the city’s main road. An ocean-front boulevard with an unfettered view where lovely, reasonably priced small hotels face the sea, proves the old resort’s heritage. On the way out of town, a long marketplace of open stalls features crafts of every kind, including hand-spun yarn and handwoven items.

Within reach, and view, of volcanoes, Puerto Montt is a mere 20-minute ferry ride from Chiloe, Chile’s largest island, known as the “Island of Legends.” The last place reached by Europeans, it’s historically an agricultural island with rich topsoil measured in feet, not inches, where Native Americans may be seen walking barefoot, leading oxen down the road.

Before the Spanish arrived, Chile’s residents were mostly Atacama, Diaguuita and smaller indigenous groups in the northern Atacama Desert regions. The Mapuche or Araucanians inhabited the central valley region, where most still live. However, most of Chile’s residents are now mestizo, or of mixed European descent, and not just Spanish, often German and Swiss.

Chiloe Island has cities, too, and a growing tourist industry. All the island’s bays contain salmon pens and gaily painted fishing boats which serve the burgeoning salmon industry. See this island before the salmon industry achieves its goal of building the world’s longest bridge to it.

Further south, a two-hour small-plane ride from Puerto Montt — itself two hours south of Santiago by plane — lies Punta Arenas, the city at the end of the earth. A century ago, it was the richest city in Chile. Today it is an international port for scientists and fishermen headed for the Antarctic; the docks at various shipyards — sometimes Chilean Navy yards — may be host to Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Japanese and American vessels at the same time. A post halfway up a hill in Punta Arenas sports arrows pointing to cities all over the world and notes the distances to them. It’s a popular spot for viewing the Straits of Magellan and offers a wide-angle glimpse of the various docks and ships in port.

A statue of Bernardo O’Higgins marks the base of a broad avenue whose wide center strip is a multi-level park. This city also boasts reasonably priced, comfortable hotels with great menus. One is in a former Spanish mansion whose former owners had a bloody history of Native American oppression.

Punta Arenas is known as the “Gateway to Patagonia.” In a small downtown park, a statue of Hernando Magellan (the Portuguese navigator who discovered the straits named for him) stands atop a broad pedestal. On a lower level of the pedestal reclines a carved stone statue of a Native American, called simply “Patagonia.” Rubbing his big toe for good luck has become a tradition, and children can often be seen climbing on the statue for this purpose.

In this southernmost region, besides departing for Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego, tourists may visit parks (including Bernardo O’Higgins Park) to glimpse glaciers, many-colored mountains, vast lakes, a penguin colony and more than 25 species of mammals, 200 different indigenous plants and 105 varieties of birds — including the condor.

Remember, the seasons are reversed here, and the country’s majestic beaches (Bahia Inglesa in the north, Pichilemu in the center — Bernardo O’Higgins’ region and a surfer’s paradise — and Pucon in the south, next to the Villarrica volcano) are warm in our winter. During an American summer, heat sufferers can take to the hills for skiing in Chile’s winter. Punta Arenas boasts the southernmost of the country’s ski centers.

The climate here, the southernmost city on earth, is cooler than in the more moderate central and the always-warm northern regions of Chile. During a September visit, skiers were still enjoying spring skiing in Punta Arenas, although the snow was beginning to soften and had disappeared from all but the tops of the hills. It’s windy pretty much all the time there, but the wind blows strongest in summer.

From the northern deserts — one of the world’s driest areas — to the moisture-laden winds of Punta Arenas, Chile has a variety of geography, climate and attractions that are unique in the world. Although there’s no argument that the origin of the country’s name is a Native American word, there is dispute over which word. But whichever, both are epitomized in the southern region: “chilli” meaning where the land runs out, or “tchili” a Native American word for snow. ♦


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the August / September 2004 issue of Irish America magazine. 

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