April May 2010 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 John Fitzpatrick: Irish American of the Year https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/john-fitzpatrick-irish-american-of-the-year/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/john-fitzpatrick-irish-american-of-the-year/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2010 12:00:59 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7380 Read more..]]> John Fitzpatrick is remembering back to the crystallizing day in his life as a hotelier – the day his hotel in Manhattan became more than just a place where the Taoiseach stayed and Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne could be spotted at the bar, and Irish shoppers fell over themselves and their suitcases taking the Fitzpatrick limousine to the airport, bags stuffed with Christmas presents. It wasn’t about a fundraiser for Hillary and secret service men descending on the place because former President Clinton had decided he wanted to be in on the act. It was 9/11 and it was about people.

“People were calling from all over Ireland saying,  ‘Listen, my daughter lives in New York or my son lives in New York, we can’t contact them but I know they’ll go to your bar.’  And people were stopping into the bar and saying, ‘Listen, will you take my name down because I know my mom will check here.’”
John became an unofficial ambassador that day, working with the Irish Consulate, swapping lists of names and other information, and finding places for those unable to leave the city – many slept in the lobby of the hotel that night.

Those who know John will not be surprised that this day stands out in his long career as a hotelier.  He’s very much involved with the Irish, both in New York which he has called home since he opened the doors of the Fitzpatrick Manhattan in December 1991, and in Ireland where he was born and raised.  He has received numerous accolades both for his business acumen and his philanthropic work, but at the end of the day he is proud to call himself an innkeeper.

John honed his craft at his father’s side – the famous Paddy Fitzpatrick, who worked his way up from hotel manager at the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis, to owner of Killiney Castle Hotel, County Dublin, and Fitzpatrick’s Shamrock Hotel in Bunratty, County Clare.

His mother Eithne, a former Miss Ireland, he credits with giving him his sense of style.  She worked with his father on building up the family business and on every aspect of the interior design – even arranging the flowers in the luxurious Killiney Castle Hotel.  (The striking  renovation that the Fitzpatrick Manhattan has recently undergone attests to the fact that John has inherited his mother’s eye for detail.)

The second eldest of Paddy and Eithne’s five children, John was not content to spend his career in his father’s shadow, and struck out for the United States at an early age. He broadened his knowledge of the hotel business in Las Vegas and Chicago – working his way to manager of a hotel in Oaklawn, Illinois – before the call came from his father to come back to the family business in Ireland. He was happy enough for a while – he learned to fly a helicopter so as to stay on top of the ever-expanding Fitzpatrick hotel empire – but he always had a hankering to get back to the States.  In 1990, with his father’s blessing he began looking at various U.S. cities, finally settling on New York, and the site at 57th Street and Lexington Avenue – a small residential hotel in a prime location that needed a complete renovation. John oversaw every detail. To save money he stayed in the empty hotel during construction, padlocking the door after the crews went home at night.  The hotel opened its doors in December 1991. Soon it was the epicenter of the Irish community in New York – popular with heads of state and the Hollywood A-list alike. So successful was it, that a couple of years later John opened another New York hotel  – The FitzPatrick’s Grand Central.

Such is John’s reputation in the hospitality industry that he is in his second term as chairman of the New York Hotel Association. Its membership includes 245 of the finest hotels in the city, representing more than 65,000 rooms and 32,000 employees.  When he is not about the business of his hotels, John is a regular on the social scene in New York City and in the Hamptons where he has a weekend retreat. His name has been linked with a number of glamorous women, but he would be the first to admit that, for now at least, he is married to the job. On the morning of our interview, he is leaving for a  skiing holiday in the French Alps with friends from boyhood. He’s looking forward to it, but one can sense that he will enjoy it all the more in reflection – when he’s back at work in New York.  As he fends off calls and deals with last-minute business before he leaves for the airport, I’m struck by the fact that he is taking the time to call in a favor – a concert ticket for the daughter of a friend.

He is a warm, elegant man, with an easy manner and a knack for making people comfortable. These characteristics, the key to his success as a hotelier, were also useful when the peace process was moving warily towards the Good Friday Agreement, and he opened his hotel to the loyalists and unionists, for they are “Irish too.”

When his mother passed away, 16 years ago, John decided to commemorate her with an annual golf tournament. To date over $1 million has been raised for two specific causes: the Corrymeela Centre, County Antrim, which promotes peace and reconciliation between the Northern communities, and Barrettstown, County Wicklow, a place that provides leisure activities for children with serious illnesses.  To hear John talk about  these projects is to know that they deeply touch the heart.

In the words of HIllary Clinton, “John Fitzpatrick is the very best kind of Irishman, he is utterly committed [to peace in Northern Ireland] both as a businessman and as a great humanitarian. I am proud to know him.”  We too are proud to know John and to name him our Irish American of the Year.

P.H: Tell me about your early mentors.
My father was a huge mentor. He was what I would call an old-fashioned hotelier, in the sense that it was all about service, it was all about the customer. He’d always say to me, “Remember, no matter how big you get or how many hotels you have, you’re still an innkeeper. And if you remember that, you won’t go wrong.”

Did you always want to work in the hotel business?
At one stage I wasn’t sure because in the old days, I never saw my father. We saw Dad when we were going off to school in the morning, we’d see him at 6 when we were having dinner, and then at 7:30 he’d head back to work. In those days hotel managers went to work in the morning, came home for a dinner break, and went back to work for the rest of the evening, usually not coming home until after midnight. That was tough for me as I grew up.

When did you start working in the family hotel?
Dad was always tough on us, in that you never got anything for nothing. If we wanted to have money we had to work. When I was only about 14 or 15, I was cutting the lawn at Killiney Castle  – that was my summer job.  I knew that the bar was the best place to make tips but I was too young to work there and I started off as a dishwasher. When I turned 17, I persuaded my father to let me work behind the bar washing the glasses. Eventually I started serving drinks. I did this every weekend while I was in school.
Looking back, I probably worked too many hours, but it was my own decision. I didn’t frequent the bars and clubs in my earlier years, like the rest of my friends, but I was a late bloomer and made up for it later.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
I love meeting customers. I’d rather be down meeting customers than doing anything else. That’s the way I am. People are always saying, “You work too hard, you work long hours.” My friends are always saying, “Why are you going back in?” Even if I’m at a reception or having drinks with friends, I always try to stop in at one of my hotels on the way home – even if it’s just to walk through the lobby. I can walk into my hotels and within five or six minutes I know if everything’s okay. I can just feel it.

Why did you pick New York City to open a hotel?
In the beginning, capital was very limited, but Dad was a great salesperson, and I remember the banker saying, “Paddy, you want to go to the States, but of all places to open a hotel you want to go to New York City, can you not pick somewhere else?” And I remember Dad saying, and it sounds corny now, but at the time it got [the message] across, “Why not New York?” He said, “It’s like the Frank Sinatra song, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” And I swear, I’ll never forget that day because all the bankers looked up and they couldn’t argue with him.

How did you, in such a short time, put your stamp on the city?
I have to give credit to a great woman, Angela Phelan [Angela, who sadly passed away in 2009, wrote a popular social column for the Irish Independent newspaper]. Angela was the one who put us on the map. She said that since it was an Irish-owned hotel, the Irish heads of state should stay here when they visited New York. She called [Taoiseach] Albert and his wife Kathleen [Reynolds] who she was very friendly with, and they came to stay.Then Mary Robinson, who was president at the time, stayed here and that was the start of it. It wasn’t me putting my mark on New York,  it was the Irish supporting me that really did it.

And you in turn support the Irish through your foundation –
I have to say, how that all started was a little bit selfish. When Mum died, it was a huge shock to us. Dad was very successful but he wouldn’t have been a success without Mum. She was a great mother but she also helped him with the business. Where did I learn about interior design? I used to follow Mum around the hotel. Everybody knew Dad, but I was afraid as the years went on it would be all about Paddy Fitzpatrick and Mum wouldn’t be remembered. So I said, we’re going to do a memorial fund in honor of Mum.

I started with Corporation Ireland and did something small in the north, and then the American Ireland Fund approached me and said, look, your golf tournament’s becoming successful, would you not come in with us? I said, listen, guys, you’re raising millions, and I fear that the limited dollars we raise will be lost in the shuffle. I want to be able to touch it, feel it, and especially when people donate money [to the memorial fund] I insist that they know where it’s going. And they said, we have created  a donor advisory board where you can pick different projects and 100 percent of the money that you raise goes straight to [that project]. So I went to Barrettstown where they bring seriously ill kids to enjoy normal activities like horseback riding, canoeing and such. It gives them the confidence they need to stay positive and fight [the illness]. And I visited the Corrymeela Reconciliation Centre up in Ballycastle, whose mission is to promote reconciliation between groups that were formerly divided. The weekend I was there I saw Catholic and Protestant children playing to-gether for the first time and it was a great sight. It is a beautiful place.

I knew that the Corrymeela center and Barrettstown were projects that were making a difference and that I could support. The one thing I insist is that my mother or father’s name [Paddy passed away in 2001] – not mine – must appear on any commemoration. But it has to be discreet; I don’t want a big gold plaque. And they’ve done a fantastic thing at Corrymeela. We helped build the main house, and carved into the wooden mantle over the fireplace is “Eithne Fitzpatrick Memorial.” Unless you get up close to it you don’t see it.

In terms of Northern Ireland, you had groups from both communities staying at your hotel during the peace process.
This was long before the Good Friday Agreement, it was all done very quietly. I would get a call from Bill Flynn [then chairman of Mutual of America and a leading Irish-American peacemaker] and he would say, “John, we have a few of them coming in. We don’t have resources, will you do it for me?” and I would say, “of course.” They all stayed here. Quietly, no one knew. We’ve come a long way, and it doesn’t have to be kept quiet anymore.

A year and a half ago we had Dr. Ian Paisley, on his first official visit to New York.  Ian Jr., who I had gotten to know, calls me and says, “I’m going to put Dad with you.” I said, “Oh, great, sure, will he be comfortable?” He said, “Absolutely, but there’s only one thing I need from you.” I said, “Don’t worry, it’ll be flying” [the Union Jack]. It would’ve been flying anyway, that’s what we do when any head of state stays here.

So I go out as the cars pull up. I open the door and Ian Paisley gets out and puts his hat on and I swear, he looks at me seriously and says, “My son says you’re okay, and he’s right.” He walks in the door and it’s Christmas week, everybody from Ireland’s in and there are six women from Derry coming out with shopping bags going to get in a car to the airport. And he stops and talks with them and they’re saying, “Dr. Paisley!” It was very funny. He sat down in the front room in the restaurant – that’s his table, the one with the windows. There was no hiding! Some smart person came up to him one day and said, “What are you doing in an Irish hotel?” and he said, “We are Irish!”

You also held fundraisers for Hillary Clinton at the hotel.  Are you still in touch?
Absolutely. People asked me at the time, “Why are you supporting Hillary?” I said “Look, guys, it goes back to what they did for Ireland.” We wouldn’t have peace in Northern Ireland without the Clintons’ help. It was their love for Ireland that kind of got me going [for her campaign]. This was when she was running for senator. We had no idea she was going to run for president. Of course I wanted her to be president. But in hindsight, I think we’ve got the best of both worlds. We’ve got a great president and we’ve got the best Secretary of State – one who understands Ireland. She really knows what’s going on; it’s second nature to her.

Would you say that there is something in your Irish heritage that has helped your career?
I think there is something about being Irish…we are a very warm people, and we are genuine. In Ireland if they say something to you, they mean it. The other thing is, and I say this to our employees: we’re all part of a team. I want everyone to be relaxed here. Yes, you do have bosses, but it’s a family business with family values. My father made that clear from day one. He knew everybody who worked for him. And my mother knew everybody too and the employees were part of the family.

You received the Ellis Island Medal  of Honor, what did that mean to you and how do you see the current policy on immigration?
It was fantastic to receive the Ellis Island Medal because knowing the history of the “Irish need not apply” signs, I just think, “Look how far we’ve come.” I think it’s important for those of us who are here legally to be thankful for that, but we shouldn’t forget those others. Changing the immigration policy should be very high on our agenda. I don’t know if you can say this, but they’re not going home, they’re staying here and they’ve got families and kids here, so something has to be done. You just can’t say they’re illegal and the problem will go away. Ireland and the United States have been intertwined for a long time, and there are so many Irish here that are valuable contributors to American society.

What advice would you give to the Irish in terms of dealing with the current economic climate?
You go back to Ireland and they’re so depressed and so down, and I say, “Would you stop being so negative?  Okay, you’ve come down, but look how far you’ve still come.”  For example, my brothers at home are in the property business, which is unfortunately not going well at the moment, but at the height of the market, labor was so hard to find, my brothers were bringing in laborers from overseas. We just have to realize how far we’ve come and look at the positive side. Perfect example: when I opened this hotel I named the suites after the [Irish] presidents and half of them were dead, and when I opened Fitzpatrick’s Grand Central ten years later – look at what Ireland had done – I was able to name suites after the many Irish luminaries who had emerged in recent years.  We had a Nobel Peace Prize winner, U2 had exploded, we had Riverdance. We had all these internationally recognized names in the arts and in the business world – we’d done it. So yes, we’ve gone down but we can go back up again. We may never get back to [where we were] but I think that [where we were] was a little bit unrealistic.

I think everybody has to wake up and be mature and say there’s a bit of blame for everyone to share. Nobody can say it’s his fault or it’s the bank’s fault or the government’s fault – it’s a bit of everybody’s fault. It’s about taking this negative energy and making it positive. If you keep yourself positive and look for new ideas, there are ways of getting through it – whatever  the adversities that you face.

What did receiving the OBE mean to you?
The OBE [Order of the British Empire] was totally unexpected – they gave it to me mainly because of the philanthropic work I did in Northern Ireland and maybe because I helped make all parties welcome in New York during the early stages of the peace process. But really the charity work is made possible by my donors and my team. My fund is not my fund. All my employees give up their free time. The golf tournament is in May, we start [organizing] in November. My salespeople, my bartenders, my restaurant people, my housekeepers…they all get involved and they’re on the committee. And it’s a tough thing [to organize]. People think the golf tournament is just one day, but it takes six or seven months to raise sponsorship. So I have to give credit to the team and my donors, and my great operations director, Kate Simpson, she’s really taken this on.

Any qualms, as an Irishman, about accepting the OBE?
Absolutely none, I consider it an honor and a privilege, and I look forward to the bright future that all of Ireland has.

Thank you, John. 

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The First Word: A Flavor of Ireland https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/the-first-word-a-flavor-of-ireland/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/the-first-word-a-flavor-of-ireland/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2010 11:59:58 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7383 Read more..]]> “Ireland is an island of character and characters, brimming with history and teeming with verve.” – Joe Byrne, Executive Vice President, Tourism Ireland North America.

I’m still thinking about the brown bread.

One night in the recent past, a wet night, I might add – one that put me in mind of Ireland and warm fires and cozy pubs – I took the subway uptown a couple of stops and walked a block or so to the New York Athletic Club on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. The wind howled and the rain rained but nobody cared because it was Tourism Ireland’s annual Flavor of Ireland get-together and the place was brimming with characters and good food and drink and talk and music – Moya Brennan no less.

Ah, but the food –

Fresh-baked brown bread, Kerrygold cheese, fresh Irish salmon, corned beef and cabbage.

And the chat –

I talked to tour operator Ellen McNulty of Lynott Tours (specializing in high end small tours) who said business is up, not down. Brian Stack of CIE Tours was also positive – a marked improvement in bookings over last year. I reminded a young woman from Ireland’s Bluebook(a listing of fine country houses) how back in the day (since she was too young to remember) tourism was Ireland’s bread and butter. And I met up with Jimmy Murphy from Brendan Tours, in from Los Angeles, and Sean Reidy of the JFK Trust who made the trip over from County Wexford.

And Joe Byrne –

No one knows Ireland better than Joe, Tourism Ireland’s man in charge of North America.

The evening was so sweet that it put a longing on me to go home for a visit. It was wonderful to meet the people – share the laughter and the chat, and enjoy all  the great food.  I’ve asked our resident food columnist Edythe Preet to include some of her personal Irish bread recipes in this issue. If that doesn’t encourage you to take that trip to Ireland – the one you’ve been putting off – surely all our wonderful travel pieces in this issue will.

As Joe says, “Ireland is an island of character and characters, brimming with history and teeming with verve.”

And there are some great deals available right now.

Tourism has always been a strong part of Ireland’s economy. What is less well known is the part that it played in the peace process.  The Irish Tourist Board was the first agency to reach a hand across the border in the days following the Good Friday Agreement, and to form, with Northern Ireland Tourism, a new agency called Tourism Ireland to promote  Ireland as one island.

John Fitzpatrick, too, used his skills as a hotelier to reach out to all sides and nurture the peace process along. As Tom Moran puts it, “There were no ‘Peace Walls’ needed in the lobby bar of John’s hotel. Late nights brought the sounds of friendship and understanding from all quarters.”  We are pleased to honor John as our Irish American of the Year. John’s two hotels form a unique corner of Ireland in New York City.

In addition to the Travel Ireland stories in this issue, you can read about the many “Corners of Ireland” in the U.S. in our special feature on plans for an Irish-American museum in Washington, D.C., and in Mary Pat Kelly’s piece on touring Irish America. Two other stories – on Chile (written before the earthquake), and the Chieftains’ homage to the San Patricios – remind us of the many Irish connections around the world. Wherever they traveled, like snails with their houses on their back, the Irish carried their culture with them.

Mortas Cine

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Fighting Irish Girl: Maureen Dowd https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/fighting-irish-girl-maureen-dowd/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/fighting-irish-girl-maureen-dowd/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2010 11:58:58 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7385 Read more..]]> Her mother was an Irish rebel, and her father a good cop who could spot a phony a mile away.  These inherited traits turned Maureen Dowd into an award-winning columnist and author.

Somewhere in Australia there’s an Irish lad called Rowan McCormick who broke Maureen Dowd’s heart. When she went back in the early 1970s to visit her homestead in County Clare, hard by the majestic Cliffs of Moher, she met him and fell madly in love.

Her older sister Peggy remembers that she was seriously worried they might never see Maureen again. “She was totally in love. We didn’t think we would bring her back,” Peggy remembers.

The Dowd family had traveled over with their mother to keep her company. Their dad, Michael, was national chairman of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the annual convention was being held in Ireland. Sadly, like most summer romances, Dowd’s didn’t work out, and her beau departed for Australia. But when she was Down Under a few years back on a book tour she put out an all-points bulletin and he came running. Alas, he was married now and settled down. Dowd still sounds disappointed.

It is quite an image – Maureen Dowd, scourge of every president since Poppy Bush and, arguably, the most powerful journalist in America thanks to her must-read column in The New York Times – talking of the road not taken, living a quiet life as a barkeep’s wife back in Clare.

Maybe that image isn’t so fanciful, though. Spending a few hours in the back of a midtown Manhattan restaurant with Maureen and her sister Peggy is akin to catching up with relatives in a snug bar in the west of Ireland.

After lunch the theater crowd drifted away to the matinee performances and left the world to us. The Dowd sisters are very close, finishing each other’s sentences, adding a detail here and there.

The talk is soon of Ireland. Peggy is the family historian, and the stories flow like a familiar river.

Peggy has her Irish passport; Maureen covets one. The focus is memories of their father Michael, a son of Ireland who bestrides their lives still, though he is long gone.
Michael from Clare was the son of a poor farmer in a poor country, the second child in the family named Michael after the first died.  He was booked on the Titanic in 1914, but his mother cried all night and he couldn’t leave her.

The woman who took his place in the doomed liner survived and they met up years later. Though still a young woman, her hair had turned pure white from the fright of that awful night, or so says the family lore.

Michael eventually came to Washington, D.C., and despite a rudimentary education made it into the police force where he quickly climbed the ladder. Soon after he made detective, he met Peggy Meenehan, whose father managed the family bar.

The cop and the barkeep’s daughter were both champion Irish step dancers. In 1934 they married; the age difference was 18 years. They raised five kids together – Maureen, the youngest, Michael, Martin, Kevin and Peggy.

Maureen’s father was 61 when she was born, but he wrote his age as 50 on the birth certificate.

“It was hilarious that he lied,” Maureen says now, “and as a policeman, he was lying on an official document.”

The Dowds had it rough. Years later when Maureen would sometimes romanticize the 1930s, her mother would wag her finger. “Those were tough and mean times,” mother would tell daughter.

Now Maureen says she knows what she was talking about. “We’re back there,” she says referring to the current economic crisis. “We’re back in a soup can economy.”

The sisters describe Michael as the cool, clean hero, devout and chivalrous to a fault, a man adept at sizing up people and situations like no other. Peggy says Maureen had the same gift from an early age and that she got it from her father.

He loved to read, especially newspapers. “He’d grab a morning, an afternoon and evening paper every day,” says Peggy.

Their strongest memories are of Michael engrossed in the newspaper sitting under a portrait of JFK, one of his heroes. So it is not surprising that Maureen felt the pull to write from an early age. There were already other powerful role models in the family pantheon.  Tommy Corcoran, married to a Dowd relative, was FDR’s closest confidant, known to the president as “Tommy the Cork.”  He drafted much of the New Deal legislation and reputedly coined the phrases “nothing to fear but fear itself” and “rendezvous with destiny.” Roosevelt’s son Elliott wrote, “Apart from my father, Tom (Corcoran) was the single most influential individual in the country.”

So being around power was also an early experience for the Dowd clan. And Ireland permeated the family’s early years.

Maureen is pictured in the Washington Post at age 2 in 1954, plump and pretty in a shamrock-bedecked dress, posing on St. Patrick’s Day. Typically she critiques her first media appearance – “Look, they had to give me potato chips to make me smile.”

Like Maureen, her dad had political favorites – Truman was one.

“Dad tended to judge politicians by whether he thought they were phonies or not,” says Maureen. “I think that’s one thing I inherited, besides wearing sunglasses indoors.”

As part of his job Michael Dowd guarded FDR and Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare. He loved Truman but didn’t like Bobby Kennedy, who let the side down by not hiring some Irish who needed work on the Hill.

Michael won a medal for bravery and befriended high people, and saw places a young Irish emigrant had no right to dream of. He rose through the ranks of the Ancient Order of Hibernians to become head of the largest Irish organization in America.

Her mother was an Irish rebel. In the 1970s, Peggy Dowd led a demonstration at the British Embassy after Bloody Sunday when 14 were shot by British forces in Derry. To her eternal satisfaction, the then British ambassador had to sneak in through the underground garage.

Maureen and Peggy agree she would have been “delighted” that President Barack Obama recently got rid of the Churchill bust that George W. Bush kept in the Oval Office.
Their parents’ biggest fight occurred on a trip to Ireland.  Being a Clare man, Michael Dowd wanted to go to Eamon de Valera’s grave. His wife wanted to pay homage to Michael Collins. The Irish Civil War was almost reenacted.

On another occasion Mike Dowd arrived back in Ireland with an American car, a roadster. The locals were gobsmacked at the likes of this prosperity.

“They thought he was a ‘millunare,’ as he pronounced it,” Peggy says, laughing.

Their father had tried to set up an AOH museum in Washington for Irish artifacts. A priest in Massachusetts sent a holy medal that he had received from the mother of Michael Collins. He swore Collins wore it the day he died in the republican ambush at Beal na mBlath outside Cork city. The medal remains one of the Dowd family’s greatest treasures. Maureen wants to talk to the Irish Government about it.

Their father died in 1971. On her own deathbed many years later in 2005, Peggy Dowd talked out loud to him, leading Maureen and the younger Peggy to believe he was waiting for her.  Their mother was hale and hearty for many years before succumbing to old age at 97. She was going blind towards the end. Maureen would go over to her and turn on the daily Mass at 8:30 a.m.

Her mother loved Tim Russert and Meet the Press. She confessed she hated going blind because it meant she couldn’t see Tim Russert any more. The late great NBC anchor returned the favor, often wishing her a happy birthday on air. Somewhere in a green swathe of heaven that TV twosome continues.

When Peggy died, the fulsome Washington Post obituary heading said simply: “Font of Advice.”

In many ways that has never changed. Maureen’s New York Times columns could be read in some ways as letters to the mother she still misses profoundly, full of the piercing insight and gossipy bon mots Peggy Dowd loved.

The old Irish rebel still lives on in her daughter. Mike Quill, the great union leader and 1920s IRA activist, is alleged to have told the immigration man letting him into America that “if there’s a government here I’m against it.” Sometimes it seems Maureen feels that way too.All these years later, the little girl that her father worried was too shy to get on in life has certainly proved him wrong.

Dowd’s meteoric rise to the top of the media pile was achieved through sheer dint of hard work and an unerring eye for the critical detail that everyone else was missing. Along the way she has ended forever the cozy view of women writers as softly-softlys who leave the meaty stuff to the men.

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Touring Irish America https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/touring-irish-america/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/touring-irish-america/#comments Thu, 01 Apr 2010 11:57:07 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7388 Read more..]]> Mary Pat Kelly writes about encountering  Irish America readers on her tour to promote her historical novel Galway Bay.

If you are reading this, I’ll bet I’ve met you.

Since I began the book tour for my novel Galway Bay one year ago, I’ve encountered you, readers of Irish America magazine, in bookstores and Irish cultural centers, in libraries and church halls, in academic conferences, and amidst the fun of Irish Festivals throughout the country.

You are the man I met at the IBAM (Irish Books and Music) weekend at the Irish American Heritage Centre in Chicago who said he had every issue of Irish America magazine and hoped to go to New York to thank Patricia Harty personally, and then quoted from her last editorial. You’re the young woman in Los Angeles who told me her determination to earn a place on the list of the top one hundred Irish Americans someday was keeping her in college.

You are any one of the hundreds who stopped at my booth during Irish Fests in Cleveland, Chicago, St. Paul, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Brooklyn, Canton (MA), Indianapolis and Long Grove (IL) to say that reading articles in Irish America magazine had spurred an interest in your own family’s history.

“What a coincidence!” I told you.  “Writing articles for Irish America inspired me to learn about mine.”

I’ve been lucky enough to work with Patricia Harty on the magazine since the early part of the 25-year span we celebrate this year, and I can tell you that every story in the magazine begins with you. “Our readers will enjoy hearing about this person or that event,” Patricia would say.  “Let’s do it.”

An example: We read that the Texas Rangers and pitcher Nolan Ryan were coming to New York. A very Irish name.  Does he feel a connection to his roots?  Our readers would be interested. The next day we were in the visitors’ dugout at Yankee Stadium with photographer James Higgins. And yes, Nolan Ryan does take pride in his Irish ancestors and the history of the Irish in Texas.

When Anjelica Huston told us, over cups of tea in the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills, about sitting with her father, director John Huston, as he pointed out the constellations in the night sky over their house in Galway, we both said, “That’s an image our readers will like.”

Over the last quarter century the magazine has given thousands of accomplished Irish Americans the chance to assert, “Pride in Our Heritage,” and allowed hundreds of writers like me to explore the stories, all under the empowering guidance of editor Patricia Harty.

So thanks, Trish, for sending me to visit the oldest Hibernian hall in the U.S. in Charleston, South Carolina, and printing that first article about the 300,000 American servicemen in Northern Ireland during World War II which would become the topic of two books, two documentaries and a feature film.

But I’m most grateful for what I share with you, readers: a new sense of where my family fits in the sweep of Irish-American history. Every issue I read opened new vistas and inspired me to finally tell my family’s story in Galway Bay. And the wonderful reward is to meet you in person, the audience we’ve written for all these years. In the final chapter, Honora Keeley Kelly, the character based on my great-great-grandmother, looks out on the dark prairie from the top of the Ferris wheel at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and thinks, “Irish people are scattered over the length and breadth of you, Amerikay. Have you swallowed us up whole and entire?”
My tour has proved what we believe at Irish America magazine. The Irish didn’t disappear. We’re everywhere in the U.S. asserting our connection to Ireland and each other. It doesn’t matter how many ancestors are Irish, or if we’re Irish by choice (“IBM,” one man’s tee-shirt in Minnesota read –  Irish By Marriage), or drawn by the love of the music and literature. The two women singing along with Tommy Sands who knew every word of his song “Roses” at the Milwaukee Irish Fest were Japanese-Americans with memories of childhood in the internment camps.

So many of these Irish Festivals began about the same time as Irish America magazine did. It seems as if something shifted during the last quarter century to encourage us to seek a deeper understanding of our identities. Interest in genealogy has surged as well and every festival offers help in tracing your ancestors and a booth where you can order your family’s coat-of-arms.

Now there are close to 100 Irish Festivals across the country: big – 130,000 attended last year’s Milwaukee Irish Festival – and more intimate – by the end of the Long Grove Irish Days I knew many attendees by name. All the Fests offer a great mix of music, cultural exhibits, talks by writers and historians, food (Do you like homemade brown bread?), vendors of Irish-themed gifts and clothing and wonderful Irish dancing by our amazing children who carry pride in our heritage into the future. And all this on warm summer weekends with carnival rides and cotton candy. “We’ve nothing like this in Ireland,” the young Irish fellow working at the booth beside me at Chicago’s Gaelic Park said as the crowds came through our tent. “It’s more fun being Irish in America,” he concluded.

A good point, and here’s a suggestion for a family vacation or day out. Attend an Irish Festival and then visit the monuments to local Irish-American history that more and more communities are erecting. For example, Buffalo has a statue to Chauncey Olcott, who gave us “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and “My Wild Irish Rose,” at his birthplace in a section of Buffalo where the street signs are in Irish. Maybe incorporate a more solemn moment at one of the many memorials to the Great Starvation across the country. I’ve been moved by these monuments in Buffalo, Philadelphia, Chicago and at the evocative Hillside Cottage that marks New York’s Great Hunger Memorial.
If you stay at one of the Festival-recommended hotels you’ll be almost guaranteed an after-hours seisun with the musicians staying there. All these Festivals are labors of love and depend on volunteers, who all seem to have a great time. Check out the websites and think of offering your help. I’m adding Kansas City, Dublin, Ohio and Fort Collins, Colorado to this summer’s itinerary. Hope I’ll see you  –  maybe we’ll meet at one of the Festival Masses where congregations sing and pray in Irish. During these joyous celebrations I thought of our ancestors who, during the penal days, risked death to gather at hidden Mass rocks and secret caves to practice a forbidden faith. How pleased they would be to see us gathered in grace and freedom!

Something happened at one of these masses that captures an insight that I can’t put into words. In the midst of a very informative homily on Celtic monasticism the priest misspoke and called Ireland “the island of saints and sinners” (instead of “and scholars”). After a moment of silence the congregation burst into laughter and then we applauded, a loud and long demonstration that I understood but can’t explain. Was it delight in the joke? Self-deprecation? The “giggling in church” syndrome? I’m not sure. But as I turned to my neighbor to share the good laugh, I thought of my young friend from Ireland. Yes, it is fun to be Irish in America!

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Exploring Ulster https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/exploring-ulster-2/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/exploring-ulster-2/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:57:03 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7401 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 https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/magnificent-munster-2/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/magnificent-munster-2/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:56:19 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7392 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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A Look at Leinster https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/a-look-at-leinster-2/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/a-look-at-leinster-2/#comments Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:55:19 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7395 Read more..]]> In this travel series, Irish America explores each of the four provinces of Ireland.

Leinster is sometimes overlooked by travelers to Ireland, with the raw and rugged splendor of the south, west and north coasts attracting more attention. However, the Leinster province, which is Ireland’s largest and borders the Irish Sea, has a rich resource of sights and sounds for visitors, including, of course, Dublin City. Leinster encompasses the counties of Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Longford, Laois, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.

Just outside the town of Carlow is an over 100 ton stone structure whose history dates back to 4000 B.C. It is known as the Brownshill Dolmen or the Kernanstown Cromlech. Officially labeled a portal tomb for the two large stones which mark its entrance, how exactly the Dolmen was built remains a mystery as its capstone weighs in at 100 tons, believed to be largest in Ireland.

Founded in the 9th century, Dublin City is a culturally rich, international business hub, and tourist mecca. From the city’s beginnings as a Viking trading port to a walled medieval city, it transformed into an elegant Georgian city, cosmopolitan with wide streets and cultural quarters. The National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street houses the treasures of ancient Ireland, with exhibits including prehistoric and Viking Ireland. The Book of Kells, written around  800 AD and one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world, is on display at the Old Library at Trinity College and attracts over 500,000 visitors a year. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, erected on the site where St. Patrick is believed to have baptized his converts to Christianity, dates back to the 12th century. Another historic attraction, Dublin Castle was founded in 1203 by order of King John, who required a fortress constructed for the administration of the city. All that remains of the original design is the Norman Tower, while the rest of the castle has been added to and rebuilt over centuries. For those travelers hoping to soak up some of Ireland’s liquid history, the Guinness Storehouse and the Old Jameson Distillery are both popular Dublin destinations.

County Kildare is well known for Irish horse breeding, training and racing. The famous Curragh, a flat open plain of almost 5,000 acres, is home to the Curragh Racecourse, which hosts all five classic annual races: the Irish Derby Stakes, the Irish Oaks, the Irish 1,000 Guineas, the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the St. Leger.

Situated on the banks of the River Nore, Kilkenny town is  known for its historic buildings, and culture of arts and crafts. The Kilkenny Arts Festival celebrates theater, dance, visual art of all types and film, while the Kilkenny Design Craft Centre offers an unrivaled selection of Irish handcrafts. Kilkenny’s important ecclesiastical sites include the Black Abbey, Kells Priory, and Tullaherin Church and Round Tower. Kilkenny Castle is also a popular destination. Many of the landmarks are included in popular walking and cycling tours.

While the bog lands of County Longford may not sound like a tourist pull, a discovery in 1984 in Corlea unveiled a piece of ancient architecture unique in Ireland. Boards of timber nailed into a giant walkway were found, preserved after having been buried beneath the bog for centuries. Now known as the Corlea Trackway, the roadway is constructed of timber which was felled in 148 BC and is the only remaining example of roads from Ireland’s Iron Age. Inside the Visitor Centre in Corlea is an 18-meter stretch of the original road.

To experience an authentic blend of centuries-old relics and the contemporary pulse of a thriving Irish town, Portlaoise  is the perfect spot. The Rock of Dunamase, set against the backdrop of the Slieve Bloom Mountains is just outside the town. The ruins which stand today were first built in the late 12th century and were restored and occupied by several different groups throughout Dunamase’s history. Portlaoise is also home to Dunamase Arts Centre, which features ongoing exhibitions and presents internationally known musical acts, and O’Moore Park stadium, which hosts many Football and hurling fixtures and has a capacity of 30,000.

The smallest of Ireland’s counties, the coastal county of Louth provides no shortage of heritage sites and is associated with a number of significant events in Irish history – the Battle of the Boyne, Blessed Oliver Plunkett, Cromwell’s Siege and the surrender of the Irish Chieftains, but one of the better kept secrets of the “Wee County” is the Knockabbey Castle and Gardens. The 30-acre site offers a walk through Ireland’s gardening history, with Victorian flower gardens, restored greenhouses, and a Tower House designed to tell the stories of the owners and tenants who have passed through Knockabbey since it was built in 1399.

County Meath, the “Royal County,” is home to some of the most important historic monuments in all of Ireland, including the Hill of Tara, once the seat of the High Kings, and the archaeological complex of Brú na Bóinne which is 5,000 years old and includes the burial sites of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. At the summit of the Hill of Tara lies an oval Iron Age enclosure known as the Fort of the Kings. Within are two linked enclosures, known as Cormac’s House and the Royal Seat. In the center of the latter is the Stone of Destiny, where legend holds the High Kings were crowned.  Newgrange, meanwhile, is a World Heritage Site, and one of the most important Neolithic chamber tombs in Europe, predating both the Great Pyramid in Egypt and Stonehenge. It was built in such a way that at dawn on the winter solstice each year, a beam of sunlight illuminates the chamber floor of the construction. No visit to Meath is complete without a visit to the village of Slane – the cradle of Irish Christianity where St. Patrick lit the paschal fire.

President Obama can trace his Irish ancestors to Moneygall, County Offaly, but the the true gem of Offaly is Clonmacnoise, one of Ireland’s most well known monastic sites, which was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979. Known to the locals as the Seven Churches, this historic site is home to not just those churches but two round towers and two high crosses constructed from quartzose sandstone taken from the foot of the Bernagh Mountains. The ancient monastery is also home to the structure known as the Whispering Arch where it is fabled that the monks would give their confessions. If one whispers into one corner of the structure, someone standing at the opposite corner can hear its echoes, making it a favorite stop on tourists’ walks through the site.

County Westmeath is home to many tourist attractions from its idyllic lakes to the Belvedere House and Gardens. This parkland estate was once home to Earl Robert Rochfort, the infamously wicked man who locked up his wife for 31 years after suspecting her of infidelity. Belvedere House is now open to the public and has many events year-round which celebrate the natural beauty of Ireland. The town of Mullingar boasts a strong sporting tradition with plenty of greyhound races, golf courses, and clubs dedicated to rugby, football, tennis, basketball, snooker and countless other sports.

New Ross, Co. Wexford is the site of the Dunbrody, a replica of Ireland’s historic Famine-era emigrant ship. Docked off the South Quay, the Dunbrody recreates the conditions surrounding the 19th-century mass migration from Ireland. Visit the J.F. Kennedy Homestead, in nearby Duganstown, which is the birthplace of the late John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather  Patrick, who lived at the homestead prior to sailing to America to start a new life with his family. Other tourist attractions include the Irish National Heritage Park,  and the nearby Barrow, Nore and Suir River Valleys.

The Wexford Opera Festival plays a central role in the cultural life of Ireland, and in the world of opera and arts internationally. The Festival will run from Saturday, October 16th until Saturday, October 30th, 2010.

County Wicklow is known as the Garden of Ireland, and this spectacular county on the doorstep of Dublin is one of the country’s hidden secrets. The highlights of a visit include the magnificent coastline around Bray; the Vale of Avoca; Glendalough, which houses the site of St. Kevin’s monastery; and the waterfall and gardens of Powerscourt one of the most beautiful country estates in all of Ireland.

Wicklow is also home to Avondale House, the birthplace and home of Charles Stewart Parnell, one of the great political leaders of Irish history. The house is situated in Avondale Forest, a national historic site for its California redwoods, on the west bank of the Avonmore River.

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Captivating Connacht https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/captivating-connacht/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/captivating-connacht/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:54:23 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7398 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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A Course Called Ireland https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/playing-a-course-called-ireland/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/playing-a-course-called-ireland/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:52:07 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7404 Read more..]]> Bestselling golf author Tom Coyne wrote about trekking across Ireland for 16 weeks in search of the greatest round of golf ever played. He shares his experience and excerpts from his book A Course Called Ireland exclusively for Irish America.


Every adventure sets out to answer a question. It might be, “Can I?” or “Should we?” or “What if?” In my case, my endeavor to walk and golf the whole of Ireland began and ended with one particular question, an inquiry I bumped into almost every step of the way:

“Yer doin’ what?”

It was a question with another question quick on its heels: “Really – yer doing what?” often followed by, “Why in the hell are you doing that?” to the point where my four-month adventure in Ireland became a search for a satisfying solution to this last, and most relevant inquiry.

After 1,000 seaside golf holes, 1,100 miles on the hoof, and 320 pages, I hope that I have pieced together a proper answer. And perhaps some of the following will help explain why anyone would mistake Ireland for the world’s greatest round of golf, leaving his wife at home for a summer, and setting out from the Shannon airport with 10 clubs on his back, and 10 pages worth of tee times. My plan was to go and figure out why so many felt as passionately as I did about the golf being played along the coastline of Ireland, and to understand how golf had become the thing that had reconnected so many people of Irish descent with the home of their grandparents. I found Ireland to be a place that revels in its ironies, and none more so than the fact that a game brought to Ireland by an occupying army is now the pastime that brings so many thousands to its shores, a game that Ireland now does as well as (and for my euros, better than) any golf destination in the world.

A country the size of Indiana possesses some 40% of the true links courses on the planet (a links is a course built on sandy dune soil, designed by the wind, and perhaps the truest – or certainly, the original – expression of the game). It’s an astounding statistic (by strictest definition, there are no true links in the United States), one that should be celebrated as a tremendous source of Irish pride, and one that certainly seemed to require some investigation.

It was a golf map of Ireland, its outer edges ringed with golf holes, that first had me contemplating a round of golf that would truly go around, the ultimate game of golf played across a course called Ireland. But as I chased my disloyal golf balls around the dunes of Ireland, those golf holes became the least important characters in this journey. The people, the pubs, the roads, the history, the friends, the chippers, the sea cliffs, the gossip, the Gaelic, the caddies, the travelers – hell, even the dogs – all quickly became the easy answer to that question of why.

There was one other question that I heard in the clubhouses and on the roadsides as I made my way, a question I felt less equipped to answer: “Are you (bleeping) mad?” Some days, it felt that way. But on most days, like these days here, I just felt like the luckiest golfer, husband, tourist, and distant son of Ireland in the whole damn world.

From A Course Called Ireland, Hole #1

One hundred and fifty years ago, a dozen young men and women set out from towns in the west of Ireland, traveling by cart and by foot, headed for ports in Ballina and Westport, County Mayo. They bundled up their lives and stepped onto crowded ships pointed toward a place they had never seen before. One of those young women carried with her a mahogany cupboard with delicate glass doors, flowers hand-carved into the panels. Today it hangs in my parents’ living room, next to a fifty-two-inch flat-screen television.

The names of those people, why they came, or precisely where they came from, had been lost in my family’s shuffle. It had been my experience that the one thing Irish families did better than talk was whisper, and generations of whispers – who was unlucky and who was ungrateful, who drank too much, died too young, who was a good daughter, a lazy son, who never married and, more quietly now, why not – blended into a collective hush. I found myself looking at that cupboard from time to time, covered with the next generations’ macaroni Christmas ornaments, a ceramic teddy bear, last month’s Mother’s Day cards. There was a golf ball in one of the nooks, a Titleist with a purple-and-red logo on it and the letters BGC: Ballybunion Golf Club. That cupboard came to America in the arms of a woman trying to put Ireland behind her, and now it hung on the wall showcasing a golf ball from County Kerry, reminding some of us how much we wanted to go back. And as I stood on my first tee box in the southwest of Ireland, looking out over golden dunes and black cliffs holding back a frothy sea, I felt certain that over the next 119 days spent walking the longest possible path to Ballybunion, I was going to figure out which one of us had it right.

My friend Denis had children my age, but we’d become good friends over the years as semi-regular golf partners – he divorced, me self-employed, we had high golf availability in common and found ourselves sharing a cart on many a Tuesday afternoon. And over those many Tuesdays, I came to understand that Denis dearly loved two things in the world – golf and Ireland (and his kids, I’m sure, but that wasn’t really relevant during twilight golf). For golf in Ireland, his availability was extreme – grandson of immigrants, he even had an Irish passport. He was packed for the trip before I even got around to inviting him, booking a spot during my first week, a stretch that promised more links than most.

It was widely known among golfing circles in southeastern Pennsylvania that Denis was a golfer who could come up short from almost anywhere on the golf course. We called him Captain Layup. Facing a carry over a lake, a pitch to the green, or a six-footer to the hole, rest assured that Denis had worked out some way in his subconscious to keep his ball from getting there. It wasn’t that he couldn’t hit it; rather, Denis was perpetually ready for that once-in-a-century five-iron that was going to travel a three-wood’s distance. But if it was going to happen this century for Denis, I hoped that it would happen here, on our first hole of the Irish golf course, a 373-yard par-four on a sleepy little seaside course called Kilkee.

Elder linksman of the group, Denis was granted the honor. Standing on the first tee, looking out over the Atlantic ocean where the water was torn white against the charcoal rocks, Denis stood tall on the tee box and breathed it all in. Pepper-haired with age in his eyes, that day he was a young boy staring into the sea, looking over this land he loved. He placed his three-wood behind his ball with reverence, took one long contemplative pause, and brought his club back, ready to make his golfing mark on one of this planet’s most historic bits of rock.

He paused at the top of his backswing, eyes bright with hope – we braced ourselves, waiting for the cannon blasts, the trumpets, the eruption from the gallery. But all we heard was a loud “FORE!” from the window of a passing pickup truck. The yell had been launched at Denis with perfect mid-backswing timing. The rest of his swing looked like he was trying to fend off a swarm of bees, Denis fumbling into his golf ball and knuckling a heel shot into the very nearby weeds.

I had traveled far from home and my head still wasn’t sure if this was sunrise or sunset golf we were playing, but as I watched Denis curse himself in Kilkee, the rest of our foursome choking back belly laughs, I felt a warm familiarity come over me. The drive-by-backswing-golf-shout was a street-side tee-box classic. And Kilkee or Philadelphia or wherever I might find myself tomorrow, it still played funny everywhere.

from A Course Called Ireland, Hole #874

I tried to pretend not to see it, but it was unavoidable, directly out the front door from the B&B, a sign that I couldn’t miss.


I had planned on playing an Irish golf course that was 720 holes long. By the time I got on the plane in two days time, I would have played 981. What was nine more? And Ballyheigue to Ballybunion was a fair way to finish, I decided, golf on two remote ends of the Irish spectrum – from the town nine-holer to a course that made me wish I’d packed pants without cargo pockets (if noticed in Ballybunion, I had a Swiss Army knife ready to make them disappear). I put my last pair of wet, woolly socks over my sandy feet, grabbed my sack of sticks that had just barely survived the ocean an hour before, and headed for the clubhouse.

The course would have been more accurately described as the “LAST REMAINING BIT OF BALLYHEIGUE CASTLE GOLF COURSE,” because the castle was burned down by the IRA during the War of Independence, and what remained was its facade and a few turrets, sort of a backlot Hollywood castle with nothing behind the windows. It was an adolescent nine-holer (born in 1996) and far from a true links – half the holes were treeless, and from its hillside location overlooking the water, it had a seaside feel, a fair community course with views through an old castle wall to the beach and Ballyheigue Bay. It might blossom into something more substantial, but as it was, Ballyheigue was a safe setting for kids on holiday to knock it around. And lucky for me, that’s what I found as I dragged myself up to the first tee, three lads having just teed off ahead of me. They were each pulling golf bags bigger than they were and walking circles in the rough, looking like they had lost their mothers in the mall.

I took my time and played two balls, trying not to push the threesome, but on the fifth I wandered to the tee box and found a young boy sitting on a bench. He was wearing a soccer jersey and had short brown hair and a pale, freckled face. He couldn’t have been ten years old, and there was no chance that he weighed more than my backpack.

“Do you want to play along?” he said, sounding confident. “It’s slow today.”

I had been used to getting waved through as a single, and was always disappointed when I wasn’t asked to join a group – no matter if it was little old ladies or a pack of club-throwers, it was nice to be asked. His name was Eamon, and after watching their struggles over the opening holes, I was surprised to be asked to join up, but if he wasn’t too shy to shank it in front of a stranger, neither was I.

I thanked him and headed for the back tee box, past where two lads were returning from the regular tee, headed for Eamon’s bench. They were a couple years older, maybe twelve, both of them as skinny as six-irons, a kid named Colin in a Cork jersey and football shorts, and Eamon’s brother Declan dressed in a collared shirt and spikes, the golfer of the group.

“You’re teeing off from the blues,” Declan noted. “What do you play off?”

“I don’t know. Five, six maybe.”

“Five handicap. Did you hear that, Eamon!” Declan announced. They hurried off the tee box and took spots behind the bench, eager spectators. I eyed the fairway of a bending par-four as the gallery carried on.

“I never played with a 5 handicap.”

“Me neither.”

“What’s yer handicap?”

“I dunno. Maybe 20.”

“You’re a 20 handicap on one hole.”

“I am not.”

“You had a 12 back there. On a par-four.”

I hammered a booming cut down the right side of the fairway to a chorus of, “Whoa! See that? He hits it farther than your dad!”

“Where’d you get that driver?” Declan asked. “Can I have a look?”

I handed it over to him. “Colin, check it out,” he said, showing it off like it was Excalibur, turning the blue shaft in the sunlight. “Gorgeous. How much did it cost?”

“I don’t really remember,” I told him.

“Where are you from?”

“He’s from America, stupid.”

“But where in America?”

“We’ve been to Disney World…”

For five holes the questions came, and I answered them coyly with a smile, playing the reluctant celebrity for them. Declan had an off-balance but consistent swing, and Eamon somehow got the ball airborne with men’s clubs – he looked like he was swinging a javelin. Colin was the quiet one, pipe-cleaner legs sticking out of his white football shorts, he was struggling to keep it moving, and I could tell he was embarrassed.

“He’s a better player than this,” Declan whispered to me on the sixth.

“He’s been sick,” Eamon agreed. “He’s long off the tee. At least I think he’s long.”

“Eamon’s the putter,” Declan said of his little brother.

“Love my putter. It’s about the only thing I’m good at. Declan can hit pretty much any shot.”

“I like to play,” Declan explained. “I practice a lot, too.”

I had been of the opinion that Ireland was a country overrun by its youngsters. It was an impression hard to shake after a summer bouncing from tourist town to tourist town, having to brave packs of chocolate-fingered preteens, dodging their ice creams and wasting hours of my life in line behind kids trying to figure if they could squeeze one more piece of licorice out of their fiver. Ireland was supposed to be an old place, wobbly canes and bushy white eyebrows, a drafty old house my grandparents spoke about as if it had been knocked down years ago. So where the hell did all these kids come from? And why were they always in front of me at the breakfast buffet?

When I was those boys’ age, I’d like to think I wouldn’t have, but playing with three other ten-year-olds, I would have likely laughed at my buddies’ whiffs, thrown tantrums when they in turn laughed at mine, and found a way to end the nine holes with one of us storming off the course with a face hot with tears, all friendships suspended for a minimum of twenty-five minutes. But these lads cheered each other around the course. They stuck up for one another, were quiet when they hit it sideways, told each other to give it another go because they could do it better than that. Golf took a lot of credit for teaching good manners, much of it undeserved – I had met as many cheaters and jackasses on the golf course as off. These boys had the respect their fathers showed for their friends, and that gave them a certain poise that I didn’t expect from kids, a species I had previously considered the original four-letter word. Ireland was a changing place, a younger place, and the lads were all right.

Declan showed me how he hit his bunker shots: “I’m pretty good in bunkers. I’ve got a sixty-degree wedge,” and from his little brother, “He’s got a sixty-degree wedge, do you have one? They’re amazing.” On the last, I let them each take a swing with my driver, even Colin, whose struggles had his head hanging. He politely told me no thank you, but I wouldn’t let him leave the ninth tee without getting up there in his sneakers and giving it a rip. I’d like to tell you he split the fairway, but he didn’t, knocking a dribbler onto the ladies’ tee. But at least he was laughing, and his friends were laughing, too.

His cheeks were red as he handed my driver back to me. “It’s a good club,” he said.

They had been around the nine holes three times that afternoon and had probably taken north of two hundred swipes each, but as we finished the final par-four in front of the stone facade of Ballyheigue, Colin looked down to the beach where the sun was still hanging above the ocean, and he guessed they had enough time to play nine more. So we said good-bye, and they kept going – they had plenty of excuses to quit, I was sure, Nintendos back in their beach caravans, and probably a half dozen blisters between them. They were stuck with hand-me-down sticks and bags big enough to take a nap in, but what did that matter when you were twelve and there was still light in the sky? I watched them tug their bags toward the first tee, sure they would be out there until dark. I used to play that kind of golf, and in Ireland or Philadelphia or anywhere, it was the best game I ever played.


Tom Coyne has written for Golf Magazine and Golfweek. He is the author of Paper Tiger and the novel A Gentleman’s Game, and is currently working on another book: 26.1 to Go – The Quest to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Sports: Where is Everybody Running To? coming out in 2011. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife Allyson and daughter Maggie. This excerpt was published in Irish America‘s April / May 2010 issue.  ♦

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A Winter Honeymoon https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/a-winter-honeymoon/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/04/a-winter-honeymoon/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:51:20 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7407 Read more..]]> April Drew married John Mooney on Saturday, December 5, 2009 in Killarney, Co. Kerry. The New York couple discovered that a honeymoon in Ireland in mid-winter warmed the heart, offered spectacular scenery, luxurious hotels, and some surprises.

The decision to honeymoon in Ireland in December was a risky one. Ireland is known for its erratic and cantankerous weather so the decision to spend a week driving from the bottom of the country to the top and back again was one we hoped wouldn’t require divorce papers before our marriage even got a chance to take off.

Our honeymoon kicked off in the Belfry suite of the Muckross Park Hotel, Killarney. The hotel,  one of the oldest in County Kerry, is located on 25,000 acres of magnificent mountains, lakes and streams, and is the ideal romantic setting. It was part of the original Muckross House Estate owned by the Herbert family, who were in such good social standing that they enjoyed a visit from Queen Victoria in 1861. The hotel complex is home to the  G.B. Shaw Restaurant, named in tribute to the playwright who spent the summer of 1923 here, writing Pygmalion (the play that became My Fair Lady).  It is also features Kerry’s famous Molly Darcy’s Traditional Irish Pub & Restaurant, where lunch, followed by a late night of beverages with friends, provided the perfect start to our honeymoon.

Our next stop was The Hotel Europe and Resort, which offers breathtaking views of  the Lakes of Killarney. A multi-million-dollar renovation has brought Hotel Europe to a level that few hotels in Ireland can compete with. We were shown to our suite by a fine gentleman named Patraig and took a few minutes to revel in the fine linens and magnificent view of the lakes  before exploring the hotel. The lobby has massive floor to ceiling windows and a fireplace in the center where we sat and enjoyed a drink.

The following morning, my 31st birthday, John breakfasted in bed, while I got pampered in the spa.

Una, the masseuse, welcomed me with warm towels and then soothingly transported me into another world.

An hour or so later, I had to be pried from the relaxation lounge with its views of the lakes as John had our bags packed  ready for our journey up the country.

Let the road trip begin.

After a quick trip to Killarney town for a spot of unnecessary shopping, we settled into our midsize Ford Focus car (rented from Dooley Car Rental at Shannon Airport) for a two-hour trip to County Clare.

I had heard about Americans spending endless weeks exploring Ireland’s castles so a stay at Dromoland Castle was a must on my birthday night.

A lovely drive up through Kerry and Limerick brought us to one of the most famous baronial castles in Ireland – the seat of the O’Briens, direct descendants of Brian Boru, and resident here until 1962, when financial difficulties forced the 16th Baron to sell to Bernard McDonagh of West Virginia who converted the castle and grounds into a luxury hotel and resort.

Some of the world’s most famous people have stayed here, including President George W. Bush who spent a night here in 2004 while he attended the EU- US summit held on the grounds.

We received a warm Irish failte from a receptionist named Catherine who urged us to “Take a stroll in the gardens tomorrow; ye will love them and dinner in the dining room is a must.” We took her advice in due time, but first the bedroom.

We were soon standing on plush carpet in one of the castle’s finest suites where, after taking off my five-inch heels (a gal has to look her best in these castles),  I was tempted to dive straight into a box of chocolates, courtesy of the management. John reminded me that we had dinner reservations at the quaint Earl of Thomond restaurant. We opted for the romance of having our steak in front of a roaring fire in the gallery section of the castle instead. Seated underneath portraits of former Ladies and Lords of Dromoland, we felt privileged to be spending a night under the same roof that these historical figures had once called home.

We took an after-dinner stroll around the castle before returning to our suite where we made full use of the oversized sofa to watch a late movie.

An early wake-up call and a light breakfast and we were on our way again. The weather cleared up nicely the farther northwest we went, and we soon arrived at our next port of call – the uber-trendy G Hotel in Galway City.

Designed by Philip Treacy, Galway native and world famous hatter (think Camilla’s wedding hat), the G exudes glamour. The lobby evokes old-fashioned Hollywood allure while the reception area is brought to life by an enormous fish tank full of Connemara-bred seahorses. (I was quick to remind John that it’s the male seahorse who gives birth!)

The ground floor of the G is home to three lounges, each with its own individual style. I was much taken with the bold theme of the Grand Salon, the gentlemanly Blue Salon, and my favorite, the Pink Salon with its fabulous art and an oversized 1950s-inspired rug.

I longed to linger in the lounges where people laughed, drank and some sang (a group of girls on a bachelorette party),  but my husband was eager to get to the bedroom where a gas fire glowing beneath a large plasma television set the scene nicely. The views of both Galway Bay and the city skyline, and the luxurious bathroom, with its double walk-in shower, freestanding egg-shaped bath, double hand basins and another flatscreen TV, added to the romance.

We spent the  better part of the next day enjoying the shops, a nice long walk along the promenade in Salthill and a feed of Galway’s finest cod and chips served in newspaper, and all too soon, we were back in our car and headed deeper into the northwest. Our next destination – Ashford Castle.

Ashford, nestled in the heart of County Mayo, is surrounded by gardens and forests and accessed by an authentic drawbridge that pulls you back into the 1200s when the castle was built. It was here, and in the nearby village of Cong, that the John Ford classic The Quiet Man (1951) starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was filmed. The setting and grounds are absolutely breathtaking. After lingering in our room, which overlooked the gardens and lakes and exuded romance, we took a drive down to Cong. It was worth the trip on a cold December’s evening. Quaint shops and restaurants hug the main street and locals are ever so friendly. We had dinner in a local restaurant, a lovely conversation with a couple from Virginia, and to round out the evening, back in the hotel, we sat with a house bottle of wine and laughed and wept through a screening of The Quiet Man.

Up bright and early the next morning we were all set for our first lesson in Falconry. James, a fine English gentleman, took me under his wing (pardon the pun) and introduced me to Guirre, an eight-month-old Harris hawk.

Guirre and I saw eye-to-eye immediately. He perched on my left arm, and within minutes he and I were setting off through the magnificent woodlands to a clearing where I released him to fly free. He soared gracefully, wings and feathers spread out, circled around and returned to perch once again on my arm. Beautiful.

Too soon, it was time to say goodbye to Ashford and Guirre and settle into the three-hour journey to Donegal.

The sun shone brightly on sparkling seas as we drove through small coastal towns, catching sight of parents and children strolling on beaches and elderly Irish folks taking dogs for walks and sipping tea at the side of the road as they embraced the winter sunshine, albeit wrapped up in woolly scarfs and hats.
By the time we arrived at our destination, dusk was falling and the shifting colors made the drive up to Lough Solis Eske Castle, just outside Donegal town, a rare treat.

An oversized four-poster bed, an elegant fireplace (original to the castle) and complimentary desserts provided a wonderful welcome after our long drive. After an exploring walk through the hotel, which oozes classic chic and sophistication throughout, we decided to visit Donegal town – a nifty place adorned with Christmas lights, restaurants, shops and bars. We ate at a place recommended to us by the hotel staff, then drove to Killybegs to visit friends. Elaine Boyle and her husband Dermot showed us around the small village, one of the few coastal towns in Ireland that has an abundance of fresh fish available on a daily basis.  Trawlers lined the marina and fishermen, settling down after a hard day’s work, ate heartily. It was a pleasure to be part of this hardworking community on our last evening in the West country.

After a hearty breakfast the following morning, we were back on the road headed towards the nation’s capital.

A late afternoon check-in at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin was welcome after the long journey from Donegal. Staff at the reception desk exuded professionalism and hospitality, and from the moment we arrived, the hotel felt like home.

There was an infectious buzz about the place. Women, men and children sat around tables full of pastries and tea in the dining rooms. I asked the hotel concierge if this was the norm for a Saturday afternoon. She happily informed me that it was the norm almost every day.

We settled into our oversized suite and decided on room service. I ordered what the hotel calls Art Tea, the most lavish afternoon tea on the menu. Not twenty minutes later we were sipping tea from our china cups and delving into slices of mini pastry creations inspired by works of Jack Yeats, Louis Le Brocquy,  William Scott and other artists whose works are hanging at the National Gallery of Ireland, right next door. The hotel encompasses four Georgian townhouses and a contemporary Garden Wing, and is perfectly situated in the heart of the city. We booked in for two nights so as to experience the full array of Dublin’s sights, shops, restaurants and bars.

We included a trip to the Christmas markets on the Dublin docks, dinner with our groomsman Eoin Markham, and a few social drinks in Dublin’s bustling Temple Bar district, but the best part was returning to our suite, which overlooked the hotel’s period gardens. The interior design and use of Irish fabrics and antiques reflected the architecture of the 18th-century townhouse. It was the perfect sanctuary.

After a late check-out from the Merrion, John and I hit the road south for the final night of our perfect honeymoon.

Set amidst one of the most scenic and historic estates in all of Ireland, the seven-story Powerscourt Hotel is a little over two years old, yet feels like it was always tucked away on this 1,000-acre sprawling estate in County Wicklow. Aside from endless green hills and dazzling lakes and breathtaking views, Powerscourt is also home to the two championship-caliber golf course and a luxury spa.

Our room, one of the most luxurious of our honeymoon, upped the game of romance with extras such as a recessed television in the bathroom mirror, electronic fingertip panels for controlling the lighting and curtains, and a rainforest shower.

A romantic dinner in the highly acclaimed Gordon Ramsay restaurant, with its floor to ceiling glass walls and view of the Sugar Loaf Mountains, proved the perfect close to our winter honeymoon in Ireland.

We vowed to return to the hotel for our first anniversary and made inquiries about reservations.

Like everything great, an ending is a must but it’s with joy and pleasure that John and I look back on our Irish honeymoon. We will cherish forever the memories we created that week in Ireland.

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