Your Travel Story – Irish America Irish America Magazine Mon, 22 Jul 2019 14:31:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 The Pain and the Pleasure Wed, 10 Aug 2016 06:14:19 +0000 Read more..]]> A grueling climb in the rain is followed by a blissful spa treatment. 


Five miles outside the County Mayo town of Westport, a conically-shaped mountain looms over the surrounding countryside. This is Croagh Patrick. It’s 2,500 feet high. It’s a place of ancient history. It’s associated with Ireland’s patron saint and on a rainy day this June, I was determined to climb it.

The rain was lashing from the heavens when I began my ascent. The summit was shrouded in cloud. However, this didn’t mean that I was the only one setting out to climb the mountain. Croagh Patrick has been a pilgrimage site since the Stone Age when pagans would gather here to celebrate the beginning of harvest season.

The mountain continues to be popular with pilgrims because it is said that it was on its summit that Saint Patrick completed a 40-day Lenten fast in the year 441AD. Legend also has it that it was from here that he banished snakes from Ireland forever. To this day, one million people follow in the footsteps of Saint Patrick every year by making their pilgrimage to the top of the mountain.

A statue of the saint marks the start of the climb and I took a moment here to contemplate the challenge ahead. Because, whatever anyone says about this climb, I can assure you that it’s not easy. It wouldn’t be a place of pilgrimage if it were.

The first stage is rocky. The path is strewn with pebbles, stones and boulders of granite, which means that you have to be very careful where you place your feet. Every step has to be considered and this makes the climb a more mindful one than most.

Luckily, I had rented hiking sticks from a stall at the bottom of the mountain. These made the going a little easier. So too did the fact that I was wearing proper hiking boots and all-weather rain gear.

The rain clouds cleared occasionally as I climbed and during those rare moments, I took the opportunity to stop, catch my breath and take in the increasingly impressive views of Clew Bay behind me.

Clew Bay is one of the most beautiful bays in all of Ireland. There are said to be 365 islands in the bay, one for every day of the year. These islands are partly-drowned drumlins, which are steep-sided hills that were formed during the last Ice Age.

The Westport Coast Hotel, The Quay, Westport, Co. Mayo, is home to Spa Veda.

The Westport Coast Hotel, The Quay, Westport, Co. Mayo, is home to Spa Veda.

However, the sunshine never lasted and the driving rain hastened my ascent of the mountain. After an hour or so, I arrived at the top of the first summit. Then I began a short descent before taking on the more challenging and much steeper climb to my final destination.

The incline here is something like 60 degrees and once again, the path is strewn with rocks. At times, the climb is so steep that all you can see is those rocks ahead of you. You lose sight of the top and of how far you still have to go.

In fact, it was only when I glimpsed a small chapel through the mist that I realized I had made it to the summit. On the last Sunday of July, known locally as Reek Sunday, this chapel shelters a priest who says mass for the thousands of pilgrims who climb the mountain on that special day. Many of those pilgrims make the climb in their bare feet. Having struggled to reach the top while wearing tough hiking boots, I’m still amazed at how they do it.

With the rain once again pelting down, it was time to begin my descent. During the most challenging moments on my way up, I had consoled myself with the thought that the climb down would be easier. I was wrong.

The rocky ground meant that my steps were cautiously slow. My knees were bent in constant readiness for a fall. By the time I reached the bottom, my legs felt incredibly wobbly.

However, that physical exhaustion was outweighed by the sense of achievement I felt at having conquered one of Ireland’s best known mountains. I had also thoroughly enjoyed the easy companionship of my fellow climbers. On the way up, those who passed me on their way down gave me the words of encouragement I needed to persevere and on my way down, I did the same for those just beginning their climb.

The Relaxation Room at Spa Veda.

The Relaxation Room at Spa Veda.

I also had a treat in store. That morning, before setting out for Croagh Patrick, I’d booked myself into the Spa Veda at the Westport Coast Hotel. Only a five-minute drive from the foot of Croagh Patrick and perched right at the edge of Clew Bay, this four-star hotel offered the reward I needed after my penitential morning.

The spa combines the utmost in modern luxury with an ancient Indian system of health called Ayurveda. All of the treatments on offer are carried out by experienced Ayurvedic practitioners from Kerala in India.

Arriving at the spa, I changed into my swimsuit and relaxed for a while in the pool before soaking my tired limbs in the hot tub. I then retreated into the darkened relaxation area, where I reclined on plump cushions and soft music soon soothed me into a state of blissed-out doziness.

Before I knew it, it was time for my treatment. A smiling Indian lady called Gigi poured hot oils onto my exhausted body and massaged all of the exertions of the day away. I forgot all about my wobbly legs and surrendered to the sheer pleasure of the experience.

There was more pleasure to come. I went back to the relaxation area for more rest and recovery and then had a session in the aroma therapy steam room, followed by a dip in the ice fountain and finally a tropical shower experience. I finished my day by treating myself to dinner in the bar overlooking the bay. It may not be how the pilgrims of old did it, but that was how I spent my day climbing (and recovering from climbing) Croagh Patrick.

I hadn’t finished indulging myself either. The following day, I travelled across the county border into Leitrim where I found a much simpler and much more secluded place to rest and recover.

The cabins at Ard Nahoo, Co. Leitrim, where the importance of simple pleasures is emphasized.

The cabins at Ard Nahoo, Co. Leitrim, where the importance of simple pleasures is emphasized.

Ard Nahoo is situated at the end of some very long, narrow, winding country lanes; so long, narrow and winding that you are bound to question if you’ve gone wrong somewhere along the way. Ignore those thoughts, as you’ll soon see the advantages of being in such an isolated spot. Once you arrive at this eco retreat centre which is set on six acres of unspoiled countryside, all you will see and hear is the natural world around you.

Ard Nahoo consists of a centre which houses a yoga studio and treatment rooms; three wooden cabins that can sleep up to a total of 17 people; and ponds, lakes and lots of wooded walkways where you can get lost for hours.

The cabin I was in was one of two three-bedroomed cabins. Made from cedar, these cabins are built along eco principles, insulated with hemp, built without the use of petrochemicals and heated using cheery wood pellet stoves.

They are comfortably furnished too, and I found them a wonderfully relaxing place to be. I spent the morning reading a book and sipping mint tea on the veranda outside.

The modern world seemed far away at that moment. While I was in Ard Nahoo, Ireland and all of Europe was in turmoil over Britain’s decision to leave the E.U. Terrorists had just exploded bombs at Istanbul Airport. But all around me was peace – sheer and utter peace.

I walked through the woods into the nearby village of Dromahair for lunch and returned for an afternoon of relaxation treatments. I contemplated my choices as I sat in the bubbling hot tub and eventually settled on a facial followed by a soothing back, neck and shoulder massage.

Once that was over, I strolled back to my cabin and took a nap. Then I lit the wood pellet stove and warmed up the dinner of vegetable curry and apple and berry crumble which was waiting for me in the fridge.

My stay in Ard Nahoo was the essence of simplicity, but then this is a place that emphasizes the importance of simple pleasures. Good food, a peaceful environment, the beauty of nature, comfortable accommodation and relaxing treatments – what more could a modern-day pilgrim ask for? ♦

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Sliabh An Iarainn Thu, 25 Jul 2013 01:31:13 +0000 Read more..]]> Sliabh An Iarainn at 10:30pm in mid June is the most ethereal setting I have ever experienced. This magnificent landscape just down the road from my home in Augnasheelin, Country Leitrim was a staple of my childhood. Sliabh An Iarainn (translates to “the iron mountain”) consists of remote scenery that is breathtaking and thrilling. The location makes it a treasure to locals and it has essentially been a playground for my family for years. It is majestic yet simple; exploring the area could never become dull. Whether you are leisurely walking about the trails or boldly hiking the up edge of the mountain, it will induce a glorious sense of vitality courtesy of Irish nature.

My yearly trip to Ireland has and will always have an eminent effect on my life. My parents, immigrants from Leitrim and Cavan, have raised me in settings so powerfully enriching in the broadest of ways. Lands in both Connacht, Ulster, and New York all evoke the remarkable emotional state of the sense of home. I feel exceptionally fortunate to be able to experience such an immense interconnection. It is something I will continue to cherish daily.

For more photos from Claire, visit


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Your Travel Story: Tara Cross Wed, 25 Jul 2012 21:51:27 +0000 Read more..]]> I took this image of Tara cross on the evening of May 26th, 2012, almost 214 years to the day that the Battle of Tara took place.

On that occasion the fields of Tara ran red with the blood of Irish rebels who had gathered on the hill to engage the occupying forces of the British empire. Thankfully, on the occasion when I took this image the only thing red was the magnificent evening skyline overlooking the Hill of Tara and illuminating the magnificent Celtic cross, which was erected in 1948 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Tara.

The hill of Tara itself is steeped in history, legend and  folklore. It’s situated in Co. Meath and only a 20 min drive from Dublin airport. I think it is well worth inclusion in any American visitor’s inventory of places to see.

– Photo and caption by Seamus Lynch


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Your Travel Story: Killarney National Park Mon, 16 Apr 2012 21:29:02 +0000 Read more..]]> I discovered The Killarney National Park on one of my first trips to Ireland many years ago, and I’ve returned to Killarney many times since.

Just last September, on yet another stroll through this lush and peaceful garden, I had to wonder if I had ever crossed the same path twice. I snapped this photo as it was the perfect ending to another magical day in Killarney.

Killarney National Park,
Killarney, Ireland

Ireland graciously enters your life,
leaving you soaking in the poetry of your soul
and gently begins an affair with you.
It doesn’t ask permission just creeps in with its rhythm, a cadence that sets your spirits singing.

– Photo and travel story by Barbara Botch


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My Travel Story Ireland, Land of Enchantment Thu, 26 Jan 2012 22:24:10 +0000 Read more..]]> Heidi Boyd on her recent trip to Ireland.

“Do you have Irish ancestors?” This is normally the first thing people ask me upon finding out I went on holiday in Ireland. In most cases, the person asking has Irish roots and is happy to meet a fellow Irishman.  And maybe they’ve found one in me. Maybe.

Prior to my vacation in Ireland, I had no connection to Ireland, or any other ancestry.  At six weeks old, I was adopted by the most delightful, loving parents who helped me grow up without attachment to any particular heritage. In fact, my upbringing shaped me into a person who feels part of anywhere and everywhere all at once. That said, I experienced an intense and life-changing relationship with Irish people and culture that convinced me that in my heart – and perhaps my genetics – Ireland is my home.

I received this trip to Ireland as a surprise gift from my mother. She and a friend, whose Irish roots are in Leitrim, had planned the trip the year before. My mom’s twin and another friend joined the group.

At 34 years of age, I’m fairly well traveled, and Ireland wasn’t on my personal top five vacation choices, but I accepted. After losing my beloved father fairly recently, I looked forward to making new memories with my mother and aunt.

This all coincided with the busiest year I have had in my career and personal life.  I didn’t get too involved in the planning of the trip; I literally just packed my bags and showed up at the airport. I was frazzled, exhausted, and very much in need of a reprieve from my own life.

Then – magic.

The moment I saw Ireland’s lush green landscape from the airplane’s window as we began our descent into Shannon, I sensed I was entering a world that was unlike anything I had experienced before. When I walked outside the airport and the sea breeze hit me; I was enchanted. For the next two weeks, I left everything behind me and let Ireland sink into every pore of my being. I went from stressed to blissed in about a second flat. It was a feeling I will never forget and will cherish for the rest of my life.

We rented a house for two weeks on the Ballina side of the Killaloe/Ballina Bridge on the river Shannon. Five women with two rental cars and no reservations or itinerary, we planned only on doing what inspired us in the moment. We went to the Aran Islands and saw the most beautiful view of the Cliffs of Moher from below instead of on top; we frolicked around County Clare as if we were residents, and made many friends in Killaloe at the local pubs. I met my new friend Missy when we were seated beside each other for lunch and she began chatting away. Missy gave us the phone numbers of her chums who would give us a private boat ride on the Shannon, and to another who gave us a tour of the bell tower at St. Flannan’s church, which is built on the grounds that once held the castle of Brian Boru, the High King. We bet on the races at Listowel and traveled to the Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna for a kiss. We followed the footsteps of President Obama, and had a pint at Ollie Hayes pub in Moneygall. Following Missy’s instructions to visit Brian Boru’s Fort, I went out for an evening walk and serendipitously, I met her along the pathway.  She and I spent the evening on the fort walk, and she gave me a personal history lesson, intertwined with the local gossip. On our last night,  the town celebrated with us at Flanagan’s, dinner at The Wooden Spoon, followed by pints and craic at our favorite pub, The Anchor.

Ireland engages every one of the human senses unlike no other. The landscapes, the food, the drink, the people, and the mystical energy of Ireland created a festival for all of my senses and kept me enraptured for two weeks straight. This was an adventure that I never could have imagined.

The people were as mesmerizing to me as the perfect landscapes. Coming from Cleveland, where the drivers are very impatient and rude, I was struck by how the people in Ireland stop, and instead of yelling, asked us to pull over so they could help us with directions. The absence of arrogance in the Irish people left me falling in love with everyone I spoke with. The open hearts, the transparency, the pure intentions; at first I thought it foreign and odd. Then it dawned on me that this is the way humans are meant to treat each other. This is how God intends us to love one another.

I was not expecting what I found in Ireland. I have seen with my eyes the most beautiful things on Earth. I could go blind today and have memories to satisfy me for the rest of my life. As our plane took off for home, tears fell down my face. I was already aching for this place that felt like home. I wasn’t expecting such a delicious and intense connection, much like I wasn’t expecting to go through culture shock when I returned home to my own life. It took me a few weeks to readjust, and it was a little rocky. My husband thought maybe I fell in love when I was on vacation in Ireland. He was right. I fell in love with Ireland.

See more of Heidi’s photo’s from her trip to Ireland:

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Your Travel Story: Doolough Mon, 26 Dec 2011 07:07:01 +0000 Read more..]]> On a lonely stretch of road in Co. Mayo, between Louisburgh and Delphi
Lodge, I took this photo of Doolough, which translates as dark lake.
It was a lovely day, and the light was perfect, as it often is in
Ireland, and I just took one shot. I now have this photo., many times
enlarged, hanging behind the desk in my office. Visitors are struck by
the beauty of the scene, but most are unaware, that, true to its name,
Doolough speaks of Ireland’s dark days. People died along this road
during the Great Starvation, some so weak from hunger they were blown
into the lake. There’s a simple Famine memorial, just out of the picture, and
I took a loaf of leftover bread and spread it around the base. There
was no one around, just some birds and a couple of sheep, as I took a
moment to pause and reflect on all the things I had to be grateful for
before I went on my way.


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