The academic spring break offers wonderful opportunities to leave the lingering cold and wet, winter Boston weather to travel to distant places. This year, we elected to visit the less cold, but still wet, island of Ireland. Fortunately, throughout the majority of our travels we enjoyed beautiful, sunny, and warm spring conditions on the island, while moving between the east and west coasts on the M6; from Dublin Proper to Tullamore, Galway, Inisheer of the Aran Islands, and then back again to Dublin.
The beauty of the self-directed driving tour is that you can find yourself in the most interesting of locations and places that are off the standard touring track. This was the case during our exploration of Ireland, beginning with the Lough Boora Discovery Park outside Tullamore, which integrates environmental sculptures into the Park’s bog lands. The ‘Sky Train’ is a celebration of the people who once worked on the ‘Rustin’ train and open creel wagons during the peat collection season.
The Tullamore Dew Distillery, located in the center of town, was also a fine stop after wandering in the open, windy bogs. We discovered another gem during our travels within and throughout Tullamore in the Town of Birr, which is home to the Birr Castle Gardens and Science Centre and is still inhabited by the Parson’s Family, the 7th Earl of Rosse, who lives in the stunning stone castle on the property. In the early 1840’s, the Third Earl of Rosse designed and built the largest telescope in the world, which is still in place and available for viewing by Birr Castle visitors. The reflecting telescope was the largest in the world for over 70-years and is a marvelous feat of engineering to behold. Not only are these grounds home to the Birr Castle and Giant Telescope, but also to a series of beautiful jewel-box horticultural gardens, terraces, greenhouses, ponds, rivers, and walking paths that weave through a robust 50-hectare parkland that includes ancient oak trees, the Giants Grove of redwoods, the Spiral of Nature, and a collection of rare trees and shrubs gathered from around the world.
In addition to the “found” experiences during our stay, we also bookended the trip with a visit to the incomparable Cliffs of Mohr, where, lying on our bellies while peeking over the cliff edge, we experienced a moment that was actually scarier than one would anticipate. This anticipation was quickly settled during our visit to the infamous Guinness Factory, where a pulled-pint really does taste best fresh from the taps in the observation deck bar of the factory.
Sláinte, Ireland! We will be back.