On my first trip to Ireland 20 years ago, our motorcoach driver recounted stories of personal hardship and separation. Of nine children in his family, he was the only one to remain in Ireland. Lack of employment forced his siblings to emigrate.
Gap of Dunloe, Kerry County, Ireland
(c) JC, 2008
Today, Ireland boasts the second highest per capita income among E.U. countries. It considers its educational system the best in Europe. With funds received from the E.U., Ireland has greatly improved its infrastructure. Roads, bridges and rail have been significantly upgraded. Major research and development companies have relocated to Ireland, partly for its generous tax advantages. The ubiquitous crane attests to new construction: subdivisions, hotels and factories. Economists have labeled this period of unprecedented growth and prosperity the “Celtic Tiger.” After decades of emigration, Ireland is now experiencing immigration. Poland is offering incentives to the 250,000 Poles living in Ireland to return to Poland to combat a skills shortage there.
On a recent study tour to Ireland hosted by In Quest of the Classics (IQOTC), U.S. agents traveled 1,270 miles by luxury coach. In full comfort, we watched the gentle, green landscape dotted with sheep and thatched roofs roll by. Our escort, Shaun, maintained an on-going mobile seminar covering Ireland’s rich and poignant past. His vast fund of historical knowledge took us from St. Patrick’s arrival in 432 to the upcoming Lisbon Treaty. With humor, Shaun covered all aspects of Irish life from betting on horses to the role of the pub. Shaun’s network of contacts provided several special “surprises,” such as a private tour in Dublin of Ireland’s Parliament, the Dail.
Our itinerary, traveling counter-clockwise from Dublin, included stays at five of Ireland’s most prestigious castle hotels. All properties blend centuries of Gaelic history and old world elegance with every modern amenity. Skilled craftsmen have painstakingly restored these castles to their previous glory. All have championship golf courses on or near the site as well as manicured grounds, spa and exercise rooms, banquet and conference facilities, beautifully appointed rooms, fine dining, Internet access, etc. These are obviously expensive properties, with cost exacerbated by a weak dollar. (At our time of travel, the U.S. dollar exchange rate was 1.54.)
In County Donegal, we located at the newly opened five-star Lough Este Castle. Excursions from here included a weaving demonstration in Donegal town, a walk along Slieve League, Europe’s highest cliffs, and a visit to Leo’s Pub in Crolly for an afternoon of beer and traditional Irish songs.
In East Cork, we stayed at the five-star Castlemartyr Resort, recently restored and flush with every modern convenience. Highlights of this area include Kinsale, a charming port and market town, and Bantry Bay, a deep, natural harbor with historic significance.
We enjoyed the five-star Muckross Park Hotel, the only hotel located in Killarney’s National Park. The Muckross counts among its notable guests Queen Victoria and George Bernard Shaw. Killarney is the tourist center of Ireland and the Muckross is well positioned for side trips to the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry.
While in Killarney, we marched in their St. Patrick’s Day parade, a uniquely IQOTC experience. For the past 17 years, IQOTC president and CEO Brian Mundy has taken groups of U.S. agents to participate in this special celebration. The Lord Mayor of Killarney visited Muckross to welcome us. As we marched through Killarney wearing red, white and blue and waving U.S. flags, we were roundly applauded. It was refreshing and heartwarming to be received abroad with such genuine enthusiasm.
Near Limerick, we located at five-star Dromoland Castle, considered by many to be Ireland’s finest hotel. Our final night was in the environs of Dublin at the four-star Dunboyne Castle. All of these outstanding properties offer gracious hospitality, Ireland’s finest product.
IQOTC was established in 1984 to provide the discerning client with unique custom-designed travel to all countries of Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Besides castles, IQOTC offers a wide range of accommodations: villas, paradors, pousadas, country houses and inns. IQOTC also arranges all modes of land travel including private driver with vehicle, self-drive, coach, train and ferry. IQOTC is a wholesale company and deals only with travel agents. For a minimum group of eight persons, IQOTC will custom design a program to fit any interest, from golf to genealogy.