Posted on December 26th, 2009

By Shelton A. Gunaratne©2010

Two days after the July 1990 Glencolumbkille episode (recounted in the preceding installment), I, “Weligama Podda” [the brat from Weligama] of yore, was eating dinner at the Dunguaire Castle in the seaport village of Kinvara (population 945) on the southeastern shore of Galway Bay. The castle’s 75-foot tower and its encompassing defensive wall stood majestically against the backdrop of the enchanting bay.

Not that I was trying to hobnob with the siblings of surgeon and poet Oliver St John Gogarty, who purchased the castle, originally built in 1520 by the Hynes clan, in the early 20th century and turned it into the meeting place for the leading figures of the Celtic Revival””‚literary giants like dramatist and folklorist Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory (1852-1932); playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950); poet and playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1907) and Nobel Prize winner W.B. Yeats (1865-1939).

I was a mere participant in a ragtag group of literature buffs seeking to sense the flavor of the places and memories associated with the cream of the Irish literati.

July 5, 1990:  I joined our “gang” of putative literary connoisseurs for a very pleasant medieval banquet. The entertainment included dramatizations of literary pieces of those connected to south County Galway””‚Lady Gregory, [James] Joyce, Shaw, Synge, Yeats and others.

[Since 1963, Shannon Heritage has owned and operated Dunguaire Castle, together with Bunratty and Knappogue castles. The castle is open to visitors from April to October. Its “medieval banquets” continue to be popular.]

We arrived in Galway traveling 139 km southwards from Sligo along a scenic route via Ballina, County Mayo’s largest town, to see some lovely lake country; Pontoon, an anglers’ haven between lakes Conn and Cullin; Castlebar, the administrative seat of Mayo; Ballintubber Abbey, where St Patrick baptized local peasants; and Ballinrobe, the oldest town in South Mayo.

When we left Galway 100 km southeastwards for Limerick the next day, we learnt more about Yeats and Lady Gregory.

Some six km northeast of the town of Gort, named after King Guaire, we visited Thoor Ballylee, the 16th century tower house that Yeats used as his summer home from 1918 to 1929.  It inspired him to write “The Tower” (1928) and “The Winding Stair and Other Poems” (1929). Yeats deemed it appropriate to acknowledge his sojourn at the tower house in a tablet on the wall:

I, the poet William Yeats,

With old mill boards and sea-green slates,

And smithy work from the Gort forge,

Restored this tower for my wife George;

And may these characters remain

When all is ruin once again.

[Yeats, 52, married George Hyde Lees, 25, in 1917. Although Yeats was infatuated with Maud Gomme, 18 months younger than he, she refused his proposal to marry him thrice.]

Some three km northwest of Gort, we also visited Coole Park, the home of Lady Gregory until 1927, when she sold it to the state. The home was demolished soon after. Yeats and [Edward] Martyn, who co-founded the Abbey Theater with Lady Gregory, often converged here with others of their ilk to enjoy its awesome beauty. Yeats’s 1919 poem, “Wild Swans at Coole,” immortalized it in the lines:

THE TREES are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The park’s 4.5-km “Seven Woods Trail” connects the different woods celebrated in the poetry of Yeats. The “Autograph Tree,” an old beech whereon the literary celebrities carved their initials, still remains.

[The Abbey Theater (now located at 26 Lower Abbey St., Dublin)””‚the brainchild of Lady Gregory, Yeats, Martyn and others associated with the Irish Literary Revival””‚celebrated its centenary in 2004. The recipient of an annual state subsidy, it is also known as the National Theater of Ireland.]

Other Attractions

Before we reached Limerick, we viewed the Cliffs of Mohr and visited the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.

The awesome cliffs, near the village of Doolin in County Clare, rise 120 meters (394 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, and reach their maximum height of 214 meters (702 ft) just north of O’Brien’s Tower, eight km away. The “Cliffs of Mohr Visitor Experience” facility opened in 2007″”‚some 17 years after our visit.

Bunratty (Castle at the Mouth of the Ratty) is another castle operated by Shannon Heritage. The castle, associated with the O’Brien Clan and the earls of Thomond, had its beginnings as a Viking trading camp in 970. Popular with the visitors are the castle’s Great Hall, the four towers with spiral stairwells and the dungeons. It also entices visitors with “medieval banquets” just like Dunguaire and Knappogue.

July 7-9, 1990: We left Limerick for the 110-km trip southwestwards for Killarney, which became our base for exploring the vicinity for three days. Our activities included:

  • Visiting the model village of Adare (population 2,592) located 15 km southwest of Limerick, with broad streets, half-timbered houses, thatched roofs and rose-covered cottages.
  • Doing the 170-km Ring of Kerry tour around the Iveragh peninsula. Popular points included Muckross House (near Killarney), Staigue Stone Fort and Derrynane House, home of Daniel O’Connell. Other major attractions were Ross Castle, Lough Leane, and Ladies View.
  • Touring the Dingle Peninsula. At Inch, we saw the beach where the movie “Ryan’s Daughter” was shot on location. We passed through the Gaeltacht villages of Dunquin and Ballyferriter.

The two peninsula excursions took us to the furthest nooks and corners of southwestern Ireland.

July 10, 1990: We left Killarney for the 88-km trip eastward to Cork. This route marked the southern end of our tour of Ireland. The several sights we stopped to see included:

  • Eccles Hotel in the small town of Glengariff, where Bernard Shaw wrote his masterpiece “Saint Joan” in 1914, more than a decade before he receive d the Nobel Prize for literature. Nestled between the harbor and the wooded hillsides, this scenic town still hangs on to its Victorian aura.
  •  Bantry House and Gardens constructed in the mid-18th century by the Earl of Bantry on the scenic Bantry Bay.
  • Blarney Castle, where I climbed up to the top of the tower to kiss the legendary Blarney Stone of Eloquence. For I was forewarned: “Kiss it and you’ll never again be lost for words.”

July 11, 1990: We left Cork, the second largest city in Ireland, for Kilkenny, 156 km to the northeast. With only two more days to end our long tour of Ireland, the clutter of place names mattered little to distinguish between Killarney and Kilkenny. But my journalistic commitment to fact checking ensured the accurate identification of the highlight of this day’s tour:

  • A visit to the Kilkenny Castle built in 1195 by William Marshal, the Earl of Pembroke. It was the home of the Butler family for five centuries from 1391. In 1967, the ownership of the castle and the grounds passed on to the people of Kilkenny with the Office of Public Works as their trustee. I walked the Royal Mile up to the Cathedral Church of St Canice, where I climbed up to the top of the Round Tower to see the environs.

July 12, 1990: We left Kilkenny and headed 79 km southeastwards for Wexford. A day for explorers of churches and cathedrals in Waterford and Wexford, the spot that impressed me was Wexford’s 12th century Selskar Abbey, where Henry II reputedly spent Lent 1172 doing penance for the murder of Thomas Beckett.

On the final day of our Ireland tour (July 13), on our way 130-km northwards from Wexford to Dublin, our ragtag group of literature buffs stopped by to savor the scenic Meeting of the Waters (of the rivers Avonbeg and Avonmore) in the Valley of Avoca, which the Irish poet and lyricist Thomas Moore (1779-1852) immortalized in his famous lyric:

There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet,
As the vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet;
Oh, the last rays of feeling and life must depart,
Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart.


Next: Dublin is rich with history, culture

[The writer is a professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead]


Figure 1

Google Map of my Ireland tour from Sligo to Dublin

[Control-Click the hyperlink in box to activate the map. A=Sligo. B=Galway. C=Limerick. D=Killarney. E=Cork. F=Kilkenny. G=Wexford. H=Dublin]


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