Green is the color of nature; it soothes, refreshes and heals. A strong energy that attracts positive power, green represents honesty and truth. How fitting that Southern Ireland is blanketed in green, and according to a song by Johnny Cash, forty shades of it. Verdant valleys look like patchwork quilts laced with shrubs delineating farmland. Even sheep are dotted with green spray paint, as well as pink, blue, yellow and purple, a humane form of branding. Farmers raise mussels in emerald seas that host dolphin, seals and fish. Palm trees, hibiscus, heather and hydrangea flourish.
We imagined Ireland to be cold, wet and rocky — a far cry from our sunny, Sarasota home. But in the south, we discover a pot of gold at the end of the Gulf Stream. The warm ocean current flows here from South Florida, bringing with it the balmy temperatures that cause this coast to flower and its fauna to flourish.
We arrive in County Cork at "Rush Hour." One by one the cows amble across the narrow country road; the sun is setting and a farmer is leading his cattle back from the fields. We stop our car (we have no choice) and wait, literally, 'til the cows come home.
Earlier in the day and not-so-fresh from an eight-hour flight and three-hour drive, we met with some Florida friends at a pub in Killarney. We planned this trip with them … Vicki and native Irish husband Tom McPhail, and Brian O’Connor, whose second home is in County Kerry. First order of business was a toast of Bailey’s Irish Cream in front of a roaring fireplace. Next, a whirlwind tour of nearby 15th century Ross Castle, Muckross House and 25,000-acre garden estate (a sort of combination of Sarasota’s Selby Gardens and Ringling Museum – but grander and hundreds of years older – and scenic Torc Falls at Killarney National Park.
We continued south, to the picturesque town of Glengarriff, our final destination. Vicki navigated while my husband Patrick drove the winding mountain roads. Now I know why the Irish drink. Not only must you drive on the left side of the road, but the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. The uninitiated passenger gets to bite her nails while looking down hundreds of feet over the cliffs, as the intrepid driver skirts them to avoid being hit head on. Get an automatic transmission unless you have a death wish. Brian warns us to “expect the unexpected - there are a lot of near misses.” To wit, signs along the roads simply state, “THINK.” Other signs read, “Leprechaun Crossing” and “Keep Ireland Tidy.”
Our destination, Glengarriff, is a bayside village of flower-lined shops and cafes sheltered by the Caha Mountains. Houses are painted in bright colors and the streets are immaculate. It’s not a movie set… all of the villages vie for bronze, silver and gold designations as an official "Tidy Town."
When in Glengarriff, a stay at Casey's Hotel is a must, with its en-suite rooms, various dining venues and southern hospitality with a Celtic twist. The living room has comfy couches, a large-screen TV, a gorgeous 18th century piano and other antiques, including paintings from the early 1920s. This night, everyone gathers ‘round the piano to sing, children play and joke telling begins. ("What's the best way ta get ta Dublin? Are ya walkin' or drivin'? Drivin'. That's the best way." Barrumpum.) It's where friends and families gather, kind of like being at Grandma’s.
We are, in fact, at Grandma's. Casey's was opened in 1884 by owner Donal Deasy's great grandmother, and has been in the family ever since. The register, which dates from 1903, reveals a particularly moving sentiment: "Love is anywhere grand, but is mostly divine, when we love with the tidbits of Earth, Air and Sea - all about in a cordon of sweet sympathy."
Donal, a good man himself, helps us plan an itinerary that includes:
- A ferry ride to the island of Garinish, renowned for its Italian and Japanese gardens, De Medici house, Napoleonic Martello tower and Greek Sun temple. En route, we glide past Seal Island, a sunbathing spot for seals.
Gougane Barra, Ireland's first national park and home of a lakefront monastery dating back to the 6th century. We tour the tranquil grounds, visit the chapel, silently read headstone inscriptions and watch swans and fishermen on the lake.
Market Day in the town of Kenmare. The streets are bustling with merchants proffering horses, donkeys, chickens and ducks. Cathedral spires mark the end of the street, a popular subject of local artists. Weaving through the crowds, we find galleries, cashmere boutiques, gift shops, pubs and cafes
Healy's Pass, a hair-raising but stunningly scenic route through the mountains to County Kerry. We see sheep, cows and horses graze as we navigate tree-canopied roads through rolling hills, green meadows and misty-topped mountains.
Baltimore, a seaside town resembling Chesapeake Bay. To get here, we drive through Bantry, famous for its mussel farms (restaurants serve the mollusks every style from marieniere to cordon blue).
Clear Island. Dolphins leap alongside the crowded ferry from Baltimore Harbor to this anachronistic island village. It's not a luxury cruise; in fact, it's just short of having livestock on board. But the destination is well worth the journey. An invigorating hike up purple-heathered mountains leads to a small heritage museum and a tiny, centuries-old Gaelic church.
The Ring of Beara, a road that loops around the Beara Peninsula, presenting ever-changing, astonishing views, earning our designation as a life highlight.
The pace is non-stop, but coming “home” to Casey’s is always comforting. A late afternoon pub visit becomes a family affair as moms, dads, babies in strollers and children of all ages pour in to watch a soccer match. Interesting mix. Because Irish families are so large, there are actually more children here than adults. And they’ve all got round white faces, red cheeks and big blue eyes. In Ireland, the pub is the center of social activity, family and political life. We drink it all in while devouring beef and Guinness pie. Besides pub food, which is neither fried nor fast and may include salmon pate, haute cuisine is prevalent. Classically trained chefs gravitate here for the bounty of superior raw products from this largely green land.
Our final night finds us dining on poached native lobster in champagne sauce at Dromoland Castle, a 16th century castle-turned-resort near Shannon Airport. We stop in the lounge, where a pretty lass sits near the fireplace singing Irish folk songs. Through her romantic, sometimes political lyrics, we overhear one couple speak to another, "We live in Clearwater, Florida." Their response, "We're from Sarasota!" Then from across the room, "We live in Bradenton!"
All from Florida's West Coast, we’re the only couples there. And like a rainbow connection, we meet "in a cordon of sweet sympathy" on the Gulf Stream's Emerald Isle.
Reprinted from Positive Change Magazine