So Galway was the last big city we visited on this wonderful trip to Ireland with a terrific group of folks from OLPH and St. Agnes parish as well as a few other parishes where Msgr. Salemi has served as pastor. And like all of Ireland, it’s filled with happy, musical, smiling Irishmen who love Americans, want to entertain us and are eager to hear all about us. Well, not exactly all about us, but when we said we came from New Jersey there was an entirely new and inquisitive air about them. Sensing they wanted to hear more about the Garden State, I was eager to share all the facts about our Revolutionary War history, our beautiful hills that go down to the sea similar to Ireland, our wonderful beaches, the Statue of Liberty which is really within our borders, our boardwalks…you know, all the things that make New Jersey great. They weren’t interested. What they wanted to know was…..”The Sopranos! Have you been to the restaurant? Do you see them? Do you know them?” One very friendly gentleman in one of the pubs proudly told me it’s on his bucket list to sit all the places in the Sopranos serial!
But back to Galway. As in every other town, Peter from Nuovo Tours, who arranges all of the Salemi trips, had us booked into a wonderful, four star hotel right in the heart of the city, making it easy to take a short walk to quaint shops, museums or beautiful churches to say nothing of all the pubs. The Hotel Meyrick is elegant yet comfortable, offering terrific breakfasts with lots of fresh fruit, sensational views of the park across the street…that’s Kennedy Park, by the way… and the shops and pubs surrounding it, and including a rather nice pub of its own on the first floor, with huge windows for people-watching. While there, we took a short ride to Ashford Castle, and what an experience that was!
Ashford Castle was originally built in the 1200s, and “modernized” in the mid-1800s. It’s a magnificent, sprawling castle elegantly situated on 26,000 acres of lush green lawns, wonderful woodlands, and lots of flowers, lots of flowers with so many in bloom while we were there, but also budding with even more that would keep the grounds colorful for yet another season. The Castle itself is now a hotel and we strolled across the bridge over the river where anglers were knee deep and fly fishing (but still had the time for a friendly wave) to go through the public rooms. Elegance in chandeliers, paintings, furniture, draperies and floor coverings. It was so easy to see why this was the setting for The Quiet Man during the John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara era.
Rather than dine in the hotel, we opted for Tea in the adjacent lodge, and here again, we were in for another treat! Seated in sumptuous rooms, surrounded by huge oil paintings, fine furnishings, and French doors opening out to the tranquil setting of trees and flowers, we were served tea and scones with strawberry preserves and clotted cream. Hey, if that isn’t your normal afternoon refreshment, try it in Ireland! It’s a step back in time and a delicious treat! Scones, by the way, are served all over in Ireland in all kinds of cafes, hotels and restaurants, and though they’re basically baked flour and water, they taste differently every time; some have raisins, some don’t, some even had chocolate chips. All were great. But served with clotted cream and preserves made then very special. (Though, that isn’t to say they’re not sensational warm with some rich Irish butter, too!)
Because we had a talkative, knowledgeable and really enjoyable tour guide the entire trip, we also learned a lot about the everyday life in Ireland. Folks without jobs can go on Solus…unemployment….but it’s required that they work one or two days a week in community service in order to get the assistance. Everyone has health care, including two dental visits a year and a no cost tooth filling…only one…a year. Pensions are awarded at age 65 and include a medical card, a bus and train pass, telephone, and even a fuel allowance in the winter. Pensioners also get butter and beef vouchers to ensure they eat well. School age youngsters all wear uniforms, and both shoes and uniforms are provided them free of charge. Primary school is for 5 to 12 year olds, secondary for 12 to 18 year olds, and…oh, yes, university education is also offered at no charge!
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There was so much more we saw and did in way too short a time on this beautiful island…the Ring of Kerry, the Wild Atlantic Coast, Dingle Bay, the Killarney National Park which stretches for miles, Connemara, known for its marble of all shades, white, green black, and more shades of each. It’s a beautiful country, with happy people, lots of music, great Jameson’s, Guinness, and even Shandies…that’s lemon soda and beer, and don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. And the Irish are always ready and eager to welcome you for a visit!