Thursday, February 25, 2010

Catholics vs. Protestants

Countdown to April 12, 2010

We will spend all our time in the Republic of Ireland, excluding the six northeast counties that comprise Northern Ireland. While we visit castles, drive through gorgeous scenery and soak up Irish music, art and folklore, we must remember that there is a painful past and present on this small island, driven by political and religious intolerance.

The recent history of Ireland is characterized by painful, divisive and frequently violent acts between Catholics and Protestants. The country is still divided into the Protestant North (six counties in the proximity of Belfast), which is British and thus uses the British pound for currency, and the predominantly Catholic Republic of Ireland (the remaining 26 counties), which uses the Euro for currency.

In the 17th century much land, especially in the north, was colonized by Scottish and English Protestants, subsequent to the quelling by the British of several major uprisings. This set Ulster, nine counties in the northeast, apart from the rest of Ireland, which was predominantly Catholic. During the 1800s the north and south grew farther apart due to economic differences. In the north the standard of living rose as industry and manufacturing flourished, while in the south the unequal distribution of land and resources (Anglican Protestants owned most of the land) resulted in a low standard of living for the large Catholic population.

Political separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of Ireland came in the early 20th century, when Protestants and Catholics divided into two warring camps over the issue of Irish home rule. Most Irish Catholics desired complete independence from Britain, but Irish Protestants feared living in a country ruled by a Catholic majority.

In an attempt to pacify both factions, the British passed in 1920 the Government of Ireland Act, which divided Ireland into two separate political entities, each with some powers of self-government. The Act was accepted by Ulster Protestants and rejected by southern Catholics, who continued to demand total independence for a unified Ireland.

Following a period of guerrilla warfare between the nationalist Irish Republican Army (IRA) and British forces, a treaty was signed in 1921 creating the Irish Free State from 23 southern counties and 3 counties in Ulster. The other 6 counties of Ulster made up Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom. In 1949 the Irish Free State became an independent Republic.

Although armed hostilities between Catholics and Protestants largely subsided after the 1921 agreement, violence erupted again in the late 1960s; bloody riots broke out in Londonderry and Belfast in 1968-69. British troops were brought in to restore order, but the conflict intensified as the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups carried out bombings and other acts of terrorism. This continuing conflict, which lingered into the 1990s, became known as "the Troubles." More than 3,000 people have died as a result of the strife in Northern Ireland, and still counting. Sadly, the illustrations and photos for this post date from 2009.

A serious attempt to bring about a resolution to the conflict was made in 1985 when British and Irish prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Garrett Fitzgerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which recognized for the first time the Republic of Ireland's right to have a consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland. However, Protestant politicians who opposed the Agreement were able to block its implementation.

Further talks between rival Catholic and Protestant officials and the British and Irish governments occurred during the early 1990s. Then, in late Aug. 1994 the peace process received a big boost when the pro-Catholic IRA announced a cease-fire. This made it possible for Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, to participate in multiparty peace talks; hitherto Sinn Fein had been barred from such talks because of its association with the IRA and its terrorist tactics.

On December 9, 1994, the first officially sanctioned, publicly announced talks took place between Sinn Fein and British officials. Negotiators for Sinn Fein pushed for a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland; Great Britain countered that the IRA must give up its weapons before Sinn Fein would be allowed to negotiate on the same basis as other parties. The issue of IRA disarmament was a sticking point throughout the negotiations and continued to undermine future peace proposals through 2007. During that time span Britain had to suspend the Northern Ireland Parliament on three occasions. Sadly, these issues remain unresolved today, pending an April 12, 2010 deadline.

In 2001 a group of schoolgirls and their parents were stoned by Protestant youths as they left a Catholic primary school. In what was deemed the worst rioting in years, rival mobs hurled gasoline bombs, stones, and bottles and set fire to cars. The violence coincided with the start of the annual “marching season,” when Protestant groups commemorate past victories on the battlefield against Catholics.

Local government was restored to Northern Ireland in May 2007 as Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, and Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, were sworn in as leader and deputy leader, respectively, of the Northern Ireland executive government, thus ending direct rule from London. British prime minister Tony Blair praised the historic deal. "Look back, and we see centuries marked by conflict, hardship, even hatred among the people of these islands," he said. "Look forward, and we see the chance to shake off those heavy chains of history.”

On Feb. 5, 2010, with the signing of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, Gordon Brown of Britain and Brian Cowen, prime ministers of England and Ireland, respectively, created a breakthrough in the Northern Ireland peace process. According to the terms of the accord, Britain will hand over control of the six counties' police and justice system to Northern Ireland. The shift to local control of the courts, prosecution system, and police has been the most important and contentious of the issues plaguing the tenuous power-sharing government.

The agreement passed its first test on March 9, when the Northern Ireland Assembly voted its support 88-17, setting the stage for the April 12 power transfer deadline. "For the first time, we can look forward to policing and justice powers being exercised by democratic institutions on a cross-community basis in Northern Ireland," Cowen said.

Cross your fingers.

On both hands.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When Irish Eyes Are Smilin'

An island in the North Atlantic, Ireland features coastal mountains in the west and interior agricultural lowlands, with numerous hills, lakes, and bogs. The Republic of Ireland occupies about 83 percent of the island of Ireland – Northern Ireland, in the northeast, is part of the United Kingdom. Irish, or Irish Gaelic (a Celtic language), is the country's first official language and is taught in schools, but few native speakers remain. Éire (AIR-uh) is the Irish name for the Republic of Ireland. English, the second official language, predominates.

The object of waves of invasion from Europe, the Emerald Isle has been inhabited for 7,000 years. Celtic invaders from Europe came in the sixth century B.C. Tradition holds that, in A.D. 432, St. Patrick began converting the Irish to Christianity. England began seizing land in the 1100s, but many areas remained in Irish hands until the 16th century. In the 19th century Ireland's growing population was becoming ever more dependent on the potato for sustenance. The potato crop could not withstand the large amount of precipitation that fell year after year in the 1840s, causing blight and rotting the harvest. Death and emigration reduced the population from eight to slightly more than six million by 1856, and it would fall further – today Ireland has about 5.9 million residents (4.2 million of them in the Republic of Ireland).

On this satellite map of Ireland it is possible to discern Ireland's close proximity to Scotland, England and Wales. At its nearest point, Ireland lies a mere 20 miles off the coast of Scotland's Kintyre peninsula (upper right of photo). The mountains of the southwest's Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula areas are clearly visible, as well.

This blog features highlights of our tour of Ireland this summer. We begin and end in Dublin, traveling southwest all the way to the Ring of Kerry in Ireland's scenic southwest. We'll continue up the west coast to the Cliffs of Moher and settle near Shannon for a medieval feast at Castle Bunratty, from which we'll travel across the Irish midlands to return to Dublin.

Itinerary & trip details at the end of this blog.

Some music to get you in the mood...

Click here:

Trip Details

Departure date from Washington will be Tuesday, June 15 (arriving Dublin Wed/June 16)
Departure from Dublin will be 10 days later, on Thursday, June 24. We will be using the Euro as currency for the entire trip.

Day by day itinerary:
June 16 (Wednesday)
(Bloomsday celebrated in Dublin city center -- see blog post about Bloomsday)
Dublin airport/hotel transfer to 4-star Gresham Hotel

Afternoon motorcoach tour of central Dublin; incl. tour of State Apartments of Dublin Castle
Welcome drink at hotel
Evening group dinner: Irish cooking at Merry Ploughboy Pub
Post-dinner entertainment: traditional Irish music and step dancing

June 17 (Thursday)
Breakfast at hotel
Board motorcoach to travel southwest from Dublin through verdant Irish farm land
Stop to view the stately ruins atop the Rock of Cashel (see blog entry)
Visit Blarney Castle (see blog entry) and Blarney Woollen Mills (Irish craft goods)
Continue through Macroom to Killarney (County Kerry in Irish lake country)
Group dinner (included); 2 overnights at 4-star Killarney Towers Hotel

June 18 (Friday)
Breakfast at hotel
Board motorcoach for 100-mile scenic tour of Ring of Kerry: beaches, cliffs, mountains and lakes.
Stop at Kells to meet local farmer, Brendan Ferris, for a taste of farm life with a sheepdog demonstration of herding skills (see blog entry).
Drive through the village of Cahirciveen to cross to Valencia Island by bridge.
Visit the Skellig Experience to learn about the nearby rocky islands where early Christian monks lived in austere conditions; today the islands are a thriving bird sanctuary.
Stop to walk around Sneem (see blog entry), where brightly-painted houses are grouped around a central green.
Stop at Moll's Gap (see blog entry) for a view over the Three Lakes of Killarney.
Visit Muckross Estate gardens (see blog entry), set on the shores of Muckross Lake.
Return to Killarney for a group dinner in our hotel.

June 19 (Saturday)
Breakfast at hotel
Board motorcoach and drive north to Tarbert for a ferry ride across the River Shannon Estuary.
Drive along the Clare coast to the Cliffs of Moher (see blog entry), a spectacular wall of limestone that towers 700 feet above the Atlantic.
Drive past Lahinch golf links, one of Ireland's most famous, and through the marketing town of Ennis to Bunratty.

Overnight at 3-star Bunratty Castle Hotel, located opposite Bunratty Castle (see blog entry) and Folk Park. Take your place in the Bunratty Castle Great Hall for a medieval-style feast with plenty of wine. During and after the meal period-costumed lords and ladies will serenade us with song and harp music, evocative of the Middle Ages.

June 20 (Sunday)
Breakfast at hotel.
Board motorcoach for a drive through central Ireland eastward past Limerick and through the midland region to Kildare. Here we'll visit the Irish National Stud (see blog entry) to learn about Irish horse breeding; also on site are the celebrated Japanese Gardens created a hundred years ago.
4 overnights at Dublin's famed 4-star Gresham Hotel on O'Connell Street, Dublin;s main thoroughfare. We are located near the architecturally distinctive Custom House and are steps from Clery's and Easons, two of Ireland's most famous department stores, and the Henry Street market stalls.
Dinner on our own.

June 21 (Monday)
Breakfast at our hotel.
Just down the street from our hotel is the 400-ft. tall Monument of Light (a.k.a. Millennium Spire of Dublin - see blog entry) standing in the center of O'Connell Street, and St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral (Catholic) is located just one block away. Near the southern end of O'Connell Street stands the neo-classical General Post Office, site of the bloody siege known as the Easter Uprising of 1916, a pivotal event in Ireland's fight for independence from Britain.
Afternoon walking tour of central Dublin south of the River Liffey, to include:
Trinity College (est. 1592) and the medieval manuscript Book of Kells (see blog entry)
St. Stephen's Green (park, see blog entry)
Grafton Street (pedestrianized shopping street)
Dinner on our own; overnight at Gresham Hotel (photo below).

June 22 (Tuesday)
Breakfast at our hotel.
Morning walking tour along the banks of the River Liffey. We'll cross the Ha'Penny foot bridge to enter the Temple Bar area, continuing to Fishamble Street, Dublin's oldest thoroughfare dating from Viking times. We'll stop to see the entrance to Neal's Music Hall, where Handel's beloved Messiah premiered on April 13, 1742. We'll enter the adjacent Christ Church Cathedral (c. 1030, initially a Benedictine priory), the seat of Irish Bishops for 1,000 years, and cross the connecting bridge to Dublinia, which offers multimedia presentations about the early history of Ireland, specifically the Viking world and the middle ages. Dublinia, a project of the Medieval Trust, is housed in the former Synod Hall of the Church of Ireland. Climb the 96 steps to the top of St. Michael's tower for a stunning view over the city.
Afternoon at leisure. Concert option: Irish National Symphony Orchestra 1:00 pm.
Dinner on our own; overnight at Gresham Hotel.

June 23 (Wednesday)
Breakfast at our hotel.
A 5-hour coach tour through the Wicklow Mountains, southwest of Dublin, including scenic coastal towns and Powerscourt House and Gardens (separate blog post).
Farewell Dinner at Church restaurant/bar); overnight at Gresham Hotel.

June 24 (Thursday)
Breakfast at our hotel.
Departure for airport and flight back to Washington, DC.

16 Participants:
Pamela Crippin
Shirley Gourley
Dan Krause
Katrina Krause
Elaine Locke
Jane MacDuff
Patsy Palmer
Jane Ryall
Terry Sisk
Betty Sisk
Judy Smith
Janis Speck
Sherrie Steinbach
Rob Tabor
Betty Tabor
Helen Troy

Flight itinerary (

Tue/15 June
JetBlue B61308 depIAD 4:55p (3h 19m connection time)
AerLingus EI108 depJFK 9:50p; arr. Dublin 9:45a Wed/June 16

Thu/24 June
AerLingus EI137 depDUB 2:00p; arrBoston 4:05p(2h 3m connection)
JetBlue B61259 dep6:35p; arrIAD8:17p

-- alternate return--

Thu/24 June
AerLingus EI105 depDUB 10:30a; arrJFK 1:10p(2h 3m connection)
JetBlue B61307 depJFK3:35p; arrIAD5:16p