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.

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