July 22nd – 25th – Augsburg – Germany

We spent a few days in Ausburg Germany visiting Don’s family.  We went to a local event celebrating 125 for the town, Bergheim, where Don’s aunt and uncle live.  It was a good time.  Wurst, beer and a band.  It was also very cool to watch the kids that were there.  It proved that kids are kids, no matter where they grow up.

The weather was kind of cold and rainy but it did not stop us from taking walks in the fields.  This is the first time we have been here at this time of the year and it was different to see the full grown corn and wheat.  We always have a great time when we visit (as you can tell from all the smiles in the pictures)








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July 20th, 2017 – Irish National Stud Farm – Ireland

We awoke to a beautiful sunny morning, so Don went out to take some pictures.  The first five pictures are from Kilkenny.  The castle in the pictures is the same one from yesterday, but it looks much better in the morning sun.

It is our last day in Ireland.  We made a stop at the Irish National Stud Farm on the way back to Dublin.  Ireland is the number three breeder of thoroughbreds in the world.  The stallions cover (their word for mating with) three or four mares a day during the breeding season, which is about 4 months.  A horse’s gestation period is 11 – 12 months and they try to have them foal between January and May.  This farm’s most famous stud right now is Invincible Spirit.  They get 120,000 euros stud fee for him.  They said that a stallion covers about 250 mares in a season so that would be 30,000,000 euros for one season.  Not bad money.

There is also a very nice Japanese Tea Garden on the farm.  It was created between 1906 and 1911 by Colonel William Hall-Walker who originally owned the stud farm before selling it to the Irish Nation.  It was raining while we ate lunch, but the sun came out just in time for us to stroll through the garden.









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July 19th, 2017 – Kilkenny – Ireland

We took a walking tour of Kilkenny today.  The rain is back, but that did not deter us.  We made a quick stop at the Black Abbey which is a Catholic priory established in 1225 as one of the first houses of the Dominican Order in Ireland.  The second picture shows a huge stained glass window that is over 700 years old.

The third picture has an interesting story.  The original owner of this inn was Dame Alice le Kyteler who was born in Kilkenny in the year 1263.   She married 4 very rich husbands, all of which mysteriously died after marrying her.  She was convicted as the first witch of Ireland and put in prison with her handmaid (a concession made since she was so rich).  Friends from England came and paid a great deal of money to get her out of prison and take her to England.  Unfortunately she left the handmaid behind, and in the absence of Alice to burn at the stake, the people of Kilkenny burned the handmaid.

Our next stop was Kilkenny Castle (pictures 5 – 14).  The castle has been an important site since Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, commonly known as Strongbow constructed the first castle (wooden) in the 12th century.  Kilkenny formed part of the lordship of Leinster, which was granted to Strongbow.  The first stone castle on the site, was completed in 1213.  This was a square-shaped castle with towers at each corner; three of these original four towers survive to this day.

James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormonde, bought the castle in 1391 and established himself as ruler of the area.  The Butler dynasty then ruled the surrounding area for centuries. They were Earls, Marquesses and Dukes of Ormonde and lived in the castle for over five hundred years.   The last member of the Butler family sold the castle to the local Castle Restoration Committee in the middle of the 20th century for £50.  Shortly afterward it was handed over to the State, and has since been refurbished to appear as it was in the middle of the 1800s.

The rest of the pictures are of how cute Kilkenny is.  You can see the Irish humor with the Sweeney Todd Barber Shop.  Leslie is standing in front of a statue of hurling players.  Hurling is an outdoor team game of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin.  The game has prehistoric origins and has been played for 3,000 years.











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July 18th, 2017 – Blarney Castle & Rock of Cashel

Today we went to Blarney Castle in Cork.  There have been several fortifications on this spot.  The current one was built by the McCarthy of Muskerry dynasty in 1446.  Of course we had to climb to the top to kiss the Blarney Stone.  Evidently there are multiple stories about the Blarney Stone, but the one our guide told us that one of the MacCarthys saved a witch from drowning.  He stuttered and the witch told him about this stone that was on his property and if he kissed it, he would no longer stutter.  He went to where she said it was, kissed it and he no longer stuttered.  So the myth is that kissing the Blarney Stone gives you the Gift of Eloquence.

Kissing the Blarney Stone is not easy.  Easier than it used to be – you used to have to be lowered upside down and held by your feet to kiss it.  They have improved that, but it is still a challenge.  You have to lay on your back, hold on to some poles and lean your head backwards and upside down in a hole while someone holds you (all while you are 9 stories off the ground).  Leslie tried it, but wimped out a bit and kissed about 3 inches above where you were supposed to, so who knows if she got any of the eloquence or not.  The 5th picture shows the beginning of her attempt, and if you look at it well, you will see she still had about 10 inches to go backwards.

Our next stop was Rock of Cashell.  According to local mythology, the Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil’s Bit, a mountain 20 miles north of Cashel when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock’s landing in Cashel.  Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century.

The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion. In 1101, the King of Munster, Muirchertach Ua Briain, donated his fortress on the Rock to the Church. The complex is one of the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture to be found anywhere in Europe.  Few remnants of the early structures survive; the majority of buildings on the current site date from the 12th and 13th centuries.











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July 17th, 2017 – Ring of Kerry – Ireland

We spent the day driving around the Ring of Kerry which is a 111 mile long circular tourist route in south-western Ireland.   We had a glorious sunny day.  The views were beautiful.  Sometimes it was all Don could do to keep from begging the bus driver to stop because we were passing by so many pretty pictures.

We stopped at the Kerry Bog Village a reproduction of an 18th century famine village.  It was extensively researched prior to being recreated and the dwellings are exact replicas of those used in Ireland in the 1800’s.  The village worked on the barter system.  The thatcher had the best house (3rd picture) because he was able to work outside the village for actual money.   The 2nd picture shows the peat that is still used today to heat houses and create electricity.  The village also has Kerry bog ponies (4th picture) which were almost extinct.  In 1994, there were only 20 of them in all of Ireland.  Conservation efforts have brought them back to the correct levels.

Our next stop was very interesting.  It was with a sheep herder.  He had 12 kinds of sheep that he showed us, then he gave an excellent demonstration of how the border collies help herd the sheep.  These dogs were amazing, working alone or as a team to either a whistle or spoken command.  The demonstration went on for about 20 minutes — the poor sheep were probably ready for a break from being herded after that.

After lunch we made stops along the road to take pictures.  Leslie, the sucker for animals, paid 1 euro so she could hold a baby lamb and get her picture taken.  All the water in the pictures is the Atlantic Ocean.  It was so beautiful and reminded us of the Caribbean in several places.  The 14th picture could have been taken in Antigua.  The road is very narrow and the buses all go counter clockwise while the cars go clockwise.  It is good to be in the bus because you are bigger, but it was still scary to see how close we came to the cars on the road when passing each other.















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July 16th, 2017 – Killarney – Ireland

We had all kinds of transportation forms today.  We started the day on a jaunt car (horse drawn buggy) with Maggie, a 6 year old Irish draft horse. Our ride took us through Killarney National Park, Ireland’s first national park(more about that later).  We were very happy to learn that they take good care of the horses.  No more than 4 hours a day and 2 days on, then 2 days off.

We were dropped off at Ross Castle (5th picture) which was built in the late 15th century by the local ruling clan the O’Donoghues.  The castle was amongst the last to surrender to Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads during the Irish Confederate Wars, and was only taken when artillery was brought by boat via the River Laune.

We then climbed aboard a boat called “The Otter” (Leslie was thrilled) that had Bella the dog as a co-captain.  Thank goodness we had a beautiful day for the boat ride on the lake to Mucross House.   Mucross House is a Tudor style mansion with 65 rooms, built in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, the watercolourist Mary Balfour Herbert.  Extensive improvements were made in the 1850s in preparation for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861. It is said that these improvements for the Queen’s visit were a contributory factor in the financial difficulties suffered by the Herbert family which resulted in the sale of the estate. In 1899 it was bought by Arthur Guinness, 1st Baron Ardilaun who wanted to preserve the dramatic landscape. He did not live in the house himself, but rented it out to wealthy groups as a hunting lodge.

In August 1911,  Mucross House and its land were sold to William Bowers Bourn, a wealthy Californian mining magnate.  He and his wife passed it to their daughter Maud and her husband Arthur Rose Vincent as a wedding present. The couple lived there until Maud’s death from pneumonia in 1929.  In 1932 her parents, Mr and Mrs Bournes, and their son-in-law Arthur Vincent decided to present Mucross House and its 11,000 acre estate to the Irish nation.  Being called the ″Bourne-Vincent Memorial Park″, it thus became the first National Park in the Republic of Ireland and formed the basis of present-day Killarney National Park.  In later years the park was substantially expanded by the acquisition of land from the former Earl of Kenmare’s estate.

We toured the mansion with a guide.  Most of the furniture was authentic, including what is in the rooms where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed during their 3 day visit here.  They have done extensive renovations on the decorations (i.e. reproducing hand painted silk wall paper in Queen Victoria’s dressing room) so it looks like it would have when she was there.

We ended the evening by attending Celtic Steps.  A show similar to Riverdance, but with performers from around this area.  They were amazing.  Several of them are World Champions of different types of Irish dancing —  one of the guys has been the champion seven times.









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July 15th, 2017 – Cliffs of Moher – Ireland

We left Galway today and drove to Killarnny.  On the way we made a brief stop at Dunguaire Castle a 16th-century tower house whose name derives from the Dun of King Guaire, the legendary king of Connacht.   We also drove through Lisdoonvarna, the site of the Matchmaking Festival – Europe’s largest singles festival.  It is a 6 week festival where people come together to find matches.  The history of this festival is as follows – Families in this area required that the oldest son stay in the family home until the parents die.  He was not allowed to marry until that time.  So you had a lot of 50 – 60 year old men who needed young wives to marry (so they could have children).  There was a matchmaking festival every year after the harvest that lasted for a week.  It worked so well, that it has continued to expand into what it is today with people coming from all over the world to find love.

It is cool driving through so many Irish towns and cities.  They are all very clean, well kept and very cute.  It also gives Don a chance to take a lot of pictures.  The 4th pictures shows a roof that is in the process of being thatched (we are a bit fascinated by the thatched roofs).

Our main stop was at The Cliffs of Moher which are located at the southwestern edge of the Burren region in County Clare, Ireland.   They are seven miles long and rise 390 feet (at one end) to 702 feet (on the other end) above the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day, you can see the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, the Maumturks and Twelve Pins mountain ranges to the north in County Galway.  When we got there today, we could barely see 100 feet in front of the bus.  The good news is that while we were shopping in the visitor center, some of the fog went away so we were able to see a bit of the cliffs.

We took a brief ferry ride (that is our grey bus) to Killarney (where we will be for the next three days).  We had dinner at a local family’s house.  It was very interesting to hear about their life.  They have a 14 year old son and a 10 year old daughter who play the concertina and harp, respectively.  They played for us after dinner.   Both are quite talented and have won awards, so it was very enjoyable.








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July 14th, 2017 – Inishmore (Aran Islands) – Ireland

We took a ferry to the largest of the Aran Islands, Inishmore.  The island is covered with small fields outlined by rock walls.  Actually a good bit of the parts of Ireland that we have seen so far are this way.  The 4th picture shows why.  Most of the land in this part of Ireland is/was covered in rocks left by glaciers.  Hundreds of years ago, the farmers broke up the rocks, made walls to delineate their fields and  used seaweed and sand to create a base layer of soil so they could grow crops.

The second picture is a pub that was along side the road that is a good example of the thatched roofs that are on a lot of the buildings.  A long time ago, thatched roofs meant you were not well off, now they are extremely expensive and show that you are wealthy.  The tops of the roofs have different patterns that are the signature of whoever thatched the roof.

The main reason for our visit was to see Dún Aonghasa (pictures 3 – 10), the most famous of several prehistoric hill forts on the Aran Islands.  It is built on a 600 foot cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  It is not known exactly when Dún Aonghasa was built, though it is now thought that most of the structures date from the Bronze Age and Iron Age.   Excavations at the site indicate that the first construction goes back to 1100 BC.  Although clearly defensible, the particular location of Dún Aonghusa suggests that its primary purpose was religious and ceremonial rather than military.

We also stopped at the Seven Churches and Cemetery (picture 11) which underscores the long history and far reach of the Catholic Church.  Saints and scholars in the 7th and 8th centuries (including 7 Romans – the only Romans to come to Ireland) came from many countries to study here.

Everyone on the Aran Islands speaks Gaelic.  This is one of the few places where all the signs have no English on them (picture 13).  We had an adventure walking on the beach back to the ferry  — Don had to stop a boat that came too close to us (we have been around the Irish humor for too long).












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July 13th, 2017 – Connemara – Ireland

We were back to Irish weather today.  Cool and rainy.  No problem, we were ready for it.  It is very interesting how Odysseys Unlimited combines bathroom breaks with something to do.  Connemara Marble Visitor Center is strategically located on a lonely stretch of road, so we got a bathroom, an explanation of the marble, and a chance to shop.  Connemara Marble is a rare form of marble found in the Connemara region which is typically green-ish in color. It is said to be one of the rarest forms of marble in the world due to its limited supply and dates back over 600 million years.  While the color is predominately green, there are often shades of grey, pink and brown seen throughout.

We made a couple of stops along the way to our true destination Kylemore Abbey.  The second picture shows a statue that shows the Irish humor.  It basically says that absolutely nothing happened here.  Our guide of course helped with the joke by telling us we all had to get out (in the rain) to read the inscription since it was very moving.

The next 12 pictures are from Kylemore Abbey.   Kylemore  Castle was built as a wedding gift for his wife by Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London whose family was involved in textile manufacturing in Manchester, England.  He moved to Ireland when he and his wife Margaret purchased the land around the Abbey.  The construction of the castle began in 1867, and took the total of one hundred men and four years to complete. Mr. Henry employed Irish Catholics, giving them a fair wage, when it was very hard for them to find work.  There were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, a ballroom, billiard room, library, study, school room, smoking room, gun room and various offices and domestic staff residences for the butler, cook, housekeeper and other servants.  The estate also included a large walled Victorian Garden.

Unfortunately, Margaret Henry died of dysentery in 1875.  Mitchell was devastated and spent little time at Kylemore after that.  He had a Gothic Cathedral built as a memorial to her.  The 12th picture shows the detail of the decorations that were done in the different shades of Connemara marble.

The Abbey remained in Henry’s estate after he returned to England. The castle was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1909, who resided there for several years before being forced to sell the house and grounds because of gambling debts. In 1920, the Irish Benedictine Nuns purchased the Abbey castle and lands after they were forced to flee Ypres, Belgium during World War I. The nuns, who had been based in Ypres for several hundred years, had been bombed out of their Abbey during World War I.  The nuns continued to offer education to Catholic girls, opening an international boarding school and establishing a day school for girls from the locality.

Tonight we had a traditional Irish music and dance show after dinner.  It was a very good program with interesting information.  Probably the most interesting fact was that for the first half of the 20th century, there were no instruments in Ireland because all of the musicians had immigrated during and after the famine (most to the U.S.).  To keep the music alive, people would sing the instrument parts (which is called lilting).  In the second half of the century, the recordings of the Irish music from the Eastern U.S., as well as family members that lived in the U.S. sending instruments back to family members in Ireland, started a revival of Irish music in Ireland.  Leslie volunteered to learn one of the simple Irish dances.  It is a shame videos cannot be posted on this blog (depending on your point of view).










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July 12th, 2017 – Galway – Ireland

Today we had to drive from the east side of Ireland to the west side.  We had a bathroom break and tea and scones at Tyrrellspass Castle (1st picture) which was built in 1411.  Best scones we have had so far.

Our next stop was the monastery of Clomacnoise (pictures 2 – 6) located on the river Shannon.  It was founded in 544 by St Ciaran.  The strategic location of the monastery helped it become a major centre of religion, learning, craftsmanship, and trade by the 9th century and together with Clonard it was the most famous in Ireland, visited by scholars from all over Europe.  Unfortunately, its prominence also drew attacks.  It was attacked frequently from the 8th to the 12th centuries, mostly by the English (at least 40 times), the Irish (at least 27 times), the Vikings (at least 7 times) and Normans (at least 6 times).   Each time it was attacked and burned, the monks rebuilt it.  By the 12th century Clonmacnoise began to decline.   The reasons were varied, but without doubt the most debilitating factor was the growth of the town of Athlone to the north of the site from the late-12th century.,

We made it to Galway in the middle of the afternoon.  We had an hour to walk around before we continued a few miles to Barna, the seaport where we are staying for a few nights.  Don took pictures and Leslie went shopping.







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