Highlights of our Two Week Driving Tour of Ireland: A Journey through the Wicklow Mountains, down towards Kilkenny, South-east of Cork to Kinsale, South-west to Kenmare, the Dingle Peninsula, Ring of Kerry, through the Connemara, the walls of Derry, Antrim Coast, Trim, Dublin and Everything in Between

Our two week trip through Ireland covered a lot of ground and would not appeal to those who like to sleep in and eat a leisurely lunch, but we were able to enjoy all the sites that I did not want to miss on my first trip to Ireland.

After our arrival in Ireland, we took the M50 around Dublin and then headed south through the Wicklow Mountains toward Glendalough a Monastic Settlement that has been an important site of religious pilgrimage since it was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. The setting for this Monastery is quite amazing (even on a drizzly, windy day like we had)- one of my favorite heritage sites of the whole trip. Glendalough has remarkably well-preserved ruins such as St Kevin's Church, Round Tower and numerous other structures. There is something magical about that place. The book "The Princes of Ireland- the Dublin Saga," a fictional story based on factual information that really brings Irish history to life, has a reference to Glendalough.

If we had more time, we would have included a stop at Power's Court House and Gardens on the way to Glendalough and possibly Avondale House (The Home of Charles Parnell) in Southern Wicklow.

From Glendalough, we headed to the coast and southwest to Gorey and on to New Ross. Here we took a tour of the Dunbrody Famine Ship, a replica of the 1845 ship "Dunbrody." They have a great AV presentation, guided tour with actors portraying famine ship travelers (1st Class and Steerage). This was a quality, worthwhile stop.

From New Ross, we headed northwest toward Thomastown. On the way we stopped in Inistioge, a beautiful little village that I would love to spend a day in if we return to Ireland. We then crossed an 18th century arched stone bridge on the way to Jerpoint Abbey, founded in 1180. This is another great Monastic site- worthy of a visit. This Cistercian abbey has an assortment of unusual carved figures that are remarkably well preserved. Bennett's Bridge (home to many Kilkenny artists) is another town on the Noir River that merits a visit.

Our destination for day one was Kilkenny, one of my favorite towns of the trip. I would spend an additional day in this town if we had more time or on return to Ireland. A walking tour of the colorful town of Kilkenny includes a Town Hall built in 1761, the Black Abbey (13th Century Friary ruins), the Rothe House, a 16th century merchant's home that now houses a genealogical resource center and bronze age collection and St Canice's Cathedral that was founded in the 13th century. It has black marble effigies worth checking out and a round tower from the 6th century on the grounds. The restored Kilkenny Castle completes the tour. Kilkenny has the whole package, it's a colorful, well-maintained town dotted with flowers that beckons you to stay longer.

From Kilkelly, our journey took us inland to the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary. This was once the seat of the Kings of Munster and is a dramatic heritage site that is not to be missed. St Patrick came to Cashel around the 5th century and was said to have baptized King Aengus here making him Ireland's first Christian King. Supposedly this made the devil angry so he flew over Ireland in response, got annoyed with the Slieve Bloom Mountains that blocked his flight, and in retaliation he chomped the mountain that was in his way and spit it out thus creating the Rock of Cashel. St. Patrick's Cathedral dominates the Rock of Cashel.

From here we headed southwest to Caher, a Town built on a hill just above the River Suir, to explore the restored 15th-16th century Caher Castle and stroll through the main square of town. The Swiss Cottage, another optional stop, just outside of town, has unusual architecture with verandas made of branched trees. From Caher we headed southwest towards Cork and on to Cobh (The Cove of Cork), a small fishing village that was the last port of call for the Titanic in 1912. Cobh was once a significant port of departure for Irish immigrants heading to America as well. The Cobh Heritage Center has a good AV presentation of the "Queenstown Story," that depicts the maritime history and emigration trail from Cobh. The Old Midleton Distillery, a short distance from Cobh, would be worth the detour if you have the time. From Cobh we headed back towards Cork and south to Kinsale, our destination for day two. Kinsale, my favorite town in Ireland, is a fishing port with many colorful shops, flowering pots and great food that sits on a beautiful harbor. A walking tour of Kinsale includes a 17th century old courthouse in the market square, 12th Century St Multose Church, 16th Century Desmond Castle (originally a custom house- used as a prison in the 18th century, now a wine museum), and the most impressive Charles Fort. Charles Fort is a star-shaped fort, one of the largest military forts in Ireland, which played a significant role in both the Williamite War of 1690 and the Irish Civil War of 1922.

Day three took us from Kinsale through Macroom and on to Kenmare. Macroom is a colorful market town midway between Cork and Killarney. A bustling market square sits at the entrance to what remains of the 15th century Macroom castle, a gateway and Norman Tower. The old corn mill just outside of town makes a nice photo op, but was not operational when we were there. We headed northwest to Killarney, a town that appeared to be overrun with tour buses. We headed southwest of Killarney to explore Ross Castle, a restored 14th century castle keep. You can hire a rowboat to take you over to Innisfallen Island, site of a 6th century abbey, for a picnic. From here we headed south to 19th century Muckross House in Killarney National Park. Muckross House has a folk and farming museum, is surrounded by pleasant walking trails, Torc Waterfall, 15th century Muckross Friary. The road between Killarney and Kenmare crosses Moll's gap with spectacular views over County Kerry. Upon arrival in Kenmare; we explored the town, saw the 3000-year-old stone circle, Cromwell's Bride (stone bridge built without mortar) and "an cappeen" (mountain with hat) 2 miles east of Kenmare, a monument from the ice age. Kenmare is a good base to explore both the Ring of Beara and the Ring of Kerry.

Day four started with an early departure (to beat the tour bus parade) to explore the 109-mile Ring of Kerry. This Ring takes you past a Glacier Lake and on to Straigue Ring Fort (constructed 300-400 A.D, described as one of the best stone forts in Ireland.). We hiked a short distance up the hill to capture the fort in its surroundings- it was quite impressive. The Ring of Kerry takes in great views of the Beara Peninsula the Skellig Islands and Valencia Island. We stopped for a tour of Derrynane House (this was the home of Daniel O'Connell, known as the Liberator, he was a key supporter of Catholic rights in 1829). There are several 4000-year-old "wedge tomb" ruins just outside of Derrynane and an Ogham stone on the way to Derrynane house. We passed clusters of "famine houses" on the road beyond Derrynane, and a statue of Charlie Chaplin at one of his old haunts in Waterville. We left the tour bus route for the Skellig Ring Loop. From here you have the option of visiting Cill Rialaig, a famine village (ask for directions as it is unmarked). Heading back to Ballinskelligs Village we headed toward Portmagee, went over the bridge to the Skellig Heritage Experience Center (on Valencia Island) whose focus is life on Skellig Michael, an early Christian monastic site. You have the option of taking a car ferry (at the opposite end of the island) or going back over the bridge to the main route and on to Cahersiveen, where Daniel O'Connell was born. From here we headed on to Dingle, a town in the center of the "Gaeltacht" a designated Irish- speaking area. We finished the day with a walking tour starting in the harbor area and went up the hill past colorful shops and unique pubs (one that doubles as a hardware store), past St Mary's Church (has a unique collection of stained glass "diseart" windows) and the 13th century St James Church. Irish music emanated from the pubs at night making it a favorite of many tourists we encountered.

We were fortunate that the weather cooperated for our exploration of the 30-mile loop known as the Dingle Peninsula on day five. If I had to choose between the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula because of time constraints, I would pick the Dingle Peninsula- it is quite spectacular. The loop takes you past a corn grinding mill, views of Ventry Bay and Skellig Michael, 4 century year old stone forts (thought to be fairy forts!), Dunbeg Fort (located on a sheer cliff at the base of Mount Eagle), Slea Head and its magnificant views, clusters of Prehistoric Dwellings (Beehive Huts) known as Clochans, filming site of the movie "Far and Away" where Lord Ventry evicted tenants, to the Great Blasket Center (that honors the Blasket Island community that thrived until 1953). Incredible views are present all along the peninsula; from the Great Blasket Center, we headed toward Ballyferriter and the Gallarus Oratory (an early Christian church dating from 800-1200 created with unmortared stone and amazingly intact). We then journeyed on to St. Brendan's 12th century Kilmakeddar Church where there were several ancient crosses and an Ogham stone with ancient script to check out. If you have a chance to hike the first part of the "Pilgrimage Walk" up Mt Brendan, you will be rewarded with views of Smerwick Harbor. Upon finishing the Dingle Peninsula, we headed northeast toward Tralee, Listowel and beyond to Talbert where we took an auto ferry across Dingle Bay and on to Kilkee (there is a 45 minute cliff walk here if you have time) and finally Liscannor, our stop for the night.

The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare (Atlantic Edge Exhibit) just beyond Liscannor, was the first destination on our agenda for day 6. There are great views of the cliffs from Lehinch up to Doolin, but the Atlantic Edge Exhibit is worth a visit. If the weather cooperates, you will have views of the Arran Islands and Mountains of Connemara. If you come between April and July you may get a chance to see Puffins here as well. We detoured slightly off our route to visit the small town of Doolin (known for its traditional pub music), and then journeyed on northeast toward Kilfenora, past the ruins of Leamanch Castle (15th century tower house is all that is left) and entered "The Burren," a rich botanical area in County Clare that appears quite barren but is rich in plant life from regions as diverse as the Arctic and the Mediterranean. There are more than 500 ring forts (dating from the 5th century) in this area; one worth visiting is Caherconnel Stone Fort. Just north of there we visited Poulnabrone (a 4500 year old megalithic burial tomb). Aillwee Cave and Rock are also in this area and options for exploration. Finally, we visited the Cistercian Corcomroe Abbey that was built in the late 12th century.

Upon departure from "The Burren" we headed toward Galway City with a brief detour to stop in Kinvarra and see Dunguarie Castle on the shores of Galway Bay. Continuing on to Galway City, we did a walking tour of the town including the following sites: Eyre Square (this was a market square and site for jousting) that has a Traditional Galway Fishing boat sculpture in the fountain, Lynch's Castle (now an Irish Bank), The Claddagh Ring Museum, 16th century Spanish Arch (a site with what remains of the city wall built to protect the quays where ships unloaded their freight such as wine) along the River, following the "Fishery Walk" past Wolf Tone Bride to the Salmon Weir Bridge (this walk was significant as many prisoners walked along it from the Courthouse to the Prison), the Nora Barnacle House (museum with a James Joyce connection), the 14th century St Nicholas Church (where Christopher Columbus was said to have prayed before his exploration of the New World) and Lynch's window (origins of the term "lynching" where the mayor lynched his son). We ran into many tourists who loved Galway City and the pub life at night.

Our journey took us on through Oughterard (the entrance to the Connemara) located on Lough Corrib, and on to our destination for the night: Roundstone, County Galway, a tiny colorful town in the middle of the Connemara. Roundstone has a panoramic view out over Bertraghboy Bay, the 12 Bens and Maumturks completing the view. Roundstone Blanket Bog (not far from Roundstone) hosts an otter population and over 10,000 acres of bog.

Day 7 took us through the Connemara area of County Galway toward Ballyconneely past the 19th century ruins of Bunowen Castle and on to Clifden, the Connemara Capital. Sky road, a scenic route that runs along the peninsula past Clifden Castle, provides an impressive view of Clifden and the 12 pins Mountain range. From Clifden it was on to Letterfrack, a town at the entrance to Connemara National Park. We made a stop at Kylemore Abbey (An International Girls School until 2010) whose grounds and a portion of the structure have public access. This scenery around this Abbey (including walled gardens and old Gothic Church) as well as woodland trails is spectacular. Heading northeast from Kylemore Abbey brought us to Leenane and Killary Harbour (this is the only fjord in Ireland). Beyond Leenane we headed up over the Doo Lough Pass through the Delph Valley on our way to Louisburgh, County Mayo. The route takes you past the Aasleagh falls, and the Famine Walk Memorial on the shores of Doolough (Black Lake). This pass has a tragic past: In March of 1849 during the height of the famine, approximately 600 Mayo residents walked over the pass traveling from Louisburgh to Delphi House (Home of the their Landlord, the Marquis of Sligo) desperately seeking food from the Famine Relief Commissioners that were meeting at Delphi House. They survived a frigid night only to be denied any sustenance and turned away. On the 12-mile walk back to Louisburgh, 400 people died. There were two different monuments to mark this tragic event: one has quotations from Gandhi and Desmond Tutu, the other a bit more simplistic but every bit as moving.

Louisburgh is a small town that houses the Grainuaile Visitor's Center (a tribute to Grace O'Malley (Grainuaile), the pirate queen who dominated this area and along the Coast of Galway in the 16th Century. We stopped at Kilgeever Church just east of Louisburgh (this is part of a pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick). If I had more time to explore this part of Mayo, I would check out the several century old Bunlahinch Clapper Footbridge as well as Altoir (a Megalithic Wedge Tomb with a 2000 year old top stone that was used by the Catholics to hold mass during the penal times when they were persecuted for practicing their religion), both are in the Louisburgh area. Heading west toward Westport we stopped at Croagh Patrick (where St Patrick spent 40 days during Lent in 441 AD and subsequently brought Christianity here in the 5th Century). This is Ireland's Holy Mountain. A well-worn path taken by those making the pilgrimage to the top is evident (a great hike if you have the time to make the 2510 foot climb and descent that we didn't have). A Coffin Ship Bronze Sculpture (in memoriam to those who died in the famine) is just across the street from Croagh Patrick as is Murrisk Abbey, a 15th century Augustinian Friary on Clew Bay.

We headed on past Westport (as we were spending two nights here so we could explore the Mayo/Roscommon area) and journeyed on to Castlebar (whose name originates from "Castlebarry" for De Barrie who founded a castle here in the 13th Century) a major garrison town in the 17th Century and market center in County Mayo in the 19th Century. This town eventually came under the influence of the Bingham Family; one such descendent with the title of the "3rd Earl of Lucan" was known for the widespread clearance (eviction) of his tenants during the height of the famine. A wonderful book "The Famine in Mayo" by Ivor Hamrock, available from the Castlebar Library has quite a bit on this cruel landlord who left a brutal legacy in this area. A walking tour of Castlebar takes you through Rock Square, The Mall (site of the 18th century Daly's Hotel where the mail coach used to stop on its way from Ballinasloe to Westport), The Courthouse (built in the mid 19th century), Christchurch (an Anglican Church built in the early 18th century), the 1798 Memorail, Market (Shambles) Square where markets were held, The Church of the Holy Rosary, and the Main Street Bridge was where Lord Cornwallis was defeated in 1798. This town is rich in military as well as market history. The Linen Industry has its origins here; Northern Ireland planters were brought to Castlebar in the late 18th century to spur development of the linen industry and the planting and harvesting of flax. A linen hall was built in Castlebar to serve as the hub for this trade.

After leaving Castlebar, we headed northeast toward Foxford. We stopped in Turlough to see a 11th century round tower and the ruins of a 17th century church, then explored the 13th Century Straide Friary (there are amazing relief carvings here and a 15th century tomb that are worth seeing). We made a worthwhile stop at the National Museum of Country Life in Turlough Park, Castlebar (a quality museum with great exhibits). Our next stop, the town of Foxford (also a premier market town in the 19th century), is perhaps known best for its Woolen Mills established by the Irish Sisters of Charity in 1892 to provide employment to the rapidly decreasing residents in the area. The mill was in operation until the late 1980's. The Catholic Church in Foxford was The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Michael (there was also a Convent Chapel and Sts. Peter and Paul church in nearby Straide.

We headed north out of Foxford to County Mayo's next significant market town, Ballina. The area is home to ruins of a 14th century Augustinian Friary, as well as the 19th century Cathedral of St Muiredach. In the late 18th century Humbert's Victorious Franco Irish forces were led into the town by straw lit by the residents (still referred to the Road of Straw- Bothnar na Sop). There were several Presbyterean churches in this area as well.

Another significant Mayo Market town in the 19th century, Killala was our next stop. Like Ballina, it was also captured by Humbert's troops. This is a charming coastal town with an 80 foot 12th century round tower that is in remarkable condition (cap and all). The other landmark is the Church of Ireland Cathedral of St Patrick built in the late 17th century. Moyne Abbey and Rosserk Friary are well preserved ruins in this area as well. The Catholic Emmanuel House Church on Killala Road between Ballina and Killala likely serves the area of Killala.

We left Killala, heading back to Ballina and then west to Crossmolina, a little town that sits on the River Deel. The Roman Catholic Church in Crossmolina was St. Tiernans. From there we wound our way down to Newport, an important County Mayo Market town that overlooks Clew Bay. Three things worth checking out in or around Newport are Newport House (a Georgian estate, now a hotel), The Church of St Patrick with an impressive Last Judgement display over the altar and Burrishoole Priory, a significant religious site built in the mid 15th century (interior photo). We finished day by returning for a stay in Westport, a beautiful little town and important market hub in the 19th century.

Westport is located in a picturesque setting on the Carrowbeg River. The scenery is equally beautiful at Westport Quay that sits on Clew Bay; Rosscahill Pier has a back drop of Croagh Patrick in the distance that is just amazing. I checked out the Clew Bay Heritage Center and purchased a few Journals of the Westport Historical Society (Cathair Na Mart) while we walked around the quay. Just east of the quay is Westport House (Home of the Browne Family- Marquis of Sligo), a historic home and gardens that is in a wonderful setting with great walking trails in the Country Park. While we were there, a white swan glided past at the perfect moment for a great picture. A walking tour of Westport takes in a stroll along "the mall" on the tree-lined Carrowbeg River, the Octagon- a square with a statue of St Patrick in the center, and numerous streets with colorful shops and pubs. Matt Malloys, a pub on Bridge Street is known for its traditional music. St. Mary's was the Catholic Church in the town of Westport, located next to the Carrowbeg River.

Day eight took us on a journey through southeast Mayo market towns and into County Roscommon. We explored the area between the Mayo border and Roscommon towns of Castlerea, Strokestown, Boyle, Ballaghaderreen and everything in between (an area with the highest probability of my family's origins). We began this journey heading southeast out of Westport toward Partry and Ballinrobe.

Partry is home to the Partry House (1667) home of the Lynch Family until 1991. This home is only open certain days of the year and was not open at the time of our visit. The Catholic Church currently serving Partry is St Mary's Church.

Ballinrobe, the next town we came upon, was an important Market Town in County Mayo in the 19th century. St Mary's Catholic Church, built in the late 19th, early 20th century has stained glass windows depicting the Saints of Ireland and ruins of 13th century Inishmaine Abbey is near by. Ballinrobe was incorporated into 7 different Townlands when the Griffith's Valuation was conducted. Samuel Lewis "A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland" noted that there was a Flour Mill, extensive Brewery and Tan Yard in Ballinrobe, and lots of economic activity was evident in the Griffith's Valuation.

From Ballinrobe, we headed Northeast toward Claremorris (another Major Market Town in the 19th century), stopping in Roundfort and Hollymount along the way. Lord Lucan, a prominent Landlord in County Mayo in the 19th Century, evicted many tenants not only in Castlebar but the Hollymount area as well. We noted the ruins of St. Charles the Martyr Church of Ireland in Hollymount and the Roman Catholic Church Immaculate Conception as we entered town.

Claremorris was a premier market town in the 19th century with James Browne, the most prevalent Landlord. A workhouse and dispensary were located here when Griffith's was conducted. A Coach-building business was in operation here as early as 1850. St. Colman's Catholic Church is one of two churches that serves this area with another in nearby Bohola.

Ballyhaunis, another major market town in County Mayo in the 19th century, was our next stop. This Market town has terraced streets with colorful homes and shops. St Patrick's is the Catholic Church in Town. The "Statistical Survey of Mayo" that was conducted in 1802 noted that Ballyhaunis had a cattle fair. That history is evident by the sculptures of farm animals in a market square in town. We proceeded on along the R367 through Ballinlough to Castlerea, County Roscommon, Ireland.

The last High King of Ireland, Felim O Conor (12th Century) was born in Castlerea, County Roscommon Ireland, the next stop on our journey. The O'Conors, once a powerful clan in this area had their ancestral seat at Cloonalis House, just outside of Castlerea. (Their ancestral tree included 24 Connaught Kings and 11 High Kings of Ireland). This house is available for tours during the summer months. As you enter the house on the left, note the Coronation Stone that the Kings of Connaught placed their foot on as part of the crowning ceremony.

From Castlerea, County Roscommon we continued on down to Ballymoe, then headed north up through Ballintober and Castleplunkett to Tulsk. As you pass through Tulsk you will see the ruins of a 15th century castle and abbey. Tulsk also has maps, guided tours available to Rathcroghan, one of more than 150 archaeologically-rich sites in the surrounding area where the coronations and burials of the Kings of Ireland and Connaught took place. We didn't get a chance to do this, but sounds really interesting if we had more time.

From Tulsk, our journey took us on to Strokestown, County Roscommon. The town of Strokestown has a large arch on the main street that leads to the entrance to Strokestown Park House. This is the 18th century estate home of Mahon Family that was transferred from the decendants in 1979 and was opened to the public at that time. The National Famine Museum that was created in this manor house is well worth the visit to Strokestown. The displays are really well done, with extensive documents depicting life on the estate and affects of the 1840's famine on the tenants. Major Denis Mahon, who held this estate at the time, was murdered by his tenants; they accused him of evicting tenants and arranging so called "Coffin Ships" to ship them to America. A County Heritage and Genealogy Center is located in Strokestown as well, but was closed on Sunday when we were there.

We headed northwest from Strokestown to Elphin, County Roscommon. St Patrick's is the Catholic Church in Elfin. Ireland's oldest functioning windmill (18th century construction) lies just northwest of Elphin. From Elphin we headed northeast to Carrick-on-Shannon and then west to Boyle. We stopped at the Boyle Abbey (under renovation but still open) that was founded in 1161. An extremely knowledgible, friendly volunteer gave us literature and a map of the area with sites to see in and around Boyle such as King House on Main Street (a restored town house built in 1730), just west of Boyle is Drumanonne Dolmen, a 3000-4000 year old Megalithic Portal Grave with 14' capstone, a marker, a marker honoring Maureen O'Sullivan (who played Jane in the first Tarzan films) and Lough Key Park just outside of town. One story handed down about the River Boyle, suggests that St Patrick fell into the River, cursed the area where he took the spill and the fishing has declined ever since. From Boyle we headed southwest down to explore the area around Tibohine, Frenchpark and Ballaghaderreen.

Ballaghaderreen is an area that was transferred (with numerous other towns in the area) from County Mayo to County Roscommon in 1898. Genealogists seeking records for their families from Sligo, Roscommon and Mayo Towns that border this area would be well-served looking at the Ballaghaderreen LDS film, as I am noting many families from the Sligo towns of Monasterredan, Clogher, Falleens, and Sroove that I didn't expect to find in these parish records. We stopped to take pictures of The Cathedral of St Annunciation and St Nathy in Ballaghaderreen, St. Asicals Church in Frenchpark, St Baoithin in Tibohine, The Church of the Sacred Heart in Fairymount and the Catholic Church in Loughglynn. We explored many of the villages in this area as I believe this is most likely where my family is from.

After exploring the area around Ballaghaderreen, we headed back toward the County Mayo Towns of Ballyglass, Kilmovee, Kilkelly and Swinford. Viscount Dillon was the landlord for a majority of the parcels in Kilmovee Civil Parish that included the towns of Kilmovee and Kilkelly. He had a home in Loughglynn, County Roscommon. Kilkelly was one of the more economically viable towns when the Griffith's Valuation was conducted with a Tolls and Customs of Fairs and Markets, the Grand Jury of County Mayo and a documented cattle fair when the Statistical Survey of County Mayo was conducted in 1802. Kilmovee, a bit farther west in County Mayo was only 5 miles from Ballaghadereen. Immaculate Conception was the Catholic Church in Kilmovee. It's located in a pleasant pastoral setting. Swinford, the next stop in our journey, was documented as having a market for grains and cattle and fairs at the beginning of the 19th century and by the middle of that century had a market for pigs, provision and corn. Over 500 famine victims died in the workhouse in Swinford and were buried in a mass grave behind it. There is a marker noting this tragic event on the hospital grounds. Our Lady Help of Christians is the Catholic Church in the Town of Swinford we noted in our drive through town. A beautiful rainbow appeared over the town while we were walking around. We finished day 8 and returned to Westport, County Mayo for the night.

On day nine of our trip we departed Westport, County Mayo and headed northeast toward County Sligo, Donegal and Derry with a final destination of County Antrim, Northern Ireland to visit the Giant's Causeway. On the way out of County Mayo we stopped in Charlestown (a town created by Lord Dillon's agent to compete with Ballahy- associated with the Knox family), a market town just over the border in County Sligo by competitive landlords). St. James is the Catholic Church in Charlestown. As we headed north, we passed through Sligo Town that has a famine memorial by the River Garavoque, a 19th century city hall, St John's Cathedral and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (both dating from the 19th century), a County Museum, Yeats Statue and Memorial Building and Rockwood Parade, a shop-lined street to explore if you have the time. We made our first stop in Drumcliff just north of Sligo Town. William B Yeats is buried in St Columba's Churchyard in Drumcliff; there is also a High Cross with biblical scenes from Adam and Eve and the only Round Tower of its kind in Sligo.

We continued headed north passing through Cliffony, and just before Castlegal on the right is Creevykeel Megalithic Tomb. We passed through Bundoran, a beach community that has unusual rock formations "Fairies Bridge" and "Puffing Hole." As we headed on to Donegal we passed through Ballyshannon, a town on the River Erne, once the seat of the O'Donnell Clan, that has an interesting 19th century clock tower. There is a 12th century Cistercian Assaroe Abbey just outside of town. Donegal Town in County Donegal, whose name means "Fort of the Foreigners," was the next town we passed through. Donegal Castle, once the domain of the O'Donnell Clan is the main attraction in Donegal Town. Two other sites worth checking out are the 15th century Donegal Abbey where the Annals of the Four Masters was composed, as well as the "Diamond" a market square that has a centerpiece honoring the four monks who created the Annals of the Four Masters (this piece traces the Gaelic people in Ireland from the time of Noah's grandmother before the Great Flood).

From Donegal Town we continued north through Strabane and continued on to Derry. Derry was a "Plantation Town" to which Scottish and English Settlers were "planted." In 1613, walls were built surrounding the town of Derry and they are still intact today, the only town in Ireland that has a completely intact wall. This walled city is well worth the visit as they are quite impressive, standing almost 20 feet tall, and the history associated them is an important part of Irish history. These walls with stood a siege mounted by Catholic King James in 1689 (The Siege of Derry). The siege of Derry began when Apprentice Boys closed the gates of the city to keep out his troops. Be sure to stop in the tourist office to get a map of the city (they weren't friendly to us at all when we were there, but the map is worth the effort). We began our walking tour of Derry by entering Magazine Gate (near the Tower Museum), headed up the stairs, took a left and walked past Castle Gate, Butcher Gate, the First Derry Presbyterian Church, the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall (1873) to the left and St. Augustine Chapel- Church of Ireland (that survived the siege; the cannonball that held the "proposed terms of surrender" landed in the yard of this church). Continuing on along the wall you will pass the ruins of a British Army Surveillance Tower (constructed to monitor the activities of the Catholic residents below), be sure to stop at the corner platform; below this is a boggy area of the city where the river used to flow, referred to as the "Bog side". The poor Irish Catholics gravitated to this poorly draining area to settle during the famine. From this point you can see the Free Derry Corner and the Rossville Street where Bloody Sunday took place in 1972. Continuing on along the wall you come to a platform with the 17th century Roaring Meg Canons; you will see St Columba's Long Tower Church down on the left, just around the corner you pass over Bishop's Gate. Outside the walls down below is a wall that has added height from a mesh fence; this is the Peace Wall built to protect the Protestant community on the other side. There are relatively few Protestants living in this area now but back in the 1960's and 1970's there were over 20,000. The Heritage Tower by the Peace Wall was once the location of a jail that housed Rebel Wolfe Tone in 1798. Continuing on along the wall brings you to St Columb's Cathedral (1633), a Protestant Church that has stained glass windows depicting the siege. There are a series of 12 memorial murals down in the Bog side area capturing the essence of struggle associated with Bloody Sunday, and the old city itself below the wall and just beyond it is worth exploring as well to see the Guildhall in Guildhall Square (has an unusual huge clock tower), the Museum of Free Derry, the Harbor Museum (that has a genealogy service), the shops in Craft Village by Castlegate the War Memorial in "The Diamond" and Tower Museum.

From Derry, we headed northeast through Coleraine (home of 17th century Church of St Patrick and the old city ramparts next to it). There are several prehistoric sites nearby such as Mountsandel Fort, a 12th century Norman stronghold and Ballycairn another Norman fort near the River. Our destination for the night was just a few miles from the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. We spent two nights in the countryside in Bushmills at this charming little bed and breakfast called Valley View Bed and Breakfast, whose owner Valerie was one of the friendliest, most helpful of any we encountered in all of Ireland.

Day 10 was spent exploring the Antrim Coast with The Giant's Causeway number one on our list. The Giant's Causeway is accessible both day and night without charge, but parking was 5 euro per car after 0930. We went early to get some tourist-free pictures, but it's nice to be there after the Visitor's center opens to acquire a map with specifics about the site. The view from the top is impressive. The Shepherd's Steps are pretty steep; we took the loop down to the Giant's Causeway, walked through the Giant's Gate, saw the Giant's Boot, the Giant's Organ (what appears to be huge organ pipes in the cliff face), the Amphitheatre, Giant's Eyes and came up (instead of going down) the Shepherd's Steps. The Giant's Causeway was the result of volcanic activity that took place over 60 million years ago, but the legend as to how they were created is unique. Finn McCool, an Irish Giant supposedly created a path so that he could cross the water from Ireland to Scotland to battle his arch rival the Scottish Giant Benandonner. The Giant's Causeway reminds me of Devil's Post pile in Mammoth Lakes, California. The Antrim Coast is scenic, but the Causeway is not what I thought it would be, it is much smaller. After departing the Giant's Causeway, we drove along the Causeway Coastal Route where there are a variety of unusual sites to explore such as 14th century Dunluce Castle, Old Bushmill's Distillery (the World's Oldest Distillery- 1608), Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge and scenic drives along Antrim's Coast and Glens. There are hiking trails through Glenariff Forest Park to waterfalls and a variety of other activities to do along this section of the coast.

We departed the Antrim Coast on Day 11 and headed south through Antrim, around Belfast, through Lisburn, Banbridge, Newry and Dundalk, back down to the area just northwest of Dublin that is rich in ancient Irish History. Our final destination for the day was Trim, but on the way we explored several fascinating sites.

First we stopped in Monasterboice, a 6th century Monastic Settlement in County Louth. There were two churches, a 110' round tower (one of Ireland's tallest) and 3 really impressive 10th century Celtic High Crosses, one of which is Muiredach's Cross with biblical scenes and the West Cross that is the tallest High Cross in Ireland. Next we journeyed on to see the ruins of 12th Century Mellifont Abbey in County Louth, which was the first Cistercian Abbey in all of Ireland.

One of the most popular sites to visit in this area is Newgrange, a cluster of three different Neolithic burial grounds that can be visited by tours leaving from the Bru na Boinne Visitor Center (County Meath). Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth are the three world heritage sites, but Newgrange is the only one that allows you access to the inside chamber. It was built about 3200 BC, is older than the pyramids in Egypt and is definitely worth a visit. These tours fill up quickly so arrive early to beat the tour buses from Dublin. You can arrange to visit both Newgrange and Knowth (but be sure to plan for the time as the buses depart 1 1/2 hours apart to visit the 2 sites). The museum is included in the price and the guides to the sites are quite knowledgeable.

From here we went to see The Battle of the Boyne site on the banks of the River Boyne in County Meath. This is most of the most important battles in Irish history- between the deposed King James the II of England (Catholic) and King William of Orange (Protestant). The Catholic King James lost and so began a long and bitter conflict between the two religions. The film and Battleground history at the Oldbridge House Visitor Center are definitely worth the visit.

From The Battle of the Boyne we headed over to nearby Drogheda in County Louth for a walking tour of the town. A brutal battle took place in Drogheda in 1649 in which Cromwell decimated the Garrison that defended this town, forcing them to surrender and then slaughtering them all. Among the sites to see in town were St Laurence's Gate (from the 13th century), The Thosel with its 18th century clock, St Peter's Church, the old Corn Exchange, St Peter's Church of Ireland, St Mary's Bridge (with a view of 19th century arched Boyne Viaduct), 18th century Millmount Military Barracks and the early 19th century Martello Tower. This was an interesting town, but if you are short of time be sure to include the other sites in the area first.

From Drogheda we headed toward the Town of Slane, an 18th century village that has four unusual Georgian houses on one corner on the main street through town. Take a short detour above the town to the "Hill of Slane." It was here that St Patrick lit the Easter fires in 433 in defiance to the then High King of Tara. These fires were visible from the Hill of Tara where the High King had decreed that no other fires could be lit before he lit the sacred fire there. St Patrick's explanation convinced the King of its importance and thus the beginning of Christianity and end of Paganism in Ireland. There is a 6th century Monastery and church on the Hill of Slane as well that you can explore with amazing view of County Meath and its surroundings.

We next stopped in the Town of Navan in County Meath, site of an 18th century bridge and 15th Century Dunmoe Castle. Heading south on the road to Trim, we stopped at the Hill of Tara, the focal point of power and Religious influence of Ireland's Celtic High Kings before Christianity took hold. The Hill of Tara was the site of the coronation of more than 142 Kings and had also been a sacred burial site. Unfortunately the Heritage site at Tara (and their tours) had closed for the season before our arrival in the end of September. The view is spectacular from here on a clear day, the sunniest day we had of our two weeks. This is the site where St Patrick used a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. There is a bronze era passage grave here. This site was also the place where the rebels took a stand in 1798 and later in 1843 when Daniel O' Connell rallied the Irish poor to take a stand against the Act of Union with Great Britain. There is a lot of reference to the Hill of Tara in the book "The Princes of Ireland, a Dublin Saga" and I really wanted to experience this site because it was the focal point of so much ancient history in Ireland. Our final destination for the night was the Town of Trim, a village dominated by Trim Castle.

On Day 12 we took a tour through the restored Trim Castle, Ireland's largest Norman Castle. The Movie Braveheart was filmed here, the guide was quite knowledgeable and it was definitely worth a tour of the Castle Keep. Other sites to see in Trim are the Belfry Tower (Yellow Steeple-1368), St Mary's Abbey (1415), Sheep Gate (ruins of the gateway to the town), 13th century Newtown Abbey, St Peter's Bridge (one of the oldest in Ireland), St Peter and Paul Cathedral and 19th Century St Patrick's Cathedral with a 15th century tower. There are a variety of other historic ruins in the countryside surrounding trim to consider if you have more time. The close proximity of a lot of interesting heritage sites makes Trim a great base for exploring the area (and it is only 30 miles from Dublin).

We departed Trim enroot to Dublin for the last two nights of our trip. We dropped our rental car off at the airport and took an express bus that dropped us off right by our hotel (you can choose from the Aircoach or the 747 bus among other options for transport into Dublin City Center). I am not a huge fan of big cities, but I have to say I genuinely enjoyed Dublin. It is a vibrant, clean big city with interesting sites and a host of genealogical resources to investigate! A walking tour of Dublin takes in sites such as the "Turning Darkness into Light Exhibit." (you can see how ancient manuscripts were created), view the Book of Kells (8th century manuscript) in the Trinity Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin Castle (700 year old castle and historic site of English Rule- My husband had a great tour of this Castle while I was in the National Library doing research), Old Parliament House, Dublin City Hall, Christ Church Cathedral (tomb of the legendary Strongbow), Kilmainham Gaol (British Prison that housed political prisoners, now a museum), O'Connell Bridge, a stroll down O'Connell Street (dotted with statues of those honored for their role in Ireland's fight to achieve independence), The Garden of Remembrance honoring those who sacrificed in the 1916 Uprising and eventual independence, St Mary's Pro-Cathedral (1821), The General Post Office where the Proclamation of Independence was read and subsequent siege (bullet holes area visible in the pillars of this building), the shopping district along Grafton Street, National Museum, Ha'penny Bridge, Temple Bar District with shops, restaurants and colorful pubs with great traditional music (this place really comes alive on weekend nights), the Guiness Storehouse and St Patrick's Cathedral. Keep in mind that the Temple Bar District has the vibe of a being a more touristy area (places we traditionally tend to avoid). We did enjoy the area; however, and felt quite safe in the environs.

I spent 6 1/2 hours between the National Library of Ireland and the Valuation office and I could have done research there for a week or two and just skimmed the surface! For Genealogical research there is the National Library of Ireland, The Genealogical Office (pedigrees, coat of arms, the more affluent Irish records are housed here), the National Archives (with land, probate, census returns among other records, Valuation Office (with Griffith's Valuation Cancelled Books, General Register Office (vital records are kept here such as Births, Deaths, Marriages), Registry of Deeds, Ordinance Survey Office (with the 6 inch ordinance survey maps) and a host of other smaller collections of genealogical records. The next day we returned to Dublin airport for our trip home to the United States.

A trip to Ireland is one that everyone would enjoy, whether you have Irish Ancestors or not. It is a diverse country filled with colorful towns, friendly people and an abundance of sites that will more than fill a two-week trip (and sadly there will be many things you will have to leave off your itinerary because of time constraints). I used to think I should wait to go to Ireland until I was certain of the specific Civil Parish and Townland origins of my County Mayo and County Roscommon ancestors, but this trip showed me otherwise. There is a perspective you get from exploring the countryside and experiencing the distance between locales, seeing the diverse terrain and important sites of Irish history; just meeting the people and immersing yourself in their culture, that gives you insight you couldn't obtain any other way. I have read countless great books on Ireland that have given me a sense of what Ireland is all about, but as Betty, the Director of our Local Family History Center (with Irish ancestors) told me "You just really have to trod on the sod!" I couldn't agree more.