Ireland is unique in all its aspects

By Frankie Tutt

Reflecting on a week just spent in Ireland I keep returning to a high point which was
totally unexpected. I hadn't realized how marvelous it would be to visit a foreign
country where English is the native tongue.

In the last 35 years I've traveled the world nearly always to places where some English is spoken, but in the background there are always other languages. Someone is always saying something or I'm trying to read something that I don't quite understand even though I speak several foreign languages.

Ireland was so easy - so welcoming. I even understood the money! I expected the Irish to be welcoming, fun loving and gracious. I wasn't disappointed.

My Brendan Tour began in Chicago where I boarded an Aer Lingus flight to Shannon. Greeted by guide Willie and his brother Martin, our driver, I knew we were in for a treat. These two should appear in an ad for handsome Irish men. Their competence even exceeded their good looks.

December wouldn't have been my choice for an Irish visit, but again I was surprised. The Gulf Stream currents bless Ireland with a temperate climate. We arrived before the first frost to enjoy gardens still graced with fragrant roses and head heavy hydrangeas tinged in purplish hues. Window boxes cascaded colors down cozy cottage walls. We stayed to see frosted fields and hedge rows glistening in the rising sun. Snuggled in their woolen blankets, sheep blended into icy fields on a clear crisp morning. Hillside cottages, their chimney spirals emanating from rosy peat below, seemed to snuggle into the landscape.

We enjoyed 7 rain free days, brilliant blue skies, craggy castle walls, and undulating verdant terrain. From our comfortable coach we covered much of southwestern Ireland - Blarney, Limerick, Tralee, the Dingle Peninsula, Castles and Keeps, pubs and mills, shops and more shops, ending in Dublin.

Each day seemed to hold just the right amount of organized sightseeing. Willie fed us fact and folklore, legend and limericks. We gobbled it up asking endless questions. Ever jolly Willie ammended our itinerary to include our requests and energetically filled our days with endless delights. One afternoon he read us a beautiful Irish legend - often we nodded off so confident were we in Martin's navigational skills. Brendan coaches are the best. I'm terribly spoiled. For a week I never lifted a bag or made a decision harder than what to eat for dessert.

Our accommodations were luxurious. Arriving our first evening at Dormoland Castle was like stepping onto a movie set. Shooters returning from the hunt sported tweeds and boots. Brittany spaniels, tails wagging, signaled the success of the day. Across the grounds ring-necked pheasants strutted along fairways as golfers completed their rounds. Swans floated on the lake, mallards called to mates. Alone I walked the paths of a walled garden - for the moment, my own secret garden. Each day left time to explore on one's own. I took a book to read but never opened it. Each moment was a delight. Each night I fell into bed and slept deeply til aroused by the wake-up call.

Irish cuisine was another unexpected treat - meals were tasty, innovative and too plentiful - I love Irish butter! We ate far too much, shopped to excess and agreed we'd never had more fun. We forged new friendships with our tour group.

About the size of Maine, Ireland is 302 miles from north to south and 171 miles from east to west. You're never more than 75 miles from some coastline and every major city sits on a river. This makes the Emerald Isle easy to navigate though I think exploring just one county might suffice - so rich are they in scenery, history and tradition. Ireland has 32 counties, so 32 weeks might be enough! The unique Irish way of life is contagious - one might just be tempted to stay. Though the friendliness of the Irish is well known, their genuine warmth, rare openness and absence of inhibition is charming.

Charming too are Irish villages. Like crayons in my crayola set, the Irish store fronts and pubs brighten the village streets. Jewel-like colors sparkle from signs. Adare has to be one of Irelands' prettiest villages. Its cozy cottages are trimmed in primary colors while stucco walls and thatched roofs make every property a Kodak moment. Adare Manor is also one of Irelands most awesome accommodations. In just 4 hours I used 4 rolls of film. I did the same thing at Bunratty Castle and folk village. I know my efforts won't do justice to a destination that just has to be seen firsthand.

No account of an Irish visit would be complete without mention of Irish entertainment. From traditional folk music and dancing to medieval ballads and rollicking pub songs - I loved it all. As uninhibited as our hosts, we joined in song and clapped and danced til our cheeks were rosy. Though I rarely consume alcohol, Irish coffee, hot mulled wine, even Guiness warmed my spirits and improved my voice. Merrily we raised our glasses and voices. In Ireland all eyes are smiling.

Photo: Ireland's Adare Village, "like crayons in my crayola set".

(Editor's note: Frankie Tutt's travel articles will be a regular feature on The Senior Information Network. If you wish, you can contact her at Charlie Brown's Goodtime Travel, Colorado Springs, CO  (719) 635-8992 ext. 138.)