Ireland: Legacies & Landscapes

Detailed Itinerary

Saturday & Sunday, June 11 & 12, 2016: Depart Home | Arrive Dublin, Ireland | Trim, County Meath
Depart the U.S. on independent flights to Dublin, Ireland, arriving on June 12th. Upon arrival you will be met at Dublin airport and transferred to our hotel in Trim. Meet our tour leaders, who will be accompanying you throughout your journey, and take a gentle walk through the medieval streetscape of Trim town. Once Ireland’s medieval capital, today Trim is one of Ireland’s most prominent heritage towns, boasting more upstanding medieval ruins than any other town in Ireland. The town is dominated by Trim Castle, the largest and best preserved Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland, built in A.D. 1174. During our walk, we will venture inside this 20-sided castle, view its defensive towers and residential areas, and learn more about life under Anglo-Norman rule in Ireland in the 12th and 13th centuries. Gather for an early reception and welcome dinner at our hotel. Overnight at the Trim Castle Hotel for three nights. (L,R,D)

Monday, June 13: Trim | Newgrange | Knowth | Hill of Slane | Trim
Begin the day with a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Brú na Bóinne, where we will enjoy the Visitor Centre’s wonderful exhibits and audiovisual presentation, and have an independent lunch. We will be joined by Professor Muiris O’Sullivan, an archaeologist and leading expert in Neolithic art, as we visit the megalithic passage tombs at Newgrange and Knowth, dating back to about 3200 B.C. Newgrange is the largest passage mound in Europe, covering more than an acre and enclosing an astronomically aligned, 20-yard-long inner passage leading to a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof. The Great Mound at Knowth is similar in size to Newgrange and surrounded by 18 smaller satellite mounds; both sites contain the finest megalithic art in Europe. This afternoon we will travel into the heart of the Boyne Valley to visit Boyne Valley Wools, a traditional wool craft shop just a stone’s throw from the Neolithic monuments of Brú na Bóinne. Here we will see the flock of Jacob sheep and visit the craft studio to experience the process of spinning sheep’s wool. Then travel the short distance to the charming village of Slane, near the Hill of Slane. Tradition holds that St. Patrick lit a Pascal (Easter) fire here in A.D. 433 to proclaim Christianity throughout Ireland. The Hill of Slane is the focus of a community archaeology project led by Dr. Conor Brady of Dundalk Institute of Technology, who will join us to outline the results of the project to date and plans for further research. (B,D)

Tuesday, June 14: Trim | Hill of Tara | Blackfriary Community Heritage and Archaeology Project, Trim
This morning we visit one of Ireland’s most iconic archaeological landscapes, the Hill of Tara. Although best known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, the Hill of Tara has been an important site since the Neolithic Period. The Mound of the Hostages (a passage tomb) was constructed in or around 3000-2500 B.C., and in the early Christian period Tara was the political and religious center of Ireland. Return to Trim for lunch, and our guide will give a brief presentation on the multi-award winning Blackfriary Community Heritage and Archaeology Project before our visit there. The site is the location of the ruins of a Dominican Friary founded in the 13th century. The project consists of two main components: the preservation of the archaeological and architectural heritage through excavation within the framework of a comprehensive research program, and facilitating the creation of a space in which this can be interpreted and enjoyed by present and future generations. We will meet the archaeologists excavating and visit the site’s post-excavation facilities to see what has been discovered and the processes used to record artifacts and findings. Weather permitting, we will travel to the nearby ruins of Bective Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1147 by Murchadh O' Melaghin, then King of Meath. Many of the buildings still survive, including substantial portions of the cloister. We will be joined at dinner by author and expert on medieval Trim Dr. Michael Potterton (National University of Ireland, Maynooth), who will give a short lecture on the medieval history of Trim. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, June 15: Trim | Enniskillen, Northern Ireland | Boa Island | Donegal
We check out of our hotel this morning and depart Trim, traveling northwest to Donegal. Along the way we will stop for lunch in the historic town of Enniskillen, set in the heart of Ireland’s northwestern Drumlin country, which was shaped by the glaciers of the last ice age. The town's oldest upstanding building is the Maguire's stone castle, built by Hugh the Hospitable who died in 1428. During the Williamite wars, Enniskillen and Derry were the two garrisons in Ulster that were not wholly loyal to James II, and it was the last town to fall before the siege of Derry. As a direct result of this conflict, Enniskillen developed not only as a market town but also as a garrison, home to two regiments. After lunch we continue onwards to Donegal via Boa Island. Two anthropomorphic carved stone statues called the “Boa Island figure” and the “Lustymore Island figure” (generally accepted to be the likenesses of pagan deities) are now found together in Caldragh graveyard on Boa, which dates from the Irish early Christian period (A.D. 400–800). Check in to our Donegal hotel and have dinner. Overnight at the Mill Park Hotel for two nights. (B,L,D)

Thursday, June 16: Donegal | Sliabh Liag Cliffs | Glencolmcille | Donegal
This morning we will journey into the west of County Donegal to embark on a boat trip to see the magnificent Sliabh Liag Cliffs, the highest sea cliffs in Europe at 1,972 feet. The boats are frequently joined by wildlife such as dolphins, whales, seals, and (in May and June) basking sharks feeding on plankton. There is also a wide range of bird life that can be seen nesting and hunting. Gleann Cholm Cille (Glencolmcille) is a coastal district in the southwest Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area) of County Donegal. St. Colm Cille, or Columba, is one of Ireland's three patron saints (along with St. Patrick and St. Brigid), and St. Colm Cille and his followers lived in the valley for a time (the ruins of several of their churches can still be seen). However, the archaeology and history of the valley goes back thousands of years prior to the arrival of Colm Cille in the 5th century A.D., and there are a number of excellently preserved examples of Neolithic court tombs and portal tombs to be seen. (B,L,D)

Friday, June 17: Donegal | Sligo | Dromahair | Carrowmore | Sligo
After breakfast, check out of our hotel and travel south to County Sligo to meet local expert Sam Moore, a lecturer in Applied Archaeology at the nearby Sligo Institute of Technology. On this active and varied day we will see sites ranging from the Mesolithic to the Early Modern Periods, beginning with the wonderful medieval town of Dromahair, a picturesque village located where the River Bonet enters Lough Gill. There is a peaceful riverside walk which brings us to the ruins of Creevylea Abbey, a Franciscan Friary which was one of the last to be built in Ireland before the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. From Dromahair, travel the scenic route along the shores of Lough Gill to Parkes Castle, a 17th-century fortified manor house. This is the very heart of Yeats’s country, and you will see the Lake Isle of Innisfree, inspiration behind one of Yeats’s most famous poems. After lunch at a charming, traditional pub, explore the beachfront, where the constantly eroding sand dunes reveal new shell middens (prehistoric rubbish dumps) every season. See an enigmatic Neolithic passage tomb that was incorporated into a modern roundabout and adorned with Christian symbols in the 1970s. Our final visit of the day will be to one of Sam Moore’s research areas, Carrowmore, Ireland’s largest cemetery of megalithic tombs, with monuments ranging from 5,500 to 6,500 years old. More than 60 tombs have been recorded, of which 30 are visible. Overnight in Sligo at the Cromleach Lodge Country House Hotel. (B,L,D)

Saturday, June 18: Sligo | Clonmacnoise | Birr | Limerick
Depart Sligo this morning and continue our journey southwards, along the route of the River Shannon, the longest river in the British Isles. Pass its largest lake, Lough Ree, and Athlone town, arriving at the Early Christian site of Clonmacnoise. The monastery was founded in the 6th century by St. Ciaran at an ancient crossroads where the River Shannon and Esker Way meet; the ancient east/west land route in Ireland. By the 9th century, the monastery became a center of learning, craftsmanship, and trade, and it contains the remains of two round towers, high crosses, and several churches from the medieval period. Continue on to the heritage town of Birr, the geographical center of Ireland. Birr is recognized as a model Georgian town, but its origins lie much earlier. (A monastery was founded here by St. Brendan of Birr in the 6th century.) Birr is situated in the lordship of Ely O’Carroll and the O’Carroll family were overlords of the area until the early 17th century. Birr castle was a stronghold and it, together with several thousand acres of land, was granted by the English crown to Sir Laurence Parsons circa 1620. Parsons had an enormous influence on the pattern of town development and called Birr “the Manor of Parsonstown.” Within the grounds of the castle is the 19th-century "Great Telescope," or “Leviathan,” an astronomical telescope with a 72-inch reflector that was recently restored. Continue to Limerick and check in to our hotel. Overnight at the Savoy Hotel for three nights. (B,L,D)

Sunday, June 19: Limerick | The Burren | The Cliffs of Moher | Limerick
This morning we will be guided through the 40-square-mile Burren National Park in County Clare, renowned for its unusual geology and unique mixture of Arctic and Mediterranean flora. This limestone wonderland boasts archaeology from the Neolithic, early Christian, and early medieval periods (portal tombs, Celtic crosses, and a ruined Abbey). Our first stop will be at Hazel Mountain Chocolates, a stoneground chocolate factory, located at the foothills of the Burren, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. It is one of only a handful of boutique bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Europe, and was recently listed among the top ten food destinations in Ireland. Our 45-minute tour will take us through all the stages of chocolate making, followed by a tasting session. After a picnic lunch our journey will continue to the iconic Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland's most spectacular sights. Five miles long and 750 feet at their highest point, the Cliffs boast one of the most amazing views in Ireland. Time permitting, our last stop of the day will be Poulnabrone Dolmen, a dramatic Neolithic portal tomb. (B,L,D)

Monday, June 20: Limerick | Dingle Peninsula | Gallarus Oratory | Limerick
Today we travel to Dingle, where we will be joined by local archaeologist, historian, and traditional musician Dr. Billy Mag Fhlionn for a tour of the breathtaking Peninsula, where some of Ireland’s finest coastal scenery is found. This peninsula is famous for its Celtic and pre-Christian monuments and its Christian churches. It is also a ‘Gaeltacht' (Irish speaking) area, where the Irish language and traditional ways of life are preserved. Dingle town itself is a thriving fishing town with plentiful pubs, narrow streets, and a busy harbor. From Inch, a long beach bordered by dunes, we will admire the Iveragh Peninsula, and then continue around the coast to Slea Head, where the blue of the marine landscape surrounds the Blasket Islands, deserted since 1953. After lunch we will visit Gallarus Oratory, an impressive early Christian monument built in the shape of an upturned boat. With its small entrance doorway and round-headed east-facing window, it is an excellent example of dry stone construction. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, June 21: Limerick | Lough Gur | Rock of Cashel | Kilkenny
Today we depart Limerick after breakfast and visit Lough Gur, home to over 6,000 years of human activity and habitation. Visit the heritage center to learn about the lake’s botany, geology, zoology, and archaeology. Archaeological remains at the lake encompass human settlement from the Stone Age right through to the post-medieval period. Highlights include the Great Grange Stone Circle, Ireland’s largest stone circle, comprised of 113 standing stones; and the Early Christian Boland Island ‘Crannog’ (a man-made island that served as a defended island dwelling). After a picnic lunch on the lake shore, visit the beautiful Rock of Cashel. Possibly the most photographed site in Ireland, the Rock towers over the town of Cashel from its perch on a 200-foot-high limestone outcrop. Granted to the church in the 12th century by the O'Brien clan, today the impressive stone walls enclose a round tower, cathedral, 12th-century Romanesque chapel, and high crosses. The Vicars Choral was recently restored and its basement houses a small museum of artifacts found on the site. Continue eastwards from Cashel to the historic city of Kilkenny, and check in to our hotel. Overnight at Hotel Kilkenny. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, June 22: Kilkenny | Dublin
Kilkenny retains many buildings from the early centuries of its existence: the Round Tower at St. Canice’s Cathedral is at least 900 years old, the Talbot Tower was built around A.D. 1260, and there are five medieval churches dating from the 13th century. Rothe House is the best known of a series of merchants’ houses from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. This morning we will visit one of Ireland’s most instantly recognized buildings, Kilkenny Castle, built by the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century. The castle was remodeled in Victorian times and is set in extensive parklands. Due to major restoration works, the central block now includes a library, drawing room, and bedrooms decorated in 1830's splendor, as well as the beautiful Long Gallery. Enjoy a guided tour of the castle and the medieval town. After an independent lunch we continue on to Dublin, where we check in to our hotel in the city center. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Overnight at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel for two nights. (B)

Thursday, June 23: Dublin | National Museum | Trinity College | Dublin
This morning we enjoy a private, guided visit of the National Museum of Ireland with the museum’s former Assistant Keeper, Eamonn (Ned) Kelly. The museum houses artifacts found around Ireland that date from 7,000 B.C. onwards. Of particular note are the Broighter Hoard, Tara Brooch, Ardagh Chalice, Derrynaflan Hoard, and a number of bog bodies. After an independent lunch in the city, you may either choose to spend the afternoon at leisure for independent sightseeing or shopping, or join us to visit Trinity College, in the city center, where the famous 9th-century Book of Kells is on exhibit in the old (18th-century) library. Gather this evening for a celebratory farewell dinner. (B,D)

Friday, June 24: Dublin | Fly Home
Transfer to Dublin Airport for return flights home. (B)

If you have any additional questions, please email us at (and include your full name) or call us toll-free at (800) 748-6262 (toll: 603-756-2884).

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