travelgirl magazine July 2007

Editorial Written by Stephanie Abrams

Abrams 411 - Travel to the Past to Witness the Future!

Let me whisk you off to a place that will plunge you into the past with a vantage point to see the future! Woven into the loose threads of this historic tapestry are the contributions of Americans and the great affection for them from express by the locals that will open your eyes to a newly emerging bright future for people with a strong US connection. The place is the great island of Ireland defined as The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland where history is both remembered and in the making every day. Pick up your passport and come-as-you-are to join me now on an itinerary that will touch your heart and capture your imagination in a way that is as unique as the place itself.

If you've never been to Ireland, it may be because you have the impression that there is a lot of grass, beautiful scenery, lovely people, golfing everywhere and pubs galore but not much that would interest you unless you're tracing your own family roots. That's probably one of the greatest misconceptions about the destination which is probably perpetuated by so many brochures that highlight photos of stretches of desolate grassy areas backing up to the sea or mountains. While these photos are charming, many potential visitors looking at them often determine that there just isn't enough to see and do to provide the level of excitement, entertainment, and experiences they seek in a holiday abroad. I'm here to tell you that Ireland and Northern Ireland present the most incredible combination of powerful natural beauty, incredible historic sites, an amazingly warm, welcoming and friendly population whose history of hardships and struggles makes one ponder how, as a people, they have emerged with smiles, strong positive attitudes, faith in the future and preserving spirits, where music, dance, literature, poetry, art and architecture are inherent to the Irish experience that touches the heart of every visitor!

Let me take you to some of my favorite places on the Stephanie Abrams Leprechaun Tour, led by Herself the Elf, that you need to put on your MUST VISIT list where the past and the future merge for the travelgirl with an adventurous spirit! I promise that you will return from your journey enhanced, enriched, uplifted and inspired, even if you don't play golf, and planning your next trip to the Emerald Isle before you've even departed for home!

I'm convinced that one of the reasons that 85% of visitors to Ireland from North America spend their time in County Dublin and County Cork is that they fly roundtrip Dublin and only spend a week in Ireland which means they can't get very far with so much to see and do in those regions. While my suggestions below include Dublin and its environs, to get to some of the other places on the west coast and the north west of Ireland, ask your travel agent about being creative with your flight plans. Think about fly into Shannon Airport or Knock International Airport on the west coast of Ireland and flying home from Belfast or Dublin so that you don't have to back-track. Also, note that new service from NYC's JFK Airport and from Boston's Logan International Airport is now available on Scottish airline Globespan ( where low-cost economy and upgraded classes of service are available economically to Knock Airport which is located midway between Galway and Donegal on Ireland's west coast putting you in a great spot to start your journey. You can weave any and all of the places below into your travels regardless of your arrival and departure airports and the villages and towns you find en route between the places listed below are part of the joy of the discovery of Ireland.

1) Arriving in Shannon: For 6 Euros(about $8.00) you can take a shuttle bus from Shannon Airport to the town of Ennis, multiple-time winner of the Tidiest Towns in Ireland award. Have the driver drop you at the Temple Gate Hotel, an oasis of warmth and hospitality where the Maddon family. This is a great spot to base yourself to visit this town where you'll be in the center of all the winding streets filled with boutique shops and historic building. A newly constructed highway has been built that bypasses so watch carefully for the signage to direct you because you don't want to miss this Irish storybook town. Temple Gate Hotel, once a convent, lies in a courtyard behind the main shopping street so access to town is literally steps away. When you arrive, have a hearty Irish breakfast or lunch in their Bistro and meander throught he windy streets of the town. If you enjoyed the film, “84 Charring Cross Road,” you'll want to visit Sean Spellisy's Book Store on the main shopping street in Ennis. Sean has written many books on County Clare so if you have any question on the area, he's got your answers! After a good night's sleep, you'll be fresh and ready to take on the day!

2) Now it's time to pick up a car: Take off to explore some wonderful places in the region. I recommend Dooley Car Rentals which is the only independent car rental company in Ireland, a family-owned and operated business that treats you like a family member! They have whatever kind of vehicle you need, have car rental locations at every airport and offices all over Ireland and their fees include everything except the gas you'll put in your car so you won't get slam-dunked by being told one price and finding out that the rates are dramatically higher when various surcharges are added in! You can find them at or reach their US office at 800-331-9301. You'll find Ennis a convenient spot to stay for 2 or 3 nights while you visit Limerick, Foynes, Bunratty and the Cliffs of Moher as well so that you don't need to pack and move each day and here's what you'll find there: In Limerick a 15 minute drive from Ennis, visit the Castle of King John in the middle of town which houses amazing ancient Roman ruins in its lower level. You'll also find in Limerick a reproduction of the childhood hovel inhabited by the McCourt family. You'll remember the story of poverty, hardship and despair from Frank McCourt's book that was made into the film, "Angela's Ashes."

3) The Foynes Flying Boat Museum in Foynes, Ireland links the past and present. You'll find Foynes across an inslet from Shannon Airport and there is actually a ferry that will take your car across for this enjoyable way to reach Foynes. But a 30 minute drive around the shore line will bring you there as well. I'm going to guess that most travelgirls have no idea where Foynes is nor what the Flying Boat is but I'll bet a Bailey's on the rocks that every travelgirl has heard of Irish Coffee! Foynes is where Irish Coffee was created by the bartender, Joe Sheridan, at Foynes Airport, which was Shannon Airport before they moved it a to the north side of the inlet. Since the flyingboat landed in water, the passengers were often damp and cold on arrival so Joe fixed them up with "a little something" that he drank to keep warm on a cold night. The passengers were particularly pleased, asked Joe if the taste was the result of rich Brazilian coffee beans and Joe replied, "No, it's Irish Coffee." The legend of this special flavorful coffee spread and a NYTimes journalist went to Foynes to find out more about the coffee. He wrote a story about it on his return which led to the owner of the Buena Vista Cafe, located at the cable car's turn-around at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, going to Foynes to meet Joe and offering him an opportunity to work for him. Incredibly, Irish Coffee has become a household word in the US while the Flying Boat and Foynes Ireland are still a well-kept secret that every travelgirl needs to know about!

The Flying Boat, an aircraft built by Boeing in Seattle in the 1930's and 40's, flew from NYC's Laguardia Airport to Newfoundland, Canada and then onward to Foynes, Ireland. At the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, you'll see an actual reproduction of a Flying Boat installed in a pool of water to give you the sense of what the experience was like to see the aircraft docked. This plane whose underbody was built like the hull of a ship because it could takeoff and land only on water, carried at maxiumum about 30 people, each having their own sleeping berth, and each dining on fine linens with crystal, china and silverware in grand style and you can board the pland, walk around and see for yourself because great care was taken to amass original equipment to recreate this experience for you. The actress, Maureen O'Hara, whose classic film, The Quiet Man, with John Wayne, was filmed in Ireland, was married to Captain Charles Blair who was a pilot for the Flying Boat. The aircraft, which came in various sizes, was operated by American Overseas Airways, the precursor to American Airlines, British Overseas Airways Corporation which became British Airways, and flew as the Pan Am Clipper. You'll find fabulous memorabilia and photos of the rich and famous you'll recognize who flew into Foynes until the early 1950's.

Margaret O'Shaughnessy, the travelgirl founder of the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, who raised 2 million euros to make this museum a reality, will tell you that, "Anybody who was ANYBODY who was coming to Europe would have been found on the manifest list." That included statesmen, politicians, actors and actresses and celebrities of all varieties. JFK, upon his graduation from Harvard in 1939, flew on the Flying Boat to Ireland to visit his grandfather Patrick Kennedy's homestead which you can visit as well in your travels. It's a bit off the beaten track but it's worth the time to connect with this humble abode and feel the uniqueness of the Irish-American connection and contribution while standing at the gate of this home juxtaposing in your mind the vision of this little house and the White House and driving home the message of the proverb, "From little acorns, big oaks grow."

5) Now it's time for us to head north so grab your map. Remember: keep the white line in the road next to your right shoulder as you drive. That's the key to making sure you're driving on the left side which becomes a little tricky when you make a turn. White line next to right shoulder!

First stop in our journey northward along the west coast of Ireland is at the brand new Visitors Centre at the Cliffs of Moher. They've done a wonderful job of building the center and the car parks carved into the backs of the hillsides so when you approach you only see the grassy rolling hills and your view is not interrupted by the facilities, the motorcoaches and cars of visitors. As you enter the Visitors Centre's exhibition hall, you have the illusion of walking through water to reach the exhibits that provide insights into this special attraction.

What's a trip without shopping! You'll find Galway conveniently located on your drive northward. Park your car in the downtown shopping area and walk and walk and walk through the open-air mall created by a wide walkway lined with shops. Amid the boutiques that line the walkway, you'll find the jewelry store where the famous Irish Claddagh Ring was first created by the jeweler there. The ring symbolized love, friendship and loyalty as symbolized by two hands holding a heart which is topped by a crown. If you can buy your special someone a Claddagh Ring at this shop, it will make the experience even more memorable. You'll also find the St. Nicholas Collegiate Church in Galway, a Protestant Church with a clock steeple. There are clocks on three sides of the steeple but the fourth side, which faces the traditionally Catholic community, has no clock which gave rise to the expression, "They won't even give us the time of day!"

My recommendation for your splurge is to stay at Glenlo Abbey in Bushy Park, just two miles from Galway, where you'll find a championship golf course on property, a restaurant behind the historic abbey-hotel built into retired train cars including the one used in the Agatha Chistie film, "Murder on the Orient Express," and the charm and warmth of the Bourke family to make sure your expectations are exceeded by their service and offerings.

So few Americans make their way to the North West region of Ireland! If you fly roundtrip Dublin and you only have a week, you probably won't get toCounty Donegal because you just won't have the time! Lucky for you, you now have three ways to find yourself closer to the North West on your arrival into Ireland: 1) you can fly to Belfast and you're about 2 hours from Donegal; 2) arrive into Shannon and you're about 2 1/2 hours to Donegal; 3) arrive into Ireland West Knock Airport and you're halfway between Galway and Donegal making it a 45 minute country drive! Incredibly, when you land in Ireland West Knock Airport, you can pick up your Dooley Car Rental right there, drive for miles on country roads before you ever encounter another car and within ten minutes you'll be at your first significant attraction in Ireland which is the Knock Shrine. This shrine is the second most important after Lourdes, France, where many people saw the same vision of angels and the Virgin Mary hovering above them at the same time. The Knock Shrine, the Knock Folk Museum depicts the story of 19th Century rural Ireland and tells the story of the Apparition seen in Knock are worth a visit!

You'll find the coastline of The West and the North West of Ireland a photographers paradise. The waves are incredible and are occasionally as high as 40 feet!
Surfing grew up along the coastline and you can take surfing lessons for beginners of all ages at the Fin McCool Surf School in Rossnawlagh in County Donegal located on a beautiful stretch of the North Atlantic coastline and run by its founder, Irish Surfing Champion, Neil Britton, whose family owns the wonderful Sandhouse Hotel that dominates a gorgeous stretch of beach in Rossnawlagh.

This year, County Donegal, is celebrating the 400th anniversary of an event called the Fleeing of the Earls. Simultaneously, we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Virginia colony of Jamestown. Unless you were a history major or have a special interest in Irish and English history, you're probably not aware that after the Pilgrims and Puritans left England in search of a location that would be tolerant of differences in religious doctrines, those who were left behind were not all happy campers. In Ireland, the imposition of English law under Oliver Cromwell included execution of anyone caught teaching Catholic children to read and write, the taking of lands, homes, castles of the aristocracy of Ireland, and the replacement in Irish ancestral homes for the most part with Scotsman, a period referred to as The Plantation Period in which other people were "planted" on the homesteads of Irishmen. Not to be daunted, "Hedge School" sprout up in wooded, sequesterd areas heavily shrouded by hedges, dotting the country, providing hiding places for teachers determined to provide educational opportunities to Catholic children, where they taught their lessons using natural slate slabs for blackboards and soft stones to write their lessons. (If you'd like to visit a replica of a Hedge School, check out the Lullymore Heritage Park and Folk Village in Lullymore, Ireland).

While many left England to form the Jamestown, Virginia colony in 1607, the Earls of the North West, contacted the King of Spain, also a Catholic, to ask for refuge and assistance. One hundred earls and their families, including the O'Donnells, Maguires, O'Neills and others, made their way from Donegal Castle in Donegal Town, southward on a march to a port where a ship would take them to Spain. This year, throughout the summer and into the fall, there is an event every day in the West and North West of Ireland to celebrate and commemorate the Fleeing of the Earls which will culminate in the recreation of the march from Donegal to the port from which they sailed, complete with costumed participants, horses and wagons, recreated as they would have looked in 1607! Ponder this: if the Earls of Ireland had sailed for America, instead of Spain, they probably would have taken stone from the earth and built castle homes here reminiscent of their family homes, establishing an artistocracy of Irishmen in the New World. Had that happened, the Irish who arrived in the US during the potato famine, who predominently came from County Donegal and County Mayo, the hardest hit areas during that period, would have had a cushion of ensconced extended family here to ease their assimilation. I highly recommend that you visit Donegal Castle, the town of Donegal, and then drive along the coastline just minutes away to experience the power of the Atlantic's crashing wave at the base the cliffs you'll find there which are the highest cliffs in Western Europe measuring twice the height of the Cliffs of Moher! You can experience the view from the top by driving to the upper parking lot where you can leave your car and walk for about 45 mintues to the pinnacle for an even more spectacular view. . .or you can park the car, have a good look, snap photos of local sheep who will drop by to visit with you, and drive back down! Ah, County Donegal. . .something for everybody! And, clearly, it appealled to Sarah Jessica Parker who bought a house in Donegal to have a quiet place of beauty in an incredible location.

You're now in the perfect place for moving on to Derry, Northern Ireland. If you check a map, you'll probably find the city noted as Londonderry and therein lies a story worth retelling! Those who live in Protestant neighborhoods have continued to refer to their town as Londonderry while those in Catholic neighborhoods call their city Derry. Red,white and blue striped curbs and poles mark the Protestant sectors while green, white and orange signify the demarkation of the Catholic neighborhoods. For an American, this is a painful sight. But for some years now, peace has worked its wonders on the townspeople who appreciate the quality of life that peace brings. Going to Derry City, as it is called on Mayor Councillor Helen Quigley's business card, plunges the travelgirl into the junction of a strife-torn past and the promise of an enduring peace continuing into the future. To bring the history of Derry to life in a meaningful way, contact City Tours at If you can get Martin McCrossan, the company's proprietor, to be your tour guide, ask him to share some of his personal experiences growing up in Derry. The city is dotted with build-sized murals depicting the past problems of the city. Originally painted in black-white-and-shades-of-gray in the style of a photograph, the photos are now being repainted in full color to symbolize the current peace and hopes for a sustained peace of the future. With the historic announcements made in March, 2007 and the historic public handshake of Bertie Ahern and Ian Paisly confirming the path to the future of sustained peace in Northern Ireland and its relationship with the Republic of Ireland, visiting the city of Derry completes the travelgirl's meaningful understanding of centuries of hardship past and a bright future for the children of all who suffered during the past.

Only two miles outsnide of the downtown area of Derry, you'll find a rustic, countryside area with a three lakes and ponds, a waterwheel, gardens and a lovely and peaceful hotel called the Beech Hill House Hotel. You'll find an amazing US connection there because, before it was purchased by Patsy O'Kane and her family and turned into a charming hotel that has attracted such well-known Americans as US Senator Ted Kennedy, former Preisdent Bill Clinton and US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the house was the used during WWII from 1942 to 1944 as the Headquarter for the offiicers of the US Marines who were stationed in Derry as a strategic point to target the Nazi U-boats that penetrated the waters around Derry and Northern Ireland. You'll find a room at Beech Hill House Hotel devoted to US Marine photos, documents and memorabilia and a monument in the garden opposite the entrance commemorating the US Marine and their contribution to the war effort in Ireland.

You can't miss the greatness that abounds as you travel through Ireland. Everywhere you look, you'll see castles, manor houses, gardens, ancient ruins, darling towns, cliffs, mountains, valleys, rivers, golf courses, boat trips to the islands off the coastlines, pubs with cozy peat-burning fireplaces and traditional Irish music played by local musicians, museums filled with ancient books and paintings by famous Irish artists, and the regions that influenced the writings of great Irish authors like Oscar Wilde and Yates. But you'll also have the opportunity to appreciate the work of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, John Hume, a resident of Derry whose civil rights activism and efforts to find a peaceful solution to the difficulties in Northern Ireland are the on-going legacy for those who live in Northern Ireland today. While you feel the ever-enveloping greatness of the past in your travels through Ireland and Northern Ireland, you cannot ignore the sense of being in the presence of greatness in the presence as you experience the intangible electricity of generated by the people who are living in an incredible moment in history.

From Derry, you're only 30 minutes from Belfast where you can visit the museum devoted to the story of the Titanic, which was built at a Belfast shipyard, and the beautiful Botanical Gardens across the road from there. Both are on the outskirts of Belfast which gives you a bit of quietude from the bustling city. Drive about 30 minutes north of Belfast and you'll be at Giants Causeway, a MUST VISIT for every travelgirl. Wear your most comfortable walking shoes and bring your camera with lots of space for those digital shots you're going to want to take from every angel and height! You are in for an amazing experience walking as far as you'd like onto the rock formations that will remind you of the crystal shapes at the beginning of the Superman film! Perfectly formed by nature, octagons, hexagons, pentagons, from 2 feet to 30 feet high, stretching for miles, inviting you to walk on them, stand, sit, relax and contemplate the wonders that you'll find in thincredibile place. If you're looking for a hotel in Belfast that provides an elegant respite in a quiet street, choose The Merchant Hotel. Once the Ulster Bank, the hotel's dining room, once the main banking floor, is as ornate as some of the chateaux you'll find in France! Marble columns abound topped by carved cherubs draped in gilt with carved ropes of flowers and fruit bordering the two-strory high ceiling. Banquets of red velvet complete the feeling you have of having stepped into a Victorian valentine. The guest rooms, former bank offices, are stylishly comfortable in the fashion of a trendy boutique hotel with sumptuous bedding and marble bathrooms. Much to the management's credit, the hotel, while barely a year old, gives the impression that it has been in operation providing elegant accommodations for at least a century!

From Belfast, complete your inspirational journey by traveling about 30 minutes to County Down where, in the town of Downpatrick, you'll find the Saint Patrick Centre, a unique interactive attraction that tells the story of Patrick in his own words, taken from his book, The Confession. Done with 21st century technology and graphics, including an Imax theatre presentation about Ireland, you'll find the story of Patrick's entry into Ireland as a slave and his impact on Ireland and the world inspiring. On the hillside behind the Saint Patrick Centre, you'll find Down Cathedral where you can visit the gravesite where three saints are buried: Saint Patrick, St. Brigit, and St. Colomkille. It is with humility that I received the Honorary Friend of Saint Patrick award this year on Saint Patrick's Day at the Saint Patrick Centre. Two people are chosen to receive this award yearly. This year, I'm proud to share this honor with Ken Livingston, Mayor of London, England. To continue the sense of history, tradition and elegance, stay at the Slieve Donard Hotel. My reaction to seeing the mansion in the film,"Gosford Park," was similar to my first impression of the Slieve Donard. The architecture and majesty of the building is nothing short of awe inspiring! The hotel backs up to the Royal County Down Golf Course and they've added an impressive spa to the services they offer travelers. The hotel lies on the shore of Strangford Lough at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne completing the idyllic setting.

At this point, you are a two-hour drive to Dublin! On the way there, be sure to stop to visit Newgrange, a 5,000 year old structure built into a mound that uniquely rivals Stonehenge in its importance as a historic structure. Then continue on to Dublin to complete your historic journey with a visit to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College, some serious shopping on Grafton Street, and a stop at Shannighan's Oval Office Bar for a pint and taste of Americana! You'll find yourself surrounded by framed pictures and memorabilia related to American presidents of Irish descent or whose endeavors had a positive impact on Ireland. You'll find JFK's famous rocking chair in a prominent spot behind the bar at Shannighan's and a large photo of JFK sitting in that very rocker placed so that you have the impression that JFK is sitting in the chair in the bar with you! To get you ready for your return trip, step into the future with a stay at Dublin's whimsical hotel right out of Alice in Wonderland, The Morgan Hotel, located in the happening Temple Bar section next to the Hard Rock Cafe. For a quick getaway on your day of departure from Dublin, consider staying outside of Dublin near the airport to beat the traffic. A good bet for a whimsical stay is The Beacon Hotel in Sandyford which is in easy access to Dublin Airport. If you want to keep the flavor of your historic journey down to the last night, you'll be able to make your morning flight with an early start if you stay at Fitzpatrick Castle in County Dublin's Kiliney.

If you have more time to spend in Ireland, head southward through Waterford, Cork and Killarney and wend your way back to the west coast to fly home from Shannon or Knock International Airports. We'll take the ultimate tour of Dublin, the South and the Midlands of Ireland in another issue! Clearly, you can't see Ireland in one week or one trip! Each region has so much to offer that's you'll want to see it indepth before moving on

• Be sure to visit my award-winning website, and for travel tips, travel news and information and scheduled guests on my radio shows!> • July 2007

Gotta Fly Now! sm
Stephanie Abrams

Other TravelGirl Editorials by Stephanie Abrams:

March 2006, Spring Time Travel

May 2006 (coming soon)

September 2006, Castle Hopping

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Stephanie Abrams, recognized as a leading radio travel expert and as one of the "100 Most Powerful Women in /travel," is host of the weekly Travel WITH Stephanie Abrams, heard coast-to-coast on the Business Talk Radio Network and appears weekly on radio's nationally syndicated, "Traveling Feet!" Visit Abrams' award-winning website and Stephanie welcomes travelgirls' travel questions at