Kildare, Ireland

Today we set off for the Irish National Stud and Gardens in County Kildare, south of Dublin. I was pleasantly surprised by the visit to the stud. It was an informative explanation of the breeding of racehorses. Horses born and bred here have won some of the world’s greatest races.  We saw some of the stallions that are resident at the stud. The premier stallion is Invincible Spirit (photo). He was not too great at winning races but he makes millions of euros every year in stud fees. He is a grandson of Northern Dancer, a famous Canadian bred horse.


The stud was originally started by Colonel William Hall Walker who also liked horticulture. He had lived in Japan and had a Japanese gardener who set up a Japanese Garden on the site. One follows a  journey of life through the rocks, trees and water as you progress through the garden. As the brochure states:  “After entering through the Gate of Oblivion and on through the Cave of Birth, The pilgrim Soul journeys on via a series of features including the Island of Joy and Wonder, the Well of Wisdom, The Bridge of Life and finally The Gateway to Eternity.”  I have been in many Japanese gardens but none quite like this.  However, it was fun to walk through and also very beautiful.


On the occasion of the Millennium a further garden was set up called St. Fiachra’s Garden.  It was named for St Fiachra, the patron saint of gardening.  It is said to aim to capture Ireland’s monastic movement of the 6th and 7th centuries by representing Ireland at its most raw and rugged state – their words not mine. Monastic cells of fissured limestone are set along the water and a statue of a contemplating monk is found sitting on a rock.



We then went on to Kildare where we  had a very spirited presentation on the Irish sport of Hurling which apparently is a national passion.  At its highest levels it is a professional game but the players only play for the love of the game and not for money. Apparently they don’t want the sport to be corrupted by commercial interests. Also, the players would never play for a team other than that of their hometown – trades would not be accepted.   Kildare also boasts a castle which I did not visit and St. Canice’s Cathedral which I did. The Cathedral dates from the 12th century and contains many interesting things which are explained in an excellent guide provided for a small entry fee. The most interesting thing to me was the tomb of one John, Bishop Kearney, Provost of Trinity College in 1799.  He was the great, great  grand uncle (6th generation) of President Barack Obama!


Lastly we had a short stop at Cahir later in the day. I walked around the town and took a few photos of the well preserved castle.


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Dublin, Ireland

I first visited Dublin on a cruise in the summer of 2012. Here is a link to my blog post of that visit:

On arrival from Glasgow yesterday, I walked around the lovely Georgian Squares near my hotel. This morning we had a panoramic tour of the city stopping at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (photo) and Trinity College (photos) where we had a tour of the university buildings guided by a student and then went to see the 9th century Book of Kells, a beautifully illuminated Irish medieval gospel manuscript.


In the afternoon, I took a tour to the ruins of the Glendalough Monastery, one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. This early Christian monastic settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century.  Our guide explained the history of the site and then left us to look around. I took the opportunity to take a 3 km walk to two scenic lakes in a national park adjacent to the property. Glendalough means “valley between the two lakes”. The photos below are of the gate, which is the only remaining gate of this age in Ireland, the remains of the Cathedral (11th or 12th c.),  St. Kevin’s Cross (6th or 7th c.), The Round Tower, which stands 30 m. high, St. Kevin’s Church (12th c.) and the Upper Lake.  The last photo is of some lovely green fields seen from the bus.

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Glen Coe, Loch Lomond and on to Glasgow, Scotland

Our first stop of the day on Saturday was Glen Coe. On 13 February 1692, 38 men, women and children of the MacDonald clan were murdered by a regiment of soldiers acting on behalf of the government, whom they had welcomed into their homes.  Because the soldiers were led by a Scottish General Campbell, it is often said to have been a clan war between the Campbells and MacDonalds.  It was in fact ordered on the grounds that the MacDonalds had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary.  Another forty women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned.



Later on we took a short cruise on Loch Lomond. We have been lucky with the weather when it is important and the photos show that we had a lovely sunny morning. 



The rain here has been fleeting. It is usually short heavy showers that last only a few minutes. We had one of these at Luss on the shore of Loch Lomond where we stopped for lunch. This is a pretty village of houses made of slate. They were originally occupied by slate workers. Now, the village survives on tourism.  The church was busy with weddings and at least one bride arrived in a horse drawn carriage.


Today in Glasgow, sI had a late start as local attractions open later on Sundays. I walked to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Mu​seum.  I really enjoyed this museum.  The galleries are modern and state of the art. Some of the displays are interactive and paintings are often displayed together with related historical artefacts. Not too far away are the Botanic Gardens which I visited after lunch. It had started raining but I restricted my visit to the garden’s extensive greenhouses which contained plants from all over the world. Below are photos of two carnivorous pitcher plants, beehive ginger and a curious cactus.


Later I visited the medieval Glasgow Cathedral which has been in constant use for worship for over 800 years. It is of great architectural and historic interest and it has one of the finest post-war collections of stained glass windows in Britain.


Tomorrow I am flying to Dublin for the start of a tour of Ireland.

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Isle of Skye, Scotland

Today was rainy and the mist hung low over the mountains for our visit to Skye.  We toured in the morning with a very good local guide. The focus of the tour was the landscape.

Skye, is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.  The island’s centre is dominated by the Cuillins which provide dramatic mountain scenery. According to our guide, there is no definitive agreement as to the origin of the name Skye. The island has been occupied since the Mesolithic period, and its early history includes a period of  Norse rule and a period of domination by the Clans McLeod and Donald which ended with the Jacobite risings, the clearances that replaced entire communities with sheep farms and forced emigrations to countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States.  As many as a third of the residents are Gaelic speakers and Gaelic culture remains important.  After touring Skye we made our way south to Ballachulish stopping en route at the Eilann Donan Castle. Tomorrow we go to Glasgow where this tour ends.

Photos in order are: Old Man of Storr, basaltic cliffs, heather, harbour at Portree, King Haakon’s Castle at Kyleakin, landscape, Eilean Donan Castle



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From Thurso to Skye

The day was spent on a very long drive in very rainy and misty weather from Thurso to the Island of Skye. The country roads were very narrow, often only one lane, but the countryside was beautiful even in the rain. We had a few photo stops and I attach some photos. Hopefully the weather will improve on Skye.


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A Day in the Orkney Islands


We started the day by driving to the most northerly town on the British mainland, John O’Groats. En route we passed Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the mainland (photo). We took a passenger ferry to the beautiful Orkney Islands Sightseeing with a Local Expert included visits to the 5,000-year-old village of Skara Brae, the mysterious Ring of Brodgar, and the small chapel built by Italian prisoners of war during WWII.  The weather today was the nicest we have had so far.

IMG_0007Dunnet Head

The Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae, near the Bay of Skaill, is one of the best preserved groups of prehistoric houses in Western Europe. Uncovered by a storm in 1850, it presents a remarkable picture of life around 5,000 years ago. The excellent visitor centre allows you to see what life would have been like in the  prehistoric village and to see ancient homes fitted with stone beds, dressers and seats. The walk around the ruins is very interesting and you can see the resemblance to the similar site in the Shetland Islands which I visited in 2015. Here is the link


Ring of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic henge and stone circle about 6 miles north-east of Stromness. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a series of important domestic and ritual monuments built 5000 years ago in the Orkney Islands.  It  comprises a massive stone circle, originally consisting of 60 stones of which 36 survive today, some13 prehistoric burial mounds  and a large rock-cut ditch surrounding the stone circle.


Before returning to Thurso on the ferry we saw the Italian chapel built by Italian prisoners of war during WW II..


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Culloden, Loch Ness and onto Thurso

We started the day by looking for the monster at L0ch Ness.  A sighting was made courtesy of one of our tour group!


We then went on to  Culloden Moor  where  Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army was finally crushed in 1746.  Prince Charles Stuart was the son of James the III and 8th who was exiled from England. The Jacobites were trying to restore the Stuart dynasty to the throne, occupied by George III. Those efforts ended in the bloody battle at Culloden. The visitor centre takes you through the entire  history of the  Jacobite cause. On 16 April 1746, the final Jacobite Rising came to a brutal head in one of the most harrowing battles in British history.  Jacobite supporters, gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s government troops. It was the last pitched battle on British soil and, in less than an hour, around 1,500 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites. Not all Scots were in support as we saw at Blair Castle where the family was split. One of the brothers died  on Culloden Moor (photo).   The visitor centre has a square room on which 4 screens are displayed. A  short movie depicting the battle is shown with troops from both sides on the screens and you the viewer are in the middle. The battle was quite bloody and women and children were among the victims. Prince Charlie escaped over to Skye and then to Europe where he lived out his days. 


Next, we followed the coast north to the fishing port of Wick where we had lunch. It is a small place and pays homage to people who emigrated to places such as Canada, the U.S. and Australia (photos).  We then visited the Old Pulteney Distillery to taste a wee dram of whisky and learn about the production of this national drink. The long day ended with some wonderful entertainment. The night was spent in the town of Thurso, which looks out over the Pentland Firth towards the ‘Old Man of Hoy’.


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