During breakfast, we watched as our ship pulled in to our berth in the busy container port of Dublin. Leaving the port area to begin our excursion, we crossed the River Liffey and could see to our left a suspension bridge shaped like an Irish harp. We drove south from the city along a coastal road for a while, passing residential areas and office buildings, with the ocean off to our left. Soon, we entered the M11 Motorway which was lined with neatly constructed granite walls, big houses, and lush gardens. We turned off the motorway onto a two-lane road which wound upwards toward the Wicklow Hills, our destination for the day. This is from our excursion description: County Wicklow is “known as the Garden of Ireland. A mass of domed granite mountains, penetrated by deep glens and wooded valleys, form some of the most magnificent landscapes in Ireland.” Our guide pointed out that the hills are covered with gorse and heather, which in other seasons make a magnificent display of yellow and pink flowers. She also mentioned that the Irish give directions by pubs and churches, and she pointed out many to us during the day. Every little village seems to have at least one of each. Our route took us past long views of the hills, small farmsteads, grazing sheep, goats, and horses, large estate properties, and many small villages. We remarked that the land is green, for sure, but not really greener than at home in New Jersey.
Our first stop was at the monastic ruins of Glendalough. Once on the grounds of the former monastery, we walked past a round tower with a pointy top, stone buildings, and many gravestones, several with typical Irish crosses. This site was active beginning in the 6th century and once was inhabited by thousands of students from all over Europe. It’s hard to see that today, although the setting among the mountains was lovely. The name Glendalough means something like the valley with two lakes, but we didn’t see them, only a small river with brown water (because it runs through peat bogs). A nearby hotel was also interesting. It was very quaint, with lots of wood paneling, a stone fireplace, comfortable-looking easy chairs, rooms for a bar and for tea, and very nice bathrooms.
Back on the bus, we had a short ride through a heavily forested area to our next destination, the Ballyknocken Country House, which is a farm and “cookery” school. Here, we were seated in a demonstration kitchen and entertained by the proprietor, a famous chef in Ireland who is also evidently well known in the U.S. as well (because she appears on the Today Show). She told us about the history of her farm, her career in popular culture, and cooking traditions in Ireland; and she offered to sell us some of her cookbooks. She seemed like a lovely person, well suited to be a celebrity, I think. Her purpose today was to show us how to make traditional brown soda bread and sweet scones, and she provided recipes for us to take home. Afterwards, we all traipsed over to her hay barn, which was supplied with fresh scones, Irish butter, rhubarb and ginger jam, tea, and coffee. Everything was delicious, of course, and I especially liked the tea. I even had a second cup. When we left the farm, we drove through the hills until we connected with the M11 Motorway and made our way back to the ship. We were happy with this excursion because it enabled us to get away from the city and to see some of the beautiful Irish countryside.