Tag Archives: Ireland

Ireland, The Holy Shrine at Knock

Holy Shrine of Knock

“The official Pilgrimage Season at Knock Shrine begins on Sunday 30th April.The 12 noon & 3pm Sunday Masses in the Basilica can be viewed live on the Watch page and can also be viewed afterwards on the Knock Shrine YouTube Channel”. – Knock Shrine Official Web Page.

Knock (or West Ireland Airport) is built in the middle of almost nowhere, the nearest cities are Galway to the south and Sligo to the north, both over forty miles away.  It was built here following a campaign by Monsignor James Horan who had a sort of evangelical business plan to bring pilgrims to the nearby religious site of the Knock Shrine.

Greetings From Knock

The Shrine is probably the most religious place in all of Ireland and as we were close by we thought that perhaps we should pay a visit ourselves.

The most religious country in Europe is Malta where in a survey in 2010 95% of the population said that they were practicing Catholics.  Nearby Italy (where the Pope lives) only managed 74%.  Ireland registered 54%.  The least religious countries are all in the north where over 80% of respondents in Estonia, Norway, Denmark and Sweden all said that religion isn’t very important at all.

Interestingly this survey didn’t seem to include the Vatican State where I imagine the response would surely have been 100%.

Knock Postcard

The remarkable story of Knock began on the 21st August, 1879 when, at approximately eight o’clock in the evening, fifteen people from the village claimed that they witnessed a Marian Apparition* on an altar at the gable wall of the Parish Church. An Apparition of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, a choir of angels, the Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) and a cross.

The witnesses watched the Apparition in the pouring rain for two hours whilst reciting the Rosary. Although they themselves were saturated not a single drop of rain fell on the gable or vision. Each of the witnesses gave testimonies to a Commission of Enquiry in October 1879 and the findings of the Commission were that the testimonies were both trustworthy and satisfactory.  Hmmm!

Knock Parish Church

As a consequence of this the site is now an important Pilgrimage centre with a four thousand seat Basilica, a Museum, a Research centre, the original Parish Church and the Holy Shrine itself.   With an estimated million and a half visitors a year this makes it the most visited place in Ireland just ahead of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.

Most of these visitors are genuine Pilgrims, not just nosey parkers like us, who come to celebrate Mass, make Confession, seek spiritual guidance or simply to lay hands on the wall where the Apparition took place. Actually there is only a small portion of the wall these days because so many people were chipping bits off for a souvenir that it had to be taken down and kept somewhere secret for safety.

Knock Holy Shrine

The whole village is a religious enclave where every shop sells spiritual gifts, grave memorials, plastic bottles to collect Holy Water and Votive Candles. If you want to stay overnight in Knock then you are probably going to book in at The Shrine View Guest House, The Lamb of God B&B or the Divine Mercy Hotel.

The village and the Holy Site reminded me of the Greek Island of Tinos where there is a similar story of a divine miracle and a Basilica and a Pilgrim Trail to go with it.

As we walked around the Basilica not everyone was absolutely delighted by the experience and I overheard two Nuns in conversation – “So how do you like the place Sister, said the first, Well, I am a bit disappointed replied the second I have to say, I tort there would be more Priests and tings!

Knock Apparation Mosaic

The modern Basilica is quite magnificent and the best thing about is the Apparition Mosaic which depicts the scene as described in the testimony of the witnesses and donated by an individual donor in memory of his family and friends. That is quite some gift let me tell you, it is one of the largest mosaics in Europe consisting of over one and a half million pieces of hand cut marble and glass and crafted in Spilimbergo in Italy by Travisanutto Mosaics who are said to be the best in the World and also have mosaics in Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.

I am really glad that I visited the Knock Shrine, I didn’t get any sort of Divine thrill I have to say, I am not a religious person at all, I only go to Church for weddings, christenings and funerals and remain sceptical about things such as this but if so many people believe in it then I feel obliged to keep an open mind.

Ireland Father Ted Tour Craggy Island Parochial House

* A Marian Apparition is a reported supernatural appearance by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The miracle is often named after the town where it is reported.

Ireland – Doors of Kinsale

Mansion House KinsaleKinsale Doors IrelandGiants Cottage KinsaleYellow Door KinsaleYellow Shutters Kinsale

More Doors…

Doors and Windows of 2015

Sardinia – Doors and Windows

Brittany – Doors and Windows

Blue Doors of Essaouira

Doors of Catalonia 1

Doors of Catalonia 2

Doors of Catalonia 3

Doors of Catalonia 4

Doors of Dublin

Doors of Northern France

Doors of Portugal

Doors of Siguenza, Spain

Ireland – Cork to Cobh in Ten (Irish) Minutes

Ireland Postcard Map

There is a pub quiz question that comes up regularly and which I always get wrong, which is ‘what is the nearest country to the United Kingdom’ and the answer of course is Southern Ireland or Eire but I always forget about the border with Northern Ireland and blurt out ‘France, it must be France’.

We travelled to Ireland in 2014 and went to the west coast and a year later we went to Northern Ireland and stayed in Belfast.  Despite Ireland’s reputation for Atlantic storms, dreary weather and lots of rain we enjoyed blue skies  on both occasions.  So good was the weather that Kim thinks it is permanently sunny in the Emerald Isle so we arranged to go again this year and this time chose the city of Cork, the county of West Cork and the south coast of the country as our destination.

West Cork Route

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.

Most impressive is that Ireland is placed seventh in the Human Development Index which means that it is the top ten of the most highly developed countries in the World and before the recent economic crisis it used to be in the top five!  The Index ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.

The economic crisis has had a bit of a negative effect on Ireland’s position in the European Happiness Index however and it is rated at only fourteenth out of thirty which is a very long way behind the United Kingdom.

Ballyvaughan Ireland

Ireland has only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites which, lets be honest, is a rather poor performance and I would suggest that someone in Dublin needs to start travelling around and making some applications – Australia has got nineteen for goodness sake!  The country also needs to do something about its Blue Flag Beaches because it now only has seventy when a few years ago it had one hundred and forty-two!

But some statistics continue to be impressive and Ireland remains the most successful nation in the Eurovision Song Contest, which with seven wins is higher than all other competitors so who really cares about the economic crisis anyway?

It was an early morning flight to Cork and by mid morning we were in possession of the keys to a silver Volkswagen Golf and making the short drive to the city and to our hotel.

It was a brand new car and had some features that I was not altogether familiar with and in particular I had rather a lot of trouble getting to grips with the electric handbrake.  The hotel was at the top of a hill and the car park sloped down towards the reception and I had so much bother with the brake and made such a dog’s dinner of parking that we almost checked in a few minutes earlier than anticipated while Kim kept shrieking “It’s not a Drive-Thru, It’s not a Drive-Thru”

Cobh Postcard

After booking in and approving our rooms the plan was to leave the car in the safety of the car park and take a train to the nearby town of Cobh (pronounced cove).  It used to be called Cove (pronounced cove) but in 1850 the British renamed it Queenstown (pronounced Queenstown) to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria.  I can’t help thinking that it is rather arrogant to go around changing place names in such a superior way and the Irish obviously agree with me because shortly after independence they renamed it Cobh (pronounced cove).

The Irish I find generally measure journeys in units of ten minutes and the helpful lady at hotel reception told us that it would take about ten minutes to walk to the train station and that the ride to Cobh would be another ten minutes or so.  It took half an hour to walk there and then another thirty minutes for the train to make the short journey around the harbour.  I made a mental note to be sure to make generous allowances for Irish timing estimates for the rest of the week.

Kilmer Ferry County Clare Ireland

Once out of the industrial suburbs of Cork the tracks followed the shoreline of the generous harbour which is said to be the second largest natural harbour in the World after Sidney in Australia.  As always you need to be careful with these sort of claims because at least a dozen or so more make exactly the same assertion including Poole in England, Valletta in Malta and Pearl Harbour in Hawaii.  I suppose it might depend on whether the tide is in or out!

So, we arrived in Cobh and walked along the waterfront and debated our itinerary and by a majority decision agreed to find a pub for a first glass of Dublin Guinness even though we were told that we should really be drinking Cork Murphy’s.

Have you got any thoughts about place names?

Ireland Guiness

Weekly Photo Challenge: Scale, These Are Small…

Thesae are small but they are far away

Obviously not my picture but it is one of my favourite bits of Father Ted:

Father Ted – These Are Small but those out there are Far Away

Looking Back on 2014

Wroclaw Arial View

January always seems to be a good time to go away if you ask me and this year I found some cheap Ryanair flights at only £50 return to Wroclaw, the fourth largest city in Poland and as we had previously been to Krakow and enjoyed it there we quickly the decision was quickly made to visit the historic capital of Lower Silesia.

We enjoyed a wonderful weekend in this charming Polish city and enjoyed it so much that we have made arrangements to go to Warsaw early in 2015.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 3

Twelve months previously in March 2013 we had travelled to the small town of Sigüenza about one hundred kilometres north east of Madrid on the road to Zaragoza and Barcelona and we liked it so much we decided to return for a second visit.

One of the reasons was to see the  Semana Santa for a second time.  This is one of the most important traditional events of the Spanish Catholic year; it is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter and features a procession of Pasos which are large floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion.

Ireland Dingle

There is a pub quiz question that comes up regularly and which I always get wrong, which is ‘what is the nearest country to the United Kingdom’ and the answer of course is Southern Ireland or Eire but I always forget about the border with Northern Ireland and blurt out ‘France, it must be France’.  Not surprising then that until now I have never visited the country.

2014 has been a big year for me as I reached the birthday milestone of sixty years and I was planning something special to celebrate the occasion and then some friends asked if we would like to visit Ireland with them and that seemed special enough so we set about making travel plans.

Thomas' Place Kalami Corfu

In 2004 I celebrated my fiftieth birthday with family on the Greek island of Santorini.  On the final night I treated everyone to a birthday celebration meal in a taverna and drank far too much Mythos Beer, Ouzo, and Metaxa Brandy and rashly declared that we would do the same thing in ten years time when I would be sixty.  I went to bed and promptly forgot all about it.

My children didn’t forget.  As 2014 got ever close they kept reminding me about the offer that I had made that night and so eventually I had no option but to deliver on the promise.  Sadly the Boss Bar in Santorini  closed down sometime between 2004 and 2006 and so I needed to find a suitable alternative and decided upon the village of Kalami on the island of Corfu which we had enjoyed a couple of years previously.

Turkey Souvenir Shopping Bag

The end of the Summer usually means the Greek Islands for our travels but this year we were breaking with tradition and although close by to the Dodecanese we were visiting mainland Turkey instead.

At the end of the holiday I drew up a balance sheet of our visit to Turkey.  I had enjoyed the antiquity and the ruins, the temples and the ancient cities; the long walks along the coast; the friendly people; Bodrum; our excellent apartment courtesy of our friends Steve and Kath and the weather.  On the other side of the balance sheet was the dogs, the litter and IMX Travel but overall I declared the holiday a resounding success and look forward to returning to Turkey as soon as the travel itinerary allows.

Budapest Travel Group

At the end of the year we travelled with friends  to Hungary and its capital city Budapest.  We had been before in 2007 but only for a couple of days which wasn’t nearly enough time to see the sights of this magnificent city so had no objections to going back for a second time.

Budapest was an absolute revelation, I had not been expecting anything so grand, it was easily as good as Vienna and in my opinion much better than Prague, the scale of the city eclipses Bratislava and Ljubljana and I liked it as well as any other city I have visited.

2014 has not been our most prolific travelling year – that was in 2007 when we managed to get away somewhere twelve times, once every month.  Airline tickets were cheaper then and we didn’t have grandchildren so I doubt we will doing that again soon.

Just six overseas trips this year and oddly, although I often say that I won’t go to the same place twice this year half of our travels were to places that we had enjoyed previously – Sigüenza, Corfu and Budapest and I think we will try and avoid repeat visits in the future if we can.

So now the serious business of planning for 2015 really begins.  We will start with a city trip to Warsaw in February and then see where the rest of the year takes us…

Ireland, Ring of Kerry

Ireland Inch Beach

Having gone as far west as possible we were driving east again now on the last leg of our journey back towards Killarney and we followed the coast road as far as the village of Sneem, another tourist logjam with a car park full of growling coaches.

There were two distinct parts of Sneem so we parked in the quieter one next to a plaque dedicated to Charles deGaulle who apparently visited the village many times and selected a shocking pink pub with a garden terrace for a Guinness in the sunshine.

After lunch we crossed a bridge over the river, obviously turbulent in winter judging by the tree debris caught and tangled in the saw toothed rocks but rather indolent today as the water trickled rather than surged over the boulders.  On the other side was the main tourist business with craft and souvenir shops and swarms of day trippers pondering whether or not to buy a traditional Aran cardigan and all along the pavement the street entertainers all hoping for some loose change to be transferred from pockets to collection tins.

Our planned schedule was beginning to fall behind the clock now so we walked back to the car past a lady belting out opera at full volume and the parks full of public art and then left Sneem and followed the coast road until it turned sharply inland at Kenmare and headed towards mountains and the Killarney National Park.  With so many panoramic viewing areas it was stop-start motoring now for a few miles as we stopped as often as possible to admire the scenery most memorably at Moll’s Gap, a mountain pass at the highest point of the climb before the descent towards the Killarney Lakes and the look-out spot at Ladies View where more accordion players and fiddlers were attempting to entertain the bus tour visitors.

As we approached Killarney we left the Ring of Kerry and to be honest I wasn’t disappointed to do so.  On reflection the decision to drive it in just one day was a mistake.  It was too far and it really needed a day or two with a couple of overnight stops to be able to enjoy it fully.  I’ll bear that in mind if I get to go back to the south-west of Ireland.

As we arrived in Killarney the traffic began to get heavier mostly on account of the fact that it had to compete with a fleet of horse-drawn jaunting cars that seemed to enjoy priority over the motor cars and exemptions from the normal rules of the road.

It was too late now to do any real sightseeing, we were way behind time and our plan was to find somewhere for a last meal in Ireland before driving back to the airport at Shannon.  This wasn’t as easy as we had imagined because we were in that late afternoon period when pubs and restaurants close down for a couple of hours but we eventually found somewhere suitable and enjoyed a very good meal and a final glass of Guinness.

After the meal we left Killarney for a final two hour drive to the airport which confirmed the days bad planning as we had already spent four hours or so motoring around the Ring of Kerry and everyone was beginning to get a bit fidgety as we drove the unremarkable and rather dull main road towards Limerick.

The dashboard warning symbols were still continuing to blink on and off like garden fairy lights but I became increasingly confident of getting it back without major incident the closer we got to the airport.  We refuelled the car and returned it to the car hire office and I crossed my fingers as the man at the desk examined the paper work and made an inspection.  I explained about the warning lights but this didn’t seem to concern him greatly as though this was a regular occurrence and he signed off the contract and agreed to the refund for the value of the full tank of fuel but for the next few days I kept my eye on my credit card account in case of any damage charges being charged through.  Nothing happened!

I’m so sorry if I disappointed anyone expecting an engine explosion story!

Back at the airport now we prepared for our flight, fortunately one of a handful not delayed due to a French air traffic control strike, with some time to spare to reflect on out holiday.  Ireland, I have to say, had been a revelation to me and had far exceeded my pre-travel expectations, Galway, Dublin, Ennistymon and especially Dingle were all so wonderful that Ireland is now firmly placed in my ‘must return to’ list.

Galway Ireland postcard  Dunguaire Castle Kinvara Ireland

Dublin Postcard  Dingle Ireland

Ireland, The Preview

Ireland Map

I have just returned from Ireland and will be posting about the journey soon, but before I get around to it this is a little taster…

Ireland Guiness

Ireland Father Ted Tour Craggy Island Parochial House

Galway Street Entertainment

Ireland Cliffs of Moher

Ireland Ennistymon Bright Colours