The following itinerary lists a range of site visits which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but some require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure. Furthermore, a number of the sites have not yet confirmed their opening hours for 2018. Therefore, the daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight/ferry schedules and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunch and evening meals as indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=evening meal.
Dublin - 5 nights
Day 1: Friday 25 May, Arrive Dublin
- Short Orientation Walk
- Introduction & Welcome Drinks
- Light Evening Meal at the Hotel
Our tour begins in Dublin, home at some time or another to most of Ireland’s great writers. It is a fascinating city, with glorious Georgian houses, its turbulent past, superb libraries, and of course literary associations on every street. When Sir Walter Scott visited the city in the 19th century, he commented, “Dublin is splendid beyond my expectations” – you will share his excitement about the wonderful Irish capital.
Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight are scheduled to arrive late morning. Upon arrival we transfer by private coach to the Stephen’s Green Hotel. In the late afternoon, there will be a short orientation walk in the hotel area, followed by welcome drinks, a brief introductory meeting, and a light 2-course evening meal. (Overnight Dublin) D
Day 2: Saturday 26 May, Dublin
- The James Joyce Centre
- Dublin Writers Museum
- Kilmainham Gaol
- G.B. Shaw’s Birthplace (exterior only) & Patrick Kavanagh Statue
- Welcome Dinner at Davy Byrnes Pub
He spent much of his life in Europe, but James Joyce was born in Dublin and set most of his works there: “For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.” We visit the James Joyce Centre, in a 1784 townhouse famous for its friezes. Joyce was a groundbreaking writer and the centre shows how intimately his novels depict Dublin. So intimately are they connected, that Joyce once claimed that should the city be destroyed in some catastrophe, it could easily be rebuilt from the pages of his Ulysses.
We then visit the nearby Dublin Writers Museum housed in an 18th-century townhouse on Parnell Square. Irish literature from the 10th century to the present is covered here and there are manuscripts, letters, rare editions and a Gallery of Writers to enjoy. You will learn about Maria Edgeworth, Colm Toibin, Padraig Pearse, Brendan Behan, and many others.
Kilmainham Gaol is no longer a prison, but is now a museum. It was built in 1796 and was a fearsome place, where men, women and children were tossed in together, often five to a cell, in the dark, and with poor food. In the famous Easter 1916 uprising, many of the revolutionaries were imprisoned and executed there – writers Padraig Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, Michael O’Hanrahan are some of them. Yeats writes of these men in his poem Easter 1916:
“I write it out in verse –
Macdonagh and Macbride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly;
A terrible beauty is born.”
We will look around this historic prison, learning about some of its famous inmates and about a terrible chapter of Irish history.
George Bernard Shaw, one of Ireland’s Nobel prizewinners for literature, was born and spent his first 20 years at 33 Synge St. The house is now a museum, giving an interesting look at Shaw’s life in Dublin but also a glimpse of everyday life in Victorian times. Unfortunately the house is currently closed for visitors, but we will view the exterior, and will also go to admire the fabulous statue of poet Patrick Kavanagh by the Grand Canal. Kavanagh wrote a poem, Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin:
“O commemorate me where there is water
canal water preferably, so stilly
greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
commemorate me thus beautifully.”
Tonight we enjoy a welcome dinner at famous Davy Byrnes pub. In James Joyce’s Ulysses Leopold Bloom calls in to enjoy a glass of burgundy and a gorgonzola sandwich, and admires the curved bar counter as he eats. That bar is still there today. Pubs have long been important to Dublin writers and their characters, and Davy Byrnes is probably the most famous of all the literary pubs in the city, so this is a most appropriate venue for our ‘welcome’ meal. (Overnight Dublin) BD
Day 3: Sunday 27 May, Dublin – Glendalough – Sandycove – Dalkey – Dublin
- Monastic site of Glendalough, Wicklow Mountains National Park
- Lunch at Fitzgeralds at Sandycove
- James Joyce Tower and Museum, Sandycove
- Dalkey Castle Writers’ Gallery and literary walking tour
- Performance of On Yer Bike with Dalkey’s Writers at Dalkey Castle
Much of the early Irish writing was done in monasteries. This morning we travel to Glendalough, where the ruined St Kevin’s is one of the most atmospheric and best-preserved monastic sites in Ireland. The exhibition and video show give an excellent idea of the monastic life. Glendalough is in the Wicklow Mountains. Writers wishing to escape Dublin for R & R have headed for this lovely area, much of which is now a national park. This was the area loved by playwright J.M. Synge:
“Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from cities, and the sites of men,
Lived with the sunshine and the moon’s delight.”
The scenic seaside village of Sandycove, located 12 kilometres south of Dublin, is one of several places where Bloomsday is celebrated in Joyce’s honour on the 16th of June every year. Joyce’s Ulysses has vital opening scenes set at the Martello Tower at Sandycove. Joyce himself stayed there in 1904 and turned his friend, writer Oliver St John Gogarty into the character ‘Stately, Plump Buck Mulligan’. The tower is very well preserved and has been made to look as it was in the novel, making it a place of pilgrimage to Joyce fans.
Our lunch today will be at the Fitzgeralds of Sandycove. Established in 1861, this is one of Dublin’s last traditional Victorian pubs. Joyce is a major influence on the premises as is visible from the many pictures, posters & newspaper cuttings on the walls. Each chapter of his Ulysses is featured on the stained glass windows throughout the pub.
The neighbouring village of Dalkey features a 14th-century Norman castle with an excellent heritage centre and writers’ gallery, which we will visit, after being escorted on a literary walk round the town. All the writers displayed in the gallery are connected to the area with quotes – these include Joyce, Beckett, Flann O’Brien, Maeve Binchy and Hugh Leonard.
Following some time at leisure for an early dinner we will watch a performance of On Yer Bike with Dalkey’s Writers, a fun ‘taster’ of some of the local writers. The performance is put on against the background of St Begnet’s Church, the earliest parts of which date from the 6th or 7th centuries. (Overnight Dublin) BL
Day 4: Monday 28 May, Dublin
- Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle
- Jonathan Swift exhibits at St Patrick’s Cathedral
- Marsh’s Library with privileged access to see rare books and manuscripts
- Performance at the Abbey or Gate Theatre (pending performance schedule in 2018)
Most of Dublin Castle dates from the 18th century and today it houses administrative offices, but until the 1920s it was the seat of the UK government’s administration in Ireland. It also has literary associations – Edmund Spenser, author of The Faeire Queene, arrived in Ireland in 1580 and wrote part of his great epic at Dublin Castle. Playwright Sean O’Casey, who was born in Dublin, sets part of the opening of his autobiography, Mirror in my House, at the Castle.
We begin today with a visit to the Chester Beatty Library, located in the grounds of Dublin Castle. This was established to hold the collections of a mining magnate, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), and it has some wonderful treasures – illuminated manuscripts, ancient Greek papyri, and a vast Islamic collection.
Our next stop is St Patrick’s Cathedral, national cathedral of the Church of Ireland. Satirical 18th century writer Dr Jonathan Swift was Dean of this cathedral and there is a memorial to him, to Stella (the woman he passionately loved) and a tribute to Swift from his friend Alexander Pope. We can also see his writing table, portrait, two of his death masks, and early editions of his writings, including A Sermon upon Sleeping in Church.
The oldest public library in Ireland dates from 1701. This afternoon we visit Marsh’s Library to see the wired alcoves where readers were once locked in with rare books, and the great oak bookshelves storing over 25,000 volumes. The library was built to orders from Archbishop Narcissus Marsh and today it is one of the last 18th century buildings in Ireland still used for its original purpose. Our tour of the library with the Keeper includes privileged access to see rare books and manuscripts, including a book owned and annotated by Jonathan Swift; books on the occult read by Bram Stoker here in 1866 and 1867; as well as the book which James Joyce came to read here in 1902, and which subsequently appears in Ulysses.
Dublin has a rich history of theatrical performance. In 1904 the Abbey Theatre staged its first play and Yeats, J.M. Synge and Sean O’Casey have all been in-house playwrights there. We will enjoy an evening performance in either this famous venue or the nearby Gate Theatre, established in 1928 to introduce Dubliners to classic European plays. (Overnight Dublin) B
Day 5: Tuesday 29 May, Dublin
- William Butler Yeats Exhibition at the National Library (subject to scheduled building works)
- Short literary walking tour visiting Sweny’s Joycean Pharmacy featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses, Oscar Wilde’s House (exterior only) and the Oscar Wilde Monument
- Guided tour of the Yeats Collection at the National Gallery
- Afternoon at leisure
- Supper at The Shelbourne
Almost every major Irish writer from Joyce onwards has used the Reading Room in the National Library of Ireland. Joyce made it the setting for the great literary debate in Ulysses and it holds first editions and collections of such writers as Swift, Goldsmith, Beckett and Shaw. However, it is for Yeats that it is most acclaimed, as the library holds the largest collection of Yeats manuscripts in the world. We will explore the stunning William Butler Yeats exhibition which displays photographs, original manuscripts, recordings of Yeats reading his own works, and information about his life and interests.
We will then enjoy a Dublin walk, taking in Sweny’s Pharmacy, featured in Ulysses. There Leopold Bloom buys lemon soap, so today the shop is staffed by Joycean volunteers. We will also see the Oscar Wilde statue reclining on a rock in Merrion Square and opposite the Wilde home, where Oscar grew up, and where his parents (both writers) hosted literary parties (unfortunately the house is not currently open to the public).
W.B. Yeats’s brother Jack was an Olympic medallist (for an artwork inspired by sport) and talented artist. Samuel Beckett said of his works: “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The National Gallery of Ireland displays an important collection of his art, as well as works by other members of the Yeats family, father John Butler Yeats, sisters Elizabeth Corbet Yeats and Susan Mary Yeats, niece Anne Yeats and cousin Ruth Pollexfen. Following our guided tour of the collection the remainder of the afternoon will be at leisure.
The Shelbourne Hotel, situated on the north side of St Stephen’s Green, is a landmark Dublin building. The Irish Constitution was drafted in Room 112 in 1922; Alois Hitler, half-brother of Adolf, once worked there as a waiter; it is mentioned in Ulysses; Elizabeth Bowen wrote its history. In its famous Horseshoe Bar, it is said that ‘women with a past meet men with no future’. It is where celebrities such as Grace Kelly, Maureen O’Hara, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton stayed when they came to Dublin. We will add to the list of luminaries by dining at this historic hotel. (Overnight Dublin) BD
Ennis - 2 nights
Day 6: Wednesday 30 May, Dublin – Edgeworthstown – Ardagh – Athlone – Ennis
- The Oliver Goldsmith Trail to Edgeworthstown, Ardagh and Athlone
- Literary walking tour of Edgeworthstown kindly hosted by the Edgeworth Society
- Leisure time in Ardagh Heritage Village
- Goldsmith room at the Ballymahon Library
- The Three Jolly Pigeons Pub, Athlone: refreshments & short poetry reading with excerpts from the Deserted Village which are especially pertinent to the area
- The Kirby Collection & Aidan Heavey Collection, Athlone Library
This morning we leave Dublin and set off for Edgeworthstown in County Longford, named for writer and educator Richard Lovell Edgeworth. His daughter, pioneering Maria Edgeworth, was one of the first novelists to use local Irish dialect in her fiction – her novels were much admired by Jane Austen. Playwright and novelist, Oliver Goldsmith, attended school in this town for 3 years, until at the age of 16 he went off to Trinity College. We will follow the Oliver Goldsmith Trail to Edgeworthstown, Ardagh and Athlone. In Edgeworthstown itself, we will take a guided walk in the footsteps of Goldsmith, Maria Edgeworth, Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Oscar Wilde (whose sister Isola is buried in the local graveyard), and Charlotte Brooke.
Accompanied by a representative from the Edgeworth Society, we will visit the Edgeworth ancestral home, see some 18th and 19th-century schoolhouses, and see St John’s Rectory, birthplace of Abbé Edgeworth, Irish confessor to King Louis XVI of France. Our visit to Edgeworthstown in 2017 coincides with the 250th anniversary of the birth of Maria Edgeworth (b.1767) and the 200th anniversary of the death of her father Richard Lovell (d.1817).
Goldsmith’s immortal comedy She Stoops to Conquer was partly inspired by a visit Goldsmith made to Ardagh House. He had mistaken the house for a public inn, and the daughters of the house for servant girls – he tried to seduce them. The Ardagh Visitors Centre, in this very pretty village, recounts this tale, as well as the curious history of the area. There will be time at leisure in Ardagh, followed by a brief visit to Ballymahon Library which houses a Goldsmith collection.
The Three Jolly Pigeons pub some ten miles north of Athlone is where Charles Lennox, hero of She Stoops to Conquer, gets lost on his way to woo Kate Hardcastle, so he has to ask for directions. The Goldsmith International Literary festival often hosts events at this congenial tavern. We will enjoy a drink and a short poetry reading here before continuing our journey to Athlone.
“Low lies that house where nut-brown draughts inspired,
Where grey-beard mirth and smiling toil retired
The village statesmen talked with looks profound
And news much older than their ale went round…”
Athlone Library holds two very important special collections relating to Oliver Goldsmith one is The Kirby Collection which contains about 250 different editions of his novel The Vicar of Wakefield, collected by a man who lectured in the history of the printed word in the U.K. This novel first published in 1766 was especially popular amongst the Victorians, and it was thanks to Goldsmith’s friend Dr Johnson, who said that Goldsmith “touched nothing that he did not adorn”, that it came to be published.
The second collection is the Aidan Heavey Collection which includes one of the finest collection of Goldsmith material in Ireland including many first editions of Goldsmiths works including both The Vicar of Wakefield and The Deserted Village. The Library will organise an exhibition of the highlights from both collections and the librarian will give a brief introductory talk on the collections. Our afternoon’s program has kindly been arranged by Mr Gearoid O’Brien, a published poet, broadcaster and Senior Executive Librarian for the Athlone Public Library.
From Athlone we will travel to the town of Ennis in County Clare. Ennis figures in Ulysses in the context of main character Leopold Bloom’s father, Rudolph, having committed suicide in the Queen’s Hotel (of which he was the owner) on the 27th of June, 1886. (Overnight Ennis) BLD
Day 7: Thursday 31 May, Ennis – Limerick – Ennistymon – Cliffs of Moher – Ennis
- Angela’s Ashes Walking tour of Limerick
- Frank McCourt Museum, Limerick
- Tea & Scones at the Dylan Thomas Bar, Falls Hotel, Ennistymon
- Cliffs of Moher
Frank McCourt’s memoir about a poverty-stricken Irish childhood, Angela’s Ashes, was published in 1996 and became an international bestseller. Much of it is set in Limerick and we will take an Angela’s Ashes Walking Tour to see places mentioned in the book. This includes visits to Arthur’s Quay, Windmill Street, Barrack Hill, Leamy’s School and the river Shannon. We will also visit the Frank McCourt Museum, which depicts a 1920s classroom, old photographs, schoolbooks of the era, and memorabilia about Frank McCourt.
For Frank as a child, one of the biggest culinary treats was fish and chips. We, however, will enjoy scones with jam and cream at the Dylan Thomas Bar in Ennistymon, County Clare. Dylan’s father-in-law was from Ennistymon and he converted Ennistymon House into the Falls Hotel – Caitlin used to serve drinks at the bar there. Caitlin’s sister Nicolette wrote of her childhood there in her autobiography Two Flamboyant Fathers. Before afternoon tea, we will make a stop to see the impressive Cascades of Ennistymon.
The Cliffs of Moher in the Burren region of County Clare are a famous Irish tourist attraction. At their highest point the cliffs reach 214 metres above sea level. They feature often in movies and popular culture. In Eoin Colfer’s novel The Wish List one of Lowrie’s wishes is to split the famous cliffs. (Overnight Ennis) BD
Galway - 3 nights
Day 8: Friday 1 June, Ennis – Kilmacduagh – Kiltartan Cross – Gort – Galway
- The Burren
- The Lady Gregory & Yeats Heritage Trail
- Kilmacduagh Monastic Site
- Kiltartan Gregory Museum
- Coole Park, Gort
- Thoor Ballylee, Gort
John Betjeman, in Ireland with Emily, writes of another famous tourist attraction, the Burren:
“Stony seaboard, far and foreign,
Stony hills poured over space,
Stony outcrop of the Burren,
Stones in every fertile place,
Little fields with boulders dotted,
Grey-stone shoulders saffron-spotted,
Stone-walled cabins thatched with reeds,
Where a Stone Age people breeds
The last of Europe’s stone age race.”
The rocky Burren is a 250-square-kilometre area, rich in history and archeology, flora (three quarters of Ireland’s species of flowers are found there), fauna and geology. We will view this famous area.
Today we follow the Lady Gregory and Yeats Heritage Trail which incorporates historical sites connected with these two writers. Augusta, Lady Gregory, was a dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager, friend to Yeats and patroness of the arts. She co-founded the Abbey Theatre and was a vital part of the Irish Literary Revival.
Her husband, Sir William Gregory, financed the restoration of the Round Tower at Kilmacduagh in 1879. Lady Gregory’s ancestor, Rev. Dudley Persse, was Dean of Kilmacduagh between 1662 and 1700. The Kilmacduagh Monastic Site is one of the jewels of the West of Ireland and has the ruins of seven churches, an abbot’s house and stunning views of the Burren Mountains.
Yeats made Kiltartan Cross famous in his poem An Irish Airman Foresees his Death:
“My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor”
The red-brick Kiltartan Gregory Museum is an architectural gem, built as a schoolhouse in 1892 at the behest of Sir William Gregory and designed by Lady Gregory’s brother Frank Persse. Today it is an award-winning museum, displaying memorabilia relating to the Gregorys and the Irish Literary Renaissance. There is a replica of an old Irish classroom to take you back to school life a century ago.
Coole Park now has only stone walls and a few ruins to give a sense of what was once there, but the grounds and lake are now a beautiful nature reserve. Yeats’s The Wild Swans at Coole is one of his loveliest poems:
“The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.“
When Augusta Persse married Sir William Gregory, he was 63 and she was 28. After his death she turned her considerable energies into revitalising the property and before long the place gained an outstanding place in Irish literary life. Playwright Edward Martyn, and the poet Yeats, both lived nearby – Coole Park became their rendezvous and there some of the finest minds of the time gathered for discussion and creative activity. The Autograph Tree (a copper beech) in the grounds, which we will walk to see, bears the names of Yeats, his brother Jack, John Masefield, J.M. Synge, George Russell, Douglas Hyde, Sean O’Casey, G.B. Shaw and Augustus John.
Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’s ivory tower, was also the subject of his poetry. He was enchanted by the fortified tower and purchased it as a home for £35. For Yeats the building had an emblematic purpose and he wove it into the very texture of his poetry.
“I, the poet William Yeats,
With old mill boards and sea-green slates,
And smithy work from the Gort forge,
Restored this tower for my wife George.
And may these characters remain
When all is ruin once again.”
The tower house has been wonderfully restored, right down to the original colour on the walls, and on display are first editions, art works by Jack Yeats, furniture and china that belonged to Yeats. The tower is 16th century. It was also mentioned by poet Anthony Raftery – “let me take you to Ballylee, where I have to go”, a lovely maiden tells the blind poet. This will be a very special place of Yeatsian pilgrimage. (Overnight Galway) BL
Day 9: Saturday 2 June, Galway
- Literary Orientation walk of Galway including the statue of famous Irish writer Oscar Wilde & exterior of Nora Barnacle’s House
- Afternoon at leisure in Galway
Galway, a harbour city in the west of Ireland, has been voted the second best tourist destination in the country, and one of the “sexiest cities” in the world. It is renowned for its music festivals and vibrant culture. Frank Harris, friend of Oscar Wilde and author of the shocking and explicit memoir My Life and Loves, was born in Galway. Walter Macken’s Rain on the Wind is set there, as are the crime novels of Ken Bruen and Cora Harrison. We will enjoy an orientation walk around the city, see the outside of Nora Barnacle’s House (wife of James Joyce) which is currently closed to the public, the statue of Oscar Wilde, and some of the city sites such as the Spanish Arch (dating from the 1580s) and the Cathedral.
The afternoon will be at leisure to explore Galway. You might like to see the original shop for Claddagh rings, the 17th-century marriage stones, the Lynch Window (connected to the origins of ‘lynching’) or view the Pádraic Ó Conaire statue on Eyre Square. Ó Conaire was a novelist, playwright and journalist who wrote mainly in the Irish language – he was born in Galway. (Overnight Galway) B
Day 10: Sunday 3 June, Galway – Inis Meáin (Aran Islands) – Galway
- Excursion by ferry to Inis Meáin, Aran Islands
- Literary walking tour including Teach Synge, prehistoric stone fort of Dún Chonchúir, Cil Cheannach & the Church of Mary Immaculate
The Aran Islands are a group of three islands at the mouth of Galway Bay. Today we catch a ferry to Inis Meáin. In Joyce’s short story The Dead the islands are remembered as a place where Irish is spoken – that is still the case today. J.M. Synge wrote a 1907 book, The Aran Islands and ‘Teach Synge’ is a restored 300 year old cottage museum dedicated to his life and works. His play Riders to the Sea, said by some to be the finest one-act tragedy of the 20th century, is set in the islands. Synge loved the place: “What captivated me in that long winter were the immensities in which this little place is wrapped: the procession of grey squalls that stride in from the Atlantic horizon, briefly lash us with hail and go sailing off towards the mainland trailing rainbows.” Our guided tour will take us to Dún Chonchúir, an impressive oval stone fortress or ‘cashel’; Cil Cheannanach – a stunningly preserved 18th-century church with fabulous views over the islands; and the Church of Mary Immaculate with stained glass windows by Harry Clarke.
Many other writers have fallen under the spell of the Arans and written about them – Seamus Heaney, Lady Gregory, Richard Power, Liam O’Flaherty, Martin McDonagh and Leo Daly. Visiting this special part of the world (original home of the Aran sweater) will make for a memorable day. (Overnight Galway) BL
Sligo - 2 nights
Day 11: Monday 4 June, Galway – Cong – Ballinfull – Sligo
- Cong, one of the most beautiful and picturesque villages in Ireland, surrounded by The Quiet Man film locations
- Lissadell House including a light lunch in the tearoom, Ballinfull (by special appointment)
- Yeats Memorial Building, Sligo
Our day starts with a visit to Cong, a picturesque village which straddles the borders between County Galway and County Mayo. Cong is familiar from the movie The Quiet Man, based on a story by Maurice Walsh and directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne. Oscar Wilde enjoyed childhood holidays in the area, staying at Moytura House near Cong. Oscar’s father Sir William Wilde, distinguished eye surgeon, archaeologist and naturalist, wrote a book about the history and archaeology of the area.
Lunch will be eaten at Lissadell House, childhood home of Constance Gore-Booth, revolutionary, suffragist and socialist (she helped Connolly during the 1913 Lock Out), who was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons, in December 1918. Constance had studied art in the Slade in London, and later in the Academie Julienne in Paris, where she met Count Casimir Markievicz, whom she married in 1901. Yeats had visited Lissadell as a child, and later became friendly with the Gore-Booth sisters in London, and visited Lissadell in 1893-94. Yeats remembered the sisters in the famous poem: In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz:
“The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls In silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.”
Yeats wrote about Constance in two other poems:
(i) On a Political Prisoner; and
(ii) Easter 1916
He also wrote about Lissadell in one other poem, The man Who Dreamed of Fairyland:
“As he went by the sands of Lissadell,
His mind ran all on money cares and fears,
And he had known at last some prudent years
Before they heaped his grave under the hill;
But while he passed before a plashy place,
A lug-worm with its gray and muddy mouth
Sang how somewhere to north or west or south
There dwelt a gay, exulting, gentle race;
And how beneath those three-times blessed skies
A Danaan fruitage makes a shower of moons,
And as it falls awakens leafy tunes:
And at that singing he was no more wise.”
Lissadell House was built in the 1830s in an austere Greek Revival style, and it still has much of the furniture designed especially for it by MacWilliams and Gibton of Dublin. There are exhibition galleries in the Coach House, which we will visit, one dedicated to Yeats, and one to Countess Markievicz. The Parliamentary Gazetter of 1846 said: “This is a house for the connoisseur. It responds to the romance of its setting, not with Gothick drama, but with Attic reserve. … With consistent economy the local limestone is worked into spare, exact exteriors, and polished to articulate severely the interiors of the finest Greek-revival country house in Ireland”.
Sligo is the heart of any Yeats pilgrimage. It was the great poet’s spiritual home and he adored it: “I longed for a sod of earth from some field I knew, something of Sligo to hold in my hand.” And of course he asked to be buried in Sligo, under the magnificent Ben Bulben mountain and beneath a slab of local limestone. The Yeats Memorial Building is located in a 19th-century red-brick Victorian building. We will watch the film on ‘Yeats Country’ and view the exhibits, to prepare us for the emotional visits of the following day. (Overnight Sligo) BLD
Day 12: Tuesday 5 June, Sligo – Lough Gill – Glencar – Drumcliffe – Rosses Point – Sligo
- Boat excursion on Lough Gill to view the Isle of Innisfree
- Model Niland Centre, Sligo
- Short orientation tour of Sligo including Yeats Statue
- Short walk to view the Glencar Waterfall
- Drumcliffe Parish Church
- Elsinore House, Rosses Point (exterior only)
- Evening meal at Broc House, the private home of Damien Brennan (by special appointment)
The most famous of all of Yeats’s poems is The Lake Isle of Innisfree – “I must arise and go now…” This morning we will arise and take a boat excursion on Lough Gill to view the immortal Isle. This lovely lake is rich with ghosts from a mythic past, and infused with the music of Yeats’s poetry.
Jack Yeats once said he “never did a painting without putting a thought of Sligo into it”, and we will admire some of those paintings, plus works by his contemporaries at the Model Niland Centre. We then take a Sligo walk to see the Yeats statue in front of the Ulster Bank Building (bombed to ruins in the Irish Civil War, but rebuilt), and other Sligo attractions. This is the birthplace of writer Spike Milligan’s father and his home now bears a plaque.
A delightful walk takes us to the Glencar Waterfall. Yeats wrote of “where the wandering water gushes, from the hills above Glen-Car” in The Stolen Child. And then we go to Drumcliffe Churchyard, where Yeats’s great-great-grandfather was once rector of the church. Yeats died in Roquebrune in France, and as war was on it was hard to bring his body home. But in 1948 his remains were reinterred at Drumcliffe, as he had wished, “under bare Ben Bulben’s head”. It is a fitting resting place for a poet, under the enchanted mountain where Diarmuid, legendary lover of Gráinne, was killed by a wild boar. The enigmatic words on Yeats’s grave reflect his belief in the transformative power of death:
“No marble, no conventional phrase,
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!”
Elsinore House at Rosses Point is where the Yeats boys spent summer holidays. It was constructed in the 1830s by a smuggler called Black Jack and was later bought by the poet’s great-uncle William. Naturally the imaginative young poet was thrilled by tales of secret tunnels, ghosts and buried treasure. The house is now derelict, but we can view the exterior.
Dinner tonight will be a private visit to Broc House overlooking Lough Gill, home of Damien Brennan, who will recite Yeats poems for us as we dine on fine Irish organic produce (Damien’s wife Paula Gilvarry ran an acclaimed restaurant for many years). A wonderful end to what should be highly memorable day! (Overnight Sligo) BD
Bushmills, Northern Ireland - 2 nights
Day 13: Wednesday 6 June, Sligo – Letterkenny – Rathmullan – Ramelton – Bushmills
- Full Day with Dr Sophia Hillan, author of May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland
- Introductory lecture by Dr Sophia Hillan at the An Grianan Hotel
- Gortlee House, Letterkenny: the first Donegal home of Lord George Hill and his first wife, Jane Austen’s niece Cassandra Knight
- Graves of Lord George and Cassandra Knight, Conwal Parish Church, Letterkenny
- Lunch at the country house hotel, Rathmullan House (to be confirmed)
- Rathmullan village
- Ballyarr House, Ramelton (exterior only)
- Graves of Jane Austen’s nieces Louisa and Marianne, Tully Graveyard, Ramelton
One does not naturally connect Jane Austen with Ireland, but the recent, excellent book by Dr Sophia Hillan, May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland (Belfast: Blackstaff, 2011) explains the Irish lives of three girls to whom Jane Austen was a devoted aunt. Marianne, Louisa and Cassandra Knight were sisters, children of Jane‘s brother Edward Austen Knight. Cassandra married Lord George Hill in 1834 and moved first to Dublin and then to Donegal, where her husband managed a large estate. When Cass died, Lord George married Louisa, and Marianne came to live with them. Dr Hillan will escort us on this private tour – she was director of Queen’s University Institute of Irish Studies, as well as being an acclaimed author.
Following an early morning departure from Sligo, our tour will begin in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal where, after coffee and an introductory lecture by Dr Sophia Hillan, we will drive past Gortlee House, the first Donegal home of Lord George Hill and his first wife, Jane Austen’s niece Cassandra Knight. This will be followed by a visit to Conwal Parish Church in the centre of the town, where Lord George and Cassandra are buried. We will then travel through very attractive countryside to the little seaside town of Rathmullan, thirteen miles away.
Lunch will be in the beautiful country house hotel, Rathmullan House, looking out over Lough Swilly, the ‘Lake of Shadows’, after which we will have a chance to see in Rathmullan village the exterior of the building which was the convalescent home for working women set up in the 1880s, despite considerable initial local opposition, by Jane Austen’s forward-thinking great-niece, Cassandra Jane Louisa Hill (1842-1901).
After lunch we will then travel the short journey of six miles to the lovely village of Ramelton, on the River Lennon. Three miles outside Ramelton, we will pass the estate of Ballyarr House, where Lord George Hill lived with his second wife, Cassandra’s sister, Louisa Knight, Jane Austen’s godchild, and welcomed to the family the third Knight sister, Marianne. Close by, high on a hill, is our final destination, Tully graveyard. There, as we shall see, Jane Austen’s nieces Louisa and Marianne still lie today side by side, one grave leaning protectively towards the other.
If time permits, we may walk round the very pretty village of Ramelton, and visit the old town hall where Cassandra Hill, an Irish speaker like her father, Lord George, sang on stage in January 1879 the beautiful Irish air, An Chúilfhionn, or The Coolin, ‘The Fair-haired Girl’.
Our tour will then continue via Letterkenny and Derry to Bushmills for the evening meal. (Overnight Bushmills) BLD
Day 14: Thursday 7 June, Bushmills – Ballymoney – Ballycastle – Carrick-a-Rede – Giant’s Causeway – Dunluce Castle – Portstewart – Castlerock – Bushmills
- Full day exploring C.S. Lewis’ Northern Coast with Alexander (Sandy) Smith, author of CS Lewis and the Island of His Birth
- The Dark Hedges, Ballymoney, featured in Game of Thrones
- Giant’s Causeway
- Dunluce Castle
- Early evening meal at the Portstewart Golf Glub (by special appointment)
- Castlerock & the Tunnel Walk
Clive Staples Lewis (better known as C.S. Lewis) was a novelist, medievalist, poet, literary critic, essayist, broadcaster and Christian apologist, who was born in Belfast. Today, in the company of Alexander (Sandy) Smith, author of C.S. Lewis and the Island of his Birth, we explore places that inspired Lewis and places connected with his life and writings. The scenic northern coast of Ireland has also been recently connected to the phenomenally popular Game of Thrones. We will see The Dark Hedges of Ballymoney, a beautiful avenue of 18th-century beech trees, representing the King’s Road in Game of Thrones and listed as one of the 12 most scenic drives in the UK and Ireland.
C.S. Lewis had many a holiday at Ballycastle, County Antrim, while he was writing his Narnia series. Sand and sea, the stunning cliffs and the local resorts were influential on his writings. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950 and was the first of seven novels in The Chronicles of Narnia series. Narnia is a land of mythical animals such as fauns, but much of the landscape of the novel was inspired by the wild coast of Northern Ireland. The story of four children evacuated to a country house in wartime soon became a classic.
Carrick-a-Rede is a 20-metre rope bridge from the mainland to Rocky Island. If you are brave enough to cross it, you will be rewarded with fantastic views of Rathlin Island, the Causeway Coast and, on fine days, the coast of Scotland.
The Giant’s Causeway is another of those must-see attractions in Ireland. The extraordinary interlocking basalt columns are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, but legend tells us they are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. Tourists first began visiting in the 1690s. Arthur Young, a tourist in 1776, wrote of the place: “It is certainly a very great curiosity, as an object for speculation, upon the manner of its formation”, but the Information Centre, which we will visit, will tell us much more than Arthur Young knew about how this remarkable place came into being.
Dunluce Castle, the ultimate in romantic ruins, stands perched on a sea-girt rock. During a riotous party in 1693 a portion of the castle fell into the sea. It was built by the De Burgh family. It is said to be the model for Cair Paravel, the fictional castle where the Narnia children rule as High King Peter the Magnificent, High Queen Susan the Gentle, King Edmund the Just and Queen Lucy the Valiant. In The Game of Thrones the castle is the looming reaver stronghold of Pike on the Iron Islands.
Dinner tonight will be at the Portstewart Golf Club, before enjoying an evening walk to Castlerock which includes the location of Lewis’s boyhood holidays, the church, the seafront and the Tunnel Walk – the railway tunnel driven through the hillside beneath the Mussenden Temple, is referred to by Lewis in his Letters to Arthur Greeves. (Overnight Bushmills) BD
Belfast, Northern Ireland - 3 nights
Day 15: Friday 8 June, Bushmills – Cushenden – Cushendall – Carnlough – Belfast
- John Hewitt Literary Tour of the Glens of Antrim
- Traditional pub lunch at the historic Londonderry Arms, Carnlough
- A brief tour of Hewitt’s Belfast including some of the so-called Peace Lines and The John Hewitt Mural
- Fine dining at The Great Room Restaurant, Merchant Hotel
Not every Irish writer is as internationally known as C.S. Lewis. Today we learn about a lesser known, yet highly acclaimed poet, John Hewitt (1907-1987), taking a literary tour of the Glens of Antrim which inspired much of his work. He was for long regarded as the North’s laureate. We will see the John Hewitt Cairn (and a Neolithic Cairn), his cottage and disused Layde Church.
Born in Belfast, Hewitt discovered the Glens of Antrim in the early nineteen forties when he was in his thirties; his cottage at Cushendall was a holiday home. His poems record old customs and folklore, yet he never felt he was really one of the locals:
“O country people, you of the hill farms,
Huddled so in darkness I cannot tell
Whether the light across the glen is a star,
Or the bright lamp spilling over the sill.
I would be neighbourly, would come to terms
With your existence, but you are so far;
There is a wide bog between us, a high wall.”
Hewitt also addressed issues of identity, history and how we can live together in a divided society. From “An Irishman in Coventry”:
“This is our fate: eight hundred year’s disaster,
crazily tangled as the Book of Kells;
…Yet like Lir’s children banished to the waters
our hearts still listen for the landward bells.”
We will be hosted by the John Hewitt Literary Society, will enjoy a traditional pub lunch at the historic Londonderry Arms, Carnlough, and will be entertained and informed by readings of Hewitt’s poetry throughout the day.
Our day ends with a brief tour of Hewitt’s Belfast including some of the so-called ‘Peace Lines’ or ‘Peace Walls’, including a visit to The John Hewitt Mural.
The five star Merchant Hotel is a Victorian building in Belfast. It is undoubtedly one of Northern Ireland’s finest restaurants, with a glass cupola, the largest chandelier in the country, and superb plasterwork detailing. The Great Room Restaurant is the jewel in is crown and we will dine there this evening as a welcome to the city of Belfast. (Overnight Belfast) BD
Day 16: Saturday 9 June, Belfast – Crawfordsburn – Belfast
- Full day C.S. Lewis coach tour of Belfast with author Sandy Smith
- Methodist College
- Queens University
- Writers Square
- Custom House Square
- Lewis’s Birthplace
- C.S. Lewis Exhibition Belmont Tower
- ‘Little Lea’, the Lewis family home
- Campbell College
- St Marks Church
- The Searcher Sculpture.
- Evening meal at the Old Inn, Crawfordsburn
The capital of Northern Ireland is rich in literary associations. Poet Louis MacNeice was born there:
“I was born in Belfast between the mountain and the gantries
To the hooting of lost sirens and the clang of trams:”
Joseph Campbell, W.R. Rodgers, Sir Samuel Ferguson and Brian Moore are all Belfast writers. But today we will focus on the early life of C. S. Lewis and his connections with the city, taking a coach tour with author Sandy Smith. This will include the Methodist College, Queen’s University (attended by Lewis’s mother Flora, a brilliant student there who graduated in 1886), Writers’ Square and Custom House Square, the C.S. Lewis Birthplace, and ‘Little Lea’, the Lewis family home. Campbell College, where Lewis boarded in 1910, was founded (according to Lewis) “for the express purpose of giving Ulster boys all the advantages of a public school education without the trouble of crossing the Irish Sea”. He was baptised in St Mark’s Church and gave money, along with his brothers, for a stained glass window to be erected there in memory of his parents.
Literary statues can sometimes be whimsical and fun. ‘The Searcher’ sculpture, opposite a Belfast library, depicts the Narnia narrator, Digory Kirke, about to step inside a wardrobe. The artist, Ross Wilson, wanted to capture the “great ideas of sacrifice, redemption, victory, and freedom for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve” that lie at the heart of The Chronicles of Narnia.
Tonight we dine at the Old Inn, Crawfordsburn, a quaint, thatched hotel dating from 1614, and with a smuggling heritage. The village was an important mail coach stop, so the inn came to be patronised by many notable people, including Trollope, Thackeray, Dickens, Swift, Tennyson, C.S. Lewis and possibly even Peter the Great of Russia. Dining in the Lewis Room is a special experience. (Overnight Belfast) BLD
Day 17: Sunday 10 June, Belfast – Bellaghy – Belfast
- Talk on Seamus Heaney by Dr Sophia Hillan at the new Seamus Heaney Centre (due to be opened in June 2016)
- In the Footsteps of Seamus Heaney with Fergal Kearney including Bellaghy Bawn, Church Island, Anahorish School, Old Thatch Inn, Barney’s Forge, Toner’s Bog and his grave at St Mary’s Church
- Ballyscullion Park: 2-course lunch and guided tour (by special appointment)
- A talk by Richard Mulholland: ‘The Story of Ballyscullion Park and the Mulholland family’
- Optional visit to the John Hewitt – Belfast Bar
Bellaghy, County Derry, was one of the first planned towns in Ireland, part of the Plantation of Ulster. Within the village is Bellaghy Bawn, a fortified house with walls and towers built on the site of a Gaelic ringfort. The house was attacked in the 1641 rebellion, but survived and in 1996 it was opened to the public as a museum. Seamus Heaney, poet, playwright, lecturer, translator, professor and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, was born in Mossbawn on the northern shore of Lough Neagh, but then his family moved ”up the road” to Bellaghy and he grew up in the Bellaghy area. The museum features original work and manuscripts donated by Seamus Heaney.
Dr Sophia Hillan, who was Seamus Heaney’s student and then colleague, will give us an introductory talk about Heaney and his poetry at the new centre, before we set off to explore places connected with his works. We will see Church Island, Anahorish School, the house where the Heaney family lived from when Seamus was eleven, Old Thatch Inn, Barney’s Forge, Toner’s bog where his father cut turf, the eel fishery at Toome (Heaney wrote of how “he stood at night when eels / Moved through the grass like hatched fears / Towards the water”), and of course Seamus Heaney’s grave at St Mary’s Church. We will also be accompanied by Fergal Kearrney, Seamus Heaney expert.
We will lunch at the private country home, Ballyscullion Park, home of Richard Mulholland, who is descended from Jane Austen’s niece Cassandra. Part of Game of Thrones was filmed in old palace ruins here. Richard will give us a talk about the history of the property (just before D-Day it was Camp Ballyscullion).
In the late afternoon we return to Belfast where the evening is at leisure. There will be an optional visit to The John Hewitt pub. Located in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, The John Hewitt first opened its doors in December 1999. The bar is unique in its ownership as it is owned by The Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre. The Resource Centre’s managers had always relied on various grants to fund its work, when in the mid nineties, they came up with the idea of generating some of their own funds by going into business… And why not a pub! John Hewitt, the late poet, socialist and Freeman of Belfast officially opened the Resource Centre on Mayday 1983, hence the name of the bar. (Overnight Belfast) BL
Carrickmacross - 1 night
Day 18: Monday 11 June, Belfast – Armagh – Banbridge – Loughbrickland – Rathfriland – Carrickmacross
- Armagh Library incl. a first edition of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
- Village of Loughbrickland where Dean Jeffrey Lefroy, one of the sons of Thomas Lefroy, Jane Austen’s paramour, is buried
- The Brontë Homeland Drive, Rathfriland
This morning we travel to Armagh, ecclesiastical capital of Ireland since St Patrick established his principal church there around 444. One treasure dating from this ecclesiastical history is the Book of Armagh, which has the earliest copy of the saint’s Confessions and which is in Trinity College Library, Dublin. The Armagh Library, one of the oldest in the country, contains the personal library of Archbishop Robinson (who established it in 1771) and also other rare books, incunabula, gems and coins. We will view a first edition of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels with annotations in Swift’s own hand.
An Irishman once fell in love with Jane Austen, but could not afford to marry her. His name was Tom Lefroy, he had five sisters and was dependent on a rich relation. Leaving Jane, he eventually returned to Ireland and began a career as a lawyer, rising to become Lord Chief Justice. His romance with Jane Austen is the subject of the movie Becoming Jane. Tom married an heiress and had a large family, but had Jane Austen married him, she might have been too busy to ever write her novels and the world would have been a much sadder place. We will make a brief stop at the village of Loughbrickland where his son Jeffrey is buried. Jeffrey Lefroy was rector at the Anglican church here.
The fertile land of County Down has been farming country for centuries. It was in the little village of Rathfriland in 1777, on St Patrick’s Day, that Patrick Brunty was born. He grew up in a two room cottage, one of the ten children of a farmer who loved telling stories, yet managed to get a Cambridge degree and a position as a clergyman in the Church of England. He changed his name from Brunty to Brontë and fathered the writers Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Patrick never lost his strong Irish accent, and his daughters grew up with an interest in their father’s homeland. Charlotte made her one and only visit to Ireland on her honeymoon. Today we take the Brontë Homeland Drive, visiting Drumballyroney Church where he first preached, the schoolhouse where he first taught, Alice McClory’s Cottage (his mother’s home), Patrick’s birthplace at Emdale (now in ruins) and the Glascar School where he used enlightened teaching methods, but from which he was dismissed for a romantic involvement with a pupil. Patrick Brontë was himself a writer, publishing Cottage Poems and many articles about parish conditions around Haworth.
The wonderfully named Carrickmacross (meaning ‘rock of the wooded plain’) in County Monaghan is famed for its lace and is a historic market town. We will stay here for the night. (Overnight Carrickmacross) BL
Dublin - 2 nights
Day 19: Tuesday 12 June, Carrickmacross – Inniskeen – Brú na Bóinne – Dublin
- Guided tour of the Patrick Kavanagh Centre and Kavanagh Country Literary Trail, Inniskeen
- Guided of Newgrange and Knowth; Self-Guided visit of Brú na Bóinne Visitors Centre
Patrick Kavanagh, poet and novelist, is considered one of the foremost poets of the 20th century. He wrote with great tenderness of his local region around Inniskeen:
“The barrels of blue potato-spray
Stood on a headland of July
Beside an orchard wall where roses
Were young girls hanging from the sky.”
He was born in Mucker, near Inniskeen, County Monahan, and was soon apprenticed to his father’s trade of shoe-making, but instead turned to poetry. We will visit the Kavanagh Centre, opened by President Mary Robinson in 1994, and explore the Kavanagh Literary Trail. The graveyard next to the centre is where Kavanagh is buried.
This part of Ireland has been inhabited since the late Neolithic era. Newgrange, older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, was built during that time – it is a circular mound with stone passageways and interior chambers. Today this important ancient structure is one of the most visited places in Ireland. We will look around the Visitor Centre and site. Nearby Knowth is a Neolithic passage grave, probably dating from 2500 to 2000 BC. It contains rare Megalithic art. These are sites that stubbornly keep their secrets, and which are fascinating to visit. (Overnight Dublin) BL
Day 20: Wednesday 13 June, Dublin – Howth Head – Dublin
- Howth Castle (by special appointment, to be confirmed 2017)
- Trinity College Library: Book of Kells & Long Room
- Time at leisure
- Farewell Dinner at The Winding Stair Restaurant
Howth Head, north of Dublin, is where Leopold Bloom proposed to Molly in Ulysses. Booker Prize winning writer John Banville lives at Howth, authors Conor Cruise O’Brien and his poet wife Máire Mhac an tSaoi lived at Howth Head for many years, while Yeats spent some of his childhood in a house above the cliffs. The locale of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake (sometimes seen as one of the world’s most difficult novels, or unreadable for some) is ‘Howth Castle and Environs’, names that give initials to the main character Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. We will visit Howth Castle by special appointment (to be confirmed in 2018). This private house holds one of the few portraits of Jonathan Swift, while the library was designed by the famed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.
The greatest of Irish literary treasures are held at Trinity College Library, Dublin, our last visit of the tour. Trinity College has educated many of Ireland’s great writers. Oscar Wilde’s name was removed from the honour roll at the time of his disgrace, but has since been restored. Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke and Samuel Beckett were students. We will view the Book of Kells, one of the most famous books in the world, the Book of Durrow, and admire illuminated books, the fabulous Long Room and the various treasures on display.
The rest of the day is at leisure in Dublin. You might like to take a boat trip along the Liffey (in Finnegan’s Wake the heroine Anna Livia Plurabelle is an allegory of the river, while Brendan Behan said that Joyce had made of the river “the Ganges of the literary world”; Oliver St John Gogarty once gave the Liffey two swans in gratitude for being saved when he jumped into the river to escape militants planning to kill him; Iris Murdoch wrote of the Liffey in Under the Net). Or you could explore some of the city’s many museums, pop into one of the many pubs which threw Brendan Behan out to enjoy a drink, you could visit a distillery, or stroll in Phoenix Park.
Our farewell group dinner tonight will be at The Winding Stair restaurant, overlooking the river Liffey and named after a line from Yeats. It is above a bookshop; both café and shop were iconic places for Dublin writers and artists in the 1970s and 80s. (Overnight Dublin) BD
Day 21: Thursday 14 June, Depart Dublin
- Departure transfer for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour ends today in Dublin. Participants on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will transfer to the airport to take their flight to Australia. Alternatively, you may wish to extend your stay in Dublin. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance.
For a comparatively small island, Ireland has produced more than its share of great writers. This tour has taken you to places connected with writers whose works you know well – Wilde, Shaw, Swift, Joyce, Lewis, Goldsmith, Beckett and others, but has hopefully also introduced you to some with whom you were not so familiar – Hewitt, Kavanagh, Synge and many more. It has taken you on paths not often travelled by the ordinary tourist, included talks by literary experts, and has shown you the history, land and people who have created the magic that is Irish literature. B