Sunday, March 2, 2003 - I had hoped to get up early to attend mass at the cathedral, but I knew I'd never manage to stay awake, and I also didn't think my muddy jeans would be very appropriate. Instead, I wandered around the quaint town, which looked very different by day. Across the River Corrib sat the town of Claddagh, where the famous ring was created. It was a warm, sunny morning, so peaceful by the river. A rainbow appeared above the town - an auspicious beginning to the last day of the tour. By the quayside sat the Spanish Arch, the remains of a medieval fort that once guarded the waterway. The name comes from the towns trade links to Spain. Tucked inside were a few artifacts from 1602.

Our first stop of the day was Clonmacnoise, an impressive monastic settlement founded in 545 A.D. by St. Ciaran. The location was well chosen, at the crossroads of the busy River Shannon and Ireland's main east-west road. The Irish don't claim to have invented civilization, but they do boast that they saved it. During the Dark Ages, knowledge was kept alive by scholars trained here, then went out to tutor the kings of Europe, such as Charlemagne. The settlement was destroyed by fire 13 times, attacked by Vikings, Normans and others at least 40 times between the 8th and 12th centuries, yet each time the monks rebuilt. Most of the visible ruins on the site date back to the 11th and 12th centuries.

We were in County Offaly, an area that is not experiencing the economic boom as strongly as the rest of Ireland. Most folks tend to be bog farmers, and sturdly built. We had lunch in Ferbane at the Hiney family pub, where the hearty, delicious food was served by the friendliest people I'd met in Ireland. Then is was back to Dublin, learning a few folks songs along the way - of Molly Malone and her cart, and the sad tale of the Fields of Atherny. The road took us through the bogs, where peat is cut and dried to serve as fuel. The rich, earthy smell of peat smoke permeated the air.

As we entered Dublin, we drove through Phoenix Park, Europe's largest urban park. Ireland's President, or Uachtaran, lives in the park, and the Pope said mass to one million Irish in the park in 1979. Its also home to a herd of red deer who roam freely in the park, disrupting sports and taking little notice of people. We left the park and the tour ended. It was a great introduction to Ireland, for I know I'll be back, hopefully with three weeks rather than three days.

I had a very interesting evening at Darkey Kelly's, the bar connected to my hotel. It was packed in the aftermath of a Liverpool-ManU game. The musicians were playing rebel songs, and the crowd roared along. Even traditional songs were punched up with rebel interjections between the versus. I spoke with one young man who explained that most of the patrons were Republicans. I know so little of Ireland's complex past and current politics, but basically they still seek a united Ireland. During the tour I got a glimpse into Ireland's turbulent history and a chance to experience a slice of Irish culture - its landmarks its music, its people. To see another side of the culture, of of continued unrest, made Ireland at once more real and compelling, so much more than just a fun place to visit and have a pint. next>>

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