Fond Memories of Ireland and a Gentleman Named “Willie”

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The pubs and craic (good times) in Ireland are as good as any, but there was much more that made my second visit so special. It takes a lot for a tour to be hugely successful. The choice of national guide being one of the most important factors. Craig Travel has had the very good fortune to have an amazing guide introducing their travellers to the beautiful Emerald Isle. Willie Cusker has delighted his groups with his vast knowledge, interesting delivery, love for his beautiful country and his kind, helpful and gentlemanly character.

Myself, and a wonderful group of Craig Travellers enjoyed Willie’s great company for two weeks as he introduced us to the north and south of his charming island, all throughout discovering breathtaking sites, tasting flavourful dishes and learning Irish history. In 2017 Willie celebrates 20 years as Craig’s guide extraordinaire.

Ireland is a small island that packs in a lot of diversity. Starting in Belfast, this northern city is a lively university town and a wonderful mix of old and new with historic buildings alongside new cafes, restaurants and trendy shopping areas. Just an hour and a half away, we experienced the Giants Causeway, an incredible rock formation created from millions of years of volcanic eruptions and the fierce crashing of the sea. Willie brought the legend of Giant Finn McCool to life, describing how the Giant’s Causeway was his personal highway between Ireland and Scotland.

Continuing westward, Willie took us through one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas in Ireland, Connemara. Oscar Wilde described it as having a savage beauty; words that truly encapsulate the wide-open fields and valleys, the lakes, and seashores. It was breathtaking.

Further south past Galway are the dramatic Cliffs of Moher, climbing out of the Atlantic at a height of 214 metres and offering spectacular views. The waves crashing beneath invoke thoughts of ancient sailing vessels and beautiful sirens. That night we dinned like kings in Bunratty Castle, Ireland’s majestic, medieval fortress, built in 1425.

The Ring of Kerry, a scenic route starting and ending in Killarney, displays all the makes up your typical image of Ireland. The winding passes running through tiny hamlets with thatched roofs, past fields of green dotted with the white of sheep grazing, along the rocky wet coastline, and through the mountains of Killarney National Park. Throughout, an enthusiastic Willie regaled us with vivid tales of Irish history and lore.

No trip to Ireland is complete without a chance to kiss the blarney stone. Blarney Castle, built over six centuries ago, is one of Ireland’s greatest treasures. Legend has it that if you kiss the “stone of eloquence” you will never again be lost for words. To kiss the stone, you must be limber and brave, as it hangs under the top ledge of the highest tower. The guard holds you steadfast and after a quick whisper of the lips across the stone, you are hauled up to find the new words to describe your exhilarating dip backwards over the edge.

Dublin was our last stop, a wonderful and lively city, easy to walk around with much to see and do. In its heart is Trinity College, home to one of the world’s most valuable manuscripts. The college’s library houses the famous “Book of Kells,” a 9th century gospel manuscript. Each page is a site to behold, intricately painted with scenes from the bible alongside painstakingly calligraphed scripture.

On our ride to the airport our final morning, Willie recounted the highlights from each day of the journey. This left me with the feeling that I had just completed a personal journey by car around the country with a good friend. He spoke of what a good group we had been and how much he had enjoyed getting to know us all. Laughing as he spoke, he left us with a few words…

“May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Right back at you, Willie…’till we meet again.

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May the luck of the Irish be yours on one of Craig Travel’s 16-day adventures May 19, June 9, September 1 and September 22.

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