Saturday, October 27, 2012

Travels in Ireland: tea, gold and, yes, a bit of blarney

Kissing the Blarney Stone, with some assistance

According to Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, Ireland has the world's highest per capita consumption of the highest-quality tea.  It should come as no surprise, then, that I fell in love with this country before our plane even landed. But, once we arrived on the Emerald Isle, it continued to charm me, as well as my family.

Our home base was a cozy, historic hotel right off O'Connell Street, described in some travel brochures as the "Champs Elysee of Dublin". It was, by any definition, a  fantastic location as many of the must-see sites (Trinity College, Temple Bar, Grafton Street) were less than a fifteen minute walk from our hotel.

At Blarney Castle. Now 3 of the 4 of us have the gift of gab.
In a week, we covered Dublin, Cork, Blarney, Cobv, Waterford, Monaghan and (slightly by accident), Northern Ireland. We toured Guinness, Jameson, the crystal factory, the gaol, two museums, a castle, and a cathedral. We traced family roots in rural Ireland, drove a car on the wrong side of the road and spent an evening participating in an authentic Irish pub crawl. In between, however, we made room for lots of Irish tea  - from fancy hotels to convenience stores and some very unexpected places in between.

Afternoon tea with the family at The Westbury Hotel in Dublin
We had a champagne afternoon tea at The Westbury Hotel, a five-star hotel on Grafton Street. For more details, check out The Detroit Tea Examiner's review of the luxurious tea in this upscale hotel in downtown Dublin. Inside, grace and gentility partner with the hustle and bustle of the outside city environs - a fitting contrast for a hotel located between Trinity College with its Book of Kells and Temple Bar, with its many, many Irish pubs!

Chris and Rachel discuss family history with Mrs. McNally
On the other end of the spectrum, we enjoyed tea and a quick lunch at a convenience store in County Monaghan while tracing some of my husband's Irish ancestry. Armed with a few volumes of family history, Chris asked the woman behind the counter (who turned out to be the owner of the establishment) if she knew any "Whitcrofts". She told us as much as she knew, but asked us to just wait a few minutes and she'd go pick up her 85-year old mother and bring her back, as she knew all the history of the area.
Rachel and Matt on the site where their Irish ancestors resided
Before our tea could cool down, Mrs. McNally joined us in our booth and gave us directions to where the Whitcroft's once resided. Over another cup of hearty black tea, we learned about family from generations past. Grateful, we thanked our new friends and continued our journey, being mindful to stay on the left side of road.

On the way back to our hotel that afternoon, a rainbow appeared, a sign that this journey had brought us a treasure of a lifetime. Didn't realize it at the time, and after snapping a dozen-plus pictures of this multi-hued phenomenon, we discovered rainbows appear quite frequently in Ireland. In fact, I think we saw one every day after that. Nonetheless, like kissing the Blarney stone, there's certainly a bit of enchantment attached to it - just like all our adventures in Ireland. Twas a wonderful time, to be sure. 

We'll be back to share a few more nuggets of our amazing trip to Ireland. We certainly felt we had the luck o' the Irish with the opportunity to visit this beautiful country - and drink high quality tea along the way! 

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