Athlone is a medieval town in the center of Ireland with a huge 12th Century Norman Castle and just beside it, you will discover the oldest bar in Ireland, and perhaps in the world no less!
Yes, Sean’s Bar in the heart of Ireland is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records with documented proof it dates back to 900AD. This summer we got a very warm welcome and a history tour when we stopped by for some refreshment with one of our US tour groups. During the tour we learned that in 1970 during renovations they discovered the walls were made of “wattle and wicker” and old coins that are now in display in the National History Museum in Dublin. The city of Athlone or ‘Atha Luian’ (the Ford of Luain) is named after the man who built the pub as an Inn and he is said to have helped travelers cross over the river.
During our history tour of the pub we learned that the story of Irish Whiskey was birthed in the 6th century when the skill of distillation was introduced by traveling monks; with links to a small town in the surrounding area called Lough Ree and the monastery at Clonmacnoise. The earliest mention of whiskey is recorded in ‘the annals of Clonmacnoise’ when it mentions the death of a chieftain to taking a surfeit of ‘aqua vatae’ at Christmas. The name Whiskey is an anglicized version of the phrase ‘aqua vatae’ or ‘Uisce breatha’ that means ‘water of life’. So when you visit Athlone we recommend you take time to sip and savor and drink in it’s history in the way that the Irish have been doing it for centuries…. Slainte… Oh, and did I also mention Sean’s bar even have their own signature whiskey for sale in partnership with the West Cork Distillery?
Looking forward to our next visit to Ireland’s core…
If you ever have a chance to visit Cork you will find St. Barre’s Cathedral tucked away near the heart of the city in the South side of the River Lee. The looming spires are easy to spot in the sky line but navigating through Cork’s one way system and the narrow streets is another story! Still, it’s a worthy pursuit to visit as part of an organized tour or, if you are exploring on your own. The Neo-Gothic style Cathedral was the project of the English architect William Burges and it was completed in 1879. Built with local Cork limestone and marble, the building is a marvel to behold and contains some of the most magnificent stain glass windows with interesting biblical themes.
Inside Finn Barre’s
Our guide reminded us us that just like so many great cathedrals, it’s also a keeper of secrets. I loved the amusing story about the woman who was eves dropping to a Free Mason meeting inside the Cathedral, and she had to be invited as it’s first female member rather than have her divulge it’s secrets. Or, one of my other favorite stories was from the Seige of Cork in 1690 and the 24lb cannon ball hanging up at the back of the church.
Finally, my other surprising highlight is walking the labyrinth at the back of the church – a perfect way to end your visit. Legend has it that the actual site was founded by the city’s patron Saint Finn Barre and so there are…absolutely, no surprises we will be returning again next July on our Summer Elegance tour… and I cannot wait to go again to discover more about this magnificent keeper of secrets.
The most rewarding thing about being a tour operator is sharing joy and creating memories for guests who travel with Shamrock and Peach Tours. I work really hard to tick all the boxes with luxury travel, selecting interesting and historical top notch 4 and 5 star accommodations, award winning restaurants and gorgeous grounds, but it’s a universally accepted truth that the greatest commodity in Ireland cannot be bought, but found in it’s people. I remember when I was teaching a cooking class in Atlanta a student said to me “the Irish are rich in family and friends” and it really struck a cord in my heart. I am lucky enough to have found many unique places in Ireland who can deliver personal connections to my guests in the way of service, laughter and hospitality. Experiences such as an Executive Chef taking time away from the kitchen to explain his locally sourced menu, a surprise welcome gesture on arrival to a resort and feeling cared for just like family is unforgettable .
Dining in Hayfield Manor
There are many such properties I want to feature in my blog over these next few weeks , but let me start with one of Cork’s finest 5 Star Hotel, Hayfield Manor. The hotel is owned by the Scally family and is lovingly tucked away the heart of the city beside University City Cork. An unexpected retreat of luxury, surprise and just an escape from it all! Many of my Alumni have already experienced the hospitality in Killarney Royal as well as Hayfiled manor and know exactly what I am talking about. Time and time again my guests will mention by name the bar tender, the receptionist and the maids and hope they are still working there because their experience felt so personal. When you stay in a Hayfield Collection hotel there is a sense of warmth, of Irish welcome, of passion and pride. Oh, and I also should add that both hotels are listed in both Ireland’s blue book and Small Luxury Hotel’s of the World? And of course there is “the craic” (the good time and the fun).
So, it’s also with great joy, honor and passion I am announcing our Southern Elegance Tour dates are June 14th to 21st 2020! You are in for a treat in a home away from home retreat when you visit Cork, Ireland next summer with Shamrock and Peach Tours.
They say “lightening never strikes the same place twice”, except for Rory McIlroy, who just won his second Fed Ex tour championship in four years! I was cheering on Sunday’s big win for my Northern Irish homeland and Rory McIlroy! The FedEx 2019 tour championship was held just a few miles from my Atlanta home at East Lake Golf Club. It’s lovely to see someone from Northern Ireland take home such a triumphant win and be so respected not only professionally but for being an all round great person. The true sizzle to this lightning strike is that Rory takes home the largest payout in golf history… with a cool $15 million!
Much love and Congratulations from the Shamrock and Peach!
It’s not every day that I get the chance to on the BBC, but this evening we were thrilled to listen to an interview that Helen Mark and the Kintra team from BBC Radio Ulster carried out during one of our tour group stops at the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim.
Kintra is a weekly magazine radio program broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster that explores all things Scotch-Irish (Ulster-Scots) and this week they caught up with one of my tour groups to explore the links between America and Northern Ireland to celebrate the 4th of July. It was a joy to meet Helen and Johnny, and to hear from our guests what they thought of visiting Northern Ireland – everyone spoke so well, and they even interviewed my boys Peter and Jack on which American Presidents had Scotch-Irish ancestry!
The show was broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster, and was listened to throughout Northern Ireland, and Ireland. What a fun experience. See a link below to listen – our wee bit is just 6 minutes long, so you can check it out for fun!
Hope you enjoyed the 4th of July weekend, and it is a joy to explore how strong our links really are on both sides of the Atlantic! – and thanks to my friend Mark Rodgers from Dalriada Kingdom Tours who organized this, and who is beyond doubt the best guide in County Antrim! – thanks Mark!
Some restaurant score an eight out of ten for food and service excellence. some even score an impressive ten out of ten….but in my experience, the wonderful ‘Twelve Hotel’, one of my favorite Irish hospitality hotspots, scores a twelve for the incredible local Irish produce from Connemara and Galway Bay that is magically converted to an unforgettable gastro experience each time I bring guests to visit.
Connemara Lamb by Chef Martin O’Donnell
What sets Irish food apart when in Ireland is the sheer quality of the produce, and Chef Martin O’Donnell really knows how to bring the best out of the best. Whether it’s scallops or lobster, or seaweed, or Irish beef or as in the is case, Connemara lamb. The lamb was slightly smoked by a local producer and crafted into the meal experience we enjoyed tonight with fermented truffle and a fine jus. My tour guests were blown away, and they all now totally get why Ireland is such a foodie island!
Thank you Martin and Fergus, and all at the wonderful Twelve in Galway. Can’t wait to come back wit more Shamrock and Peach guests!
Shamrock and Peach Tours are celebrating our 10th year of being in business with a brand new exciting tour offering, going to the Highlands of Scotland. We have been working on launching our new Scottish tour for several years now and I cannot say how excited we are with all of our incredible accommodations and all the places we will be seeing. To me, it’s kind of like a bucket list itinerary including luxuries such as staying at the spanking new and fabulous Kingshouse Hotel in the heart of Glencoe with spectacular mountain views and highland stags roaming around ( this is the place where Jame’s Bond’s famous movie Skyfall was filmed) – and the equally new 5 star Ness Walk Hotel in Inverness, not far from the famous Spey Whisky trail. We’ll also get to visit Rosalyn Chapel, the Kelpies and Holyrood Palace while staying in Edinburgh – all delightful and wonderful sights to see! – We will pack it in, and it will be incredible.
The website is taking bookings for 2021 as our tour for next year has already sold out. I am very proud of my Irish homeland but Scotland is Spectacular!. My husband and I did a dry run of our tour earlier this year and I am happy to share just a few of his pretty amazing pictures!
Wishing everyone a cracking good Easter as we celebrate today! Yesterday my friend brought over three day old baby chicks for me to dote over. These new born balls of fluff sat peacefully, although loudly chirping, in my hand as I cradled them. The chicks are named “true blue and green whitings”, and are to me a symbol sign of new life and new beginnings this Easter morning. I also got to cook up some freshly laid eggs for breakfast this morning, and we were all so enamored by the beautiful pinks, powder blue and yellow shells. These chicks really made our family feel like Spring is here after such a rainy cold winter and I hope they bring you hope and joy!
As a girl, growing up on the farm in County Armagh, we always had a copy of the Irish Farmer’s Journal in our home. My father loved to read all the latest on sheep and cattle whilst my mother loved to read the magazine and all the interesting articles and recipes. It is essential reading to this day, and is for most of the Irish rural families dotted across the green landscape of Ireland, it is a staple of weekend life. A cup of tea, and the copy of Irish Country living…
So, it was really an honor for me to be featured last weekend in Irish Country Living, the magazine portion of the newspaper. I was just so pleased with the article and felt it was a true interpretation of my story and just excellent journalism. (Thank you so much Ciara Leacy for truly ‘getting it’)
For my faithful blog followers who have followed me over the years I hope you enjoy reading my story about the birth of both Shamrock and Peach Foods, and Shamrock and Peach Tours. Here it is..
The site of the original barn that was given to Patrick by the Irish Chieftain
With only a few days until St. Patrick’s Day I wanted to follow up on my story from last week about the journey of our patron saint, as this is such a great story, and worth telling, so here we go…
When Patrick returned to Ireland, the land of his previous slavery, he landed just outside Downpatrick, in County Down where he promptly converted a local chieftain to to Christianity. The chieftain was so impressed that he donated a barn for St. Patrick to live and worship in and this primitive building became the very first church in Ireland in the early 5th century.
In 1932, Saul’s church was then built on the very same spot as the original barn to commemorate the first place of worship established by St. Patrick in Ireland. It’s a very special place to visit and in the words of Dr. Tim Campbell who guides our tour groups to the site “it’s a thin place” and a stillness that encapsulates a sense of wonder. For those of you who have visited here with me you can recall these feelings and if you have not visited I encourage you to put it on your bucket list. Still a few spots open on my two Legendary Irish tours this summer…
Here are the dates:
June 17th to 23rd $2495 per person sharing (6 nights and 7 days)
June 30th to 7th $2895 per person sharing (7 nights and 8 days)