Exploring Ireland for seniors

The heritage and landscape of Ireland

Learning about Ireland for Seniors

In order to uncover the treasures of Ireland, you must connect its rich heritage with its physical beauty. Explore geology and natural history at the Cliffs of Moher and Slieve League or the karst land of the Burren. Take a literary walk through Dublin to experience the city’s art and culture. Feel the presence of religion at the ‘Seven Churches’ on Inis Mor Islands and the pilgrimage sites of Knock and Glencolmcille. And visit the incredible clifftop fort of Dun Aengus to deepen your understanding of Ireland’s history. Of course, you must also seek out the mythology and folklore of this unique country. Kiss the Blarney Stone at medieval Blarney’s Castle or scale the spectacular basalt pillars that make up Giant’s Causeway. Learning about Ireland is best discovered by immersing yourself into the very qualities that make it special.

Odyssey Traveller tours of Ireland for Seniors

Odyssey’s Treasures of Ireland small group tour commences in Dublin, before crossing to Killarney in County Kerry. We explore the Dingle Peninsula and the famous Ring of Kerry. We travel north, via the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, to County Galway. From here we visit Connemara National Park and the romantic Abbey of Kylemore before taking a ferry bound for Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands. Our journey then continues north via Sligo to Glenties in County Donegal. We explore the heritage of this northwest corner of Ireland before heading east via the Giant’s Causeway towards Belfast. We stay a night in each of the historic towns of Derry and Belfast.

This thorough program includes activities for immersive learning. There are talks by informed speakers, contact with nature on our walks, visits to a host of monuments and other diverse historical sites, and interaction with the Irish people. If you wish to learn more about Ireland, read on. We cover Ireland’s climate and spectacular geomorphology first, followed by its rich and complex history. Later, we will include details of what sets our small group tours apart.

Irish fields in the sunset in County Kerry just outside of Dingle Ireland
Gorgeous Irish fields in the sunset in County Kerry just outside of Dingle

Understanding Ireland

Ireland sits among the ‘British Isles’, to the west of Great Britain across the Irish and Celtic Seas. Its jagged western coastline faces the Atlantic Ocean. It lies closer to the Polar regions than any parts of Australia or New Zealand.

Ireland consists of two political units, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom. Great Britain refers to the island on which England, Wales and Scotland are found.

The Climate

Strong oceanic influences, particularly the Gulf Stream, determine the generally mild temperatures and wet climate experienced by most of Ireland. Warmed in the tropics, ocean water flows north from the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Drift onto the southern and western coasts of Ireland. This warm water also affects the air masses blowing over the ocean and onto the island.

Polar maritime air masses from the northwest pass over the relatively warm sea and are thus rendered unstable and moist. The resulting turbulence is responsible for gusty winds, showers and broken cloud in all seasons of the year. Arctic and Continental air masses may bring snow in winter but for most of Ireland, the average is less than ten days when snow actually lies on the ground. There are, for example, fewer than ten days of frosts on average for most of County Kerry in the south-west. This is the warmest part of Ireland. Ireland’s average maximum temperature is 5°C during winter, and 15°C in the summer.

Shipwreck – shot near Bunbeg, County Donegal, Ireland

Rainfall

1,080 millimetres is the average precipitation with 80% of all Ireland receiving between 762 millimetres and 1,270 millimetres per year. The wettest parts are in the highest and most western locations and the elevated parts of the west of Ireland average as many as 2,400 millimetres per year. Most of the west of Ireland (including counties Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Limerick and Kerry) has more than 250 rain days per year, whilst the rest of the island has between 200 and 250 rain days. A very small area around Wexford is the only area to average less than 200 rain days!

Geology & Geomorphology

Another factor contributing to the mildness in temperature is the lack of high mountains. Less than one-fifth of Ireland has an elevation of higher than 150 metres. The highest point is Carrantouhill, 1041 metres, located in the central part of the Ring of Kerry. By way of contrast, the average elevation of Australia is about 300 metres, the highest point being 2,226 metres. New Zealand’s highest point is 3,754 metres. Maximum depth of the Irish Sea is 180 metres, however 50 kilometres to the west of Ireland the sea bed plunges to 2,400 metres and more in the eastern Atlantic.

The oldest rocks are Pre-Cambrian (older than 570 million years) and are usually schists and other well-folded rock of mainly igneous or metamorphic origin. These ancient rocks are seen in NW Ireland, for example, near Glenties. In fact, they are of similar origin to most of the Scottish Highlands: the geology in this part of Ireland is a continuation of the southern uplands of Scotland.

ireland
The curious basalt formations of Giant’s Causeway

Basalt flows and Giant’s Causeway

Also found in the north are extensive areas of horizontal basalt flows of Tertiary age (between 2 and 63 million years ago) such as the Antrim Plateau. Not only has this volcanic rock given rise to rich soils, but its cooling structure is seen at Giant’s Causeway where the dramatic geometrically-shaped basalt columns have been exposed by the sea to produce a landform that has captured the imagination of many cultures.

Limestone landscapes

Much of the midlands of Ireland is composed of surface sedimentary rocks of Palaeozoic age (between 230 and 570 million years ago). Slates, shale and sandstone are common in the oldest of these beds. Those rocks laid down later in the Carboniferous period (within the Palaeozoic between 280 and 354 million years ago) are commonly limestone and are fairly widely represented. One of the most dramatic expressions of a limestone-dominated landform is the Burren in County Clare and the landscape of Inis Mor in the Arans where horizontally bedded limestone is seen as bare limestone pavement along with a wide range of Karst features (caves, dolines, sinkholes, dry valleys and, in world-wide terms, an extremely large polje). A granite batholith forms the core of the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin, extending down the east coast into County Wexford.

Ireland tours
The cliffs of Inis Mor, Aran Islands

Sculpted by the Ice Age

Most of Ireland’s landforms were sculpted by moving ice sheets or glaciers during and following the peak of the last Ice Age some 23,000 years ago. The U-shaped valleys and eskers or gravel ridges of the lowlands, for example, are a direct result of ice movement and weathering and the subsequent deposition associated with glacial melting. In central Ireland the ice sheets dropped drift (sand, silt, clay and boulders), the basis for most current soils. Many of the lakes in the uplands are cirques or corries – these owe their origin to the gouging action of ice.

Several other landforms we see are the remnants of glacial deposition. Drumlins are the most common and they may be found as swarms of streamlined hills composed of glacial till. They vary in height from 7 to 60 metres and in length from tens of metres to many kilometres. A belt of drumlins stretches across Ireland from Sligo Bay to County Down on the northeast coast. Many ill-drained areas owe their origin to glacial drift deposits which have restricted water-flow into streams. Many of these situations have provided a suitable habitat for the growth of patches of raised bogs and the formation of lakes.

The Ice Age which developed many of these landforms came to a rapid halt some 14,000 years ago only to be followed by another freeze that ended about 11,000 years ago. After this time temperatures began to increase, ice melted and re-colonisation by plants and animals began. Humans were still 6,000 years away from Ireland.

Ireland tours
Blarney Castle

Ireland’s heritage

Ireland’s population, settlement and its changing political scene have produced a heritage that is both rich and visible.

Stone Age farmers came to Ireland over 5,000 years ago by way of a land bridge from Scotland. Temperatures then were some 2°C warmer than today. The bog plant communities which formed the extensive peat areas of recent times had not yet started to form. This latter process began when the climate cooled about 3,000 years ago. Some of the remains of this early culture are the Court Tombs and associated stone tools. Another wave of immigrants from central Europe, later Stone Age farmers, have left Portal Tombs as evidence of their occupation.

The arrival of the Celts

The Iron Age brought the Celts to Ireland. Celts held sway in Europe from the Balkans to western Ireland. When they started to arrive in Ireland around about 700 – 500 BC, they easily assimilated with the bronze-armed inhabitants. As farmers, the Irish Celts raised cattle. The last of their migratory waves arrived about the time of the birth of Christ. Celtic myths and legends, the Brehon Law system and their ancient language remained strong until about 200 years ago. Their pagan rites, however, were effectively replaced by Christianity by the eighth century.

Roman occupation and influence dominated France and England during this period. However, the Romans did not cross the Irish Sea to conquer even though they coined Ireland’s Latin name of Hibernia (the winter place). Yet Rome’s influence was felt as a result of human traffic between the two islands, by trading and raiding, and, of course, Christianity.

Small Group escorted tour exploring Historic Ireland
A view of Kileany

 

Christianity

Christianity reached Ireland around 400 AD. However, most of the credit for converting the Irish goes to St Patrick, who did not begin his ministry until 432. A couple of generations saw Christian monasteries established and in them, a flowering of art and scholarship. Within a century of Patrick’s death around 462, Irish missionaries had reached the islands of western Scotland and began converting the Picts, Scots and Britons, and eventually the Angles. In 563 St Colmcille (Columba) arrived from Ireland and set up a base in Iona for his ministry in Scotland. He was one of a number of Irish Saints and monks to influence the Scottish pagans and those further afield in Europe during the Dark Ages.

Irish church scholars actively recorded Celtic history and copied down the Celts’ myths and legends and poetry. The greatest product of the Irish monastic scene was the Book of Kells, dating from the end of the eighth century. This 340-page book of the four Gospels was scribed in Latin by monks and is the most richly illustrated of the Irish illuminated manuscripts. It was probably begun at Iona in Scotland, brought to a monastery in Kells, County Meath, then held in the parish church. It was finally taken to the Library of Trinity College Dublin for safe-keeping during the destructive Cromwellian period.

The Age of Invasion: the Vikings

At the end of the 8th century, Vikings began their raids in Ireland, meeting no concerted national resistance. Round Towers, which date from this era are now thought to have been used as bell-towers or visible markers for pigrims. We also see the establishment by the Vikings through the 800s and 900s of settlements and trading centres that today have become the cities of Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

Eventually, Brian Boru attempted to oust the Vikings. A regional king from West Clare, Boru had made himself High King of Ireland from 1002. Viking influence was contained after 1014 when Boru defeated a combined Irish-Viking army at Clontarf just outside Dublin.

Gardens of Ireland Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey

The arrival of the Normans

150 years later, from 1169, came the Normans. Their incursions, according to historian Robert Kee, started the conflict between Ireland and England. Many of these people intermarried with the Irish and assimilated Irish practices, a situation that worried later rulers like Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Today we can recognise this Norman-English Irish group by their small castles (Tower Houses and Pale Castles, especially those built between 1400 and 1600).

The Normans began a steady takeover of land under Henry II, leading to dominance of government under the Plantagenets and prescription of religion by the Tudors, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Not that the Irish did not resist or react – great violence was done on both sides. However as a result of the Reformation, the Plantations and persecution, land ownership was gradually lost by the Irish to English and Scottish settlers.

The Tudor Re-Conquest

The turning point was Elizabeth I’s determination to establish Tudor rule throughout the country. Ulster’s Hugh O’Neill realised that, despite earlier good relations with the Crown, his chiefly status and Catholic faith were not going to be acceptable and that he could be implicated in plots against English rule. O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone, and Rory O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell (see Donegal castle), led a national uprising (supported by the Spanish) between 1594 and 1603. After its collapse, the Earls, along with many other leaders, left Ireland in 1607 for the Continent in response to English domination. This is known as ‘The Flight of the Earls’. Both Earls died overseas.

Elizabeth began, and the Stuarts continued, the process known as ‘The Plantations’, especially of the six Ulster counties that are modern Northern Ireland. Their aim was to stabilise the English government and economy in Ireland. The Plantations of Ulster bequeathed a majority Ulster-Scot population that is mainly Presbyterian amidst a largely Catholic minority.

River Liffey and Four Courts building in Dublin

18th & 19th Centuries

The war between James II and William III settled Ireland’s fate by 1691. For a century or more (known as the Penal Era) Catholics were subjected to numerous civil disabilities and land continued to pass into the hands of Anglo-Irish Protestant aristocracy and gentry. At the end of the 1700s Irish radicals, both Catholic and otherwise, began pushing for the independence of Ireland. The resulting 1798 Rebellion, including invasion from Napoleonic France, failed in the attempt.

In 1800 the English dissolved the Irish Parliament and the government moved from Dublin to Westminster. Ireland became part of the United Kingdom, symbolised by the addition of the red diagonal Cross of St Patrick to the Union Flag. Ireland was represented by some 100 members in the House of Commons but none could be Catholic. In 1829, Catholic Emancipation brought to an end most of the penal laws against Catholics.

Lasting legacies

A group of men were famous for maintaining the Irish cause against British rule generally and unfair landlords in particular. Right up till the end of the 1800s, this group included Henry Grattan, Wolfe Tone, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Robert Emmet, Daniel O’Connell, William Smith O’Brien, Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt. Of these, Daniel O’Connell, ‘The Liberator’, did most to give confidence to the Irish people by demonstrating the power of collective opinion. Evidence of his fame is everywhere.

Likewise, evidence of the Great Famine of 1845 – 1852 is also everywhere. This cataclysm resulted from successive failures of the potato crop due to fungal disease (Late or Irish Blight caused by Phytophthora infestans) combined with inadequate government assistance to alleviate starvation and disease. The net result was the death of around one million people and the emigration of at least as many, mainly to North America. The trend in emigration continued to the extent that the population in 1900 was half that of pre-Famine days. National population only began to grow again in the 1970s.

Spire in Dublin, Ireland in summer time

Politicians & Political Events since 1900

Irish nationalism hardened in those hard years, bringing with it various forms of revolutionary action. The modern era, in effect, begins with Sinn Fein, founded in 1904 with the main aim ‘to clear the British out of Ireland, bag and baggage’. Pre-existing groups like the Irish Republican Brotherhood (Fenians) infiltrated Sinn Fein as well as cultural groups such as the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Volunteers. The latter had been formed in 1913 to protect the passage of the Home Rule Act which would have returned to Dublin a diminished local parliament. By 1914 Sinn Fein had covertly mobilised the nation and the IRB was planning an armed insurrection.

Concerted action against British rule began openly during World War I. The Easter Rising in 1916 saw heavy fighting against British troops in Dublin where action centred on the GPO. Michael Collins, a Sinn Fein leader, was heavily involved in this and subsequent actions in the cause of independence. At the end of the World War, general elections returned a majority of Sinn Fein members. Many were in English gaols and all boycotted the Westminster House of Commons in favour of Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament). The Dail organised military resistance and for two years waged a War of Independence against Britain, ending with the Treaty of 1921. It created a twenty-six-county Irish Free State with Dublin as the capital. It also confirmed the creation of a new state, Northern Ireland, in the six north-eastern counties, with Belfast as its capital. The partition of Ireland tended to confirm the sectarian bias (in jobs, housing and other social services) that was already operating in the north-­eastern corner. Dissatisfaction among republicans over this Treaty led to civil war between Irish Free State groups (1922 – 1923). It left alive the republican ideal in the North that, almost ever since, has had a military aspect.

In 1922 the Irish Free State was inaugurated and set about building a distinct nation and a viable economy. A gradual severing of relations with Britain began with the formation of Eire in 1937. It  was completed by the unilateral declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1948.

Britain National Trust
Castlerigg stone circle

The Last Half Century

The border between north and south caused ongoing friction. It was not only because the north was part of the UK, but also because of the dominance that Protestants there wielded over local Catholics. This situation encouraged the reformation of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). It also fueled old and new differences between the most vocal Protestant group, the Unionists, and the Catholic Nationalists. Since 1969, these tensions intensified in Northern Ireland into ‘The Troubles’, as these war-­like conflicts are called. Differences of opinion persisted between Unionists and Republicans, and between both these groups and successive Irish and British governments

On 8 May 2007 a new era of power-sharing came into being in Northern Ireland. Devolution was restored to the Northern Ireland Assembly following the election of a four-party executive of 12 ministers. Old enemies Rev Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness were sworn in as First Minister and Deputy First Minister respectively. Under this new arrangement, Paisley’s Democratic Unionists headed four ministries while Sinn Fein had three. Significantly, all new government ministers took an oath of office that required them to ‘uphold the rule of law based as it is on the fundamental principles of fairness, impartiality and democratic accountability, including support for policing and the courts’. Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at the time, summed up the situation as follows: “These implacable foes have individually and collectively said that now is the time for Northern Ireland to move forward into a new era. They have together taken charge of the process from the British and Irish governments. This is where we have wanted to be since before the Good Friday Agreement was signed almost nine years ago.”

So far, the devolution process has enabled Northern Ireland’s leaders to enact various reforms, including housing, health and environmental issues and, significantly, on 5 February 2010, they agreed on a ‘roadmap’ and time-line for the devolution of policing and justice powers.

Ireland seniors tour
Benbulben Mountain Range in Sligo, Ireland

In the past years, the commitment and support of the former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Taoseach of the Republic of Ireland (until recently Brian Cowen) and the former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been vital factors in the continuation of the still-fragile relationship between the parties. On Odyssey’s Treasures of Ireland tour, we have the opportunity of talking to an eminent historian of Northern Ireland who will update us on the current situation and expectations.

Odyssey Traveller tours in Ireland for seniors

Odyssey Traveller is famous for our small groups, and we average eight participants per tour. Our maximum group size is typically sixteeen people, which ensures quality, flexibility and care that is tailored to our clients. We specialise in small group travel packages for the senior traveller who is seeking adventure or is curious about the world we live in. Typically, our clients begin travelling with us from their mid 50’s onward. But be prepared to meet fellow travellers in their 80s and beyond! Both couples and solo travellers are very welcome on our tours.

If you are passionate about learning while you travel, you will find a variety of opportunities with Odyssey Traveller. We offer two tours to Ireland with several departures each year. Our Historic Ireland tour is guaranteed for an August 2018 departure. We also offer a Walking tour of Ireland and England’s Lake District. Odyssey offers a variety of tours to some 80 countries, including in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. We even run a Summer School series based in Hobart, Tasmania. As long as you remain inquisitive, we continue to design programs to challenge and excite.

About Odyssey Traveller

Travel in your 80s

Odyssey Traveller is committed to charitable activities that support the environment and cultural development of Australian and New Zealand communities. Accordingly, we are pleased to announce that since 2012, Odyssey has been awarding $10,000 Equity & Merit Cash Scholarships each year. We award scholarships on the basis of academic performance and demonstrated financial need. We award at least one scholarship per year. We’re supported through our educational travel programs, and your participation helps Odyssey achieve its goals.

For more information on Odyssey Traveller and our educational small group tours, visit our website. Alternatively, please call or send an email. We’d love to hear from you!

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Guaranteed

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