“Exploring Ireland” is Peter Sommer Travels’ first Irish itinerary, running only for the second time in 2019. Once again, we are offering a kind of diary of the tour, as we did for Crete and the Dodecanese in 2017 and for the Peloponnese and the Cyclades in 2018. We followed those precedents, not describing every day in detail (just check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com), but picking one image we took on each day, accompanying it with some thoughts or insights.
Céad míle fáilte - a hundred thousand welcomes!
It may be a cliché, but it is an often-heard traditional greeting, and indeed today was the day we welcomed our guests to Ireland and to Dublin, where a fine hotel on the banks of the River Liffey is our abode for the first two nights of 'Exploring Ireland'.
Dublin is a bustling and fascinating city, not particularly enormous, but the centre of economic, cultural and political life in Ireland. It is set on both sides of the Liffey, and the river is very much its historic raison d'être, the reason it exists.
In the 9th century AD, the place was notable as a wide tidal estuary, with an extra widening where the river (really a stream) known as the Poddle joined the Liffey, forming a large pool. The founders of Dublin were Scandinavian travellers, the type we call Vikings, acting not as raiders but as settlers here. They called their new place Dyfflin, from dubh linn (pronounced doov lin), which is Irish for 'black pool'. The Gaelic (Celtic) locals called this new town (and towns were very much a new thing in Ireland then) by a different name: Baile Átha Cliath, (pronounced more or less bawlya-aha-clee-ah), meaning 'the settlement by the ford with hurdles', still the irish name for Dublin (and let's make that clear: the name is pronounced with a u as in 'butcher' or 'put').
Our hotel, right on the bank of the Liffey, sits very close to the confluence of the Poddle (now channelled underground) and the Liffey, i.e. close to the core of early Dublin. Today, we (my Irish colleague Caitlin and myself) welcomed our guests here and then walked them (on our way to dinner) across the famous Ha'Penny Bridge, an iron footbridge constructed in 1816 to link the Southside with the Northside of Dublin. We will talk about its stories some other time, for now let it suffice that it is one of the central landmarks of the city.
Let's see what adventures we will find over the next ten days or so...