Have you ever wondered where our Hallowe’en traditions came from? Why do we dress up in costumes? Why do we go door-to-door, asking for treats, and why do we give out candy? Why do we threaten to play a trick on people? Why do we carve pumpkins and put candles or lights inside them? Why do we decorate with skeletons and skulls, ghosts and witches? To find out, we have to look back, way back, to the days of the Celts and Druids.
It wasn’t until recently, as I began looking into my Irish heritage, that I learned our Hallowe’en here in Canada and the US has its roots in Ireland and the ancient, Celtic tradition of Samhain (pronounced Saw-win), dating back about 3,000 years.
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I went to Ireland, both the Republic of Ireland in the south and Northern Ireland, with my co-worker Lois. We did a lot of really neat stuff on our trip around this gorgeous, green island. But, one of my favourite things was being a Warrior for a Day at Castle Ward and Demesne in County Down, just south of Belfast. We got to take part in the Winterfell Game of Thrones™ Experience, because this castle was the setting of Winterfell in the HBO™ series and many scenes were shot on the grounds there.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to take part in the activities, but it turns out that you don’t need opposable thumbs to do archery! Read More >
Anyone who is a Game of Thrones® fan will know that much of the filming of the blockbuster HBO series took place in Northern Ireland. You can visit many of the locations on excellent guided day tours out of Belfast or multi-day tours, for a more in-depth experience. And many of the guides were actually involved in the filming of the show, so have firsthand knowledge.
One of the filming locations is The Dark Hedges, in the northern part of County Antrim. To those in Westeros it is known as the Kingsroad. The Dark Hedges was battered by gale force winds during Storm Gertrude in 2016. Unfortunately, a number of the trees whose branches formed the scenic arch over the road, were felled by the winds. Rather than just dispose of the wood the idea came up to use the wood from some of the trees that fell to create intricately carved, wooden doors, each door depicting a story from Game of Thones®, Season 6. Thus, the Journey of Doors was born!
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My maternal Grandma, Hannah Muirhead, emigrated to Canada from County Antrim, Ireland (now part of Northern Ireland) back in the late 1800’s. Two of her brothers and a sister had sailed to Canada a few years earlier. Sadly, her sister died of black fever on the crossing and was buried at sea, but her brothers arrived safely and made their way west to homestead at the Derry Corner, near Douglas, Manitoba. They then invited Hannah to come and join them. I can’t imagine leaving my family and everything that was familiar to me and sailing across the Atlantic to an unknown place, all at the age of 19. The courage to do that seems unimaginable. Read More >
During my recent trip to Ireland, our first activity was the Winterfell Game of Thrones Experience at Ward Castle and Demesne. I confess that I had my doubts about this situation. I have never watched even two minutes of Game of Thrones, and thought that part might be boring, although I was looking forward to the archery. The entire three hours from the airport to Strangford (including stops), I kept wondering, ‘Who came up with this terrible idea?!’ I thought that arming 20 sleep-deprived and jet-lagged people with bows and arrows was an utterly bad plan. However, I was completely wrong. It was a great ice-breaker for our group, who hadn’t met before we landed in Dublin. It was also a lot of fun. Our guide William was thoroughly entertaining and informative. He explained how it came about that Game of Thrones used Ward Castle and Demesne for shooting parts of the show, and took us around the grounds to point out areas that were used in the filming. He knows many details about the show and was able to tell us exactly which scenes were filmed there. Read More >
In October, I was part of a group of travel agents who went on tour jointly sponsored by Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland. We were so fortunate, as this was the first familiarization trip that combined both countries. It was a whirlwind trip, quite literally, and so much fun. I was lucky enough to travel with a fabulous group of people from all across Canada, from Vancouver to St. John’s. In no time, it was like we’d always known each other.
You can fly into Belfast, but Northern Ireland is just as easily accessible from Dublin airport. With WestJet, Aer Lingus, and Air Canada all flying into Dublin, there are so many options for flights. We flew WestJet via Toronto, and although the landing in St. John’s was bouncy due to the wind, I can’t complain about the extra stop. It broke the trip up so it didn’t seem quite so long. I experienced the same friendly service and on-time flights that I have come to expect from WestJet.
On arrival in Dublin, we were met by our guide, Lynn Corken, who was very welcoming and informative. Her Northern Irish accent is lovely, although it does take a bit of getting used to. For quite a while, we all wondered where this Kine-ty Dine (rhymes with ninety-nine) was located, then laughed at ourselves when we realized that’s where we currently were, County Down.
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Being at the Guinness™ brewery in Dublin got me to thinking about the Guinness™ Book of World Records. Was it related to the famous Guinness™ stout I’d learned so much about at the Guinness™ Storehouse?
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When I was in Dublin in March I visited the Guinness™ Storehouse at St. James’s Gate. A seven-story, converted warehouse where you learn all about the Guinness™ story, it is Ireland’s #1 tourist attraction according to TripAdvisor®. The centre court is built in the shape of a monstrous Guinness™ glass, reaching from the ground floor all the way up to the 6th story. They’ll even tell you how many pints of Guinness™ it would take to fill that gigantic glass! Read More >
OK, well maybe not technically, but ask any true-blooded Irish person and they’ll tell you that “Yes, it makes a nice snack or small meal!”. And why wouldn’t it? It’s made of really good natural food stuff, all locally sourced.
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They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle and it hadn’t been that long ago since I had been on a bike, so I decided that doing a bike tour of Dublin would be a great idea. I did not think through the fact that that would mean that I would be riding on the wrong side of the road, through downtown Dublin traffic, and on many cobble stone roads. However, how hard can that be????? Read More >