As the early morning sun peeked through the canopy of leaves above, dappling the narrow road with sunlight, a shiver of joy ran through my heart as I slipped my hand into my husband’s. We paused to listen to the soft babble of water slipping over the rocks. The river was next to us, yet out of sight down a steep, wooded cliff of the valley. My husband squeezed my hand. It was the last day of our trip to Ireland, and we were strolling through the Vale of Cuneen in County Tipperary. “What a perfect place to celebrate our thirty-one year anniversary,” I said aloud.
Our time in Ireland was coming to an end, and I thought back to ten days earlier when we first visited the Vale. We were driving to the cottage we had rented for our stay, when our host Liam suddenly pulled the car to the edge of the narrow road. He pointed at the large standing stones that formed a ring in the center of the field. “A fairy ring,” he told us. “Thousands of years old. The farmers respect them. They don’t move the stones. They farm around them because fairy rings are steeped in superstition.”
I stared in wide-eyed wonder as the late afternoon sun illuminated the ancient ring of rocks. Just the words “ fairy ring” evoked the mystic image of the romantic Ireland I’d always dreamed of. And that was just the beginning.
Later that week, I sat on the wall of a century’s old ruin in Quinn, County Clare. The site had once been a castle, then a monastery and now a cemetery. The sun warmed my back as I imagined the chanting of monks walking the labyrinth among the ruined cloister walls.
I stared across the fields at the green hills in the distance. At one time, my ancestors had lived in this very beautiful country. Had one of them eaten here in the great dining hall? Were any buried in the old chapel beneath a Celtic cross?
Similar thoughts ran through my mind later that day as we stopped at St. Brigid’s Holy Well. A chill ran down my spine as I cupped my hand and drank from the century’s old natural well. How many people had prayed and drank from this well in search of a cure or good luck ?
Standing seven hundred feet above the Atlantic Ocean on the Cliffs of Moher, my husband and I stared across the wild terrain, watching the waves crash onto the cliffs below us. The Aran Islands were visible and across Galway Bay we could see the hills of Connermara. As we stood transfixed by the rugged beauty, the phrase, “a dream come true” slid through my mind as we struggled to keep our footing among the breezes.
Another day, we walked arm in arm through the Victorian gardens of Woodstock in Inistioge, County Kilkenny. Arbors of scented roses twined above our heads as we made our way to the avenue of Monkey Puzzle trees. We stopped to take in the sight of the massive moss and fern covered trunks.
Craning our necks, we scanned the dark masses of stiff branches silhouetted against the blue sky. “One hundred and sixty years old,” said our knowledgeable guide, Liam. “Native to Chile.”
“They look like living fossils,” said my husband, placing a hand on the gnarled truck. I didn’t answer. Woodstock had once been considered one of the great gardens of Ireland. I envisioned carriages filled with women and men in Victorian dress riding along the avenue on their way to the big house which sat at one end of the gardens.
“Absolutely the most romantic vacation we’ve taken,” I said later that evening as we sipped wine and warmed our feet beside the peat fire in the cozy parlor at Knockahopple Cottage.
“And tomorrow’s our last day,” said my husband. “Let’s stay around here and explore.”
The next morning, it was just the two of us in the Vale of Cuneen watching the early morning sunlight dance through the trees and listening to the soft whisper of the river as it wound its way through the vale to greet the green hills beyond.
“A perfect place,” agreed my husband. We stood in silence a moment longer, then strolled further down the road, eager to see what lay ahead.
Thelma is an Irish Fireside subscriber who made her first trip to Ireland with her husband Pat when they stayed with Irish Fireside podcast host Liam Hughes at Knockahopple Cottage.