Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel is often mentioned in the top 5 Tourist destinations for visitors interested in Irish history and after seeing it we agreed that it deserves that praise.

The Rock ‘s early history dates back to the 4th and 5th Century AD when is served as the inaugration site and the seat of the ancient Gaelic Kings of Munster. It remained so until the late 10th century when  one of the Gaelic Kings turned it over to the Roman Catholic Church to prevent any of his rivals from acquiring it. According to tradition, St Patrick baptized one of the Gaelic Kings at The Rock in 450.The Kings of Munster(Counties;Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford ) were the most powerful Gaelic Kings because  Munster’s counties contained the ports used for trade with Spain, France and Portugal  and the many miles of  sheltered seacoasts made it possible to welcome travelers from throughout Europe.

The view  of “The Rock”rising above the gentle rolling hills of  County Tipperary is  very dramatic. Around the base of ” The Rock” are the ruins of several different monasteries who established their presence in the  Cashel community back in the 4th and 5th Centuries to be “near the action.”

In 1647, the well known British tyrant, Oliver Cromwell and his troops invaded ; carried off as much ecclesiastical bounty as possible, ruined the buildings and slaughtered thousands of people . That incident marked  the beginning of hundreds of years of neglect until the Irish Government began the repair and restoration of the site about 30 years ago.

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The Ring of Kerry /Skellig Michael


The Ring of Kerry (Iveragh Peninsula ) is the number one tourist destination in Ireland other than Dublin and it is easy to see why . The one hundred and twenty mile road takes you through mountainous, lake covered , ocean viewing scenes; around every corner another astonishing view appears.

Because of the ring’s popularity and the large number of tour buses,we knew driving on the one road available would be daunting and it was. The good news is that after a week of driving here we were able to breathe deeply( and drive on !)

The scenery made the difficult driving worth it and we particularly enjoyed seeing Skellig Michael, an island off the south Kerry Coast famous for the group of monks who lived there for centuries and left behind their monastery with its five hundred steps straight up the island to stone huts at the top peak of the island .

Weather did not permit a boat trip out to see the island close up but the views from shore and the museum exhibits gave us an impression of life on Skellig Michael back in the 6th  century ( again, Irish history is a mind stretcher for a North American .)

Waterville and the Brookhaven Band B were just as lovely as promised . We enjoyed walking the local beach near the famous golf course and dinner with Sarah over delicious Irish food was an enjoyable, several hour long, exchange of mutual Irish driving escapades as well as sharing experiences of the incredible people we have met here. The three of us agreed that the people of Ireland are the most hospitable, genuinely interested in people and humorous people … any of us have ever met.

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The Gathering of the Mac Suibhne na dTuath ( Sweeneys of Doe) Bantry to Donegal and back to Galway

On Friday September 10 we headed from Bantry on the southern coast of Ireland to the northern coast of the Republic of Ireland  (not to be confused with Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom.Saturday we arrived at our destination of Dunfanaghy, County Donegal and  visited the Doe Castle in nearby Creeslough. We spent most of the afternoon there and had the castle and grounds, 3 sides of which are surrounded by ocean in Creeslough, County Donegal, mostly to ourselves. On Sunday we traveled to Rathmullan, east of Doe castle also on the northern shore of County Donegal  where we visited the Flight of the Earls monument. Shortly after the defeat of the Irish and their Spanish allies by the British at Kinsale in 1602 ( a famous battle which the Sweeneys fought in ) some of Ireland’s leading chieftains left the country from Rathmullen an headed for Rome to seek the Pope’s assistance in securing the country back from the British. Their intention was to return in triumph but that never happened and their departure left the Irish people leaderless. The Flight of the Earls site commemorates a watershed moment when the tides of history turned against the independence of the Irish from Britain. The Sweeney’s of that time did not flee, but by 1691, all of their land was confiscated and  like the rest of the Irish landholders they lost all of their civil rights  until Catholic Emancipation in 1829 restored some of their basic rights .

 The 2010 Reunion began at 5 on Sunday with a wreath laying ceremony at the grave of the Chieftains at Doe Castle. This was followed by a Mass ( in Irish )at the Ards Capuchin Monastery and a dinner at Arnolds’s Hotel in Dunfanaghy .The event was organized for the Sweeney Clan, Doe Branch Descendants by Tom Sweeney of Dublin. Joerg and I met Tom in Ireland in 2001 and have stayed in touch with Tom since then.  Tom is an expert on Sweeney Clan genealogy as well as Irish history. We have learned much from him about the family’s history  and Doe Castle history .Tom’s 1999 application to the Chief Herald of Ireland for recognition as Chieftain of the clan of MacSweeney Doe is documented in a book, Erin’s Blood Royal; the Gaelic Noble Dynasties of Ireland .The book published in the US in 2002 by Peter Berreford Ellis documents Tom’s genealogical roots which can be directly traced to the last of the Sweeney’s who held Doe Castle. Unfortunately since 1999, the Chief Herald’s Office has discovered discrepancies in some of the  genealogical submittals so all of the official recognition of Gaelic titles such as the one that Tom Sweeney can prove, are on hold . The Reunion was a very special evening for everyone there and we felt incredibly honored to be included.

   On Monday we headed to

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Galway where we rendezvoused with the Harrington (Sweeney)cousins from Arena and Mazomanie Wisconsin. Their group of 8 was on a one week tour and had many great travel stories to share with us as we did with them . Harringtons in GalwayFrom Galway, we are headed to Waterville, County Kerry for a tour of the famous Ring of Kerry and a final rendezvous, this time with Sarah Crippen , a friend from the US .We are planning on staying at a B and B there which comes highly recommended by our son Dan who stayed there when he played at the famous local golf course.

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Mary MacSweeney, Muckross Farm, Kinsale and Bantry

We gather at Mary Mac’s…

 We had a phone call on Monday am from Mary MacSweeney with directions to her home which was less than five miles from Tir Na Meala over the by roads. The directions were by landmark since the by roads are not numbered or named (everyone knows where everyone lives.) Suzanna as a newcomer to the area was invaluable in assisting us in navigation and we scouted the location that afternoon to make sure that we were able to find it ( and we did .) The hospitality and warmth of that evening are hard to describe but I will try. Mary Mac and her husband Jerry welcomed us into a room overlooking the surrounding wooded hills(again, it could be Blue Mound Wisconsin .)The wood fire was lit and we began an evening of intense catching up over one hundred and sixty years of history since the Sweeneys/Dinneens, Kellehers and Lynches left Ballyvourney . The guests included Tahdg MacSweeney, Mr and Mrs Dermot Dinneen, ,Mr MacSweeney and for a short visit , Chief of the local Garda, Con Lynch and his fellow officer ( they were on duty so could only stay for a short time.) The genealogical information that I sent to Mary Mac and Tadhg back in May was verified in the Church records locally by Tadhg. Joerg and I watched with fascination as the group wove the connections and information that they each and collectively had and listened as the oral history filled in around the church records and a more complete picture emerged . Tadhg told me that he is convinced that the area around Tir Na Meala is within the townland vicinity of the Sweeney farm of the 1850’s. Many of the family members have names that they are known by all their lives that are not in the church records; an example is the local Kellehers known in this area by the name “dun bon”since they are fair haired and that is the Irish language name for the fair. We found it hard to say good bye to an evening that will be forever treasured and to new friends that we will definitely keep in touch with


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Muckross Farms

A look at the Irish Past Tuesday the 7th we set out for Muckross Traditional Farms in Killarney about a forty minute drive. Killarney is a gateway city to the famous Ring of Kerry a well known tourist destination . The area with its landscape of mountains and lakes is stunning. We spent the entire day at Muckross Farm seeing first hand how a “typical” small( 5 acres)medium(20 acres) and large(over 40 acres) farmer would have lived in Ireland prior to electrification in the 30’s/40’s . At each site a home has been built to historical specs and is furnished historically too. The varieties of vegetables and livestock are from the times . The families were able to subsist on the combination of home grown vegetables especially the all purpose potato), their dairy cow,chickens and a pig or two even if they were a typical small farmer of 5 acres. Joerg had great visits with the men handling the horses, cows, donkeys etc ( and helped capture a horse) while I chatted with women managing the households .

We arrived back at Tir na Meala and were delighted to have Con Lynch call on us for a pleasant evening of chatting . Con grew up in the area and has been with the Garda for the last 27 years ;during that time he has seen great changes as the EU has changed Irish life markedly. We marveled at how it is not necessary in Ballyvourney to name or number the by roads since everyone knows where everyone lives locally . I also commented on the coincidences that keep showing up; in particular that Tom Sweeney from Dublin, looking for local connections for us called the Chief of Police in Ballyvourney, met Con Lynch AND that Con Lynch is from the Lynch family living in the same town land as the Sweeneys for hundreds of years AND that the Lynches are one of the families who emigrated from Ballyvourney with the Sweeneys, Kellehers and Dinneens for Blue Mound Wisconsin. Our Irish connections accept this as a normal matter of course (again, everyone knows everyone locally ) but I marvel at the deep roots . It will be difficult to say good bye for now, but on Wednesday we depart for Kinsale and our destination of Bantry .

Kinsale and Bantry

We had a scenic trip to Kinsale, the historic site of the battle which turned the tides of time for hundreds of years to come with the defeat of the Irish Chieftains and their allies the Spanish Armada by the Brits. We toured Fort Charles overlooking the beautiful natural harbor which should have been a decisive advantage for the “home team” . The Irish have not forgotten that battle because it led to so many other battles yet to come with England where they ended up on the losing side. The good news is that finally it does seem as though the European Union ( EU ) is making a decisive and lasting positive difference in the Irish economy and at the same time, the Irish have not lost their distinctive unique and ancient culture and its values. We were pleased to have access in Kinsale to high speed internet (Ballyv. is not so technologically blessed ) and posted the first of our blog updates at an internet cafe there. Kinsale is a top destination for “foodies” and the number per capita of gourmet dining spots is the highest of any town in Ireland. We had a delicious lunch of ginger carrot soup and fresh smoked fish and noted that we have had only delicious, fresh , organic and locally grown food since arriving in Ireland. Suzanna at Tir na Meala gets milk and butter from the MacSweeney’s next door, eggs from down the road , veggies from her organic garden ( and so on.) Growing locally has been the way here all along but it is now in full bloom with the tourists from the EU looking for that type of cuisine. We arrived in Bantry in time for a pleasant and quiet evening and more great food , local fish and mussels with the requisite Irish beer. Our hotel was crowded with guest from a French tour group as well as an Irish/ English group.

Bantry ended up on our list of destinations because of its proximity to Garinish Island famous for its gardens with a semi tropical plant collection from all over the world . Due to the microclimate there; plants from the Mediterranean thrive . We had a delightful time wandering the gardens with no time constraints and were the only non German tour guide members on our boat ride back to the mainland. The tourism industry is huge here and the Irish hospitality is in great form .

By the way , Joerg has been enjoying his sightings of native bumblebees as well as other native pollinators and today he hit the jackpot in the garden tour with the opportunity to photograph some of these critters. . .

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September 6, 2010 Arrival in Ballyvourney, Cork, Ireland

Monday 3 pm local time ( Greenwich Mean ) (9am Minnesota Time ) Happy Labor Day

It is hard to believe that we have been in Ballyvourney Ireland just over 1 day .

The air travel was uneventful and in no time we landed at Shannon Airport and had our car (Opel Corsa..French .) Joerg drove away as though he was born to Irish driving which is formidable and that’s on the Irish “Primary Route/Principal Roads.” We had googled a map for ourselves and it helped significantly. We noticed that the road signs have improved since we last visited in 2001 when we were in Irish named towns with only an English map to guide us.And of course, the views of the Irish countryside which is a million shades of green and full of charming little towns was almost enough to distract us from our planned itinerary.

In two and a half hours we were in Ballyvourney, ancestral parish of Kathy’s Irish ancestors; the Dinneens, Kellehers and Sweeney’s; ready to turn onto what is known as “ by road” to reach

our B and B destination of Tir Na Meala ( in Irish ..House of Honey.) The by road is a divided road with each side just wide enough for a small car sometimes with grass in the middle; no ditch ..instead frequent high hedges and stone walls as borders. Because I am traveling with an undaunted driver,we are able to stay at Tir Na Meala in the rural township of Coolea (in the parish of Ballyvourney.)It is almost certain that Coolea is where the forebearers lived and Coolea is country accessible on by roads or privately maintained farmer’s roads. I have heard my cousin Steve Harrington’s tales of our great great grandfather John Sweeney and his wife Mary Dinneen’s first farm on top of a high point in Vermont Township near Blue Mound Wisconsin and the topography in Coolea is Blue Mound on steroids . Rugged, stony,. perfectly suited for grazing sheep and in some “flats” dairy cows. The Ballyvourney Parish is in the Gaeltecht so the Irish language is spoken here(along with English) by many of the local residents.

Four miles from Ballyvourney we arrived at Tir Na Meala, toured the lovely rock garden and organic vegetable garden, refreshed with a nap, then into Ballyvourney for dinner which was local seafood chowder and the notable Irish Brown Bread along with fresh local beer( on tap, Smithwick and Guinness)

This morning our Band B hostess Suzanna prepared a traditional Irish breakfast;fried fresh eggs and rashers aka Canadian bacon for Joerg and a continental breakfast for me;muesli with a delicious pancake and maple syrup Breakfast was.served in the sunny dining area overlooking the water gardens which are filling with the rain of the last two days. The area has been very dry so the rain is welcome and it is Ireland where the climate is “maritime.” Today it feels about 75 and has been sunny with occasional brief showers. Suzanna is a German immigrant and her family are visiting so Joerg is enjoying the Spechen de Deutsch. Suzanna told us that most of her neighbors are MacSweeneys or Dinneens and that the milk on the table was from the MacSweeney dairy up the hill from here. With the windows open we can hear the cows and sheep;other than that the quiet is complete.

Today was our day to visit St. Gobnait’s Shrine, the cemetery where Sweeney, Dinneen and Kelleher ancestors are resting and the ruins of the Church where they worshiped. We commented on how much the setting of St Gobnait’s reminded us of St. James cemetery in Blue Mound where the relocated Ballyvourney Parish’s Sweeneys, Dinneens and Kelleher relatives rest. The Shrine is known all over Ireland as the place where St Gobnait, the patron saint of beekeepers is honored for her good deeds including saving the area from the plague .We visited the grave and holy well and were inspired by all of the mementos left by visitors.

We had a phone call from Mary MacSweeney today and she gave us directions to her home this evening for our scheduled visit. She told me that she has invited Tadgh MacSweeney and another person who has been working with the two of them to see if they could find relatives of mine who might still be in the area .We could not have expected such a warm welcome and are deeply touched to have been invited to meet with them this evening . More later after the tea and chat at Mrs. Sweeney’s.

Feet on the ground in Shannon, Ireland

Feet on the ground in Shannon, IrelandFailte Ballyvourney!at at “Mrs Macs”.

An Irish By Road

View from tir na Meala in Coolea Township

View from tir na Meala in Coolea Township

Saint Gobnait's Shrine

Saint Gobnait's Shrine

Saint Gobnait, Patron Saint of Beekeepers

Saint Gobnait, Patron Saint of Beekeepers

Holy Water from Saint Gobnait's Well

Holy Water from Saint Gobnait's Well

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The Departure Day for Ballyvourney Ireland Has Arrived

We are at the MSP Airport ready to begin the first leg of the trip. From here we go to DC, then to JFK/ New York ..then to Shannon Airport with a planned arrival  of 9:40 am on Sunday Sept. 5. Local time in Ireland is six hours ahead of our home time in Central Standard Time. Once we arrive in Ireland ,we pick up our car and head for Ballyvourney , County Cork Ireland . Shannon is about 105 miles /163 Km from Ballyv.The guesthouse we are staying at Tir Na Meala , Irish for House of Honey .Tir Na Meala is in Coolea which is just outside Ballyv . town . We are quite sure that  Coolea is where the Sweeney’s lived before they emigrated .The proprietors are a German woman ( who is also a beekeeper) married to an Irishman.

Over the last several months I have written to 4 Local people in Ballyv. to introduce myself to them and to ask for their assistance in locating any of the records available on the great grandparents . We are very pleased to say that we have heard from one of the local contacts. On Friday I received a phone message from Mary MacSweeney . Ms MacSweeney told me that she has been looking for genealogical information but has not found any yet . However, she has invited  Joerg and I to meet her and others who have been involved in the search at her home on Monday evening for “sandwiches and chat.”

(I was introduced to the Ballyv. contacts by Tom Sweeney our Sweeney Clan Chieftain . Tom called Chief of Police (Garda) Con Lynch and Garda Lynch recommended two local genealogists for me to contact ; Mary MacSweeney is one of the two.)

The warm invitation is greatly appreciated and we look forward to meeting Mary and her guests on Monday evening .

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Trip to Ballyvourney.homeplace of the Sweeney’s of Mazomanie

Today we started making our room reservations for the trip to Ballyvourney, County Cork, Ireland which will take place on September 4- September 18, 2010 .this activity made the trip come to live

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Coming soon ..trip to Ballyvourney ..home of Saint Gobnait

It is only two months until we leave for Ballyvourney the home of Saint Gobnait, the patron saint of beekeepers. Her shrine is in the hometown of the Sweeney’s who left there for Mazomanie, Wisconsin .

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