Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Rail Side of Ireland

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Rail Side of Ireland

Article excerpt

Byline: By Margaret Nicholls

Visitors to Dublin are hardly likely to run out of attractions in the lively Irish capital but they may well appreciate a day or two out - to breathe country air, to guzzle fresh, regional cooking and soak up the rural sights.

Railtours Ireland offers all that and more. Its boss, Jim Deegan, had promised us the worst part of the two-day West Coast Explorer was the early start. Our party - a 30-strong mix of journalists and people from the tourism industry - had assembled at Dublin's busy Heuston Station, at 6.45am.

We were there to sample, first hand, a novel idea that has just celebrated its fifth anniversary giving visitors to Dublin the chance to see a sizeable chunk of rural Ireland in a day or two.

A coach tour of Limerick was followed by a visit to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, where medieval occupants of the castle surprised unwelcome visitors with a douche of hot oil and punished small shows of disrespect with an 80ft drop to the dungeon.

The ladies spent their entire 35-year lifespan labouring at a single tapestry and sleeping sitting up because of the freezing cold (the castle had no glass in the windows).

The tiny, thatched cottages of the park where labourers shared their room with their cattle and peat fires a few centuries on, seemed paradise by comparison and the scones that melted on our tongues at Mac's pub, made earlier that morning on the range in the farmer's house, were nothing short of heavenly.

Our coach driver, Ray, assured us that Bunratty is "the real thing", built stone by stone from Ireland's past.

Winding north, we glimpsed snatches of the West Clare Railway, which lasted just 14 years - probably because it ran on peat and timber. Its trials to get up steam found their way into song (as well as a subsequent libel case). Our obliging hosts had a recording on tape.

By the time we reached O'Connors at Doolin on Clare's Atlantic coast (renowned for seafood and song), we felt we'd lived a lifetime before lunch and known our fellow travellers for almost as long. …

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