Belmond Grand Hibernian Transports Guests Through Ireland, Land of Legends
Ever heard of Finn McCool?
How about the Salmon of Knowledge?
Neither had I — until I went to Ireland to ride the Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s only luxury train.
The train’s gleaming blue and silver carriages, delightful staff and cozy interiors offer the perfect “magic carpet” ride through a fantastical land.
The excursions off the train are no less touched by fantasy.
When we arrived in Cork, for example, our guide greeted us with a cheerful “hallo,” and then launched into an evocative tale about the aforesaid Messrs. McCool and Salmon (of Knowledge).
She only paused in her myth-making to point out an interesting — albeit slightly incongruous — statue on the side of the road, comprising 20-foot steel feathers that form a bowl shape.
“The Choctaw Nation heard about our forebears’ plight during the Great Hunger of 1847,” she told us. “And they scraped together what little money they had, and sent it to us to feed our starving children.”
Unlike Finn McCool and his fish, the story of the Choctaw’s sacrifice is no fairytale. But I don’t think Ireland would be Ireland without a healthy mix of truth and make-believe.
Belmond Grand Hibernian, now just finishing its third full season, has matured into an even more delightful experience than when it began operations three years ago.
One welcome tweak the tour operators have made is allowing guests to choose among different activities wherever possible. For instance, guests on the 7-day Grand Tour of Ireland can:
Visit the seaport of Cobh with a local historian, where millions of lives were permanently altered by the Atlantic crossing. Almost half of the 6 million Irish who emigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950 departed from this port.
Explore Killarney National Park by jaunting cart and boat, where prophecy dictated that nearby Ross Castle was impregnable to outside forces unless a warship attacked from the lake — thought to be an impossible feat. Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads attacked just so in 1653 and took the castle, one of the last to fall in the Irish Confederate Wars.
(Another tidbit: Ross Castle’s first owner, O’Donoghue, is said to live at the bottom of the lake in a great palace, from where he keeps close tabs on the comings and goings of passerby.)
Witness a sheepdog demonstration in Galway and marvel at the shared language between man and beast, or explore the surreal Cliffs of Moher that soar 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.
Visit Westport House, built on the foundations of the Pirate Queen of Connacht’s castle. The Queen’s dungeons can still be seen today.
Tour the Medieval Mile Museum in Kilkenny, heart of Ireland’s ancient East. The museum is housed in a 13th-century church and contains artifacts dating back 800 years.
In sum, whether you’ve visited the Emerald Isle before or not, Belmond Grand Hibernian will open your eyes to Ireland in a whole new way. In addition to its thoughtfully-planned itineraries, it also earns high points for its dedicated staff, fabulous food, and luxuriously comfortable spaces.
And what of Mr. McCool and his erudite fish?
Legend has it that, as a young boy, McCool was asked to cook the Salmon of Knowledge for his druid mentor, who had finally caught it after years of failed attempts.
McCool burned his thumb while cooking the fish, put his thumb in his mouth to cool the hurt, and inadvertently consumed a drop of the salmon’s oils, instantly becoming the wisest man in the world.
To book your own adventure on the Belmond Grand Hibernian, call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us at email@example.com.
Rachel M. Hardy is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, and Virtuoso luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers®. She specializes in luxury rail and adventure in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada. She was the first advisor from the Americas invited to see the new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Our agency is a proud member of Virtuoso and the exclusive Belmond Bellini Club. Rachel’s trip on Belmond Grand Hibernian was part of the Bravissimo celebratory journey hosted by Belmond, held every year in honor of the world’s top Belmond agencies.