HJ/EDApril 3, 2006

Sue Ahlgren is a wee bit Irish, too

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Sue Ahlgren of Darwin will always remember the people and their love of their history in Ireland, she said.

“They’re so proud of their ancestors, and you can feel that everywhere,” said Ahlgren, a travel agent from Charger Travel in Dassel.

Even though the Irish have been Christian for centuries, many of the Celtic crosses have a “love knot” in the center. The love knot, designed from a continuous line, is reminiscent of the Sun god the ancient Druids worshipped in Ireland long before Christ was born, she said.

Ahlgren’s trip was offered to her by tour guides from Ireland to familiarize her with what she will be booking for her clients who travel there. She and her sister-in-law at Charger Travel periodically get offered these “familiarization tours,” she said.

“We both love to travel,” Ahlgren said. “I have a wee bit of Irish in me.”

Ahlgren and her husband, Galen, a dairy farmer, raise horses for barrel racing, so her favorite part of Ireland was visiting the National Irish Stud. It is a stable of race horses owned by the state. “It stands 10 stallions there,” Ahlgren said.

The stable in County Kildare features the best of the best. Ahlgren was very impressed with the stalling facilities. “These are national treasures. They belong to everyone,” she said.

Ahlgren also was interested in how the stable was on the grounds of the Black Abbey, dating back to 1100s.

“The Irish people have fought for their faith for centuries,” she said.

Under the Abbey are miles of tunnels the monks used to escape persecution, Ahlgren said.

The most beautiful part of Ireland is the Ring of Kerry. It is a lush green peninsula on the southwest corner of the country. Her tour followed the road around the coast.

“It looks like a patchwork quilt,” Ahlgren said. The farmers used stones to border their fields. The fields are slightly different shades of green. Whenever the tour members went to the top of a hill and looked down, the stones looked like stitching on a green quilt, she said.

Killarney is a little town with quaint shops and charming pubs they visited as the jumping off point into the Ring of Kerry.

“Sometimes when you go to tourist towns, you see only other tourists,” Ahlgren said.

Killarney was different. She and her tour group mixed in with the local people.

The tour also included a visit at Muckross House. The castle was renovated for $1 million for a three-day visit from the queen of England. The owners were hoping to be made into royals for the honor, but the duke who was supposed to make the arrangements died shortly after the queen’s visit, she said.

“The landscape was the beautiful part of it,” Ahlgren said.

It reminded her of the lakes in Glacier Park in Montana except not as mountainous, she said.

Ahlgren’s favorite tourist attraction was kissing the “Blarney Stone.” She and her roommate climbed 137 steps to the top of a tower. Then Ahlgren leaned over backward, hanging 120 feet in the air, and kissed the underside of a rock outside the top of the tower. The steps descending the tower were so narrow that her room mate, who had a back pack hanging off her shoulders, could barely maneuver down the stairs, she said.

Tradition states that the Blarney Stone will give eloquence or the “gift of gab,” to whomever kisses it. The stone is named after Lord Blarney who talked his way out of giving up his sovereignty to his lands and castle to Queen Elizabeth I, Ahlgren said.

Ahlgren also visited County Cork, the last stop of the “Titanic,” and participated in a limerick contest, she said.

In addition, the tour stopped at the Waterford Crystal factory. The factory began during the 1700s, closed during the Potato Famine, and re-opened in 1947. The factory has had the same fire to blow the crystal and has kept at a constant temperature since the 1960s, Ahlgren said.

She also enjoyed seeing the town of Adare with its many thatched roofs and White Abbey monastery. The Adare Manor hosted US President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, she said.

Ireland is difficult for people who don’t have a good sense of direction, though. None of the streets are laid in straight lines. Ahlgren and her room mate walked many, many miles out of the way because they were lost, she said.

Also, many of the street signs, especially in the country, are Celtic, not English.

Ahlgren was surprised at how the accents of the Irish brogue changed from county to county. Some were as different as the accent of someone from Georgia in the United States is from the accent of someone from North Dakota, she said.

The love of the Irish heritage is constant, though, she said. She told about an Irish manor she was in that had a corridor full of portraits of the owner’s ancestors. The portraits showed ancestors back to the 1300s, Ahlgren said.

Sue Ahlgren’s limerick

There once was a lady from Dassel,
Who thought the climb at Blarney a hassle,
But she strapped on her boots,
With her friend in cahoots,
And left her kiss at the castle.

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