The Great Tours: Ireland and Northern Ireland
Marc C. Conner is the President of Skidmore College. He earned degrees in English and Philosophy at the University of Washington (Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude), followed by master’s and doctorate degrees in English at Princeton University. He was previously the Jo M. and James Ballengee Professor of English at Washington and Lee University and served as provost and chief academic officer from 2016 to 2020. He also taught at Princeton University and the University of Notre Dame.
Professor Conner is a specialist in modern literature, particularly Irish and American literature. He is a regular presenter at the major Irish studies gatherings, including the Lady Gregory–Yeats Autumn Gathering in Galway, the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo, and the Trieste Joyce School. He serves as secretary/treasurer of the Ralph Ellison Society and presents regularly at the American Literature Association annual conference. At Washington and Lee University, he created a study abroad program in Ireland, and he has led adult education programs to Ireland and other Celtic lands. He also received the university’s Outstanding Teacher Award and the Anece F. McCloud Excellence in Diversity Award.
Professor Conner’s books include The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered; The New Territory: Ralph Ellison and the Twenty-First Century; The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison; Screening Modern Irish Drama and Fiction; Screening Contemporary Irish Drama and Fiction; and Global Ralph Ellison.
01: A Destination like No Other
Begin your course with a look at two of Ireland’s most iconic tourist spots, the Rock of Cashel and the Guinness Brewery. These sites represent a microcosm of the fascinating story of Ireland, as well as an introduction to the people and the landscape of the Emerald Isle. Get a preview of the grand tour before you.
02: Prehistoric and Celtic Ireland
Ireland is steeped in myth, its ancient history shrouded in mystery. Investigate the origins of civilization in Ireland by visiting several ancient sites, including Newgrange and the great Hill of Tara. See what the beautiful ruins can tell us about the Celtic people, their religion, and some of the marvelous myths of Irish history.
03: Early Christian and Medieval Ireland
St. Patrick is one of the greatest figures in Irish history, inextricably linked to the story of both the island and Christianity. Here, visit several important sites: Croagh Patrick in western Ireland, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin town, and the Clonmacnoise monastery in the center of Ireland.
04: Ireland during the Protestant Ascendancy
Much of Irish history involves its entanglement with Great Britain. From the Norman castles to the battlefield of Aughrim to the Georgian architecture in Dublin, the Irish landscape is imbued with relics of British imperialism. Explore the British-Irish divide, which is also a Catholic-Protestant divide.
05: From the Easter Rising to the Present Day
Round out your survey of Irish history with an exploration of the 20th century. Stops on your tour include the general post office in Dublin, which played a critical role in the 1916 uprising; the town of Derry, home of the infamous Bloody Sunday tragedy; and a typical modern farmhouse in the Irish countryside.
06: Dublin’s Fair City
Shift your attention to modern-day Dublin, the focus of the next several lessons. Here, you will consider the vestiges of the city’s medieval roots, including the wood quay that marks the site of the Viking invasion and St. Audoen’s Gate, a relic of the old walled city. Then, take a tour of Dublin Castle and Trinity College.
07: Dublin Today, South and North of the Liffey
Dublin today is one of the most dynamic, cosmopolitan, and exciting cities in all of Europe, and the beauty of Dublin is that it remains a walker’s city. Join Professor Conner for a walking tour of Dublin, from St. Stephen’s Green to the Liffey River and O’Connell Bridge to the Abby Theatre, and more.
08: The Churches of Dublin
One of the most distinctive characteristics of Irish culture is its rich and complex religious history. Since the churches of Dublin are particularly potent examples of this characteristic, embark on a tour of Christ Church, St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, and a variety of smaller churches that are “hidden gems” of Dublin.
09: The Museums of Dublin
Dublin is blessed with some of the finest museums in the world, museums that purpose to specifically tell the Irish story—especially if you know what to look for. In this lesson, Professor Conner guides you through the National Museum of Ireland for Archaeology, the Chester Beatty Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Gallery, and more.
10: Day Trips from Dublin
If you have a week to spend in Dublin, your visit wouldn’t be complete without a few excursions to the countryside. Learn about the attractive village of Slane, the astonishing monastic settlement of Monasterboice, and the mysterious Wicklow Mountains, home of the unforgettable site of Glendalough.
11: Kilkenny, the Rock of Cashel, and Cahir
From Dublin, Professor Conner takes you on a grand loop around Ireland, starting with the fascinating town of Kilkenny. Enjoy the breathtaking expanse of Kilkenny Castle with its strategic view of the River Nore. After touring Kilkenny, you will revisit the Rock of Cashel as well as Cahir Castle, two essential stops for the serious traveler.
12: Exploring Cork
County Cork is the southernmost county in Ireland, and the city of Cork is the third-most populous city of the island. Investigate Cork’s place in Irish history, and then take a tour of the city, from the quays along the river to the art gallery and the Custom House. Round out your visit with a study of St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral and Blarney Castle.
13: Killarney and the Ring of Kerry
Continue your loop around Ireland by traveling southwest to County Kerry, known for its long history of independence and rugged pride. Here, the history is profound, but it is the landscape that is most astonishing; it’s among the most beautiful in all of Ireland. Visit the abbeys, parks, and farms of this extraordinary corner of Ireland.
14: The Dingle Peninsula
Of all the magical places in Ireland, perhaps none is as special as the Dingle Peninsula, in the far west of County Kerry. Here you may find the Irish language spoken as the everyday language of commerce and conversation. The language, the poetry, the traditional music, the history, and the archaeology all make this stop an unforgettable part of any Irish journey.
15: North Kerry, from Tralee to the Shannon
Conclude your tour of County Kerry with an exploration of the region known as North Kerry. Sheer cliffs, rocky hikes, geological wonders, and enchanting lakes will give you the feeling of being alone in the misty deeps of the past. Professor Conner also takes you into the town of Tralee and other nearby villages.
16: Clare and Galway, the Heart of the West
County Clare and County Galway are the central counties on the western seaboard of Ireland, and they are known for their traditional Irish music, their remarkable literature, their lush greenlands, and the dramatic rocky landscapes that give such contrast and beauty to the scenery in this part of Ireland. Sites in this amazing region include the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Galway City, and more.
17: Traveling Ireland’s Northwest
Venture through the sweeping country from Galway to Sligo, a region that is among the wildest and most picturesque in all of Ireland. Professor Conner ferries you out to the Aran Islands, over to the Kylemore Abbey, and on to the famous shrine to St. Mary at Knock. This lesson ends with a look at the ancient town of Sligo and rugged County Donegal.
18: The Ireland of W. B. Yeats
A native of Sligo, the poet W. B. Yeats captured the spirit of Ireland like none other. Visiting some of the locations he wrote about—including the inspiration for “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and the mountain Ben Bulben—gives you a new appreciation for both the country and the poet, as well as an understanding of Yeats’s role in the Irish Revival.
19: The Irish Revival in Literature and Art
The struggle for Irish independence in the early 20th century is one of the most remarkable periods in world history, accompanying a flourishing of great literature and art. In this lesson, Professor Conner introduces you to the artistic era and its key figures, including Yeats, Lady Gregory, J. M. Synge, James Joyce, and many more.
20: James Joyce’s Ireland
James Joyce is the most acclaimed of all the world-famous Irish writers. He is also, perhaps, the most resolutely Irish writer who has ever lived. Meet this brilliant, eccentric writer and examine the relationship between his biography and the story of Ireland. Encounter the places he immortalized in his great work.
21: Experiencing Belfast
One cannot understand Ireland without understanding the North, and while Northern Ireland is part of Great Britain, it is also unmistakably Irish. After an introduction to the country and its troubled history, this lesson takes you inside the Belfast of today. Gain a visceral sense of the deep-seated conflict that underlies this beautiful and fascinating city.
22: Northern Ireland beyond Belfast
While Northern Ireland retains evidence of sectarian strife, it also is home to some of the most stunning and beautiful landscapes on the island, as well as places of great historic and cultural interest. Learn about Carrickfergus Castle, traverse the Giant’s Causeway, check out the Bushmills Distillery, and reflect on the town of Derry.
23: Pub Life and Traditional Irish Music
Traditional Irish music is deeply rooted in Ireland’s past, intrinsically connected to the countryside, and known the world over. Experience Ireland’s pub life, have a drink, and encounter the music, ambience, and hospitality you can’t find anywhere else. Your pub crawl includes Dublin’s Brazen Head, O’Connor’s in the rural west, and others. Cheers!
24: Ireland in Film and Sport
Music, pubs, and poetry might be the first aspects of Irish culture that you think about, but films also embody the spirit of Ireland. See how The Quiet Man, Ryan’s Daughter, and others led to a star-studded native film industry. Your great tour concludes with a look at Irish sports, and the way Gaelic football, hurling, and golf are important to Irish culture today.