They say Ireland has 40 shades of green, but I can tell you that's blarney. When we were about to land in Shannon last October, I looked out the airplane window and saw far more. Every imaginable variation of green covered a countryside dotted with white specks (sheep, I later learned). It was my first visit to the Emerald Isle, made possible by a fortunate set of circumstances — OK, Irish luck — involving a bed-and-breakfast in Painesville and its two gracious owners, Tom and Debra Fitzgerald.
My husband, Jim, and I live in Lakewood and enjoy visiting B&Bs within a day's drive of Cleveland. In March 2003, we were looking through Doris Larson's guidebook, "Bed & Breakfast Getaways from Cleveland." The Irish theme lured me immediately. I've always loved Ireland and not only because I'm half Irish. I've had lovely Irish friends over the years and always imagined the country would be filled with kind people just like them. We quickly booked a room at Fitzgerald's for an upcoming weekend, thinking we'd explore the nearby wineries while we were there.
For someone who loves all things Irish, staying at the beautifully restored 1937 French Tudor in downtown Painesville was a treat. Fitzgerald's has four guestrooms — one of which, the Bushmills Room, boasts a Roman shower, a Jacuzzi tub and its own floor. The furnishings felt authentic, just as I'd imagined an upscale B&B in Ireland might be, with 200-year-old, handpainted shutters and Belleek pottery. We enjoyed the spacious Mayo Room, with its built-in bookshelves, its own bathroom and just the right amount of Irish ambiance. The room only has a small television set, but we were welcomed to watch satellite TV in a sitting room just off the dining room, where guests enjoy family-style breakfasts featuring Tom's homemade scones.
We were relaxing in the great room with its wormy chestnut paneling and 11-foot fireplace when Debra started telling us about their annual trip to Ireland. We sat spellbound as the names of places I'd always dreamed of visiting rolled off her tongue: Dublin, Dingle, Shannon. Then, she told us they often take patrons of the B&B along with them. That bit of information went down like a perfectly poured Guinness. A trip to Ireland was something our family had always discussed — after that first visit with the Fitzgeralds, we began to seriously consider it.
We visited Fitzgerald's again in November 2003, and during that visit Debra and Tom shared with us their itinerary for a tour scheduled for October 2004. The tour would be off the beaten path, carefully planned around small towns and memorable experiences. This was our shot, we decided. Jim, my daughter Kelly, my sister Eileen and I were on our way to Ireland!
Tom and Debra turned out to be great tour guides, as was Paul, our driver, who filled the travel time with Irish jokes and history. The 35 of us on the trip covered 1,000 miles in 10 days, traversing the middle and southern parts of Ireland. Mostly, we visited small towns and a few larger cities: Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny and Killarney and five — yes, five — castles. We even spent a memorable, though rather cold, night in one, Kinnitty Castle, built in 1209.
When we weren't traveling and enjoying the truly magnificent countryside, we spent most of the days wandering through ruins, eating traditional Irish food (which gets an undeserved bad rap, especially authentic potato soup) and shopping. At night, we visited pubs and listened to Irish music.
My favorite experience overall was the excursion to Dingle, a little fishing town on the Dingle Peninsula. To get there, we drove for a whole day on breathtakingly narrow roads with high cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, stopping from time to time to admire the rainbows. We saw 10 of them that day. We'd be driving along and someone would yell, "Rainbow on the right!" and we'd all clamber over to that side of the bus to admire it. In Cleveland, we're lucky if we see two or three rainbows in a year. But in Dingle they were everywhere. What's more, people in Dingle actually paint their houses bright reds, yellows and blues — just like the colors in the rainbow. Jim and I dubbed it "Rainbow Town."
As we took off from Shannon Airport, I took one last look at the countryside. It rains a lot in Ireland and the grass was so dewy it looked as if someone had sprinkled it with fairy dust. I said a private goodbye to the land and the rainbows and decided then that I would come back again on another tour with the Fitzgeralds, who are already planning their trips for 2005 and 2006. n
Fitzgerald's Irish Bed & Breakfast, 47 Mentor Ave., Painesville; for more information about booking a room or future Ireland trips, call (440) 639-0845 or visit www.fitzgeraldsbnb.com. Rates range from $85 to $140 per night.