Tag Archives: Ireland

Dublin’s murder squad hunts for a killer in ‘The Trespasser’

Though Detective Antoinette Conway always dreamed of working in the murder squad, now that she’s made it to the Dublin Castle grounds where Ireland’s best detectives track down killers, she wants out.

Her co-workers harass her, and the majority of cases that make it to her desk involve domestic disputes, not the psychopathic serial killers she’d imagined hunting. When her boss assigns Antoinette and her partner a new case complete with a smarmy third detective to act as a baby sitter, Antoinette considers this her last stint on the squad before trading in her badge for a job at a security agency.

When they arrive at the scene, Antoinette stares into the face of the murder victim, Aislinn Murray, and recognizes her, though she can’t place the memory. The scene of the crime, complete with a candlelit table set for two and dinner in the oven, points to yet another date gone bad.

This should be a slam dunk. But from here, the case proves a wild animal nobody can read, sometimes bounding in a predictable direction, other times leaping down a path that catches everyone off guard. On top of this, Antoinette notices a strange man frequenting the road outside her house.

Author Tana French incessantly pushes the plot of The Trespasser forward with absorbing dialogue and shifty villains. When the investigation hits walls, relationships grow and morph, making the work as much about internal conflicts as external. Antoinette narrates with a rich, raw voice. Her sarcasm combined with a wry, hard-edged view on life may weary readers, but keep reading, because as in all of the author’s work, meaning lurks beneath every quip and glance.

French not only spins a twisty cop tale, she also encases it in meticulous prose, creating a read that is as elegant as it is dark.

Irish court rules against anti-abortion laws

The Belfast High Court, in a judicial review case, found laws governing abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of serious malformation of the fetus and sexual crime are in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Judge Mr Justice Mark Horner told Belfast High Court that women’s human rights were being breached by current laws: “In the circumstances, given this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future, and the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their Convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the Article Eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal fetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions.”

It is illegal in Northern Ireland for an abortion to be carried out, except when the life or mental health of the mother is in danger. Anyone who performs an illegal abortion could be jailed for life.

The judicial review was taken by Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and was joined by Amnesty International and Sarah Ewart, whose first pregnancy was given a fatal fetal diagnosis. She had to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy as Northern Ireland laws did not permit her to receive medical treatment within the region.

Grainne Teggart, campaign manager for Amnesty’s My Body My Rights campaign said: “Today’s High Court decision is a hugely significant step towards ensuring the right to access abortion for women and girls in Northern Ireland who have been raped, are victims of incest or whose pregnancies have been given a fatal fetal diagnosis.

“Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion date back to the 19th century and carry the harshest criminal penalties in Europe.

Teggart continued, “Northern Ireland’s abortion laws must be brought into the 21st century and into line with international law as a matter of urgency.” 

Ewart said, “I hope that today’s ruling means that I, and other women like me, will no longer have to go through the pain I experienced, of having to travel to England, away from the care of the doctors and midwife who knew me, to access the healthcare I needed.”

“I, and many women like me have been failed by our politicians. First, they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Then, by their refusal to change the law, they left me with no option but to go to the courts on my and other women’s behalf.

“I am an ordinary woman who suffered a very personal family tragedy, which the law in Northern Ireland turned into a living nightmare.”

U2 stages high-tech ‘Innocence & Experience’ show

U2’s latest live show included a call to fight AIDS, condemnation of the 1974 car bombings in Ireland, the voice of Stephen Hawking, high-tech stage gimmicks and just over two hours of music, including most of its 2014 album, “Songs of Innocence.”

The Irish quartet brought its “Innocence & Experience” tour to the Forum on May 26, the first of five nights in the Los Angeles area.

Launched earlier this month in Vancouver, Canada, the North American and European tour continues through Nov. 15. The band performs at the United Center in Chicago June 24-25, June 28-29 and July 2.

Performing together since 1976, front man Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. know how to put on a rock show. But they were lacking a little in energy and excitement for their opening LA performance, perhaps relying too heavily on the giant horizontal screens suspended above their high-tech stage.

As with U2s previous arena tours, the stage plays a starring role in the show. The massive screens worked for some numbers, such as Bono’s autobiographical “Cedarwood Road,” lending an effect that made him look like he was walking through a cartoon town. But when the foursome performed between the parallel screens during “Invisible” and “Even Better than the Real Thing,” they appeared to be playing on TV, not live on stage.

Still, they hit all their marks and sounded album-tight. They opened with the new, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” and the old, “Electric Co.,” from their 1980 debut. The set included such hits as “Vertigo,” “I Will Follow,” “Beautiful Day” and “With or Without You.”

After “Bullet the Blue Sky,” Bono held his hands above his head and said, “Don’t shoot. I’m an American.” While performing “Pride,” inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., Bono called on the spirit of the late leader.

“Dr. King, we need you in Ferguson and Baltimore now more than ever,” Bono said. “We need the spirit of nonviolence, the spirit of love.”

The singer also lauded Irish voters for saying “love is the highest law” by legalizing same-sex marriage last week.

“They’re putting the gay into Gaelic,” he quipped.

The band was at its best when the gimmicks gave way to the music. Mullen marching with a snare drum gave new power to “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and a stripped-down version of “Every Breaking Wave,” with Bono accompanied by the Edge on piano, was stirring.

A clip of Hawking’s voice played before the band returned for its encore. He talked about the necessity of becoming “global citizens” as a tout for Bono’s anti-poverty organization, One, flashed on the giant screens.

Bono also used the encore to discuss AIDS and an effort to end transmission of the disease between mother and child in the next five years. He sang a few bars of Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” to make the point before the band closed with “One.”

Vatican: Irish gay marriage vote a ‘defeat for humanity’

The Vatican’s secretary of state has called the Irish vote to legalize gay marriage a “defeat for humanity.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin said he personally was saddened by the landslide decision, in which more than 62 percent of voters in the Roman Catholic country voted “yes,” despite church teaching that marriage is only between a man and woman.

In comments to reporters on May 26, Parolin referred to remarks by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, that results showed the church needed to do a “reality check.”

Parolin said the church needs to acknowledge the reality “but in the sense of reinforcing its commitment to evangelization.”

He said: “I don’t think you can speak only about a defeat for Christian principles but a defeat for humanity.”

Irish gays wake up to whole new world: When’s the wedding?

Ireland’s gay citizens woke up on May 23 in what felt like a nation reborn — some with dreams of wedding plans dancing in their heads.

Many weren’t rising too early. The Irish gay community’s biggest party in history came late on May 23, after the announcement that the nation’s voters had passed a gay marriage referendum by a landslide.

Ireland’s unexpectedly strong 62 percent “yes” to adding same-sex marriage to its conservative 1937 constitution is expected to lead to a wave of gay weddings this summer. The Justice Department confirmed Sunday it plans to publish a marriage bill this week that will be passed by both houses of parliament and signed into law by June.

With the move, Ireland became the first country in the world to approve gay marriage in a popular national vote. Nineteen other countries, including most U.S. states, have legalized the practice through their legislatures and courts.

For Ireland’s most prominent gay couple, Sen. Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, it’s an emotionally overwhelming moment. Since 2003 they have fought Ireland legally to have their marriage in Canada recognized as valid here, have taken their case all the way to the Supreme Court. Now, their day has come.

“For so long, I’ve been having to dig in my heels and say: Well, we ARE married. I’m a married woman!” said Zappone, a Seattle native who resettled with her Irish spouse in Dublin after they met and fell in love while studying theology in Boston College. “Now that it has happened, at a personal level, it’s just going to take a long time to let that acceptance sink in.”

The unexpectedly strong percentage of approval surprised both sides. More than 1.2 million Irish voters backed the “yes” side to less than 750,000 voting “no.”

“With today’s vote, we have disclosed who we are: a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny proclaimed.

Analysts credited the “yes” side with adeptly employing social media to mobilize young, first-time voters, tens of thousands of whom voted for the first time Friday. The “yes” campaign also featured moving personal stories from prominent Irish people _ either coming out as gays or describing their hopes for gay children _ that helped convince wavering voters to back equal marriage rights.

Both Catholic Church leaders and gay rights advocates said the result signaled a social revolution in Ireland, where only a few decades ago the authority of Catholic teaching was reinforced by voters who massively backed bans on abortion and divorce in the 1980s.

Voters legalized divorce only by a razor-thin margin in 1995 but now, by a firm majority, dismissed the Catholic Church’s repeated calls to reject gay marriage. Abortion, still outlawed, looms as the country’s next great social policy fight.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the “overwhelming vote” against church teaching on gay marriage meant that Catholic leaders in Ireland needed urgently to find a new message and voice for reaching Ireland’s young.

“It’s a social revolution. … The church needs to do a reality check right across the board,” said Martin, who suggested that some church figures who argued for gay marriage’s rejection came across as harsh, damning and unloving.

“Have we drifted completely away from young people?” he asked. “Most of those people who voted ‘yes’ are products of our Catholic schools for 12 years.”

After the result was announced, thousands of celebrants flooded into the Irish capital’s pubs and clubs. At the George, Ireland’s oldest gay pub, drag queens danced and lip-synced to Queen and the founding father of Ireland’s gay rights campaign, Sen. David Norris, basked in the greatest accomplishment of the movement’s 40-year history.

“The people in this small island off the western coast of Europe have said to the rest of the world: This is what it is to be decent, to be civilized, and to be tolerant! And let the rest of the world catch up!” Norris, 70, shouted with jubilant zeal to the hundreds packing the disco ball-lit hall.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Norris waged an often lonely two-decade legal fight to force Ireland to quash its Victorian-era laws outlawing homosexual acts. Ireland finally complied in 1993, becoming the last European Union country to do so.

This time, the gay community in Ireland managed to build a decisive base of support.

“People from the LGBT community in Ireland are a minority. But with our parents, our families, or friends and co-workers and colleagues, we’re a majority,” said Leo Varadkar, a 36-year-old Irish Cabinet minister who in January announced on national radio that he was gay. “For me it wasn’t just a referendum. It was more like a social revolution.”

Ireland becomes first nation in the world to vote for gay marriage

 Ireland has voted resoundingly to legalize gay marriage in the world’s first national vote on the issue, leaders on both sides of the Irish referendum declared Saturday even as official ballot counting continued.

Senior figures from the “no” campaign, who sought to prevent Ireland’s constitution from being amended to permit same-sex marriages, say the only question is how large the “yes” side’s margin of victory will be from Friday’s vote.

“We’re the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate. That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world of liberty and equality. So it’s a very proud day to be Irish,” said Leo Varadkar, a Cabinet minister who came out as gay at the start of a government-led effort to amend Ireland’s conservative Catholic constitution.

“There is going to be a very substantial majority for a yes vote. I’m not at all surprised by that to be honest with you,” said Irish Sen. Ronan Mullen, one of only a handful of politicians who campaigned for rejection.

Political analyst Noel Whelan noted that “yes” majorities were being reported even in conservative rural districts and suggested the only question was how large the “yes” majority would be when all ballots in this predominantly Catholic nation of 4.6 million are counted.

Varadkar, who personally watched the votes being tabulated at the County Dublin ballot center, said the Irish capital looks to have voted around 70 percent in favor of gay marriage, while most districts outside the capital also were reporting strong “yes” leads. He said not a single district yet had reported a “no” majority. Official results come later Saturday.

The anti-gay marriage side credited “yes” campaigners with running a creative, compelling campaign that harnessed the power of social media to mobilize young voters, tens of thousands of whom voted for the first time Friday. They also said a “no” victory was always unlikely given that all political parties and most politicians backed the legalization of homosexual unions, just five years after parliament approved marriage-style civil partnerships for gay couples.

Fianna Fail party leader Michael Martin, whose party is traditionally closest to the Catholic Church but like all other parties campaigned to legalize gay marriage, said it “looks like an emphatic win for the yes side.” Voters in his native Cork were being recorded by observers as more than 60 percent yes.

John Lyons, one of the four openly gay lawmakers in Ireland’s 166-member parliament, said he was surprised by how many older voters he met on the campaign trail who were voting yes. But he paid special credit to the mobilization of younger voters, many of whom traveled home from work or studies abroad to vote.

“Most of the young people I canvassed with have never knocked on a door in their lives,” said Lyons, who represents northwest Dublin in parliament. “This says something about modern Ireland. Let’s never underestimate the electorate or what they think.”

Ireland’s gay bull saved from slaughterhouse

He faced execution for failure to perform. But Benjy, the gay bull of Ireland, has been saved following a worldwide appeal backed by “The Simpsons” co-creator Sam Simon.

Ireland’s Animal Rights Action Network said Tuesday that Simon is paying for Benjy’s transportation to an animal sanctuary in England. Simon, who is battling colon cancer, has been giving away much of the fortune from his television career and is a leading donor to animal welfare causes.

Benjy, a Charlerois bull, failed this year to impregnate any heifers at a County Mayo farm in western Ireland. Veterinarians determined he was fertile, but was more attracted to the bull that replaced him.

After the farmer announced he planned to send Benjy to an abattoir, activists last week launched a social media campaign seeking 5,000 pounds ($7,825) to send the bull to the Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk, England, which is home for about 2,000 unwanted farm animals and horses. About 300 donors contributed 4,000 British pounds ($6,200) to an ongoing fundraising drive organized by the British online magazine TheGayUK.

Simon, who funds a Malibu dog shelter and many other animal rights projects, said he heard about Benjy’s case through friends at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals pressure group. He said he was happy to donate the full original cash target to buy Benjy and ship him to England.

“All animals have a dire destiny in the meat trade, but to kill this bull because he’s gay would’ve been a double tragedy,” Simon said in a statement. “It thrills me to help PETA and ARAN make Benjy’s fate a sanctuary rather than a sandwich.”

ARAN campaigns director John Carmody said Simon and other donors were buying the bull “a one-way ticket to freedom.”

Exploring literary Dublin and Bloomsday

James Joyce immortalized this misty port city in his literary epic “Ulysses,” though many Dubliners freely admit they haven’t read a word of the stream-of-consciousness novel. That doesn’t stop them from throwing a huge celebration every June 16, honoring the day in 1904 when the fictional Leopold Bloom perambulated through the streets of the author’s hometown.

Every year, thousands of Joyce lovers and tourists, many in period costume, flock to the capital to retrace Bloom’s steps. The faithful devour “innards of beasts and fowls” for breakfast, plunge into the once-famous gentlemen-only bathing spot called the Forty Foot, and descend on Davy Byrnes’ pub for that famous literary lunch: a gorgonzola sandwich and glass of Burgundy.

But while Bloomsday is the city’s largest and most colorful literary celebration, it is hardly the only one. With its old-world pubs filled with faded pictures of poets and rebels, clattery cafes and cobblestone alleys, centuries-old libraries and elegant museums, Dublin is a haven for those who want to immerse themselves in books and writers and words — washed down of course, with the obligatory pint of Guinness. (The old brewery storehouse on the banks of the River Liffey is a major tourist attraction.)

If there is a pub on every corner — Dublin boasts around 1,000 of them — it seems there is a poet too. There are statues, busts and plaques commemorating writers, and pubs and restaurants filled with literary references. Literary-themed walks transport visitors to the worlds of Joyce, Shaw and Wilde. Even the city’s newest bridges are named after writers — Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Sean O’Casey.

A life-size, colorful stone statue depicts Oscar Wilde lounging languidly on a crag in the park at Merrion Square. Joyce is depicted rather more severely in bronze, leaning on his cane as he strolls down North Earl Street. And tourists love to pose for photos sitting next to sculptures of two writers seated on benches: Brendan Behan by the Royal Canal and Patrick Kavanagh by the Grand Canal. “O commemorate me with no hero-courageous tomb,” wrote Kavanagh, “just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.”

“Walking through this city is like stepping back into a novel,” exlaimed Rohini Srinibasan, a Joycean scholar from Cincinnati after a recent day of sightseeing with her husband. “It’s like reading Joyce or Shaw all over again.”

Other famous wordsmiths who were born or lived here include George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swift, William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker, Oliver Goldsmith, John Millington Synge, Oliver St. John Gogarty, Flann O’Brien and Seamus Heaney.

“There’s great history and storytelling and characters in these streets, and it’s a city of words and writers all right,” said Colm Quilligan, author of a book about literary pubs. But, he pointed out, “for a long time, we weren’t always that kind to them.” Joyce and Beckett, for example, emigrated to continental Europe, while Yeats relied on benefactors to pay his bills.

Quilligan hosts a lively literary pub crawl that introduces visitors to The Bailey, The Brazen Head, The Bleeding Horse and other watering-holes frequented by writers or featured in their works. Actors re-enact passages from Joyce, Beckett, Wilde — “I have nothing to declare but my genius” — and Behan — the self-confessed “drinker with a writing problem” — as visitors sip their Guinness and soak up history.

The tour begins in the 19th century Duke pub with actors reciting from Beckett’s  “Waiting for Godot,” which one Irish theater critic famously described as “a play in which nothing happens, twice.” It moves to the cobblestone quad in Trinity College, where visitors learn about writers who studied there — Swift, Beckett, Stoker, Wilde and others — before meandering through more pubs and prose, ending at Davy Byrne’s.

If Dublin seemed a bit indifferent to writers in decades past, it has more than made up to them now. Designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2010, Dublin hosts literary festivals and  celebrations throughout the year. Every April, for example, the city hosts a reading initiative called “one city, one book” encouraging everyone to read a book connected with the capital.

The Dublin Writers Museum — a beautifully restored Georgian mansion on Parnell Square — is filled with books, letters, portraits and personal belongings of famous scribes. Next door, the Irish Writers’ Centre offers a peaceful sanctuary for writers in stately old rooms filled with books and artwork.

There’s a James Joyce Centre in the city, but true Joyce lovers take a half-hour train ride south to Sandycove to visit the stone tower featured in the opening scene of Ulysses, now a Joyce museum. The 19th century Martello tower — just reopened after a renovation _ was one of a series built along the coast to withstand an invasion by Napoleon. Joyce stayed here briefly, and the gun platform, with its panoramic view of Dublin Bay —  “warm sunshine merrying over the sea,”  as well as the living room, are preserved as he described them in “Ulysses.”

Nearby Sandymount, a pretty seaside town, was the birthplace of William Butler Yeats, a giant of 20th century Irish literature and winner in 1923 of the Nobel Prize in literature. Three more Irish writers won the prize: Shaw, Beckett and Heaney.

Dublin is also home to fabulous old libraries like the one in Trinity College, home to the Book of Kells, a Latin version of the four Gospels written 1,200 years ago and considered one of the most beautifully illustrated manuscripts in the world.

The Chester Beatty Library houses the elaborate collection of the 20th century American mining magnate, including many priceless Islamic and Far Eastern manuscripts and artifacts.

And then there Marsh’s Library next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the oldest public library in Ireland. Built in 1701, it is a beautifully preserved, old-world treasure of dark oak bookcases filled with 25,000 books and manuscripts dating back 500 years.

“Step to the 18th century,” cries caretaker Peter Logue, as he opens the door. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine Jonathan Swift, dean of St. Patrick’s, sweeping past the bookcases, or penning his satires with a quill in one of the elegant wired alcoves where “graduates and gentlemen” were locked in with rare books.

Outside the modern city bustles. Inside, there is just the ticking of an antique grandfather clock, the musty smell of ancient leather and all around, the ghosts of scholars and writers past.

If You Go…

BLOOMSDAY: June 16, http://jamesjoyce.ie/bloomsday/what-is-bloomsday

DUBLIN WRITERS MUSEUM: Parnell Square, http://www.writersmuseum.com/default.asp Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sundays and holidays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults, 7.50 euros; children 4.70 euros.

JAMES JOYCE CENTRE: 35 N. Great George’s St., http://jamesjoyce.ie Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed holidays). Adults, 5 euros; seniors, students, 4 euros.

JAMES JOYCE TOWER AND MUSEUM: Sandycove, http://jamesjoycetower.com Free admission.

DUBLIN LITERARY PUB CRAWL: http://www.dublinpubcrawl.com/ . Daily through Oct. 31, 7:30 p.m. (in winter, Thursday-Sunday only). Adults, 12 euro; students, 10 euro. Book online or reserve at the Andrew Street tourist office. Some tickets available at The Duke Pub on Duke Street, where tour begins.

TRINITY COLLEGE: Book of Kells display at Trinity’s Old Library, http://www.tcd.ie/Library/bookofkells Open daily but closed for occasional special events. Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5.p.m.; Sundays (May-September), 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Adults, 9 euros; students and seniors, 8 euros; children free.

MARSH’S LIBRARY: St. Patrick’s Close, http://www.marshlibrary.ie Open daily except Tuesday and Sunday and holidays. Weekdays 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2 p.m.-5 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Adults, 3 euros; students and seniors, 2 euros; children under 16 free.

Pope Francis appoints sex-abuse victim to advisory commission

Among those tapped by Pope Francis to a commission to advise him on sex abuse policy an Irish woman assaulted as a child by a priest to start plotting the commission’s tasks and priorities.

The pope announced the commission’s first eight members, including lay and religious experts, after coming under criticism from victims’’ groups. The Roman Catholic Church’s global sex abusive scandal and massive cover-up operations have devastated the church’s reputation and cost dioceses billions of dollars in legal fees and settlements.

In December, the Vatican announced that Francis would create a commission to develop best policies to protect children, train church personnel and keep abusers out of the clergy. But no details were released until today, and it’s unknown whether the commission will have the authority to discipline bishops who cover up for abusers.

In a statement today, the Vatican hinted that it might, saying the commission would look into both “civil and canonical duties and responsibilities” for church personnel, AP reported. Canon law does provide for sanctions if a bishop is negligent in carrying out his duties, but such punishments have rarely if ever been imposed in the case of bishops who failed to report pedophile priests to police.

The eight inaugural members of the commission include Marie Collins, who was assaulted as a 13-year-old by a hospital chaplain in her native Ireland. She’s become a prominent Irish campaigner in the fight for accountability in the church.

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Not just St. Patrick: Ireland home to many saints

St. Patrick may have banished snakes and brought Christianity to Ireland, but perhaps his greatest feat was one of sheer endurance. After all, there were hundreds of other future saints roaming Ireland at the time, but Patrick is the one who gets the party.  

On March 17, Guinness will flow from Malin to Moscow, the Chicago River will run green and parades will be held worldwide to celebrate the fifth-century preacher and patron saint of Ireland.

“St. Patrick’s legacy is pretty impressive,” says historian Brian Lacey, “especially considering he wasn’t even Irish.”

Patrick was British, captured at the age of 16 by a band of raiders and brought as a slave to Ireland. For six years he tended sheep on a remote mountain in County Antrim and wrestled with visions from God. After escaping, he went on to become a bishop who traveled throughout Ireland building churches, baptizing converts and performing countless miracles along the way.

In recent years there have been calls to rein in the revelry and reclaim the religious aspects of the national holiday. Some are even attempting to boost the name recognition of other saints (early Irish records list as many as 1,700) and bring their stories to the attention of the world.

There are hundreds of holy wells, sacred round towers and monastic remains all over Ireland and it seems every town and village boasts its own special miracle maker.

GLENDALOUGH, COUNTY WICKLOW: ST. KEVIN

At Glendalough (valley of two lakes) in County Wicklow, visitors can wander through the remains of a monastic settlement that for 500 years was one of Ireland’s greatest centers of learning. Founded by Kevin in the sixth century, the soaring round tower, churches and gravestones, as well as “St. Kevin’s Bed” — a man-made cave carved into the rock high over one of the lakes — creates a strikingly evocative scene and almost mystical sense of the past.

Tour guides offer tales of how Kevin cast a monster into the upper lake, rebuked an ardent woman suitor (one unlikely legend has him hurling her from his cave into the depths below) and once, while fasting, allowed a blackbird to build a nest on his outstretched hand. The story goes that he kept his arm outstretched until the chicks hatched.

There are endless such yarns woven around the saints. At the time Ireland was dubbed “the Island of Saints and Scholars” and monastic settlements had to compete for pilgrims and patrons — causing in-house scribes to pen ever more dramatic tales of saintly powers.

KILDARE, COUNTY KILDARE: ST. BRIGID

Brigid, for example, is said to have turned water into ale, diverted rivers from their courses and conjured up extra bacon for unexpected guests. When she decided to build a monastery in Kildare in the fifth century, she needed land from a local chieftain. He grudgingly agreed to give her as much as her cloak would cover. Miraculously, the cloak kept spreading for as many acres as she wanted.

Today, a round tower and cathedral mark the spot in Kildare where Brigid’s abbey once stood. On the outskirts of the town is a tranquil park with an ancient well, said to have healing powers, next to a tall bronze statue of the saint wearing a cross and holding a flame.

CLONMACNOISE, COUNTY OFFALY: ST. CIARAN

In neighboring County Offaly, visitors can explore the magnificent remains of the sixth-century monastic site founded by Ciaran in Clonmacnoise. It includes the ruins of a cathedral, two round towers, three Celtic crosses and the largest collection of early Christian gravestones in Western Europe.

Ciaran’s path to sainthood was launched as a young man, when he supposedly restored life to a dead horse — just one example of his way with animals. Legend has it that a fox carried his psalter (psalm book) and a stag held his books on its antlers while he studied.

After performing the usual round of miracles, Ciaran decided to build a monastery at Clonmacnoise, smitten, he said, by the beauty of the lush green plains and sweeping views of the river Shannon. First though, he had to settle a boundary dispute with a neighbor who offered him land as far as he could throw his cap. After uttering a prayer, a gust of wind swept Ciaran’s hat across the fields. To this day, a sudden squall in the midlands is sometimes called “Ciaran’s wind.” The neighbor was eventually made a saint as well _ St. Manchan.

ARDMORE, COUNTY WATERFORD: ST. DECLAN

Farther south, at the picturesque seaside village of Ardmore, visitors can learn about St. Declan and how he crossed the sea on a huge flagstone which ran aground on a local beach. High on a hill above the village are the spectacular remains of his fifth-century settlement, including an ancient church decorated with intricate stone carvings, one of the tallest round towers in Ireland, and the remains of an oratory where Declan is buried.

The saint still has a cult following in County Waterford, which he christianized before St. Patrick. The waters of St. Declan’s well are said to possess healing powers, especially for aching joints and backs. And every year pilgrims flock to Ardmore to celebrate his feast day on July 24 and throw a weeklong party in his name.

ST. PATRICK AND MANY MORE

There are hundreds of other saints and saintly shrines. At Fenit harbor in County Kerry in southwest Ireland, a large bronze statue depicts St. Brendan, the sixth-century navigator who set off on an epic voyage across the Atlantic in a wooden boat covered with ox hides. Brendan is said to have landed in Newfoundland, and to this day his followers claim the saint was the first to discover America.

Relics of saints also abound. The preserved head of St. Oliver Plunkett _ who was hanged, drawn and quartered in Britain in 1681 for his Catholic faith — is housed in an elaborate shrine at St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda, a port town north of Dublin.

For centuries St. Laurence O’Toole’s 900-year-old heart was on display at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin until, shockingly, it was stolen in 2012 and has not been recovered.

And, though he wasn’t Irish, St. Valentine’s third-century remains also ended up in Dublin, preserved in an elaborate reliquary at the Carmelite church on Whitefriar Street.

Still, Patrick remains the star. This year Dublin will host a four-day extravaganza including beer fests, ceilis (Irish folk dancing), street performances and a lavish parade in honor of “La Fheile Padraig” (St. Patrick’s feast day). Downpatrick in Northern Ireland, where the saint is reputedly buried (and which has a huge visitor center dedicated to all things Patrick) is throwing a nine-day program of events.

All this for a man who famously described himself as “a sinner, the most unlearned of men, the lowliest of all the faithful, utterly worthless in the eyes of many.”

If You Go…

GLENDALOUGH, COUNTY WICKLOW (ST. KEVIN): http://www.glendalough.ie/. Visitor center open daily. Adults, 3 euros; seniors and groups, 2 euros; children/students, 1 euro; families, 8 euros. Guided tours of St. Kevin’s monastic site available.

CLONMACNOISE, COUNTY OFFALY (ST. CIARAN): http://www.offalytourism.com/businessdirectory or http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/ . Monastic heritage center offers 30-minute video and tours. Open daily.

ARDMORE, COUNTY WATERFORD (ST. DECLAN): http://irelandsholywells.blogspot.com/2011/08/saint-declans-well-ardmore.html

KILDARE, COUNTY KILDARE (ST. BRIGID) http://www.kildare.ie/kildareheritage/?page_id=65 .  Check with tourist office on walking tours to St. Brigid’s Cathedral and directions to St. Brigid’s well on town outskirts near the Black Abbey.

DOWNPATRICK, COUNTY DOWN (ST. PATRICK): http://www.saintpatrickcentre.com/ . Saint Patrick Centre, open Monday-Saturday (Sunday afternoons in summer only). Adults, 5.50 British pounds; children, 3 pounds; family, 13 pounds.