On Monday morning May 1st Durlas Eile Memorial Committee members Mr Johnny Wort, Chairman, Dr. Michael Casey, Fellow of the Irish State, and Mr. Guy Jones, Chairman of the Irish Lebanese Cultural Foundation started the first leg of their journey en-route to Beirut Airport.
Next morning, the tour started heading east towards the Keserwan Mountains; then the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon; and in the afternoon a visit to the University of Notre Dame for the the Lebanese Aboard the Titanic Art Exhibition.
We enjoyed our visit meeting with new friends and a very enjoyable evening we had.
On Wednesday morning we headed off to Baalbeck and a visit to the Megalith Site, one of the largest and oldest Roman sites in the world description of the ruins The Propylaea, The Hexagonal Court, The Great Court, The Temple of Jupiter, The Peristyle of the Great Temple, The Temple of Bacchus, The Basement, The Temple of Venus and then on to the Palmyra Kasara Winery. We did a tour of all the underground caves where they store all the wine; we also tasted some of the wine which was very nice.
Next day we headed up north to Mount Lebanon to visit the oldest Cedars in Lebanon known as the Cedars of the Lord. On Friday we headed south to visit the ancient city of Tyre and then we headed east to Qana to visit the cave Jesus slept in on the night he turned the water into wine. I lit a candle and said some prayers for my family and friends.
Then it was on to Tibnin to visit my good friend Abdo Habdad and the Irish Memorial Garden that is twinned with St Mary's International Garden of Remembrance in Thurles, Co Tipperary. We then went up into the mountains to visit our Irish Soldiers serving with the United Nations Peace keeping stationed in Camp Shomrock Atire. They were happy as they were going home Monday, the same day as us. The Camp Commander Captain Ian Killbride met us he welcomed us to Camp Shamrosk with a cup of tea - the best and most welcome cuppa since we left home. We talked about the Irish Memorial Garden in Tibnin and St Mary's International Garden of Remembrance in Thurles. He thanked me for all my work in setting up St Mary's and the twinning with the Irish Memorial Garden. I wished him well and a safe journey home and I thanked him for his time and his company. We then headed on to Tibnin Castle - the castle was built 2,000 years before Christ and you could see that from the stone work and the way it was built. As we stood on the top of the castle not far away from me to my left was Syria, in the centre was Palastine. On my right was Israel and I was standing in Lebanon - some sight and what a moment for us. We then headed back to Abdos Houst for lunch, a meal fit for a king Lebanese style. We were looked after very well by Abdo and his wife. Dr Michael presented him with a book on Ireland and I gave him a bottle of Jameson.
It was time to hit the long road back to Tibnin and Saturday morning was to be a very special day as we were heading in to Beirut to visit all the historical sites. We had lunch in the old part of the city where the people are easy going and the food is good. In the afternoon we were going to visit The Palais Sursock to meet with Yvonne Sursock, Lady Cochrane. We talked for an hour and a half and she told us all about her father and mother and all the uncles and aunts and what it was like back over the years in Dublin and Lebanon, the many friends she had met, all the Royal balls she had attended etc. She told us she held the first outdoor party in Dublin and at the time people thought she was mad - she got on with it and all went well on the day, the first of many.
What a lady - she made us feel so much at home in her company. It was a great privilege for Dr Michael and me to have spent the afternoon with such an elegant and lovely lady. She told us that her birthday was on the 10th of May she would be 96 years young. I told her that she did not look 96 and I gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Ah,” she said “my first birthday kiss.” She looked at me, smiled said said, “John you know old age is very booring. “
We got a short tour of the Palais before we left and she then presented us with a signed copy of her book on the history of her Palais.
Dr Michael presented her with a copy of Ireland and the Wild Atlantic Way. We then went back to our hotel with fond memories of Lady Cochrane and the hospitality that she had given us. That night it was off to Guy Jones mother's house for lunch - we had a great night, good food and the best of wine and Lebanese comfort.
We were free the next day - our last day - so Maggie took us to Jbeil or Byblos the small sea side town called after the Bible. Then it was back for a Lebanese Fish Meal where a large basket is placed in the centre of the table full of big and small white fish, Lebanese style rice, and salad with herbs with wine and Aric. I am not a lover of fish but this was special and I did enjoy it.
Maggie invited her two friends along for lunch and to meet us, we also met her two daughters and her son - we were made feel at home with all the comforts of home away from home. We were very lucky we had Tony, my good friend of ten years, as our guide on all our tours around Lebanon. Dr. Michael and I were presented with a certificate to certify that we had contributed to the growth of Shouf Biosphere reserve in partnership with Alfa by Adopting a Cedar Tree.
Our visit to Lebanon was very good. We made many new friends and no matter what part of Lebanon we visited, we were always made welcome. We were asked to return with Maggie promising to get me a Lebanese Passport. “Johnny, you are now one of us,” she said, with a big smile on her face.
John Wort Chairman and PRO Durlas Eile Memorial Committee.