Category Archives: Ireland 2006

Entries posted during the May, 2006 trip to Ireland that I took with my wife.

Ireland Pictures

After nearly three years, I’ve finally uploaded our photographs from our Ireland trip to Picasa. Click on the picture of the guest house we stayed in in Trim, below, to see the album.

The Return Home

Flying for just over an hour with total sinus congestion is not, I’m sorry to report, nearly as fun as it sounds. There’s the pressure, the weird sounds as your eustachian tubes try to equalize the pressure inside and outside your head — something kind of like a squish, and something kind of like a pop — and the whining from the wife, who says she’s tired of listening to the whining when she’s done cross-country flights with her sinuses inflamed, infected, and pretty much packed solid, thank you very much.

But anyway, we left Dublin. More pictures are forthcoming, I promise, though they may not be particularly exciting. Coffee shops and bookstores, pretty much, and a line of strange sculptures that could be puka frolicking along the central divider along O’Connell street. I wanted to see more, to do more, but walking more than a few meters made me short of breath, so we just sat around. Around six we caught the bus to Dublin Airport, from whence we made the aforementioned flight of pain.

A fourteen hour layover in Heathrow Airport also sounds like a great deal of fun, I know, but in spite of the pending excitement we decided to spend the night at a nearby hotel. The cost of said hotel was 64 pounds, which works out to something like $140 at the current exchange rate (at least it felt like it). In the morning we took a shuttle back to Heathrow to catch our flight to San Francisco.

I have no pictures from Dublin Airport, not even of the giant stainless steel flying pig, nor of Heathrow, nor of the hotel we stayed in. Nor of my sinuses.

The flight from London to San Francisco took just over ten hours. Fortunately, I’d armed myself with decongestants before we left (which I’m not supposed to take, but damn the hypertension), so Jennifer didn’t whine at me as much. I caught a couple of inflight movies (Firewall and Failure to Launch) and started to watch the in-flight presentation of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, but decided I did not want to see the emasculated version of it. From San Francisco we caught a twin propeller turboprop plane with room for the pilot, the steward, and a dozen or so passengers. I haven’t flown in one of those for decades, and that’s not an exaggeration. Puddle jumpers, we used to call them. Retro, they call them today.

Made it home safe and sound, looked around the house, and discovered that one of our cats, Azzie, had gone missing. We checked every single nook and crannie in the house, twice, every place where Azzie was known to have lurked in the past, but he wasn’t in any of them. We decided that we couldn’t do anything about it tonight, and resigned to not seeing him until later, if ever again.

We poked around, I attempted an fsck on my ever broken computer, played with one of the other cats, and then went out on the back patio to defy my manhood and cry about the missing cat. That’s when I heard his distinctive whine coming from somewhere in the back yard.

I opened the patio door and shouted up to Jennifer, “I hear him! I hear him!”

Jennifer came tearing downstairs, and we hunted around the back yard, not seeing the cat anywhere. We kept hearing occasional whines but the acoustics were deceitful. Finally, though, we tracked him to where he was hiding underneath the wooden steps that lead up to the patio. I poked at him through one side until he went out the other side, where Jennifer caught him. He struggled and squirmed, though, and before I could open the back door to let them in, Azzie had leapt out of her arms and scurried off to elsewhere in the back yard.

Against the far fence of our back yard is a hedge, one of those thick gnarly things. You can see a picture of it here, kind of along the right hand side of the photograph, though this picture was taken two years ago and the hedge has grown to roughly ten times that size. Another not exaggeration. Azzie had run behind the hedge and was lurking there, whining at us, daring us to come back there and grab him. Of course, the hedge was so thick that even with our powerful camp lantern, we couldn’t see him.

Finally I got down on my belly and peered through the hedges and found him. Jennifer told me to grab him by the scruff of his neck and pull him out.

Now, I know that lying on your belly on a gravel path at midnight while you have bronchitis, reaching through a thick, brambly hedge to grab a scared cat by the scruff of the neck sounds like a lot of fun, but it is my sad duty to report that it is, at best, annoying. Azzie wanted nothing to do with the idea. I reached in slowly, very slowly, and then shot my hand forward and grabbed his neck with an accuracy that can only be achieved when you aim for the scruff of a terrified cat behind a row of thick hedges. I mean, I got him, and pulled him out, knowing that both the cat and my arm would be covered in dirt and brambles and scratches and possibly insects, but that wasn’t the important thing. The important thing was getting the cat.

I shoved Azzie at Jennifer, who had a towel ready. She wrapped him in the towel, nearly swaddling him, and ran for the patio. I had had the foresight to leave the patio door unlatched, so that Jennifer could just shove through it without having to work the doorknob, and that’s what she did. She dropped cat and towel onto the breakfast nook floor, and he shot up the stairs faster than I’ve seen any cat go in years.

Me, I ran upstairs and made for my nebulizer.

So, we’re back from Ireland, and all the Crawford household, two-legged and four-, are accounted for. Azzie’s terrified of me now, and I guess I can’t say as I blame him. How would you feel if you were grabbed by the scruff of your neck and forcibly dragged from your hidey-hole by a giant creature? He’ll get over it, of course, because Azzie’s long term memory is only slighty better than that of your average turnip (though I may be giving the cat too much credit).

Until then, though, he’ll skitter and hide every time I go near him. But he’s inside, where it’s safe and warm and loving, and that’s what matters.

Dublin

Because there is something fundamentally sucky about being me, my immune system decided to succumb to a cold just as we were entering Dublin. I can feel it in my throat and in my head, lingering, pondering the possibility of moving down into my lungs to make things just awful. I’m hopeful that this cold will keep to its place and stay away from my respiratory system. The last thing I (or my potential seatmates) need is a cold-induced asthma flareup on the nine hour flight from London to San Francisco.

At any rate, we drove from Slane to Dublin the other day, via Newgrange and the Hill of Tara, which I believe I’ve already mentioned. Newgrange is sort of a catch all term to refer to threee major passage tomb complexes which are known to be in the area: Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. Dowth isn’t actually open to the public, but Newgrange and Knowth are. We took the tour of the Knowth complex, though we didn’t get to go very far into the main passage tomb itself.

I’m fascinated by historical places which have been in constant use for thousands of years, and Knowth is one such place. It wasn’t always used as a tomb, of course; it started out as a tomb (though no one was actually buried in it), then became merely a gathering place for worship. Then there are signs it was abandoned for centuries, during which much of the stone and dirt on the top of the mound subsided and buried the kerbstones and doorway of the tomb, so that by the time the ancient Christians showed up, there wasn’t much left of the mound itself. They just figured it was a mound of grass, so they put a monastary on top of it, and dug a number of little subterranian tunnels (called “souterrains”) around the complex. I had fun crawling through one of them; there’s a picture of me doing just that here.

After the Christians were done with the site, the Normans came along and built a fortress on top of the mound, because that’s what the Normans did. After awhile, the Normans abandoned the site, and it went unused for centuries, until the late 1700’s, when someone built a house on top of it. Then that house was abandoned and fell down, and the hill went unoccupied until the twentieth century when the tomb was discovered and excavated. So now there’s a great big artificial mound with a hole in it. The ancient Celts used to take the cremains of their dead and deposit them in stone basins in a chamber at the end of the tunnel.

What fascinates many of the archaeologists, apparently, is that there is considerable evidence that the site of the Knowth tomb has apparently been used for religious purposes for most of its existence. Perhaps there really are places that have a spiritual draw for human beings. I don’t know; we didn’t get much time to hang out there, even after we missed the tour bus and the guides had to call a special bus just for the two of us from the visitors’ center.

After Knowth, we went to visit the Newgrange passage tomb. It’s very similar to the Knowth tomb, although the archaeologist who excavated a good chunk of it decided that the quartz rocks surrounding it were once part of a massive wall surrounding the tomb. There’s some evidence to back this up, but questions remain, even after he reconstructed the wall in front of the tomb according to how he thought it must have looked. For one thing, there’s the question of what the ancient Celts might have used for mortar; they were good at stonework, but not at that level.

Newgrange was bigger than Knowth, but I think I found Knowth more interesting.

Once we were done with the passage tombs, we made our way down to the Hill of Tara, as I believe I’ve already mentioned. You can also see the pictures we took at the Hill of Tara here. And as I’ve already mentioned, I think I found the site more interesting than Jennifer did. I don’t have much commentary about the Hill of Tara which I haven’t already talked about in my previous entry and in the photograph captions.

So then we made it to Dublin. Right away, we discovered that two days is not enough time to visit this city. We managed to make it to Kilmainham Gaol (famous mostly for being the prison where the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising were held and executed), and took a tour of that. We also took a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, which was very rewarding in a spiritual sort of sense for me. The most startling revelation for me was that there are many more varieties of Guinness than the Extra Stout that I’ve been drinking all my life. And new varieties are still being invented; Toucan Brew has just been released into the pubs of Ireland. There weren’t really any pictures to take at the Guinness Storehouse, so I didn’t take any. But pictures from Kilmainham Gaol are here.

Finally we went to Trinity College to visit with the Book of Kells. Because we weren’t so good at keeping track of time and because we’d had a long, late lunch, we showed up there at about five minutes to closing time. The security guard let us through without paying for tickets, and we breezed past all the explanatory and interesting panels to get straight to the glass case where the Book of Kells itself is kept. I was particularly impressed with the deocration and illuminating we saw yesterday, especially because the last time I was here, it was open to a rather boring page without much decoration. After we glanced at the Book of Kells, we rushed through the Long Room, which still has the effect of instilling me with awe and a vague sense of ignorance as we looked at the seemingly endless miles of books, two stories’ worth of them. As I recall, there’s a scene in Attack of the Clones which takes place in the library at the Jedi Academy; the library there looked pretty much like the Long Room.
We had given up the car to the car rental place when we arrived in Dublin, so we’ve been traveling around by foot and by bus. As soon as we hit the streets of Dublin, I was glad we had chosen to do that. Jaywalking is not just a crime here, but a way of life; I can only admire the agility of the average bus driver, who has to negotiate not just the cars that go zooming around the streets, but all the pedestrians as well. We’ve taken a few pictures of Dublin, but I think we’re both starting to burn out on our cameras, because we didn’t take all that many. And today, since I’ve been sick, we didn’t do much touring around at all; mostly we just lurked in bookstores and coffee shops. And in just a couple of hours, we’re going to catch a bus back to Dublin Airport, from where we will start to make our journey home. So this will probably be the last entry I write from Ireland.

I’m going to miss a lot about Ireland; the sense of history which permeates the entire country, the fierce pride that infuses the whole society. The depth of the Irish sense of place and religion. We don’t have much like that in America; sure, there’s patriotism in America, but it’s like a pale imitation, a shadow, of the sense of nation which comes from more than three thousand years of history, full of invasions and heroes and saints and criminals.

Mostly I’m going to miss Irish hospitality. Some of the best times I’ve had this trip have involved just relaxing with some of them in a pub, drinking Guinness, listening to music, and chatting amiably about nothing in particular or getting into complex discussions of history or weird little word games that I can win with the phrase “braiding the monkey”. I’ve never found a place like that in America. A ceilidh in America is not nearly the raucous, noisy collection of young and old that I’ve encountered here, and the music I’ve seen in bars is generally not the sort of folk song that everyone in the bar can sing along with, arm in arm.

Insert here a wistful sigh.

While riding around Inismor with Jennifer, the fellow who drove the horse-driven cart we took turned and asked us how we liked Ireland so far.

“It’s great!” I replied enthusiastically. “Makes me wish I was Irish.”

The driver scoffed. “I don’t know about that. If you were Irish, you’d never get to see America, would you?”

I guess it’s all just a matter of perspective.

Pic Update

I think that I forgot to mention the thing that shocked me the most about Clonmacnoise, and that is the fact that the name is prounounced pretty much just the way it is spelled. I was going to guess “Clomanock” or “Lomanock” or perhaps “Raymond Luxury Yacht”, but I was wrong on all three counts. It’s actually pronounced “Clonmacnoise”. See, just when you think you’ve got Irish Gaelic beat, it throws a curve ball at you. “An Meath” is pronounced “Ahn Wah”. Yet the “Meath” in Meath County is pronounced “Meeth”. Those ancient Celts had it in for us, I’m sure of it. I can just imagine them, sitting around, coming up with ways to pronounce things. “Hey, Bob, why don’t we pronounce that word it a sound that’s kind of a cross between a W, an F, and a Q. That’ll screw with them Romans.” And then, when someone was first transcribing the Irish language, they decided to confuse the matters even more. “Hm, that sounds kind of like a W, kind of like an F, and kind of like a Q. I’d better transcribe it with a capital B after a lowercase M. Just because I can.”

I’m right, you know. I’m sure of it.

Anyway, we finished posting the pictures from Clonmacnoise and Connemara. There are more from the strangely pronounced Clonmacnoise than I had originally thought, mainly because we took many pictures of grave slabs. And my camera decided to behave enough to take at least one good picture of the Nuns’ Church.

There’s only one picture from Corlea, primarily because there’s only one thing worth taking a picture of. We thought of taking pictures of the interesting plants and insects that make their homes in the bog, but we figured our readers would look at them and say, “Meh. More mud.”

We’re in Dublin now. We passed through Newgrange and Knowth on the way, and stopped by the Hill of Tara, where the ancient kings of Ireland ruled and where St. Patrick used a shamrock to convert Ireland to Christianity. I was more impressed by that than Jennifer was, I think. The King of Tara Hill was once considered to be the King of Ireland, and when you’re standing on top of the Hill, you can see why; the tour guide estimated that from that vantage point you can see approximately 20% of the entire country.

More on all that later. For now, I’d better log off before our money runs out in this Internet Cafe.

Namuch

Nothing much to report from today. Galway is a wonderful city, but, alas, we had to leave that one too soon as well.

During our driving tour of Connemara yesterday, we discovered that most of the west coast of Ireland is composed of huge slabs of limestone. Some of these huge slabs simply push their way out of the earth and form large mountains (what we Americans call “hills”, or possibly “just a big boulder”). Others are used to make stone walls and houses and walls and monastaries and did I mention a hell of a lot of walls? We stopped at a gift shop which was supposed to feature a bodhrain maker in action, but he was out to lunch, so we bought souveniers instead.

After that, we made our way to the Glenfowla Mine, which advertises itself as “Ireland’s first show mine!” You can take a tour of the mine, which was pretty neat. I learned quite a bit about lead mining in Ireland after the Potato Famine that I didn’t know before (which is pretty much everything). The men in those mines worked ten to eleven hours a day, in very grim conditions lit only by candlelight, and they were only paid for how much lead/silver ore they brought to the surface — and if they brought no ore to the surface, they weren’t paid.

And these guys considered themselves lucky to have a job. Times were ugly in Ireland in the aftermath of the Potato Famine.

Pictures from Connemara, including the mine, are here.

Today we mournfully drove all the way from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast, where we have settled into a very nice, probably ill-advised (financially) B&B in the town of Slane.

Let no one ever fool you into thinking that Slane is any sort of thriving metropolis. Dixon is larger than Slane. Our bathtub is larger than Slane. Slane is nothing more than a very, very hilly town (the slope of the main street from north to south is roughly 20 degrees, I think) with nothing in it to speak of. For our Internet access, we had to drive to nearby Drogheda. Slane, I think, is nothing more than a quick stopping off point for people on their way to Newgrange. We will visit Newgrange and post plenty of pictures tomorrow, or possibly some other time. Who knows.

We didn’t drive straight across, though. We stopped at a couple of places; Clonmacnoise is the site of a number of churches and an abbey at the junction of the Shannon River and a major roadway. It stood there, prosperous (for a medieval monastary, which was, of course, quite prosperous), surviving eight Viking attacks, twenty-five Irish attacks, and a few English attacks. Of course, the dissolution of the monastic system under King Henry the VIIIth ensured the utter sack of Clanmacnoise, so by the time we got there there was nothing left but ruins. And a lot of gravestones. You can’t have a holy site in Ireland without a few dozen ancient grave slabs littering the ground. You can’t toss an empty Guinness can without it landing on some dead guy. Really. Some of the slabs had been in the ground for so long that they were mostly covered up with grass, exposing no more than a few inches of stone, even though the slab itself is still a meter or so long.

Pictures from Clanmacnoise are forthcoming. There aren’t many, though; you reach a certain point where all the ruins from medieval monastaries start to look the same, and you can only get a few unique angles and shots to distinguish, say, Jerpoint Abbey from the Nuns’ Chapel at Clanmacnoise. That’s not to say that they’re not all fascinating, of course, and offer a revealing look into the religious history of Ireland, which is so closely tied in with its political history; it’s just that, well, you run out of interesting ruins to photograph.

We also stopped at the Corlea Trackway, which is a few meters of ancient Iron Age roadway built by the Celts who inhabited Ireland. One might look at this (I certainly did the first time I saw it) and say, “So what, it’s just a road. Buncha boards on long branches.” But when you consider that the roadway was over a kilometer long, the sleepers were made of Irish oak which had to be cut and carried over several kilometers to get to the site, and the road was built on top of a genuine Irish bog, you begin to appreciate the scale of work that went into the construction of the thing.

What’s fascinating, to me, is that no one quite knows what the road was for. While the original archaeologist who investigated the road believes it was originally meant for wheeled traffic (and was an utter failure, therefore, because it sank a mere ten years after it was built), others point out the significant lack of anything resembling a wheelmark on any of the sleepers, and the lack of anything resembling a wheeled cart buried anywhere near the site. They did find a cart, but it had no wheels. So other archaeologists are more inclined to think that the road had a more ritualistic purpose. It did, after all, lead from a hill where many of the ancient Celtic kings ruled to a cave system which the Celts thought contained an entrance to Tir-na-nog, the world of the spirits (to put it very simplistically). Personally, I like the idea that it was commissioned and built for one of those Celtic kings; they’ve found massive tombs for some of those guys that could rival the Egyptians for complexity and sheer engineering talent, after all. So why not built a long road over a bog for a king to be carried from where he ruled to the gate of the underworld? Makes sense to me.

Pictures from Corlea are forthcoming.

Jennifer pointed out to me today that today is the last full day that we’ll have our rental car. Tomorrow night we turn it in to the car rental place at Dublin Airport. I’ve been thinking about the differences in parking behavior between the US and Ireland, since finding a place to park has often been an adventure in itself, and sometimes negotiating a tiny two-way street made narrower by the presence of parked cars on the side was such a fun thing to do.

So, a couple of thoughts regarding parking differences.

  • In the US, when considering a parking spot in a major city, you note whether it’s a legal spot. If it’s not a legal spot, you move on. In Ireland, when considering a parking spot in a major city, you note whether it’s a legal spot. And if it’s not you say, “Feck it” and park there anyway. I’ve only seen one car clamped during our entire trip.
  • In the US, when you park on the side of the street, you make sure there’s plenty of room after you’ve parked for traffic to get past in both directions. In Ireland, you make sure there is at least one lane’s width of traffic. If you’ve blocked half the road, feck it and park there anyway.
  • On a country road in the US, no place is an acceptable place to park. On a country road in Ireland, your lane of traffic is an acceptable place to park.

This is complicated by the sheer number of different painted lines next to the sidewalks which mean different things depending on the day of the week. And the fact that in almost all of the parking lots we’ve been to, there have been no lines on the lot to indicate individual spaces; in a way, this has been nice, since there are far too many parking lots in the US that expect a Chevy Suburban to park comfortably in a spot that would be tight for a Geo Metro. In Ireland, you just park wherever the hell you want, and you’re good. At least I haven’t seen anyone double-parked. Of course, we’re only here during the shoulder season; during high tourist season, the whole situation might be more grim.

I don’t have much more to share this evening. We’ve finished uploading our pictures from the Aran Islands. We leave in less than a week, and I’m very sad about that; I feel at home in Ireland, and it’s neat to be in a place that’s just drowning in so much history. After all, Ireland has been invaded and conquered and reclaimed and fought over and fought for so often in the past few millennia, it’s amazing that any sort of cohesive culture, especially one so heavily influenced by the Celtic peoples who vanished from Ireland so long ago, emerged at all. There are certainly differences from town to town and from west coast to east coast, but the Irish are all, to a one, definitively Irish. Most of them are fiercely proud of their country and their history, though you occasionally get one, like James Joyce, who take being Irish as a sort of personal tragedy, rather like being born with no arms or legs. Even then you can take fierce pride in that; “I may be Irish, but at least I’m still human, dammit!”

Nothing much in writing news. I have written nothing more on “The Divergents” since the last time I mentioned it. I have ideas brewing still for An Cerith, though I don’t know what I’ll ever do with the setting. I’ve had ideas for The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, and I can’t wait to get home and start working on that again.
That’s all for tonight. More to come later.

An Irish Monkey, well braided

This entry will be lacking in details, historical tidbits, and, sadly, anything remotely resembling a sense of humor. It’s currently 11:30 p.m., and I’ve just had a couple of pints. More details will be coming later. For now, just kind of… deal.

So with tears in our eyes, we left Ennis, vowing that one day we would return. And in time for a music festival which includes a good ceilidh. Or ceili. I don’t know how it’s actually spelled; I suspect that the proper spelling depends on who’s drawing up the flier.

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted, and I’m sorry about that. Things have been moving quickly; we’re drawing into the last week of our trip, which is making me pretty sad, and we’re working on catching more things.

After Ennis, we made our way to Galway, via the Cliffs of Moher (which were so shrouded in mist that we coulnd’t see anything, so I took this picture instead just to amuse you) and the Burrens (which was prefaced by Kilfenora). The Burrens was not as barren and desolate as the name would have you believe; but the landscape was made primarily of the same limestone which makes up just about the entire west coast of Ireland. The principal site of interest, I thought, was the portal stone which still stands, after thousands of years. Here ancient Irish folks would bury their dead in a pit under a tomb designed to look like a doorway, facing east. Imagine the sheer force of will involved in lifting and moving that capstone. It’s unfathomable.

Galway, I’ve decided, is probably my favorite city in Ireland, if not the world; it’s a university town, for one thing, which is always a plus in my book. There’s an energy and dynamism in university towns that is lacking in other places. Street performers litter the town. One fellow we encountered had dressed himself up entirely in silver, in an outfit which I think was meant to look like a statue of Oscar Wilde (or maybe not; you decide, as his picture is here). We also came across a pair of girls singing along with what I presume was their younger brother. Included in their repetoire was the ubiquitous “Fields of Athenry“.

We spent Saturday just kind of bumming around town, exploring the city and seeing what it has to offer. This is my favorite part of traveling in a strange place; getting lost in town and seeing what’s there. Galway is as ancient as any other town in Ireland, and, as in every other place in Ireland, the ancient mixes with the modern. Part of the original city wall still stands, for example, and now serves as part of the infrastructure for Eyre Square, a large shopping mall. Saturday night I wandered through the city, watching people and looking for music, but finding none (except for three forlorn musicians in the back of a tiny pub whose name I couldn’t begin to pronounce; the crowd was so noisy, though, that the musicians could barely be heard).

Some (but not all) of our pictures from Galway are here.

On Sunday, we took a ferry out to the Aran Islands. We took a tour of Inis Mor on a horse-drawn buggy (because nothing screams “TOURIST!” like a horse-drawn buggy), but after that was done there wasn’t much else to do. We did explore Dun Aonghasa (pronounced, in the bizarre logic of written Irish which insists that “Siobhan” is pronounced “Shivon”, as “Dun Angus”). The cynical part of me says, “Yawn, another 3,000 stone fort built by some ancient Celts”, but the truth is that I’m still awed by the engineering marvels that these structures are. The fort is solid, well built, and includes not an ounce of mortar. Inis Mor, like every place else in western Ireland, is made of limestone, so there is certainly no lack of building materials (what do you do when your field is full of rocks? Make a house out of them! Duh!), but finding the right rocks and piling them up into a wall which will protect you and yours from attack for millennia is a feat that we just can’t seem to replicate these days. We sat at the harbor and waited for the ferry to take us back to the mainland, because most of what’s worth seeing on the island was too far away for us to make it on foot.

Some of our pictures from Inis Mor are here.

We returned to Galway, and spent a pleasant evening in our B&B, relaxing and watching Irish television. Which was mostly just imported American television. Go figure.

Today we drove around Connemara, enjoying more of the limestone scenery, and having a good time. More details and pics to come.

And after we made it back to our B&B, I decided to go back into Galway to look for more music. I found it in the same pub I went to on Saturday, but this time the musicians were in the front of the pub instead of relegated to the rear, and I could actually hear the music playing. One guy stood in the doorway and danced to the music, lifting his beer in salute to anyone who glanced at him. Me, I sat at the bar with my pints of Guinness and got into a word game with some of the locals (and a young dark-haired woman from London who kept asking me if I was married, and who couldn’t quite grasp that my marital status simply did not change from moment to moment). I’m not positive what the point of the game was, but it had something to do with euphemisms, and finding the most bizarre general use euphemism. I think we agreed that I won with “Braiding the monkey“, when I explained how the term had come about and what it meant (which is, basically, whatever you want it to mean when you use it). Who knows? Perhaps it will become part of the Irish vernacular now. But somehow, I doubt it.

At any rate, it’s shortly after midnight now, and the two pints of Guinness that I had this evening have apparently impacted me far more than I thought they would. So I’ll leave you with this final bit of wisdom: Braid your own monkey, because in this wacky world of ours, no one else is going to braid it for you. That, and you can never have too much Guinness.

The Real Heart of Ireland

By the way, pictures from Killarney are here. There are only two of them. Killarney wasn’t all that inspiring, I guess.

So anyway, Quin Abbey started out, originally, as a castle for the MacNamara clan, until it was burned out during one of the innumerable invasions that England inflicted upon Ireland. Afterwards, it was turned into a Franciscan abbey — or, technically, a friary, since by that time the monastic lifestyle was no longer as popular — and was used for many years until King Henry VIII dissolved the monastic system in Ireland and England in, uh, 1341. It’s the largest, most complete abbey of its time and size still in Ireland, and it’s remarkable primarily because it’s mostly intact, to the point where you can even walk around in the upper level. As always, just about every inch of floor space on the ground floor was littered with grave stones; as one of the tour guides earlier on said, “You can’t step anywhere in Ireland without walking on some dead guy.” I quote him verbatim. The graveyard outside and the tombs inside featured some remarkable carved high crosses. Some of our pictures from Quin Abbey are here, but not all; there’s a bizarre and annoying little permissions issue going on with the pictures, so I can’t seem to get them to upload to our server. Blast. And I had such a great picture of a Celtic high cross, set beautifully against a window in the sacristry. I’ll post it when I get these pictures sorted out.
Off, then, to the Craggaunowen Project, which, as I’ve mentioned, wasn’t as impressive as the Irish National Heritage Park. The folks at the Heritage Park, I think, did a better job of recreating the stone age and iron age dwellings and making them look more authentic. Both Jennifer and I are pretty sure, for example, that the Irish of the Iron Age did not use large wooden pallets to stretch and dry their animal skins.

Pictures from the Craggaunowen Project are here.

We made it into Ennis last night, as I mentioned in my previous entry, and found that it’s host to a traditional music festival this week. It’s an annual thing, so we’re going to make sure that when we come here again, we’ll make it here at this time of year. There’s traditional music playing over the PA system in the town, which is kind of haunting in its own way, and random musicians in the streets. The highlight for us was the ceilidh (or is it spelled ceili? I’ve seen it spelled both ways here in town) which we went to last night; a full evening of music and dancing in the ballroom of a large hotel in downtown Ennis. The fact that the sun doesn’t fully set until nearly eleven o’clock at night has definitely had an impact on Irish social life; the ceilidh started at ten at night, when the sun was still up.

I’ve been to a few ceilidhs in the US in the past, but I was expecting that this one would be different; it was in Ireland, after all, and not some college town in California. However, aside from the ages of the people involved (I’m used to seeing a pretty young crowd at these events, and this event had people of all ages but was heavy on the older side), it was pretty much the same as any other ceilidh I’ve been to.

I can’t do a jig or a reel to save my life these days, and I only remember one dance from the Irish dance class I took ten years ago; the “Siege of Ennis”. They danced that one at the very beginning, but we sat it out because I didn’t remember it was called the “Siege of Ennis”, and I wanted to get a feel of how the other people were going to do. I was about to ask Jennifer to dance for the next set, but she was swept away from me by some Irishman in a red shirt, who led her through two more sets. I was volunteered for the next couple of sets, because they’re always short of men at these events (which seems kind of strange to me, because you’d think that more men would figure out that these events are a perfect venue for meeting women). I was paired up with a high school girl from Texas, and we both stumbled our way through the set (I can’t remember what the dance was called, but involved a lot of stars and switches). After two more I excused myself and went and had a Guinness.

Jennifer was swept up by another Irishman and pulled into a couple more dances. I danced with another high school girl from Texas (there was apparently a whole troop of them there that night), and then excused myself from any more dancing because my asthma was starting to flare up. Damn lungs. I went and sat down, had a pint of Harp (because there’s nothing better for your asthma than Irish beer). I stood and watched the dancing for a bit, and was even more annoyed by my asthma when the girl I’d danced with earlier came up and asked me to dance with her again. There’s very little that can be more flattering to a man my age than to be asked to dance by an attractive girl about half your age, especially when she knows (from having danced with me in a previous set) that I’m a crappy dancer. I cursed my lungs and explained that I couldn’t dance any more. And I’ve set myself a new fitness goal: to be able to accept such an offer in the future.

Jennifer says she doesn’t mind. And I hope not, since she was being swept away regularly by other guys.

It was an exciting and wearying night. We walked back to our B&B after a couple of hours, exhausted and happy to have experienced part of the real heart of Ireland.

Zoom

Camera’s fixed, so I celebrated by taking thirty pictures at Quin Abbey near Ennis. None of them have been transferred to the computer so my regular readers, all three of you, are going to have to wait to see them. Ha ha ha, I’m such a bastard.

We did a lot of driving today, and my brain hurts. We stopped at the tourist information office in Killarney to buy some trinkets before making our way out of town, and then drove in a meandering sort of way up to Ennis via Limerick. Limerick was frightening in a way that only Cork had managed to be so far, but the excitement was enhanced by the presence of an armed guard in full camoflauge standing in the middle of a downtown intersection. I’m not aware of any situations in Limerick that might require an armed presence, but I’m not entirely up to date on my Irish national news. Perhaps there have been some troubles. At any rate, he was the only one I’ve seen so far, so perhaps he was just a random soldier who got lost in Limerick. Lord knows that’s easy to do.

We made our way through Limerick and staggered into a cafe for lunch, where our hypothesis that an Irish style lunch is generally enough to feed a platoon received further confirmation (perhaps that soldier had gotten lost on his way to lunch?). Then we drove further north, drove through some more tiny country roads (not as tiny as the one in Skellig, viewable here), and saw Quin Abbey, which was absolutely fascinating. The host on site gave us quite a lecture in the history of the abbey and some of its archaeological features, and we discovered one or two that he didn’t know about himself. Then we went to a heritage park whose name I won’t even begin to try to write here (it was Irish, that’s all you need to know — and it started with a C), but which was less impressive than the Irish National Heritage Park. Then we came to Ennis where there is apparently a traditional music festival going on. We plan on attending a ceilidh tonight.

At any rate, the point is, I don’t have a lot to say this evening. Hang tight.

Slow news from the Emerald Isle

During a tour we took of Charles Fort yesterday, the guide mentioned that a young man had been beaten to death somewhere in Ireland last week for the crime of being Catholic. Not to make light of this tragedy, both Jennifer and I sort of scoffed. “That’s kind of a daily occurence in the US,” we told him. “Though it isn’t necessarily over Catholicism.”

It’s a sad truth that human beings will use just about any excuse to feel superior to other people and try to kill them for it. I mentioned this to the tour guide, and he said, “True. People will use any excuse at all. I, for example, could claim that I am superior to you because…” He paused, and then held up his walkie talkie. “I am superior to you because I have this walkie talkie.”

Jennifer replied, “I bow to your walkie talkie!”

I turned to the two others in our small group (both woman from the US) and said, “I say we beat him up and take his walkie talkie.”

Anyway. So yesterday we left Cork (have I mentioned how much I hate driving in Cork? I haven’t? Well, I really fecking hate driving in Cork!) and drove to Charles Fort, which is one of the star-shaped forts on the Irish coast. Built originally in the 1600’s to help defend English interests in Ireland against the possibility of a Dutch invasion — or possibly the other way around, since European politics of the time are just a bit, shall we say, Byzantine, to say the least. It was a well built fort and served its purpose soundly for centuries. It was taken a couple of times, and helped defend the Irish against the English when the English decided to take back Ireland from the rebels (or, possibly, the other way around — again). Alliances could shift according to which way the wind blew across the Irish sea.

At any rate, the fort also saw action during the first World War (did you know that the average life span of a British officer after being sent to the front during the first World War was approximately nine days?). In the 1920’s it was burned by Irish anti-Treaty forces (said treaty being the one that separated Ireland into the Republic and into Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK to the consternation of various groups that fight on today) in a fit of pique over a battle lost with the Irish Republican Army. Or, perhaps, the other way around.

The point is, Charles Fort was an active and manned fort for nearly 400 years, until it was abandoned in the 1920’s. More of that continuous history that is such a part of Ireland that I find so fascinating. The history is everywhere! You can’t swing a dead leprechaun without hitting some sort of medieval abbey or something. Many Irish noblemen during the medieval period built tower houses, sort of mini-castles that stood in the middle of an easily defended field. Over a thousand of these little tower houses still stand today in various states of repair. Some of them are in the middle of farmers’ fields. The cattle graze right next to them, and the farmers curse the obstruction to their plowing.

Pictures from Charles Fort are here.

After Charles Fort, we made our way to Blarney Castle, where neither of us felt particularly inclined to kiss a stone which hundreds of thousands of other people have kissed over the past couple of centuries. I figure I’ve had enough good luck over the past few years; I don’t need any more right now. The castle itself is the closest thing to a tourist trap that I’ve witnessed here in Ireland; it’s centuries old, of course, and in the inner bailey you can find a booth selling little ceramic leprechauns and T-shirts that say, “I kissed the blarney stone!” In case you needed one. I prefer the other kind of historic site, the kind where a tour guide will guide you around the site, telling you the history of, say, a particular chimney and how the Butler family used it (because the Butler family did everything in Ireland), and put it into context so you can see just how that fireplace played a pivotal role in the development of the fighting groups in Northern Ireland today. Blarney Castle lacked such history, interpretation, and context. Still, I suppose we had to go, just so we could say we could.

However, Blarney Castle did feature a really neat cave that made me wish seriously that I’d brought a flashlight. And dungeons. Actual dungeons! How cool is that? I thought to myself, “This must be what God feels like when he runs a D&D game.”

Pictures from Blarney Castle are here.

We checked into our B&B in Killarney after that. And here we are now.

Today after waking up, we drove the Ring of Kerry, a 120+ mile drive around the Kerry Peninsula. Notable mostly for excellent scenery, small towns, daring sheep, and herds of tour buses which will drive you insane if you end up driving behind them. We stopped in Skellig and learned about the monastary on Michael Skellig (which included tiny little stone huts, and a stone staircase that ascended in steep steps 200 meters above the surface of the water — there go those wacky medieval monks again), and then pushed out little car to its absolute limits as we ascended over the highest drivable road in Ireland and then down again to find the Skellig Chocolate Factory just by the Fiobhan Bay. Excellent chocolate, if you ever feel a perverse need to find this place on your own.

We also went to visit a stone fort located on some farmer’s field. Technically we were supposed to pay €1 to “trespass” on his field to visit the fort, but we never saw a box for money or anyone collecting the money. The fort has stood in that spot for nearly 2,000 years. It stands almost six meters tall, and the walls are four meters thick. And there was not a single ounce of mortar involved in its construction, and that’s the part that blew me away. Because, as I mentioned, the fort has stood, intact, for nearly 2,000 years. I poked at some of the smaller stones in the walls, and while you can shift them back and forth, you can’t really pull them out of their spot. The engineering ability of those ancient Celts was truly overwhelming. I stood in the middle of the fort, looking around at it and marveling at the skill and determination it took to build it. The fort, it appears, was originally built as a home for a wealthy family; the interior grassy area was probably full of huts and tents belonging to the family members or their tenants. Built into the walls themselves were two chambers which might have served as living quarters for people who really get their kicks out of sleeping in the mud on cold rainy days in Ireland. I’m guessing it was the monks again.

After the Ring we came back to our B&B in Killarney, then drove into town for dinner and a little Internet time. And that’s where I am at this very moment.

It’s fortunate that Jennifer brought along her digital camera, by the way; almost all of the pictures in our on-line album are hers. I brought along a camera of my own, but the card seems to have died an early death, and now every time I turn my camera on it insists on formatting the card. This Internet cafe, fortunately, has the facilities to possibly retrieve my photographs from the card, and then sell me a new one. Let’s just hope it’s the card, though, and not the camera itself which has blown a bit of silicon.

Today’s pearl of Driving-In-Ireland wisdom, by the way, is this: never, unless you are on one of the major motorways, get comfortable with any gear above third. You will not spend more than a few minutes in fourth or fifth at a time. Especially if some damn tour bus is in front of you making its way from Killarney to Waterville.

Or, possibly, the other way around.

Pictures from the Ring of Kerry are here.

If it's Monday…

…It must be Cork. Or Waterford. Or Cashel. Or… I dunno. I’m sort of losing track. Was it just the other day that we wandered through the Treasures of Waterford museum, learning all about the history of Waterford, from how it started out as a Viking fort and eventually made it into the major city (major for Ireland, at least) that it is today?

Yeah. Yeah, I think it was. Since then we’ve made our way through Cahir, Cashel (where we saw the awesome and spectacular Rock of Cashel), stayed the night in Cashel, driven through more of Southeast Ireland, saw a wildlife park, and made it here to Cork. Pictures from Cashel are here. We were going to upload pictures from Waterford, but we’ve had some technical difficulties.
Speaking of Cork, I should mention that driving in Cork is probably one of the most terrifying experiences that the average American driver can go through. Not only are the streets narrow and packed, they are narrow and packed and one lane wide and two-way traffic with people parked on the side of the road, leaving you a usable driving space approximately the width of your car. No problem, until you have to deal with opposing traffic at the intersection. When you hit that situation, you’re probably better off abandoning the car and making your way back to Cashel to live as a monk. Or you could chew your leg off. That might help relieve the stress.

I’ve compiled a few tips for Americans driving in Ireland, though. First, you must drive on the left. That means that when you make a left turn, you really, really have to check to the right to make sure there’s no oncoming traffic, not just to the left. Second, you must overcome your desire to have your view of the road be to the left side of the road. You want to stay to the center of the lane, which means to the right. There’s a lot less car on your right than you’re used to, and you’re going to tend to drift to the left because of that. Resist this urge. Overcome your desire. It is nothing but vanity and maya. Om.

Actually, the most important tip of all is not to panic when your wife panics. I think that’s pretty much says it all.

We ended up in the suburbs of Cork while hunting for our B&B, and stopped in a pharmacy to ask for directions. Fortunately for us, there was a grey-haired fellow there who offered very kindly to lead us to the B&B in his car. So we made it safe and sound. The Irish are very friendly.

Back to Waterford. Having been thwarted in my attempts in Kilkenny to find good live Irish music, I ended up on Saturday night at a pub called T&H Doulan’s in downtown Waterford. There happened to be a band playing that night called Homebrew. Two guys on guitar and a guy on a banjo. These guys rocked. Even with their small band, they managed to sound more like Dropkick Murphys than Golden Bough. Even the mournful ballad “Fields of Athenry” was delivered with a driving beat that made my heart want to sync up with it (I assume, actually, that it’s some sort of mournful ballad; the words certainly seem that way, but the only versions of it I’ve heard are these guys and Dropkick Murphys, who add a hardcore punk sound to it). At the end of the evening, I wound up with my ears ringing and my head throbbing. Those are the two marks of a really good night of Irish music.

I drank two pints of Guinness. I danced (sort of — all of the dancing I do is just sort of dancing) and flirted shamelessly with an older woman (I think she was in her 50’s) named Margritte. She was from France, and I don’t think we understood more than 10% of the conversation we had.

More fun than that was the cute brunette who was accidentally shoved up against me by her friends, with her face in my shirt. She informed me, in the really cool Irish accent that I love so much, that I smelled good. I thanked her, and she started to talk to me some more; I casually dropped the words “My wife” into the conversation, and she moved on.

Have I mentioned how friendly the Irish are?

Guinness, loud music, friendly people. The castles, abbeys, ruins, wildlife parks, and countryside are all lovely and well worth the trip to Ireland. But it’s evenings like Saturday that I think is the best part of Ireland. Getting friendly-like with the locals and getting to know a few people, even if you have to shout at the top of your lungs over the band’s rendition of “Danny Boy” to do so.