Monday, July 08, 2013

Ireland Day 12: Coole and Craggaunowen

Today is the last Ireland day I will report on, as we head to Shannon Airport bright and early tomorrow morning.

Galway is a delightful city--it has the tourism, the diversity, the history, and the amenities of a place like Dublin or London, but on a smaller scale. I walked through many crowds in the Galway streets, but nowhere did I feel the push of crowds like I did in Dublin. Galway is also easier to navigate--I was able to find my way around the space between the 3 bridges across the Corrib with ease, and without really needing to consult a map. On this particular morning, our driver told us that we didn't need to be on the bus until 11:30, so I had time to take a long walk along the river, and to investigate more of the town.

Once we were on the bus, we headed to Coole, which was Lady Gregory's estate. Lady Gregory was a great friend of William Butler Yeats, and it is her book of Celtic Mythology that is the most well known. She apparently had been on the Aran Islands, and while caught there in stormy weather, came to realize that there was an entire Irish culture that was almost unknown. It was through her that Gaelic schools were started in association with the Gaelic league, though she is also very well-known for her role in founding Dublin's Abbey Theatre, and writing many plays that were produced there. One surprising thing I did not know about her was that her husband was William Gregory, who introduced the hated "Gregory Clause", which forced many Irish tenants to give up their land and emigrate to Canada. If they did not give up their land, they would be given no hunger assistance. If it's not obvious, this was during the years of An Gorta Mor.

The grounds of the estate were mostly in ruin, as the house was destroyed foolishly after Lady Gregory's death, because of sentiments against her husband. The great irony is that Lady Gregory was a key player in the revival of Irish history and culture. In the end she had to sign over the estate to the government, and leased it back for £100 a year. Among the tree-lined walkways around the house is the autograph tree, a copper beech onto which many of her illustrious visitors carved their initials. William Butler Yeats was the first.

After lunch at Coole, we headed off to Craggaunowen, which is a re-creation of an Iron Age village, and also contains Craggaunowen Castle, a tower house from the 17th century. After it was built, the house was taken by Oliver Cromwell and his cronies, and later housed a collection of ancient artifacts now held elsewhere. Our guide was a young woman who looked so remarkably like my friend Ann, I had to do a double take. She's also the only person I encountered that said "ye" instead of "you", and she was not being dramatic. We started by visiting a replica of St. Brendan's boat, created and sailed to prove that the myth of St. Brendan crossing the Atlantic and being the first to discover America could be true. There was a replica of an Iron Age ring fort, and we all took turns risking our various phobias by passing through the souterrain. This is an underground passage used for food storage, and for hiding when invaders attacked. It is accessed by a rather dubious looking ladder, and I might have avoided it, except that it didn't go down very far. When I remarked that I was afraid of heights, one of our group, Gabriel, remarked, "That's okay, those are depths."

We also saw a Fullacht Fiadh, which means something like " boiling pit of the deer". Venison was cooked in these pits, by filling them with water and adding sizzling hot rocks. Bill commented that he'd seen a demonstration of this, and it worked incredibly well, even though you would think the hot rocks would be cooled by the water. We also saw a replica of a crannog (which is made up of two Irish words meaning "young willow"). These were artificial islands created about 100 meters offshore, and constructed with wattles. The only entrances were by boat or by a set of stepping stones, whose configuration was only known to the family that lived there. Fencing around the crannog was spiked wood, so that invaders could not easily climb over the fence. And there was a watchtower, so that anyone coming towards the crannog could be seen. These were lived in until the 17th century.

At the end of the tour, we had a snack before getting back on the bus. As I was walking towards the bus, I was behind a family with a boy who could not have been more than two years old. He was banging on a drum that was purchased in the souvenir shop. I think he was good enough to have a future career as a Druid bard. Or would, if such positions still existed.

Craggaunowen was our last stop on the tour. We headed to Ennis, and there is a musical pub night at the Copper Jug, which I've skipped on account of us needing to be up tomorrow at 5:30 to head to Shannon Airport. My flight doesn't leave until 12:30, so I will have some quality time in the airport before leaving.

If I had to give an overall impression of the trip, it would be an emotional one. I don't talk much about feelings stirred here, but I found many places struck an emotional chord with me. Being with a group had its advantages and disadvantages, as I mentioned previously. While there are many beautiful places here, and I will certainly come back, it will be nice to get home to my house and my cat. It will not be nice, however, to get back to New Jersey summer weather. I will miss the cool Irish summer days.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Ireland Day 11: Ceide Fields and Galway

We left the hotel in Ballina around 10:00 in the morning, and headed first for the Ceide Fields. This is a mesolithic and neolithic site, showing old walls that surrounded pre-historic communities. These were found underneath layers of peat in the bog, and explains why some stones look so white in the walls. The rocks are largely sandstone, and were used to keep in cattle and to keep them out of the house areas. The Mesolithic people were hunter gatherers, while the Neolithic people were farmers. It was from this period onward that the land was impacted. The earliest people came about 9,000 years ago.

The tour was longer than expected, and we needed to get moving to get to Galway. There was some grumbling about the tour guide--she was incredibly repetitive, giving us the same information over and over unnecessarily. I think Bill was ready to throw himself off the cliff. While on the pathway, we did see a lot of interesting flora--spotted orchids, bog cotton, flax, and two different carnivorous flowers called sundew and I think butterwort. These latter flowers capture and eat flies, even though they don't look so ferocious.

On a side note, I find that going through Ireland gives me quite a refresher in the Irish language. I took about a year and a half of Irish lessons with a local woman from Flemington, who was from Ireland, though I don't remember what part. I remember very little of what she taught me, though many phrases look familiar. For instance, "Slí Amach" means "Way Out", while "Fáilte Isteach" means "Welcome, come in". "Slán Abhaile" means "Safe home", which is surprisingly written on motorway signs.

On the road to Galway, our bus driver played a narration of a story by Edward Kelley, a shanachie who died a few years ago. The shanachie is a storyteller, or "teller of old stories". The story he played for us was one about a priest coming for a "station" to the house of mourners at a wake. This was before Mass was regularly celebrated at a church. It was raining, and the priest came with an umbrella, which they had never seen before. He had put the opened umbrella on the floor while all duties were done, and when he finally had to leave, the people were secretly relieved, because "they wouldn't get out the bottle until he had left." After being walked to the road, he asked for his umbrella. Larry, the one attending to the priest in the story, went back to retrieve it, but he didn't know how to close it. So, he removed the door hinges, the door frame, and was about to take the cornerstone from the house, when the priest came to see what was the matter, closed it with ease, and left. Larry turned to the group and said, "Say what you like, he has special powers".

The road to Galway was long, and we ended up stopping in a town called Ballinrobe to use toilets and grab a quick bite or a cup of coffee. I stopped in O'Connell's for a pint, and looked in vain for an open chemist shop. Most things in small towns are closed on Sundays.

We finally arrived in Galway around 4:00, and about half our group went on a boat tour of the River Corrib. This took about an hour and a half, and included a free Irish coffee for our group. What I didn't realize was that the Irish coffee was made by Róisín Sweeney, who had the title of Powers Irish Coffee Making Champion for 2011. (Whether she still holds the title, I don't know).

Along the way, we saw many ruined castles and Iron Age sites, as we headed towards Loch Corrib. The very first ruin was of a stronghold belonging to the DeBurgos, which was later known as the Burke family. Apparently there was a scene between the DeBurgos and the O'Flaherties. The O'Flaherties were tenants of the DeBurgos, but when the landlords demanded rent, they invited one of them down to a feast, and then beheaded him. They sent the head back to the landlord house with a note, "Here is your year's rent". I have to say that I only know 2 Flahertys, and I like both of them very much. So, no hard feelings.

Róisín not only showed us how to make perfect Irish coffee, but showed us how to do an Irish dance that I think is called the Siege of Ennis. She needed 4 male volunteers and 3 female--from our group, I volunteered, and so did Gabriel, one of the few men on our tour. I ended up dancing with a total stranger, but it was a lot of fun, and I was told that both photo and video exist, so perhaps these will go up at some point. The day has been the warmest so far, about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

After the boat tour we checked into our hotel, and went our separate ways for dinner and exploration. I found a great little place called the High Street Cafe--it was in an upstairs, fairly busy, but not too busy compared to the rest of the shopping and pedestrian district near Eyre Square. There were comfortable chairs, Moroccan tea, candles, and the most delicious Italian food I've had in a long time, and it was very inexpensive. It was a good opportunity to relax and finish a book that I was reading. After dinner I visited a couple of other pubs in the area, with my favorite being a very quiet pub across the street from our hotel. I realize that weekend nights are noisy, but I prefer a place that is more laid back.

In the last pub, I enjoyed a glass of Hennessy's rather than Guinness. The gent next to me was watching a farming show on the TV. He laughed and said "I really hate the English accent. It sounds so...public school." Further conversation revealed that his grandfather had come for a long weekend to Galway in 1950, and he never bothered going home. I asked him more about that, but he said the history was hazy to him. After a short chat, some friends of his arrived, so I headed back to my hotel, where the temperature control on the shower was broken and I had to call service. That, and the Internet connection, which shows full signal, is not working. But, I eventually got the shower working, and if you get to read this by 5PM U.S. East Coast time, then I will have gotten the Internet working.

Tomorrow is our last day, and we are heading to Ennis. Til then...

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Ireland, Day 10: County Mayo and Connemara

This morning we left Bundoran quite early--luggage had to be on the bus by 8:45, and we were supposed to leave by 9. As a rule, we tend to leave about 15 minutes late every day. Part of it is misunderstandings--for instance, today many of the girls thought that the bus left at 9:30. The other is that the bus clock is a little bit fast. Still, we've gotten everywhere we needed to go in reasonable time, so it's not been terrible.

It's probably a good time to talk about the pros and cons of bus touring. The plus is having a knowledgeable guide, and being able to go to places that you might not get to see as an individual, unless you were willing to go out of your way. The main "con" is a lack of freedom--you are on a schedule, have a certain amount of time in each place, and then you have to leave again at an appointed time. There have been many places where I would have preferred to hang out for hours, and then maybe get a pint locally and bring a book to read. But that isn't possible on a tour. The other thing--which could be a pro or con depending--is that you are obviously a tourist when you come off the bus. My general traveling rule when I'm abroad is to try to blend in. Certainly I don't have an Irish brogue, so I can still be picked out. But I like to feel like I'm participating in the landscape in some respect, not just gawking at it. I'm not complaining though; everyone on this tour is very nice, no one is really out of line, and it gives me a good introduction to a possible future trip on my own.

One thing I didn't mention from the previous night is that I finally tried black pudding for the first time at La Sabbia's. Paddy had it as an appetizer, on what looked like small slices of Italian bread and some cheese on the top. It was the most delicious thing I've had, ever--I don't even care what's in it, it was SO good. I will keep that in mind the next time we have a full Irish, though I'm not sure if the black pudding will be of the same quality as that of La Sabbia. Still...

The itinerary for the day ended up being changed, because our hotel was changed by the tour group. Originally we were supposed to stay in Westport, but we were switched to a hotel in Ballina, the Downhill Hotel (which doesn't sound good, but is actually a gorgeous hotel). I was a little disappointed about not being able to spend time in Westport--we drove through it and it looked like an amazing town with lots to do. The Irish Times took a survey, and apparently it was voted the best place to live in Ireland. I couldn't speak to that, but I definitely wanted to visit.

Our first stop of the day was Turlough Park. This was just supposed to be a quick bathroom stop, but our driver thought it would be a good place for us to check out, and he was right. It is a folk life museum of Ireland, and shows the clothing, the basket weaving, the thatching, and all of the other crafts that the Irish had to be "handy" at on a day-to-day basis. What was most amazing was that they had videos from the 1930s of residents thatching roofs, making baskets, making fire fuel out of slurry, and so forth. We would have liked to have spent a lot more time there. As I was heading back upstairs, my roommate Deborah stopped me, and asked if I'd seen the whole Brigid exhibit downstairs. I hadn't, so I wandered down to see it, and was glad I did.

A bit of background--Brigid is the saint whose popularity is only rivaled by St. Patrick. However, Celtic Christianity tended to blend the old and the new--old pagan customs were interwoven into the new religion. Before being considered a bishop and a saint, Brigid was a fire goddess to the Celts. I was fascinated to see that they had an old-time video of the Brigid festival of February 2, which we know as Imbolc, Candlemas, or St. Brigid's Day. In this case, the family was praying the rosary when a young girl came in holding a bhrideog--a straw effigy of Brigid. The museum had two bhrideogs on display. This is reminiscent of the ancient pagan ceremony, where the exact same thing happened, except that it honored the goddess Brigid, who was bringing the first light at what was the beginning of Celtic spring. "Imbolc" has to do with lambs being born, so this was connected with the beginnings of new life. I have some pictures of myself next to this display, though I can't post them at this time (good old 35mm single use cameras...).

The Turlough Park is on a property owned by the DeBurghos, which is the Burke family. So, this was really a place that I could connect with, at least in terms of names. In spite of the sunny forecast, it started pouring rain, so we got back on the bus and headed down to Croagh Patrick--the holy mountain of Saint Patrick that pilgrims climb. There are still some who make the climb in their bare feet, though this is discouraged. The sun did come out for this part of the trip, so we got some good pictures of the mountain. This was mainly a lunch stop, so we got to see the natural beauty of the area, and go across the street to see John Behran's famine memorial commissioned by the Republic. This particular famine memorial is quite disturbing, showing a coffin ship with rotting skeletons. Coffin ships were the ones that took many Irish overseas to Canada mainly, as the U.S. had certain standards for ships entering their ports. Often the people had no fresh food or water for 14 weeks, and many died. About half of those who came over to escape the famine died on these ships.

On the way out of the famine memorial area, I saw some beautiful red and purple flowers. Jodie thought they might be fuschia, as they were not bleeding hearts, though similarly structured.

We then headed through County Mayo, towards the place where Connemara marble is mined, and the Daniel O'Hara homestead is located. It was a LOT of driving--the homestead was 2 hours from Croagh Patrick. I think I slept through most of it, which was a shame, because the scenery was gorgeous. The weather flipped from being sunny to being rainy, and the mountains were often covered in thick fog. And of course, there were sheep everywhere.

At the Daniel O'Hara homestead, we were taken up on a bus pulled by a tractor to the mountain top. Our guide explained that this was the western-most part of Europe. He told us about the radio tower created by Marconi not far below, and noted that the some of the first transatlantic planes landed here. The radio area was destroyed during the Anglo-Irish war, when the British tried to use it to send for reinforcements against the rebels. At the homestead itself, the guide explained that Dan O'Hara's story was that of 65,000 others. The landlords of the estates would evict the tenants, set the roof of the house on fire, and push the walls in. The tenants then often got on the coffin ships to the new world. There is a famous song about Dan O'Hara, selling matches on a street corner in America:

Sure it' poor I am today,
For God gave and took away,
And left without a home poor Dan O'Hara
With these matches in my hand,
In the frost and snow I stand
So it's here I am today your brokenhearted

The English tried to get rid of Irish culture, and their way of life, because they didn't understand it. The first thing Cromwell tried to ban was the drinking, because he thought the drinking made them fight the way they did. But the Irish are of Celtic heritage, and don't fight like the English. This was Napoleon's mistake, as Wellington, despite the British uniform, was an Irishman. The fact that Irish culture has survived is a testament to the strength of the Irish people, and a lesson to the world. We ended our visit with a shot of Irish whiskey (Uisce beatha, the water of life), and a toast that went something like this:

Many blessings from my heart
And to our friends
I wish them well
And to those who don't like us
They can go to hell

After the tour, I bought myself a ring containing Connemara marble. The tour guide told me that the marble is about 900 million years old.

Another two hours of driving, and we ended up at our hotel. After enjoying some O'Hara's barrel aged series of Leann Follain Irish Stout, it was time for an early bed and a book. Only two more days to our trip.

Ireland Day 9: Sliabh Liag, Glencolmcille, and Donegal

For the first time this week, the clouds broke early and it was a warm, sunny day in Western Ireland. The high temperature here is usually about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, though I've heard it gets up to 80 degrees on occasion. It appears that it will be this way for the rest of the trip, so it should be smooth sailing.

We drove about an hour and a half south to Sliabh Liag, or Slieve League as it's known in English. While driving through Donegal, our driver pointed out the Gaeltacht areas. In the Republic of Ireland, road signs are in Irish and English. In Northern Ireland, they are in English only. In the Gaelteacht areas, the signs are only in Irish--and in some places, in old Irish. John said that the use of the old alphabet was largely discontinued, as Irish was confusing enough to young people without throwing in the difficulty of the old alphabet.

Sliabh Liag means something like "mountain of flat stones", and it is a tall cliff, much taller than the famous Cliffs of Moher in Southern Ireland. Our guide told us that you could walk across the mountain along the top in about 5 1/2 hours. "You can go to the top to take pictures," he said. "But if your photographer tells you to step back, don't listen to them." Indeed, once you get past the area with a fence, there is a steep rise to the top. Most of us who had a fear of heights didn't go very far past the area with the fence. Really, you could just find a rock to sit on, and enjoy the sound of the ocean along the cliffs. And, there's a truck at the car park that sells ice cream, so of course we all had that as well. The views from Sliabh Liag are spectacular, and we spent more time there than we should. We had to take a shuttle up to the walkway, as our bus never would have cleared those roads.

On the road to Glencolmcille, we passed hundreds of sheep. Like other country places, stepping in sheep crap is always a potential hazard. We were amazed that some sheep were standing right at the edge of the cliffs. But then again, sheep are stupid. Our guide said that there were something like 180,000 people in the area, and about a million sheep. (Yes, that was a joke.) But they were definitely ubiquitous.

Glencolmcille is a recreated folk village in Donegal. A 16-year-old young man gave us a tour of the main buildings, which shows Irish homes from the 1650s to about the 1950s. There was no electricity in that part of Ireland until 1956, and that was only a few homes--most people didn't have electricity until the 1970s. We had stopped for lunch, and I chatted with the woman in the gift shop. She asked if I had any Irish ancestry. When I told her that I was from the Burke family, she exclaimed, "Oh, from this area? We have a lot of Burkes in this area." I told her that I was told that my great-grandfather came from Dublin, but that my information is not particularly reliable, so I don't know if that's true. The other woman in the store said, "Oh, well you've got the dark hair and blue eyes, you're one of us anyway." The two women chatted to themselves in Irish, which made this the first time we heard anyone really converse in the language.

The Irish do have a few English expressions that I've noticed. They do say "Tis" out here, as in "Tis a mild day today." When they say "thank you", it's "thanks a million." Instead of "lovely" or "brilliant", they usually say "grand".

We ended our day in Donegal town. There was a tour of Donegal Castle, but I headed for a bookstore to poke around, as if I need to put any more books in my suitcase. The religion section was entirely Catholic, as you might expect, and any materials on other religions were usually some kind of apologetic material warning against them, which is a bit surprising. The Irish myth and folklore section was best, and I ended up with another book of fairy stories from there. I headed over to the pub for a pint, and the locals were anxious to strike up conversation. One red-headed gentleman asked me, "So, are you here with your husband?" I said, "No, I'm here with a tour group. I ditched the husband 10 years ago." He said, "Oh! Then I should go home and put on some cologne." We talked about New Jersey, and the Jersey Shore (he swore it was a TV show and not a place), and mentioned something about Jersey women and big boobs. I said, "Oh, well, you won't find those here." They were betting on horses in the bar, and when he got up to place his bet, the female bartender shook her head. "He's full of some good craic, he is."

I headed back to the bus, as we didn't have a whole lot of time. The place was packed with tourists--the man in the bar told me that there was a festival going on up the street, so apparently everyone was there for that. They don't usually get that many tourists, apparently.

Our night finished up in La Sabbia, where we had another excellent meal, and entertainment was "open mic", where all of us got up and sang or recited something. Kat and I went first, doing our off the cuff rendition of The Philosopher's Drinking Song. Others did more contemporary songs, or ones they wrote themselves. My roommate Deborah came up with another great song about Kathy (who found a used condom in her room, after her experience of being flashed by a leprechaun in a kilt in Dublin), and a group of women having a birthday party in the back, came out and started dancing in a big circle. They sang a few songs themselves, and we sang happy birthday to the two women sharing a birthday, Theresa and Phyllis. (No, we really don't know either of them, they were just really "full of the craic" as they say.) Niamh had her own wonderful song about tequila and late nights in Irish bars, and she ended up finishing with "American Pie", a song I thought was banned by Bill from this event, but maybe it was because Niamh was performing it. Bill himself had to read from the Gettysburg Address, and we sang a few patriotic songs. The Irish ladies sang their own national anthem. It was great fun, and our last night with Niamh, as our last 3 days are on our own. Next up will be County Mayo, and that is for another day...

Friday, July 05, 2013

Ireland Day 8: An Irish 4th of July

Day 8 of my Ireland trip was July 4, which is Independence Day back home. I had asked Bill what the day's itinerary would be the day before at Brennan's, but he would only say it was a surprise.

I woke up fairly early in the morning after another late night, but it was raining and cold outside. I went back to bed for a couple of hours, and when I awoke again, the sun was out. I put on my sweater and took a walk along the cliffs of Bundoran's beaches. I found a place to mail my last postcard, and picked up the cliff walk near the tourist information center. It was very windy, but the scenery was breathtaking; rock formations, cliffs, and small tidal pools of green and gray water dotted the coastline. There were tall grasses along the edges of the cliffs, and everything bounced and swayed in the breezes. I walked past a small amusement park, and a mini-golf course. On the hill a ways down was a convention center. I was looking for a formation called the Fairy Bridges, and I found it around the corner. As I was approaching the area, the wind howled in such a way that I was reminded of M.R. James' story, "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad." After hearing the wind, all I could think was, "Quis est iste qui venit? (Who is this who is coming?)" The howling wind was followed by a sudden wave of rain, and the wind picked up to what seemed like hurricane force for a few minutes. I made my way to the Fairy Bridges, but had to turn back shortly after. Once I reached the amusement park again, everything had calmed down and the sun was out. Such is the nature of Irish weather, at least on the coast.

We got onto the tour bus at 11:00, and we ended up at a place called Ulster American Folk Park. Many American presidents' families came from the Ulster area, and the museum itself is basically a museum of Irish emigration. Much of it happens to be to the United States. The setup is like a Colonial Williamsburg, with replica houses from the period, as well as replica storefronts with antique bottles and boxes of the period. There is also a replica of a ship that took Irish emigrants to Canada and the United States in 1816. The guide stood in front of rather small bunk beds, and said that there were 4 or 5 people to a bed. The food consisted of a dry granola-like porridge, and possibly salted fish if the person was lucky. The average voyage was 3 months. If someone died, they were thrown overboard, as they would not be allowed to dock with dead bodies on board. The guide asked about our Irish background, and when I told him I was a Burke, he mentioned the famous philosopher Edmund Burke. "Edmund was my great-grandfather's name," I told him. "But he definitely wasn't that guy."

We saw a re-enactment of a skirmish from 1776 in Upstate New York, with the Iroquois supporting the British troops. They fought against the colonists because they were concerned about their own freedom. As one of our group said later, "Their concerns were obviously well-founded." A few of us stuck around for a re-enactment of the 1776 reading of the Declaration of Independence, which was dramatized complete with Loyalist opponents. This was supposed to be the re-enactment of a reading in Easton, Pennsylvania (which they incorrectly indicated as being close to Philadelphia, when it's at least an hour away from there, but let's not split hairs.) It's always interesting to see American history from the point of view of other countries, and certainly they pick up on details that you would not see in American re-enactments. Certainly, in the re-enacted skirmish, the British drove the Patriots to a retreat, which you would not be likely to see in an American re-enactment. It was funny to see re-enactors with their cell phones or digital cameras. It created something of a kitsch factor, but there always is anyway, regardless of where or how it's performed. On the whole, one of our group dubbed it "surreal" to see the Irish re-enacting American history. That was probably a good summary. Easton, PA never looked so good, at least not since I've been there.

I learned that the bus driver was a Morrissey fan, and saw him with the Smiths. Funny, I wouldn't have pegged him as a Morrissey fan. But there it is.

After leaving the park, we went to see St. Patrick's Well, and a cave where Catholics said Mass when their religion was outlawed by the English. The area is very green, and near a rushing river. The place was very beautiful, and had a tremendous feel to it. It was difficult to see the well head, but Niamh showed us where it was, at the edge of a lough. After leaving the well area, we headed into Ballyshannon to check out a store selling locally made crafts, and we stopped for a pint of Donegal Blonde, a new blonde beer brewed locally. The owner told us that they've only been brewing Donegal Blonde for about 5 months. It's very good, especially for those who like lagers. I'm more of a stout/porter type of chick, so the bus driver mentioned the off-licence next door, which had a huge variety of brews from all over. It turns out that the owner of Dicey's Bar (where the Donegal Blonde is brewed) also runs the Off-Licence, so he recommended a new O'Hara special edition stout. I bought a bottle of that, as well as a Belfast Black, which I wanted to try. Both are sitting in my hotel refrigerator as of this writing. I'm sure one will be gone by the time I go to bed.

We returned to Bundoran, where Niamh's husband Paddy had prepared some American barbecue to celebrate the 4th, including burgers, chicken, ribs, and corn on the cob. It was all very good, and I returned to my room feeling stuffed to the gills. I could not help but reflect on the fact that I did more to celebrate Independence Day in Ireland than I do at home. While I might not have chosen to go someplace like the Ulster American park on my own, it proved to be an interesting experience in viewing one's own culture through another lens.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Ireland Day 7: Yeats Country

I managed to explore a little bit of Bundoran early Wednesday morning. I found the post office in town, and managed to get a couple of disposable cameras, as my camera battery finally died. Naturally that is the one charger I forgot to bring.

Today's trip was to Yeats country. We started at Drumcliffe, driving past Benbulben Mountain, which is breathtaking. While we drove along, Niamh gave me a short lesson in Irish place names. Anything with "Bally" refers to a town, "Dun" refers to a fort, and "Kil" refers to a church. Town centers are referred to as "an lar".

Drumcliffe was incredibly beautiful. I half expected Yeats' grave to be hidden among the other headstones, but it is right near the church. The church has swan door handles, and if you go inside, you have the opportunity to write down the names of people that you would like the rector to pray for. Outside there is an authentic Celtic Cross, that is also a Christian High Cross, with a carving depicting Adam and Eve and the fall of man. Niamh told me that she once photographed it at sunset on a clear day, and it was spectacular. You can see Benbulben very clearly from the graveyard, and can get some magnificent shots of the mountain. Yeats specifically asked to be buried here, and it's not hard to see why.

We next headed off to the falls at Glencar. Supposedly you can see fairies at the falls. We only took a quick walk up and back, because we had an appointment to take a boat tour on Lough Gill. In the parking lot was an ice cream truck. As I mentioned before, ice cream cones are called "99s", and generally are smaller than the massive American ice cream cones, and have a small flake of chocolate stuck in the side. They are made with fresh cream, and are so much better than any ice cream I've had in the states. We had to enjoy one before getting back on the bus.

At Lough Gill, there are the remains of Parke Castle, and you can take a boat tour around the Lough (Lake). Within this lake area is Innisfree, the isle made famous by Yeats' poem, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree". They provided us with Lyons gold label tea and some scones with Irish butter as we sailed around the lake for an hour. The guide pointed out various sites, including Innisfree and the cairn at the top of the mountain where Queen Maeve is supposed to be buried--upright, so she can still keep an eye on Ireland. There is also a stone "giant" laying in the mountains with his head in Leitrim and his feet in Sligo. The guide also recited Yeats' poetry as we went along. The "Stolen Child" was recited more than once on the trip, and sticks in my mind:

Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand

For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand

We took a quick tour of Parke Castle when we got off the boat, as admission was free that day. After taking a group photo and passing a retinue of cute Irish boys, we got back on the bus and headed to Sligo for some shopping. Sligo is another town with a bad reputation that is not deserved. The town is absolutely gorgeous, and the point of the trip was to do some shopping. A couple of us stopped at Hargadon's Pub, where we sampled some Franciscan Well Shandon Stout. Like most microbrewed stouts, it had a bit of a coffee flavor, and was excellent. I finally got myself a new Aran wool sweater from Dooley's, and was able to use my Fexco card, so I can reclaim the tax when I go back to the airport. VAT is very high in Ireland and Britain, so it's worth it if you can do it.

We returned to Bundoran, and I went to dinner with a few people from the trip at Madden's which has excellent food and service. I had to have an Irish coffee, now that I knew it was an Irish invention and not an American one. I went back to the hotel, and ran into Bill, who asked me to pop by Brennan's pub down the street. Brennan is owned by Nan and Patricia, two older ladies whose family has run that pub for 3 generations. Their niece apparently teaches at Drew, and is an assistant department chair at Kean. They were very sweet, and we stayed at talked to each other and the locals until it was nearly closing time. All in all, it was the most satisfying day of the trip so far. But there are still another 5 full days to go.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Ireland Day 6: Giant's Causeway, Dunluce, Derry

Tuesday started out as a reasonably nice day weatherwise, and went downhill from there. We took the long drive from Belfast out to the Giant's Causeway, stopping in Carlough along the Antrim coast for a break in between. The whole coastal road looks like something out of a public television mystery--misty, quaint, antiquated. It took almost 3 hours to get to the Giant's Causeway, and when we arrived, it was pouring rain, cold, and extremely windy. The Giant's Causeway is a series of volcanic rock formations that are alleged to be the handiwork of Finn MacCool, a giant hero who used the rocks to make a road to Scotland to confront another giant. By the time we took the bus out to the Causeway, we immediately wanted to go back. Even those who were well equipped with raincoats and waterproof gear found the weather to be intolerable. Certainly it was too dangerous to go out onto the rocks.

We went to have lunch in a hotel next door, where service was incredibly slow. We ended up having something light, and heading back to the bus. There were an insane amount of people at the Causeway for such a nasty day. Of course, we were among the insane, but when you've come that far, you might as well stay.

Just down the road from the Giant's Causeway is Dunluce Castle, which is built on a cliff. This was the seat of the O'Donnell and MacQuinlan families. It was eventually abandoned when an entire section of the castle fell into the North Atlantic below. The family moved out and into a nearby country house. When the last O'Donnell was pursued and arrested, his wife, the very wealthy Katherine Manners, loaded as many things as she could onto two ships and fled back to England. The armies of the king came and took what she left behind, leaving the place a ruin. The views from the ruined castle are spectacular. The rain had stopped at this point, and we left to head on to the town of Derry, also known as Londonderry to the Protestant/Loyalist faction of town. Our bus driver noted that the song we know as "Danny Boy" is also Derry Air, or Londonderry Air. Our tour guide Bill said that anyone who called it Londonderry Air was not invited to his St. Patrick's Day party. When it was noted that the shorter title invoked thoughts of another word, Bill said, "I don't invite anyone who speaks French, either."

We had a walking tour of Derry with a guide named Ronan, who was a Chinese Irishman. He noted that Derry is 70% Catholic, 30% Protestant, "and has one Buddhist". He gave an excellent tour of the area, pointing out the 4 gates of the city that have never been overcome by an army. The area is known for violence from the Troubles; he showed us a statue of Queen Victoria in the Guildhall that was missing parts of her hands, and had the head re-attached after being blown off. There was a major bank robbery next door at the Deutsche Bank, and the robbers were never apprehended. Derry is also the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972. We visited the memorial to those who died in the Bloody Sunday event, and the area is surrounded by wall murals, just as it is in the Shankill and Falls Road area of Belfast. Most of the murals depict those who died in the conflicts, or the major players in Northern Ireland's civil rights movement, like Bernadette Devlin. There is a sign in the Catholic part of town that says "Now entering the Derry Free State". On the Protestant side, there is another mural that suggests persecution of loyalists, saying "never surrender". There are still "peace walls" all over the city, even though the populations mostly get along. When surveyed, most residents said the walls probably weren't ready to come down. When asked when they would be ready, they said, "about 10 years from now." Ronan noted that the question of union with Great Britain versus become part of Ireland was not really a Catholic/Protestant question anymore, it was an economic one. The Irish Republic is broke, while the Great Britain economy is still stable, at least by comparison. Great Britain no longer wants Northern Ireland, but keeps it almost as a tradition. Many services now available would not be available under Irish rule, because there is no money.

From Derry we finally headed out to Bundoran. Even Ronan had asked, "Why are you going there?" Usually it is considered a destination for surfers, as it is near the waterfront. At least one person I know said the town was gorgeous. So, upon arrival, I would have to say that I agree it is a gorgeous town. One travel guide described it as the "Las Vegas of Ireland", and that is a gross overstatement. We met up with Niamh again, and met her husband. He runs a restaurant in town, where we had our welcome dinner. The food was wonderful, as was the ambience. Everyone went to the pub, where we were supposed to learn to pull a pint, but Bill said that would wait until another night. I was finished with drinking, so I went back to my room, which is a very nice suite that I still share with my roommate Deb. The only problem is that we have one key between us. Apparently the family staying here before us walked off with two room keys, and will be mailing them back, but it's unknown when that will be. In the meantime--it will be 4 days here, which will be good--no dragging luggage out of the room every morning.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Ireland Day 5: Hill of Tara and Belfast

We had an earlier start this morning, as we were starting off at the Hill of Tara, and ending up in Belfast for the evening. Everyone was on time for the bus, except for our tour leader. When the bus driver saw him come out with luggage, he exclaimed, "Oh, he's got luggage too. Naughty."

Tara was our first stop, and like many Stone Age mound sites, it was incredibly windy. Not as windy as the previous day, apparently, as our site guide said he was knocked over by the wind. There is a chapel at the bottom of the hill dedicated to St. Patrick, and contains a hand-painted window called the Pentecostal Window. The hill itself was very green, and covered with a lot of sheep crap. You can count on ancient sites being heavy on either cow or sheep crap.

There are many legends associated with the site, but the archaeological evidence doesn't really jive with most of them. The two mounds that form a figure eight were not created at the same time; one is ancient, one is closer to the early Christian period. The Stone of Destiny has been moved from its original location at the Tomb of the Hostages (which was also a tomb with over 200 burials). It was moved after the Battle of Tara in 1798, to commemorate Irish volunteers fighting the British. They are also supposed to be buried on that mound, and archaeologists' equipment does detect a mass burial there. There is a fairy tree in the area, about 500 meters from where the Stone of Destiny currently stands. It's a bit difficult to get to, so people make offerings on another tree to the fairies--usually socks or stockings.

It was too cold and windy to stay up on Tara for too long, so we got back to the bus and headed out to Belfast. Upon arriving, we had lunch and lined up for the famous Black Cab tours of the Shankill area, and Falls Road. The drivers went to different sites where we could get out and examine the murals created on both the Protestant and Catholic sides of the wall separating the communities. The wall is at Bombay Street, and was put there after Catholic homes were burned in that neighborhood. They took us to the Peace Wall, where everyone could write on the wall. Supposedly it will come down at some point, but it hasn't yet. On the other side of the wall is the memorial to the Clonard Martyrs--everyone on the Catholic side from that neighborhood, including soldiers, political leaders, and innocent bystanders. The murals were fantastic, and ubiquitous throughout the city.

Our bus driver took us around the city, to show us some more sites. It is marching season in Northern Ireland, though most of the marching is done by the Unionists these days. We did manage to see a parade of Orangemen and other Unionists on the Short Strand; police were present to avert confrontation between them and the nationalists. He told us that loyalists were extreme unionists, and that republicans were extreme nationalists. It seems like everyone was at the parade, and everything else in town was pretty empty. Our hotel was a little far out from the city center. We had a welcome drink and dinner waiting for us at the hotel, so it was a nice evening to relax and catch up with each other. Our next stop is Bundoran, which elicited the question "why are you going there?" from almost everyone. But I've heard Bundoran is a lovely seaside town, and it's a good central point for the rest of our trip.

Ireland Day 4: Kilmainham and Glendalough

Days and nights merge into each other, and many people on our trip are still having trouble adjusting to the time change. Perhaps this is why we are a few minutes late getting on the bus every day, causing our bus driver (named, surprisingly, John) to tell us that our punctuality "needed improvement". It doesn't help that the tour bus clock is 5 minutes fast. But, I am sure we will all adjust.

Today's agenda includes the Kilmainham Gaol. On the way to the gaol, John points out the pub where Kevin Barry was hanged, and tells us about the invention of Irish coffee. Apparently it had to do with Powers Whiskey Distillery, and a man called Michael Sheridan, who once gave a man who asked for strong black coffee a drink that added Powers Gold Label whiskey, brown sugar, and a layer of cream to the coffee. When the man said, "I asked for black coffee," he said, "This is an Irish coffee."

We pass quite a few distilleries, some defunct, and lots of colorful doors, and a few bright green post offices that say "Offig an Phoist". We pass Watling Street, which commemorates a scene in Ulysses where Leopold Bloom gets caught up in a miscommunication about horse racing.

We finally reach our destination, and in my love of incongruities, I could not help but notice that right inside the gaol entrance, underneath a stone carving of monstrous serpents, is a sign for the tea room.

Our tour guide (called David this time, for a change) tells us about the fame of Kilmainham. From its opening in 1796, it held mostly petty criminals and some murderers. But it also held all the leaders of the Easter Rebellion, most of them executed there by firing squad. To put the era in context, John George Littlechild, who worked on the Jack the Ripper murders, was the same man who tracked down and arrested Thomas Clarke, one of the rebels. Clarke's copy of the Proclamation of Ireland as a republic is in the museum. This was read by Patrick Pearse on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin. This led to a 6-day war with British troops, ending when Pearse finally surrendered. Charles Stuart Parnell also was held here, though as a political prisoner he lived as well as Al Capone did in Alcatraz. Eamon De Valera was also held here. He was opposed to the partition agreement signed by Michael Collins, ending the war with Britain, but leaving 6 counties in the North in the control of the British government.

We were allowed to look into the cell of Grace Plunkett, who married rebel leader Joseph Plunkett on the night he was to be executed. She had painted a mural of the madonna and child on her cell wall. The mural there now is a reproduction, but some of what they believe is her original artwork is still visible in the cell doorway.

After going to Kilmainham, we stopped at Powerscourt for lunch. Powerscourt is a beautiful old estate near Enniskerry, known mainly for its gardens for tourists today. We had a spectacular view of the Wicklow mountains. After lunch, we headed to Glendalough, to see the monastery of St. Kevin. It was a gorgeous sunny day when our group went outside. Not 5 minutes later, it started to rain, and rained harder and harder as we walked around. There are several ruined churches, and one that is still in fairly good shape. The graveyard is not as old as it appears; many headstones were from the 1800s.

Naturally, the sun came out again 5 minutes after leaving Glendalough. (Good old Irish weather...). We headed into Dublin for a musical pub tour, starting at Gogarty's, and moving to the Ha'penny Pub and then Brennan's near O'Connell Street. The musicians were excellent, and very funny, though they talked a lot about the history of the area and the music, and I think I would have liked to have heard some more music. At the end they let the audience members come up to sing. My roommate Deborah pretty much stole the show when she got up to sing a song she'd made up only 10 minutes earlier. Another member of our group, Kathy (who, in small-world fashion, was one of my MLIS students) was flashed by a guy dressed as a leprechaun. So, Deborah made up a song about this fellow, showing off his "Irish shortcomings". The guitarist said that was probably one of the top twenty songs he'd heard in the karaoke portion, ever. He later wondered if she had been a "plant", but Bill assured him that she was not.

It was an excellent end to the evening. A few of us stopped to have a glass of wine in the hotel bar before bed. And now we will be leaving Dublin.