On the Train to Belfast

A packet of Jelly BabiesOne of the best things about traveling abroad is encountering local residents doing normal, everyday things. This is the story of my favorite such meeting.

When we boarded the train to Belfast, the car we choose was about two-thirds full. We stowed our luggage, and my sister and father chose the two remaining seats (out of a group of four) on the left side of the train, so I sat across the aisle from them. While we waited for train to go, a group of four older ladies come on board, and started trying to find seats together. One of the ladies was asking “which way is the train going? I must be facing the same way as the driver.”

With a bemused look, several of us indicated the direction the train was travelling, and she slid into the seat diagonally across from me. One of the others sat next to me, and the other two took the seats facing her, just behind my dad and sister. The lady-who-can’t-sit-facing-the-wrong-direction kept a commentary of things as she and the other ladies got settled.

Getting settled included pulling out a packet of snacks, which she promptly opened and offered around to everyone. She made sure to show the label so we could see what she was offering. They were Jelly Babies.

For those less nerdly-inclined than me, Jelly Babies are a sweet I had never eaten, but, had known from watching Doctor Who. The fourth Doctor regularly offered this sweet to strangers, diffusing tensions and putting people at ease. I wondered if this lady might be herself be a fan of the show, or maybe she just liked Jelly Babies.

I grinned, but declined, and the packet then moved across the aisle to her travelling companions. As the candies made the return trip, she-who-sits-the-same-direction-as-the-driver commented upon the cheek of Mary Katherine who helped herself to *two* Jelly Babies.

As the trip progressed, I learned the ladies were sisters, and one of them had come in from Wales to meet the others, and they made regular trips together. They chatted nearly non-stop, talking about their favorite ways to preserve cut flowers, (the lady with the Jelly Babies likes to use a tablet in the water. Tablets were her “go-to” solution for everything.) they discussed tabloid news, and the foibles of absent family members.

One of the sisters was moving slowly, and that brought out the story that she’d gotten hit by a car as she stepped off a curb in her village. “Eighty years old, hit by a car in her own village! Can you believe the nerve of them to hit an old lady minding her own business crossing the street! Disgraceful!”

Eighty years old. My traveling companions were four octogenarian ladies who looked younger than my dad, and who went on weekly adventures with each other. I hoped that when I was eighty, that I’d be making trips regular trips with my sisters, chattering like excited twenty-somethings and giving each other mock grief about taking an extra sweet out of the packet.

She was certain the gentleman across the aisle (my dad) was going to need a tablet after having all their chatter behind his head for so long. She asked if he was traveling with me, and I told her yes, he was my dad. She told us that they were sisters, and that was how they were. I smiled and told her it looked pretty familiar to me, when I got together with my sisters.

She was certain he would be glad to see the back of them, and probably I would too. As they were getting off, she made the same assertion to my sister, who promptly told her “No, she loved every minute of it, she’ll miss you.”

My sister knows me all too well.

When we arrived in Belfast, I was determined to buy some Jelly Babies and share them with my traveling companions. That’s what a local would do. Or a Time Lord.

Ireland: Day Seven Minus One

When we were planning our trip, one of the places on the top of my list was the passage tombs at Newgrange. Older than the pyramids, older than Stonehenge, the oldest solar observatory in the world, the more than 40 tombs in the Boyne valley are a World Heritage Site, and something that I felt must be on our list.  Over 60% of the neolithic art in all of *Europe* can be found at these quiet monuments. I had booked our seats the night before, and chose to meet the coach in front of The Gresham Hotel. When I chose that departure point, the travel office lady asked me if I knew where it was asking “by the Spire?” I nodded confirmation. The earliest departure time was fully booked, but, there was room on the later bus, so I took it.

By this point, dad had not appreciated churches, nor world-famous libraries, and I was worried that pre-Christian pagans were going to be yet another thing he was not going to appreciate. He had forgotten what we’d said about the place before we left, so, I turned to the correct page in the guidebook, and handed it to him. He didn’t seem to be excited about it at all. Inwardly, I sighed, and prepared myself for whatever commentary was going to await us.

We set out after breakfast, but, at a leisurely pace.  After taking our friend the LUAS (light rail) to the same stop as the day before, we headed in the opposite direction, this time heading north. As the main street of the main city in Ireland, there’s tons to see all around.  There’s the General Post Office, which was also a center for the 1916 Rising, bullet holes still mark the exterior (but aren’t very obvious from across the street).

Me and the James Joyce statue

Me and James Joyce. Neither my sister nor my father know who he is.

Just as we were about a block from our destination, the famous Gresham Hotel, which is across the street and slightly north of the post office, I see it. It’s about half a block ahead of us, to our right. It’s the statue of James Joyce. It’s a sculpture I’ve seen in pictures, and always admired, and I’ve long had a fondness for Joyce’s short stories. I told my sister I needed her to take a picture, and she said, “Oh. Ok.” And she did take the picture. Dad finally realized we’d stopped, and asked my sister why we were stopping, and she told him, “Kate wanted a picture with the statue.” There was no flicker of recognition as they looked over the bronze man in front of them. They shrugged and chalked it all up to my general eccentricity.

Not your normal post office

The General Post Office. It’s an impressive building for a post office, don’t you think?

I was not really surprised by their reaction, but, it’s a lonely feeling to be wandering this city of writers with two people who were not acquainted with any of the famous authors who called the place home.

We arrived at the hotel, with the Spire in front of us. The hotel was built about the same time as the post office, and famous Hollywood types used to stay there. The three of us held down the sidewalk in front of the hotel, and waited for our ride.

Once on the bus, we went across the river to pick up the rest of the passengers. Dad listened as our driver, Dennis from Latvia, reminded us that the fare we paid for the bus didn’t cover seeing the monuments.  Dad did a double take and looked at me. “Did you know that?”  I told him, yes, I did know it. It was on the brochure and it’s in every guidebook.  Dad was stunned. He couldn’t believe that we’d be shelling out more cash when we got there. He looked only slightly mollified about the situation, and I hoped he’d hold onto whatever lecture he was preparing until, well, the far side of never. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that at the peak season, there’s not even a guarantee that you will get a ticket, since they can’t be purchased in advance.

When we arrived, the driver told us that at the center they’d ask us if we wanted tickets to Newgrange only or both Newgrange and Knowth. We opted for both, and had just enough time to buy our tickets and trek across the river to catch the shuttle up to Newgrange.

Boyne River

The Boyne River. There’s just something about Irish rivers.

We climb to the top of the hill, toward the entrance to the monument. The tour guide tells us about the place, and we wait for the group ahead of us to leave, and then we’d go into the place. As we stood outside, dad has apparently really absorbed the information from the tour guide. He’s actually excited, and he’s telling me that he’s really glad that I wanted to come here, and this was really amazing.

I was not prepared for that response.

And yet, I’ll totally take it. I can’t believe we finally found something that dad actually liked. Don’t let anyone tell you that miracles are a thing of the past.

Newgrange passage tomb.

Newgrange. The white stones are quartz.

Crossing the threshold to the passage that leads to the inner chamber, you travel back nearly 5000 years to see a space which is much as it was then. Though it was raining outside, the structure, made with no mortar, was absolutely dry. No moisture had ever entered here.

There is room for about 15-20 people, and we lined the outer wall of the inner chamber, and listened as the guide explained what happens every year on the winter solstice. On that day, the sun comes into the roof box, first diffuse, and then it concentrates into a beam straight to the back of the chamber, like a laser beam.  In a minute, she would turn out the lights, and they would simulate the phenomenon.

The lights went out. It was pitch black inside, just as it would be the entire year, until the shortest day. Everyone was silent.

And then the light came on.

On the solstice, the beam of light lasts for about 8 minutes.  For the purposes of the tour, the light stayed on for only a few minutes, maybe even only a minute, but, for me, even just recalling it weeks later, I still get chills to recall that magnificent light, the return of light and warmth to chase away the cold and dark.

As we made our way out again, the assembled group was quiet, still holding that sacred space that we had just shared. Outside, dad was even more excited, and wanted to know if I thought the gift shop would have a picture of the light coming into the passage, or a book for kids to show them this marvelous place. He wanted to share it with his grandchildren, and tell them about this place, built with almost no tools and surrounded by megaliths from far, far away.

I told him there was a good chance that they would have all of those things.

Entrance to Newgrange.

The entrance, and the roof box above, where the light enters at the winter solstice.

We walked around until it was time to return to the shuttle. Dad understood now why the tickets weren’t included in the bus fare, because of the limited amount of space in each tour.  He marveled at the effort it would’ve taken to move each of the kerbstones, and to fit all the other stones together in such a way as to keep out the damp and be a lasting structure.

He was glad we’d gotten tickets to the other site, Knowth, too, and was excited to look for souvenirs and gifts in the shop, and then go to see the other mounds.

One of the mounds at Knowth.

Passage tomb on the Knowth site.

At Knowth, there are a number of mounds, newer than Newgrange, and all of smaller size. A few are aligned to key dates on the solar calendar, but not all are. These are too unstable for tourists to enter.

Here, though, dad became curious about how they maintained the grass-covered mounds, and learned that they mow them with special equipment. He spent a chunk of our time here to seek out the mowing crew, which happened to be mowing that very day.

We wandered among the mounds, and climbed to the top of the largest one, Knowth, which had a pretty amazing view. From here, on a clear day, you can see the Hill of Tara, and, of course, Newgrange. Today, as you might notice, it was a bit overcast, and there were some scattered showers, so we could make out neither of these features. We could, however see the river, and yellow fields of the seed that gets made into canola oil.

All too soon, it was time to turn back.

The carved kerbstones around one of the Knowth  tombs.

The carved kerbstones around one of the Knowth tombs.

As I started writing this on Thursday night, I learned that there was a pretty horrible act of vandalism at Hill of Tara this week.  This sort of intentional harm to such an important monument makes me sad that we weren’t able to visit that site.

Of course, I admit, the Hill of Tara is mostly just a hill, even if it has great significance to Irish history and folk lore. With the curse of limited time, it was a site that just didn’t make the cut. And, while I didn’t feel too much guilt then, well, there’s a bit of regret from here.

Tombs at Knowth

More of the tombs at Knowth

Carved kerbstone

Carved kerbstone

Ireland: The Day that comes after Four

It was time to head for the east and Dublin, where lived the majority of the libraries we had planned to visit, and all the wonders of a capital city.  Taking Michael’s advice, we took the express bus, which took us straight to the city center. As we got closer to the center, little tidbits from the months of studying city maps were brought vividly to mind. There was the Guinness, and City Hall, and that Restaurant Thomas had told me I ought to try, and then the Bank of Ireland, and on my right, Trinity College. We just passed it, and the bus ended its route on Westmoreland Street.

Iskander's Kebab House, Dublin.

That Place Thomas told me I should eat at.

This was the heart of the city, and it made Limerick look like La Junta in a coma.  Though it has fewer residents than Denver, they’re packed into a much smaller space, and it streets are far more bustling with foot traffic than Denver’s ever are.

I wanted to get to the hotel as quickly as possible, to get rid of the luggage, and start exploring.  I had noted that there were a number of cabs  just around the corner on the other side of the main Bank of Ireland building. It’s an impressive structure (which used to be the Parliament building) with a large colonnade lining the outer walls.  No, it’s not something that was easy to photograph, and that was not the first thing on my mind.

Dad wanted to go into the bank and do some money changing of some sort, which was not high on my list of priorities, with all of us standing there like refugees with all our worldly possessions gathered ’round us in a great heap.  He did poke his head into the place, and shortly came out, noting the line was really long.

Since I wasn’t entirely sure where our hotel was, we got a cab, loaded up our worldly goods, and headed to our hotel, which was in the docks area. The cabby pointed out a few landmarks, noting that we were crossing the river on O’Connell Street, the main street  connecting the north and south parts of the city. He point to that the ship right there, telling us it was one of the famine ships that carried people across the Atlantic, the Jeanie Johnson. It’s now a museum. Which we didn’t quite  get to tour.

Our hotel was in an area which clearly was brand new. And by brand new, I don’t mean merely 200 years old. I mean, the buildings in this area were built within the last five years, and I’d say our hotel and the cinema next to it had probably opened only within the last year. It was also, conveniently, right on the last stop on Dublin’s light rail system, which went straight to the city center.

19th century wooden sailing vessel, the Jeannie Johnson

The famine ship, Jeanie Johnson. I’m not sure sailing across the Atlantic in that thing was better than starvation.

View from our hotel, and well, the intriguing mural. Lots of glass buildings in this part area.

View from our hotel, and well, the intriguing mural. Lots of glass on buildings in this part area.

We got checked in, and unloaded our luggage. While the hotel in Limerick was probably far too hip for us, this hotel was undoubtedly far more hip than we were. We hoped to escape the notice of the standards enforcement agency, which would surely be descending upon us soon.

Now unburdened of luggage, we asked at the front desk about how to get tickets for the light rail, and asked if she had maps, she did, and she gave us the general 411 on where to get off the train to get to the part of the city center we wanted.

The first ticket kiosk we tried to get tickets at was not working, which was not a result of our incompetence, a group of French tourists also failed to make it produce tickets, and while we’re not saying they broke it, they sure were trying to make it work for a long time.  Eventually, all of us managed to procure tickets, and we boarded the train, and got back to O’Connell street, by stopping at the Abbey street station. We spotted a bank on O’Connell street, and pointed it out to Dad, who found another line. We waited outside for maybe 30 minutes. To take the edge of waiting, and to stop looking quite so suspicious to the security guy, I used the ATM to get a bit more currency.  So, now, on my bank statement, it shows O’Connell Street, Dublin.

Finally, dad emerged from the bank feeling better about his money, I think, until he again noticed the crowds of people everywhere. We headed across the river, back to the south side, with no real plan.  My sister mentioned going to Trinity, and I started heading right there. She had missed it on the way in, and when I pointed out the bus stop we’d been dropped off at, from across the street, she went “Huh. Yup. You’re Right. It is.” We saw there was one last tour of the day at Trinity, and figured it was perfect timing.   We bought our tickets, and had about 30 min to kill. We found a spot to sit, just around from the construction stuff which was going on all around.

Trinity College's famous bell tower.

The famous Trinity Campanile. That’s fancy world-class college for “bell tower.” Or maybe it’s just Italian for the same.

Classes, and, we would learn shortly, exams were going on as we sat and leisurely took in the grounds.  It was one of the nicest days, weather-wise we had, and I think it actually got to the mid-upper 6os that day. It was lovely, as the picture suggests.

We returned to the tour sign, and met the student who was to be our guide. She was not named Frank. She’s a Ph.D student, studying history.  The tour was lovely, and our guide left us at the old library, where we’d go to see the Book of Kells, and the library itself.

The best part of the tour was talking with her a bit about the higher education system in Europe, and learning that she’d studied in Switzerland, and was actually planning to go back to the continent to teach. We actually talked about German dialects, and exchanged a few phrases in the dialects of Southern Germany/Switzerland.  While she is Irish, her German accent was pretty dead on Swiss, which was very charming to me, and we bonded over that a bit. My sister and she bonded over shared degrees in history.

Me. Long room of the Old Library, Trinity College

That’s me. In the long room of the Old Library. Yup.

We parted company, and did the tour. It’s a remarkable exhibit, leading to the Book of Kells, but, I got the feeling dad wasn’t really interested in an old book, even if it was the Gospel. I also think he wasn’t thrilled by the library. I hope I am wrong.

Of course, I really liked the library, and admit that I never thought I’d get to see it. But, there I am. in the library.  The banners hanging over my right shoulder are an exhibit in honor of the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf, and the victory of Brian Boru over the Vikings, even though he died, and so did most of his army.  I didn’t get any pictures of them because I had already had some failures in the “flash-free” photography department, and was not going to risk it. Plus, these pictures are better than anything I could’ve done, and there’s really good information there, too. It’s kinda a big deal, and more than one of the museums we visited had a commemorative exhibit of some kind. And we were there within days of the actual anniversary, which felt like it ought to feel more momentous, or there ought to be some earth shaking alignment of historical destinies, where we’d be wandering into some sacred forest, and there would be a lake, and some watery female offering us a sword. Or maybe some tiny, green fellow with pointy ears tells us that the Force is strong with us, and we’re supposed to take up the hero’s journey and face dangers untold and hardships unnumbered.

Nope. That didn’t happen, and that’s probably for the best.

Sadly, soon the closing bell rang, and it was time to leave. And time to find some dinner. We went to that place that Thomas told me to try. While waiting for the food, I went to the tourist office and booked the bus travel for the following day’s expedition, which is a surprise that I’m saving for tomorrow.

Dublin Castle

Yup. That’s it. As seen from the garden next to the Chester Beatty Library. That’s the picture of it just over there.

After dinner, which was yummy, with tasty, roasted meats and delicious sauces, we decided to wander a bit, take in the sites. We located William Street, which is possibly the street where our Dublin ancestor lived in the early 18th century. At about the same time that they were building what is now the oldest building on the Trinity campus.

We followed it for its entire length, and then, catching sight of a steeple, we set out to locate what we figured was St. Patrick’s.  We wandered around the streets, trying to figure out how to get to that tantalizing tower, when we took a turn under an intriguing archway, and found ourselves staring at Dublin Castle.

With the weather perfectly glorious, and the gardens in their spring glory, it did have a touch of magic. The castle was closed already, and the only people around were a handful of locals out for an evening stroll.

As we left the garden, and rounded the end of the castle, I saw a peculiar glinting on the ground. I picked up the trinket, barely glanced at it, and handed it to my dad with a small shrug. Dad took it with a questioning look on his face, and then pocketed it.

Chester Beatty library

This. Here. The Chester Beatty library.

We noticed that there were people trying to close the gates for the evening, so we left the grounds, and headed back toward the river to catch the train back to the hotel.

As we got clear of the Castle, we saw the City Hall, and crossed the river on Parliament street.  We made a stop at a grocers to get a few things, and then back to the docks and our hipster hotel.

Ireland: Day Four

Day three ended with Micheal dropping us off where he picked us up. He had mentioned to us that he was from Tipperary, and as the next place we were trying to get to was in Tipperary, and the details of getting there were discouraging, we asked his advice about getting there. To drive there, it would take, at most, an hour. By bus? More than two to get there, and almost three to get back. He told us he knew of no better way to get there, and that over 2 hours was more than ridiculous.

We also mentioned that we were going to go to the train station to check out transport to Dublin on Tuesday, and he offered another tidbit, which was that the Limerick to Dublin Express (a bus) only cost 10 Euros, and left from right where we were.  That seemed a good solution to us, so we filed that away.

Monday dawned, and we decided to just see the sights in Limerick.  King John’s Castle, which we saw pretty much every time we stopped at the tourist office, seemed pretty obvious, and there were a few other places to see in that area.  We decided to start at the castle, as it was the furthest point out from the hotel, and work our way back.

King John's Castle, on the River Shannon.

King John’s Castle, on the River Shannon.

What I hadn’t really known, until we got there, was that the King John in question was the King John of Robin Hood fame. Which is interesting for another data point, which is that there is a possibility that the line from the ancestor we came to Ireland to investigate goes back to King John’s uncle, the illegitimate son of King John’s grandfather, Geoffrey V. And we made the mistake of telling dad this little possibility.

He then decided the castle was, technically, *our* castle. He kept wanting to measure rooms to see if our furniture would fit, and asking if we could get part of the gift shop proceeds, or maybe just be able to put up a lemonade stand right near the exit.

He finally stopped saying this sort of thing when someone, on hearing his pronouncement of ownership exclaimed, “Ah, a pretender to the throne!” That line met with a flabbergasted look and silence from he who had kissed the Blarney stone. Clearly, there are limits even to that magic.

The castle just added a bunch of exhibits and new spaces, including some interactive video and some things for kids. There were costumes, and some nifty scale models of the castle and its surroundings in the early 13th century. The exhibits talked about how it was built, and the history of Limerick with the castle as the centerpiece. In fact, the castle was built on top of the Viking’s original settlement. It’s a strategic point, an island in the middle of the Shannon, with good views, and easy defense from the mainland.

The castle declined some, and then was damaged and declined some more during a series of sieges in the 17th century.

Surprisingly, the castle took more time to visit than I expected, but, it had some great views form the top of its many towers, and a nice glimpse into Anglo-Norman Ireland.  I was somewhat surprised at how few people were there when we were. We practically had the castle to ourselves, which did limit the number of people who dad could annoy with tales of our distant connection with the place’s namesake.

From the top we noticed the treaty stone on its plinth across the river. Getting tired from the castle, with several other places on our list for the day, we decided there was no way cared enough to go see it up close. This would suffice. If you’re scouring the picture to the left, the stone is just to the left of the church, just in front of the really green tree in the church yard. It looks like a black blob on top of an almost triangular blob, just on the edge of the river.

View of the Treaty Stone from King John's Castle

View from King John’s castle looking at the Treaty Stone

We moved on from the castle to St. Mary’s church, which is also a construction of the Anglo-Normans, and it is the oldest continuously used building in Limerick. Yes, it’s still a church. And, if you’ve heard of the “Bells of St. Mary’s,” this is the St. Mary’s in question. Ironically, we never really heard the bells.

Sister and father admire their handy work.

Dad and sister together completed the masonry puzzle designed for children.

However, the church itself was worth the visit. It’s a very strange hodgepodge, clearly its primary purpose is as a church, and while they are glad of visitors, and there are some interpretational signs about, there’s also stuff just shoved in a corner and covered with tarps, that give this sense of a college dorm where the tenants have hidden stuff just before mom and dad came to visit. The dust on the cover just tell you that they didn’t need to get anything there, it was mostly stuff that no one quite knew what to do with, and were glad it was out of the way and not bothering anyone on a daily basis.

Dad did not seem particularly impressed with the place, and I’m not sure why. I figured a church would be right p his alley.

We spent some time puttering about in the church yard, which has a graveyard which is still in use. The older parts of the church yard are in the front, and, naturally, within the church itself.

St. Mary's Church, with a really inconvenient tree.

St. Mary’s Church, with a really inconvenient tree.

After St. Mary’s, we were heading to the Hunt Museum, which had a convenient cafe, which we’d agreed would be a place to rest a bit, and have a bite to eat, and then we’d tour the place.

Only a few steps from the church, but back onto the mainland from King’s Island, we arrived at The Hunt Museum. A place at which I took absolutely zero pictures. So, I’ll use one from the public domain.

Picture by Roland Czaczyk

The Hunt Museum. Home to one of the most eclectic collections I’ve seen.

The exhibits were the private collection of the Hunt family. John and Gertrude Hunt were prominent art and antique dealers, and not wanting their unique collection to be broken up, donated it to the city.

As we arrived, we bought our tickets, and were offered a guide to give us a free, personal tour. Forgetting that we’d all agreed we wanted to sit a bit, and get some food, suddenly, we had a guide, and we weren’t slowing down. For the next hour or so, we followed our very knowledgeable guide, who really added to our experience of the collection, but, by the end, my feet wanted to fall off.

We headed back to the hotel, stopping at Tesco’s for some necessary items, and had dinner from the Hotel’s restaurant, which was actually a very good way to spend our last night in Limerick. Well, until we would return before returning home. But, that’s another story.

Ireland: Day Three

To set-up  our third day of adventures, there are a few things I should highlight.

First, we’d been looking for ways to tour to the Dingle Peninsula. It’s not on a train line, and the bus goes there, but, it takes over three hours from Limerick, and once in Dingle, how would we drive around it? We looked into several options, including renting a car (but neither my sister nor I were keen on this being our first foray into driving on the left side of the road, especially since it is narrow.). We’d also found a company that does Dingle tours from Limerick online, but, the only day they had availability was on Sunday, and that was already the day we were going to go to the Burren and to the Cliffs of Moher, so, I didn’t book it.

Do you remember that we did the Cliffs trip on Friday, when we arrived?

We got let off the tour from Blarney about 2 blocks from our hotel. Frank II gave us directions to get back. We took this opportunity to hunt for the train/bus station to start arranging our other adventures. As we headed toward where I remembered the station to be from the maps, we stumbled onto the Tourist Information Center. We’d been here a few times, our tours both days stopped here. We were all of three blocks from the hotel. I was now embarrassed that I’d not realized it sooner.

As we rounded the corner across the street from the tourist office, I see a big advertisement for the very tour company I’d seen online that had Limerick to Dingle tours. They had an office right inside this small shopping mall. It was 5:56 on Saturday night. We stepped in, and walked into their door as they were closing at 6:00 pm. In fact, the employee closed the door right behind us, and had already closed out her till. We inquired about the Dingle trip, and she said, yes, they had a tour leaving the next day, right from the stop across the street. We asked if there was space on the tour, and, booked it on the spot. Perfection!

This was the first time we were especially grateful we were traveling in the “off” season. It would not be the last.

Early Sunday morning (not really that early), we went to catch our bus.  We met the first (and, perhaps only) tour guide in Ireland not named Frank. His name was Micheal.  We learned that we were going to make a shortish stop in Killarney. Killarney is known from songs, and as the original Irish tourist town. If you’re practicing your Irish, it’s name is Cill Airne, and Cill means church, and Airne well, that’s something to do with sloes, which the Internets tell me are, essentially, prunes.

This is where you learn it’s better not to translate some things.

Church in Killarny

Church in Killarney. No evidence of prunes.


Back in Prune Church, we stroll around a sleepy Sunday morning. Beyond prunes and churches, Killarney is the place where Michael Fassbender grew up, and where he lives when he’s not Magneto.  The Michael who drove the bus pointed vaguely into a hillside with several possible places as being the area where he might have a house, so I might’ve seen his house. Or his sheep.  The sheep might be the neighbor’s.  Fences are as nothing to sheep.

I’ve heard that Mr. Fassbender was an altar boy. Maybe he was at this church. Or the other one. Maybe both of them. I have no ideas, but, these two were within 1/3 of a mile from each other. Clearly, a Cill-rich environment. The prunes were inexplicably unseen.

Church in Killarney

Another prune free church in Killarney.

We got back on the bus, and started to head toward the Dingle Peninsula.  We caught sight of the most amazing and impressive Kerry Airport, clearly the most talked about airport I’ve ever encountered. At least, Michael the driver really talked about it.

We stopped just outside of Killarney, to see the famous lakes and the tallest mountains in Ireland. While not really what a Coloradan would call a mountain, there is something really pretty majestic about them. The panorama was somehow very comforting to me, even if I couldn’t really get the whole scope in the picture. I will read the camera’s manual one day.

We took our few shots, and then got along to the main show.

Mountains. the lakes were to the right, and not appearing in this shot.

The mountains, at least. the lakes are not appearing in this shot.

Dingle is the smaller western peninsula. It’s less famous than the Ring of Kerry, but, we had it on good authority that if we had to choose, Dingle was the better option. It’s one of the regions where Irish is commonly spoken as a daily language, and it’s packed full of breath-taking vistas, lovely beaches, and some archaeological gems.

We first stopped at Inch Beach. It’s a blue flag beach, which means its super-awesome. Micheal said it’s the highest ranking a beach can get, and its based on the quality of the sand and other beach-criteria that sound like wha-waa-wa wa to people from landlocked states. Or maybe just to me. I don’t care too much for beaches. People were surfing, and looked like they were having a great time. My sister and I collected some seashells, many of which we’ll probably send to our nephews. The debate over whether they’ll still be coated in sand when we send them is ongoing, but, will probably end in clean shells, since my nephews don’t care for mud. I’m worried about them, too.

Moving on from the beach, we moved along to the Slea head, the most westerly part of Europe.  We stopped at many places to take pictures. Here, look at them. They’re better than the ugly words that keep going on about nothing much.

Sheep! Crashing waves and distant islands.

Sheep! Plus dramatic ocean edge and distant islands that no one lives on anymore.

rocky coastline

Look at that coast!

more coastline

The water is blue! I am not a very good photographer!

This journey was about 11 hours, round trip. We stopped briefly in the town of Dingle, and met the bronze version of the local hero, Fungie. He’s a playful dolphin, who likes to entertain tourists. Don’t worry, they didn’t reward him by encasing him in carbonite. This is just a sculpture.  We got expensive ice cream, but, to its credit, it was much, much better than what we got in Cork. The dairy was so fresh, and the texture was rich and creamy. We somehow missed getting actual lunch, and were slightly sad about that. We came back to Limerick, and got some dinner to take back with us to the hotel, and I’m pretty sure exhaustion claimed us all.


Little lambs. Everyone loves the lambs.

My sister sitting on a dolphin sculpture.

My sister meets Fungie. The sculpture, not the mammal.

Ireland, Day the Second

A funny thing happened on the way to the post.

By “the post” I mean turning this into a post while I was still in Ireland.

You all still love me, right?

So, where was I?

That’s right. I was in Ireland. Limerick, Ireland, to be specific.

On day the second, we were headed to Blarney Castle and Cork, Ireland’s second largest city.  We were picked up at our hotel by our tour guide, whose name turned out to also be Frank.  We referred to him as Frank the II when he was not around. He was no Frank I, that was very clear.

Blarney Castle

Yup. That’s it. Blarney Castle. And, you can’t tell, but, it’s raining.

This was one of the two days where it rained pretty much all day.  If you’ve heard of Blarney castle you know about the famous stone, but, what you might not know is that the castle is a ruin, and it has absolutely no roof.  The famous Blarney stone is located at the top of the roofless structure. The way up is via a steep circular stone stairway, which has acquired a lovely coating of Irish moisturizer due to that unfortunate “no roof” thing.  There is a rope “banister,” and that is the only reason I made it to the top.

My dad, who is already a gabby individual, was really excited about the whole Blarney stone thing, and had, for the first, and pretty much only time on the trip, shot ahead of me and my sister, and raced up the tower to the top, ready to pucker up with the legendary stone.  He beat me to the top by such a large margin, that I completely missed his big moment. The moment I was sure meant that the world would explode from the enormity of the world’s gabbiest guy getting gabbier. Fortunately, like all tourist traps the world over, they have their own photographer, and they will gladly sell you the photo. My sister, who refused to go up the treacherous tower, was only too pleased to buy that bit of blackmail.

My dad, smoochin' a stone. Heaven help us all.

My dad, smoochin’ a stone. Heaven help us all.

My lips were not going anywhere near that filthy thing. Especially because, for some reason (my money’s on a “let’s make the tourists do ridiculous things” tradition) you have to be lying on your back and hang your head, upside down, over the open death-slot to put your lips on a stone kissed by millions. I can’t say that I’m that taken by the notion of third-party stone smooching millions of people in one go. Even if these millions include people like Winston Churchill.

One of the things that you never really hear about Blarney Castle is that the grounds around it are really quite spectacular.  There are lovely flowers and trees all over the place, and a stream runs through the grounds. There’s a poison garden where you can find all of Snape’s favorite lethal plants, and there’s caves and a dolmen, plus a whole bunch of other stuff I didn’t really get to see.

Because dad ditched us.

We’d planned to head to the nearby Woolen Mills, to look for a gift for our mom, so we were trying to hurry back to have some time to look. We had started back, and dad was lingering at the gift shop. We told him we’d be just outside, waiting. We waited just a bit down the path back to the bus and the shops.  And we waited. And waited. We kept watching the paths, and we retraced our steps. No dad.  We posted ourselves at strategic points to see him, and we never saw him.

At this point, we only had a few minutes to get back to our ride, before Frank II left us in the rain, so we headed back, hoping that dad would know to go to the bus.

We got back a few minutes late, and as I walked up, Frank II pointed into the shops at the Woolen Mills. I was *so* close to launching into a “Don’t make me have to pull this trip over, young man” lecture.  Parents.  Geesh. You can’t take them anywhere.

The group back together, we headed to Cork.  For shopping.

Most of you know that I’m not so much of a shopper, but, since we’d missed the Woolen Mills, and needed to find something for mom, this was good. Plus, we’d not eaten anything, and it time to find lunch.   We left the bus just as the rain got harder, and we spotted a place for lunch. The golden arches called. As we got in, I realized this was the first time I’d ever even been inside an American fast food restaurant in a foreign country.  Given the rain, it was easier to stay and eat than to find another place, so, we settled in for a meal.

DSCN0905 In between bouts of rain, we did see a few things. The fountain on the left was just behind the city council building, in something of a small park. It’s hard to photograph. It was a collection of seven large geese(?) artfully arranged like on a mobile, around the fountain.

The distant church in the picture on the right?, well, I admit, I have no idea which one it is. It looks nice, though, doesn’t it? It’s got that nice view of the river, and old and new bits of Cork nicely blended.

We did try to find something for mom, but, most the shops had stuff that mom would not find interesting, and the rain was occasionally really heavy, so, we kept trying to dodge into shelter.  One of our sheltering spots was a crepe shop that had ice cream. So, we had some.

It could’ve been better ice cream, but, it the shop was nicely situated right along the river there, just to the left of the edge of the picture with the church.

Eventually, we gave up the search for the right thing for mom, and went around the corner from the crepe shop to wait for the bus to return us to Limerick.


Ireland: Day the first, Part the second

When last we talked, there was the challenge of jet lag facing our heroes.   I cruelly showed you a pint, and a donkey. Yeah, I know. Mean.

So, more pictures.

At the airport, our ride asked if we wanted to do the tour of the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren today (Friday) instead of Sunday. This required very little thought, and as he cheerily said, “but you probably would rather just go to the hotel and relax…” We said, “no, if we can go today, that would be very helpful.”

I think he was actually a bit disappointed.

To his credit, it passed quickly.  He called his guide, and the after a stop at the hotel to drop our luggage, and a heading to an ATM to get some local currency, we were off. Just the three of us with our guide, whom we refer to as Frank I.

And this is the first thing we saw:

I can’t this moment remember *which* castle, and I’m not feeling the need to look it it up right this instant. The tour companRuined castley’s website advertises the stop as the place we’d hear a dramatic tale of fiery redheads. The story is not half as interesting as the descriptor you just got. Your version is better than the tale we got, and which I’m going to be honest, I barely remember even now.

We didn’t stop very long. It was windy and a bit chilly.

They we went to this bronze age stone fort. Dad wanted to watch the sheep dog herding demonstration, so my sister and I went to look at the fort. (This was the one in the teaser. The donkey lives here, too. Well, not in the fort, but, the same people who have the fort have the donkey. )

inside the stone fort This is all in a protected area know as The Burren. It’s a geologically fascinating area, with its own unique flora and fauna, and mostly tons of rocks. “The Burren” .which is a name that comes from an Irish word meaning “rocky place.”

We only had about 45 min here, but, that seemed just about right. Dad didn’t get to see all the tricks that a sheep dog can do, but didn’t seem too disappointed.

Practically, just across the road from this is the stone fort sheep herding place, is the Poulnabrone dolmen. This is a portal tomb, and this is this first of many times that I was grateful to be here during the slow season. There were more than a few tourists here, but, not so many that I didn’t get several pictures that were without people. Poulnabrone dol, a megalithic rock tomb

There are more than 90 such tombs in the Burren, and I feel a tad sad that the quiet of this sacred space in a rugged landscape is pretty much a revolving door of peeping tourists for half the year. Of course, as I am a peeping tourist, well, I can’t say too much, can I?

After this, we drove with the Burren to the southern edge of Galway Bay. (It’s there, the blue between the darker mountainy bits just under the clouds, and just about the gray and green of the rocky foreground. Those limestone rocks are the general ground cover of the Burren.Galway Bay from the Burren

We continued along until we stopped for lunch at Ballyvaughan, on the edge of the bay. Something of a touristy place, we got there before the big coaches, and had the place to ourselves. I got fishcakes, and the pint of Guinness seen in the teaser. The food was much better than one would expect from a tourist place, and it was a fair price. The view was pretty good, too.

From here, we worked our way along, out of the Burren to the Cliffs of Moher.

They are as advertised. It was a clear day, if windy, and cool, but, you could see the Aran Islands from the top.The Cliffs of Moher It’s likely hard to tell how high up we are, standing on the tops of these things, but, it’s not a fall you’d recover from. There is a wall, but, there are places where you aren’t supposed to go, which were visited by people with little sense, who could, with a good gust (of which there were clearly many) and a bit of unbalance, would find themselves getting a burial at sea. I myself offered a sacrifice of Euros, after pulling my hand out of my pocket, not realizing it had dislodged from the depths, and in a heartbeat it was zooming its way to a watery grave. (It’s ok, just a bit of money. I was not stupid enough to try and catch it.)Cliffs of Moher

This beautiful place was the highlight of the day, though, it was hard getting my jet lagged, out of shape self up the hill to see them.  But, hard or no, we all made it, and it was actually light duty compared to the days that were to come.


And that was just the end of day one.

Ireland, Day the First

Seriously, a pidgeon inside the airport. Walking three feet from me. I had many plans to do some pre-narrative about the trip, and have themes and different narrative tracks, and they are likely to turn out to be done when I get back. The weeks leading up to the trip were unexpectedly busier than I expected, between the sewer and other matters that took me away from writing. No, they weren’t just me procrastinating. Yes, that happened, too.

I had wanted to do a whole set-up of the “dramatis personae” (that’s snooty English major talk for “the characters in the drama”), which were going to be longer and have set-ups for the larger story, but, that was a fail.

Instead, a reader’s digest overview:

Traveling in this group are me, (you know me, I hope, if you don’t, then one of my associates ratted the password out to you, and I really hope you are not a robber, and I also, also hope that you’re no good with the Google.) my sister, (she looks like me, but is taller) and my dad (who has never been out of the country before, and who is a retired fellow with a fair number of eccentricities. )

There is also a person who shall be mentioned from time to time, who is technically not one of the “dramatis personae” because he’s not a character, but, he is, in the end, the impetus for the trip, a Mr. Brinsley Barnes, who is my 6th? 7th? great grandfather (I could’ve put any number, and you’d never know that I couldn’t remember exactly which “great” it is as I’m writing this late at night in Ireland, and you don’t really care which one it is, the point of the number is to tell you that it was a long time ago. Early 18th century, 1713ish to be vaguely exact. Okay, it’s the 6th great. My OCD wouldn’t let me not look it up, and I remembered where I could find the information on this computer. )

Back on track, it’s after 1 am in Ireland, and I’ve got to get an early start tomorrow.  We’re heading to the Dingle Peninsula. That’s a bit of a teaser for you.

The actual trip part of the story usually starts with a visit to the airport. This story is not different in any way. We went to the airport. At very painful o’clock in the morning. A time made more painful by getting very much less than 4 hours of sleep. There were good intentions, but poor execution.

After leaving Denver, we arrived in Newark. We had a long layover. We didn’t do much, and there’s a story behind that I might tell later. At any rate, all of this is to explain the first photo, which is a pigeon, who somehow got into the airport, and was flying around and landed near us. It didn’t fly like a bird in panic mode, and walked around without an iota of fear, not one concern about the strange human who followed it and flashed a light at it after making a noise that sounded like “cheese” to the humans watching it. I think it actually has made its home there, and survives off the bounty of food waste in the concourse.

The pigeon was the first picture I took on the trip. I am not sure if that is really sad, or really interesting.

Time passed painfully slowly, and though it was an “overnight” trip, I was only able to get a few  moments of sleep.  We arrived at 7:30 AM Ireland time, which was midnight Colorado time.    We had a tour company to pick us up from the airport, but, they were expecting to simply take us to the airport, and leave us with nothing to do.  We had other plans. Our plan was to be as active as possible after arriving, to survive jet lag. The only question was: How were we going to manage that feat? What were we going to do to keep us awake until bedtime?

The answer…

Will wait until the next post.

It really would be a better ending if I left it there, but, I feel guilty that you were expecting Ireland pictures and got a stupid pigeon.

A teaser then:

A pint of Guinness






Searching for Stories


Uragh Stone Circle, Ireland, by mozzercork, creative commons licenseI had never considered myself to be remotely Irish, even though my mother’s maiden name practically screams its origins with an unsubtle brogue and a fanfare of haunting pipe music blasting from across the Atlantic carrying the tune straight from Éirinn’s green hills.  Her family has been here for generations, and not even the oldest in her family is likely to remember any ancestor cooking a traditional Irish dish, or chasing leprechauns, or muttering in Gaelic when someone tracked mud into the house.

I used to complain to her that she couldn’t understand the misery of having a surname that kids found easy to turn into insults, and she quickly corrected my ignorance by telling me that kids in her day rhymed her surname with “baloney.”  I still thought I had drawn the shorter straw, because my pain affected me, and her long ago pain was not mine.

To be certain, I had no idea about the origins of “Barnes.” The children on the playground, however, were very certain they knew where the name had originated, and it was not a country. Frankly, I was afraid that their guesses might end up being more correct than I was willing to admit on the mean streets of the playground. While it was easy to refute the implications of “being born in a barn,”  and the suggestions that my heritage might not be entirely human, I had uneasy feelings about the humble origins of the ultimate derivation of my last name, and I really didn’t want to offer any additional ammunition to those merciless monsters of mockery.

And here I am many <mumblecoughyears> later, learning that my Barnes ancestor likely came here from Ireland. Like my mother’s ancestors, the Barnes family has been here for centuries, and if there was a family recipe for colcannon or boxty, well, it’s been lost. Possibly on purpose. 

While I always had hoped that I might go and see Ireland, I never expected to have any sorts of actual roots there. Any kinship I have felt with the land has been with those crafters of stories and words that have come from that far away place. I often think about how “the snow was general all over Ireland,” and how it fell “upon all the living and the dead.”

I have thought about the legends that have inspired me in my formative years, of a place where magic and mystery lingered in the very rocks and trees of an ancient land where children might find a snowy wood and a lamppost in the back of a wardrobe. 

In short order, I will see those “dark mutinous Shannon waves,” and lonely churchyards with “crooked crosses and headstones,” and perhaps see upon them names that look like my own. I will wonder about their stories and what they knew of the mysteries that lurked in these places they called home. Perhaps they will share some of their stories. I just hope they don’t feel the need to leave the churchyard.

Adventures in Ireland

Pasture at the Viewpoint by Pam Brophy.


Welcome to Ireland Central.  As I post a new story, I’ll collect them all here. There will be a few before I leave the last week of April, and I hope to have pictures and stories daily while I’m there, exhaustion permitting.

*Update to say, I got zero posts done before I left, and then, I only got one post done while I was there. I’m working on filling in the gaps every night. Since this post exists, I’ll keep adding the links to the posts here, as I complete them.

Post 1: Ireland: Day the First

Post 2: Day the first, Part the Second

Post 3: Ireland: Day the Second

Post 4: Ireland: Day Three

Post 5: Ireland: Day Four

Post 6: Ireland: The Day that comes after Four

Post 7: Ireland: Day Seven Minus One

Post 8: Ireland: One Week

Post 9: Ireland: A Week and a Day

Post 10: Ireland: Day the Next

Post: On the Train to Belfast

Post 11: Ireland: Day the Next Plus One

Post 12: Ireland:Bank Holiday

Post 13: Ireland: Penultimate Day

Post 14: Ireland: Day the Last

We are in Ireland!  We leave for Day three in a few hours, but, I feel better about myself for having posted something at long last.

Post 1: The Search for Brinsley Barnes (Week of April 7) Postponed!

Post 2:  Preparing for the Expedition Postponed!