Winding Down

Friday, 26 September 2003
Dublin

This was shopping day, a trip planned to do nothing but wander the streets and shops of Dublin. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling particularly well (was it Parnell’s Revenge?), but I soldiered on … because, hello: shopping.

We started back at Trinity, because I wanted some of the university’s T-shirts and sweatshirts to bring home as gifts. And since Trinity sits smack-dab in the middle of town, it was convenient to the other two main shopping areas we were to visit, Grafton Street and Temple Bar.

Grafton Street, in fact, has Trinity at one end, and Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre (the closest thing to a mall that I encountered on this trip) on the other. The blocks in between have been closed to traffic, creating, in effect, an outdoor mall. It’s downtown Dublin’s main shopping area, and offers everything from designer boutiques (think Prada) and high-end department stores like Brown Thomas to little hole-in-the-wall stores selling used CDs and the like. Most of the shops open on the street, but there were also arcades to wander, with open-air stalls of vintage clothing and other intriguing items. It was glorious!

The Irish seemed to me to be very fashion-conscious—there were lots of clothing stores. I also noticed that they weren’t wearing jeans as much as Americans do, which reminded me of the lunch I had with Gerry’s colleagues Pat and Brendan, who’d told me they could pick out Yanks by their ubiquitous jeans. I could certainly see why. I also noted that young women were poured into their slacks, and men also wore their trousers to fit, not baggy like American boys tend to do; Pat and Brendan had also mentioned the baggy pants phenomenon as a way to spot Americans.

So we wandered down Grafton Street, past the statue of Molly Malone (she of the well-known Irish ballad of the same name: “In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty / I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone. / She wheeled her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow, / crying ‘Cockles!’ and ‘Mussels, alive, alive oh!’”), which is called variously “The Tart with the Cart” or “The Dish with the Fish” by the locals (I’m not going to repeat what they call the statue of James Joyce and his walking stick—that’s a hint—on O’Connell Street, ha). Again, the weather was fabulous (in late fall the weather should have been wet and cool-ish), and the street buskers were out; we walked from a string quartet to an electric guitarist to a flautist in the space of three blocks, which was just lovely.

We also browsed through Temple Bar, a maze of cobbled streets along the river that I would characterize as an arts district, as it’s filled with nightspots, theaters, restaurants, galleries, design and crafts stores, bookshops, and other fun, funky little shops.

In the end, I got to do everything I wanted, browsing bookstores (probably my all-time favorite activity) and art galleries, shopping for CDs (including the soundtrack to the flick we’d seen the night before, which is excellent, I must say) and Christmas ornaments (I have quite a collection, from the places I’ve visited in the last thirty years), and, finally, purchasing an etching of a Dublin scene. Dublin is a great city for shopping!

Unfortunately, I was feeling worse and worse, and we returned home in mid-afternoon, where I was put to bed with a hot whiskey-and-tea toddy to sweat and shiver my way through a DVD of When Brendan Met Trudy, a great Irish film full of sly humor (if you ever get the opportunity to see it, you should). Then I slept for a bit, and when I woke I felt better. After taking in a football (soccer) match on the telly, I hobbled back to my B&B for an early night.

Saturday, 27 September 2003
Dublin

I was beginning to suspect I might have a serious packing problem—it was all those postcards and souvenir books, hahaha!—so I spent some time on this morning just making sure it would all fit. My carry-on luggage got to be heavier than I would have liked, but what was a girl to do?

We’d frequently driven by a place Gerry called the Casino, located in the Marino neighborhood of Dublin, on our trips in and out of the city, to and from the movie theater, etc. … so this was to be my last act as a tourist. Bridie accompanied us.

The Casino, or “little house” (shouldn’t it be “casina”?) was originally a part of the large country estate of Lord Charlemont, and was built starting in 1759. Charlemont, the official guide book says, was “widely recognized as one of the most enlightened and cultivated men of his day … As a man of the eighteenth century enlightenment, he loved his country and devoted himself to its social and cultural improvement … As a man of culture, he loved Italy,” which was during that time felt to be the origin of all high culture.

So he purchased the Marino estate in 1756 and set about the re-formation of the demesne in an Italian style, which included an informal garden spread over many acres, and a variety of ornamental buildings, amongst which the Casino was the chief. Although the main house is long since gone (torn down in 1921), the Casino survives because it is an architectural marvel, built by the premier architect of the day, William Chambers. Today the Casino is acknowledged to be one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in Ireland.

The building’s squat, compact exterior gives no clue to all that’s concealed inside—you see, the Casino was also intended to be a residential summer house. The guidebook goes on: “From here one could view the landscape in the most sumptuous surroundings, and provide formal and informal entertainment as required. Reception rooms, private rooms, bedrooms and attendant facilities are all arranged within its three-storey interior. We might even add to this a fourth storey, as the roof was left flat so that it could form a viewing platform, providing an even more expansive view of the district … It is always a surprise to find this variety of interiors in a building which, externally, betrays only one floor and suggests only one room.” There are a total of sixteen rooms inside.

It was quite charming! Because it was well after the tourist season, we were the only ones there, and we got an extensive tour from the young woman (I can tell you she was Greek, because we asked, although she spoke with a delightful, cultured Irish accent) who was on duty. She was very knowledgeable, and took a great deal of pleasure in the subject. She showed us all sorts of fascinating, innovative features of the house, such as chimneys disguised as urns and hollow columns that held plumbing drains, hidden doors and windows, and tiny rooms designed to appear large (and they did!).

Gerry and I at the front door of the Casino at Marino. Note that the part that opens is the size of a normal door (the two center panels); the rest is to complete the illusion.

Gerry and I at the front door of the Casino at Marino. Note that the part that opens is the size of a normal door (the two center panels); the rest is to complete the illusion.

Neither Gerry nor his mother, who grew up in the area and remembers picking blackberries on the Marino estate as a child, had ever been to the Casino, so it was fun to experience it with them.

That afternoon I was fed a “Dublin Coddle,” which is a thick soup of potatoes, onions, sausages and bacon; Gerry had started it the night before, as it requires long simmering at low temperatures. It’s nourishing and filling!

Sunday, 28 September 2003
Dublin to Nashville

And so … I survived being pooped on by a bird, snuck up on by a sheep, two flat tires, and losing my beloved necklace … but leaving wasn’t easy. Ireland is a place I could return to over and over. Ireland is a place, quite frankly, I could live.

Our route. September 2003.

Our route. September 2003.

Turning the car in was painless. The Avis staff were quite pleased with the price I’d gotten on the new tire (as earlier mentioned, I was appalled). I’ve since read some statistics on the number of accidents each year, and the percentage of drivers involved in them (40 percent!), so I now am proud of myself for negotiating the roads without a mishap, and without scaring Gerry too often. 🙂

Once one passes through security at the Dublin Airport, there is a veritable mall of fun stores to prowl, including one devoted entirely to Guinness souvenirs. Additionally there’s the duty-free shop. (The biggest drawback to traveling alone is that one can’t say, “Would you mind the bags, dear, whilst I go spend up the last of the euros?”) Another important piece of business to handle in the airport is to turn in receipts (and forms) to be reimbursed for the local tax (VAT) … I was credited for almost $60, and would have gotten much more had I thought to ask for the forms when I made my purchases. I’ll know better next time.

My connection in Chicago was a mess—four international flights arrived at precisely the same time, and some folks on those flights needed to make really tight connections, so there was a considerable amount of pandemonium, what with people freaking out and all. (Although not me.) In a separate issue, my departing flight was pushed back twice, which means I didn’t leave Chicago until over an hour after I’d expected to be loading my car up in Nashville.

And speaking of that: it was very weird to be back driving on the right again! It took me a couple days for that to become “normal.”

HoHo (Hop On, Hop Off) Dublin (1/2)

Thursday, 25 September 2003
Dublin city, Co. Dublin

If you haven’t been keeping track, this is how my trip looked from an itinerary perspective: two days in Dublin to acclimate, ten days driving around the country seeing the sights outside the Pale, then finishing up with five days in Dublin at the end. And we spent one of those days looking for lost jewelry and trying to recover from the ten spent on the road. 🙂

Now here’s a start on the rest of those Dublin Days …

Dublin is a city with a lot of history … and a lot of historic sights, many of which are concentrated in and near the city centre. In addition to its splendid public buildings, Dublin is particularly rich in domestic architecture of the eighteenth century (the Georgian period, as we’ve discussed earlier).

And there are two tour bus companies that offer hop-on-hop-off tours for a flat fee. This means you can climb onto one of those famous double-decker buses (open on the top!) and get off and back on at any one of over thirty stops, and you can do so for a full twenty-four hours. That sounds like a lot of time, but, now that I’ve done it, I’ve concluded there’s no possible way to see, and do justice to, every single stop on the tour in twenty-four hours. It’s a good way to get an overview, though, and I would definitely recommend it.

So, fortified by a “full Irish” (what the locals call that Big Irish Breakfast), we took a cab (like New York City, Dublin is a place that visitors might do best not to try to drive—or park—in) downtown to the heart of the city, literally to O’Connell Street. Named for Daniel O’Connell—the famous politician who campaigned for Catholic Emancipation and repeal of the Act of Union—the street is unusually wide, and is lined in the middle with statues commemorating Irish heroes, including Charles Stewart Parnell (patriot) and Big Jim Larkin (labor leader), as well as O’Connell. (It is also home to the Spire of Dublin, or “the Spike,” as the locals call it, installed just this year, but that’s another story entirely.)

Known as “the Liberator,” O’Connell’s memory is revered in Ireland, and one can find an O’Connell Street in almost every town of any size. Why Liberator? You’ll recall Oliver Cromwell from an earlier episode, the Protestant head of England who had it in for Catholics, and banished all of them “to hell or Connaught” in the 1650s. The Cromwell-controlled British parliament also issued a series of Penal Laws:

The Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion.
He was forbidden to receive education.
He was forbidden to enter a profession.
He was forbidden to hold public office.
He was forbidden to engage in trade or commerce.
He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof.
He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds.
He was forbidden to purchase land.
He was forbidden to lease land.
He was forbidden to vote.
He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection.
He was forbidden to hold a life annuity.
He could not be guardian to a child.
He could not himself educate his child.

Sometimes I find it astonishing the Irish have survived at all.

O’Connell the Liberator: he was born in 1775 to a well-to-do Catholic family who, in spite of their wealth, were denied status, opportunity, and influence due to the discriminatory legislation of the time (see that list). He was educated abroad—although that, too, was illegal—and it was during these college years that he became committed to religious tolerance, freedom of conscience, democracy and the separation of church and state. O’Connell returned to Ireland as a qualified lawyer and became involved in the Catholic Emancipation movement. A powerful nationwide organization quickly emerged, fired by O’Connell’s oratory and with the help of the clergy. In 1828, he won election to the House of Commons, but unwillingness to take the anti-Catholic oath of supremacy kept him out of Westminster. The following year, the government conceded Catholic emancipation, and O’Connell finally entered parliament. Little wonder they call him the Liberator.

Daniel O’Connell in Dublin (from Wikipedia).

Daniel O’Connell in Dublin (from Wikipedia).

We boarded the City Tour bus in O’Connell Street, then, and began the tour. It was a glorious day, and we sat on the roof of the bus to enjoy it. First a loop up around Parnell Square and the Garden of Remembrance there, dedicated to the memory of all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom. Then back down O’Connell Street, across the River Liffey, and to a stop at which we hopped off, in front of Trinity College.

It’s actually the University of Dublin, Trinity College, and was founded in 1592 by Elizabeth I, which makes it the oldest university in Ireland. It’s located on College Green in the absolute heart of Dublin. Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett are among its graduates, as well as Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland and recently the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The grounds are fully open to the public, and while the main gate and the Campanile are certainly focal points, it is the library that drew us to visit, because that’s where they keep the Book of Kells.

This bell tower is called the Campanile. The building beyond the firetruck is the Graduates Memorial Building. I have no idea what was going on with the firetruck.

This bell tower is called the Campanile. The building beyond the firetruck is the Graduates Memorial Building. I have no idea what was going on with the firetruck.

“Over 1000 years ago, when the Book of Kells was written,” the official guide pamphlet says,

Ireland had a population of less than a half a million people living in fortified homesteads along its coasts and inland waterways. The Irish church was largely monastic in organization. Monks lived in communities devoted to the study of God’s word, fasts, and manual work. The message of Christ’s life was spread primarily through gospel books, and the scribes and artists who produced them held an honored place in Irish society. The Book of Kells contains a lavishly decorated copy, in Latin, of the four gospels. It has long been associated with St. Colum Cille (ca. 521–597 AD), who founded his principal monastery on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, in about 561. The Book of Kells was probably produced early in the 9th century by the monks of Iona, working wholly or partially at Iona itself or at Kells, County Meath, where they moved after 806 AD, when Iona was attacked by Vikings in a raid which left sixty-eight monks dead. The Book was sent to Dublin around 1653 for reasons of security during the Cromwellian period. It came to Trinity College through the agency of Henry Jones, after he became bishop of Meath in 1661.

So you see—the story of the Book of Kells encapsulates all the Irish history I have been giving you in pieces throughout this travelogue! 🙂

It is gorgeous, and, frankly, its beauty cannot be described. (But you can look at it yourself here.) Most of you know how I feel about books, so you can imagine how excited I was to finally see this treasure, which is kept, of course, in a climate-controlled case. The 340 folios are bound in four volumes now, and generally two volumes can be seen at a time, one opened to display a major decorated page, and one to show two pages of script. They only turn the pages every six weeks (or maybe it’s every six months! I overheard someone ask this question and can’t quite remember the answer, but I remember being disappointed that I couldn’t have seen something different during the course of my visit).

The Old Library at Trinity was built in 1732, and that original building is now known as the Long Room.

The Long Room is lined with marble busts: great philosophers, writers, and men connected with Trinity, such as Jonathan Swift.

The Long Room is lined with marble busts: great philosophers, writers, and men connected with Trinity, such as Jonathan Swift.

Currently it contains 4.25 million volumes, thirty thousand current serials, significant holdings of maps and music and an extensive collection of manuscripts (the most famous, of course, being the Book of Kells), spread out in eight buildings. It is the largest research library in Ireland. The Long Room houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books and manuscripts, and is quite a magnificent sight in its own right. We strolled through this lovely room, and I was awestruck. (Here is a link to my visit a decade later.)

Across the street from Trinity’s main gate is a massive building that now houses the Bank of Ireland; but until the Act of Union in 1800, this building was the Irish Houses of Parliament. Everywhere you turn in this city, there’s a little (or not so little: this building is huge!) piece of history.

Back on the bus, we rode to Kildare Street to the National Museum of Ireland. I was quite taken, first, by the museum’s “identity system,” that is, its logo and signage and advertising materials. I found it to be classic yet modern, eye-catching but not overly designed … definitely eye-pleasing. This was often the case, by the way: Dublin seems to be a city in which art is important, even if it’s just a bank logo.

The National Museum (opened in 1890) has on display an extensive range of Irish antiquities, which as you know are what fascinate me. It houses the largest collection of Celtic artifacts in the world, including the Tara Brooch, which dates from the eighth century. The museum had a lovely exhibit of gold items—they were that dazzling color pure gold is, which is something you don’t see every day.

From the museum, we walked a block over to St. Stephen’s Green, billed as Europe’s biggest square. What they mean, of course, is that it’s a park (I make that distinction because we Southerners tend to think of a square as something that has an antebellum courthouse in the middle of it). In Georgian times, a square would have been fenced in and locked; only the owners of the homes surrounding it would have had keys. St. Stephen’s Green is so large, however, that I suspected that it was always intended to be a public park.

Well, I was both right and wrong: I researched this subject a bit (though I no longer can say where I got this information, as the website’s gone) and learned the following:

Named after St Stephen’s Church and a leper hospital that was in the vicinity, the Green (as it is popularly known) is first shown on a map in 1655 when it is shown without boundaries. By the 17th century, it consisted of about 60 acres with access from a lane that later became Grafton Street. In 1664, the Corporation [as best I can understand, the Corporation is the Dublin city government] marked out twenty-seven acres and divided the remainder into lots for development, and by 1669 it was surrounded by a high stone wall. In 1814, Commissioners were appointed to improve the square, and enclose it with gates and railings, and only allow access to householders who paid a Guinea a year. In 1877 Sir Arthur Guinness engineered an Act of Parliament to place the area under the control of the Board of Works and re-opened it to the public in 1880.

There’s that family again … it seems that Sir Arthur also paid to improve the Green to the form it’s seen today, including the gardens and ponds, which all date from 1880. The 1887 bandstand is still a focal point, and the park was packed the day we were there … understandably, since it was a beautiful day. The park has many statues, including memorials to Yeats and also to James Joyce. Also present are the Three Fates, a group of bronze female figures watching over man’s destiny. Ha. 🙂

Then it was back to the bus for a ride up to Dublin Castle, and the Chester Beatty Library. This is a really cool website that shows the whole Dublin Castle complex: roll your cursor over each yellow dot, and a brief description rolls down; this will give you an idea of how much is available on the site. The complex is massive, and now houses all sorts of governmental offices, as well as areas for state functions and commercial use.

This Norman tower, dating from 1226, once housed prisoners.

This Norman tower, dating from 1226, once housed prisoners.

Built in 1814, this was formerly the king’s chapel. Dublin Castle 2003.

Built in 1814, this was formerly the king’s chapel. Dublin Castle 2003.

The following brief history is from this site:

Dublin Castle is situated in the very heart of historic Dublin. In fact the city gets its name from the [Gaelic] Dubh Linn or Black Pool (dubh = black), on the site of the present Castle Gardens and Coach House. The Castle stands on the high ridge, the highest ground in the locality, at the junction of the River Liffey and its tributary the (now underground) Poddle, which formed a natural boundary on two sides. It is very probable that the original fortification on this easily defended strategic site was a Gaelic Ringfort, which guarded the harbour, the adjacent Dubhlinn Ecclesiastical Centre, and the four long distant roads that converged nearby.

In the 930’s, a Danish Viking Fortress stood on this site … Their settlement of Dyflinn (a corruption of Dubhlinn) quickly became the main Viking military base and trading centre of slaves and silver, in Ireland. The Norwegian and sometimes Danish rulers had control of the Irish Sea and forayed deep into the centre of Ireland, where monasteries, with their precious ornaments and vessels, were easy targets. Eventually their power was broken, when they and their allies were heavily defeated by an Irish army under the command of King Brian Boru, at the Battle of Clontarf, 1014.

Neither the Irish nor the Vikings could withstand the Norman invasion of 1169. The Vikings were ejected and the Normans became the next occupiers of Dublin. They strengthened and expanded the existing town walls. It is assumed that their first fortification was an earth and wooden motte and bailey, on the site of present day Dublin Castle. There is archaeological evidence of a wooden and stone castle there in the 1170’s.

In August 1204, King John of England commanded the erection of a (larger) strong castle, with strong walls and good ditches, for the defence of the city, administration of justice and safe custody of treasure. It was completed by 1230 and the Great Courtyard (Upper Castle Yard) of today corresponds closely with the fortification.

The Chester Beatty Library is a part of this massive complex. This venue will be of particular interest to you, friends, because Mr. Beatty was an American, born in New York City in 1875. A mining engineer by trade, he established a highly successful mining consultancy and became quite wealthy. In 1900 he married, but eleven years later his wife died, leaving him a widower with two small children. Suffering from ill health, Beatty moved to London, where he founded a new consultancy. From an early age he’d been a collector, and he already had a library of note when he married for the second time in 1913. A honeymoon journey to Egypt extended his range of interests to include Arabic manuscripts, and a further journey in 1917 to the Far East expanded his interests more widely into Chinese and Japanese works of art. His eye was drawn to richly illustrated material, fine bindings and beautiful calligraphy, but he was also concerned to preserve texts for their historic value. Mindful of his Irish ancestry, he moved to Dublin in 1950. In 1957, Chester Beatty became Ireland’s first honorary citizen. Upon his death in 1968, the collection was bequeathed to a trust for the benefit of the public.

Yes, admission to the library (like the National Museum) is free. We browsed through this stunning collection of manuscripts, prints, icons, miniature paintings, early printed books, and objets d’art from countries across Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. In its diversity, the collection captures much of the richness of human creative expression from about 2700 BC to the present day!

This episode has gotten rather longish—just as that particular day was quite long—so I’ll pause here.

HoHo Dublin (2/2)

Thursday, 25 September 2003
Dublin city, Co. Dublin

Where were we? Oh yes, we’d just left the Chester Beatty Library, at Dublin Castle … and I’ve got a rant in store. 🙂

We got on the bus again … the bus drivers, as you might imagine, have a spiel for the tourists, and some of them really get into it, telling Irish jokes and homilies, and one of them sang quite well too. I, of course, was giggling away (I’m easy), while Gerry was rolling his eyes at some of these antics.

Our next stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. One would think—we’re in Ireland, now, the home of St. Patrick, and all that is associated with him—so one would think that this St. Patrick’s Cathedral, would be a Catholic church … but one would be wrong. There is not a major Catholic cathedral in Dublin; the two best known—St. Patrick’s and Christ Church—are both Anglican. They do, however, represent important chapters in Dublin’s history: Christ Church was the original cathedral of Dublin’s Norse heritage, having been founded in 1038 by King Sitric, and St. Patrick’s represents the Anglo-Norman legacy.

Here’s just a little bit of the exterior. St. Patrick’s Cathedral 2003.

Here’s just a little bit of the exterior. St. Patrick’s Cathedral 2003.

stPATsarches

It’s the interior that’s so lovely …

Officially the National Cathedral for the Church of Ireland (Anglican) Community in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was built by the first Anglo-Norman Bishop, John Comyn, in 1192, on the site of a little wooden church dedicated to St. Patrick, beside a well where he is said to have baptized converts around AD 450.

By this time I was keeping an eye out for capitals. These are lovely. St Patrick’s Cathedral 2003.

By this time I was keeping an eye out for capitals. These are lovely. St Patrick’s Cathedral 2003.

Over the centuries the cathedral suffered from desecration and neglect, and was extensively rebuilt toward the end of the fourteenth century after a destructive fire. Following the wars of the seventeenth century, the building fell into disrepair until about 1860, when a complete restoration was carried out through the generosity of Sir Benjamin Guinness, a member of the famous brewery family. (In fact, as I’ve previously noted, the Guinness fortune is responsible for the repair and upkeep of many fine historic buildings and sites throughout the country.) The interior is dotted with memorial busts, brasses and monuments, tombs and battle flags (a little jarring, I must admit). It has Ireland’s largest organ (spectacular!), too. Jonathan Swift—of Gulliver’s Travels fame—was dean of St. Patrick’s from 1713 to 1745 and is buried in the cathedral.

Battle flags. The Irish Catholic accompanying me shuddered a little.

Battle flags. The Irish Catholic accompanying me shuddered a little.

These sort of plaques covered the walls. St Patrick’s Cathedral 2003.

These sort of plaques covered the walls. St Patrick’s Cathedral 2003.

The lovely little park beside the cathedral was also provided by the Guinness family, and we strolled there just to enjoy the beautiful day, before ambling to the bus stop.

The lovely park attached to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin 2003.

The lovely park attached to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin 2003.

I was fascinated by all these little windows. (Don’t forget you can click to enlarge and zoom in.)

I was fascinated by all these little windows. (Don’t forget you can click to enlarge and zoom in.)

Our destination was Kilmainham Gaol, which was, as it turned out, not really on the tour, as we were let out in simply in Kilmainham (the neighborhood), in front of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (housed in what was the Royal Hospital Kilmainham) and then had to walk through the grounds for fifteen minutes before arriving at the Gaol.

There is a sculptured plaque over the door, a black stone, of entwined and writhing angry-looking snake-like creatures with spiked tails, chained at their necks with heavy metal links; the fan-shaped plaque and door below it are framed with carved grey stone that echoes the snake theme: it looks like a roiling mass of snakes. The sight of this doorway is nothing short of arresting, and serves amply to darken one’s mood to match the story that unfolds here.

Really, it’s frightening. Kilmainham Gaol, 2003.

Really, it’s frightening. Kilmainham Gaol, 2003.

The huge building is grim and grey. Built in 1789, closed in 1924, and restored in the 1960s, the gaol housed many of those patriots involved in the fight for Irish independence, including the revolts of 1798, 1803, 1848, and 1867, as well as, most famously, the fourteen leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, who were all court-martialed and shot in the prison yard here.

These were not military men, for the most part, but teachers, historians, businessmen, poets and others who’d simply had enough of the Brits. On Easter Monday Patrick Pearse had read the Proclamation of the Republic from the portico of the GPO, which says, in part:

We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of the Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty: six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.

Ireland belongs to the Irish, they said, and you’ll have to kill us to stop us. Well, the British did kill them. The brutality of those executions—the badly injured James Connolly, unable to stand up, was tied to a chair before being shot—changed public opinion about the abortive Rising, guaranteed their status as martyrs, and ultimately led to the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1921.

The tour started in the chapel, where one of the group, Joseph Plunkett, married Grace Gifford just a few hours before he faced the firing squad. We passed through dank, dark hallways by cells that literally haven’t been touched since they were last used, past punishment cells and the hanging room, into the central hall, four storeys high, which has been given over to contemporary artists to turn various individual cells into mini museums.

Honestly, it’s not a happy place. This is the central hall.

Honestly, it’s not a happy place. This is the central hall.

Commencement of Rant: We had this lovely tour guide, I’d put him at about twenty-six or -seven, maybe a grad student in history or possibly political science or something. He had that look, dressed all in black, long ponytail, soft-spoken, and yet quite passionate about the subject, which was nice. And he was nice, and polite, and all along the various stops on the tour this one American man, early sixties (and at probably fix-foot-two or so, several inches taller than the young guide), kept monopolizing him by asking questions which seemed designed to make it look as if he—the tourist—really knew a lot about Irish history (as if the rest of us would be impressed by that). It truly made me wince, probably because he was such a caricature of the loudmouthed Ugly American type that one hears one’s European friends discuss.

So the tour guide patiently continued to answer this big guy’s questions, every one of them, and I (I brushed up on Irish history before I went over; bibliography to follow), I was cringing, and Gerry was sighing, and it was bad enough that the guy called it “the UPrising” in one of his lecture-questions (it’s known as the Rising), but then the guide mentioned the Irish Civil War, and the big dummy said, “What civil war? An Irish civil war?”… and Dear Friends, it would be one thing if that were some obscure corner of history but they made a movie out of it for heaven’s sake, an American movie starring Liam Neeson, so regardless of what you think of Michael Collins the movie (and there was considerable public outcry in some quarters—Britain, actually—when the film was released because it took some minor liberties in order to create an entertaining movie) there is no excuse. This guy wouldn’t have even had to crack a book to know about the Irish civil war, but no! AAAaaaaaaargh. End of Rant.

There are also museum exhibits in the basement, and a small bookshop which sells only books related to the gaol. I picked up Last Words: Letters and Statements of the Leaders Executed after the Rising at Easter 1916 as I’ve always been very taken with first-person accounts of history. The last stop on the tour is the prison yard where the leaders of the Easter Rising were shot, the spot now memorialized by a simple, somber black cross. I found it very moving.

The yard at Kilmainham Gaol where the Easter Rising patriots faced the firing squad.

The yard at Kilmainham Gaol where the Easter Rising patriots faced the firing squad.

Kilmainham was our last stop, as it was 5:30 and the buses stop running at 6pm. So we caught one of the last ones back to the city centre, had a quick sandwich in a pub, and then strolled over to the Screen Cinema, very near Trinity, where we saw Goldfish Memory, a film we’d heard reviewed on the radio earlier in the trip. It was worth the effort it took to seek it out, and I thoroughly enjoyed “pretending” to be Irish, rather than the tourist I was. After the show we caught a cab back out of town.

It was a very full day! And just to prove my point that there’s no way you could see everything on the City Tour in one twenty-four-hour period, here’s a list of the things we didn’t stop to see:

  • Municipal Gallery of Modern Art
  • Dublin Writers Museum (a restored eighteenth-century mansion that houses letters, books and other memorabilia of Ireland’s greatest writers, including Shaw, Yeats, Beckett, Swift, Wilde, Joyce and Behan)
  • General Post Office (from the portico of which the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was read by Patrick Pearse in 1916; we rode by it, but didn’t go inside)
  • Bank of Ireland (across the street from Trinity, as mentioned earlier; used to be the Irish House of Parliament)
  • National Wax Museum (not that it had any appeal to me; I find these things creepy)
  • National Library of Ireland
  • Merrion Square (the largest Georgian square in the city and still surrounded by original Georgian buildings)
  • National Gallery (houses over 7000 paintings and drawings)
  • Natural History Museum
  • Mansion House (has been the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin since 1715)
  • Dublin Castle (we only went to the Chester Beatty Library; there was much, much more)
  • Dublin’s City Hall (a lovely building with an impressive dome)
  • Marsh’s Library at St. Patrick’s Close (the oldest public library in Ireland, erected in 1702, it contains over 25,000 volumes and 200 valuable ancient manuscripts)
  • Christ Church Cathedral
  • Guinness Storehouse (how did I manage to turn down a tour of the brewery which ends with a complimentary pint?)
  • Irish Museum of Modern Art (we walked through its courtyard on the way to Kilmainham Gaol but did not have time to tour it)
  • Phoenix Park (originally a major deer park, it is now the largest urban park in Europe, covering 1,750 acres—and still has a herd of wild deer; it’s also the home of the Peoples Gardens, the official residence of the President of Ireland, and the Dublin Zoo, the third oldest zoo in the world and renowned for successful breeding of lions [one of our bus drivers said “There are Irish lions all over the world” which gave me a giggle])
  • National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks (the satellite location of the main museum we visited on Kildare Street, this branch houses exhibits on the decorative arts, and economic, social and military history)
  • Old Jameson Distillery (founded in 1780; this tour also ends with visitors being offered a glass of the ever-so-smooth Jameson Whiskey)
  • The Chimney (part of an old distillery, now topped with a viewing platform which offers spectacular views of the city of Dublin)
  • The Custom House

I rest my case. Also listed on the tour were Grafton Street, Temple Bar, and the Dublin Tourism Centre … and we came back to these places the very next day.

Home Again, Home Again …

Tuesday, 23 September 2003
Boyle, Co. Roscommon – Dublin, Co. Dublin

This is the story of our foray into the Midlands (technically: Counties Cavan, Monaghan, Louth, Longford, Westmeath, Meath … mostly just driving through).

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines dolmen as “a prehistoric monument of two or more upright stones supporting a horizontal stone slab found especially in Britain and France and thought to be a tomb”; Celtic in origin, it literally means “stone table.” Ireland is full of them, and a dolmen is a thing I’d put on my list of things that I particularly wanted to see … and I hadn’t actually seen one yet. We skipped one (Browne’s Hill) on our route on our first day out—mostly because I was still getting used to driving and we both doubted my ability to find it—and we’d failed to find two or three others that we specifically looked for, most notably the Poulabrone Dolmen (pronounce this POWL-na-BRO-na) in the Burren, which is probably one of Ireland’s most famous images. (In fairness, we did search diligently for it, but that was the day it was raining, when visibility was about ten feet and not conducive to finding things, even large things.)

So you can imagine my pleasure when I learned from a Co. Roscommon brochure I’d picked up that the Drumanone Dolmen was just 5km away, and it reputedly has the largest capstone of any dolmen in Ireland. It wasn’t in our planned direction, but we had plenty of time, and hey, what’s three miles? Off we went … and once again, we failed to find a dolmen! We followed the signs, we followed printed directions in the guidebook, and we must’ve put twenty miles on the odometer (and at eighty-eight European cents per liter of gasoline, that is not an inexpensive investment), but we never did find that thing. I’ve just now looked up a photograph of it, and am pleased to note in the accompanying text that those tourists had a hard time finding it too (the page has since left the Internet, but even Lonely Planet says it’s “tricky to find”).

It was Gerry’s opinion that I was fated not to see a dolmen on this trip, which simply means that I must return. We’d been amusing ourselves with how to organize return trips, starting with the obvious, such as a golf course tour, lighthouse tour, or castle tour. But how about a “brown sign tour” (brown signs signifying historic sites), or a county-by-county tour, or, hey, a dolmen tour. We ourselves were currently on the Interesting Showers tour, since we had yet to find any two of the same brand or method of operation.

The possibilities, as you can see, are limitless.

In the end, we admitted defeat and drove on to Clonmacnois, another ruined-but-indescribably-lovely monastery, situated just beside the River Shannon in County Offaly, about twelve miles from Athlone. (Pronounce it in English: clon-mac-NOISE; in Irish: clon-mac-NO-iss.) The nearest village is Shannonbridge but it is not an easy place to get to, especially for those who do not drive or only have access to public transport. I’m told there are boat rides to Clonmacnois from Athlone, and I can imagine that it’s particularly nice to approach it like that.

The river is just … right there. In this photo you see the smaller bell tower.

The river is just … right there. In this photo you see the smaller bell tower.

It’s a beautiful site. Clonmacnois 2003.

It’s a beautiful site. Clonmacnois 2003.

From the sixth to the twelfth century Clonmacnois, whose name means “the Meadow of the Sons of Nos,” was one of the most important monstaries and universities in Ireland. During this time the River Shannon (running north–south) and an east–west road through the surrounding bog were the two main routes in Ireland, and Clonmacnois was built at this medieval crossroads. The monastary was founded 545 by Saint Kieran, but of course none of the first wooden churches have survived.

This is the round tower.

This is the round tower. Gerry in foreground.

It became a monastic city, a University of Saints and Scholars, attracting many of the scholars of Ireland and from across Europe; and it flourished under the patronage of various High Kings of Ireland, including the last High King, Rory O’Connor, whose remains are buried there (1198). It was plundered in 800 by the Vikings and then again by the Normans. During Elizabethan times the monastery and the castle were destroyed by Cromwell.

In the foreground, the very old graves; the more crowded cemetery you see at the back is what they call the “new” cemetery.

In the foreground, the very old graves; the more crowded cemetery you see at the back is what they call the “new” cemetery.

Clonmacnois 2003.

Clonmacnois 2003.

No single large cathedral exists, or ever existed, at Clonmacnois, unlike most of the other Christian sites we visited. Instead, there were a number of small churches of simple plan. It has two round towers, one which was strictly a bell tower, another which functioned as a sanctuary from invasion (the Vikings having discovered that the churches in Ireland were easy pickings); I find it interesting to have read since that round towers are unique in their shape and form to Ireland. Also there are three early (ninth century) high crosses; for protection from the elements, they’ve all been moved indoors to the museum, and replicas put in their places outside.

Privately, I always think of this as “the smiling monks.” :) Clonmacnois 2003.

Privately, I always think of this as “the smiling monks.” 🙂 Clonmacnois 2003.

Me and the smiling monks, 2003.

Me and the smiling monks, 2003.

If you ever find yourself in Ireland, my personal opinion is that Clonmacnois should not be missed. The high crosses are stunning and the scenery from the churchyard is breathtaking, the Shannon in particular. We were there early enough in the morning that it hadn’t become overrun with tour buses, so you could still feel the peace and quiet and spirituality of the place.

Our next destinations were to be the Hill of Tara (seat of the “northern” high kings of Ireland, as the Rock of Cashel was the seat of the “southern” high kings), and then Newgrange, one of the most important prehistoric passage graves in all of Europe. However, we learned that Tara had closed for the season on September fifteenth, so we had some time in our schedule. Since Trim was on our route, we decided to stop and visit Trim Castle.

I’ve got to tell you, Trim Castle is quite a sight: you can see it as you approach the town, in County Meath (pronounce this MEED), it’s that huge.

In spite of what is missing … it’s pretty big! Trim Castle, 2003.

In spite of what is missing … it’s pretty big! Trim Castle, 2003.

The castle was founded in 1173 by Hugh de Lacy, a Norman knight, and is evidence of the Anglo-Norman domination of Ireland in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. The keep is laid out in a unique cruciform design, and is positively huge. The Eyewitness Travel Guide says, “It makes a spectacular backdrop so is often used as a movie set, most recently seen in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart (1995).”

What remains of the moat at Trim Castle.

What remains of the moat at Trim Castle.

From Trim, we headed to Newgrange, although it took us extra time to get there, because the UK Auto Association (from whose web site Gerry had downloaded detailed driving directions) is a couple years out of date—Duchas, the Heritage Service of Ireland, has recently built a lovely visitors’ center for Newgrange, which is moved from where AA was trying to send us (our detailed road map was out of date too). This had us in a tizzy for a bit, because one shouldn’t be lost trying to find one of the premier tourist attractions in Ireland, y’know? Not finding the Drumanone Dolmen is one thing, but losing Newgrange takes getting lost to a whole new level.

As you know, I am fascinated by prehistory, so Newgrange was a must-see for me. Actually, these megalithic “passage tombs” were generally built in clusters, and Newgrange is no exception: Knowth and Dowth (pronounce these with a long O: “noe-th” and “doe-th”) are nearby, and are included in the tours which start from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre located near the village of Donore, Co. Meath. Other smaller (and as yet unexcavated) mounds can be seen from the site at Newgrange (I counted three).

There are several mounds in this photo, not all of them easy to see. But you can click to enlarge and zoom in. At Newgrange 2003.

There are several mounds in this photo, not all of them easy to see. But you can click to enlarge and zoom in. At Newgrange 2003.

These Boyne Valley mounds at Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth were built around 3200 BC, making them older than Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

Passage tomb monuments have clear astronomical alignments, such as the Winter Solstice sunrise at Newgrange, which illuminates the passage and inner chamber for five mornings every December. (Admission to the chamber of the tomb at Newgrange for the Winter Solstice sunrise is by lottery; in 2003 nearly 20,000 applications were submitted! Each October, fifty names are drawn, ten names for each morning the chamber is illuminated, with two places in the chamber awarded to each of the names drawn. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the skies won’t be overcast.)

“There is a lively debate about whether these wonderful megalithic structures were built primarily as burial tombs, sacred temples or astronomical observatories. While passage tomb is the traditional description for Newgrange and similar structures, chambered cairn or passage mound are the descriptions favored by those who consider the passage tomb description too narrow. The large stones surrounding and inside the passage tombs are decorated with Megalithic Art such as spirals, concentric circles, triangles, zigzags and images which have been interpreted as the sun, moon and the human face.” (Quote from Knowth.com.)

The Boyne Valley cairns of Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, which should tell you something about their importance as historic sites, whether one calls them a burial tomb or temple or whatever, and they attract 200,000 visitors per year … thus the fancy new visitor center. It’s not for the faint of energy though: it’s quite a hike from the parking lot to the center, and then another hike out to the buses which shuttle visitors out to the mounds themselves. All in all, one could spend a lot of time there, especially if opting to visit all three sites. (This explains my lack of photographs. I was getting tired.)

I only visited the Newgrange site, which was rediscovered in 1699 by the removal of material for road building. For the next 250 years, it was a local oddity, and there are 250 years’ worth of graffiti inside to attest to that! A major excavation of Newgrange began in 1962; the original facade of sparkling white quartz was rebuilt using stone found at the site. The mound itself covers over an acre, and is retained by 97 “kerbstones” which lie horizontally. Many of these have beautifully carved designs of spirals, lozenges, zigzags, and other symbols. The most famous of these is the stone marking the entrance, with its carvings of a triple spiral, double spirals, concentric semicircles, and lozenges. One sees that spiral motif everywhere in Ireland, from packaging for granulated sugar to jewelry.

The kerbstone at the entrance to Newgrange.

The kerbstone at the entrance to Newgrange.

The passage is very narrow, and they warn those who might suffer from claustrophobia to enter near the last, in case they find it overwhelming; there was one woman in my group who came barreling back out. The guides ask that one remove one’s bags and cameras and carry them in front, so as not to scratch the sides of the passage. This was to prove fateful for me, as I believe it’s when I jerked on my necklace (you know the one: a heart and cross hanging together on a gold chain) enough to cause the clasp to give way on my walk back to the visitors’ center.

But more about that later.

From Newgrange, we were headed back to Dublin, but planned to stop first in Lusk to visit Gerry’s younger brother, Richie, his wife Isolde (iss-SOLE-da), and their twin daughters Grainne (GRAHN-ya) and Ashling (exactly like it looks). The girls had just graduated from high school, and this was the night of their “debs” (prom, to us Americans). You’ll be happy to know that this particular ritual happens much the same in Ireland as here: girls in formal dresses, boys in tuxedos, a limousine, and a host of family and friends snapping dozens of photographs! The twins, I must say, were beautiful.

While in the midst of this wonderful celebration, I discovered that my necklace, the one I’d worn every day for over twenty years, was missing.

Wednesday, 24 September 2003, back in Dublin

We’d planned to tour Dublin on this day, but instead we found ourselves driving back to Newgrange—I’d called them first thing in the morning, and before I’d even gotten the whole story out had been told that the chain had been turned in! It was only a forty-five-minute drive one way, so back we went. The staff was very sympathetic, and told us where the chain had been found, and let us walk out on the grounds to search for the cross and heart.

I didn’t expect to find them, of course, and we didn’t; the staff allowed me to leave my name and address, and promised to return them if they turned up. I was happy to have the chain back, though.

Back in Dublin by lunchtime—but a little deflated—we went to “the chipper” (the proverbial fish-and-chips take-out joint, which also made great friend chicken) and then on to a late afternoon movie, Le Divorce, which I found hilarious given its subject matter (the culture clash between Americans and Europeans) and my location.

This ended up being a short day, which was just as well: the ten-day driving trip, while lots of fun, had been exhausting, and losing my necklace (lots of sentimental attachment) just knocked the wind out of my sails. So I made an early night of it—I was back at the B&B around the corner from Gerry’s house, although in a different room this time—to rest up for the big walking tour of Dublin for the next day.

The Stealth Sheep

Monday, 22 September 2003
Malin, Inishowen Peninsula, Co. Donegal – Boyle, Co. Roscommon

It was significantly cooler in the morning, windy, blustery, and raining off and on—which it continued to do all day, although it might be expected in late September that far north, eh? However, I’d come to judge how serious the rain was by whether the windshield wipers had to be run on intermittent, regular, or fast … and this was just an intermittent day. 🙂

We retraced our route south through Carndonagh, and I began telling Gerry the story of my search for the seventh-century cross the day before. I’d found the brown sign the previous day, and we found it again; the cross was allegedly on the highway we would travel to leave the peninsula. I was moaning about having driven up and down “this very road” several times looking for it, when Gerry interrupted me. “It’s just there,” he said, pointing. It was one of those Aaaaaaaaargh moments, because the cross was not but a block from the turn indicated by the brown sign, in plain sight! I do know how I missed it: it’s right on the sidewalk, in the middle of “everyday life,” and the town has built a little roof over it, to protect it from the elements. It wasn’t what I was expecting.

Irish high crosses are beautiful and moving, and the original ones—we’ve visited a few on this trip, and will see more before it’s over—are a thousand years old. Just saying that makes me catch my breath. But this humble stone cross in Carndonagh—as you approach it, it looks like nothing more than a rough, flat, red/tan sandstone slab with a short crosspiece—is four hundred years older than that, has stood in (or near) this spot, a momument to Christ and a memory of the passionate early Christians, since the mid seventh century!

But draw close, there’s more. It’s known, actually, as St. Patrick’s Cross, and is widely regarded as the earliest known high cross, although it is ring-less. The cross represents a transition in design in that it is one of the earliest stone cross sculptures to break free from the slab: earlier cross monuments were carved on slabs (we’ve seen several of those too) but the Carndonagh slab is actually cut out in the shape of a cross. It stands ten or so feet high, and is accompanied by two short pillars, which are also carved. The photos in the link above are better than mine, because I believe the photographer must have brought a spotlight to cast shadows, which would then make the detail more visible.

Carndonagh Cross, east face. Can you see Christ’s face?

Carndonagh Cross, east face. Can you see Christ’s face? It’s about halfway down.

East face again, different angle. Here you can see the east side of both of the small pillars.

East face again, different angle. Here you can see the east side of both of the small pillars.

The east face has what you might call a Celtic knot in the center of the crosspiece area, and in the “armpit” on each side are three birds. Underneath this, on the main body of the cross, is Christ, but whether it is the crucified Christ (common on later high crosses, including the one we saw at Kilfenora two days past) or “Christ in Glory,” it’s difficult to tell; both versions would show him with his arms outstretched. On either side of his head are angels. Below him are three human figures; perhaps they are apostles or perhaps they are “three holy women walking toward the tomb,” a scene which was in those days intended to represent the resurrection. Again, it’s very hard to tell, and different articles I researched said different things.

Have I mentioned that high crosses were originally painted? St. Patrick’s Cross at Carndonagh was almost certainly painted; the fact that the carving on it is very shallow bolsters the argument that color may have been an important part of the original decoration. At any rate, over the years detail has been lost that would possibly make the meaning of the figures more clear.

Carndonagh Cross, west face.

Carndonagh Cross, west face.

West face, with the pillars.

West face, with the pillars.

The west side of the slab is totally covered in that interlacing pattern that we call Celtic knotwork, although it was actually introduced to Ireland from eastern Europe, and was simply improved upon by the Irish. 🙂

So we left the peninsula, finally, and the rainy day, following the same road we took there, since there is very little in the way of an alternate route through that mountainous terrain.

Leaving the rain behind. Oh look! A rainbow!

Leaving the rain behind. Oh look! A rainbow!

At one point (still in County Donegal), I took a wrong turn, and in getting back to the main road we stumbled across one of those brown markers that I’d come to love. This one said “Beltany Stone Circle, 2km,” and that was all the encouragement we needed.

There were several twists and turns involved, but always a sign leading us on, until finally the road just ended, with no clear way to go. So we parked and got out and wandered around a bit, until a nearby farmer hollered across the field, “Looking for the stones?” He directed us up a tree-shaded lane, and off we went, experienced hikers we, haha. That little lane, however, was steeper than it looked, and pretty soon we were huffing and puffing with no end in sight; ten minutes later we glimpsed the stones on the other side of the fencerow we’d been walking along, out in the center of a field with a herd of sheep for companions.

Finally the lane itself ended at a farm-gate, and next to it, on the outside, stood a large sheep, bleating its frustration at finding itself on the wrong side of the fence from its fellows. It looked at us warily as we approached, then skittered away as we got closer. Beside the larger gate was one of those turnstile-type gates I’ve previously referred to as a “kissing gate” (there was one at Glendalough); these gates are designed to keep livestock in while allowing free access to hikers here to see the stone circle, and while also keeping the hikers from either climbing (and potentially damaging) the fence or opening the farmer’s gate (and possibly not shutting it properly). In other words, the kissing gate allows humans free access, but sheep—in theory, anyway—stay safe inside their field.

Our Stealth Sheep, in front of the kissing gate.

Our Stealth Sheep, in front of the kissing gate. Don’t forget, you can click any photo to enlarge it and zoom in.

“Sheep may safely graze and pasture …” as the song goes.

So we passed, one at a time, through the ’stile, and the minute we did, our buddy the sheep moved right back to the gate and continued to cry to be let back in. Gerry will attest to the fact that I was quite distraught by this; I imagined that it saw us as shepherds, and wanted us to help it return to the bosom of the herd, which had stood near the gate on the other side, in sympathy. Once we were in the field, the herd moved off, and we proceeded to do our Sound of Music reenaction.

Standing in the center of the Beltany Stone Circle, high on a hill. What a view!

Standing in the center of the Beltany Stone Circle, high on a hill. What a view! (Click to enlarge.)

The view from the top of that hill was just incredible, and the stone circle was huge, larger than any other circle I’d seen (which, after all, is only Drombeg in County Cork, and Stonehenge, in England).

Another view from inside the circle. The stone in the distance is separate from the circle, though it certainly had some function in relation to ceremonies carried on at the circle.

Another view from inside the circle. The stone in the distance is separate from the circle, though it certainly had some function in relation to ceremonies carried on here.

This megalithic monument dates from 2000 BC; the Irish name Beltany is from “Baal Tine” which means “Baal’s fire” and suggests that the pagan practice of sun worship was celebrated here. It’s 145 feet in diameter, by the way, and contains 64 stones, although there were probably many more originally.

Here you can get a feel for the entire circle. And its guard sheep.

Here you can get a feel for the entire circle. And its guard sheep.

I took several photographs, and we just enjoyed the view for awhile, before we picked our way back across the field (verrrrry carefully) to the kissing gate and the little lost sheep. I wanted to help the poor thing regain its promised land, but Gerry, the voice of reason, reminded me a sheep that feels threatened might charge me and knock me down, and the resulting damage to my old self might well ruin my trip. We did try to open the farmer’s gate—precisely what he wouldn’t want us to do—but failed to budge it, so we left the sheep, still distraught, at the top of the hill and started the (blessedly downhill) hike back to the car.

About halfway down—we were chatting, deciding that we’d about had enough of climbing hills—we were startled to hear an indignant “BAAAaaa!” right behind us (I could have touched him, that’s how close he was): that sheep had followed us stealthily down the hill when he saw we were not going to solve his problem! I can hear him now: “Where do you think you’re going!” Oh, my friends, Gerry and I both must have jumped a foot straight up, and in the process lost ten years off our lifetimes and gained a load of grey hair! Gerry then remarked that he wasn’t sure which had been harder on his heart, the climb up that hill, or the shock the sheep gave us—and at that point we both laughed until we we were hysterical. For the rest of the day, all Gerry had to do to make me howl was to softly “baaa.”

We did quite a bit of driving that day, back down through Counties Donegal, Sligo, and into Roscommon, headed for Boyle, which was to be our stopping place. We were listening to RTE talk radio, as we had throughout the trip. The three big stories of the week were the big brawl at the end of the Manchester United / Arsenal game, which happened the previous day (and which took fully six weeks to be put to rest, by suspending two Arsenal players and fining four others, and I believe two Man-U players will be fined, as well), and the bin tax fracas (Dubliners are up in arms because the city has decided to charge them for garbage pickup), and the ban on cigarette smoking in pubs, bars, and restaurants, due to take effect on New Year’s Day, 2004.

We were nearing Boyle, but as we passed a sign for Riverstown, Gerry said, “Let’s turn off here”—and so we did. A couple years ago, the ESB Archives set up one of their historical displays here, at the Sligo Folk Park. The ESB have produced several of these displays, for different occasions and organizations across the country. The general theme of each is always the electrification of rural Ireland … but they always search their archives to find documents pertinent to the specific area, so each presentation is personalized, and sheds light on the neighborhood, and what life was like there in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and so on.

The folk park itself was quite charming, basically a collection of items from the locals, gathered together. It appears to be curated by the locals, too, and thus is very personal. The main attraction—aside from a large exhibition hall jam-packed with items portraying rural history and agricultural artifacts—is the Old Millview House, where twenty-first-century children can see how their great-grandparents used to live. Both Gerry and I are fascinated by this kind of thing, so we wandered every room and pondered Irish rural life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There’s also a thatched-roof cottage and some farm buildings, including a forge and a pig house (with live pigs!).

It being late September, the place was practically deserted, so we easily located the ESB’s two displays, one about the electrification of Riverstown, and the other in the main exhibition hall (which was made up to look like a village centre), which was a representation of an ESB office of the 1930s, showing those new-fangled electric stoves and refrigerators in the storefront window. My absolute favorite thing, though, was the vast treasure trove of miscellaneous household and farm items filling the exhibition hall … there was even a stuffed cow head. (I do understand, sort of, when a hunter kills a deer—well, no, I don’t get the killing thing at all, frankly, but—I get why he might have the head mounted, or have the antlers mounted. But this was a mounted head of a cow. Bossie. What’s up with that? I am giggling even as I write this. Moooo.)

Finally we found our way to Boyle, and checked in to our delightful B&B, which sat right across the road from Boyle Abbey, the very thing we’d come to see. Our hostess, Mary, was about my age, and she and I bonded quickly when we discovered we were both mothers of grown sons. After unloading the car—and taking a photo of the abbey from the room’s large window—we headed right across the street to the ruins. It was late enough in the afternoon that the place was remarkably tourist-less—we’d watched a tourbus depart just minutes earlier.

View of Boyle Abbey from our B&B.

View of Boyle Abbey from our B&B, 2003.

Boyle Abbey was founded in 1161 by the locally ruling MacDermott family, and was a sister house to the first Irish Cistercian monastery in Mellifont, County Louth. Finally consecrated in 1220, the abbey had survived years of attacks during feuds between the warring MacDermott and O’Conor clans, and would survive many more. For example, in 1235, English forces forcibly took possession of the abbey, seized all the goods, vestments, and chalices belonging to the monastery and stripped the monks of their habits in their cloister. Took their clothes, for heaven’s sake! In spite of this, the abbey survived until well past the Dissolution of the Monasteries, because the English Crown was weaker in Ireland, and the process took longer. Because of the remoteness of Boyle, the community lasted until 1584, when its abbot was executed in Dublin for refusing to renounce his allegiance to Rome.

Boyle Abbey, 2003.

Boyle Abbey, 2003. I love that tilting wall.

Though the buildings were mutilated during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when it was used to accommodate a military garrison (and later was used as an armory—surely the monks were rolling over in their graves about that!), the abbey continued to be subjected to raids, making its present well-preserved condition pretty remarkable.

In spite of its abuse, it’s still beautiful.

In spite of its abuse, it’s still beautiful.

We had a nice chat with the gentleman at the entrance gate, who, spying my camera, advised me to look up—at the capitals (the top of a column, a piece between the column and the arch), for which Boyle is especially known, particularly since the Cistercian tradition was for plain churches. “You’ll want to take pictures of those,” he said cheerfully, and so I did. The official guidebook says, “Some of the capitals have trumpet scallops, suggesting a West of England influence. However, the majority were decorated with an attractive range of floral motifs … [and others] were ornamented with animal and human figures. One particular design consists of little men standing between trees and holding on to the branches in a rather stiff fashion. Another depicts a confrontation of two dogs and a pair of cockerels.”

These are those dogs and chickens.

These are those dogs and chickens.

More lovely capitals.

More lovely capitals at Boyle Abbey, 2003.

Funny little men at Boyle Abbey.

Funny little men holding onto trees at Boyle Abbey.

Arch and capital at Boyle Abbey, 2003.

Arch and capital at Boyle Abbey, 2003.

Built between the Romanesque and Gothic periods, the Abbey exhibits features of both, the most notable being the row of rounded arches on one side of the nave which faces a row of pointed arches on the other side. The arches were particularly interesting, I thought, so I took a lot of photos of them, too!

Here you can see both round and Roman (pointed) arches. If you look carefully. :)

Here you can see both round and Roman (pointed) arches. If you look carefully. 🙂

Later we drove back into the town centre and had dinner in a pub, after which we enjoyed a stroll as Boyle began to close down for the evening. And so did we!

On a Clear Night You Can See the Northern Lights

Sunday, 21 September 2003
Glencolmcille, Co. Donegal – Malin, Co. Donegal

As always, we were up early. Carrying luggage out to the car, I passed the landlady in the hall, and she said “You’re up early!” rather disapprovingly, which made me laugh.

On our way north, we stopped in Ardara, which is, the D-K Guide Book says, “… the weaving capital of Donegal and it has a proliferation of shops selling locally made tweeds and hand-knitted sweaters.” I’d wanted to buy a Donegal sweater for Jesse, and it was here that I did so (I’d purchased an Aran sweater for myself earlier in the trip).

We were headed, ultimately, for the Inishowen Peninsula, still in Donegal, where we were to stay in the village of Malin, the closest place to Malin Head, which is the most northerly point on the island. But first—the Giant’s Causeway, which is in the north of Ireland. Donegal, of course, is very much in the north of Ireland, but it’s a part of the Republic. The Giant’s Causeway is in Northern Ireland, and we were going to drive through two of the six Irish counties over which Great Britain claims sovereignty.

Taken outside Letterkenny on the way to Derry. This is Lough Swilly—really a sea inlet.

Taken outside Letterkenny on the way to Derry. This is Lough Swilly—really a sea inlet.

Everything changes in the North … Most importantly, we could not use our cash there, as England has yet to accept the euro (don’t get me started!). We passed through Derry (Londonderry on your map, though no Irishman would call it thus), and then Coleraine, taking main highways, rather than scenic ones, so as not to linger.

Once we got to the site, we had to pay to get into the parking lot (a common—and to my mind, convenient—way that entrance fees are handled on the island): five pounds. We didn’t have pounds, of course; the attendant, when pressed, would take euro, but the price increased by about one-third, to 10 euro. This was the first of several minor annoyances, all related to the pound-versus-euro issue, which soon had Gerry growling crossly, “Get me back to the Republic!”—after all, we were still on the island of Ireland, and many of the tourists here were Irish and/or European. Yet the venue still holds strictly to its pounds sterling policy.

It had been raining—not heavily—off and on all day. When we got out of the car, it was raining and cold, so we put our coats on and headed off to the unusual geologic formation known as the Giant’s Causeway. The official guidebook says, “It is composed of thousands of strangely symmetrical basalt columns which jut out of the sea” on the northern shore of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. “… The Causeway is a product of the volcanic activity which altered the face of Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Greenland many millions of years ago.” Most of the columns are hexagonal, and are about twelve inches across; it is a purely weird sight, I tell you.

It’s tricky walking. Here I was picking my way down to the water’s edge.

It’s tricky walking. Here I was picking my way down to the water’s edge.

It was very wet and misty, as you can see.

It was very wet and misty, as you can see. Click to enlarge.

Pretty astonishing! Giant’s Causeway, 2003.

Pretty astonishing! Giant’s Causeway, 2003.

The name Giant’s Causeway comes from an old Irish legend about a giant, Finn MacCool, who laid the causeway to provide a path across the sea to his girlfriend, who lived on the island of Staffa in Scotland—and, in fact, similar basalt columns are found there. I tried to research Finn MacCool online, and it seems that the character has basis in fact: “Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhail) is a semimythical character said to have been the greatest leader of the Fianna, the military elite of ancient Ireland responsible for guarding the High King. The Fianna were founded in 300 BC by the High King Fiachadh (fee-a-kuh). Until Finn MacCool implemented a code of honor among them, the Fianna were an unruly band. Finn challenged the Fianna to become champions of the people and to make of themselves models of chivalry and justice. Some argue that the tales of the Fianna are the basis of the legends of the Knights of the Round Table.” (The website I took this information from is no longer found, sadly.)

At the top of the path, Gerry stopped. It was a long, loooong walk, all downhill, disappearing around a bend at the bottom of the cliffs. “Are you sure you want to climb back up?” he asked me. But yes, I did want to see the Giant’s Causeway, and on our way down we were passed by shuttle buses, and were thus comforted that there was, in fact, a way back up.

I definitely thought it was worth it.

I definitely thought it was worth it.

The sight was worth it, although it was swarming with people, one of the busiest places we’d been on the trip. I took lots of pictures, and, when we were ready, lined up with others for the shuttle bus … but when it arrived, I learned that my money wouldn’t work. The trip was just 60 pence, a pittance, but no euro were accepted. Dagnabbit! The official Giant’s Causeway Web site says that they get over 500,000 visitors a year—and I find it astounding that the euro is not welcome there.

I’m calling for a boycott! 🙂

So guess what—I saw the Giant’s Causeway, and unlike the thousands of tourists who see it annually, I walked all the way down, and all the way back up. (Yes, it took me some time to quit panting, and Gerry did laugh at me—he also carried my very heavy camera—but I don’t care because I did it.) My only disappointment is that they don’t sell T-shirts that proclaim “I saw the Giant’s Causeway on foot”—purchasable in the gift shop for 20 pounds sterling, of course (or with Visa, the international currency)!

After that adventure, we high-tailed it back to the Republic, backtracking over the route we’d recently come. Our destination: the Inishowen Peninsula, ancestral home of the O’Doherty clan, and the eastern-most part of County Donegal. Once again a distinctly different terrain, Inishowen is the largest peninsula in the north (twenty-six miles in length, and at its widest twenty-six miles too), and is surrounded by the sea on three sides.

On the Inishowen Peninsula, 2003.

On the Inishowen Peninsula, 2003.

There’s no good way to get to Inishowen, really, without driving through Northern Ireland (which has, by the way, a very distinctive accent, as does each region in Ireland). Today one barely registers the change in country—there’s no elaborate border crossing, which might surprise some of you—but I suspect that some years ago that was not the case, given its proximity to Derry, which has been at times a hotbed of sectarian infighting.

Inishowen Peninsula, 2003. Spectacular view from that house, no?

Inishowen Peninsula, 2003. Spectacular view from that house, no?

We were going to Malin, which is just seven miles from Malin Head, the most northerly point of the island of Ireland. Malin is a seventeenth-century plantation village (like the Israelis who persist in building towns in territory not truly their own in the hopes of taking it over through sheer numbers, the English “planted” thousands of their countrymen in Ireland—and they very nearly did succeed in taking it over). An interesting feature of the approach to the town is the bridge with its ten arches spanning Trawbreaga Bay, upon which the village sits. It is the second largest stone bridge in Ireland!

Ten arches, built in 1758: the bridge at Malin, 2003.

Ten arches, built in 1758: the bridge at Malin, 2003.

The original triangular village green is still intact, planted with limes, sycamore and cherries, and recently with oaks to commemorate the O’Doherty clan. We were booked into the Malin Hotel, which sits right on that delightful village green. There’s only ten rooms in the hotel (I just looked that up!), but when we arrived there, the bar and restaurants (there were at least two) were packed with locals enjoying their Sunday lunch (kinda like the Cracker Barrel in Murfreesboro at noon on a Sunday).

I loved this place!

I loved this place!

The Malin Hotel was definitely my favorite hostelry on the entire trip—everything matched (without looking like it’d had the heavy hand of an interior designer), and on every wall there were beautiful works of art by contemporary Irish artists. I’d been searching during the whole trip for a nice print to splurge on, but all I’d seen in the gift shops on “the tourist trail” was this stuff by a Philip Gray, Ireland’s answer to Thomas Kinkade—very over-the-top, idealized and saccharine, and they weren’t even good-quality prints. Finally, here in this tiny hotel was a veritable treasure trove of exactly what I was looking for! After a few enquiries, I learned that the owners bought most of their pieces in Belfast (pronounce this, please, with the accent on the second syllable: “bell-FAST”), and we weren’t going there.

There is a happy ending to this story, but you’ll have to wait for it. 🙂

Now here we were in a lovely hotel on a Sunday afternoon, just in time for the football match—Manchester United versus Arsenal—so you can imagine what happened next: I left Gerry ensconced in the bar watching the game, while I went off in search of Malin Head, snapping photos all the way. Although it was overcast, the sun was breaking through in spots and it had stopped raining—a beautiful day after all! And Malin Head was inspiring.

On the road to Malin Head, 2003.

On the road to Malin Head, 2003.

Getting closer. See the road?

Getting closer. See the road? Don’t forget, you can click on any photo to enlarge it.

And then, there it was.

And then, there it was: the North Sea.

This was what it looked like everywhere. The flora of Malin Head, closeup.

This was what it looked like everywhere. The flora of Malin Head, closeup.

After that, I went in search of a seventh-century cross in the neighboring town of Carndonough, but I never did find it. (There’s a happy ending to this story too.)

By the time I returned to the hotel, the game was just ending (for those of you who follow soccer, this was the game during which there was so much unsportsmanlike conduct that two of Arsenal’s players have just been suspended for three and four games respectively, and four others fined; the events of this match were discussed on radio and television for the rest of my stay in the country), and it was dinnertime. We ate in the bar, which was still packed with local residents (for once I believe I might have been the only American on the premises!). The accents on Inishowen are very much a Northern Ireland accent, which is very thick and Scottish-sounding when they are speaking English; many in that bar, though, were speaking Irish. Most of the time I could barely understand what was being said.

Later we watched a documentary television show on the Celts, which raised interesting questions regarding how they came to give their language and craft to Ireland, how that culture came to dominate the landscape, although there were certainly plenty of other influences. The program basically asked why we automatically think Celtic when we think Ireland. And the whole thing was in Irish (Gaelic), with English subtitles. There’s a treat for you.

OK, OK, that’s enough for one day! But before I go, I have to leave you with the following, which I found whilst trying to locate a succinct explanation of the origins of the Gaelic language, a language that, written, looks absolutely nothing like what it sounds like (example: would you have guessed that the word taoiseach—meaning prime minister, as in “Bernie Ahern, at forty-five, is the youngest Taoiseach Ireland has had”—would be pronounced TEE-shock? Neither would I).

I found nothing succinct, but I did find this, entitled “What is a Celt and who are the Glasgow Celtics?” which made me laugh out loud:

The people who made up the various tribes of concern were called ‘Galli’ by the Romans and ‘Galatai’ or ‘Keltoi’ by the Greeks, terms meaning barbarian. It is from the Greek ‘Keltoi’ that Celt is derived. Since no soft ‘c’ exists in Greek, Celt and Celtic and all permutations should be pronounced with a hard ‘k’ sound. It is interesting to note that when the British Empire was distinguishing itself as better and separate from the rest of humanity, it was decided that British Latin should have different pronunciation from other spoken Latin. Therefore, one of these distinguishing pronunciational differences was to make many of the previously hard ‘k’ sounds move to a soft ‘s’ sound, hence the Glasgow and Boston Celtics. It is the view of many today that this soft ‘c’ pronunciation should be reserved for sports teams since there is obviously nothing to link them with the original noble savagery and furor associated with the Celts.

Tomorrow: the tale of the stealth sheep, mentioned earlier and for which I know you have been waiting with ’bated breath!

The Wild, Wild West … of Ireland!

Saturday, 20 September 2003
Dooagh, Achill Island, Co. Mayo – Glencolmcille, Co. Donegal

That glass dining room was everything I’d hoped it would be! The view of the early morning sun on the Atlantic Ocean was just spectacular. Achill Island is another place to which I’d really love to return.

The view from our B&B. I think I could get used to that.

The view from our B&B. I think I could get used to that.

Loved that glassed-in dining room!

Loved that glassed-in dining room!

We backtracked off the island, and passed from County Mayo into County Sligo. Again, there was a change of scenery, a change of terrain, albeit subtle, in Sligo. It was a bit softer, a bit gentler than Mayo.

On the road to Sligo town, 2003.

On the road to Sligo town, 2003.

We were headed north to County Donegal, through Castlebar, Tobercurry, and Sligo town. This area is Yeats country, and we stopped at the country church in Drumcliffe where he is buried, because I am a big Yeats fan. William Butler Yeats became the first Irishman to win the Nobel Prize in literature, in 1923, and his poetry is infused with the musical lilt and rhythm one can hear in the Irish accent.

From the cemetery at St. Columba’s Church in Drumcliffe, 2003.

From the cemetery at St. Columba’s Church in Drumcliffe, 2003. I love the colors in this photograph.

Oh, I love them all, the poems of Yeats, and have since the day I stumbled on “When You are Old” when I was nineteen (“But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, And loved the sorrows of your changing face …”). Now that I am older, I am less affected by the romantic poems; Yeats was also a realist in his later years. Some of you may have studied another of my favorites in high school, as I did:

THE SECOND COMING
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats died in France and was quietly buried there in 1939. In 1948 he was re-interred in Ireland, per his request.

Yeats died in France and was quietly buried there in 1939. In 1948 he was re-interred in Ireland, per his request.

The church site at DrumcliffeSt. Columba’s Church of Ireland, at which Yeats’s paternal grandfather was rector—has religious associations going back to the sixth century and the Battle of the Books involving St. Columba, or Colm Cille (read more about it, it’s really interesting—probably the first copyright infringement case) which happened on the site, although the church there now was built in 1809. Evidence of this older Christian settlement remains, though, in the form of a magnificent high cross and the remains of a round tower.

This high cross, once a fixture of the monastery established at Drumcliffe by St. Colmcille in the sixth century. The cross dates from the ninth century. 2003.

This high cross, once a fixture of the monastery established at Drumcliffe by St. Colmcille in the sixth century. The cross dates from the ninth century. 2003.

This is the other side of the ninth-century high cross at Drumcliffe. Still so much detail in this 1200-year-old cross!

This is the other side of the ninth-century high cross at Drumcliffe. Still so much detail in this 1200-year-old cross!

This round tower, also a remnant of the monastery once located here, dates from the tenth or eleventh century.

This round tower, also a remnant of the monastery once located here, dates from the tenth or eleventh century.

A sign near the church says:

Drumcliffe Monastery

This monastery, which is now divided in two by the main road, was founded by St. Colmcille about 574 on land donated to him by a local king. Later coarbs of the monastery (guardians who were responsible for administration) were often members of Colmcille’s family, the Cenél Conaill. In 1267 the monastery suffered extensive fire damage.

The 10th or 11th century Round Tower, which was struck by lightning in 1396, originally had a doorway high above ground level and facing eastwards, probably towards the doorway of the monastery’s principal church.

The High Cross, which dates from about the 9th century, has on its east face carvings of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Daniel in the Lion’s Den and Christ in Glory, and on its west face a Crucifixion and other unidentified images. There is also extensive interlacing and animal ornament. These crosses were used to illustrate stories from the Bible to a mostly illiterate congration.

Back on the road, we had mountains (Ben Bulben, made famous in Yeats’s—and others’—poetry) on our right, and Donegal Bay on our left, and were constantly climbing upward, into harsher land again. Interestingly, we saw two more weddings, making that four in two days!

A view of Ben Bulben, the massive table mountain, near Drumcliffe, 2003.

A view of Ben Bulben, the massive table mountain, near Drumcliffe, 2003.

Just after entering County Donegal, we found a lay-by with a fantastic view from tall cliffs overlooking crashing waves below. The sun was shining and the wind was whipping our hair and clothes and the day was so perfect, I just had to call Jesse. It was 9:00 a.m. in Cookeville, Tennessee, and a sleepy college boy was unimpressed that his mother was calling him from a cliff on the edge of the world! 🙂

A view of the sea from Glencolmcille, 2003.

A view of the sea from Glencolmcille, 2003.

We were headed to Glencolmcille (promounced GLIN-collum-KILL), which truly is on the edge of the world, and after we reached Donegal town, we left the N15 and headed west on the N56. After we passed Dunkineely we left even that small highway to travel a narrow, twisting lane (the R263) within constant sight of the sea.

Near Dunkineely.

Near Dunkineely.

Can you see the Bens in the distance? This is looking back south, the way we’ve come.

Can you see the Bens in the distance? This is looking back south, the way we’ve come.

Another mile or two and we were in Killybegs (are these place names great, or what!), a fishing village situated on a natural deepwater harbor, Fintra Bay.

Coming into Killybegs. See the horse?

Coming into Killybegs. See the horse? Don’t forget you can click on photos to enlarge them.

The little beach at Fintra Bay.

The little beach at Fintra Bay, Co. Donegal, 2003.

Water is everywhere and the area is known for fantastic sport fishing. See the fisherman here?

Water is everywhere and the area is known for fantastic sport fishing. See the fisherman here?

And, at last, Glencolmcille.

St. Columba’s Church, Glencolmcille, 2003.

St. Columba’s Church, Glencolmcille, 2003.

The village is named, of course, for Colm Cille, one of the three patron saints of Ireland (the other two being Brigid and Patrick), mostly known by the more familiar, Latin-ized name of Columba. Born in north Donegal in AD 521 to a royal family, his name translates to “dove of the church” (cille being Gaelic for church), though how the church fathers knew, when they named him as a monk, that he would become one of the greatest evangelists ever is a mystery to me. I’ve read a lot about Colm Cille, now, researching items for this travelogue, and I think that the reason he is so beloved is that he was so human, so full of human failings (read the story of the Battle of the Books and you’ll see what I mean). He left behind not only a legacy of service to Christ, but some lovely poetry as well.

After eight days on the road, we’d decided to splurge on a hotel—and what a hotel it was, perched on a bluff with an ocean view and sheep grazing in the yard. The hotel—truly out in the middle of nowhere—was flying three flags out front: the Irish tri-color, the blue-and-yellow European Union flag, and, not surprisingly, the Stars-and-Stripes. After we checked in—and made a reservation for dinner in the hotel’s dining room—we got back in the car to go find the church of Colm Cille.

We’d asked about it in the hotel. They thought we meant the church pictured above.

Sun shining on the North Atlantic.

Sun shining on the North Atlantic.

Oh, silly me! I’d read about it, of course: “Just north of the valley’s main village of Cashel,” D-K’s wonderful Travel Guide says, “on the way to Glen Head, there is a tiny church where St. Columba worshiped. It is said that between prayers the saint slept on the two stone slabs still visible in one corner.” What I’d failed to register was an earlier sentence: “The ‘Glen of St. Colmcille’ is a popular place of pilgrimage …”

They weren’t kidding about the pilgrimage part. It started easily enough, following the brown signs from the village. We even found a “turas” stone (one of the stations on the pilgrimage) along the way.

A turas stone, making a station on the pilgrimage.

A turas stone, making a station on the pilgrimage.

Finally we found ourselves on a (scary, I don’t mind saying it) one-lane track, roughly paved, climbing higher and higher, which dead-ended at a gravel trail that headed up the final bit of mountain at—I’m not kidding—a 45-degree angle.

You can see our little grey car parked down there.

You can see our little grey car parked down there.

There was even a brown sign right there, pointing up!

GLENcolmcilleHILL

The brown sign! We had to be in the right place!

So we parked, and started walking, thinking silly thoughts, like “It’s probably just right around that bend.” Well, no. We got about a hundred yards up—again, climbing at an angle that encouraged one to put one’s hands on the rocks in front of one—and realized that there was probably about another hour’s worth of hiking, straight up. It was nearly 5pm, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be picking my way back down the mountain at dusk, so we gave it up, to my great disappointment.

Taken while we were still on the path, looking back toward the village. The hotel is across the water.

Taken while we were still on the path, looking back toward the village. The hotel is across the water.

When I return to Ireland—and I will someday!—I want to climb that mountain in the early morning, when my energy level is at its highest.

So we drove back to town, consoling ourselves with some of that marvelous Irish ice cream, and then back to the hotel, since they’d evidently rolled the town’s sidewalks up whilst we were out traipsing around on Colm Cille’s mountain.

The hotel was very nice—I would definitely recommend it. (Update: It’s closed—but up for sale.) The building was antique, to my eyes, probably 1920s or so, but well cared for. It had lots of character and was attractively decorated. However, we felt it was a bit pretentious—for example, the restaurant was good, but very pricey, particularly in comparison to other meals we’d had. I think the hotel fancies itself as an oasis of civilization in a wild land—and it wouldn’t be wrong about that—but still …

We did get quite a kick out of what we’d begun to call the Bathroom Sweepstakes (and more specifically, the shower sweepstakes: electric or not, and how the heck does this one work?). The bathtub at the Glencolumcille Hotel was actually larger than the entire bathroom at the B&B on Achill Island.