Forward Planning for the Renaissance

Gerry has been sending me little items he comes across for months now, because—yes!—I have another trip planned. Flights are booked! Hotels are booked!

And one thing you’ve got to do on a trip is eat. The experience can be a little catch-as-catch-can when you’re in a place you don’t know well, but I’ve been eating in Ireland for years. Kids, the food is good. I’ve been talking about the Irish restaurant renaissance for some time now. Patrick Comerford’s been talking about it ’way longer than that; I always check to see what he’s got to say about restaurants.)

But I was delighted to see the New York Times has finally caught on, saying visitors to Dublin will find a “restaurant renaissance.” I loved watching this video, seeing places I’ve been to, hearing accents that are so familiar to me. And while Gerry felt vindicated when one of those interviewed said, “No great conversation ever started over a salad,” I just laughed. 🙂

There are three restaurants featured:

Brother Hubbard Café 
Forest Avenue Restaurant
The Green Hen

I’m working on a post with mini reviews of all the places I like here at home—chain restaurants (national and regional) as well as locally owned, though I usually prefer the latter. One of the interviewed restauranteurs in this piece mentions his small café is “an antidote to the big chains,” and that’s exactly the sort of place I’m interested in. Local. It’s as good a recommendation as you’ll get when you’re traveling.

The video doesn’t stop there. There are three venues* featuring drink too:

Guinness Storehouse
Fallon & Byrne Specialty Food Shop
Against the Grain Craft Brewhouse

I have so far resisted seeing the Guinness Storehouse but will admit to a longing to see Dublin from up high—the Gravity Bar on the seventh floor. (The only other rooftop venue in Dublin that I am aware of is at the Marker Hotel in the Docklands area.)

I’m starting to get that pre-trip anticipatory excitement: my trip—to attend a niece’s wedding—is just two and a half months away. I’ve listed these places on my itinerary-in-progress as places we might try. If you’re planning to be in Dublin soon—and I think some of you are—watch the video, follow the links, and see if you get your anticipation buzz on too! 🙂

NOTE: I’ve written a little bit about eating and drinking in Ireland already. Click here.

*And sandwiched between them, features on the National Museum of Ireland and Christ Church Cathedral.

 

When In These Fresh Mornings I Go Into My Garden …

Star magnolia bloom in my backyard, March 2015.

Star magnolia bloom in my backyard, March 2015.

When in these fresh mornings I go into my garden before anyone is awake, I go for the time being into perfect happiness. In this hour divinely fresh and still, the fair face of every flower salutes me with a silent joy that fills me with infinite content; each gives me its color, its grace, its perfume, and enriches me with the consummation of its beauty.
—Celia Thaxter (1835–1894), from An Island Garden

Thaxter was a writer of poetry and stories—one of America’s favorite authors in the late nineteenth century. The daughter of a lighthouse keeper, she lived much of her life on islands off Maine and New Hampshire, including Appledore Island, where the Shoals Marine Laboratory offers tours of Thaxter’s island garden. You should definitely read more about her.

Patrick’s Day: A Reminder

St. Patrick’s Day will soon be upon us, and though I have written about this before, I feel it’s incumbent upon me to remind you (as was posted in the Dublin Airport last year):

March 17 is Saint Patrick’s Day,
St Patrick’s Day, Patrick’s Day,
St Paddy’s Day, or Paddy’s Day.

IT IS NOT

St Patty’s Day or Patty’s Day.
Not this year. Not last year. Not ever.

            Please also be reminded that when you belly up to the bar, you should not order an Irish Car Bomb or a Black and Tan. These refer to horrible moments in Irish history. People died, y’all. My Irish friends don’t find these drink names amusing, and you shouldn’t either. ’Nuff said.

#paddynotpatty

Clonmacnois 2003.

Clonmacnois 2003.

No Green Beer—And No Black and Tans, Either*

Back in March 2012 just ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, the shoe giant Nike launched two new beer-themed shoes. (Because, you know, beer is what I think of when I think of tennis shoes. Seriously. Makes perfect sense.) One of the shoes was called “The Guinness” (it was black with a brown swoosh).

The other was called “The Black and Tan.”

Oh sure, we Americans know this as a drink—a blend of a pale ale and a dark beer, usually Guinness. But in Ireland that drink is known as a half and half. That’s because the phrase black and tan has a different connotation in Ireland.

The Black and Tans—so called due to the mismatched color of their uniforms, hurriedly thrown together from the tan pants of leftover army uniforms and black shirts from police uniforms—were a paramilitary group brought in by the British to suppress the revolution in Ireland in 1920–1921. Most were hardened World War I veterans; many were thugs. They became infamous for their brutality—burning villages to the ground, for example, and murdering civilians, particularly Catholics.

It was not that long ago, and the Irish remember.

The Black and Tans were notorious, they were hated, and the name itself remains a pejorative, in Ireland, for the British. (It should be noted the unrestrained violence of the Black and Tans alienated public opinion in Great Britain, too, all the way up to the king.)

And none of this is a secret.

For Nike to name an expensive shoe the Black and Tan shows a level of insensitivity that’s hard for me to fathom. One critic said it was comparable to call the shoe the al-Qaeda. What were they thinking? No one all along the line of approvals gave a thought to google the phrase? This sort of search is standard operating procedure when naming a new product. We have the technology, folks.

The company subsequently apologized. But it is no stranger to controversy—just google Nike + sweatshop or +child labor or +Beatles or +Chinese dragon and you’ll see what I mean. It was forced to remove a T-shirt line that featured double entendres for drug use. This makes me wonder if it’s all carefully calculated. Nike sales grew steadily through 2011 and 2012. Is it true there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

* Similarly, don’t order an Irish Car Bomb on St. Patrick’s Day (or any time, really). Imagine naming a drink—say, a Bloody Mary with 2 stalks of celery—a “Nine-Eleven.” Car bombs happened to real people, they were acts of terrorism, and any way you look at it, it’s a slur. Green beer is bad enough.

This post ran on my other blog back in 2012.

Sheep May Safely Graze and Pasture* (The Kissing Gate)

I’ve learned a lot of (ahem) interesting words and concepts hanging out, as I do, with Irish folk, and one of the most delightful of these is the kissing gate. (I just report these things, kids.)

I should hasten to point out this is not a uniquely Irish concept; there are kissing gates all over the British Isles. As it happens, many of the interesting things to see in this part of the world are out in the middle of nowhere, sitting on private farmland. The public has a right to access these historic sites, though, so there’s a little dichotomy between tourists and farmers, who want to keep their livestock in while allowing free access to people who’ve come to see the [stone circle, crumbling castle, altar tomb, you name it]. Farmers also prefer to keep hikers from either climbing (and potentially damaging) the fence or opening the gate (and possibly not shutting it properly).

Kissing gate photo borrowed from This fencing company's website.

Kissing gate photo borrowed from this fencing company’s website. See how it swings back and forth?

Enter the aforementioned kissing gate. Essentially a hinged gate with the swinging edge enclosed by a curved fence that it cannot be free of, it only allows one person at a time to pass through. The first kissing gate I saw was at Glendalough, with a line of tourists on either side, waiting. (It’s gone now, though.)

In theory, a kissing gate is too complicated for livestock. But there is a very large sheep in County Donegal that might well have learned to negotiate one.

This is a true story. We were driving back from the Inishowen Peninsula and took a wrong turn. (That’s how it always starts, no?) Getting back to the main road we stumbled across one of those brown markers—OMG, it’s a stone circle, just two kilometers!—and followed the twists and turns until finally the road just ended.

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 … ha. 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.

The lane 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, who hovered, concerned, near the gate on the other side. (Yes, I have photographs.) The Outside Sheep looked at us warily as we approached, then skittered away as we got closer. Beside the larger farm gate was a kissing gate. Aha.

Our Stealth Sheep, in front of the kissing gate.

Our Stealth Sheep, in front of the kissing gate.

We passed through, one at a time, and the minute we did, our buddy the Outside Sheep moved right back to the gate and continued to cry to be let in. Once we were in the field, the herd moved off, and we proceeded to do our Sound of Music reenaction. The view from the top of that hill was incredible, and the stone circle was huge. I took several photographs, and we just enjoyed the view for awhile, before we picked our way back across the field (very carefully) to the kissing gate and the Outside Sheep.

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 audibly distraught, at the top of the hill and started the (blessedly downhill) hike back to the car. About halfway down—we were deciding that we’d about had enough of climbing hills—we were startled to hear an indignant—and very loud—BAAAaaa! That sheep was tiptoeing down the hill right behind us, so close I could have touched it. The Irishman and I both jumped a foot straight up and, in the process, lost ten years off our lifetimes. Then we laughed until we were hysterical. Oh, good times, good times. (You had to be there, I think.)

But how, my friends, did that stinkin’ sheep get out? It puzzles me to this day.

As does the origin of the name for a kissing gate. There are two schools of thought. Romantics claim that in simpler times, a gentleman would pass through the gate to hold it for his lady—but would demand a kiss from her before he’d let her pass. The unromantic point out that when closed together, the pair of gates touch, or kiss; it’s an engineering term, they say. Neither explanation makes perfect sense to me, but if I must err, let it be on the side of romance.

* One of J. S. Bach’s rare secular pieces, “Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd,” BWV 208 (The Hunting Cantata), contains this beautiful aria, the fourth: “Sheep May Safely Graze.”

This Is Your History, Murfreesboro!

Why is it that so many wedding expos happen in the early months? Perhaps it’s that once the holidays are past, brides-to-be are ready to start planning? I don’t know. But Oaklands Mansion—our local house museum—inaugurated an early-spring wedding dress exhibit four years ago, and it’s become very popular. My friend Jenny and I made a date to see the 2015 show the first week of March.

I love Oaklands Mansion. Murfreesboro is a historic town, but Oaklands takes you straight back to our earliest history. Revolutionary War hero Hardy Murfree—a North Carolinian—was granted land in Tennessee as a result of his service, and, in fact, Murfreesboro (originally Cannonsburgh) is named for him, though he never actually lived here. Upon his death in 1809, the Tennessee holdings appear to have been divided among his five children. The youngest, Sally (b. 1793), inherited 274 acres in Rutherford County. That’s where the Oaklands story starts.

I should have said, probably, upon the probation of the will Sally inherited. That would make it 1813—she was twenty years old, and the year before had married James Maney, a medical doctor. Their first child was born in 1813. Two years later they began construction on a two-room brick house on the site in newly renamed Murfreesboro; that brick house is still there, enclosed in the many additions that came later. The first of those was a large, Federal-style two-story addition on one end of the brick house in 1820. The family grew (ultimately there were eight Maney children), the plantation—farmed by slaves—prospered. Another addition to the home was built in 1830—fifteen years after the original two-room home was erected.

When Sally died in 1857 (she would have been around sixty-four, her husband around sixty-seven), Dr. Maney retired from practice and his oldest living child, Lewis, took over the plantation. Lewis had married Rachel Adaline Cannon—daughter of the governor of Tennessee—in 1846, when he was twenty-three year old. Adaline and Lewis resided at Oaklands, and for the next three years, they made extensive renovations to the mansion, creating a showplace befitting their social status.

When they were done, the house looked like this. The previous three structures are behind this one.

When they were done, the house looked like this. The previous three structures are behind this one.

The driveway ran all the way to Main Street; now it’s called Maney Avenue.

The driveway ran all the way to Main Street; now it’s called Maney Avenue.

The war, of course, put a stop to the high living. When the Yankees occupied Murfreesboro, they took over Oaklands; the army camped on the plantation. The end of slavery brought economic hardship, and by the time Dr. Maney died in 1872, the family was selling off land in Mississippi and at Oaklands to make ends meet. Lewis died ten years later, and shortly thereafter his widow sold the house. There more history, of course, at the Oaklands website and in this article, but it was the Murfrees and Maneys who gave us the estate that we can visit today.

I don’t want to romanticize, of course. The period of time in which this house came to be is not a proud moment for the South. But these people simply lived in those times, lived the lives they were born to. Even with money, they weren’t easy lives. When you walk through the house, you can see that.

But it’s lovely, Oaklands.

 Imagine sitting on this porch.

Imagine sitting on this porch.

I always take out-of-town guests to see it.

But Jenny and I were here to see the wedding dresses. (You can see a nice interview about the exhibit here.)

The room was arranged chronologically. The oldest dresses are on the left in this photo.

The room was arranged chronologically. The oldest dresses are on the left in this photo.

Taking in the room. The newest dress, from 2014, is in the foreground here.

Taking in the room. The newest dress, from 2014, is in the foreground here.

The exhibit is new every year, as many dresses are offered for display. The folks at Oakland take a little oral history, so there is something of interest with each dress.

There’s a little bit of history with each dress.

There’s a little bit of history with each dress.

I really enjoyed seeing the photographs of the young couples.

I really enjoyed seeing the photographs of the young couples.

In addition to the wedding portraits, the headdresses are often displayed.

In addition to the wedding portraits, the headdresses are often displayed.

These are some of the newer dresses.

These are some of the newer dresses.

I was delighted to run into my friend Connor Moss, who is a docent at the museum. And since the price of our admission included a tour of the house, we jumped at the opportunity for a personal tour.

In the main downstairs hall (that’s the front door in the background).

In the main downstairs hall (that’s the front door in the background).

The grand staircase was a part of the final Italianate addition.

The grand staircase was a part of the final Italianate addition.

So we got a wedding dress exhibit and a leisurely tour of the house!

So we got a wedding dress exhibit and a leisurely tour of the house!

And then we went down the street a few blocks to the Kleer-Vu Lunchroom, another iconic Murfreesboro establishment.

And then we went down the street a few blocks to the Kleer-Vu Lunchroom, another iconic Murfreesboro establishment.

Had a great time! And I think I will make the wedding dress exhibit an annual date. As the docent says in the video linked above, these dresses were worn by our neighbors! I think it’s a nice way to celebrate Oaklands Mansion’s two-hundreth year.