I Like Having a Plan

My experiences on this trip gave me some food for thought:

  • As soon as I got home, I purchased a plug with multiple USB slots to facilitate charging in airports.
  • I also purchased multiple adapters—one each for camera battery, laptop, Kindle, and CPAP. No one has to share.
  • I also gave a lot of thought to the swelling ankles/painful feet problem: I diagnosed the pain (tendonitis) and learned exercises to prevent; discussed it with healthcare professionals; purchased compression socks; and have realized that a full massage is something I need to have within twenty-four hours of landing.

I like having a plan.

I’m ready for the next trip.

I’m ready for the next trip.

I also learned something about overbooking on the airlines. (When you travel alone, as I mostly do, you end up as an observer, a listener, a lot.) Sitting in Nashville waiting for my outbound flight to JFK, the gate announced they were overbooked and looking for three volunteers to step off (before they started bumping people involuntarily). (I’m not sure why they overbook in the first place—perhaps because people don’t always show for a flight they’ve booked?)

Anyway, in this case, the offer to a volunteer was they’d put you on the next flight to NY (although it would land in LaGuardia, not JFK, which was where my next flight would depart), and they would give you a $300 voucher as a thank-you. I’ve done that LGA to JFK thing and know what it involves. You have to retrieve your luggage, schlep it out to the curb, and catch a shuttle (at a cost of $15 last time I checked) to JFK. The shuttles come by every fifteen minutes and it’s a forty-five–minute ride. Then you check your luggage back in and wait for your flight.

Five minutes later the gate attendant asked again, only this time the offer was $400. Five minutes later it was $500. And they got takers. But I’d never been aware of—never listened attentively enough to—the escalating offer. So if you’re so inclined, you gamble on the reward getting more lucrative … or people taking the offer ahead of you.

I had the time to participate—a five-hour layover—but really didn’t want to spend it humping luggage across New York City by myself. Not to mention the fact that something could go wrong—a storm delay here, a traffic jam there—and I sure didn’t want to miss my overnight flight to Dublin. I decided then and there that I’m too old to switch itineraries in the middle of the stream … and let someone else grab that five hundred dollars.

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Flying Is Both a Blessing and a Curse

Sunday, 28 June 2015
We got up extra early and were at the restaurant for breakfast early—6am—and then caught the shuttle at 7am. I was checking a second piece of luggage, so we had to wait in line for that. (They didn’t charge me! Three years ago I had to pay extra to bring a second piece of luggage, but now the American Airlines website proclaims that the second piece is free. When did that change?)

Gerry walked me right up through the security gate and watched me pass through. (sigh) Watched me, in fact, until I rounded the next corner and couldn’t be seen.

It was very, very busy. The lines were long to check in, to go through security, to pass through U.S. Customs. Tourist season, remember. I don’t usually travel during the height of the tourist rush, so I know now I should have allowed more than the recommended two hours (and I was there two and a half hours early). I didn’t have time to do my VAT forms or get anything in the duty-free.

There are no electric plugs in the Dublin Airport, except in one little room that had two plugs (what’s up with that?)—and I’d forgotten to charge up the Kindle the night before (partly because I was using my adapter for other things: CPAP, for example). But all the lines I stood in took so long that they’d started boarding by the time I arrived at my gate.

Honestly, flying is a miserable experience. It used to be exciting and fun, back in the day. Today it felt like the seats had gotten smaller since my arrival—in the last eleven days.

That said, one of the nice things about flying is the view from above. This last view of Ireland always makes me a bit melancholy, though.

That said, one of the nice things about flying is the view from above. This last sight of Ireland always makes me a bit melancholy, though.

And then I got to Chicago. My Kindle and phone were both dead. I needed electricity, stat. JFK was so civilized: every hundred feet or so there was a huge column with a dozen or more outlets. Electricity was easy to find in New York. But Chicago had only one electricity supply area per concourse: little desks with four chairs and four measley outlets, and at first I was just glad to get a seat. Until I realized that the guy next to me was having an argument with his girlfriend while his phone charged. He absolutely did not care that there were three of us sitting there, unable to escape from his verbal posturing and strutting. Oh my goodness, it was painful. He was an idiot.

And then … Nashville. Home.

My friends Jenny and Kevin were waiting to pick me up in mid-afternoon; they’d been visiting Middle Tennessee friends and house-sitting for me.

At the Nashville International Airport: me, Kevin, Jenny.

At the Nashville International Airport: me, Kevin, Jenny.

• • •

That wasn’t the end of the excitement, though. My son and his girlfriend were in the process of moving to Tennessee from Phoenix. The next day, they crossed the state line.

Heading east over the Mississippi River at Memphis. Welcome home!

Heading east over the Mississippi River at Memphis. Welcome home!

I ran to the farmers market to get ready to greet them in the best way I know.

I ran to the farmers market to get ready to greet them in the best way I know.

Supper!

Supper!

It was definitely very good to be home.

Winding It Down …

Saturday, 27 June 2015
I’d been wanting to check out a Dublin farmers market that I’d read about, held on Saturdays (only) in St. Anne’s Park. I’d visited the park a couple times, but never the Red Stables, which have been converted to an art center, and whose grounds host the farmers market.

It was a pretty day and there was a good turnout, and if I lived here, I’d definitely shop at this market. There were lots of tempting foodstuffs.

The farmers market at the Red Stables in St. Anne’s Park, Dublin, June 2015.

The farmers market at the Red Stables in St. Anne’s Park, Dublin, June 2015.

The market was just a stop on our way to Gerry’s house, where I packed a second suitcase of things to travel home with me in anticipation of Gerry’s emigration.

Interestingly, we’d checked out of a Clayton Hotel downtown … and were checking back in to a Clayton Hotel (the former Bewley’s Hotel) at the airport. This is our standard routine: check in to the airport hotel, drop our bags, fill (the gas tank) and then return the car. All the rental car concerns have shuttles that take you to and from the airport, and all the hotels have shuttles that take you to and from the airport—so we went from Hertz to the airport and from there back to the hotel.

This sounds like a lot but it was a matter of minutes. When I was here two years ago, everything around the airport was torn up for construction and it was a nightmare getting around. Signs were missing, lanes were missing, entrances were closed … I’ll never forget the utter humiliation of the shaming number the Budget Car Rental guy did on me during that trip. (“What TOOK you so long?” he said, as if I’d purposely been avoiding him. “You were supposed to follow me!” But we were five miles away on the other side of a complicated freeway interchange, and you took off and didn’t wait, you arrogant little prick, is what I thought, and now wish I’d said. There was no signage. We drove around the airport loop three times. We had to stop and ask how to find you.) It was all I could do not to cry that evening, and we wouldn’t have been there at all if the car hadn’t kept overheating, which was their fault, not mine. (Moral of the story: don’t use Budget in Dublin.)

But all that construction is finished now. It’s all cleaned up. We drove right to where we wanted to be, and my blood pressure remained at a reasonable level. 🙂

So we got settled, and just went down to the dining room for a quick supper at 6pm, which was when it was advertised to open. “Do you have a reservation?” the manager asked. Ummm. There’s no one in the dining room. No, we say. (Really? A dinner reservation? In a hotel specializing in people leaving—an airport hotel? But the staff were running around completely disorganized and crazy. Turns out they were preparing for a tour group to be in for dinner at 7pm. That group took up about a third of the room.) Our service was slow, of course. But the floorshow was interesting.

 

My Third Irish Wedding

Friday, 26 June 2015
An Irish wedding is an all-day affair. The wedding starts around lunchtime and if it’s a church wedding it’ll last at least an hour. Then we all sort of stand outside and chat for a while before heading off to the hotel where we’ll have dinner later. And speeches. And some of us will dance.

In this particular case the wedding was at 1pm in Lusk. We’d driven up here a couple days ago, so we knew exactly where we were going. We weren’t prepared, though, for the madhouse of the church grammar school having just let out, and fifty moms in cars taking all the parking in and around the church. I let Bridie and Gerry out and parked—probably illegally—several blocks away, grumbling the whole way.

At the end of the wedding, the photographer took a picture of the guests from the organ loft.

At the end of the wedding, the photographer took a picture of the guests from the organ loft.

Damian and Ashling (my niece) are a delightful couple. Though they grew up not far from each other, the met in—of all places—Houston, Texas, where they were working on advanced degrees in biomedicine research. They became friends, really good friends, which is, I can tell you, a wonderful foundation for a marriage. They’re both very smart, he is warm and welcoming, and she has a goofy, fun sense of humor.

As has been the case in each of the previous weddings I’ve been to in Ireland, the spouse’s family—and that’s important, too, the family you marry into—has been absolutely lovely. Damian’s family was no exception. Damian’s brothers stood up with him (one, the best man, had just flown in from Australia, where he currently lives and works); Damian’s friends hovered close and seemed to be very friendly with his parents. These little details reveal a lot about the kind of person Damian is, and the kind of people who raised him. Later in the evening, Damian’s father gave a lovely, touching speech.

So that was the wedding. I have many photos, but the wedding couple asked that none be published, via an announcement on the dinner tables. I don’t know if everyone saw this request, but it won’t be me who breaks the embargo.

Here’s the bridal bouquet. Gerry has functioned as videographer at all three weddings, and he needed some nice photos of the flowers. While we were waiting to check in at the hotel, I found them lying on this banquette and took care of that for him. :)

Here’s the bridal bouquet. Gerry has functioned as videographer at all three weddings, and he needed some nice photos of the flowers. While we were waiting to check in at the hotel, I found them lying on this banquette and took care of that for him. 🙂

After the ceremony in Lusk, we went to the Clayton Hotel Ballsbridge (originally Bewley’s). Ballsbridge is a pretty, upscale neighborhood in Dublin. Miss Emily Gp.S. took us right there, though it felt like we were taking the grand tour of Dublin, with a million turns and twists. I wonder, now, if there wasn’t a faster way.

Be sure you take a look at that link above. The building is gorgeous, Victorian era. Someone told me that day it had been a monastery but actually it was a charity school for orphaned girls, run for ninety years by the Freemasons. The school included a library, dormitories, schoolrooms, recreation and dining areas, as well as an assembly hall. That assembly hall is now called Thomas Prior Hall (a much newer name), and is where the wedding dinner was held.

My photos of the hall did not come out very well, so I borrowed this one from the Clayton Hotel website. It’s a lovely room.

My photos of the hall did not come out very well, so I borrowed this one from the Clayton Hotel website. It’s a lovely room.

So we got there, finally, though we were probably the last to arrive.

Anyway, one of the things Americans need to wrap their heads around is the lack of parking, the lack of loading and unloading, even the lack of a clearly delineated entrance to the hotel lobby. Because in an old, historic city (Viking era, for heaven’s sake), with hotels in old, historic buildings, you just don’t always get that. (Besides, it would be tacky, no? All that signage and suchlike would spoil the ambience.)

So we pulled up, and I’m oohing and aahing, but wasn’t sure where to go. Thinking like a Yank, I drove into the parking garage. (Because there will be an elevator, right to the lobby … right? Uh, probably not. But I hadn’t gotten that far yet.) I started to drive down past the ground floor (which had very limited parking), just following along the way one does in a parking lot, and ended up at a one-lane spiral—and the way down was so narrow, so tight, so twisty, that I announced NO WAY and backed back out! Laugh if you want. I consider myself a pretty experienced Dublin driver, all things considered, but I didn’t think I could get into that parking garage without grazing the walls.

And here’s the thing, here’s the lesson for those of you who might find yourself driving in Ireland: there’s nothing wrong with admitting defeat. I just backed out. Slowly. When I was almost out, another car came up behind me, but it was obvious I was backing up, and the driver pulled back to let me out. As we passed, I rolled down my window and apologized for holding her up, but that narrow ramp scared me, I said. I just couldn’t face it, I said. She laughed very sympathetically and commiserated with me. We had a moment. 🙂

I ended up parking by the restaurant entrance.

Then the real adventure began. We found our way into the lobby after a couple of false turns—it was like a maze!—dragging our luggage behind us, then got checked in. And guess what? Third floor, and no a/c here, again. Let me say, again, it wasn’t hot outside. But a small room on an upper floor with no fan to move the air around becomes like an oven.

So let’s not stay in it! We hustled back downstairs to the reserved part of the bar, where we had finger food and champagne. (And where, I have to be honest, it was also hot. I’m very fair and flush easily. You can see this in the photos.) Photos? Yes! I took a ton of photos, trying to get one of me with everyone in my Irish family. Since these aren’t wedding photos—and I’ve left out any of the wedding party—I feel free to show them to you. It’s my family, all dressed up. 🙂

This is William (Gerry’s older brother) and his wife Gwen. She’s gorgeous. They have four children: Neil, Eoin, Clare, and Orla.

This is William (Gerry’s older brother) and his wife Gwen. She’s gorgeous. They have four children: Neil, Eoin, Clare, and Orla.

Eoin, Gerry, Richie (Gerry’s younger brother, father of the bride), William, and Neil.

Eoin, Gerry, Richie (Gerry’s younger brother, father of the bride), William, and Neil.

Neil is William and Gwen’s oldest son. And that’s me of the red face.

Neil is William and Gwen’s oldest son. And that’s me of the red face.

Neil and his wife, Maureen.

Neil and his wife, Maureen.

Eoin is William and Gwen’s second son. Here he is with his wife, Tracy.

Eoin is William and Gwen’s second son. Here he is with his wife, Tracy.

Maureen, Tracy, Clare, and Orla.

Maureen, Tracy, Clare, and Orla.

This is Clare—William and Gwen’s older daughter—and me.

This is Clare—William and Gwen’s older daughter—and me.

Neil did some great photobombs that night. :)

Neil did some great photobombs that night. 🙂

William and Gwen’s youngest, Orla, and me.

William and Gwen’s youngest, Orla, and me.

Conor and Orla.

Conor and Orla.

We spent an hour and a half cutting up with the fam, enjoying the photographing and the chat. I’ve always felt loved and welcomed with Gerry’s family—they’re really lovely people—but this time I felt a part of them. I hesitate to note this, because Gerry and I have been together twelve years—can a simple wedding on the steps of the courthouse have made that much difference? In some ways, I guess, it can.

We went in to dinner, then, and I found myself sitting next to Patrick, whose partner, Grainne (the bride’s twin), was seated at the wedding party table. This was my first time to have more than a laugh and a joke with Patrick—he’s a lot of fun—and I was able to have an actual conversation with him. He has an interesting accent (born South Africa, mother is Irish, lived in England, school in Ireland, living in England now). Food was good (though, as usual, the beef was overcooked).

Between the heat—even with the high ceiling, the room was very warm—and the long day, I was working on a headache the likes of which I haven’t had in years. Splitting. After dinner, of course, there were speeches, and then I told Gerry I needed to go upstairs. Which is when I discovered another truism about Irish weddings: if you take a room at the wedding hotel as a part of the wedding group, you will be given a room much closer to the wedding festivities than you might ordinarily care to have. For Tracy and Eoin’s wedding, our room’s window was open to the courtyard where all the smokers went to talk very loudly at 2am (we heard all sorts of interesting things). At Neil and Maureen’s wedding hotel, our room was at the top of the stairs from the lobby on the second floor (the Irish would call this the first floor); since there was no elevator, every single person staying at the hotel that night had to pass (loudly, sloshed) by our room.

Ashling and Damian’s wedding was no exception, and I have photographic proof: The building you see outside our window in the photo below is Thomas Prior Hall. What you can’t see, at the bottom, is the door, the only door to the outside. Which means it was open (remember, the room was very hot) and people were always standing in it, or on the sidewalk in front of it, trying to cool off. Again, we heard all sorts of interesting things, although one tries not to. 🙂

Our windows are open as far as we could open them, due to the heat. At the bottom of the photo in the center you can see the lights inside Thomas Prior Hall.

Our windows are open as far as we could open them, due to the heat. At the bottom of the photo in the center you can see the lights inside Thomas Prior Hall.

Gerry tells me the music went until 1:30am but I put the Magic Sleep Machine on around 10:30 and went right to sleep, strangely exhausted. Thank goodness.

Another Day, Another Cemetery

Thursday, 25 June 2015
After breakfast I couldn’t resist taking my camera out to the plantings at the entry of the hotel. At an American hotel, the beds would be symmetrical and manicured to within an inch of their lives. Here at the Portmarnock, the gardener has used a more eclectic style, and I like it.

It’s wild and overgrown. Coral bells (heuchera) and grasses and other things I have no idea about. That red, though—it pulls everything together, doesn’t it!

It’s wild and overgrown. Coral bells (heuchera) and grasses and other things I have no idea about. That red, though—it pulls everything together, doesn’t it!

I love the variety of leaf color in this heuchera (coral bells).

I love the variety of leaf color in this heuchera (coral bells).

Allium—a flowering onion.

Allium—a flowering onion.

These little daisy-like flowers don’t even look real, they are so perfect.

These little daisy-like flowers don’t even look real, they are so perfect.

This looks a little like moss rose, but is probably a sedum. I think.

This looks a little like moss rose, but is probably a sedum. I think.

Again … I have no idea.

Again … I have no idea.

We had to drive back into town (more banking business), then drove back via Howth (pronounce this with a long O: HOE-th), which is both a peninsula and a village. As you might imagine by its location, it’s a very well-to-do Dublin suburb.

There are several nice walks along the cliffs, and one of these days … but my feet were still problematic. So we drove. But honestly, the streets are very narrow and confusing. I needed a map! The one thing I hadn’t thought to bring. Ah well.

So we traveled back up the coast past Portmarnock and stopped in at Sonairte, which is the National Ecology Centre, near Laytown. Discover Ireland says,

Sonairte was established in 1986 by members of the local community and concerned environmentalists to promote environmental awareness and education. Sonairte has been certified as an organic food producer with the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association since 1986 and has been teaching organic horticulture and providing courses in various aspects of environmental education ever since. … Their courses aim to provide information, education and practical skills on a range of topics, such as biodiversity, organic gardening and sustainable living. Their approach is holistic, and with small numbers on each course, learner focused.

It’s settled on an eighteenth-century farmland and buildings, including a walled garden (Lots of information at their website here.)

This courtyard is surrounded by outbuildings; I believe what you see on the far right was once the house. There was a school group present when we strolled through.

This courtyard is surrounded by outbuildings; I believe what you see on the far right was once the house. There was a school group present when we strolled through.

A better look at the house.

A better look at the house.

We strolled around the gardens … I took some photos. There was a professional photographer there, too, taking what looked to be high school graduation photos of a couple of teenage girls.

A wall and flowers … simple beauty.

A wall and flowers … simple beauty.

Behind the house was an old orchard with poppies growing between the trees.

Behind the house was an old orchard with poppies growing underneath the trees.

The trees—what do you think? apples? crabapples?—probably dated from the time of the house, which is 1750-ish, according to signage we saw on site.

The trees—what do you think? apples? crabapples?—probably dated from the time of the house, which is 1750-ish, according to signage we saw on site.

I wandered into the gift shop to browse, we admired the windmill, and then we got back in the car and headed to Duleek. I’d read there was a nice pile of rocks there—and indeed, there was.

Duleek began its life as an early Christian monastic settlement, founded by St. Cianán, who was the bishop of Duleek in the fifth century. (All that’s left of Cianán’s church is a wall about a block away.) In the late twelfth century, the Augustinians built a new abbey, St. Mary’s, of which much more remains.

Approach to St. Mary’s.

Approach to St. Mary’s.

At one point, the Church of Ireland built a newer building on the grounds. That building was later turned into a restaurant, as you can see in the photo above. It’s a little … unsettling … but it could have been worse. (They could have painted the building blue, or something.)

The west side of St. Mary’s fifteenth-century tower.

The west side of St. Mary’s fifteenth-century tower.

The tower and this small chapel are all that’s left of what must have been a very large church, here seen from the east.

The tower and this small chapel are all that’s left of what must have been a very large church, here seen from the east.

It’s said the body of Brian Boru, killed in the battle of Clontarf, lay in state here at St. Mary’s in 1014, as it made its way to Armagh for burial. Brian Boru was an Irish high king, founder of the O’Brien dynasty, who unified many regional kings to break the political domination of the Uí Néill family dynasty. Brian Boru is considered a hero in Ireland, and his accomplishments should not be underestimated—though he apparently had a very good publicist (probably a grandson or greatgrandson), whose account of his explots assure his place in Irish history.

Brian Boru would not have rested in this church—it’s too new. But you can see here the “ghost” of the much older (pre-Norman) round tower, against which the newer, fifteenth-century square tower was built. Brian Boru rested in that church.

Brian Boru would not have rested in this church—it’s too new. But you can see here the “ghost” of the much older (pre-Norman) round tower, against which the newer, fifteenth-century square tower was built. Brian Boru rested in that church.

Inside the chapel, with the box tomb.

Inside the chapel, with the box tomb.

Some websites have called this an altar but I believe it is a box tomb. The top lifts off. You’d be someone important, to get a grave like this, above ground. Note the gravestone embedded in the wall at the rear, which lists a dozen or more burials, all from the early 1700s.

Some websites have called this an altar but I believe it is a box tomb. The top lifts off. You’d be someone important, to get a grave like this, above ground. Note the gravestone embedded in the wall at the rear, which lists a dozen or more burials, all from the early 1700s.

There are several ninth-century (according to my research) Celtic crosses in the graveyard, in varying stages of decay. I didn’t catch them all.

All that’s left of this one is the top.

All that’s left of this one is the top.

You can barely see the crucifix on it.

You can barely see the crucifix on it.

Remember that these large churches were laid out in a cruciform design, so what you see left here is only one quarter of what it once was.

I am taking this photo from what was probably the nave.

I am taking this photo from what was probably the nave.

At some point this effigial tomb slab was set on its side to keep it from breaking or being walked upon (as tourists sometimes do). At one time it lay flat on top of a box that contained the remains of James Cusack, bishop of Meath 1679–1688.

At some point this effigial tomb slab was set on its side to keep it from breaking or being walked upon (as tourists sometimes do). At one time it lay flat on top of a box that contained the remains of James Cusack, bishop of Meath 1679–1688.

There was, of course, a lot of interesting gravestone art.

This gravestone was laid in the 1700s (see upper left corner), though it probably stood upright then. This is what I could read: Requiescat in Pace / This stone and burial *** / Belong to Nicholas Walsh / City of Dublin Linne** / Draper and his Family.

This gravestone was laid in the 1700s (see upper left corner), though it probably stood upright then. This is what I could read: Requiescat in Pace / This stone and burial *** / Belong to Nicholas Walsh / City of Dublin Linne** / Draper and his Family.

This one reads: This stone and burial / place belongeth to / Richard Purfield and / his posterity who dep- / this life the 16 of Feb’ry in the year / of Lord 1733. Aged 33 years. The escutcheon is interesting too. Is that a dog? a deer? above the helmet?

This one reads: This stone and burial / place belongeth to / Richard Purfield and / his posterity who dep- / this life the 16 of Feb’ry in the year / of Lord 1733. Aged 33 years. The escutcheon is interesting too. Is that a dog? a deer? above the helmet?

Yet another escutcheon. And underneath: This window was / made by Sir Johne / Bellewe, knight, and / Dame Ismay Nugent.

Yet another escutcheon. And underneath: This window was / made by Sir Johne / Bellewe, knight, and / Dame Ismay Nugent.

I loved the shamrocks on this one—among them the I.H.S. monogram with a cross springing from the cross-bar of the H. It also features a heraldic cross, called a moline cross, which is often associated with the Benedictines.

I loved the shamrocks on this one—among them the I.H.S. monogram with a cross springing from the cross-bar of the H. It also features a heraldic cross, called a moline cross, which is often associated with the Benedictines.

The anchor symbol stands for hope or eternal life; it’s also a Masonic symbol.

The anchor symbol stands for hope or eternal life; it’s also a Masonic symbol.

Even without the dates, I could have told you this was a Victorian-era gravestone: look at that ornate I.H.S.monogram (with shamrocks growing out of it!), and the ivy, which represents friendship.

Even without the dates, I could have told you this was a Victorian-era gravestone: look at that ornate I.H.S.monogram (with shamrocks growing out of it!), and the ivy, which represents friendship.

This one is simple and heartbreaking: a dead lamb atop a cross.

This one is simple and heartbreaking: a dead lamb atop a cross.

The church, tower, and graveyard lie between two well-used streets, and there’s a sidewalk that bisects grounds. While we were there people cut through often: a man in a suit, a woman pushing a baby in a stroller, a couple of teens. You don’t see that too often in American towns, where the graveyard is often a public one, separate from the churchyard.

My eye is always caught by ironwork, this ornate and Victorian.

My eye is always caught by ironwork, this ornate and Victorian.

A closer looks reveal a stylized flower … perhaps an Easter lily (which often symbolizes virginity or, simply, youth) or maybe even a passionflower (symbolizing Christ’s passion).

A closer looks reveal a stylized flower … perhaps an Easter lily (which often symbolizes virginity or, simply, youth) or maybe even a passionflower (symbolizing Christ’s passion).

After the quiet afternoon in Duleek, we made our way back toward the coast and the Strand Road home. It had been overcast all day, and islands and cliffs were shrouded in mist.

Ireland’s Eye and the Howth peninsula.

Ireland’s Eye and the Howth peninsula.

And as chilly as it was, people were still swimming out there!

We could here these teenaged boys shouting and teasing each other all the way from out balcony. (See? Lower right.) If you zoom in you can see two of these boys are in swimsuits with no shirts! Brrrr.

We could hear these teenaged boys shouting and teasing each other all the way from our balcony. (See? Lower right.) If you zoom in you can see two of these boys are in swimsuits with no shirts! Brrrr.

We had a simple dinner in the Seaview Lounge—too cloudy to count airplanes—and then ordered ice cream to take upstairs to our room and those wonderful strawberries, where one of us watched a little television and one of us read. (I was reading Ben Fountain’s brilliant Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.)

Sightseeing … By Ourselves

Wednesday, 24 June 2015
The beds at the Portmarnock, I’m sorry to report, were pretty hard too. A little less hard than the Doubletree—and at least I’d learned how to deal with it (pillows under my knees, which is what my massage therapist does too). But we loved the room, and never got tired of the view from the tiny balcony.

The breakfast is nice, too, and the dining room overlooks the courtyard garden, which is a lovely thing to wake up to.

Courtyard garden from the breakfast room at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, June 2015.

Courtyard garden from our table in the breakfast room at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, June 2015.

We’d scheduled a meeting with our party planner for late morning, so we decided to drive up to Lusk to see where the wedding would be on Friday. It’s always good to know the parking situation and how long it will take to get there, particularly because Gerry would be filming the event.

Our little Volkswagen Polo. I really enjoyed driving this car.

Our little Volkswagen Polo. I really enjoyed driving this car.

As it turns out, it takes about thirty minutes to get to Lusk from here. On the way up and back, I did some serious thinking about things I’ve learned about driving here in Ireland—tips that I can pass on to my American friends who will be coming. (I’ll put it in a separate post.) One thing we discovered: a dead spot where we lose our GPS for about three or four minutes. Eeek—you can cover a lot of ground in that amount of time.

When you start a journey from Portmarnock, you will spend some time driving the Strand Road.

A view of Lambay Island, June 2015.

A view of Lambay Island, June 2015.

Lambay sits three miles off shore and supports one of the largest seabird colonies in Ireland, as well as other wildlife. (In fact, there is a wallaby population!) The island was purchased in 1904 by Cecil Baring, of the banking industry Barings, and is still owned by the Baring family trust. Though it is privately held, you can tour the island with Skerries Sea Tours.

Another view of Strand Road and the sea. Someone lives in that old bit of a castle wall there on the right.

Another view of Strand Road and the sea. Someone lives in that old bit of a castle wall there on the right.

Came back to the hotel to meet with the party-planner—we finalized the meals, saw the room where the party will be, discussed all the details, got our marching orders (things we still had to decide upon). One thing that came out of the meeting: on our invitations we’d scheduled the pre-dinner cocktail party in the Jameson Bar for 5pm, but we are moving it forward to 4:30pm. Reminders have been emailed.

I’d scheduled a treatment in the spa from Dublin, so after our meeting I made my way downstairs to the Oceana Spa for my “foot massage.” I was desperate for some relief from the swelling and pain—and it did help. In all honesty it was more about the goop and the relaxation—in the thirty-minute treatment, only about ten of them were hands-on—but I was impressed by the quality of the massage (and you know I’m picky).

So I returned to the room with a new spring in my step and hope in my heart. 🙂 Poor Gerry had been trying to nap (he’s not a great sleeper, suffering from insomnia quite a bit), but it still wasn’t happening, so we went out for another drive (and found that dead spot again, coming and going).

We decided to find our way to the Monasterboice monastic site—I wanted Gerry to see it. My friend Margaret Lambert and I visited this place in September 2012 and were charmed by it. We’d gone from Brú na Bóinne to Mellifont Abbey to Monasterboice that day—all were part of the same monastic settlement at one time, which we’d heard on the tour at Brú na Bóinne, and thus decided to see, spur-of-the-momentish. Margaret and I arrived at Monasterboice in the very late afternoon, almost dusk, after being very lost; it’s out in the country on a single-lane road.

See that fragment of a tower? That’s Monasterboice in the distance. I recognized it immediately.

See that fragment of a tower? That’s Monasterboice in the distance. I recognized it immediately.

That day in 2012, Margaret and I had the place to ourselves, and we just meandered and talked quietly. It was, I don’t mind saying, magic, and you all know how I am about finding the magic. (Or, I should say, letting it find you.) Today, Gerry Hampson and I did not have the place to ourselves—it’s the tourist season in Ireland, and boy, can you tell—but we strolled around and invoked the name of our dear friend Margaret, who died earlier this year. It was not the first time her name has been mentioned on this trip.

Aha—here’s that round tower! Monasterboice, June 2015.

Aha—here’s that round tower! Monasterboice, June 2015.

In the foreground, much newer gravesites, but you can see remains of the church, the tower, and at the rear, one of the historic crosses.

In the foreground, much newer gravesites, but you can see remains of the church, the tower, and at the rear, one of the historic crosses.

Founded in the late fifth century by St. Buite, Monasterboice (Mainistir Bhuithe—the monastery of Buite) was an early Christian settlement before it was co-opted by the Cistercians.

All that’s left there now is the round tower, a bit of two churches, and the cemetery (the wall that surrounds it is much later—1870s), which has three fifth-century Celtic-era crosses in it. This article has a lot of information and photos of the historic crosses (this has even more); we were not able to get close once that stinkin’ tour bus arrived.

The wall that surrounds it is newer than the site of the graves and church.

The wall that surrounds it is newer than the site of the graves and church.

When you have a fairly finite area, you slow down and start looking at everything. (And one of these days I will see everything at Monasterboice. The first time Margaret and I were stopped by the setting sun; this time Gerry and I were interrupted by a tour bus.) Still, I was fascinated by the gravestone art.

This is the Sacred Heart, of course, which arose in the Middle Ages as a facet of Catholic mysticism. Wikipedia says: "The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by the lance-wound, encircled by the crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding."

This is the Sacred Heart, of course, which arose in the Middle Ages as a facet of Catholic mysticism. Wikipedia says: “The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by the lance-wound, encircled by the crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding.”

Another, more recent representation of the Sacred Heart, surrounded (clockwise) by a lily, ivy, grape leaf, and I have no idea (a daisy?). I believe this is from the Victorian era; they were big on plant symbolism.

Another, more recent representation of the Sacred Heart, surrounded (clockwise) by a lily, ivy, grape leaf, and I have no idea (a daisy?). I believe this is from the Victorian era; they were big on plant symbolism.

While I was researching for this post, I came across several interesting articles for those who might want to know more. This one is about the old crosses; this one from the Irish Times is lovely.

Here’s a stone that’s more than 200 years old: Christy Kirwan died at Brownstown in 1807. At the top a Christogram—IHS—flanked by angels. I’m not sure if the bird below is meant to be a dove; it looks like a sea bird.

Here’s a humble stone that’s more than 200 years old: Christy Kirwan died at Brownstown in 1807. At the top a Christogram—IHS—flanked by angels. I’m not sure if the bird below is meant to be a dove; it looks like a sea bird.

I have no idea about this one: armor, a shield with three crosses, a disembodied hand holding a dagger? The plant … I have no idea. Is it a stylized lily?

I have no idea about this one: armor, a shield with three crosses, a disembodied hand holding a dagger? The plant … I have no idea. Is it a stylized lily?

The North Cross is the plainest of the ancient crosses here, and, in fact, it is in pieces, all of which are enclosed in an iron fence (probably from Victorian times).

This is about all that survives of the North Cross. This is the eastern face (a medallion); the reverse is a simple crucifixion. In its day it was probably painted.

This is about all that survives of the North Cross. This is the eastern face (a medallion); the reverse is a simple crucifixion. In its day it was probably painted.

This old stone was impossible to read, but you can make out Christ on the cross, two tilted angels … and a skull and crossbones. This is a memento mori—a symbolic reminder that we all will die.

This old stone was impossible to read, but you can make out Christ on the cross, two tilted angels … and a skull and crossbones. This is a memento mori—a symbolic reminder that we all will die.

And then … before we were finished … a huge tour bus arrived and vomited out enough tourists to cover every inch of the place. Ambience was ruined. We weren’t done seeing, yet, but it became impossible to get close enough to see or to take photos without a half-dozen people in them. I have a tendency work my way around the edges of things, looking at the things that most people skip in their haste to get to the One Big Thing they are meant to see—the important thing, the oldest thing, or whatever. Which means I didn’t take photos or even get within thirty feet of the other two very old crosses or the churches.

We departed, disappointed.

 On this road, you would not be able to pass by this bus in another car; you would have to pull over and let it pass. I know this because I have driven on this tiny piece of seemingly unnamed road now in both directions. It’s a one-laner.

On this road, you would not be able to pass by this bus in another car; you would have to pull over and let it pass. I know this because I have driven on this tiny piece of seemingly unnamed road now in both directions. It’s a one-laner.

On our way to Monasterboice we’d seen several roadside vendors selling fruit and produce (mostly strawberries). Since strawberry season was long gone in Tennessee, the temptation proved too much for me—we stopped and I bought a couple pints. We’d get cream—or ice cream!—when we got back to Portnarnock.

After we had the strawberries, we hopped on the M1 to get south a little more quickly, and I was delighted to find myself driving over the Mary McAleese (Boyne Valley) Bridge. There was no place to pull over and we were in the middle of rush-hour traffic, so I’ve borrowed a photo from the engineering firm that designed the bridge.

Isn’t it gorgeous? I borrowed this from the website of ROD Consulting Engineers © 2013.

Isn’t it gorgeous? I borrowed this from the website of ROD Consulting Engineers © 2013.

We arrived back at the hotel at a quarter to five and were distracted … er, reminded that we wanted to try afternoon tea at some point while we were here.

Well, you can hardly miss it, there by the front door in between you and the elevator. :)

Well, you can hardly miss it, there by the front door in between you and the elevator. 🙂

Margaret and I, along with the Hampson ladies and my sister and niece, had had a very fancy high tea at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin’s city centre back in 2012—and I was thinking of organizing something like it for our celebration this fall. Then Gerry told me that his nieces had taken their Nana (Bridie) out to the Portmarnock for tea. Oh, reeeeally? I’d said.

But they stop serving afternoon tea in the Seaview Lounge at five o’clock, and now it was ten minutes before the magic hour. We lingered in the doorway, and a young server laughed when we wondered if it was too late. “Of course not!” he said, and seated us by the window. Soon we were presented with two pots of tea (green for Mr. Hampson, black for his wife) and a tiered tray of sandwiches and baked goods. When they brought it out I knew we’d never eat it all (we took a full plate back to the room for later) but we made a valiant attempt.

Afternoon tea in the Seaview Lounge.

Afternoon tea in the Seaview Lounge.

We sat there for fifty minutes, counting planes on their final approach for landing and Dublin International Airport (there were about seventeen or so of them—one every five minutes), and making a list of what to do tomorrow. Comparison to afternoon tea at the Shelbourne in downtown Dublin? A little less pomp and circumstance, but just as delicious and significantly less expensive. And the view of the sea was spectacular. We’ve already reserved a group table for Friday afternoon before our party on Saturday. 🙂

From the City Centre to an Elegant Estate

Tuesday, 23 June 2015
I was awake at 4:20 and it was already light. Guess I was caught up on my sleep. 🙂 Or maybe I was just ready and excited about a change of venue!

We went down to breakfast and reviewed our stay at the Doubletree as we ate.

Things we liked:
• Quiet neighborhood; no traffic, train, or aiplane noise at all.
• Quiet hotel; we never heard loud talking or hijinks in the hall or in the next room.
• Nice location, though it’s not right in the city centre, so you should be prepared to walk a lot.

Things we didn’t like:
• It was a hotbox in June; but this probably isn’t a problem at all from September to May.
• Fridge smelled like someone pooped in it.
• Height of bathroom counter! It was clearly built for giants, as it hit me in mid-torso; to brush my teeth, to reach the sink with my mouth, I had to lay across the counter, and even so, my chin barely reached the sink.
• Bed was hard as a rock; we might as well have slept on the floor.
• Bathroom amenities were in tubes only 5/8-inch wide (yes, I measured) and made of stiff plastic; you couldn’t squeeze them, so you left about half the contents in every tube.

After breakfast we got packed up and then walked to the Hertz location on Baggot Street. The clerk had upgraded us slightly to a Volkswagen Polo. Oh, I had so much fun driving this car! But the boot (the trunk) is small—ours was a hatchback—so this fall we think we’ll get something bigger.

On the way back to the hotel I thought I’d drive by Farm (the restaurant we’d eaten at with Orla and Conor) to take a photo of the façade … I tried to take a little “exit” turn onto a one-way street but the exit itself was a one-way. Ooops! So if you’re going to drive the wrong way down a one-way street, I learned, rush hour is the time to do it. Because you can’t get very far before someone stops you. 🙂 This has nothing to do with driving on the left, in case you were thinking that. Our neighborhood had several one-way streets, and there was no visible signage.

Then the challenge was getting from Ranelagh in south Dublin to Artane in north Dublin with a driver who mostly doesn’t know where she’s going and a nondriving copilot—and no GPS. (We thought we’d switched maps, but really we’d just turned both maps ON, so Ms. Emily Gp.S. was confused and couldn’t locate the satellite for either.) But Gerry got us there with no problem. Dublin can be a confusing city to drive in, at times. Choosing which lane to be in, mostly. But no pressure, so we just meandered and everything was fine.

First item on the agenda—I wanted to catch up with William and Gwen (Gerry’s brother and his wife). I hadn’t seen them (except for the odd Skype call here and there) since they’d visited us in Tennessee in 2010. Eoin (their son) and his wife Tracy were coming with. We had an appointment at the bank later, so there was a lot of discussion about where to go for lunch: decisions made and discarded, and round and round—the usual thing when you have six people who can’t agree on where to have lunch. Finally as we were loading up to go one place, Eoin came back to the car and said “Let’s just go to the Yacht in Clontarf; it’s close and we won’t have to rush.”

And it was perfect and we had a good time. 🙂

Eoin, Tracy, Gwen, William, and me. In Clontarf. On a beautiful day.

Eoin, Tracy, Gwen, William, and me. In Clontarf. On a beautiful day.

After that we went to the bank, ran an errand for Bridie (Gerry’s mother), and then we were off to Portmarnock.

Oh! I just love everything about this route. You’re still in Co. Dublin and only twenty minutes from the city centre … but you’re right on the beach in a little village. Five minutes north and you’re in Malahide; Howth is to the south. It’s an upscale community for sure, but without pretension.

And it’s got a very nice hotel/golf club. We stayed at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links back in 2012—Eoin and Tracy had their wedding reception here—and frankly, I just fell in love with it.

This is an old mansion (once belonging to the Jameson family) repurposed as a hotel, so the entrance is a modern add-on.

This is an old mansion (once belonging to the Jameson family) repurposed as a hotel, so the entrance is a modern add-on.

And the lobby is lovely. It’s been remodeled since we were here last (you can see a couple photos of the difference here).

And the lobby is lovely. It’s been remodeled since we were here last (you can see a couple photos of the difference here).

Those windows at the back of the lobby look out over the garden and patio. The “new wing” is seen at back, and beyond that, the golf course.

Those windows at the back of the lobby look out over the garden and patio. The “new wing” is seen at back, and beyond that, the golf course.

Tucked behind the reception desk is the Seaview Lounge, which looks out on the beach.

Tucked behind the reception desk is the Seaview Lounge, which looks out on the beach.

The Portmarnock website tells us a bit of history of the estate:

The land on which the hotel now stands was originally part of the Jameson family estate (of Irish whiskey fame) and the house itself was called St. Marnock’s House. King Edward VII often visited the Jamesons and on his last official visit in 1907 he unveiled a plaque which was designed specially for the occasion of the marriage between members of two great distilling families, Jameson and Haig. The plaque is still to be seen in what was the secret south garden. The Jameson family had a nine-hole golf course on the site over 100 years ago; this golf course is now part of both the Portmarnock Golf Club and the Bernhard Langer designed Dublin Golf Links course.

Which is to say none of the course directly adjacent to the hotel is the historic course; those are further away. What we see is a newer—but still a true “links”—course.

A view of the golf course from our room (and tiny balcony).

A view of the golf course from our room (and tiny balcony).

Looking the other direction. Aren’t those trees interesting? It looks like a Dr. Seuss garden. :)

Looking the other direction. Aren’t those trees interesting? It looks like a Dr. Seuss garden. 🙂

I was curious about that word links, and the use of the phrase “a true links course.” What do I know about golf? Not much, I’ll tell you. But this article—“What makes a links golf course?”—from The Majors magazine offers an answer for you golf fans:

But what exactly is a links? There is no easy answer. In the Shell International Encyclopaedia of Golf, the Wikipedia of its day even if that was four decades ago, the entry for “Links” begins: “A term surrounded by some doubt and controversy.” Nothing is more certain to start golfing pedants sounding their klaxons than the use of the word “links” to mean any golf course. [But] … “in modern usage the term tends to mean sand-dune country of little use except for golf between the sea and more fertile areas; ‘links’ type golf is generally thought of as that found only on traditional seaside courses.” …

For the true cognoscenti, a links should be alongside a river estuary; offer at least partial or occasional views of the sea; have few if any trees; have numerous bunkers; and its two nines should be routed out and back, the front heading to a far point and the back returning to the clubhouse, in the general manner of the Old Course.

There you have it.

It’s a beautiful site. You’ll love it.The original home faced the sea, and you can see it here in this photo taken from the hotel’s website. You can also see those links.

And OMG, the Portmarnock! Air conditioning! The room was air conditioned! (We were in the new addition that faces the golf course on one side and the garden on the other. The rooms facing the beach are in the old Jameson mansion and do not have air conditioning, though I doubt you’d need it with a window open to the sea.) So the room wasn’t a hot box—we could have just opened the door and window and that would have been enough. I started a new list:

Things I already like about our room at the P:
• Balcony—so we can open window and door
• Larger room—it’s deluxe, and cheaper than the Doubletree

The door and window are open! And it is good. :)

The door and window are open! And it is good. 🙂

We went out immediately to have a walk on the beach, but that wasn’t so easy. The hotel has its own entrance path, but that was easiest to find from the beach, rather than from the hotel. So we walked around to the public entrance for the Fingal County Council public beach. We didn’t stay long—my feet were in agony. (It’s not from walking; this pain is on top of my feet, and they’re puffy, full of fluid. By the end of the day even the thought of walking down the hall to the elevator makes me wince.)

Looking north, and yes, that is a Martello tower, built in 1805.

Looking north, and yes, that is a Martello tower, built in 1805. You can click on this photo and then click again to enlarge the image.

Martello towers are, as you can see above, small forts that were scattered across the the coastline of the (then) British Empire, mostly during the nineteenth century. You see them everywhere; often they’ve been turned into living spaces, as this one has.

Looking south along the Velvet Strand.

Looking south along the Velvet Strand.

The beach at Portmarnock is nicknamed the Velvet Strand, and has some interesting historical notes having to do with pioneering aviators. James “Jim” Mollison took off from Portmarnock Beach on 18 August 1932 for what was acknowledged as the first solo east to west crossing of the Atlantic; two years earlier, Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew had taken off on a westbound transatlantic flight (to Newfoundland, then they continued on to Oakland, California, completing a circumnavigation of the world). Their plane was called the Southern Cross, and there’s a monument to it on the beach (though we didn’t find it).

To be frank, it being June and warm weather, the beach had a lot of visitors, many of them teenagers who were drinking and playing loud music. Not my idea of a walk on the beach, so we didn’t stay. But I must add that I watched a fiftyish woman rise up out of the ocean—she had been swimming, for God’s sake, swimming in the ocean, on a windy day with the temps no higher than 65°F. And she wasn’t the only one! Brrr.

Still, we were far enough down the beach that we could clearly see the path to the hotel. It led us on a circuitous route around the backside of the hotel, through a prettily manicured lawn …

The back of the hotel (our room is probably just overhead).

The back of the hotel (our room is probably just overhead).

… and remember the garden plaque presented to the Jameson family by King Edward VII? There it was: Lux Amor Pax (light, love, peace).

I imagine brides might have photographs made here. As always, you can click on any photo to enlarge it, then click again to zoom in.

I imagine brides might have photographs made here. As always, you can click on any photo to enlarge it, then click again to zoom in.

By the time we got done oohing and aahing over every little thing—we were quite pleased with the room and the beautiful day—and settling in, it was after 7pm. Too late for afternoon tea so we just stayed in, relaxing and working and snapping more photographs from the window.

When I started using the zoom, I noticed this little graveyard (at least that’s what it looks like). I hope when we’re back this fall I can walk out on the golf course and have a look. And that’s not all. Look further, just to the left of the large trees on the right: three modern windmills!

When I started using the zoom, I noticed this little graveyard (at least that’s what it looks like). I hope when we’re back this fall I can walk out on the golf course and have a look. And that’s not all. Look further, just to the left of the large trees on the right: three modern windmills!