And Then We Went Downtown (Part 4/4)

Wednesday, 16 May 2018
There were things we’d set up before we ever left Tennessee—like dinner with my dear editor friend, Robert (who knows all the best restaurants, I kid you not). Today was that day—something to anticipate.

After breakfast we went out on the roof opposite our room to take more pictures of the Dublin skyline from the opposite side. (Also, our room was almost at the end of the hall, so some of the city could be seen from both sides.) I know that sounds crazy, but this wing of the hotel has only one row of balcony rooms: on the other side of the hall, which was all windows that could be walked through, was a large roof “patio.” Look!

See the curtain blowing out the sliding doors? And, yes, the plants appeared to be herbs, aromatics, and other edibles. (They told us later the chef used them.)

Alliums, for instance.

It was very windy that day, but warmish. And I can’t get enough of rooftops—being on them, looking at them.

This spire is St. Nicholas of Myra Church, a Catholic church on Francis Street.

This is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland.

The spire in the center-right is St. Mary’s chapel of ease on Mountjoy Street, called the Black Church—now deconsecrated and used as an office building. I can’t for the life of me figure out what the square tower on the center-left belongs to.

This is John’s Lane Church, Catholic (served by the Augustinians), on Thomas Street.

Dublin Castle again, just parts we couldn’t see from the room.

That’s Dublin Castle again, but the row of brown buildings in foreground have an interesting story, which my sister-in-law, Isolde, told me. Originally constructed as military barracks by the British in the 1840s, they are now occupied by the Revenue Office (the Irish version of the IRS). They are little changed inside, Isolde tells me. Gerry and I have had conversations with both the IRS and the Revenue Office, and the latter is unfailingly helpful, responsive, and friendly … and I’m not just saying that because my sister-in-law has worked for them for thirty years. 🙂

We had a little more shopping we wanted to do, so we cabbed over to the Avoca shop on Suffolk Street, then wandered down Grafton Street (which is pedestrian only). Why yes, we did buy Irish linen. Why yes, we did buy more books. (Duh.) Why yes, we did buy ice cream, and then walked across to Stephen’s Green to eat it. We entered through the Fusiliers’ Arch (built in 1907) and sat near the pond. There were lots of people on the grass, on the benches … and lots of pigeons.

The Fusiliers’ Arch.

On previous trips I have walked all over this park (with and without Gerry Hampson) but today it was nice to just sit and enjoy the sunshine.

Really, there’s nothing I love more than a gnarly old tree or two.

Then we walked back to the hotel … past the Gaiety Theatre with its walk of fame.

I took a good dozen of these, but you should recognize Milo, yes?

Dublin, I must say, was hopping. The Rolling Stones show was the next night, Thursday. Also in town this week: Bryan Adams, Michael Bublé, Beck, and Ed Sheeran. Whew.

Our friend Robert had made reservations at La Maison, which is a classic French bistro. At the appropriate time, we walked over and ran into him on the way, which was such a wonderful surprise! The three of us sat out front in the little screened patio, and just had a merry time. Robert is one of my favorite people ever. I wish we lived closer.

Love you, Robert.

And the food! We had the Pat McLoughlin’s Côte de Boeuf to share three ways, with green salads, roast potatoes, green beans. Just looking at the photo is making me salivate.

That’s pepper sauce in the upper left.

My dessert: Vacherin Glacé.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: some of the best meals I’ve ever had have been in Ireland. And quite a few of those have been in the company of Robert Doran!

Thursday, 17 May 2018
I’d brought an urgent manuscript with me, and had been working on it off and on the whole time we’d been here, but today I really needed to make some headway. Good thing the hotel was nice and quiet.

I was also tired from all the walking around. Admittedly I’m out of shape—but I’m also just not used to walking on cobblestones. The foot is expecting one thing, but then the ground is a little higher or a little lower, and I get all wobbly and feel old. I have more than one friend (younger and older!) who have taken unexpected falls in recent months, and I’m semi-terrified of that. So it’s a lot of concentration. Young people—you just have no idea!

We were planning to meet Richie and Isolde for supper at 7–7:30 at the Yacht in Clontarf—kind of meeting halfway for both of us. Should have just been a twenty-minute drive but because this was the night of the Stones concert, we left the hotel at six o’clock and had no problem getting a cab (which had been a concern)—but traffic was atrocious and quickly came to a complete halt due to a Luas (Luas is Irish for “speed”: it’s a light rail system) that wasn’t moving. It took twenty-five minutes to get about a block from the hotel! Garda never showed up to sort things out. We were treated to an unending monologue from the driver about traffic, Luas, and rickshaws (which we had seen) taking his business and which are completely unlicensed (as yet). Took an hour to get out to the Yacht. The driver never shut up.

We had a good ol’ yap about the current family drama.

The ride back was only twenty minutes, presumably because the Stones were still playing. It was nearly 10pm but still light, and this cabbie was interesting and fun to talk to. We were laughing and carrying on, and then … traffic jam just as we approached the hotel. After a few minutes, we paid and got out and started walking, but our driver got around the semi blocking traffic and found us, hollered, and told us to get back in. So we did! He put on the out-of-service and didn’t charge us either. Great guy, wish we’d gotten his name.

These are the little things, y’all, that you should mind in the moment and appreciate. It doesn’t seem like much, maybe, but it was.

Friday, 18 May 2018
The breakfast at the Radisson is spectacular. This morning I had muesli (with raisins and dates) over plain, tart yogurt, plus whole flax seeds, pepitas, whole dates, pistachios, hazelnuts, and mixed berries on top. Watermelon and pineapple on the side. I had watermelon every morning; don’t know where it was sourced—it was mid-May!—but it was yummy.

We got out and visited the last grocer in our area—Dollard & Co. in Temple Bar (which has become nauseatingly touristy, btw). Then we drove down to Camden Street with Gerry’s nephew Eoin and his wife Tracy to find someplace to eat a late lunch.

Camden Street has so many wonderful restaurants, y’all. We didn’t eat in any of them. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

We have, after all, enjoyed this hotel, I must say. The location of the Radisson Blu Hotel (Golden Lane) is really spectacular. It’s in easy walking distance of many things a tourist would want to see: Stephen’s Green, the two most famous cathedrals, Temple Bar, Grafton Street, Dublin Castle, Iveagh Garden, the National Concert Hall, National Gallery, and on and on and on. Check out the map. And the sixth floor (as high as it goes), where we stayed, has a wonderful view. Here’s my only complaint: everything that is furniture in this hotel sits low low low to the ground. The bed is low, the bench at the foot of the bed is low, the couches and chairs (in bedrooms and public spaces) are low (and they’re very deep, which means I can either put my feet on the ground by sitting on the edge of the chair, or I can “lean back” which means, in my short-person case, recline, for heaven’s sake). Why, Radisson, why?

The public spaces are nice otherwise, though. We loved this stairwell, which featured the words of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Waiting in the public rooms …

It’s really quite moving. You should read it.

In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom. … We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of 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. …

The right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland … there’s a concept.

Our friend Pat Yeates—Gerry worked with him for years—drove in from a suburb outside Dublin to have a cup of tea and dessert. We’d been having trouble getting our schedules to line up, and this was the absolute last night we had available.

Pat and Gerry have a long history—and even I now have history with Pat. We had never talked about what it was like (for me) growing up with a mother who had MS (as Pat’s wife does). So … we talked a lot about how it affects the family dynamic. We sat in a little corner of the public rooms, the three of us, and talked until past bedtime. It was good.

Saturday, 19 May 2018
The next day we did some last-minute shopping for Alli, then cabbed out to the Carlton Hotel Dublin Airport. We have always done this, as the flights for America tend to leave Dublin pretty early, and there’s a lot to be done to get checked in. Also, one year we got a suite and loved the extra space, so now we do that too.

Extra space.

That night, Ashling and Damian came and had supper with us in the hotel dining room (nothing special, but OK), then we got to bed early. On Sunday morning we flew home, knowing it would be a while before we came back. And that was bittersweet.


And Then We Went Downtown (Part 3/4)

I have been sleeping really well (using the mattress pad). It’s the sea air, I’m sure. 🙂

Monday, 14 May 2018
We had nothing urgent this morning other than to check out and move into Dublin City, so we took our time. Had a nice, leisurely breakfast—with a completely different crowd this morning. The Pakistani athletes were in and just leaving when we got there. Dutch folks were gone home, it seemed. Looked like a new golf tour was in, though—Americans. (sigh) I confess I prefer being one of just a small number of Americans in any Irish dining room.

We got packed, I did a little work, and G carried the bags out to the car. Then we checked out, turned the car in at the airport, and caught a cab to the downtown Radisson.

The Portmarnock Hotel is always a splurge (cheaper hotels can always be had), but we know how nice it is and how nicely we’ll be treated, so really … not a splurge. Value for money, y’know?

The Radisson was another splurge hotel in terms of price, but we’d never stayed there. And where the Portmarnock has a downbeat vibe (quiet, elegant, voices always lowered), the Radisson is the opposite: upbeat, hopping with energy, noise in the lobby. I had a little moment of frustration that given the price there was no bellhop, and I had to go inside to ask for a trolley while G stood outside literally on the curb with the luggage. Rooms weren’t ready at midday (granted, not advertised to be either!) so we had to go into the bar to wait because all the public couches/tables had been reserved for a tour group. (And you know how I feel about tour groups! I was starting to get a bad taste in my mouth.) All that complaining aside, the front desk had our room ready within twenty minutes, so we left the tea where it was and went upstairs.

The room was nice, with a balcony overlooking the city. Smaller, of course.

Get a load of how low all that furniture is, though. More about that coming.

We had that door open to the outside air in a heartbeat.

And, friends, what a view! Our hotel was adjacent to Dublin Castle.

The clock tower and other green roofed building are part of it, too, as are the brightly painted facades. The little white clock tower in the lower right is the Chester Beatty Library, which is a wonderful thing you should definitely see if you’re ever here. He was an American. The library is part of the Dublin Castle complex also.

There’s so much to see here at Dublin Castle.

The “pyramidal” building on the left is several office towers of varying heights, clustered and connected. It’s the Ulster Bank headquarters, and it sits at Georges Quay on the Liffey. The church was St. Andrew’s Church but is now the Central Tourist Office; I’ve been there many times. (Great place for nice souvenirs.) On the right (with the curved glass “ceiling/wall” that seems to be leaning), the Convention Centre Dublin.

The furnishings in our room were all really low— the couch, bench at foot of bed, the coffee table. Looooow. Made me wonder what decade they came from—the room was very short on electrical outlets too. Mostly I sat in the chair intended for the desk, which I could get up out of without being pulled out of it. 🙂 The good news was I didn’t need to use the mattress pad; the bed was comfortable. Oh happy day!

We visited Gerry’s attorney in Rathmines and, since we’d stumbled on Donnybrook Fair, I’d been on a quest to shop at all the upscale grocers in Dublin. So we ducked into Morton’s on our ramble back to the hotel. We also walked along Camden Street, a vibrant neighborhood—we’d stayed here in 2013—packed with shops and bars and restaurants. We’d shopped at Liston’s back then, and since they were on Lower Camden and I was tired, we didn’t make the trek this time.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018
In my notes, I wrote again: “I’ve been sleeping great.” So for all the things this trip wasn’t, I can say for sure I got good sleep. This is nothing to be sneezed at. 🙂

In the hotel comparison sweepstakes, I have to add that while I appreciate the latest trend in showers—those huge, flat rainshower heads—sometimes a lady doesn’t really want to wash her hair at the same time she showers, y’know? At the Pormarnock I could angle it away from me, but at the Radisson it’s immobile; thus Showering for Contortionists. The bathroom was otherwise lovely, completely covered in textured real-stone tiles. (When we were redoing our master bathroom later, when we came back from this trip, I wanted to try it, because it wasn’t slippery, and both G and I have had some scares. The folks at City Tile told us we’d hate cleaning it, though, so we chose something else.)

But get a load of this breakfast room!

Hot items are on the far left, out of this shot.

Breakfast room was nice, plenty of seating with lots of it along a wall of glass, and the items on offer are many. Hot items—scrambled eggs, black pudding, white pudding, mushrooms, beans, potatoes, bacon, sausage—on the left. On the far table yogurt and all sorts of whole grains, nuts, and fruits to mix with it, fruit, smoothies. Smoothies! Middle table: cold cuts, lemon water, cucumber water, fresh-squeezed juices, and I can’t remember what-all. Foreground table—breads of all sorts. The tour group had been and gone before us, thank goodness … we were just hanging out on this trip and didn’t feel the need to be up at 6:00am.

Went back upstairs to work until we needed to leave for an event I always look forward to: Lunch with the Gentlemen (in this case, Brian McMahan and Brendan Delany) of the ESB (where Gerry worked). In this case, a late lunch in the restaurant at Fallon & Byrne, which is a place I’d wanted to shop. I had the apple soup, chicken entree, and raspberry and champagne semifreddo for dessert. Oh, and wine. Wiiiine.

I love them all.

Then we all went to the basement to the wine/cocktail bar and had more wine. Oh yeah.

It started to rain around 4:30, which was when we were saying good-bye to Brendan and Brian. We shopped for about thirty minutes then cabbed back to the hotel.

That’s my fave chocolate.

I worked. And worked. The evening passes so quickly—because it stays light late, you don’t realize time is passing. Next thing I knew it was 9:00pm. We took some photos of sunset—at 9:30. Then we took some nighttime photos of the skyline.

Off our patio.

This one is more interesting, I think.

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been (Part 2/4)

Friday, 11 May
Woke up with a start with the wind howling around the hotel and whitecaps breaking on the tide. It was 5:30am—exactly when I’d been getting up at home, so somehow I managed to acclimate in one day. Thank you, massage. However, this wind … I might have underestimated the Irish weather vis-à-vis my wardrobe.

Good Lord! Looks like winter!

I’d been checking the weather forecast as I planned what to pack. I know May in Ireland can be cool … and sometimes it can be quite springlike. But this was wintery weather! However … I did at the last minute throw in my tried-and-true favorite travel accessory: a black quilted knit zip-up vest with a high collar. (Best part: pockets, lots.) Thank goodness. In the meantime, we were snug in the hotel with not a lot on the agenda except to recover from a long trip.

I just love the breakfast dining room of this hotel—did I say that already? Dutch people to my right, Pakistanis to my left (and he was “Stuck in the middle with you,” Gerry Hampson said). But seriously, the Pakistani cricket team was staying in the hotel! So was the Irish cricket team. There was a big match on Saturday; everyone was watching the weather. Would it be canceled? Postponed? In the meantime, those Dutch folks were dressed like golfers. (And according to the American man in the elevator that morning, yes, they do golf in this weather, God bless ’em.)

After breakfast we went out to Malahide to get bottled drinking water, postcards, stamps, teabags, Listerine, and a shirt for Gerry to wear with his suit. We also ended up with things we didn’t necessarily come for: an Orla Kiely purse for me (a birthday present!) and goodies from Donnybrook Fair, an upscale supermarket. As we drove ’round looking for a place to park, I was reminded that the wind and rain stops no one in Ireland. Everybody was out: moms with toddlers in strollers, ladies who yoga, and on and on. Oh, we bought books too. I always come to Ireland with a list of titles I can’t get on the other side. 🙂

When we went out I put on a thin long-sleeved T-shirt under my spring-weight pullover sweater, then zipped that quilted vest over all. And it worked fine. We stopped along the Malahide road on the way back to the hotel to take photos—

Still dark, waves still pounding in …

—and the winds were gale force, no joke! But I wasn’t cold.

Windy selfie.

I’d brought work to do, so we went back to the hotel to hang out, work (me), and make arrangements to see my niece Alli and her husband Sabas—who live in California—for dinner later. They’d been in Ireland for five days or so sightseeing before the wedding we were all here to attend. Now they were staying with Gerry’s nephew Eoin and his wife Tracy for their last few days, so we went and picked them up. Went to the Goblet for pub grub because it was easy, and had a delightful time. They are such nice people!

Pieris “Forest Flame.” Gorgeous.

I did solve a botanical mystery from a previous trip: I’d seen these bushes in Co. Clare and thought they were gorgeous. When I found them in Dublin, I took photos. Now I know they are Pieris “Forest Flame.”

Saturday, 12 May 2018
After all that wintry bluster, we woke up to a gorgeous day … and we heard at breakfast that the cricket match was ON. Traffic was getting heavy even mid-morning, and we’d heard Mick Jaggar was there too. (He was.)

The wedding venue was about an hour away, out in the very rural country (like, one-lane roads rural). It was an absolutely gorgeous location.

Nice things about the wedding: the food was good, and we were seated with Ashling (Richie and Isolde’s daughter) and her husband Damian, as well as Alli and Sabas.

Ashling and Damian.

Alli and Sabas.

Otherwise, as I said earlier, there was some family weirdness, and we were not only not welcomed, we were snubbed. And that, really, is as much as need be said. It makes me sad to report this. We got back to the hotel around 10:30, 10:45, completely exhausted.

Sunday, 13 May 2018
We slept late, had breakfast after 9am, which is unusual for us. Stayed in and worked all day with the doors open listening to the ocean. Just a relaxing day.

It had cleared up and we had the doors open again, listening to the waves.

We have a camera on the front door at home, and when it’s activated, Gerry’s Apple watch dings. Even when the watch is in Ireland. Sometimes it’s the wind, sometimes it’s the UPS guy, but Gerry swears he knows when it’s Spot the cat … and he goes and lets him in. We now have multiple video snippets from those days of Spot on the front porch, staring woefully into the windows by the front door, as if Gerry will be there any minute.* We had a good laugh over that.

Around three o’clock we started talking about supper. The food is good in the hotel but I just like to get out. So we talked about McHugh’s in Portmarnock village but decided we wouldn’t be able to find parking. From there we thought about trying Malahide, and Gerry brought up “treats,” so we thought we’d try to find a spot to park near Donnybrook Fair (location of aforementioned treats) and walk to a restaurant. This all took half an hour because we had to look at menus and trade ideas and banter back and forth. 🙂 But half the fun is in the anticipation, right?

So we drove into Malahide, and the whole town was packed. (Probably the aftermath of the cricket event.) A Sunday afternoon would be slow at home, but not here. We knew immediately there was no way a parking spot was going to appear, though we did drive around a little, hoping. Then we drove back to Portmanock village, which was dead, and bought treats at the gas station (yes, I admit it), and ended up eating supper at McHugh’s after all, parked a couple doors down from it. Sheesh.

This was our last night in Portmarnock; tomorrow we’d be moving into the Dublin city centre for a different vibe altogether.

*But don’t worry—we have a wonderful pet sitter who checks in on our pets several times a day.

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been (Part 1/4)

We spent a dozen days in Ireland in May, primarily to attend a family wedding. We’d been looking forward to it when we made plans last fall, but due to some weirdness in the family dynamic, we were not sure how things would go as the time drew near. Additionally, I ended up taking work with me (I’d intended to relax and write blog posts—something I enjoy—rather than work) due to a publisher’s date change. So not exactly a vacation, but at least a change of scenery.

That said, we stayed in two lovely hotels (including my favorite) and had some great meals with good friends. I think that’s pretty good, yeah? Here’s a quick run-down in four parts:

Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Typically, flights heading to Dublin from the eastern side of the Mississippi River leave in the afternoon or evening and fly all night, and this was no exception. Our friends Minerva and Jerry Smith gave us a ride to the airport after lunch (we’ll return the favor next month), and we had a great four-way rant about trump and his inexplicable supporters, some of whom we each know personally. It was very catharctic.

The flying itself was not fun. You’ll have read about it in the previous post (Dear American Airlines), but here is one interesting story.

On international flights there’s often a screen that shows a map with the plane’s progress and other interesting points of interest. But I have to say that it’s a little disconcerting—as one flies over the wide blue ocean—when one notices that those points of interest are the locations and dates of sunken ships. Just kind of a weird little thing. Is it to make us happy we’re flying? I don’t know. Here are some examples (I added the reasons):

  • Alabama (CSS) 1864 / sunk in wartime
  • Andrea Doria 1956 / collision
  • De Braak 1798 / capsized
  • Douro 1882 / collision
  • Egypt 1922 / collision
  • Empress of Ireland 1914 / collision in thick fog
  • Hollandia 1742 / wrecked
  • Hunley 1864 / sunk in battle
  • Kennemerland 1664 / shipwrecked
  • La Trinidad Valencera 1588 / of the defeated Spanish Armada wrecked in Ireland
  • Lexington 1840 / onboard fire
  • Lusitania 1915 / sunk by German U-boats
  • Thresher 1963 / a submarine, sank during testing, lost all hands

There were many more. I couldn’t write them down fast enough. I know all this history now because where we sat guaranteed we got no sleep whatsoever. The unsleeping brightly lit screen, plus a little bend in the aisle made sure I was bumped by every cart or person who walked by. Plus all the other discomforts of flying, neither of us slept at all. I can usually doze off but … not this time.

Thursday, 10 May 2018
And yeah, it’s all well and good to make up lost time in the air but when you arrive and then have to sit on the runway for forty minutes … Dear American Airlines, again, this really was a miserable experience. What were you thinking?

But we made it. It was 7:30 in the morning and neither of us had slept in more than twenty-four hours and nooooow I had to drive on the left side as if I were a person fully in possession of all her faculties. We’d ended up with a compact Audi with really tight brakes. (Not a bad thing.)

And, as noted, we were on our way to my favorite hotel: The Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links. It’s right on the beach in the village of Portmarnock in north County Dublin. And sure it was early morning, way too early to check in, but we thought we’d drop the luggage and go find some place to eat breakfast.

The GPS took us the most efficient way, which happened to be small country roads—nerve-racking when you are just acclimating to driving on the left—and then when we got there, there were big changes. A gated entry, for one thing. And the main entrance to hotel was under construction. A nice young man employeed of the hotel stationed out by the gate informed us of the temporary entrance ’round the back. Just drive through that very narrow passage …

Yes, there was a parking lot ’round the back closer to the temporary entrance, but friends, I was utterly done in. I could not cope with a single other thing that was not as I expected it to be. We parked where we always have parkedand started following the signs—with the luggage—around the outside of this large and labyrinthine nineteenth-century building. Wearily. At some point early on—and this is why I love the Portmarnock Hotel—one of the hotel attendants came out and took charge of literally all of our bags, so there we were, walking all the way around the hotel to get in, talking the whole way with a lovely Irish gentleman who was making conversation with me and not understanding that I was in no condition to hold up my end of it. I was, as they say in Ireland, shattered. And at the same time, I was watching myself from the outside, knowing I wasn’t making sense, and yet was powerless to do any better. (I ran into this lovely man at least three other times walking through the lobby during our stay and still could not do much better. I’m sorry, sir. I was just a tired old lady.)

That said, even the outside is lovely.

We checked in. The room was not ready, of course, but, astonishingly, they said they could have it within the hour—would we like to have breakfast while we waited? Why yes, yes, we would. This was probably around 8:30am. I love the breakfast room at the Portmarnock, and this was just what I needed to calm down. (I can’t explain it; it was like I was having an anxiety attack—said by someone who’s never had an anxiety attack—but I was still shook up from the driving. It was as if that twenty-minute drive from the airport, during which nothing untoward happened, pushed me over the edge.)

After breakfast we moved to the lobby and began to notice all the new decor. In our years of coming here, this is the third redecoration/refurbishment, and this was was such a thorough makeover it even included the as-yet-unfinished entryway.

A brand-new glassed-in entry, far right …

… sits atop a bricked-in courtyard; taxis and buses pull up here to disgorge guests.

The lobby was all shades of grey, and when we wandered into the Seaview Room (the one with the spectacular view of the sea, ha) we noticed the bar had been moved and there are more tables and new, comfy chairs. And just about the time I inquired about the location of a public restroom, the clerk said, “Wouldn’t you like your room? It’s ready.” So by 10am we were in our room with our luggage.

It’s the Seaview Suite. There’s a little workstation hidden on the left.

The best part is the sea view. We kept these doors open a lot.

Looking left out of the patio doors; that’s Lambay Island in the distance.

Looking right: beach and Howth on the far left, golf course in the foreground, Wicklow Mountains in the distance.

Yes, heaven will be the Portmarnock Hotel.

At 11:15 I left to pick up my distilled water for the CPAP (I’d called a local pharmacist a few weeks earlier) and get the massage I’d scheduled to recover from the flight. It’s Sunrise Massage in Portmarnock, and I had used Marta on my previous trip and was well satisfied. Small place, just one therapist (Marta!); and her husband was just leaving with their baby when I got there. Getting a massage seems to help me recover from flying, seems to prevent the muscle cramping I’ve experienced as I’ve gotten older. (UPDATE: That little family has moved back to her home country. Croatia, I think? Can’t remember.)

It was a beautiful, sunny day; the sea was very calm.

When I got back to the hotel we went down to the bar and had a light supper. Gerry’s brother Richie and his wife Isolde were going to drop by later with the mattress pad that I keep on the Dublin side of the ocean to deal with the miserably hard mattresses I’ve come to expect in Irish hotels. (Irish Tourist Board, you need to get right on this!) After supper I was ready to crash and, in fact, kept falling asleep sitting up, but we were waiting for Richie. In fact, there were several times during the day when my energy level really waned and all I wanted to do was go to sleep, but I kept up as best I could, hewing to conventional wisdom about jet lag prevention.

When Richie and Isolde arrived, they were so excited—their daughter, Grainne, had just given birth to a son in London, so they would not be at the wedding we had come to attend. They would be represented, though, by Grainne’s twin, Ashling, and her husband, Damian, whose wedding we’d attended in 2016. After they left I went straight to bed, lights out by nine o’clock after forty-plus hours … and slept through until morning.

Good night, Ireland’s Eye. I’m so happy to see you again! (And yes, it’s still light at nine o’clock!)

Planning a Trip to Ireland? I’ve Made All the Touristy Mistakes So You Don’t Have To!

I bet you’re thinking Hasn’t Jamie already written a series of posts on planning a trip to Ireland? Well, yes, I have.*

But that was nearly four years ago. I’ve written more since then. So I’ve collected and categorized and linked every other article about traveling in Ireland right here. One stop. Not the travelogues; you’re on your own there. 🙂

That said, everything in that initial series is still valid and important, so you should still start with them:

Travel Daydreams (The best part is the planning.)

Getting the Backstory (Read about it!)

More Backstory. With Accents. (Or watch some movies.)

DIY Vacation (That is, no tour buses for me.)

Narrowing It Down (Plan a trip for your interests.)

Some Sightseeing Ideas (Don’t miss!)

“Official” Tourism (Get help here!)

Eating, Drinking … and Music (Ya gotta do it.)

Let’s Go Shopping (Oh, yes, let’s do!)

Finding the Magic (My favorite chapter.)

Last Thoughts (Lots of little tips, collected.)

But as noted, I’ve written other articles that drill down a little more (driving on the left side, for example), or answer questions you may not have known you had (where or how to get distilled water, for example). There are tips and things I learned sprinkled throughout the stories of my trips, too (the travelogues), but you probably don’t have time to read all that—so I’ve mentioned the most salient points herein. I’ve added a few bits of wisdom too.

And in the last few weeks, three friends have asked me about planning their trips to Ireland … so it’s time to pull it all together.

Planning Your Trip

Let’s start here: when to go, when not to go. You’ve probably heard that it rains a lot in Ireland, and you’re probably concerned. But don’t be. Pack a little rain hat (or buy one after you get there), and go. No, the number of tourists concern me more than the number of raindrops! So I like to go during the “off” season.

In Ireland tourist season starts in April and runs through August. This means a lot more tour buses on the road, longer lines, and so on. Also consider that once it begins to warm up outside, some older historic hotels might be a little stuffy inside, because they don’t have air conditioning. Mind, summer temps in Ireland will probably only reach mid to high 70s (Farenheit)—and outside that’s pleasant—but an un–air-conditioned hotel might feel hot to a Yank accustomed to a/c everything. So it’s something to consider. And check on.

My favorite months? September and October. Tourism has dropped off and the weather is spectacular.

I haven’t been paying much attention to news on visas and passports, but it would be wise for you to look into that a few months before your planned departure. Check with your airlines about baggage weight and carryons too (for example, you may not be able to carry a laptop onto an international flight these days).

There are other items to consider. For example, if I’m asked, I always say Everything takes longer than you think. Getting from Point A to Point B takes longer than you think. The line to get in takes longer than you think. The meal takes longer than you think. My advice is to slow down and don’t cram your schedule. The corollary to this is, Do you want to spend your precious vacation time driving—or doing? There’s so much to see! I get that. But if you’ve only got a week, I would recommend you pick a region and stay in it, rather driving 200 miles one way to see one sight. There are beautiful sea views, old mansions, ancient stone circles and sacred sites, and unusual geography everywhere in Ireland. Trust me. And often the less well-known sites are better.

However—and this is important—your trip is your trip. You may like driving more than I do. You may walk faster than me. Your trip is your trip—plan the one that you want to take.

Getting There and Back

No discussion of purchasing flights here. I’m talking about the actual slog of moving across multiple time zones. It’s hard on a body, y’all.

Many flights from the States are overnighters—arriving in Dublin the next morning, particularly if you fly through Chicago, Boston, New York, Newark, or Washington DC. So plan some low-impact activities—a massage, say, or a walk on the beach or around the neighborhood where your hotel is situated—so you can ease into your new time zone when you land. Here are lots more tips about dealing with jet-lag. If you’re visiting for a special reason—maybe you’re attending a wedding?—arrive a few days early so you can slough off jet-lag and fully enjoy the event. A day-of-arrival massage, I’ve found, is a must for me; Gerry has a cat-nap while I’m gone.

Americans flying home from Dublin for the first time may be surprised to discover that they pass through customs in Dublinbefore they ever get on the plane. This is so convenient, as we were recently reminded when my husband returned home from Dublin through London. When he arrived in Chicago, he had to—

  • get off the plane and collect his luggage
  • pass through US Customs
  • change terminals and go though security again
  • check in his baggage again

—which means one needs a lengthy layover, something the airlines seem to ignore. If there’s even a short delay (and when is that ever the case?), you could miss your connection.

Of course, Customs in Dublin adds to the time you need to allow in the airport on departure day. We like a relaxed, stress-free departure day, and here are some tips for that: Winding Down, At Last. Hint: turn in the car the day before you leave.

Getting Around While You’re There

Speaking of driving, Let’s Talk About Driving on the Wrong Side. This is the question I get asked more than any other. Is it hard? Is it scary? When I answer this question, I say: No, it’s not hard at all—because everyone else is driving on the left too.

There are other ways to get around if you prefer not to drive: bus, cab, hired car, Uber, train, DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit), LUAS (tram/light rail). This link gives you bus, cab, and car options, with approximate costs. Look here for information on DART and Irish Rail options; here for LUAS.

I may have discussed this elsewhere—in fact I’m sure I have—but you can bring your portable GPS from home more cheaply than what you’ll pay to have one in your rental car, even after you purchase the map chip for Ireland and the UK. (Be aware that the GPS tends to choose direct routes, which in Ireland might mean an unpaved one-lane. You’ve been warned.) I know you all have smart phones now, but sometimes reception is slow or nonexistent. If you like a little adventure, great! If you don’t, plan on a backup: whip into a gas station or bookstore and pick up a detailed map book. There are planty of opportunities to be lost in Ireland; you’ll be glad you’ve got all the bases covered.

Here’s another option: private tours. I wouldn’t pay for a place I could easily get to and easily circumnavigate. But as I said in this post, Gerry and I tried to guide ourselves through Howth, in a car (with stops), and didn’t see much, so I have to say I think a tour guide would be a good investment. The links in this article are specifically about Howth, but these guides offer many other tours. (Here’s another corporate tour outfit based in Dublin.)

A Brief Aside About Lodging

A quick reminder that while B&Bs are often expensive in the US, they can be a relatively affordable alternative to a hotel in Ireland. And don’t forget Airbnb, which really opens up the opportunity to stay in a home—especially in a city like Dublin. We’ve stayed in B&Bs and hotels, and of the latter we’ve stayed in high end and (ahem) low end. During our 3-week honeymoon trip we experienced the entire range, and at the end of that trip I wrote up a Hotel Comparison, which may be of interest.

Quick Power Tips

What is VAT?

Tax—and as a non-EU resident, you can get a VAT refund on some goods. In fact, with the electronic system in place since 2012, you are never charged VAT at all, but are issued a card (by any retailer on the system), which is scanned every time you make a purchase. You register the card online at some point during your trip. However, you still must “check out” of the country, by visiting the Horizon electronic kiosk at the airport or from your own computer when you get home. If you fail to report the purchases added to the card within the specified period, all the VAT you avoided will suddenly appear on your credit card bill. Ooops!

Should I pay in euros or dollars?

You may be offered this option when paying with a card. Choose euros.

How do I keep everything charged up on a long trip?

First, purchase an electric plug with multiple USB slots to facilitate charging in airports, because what’s provided is never enough. I’ve also purchased multiple adapters—one each for camera battery, laptop, Kindle, and CPAP. No one has to share. And I have a good-sized zipper bag that all cords, chargers, and adaptors live in; when I’m packing, I grab and go.

I travel with a CPAP and have trouble finding distilled water in Ireland.

Me too. Bottom line? Things are just different, especially with retail. Where you buy certain things. Where you can’t buy things that are easily available in the US. Like distilled water. 89 cents a gallon in the US; 17 euro for a half gallon. Here’s help.

Why does my hair look like crap?

Because the water’s hard. Here’s what to do about it. You’ll never have a bad hair day again. 🙂

I may have over-shopped. Help?

Many retailers in Ireland are well equipped to ship your stuff home for you. Take advantage of it. Don’t carry something around your whole trip or, worse, forego it because you don’t have room in your luggage.

Doing the Special Things

Forget the touristy stuff; you don’t need it! And you really don’t need to kiss the Blarney Stone (ick). Incline your thoughts this way instead: Ireland has a long and proud (and occasionally tragic) history, as I’ve noted before. I cannot stress enough that it will enhance your experience to have a basic awareness of Irish history. Even if you just read Wikipedia. Even if history really isn’t your thing.

Culture is important too. Here are some miscellaneous articles about the “Irish way.” If you want to drill down, check the book list here.

That said, your trip is your trip! So plan to do the things that are meaningful and special to you, whatever they are. Love a junk shop? Afternoon tea? Indulge! Look for the magic. Here are three more miscellaneous articles that might be of interest.

Are you bookish? Ireland is famous for its writers, and if you love books, it’s a great place to soak up the literary culture (and to buy books—there’s a bookstore in every town). Here are some posts that might be of interest.

And that’s it, friends! Hope this planning page has been helpful. I’ll update it as I write more.

(*You have been able to access the first post by clicking Start Here in the menu above and then looking for “How to Plan Your Trip to Ireland.” And you still can. This page will be the Start Here link from now on.)


In December, Everything Came to a Head

We’ve had a lot going on here. My workload’s been heavy (that’s good, actually) but with deadlines that moved up and down my production schedule (publishers and authors sometimes shuffle things around), which caused bottlenecks and logjams that raised my stress level. (In fact, my young whippersnapper doctor put me on a low-dose blood pressure medicine late in the year. But that’s another story entirely.)

In September we learned our beloved cat, Bean (that’s her photo at the top of this blog), was sick—probably lymphoma, which is incurable, but we continued to try various meds and nutrition changes, as well as an ultrasound and needle biopsy on the sixth of December. She was weakening, and my heart was breaking.

In October our annual termite inspection yield the information that our master bathroom floor might fall through, so while we wrangled with the insurance company, we decamped to the upstairs bathroom for our daily ablutions. It took weeks to get the paperwork settled, and work finally began on December fifth. There was dust everywhere. Thank goodness we hadn’t had time to put out Christmas decorations, or they’d have been dusty too.

In November, finally, some good news: my son and his fiancée married. Actually, that was a really special day amidst a month of growing strain. I was working night and day to dismantle my logjam. Bean needed meds and you try giving a cat a pill. It was just … a crazy time. Not good, not bad, but a lot.

Happy couple a few days later: Thanksgiving at our place.

And then, on December eighth, we got a call from Dublin in the very early morning that we’d been worried would come. Gerry’s eighty-seven-year-old mother had been in and out of the hospital all year. Her body wasn’t well but her mind was still just as sharp as a tack. Since Gerry had married me and returned with me to the United States in late 2015, his younger brother, Richie, and Richie’s wife, Isolde, had taken on the responsibility of keeping an eye on Bridie. It hadn’t been an easy year for them either.

The call was from Richie: Bridie had gone to the hospital that morning. The question had already been asked (“She has a son in America—should we call him home?”) but the answer we received at 5am was “Not yet. Let’s wait and see.” So I went off to my doctor for my annual physical at 8am and, of course, my blood pressure was through the roof—I left with a prescription for the low-dose bp meds, madder than a wet hen about it too. Which did nothing to lower my bp.

• • •

(Here’s a tip about that. In those crazy early morning hours, I’d had a cup of tea and a piece of toast, forgetting that they’d take blood at my physical. By the time I got back to the clinic for the bloodwork, it was after Christmas and my blood sugar was up too. A nurse friend of mine rolled her eyes at me, reminded me that stress also causes blood sugar to rise, and said, “Jamie, don’t ever schedule a physical during the holidays!” And I won’t.)

• • •

            By the time I got home, though, “Wait and see” had become “Come home now.” Gerry had already made arrangements with our phone carrier for an international plan, and we came up to the office and sat down at our dueling computers and started looking for a flight for him. I would not be going with him. (Cats, meds, dog, deadlines, and so on.)

Back in the day—you know, when America was great and all that—the airlines offered a sympathy discount for hardship cases like final illnesses and funerals, but no more. We were shocked at the cost of a round trip flight from Nashville to Dublin: the cheapest was British Airways at $3135. It was enough to make us weak in the knees. So we called them. It never hurts to ask, right?

Welp … nope. No family emergency discount. However, the clerk took pity on us and gave us a tip, which I’m passing to you in case you don’t already know it.

• • •

When you are buying tix online, you’ll be asked to choose if you just want the flight, or if you want flight+car or flight+hotel or flight+car+hotel. Let’s say you choose flight+car. You print out a little voucher for a good rate at the car rental place. You don’t pay for it then, you just print the voucher. Magically (!) your flight cost is reduced by half. No joke: the cost went to $1572. The clerk said, “When you reach your destination, just drop by the Hertz window and tell them your plans have changed.”

• • •

            And so he did. Thanks, BA.

I didn’t work much that day. I just helped Gerry gather the things he needed to pack for a two-week stay. (I am proud of the fact that I had stashed 50 euro in bills leftover from the last trip—and several one- and two-euro coins—so Gerry didn’t have to fly off without cash other than dollars.) We were both rattled. And that afternoon I drove my husband to Nashville and put him on a plane to Dublin in the hopes he could see his mother before she parted from this world.

I came home and started sending emails to Gerry’s former work colleagues and other friends of ours, to let them know Gerry would be in Dublin and why. I let our family know. I let our Facebook friends know. I scribbled lists of things I needed to do. I went up and down the stairs letting the dog outside—she stands in the hall and does this low growl until she has your attention—gaining a new appreciation for just how much time Gerry spends letting Suzy out to pee. 🙂

Bridie died Friday just before midnight Dublin time (that would be 6pm our time). Gerry was waiting to board his flight in Chicago, having spoken with her on the phone a little earlier. One of the nieces sent me an electronic message.

Gerry arrived in Dublin in late afternoon on Saturday, precisely twenty-four hours after he’d departed Nashville, and Richie and Isolde took him home and fed him breakfast for supper and put him to bed. The funeral was scheduled for Wednesday. He spent the rest of his time in Dublin emptying the house, speaking with the solicitor, speaking with the realtor, speaking with the bank, and so on. Richie was right there by his side. It was exhausting.

Here at home, the rest of us tottered on. The diuetic I’d been prescribed for the blood pressure made me feel like I’d been run over by a truck. I could barely climb the stairs I felt so fatigued. Also low-grade nausea. But. Just. So. Exhausted. Aaaaagh. (Fortunately it only lasted for a few days.)

Suzy wasn’t getting walked, and she missed her guy. The two of us were walking wounded. On Facebook I posted Opportunity of a lifetime! Take a stroll around the block with the world’s sweetest dog! but got no takers. December is a really busy month for everyone.

The construction in the bathroom continued, which meant our backyard gate was often open. Gerry’s very cautious/aware about these things, but one morning I let her out to do her business, failing, while I was on the phone informing the dentist that Gerry would not make his appointment on Wednesday, to notice that the gate was open… and when I called for her, she was gone. I called and called: Suzy! Suzy!


So instead, I called for Spot the cat, using his mealtime call: SPIT-Spot! SPIT-Spot! He responds very well to it. So does Suzy. So what to my wondering eyes should appear but a seventy-pound yellow Lab who never misses a meal. She was on the driveway between the front yard and the back yard. Came on the run.

I always checked the gate situation after that. We’d had enough trouble.

Yes, Suzy finally took me for a walk today (dragged me around the block). That’s a plastic cup I scooped out of the gutter when I realized I’d forgotten a poop bag. Fortunately I didn’t need to use it.

Those two weeks seemed like two months. I had to let go of a lot of my personal expectations—put up a Christmas tree, decorate, send Christmas cards—and reached a peace with myself. I told myself I’d get to some of it when I could, but for the moment, I just tended to my work and my pets and sat in the hot tub, and knew that all of us would be happy to see Gerry on the other end. I wrapped one present a day and stacked them on the piano.

When you don’t have a tree, the Christmas Piano will do.

I started checking flight status early and learned that Gerry’s plane out of London Heathrow was delayed. His Chicago flight was due in Nashville at 10pm … but who knew? I’ve been on more than one flight that was held for someone making a tight connection, so I was hoping for that. I checked the flight roster—there was one more flight out of Chicago that night. So I went and brewed a pot of tea.

Ultimately, the fully boarded flight out of London was delayed by an hour and 45 minutes. Why? Because somehow someone had been allowed to board the plane to Chicago whose “paperwork was inadequate to enter the US.” That person was removed from the plane, of course, but the main delay was removing that person’s luggage from the plane. How does that even happen? I still don’t have an answer.

• • •

            But here’s a third tip: If you are flying from Ireland to the US and you have a choice, use a flight that goes directly to the US (Chicago, Boston, NY, DC, Newark, Charlotte, Atlanta … probably others). This allows you to pass customs in Dublin before you ever board a plane. It’s a hassle, you have to be there even earlier than normal, but it’s much less painful than landing in the international terminal, going to baggage claim to collect your luggage, passing through customs, then changing terminals, re-checking your luggage, passing through security, and boarding the next plane.

• • •

            Nonetheless, we took the tickets we could get two weeks ago, and this is what Gerry had to do. There was one last flight to BNA from ORD that night and British Airways took care of booking him on it while he was still in the air. So he collected two pieces of luggage, took them through customs, found his gate, checked the luggage again. As he was boarding for BNA, he got a text from the airlines: “Ooops, sorry, one of your bags didn’t get on the plane. It will follow on the first flight in the morning.” (We’re still puzzled by this. He was there in plenty of time for this flight. He checked them both simultaneously. But one didn’t make it? Why?)

The flight landed at its advertised arrival time of 11:20pm. I was sitting in the huge new park-and-wait and had been since 10pm. Waiting. Tired. Gerry called and said “Don’t come to the terminal until I have my luggage.” So I waited and waited and waited … until 12:30am. Why? Because Gerry had to prove who he was (him with the oops email from the airlines!) and document every leg of his trip, before anyone at the airlines would even agree to say they knew where his missing luggage was! And more paperwork! And me sitting in the park-and-wait having these fantasies about hugging my husband close when I finally laid eyes on him.

“I’M COMING TO GET YOU NOW,” I texted in all caps. “THIS IS RIDICULOUS.”

You would think that the Nashville airport would be reasonably quiet and calm at 1am. But if it’s two days before Christmas, you would be wrong.

Side note on the new arrivals lanes at BNA: They suck. In years past we had a simpler system, a thing of beauty, really, but sometime in the last couple years, airport expansion construction eliminated the ten-minute pull-in parking for loading arrivals and left us with three lanes plus a fourth separated by sidewalk, and it’s insanity because people don’t know how to use it. Drivers are stupid, stopping in the middle two lanes to load their people, thus holding up the entire process, rather than pulling to the two available curbs (lanes 1 and 4) to load, leaving lanes 2 and 3 for through-traffic.

By the time I decided to drive to the terminal, these lanes were backed up well past the curved arrivals entrance (if you know BNA, you know what I mean). And it was raining. When I pulled to the curb, Gerry was banging on the trunk, waiting for me to pop it. He had the suitcase in the trunk before I was out of the car. “This is madness!” I shouted over the roar. No tender hug. “Take me home now!” he shouted back.

• • •

Future tip for airport pickups (especially at holidays): pick up your beloved arrival at departures. Traffic in these lanes is moving quickly, so everything’s more relaxed. In Nashville departures are up one level from baggage claim, and you’re tired and dragging luggage, but pickup goes a lot more smoothly, I’m told.

• • •

            We fell into bed around 1:30am. Gerry awoke at 5am, still on Dublin time. I slept until 6:45am (late for me). We have had breakfast. We are, otherwise, an advertisement for the Walking Dead. But he’s home, and we’re a little travel-wiser. Merry Christmas!

Guide Books, Map Books, and a Tourism Rant

This post is republished from my other blog, Read Play Edit. It ran in September 2012.

Back before I had even a hope of traveling to Ireland, I bought a travel guidebook for the country. A gal can dream, can’t she?

I think I’ve experimented with every brand of guidebook available, but my favorites are the DK (Dorling Kindersley Publishing) Eyewitness Travel Guides. I have just always liked a book with pictures, and these have full-color photos, illustrations, detail maps, and lots more. My Ireland ETG is a little beat up, with Post-It markers, receipts, loose hand-written directions, dried flowers, and photographs stuffed into the pages. It really is just a souvenir at this point, since it’s more than ten years out of date.

DK has another travel guide solution that you might find useful. Called Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides, these much-smaller books are intended for those who may not have much time for sightseeing.

(I’m being nice here. These books smack a bit too much of getting on a tour bus and being shown what you should see and told what you should know, and how long you have to do it. I am not that person. I like a little more adventure. I like being a little lost. On the other hand, one wouldn’t go to Paris without stopping by the Eiffel Tower, right? And I assure you, that tower is number one on the Paris Top Ten list; in fact, it’s the number one tourist destination in the world. So these lists have a purpose; they can serve as a jumping off place. But they are no substitution at all for wandering, delightfully half-lost, in a foreign city.)

The Top Ten books start with the ten most important destinations in a particular city (again: bear in mind, these will be highly trafficked tourist destinations … but there’s a reason for it: these sites are special). Then each of the ten destinations are broken down into ten features, to be sure you don’t miss what makes the site exceptional.

For example, Dublin’s top ten destinations are:

1. Trinity College
2. National Museum of Ireland
3. National Gallery
4. Dublin Castle
5. Temple Bar
6. Christ Church Cathedral
7. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
8. Guinness Storehouse
9. Kilmainham Gaol and Kilmainham Hospital
10. Phoenix Park

There’s a lot more than this, of course (top ten pubs, performing arts venues, shopping areas, and so on)—but now that you know where to go, you’ll need one more book on your trip.

The Irishman and I have found a detailed road map to be indispensible, because in Ireland there are a lot of what I call “back roads” (and what William Least Heat-Moon called Blue Highways). And by detailed, I mean the kind of map on which one inch equals just three miles. That’s a rather thick book of maps. You’d have to go to a bookstore here to get something like that, but in Ireland you can pick them up at any petrol station. Even the tiniest historic spot was marked on this map; it had the national roads, the regional roads, and even the unnamed roads—and we could literally tell what curve of what road we were on at any given time. It proved invaluable.

So. You’re ready. Buy a ticket and get started. I’ll see you there … !

All Their Wars Are Merry and All Their Songs Are Sad*

This post is republished from my other blog, Read Play Edit. It ran in March 2011.

Words—and the way they are pronounced—can be such funny things. And people are often passionately attached to their own interpretation, even if they’re … well … wrong. Like the pronunciation of Van Gogh. (Look it up; you may be surprised.)

The Irishman and I have done some pleasant business with a company called Celtic Marble and Granite right here in (ahem) the geographical center of the state. The storefront downtown is this fantastical, swirling, hippie-looking façade and I just love it, love going inside and running my hands over the samples of gorgeous stone. The business is owned by the Fretwells; she’s English, he’s Welsh (very, very Welsh).

Which doesn’t really matter, but I was out driving one day and remembered I needed to call them about our current project. I didn’t have the number, so I called information and asked for Celtic Marble and Granite. I pronounced it “KELL-tick.” Wouldn’t you? It never crossed my mind to pronounce it any other way.

The operator told me there is no such number.

Now … I knew there was. 🙂 So I smiled and said: “Oh, of course there is! I do business with them! C-E-L-T-I-C (see-ee-ell-tee-eye-see).”

Long pause. “You mean SELL-tick, then.”

Hahahahahahahhaa. My mistake was that I didn’t get it at first: I was wrong, she needed me to know that. But that just flew right over my head. “No, it’s KELL-tick,” I said without thinking. I didn’t really mean to argue with her, I just didn’t understand I wasn’t playing the appropriate role. 🙂 It made her mad, I could tell. (After the fact. Sorry, BellSouth operator lady! Really!)

But what about the Boston Celtics? you might well ask. Or, if you’re Irish: But what about the Glasgow (Scotland) Celtic? Excellent questions. I was trying, some time ago, to locate a succinct explanation of the origins of the Gaelic language, a language that, written, looks absolutely nothing like how it sounds (would you have guessed the word taoiseach—meaning prime minister, as in “Bertie Ahern, at age forty-five, was Ireland’s youngest ever taoiseach”—would be pronounced “TEE-shock”? Neither would I), when I stumbled upon this, which explains the situation: What is a Celt and who are the Glasgow Celtics?

… 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.

And that, I believe, is the final word on that! Here’s wishing you a Celtic-flavored Paddy’s Day, friends. But stay away from that green beer.

(*From “The Ballad of the White Horse” by G. K. Chesterton: “For the great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad, for all their wars are merry …”)

They Speak English, Don’t They?

This post is republished from my other blog, Read Play Edit. It ran in October 2012.

When you’re planning your first trip to Ireland—excitedly, it’s something you’ve dreamed of for decades—the one thing you don’t think is Oh, and I’d better pick up a translation dictionary. Because they speak English over there.

Don’t they?

Um, yes, of course they do.  But you may find yourself doing the smile-and-nod (which is universal sign language for “I don’t understand a word you’re saying, but … OK”) more often than you’d expect.

(Warning: what follows is not for the sensitively eared.)

Like the time we had a flat tire in Tralee and were directed to Tony O’Donoghue’s Tyre Service. As the driver of the car, I marched in and indicated my need for a new tire to the proprietor, who understood me just fine. (They get a lot of American television over there and are used to—and imitate with glee—our accent.) Tony then replied at length. I smiled and nodded, and as Tony walked away, the Irishman murmured, “I’ll bet you didn’t understand a word of that.” I hadn’t. Not a word. And I’d been trying. “It’s a very thick Kerry accent,” he said. “I didn’t catch everything either.”

It’s interesting, the variety of regional accents one encounters in a country the size of Indiana. (To be fair, I can distinguish a Southern accent on a state-by-state basis, though most non-Southerners would probably hear them as all the same.) And not just accents—the vernacular changes too. When I was seeking editorial help from the Irishman (a Dubliner) for a novel set in Ireland, I had to answer characterization questions first: “Who are the speakers, where are they from? Dublin? The west? Cork? Those Corkmen”—a shake of the head—“have a language all their own. Are they working class or upper class?”

One thing visiting Americans certainly find disconcerting is the use of what we might delicately call profanity, but which are merely mild exclamations or slang completely unrelated to … well, what we Yanks think we hear. Words like feck or arse are somewhat shocking to our Puritan ears, though I am assured those Irish nuns have heard this and more (for example, Dubliners are fond of bluddy hell). It’s just not the same, I’m told. (Don’t believe me? Watch this well-received performance by Fascinating Aïda, complete with subtitles.)

It does get easier when you converse with a native-speaker every day. But when I am with the fam and everyone’s talking at once … I just smile and nod.