Funny Story, But You Had to Be There (Touring Howth, Ireland)

And speaking of private tours …

A year ago I helped a friend who was taking her family to Scotland on vacation decide what to do with a little two-day layover in Dublin. We talked about it a lot in email. And then I got busy and the trip came and went and I never followed up.

Last week my friend realized the same thing and sent me a funny email:

I was going through pictures of our trip and realized I had never sent you a followup and thank you for all of your help in planning the trip to Dublin. [I’m not giving you all of my friend’s personal details, of course.] … We stayed in the Clayton Hotel and it was just perfect. A nice walk to the park and the shopping. We also found a great tea shop in the opposite direction.

We wanted to get out of Dublin to show the kids the countryside so I scheduled a tour of Howth. I thought it would be like the Disneyish tour we were heading to in Scotland—they drive you to nice scenery and you walk a short distance to a photo op. It wasn’t like that. Our tour guide was a six foot five lunatic who led us on a five-mile hike/jog up the mountain. It has passed into family legend now …

This made me laugh out loud (it sounds so Irish to me!), though I know my friend is in a lot better shape than me. But 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.

I snagged this from the interwebs. 🙂

Here are some links to check for guides to Howth:

Howth Guided Tours
Little Gem Tours
Sandemans Howth Tours
Tours by Locals
Get Your Guide

Go! Enjoy!

Quick Trips!

I love these sorts of articles: a long weekend here, an overnight there*… or “36 Hours in Galway, Ireland.” A quick-trip article will always catch my eye.

And so this one did. “Scenic Galway may be Ireland’s most charming city,” says the New York Times. It’s

compact, walkable and filled to the brim with independent shops and restaurants that walk the fine line between cool and kitsch. Cozy, old-fashioned pubs showcase the city’s ever-growing selection of craft beers, chefs serve up west-of-Ireland ingredients in creative new ways, and almost every building housing a modern cafe or new atelier has a centuries-old story behind it. It’s not a city in which to hustle; rather, it’s one in which to enjoy a locally brewed pint, relish the excellent seafood and get your fill of views of the rushing River Corrib as it sweeps out to Galway Bay.

That wasn’t my experience, recently, but still I gobbled up this article, to see what we’d somehow missed. So many of my family and friends just love Galway. I wanted to love it. What’s wrong with me? By the end, I’d come to the conclusion (yet again) that I’d reached before—I think Galway is more of a party town than I am a party girl. 🙂

’S cool. To everything there is a season! And I’m past my Galway season, I’m afraid. But you aren’t! So read this delightful article, and the next time you’re in Ireland, check it out. And report back, please. 🙂

* I’ve even written a couple myself: St. Petersburg and Middle Tennessee.

 

Distilled Water—A Precious Commodity in Ireland

A few years ago I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and as a result, I travel with a CPAP machine, which uses distilled water in the humidifier portion of its program. It takes about a cup to fill the reservoir, and that lasts several days. I buy distilled water at the local grocery store; it costs about eighty-nine cents for a gallon.

Remember that. Eighty-nine cents for a gallon.

The first time I traveled to Ireland with my CPAP (2012, I think), I asked Gerry to pick up some distilled water for me. They don’t carry it at the grocers there; you have to go to “the chemist’s” (Americans would call this the pharmacy) to purchase it.

Half a gallon (actually, two liters) of distilled water cost eight euro. Eight euro! That’s sixteen times what it costs in the States! (But wait—there’s more. When I returned in 2013, the cost had more than doubled, to seventeen euro. That’s what it cost in 2015 too.)

WHY? This is the question. Why is it hard to find (you have to order it and wait for it to come in; it’s not kept on hand to sell to the public), and why in the world does it cost so much? My mother, back in the day, kept distilled water on hand to put in the iron, for steaming (this is no longer necessary, by the way). It has never been expensive nor difficult to find in the States.

But it sure is in Ireland. I’ve spent a lot of time searching for answers—which I have mostly found on various message boards. No travel website on either side of the Atlantic has addressed it, as best I can tell. So here’s what I’ve gleaned about the availability of distilled water in Ireland:

  1. Pharmacy: The chemist will be able to get it for you. Be prepared to wait a couple days, and pay through the nose.
  2. Boil and cool: Water in Ireland is very hard, so you don’t want to put it in your CPAP as is. However, you can boil it and cool it. Takes more time, of course, and when you’re traveling it isn’t particularly convenient, but it’s a solution. Most hotel rooms are equipped with electric kettles.
  3. Health food store: I found this chain of health food stores in Galway selling distilled water in one-liter bottles. But a check online of several shops in Dublin yielded no such convenience, though it may just be they don’t get enough call for distilled water to add it to their online product database.
  4. Car-parts store: Because distilled (or deionized) water is used in batteries. I have yet to walk into a car-parts store in Ireland to find out. I’d call ahead.
  5. Babies: I’ve also read to try the baby section of supermarkets (for humidifiers and such, I guess). Again, I have yet to try this, and I’m not going to count on it until I can. But at €17 for a half gallon, who could afford to run a humidifier in baby’s room, eh?

Finally, a reminder that deionized water is not the same as distilled water; check with your CPAP manufacturer before you put it in your machine.

Bottom line—if you’re traveling to Ireland and know you will need distilled water when you get there, do some advance planning. If you’re visiting friends or relatives, they can help. Otherwise, call your hotel’s concierge or your B&B and ask them to track some down for you (and remember to tip the concierge well when you arrive).

A Lighter Shade of Pale, Beyond?

We’ve got an exciting national election cycle goin’ on here in the good ol’ US of A, with one candidate making some pretty interesting claims and the opposing party reacting with outrage. (See how I did that?) My Irish immigrant husband has spent hours watching debates and newscasts and commentaries on the television. He also follows the news online, where he saw a tweet remarking that something a candidate had said was so outrageous it was “beyond the pale.”

The Irishman was surprised to hear it.

“Have you ever heard the phrase beyond the pale?” he asked. “Do you know what it means?”

Of course I do. My parents were wordies, remember? This is one of those phrases I grew up with. It means “outside the bounds of acceptable behavior.” Synonyms might be: unacceptable, unseemly, improper, unsuitable, unreasonable, unforgivable, intolerable, disgraceful, deplorable, outrageous, scandalous, shocking, exceptionable, uncivilized. You might say someone was out of line. You might say it just isn’t done.

The Irishman persisted. “Yes, but do you know what it really means?”

Oh, honey. I married a Dubliner, didn’t I? (I’ve made quite a study of Irish history, aided by the magnificence and sheer number of Dublin bookstores and my husband’s willingness to indulge me in them.) Yes, I know what beyond the pale really means.

It means, put simply, anything outside Dublin. Americans do know the phrase as “outside the bounds of acceptable behavior,” but I suspect many of you may not know from whence it came.

It all starts with the dictionary (as so many things around here do). Pale is most commonly used as an adjective or a verb, but there’s an older meaning, a noun:

1 a archaic : a palisade of stakes : an enclosing barrier : paling
b obsolete : a restraining boundary : defense
2 a : a pointed stake driven into the ground in forming a palisade or fence
b : a slat fastened to a rail at top and bottom for fencing : picket
3 a : a space or field having bounds : an enclosed or limited region or place : enclosure
b : a territory or district within certain bounds or under a particular jurisdiction
4 : an area (as of conduct) or the limits (as of speech) within which one is privileged or protected especially by custom (as from censure or retaliation)
<conduct that was beyond the pale>
5 a obsolete : a vertical stripe (as on a coat)
b : a perpendicular stripe in an escutcheon

The word is Middle English, from Middle French pal (a stake), from the Latin palus. It dates from the 1300s, and is a doublet of the word pole, which has the same Latin origin. So a pale, in the Middle Ages, was a wooden stake, often sharpened on the top, meant to be driven into the ground, often to be used (with others) as a fence or a boundary. Impale, you see, also stems from this word. (As a side note, the adjective pale, while just as old a word, comes from the Latin pallidum [pale or colorless], from which we also get the word pallid.)

So what’s that (sniff) “anything outside Dublin” business? It’s history. The Norman invasion in 1169 brought Ireland under the control of English kings, but as time went on and the Anglo-Normans assimilated with the Irish locals, this control waned. (The English had a lot of infighting to look after on their own island.) By the Tudor era in the 1500s the English crown really only exerted power in and around Dublin—and they’d built a fence to protect it. Really, it was just a fortified ditch. A pale.

And the language, the vernacular, reflected that: the pale was “a defence, a safeguard, a barrier, an enclosure, or a limit beyond which it was not permissible to go.”

Beyond the pale, then, was anything outside the boundary. Wikipedia says, “Within the confines of the Pale the leading gentry and merchants lived lives not too different from those of their counterparts in England, save for the constant fear of attack from the Gaelic Irish. The idea of the Pale was inseparable from the notion of a separate Anglo-Irish polity and culture. After the 17th century and especially after the Anglican Reformation and the Plantation of Ulster, the “Old English” settlers were gradually assimilated into the Irish population … The term continues to be used in contemporary Irish speech to refer to County Dublin and its commuter towns, generally critically—for example, a government department may be criticised for concentrating its resources on the Pale.”

See? My husband was a little surprised to find the phrase common parlance in this country, but he’s forgotten that the phrase came here with English settlers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—when the Pale would have been a thing—and it stayed here.

Contemporary, Literary Ireland: Donal Ryan

I love the books of Donal Ryan. I don’t mention them much here—to my American friends—because he is an Irish writer and they are very Irish and I think sometimes they are too Irish for many American readers. (He is published on a small press here—Steerforth—and I will forthwith begin buying more of their fiction because, well, Donal Ryan.) That is, the milieu, the mind-set, the contemporary history—all are set in an Ireland I know well.

But, dagnabbit, Ryan is a brilliant writer. Everything he’s written, brilliant. None of this “well, I liked his second one best” business. ALL. BRILLIANT. So, American friends, read them.

They were published (and I read them) in this order:

The Spinning Heart (novel)
The Thing About December (novel)
A Slanting of the Sun (short stories)
All We Shall Know (novel)

I have just finished All We Shall Know. It hasn’t even been reviewed in the States. But it was special.

READ THESE BOOKS. Trust me.

Couldn't find my copy of The Thing About December. It's Around here somewhere.

Couldn’t find my copy of The Thing About December. It’s around here somewhere.

The Casino at Marino

The Casino at Marino, Co. Dublin (Margaret's photo).

The Casino at Marino, Co. Dublin (Margaret’s photo).

My husband grew up in the neighborhood where Dublin’s perfect little summerhouse—the Casino at Marino—is located. I’ve driven by it countless times and visited twice, in 2003 and again in 2012. It’s got a lot of history.

And now there’s more of it to see. It’s long been known that there were a series of underground tunnels related to and accessible from the Casino. But what were the tunnels used for? The Journal tells us,

The Casino’s tunnels, like the house itself, are approximately 250 years old – but they have never been the subject of an archaeological excavation; … the reason behind the garden’s small pleasure house having eight tunnels has never been satisfactorily explained.

Neither has the reason why they vary so much in structure. The passageways are not uniform in size or supposed purpose; varying in length from between 10 and 20 ft. Some have steps that lead down to natural springs, while others have several mysterious alcoves carved into their walls.

The longest tunnel was originally linked to main house, which was demolished in 1920s to make way for Ireland’s first affordable housing project. And, to provide light and air to those travelling along the passageway, a number of grates where dug from the ceiling. White says this passage was most likely used by servants moving between the main house and the Casino—and by the master of the estate last at night (probably after an ale or two).

Tucked into the left side of this tunnel are two large rooms with curved ceilings and—seemingly useless—inner window spaces. A supposed second passageway—now blocked off—veers to the right of the main route. It is believed that the second passage, along with the main tunnel to Marino House, were blocked by the Christian Brothers when they took over the estate. However, White points out, without a proper excavation, details are frustratingly hazy.

The Irish Times reports some interesting stories about Michael Collins using the tunnels to test a new gun, and has video too. Now this is the sort of thing that gets me all excited!

The Times also reports the tunnels will be open to the public, as a part of the tour.

The Casino will be closed for a commemorative event on Sunday. But from next Monday, August 22nd, as part of Heritage Week, visitors can explore the story of the long tunnel in an exhibition, Tunnel Vision: Going Underground at Casino Marino, as part of the regular paid tour visit at the Casino.

After Heritage Week, tunnel access is on Thursday to Saturday inclusive only, and the usual admission charges apply. Entry restrictions can apply due to weather/operational conditions.

I’ll definitely be going out to Marino the next time I visit.

Ship Those Packages Home!

When you’re traveling, you’re going to do some shopping. Some of the things you buy will be bulky, fragile, heavy, or otherwise inconvenient to travel with. So ship it! You’ll be glad you did.

Since we’ve been home from our big honeymoon vacation, we’ve gotten several packages from Ireland, for one reason or another. Two of our favorite places to buy special gifts are Nicholas Mosse Pottery and Jerpoint Glass, and we ordered some things that were on sale for gifts, for example.

The speed with which these packages arrived, and the highly professional packaging in which they arrived—leaving nothing to chance—just reminded us of our experience at Belleek all over again.

You remember: we were staying in the area for a few days in October 2015 and decided to drive over and spend some of our wedding money. As we generally do, we asked them to ship our beautiful things to our home. And they seemed like they knew what they were doing. Asking for items to be shipped didn’t raise any eyebrows. But … they told us it would take six to eight weeks.

That certainly raised our eyebrows. We order things from Nicholas Mosse and they’re here in a week, sometimes less than a week. But … OK, whatever. We’re on vacation. We won’t be home for two more weeks.

Well, that box took fully seven weeks to arrive (we’d been home five weeks). And here’s where it gets strange. Our items arrived in a beat-up box—a reused box, as was evident from the printing on the outside of it. Now, I’m all for recycling. Recycling is a part of our daily lives. But we’re talking about very expensive fine china flying across the ocean.

That’s not all. By the time it got here, it looked like it had been around the world. It was battered and falling apart. We could hear things rattling around inside. (Miraculously, nothing broke. But it wasn’t for lack of trying on Belleek’s part.) Some of the items weren’t in their presentation boxes (they were in other boxes clearly not intended for them; they didn’t fit). It just didn’t seem right. Were the local chimpanzees running the shipping department that day? Is this standard practice?

Let’s recap. In my experience, items ordered from Nicholas Mosse, Jerpoint Glass, and the Kilkenny Design Centre (which often runs “shipping sales”: buy as much as you want and ship it—to the same address—for €29, say) …

  • come in brand-new boxes with professional-grade packing materials
  • come astonishingly fast
  • are shipped at a reasonable cost

Whereas the items from Belleek …

  • arrived in a very used box and were not well packed at all
  • took seven long weeks
  • cost more than any shipping fee we’ve ever paid

What gives?

To be perfectly frank, as pretty as our Belleek items are (I wanted some of the traditional shamrock pattern china), I don’t think I’d shop there again, because I feel like we were taken advantage of. But aside from this experience, I encourage you to ship your souvenirs home, and I can certainly encourage you to shop online with Nicholas Mosse, Jerpoint Glass, and Kilkenny Design Centre, because we have, and have been pleased in every way.