Party Time! (Part 2 of 2)

3 October 2015, Saturday
It had been a good day—and it was about to get better. We got ourselves down to the bar around four o’clock (we’d told our guests 4:30) in order to familiarize ourselves with the space and the bartenders and servers who’d been assigned to our party. Once again, the Portmarnock party-planning folks have great staff and do a wonderful job. I can’t say that enough. Everyone was so friendly and eager to make us happy. (You can say, “Sure, you’re paying them” if you want, but if you’ve ever run into someone who tells you “That’s not our policy” or “It’s not my job,” you really appreciate staff whose first response is, “Sure! That’s grand” and “Of course we/you can!”)

I should explain to Americans that the general way Irish wedding receptions proceed (and we’d modeled our party on this formula) is this: meet in the bar, have a drink or two … move into the dining room to eat and make a few speeches after dessert … move back to the bar. (This last is usually so the dining room can be cleared and the dance floor set up, but we skipped the dancing. It was Saturday and there was a band in the bar, which was great.) So our party proceeded in three stages.

Bar, the First
There we were, hanging out in the bar. And shortly, Pat—one of the gentleman of the ESB—showed up. Pat and Gerry worked side-by-side for fifteen years, until Pat retired earlier this year. He’d volunteered to video the proceedings for us, and had camera in hand.

Together again: Pat and Gerry.

Together again: Pat and Gerry.

Me and Pat (and the camera).

Me and Pat (and the camera).

After that, things started happening pretty quickly.

Mike and ’Becca from Texas. She’d been in London for business and had arrived in Dublin the day before, but Mike had gotten off the plane from the States just this morning.

Mike and ’Becca from Texas. She’d been in London for business and had arrived in Dublin the day before, but Mike had gotten off the plane from the States just this morning.

Conor and Laura, all dolled up.

Conor and Laura, all dolled up.

Emmet and Pris.

Emmet and Pris.

Right after this, it got very busy. Suddenly the room was full of people! I was supposed to be helping Gerry manage the drinks—we bought everyone a drink when they arrived—but I kept getting sidetracked. And then all of Gerry’s childhood friends arrived. Oh, my goodness. 🙂

L–R: Me, Paddy O., and Paddy M.

L–R: Me, Paddy O., and Paddy M.

L–R: Gerry, Ann (Paddy O’s wife), Carol (Paddy M’s wife) behind her, and me. That’s my friend Robert in the back.

L–R: Gerry, Ann (Paddy O’s wife), Carol (Paddy M’s wife) behind her, and me. That’s my friend Robert in the back.

L–R: Phillip D., and Fran.

L–R: Phillip D., and Fran.

Gerry’s friends were so welcoming and playful and friendly! It was spectacular. You’ve no doubt heard the phrase feeling the love—and I certainly felt it in that room. I think they had all hoped this happiness for Gerry, finding a partner to do life with, and they were happy to finally meet me (after twelve years!). They all hugged me. And you know I am a hugger, so it was all good.

This is a tall man. Fran and me.

This is a tall man. Fran and me.

And there were more friends, more family, more everything!

Two of Gerry’s beautiful nieces, Clare (left) and Orla. That’s Fran photobombing.

Two of Gerry’s beautiful nieces, Clare (left) and Orla. That’s Fran photobombing.

Gerry’s brother, Richie, and their mother, Bridie. She is gorgeous—and a fashion plate.

Gerry’s brother, Richie, and their mother, Bridie. She is gorgeous—and a fashion plate.

Phillip J., me, Robert. You’ve met Robert on this blog before.

Phillip J., me, Robert. You’ve met Robert on this blog before.

Sinéad and her husband, Brian; he’s an ESB colleague of Gerry’s.

Sinéad and her husband, Brian; he’s an ESB colleague of Gerry’s—and the proprietor of the popular website Brand New Retro.

But my niece, Alli, wasn’t there. She and her husband, Sabas, were staying with Gerry’s nephew, Eoin, and his wife, Tracy. And they hadn’t arrived yet. About an hour into it, the woman* managing the dining room began to circulate, suggesting we steer our guests in to dinner. I asked her if we could slow the process down just a bit, because there were a couple guests who were running late, and she immediately got it. “Would you like me to delay this?” she said, smiling broadly. This is typical of the wonderful service we got from everyone involved with our party.

As it turned out, our Missing Persons showed up shortly after that. I found the Managing Lady, everything got back on track, and we all went in to dinner.

The Dining Room
But first … we took a group photo. On my camera and tripod, which I’d lugged across the Atlantic precisely for this purpose. We did not have a professional photographer, so there was no one to say, “You move left two inches, and you step forward.” We took about a dozen photos and none of them is perfect, but this one gives a good feel for what we did. Everybody laughed, snuggled in close, and had a good time. It was great, really. I’ve just zoomed in to make the key, and it’s quite an accomplishment.

Our group. Thanks, y’all. Don’t forget, click on the photo, then click again to zoom in.

Our group. Thanks, y’all. Don’t forget, click on the photo, then click again to zoom in.

Front row, L–R: Gerry, me, Pauline, Isolde, Richie, Bridie, William, Gwen, Clare, Alli, and Orla. Pat on the far right.

Middle rows, L–R: Sandra, Brendan, Ruth, John, Emmet, ’Becca, Pris, Carol, Laura (partially hidden, Sinéad, Phillip, Damian (glasses, partially hidden), Ashling, Ann, Paddy O. (all you can see is his white hair), Maureen, Tracy, Neil, Tiffany, Robert, Camille, Phillip.

Way back there, L–R: Mike (red shirt, mostly hidden), Paddy M., Brian, Conor, Fran, Conor, Eoin, Sabas.

Everyone clustered in front of the seating chart to see what table they’d be at, and then went on in. At Irish wedding dinners, as I understand, the wedding party sits together at the “main” table, and then the rest of the invitees are scattered around at the other tables. When we made our seating plan, I relied on Gerry’s experience in these matters. We put the most immediate family—his brothers and wives, their mother, my niece and her husband—at the main table. After that, we had one American couple (or single) per table, one representative of Gerry’s family (the younger generation) per table, one of Gerry’s friends, and one of his work colleagues per table. We had a little bit of last-minute seat changes, but it all shook out well.

It takes a few minutes to get everyone seated—particularly because now new conversational circles are created, and new stories begin. 🙂

Bridie catching up with Alli and Sabas.

Bridie catching up with Alli and Sabas.

When Gerry slid in next to me, he said, “Now I know why you need a best man—this meeting and greeting is hard work!” Then he looked across the table at his brother Richie. “Is it too late to designate you as best man?” We all laughed, and Richie volunteered to emcee later.

The food was lovely—nothing I’ve ever had at the Portmarnock was not—the wine was good, and the noise level rose in the room.

The hotel does such a nice job with the menu.

The hotel does such a nice job with the menu.

And then it was time for a few speeches. Richie introduced Gerry, who spoke extemporaneously and was great. There was no way I could speak in front of a room full of people without notes. I’d prepared weeks ago—and even so, watching the video of my speech makes me cringe. After that, we’d asked the two youngest members of both our families to speak: my niece Alli and Gerry’s niece Orla. Richie, meanwhile, had been working the room, asking if any of Gerry’s friends wanted to speak, and Phillip D. said a few words, to much heckling from the others. (Gerry’s friends are a tight-knit group.) Finally Richie made a great show of pulling out pages and pages of notes, to much groaning—his turn as father of the bride, a few months earlier, had gone on and on, and he has yet to live it down. As it turns out, the joke was on us—one page of notes! The rest was just for show, and it brought the house down.

In my speech, I told our guests I wanted to circulate the room and get photos, and that’s what happened next. Pat, videocamera in hand, grabbed me and escorted me around the tables, filming. Alli took stills (though not all worked out).

Emmet and Pris.

Emmet and Pris.

John.

John.

Tiffany and Camille.

Tiffany and Camille.

’Becca and Mike.

’Becca and Mike.

Laura, ’Becca, Conor.

Laura, ’Becca, Conor.

Pat at work.

Pat at work.

Sandra and Pauline.

Sandra and Pauline.

We tried to get the family too.

Bridie, me, William (seated), Richie.

Bridie, me, William (seated), Richie.

Ashling and Damian—newlyweds!

Ashling and Damian—newlyweds!

Richie and Isolde.

Richie and Isolde.

William and Gwen.

William and Gwen.

Then people started getting up, moving around … but still Pat and Alli and I soldiered on!

Brendan and Ruth.

Brendan and Ruth.

Robert!

Robert!

That Pat!

That Pat!

The gentlemen of the ESB: Pat, Gerry, and Brendan. At last, a photo of me with Gerry!

The gentlemen of the ESB: Pat, Gerry, and Brendan. At last, a photo of me with Gerry!

Then Alli went out into the anteroom to get some photos while I was still socializing in the dining room.

Fran, Gerry, Eoin, Neil, Paddy O.

Fran, Gerry, Eoin, Neil, Paddy O.

Playin’ around: Clare, Sabas, Eoin, Tracy.

Playin’ around: Clare, Sabas, Eoin, Tracy.

Alli, Sabas, Neil, Maureen, Clare, Eoin, Tracy, Conor, Orla.

Alli, Sabas, Neil, Maureen, Clare, Eoin, Tracy, Conor, Orla.

And by then everyone had moved into the bar.

Bar, the Second
There was already a good crowd in the bar, and then the band cranked up. Oh, goodness.

Pat, John, Robert, Tiffany, Paddy M.

Pat, John, Robert, Tiffany, Paddy M.

Gerry, Ann, Carol, Fran.

Gerry, Ann, Carol, Fran.

Phillip D., Paddy M., Gerry, Paddy O. The old crowd. :)

Phillip D., Paddy M., Gerry, Paddy O. The old crowd. 🙂

It was loud—and still we carried on conversations. I moved around a little among the various groups, although I was getting very tired. Still, I was delighted with a conversation I had with Gwen: growing up, she said, there was always one drawer in the fridge reserved for chocolate. Oh my goodness! I discovered Maureen and Neil’s fridge drawer of chocolate back in 2012 and thought it was the best thing ever! I didn’t realize it was a thing. (A tradition?) Yes, I raided it. Silly. No, I do not have a chocolate drawer in the fridge here in Tennessee—this is America, our chocolate isn’t worth eating.

Gerry’s pals started the sing-song at some point (when the band was taking a break). Another Irish tradition I was delighted to witness.

It was just … wonderful, this party. Even if I do say so myself. It was a happy occasion.

I got to bed around 2am. I could not have gone another moment. Gerry came up about an hour later. Whew.

* I can’t remember her name, now, and I thought I’d written it down. Darn it. She was wonderful.

It was so nice to have my friends around me—and really special to have my family. Thanks, Alli. xox

It was so nice to have my friends around me—and really special to have my family. Thanks, Alli. xox

 

It’s a Great Day for a Celebration (Part 1 of 2)

3 October 2015, Saturday
Overslept! We intended to be at breakfast by 7:30, but that’s when we woke up. Obviously we needed it. I’d been awake at 3am again, lying on the floor in an Egoscue static back position, waiting for my muscles to relax—part of it the change of time zones, part of it the hard bed.

So it was good to finally sleep.

Then we had breakfast with the golfers, and drove back into Dublin (again!) to the courier company that was holding the visa. Saturday morning and the place was deserted. I hung out in the parking lot, photographing the fall foliage and suchlike, and then I turned around—and there he was. We hugged, tiredly, in the parking lot. “I never thought—when we started this process a year ago—that it would come down to a warehouse in an industrial park in north Dublin,” Gerry said.

And then I took a picture. 🙂

We got it! (Yeah, his eyes are closed. I seem to have a knack for catching Gerry in a blink.)

We got it! (Yeah, his eyes are closed. I seem to have a knack for catching Gerry in a blink.)

Taking a moment to breathe.

Taking a moment to breathe. He has his passport back.

It was a neat little piece of serendipity, though. We’d been prepared to wait “seven to ten business days” for this thing. And yet here it was, just three days later, and on the very day we were celebrating the emigration this visa made possible. Well played, Uncle Sam, well played.

When we got back to the hotel in the midmorning, we discovered our party was already listed on the lobby marquee.

It’s our party and we’ll mug if we want to.

It’s our party and we’ll mug if we want to.

So we wandered downstairs to see what else was happening.

They’d already decorated the foyer. This table was where I put out our emigration “scrapbook”—the photos and other material we had to collect to prove to U.S. Immigration that we had a for-real relationship.

They’d already decorated the foyer. This table was where I put out our emigration “scrapbook”—the photos and other material we had to collect to prove to U.S. Immigration that we had a for-real relationship.

And in we went. Tables were set, menus were out. No chocolates yet (to prevent theft!). But it all looked very good.

But this is what the chocolates looked like … later.

And this is what the chocolates looked like … later.

The tables were named, yes.

The tables were named, yes. Click twice to zoom in, if you’d like.

The author blurb was in a folder on the table. Everything was lovely.

The author blurb was in a folder on the table. Everything was lovely.

At the Irish wedding dinners I’ve been to, seating charts were created for each table—and instead of numbering them, the tables were named. After superheroes, at one party; famous scientists at another; and after the myriad colors of blue at another. Naturally, I’d wanted to follow suit. And it was Gerry who’d suggested naming them after Irish authors. I tweaked it to forward-thinking Irish authors, writers who were unafraid to stand out, to speak truth to power.

We ended up with six tables:

Anne Enright

Seamus Heaney

Fergal Keane

Nuala O’Faolain

Colm Tóibín

William Butler Yeats

I wrote up a blurb and a quote for each one, with recommended titles, all works with which I was familiar. And the party staff took it and ran with it. 🙂

When we left the dining room we walked through the bar to see where our party would begin, and ran into my friends Laura and Conor. I tried to take a photo. Ha.

When Selfies Go Wrong.

When Selfies Go Wrong.

Back in the room Gerry and I had some quiet time, napping and relaxing in anticipation of a long night of merriment. You’ll read about that in Part 2.

So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 7): Let’s Go Shopping!

This series started with an introduction, and here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a souvenir shop in Ireland, so sooner or later you’re going to find yourself in one, if for no other reason that to pick up some postcards. But what you really want is something nice to remember your trip by. Something lasting. Right? I know I do.

When you’re shopping for gifts for yourself or others (I like to do my Christmas shopping in Ireland), look for things you can’t get at home, or—in the case of international brands like Waterford Crystal or Belleek porcelain—that you can get somewhat cheaper than at home. (Particularly when the exchange rate favors the dollar.)

So here’s a quick list of things you might buy in Ireland:

• Knitwear: sweaters, scarves and more
You’ve seen the sheep, now buy something woolen. I buy sweaters and scarves every time I travel to Ireland; they’re available just about everywhere. And the range of colors and styles! Oh! They make lovely gifts.

• Clothing made from Irish linen or tweed
You can buy beautiful woven wool scarves, too—and tweed caps, jackets, waistcoats (you may call this a vest). Some shops sell piece goods so you can sew your own at home. Look for beautiful table linens and handkerchiefs and you’ll think of Ireland every time you sit down to a meal.

• Crystal and glassware, china and pottery
Waterford Crystal is the category leader but there are other good quality brands equally beautiful (research it before you go). Jerpoint Glass is one of my favorite places to shop (Co. Kilkenny) but you can find their pieces in nicer shops all over the country. I also love Nicholas Mosse Pottery, which is readily available. Check department stores for Royal Tara china or Belleek, for a lot less than you’ll pay for them in the States.

• Handmade arts and crafts
There is so much to choose from here: jewelry, pottery, prints and paintings … we could go on and on. Look for small art galleries, museum shops, individual studios (like Jerpoint Glass and Nicholas Mosse) and workshops … and larger outlets like Kilkenny Design Centre in Kilkenny and Dublin (which often, by the way, runs free-shipping-to-the-States promotions). Here’s a website that will give you some ideas. Steer away from those Philip Gray prints; aside from the fact that Gray’s the Irish version of Thomas Kinkade (a hack), these reproductions are poorly done on cheap paper. You’ll know real art when you see it.

• Books
Ireland is a nation of readers (and the home of many fine writers), so you’ll find a bookstore in every town of a few thousand or more. Look for books by Irish authors, photography books, books on Irish history or of local interest (architecture, say) in both new and secondhand shops. Or choose a cookbook!

• Music
If it’s in the budget, you can buy traditional handmade instruments (tin whistles, flutes, fiddles, pipes, bodhráns) from craftspeople in their workshops or in more traditional music stores. While you’re in that music store, you might be interested in sheet music or teaching CDs, such as the one I purchased the featuring a how-to on fiddling traditional Irish melodies and techniques. Music stores and record shops will feature the recordings of local musicians and bands, too; these are affordable and make one-of-a-kind gifts.

• Fashion, design, and up-market personal products
Ireland has a youthful population and has a growing reputation for fashion and design; a special item of clothing might be just the thing to take home. There are many Irish designers (research it) but lately I’ve been loving Orla Kiely; you can find her bags all over Ireland (and they’ll be different from what you’ll find in the States). I also love Moulton Brown hair care products (it’s a British company but I was exposed to the products in Ireland), and I make sure I bring some home from every trip.

• Antiques
Dublin has an antiques district but even small towns have an antique shop or two. Look for unusual prints, vintage jewelry, a teacup … something small and special you can carry home with you.

• Foodstuffs
I am a real sucker for farm shops as well as the upscale grocers you’ll find in larger cities and department stores. I bring cheese home on every trip. And chocolate (see below)! Other delights: tea, jams and jellies, Sarah’s Wonderful Honey, cookies … and did I mention the chocolate?

• Chocolate in particular
On the other side of the pond, chocolate must contain at least 20 percent cocoa solids. In the US, on the other hand, cocoa solids need only make up 10 percent. So there’s definitely a taste differential. My three favorite chocolate brands are Áine, Butler’s, and Cadbury. I stock up on the big bars to bring home for gifts, Christmas stocking stuffers, and so on.

• Little gifts for friends
As mentioned, chocolate bars are always a hit. Irish-themed Christmas ornaments are nice (you can find them in souvenir shops or department stores). And, frankly, though it may seem cliché, the Guinness line of trademarked souvenirs (T-shirts, hats, and so on) are generally of good quality, so if you’ve someone who’d like that sort of thing, go for it. Now … if you really want a nice, truly Irish T-shirt … you’ll have to drive to Lahinch, on the west coast, to the Celtic T-Shirt Shop. A family-owned business since 1979, these shirts (and other apparel) are original designs screen-printed by hand—and they’re gorgeous. Honestly, the website doesn’t do them justice.

See? You don’t have to let the souvenir market drive your purchasing decisions. Don’t buy the first thing you see. Look around! You’ll find something perfect. And don’t forget to pick up a bottle of Jameson’s in the duty-free on your way home. 🙂

A few things that came home last time: scarf from Avoca Hand Weavers, Nicholas Mosse mug, chocolate-covered cookies from Cadbury.

A few things that came home last time: scarf from Avoca Hand Weavers, Nicholas Mosse mug, chocolate-covered cookies from Cadbury.

 

Wrapping Up: Margaret’s Last Comment

I really enjoyed having my friend Margaret with me on this trip. She is endlessly patient and I am the opposite of that, so we were a good fit. (At least from my point of view!) 🙂

Here are a few of her final thoughts about our trip:

• The VAT was more time-consuming/confusing than I had anticipated, but worth the time and effort to collect.

• You make an excellent point about the cost of duty-free shopping: it’s best to know the product and its pricing before indulging.

• Irish chocolate measures up to Swiss, Belgian, French, etc. and is more reasonably priced.

• Security was more time consuming and thorough than any other trip I have ever taken. Allow lots of extra time for it.

• Take your electronic adapters with you.

• Don’t count on doing laundry.

• And … don’t rush. Go at a comfortable pace; you won’t see or do everything anyway, so enjoy what you do.

Margaret wrote me a note recently: “Thank you for the anticipation and planning, the trip, the recollections of it—a wonderful experience of nearly a year.” That’s exactly how I feel: the planning, the anticipation, the doing, the recounting (and in my case, the blogging) … all these things are what get us through the daily grind until we get to the next trip, the next out-of-grind experience. 🙂

I’m so glad you’re my friend, Margaret!

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig

Day 24, Thursday, 4 October 12

We were up early so we could do the last of the packing and get all settled. Neither Margaret or I like to be rushed. 🙂

The Radisson has a nice breakfast buffet you can add to the cost of the room for ten euro, and we knew we needed to have a good breakfast to get us through this day, especially since we’d be going back through that nightmare airport (Dulles). The Radisson’s shuttle drivers are very nice, too—ours loaded all our luggage and then waited for us to check out, then unloaded it for us at the airport. So Radisson gets the gold star.

Remember, once you get to the airport there are two things you’ll need to do:

1. Take care of your VAT situation (see #11 in Jamie’s Travel Tips)

2. Shop in the duty-free … maybe.

Currently in Ireland there are three entities that handle VAT refunds—two with old-school paper forms and one electronically (Fexco). Perhaps eventually it will all be electronic; certainly most of my VAT refunds were applied to the card I got from one of the first merchants I visited. In the electronic situation, you are never charged the VAT tax; however, if you leave the country without visiting the Fexco machine, your credit card will be charged the VAT later. So care of it.

There are two companies that handle VAT refunds with paper; it just depends which refund company is used by the merchant you visited. More than likely, you’ll have to visit both. You must remember to ask for the form when you make your purchases, keep your receipt with the form, and then the night before you leave, fill out each and every form. It’s not fun, but you can end up with enough dollars to get out of the parking lot back home (or euros to save for your next trip). So you should make the effort—and then visit the VAT kiosks as soon as you get your luggage checked in.

Then you’ve got time to wander the duty free shops! There are a lot of them in the Dublin Airport—it’s a regular ol’ mall. I’ve become cautious, though, because I’m not convinced I’m always getting a deal. I like to take Irish chocolate home to hand out as thank-yous, but I’ve begun buying it ahead of time in the Butler’s shop, so I can pack it rather than carry it. On this trip I found the Orla Keilly bag I’d fallen in love with at a shop in Dingle, but it was thirty-five euro more in the duty-free shop than in Dingle! Same bag. The best bargains are in perfumes and cosmetics and alcohol, so if you’re looking for a deal, that’s where to go. Just make sure you’ve got room in your carry-on for that big bottle of twelve-year-old whiskey.

We were pretty shopped out, though. As noted, I’d done all my Christmas shopping on this trip, and it was all packed; for myself, I’d bought two paperback books, the Moulton Brown shampoo and conditioner, the scarf I was wearing, and a pretty necklace at the Kilkenny Design Center. Oh, and a rain hat. 🙂

There was a new procedure to follow on this trip: we were assigned a time by which we were supposed to pass the security checkpoint. Naturally we missed it 🙂 but not by much. I can see why they do this, though: you really have to run quite a gauntlet to get out to the gate. We had to show our passports at least half a dozen times once we passed the initial security checkpoint—no joke. Once we arrived at our gate I left my carry-on with Margaret and went to buy a bottle of water—and had to show my passport again. To buy water!

I was much less stressed on this flight, though. I read, watched a movie, and before you know it, we were on the ground in Dulles. A quick check of the departures signage and Margaret and I realized we had to go in opposite directions! We weren’t ready for such an abrupt good-bye after our three-week vacation, but there we were, with a quick hug outside the ladies’ lounge before we each hustled off to catch the next flight.

Naturally, once I got to my gate my connecting flight had been delayed, so I called my friends in Tennessee to let them know I’d be late. And then … I was home. And the felines were glad to see me.

The next morning, I settled down with a cup of tea and the cookies Eoin and Tracy had given us the day before … and began writing this travelogue.

I made those cookies last a long time. :)

I made those cookies last a long time. 🙂

What’s Next?

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this trip as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it. I’ve got another trip planned in May (about two and a half months from now) so I hope you’ll stick around for that. In the meantime, I’ll be posting some other interesting travel-related pieces, and I’ll be continuing to add material from trips I’ve taken in previous years. You may have noticed that there are already a few entries posted from a Christmas trip to England and my first trip to Ireland. There will be lots more; I’ll let you know when the trips are completely chronicled. Thank you so much for visiting with me!

It All Started as a Little Cough …

Day 9 / Wednesday, 19 September 2012 (part 2)

Now … where were we? Oh yes—at Castletown House in Celbridge, just outside Dublin. Our destination was Kilkenny, where we would spend two nights. This would be my third visit, although in previous years I’d approached the town from Dublin via Glendalough (GLEN-da-lock)—a completely different route. It was fun to see some different countryside—and to get on the N7, a good-sized highway.

This is what the countryside looked like. (Margaret took this from the car.)

As we were tootling though Sallins, my passengers noticed a photo op, so we stopped and jumped out to take photos. As it turns out, this was a branch of Dublin’s Grand Canal, which connects the City of Dublin in the east with the River Shannon in the west. The first leg of the canal originated in Sallins; work started here in 1757. Cargo traffic on the canal ceased in 1960, and it fell into disuse until 1986, when control of the canal passed to the Office of Public Works. It’s been cleaned up now, and pleasure boat traffic has increased—certainly the case in Sallins.

The Grand Canal at Sallins: small boats and houseboats!

Here’s a zoom look. Lots of boats!

This was right on the N7, so we had to park and walk back. The most immediately available parking was a lot at Odlums, which, as you will see, produces McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal. (This brand isn’t sold in Ireland—and isn’t featured on the Odlums website—so when Gerry saw it in my pantry long ago, he doubted it was truly Irish.)

See, honey? McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal is, well, Irish. 🙂

Margaret had been suffering with her United Airlines-provided head cold for some days. Now I started to cough too. Oh boy! I don’t like to suffer with cold symptoms, though, so at the next opportunity—and that was Abbeyleix (Abbey-LEESH)—we stopped so I could run into a chemist’s (that is, a pharmacy) to buy some paracetamol (that is, acetaminophen). At one point, we had to turn around (a not uncommon occurrence), and discovered this:

Abbeyleix Church of Ireland. It’s lovely.

This would become a habit, this jumping out of the car to take a photo of something beautiful or interesting or beautiful and interesting, as was the case here. It’s the Abbeyleix Church of Ireland. Sources give two different dates for construction (1825, 1831), but both agree it was restored to its current state in 1865.

By this time it was mid-afternoon and we were anxious to get to Kilkenny, unload, and relax. Our B&B, we knew, was just a block or two away from Kilkenny Castle (on Castle Road, of course). We drove all through the town, a little lost … but it’s impossible to lose a castle, you know?

The main street in Kilkenny. (Margaret took this one.)

At last! Kilkenny Castle, sitting on the River Nore. Now … how to get to it? (Margaret took this one too.)

Our B&B, the Fanad House, was very nice, and I highly recommend it. If you’re not sick, it’s an easy five-minute walk into town. 🙂 But that wasn’t the case, so Margaret took a nap while Jill and Alli walked into town. I opened my computer and worked. Driving’s hard work! (It’s just as well we stayed in, because I was truly getting sick; I just didn’t know it yet. In hindsight, of course, I’d been getting sick for a couple days.)

The Fanad House, Kilkenny, Ireland. I’ll stay there again, please God.

Our host, Pat Wallace, had recommended a restaurant, Kyteler’s Inn (fortuitously near a parking lot), so we met up with Jill and Alli there later that evening. We were particularly excited that they offered traditional music that started at 6:30 in the evening. That should have been a tip-off to me: most pubs won’t get started with music—traditional or otherwise—until after nine o’clock. But I was tired, getting sick, and not on top of my game.

Kyteler’s Inn—good enough!

It turns out that Kyteler’s (pronounce this KITT-ler’s) was mostly populated by Yanks, and the music, while good enough, was clearly aimed at the tourist trade. We also had to listen to some patter about the ghostly history of the pub (it was established in 1324), which led to an epic poem (about same). But here’s the thing: the food was very good. I’d eat there again. And this was the last time we’d eat in an overtly touristy pub during the trip.

So we had a hearty meal, listened to some music, and found our way back to the Fanad House … and bed. By now I was really, really sick.

 Today’s Image

Ireland has a candy culture that has no equal in the United States. Go into any convenience or grocery store, and you’ll find a huge rack of every possible permutation of candy—most of it chocolate (um, hellooooo, Cadbury Crunchies). Resistance is futile.

I’m not kidding. 🙂 (Margaret’s photo.)

Just Another Day in Paradise … Er, an Airport

Day 3 / Thursday, 13 September 2012

Today my sis, Jill, and her daughter, Alli, were arriving—Jill from the family home in California and Alli from London. I’m so proud of my sweet niece: she’d just spent the last six weeks traveling in England, Scotland, and Wales … all by herself (mostly). With a tiny little suitcase. (Those of you who know what a clotheshound she is might be surprised. I’m just impressed.)

Alli’s an experienced singer/songwriter and also is a member of her community choir (Monterey Peninsula Choral Society). MPCS was one of just six choirs in the world invited to perform at the 2012 Olympics in London; they pieced together a little tour that included three dates in Paris (here’s a video of one song; Alli’s the female soloist in the foreground just right of center) and a few more in London, including one at the Olympic Park. After that, the choir went home—and Alli stayed, knowing she’d be coming to Ireland for a wedding soon.

Yes, Gerry has been a part of my family for a long time, too, and his nieces stayed with my California family a few years ago; later that year Alli flew to Dublin, where she became close with Eoin and Tracy, the couple whose marriage we’re all here to celebrate.

Margaret, Gerry, and I drove in from Laytown. Jill was already on the ground, and from her we learned Alli’d missed her early morning flight, so we had a forty-five minute wait. (The airport had several shops, so I bought postcards and stamps while we waited.) Although we’d thought we might go into Dublin, we were all still very, very tired, so we scrapped those plans. Gerry cabbed it home and we gals drove out to Portmarnock village, where the wedding reception would be held (at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links). We’d all stay there Friday night; Jill and Alli were checking in today.

It’s a beautiful hotel. (Be sure to check that link. Wow.)

This is the lobby of the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links. Gorgeous day!

More of the hotel lobby.

Looking out those windows toward the back, with the sun streaming in. I really liked this room.

And it has a beautiful view. I’d seen Ireland’s Eye (a small island in the Irish sea, just north of Howth) from Howth (pronounce this with a long O, like hoe-th), but never from this angle.

Ireland’s Eye from the Portmarnock Hotel.

That’s Howth Head in the distance.

I would definitely stay there again.

It was quiet in the midafternoon. All the golfers were out on the links. So when we simultaneously realized we were hungry, we had the dining room almost to ourselves.

Alli and Jill in the dining room at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links. So tired! So happy to be here!

Tea, please! And then: May we see a menu? I had the most wonderful vegetable soup I think I’ve ever had; it was pureed.

After lunch, Jill and Alli checked in to rest, and Margaret and I drove back to Laytown via the Coast Road, which took us through Malahide village. We stopped here, took some photos and bought some Kleenex, as Margaret had unfortunately come down with a ferocious cold.

Margaret was charmed by the beautiful windowsill flower baskets in Malahide. She took this photo.

We were back in Laytown in time for the races. And Neil and Maureen’s subdivision is right across the R150 from the strand where the ponies run.

Walking up the street into Neil and Maureen’s subdivision.

The Laytown Races are unique in all of Europe: it’s the only horse racing event run on a beach under the Turf Club’s Rules of Racing, which it has been doing since 1868. It’s a huge event in tiny Laytown village, with as many as ten thousand people showing up to eat, drink, place bets, and watch magnificent Irish thoroughbreds run on the beach at low tide in the late afternoon.

Margaret was exhausted from travel and being sick, so I walked down to the races by myself. There are bleachers, but many people just stand along the edge of the beach to watch. This is where I found myself, since I didn’t really know where to go; I asked a gentleman standing near me, and he gave me the down-low.

Laytown Races 2012. The only sanctioned beach races in Europe (and possibly in the Northern Hemisphere).

Walking the horses down to the starting gate.

Here they come! Laytown Races 2012.

Turns out he’d come all the way from England for race day. We had a lovely chat. When he heard I was from Nashville (and this is my standard response when asked where I’m from; everybody has heard of Nashville) he waxed poetic about Duane Eddy (he’s a fan). Then he mentioned the flood we had in 2010, which surprised me, since it barely got any coverage in the national news.

I watched a few of the races (I didn’t buy a program, so I can’t tell you which horses I saw, really), and then I walked around a bit. There were all sorts of folks there, from the very well-heeled horse people—who were dressed up in suits and dresses and, yes, elaborate chapeaux—to folks like me in casual clothing. I bought an ice cream cone and ate it on my way back to the house.

A day at the races.

Some folks watch the race on the big screen. And then they watch the replay. And the replay of the replay.

Margaret and I made simple sandwiches for dinner—to tired to go out—and I discovered Maureen’s stash of chocolate in the fridge. Dessert!

There was trouble with the wifi here—Neil had been bickering with his service provider for days prior to our arrival, but the fix never did come—so I caught up on my notes, did a little work on the manuscript I’d brought with me, and then we called it a night. Tomorrow (Friday) was the wedding, and it would be a long day.

Today’s Observation

No matter where you are in the world, an airport is a great place for people-watching. 🙂