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!

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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.

In Flanders Fields*

My father was a history major in college, and we kids grew up discussing it at the dinner table. It was my first experience with how interpretation and perception shape the events that we (or our children) will one day call history.

Since we are approaching the one-hundreth anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland, I want to tell you about a book that changed the way I thought about it. You might enjoy it. (I repurposed this column from my other blog, Read Play Edit.)

I recently (recently when I wrote this post in 2012) read A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry, one of Ireland’s finest writers, and I’m still shaken by it, by what I didn’t know or didn’t understand about the First World War (that’s just for starters; God knows there’s plenty I don’t know). As I was thinking about the history I learned, it occurred to me that as an event moves from the present into the past (and it never stops, my friends, it never stops; we grow older so quickly) we learn about it first from journalists, reporters, participants—people who were there. As distance and perspective are gained, the historians and memoirists begin to weigh in. (Here’s a beautifully written—and current—article from the Guardian about the facts and the myths of that moment in history.)

And then the artists take over, and playwrights, screenwriters, the poets and the novelists.

For those who have eyes to see (and hearts, I think, to comprehend), there’s a lot to learn from them. That’s probably why our teachers had us read All Quiet on the Western Front in high school, although by that time I’d already read Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago. I read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914 not long after that. Last year I tracked down a used copy of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse after a World War I–reading hiatus of a couple decades.

These novels and others like them will live on long after those present at the events have left us (in fact, the last veteran just died in February). (Again, 2012.)

I have no personal connection to the Great War. My parents were born too late and my grandparents too early for me to have an immediate family connection. But history—no matter whose it is—is personal. It’s horrible enough to think of all those boys dying; nine million of them. Nine million.

Nine million.

Two hundred thousand Irishmen fought in British uniforms, as Ireland was then a part of the United Kingdom; many of them signed up because they were promised this show of solidarity would lead to Home Rule (that is, self-government). Some went for the idealistic reasons young men tend to go; in this case, to stop the Kaiser. Others did simply because that was what their government called them to do; the Acts of Union in 1800 had forced Ireland into the UK and further under England’s thumb. There was a lively opposition to the Brits, but a great many Irish even in the south accepted the status quo; there’d been four generations of peace.

And then … the Rising. An insurrection staged during Easter week 1916 by young men who believed Ireland belonged to the Irish changed everything.

Easter_Proclamation_of_1916

Willie Dunne, the protagonist of A Long Long Way, has been fighting in a British uniform for considerably more than a year when he finds himself home in Dublin on a brief furlough during Easter 1916. Because he is in the British army, he is sent to help quell the Rising. Think about that: an Irishmen called to bear arms against his own countrymen. Willie’s father knows exactly which side he is on, but Willie himself, just nineteen, is mightily confused.

How could a fella like Willie hold England and Ireland equally in his heart, like his father before him, like his father’s father and his father’s father’s father, when both now would call him a traitor, though his heart was clear and pure, as pure as a heart can be after three years of slaughter?

Willie is in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 16th division, which saw action at the battle of the Somme, Guillemont, Ginchy, and Ypres, sustaining enormous losses. At the third battle of Ypres (July 1917) casualties were so high the battalion virtually ceased to exist. Willie is wounded there, so it is only later he learns that most of his comrades are gone, and that the English generals blamed the dead men for not fighting well enough.

There was a terrible lack of new Irishmen now in the army. You could hardly meet another fella in transit. It had all dried up, those thoughts and deeds of ’14. It was all a thing long done and past. No one now thought it was a good notion to kit up against the Kaiser and go to Flanders. The 16th was gone the way of all old, finished things. … Ceased to exist! And then to be blamed for that themselves. That was a test of loyalty anyhow, to hear a thing like that, never mind a rake of Germans rushing at you. But Willie heard it on the trains; he could smell that opinion almost in the sea air of Southampton. Better forget about the Irish. They always had been a strange crowd anyhow. … Between your own countrymen deriding you for being in the army, and the army deriding you for your own slaughter, a man didn’t know what to be thinking. A man’s mind could be roaring out in pain of a sort. The fact that the war didn’t make a jot of sense any more hardly came into it.

Of course, they blame them because they’re Irish. Because the Irish in Ireland are in open insurrection against the British king.

Mothers in Ireland said they would stand in front of their sons and be shot before they’d let them go, and that was a change … They could raise one hundred and fifty thousand men immediately, and that would win the war. But the Nationalists wouldn’t stand for it. Said King George could find lambs for the slaughter in his own green fields from now on.

There is much more in the story than what I’ve told you, of course. It’s very compelling. A Long Long Way is not a typical historical novel, but it’s got the kind of history that will make you think. That will make you glad for the circumstances of your own precious life, and your children’s.

The prose is breathtakingly beautiful. You should read it.

* We are the Dead. Short days ago / We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, / Loved and were loved, and now we lie, / In Flanders fields. (John McCrae)

Alas, Poor Horatio, We Hardly Knew Ye*

Fifty years ago today, 8 March 1966, Nelson’s Pillar—the 121-foot-high column in the center of O’Connell Street in Dublin that sported a statue of Horatio Nelson atop it—was blown up by Irish Republicans.

A half-demolished Nelson’s Pillar on O’Connell Street, Dublin. From the front page of the Irish Times on Tuesday, 8 March 1966: “The top of Nelson Pillar, in O’Connell street, Dublin, was blown off by a tremendous explosion at 1.32 o’clock this morning and the Nelson statue and tons of rubble poured down into the roadway. By a miracle, nobody was injured, though there were a number of people in the area at the time.” Date: Tuesday, 8 March 1966 Source: The National Library of Ireland/Flickr

A half-demolished Nelson’s Pillar on O’Connell Street, Dublin.
From the front page of the Irish Times on Tuesday, 8 March 1966: “The top of Nelson Pillar, in O’Connell street, Dublin, was blown off by a tremendous explosion at 1.32 o’clock this morning and the Nelson statue and tons of rubble poured down into the roadway. By a miracle, nobody was injured, though there were a number of people in the area at the time.
Date: Tuesday, 8 March 1966
Source: The National Library of Ireland/Flickr

Erected to commemorate the life of Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson—and particularly his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, where he was killed at age 47—the statue was completed in 1809. As Lord Nelson was much celebrated, the Dublin pillar “was among the first and grandest monuments erected in memory of Nelson in the then United Kingdom,” according to Wikipedia, though we are also reminded that

The Irish Monthly, a contemporary nationalist newspaper, joked at the time the statue of Horatio Nelson on top of the Pillar was unveiled that “we never remember an exhibition that has excited less notice, or was marked with more indifference on the part of the Irish public, or at least that part that pay the taxes and enjoy none of the plunder”.

In this same article a few myths are laid to rest, including the notion that the pillar was blown up by the IRA.

The pillar has since been replaced by the Spire of Dublin, which was erected in 2003.

* Yes, it’s a deliberate misquote. 🙂

Wedding Past, Present, Future

My dear friend ’Becca (I’ve mentioned her before) brought her plus-one to our dinner party in Dublin. She’d emailed me about him. “I’m bringing Mike. He’s great—you’ll love him. Everybody does.”

She was right. He’s fun to talk to—and a good sport (he flew in that morning!) too.

And he’s an even better sport than I knew: While they were in Dublin, Mike and ’Becca went shopping at Powerscourt Centre, where they looked at antiques. Mike bought ’Becca an old, beautiful ring. A special one for a special reason.

It was a process.

It was a process.

This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing; they’d been talking about it. They’d been looking around for the right thing. But as ’Becca told me later, “It’s all because of you and Gerry! Ireland has the best selection of antique rings!”

But this was the one.

But this was the one.

Oh yeah. It’s gorgeous.

The ring is a pretty basketweave design.

The ring is a pretty basketweave design.

What a great travel story! I am delighted by the synchronicity: they were in Dublin to celebrate my wedding to Gerry, and now we’ll have an excuse to travel to Texas, later, to celebrate theirs.

’Becca wore the ring home on the plane (for safekeeping, of course!), but when they got to Texas, Mike took it back; he wanted to talk to to her father. First things first. So life went on, everybody got back to work after a fabulous vacation in Ireland. The holidays arrived. And the day after Christmas, Mike—having spoken with ’Becca’s dad—asked my friend to marry him.

The day after that, ’Becca emailed me with the news. I don’t mind admitting I shed a little tear. Or three.

Perfect timing. Congratulations, you two. I’m so happy for you!

Mike and ’Becca. Taken outside the Portmarnock Hotel on 3 October 2015.

Mike and ’Becca. Taken outside the Portmarnock Hotel on 3 October 2015.

 

Winding Down, At Last

19 October 2015 Monday

We had a final breakfast at the Celbridge Manor, then loaded up the car and went to Gerry’s house to grab things (gifts, dress clothes) we’d left there. Visited with Bridie for a couple hours. Then we took all that stuff to the airport hotel—the former Bewley’s Hotel, now the Clayton Hotel Dublin Airport.

One of Gerry’s best ideas ever is staying in an airport hotel the night before we fly home. At that point we’re tired and we want as little hassle—and rushing—as possible. I’ve done that thing of dropping the car off and then rushing back to the airport, and I swear, it’s hazardous to my health! So the day before we fly, we check in, unload the luggage, then take the rental car back, shuttle back to the hotel, have an early night, and shuttle or cab to the airport in the morning. It’s just so much easier to wind down this way than rush rush rush.

For this trip, we splurged on a suite—only €20 more!—so we could sort out all our luggage with plenty of room. It was a brilliant idea, this splurge. For one thing, it was just a few steps from the elevator. But it was also a huge room—and we could well remember the size of the regular rooms here.

I’m standing behind a couch and in front of a desk. There was plenty of room to spread out four suitcases.

I’m standing behind a couch and in front of a desk. There was plenty of room to spread out four suitcases.

Nice touch. :)

Nice touch. 🙂

We were delighted with the room.

It was a deluxe bathroom too—this is only one feature of it.

It was a deluxe bathroom too—this is only one feature of it.

They’ve done a lot of work on this hotel and the airport area in the last couple years. The access to the airport is vastly improved, and the construction is finally finished, so a tourist like myself can drive to and from with minimal confusion. At least one more gas station has been added to the mix, which is handy for those of us turning in rentals—and the best part is it’s right across the street from the hotel!

This photo, taken from the elevator tower, shows the new gas station. I have a photo—can’t find it now—taken from this same spot and the field has several horses grazing in it. I’m sorry they’re not still there.

This photo, taken from the elevator tower, shows the new gas station. I have a photo—can’t find it now—taken from this same spot and the field has several horses grazing in it. I’m sorry they’re not still there.

So we gassed up, returned the car … and then spent at least an hour, probably more, working out the packing, getting it so each suitcase weighed less than 50 pounds—or less than 23.0 kilos, which is just slightly more than 50 pounds. (And as it turns out, when we got to the window the next day, the heaviest bag was 22.0. Yay! Of course, we put everything heavy that wasn’t liquid into the rolling carryon bag we’d bought at Samsonite.)

We ate in the bar of the hotel, then grabbed two apple tarts (pie) to take up to the room with us to enjoy with a cup of tea; I shut down the computer and we were just going to relax in our jammies when Gerry’s brother Richie called. Then Gerry’s nephew Eoin called. Both were dropping by to see us—no plan, just each had decded to do that. So we got dressed, and they arrived within seconds of each other. What a great visit to see us off!

Richie, Gerry, me, Eoin.

Richie, Gerry, me, Eoin.

That was nice. Gerry also called his older brother, William, before we went to bed—and he called his preferred cab company to arrange an early pick-up. With so much luggage—he also requested a van—we don’t want to hassle with the hotel’s shuttle bus, which will drop us a block or more away from the terminal. The cab company will put us out right in front.

We’ll be home tomorrow! It’s interesting how the time zones make this westward trip seem so much shorter. Seem being the operative term. 🙂

Lunch With the ESB: It’s a Tradition

1 October 2015, Thursday
I was awake at 3am. (sigh) But that’s the way it is when you fly over several time zones. So I got out of bed, lay on the floor with my feet in a chair, and assumed the Egoscue Static Back position for a half hour. When I got back in bed, I was able to drop off again, and we slept pretty late. Heaven!

We hadn’t seen John since the previous afternoon, so he was ready for breakfast when we were, and we all went down together, around nine o’clock. Not long after we’d been seated, our friends Pris and Emmet came in.

Pris and Emmet had arrived two days before and were rested and ready to go.

Pris and Emmet had arrived two days before and were rested and ready to go.

And then my friend Tiffany found her way into the dining room and chatted with us for awhile. She’d just come in from the airport, and her luggage was missing. But she had plans to sightsee all day with my Irish friend Robert (a fellow editor), so luggage wasn’t a concern. (Yet.)

Tiffany, Gerry, and John. Good morning!

Tiffany, Gerry, and John. Good morning!

When the appointed minute arrived, I accompanied Tiff back upstairs to wait for Robert. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy seeing my friends from separate parts of my life hit it off. 🙂 Weeks later Robert and I were talking and he noted that it’s a natural for both Americans and Irish to do that instant-friends thing, in a way some other national cultures do not. No wonder we get along so well!

Robert and Tiffany, about to head into Dublin.

Robert and Tiffany, about to head into Dublin.

Of course, the obligatory selfie.

Of course, the obligatory selfie.

We’d made an appointment with our party planner (she’s an amployee of the hotel) for midmorning. This was our opportunity to get everything finalized, including numbers—we’d had several friends on both sides of the ocean drop out. Ludmila’s been absolutely wonderful to work with.

Ludmila and Gerry, in the Seaview Lounge on a sunny morning.

Ludmila and Gerry, in the Seaview Lounge on a sunny morning.

This was a busy day, and there was more to come. Remember, Gerry is retiring and emigrating, and his work colleagues hadn’t really acknowledged these changes yet. A lunch had been organized in downtown Dublin, and John, Gerry, and I jumped in a cab—great for me, because I get to sightsee, rather than drive.

So I take photos while we drive. I loved the old window panes here, and the curvy reflections in them. And the NO BICYCLES PLEASE sign.

So I take photos while we drive. I loved the old window panes here, and the curvy reflections in them. And the NO BICYCLES PLEASE sign.

We were headed to Sophie’s Rooftop Restaurant at the Dean Hotel, a boutique hotel on Harcourt Street. (Check out their website and you’ll see what I mean.)

John and Gerry at the Dean on a sunny day.

John and Gerry at the Dean on a sunny day. Don’t forget you can click on any photo to zoom in.

That sunny day thing is important. Remember, we were on the rooftop, with windows on three sides (check out that link to Sophie’s; they have some great photos). My photos don’t do justice to the view …

I was ooohing and aahing.

I was ooohing and aahing.

The rooftops of Dublin. “Chim-chiminy, chim-chiminy …”

The rooftops of Dublin. “Chim-chiminy, chim-chiminy …”

The view from the Harcourt Street side of the roof.

The view from the Harcourt Street side of the roof.

The company was good too!

 L–R: Me, Gerry, Deidre, Kirsten, Brian, John, Brendan, and Gerard. (Why am I always on the outside edge, showing my broadest side? I don’t know, but inevitably, I am.)

L–R: Me, Gerry, Deidre, Kirsten, Brian, John, Brendan, and Gerard. (Why am I always on the outside edge, showing my broadest side? I don’t know, but inevitably, I am.)

Again, this was Gerry’s send-off. Many nice things were said about my husband (and they were much deserved). And when this lengthy lunch—speeches, gifts—was winding down, it was suggested we walk around the corner to Cassidy’s Pub on Lower Camden Street. “Your countryman Bill Clinton had a gargle here when he visited Ireland [in 1996],” Gerard said by way of suggestion.

Cassidy’s on Camden Street, Lower. Look at that brilliant blue sky!

Cassidy’s on Camden Street, Lower. Look at that brilliant blue sky!

And so we did. Although on further research this may not be the Cassidy’s that Bill Clinton visited: there’s a hipster Cassidy’s up by Trinity College that makes this claim on its website, but the Camden Street Cassidy’s is so authentic—right down to the red façade—it doesn’t even have a website (some reviewers make the Clinton claim on its behalf). The Cassidy’s seven of us straggled into is a traditional, old-style (narrow) room with a long bar of the Victorian-era (1891). It was quiet at first but soon filled up with locals there to watch the rugby finals on the large screen TVs.

At Cassidy’s: Kirstin, Brian, Gerry.

At Cassidy’s: Kirstin, Brian, Gerry.

At Cassidy’s: Gerard, Brendan.

At Cassidy’s: Gerard, Brendan.

The bar at Cassidy’s.

The bar at Cassidy’s.

Oh, it was so good to be in Dublin enjoying this time with Gerry’s colleagues in a great restaurant and a great bar! Lunch started at 1pm and we didn’t get back to the hotel until 8pm. 🙂

I made them pose. :)

I made them pose. 🙂