Four Days in Kildare

15 October 2015 Thursday
The Galway hotel was inexpensive and roomy (and—dare I say it?—had the best bed so far) but the breakfast was only “OK.” (Barely OK. We’d been spoiled by three fine hotels.) And since we were heading east today, we decided to skip the hotel breakfast, get out of Galway, and stop in some small town for a cafe breakfast. So I just looked at the map, found the first town on the way (Athenry—still in County Galway), and used Google to locate some cafes.

Athenry (pronounced ATH-en-rye), as it turns out, is an ancient medieval town (thirteenth century) with narrow (narrow!) streets and several old structures. Who knew? (It’s also the title town in a sappy but popular folk tune called “The Fields of Athenry,” which you can hear sung at any Irish national soccer game.)

This is downtown Athenry, with its medieval-narrow streets. That’s St. Mary’s parish church in the background.

This is downtown Athenry, with its medieval-narrow streets. That’s St. Mary’s parish church in the background.

We ate at the Old Barracks Pantry & Bakery—and yes, it was at one time a barracks for the Royal Irish Constabulary.

The Old Barracks Pantry & Bakery in Athenry.

The Old Barracks Pantry & Bakery in Athenry.

We didn’t linger in town, so I don’t have photos, though I will definitely put Athenry on my list for “next time we’re in the area.” Why? Because when we stopped to get gas, this was in the field across the street:

What’s that?

What’s that, honey?

It’s the Athenry Dominican Priory. Construction started in 1241 and was completed in 1261 (although additions were made in two succeeding centuries). There’s some good history here, which makes me sorry we didn’t take the time to walk over and look around.

 I snagged this great photo from Wikipedia; attribution is to Andreas F. Borchert.

I snagged this great photo from Wikipedia; attribution is to Andreas F. Borchert.

There are thousands (really) of these sorts of things all over Ireland, and I never get tired of seeing a new one. Even from a distance. But we had things to do, so we hit the road.

We were on our way to Kildare Town (another place it would be nice to spend some time in, alas), which is just thirty-one miles west of Dublin. There’s lots to see here—the National Stud and Japanese Gardens, for example, as well as some holy wells, St. Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare Castle, and the ruins of the Grey Abbey, which we observed from—wait for it—Kildare Village (a designer outlet outdoor mall).

Why? You might well ask. There’s a Samsonite store there, and we’d decided we needed a carryon that would roll. We both always travel very light in terms of carryon, but we were sweating our luggage weight limits and thought we could shift some heavier things to something we might not have to check. So we went straight to the luggage store and didn’t linger after that.

From Kildare we went east on the M7 to the N7 to the L6001 to the R405, which, when you get close to Celbridge, is the Hazelhatch Road. It was a nice day, and I was just tootling along. I saw SLOW painted in the road, as one does in Ireland. I’ve seen plenty of those, but the road was visible, it looked like we were coming into town (the reason to slow down, right?), so I was comfortable. And then—boom!—we were at an arched bridge (arched enough that you can’t see what’s on the other side) that was only one lane wide.

That’s the Hazel Hatch Bar on the left. The bridge has a nice high curve. Pretty, actually. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps.

That’s the Hazel Hatch Bar on the left. The bridge has a nice high curve. Pretty, actually. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps.

Locals will know this is the bridge over the Grand Canal out of Dublin. It’s a dangerous little spot. I can say that because had we arrived about three seconds sooner, we might have been involved in a head-on collision on the bridge, which will only accommodate one vehicle at a time, both length and width, and you cannot see the approach on the other side. I’ve since gone back on Google Maps using street view and looked at the signage. There were three separate messages on the one sign: first an indication that the road would narrow; second, an icon I didn’t recognize (a half-circle lying atop a rectangle, which I now see meant, I think, “arched bridge ahead”); and third, the words Prepare to Stop. I missed the last part, clearly. (This is the emoji approach to signage, it seems; in the States, the sign would have said Narrow Bridge or Caution, Narrow Bridge. I didn’t know how to interpret the Irish sign in the brief moments it was visible as I drove past. And no, I was not speeding.)

Consider this your first lesson on Irish signage. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps.

Consider this your first lesson on Irish signage. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps. You can click on the photo to zoom in.

When I showed Gerry these photos, he said, “I recognize that wall.” That’s the wall I quickly pulled over next to rather than mount the bridge, when I saw a car cresting from the other side. 🙂

A view of the canal, the wall, and the curved bridge. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps too.

A view of the canal, the wall, and the little curved bridge. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps too.

All’s well that ends well, but that bridge—and the blind curves behind tall stone fences or hedges—is the sort of thing that I fear will get me someday, driving in Ireland, and I have experience, y’all. I’m not trying to make too much of it—the other driver stopped and as noted I pulled nearly off the road just before it and didn’t stall the engine either, ha—but it scared me. It scared me more later, really, and I’m still unnerved several weeks later. (I do wonder how often there is a wreck there.)

This is what the other driver would have seen on his approach—it’s completely blind. Google Maps street view again.

This is what the other driver would have seen on his approach—it’s completely blind. You just take your chances. Google Maps street view again.

And so … we continued the two miles on into Celbridge, which has a village feel to it in spite of the fact that the population is twenty-one thousand this year. (I suspect a lot of the Celbridge population commutes into Dublin.) Our GPS didn’t have the hotel loaded so we had to hunt around a little for it, even though it is on a main artery.

But then we found it! Celbridge Manor Hotel.

But then we found it! Celbridge Manor Hotel.

It’s a beautiful old house with a beautiful entrance gate.

The entrance gate to the Celbridge Manor Hotel, mid-October 2015.

The entrance gate to the Celbridge Manor Hotel, mid-October 2015.

We were delighted with our room, which was very large.

 A very large room!

A very large room!

Unfortunately, not a large bed. Gerry had ordered and was billed for a king-sized bed but this was clearly a double bed. We think perhaps they meant it was a king-sized room.

Looking backward at the little foyer. Behind the wall is a huge bathroom. The little “room” beyond is a closet/”office”—there’s a chair in front of a built-in desk with plenty of electricity, but the desk is so high I would have had to stand to type there.

Looking backward at the little foyer. Behind the wall is a huge bathroom. The little “room” beyond is a closet/”office”—there’s a chair in front of a built-in desk with plenty of electricity for electronic equipment, but the desk is so high I would have had to stand to type there.

The bathroom was also huge, with both shower and claw-foot tub, which I tried out at one point.

The bathroom was also huge, with both shower and claw-foot tub, which I eventually tried out.

A view from the bathroom window, taken with a zoom. The bedroom had a similar view.

A view from the bathroom window, taken with a zoom. The bedroom had a similar view.

The furniture was mostly antiques.

The furniture was mostly antiques.

It was nice … but cold. We couldn’t seem to make the radiator work. When we went down to dinner we mentioned it at the desk before we went in to have a light dinner in the bar. (Food was OK but not spectacular.) When we got back to the room it was still cold so we called the desk and the maintenance man came back a second time.

16 October 2015 Friday
Well, the room still wasn’t particularly warm, but we had things to do today.

A Celbridge sunrise.

A Celbridge sunrise.

Gerry had brought us back to the Dublin area for our last few days because there would be business to take care of. However, our schedule coincided with the arrival in town of One Direction—four sold-out shows in Dublin City—and we didn’t want to be in town for that, so we stayed outside the city limits.

Today Gerry needed to see the dentist and have some last conversations with his coworkers at the Archives, so in we went. His colleague Brian suggested he and I run out for a cup of coffee while Gerry walked down to the dentist, so we ended up at Noshington, which is really just around the block from the office. This ended up being one of those fortuitous things—Gerry and I had wondered when and where we’d eat, and here we were in a convenient spot. It was (late) lunchtime. Brian and I ordered, and Gerry got there just as the food arrived and ordered his own. Perfect timing. Great chat! Food was delish.

After that we went to Gerry’s place to visit with his mother and start sorting through what we were going to need to take back home in the luggage. It seemed a little overwhelming.

We’d also made arrangements to drop by to see Ashling and Damian’s new house in Kinsealy. Theirs was the wedding we’d attended in June (Ashling is Gerry’s niece), and now they were getting settled. Lovely place, and we really enjoyed our visit—we could have easily overstayed our welcome. When we got back to the hotel, it was dark.

The hotel was all lit up though.

The hotel was all lit up, though.

It was a nice day all around. 🙂

17 October 2015 Saturday
They’ve had the prettiest strawberries on the breakfast buffet, though they don’t taste quite as good as they look. Not like they’re not ripe (they are) but just a very mild flavor, and a little soft. But I’m eating ’em!

Could you resist?

Could you resist?

At this point in the vacation, we were both tired and not in the mood to do much except lie around. I had work I needed to do, which I tackled while Gerry watched a lot of rugby. At some point we went out and wandered around town a little.

Just walking out to the parking lot was a visual treat, though.

Just walking out to the parking lot was a visual treat, though.

It’s the last rose of S … October!

It’s the last rose of s … October!

We’d long been planning to have dinner with our friends the Yeateses, and we’d finally scheduled a time—this night.

Pat and Brenda Yeates.

Pat and Brenda Yeates.

Lorna and Patrick Yeates, two of Pat and Brenda’s three children.

Lorna and Patrick Yeates, two of Pat and Brenda’s three children.

I’d met Pat many times, and was Facebook friends with Brenda and Lorna, but hadn’t met them in person. It was lovely. 🙂

Gerry and Pat are longtime colleagues. Pat retired this spring and now Gerry is close to that too.

Hamming it up for the camera. :) Lorna took this photo.

Hamming it up for the camera. 🙂 Lorna took this photo.

We had a good time.

We had a good time.

We took a quick selfie just when we were leaving (Lorna’s camera). These are the best kind, I think.

We took a quick selfie just when we were leaving (Lorna’s camera). These are the best kind, I think.

And then we went back to rugby and editing!

18 October 2015 Sunday
We had a very lazy Sunday. I worked for a while, then decided to take the rest of the day to relax and read. I’d hoped to read a lot more on this trip, but between work and journaling the trip (if I didn’t take notes, I’d never remember it all), I’d made less progress than I’d hoped. Oh well—I had a good time instead. 🙂

We got out and ran to Tesco for bottled water and other odds and ends, drove through town just having a look around. We were discussing how interesting it must be to live among all these old stone structures—something I really don’t get in my daily life. Here in Celbridge, there is an old warehouse-ish building—just guessing I’d say it was two hundred years old—that now houses the “Color Store,” which is a paint, wallpaper, and home interiors store. The sign outside is very modern in technology and in design, but it’s on an antique building. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of past and present, at least from the outside. I’ve noticed that the repurposing of old buildings sometimes leads to awkward plumbing and other oddities, which you can see a lot of in Ireland. But at least the history is there!

But mostly we were layabouts on this day. Gerry was already checking the five-day forecast for Murfreesboro—high seventies!

Watched the Ireland/Argentina rugby, and the Scotland/Australia rugby. Scotland was robbed on a very bad call. Really, on a couple of bad calls. (A review committee later found South African referee Craig Joubert should not have awarded the last-minute penalty kick that gave Australia the win.)

When we came down for lunch, there was a Muslim group (Nigerians, Gerry believed) holding an all-day social event at the hotel, kids everywhere, a bouncy castle out in the grounds, lots of elaborate African clothing, loud voices, people standing in the doorway. It went on well into the evening hours. But once we got up to our rooms, we couldn’t hear a thing. You never know what you’re going to see at your hotel!

We’d been looking forward to the hotel’s “Sunday carvery” for late lunch (a carvery is basically a buffet, with cooked meat freshly sliced to order, for a fixed price)—but when we got there, found it was just served up out of the kitchen like lunch on any other day. We’d expected a buffet and were a little disappointed. There were a lot of things that ended up being “not as advertised” about the Celbridge Manor; it’s great for proximity to Dublin, though, and for a price that will suit your budget.

Looking out the gate at the Celbridge Manor Hotel.

Looking out the gate at the Celbridge Manor Hotel toward our next adventure.

Let the Vacation Commence! Part 2

Thursday, 18 June 2015
Our flight left JFK nearly an hour late and was on the ground in Dublin at 6am—50 minutes earlier than scheduled. (Gotta love those tail winds!) Gerry had already warned me he didn’t know what traffic would be like at that hour. “I’ve ordered a taxi for 6:40,” he said, “but if you don’t see me, don’t worry, I’m just late.”

But when he rolled out of bed he checked the flight status and saw I was already on the ground and hustled down to the airport and was there when I came through the customs gate. I love seeing his face among the hopeful crowd.

Tradition calls for a stop at Gerry’s house for breakfast. I’ve had many an Irish fry-up—black pudding, white pudding, rashers (bacon, sort of), eggs—but none better than at Gerry’s house. He has this butcher, see …

Conventional wisdom says that when you get off the plane in the morning after traveling all night, you should just step into the day as it is. Don’t go to bed (even though your body thinks it’s 1am). Take it easy—but try to stay up until your normal bedtime. But a day begun disembarking an airplane at 6am is gonna be a long day, and we had the time: it was only 9am and too early to check into our hotel.

So I unpacked my CPAP and went upstairs to take a nap. Just two hours. It was great. My Magic Sleep Machine puts me out in a couple minutes, so I got two really good hours of sleep.

Later we cabbed down to the hotel and got checked in. We were staying at the former Burlington Hotel—now the Doubletree by Hilton—on Upper Leeson Street just south of the Grand Canal in Ranelagh (pronounce this RON-a-lah), which is a quiet, upscale neighborhood.

The former Burlington Hotel, Dublin. Nice entrance, easy to get in and out of. Americans will find this Dublin hotel … familiar-ish.

The former Burlington Hotel, Dublin. Nice entrance, easy to get in and out of. Americans will find this Dublin hotel … familiar-ish.

II’ve had more than one meal at this hotel when it was the Burlington, and though it is not as luxe as it was then, the breakfast (we would discover) is good, the location is excellent, and it is very, very quiet (both the hotel and the neighborhood). I like that last quality in a hotel. I would stay here again …

… in spite of the miserably hard bed. I know one doesn’t call a bed hard; one calls it firm. But honestly, this bed—and every hotel bed we slept in, it wasn’t unique to the Doubletree—was so hard we might as well have slept on a pallet on the floor. What is it with the Irish hotel industry and their hard old beds? Who wants to sleep like that? To prevent excruciating lower back pain, I learned to sleep with my knees up, propped on two pillows. Still, I think I aged five years in that bed.

One more little surprise: although it was only in the upper 60s (Fahrenheit), Dublin isn’t air conditioned. The room was … stuffy. (OK, it was hot.) I’ve always visited Ireland in the spring or fall, so staying cool has never been an issue. Even in September 2003 in the midst of a historic European heat wave, my first visit, we just opened windows and all was well. But big hotels don’t really want you to be able use the windows as egress (they’re afraid you might jump), so they only allow a small opening … and you learn to deal with the stuffy. I was pretty cranky the first day; by the next day when an American woman was grousing about the heat to her husband in the elevator, I was able to laugh. What are you gonna do—fly home? No.

After we got settled, we went out for a walk up to and along the canal to Baggott Street, a retail area for the neighborhood. It was refreshing to get out, though by this time I was already starting to experience the effects of a long flight in my swelling ankles and feet. We walked very slowly.

Just a couple blocks up is O’Brien’s. Their website says it is a famous landmark bar, and I’m kicking myself that we didn’t make time to stop in. However, I’ve been in O’Brien’s on a previous trip and found it charming.

M. O’Brien’s pub on Upper Leeson Street. Something familiar! I felt like I was seeing an old friend.

M. O’Brien’s pub on Upper Leeson Street. Something familiar! I felt like I was seeing an old friend.

It’s just a half block from O’Brien’s to the Grand Canal, one of two large canals that connect Dublin—on the eastern coast of Ireland—with the River Shannon in the west. Goods, supplies, and people moved on Ireland’s canal system from about 1779 on; the last working cargo barge passed through the canal in 1960. Here in Murfreesboro we have the Greenway, a parklike path along the Stones River used by walkers, runners, and cyclists. The Grand Canal serves a similar purpose: it’s a little bit of greenery in the city—and there are periodic benches if you’d like to simply relax—along which mothers push babies in strollers, men in suits rush to a bus stop, joggers get their exercise … and tourists like me enjoy a breath of springlike air.

I say that because June in Ireland is more like April in Tennessee in terms of temperature and what was in bloom. Along the canal I saw iris, for example. I loved reliving spring!

The Grand Canal right at Sussex Road. Look—iris in June! That’s the Upper Leeson Street Bridge you see (and a houseboat just in front of it). If you kept walking this direction for about six blocks you’d get to Gerry’s office in Harold’s Cross.

The Grand Canal right at Sussex Road. Look—iris in June! That’s the Upper Leeson Street Bridge you see in the distance (and a houseboat just in front of it). If you kept walking this direction for about six blocks you’d get to Gerry’s office in Harold’s Cross.

The Grand Canal, Dublin. Keep walking this way and you’ll end up at the River Liffey—and ultimately Dublin Bay.

The Grand Canal, Dublin. Keep walking this way and you’ll end up at the River Liffey—and ultimately Dublin Bay.

We even ran into some ducks having a nap.

We even ran into some ducks having a nap. Remember, as always, that you can click on a photo to enlarge and zoom in.

We were headed to Baggot Street Upper, just to see what was there, a little get-your-Dublin-feet-under-you stroll planned for me by Gerry, who is, I must say, a very good tour guide. As we approached the bridge we saw a street-food fair, just winding up at the end of the lunch hour(s).

A little street-food fair.

A little street-food fair.

And right there, a little … what do you call these things? A street memorial? It’s not clear what happened here, or to whom, and it’s been here so long it’s a bit ragged, but …

It seems important, though. On Mespil Road near Baggot Street.

It seems important, though. On Mespil Road near Baggot Street.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on. The toy dogs kinda broke my heart.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on. The toy dogs kinda broke my heart.

Finally, Baggot Street, a retail district that falls sort of between the Ranelagh and Ballsbridge neighborhoods.

Grand Canal, Baggot Street bridge.

Grand Canal, Baggot Street bridge.

We walked slooooow (for me), but even so, I was wearing down. Nonetheless, I continued to be charmed, as I always am, by the architecture and the gardens and, oh, pretty much everything.

On Mespil Road, along the canal, Georgian rowhouses that are now business offices. These crooked stairs delighted me.

On Mespil Road, along the canal, Georgian rowhouses that are now business offices. These crooked stairs delighted me.

Each unit has its front yard (in Ireland they would call it the front garden) separated by a privacy hedge. Now these yards are often parking areas for clients.

Each unit has its front yard (in Ireland they would call it the front garden) separated by a privacy hedge. Now these yards are often parking areas for clients.

But this one was my favorite. No car park, just an old iron gate mysteriously half-opened, with a lush, ivy-overgrown garden inside. I didn’t go in.

But this one was my favorite. No car park, just an old iron gate mysteriously half-opened, with a lush, ivy-overgrown garden inside. I didn’t go in.

By the time we got back I was done in. We relaxed a little in the room—in retrospect it would have been cooler if we’d gone down to the large open lobby bar, and probably more comfortable in those big overstuffed chairs, and next time I’ll think to do that—and I posted some comments and photographs to Facebook. It was midmorning back home (there’s a six-hour time difference) and my friends were slagging me. Get off Facebook and get outside! they said, not thinking about the time difference nor the fact that I’d been up for well over twenty-four hours with nothing but my two-hour nap to console me. At that point in my day, checking in on Facebook was about all the activity I could handle. 🙂

Later we went downstairs to the hotel bar for pub food. For some reason, a burger sounded good to me, but I’d forgotten my hard-won knowledge that Irish restaurants tend to overcook beef. (I love lots of things about Ireland, but not that. Yanks should order chicken or fish or pork.) This burger was well-done (to me that means way overcooked) and dry as a bone. Ugh. We had to choose a menu for our party this fall, but I rejected the beef options out of hand.

Finally I hit my wall—lights out by 8pm! Tried to stay awake to read, but there was just no forcing it. Zzzz.

Getting Back to Normal

For us, for Gerry and I, “normal” is living not in the same city, not in the same time zone, not in the same country. Soon—and again, soon is relative; I mean a year from now—normal will be in the same house. We’ve started that process: we got married, we (I) filed the immigration petition.

But for now, my husband lives in Dublin. He gets up six hours before me and goes to work. He sends me email or posts something interesting to my Facebook page while I am still asleep. He gets home from work about the time I’m having lunch. He checks in, on Skype. “H’lo, missus,” he says.

This morning, he left me a photo he took on his way to work in Harolds Cross.

He walks along the Grand Canal for some distance. It’s pretty no matter what time of day. He’s on or very near the Portobello Bridge here. (Photo by Gerry.)

He walks along the Grand Canal for some distance. It’s pretty no matter what time of day. He’s on or very near the Portobello Bridge here. (Photo by Gerry.)

Then he walked further and turned around and took another photo. It was 7:30 in the morning when he took these. (Photo by Gerry.)

Then he walked further and turned around and took another photo. It was 7:30 in the morning when he took these. (Photo by Gerry.)

I am struck, of course, by how different 7:30 in the morning is in Dublin … from here in Tennessee, so much further down the globe. (It’s science, y’all.)

If I were commuting at 7:30am, this is what it would look like in November.

If I were commuting at 7:30am, this is what it would look like in November.

It’s a different sun, a different angle in November. But definitely lighter.

It’s a different sun, a different angle in November. But definitely lighter.

So we carry on, we, seven thousand miles apart, sharing our little moments. Beautiful, all of them.

A Trip Around the World: Dublin, Damascus, and Hakuna-Matata

28 May 2013, Tuesday

From St. Kevin’s Park on Camden Row I walked back out to Camden Street (which actually becomes Wexford Street right there) and walked north about four blocks. At some point Wexford becomes Aungier Street, and at the corner of Aungier and York Streets I found the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, which I’d wanted to see on this Dublin drill-down trip. (Dublin is, of course, filled with churches. And they say the South has a church on every corner. Ha!)

The Carmelites are a Roman Catholic religious order founded in the twelfth century (present in Ireland since the latter half of the thirteenth). It is a contemplative order; the original Carmelites were hermits. The current building here dates from 1825, but is located on the site of a pre-Reformation Carmelite priory built in 1539. Still, you must remember the Catholic community in Ireland spent long centuries (that is, from the first decade of the 1600s) under the rule of the Penal Laws; Catholic Emancipation only came in 1829. Thus this church would have been outwardly unassuming; careful.

It’s not much to look at outside, but inside—that’s another story.

It’s not much to look at outside, but inside—that’s another story.

The stained glass is beautiful.

The stained glass is beautiful.

There are more than a dozen shrines inside too. One of the most visually impressive is the Our Lady of Dublin shrine, in which is ensconced a twelfth-century Madonna and child—a life-sized statue carved from black oak. This places the statue, historically, in the same school of art as some of the statuary in Westminister Abbey. Think about it!

Our Lady of Dublin. The shine itself was completed in 1915. (Don’t forget you can click on this photo and click again to see it up close.)

Our Lady of Dublin. The shine itself was completed in 1915. (Don’t forget you can click on any photo and click again to see it up close.)

Another important shrine is St. Valentine’s (who knew?). Not a lot is known about Valentinus, a third-century Roman saint commemorated on 14 February, the day of his death as a Roman Christian martyr. A church was built at the site of his death (in Rome), and during one of the many restorations and reconstructions, this one in the 1830s, the remains of of the saint were discovered. Some of them were given to an Irish Carmelite priest, and now they reside here. (Valentine’s skull resides in Rome, still, and there are other relics at a church in Prague. I’m not sure what to think of this sort of thing, honestly, but feel I should report it.)

This was as close as I got to Valentine. This gentleman was there for a very long time, and I didn’t want to disturb him.

This was as close as I got to Valentine. This gentleman was there for a very long time, and I didn’t want to disturb him.

I also photographed the shrine of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, popularly known as the Little Flower. Born sickly to petit-bourgeoisie—and very, very devout—parents in France, Thérèse became a nun at fifteen, was dead of tuberculosis at twenty-four (in 1897), and became famous after her death, though I’m not entirely sure why. Who can explain these things? I suspect it had to do with the times—the highly sentimental times—and the tragedy of her youth.

The shrine of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, built in the mid-1950s, also includes a beautiful mosaic of “Our Lady of the Smile” (that is, the Virgin Mary, whose smile Thérèse is said to have seen).

The shrine of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, built in the mid-1950s, also includes a beautiful mosaic of “Our Lady of the Smile” (that is, the Virgin Mary, whose smile Thérèse is said to have seen).

The front door is flanked by two statues—the Beloved Disciple and Mary. Inside there is a large anteroom, off which there is a small coffee shop and a bookstore. There’s no hint of the huge church beyond—probably for caution’s sake, again.

“This is the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

“This is the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

“Refuge of sinners, pray for us.”

“Refuge of sinners, pray for us.”

I began the walk back, then, to the hotel.

The chimneys of Dublin always fascinate me—especially when there are trees growing from them!

The chimneys of Dublin always fascinate me—especially when there are trees growing from them!

The festival was over, but the posters were still up. One of these days, though, I plan to be a part of the story!

The festival was over, but the posters were still up. One of these days, though, I plan to be a part of the story!

The day before, I’d mentioned the Damascus Gate restaurant on Facebook, thanking Patrick Comerford—a Church of Ireland priest I’d met through a mutual friend—for the recommendation. Patrick sent me a quick message (“You’re here?”) and suggested we meet for coffee, so that was my next stop. We had a delightful conversation about writing and editing (certainly two of my favorite subjects, and Patrick, a former journalist, has also published several books); I am so glad he had time to hang out with me!

At the Damascus Gate again: me and Patrick Comerford.

At the Damascus Gate again: me and Patrick Comerford.

As is his wont (you really should check out his wonderful blog), Patrick took the long way back to his office, and blogged about it later. So I’m famous! 🙂

By this time Gerry was back from work, and we still had a big evening planned—earlier in the year he had purchased tickets to see the Lion King stage production (a birthday present for me). But first, we walked around the corner to the Bleeding Horse—a historically and literarily significant pub that dates back to at least the mid seventeenth century.

It’s been remodeled since the 1600s, of course, but is still authentic, still very popular. (We were beating the crowds—we had a 7pm show to get to across town!

It’s been remodeled since the 1600s, of course, but is still authentic, still very popular. (We were beating the crowds—we had a 7pm show to get to across town!)

The show was at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre (pronounce this like board-GOSH)—the largest theater in Ireland, designed to present those large theatrical productions that were previously unable to be shown here. Gerry referred to it simply as the Bord Gáis; we took a cab.

The Bord Gáis (with a 2,100-person capacity) opened in March 2010 in an area of Dublin called the Docklands—an area right in the center of the city on either side of the River Liffey that is experiencing a large amount of development including shopping, offices, hotels, you name it. The Bord Gáis is one of two entertainment venues; the other is the O2 concert venue. You can read more about the Docklands area here; it’s a great neighborhood website and there are some fantastic photographs.

Speaking of which, I am kicking myself because when I dressed up I took a smaller purse … and did not take my camera. Once we arrived, I was just ready to scream from the missed opportunities! Sure, you can look at this photo I downloaded from Wikipedia …

This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication; it was taken by a user who calls himself “DubhEire.”

This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication; it was taken by a user who calls himself “DubhEire.”

… It was taken from the other side of the Grand Canal, which, in the daylight, is an absolutely accurate photograph. In particular, you can see the fabulous red art installation in the courtyard. But it’s nearly impossible to judge the scale unless you zoom in and look closely for the one human walking among the red poles (just to the left of the little bit of blue you can see here).

But now look at this one!

A little more impressive, yes? This building is STUNNING.

A little more impressive, yes? This building is STUNNING . (Photographer: Ros Kavanaugh for the Dublin Docklands Development Authority)

I borrowed this small photo (photographer: Ros Kavanaugh) from the Dublin Docklands Development Authority website. Now you can see more of what I saw. There are four floors above the ground floor; Gerry and I stood on the third and looked out over the courtyard (notice that art installation I mentioned is actually a collection of streetlamps when the sun goes down), across the water, to the skyline. The view was magnificent.

Google’s street view for the Docklands was made in 2009, it seems, when the Bord Gáis was still under construction, but this will give you an idea of location.

 

So … we were somewhat overdressed for The Lion King. But who cares! You may have seen this show—it’s been around since 1997, it seems—but I had not, and holy cow, was it good! I loved all those animals moving slowly down the aisle in the opening number! The reviews said the production requires twenty-three giant trucks to haul it (which makes me wonder how many ferries had to be scheduled, since it had just come from Manchester, UK). Eighty-five thousand people (more casually dressed than we were, probably) came to see the show the eight weeks it was in town; the company we saw was fifty performers from seventeen different countries. (Read more here.)

It was great. Our seats were fantastic. And we were back snug in the hotel by 10:30. 🙂

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.)

What’s Your Comfort Zone? Mine Starts in the Shower.

9 February 2006, Thursday / Co. Dublin
Did I say I wouldn’t whinge about the shower at my B&B? Forget that! When I checked in yesterday, I was impressed by the large “en suite” bathroom, but I made the mistake of closing the door to it when I went to bed (trying to keep all the heat, and I use that term loosely, in the bedroom), so in the morning that bathroom was cold enough to hang meat in, and I’m not kidding.

I know now that I am spoiled by my central-heat-and-air, and that when I travel in the winter, airfare and lodging will be cheap, but bathrooms will be chilly. And that’s just the way it is. It was a hard lesson to learn. 🙂

So, yes, once again I was faced with a recalcitrant European shower: after I pulled the ceiling switch to “on,” turned the water pressure up, and set the temperature, I found that the water cycled up from completely cold to unbearably hot, then back down again, over and over. There was about seven seconds in the middle of each cycle when it was passing from cold to hot or from hot to cold during which I stuck my head sideways into the water to wash my hair (didn’t want to actually get my body wet during this process, because it might ice over before I finished shampooing).

This is not a whinge. I’m merely stating facts. Later I wrote in my notes: “I’m not sure if I’m clean or not but I don’t care, I’m so cold. There’s no way I’m putting on body lotion. Down to breakfast.” In point of fact, I never did feel warm enough after any shower to apply body lotion, so I could’ve saved that space in my luggage. 🙂

However, all this was mitigated by the fact that the Blaithin House has wireless! Yes! Yes! Yes! I can’t tell you how great it was to simply open the laptop and check my e-mail. It turns out that this was the only place I was able to get online with no effort—so thank goodness I checked in to this B&B every few days, eh?—during my trip: there are no Starbucks in Ireland (and only one in Paris), by which I mean precious little free wireless to be had.

One thing I’m pleased about is that I knew the B&B “ropes” this time around. You may remember that the very first time (in 2003) I ate breakfast in the Blaithin’s dining room, I was joined by a German couple, and had to stifle my Yank feeling of having my space invaded (they could have sat at the other table!). This morning when I went down, I made straight for the table with an occupant, feeling very European as I did so.

His name was Sebastian, a lovely boy (OK, late twenties) from Romania who spoke halting but excellent English. (And again I am humbled in the face of bilingualism; I really must learn to speak another language, it’s embarrassing to be from such a prosperous nation with so many resources at my disposal and yet … This is a subject I’ll return to, of course, when we get to France.)

Naturally, I plied Sebastian with a million questions (no doubt confirming one or more of his opinions about Americans, although he was very patient): He’s a computer technician. He’s here in Dublin training people how to use his company’s software. His work has taken him to France, Pakistan, and India in the last year. He spent six months in India, where he met a girl from Uganda whom he now considers his girlfriend. Isn’t it amazing, this world we live in! We talked about the price of long distance phone calls, among other things. He was very sweet and shy.

After breakfast I walked down to Gerry’s, and we caught a cab to Harolds Cross, which is the neighborhood where his office is. It’s near the Grand Canal, and we stopped there for awhile to watch the swans that live on it.

The Grand Canal, Harolds Cross, Dublin, 2006.

The Grand Canal, Harolds Cross, Dublin, 2006.

Like everything else in this historic city, the Grand Canal has a story. Originally intended to connect Dublin with the River Shannon and the Irish Midlands, it begins with a sea lock at the mouth of the tidal River Liffey in Dublin and winds it way through the city and beyond, stretching eighty-two miles inland (it has forty-three locks, five of which are doubles). Work was begun in 1756, and the main line through Dublin was completed forty years later; the first trade boat passed through it in 1804 (and the last in 1960, after which it fell into disrepair for a time, although it’s been restored now, for pleasure boaters). We don’t know for certain, but it might well have been a Guinness boat that inaugurated the canal: Arthur Guinness purchased the property on which he intended to brew beer in Dublin—and which bordered the canal—on the last day of 1759, and we do know that it was a godsend to his business, since at that time canal transport was much cheaper and much more reliable than road travel. Guinness not only used the canal to bring in raw materials and ship his famous black stout back out, he even used the water in it for brewing (one of the objectives in building the canal was to provide a reliable source of drinking water). The Guinness Company today still uses the stretch of the Grand Canal that borders its property.

As commercial travel on the canal began to fade in the early twentieth century, waterfowl, including swans, began to live there, generating a variety of visual art and poetry that referenced them. Gerry notes that some years ago they appeared to be on the wane, but—as you’ll see—they’re doing fine now. It could be that the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (which now runs the canal) has had something to do with their resurgence … regardless, they make a picturesque sight, and you’ll find the swans mentioned frequently in guidebooks for the city.

Gerry … and the swans on the Grand Canal. Dublin, 2006.

Gerry … and the swans on the Grand Canal. Dublin, 2006.

Had a cup of tea and a chat with Gerry’s colleague, Brendan, while Gerry checked his voicemail, then the three of us caught a cab to the Burlington Hotel for lunch, where Pat joined us. These guys are great fun, articulate and witty (in my notes I wrote, simply, “Great craic”), and they treat me like I’m someone special. Brendan even brought presents—I’m getting spoiled by this!

“Lunch with the Gentlemen”—Brendan and Pat at the Burlington Hotel, Dublin, 2006.

“Lunch with the Gentlemen”—Brendan and Pat at the Burlington Hotel, Dublin, 2006.

At lunch we had a lively conversation about the current brouhaha created by Muslim Arab reaction to those Mohammed cartoons published by that Danish newspaper. My reaction to all this (when I wrote this in my notes nearly a month ago, buildings had been burned and people had died, and we had no idea what more might happen) was, basically, “lighten up”—but Pat was particularly incensed by the media groups that had reprinted the cartoons knowing that they were causing offense, knowing that it was going to cause another reaction. And Gerry’s point was that if it had been a cartoon ridiculing the Holocaust, we’d all be tsk-tsking, saying that it was in poor taste … but at that point in time, not one Western journalist had spoken up to say anything like that publicly (some have, now). Our culture has lived with a free press for a long time, and we’ve become somewhat inured to the pitfalls and pratfalls that accompany it, so we tend to see the Muslim reaction as an overreaction (and to be fair, there is an element of overreaction in what’s happened, not to mention a fair bit of political grandstanding), and … well, you can see how a bottle of wine and a good meal can stimulate the confabulation.

We repaired from the dining room to the lounge out front (for the great people-watching!) for more chat and drinks. I had an Irish coffee, and by then had quite a little buzz going.

From lunch we went to the National Gallery to see the Caravaggio. I’ll explain … I’d received The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr (he’s the guy who wrote 1997’s best-selling A Civil Action) as a Christmas gift, and read it before the trip. Meticulously researched and written so it reads like a thriller, the book is about the discovery, in 1992, of a painting that had been presumed missing for more than 200 years. Working on an unrelated project, a young art history graduate student at the University of Rome happened on a clue in an archive that led her to search for Caravaggio’s 1602 Italian Baroque masterpiece The Taking of Christ, just as an art restorer working for Ireland’s National Gallery stumbled on the painting itself in a residence that belonged to the Jesuits. It’s a fascinating, well-written story (Harr learned to speak Italian so that he could conduct his own interviews), and when I’d finished the book in early January I’d put the National Gallery on my list of must-sees. The painting itself—portraying Judas’s betrayal and the arrest of Christ—is lovely, dark, and desolate; the look on the face of Caravaggio’s Jesus is so sad, so sorrowful, so powerfully human it will make you weep.

One of the interesting things about visiting new places is learning new things, and it helps when one’s traveling companion enjoys the role of Chief Instructor and Sometime Tour Guide. I was constantly pestering Gerry with requests for the pronunciation of Gaelic names and terms. (And remember, Gaelic is not easy, not self-evident: the word taoiseach—which means “chieftain” or “leader” in Gaelic—is pronounced TEE-shock. Would you have guessed that?)

Anyway, there were plenty of them (Gaelic words) for me to wonder about in the National Gallery, and finally Gerry resorted to an answer any parent will recognize: the next time I asked, “how do you pronounce …?” he replied, “What do you think?” The name of the painting was The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife (it’s a well-known event in Ireland’s history, wherein one of Ireland’s Norman conquerors married a girl related to the high kings of Ireland, thus solidifying the Norman [French] hold on the country). I’m proud to report that I figured it out—pronounce this EE-fah. If you say it out loud, you’ll hear the English version of this name: Eve.

The National Gallery is not the most famous art museum in the world but it is well worth a visit. It has a marvelous Yeats Room, with the paintings of John Butler Yeats and Jack Butler Yeats—the father and brother, respectively, of Nobel Prize-winning poet William Butler Yeats, whose famous portrait (painted by his father) hangs there. There are paintings also by some Yeats sisters (it was a very creative family). Another highlight for me was Lady writing a Letter, with her Maid, by Johannes Vermeer. There are only thirty-five Vermeers extant in the world, so that also makes the National Gallery pretty special. I found it interesting, when I was reading the museum’s Concise Guide later, to learn that George Bernard Shaw “left one-third of his posthumous royalties to the institution he referred to, in an autobiography, as ‘that cherished asylum of my boyhood.’” As you might imagine, that is a not-insignificant bequest, and until comparatively recently was the museum’s largest source of funds for acquisitions.

And best of all, the museum’s free to the public!

We shopped a bit in the museum’s gift shop (I can’t resist), then we walked through Grafton Street and shopped a little more.

We’d made plans to go out that night with Gerry’s nieces, so we took a taxi back to Artane to rest up. Later Gerry, Bridie, and I walked two blocks down the road to the Roundabout, where we met up first with Orla and her brother Neil. Then William, Gerry’s brother, showed up, followed by his second son, Eoin (this is the Gaelic “Owen”), and finally Clare (sister to Neil, Eoin, and Orla), when she got off work, escorted by her lovely boyfriend, Kenneth. I had plenty of time to get a generous amount of Jameson’s and Guinness down as I got to know Gerry’s family better while simultaneously grilling poor Kenneth (Clare, I really like him!).

L–R: Front: Bridie, Neil, William, Eoin, Gerry / Back: Kenneth, Clare, Orla. At the Roundabout, 2006.

L–R: Front: Bridie, Neil, William, Eoin, Gerry / Back: Kenneth, Clare, Orla. At the Roundabout, 2006.

The party broke up a little before midnight, and I only needed a little help getting back to the B&B that night. … Gerry was a bit concerned that I was so drunk we wouldn’t keep to our plan of leaving early that next morning, but my body clock has always been more than faithful. No prob!

Oh, I was feeling no pain. Clare, me, Orla … at the Roundabout.

Oh, I was feeling no pain. Clare, me, Orla … at the Roundabout.