Sightseeing … By Ourselves

Wednesday, 24 June 2015
The beds at the Portmarnock, I’m sorry to report, were pretty hard too. A little less hard than the Doubletree—and at least I’d learned how to deal with it (pillows under my knees, which is what my massage therapist does too). But we loved the room, and never got tired of the view from the tiny balcony.

The breakfast is nice, too, and the dining room overlooks the courtyard garden, which is a lovely thing to wake up to.

Courtyard garden from the breakfast room at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, June 2015.

Courtyard garden from our table in the breakfast room at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, June 2015.

We’d scheduled a meeting with our party planner for late morning, so we decided to drive up to Lusk to see where the wedding would be on Friday. It’s always good to know the parking situation and how long it will take to get there, particularly because Gerry would be filming the event.

Our little Volkswagen Polo. I really enjoyed driving this car.

Our little Volkswagen Polo. I really enjoyed driving this car.

As it turns out, it takes about thirty minutes to get to Lusk from here. On the way up and back, I did some serious thinking about things I’ve learned about driving here in Ireland—tips that I can pass on to my American friends who will be coming. (I’ll put it in a separate post.) One thing we discovered: a dead spot where we lose our GPS for about three or four minutes. Eeek—you can cover a lot of ground in that amount of time.

When you start a journey from Portmarnock, you will spend some time driving the Strand Road.

A view of Lambay Island, June 2015.

A view of Lambay Island, June 2015.

Lambay sits three miles off shore and supports one of the largest seabird colonies in Ireland, as well as other wildlife. (In fact, there is a wallaby population!) The island was purchased in 1904 by Cecil Baring, of the banking industry Barings, and is still owned by the Baring family trust. Though it is privately held, you can tour the island with Skerries Sea Tours.

Another view of Strand Road and the sea. Someone lives in that old bit of a castle wall there on the right.

Another view of Strand Road and the sea. Someone lives in that old bit of a castle wall there on the right.

Came back to the hotel to meet with the party-planner—we finalized the meals, saw the room where the party will be, discussed all the details, got our marching orders (things we still had to decide upon). One thing that came out of the meeting: on our invitations we’d scheduled the pre-dinner cocktail party in the Jameson Bar for 5pm, but we are moving it forward to 4:30pm. Reminders have been emailed.

I’d scheduled a treatment in the spa from Dublin, so after our meeting I made my way downstairs to the Oceana Spa for my “foot massage.” I was desperate for some relief from the swelling and pain—and it did help. In all honesty it was more about the goop and the relaxation—in the thirty-minute treatment, only about ten of them were hands-on—but I was impressed by the quality of the massage (and you know I’m picky).

So I returned to the room with a new spring in my step and hope in my heart. 🙂 Poor Gerry had been trying to nap (he’s not a great sleeper, suffering from insomnia quite a bit), but it still wasn’t happening, so we went out for another drive (and found that dead spot again, coming and going).

We decided to find our way to the Monasterboice monastic site—I wanted Gerry to see it. My friend Margaret Lambert and I visited this place in September 2012 and were charmed by it. We’d gone from Brú na Bóinne to Mellifont Abbey to Monasterboice that day—all were part of the same monastic settlement at one time, which we’d heard on the tour at Brú na Bóinne, and thus decided to see, spur-of-the-momentish. Margaret and I arrived at Monasterboice in the very late afternoon, almost dusk, after being very lost; it’s out in the country on a single-lane road.

See that fragment of a tower? That’s Monasterboice in the distance. I recognized it immediately.

See that fragment of a tower? That’s Monasterboice in the distance. I recognized it immediately.

That day in 2012, Margaret and I had the place to ourselves, and we just meandered and talked quietly. It was, I don’t mind saying, magic, and you all know how I am about finding the magic. (Or, I should say, letting it find you.) Today, Gerry Hampson and I did not have the place to ourselves—it’s the tourist season in Ireland, and boy, can you tell—but we strolled around and invoked the name of our dear friend Margaret, who died earlier this year. It was not the first time her name has been mentioned on this trip.

Aha—here’s that round tower! Monasterboice, June 2015.

Aha—here’s that round tower! Monasterboice, June 2015.

In the foreground, much newer gravesites, but you can see remains of the church, the tower, and at the rear, one of the historic crosses.

In the foreground, much newer gravesites, but you can see remains of the church, the tower, and at the rear, one of the historic crosses.

Founded in the late fifth century by St. Buite, Monasterboice (Mainistir Bhuithe—the monastery of Buite) was an early Christian settlement before it was co-opted by the Cistercians.

All that’s left there now is the round tower, a bit of two churches, and the cemetery (the wall that surrounds it is much later—1870s), which has three fifth-century Celtic-era crosses in it. This article has a lot of information and photos of the historic crosses (this has even more); we were not able to get close once that stinkin’ tour bus arrived.

The wall that surrounds it is newer than the site of the graves and church.

The wall that surrounds it is newer than the site of the graves and church.

When you have a fairly finite area, you slow down and start looking at everything. (And one of these days I will see everything at Monasterboice. The first time Margaret and I were stopped by the setting sun; this time Gerry and I were interrupted by a tour bus.) Still, I was fascinated by the gravestone art.

This is the Sacred Heart, of course, which arose in the Middle Ages as a facet of Catholic mysticism. Wikipedia says: "The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by the lance-wound, encircled by the crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding."

This is the Sacred Heart, of course, which arose in the Middle Ages as a facet of Catholic mysticism. Wikipedia says: “The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by the lance-wound, encircled by the crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding.”

Another, more recent representation of the Sacred Heart, surrounded (clockwise) by a lily, ivy, grape leaf, and I have no idea (a daisy?). I believe this is from the Victorian era; they were big on plant symbolism.

Another, more recent representation of the Sacred Heart, surrounded (clockwise) by a lily, ivy, grape leaf, and I have no idea (a daisy?). I believe this is from the Victorian era; they were big on plant symbolism.

While I was researching for this post, I came across several interesting articles for those who might want to know more. This one is about the old crosses; this one from the Irish Times is lovely.

Here’s a stone that’s more than 200 years old: Christy Kirwan died at Brownstown in 1807. At the top a Christogram—IHS—flanked by angels. I’m not sure if the bird below is meant to be a dove; it looks like a sea bird.

Here’s a humble stone that’s more than 200 years old: Christy Kirwan died at Brownstown in 1807. At the top a Christogram—IHS—flanked by angels. I’m not sure if the bird below is meant to be a dove; it looks like a sea bird.

I have no idea about this one: armor, a shield with three crosses, a disembodied hand holding a dagger? The plant … I have no idea. Is it a stylized lily?

I have no idea about this one: armor, a shield with three crosses, a disembodied hand holding a dagger? The plant … I have no idea. Is it a stylized lily?

The North Cross is the plainest of the ancient crosses here, and, in fact, it is in pieces, all of which are enclosed in an iron fence (probably from Victorian times).

This is about all that survives of the North Cross. This is the eastern face (a medallion); the reverse is a simple crucifixion. In its day it was probably painted.

This is about all that survives of the North Cross. This is the eastern face (a medallion); the reverse is a simple crucifixion. In its day it was probably painted.

This old stone was impossible to read, but you can make out Christ on the cross, two tilted angels … and a skull and crossbones. This is a memento mori—a symbolic reminder that we all will die.

This old stone was impossible to read, but you can make out Christ on the cross, two tilted angels … and a skull and crossbones. This is a memento mori—a symbolic reminder that we all will die.

And then … before we were finished … a huge tour bus arrived and vomited out enough tourists to cover every inch of the place. Ambience was ruined. We weren’t done seeing, yet, but it became impossible to get close enough to see or to take photos without a half-dozen people in them. I have a tendency work my way around the edges of things, looking at the things that most people skip in their haste to get to the One Big Thing they are meant to see—the important thing, the oldest thing, or whatever. Which means I didn’t take photos or even get within thirty feet of the other two very old crosses or the churches.

We departed, disappointed.

 On this road, you would not be able to pass by this bus in another car; you would have to pull over and let it pass. I know this because I have driven on this tiny piece of seemingly unnamed road now in both directions. It’s a one-laner.

On this road, you would not be able to pass by this bus in another car; you would have to pull over and let it pass. I know this because I have driven on this tiny piece of seemingly unnamed road now in both directions. It’s a one-laner.

On our way to Monasterboice we’d seen several roadside vendors selling fruit and produce (mostly strawberries). Since strawberry season was long gone in Tennessee, the temptation proved too much for me—we stopped and I bought a couple pints. We’d get cream—or ice cream!—when we got back to Portnarnock.

After we had the strawberries, we hopped on the M1 to get south a little more quickly, and I was delighted to find myself driving over the Mary McAleese (Boyne Valley) Bridge. There was no place to pull over and we were in the middle of rush-hour traffic, so I’ve borrowed a photo from the engineering firm that designed the bridge.

Isn’t it gorgeous? I borrowed this from the website of ROD Consulting Engineers © 2013.

Isn’t it gorgeous? I borrowed this from the website of ROD Consulting Engineers © 2013.

We arrived back at the hotel at a quarter to five and were distracted … er, reminded that we wanted to try afternoon tea at some point while we were here.

Well, you can hardly miss it, there by the front door in between you and the elevator. :)

Well, you can hardly miss it, there by the front door in between you and the elevator. 🙂

Margaret and I, along with the Hampson ladies and my sister and niece, had had a very fancy high tea at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin’s city centre back in 2012—and I was thinking of organizing something like it for our celebration this fall. Then Gerry told me that his nieces had taken their Nana (Bridie) out to the Portmarnock for tea. Oh, reeeeally? I’d said.

But they stop serving afternoon tea in the Seaview Lounge at five o’clock, and now it was ten minutes before the magic hour. We lingered in the doorway, and a young server laughed when we wondered if it was too late. “Of course not!” he said, and seated us by the window. Soon we were presented with two pots of tea (green for Mr. Hampson, black for his wife) and a tiered tray of sandwiches and baked goods. When they brought it out I knew we’d never eat it all (we took a full plate back to the room for later) but we made a valiant attempt.

Afternoon tea in the Seaview Lounge.

Afternoon tea in the Seaview Lounge.

We sat there for fifty minutes, counting planes on their final approach for landing and Dublin International Airport (there were about seventeen or so of them—one every five minutes), and making a list of what to do tomorrow. Comparison to afternoon tea at the Shelbourne in downtown Dublin? A little less pomp and circumstance, but just as delicious and significantly less expensive. And the view of the sea was spectacular. We’ve already reserved a group table for Friday afternoon before our party on Saturday. 🙂

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So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 1): Getting the Backstory

I can think of no better way to get acquainted with a country than to read its literature, both fiction and nonfiction. (I wrote about this a while back in my other blog.) Everybody knows there was a famine (but … why?). We know Americans discriminated against the Irish in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (and again … why?). But there are even larger questions. My generation grew up knowing about “the Troubles,” but I didn’t understand what had caused them. I simply could not wrap my mind around the whole Catholic/Protestant tension, or why there was a little bit of Ireland that still belonged to the United Kingdom, and, wait, the country’s only been independent since 1922? Yes.

In my work as an editor, I caution novelists not to reveal the backstory too soon, but when you’re traveling to a country you know little about—leprechauns don’t count—it’s good to have a handle on the basic historical facts. (Misunderstandings abound. I was in a Dublin tour group with a know-it-all American who was shocked—and said so—when the guide used the words Irish civil war.) William Shakespeare wrote, “What’s past is prologue” (The Tempest, act 2, scene 1), and nowhere is that more true than Ireland. (Ol’ Will’s intention was slightly different than our modern interpretation. But it still works.)

I have a long list that I’ll post below; you can investigate individual titles at your leisure. But if you came to me and asked for a few recommendations to familiarize yourself with the history and the culture, I’d probably start with these ten:

Ireland: An Illustrated History, by Henry Weisser (Hippocrene Books 1999)
Nonfiction—particularly history—is important if you’re trying to “get” Ireland. You can read all about it online, of course. But Gerry bought me this little (read it in an afternoon) book at the United Nations in 2003. It’s succinct and perfect. It’s available new if you can’t find it at the library, but I bet you can also buy it used.

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, by Thomas Cahill  (Anchor 1996)
When the barbarian hordes descended upon Europe from the north, burning the libraries in Greece and Rome and plunging Western civilization into the Dark Ages, Ireland was just too far for them to go. So there were all those monks, patiently transcribing books in their remote monasteries and beehive huts. And when the time was right, they got in their little boats and sailed back to England and beyond. This is seriously one of my favorite books of all time.

Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman, by Nuala O’Faolain (Henry Holt & Co. 1996)
O’Faolain—an Irish journalist, TV producer, and writer of both memoir and fiction—was born in Dublin in 1940, a time when Ireland lagged behind most first world countries in every way, much of it due to the stranglehold the Catholic Church had on every aspect of Irish life. She grew up poor, one of nine children, but was ultimately educated at University College Dublin, the University of Hull, and Oxford University. And she had a very interesting life.

Ireland, by Max Caulfield, photos by Joe Cornish (Gill & Macmillan 1993)
I bought this coffee-table book in Ireland on my first trip in 2003. Primarily a book of beautiful photographs, it is also a record of six tours around Ireland, each beginning in a major town (Dublin, Wexford, Cork, Galway, Westport, and Belfast). Caulfield is a historian and journalist, and this book is absolutely the best overview I can think of if you’re planning a trip. It’s out of print but you can pick it up at any online used book source for just a few bucks … which is what I did for my sis and my friend Margaret when we were planning our 2012 trip together. It’s that good.

Ireland: A Novel, by Frank Delaney (Harper 2005)
The Irish have a rich tradition of folklore, and these stories are as alive in their twenty-first century culture as they were when they were first told by the seanchaithe (pronounce it SHAWN-a-kee), or bards. This novel was given to me by a publishing friend when it first came out. When I finished it, I realized that I’d learned every important Irish folktale, as well as the important points of Irish history, all wrapped up in the modern-day story. Again, it’s a great overview.

The Gathering, by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape 2007)
The gathering here is for a funeral; Liam Hegarty, one of nine children, has committed suicide. The sibling who was closest to him—his sister Veronica—is first shocked, then angry, and begins to remember incidents from her childhood (and Liam’s). The novel ranges from the 1920s to present day, and is a really good look at a large Irish-Catholic family in Dublin. The prose is beautiful, the story is stunning, and it won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2007.

TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann (Random House, 2013)
I wrote about TransAtlantic in my professional blog—it was my favorite book of 2013—so I’ll just link you and let you go. It’s a New York Times best seller, was long listed for the Man Booker, and it made me cry (in a good way). Fabulous book.

The Land of Spices, by Kate O’Brien (Virago Modern Classics 2006)
Published in 1941 but set in 1905–1914 Limerick, this novel by one of Ireland’s most famous writers is considered a classic. The action happens almost completely within the walls of a girls’ convent school, with two protagonists—the Mother Superior and a young student. This may not sound like much, but the characters draw you in quickly and then in the last quarter of the book—bam! bam!—it punches you right in the gut, twice. It’s an allegory, really, of the “new” Ireland—the Republic—rising up and leaving the old attitudes (particularly about women) behind. It knocked me out.

After the Rising, by Orna Ross (Font Publications 2011)
This novel has a present-day story that is set up by events that happened in Co. Cork after the Rising (that is, the Easter Rising of 1916), in what became known as the War of the Brothers—Ireland’s painful, tragic civil war. It is so detailed and so compelling, I was calling Gerry every day, asking him specific points of history. (This led to the arrival in my mailbox of Green Against Green, when my questions got too detailed; like me, he’s been out of school a long time.)

Trinity, by Leon Uris (Doubleday 1976)
This novel came out during the height of the Troubles, when the much, much younger me was having trouble understanding the root cause of a situation that seemed to be about religion. I’d loved Exodus, Mila 18, and other historical fiction by Uris, and this was no exception—particularly since it gave me the insight I needed to understand what was really happening in Ireland. My reading tastes have changed; I recently began to reread Trinity and liked it much less. But I recommend it because I believe this epic saga of four families will be absolutely perfect for some readers.

So that’s the short list! Here’s a longer list—still not complete—of Ireland-related books on my shelf (including those mentioned above). There may be something here of interest to you. Some of these were purchased in Ireland and may not be available in the States, in which case check an online used book source like Abebooks.com. Enjoy!

History/Sociology
• A Short History of Dublin, by Pat Boran (Mercier Press 2000)
• How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, by Thomas Cahill  (Anchor 1996)
• The Shankill Butchers: A Case Sturdy of Mass Murder, by Martin Dillon (Arrow Books 1990)
• The Celts: Conquerors of Ancient Europe, by Christine Eluère (Harry N. Abrams 1992)
• They Never Came Home: The Stardust Story, by Neil Fetherstonnhaugh and Tony McCullagh (Merlin Publishing 2002)
• Northern Ireland: The Origins of the Troubles, by Thomas Hennessey (Gill & Macmillan 2005)
• Green Against Green: The Irish Civil War, by Michael Hopkinson (Gill & Macmillan 2004)
• The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding, by Robert Hughes (Vintage 1988)
• The Great Shame: and the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World, by Thomas Keneally (Random House 1998)
• Last Words: Letters and Statements of the Leaders Executed After the Rising at Easter 1916, ed. Piaras F. MacLochlainn (Government of Ireland, 1990)
• The Heart of Dublin: Resurgence of an Historic City, by Peter Pearson (O’Brien Press 2000)
• The Celtic Cross, by Nigel Pennick (Blandford 1997)
• The Atlantean Irish: Ireland’s Oriental and Maritime Heritage, by Bob Quinn (Lilliput Press 2005)
• The Quiet Revolution: The Electrification of Rural Ireland, by Michael Shiel (O’Brien Press 2003)
• Daughters of Ireland: The Rebellious Kingsborough Sisters and the Making of a Modern Nation, by Janet Todd (Ballantine Books 2003)
• Ireland: An Illustrated History, by Henry Weisser (Hippocrene Books 1999)

Irish Interest
• Irish Place Names, by Deidre Flanagan & Laurence Flanagan (Gill & Macmillian 1994)
• The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece, by Jonathan Harr (Random House 2005)
• Glasnevin: Ireland’s Necropolis, by Shane MacThomáis (Glasnevin Trust 2010)
High Shelves & Long Counters: Stories of Irish Shops, by Winifred McNulty & Heike Thiele (The History Press 2012)
• Ireland Unhinged: Encounters with a Wildly Changing Country, by David Monagan (Council Oak Books 2011)
• Ingenious Ireland: A County-by-County Exploration of Irish Mysteries and Marvels, by Mary Mulvihill (Townhouse Press 2002)
• Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World, by John O’Donohue (Bantam Books 1997)
• Everything Irish, ed. Lelia Ruckenstein and James O’Malley (Ballantine Books 2005)
• Irish Cottages, by Walter Pfeiffer & Maura Shaffrey (Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1990)
• Slanguage: A Dictionary of Irish Slang, by Bernard Stone (Gill & Macmillian Ltd. 1997)

Memoir / Biography
• Michael Collins, by Tim Pat Coogan (Arrow Books 1990)
• It’s a Long Way from Penny Apples, by Bill Cullen (Mercier Press 1998)
• Rory and Ita, by Roddy Doyle (Jonathan Cape 2002)
• Round Ireland with a Fridge, by Tony Hawks (Tomas Dunne Books 1998)
• In Search of the Craic: One Man’s Pub Crawl Through Irish Music, by Colin Irwin (André Deutsch 2004)
• All of These People, by Fergal Keane (Harper Perennial 2005)
• McCarthy’s Bar, by Pete McCarthy (Thomas Dunne Books 2000)
• The Poor Mouth, by Flann O’Brien (published in Gaelic as An Beål Bocht by Myles na Gopaleen, 1941; first English translation 1973)
• Seán Keating: Art, Politics, and Building the Irish Nation, by Éimear O’Connor (Irish Academic Press 2013)
• Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman, by Nuala O’Faolain (Henry Holt & Co. 1996)
• Almost There: The Onward Journey of a Dublin Woman, by Nuala O’Faolain (Michael Joseph Books, 2003)
Twenty Years A-Growing, by Maurice O’Sullivan (1933)

Travel
• A Literary Guide to Ireland, by Susan and Thomas Cahill (Charles Scribner’s & Sons 1973)
• Ireland, by Max Caulfield, photos by Joe Cornish (Gill & Macmillan 1993)
• The Irish Way, by Robert Emmett Ginna (Random House 2003)
• Ireland: Eyewitness Travel Guide (Dorling Kindersley Ltd.)
• Dublin Top 10 (Dorling Kindersley Ltd.)

Fiction
• The Sea, by John Banville
A Long, Long Way, by Sebastian Barry
• Herself Surprised, by Joyce Cary
Ireland: A Novel, by Frank Delaney (and many others by Delaney)
• The Ginger Man, by J.P. Donleavy
• Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, by Roddy Doyle
• The Woman Who Walked into Doors, by Roddy Doyle
• The Gathering, by Anne Enright
• The All of It, by Jeannette Haien
Long Time, No See, by Dermot Healy
• Langrishe, Go Down, by Aidan Higgins
• Shade, by Neil Jordan
• Dubliners, by James Joyce
• Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
• Good Behaviour, by Molly Keane
• The Butcher Boy, by Patrick McCabe
TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann
• At Swim-Two-Birds, by Flann O’Brien
• The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien
• The Land of Spices, by Kate O’Brien
• The Mammy, The Chiselers, The Granny, by Brendan O’Carroll
• My Dream of You, by Nuala O’Faolain
• Knick Knack Paddy Whack, by Ardal O’Hanlon
• After the Rising, by Orna Ross
• Before the Fall, by Orna Ross
• The Portable Irish Reader, edited by Diarmuid Russell
• The Princes of Ireland (The Dublin Saga), by Edward Rutherfurd
• The Rebels of Ireland (The Dublin Saga), by Edward Rutherfurd
• The Blackwater Lightship, by Colm Tóibín
• The Story of Lucy Gault, by William Trevor

You can find the introduction to this series here: Travel Daydreams.

All Windy on the Western Front

Day 16 / Wednesday, 26 September 2012

My body clock goes off very early, and I wish I knew how to reset it. At home I tell myself it’s because the felines wake me up … but the truth is, even with a bed all to myself, I am awake at 5:30 almost every day.

Not that I mind. I get to see the sunrise most days. This is the view from our window at Craglea Lodge in Lahinch. All three homes on the left side (one you can’t see) belong to Kennys.

Not that I mind. I get to see the sunrise most days. This is the view from our window at Craglea Lodge in Lahinch. All three homes on the left side (one you can’t see) belong to Kennys.

Nine years ago September was warm and pleasant, but these last few days in the 2012 September were windy and cold. (It was, in fact, far too windy for an Aran Islands trip—but we’d known that was a strong possibility.) Of course, we didn’t stay in Lahinch nine years ago. No, Gerry and I came here in 2006 … in February. And February on the western shore of Ireland, my friends, is a chilly proposition.

Nonetheless, I fell in love with this town. It’s small (pop. 600), and the folks are really friendly, particularly during the off season. During the on season, it’s a popular resort town with 1) a gorgeous beach on Liscannor Bay that’s perfect for surfing and 2) the world-famous Lahinch Golf Club. It’s much more crowded then, and I’m not sure I’d like it as much.

Lahinch beach at low tide. You can see Liscannor (pop. 71) across the bay.

Lahinch beach at low tide. You can see Liscannor (pop. 71) across the bay.

For comparison, here’s high tide.

For comparison, here’s high tide.

Edel told us last night she’d normally be closed by now, but when I’d contacted her about our visit, she’d decided it was worth staying open for two rooms for three nights. And then because she’d made the decision, she accepted a few other lodgers. We saw one group in the dining room the next morning. (Sometimes you really can spot Yanks a mile away: this group—two women and a man—were all wearing ball caps, all talking very loud.) They left this morning, though, and by evening we were the only ones in the house.

I’m glad Edel decided to keep Craglea Lodge open. It’s nice. And her help serves homemade scones warm out of the oven every morning. 🙂

After breakfast we headed out for the Cliffs of Moher because we’d been advised that in spite of the heavy cloud cover and fine mist, the strong gusts of wind would drive it all away and visibility would be fine. I’ve been to the cliffs three times now, although the first—in 2003—I didn’t see anything because the mist was so heavy. You really do have to be prepared with a flexible schedule (and that year we weren’t) to allow for the possibility of poor visibility. I’d been very disappointed and made certain to plan flexibility on this trip.

Things have changed a lot since that first misty visit. In 2003, we parked on the same side of the road as the cliffs and walked about fifty yards out to the edge. I mean, literally to the edge. There was a small shack that functioned as a gift shop.

The approach to the cliffs in 2003. A short railing was all that stood between visitors and the sea (once you’d turned right or left, the walk along the cliff was virtually unimpeded, except for the warning signs). That’s a busker playing a tin whistle, with the entrance to the gift shack just beyond him to the right.

The approach to the cliffs in 2003. A short railing was all that stood between visitors and the sea (once you’d turned right or left, the walk along the cliff was virtually unimpeded, except for the warning signs). That’s a busker playing a tin whistle, with the entrance to the gift shack just beyond him to the right.

This is what I saw in 2003. That is, not much.

This is what I saw in 2003. That is, not much. You can’t get close enough to see this slab now.

When we’d visited in 2006 (on a windy, sunny day), we’d seen the scale model for everything that was planned for the new, modern site; it was very ambitious. But that year everything was a bit of a mess—just missing the “Pardon our construction” signs.

Take this, for example: the trademark Cliffs of Moher view was obstructed by fencing in 2006.

Take this, for example: the trademark Cliffs of Moher view was obstructed by fencing in 2006.

At the same time, if you wanted to get to the edge and jump off … no problem. Look how short the barrier is. Not that I believe it’s the government’s responsibility to protect potential suicides from themselves. (Yes, I cut myself out of this photo; hate my hair color from that period.) 2006.

At the same time, if you wanted to get to the edge and jump off … no problem. Look how short the barrier is. Not that I believe it’s the government’s responsibility to protect potential suicides from themselves. (Yes, I cut myself out of this photo; hate my hair color from that period.) 2006.

Danger indeed! This is the sidewalk up to O’Brien’s Tower in 2006.

Danger indeed! This is the sidewalk up to O’Brien’s Tower in 2006.

 O’Brien’s Tower in 2006. It was closed to visitors that year, so no spectacular view from the top; all we could do was walk around it. They’ve stabilized it now.

O’Brien’s Tower in 2006. It was closed to visitors that year, so no spectacular view from the top; all we could do was walk around it. They’ve stabilized it now.

It was shocking (in a good way, I guess) to see the finished product. Now it’s like Disneyland: all bricked and curbed and neat and clean … and with a fake signpost for people to take pictures of.

Look, honey! The Cliffs of Moher—thataway! Thank goodness they’ve got this sign—we’d never have found them!

Look, honey! The Cliffs of Moher—thataway! Thank goodness they’ve got this sign—we’d never have found them!

Don’t get me started on this atrocity. I’m not certain that’s even wood. (Jill’s camera.)

Don’t get me started on this atrocity. I’m not certain that’s even wood. (Jill’s camera.)

That said, there are many nice things about the site. (Although, interestingly, none of us took a photo of the setup on the way in.) The new visitors centre is actually embedded in the hillside (which is a great, green choice), as are several little craft shops that line the walkway. And the shop is quite large, unlike the tiny shack from 2003.

This photo is actually taken from atop the visitors centre, looking back the way we came in. The tour buses are parked where everyone parked nine-plus years ago. The car park is now across the highway in the far distance. The cliffs themselves are just out of the fram to the right; the craft shops are just out of the frame to the left. The entrance to the visitors centre is on the lower left, where the lady in the red coat and the big purse is about to go.

This photo is actually taken from atop the visitors centre, looking back the way we came in. The tour buses are parked where everyone parked nine-plus years ago. The car park is now across the highway in the far, far distance. The cliffs themselves are just out of the frame to the right; the craft shops are just out of the frame to the left. The entrance to the visitors centre is on the lower left, where the lady in the red coat carrying the big purse is about to go.

See? Here they are, just out of the frame to the right, the Cliffs of Moher. :) This concrete “roof” is terraced, like an amphitheater. (Margaret’s photo.)

See? Here they are, “just out of the frame to the right,” the Cliffs of Moher. 🙂 This concrete “roof” is terraced, like an amphitheater. (Margaret’s photo.)

The Cliffs of Moher, September 2012. (Pronounce it like “mower.”)

The Cliffs of Moher, September 2012. (Pronounce it like “mower.”)

It’s a view I can’t get enough of, frankly. (Margaret’s photo.)

It’s a view I can’t get enough of, frankly. (Margaret’s photo.)

There are paths along the top of the cliffs; you can walk all the way out there to Hag’s Head, which has a Napoleonic-era watchtower; you can see it here in this zoom photo. I think it’s a couple miles in that direction (south).

There are paths along the top of the cliffs; you can walk all the way out there to Hag’s Head, which has a Napoleonic-era watchtower; you can see it here in this zoom photo. I think it’s a couple miles in that direction (south).

I’m on the terraced roof. You can see how much taller the barrier is now.

I’m on the terraced roof. You can see how much taller the barrier is now.

Jill and Alli took off right away, and walked both north and south along the tops of the cliffs. I couldn’t keep up with that ambitious walk with my pneumonia-lung.

The stairway up to O’Brien’s Tower (on the left in the distance).

The stairway up to O’Brien’s Tower (on the left in the distance).

Gorgeous day, though! (Margaret’s photo.)

Gorgeous day, though! (Margaret’s photo.)

The observation tower—O’Brien’s Tower—was built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O’Brien for no other reason than to view the cliffs to the south. (Some say he built it to impress women he was courting!)

Taken on the walk up to O’Brien’s Tower; note the stairs on the right. (Jill’s photo.)

Taken on the walk up to O’Brien’s Tower; note the stairs on the right. (Jill’s photo.)

Looking north from O’Brien’s Tower. (Jill’s photo.)

Looking north from O’Brien’s Tower. (Jill’s photo.)

Eventually we all ended up back at the visitors centre, which had a large gift shop, some exhibits, and a really nice café upstairs with fantastic views of the cliffs.

The café at the Cliffs of Moher. We lingered here for awhile before getting back in the car.

The café at the Cliffs of Moher. We lingered here for awhile before getting back in the car.

There is so, so much to see in this small area, much of it in what’s called the Burren—a karst limestone region that seems, at first, quite bleak, but which has a beauty all its own. I’ve been told botanists come from all over the world to study what grows there among the rocks (arctic, Mediterranean, and alpine plants). And it is rich with history too. There are more than ninety megalithic tombs (including Poulnabrone), several ring forts (Cahercommaun and Caherconnell, to name two), ruins of medieval churches (Carron, Oughtmama, Corcomroe Abbey, Dysert O’Dea, and others), caves, cathdrals, abandoned castles … You could spend days seeing it all. (And I have. If you looked at the link for Carron Church, you’ll see a photo of a dog; I met her, too, on a rainy day in 2006.)

But we only had hours, not days, so first we went to the cathedral in Kilfenora (pop. 169)—St. Fachtnan’s. Built around 1189 on the site of Fachtnan’s original monastery, this small church, by a quirk of language, actually belongs to the pope. (Yes, that pope. He’s the bishop here. Don’t ask me to explain.) This would be my third visit.

Interestingly, because it was my third visit, I didn’t take as many photos as I have in years past, although some are very different. This one, for example, which is the backside of the church. Some gravestones can be seen through the open gate in the wall that surrounds the churchyard.

Interestingly, because it was my third visit, I didn’t take as many photos as I have in years past, although some are very different. This one, for example, which is the backside of the church. Some gravestones can be seen through the open gate in the wall that surrounds the churchyard.

This is the north side of the yard. You can see a relatively new grace on the far left; the one in the foreground is nineteenth-century. (Margaret’s photo.)

This is the north side of the yard. You can see a relatively new grave on the far left; the one in the foreground is nineteenth-century. (Margaret’s photo.)

What you see ahead is called the Lady Chapel.

What you see ahead is called the Lady Chapel.

Between our visit in September 2003 and our return in February 2006, the Lady Chapel, once roofless, was spruced up with a glass roof. Frankly, I love it. It makes no pretense about belonging; at the same time, it doesn’t distract from the old stone structure.

St. Fachnan’s main claim to fame is the marvelous high crosses associated with it—now just three are still extant. (You can read about all eight of them here; it’s very interesting.) So there are three: the Doorty, the North, and the West, or High cross. Now two of them have been moved inside—to the Lady Chapel, under that glass roof—from the churchyard, to preserve them from the elements. This has been going on all over Ireland, an attempt to keep the intricate carvings on these precious artifacts from eroding. Generally they are housed right on the premises, as here; sometimes they install … um … fakes, back out in the churchyard. 🙂 Not here, though. On my 2003 visit, I saw these crosses in the yard.

This is the Doorty cross; that’s a bishop, St. Fachtnan.

This is the Doorty cross; that’s a bishop, St. Fachtnan.

The reverse of the Doorty cross, showing Christ. (Margaret’s photo.)

The reverse of the Doorty cross, showing Christ. (Margaret’s photo.)

This is the front of the North cross. (Jill’s photo.)

This is the front of the North cross. (Jill’s photo.)

From the Lady Chapel we walked into the still-roofless chancel. It’s lovely. (This website has some interesting photos of Kilfenora’s little church, possibly taken in the 1980s. You will see that many artifacts have been removed—I’m not sure where they are now; perhaps locked up inside the part of the church that is still roofed and unavailable to us tourists? That’s a bit of a disappointment.)

This wall faces east, thus the rising sun would stream through these windows, in front of which would have been the altar.

This wall faces east, thus the rising sun would stream through these windows, in front of which would have been the altar.

This is, I believe, a sedile (a seat for the priest), although it could be a piscina (a shallow basin used to wash communion vessels). Note the bishop’s effigy above it. You can find references to this specific artifact being a sedile (or sedilia, since it would seat more than one) all over the web. But I’m not sure. It’s too small to be a tomb. Perhaps when I’m next there I can find someone who knows definitively. :) (Margaret’s photo.)

This is, I believe, a sedile (a seat for the priest), although it could be a piscina (a shallow basin used to wash communion vessels). Note the bishop’s effigy above it. It seems too small to be a tomb. Perhaps when I’m next there I can find someone who knows definitively. 🙂 (Margaret’s photo.)

The bishop in his mitre, right above the sedile. He looks rather determined, don’t you think?

The bishop in his mitre, right above the sedile. He looks rather determined, don’t you think?

There are still some interesting gravestones in the chancel. This one is in Latin, but has dates in the 1680s, ’90s, and 1700; apparently it represents several members of a family. Don’t forget you can click twice to zoom in on photos.

There are still some interesting gravestones in the chancel. This one is in Latin, but has dates in the 1680s, ’90s, and 1700; apparently it represents several members of a family. Don’t forget you can click twice to zoom in on photos.

Some praying clerics at the top of a column.

Some praying clerics at the top of a column.

The best, for me, is the West cross—and it’s not even on church grounds anymore. I did get a bit of a shock, though, when I saw the large open field of my memory had been sectioned into a half-dozen livestock pens.

Looking out the churchyard gate into the lane. Can you see the cross in the distance? It’s quite large. Let’s walk out there.

Looking out the churchyard gate into the lane. Can you see the cross in the distance? It’s quite large. Let’s walk out there.

Looking back the way we’ve just come.

Looking back the way we’ve just come.

It’s nearly fifteen feet tall. And isn’t it just gorgeous? This face depicts the risen Christ.

It’s nearly fifteen feet tall. And isn’t it just gorgeous? This face depicts the risen Christ.

We drove on into the bleak Burren for our final stop of the day: the Poulnabrone (pronounce this POWL-na-BRONE-ah) dolmen. It is arguably the most famous in Ireland, and its iconic silhouette can be seen everywhere. (Remember, we saw an inflatable of it in Dublin!) The site dates back to … well, who knows. I’ve seen dates ranging from 4200 BC 2500 BC. It was excavated twenty or so years ago, and contained the remains of both children and adults, most under the age of thirty. (It was a very hard life.) Still, we can only speculate about the actual purpose of this tomb.

First sight of Poulnabrone. It’s near the road but you have to walk in to see it.

First sight of Poulnabrone. It’s near the road but you have to walk in to see it.

This is the iconic silhouette. (Margaret’s photo.)

This is the iconic silhouette. (Margaret’s photo.)

A different view. (Jill’s photo.)

A different view. (Jill’s photo.)

You have to be really, really careful where you put your feet out here. It’s a twisted ankle waiting to happen!

You have to be really, really careful where you put your feet out here. It’s a twisted ankle waiting to happen!

The Burren. Designed by glaciers.

The Burren. Designed by glaciers.

This is typical Burren landscape.

This is typical Burren landscape.

It was really, really cold!

It was really, really cold!

When it’s that windy and cold, you get tired quick, so we headed back to Kenny’s in Lahinch for grub and the free wi-fi. Password is kennysbar.ie in case you’re ever there.

I had potato and leek soup and a salad. I loved the way the cook piled different interesting things in the salad with a dollop of homemade coleslaw and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Tasty. (Margaret’s photo.)

I had potato and leek soup and a salad. I loved the way the cook piled different interesting things in the salad with a dollop of homemade coleslaw and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Tasty. (Margaret’s photo.)

The cook heard there were Yanks about and came out and spoke with us. I should say, he had quite a conversation with the cool Californians in our group! Ha! Margaret and I might as well have not been there. :)

The cook heard there were Yanks about and came out and spoke with us. I should say, he had quite a conversation with the cool Californians in our group! Ha! Margaret and I might as well have not been there. 🙂

Our room at Edel’s was really nice, with a pair of barrel chairs snugged in under the eaves, which have a window looking out on the Kenny compound (grandparents and siblings all live on this little lane). From there I watched the sun go down.

Sundown at the Kenny compound in Lahinch. Again, that’s Liscannor you see across the bay.

Sundown at the Kenny compound in Lahinch. Again, that’s Liscannor you see across the bay.

Today’s Image

This morning I sat in this same chair while Margaret slept, watching the ravens on the peak of the roof of the house in front of the B&B (the small one on the right in the photo above). It was very windy, a steady wind, and the birds were all facing into the wind. One spread its wings and lifted its feet … and then it was flying in one place, just enough to rise up and drift backward onto the edge of the chimney, about two feet higher than he was. Smooth move.

Oh-o, It’s Magic (the Cars Version)

Day 6 / Sunday, 16 September 2012

When we were in Bettystown last night, Margaret noticed a little restaurant that served breakfast, so that’s where we headed this morning after Margaret had a nice lie-in (which was great, since she’d been sick with a cold). The Red Rose Café was small and busy, but the service and food were grand.

We’d decided to head to Brú na Bóinne (pronounce this BREW-nah-bowANN) today. This translates as Palace (or Mansion) on the Boyne—the Boyne being a river bisecting a beautiful valley in County Meath. A historic river, I should add: the site of the Battle of the Boyne in July of 1690, the outcome of which set the stage for more than three centuries of sectarian violence in Ireland. And the Orangemen still march in Ulster.

It’s all quite peaceful now, this valley. And long before that #&%@!! Dutchman came along, Stone Age men were building cairns, chamber tombs, standing stone circles, henges, and other megalithic structures in a roughly 1900-acre area along the north side of the Boyne.

You may know it as Newgrange (see this too), but the site also includes Knowth (pronounce this NOE-th), Dowth (DOE-th) and many smaller mounds. These are called passage tombs—a cruciform chamber in the center of a mound of rocks, connected to the outside by a long passage. Tomb is a misnomer, as it is not believed the dead were interred here. The mounds are aligned with the sun: at sunrise of the winter solstice, light shines directly along the long passage into the chamber at Newgrange for about seventeen minutes. It’s too precise for this to be accidental; the builders of the cairns knew exactly what they were doing. These mounds exist all over Western Europe, but this is quite a collection here in a bend of the Boyne.

I had seen Newgrange before (in fact, I lost a beloved necklace there; eventually that story will be in the archives) in 2003, so we opted for the Knowth tour. You can see either or both; in 2003 Dowth was included with Knowth but it isn’t now, although you can visit it if you can find it. (If you’ve been to Ireland you are laughing now. Finding it is the issue.) Regardless, Newgrange and Knowth are guided tours only. (Unfortunately, the woman who sold us our tickets also sold us each a 50-cent explanatory brochure—in German, which we didn’t notice until we’d gotten home. What a disappointment!)

It’s beautiful country, the Boyne River Valley.

You have to cross the Boyne on a foot bridge to get to the tour bus.

It’s a fantastic, rustic site of six or seven mounds; Knowth1 is the largest.

Here are a couple of them. I wish I’d photographed all the kerbstones.

I have a photo without the guy, but here you can see the size by comparison. It would’ve taken awhile to build this.

Some haven’t yet been excavated.

This is one that has collapsed; the cruciform shape is there: the “arms” are just past the fallen rock. This is what they all look like inside.

This is Knowth1, the largest at this site.

One of the most appealing features, of course, are the kerbstones that surround Knowth1 (and Newgrange). Imagine prehistoric men carving these shapes into rocks, using other rocks as tools!

Concentric circles and spirals are a symbol used frequently by the ancients.

More kerbstones. Can you see the triple spirals on this one?

This one seems to illustrate a plan for a henge, seen from above.

Hold a straight stick in the hollow from which the lines emanate here, and you have a crude sundial.

We were allowed to climb to the top.

They’ve carved a tiered path out of the cairn. It’s steep; those chain handholds are there for a reason.

Gorgeous view, though! That’s the Boyne again.

At the end, we were allowed to climb through the “back door” into the chamber inside. It’s a completely different experience from Newgrange, which is significantly larger (the passage from the front door to the central chamber is sixty feet) and much more fixed up, but I am really glad we saw Knowth.

And our docent was very well-informed and interesting. Something she mentioned set in motion our plans for the rest of the day: the land on which the mounds lie was a part of a large monastic settlement—the Abbey of Mellifont, which was the first Cistercian house in Ireland, founded in 1142. It “replaced,” in a sense, the much older Monasterboice (pronounce this MON-a-ster-BOYSE), which was formed in the fifth century by St. Buithe. Monasterboice had been in decline since its last abbot died in 1117; when the highly organized Cistercians arrived, that was truly the end of Monasterboice.

The ruins of Mellifont were just two kilometers away (and Monasterboice just 2km further), so we dashed into the Brú na Bóinne gift shop and the café for bottled water, then hit the road to Mellifont Abbey.

You drive in at Mellifont and you think, Um, there’s nothing here. I mean, there are a lot of old piles of rocks in Ireland (ahem: ruins), but of all the ruins I’ve seen, Mellifont is the most ruined of all.

This is what you see when you arrive at Mellifont. Meh.

And then you take another look. It was late afternoon, which was lovely light.

The lavabo (where the monks washed their hands). Look at those long shadows. Soon to get longer.

Take a closer look.

Closer. Lovely hearts and fleurs-de-lis top this capital.

We walked around and around. It was peaceful.

The sky darkened. Storm’s coming. Somewhere.

I just like the interplay of light and line.

And then we saw our first rainbow. Magic.

Rainbow! It’s there!

From there we drove to Monasterboice. It was harder to find, and the last little bit of it was on a one-lane road with high hedges. (Driving in Ireland can be exciting.) Now the sun was very low.

Honestly, there’s not much left at Monasterboice, either. A round tower. A piece of a wall. A large cemetery.

There’s not much left here either … except this magnificent cemetery.

There are five members of one family buried beneath the cross in the foreground; the last died in 1950.

And then we saw it: a “Celtic” cross. We could tell immediately it was important. Further investigation yields this: it is Muirdach’s Cross, and it dates from 900–923 AD.

Muirdach’s Cross.

It’s gorgeous. That’s a bishop, though, not Christ. He’s on the other side.

Remember, these crosses were intended to tell the gospel story to an unschooled population; every panel tells a story.

What Bible story do you think this tells? Those are the tonsured heads of monks, but are those snakes? Dragons? The head of the upper snake looks sort of fox-like, don’t you think?

In their time, crosses like this would have been brightly painted too. I think they’re lovely now, but imagine what they might have looked like in living color!

Muirdach’s isn’t the only important cross here. There’s the West Cross and the North Cross.

West Cross. It was getting dark very quickly. This isn’t great, but the best of those I took.

North Cross. This simple crucifix is similar to one we’ll see at Kilfenora.

Back of the North Cross.

These are some other Monasterboice images I liked:

At Monasterboice.

IHS: the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, iota-eta-sigma.

Muirdach’s Cross again.

Detail on a cross at Monasterboice.

I just liked the way this turned out, with the sunspots and all.

Eventually it was just too dark to take pictures, and we were hungry. We came home through Drogheda and stopped at the Black Bull again for dinner. The pear and blue cheese salad I had was delicious.

At the end of our trip, Margaret and I were discussing some of our favorite moments and this day—every bit of it—was the first thing that sprang to my mind. It was as nearly perfect as a day can be. Magical.

Today’s Image

Monasterboice at sunset was … indescribable. Indescribably beautiful. Surrounded by shade trees that brought the dark on quickly and filled with monuments to the dead that had unimaginable grief still clinging to them in words and visuals. If you ever get the chance, you should see it. I’m glad I did.