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

And speaking of private tours …

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

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

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

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

This made me laugh out loud (it sounds so Irish to me!), though I know my friend is in a lot better shape than me. But Gerry and I tried to guide ourselves through Howth, in a car (with stops), and didn’t see much, so I have to say I think a tour guide would be a good investment.

I snagged this from the interwebs. 🙂

Here are some links to check for guides to Howth:

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

Go! Enjoy!

Another Day, Another Cemetery

Thursday, 25 June 2015
After breakfast I couldn’t resist taking my camera out to the plantings at the entry of the hotel. At an American hotel, the beds would be symmetrical and manicured to within an inch of their lives. Here at the Portmarnock, the gardener has used a more eclectic style, and I like it.

It’s wild and overgrown. Coral bells (heuchera) and grasses and other things I have no idea about. That red, though—it pulls everything together, doesn’t it!

It’s wild and overgrown. Coral bells (heuchera) and grasses and other things I have no idea about. That red, though—it pulls everything together, doesn’t it!

I love the variety of leaf color in this heuchera (coral bells).

I love the variety of leaf color in this heuchera (coral bells).

Allium—a flowering onion.

Allium—a flowering onion.

These little daisy-like flowers don’t even look real, they are so perfect.

These little daisy-like flowers don’t even look real, they are so perfect.

This looks a little like moss rose, but is probably a sedum. I think.

This looks a little like moss rose, but is probably a sedum. I think.

Again … I have no idea.

Again … I have no idea.

We had to drive back into town (more banking business), then drove back via Howth (pronounce this with a long O: HOE-th), which is both a peninsula and a village. As you might imagine by its location, it’s a very well-to-do Dublin suburb.

There are several nice walks along the cliffs, and one of these days … but my feet were still problematic. So we drove. But honestly, the streets are very narrow and confusing. I needed a map! The one thing I hadn’t thought to bring. Ah well.

So we traveled back up the coast past Portmarnock and stopped in at Sonairte, which is the National Ecology Centre, near Laytown. Discover Ireland says,

Sonairte was established in 1986 by members of the local community and concerned environmentalists to promote environmental awareness and education. Sonairte has been certified as an organic food producer with the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association since 1986 and has been teaching organic horticulture and providing courses in various aspects of environmental education ever since. … Their courses aim to provide information, education and practical skills on a range of topics, such as biodiversity, organic gardening and sustainable living. Their approach is holistic, and with small numbers on each course, learner focused.

It’s settled on an eighteenth-century farmland and buildings, including a walled garden (Lots of information at their website here.)

This courtyard is surrounded by outbuildings; I believe what you see on the far right was once the house. There was a school group present when we strolled through.

This courtyard is surrounded by outbuildings; I believe what you see on the far right was once the house. There was a school group present when we strolled through.

A better look at the house.

A better look at the house.

We strolled around the gardens … I took some photos. There was a professional photographer there, too, taking what looked to be high school graduation photos of a couple of teenage girls.

A wall and flowers … simple beauty.

A wall and flowers … simple beauty.

Behind the house was an old orchard with poppies growing between the trees.

Behind the house was an old orchard with poppies growing underneath the trees.

The trees—what do you think? apples? crabapples?—probably dated from the time of the house, which is 1750-ish, according to signage we saw on site.

The trees—what do you think? apples? crabapples?—probably dated from the time of the house, which is 1750-ish, according to signage we saw on site.

I wandered into the gift shop to browse, we admired the windmill, and then we got back in the car and headed to Duleek. I’d read there was a nice pile of rocks there—and indeed, there was.

Duleek began its life as an early Christian monastic settlement, founded by St. Cianán, who was the bishop of Duleek in the fifth century. (All that’s left of Cianán’s church is a wall about a block away.) In the late twelfth century, the Augustinians built a new abbey, St. Mary’s, of which much more remains.

Approach to St. Mary’s.

Approach to St. Mary’s.

At one point, the Church of Ireland built a newer building on the grounds. That building was later turned into a restaurant, as you can see in the photo above. It’s a little … unsettling … but it could have been worse. (They could have painted the building blue, or something.)

The west side of St. Mary’s fifteenth-century tower.

The west side of St. Mary’s fifteenth-century tower.

The tower and this small chapel are all that’s left of what must have been a very large church, here seen from the east.

The tower and this small chapel are all that’s left of what must have been a very large church, here seen from the east.

It’s said the body of Brian Boru, killed in the battle of Clontarf, lay in state here at St. Mary’s in 1014, as it made its way to Armagh for burial. Brian Boru was an Irish high king, founder of the O’Brien dynasty, who unified many regional kings to break the political domination of the Uí Néill family dynasty. Brian Boru is considered a hero in Ireland, and his accomplishments should not be underestimated—though he apparently had a very good publicist (probably a grandson or greatgrandson), whose account of his explots assure his place in Irish history.

Brian Boru would not have rested in this church—it’s too new. But you can see here the “ghost” of the much older (pre-Norman) round tower, against which the newer, fifteenth-century square tower was built. Brian Boru rested in that church.

Brian Boru would not have rested in this church—it’s too new. But you can see here the “ghost” of the much older (pre-Norman) round tower, against which the newer, fifteenth-century square tower was built. Brian Boru rested in that church.

Inside the chapel, with the box tomb.

Inside the chapel, with the box tomb.

Some websites have called this an altar but I believe it is a box tomb. The top lifts off. You’d be someone important, to get a grave like this, above ground. Note the gravestone embedded in the wall at the rear, which lists a dozen or more burials, all from the early 1700s.

Some websites have called this an altar but I believe it is a box tomb. The top lifts off. You’d be someone important, to get a grave like this, above ground. Note the gravestone embedded in the wall at the rear, which lists a dozen or more burials, all from the early 1700s.

There are several ninth-century (according to my research) Celtic crosses in the graveyard, in varying stages of decay. I didn’t catch them all.

All that’s left of this one is the top.

All that’s left of this one is the top.

You can barely see the crucifix on it.

You can barely see the crucifix on it.

Remember that these large churches were laid out in a cruciform design, so what you see left here is only one quarter of what it once was.

I am taking this photo from what was probably the nave.

I am taking this photo from what was probably the nave.

At some point this effigial tomb slab was set on its side to keep it from breaking or being walked upon (as tourists sometimes do). At one time it lay flat on top of a box that contained the remains of James Cusack, bishop of Meath 1679–1688.

At some point this effigial tomb slab was set on its side to keep it from breaking or being walked upon (as tourists sometimes do). At one time it lay flat on top of a box that contained the remains of James Cusack, bishop of Meath 1679–1688.

There was, of course, a lot of interesting gravestone art.

This gravestone was laid in the 1700s (see upper left corner), though it probably stood upright then. This is what I could read: Requiescat in Pace / This stone and burial *** / Belong to Nicholas Walsh / City of Dublin Linne** / Draper and his Family.

This gravestone was laid in the 1700s (see upper left corner), though it probably stood upright then. This is what I could read: Requiescat in Pace / This stone and burial *** / Belong to Nicholas Walsh / City of Dublin Linne** / Draper and his Family.

This one reads: This stone and burial / place belongeth to / Richard Purfield and / his posterity who dep- / this life the 16 of Feb’ry in the year / of Lord 1733. Aged 33 years. The escutcheon is interesting too. Is that a dog? a deer? above the helmet?

This one reads: This stone and burial / place belongeth to / Richard Purfield and / his posterity who dep- / this life the 16 of Feb’ry in the year / of Lord 1733. Aged 33 years. The escutcheon is interesting too. Is that a dog? a deer? above the helmet?

Yet another escutcheon. And underneath: This window was / made by Sir Johne / Bellewe, knight, and / Dame Ismay Nugent.

Yet another escutcheon. And underneath: This window was / made by Sir Johne / Bellewe, knight, and / Dame Ismay Nugent.

I loved the shamrocks on this one—among them the I.H.S. monogram with a cross springing from the cross-bar of the H. It also features a heraldic cross, called a moline cross, which is often associated with the Benedictines.

I loved the shamrocks on this one—among them the I.H.S. monogram with a cross springing from the cross-bar of the H. It also features a heraldic cross, called a moline cross, which is often associated with the Benedictines.

The anchor symbol stands for hope or eternal life; it’s also a Masonic symbol.

The anchor symbol stands for hope or eternal life; it’s also a Masonic symbol.

Even without the dates, I could have told you this was a Victorian-era gravestone: look at that ornate I.H.S.monogram (with shamrocks growing out of it!), and the ivy, which represents friendship.

Even without the dates, I could have told you this was a Victorian-era gravestone: look at that ornate I.H.S.monogram (with shamrocks growing out of it!), and the ivy, which represents friendship.

This one is simple and heartbreaking: a dead lamb atop a cross.

This one is simple and heartbreaking: a dead lamb atop a cross.

The church, tower, and graveyard lie between two well-used streets, and there’s a sidewalk that bisects grounds. While we were there people cut through often: a man in a suit, a woman pushing a baby in a stroller, a couple of teens. You don’t see that too often in American towns, where the graveyard is often a public one, separate from the churchyard.

My eye is always caught by ironwork, this ornate and Victorian.

My eye is always caught by ironwork, this ornate and Victorian.

A closer looks reveal a stylized flower … perhaps an Easter lily (which often symbolizes virginity or, simply, youth) or maybe even a passionflower (symbolizing Christ’s passion).

A closer looks reveal a stylized flower … perhaps an Easter lily (which often symbolizes virginity or, simply, youth) or maybe even a passionflower (symbolizing Christ’s passion).

After the quiet afternoon in Duleek, we made our way back toward the coast and the Strand Road home. It had been overcast all day, and islands and cliffs were shrouded in mist.

Ireland’s Eye and the Howth peninsula.

Ireland’s Eye and the Howth peninsula.

And as chilly as it was, people were still swimming out there!

We could here these teenaged boys shouting and teasing each other all the way from out balcony. (See? Lower right.) If you zoom in you can see two of these boys are in swimsuits with no shirts! Brrrr.

We could hear these teenaged boys shouting and teasing each other all the way from our balcony. (See? Lower right.) If you zoom in you can see two of these boys are in swimsuits with no shirts! Brrrr.

We had a simple dinner in the Seaview Lounge—too cloudy to count airplanes—and then ordered ice cream to take upstairs to our room and those wonderful strawberries, where one of us watched a little television and one of us read. (I was reading Ben Fountain’s brilliant Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.)

The Happy Green Island

I met Gerry eighteen months ago, and he’s already been to the States twice to visit me. Now, after much discussion and planning, I’ve made my very first trip to Ireland. I was excited beyond excited.

Some of you may recall my England Chronicles, wherein my British friend, Anna, gave me a journal to record the minutiae “because you’ll forget the little details when you get back home.” What a great idea! I carried the same journal back across the ocean with me on this trip, and every evening faithfully recorded the day’s activities.

Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Nashville (BNA) to Chicago (ORD)
Actually, I started writing in my journal in the Chicago airport, during a long layover between Nashville and Dublin, where I found myself at the center of a good six-dozen geriatric Ireland groupies (at least three separate tour groups, judging by the matching T-shirts). American Airlines had moved my flight up from 2pm to a noonish departure, which is how I ended up with the long layover.

So I found myself at the Aer Lingus gate of the international terminal at O’Hare, in the center of a raucous group of retired folk (who knew seniors could be so frisky?), one group of which didn’t know the translation of the Gaelic phrase on their embroidered golf shirts (I asked). Sitting next to me, however, was a young college boy (a junior, from Wisconsin), going to study philosophy at UCD (University College Dublin, one of the two major universities in the city, the other being Trinity College) for a semester. And on the other side, a fella who hummed as he read. Oh, goodness.

We were all headed to the Happy Green Island together … in September. Yes, I was going to be in an airplane, over an ocean, on September 11, and good grief, a new audio/video of Osama bin Laden had just aired, with CNN gravely reporting that new “statements” from OBL tend to surface just before an Al Qaeda attack.

But there are a couple good reasons for choosing September to visit Ireland. September is one of the nicest months, climatically speaking, in Ireland. (Later I was to learn that an inordinate amount of weddings happen in Ireland in September for the same reason.) Also, the actual full-on tourist season (with the higher prices) is April–August (and I did encounter some tourism sites that were closed or operating on reduced hours, tho’ not enough to matter), so there are fewer crowds to contend with too.

With a generally mild climate year ’round—warmed by the Gulf Stream current, the temperatures on the island rarely fall below freezing—Ireland does get about 300 days of rain per year. If you do the math, that’s about five out of every six days … so I bought a rain slicker. During September, average temps are low- to mid-60s, so I took my fleece jacket … but I hardly needed either. Ireland was in the middle of that European heat wave we’d all been hearing about, and except for the last couple days of my seventeen-day stay, it never fell below 72 degrees or so.

Upon boarding around 9pm, my plan was to eat my dinner and sleep; however, my seatmate—a lovely Irishman returning home from a business trip—was a chatter. We talked about our families, our kids (which should surprise no one who knows me), the educational systems in our respective countries, books … you name it. Finally I got out my pillow and managed to shut my eyes (tho’ not actually sleep) for a couple hours. We landed around 3am (local time was 9am, of course). Since I’d gone in to work for a few hours before my flight, I was now working on twenty-two hours without sleep. So far.

Jamie’s First Travel Tip: A messenger bag (as opposed to a purse) is a handy item. You know what I’m talking about: those bags worn slung diagonally across the chest, with the business end of the bag hanging either front or back. It’s always secure, and never slips off your shoulder. I loved-loved-loved my messenger bag.

Thursday, 11 September 2003
Dublin, Co. Dublin
Landing was like something out of a movie—you know, the credits roll and the camera pans across a large metropolis seen from the air. The cloud formations were simply magnificent as we took a wide, sweeping pass from west to east over the lovely Georgian city that is Dublin. (Georgian refers to a style of architecture, characterized, for one thing, by the beautiful half-circle windows, called fanlights, over the front doors of Georgian townhomes, as well as symmetry in overall design, and ornamental cornices based on classic—Greek or Roman—forms. The style takes its name from the English kings who reigned during the period of time from 1700 to the early 1800s during which this architecture was popular: Georges I, II, III, and IV.)

The plane ended up over the Irish Sea, then curved back around over a spit of land called Howth Head (pronounce this with a long O, as in garden hoe), with its marina of boats—dozens of silver capsules packed together like anchovies in a can. Then we turned back to the airport, landing, finally, east to west.

The marina at Howth, 2003.

The marina at Howth, 2003.

Baggage claim and customs were a breeze, and Gerry was there with a grin to escort me to the Avis counter, where we picked up our flashy little grey Ford Focus. Loaded the luggage in the back, and all the while I was taking deep breaths: I was about to pull out in the center of Dublin, driving a standard transmission automobile, sitting on the right side of the car, shifting with my left hand (think about it, y’all!), driving on what amounts—to me, anyway—as the wrong side of the road!

Getting all squared away. I was sloppy traveler, but I’ve gotten better.

Getting all squared away. I was sloppy traveler, but I’ve gotten better.

The good news is I made it … but not without clipping the left curb (spelled kerb in this neck of the woods) and a few trees and bushes. The streets are narrow! Folks drive unbelievably fast (well, it seems that way when you’re a novice driver, doesn’t it)! And—heaven help me—they make liberal use of roundabouts, those handy devices that make it possible to do without traffic lights or stop signs. “Go straight,” Gerry would say as we approached one of these marvels, as if going straight on this circle of pavement with five roads intersecting it at various angles made perfect sense to me. Let me tell you, straight is a relative term when referring to a roundabout!

We went first to my B&B, just around the corner from Gerry’s house.

Jamie’s second travel tip: In Ireland, B&Bs are less expensive than hotels, and they’re absolutely everywhere. Of course, the style and degree of comfort also varies wildly—sometimes it’s just a bedroom in someone’s home, using a communal bathroom (just like home! ha!), while sometimes the owners have really gone out for the B&B trade and added on whole wings. But that’s part of the adventure, I think. We never knew what we were gonna get—except for the warm welcome and the big Irish breakfast (generally served between 8:00 and 10:30am). Those are guaranteed.

What? You don’t know about the Big Irish Breakfast? (This is my term; it’s not official.) Here’s a definition:

In the dining room, a table laden with fresh fruit, such as bananas and apples, and sometimes canned fruit … several kinds of dry cereals, always including corn flakes and always including muesli … fresh yogurt (and not the overly sweet kind we Americans insist on, but real, heavenly, tart yogurt!) … at least two kinds of fresh breads (oh, I could rhapsodize on the lovely bread!) … whole milk in a pitcher, and always juice (at least orange, but often orange and apple and cranberry or tomato). Everything is beautifully displayed and in serving dishes; there’s nothing in a carton. One is expected to help oneself to the cereals (I always started with muesli stirred into a dollop of yogurt), fruit, bread, and juice whilst the owner makes note of one’s appearance in the dining room. “Good morning! Would you like tea or coffee?” (Surprised look when I answer tea in my obviously American accent.) Tea is served in a teapot (similarly, coffee is usually served in a press), and is usually accompanied by toast. Just as you’re feeling full, the owner reappears with the query, “Would you like a cooked breakfast?” and, because you’re starting to really get in to this Big Irish Breakfast thing, you say yes. The cooked portion of your program consists of an egg (I was only once asked how I take my eggs, which, happily, was the way it was inevitably served: over-easy) surrounded by two slices of bacon, two to four links of sausage, a grilled tomato half (sometimes two), and a slice each of both black and white pudding (more about which in a moment). Bacon is a misnomer: in the States our bacon is a strip about one inch by ten inches, and it’s mostly fat; in Ireland it’s about three inches by eight inches, and is all meat. They grind their sausage much finer over there too. As for the pudding, don’t be fooled by that moniker—it’s a sausage, purchased in rounds as bratwurst would be, and sliced off an inch-and-a-half or so at a time. Black pudding is blood sausage, and white pudding is … hmmm, a different kind of sausage. Both yummy.

The Big Irish Breakfast will fortify you for any adventure, and will take you right on through until dinnertime, most days!

My Dublin B&B (Blaithin—pronounced blah-HEEN) was run by the gentleman Kevin (in his sixties, tho’ not looking it, retired for nearly twenty years after twenty-three years in the Irish Navy) and his wife, who went off to work every day (and whom I startled on Saturday morning, showing up in their dining room at 7:50: “Oh, you gave me such a shock, I t’ought I was seein’ a ghost! No one gets up d’is airly on a Saturday!”). They have two daughters, ages fourteen and seventeen, whom I neither heard nor saw except in photos. Kevin sings while he prepares your breakfast, and he comes out to the car and carries your bags in … which he did this day at around 10:30am.*

Then we walked around the corner and down the street to Gerry’s house, where I had a nice chat with his seventy-two-year-old mother, Bridie. Don’t let that number fool you, kids: she is spry, still beautiful with gorgeous gams, full of life and always smiling. While we were getting acquainted, Gerry was in the kitchen, preparing a traditional Irish fry-up (the cooked portion of the previously defined Big Irish Breakfast). This was good, because I was starved, having gotten my second wind sometime during the exciting/scary trip from the airport. (If driving on the left hand side of the road in bumper-to-bumper traffic doesn’t wake one up, nothing will.)

After this feast, the three of us drove along the Coast Road out to Howth so I could practice my driving skills. As you might expect, the homes along the Coast Road—with a fabulous view of Bull Island in the middle of Dublin Bay, as well as Howth Head off in the distance ahead—are pricey and lovely. I had to stop every five minutes and take pictures, so charmed was I by Every. Single. Thing.

Situated thirteen kilometers (about eight miles miles) northeast of Dublin, on a peninsula that forms the northern boundary of Dublin Bay, Howth is a picturesque working fishing village (although, I must be quick to add, celebrities and wealthy others own property out there, it’s that beautiful). Known for its rhododendrons, it is a favorite destination for picnickers and hikers, affording spectacular views of Dublin city and the Wicklow Mountains to the south, and Carrigeen Bay (in which lies the tiny island known as Ireland’s Eye) and, further north, Lambay, an island and noted bird sanctuary. Lambay means Lamb Island, the ay being the Danish word for island, one of the more benign relics the Vikings left behind. Other versions of the word are ey as in Dalkey (Dalk Island) and eye as in Ireland’s Eye (Ireland’s Island). It is incorrect, some locals say, to say Lambay Island: it’s redundant.

I have better photos of Ireland’s Eye but I thought this one was interesting because you can see Lambay in the distance.

I have better photos of Ireland’s Eye but I thought this one was interesting because you can see Lambay in the distance.

The road ends quite literally at Howth Head, a massive cliff. And the village is charming, buildings painted in pastels and jewel tones, a pub or two, the marina and a jetty stretching far out into the ocean.

Looking back at Howth village from the marina.

Looking back at Howth village from the marina.

Walking along the jetty. The wind was fierce.

Walking along the jetty. The wind was fierce.

Just a few hours earlier, I’d been looking at this very marina (and knew what I was looking at, too, I’d spent so many hours poring over the map). We got out and walked atop the jetty in a strong ocean breeze, just strolling, with ice cream cones. (In every town or village, you’ll see a store—a grocery, a pharmacy, a newsstand, a convenience store, perhaps—with a four-foot-tall plastic ice cream cone standing out front, like the old cigar-store Indians; inside, the most delicious ice cream!)

Back at Gerry’s, I (ahem) took a nap while simultaneously watching a DVD of Bend It Like Beckham. Delightful movie. (No, really! It was!) Later we had delicious Indian takeout … and by then I was fading fast, it being nearly 10pm local time. A brisk walk back to my B&B to journal and write postcards did me in. Final score for me: thirty-six hours, no sleep.

*Note: Kevin retired completely not too long ago, and the home is now a private one.

A note about the photos: In 2003 I was using a 1970s-era Canon F-1. Portable digital cameras had been introduced in the mid-1990s but I couldn’t justify the cost when I had a wonderful professional-grade camera that took beautiful photographs on film. However, with film you snap and hope you got a good image; I didn’t know what image I’d captured until long after I’d returned home. Affordable technology to convert film to .jpg was also new then, so the photos you’ve seen and will see are of that in-between era. By the time of my next trip across the Pond, I’d gone digital.