Ship Those Packages Home!

When you’re traveling, you’re going to do some shopping. Some of the things you buy will be bulky, fragile, heavy, or otherwise inconvenient to travel with. So ship it! You’ll be glad you did.

Since we’ve been home from our big honeymoon vacation, we’ve gotten several packages from Ireland, for one reason or another. Two of our favorite places to buy special gifts are Nicholas Mosse Pottery and Jerpoint Glass, and we ordered some things that were on sale for gifts, for example.

The speed with which these packages arrived, and the highly professional packaging in which they arrived—leaving nothing to chance—just reminded us of our experience at Belleek all over again.

You remember: we were staying in the area for a few days in October 2015 and decided to drive over and spend some of our wedding money. As we generally do, we asked them to ship our beautiful things to our home. And they seemed like they knew what they were doing. Asking for items to be shipped didn’t raise any eyebrows. But … they told us it would take six to eight weeks.

That certainly raised our eyebrows. We order things from Nicholas Mosse and they’re here in a week, sometimes less than a week. But … OK, whatever. We’re on vacation. We won’t be home for two more weeks.

Well, that box took fully seven weeks to arrive (we’d been home five weeks). And here’s where it gets strange. Our items arrived in a beat-up box—a reused box, as was evident from the printing on the outside of it. Now, I’m all for recycling. Recycling is a part of our daily lives. But we’re talking about very expensive fine china flying across the ocean.

That’s not all. By the time it got here, it looked like it had been around the world. It was battered and falling apart. We could hear things rattling around inside. (Miraculously, nothing broke. But it wasn’t for lack of trying on Belleek’s part.) Some of the items weren’t in their presentation boxes (they were in other boxes clearly not intended for them; they didn’t fit). It just didn’t seem right. Were the local chimpanzees running the shipping department that day? Is this standard practice?

Let’s recap. In my experience, items ordered from Nicholas Mosse, Jerpoint Glass, and the Kilkenny Design Centre (which often runs “shipping sales”: buy as much as you want and ship it—to the same address—for €29, say) …

  • come in brand-new boxes with professional-grade packing materials
  • come astonishingly fast
  • are shipped at a reasonable cost

Whereas the items from Belleek …

  • arrived in a very used box and were not well packed at all
  • took seven long weeks
  • cost more than any shipping fee we’ve ever paid

What gives?

To be perfectly frank, as pretty as our Belleek items are (I wanted some of the traditional shamrock pattern china), I don’t think I’d shop there again, because I feel like we were taken advantage of. But aside from this experience, I encourage you to ship your souvenirs home, and I can certainly encourage you to shop online with Nicholas Mosse, Jerpoint Glass, and Kilkenny Design Centre, because we have, and have been pleased in every way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Really Old Church Day (Part 1)

Day 11 / Friday, 21 September 2012

The innkeeper at the Fanad House has a little dog; sometimes she got out of his quarters and came into the dining room, trying to be friendly with everyone. He’d come and get her, shoo her back into the kitchen. This sort of casual attitude might shock some Americans (not me; I grew up sharing the house with cats and dogs); but the Irish love their dogs, and we encountered them everywhere we went. It turns out the pup was only a year old; she was a rescue dog. So good on ya, Pat Wallace, friend to man and beast.

After a full Irish breakfast, we loaded up the car and set out on the road. There are several artists and craftsfolk with studios in the Kilkenny area, and two I like to visit are Nicholas Mosse Pottery and Jerpoint Glass. There was only time for one on this trip, so we dropped by Jerpoint Glass in Stoneyford, where we watched glass being blown and did a little shopping. I say a little shopping because the trunk was very full with luggage already; there wouldn’t be a lot of room for too many purchases.

It took about 10 minutes for this young man to put this pitcher together.

Here he’s starting a new one!

Here he’s starting a new one!

On our way out of town, we indulged in what would become a welcome habit on our trip: we stopped for a midmorning coffee break because Alli has a little coffee jones. I loved this “tradition” we developed of stopping for “Alli’s coffee.”

Coffee break! Knockdrinna Farm Shop & Artisan Café in Stoneyford, Co. Kilkenny. (Margaret’s photo.) Don’t forget you can click on the photo, then click again to zoom in.

The Knockdrinna Farm Shop & Artisan Café in Stoneyford was the perfect place for coffee. Too bad we’d recently had breakfast—everything looked luscious. These small “farm shops” are my favorite place to purchase produce, cheeses, preserves, and so forth. (I still swoon just thinking of the cheeses and honey Gerry and I bought at the farm shop just outside the Aillwee Cave in Co. Clare in 2003.) I am always tempted by honey, though, and indulged in a jar of Sarah’s Joyful Honey (with orange). I love a little honey on toast.

We’d barely left town before we were stopping again, this time at a little church in Rivergrove we’d passed on the way in. My passengers had been fairly quiet but I finally convinced them to just say stop if there was something they wanted to photograph; I’m very good at pulling over quickly. And they did learn to shout it with glee. 🙂

This is the angle at which we’d seen it on the way in, just off the R713. Note the little brook. I think this church is about all that’s left of Rivergrove.

Here it is coming back. Isn’t it just lovely?

I’ve googled like crazy, but can find no information about this small church in this small town. Your guess is as good as mine. (Although you can get an excellent look at it using street view on Google Maps.) We pulled up in the driveway; the gate was closed. So all four of us, cameras in hand, walked up and down the rock wall, taking photos. Some of us took photos of the rock wall.

I am utterly fascinated by these tiny ferns, which I’ve just learned are called maidenhair spleenwort (asplenium trichomanes). They’re so perky and resilient.

Seriously—can’t resist ’em. And they’re growing on every stone edifice in Ireland.

Margaret noticed the iron rings spaced along the wall, no doubt for tying up horses back in the day. (Margaret’s photo, of course.)

Everyone was making do outside the stone wall (Jill climbed over); the gate was closed. That is, until I walked up and tried it. Yes, it swung right open. 🙂 This yielded a few more interesting photos, at least for me, since it was unlikely I’d be climbing any fences.

Isn’t that ivy, with its autumn colors, just gorgeous?

Of course, you know how I feel about those watermelon-red doors—perfect!

The graveyard was pretty too.

I’m fascinated by headstone art, and the little organisms that grow on it.

What a lovely day it was! (Margaret’s photo.)

Another look at the brook before we go. If only I’d been a little taller.

Finally we got back in the car and headed toward Cashel, our next planned stop. Stoneyford’s a bit off the beaten path, so the first leg of our trip, cross-country to the N76, was, I should say, exciting. If we’d been using the paper map we might have gone a little out of our way to use main roads, but Emily (yes, we called the GPS Emily) took us on the straightest route—which was also on the tiniest little country lanes, sometimes just wide enough for one car. It was quite an adventure. And occasionally scary.

It was a beautiful day for a drive, though. (Margaret’s photo.)

We were only on the N76 for a couple kilometers, however, before we exited to the R692, which took us all the way to Cashel. But first we passed through Fethard (pronounce this FED-erd).

Fethard was pretty quiet for a Friday around lunch time. (Margaret took this one.)

There is a fine old church in Fethard, on the site of what was once an Augustinian Abbey that was founded in 1305. Part of the original wall still exists.

This is the fourteenth-century wall. Note the very old gravestones leaning against it.

Those gravestones are really old. And beautiful.

A wider view of the property in the medieval town of Fethard.

The link above tells a year-by-year history of the church. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, the abbey began to fall into ruins. It was reopened in 1823; the façade you see here dates from about 1835. This site offers some interesting photos of the inside.

This little gate allows access to the tiny graveyard. It was open too. 🙂

This post has gotten long, both in words and photos, so I’ll stop here for now. But stick around—there’s one more old church to visit on this day, and another very exciting drive!

This Morning’s Impression

Even in the smallest places—Stoneyford has a population of 487; Rivergrove is only a spot on the map with no census figures to be had; Fethard’s population is just 1,541—there is a beautiful old church, treasured and preserved by the local populace. History is important.