October Is for Golfers, It Seems

2 October 2015, Friday
We got going earlier this morning, and were in the breakfast dining room by eight o’clock. And it was packed.

In fact, the hotel was booked solid. We expected it to be quiet this time of year—it’s definitely after the tourism season—but apparently Europeans know something about October in Ireland that we don’t know: it’s great golfing weather.

A-ha. The Portmanock Hotel and Golf Links, this beautiful hotel with a gorgeous golf course on the edge of the sea, was positively brimming with Europeans (mostly Germans), men and women, in Ireland to golf. The men in their brightly colored slacks. 🙂 (John said, “Golf clothes are what happens when men dress themselves,” which made me laugh, but then I wondered if the slacks became more colorful in direct proportion to the sobriety of the gentleman’s work clothing. There might be something to that.)

They were very vocal too: women, for example, would greet as they encountered each other walking down the hall, often from several yards away, and continue talking as they passed, their comments getting louder and louder the further apart they were. No concept of using their (ahem) outside voices in the hall of what is essentially the bedroom wing.

But then we discovered they’re all traveling together. Two busloads of them. No matter when we went to the breakfast room, the noise level was very high. If we diners were all discrete small groups—two, three, four people—we would talk amongst ourselves at the table. But these folks were talking between tables too.

For a woman who likes to ease into the morning (me), it was way too loud most of the time, although the people-watching was spectacular. 🙂 October golfing in Ireland! It’s a thing!

We had to take care of a little more business … another drive into Dublin to the dentist to finish up the work, and we had to call and rearrange table seating slightly because Gerry’s cousin was ill and had to cancel at the last minute. We dropped our party favors—small boxes of truffles from Aine Hand Made Chocolates—with our party planner to be set out at the dinner.

My dear Margaret had an influence on another aspect of our party weekend too. You may recall that back in 2012, we had afternoon tea at the Shelbourne, which she had instigated. I knew our American guests might enjoy the experience, and we considered planning another tea party at the Shelbourne. (In retrospect, I’m so glad we didn’t, given the atrocious traffic situation.) But back in June when Gerry and I stayed at the Portmarnock, we learned the hotel also offered an afternoon tea—which we’d sampled and found delightful. Convenient!

HighTeaSo we’d planned a late afternoon tea, put it on our list of options for our October guests, and had several people who were interested. And this was that day. In the Seaview Lounge with that lovely view of the Irish Sea.

We got downstairs early to make sure everything was in order.

It was.

It was.

We had a few last-minute dropouts (these things can’t be helped), so we were eight instead of ten or twelve, but this bunch had lots to talk about, and did. It was … special. Really nice. We all got stuffed. And this was just the beginning of bringing strangers together with a happy outcome.

L–R: Gerry, Laura, Emmet, Pris, Conor, ’Becca, and John. I took the picture!

L–R: Gerry, Laura, Emmet, Pris, Conor, ’Becca, and John. I took the picture!

That was almost more excitement than I could handle, so after the tea party, we retired to our room to relax and rest up—Saturday would be a big day. And lo and behold: Gerry had an email from the embassy that his visa had been delivered to the courier company!

I don’t have a photo of us squealing, or dancing around the room. But we did (insofar as two tired, middle-aged folks on a sugar high can). We immediately adjusted our Saturday plans to drive back into Dublin yet again to pick up the package containing his passport with new visa page, instructions, and sealed information to be presented to the customs officials when we left the country.

We were fast asleep before ten o’clock …

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Hello, Dublin! I’m So Excited to Be Here!

30 September 2015, Wednesday
I think the most unusual thing I’ve ever seen from the window of an airplane is this: as we were taxiing in to the Dublin terminal, I saw a large rabbit running alongside the runway.

It’s a long walk from the gates in to where you claim your luggage, and I swear I nearly had a heart attack from sheer excitement and anticipation. You wouldn’t think we chubby middle-aged gals get the butterflies and suchlike, but we do. (Also, I was just ready for the traveling to be over, and to have someone else carry the luggage for a bit!)

It was hard not to blurt out my story to the customs agent: “Just here for a little holiday, are ya, Missus Chavez?” “Oh, yes, and I’m throwing a party and then I’m going on my honeymoon, and after that I’m taking my husband home with me!” is what I was thinking, but “Yes, thank you!” is what I said. 🙂

John Lambert had landed at 5:25am and I knew he’d be waiting for me. (Although we left Chicago late, they made it up in the air; it was just a little after 7am when I walked through those doors, and this after a long slow taxi and unloading and customs.) But Gerry was there with him, and that was so nice.

One always comes away from travel with at least one good story (mine was Ginger, the American with a slight Irish accent*), and John had a doozie: he’d splurged on a business class ticket out of New York (in order to have the sleeper chair), and the man sitting next to him on the trip was Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, which means he is head of state. (This is different from the taoiseach, who functions as head of government. The taoiseach is appointed by the president.) Michael D., as he is known, had been in New York for Pope Francis’s visit. John and Michael D. had had a lovely conversation, I’m told (as one would; here he reads Yeats). Naturally, the first words out of my mouth were, “Well, I hope you invited him to our party!” 🙂

We picked up our rental car (a manual transmission Skoda), and headed to Gerry’s house for breakfast.

Gerry and John, unloading my bags. I came with two but consolidated to one for the trip ’round Ireland.

Gerry and John, unloading my bags. I came with two but consolidated to one for the trip ’round Ireland.

I also pulled out some gifts I’d brought, and my mattress pad, transferred clothing to one suitcase, and just generally got situated. Gerry had a dental appointment (one of the quick kind), so the three of us drove into Dublin City. Gerry had a crazy idea that John and I could sightsee (again, just some little thing) while he was with the dentist, but traffic was insane, we couldn’t find a parking spot anywhere, and very quickly we were lost. 🙂 So then we had to figure out how to call Gerry to get the address of where he was—he was already finished, which was a good thing, because I was already frazzled!

As it turns out, there’s a lot of construction going on in Dublin—a new Luas (light rail) route and station—and traffic is more harrowing than normal. The trip from Gerry’s house to the city centre used to take about twenty minutes, but over the course of our trip, it routinely took double that, and sometimes as much as an hour. Just think of all the shifting, and clutching on my bad hip. Yeesh. And streets are changed to one-ways, or closed entirely; the locals are as confused as we tourists.

So we’re driving through the Dublin city centre at noon on an overcast day, just headed back to Gerry’s place, and we come to one of the construction sites. There’s a Garda there, allowing trucks to pass thru as normal and directing cars to detour to the right—several cars in front of us and he’s just motioning them past, but he halts me and motions to roll down the window. He leans in and says, and I quote, “You have your headlights on and you’re blinding everyone. Turn your lights off.” Oh, my gosh, his tone of voice—it was angry.

Now … I knew my lights were on, but I just assumed this was the sort of car that the lights came on automatically, because I hadn’t touched them. Regardless, it was broad daylight, and my lights weren’t blinding anyone, and there were plenty of cars behind me with lights on approaching this Garda that were not stopped. What in the world? I won’t repeat what Gerry said, but I stewed about that for days. Were my brights on? No, I checked. Had he known I’d been up for twenty-four hours and was driving on the wrong side of the road in a strange car and an unfamiliar city, he might well have yelled at me a little more. But picking me out of a crowd to vent … that was just rude. I still have half a mind to complain to someone.

Finally, it was late enough for us to decamp to the Portmarnock. Oh, friends, I do love this hotel. It’s … just right. Just the right amount of luxury and comfort, with great staff and service. We stayed in a few very nice hotels on this trip—and I’m working on a comparison chart to grade them, which I’ll post later—but from a gut-reaction, emotional standpoint, I’ll just tell you right now, I love this hotel. It’s about a fifteen-minute drive from the airport, in a small village (Portmarnock) that is close to a larger village (Malahide), right on the sea. Great beaches and a DART station too. Convenient!

A beautiful wall of ivy, turned red in the autumn, at the entrance to the Portmarnock Hotel.

A beautiful wall of ivy, turned red in the autumn, at the entrance to the Portmarnock Hotel.

Also, of course … this was “The Beginning.” The run-up to our party that we’d been planning for literally two years. At last. So it was exciting.

We had a very nice room: third floor, golf-course view. The sea view rooms are very nice, too, but they are in the old wing of the hotel, in the original Jameson estate. The golf-view rooms all have air conditioning, and tiny balconies. Perfect for Yanks.

This was a little bit of the view from ours.

This was a little bit of the view from ours.

And this little graveyard that impinges on the golf course fascinates me. One of these days …

And this little graveyard that impinges on the golf course fascinates me. One of these days …

John was staying right across the hall from us; his room (“garden view”) overlooked the courtyard.

So we checked in, checked with our party-planner and made an appointment for the next day, and started to unpack. I’d scheduled a massage with a licensed therapist in town to alleviate the edema I get lately from air travel. I’d spent a lot of time shopping around online, but ultimately settled on Sunshine Massage Therapy in Portmarnock Village. The appointment was at three o’clock. Marta is a delightful young woman and she gave me a fabulous, one-hour full body massage. No, really. I’d been upfront with her: I’m an American, just passing through. She could have given me a crap massage, she could have just “phoned it in”—but she didn’t. I’ve been getting regular massage for twenty-five years; I know a good massage when I get one. And it was only €35 (just a little over $38 at today’s exchange rates).

I was rejuvenated after a great massage.

I was rejuvenated after a great massage.

Back at the hotel, we took a little walk outside, and after we were collapsed back in the room (OK, I was collapsed), I got a text from my niece, Alli. You remember Al. She and her mom, my sis, traveled around Ireland with Margaret and I back in September of 2012.

A lot has happened since then. To wit: Sabas. He’s the lovely man who fell in love with the beautiful Al, and married her at her parents’ home in California about two weeks before today. (Oh, you should see those photos!) They’d been saving for and planning their honeymoon trip to Greece and Spain … and Dublin, for our party.

They’d arrived in Dublin a few hours earlier. Could we get together? she texted. I really want to see you. I want you to meet Sabas. I wanted to meet Sabas, too, but not enough to drive back into Dublin; at this point I was well past twenty-four hours with no sleep. So I was honest: I’m too tired to go anywhere. But: We’ll come to you, Alli replied. A light supper in the Seaview Lounge? That sounded perfect. They’d be here in about an hour.

Oh, just look at them! Aren’t they gorgeous? Sabas, Alli, and Gerry in the Seaview Lounge, late afternoon.

Oh, just look at them! Aren’t they gorgeous? Sabas, Alli, and Gerry in the Seaview Lounge, late afternoon.

We had soup and brown bread and talked and laughed and watched the sun go down outside. It was perfect. And when it got dark, they went back to one of the Hampson cousins’ house, and Gerry and I went to bed.

* I know another American (Marilyn Cullen) who’s lived in Ireland for twenty years, and she still sounds as American as the day she left. I can’t even imitate an Irish accent!

Going Down the Country

I’m starting to think about Ireland … again … because in less than two months I’ll be there again. You see, we’re throwing a Dublin dinner party to celebrate our marriage … and Gerry’s retirement … and his emigration to the United States.

Think about that. Whew.

The party’s at a beautiful hotel in Portmarnock, a village north of Dublin. It’s right on the beach, and can feel like it’s a world away from the big city. But in point of fact, it’s still in County Dublin, and that country village “feel” is only an illusion. Portmarnock is close enough to Dublin that my nieces take their grandmother to the hotel for afternoon tea.

It’s a beautiful site. You’ll love it.

Still, it’s definitely going to be a “country” trip this time: we’re going to take a little honeymoon after the party. I’ve written a lot about Dublin recently, but I wanted to see something different. So we’re going down the country, as they say in Ireland. To the wild, wild west.

To start, County Donegal. We’ll visit the Inishowen Peninsula, Donegal Town, and also Galway City. If you’ve been paying attention to my travel philosophy, this is my preference: pick a region and see it thoroughly, rather than driving all over the place.

We’ll head back to Dublin to take care of some business, and then … we’ll come home. Maybe we’ll come home together. Right now it’s too soon to say.

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. 🙂

From the City Centre to an Elegant Estate

Tuesday, 23 June 2015
I was awake at 4:20 and it was already light. Guess I was caught up on my sleep. 🙂 Or maybe I was just ready and excited about a change of venue!

We went down to breakfast and reviewed our stay at the Doubletree as we ate.

Things we liked:
• Quiet neighborhood; no traffic, train, or aiplane noise at all.
• Quiet hotel; we never heard loud talking or hijinks in the hall or in the next room.
• Nice location, though it’s not right in the city centre, so you should be prepared to walk a lot.

Things we didn’t like:
• It was a hotbox in June; but this probably isn’t a problem at all from September to May.
• Fridge smelled like someone pooped in it.
• Height of bathroom counter! It was clearly built for giants, as it hit me in mid-torso; to brush my teeth, to reach the sink with my mouth, I had to lay across the counter, and even so, my chin barely reached the sink.
• Bed was hard as a rock; we might as well have slept on the floor.
• Bathroom amenities were in tubes only 5/8-inch wide (yes, I measured) and made of stiff plastic; you couldn’t squeeze them, so you left about half the contents in every tube.

After breakfast we got packed up and then walked to the Hertz location on Baggot Street. The clerk had upgraded us slightly to a Volkswagen Polo. Oh, I had so much fun driving this car! But the boot (the trunk) is small—ours was a hatchback—so this fall we think we’ll get something bigger.

On the way back to the hotel I thought I’d drive by Farm (the restaurant we’d eaten at with Orla and Conor) to take a photo of the façade … I tried to take a little “exit” turn onto a one-way street but the exit itself was a one-way. Ooops! So if you’re going to drive the wrong way down a one-way street, I learned, rush hour is the time to do it. Because you can’t get very far before someone stops you. 🙂 This has nothing to do with driving on the left, in case you were thinking that. Our neighborhood had several one-way streets, and there was no visible signage.

Then the challenge was getting from Ranelagh in south Dublin to Artane in north Dublin with a driver who mostly doesn’t know where she’s going and a nondriving copilot—and no GPS. (We thought we’d switched maps, but really we’d just turned both maps ON, so Ms. Emily Gp.S. was confused and couldn’t locate the satellite for either.) But Gerry got us there with no problem. Dublin can be a confusing city to drive in, at times. Choosing which lane to be in, mostly. But no pressure, so we just meandered and everything was fine.

First item on the agenda—I wanted to catch up with William and Gwen (Gerry’s brother and his wife). I hadn’t seen them (except for the odd Skype call here and there) since they’d visited us in Tennessee in 2010. Eoin (their son) and his wife Tracy were coming with. We had an appointment at the bank later, so there was a lot of discussion about where to go for lunch: decisions made and discarded, and round and round—the usual thing when you have six people who can’t agree on where to have lunch. Finally as we were loading up to go one place, Eoin came back to the car and said “Let’s just go to the Yacht in Clontarf; it’s close and we won’t have to rush.”

And it was perfect and we had a good time. 🙂

Eoin, Tracy, Gwen, William, and me. In Clontarf. On a beautiful day.

Eoin, Tracy, Gwen, William, and me. In Clontarf. On a beautiful day.

After that we went to the bank, ran an errand for Bridie (Gerry’s mother), and then we were off to Portmarnock.

Oh! I just love everything about this route. You’re still in Co. Dublin and only twenty minutes from the city centre … but you’re right on the beach in a little village. Five minutes north and you’re in Malahide; Howth is to the south. It’s an upscale community for sure, but without pretension.

And it’s got a very nice hotel/golf club. We stayed at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links back in 2012—Eoin and Tracy had their wedding reception here—and frankly, I just fell in love with it.

This is an old mansion (once belonging to the Jameson family) repurposed as a hotel, so the entrance is a modern add-on.

This is an old mansion (once belonging to the Jameson family) repurposed as a hotel, so the entrance is a modern add-on.

And the lobby is lovely. It’s been remodeled since we were here last (you can see a couple photos of the difference here).

And the lobby is lovely. It’s been remodeled since we were here last (you can see a couple photos of the difference here).

Those windows at the back of the lobby look out over the garden and patio. The “new wing” is seen at back, and beyond that, the golf course.

Those windows at the back of the lobby look out over the garden and patio. The “new wing” is seen at back, and beyond that, the golf course.

Tucked behind the reception desk is the Seaview Lounge, which looks out on the beach.

Tucked behind the reception desk is the Seaview Lounge, which looks out on the beach.

The Portmarnock website tells us a bit of history of the estate:

The land on which the hotel now stands was originally part of the Jameson family estate (of Irish whiskey fame) and the house itself was called St. Marnock’s House. King Edward VII often visited the Jamesons and on his last official visit in 1907 he unveiled a plaque which was designed specially for the occasion of the marriage between members of two great distilling families, Jameson and Haig. The plaque is still to be seen in what was the secret south garden. The Jameson family had a nine-hole golf course on the site over 100 years ago; this golf course is now part of both the Portmarnock Golf Club and the Bernhard Langer designed Dublin Golf Links course.

Which is to say none of the course directly adjacent to the hotel is the historic course; those are further away. What we see is a newer—but still a true “links”—course.

A view of the golf course from our room (and tiny balcony).

A view of the golf course from our room (and tiny balcony).

Looking the other direction. Aren’t those trees interesting? It looks like a Dr. Seuss garden. :)

Looking the other direction. Aren’t those trees interesting? It looks like a Dr. Seuss garden. 🙂

I was curious about that word links, and the use of the phrase “a true links course.” What do I know about golf? Not much, I’ll tell you. But this article—“What makes a links golf course?”—from The Majors magazine offers an answer for you golf fans:

But what exactly is a links? There is no easy answer. In the Shell International Encyclopaedia of Golf, the Wikipedia of its day even if that was four decades ago, the entry for “Links” begins: “A term surrounded by some doubt and controversy.” Nothing is more certain to start golfing pedants sounding their klaxons than the use of the word “links” to mean any golf course. [But] … “in modern usage the term tends to mean sand-dune country of little use except for golf between the sea and more fertile areas; ‘links’ type golf is generally thought of as that found only on traditional seaside courses.” …

For the true cognoscenti, a links should be alongside a river estuary; offer at least partial or occasional views of the sea; have few if any trees; have numerous bunkers; and its two nines should be routed out and back, the front heading to a far point and the back returning to the clubhouse, in the general manner of the Old Course.

There you have it.

It’s a beautiful site. You’ll love it.The original home faced the sea, and you can see it here in this photo taken from the hotel’s website. You can also see those links.

And OMG, the Portmarnock! Air conditioning! The room was air conditioned! (We were in the new addition that faces the golf course on one side and the garden on the other. The rooms facing the beach are in the old Jameson mansion and do not have air conditioning, though I doubt you’d need it with a window open to the sea.) So the room wasn’t a hot box—we could have just opened the door and window and that would have been enough. I started a new list:

Things I already like about our room at the P:
• Balcony—so we can open window and door
• Larger room—it’s deluxe, and cheaper than the Doubletree

The door and window are open! And it is good. :)

The door and window are open! And it is good. 🙂

We went out immediately to have a walk on the beach, but that wasn’t so easy. The hotel has its own entrance path, but that was easiest to find from the beach, rather than from the hotel. So we walked around to the public entrance for the Fingal County Council public beach. We didn’t stay long—my feet were in agony. (It’s not from walking; this pain is on top of my feet, and they’re puffy, full of fluid. By the end of the day even the thought of walking down the hall to the elevator makes me wince.)

Looking north, and yes, that is a Martello tower, built in 1805.

Looking north, and yes, that is a Martello tower, built in 1805. You can click on this photo and then click again to enlarge the image.

Martello towers are, as you can see above, small forts that were scattered across the the coastline of the (then) British Empire, mostly during the nineteenth century. You see them everywhere; often they’ve been turned into living spaces, as this one has.

Looking south along the Velvet Strand.

Looking south along the Velvet Strand.

The beach at Portmarnock is nicknamed the Velvet Strand, and has some interesting historical notes having to do with pioneering aviators. James “Jim” Mollison took off from Portmarnock Beach on 18 August 1932 for what was acknowledged as the first solo east to west crossing of the Atlantic; two years earlier, Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew had taken off on a westbound transatlantic flight (to Newfoundland, then they continued on to Oakland, California, completing a circumnavigation of the world). Their plane was called the Southern Cross, and there’s a monument to it on the beach (though we didn’t find it).

To be frank, it being June and warm weather, the beach had a lot of visitors, many of them teenagers who were drinking and playing loud music. Not my idea of a walk on the beach, so we didn’t stay. But I must add that I watched a fiftyish woman rise up out of the ocean—she had been swimming, for God’s sake, swimming in the ocean, on a windy day with the temps no higher than 65°F. And she wasn’t the only one! Brrr.

Still, we were far enough down the beach that we could clearly see the path to the hotel. It led us on a circuitous route around the backside of the hotel, through a prettily manicured lawn …

The back of the hotel (our room is probably just overhead).

The back of the hotel (our room is probably just overhead).

… and remember the garden plaque presented to the Jameson family by King Edward VII? There it was: Lux Amor Pax (light, love, peace).

I imagine brides might have photographs made here. As always, you can click on any photo to enlarge it, then click again to zoom in.

I imagine brides might have photographs made here. As always, you can click on any photo to enlarge it, then click again to zoom in.

By the time we got done oohing and aahing over every little thing—we were quite pleased with the room and the beautiful day—and settling in, it was after 7pm. Too late for afternoon tea so we just stayed in, relaxing and working and snapping more photographs from the window.

When I started using the zoom, I noticed this little graveyard (at least that’s what it looks like). I hope when we’re back this fall I can walk out on the golf course and have a look. And that’s not all. Look further, just to the left of the large trees on the right: three modern windmills!

When I started using the zoom, I noticed this little graveyard (at least that’s what it looks like). I hope when we’re back this fall I can walk out on the golf course and have a look. And that’s not all. Look further, just to the left of the large trees on the right: three modern windmills!

 

I’m Tripping!

That’s it, I’m off … so it’ll be hit or miss here for the next three weeks or so. Here’s what’s on the agenda:

Dublin City
We’ll be here the first five nights, sans car. Getting together for brunches and lunches and dinners with friends and family. In between, I have a few things I’d like to do and see (too much to mention here, but you’ll get a full report later), a few books I’d like to buy (and some more of my Moulton Brown hair product, oh yeah). I like Dublin, and I plan to enjoy this.

Portmarnock/Malahide, Co. Dublin
We’ll be three nights here, and we’ll have a car. We plan to finalize things with the hotel for our party later this year, including sampling and finalizing the menu. I want to check out their afternoon tea service (see how it stacks up to afternoon tea at the Shelbourne) and their spa services. I want to drive around the area and see if there’s anything to add to the sample itineraries I’ve created for our guests who will come from America for the party; for many of them, it will be a first trip to Ireland. Also I want to walk on the beach.

A Wedding!
The real reason I’m here is the first of the nieces is getting married (here).

Save the Date

We’ll move into the wedding hotel in Dublin for one night, then to an airport hotel for the next night, and I’ll fly away home. Possibly the last time I will fly home from Dublin alone. Fingers crossed. 🙂