Oh, Well … We’ll Just Shop

Day 21, Monday, 1 October 12

Just a couple days left! Our trip was getting close to the end, but there were still a few things we wanted to do in Dublin. For one thing, we’d hoped to go to the National Museum on Kildare Street—but it is closed on Mondays.

So we shopped! And shopped!

Of course, there are all sorts of things to see too. Dublin has beautiful architecture—and all those colorful Georgian doors—and all sorts of things that are just … different from home. You know? One thing I really love are the statues. This statue of Molly Malone was unveiled in 1988. You know the song, right?

In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”

Dubliners love their statues. They also nickname them. Molly is the Tart with the Cart. James Joyce is the Prick with the Stick. The Spire of Dublin (erected in 2000 to replace Nelson’s Pillar, which the IRA blew up in 1966) is called, among other things, the Stiletto in the Ghetto. All in good fun, of course. 🙂

The Tart with the Cart on Grafton St. (Margaret’s photo.)

The Tart with the Cart on Grafton St. (Margaret’s photo.)

I was looking for a specific touristy thing—a little ornament—for Alli, who’d e-mailed after she’d gotten home and asked me to get one for her. We dashed into all the cheesy souvenir shops; we even went into the main tourist information place, because they often have souvenirs. I’d seen those ornaments everywhere—but not that day! However, I was amused by a phone conversation I overheard in one gew-gaw shop—a man, apparently the shop’s manager, perhaps talking to a supplier: “You know what I don’t have.” (Pause.) “Sheep.”

Oh, the mind boggles.

We were, however, delighted to find the Dublin Avoca shop, so we could look for some scarves we’d hoped to find in Bray. That’s Gerry in the corner there. :) (Margaret’s photo.)

We were, however, delighted to find the Dublin Avoca shop, so we could look for some scarves we’d hoped to find the day before in Bray. The tower in the background is a part of the building that houses the Dublin Convention Bureau (the tourist information office), but it was once, Gerry Tells me, the St. Andrew Street church. That’s Gerry in the corner there. 🙂 (Margaret’s photo.)

Drury Street. (Margaret’s photo.)

Drury Street. (Margaret’s photo.)

I’d remembered the stall vendors in George’s Street Arcade as being way cool—but they were a bit tacky this time around. We didn’t spend much time in the permanent shops; I still had very little energy. Next time!

George’s Street Arcade, off Dury St. (Margaret’s photo.)

George’s Street Arcade, off Dury St. (Margaret’s photo.)

Lots of great old architecture on College Green. The building on the right is the Bank Bar and Restaurant . (Margaret’s photo.)

Lots of great old architecture on College Green. The building on the right is the Bank Bar and Restaurant. (Margaret’s photo.)

We actually shopped a little before we made our way to Kildare Street to discover the closed museum. On our way back to the shopping district, we passed the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. To be perfectly frank, I can’t tell you if it’s a college or a trade organization or a little of both. Maybe you can figure it out.

The Royal College of Physicians on Kildare St.

The Royal College of Physicians on Kildare St.

All this shoppin’ builds up a gal’s appetite, so Gerry walked us to a pub he’d patronized many times: O’Neill’s on Suffolk Street. They had a carvery—a term I wasn’t familiar with; you and I would call it a buffet, perhaps. I had beef and Guinness stew. The place was hopping at 12:30, with lots of Americans as well as locals. Food was delicious, I thought.

O’Neill’s on Suffolk St. (Margaret’s photo.)

O’Neill’s on Suffolk St. (Margaret’s photo.)

When we finally wore down, we cabbed back to Gerry’s and killed a little time until it was time go to the movie. On the way we stopped at a little convenience store and stocked up on candy to sneak into the show; don’t tell anyone!

When we got out of the car at the theater, I made everyone wait while I got the camera—I’d seen our fourth rainbow!

When we got out of the car at the theater, I made everyone wait while I got the camera—I’d seen our fourth rainbow!

We saw Loopers. It was a little strange sitting in Dublin watching an American movie (right down to the excessive violence), I must say, but it was good. And that was that. 🙂

Today’s Image

Dublin truly is an international city. You can see all sorts of people. I was struck by a lovely Muslim girl wearing a hijab … including a watermelon-red lace undercap that showed across her forehead under the scarf. If you look closely, you can see her in this photo. (Remember, you can click to enlarge the photo, then click again to zoom in.)

We’ve got the Avoca shop on Suffolk St. in our sights, just coming off Grafton St. Note the Muslim girl.

We’ve got the Avoca shop on Suffolk St. in our sights, just coming off Grafton St. Note the Muslim girl in the center, in the white coat.

Advertisements

A Day of Rest (Work) and a Travel Day

Day 17, Thursday, 27 September 12

As usual we all met in the dining room for breakfast. We were in the capable hands of Marie—Edel’s friend who also works for her—who treated us to homemade banana bread, in addition to all the regular breakfast goodies.

Edel and her daughter, Emerald, had left before any of us were up that morning, to go to the National Ploughing Championships in County Wexford. No, I’m serious. This falls into the Only-in-Ireland category, I think (although it’s really more like a festival). The Irish Times was predicting more than 180,000 in attendance over the three-day event.

Edel has an interesting story (don’t we all?). She’s a nurse, and spent some time employed at a hospital in Arkansas, where she met the man who would be Emerald’s father. He is of Vietnamese descent, and Emerald was born with dual citizenship (Irish, U.S.). Edel later returned home to Lahinch, bought the B&B, and continues to work as a nurse. Emerald’s dad has visited Ireland four times to see her; she is sixteen, a music student, and, apparently, a fan of the National Ploughing Championships.

Jill and Alli had volunteered to walk Draco, the house dog (named by Emerald!), so shortly after breakfast, off they went.

Off they go! See the town on the other side of the bay? Liscannor. They ended up walking all the way over there.

Off they go! See the town on the other side of the bay? Liscannor. They ended up walking halfway  there.

They did stop to wave. (Crazy situation with all the wires, no?)

They did stop to wave. (Crazy situation with all the wires, no?)

Alli and Draco. (Jill took this photo.)

Alli and Draco. (Jill took this photo.)

Tide was on its way out, and it looks like the sun was trying to come out too. (Jill’s photo.)

Tide was on its way out, and the sun was trying to come out too. (Jill’s photo.)

I’m not sure where they were at this point, but this is a nice photo! (Jill’s photo.)

I’m not sure where they were at this point, but this is a nice shot! (Jill’s photo.)

They stopped here, near the 12th and 13th holes of the Old Course at the Lahinch Golf Club. That’s the Inagh River, and the bridge supports the R478 (the route to the Cliffs of Moher). (Jill’s photo.)

They stopped here, near the 12th and 13th holes of the Old Course at the Lahinch Golf Club. That’s the Inagh River, and the bridge supports the R478 (the route to the Cliffs of Moher). (Jill’s photo.)

In the meantime, I had declared this a day of rest. Frankly, I was exhausted, between doing the driving and just trying to keep up (I was still taking antibiotics for the pneumonia)—and I was desperate to finish the editorial notes that were due on 30 September. So while Jill and Alli went off for that long walk (several hours), Margaret and I went downtown. I settled in at Kenny’s Bar, where I’d have wi-fi, and Margaret shopped around a little. Later she checked in to Facebook while I wandered around and shopped a little.

One of my favorite places in Lahinch is the Celtic T-Shirt Shop. It’s classic, y’all: tiny and stuffed to the rafters with the most beautiful T-shirts (and tank tops and dresses too)—and one of the screen printers will probably be working as you’re shopping. Most importantly, the designs are unique and gorgeous and sold nowhere else. You can buy a T-shirt with Ireland printed on it anywhere, even in the States. These are the real deal. (I did some Christmas shopping.)

The Celtic T-Shirt Shop, Lahinch, 2012. (Margaret’s photo.)

The Celtic T-Shirt Shop, Lahinch, 2012. (Margaret’s photo.)

It’s not exactly a boardwalk any more, but there are several shops along the ocean in Lahinch. The Celtic T-Shirt Shop is just out of the shot on the left. (Jill’s photo.)

It’s not exactly a boardwalk any more, but there are several shops along the ocean in Lahinch. The Celtic T-Shirt Shop is just out of the shot on the left. (Jill’s photo.)

Lahinch is a popular surf spot. If you look closely you can see Jill and Alli near the top of the photo; they’re the ones with the dog.

Lahinch is a popular surf spot. If you look closely you can see Jill and Alli near the top of the photo; they’re the ones with the dog.

I also stopped in at the studio of Phillip Morrison and had a lovely chat with him. Love his work! I know it’s not for everyone but I was quite taken with his cityscapes. One of these days, perhaps …

It was very cozy in the bar, sitting at the back near the stage so I could plug in. I went through a couple pots of tea. We had soup (mine was roasted carrot) and a shared garlic cheese pizza for lunch. And I got a lot done!

We were anticipating Eoin and Tracy for dinner. Yes, we hadn’t gotten to visit much—what with the wedding and all—so after they returned from their honeymoon, Eoin insisted on driving down from Dublin—about a three-hour drive. They arrived in Lahinch around 5:30.

It was Arthur’s Day, and we got a free pint each, which is always a plus. (Arthur’s Day was started by the Guinness Company in 2009 to celebrate 250 years of the company’s history. It is controversial in some circles—it’s a marketing ploy, after all—but I assure you, in a snug pub in the late afternoon, it’s all about the black stuff.) We ate dinner and drank and visited—and a good time was had by all!

Tracy, Eoin, and Alli at Kenny’s Bar in Lahinch. (Jill’s photo.)

Tracy, Eoin, and Alli at Kenny’s Bar in Lahinch. (Jill’s photo.)

Today’s Image

No matter if the tide was low or high, up near the sea wall there was always an assortment of birds rooting furiously, quickly, in the piles of seaweed. No arguments among them, but every bird (of all sizes) intent upon his own little patch.

There’s a meal to be had here!

There’s a meal to be had here!

There’s a meal to be had here!

Herring gull: most common in Ireland.

Day 18, Friday, 28 September 12

One thing decided at the pub last night was that Jill and Alli would ride back to Dublin with Eoin and Tracy, so by ten o’clock, Margaret and I were packed and loaded and in the car headed back to Dublin with a few slices of Marie’s wonderful banana bread to sustain us.

It was a gorgeous, rainbowed day! Jill and Alli had a slightly less electric cable–obstructed view from their room. (Jill's photo.)

It was a gorgeous, rainbowed day! Jill and Alli had a slightly less electric cable–obstructed view from their room. (Jill’s photo.)

We thought we’d stop at Clonmacnoise on the way back, but when all was said and done, we missed a turnoff, and with the rain we thought we’d push on to Dublin and go to Glendalough later.

So we checked in at the Ferryview Guest House in Clontarf (pop. 31,063—but who’s counting? It’s Greater Dublin, for all intents and purposes), which is an upscale community right on the sea just north of Dublin Port.

You can’t tell from this photo but the Ferryview sits right on the Clontarf Road and overlooks Dublin Port. (Margaret's photo.)

You can’t tell from this photo but the Ferryview sits right on the Clontarf Road and overlooks Dublin Port. (Margaret’s photo.)

We met Jill and Alli at Gerry’s, said our good-byes (they were flying out early the next morning) and then Gerry, Margaret, and I went out to dinner with Neil and Maureen. I think I am feeling better—although it will turn out that I still have no energy or stamina—and am looking forward to the next five days in Dublin.

Today’s Image

We pulled up to the Ferryview after dark and met Dominic, the “night porter.” He had a very specific idea of where we would park (parking is always an issue in Ireland), and by the time I’d managed to get out of the car—which involved, no joke, my falling into a hedge—I was well and truly annoyed with Dominic. He had an unusual way of speaking; he seemed like he was not quite there … but he was. Didn’t miss a trick, in fact. On the other hand, he could be annoying; he circulated in the dining room at breakfast and chatted up everyone, even when they didn’t really feel like chatting or were put off by his strange manner. As the days wore on, however, I began to appreciate Dominic’s usefulness, and I was disappointed the day I learned he’d gone home for the season.

The Obligatory Flat Tyre

Day 14 / Monday, 24 September 2012

A damp morning and since we were not technically in a B&B, there would be no breakfast on the premises. Jill knocked on the door around 8:30 and said they couldn’t be ready at nine because they’d slept rough … and that was fine. It took me longer to do everything—go up and down stairs, walk across the street, eat breakfast—due to my two pneumonia symptoms (huffing and puffing, and legs that felt like lead), so a little delay took the pressure off me.

Except, as it turns out, we needed every moment of that delay: Margaret and I took a load of bags to the car and discovered a flat tire. Actually, a flat tire on a rental car in Ireland shouldn’t come as a surprise—I read somewhere years ago that it is more common than not having a flat. Certainly Gerry and I had one on the 2003 trip (we did not on the 2006 trip, but we drove two different cars in two different weeks, so that may have had something to do with it).

So we stood there for a moment on the nearly empty Kenmare street (see the photo), wondering what we should do next (OK, OK, we knew what to do next—remove the spare tire from the trunk—we just weren’t in the mood, at 8:35 a.m., to do it). And about that time, a man drove by in a little beat-up Celica (I think it was a Celica).

“Do ye need some help?” he said in that lilting Kerry accent. The Kerry brogue is nearly unintelligible to me, but I had the presence of mind to realize he was offering help, and said, “Yes, yes, oh, God bless you, yes!”

“I’ll go around,” he said, swirling his hand in a circle. Kenmare’s main shopping district is a triangle, and traffic only flows one way; he was already past us. He took off. Margaret and I looked at each other; we may have giggled with relief. 🙂

And then there he was, all business and speed, changing the tire and the whole time keeping up a monologue of advice about what to do about the tire—don’t call the rental car company, just go get the tired fixed—and how much to pay. Most of which I could not understand. 🙂

Kenmare is dead at 8:35 in the morning. Thank God this guy—I never got his name—happened by. Yes, he is wearing Crocs.

Kenmare is dead at 8:35 in the morning. Thank God this guy—I never got his name—happened by. Yes, he is wearing Crocs.

His beautiful black dog got out of his car with a tennis ball in his mouth and coerced me into playing with him: he’d thrust the ball out along the street with his nose, and I’d kick it back.

“He’ll do that forever,” his owner said. “Never gets tired of it.”

A self-entertaining dog in Kenmare, Ireland.

An intense self-entertaining dog in Kenmare, Ireland.

Finally he was done, wouldn’t take money for his efforts, and Margaret and I needed a pot of tea in the worst way. So we ambled on into the Lansdowne Arms Hotel—directly across the street from our lodging and where we’d been headed before we noticed the flat tire—for breakfast. I called Alli quickly and told them to take more time because now we were getting a late start.

The Lansdowne Arms was lovely. Very civilized. We were greeted and seated and had a pot of tea in about two minutes. I’ve just read this is a family-owned hotel, so I suspect the woman who did all three of those things (it’s just not that busy at that hour of the morning in Ireland) was a family member. I explained to her about our tire situation and she got me a name and directions before we left.

Soon Jill and Alli showed up to have some breakfast, and while they were finishing up, I left to get the tire fixed. No sense in taking everyone, so the other three walked around Kenmare and shopped, since now it was around ten o’clock.

This is where I went, about five miles out of town. (Note: in Ireland it’s spelled tyre.) The driver of that SUV pulled in after me, but I’m such a goof I parked to the side. So this other fella swooped into the bay and was taken care of first. Rude, dude!

This is where I went, about five miles out of town. (Note: in Ireland it’s spelled tyre.) The driver of that SUV pulled in after me, but I’m such a goof I parked to the side. So this other fella swooped into the bay and was taken care of first. Rude, dude!

The shop was about five miles outside of town. Of course, five miles feels like a hundred when you don’t know exactly where you are going and you’ve left the metropolis (Kenmare is pop. 1,700) behind.

There could be worse views, from one’s office, than this. That’s the Killarney Road (the R569).

There could be worse views, from one’s office, than this. That’s the Killarney Road (the R569).

While I stood there, camera in hand, it began to rain. And then it was a regular ol’ cloudburst.

A storm blew in very quickly.

A storm blew in very quickly.

Here you can actually see the rain drops. :)

Here you can actually see the rain drops. 🙂

By the time the rain passed, the tire was plugged. The shop owner, Mike, had “essential tremor” and shook a little, but not when he worked. He was very efficient and nice; the tire cost just ten euro to fix.

So—a little delay, but not enough to ruin the day. I drove back to Kenmare, loaded up the gals, and we were back on track. We were on our way to the Dingle Peninsula. Alli had especially requested that our itinerary include Dingle, and I understood: I’d been here in 2003 and had fallen in love with the place. Those gorgeous, velvet-soft hills on the peninsula were like nothing I’d ever seen before.

But first we had to traverse Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. This is the rugged terrain in between Kenmare and Killarney National Park, all along the N71.

Heading into the mountains outside Kenmare, headed north-ish and west-ish. (Margaret’s photo.)

Heading into the mountains outside Kenmare, going north-ish and west-ish. (Margaret’s photo.)

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. See the little bit of road hanging off the hill? (Margaret’s photo.)

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. See the little bit of road hanging off the hill? (Margaret’s photo.)

It was raining off and on but we stopped all along the way to take photos, finally arriving at Ladies’ View on the southwest end of the park. So-called because Queen Vicki passed through here in 1861, and her ladies-in-waiting thought the view was quite nice. And it is.

What the ladies viewed: the lakes of Killarney from Ladies’ View. Yes, it was raining.

What the ladies viewed: the lakes of Killarney from Ladies’ View. Yes, it was raining.

We drove on through the park and stopped at one of the lakes. (Margaret’s photo.)

We drove on through the park and stopped at one of the lakes. (Margaret’s photo.)

Everything looks so grey, but it really was pretty. Jill and Alli took a lot of photos here but I haven’t seen them.

Everything looks so grey, but it really was pretty. Jill and Alli took a lot of photos here but I haven’t seen them.

And then it would stop raining for awhile …

And then it would stop raining for awhile …

…when it did, we’d have rainbows! This one—our third—was really spectacular. Not sure where this was, except somewhere on the N71.

…when it did, we’d have rainbows! This one—our third—was really spectacular. Not sure where this was, except somewhere on the N71.

Once you’re in Killarney, you grab the N72 for about two miles, and then the R563. So you’re off the fancy road. 🙂 You continue northwest to Milltown (pop. 838), where you pick up the N70 for a couple miles until you get to Castlemaine (pop. 187), where you hang a sharp left onto the R561. This is where things get really interesting. The R561 hugs the southern coast of the Dingle Peninsula, and I do mean hug. Pull up Google Maps and have a look.

I have never had a problem with mountain driving, but them I’m always the driver. These extremely narrow roads with no shoulder, just a sheer drop-off, weren’t as easy for the passengers. When we got to the magnificent strand (beach) at Inch, we stopped for a breather. 🙂

The strand at Inch, looking west toward the tip of the peninsula.

The strand at Inch, looking west toward the tip of the peninsula.

The strand at Inch, looking due south. It’s hard to tell, but those mountains you see are actually on the Iveragh Peninsula, across the Castlemaine Harbour.

The strand at Inch, looking due south. It’s hard to tell, but those mountains you see are actually on the Iveragh Peninsula, across the Castlemaine Harbour.

IMG_0114

I was fascinated by the clouds and the sunlight shining through them onto the water (in the center of this photo). Again, the southwest corner of Ireland is like fingers on a hand, a series of peninsulas. This photo is taken from the southern edge of the Dingle Peninsula looking across at the Iveragh Peninsula.

The last ten miles from Inch into Dingle town veer away from the water’s edge, which was a little relief. We stopped several places

Everybody snapping photographs—even me!

Everybody snapping photographs—even me!

That’s the Great Blasket Island up ahead, on the other side of that shining water. (Margaret’s photo.)

That’s the Great Blasket Island up ahead, on the other side of that shining water. (Margaret’s photo.)

Dingle’s velvet valleys look soft enough to touch. (Margaret’s photo.)

Dingle’s velvet valleys look soft enough to touch. (Margaret’s photo.)

Such a great photo of Margaret! (Taken with Margaret’s camera.)

Such a great photo of Margaret! (Taken with Margaret’s camera.)

A little further down the road, Alli and Jill.

A little further down the road, Alli and Jill.

And then we were in Dingle (pop. 1,929). Dingle town—after all the tiny villages and hairpin curves you have to traverse to get here, which make you feel like you’re on the edge of the world—is bigger than you think it will be. It was also a lot more touristy than I remembered (and yet it had some of the nicest shops).

We found our B&B easily, but no one was home (it was only noon-ish, though; people have things to do), although there was washing out on the line, so they hadn’t gone far. So we went back into town for lunch.

It’s so hard to decide on a restaurant when you are driving in a crowded town. But—being still short on breath—I didn’t have the energy to walk the whole, hilly town to decide where to eat after the stressful drive, so we ended up in a place that wasn’t all that great … but would do.

The itinerary called for a spin around the Slea Head drive (pronounced SLAY Head)—a tour of the very tip of the peninsula that offers not only spectacular scenery but also some very interesting antiquities. It was, in fact, what we’d come to Dingle for, and I thought the setting sun would be nice. (We were, after all, in the spot at which one could truly say, “Next stop, America” … or at least “Next stop, Newfoundland.”) It was 1:30 and we’d be done by 5:00, with plenty of time to relax. However, Jill and Alli wanted to shop, so it was decided to do the drive in the morning.

We went our separate ways to shop—mostly because I just can’t keep up. And Margaret and I found many nice places to shop! Ha. We learned there is no VAT on books or children’s clothes. (I bought two books: High Shelves & Long Counters, and Ireland Unhinged. Margaret also purchased the former; we were amused to see we’d discovered it independently of one another.) Alli wanted to find the pub at which the movie Leap Year was filmed … but as you might guess, no part of it was actually made here, though the town figures largely in the plot.

St. Mary’s (Catholic) Church, on Green Street. Built in 1862, with services offered in Gaelic, because we’re in the Gaeltacht (although it didn’t feel as alien to me as it did in 2003).

St. Mary’s (Catholic) Church, on Green Street. Built in 1862, with services offered in Gaelic, because we’re in the Gaeltacht (although it didn’t feel as alien to me as it did in 2003).

Main Street, Dingle. (Margaret’s photo.)

Main Street, Dingle. (Margaret’s photo.)

I was fascinated by what was at the end of the street—and on that hill!

I was fascinated by what was at the end of the street—and on that hill!

An interesting old home on Main Street.

An interesting old home on Main Street.

Finally we made contact with the B&B, subsequently ran into Jill and Alli, and were off to our lodgings, the lovely Tower View B&B run by the delightful Mary Griffin. Of course, first I had to get lost finding the car, because that’s my way. 🙂 If I don’t have a map I get panicky, and I can get “turned around” easier than anyone you know. And all that walking in the rain. Good grief!

The Tower View, on Main Street (although the street may be called something different where they are), in Dingle. Plenty of parking! (Margaret’s photo.)

The Tower View, on Main Street (although the street may be called something different where they are), in Dingle. Plenty of parking! (Margaret’s photo.)

The view from our room: there really is a tower up there! (Eask Tower, built in 1847 to guid ships into the mouth of Dingle Harbor, which has a “blind” mouth.)

The view from our room: there really is a tower up there! (Eask Tower, built in 1847 to guid ships into the mouth of Dingle Harbor, which has a “blind” mouth.) That’s a wooden hand pointing to the left. 🙂 Remember, you can click on the photo to enlarge it, then click again to zoom in.

The B&B is very near the water, which you can see in this photo taken from the driveway. The rain had quit for the moment.

The B&B is very near the water, which you can see in this photo taken from the driveway. The rain had quit for the moment.

Tower View B&B is quite nice; I’d definitely stay here again. (I think it’s been featured in Rick Steves’s travel books,* so if you are coming during spring or summer, you should reserve way ahead. Like now.) Mary and her husband keep a small “petting zoo” (surely for the Yanks!) and an immaculate home with lovely rooms. Their dog, Benji, begins to herd the sheep the minute he has an audience.

A bucolic scene at dusk, sheep grazing peacefully. But note the pair of ears pricked in the lower right. (sigh)

A bucolic scene at dusk, sheep grazing peacefully. But note the pair of ears pricked in the lower right. (sigh)

Yes, that’s Benji, herding sheep, even when they don’t need to be herded. :)

Yes, that’s Benji, herding sheep, even when they don’t need to be herded. 🙂

IMG_0153

Sundown is really spectacular here in Dingle.

We didn’t go out that night, just spent it quietly reading and getting to bed early for a change. (I worked.) We’d need to get an early start, since the Slea Head drive had been moved into a day that had a very long drive. And a ferry ride!

* It should be noted I have a different preference in guide books.

Today’s Image

In Kenmare, the tire-changer’s black dog was exactly the sort of dog I love. He was—in the words of a dog rescue organization I try to support—a Big Fluffy Dog. He wasn’t overly familiar, didn’t feel the need to poke me with his nose; he also wasn’t restless, didn’t need to be called back. He was a dog of good behavior. But then … he spent a lot of time doing what you see here.

That is, staring at the spare tire.

That is, staring at the spare tire.

He was completely fixated on that tire—head pointed down, standing stock-still. What was it about that tire?

I’ll tell you: he’d dropped his small ball through that hole. None of us saw that. He waited and waited, then lay down next to the tire, never taking his eyes from it. When his master lifted the spare, the source of his anxiety was revealed, rolling toward the curb. (Not for long: the dog snapped it up again, ready to resume his game of catch with me.)

Tags: Kenmare, Dingle, Tower View B&B, Slea Head drive, Iveragh Peninsula, Dingle Peninsula, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Ladies’ View

A Sunday Drive

Day 13 / Sunday, 23 September 2012

We were up and in Olive’s capable breakfast hands by nine o’clock. We were leaving Cork—we’d all loved it—but had a delightful day ahead of us yet.

Olive is a hoot. So personable, so generous, always smiling—and it’s clear she truly enjoys people.

I can’t tell you enough how much we all loved our stay at the Auburn House. It’s exactly what you look for in a B&B: comfy, quiet, reasonably priced. And Olive and her husband are just swell. I walked down to the car park to bring the car around and realized—go ahead, laugh—I didn’t have the car keys. So I huffed and puffed back up the hill and Olive took one look at me and sent Kieran off to do it.

Did I mention they’re good sports too? Margaret and I stayed in this room.

Everything was ready and waiting at the curb when he got there with the car. (Margaret’s photo.)

By this time I thought I was familiar enough with Cork—and the map of Cork—that I could get us to the highway but … I was not. We got a little lost. (It seemed so simple!) So finally we relied on GPS Emily, who did get us out of town. We were going to take a leisurely drive along the N71, a repeat of the route Gerry and I had taken, also on a Sunday, back in 2003. As then, our destination was Kenmare, taking the much-less-direct scenic route; I remembered this as a leisurely day, with plenty of time to stop, take pictures, and so on. Go ahead and pull it up on Google Maps—you’ll see.

And we hit the road, first heading due south out of Cork, with gradual tweaks to the west … through Bandon (pop. 6,640) … Clonakilty (pop. 4,150) … Rosscarbery (pop. 936). We were headed toward Glandore, and the Drombeg stone circle; right around Rosscarbery we left the N71 for the R597, thinking we were on our way.

But we weren’t, actually. I have searched and searched and searched Google Maps, trying to figure out where we ended up—but no joy. (I’m not kidding when I say I spent at least an hour looking at Google street photos, “driving” up and down the coast trying to determine the location. Something has changed, I guess.)

We ended up here, at a little beach. There was an empty lot, we pulled into it, got out, and crossed the road to this.

There were a couple people there with their dogs, but otherwise it was just us. And the rocks.

Most of the beach was this: round-ish, flat-ish rocks. (Margaret’s photo.)

Gosh, it was lovely. Misty, quiet. There were houses scattered around, but there didn’t seem to be a town, per se. We spent quite a bit of time there, taking pictures and picking up rocks (the two I picked up are sitting on the bookcase in the living room).

A few houses scattered around … and this is their private beach. (Margaret’s photo.)

It was pretty scenic. Lots of photos being taken. 🙂

Did I mention the rocks?

This is the sort of thing I never get tired of.

I’m always fascinated by shapes and lines. This is the dune grass. Don’t forget you can click on these photos to enlarge them.

I was intrigued by the gulls, floating on the water in a small flock. Waves were coming in at a good little clip, and they’d ride one until it was about to crest, then flutter up into the air—and settle back down again once it was past. Over and over. I walked back to the car to get the long lens and took several shots.

The seagulls: float, fly, settle, float, fly, settle, float, fly, settle.

Finally I asked one of the dog-walkers if we were on the road to Glandore. Nope! But he gave us directions and off we went, taking pictures along the way.

It’s pretty country. That’s the sea in the distance on the left.

We backtracked and followed the signs and all was well. Gerry and I just happened on the stone circle back in 2003; it wasn’t a plan. So I was a bit shocked to read in Wikipedia that this site is “one of the most visited megalithic sites in Ireland.” It is a one-lane road that takes you to Drombeg, and on that sunny day in 2003, we drove the last two or three hundred yards or so on a cart track, with the fuchsias lining the lane brushing the car on both sides. Let me tell you, I am genuinely glad we didn’t meet someone coming the opposite direction from this most-visited site.

Which is why, apparently, they’ve installed a little car park, right where the road goes from one lane to cart track.

This is the little cart track. I don’t remember the stone wall, only walls of fuchsias. (Margaret’s photo.)

Fuchsias—they’re everywhere in Ireland. And they come in a rainbow of colors.

So we parked, and walked up the lane. It’s a nice little stroll, listening to the bees buzz in the fuchsia. As always, Jill and Alli were long out of sight up the lane, but then I looked around and I was alone. Margaret wasn’t with me. Margaret? I called. Margaret? I walked back. Margaret? Then there she was, coming around the curve looking very self-satisfied, with a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin—she’s been picking and eating wild blackberries. 🙂

And then there we were—step through a hedge, and there is a Bronze Age circle.

Drombeg stone circle. It’s right there. Here the two prominent stones in the foreground are the portal stones; on the right-hand side of the photo toward the back is the recumbent altar stone.

The recumbent stone, known as Druid’s Altar, can be glimpsed on the left, just to the right of the leaning stone. (Margaret’s photo.)

I kept trying to show you the altar stone, which I’d failed to get a good shot of. But here it is in all its glory! (Jill’s photo.)

I kept trying to show you the altar stone, which I’d failed to get a good shot of. But here it is in all its glory! (Jill’s photo.)

This is the stone in the center of the circle. Some little offerings had been recently left.

Just west of the circle are the remains of two prehistoric huts and their cooking pit, called a fulacht fiadh. This is how the ancients cooked: the pit was filled with water, perhaps diverted from a stream. A fire was built next to the pit; stones were heated in the fire, then dropped into the water, which then came to a boil—and cooked the meat placed in the water.

The cooking pit. (Margaret’s photo.)

When cooking was finished, the water was allowed to run out of the pit.

What’s left of the two huts, which were conjoined.

Back in the car, we continued on the R597 to rejoin the N71. This would take us through the village of Glandore. We stopped along the way, of course, to take photos! Lots of photos!

On the R597 headed toward Glandore, which is arranged along the right side of this bay, mostly out of view here. But look for the grey church (steeple on the left), down near the water. (Margaret’s photo.)

Looking the other way, this is the mouth of Glandore Harbour. (Margaret’s photo.)

Now we’re in Glandore. See the mouth of the harbor? Those two islands are called Adam and Eve (although I don’t know which is which). Instructions given to sailors are “Avoid Adam and hug Eve”! (Margaret’s photo.)

Same spot, looking the other direction. The church I mentioned earlier is just out of frame on the far right.

As we came through Glandore, we realized Alli needed her morning coffee and it was noon and we were all ready for something to eat. And there was a pub … so we stopped. I don’t mind saying we would have a very memorable lunch here. 🙂

I’ve always been in Ireland during the off-season, so I only hear about things like the regatta held here every August. Glandore Harbour is large, long and narrow—perfect for such sailing events. The village itself has a population of less than a thousand, but several nice restaurants and pubs (although there are no shops).

This is the main street in Glandore. I don’t even like to think about what this tiny street is like in the summer months!

It’s a pub. (Margaret’s photo.)

The Glandore Inn looked nice and we went inside. And even though you’ll have noticed how overcast it was, even though there was a considerable amount of mist in the air, we decided to sit outside. Because all in all it was a very nice day—and there was that spectacular view of the bay.

Deciding what we’ll have for lunch, but it was hard with that view distracting me.

Here’s that church again, just a little way down the road from where we sat.

We had a really, really nice lunch. I chose parsnip and blue cheese soup (it was wonderful) and Margaret is still raving about the fish chowder she had. It even rained on us once, but such was the charm of the day that no one panicked, no one rose to take cover. This was Ireland, after all; we just carried on. And the rain passed after a few minutes. We lingered and enjoyed the moment. There was a little dog that belonged to the owners of the B&B down the road … but who was apparently a regular at the pub, as she had her own bowl just outside the door—although her preference was for treats from the patrons (Jill slipped her a few goodies).

Parsnip and blue cheese soup. It was MAH-velous.

But Kenmare was waiting, so we followed the road back up to Leap (locals pronounce it Lep; the population is fewer than one thousand) then turned west onto the N71. Through Skibbereen (pop. 2,000) … and then we spent a little time trying to find the Baltimore Beacon, although we eventually had to turn back without success. Those tiny roads can get confusing, and the afternoon was wearing on, and we still had a way to go to get to Kenmare. And that way isn’t always easy driving.

So … onward, N71. Turned sharply north at Ballydehob (pop. 810) and headed toward Bantry (pop. 3,309), which has a spectacular bay. The road drives right alongside the water, and has many places to pull over to admire the natural beauty.

An early look at Bantry Bay.

Just before you get into Bantry town, there is a bayside cemetery that really grabs your attention. Gerry and I had stopped here in 2003—before they turned it into a tourist attraction. Bantry Bay is quite large, and has been the site of more than one maritime disaster—now memorialized in a small park just next to the cemetery (which seems to house local residents, not disaster victims). This turned out to be a theme on this trip: things have been “improved” … but I mostly don’t care much for the improvements.

It’s quite crowded, this cemetery just outside Bantry.

But then … this. I know it’s intended to be all beautiful and hopeful (see next photo) but honestly, it spooked me.

In remembrance of those who lost their lives in Bantry Bay.

Perhaps you see it as the spirit of love? Looks too much like drowning people to me. (I should add that drowning is a personal freak-out fear of mine.)

And then back in the car! We must keep going! Except, of course, when nature calls in Glengarriff (population 800). We popped into a gas station to use the facilities. Next door, a massive hotel. Across the street, still, the bay.

This is the Glengarriff Eccles Hotel.

Walked across the street to look at the beautiful bay. See those mountains? We’re about to drive through them.

As we drove through the shopping district in Glengarriff, some shops piqued our interest, so we stopped again. The most interesting thing (although one shop had some nice sweaters, with a good selection and prices—and if you’re in Ireland, a sweater is a good souvenir to buy) turned out to be the garda (police) station!

It’s pink! And look at those magnificent hydrangeas! They were were fading, nearing the end of their season, but still lovely, I thought. (Margaret’s photo.)

When Gerry and I were making our way to Kenmare nine years ago, he warned me that those last twenty miles into the town are … exciting (even with the pause!), and I did try to warn my traveling companions how wildly beautiful it is, the pass through the Caha Mountains … in the late afternoon … in the rain … through the tunnels. I have tons of photos of this stretch of the road from that trip. I have no photos from this trip, as the mountain road was a little too exciting for some members of the party. So we just didn’t stop. 🙂 However, I want you to see this—so here’s a little video that I am thrilled to have located. And it was made on a pretty, sunny day.

At last we arrived in Kenmare (pop. 2,175). In the pouring rain (although it did stop, finally). Both times I’ve been here it’s been late in the day without any time left on the schedule to explore … and what was on the schedule today was dinner at Tom Crean’s, a locally celebrated restaurant. (We also lodged here for the night; there are a few rooms upstairs, though it is not a B&B, as no breakfast is offered.) It’s named for Kerryman Tom Crean, who enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen and in 1901 volunteered to join Robert Scott’s Antarctic expedition. He participated in four major British expeditions to Antarctica, including the one led by Ernest Shackleton.

A view of Tom Crean’s restaurant and accommodations, on the corner. Parking must be found on the street. You check in inside, but then must come back outside and walk around the corner to go up to the rooms. Interesting. Our room was on the corner. (Margaret’s photo.)

View (to the left) from our window—yes! And Margaret actually got to visit. (Margaret’s photo.)

View straight out of our window. We had breakfast here the next morning. (Margaret’s photo.)

Beautiful downtown Kenmare! I love how wide the street is, actually. (Margaret’s photo.)

As noted, Tom Crean’s has quite a word of mouth reputation for fine dining, and we were looking forward to it—even more so because Gerry knows the owner/chef. He had called and made these reservations especially for us. And as it turns out, this may have set the bar for our expectations too high.

I’m sure the restaurant is very nice. Lots of folks have left glowing reviews on TripAdvisor and such. But it wasn’t good for us. Jill and Alli declined to eat there, and they may have been right to do so. Again, the service was very, very slow. We’d had slow service at the Shelbourne for tea, it was slowish at the Pearl Brasserie in Dublin, it was very slow at Paradiso Café, the vegetarian restaurant in Cork. And it was extremely slow at Tom Crean’s.

Again, I think this is must be an Irish thing. I was checking the review of Tom Crean’s and found this, from the owner/chef: “As regards the bill, I have warned the staff to allow guests to relax and enjoy their evening and not present the bill until requested.” So clearly this is a cultural difference from the States; we are brought a bill, usually with a cheerful “don’t rush!” and we sit there until we are ready to get up. No one feels pressure just because the bill is lying there, nor do we feel pressured if the bill’s been paid and we’re still sitting there chatting. So that’s an illumination, for sure, about how to dine out in Ireland.

But get this: we were seated at 6:30, and the restaurant wasn’t busy, just a couple people in the dining room. It had been a long day, and we were ready to eat. Bread was brought, which we devoured, but the water didn’t come with it; we weren’t brought water until after 7:00. The starters arrived at 7:30. (Mine was French onion soup, but thickened, and not all that special; I’ve had better out of a can, honestly.) Again, the dining room was quiet; this was Sunday evening. The menu is predominantly fish and seafood, which is not good for me; I ordered the one chicken item on the menu, and it was unmemorable. Although I did eat it, because it didn’t arrive until after 8:00. That’s ninety minutes before the entrée arrived. And yes, we waited and waited and waited for the check; it was 9:30 before we were released from this award-winning (and expensive!) restaurant.

I should note that not all the service was this slow: the man at the next table came in long after us and was served before us. He was eating his dessert by the time our entrees arrived. So not only did we not get any sort of acknowledgment (“Oh, you’re the Yanks Gerry called us about!”), we actually got worse service than others in the room. I really hate to give a bad review, especially to a place I’d really anticipated with excitement. I hate to say it, also, because I checked the reviews online as I wrote this, and while most are enthusiastic, a few folks had the same sort of experience we had—slow service, so-so food, and high prices—and in every case, the owner responded very defensively (at least to these American eyes).

I won’t recommend this as a place to stay either. There’s no parking; you park on the street (good luck with that) and then roll your luggage up the hill. And you enter the accommodations from outside the restaurant. The wi-fi didn’t work; I called and asked what I was doing wrong but got no sympathy other than “It’s slow for us too.” Our room was freezing, with three single beds squished into it; the light in the hall was on all night; the rooms had ridiculous antique keys that were difficult to use every time. There was also a sharp point (the end of a nail, hammered up from the bottom) sticking up on the tabletop; I became aware of it pretty quickly but a person could hurt herself on that. The tiny cheap duvet cover barely covered the top of the bed; I had to tuck myself in like a sleeping bag to stay covered. I don’t think they’re particularly interested in the lodging part of the business, frankly. Which is fine; I don’t think I’ll ever go there again. Good night!

Today’s Image

The man seated at the table next to us in Tom Crean’s seemed to get a meal from a different chef in a different kitchen. He relished every bite. Then he chose the cheese tray from the dessert menu—and I truly lusted after it. There were four different cheeses, with fruit, artfully arranged. I could have easily made a meal from it! Yum!

Lunch with the Gentlemen

Day 8 / Tuesday, 18 September 2012

This morning we popped up early for something I’d been anticipating ever since I planned this trip: lunch with the gentlemen of the ESB. Gerry works for the ESB (Electricity Supply Board—in other words, the electric company), I have become friends with his colleagues Brendan and Pat, and we traditionally “do lunch” when I visit.

So Margaret and I drove all the way in to Harold’s Cross, where Gerry’s office (the Archives) is located, and where we would park the car. We had some time, so we snacked on sandwiches (in anticipation of a late lunch), and while Gerry gave Margaret a tour, I had time to check e-mail and so forth. It was good to see Pat, who arrived shortly after we did.

Our first stop would be House 29, the Georgian house museum owned and operated by the ESB. The museum is situated just a half block from Merrion Square—and if you’ve seen the famous photographs of brightly colored Dublin fanlight doors, you’ve seen the Merrion Square neighborhood, which was built over thirty years beginning in 1762. House 29 was completed in 1794 and was first occupied late that year; the house has been refurbished to look as it might have looked at that time. (There is a lot of historical information in the link above, so be sure to check it out.)

Jill and Alli met us as House 29, as did Brendan. And we were greeted like visiting royalty, I must say, even by the museum’s curator, Sandra. (I’ve just sent off all my thank-you notes.) We were in time for a tour, which ranges from the basement to three floors above. I’ve been here before, of course, but I enjoyed this refresher course on how well-off Dubliners lived in those days. (One doesn’t even want to consider how not well-off Dubliners lived in that era; I’m certainly grateful for the conveniences I now take for granted.)

The front door of House 29. Of course, it isn’t used; we entered through the museum entrance and gift shop. (There’s always a gift shop!)

Townhouses along Lower Fitzwilliam Street. You can’t afford one. 🙂 (Margaret took this photo.)

From Lower Fitzwilliam Street, we walked along Baggot Street (which becomes Merrion Row) to the Royal Hibernian Academy, just about three blocks. The RHA is, Brendan told us, is a collective of Irish artists; you have to be nominated in order to join the collective. (RHA’s mission statement says it is dedicated to developing, affirming, and challenging the public’s appreciation and understanding of traditional and innovative approaches to the visual arts. Whew. It was founded in 1823.) It is a lovely building with several galleries; we were there to see the Seán Keating exhibit (officially titled Seán Keating and the ESB: Enlightenment and Legacy), sponsored, of course, by the ESB.

It’s appropriate that the exhibit is here, as Keating—an Irish artist in the romantic-realist style—was elected to the RHA in 1923. Born in 1889, Keating was not quite twenty-seven years old and studying art in London when the Easter Rising began the Irish war for independence from British rule. He returned home and documented on canvas these hostilities and the subsequent civil war; after that he was commissioned (read more about it here) to document the building of Ardnacrusha (1925–1929), a dam on the Shannon near Limerick. This hydroelectric plant (I’ve visited it, and written about it in a previous travelogue, which is not yet posted here; it pains me that I can’t yet link to that information … but I will, I will) belongs to the ESB, of course, and I’ve been hearing about Seán Keating for nearly eleven years—so I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to finally see in person Night’s Candles Are Burnt Out, Keating’s iconic 1929 painting that symbolizes the passing of the old Ireland (see it here).

Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east.
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.
—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, act 3, scene 5

We wandered briefly through some other exhibits, too, also sponsored by the ESB, which offers two art “medals” (prizes) each year to up-and-coming artists.

Gerry and Brendan observing a blow-up version of the Poulnabrone dolmen, which was … interesting.

Jill observing another installation at the RHA.

A close-up of the above.

(As an aside, I was having a lot of trouble with the walking we were doing—next we would walk about a block to the restaurant where we’d have lunch—even though now that I’m looking at it on the map I can see that it was hardly any distance at all. It felt like a hike across town. Less than thirty-six hours later I would be in a doctor’s office, diagnosed with pneumonia, but on this Tuesday all I knew was my legs felt like lead and I was struggling to keep up, constantly out of breath. Aloud, I asked Gerry “How much further?”—it’s a mark of his grace that he simply slowed down to my pace—but inwardly I wondered, “What’s wrong with me?” I’d been fine, energetic, when I’d left Tennessee, but I felt awkward and inappropriate now, like I didn’t belong because I couldn’t keep up. Honestly, it was awful.)

Brendan always chooses great restaurants, and today was no exception. We walked just up the street to Pearl Brasserie, a lovely restaurant that serves traditional French cuisine, where we spent a very leisurely time over a wonderful lunch.

The first time I ever saw photos of friends’ dinners, I thought it was so strange, and I’ve never been one to take photos of meals—but you will see photos of meals henceforth. We ate like royalty everywhere we went; Ireland has a wonderful foodie culture.

At the Pearl Brasserie, Margaret and I had the same thing: aged ribeye steak, fries, and salad. It was an interesting presentation. (Photo by Margaret.)

L–R: Brendan, Pat, me, Gerry, Alli, Jill, Margaret, at the Pearl Brasserie. (Photo by our server.)

Yes, we had dessert! Mine was “Tasting of Lemon”—small servings of lemon sorbet, lemon tart (kind of lemon pie), lemon meringue (exceedingly tart!) and lemon jelly, which was sort of like Jell-O only much, much better. Topping the jelly was a sparkly, clear/white jelly with a slight basil taste to it, in addition to the lemon. Wow. The presentation of everything was exquisite (service too), and sometimes very interesting, as noted above. The jelly, for example, was in a small lidded jar.

After lunch, the gentlemen left our part to return to work. The rest of us walked back to the gift shop at the RHA, shopped, then walked up to the National Gallery.

It rained a little while we were inside the National Gallery. When we came out we saw our second rainbow!

Ireland’s National Gallery was one of my favorite stops last time we were here. I’d read about the lost Caravaggio in Jonathan Harr’s The Lost Painting, and delighted in seeing it in person on a very quiet morning. I loved the whole floor of Irish painters (including a slew of folks from poet W. B. Yeats’s family). I loved, too, the old, old wooden floors that creaked and cracked, as floors in a museum should.

That’s all changed now. They are refurbishing the museum; collections have been rearranged into different configurations. Worse, those lovely floors are gone (or, they weren’t where we were, which was the selection of masterpieces (“Masterpieces from the Collection”) and the Jack Yeats exhibition. I saw the Caravaggio and the Vermeer; but was disappointed not to see “Ireland’s favorite painting” (Frederic William Burton’s The Meeting on the Turret Stairs), which is now shown for very limited hours, and only in the morning. I am sure this remodeling is a good thing, really I am; but I did not see the gallery I was expecting to see. It has been modernized. Along the entire trip I would revisit places that have been refurbished (tarted up) to within what seems like an inch of their lives, so this was just a harbinger of things to come.

Margaret, Gerry, and I cabbed back to his office and had a cup of tea to wait for rush hour traffic to die down; then we drove Gerry home, and then back to Laytown. Tomorrow we leave to go down the country.

Today’s Observation

There are so many foreign nationals in Dublin! In particular, many of the waiters and waitresses we encountered were not Irish. Yesterday at the Shelbourne, our young waitress was an American. Today at the Pearl our two servers were German.

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.