Begorrathon 2017: Traveling through the movies

This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts about movies that make you want to travel somewhere. I’ve done Ireland before, with the movie Leap Year. This time, the movie is called The Boys and Girl from County Clare, released in 2003. The difference is that the movie hasn’t actually been filmed in Ireland for the most part, it was filmed mainly on the Isle of Man which is also a place I haven’t been and would like to go.

Here, then, is my review of the movie for this year’s Begorrathon, the month of Irish culture being held at Raging Fluff and 746Books.

John Joe and Jimmy meet for the first time in over 20 years. It does not go well.

The year is 1965. The place is Ireland. The event is an annual Céili  competition, traditional Irish music played in the traditional Irish manner on traditional Irish musical istruments. You get the picture. The competition is fierce and hotly contested. John Joe and his band have won the event the past three years but John Joe’s younger brother who’s been living in Liverpool and also has a Céili band, is determined to enter and win the competition this year. The brothers fell out years ago over a woman and each is determined to stop the other from attending. What follows is a comedy of errors with a family secret to be revealed at the end.

Anne, Maisie and John Joe

John Joe and Jimmy’s lives have taken very different paths, as has their third brother’s. Young and talented Anne in John Joe’s band has never been told the name of her father by her mother Maisie. You can kind of predict where this is going. Talented Teddy plays in Jimmy’s band and naturally, falls for Anne. While the brothers struggle to keep their bands traditional, the younger generation is beginning to be influenced by the 60s pop culture scene, Beatlemania and hippie culture being at their height. The Times they are a-Changing and all that.

Bernard Hill plays John Joe and Colm Meany plays Jimmy, two actors that will be familiar to you, I’m sure. Andrea Corr, who plays Anne, has a musical background, being a part of the Corrs. You may also have seen her in The Committments. The reviews have not been all that great and it’s fairly predictable, but I really enjoyed it. The antics made me laugh, the actors are ones I always like, the style of humour is dry and typically Irish, the traditional music is played with joy and enhances the movie perfectly, and the scenery as the bands make their way to the competition is a feast for the eyes.

As I said, the movie was filmed mainly on the Isle of Man and somewhat in Northern Ireland, both locations that are places I have never been and would like to go someday. As far as the Begorrathon tie in, well, even if the filming location wasn’t focussed in Ireland, the story and the music was.

Jimmy’s band at the All Ireland competition trials

John Joe’s band at the All Ireland competition trials

John Joe, Jimmy and their brother Father Padjoe

Links to lots more of the Begorrathon posts are here.

Mailboxes in all the odd places

Inspired by a post at Travel Words, where a number of unusual UK mail boxes were posted there today. I knew I had a few photos of some that were a bit different than the run of the mill red pillar box. Actually, most of these photos are not UK red post boxes but you can see that. The first was one we’d walked by in the small town of Cobh, Ireland, on the Cork harbour. The next is from Roskilde, Denmark and the little green one was outside of a little, dusty antique shop in Dublin. I think it must be Victorian era.

Victorian mailbox in Cobh

Yellow house

Victorian letterbox outside an antique shop in Dublin

And two from my visits to the old set of Coronation Street. When we visited during the 2 years that the tour was open recently, you could get your postcards stamped in the shop with an actual Coronation Street post mark and then mail them in the mailbox on the street and they’d be delivered. Naturally, I mailed a few to myself!
Postbox on the Street
The Word from the street

Tour Ireland (2002) Part 6 – Back to Dublin and the end of the trip

Dublin's Grand Canal

Dublin’s Grand Canal

We’ve done the bus tour and we’re  back to Dublin.

Glendalough was our last stop before returning to Dublin. We drove out of the bad weather  and through some pretty valleys on our way to Dublin. The sky was clear and blue by the time we reached our hotel, the Burlington. This is a top class hotel not far from the Grand Canal in the south east of Dublin in the Ballsbridge section, within walking distance of the city center. We have booked an extra night here as we’re not flying out until Sunday.


Bill never mentioned leprechauns all week. This afternoon, one of the group asked him why. He delayed answering so long that I imagined he must be thinking “Damn, and I nearly got through the tour without someone bringing that up!” Bill told us that the word “Leprechaun” means “little people” who were shoe makers or cobblers. The origins are hazy but one theory goes that when the tall, dark, warlike and aggressive Celts invaded, the natives were small, peaceful folk who lived in ring forts which probably became the fairy rings of legend. These people seemed to disappear at will through perhaps they just fled the intimidating invaders. The cute little leprechauns we see were invented for the English tourists and it just got out of hand. Now they are out of fashion and considered tacky, Bill informed us. I agree.  Ireland to me is not the cartoon pot of gold and frisky, naughty little men in green coats. It’s a place of Celtic origins, of shamrocks and a people who are easy going, traditional and open and friendly. And the beer ain’t bad either!

A little more Dublin

Carole wanted a rest since she hadn’t slept well the night before but I had lots of energy and I wanted to go for a walk. I headed out, keeping in mind to look for a drugstore for a couple of things, stopping at the front desk to register our voucher for the Saturday night. The hotel seems full of conventioneers this weekend.

I walked across the Canal and ended up on Bagot Street, which seemed to have a lot of shops so I thought I might find a drugstore there. While walking I spotted a green antique freestanding letterbox, the kind you would have outside your own house for mail delivery, not the kind the post office collects mail in. The post boxes in Ireland are green, by the way, not red as in the UK. Anyway, the letter box was standing outside a small shop absolutely packed with … Stuff! Some of it antique, some of it collectible, some of it memorabilia. I spent 20 minutes in there just looking at the eclectic assortment on shelves, tables and hung on walls.

Dublin Georgian Door

Dublin Georgian Door

I continued walking, soon coming into Fitzwilliam square in the Georgian part of Dublin and gawped at some gorgeous architecture. Dublin is famous for it’s decorated and painted doors with their fan lights above and iron railing decorations on balconies and window dressing. The most elaborate door is black but has windows and a fan light that seems to have iron and wood work that looks like white lace covering it and ivy covering the brick surrounding the doorway.

Further down the road I realized as I looked a few blocks ahead of me, that I was at St. Stephen’s Green. I could see the glass enclosed shopping center on the far corner of the park. I knew there would be a Boots in there so I headed over, purchased what I needed and sought out a camera store on Grafton street to replace the lens cap that seems to have gone walkabout today.

We have signed up for the drive along Dublin Bay to a nice restaurant. We left early but the traffic was really heavy leaving the city.  We did finally get off the main road and followed the one that follows the waterfront through Dun Laoughaire, formerly called “Kingstown”,  where the ferries dock from the UK.

Sandy Cove is our stop, just past DL. There’s a martello tower at the end of that cove where James Joyce lived and wrote Ulysses. It’s a museum now apparently. The restaurant was a modern decor.  There was a woman playing the piano during our meal and she took requests. The food was superb! The sun was starting to go down when we left there, which made the view across the bay glow with the last bright light of the day.

The tour is over and we’re on our own again.  After a week of getting up early, we slept in just because we could!  The Burlington Hotel had a lovely buffet breakfast and we lingered over it, enjoying our pot of tea. It’s another sunny day and we’ve decided to have a walk around Georgian Dublin and then take the DART out to Howth at the north end of the line.


We set out about 11 and walked the two blocks to the little bridge across the Grand Canal. I was planning to find that antique store on Baggot Street again but I guess I got turned around and we ended up missing it and turned into  Fitzwilliam Square. This is the square where the house with the most elaborate door “lives”. I had seen it yesterday on my travels if you will recall. We admired it and walked on, looking for Merrion Square which is only a few streets away. The attraction here is mainly, for me, the Oscar Wilde connection in addition to the lovely architecture. We saw a few lovely old buildings turned into hotels and the American College on the corner. That’s the house where Wilde lived before moving to London.

Greene's, Dublin's oldest bookstore

Greene’s, Dublin’s oldest bookstore

On that intersection, diagonally across and in one building is Greene’s Bookstore, an establishment of some 200 years standing. There are display bins of books and postcards outside to browse through and inside the shop has several floors lined with old wooden shelves and display tables scattered around. The shop had the kind of atmosphere where you could almost imagine men in stovepipe hats and Victorian whiskers and women in shirtwaist dresses with floor length skirts browsing and climbing the staircase, a leather bound book or two under their arms. I’ve since been reliably informed that it is no longer open and that’s a damn shame!

We had a look on the main level where I found a small pocket sized hardcover biography of Oscar Wilde. It wasn’t his story in any great detail but it was a very good overview. We also found more of the bookmarks that were decorated with individual Celtic alphabet letters as inspired by the Book of Kells.   I had bought one at the bookshop in Trinity and Carole wanted a few for souvenirs but she couldn’t find a “W” for her mother’s name. The young clerk said it was because there was no W in the Irish language. But, wasn’t the Book of Kells written in Latin? (it was)  I thought so, and there is no J or K in Latin yet there were J and K bookmarks. Oh well,  I commented wryly, you could get the M and tell her to use it upside down! *snicker* I crack myself up sometimes!  Bookmarks and postcards purchased, we walked across the road to the square.

Just inside the wrought iron fence of Merrion Square is a statue of Oscar Wilde, depicting him somewhat more slender than is usually seen, dressed in bright colours,  languidly lying back on a rock and holding his trademark flower against a face twisted in a sardonic smirk. The bright colours are all different kinds of marble I guess, it’s not painted. The statue was only erected and dedicated about 5 years ago. I won’t go into biographic details of Mr. Wilde but I’ve always found him a very interesting, flawed and tragic man, ruined in part due to his own impulsive and stubborn decision to sue a man for libel which in turn brought out admissions that destroyed his reputation and his life.

We walked a little way into the park and saw an area off one path that seemed to be a little arboretum with different kinds of trees scattered around a greenspace.  The sun kept dipping behind a cloud and we lost patience waiting for it to beam down through the trees. It just seemed like that photo *needed* sunshine and shadows.

Along the outside of the fence on the North side of the square were works displayed by artists, something you are seeing more of lately. It’s a good place to set up on the weekends with lots of pedestrians walking past. We walked along the little gallery, chatting to one artist who was trying very hard to sell us a rather large and ungainly framed painting. A bit too tricky to carry on the flight as nice as the painting was.

Howth Abbey

Howth Abbey

Side trip to Howth

After consulting our little pocket map of Dublin we set off to find the DART station nearest, Pearce station. We joined the queue for a return ticket and made our way to the platform. The trains go fairly frequently so we didn’t have too long to wait. We were, however, disappointed because the train didn’t follow the shoreline of the bay on its’ way north like it does on the southern route.

Howth is at the last stop. You arrive in an old, small train station with a pub called the Bloody Stream underneath! We walked down the block towards the waterfront, consulted a large “you are here” map and walked along the busy road looking for a  suitable place for lunch. The first two places that appealed were either too crowded or too small. We did find a little place that did ice cream takeaway but had a light lunch menu in a little room to one side, filled with families. It was a bit noisy but we found a table and ordered a sandwich.  We did have a little translation problem with the server who was Chinese. The menu said “Pastries… please ask for what is available” so we did. Blank look. Pastries… Pastries…we pointed to the menu item. Ah… “Ham and cheese, tuna…” No, no… Pastries! Point again. Oh right. Got you now. Scones and apple pie. Now we’re cooking… Carole ordered pie and I ordered ice cream. A few minutes later an Irish server came over to ask what it was we had ordered. She must have had a translation problem too!

Howth is a fishing town and there weren’t a lot of touristy type shops at all. A few postcards outside a newsagent was the extent of it that we saw. It’s a working seaside town with a large marina filled with pleasure craft. It’s a good place for hiking around the outskirts and has a nice sea wall where  you can walk out around the harbour.  There’s a rocky little island just off the coast here called Ireland’s Eye.

We walked around the seafront and then headed up into the village further to see if we could find the ruins of Howth Abbey. The street we chose had a couple of nice restaurants including one that advertised Russian food. There was a small sign at the entrance to a narrow alley of stairs that pointed the way to a restaurant with the promise of a craft/gift shop which was across from the abbey so up we ascended. The craft shop wasn’t to our taste but the Abbey was. There was a little cemetery filled with flower covered graves beside the roofless ruins.  There’s a great view over the harbour from here. We poked around the grounds for a little while taking pictures and then descended back through the village to the main road again.

howthcastlepinkThe map seemed to indicate that Howth Castle was a bit out of town on the main road so we started walking. It was about a mile away I guess and still there was no signs to which road we should turn in. There was a sign indicating where the Transport Museum was so we headed up that way, remembering from the central map that they were close to each other. There was a pretty church that we passed and then the road turn and we saw a stone tower. There was the castle! There were quite old parts, that I believe date from Norman times and some newer parts. However when we were walking around one side, I spied a propane barbeque in a courtyard which seemed to indicate perhaps that someone lived there and that it was private property.

There were no signs about entrance fees or hours so I don’t know if any of the interior can be visited. There wasn’t anyone around so we didn’t try to find out. Never did see the Transport museum but I think it was a little further up the road. There’s also quite a breathtaking rhododendron garden a little farther on but we were too early for most of the blooms Carole said.

We were getting tired by now so decided to walk back to the train station and go back into the City to find some place to eat. We got off the train at Tara street station, which is close to the Liffey and walked down to the river. I wanted to have a look at the huge domed Custom House building which is on the North Side.  We went across the wide O’Connell Street bridge where we stopped to look at some jewelry and leather that a vendor had on display. Up O’Connell Street, where there are many statues of Irish Independence leaders, and lots of shops and a large department store, Clery’s  where we stopped in for a look at the jewelry counter inside the main door.

The General Post Office building is just there as well, with its tall pillars, some of which still bear the bullet holes from the 1916 Easter uprising. There’s another pedestrian shopping area that crosses O’Connell Street, Henry Street. We didn’t get there today but Carole was there last week browsing. We also bought some doo-dads in a tourist souvenir shop. This is a good shopping district for tourists but we really didn’t spend a lot of time here. By this time we had been out and walking all day and were footsore and ready for a rest. You lose your enthusiasm for experiencing the ambience of a place when you can hardly put one foot in front of the other!

We found a fish and chip shop that wasn’t filled up after trying a few larger restaurants first. We sat and had our dinner and a restorative cup of tea. Shall we get a taxi from here or walk across to Temple Bar and get one from there? The taxi rank on O’Connell street had a long queue so walk we did. We ended up near Trinity College, thinking we could get the bus as there was a stop right by the hotel but we waited for about 15 minutes and none of the route numbers that we needed passed us by so we walked a little further and realized we were at the other end of Grafton street. We knew there was a taxi rank at St. Stephen’s Green so we went through Grafton street where many of the shops were now closing for the day. We made our way up to St. Stephens, got a taxi and arrived back at the hotel where we arranged with the concierge for a taxi to the airport tomorrow morning. After consulting his expertise, we realized the airport shuttle bus wouldn’t be practical and he’s going to get a taxi to come for us about 5:30 a.m. URGH!

Back to our room for an early night. It’s odd that some of the nicest hotels we’ve been in had no tea and coffee making things in the rooms! We repacked out suitcases to distribute our clothes and souvenirs. I managed to get everything to fit so I didn’t have to use the extra fold up carry on bag I brought.

I knew the time I had in Dublin wasn’t going to be enough. 2 full days and a few hours of 3 others. The first few days in a city I always seem to spend walking around covering a lot of ground and seeing the major sights where possible. But mostly I don’t actually spend extra time at each place. For instance, although we did go into Christchurch, we didn’t try to investigate which parts of Dublin Castle were open to the public nor spend time really browsing in Greene’s bookshop. I wanted to “see” as much as I could which gives me a “lay of the land” feel. Strictly tourist.

If I have more time, then I know I can spend a morning in a gallery or a museum or browse through lots of market stalls instead of just 2 or 3.  I can spend a few hours just poking around alleys and churches in just one small corner of  a city.  I do start off with a list of sites I hope to get to see but along the route to the destination, one always comes across interesting shops or a pretty church or an unexpected market in a courtyard that needs investigating, especially if you end up going the long way around because you took a left instead of a right at that intersection back there.  So the next time I come back to Dublin, I want to browse markets, gape in a gallery, find a small obscure museum, breakfast at Bewleys and prowl around the O’Connell Street area in more detail. And whatever else the wrong turn at the intersection reveals.

We had set the clock for something unGodly and you might know, a few of the conventioneers seemed intent on having a party in the hall outside our room. We had tried to go to bed early, about 9, but they were hollering and laughing. At one point Carole peeked out the door and saw a middle aged man on the floor with another one trying to drag him along! There were a few more as well and they had the doors to their rooms open or were parading back and forth banging on each other’s doors and hollering. Finally Carole called down to the desk and they sent someone up to ask them to at least keep their doors shut. It helped some and eventually they settled down or went out or something.

We managed to get to the airport and away the next morning. Carole was flying home via London and I was stopping over in Manchester for a last visit with some friends, flying to Canada from there, via Toronto.   As always it’s good to sleep in my own bed surrounded by my own things. I hate to come home in a way because I so enjoy seeing new places and spending time with friends that I don’t see very often.

Ireland is another place I want to go back to and a quandary, what about seeing new places? We are thinking it might be a good road trip some day. You never know!

Tour Part 1

Tour Part 2

Tour Part 3

Tour Part 4

Tour Part 5

More Begorrathon.

Tour Ireland (2002) Part 5 – Avoca and Glendalough

Our last day on the bus. The rain avoided us yesterday, but it’s still clear and sunny out this morning. Breakfast wasn’t great. No choice. They slapped down a plate of egg, bacon, etc., were late with the toast and it felt very like a conveyer belt to us. No matter. Let’s get going.

We drove through the old part of Waterford past Reginald’s Tower, which was built originally by the Vikings. The city center of Waterford looks very much like most Irish cities architecturally. We had our tour assessments to fill out while we drove and luckily the roads were fairly good for writing.

We headed out into the country county roads of County Wexford, past lots of yellow gorse brush streaking the green hills. We heard about rebellion in 1798 led by Father Murphy, an insurrection by the Catholics trying to gain rights inspired by the French Revolution 20 years before that. Didn’t work. The rebellion was brutally put down by the British.

Coloured houses in Avoca, Ireland

Coloured houses in Avoca, Ireland

Our first stop today is Avoca, in the Avoca Vale, a pretty valley about 2 hours drive from Waterford. The reason for the stop is a demonstration at one of the oldest hand weaving mills still functioning in Ireland. Avoca is also famed as the location of exterior filming for the tv series Ballykissangel and when Carole heard that her eyes lit up! She loves that show! I think I’ve only seen it once but as weaving didn’t particularly interest me either, we decided to spend our time in the village.

We ascertained our departure time then trotted up and over the dip in the road into the town. First the church. The actual name of it is Saints Patrick and Mary. It’s a very pretty stone church and chapter house with a little yard, stone wall and wrought iron fence. There’s a lovely gothic peaked door as well.

Down the road a little further there are a few small shops along  side a row of two storey houses painted yellows and oranges and pinks. I still haven’t been able to take a photo of the single storey cottage rows that we’ve seen in a lot of villages and towns. The bus drives by too quickly and too close to the side of the street to take a photo from the bus and nowhere we’ve stopped has had them. This will have to do.

Fitzgerald's pub, from Ballykissangel. Avoca, Ireland

Fitzgerald’s pub, from Ballykissangel. Avoca, Ireland

And there’s the pub! Fitzgerald’s is where a lot of the action in the show takes place. There were very few people around since most of our group stayed at the mill and it was earlyish. We each posed for a photo on the benches in front of the bright yellow and blue pub since it wasn’t yet open, and walked down by the river to see the stone bridge. We looked in a  couple of souvenir shops as well.

On the way back we passed one building that had a sign on it that proclaimed, in spite of it’s relatively small size, that it was not only the law courts, but also the computer learning center, library, AND the tourist information center! Necessity etc. A final photo of the church from the village point of view, and back to the mill complex of low white and red buildings on the river.

The clouds began to gather and we drove under darkening skies through the north part of County Wicklow where the mossy-trunked trees were tall and close to the road, their overhanging branches forming a canopy over the road. Or it would have if the leaves had been in full bloom. Probably looks really pretty in summer with the sun streaming through but the skies were darkening.

We drove through a town called Rathdrum where a man called Charles Stuart Parnell was born. He was a Protestant MP who campaigned for Ireland to become independent from Britain and he pushed for rights for Catholics.  It’s said that he probably would have succeeded and Ireland would have gained its independence as a complete and undivided country, avoiding all the violence of the 20th C. except for one thing. He fell in love with the wife of another MP, one Mrs. Kitty O’Shea. The scandal ruined him and he had to resign in disgrace. He’s still honoured in Ireland with squares, parks and streets named for him. The only man with more accolades seems to be Daniel O’Connell one of the leaders of the 1916-1920 rebellion that did lead to an independent Ireland, albeit without the northernmost 7 counties.

Glendalough, Ireland

Glendalough, Ireland

Rain spit on the bus windows as we arrived at the Glendalough visitor center. Glendalough, which means the  Valley of the lakes, was the site of a monastery founded by St. Kevin nearly 1400 years ago. It was used for quite a few centuries before it fell into disuse and ruin. There are roofless buildings and a round tower and the remains of a kitchen building along side the monks’ cemetery.

We saw a short video in a room that I found very cold and drafty and by the time our walking tour was to start, the rain was coming down lightly but steadily. I had neither hood nor umbrella so I decided to skip it. I was chilly already and getting wet wouldn’t help. I looked around the visitor center and made my way across the car park to the hotel in the village where we were going to have our lunch break A few people from the tour had already gone straight there. Had I known I would have joined them earlier. There was a gas fire burning and, luckily, an empty table right beside it. Bliss!

Lunch, hot tea and a hot apple crumble with custard for desert which I was just getting ready to eat when the rest of the group returned. Carole joined me and ordered her lunch while I toasted myself on the fire and my tongue on the hot custard and heard about the walking tour which did sound quite interesting. She found a beautiful Celtic cross in the cemetery that she got a good photo of too!

We’ll soon be back to Dublin and a day or two on our own to explore further.

Tour Part 1

Tour Part 2

Tour Part 3

Tour Part 4

Tour Part 6

More Begorrathon.

Tour Ireland (2002) Part 4 – Shopping and Bling

Blarney Castle, Ireland

Blarney Castle, Ireland

Day four of our tour was focussed on shopping and “bling”:

Weather not too bad today. The day was hazy bright most of the time. This is our shopping day, or morning, that Bill has been banging on about all week, reminding us that the huge woolen mill shop will have the best prices for things we’d want to get. Considering that the guide gets a percentage of purchases when we stop at most places like factories and visitor centers, the cut he gets from Blarney must be better than most. My friend Rose (she lives in nearby Cobh) told me that even she, as a taxi driver, will get a percentage or discount if she takes a customer there.

We drove across the south interior of Ireland in about 2 and a half hours through the Kerry Mountains, farmlands and the rolling patch-worked hills. They grow a lot of sugar beet here and there’s also a sugar refinery.  We arrived in Blarney at 10:00 as expected.

This was the longest stop of the tour, at 2 and a half hours during which we were expected to get lunch as well.  Our time was our own. If anyone wanted to visit Blarney Castle and kiss the stone of eloquence, they should allow about 3/4 hour at least to walk through the park, climb the staircase and wait in the queue. All I had thought was to take a photo of the castle but you have to pay 5.50 euro just to get into the grounds along with the castle visit. We didn’t bother. I had no interest in kissing a piece of rock that millions of tourists had also laid their lips on. I never had a problem finding words  to say what I wanted to convey. And more besides! (as you can tell!)

Carole wanted to shop so she walked back to the Blarney Woolen Mill. I decided to see if I could get a photo of the castle in the distance from some vantage point. I crossed a small river or brook and walked along a brick wall. Over top of the wall, at one break in the vegetation behind it, I could stretch up and see the castle in the distance and with the tree branches framing it, it actually turned into a lovely photo.

I walked back towards the town, stopped in a supermarket to get some batteries, and  spotted a little cemetery so I had a look in there at the stones. There are a lot of Celtic crosses in cemeteries in Ireland. We’ve driven by some that seemed to contain nothing but!

Over to the woolen mill. I hadn’t really planned to buy too much other than maybe some more linen.  The shop really is large, on two floors and has everything organized in sections.  I ran into Carole who had already bought, paid for and arranged for shipping for her purchases. Now she was in search of smaller, general items.

The prices did seem to be reasonable, certainly no more expensive than some of the shops we’d been in outside of Dublin. I haven’t been in any of the shops that sell similar items in the city so I can’t really compare but it stands to reason it would be cheaper than in Dublin.

In the end, I bought a few things, linen and souvenirs, some china and a thick red and black plaid scarf that I still wear today on really cold days. I spent far more than I expected even with the 14% you get reduced for the tax and I have no idea where it’s all going to fit in my cases! I didn’t get it shipped because I do have that spare fold up carrier bag I can use if need be.

Carole and I met for lunch at 11:30 in front of the complex which also houses a hotel, bar and restaurant which is cafeteria style where we went to save time over searching for somewhere in the village. The complex was in fact a mill at one time and there are artifacts around the grounds and in the stone buildings.

You should have seen the number of shopping bags that were carried back on board the bus! That didn’t count the stuff quite a few people had shipped! Everyone chattered amongst themselves, showing and telling about their treasures and bargains while we made our way over to the east and then north through Cork City and the county country side heading north along the coast through some pretty towns along the route to Waterford.

Creating crystal in Waterford, Ireland

Creating crystal in Waterford, Ireland

Our included visit this afternoon was to the Waterford Crystal factory where we will get a tour. As usual, off the bus, into the loo. We were shown a short video that showcased the various millenium celebrations around the world and ending with the one in New York City where the traditional Times Square Ball was that year made of Waterford Crystal and wired for a light show. The presentation ended with a replica descending in front of a black screen with a city skyline behind it. Impressive with the lights flashing in patterns and colours and ending in full brilliance.

We then split into two groups and headed into the factory proper. Here then is a condensed version of  Waterford Crystal: It was founded in 1783 by brothers George and William Penrose. The factory has been at the present location, on the edge of town near a community college since 1971 and employs 1600. The craftsmen have a minimum 5 years apprenticeship and normally 3 more for the masters in the various fields of glass blowing or cutting  and engravers do 3 years at a local cottage before training for 10 more.

Crystal is made from silica sand, potash and litharge and is heated to a molten state in gas ovens to 1400 degrees.  The first room was where the ovens are. Most of the blowers and cutters seem to be men, and the guide said it wasn’t a reflection on women, it’s just that women rarely seem to choose this field. There are women that work in other support roles in the factory, quality control etc. The molten crystal is pulled out of the oven in a blob, the size depending on what will be the end result. The blowers all know exactly how much to pull out of the fire for what they are making. It’s on the end of a 5 foot long or so metal rod.

The item is shaped using wooden tools soaked in cold water to gently give it a starting point. It is then lowered into a wooden mold below the feet of the men and they blow through the long tube and the molten crystal expands to the shape of the mold. When it comes out of the mold it now looks like glass and it’s smoothed and sanded lightly. It’s broken off the tube and laid on a  conveyer belt. The crystal is cooled for up to two days and then checked for flaws. If there is the slightest mark, it’s smashed and melted down again.

A Waterford Crystal master craftsman

A Waterford Crystal master craftsman

We saw the crystal shells marked with a grid pattern and then watched some of the cutters grind the classic Waterford patterns into bowls and glasses on a diamond tipped wheel using the grids as a guideline. The actual patterns are not marked on the glass unless it’s a special  one of a kind or limited edition design. These are all master craftsmen that have had to memorize all the 60 or 70 standard patterns during their training. We saw another room where the carvers work on solid pieces like figurines (and cottages!). They create a clay model for these as a guideline. The wheels used to carve the solid pieces are stone with small diamond tipped ones for the finer detail work.

We saw the engraving room. This kind of engraving comes out looking like frosted inset sections etched into the crystal. Engraving is the most time consuming and difficult of all the jobs.  The artisans make their own copper tipped tools, softer than diamond tipped. One tool we saw was made from a copper coin! The room wasn’t brightly lit overhead though each work station had good spot lights. We then had a more personal demonstration from a veteran cutter who talked to us and answered questions about his career and the working conditions and shifts.

We had a half hour or so in the showroom and gallery which was interesting. They had replicas of some of the most spectacular pieces like a lot of the trophies for world famous tournaments such as the World Cup, the Super bowl and the PGA golf. We saw a large chess piece that stood about 4 foot high and outside the gallery was a full size crystal mailbox and a full size crystal grandfather clock! Wow! It was quite a fascinating visit.

While we were in there, Alec and Bill took the luggage to the hotel in Waterford. It looked like a city with some interesting spots to explore, just judging from the drive through. We had a nice view from our hotel room over an inlet on the city side of the hotel. We had signed up for a visit to an old country pub before dinner tonight so there was only time to change and freshen up with a cup of tea before we left.

We drove to Kilmeaden where the Cozy Thatch pub was. It has been voted tops in an annual Irish Heritage Pub of the Year contest several times going by the plaques displayed This is a low white thatched roof building, some of which dates to 1475. It was purchased by a family called Horton in 1780  and turned into a public house and it’s never been sold since, having passed down through the generations. It has two fireplaces burning peat, and is in an L shape.

The pub also doubled as the local funeral parlour for the village soon after it was established until 1969 when the government passed a law forbidding wakes in pubs.  In the room at the back where the deceased would be laid out is a large bed that dates before the Horton family bought the building (because it was built inside the room and  too big to get out of the house) and family and friends would gather here to wake the dead. Having the wake in a pub just solved both of the pressing needs. The Irish have always celebrated the life of the deceased with memories, music and drink. Only seems convenient to have the two under one roof!

The family that owns the pub (the publican’s mother was  a Horton) also brews their own lager on the premises and lives there as well. We sat down in groups and ordered the first of our two drinks that came along with the price of this excursion. I opted for the local lager and it was very nice! We were then entertained by a singer called Tommy Commerford who does this for all the tours I believe.  We enjoyed the music, the atmosphere and the drinks. I really like the smell of the peat fire though I’m not sure I could describe it. It’s a pungent aroma but not quite like a fragrant hard wood or pipe tobacco. It burns hot and for a long time too apparently.

We arrived back at the hotel for about 8 for dinner. There was another tour group from Trafalgar there just on the beginning of their tour. Dinner was fine, we were seated at long tables which to me makes it feel more like a convention or something. I prefer the smaller tables of 4 or 6 or even 8 where it feels a bit more private.

Stay tuned for our last tour day on the bus.

Tour Part 1

Tour Part 2

Tour Part 3

Tour Part 5

Tour Part 6

More Begorrathon.

Tour Ireland (2002) Part 3 – The Ring of Kerry

Landscape along the Ring of Kerry, Ireland

Landscape along the Ring of Kerry, Ireland

We’re off around the Ring of Kerry on day three of our Irish tour:

Weather looked like it could go either way. It was a bit gloomy this morning and all day it was a hazy day with high cloud cover and the sun breaking through now and then. It was a pity for the views around the Ring of Kerry but it wasn’t too bad. It did clear up from how it started this morning.

We caught the 9 a.m. car ferry across the Shannon river estuary. We drove into North County Kerry where the landscape was flat and boggy and uninspiring. Or perhaps it was the weather.  The western part of the Kerry Mountains is called the McGillicuddy Reeks and we drove up into the beginning of the range on the way to our first stop, Tralee. We will be staying in Tralee tonight. We were due to go to the Kerry County museum complete with a medieval sight, sound and smell effects only the staff are on strike starting… yep.. today!

We were taken to a local windmill instead in Blennerville. Which wasn’t working due to some maintenance problems. They had a video presentation on the restoration and had an emigration exhibition and we were invited to examine the inside of the windmill. The windmill was built in 1780 and fell out of use in 1850. It was restored in the 1980’s as a youth project. It is now the only working windmill in Ireland and still mills flour but just for demonstrations. It’s only used for cattle feed, not pure enough to sell for human consumption.

We were on a time constraint and I wasn’t overly interested so I took a few photos outside before we left. Pressed for time seemed to be the order of the day as it went on, we ended up being rushed every time we got off the bus! Lunch break was only 40 minutes!

Into the mountains and through a little town called Killorglin. This town has a 400+ year old  Puck Festival every summer that celebrates the goats of Kerry. There’s even a statue of a wild horned goat with a crown on his head in the town center that we drove past. They bring a wild billy goat down from the hills and crown him to preside over the weekend’s festivities.

Why? Two theories according to Bill. One was that a herd of goats warned the town of an impending dawn raid by Oliver Cromwell’s men who were camped outside the town and the other has the goat revered as a holy animal by pagans.

Ring of Kerry coastline, Ireland

Ring of Kerry coastline, Ireland

We entered the Ring of Kerry trail that starts at Dingle Bay and weaves its way along the sandstone mountains, sometimes along the bays and sometimes inland a bit around the Iveragh Peninsula. The views reminded me sometimes of the Scottish Highlands. We had a photo stop over Dingle Bay and had lunch at one little bar about half way around at Ballinskellieg Bay. The narrow road was originally built for the military in the mid 17th C. I did notice, looking straight down over the edge of one stop, a lot of litter. Too bad people can’t respect these places.

The sun was out at our lunch stop but was gone again when we continued. We had another break stop near the end of the trail and then started down the mountains and into the Killarney National Park, a large natural area of lakes and forest that was donated to the government by an Irish American. We stopped at a lovely lookoff over the Killarney Lakes called “Ladies’ View” named in honour of Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting.

Jaunting Car, Killarney, Ireland

Jaunting Car, Killarney, Ireland

We were offered the chance to have a Jaunting Car ride in Killarney. This is a buggy that seats 6 in it and is horse drawn. Most people decided it would be fun since it looked as if the sun was emerging and it was a change from the bus. The ride would take us around a part of the National park. Before we loaded in the cart, the group photo was taken and the photographer also took photos of each group in the carts. I didn’t buy the group photo but I did get one of us in the cart!

Killarney National Park, Ireland

Killarney National Park, Ireland

We rode along the street  to get to the park entrance. There was lots of trees, fresh air, birdsong. The driver, I think they’re called “Jarvies”, would point out things of interest and crack jokes and stop so we could take photos. It took over an hour to get to our meeting spot back in the town and we really found it a relaxing hour.

The Brandon Hotel  in Tralee was very, very nice. The rooms are lovely and the bed is soft. Dinner was very good too and we sat at large tables of about 8 which was also nice until the conversation turned to the politics of the Middle East. I didn’t have much to add and Carole was feeling a bit under the weather so we politely excused ourselves.

The Ring of Kerry was very scenic though we had hoped for a bit better weather. I’ve heard the Dingle Peninsula is equally spectacular but I think the road is not suitable for the tour busses. We took a lot of photos out the window and at our stops. We didn’t see much of Killarney which seems to focus mainly on the tourism industry which is so important to the economy of Ireland. We could have done without the windmill visit which would have given us a bit more time at our stops but that’s the nature of tours sometimes.

Tour Part 1

Tour Part 2

Tour Part 4

Tour Part 5

Tour Part 6

More Begorrathon.

Tour Ireland (2002) Part 2 – Cliffs of Moher and The Burren

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Continuing the Irish 2002 travelogue, onward to the next leg of our Irish tour:

Day two of our tour started with a the bus leaving a bit late and that continued to be the order of the day.  There was always at least one person that kept us waiting and invariably it was one of the group of  women traveling together from New York City. They were lovely people, most of them work together in a hospital as Anesthesiologists. And they were astonishing shoppers! That’s usually why they were late!

We drove west towards the Atlantic coast under again sunny skies. Really lucky there because the view of the 600 foot high Cliffs of Moher on Liscannon Bay would have been disappointing under cloudy or  foggy skies or even just that hazy type of sunny day you often get on the coast.

We were the first bus there, even before the visitor center was open so it wasn’t crowded at all. Another lucky break. The cliffs are a spectacular sight, with the rock formations carved by millennia of weather and water, thousands of sea birds drifting and perching on the ridges and caves and the cool, fresh breeze briskly whipping our hair as we wandered around the viewing platform or climbed the stairs to O’Brien’s Tower. Carole went to the top and said you could see the Aran Islands off the coast. I got half way up and stopped to talk to another one of our bus-mates who I found out was from teh same place we are. By the time we ended our conversation I decided against the rest of the climb and instead made my way back to the visitor center, open now, to get in ahead of the group for the ladies’ toilet.

From there we drove North west into the Burren, (pronounced Barren), which is a rocky limestone plateau with huge hills of exposed rock overlooking Galway Bay. Farming is nearly impossible here though there are some cattle dotting the lower hills. There are herds of feral goats and we even saw a few running up and down the side of a hill.

Corkscrew Hill, the Burren

Corkscrew Hill, the Burren

There are the inevitable stone fences crisscrossing the landscape, these made only by piling the stones with no kind of cement, water or sand to secure them. We stopped at the top of Corkscrew Hill, aptly named, for a photo shoot. What a view too! And the road down the hill turned around upon itself so sharply you thought you would see your own tail lights coming round the bends. I don’t know how, but Alex maneuvered that bus down it as easily, or so it seemed, as if he was driving a straight motorway.

The Burren, in County Clare, is a protected environmental and conservation area. In the summer there are a lot of wild flowers including 12 kinds of wild orchids. We drove through some wild and remote areas dotted with occasional villages including one, Lisdoonvarna, that is famous for matchmaking! Irish farmers are apparently notorious bachelors and between many of the local women leaving the area for education and jobs, and the farmers living at home where they have their mothers to tend to them, according to Bill anyway, they rely on matchmakers  quite often to find a wife when needs must! Lisdoonvarna has a matchmaking  festival every September for potential mates to meet up!

A Galway Hooker

A Galway Hooker

We drove down and around Galway Bay where there were more tower ruins and old antique boats moored on the low tidal muddy banks. The boats are small fishing boats with red sails called Galway Hookers. They have red sails but unfortunately the only one we saw was moored and didn’t have it’s sail up.  There’s excellent salmon fishing in this region and in fact it was a village known for salmon fishing called Claddagh where the famous Irish symbol was created. That’s the heart held by two hands and topped with a crown symbolizing love and loyalty. It’s very commonly used as a wedding band in Ireland.

Galway city was first settled by 14 French-Norman families, later referred to as the 14 Tribes of Galway. Some of the family names that you still see on businesses, streets and monuments are Joyce, Lynch and Burke. We drove around Galway City, and after a coffee break at a shop in Spiddal, headed up into the Connemara region, famous for it’s marble.  We are due to stop in a marble factory but to get there, we drove on a narrow road across some wild peat bogs. Peat is still cut and dried for fuel in stoves but more and more often it’s done on commercial farms.

Connemara Marble, Ireland

Connemara Marble, Ireland

The Connemara Marble factory and visitor centre is in a village called Moycullen. There is a display of all the deep colours of marble that has been quarried in the region over the years, black, shades of green and red. It’s some of the hardest marble in the world and was used for construction mainly. The quarries are nearly depleted and only the green is still obtainable in small quantities but the upsurge of using marble in gift ware and jewelry has given the quarries that remain new life. They also mind amethyst here. Naturally, there’s a shop and though I don’t often buy from the shops on these types of stops, they did have really nice things for reasonable prices so I did make a few purchases.

Back to Galway city for our lunch break. Oysters are famed here but we decided to walk down the pedestrian Shop street in search of first, a toilet, and second a takeaway sandwich.  We found a cafe a  and bought sandwiches and a drink and walked back to the spot where we were to meet the bus later, on the site of a park, to eat in the sunshine. The park was full of young people enjoying the warm weather. There’s a university in Galway and a lovely cathedral. I didn’t see that much of  the city but I got a very pleasing impression and it’s a place I’d like to spend a day or two exploring further.

Our afternoon stop was in the farmlands of the county at Rathbaun Farm which does agri-tourism as a way to boost their income. Many of the farms here in County Galway are livestock because the ground doesn’t really support crops. This farm contains a 150 year old thatched roof farmhouse with a tea room where they will serve you tea, coffee and scones after a little tour.

Finton Connolly was our host and talked to us about modern sheep farming. This farm makes its money from the sale of lamb mainly to France though they’ve also got cattle as well. We saw several breeds of sheep in a small barn, several of which had young lambs. The sheepdog, a border collie named Buff, was let loose in a paddock to worry 5 or 6 sheep around in clusters.

Contrary to the sheepdog we saw in Scotland, this dog was not trained with whistles. He brings the sheep to wherever his master is standing. The whistle trained dogs are for selling so it doesn’t matter what language you use, they will always understand the whistle signals.

It’s amazing to watch the dog duck her head down and give the sheep steady eye contact that seems to unnerve them to the point of huddling and clattering together en masse away from the dog in the direction she wants them to go.

Finton later sheared a struggling sheep, who was concerned for her lamb which was skipping around the barn being herded by the dog who was still out of her pen. The sheep was a shaggy one and by the time he was even half way done, it looked like he was handling a bag of rags, with only four skinny black legs waving about to give any hint that there was a living thing underneath it all.

We were encouraged to look through the older part of the house where there was a cozy peat fire burning in the hearth and we took lots of photos by the lovely old whitewashed cottage and in the garden outside. The thatch in most of Ireland is made of river reed.

We got back to Ennis about 5:00 p.m.. Carole wanted a rest so I shopped for postcards in the tourist information shop and walked down the High Street to the River Fergus where I had spied a few good spots from the bus to take pictures. There are ruins of an old friary there and a cathedral.

I also found a store that had lots of china and gifts and they took the tax off there and shipped it for you. They were open until 7 so I went back to give Carole the heads up and brought her back. She found lots of things she wanted and although I wasn’t planning to get anything, I found a Waterford Crystal thatch cottage that’s about 4 or 5 inches long and 2 or 3 high. It’s exquisite and I had to have it. Since I bought that, I figured I might as well get that Royal Tara china cup I had spied and a Stephen Pearce bowl.

We had it all shipped together but that meant it had to be paid for together. What a time we had! Her visa card needed authorization and then the clerks couldn’t get the cash register to accept the manual authorization nor could they get it to reverse the transaction when we finally suggested we’d pay cash. They had to call two other people to solve the problem and we were there about 20 minutes! The women that were serving us were unfailingly and amazingly polite and patient when I knew they must have been frustrated with their computer beyond belief! They suggested a restaurant when we asked but when we found it, it was closed, Tuesday being one of it’s days to shut early. Oh well. We ended up back at the bar in the hotel instead but really enjoyed our meal there.

The Ring of Kerry drive is tomorrow. Hope the weather holds because it’s supposed to cloud over later in the day.

Day three of the tour will be posted soon.

 Day 1 of the tour.


Day 3 of the tour.

Day 4 of the tour

Day 5 of the tour

Day 6 of the tour

More Begorrathon.

Tour of Ireland (2002), Part 1 Dublin to Ennis

Trinity College Library, Dublin, Home of the Book of Kells

Trinity College Library, Dublin, Home of the Book of Kells

My main contribution to the Irish Month, aka “Begorrathon” is the tour of the Republic of Ireland I took with a friend in 2002. This took place after a weekend in Cobh, and then a weekend in Dublin with friends.

Here’s the start of the tour:

In 2002, I flew to Ireland, first to spend a weekend in Cobh with a friend and then to Dublin where a group of us spent the weekend together, joined by my friend and coworker, Carole. After that, Carole and I took a week long bus tour around the Republic of Ireland run by Globus tours. Bus tours are not something that everyone loves but we did enjoy it though it was a very busy week. As part of the Begorrathon month, I’ll be posting my travelogue to that tour in parts throughout the month.

The first order of business after checking into the tour hotel is an orientation drive around Dublin with our guide. Our tour guide is called Bill Dalton and Alex is our driver. Bill, as I later found out, is from Dublin county but speaks with an educated British accent due to, as he says, the school he went to thrashing it out of him. He was very knowledgeable and very witty and he made the week very enjoyable. Our group is about 40 in numbers, about 9 Canadians, a couple from New Zealand and the rest from the U.S.A.

Our tour drove us around the main sights of Dublin and included a stop at Trinity College to see the famous Book of Kells in the oldTrinity Library. It is a decorated manuscript of the four gospels copied by monks circa 800 A.D. The experts believe the main illustrations, or illuminations as they are more commonly called, are the work of 3 or 4 men.

The exhibit had lots of illustrations and posters about the making of the book along with some other old manuscripts, totaling 4 other lesser known illuminated books, the books of Durrow, Mulling, Armagh and Dimma. The Books of Kells and Durrow are displayed open to elaborate pages under glass in a darkened room. The detail of the larger pages and the intricacy of the artwork around the writing is unbelievable. It’s difficult to really take it all in but I bought a book that has lots of the detail work enlarged.

We later viewed the Old Library at the college which was founded by Elizabeth I in the later years of her reign. The library used to be a single floor but was filled so they removed the roof and raised it about 150 years ago. It’s full again now. It’s a long room, with natural light streaming in between the shelves lined with over 200,000 valuable old books. The ceiling is high, soaring and barrel-arched and the aisle is lined with sculpted busts of philosophers and famous men associated with the college over the years. You can’t take photos and I *really* wanted to. The lines and light were truly a sight to drop your jaw and lighten your heart.

We walked around the college green afterwards, taking photos of the buildings from the various eras under clear blue skies. The rest of the orientation tour took us around O’Connell Street and Parnell Square north of the Liffey and the Grand Canal which, along with the Royal Canal, were built to connect the Liffey, Lee and Shannon rivers. The canals weren’t used for transport once the train system was built.

We got back to the hotel in time to sort out a quick change of clothes before a meet and greet in the bar before dinner. We used a smaller elevator that is usually used for luggage and the damn thing got stuck and wouldn’t open on our floor with just 6 of us crowded in to it. We buzzed and hollered and were heard by some guests who alerted the front desk who released us after about 15 minutes. Whew!

The tour proper began the next morning….And bloody early! Urgh 6 a.m. came too early! That’s one down side to bus tours, you’re always up early! It’s another sunny day though chilly this morning. The day’s activities include a stop in Kildare at the Irish National Stud to hear about thoroughbred horse breeding, then a stop to “view” the Rock of Cashel (that means a photo stop), and a drive west to Ennis, where we stay for two nights.

The Irish National Stud is on the site of an old Abbey, Black Abbey, where the monks bred horses for the Crusades, huge, muscled beasts. Horse breeding in this area of the country, thus, is an old tradition and Irish thoroughbred stallions command some of the highest stud fees in the world. The Irish National Stud is run by the Irish government though there are lots of private farms around as well. There are an enormous amount of regulations to the breeding of horses. Artificial insemination is banned and they even test the foals for DNA to prove their parentage to potential buyers.

We had one of the staff walk us around the barns and grounds to see the horses while he explained the history, traditions, and technical aspects of horse breeding. It really was interesting. We saw a couple of foals just born 6 or 7 hours before. One mare allowed the door to be open and us to watch as her baby nursed. Another mare, even though the door was closed, stood on guard over the sleeping foal with a glint in her eye when we peeked through the caged window. Nobody was getting close to that baby! We saw the stallion stables and paddocks and as large as the mares were, the stallions were massive! The neck on the top priced one, Indian Ridge, was so large and solid that I doubt very much I could get my arms around it, and I don’t have short arms.

There is a Japanese garden and another one dedicated to a monk, St. Fiachra and we had time to have a walk around and a coffee or a browse in the gift shop.

Rock of Cashel, Ireland

Rock of Cashel, Ireland

We drove for another hour or so south into County Tipperary to the center of Ireland through rolling hills to Cashel. The Rock of Cashel was originally a fortress built in the 4th C. on a 200 foot limestone mound that juts up out of a low flat valley. It was originally a seat of Irish Kings and was continually a military establishment but St. Patrick preached from there and created Cashel a bishopric in the 5th C. Cashel has had strong connections to the Catholic church as well as a result. We stopped on the highway overlooking the plain and the rock but unless you crossed the busy road, you ended up with the road in your photos. Not a great choice for a photo stop.

Just the same, we were having our lunch stop in the town of Cashel. We scattered to try out several of the different pubs and restaurants that Bill pointed out. Carole and I ended up at Mikey Ryan’s, in a building built about 1750-ish. It had several small rooms, brightly painted in yellow. The room we sat in had a huge black iron stove and a basket of peat and wood beside it. The soup urn was on the stove and a hutch full of old china and the dining room cutlery stood against the yellow wall upon which were hung old framed photos and softly glowing copper items. We had soup and a sandwich that were both delicious and far cheaper than we would have paid in Dublin!

After lunch we found the post office for stamps and then walked out and around the road that leads out of the town at the opposite end from the one we entered. We got  a good view of the ruins of the Rock including Cormac’s chapel, the oldest structure. Carole walked up a footpath on the hill for a photo as well.

Back on the bus we traveled back north west through Limerick City, the fastest growing city in Ireland. There are a lot of poor “travelers” (it’s not politically correct anymore to use the term “gypsy”, by the way) that live in trailers (caravans) on the outskirts of Limerick, and elsewhere around the country but apparently this is a popular stopping point. The part of the city we drove through didn’t seem to have anything particularly warm about it, but it’s hard to tell just passing through.

Prince John's Castle. Limerick, Ireland

Prince John’s Castle. Limerick, Ireland

We stopped across the Shannon river for a photo of King John’s Castle which was built around 1210 though no evidence King John actually oversaw the building of it. We also passed St. Mary’s Cathedral from around the same era. Can’t really say much more about Limerick as we didn’t see any more of it that that and it’s probably not a place I’d return to though I’m sure it’s just as nice as any other city.

We arrived at the hotel around 3:00 p.m., the Temple Bar Hotel in Ennis. It’s a lovely hotel that used to be a nunnery apparently though has been extensively renovated. Ennis doesn’t seem to be a really old town but that’s only relative. It’s probably still three-four hundred years old. There are a lot of newer homes and subdivision developments and it’s a popular area to live for commuters to Shannon and Limerick.

We aren’t seeing as many brightly coloured houses now, the shades are more pastel and warm hues of greens, blues, yellows and terra cotta dotted with an occasional bright yellow or deep red. A lot of the shop fronts and bar fronts are still painted lively colours in the traditional Irish pub style. There is very little neon that we have noticed even in the cities, where the shops have floodlights over the storefronts instead of glowing signs blinking at you.

Thatched cottage in the Folk Park, Bunratty, Ireland

Thatched cottage in the Folk Park, Bunratty, Ireland

We had a drink in the bar and then changed. Our optional (you pay extra) excursion for the evening is a medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle. There has been a castle here since the Norman era but as it’s in a very strategic spot, it’s been destroyed and rebuilt on 8 or 9 occasions after battles. The Folk Park that’s been constructed here is a recreation of an Irish village from about 100 years ago, with cottages, shops and farmhouses and is a working museum with staff in period costume and working using the old traditional methods. The castle has antique furniture from the medieval period and is one of those large square towers seen all over the country. They do banquets as a dinner theatre experience as well.

Bunratty Castle, Ireland

Bunratty Castle, Ireland

We were led into the castle and up a steep narrow stone spiral staircase to the Great Hall where two court musicians played for us as we sipped honey mead. The harpist and violinist were seated at the front of the room while women clad in velvet gowns decorated with gold brocade mingled among the tourists and chatted with them. The young woman we spoke to said she does this as her summer job while she’s at university to become a teacher!

There was then a few songs by the assembled group of women and we were led into the dining area, which used to be the soldier’s barrack area. The tables were long with benches. The only implement you had was a sharp knife to add to the authentic feel. Soup is drank out of a bowl, you would use your fingers and knife with anything else. We did get a spoon for the cake with cream, though. It was all superb!

The costumed women served courses, and in between, entertained along with an entertaining butler, an actor of course, with heavy makeup and an obvious wig. But the crowd loved it and the women were remarkable singers. We were invited to take coffee in another room but it was too crowded so we went out to the courtyard where a piper was playing in the twilight. We walked back through the folk village, taking our time. Tomorrow is a trip up the west coast to the Cliffs of Moher, around Galway Bay and up into Connemara.

Stay tuned for the next part to be posted in a few days.


More Begorrathon.

Dublin in Detail (2002)

Dublin, St. Stephen's Green

Dublin, St. Stephen’s Green

Continuing on my adventures for my first visit to Ireland in 2002, we’re setting out from Cobh, near Cork, to Dublin this morning by train, under gray skies.  We got to Dublin about 2:30 and took a cab to the Harcourt Hotel in Harcourt street. Great Hotel! I think it was a former home of George Bernard Shaw, or  has Shaw connections anyway. It’s expanded into a building next door as well, where our rooms were. The hotel is just a couple of blocks south of  St. Steven’s green and right across the street from the Garda headquarters (police). They have a pub where they lay out the buffet breakfast in the morning, a small restaurant and a dance bar as well. There is a resident’s bar called Barney Google’s where traditional Irish music is played most nights as late as there are patrons to play for. We took advantage of that!

My friend and cow0rker, Carole, has spent the last couple of days on her own in Dublin and met us at the hotel when we arrived. Through the rest of the day, 6 other friends were arriving from various locations in Ireland and the northwest of England. We set up a time to meet in the hotel pub for 7 tonight for drinks.

In the meantime, there was Dublin to get a first look at. Carole and I and Eoin, the first of the others to arrive, headed out and down Harcourt Street that led right into Grafton Street. Lunch was a priority and we ended up in a cafe in the top floor of the St. Stephen’s Green shopping center, a lovely glass roofed structure with lots of light streaming in.

Dublin, St. Stephen's shopping centre

Dublin, St. Stephen’s shopping centre

Grafton street is a pedestrian shopping area with some lovely stores, an upscale department store called Brown Thomas, and lots of cafes and restaurants including the famous Bewley’s. I suppose we should have gone there for lunch but as we really are unfamiliar with the city, what did we know? After a bit of window shopping along the street, we went over to Dawson street, which is parallel, to examine the lovely St. Anne’s church which seems to have associations with a number of famous former Dubliners including Bram Stoker of Dracula fame! The church didn’t seem to be open so we walked onwards.

Next, a look at the Mansion House, former home of the Lord Mayor since 1715 but now used for civic functions. Also on the grounds is a lovely looking and probably expensive restaurant.  We headed back south and came to St. Stephen’s Green which is really lovely. It was an ancient common land but enclosed in the 18th C. and laid out in it’s present form as a Victorian park in the 1870s. There are ponds, gazebos, flower beds, lots of ducks, statues and lots of trees, bushes and memorials.

Back to the hotel to freshen up before meeting the rest at 7 with hugs and renewals of acquaintances all around.  We made reservations at an American restaurant, TGI Fridays, just across from Stephen’s Green so we all walked down there en masse. The restaurant was really busy and even though we had reservations they weren’t ready for us for over 3/4 hour and we didn’t end up getting our food until 10! Luckily, they have an extensive cocktail menu. Ahem.

We were all relaxed and enjoying ourselves just the same then back to the Harcourt and the resident’s bar. We got stuck in to drinks and later an old friend of Rose’s arrived. A musician. Rose is a singer, and has sang in bars and pubs for many years on and off. She and her friend Martin entertained us with some traditional Irish melodies and her voice is absolutely stunning! It really topped off the evening. I went to bed about 2 though I believe some of the others went on a few more hours.

Saturday’s weather is going to cooperate again today, a bit sunnier than yesterday too. Breakfast was a buffet in the pub of the hotel, the usual full cooked fare. We all scattered around 11 to pursue our own interests, planning to meet back at the bar for about 6 tonight.

Carole and I planned to walk around the city to see some of the major sights. Well, as much as our feet can stand at least! The centre of Dublin is not that large and it’s flat so walking is easy. Down to Grafton Street, we paused a couple of times to watch some buskers performing.

Grafton Street, Dublin

Grafton Street, Dublin

We walked down Exchequer Street west of Grafton and came upon a huge old building that may have been a treasury building perhaps but which contains a covered market now. It’s very hip, funky, with books, records, cd’s, clothes that were gothic and flowing, lots of inventive jewelry and organic food kiosks. I bought a small bag of Turkish Delight, amazed that it actually comes in so many flavours! Carole purchased some dried lavender so her suitcase will smell lovely!

Again we walked, looking for Dublin Castle. I think we ended up walking around the back of the compound that houses the castle and a few other buildings but we came upon Christchurch Cathedral first and as that was on our list to investigate, we navigated across the busy corners to the cathedral close.

Dublin- Christchurch tiled floor

Dublin- Christchurch tiled floor

The cathedral has the most marvelous tiled mosaic floor, in dark cinnamon reds, terra cottas,  black and white and which matched quite the loveliest baptismal font I’ve ever seen.  Inset into the cobbled surroundings are paving stones imbedded with ancient brass artifacts discovered in architectural digs and there’s the foundations of an old chapter house. There’s a foot bridge across a street to Synod Hall where the Dublinia attraction is. This is a museum on the history of medieval Dublin. That would have been fun to see as well but we wanted to cover more ground.

Leaving there, we headed down Lord Edward Street and stopped for a cup of tea at a small cafe called Munchies right next door to a very unusual craft shop called Whichcraft (I’ve Googled it and it looks like it might still be there). The items are unique, modern art and are all made by Irish artisans. There’s a larger showroom across the road and down a side alley but that had all the really upscale more expensive things. Far above our budget though the first shop was reasonable.

Dublin Castle Bedford Tower

Dublin Castle Bedford Tower

We found Dublin Castle near the city hall. The castle is now mainly offices though I think you can go into a few of the buildings to see the paintings and ceilings. There’s an old Norman tower, a gatehouse tower, an old chapel and state apartments in the compound. On the other side, where we discovered some edifices of the castle painted shocking colours like blue and yellow and green (ugh!) was a circular lawn with a celtic knot tiled into it and then a cafe built in a castle looking structure which I guess was built to reflect the real thing. There’s the Chester Beattie library that has some lovely paintings in it as well (and public washrooms and some benches of which we availed ourselves to rest our feet again)

We headed down a side street on the edges of the Temple Bar area towards the river and noticed a sign pointing to an enclosed courtyard hosting a gourmet market! Most goods were organic, with cheese, meat, baked goods, pies and quiches, fruit and veg on offer. People were milling about eating things like pancakes with fresh cream, bananas and Bailey’s Irish Cream poured in!

Down to the River Liffey which looked desperately filthy with a lot of debris floating in it. It’s lined on both sides with brightly painted buildings along side some really large official edifices like the Four Courts and the Custom House. The river is crossed by a number of bridges, both vehicle and pedestrian, including a very pretty one with white painted wrought iron decoration called the Ha’penny bridge, which is what the toll to cross it used to be.

Dublin's Ha'penny Bridge

Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge

Pictures taken and then we headed into Temple Bar proper, an old quarter of Dublin, now filled with  restaurants, pubs, a few hotels, and lots of tourist shops. Streets are narrow and cobbled, buildings have bright signs and murals on the walls. Temple Bar is also very near Trinity College so there are a lot of  young people in this area of the city. There are squares with performers and street vendors. We wandered awhile then  decided we would get a taxi back to the hotel even though it wasn’t all that far to walk. Our feet hurt and we wanted a rest and a cuppa before the evening’s get together.

Dublin looks a little run down around the edges in places but it’s very colourful and vibrant. There are startlingly large ornate buildings and churches that spring out at you as you come around a turn in a street or glance down a side road or alley. They look all the bigger because most of the buildings aren’t that high. There isn’t a lot of green around but there are some large leafy parks and squares around. There are more cobbled streets than I expected, not just the pedestrian areas. We’ve seen the more formal St. Stephen’s Green but have not been on Trinity Campus or Merrion Square where Oscar Wilde’s former home is and a lot of the famous Georgian architecture stands.

I know there just is not going to be enough time to take it all in. We don’t want to exhaust ourselves though we’re pretty tender this afternoon! I don’t know if we’ll get to the north side of the Liffey where there is more Georgian architecture but the Globus orientation tour next weekend will probably takes us around some of O’Connell Street at least.

Rose made a reservation at a restaurant in Temple Bar but not until 9 o’clock and most of us didn’t want to wait that long because likely *if* we got sat down then, we still might not have eaten until a good while later. She, Mal and Rosalind decided to go there anyway and the rest of us walked down into Grafton street to try our luck. This isn’t always recommended because the restaurants and pubs in Dublin of a Friday and Saturday night are usually heaving and difficult for larger groups to get tables. We ended up at Captain America, another American restaurant but this one looked like a version of the Hard Rock Cafe with music memorabilia all over the walls. We had a little wait at a very crowded bar but were able to sit all together. The food was really good and the service was excellent!

On the way there, at the corner of Grafton by St. Stephen’s Green there was a bank of horse and buggies. Annie and I looked at them and then at each other with the same idea and on the way back, about 10:30, we broached the idea of a buggy ride to the others. Eoin and Carole decided to join us and the rest headed back to the hotel for a spot in the resident’s bar.

We opted for a half hour tour around the area, with an enjoyable running commentary by the youngish driver. We saw the area around Merrion and Fitzwilliam squares with the lovely famous Dublin doors, the large museums and government buildings, and the Grand Canal. We even got a ride right to the door of the Hotel! Can’t beat that and it really did feel magic, wrapped in a blanket against the cold night air, with the echo of the horse’s hooves on nearly empty streets.

The musicians on tonight at Barney Google’s were especially talented though didn’t sing as much. We had a comfy corner with sofas but the only down side was that the smoke didn’t circulate very well (this was before the smoking ban in pubs and restaurants) and it settled over us. Rose, Mal and Rosalind got back later after midnight after having a blast at a pub in Temple bar. Dancing was involved, I gather.  Not long before Carole and I decided to head to bed, Rose’s friend Martin from the night before arrived along with some others carrying instruments so I think they were settling in for another stretch but we were shattered with all the walking and fresh air. (and Guinness! Did I mention I have developed a taste for Guinness? It’s lovely, really!) Annie came upstairs with us for a visit and to clear her lungs of the smoke as well before bed.

Most of us made it up for breakfast for our last morning together and then five of us made our way around the corner to the antiques fair which was in the old gymnasium of Newman House. That was part of the old Catholic university of Trinity and now the University college. We had seen a sign at the intersection all weekend advertising the sale for Sunday morning and we were not disappointed!

Oooh it was lovely! Lots of linen, jewelry, china and other odds and sods of memorabilia packed into the two aisles and what looked like the stage area. I bought some old linen and a really interesting ring and Carole bought some jewelry as well.

We all converged back at the bar in the hotel at 1:00 p.m. for a goodbye drink and a Show And Tell for our morning’s purchases and activities.  We had lots of laughs, hugs, tears (that would be me!) and a group photo taken. We scattered in taxis, some to the airport, train stations and Carole and I to the Jurys Montrose which is out in a posh suburb of Donnybrook opposite the Royal College of Dublin. We were going on a bus tour and due to join the included orientation tour of the city at 3:00 and we just made it with about 20 minutes to spare once we got checked in.

That afternoon and the rest of the week were spent with the bus tour and that’ll be posted in parts soon.


More Begorrathon posts.

Cobh, Ireland, a brief visit

View of Cobh harbour

View of Cobh harbour

For the first of my blog posts for Irish Month aka Begorrathon, I bring you my visit to Cobh, a small town near Cork city in Ireland. This visit took place in the spring of 2002. I flew from Canada to Manchester for a few days with some friends before heading over the Ireland.

Cobh (pronounced “cove”) is a small town on one of the islands in Cork City’s harbour, It used to be called Queenstown, named after Queen Victoria and was the embarkation point for thousands of Irish who emiigrated during the Great Famine of the 1840s. There’s also a Titanic connection as it was the last port of call before the liner headed off across the North Atlantic, ultimately meeting its icy cold fate.

There’s a Heritage Center, a nearby wildlife preserve on Fota Island, a lovely cathedral and lots of lovely shops, pubs and monuments scattered around the picturesque and sometimes *very* steep streets that are lined with brightly painted buildings and houses.

I visited here in the spring of 2002 because my friends Rose and Mal live here with their son Jack. I flew from Manchester to Dublin on Aer Lingus and took a shuttle bus to Heuston train station. It was an enjoyable trip because it afforded me my first look-see of Dublin. The bus came through the north side of the city and along the River Liffey. Interesting to see the different styles of buildings. They don’t usually have a lot of flourishes, architecturally. Some brick, some stone, many plaster covered with bright paint. Not much neon. Instead, shop fronts are painted very brightly with floodlights over the signs.

The train journey was uneventful, and on time as it wound it’s way south through farmland, much of which I couldn’t see anyway because of the banks and hedges beside the tracks. Muffling the sound and keeping the cows and sheep from wandering onto the tracks I shouldn’t wonder.

View of Cobh and the cathedral

View of Cobh and the cathedral

Rose met me at the cafe at the station then they took me to a recently refurbished restaurant/ pub on the Island outside of Cobh. No worries in Ireland bringing children into pubs. They seem to be quite welcome, at least in the daytime. Didn’t see any in the evenings. It’s not that common in the UK, though pubs will have family rooms for dining. Licensing laws have relaxed there and you can bring children into a pub but it’s not that common.  The food was good in the Elm Tree as was the beer.

Later I got checked into the Atlantic Inn, a B&B right on Cobh’s lovely waterfront but is closed now. My room overlooked the harbour. From the third floor (that’s fourth to North Americans). No lift. Needless to say I made sure I had everything with me when I went down to breakfast in the mornings so I didn’t need to climb up more than necessary !  The Hotel was very nice with breakfast included. I got settled in, and then Rose came back for me later and we went to hers for our dinner, drinks and a chat. At the time, they lived in an old cottage just outside of town but have since bought a bigger house in the town itself. The cottage really is nice, with stone walls inside.

Back to the hotel for a night’s kip. I did find the room cold when I checked in but I mentioned something to them before I went out and it was marginally warmer when I came back. It’s started off nice and sunny the next morning, the view over Cork harbour where the Island is situated was panoramic in the crisp morning sun. One good thing about being on the top floor, the view is great!

Rose was running a bit late so I took the opportunity to walk along the waterfront taking photos. A group of kids of various ages  were getting two small sailboats sails ready to launch in very businesslike fashion. I later saw the red sails glinting out on the harbour most of the morning. There’s a military base across the harbour and I saw a couple of ships sail out. I didn’t realize Ireland had a navy.

Cobh coloured houses

Cobh coloured houses

The houses and buildings here are squared, plastered and with very little adornment. They are painted brightly with what is probably a concerted effort that no two houses side by side are the same colour. The window casements are painted a contrasting colour and gleamed in the morning sun. There are LOTS of pubs, over 40, Rose says, mostly in the downtown area. There are lots of shipping liner references. In addition to the Titanic connection, the Lusitania victims are buried in an old cemetery on the outskirts of the village. The Lusitania was sunk off Ireland’s shore in 1915, three years after the Titanic went down near Newfoundland. There is a restaurant that was renovated with a Titanic theme with the bar was remodeled on one of the bars in the Titanic.

Rose picked me up and we headed for the cathedral, which is just a few blocks up from the waterfront and dominates the skyline of the town. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Colman and was built between 1868 and 1925. The floor is parquet but up the aisles is a tile mosaic made to look like a Celtic knot runner carpet. Really nice! A couple of places, entrance ways through to side chapels, have swastikas worked into and around the knotwork but back when the cathedral was built the swastika was considered a good luck symbol! The view from the Cathedral yard over the town and harbour was fabulous!

We decided to go for lunch at the golf club on Fota Island, a 780 acre island that used to be an estate owned by the Smith-Barry family. The island now contains a golf course, a wildlife park and gardens and the old estate house. Later, Rose had an appointment so left me at the gates of the wildlife park.

Fota Island onyxes and giraffes

Fota Island onyxes and giraffes

I spend an enjoyable hour or so walking the paths along side the enclosures and watching the animals. Most of the enclosures are open with just a fence around the perimeters. The cheetahs had a higher fence and the eagle was caged in but the rest could roam around. My favourites were the giraffes! I could have watched them all day. They seem to move around in slow motion, only awkward when they attempt to get up off the ground or reach down to the grass.

I walked through the arboretum and past the rose gardens to the estate house (a separate entrance fee) whose main feature is some wonderful plaster work on the ceilings which are restored to the Regency period. The house was an 18th c. hunting lodge and later enlarged in the early 19th c. by Richard and William Morrison, a father and son team of architects. There isn’t much furniture in the house but there are interactive displays on things like the house’s history and hidden nooks and crannies. The kitchens had lots of copper pots and a big contraption that is used to hang the proceeds of the day’s hunting, birds mainly.

Rose met me and on the way back across the bridge to the island that Cobh is on, we stopped for a photo op of Belvelly castle that’s just sitting there on the side of the road!  Ireland has hundreds of these tall square castle towers dotting the countryside, some intact, some mere shells and some in a state somewhere in between. Belvelly is unsafe to go into now.  Rose thinks it might be Norman and it does have narrow cross openings like those used to fire arrows through. Nearby is an old Martello Tower as well.

We then went back downtown to the Titanic bar for a drink and I tried my first real Irish Guinness and surprisingly I really liked it! I had tried it once years ago in England and wasn’t fussy on it at all. The bar has lots of pictures from the Titanic and from it’s construction and some lovely antiques and memorabilia around the walls and behind the bar.

Back to Rose’s, for a lovely lasagna and garlic bread. Got back to the hotel around 11 and all that fresh air today is making me sleepy!

Museum at Cobh

Museum at Cobh

My last day in Cobh started with a clear blue sky though a little cool. After breakfast I walked down to the Queenstown museum. There’s a statue outside the exhibit building of a woman named Anne Moore with her two brothers. In 1892, on January 1, she was the first immigrant processed through the brand new facility on Ellis Island, New York. Inside, I bought a pin at one of the giftshops.  The design is a not quite closed circle with a staff or something (not a sword) crossing it. It’s called a Tara design and symbolizes the ancient high kings of Ireland who’s seat of power was a place called Tara.

I had time to wander through the exhibits this morning. They are set up in three eras. The first focuses on the convict transports and the second, the era of and explores the conditions on board.  In the middle of the 19th c. the potato famine drove emigration into the millions. Between emigration and death, Ireland’s population halved during the course of just a few decades.

The beginning of the 20th c. led into the steam liner era for both emigration and transatlantic transport for business, holiday etc. Many liners called at Queenstown as their last port before the crossing. There were  artifacts, passenger and supply lists, posters, photographs and video exhibits. There were reconstructions of state rooms and lots of information printed on display boards.

barryscourtcastleI came back to the hotel to have a cup of tea in my room and having a rest. I am feeling a little off today, but a rest and a restoring cuppa made a difference so I was brighter by the time Rose arrived. We picked up her mother and got on the road into rural County Cork to Barryscourt Castle, another of the square tower castles. Unlucky day for us though, it was closed Thursdays!  Guess what today is? Yep. Too bad because it looked like there was a lovely little tea room on the grounds. I think the interior of this castle is open to the public normally.

Back out into the countryside, blue skies and rolling  hills to the Stephen Pearce pottery showroom near the factory in Shanagarry. Pearce’s signature design is unglazed brown with a white glaze trim. I very nearly bought a small bowl and napkins but Rose says the shop at Blarney is huge and had really good prices on everything. I’m taking a bus tour next week and that’s going to be one of the stops.

After a search for a loo, we drove into a town called Middleton, a busy little spot, for a late lunch. We went to a small Italian restaurant called Leonardo’s, a long narrow eatery with two long rows of tables. I had something fairly heavy so I didn’t have to have anything for my supper.

I found out some of the meanings behind the more common place names in Ireland, many of which have common prefixes or suffixes. There’s “carraig” meaning “rock”, “Bally” meaning “town” and “Kil” meaning “church”. “Lough” is “lake”, similar to “loch” in Scotland and pronounced much the same.

Tonight Rose, Mal and I went to a performance in the Sirius  Arts Center on the waterfront. The artist performing is a singer/songwriter called Mick Hanley. The building used to be the Royal Cork Yacht Club which was also the first and oldest yacht club in the world. Mick Hanley is a country/folk singer with a fantastic voice. He played a very entertaining acoustic set, just he and his guitar and his songs all had stories.  We three met a couple of Rose and Mal’s friends across the road in the Pillars bar which was built inside a building that may possibly have been a church at one time but which has large pillars out front.

Back to the hotel to make sure everything is packed up and it’s off to Dublin tomorrow morning where Rose, Mal and I are joining seven other friends for a weekend in Dublin. Then I’m going on a bus tour around the Republic of Ireland with one of those friends.

Cobh is a pleasant town. It’s well worth a side trip from nearby Cork where cruise ships often dock, as well. I haven’t actually spent any time in Cork other than seeing the train station and by all accounts, it’s an interesting city so that will have to wait for another time.