Begorrathon – March, the month for the Irish

Greene's, Dublin's oldest bookstore

Greene’s, Dublin’s oldest bookstore

I saw something called Begorrathon, via Tranquil Dreams’ blog. They’re running a theme month for March, the month of St. Patrick’s Day for any bloggers to join in posting anything and all to do with Ireland. It can be books, movies, recipes, travels (yay!), and any aspect of Irish culture, really. There’s a Facebook page, as well. The rules are to post the badge in your blog sidebar, which I’ve done, and then any time you post something related to the topic, let them know. (You can see the posting rules on the blog link above, should you want to join in or just follow and read.)

So yes. I think I shall. I’ve already done a “Traveling through the movies” on Ireland (Leap Year) so I’ll send them that link come March.  I have been to Ireland twice, once on a weekend in Cobh and Dublin and one other time on a bus tour. I think i’ll dig out my old travelogue and post it in parts, uploading it throughout the month. I’ve also written a few other random posts on Ireland so they’ll work in with the theme as well.

Ireland is a beautiful country and I would certainly love to return there. My future husband has only been once, just for a wedding and couple of days in Cobh but he has some good friends living on the Ring of Kerry. We’d love to go to Ireland and do a road trip around the countryside some day.

Begorrathon starts March 1 and I’ll be posting through the month. The Irish literature focus is on 746 Books, and the film, tv and other miscellania will be on Raging Fluff.

Dublin’s Fair City

Ha’penny Bridge, Dublin

My nephew is currently touring around Ireland so in honour of that, a few stories from my visit to Dublin (in 2002!).

I arrived in Ireland, initially spending a few days in the town of Cobh, near Cork, to visit a friend. I stayed in a B&B on the waterfront overlooking Cork Harbour with a great morning view of the sun rising over the water. We took in the cathedral that had swastikas in the floor tiling (because originally, the swastika was a symbol of good luck, before Hitler adopted it and it became a symbol of hate). We also visited the Queenstown Experience which is a museum telling the story of Queenstown (which became Cobh, pronounced “Cove”). It told tales of the Irish famine and emmigration to the New World, and had lots of photos and artifacts from the Titanic which stopped off here as it’s last land point before heading to its fate.

There’s also a little island between Cobh and Cork called Fota Island which has a little wildlife park/zoo and a restored grand house (as well as a golf course and nice restaurant in the clubhouse!) We had a nice walk around there, too, looking at the animals and birds.

On to Dublin to a weekend of exploring and partying. I met up with 10 of my internet mates from various places in the UK and Ireland and we hung out in the hotel bar at night and checked out the city in the daytime. My friend from Canada had met up with us there as we were later to take a short bus tour around the Republic of Ireland.

Dublin’s own Grand Canal

Dublin is a nice city, very historic and old and the city centre is compact and flat. Great for walking and getting around! We found a gourmet food market in a courtyard, somewhat hidden away from the bustle of Temple Bar, had a look in Christchurch Cathedral (no swastikas here!) and we found another funky market not too far from the hotel near Dublin Castle, too. We browsed the lovely shops on pedestrianized Grafton Street, walked along the riverfront, strolled through St. Stephen’s Green and sampled a bit of the night life. Our hotel had a late night residents’ bar that would stay open as long as we wanted to drink and after the pubs and clubs closed, musicians dropped in for an impromptu performance. What was even better, one of our group used to sing and joined in with one of them as she’d known him from her earlier days. I discovered that Guinness, freshly poured from a beer pump in the city where it is brewed is indeed a beautiful thing!

On one other night, after a late meal, a few of us decided to take a ride in one of the horse and buggies that cluster around the Green for tourists. The city was quiet, the clopping of the horse’s hooves echoed off the old stone buildings in the chilly early spring night and the driver kept us entertained and informed. He even dropped us off at the front of our hotel which wasn’t far from St. Stephen’s Green where we’d started from. It was kind of magical, really, and definitely unforgettable.

On Sunday Irishringsmorning, a few of us discovered a flea market/estate sale just around the corner. We spent an hour or two digging through the treasures on the tables. I found a silver ring with a setting that looks like leaves holding a turquoise, black and red “stone” made of a hard clay substance called Fimo (or feemo?). I get remarks on it to this day because it is so different looking as you can see here.

We had a last lunch together before everyone scattered to go their various homes in various directions and my friend and I were about to embark on a bus tour around Ireland with a couple of days back in Dublin when that was done. The tour was really good, too, and we saw a lot of lovely countryside, did a lot of shopping and met some really nice people, as well.

Oscar Wilde and “Mother”. Merrion Square, Dublin

Back in Dublin, after the tour, we were staying in a different neighbourhood, not far from a canal. It was a pretty spot and still close to the city centre so it wasn’t far to go. We saw a lot of the posh Georgian houses and squares here, houses with some of the famed fancy doors. We browsed in the oldest bookstore in Dublin, Greene’s, which is over 200 years old. It is across from the house where Oscar Wilde used to live, now an American College, which is also near Merrion Square where, in the park in the square, a well known statue of Wilde languishes on a rock behind a statue of a pregnant woman, purported to be his mother. Merrion Square was laid out in 1762 and has some lovely red brick townhouses with those lovely Dublin doors.

In Greene’s, we also found some plastic laminated bookmarks that were decorated with individual Celtic alphabet letters as inspired by the Book of Kells, found in Trinity College. I had bought one at the bookshop in Trinity College after we’d seen the Book of Kells and my friend wanted a few for souvenirs but 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, anyway, I commented wryly, you could get the M and tell her to use it upside down! *snicker* I crack myself up sometimes!

I’d mentioned we’d seen the Book of Kells. The bus tour ended with a tour around Dublin and a stop at Trinity College. The college was founded in the late 16th century by Elizabeth I as a Protestant centre of learning. Catholics were allowed to attend, technically, but the Catholic Church in Ireland forbade Catholics from attending university there until 1970 unless they had the Bishop’s permission. The Book of Kells is an old gospel illuminated by monks dating from about 800 AD. It really is a beautiful book and the illuminations are so detailed and bright even after all these centuries. Here’s a link to my post which has a link to an online viewable version of it.

We also took the light rail out to the end of Dublin’s bay where the town of Howth is. Howth is a pretty “seaside” town with the remains of an old abbey high on a hill overlooking the bay. There is an island in the bay called Ireland’s Eye. Howth used to be a fishing village but is now a residential suburb of Dublin though there are lots of remoter hills for hiking surrounding the town.

Ireland’s Eye, looking over Dublin Bay from Howth Abbey ruins

I’m sure there have been changes in Dublin since we were there 12 years ago but the city centre probably remains much the same. We didn’t get the chance to go into any of the museums or do any proper shopping, preferring to walk around the old city and soak up the atmosphere and there is plenty of that in Dublin!

The Book of Kells for free

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

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

A few days ago I posted an entry to a photo challenge about Illumination. I posted a photo of a medieval copy of the Canterbury Tales, which was illuminated. There was a bit of discussion about the Book of Kells, the famous illuminated gospel at Trinity College, Dublin. Lo and behold, today I see a link to the college’s blog and they now have the whole book of Kells online, digitally scanned using the latest technology.

You can see it through this link. Each page is zoomable so you can see the exquisite detail. If you never get the chance to go to Dublin to see the real thing, this is the next best thing. Heck, even if you have seen it, this is pretty awesome since when you see the book, it’s opened to one spread of pages and you don’t get to see the rest of it unless you come on a different day and hope they’ve changed the view. Most excellent!

What I particularly like is that you see the thumbnails down the left so you can scroll to the pages that have more design on them and then zoom in to see the beautiful detail work. Next best thing to being there!

Travel Journey of the Week: Ireland


View at Glendalough, County Wicklow

View at Glendalough, County Wicklow

Liberated Travel’s weekly travel journey this week is Ireland.

I have been to Ireland a couple of times though once only for a weekend to attend a wedding in Cobh in 2004 which is just outside of Cork. The first time I traveled to Cobh in 2002 was to visit some friends I met online. Cobh is a small town on an island in Cork harbour and was the last departure point for the Titanic as she headed across the Atlantic and was also the departure point for thousands of Irish heading to North America during the Famine in the 19th century. It’s a nice town, with museums and a nice cathedral high on one of the many hills of the town.

On that occasion, we traveled up to Dublin to meet up with more internet friends for a weekend get together. We explored the city a bit and had evenings of food, beer and music. I liked Dublin, it’s a flat city and fairly compact for all the things you’d want to see and do. There are nice parks including St. Stephen’s Green and a large Botanic Garden.

Georgian Dublin doors

Georgian Dublin doors

A friend and I joined a bus tour that took us around the highlights of the Republic of Ireland. A bus tour might not be everyone’s idea of “travel” but it does give you an overview of a location and you can decide where you’d like to return to if you get the chance. Ireland really is many shades of green and the countryside is beautiful. The coastal drives are as dramatic as anywhere else and the narrow country roads really do get crowded with occasional flocks of sheep! We drove the Ring of Kerry, took a Jaunting car ride through the park in Killarney, saw the remains of a monastery in Glendalough, watched crystal being made in Waterford, visited a marble factory in Connemara, smelled the peat fires in a farm cottage near Galway, stood awestruck at the Cliffs of Moher, were blown away at the detail in the Book of Kells, and enjoyed many a pint in many a pub!

The Irish are a colourful people, right down to all the bright colours they paint their houses and buildings and business signs. There isn’t a lot of neon to be seen  here! They really are as friendly as advertised and always ready and willing for a conversation on pretty much any topic. They love their families and they love to laugh. We have another trip to Ireland somewhere in our future, this time, just hiring a car and driving around. My partner has friends on the west coast of the country while a visit with our friends in Cobh will also be another destination.  We just aren’t sure yet when, but it’s on the list and some time over the next little while I will blog my Irish tour memories.

Word a Week Challenge – Castle

Oooh, this week’s Word a Week Challenge is Castle!  Castles are one of my favourite things to visit, whether still intact or whether there are just ruins left to ramble through.  Many castles started off as pure fortifications but turned into more of a palace, a residence as the need for defence died down. Since palaces are not the traditional “castle”, for this post, I’ll just show photos of the more “industrial” versions with one or two exceptions.

Most of my castle experiences have been in the U.K. where castles are littered all over the countries that make up the United Kingdom. Welsh castles built by Edward I are huge and looming and forbidding. Often these and other castles were attached to walls that would surround a town/city to keep it safe from invasion. These castles were built to intimidate and you can see that they certainly would be.

Inside Beaumaris Castle, Isle of Anglesey, Wales

Conwy Castle, North Wales

There are still a few examples of even older castles. This one, Restormel in Cornwall, dates to the Norman period though became disused and fell into ruins after the English Civil War in the 17th century.

Restormel Castle, Lostwithiel, Cornwall

Edinburgh Castle is perched on top of volcanic cliffs. The old city ran from it’s gates down to the Royal palace of Holyrood. The newer part of the city lies across a loch which was drained and is now the park you see in this photo.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Irish Castles seem to mainly be boxy looking, one large squared tower.  Blarney Castle is fairly typical.

Blarney Castle, Ireland

Leeds Castle was defensive but remained a residential home through the centuries, into the 20th century. It’s surrounded by a moat which was a fairly common means of defense for castles.

Leeds Castle, Kent

Outside of the U.K., there are also many castles. The Rhine is a popular river for castle spotting from a riverboat. This castle, in the middle of the city of Rome, was the Pope’s stronghold for both security for himself and as a prison.

Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome

Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome

The Tower of London is arguably one of the most famous castles in the world. It started as a Normal fortification built by William the Conqueror after the 1066 invasion. It’s grown quite a lot since the erection of the square middle “White” Tower. It’s been a royal palace, a zoo and a prison.

The Tower of London, contrasting with the new London City Hall across the Thames

This one, in Copenhagen, was more of a palace though is still called a castle.

Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen, Denmark

Travelling through the movies – Ireland (Leap Year)

leap_year_poster2Today’s blog is another in an occasional series of moves that feature places that make you want to travel.  The movie is called Leap Year and the location featured is the Republic of Ireland. A blog review of the movie over here on Tranquil Dreams reminded me of the movie and how it would suit one of these Locations blog posts.

Anna Brady (Amy Adams) is a stager, she sets up empty houses or condos for the realtors to show to their potential buyers. She makes it look inviting and she’s very exact. She and her doctor boyfriend are hoping to be accepted to an exclusive condo. They’ve been together some time and have a very professional and yuppie life together.

Her fiance must go to Dublin for a conference and before he goes, he takes her for a “very special dinner”. She hears he has been to a jewellery store and combined with the potential meal, she thinks he’s going to propose. When he doesn’t, she’s crushed. He jets off to Dublin and she realizes that it’s coming up to February 29, a traditional day that women can propose to men, just like her grandparents did.
So she follows him to Ireland except things do not go as planned. Everything goes wrong and it turns her perfectly ordered life upside down. She meets a handsome, rascally Irishman who owns a failing pub who drives her to Dublin in an old Renault 4 because he needs the money and en route they get to know each other for better or worse, usually worse. How does it end? Does she get the man she thinks she loves or does she end up with the rowdyman? Take a guess! But it doesn’t quite go how you might expect.
The film didn’t get good reviews overall but I really liked it. I like Amy Adams, I really do. She’s very versatile and in romantic comedies, she really brings a sparkle to the screen. Matthew Goode who plays Declan is gorgeous and if his put-on accent is all over the place, who cares! One particularly big clunker has her landing in Wales due to bad turbulence and taking a boat around to the west coast of Ireland to Dingle in a few hours. That wouldn’t happen in real life and would take a much longer time. Why not just have them cross the Irish Sea and land on the East Coast of Ireland (where, incidentally, the scene of her on the beach was shot)? Because then the cross country journey she has to make to Dublin would take about 30 minutes! ;) Never mind.

Don’t go to Dingle or the Dingle Peninsula or Tipperary expecting to see familiar scenes or villages from the movie. It wasn’t shot in those areas but the movie was indeed filmed in the Republic of Ireland.  There’s a scene where they climb up to the ruins of an abbey and that’s somewhat CGI enhanced but again, it doesn’t really matter. There are ruined abbeys on hills in more than a few places around the country. The scenery is authentic even if it’s not the parts of Ireland that the story takes place in. The narrow roads lined by rock walls and blocked by sheep (yes, they do have highways but where would the fun in that be?). Sweeping low mountains. Friendly inhabitants.

It’s definitely a film you have to take with a grain of salt as far as locations and events go but let that slide and have fun with it. Enjoy the scenery and plan a driving tour around Ireland!
Here’s a bit more detail about the filming locations:

Leap Year: Where was if filmed?

Ten Myths about the filming locations in Leap Year

IMDB’s location page for the film.

Fab Photos – Irish traditions

A Galway Hooker

This, my friends, is a Galway Hooker. It’s a traditional fishing boat that you would have found in Galway Bay on the west of the Republic of Ireland. It has reddish sails and is black because it’s coated in pitch. These little boats are still being lovingly made or restored.  Here in Nova Scotia, Halifax sees a Tall Ships festival every few years and while many of the ships are converted from steel hulled boats, some are antique and restored and somehow have far more elegance than the big monsters that everyone gawps at. There’s a little town on the south shore of Nova Scotia called Mahone Bay and they have a wooden boat festival every year as well.

Killarney Jaunting Cart

Killarney in the south of Ireland is often the start or end point for the Ring of Kerry, a picturesque drive around the Kerry peninsula off the southwest coast of the island. Killarney is most definitely a tourist town, some might even say a tourist trap. It certainly wasn’t overly impressive to me. They also have a traditional form of transportation, however. It’s called a Jaunting car and it’s a kind of buggy or carraige  with little seats along the sides, enough for about 6 people.  Originally the seats were back to back with the passengers facing outwards, with little footrests over the wheels but this style in the photo here is much more conducive to tourists having a conversation. It’s pulled by a horse with a driver well versed in local lore for the tourists.  They do tours through the lovely natural Killarney National Park on the edge of the city.

A Waterford Crystal master craftsman

Another city in Ireland steeped in tradition is Waterford, home of Waterford Crystal. The crystal is still hand blown and etched by hand by masters who have to memorize hundreds of patterns.  It was founded in 1783 by brothers George and William Penrose.

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.  Most of the blowers and cutters seem to be men when I toured the factory 10 years ago, 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.

Ireland is full of traditions and appreciation for those traditions is enjoying a resurgence. Not long ago, the Irish language, a form of Gaelic, was dying out. Now children learn it in school and the country is proudly and officially biligual. All the public signage is in both languages.

There’s one tradition that the Irish wish would just go away, however. That little sprite, the Leprechaun! The word “Leprechaun” means “little people”. 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 today were invented for the English tourists and it just got out of hand. Now they are out of fashion and considered tacky.  Ireland to me is not the cartoon pot of gold and frisky, naughty little men in green coats. It’s a place of history, and a people who are easy going, traditional, open and friendly.

And the beer ain’t bad either!