Ireland – Twice

Two trips to Ireland has only whetted  my desire to see more of that enchanting island, with its ever present rocks, left over from glaciers 15,000 years ago, piled across the country side in stone fences and stone houses. Amazingly emerald green grass grows everywhere. Energetic people in cities, hurry to get “somewhere.” Small country towns build to conserve space along main streets. Two story apartments are built together with no space in between, often with small stores on the street level. Front doors painted bright colors open to the street with no sidewalks in some towns. Fuel for fires for country folks is derived from bogs where fossil fuel, (peat moss) grows in wet terrain and is cut into bricks, dried, and finally burned in stoves or fireplaces for heat and cooking.

Our first exploration of Ireland was sponsored by Central Washington University, (CWU), my wife’s alma mater. The chair of the English department, Virginia, and her husband, “Moose,” guided us all the way. Both Virginia and Moose had taught classes at Trinity College in Dublin, and had explored Ireland during that period. Thus we had experienced guides of the famous college, especially of “The Book of Kells,” one of the great treasures of medieval Europe, an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing four Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), a “must see” in Dublin, widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. (Wikipedia)

One “infamous attraction” visited was not so pleasant. It was the Kilmainham Gaol, (jail) a former prison in Kilmainham, Dublin, Ireland. It is now a museum run by the Office of Public Works, an agency of the Government of Ireland. Many Irish revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, were imprisoned and executed in the prison by the orders of the UK Government. (Wikipedia)

Dublin is famous for “pub crawls,” the name for visiting several pubs, to drink the local beer, Guiness’ and listen to music. We had assembled in “Temple Bar.” a community near Trinity College, where numerous pubs were located. There we met and were entertained by two Irish musicians who also acted as guides to the next group of pubs across the River Liffey by way of the “Ha’Penny,” pedestrian-only bridge, built in 1860. 

The name was derived when the fare across the bridge was half a penny. It is often festooned with decorations and lights during celebrations. The pubs on the other side provided the same brand of beer as Temple Bar pubs. My wife, JoAnn, sister, Peggy and I were slower walkers than our group, so we were the last ones in the last pub. Not watching where I was going, I stumbled over the dark door sill of the last pub but fortunately was able to recover my balance. It proved to be entertaining for the group. JoAnn found two stools next to our musicians so we could hear better. One played an Irish bagpipe (air pumped into a bag), and pumped out into  an Irish flute. The other musician/singer played a guitar. Together they sang a number of rolicking Irish songs, only a few that we had heard before. The black Guinness beer was not my favorite so I substituted with another. The walk back to our hotel seemed a long way away! My sister, Peggy, then 85, with macular degeneration and legally blind, was able to keep up. Later she found her way through several castles by herself, with some peripheral vision.

On our third day, out of eleven scheduled, we packed our travel gear in our big bus. It had a built in toilet, always a comfort to us at our age. Our driver was a delight, a large, handsome man with a shock of gray hair and a continuous chatter about some of the history and terrain as we were going through it. Wending our way through Dublin, we discovered we were finally on a four lane freeway, heading west, across the center of Ireland. I had chosen the front seat on the left side of the bus in order to hear our driver, in his seat on the right front. In an hour, or so, we exited the freeway, along a winding, narrow, black topped country road. This is where I wondered why I chose the front seat. However, my view in the front seat on the left side caused me concern for each approaching car. In my mind they were going the wrong way! Our driver was not only skillful in staying on these narrow blacktop roads in the countryside, but in being able to squeeze our large bus over far enough to the left to allow other vehicles to pass going the opposite direction! He always waved to the oncoming driver. Several villages had no more than two or three narrow streets and only three blocks in length with two and three story stone buildings built right up to the street. Perhaps these had been built before the automobile became common. Often the streets were paved with cobblestones.

Our driver was very knowledgeable about the archeology and history of the numerous places we were going and where he chose to stop. Of course he always had a story at the tip of his tongue. One stop was to see a set of large, flat rocks, laid across vertical rocks standing up almost in the form of a cave or room, all above ground. We surmised it was a possible place for worship. Since it was on a narrow lane, our driver had great difficulty turning the bus around. He had to nose the bus into a  farmer’s short driveway and then back around.  He steered us through several small country towns with narrow streets and, to our delight, brought us to Clonmacnoise, a small historical community, with an outdoor cafe. Food was on our minds by this time. 

Clonmacnoise is an ancient monastic site near Shannonbridge, by the Shannon River. and a top visitor attraction in Ireland. A walk amongst the peaceful stone ruins of this famous place will conjure images of the saints and scholars of Ireland’s renowned golden age of learning.

Founded in the mid-6th century, it became a great center of religion and learning, visited by scholars from all over the world. Many historical manuscripts were written here. Visitors can see three high crosses, a cathedral, seven churches, and two round towers. One of the local guides told me that Vikings had rowed up the Shannon River numerous times to raid the rich community. The towers had been used not only as lookouts but as a refuge from these frequent Viking raids rowing up the Shannon. Apparently guards were placed in the high towers to warn the community that Viking raiders were coming!

The beautifully preserved structures of Clonmacnoise Cathedral, Temple Doolin, Temple Hurpan and Temple Melaghlin will impress and leave those who visit Clonmacnoise with an authentic sense of the history of Ireland.The Clonmacnoise graveyard surrounding the site continues to be in use, while religious services are held regularly on the site in a modern chapel. 

We were surprised often at the small distances between villages and ruined castles. Several places we drove off the regular highway to see huge granite stones piled in a circle with a gateway under which we had to almost crawl to get through. Apparently these were of some old religious significance, alters to the Gods or spirits.

With a satisfying lunch, visiting the park-like area and a rest, we were ready to move on to the main west to east highway toward Galway. As we approached Galway I pointed out to JoAnn the famous Galway Bay which ends a song about Ireland with the words, “and watch the sun go down on Galway Bay.” Perhaps the song writer felt nostalgic about his or her homeland scenes.

We unloaded our gear and registered in an elegant, old hotel in Galway, the Meyrick, with crystal chandeliers, many paintings, a huge fireplace, and plenty of soft leather couches and lounge chairs. Its main entrance faced a large park or public “green.” Our room faced this park and after I had fallen asleep in bed, I was awakened by loud shouting. Going to the window and opening it, I could see hundreds of young college aged students milling about, some pushing each other and drinking what I assumed was various forms of alcohol. I found the next day that their college soccer team had lost to one of their rivals and they were unhappy. The next day, Joey and I walked across the green and found ourselves looking down a very interesting street full of little shops and no cars. Then I noticed a small jewelry store featuring amber jewelry. I walked in and began talking with the pretty young Irish woman proprietor and listening to her expected Irish accent. Looking around I was drawn to a beautiful amber necklace. Knowing that Joey had admired amber before, I bought it and she was ecstatic! It was worth it. Since Joey passed away in 2014, I gave it to my daughter, Chris, for her birthday/Christmas present that year. It brought tears to her eyes. Her birthday is Christmas Day.

On my second jaunt to Ireland, my sister, Jannet and I spent an afternoon walking along Galway’s dedicated “pedestrian only” shopping district. The little jewelry store was still there at the head of the street, near the same village green where college students had earlier expressed their disappointment of losing a soccer game.

Loading our bus on our departure day, we were told we would drive north to Sligo, a place where W.B. Yeats had written much of his poetry. Virginia, our English-professor-leader had developed a love for William Butler Yeats, the famous Irish poet, so our group discussions often revolved around  him. He was a driving force behind the Irish literary revival in the early part of the 20th century. He died in 1939 in France but his body was later transferred to his favorite town, Sligo, and the churchyard where his great grandfather had been the minister. Visiting his grave site in Sligo and seeing his head stone was a surprise. On it were inscribed were the words, Cast a cold Eye On Life, on Death. Horseman pass by. Yeats had lived for a number of years in Lissadell, a castle-like home of two of his women friends where he wrote many of his poems.  One, called “Isle of Innisfree” has been quoted in many places. It is a very small wooded island that sits in the middle of lake Gill, near Sligo. When I saw the island, I could see that he had a great imagination. (My story goes on from here and will appear in my next blog post).

Dear reader:  

Since I am confined to my apartment during this period of writing, (Covid-19. social separation) I thought “what a wonderful opportunity to use the extra time for writing. I can sit at my computer and write on a “Blog Book” for as much time as I can keep going, drawing from a well traveled life and two books already written.” The partial (or incomplete) story above is one of those adventures that I relived through writing. I can think of so many things to be grateful for: feeling secure; know I can live here for the rest of my life; have adequate food delivered to me; have groceries delivered; clothes being washed and folded; take good care of myself; get  exercise on daily walks around the building; have friends to say “hello” to on those walks; and best of all, have a special love-friend I was fortunate to meet here at Fairwinds, Brighton Court, a rarity for someone turning 94 in two months;  have a  cell and desk phone to stay close to my grown children. Oh!, don’t forget the television! I turn it on less and less to block out depressing news, yet keeping up with what’s going on! As you can see I am very happy here at Fairwinds in my own apartment. There are plenty of things to do, think or read about.

To the 2016 Ireland travel group, “Hello!” This earlier rendition of Ireland is not yet completed. My intention is to complete it and then move to our jaunt together with Damian and our small bus to that wonderful circle of Ireland and the “Vagabonds!” That’s us! Of course I have many pictures contributed by you. Note that I had my camera accidentally (and unknown to me) set for a blue background, which I did not learn until I returned home. If you are looking at the pictures, pretend the color is sunshine or rainbows.

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