Wednesday, May 30, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part Eight ~ Feeling Sheepish

      'Tis a Ruinous Place, this Ireland...   so many monuments to time immemorial fill the eye and cajole the spirit into chimerical imaginings.  And then there is suddenly another and another and yet, my flights of fancy are stirred rather than overwhelmed.   We race past the most precarious formations and then as we round a corner, we are confronted with the ancient and modern entwined in their untold stories of life and beyond.
New Headstones Among the Old
       Everyday life to most who live in both rural and urban Ireland, the primeval, the medieval, and all time intervals that follow are a natural seamless combination providing a set design worthy of any Oscar, Tony, or BAFTA.  From the simply astonishing to the local version of ordinary, the photographic delights and challenges were limitless.  
Skylights then and now
        As we whisked out of Galway and past the pastures and paddocks, we soon arrived at our next stop, Rathbaun Farm.  A working organic sheep farm, Rathbaun with its 150 year-old thatched cottage is also a lovely place for afternoon tea.  We were treated to a working sheepdog - just learning his trade - and several of our group including Younger Aunt and Favorite Oldest Daughter - had a chance to feed a lamb.  

Rathbaun Farm

             We also had an unusual chance to see a working Thatcher as the cottage roof was being restored.  The designs in the thatching are unique to each thatcher, a signature in a now rare skill.
I should have asked if her name was Margaret

       The tea and scones capped off the visit and a photo taken by our hostess made the moment even more special. 

       "Back on the Bus", we moved on to our final stop for the day and mercifully it was the same place from which we launched in the morning.  The only part of our tour that allowed us two nights in the same place, Ennis.  We had some time before dinner so Daughters, Younger Aunt, and I went to a local super store that had a little of everything - groceries, home goods, and lots of miscellaneous.  I found a notebook to act as a journal and various other purchases were made.  It was a lovely late afternoon so there were more photo opps.  After dinner, a sip of the local brew finished out the day.  Early call for breakfast was hours away and a good night's sleep was next on the agenda.

Scenes of Ennis:
Trump L'oeil Painting on an outside wall - no, really, it's flat!

A sculpture promoting peace
Carved Bench

        Tomorrow, the Ring of Kerry...

       I was surprised to learn from the farmer at Rathbaun, that most Irish wool is exported for finishing and rarely used for clothing.  The lovely sweaters we all bought are made in Ireland from merino wool imported from Australia!   

Friday, May 25, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part Seven ~ Across the Bay

If you ever go across the sea to Ireland,
Then maybe, at the closing of your day,
You can sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh
And see the sun go down on Galway Bay.
lyrics by Dr Arthur Colahan in 1947 - popularized by Bing Crosby
and can be heard on YouTube

The Galway Harbor of Galway Bay
Sunset on Galway Bay was not on our agenda.  We arrived in lovely sunshine for a leisurely lunch and a wander around the town on our own.  The tide was out so the harbor scene was perhaps not at its best, but still it was one of the special places in songs from my childhood.  Favorite Oldest and Favorite Youngest Daughters went off to explore on their own.  The aunts and I peeked in a few shop windows and then found a lovely tea shop for lunch - our usual brown bread, delicious soup, and pots of tea in a bright little room. 

View from the Tea Room
Several tables of friends or family were enjoying the day and lots of Irish Gaelic was overheard.  We had a sweet view of the town from the window by our table which inspired us to finish quickly and get back out there.  Shops and historical sites were plentiful in a town whose University was founded in 1325. 
The Fab Five on Tour
       The influence of the port and trading reached its peak in the 17th century.  Part of its multicultural heritage is seen in the Spanish Arches, remnants of the old town wall under the Claddagh Bridge.  The existing Arches are two of four dating from 1584 and were part of the port's fortifications.   

Burial Plaque of the Lamented Tenifons
     We covered a lot of ground but one of my favorite moments was in the Church of St. Nicholas, Church of Ireland, which also dates from the nearly unfathomable time of 1325.  As is often the case in historical churches, there were numerous plaques and tablets identifying the prominent and wealthy patrons of the past.  I was particularly taken with one plaque indicating the close-by remains of a beloved wife.  I read the words of the obviously grieving husband with considerable empathy and was not at all prepared for the twist of the final thought...

"Near this place lies the body of M. Elizabeth Tenifon, Wife of Major William Tenifon Who departed this life June 23, 1741.  She was a woman of  an Exceeding good Character in all respects of life, and died much lamented by all her Acquaintance.  Likewise his Second Wife Ann Tenifon who was equal in Character and died equally lamented April 1st, 1744."

       Personally, I think it was prudent to ration verbiage about the late lamented Ann when it has all been said just above and this fairly soon after, especially when there was probably a cost per word or letter of carving.  Noticeably there is room left on the plaque - just in case?  It seems, however, the good Major had no need of it.

Claddagh Ring
Site of the Village of Claddagh
      Before we leave Galway, it is important to note that long before there was Galway, there was Claddagh, a small fishing village of about 400 thatched cottages.  The famous Claddagh ring retains its 300 year old design and is one of the most recognized of all Irish symbols.  With its hands, heart, and crown it represents Love, Loyalty, and Friendship and is often used as a betrothal or wedding ring.  While the village is long gone, it is well remembered.  And for a price, you, too, can wear its emblem with Irish pride.  (Just for the record, I got mine over 25 years ago in that same little yellow shop in the photo.)

       Time to board the bus and it was only early afternoon with much more to see and do before dinner. 

Natural Colors of Connemara Marble
       Our next drive was through Connemara, well known for its marble.  We visited a marble workshop and saw some exquisite pieces of this fascinating rock and watched how it was cut and polished.  The startling array of colors did not outshine the unexpected cache of oyster and other fossils imbedded in some of the slabs. 
Oyster Fossils
Fossils sometimes fall out in
the course of cutting the marble

     Off in the bus again, nearly time for tea.  But before we can avail ourselves of the hospitality ahead, Sheep happen!

     The region and terrain of Connemara deserve far more attention than what is being given in this space.  It is the wildest part of Ireland and its mountains, lakes, and peat bogs combine to call the adventurous to meander in its sensual and secretive beauty.

    Yes, dear readers, the most adept of you will notice a formatting error above in the background color of one of the paragraphs.  I have tried in vain to repair it only to have entire portions disappear which then I have painstakingly, and with much colorful vocabulary (that I think the neighbors could hear) re-done.   Now, a drink!  I do hope you enjoy this little sojourn.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part Six ~ 40 Shades of Desolate

Another Bus Ride, Another Ruin
       On the way to Galway Bay, the scenery, while still revealing its medieval remnants, began to shed the predictable coastal terrain of:  water on the left, green on the right.  There were the regular sitings of leftover stones of various abbeys, an occasional abandoned tower fortress, or the remains of a famine-era tenant shanty amidst the penny-a-day walls of a current landowner.   Still interesting and still worth the photos for moments that would not likely be repeated.  The dulcet tones of Carmel, our guide, gave us interesting tidbits of information which niggled at my forgetfulness - I left my travel journal at home - arrrgggghhhh!  And then, with a startling immediacy, it seemed as if we had lifted off the planet and were set down into what?  A barren moonscape, a dry volcanic field, a nuclear wasteland? No, it is

The Burren    

      The word "Burren" derives from the Gaelic boireann which means rocky land.  No kidding! Oliver Cromwell's surveyor in the 1640s described it as "a savage land" with "not enough water to drown a man, nor tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury."  They were such a jolly lot, those Cromwellians.  

       The limestone pavement was formed by glacier, rain, and wind and contains numerous caves hidden beneath its seemingly impenetrable surface.  But as always with this ever-amazing island nation, there is the unexpected in the midst of a moment.

       In a harsh topography with eons of history all its own, suddenly a moment of whimsy shows forth, a twinkling of God's sense of humor.  When all surroundings are grey and filled with desolation, the color of hope appears in small "grykes" (crevices) springing up among the "clints" (limestone slabs).

Wildflowers on The Burren

Galway Bay
       As the bus began to move again after our trekking out across this incredible plateau, designated as a European "Priority Habitat", again we saw the slowly changing view.  The rocky expanse began to morph into stone-walled fields with grazing livestock - sheep and cattle - as we zipped past.  Our collective gaze was directed across the famous Bay to the city of Galway, our next foray into iconic Irish culture.

       Watch this space for Part Seven!

       In addition to caves beneath the surface, there is a tomb marking the transition between the Stone and Bronze Ages and another from about 2500 BC.  So much to see in what, at first glance, appears to be all the same. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part Five

The River Shannon
       Beautiful Landscapes and sunny skies were the order of this our third day on tour.  We left Ennis at 8 am and followed a trail of the ubiquitous and still charming cottage and castle ruins on our morning adventure.   We raced past and took photos from the bus and all the while I imagined the hours I would take on my own exploring the sites, listening for the stones to tell their tales, hearing the voices of the ancients who passed by, walked through, or lived in midst of these walls.  But it was only the beginning of the day.

  Our first stop of the day was the panoramic view of the coast of County Clare from the Cliffs of Moher - a well recognized scene, even if not everyone knows where it is. 

     So many films have used the cliffs and the beaches as backdrops without even slightly diminishing its breathtaking impact from real time experience.  It's hard to choose one photo to represent the wonder of it.  The wind blowing the cleanest air in the country from across the Atlantic Ocean adds to the breathlessness of the visit. 

       These dramatic cliffs are 668 feet above the ocean and from one of the highest points, at O'Brien's Tower, the Aran Islands can be revealed on a rare clear day.
O'Brien's Tower overlooking the Atlantic
The fabeled Aran Islands in the distance
at the horizon

        After a tour of the cave-like Visitor Center, hidden neatly into the hills so as not to detract from the Cliffs, a cup of tea, a few souvenirs from the shop, and it was back on the bus, more to see on the way to lunch.  The Burren was next.  From bustling city, to idyllic village, grassy plains, riversides, crashing oceanic waves, the rapidly changing vistas as seen through the bus windows were never monotonous, never tedious.  The only constant was the change and the knowing that many more ruins were to be seen lying about in back gardens and along the road.  But I was not prepared for The Burren.  It was the most unusual groundscape I have ever seen.  More to come...

       The River Shannon is the longest in Ireland with its source in County Cavan in the northwest and its emptying into the Atlantic at the estuary in County Limerick.  It marks the traditional boundaries between two of the four Irish Provinces, Leinster and Connaght.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part Four

Mystical Highway Hawthorn Tree
        To say Irish Superstition is surely uttering a redundancy.  There is a wee bit of folklore to cover nearly every moment of life, a remedy for all unfortunate events, a plethora of blessings and curses to call forth the bounty or mischief of the fairy folk and other magical creatures like leprechauns, pookas, selkies, and more.
       Of course no one in the world of rational thought believes any of the myths and legends, or at least, willingly admits to it.  Most of us claim "just in case" when we throw the salt over our shoulders, avoid walking under ladders, and shy away from black cats.  The Irish, rational and modern though they be, take "just in case" to an interesting level. 

       It seems that the hawthorn tree has roots in the lore of many cultures for its sacred properties.  The Irish, only some of them of course, believe that the hawthorn tree is a "fairy bush" and is inhabited by fairy spirits.  It is considered extremely bad luck to cut or damage it in any way or the fairies might be offended and no one, rational or otherwise, wants to contend with offended fairy spirits!  So it makes perfect rational sense that when confronted by a lone hawthorn tree interfering with the path of a major highway, the construction team refused to remove the tree.  Naturally, the entire highway project changed course in order to protect the tree.  It lies between two stretches of the road within a fence around it.  Presumably, the fairy spirits approve.
View from Ennis hotel window
       The sun shone again in a day that brought sun, wind, rain, and even two hailstorms!  We arrived in the town of Ennis in County Clare on the River Fergus.  With medieval beginnings, Ennis and its environs are replete with monastic ruins, even our hotel had once been part of a friary.  The view from our hotel room window was one of the more interesting I've ever had. There seems to be quite a "churchy" feel to it, but it could just be my imagination. 
       Favorite Oldest and Favorite Youngest Daughters and I took a stroll around the town and managed to find some treasures in the shops.  With gifts for others and ourselves in hand, we found our way back to the hotel to get ready for our dinner experience.  Was it only this morning that we visited the Irish National Stud, motored on to the Rock of Cashel and through Tipperary and Limerick?  Yes! And then we get back on the bus again for a 20 minute ride to Bunratty Castle for a taste of the past.
       The current castle dates to the 15th century and sits near the site of a Norman castle that was destroyed by the MacNamaras (those pesky Normans!).  Left derelict in the 19th century, it was restored beginning in the 1950s by Lord Gort who then gave it to "the People of Ireland."  Now famous for its Medieval Dinners, we enjoyed the hospitality of the evening's Lord and Lady with a festive meal and entertainment as befitted guests of the Great Earl on a night in the early 1600s.
Bunratty Castle
Bunratty Entrrance Hall
       We entered the castle to the airs of madrigal singers, a harpist, and a violinist, and, at the time of toasting with free flowing mead, the Master of Ceremonies gave us the protocols of the castle.  We climbed many spiral stairs up to the entry hall and then many down to the banquet hall - a little treacherous given the amount of mead....
        Much singing, drinking of wine, and an excellent meal - albeit with only a knife to stab the food!  We sent one person to the dungeon but he was reprieved if he could sing a song.  The American "prisoner" launched into the first strains of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at which time a hundred or so of the rest of us joined in loudly to finish it off.  There were some strange glances by those other hundred non-Americans among us who had no clue what that was about!     

The Elusive Irish Banshee?
       On the way back to the bus, there was enough daylight to take more photos of the Bunratty Folkpark filled with period cottages that in the summer season boasts a cast of costumed villagers.   As I was taking a photo, I discovered that my camera was suddenly inhabited by another mythical creature - the Irish Banshee!  NOT A MYTH, I know now for certain.  She curiously resembles Favorite Youngest Daughter and the shriek is unmistakable!  Hopefully this was not a foretelling of an omnious occurrence - perhaps even the Banshee takes a night off to party with the best of us!
      It was a fun night with wine, song, great food and hilarity.  Off to the hotel and to sleep.  Only Day Two, least we stay in the same hotel again so no early luggage call though breakfast is still at 7 with an 8 am departure for the next adventure.

Here are more pix from the picturesque Folk Park

       Fairy Raths or Forts, cairns, circled trees or stones are seen all over the countryside.  Among the thousand or so mythical prescriptions for life, it is said that to build a house, one must dig in and put a post at the four corners of the potential house site.  If the posts are still standing the next morning, the fairies have given you ease to build.  If there's a problem with one of them,  you are well advised NOT to proceed!

Friday, May 18, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part Three

Stone Ruin in the Landscape
       Pulling away from the Irish National Stud farm, we continued our journey across The Curragh and through some iconic country scenes.  All of Ireland is dotted with ruins large and small of cottages and castles, cathedrals and abbeys.  There are also some modern sculptural elements that surprise and delight with new twists on ancient themes.  One of my personal favorites - which wasn't even on this particular day, is the reference to the Viking settlements of the early centuries of Ireland's emergence.  Photo credit for the Viking sculpture goes to Favorite Youngest Daughter as I pilched it from her Facebook page. My copy had a street sign right in the middle! Not always easy to get good pix from a moving bus, especially in the rain.
Roadside Viking
        So it was a typical Irish day as we toodled along in the bus with mist, broken clouds, a pinch of sun and then torrential rain.  Our next immediate destination was lunch in the town of
Cashel but we had time for a photo stop near the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary. 
       The Rock was the seat of power of the Kings of Munster and St. Patrick is believed to have preached in this place.  It was here that Plantagenet King Henry II first accepted allegiance from the Chiefs of the Celtic Clans in the 12th century. The Kings later ceded Cashel to the Church were it was a flourishing religious center until the siege by the dastardly Cromwell forces in 1647 which saw 3,000 occupants massacred. The Rock is an impressive site up on its hill and well worthy of a wish to visit another time to take the hour and a half tour.  As we stopped to look up at this amazing Cathedral-Fortress, the sun broke through brightly.
The Rock of Cashel, St. Patrick may have preached here

The Aunts at Tea in Cashel
       From our photo opp, we made our way into the lovely little town of Cashel, where it began to pour rain again just as we stopped for lunch.  The pub was overcrowded - another bus arrived shortly before us.  A little tea room was packed as well.  There seemed to be no chance for the 5 of us to get something to eat but we did manage to find some empty space in the upper reaches of the tea room.  After settling the aunts into seats, I ordered us soup, brown bread and tea.  It was a charming place and both aunts were enthralled. 

       On the road again after lunch, we sang our way through Tipperary (not such a long way after all), and stopped briefly in Limerick for views of King John's Castle and the stone upon which the Treaty of 1691 was signed - you all know what that was about, right?  No?  Try Wikipedia...
Treaty of Limerick signed on this stone
The city of Limerick was actually settled by the Danes in the 10th century and destroyed by the armies of Brian Boru. Oliver Cromwell also had his way with the town and there is a cannon ball embedded in one of the castle towers as a reminder of
his less-than-welcome visit.
King John's Castle, Limerick

       Off again in the bus after lunch to our final destination of the day, the town of Ennis.  But the day itself was far from over.  Part 4 will soon reveal the evening's festivities! 

       The Vikings first landed in Ireland in 795 and founded walled cities such as Dublin, Waterford, and Limerick.  Some reports suggest that the red hair often associated with the Irish, actually came with the Vikings.  I mentioned  this to Favorite Youngest Daughter - we have several red-haired members of the family including me - and so, I said, that in addition to our Irish heritage, we may have Viking blood.  Her response, "that explains a lot".

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part Two

The Curragh
        Leaving Dublin after a luggage call for 6:45 a.m., breakfast at 7, and on the bus at 8, took us southwest through the Curragh, a grassy plain in the peaceful countryside of County Kildare. Our first stop was the 1,000 acre Irish National Stud, a semi-state owned bloodstock farm - the Irish do love their horses! It was a surprisingly interesting experience.
       I love that the farm was founded in 1900 by an Anglo-Irish Colonel who was influenced by the astrological signs of the foals. He had skylights in the stables so the horses would be touched by sunlight and moonbeams! Perhaps he, too, was a bit touched? 

Mares grazing at the Irish National Stud farm

       The grounds reflected all that makes Ireland so special.  The famous 40 shades of green were well in evidence on the grounds as well as buildings that are ancient and merely old, and the state of the art technology in the breeding of champion horses. 
       St. Fiachra's Garden was named for the patron saint of gardening and a few very interesting, um, illnesses (at least according to the experts at Wikipedia!).  It was established at this site in 1999.

St. Fiachra's Garden
       We had time for tea and of course the tour of the gift shop!  We took our leave and headed out back across The Curragh for our lunch stop.  More to come in Part 3. 
No, we never dated
       Who knew that the Irish invented Steeplechase racing when in 1752 the race was between two church steeples?!