Saturday, July 14, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part After Twelve ~ Crystal Clear

On the road from Blarney
       As we moved away from Blarney, the rain stopped, the sun peeked through the clouds, and the weather warmed.  The swiftly changing landscape kept me, camera in hand, watching for moments to capture.  The green of the rural fields turned into sudden bursts of nearly neon yellow in the fields of rapeseed, (or more politely named canola).

Rapeseed (Canola) Field
Beer Cart Reminiscence

In smaller cities and towns, we saw entertaining advertising on walls and signs.  Wall
sculptures depicting the early transport of beer and spirits and murals that are designed to remind the observer of a brewing thirst (it works!)

Murphy's Mural (even the cat in the "window" is painted!)

And, of course, the waterscapes are as picturesque as ever.

Nearly postcard worthy

Some are stunning postcard-worthy scenes; others are views that make me want to live THERE!

I'll send you my address
 On any bus or car journey there are the inevitable traffic jams and this trip was no exception, except, of course, for the exception:

 The signs for our afternoon destination came into view:  Waterford.

       Entering the City we encountered the usual architectural artifacts of an historic settlement - city walls and fortress towers - as in any medieval city in Great Britain or Europe .  The City was settled by the Vikings in the year 914 on the main estuary of the River Suir, the major seaport in Ireland's southeast.

       None of the walls and towers we saw in Waterford are more famous or significant than Reginald's Tower built in 1185 by the Normans on a Viking site. The Tower was the wedding chapel of Richard de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke, aka, Strongbow, an Anglo-Norman Baron who helped drive out the Vikings.  The King of Leinster gave his daughter in marriage to Strongbow in thanks for his help returning the King's lands.  There's a whole book there...
Reginald's Tower with the statue of Waterford Native
Thomas Francis Meagher

      Another book could be - probably has been - written about the horseman on the statue opposite the Tower. Thomas Francis Meagher was born into luxury in Waterford in what is now the Granville Hotel where we stayed the night on this trip. An Irish Nationalist, Meagher was sentenced to death for sedition in 1848 but the sentence was commuted to life in Van Diemen's Land in Australia.  He escaped and landed in New York where he studied law and then became a Brigadier General in the Union Army during the American Civil War and recruited Irish immigrants to serve with him. After the war he was appointed Acting Governor for the Montana Territory but soon after that he drowned in the Missouri River, accidentally falling from a riverboat.  From grand beginnings, to heroic action, to an ignoble ending.  I hope that I'm doing life the other way around (although I'm not sure about doing the "heroic" part.)

       We then arrived for our afternoon tour at the

      The Penrose brothers started glass making in Waterford in 1783 and along with much success the company has had many financial ups and downs.  Closed in the 19th Century, it reopened in 1947 and re-earned its world renowned status very quickly though it again had more fiscal problems.  A financial reoganization in the 1990s has given new life to the company which now produces most of its fine quality crystal in other equal factory settings around the world.  But much of the specialty work is still done in Waterford.

       As we toured the working factory, we had an early look at several of the actual trophies that will be presented at the 2012 Olympics in London:

        The dazzling detail on other trophies and collectible pieces continue to maintain the high standards that enhance the icon status of the Waterford name:

       Watching the pieces take shape from heating the glass, observing the skills of the blowers, molders, and engravers, doesn't even slightly diminish the sense of magic for what human hands, hearts, and minds can produce. From merely sorting the pieces to putting a masterpiece together, it is pure mastercrafting at its finest.

       One commemorative piece was particularly moving to me, having seen the original in its place.
New York World Trade Center Commemorative

Loose Corner Crystals laid out in pattern 
The Finished Piece

       After the tour of the working factory, we had time to browse the sales floor.  I considered a few things for my palatial home:
Something for the Foyer
or the Lbrary
For the Dining Room, or, Perhaps the Bath?

But, of course!

The Pefect Wine Glass!

       After a toodle around the sales areas, I didn't make a purchase for myself but it was fun to see all the sparkle! And then it was time to head to our historic hotel, the Granville, for dinner and a breather before we head out for a very entertaining evening. More to come...

The City of Waterford has been fortunate to have done extensive archaelogoical excavations and has now provided pedestrian walkways in the historic areas as well as by its waterside quays (keys).

Photo credits to Favorite Oldest Daughter for Traffic Jam, House of Waterford sign, World Trade Center, and Chandelier.  Editing credit to her Favorite Mother (that would be me!).

Sunday, July 8, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part Twelve ~ Full of Blarney

Blarney Castle
There is a stone there,
That whoever kisses,
Oh! he never misses
To grow eloquent.
(So said a witch, saved from drowning, to explain the power of "the Stone" to the ancient Clan MacCarthy)

       Off from Killarney, our next destination was Blarney Castle, one of the most anticipated parts of our journey.  Favorite Oldest Aunt and I had been here before, together, about 25 years ago.  I had kissed the famous Blarney Stone on that trip - she had done it many years before when traveling with my uncle.  Favorite Youngest Aunt was ready to do what she had dreamed of all her life and Favorite Daughters as well.  Would the weather cooperate?  Would Youngest Aunt get all the way to the top?  I had complete faith - 5 years ago, she and I climbed to the top of Kidwelly Castle in Wales in the pouring rain.  I come from hearty female stock!

       Before arriving at Blarney, we drove through Cork - Ireland's second largest city.  Somewhere in the vicinity our ancestor Simon Brennan lived before he left the country in 1848.  The city is actually an island between two branches of the River Lee (personal note that the Irish surnames in my maternal family are Brennan and Sullivan; I also married a Brennan and subsequently married a Lee although the Lee I married was completely, thoroughly, physically, and emotionally Welsh except for the very small English part of him rarely discussed!) 

       Our whisk through Cork was swift and although there is much to see and know more about, I was proud to learn that from its 7th century beginnings it weathered the Vikings, the Normans, Cromwell, and other English visitors and predators.  Cork's history shows that it was always quick to join a rebellion followed by occupation and reprisals. 

       But the excitement was mounting as we saw the sign we'd been waiting for and the Guide gave instructions on time and place to meet the bus.  Favorite Oldest Aunt headed for Blarney Woollen Mills shops and tea room, the rest of us headed for the Castle grounds, a short walk away from the parking lot. 

       The heavy rain of the morning was gone although the sky was heavy with clouds. The stream running through the grounds was full and fast-running.  As to be expected, the environs had changed considerably since I was last there. There are more tourist-friendly improvements and the well-planned landscaping added to the beauty of the space that brightened up the misty grayness of the day.
The Castle Keep
       The Keep of the Castle came into view and with a turn to the right we started up the steps to the entry of the Castle that was built by the MacCarthys in 1446, the third castle on the site.

       We weren't allotted much time to explore and the primary goal of this time was to get to the top of the Castle to kiss the famous Blarney Stone.  The Stone, according to a plaque on the grounds is known in its homeland as "...'Lia Fail' or 'Fatal Stone', used as an oracular throne of Irish kings - a kind of Harry Potter-like 'sorting hat' for kings.  Legend says it was removed to mainland Scotland, where it served as the prophetic power of royal succession, the Stone of Destiny." 
Because the King of Munster, Cormac MacCarthy, sent 4,000 men to support Robert the Bruce in his defeat of the English in 1314, the Stone was split and half was sent to Blarney.  MacCarthy allegedly had a speech impediment and he was instructed by the local Druid to kiss the Stone whereupon his speech issues were cured. The legend of receiving the Gift of Gab from kissing the Stone continues to this day.
Castle interior
      There are multiple levels of the Castle ruins but no time to do more than move cautiously up the 130 triangle shaped, well-worn, damp stone steps that became narrower the higher we climbed the spiral.  Foot placement was a significant challenge!  As we climbed we stole quick looks into each level.  There were people ahead and behind us so we were able to stop a bit and read the posted signs.

       And finally we emerged at the top of the Castle! 

View from the Top
The Keep from above


Now, at last, we were in the queue to kiss the Stone.  It moves quickly and the weather was holding steady.  You have to be willing to lie down on your back, hold onto parallel vertical bars and slide your head back and down, it's quite a feat of engineering!  There is help and a professional photo is taken. 

FINALLY, Favorite Youngest Aunt is next.  And at 85 years, 1o months of age and a lifetime of dreaming of the impossible:

A Dream Fulfilled!

         It was such a blessing to be present for this auspicious moment in her life as well as for each of my daughters.  Legend or myth notwithstanding, it was great!  I did not kiss the Stone this time, I didn't want to chance the undoing of the charm!

        We took more photos and headed back down those spiral stairs and back to the Blarney Woollen Mills shops and tea room for lunch and a quick look around for souvenirs.  I had hoped to find a Tara brooch to replace the one I bought there 25 years ago - not a "fine" piece of jewelry by any means, but sentimental.  In the last major move I made, I had lost it.  But I hadn't much time so I raced through and didn't see anything that resembled my pin - oh well!  Back on the bus and as we pulled away, Favorite Youngest Aunt was applauded and cheered for her accomplishment as the Guide showed her photo up one side and down the other of the aisle.  And the day was far from over!

       From the plaque at the Castle:  Queen Elizabeth I is credited with introducing the word "blarney" to the English language.  Her emissary, Sir George Carew, was charged with persuading the MacCarthy Chieftain [of Blarney Castle] to abandon his ancient rights and accept authority of the English throne.  Every time he tried, he was met with long and eloquent protestations of loyalty and honeyed flattery of the Queen (by the MacCarthys) - but with no agreement.  In frustration, Elizabeth exclaimed, "This is all Blarney. What he says he never means." A new word for flattery and smooth-talking was born.

       There are many legends about the Stone - perhaps it is Jacob's Pillow brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah.  It is also rumored to be part of the Stone of Scone that sat for many centuries under the throne of King Edward I in Westminster Abbey as the Coronation Stone.  That Stone was returned to rest in Scotland in 1996 with the understanding that it will be transported to Westminster Abbey for future coronations.

       As we traveled to our next stop, I mentioned in conversation with Favorite Daughters that I had hoped to find a replacement for my brooch but did not.  It turns out that Favorite Oldest Daughter had it, she remembered borrowing it when I had stayed with her and her family for awhile and neither of us thought about it when I moved.  I had gone looking for it as the trip approached and wondered whatever I had done with it.  When I visited them a month ago, having forgotten about it again, she gave it back to me and no doubt one day it will find its way back to her with now shared memories of its origin.