|Famine-era Emigrant Ship "The Dunbrody" at New Ross|
Bright sunshine and a beautiful blue sky met us as we boarded the bus for our last full day in Ireland. Leaving the city of Waterford, we headed for Avoca and the sites were plentiful and lovely as always. One of our first was at New Ross on the River Barrow and on the South Quay dock is The Dunbrody. The ship is a full-scale reconstruction of a cargo vessel that carried emigrants to the US and Canada during the famine of the mid-19th century. Over a million died, exact numbers are unknown, and over a million fled. Some who left were fortunate enough to have their passage paid by caring landowners, most were left to their own devices, many sending only their children while they stayed behind for almost certain death.
We passed the ever-scenic fields and pastures on our way. And soon, we arrived at our morning's destination, the Avoca weaving mill, the oldest in Ireland and operating continuously since 1723.
The beautiful colors of the yarns and threads made the gorgeous day even brighter. After a brief history lesson about the mill and the evolution of weaving technologies we took a tour to see the weaving machines in operation. Favorite Daughters and Aunts decided quickly that I should be doing this in addition to my other needlework hobbies of knitting, needlepoint, embroidery, quilting, and sew-on...(yes, I said that). I am not an expert in any of them but I do enjoy them and I do appreciate seeing how such things are done. These machines were amazing - it would take me 5 years just to learn how to thread them!
I've seen hand looms and watched people weaving a variety of items from cloth to rugs and of course, this was exponentially different because of the machines. The fine quality of the fabrics produced requires personal tactile experience to fully appreciate.
And what was especially delicious was seeing the tremendous and unexpected color range of the pieces being produced through the magic of these complicated looms.
|Not your Granny's grey herringbone!|
I could almost taste the flavors the colors conjured up for me and I
wanted so much to wrap myself up in the luxurious textures.
Our tour extended - of course! - into the shop, and while I bought only a couple of pairs of socks I know will caress my happy feet this fall, seeing all that was available was a feast of delight for my eyes and fingers!
On the bus again, we drove through the main street of Avoca which was the setting for the UK tv series "Ballykissangel". The series, though long ended, shows up on US Public Broadcasting stations, sometimes in late night. It was a funny, endearing, and sometimes poignant look at "everyday" life in a small Irish town where the center of life was, naturally, the Pub. I discovered it a few years ago and have seen most of the episodes over time but it was only recently that I saw one of the later ones and was completely shocked at the stunning turn of events that, for me, hit all too close to home. While that particular show left me slightly shaken, seeing the actual Fitzgerald's Pub, Hendley's store, and the Church that I watched in my small tv room at home lightened the memory of all the many episodes and characters I enjoyed.
Then we came to
The Wicklow Mountains
which hold special magic for me with its myriad myths and legends. This wild country of bogland, pasture, fields and mountains is barely an hour's drive from Dublin and the air is crisp with romance, adventure, and anguish. This granite stronghold was a sacred safe haven where rebellious native Irish warlords took refuge through many centuries against all invaders who sought to steal and subdue the land they lived, loved, and died for. And amidst those stories is the backdrop of the spiritual center of Glendalough.
The weather began to turn drizzly as we pulled into the grounds of this 6th century site. We went through the visitor center for information about the history of the monastic community founded by St. Kevin which was very well done. Then we were off to this "Valley of Two Lakes" which is the literal meaning of Glendalough. We had only a limited time to see the site or the lakes and have lunch and shop for souvenirs.
|Gateway to Glendalough Monastic Community|
We walked up the steps and through the gate and entered a landscape of the ancients, peaceful and quiet even with so many tourists wandering about. Because we were on an escorted tour, we were able to go into the small stone chapel. The darkness when the door closed was deeper than the darkest night I've experienced and it was more than comforting to have the door opened as it was the only source of light. I wasn't able to get to the nearby lakes as I was too busy looking at the grounds and buildings at hand.
The sun shone again and it was easy to imagine the early community life not only in the best of weather, but also in the rain and damp, the snow and cold. My admiration for those who lived it, especially those who felt called to the life and were content within it, is unbounded. It is not the life for me, for any length of time anyway. Perhaps a few days, if the weather is right and the restaurant down the road is open...
|Oldest intact round tower in the country|
Suddenly we had to leave a spot where there was not enough time to see all and know more. We settled into our seats and headed for the final afternoon in Ireland, back in Dublin.
In spite of knowing it is not a life I am called to, I was moved and comforted by the sense of spirit I experienced in my short visit to Glendalough. However, I had no idea that that the most moving and emotionally challenging moments of this journey were just ahead. Next time, Kilmainham.