Wednesday, August 29, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part Penultimate ~ Weaving Our Way Back to Dublin

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.

Glendalough Chapel

       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
       Another brief shower left us a little damp and happy to find a hot cup of soup and cup of tea, a few souvenirs, and a sweet sense of being in a place where life was precious and wholly holy for those who endured and those who thrived.

       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.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

EireLandings Interrupted just before Avoca...

Stayed Tuned...
       SO...for those of you who have been following my Ireland travelogue stayed tuned, the next installment is almost ready.  Of course you can always find out when the newest has arrived online if you click the subscribe tab on the right side of the blog page or if you are a Facebook Friend of mine because I always post the link for the newest piece.  Failing those options, just keep checking in!

     FOR the last few days I have been wonderfully distracted by a 34 inch, 21 month old being with crazy hair all over her head and a face who looks up at me with arms raised, and says "hi" in a tiny yet booming, confident voice.  When I pick her up, she puts her pointed index finger on my shoulder and with that strong little voice announces her transliteration of my self-imposed appellation of "Grammy" into her very own new name for me which is "Mimi".  I'm melted. 

      THIS second granddaughter is as magical as the first who is now 7 1/2.  When the first was born it was beyond my wildest expectations.  Naturally I was excited and I looked forward to the birth, which was supposed to be on my birthday and wasn't.  But, I could not have predicted the overwhelming emotion that swept through my heart, soul, and body instantaneously as my son-in-law placed her in my arms when she was 45 minutes old.  Having known my maternal great-grandmother into my 20s and having had an exceptionally close relationship with my grandmother, I thought of them and of my own  mother, my daughter, this new little girl, and I was immedately struck with the image of a Russian doll, each one nesting within the other in successively smaller sizes - those who have gone before and those who are yet to come.  This second miracle was also to have been born on my birthday, but as with all of the women in my maternal line, independent and strong-willed, she also decided to have her own day!

       I AM all too familiar with the brief and fragile nature of life but looking into the large wide eyes of a child, especially one of "my own", I feel the hope and dreams of generations past being catapulted beyond the current moment and into the future.  Life ends, life remains, life comes again, and again, and again.  And life is always what we each make of it.  When we have a loving moment with a child, life is at its best.  God is there.

      IT IS more than a singluar blessing to have the time and opportunities to spend extended visits with both of the girls of my girls. It is humbling, sweet, moving, hilarious, and life-giving.  In the inevitable moments of self-doubt, sadness, loneliness, weariness, or frustration, a blast of the true love of a child - my 7 1/2 year old triplet nephews well included - makes the world bright, light, and filled with happy music.   And yes, I am painfully aware of the untold millions of children who go hungry, unloved, abused, neglected, and in horribly dire circumstances in this country and around the globe.  I do what is possible for me to do to support organizations and people who work hard to alleviate that suffering.  But I cannot let that anguish diminish the joy that my heart feels in the little moments of love I am given by these precious lives that make my own worth living.  Even as we all take and are taken for granted by those we love best at some point, I am being intentional in soaking up the delicious rays of sunshine that emanate from the children in my life, storing up those treasures for the rainy days that show up now and then.  Photos on my phone texted by their proud moms give me a heart surge beyond defining - for the pix, the kids, and their moms and for me as delighted recipient and also proud mom, aunt, and Grammy/Mimi. 

      NOW that I have settled in for this visit, the pieces that have been writing and re-writing in my head for days will soon find their way to this space.  I hope you will, too.   Avoca, Ireland is next up...


Sunday, August 5, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part Fourteen ~ Same Day, We Dunmore

We left our historic residence by the River Suir after a great dinner following an already full day (see Part After Twelve).  But the day was not yet complete and we headed toward the Irish Sea and a charming fishing village known as Dunmore East. 

     As always, the passing landscape gave us sudden surprises beyond the expected.  One of my favorites is a ship sculpture, with a twist.

     The drive to the coast was not a long one and although an early evening in early May, the daylight was nowhere near dusk.  As we pulled in to Dunmore East, another modern sculpture, a memorial to seafarers and fisherfolk came into view.

     It was a moving piece with the names of those lost at sea on the wall behind.  I thought once off the bus I'd get another better photo but then I was struck immediately with the view on the right.  Another rugged coast line with greyish skies and a healthy breeze, the rocks with their kittiwake nests and the waves roiling against them. 

     Then there in the far distance, a lighthouse.  Not exactly a surprise on a coastline but it, too, has a long history.  The Hook Head lighthouse is the successor to beacons being lit on that spot since the 5th century.  The current tower is Norman in origins dating from 1172 and is the oldest working lighthouse in Europe.  The usual suspects in Irish history - Strongbow, Cromwell, et al - have passed near and today it holds its place as a necessary signal to passing sailors.  Thankfully, a long range telephoto lens helps bring it closer to view much better than mere eyesight can from the shore.

As we pulled away from the harbor, we headed into the village of Killea for our evening's entertainment.  Amazing thatched homes with some arranged in seeming peril on the cliffs appeared to the oohs and ahhs of the group.  Others just clean and bright, and simply quietly iconic.

     It was yet another moment to ponder a way of life that resonates somewhere deep down in my bones.  Perhaps from another lifetime... Thatching has become more popular in Europe and the UK in recent decades.  Not only for preserving historical buildings it is now a likely sign of some affluence where once it was left to those in more humble circumstances.  There can be an occasional critter visit though.

     And then we arrived for our evening pleasure, Hayes Pub in the village of Killea. Located near the ruins of a church from 700 AD, it remains as from its beginning family owned and operated for over 300 years.  The pub boasts three successive generations of women proprietors, the most recent - and now dearly departed - Aggie - who was well known for her hospitality and perhaps even more so for her lack thereof.  Her legend says she refused to serve women at the bar and would easily refuse anyone mere entry or just plain throw them out for whatever particular reason occurred to Herself!

     As one of its many treasures, Hayes displays a plethora of vintage Guinness signs. 

      Just in case you have an over abundance of joy in your heart after a pint or four, in its vintage interior, the pub conveniently provides a handy place for you to send up your prayer of thanksgiving:

        The 40 or so of us from the bus and a local or two managed to squeeze in to this tiny establishment.  From its warm hearth to its crowded bar, the place filled every inch of its accumulated 300 years of  community service with the echoes of laughter, song, and the surely ever-so-rare fist fight here and there.

     And then the fun really began.  Our host for the evening was a gentleman named Richie Roberts, a local notable and, as you can see from the extensive advertising, highly acclaimed.

      Richie truly was a gem - a hilarious, talented story-teller and singer in the best Irish tradition - he kept us laughing and singing and laughing and, oh yes, drinking.  Favorite Daughters and favorite Aunts were into the spirit of the evening.

     Favorite Youngest Daughter even had a starring role:

     Inevitably, one must have a visit to the necessary room prior to boarding the bus after such a fun time.  And it was in that place that I finally found what I had been searching for in these days of travel in the land of my ancestors - my family!  I knew they were here somewhere and now I'm content.  My family - where else but in the loo of a 300 year old pub!

Making Clean Money for Generations

     When we got back to the hotel, it was time for showers before we called it a night.  As Hayes is a usual stop on this tour, we figured that the previous tenant of our room also had a great time if not at Hayes, definitely somewhere else.  In the steam on the mirror we could read, "Pat Rocks!"  So, to Pat, wherever and whoever you are: you go, girl! 

Next stop, Avoca.