A travelogue by Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2000 Mark R. Leeper
05/26/00: Out of New Jersey
05/27/00: Dublin: First Impressions
05/28/00: Dublin: Jewish Museum, St. Patrick's, Castle, Pub Crawl
05/29/00: Dublin: Book of Kells, Dublin Writers Museum
05/30/00: Dublin area: Dalkey, Sandycove, Dun Laoghaire
05/31/00: Dublin: National Museum of Ireland, National Gallery of Ireland
06/01/00: Dublin to Slane: Tara, Newgrange, Knowth
06/02/00: Slane to Ballycastle: Armagh Astronomy Centre and Navan Fort
06/03/00: Ballycastle to Buncrana: Giant's Causeway, Derry Tower Museum
06/04/00: Buncrana to Belcoo: The Ulster American Museum, Marble Arches
06/05/00: Belcoo to Boyle: Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, Y B. Yates Grave
06/06/00: Boyle to Kinvarra: Irish Famine Museum, Galway Bay
06/07/00: Kinvarra to Cashel: Moher Cliffs, the Burren, King John's Castle
06/08/00: Cashel to Clonmacnois: Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle
06/09/00: Clonmacnois to Wicklow: Bog Railway and Clonmacnois
06/10/00: Wicklow: Glendalough
06/11/00: Wicklow to New Jersey
Basically we like just about wherever we go. The world is to be tested and tasted, not to be read about in books. You can read about Ireland in books, but you can also read about Middle Earth. If a place is real you ought to visit it. You ought to experience it.
For us visiting Ireland was something of a mixed bad of good and bad (though not too bad) experiences. A good deal of our experience was colored by bad luck this trip. Almost all the bad luck is in the form of bad weather. For years we had heard from people how wonderful Ireland is. The calm, peaceful lifestyle, the friendly people, the absolutely beautiful scenery, the transcendental greenness of everything all build to make the Emerald Islands magical. Duck Tires! Ireland is green, but that is because it is always raining. Ireland has two kinds of food, international which we can get at home and bland with a little too much fat. Of course the tourist food is not what the locals eat. The people try to be friendly and helpful but they are too cosmopolitan to be curious about Americans and that takes a lot of fun out. We already share a lot of culture with Ireland so there is no culture shock. The little towns have character. But at no time have I felt I was really excited about being here.
Having had so much rain may make a difference. This has been a really dreary time. In the rare sunshine Ireland is at least somewhat nicer. But the rain is part of what makes Ireland what it is. Whenever we mention the rain everybody says "That's Ireland." Judging how good Ireland would be with better weather is like judging how good Canada would be with free pizza and beer. Dreary country with a dreary history.
It is no surprise that the Irish are into drinking stout and expressing themselves. They are a wonderfully eloquent people. They seem to have contributed greatly disproportionate to their numbers to the world's arts and literature. This is really the home of a great deal more literature and music than one realizes until one starts to look at it. The world has never known quite what to make of Ireland. Images of Ireland go to such contradictions as the land of the bogs and the wee folk, villages of happy cottages to the angry and sullen images of THE INFORMER. If one compares how Britain has treated Ireland to how Spain treated the Americas, Britain is almost benevolent as a conqueror. By any absolute standards they are tyrants. Still Ireland, North and Republic, seem to both prosper. Judging from the number of URLs in ads and cell phones going off on the street Ireland has come through all the iniquities against it in good shape.
But I think that what strikes me most about the trip was a comment I
overheard one of the guards at work make to a friend of his one St. Patrick's
day. He said, "Wot a sad world this would be without the Irish." At the
time I was not sure it was true, but now I think so.
05/26/00: Out of New Jersey
Okay, why Ireland? Well my father turns 80 this year and we are all getting together with him for a celebration. That will be in Las Vegas. So we were already going to be half way across the country. Maybe this was the year to see Hawaii. So we brought up Hawaii tourist stuff up on the computer. (Gee I LOVE the Internet.) Well the next question was what do we do in Hawaii? We could give it about two weeks. Evelyn suggested I look through and pick out the things I would like to see. Well there was Pearl Harbor of course. And I found two or three other tourist attractions that sounded pretty good. And everything else I saw sounded like the Killakawala Lily Park. I sat for an hour trying to put together an interesting tour and at the end of it I turned around and said, "Ireland."
"Well," she said, "Can you find enough things to see in Ireland?" So I took a look at tourist information for Ireland. Now see the Irish Tourist Board is smart. They list pre-made tours of their country. Not only that they have several tours for different tastes. One of them was a Historic Tour. http://www.goireland.com/low/ininteraries/history.htm. Transport by car. Holy cow, they even give you someone to write to with questions. It even said, "do not attempt in under two weeks." I tried the new Internet College Sport. That is, find something on the Internet and pretend you wrote it. I took the tour description and gave it to Evelyn. Didn't fool her it was mine for a second, but then I never can. Okay, let's consider this historic tour of Ireland. So to the question of "Why Ireland?" the short answer is goireland.com.
I packed for the trip. I was planning to bring a sweater. I have a really nice warm commando sweater. The kind of thing you see in THE GUNS OF NAVARONE with the leather patches on the shoulders. I started to pack it and stopped myself short. Maybe this is not the best sweater to wear. This is a BRITISH commando sweater and we are going to Northern Ireland. It would be a pity to get a hole in it. Particularly while I was wearing it.
I did not do anything special to avoid jetlag. I wake up early in the morning these days. A five-hour time-shift would means it feels like I should wake at 10AM rather than 5AM. I can do that.
Well, we left work on time. Our flight is a 9:30 so it seems unlikely we get dinner. We wanted to stop for a quick meal of something that we would not be getting in Ireland. The obvious choice was a good old American burger from that good old American burger maker, McDonalds. I was going to get a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, but Evelyn suggested I get it supersize, she would just order a regular hamburger and eat my excess. McDonalds has three sizes of food, regular, large, and supersize. For the benefit of someone who has not been to a McDonalds the sizes roughly translate to gourmet, gourmand, and glutton. McDonalds has succeeded in making the American Dream to say hamburger and think of McDonalds. Now they are working on the McDonalds Dream, which is to sell every customer a huge tract of food. They do this for overcharging on the regular. This makes the large look like a really good deal, because it is a lot more food for not a lot more money. And for just a little bit more again you get the supersize which is the same burger but a pipeline of fries and a barrel of soda. You want to strap this thing on your roof and feed a road crew. No rational person would want this much soda, but you get it because it marginally is only a little more. Really what is happening is McDonalds is slowly easing into the wholesale food business.
Now the film DINOSAUR had just come out and they had a contest where you got two stickers on every larger than sensible product. There were two stickers on my hamburger. Each sticker had part of a dinosaur's anatomy. Put together two or three and you build a whole dinosaur and win a prize. I peeled off my sticker the way you peel off a scab, examined it, and brightly announced "Carnotaur's ass." One more. "Ankylosaur's ass." I let Evelyn pick the two off the barrel of soda. I had had enough. Truth be known she was not eating her share of the supersize. I wanted to do it justice and found myself in the throes of the collywobbles. I was wondering if I should have drunk so much if I were getting on a plane. As I was sitting there a little nauseated a 25-foot hamburger goes past the window. Actually the supply truck was coming through to restock for all the supersize. They are not contented to just say McDonalds, they must get a McDonalds hamburger, doctor it to look bigger without being bigger. Then they laminate it to make it look juicy. And they photograph it and paint the photograph on the side of truck about 30 feet wide. Ugh. Perhaps we should not have come to McDonalds.
We got home, did our final preparation. The limo came early. The driver looked distinguished and spoke what little English he could in a thick accent. On the road we passed a McDonalds truck with the same 25-foot picture of a hamburger.
The airline is desperately looking for people to delay for 24 hours.
They oversold the flight and are looking for someone who will take $400
to sit in a hotel room for a day. I learned long ago not to trust airlines
looking for favors. You get these vouchers that are great if you commute
to Ireland on a regular basis.
05/27/00: Dublin: First Impressions
We boarded the plane. It is an Airbus. If I spread both hands and touch my thumbs, my hands are about the width of the seat. It is going to be a long eight hours.
Evelyn had asked for two aisle seats and they gave us one behind the other. This was not very good because we could not see each other. Evelyn suggested that someone from one of the two seats next to us might be willing to trade. Well, it turned out that the other two seats had gone to an older couple who could not sit together, but at least were not sitting far from each other. We agreed to trade, and the man said he was happy to trade since he did not want to sit the whole way next to me. Evelyn continued to banter with him while I got settled in to my tight seat. Evelyn had the aisle. When I was settled I wanted to re-enter the conversation. "She's married," I said. He got very serious and said "That's not what was intended." And the conversation came to an end. I was a little puzzled not to get a quip back. The more I thought about it the more I thought that he might have taken me seriously.
A woman comes up the aisle looking for a seat. She says she is looking for someone who is not with anyone else. I felt like saying something like "Don't worry. You're still young."
I was not feeling tired, but I closed my eyes and barely was aware we were taking off. At about 3:30 Ireland time I woke to two drink carts passing by. I started to be thirsty again so I asked for a ginger ale. They gave me a 150ml can. Cute little can without much beverage. 150ml is about 5oz. For this they woke me up?
A little while later they came around with dinner. I generally think that airplane food gets a bad rap. This does not. There was chicken with cheese and ziti (pretty tasteless), mixed vegetables boiled until they all tasted the same, three bean salad, a cheese tart, only a little less tasteless. There was, however, crackers with some nice cheddar.
They ran a movie HANG UP, but I thought I had better try to sleep.
Most of the next few hours was a losing battle to sleep. At about 7:15 they came around with orange juice and cake. We land about 8 AM.
I have decided I should probably explain to the man behind Evelyn that I was just joking. He at least seems to have not taken things seriously. But she does not join the conversation. Something goes off in my head saying DANGER DANGER WARNING WARNING. Evelyn does not want to talk. We have landed at Shannon. The flight will continue to Dublin in a little better than an hour. We can stay on the plane or get off. Evelyn looks like she wants to stay on the plane and sleep. She looks awful. As people are getting off she takes an airsickness bag and makes proper use of it. It seems that she was more nauseated than I was by the McDonalds food and she had spent the night with the collywobbles. She went to the ladies room and did something, but she looked better.
But she said she was going to stay on the plane. I wanted to see a little Shannon so went to the transfer lounge. There is a big Duty Free Shop. Maybe it says something about me but there is little that I can find of interest in a duty free shop. Items I have an interest in are never duty free. They did have a Rifleman Sharpe novel. It was tempting, but I did not have any Irish currency.
I re-boarded at the proper time. Evelyn still has the collywobbles and I am getting a touch of them myself. I slept though the last hour-long flight. I barely noted when we landed.
Evelyn sent me ahead while she put on her backpack. I found myself in a narrow hall with a piece of glass between us and an empty but identical hall. When Evelyn joined me I asked her "Okay, if we landed safely, how come we no longer cast a reflection in this mirror?"
Somehow customs always seems to be a wave-through for us these days. I guess I don't look dangerous enough.
We went out in the rain to get a cab. Well we traveled southwest for the longest time. The fare tuned into something like 15.20 and I asked for three pounds back from a 20. And Irish Pound is about $1.20 American. We got a room and it is roughly on the level of a Motel Six. Evelyn was still feeling a little sick and tired.
Let's try a thumbnail history of Ireland. The Romans had logistical problems clouting people on islands. They got to England but not Ireland so the tribes on Ireland had to clout each other.
In 432 Saint Patrick came and saw all the clouting and decided to unify everybody under one religion. By a curious coincidence he decided his own religion was the one that would work best. When he was done everyone was clouting each other in the name of Catholicism.
In the 9th Century Viking raiders from Scandinavia came clouting and raping and pillaging and trying to unite Ireland in much the way we would unite meat, potatoes, and vegetables on one dinner plate. They didn't succeed, but had fun trying.
The English Normans did a better job under that champion clouter Henry II, but he couldn't stay and he left it to his knights to divide up.
The Pope would not grant Henry VIII a divorce so he turned most of England Protestant. Well, really he turned it Anglican, which is just like Catholic if you think of the King of England as the Pope. It was tough to think of the womanizing Henry VIII as the Pope, but sharp swords can be a great thinking aid. The Irish Catholics pointed out that Jesus never mentioned the King of England as His Vicar on Earth. Well, the English said, He never talked about anyone modern being His Vicar on Earth. And besides, Jesus was an Englishman, wasn't he?
This wasn't getting anywhere so they went back to clouting. The knockout clout was at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 when Irish King James II lost to William of Orange. But the Orange did not bring as great disaster as the potato. The potato was introduced from the New World. Ireland became dependent on it. When a fungus grew as fond of the potatoes as the Irish in 1845, over the course of four years two million people died or emigrated. Farmers were given the choice of paying the rent in food and starving or being evicted. In fact there was no Famine at all. Plenty of food was being grown, but it was being taken to landlords abroad by the rich who had bought already into the idea of Social Darwinism and were just waiting for Darwin to come along and confirm it.
The campaign for home rule became all the stronger by got nowhere until the Easter Rising of 1916. Well, it also got nowhere too but was a moral victory. In 1921 the British partitioned Ireland into the Irish Free State, mostly Catholic, and the British controlled Northern Ireland. Now the clouting has been concentrated in Northern Ireland. But Northern Ireland boasts some of the best clouters in the world. This very day there is voting to see if a parliament will be created so they can talk rather than clout.
My opinion? The clouting is not over. Pretty much everybody has to agree to stop the clouting. Well, you got a bunch of people who earn their living plus glory points by clouting. They are not going to put themselves out of business.
Evelyn was feeling she could leave about 2 PM and we wanted to take a walking tour at 3 PM at the gate of Trinity College. It turned out to be a five-minute walk. The college and several restaurants are very near the hotel, Blooms. We stopped in a small grocery and I got a caramel apple pastry.
One problem I see with Dublin. The streets are too dang crowded. If you stop to look in a store window, if you stop to browse a shelf, somebody is excusing himself or herself and pushing past you. It is just too full of people. We stopped in a bookstore and browsed but (thank goodness) did not buy.
We gathered at 3 PM for the walking tour. The guide went over a lot of Irish history like I did, but because he actually has to live here he was more reverent. We saw buildings of Trinity College, Old Parliament buildings, Houses in Temple Bar, the Dublin Castle, and ended up at Christ Church.
Most of his history of the island centered one way or another on The Troubles. Most was anti-England. I suppose there is not much other way to present it. I think that England admits how wrong it has been but must protect the interests of Protestants and Catholics.
The whole tour was hide and seek with the rain. It seemed to rain every half-hour and clear up every half-hour. When the rain started we would duck under cover.
Following the tour Evelyn was feeling better and wanted dinner. We went on a restaurant search. There are plenty of restaurants in the Temple Bar area. We were looking through the restaurant area (Essex Street) and took a turn, walked a couple of blocks and were back at our hotel. Just as I was thinking what a good choice the hotel was we were walking to the elevators which are in a 20-foot hallway between the lobby and the bar. In front of us someone leaving the bar pulled down his pants and mooned the people in the bar. As we were getting into the elevator he was yelling what a hairy ass it was. I wanted to reassure Evelyn that the end was in sight, but thought better of it. Perhaps this hotel does appeal to a slightly younger crowd than we would like. It was sunny when we left to eat so I left my umbrella behind and went in just a sweater.
We decided to go back to Zaytoon, which had what looked like interesting Persian food. It turned out to be just a variation on a Kabobery. We stopped for some cookies for the room and then headed back. We were only a few blocks from our hotel but the rains came again fairly heavily. We waited under an awning for a while.
Eventually we could return to the room getting only a little wetter.
This was Saturday night and the noise from the bar was pretty bad all night
long, but we were exhausted. I got less written on my log than I had intended.
I had the TV on in the background. The film was (according to the card
they put on the screen) RUDYARD'S KIPLING JUNGLE BOOK (sic). I fell asleep
on it. Woke up and found Evelyn was asleep. I put on DEEP IMPACT and tried
to write. I again fell asleep and woke at 11, turning the lights off went
to sleep officially. Once or twice the boisterous crowd woke people in
the hall woke me. It could not have been for more than a minute or so.
05/28/00: Dublin: Jewish Museum, St. Patrick's, Castle, Pub Crawl
We woke about 7:30. Did a little log work.
On the radio there was someone talking about when he was a child his friends would grease the railroad tracks on a hill near their home. The train going up the hill would get no traction and would get stuck. The neighborhood boys would pelt the engineer with stones. He would throw pieces of coal back. After the train got away they would collect the coal, which had been the point of the exercise.
Breakfast was at Bewley's, sort of like an Irish Horn and Hardart. I had an egg, potatoes, and sausage. Their honey is different from ours. Evelyn says it may not be filtered, but it looks like caramel sauce.
We stopped at the Gaiety to find out when we can get some ticket for "The Plough and the Stars." There is a picture of Stephen Rea from the play standing at a bar and getting drunk. People from the US may be surprised at the truth of the stereotype of how much getting drunk is a part of the culture. More than the US is into television Ireland certainly seems to be into drinking. One rather suspects that you can live here, but if you don't drink you are always an outsider. You see ads for beer and gin everywhere. A major benefactor of St. Patrick's Cathedral is Guinness. The other major church is Christchurch. That's the big Protestant church. H. Roe, a London distiller, restored it. The people in alcohol are the people with the money.
There are drunks in the Dublin street Sunday morning like you would see in Manhattan but probably not most other cities. [P.S. This seemed much less true when you got out of the major centers like Dublin. But it was never really far from true even on the countryside. It should be noted that it was particularly bad with a lot of soccer fans in town. Stout is as strong a national tradition as any they have. The pub seems the center of social activity. It also seems to be less true of the yuppie generation who are going in for computers in a big way. But the sort of all-day drinker like you see in THE QUIET MAN is not all that far from reality. Maybe if I were around the bars of New York I would see something similar.]
The Irish Jewish Museum used to be the Walworth Road Synagogue in the Portobello section of Dublin. This was once a Jewish community but the Jews moved out of the city and into the suburbs. The synagogue closed for ten years before the building was reopened as a museum. It is really little more than one room smaller than my living room with a lot of old photos and remnants of Jewish history and of anti-Semitism. Not all of what we see reflects well on the country. The first five Jews arrived 1079, and were told they have to leave on the next boat back. During the Holocaust Ireland became a sanctuary for Jewish refugees--25 of them in all. Much of the world seems to have been against the Holocaust but was waiting for it to be over before condemning it.
Displays are of the local Jewish communities in sports and in singing. The most popular panel shows anti-Jewish writings. Upstairs the synagogue is refurbished but only for display.
After that we walked to St. Patrick's, but Church was in session so we sat in the adjoining park and worked on logs.
It is now 12:50. The blue sky of the morning is just now being covered by clouds. I am sure we will have rain later.
St. Patrick's Cathedral is built near a well where the original St. Patrick would baptize converts. A chapel was built there in wood, perhaps as early as the fifth century, and remained so until it as rebuilt in stone in 1192. By its own account it is "one of the most ancient and majestic cathedrals in the world." However what we are seeing was not the 12th Century building but a rebuilding the following century. It also was the home of Ireland's first university, founded in 1320. It has a tower 37 meters and a spire 31 meters.
Christchurch not far was really the church of the British and this was the church of the common Irish people. Both were Protestant eventually, though.
In 1492 the Earls of Kildare and Ormond had a serious feud. They were ready to kill each other when Ormond decided not to risk a fight and retreated to the chapterhouse of the cathedral. Kildare thought better of the feud and offered peace from outside. Ormond wanted to come out but did not trust Kildare. Kildare took a spear and cut a hole in the door and stuck his arm through, offering his hand in friendship but also risking that his arm be cut off. Ormond opened the door and the two embraced. The phrase "risking one's arm" has become part of the language.
The other claim to fame of St. Patrick's (at least for us) was the Dean Jonathan Swift. Swift was the Mark Twain of Ireland. Both were bitter satirists of international fame. One major difference was that Swift had stronger religious beliefs. He said, "We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another." Another famous name associated with St. Patrick's was Guinness (of Guinness Stout fame). He contributed heavily to the restoration of the Church. I must say that inside the Cathedral is pretty dark and dismal. Cathedrals so frequently are. Question: they had souvenir stands selling postcards and jewelry, etc. right in the Cathedral. How does this square with Christ throwing out the moneychangers? I thought Christians were not supposed to allow this sort of thing. Just an opinion.
The rain had started.
Our next stop was Dublin Castle. We got their tour. This was really the center of English power in Ireland. If you saw the film MICHAEL COLLINS, much of it was filmed there. Pieces of the castle go back to 1204 when as it was built as a fortress for King John. It remained as the home for the English viceroy. Just one tower remains from then. Most of it was built more recently. In 1884 fire and explosions destroyed most of the building. In 1922 the Brits left, and the Irish government took the building. It now is used as a government building with state apartments and is used for government events up to and including inaugurations.
The tour first takes you to the Battle-axe landing, where originally two guards stood with battle-axes. One sees the emblem of Ireland, a harp. It is almost identical to the emblem of Guinness Stout, but it is the mirror image. In Ireland life seems to revolve around the big three: government, religion, and brewing.
The tour is pretty much what you would expect. Luxurious digs always look a lot alike. There are tapestries and some beautifully carved appointments. There is a throne room and a ballroom.
Then we cross the courtyard. By the way there is a nice statue of Justice holding balanced scales. When it rained the scales would unbalance. It sent a bad message. Eventually someone got the idea to drill a hole in the base of each of the scale's pans. Now even when it rains the scales of justice balance.
We went to the excavated Viking ruins that served as the foundation of the original castle. This part of the tour did not work well. The group had to surround the ruins seeing them from overhead. The taller people went to the railing and leaned over. Shorter people in back had serious problems seeing.
When the tour was over the guide sent us off with a traditional Irish blessing: "May the road rise up to meet you." My comment, if you drink enough stout, it will.
From there we walked toward St. Stephens Green, the central park of Dublin. On the way we stopped to see the Bram Stoker plaque on the side of the building where Stoker lived. It identified him as a theatrical agent and the author of DRACULA. Now my question is who remembers him as a theatrical agent? DRACULA is his claim to fame. That is how people know him.
We took a walk inside St. Stephen's Green. There were abstract sculptures of the famine and of the three fates. Actually one thing got me thinking. A father was watching two children, maybe 15 months and one about three years. The older child was running around a tree and shouting. As he ran around to his brother he shoved him, pushing him to the ground. I expected the younger boy to cry, but he didn't. The older boy ran to his mother. The mother told him something. He ran back to his brother and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do it." The parents were satisfied. I wasn't. The first action was just a momentary meanness and it called for an apology. That wasn't what it got. What it got was a lie and a false commiseration. The parents should have accepted nothing less than "I did it and I was wrong." Letting the child get away without an admission of wrongdoing is a really bad precedent. The world is too full of people who cannot admit when they are wrong. And this kid should have learned not to lie.
At 4:40 we stopped to eat at a place called Pasta Fresca. It specializes in pasta, but most people seemed to want their pizza. I tried fettuccini with four cheeses. It was good, but not a very big portion. Perhaps that is just as well. They ask if you want black pepper on anything you get. There are people who put black pepper on pizza. The restrooms are labeled "Ginas & Ginos." We talked to a couple from Georgia who sat next to us. Mostly we talked about travel.
We discovered why most people were not ordering pasta as the portions of pasta were on the smallish side. The pizzas were a better deal.
Our entertainment for the evening was a literary pub-crawl. The routine was run by Colin and Brendan, two actors. The routine was
-- Get a short enjoyable lecture about a Dublin writer.
-- Get a dramatization from his works,
-- Get some quiz questions
-- Go to a pub supposedly with literary connections to the author,
-- Drink or socialize for 20 minutes.
-- Leave and find a dry place in the street
-- Begin again.
At the end of the evening they would ask us the quiz questions. They would give as prizes a literary pub crawl T-shirt and two small bottles of whiskey. The first thing I thought was that with about 50 people on the pub-crawl, the odds were about 85% that Evelyn would win the T-shirt. Evelyn is a winner. She always has been.
It turns out the questions were all very tough, or at least almost all tough.
The majority of people were from America, I found. There seem to be a lot of Americans in Dublin. There were no Irish I could tell, but there were Germans and French.
The questions were:
--Year James Joyce born (1882)
--What special day was Beckett born (Good Friday)
--Which Beatle was a co-writer of OH CALCUTTA? (John Lennon)
--Who starred in Parnell? (Clark Gable)
--When Oscar Wilde was at Trinity what sport did he participate in? (Boxing)
--Oliver Goldsmith compiled the first Mother Goose. When he found he was two short he wrote two and passed them off as traditional. Which two? (Hickory Dickory Dock, Jack and Jill).
-- What subjects did Wilde lecture on in the West? (Art and Aesthetics)
Only one or two were we told the answers as part of the lectures. Who won? Evelyn, of course. She is a natural winner.
I will repeat one story about Brendan Behan. He was in the IRA but he was so unruly that he was making them all look like a bunch of drunken jerks. They warned him several times to shape up, but he ignored him. Once he got thrown into jail for his antics. The IRA said they were going to try him for his crimes against them. Later they sent him mail saying he had been tried in his absence and was found guilty and sentenced to death. On leaving prison he must report to the IRA to be shot. He sent back a reply, "Ya troid me in me absence, ya can damn well shoot me in me absence."
At one point in the evening Evelyn tried a half-pint of stout. I took a sip. It is like drinking bile. Bitter and terrible tasting. Better her drinking it than me.
At the end of the evening we returned to the room for a little reading
05/29/00: Dublin: Book of Kells, Dublin Writers Museum
I woke at about 6 AM. Evelyn was still asleep so I went into the bathroom to write and ended more organizing my palmtop. I rather expect that there will be more writing time once we leave Dublin. While Evelyn drives I will have time to fill in details about Dublin's fair town. Town is right. For an urban center it is fairly compact. Pretty much all of Dublin is walking distance from the hotel.
Early in a trip time plays funny tricks on you. Right now the first museum of yesterday seems like a long time ago. Certainly it is days ago. Once we have been here a while the days will seem a lot shorter.
Another irony is that it was easier to get the weather forecast and the exchange rate for Dublin from our home in New Jersey than from a hotel room in Dublin. That's the Internet for you. You can already get cellular access. Soon people are going to require it.
I have been trying to figure out why I have this feeling that you are always in somebody's way on the sidewalks of Dublin. It could be a cultural phenomenon like the amount of personal space required. It could be that the Irish look fewer feet ahead when they walk. Or it may be they are more determined than others not to vary their course. I don't want to rule out that it is imagination.
We arrived early to see the Book of Kells. This is an illuminated manuscript, considered by some the world's most beautiful illuminated manuscript, created as far back as the early 9th century. It is a highly decorated book of the Gospels with the first letters of sections decorated with geometrical designs as well as the graven images of animals and human. (Wasn't there a mention about graven images somewhere else in the Bible?) Of some interest was that a frequent decoration motif was snakes. Where did the Irish see snakes? I am curious if there never were snakes in Ireland or if they died off.
The calligraphy makes the reading extremely difficult. With the effort to create this book they probably could have made a hundred copies of the same text more simply written, if they goal had been to get the ideas to people. But the goal was apparently to write the Gospels in the most ostentatious and counter-productive format possible. It is sort of like the Arab emirs who did not want to buy computer terminals until they were offered in solid gold with jeweled keyboards.
In the outer room there are panels telling the histories of four illuminated texts as well as the history of Christianity coming to Ireland. There were panels about the missionaries who brought Christianity to Ireland.
The panels seemed to imply that the missionaries used poor logical arguments and depended much more on emotional appeals to win converts. There was a quote that "Life is a journey and eternity is the destination." But what does it really tell you? Sounds almost like modern cornball pop-psychology. Apparently it sold then the way it sells now.
Some of the illuminations were impressive. Some very creative twistings of animals into letters. Including serpents. One wonders where the artists saw serpents. Some are brilliant. I find it interesting that the Book of Kells emphasizes so much the letters used to start sections. They are highly decorated. It is as if the first letters of sections are really more important than the ideas. I know it is considered heresy to just open the book to a page, read it, and consider what that page has to do with your current situation. That is wrong because it is elevating the importance of the pages. The Book of Kells elevates the importance of the letters. Might this not be heresy to play with the letters and the book more important than the word?
Just as we were about to go in to see the actual book, they closed the room. It will be closed for ten minutes, we were told. Quite a crowd was lined up to get in. The 10 minutes stretched to 25 minutes before the exhibit reopened. It turns out there were some high dignitaries visiting from Norway and they were being shown the book. When they let people in they swarmed the case. Again it was a situation where taller people had to improve their view as much as possible and so shorter people could see nothing. It took fives and tens of minutes to fight ones way in to see the books.
I cannot fight my way to the books so I talk to one of the guards. Apparently there is ALWAYS a mob. They have not figured out a way to show the books without having a mob scene.
After we are done they filter us up to the library (the exhibit is on the first floor of the Trinity College Library). How can I describe the library? It looks like a perspective painting. It has a center walkway with busts on either side, and a second floor, and the ceiling, and it all recedes to a vanishing point. Majestic.
The library has an exhibit of classic books by the likes of Nicolas Copernicus. This collection is almost more interesting than the Book of Kells. At the end they have a collection box for a "Special Appeal" for the library. The collection box had a plastic lid so you could see what had been contributed. There were coins and bills. I did a double take. There were lots of bills and only one was not American. Could it really be that such a high percentage of the contributions be from Americans? Actually no. There is no one pound note. The smallest bill in Irish money is the equivalent of $6 or so. Most people contribute in the dollar range. That is why Americans seem to contribute the vast majority of the bills.
When we left there was a very long line outside of people waiting to get in to see the Book of Kells. Our 25 minutes was nothing. Our next site was to be the Dublin Writers Museum.
We went up Westmorland/O'Connell street toward our next museum. We almost passed Eason's Bookstore. I should complain about the number of books Evelyn bought, but for once I was the big buyer. I got the Sharpe book I was not able to get at Shannon. And they had classics for a pound. I got two collections of short stories. While I was there I looked in a book of Irish name origins. The name Leeper is Irish. I am not, but the name Leeper is. I had heard it meant "basket-maker." This book claimed it just meant "runner" or "jumper" and was from County Donegal. My real family name was Loebsker. My father's uncle took the name Leeper to escape being called "Lobster." But there is no Leeper Coat of Arms. It was not a rich or powerful name. That's my family. If one of us were locked in Tiffany's and could steal what he wanted he's come out with an armload of empty velvet lined boxes. (P.S. Actually now that I think about it that is exactly what it would be smart to steal. Steal jewelry and you have the law on you. Those boxes are less likely to be chased down and they are valuable.)
I notice that O'Donnell, McDonald and MacDonald would both be alphabetized with the Ds. Now I claim that Leeper is supposed to be before A in proper alphabetization. That makes alphabetization difficult. We don't have quite the same rules in the US. Computers are changing all that. Nobody wants to program all these special rules.
Next on our way we stopped at the General Post Office which was really the site the start of the Easter 1916 uprising. They have a series of paintings inside to commemorate the incident. We also picked up a yearbook of stamps for a friend.
The feeling in the early months of 1916 among the Irish Republican Brotherhood was that there needed to be an insurrection in each generation so that the British would know that the Irish were still serious about Home Rule. Britain's being tied up with the war with Germany made this a good time. Even if it would fail, which they fully expected, it was something that needed doing. They even asked Germany for help, but Germany was not interested. Even if they failed Irish nationalism required a blood sacrifice every once in a while. IRB leader Padrick Pearse was willing to give his life for the show. As Easter 1916 approached preparations were made. The IRB leadership set Easter day, but there was confusion when dissenting orders were issued to cancel. Instead of a national uprising it would be Dublin only and was postponed until Monday morning.
1600 rebels took several public buildings and a proclamation of independence was made from the Sackville Street General Post Office from which the uprising was controlled. The British were completely surprised and retreated, temporarily. It did not take them long to respond in force. The British lost 112 lives with about 400 wounded. The fighting went on till the following Saturday when the rebels surrendered.
The British wanted to prevent this sort of thing from happening again and so decided to try taking the hard line. Leaders of the insurrection were tried and executed, starting the following Wednesday. Fifteen rebel leaders were shot by May 10. Martial law was declared and many previously uninvolved citizens were shot. This forced a largely neutral or even pro-British population to take sides, and it would not be with the British. The quick execution s without proper trials infuriated the populace. Then Britain started threatening involuntary conscription for the war against the Germans. Stupid and shortsighted policies threw away the popular support they had. The rebels quickly went in the public view from fools to martyrs. Their pictures could be seen in pubs all over Ireland.
This was really the watershed event. Within five years Ireland was partitioned with most of it independent of Britain.
We passed a McDonalds and Evelyn was thirsty so she had a Coke and I had a caramel sundae. While we were eating we discussed why Ireland has such a literary tradition. Part of it I thought was the English language market. But there is more than that to it. The Irish seem to be eloquent and write what they think.
The Dublin Writers Museum is a real disappointment. It is not so much a museum as an article that you pay to walk around in and read. It is a long article about major literary figures on the walls and beneath it are items that represent the authors' work. There are early editions of their books, etc.
Represented authors include Jonathan Swift, Douglas Hide, Thomas Moore, James Stephens, Oliver Goldsmith, William Congreve, George Moore, William Butler Yeats, J. M. Synge, Bram Stoker, Sheridan Le Fanu, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Lafcadio Hearn, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde, etc. The article puts them all in a context for those who wanted to read the whole thing. They had a phone used by Samuel Beckett.
I rarely come out of a museum thinking this, but given a month and a moderate budget I could have turned this museum from a bore, which was what it was, into a great experience. I know exactly what is missing. As I said it was basically a walk through an article about Dublin's literary roots. What was missing was the literature. In the 20th century we have what we call recording devices. This place could be spiced up with readings, with dramatization. This place tells you everything about the literary heritage except for why anyone should care. I guess they assume everybody is already a fan, but even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame plays the music.
After the museum we headed back to the hotel. It should not have been a very difficult walk at all but, then we should be college age and we are not. The museum was all standing. In fact we had been standing since McDonalds. And that was a temporary respite from a longer stand. By the time we got back to Bloom's we could feel the warp and woof of our socks on our feet. Getting back to the room sounded awfully good. Evelyn tried her card/key in the door and it flashed red. That means, "no, I am not going to let you in." She tried again. I tried my key. Nope. Locked out. We took the elevator to the lobby, which seemed to take forever. I think they had only one running and someone was holding it. Down in the lobby they asked for a clarification of which day we were leaving and reset the combination in our key/cards. Really nice, they want to ask us a question so they change the locks on our room.
At the room we rested. Mostly we looked at the books we had purchased and wondered how we were going to take them home on a plane. At about 4:40 we left for the Gaiety Theater to see if we could get tickets for "The Plough and the Stars" one of the two remaining nights. We got them for that night.
We dropped into the park to write in our logs waiting for dinnertime. Two women sat down at the next to us and started throwing bread to the birds. They got a crowd of pigeons on the blacktop pathway. Someone came along and I expected his to walk around the pigeons. Instead he did not vary his path right through the pigeons sending the birds scattering. It struck me as strange, but nobody passing by varied his or her course for the birds. I don't think I see that behavior at home. I cannot tell if that is a cultural difference, but I suspect it is part of the same behavior I saw on the sidewalk. It is like they set the course they will walk and will vary it for very little. (I do not mean this as a fault, but they do seem to walk in a determined fashion.) Evelyn thinks it might be the walking distances people go. They do not dawdle. They walk like rockets. Earlier today a woman on the street walked past me placing her hand on my stomach pushing me aside.
I cannot swear I would see different behavior at home, but the fact that it looks so odd here makes me think that it is different here.
At 6 PM we went to find dinner. We passed a Russian restaurant called Tsar Ivan. There are not many times I have had Russian. Sometimes I have liked it but it seemed heavy on fat. In Lithuania I thought it was Okay, but in New Jersey it was actually a real artery clogger. Evelyn seemed interested and while I had reservations (the wrong kind) I said yes. I had borscht and lamb strips in a tomato sauce over rice. I think that was less than ten pounds. Certainly the most enjoyable meal we have had in Ireland. Well, the trip is young, but I liked the meal very much. The restaurant looks fairly fancy with cloth tablecloths, good Russian popular music. The lamb reminded me of some of the best of what my mother used to make when I was growing up. The lamb was tender. Overall an unexpected pleasure. The price for a fancy meal with extra tip for really good service and we had change from a 20 pound note. It was under $23 American.
It started raining again while we were in the restaurant. Today was the best weather of the three days, but it rained earlier when we were going back to Blooms and it is raining again.
We get to the Gaiety about 7:30. We take our seats and Evelyn finds a 20 pound note in her seat. Did I say she was one of life's winners?
The problem with us seeing "The Plough and the Stars" is that the actors all played with very thick Irish accents. The audience had no worse trouble than we would listening to Andy Griffith, but we were not used to it. I was lost during the entire first act of the play. I believe that part was not very important to the play anyway. The main characters were essentially LLSLQs (low lifes sharing living quarters). To them the events of Easter 1916 are an opportunity to do some looting. They still get pulled into the conflict against the British and none too gracefully.
At the play's first presentation there were riots against it because is suggested not everyone on the Irish side was idealistic and pure. Sean O'Casey portrayed these opportunists as bad rather than non-existent. For humorous effect anachronisms were added. Looted items included TVs and VCRs.
A couple of incidents were a problem for the theater. One was the dropping of an ice cream cone from the top balcony to the seats two levels below. (They sell ice cream at the intermission.) Nobody was hurt, luckily. The other was just before a major speech a cell phone went off and someone could be heard to be talking on the phone. Nobody was hurt, unfortunately. There should be fines for disturbing a live performance with a cell phone.
When it was over it was back to the room, some snacking, some log writing,
some reading, and then to sleep.
05/30/00: Dublin area: Dalkey, Sandycove, Dun Laoghaire
I woke late for me, about 9:40. Took a shower. They have these packets of shampoo. I guess they have the shampoo wrapped in a packet that is foil on the outside and polyethylene on the inside. That is a combination like Mylar. They would take Superman to rip them open. Luckily they have a starter notch. Then it takes only Arnold Schwarzenegger to rip it open. In the shower with wet hands it is totally impossible. You end up ripping it open with your teeth and wondering where it has been. I sometimes wonder if I have missed the class in modern packaging that everybody else has had. That is why I have this sort of trouble. Surely not everybody is cursing packaging like I am.
The TV in our room must have only a 10-inch screen. Worse, whenever it is powered down it automatically turns the brightness and volume down to zero. It takes about 90 seconds of jiggery-pokery to be able to watch it. And I have had to memorize the jiggery pokery. But to even get the TV on there are four (yes four) power switches that have to be in the correct position. Two on the wall, one on the outlet, one on the TV. I think it is an intelligence test.
The hotel gets a cable package called Sky. Overall it does not give much choice but I will say that every time I turn on Sky Movies they have a major film. Usually one that at home I actually paid to see. And I tend to be selective. They don't seem to run anything like FIRE MAIDENS ON MOTORCYCLES or POST HOLOCAUST ZOMBIES."
Breakfast is again at Bewley's which seems to have a decent, cheap breakfast. I decided to be continental and had scrambled, mushrooms, beans, and toast with milk-tea. You get three items with toast and tea for £2.99.
The plan for today is to see Dalkey, Sandycove, Dun Laoghaire. They are all in a row along the Dublin Area Rapid Transit track. We take the train to Dalkey. Waiting in the station the announcement came "We are sorry to announce that the train to Bray is delayed by five minutes." Jeez. In the US we have a special term for five minutes late. We call it "on time." And nobody is sorry that it is five minutes late, they are proud if they do that well.
The train picks its way between hedges and we see two story brick homes. Even in the more industrial areas there are mostly brick buildings. Some of the homes are Tudor style. There is something a little depressing about brick. There is a feel of having to be prepared for something nasty. You see a lot of ads for American films many of which you would like to want people away from. Actually I guess some I have. One advantage to living in Ireland. You see films a few weeks later than living in the US, but if you want to read reviews before seeing the film and you have the Internet, you know what the critics thought.
When you do see some grass it is very green. It must be all the rain. At one of the stops four boys in the 15-year-old range come on the train. One has a guitar. They are better than the street musicians in Dublin are. One was saying he stopped taking showers a month before and was going to paint his fingernails black.
The ads on the train say "Budapest just three hours away." Europe must be tiny by American standards. The Irish have gone in in a big way for cell phone. On the train every few minutes you hear a cell phone going off. We have a nice day (at last!) And we get some nice glimpses of Dublin Bay. Today it is extremely blue.
We disembarked at Dalkey and walked through the streets. It is odd to see the little old-fashioned storefronts with names like The Cyber Shop. Well, it is almost the 21st Century. Dalkey is the town of seven castles, though five and a half of them have given way to time. Originally this coast was a Viking haven which had a natural harbor. But the Vikings were eventually thrown out. In the 12th Century the archbishops of Dublin became the main landowners. Bullock Castle was built 1170-1190 by Cistercian monks. The town declined in importance in the 1600s. Cromwell, when he landed in Ireland, landed in Ringsend, not Dalkey. I guess that was an embarrassment. In 1800s town started to revive as it was used in coastal defenses. In the 1800s they introduced an atmospheric railway (run, I take it, by pneumatics). Later electric trams replaced the more novel ones.
We scurried around Goat Castle. It did not take very long. It has a couple of rooms of exhibition. You can go up to the battlements on the roof and see a nice view of the town.
We walked to the next town, Sandycove. We passed the other half castle, really a piece of a larger castle, no longer there. This one was not open to the public. You travel a pleasant footpath following the rails, called "the metals." Sandycove seems like it is maybe 75 years old rather than Dalkey which is in the hundreds. We were headed to the James Joyce Tower, a fortification on the top of a hill right on the edge of the bay. We passed beautiful blue tidal pools where parents brought their little children to swim naked.
We got there at 1 PM, just as the tower was closing for an hour. We sat outside the tiny museum and wrote. There were few clouds and nowhere near the sun. The water below was blue next to the beige or green rocks.
The so-called James Joyce Tower is really a Martello Tower, one of fifteen defensive towers between Dublin and Bray, built in 1804 just in case Napoleon had designs on Ireland. The tower has a gun platform on top of the tower. James Joyce's friend, the poet Oliver St. John Gogarty, rented the tower and Joyce stayed here for a week. Now it is a small museum of Joyce's belongings. Since this museum is connected with the Dublin Writers Museum, I was not expecting it to be a lot better. It really was much of the same style. Oh, we saw some early editions of his books and some of the things he used. Climb the tower and there was a nice view of the surrounding area.
I have been trying to figure out just what exactly makes an Irish accent. Climbing the tower I combined everything I have observed about the accent and told Evelyn "It's a bit toyt. Yul rub d'elbows off yer short." That was accurate in more ways than one, I figger. There really is a very pleasant view from the top of the tower, particularly on such a sunny day. This is the nicest weather we have had.
This tower is called the James Joyce Tower because he was a guest for a week of Gogarty, but nobody thinks of it as the Gogarty Tower. Joyce was here a week when another guest awoke from a nightmare and thought there was a panther loose in the tower. Gogarty shot some bullets into the wall above Joyce's head. Joyce decided it was time to go. After about 30 minutes in the tower we decided it was time for us to go.
We walked past the tidal pools we had passed going up to the tower. By now the tide had gone out. So had the children. It is about a mile or so walk to Dun Laoghaire (pronounced "Dun Leery" thank goodness) skirting the water. A very pleasant walk, though I sunburned my forehead. Dun Laoghaire is sort of a resort town.
We had to wander a little in town before finding the National Maritime Museum of Ireland. It was down a sidestreet in an old seaman's church in minor disrepair. It was not the most exciting maritime museum. The Irish never had their own navy that went to war. There are two things that make a maritime museum interesting, neither is very nice. One is war and the other is sinkings. I have heard adventure defined "someone having a hard time someplace distant." There is more to adventure than that, but that seems like a good starting point. And adventure is what makes a maritime museum interesting. This museum did not have much. It had a lighthouse Fresnel lens; it had accounts of the tall ship races of 1860-1874. These were races to bring back tea from Asia. The first so many ships to return got a premium on the price per pound of their tea. They have a couple of old docents.
Generally I prefer to look at a museum at my own speed, but after about half an hour an elderly docent came up to us to explain things. He talked about the French Bantry longboat which was the centerpiece of the museum. They have reconstructed them and have international rowing races with them. This is the only remaining original French Bantry longboat. There is also a piece on the transatlantic cable and a wind-up model of the paddle steamer The Great Eastern. He mentioned the Titanic. I mentioned the film and he started listing technical problems with the way it was portrayed. The boat turns to starboard and the damage was on the starboard side. I told him mine that the ship is tipping on the outside and inside the surface of the water is rising parallel to the cabin ceilings. He had never noticed it before but realized it was correct.
There is a sort of mezzanine. The most interesting thing up there is a small exhibit on the Titanic and the Lusitania.
Back downstairs they have a room where you can choose videotapes on the subject of maritime history. For our benefit they put on a tourism tape for the area. Blech! Supposedly they had a silent German documentary called "Sea War 1917" abut the Jutland battle. This sounded more interesting than just about anything else they could show. I requested it. An older docent was talking to a younger one. The older one said that the tape wore out. The younger one said that he had never even seen the tape. Okay, we took a look at some final exhibits. Somebody came running up and told us they had the tape after all. I think they just did not know what they had. They put it on and the younger docent watched it with us. It had some pretty amazing footage of battle and capsizing boats. We were all fairly pleased they had found the tape.
Afterward we walked to the Dart station and took the Dart back to Dublin. On the train I tried to work on my log and ignore the fact that across the way from me was a woman in her early twenties of stunning beauty. Purely a subjective judgement but I would say Edinburgh has a higher percentage of really attractive women than Dublin does and Paris has them both beat. I try to be a good boy and not stare. But I admit I notice. But this one on the train could have been an actress. It was tough to resist the temptation to look up from my palmtop for another look.
We got back to our hotel and went for dinner to a place called Galagher's. They specialized in a kind of dish called a Boxty. That was some sort of a stew-like filling in a fine-ground potato pancake like a crepe. The problem was that--I had chicken and Evelyn had lamb--was not very good and the crepe didn't really do much to improve it. It was just not very tasty.
We were not very far from our hotel, but we had to fight our way. It seemed there was some sort of big game of Scotland vs. Ireland at football. This brought a huge number of sports fans who the whole trip so far have been making pests of themselves. You here them singing after midnight. This evening they were swarming in the streets. One we passed was carrying a large inflatable phallus like a punching toy five feet high. Overall I felt there were more sports fans than neurons in the street.
Back at the room I watched a film called ZERO EFFECT and worked on my
log. TV also had BLADE.
05/31/00: Dublin: National Museum of Ireland, National Gallery of Ireland
I was up till about midnight and awoke about 8 AM, so I am sleeping a full night. At home I probably sleep about 90 minutes less. Then again I might doze off in the evenings. Well, today looks sunny. Yesterday there was no rain at all. It was the only rainless day.
Over breakfast I kick around an idea with Evelyn. Okay, I am willing to be told this is a nitwit idea, but let me just explore it. Now "The Troubles" are basically a land problem. The Catholics want to be citizens of the Irish Republic. The Protestants want to be citizens of the UK. But they don't want to give up their land right where it is. So why do they have to? We are getting to an Internet connected world where your exact location is a lot less important than it used to be. Someone in Oregon can work for a New York firm. Let the people of Northern Ireland declare which government they want. Then that is their government. That is whom they pay their taxes to. Arrangements will be made by the two governments as to how they will be managed based on the tax money collected. Nobody has to be resettled; everybody has the government they want. Which country is Northern Ireland? It's both. They could treat most of your laws like international border laws. Why not? There may be some insuperable problem I don't know, but then I don't know it. We are used to one patch of land, one government, but that is not really necessary.
Our visit for today is the National Museum of Ireland. There are really three branches of the museum; one we will not be visiting is devoted to art. He will see their history museum and their natural history museum. The history museum covers prehistoric times, the Viking invasion, and Christianity.
All the signs are in Celtic and in English. Okay, Evelyn found one or two that were missing the Celtic. Which she complained about.
There were school children swarming though. That seems fairly common in museums. We tried to take that exhibits chronologically so started with the prehistoric. You see stone tools. There is one case per period at the beginning.
The centerpiece of their collection is a long dugout boat. The logboat, partially reconstructed, is about 55 feet. Apparently the boat was launched in a bog and after all the work to make it it sank to the bottom. The bog preserved the boat, which undoubtedly was a great disappointment to its builder.
As we move on we get into the historical period. We see swords for ceremony, grain grinding stones, bronze horns, and cauldrons for beer making.
They found some bog bodies, people apparently strangled in ritual murder and thrown in the bog.
There was a videotape of the history of art on the island. They showed all these creative Celtic forms. Intertwining shapes of snakes and other animals. Then honest they said, "Christianity came like a breath of fresh air." What is ironic is that all the art became much less interesting. Little figures of archbishops. Religion is to art generally not so much like a breath of fresh air as it is like two broken kneecaps. Look at Italian art with its legions of tired Madonnas. Look at the endless paintings of Christ on a cross. The goal of non-religious art is to show the thinking of the artist, perhaps some imagination. The goal of religious art is to win the artist a better seat in heaven. In Catholic art if you wanted to show some imagination you do a Temptation of St. Anthony.
There was an explanation how to use these big round Celtic brooches. You stick the in through layers of the cloak, then slip the disk onto the pin twisting it around.
There is a room of Viking artifacts including Viking axes and games of the Viking times, decorated leather, brasswork, and Slave shackles.
There is religious art, which seems generally more inhibited. We see reliquaries and church doorways. For the last part we return downstairs for an account of the Easter Uprising.
Our next stop is the Natural History Museum. My first impression is that it looks like something out of Conan Doyle. This is the old cabinet style of museum with tens of thousands of specimens mostly taxidermized and in cases. There is little information except what the animals are.
The first floor has animal life of Ireland: Irish elk, foxes, rabbits, fishes in alcohol bottles. The second floor is a little nauseating with its collection of monkeys and primates, a tiger, stuffed hippos and rhinos. A huge collection of stuffed animals. The stuffed cats are in a low crouch so more could be fit in the case. The more I saw of the museum the worse I felt. In one little corner they had models of some dinosaurs. These had to very old. They had a model of something very like an ankylosaurus but its knees and elbows bowed out like an iguana's. No dinosaur's legs bowed like that. In fact, one of the requirements for an animal to be a dinosaur is standing straight on its legs. But at least nothing died for this exhibit. The upper floors they had exhibits of dead arthropods like spiders and scorpions.
It did not help that this museum was swarming with small children. But the sight of all these dead animals was just too depressing for me. A modern natural history museum tells a lot more with a lot fewer dead bodies.
Evelyn was thirsty so after we left we went to a newsdealer. I got a flavor of soda called Rock Shandy. That is a combination of orange and lemon. The brand, Club, was quite good. Certainly better than Fanta. We were hit on by a beggar. Dublin seems beset with beggars. Not as many as New York perhaps. They are women with shawls and apparently with babies, though you never get a good look at the baby and Evelyn thinks it is just a bundle. Some take no for an answer, some get abusive. Evelyn told one "No," and she screamed at Evelyn to fuck off. I thought with the shawls that they were Moslem, though Evelyn thinks they may be gypsies.
Our final museum of the day is the National Gallery of Ireland. We do not have the time to do it justice, I am afraid. Art museums are to me a lot like Shakespeare. I cannot imagine why I would want to go to an art gallery when I am not there. When I get there I find I am really enjoying it. After I leave I cannot explain why it was so interesting. In school I had little interest in art, I just picked it up somewhere. And as you may have noticed I have some strong opinions about art. This gallery was opened to the public in 1864. We first saw Irish artists mostly unknown to me. Nevertheless I saw a lot to like in their style and their spirit. At the end of a long series of rooms devoted to Irish artists is a room with a set of computers. They give you lectures on selected paintings. Unfortunately some of the paintings that would have interested me most were not covered.
From there we went to see the German Flemish and Dutch galleries. Lots of nice work in a minor key and a dark mood. Love it. Bruegel had "A Peasant Wedding." People were dancing; others were fighting. Good stuff. There was a very bleak paining by "a follower of Bosch." Something with a devil and gallows. And someone had done a "Temptation of St. Anthony." In the middle ages religion seemed to stifle all the imagination in art unless the artist was depicting "The Temptation of St. Anthony." I have looked up the history of St. Anthony and I still don't understand what the story is. But who cares. Just any painting called "The Temptation of St. Anthony." A Temptation of Saint Anthony" is imaginative, regardless of artist. We returned to the computer room to see if they discussed "The Temptation of St. Anthony." Nope.
It had been sunny the previous day and the first half of today. But now it started raining hard which meant the drought was over. It was getting time to pick up our rented car. Evelyn had promised we would be there by 4 PM. We picked up the car and drove out to Clontarf in the rain.
I am hoping what we are seeing is not typical if Ireland. It is gray and there is nothing particularly pretty about the countryside we are seeing. Much of the highway has fences and walls. We pass by a big factory for Bewley's. This is where they make the coffee or punch out the fried potatoes. There just is not a lot of scenery, just a slightly different flavor of suburbs than you would see in the US. Maybe there will be more out in the country.
We returned to the hotel and then went out to a restaurant called The Palm Tree and I had Tagliatelli and Chicken.
The movie on SKY was the new Gweneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Again it is a film I paid to see in a theater. So they do have a good selection. I did not pay close attention, but I have to say that this is one updating that exceeds expectations. I think they really do capture the essence of the Dickens. It is a bit much a showpiece for Paltrow, and there is a lot to show there, but I think better than the classic film version it says what Dickens was saying. The second feature was GODZILLA. Okay, I did pay to see it in a theater. What can I say? It was the big release of a Memorial Day weekend.
I turned it off and went to bed.
06/01/00: Dublin to Slane: Tara, Newgrange, Knowth
The bathtub leaks. I was up in the night and tired of listening to the drip. I tried the handles, but they would not turn off enough. It is probably bad washers. I wrapped a handtowel around the spigot and that did the trick.
We once again had breakfast at Bewley's. I had fried egg, ham, sausage and toast. (What I call ham they locally call bacon. I will probably continue to call it ham for the benefit of Americans. What Americans call bacon is more in narrow strips.) Once again we have rain. Of the six days we have sampled in Ireland, five were rain days.
Walking back to the hotel we passed once again the Thunder Road Cafe. This place is trying desperately to look like a Hell's Angels hangout. They have a parking space on their sidewalk that says "American Made Motorcycles Only." Still no takers of the free parking. It is fascinating that other countries want to imitate our rebel youth. In Japan they dance in the park like Rock Around the Clock. Dublin wants to have a motorcycle hangout whether they can attract real hoodlums or not. People sure must think it is good to be an American. After I travel I appreciate being home for about half a week.
A while back we were losing our technical edge. What happened to that? Suddenly everything is the Internet and we are the leaders again.
It is a little depressing to see the McDonalds and KFCs and Burger Kings here. But, if the locals were not buying they would not be here. There are economies of scale that you see Shell Oil and Nestle Chocolate in so many countries. Neither company is American. But it is certainly a game that Americans tend to win. There are plenty of burger places and Pizza Huts in Europe. It would be nice if every country offered a 100% new experience, but nicer still is if each country has what it wants, even if that includes Big Macs. And Chevy Malibus.
We went back to Blooms to check out. They did one last nasty to us. They converted what we owed to dollars and charged us that. The problem was that it was a lousy rate. We would have done much better if they had charged us in pounds and the credit card company had done the conversion. What is more, if we want to pay an Irish hotel in their own currency we should be able to. They can insist on their own currency, but they should not be able to insist on a foreign currency and set the exchange rate themselves. However, we cannot complain too much because their price was not too bad.
The car we rented is a Ford Fiesta, by the way. It seems to be just about the ultimate lack-of-luxury car. They cut corners wherever they can to make a less expensive car. The cassette player has only volume, fast-forward, and eject buttons. If you want to control the tone, take it home. If you want to rewind a tape to hear the last track again, eject it, flip it, put it in fast forward for some length of time, eject the tape, flip it, and play. Repeat as often as necessary. Cassettes that play fine in my cheap Walkman play with a bad wah in the car. There is one flashing light inside for a right or left turn signal. I guess it is what was originally the Volkswagen concept. First priority is to get a car on the road. A Fiesta is a very minimal approach to car making. [P.S. The rear view mirror is attached with a double-faced tape. It keeps falling loose every 20 minutes or so. At Ford quality is job #1, or so they say. Now I think I know why they have to give it a high priority. As the vacation wore on the lousy quality of the car became a source of constant jest. Is the gas tank locked? Not on a Ford Fiesta. There are three matching hubcaps and one that does not match. The height of the harness is adjustable on the driver side but not the passenger side.]
So we hit the road. There were three radio stations I found. Ireland has Lyric, a public classical music station. I like it a lot. The host seems to not have any accent at all. That struck me as odd. Why wouldn't he have an Irish accent? Is there a form of English so neutral that in Ireland that it doesn't sound like an accent and in the US it sounds the same? Supposedly the people on American network news are so accent free that people around the country think the commentators talk like them. Well on Friday he made an announcement. He had enjoyed his year on Irish radio and was returning to Minnesota Public Radio. Suddenly it was clear why he did not sound like he had an accent.
There was another radio station in which all the words were in Gaelic. That had good Irish music. A third station had a mix of Irish and country-Western. American country-Western music seems popular all over the world. That seems very strange.
On this trip we brought three guidebooks: Lonely Planet, Eyewitness, and the Insight Guide. I used to like the Insight Guides, but the new one for Ireland does not have so many in-depth articles. Mostly this has articles that list areas and has little superficial single paragraphs per site. It has lots of big pictures that set the atmosphere. I used to like Insight Guides, but they have gone downhill. By far the most popular guidebook in Dublin seems to be the Eyewitness Ireland book. It seems to be a little better than the Lonely Planet. In Asia nothing is better than Lonely Planet, here the popular one is Eyewitness. I would say that the Ireland is not as good as their Paris book was. Of course it is comparing apples and oranges since the Paris book covered only one city. Actually the best book for the rest of the trip will probably be HANDBOOK OF IRISH ANTIQUITIES by William F. Wakeman. Copyright 1995, but it is a reprint of an 1891 book.
Trim Castle in County Meath is a majestic sight from a distance. As we approach the look is somewhat hampered by the polyethylene over the windows. There is a parking lot across the road. We park and look for an entrance. Not seeing it we ask a policeman. "Actually, it won't open for another month." The castle is 780 years old and we are here just one month short of when it opens. Of course when King John of England came to County Meath to visit the castle, the owner locked it up and left town. No wonder John was so nasty.
We get some snapshots from the outside and move on to our next site. The Hill of Tara is not really very far away, but we are not used to the roads and it takes a lot of searching to find it. Our maps may not be the best. I noticed that the trigger button on my camera was cracked. The door of the car may have whacked it. Maybe its time has just come. I hope it will survive the trip. I will probably have to replace the camera soon.
Tara is one of the many Hill Forts in Ireland. There were many tribes with hill forts but this was considered the most important at the time. Sort of like there are bishops all over Italy but the Bishop of Rome is a special one. The chieftain of Tara was the most powerful chieftain.
The primary occupation here would probably have begun around the time of Christ. Unlike at Tara none of the forts were inhabited for long. There is however a Stone Age passage tomb that goes back to 2000 BC. While this site is one of the most important little has been done to exploit it. It is still mostly just a sheep grazing area. At the little church you pay to see a film about its importance. Then a live guide takes you to the hill and tells you of its importance. It was one guide for two people. Walking to it one has to be careful not to step in sheep leavings.
As a gateway to the field are the Bloch and Bligna stones. Legend has it that they would stand together and when the rightful king came he would drive his chariot between them and they would open for him. False kings they would not open for. However, it is known that the stones standing there today are not original.
Seen from above the area looks like a big circle with two smaller circles within. On of these is called Cormac's house and it is crowned by the Stone of Destiny, a stone used in the inauguration of a new leader. The other circle is a ringfort. The two circles look almost the opposites of each other from above. One is concave in the center, one convex. Each with waves emanating from the center so it almost looks like you could fill one with the other.
Around 1890 the Hill of Tara was badly torn up by a group called the British Israelites. Their inside knowledge of scripture clearly indicated that the Ark of the Covenant was buried at the Hill of Tara. They did not find it, but they left their mark on Tara. Best historical evidence today seems to indicate that the British Israelites were probably a bunch of flaming wackos. Perhaps they were as loony as bedbugs, perhaps more.
While the Romans did not come in any great numbers to Ireland, apparently there was trade between them and the people who used Tara, as there were Roman artifacts found at the site.
From there it was out looking again, this time for the visitor center for Knowth and Newgrange. These two sites have been somewhat commercialized for tourism. You go to a big modern visitor center and they show you the significance of prehistoric people. The two sites are not far apart and there is one visitor center for both. From there there are shuttle buses to and from the two sites. Newgrange was built as a passage tomb, but it also measures the first day of winter. Knowth has passageways to going due east and due west.
Newgrange dates from about 3200 BC meaning it predates the great pyramids (but not the step pyramid of Zoser). The people had a fear of winter coming and never ending. The passageway of the tomb at Newgrange is illuminated just the one day of the year, the day to start looking for days to become longer. The tomb itself is a mound surrounded by 97 curbstones.
According to the guides and the Lonely Planet to lay out the passage so precisely required sophisticated mathematical calculations and instruments more advanced than what the Greeks had at the time. That is very impressive. It is also totally false. It requires only the observation that light follows a straight line and so does a taut piece of string. The sophisticated instruments it requires is two wooden stakes and a string. You put the two stakes in the ground and run the string between the stakes and tie it so you can sight down it. One stake you leave fixed, the other you can move. As the first day of winter approaches you move one of the stakes so the string points to the rising sun. As the first day approaches you reposition one of the stakes and line up the string so it is aimed at the rising sun. The first day of winter the stake stops moving one way and starts moving back. At that point you leave the string fixed and start dropping rocks on each side without touching the string. No big deal.
At the sight we were lectured on the meaning of Newgrange. There is an entrance stone with some spirals. Nobody is sure what it means; though it is thought it could be a map. Inside the tomb, if that is really what it is, is a cross-shaped passageway. The whole tomb must have taken 40-80 years to construct, longer than anyone's lifespan at the time. Found buried in the tomb were the remains of five or six people. They may have been the most important people; they may have been people taking turns having the honor of having their bodies put into Newgrange. Apparently nobody brought in fire into the passageway since there is no smoke staining. The tomb fell into disuse after about 1000 years. We got a chance to go inside. Unfortunately somebody brought a crying baby in with us. The rock walls just magnified the noise.
As it turned out the guy with the crying baby and his wife went with us to Knowth. In fact, it was just the five of us. He as it turned out was an archeologist. We were able to discuss the sites and archeology.
Knowth is northwest of Newgrange. Supposedly it is more amazing than its neighbor is. This is a site of over 20 passage tombs. One of the tombs covers almost an acre and a half. It has a passage going due east and one going due west. One of the recent discoveries is what is thought to be a map of the face of the moon in stone carvings. Like Newgrange, Knowth took 40 to 100 years to build.
We went into Slane for dinner and the night. There were three B&Bs listed in the Lonely Planet. Bed and Breakfast is generally the best way to go when you are travelling. We went to what sounded like the best B&B in the Planet. It was closed. We tried the second and they were not open, but sent us to the third, the Castleview. It seemed reasonable at £17/person. It was a bit tough maneuvering into the driveway. They recommended the pub in the hotel in town for dinner. We went. I ordered a steak and Evelyn ordered Chicken Kiev.
In the room I worked on my log and occasionally tried the TV, but there
was little of interest. I did a little reading before bed.
06/02/00: Slane to Ballycastle: Armagh Astronomy Centre and Navan Fort
We are up pretty far north here. We were at 53 degrees latitude where at home we would be about 40. That makes the day about 16 hours and 40 minutes long. Summer is fast approaching. Sunrise is a 5 AM and sunset at 9:42 PM. At our B&B the curtains are not really opaque so I woke about 5:30 and again at half-hour intervals until 7 when I stayed up.
Breakfast was served at 8 AM. It was ham and eggs and we each had some cereal. I thought it was very good. For £34 for the two of us, the Castleview turned out to be a very nice B&B. The one problem is not enough parking space and some trouble getting the car in and out. Oh, it had just local TV, but we spend more time reading and writing anyway. [P.S. There is another group, probably from Germany staying here. Two couples.]
The bathroom was shared, but there is a sink in each room. By the way, sinks in both Irelands are after the British fashion. There are two spigots, one for hot water and one for cold water. I once asked a Brit why that was. She answered in all seriousness that the mixers were never made safe. There was always a danger of scalding water coming out. The other strange thing is whether the hot is on the right or the left is purely random. We are used to hot on the left, but you have to look for some show of red to know that a spigot is hot water.
We drove to Armagh for our next site. That brought us into Northern Ireland. There is no danger. I probably could have even worn my commando sweater.
The Astronomy Center of Armagh is really a set of exhibits around the observatory and the planetarium. The outer gardens have some simple weatherproof exhibits. The first one you come to is the Garden of the Planets. This is a scale model of the solar system showing the relative sizes of the planets and their relative distances from the sun. The planets are aluminum spheres. The sun is a big circle, which saves on aluminum. Also a different scale is used for distance from the sun and for the radius of the planets.
They also showed you the size of the known universe. They showed you a cube within a cube ten times as big on a side inside one ten times the size of that one. So you have some idea what 1000 is. 10x10x10. The next cube shows you a million, or 100x100x100. So there are a million little cubes in the big cube. Then they continue up the hill with where more and more cubes would be. Anyway, it was supposed to represent a number that is the number of meters to the edge of the universe. It is a distance so large to crush the ego. It didn't crush my ego. That's because I knew it was a misnomer to call it a "hypercube." Whoever had set this up had seen pictures of a hypercube but had not understood them.
Inside you can get tickets to the planetarium and/or the display center. We had a little money from our last trip to Britain. We got just tickets to the display. It opens with Richard Dawkins refutation of Prince Charles's Reith Lecture. Apparently in some sort of official statement the Prince said that we should trust intuition. In other words be touchy feely and use The Force. It goes without saying Dawkins is right.
There are several computer demonstrations. I sat with one on how to design a telescope. There was a presentation on the space program. After about five minutes a school crowd swarms in. Soon there is a layer of school children surrounding each of the most interesting exhibits. If there are breakable parts on an exhibit you want to see, give up hope. Walk toward an empty exhibit and a kid sees where you are walking and runs to it first.
There is a wooden Towers of Hanoi. This is an old puzzle with a set of disks with increasing size, each with a hole in the center. All the disks are on one of three spindles so you never have a larger disk on top of a smaller disk. The object is to move all the disks from one spindle to another, one at a time so you never have a larger disk on a smaller one. According to the woman there running the exhibit I was the first person who ever solved it. Actually, anybody knows how to do it. They know how to do it if there is one disk in the stack. If they know how to do it with N disks, they know how to move N disks to spindle A. That frees up the N+1st disk to be moved to spindle B. Then they can just repeat what they know to move the N disks to B. They have then moved the N+1 disks to B. So they know how to move N+1. So they know how to move one disk, they know how to move two. So they know how to move three. And so forth. I suppose there is something of a paradox. You can prove by induction that someone knows how to move any number of disks, but clearly many people do not know. N disks can be moved with (2^N)-1 moves. One disk can be done in one move, two disks take three, and three take seven.
It is nice to see them presenting math as part of a balanced emphasis on science. They have some math posters explaining concepts like symmetry. They had some somewhat animated films showing dinosaurs. The kids were pretty much ignoring them. I think that the ante has been upped with the TV documentary "Walking with Dinosaurs" and the film DINOSAUR. Kids are no longer going to be impressed with some poorly animated dinosaur. They are going to want something that looks three-dimensional and real. Even the Harryhausen era of dinosaur special effects is probably over. I wonder if kids saw THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS what would they think of the rhedosaurus.
After that it was off to Navan Fort, the ancient capital of Ulster. Navan combines an overly polished visitor center like Newgrange offers with a fairly plain earthwork. Basically it is a mound of dirt. In the Iron and Bronze Ages it became the keystone of a major complex of sites. About 100 BC a circular area 125 feet across was cleared and turned into a large structure. At the center was a post 18 meters long almost like in a circus tent. Later the whole structure appears to have been intentionally burnt to the ground. Today there just appears to be a great mound there looking a lot like the saucer from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. There is not much to see at the mound but the mound itself. There are a few explanatory signs.
After having seen the mound we had a long way to go north. The countryside of Northern Ireland looks a lot like the Republic. Perhaps it looks a little more prosperous. Of course it does not hurt that the sun came out. So far all day had been Irish mist, a sort of constant drizzle not really certifiable as rain. It is a quieter way for everything outside to get wet.
We drove toward our next site knowing that there was not enough time to actually see it. At least the sun came out finally. It made sense to break for the night at Ballycastle. We drove along Quay Street and stopped at the first B&B listed in the Lonely Planet. The first one that was convenient was the Fragens. 34 pounds/night. Now that is English pounds so it is a little more expensive. An English pound is about $1.50 while an Irish pound is closer to $1.20. Generally if they have a shamrock symbol outside they are approved by the Irish Tourist Board. (It is a different sign in Northern Ireland, I forget exactly what.)
We asked if they were a laundromat nearby. The owner said it was three minutes walk up the road. Well ten minutes walk up the road there is a dry cleaner, but there is no do-it-yourself laundromat. While we were in town we had fish and chips for dinner, then returned to the room.
We will have to do the laundry tomorrow. At about 7 PM we returned to the room. I put on the TV and see we get the four channels of the BBC. Even with four channels there is more on of interest than we found with Irish TV. We found a rather funny quiz show about the news. Then there was a comedy on called "Coupling." Also very funny. It is strange that there is little on American TV that makes me really laugh. But the old Beeb still does it for me. Next was "Not the 9 O'clock News" and they broke their streak. It was pretty lame.
I shut it off and worked on the log. Eventually it was off to sleep.
06/03/00: Ballycastle to Buncrana: Giant's Causeway, Derry Tower Museum
Sunny morning, will it last?
I woke about 7:15. The room is a nice and bright and airy, but it lets in a lot of light. At least this B&B has an en suite bathroom. One hates to get dressed as soon as one gets up. Evelyn points out that things seem to cost the same number of pounds as they do in the Republic, but those are Irish pounds and these are English pounds. Those are roughly $1.20 and these are $1.25.
I suppose part of the two-spigot system is the electric shower. Showers in the US are relatively non-technical. Here you have an electric box in the shower. They are not all alike but there is generally a dial to control the temperature, another to control the volume, and a push button to turn it on and off. It may actually heat the water as it comes through, I can't tell. In the US we sort of feel that electricity and water do not mix. No so here. I just hope the thing doesn't leak and short out. Actually the real danger is not the electricity. It is the fact that once you have set the temperature it begins its journey to achieving that temperature, but it must take it 45 seconds to get there. And it may wander in getting there. Now whatever language dial makers use to express what heat to have the water at it is neither standard nor clear. And it is certainly not precise. Every new how you have to puzzle about what the manufacturer meant to express making the water just a little warmer. It is a new learning experience each time. Sometimes you are doused in ice water. Some time you are poached like an egg. And if there is a scald cutoff it does not work or does not cut in for several seconds or completely confuses things. You put in one setting and the water starts to get hotter and just as it is getting comfortable it gets colder again, saving you from a nasty episode of warm water but other times scalding you with impunity. Admittedly in the US I have occasionally not set the water at the right temperature in a show and have been sorry, but the safer British/Irish system can be counted on to give you a freezing and a scalding every time. Nearly every time.
We should have thought about this last night, but we are pinned in the driveway. The driveway is just barely a car wide. From the breakfast room I can see there are at least two cars behind us in the driveway and there is no sign when these people get up on a Saturday morning. This could conceivably be a serious delay.
At the B&Bs breakfast is generous. That is a good thing since we skip lunch. Even dinner is not very big. But I was supposed to be getting a cholesterol blood test after this trip and I think I will wait about a month. Breakfast here includes sausage, ham, eggs, fried mushrooms, and bread with butter. It is tasty but not so great on the arteries.
After breakfast we went up to the room. Evelyn hit the bathroom. We looked out the window and apparently cars had been moved. We put the luggage in the car. I went in to pay the woman who owned the place. She pointed me in the direction of the kitchen. A woman was coming out and I went to pay her. She pointed me into the kitchen. There was a little woman sitting in the kitchen with coke bottle glasses. This was the real owner. I told her how we enjoyed out stay. I don't know. We stay only at recommended B&Bs but they seem to try to outdo each other to be nice places to stay.
It really is a beautiful morning as we set out. With the sun shining a lot of this countryside looks very beautiful. You drive along and see fields of white-faced and black-faced sheep, farmhouses, and fences. Hills covered with gorse--green scrub stippled bright yellow. Rocks poking through. The road out of Ballycastle follows the rocky coastline. I think we are in Ballintoy. The sun makes a big difference in how this area looks. This would have been so gray and dreary yesterday.
In the parking lot at the Giant's Causeway some new arrivals say good morning to us. We say good morning back. Five minutes later it strikes me that they are the two couples we had seen at breakfast at Slane.
The guidebook says that there is a visitor center that explains how the curious geological formations here were formed. Actually there is no visitor center and no explanation. The visitor center burned down and has not yet been rebuilt.
After you park the car you can go up to the cliffs or down to the water. We take the high road first. Looking down there is a stunning view of craggy cliffs dropping into blue water, white froth, and brown rocks. We follow a path up to the cliffs.
We offer to take photos of a some of the other tourists with their camera. One couple is from Puerto Rico and another from Albuquerque. The view is very nice from the cliffs down into the water. It is a nice pleasant walk with a beautiful view of the water.
Now, imagine that you have some hexagonal graph paper and you start to divides up the paper in loops that are convex (they don't have little caves in them) and that use up all the space on the paper. You could do that with just hexagons, but you make some edges longer than a single unit. Now you cut columns in those shapes so they still all fit together. If you had just hexagons it would have looked like a pack of new pencils, but again they are not quite so regular. Now grab these columns and loosely so their sides stay together but the ends are all different heights. You would have something like the rock formation at Giant's Causeway. You have a solid field of polygonal steps. It really is the result of volcanic action. Basalt rock must have a molecule that sheers easily in hexagonal directions in two of its dimensions and yet is strong in the third dimension. You end up with this formation made of convex polygonal columns, not all perfect hexagons but all fitting together in the way a fistful of new pencils would.
This area is volcanic. (Hmmm, so at least GORGO was accurate in that regard. I was skeptical.) And in the lava there was a pool of basalt. It cooled but then uneven pressures underneath it cracked it into these polygonal stone columns, 40,000 of them by someone's count. Each with a roughly flat face maybe about two square feet in area. Locals say it was Finn McCool, a giant and the Irish Paul Bunyan who built these steps as a walkway to his lady fair. In any case, it is a unique piece of geology.
Back to the car.
As we drive along the coast past farms there is the distinctive smell of cows and their leavings. I tell Evelyn "That's Derry air for you." Being Jewish we have to be a little careful of a trip that mixes Meath and Derry. This is the area where the Jew was asked, "Are ya Catholic or Protestant?" 'Well neither. I am a Jew." "Course ya are, but are ya a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?" While we are on the subject of Jewish and pencils the name of the town we just left is Moyle. It is interesting how close some of these Irish words are to Jewish. I almost expect that when they read the story of Esker when they mention Eamon we twirl our McGregors. If you are not Jewish, don't worry about what that was all about. It's all over anyway.
As we drive along the countryside the radio plays the Easter Hymn from CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA. Boy what a beautiful piece of music.
We come to a town that is steeped in "The Troubles." It is Derry. The British call it Londonderry. It was and is a walled city. It was a Protestant stronghold for hundreds of years. There is a now stylish inner city within the walls and a more standard outer city. We went looking for tourist information and found it, though parking was in a parking garage. Evelyn refuses to pay parking for tourist information. The Lonely Planet has a map that says the Tower Museum is in the northernmost corner of the wall. We find that by car and park in a nearby parking garage.
The Tower Museum is our major stop of interest in Derry. Its contents
are the history of Derry, so perhaps I should talk about both. The museum
starts being about how Ireland was settled in the Bronze Age. You can ignore
this part since nearly every museum so far had told you about Ireland in
the Bronze Age. Every museum's view of the Bronze Age is pretty much the
same. So a description of Bronze Age Dublin is an awful lot like Bronze
Age Derry. Even if it wasn't there is no history to tell us what the differences
were. If a museum said 1930s Germany was pretty much like 1930s America
you would know it nonsense. But from our current point of view one Bronze
Age culture was pretty much like another.
In 546 AD Derry was founded as founded as a monastery. Other housing built up around it so it was not just a monastery. But when Derry was plundered by Vikings in 990 BC mostly monastery was plundered because that was where the money was.
In the late 16th century Elizabeth I decided to put down rebellion in Derry by sending a garrison of soldiers. A second attempt was made in 1600. By 1603 the toen was secured. Catholic forces burned Derry in 1608. But in 1609 James I made lots of land grants in Derry to Protestants. There was a 1641 rising of Catholics that was put down.
In 1688 the Catholic forces of James II came to take Derry. They marched on the city. The rulers of the city were not sure what to do but thirteen apprentice boys grabbed the keys of the city and locked the door of the city. There followed 105 days of siege. What followed is the usual result of siege: hunger, disease, and bombardment. The Protestants told their besiegers that if food got scarce enough they would eat the city's Catholics and if need be each other before surrendering. A rescue ship from England broke the siege. England's William of Orange, however, decided he must defeat James II, and attacked him at the Battle of the Boyne in 1689. That was a win for the English.
The exhibits also include an account of the ordnance survey of 1824-1846, the Easter uprising, the partition of Ireland, Derry in World War II and in The Troubles. It was a fairly good museum.
We were in the museum about three hours, long enough for us to miss the end of the nice weather. By the time we got out it was once again overcast. Our next order of business was either a snack or a walk around the walls of the town.
We saw no good place to eat so we decided to take the wall walk and at the same time look for a place to eat. There is a little book that they give to visitors to tell you what you are seeing on the walls. Usually it is cannons used at the siege of this or that.
We saw a little sandwich shop and shared a tuna sandwich. Then we continued our walk. There are ramps up to the walls at various places. As we were walking we passed two teenagers. One said something in an impenetrable accent pointing to the flag above a church. I have no idea most of what he said but it ended with "Ya betta go tell the ministah." No thank you. We are not that naive. They asked where we were from. "New Jersey." "Is that near Colorado Springs?" "No, it is pretty far." Again he said something impenetrable about his brother being in Colorado Springs and them having a big earthquake. I don't think so. I suppose there is not much to do on a Saturday afternoon.
We continued on. Once again we passed the Dynamic Duo. "Did ya tell the clergyman?" "No, I thought you should get the credit." "Well, we have to be going." "Nice seeing you again." "Yeah, nice seeing you." Evelyn said she may be too much used to New York but their hanging around frightened her. It was not my reaction. I doubt that there is much violent crime in Ireland.
After walking the wall we headed back to our car. There was a mall attached to our parking garage and we went to a Tasco grocery in the mall so we got some cookies and... Idris Ginger Beer. Usually available only in Britain. (Somehow it does not taste quite as gingery as I remember.)
Evelyn was thinking we might stay at one of the local farmhouses she had seen listed. I pointed out there would be no restaurants around. We decided to go to Buncrana and find something there. We did, but it may have been a mistake. This was Saturday of Bank Holiday weekend and there were no vacancies wherever we tried. We gave a try at an older place that had no approval symbols. The Osborne House is an older house on the sea like Windward House. It was a little run down, but we took it.
The woman who runs it has a sign that tells when the local church services were. No Jewish services as Evelyn pointed out. There were religious pamphlets left around to catch what souls she could. Each should would get her a better seat in the next life.
We put our things in the room and walked into town to get dinner. The restaurant we picked was the Ubiquitous House. Against my own better judgement I got Thai Red Curry Chicken. I didn't think it tasted authentically Thai, but I had to admit it was pretty good. We had to send the bill back because they overcharged. They corrected it.
You know the routine at this point. Back to the room for a little TV
and working on the logs.
06/04/00: Buncrana to Belcoo: The Ulster American Museum, Marble Arches
I woke up about 7 AM. Evelyn was still asleep.
It looks like another nice Irish day. Overcast sky but just light sprinkles.
At 8:30 we go down to breakfast. We start with cereal and I have my old faithful Wheetabix. Most Americans have never had Wheetabix, though it is occasionally sold in the US. Most American cereal try to fight to stay crisp in the bowl as long as possible. Wheetabix is a non-combatant. It gets soggy about four seconds before adding milk. It is supposed to be the consistency of wet paper mache when you eat it. It is a lot like eating graham crackers and milk.
This was a typical breakfast for this trip: cereal, ham, bacon, sausage, black pudding, white pudding (two other kinds of sausage), fried bread (two kinds, eggs, grilled tomato, and juice. It's like putting a little tiny monkey wrench separately on each artery.
We paid for our room and slipped out. Our first goal for the day is Grianan of Aileach. This is a stone fort atop Grianan hill. There is a winding road up to the fort that gives a pleasant view of the surrounding area, especially Lough Swilly to the north. We turned a corner and about four rabbits scattered. Fifteen feet beyond five more went running. I hated to ruin their outing. They spend so much of their time in a dark tight warren. They probably needed some fresh air. It cannot be much of a life. Am I the only one who worries about whether wild rabbits enjoy life?
The fort itself, atop the 785-foot high hill, is 75 feet in diameter. It got much of its use at about the time of Christ but the hill also has pagan associations as a temple of the sun. It also was a refuge for women when their men went off to war. Saint Patrick preached there also. It was completely rebuilt in the 1800s so now its value to archeologists is minimal.
It is a bit of a drive to our next site, the Ulster American Museum. Now this is one of the best museums in Ireland, but it still is something of a curiosity. It is a museum about emigrations from Ireland to the United States. What country commemorates the people who have left? But there are extraordinary circumstances going on here. First the emigration was a major event in Irish history. Over the years it was a huge chunk of this country that left. It was a major depopulation. Second, the people who left still maintained strong ties with their homeland. I am told that most of the funding that the IRA gets is from people of Irish origins in the United States. The US emigration was good for Ireland. During the famine when people needed a place to go, it welcomed the Irish. That may not be as good as it sounds since many were forced to go, but many also were able to make a new start. It was a tremendous loss of talent for Ireland, but it was also a loss of the criminal classes. There is no feeling that there was disloyalty on the part of the people who left. Ireland has to the east only their enemy. It has to the north only ice and cold, to the south there is nothing but Spain and Africa with which they have little relation. To the west is the Americas. Their friendliest neighbor is an ocean away.
The museum in large part concentrates on the Mellon family. Thomas Mellon was a banker and his son Andrew Mellon was a financier, Secretary of the Treasury, and an ambassador. They also funded the museum in large part.
Americans see this as a museum of what America did for people of Irish descent. The Irish see it as a museum of what the Irish did for America. The Irish are there saying this is what Americans should see. The Americans are saying this is what the Irish should see.
The museum is really in two pieces. There is an in-door museum telling the story of the immigrations. Then there is an outdoor museum that reproduces buildings. It also is in two parts. The outdoor museum shows you what life was like in Ireland at the time that the Mellons emigrated. Then it has part that shows you what life was like in the New World. There is a bridging piece telling you what life was like on the boats going over.
It opens telling about the Irish on the frontier, moving west in Conestoga wagons, Irish helping to build America, etc. Mostly all in general terms. They told how the hunger displaced tenants. In some cases tenants could sell their interest in a farm for a lump sum and go to America. Others came over as indentured servants.
They talk about the coffin ships that brought the Irish and their miserable conditions and high mortality rate. They list various Irishmen who came to America. They talked about the perils of the journey, the bad smells, the contagion, the sickness, the seasickness, the boredom of life below decks.
The open-air part of the museum is a lot like Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts and Colonial Williamsburg.
The museum has a better representation of the Ireland the emigrants were leaving than on the America they were going to. But you talk to weavers and blacksmiths, etc. And of course you see churches. We were at the Museum maybe three hours.
The day before we got some sort of Hazelnut Creams sandwich cookies from Tesco. They claim they are "American Style" on the bag. The bag even has a picture of the Statue of Liberty. Yuh! Americans are absolute morons when it comes to sweets. I would like to know just whose style Tesco thought they were imitating. Certainly not Nabisco. Not even Keebler. I'll take the Irish or English imitation, thank you. On the other hand we are passing something that calls itself the American Circus. The ads make it look like Ringling Brothers. One tent. No side tents for animals. Irish kids must think we have better cookies and worse circuses than we really do.
Our next big stop is the best caverns known in Ireland. Marble Arches is a system of caves 3.5 miles long. The caves form when you have a layer of purer limestone on top of a layer less pure. The pure limestone is slightly water-soluble. The less pure is less water-soluble. Water seeps down through the purer layer but cannot wear through the less pure layer so to runs along the top of it eating away the purer limestone. It leaves large gaps. There are three streams that disappear into Cuilcagh Mountain and then reappear as the Cladagh River. In the meantime they have been carving out caverns.
If truth were known, this is not the great cavern system that Carlsbad is. The collection of stalactites and stalagmites is rudimentary compared to many caverns. Actually what makes this cavern visit special is its inconvenience. Between the entrance and exit there is not a direct connection, except by underground lake. It is only about a five-minute trip on a boat. But it is through an underground cave. That is solid excitement and something I remember in no other cavern. That is more exciting than the rock formations. You follow a path first traveled by the explorer Martell, entering from a shake hole (basically a collapsed cave). It was difficult to hear the guide below ground with the underwater river running by. But it still was an enjoyable experience.
On the way out and down the hill we saw two sheep having a big adventure. Apparently they found some way out of the fence. Now they were loose on the road and anxious to go back home. Every car that passed by was a possible predator that terrified them. We saw them trying to get back into their field, but our car scared them. The farmer will think little of it, but for the sheep this will be the most excitement they have had in any recent day.
Next came the task of finding a place to stay for the night. We tried On place and it was closed. We tried Abbocurragh Farms. They were all booked up for the holiday weekend. The woman who ran the place called two or three local B&Bs to find us a place. Then she gave me detailed directions on how to find the place, the Corralea Forest Lodge.
It took us a while to get to the Corralea Forest Lodge. As soon as we saw it we knew we were in trouble. It is a long drive set in from road. You drive through the woods and find the place on a lake. It looks like something out of ON GOLDEN POND. Well, we were kind of desperate. And B&Bs have been reasonably inexpensive until now. Okay, let's splurge rather than look all night. So we agree to stay. A very friendly woman answers the door and when we identify ourselves she invites us to see the room. I say that the woman who referred us was very nice. "All Irish women are nice," our host says with a smile. "I'm finding that out." It is a nice room with a view of the lake. "How much is it?" "£20 Sterling per person." As we were getting out things Evelyn says "That's dirt cheap." Boy I wish we had this kind of Bed and Breakfast in the US. We do have them but they are few and expensive.
Our host offered us tea and we said that we were going to go out and look for dinner. Oh, then we had better hurry. There was no restaurant in town and there was only one in nearby Blacklion. If we did not want pub food we had better hurry. Okay, we went into Blacklion. We tried the one restaurant but could not get in. We tried instead FitzPatrick's pub. What the heck.
We asked at the bar if there was a place we could see a bar menu. The barkeep, a jolly sort, told us to go to the back room. Okay, maybe someone will come around with a menu. There is one couple back there sitting at another table. Then two more come in. Then a flood of people. The bartender comes in and starts taking drink orders from the people. When he comes over to us we ask for the bar food menu. "Are you with the tour group?" "What tour group?" "Oh, these people are all one group. Why don't you go back in the front room?" Okay. We are getting rather hungry now and go to the bar and ask again, do you have a bar food menu?" "No, but we do have sandwiches." "What kind of sandwiches?" "Salad, ham, egg and onion, or cheese." Okay, so we had cheese. We sat there, there were no booths left so we sat at a high table in the middle of the room, conspicuous as a monkey wrench in a bowl of Jell-O. Over to my left there were five young people in a booth. One, a young Irishman who could probably play rugby was necking with a blond woman with high cheekbones and a low neckline. I tried not to stare. There was an older gentleman nursing a whiskey in another booth who occasionally threw a comment their way.
Our sandwiches came; Muenster on white bread with butter cut along the diagonals so each sandwich made four triangles. I had a glass of Coke and Evelyn had a pot of tea. Eventually we finished and paid in Irish pounds. We seem to be playing tag with the Ulster border. Our B&B just a few miles away is in Ulster, but this pub is in the Republic. £5.45. Then we drove back to the B&B. It has a terrific view of a lake, and palm trees along the shore. I think on my map the lake is Loch Macnean. The one negative note is that the bathroom while en suite is very small and the toilet takes a lot of work to flush.
The owner invited us up to the sitting room for a cup of tea. We went up. I asked for just tap water. We sat up for a while, but eventually went to our room to write. The owner thought we were turning in early, but we at least planned to be up for a while writing. I guess the sitting room upstairs is really the only local entertainment. We are quite a distance from town. To her, returning to the room meant going to bed.
We wrote for an hour or so. Evelyn did some reading. I think she has
given up on writing such an extensive trip log.
06/05/00: Belcoo to Boyle: Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, W. B. Yeats Grave
Our room has a big sliding glass doors so we can see the view of the lake and opaque curtains to cover it up so we can make the room dark. It also has a little window too small to look out and a shade over it not so opaque. But it is enough to light up the room. So the room was light at 5 AM. I know, I saw it. I was able to get back to sleep, however. Still both of us were up by 7 AM. The sky is overcast.
The BBC is talking about the current crisis in England that Prince Charles has declared his love for a divorced woman. The government has not asked him to discontinue his relationship but please, please, please do not marry her since then if you become King, she will be Queen and there are all sorts of religious problems with that. Religious authorities do not want him to make his relationship legitimate. Am I the only one who sees some irony here?
Europe is having record rains. This may have something to do with the lousy weather we have been having. Meanwhile the morning overcast is burning off. Right now there is sunshine again.
Typical breakfast with ham, eggs, toast, and porridge. Looking around at the guests, apparently there are some that just come here for bank holiday. It would be a pleasant place to linger, but it is time to hit the road.
The topography had a lot more hills as we approach the coast. We drive pass a valley that looks like something out of Norway. We look at the farmyards on the far side.
Most of Ireland seems to have this two-lane blacktop. At least one a day we see someone in the on-coming traffic in our lane doing some sort of nutsy passing maneuver. These drivers are crazy.
Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery is one of the biggest prehistoric burial sites in the world. It had somewhere between 60 and 100 stone circles, though through lack of control they are down to 60. That is still a lot. These tombs are from 1000 to 700 years before Newgrange. For your entrance fee you get a guided tour. Michael Roberts talked fast with his Irish accent, but he had a lot to say.
Really what we have here is a sort of prehistoric Forest Lawn. Tombs come in three forms. You have big rings with stone at interval like numbers on the face of a clock. Then you have a small collection of standing stones leaning on each other like a house of cards. A variant on this has a capstone on the top. The third style combines the two, a ring of stones and at the center a probably taller more compressed arrangement.
Our Roberts, a professional anthropologist serving as a guide, seemed to have more on the ball than the guides we had had at previous prehistoric sites did. The others were professional guides. This guy knew something. He made repeated references to Newgrange so I thought this was a good time to ask my question. At Newgrange they make repeated references to what an impressive mathematical feat it was, why does it take more than two stakes and a piece of string? He said, "You only need the two sticks." Well, yes, but the string makes things a little easier. One of the women on the tour was impressed with what I said. She had been to Newgrange and was also quite impressed when they talked about the great technological feat that was lining up the passageway, but she said it never occurred to her that the it really was as easy as what we were saying.
The guide must have been with us for two hours telling us old stories about the placement of the rocks and speculating on the symbolism. Newgrange he thought may have a sexual significance. It is a large female shape. The beams of the sun come in and fertilize it. Winter then becomes a sort of gestation period. In fact the ring of stones may be a female symbol, the upstanding monument of stones may be a male symbol.
He showed us where on one rock it looks like you can see nothing but at noon, sunrise, and sunset you can see circles on the side of one of the pieces of rock on one of the graves.
The trigger button on my camera chooses this moment to break. If I push on the piece that is left nothing happens. I realize that there is a rubber gasket under the button with a hole in the center. It takes sticking a pencil in the hole to file the camera. I want something a little easier than this.
Evelyn was not as impressed with the guide as I was. She thought the guide seemed a little New Age-ish. No, he was just talking about symbolism and what other people believed. He was not saying he believed it himself. It is one thing to collect beliefs and to speculate on them, it is quite another to start believing them. He is an anthropologist (in fact, he made clear that he talks to archeologists, but is not one) and that is what anthropologists do.
There are several other graves in the vicinity. There is an exchange agreement between the owners and the historical site. Visitors can walk on their lands and in return they get the grass off of Carrowmore. It is sort of a symbiosis. Evelyn and I walked to some of the local farms. I have to admit I was somewhat distracted by what I was going to do to make my camera work.
We walked back to the Visitor Center. After about ten minutes of walking in silence I turned to Evelyn and asked her facetiously, "Do you really believe in the existence of prehistoric people?" There was a bit in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT where the title character is talking to a peasant. "What are you?" "A blacksmith." "And what was your father?" "A blacksmith." "And his father?" "He was a blacksmith too." "And his father?" "Sorry the family line does not go back that far."
Actually there are people who do not believe in prehistoric man. In fact when dinosaurs were first called "prehistoric" Christian fundamentalists created an uproar. Were these scientists saying the Bible was not history or that it did not go back to Creation?
The woman who had been impressed with my comment about Newgrange was there with her husband. They were in Ireland from Washington. They had seen "Mrs. Warren's Profession" in Dublin and really liked it. We wished them a good trip as they left and we went back in the visitor's center. We headed across the street where there were some more prehistoric sites. Mr. and Mrs. Washington were having a picnic lunch near the parking lot so we again wished them a good trip.
There were three prehistoric graves across the road in three different fields. The second one was surrounded by cows. Evelyn was afraid to go near them. "Evelyn, what is the first image you have when I say the word 'bucolic?'" Nevertheless I film the monument and the cows from a distance. It is shorter than the distance that she keeps from the cows, but I want her and me to feel at ease.
On the way back into the parking lot we see the people from Washington leaving and we wave goodbye to them again. We stop by the car and have some ginger beer than get in. I ask Evelyn if she has a paperclip. As it happens she has one that has been kicking around her pocket. I take it and with a pair of folding needle-nose pliers I carry with me I straighten the wire and reform it into a ring with an L-shape wire coming out. I can slip it on my index finger and have a little stub of paperclip coming from the tip of my index finger. It is just what I need to trigger the camera.
We pull out and head for Sligo. At the end of the road we signal a right turn. The couple from Washington passes us from the left going to the right. We last see them stopped asking someone for directions.
We go into Sligo to see the town museum and the bookstore The Winding Staircase. The museum is supposed to have something on local poet William Butler Yates. To Evelyn's vast disappointment both are closed, this being Bank Holiday Monday. We do see a statue of Yates. There is his gravesite nearby. We decide to go see that. We find the graveyard and pull into the parking lot. Following us in is...you guessed it...the couple from Washington. They ask us if we are following them. Hey it was us in the parking lot first. We go to the simple grave of Yates. His gave has a line from one of his poems "Cast a cold eye on life and on death. Horseman pass by."
We continue on our way.
There is a legend that a silver bell was dropped into the water of Lough Gill. Only those without sin can hear it pealing. Evelyn stopped the car but said she must not be without sin because she did not hear the bell. I told her not to worry about it. It wasn't ringing at the moment.
We passed Parke's Castle, read about it in the books, took some pictures, but did not go in.
After being to Ireland I am going to have the word "clear" tattooed on the knuckles of my left hand and "rain" tattooed on the knuckles of my right hand.
It looked like the best place to break for the day was Boyle. We hit town about 4:30. The first B&B on the Lonely Planet list was The Abbey House. The host, our first male host, is something of a stitch. As soon as he hears we are from New Jersey he says "Home of Bruce Springsteen." He refers to Evelyn as Jersey Girl. The B&B is right next to the shell of an abandoned abbey. It looks like it came from some pre-Raphaelite horror story. The house is this big old mansion with skeleton keys. How much? "£20 per person." "Okay, sounds good." "Ah, you free-spending Americans."
Before we bring the clothes in we drop over to the abbey and take some pictures. Coming back to the house we cannot open the door. The host is holding the lock on the other side. He lets us in, demonstrating that "the door can even be operated by this American woman."
We bring the stuff up to the room. It is for the first time that I notice the picture on the wall. A little girl in a white dress with a blue bonnet sitting in the woods holding a bowl and looking over her shoulder. As I look closely I see her eyes are wide open. The expression on her face looks like stark terror. Sounds like a perfect background to read Irish horror stories.
We walked into town for dinner. I had asked our host where was a good place to eat and he had recommended a pub. It was not open yet. We didn't want to wait so tried Chung's Chinese restaurant. It was not great Chinese but it was a lot better than most pub food. Irish food frequently is more primal than most Americans are used to. A sign I saw in a butcher's window "Game meat. Available to order: Venison, Wild Boar, Ostrich, Pheasant, Quail, Duck, Goose, Kangaroo, etc. Inquires at counter inside."
We walked back to our guesthouse. Of course we worked on our log. I also tried out CEEFAX, the teletext system on the TV. This is a public information system I was hoping 20 years ago would come to the US. I think it was replaced by the Internet, but it is thriving here. You can get it through your TV. It has much the same variety of information you would get from a newspaper. The main page is an index to a set of pages, each with a three-digit call number. Enter the number and it shows you the page. I can get the same information faster with Netscape, but it still was a good idea. It seems to have some problems. It takes surprisingly long to find a given page. With under 1000 pages they should come up really fast. It can take a couple of minutes to get a requested page. The text comes up with some letters showing as blanks. You have to figure out the missing letter. Also it is tough to find a page from one day to the next. There was a TV movie listing yesterday and it seems to be gone now.
I watched The West Wing and a documentary about Germans.
06/06/00: Boyle to Kinvarra: Irish Famine Museum, Galway Bay
The Irish really need better window shades. I woke at 5 after having been up to 11:30.
I did try going back to sleep and got another hour or so.
Breakfast was the usual Irish B&B breakfast. We talked at breakfast to an American who said he had gone to school in Hoboken. School in Hoboken means Stevens Tech. Evelyn and I had taken some courses at Stevens. He had been there considerably earlier. He had been there in the 1960s. I had been in an NSF science program at Stevens in summer 1967. That was just after he left. Did he know the name Myron White? That was the professor who taught him calculus. He ran the Stevens NSF program.
England has been having flooding. Apparently the amount of rain we have been getting is very unusual. When we went to Spain we shared the worst flooding they had had in 50 years.
After our big Irish breakfast our first goal was the Irish Famine Museum.
Ireland was no stranger to famines, but the greatest disaster in Irish history was a famine that combined natural forces and politics. The Irish farmers diet in the early 1840s was little more than potatoes and buttermilk. A diet based on cereal takes twice the acreage that one based on potatoes does. This is boring fare in flavor and in color but it kept body and soul together. Obviously it was incredibly dependent on the potato and the farmer to eat a huge mass of potato each day. It is something like 14 pounds a day.
It takes a lot of fertilizer to grow potatoes, but for the richer bird guano could be used. The poorer may have had cattle that produced fertilizer or produced it themselves. It must have been an ugly and smelly business, but it was nutrition.
In 1842 a new fungus attacked the potato crop in Eastern America and Canada. It ate the leaves of the plant, growing on them like fur, killing the potato plants and reducing them to a black stinking mess in hours. It was phytophthora infestans. It was found in England in 1845. It was a disaster waiting to happen when it jumped to Ireland. When it turned up at the Dublin Botanical Gardens in August the full danger became obvious. The blight hit in October 1845 in West Ireland and in February 1846 more broadly. By October 90% of the crop was destroyed. It hit with lesser force in 1847, then again devastatingly badly in 1848.
Before it was all over 1,500,000 people starved. 1,000,000 emigrated. Meanwhile the wealthy continued to export food for profit. The Irish poor were left to their fate while enormous quantities of food they did not happen to own were shipped out of their country. Some charitable food came in, but it was not given to the poor. That would have upset markets. It was sold at low prices that the moneyless poor could not afford. They had worked on farms and had taken their wage in potatoes. Many did not even keep a home since they no longer could pay rents. Homes were just demolished. The exhibit includes an eviction crowbar, a special tool for tearing apart tenant cottages. As one English MP described an eviction, "[it was] the chasing away of 700 human beings like crows from a cornfield." And where did they go? As one witness said, "They are to be found in the thousands, young and old, male and female, crawling in the streets and on the highways, screaming for a morsel of food."
The policy in England was spotty. Some wanted to just leave the starving to their fate, others tried to be helpful, but some of the help was worse than no help at all.
The weather joined in to make things worse. The winter of 1946-47 was among the most bitter in history. The sickness increased. The poor abandoned their useless farms and tried to get employment from the already swollen rolls of the publicly employed. Starvation, typhus, and cholera killed in the hundreds of thousands. When Ireland ran out of coffins people turned to the coffin ships instead, braving horrific conditions to escape to other countries. The government "Soup Kitchen Act" provided free soup to the starving. These programs were ended in 1847 with a less severe attack of blight. The attitude of the British government was that it had already done more than it should have. Any guise of benevolent rule of Ireland was lost. The winter of 1848-49 was the worst so far as people would die in the streets and be left where they died for weeks.
In 1849 there was no potato blight, nor did it come again. But the English policy had put a sharp edge on Irish hatred. The population of Ireland had fallen form 8.5 million to 6 million. Even after the famine family members who emigrated to the New World would bring their relatives to the new country. By 1921 the population was down to 4 million.
Family members felt guilt for having let close loved ones die rather than revolt and take the food grown on Irish land. The hatreds stoked would take a long time dying. The attitude became that this is what we can expect from the British and many of the stable and even the prosperous now felt a responsibility to take revenge on the English.
The museum has exhibits on the subject of background, the potato, law & the poor, disease, emigration, eviction, secret societies, the aftermath, and contemporary famine.
One comes out of the museum directly into a gift shop where you can buy books about the famine. You also can buy Frisbees labeled Famine Museum. They have pencil sharpeners and plastic binoculars with the same legend. The oddest item was a refrigerator magnet that said "Been there, done that, loved it: Famine Museum." These were in a clearance bucket for lack of demand. They can only sell for their novelty value.
Then there is the Famine Museum snack bar. It is all somewhat macabre.
Actually I expected a much bigger museum. This is really little more than an exhibit. Considering the importance to Irish history, I expected them to make a much bigger deal of the Famine. They even seemed reticent to blame the English for their neglect, though every other source seems to blame them. Perhaps it is good someone showed them a little mercy. The English have taken a lot of hard knocks for mistakes they have made with good intentions. As Gladstone said, "Go into the length and breadth of the world. Ransack the literature of all countries, find if you can a single voice, a single book, in which the conduct of England towards Ireland is anywhere treated except with profound and bitter condemnation."
From the American Revolution to Israel's fight for statehood to the film GANDHI nobody wants to say a decent word for British motives. They were frequently bumblers with good intentions in an arena where it is almost impossible not to bumble. I respect the film EXODUS much more than GANDHI just because it shows that some of the British were decent, well-intentioned people. (I guess I remember one decent judge in GANDHI.) In any case, it is nice to see an acknowledgement that some English tried to do things to stop what was going on. But the vast majority believed that good solid economic forces were just following their natural courses.
The afternoon is being spent sightseeing and sheep-watching on Connemarra. When the sun is out this is nice. It is not quite so nice when the sun goes back. The are a lot of farms and stone cottages. The sheep would look a lot better if they were not spray painted. I guess each owner has his own color and he sprays sheep to keep them straight. It is probably a paint that comes out with solvent. I think that is what I am seeing. Either that or the sheep have gone punk. Lots of the cows have gone punk with bright colored earrings. They are made of plastic and look like tags, but what do cows know?
Galway Bay looks very nice even if very rocky. It is better for fishing than swimming I would guess. You go through the little villages with their houses that look like one long house cut into slices.
We drive through Galway, which looks like a little Irish village with modern suburbs. And traffic jams.
Evelyn thinks they are working on every road in Ireland. There is a lot of road construction.
We break for the night in Kinvarra, which looks like a fishing village gone chic. We pulled down to a little harbor and there was an approved B&B called Cois Cuain. Again very friendly. I don't remember the B&Bs in Wales being this friendly. While we were getting settled in our room a woman comes to the door to see the accommodations. She is from the travel series LET'S GO. Mrs. Walsh, I take it that is our host's name, was making tea for the two of us and the woman from LET'S GO joins us. She is from Ketchikan, Alaska. We talk to her for a little while but the host tells her that the local castle has a Medieval Banquet. The representative from LET'S GO wants to know if she can get in free. Our host checks. They will discount her from £30 to œ18.50. Okay, she will take advantage. Must be nice.
We go out to walk around looking for dinner. We stopped in a grocery store. It is interesting to see the names of candies. They had American Hard Gums. It sounds more like a periodontal problem.
We settle on the Pier Head Bar and Restaurant. It is just down the street a little from our B&B. I get a seafood chowder, a Coke, and the Seafood Bake. Evelyn gets hard cider and mussels in garlic sauce. The chowder is a lot like the New England chowder at home only it is considerably less salty. I try Evelyn's hard cider. It is about 4.5% alcohol. That is low enough I could drink it. I can drink Sangria, which is about 8%, but by that point the taste of the alcohol dominates so I cannot really enjoy it. At my age no point in trying to learn to drink.
The seafood bake is two scoops of mashed potatoes in a sauce that has seafood in it and cheddar melted over the top. Honest. Not great but there is a fair amount of it. Evelyn got about 20 mussels each with a little tidbit of meat in it. That isn't enough for her to eat. I ask to trade with her. Mussel shells have a little cylindrical tidbit of meat that sticks to the shell. I dip the shells in the broth and then eat the piece sticking to the shell. In the meantime Evelyn gets a little more to eat.
The bill comes and I am overcharged. I am charged £12.95 for the seafood platter rather than £7.95 for the seafood bake. This sort of thing happens a lot here and in the US. I probably look like an easy touch. Actually I am not. That is one advantage of carrying around a palmtop computer.
After dinner we walk down to the Quay. A swan swims over to investigate
us. We sit outside writing, then go back to the room. There is no TV in
the room but we have plenty to read.
06/07/00: Kinvarra to Cashel: Moher Cliffs, the Burren, King John's Castle
Yesterday driving through the Connemarra hills we saw something called The Quiet Man Pub. There was a picture of John Wayne as he appeared in the film. That 1952 film pictured Ireland as idyllic with Victor Maclachlan who just drinks all day. There is Barry Fitzgerald as the priest fishing in the creek. There are the happy stone cottages and the beautiful scenery. It was Ireland not as it is but as it should be and it created a lot of stereotypes for people. I am told the Irish loved the film.
Seven years later Walt Disney created the world of Irish folklore for my generation with DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE. It has been years since I have seen it, but I remember it as being fairly good. It was my generation's introduction to leprechauns. There also was a pooka horse. But what sticks out in the mind of every kid who saw the film was the wailing banshee whom the camera shakes in the face of the viewer. It was one of the last sights that really scared me in a film. Janet Munro played Darby's daughter. What most people remember from the movie were the few scenes of her disgustingly wholesome boyfriend. He was made up to be prettier than she was, a very young Sean Connery.
I asked our host what Erin Go Bragh means. She at first says "Ireland, God help her." Then she says really it is "Ireland Forever."
Over breakfast we talked to a couple from England. We discussed theater and international news. They were from The White home, Wooket, Wells England. Nifty address.
There was a little sunshine when we left, then it was tag with the clouds.
An ad we pass says "Lovely day for a Guinness in the Burren." This is the Burren and the dirt of farms lies thinly over a rocky limestone base. The limestone is a basic element for building traditional cottages and ubiquitous walls. As we drive the hills the stone is winning the battle with the greenery.
We stop beside the road for the Poulnabrone Dommer, another tomb of rocks from pre-druid times. You walk a short distance over a rocky landscape to get to it. A tourist is talking in French to his video-camera. I miss a good shot because my paperclip is not pushing the button correctly. I say a few choice words in Anglo-Saxon to my camera.
Various wags have built their own post-prehistoric rock tombs in the area. Accept no substitutes. Heading back to the car the rain starts. We have to run the last distance. We are a hundred yards down the road when it stops raining.
Kilfenora Cathedral, built about 1190, is an old ruined cathedral with a graveyard. The total feel is as if it was designed by Edward Gorey. It is Gothic and takes itself too seriously. The churchyard is best known for the High Crosses. They are about eight feet tall and two feet wide. They are carved in Celtic patterns. It all is evocative of Dracula. The music we are playing on the cassette player is from the films MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN and BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. The former is by Celtic Patrick Doyle (Actually he's a Scot.) and the original story had Frankenstein creating a mate for his monster on an island off Ireland, if I remember correctly. I don't remember if the film had scenes in Ireland. Bram Stoker was Irish and churchyards like we just saw inspired DRACULA.
The Cliffs of Moher afford a beautiful view of the water and three high limestone cliffs with the waves breaking against them. I keep being reminded of the setting of the film THE UNINVITED. I think that is set in England but Dorothy Macardle, the author of the novel, is Irish. There is a good deal of Irish atmosphere to the novel.
The Lonely Planet says on a clear day the views are terrific. Not really a useful or relevant piece of information for us. After seeing the cliffs we stop for a drink and to get out of the rain. I have apple and black current drink. Evelyn has tea. In the souvenir shop two elderly Irish women are discussing what a screensaver is. They always turn off the computer when they are done with it. I am glad I am young or I would not be able to keep up with the world.
As we leave they get £1.50 for parking. Every tourist site has a price.
We continue driving to Limerick through several small towns. Limerick, like Derry, has turned a castle into a major tourist attraction with a museum. The subject of the museum is Limerick's history.
The town was founded by Vikings who used it for a base. When the Vikings were defeated at Clontarf in 1014 the town of Limerick was seized by the native Irish. When the Normans came King John of England had a castle built there though he never visited it himself. John was unpopular with just about everybody. His father, Henry II, liked him, as people who saw THE LION IN WINTER can attest. Papa made him lord of Ireland but he still had to travel a lot to keep his enemies from catching up with him. One may also remember he was the King who was forced to sign the Magna Carta. He had a castle built for him at Limerick, but he never actually got to visit it.
The castle became important after the Battle of the Boyne. King James II would have been the first Catholic king of England since Henry VIII, but was forced to flee to Ireland when Protestant William of Orange usurped the throne. William followed him and defeated him at the Battle of the Boyne (July 1, 1690). James fled to France. Patrick Sarsfield led the Irish to King John's Castle. Sarsfield was surrounded and besieged. Sarsfield was able to sneak out with 600 men and attack an English supply train. Cannons, mortars, and 200 wagons of ammunition were destroyed. Sarsfield and his men sneaked back into the castle. The English besieged the castle for months before Patrick sued for peace.
William was anxious to free up his troops to fight the French in Flanders. He was willing to give the Irish favorable terms in the Treaty of Limerick (1691). It provided (1) that Catholics would have the same religious liberty enjoyed under Charles II, and (2) that those still resisting William, if they took an Oath of Allegiance, would be pardoned and allowed to keep their property, practice professions and bear civilian arms. Sarsfield said that this would apply to all Irish, not just his troops. William readily agreed. The last provision was part of the verbal agreement and never written. British Parliament felt it had the right to ignore the provision and instead drafted new law even more intolerant of Catholicism. William fought to keep his word, but was over-ridden.
In agreement with the treaty, Sarsfield was allowed to leave Ireland with his followers and form them into an elite unit of mercenaries, The Wild Geese.
There is a nice museum connected to the castle that tell you a little about the history of Limerick and of the castle with a slide show and with and with a short dramatic presentation along with some exhibits. One gets the to walk around the castle climbing to the top of the wall. In one of the lower rooms a man is making coins. With the display the castle is presented fairly well.
Well, after the castle we got gasoline. Doing the conversion we get gas at $2.20 in Ireland and it is currently $1.40 at home.
It is not a very pleasant drive down here in Southeast Ireland. It refers to itself as "Sunny Southeast Ireland." Solid overcast and solid rain. This is not very picturesque driving. Occasionally you pass a ruin. But the roads are tight and often bumpy. Roads seem to be torn up for repair nearly wherever we go. Every five or ten minutes the sticky stuff on the rear-view mirror starts to let go and it starts to hang loose. It has to be pushed back into place.
The roads are narrow. If you get behind a convoy of road equipment going slow you have to go slow until they let you by. Or in one case we had to leapfrog to pass. Much like what I was saying the first day with the car mostly what we are seeing does not have a strong Irish feel, beyond the narrow roads and all the hedges, that is.
We come to Cashel and see some B&Bs. The first one we try is an older place listed in Lonely Planet, the Rockville. Someone else is coming in to see rooms at the same time. We get a bigger room, a little older house. The room has two singles and a double bed. And there is a stuffed pheasant just outside the door so we can admire it as we walk by. Oh boy.
On our way out the door for dinner we stop to talk to some other tourists staying at the same place. We can expect rain the next two days. One said the last time he was in Ireland it rained every day. Maybe that is just the weather we can expect.
Looking for a place to stay we saw a restaurant called Pasta Milano. It sounded good to me. One of the tourists recommended Hanagan's Pub. The Lonely Planet recommended both. I was leaning toward pasta, but left it up to Evelyn. Indeed after having been in Ireland a while pasta sounded like a bit of a change for her also. Pasta Milano it was. The restaurant has a Turkish flag and sort of eclectic decoration, but not overboard. I had Tagliatelli with Chicken and Mushroom, and Evelyn had Tagliatelli with Chicken and Spinach. It was in a cream sauce and was a nice generous portion. I cannot complain. The dining room has a nice view of the castle on the hill. That will be what we visit tomorrow.
Afterward we walked back to the B&B. I brought my log up to date and watched a little TV. I think it is a police drama from the BBC called "Heartbeat."
It was decent. After that there was a movie on I had never heard of. The film was THE CHAMBER based on the novel by John Grisham. It stars Gene Hackman. I'm in.
I am not sure it was a really good story but it boasts a very powerful
performance by Gene Hackman as an unrepentant Klansman on Death Row and
soon to be executed for a bombing that killed two Jewish children. His
grandson (Chris O'Donnell) is a lawyer working for a mostly Jewish law
firm who has 28 days to see if he can prevent the execution of his grandfather.
There is only a small role for superior character actor Robert Prosky,
unfortunately. The script leaves some serious loose ends that it promises
to clear up and never does, perhaps intentionally, but definitely unsatisfyingly.
I would rate the film a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
06/08/00: Cashel to Clonmacnois: Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle
I woke up about 6:15 in spite of having been up till about midnight. Evelyn did not stay up. I had to keep the movie low.
I have to slip into the bathroom with my palmtop. Even if I have to keep myself busy for hours, the palmtop will do that for me. A major contributor to this and any of my trips is the HP 200LX. I can write in my trip log in odd moments. Or I have about ten novels from Project Gutenberg. I have an article on Irish history from the web and I can search them for keywords. A spreadsheet I wrote tells me what percent of the trip is over and how much of my film I should have used up by this point. HP has discontinued the 200LX. There are going to be a lot of disappointed people if they cannot replace them. The 200LX is really popular. I expect it will be like the DC3 plane. They may have been discontinued but they are going to stay in service for a long, long time. The Palm Pilot, which seems to be replacing it in the marketplace, is too dependent on getting programs that other people have written. I am never bored if I have my 200LX with me. It is just a little too big to be really convenient to carry, but that is the one problem.
We were out for breakfast at 8. Ham, eggs, toast, cereal, etc. I asked our host of the morning what is a real Irish breakfast. A bowl of cereal, a banana and coffee might be typical. He was not sure how this came to be the standard B&B breakfast.
It is actually a nice day here. There really is only one kind of nice weather at home, sunny. Ireland is lucky to have five different kinds of good weather. There is sunny. There is partly cloudy. There is overcast. This is mist. And there is only raining a little.
Reigning over Cashel is the Rock of Cashel, a limestone hill that supports a commanding castle. Actually there is both a castle and an old roofless cathedral. In fact the town takes its name from the Irish word for "fortress." There are two buildings and a graveyard on the hill. You first enter into a building that is in fact a 15th century house. It houses a museum room with St. Patrick's cross. Upstairs is the hall of the Vicars' Choral. The other building is the 13th century Cathedral, built in the 13th Century and long since roofless.
At the back corner of the Cathedral is the tall round tower, the oldest structure on the rock. At the south end of the Cathedral is Cormac's chapel. The Eoghanachta Clan chose the rock as a stronghold in the fourth Century. For 400 years it was one of the centers of power in Ireland. In the 5th century St. Patrick converted the head of the clan personally. During the ceremony Patrick clumsily pierced the clan leader's foot with his crosier. The clan leader thought this was part of the initiation and quietly withstood the pain. For a long time the myth remained that to become Christian one must have one's foot pierced. In the 10th century possession went to the O'Brien Clan. In 1101 the King of the O'Briens gave the rock to the Church, who then made him a bishop in possession of the rock. It was captured temporarily by Cromwell and later by the Protestant Church. The Protestants were the last to officially use it as a church. About 200 years ago the roof collapsed and was never replaced. St Patrick's cross is a stone carving originally outside but moved to the museum. It is carved in a Celtic style and has as its base what appears to be an overturned pagan altar.
These days the cathedral looks particularly horrific with its strange carvings. On the way down the hill we stopped to get some pictures of the nearby ruined abbey.
Not far from Cashel is Cahir and Castle Cahir. The castle was built by Conor O'Brien, but eventually was passed to the Butler family by the King of England. It was taken by the Earl of Essex in 1599. A cannonball is still lodged in the wall. Cromwell took the castle without resistance in 1650 and it went back to the Butlers when he lost power. The castle was also used in the film EXCALIBUR. It was swarming with school children. One of the prizes of the castle is the pair of 10,000-year-old antlers that hang on the wall as a hunting trophy, though they are not one. The prominent stone eagle over the entrance was a symbol of power and authority. The castle was multi-stories and the cattle were kept on the first floor while the residents of the castle slept the floor above so the body heat of animals could be used for heating. There are a number of deathtraps to use against invaders. Among them are machicolation ports above doors to drop nasty things on invaders. The keep is the main building. One anecdote told is that poor women worked out in the sun, richer women were in from the sun. A tan made you look poor so women would want pale faces. Women would make their faces look even paler by painting their faces with arsenic. It would, however, open sores on their faces. They would fill the holes with bees' wax. This would work well until they sat in front of a fire. Then the wax would melt. This was the real reason for the personal fire screens that you see in some furniture of this time.
We drive through a town called Thurles. It has a compact shopping area and it has attracted a lot of traffic. They have a bookstore called the Bookworm. It is not easy to find a space. We do and find the Bookworm is a small store but it does have a book Evelyn has been looking for.
We are now driving through a town called Two-Mile Borris.
We listen to the radio and they are talking about an exhibit of the Holocaust at the Imperial War Museum. A woman says that the Holocaust happened because we do not learn from the past and that we still do not learn from the past. This is the kind of statement that irritates me. It is smug and self-satisfied and something everyone can think they agree on without really agreeing about anything. The Jehovah's Witnesses who come to my door blame the Holocaust on the fact we are not all one religion. They think that the lesson we should have learned from the Holocaust is that they are right. That surely is not what I think people should have learned from the Holocaust. This idea that we have holocausts because we do not remember the past sounds cushy and nice and is totally non-verifiable and non-falsifiable. Ireland is one place that could stand to forget some of the lessons of the past and could start fresh. It takes wisdom to know what really is a lesson of the past.
Near Clonmacnois we stay at the B&B Kajon House. Before we can even ring the bell Kate is at the door to greet us. It is run by Kate and John. (P.S. John and Catherine Harte Brennan) Hence the name. Kate is a very extraverted woman who seems to love everybody. She is an entertainment all by herself. In the derby for the most friendly B&B hostess, she may well have it sewn up in a field of stiff competition. Before we can even get our luggage from the car she is making us tea and hot scones. While we eat another couple comes in. Apparently the other couple here are repeat visitors who are fans of Kate and Jon. We are going to go to town to get dinner but the other couple tell us that Jon used to run a restaurant and the food is very good right here, so we decide to eat in.
We return to the room for an hour of writing as dinner is being made. The room has a radio but no TV. I put on the radio while I work. It is 6:30 PM. The weather forecast comes on. I can't believe it. They give the weather for that evening. Not a word about what the weather will be tomorrow. Who cares what the weather will be in the evening? Most people are already in for the night. They won't commit themselves about the weather in 12 hours? What good are they?
At 7:15 we head to dinner. The meal starts with cream of broccoli soup. Then we have ordered lamb chops, a broccoli salad, and baked potatoes. Dessert is rhubarb (or apple) pie a la mode.
After dinner we sit in the sitting room and talk to the husband of the other couple. As the sun is going down we go outside to get pictures of the sunset. Unfortunately there are clouds just on the horizon so we do not get good shots. But with just a bit of rain this is one of the nicest days we have had.
Since sundown is almost 10 PM afterwards there is just time to return
to our room and I write up the days two castles and get caught up in our
logs. It is now about 11:30 and I am now caught up in the log.
06/09/00: Clonmacnois to Wicklow: Bog Railway and Clonmacnois
This is one of the rare days that Evelyn woke up before me. Generally you have to get up pretty early in the morning to be up before me.
Also you have to stay up pretty late to see me going to bed. Maybe that's why I am always half asleep. Actually I was up late researching our site of the morning.
The B&Bs seem to compete to be the friendliest place with the best accommodations. The people who run them treat every guest as if they thought he was the inspector. This one probably wins the competition. The owners were 35 years as restaurateurs and the dinner I would rate very good, the breakfast was perfect. I never thought there was a lot of room for variance in the way a fried egg is made until I had one made just perfectly. (One difference is more liquid yoke than you know what to do with.) The place looks just like a suburban house on the outside, but it is by a healthy (or unhealthy, if you consider the food) margin the best place we have stayed. There is no TV and the bathroom is very compact, but any of this is more than made up for in the incredible friendliness of the owners. We left about 9:25 and got a farewell from the hosts like we had been friends for 25 years.
And we even have a partly cloudy sky.
Clonmacnois & West Offaly Railway. This is really a tour of boglands by the controversial group who are strip-mining the bog. There is a great deal of concern that there will not be a bog in ten or twelve years.
We get to the railway early. A French and a German group show up. Actually it is sort of a competition to see how many people who speak your language you can get. The tour is in the plurality language and other people are given the text on a sheet in their own language. Supposedly it is not as good. The other guests at the Kajon were English speakers and their tour was in French. Ours will be in English so I guess we lucked out.
Calling this a railway is an exaggeration. It is one car and an engine. The car itself is more like a bus interior than that of a train car.
Peat is vegetation that has fallen on a bog, gotten old under pressure, and is brought up and burned as fuel. In the US we at least wait for it to petrify as coal, but in Ireland everybody is in a hurry so they bring it up while it still is spongy and soft and looks like chocolatey brownie material. Then they dry it out. Burning peat is used to make electricity at places like the power station in nearby Shannon Bridge. A railway is used to transport peat to the power station. Since there is not much room at the power station and there is a lot on the bog, the peat is processed and stored on the bog and brought into the plant on a daily basis as needed. Peat is milled during the summer months and dried and stored. The bog is 7.5 meters deep on the average. The train takes us on a circle around the bog.
We see two experiments. There is a farm on an island in the bog. The basement probably is damp. Going in the other direction there are some areas returned to wetlands. It all sounds very environment friendly. It isn't. They are basically strip-mining the bogs. In 12 years or so they will be gone and the power plants will have to turn to fossil fuels.
The guide looks a little like Isabella Rosellini. She talks slowly with little inflection so that non-English speakers understand her, but it makes her delivery very boring. She gives us a chance to get out and see how the peat is cut. We walk over the peat and find it spongy. Using peat for fuel is a lot like just drying and burning mud. The train engineer cuts some blocks of turf. They are roughly the size of bricks and he uses a special tool with a flat L-shaped blade so it cuts the block from the one below it and the one to the left of it. Of course they don't do it a brick at a time; they do it with great hulking machines that chew up whole fields. The track we are using is the same track used to feed the power plant. They just switch it so it goes around the bog.
Returning on the rail we pass sundew plants. I had never seen one, though I remember seeing a picture of one when I was a child. It produces a sweet sticky sap. Insects come to eat the sap and get stuck in it. They cannot escape and the plant turns the tables and digests them. The insect came for dinner and became it. We also see more gorse, the green shrub with the bright yellow flowers.
Back at the station we get a chance to look at some of the equipment used to collect the peat. A lot of it looks like it was just designed by a capricious mind. Most could be something from a science fiction movie. In the souvenir shop we get a briquette of peat as our tchotchke. We also got a an Irish tin whistle for the Republic and a whisky glass as the tchotchke for Ulster.
The museum is just a tiny bit but they do have a piece on bog butter. Peoples used to preserve butter by wrapping it well and burying in the cool bog. Bog butter 200 years old has been found to taste fresh.
Not very far away is our next site, Clonmacnois. Clonmacnois means the meadow of the sons of Nos. Here was built a whole monastery complex started by St. Ciaran in 548. Ciaran was the student of both St. Diarmuid and St. Finian. Ciaran built his first church on this site with the assistance of Diarmuid but saw little of the growth of his monastery. Just seven months after founding the monastery and dedicating it to God, God saw fit to afflict him with the yellow plague. Go figure.
The monastery complex attracted scholars from all over Europe. Produced here was the Book of Kells, which somehow now has been moved to the Protestant Trinity Library. During the Middle Ages this was one of the reasons Ireland was respected as a center of saints and scholars. High Kings came to be buried at Clonmacnois. Viking raiders found the complex easy pickings and attacked several times between 830 and 1165. Irish forces and Normans would also frequently come raiding. Nevertheless the community attracted a population of merchants and fishermen in addition to teachers, students, priests, administrators, farmers, and support staff. In 1552 an English regiment stripped it pretty much bare.
Well relatively bare. The site currently contains a cathedral, eight church ruins, two round towers, three sculptured high crosses, over 200 monumental slabs and a castle.
In the museum they have excerpts from the chronicles that make one wonder what really happened. For example: "942 Contention at Clonmacnois between fowl of the seas and fowl of the land where there was a great slaughter of crows." What the heck was that all about?
Another highpoint of Irish history, in 1180 the King of Leinster at war with Tieran O'Roarke invites help from Henry II of England. Henry agreed to send some English to help and if all goes well they should be done by 2180. Or so.
Major features include O'Roarke's Tower, a defensive tower with its doorway up four meters from the ground for protection. The conical roof is missing after having been struck twice by lightning.
One of the High Crosses has been moved to the museum and has been replaced by a fiberglass replica. It has illustrations of stories of the final days of Jesus on one side and on the reverse side it has scenes from Ciaran's time.
A crowd-pleaser, particularly with kids is the whispering arch. Dean Odo built the whispering arch though he may not have known its properties. It is a doorway with an arch over it. A groove in the arch is almost an imbedded tube. Whisper into the arch and anywhere along the arch you can hear the whisper, like whispering into a tube and hearing it at the far end. During times of the plague it was used so confessors did not have to get too near their parishioners to take confession.
O'Connor's church has been restored and is still used. The most important artifact is the founder's church. It was the church built by St. Ciaran. It is actually smaller than some closets I have seen. No joke. It may be eight by twelve feet. Some church. Soil taken from under the church and placed in the four corners of a field will guarantee a healthy crop.
There are tour guides to take people around. There is a flood of school children also. We take a tour around with a guide talking to schoolchildren then we take a second tour with adults.
The weather has clouded up again. When we leave we are not in the car for two minutes when the sky opens and the rain starts. We now have a long drive, much through the rain. The rear view mirror has become looser and every five minutes or so it starts hanging loose.
There is a certain sense of wonder to come over a rise and see a medieval castle by the side of the road. It happens nowhere I have been as frequently as in Ireland.
Unfortunately our route to our next stop takes us through Dublin outskirts on a Friday evening. Dublin has absolutely no idea how to handle its traffic. It may be because of the narrow streets but if Dublin's motor arteries were heart arteries it would be having constant heart attacks. In any case even the locals complain that the signage is not up to snuff and not up to snuff is accurate.
Eventually we are out of the city an on a narrow road over the Wicklow Mountains. A very scenic view and a chance to photograph hills, sheep, a waterfall, and more.
We cannot really find the B&Bs recommended in the Lonely Planet so we just try the Dunroamin. Not too bad. We have a large double room. No TV in the room, but otherwise not bad. The whole B&B situation is pretty easy. If it has a shamrock, the Irish Tourist Board approves it. The worst ITB approved place was fine. The best non-ITB-approved in the Republic I didn't care for. We did that only once.
Across the street is the Wicklow Heather Restaurant. I order Chicken Marcus. Evelyn gets the trout. We will probably be back to the same restaurant tomorrow since it is the only one so convenient and we are keeping the room two nights. Evelyn's trout looks and tastes like salmon. The waiter assures Evelyn that it is trout from the restaurant's own trout farm. I have had trout before and it was white, not pink. My suspicion is that it is salmon. I get Chicken Marcus. This is chicken stuffed with smoked salmon. There is not enough to flavor it. Everything is served on a mound of mashed potatoes, but I am not impressed with what I got of chicken or salmon. I gave Evelyn a piece to try and later asked her if the piece she got had any smoked trout.
Rather than get dessert at the restaurant we went across the street to a news-dealer and for a pound I got a Magnum Bar. Then it was back to the room for a little while.
There is a sitting room with a television. Irish TV has a movie at 9:30 each night so we went to check it out. It was SHADOWLANDS with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. It is based on the play about writer C. S. Lewis and his love for American Jew Joy Gresham. I think he wrote about it in the book SURPRISED BY JOY. We watched it. Evelyn does not remember that it is a remake, but we have seen the same play adapted previously in a lower-budget production. I remembered it was Claire Bloom but could not remember who played Lewis. (At 4:30 I woke up and remembered. First that it was the British actor who has more recently shown up in Energizer commercials. (What a waste of a good actor.) A little more thought and it came to me it was Joss Ackland.) In the earlier version Bloom was not so aggressive. I enjoyed it probably more than I did in the theater, but I still do not believe that Lewis really loved Gresham. I think he wanted to intellectually investigate love and philosophize about and it was a love of convenience. He clearly went through the motions and tried to feel, but with an ulterior motive.
The movie went to about midnight.
06/10/00: Wicklow: Glendalough
Well, as I said I was up about 4:30. Then had trouble getting back to sleep. I slept and thought on and off.
At 8:30 we went for breakfast. I will miss all the eggs and bacon but my arteries will probably thank me. Our goal today is another monastery, the most beautiful in Ireland, nestled in a valley of the Wicklow Mountains. Today it is the most popular of the ancient monastic complexes though it was chosen to be out of the way. It was founded about 25 years after Clonmacnois. It had its greatest development from the 10th to 12th centuries. Like Clonmacnois it was sacked at least four times by Vikings. Irish raided it often; the English clobbered it real good in 1398. Finally Elizabeth I had the place closed down entirely.
The morning is good and clear. We get to the visitor center and there is a short slide show about monasteries in Ireland. There are some Americans there from a Globus tour. I hear some behind me saying, "It looks like it will be a nice day." "It will rain," say I. "How do you know?" "How long have you been here?" "A week." "Have you had any days that it hasn't rained?" "Not yet." "In two weeks it has rained every day but one. Today won't be another rainless day." Well, least the day has started nice.
Our final major site of our tour is Glendalough Monastery. It features a series of monuments and exhibits. Following the invasion of the Vikings The local monks decided that wood would no longer due for churches. God would not protect them and they needed to at least make churches of stone. Here were the first stone churches in Ireland. The wooden structures are gone but we have the High Crosses, Round Towers and churches themselves. The round tower in Glendalough is particularly well known. The architectural feats are impressive, but the surroundings are more impressive.
St. Kevin, who founded the monastery in the 6th century always said, "You can attract more monks with a monastery and some pretty scenery than you can with the monastery alone. The three most important things to remember in founding a monastery are location, location, and location. You know peasants already live in the middle of stinking bogs. They don't have to become monks to do that. You put a monastery in the middle of some slimehole and what kind of monks do ya get? Slackers and scumbags. That's what you get. If you want to attract the best of the current crop out there you have to give them something they want. Listen, you think the competition is the Devil? You think it is paganism? Let me tell you who the competition is. Clonmacnois with that river scenery. Clonmacnois, God rot 'em. We don't have scenery at least as nice you can kiss all the prime monks aloha." Or words to that effect.
The name Glendalough means "Glen of the Two Lakes." It has some of the nicest scenery in Scotland. There are two sites about a 25-minute walk apart each at a lake. At the lower lake there is a graveyard, a watchtower, a cathedral, and a visitors' center. Supposedly St. Kevin found this site and stood in the lake until birds built a nest in his hands. That at least is the story. It was more likely until his toes got pruney.
The main entrance at the lower lake was from 10th century. At this door criminals and fugitives could come and get 90 days sanctuary. For 90 days they could be monks and be protected by the monastery. After 90 days they either commit to being monks or are turned out to their fate.
The focal point of the lower lake area is round tower. It is six floors connected by rope ladders. This would be the bell house where the monks would ring bells to call people to services. This section also had a small cathedral and several small chapels.
The story is that St. Kevin got the land by curing the king's goose. The king had a pet goose that would not fly. Kevin said if he cured the goose and it flew, he would want the land within the loop over which the goose flew. The king granted the wish and the goose flew over the current boundary.
A story is told of what may have been the first copyright dispute. St. Colmcille borrowed a psalm book from St. Finian and secretly copied it. Someone told St. Finian and he demanded the copy. St. Colmcille refused. The high king said to every cow its calf and to every book its copy. St. Colmcille still refused, and so a battle was fought and 4000 people were killed. Colmcille built a monastery and then exile himself in repentance.
Local scribes used to put personal comments in the margins of books they were copying. "I am sad without food today" and "I am very cold."
A story from the visitor center: A woman known as Katherine was attracted to Kevin. Now St. Kevin had God's work to do so to discourage her he threw nettles in her face. She ran away to a convent. Later as he slept in his cave he had a dream Katherine stood between him and heaven. When he awoke he saw she was indeed in his cave, so he threw in the lake and drowned her. Him being a saint and all people knew it was God's will.
It is about a 25-minute walk to the other lake and its buildings. Irish setter came racing by us to prove he could run a lot faster than we could. Fine. He still has to eat horsemeat.
There were a few buildings worth seeing at the other site, but the beautiful lake with the hills as background it was beautiful. We sat on rocks by the water's edge writing on our logs until the wind blew up and the skies got cloudy.
We headed back to the parking.
It starts raining just as we get back to the car. It is now about 12:30 PM and we are through with what we planned to do in Ireland. We try a drive through the countryside, but it is kind of dreary in the rain.
The town of Avoca has become a real tourist attraction since the BBC filmed the series "Ballykissangel" there. The series was an unexpected hit. Now fans swarm to Avoca to see the streets and shops they know. We had never seen the series so it meant little to us. But with the crowded streets it seemed a real mess to get through. Evelyn asked if we should try to park and walk around. I suggested we go to the next town and walk around there pretending they had shot a hit series we had never seen there. For some reason that didn't appeal to her.
Signs up say "No animal burning here." Sounds really good to me. Sounds like the pagan festivals like May Day. We return to the room about 2:45.
We stopped on the way back to get some Irish music to play in the room. We have not been saying a lot about it. We have not gone to hear it live, but not for lack of liking it.
First of all I am not talking rock. I am about as qualified to discuss Irish rock music as I am Guinness Stout. I will talk about the traditional stuff. You hear it all over, and it has lots of melody and a lot of emotion. The Irish may be as expressive in their music as in their literature. Some of the music we play in the room has Irish music transcribed to piano. Piano is not an Irish instrument. There are some standard instruments. You have a violin, a tin whistle, a drum (called a bodhran) and pipes (a uillean). A bodhran looks almost like a large tambourine about 16 inches in diameter but only four inches high. It is hit with a four-inch stick. The device was originally used to scare birds in a field. You may also have a sort of accordion called a melodeon and perhaps a banjo. If you are lucky you get some nice harp music also. The books tell me that there are five kinds of music: jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas, and slow airs. I am not sure I know them all apart, but I really like some of the slow airs. Traditionally there were three types of music in what they call the bardic tradition. Geantrai was dance music, Goltrai were laments and the melancholy songs, Suantrai were calming songs and lullabies.
For dinner we returned to the Wicklow Heather. I was not pleased with them last night, but they really are pretty much the only game in town. I had Tagliatelli with Chicken and Bacon, Evelyn had cutlets. Actually I liked what we got somewhat more tonight. For dessert Evelyn and I shared Death by Chocolate. That is a name frequently used, but never referring to the same dish. This was a small piece of rich chocolate cake sitting in a chocolate sauce. It was not big but it was rich.
While we were there it started raining fairly hard, then stopped and the sun came out. As a perfect end to an Irish holiday there was a rainbow. I wish I had my camera. After dinner we went back to the room and I got my camera and we took some final pictures, mostly of Guinness ads on the local pub. Sadly the rainbow was long gone.
Back at the room I organized and reorganized what I would be taking on the plane. Then I read. Several publishers seem to have been at least partly inspired by Dover books in the US. Dover likes to find out of print books and reprint them. The used to rarely publish anything but reprints. Using photo offset techniques they don't even need to set the type. I find in Ireland a lot of books for £2.99 or œ3.99 that are reprints of books on Celtic Mythology or Irish Fairy Tales. I cannot take back too many of these with my small suitcase but I got a couple. One is Irish Fairy Tales collected and rewritten by W. B. Yates and another is supposedly real reports of supernatural phenomenon like ghosts and banshees. Mostly balderdash, but good inspiration for horror stories.
At 9:30 I went out to the sitting room to see if there was a movie. A couple of guests--German I think--were watching Euro 2000 Football. Not something that would interest me, but there are only about four minutes left of the game so I hang around. It looks like Belgium beat Sweden.
I start to watch USED PEOPLE a good film but I notice HOPE AND GLORY
is on another station. Better film.
06/11/00: Wicklow to New Jersey
I must have had the same bad dream in the night and in the morning since I woke with it on my mind in the middle of the night and the morning. I was stuck in Avoca and people wanted to show me where scenes from "Ballykissangel" were shot.
I woke at 7:15. Our flight is not until 3:05 this afternoon but Evelyn is going to be very cautious about getting to the airport on time.
We go to breakfast at a little after 8. It looks like the weather will be nicer today, though you cannot tell. We had our last Irish breakfast. We are eating on Irish Writers place mats. It surprises me that they have Irish writers place mats. They seemed more secure than that. Generally when you see people making something of famous Armenians in history it is because they think you might forget there were any. Nobody makes a list of famous male scientists.
We said good-bye to the dog. I hadn't mentioned the dog. There is a small dog who greets new guests. He rolls onto his back and curls his lip, hence communicating in an expression of his own culture and one of ours. The rolling on his back is a gesture from his own culture saying from the beginning that he realizes the human is higher in the pecking order and hoping that in return the human will not see him as a threat and render favors. These usually take the form of letting him into the house. Normally he would turn up his stomach in just the same way to the more powerful dogs of the pack. The lip curl revealing his teeth is a human gesture. In his culture it is a threatening gesture to reveal the teeth but he has come to recognize that in human culture it is a gesture of friendship to pull back the lips from the teeth. So he rolls on his back looking for reassurance and smiles.
Human sometimes say that this is their dog, but he doesn't know he is a dog, he thinks he is human. That is probably getting it backwards. A dog is well aware he is a dog as can well be seen from his reaction when he sees other dogs. Dogs probably do not realize how human they become living and melding into human culture. Verbalization through the throat in short pieces is something that humans and domesticated dogs do, but dogs never do in the wild. They may moon-howl but do not bark. A friend had a dog who would come if he played Montovani on his phonograph. Any other music and the dog would go away again. Living with humans had given the dog a musical aesthetic. Dogs recognize their names and come when called associating a verbal sound with themselves. That cannot happen in the wild. Dogs pick up a hefty vocabulary of words. These are things dogs figure out for themselves in trying to fit in to human society without realizing how they are becoming less like wild dogs and more like humans.
Then we headed out. We did not go over the mountains this time so it was a more direct trip to Dublin. On the radio they had the program we listened to two weeks before with essays on the past and music. Generally the essays were about the people's youth, though one was about the history of tea.
We got near the airport about 10:30 so drove around, getting back to the airport about noon. It took a while to find the rental car return from their map.
We showed the mirror at check-in. "Loe-verly." We went to the desk. "Wall, ya see it is just held on by a piece of tape." Actually we had noticed that.
The check-in desk was queue per server and we were in queue for half an hour. Then a quick look at where to spend the last of our money. Evelyn got herself a book and a T-shirt. I got a bottle of soda.
Then it was about an hour wait in the sitting area. Pet peeve: parents who let kids climb on padded seats like it was a playground. I suppose they think it is the lesser of the evils of letting the kid cry or climb. There is less of an overall feeling of responsibility that one's family leaves things no worse than they find it. It suffices if things are just not as bad as they might have been.
Getting on the plane was a real mess. The passengers mobbed the ticket takers rather than lining up. The ticket takers were slow and as a result the people got fed to the airplane in a slow stream. This was a blessing in disguise. It made it a lot easier getting on the plane. You could put up your luggage without a crowd of people having to stop and wait for you.
On the plane they were playing an arrangement of Paul Mauriat's "Love is Blue." A nice calming melody except they felt they had to give it a big crescendo EL CID ending. Very strange. Then they did "Michele," the Beatles tune, done in the style of Vivaldi. I think that each piece of music they played was a joke, but I may have been the only passenger listening. Everyone else was treating it as elevator music, perhaps as the crew were adjusting the elevators.
The flight was a lot of taxiing, then a short time in the air, about half an hour. Then we had to go through passport control at Shannon. That should get it out of the way.
The cans of soda are 150 ml. That is about five ounces.
Lunch comes. The salad is diced boiled potato and corn. The main course is chicken breast and ziti in a cream sauce with over-boiled peapods. I cannot put a name to the desert. It is something like a chocolate chip pumpkin muffin in a pie tart shell. Then there is cheese (20g) and crackers and a chocolate mint.
It is a difficult meal to eat because is an Airbus. The seats are very narrow in an Airbus. I save elbowroom by picking up the dish I am eating from.
The film is MY DOG SKIP, which I have seen and reviewed. Not one of the better dog films in spite of good production values and good reviews. They invest too much human understanding and intelligence in the dog.
Well, I napped a little. There were a group of boisterous Irish boys behind us. One had serious problems with the changing pressure in the plane. Eventually his ears popped.
It turns out he was part of a group of ten people who were coming over because of the hooligan surplus in Ireland. It has something to do with Le Chatelier's Principle. They intended to all go to Cape Cod, but had made no arrangements. And wishing them many good lucks, as Billy Fish said.
We landed about 7:05. From the moment the door opened on the plane we didn't stop walking till we got to the limo. The limo driver apparently does not have a whole lot of English but was waiting for us, which is something of a novelty. I think he has a hot date later tonight the way he rushed to his car and then shot down the highway.
Today Newark has 100-degree temperatures. We had been shivering in Ireland.
Rain is forecast.
I think in the early part of this trip I was letting the terrible weather get me down. It took a long time just to get used to the fact that it was going to rain pretty much every day. Once I had swallowed that, I think I could appreciate a little more the country. There are some things that are astonishingly good. What did I like?
1. Cheap travel. The B&B hosts in the approved B&Bs range from good to excellent. Considering they are dealing with people they are never going to see again in most cases, they have been really friendly.
2. The Irish character. I am sorry I didn't get to know them better. We probably should have spent more time in pubs. It is different in Ireland than the US. In the US bars are considered unsavory. Pubs are a vital part of the culture in Ireland.
3. Irish music. I miss the socializing a little but what we really should have done is go for the live music. It is not the same listening to a cassette. Irish music is good. So is French music, but it is different in Ireland. It is more a people's music.
There are also places where I might fine tune.
1. They could present their history better. I would say it was nice to take the historical tour, but it lacked some variety. We did three castles in a row, we did churches all in a row. It also lacked punch. There were a lot of battles here but the coverage of the battle at the museum was not, well, exciting. The National Museum had a fairly exciting account of the Easter 1916 Uprising. Derry had an exciting account of the siege, but the Famine Museum was really low key. There were a lot of battles fought in this country but the accounts of those battle could be more specific and exciting.
2. The food is about on a par with English food. The so-called "Irish breakfasts" which are not really Irish are tasty but deadly. Eggs, sausage, ham, fried bread; all make for a heart-stopping combination.
Well, we like nearly everywhere we go and Ireland is no exception.