Page the Second


A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

I Went to Ireland Chapter 1

I went to Ireland to immerse myself in fragrant green silences. I wanted to worry every potent drop of Irish-ness from the experience, like a dog with a succulent bone. But the phenomenon lies deep in the marrow. There was no way to get those last drops, from a cushy seat on a tourist bus.

So at every stop I tried to do the thing I thought would make that moment. I gathered wool from the bushes and carded and spun it by hand. I climbed stairs to discover secret places no one else found (Yes Mom, that was me who set the alarm off in the last castle we climbed through. Sorry, just had to see where that locked door led.) I tipped and slithered out to the end of the spit to gather a limpet from the River Shannon. I hung out over the cliffs at Moher to take pictures of the gannets dipping and sloughing below. The wind snatched my tin whistle notes away from me.

Not as easy as one might think since the wind is stronger.
I climbed treacherous castle steps in a long velvet gown and veil to see what it might have been like in the 1100's (It sucks, just so you know. That dang veil had to eventually be tied on because my little metal circlet did nothing to hold it in place. They probably pinned it to a wimple.) I also know how extremely difficult it would be to try and assault up those wet, twisty steps, especially if they're dumping slick gunk on you or have any kind of weapon at all. Undo-able if you're trying to use a shield for certain. I took pictures of graves and countless cathedrals. I played my tin whistle in pubs. (I was rubbish at picking tunes out of the air, but they still dragged me in to sit with them and jam and even gave me a couple of solos.)
High tea at Dromoland Castle

Broghan's, best place for Hake on the planet!
I wanted to eat foods I could only get in Ireland as often as possible. You can eat a hamburger anywhere. I don't know if I got really lucky or they just all cook well, because it was almost all fabulous. I ate bangers and mash (absolutely delicious mashed potato, parsnips (who knew) and yam) and white pudding (not high on my gustatory list) and lamb stew (outstanding), fish and chips (lovely), and to top it all off, luscious scones with clotted cream and blackberry preserves.

This was almost a Dangit picture. I took lots of those--castles flying past so fast you couldn't see what it was...Dangit picture.
I was grateful for that bus, even though there were many more places I really wanted to stop and explore. It got us quickly from one side of Ireland to the other. Just so you know, I will never drive in Ireland. I make that vow right now. Those guys are driving beasts just to avoid fiery death with every passing lorry. Just trying to take a picture of the car barreling past us three inches away made me promise myself to avoid that possible fireball conflagration. There are no verges onto which to escape and let a person's heart go back into their chest cavity. My hat's off to Murt, the expert driver for not killing us, and for fitting that huge conveyance around the sharpest hairpin bends.
Moncai Rua went everywhere--even to make a phone call.

More than that, I was grateful for Murt O'Shea, the shepherd of our little band of American sheep (some of us were more like goats). Every day he pulled from his vast well of historical, geographical, political, weather-related, and slice-of-life facts to fill our trek with meaning and wry wit. For some, his patter merely entertained. His words helped me fill out what it means to be the quintessential Irishman.
Murt with my donation of 500 pennies at the Dublin airport

We in America think we've distilled these people into leprechauns and green beer, to emerge once a year at St. Patrick's Day--a day on which every American thinks they're Irish. I kept waiting for Murt, who once was a skinhead with a lackadaisical high school career, to blow up and shrug out from under the onus of our callous tags. I'm sure he has endured such treatment in all of his 33 years of driving tour buses.  But he didn't complain. There was a little snark, but after all that time of herding Americans, I think he has earned it. Part of why, was his attention to detail and loyalty to a good-paying job. But the other half was pure Irish hospitality.
Waiting to kiss the stone...'cause I don't have enough blarney.

I met such treatment on every hand, from the shopkeeper, who upon hearing that my mum had managed after several attempts to finally lose her umbrella, promptly plucked up a brand new umbrella, tore off the tags, and handed it to me with a huge smile. There were the Murphy Ice Cream shop girls who offered me a free bowl since I was celebrating my birthday. A woman in I think it was Dingle made us welcome for tea in her own front room, complete with fresh-baked scones and clotted cream.

Yeah! Kerry football shirt!
There was the linen shop owner who leaned on the counter and talked about life in Dingle with stars in her eyes. There was the man at the cathedral of St. Finnan's who instead of charging me, sent me in to accompany my husband. (I probably should have told him The Man was back in the States, probably playing computer games.) There was the band mate who offered my mum a free CD. And the pinnacle of grace came from the completely wasted man who actually took the shirt from his back to trade for my UofA sweatshirt and baseball cap (story later). Their kindness and hospitality have no match on the planet.

Sheep dog trials. It's how I know my dog just doesn't want to listen.
They are a clean, hard-working people. Every arable foot of land had to be wrenched from the peat and the stones. They had to improve the land hauling seaweed to mix with the poor soil. Everywhere the gorse threatens to overwhelm the producing bits. But they work at it and their myriad stone walls are testament to their toil. I almost never saw litter. The houses were either well maintained or ruinous hulks rising nearby from the rolling green carpet. Many of their windows showed lace sheers. I'd like to get a set for my own cottage.

These people are fiercely loyal, not only to their own beloved land, but to ours, for so many favors rendered. And they remember all of them. It's like a very grateful, though smaller, tougher elder brother kindly smiling as his blustery, brazen younger, larger brother fights off bullies for him. What tolerance and thankfulness, which we completely take for granted.

Don't get me wrong. Many also love their booze and poteen (pronounced potcheen), or moonshine (which is illegal to sell). We went to the Guinness works in Dublin for a tour.

One of the bands we listened to in Galway
They're favorite meeting places are pubs, at which they eat, drink, dance, sing, play instruments, and socialize. We went to countless pubs, not to drink but to find great musicians,
delicious food, and good company. We weren't disappointed.

One day we went to a memorial for our firemen killed in 911 just outside of Kinsale. There is a tree planted for every deceased fireman. How many Irish memorials do we have here? Heck, we could hardly even name their most famous war heroes.
Memorial at Kinsale

The gate to our memorial. It was on a hillside with a view that wouldn't stop.
Several stories Murt told stood out to me as shining lanterns illuminating what it means to be Irish (I wish I'd taken a tape recorder. Next time I will, so I can get all the extra little facts straight.):

Muckross House--more of a hunting lodge, actually
We were coming back from Kylemore Abbey through Connemara and up Galway Bay when we passed (on the other side of the bay) two villages. I forget the names of them, sadly. But they bookend the Road of Tears. The villagers were starving to death during The Hunger. They heard that a shipment of American wheat had come in to the neighboring village, so they began to walk. They walked and walked and finally made it to the second village, only to find out that the news had merely been an empty rumor. No food. The only thing to be done was to walk back. Apparently every soul died on the way.
But the story doesn't end there. American indians who had experienced their own Trail of Tears donated food to the survivors who had stayed in the village, earning Ireland's undying gratitude.

Also on that leg, we stopped at a Rag Tree. The whitethorn fluttered with thousands of shreds of cloth. It seems that when a baby died, as often happened, the grieving parents lay the wee bairn to rest beneath a whitethorn so it's spines would keep the wolves away from the tiny bones. The Sidhe held whitethorns in sacred regard and would thus care for the babies. The rag trees grew from the feeling that placing a piece of a sick person's clothing might help to make them well.

One of many statues in Dublin dedicated to their fight for freedom
Murt also told us about the freedom fighters of 1916. As an American I can understand laying one's life down for the chance of freedom. So many of our own patriots' lives ended in penury or an icy, lonely grave. Freedom has a steep price, one we Americans take too often for granted. Sometimes we thumb our noses at those we feel were criminals more than patriots. But we stand here on the other end of the decision, not having faced the same predicament. To the English, our Minutemen were mere hooligans with guns and pruning forks. How can we judge them? Our Fathers won our own fight from the Motherland long ago. We only reap the rewards.
Muckross Abbey was fun to climb around in.

This whole thing served to endear Ireland to me. And through it's people, my own country. I'm proud that we've stuck by their side. To me, the Statue of Liberty meant these poor starving scarecrows when she said: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Walking "home" from Muckross House

At the library at Trinity College

More chapters later. (Most of my pictures are on the sim card which is inside the dang dog as far as I can tell. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Sigh.)


  1. Isn't it a wonderful place? I need to go back again. For research.

    Didn't you see that sign dedicated to people who have fallen to their deaths on the Cliffs? *shakes head*

  2. I took a picture of that sign. Unfortunately it's inside the dog.

    Yes, I love Ireland. There are so many things I want to go back and do, and yes, there never seemed to be time enough to get the right research. Either that or they didn't know what I wanted to know. At least I've seen the places and smelled the smells and tasted the breeze and the bangers and mash...grin. You and I should go together.