"" Writer's Wanderings: October 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at the Castle?

About a half hour outside of Galway in Kinvarra lies Dunguaire Castle. It is also called a Tower House, a tall square stone structure built with a commanding view and towering over enemies so that it would be easier to defend. This one was built around 1520 by the O'Hynes clan who were basically farmers. The location on the water made it easier for them to take their goods into Galway to sell as the area around them was very boggy and difficult to travel by land.

In 1642, the mayor of Galway, Richard Martyn, owned the castle and modernized it with glass windows and chimneys. The castle was not updated much in the 1700s perhaps due to the fact that the Martyn's were Catholic and were just lucky enough to hold on to the property even though the penal laws forbid Catholic ownership. The Martyn family held the property until 1924.

When Dunguaire was purchased by Lady Christobel Amptill after World War II, it was in ruins. In 1954, she began restoring it and added living quarters as well as a garage. The modern-looking apartment in the picture was her main living quarters. She lived there for almost 20 years and eventually sold the castle in 1972 to Shannon Development to be preserved as a historical building.

Our self-guided tour through the castle was part of the tickets we had purchased in advance for the evening Medieval banquet. We did the tour in the afternoon and then hustled to our B&B in Galway so that we could freshen up and return for the banquet.

Legend has it that King Guaire looked out his window one day and saw 150 poets who requested his hospitality for a festival. The request was immediately granted as in Gaelic custom hostpitality was highly regarded and a king's greatest gift was generosity. Each night a banquet was held and poets would recite and musicians play. The festivities continued on for a year and a half. Ours would not last that long.

The evening was outstanding. The banquet hall holds about 50 people. Our host and hostess were also our entertainers and servers for the evening. I don't know how they did it all. We were seated and a "king" was appointed to reign over the event. The evening continued with Irish tales and stories and lots of song. Our hostess looked so much like our niece that it was almost uncanny.

The "servants" from the kitchen brought the food up. It was plated and passed out to us. The terrible part is that I can't remember what we ate. The good part is that it was probably because we were having such a good time listening to the entertainers. I do remember there being plenty of food.

The entertainment for the evening included a wonderful harpist who accompanied the singers/performers. The fare for the evening included many stories, songs, and tales from the many famous Irish authors, poets, and composers including such notables as Yeats, Joyce, and Wilde. This would definitely be a redo if we ever visit Ireland again.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Books for the Road - The 1st To Die

The 1st To Die is the first in a series of books featuring the Women's Murder Club. Lindsay Boxer is a homicide detective in the San Francisco police department who pulls together three other women, a DA, a forensic medical examiner, and a reporter to form a group who brainstorm and investigate a killer who is murdering newly wed couples. Lindsay is also dealing with her own mortality as she has been diagnosed with a possibly fatal disease. Add to that the complication of falling for her new partner assigned for this case and you have quite a complicated emotional plot line.

James Patterson takes you on the emotional journey with Lindsay right up to the very end with a twist I didn't expect. I enjoyed the characters and will probably try out the second in the series to see if they are just as strong and the story just as exciting.

I do believe this is one of the books that James Patterson actually wrote himself. So many now are written under his tutelage by other authors. It's a good read for the road.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Doolin and the Burren

Doolin was probably the smallest town we stayed in. You truly could not blink or you'd miss it. Once we checked in at our B&B, we headed off to the two pubs that were recommended by our host for dinner. One, O'Conners, was obviously full of people since there were a couple of tourist buses parked nearby. We discovered later that it was because the traditional Irish musicians were playing through the dinner hours. Usually the pubs didn't start live music until 9:30 p.m. or later.

Undaunted, we turned around and headed the other direction and up a little farther on the hillside to McGann's. We were rewarded with what I would call a true town pub as you might imagine it. An all wood interior with heavy wooden tables and stools rather than chairs. We ordered at the bar and our food was delivered to us at a table. I had the biggest hamburger I've seen in quite a while and the French fries were quality. In Ireland, they fry them the old fashioned way--real lard.

After a great breakfast at our B&B, we were on the road again and headed for the area known as the Burren. It literally means "the rocky place" and that it was. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Our first stop was at the "gateway to the Burren," Kilfenora. The site to see here was the Kilfenora Cathedral that dates back to 1189. While the cathedral is actually in ruins, it still holds several high crosses (standing crosses with a circle) the most famous of which is the Doorty Cross because of its carving of a bishop on it. Apparently during the potato famine in order for the very poor church to survive, the Pope declared himself bishop of the area.

Next up was the 15th century Leamaneh Castle. Only a shell now at one time it was a fortified tower house. As less fortification was needed, the house was expanded and the windows were enlarged. It was a bit eerie to see large blackbirds flying around inside. All it needed was a scraggly old tree outside, a little twilight, and a moon rising behind it and, well, you get the picture. Lots of stories of the owners are told here at this site if you're interested.

We pulled into the parking area to see another ring fort and I have to confess, I was up to my ears in ring forts and their history. Just inside the pretty little cottage entrance to the fort was a very inviting cafe with tea and scones. I opted out of the ring fort excursion and had some quiet time enjoying a scone with whipped cream and jam.

Between the fort and our next stop the Poulnabrone we drove through the Burren and marveled at the landscape. It was no wonder there was not much farming in this area. It would have been near impossible to remove that many stones to make the land farmable. For as far as the eye could see there were rolling hills and mountains of stone with a little greenery tossed in between.

The Poulnabrone or "portal tomb" we stopped to see was truly in the middle of nowhere. It is said to be 5,000 years old and archaeologists discovered remains of more than 30 people there. While the tomb is interesting it is far more interesting to wander over the limestone formations there. Crevices in the limestone formed by water erosion are called Grikes and the blocks that are formed are called Clints. Here and there you will find a hole in the limestone formed by rainwater dissolving the limestone. These are call Kamenitza and look like nature's flower pots. A little soil forms in the bottom, a seed falls, and with a little coaxing from nature, you have a blooming plant.

The Burren is said to be at its best when the wildflowers are in bloom. While we found a few, I can imagine that at the right time of year it must truly be spectacular. Wonder exactly when that is? Time for research. My bucket list is growing again.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland's beautiful coast

Maybe growing up near a body of water has made me fond of the sea--although the coast of Lake Erie in no way compares to the dramatic sea coast of western Ireland. I love the power and majesty presented in the meeting of land and water, the changing of colors as the sun rises and sets, and certainly the mystery of what the deep waters might hold. That is why I was so excited to visit the Cliffs of Moher.

The Cliffs of Moher stand 200 meters (about 600 feet) high above the Atlantic Ocean. Almost 1900 miles to the west of them lies Newfoundland and North America. (I recall seeing a sign advertising a bar along the way that was "closest to New York City.")

The cliffs are said to be formed from compacted mud, silt, and sand washed down toward the sea over 320 million years ago. Doesn't seem like that would be very sturdy made from those elements but they stand strong and tall as the sea assaults them.

Wind whipped at us as we walked the trails to get a good view of the cliffs. It blows so strong at times that small streams flowing over the cliffs are actually blown back and up. Unfortunately the time of day, late afternoon, put the sun in a bad position for good picture taking but we still managed some good shots.

As we wandered the grassy knoll to O'Brien's Tower, a viewing point built for tourists in 1835, I couldn't help but think of Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff and Catherine. Are the Yorkshire moors like this? Some day I'll have to see.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dingle to Loophead

Only in Ireland can you find lyrical names for towns like Dingle and Doolin. Sadly we said goodbye to Dingle. I could have lingered there. If we ever return to Ireland, it will be top on my list. We drove along the coast to Tralee and then headed north to Tarbert where we boarded a ferry to cross the Shannon Estuary to Killimer. Of course we stopped along the way for pictures. You don't accumulate over 1400 pictures without stopping here and there.

We traveled out the Loophead Peninsula to the Loophead Lighthouse. Why? I can't remember. It was a long trip out there and the closer we got the more the weather deteriorated. But there it was--a beautiful white lighthouse sitting on the rugged coast of West Clare. We were warmly welcomed by the two men who were manning the lighthouse--actually they were there primarily for the tourists, I think.

While the group ahead of us explored the lighthouse, we sat in a small cozy room and watched a video of all the things to see in the area which was very informative and came in handy later. When our turn came, one of our hosts announced that we would be delayed. A heavy rainshower had moved in and the winds had picked up. Even if we didn't blow off the top of the lighthouse, we wouldn't be able to see much. He gave us the option of waiting it out.

After two weeks of seeing Ireland's weather changes, we decided to wait. We knew the weather changed faster than it did in Cleveland (a local joke) and it had been a long drive for nothing if we didn't get to the top. Sure enough in about ten minutes, he announced that it had cleared enough for us to safely make it to the top.

Our guide to the lighthouse gave us the pertinent information before we began our climb. The first lighthouse on Loophead was built back in 1670 and was basically a platform on the roof of the keeper's house where a coal burning brazier or chauffer (a metal container for hot coals) was positioned. In 1802 it was replaced by a more conventional lighthouse with a lantern. Along the way to present day, a fog horn was installed (but discontinued in 1972) and electricity added. Today the lighthouse is completely automatic and actually monitored from Dublin. With modern GPS direction today, lighthouses are really becoming decorative.

We climbed the curving stairway to the top. Just before he opened the door, the guide told us to hold onto our glasses or anything else not attached permanently to us. The wind was ferocious. This was not an Irish tall story. It was. And the rain was still coming down although it had slowed some. Our view was a bit foggy. This is what we would have seen if it had been a clear weather day.

Wet but refreshed, we got in the car and drove back to the main road to our next stop--The Cliffs of Moher.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dingle--the town, the bay, and Fungie!

Dingle was a sweet little town on the Dingle Peninsula along the west coast of Ireland. Our second day spent there, we tried to take a boat trip from there to the Blasket Islands which were supposed to be very interesting in history as well as wildlife. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. The wind blew strong and the seas were a bit too high for the tourist boat to comfortably make it there and back. We opted instead to wander through the Blasket Island information center and exhibition and then spend some time in Dingle and take a trip into the Dingle Bay to see the town's big tourist attraction--Fungie!

But I'll save Fungie for last. Our walk through town took us to several points of interest pointed out in Rick Steves tour guide but our biggest interest lay in seeing the much talked about stained glass windows of Diseart. Diseart is a cultural program housed in St. Joseph's Convent where the stained glass windows of Harry Clark can be seen. They were well worth the stop and climb to the chapel.

There are twelve windows in all that show six scenes from the life of Christ. For a long time after they were installed in 1922, they were only appreciated by the sisters of the convent but have since become open to the public. Upon entering, you are given a guide to the windows which give the scripture verses from which the scene is taken. They are stunning. The detail is magnificent and the colors rich and vibrant. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures although bits of the windows are illustrated here.

Outside the church, we wandered a bit in the gardens that were so peaceful. I imagined many of the sisters enjoying times of prayer there.

We gathered on the downtown dock near the information center at our appointed time for our Dingle Bay tour. The harbor is full of fishing boats like the one I have pictured here. Once out on the water, you can see the beautiful rolling green hillsides of the farmland that Dingle is surrounded by.

Of course while the Bay is picturesque, the main selling point of the boat tour is the promised sighting of the Bay's resident dolphin--Fungie! In 1983, a dolphin took up residence in the Bay and has never left. To the delight of tourists and of course the tourism industry in the little town, Fungie appears almost every time the tour boat goes into the harbor. So much so that if you don't see Fungie, you don't pay for the trip. Money is only collected after the sighting. There are signs all over the town advertising Fungie and a special sculpture near tourist central.

While Fungie was sighted by us and swam around the boat several times playing in the wake, he didn't do any tricks. But then this poor guy has been earning his keep for quite a while now and in dolphin years he's getting up in age. They can live to 40 but the average age is 25 and he's already exceeded that. Wonder what they'll do when he's gone?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

One of my very favorite parts of this Ireland trip was our time spent on the Dingle Peninsula. It started with a beautiful B&B, The Greenmount House, to stay in for three days. The B&B sits up on a hill overlooking pastures and the Dingle Bay in the distance. Our room faced that view and in the bayed window, had two very comfortable easy chairs to cozy up in.

Our drive around the peninsula was a bit more pleasant than the Ring of Kerry, I thought. The sides of the road were not as hedged in and so there was more to see. One of our first stops along the way was the Dunbeg Promontary Fort, another ring fort, very small, however there was apparently more area below ground in the mounds surrounding it. Our question was who would you defend against? Surely no one would be foolish enough to try to scale the cliffs from the sea and we didn't think anyone would back themselves up to the cliff's edge to defend someone coming at them from the land. I'm sure there was good reason. We just couldn't see it.

To get to the fort on the cliff's edge, we had to walk a path that ran alongside a stone fence. These stone fences are found all over Ireland. In order to do any planting, farmers had to pick stones from the fields. Instead of hauling them over any distance, they made fences around their fields. Some of the fences have been there for centuries and are only held together by the clever way they were stacked.

Another stop a little further up the road was to see some houses that had survived from the time of the potato famine. If you spend any time at all looking at Ireland's history, you cannot miss the potato famine of the 1840s. Groups of cottages were made up of a house for the main farmer and then smaller peasant cabins. The particular group we visited had been inhabited right up through the 1960s and fixed with electricity at one point. They are now just a tourist attraction and have several mannequins set up in period clothing to depict the famine years.

Along with the famine houses, as they were called, were several fenced areas containing some farm animals. As we paid our two euros at the entry, someone on their way out mentioned that there were a couple of goats on the loose. The guy collecting entry fees whistled to the two sheep dogs he had nearby and yelled something to them--possibly in Gaelic since I didn't understand what he said. They took off up the hill. A while later, we were entertained by their shenanigans in trying to get the loose goats back in the pen. As you can see in the picture, the dogs weren't above terrorizing the goats into submission.

The other significant stop we made--other than lunch which was always significant--was an oratory, the Gallarus Oratory. It is an 8th century church used by early farmers in the area for worship. Shaped like an upside down boat, the stones are so well laid that it stays dry inside even in the rains that hit this area. It is about 24 feet long, 15 feet wide and 15 feet high and would fit a very small congregation.

Instead of parking in the large lot and going through the visitor center, we parked on a side road nearer the oratory and a bit shorter walk. It was also quite a beautiful walk as the path was lined with fuchsia bushes that were so thick they gave us shelter from the strong winds blowing that day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Muckross and Derrynane Houses

Several places were suggested for stops along the way as we traveled through Kerry and on to the Dingle peninsula. One of our stops was the elegant Muckross House in the Killarney National Park. The house was built in 1839-1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, Mary Balfour Herbert, who was known for her watercolors some of which are displayed in the house.

A later owner's love of hunting is evident everywhere in the house but mostly in the original entryway and center upper hallway. Some of the deer heads are stuffed. Others are mounted in the old style of earlier years before taxidermy was prevalent. They are mere skulls of the deer, antlers attached of course, and dates and names of the successful hunter engraved on the bleached bone.

The big event that marks this house is the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861. The Herberts spent years and much of their fortune preparing for the visit in the hopes that it would give them favor and secure a position for them in the royal order of things. Victoria stayed for two nights and according to the press enjoyed her visit immensely. Bad luck for the Herberts followed however when a few months later, Prince Albert, Victoria's husband died of typhoid. In her grief and mourning, the queen forgot all about the Herberts and elevating them to a higher position. Eventually, their fortune depleted, they forfeited their home to the financial institution that held their mortgage.

We had no idea who Daniel O'Connell was when we stopped at the Derrynane House where he grew up visiting his uncle and then eventually buying the home. History is always so much more fun to learn when you can "walk" through it. Daniel O'Connell was a lawyer, politician, and statesman in the 1800s and was known as "the liberator" because of his work to win political rights for Irish Catholics. His approach was a peaceful one which upset another movement for freedom for Ireland who felt his methods were too slow. O'Connell was hailed as a champion of liberty and democracy throughout Europe.

By the time we were done going through the house, we were quite impressed with him as well. He was anti-slavery and welcomed Fredrick Douglass when the abolitionist visited Ireland. One of the tour guides gave me a quote that is accredited to Douglass upon his observing O'Connell's eloquence with speech. His words, said Douglass, are "like a summer thunder-shower upon a dusty road." As a writer, it gave me something to ponder.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ring of Kerry

Was it really Day 9 of our trip around Ireland? After an overnight stay in Kenmare, we set out early in the morning to drive the Ring of Kerry which is actually a scenic tourist route on Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland. According to our Rick Steves guide, we were supposed to go in a counter-clockwise direction. Our problem was that we were not going to complete the circuit and we wanted to end up in Dingle. It was more to our advantage, even if it meant meeting up with large tourist buses on small roads to go the opposite direction. Actually, it wasn't all that big a deal.

Along the way, we found some truly beautiful spots but much of the road traveled was not only narrow but edged by thick hedges and/or stone walls. One of the most common repairs needed on rental cars is the replacement of the side mirrors. Pass a few cars on a road like that and you can understand why. Each close call was answered with, "We still have the mirrors!"

On our way down a narrow road, we were met by a herd of sheep coming down the middle of the road straight at us. We stopped the car and waited and a few seconds later, the shepherd came around the curve in the road--in his van--with the sheepdog nipping at the tires. Modern day shepherding, I guess. By the way, you'll notice in the picture that the sheep have bright colors on them. This is the way the owners can tell which sheep are theirs. Each owner has their own colors and design. Most of the sheep we came upon throughout our trip were not behind fences but roaming wherever the grazing was best.

One of our stops along the Ring of Kerry drive was a stone ring fort. There are a lot of these in Ireland and it is kind of a seen-one-seen-them-all experience. This was our first and we found it interesting enough. We parked along the road that ended in a farmstead. A gate across the path to the fort had a homemade sign next to a coin box that asked for one euro entrance fee.

While the fellas were fishing for euro coins in their pockets, I kept hearing a the sweetest chirp of a bird. It sounded so close to me. Just about the time I was ready to break out in a rendition of one of the Disney princesses' songs, I spotted the little bird in the bush. He cocked his head in several different poses as he looked me over and chirped away. Only when I got really close with my camera did he fly away. Later I would learn that the bird was an Irish robin and was as tame as a wild bird gets.

We explored the Staigue Fort, a round fort made out of stones that have no mortar to hold them together. It is said to date back to the early centuries AD before Christianity reached Ireland. The walls were about eighteen feet high in the tallest parts and were about twelve feet thick. It was only about 90 feet in diameter but was said to hold the chieftain's family, guards, and servants. I couldn't imagine too many people concentrated into that small an area. I think there may have been some living space inside the walls but not much. It is amazing how perfectly it has survived though.

The fort was interesting but I found the skies held my focus even more. Ireland seemed to have such dramatic skies. Clouds raced across them at times. They were constantly changing. Sunny and blue one moment and dark and foreboding in the next. The reason Ireland is so green is because it rains--a lot. Although most of our days had at least some rain, usually drizzly, there were always long periods that were dry and sunny.

Everywhere we went we found bright red and purple fuchsia bushes. Hardy bushes with thick sturdy branches. They formed many of the hedges we drove past. Somewhere along the way, we found a sign that told us the fuchsias were originally from Chile and took well to the Irish climate. There was no denying that. And at least they were a little softer to brush against with your side mirror than a stone wall.

On our way back from the fort along the very narrow road with a grassy middle to the main road we were bouncing along and up a small incline. Suddenly as we topped the hill, we were met by another car coming straight at us. My brother-n-law followed his natural instinct and veered right. (Remember we should be driving on the left.) At the same time, the other car veered sharply to his right. We sat a bit and laughed hard at our near miss. We'd obviously met another American driver--thank goodness!
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