Last Day in Dublin

Wednesday, August 11, 2022

This morning was devoted to packing, as we are moving to another hotel tonight, in southwest Dublin, near the Tallaght Stadium. Yes, we’re going to another game tonight, more about that later. We stored our bags with Nannybag Storage, and headed in different directions to take care of some last minute touring and/or shopping.

Sean went to Croke Park, where he took the stadium tour and visited the museum. The tour was about 90 minutes long, and exceeded his expectations.

I had seen a beautiful linen table runner at the National Museum of Ireland, and decided that it needed to go home with me.

On the way, I walked through St. Stephen’s Green, a public park, located in the center of Dublin. Prior to 1663, this was a marshy common, of about 60 acres, used for grazing. The Dublin Corporation (former name of the city government) decided to enclose the center of the common (about 22 acres), and sell land around the perimeter for building. Control of the Green passed to Commissioners for the local homeowners, who redesigned its layout. Access to the park was restricted to local residents until 1877, when Parliament passed an Act to open it to the public.

St. Stephen’s Green played a role in the Easter Rising of 1916, when a group (200-250) of rebels established a position in the park. They used confiscated vehicles to set up roadblocks in the streets that surround the park, and they dug defensive positions in the park. Unfortunately for them, the British Army took up positions in a hotel across from the Green, and used that vantage point to shoot down into the entrenchments.

It’s a beautiful park, and many people were enjoying on this equally beautiful day. I saw at least one teacher conducting a class there. In one section of the park is a garden for the blind with scented plants, labelled in braille and strong enough to withstand holding and feeling. There is a large lake, fed by an artificial waterfall, and home to many ducks and other waterfowl. It was a lovely place to sit and enjoy my iced coffee and lunch.

The park is located by Grafton Street, the major shopping area in Dublin, another place for me to explore today. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, was just across the street from the park. It feels almost festive. The panes of glass that make up the roof let in so much sun that you almost feel like you are outside. The arched openings around the atrium frame the many shops, helping to give each one its own identity. At one end of the atrium is the largest indoor clock in Europe.

Tonight we attended a soccer game at Tallaght Stadium, the third qualifying round in the Europa Conference League, which is an annual football (soccer) club competition for eligible European clubs. The clubs qualify for the competition based on their performance in their national leagues.

St. Patrick’s Athletic was pitted against CSKA Sofia in tonight’s game. St. Patrick’s came to the game one point ahead, but CSKA was able to defeat them by two points tonight, so moves forward to the playoff qualifying round. It was a heated game, with some questionable calls by the referees. We were sitting not far from the CSKA fan section, which was extremely vocal. There was quite a lineup of security in front of them, probably a good thing, since some of them looked like they wouldn’t hesitate to jump onto the field and cause a fight.

Anyway, another fast paced game, with lots of passion on both sides.

Tomorrow, Sean catches a ferry to Wales to continue his trip. I head back home. It’s been a really good trip. Sean is interested in everything, very open to learning about how other cultures live and operate. He makes an excellent traveling companion. Plus, he’s been reviewing my posts, adding and/or correcting my comments in a constructive manner. Thanks, Sean.

I close with some impressions of Ireland. It continues to be one of the most beautiful countries I’ve visited so far, with impossibly green fields, gorgeous lakes and rivers. The climate is mild, due to the tempering effect of the ocean.

The Irish are among the friendliest people I’ve had the pleasure to interact with, quick with a smile, a compliment, a story. Many people helped us along the way, answering our questions, offering suggestions for pubs and restaurants, games that Sean might be interested in. Tipping is not expected in Ireland, in fact, one night when Sean told the bartender to “keep the change,” he was told that many consider that to be offensive. They don’t expect to be paid extra just for doing their jobs. They also don’t fawn over the customer, shilling for tips; they serve us and get out of our way. I like that. Of course, waiters and bartenders are paid decent wages, unlike in the US.

Some parts of the country have changed due to tourism. You can find tourist traps in many of the popular towns and villages, as well as in the bigger cities. That was a disappointment to me. I wasn’t looking for trinkets to take home, things I could find anywhere. I was looking for items that I can only get there, and they were harder to find.

The country works hard to preserve its culture and its history. The Irish continue to excel at story telling. I think most of them have kissed the Blarney Stone several times. Gaelic sports are a big part of their culture and identity, helping to tie communities together. Unlike our professional sports at home, these games seem genuine, and the fans are truly engaged without getting angry or violent.

It’s a place where I felt at home.

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Irish Heritage, Irish Lands

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

This was a long day, with many sites to visit. Our first stop was for a photo op at Inch Beach. Inch Strand is a 3-mile sand split that juts into the sea, a favorite recreational spot for swimming, surfing and fishing. It was truly beautiful this morning.

Near lunchtime, we stopped in Kenmare, in time to check out their weekly market, which featured locally grown produce, craft items, cheeses, honey and more. We grabbed sandwiches at the Rookery, really good. Sean bought the sweetest strawberries ever, which we ate for desert on the bus. Seriously, the best strawberries anywhere!

More photo stops outside Killarney and at Ladies View.

Then, a little time at Torc Waterfall, just a short walk from the road. Torc is a 66 foot high, 360 foot long cascade waterfall at the base of Torc Mountain, in Killarney National Park.

Next stop was Killarney City, where we boarded horse drawn wagons for a ride through Killarney National Park, or rather, a small part of the park. This was the first national park in Ireland, created in 1932 when William Bowers Bourn and Arthur Rose Vincent donated the Muckross Estate to the young Republic of Ireland. Since then, the park has been expanded and now covers over 25,000 acres, including the Lakes of Killarney (Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and Upper Lake), oak and yew woodlands, and mountain peaks. The park was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1981.

The park is home to two species of deer, the only wild herd of native deer (red deer) in Ireland, and Sika, a Japanese breed introduced to the area in 1865. The red deer is Ireland’s largest mammal, with males weighing up to 485 pounds. The Sika is much smaller, with males usually less than 200 pounds. The red deer proved to be elusive during our ride, but we did spot a Sika.

Ross Castle, built in the 15th century, sits on the edge of Lough Leane, It was the last stronghold in Munster to hold out against Oliver Cromwell, but the castle was eventually overtaken in 1652. It is open to the public in the summer.

Imagine our surprise when we stopped at the Barack Obama Plaza, in Offaly, so Cash could fuel up the bus on our way back to Dublin. Whether or not you appreciated the former President, this was something so kitschy that it would be a shame to not check it out. The plaza has a display on the second level that is devoted to Ireland’s impact on American politics, specifically the Presidency. We all know that Kennedy and Reagan had Irish heritage, but they are joined by at least twenty more US Presidents who had Irish or Scots-Irish ancestry, from Andrew Jackson to Ulysses S Grant, Harry S Truman, Richard Nixon and both Bushes. I already knew about Obama from the EPIC Emigration visit. The Irish value this connection to the US; each year on St. Patrick’s Day, a Waterford Crystal bowl filled with Irish shamrocks is presented to the President of the United States.

We traveled about 300 miles today, arriving back in Dublin in time for a late dinner.

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The Burren and Cliffs of Moher

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

After an excellent breakfast at the B&B, we boarded the bus for another day of beauty. Our first stop was at Dunguaire Castle in Kinvarra, south of Galway city. The castle was built on Galway Bay, in 1520 by the O’Hynes family. The name of the castle derives from the Dun (medieval fort) of King Guaire, the legendary king of Connacht. Richard Martyn, Mayor of Galway lived here in the 1600’s, and his family continued to live here until it was sold in to Oliver St. John Gogarty in 1924. Gogarty repaired the castle and used for literary meetings with writers like W.B Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Edward Martin. The castle was acquired by Christabel Kady Ampthill who completed the restoration started in 1924. It was later transferred to Shannon Heritage. Tours of the interior are available, but we only had time for a few photos.

According to legend, if you walk around the castle counter-clockwise three times, you will become a virgin again. At least that was a line that King Guaire was supposed to have used. I wonder how well it worked for him. I did walk around the castle, but only once, and in a clockwise direction, no no benefit accrued to me, alas.

There is actually a more interesting story about virginity and a former owner. The Russell Case tells an intriguing story. Lady Christabel Ampthill was married to John Hugo Russell, heir to Ampthill, when she gave birth to a son, Geoffrey. Russell claimed the child could not be his, he must be the son of one of the many men she dined and danced with regularly. He said the marriage had never been consummated; he had made attempts but never completed the deed. She claimed she had never slept with any other man. When her doctors confirmed her pregnancy, they also stated that she was still intact, thus a virgin. After several court cases, her son, Geoffrey was declared the legitimate son of John, thus heir to the title. He held that title from 1973 – 2011, when he died. I can’t help but wonder, did Lady Ampthill visit Dunguaire after getting pregnant, and walk three times counterclockwise around it?

Then on to the Burren, part of the Burren & Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark. The name comes from an Irish word “Boíreann” meaning a rocky place. It is indeed rocky. A few plants are able to take root in this landscape, creating a contrast to the gray limestone that juts into the bay.

After an ice cream break in Doolin, where Cash warned us not to look into the owner’s eyes or we’d fall in love (he was a nice looking young man), we continued on to the Cliffs of Moher. We had opted for a boat ride below the cliffs. This wasn’t a leisurely ride, we sped past the towering cliffs (up to 700 feet in height), with passengers crowding the open areas to get their photos. The approximately 10 mile ride took us out to Hag’s Head, with a sea arch under a signal tower. The cliffs are definitely impressive from this vantage point.

While we were on the boat, Cash, our driver, took a chilly swim off the coast.

After the boat ride, we had time to walk along a short part of the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk, which runs about 11 miles from Doolin to Hag’s Head. The Cliffs have featured in a few movies, like “The Princess Bride” (a personal favorite) and “The Half-Blood Prince” of the Harry Potter series, as well as several music videos. The cliffs formed between 313 and 326 million years ago, from sediment dumped by an ancient river. The sediments were compacted to form the strata we can see in the cliffs. Years of erosion have created the stunning land forms, such as sea caves, sea stacks, and the sea arch seen at Hag’s Head.

O’Brien’s Tower provides views all around through windows at the top.

More time on the bus, then a short ride on the Shannon Ferry, and finally, after about 140 miles of road today, we arrived at our Bed & Breakfast in Annascaul, on the Dingle Peninsula. Dinner was served at the Randy Leprechaun next door. The Randy Leprechaun is owned by Paddywagon Tours, and it aims to give its patrons a genuine pub and craic experience. I didn’t stay for the live music and craic after dinner, but Sean did. He said it was hilarious, watching middle-aged women doing some sort of boat rowing dance. Sorry I missed it (she said sarcastically.)

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The Wild Atlantic Way

Monday, August 8, 2022

Some of the best scenery in Ireland is along the southwest coast, known as The Wild Atlantic Way. Renting a car and driving from Dublin proved to be very expensive, so we looked around for a good tour. Viator.com is a site that I have used many times, usually with good results. This time was no exception.

We found a three-day tour that would take us to Connemara, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula, the Ring of Kerry and Killarney. The tour was run by Paddywagon Tours.

We headed to the meeting site early this morning, and found lots of people waiting. Several buses were picking up folks here, we just had to wait for ours to show up. It wasn’t long before Cash arrived. He loaded up our bags, and let us know what his expectations were for our group. If we didn’t get back to the bus on time, we would be left behind. Tell him if it was too hot or too cold, and he would adjust the temp accordingly. Let him know if there were any other issues to be dealt with. In other words, don’t wait until the tour is over to complain. I appreciated his forthrightness. I’ve been on tours where people didn’t respect others’ schedules, causing us to be short-changed on other stops. Thank you, Cash! Although his bark was worse than his bite, he actually did start pulling away from one stop when one couple was late. They were careful to be on time from then on!

Cash was an engaged driver, full of useful information and entertaining stories, some of which were even true. Cash is a farmer at heart, but he supplements his income with driving for Paddywagon. He also helped tend bar at one of the pubs we patronized. He told us that he had been an extra in the History TV Series “Vikings,” an action series loosely based on on real events, with lots of fighting, sex and blood. I enjoyed it. The show was filmed mostly in Ireland, and many residents were used for extras. Cash played a Viking horseman. He certainly looks like he’s descended from Vikings, with his fair complexion and sandy colored hair.

After a couple of hours, we stopped in Cong, County Mayo, a town best known as a setting for the much loved 1952 John Wayne movie, “The Quiet Man.” It’s a small town, with a few shops, ruins of the Cong Abbey, which was open from the 7th – 13th centuries, and a Quiet Man Museum, a replica of the cottage in the movie.

We drove through beautiful country on our way to Galway, viewing lakes and farms as we sped past. We saw several buildings with thatch roofs. Thatch is a natural reed and grass which, when properly cut, dried, and installed, forms a waterproof roof that can last as long as 60 years. It is considered an art form, and each artist uses a distinct finishing pattern at the top.

After riding about 200 miles, we arrived in Galway in the late afternoon. Our very comfortable Bed & Breakfast. St. Jude’s Lodge, was located just a few blocks from the downtown area. Nearby Eyre Square (also known as John F Kennedy Memorial Park) was filled withe folks enjoying the beautiful weather. Kennedy had made a speech here during his 1963 trip as US President. The park is named for John Eyre who arrived here with Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1651. He and his brother acquired quite a lot of property that had been seized from Irish Catholics. He was appointed Mayor of Galway in 1661, where he helped to keep them from reclaiming their land.

Across the street from the square is a sculpture of writers Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde. That is not a typo; Vilde was a writer from Estonia, and the bench was a gift from Estonia to the city of Galway when Estonia joined the EU in 2004. Why? There was never any connection or communication between the two men, but it is a nice looking, even welcoming piece.

While I headed to the center of town, Sean paid a visit to the Connacht Rugby headquarters, hoping for a tour of their stadium. They play at the Galway Sportsgrounds, a multi-purpose stadium a short walk from the B&B. Sadly, no tours, but he was able to pick up a shirt, so success of a sort.

Downtown Galway is full of shops and pubs, all designed to attract tourists and their money. I was no exception. Sean and I met at Taaffes Bar, recommended by Cash, where I tried some Irish cider. It’s not like the “hard” cider we have in the US. This cider is less sweet, more refreshing. Taaffes was very busy, we were lucky to get a table outside. People were gathering for the live music on tap for later. It didn’t look like we’d get an inside table for food, so we moved on. We had an excellent meal at the King’s Head Bistro. Since we are so close to the ocean, seafood was a must. While I enjoyed the scallops, Sean had mussels, a lot of mussels, at least 60! He almost ate them all.

After dinner, I walked down to the Spanish Arch, along the waterfront. The Arch was built in 1584, by Wylliam Martin, the 34th mayor of Galway, as an extension of the 12th century town wall. It housed soldiers who kept watch and manned cannons on the roof. It was first known as Ceann an Bhalla (the head of the wall) but later became known as the Spanish Arch, perhaps a reference to the former merchant trade with Spain and Spanish galleons, which often docked here.

Sean stopped at a pub near Eyre Square, where he met an Irish couple who now live in Australia and two Brazilians. They drank cider and pints together and had an absolute blast. By finding the non-tourist pubs, Sean has been able to experience the craic (pronounced crack), the sharing of news, gossip, fun, entertainment and conversation on a night out.

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Camogie at Croke Park

Sunday evening, August 7, 2022

Now it was time to have some fun. Croke Park is home to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Ireland’s largest sporting organization. Croke Park Stadium, with a capacity of 82,300, is the 3rd largest capacity stadium in Europe, demonstrating the importance of the GAA. GAA athletes are all amateur, similar to US college athletes.

Several sports are played in the GAA. Gaelic Football is also a team sport, played between two teams of 15 players. Players can move the football (round like a soccer ball, but smaller) by carrying, bouncing, kicking or hand-passing the ball. In Gaelic Handball, players hit a ball with a hand or fist against a wall, similar to the US version of handball. Rounders is played with a rounded end bat and small, hard, leather-cased ball. There are similarities to US baseball, but the bat is smaller, and it’s usually swing one-handed.

The fourth Gaelic game is Hurling, an outdoor team game of ancient Gaelic origin, that is played with a wooden stick (hurley) and a small ball (a Sliotar). It is considered the fastest field sport in the world. Imagine watching tennis played across a field that’s twice the size of an American football field.

The women’s version of the game is called by the name of Camogie, based on the Irish word for a hurley, “camán.” Women use a shorter version of the stick, a camóg. The women’s game was established in 1904 in Dublin. Participation by women in sports was frowned upon. Women often hid their hurls (sticks) under their coats to avoid harassment from the public. The uniforms must have been hard to play in at the time, with “skirts to be worn not less than 6 inches from ground.”

Tonight’s game was the final in the All-Ireland championships of Camogie. The teams are made up of young women who play for local community clubs; the best players are chosen to represent their counties in the All-Ireland championships.

Kilkenny was pitted against Cork in this important game. Ireland’s President, Michael D Higgins, was in attendance, and greeted the players before the game. The stands were full of young fans, both boys and girls, wearing their team’s colors, and yelling for their favorite teams and players. I’d estimate the decibel level to be as high as that made by any group of fans at a Minnesota Vikings Game. I was rooting for Cork, since I have ancestors from the area. Alas, Kilkenny edged them out by one point at the end. Exciting!!

Sean toured Croke Park a few days later, and took some more photos of the field, stadium and museum.

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A Full Day of History in Dublin!

Sunday, August 7, 2022

It would take weeks to see all of the historical sites in Dublin. We’re cramming in as much as we can while we are here. The prime goal for the day was EPIC, The Emigration Museum, on the other side of the River Liffey. We took a circuitous route, passing through the grounds of Dublin Castle. The first castle on this site was built in the early 1200’s, after the Norman invasion some years before. It was damaged by fire in 1673, and mostly demolished. The round Record Tower is the only portion of the castle that dates from the original structure. Next to it is the Chapel Royal. The castle served as the seat of English and British power from 1171 – 1922. Now the castle is used for ceremonial events. It also houses a library and museum.

The Dubh Linn (Viking name meaning black pool) Gardens sit just south of the Chapel Royal. The center is marked by stone patterns that represent sea serpents. At each corner of the grounds is a small garden. Three of these gardens have been designated as memorial gardens; one commemorates members of the Gardai, or Irish Police, who have been killed in the line of duty.

We walked along Grafton Street, full of shops designed to draw the tourist, and the Temple Bar area, with pubs designed to do the same.

One corner boasts a statue of Molly Malone, made famous in song:

“In Dublin’s fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”

Beginning around 2014, tourists have been told that Dubliners will rub sweet Molly’s breasts for good luck, although doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it. Apparently, it’s just another way to make tourists feel their getting an “Irish” experience. You can see how worn that part of her anatomy is. We opted to take our chances without her blessing.

Dublin’s Custom House, which fronts on the River Liffey, was built between 1781 – 1791, to replace an earlier structure. The current building was severely damaged in 1921, five years after the Easter Rebellion. Earlier, Ireland’s president, Éamon de Valera had called for a public show of force by the IRA, to reinforce the idea that it was an army representing an Irish government. He had suggested two possible targets, one of which was the Customs House, an important branch of the British government. The Customs House was chosen in part due to the fact that it was a physical presence of English control. Attacking it would have an impact.

About 120 IRA Volunteers gathered at the Custom House; many belonged to the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade under Tom Ennis. Armed only with pistols and a limited amount of ammunition, they stormed the Custom House and overpowered the police guard. Cans of petrol and bales of cotton were spread throughout the building and set on fire. The Custom House held many government documents, including tax records. Their destruction would cause a hardship to the British government.

More IRA volunteers were posted outside the building to defend against the British forces which had quickly arrived. The IRA soon ran out of ammunition, and the battle was over in short order. The British arrested 111 people, about 70-80 who were IRA. A total of 8 people were killed (5 IRA and 3 civilians), and another 16 wounded ( 5 IRA, 4 British and 7 civilians.)

Thousands of records were destroyed during the attack. The fire burned for days, as the Dublin Brigade responsible for putting out the fire, some IRA members themselves, actually helped to spread it.

Between the Custom House and EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, along the waterfront of the Liffey, is a set of sculptures, representing the potato famine of the 1850’s. “Famine,” by Rowan Gillespie consists of six figures, including a dog, carrying their meager belongings (or starving children) as they search to escape their suffering. The faces are particularly poignant; even now, tears come to my eyes as I look at the photos. Many emigres sailed from this location, looking for new lives in America, Australia, and other parts of the world.

EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum tells the story, not only of those who were trying to escape the potato famine, but of the accomplishments of many of their descendants over the years. The museum is housed in a former warehouse known as the CHQ building (Custom House Quay), which dates to 1820. The museum was designed by the company Event Communications which bills itself as an experience design agency. There are 20 galleries that guide you through the history.

There were many interactive displays to enhance the experience.You can learn of the many contributions of the Irish to our world, in the fields of medicine, education, politics, mathematics and science, dance and music, literature, film, and even crime (Billy the Kid for one.)

At the end, there is even an opportunity to add your family name to the list of those who left Ireland. My great-grandfather came in his teens, after most of his family died in the Potato Famine. He worked on a farm in Iowa, then purchased that from from his employer. Among his descendants are scientists, educators, actors, farmers, entrepreneurs, medical professionals, sports professionals, a university president and a state senator, not bad for a n orphan boy far from home.

The EPIC experience should be a “must” on every visitor’s list.

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National Museum of Ireland and Kilmainham Gaol

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Today, we set off to explore some of the historical sites right here in Dublin. Our lodging is conveniently located within walking distance of most of the attractions we were interested in.

In the early 1100’s, Vikings built a wall around the city to replace earlier earthen fortifications. Remaining segments of the wall can be found around the city, including Lamb Alley, across the street from our lodging. This is one of the oldest parts of the City of Dublin; the oldest house in the city is less than a mile away. Over the centuries, the walls deteriorated despite sporadic attempts to repair them. In the 17th century, there was a move to create open public spaces, resulting in the demolition of much of the wall. Some portions of the wall were incorporated into new buildings, some portions survived because they weren’t in the way of development. Today, what is left is protected by the Dublin City Council. Tours are available that trace the original wall around the City.

We walked a little over a mile to the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, which devotes much of its space to Irish archaeology and natural history. Established in 1877, the museum incorporated collections from the Royal Dublin Society and the Royal Irish Academy, which dated back to 1792. Pieces on display include prehistoric gold works, bog bodies, tools, pottery and a long dugout canoe.

In the section devoted to bog bodies, there were several examples from the Iron Age. Bodies discovered in bogs are remarkably well preserved. Whether a body ended up there accidentally or intentionally, it became naturally mummified. The bog’s acidic water, low temperature and lack of oxygen preserved the skin, hair and nails, but the bones sdre usually dissolved by the acidity of the peat.

From medieval times, there are displays of Celtic metalwork, religious artifacts, jewelry, including the beautiful Tara Brooch.

Next, we headed to Kilmainham Gaol, which opened in August, 1796, a modern facility intended to “reform” the prisoners. It was considered to be superior to any other prison in Europe. Each prisoner was to have his/her own cell. However, increased numbers of arrests soon overwhelmed the prison. Several people occupied each cell; men, women and children were imprisoned together, with barely enough room to sleep.

Many famous people have spent time here, including many who were involved in the numerous Irish uprisings. Éamon De Valera, who later became the first President of the Irish Republic, spent time here after the Easter Rebellion, also called the Easter Rising, of 1916. My family has a connection to De Valera; when he visited San Francisco in 1919, my cousin (twice removed) was a member of his honor guard. That’s my small claim to fame.

Kilmainham Gaol was closed in 1924. Demolition was considered, but the cost was prohibitively high. Already in the 1930’s there was interest in preserving the prison and creating a museum. Nothing really happened until 1960, when a workforce of volunteers began cleaning the site. Restoration was completed in 1971, with the site now housing a museum on the history of Irish nationalism.

We passed through the Graffiti Room, with its displays of some of the graffiti from the walls of the cells, mostly dating from 1919 – 1923. We waited in the old courthouse, where so many prisoners received their sentences, sometimes execution by hanging or rifle. From there, we moved to the Gaol itself, passing through some of the older corridors with their tiny cells.

Not all of the cells were so sparse. Charles Stewart Parnell, a Member of Parliament for Cork City, was a proponent of Irish self-governance. He was elected president of the Irish National Land League in 1879, a group that advocated for land reform. Most of the land in Ireland was held by English landlords, many absentee. Irish were generally not allowed to purchase land. Parnell owned a newspaper, the “United Ireland,” which attacked the initial Land Act, considered by many to be ineffective. Parnell was arrested and sent to Kilmainham. Because of his political standing, the Gaol combined a couple of cells to create a larger room, with better lighting, two windows even a fireplace – lucky man.

The more modern part of the jail may be familiar to you. It has been featured in a few movies: “The Italian Job,” “In the Name of the Father,” “The Escapist,” just to name a few.

A number of executions were held in the yard, by hanging or rifle. Ten participants in the Easter Rebellion were among these.

The last time I visited Ireland, I wasn’t very impressed with the food. That has definitely changed. There is much more variety in the foods, and more creativity in the preparation and presentation. Today, we enjoyed an excellent sourdough pizza at The Lab, a restaurant near our lodging. It’s worth checking out.

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Newgrange and Hill of Tara

Friday, August 5, 2022

We were up early to take a day trip to Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. The tour was through Newgrange Tours by Mary Gibbons, very well done. Gibbons is very knowledgeable about history and archaeology, her explanations were thorough, yet easy for the layperson to understand. We had a very nice visit during our lunch break. Like most of the Irish whom we met, she was very happy to talk about and every subject, and freely express her opinions. Hers were mostly well-informed opinions.

The morning turned drizzly, as we approached the Hill of Tara, which was once the ancient seat of power in this country, considered to be the dwelling place of the gods. St. Patrick reigns here now, watching over us as we walked past a church and cemetery, to clamber up the hill.

The Mound of Hostages, built around 2500 BCE, is one of the oldest structures that were built here. This is a passage tomb, and, like other passage tombs, it is aligned to the sun on the Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolc. We could not enter the passageway at the Mound of the Hostages, but we could, and did peek through the grate that protects the entrance. The decorated stone on the left of the entrance is called an orthstat (an upright stone or slab set in the ground or as part of a structure.)

Nearby is the King’s Seat, on which stands the Stone of Destiny, the ancient coronation stone. According to myth, it was brought here by an ancient godlike people, the Tuatha Dé Danann, and is said to roar when touched by the rightful king of Tara. A huge temple was discovered directly under the Hill of Tara, by Conor Newman, an archaeology lecturer, who worked on a survey of the find in the early 1990’s. At least 100 new monuments have been discovered, the oldest of which date as far back as 4000 BCE.

In spite of the drizzling rain, the views were great. It is said that you can see most of Ireland from the top of the hill. Maybe on a clear day?

Fortunately, the weather cleared up quickly, and we headed next to Knowth, site of the Great Mound, another passage grave, built over 5,000 years ago. It is similar in size to Newgrange, and is surrounded by several smaller mounds. Knowth was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. The mound is surrounded by 124 kerbstones, most of which have engravings. The site is known for having the largest collection of megalithic art in Europe.

There are several mounds at this site, some that are open at the top. The west entrance is marked by two standing stones, a pillar and a shorter, round stone. It is not known what these stones signify.

The Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, a short walk from Newgrange, holds a great deal of information about the heritage sites in the Boyne Valley. Newgrange is about 5,200 years old, older than Stonehenge or the Great Pyramids. This passage tomb/ancient temple measures 279 feet in diameter and 43 fee in height. Like the Mound of Hostages, Newgrange is surrounded by kerbstones, but only a few contain any artwork. At the winter solstice, the sun shines, at dawn, through a roof-box above the entrance, illuminating the entire chamber. A guide took us into the passageway, and, using artificial light, demonstrated the winter solstice illumination.

Brú na Bóinne, or “Bend of the Boyne,” is the site of a 1690 battle between the supporters of the deposed Catholic King James II of England and Ireland, and those of Protestant King William III, who succeeded James. This battle was the turning point in the war, which allowed for the ascendancy of protestantism in Ireland.

After returning to Dublin, we had dinner at The Brazen Head, which bills itself as Dublin’s Oldest Pub, dating back to 1198 AD. While there was a pub or inn at this location since then, the name of The Brazen Head doesn’t appear in documents until 1653. The current structure was built in 1754. The place was very busy, we had to be quick to spy an open table before someone else grabbed it. This is not the traditional Irish pub, rather one that caters to the tourist trade. Still, we were hungry and the food was fine.

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Ireland Till the End of Time, or “Erin Go Bragh”

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Irish speakers would say “Éire go Brách,” The phrase dates back to the Irish Rebellion of 1798, featured on a flag as a rallying cry for Irish independence from Great Britain. It’s a familiar phrase to all of us who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every March 17.

When my son asked if I’d like to join him in touring Ireland, I jumped at the chance. My husband and I had visited 17 years ago, but there were many things I didn’t get to see at that time: the Cliffs of Moher and Newgrange, for example. Sean did stipulate that he would be going to a couple of sporting events, which I could attend or not. Other than that, he wanted to absorb as much history and culture as he could in our time there.

We boarded our flight from Minneapolis yesterday afternoon, arriving in Dublin around 8am this morning. Since it was too early to check in at our lodging, we stored our bags with Nanny Bag Storage. This service operates in many cities around the world, even in the US. The bags might be stored at a Western Union site, in the back of a shop or restaurant, or a local hotel. It worked very well for us, allowing us to begin touring without being encumbered by luggage.

Dublin was founded on the banks of the River Liffey, by Vikings, in 841 AD. The new settlement was called Dubh Linn, which means black pool. Despite ongoing wars between the Irish and the Vikings, an invasion by Scots, outbreaks of plague, the little town held its own, growing to about 600,000 inhabitants by 1700. Numbers declined during the Potato Famine of the mid-1800’s, and have not fully recovered. The population today is about 544,000.

First Impressions:

One of our first stops was at Merrion Square Park, near the city center of Dublin. Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats, George Russell and Daniel O’Connell all lived in Merrion Square at one time. There is an interesting memorial to Oscar Wilde, with a sculpture of him lolling on a large boulder, and a few pillars with sayings attributed to the writer.

One of our priorities was to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. The tours were selling out quickly, but a kindly tour guide managed finagle a way to get us both in at the same time, without having to wait several hours. This was one of many examples of the helpfulness we experienced on the trip. First, we toured the grounds of Trinity College, learned about many of its famous students – Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift and Samuel Beckett, to name just a few. For “Game of Thrones” fans, Jack Gleeson (Joffrey Baratheon) is also a graduate of Trinity. A class was graduating today. Perhaps some of them will achieve similar notoriety.

We popped into the Geology Museum building, where there is a skeleton of the Giant Irish Deer is on display. It looks much like our elk, but is actually the largest deer species that ever existed, standing about 7 feet tall, with antlers spanning up to 12 feet, much bigger than modern elk. These giant deer roamed throughout much of Europe over 10,000 years ago.

Next, we visited the Old Library Building, which houses the Book of Kells. Much of the area is off limits to cameras, so protect the manuscripts. It isn’t know exactly when or where the book was created, somewhere in Ireland, Scotland or England, probably during the time of St. Columba in the 7th century. The book consists of the four gospels of the Christian Bible. Whether or not it was created at the Abbey of Kells, in County Meath, it survived several Viking attacks, and was removed to Trinity College in 1661.

Built in 1712, the Old Library Building is still used by students at Trinity College. The main building, The Long Room, 213 feet long, houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. The Library is entitled to receive a copy of all works published in the Republic of Ireland, as well as a copy on request of all works published in the United Kingdom. To accommodate all of these books, the roof was raised in 1860, and an upper chamber added. Besides the books, several busts are on display, as is the Trinity College Harp, most likely made sometime in the 15th century. This harp is the national symbol of Ireland.

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Immersed in Van Gogh

Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit has been playing in Minneapolis for a few weeks, and will continue into April. It was created and is presented by Lighthouse Immersive. This company is based in Toronto, Ontario, and has venues in several locations. It is an experiential entertainment multi-plex, designed to cultivate community and creativity through large-scale events and exhibitions of all art forms. It was certainly successful with this experience.

A few displays in the lobby greeted us before entering the experience. The first photo highlights the only painting that Van Gogh is known to have sold during his lifetime, for the equivalent of $2,000 in today’s dollars. The most recent sale of one of his paintings went for $90 million in 1990, equal to double that today. The middle photo is a painting of the local Stone Arch Bridge on a starry night. The last speaks to the style of “daubing,” a style favored by the artist, that uses undiluted paint spread thickly, then mixed in with other colors.

I read the Pre-Show Audio Guide, which took me through his short story. He began painting at the age of 27, but was prolific during the remaining 10 years of his life, painting over 2,000 works of art. We were directed into a large room where pictures, paintings, impressions were flowing across the walls and even the floor, accompanied by music that enhanced the experience. The show lasted only about 35 minutes, but we stayed through it 3 times! I say that my heart swelled, I can’t think of any better way to describe what I was feeling.

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