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Archive for October, 2011

Thank you for your patience, ladies and gentlemen.   I spent the first part of the week staying home with a sick Barrow (cold/cough, doing well now), then I broke a tooth (found a great dentist, all better now), and then I seem to have dozed off for about 48 hrs or so (cold weather has set in, and brought an attack of the naps), and woke up today to poor Kevin having come down with the bug Barrow had.  Poot.  But I have a narrative to finish, so here we go…

When last we met, we were on the Dingle Peninsula, asleep in our lovely hotel in Dingle Town.  We spent the whole next day traveling around the southwest tip of the peninsula, taking the breathtaking Slea Head Drive, checking out the scenery, and stopping to investigate some cool archeological sites.  Off the coast of The Dingle are the Blasket Islands, the westernmost islands of Europe — beautiful and wild, inhabited until the 1950s, but now abandoned.  The whole western tip of the Dingle is pretty depopulated, except for a few diehard folks and a lot of holiday homes.

For scenery, the Dingle wins the prize.  We stopped at one point on the Slea Head drive, just to take cheesy pictures of ourselves against the beautiful vista, the Blasket Islands in the distance…

anna+kevin on dingle with blaskets

… and to note the blue, blue waters below!

Strum was much safer than she looks in this photo

But I should get to the incredible beach scene photos I know you’re waiting for.  Our first long stop was Coomeenoule Beach, made famous in the film Ryan’s Daughter, if anyone has seen it.   I hand’t: I just noted that the tide was out, and the weather was clear, and the surf was up, and it was totally unbelievably spectacularly gorgeous.

barrow & strummer!

I know you’re wondering how on earth I got that photo.  I was still descending the walk to the beach, watching the surfers (!), which you can see at the very center of this photo, if you squint (or click and enlarge):

Meanwhile, Kevin and the girls had run on ahead, and Kevin had let them take off shoes and race onto the beach, and while he was tucking their shoes/socks behind a rock just off to the lower left of the lens, I saw the girls tear out on to the beach, and managed to snap that photo just before the rest of the students and Kevin began to fan out there to join them.   What an image, eh?!    We got to stay about an hour at the beach, which was bliss.  We discovered starfish families, cockles and mussels, and a cool cove.

   

 

And then we were back on the bus, off to discover ancient stony monuments to human existence with our special guest tour guide, Isabella the archeologist.  The Dingle has one of the highest concentrations of archeological sites in Ireland: over two thousand of ’em.

First stop: Reasc Monastery  In use (they think) as a monastery from the 5th – 10th c., the Reasc site was excavated in the mid-1970s.

aerial view - reasc

students fall into stonehenge formation

They think the place has been sacred for ages beyond that, though, which makes sense when you consider the view.

It’s famous for things like this cool carved standing stone, bearing classical, celtic, and christian symbols.

reasc rock collection

After Reasc, we popped over to the Gallus Oratory, very close by.  It is a small, corbel-vaulted (no mortar!) stone chapel, the most perfectly preserved bit of early Irish architecture you’re likely to find.

It was spooky and gorgeous, in the shape of an upturned boat, and it invited all kinds of artsy shutter-buggery

  

Next we found the  Kilmalkedar Church,

   

an important early christian site with a cool burial ground full of sundials and ancient headstones, all built upon other ancient headstones (the cross next to Kevin below is apparently quite tall, but the ground has buried probably half its original height…).

  

We relaxed in the thick Irish grass watching everybody pushing up daisies in the afternoon sun.

  

Obviously, the girls had buckets of fun, and considered all these ancient sites to be places for new adventures.  They gathered rocks and played “mommy-baby” in the round rooms of the monastery, rode on gravestones and gathered pebbles and daisies at the churchyard.

For our lunch break, we stopped at a sweet pottery shop/cafe, where I admired the china cabinet’s array of darling dishes (this photo’s for you, Mom!) —

— and absorbed the incredible views, sunlight shining on the Blaskets, the colors impossible to capture on film, but I tried:

Meanwhile, Strummer absorbed some apple-berry crumble:

And Barrow pondered the beginnings of her “teeny” little cold:

… which brings us back to where we started, with head colds and fall weather.   So, as the Irish say,  Sláinte!

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On the road again….

Better catch your zzz's while you can...

This time we travelled to County Kerry, specifically to the Dingle Peninsula, which, well, dangles about 30 miles out into the Atlantic — the first of what look like five fingers of land stretching out from the southwest edge of Ireland.  It was a pretty darned spectacular trip, a winning combination of breathtaking scenery, charming towns, and really, REALLY old archaeological sites to ponder.

On the way down to Kerry, we made two stops: the first at Coole Park, the digs of Lady Gregory, a Galwegian playwright and patron of the arts, she was the woman behind W.B. Yeats and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre.  Since the poor woman’s house was razed, Coole Park is now basically a nature preserve,

  

… but you can see lots of famous writers’ initials carved on this famous autograph tree (which loses a bit of its aura what with the iron bars and all):

Our next stop was the 15th century Bunratty Castle, which for us had the distinction of being the first castle we’ve seen with actual FURNITURE remaining inside, which is very exciting news if you are 4 or 7:

bedroom, with princess dress laid out on bed!

We got a cool tour, and got to sit on thrones, and climbed the steps to the tippity top, and caught the view of the River Shannon, and Bonny Princess Strummer was ever-so-brave.

Bunratty also has a “folk park” of thatched houses, animals in pens, and … OMG … a freaking CASTLE-shaped playground:

SQUEAL!!

with a hide-and-seek MAZE inside!!

and SLIDES!!

and SWINGS! (note: those blurs are your children growing up too fast)

Man, we had so much fun, we forgot to take a photo of the REAL castle, till we were in the parking lot, on our way out:

see the castle? there over my right shoulder?

Next we made our winding way to the Dingle.  The Kerry scenery was beautiful, mountainous and green, even from the bus window:

Early evening, we arrived in Dingle Town (again, not making that up), and checked into our GLORIOUS hotel — we had two huge adjoining rooms — and went out for a stroll, dinner at a pub, a nightcap, and then rested up for the adventures the next day.

street in Dingle Town

arrival at dreamy hotel

Dingle Town has a penguin statue!

... and hand-knit tea cozies!

@ dinner: snug as 3 bugs in a pub

mom's night out: Jameson's and sticky toffee pudding in hotel bar

So that was Day 1.  And since I’m exhausted, this adventure will have … TO BE CONTINUED …  But I know you can’t wait.  So here’s a little teaser:

Strummer, at the beach, on the Dingle

 

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post-Cork report

Most of the photos below are actually by Anna, but it has fallen upon me to review our trip to Cork. As Anna already mentioned, we travelled down to Cork with the student group, plus a University guide named Rita and her 12-year old granddaughter Chloe. Chloe was an absolute delight and the girls enjoyed hanging out with her. Here they are traipsing around Limerick like old friends.

That was on Friday as we headed down to Cork. On Saturday morning, we all went to Cobh (pronounced Cove, called Queenstown for awhile under British rule) which is the coastal harbor just down the river from Cork. We had a walking tour of Cobh, led by our local guide Ted. It is a beautiful little harbor town that stretches up the sides of hills. Here is Strummer taking in the view from up high.

notice the harbor empty of ships: signs of the Irish economy

Behind her is this cathedral that was built in 1915. The steeple is famous because this is the harbor from which many Irish emigrants left, and the last thing they would see of their beloved land was that steeple, so it has been immortalized in various songs and poems.

And here is an inside view:

In addition to being the debarkation point for millions of Irish emigrants (as well as the convict ships heading off to Australia), the Lusitania sank a few miles from here, and it was the last port of call for the Titanic. The harbor has lots of other claims to fame, but those were the key points stressed at the (highly recommended) Queenstown Heritage Centre. The museum contained lots of great relics, memorabilia, and fascinating displays, like this one:

damn.

Cobh also contained some impressive architecture, such as this line of houses going down the hill. They are nicknamed the ‘deck of cards.’

And these houses that were built in a curve to perfectly capture the southern exposure.

We then headed back to Cork, where Ted gave us a guided walking tour of that city. One of the highlights was a visit to the English Market: a beautifully restored indoor market full of shops, butchers, cheese mongers, fish mongers, and green grocers.

In truth, the Cork walking tour was exhausting, though extremely interesting. Fortunately, Anna and the girls had wisely decided to head back to the hotel for a bit of a rest. After the Cork walking tour, I went back and joined them. When we checked into the hotel the day before we realized that there was a pool there, so we went out and bought cheap swim suits for all of us. Here the girls are, with their required swimming caps:

There was even a kiddie pool! What a great hotel (except for the broken heater that wouldn’t turn off and the drunk-as-hell people in the nearby room who kept us awake all Friday night). But let’s forget that and focus on the pool!

Kiddie pool. The other pool was much larger; plus there was a hot tub, sauna and steam room.

Since I had gotten to go out on my own Friday night, Anna wandered around the lovely streets of Cork Saturday night. It really is a lovely city.

The next morning we were back on the road, heading over to Blarney Castle. As you might imagine, the touristy schtick level at Blarney was pretty high. But it was still a nice looking castle.

Here is a better view. Reportedly, it is the most photographed structure in all of Ireland.

The Blarney Stone is all the way at the top. You have to lie down on your back and bend way over (while some guy holds onto your legs) to kiss the stone. I hadn’t planned on kissing the stone, but ended up doing so on the spur of the moment. One of the myths about the stone is that it is half of the Lia Fail — and followers of the Scotland blog will understand why that is significant to me. Anyway, the castle was nice enough, but the gardens were the far superior attraction. Here is Anna walking into the garden, just so we have some photographic evidence that she was there.

These were some seriously magical gardens.

Complete with the requisite willow archway (note to Nina and Pa: we will be building one of these at Fog Likely, along with a stone fairy ring. You’ve been warned):

As we headed back towards the west coast, the weather began to turn on us. We were scheduled to have lunch at the Cliffs of Moher. We were there for a little over an hour and a half, and the fog never broke even a little bit.

Anna called them "The Cliffs of Nowhere"

We got soaked.

And blown around.

When were there originally, it had been a nice calm day with a placid sea. I mentioned at the time that I would have liked to have seen it in inclement weather. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything. But on the drive back, the fog broke just as we were returning to the spot farther north of the Cliffs were we had taken some photos before (see the ninth photo to be exact) and I got out to take photos of the waves crashing up against the rocks here. It was awesome in the truest, most sublime sense of that word.

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Preliminary Cork Report

We are on another excursion, traveling to Cork with the students.  And if-a we travel, then-a you travel, capice?

On the bus, to Cork (via Limerick)

We are here for three days, so I’ll just give you a few quick first impressions, since I had some wine.  And some amazing dark chocolate with sour cherries in it.  And I am sleepy.  The girls are snoring under their duvets, Strummer to my left and Barrow to my right, as I type.  We have a “family room” in a very nice hotel.

Kevin is out at a show, which, according to latest text, is unfolding as follows:  “bar good – small and seedy.  first band just started.  covering Velvet Underground.  small crowd but good.”   (He’s out tonight,  I get to go out tomorrow night.)

So — as for first impressions — I’ve only been here for about 8 hours, but Cork is totally gorgeous and fascinating and  I love it so much.  It’s like some kind of delicious combination of so many other cool places I’ve been.  It has these meandering little narrow 17th century streets lined with restaurants, kind of like Brussels.  It has stunning church spires and stone streets and mysterious nooks and crannies like Edinburgh.  It has tidy rainbow rows of houses along  river channels, that remind me of Holland.  It it is a city on an island spanned by  ancient and picturesque bridges, like Paris.  It has a cool boho-marxist vibe kind of like Northampton, or Prague.  And it has all these surprising mod accents — like the crazy X-shaped streetlamps below — that remind me of Berlin.  And there are churchbells, which remind me of Geneva (though they’re in tune, here).  And sunshine, which makes me love everything.

Today, we arrived midday, and had lunch en masse at one of Cork’s oldest pubs, the Long Valley, followed by a smashing poetry/fiction reading by local writers Paul Casey, Adam Wyeth Afric McGlinchey, and Madeleine D’Arcy (this arranged by the NUIG Center that’s hosting our students).  Since the students were then on their own for the evening, we made our way to a cool hippy restaurant, the Quay Co-Op, and treated our girls to a totally veggie menu (“ALL of the kids in my class like meat, except for me!”  Strummer pouted, today.  “Yeah, it’s Ireland,” I replied.  We’re counting on a higher percentage of vegetarian kids at “Mountain Pathways Montessori ” in N.C. in January! ).  Anyway, after dinner, we meandered back through the town as the sun set.

K & S on one of the 29 (!) bridges that span the River Lee in Cork City

B, looking east toward St. Finn Barre's Cathedral

Looking forward to tomorrow, which is to be filled with walking tours.

a vista for you, stolen from the NYT

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ten random things

Alright, here are a list of random things. Let’s make the list be 10 long, for absolutely no reason.

1. No matter if I spell out my last name for them, everyone here writes it out as “Dunne.”

2. A couple of weeks ago I went to Dublin. The highlights were the GAA museum at Croke Park, watching “Juno and the Paycock” at the Abbey Theatre, and the visit to Kilmainham Jail (which you have seen in lots of movies).

3. On the same trip, I discovered that seven pints of Guinness gives me a hangover.

4. While sitting in a snug in a pub, Barrow composed the following song:

 

5. Our friend Anny came to visit us for 72 hours. It was very good. Much of the time seemed to consist of this:

Same evening, different pub, same general idea.

 

 

 

6. For complicated reasons, I had to take the taxi to the bus station at midnight on a Thursday night. It was unbelievable. The downtown was thronged with college students teetering on their high heels, going into nightclubs (interestingly, the ladies dress up for a night out while the guys still bum around in track suits. What is up with that?). It was like being in a completely different city.

7. One of the reasons we go out to pubs is to hear a session of traditional music. This is from the Crane Bar, which is where the above picture of Anna and Anny was taken, and it is regarded as perhaps the primary place for nightly trad music. Here are two traditional Irish musicians. Except the one on the right is from Eastern Europe, probably Poland. And they are using their smartphones to find out the chords for the song they want to play. Ah, the myth of authenticity.

8. On Sunday, we went for a walk along the prom and then down the causeway to the lighthouse on the little island in the bay. Except we couldn’t get to the island because there was a big locked gate at the end. Strummer was hella bummed. She wanted to see that damn lighthouse.

9. I am able to see bands play fairly often. My favorite contemporary Irish band, even before coming here, was So Cow. Since they live in Galway, I’ve actually been able to befriend them. I went out last night to see them. They rock.

10. Tomorrow is our anniversary. I am such a ridiculously lucky guy, I can’t believe it. I have yet to tire of her kiss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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