Archive for November, 2011

the river barrow

When we were preparing to come to Ireland, I discovered that there is a small river in the southeast corner of the country called the Barrow. Well, since that makes it the third place on the planet’s surface named Barrow (after Barrow-in-Furness and Barrow, Alaska), we decided we just HAD to visit it while we were here. So this past Friday, we got a rental car and headed out of Galway. We left after the girls got out of school, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to get very far. So we had booked a B&B in Athlone, about 75 minutes outside of Galway. We booked the B&B solely because of the family loft they advertised. Turns out, it was as cool as we had anticipated:

A long loft, with the kid’s cubby at the end.

Barrow chilling in the chair. The B&B was aesthetically fantastic and inspiring.

And it turns out that Athlone was a pretty cool town too. At least the section we were in, dubbed “Athlone’s Left Bank.” It was a collection of windy streets filled with cool pubs, restaurants and galleries next to the castle and by the cool bridge (which doesn’t quite show up in this photo, sorry).

The next day we continued onto Bagenalstown, which is where we planned to stay the next night. Unfortunately, it was apparent by early morning that both girls were under the weather and feeling rather sickly. This meant that they spent most of the time being terrors and driving us absolutely crazy. Some really atrocious behavior, including a screaming fit in the B&B. But we won’t dwell on that, shall we? No, let’s wipe it from our minds and focus on the collective 36 minutes of the day in which they were darling pleasures. Like, here, when they were dancing around statues dedicated to sewage treatment.

Oh, you think I am kidding? Not at all. They take their discharge, water treatment, and River Barrow quite seriously around here. Here is the plaque for the above sculptures.

The previous weekend, I had to suddenly fly over to Barrow-in-Furness in England for the funeral of a close family friend. It was a sad occasion but one of the constant treats about visiting Barrow-in-Furness is seeing my eldest daughter’s name everywhere. Like here at the train station:

We had the same experience in Bagenalstown and the surrounding area, where the river’s name was constantly invoked.

We spent much of Saturday morning walking along the river. It is a beautiful, peaceful river that has multiple locks and canals along its route. They’ve turned the towpaths into a series of walking trails that stretch along most of the river’s length, with the occasional old mill dotting the riverside.


Along the walk, a flock of ducks starting following our Barrow. If she stopped and went the other way, they’d pull a u-turn too. Here she is being a con-duck-tor.

Here is a just a random photo of when the river and canal come back together.

And here is a close up of Strummer, who expressed a little bit of discontentment that “so many things” were named after Barrow, but she shared a name with only Joe Strummer. But, in general, she was pretty happy with the trip because she got to look out for places where Barrow was written — BECAUSE SHE IS READING NOW!

After checking into our B&B in Bagenalstown, we went for a drive, heading down to the charming Graiguenamanach (pronounced like Greg-a-na-ma-na) and then back to the lovely little Georgian town of Borris (pronounced like Bur-us). We stopped into a restaurant/inn that, it turned out, was hosting a huge wedding reception, so they only had soup and sandwiches available for us in the pub. But the bar and wait staff were exceptionally kind, and it was one of the highlights of the visit. And here you can see how familiar the girls are getting with pub life. They’ve got the bar posture down pat.

Oh, did I mention the amazing sunset we saw on the drive? Here is Anna’s noble attempt to capture it (on my iPhone, since she lost hers during the trip. No worries, she miraculously found it on Monday):

The B&B in Bagenalstown was fine, with the highlight being the over-exuberant puppy named Sammy.

We spent the first part of Sunday morning out for another walk along the River Barrow, this time in the little village of Goresbridge. (Our Barrow, indeed; plus we now know what her name is in Irish)

It had the requisite beautiful old bridge,

with cool steps going up the side of it.

The girls were actually feeling a little bit better on Sunday, which helped enormously. Plus, the beautiful weather boosted everyone’s morale (look at that blue sky!)

Then we drove back to Galway, stopping briefly for lunch (and a wee bit of shopping) in Kilkenny. We drove back by going through the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Now there is something you need to understand about Ireland: the roads are kind of a joke. There are only a few major “motorways” and those are minor four-lane affairs. Most of the major national thoroughfares are only little two-lane jobs, at best. Now check out this map:

You see the R440 between Durrow and Roscrea, right in the middle? That would seemingly be a major road, right? This is what it actually looks like:

OK, so I intentionally skimmed over two little bits, that I now want to end with. The first is the wee bit of shopping we did in Kilkenny. Remember those awesome boots we got the girls at the beginning of our trip here? Barrow’s boots were black, Strummer’s were pink. Well, after constantly wearing them EVERY DAY for the last 3 1/2 months, they both finally gave out. Strummer picked out her new pair a few weeks ago (red with black cheetah spots) and Barrow found her replacement pair while in Kilkenny. Check ’em out:


I am so envious of my kids’ footwear.

And finally I leave you with this (which I came across in a pub; sure wish I had found it in 2009):


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Dublin Dash

Since we came to Ireland these girls have been obsessed with riding a train.  Well, we’re 3/4 of the way through our time here, and our excursions with the students are over, so we are on our own, now, with a bit more of the country to see.  Since the girls and I missed the first jaunt to Dublin (in order to march in the Oyster Festival Parade, you’ll recall…), we decided that we should do kind of a kid-oriented trip to the big city, so we hopped on board the lovely clean, quiet, fast Galway-to-Dublin choo-choo.

Fortunately, new “activer-ty” books had just arrived from Nina!  And we had delectable Irish apples to munch along the way…


Plus Fox’s ginger creams (aggghgghghgghhh):

yes, those are new boots -- she has already outgrown the pink ones!

When we arrived, we knew where to stay and where to go, thanks to excellent recommendations from Bibi and Desmond, who had just been to Dublin.  We stayed in the same cool Victorian pub/rooming house they did,

complete with (squeal!) bunk-beds —

— and a lovely bar where we could enjoy nightcaps, when necessary:   

For two days, were able see a lot of the town in our “hop on-hop off” sightseeing bus.

On O'Connell Street

beside the Guinness Brewery

crossing the River Liffey

Hopping off to see Molly Malone (who, in addition to apparently being *stacked*, also drove her wheel BARROW through streets broad and narrow, crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-oh!

At that stop, we were able to catch a glimpse of the rare leprechaun shift-change.

But the main attraction on Day One was the Children of Lir statue, an extremely creepy/haunting one, I know, but it comes from a major Irish Legend that Barrow and Strummer are somewhat obsessed with, about children turned into swans for 300 years.  Guess that kind of sticks with you.

mission accomplished!

They played with the cool whispering wall, and ran around the fountain, and tried — but failed — to keep a straight face with Kevin trying  to make them laugh.


At this point, we split into teams for some mommy/daughter and daddy/daughter time.  Strummer and I set out for the farmer’s market, while Kevin took Barrow — who has developed a great love of hurling (that’s Camogie, if you’re a girl!) — to Croke Park and the GAA Museum.  So here’s a montage:

Barrow checks out Croke Park

Strummer tries her first roasted chestnuts

Barrow spies a Gallway jersey (In Irish, it's pronounced something like Gall-yev. Because MH is pronounced V, of course.)

Strum watched people shuck oysters, helped me pick out some earrings, and then bought a raspberry scone for Kevin -- from this stall

Barrow finds the world's largest hurley!

Strum enjoys the world's largest cuppa.

While I enjoy her cuteness.

That night, we were tuckered out and headed back to the bunk beds, but not before we stopped to frolic by this fountain which someone had filled with soap bubbles.   Hilarious.

Day two was mostly spent at the super museum called Dublinia, designed mostly for the under-10 crowd, and devoted to reconstructing the experience of Viking and Medieval Dublin.

Barrow & Strum tried being serious vikings:

… Then adorable archaeologists:


After Dublinia, we split off again, for mommy-daughter and daddy-daughter lunch.  Barrow and I found a great place called “Queen of Tarts,” where she had a scone and fruit salad, topped with her first-ever passion fruit, which it turns out she LOVES.

mommy-daughter lunch

And then we all met up again to walk (or run) (or sit) along the River Liffey, and cross some of its cool bridges:

running toward the ha'penny bridge



And then it was basically time to catch our train.  Fortunately, we had reserved seats:

… and so all was well.

Oh, and, in case you were wondering, this is how we look when we look at our children.

photo by Barrow

Nitey nite!

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Okay, while you’re waiting for me to post something, allow me to cross-post something from our across-the-street Geneva neighbors, who are currently across-the-Irish Sea in Wales.  These awesome friends have two awesome kids — Bibi and Desmond — who are exactly our kids’ age.  You should immediately go to Desmond’s blog, where HE describes their recent trip to Galway to see us.  See?  Here’s his family’s picture of us:

And, for good measure, here’s our family’s picture of them:

That Desmond is an *awesome* blogger, esp. for a 5 years old!

Desmond ‘s Visit to Galway


And now, back to whatever it was I was doing that wasn’t blogging…

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some random filler

Did we mention that we went to see Billy Bragg and got to meet him after the show?

He is holding the CD he autographed for Barrow and Strummer. Perhaps one day they will truly appreciate it.

As Anna’s previous post noted, we had a brief but extremely pleasurable visit with our good friends Rob, Ingrid, Bibi and Desmond. I don’t have many photos from the visit, because I was too busy having fun. But here is one of all the kids together in a bookstore patiently waiting for the table to ready at the restaurant next door:

Perhaps because of their visit, we were blessed with 4-5 straight days of sunshine. It was unbelievable. It has, however, turned chilly. We are definitely heading into colder weather and we have broken out the winter coats, hats and gloves (granted, it is colder back in Geneva now):

A few days ago, the family unit all went out together and occupied a snug in a pub. Anna and I had a pint, while the girls occupied themselves with reading and writing. I wish these little afternoon pub visits happened more often, but I am thankful when they do.

We were at Neachtains, which I know we have mentioned before. It is one of our four favorite pubs in Galway. Right next to it is a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint that we’ve considered going to on many occasions. The pizza here is really, really bad. Granted we are snobs because we’ve been spoiled by quality NY-style pizza for the past several years, but I mean the pizza here is old-cardboard-with-ketchup-on-top bad. Well, it turns out that the pizza joint next to Neachtains is awesome. Like, crazy good. Not quite as good as Cams, but reasonably close. Check out the size of these slices (cut in half!).

It was also loads of fun. Right after this photo, the cook in the back and I both broke out dancing when a Martha Reeves and the Vandellas song came on the radio.

And speaking of dancing, here is Barrow hula-hooping and dancing to the Muppet’s brilliant cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

Strummer was also dancing: spastically waiving her wand and bouncing around with her fairy wings on.

Tomorrow we take the train to Dublin (Happy Birthday, Dad xoxoxo).

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Nowhere, man.

Our AWESOME friends and neighbors Rob and Ingrid and their SUPER kids Bibi and Desmond came to visit us, and (we and) the girls have been in total bliss for the last 48 hours.   We will post more about the visit soon. But then our friends left, which led to a few kid-tears and some difficult questions (“Mommy, can we please, just please, if we have time, go back to Geneva just for, like a day or two, please, because I really miss everybody there”).

But as the sun set, the girls settled in to watch the end of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, and then we had some nice dinner, and they sat down to do some coloring.  And started singing.  The same song.  For about 15 minutes straight:



Ok, I know what you’re thinking.  “Arrgh! we can’t see their faces!”

Well, they just kept on singing  — long enough for me to get my computer to make another video.  And when they saw what I was up to, they picked up the tempo a bit.  So here you go!



Here’s to good friends, good girls, the Beatles, and art/music therapy.

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OK, most of Sunday was spent in Derry aka Londonderry. Quick bit about the name: originally called Derry, the Brits changed the name to Londonderry back in the 1600s, most people still call it Derry and since the Catholic majority finally won political control in recent years they have asked that the Crown change it back to Derry; so far the Queen has not responded to the request. If you know nothing about Derry, that little bit should give you an inkling about the historic tensions in the city, exacerbated in recent decades by The Troubles. You should also know that Derry was the site of the 30 January 1972 massacre of unarmed civil rights protestors, famously dubbed “Bloody Sunday.” If you don’t have much background knowledge about this event, or have never heard the U2 song or seen the movie, please take a few minutes to watch this video, which combines live footage of U2, historical photos of the event, and scenes from the movie. Even if you know the history, just watch the video anyway. OK, are we good? Let’s proceed.

Our visit to Derry centered around its history, especially The Troubles. Derry is an old walled city; the last remaining walled city in Ireland and one of the few in Europe. We had a tour guide who walked us along the city walls, which were really beautiful and impressive. That’s our tour guide, walking backwards and giving his narrative.

From the top of the walls, you can see the surrounding cityscape. You can also see how segregated the eastern part of the city is. Here is looking down on a small enclave of Unionists/Protestants, with their wall murals (the one on the left reads: “Londonderry West Bank Loyalists Still Under Siege. No Surrender”):

And their own “peace wall” (segregation barrier):

Just around the corner, on the far eastern side of the city walls, is the Bogside, which is the Nationalist/Catholic stronghold and the site of Bloody Sunday. This is the view of the Bogside from the city walls (note the murals on the walls):

We hiked down into the Bogside for a tour of some of the murals, which will now take up the bulk of this post. First we will start with Free Derry Corner. The rest of the building has been torn down, but the iconic wall and mural remain (and will continue to do so, as it now has historic heritage status):

Boy with molotov cocktail, from the 1969 Battle of the Bogside:

Mural of the unflappable Bernadette Devlin:

Mural of scenes from Bloody Sunday:

Mural of a British soldier knocking a door down:

Mural of a tear-gassing:

And mural of a civil rights march:

There was also a memorial to the victims of Bloody Sunday, which took place a few yards away from this site, but I just didn’t feel like taking any photos of it. Just last year, in 2010, the British Government’s final inquiry into the event found the 14 murdered victims (and those maimed) to be completely innocent. And though I don’t have much good to say about current British PM David Cameron, I will give him much respect for publicly apologizing for the actions of that day, saying that he could “no longer defend the indefensible.”

So, to cheer things up, here is a picture of Strummer:

After a quick lunch in Derry and some wandering around (walked across the newly opened Peace Bridge, but didn’t take any pictures of it), we loaded back into the bus for the long 4 1/2 drive back to Galway. But we did stop off at W.B. Yeats graveside, where I sang all the lyrics to the Smiths’ “Cemetery Gates“:

And it should be mentioned that the girls were such super travelers that Michael the bus driver bought them both little stuffed “I heart Ireland” teddy bears. This was the last excursion out of Galway with the students for the semester, and the girls helped keep the bar for good behavior quite high. They weren’t whining, so the students couldn’t whine.

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The title is a reference to the Stiff Little Fingers 1988 live album (which, itself, was a reference to Motorhead’s live album a few years earlier). Probably nobody cares about that except me, but there you go.

We were scheduled to spend the Halloween weekend up in northern Ireland. A day or two beforehand, we had a wonderful post-rain afternoon that we took advantage of by going out for a walk along the harbor. Here is Anna looking lovely in front of the rainbow houses sprouting a rainbow (it was actually a double rainbow, but I don’t think you can make the whole thing out in this photo).

For the trip north, our first stop was at the Carrowmore Megalithic ‘Cemetery’ in County Sligo, which is the home of over 60 prehistoric passage tombs. While the more impressive passage tombs are in the Boyne Valley (see my visit to Knowth earlier), these at Carrowmore are actually the oldest in Ireland (and Western Europe) — it is worth clicking the link to get more information if you are interested. It was really cold and windy at this stop, which meant we didn’t get to linger for very long. But here is the group with our own personal guide explaining the site to us:

There is one of the sites on top of the hill, behind this stoic cow:

After lunch in Sligo town, we continued on into Northern Ireland. It was interesting crossing the border. You could see changes as soon as you crossed the border (though some of the students later said they didn’t notice anything different about being in the north; they fail for the entire semester). For instance, as soon as you crossed the border all the signs switched to miles, everything was in English (no Irish bilingualism), and the size of the fields were noticeably larger (because there was no land redistribution up here, as there had been in post-independence Ireland). You could also see some greater class inequality, with the farmhouses much larger in the north, reflecting the history of the plantation economy (this was, after all, the incubator for the colonial plantation project). And one also saw overt signs of clashing nationalisms: kerbstones were painted either red, white and blue or green, white and orange, depending on the neighborhood affiliation, with the accompanying union jack or Irish national flag flying. We drove on to Draperstown, where we were to stay for the next two nights. When they started running the program many years ago, they chose to house the students there instead of Derry or Belfast for safety reasons (mainly they didn’t want drunk American college students saying stupid things that would lead to trouble down in a Belfast or Derry pub).

The next morning we headed to Belfast, where we spent the day. Most of the morning was spent on the bus, doing a tour of the city. The Troubles are definitely a thing of the past, but also a thing of the very recent past. You can see IRA- and nationalist paramilitary-themed murals across the city, like this one for Bobby Sands.

Here is one letting you know that you are entering the Unionist section of Sandy Row, complete with hooded gunman:

And another wall of Unionist paramilitary murals:

There were also lost of ‘Gardens of Remembrance’ for paramilitary ‘soldiers’ lost during The Troubles, as well as the painted kerbstones. It is still a very divided city in places. We stopped off at the so-called “peace wall” that divides the Nationalist/Catholic section of The Falls from the Unionist/Protestant section Shankill. It is really an segregation/apartheid barrier; a massive structure built so high as to discourage the throwing of rocks or molotov cocktails over it. There are still huge gates at either end of The Falls Road that they close in times of tension. The area was a no-man’s land during The Troubles, but now is largely the site for Trouble-themed tours. Tour groups stop and get out to sign their names on the “peace wall,” which is what we did as well. Here is a view of part of the wall (you can see another tour group with their ‘black taxi’ further down):

Here is Barrow’s signature:

And here is Strummer with her signature:

After the mural tour, we drove up to Stormont, which is where the Northern Ireland parliament sat until the British re-imposed Direct Rule in the early 1970s, and where the current power-sharing parliament sits today after the Good Friday Agreement. That is it up on the hill, and you can also see Michael, our wonderful bus driver for this trip, in the rear view:

Here is a closer photo of the building (give way to the government, damnit!):

It was Saturday, and the building was closed, but we got our own guided tour of the building and the parliament meeting rooms, which was special. But you couldn’t take any photos, so there aren’t any to share. But here is a fun fact: during WWII, the British military used this as one of their main command posts. To protect it from being bombed by the Germans, they covered the entire building with a mixture of tar and cow poop. It took years to scrub it clean.

Afterwards, we had a brief window to get some lunch and look around Belfast. Not much time at all, which was too bad. But we did make it over to Victoria Square, a shopping mall in the centre of the city that had a glass observation deck for viewing the city scape:

We then took a taxi over to the Crown Bar, which is known for its ornate decorations, both inside and out. And on the taxi drive, we got to enjoy this sign:

We were actually kicked out of the Crown Bar, because they don’t allow kids inside after they stop serving food. So we went across the street to a coffee shop to get a cup of tea. That is the Crown Bar, behind me.

The girls were a little exhausted from all the running around:

But they rallied when we got back to Draperstown. Why? Because we were going out to a Disenchanted Forest, a Halloween-themed haunted woods on the outskirts of town. Here they are, dressed up and ready to go:

But first, we had to have dinner:

By the time we got out to the Disenchanted Forest, it was pouring and late. There was a line and we weren’t expected to get into the Forest until after 9 pm, so we brought the girls back to Draperstown and tucked them in. Which was probably best because we had a big day scheduled for the next day and supposedly the Forest got less kid-friendly in its terrors after 8 pm (the students stayed and had a great time, though it was so scary two students actually peed in their pants). Since it was my night “off” (Anna had hit the bar until midnight the night before), I hung out at the bar where there was a costume party and country line dancing going on. Frightening in its own right, believe me. But I will close with this observation: the best pints of Guinness I have had this semester were actually in Northern Ireland, where they were close to room temperature, not overly cold like they serve them now in the Republic. But we also couldn’t get a decent cup of tea the whole time we were in Northern Ireland. Better Guinness, but weaker tea: who’d’ve guess it?

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