Thursday, July 9, 2020

Ireland - Installment VIII: Isolation Lessons Learned and Kinsale Continued

I have been reflecting upon the current pandemic isolation thinking about what I've learned so far. Most of all I miss my family; my daughters and grandkids. That goes without saying. But maybe the biggest takeaway I've discovered is that I really miss my friends. I have always fancied myself as a bit of a loner. I really enjoy my "alone" time so that life out here in the sticks has been no real hardship. But when something like a pandemic takes away all of my socializing options I become a bit down like so many other people. Who am I kidding? I got really depressed and angry for a while until I realized what was happening. Poor Rich! 

I miss my lunch bunch girlfriends; the retired teacher group of friends that I have known for years. We haven't seen each other since February. We call, text and email each other to keep in touch but it's just not the same as sitting down to a meal to discuss our kids and grandkids, books that we've read and just plain gossip. I miss my two knitting groups, a bunch of ladies from different backgrounds who have our crafting in common. It's so much more fun to knit something when I can look forward to sharing my progress with those ladies who appreciate it because they are occupied with their own creative skills, too. I miss my international women's club meetings. This group of women from across a range of age groups and very diverse ethnic and national backgrounds who come together in joy just to share a meal and laugh together has added so much enrichment to my life. 

We have been able to have meals on the deck with some of our couples friends because we are able to remain six feet apart outside. Our double dates are restricted somewhat by the high heat and weather conditions but we're adapting and it has been lovely to see each other in person even though we cannot meet at restaurants. 

No one is sure when these conditions will end. I feel the most sorry for children who can't play with their friends and teachers who cannot be face-to-face with their students; young athletes who cannot practice with their teams and face the probable cancellation of their 2020-21 seasons. For most of them this is the first serious hardship that they have had to face in their young lives and explaining that there are worse things that can happen to them is no consolation. It's difficult to counsel patience for others when patience has never been one of my own strongest qualities. 

Maybe that's another lesson we've all had to learn from this. Be patient.  From the news reports it seems that many are still needing to do some work on this lesson.

Back to Kinsale, Ireland:

Another unplanned sightseeing stop that we found so moving and very much worth the out of the way drive was the Lusitania Monument on the Old Head of Kinsale. We drove out to the seaside and parked precariously on the edge of the road then made the short hike up to the Old Head Signal Tower that was built over 200 years ago during the Napoleonic Wars as a lookout for French invasion forces. It has become the site of a monument to the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine on May 17, 1915. Within 20 minutes of being hit the ship had sunk killing 1,198 people.  The names of the passengers and crew are engraved on the monument listing both victims and survivors. Many of the rescuers were Irish fishermen who sailed their boats eleven miles from shore to aid in the rescue operation.

Parking on a cliff, Old Head of Kinsale

Lusitania Memorial

From here we headed back through Kinsale and on to Killkenny. The road led us to the infamous Kinsale round-about just 3 miles south of Cork center. We had been through there on one of our earlier excursions around that area of the country. We didn't find the five road intersection so intimidating to navigate this time around. We also didn't find out until we had returned home that this was quite well known by both locals and visitors for it's complex traffic patterns! Another piece of advice for travelers new to driving in Ireland: look up this route in advance and memorize which road will get you to your destination because coming upon the signage in this intersection without prior knowledge will surely confuse those who are concentrating on driving on the left! You've had fair warning.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Reflections On a Mourning Dove

Yesterday I woke up to cheery sight of the bright sun shining into my window and the sound of a mourning dove cooing somewhere nearby. At first I smiled thinking that we were going to have another beautiful day at the farm. As I lay there listening to the mourning dove, its cooing brought me back to the reality of the current conditions in our country. Most people don't realize that the spelling of that soft gray bird's name is not spelled m-o-r-n-i-n-g for the early morning hours, but is spelled m-o-u-r-n-i-n-g dove because of the sadness in the sound. To me it suddenly felt like the dove was sending a message of mourning for the turmoil happening in our country. Mourning for the over 100,000 deaths from the novel Covid-19 virus and simultaneously the death of George Floyd and so many other black and brown people at the hands of police officers who use unnecessary force first and ask questions later (if at all.) 

As a woman who came of age in the 1960s and thought that the Civil Rights Movement had really changed things in this country, I never thought I would see rioting like this in the streets again. And before you assume that I am naive about racial inequality let me assure you that I am painfully aware that racial inequality is alive and well and that we as a country have a lot of work still to do. After the election of Barack Obama I felt that there was a definite change in the air and that attitudes were changing.  That all changed when the current person was elected. 

I'm not writing to preach or pontificate.  I'm not qualified to preach to anyone. Even though I live on a farm in the middle of the cornfields of northwest Ohio, far away from the turmoil in the streets, this issue is so very personal for my family and me. All you need is to read my daughter's facebook post the other day to understand. 

        "day 75: white privilege is not having to teach your white teenager how to not get killed when they’re pulled over by a cop. it was the first part of driver’s education in our house."

My beautiful fifteen-and-a-half granddaughter, adopted by our whole family at the age of one month and so very loved by her parents, Yia Yia, grandpa, aunts and cousins, is bi-racial. 

I wanted to stop there. I cannot. I am worried for her. I have worried for all three of my grandchildren when they learned to drive so it's natural that I worry for her. But more than that I am afraid for her and I am angry, too. For me and the rest of our family we have only ever thought of this girl as the funny, intelligent, beautiful and loving person that she is. This has forced me to look at the racial aspect of my own grandchild, something that never occurred to me as I held that curious, month-old baby in my arms.  

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Ireland - Installment VII

The Rocklands House in Kinsale was aptly named. Perched high atop Compass Hill above the village of Kinsale, we were gifted with such beautiful views of the town and the port on the River Bandon. Kinsale, much like Dingle, was a very tourist oriented town. It was full of gift shops, both budget and upscale types, and restaurants of every variety. The first evening after John drove us around the main part of town and dropped us off, we strolled a bit and then settled on a pub called The White House.

The White House proved to be your average pub with congenial company. We were seated at a booth across from another American couple with whom we shared experiences of our travels in this lovely country. After a Guinness or two it seems that everyone in the pub is an old friend. This held true for all the stops we made on our trip with both tourists and locals. The White House was decorated with art work and oddities, one of which impressed Rich so much that he came home and recreated it with odds and ends that he had around the farm. He originally placed it in a prominent place just inside the front door of our store where it sat all winter. When he finished his winter project, carving out space in his wood shop and building an office for himself, I insisted that he move "the Thing" into his new man cave!
It has no function other than as a conversation piece!
After a very restful night in one of our host's comfortable rooms we ambled down to breakfast a few minutes early when the smell of fresh coffee wafted up the stairs. John told us to pick a table and he would pour us a coffee. Then while we waited we took our coffee to the dining room windows to enjoy the breathtaking view once again. Our second cup of aromatic coffee was served with breakfast where I couldn't get enough of John's delicious, warm, homemade scones. When I asked for the recipe he told me that I could find it on Mary Berry's website (The Great British Baking Show judge). I have tried it but mine were just ok.  They must need the atmosphere of Ireland and someone else to bake them for me in order to come out so tasty.

After breakfast that first morning in Kinsale, we drove out to Charles Fort  which also overlooks the River Bandon. Charles Fort is a 17th century bastion star fort. It was constructed in 1682 by the British and was in continual use until 1922. It housed British troops in the Williamite War, WWI, and through the Irish Civil War. Rich and I wandered up and down through the massive stone walls of the fort and through the Officers' quarters, Governor's house, soldiers' quarters and the stables. It was a beautiful and peaceful site in spite of it's original use. We stopped here for our late morning snack, deciding to forego lunch and have an early dinner instead.

Charles Fort Governor's Quarters

Officers' Quarters

Outer Defense Wall

Coffee Break

Governor's Quarters from battlement (soldiers quarters are below)

Ireland - Installment VI (Writing in the time of Covid 19)

Shortly after my last post on March 11, Governor DeWine issued the stay at home order. So from March 23 onward (and a little before that for me) I have been doing just that. Staying at home. With so much time on my hands you would think that I would have finished my account of our Irish trip by now but that's not the case. The first thing I did after the order was to go through all of the drawers and closets on the second floor and do a massive clean out. Gone are all of the unworn clothing that I had intended for months (years) to donate. Gone are over 20  years worth of craft and sewing supplies that I knew I would never revisit. I have culled all of those items from the second floor that I had intended to get rid of for years.

I had figured that this would be the opportunity I had been waiting for and making excuses for not doing. My intention was to finish knitting the pair of socks that I had begun in Ireland and to complete writing the tale of our Irish trip. You know what they say about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. I just burned brightly for the first couple of weeks and then suddenly fizzled out in a shower of ennui. I lost the energy to do much of anything productive and buried myself in the comfort of reading books all day and the escapism of  baking and watching Netflix, Prime and Acorn TV.

When I shook myself awake from this daze I realized that what they say about moving your physical body is also true about writing. If you don't use it you lose it. So here I am, wide awake now and back into the routine of exercise, riding the stationary bike and doing yoga since the weather is so awful still, and now back on track with my writing.

On Monday, September 16th we left the luxury of the Shelburn Lodge in Kenmare and headed around  the Ring of Kerry and then on to Kinsale for our next evening.On the way we drove through narrow winding roads that ran  through the Killarney National Park. The sylvan landscape held surprises for us at every turning. Typical of the ruins was an abandoned church that we glimpsed through the windshield. I couldn't help wondering what kind of stories this old church could tell if it could talk.

The ID on my phone says Muckross - Incheens for this ruin
A  little farther on in the drive through the Killarney forest we were met with another surprise. Their expressions made me feel like I was the intruder in their home. Can you see the wild goats in the second picture? The big guy was in the center of the road staring disdainfully  at us and took his time crossing over.

On the way we made an unplanned stop at a place called Muckross House in Killarney. The beauty of an independent driving trip is that we could take time for spontaneous stops along the way. This one did not disappoint. We had been noticing signs for a place called Muckross House. Curious, I did a quick Google search and found out that this was a Victorian mansion and estate that was open to the public. On the spur of the moment we made the decision to stop at the site. May I say here that we were not disappointed. This was probably one of the most interesting and beautiful sites that we visited in a country that is full of beautiful sites of all variety.

Muckross House

Muckross House was built by Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, Mary Balfour Herbert. Construction was begun in 1839 and completed in 1843. Apparently the original plans called for a larger, grander structure, although I don't know how it could be grander without becoming a palace. In the 1850s they began an extensive and elaborate garden renovation in preparation for Queen Victoria's visit in 1861. In September the gardens were filled with blooming things and were certainly as beautiful as any other time of year. 

Also on the Muckross estate grounds was a reconstruction of farm houses and outbuildings typical of the era. Instead of waiting for the tram we trudged uphill to the display of large, medium and small farm houses that showed how the commoners would have lived at that time. 

Large farmhouse

Schoolhouse (note: I got rid of this unflattering top after I saw the picture!)
The farm displays were liberally populated with the animals that would have been on pretty much every small farm of the era. My favorite were the donkeys.
Mama and baby donkeys outside the small farm house
Chickens and other assorted fowl
Sheep alongside the walk to the farms
As we meandered in, out and around the farm houses and buildings you could hear the donkeys loudly braying at the intruding tourists. They were actually very friendly when approached and seemed to enjoy a nose rub.
We lunched in the very modern and well stocked cafeteria at Muckross, shopped in the Muckross Weavers gift shop and then headed out for Kinsale where we would be spending the next two nights at the Rocklands House B&B. Let me pause here to recommend that if you ever decide to travel Ireland by car it's wise to plan on at least two or three nights in any one place. Because the country is so much smaller the distances between sites is usually under a couple of hours drive. We used each b&b as a sort of hub for traveling out in different directions each day. This meant that we were not constantly unloading and reloading luggage into the "boot" of the car.

We arrived in Kinsale just before suppertime and wound our way up a steep and narrow road to the Rocklands House where our host, John, met us and showed us to our room. As we were pretty much tired out from the drive and a bit hesitant to drive back down to town, John offered to drive us down and point out the restaurants that he would recommend for our supper. He also showed us where the local taxi service was located so we could pick up a cab for the drive back up the hill. Later, we found out that John was pretty much a one-man-band when it came to operating the B&B. But more on that in the next post.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ireland - Installment V

Saturday evening, September 14, in Kenmare was the evening of the big All Ireland Senior Football Championship 2019 - Kerry vs Dublin that we had been hearing so much about all along our trip so far. Due to all of the flags, bunting and banners in Kerry's colors, green and orange, that we had been seeing everywhere as we drove the highways and byways, we knew that we were in Kerry territory. Rich and I were also careful to pick a pub for dinner where we were pretty sure the game would be on all of the TVs. PF McCarthy's  was our choice based solely upon it's appearance and it was a great one.

The Guinness stew was to die for and the Fish and Chips that Rich picked was one of the best of our trip. But the best part of the evening was the conversation we had with the two young German women at the table next to us. Neither they nor we knew the first thing about the game going on which made the talk at our tables even funnier. One of the young ladies was furiously trying to Google the rules each time a referee held up a different colored penalty card. In the end all four of us chose to just cheer along with the crowd when Kerry did something positive, or groan when they committed a mistake. I did notice though, that the actual Irish fans in the pub were much better mannered when Kerry received a bad call than the Ohio State fans here at home when our team was in a similar situation! Hmmm? Ultimately Kerry lost and everyone in the pub when on drinking congenially.

Sunday morning, after a lovely breakfast in the dining room of Shelburn Lodge where I had the delicious porridge with whisky sauce, we decided to  stroll around town a bit to check out the shops.  I didn't really expect for any of them to be open on Sunday but since Kenmare is such a tourist town there were a few open. Of course I found a woolen shop with yarn in it and couldn't resist another purchase.

We also noticed a long line outside a lovely French bakery so of course we had to stop for mid-morning coffee and a pastry. We were not disappointed as we sat at a table on the sidewalk and watched the crowds.

After our delicious break we decided to go in search of the Kenmare stone circle that we had seen on an episode of Rick Steves PBS travel show. Tucked away in a grassy, out of the way corner of Kenmare, we found an actual stone circle. This was another one of my favorite places to see in Ireland.  I'm beginning to think that in another life I may have been an ancient Celt, or maybe a Druid Goddess. Who knows?

Rich dared to lay a hand on the center stone (sacrificial altar?) Luckily he didn't disappear into another time and place and we were able to continue on our trip the next day.

Later that same day we drove aimlessly around the country roads surrounding Kenmare. One of our discoveries was a small gourmet chocolate shop, Lorge Chocolatier. With a full showcase of chocolates to choose from we made a modest purchase of a variety of chocolates. They didn't even make it out of Kenmare as we began tasting after dinner and, well, one thing led to another! I suggest you check out the link that I provided so you can enjoy a feast for the eyes if not the palate. Lorge also offers classes in chocolate making and if I lived nearby I would certainly love to make myself sick in one of those classes!

That evening we had our supper in a small pizza shop in town and decided to turn in early because we had quite a few sites to see on our way to Kinsale, our next stop.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ireland - Installment IV

We spent September 14th and 15th in Kenmare in County Kerry where we would later watch the "Big Match" between Kerry and Dublin in the Irish Football playoff on Saturday night. More on that later. The drive to Kenmare along the narrow, twisty roads was absolutely lovely. Most of the roads were lined with hedges of fuschia shrubs. These plants that we buy in hanging baskets in the spring to grace our porches and patios, grow wild and woody in Ireland's temperate climate. So to label the autumn colorful in Ireland means an entirely different thing than the earthy colors of fall at home.

We drove along the picturesque coastal roads for a little way before heading inland towards Kenmare and the vistas did not disappoint. The famous Ring of Kerry drive is so rife with breathtaking views that I have to recheck my iphone camera on each one to be sure just where I snapped the pictures!

We passed through the small town of Killorglin at about coffee break time and discovered a small coffee shop in the center of town where we decided to pause. Rich wanted to explore the map, (Yes, he's still a paper map kind of person!) and to check out the sites between Killorglin and Kenmare in case there might be something we didn't want to miss. Bob's Coffee Shop is just a little hole-in-the-wall kind of local shop that we love to patronize over larger chain shops. I had my first authentic, Irish scone there with an excellent cup of latte. Rich had a yummy, jam filled pastry with his coffee. I must say the coffees were excellent and the scone, served with jam and "clotted cream" was to die for!

(I set this post aside for a bit and when I came back to it a week later I had discovered that Bob's, which I followed on Facebook, will be closing down. It makes me sad when any small business that had an excellent product and atmosphere closes.)

From here we took the N70 down the coast, passing through towns with such lilting names as Cahershiveen, Ballinskelligs, Portmagee, and Caherdaniel, stopping along the way to snap pictures of the picturesque Wild Atlantic Way. Valentia Island just off the coast was just one of the breathtaking views of the North Atlantic.

There were sunny yellow flowers nestled among the coastal rocks in places where it didn't seem that anything should be growing.

By late afternoon we arrived in Kenmare. Rich drove around a bit before we checked in to our B&B, something he does just to get an idea of the layout of the town. It gives us an idea of where to park if we drive or if we even need to drive into the business area. Mostly we try to get accommodations that are centrally located so we can walk everywhere. We did stop at Holy Cross Catholic Church, an old stone church that is at a pivotal point in the town. Holy Cross has a simplicity that makes it serenely beautiful and a perfect place to gather one's wits at the end of a day of traveling.

Holy Cross Catholic Church, Kenmare, Ireland

From here we drove to our B&B, The Shelburn Lodge to check in and rest up a bit before supper. Shelburn Lodge was built in the mid-18th Century and was the home of William Petty Fitzmaurice, Lord Shelburn. He loved this area so much that after building his home he commissioned the building of Kenmare town which was completed in 1775. After the American Revolution he became friendly to some of our founding fathers and Adams even named a town in Pennsylvania after him. Shelburn, PA (not Fitzmaurice!).

Shelburn Lodge

This was one of my favorite places to stay. Liz and Moira, the two lovely ladies who so smoothly ran the inn, greeted us warmly. The room was spacious and so lovely, with a very posh and cushy bed and a huge bathroom. The breakfast was delicious and the porridge with whiskey sauce has hooked me on   McCann's Irish steel cut oatmeal to this day. And I can get it at my local Kroger store!

This is why I so loved this place and will definitely book a stay if (when) I go back:

Entrance hall of Shelburn Lodge

Our room with a deep window ledge and a view of the lawn.

A teeny little snail on the windowsill outside our room

More on Kenmare and the Kerry vs Dublin football match in my next installment. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ireland - Installment III

4:30 a.m. New Year's Eve 2019

It's very blustery outside and the temperature has sunk overnight from a steady three days in the mid 50s to a present 32 degrees and headed down into the twenties tonight. The past two days have been rainy and rather miserable for late December in Ohio when we usually have snow. I've worn my raincoat with the lining buttoned in more this month than I did in Ireland where all the travel literature told me that I should be prepared for rain in September! I wore that raincoat once to dash from our B&B in Doolin across the street to the pub for supper. The rest of the time it was just taking up baggage space that could have been used to bring home more lovely Irish woolens.
Murphy's Pub and B&B, Dingle
On our second leg of the trip we drove around the Dingle peninsula towards Dingle Town where we would be staying three nights. Rich had been really looking forward to this because we would be staying at Murphy's Pub B&B where our room would be over the actual pub. We all know what was on his mind here, I'm sure.  Three nights of imbibing in Irish beer and cider, sampling the fish and chips and then being able to stumble up the stairs to our room. No worrying about driving after the party.

Murphy's is right on the strand across from the harbour at Dingle and in the midst of all the tourist shops and Dingle Bay cruise ports. As with all of the pubs we encountered along the way there is music every night of the week.  Dingle Town itself is very much geared to tourists and the streets are crowded every day. Parking at Murphy's is in the back and a bit tricky with the twists and turns to maneuver into (see Installment I about not getting a larger car). And you have to climb a flight of steps with your luggage.

The really big attraction for Dingle is Fungi, the local Dolphin, who has been living in Dingle Bay since 1983 and puts on such a show that several short cruise lines have sprung up centered solely on viewing him. He is so reliable in his appearances that they offer a money-back "guarantee" if you don't spot Fungi while you're out in the bay on the boat.

Fungi statue, Dingle Town center

We couldn't go to Dingle without taking one of the hour long cruises and I will admit, it was impressive. On the way out to the rocky, cavernous area where Fungi lives we passed some colorful kayakers and several other cruise boats creating a festive atmosphere.

Fungi did not disappoint. Our boat idled just offshore along with the kayakers and other cruise boats and after just a short while the dolphin surfaced and began swimming around amongst the various watercraft. He never jumped full out of the water that day but put on a show for us by keeping us guessing where he would surface next, spurting water and air from his blow hole. I took very few photos and videos, caught up as was everyone else, with trying to guess where he would appear next.

 In Dingle we also met a man with a donkey and a dog, quite a colorful trio, who set up each morning the main square. On the second day in Dingle, Rich went out for his early morning walk while leaving me to prepare for the day ahead. He arrived back in the room, excited to show me what he had discovered in the square. I must admit it was a delightful surprise to find a small gypsy wagon and a gentle donkey just outside the pub. 

The fish and chips that Rich ordered most often were delicious because of the proximity to the sea and freshness of the seafood. I usually ordered some traditional Irish dish for supper but stuck with the seafood chowder for lunch. I think that we both agreed that Dingle had by far the best fish and chips. Two of our favorites were Sheehy's Anchor Down for both seafood chowder and fish and chips and Harrington's for fish and chips. Harrington's came in ahead of Sheehy's but only by a nose.

Harrington's fish and chips
Although there are quite a few pubs in Dingle Town, I think our best experience was at Paudie's Bar in the Dingle Bay Hotel. The "Blowin' Ins," a trad(itional) duo were playing that night and are apparently popular in the area. Along with a pub full of tourists and locals, we enjoyed their music and maybe a half-pint or two of Guinness. I discovered that their superb Irish coffee paired well with the sticky toffee pudding as an after dinner treat.

During our wandering around the hilly streets of Dingle we also discovered Foxy John's Pub, a hardware store/pub combination, and Dick Mack's Pub where we had a beer in the "snug," a cozy little area that was partitioned off from the crowd. Many of the older pubs had snugs where tradition has it that the local women sat to chat, business was conducted in private or couples had some privacy while courting.

The "snug" at Dick Mack's Pub
 We had originally planned to stay at Murphy's for three nights but being someone who needs her sleep in order to fully enjoy the next day's activities (see paragraph 3 above, i.e. music all night) we decided to move on a bit along the Ring of Kerry  and stay the third night in a different B&B in Ventry. The drive from Dingle to Ventry took us along the Ring of Kerry where we had a couple of unplanned stops along the way. We arrived early in Ventry and decided to travel up to Slea Head which we had been told was even more scenic than the Ring of Kerry. Slea Head did not disappoint. Running along the bay with a steep drop off on the left (my side, remember) I was breathless for most of the route and not just in awe of the view! 

Traveling on our own as opposed to an organized tour allowed us to make impromptu stops along the way. One of them was the site of the ruins of a famine house, built in the mid 1800s. The house and its history brought home to us the tragedy of the potato famine and the horrible conditions that sparked the great Irish migration to other parts of the world. We were also able to stop at the ruins of a ring fort and beehive homes believed to have been built in the 11th century at about the time of the Norman Invasion. (don't quote me on this one as I found different sources all saying something different.)

Famine House 

A Chochan (beehive home) within a ring fort  at Fahan

I will say that the hike up the hill is not for the faint of heart. At first I wasn't sure that I was going to tackle it as I stared up the steep, rocky and winding path. I let Rich go ahead of me while I pondered my dilemma. In the end, given that there was a handrail on the path, I haltingly made my way up each hill and wasn't sorry that I did. Each location was fascinating in it's own right. The people who lived and worked up those hills earned my respect as they were much heartier than I. 

The view and Rich's new friend at the Famine House
At the end of each day I had been consulting my Fitbit, proud that I had been racking up at least 10,000-11,000 steps each day. At the end of this day I was dismayed to find only 5,000+ steps. I was positive that it had been more. Upon checking the number of staircases that I had climbed (a stairway is both up and down to be counted as one) I found that my Fitbit had been calculating those hills as stairways!

The Plough in Ventry is located high atop a rocky hill on the Dingle Peninsula overlooking Dingle Bay. The lawn area was charming and the view spectacular! In the house itself the decor was in a word, crowded, and the hostess was less than welcoming. I'll leave my review for TripAdvisor.

The next day we would be headed to Kenmare and a stay at The Shelburn Lodge.